Actions

Work Header

Bitter

Chapter Text

Jack was starting to wonder perhaps if he'd done something wrong.

It wasn't uncommon for him to accidentally say or do something to upset his wife or daughter, although usually when such an event occurred Maddie would glare at him to express her displeasure, and Jazz would always take the opportunity to tell him in exact detail what he'd done wrong and how to make it up to them (something he was honestly very grateful for).

It must have been something pretty bad this time, because both women wouldn't even look him in the eye.

Jack first twigged that something was off that morning during breakfast, when he sat in the empty chair by Jazz's side and gave his usual greeting, "Hey Jazzypants!"

She ignored his presence completely, steely eyes glued to the wall opposite her, they were puffy and red and Jack wondered perhaps if she'd been crying.

It had been a long time since her problems were easily pushed aside by her father's warm hugs and jovial attitude, he had stopped being able to handle a crying Jazz after she'd turned twelve and countered his attempts at humour by insisting that he 'stop trivialising her distress', whatever THAT meant.

Nevertheless, warm hugs and gentle jokes were the only method he knew and so he wrapped a comforting arm around her thin shoulders, noting that she continued to sit still as a rock, not even glancing his way as he tried to coax a smile out of her.

Jazz didn't say a word as she pushed herself away from her unfinished breakfast and left the room.

It was when he walked down to the lab intending to ask Maddie about Jazz that Jack started to suspect he may have been the one responsible, as it became apparent that the two had seemed to coordinate their punishment for whatever transgression he'd made.

"Hey Mads!" his voice boomed over the noise of his wife's current project. He strained to see through the bright light of her blow torch at the large gun-like weapon on the table. Jack whistled in appreciation is he took in the size of what he assumed was some kind of rocket launcher. "So what are we calling this one? Ooh! How about, The Fenton Spectre 'Sploder!"

Maddie's goggles made it difficult to see what expression adorned her face, but her tensed shoulders and the shaky grip on the blow torch told him that she was most certainly upset about something.

"Mads? Are you alright?" his voice quivered slightly as he took a few steps closer, seeing his wife this tense tightened a coil within his chest. Suspecting that he may be responsible added an extra weight to his stomach that he knew wasn't cause by the breakfast he'd skipped.

The light from the blow torch snapped off and Jack had to blink the bright spots it left behind from his vision, trying to peer through the blotches to find any indication that Maddie was going to acknowledge his presence. It seemed as though she'd looked his way for a moment but before his eyes could clear enough to meet hers she'd looked away again.

Jack watched, puzzled as his wife raised a hand to cover her mouth and catch the sob that ripped its way from her throat, she hadn't succeeded as the sound echoed across the lab and tore its way straight through Jack's heart, causing his eyes to sting and his throat to close up.

He reached a hand out to touch her shoulder, intent on giving her some form of comfort. He'd barely brushed it with his finger tips before Maddie stormed right past him up to the stairs, Jack had to quickly stumble backwards to avoid being trampled.

He couldn't imagine what he possibly could have done to elicit such a response from the woman he loved, but he knew for sure that he must have done something terrible for her to not seek him out for comfort like she did any other time she was upset. He just wished he could remember what.

Jack's shoulders slumped under the dim light of the glowing jars of ectoplasm lining the various counter-tops, he dry-swallowed a few times, trying to push down his confusion and distress before following his wife's light footsteps up the stairwell.

He found her in the kitchen, leaning against a counter with her goggles slung around her neck and her wild red hair loose around her head, abundant with the kinks and tangles Jack usually watched her brush out of it every morning.

"Mads?" Jack said, voice rough and quiet, "Look I... if I did something wrong I-" Jack's apology froze in his throat as Jazz poked her head through the kitchen door, eyes once again glancing right over Jack and instead locking onto her mother.

Neither woman shared a word as Jazz crossed the room and wrapped her arms around Maddie, who desperately grabbed at her daughter in return, burying her face in long red hair as violent sobs wracked her whole body.

Jack, at a loss of what else to do, wrapped his own arms around his girls. Nestling his chin on his daughters hair, he expected the annoyed scoff that Jazz usually gave him for his 'chin noogies', but it never came. Neither Fenton woman pushed him away though, so Jack considered it progress.

Finally, after an age of rocking and sobbing, Maddie's muffled words escaped through strands of Jazz's hair.

"Where is he? W-where'd he go, where'd he go?"

A deep chill coursed through Jack's veins, Danny? Had something happened to Danny? Jack pulled away, a million questions thrumming through his mind.

What happened? Was he missing? Was he hurt? Had he run away, been kidnapped, been kill- no. Jack shook his head violently, running a hand through the shorts strands of his thick hair. No he couldn't be. He couldn't be he couldn't be.

Jack's mouth was on the verge of catching up to his brain, multiple questions bubbled at his lips when he heard a voice echo down the stairs.

"Jazz?"

Jack took a steadying breath and grasped at the counter for support, relief flooding his body as his son rounded the corner and came into view. Danny was fine, Danny was safe. He had been fretting over absolutely nothing.

Then Danny's eyes locked onto his.

A number of emotions flickered across his son's face, the first being a brief moment of sheer relief and delight, but it didn't last. Soon, too soon, Danny's dark brows pulled together and his lips curled sourly in confusion before a new expression swept it away. It was one Jack had never seen before.

He felt as though the air had been sucked out of the room, an icy chill prickled up his arms as the sudden wave of absolute horror overtook Danny's face. Jack couldn't tell if his son was about to break down crying or scream.

And then it was over. The tension in Jack's limbs released as Danny's face flattened into an unnaturally blank expression, he dropped his gaze and continued his way over to Maddie and Jazz. Once again it was like Jack wasn't even there.

Danny placed a hand on his mother's shoulder. "Maybe you should do another lap around town, you might find something today." he spoke softly into her frazzled hair.

Jazz looked at Danny strangely, her brother sent her back a glance that must have held some meaning because she then gripped Maddie tightly around the shoulders and led her straight out of the house, and suddenly Jack recalled that he still didn't know who it was that had gone missing.

"So... is anyone gonna tell me what's going on?" the jovial tone Jack meant to use came out flat and strained, Danny didn't look even remotely amused.

"I think you should sit down." Danny said quietly. He was no longer meeting Jack's eyes as he pulled out a chair for himself and one for his father.

Jack took the offered seat and prepared himself for the worst, obviously someone dear to Maddie and the kids had gone missing, Jack ran a list of all the people they knew, preparing himself for the worst, it was obvious Danny did not want to tell him what had happened. Perhaps whoever was missing was someone that Jack in particular had been close to? Was that the reason behind the horrified look on Danny's face? Because he'd realised he was going to have to be the one to tell him?

Something in Jack's gut told him he was on the wrong track, but try as he might he just couldn't imagine what else it could possibly be.

Jack kept his eyes on his son as the boy's thin torso straightened up in his chair and his icy blue stare bored into Jack's. Danny took a deep breath, then took several more, eventually he seemed almost ready to speak, Jack didn't rush him.

"Dad... you're dead."

Chapter Text

"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 green, "I'm not gonna let him hurt anyone else."

Chapter Text

Jazz had never gone ghost hunting with her mother before, at least never with just the two of them. It was uncomfortable, unfamiliar, like when her only friend at a party left her alone with someone she barely knew.

Her relationship with her mother had always been intellectual in nature, they would engage in philosophical debates over the ethics and morality of the ghost hunting profession while eating dinner, the discussions became far more intense after Jazz discovered Danny's secret. She was no longer debating simply for the sake of an interesting discussion, she was trying to introduce concepts that would smooth the way for when her brother was ready to reveal his other self to them.

It was a tactic she had used successfully many years before, albeit for a far more mundane reason.

Going ghost hunting with Maddie wasn't just uncomfortable because it was unfamiliar, it wasn't even because of her ethical disagreement with her mother's tactics.

It was because her father was supposed to be here.

Maddie rarely went hunting without Jack, not if she could help it, they had always been a team, they worked perfectly in synch with one another, but Jack wasn't here. Jazz was, and his shoes just didn't fit.

Jazz didn't have to go, technically, she wasn't even trying to help with the ghost hunting part, but... she couldn't let Maddie go alone.

Maddie was coping with Jack's death far worse than anyone.

From the moment they'd returned home from the hospital, after Jack had been declared dead, Maddie had been out every day and night hunting for the Wisconsin Ghost. It didn't matter to her that he hadn't been seen since that night, it didn't matter that he had always been too powerful for anyone to take on alone.

Maddie would drive around for hours, chasing any blip on her radar and ferociously ripping into any unfortunate ghost to cross her path.

Danny had been running damage control, warning the more agreeable ghosts to stay out of Amity, capturing the rest as covertly as possible, doing everything he could to stay away from Maddie while in his ghost form.

Jazz had been the only one left to do everything else. She had turned 18 just a few months before, so thankfully she had been legally able to sign all the documentation, to plan the funeral arrangements, the cremation, the obituary. All of it, by herself.

She was grateful, in a way. It gave her something to do, something to focus on that wasn't grief, that wasn't the cold empty hole in her life. Jack's presence had always been hard to ignore, his absence even more so.

Danny had tried to help with the preparations, when he wasn't in the ghost zone or cleaning up ghosts around town. He appeared to be holding himself together okay, but Jazz knew better, she knew that the guilt was eating him up from the inside. It didn't matter how many times she reassured him that he wasn't responsible for this, that he wasn't to blame, it made no difference.

It was only when Jazz had run out of tasks to do that she let herself cry.

She knew that sitting around was only going to make her feel worse, she couldn't let herself stew in her grief, she needed a purpose to pull her through. So she joined her mother on her feverish hours long hunts.

It was escapism, she knew that, for both of them. To Maddie, the hunting was something else to focus on so she could ignore her grief, it gave her a sense of control and purpose. Jazz was using looking out for her mother as her own distraction, her own grasp for purpose and control.

She knew these things, and she knew they were not entirely healthy, but she didn't know what else to do.

If this were anyone else she would have told them to seek out professional therapy, go to grief counselling, practice radical acceptance, to use visualisation exercises and grounding techniques to manage intrusive thoughts. Vengeance and fury weren't a healthy release, they would only build, they would only lead to more pain.

But her books hadn't prepared her for something like this, how could she seek help from someone she can't tell the whole truth? How could she grieve in peace when the justice system couldn't touch her father's murderer? He was still out there, he was still a threat. It was only a matter of time before he started working his way into Maddie's good graces, shamelessly emboldened by his successful assassination.

Jazz was furious when Danny insisted they keep Vlad's identity a secret. She understood where he was coming from. Her mother was struggling enough as it was, Jazz couldn't imagine what it would do to her to find out that it had been her husband's best friend all this time. That he had murdered Jack because he wanted her, the guilt alone would be soul crushing, and then there was the certainty that Vlad would reveal Danny's identity in return.

She couldn't even imagine...

Jazz was still angry, angry that Danny had to be the one to say it, angry that he was right, angry that he could be so rational while inside she was falling to pieces. She knew better, she knew how much he was hurting on the inside too, she knew that he was just good at hiding it, much better than she was.

She was still angry, but they both knew she wasn't angry at him.

When she got up that morning, her mother had been in the lab, her weaponry was getting more dangerous, less capture oriented and more destructive. Jazz wasn't sure if working down there was better than the hunting or worse, but at least no unsuspecting ghosts were getting torn to pieces.

Jazz had witnessed a few first-hand, it was bad enough seeing it happen to the formless, barely sentient poltergeists, she didn't want to know what a true spirit would look like, being eviscerated with such malice. She imagined a ghost like Johnny, laying on the ground with chunks ripped from his-

No, no that wasn't helpful, that was an intrusive thought, she needed to acknowledge its presence and move on, it didn't help her, let it go, like leaves on a string, let it go...

It would be back later, she knew.

Her breakfast was suddenly incredibly unappealing, not that that was anything new. She wouldn't be surprised if she'd lost weight over the last week, her clothes already felt just a little too loose.

A sudden and intense pang of longing hit her fast and hard, she missed him. It had only been a week and she already missed him so much. She just wanted him to wrap his big arms around her and hold her close  and dig his chin into her hair in that way that annoyed her and tell her everything was okay Jazzypants and... and he was the only one who ever called her that. She hated it. She'd never hear it again...

She pushed her bowl of cereal away and stood, her eyes burning. She had to find something else to do, to keep her mind busy.

She went around the living room, clearing the coffee table and fluffing the pillows, there was a stain on the lounge, probably from a bit of fudge-

The curtains were looking dusty, they could probably use a clean, would they fit in the washing machine or would they need to be hand washed?

She'd started trying to unhook them from the curtain rod when the lab door banged open loudly, Jazz jumped, startled. She ran to the kitchen to find her mother in tears, hand over her mouth like she was trying to hold it all back. Jazz wrapped her arms around her and Maddie grasped onto her tight, like she was afraid she would be snatched away at a moment's notice.

Jazz rocked slightly and ran a hand up and down her mother's back comfortingly  as they each cried into the other's shoulder. Maddie hadn't cried like this since the first night, Jazz recognised it as a good sign, she was letting herself feel again.

"Where is he?" Maddie stammered, "W-where'd he go, where'd he go?"

Jazz just squeezed tighter, it was a difficult question for someone who studied the dead for a living, to wonder what happened after. They were never a religious family, being raised by scientists there was never talk of a heaven or hell, just the ghost zone, what lay beyond that was a mystery to them all, even the ghosts.

She sniffed, she could feel tears clinging to her eyelashes, and an odd itch to her scalp.

"Jazz?" Danny's voice echoed down the stairs.

She heard Danny come into the room behind her, he made an odd sound, a quick and quiet intake of breath. Was he trying not to cry? Jazz hadn't seen him cry once, not since he was dragged off of Vlad that night, bruised knuckles dripping red. They were tears of fury then, she would never forget the sound of Danny's ragged screams as he pummelled Vlad into the ground, despite all the hands trying to pull him off the man.

Vlad had simply taken the beating, he'd use it later, she knew. He would forgive Danny, say it that he deserved it for failing to fight off that terrible awful Wisconsin Ghost when it overshadowed him. He would say it was all his fault, that he deserved all that pain and more, he was oh so sorry.

And Maddie would forgive him, because it wasn't his fault, it was that awful awful ghost. Vlad could never do something so terrible to his best friend. Vlad would always be welcome in their home, and welcome he would make himself. Jazz could see it all, and she could do nothing about it.

Danny placed a hand on his mother's shoulder. "Maybe you should do another lap around town, you might find something today." he pressed his head close to hers and spoke softly into her frazzled hair.

Jazz glanced at Danny with narrow eyes, annoyed and confused, their mother was finally making progress, and Danny was going to send her right back to her fruitless obsessive search for vengeance? He had to know it wasn't helpful, he had to.

He looked at her, wide eyed and thin lipped as he gave a quick jerk of the head and flick of the eyes to the front door. He wanted Maddie out of the house, for what reason Jazz didn't know and obviously couldn't ask, but she trusted her brother and did as she was told. Something was going on, but she would have to ask Danny about it later.

The day was warm and only a little humid, they drove with the windows down. Jazz enjoyed the wind on her face, she did not enjoy the silence.

It stretched on, unbroken by the radar as Danny's patrol earlier in the dawn had swept the town clean of ghost activity. It looked like Jazz wouldn't be watching another massacre today, she couldn't be more relieved.

"It's been quiet." Maddie said, out of the blue.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Guess it has," Jazz paused, "maybe you scared them all off?"

"They should be scared." Maddie's tone was low, threatening. If Jazz were a ghost she would be terrified.

There was more quiet, they passed the local park, the sound of kids playing and birds singing were loud for a few moments, until the trees disappeared into the distance behind them and the quiet returned.

"Haven't seen much of Phantom either." Maddie spat. "I'm surprised he hasn't shown up to gloat."

Pain shot through Jazz like an arrow, she would have to warn Danny to make extra sure to stay out of their mother's way, she was very clearly ready to shift a whole lot of misplaced aggression directly onto him.

She considered challenging her mother's assumption, but thought it best not to provoke her right now. Instead she merely hummed an acknowledgment.

They drove past the school, empty for the summer. Jazz's final exams had only just ended before her father's birthday, but she had missed graduation. She didn't want to go without him there, she was supposed to give a speech, she was too busy writing a eulogy.

They passed a group of people she knew from school, they gave her a little wave. Despite Jack's notoriety, everyone had been sad to hear the news, they'd sent a giant card around the school and everyone she knew had signed it, including the teachers, and everyone in Danny's year too. Mr Lancer brought it to the house with an enormous bouquet, he couldn't convince the school to pay for one so he bought it out of his own pocket.

Jazz had gotten texts and private messages, all saying they were here for her if she ever needed to talk. She responded to most of them, but sometimes she just sent a heart emoji. It was easier than writing the same thank you message over and over. She didn't take any of them up on the offer.

The drive wasn't too bad honestly, without any ghosts showing up it was almost relaxing. Maddie hadn't said much else other than a few observations about the traffic or the weather. When Jazz suggested getting some lunch Maddie had opted to use the Nasty Burger drive through so they could eat in the van. Jazz was grateful, she didn't want to run into anyone else from school.

Her phone buzzed, it was Danny sending her a thumbs up, they were safe to go home.

"We should probably head home." Jazz suggested, slurping the last of her drink. "We've been all over town, there's nothing here."

Maddie grit her teeth but revved up the van and turned toward FentonWorks

As soon as they were through the door Maddie headed to the lab, presumably to drown herself in more work. Jazz headed up the stairs where Danny waited for her.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Danny shushed her looking over her shoulder down the stairs.

"It's fine she's in the lab," Jazz reassured him, "what's going on?"

He didn't answer, just grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward his room, closing the door behind them and locking it.

"I'm going to try something," he said, crossing the room to stand before her, "But I think you should sit down first."

Jazz frowned but she sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Is this about Vlad? Did he come here?" A rush of heat spilled over her face, "If that son of a bitch tried anything I'll-"

"Jazz it's fine, it's not Vlad, it's fine." Danny breathed, running a hand through his hair nervously. "It's just, I'm trying something but I need you here to tell me if it works, okay?"

He nibbled his lip anxiously but he also seemed... almost excited about something. Had he developed a new power?

Jazz nodded and paid close attention as Danny took a few steps back and put a hand up, palm facing to the side and away from himself, his fingers curled slightly as if grabbing for something.

He took a deep breath and the heat of the summer air chilled, a trail of green mist flowed over his hand and began to form a shape in the air beside him.

Almost immediately as it began to form Jazz knew.

She leapt to her feet to stand before the large figure revealing itself gradually before her, when the mist crept over a square jaw and close cropped haircut she threw her hands over her mouth to stifle her gasping breaths.

"Dad." she breathed, she reached for him but didn't dare touch, afraid that she would ruin the illusion. Was he here? Was he real? She looked to Danny but his eyes were closed, face scrunched in concentration. He peeked at her for a moment, his grimace lifting into a strained smile.

"It's him." said Danny, through gritted teeth, "Say hi."

Jazz cried as Jack lifted a hand toward her face, he was still a translucent shimmering green, but she was certain she could see tears on his face. He mouthed words that she couldn't hear, but she knew them all the same.

Hey Jazzypants.

She was sobbing hard as she grasped the hand cupping her face, her fingers went right through it, but she could feel it, like she could feel his palm against her cheek. It was cold, and so light it almost tickled, but she could feel it.

She tried again, very gently feeling for that slight resistance to the air and holding her hand against it, she couldn't touch him for real, she couldn't hold him, but she could feel him. That was enough.

"I missed you dad." She smiled through her tears, "I missed you so much."

His features were still hard to make out, but it was clear he was smiling, he mouthed more words.

"Sorry, I can't hear you." said Jazz, sadly.

"He says he liked the obituary." Danny grunted, eyes still squeezed shut. "He knew you wrote it, he could tell."

Jazz laughed, it was only a little hysterical. Danny's hand trembled against Jack's arm. Jazz wanted to tell him he could stop now, but she didn't want her dad to go, not yet.

She raised her hands to cup his face, only just feeling the whisper of a few bristles on his chin. She didn't know what to say, what could she say?

"I'm so glad you're here," she said quietly with as much feeling as she could, "but, why are you here? You said you'd never... you'd never..."

Jack said nothing, but glanced over to Danny, whose hair had started streaking with white and glinting with crystalline shards of ice.

"Don't get to choose." He growled, his voice sounded distorted, his jaw clenched so hard Jazz could hear his teeth grinding, "Happens or it doesn't."

Danny's lips were pulled back in a pained snarl and were turning blue, his canines were sharpening as blinding flashes of green slipped from beneath his eyelids. A large puff of opaque mist rolled from his mouth upon each laboured exhale.

Jazz gave her father a careful hug, trying to lean into him without falling through.

"We're gonna figure this out dad I promise we're gonna figure it out."

She could feel his arms around her, the slight pressure reminding her of being buffeted by a strong gust of wind.

Danny took that as his cue, he pulled his hand back with a ragged cry and Jack's misty green form dissipated like smoke in a breeze.

Jazz stared into the empty space her dad's face had only just filled moments ago.

"Is he still here?" She asked, voice trembling.

"Yuh- yeah," Danny huffed, he was bent over, catching his breath. "I can suh- still see him, and hear him."

He stood straight as he pulled in a deep lungful of air. Then he laughed, a rough, exhausted laugh, but a laugh nonetheless.

"I'm so glad that worked, oh Ancients. I'm gonna need a minute." he crashed onto the bed face down.

"What exactly did you do?" Jazz asked, eyes still locked on the space where Jack had been, and presumably was still, standing.

"Dad only just formed a consciousness this morning," Danny grumbled into his bedding. "He's still warm, hasn't manifested a core yet. I just loaned him some energy."

"Still warm?" Jazz turned her nose up at the phrase.

"Yeah, it's uh, ghost slang. Means freshly dead, y'know like the body's still-"

"Yeah yeah I get it," Jazz waved a hand dismissively. "Gross."

"That's what dad said."

"Yeah! Because it's gross!"

Danny laughed, but it was barely more than a breathy huff. Jazz eyed him carefully, he was a little more pale than usual, there were bags beneath his eyes, his cheeks were a little hollow and his lips were still tinged with blue. All his usual signs of overexertion, but other than that he looked relatively okay.

"Why was it so exhausting?" Jazz asked. "I would've thought you'd have more than enough energy to share, especially for something as simple as visibility."

"Amount isn't the issue." Danny raised a finger pointedly, "Simple is the issue, imagine trying to fill a water balloon with a fire hose."

Jazz balked.

"Wait, that sounds unbelievably dangerous!" Jazz glared at Danny and then back at the empty room, "What happens to dad if you lose control?"

Danny groaned and flipped himself over onto his back, an arm flung over his eyes.

"Don't get mad at me it was his idea." Danny glared at the empty space for a beat before barking, "Was too!"

Jazz rolled her eyes, "Oh my god you are both children." She turned to Danny and pointed a thumb over her shoulder, "I can't hear him so you're going to have to tell me, what would happen to him if you lost control?"

Danny pressed his lips together and muttered guiltily, "He... could'a destabilised."

"He WHAT?!"

"I told you it was his idea!"

"I don't care whose idea it was!" Jazz alternated between glaring at Danny and at the space behind her. "You're both idiots for trying something so risky! There wasn't some way to practice?!"

"What do think we were doing while you were gone!" Danny exclaimed, "Also he's standing over there now, he moved so he wouldn't feel like you were yelling at him."

Jazz planted a hand over her face, and shook her head in disbelief, she didn't know whether to laugh or cry, her dad had been back for not even ten minutes and she was already yelling at him.

She spluttered a choked up giggle, wiping her eyes and sniffling.

"God I missed you dad." Jazz said, before she started bawling.

Chapter Text

Jack had questions. 

Jack always had questions, it was part of his nature, he liked to know how things worked. As a kid he had a bad habit of pulling apart things from around the house, clocks, watches, TVs, VHS players, just about anything mechanical or electrical. He’d gotten into trouble for it more than once, until his parents needed something fixed, it turned out he was quite good at that too. 

Taking things apart and seeing what was inside just always made things make sense, Maddie was much the same, although her intrigue was more biological in nature. She looked at organs and entrails the way Jack looked at circuits and cogs. He understood it to that extent, but biology had never made all that much sense to him, not like it did for Maddie. 

Bodies were just so... squishy, and complicated. Ghost bodies even more so. 

Maddie had always wanted to know what was inside a ghost, they didn’t need organs like humans did. Did they have some kind of variation of a skeletal structure? A nervous system? Brain? Heart?

The first ghost they had ever dissected had been shapeless, a blob with eyes and a mouth and not much else. It would reform itself into whatever shape was best suited to hitting things, or squeezing out of things, as was the case with the straps on the dissection table. 

Eventually Maddie had gotten her answer, finally saw what exactly was inside of a ghost. 

It was... well to put it bluntly, mostly goo. A lot of goo. They probably shouldn’t have been surprised, they had captured a shapeless blob, Jack hadn’t exactly expected much in the way of brains or bones in the thing, but Maddie persisted. She’d swam through that goo until she found what she was looking for. 

It looked like a ball. A black, almost greenish tinted ball. A little bigger than a marble, with holes in it that oozed slimy ectoplasmic goo. It didn’t look like much to Jack, but Maddie looked at it like it held the secrets of the earth.

It was the ghost's heart

It was made of incredibly dense ectoplasmic tissue, impossible to penetrate with regular equipment, but their specially treated tools cut through it like butter. It turned out to be a bad idea, because as soon as Maddie had even nicked the little thing it collapsed in on itself, dissolving into nothing. 

They had dissected plenty more ghosts since then, but much like the first they were only ever mindless blobs. They always contained the same thing, oceans of goo, and that little black ball. Eventually they caught something bigger, more complex. Jack had wished he could wrap that large ghost tiger in wrapping paper and give it to Maddie for Christmas, it had made her that happy. 

It had a skeletal system, it had bones. It had a muscle like structure holding its form together, it had one of those little black balls, much larger than any they’d found before. Tougher to cut into and it kept its form for just that little bit longer. 

The more complex a ghost’s form, the more complex its internal structure, Maddie had determined. To Jack the innards of a ghost looked much like the innards of any normal creature, just... more green, but that was why Maddie was the biologist. She could figure out a ghost’s weaknesses by understanding the complexities of their biology, she could tell Jack what their weapons needed to do, and he could make them do it. 

Years of work, it was years and years of work, and study, and hunting and-

"That? Oh yeah, that’s a core. Kinda like a ghost’s heart. It’s sort of a focal point, a physical manifestation of energy and emotion. It’s where the ectoplasm in our bodies comes from.” Danny told him over breakfast. “You don’t really have one yet, but when you start to form one you’ll start producing ectoplasm on your own, then you won’t need to borrow mine to become visible.” 

Danny had been part ghost for all of two years and in that one moment he’d said more than any of Maddie’s painstakingly written papers ever could. All this time they had been cutting ghosts open to find out their secrets, why hadn’t they ever thought to just... ask one? 

“Does it, uh,” Jack started, feeling guilt creep into his voice, “Does it bother you that we uh, we’ve been cutting open ghosts?” 

Danny paused for a moment, a spoonful of cereal halfway up to his mouth. He lowered it. 

“I mean, I’m not exactly thrilled about it, to be honest.” he shrugged. “But you’ve only been cutting open the ghost equivalent of, well... ugh I don’t know how to explain it but like... I’d feel the same way about someone gutting a live fish, you know? I would prefer it didn’t happen but it’s not gonna traumatise me.” 

Well, that was a relief. Jack was only just starting to realise how much their work might have been affecting Danny, it was good to hear him alleviate some of those concerns. 

Or, he thought so, at first. Danny had continued answering questions but his explanations had become shorter, curt and brief, he didn’t touch his cereal for the rest of the conversation. 

Jack had learned a lot over the past couple of days. Danny had spent most of his spare time giving Jack the rundown on his new ghost form, its capabilities and limitations. He could walk through walls now, after a doing a few mental gymnastics to convince himself that he could, apparently the only thing that had been stopping him before was thinking that he couldn’t. 

Once he had come to fully understand that realisation, he started having trouble not falling through things. 

It was a process, training yourself to not think about something. He thought it would be hard, but it turned out that Jack’s distractibility was a blessing in this case, as soon as he and Danny began talking, he sat down in his chair without thinking about it. He was getting good at this ghost thing! 

He was also learning a lot more about Danny. 

His son hadn’t exactly been an open book for the past two years, he was a teenager after all and that had been expected, staying out late, skipping school, forgetting his homework. Jack knew Danny was a bright kid, that was why he pushed him, he thought that Danny just needed a firm hand to keep him on track. It was what his own father had done. 

But Jack hadn’t been the secret protector of an entire town. 

He imagined how excited his younger self would be to find out his own kid was a superhero, and how disappointed he would be to find out that Jack had grounded him. 

Grounded... wait if he could fall through furniture why hadn’t he fallen through the ground?

He realised the answer not a second later, as Danny pulled him back up through the floor. 

“You just realised you hadn’t fallen through the floor yet, didn’t ya?” Danny grinned, holding Jack’s entire weight by one arm, did Jack even weigh anything anymore? “Happened to me a lot at first too, you’ll get used to it pretty quick.” 

“So all this, ‘interacting with the physical world’ stuff, it’s all about thinking different, right?” Jack asked. “My body doesn’t follow the usual laws of physics, it’s just doing what I think it should be doing... which means that the only reason gravity is working on me right now-”

Before he even finished his train of thought, Danny had let go of his arm, and instead of falling through the floor his feet remained in the air. Danny was grinning at him. 

“Pretty cool huh?” 

Jack barked out a laugh of amazement, the last he ever felt like this was when Phant- no Danny had lifted him into the air to help him out of the trap the Wiscon- Vlad had set for him. That had been over a year ago, but he’d never forgotten the sensation, and now he could do it all by himself. He could float, he could fly.

He fixed his eyes to the ceiling and grinned. 

“Wait, dad I know what you’re thinking but-” 

Jack didn’t wait for the ‘but’, he was already shooting upwards like a rocket. He wasn’t bound by physics, the sky was the limit, literally. He could probably go into space if he wanted to. Had Danny ever tried it? 

He looked down to see if Danny had followed him, but as soon as he did he found himself spiralling out of control. He’d disrupted his momentum and was now shooting off sideways. 

“Woah nelly! Calm down Jack, there’s no gravity, there’s no momentum, you just think there is.” he assured himself. 

He found himself slowing down to a complete stop, a quick look around showed him he was about a block away from home. He’d travelled that far in only those few seconds? 

“Dad! For the love of Behemoth, I told you to wait!” Danny came speeding up next to him, he sounded annoyed but he was smiling, “That was a pretty sick recovery though, first time I did that I smacked right into the ground, took out a whole-ass billboard on the way down.” 

“Heh, your paps ain’t no fool Danny-boy,” Jack stood – floated – proudly, “I didn’t get my degree in physics for nothin’.” 

Danny looked at him with an odd expression, his eyebrows were furrowed but he was smiling. 

“Somehow I never thought being a physicist would make you good at being a ghost, but in hindsight it seems kind of obvious.” Danny chuckled, shaking his head. “At this rate you’ll be flying circles around-” 

A bolt of green light shot straight through Danny’s chest and skimmed past Jack’s right ear, he could feel his body rippling as it went past, it had just missed him. Then a flash of pain, like someone had taken a metal scourer to the side of his face, it was an awful ripping, grating sensation. He realised he’d forgotten to ask Danny something important earlier, he meant to ask if ghosts could feel pain, he didn’t need to ask now. 

Danny looked surprised for only a brief moment, the next thing Jack knew he was being shoved roughly downwards as another bolt cut right through Danny’s tail, severing it for a moment before the wispy black tendril shot up and merged back into Danny’s body as though it had never left. 

GO!” Danny screamed, throwing a shield up and dodging before the next shot could cut through his head, “If one of those things so much as touches you-” 

Jack’s brain felt like a bag of confetti, he was only just sweeping it back into a coherent pile of thought, the blast hadn’t even hit him and he felt like he just had his top layer of skin ripped off. Danny had taken two of them and he had barely flinched.

Danny deflected more blasts, they were cutting through his shield. That was odd, Jack hadn’t finished the shield penetrating gun yet, had Maddie finished it without him? Jack shook his head, looking up at Danny more clearly, and then down at the ground far below him. Right, ghost. He was a ghost, Danny was a ghost, Maddie was shooting at them-  Maddie was shooting at them!

She was standing by the van, peering down the sight of an enormous gun balanced on her shoulder. Her legs were set in a solid stance and she barely rocked with the kickback of the powerful weapon. Jack couldn’t see much of her face behind her hood and goggles, but he could see her mouth curl into a vicious snarl when she missed. 

Danny gave up on the shields and started shooting Maddie’s blasts out of the air before they got too close while throwing himself around like a ragdoll avoiding shots. It was an incredibly haphazard looking technique, but Jack couldn’t fault it for its efficacy. It used to be him behind the barrel of the gun, trying to predict which way Phantom – his son – would go shooting off to next so he could lead the shot. He was never able to hit him. 

But Maddie was a far better marksman. She had grown up on a farm after all, she was shooting cans off a log before she could even read. 

Jack watched as his wife tore a few new holes into his son’s chest and shoulder, he meant to ask Danny if he had a skeleton like the ghost tiger, he meant to ask if he had organs, he didn’t need to ask now. He watched, horrified, as his son’s skin closed up over his exposed lung, the fabric of the jumpsuit following after. 

Danny looked down at him, his teeth were sharp, his skin teetering on the edge of blue. His eyes were wide and glowing an almost solid green, his pupils white. He bared his fangs at Jack, taking a few more shots to the stomach without blinking as he screamed. 

 G   O !   “ 

Jack wasn’t exactly sure what had happened. One moment he was watching his wife rip holes into his son, the next his stomach dropped into his feet as the world blurred around him, and suddenly he was standing back in his own living room. It was almost like he had teleported, though he was fairly certain he had simply moved so fast it only felt instantaneous. 

Danny had done that thing again, he hadn’t sent Jack back home, he had commanded him to go, and Jack had gone, without thought or question. He had meant to ask Danny about that... 

Danny was up there, getting the hell shot out of him because Jack had been impatient, because Jack couldn’t wait, he had to go flying around the neighbourhood right away, he didn’t even think about Maddie, he didn’t even think about getting shot. 

Did Danny have to think about that? Any time he just wanted to go flying? At home he had to listen to his parents talk about dissecting him, at school he was always in trouble for falling asleep in class or forgetting his homework or failing a test, up in the sky he had to worry about getting shot. 

Did Danny ever get a break? 

Jack felt sick, Danny was out there being torn asunder by a weapon Jack created and he was stuck here, helpless. His face still burned, the blast hadn’t even touched him but he could almost feel himself unravelling at the edges as it went past. 

Despite this, he still wanted to go back. He couldn’t leave Danny to fight Maddie alone, that gun had been no joke. He’d poured blood sweat and tears into it, it was built to hit hard and sharp, with immense pressure at the very centre of the strike. It could even keep ectoplasm from reforming wherever it hit. They had been almost certain it would be the thing that would finally do it, what they needed to finally take down Phantom. 

His son

He tried to leave, honest to god he tried, but it was just like when he was stuck in the chair, like his body simply wouldn’t listen. He was stuck where he was, his stomach turning anxiously as he was forced to sit and wait, watching the front door. 

“You okay?” 

Jack screamed and flipped upside down. 

“Woah! Hold on I got ya,” Danny placed a hand on his back and shifted him upright again as Jack reasserted himself. 

“How did- aren't you-?” Jack spluttered, he grabbed Danny and pulled him into a tight hug. 

“Hey dad it’s okay, it’s okay.” Danny hugged back, rubbing his hand over Jack’s broad back. “It’s alright, you and mom shoot at me like, every other weekend I’m used to it.” 

Jack pulled Danny away and looked at him, really looked at him. 

He looked perfectly fine. No scratches, not even a bruise. He looked a little tired, but overall unharmed. Jack could still see it clear in his mind, his bones, his lungs. 

“You were... I thought,” Jack was torn between sheer relief and shocked incredulity. “I saw you that gun slice you open like butter.” 

Danny waved him off. 

“Yeah, yeah, it’s fine. My body can reform any injury, as long as my core is intact. All I need is a few minutes and I’m good as new.” 

“That’s,” Jack ran a hand through his hair, “That’s unbelievable, Danny that is incredible.” 

Danny frowned. “Not really, all ghosts can heal. I’m kinda faster than other ghosts but it’s not like I’m special or anything.” 

“No Danny you don’t understand,” Jack waved a hand for emphasis, “That weapon was designed to cauterise ectoplasm as it passed through, it was made to prevent healing.” 

“Oh,” Danny chewed his lip thoughtfully, then peered up at Jack’s face, “I guess we should take care of this then.” 

Danny touched his cheek, and immediately the burning sensation began to ease as a cold chill crept over it. Danny had his eyes closed and his body was tense. It was incredible to Jack, that Danny could have so much energy inside him that it took him more effort to hold it back than it did to let it out. When he had made Jack visible to Jazz it had left Danny exhausted, but healing multiple open wounds after a battle with a gun that was supposed to prevent healing was water off a duck’s back to the boy. 

Danny breathed a sigh as he removed his hand, Jack stretched his neck and rubbed his cheek. 

“Heh, good job, feels good as new!” Jack paused, he had to ask before he forgot again, “Hey, that thing you did, where you told me to-” 

“Sorry dad but, do you mind if we do this later? I really need a hot shower, and a nap.” 

“Uh, sure,” Danny had just gotten beaten to hell to protect him, it would probably be in poor taste to insist he stay and answer more questions. “We can pick this back up later-” 

Danny had already started up the stairs, he did look tired. It felt like he hadn’t seen Danny look anything but tired as of late. 

The front door slammed open behind him, he saw Danny jolt on the stairs and turn around, eyes wide and glinting in the dark. He didn’t look frightened, he looked focused, poised and ready to fight. 

Maddie entered the house, slamming the door behind her as she headed to the lab, dragging the giant gun behind her, it was split down the centre, tendrils of smoke trailing up from sparking circuitry. She dumped the gun on the kitchen floor as she made her way down the stairs. 

Danny relaxed his stance and continued up to take his shower. 

From the moment Jack had realised who Danny truly was, he kept thinking about what might have happened had they succeeded, had they finally managed to shoot him down. He couldn’t stop thinking of Danny as his boy, as someone he needed to protect. 

He had only just now realised that it hadn’t been Danny who was in danger during all those battles. 

He thought about the ghostly visage that came over his son when he was doing everything in his power to hold himself back, he thought about how it had come out again during the fight just now. All he had been using were shields and a few ecto-blasts. He didn’t even flinch when he got hit, he was barely exerting himself. He was holding himself back. 

Jack looked over to the busted gun on the floor, it had been made with the strongest reinforced ecto-infused steel they had. It was built not just to hit hard, but to take hits as well. It wasn’t just strong, it was damn strong. Jack may have even bragged that it was unbreakable. 

And Danny had broken it, presumably knocked it from his own mother’s hands, with what would have had to be a blast stronger than anything Jack could have predicted, and Maddie had nary a scratch on her. Precision, control. They had never gotten anywhere near close to really hurting him. 

All this time Danny had been holding himself back.

Chapter Text

The first thing Jazz saw when she walked through the door was the busted-up wreck of the nasty looking gun her mother had been toting around in the van all week. The sight of it snatched her breath away, like an iron grip on her lungs. She dropped the bag of groceries in her hand.  

Oh no, oh  no .  

She had only been gone for ten minutes  at most . Why did she leave  god   why did she leave , this wouldn’t have happened if she’d stayed home, she knew going out was a bad idea, she knew she shouldn’t  have-  

Before panic completely set in, Jazz closed her eyes and gave herself a moment to breathe, deep breath in, slow breath out. In, out. In, out. She opened her eyes and looked again, more closely. Okay, okay so the gun was broken, it was broken which meant Danny had destroyed it, which meant he was okay. He wasn’t lying in pieces in the street-  

Deep breaths Jazz deep breaths .  

Mom had brought it home, so she was okay, she had dumped it on the kitchen floor instead of taking it back to the lab, she was angry, she didn’t want to look at it, she had failed. Danny wasn’t down in the lab shot full of holes bleeding out-  

In through the nose out through the mouth, slow breaths, slow breaths .  

She should go check, just in case, just to be sure.  

Jazz stepped over the twisted metal and headed down the stairs, her footsteps quick and light, her heartbeat was loud, it felt like a hammer inside her chest. He was fine, he was fine, he was  fine .  

As the lab came into  view  she could see her mother leaning over her workstation. Arms extended out propping herself up, head hanging low, her sobs echoed off the metal walls. As Jazz approached, Maddie picked up a wrench and lobbed it across the room with a guttural cry. Jazz shrieked as it smashed into a metal filing unit to her right, leaving a massive dent in the front panel, the frame crunched and buckled and a haphazard stack of blueprints sitting on top slipped off and scattered across the floor.  

“Oh my god Jazz! I’m so sorry I didn’t hear you!” Maddie rushed to her side and wrapped her in a sideways hug. “I’m so sorry, are you okay?”  

Jazz gripped onto her mother’s arms as she stared at the mess, breathing ragged.  

In, out. In, out. In, out .  

“Yeah, yeah just,” she swallowed, “ Gimme  a minute.”  

Danny wasn’t down here, she would have felt relieved, but her mother’s sudden violent outburst had rattled her. It seemed to have rattled Maddie too, the hands clinging to Jazz were shaking.  

“Oh my god, I’m so, so sorry sweetheart I don’t know what I was thinking I just-”  

Jazz pulled away and took a hold of Maddie’s trembling hands, she pressed her forehead against her mother’s.  

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked, gently.  

She felt Maddie nod, and brought their hands up between them, holding tight.  

“I messed up,” Maddie’s voice was hoarse with pain. “He was so sure this one would work, he put everything he had into it, it was the last thing he made and I-”  

Jazz recalled the giant gun, almost entirely split down the centre. Irreparable.  

I messed up .” Maddie brought their hands closer to her, clutching desperately. “And now it’s destroyed and I can’t fix it because Jack is-” as soon as his name fell from her lips she lost her composure once more, Jazz pulled one of her hands free and used it to wipe the tears from her mother’s cheek.  

“Dad wouldn’t care if his gun was destroyed mom, he’d care that you didn’t get hurt.”  

“But it was the last one he ever-”  

“You still have  all of the others .” Jazz pressed, “Every other invention he ever made, you still have them  all . More importantly, you still have every moment you spent together, you still have a life’s worth of memories and good times and bad times and who cares about some  gun .”  

She brushed her mother’s hair out of her face.  

“I just thought, I thought if I could catch him, he could tell me where to find that Wisconsin  son of a bitch .” Maddie spat, “They’re enemies so if anyone knew how to find him, how to  destroy him -”  

Jazz’s breath stilled, oh,  oh .  

“You wanted to catch him... because you wanted his help?”  

“I don’t NEED his help!” Maddie pulled away slightly, rubbing the tears from her eyes, “I just, I think he could be useful. If I could just catch him long enough to interrogate him I could-”  

“Have you considered... maybe just asking?” Jazz suggested. Her mother looked at her as though she’d been slapped. “Look, hear me out! Phantom  hates  the Wisconsin Ghost, they’ve been mortal enemies for years, so don’t you think he might be willing to, you know, maybe hold a temporary truce? Enemy of my enemy and all?”  

Maddie didn’t say no. She didn’t say anything, but that alone said that she was listening.  

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but you have to ask yourself what’s more important. Capturing Phantom, or taking down the Wisconsin Ghost, because realistically? You might not be able to have  both.  

Jazz dropped a light kiss to her mother’s forehead and gave her a quick hug before heading back up the stairs, she’d planted the seed, now she just had to wait and see what would grow.  

As she reached the  kitchen  she picked up the groceries from the floor. It was mostly ready-made frozen meals, some canned goods, cereals, energy bars. Things that were easy to eat and wouldn’t perish too quickly, an appetite was a rare thing in this house these days, but still someone had to replenish the kitchen.  

As she passed the living room to head  upstairs  she paused, she could hear the shower running.  So  Danny  was  home. She wondered what her father was doing, when he wasn’t talking to Danny. Had he been down in the lab? Had he seen all of that? She tried to think about what he would be doing if he wasn’t a ghost, if he was still alive. When Maddie was sad, he would comfort her, but when she was angry, he usually kept his distance until she cooled off. Maddie had likely come into the house angry when she’d thrown the gun to the floor.  

Jazz stared at the empty living room, hoping to see something,  anything .  

She walked over to the TV and flipped through the channels, one of Jack’s favourite fishing shows was on. She turned the volume up a few notches and went upstairs, the sound of running water had stopped. Danny opened the bathroom door just as Jazz hit the landing, he turned to her as he rubbed a towel over his hair.  

“Oh hey,” he cocked his head, as if listening to something. “Is that... Fishing Adventures?”  

“Yeah, I thought dad might like something to watch.” She pursed her lips, wondering why Danny hadn’t thought to do it first.  

“Oh,” Danny breathed, “Good, he’s already better at flying than I am, if he’d figured out tangibility already-”  

“He  what?”  Jazz  exclaimed . “Is that why you got in a fight with mom? You took dad  flying?  

“I didn’t ‘take him flying’!” Danny hissed quietly, eyes flickering down the staircase. “He figured out gravity didn’t work for him  anymore,  I barely got a word out before he shot through the ceiling!”  

He pulled the towel down off his head, he didn’t need it, Jazz had seen him phase water off his body plenty of other times, but he seemed to like keeping a sense of normalcy when he was at home, when he could. He didn’t even use his powers to help him with chores any more. He didn’t use them for a lot of things, even if it made them easier.  

“Have you talked to mom?” Jazz asked. She had warned him to stay away from her, she had warned him.  

“No, I heard her come in but, she sounded pretty mad.”  

“Yeah, that’s an understatement.” Jazz scoffed, “But I talked to her, she’s okay. For now.”  

Danny looked at her, his face unreadable.  

“...There’s something else, isn’t there?”  

He could be so annoyingly observant sometimes.  

“Yeah so, mom is...” Jazz gestured vaguely with her hands, as if trying to physically pluck the right words from the air. “She wants to interrogate Phantom for information about  Plasmius So  I... suggested that  maybe  she should consider a truce?”  

Danny’s eyes went wide, his expression had transformed from slightly annoyed to startled and anxious.  

“Look I don’t know if she’s  gonna  go for it,” Jazz backtracked quickly, she didn’t want to give him any false hope. “But I’ve given her the idea, so just, keep it in mind if she starts acting different around Phantom, or says that she wants to talk, okay?”  

Danny nodded, frowning.  

“Okay,” he looked pensive, “But I’m not sure if it’s a good idea.”  

“Why not?! You aren’t revealing Vlad’s identity, mom won’t know anything she doesn’t need to know, Vlad wouldn’t  dare  reveal his identity to her right now. Which means he won’t reveal  yours  either.”  

It was sound, it was the perfect plan.  

“If we back him into a  corner  he might.” Danny growled.  

“All we need to do is show him that we aren’t going to back down without a fight.” Jazz hissed, “Take the wind out of his sales, he thinks he has all the cards right now if we can just show him that we aren’t defenceless he might-”  

We can’t risk it .”  

“YOU can’t risk it!” Jazz felt her face heating up. “I’m trying to be understanding Danny I am  trying , but Vlad will be walking right into that door any day now and mom will welcome him with open  fucking  arms."  

She felt like she was overstepping, but she had been holding back so much frustration, so much rage. She knew it wasn’t Danny’s fault, none of this was Danny’s fault, but she was only human, she could only do so much and she was doing  so much,  all of that paperwork, the cleaning, the cooking, the groceries, the  entire fucking funeral  and this was something only  Danny  could do why couldn’t he just do  something.  

“I can’t just sit by and let him walk all over us!”  Stop  stop “I can’t do it anymore,”  Too far too far . “Maybe  you’re  willing to sit on your hands as  dad  watches  his own murderer  claw his way into our lives but I won’t just lay down and take it I  can’t!” 

She shouldn’t have said it. She knew she shouldn’t have said it. But she felt so  helpless,  and Danny was just  standing  there, face entirely unreadable, he should have been angry at her. She  wanted  him to be angry at her. She wanted him to be  something,  but all week he’d given her  nothing , no rage no fear no anger  nothing  since the night he beat Vlad into the ground, he had felt something then, he had shown something then, what was stopping him from doing that  now?  He had all the power, so much more power than he ever even let on, why wouldn’t he use it,  did he even care?  

Jazz shoved him. He barely moved. She shoved him again even harder.  

“Why won’t you do something!” she cried, “You’re the only one who can so  why?

She shoved him again, pushing against him with all her strength but he didn’t move, it was like pushing a rock. He was so strong, and he was doing nothing. Danny took her hands gently, she pulled away, balling her hands into fists and beating at his chest. 

No!  Be angry! Show me that you care! Show me that you care  please! Show me something! He grabbed her fists, she twisted and tried to pull away, but he wrapped an arm around her and pulled her in, hugging her tight.  

No. ” she cried into his shoulder, “It’s not  fair .”  

It wasn’t fair. Nothing was fair. It wasn’t fair that dad died. It wasn’t fair that Vlad had gotten away with it. It wasn’t fair that she had to be the one to hold the family together. It wasn’t fair that she had to cry. It wasn’t fair that Danny could keep it together while she was falling to pieces. She was supposed to be supporting  him . She was  his  rock.  

I am angry . ” he whispered.

Jazz stilled, her breath caught in her throat, she could feel his chest rumble unnaturally with the words. The air grew cold around them.  

“But I can level entire buildings with my  voice , Jazz.”  

The rumble had permeated the air, a picture frame dropped from the wall. A lightbulb popped. Jazz was losing feeling in her  arms,  her tears froze on her face. She could feel the ice crystals forming on her eyelashes.  

He pulled back. The air went still once more.  

“I’m sorry.” It wasn’t enough, but it was all she could say.  

“We’ll get him, Jazz. We will.” he put a comforting hand on her shoulder, it was cold, but not icy.  

“That was awful Danny I’m sorry I shouldn’t have-”  

“No, you shouldn’t have.” he sighed. “But you didn’t mean it.”  

“Yeah.”  

She did. She did mean it. And she hated herself for it.

Chapter Text

Chapter Text

Jack hated listening to fights. 

As a kid he used to hide under his bed or behind the lounge the moment voices began to rise, his parents didn’t fight a lot, but when they did it was as though they were making up for lost time. It didn’t help that most of the fights had something to do with him. His behavior, his struggles in school, another disassembled device, another schoolyard fight. 

The other kids always started it, but nobody ever listened to him. 

He knew that he had the same problem, his temper would get the better of him. Like his parents, he and Maddie didn’t fight often, but when they got into it, they would go hard. He wished he weren’t like that, but he just never seemed to be very good at keeping a lid on himself, at maintaining control when he felt things so strongly. As a kid he resented his parents, as an adult he sympathized, had they struggled the way he did? Did they go to bed regretting every shouted word, thinking of their children hidden away somewhere curled up and crying? Did they feel the same pain and regret, and promise themselves that it would be different next time? That they wouldn’t shout so loud next time? 

Did his own children resent him? 

It was so easy to see where he went wrong in hindsight, to see where he should have just dropped it, that it wasn’t even that big of a deal, but it was just so hard to catch himself once he was in the middle of it. It always seemed so important that he was heard, that people listened to what he had to say. All his life people had dismissed him, told him he was boring, told him he talked to much, told him that nobody wanted to listen to him blabber on about how cassette players worked or what the inside of a clock looked like. Nobody wanted to hear about the ghost he’d seen, nobody wanted to listen to his strange theories, they told him he was a liar, they told him he was crazy. 

He just wanted to be heard, but that should never have come at the cost of his kids.

He hadn’t been spectator to a fight in a long, long time. Sometimes Jazz and Danny would get angry over little things, sometimes Jazz and Maddie would engage in heated debates, but they were never real fights. It was nothing like what he and Maddie would get into every Christmas, the whole Santa thing wasn’t even that important, who really cared if she didn’t believe in Santa? It wasn’t as though Jack had evidence, just a 42 year old memory and a few theories about global consciousness manifestations. It was a stupid fight, and yet somehow it kept happening year after year, and he always went to bed thinking it would be different next time. 

He wasn't prepared for Jazz’s broken voice echoing down the stairs. He wasn’t prepared to be that little boy behind the lounge again. 

“YOU can’t risk it!” They had only been whispering until that point, the sudden rise in volume made Jack jump. 

There was more harsh whispering, and then- 

“Maybe you’re willing to sit on your hands as dad watches his own murderer claw his way into our lives but I won’t just lay down and take it I can’t!”  

Oh, oh... they were fighting about him

His stomach sank into his feet, she sounded so anguished, he had never heard her like this before. She had always been so level headed, even in an argument she kept her cool. He had admired her so much for that, for being able to do what he couldn’t. 

Knowing that she had finally reached her limit, that she was so angry, so hurt, it was heartbreaking. 

And it was all his fault

All because he made his children afraid to open up to him. All this could have been prevented if Danny had felt safe, if he trusted him enough to tell the truth, like when he was a little kid, he would share everything with them. He told them any time he ever broke something or was in trouble at school, he would go to them any time he was upset or angry, he told them when he wanted to go clothes shopping in the boy’s section, when he wanted to cut his hair short, when he wanted to be called Danny. He had been so open, he had felt so safe. He had trusted them so much. 

But Jack had to go and mess it all up. 

He was horrified that Danny felt that the ghost hunting would come before his own safety. He was horrified that he had given Danny no reason to believe otherwise. Jack may have always raised them to never be ashamed of who they were, but he had also raised them to believe ghosts were nothing but soulless monsters. He never even considered what might happen if one of his children became one.

Jazz’s cries had stopped echoing down the stairs, Jack couldn’t hear what Danny had said to calm her down. 

He felt it though. 

Like a drop in air pressure, a prickle on his skin, a vice gripping his chest, he heard a lightbulb pop and he could smell ozone. It passed almost as soon as it hit him. 

The sensation was much like it was when Danny had used his voice on Jack those other two times. He wondered if it had the same effect on Jazz that it did for him, or if being a ghost simply made him more sensitive. He desperately wanted to ask Danny what on earth it was, but the time just never seemed to be right somehow.

Jazz came padding down the stairs, wiping her eyes. She glanced over to the living room, empty in her eyes, before heading into the kitchen. Jack could hear her rummaging about. 

Jazz always had a tendency to cook when she needed time to think. 

She’d once explained to him that she had a problem with her thoughts running away from her, and that sometimes things would shove their way in when they weren’t welcome. She had a lot of ways of managing it, she had assured him, but she often found that keeping herself busy with other things would help to ‘ground’ her mind. Cooking was one of them, she said it also made her feel productive. It was one of the few psychoanalytical things Jazz had told him that actually made sense to Jack, he himself often used his knitting as a way to keep himself concentrated when thinking up new inventions, or when he was trying to mentally map out a blueprint. 

She had started frying up some onion and garlic, the smell was mouthwatering. It reminded him that he hadn’t eaten a thing since his death, and that he would be sitting out this meal. A bitterness rolled over his tongue, a reminder of the last thing he’d ever tasted. He had to remember to ask Danny if regaining his tangibility would let him eat again. 

He was going to follow her into the kitchen, just to watch over her while she cooked, give her some company even if she couldn’t see him, but he wasn’t sure he could stomach the sights and smells of all that food, knowing he couldn’t have any. 

He focused back on his fishing show, as a distraction. It was nice of Jazz to put it on for him, Danny had tried to leave the TV on for him last night but Maddie had turned it off before going to bed. He’d had nothing to do but lay beside his wife, watching as she slept fitfully, wishing he could hold her again, provide even the slightest bit of comfort. He had never felt so helpless

Jazz came out of the kitchen, her eyes were still red but she looked far more composed. 

“Hey Danny?!” She called up the stairs, “Do you want to invite Sam and Tucker over for lunch? I’m making enough for everyone!” 

Danny’s bedroom door opened and he appeared at the top of the stairs, staring at his phone, after a moment he nodded. 

“Yeah, they’re on their way over, you got anything Sam can eat?” 

Jazz put a hand on her hip and looked up thoughtfully. 

“There's some carrots here that need to be eaten soon, and we have some chickpeas. I can make her some dip!” Jazz hurried back into the kitchen, calling out, “Oh, we still have some pasta, does she like Italian? I can make a sauce, where’s the basil...” 

Danny shook his head, still tapping on his phone as he made his way down the stairs. 

“I think I’m gonna go check on mom, at least ask her if she wants some lunch.” 

“Ask Jazz if there’s any eggs,” said Jack, “She never turns down Jazzy’s scrambled eggs.” 

“Will do.” He waved to Jack as he left the living room, still focused his phone, muttering something about spelling. 

The smells were driving him crazy

It wasn’t just the onion and garlic now, he could smell the tomato and herb sauce Jazz had mentioned. He got a whiff of cheap powered cheese and oh no she was making that macaroni and cheese thing with the pork bits wasn’t she oh god he was going to lose it

Just as he was considering whether or not to leap through the ceiling again the front door opened and Tucker let himself in. 

“Hey Danny, I’m here!” he called out as he dropped his bag by the front door. “God that smells amazing.” 

“Danny’s in the lab with mom.” Jazz responded. “He’ll be up in a minute.” 

Tucker rolled against the doorway until he was facing the living room. He looked at the TV for a moment before glancing toward the lounge where Jack sat. He squinted slightly, and Jack could swear he was almost making direct eye contact. Then he smiled and gave a quick wave in Jack’s direction. 

“Hey Mr Fenton, almost didn’t see you there.” He waltzed over to the lounge and sat beside Jack, watching the TV. “My grandma loves this channel, she used to live by a river and they practically lived off fish when she was little.” 

Jack finally managed to get his mouth moving. 

“Hey, can you... see me?” he asked in disbelief. 

Tucker looked his way and grimaced. 

“Sorry Mr F, I can’t really hear you, all I get is sort of a quiet buzz.” he raised a hand to his ear and shook it in emphasis. “I can juuust see you though. Like a heatwave, sort of. You know the air ripples that come off the road in summer?” 

He wiggled his fingers in Jack’s direction. 

“You kinda look like that, but person shaped.” 

Jack stood, cupping his hands around his mouth he hollered into Tucker’s face. 

“HOW ABOUT NOW?!” 

A sour look crossed Tucker’s face as he stuck a finger in his ear and stretched his jaw. 

“Gods no need to fucking shout.” 

Jack felt almost giddy. Tucker could see him! Tucker could hear him! Was he becoming solid already? He had to go tell Danny! 

Tucker’s eyes followed him as he left the room, he could see him, he really could see him.  

The clash of smells was even more insane inside the kitchen. It hit him like a solid wall of delight, cheese, sauce, barbeque, eggs, toast, there was everything. The last time the kitchen smelled this good was during Jazz’s final exam week, it hadn’t been all that long ago, but it felt like an age to Jack. The past couple of days had been so long. 

Danny came up from the lab with Maddie in tow as Jazz buttered some toast and scooped up a heaping serving of eggs, she passed the plate to her mother with a soft smile. 

“Here, try to eat as much as you can, okay? But don't make yourself sick.” 

Maddie grasped Jazz with her free hand into a one-armed hug and kissed her on the cheek. 

“I don’t know what I’d do without you two.” she said, as Danny poured her a glass of juice. She took it, gave him a peck on the forehead and took her food back down into the lab. 

Jack watched her go. His good mood sinking slightly when he heard the pain in her voice. 

The front door opened again as Sam announced her presence, Jack turned to greet her, excited to be seen again, but she walked right through him. 

It was an uncomfortable sensation to say the least. He was used to going through walls and furniture at this point, but having a whole person just walk through him like he wasn’t even there? It was unsettling on a different level, the worst part was that once again he couldn't be seen.

Danny looked at him, then at Sam, then at Tucker, who had just entered the kitchen, stepping around Jack’s large frame. His mouth quirked sadly. 

“Oh dad, I’m sorry.” 

“What?” Sam turned around, staring right through Jack, “Is he here?” 

“She can’t... but Tucker, he just-” Jack faltered, more confused than anything else. Was it only temporary? Was his body fluctuating somehow? Popping in and out of the visible world? 

“Dad, you stay there, everyone else take a seat.” Danny instructed as he carefully closed the lab door so that Maddie couldn't hear them, everyone followed suit, except Jazz who was still plating up in the kitchen. 

Danny pulled a chair out for his dad, directly opposite from Sam and Tucker, Jack sat down but Danny remained standing. 

“Okay, so, we have a few things to explain.” said Danny. 

“Yeah, no kidding.” Sam huffed, teetering dangerously backwards in her chair. 

“First off, dad,” Danny turned to him. “You’re still invisible.” 

Jack’s heart sank. He knew it was too good to be true, Danny told him it would take time to develop a tangible form, but then how did Tucker- 

“Oh, uh sorry man,” Tucker fiddled with a gold ring on his finger, looking uncomfortable, “I didn’t mean to get your hopes up.” 

“Tucker can sort of sometimes see spirits too.” Danny clarified, “We found out a couple years ago that he’s reincarnated from some Egyptian Pharaoh and since then he’s had a lowkey sensitivity to spiritual stuff. We think it’s got something to do with him recently connecting with his past life.” 

“Duul Aman’s kind of an ass though so I try not to channel him too much.” said Tucker as he scratched at the gold stud in his nose, the piercing was new, it hadn’t been there the last time Jack had seen him. 

“He has Pharaoh Flare-Ups." Sam smirked. 

Jack must have looked about as lost as he felt because Danny laughed and clarified. 

“Basically Tucker’s past life sometimes comes through too strong and throws a temper tantrum, he’s kind of a brat.” 

Tucker threw him a casual peace sign in acknowledgement, still looking at his phone. 

“I’m basically a yugioh protagonist.” 

Jack didn’t know what that was but he had very little time to ask before Jazz started bringing food in, piling the table up high with everything from pasta to carrot sticks. 

“Okay, Sam this is for you,” Jazz set down a large cutting board with the sliced vegetables, a large salad and some cereal bowls filled with dip. “No cross contamination! But the carrots are kinda soft and the lettuce is pretty wilted, sorry.” 

“Jazz you are seriously the best.” said Sam, with genuine affection as she started dipping celery into the bowl of creamy coloured paste. "My parents' chefs can't even make hummus this good."

Tucker immediately went hog on the mac and cheese. Piling it high with a side of scrambled eggs. Danny didn’t touch anything, his eyebrows were furrowed, he seemed to be deep in thought. 

“I’ll be back in a minute.” he said, serving up a plate of the slightly wilted salad and a small portion of the macaroni and pork before heading back down into the lab. 

Jazz looked around the table, glancing in Jack’s direction, or glancing at the chair that had been pulled out for him at least. 

“Dad’s sitting there isn’t he?” she asked. 

Tucker nodded and she let out a breath before taking a seat in another free chair. 

“Good, I’d feel awful if I accidentally sat on him.” she looked over at Jack, not quite making eye contact, and waved. “Hey dad uh, oh.” 

She looked at the food spread, a sad expression crawling across her face. 

“Oh, dad I’m sorry, I didn’t think...” 

“Oh no Jazzy don’t feel bad.” He reached over to touch her shoulder, knowing that he was the only one who could feel it. “You guys dig in, I’ll be fine.” 

His stomach growled, he technically didn’t even have a stomach, and it was still hungry. 

“He said eat.” Tucker snapped, not looking up from his food. “And to stop whining already.” 

Sam kicked him, he yelped. 

“Ow! Shit!” he hissed, before looking over to Jazz, apologetic. “Sorry, I can sort of hear him better when I’m in bastard mode.” 

Jazz choked on a laugh, and had to take a quick sip of water. 

“No! It’s fine, it’s fine!” she put her hand to her chest as she spluttered a bit, still laughing, “Thank you Tucker, that was really nice of you.” 

The lab door opened as Danny returned, holding Maddie’s empty plate of eggs and humming a dramatic little tune as he displayed it for the room. 

“Nice going Jazz, she even took the salad and macaroni.” He grinned. 

“Yes!” Jazz’s fist pumped in the air, “We are on FIRE!” 

“And I also,” he pulled a small, green vial seemingly out of nowhere, “Managed to snag this!” 

Jack peered at it closely, it was full of ectoplasm and... something small and black. 

“Hey, that’s the heart from one of the poltergeists we dissected!” he exclaimed, “What do you need that for?” 

Danny tossed the little vial to Sam, who snatched it out of the air neatly and tucked it away into the front pocket of her overalls. 

“That,” said Danny, sitting down and finally piling up his plate, “Is how we’re going to jumpstart your core.” 

Chapter Text

Sam was jealous.  

She had no right to be jealous, she knew that, but it was an irrational and ugly side of her that she’d never been able to shake. It just bothered her so much that out of the three of them, she had become the normal one. The only one without special powers, the only one who couldn’t see the ghost sitting with them at the table. She just couldn’t shake that hunger and desire to be something different, that desire to be special.  

The guilt of it weighed heavily in her stomach.  

She had always been jealous of her two best friends, always, though the reasons had changed over time. At first it was Danny’s parents, she was about eleven years old when people had started gossiping about it. They were actual real ghost hunters, it was probably the most badass thing a parent could be, she thought. She couldn’t understand why Danny never wanted to talk about it, she couldn’t understand why the other kids thought it was weird, or funny.  

It took a while for Danny to realize that she was being completely genuine in her interest, and wasn’t just pretending to make fun of him. He warned her that she really didn't want to do this, but eventually he had let her walk home with him, let her inside that amazing and bizarre building... and she had learned very, very quickly why Danny had little to no interest in their profession.  

They were boring. So so boring.  

She had been expecting something a little more occult when they’d shown her the lab, some dusty, cobweb laced bookshelves, or a rug with a mystic circle in the centre of the room, but they had nothing of the sort. Everything was made of steel and glass, it was clean and clinical, there was some kind of chemistry set up on a table, a corner of the room had been full of broken pieces of machinery. It was... unusual, but not at all what she had expected.  

Maddie and Jack had been more than happy to explain every aspect of their work to her, they were excited to have someone actually show interest. Sam sat and listened politely, even after Danny had made his excuses and gone upstairs. She wanted to be interested, she really did, they were talking about ghosts after all, it should have been interesting.  

But there was just so much... science. No magic, no exorcisms. Just boring technical jargon.  

When she finally extracted herself and escaped back up into the house, she sat at the dining table where Danny was sipping a glass of juice.  

“I told you.” he grinned.  

“Still cooler than my parents.” said Sam, but her envy had certainly waned slightly.  

And then she met Tucker’s parents.  

The Foleys were an entirely normal family, they didn’t have interesting jobs or even interesting lives. Mr Foley liked going fishing with Tucker’s grandmother, Mrs Foley liked to bake when she wasn’t on call for work. She was a nurse, but even that wasn’t as interesting as Sam might have believed, she only worked in a general clinic, no emergencies, no life-saving procedures. She spent most of her days taking temperatures, checking blood pressure, and giving flu shots.  

They were ordinary, boring, and kind.  

They were the kindest parents Sam had ever met. They had made her feel welcome in their home, told her she could help herself to anything in the fridge, that she could come over whenever she wanted, stay as long as she liked. She never felt like a burden or a bother in the Foley household, she felt like family. Mrs Foley would kiss her on the cheek before she left, pressing a bag of home cooked biscuits into her hand. She had learned a vegan recipe just for Sam. Then she would go home, to that big, empty, cold house, her parents didn’t even notice that she had been gone.  

That envy had never waned.  

She thought she had it under control though, she never let it get between them. Despite her initial motives, she did get along really well with the two boys, even though they all had wildly different interests at first. That seemed to be the one thing they did have in common, they were different. Tucker was a giant tech nerd, Danny was awkward and had weird parents, Sam was a rebel who did everything against the grain.  

Sam liked being different. She knew it was a deep-seated problem, its roots embedded in the way she was raised. She was raised to conform, to always present a picture-perfect image, to look the way a good little girl ought to look, to speak the way a good little girl ought to speak, she had to care what people thought, because people had to think she was a beautiful, well-behaved little lady.  

Nothing was more important than making a good impression. Nothing was more important than what people thought of you. Nothing. Sam had been raised to be the perfect little daughter, she had been raised to be an accessory.  

Everything she did had to reflect favourably upon her parents, she couldn’t misbehave, she couldn’t fuss or complain or put even a toe out of line because it would embarrass them. If she was a bad girl people would say they were bad parents, and nothing was more important than making a good impression. Nothing was more important than being perfect.  

She had been a good girl, she did as she was told, she worked hard to hear her parents praise, to hear them tell everyone how smart she was, how special she was.  

Her achievements were never her own, though.  

Sam could read better than any others her age, her mother claimed it was all because she had read to her every night before bed. Her mother lied.  

Sam had painted a lovely picture of a daisy in a glass vase, her father claimed it was all those trips to the art gallery he had taken her on. Her father lied.  

She worked hard to be a good girl, to do everything perfect, and it stung to have to listen to her parents take all the credit, to listen to them talk about how much time they spent with her, when they barely paid her a lick of attention when they weren’t scolding her.  

In public they gushed about their perfect clever angel, behind closed doors it was the opposite.  

It was critique after critique, scolding after scolding, she was never good enough, she always had to be better. They would hound her when she failed, yell at her tutors, even her own grandmother, blaming everyone but themselves when Sam did anything that wasn’t perfect.  

Sam had only been eight years old when her grandmother’s words changed her life.  

She had been sitting in the old woman’s lap, crying and crying and crying. One of the other girls at the party last night could read in three languages, Sam had barely made headway into her second. Her mother had been furious, she had taken everything from her, books, games, tv, even her dolls. She’d given her a book in French, told her that she wouldn’t get any of her things back until she could read the entire thing out loud. Pamela hadn’t offered her more lessons with her tutor, she hadn’t offered to sit and work through it with her, she gave her the book and expected results. Sam had cried that she couldn’t read it, that it was too hard, her mother just told her to try harder.  

Ida had held Sam as she cried, devastated to disappoint her mother, terrified of what people would think of them, and then the old woman had whispered in her ear.  

“Can your mother read French?”  

Sam shook her head, still buried in her grandmother’s chest.  

“Can all of the other children read French?”  

Another shake.  

“Then why should you have to learn it?”  

Why.  

Why.  

It was a word she’d never even thought of asking, her parents had never given any reason to think it was even an option. Why did she have to learn French? Why did it matter? So what if one girl could speak three languages, none of the other kids could. Why did Sam have to be better? Why?  

When Sam asked her mother that one simple question, she had gotten a hard slap in return.  

Her father had stood between them, shouting at Pamela for striking her. They argued for hours, Sam had never been slapped again, but that one time had been more than enough. It was the final push she needed. She’d had enough of her parents taking credit for everything she did, she’d had enough of trying to impress everyone all the time, of trying so hard yet never being good enough. She decided she wasn’t going to take their shit anymore. 

The next party they attended, Pamela bragged loudly.  

“Our little Sammy’s learning French!” she held onto Sam’s shoulders with her sharp, manicured nails. “She’s already started reading Le Petite Prince! She even said it’s her new favourite book-”  

No I didn’t.” 

Three words. With just three words she had completely silenced her mother, a feat she didn’t even think was possible. The talons on her shoulders dug into her skin.  

Yes, you did sweetie,” said Pamela, gritting her teeth in a forced smile. “Remember? We were reading it together yesterday when-”  

“You didn’t read it with me.” Sam interrupted. “You took away all my toys and told me I couldn’t have them back until I could read it by myself.”  

Sam had been grounded for months after that, but she didn’t feel at all bad about it. She’d felt a giddy sense of euphoria, she had embarrassed her mother, she had made a bad impression, and her parents couldn’t do anything to change it. After they’d gotten home and she had been sent to her room, she heard her father explain what had happened to her grandmother, and then she heard Ida laugh so hard she nearly coughed up a lung.  

Every extra punishment Pamela heaped onto Sam drove Sam’s behaviour even further into rebellion. Her mother had given her nothing to lose, if she was going to be miserable doing everything she was told, then she may as well be miserable doing whatever she wanted.  

When Sam was ten, she had decided to become a vegetarian. She had never liked eating meat, but she had never been given another choice. She’d expressed this to her grandmother who reminded her that her parents would never let her starve. They couldn’t force her to eat anything unless they strapped her down and stuck a funnel in her mouth, Sam laughed, but wasn’t certain her mother wouldn’t try it.  

After she’d made her announcement, Pamela had tried everything from threatening to send her to bed hungry, to bringing up those poor starving children in Africa. Sam told her mother that she could send her dinner to them instead. Pamela did not like that.  

Ida had been right, though. Her mother had sent her to bed without dinner, but she had to feed her eventually. When she tried having the chefs sneak meat into supposed ‘vegetarian’ meals, Sam stopped eating anything she hadn’t seen be prepared in front of her own eyes. Her father had to step in and talk Pamela down, eventually assuring Sam that her food would be meat free from now on. Sam still inspected everything she was given, once she was old enough to use the kitchen, she stopped eating anything that she hadn’t prepared herself.  

Her dad wasn’t faultless in her terrible childhood, but he always knew where to draw the line, he knew when something wasn’t worth the trouble.  

But as long as her mother pushed Sam, Sam would always push back. When she became vegan her mother had started telling people about it as though it were a trendy fad, Sam wanted no association with some fancy diet, so she would interrupt her mother by telling people she was actually ultra-recyclo-vegetarian, it was a term she’d made up, but it was weird and off-putting enough that her mother had stopped mentioning it to people.  

Even being goth had been born of rebellion. Sam had already refused to wear any of her mother’s ridiculous dresses, but Pamela would often take everything from Sam’s wardrobe and leave her with nothing but frills and lace. Sam retaliated by either wearing her bedsheets as a toga, or go down to breakfast in her underwear.  

Ida had been the one to take Sam clothes shopping and let her buy everything she wanted, she’d chosen everything in black so she didn’t have to get constant lectures about wearing clashing colours. Her mother had been furious, her father even chewed Ida out for encouraging Sam’s disrespectful behaviour. Ida wasn’t allowed to take Sam out any more, but she did slip Sam some cash and let her know that the lattice by her bedroom window was a lot sturdier than it looked.  

Sam’s entire life had been pushing against people, she couldn’t just be herself, every choice she made had to be a statement, it had to be fought for. She got so used to that combativeness that she was constantly on the defensive. But despite thinking that she had completely pushed away every aspect of her upbringing, things still lingered.  

She was playing the same game she always had as a child, it was just wearing a different hat. She couldn’t make mistakes when it came to the things she loved. Her mother would take any opportunity possible to drag her down, she had to be able to answer every question Pamela had about veganism, she had to know all there was to know about the books she'd been reading, she had to be at the pulse of every new environmentalist movement, otherwise, her mother would scoff, why did she even bother? What was the point of loving something if you couldn’t even do it right? Do you even truly care?  

She had to throw herself fully into anything she claimed to love, she had to prove that it was truly what she wanted. Goth, vegan, radical environmentalist, she gave herself into them all, gave everything she had to the cause, these things showed the world that she was different, it showed everyone that she was special. But she wasn’t special.  

Danny and Tucker were special.  

What was veganism to being a half dead superhero? What was being a goth to being a reincarnated Egyptian Pharaoh?  

It made their lives difficult. It came with responsibilities, stress, pressure, a life of fighting and lying and suffering for the sake of protecting themselves, protecting others. Sam had no right to be jealous. She had no right.  

She was still jealous.  

It hadn’t been so hard when Danny was the only superpowered one between them, but once Tucker had started unearthing his latent abilities, Sam could feel herself falling behind. They were both better than her now, what was the point in being part of the team if she couldn’t do anything? How was she supposed to prove that she cared?  

That was why she needed the book.  

She had brought it with her to Danny’s house, it had been sitting in the bag by her side as they ate, she found its presence comforting. When she’d finished with her lunch, she had excused herself to the living room to begin prepping. She knew what Danny had wanted her to do as soon as he tossed her the ghost core, it was a ritual she had mentioned to him a while back, but she’d never tried it. She wasn’t comfortable using the heart of any creature, living or dead, in any kind of ritual, but she knew in this case that the circumstances outweighed her personal discomfort. There would be a trickle-down effect here, using this one core could kickstart a series of events that could lead to Danny’s mother finally learning that ghosts weren’t all evil, it would be the end of her brutal dissections and experiments.  

That was the idea anyway, she desperately hoped she wasn’t setting aside her morals in vain. She didn’t bend for just anyone, but she agreed to do it for Danny, she would cope with the discomfort and disgust for Danny, and for the sake of those future ghosts, and to prove to everyone, to prove to herself that this was important to her, that she truly cared about this.  

She opened the grimoire, flipping through pages filled with loose paper notes and translations.  

She had always been the one to do most of the team’s research, Tucker did all of his study online, but he struggled to filter through the garbage before finding anything particularly useful. Most ghost lore had been altered over time and become riddled with old wives tales and superstition.  

The real info, Sam had found, came from books. An old book never updated, an old book never changed, the information was untouched by the passage of time, Tucker had been looking for information about ghosts written by humans. Sam was looking for books about ghosts written by ghosts.  

She asked Danny to take her to the Ghost Writer’s library, Danny and Tucker didn’t have the time or the patience to read through book after book, but Sam was willing to spend all the time she needed there. Danny had a lot of responsibility resting on his shoulders, and he was going to need to brush up on the laws and history of the ghost zone sooner rather than later. It was getting to a point where ghosts were starting to catch on that Danny wasn’t entirely who he appeared to be, they were starting to talk.  

Sam knew Danny couldn’t do the research alone, reading was her strength, he needed her. She could breeze through books to find what she was looking for, she could take notes and remember details that just slipped by Danny. She finally had something important to do, something that only she could do.  

The only issue had been the library assistant.  

She looked exactly like the type you’d find working in a library, she was a tall wiry ghost with grey skin, red eyes and blue hair pulled into a messy bun, she had been managing the library while Writer was imprisoned, and she hadn’t been particularly pleased about doing the job solo. She had allowed Sam in to peruse at her leisure, but Danny was strictly banned from the premises until Writer’s return. Sam knew that Danny could have easily overpowered the ghost, or Commanded her to allow him access, but Danny didn’t use that power carelessly, instead he respected her wishes and remained outside.  

Over the next few days Danny had dropped her off for a few hours to read to her heart’s content before picking her up and bringing her home again. Sam treasured those lone, solitary hours. It felt good to have a purpose, to feel like she was making a difference somehow. Until she got stuck.  

As it turned out, a lot of the books were written mostly in ghost speak. It was a complex language, almost runic in nature, and she had very little understanding on how to comprehend it.  

She had been puzzling over a particularly large, leather bound book, trying to gain some context clues from the pictures to help decipher the runes, when the library assistant had popped her head around a shelf.  

“Do you need any help?” she asked.  

"No, I’m fine.” said Sam.  

The ghost woman floated over, glancing at Sam’s scribbled notes.  

“You know, you can’t just hole yourself up with a book and expect yourself to learn it alone.” she said, primly. “You'll be here forever doing it that way.”  

“My mom would beg to differ.” Sam muttered, and then sighed. “Okay yeah, I’m kinda stuck. You got a guide or a cheat sheet or something?”  

The ghost frowned and settled herself next to Sam at the table.  

“You can’t learn Exspiravit Scripturam with a guide. Especially in a book this old, the runes change meaning over time.” She pushed her large, round glasses up her nose and rolled up her sleeves, she reached into the neck of her sweater and pulled out a pocketbook. “Here, I’ll go through it with you.” 

Sam gripped her pen tightly.  

Thanks, but I’d really prefer to do this on my own.”  

“Why?”  

“It’s... ugh, I dunno . It’s stupid.” Sam put down her pen and sat back in her chair, nibbling on one of her lip piercings. She needed the help, she knew she needed the help, but it was just... humiliating, to be caught in her failure. Caught looking lost and confused, like she didn’t know what she was doing.  

It was humiliating because it was true, she didn’t know what she was doing.  

“Well,” said the ghost. “You aren’t going to translate anything by yourself, so as far as I see it you have two options. Accept help, or give up. Which one seems worse to you?”  

Sam didn’t answer, the ghost opened up her little notebook and began copying the ancient text out, grouping certain symbols together, making notes beside them in English.  

“Danny tried to teach me already,” said Sam, pessimistically. “He said it’s hard to teach a language he didn’t have to learn.”  

“Well, I’m certain that this ‘Danny’ wasn’t a linguist in his previous life.” the ghost put a hand out for Sam to shake. “I’m Andy, and it will be my utmost pleasure working with you.”  

With Andy’s help, Sam had not only been able to translate some interesting ghost zone history, but she’d also been able to narrow down some more relevant books, the ghost had most of the library memorised and could point Sam toward whatever she was looking for. She’d been able to borrow a few about the ghost monarchy for Danny to skim through, and a couple about Egypt from the ghost’s side of history, with some translated notes for Tucker to look over. Technically he could read ghost speak, but unfortunately the better he could read it, the less interested he would become. Apparently Duul Aman had not been much of a scholar.  

And then she found the grimoire, and she found herself a new purpose.  

She had always wanted to be a witch.  

Magic was something Danny had never dabbled in, Tucker’s reincarnation itself was the result of a magical curse, but he didn’t have any idea how it worked. Sam was still working on finding the right book for that.  

So far, her experimenting had just been that, experimenting. She’d been using spells to help her plants grow, she'd even created a few shielding charms, and anti-possession sigils , she’d been considering getting one tattooed.  

But the spell she was preparing right now? That was something completely different. She hadn’t tried this one before, and she was terrified of messing it up.  

Young spirits were fragile, and without a core they had no anchor, when they were gone, they were gone for good. She was holding the second life of her friend’s father in her hands. She had desperately wanted to have this power all to herself, to feel unique and special, and with that power had finally come the cost, the responsibility, the burden. She was officially part of the club. Yippee.  

Danny stuck his head into the living room.  

“Hey Sam, before you start, I think we should move into the Ops Centre, mom’s less likely to walk in on us.”  

“Good idea,” Sam started packing her things back into her bag and headed up the stairs. “Just remember to bring me some of his DNA, a hairbrush or a razor with a few whiskers on it will do the trick.”  

“What are you two up to?” she heard Jazz ask as she met the landing and pulled down the attic ladder, well, it used to be an attic ladder, before the Fenton’s moved in, now it opened up straight into a large domed room, large windows lining the walls.  

It was here that she finally got to begin.  

She mixed some grave soil into a paste with a homebrewed honey mead, poured from a flagon engraved with a sigil of vitality. She was lucky she’d already gotten a number of the items prepared, they were for a similar ritual, designed to help Danielle in the event she destabilised again, but this occasion took priority. Danny’s dad was in a vulnerable state, and Sam could probably hazard a guess as to why Danny was in a rush to give him more strength. If Vlad decided to make an impromptu visit, he would destroy Jack’s ghost without a second thought.  

Sam started to paint a circle on the floor with the paste, just large enough to fit the big man. Inside the circle, she painted runes for strength and resilience. She picked up a jar of dandelions and placed them all around the circle, touching petals to stem.  

Then she pulled the ghost core from her pocket.  

She felt ill just holding the thing. It may not have looked like a normal heart, but it was a heart just the same. She was sacrificing this defenceless creature. She had to remind herself that there was a greater good to this, that it was a sacrifice worth making.  

She opened the jar, and tipped the little core into her hand, it was still oozing.  

She sat like that for a few minutes, staring at it as ectoplasm pooled in her palm. Ghosts could reform if their core was intact, she held the heart of something that could conceivably recover. She knew it would become something mindless and driven only by whatever emotion it absorbed from the atmosphere around it, but it would become something too close to sentient for her comfort.  

She heard someone come up the ladder behind her.  

“I got the hair.” Danny said as he approached, “There was still plenty stuck in his hairbrush.”  

He held up the strands, and then went silent as he noticed Sam sitting stock still, ectoplasm dripping from her palm. She swallowed, this was her role, this was her responsibility, she wanted this. She wanted to be special, she wanted them to be proud of her. She had to push past it, she had to... She wiped at her cheeks, her hand came away wet. She had fought so hard to become who she wanted to be, she had worked so hard to be here right now, doing something only she could do, because she wanted to be special.

She was special now, she wished she wasn’t.

“Sam... if you really aren’t comfortable with this, I can do the next part.” Danny put out his hand.  

She didn’t want his help, she had always done everything on her own, she had to do everything on her own, she’d never been given another choice. She didn’t want him to think that she couldn’t do this, she couldn’t accept his help without admitting that she couldn’t do this, and Sam had to do this. She had worked so hard for it.  

But she’d worked just as hard to be who she was, and she was someone who couldn’t take a life. Not even an afterlife. She was someone who couldn't do this. She stretched her hand out to Danny, he took the core.  

She had two options. Accept help, or give up. She knew which was worse.

“Place it in the centre.” she said, eyes averted. “Then crush it with this.”  

She picked up a small, smooth rock, wrapped the hair Danny had given her around it, and passed it to him.  

“Hold your breath when you do, and step out of the circle quickly.”  

Danny did as instructed .  

She didn't look until he stepped back, a green mist billowed up from the collapsed core, and Sam felt a pang of guilt thrum through her. The mist did not dissipate, instead it flowed into the dandelions, settling over them until they gave off a slight glow. Sam checked for any cracks in the chain, any mist escaping out of the circle, but it seemed stable. She had placed the flowers perfectly.  

She looked up at Danny, eyes shining with just a little more than tears.  

“It’s ready.”  

Chapter Text

Jack stared at the glowing circle on the ground, and then glanced up to his son, who offered a small smile and a shrug. He had that look on his face like he knew he was about to be in trouble, it was one Jack was very familiar with.

“Danny.” He said in a low growl, in a tone he usually reserved for when his kids were in trouble.  

“Look dad, I know how you feel about magic but-”  

“Ahpbupbup no buts!” Jack raised a finger to the air, pointedly. “I may be a ghost but this is still a house of SCIENCE. We don’t do that occult mumbo jumbo around here.”  

Not only was it all nonsense, but it was the kind of thing that inspired kids to go running around in the night killing goats or whathaveyou on Halloween or full moons or during one of those equinox things. It was dangerous, it was a bad influence, and it had no basis in science. It had been hard enough convincing people to take the existence of ghosts seriously, it was people going around using crystals to ‘cure cancer’ that gave his field of study a bad name.  

He pointed at Sam, who was sitting cross legged with a book in her lap, muttering to herself over some notes.  

“You can tell Sam to clean up this mess, whatever you’re planning we can figure it out the real way, with REAL science.” Jack crossed his arms, emphasising that his words were final. This was still his house, and he wasn’t going to let his death get in the way of enforcing the house rules. Danny couldn’t just go around doing whatever he liked just because Jack couldn’t physically stop him, he still needed to show some respect.  

“Okay,” Danny began, speaking very cautiously. “Okay dad, I get it, but please let me explain what we’re doing here. Please?”

Jack rubbed at his chin, frowning as Danny continued.  

“Right now as a spirit, you are incredibly fragile. Mom’s blast almost destroyed you and it barely even grazed you.” Danny’s voice held a pleading tone, “If Vlad comes back here, if he finds out you’re here, he’ll wipe you out without a second thought.”  

“...Maybe you’re right,” Jack admitted, “But I don’t see how magic of all things is going to help when we have a whole lab full of equipment that we could-”  

“Your stuff isn’t equipped for this!” Danny cut him off. “You aren’t made of ectoplasm, your body can hardly even handle ectoplasm, that’s why I could barely make you so much as visible without tearing you apart!”  

“Danny,” Jazz stepped forward and placed a hand on her brother’s shoulder. “Let me.”  

Finally, Jack thought, Jazz hadn’t even believed in ghosts until she’d seen them with her own eyes, he was certain she’d be on his side with this entire magic debacle.  

“Dad, I understand why you don’t believe in this kind of thing.” she took a breath, looking through his right shoulder, before continuing. “It’s not like ghosts, you’ve never had an opportunity to examine or study magic as a concept, and there is so much out there that misrepresents it... but we’re not asking you to believe it. We’re just asking you to try, Danny is trying to do everything in his power to protect you, he’s already done so much for you. Don't you think you owe him one?”  

Jack wanted to be angry, how could Jazz of all people fall for this crap?  

But... she had a point. He really did owe Danny, for a lot of things. Jack felt disrespected, that his children were just flouting one of his biggest house rules, that they were actually expecting him to just go along with it, but how could he accuse his son of disrespect when it was Jack who had been trying to shoot him out of the sky for the past two years?  

He really did owe him.  

Besides, this was... technically an experiment. He was appalled by the idea of experimenting with magic, but at least when it didn’t work he would have evidence that it was all bogus.  

With a heavy sigh he uncrossed his arms and shrugged in defeat.  

“Ah alright, you’ve twisted my arm, but I’m only gonna try this once!” he insisted, “If it doesn’t work we’re going back to doing things the scientific way, got it?”  

“Sound good to me.” Danny laughed, smiling wide.  

“Oh, wait that worked?” Jazz asked, “Wow, I thought that would be much harder.”  

“Your sister’s a mean negotiator.” Jack grumbled.  

Danny laughed again, turning to Sam as he gave Jazz a passing pat on the shoulder.  

“He says you’re very persuasive.” Danny crouched down on Sam’s left and read over her shoulder. “Is this the passage?”  

“Yep,” she said, eyebrows furrowed, concentrating on something. “Can you check this translation for me? Andy already said it was fine but I just want to be sure.”  

As Danny worked her through some kind of pronunciation issue, Jack leaned over to Tucker, who had been standing off to the side playing on his phone.  

“Who’s Andy? Some new school friend of yours?” Jack asked.  

Tucker looked up at him, squinting slightly.  

“Uh sorry, didn’t have my pharaoh ears on, can you repeat that?”  

Before Jack had the chance he was cut off by Sam.  

“Okay, looks like we have it all ready.” She looked across the circle. “Mr Fenton, I’m gonna need you to stand across the circle from me, but DON’T step in it, not yet.”  

Jack did as instructed, if only half-heartedly.  

“So this is supposed to toughen me up or something?” He asked. “Give me a bit of a boost up, like that failed Ecto-Dejecto?”  

“Uhh, sort of but not exactly.” Danny hinted, “The thing is, spirits like you usually take a long time to develop a core and become a full-fledged ghost, we’re about to shorten that time-span from roughly six to eight months down to like, five minutes.”  

Jack eyed the circle carefully. The dandelions around the edge of the ring glowed ominously, likely as a result of that core Danny stole earlier. For fake magic it was starting to look rather daunting.  

“Are there risks?” he asked, a question he’d learned the hard way should always be considered before doing any kind of experiment.  

Danny looked at him sadly.  

“Maybe. We’ve never done this before. There shouldn’t be any reason for it to hurt you, but there is a chance it might not work. Other than that, the biggest issue is,” Danny paused for a moment, not looking Jack in the eye. “You are going to come out of that circle looking... different.”  

“Different how?” Jack asked, though he had a feeling he knew where this was going.  

“Well, sort of like,” Danny gestured vaguely before dropping his arms to his sides and huffing. “Like this.”  

He transformed into Phantom, it was the first time Jack had seen him do it right in front of his eyes. He hadn’t been expecting the bright flash of light accompanying it, and he couldn't help the cycle of questions flooding his brain. What caused the light? Why wasn’t there a light when parts of his ghost side showed through his human form? Was the light simply a result of the instant transformation? Could Danny gradually transform by choice? Would there be no light if he were to gradually transform?  

Wait, no, that wasn’t important right now. The meaning behind his transformation finally hit Jack.  

“You mean I’m gonna look like a ghost.” He stated.  

That shouldn’t have been a surprise, he was a ghost after all.  

He was a ghost.  

Somehow that fact just, hadn’t quite sunken in until this moment. Maybe because he didn’t look like a ghost, he didn’t even really feel like a ghost. He just felt like... well, Jack. Just a Jack who was a little less bound by the laws of physics. A Jack who couldn’t be seen, who couldn’t touch things.  

But he wasn’t... a true ghost was he?  

Danny had said so himself, Jack didn’t have a core, he couldn’t produce ectoplasm. He wasn’t like the ghosts he hunted. He was a spirit, a haunting spirit, as Danny had once said, but he was about to become a ghost, if this magic thing worked anyway.  

Would he still feel like Jack after that? Or would he become like any other ghost he’d hunted down over the years? Lost to an obsessive desire to destroy. Danny was still himself, sure, but Danny was also still partly human.  

His thoughts must have written themselves on his face because Danny was at his side in a moment.  

“Dad, it’s going to be okay.” He reassured him.  

“I don’t think I want to do this.” Jack took a few steps back from the circle. “I don’t want to become something that’s... not me.”  

“You’ll still be you.” He placed a hand gently on Jack’s arm. “Most of the ghosts you guys hunt aren’t made from human spirits, they’re poltergeists.”  

“I know that.” said Jack, somewhat annoyed. “Of course I know that, but I’m talking about the ones who were people. There are plenty of those around too, how do I know I won’t become like them?”  

“Because you aren’t them.” Danny stressed. “They didn’t get like that because they’re ghosts, they were always like that. Even when they were alive. Ghosts don’t become different people, it just seems like they’re all violent and destructive because they’re the only ones leaving the ghost zone looking for trouble. The rest just want to be left alone.”  

“There’s like, an entire ancient Egyptian civilisation in the ghost zone that I visit all the time,” said Tucker, looking up from his phone. “They’re just like people, some are cool, some suck, but mostly they just wanna get on with their afterlife and do their own thing.”  

“I’ve been spending weeks with a ghost translating this book.” Sam added, seemingly having picked up the context of the conversation. “She isn’t destructive or scary, she just really likes books. She wasn't even violent the one time I’ve seen her angry, and she was pretty angry.”  

Sam smirked at Danny, who seemed to purposely be avoiding eye contact.  

“But,” Jack let out a heavy breath, running a hand through his short thick hair, “But that’s not, that goes against all the data your mother and I have collected.”  

“That’s because you aren’t studying them in their natural environment.” said Danny.  

“May I?” Jazz tentatively raised a hand, she still seemed quite awkward about speaking to him when she couldn’t see or hear him. “Dad, imagine you’re studying a large, wild animal, but you’ve only ever seen it in a human environment. It destroys things and hurts people, so you think that it’s violent by nature, you build everything you know about it from this observed behaviour. Do you think it’s fair to call that animal violent by nature, when you’ve never actually observed it in its natural habitat? When you’ve never seen it interacting with its own kind in its own environment?”  

“I... I see.” Jack placed a hand against his chin, mind racing. “We don’t have enough data, we’ve only been researching from a limited pool of subjects. There are too many variables in our environment, it’s too foreign to give an accurate analysis for their natural behaviour. Why didn’t we think of that?!”  

He rubbed a hand down his face, feeling almost embarrassed. What an incredible oversight, this would set their research back years. They would have to throw out all the observations they had collected and start from scratch with consideration for environmental variables.  

Although... now that he was a ghost, he could get his own observations firsthand, without disturbing the natural ecosystem, he was part of the ecosystem now. He and Maddie could build their research from the ground up and it would be better than ever, who better to study ghosts than a ghost?  

Danny gave him a rough pat on the arm, a grin spreading across his face.  

“Warming up to the idea huh?”  

Jack barked out a laugh.  

“Don’t have much of a choice, do I?” He sounded more eager than he felt he should be, but he couldn’t shake the excitement of such a new realm of possibilities. The things he could learn as a ghost, the places he could see with his own eyes. They had always deemed the ghost zone as too dangerous a place to go for humans, but he wasn’t a human any more.  

He wasn’t... human.  

He looked at Danny, still in his ghost form, smiling at him. Green eyes, white hair, a sharpness to his canines, a blue tint to his skin. Is that what Jack would look like?  

“If it makes you feel any better,” Danny pulled Jack’s arm forward until he was standing at the edge of the circle again. “Your ghost form will still reflect your own self-image in a way, it just... gets the colours wrong, it isn’t permanent though, I can teach you how to alter your appearance. Apparently, Sam has some neat costume ideas.”  

Sam clicked her tongue and shot them a finger gun as her eyes stayed glued to the book.  

“If you want my references, check out Danny’s logo.”  

Jack looked down at the symbol on his son’s chest.  

“Hey think we could fit a FENTON logo on mine?” Jack gestured his hands across his chest and raised them up in front of his eyes, considering the space required.  

Danny looked over to Sam.  

“I think he’s ready.” He said, taking a few steps back once Jack was in place. “Okay dad, you need to listen to Sam, and follow her instructions exactly.”  

Oh yeah, the magic. Jack had almost forgotten about that. His anxiety lessened just a bit, he knew that becoming a full ghost was still something to consider for the immediate future, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t going to happen today, if magic was the only thing they had at their disposal.  

“Okay Mr F, I’m going to start the incantation, when I point to the circle, I need you to step inside. Make sure you do it as soon as I give you the signal, I know this is supposed to be low risk but I’d rather not take any chances.”  

Jack stood at the edge of the circle, twiddling his thumbs and feeling kinda silly. Sam seemed to be completely comfortable with the entire act, she was still sitting cross legged across the circle from him, book in her lap. She seemed to be mouthing along to the spell, quietly rehearsing before closing her eyes, and raising her hand. She was holding a stick of some kind, wrapped in a mix of different flowers. He could hear her speaking quietly but precisely.  

“Totem of poison, cloak of stolen grief, shift the veil.”  

The stick wrapped in flowers was moved from side to side. Jack had to bite his cheek to keep himself from laughing, he glanced around the room but everyone was focused intently on the circle, were the dandelions growing brighter?  

“Give him body, give him strength.”  

She snapped the little stick in half, the flowers smothered beneath her grip, she held one half in each hand, weaving the thin sticks between her fingers as she spread her arms, most of the petals falling to the floor. Jack suddenly realised that her words weren’t matching her lips.  

“Mourners bear witness, a sacrifice is given.”  

She lightly touched a small puddle of ectoplasm that Jack hadn’t noticed, it was pooled just by her right leg. He noticed her composure slip slightly and she shuddered at the touch of the ectoplasm, but she pulled herself together after a brief moment.  

She brought the hand forward, opening her fingers palm downwards, she dropped the stick, her other hand raised by her head following suit.  

“By ring and by crown.”  

Her eyes opened suddenly and Jack jumped, startled. They were a bright, shining white. Looking around himself he saw the others staring at her in shock, at least he wasn’t the only one surprised. With the green glowing drop of ectoplasm smeared upon her finger, she pointed at the circle. That was Jack’s cue.  

He jumped over the dandelions at the same time that Sam raised her hand to the ceiling and cried.  

“Ancients’ grace, may he RISE.”  

The circle lit up around him, a bright, white current flickered over as the green mist upon the dandelions shot straight to his feet. A sensation like cold lightning flew up from his toes into his chest and suddenly he felt heavy, so, so heavy. He felt his body sagging but he grit his teeth and held himself upright.  

The pain was disorienting, the light so bright he couldn’t see anyone behind it, he tried to reach out but he couldn’t seem to move. His chest was anchored in place by some unseen force.  

His heart beat loudly in his ears, with every thrum he could feel a chill pulse through him, his limbs tingled with pins and needles, but with every wash of cold they gained feeling again, little by little. Eventually his head started to clear, the white light subsided and he blinked.  

Sam was the first in his line of sight. Her eyes had closed again but her arm was still raised, she looked barely conscious but she stayed upright, though limply, as if held up by strings, her head lolled to the side.  

Tucker had moved to her side and hovered his hands around her, prepared to catch her if she collapsed.  

Then something struck Jack from the side, it startled him, and with a wash of tingling sensation, whatever had crashed into him fell right through him. He heard Jazz gasp in pain as she hit the floor.  

“Ah jeez, I’m sorry Jazzypants.” He took a hold of her arm and hefted her up off the floor, as soon as she was on her feet, she was grabbing onto him, arms wrapped as far around him as they could go as she buried her head in his chest.  

Jack put his arms around her, holding her close and tight. She was warm, and she was there, and she was real and he could hold her, she choked on her sobs as her body shuddered. Before Jack thought he could feel things when he touched them, but compared to how he felt now, it was like eating plain boiled potatoes and then stuffing your face with creamy garlic mash. He wasn’t just imagining that he could feel his daughter’s arms around him, he could really truly feel them.  

Danny put a hand on his arm, even he felt so much more solid and real than before, and Jack pulled him in for a big bear hug.  

“Dad c’mon, you got plenty of hugs from me already.” Danny grumbled as he attempted to extricate himself from the onslaught.  

“Nope.” Said Jazz, grabbing hold of him and pulling him back in. “This is family hug time, you’re getting family hugged.”  

“Aww,” Tucker cooed, Sam was slumped in his arms but her eyes were lazily flickering open again.  

“Ew, feelings, gross.” she mumbled, Tucker laughed.  

“She’s okay ladies and gentlemen.” he sat her up and gave her a solid pat on the back. “You did it Sam, nice job.”  

She looked up at Jack, finally making eye contact, then she grimaced.  

“Ugh, yeah we gotta work on your costume.”

Chapter Text

Maddie had never felt so lost.  

She had been through much in her life, growing up on a struggling farm, leaving her home and her family to pursue her studies, working harder than she ever thought she could for a university scholarship, having to leave her sister to care for their dying father alone. She knew loss, and she knew change, but she couldn’t have ever imagined the grief she felt now. Nothing could compare, nothing could come even close.  

It was one thing, to lose a father to a year’s long battle with cancer, to know it was coming a mile away, to see it with every cough and every wheezing breath. He had been a smoker, all his life, she would remind him every time he lit up a cigarette of the risk he was taking. They had just been words at the time, she never wanted her warnings to become predictions.  

But it was another thing entirely to lose the man you expected to live the remainder of your life with, in a matter of moments, and to have it ripped from you with sudden, violent intent.  

Maddie knew how to mourn a death, she didn’t know how to mourn a murder.  

When her father was first diagnosed, she had always wondered if she could have changed things, had she been tougher on the old man. She could have fought harder for his health, she could have taken the cigarettes, soaked them, trashed them, kept them from him whatever the cost. She knew that it wasn’t her fault, logically she knew, Alicia would take any opportunity to remind her that she’d done all she could, that he was just a stubborn old badger who wasn’t going to change for nobody. There was nothing else Maddie could have done.  

Not this time though. This time she knew there was something she could have done.  

She had become complacent, it was rare for a ghost to target them, their reputation did precede them after all, and it was rarer still for a ghost to act with such subtlety. She hadn’t expected the assassination, hadn’t even remotely seen it coming.  

But she should have.  

She should have taken the extra precautions, should have checked the scanners and packed extra weapons. She had just been so excited for the party, to see the look on Jack’s face when they wheeled out that massive cake, it had a fudge filling, she just couldn’t wait to see him bounce with joy when he took that first bite and tasted his favourite dessert of all time wrapped up in chocolate and frosting.  

He never knew that there was fudge in the cake, he never got to taste it. Of all the things that made Maddie’s chest tighten and her breath catch in her throat, of all the things, for some reason that was the one that hurt the most. She would never get to see his eyes light up with delight, not for cake, not for a new invention, not for anything... not anymore.  

That night would play over and over in her dreams, she wanted to call them nightmares, but as cold and aching inside as they left her when she awoke, she didn’t want them to ever stop. In her dreams she took those extra precautions, in her dreams she kept him safe. She would capture that vile monstrous ghost and Jack would pull her close and kiss her softly and they would shove cake in each other’s faces and they would laugh and dance and-  

She would wake up. Alone. Nothing but cold, empty sheets beside her. Once or twice she turned over, almost expecting him to be there, she almost thought she could feel him beside her, just for a moment, right at the cusp of dreaming and waking. Like if she could just hold him tight enough, she could pull him back into her life when her eyes opened again.  

But they were only dreams, they would only ever be dreams, and Maddie wasn’t a dreamer. Maddie didn’t hope and wish, Maddie got things done. Maddie rolled up her sleeves and tackled her problems head on with all of the tools at her disposal, and the tools she had right now were guns.  

A lot of guns.  

With single-minded determination she let cold fury sweep her grief aside and began her one-woman crusade. Every day she was out there, searching, hunting, doing all she could to track down the scum-sucking creature that tore the love of her life away from her, and she was going to return the favour by tearing it limb from limb. She was going to make it pay. She didn't know if ghosts were capable of feeling pain, but when she got her hands on that Wisconsin Ghost, she knew it wouldn’t take her long to find out, and she was going to enjoy every brutal moment of it.  

Over the past week she ate little more than protein bars or anything else convenient that she could eat on the go, she barely showered, barely even touched her hair. She looked a wreck, she felt a wreck, but those things didn’t matter. Not when that monster was still out there.  

She knew that the Wisconsin Ghost didn’t tend to stick around Amity Park, it was Phantom’s turf after all and the two were known mortal enemies, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was still around somewhere. Watching from the shadows, silently gloating over his victory, he could be ready to strike at any moment. He was a showman, an egotist, he always had a flair for the dramatic, his appearances tended to be public, loud and vying for attention. It said much that for a ghost whose sightings were so few, he was known so well.  

So she hunted. Waiting for him to make a move, waiting for him to put on a show, surely he would show up to brag and boast, to rub his victory in her face.  

Tomorrow, she’d think, tomorrow he’ll be out there. Tomorrow she’d take him down.  

Tomorrow never came.  

Every false alarm on her radar was a knife to the chest, every small poltergeist and spectre in her path was a stab of disappointment, she made short work of them. She wasn’t here to capture subjects, she was out for blood.  

She saw very little of her children, occasionally Jazz would stop her in the hallway and ask her to sign something, Maddie never read the papers, she knew what they were for, she couldn’t bear to look at them. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was proud of Jazz, for handling all of the arrangements, for taking the responsibility that should have been hers. She felt equally guilty for leaving her own daughter, barely an adult herself, to take the weight of it all. Jazz liked to stay busy when she was upset, but this was something she shouldn’t have to do on her own. It wasn’t even something she should have to do at all. Maddie was her mother, it should have been her.  

But that ghost was still out there.  

As long as he existed he was a threat to her family. She couldn’t let herself be distracted by paperwork when she should be out there hunting him down. Jazz was handling it, she would have to make it up to her later, she would understand, she even joined Maddie on some of her hunts. She knew this was important, she knew Maddie couldn’t lose focus on this right now.  

Of the little time she spent with her daughter, she saw her son even less.  

Danny was barely a shadow in the Fenton house, Jazz told her that he was spending a lot of time with his friends, and he was doing okay despite everything. Maddie didn’t believe her. She knew Danny was far from okay.  

The night of the party, after the toast, after Jack... Danny had burst into the room. She didn’t know where Danny had been until that point, she hadn’t even realised he was missing from the festivities, when he returned his clothes were rumpled, his shirt torn and his hair singed. Later at the hospital he explained that he’d figured out that the Wisconsin Ghost was there, that he had tried to stop him, but he’d been too late.  

Her own son had done a better job trying to protect Jack than she had.  

As soon as he’d seen his father on the ground, he tore across the room faster than she thought anyone could possibly move and leaped at Vlad, she’d never thought her own son to be capable of the brutality she’d seen that night. He had the man’s suit twisted in his grip, his other fist pulverising Vlad’s face into a bloody mess.  

She had been in total and complete shock, holding onto her husband as he gradually went limp beneath her hands, watching her son beating the hell out of a man before her eyes. People had started to try pulling him away, but he’d simply tightened his grip on Vlad’s collar and screamed in his face.  

“HOW COULD YOU?! HOW COULD YOU??!!” 

His voice echoed in her ears for hours, sending chills throughout her entire body. She wasn’t sure if it was her own adrenaline, or the look of feral animalistic fury on his face, or the gut-wrenching shredded cry of his voice, but for just a moment those words sent a cold terror racing down her spine, a terror she didn’t entirely understand.  

She’d seen very little of Danny since then, and a part of her was glad for it. She thought she knew her son, once upon a time, but he had become someone different over the past year or so. She couldn’t put her finger on exactly what it was that had changed, most of the time he still acted like himself. He made bad jokes and threw peas at his sister during dinner, he would sneak up behind her while she was cooking and put his cold hands on her neck to make her jump, he’d laugh like a madman as she took a mock swing at him with a wooden sauce covered spoon, but sometimes he would be so... quiet. He’d become sullen and distant, if she asked him what was wrong, he would turn to her, smile and brush it aside, acting like nothing was wrong... acting. Like someone else was wearing her son’s face. Every once in a while, she would give him a quick scan for ghost activity. He’d given off a few false readings after the portal had first opened, he’d been in the lab that day and had been standing right in front of it after all, it wasn’t too surprising to find some residual energy clinging to him.  

But nothing came up beyond that. He was still her son, he hadn’t been replaced or overshadowed, he wasn’t under any ghostly influence. She almost hoped he was, then she would know how to fix it. She was at a loss when it came to regular teenage rebellion.  

Missing curfew hadn’t been too much of a surprise, even Jazz had been guilty of that from time to time, although it was often due to extensive studying, not running around town with his friends doing who knows what. Skipping school had come as a complete surprise, and then he was sneaking out while he was grounded. The boy she thought she knew wouldn’t have don’t those things, but the boy she thought she knew couldn’t have beaten a man half to death either.  

The memories tended to blend together, Jack’s pale face, Danny's vicious screams, Vlad bruised and bloodied, and the ghost. Rising up from Vlad’s prone form as Danny was dragged kicking and screaming away from him by one of the party guests. He’d looked ready to start his assault anew on the ghost, who was laughing in triumph. Maddie had pulled her gun, but he disappeared before she could even take aim, shooting up through the ceiling in a streak of blinding light.  

Although as much as her son’s actions had scared her, she understood them. That rage and fury was unfamiliar on her son’s face, but it was familiar to her. She knew that pain, she knew that agony, and she wished he could channel it into something like she was, yet it was Jazz who joined her on the hunt, not Danny.  

Danny knew that the Wisconsin Ghost was responsible for Jack’s death, he’d seen it himself, he’d admitted as much to her in the harsh light of that hospital waiting room. Yet, with Vlad’s blood coating his knuckles and splashed across his cheek, he told Maddie in no uncertain terms, that Vlad was not going to step foot in their house, Danny couldn’t promise that he would hold himself back next time.

Had Danny really been holding himself back? Maddie wasn’t sure how much further he could have possibly taken things. If he’d gone any harder, he could have killed him.  

Maybe that’s what he meant, Maddie thought with a shiver. It had sounded like a warning, but it felt like a promise.  

She didn’t tell Danny that Vlad had called her, she didn’t even tell Jazz. Her daughter wouldn’t think it was right to hide things from him, and maybe it wasn’t, but Danny’s hatred of Vlad was misplaced and irrational. He simply couldn’t separate the actions of Vlad with the actions of the Wisconsin Ghost. In reality, Vlad was as much a victim as they all were, the man’s will had been completely overridden, he had poisoned his best friend against his will. The guilt had been eating him alive.  

“I’m so sorry Maddie.” he had cried over the phone, “I was weak, I couldn’t fight it, I’m sorry... this is all my fault.”  

He sounded so broken, as he trailed off into quiet sobs.  

“It’s not your fault.” She’d assured him, tears straining her own voice. “There was nothing you could do, if he couldn’t use you, he’d have just used someone else.”  

“But I could have done something. Warned him somehow I could have-”  

“We can’t change the past Vlad.” she said, her voice harsher than she intended. “We can’t go back, he’s gone, but I promise you Vlad, we’re going to find that ghost. We’ll make him pay.”  

He was quiet, she gave him a moment to find his words.  

“Thank you.” said Vlad, in a quiet shaking tone. “If you ever need anything, anything, please, I’ll be here. You are always welcome in my home.”  

“I appreciate the gesture Vlad but,” Maddie held the phone to her chest for a moment, Danny’s screams echoing through her bones, before placing the phone to her ear again. “But I think the kids need more time... Danny... needs more time.”  

He’d gone entirely silent on the other end, she waited, biting her lip anxiously.  

“Maddie, please let him know that... that I don’t blame him, for what he did. I deserved every moment of it, it was the price I paid for my weakness and-”  

“Vlad stop.”  

“-And he has every right to hate me, I failed you, but I will make it up to you. When you’re ready to let me in, I’m only a phone call away.”  

She and Vlad may have had a rocky past, he’d acted inappropriately and overstepped her boundaries, but she was more than willing to put that behind them. He was a grieving broken man who needed a friend, just as she did. They’d both lost someone dear to them, but where Maddie had her children, Vlad had no one.  

She hadn’t pushed it though, she was being honest when she said that they needed more time. As misplaced as Danny’s anger was, she feared that pushing him would just make it worse.  

Maddie finally began to take a few breaks with her hunting, in favour of working on some new weaponry. She’d already done the last of the circuitry on the Fenton Shield Buster, Jack’s latest pride and joy... and also his last. She felt a sting in her throat every time she looked at it.  

She struggled with gadgetry, it wasn’t something that came naturally to her, she specialised in biology and chemistry, with some dabbling in physics and coding. Engineering had been Jack’s strength, he’d taught her everything he could, but she still relied on his blueprints to make anything more than a standard quick-shot pistol. Even with the blueprints she struggled with the more complex creations, she knew they had plenty of weaponry stored in the vault, but when the two of them worked together she always felt as though they could do anything, but now... now... it was almost as though she’d had her right arm lopped off.  

She began to spend more and more time in the lab, poring over Jack’s work. Her hunts had been getting her nowhere, her time was better spent preparing for a fight with the Wisconsin Ghost instead of just looking for one. She figured that the Shield Buster could take him down, Jack had been certain it was going to change everything. It broke through shields, it cauterised ectoplasm, and it was built like a mini bunker, and when she finally had a chance to test it-  

She blew it.  

She’d been waiting for Phantom to show up, she was surprised it took as long as it did, Jazz thought it was because her feverish hunting had scared all the ghosts away, Maddie knew better. The ghost boy was avoiding her. He wasn’t stupid, he’d shown time and time again that he could think and plan and strategize more than a few steps ahead. As much of a show off as he was, he'd know that Maddie would be on a hair trigger. Staying away was smart, but unfortunately, she needed him.  

He was the only one who might know where to find the Wisconsin Ghost.  

But she blew it.  

The shots had gone straight through his shield, as she knew they would, they cut right through his ghostly flesh, like she knew they would, his wounds healed over almost instantly. That wasn’t right. The gun was supposed to prevent healing, had she messed it up somehow? Did she wire it wrong?  

A sudden, loud roar made her ears pop, and nary a minute after, the ghost boy had sped down to greet the barrel of her gun, and for just a moment they were face to face. Usually Phantom looked almost human, more-so than most other humanoid ghosts. People would often forget how dangerous a creature he was, they’d treat him like a normal boy, or even like a superhero, but if there was ever a reminder of Phantom’s alien nature, it was right at this moment. When his icy blue face was mere inches from hers, with wolfish teeth pulled back in a snarl and hair of flame licking at his temples, his sclera had entirely succumbed to the toxic green of his irises, his pupils had turned a blinding white. It was a monster, not a boy, that placed one hand on the barrel of her gun, and unleashed a spear of ice down the barrel.  

Maddie dropped it immediately as sparks flew from the metal plating, she pulled a standard pistol from her belt and shot at Phantom as he held the Shield Buster by the protruding shard of ice, and then slammed it down, shoving the ice further into the gun. The front of the barrel split and bowed outwards at the intrusion, and Maddie watched as her husband’s last gift to her was torn to pieces from the inside, as her shots smacked uselessly into the ghost’s chest.  

She dropped the gun and pulled out her staff, ready to take him down with her bare hands, ready to crush it against his throat as she dragged the information she needed out of him one way or another, but as fast as the monster had appeared, it was gone. The ghost boy stood before her again, looking for all the world like any other teenager, save for the green freckles and glowing eyes. She wasn’t fooled though, not like the rest of Amity Park, she’d seen what he truly was under that façade.  

He looked at the gun, then glanced to her, almost looking a little embarrassed.  

“Sorry you had to see that.” said Phantom, he would have sounded genuine if Maddie hadn’t known better. “You caught me at kind of a bad time.”  

Maddie didn’t let him say any more, as she lunged at him with a cry, but her staff hit nothing. He was gone.  

Dragging the wreck of the Buster home she could feel the tears stinging her eyes, the shame and rage colouring her cheeks.  

She screwed it up, she lost Jack’s Shield Buster, she lost her one chance at interrogating Phantom, without the Shield Buster she didn’t stand a chance. If it couldn’t even take down Phantom, what chance would it have had against the Wisconsin Ghost? It didn’t even matter in the end, since she managed to get it fucking destroyed.  

Tears ran down her cheeks and splattered against the metal table. She was sick of crying, she was sick of being upset, she was sick of feeling helpless.  

In a burst of rage and frustration she grabbed the wrench and swung her arm with all her might, letting her voice tear out of her throat. As it crashed into a filing cabinet she heard a squeal, Jazz was standing right by the dented cabinet, eyes wide and face pale.  

Maddie felt her stomach sink as cold hard regret filled her, she could have hit her. The cabinet had warped under the weight of the wrench, the paint had been skinned off the metal. That could have been Jazz.  

“Oh my god Jazz! I’m so sorry I didn’t hear you!” Maddie rushed over and pulled her daughter sideways against her chest, holding her close. “I’m so sorry, are you okay?”  

Jazz didn’t move for a moment, she just held onto Maddie’s arms as they encircled her, taking deep breaths, she was still staring at the filing cabinet. It could have been her, had Maddie aimed just a little to the right...  

“Yeah, yeah just,” Jazz swallowed, “Gimme a minute.”  

Maddie couldn’t believe she’d done that, she couldn’t believe she let herself do something so stupid, that she let that god damn ghost boy get to her like that.  

Her daughter held her close, as Maddie let her heart out in the small space between them. She didn’t know what she’d done to deserve such a kind and understanding young woman for a daughter. She had almost caved her skull in, almost killed- and yet Jazz was still the one reassuring her.  

The guilt over nearly hurting her, and the gratitude she felt for how much her daughter had done for her, were the only reason Jazz’s suggestion didn’t send her into a rampage.  

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but you have to ask yourself what’s more important. Capturing Phantom, or taking down the Wisconsin Ghost, because realistically? You might not be able to have both.  

She was right, of course she was right.  

After Jazz went back upstairs Maddie sat at her desk, head in her hands.  

A truce with Phantom. She didn’t team up with ghosts. Jazz hadn’t seen Phantom the way she had, he was a monster masquerading as a boy, everything about him was a lie. The image he put off, the wise-cracking teenager who helped little old ladies clean their gutters, helped innocent young children find their lost pets. It was all an act, and she had finally seen the proof with her own two eyes.  

But nobody would believe her. His act was too good, even Jazz had fallen hook, line and sinker. The only person she hadn’t heard sing his praises was Danny, she’d seen his friends hanging around the ghost kid more than once, but never was Danny there with them. At least one of her children had some sense.  

She picked up her tools and started inserting a circuit board into a gadget she had been trying to fix earlier on the day, it was a net gun, they were tricky things. She always had trouble getting the release mechanism right, the nets came out all tangled. The fluorescent light over her head flickered slightly, she looked up at it, but it settled down after a moment, she’d have to check the bulb later.  

Before too long, a smell started to waft down the stairs, Jazz must have been cooking again. Maddie felt a pang of guilt hit her as she realised that her little tantrum had likely resulted in Jazz’s sudden stress outlet.  

“Mom?”  

Maddie started, her hand jittering over the fine slit in the open mechanisms of the gun she’d been trying to place a small chip into.  

“Oh god, Danny.” she put her tools down and rubbed at her face. “Don’t scare me like that!”  

She deserved it, after scaring Jazz half to death. She also felt like she should have been used to Danny creeping up on her by now, he had feet of velvet, he could walk across gravel in an echo chamber wearing steel capped boots and she still wouldn’t hear him coming.  

“Jazz is making lunch. Sam and Tucker are coming over to eat too, do you wanna join us?” Danny offered, looking around at one of her specimen shelves, he picked up a jar, pulled a face in disgust and put it back down.  

Maddie sat back in her chair, it had been a while since Danny had his friends over, as far as she was aware at least, it wasn’t like she’d been home often enough to know.  

“I don’t think I’ll be very good company.” said Maddie. She’d just lost her husband’s magnum opus and nearly bashed in her daughter’s skull, she was not in the mood to be around people.

Danny came over to the desk and rested his elbows on it, looking up at her and smiling.  

“Jazz is making scrambled eeeeeggs.” he announced in a sing songy voice, bouncing on his toes a little. It had been a while since she’d had Jazz’s scrambled eggs, the smells were still wafting down from the kitchen, tempting her. “C’mon mom you haven’t eaten all day, how are you gonna work on all this fiddly stuff if your hands are trembling? You need food.”  

Maddie tucked her shaking hands into her lap. He had a point, the last thing she’d eaten was half a Nasty Burger the day before.  

“C’mon.” he put his hand out and motioned for her to stand up. “We’re getting you some lunch.”  

She followed him upstairs, where Jazz greeted her with a plate of eggs and toast already there for her. She gave Jazz a hug and Danny a quick kiss, before returning to the lab with her lunch, she didn’t deserve these kids, she truly didn’t. She was supposed to be the one looking after them.  

She didn't realise how hungry she was until she took the first bite, she was finding it hard to pace herself but she heeded Jazz’s warning and made sure to take her time. It felt good to have warm food in her stomach again. She’d barely finished when Danny had returned with more food. She didn’t think she’d be up to eating more, but her appetite had suddenly become ravenous once she got a taste of the eggs. Jazz’s cooking was far easier on the palate than one of those awful burgers. He put the plate down beside her, before leaning an elbow against her specimen shelf. 

“Hope you left room, this is a two-course meal kinda day.” he grinned. “I know you probably would have liked a little more time for your food to settle, but Tuck was digging into the mac ‘n’ cheese pretty hard so it was kind of a now or never type thing.”  

Maddie felt a chuckle escape her lips, despite the awful morning, Danny had started to make her feel almost normal again. It felt good to laugh, it also felt wrong, as if she was moving on too soon. As soon as she took a bite of macaroni, Danny moved away from the shelf to pick up her empty plate, but before he could head to the stairs she stopped him. 

“Danny, wait a minute.” he looked back at her with an oddly blank expression on his face, one hand was holding her plate, the other hand was stuffed in his pocket.  

“Yeah?” he asked, cautiously.  

There it was again, Maddie thought. That bizarre feeling, like he had shifted in some way. Before, her son had been standing there, joking with her like it was the most natural thing in the world, and then suddenly it was like glass had slipped between them, creating a disconnect of some kind that she couldn’t quite explain. Suddenly she wasn’t so sure she wanted to continue, but she’d already initiated, she may as well follow through.  

“I just wanted to run something by you.” she said, hesitantly.

Danny visibly relaxed, his hand dropped out of his pocket and the subtle tension in his shoulders and jaw released, and suddenly that strange sensation of otherness was gone.  

“Yeah sure, what do you need?” he asked, his lips perking in an encouraging smile.  

“It’s,” Maddie took a deep breath. “It’s about Vlad.”  

The smile slipped off his face in an instant, and where there had been a wall of glass between them, Maddie now felt a wall of cold iron.  

“No.” he stated.  

“Danny, I’m not talking about inviting him over.” she reassured him, “I just think we should talk, just talk! It can be over the phone if you-”  

“No.”  

Never had she felt a word weigh so heavy and solid in the air. Danny turned away from her, his face like a slate of stone, and for a moment she was back in the hospital waiting room, with those cold blue eyes boring into her from a blood splattered face.  

As soon as he was out of sight, Maddie realised she was holding her breath. She hated this, she hated when her son made her feel this way, when he made her feel afraid. It wasn’t right, it just wasn’t right, he had never done anything to hurt her, he had been nothing but loving to her his entire life. Even when he was skipping school, even when he was breaking curfew, he never stopped being kind to her, he’d never given her any reason to fear him.  

Until she had seen him kneeling over her old friend with blood dripping from his fists.  

As soon as she heard the lab door close, she pulled out her phone and began to dial. It only rang out once before it was picked up.  

“Maddie?” Vlad’s sounded pleasantly surprised.  

“Hi, Vlad.” she ran a hair through her tangled hair, biting her lip. “Is now a good time to talk?”  

“I don’t think there could ever be a bad time.” he said, a slight jovial tone breaking through the low, tired drawl his voice had held since the last time they spoke. “Is everything alright?”  

“I’m just...” Maddie paused, a mix of anxiety and frustration squirming in her chest, before her thoughts began to tumble from her mouth. “I tried talking to Danny, I wanted him to just, maybe talk with you over the phone? To help him come to terms with what happened but he, oh god this is going to sound ridiculous but, honestly sometimes I feel like I’m talking to a completely different person I... Vlad, sometimes, he scares me.”  

Vlad was silent, and suddenly Maddie’s brain caught up to her mouth and she instantly regretted saying those thoughts out loud.  

“I’m sorry Vlad I just, forget I said anything okay, I just-”  

“Maddie,” he cut her off gently. “It's okay, I understand. You saw a side of him none of us could ever have known he had. I myself couldn’t quite believe it when I was told how I had ah... sustained my injuries during my possession.”  

“I’m so sorry, Vlad." said Maddie, his battered face still fresh in her mind. “I hope he didn’t cause any permanent damage.”  

“It’s quite alright my dear, nothing a few weeks of rest can’t fix, and perhaps a... plastic surgeon or two.” he chuckled lightly, “I jest my dear, you’ve no need to apologise. Daniel was simply trying to protect his father, in fact I was rather impressed by his... determination, I suppose you could say.”  

“I'm glad to hear that Vlad, really, and I’m sure Danny will come around eventually.” she hoped.  

“Of course, my dear of course, as much as I ache for the company I will not press where I am unwelcome.” said Vlad, quite matter of factly, Maddie felt that awful guilt rising in her chest.  

“Oh Vlad no, of course you’re welcome it’s just that-”  

“I understand Maddie,” he assured her. “But if I may be so bold as to suggest, perhaps we could meet up somewhere neither here nor there? There is a lovely little café in town that has simply the most delectable apple danish, and I think the both of us could use something nice to take our minds off things, but the choice is yours of course. I would understand entirely if you needed more time-”  

“That sounds lovely Vlad.”  said Maddie, wiping a tear from her eye. “I could really use a friend right now.”  

“As could I my dear, as could I.”  

Chapter Text

Shards of mirrored glass glinted at him from across the bathroom floor. He could hear voices calling him but there was a blanket wrapped around his brain, muffling anything that tried to get through. He grabbed at his hair, struggling to twist his fingers into the short strands, his head felt so small. No, no his head wasn’t small, it was his hands they were-

And his hair, it was wrong , the texture, the consistency, he could hear static crackling as he gripped and pulled at it. The tugging on his skull usually felt soothing, but he couldn’t focus through all of the wrong , it was all wrong .

“Dad?”

Jazz’s voice broke through the fuzz in his ears, punctuated by a squeeze to his arm, her hands were so warm, one of them slipped into his fist and pulled it from his head, it felt so small too small .  

“Dad, can you squeeze my hand for me?”  

“Jazz wait-”  

Another slightly cooler hand took its place.  

“Dad, I need to know if you can hear me, okay? Squeeze my hand.”  

Danny’s voice was almost drowned out by the roaring in his ears, but he heard him, he squeezed. Jazz’s warm hands were on his shoulder now.  

“Okay dad, can you take some deep breaths for me? Deep breath in-” Jazz’s hands squeezed as she breathed in, he tried to copy her, but his chest was just so tight.  

“Slow breath out.” she continued, her hands relaxing.  

Jack tried to focus on the pressure on his shoulder, and Danny’s hand in his, both of them squeezing rhythmically with their breathing. He found himself gripping tightly to Danny’s hand in turn, and tried to make himself let go with every breath out. The tightness in his chest began to lessen as he- oh, oh he’d been hyperventilating , he was having a panic attack .  

But ghosts don’t need to breathe, do they?  

“Dad, c’mon keep breathing with me.”  

Did he even have lungs? The image of Danny’s torso, torn open by his own weapon, leapt unbidden through Jack’s mind.  

“I don’t think it’s working Jazz.”  

Danny had lungs, was that just because he was still part human? Their test subjects never had lungs, they were just full of goop, was Jack full of goop?  

“DAD!”  

He heard a hideous sounding snap and something crunched in his fist.  

“Oh my god Danny-”  

“It’s fine Jazz it’s fine.” Danny hissed sharply.  

Jack was still holding Danny’s hand and, oh god, oh god he’d just -  

He tried to pull his arm back from his son’s firm grip, but instead of holding him still, Danny moved Jack’s own hand to his broad chest.  

“Can you feel that?”  

A steady thump, thump, thump beat beneath his hand, Jack was faintly aware of it thrumming through his ears and down into his feet.  

“Focus on that, we need to slow it down.”  

A heartbeat, he had a heartbeat, but was it even real? Did ghosts even have hearts?  

Yes, he reminded himself, yes they do, he’d seen it . This was his heart, it was his and it was real and it was going too fast.  

“Slow it down dad, slow it down. You just need to think about it, focus.”  

Things started to drip back into his awareness, as the thudding beneath his palm gradually slowed, the hard tiles beneath him, the door handles of the bathroom cabinet digging into his spine, the light had been turned off but the room wasn’t dark, there was a soft glow emanating from...  

The hand that wasn’t pressed tightly to his chest was wrapped around his legs, which were pressed up against his large stomach. Danny was kneeling on the floor in front of him, Jazz wasn’t in the room.  

“Hey dad, you with me?” Danny smiled, gently placing a hand on Jack’s knee. Jack was expecting the chill Danny’s hands always carried, but his touch was only cool rather than icy.  

“Where’d Jazzy go?” Jack found himself asking, unsure why it was the first thing to come from his mouth.  

“She’ll be back in a minute, are you okay?”  

“Yeah, yeah I’m-” Jack’s eyes grew wide as he caught sight of Danny’s hand, the one not on Jack's knee was tucked by his side, it was black and blue with bruises, the fingers pointing at angles they shouldn’t have been.  

Danny’s smile dropped into a tight line as he followed Jack’s gaze.  

“Oh, yeah, that.” He lifted his broken hand up in between them. “It’s okay, here, watch.”  

Before Jack’s very eyes, the fingers began untwisting themselves, popping back into position with an awful grinding crunch.  

“Ta da! Good as new.” Danny flexed his fingers, all back where they should be, they were still bruised, but the deep purples were already starting to fade into a sickly yellow.  

“I’m... I’m sorry Danny-boy.” Jack brought both of his large too large hands up in front of his face and sighed heavily. “I guess I just, haven’t got the hang of this ghost thing as much as I thought I did.”  

“It takes some getting used to.” Danny reassured him. “I can’t tell you how many pens I snapped when my strength started bleeding through to my human side, my hands were stained blue for weeks.”  

“Wait,” Jack’s eyes narrowed, “You told us that was from an art project.”  

“Hah, yeah,” Danny chuckled nervously, “I mean, I had to tell you something.  

Jack had already come to terms with the fact that Danny had been hiding such a huge secret from them, but somehow it hadn’t occurred to him that it didn't simply stop at a single lie of omission, how often had Danny been forced to lie through his teeth, right to their faces? When did he get so good at it?  

Jack wasn’t at all surprised Danny could pull one over on him, but not even Maddie had suspected the truth. She was always the one to call their kids out on their little white lies growing up, neither Danny nor Jazz had ever been very good at it, they’d always crack under their mother’s withering gaze, but even she hadn’t so much as blinked an eye at Danny’s art project story.  

A soft knock on the bathroom door preceded Jazz’s entrance, she stepped quickly back into the room, shutting the daylight of the hallway out behind her. The bathroom was still lit up by a soft blue glow, Jack knew where it was coming from, he could see it in the shards of mirror at his feet, accompanied by hints of white hair and blue skin. He’d been trying to ignore the colour of his gloves and suit as he came down from his panic attack, but he couldn’t ignore them much longer.  

Danny had been right about his ghost form getting the colours all wrong, everything had been inverted, his suit looked like an XXL version of Maddie’s, and his gloves were white, like his son’s. Jack had been prepared for that, he’d been expecting that, the problem was the other changes.

It had almost been like looking in a funhouse mirror, the ones that played with your proportions, giving you something silly like a big head or tiny feet.   This mirror had given Jack arms that looked as though they could crack oak trees in half, attached to a chest three times its normal size and fists he now knew could crush bones . His palms were so large he’d nearly enveloped his entire head when pulling at his hair earlier. It wasn’t him , it was all just wrong so wrong .  

His hair was another thing.  

It stuck right up in spikes, like a cartoon character who’d just stuck a fork in a power socket. The analogy probably wasn’t that far off, he could hear the crackle and buzz of electricity around his ears.  

“Why do I look like this?” He asked, voice trembling. “You said... you said I was supposed to look like how I see myself? This doesn’t... feel like myself.”  

“Yeah, I know.” Danny said softly, of course he knew, he probably knew better than anyone. “It’s not really all that straight forward, your ghost form reflects a subconscious self-image, not a literal one. It takes things that you think and feel about yourself and sort of, expands on them. Good or bad.”  

Jazz moved away from her place at the door, carefully stepping over the shards of glass, she handed something over to Danny before taking one of Jack’s large arms, holding it up.  

“I think you should look at it like this, why would your subconscious want these? What do you think you could do with arms like this?”  

Jack thought about it for a moment, still trying to shove down the unsettling twist to his stomach at the sight of his palm by Jazz’s head, what if Danny hadn’t swapped her hand out for his earlier? She couldn’t just heal it up within a few minutes like Danny could.

“I’ll give you a hint,” said Danny. “What was the first thing you did with those arms as soon as the spell was finished?”  

The first thing he’d done? Well, he’d done the first thing any father in his position would have done, he’d hugged his kids . He’d wrapped his arms around them and held them close, where they could feel safe.

“I think...” Jack took a shuddering breath, very gently brushing a stray hair from Jazz’s face, feeling a deep sense of unease when he could feel the tickle of Jazz's hair against the hand that didn't feel like his. “I’ve always done everything I could to keep my family safe. I’d fight tooth and nail to keep anyone from hurting any of ya.”

Jack hauled himself up off the ground. Supressing a shudder, he raised his giant fists in the air, Danny and Jazz stepped back slightly as bolts of electricity arced across his knuckles.  

“I think I’ve got these, so if anyone threatens my family, I can pound them into the ground!”  

With the crack of his knuckles smashing into one another, came a much louder BOOM and a bolt of electricity shot up into the ceiling light, flashing it on for one blinding moment before the bulb popped and the light fizzled out.  

“Hey, what happened to the internet?!” Tucker’s distant voice whined from down the hall.

Jack carefully lowered his fists.

“Whoops.” He looked down at his hands, still tingling from the static. “Guess I knocked the power out again.”

Jazz put a hand over her mouth as she snorted, Danny grinned wildly and gave Jack a friendly backhanded smack to the shoulder.

“Hopefully it’s just our house this time, and by the way, Jazz got you a little something to cheer you up.”

He held out a long, dark bar wrapped in plastic, Jack sniffled as he took the fudge from his son’s hand, tears prickling his eyes, could ghosts cry? More importantly, could ghosts eat?  

He was more than ready to find out, he tore the packaging open and took a bite, relishing the soft texture, his shoulders unclenched as the sweetness coated his tongue. His body might have changed, but fudge would always stay the same, the familiarity settled over him like a warm blanket.

He could eat again, he knew ghosts didn’t need food, that they likely didn’t even have the same sort of gastrointestinal system as the living, idly he wondered where exactly the food was going once he swallowed it, but he truly could not convince himself to care. This was the most normal he had felt in days .

“Hey Jazzypants,” Jack spoke around a generous mouthful of fudge. "Is there any of that mac and cheese left?”

Chapter Text

As soon as the sound of shattering glass reached Tucker's ears, Jazz had shoved him and Sam out into the hallway and quickly shut the bathroom door in their faces.

Tucker understood why, he did, he really did. This was obviously an emergency situation that only the Fenton siblings were equipped to handle. A freaking out Jack Fenton was bad enough, a freaking out Jack Fenton with ghost powers was a potential catastrophe.

But despite the fact that he knew exactly why Jazz had to push them out in haste, that she was doing it for their own safety, it didn't stop the burn of vindictive rage and disgust surging up into his throat, threatening to drag his mind back into a time and place he only almost remembered.

How dare she touch him. How dare she lay her filthy peasant hands-

Tucker swallowed, hard, and pinched himself on the sensitive skin of his inner arm. The brief flash of pain cut through the fog of Duul Aman's crowding thoughts, and like the snapping of a rubber band, Tucker's mind was flung back into the present.

It wasn't a very nice sensation, in fact it was often quite disorienting, but he was getting used to it. He only spent seconds in a daze after an episode, rather than minutes, and he was getting better at pulling himself out of it without relying on his friends.

He followed Sam into Danny's room, just a few steps down the hall, there wasn't anything they could do right now, other than maybe keep an ear out for Maddie's return. At some point during the ritual, she had once again taken the RV out for another round of feverish ghost hunting. Tucker could only hope there'd be no casualties.

He sat at Danny's desk as Sam threw herself backwards onto the bed, closing her eyes and sighing deeply as she soaked up the afternoon sunshine coming in through the bedroom window.

"You okay?" Tucker asked, Sam shot him a deadpan look. "Sorry, standard question, but you did super pass out earlier. Is that normal for your witch stuff?"

Sam stared at the ceiling, eyelids hanging half closed.

"I mean, sort of. I get tired afterwards, like I've done a workout or something. This one just felt like I'd run a whole ass marathon."

"What's it feel like, doing magic?"

Sam thought for a moment, her dark eyebrows furrowed as she laced her fingers together and rested them over her stomach.

"It's hard to explain, I don't really have anything to compare it to, you know?"

Tucker knew. He'd felt the same way, trying to explain what it was like to have an entire life's worth of memories hidden inside his head, popping out at random, often inconvenient moments. It was the kind of thing you had to experience yourself.

"It's not like anything out of a movie, I'm not 'making' magic, I'm channeling it. The rituals and ingredients are kinda like... I dunno, writing a code? And then some otherworldly force reads it and runs the program."

"So you aren't really in control of it? Some other force of nature is?" Tucker didn't want to hope that Sam was struggling to understand her new abilities as much as he was, but he also didn't want to be the only one who didn't know what he was doing.

"Uh, sort of, I guess." She rubbed at her eyes, tiredly. "I'm in control if I get it right, if I get it wrong the spell generally just doesn't work, or it does something a bit to the left of what I wanted."

Tucker thought about that for a moment, leaning back in the chair and fidgeting with one of his golden rings. It was inlaid with a modest glittering ruby, running his fingers over its polished surface gave him a sense of ease and comfort he normally only got from twiddling his stylus between his fingers.

He'd developed a real affinity for gold since connecting with his past life, it didn't just feel comforting, the weight of it on his fingers and around his neck were oddly familiar, nostalgic almost. Sam had happily gifted him a stash of miscellaneous jewellery her parents kept trying to make her wear, but he still struggled with the impulse to buy more. He'd spent more of his savings than he cared to admit for a solid gold stud when he had his nose pierced.

It had been the first change he'd felt after Duul Aman's sceptre showed up in his bedroom a few months back, sitting in a pile of sand on his desk. It didn't matter how many times Danny tried to return it to the museum, it would just show up again the next day. On his desk, in his locker, under his bed, Danny had even tried some of his parents equipment on it to see if it would stop, but it had clearly formed a strong attachment and wasn't going anywhere.

Tucker didn't like the fact that his hand felt empty without it there, he tried to smother the thought down as soon as it appeared, but the next thing he knew his hand was closing on hard metal and there was sand on the floor. The large, ethereally beautiful, perfectly polished turquoise gemstone, carved in the shape of a scarab, almost glowed in the afternoon sun. Tucker could feel tension easing from his shoulders as he took in the sight of it.

"Danny's gonna kill you for that." Sam sang, eyes still closed and a teasing smile quirking at her upper lip.

"I dare him to try it." Tucker shook his head and dropped the sceptre noisily onto Danny's desk, squeezing his eyes shut until he could feel the red bleed out of them, he immediately missed its cool weight in his hand.

"Just let him try to cry to me about getting sand everywhere." he said in a far lighter tone. "I summoned the stupid thing in my sleep the other night, I had to get up at 4am to shake the entire Sahara desert outta my sheets."

Sam choked back a small noise of amusement, she didn't comment on the flare-up.

The room was quiet for a while after that, he enjoyed the companionable silence as he picked up his phone and browsed through a few of the Amity based forums that he ran. It was a great way to pick up on recent ghost activity, attacks had become so commonplace that people had gone from running in fear to live-streaming the whole thing from the sidelines. It was incredibly helpful to receive real time alerts that included the exact ghost involved and its current location.

The forums had been pretty empty for the past week, most of the comments were Fenton related, people gossiping about Maddie brutally ripping a poltergeist to shreds, or jokes about Jack coming back as a ghost. Tucker deleted those, he'd issued enough warnings about being respectful. Those idiots were going to be unbearable when they found out they were right.

There was a post from earlier that morning about a Phantom sighting, there was a lot of buzz about it. Someone had snapped a picture of him during a fight with Mrs Fenton, he had a giant hole cut through his lower abdomen. There were complaints about the lack of trigger warnings and Tucker's own stomach churned at the sight of his friend's innards on display.

That wasn't the only thing to catch the attention of the commenters though.

'wtf is up with his face? dude looks seriously scary rn'

'is his hair on fire? ngl kinda hot, pun absolutely intended'

'didnt kno he could do that. is that wat he rly looks like or is it some new shapeshifting powers?'

'I think Phantom's finally snapped lmao love the new look'

'what that mouth do tho'

'thos is freaking me out like I know he's a GHOST but like he never rlly LOOKED like a ghost u kno? like sometimes I just totally forget he's a dead kid'

'Phantom bein kinda sus'

'I hope he's okay'

Tucker flagged the post for gore content and sent an admonishment to the poster, along with a five day ban. He debated taking the whole picture down but decided it would just arouse more suspicion, the responses weren't overwhelmingly negative at least, in fact an alarming portion of them were just thirst comments, but that wasn't anything new. He'd have to talk to Danny about damage control later.

Tucker's biggest concern wasn't really the PR repercussions though, it was that Danny had publicly slipped up so badly in the first place. Normally he had his powers under tight control, it wasn't a good sign that he'd let his more ghostly side through, especially in front of his mother.

Tucker's train of thought derailed as the bathroom door opened and Jazz came out, not even glancing in their direction, she quickly made her way to the stairs and disappeared from view.

"Ran into Kitty the other day." said Sam, finally breaking the silence.

"Yeah? She cause any trouble?" Tucker asked as he scrolled through the rest of the day's posts.

"No more than usual," Sam rolled to her side and propped herself up on one elbow. "She'd had a fight with Johnny, she came out to blow off steam. I found her keying cars and slashing tires in the lot behind the cinema."

"At least she wasn't blowing kisses." Tucker added. "Did you thermos her?"

"Nah, I figured she just needed someone to vent to." Sam paused to fiddle with her tangled bracelets before she continued. "They were fighting about Danny."

"About Danny or over Danny?" Tucker asked with a smirk.

"Do you really think I'd stick around for love-triangle drama?" Sam quirked a lip in disgust. "They were fighting because Johnny won't leave the Ghost Zone anymore. She says he's gotten weirdly edgy about running into Danny."

"Should we be worried about that?"

"Maybe," Sam chewed on one of her lip rings. "I'd say it could be nothing but it's-"

"Never nothing with us, yeah." Tucker finished for her.

Jazz's footsteps came padding back up the stairs and she entered the bathroom again, quickly shutting the door behind her. Tucker got a short glimpse of the room but saw little other than a soft blue glow.

"I hope he's okay." said Tucker, quietly. "Danny was right when he said he was taking everything too well."

"At least we were prepared." Sam pulled herself upright and picked her backpack up off the floor, she pulled out a book and opened it on her lap. "Danny said his dad always really liked superheroes, apparently he used to read comics a lot when he was a kid, so I'm thinking we only need to give him a logo and maybe a mask and it could change his whole mindset... I hope."

"I have a feeling it's gonna be a little harder than that Sam."

"I'm doing my best Tucker." Sam stressed, with a sour bite to her tone.

"Sorry, sorry." Tucker back-pedalled, it seemed they were all pretty on edge today, he should have watched his words more carefully. "What have you got so far?"

"Well, I haven't deviated too much from his original hazmat suit, since that's what he's most comfortable with and he's already manifested it in his current form. But I thought maybe if we included the safety goggles and the logo-"

"Are you gonna put a big 'FENTON' on his chest?"

"Tucker please," Sam scoffed, offended. "We can do way better than that. I did a quick sketch of the logo on the RV before I came in. It's a decent design and recognisable, I think it would look great as a belt buckle piece rather than a symbol on his chest."

She held up the book so Tucker could see the design she'd sketched up.

"Oooh I like the circuitry."

"Right?! I thought it gave the whole look a bit of pizazz."

Their conversation was interrupted by a sound like a loud SNAP, and suddenly the signal dropped from Tucker's phone.

"Hey, what happened to the internet?!"

Sam got up and flicked the switch on Danny's bedside lamp.

"Power's out." She announced.

"How did they manage that? They're in the bathroom."

"Oh gee. I wonder how." said Sam, words thick with sarcasm. "He's an engineer and an electrician Tucker, what kind of core do you think he got?"

"Oh."

"Yeah."

The bathroom door opened once more, and the three Fentons exited. Jazz leading Jack down the stairs as Danny met up with Sam and Tucker in his bedroom.

"How'd it go?" Sam asked with an uncharacteristic softness to her voice.

"It was... pretty bad." Danny admitted, idly rubbing his hand. "He's pretty excited to eat again though, Jazz is gonna heat up our leftovers for him."

Tucker got up from the desk and approached his friend, next moment he had his arms around him and was holding him in a tight hug. He wasn't very good with finding the right thing to say for times like this, so he tried to put every ounce of love and care and support that he felt into the embrace. Danny must have gotten the message as he hugged back, hands clutching at the back of Tucker's jacket, his face pressed into his friend's  shoulder. Sam's arms came around them, pulling the three of them close together.

They were here for him. Even when he tried to act tough, even when he tried to convince them that he was fine, they would always be here for him, and they made damn sure that he knew it.

Chapter Text

Maddie's stomach churned as she pulled out of the driveway. She didn't like keeping things from her kids, especially things she knew full well was going to upset them, but she needed this. Her kids were there for her, they loved her and they looked after her, but she needed the company of someone who wasn't a constant reminder of how badly she was failing as a mother. She needed someone on the outside that she could escape to, someone who could take her words away at the end of the day instead of bringing them back into her home.

She needed a friend.

Maddie didn't realise how few friends she truly had. Most of the people she'd met in college dropped out of contact, some had simply become different people she could no longer relate to, and many had given the Fentons a wide berth after they discovered that their ghost studies weren't just some odd joke.

Tucker's mother had come to give her sympathies and a hearty serving of stew after the funeral. She'd given Maddie a warm hug and a gentle offer to let her know if she needed anything, anything at all.

But Maddie didn't feel right imposing her problems on a woman she could only call an acquaintance, it just didn't seem fair. Sure, they'd known each other for years, but they only ever talked about their kids. Mrs Foley was a truly lovely woman, but she wasn't someone Maddie felt she could open up to.

She had always had Jack for that. As long as he was there, she never felt like she needed anyone else.

But now he was gone, and she had no one.

Or, she thought she had no one. Where in the past a phone call from Vlad filled her with disgust and trepidation, now she couldn't help but feel that deep sense of relief of having someone else to talk to. Someone who understood what she was going through, someone who she could open up to about anything because even though he had made mistakes in the past, he was still an old friend, and they were both in pain.

They used to be so close back in college. She, Jack and Vlad would go everywhere together, as inseparable as Danny and his friends.

It was those times, the good times, that Vlad reminded her of, and it was those times they lost themselves in when she arrived at the little café.

"Oh, do you remember when Jack tried doing a keg stand for the first time, and it all came out of his nose?" Maddie giggled.

"Oh goodness," Vlad laughed, "I believe we were all quite a mess by the end of that night. If I recall correctly, I think I ended up carrying your shoes back to your dorm  for you?"

"Oh god those things." Maddie took a sip of her lemonade, it was a fancy affair with a slice of fruit on the rim and a little umbrella that she'd promptly removed after it poked her in the eye. "They were SUCH a fad back then, I could barely walk in them sober let alone post-frat party."

"Oh but just you watch, platform shoes will be back in fashion soon enough, it all comes full circle." Vlad took a dainty sip of his tea, it had a sort of sweet, fruity aroma. "Why just this week, three of my branch company's CEOs have started wearing shoulder pads."

"Oh no." Maddie put a hand to her mouth in horror. "Next thing you know I'll be back in the hairdressers getting another perm."

"I thought you looked rather charming with a perm."

"Vlad don't tease, it was awful and you know it, I looked like a tabby cat who lost a fight with a power cable."

Vlad spluttered slightly as he laughed mid sip, quickly bringing a napkin to his mouth to cover his blunder.

"Alright I admit it, it was quite awful, but not as awful as that terrible mullet that I decided for some god forsaken reason was a good idea at the time."

"Oh no, oh that was terrible." Maddie laughed as she picked up the little umbrella and placed it over Vlad's ear. "I think this look suits you much better."

"Ah yes, thank you my dear. Should we have a spot of rain, my left ear will remain suitably dry." He grinned, raising his tea cup to his lips.

He looked well, better than Maddie would have guessed from the last time she saw him, but the evidence of that night was still there.

There was a significant amount of bruising around his eyes, though it had faded to a yellowish colour. A thin scab evidenced a split in his lip that had probably torn itself open repeatedly over the week before finally beginning to heal, and one of his cheeks still appeared just the slightest bit swollen.

She was amazed to hear there had been no fractures, though she suspected he might have been keeping the worst of it from her, his nose did look slightly more crooked than she remembered.

"Do you remember that time on the roof of the bowling alley?" Vlad asked, almost hesitantly.

"It was a beautiful night." said Maddie, propping her chin up in her hand as she spun her straw around in her drink, watching the little pieces of lemon pulp dance. "It was a shame Jack didn't see it."

"Ah. Yes." Vlad's lowered his tea. "It was only the two of us wasn't it? I'd almost forgotten."

Maddie wasn't sure she believed that.

"I think we lost him during the party, we were looking for somewhere quiet that he might have gone to recharge... my god we went to so many parties, what happened to us Vlad? When did we get so old?"

Maddie missed those days, she missed making friends with other drunks girls in the bathroom, she missed dancing until her feet hurt and she had to walk home barefoot.

And she missed Jack. By god did she miss Jack's arms around her, spinning her around and throwing her into a dip she probably couldn't handle anymore with her middle-aged back.

Vlad must have noticed her mood shift towards the dower, as he laid a hand on top of hers and gave a gentle squeeze.

"It all just... feels so different now." he said, almost murmuring to himself, his usually sharp eyes were distant, and Maddie felt as though she were glimpsing something that wasn't meant to be seen.

Maddie wasn't a fool, she knew that Vlad had a more complicated relationship with Jack than he would admit. That night in the rockies had very clearly shown her that. She wasn't sure how long Vlad had been harbouring those feelings for her, but she knew that it had given him a resentment toward her husband, one that had probably been building for a long time.

Now her husband was dead, and she wondered what kind of conflict Vlad had warring in his mind, did he feel guilt? Shame? Regret? She was giving him a chance to show her how much he truly cared, one she desperately hoped he would not abuse. She wanted her friend, she needed her friend, and so far Vlad had been nothing but.

Maybe all of that truly was in the past, she hoped for both their sakes that it was.

"I must confess Maddie, this whole ordeal has left me rather shaken." his hand remained still and steady over hers. "I'm... considering resigning as mayor."

Maddie let out a breath.

"If I'm being perfectly honest Vlad, I was hoping you would. It's just so much stress for one person, running a town alongside all these companies? I don't know where you find the time to do it all, you need a break."

"You are so right my dear, you are so right." Vlad smiled softly, his thumb very gently rubbed the back of Maddie's hand, she pulled it away and quickly took another sip of her drink.

"I have considered," Vlad started, casually moving his hand back without complaint. "Going abroad for a couple of weeks, somewhere tropical, and warm. Good for the blood pressure you know?"

"That sounds wonderful Vlad." Maddie beamed, "Where are you thinking, Hawaii maybe?"

"Well, I uh, pardon me if this is too forward," Vlad tugged at his collar awkwardly. "But I thought perhaps you and the children might like to come along. Just to get away from Amity Park for a while, it might be good for them."

"Oh Vlad that's very sweet but you know we can't." Maddie sagged back in her seat, rubbing a hand over her eyes. "I just can't get Danny to see reason, it's all still too fresh, he needs more time."

"Of course, my apologies. I didn't mean to rush you, I just," he took a deep breath and looked away. "I just didn't want to go alone and..."

He closed his eyes and swallowed a few times, trying to coax the words out.

"You and Jack were the only family I ever had, and I don't want to lose you too. What if the ghost comes for you next? Or the children? If I could take you all away somewhere safe I could-"

He choked up on his words, covering his display of vulnerability by dabbing at his eyes with a napkin, Maddie's heart ached for the man, she hadn't considered that her family were the only ones he'd ever felt close to, it seemed obvious in hindsight, he must have been so lonely.

But as much as she understood his desire to protect her and the kids, to keep them safe, she couldn't simply run away from her problems.

Her husband had been murdered, and the killer was still at large.

"Vlad," she said gently, "I'll do my best with the kids, I would love nothing more than to send them somewhere they'll be safe, but I have to stay here. I have a monster to hunt down and tear to shreds."

She felt her her nails cut into her palm they were balled up so tight.

"I can't leave until I know he won't hurt anyone else Vlad, I have to do this, for Jack. I have to."

Vlad sat quietly for a moment, his tea growing cold.

"I understand, Maddie." he paused, thinking. "You know, if the Wisconsin Ghost hasn't shown his face around Amity Park in quite some time, perhaps he has returned to his old haunt?"

"You don't think he would go back to your mansion, do you?" Maddie tapped a hand to her chin thoughtfully.

"I can only speculate, but once I have resigned as mayor I shall be returning to Wisconsin. I could perhaps... keep an eye out?" Vlad offered, "I could let you know if he shows up again? It's certainly not unusual for a ghost to retrace its steps."

"Yes but the Wisconsin Ghost isn't a 'usual' ghost," Maddie argued, but she wasn't entirely unconvinced of the idea. "He's like Phantom, he's smarter, his actions often deviate from the norm or he bucks established behavioural trends. He would know that we might check the locations of his previous sightings."

"I will be cautious regardless, perhaps you could lend me one of your ghost-radars? And... maybe a gun or two." Vlad cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Our uh, last meeting was less than pleasant, I'd like to be prepared in future."

Maddie buried her face in her hands.

"Oh no, Vlad if you're afraid to go back you shouldn't have to go alone." she grit her teeth as she considered her options.

Vlad was clearly terrified of going back home alone, understandably, the ghost that had been haunting his house had forced him to kill his own best friend. He was traumatised enough, Maddie couldn't forgive herself if she let that ghost torment her friend any further.

But then... there was Danny. He would lose his mind if she left for Wisconsin, he could either refuse to go with, or insist on staying by her side, Maddie wasn't sure which one would be worse. He would be furious regardless, and she wanted nothing more than to avoid speaking with the cold and distant stranger he would become when that quiet rage reared its head.

But she couldn't let Vlad go alone, she couldn't lose somebody else, she would never forgive herself.

She took a deep shuddering breath, and straightened up in her chair.

"When you've finished wrapping up business here, let me know before you head off. I'll pack up some supplies and we can work through the mansion for any ghost activity together, I'm not leaving you there until I know it's safe."

Vlad placed a hand to his chest as he breathed a hefty sigh of relief.

"Oh thank you Maddie, I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I am. It has been quite a time since I've handled ecto-weaponry myself but I'm sure you can whip me into shape, hm? We'll make that ghost pay!"

He lifted his tea cup, and Maddie met it with her glass.

Finally, things were moving forward, she had a plan, she had a goal. She could only hope the Wisconsin ghost would be there.

She could only hope she'd find a way to break the news to Danny.

Chapter Text

It was odd.

Jazz had spent the past week feeling like her father's death just... wasn't real. Like she would come down stairs and he would be there, at the dining table eating breakfast, or tinkering with a new device with a slice of Fenton Toast in his mouth. Him not being there, the empty space and the deafening silence, it didn't feel real.

And now he was at the dining table, wolfing down mac and cheese with enthusiastic gusto... and it still didn't feel real.

She wasn't sure if it was his altered appearance, or the fact that she had to change her entire mindset after only just starting to accept that he wasn't there anymore, that he was gone, truly gone.

Because now he wasn't gone. He was here, he was real and he was here.

But it didn't feel real.

As she sat her father down at the table, she fussed around him, preparing his plates and cutlery, keeping her hands on him at every opportunity. Just to make sure he didn't disappear again, just to make sure he was still there.

But while standing across the room, by the kitchen window, eyes glancing up and down the street for the large shape of the Fenton RV, she couldn't be certain he was really there. She knew he was, logically she knew, but there was something about ghosts that simply didn't leave an impression in the atmosphere that a human did. When she turned her back on a person, she still knew they were there, that the room was not empty, but as soon as her eyes left her father, she felt alone.

She hated it, as happy as she was to have her father back, she hated the reminder that he was still dead. He was here, but it wasn't the same as before, and it never would be the same.

She thought she would be happy, overjoyed even, to have him back, and a part of her certainly was, but another part of her was still upset, she... she felt robbed.

She spent an entire week in mourning, grieving for her dad who she thought she would never see again, and now he was here. It had all been for nothing, the pain, the emptiness, and the chaotic misery flooding her mind had all been for nothing. All the hurt was for nothing because he hadn't been gone after all.

Why did she have to go through that? It wasn't fair.

"This is great Jazzypants! I haven't had mac and cheese this good since, well, the last time you cooked mac and cheese!" Jack exclaimed with vigour. His voice put him firmly back in the room with her and eased the emptiness in the air for a moment.

Everything was so complicated, her feelings were so complicated. She would have to do some research, perhaps on people who had missing family members, thought to be dead, returned to them. That was probably similar enough to her experiences to be useful, there might be coping mechanisms for that she wasn't aware of.

She just wanted to sit at a table and have a normal meal with her normal father, but instead she was standing guard, making sure her mother wasn't on her way home yet.

She hadn't spied the large car coming up the empty street just yet, but she did see something else unusual.

"Hey, I'll be back in a minute dad, don't go anywhere." she said, making her way to the front door.

When she opened it, a punk boy with a spiked mohawk was standing outside, he backed up quickly, he hadn't quite made it to the door yet and seemed slightly embarassed to be caught loitering.

"Uh, hey... Jazz." said Spike, he lifted up a bunch of slightly limp looking flowers. "I was asking around about how you've been, but nobody said they've seen you. So I thought I'd just..."

He shifted awkwardly, and held out the flowers, arm stiff, anxiously tense.

"I got you these, you've probably gotten a bunch of them already but I thought it'd be weird if I didn't bring anything."

Jazz took the flowers, they were a random assortment, the stems all roughly snapped off at different lengths, he'd picked them himself, probably from a public garden somewhere. It was a surprising move for Spike, he wasn't usually the most sensitive guy, not outwardly at least.

"Thanks Spike, they're beautiful." she forced a small smile. She appreciated that he had come to check on her, but she mostly just wanted him to leave, normally she would consider this a big breakthrough in Spike's ability to empathise, but she really couldn't deal with putting on a mask for people right now.

"Yeah I mean," he shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground. "You really, like, you always cared. About me, I mean you care about everyone but, like you don't just say it. You know?"

Jazz stayed silent, not daring to interrupt. Spike had always been resistant to any of her advice, he was blunt and stubborn and often rude to other people. She knew his home life was rough, and a lot of his aggression was misplaced because he had no real outlet. She had been trying to teach him less destructive coping mechanisms, but he'd never given any indication that he was listening.

"You don't just tell people you're there, you see problems and you just DO somethin' about it. Even when you don't get any thanks." he lifted a foot to scratch at the back of his leg. "Like even though I was really shitty to you, you kept trying to help me... and I never really wanted to admit it but, some of the stuff you said did kinda help a bit... or a lot."

Jazz felt a flood of warmth fill her chest. She'd always felt helpless, trying to help Spike, it pained her to see him wallow in his self destructive tendencies, she had no idea that something had gotten through. She also couldn't help but notice he didn't carry his usual reek of cigarette smoke.

"So when I started asking people how you were doin', and nobody could tell me, I just thought that was super shitty you know? You like, put so much energy into people and nobody was giving it back so, I figured I was just as shitty for not doing it either. So..." he finally glanced toward her as he gave a little shrug. "I'm here. Do you wanna talk about it?"

God yes.

She hadn't been prepared for this. Her eyes burned and she couldn't swallow the lump in her throat. She sat down on the step and tried to hold her sobs in. She hadn't been prepared for this at all, her mask had well and truly cracked under the pressure and it was all tumbling forth.

Spike didn't say anything, he just sat on the step beside her, and put a hand on her back, rubbing gently, though a little awkward and hesitant.

"It's just so hard." Jazz choked out. "There's just so much and it's so hard, and I'm trying to help them I'm trying but I can't-"

She gasped in uneven breaths as she tried to hold the tears back, she was a blubbering mess but at least she wasn't openly sobbing.

"You're not gonna help anyone much if you're a total mess." said Spike, his words were blunt, as usual, and could have been insulting, but she recognised what he was trying to tell her. She couldn't help anyone if she didn't help herself first, it was something she'd said so many times to so many others. He was just saying it in his own way.

"Yeah," she nodded. "Yeah I know, but right now I'm the only thing holding this place together. My mom is off taking out all of her anger on some poor unsuspecting poltergeists, and Danny is internalising everything so much he might actually explode. Did you know I had to do all of the funeral preparations?"

She stared at Spike, eyes still wet with tears.

"I had to do all of it. By myself."

"Damn." said Spike in a tight voice. "That's fucked up Jazz. You shouldn't have to deal with that."

"But I do have to deal with it." she stressed. "I don't have a choice, this is just how it is."

"Can't you like, I dunno, talk to your mom or something? Like I know she's going through some shit but you're all going through some shit. She's your mom, she should be there for you."

"She nearly hit me with a wrench this morning." Jazz was surprised to find the words falling from her mouth. "I mean it was an accident, she didn't know I was there but it scared the hell out of me, and then I didn't even have a chance to deal with it because I had to stand there and comfort her."

She dropped the flowers onto the step beside her and gripped at her head in frustration.

"And I can't even get mad about it because I turned around and did the exact same thing to Danny. I... I don't know what came over me, I just started shoving him and screaming in his face! I was just so frustrated that he could stay so calm while I was completely melting down inside." she ran a hand through her hair, unsticking it from the tears on her face. "Like it didn't even matter that I know he's hurting just as bad as me, I know he's just shoving it all down somewhere he doesn't have to deal with it, and I know that's unhealthy, but that just didn't matter because I was so angry and he was just there."

"Yeah, I know how that is." Spike took his hand from her back and instead began fiddling with one of the faux leather cuffs around his wrist. "You feel like you got all this, uh, like pressure building up in your chest, and you feel like the only way to make it go away is to scream or hit something, and you just don't have enough room left in you to care if you hurt someone doin' that."

Jazz stared at him. She knew he struggled to control his anger, but he'd never told her exactly how it felt. She was so angry at herself, that she thought Spike would have been angry at her too, but of course he wasn't. He was probably one of the only people she knew who could really understand. He wouldn't be mad at her, because she'd never been mad at him.

"But you always told me that you can't change stuff that's already happened, you just gotta deal with it. Like telling people you're sorry." he looked over at her. "I'm gonna bet you already did that, right?"

She nodded, glumly.

"Did he forgive you?"

"...I think so."

"Then that's it, you can't do anything else about it, so stop worrying about it."

"...You really have been listening to me, huh?" Jazz smiled and nudged him with an elbow. "You could be a therapist some day, if you dial back the asshole a little bit."

Spike laughed, he tried to hold it back, but she could hear him snorting as a smile threatened to stretch across his face.

"You can't call me an asshole, that's bad therapy." he nudged her back.

"Hey, today you're the therapist, remember." Jazz teased, she pulled her legs up in front of her and laid her cheek on her knees, fixing Spike with a soft look. "Thank you, I didn't realise how much I needed that."

"You shouldn't have had to wait this long." he averted his eyes again, his fists clenched. "You should have had plenty of people to talk to. So many people call themselves your 'friends', but they don't deserve you. Like how can they just, use you whenever they want and then just leave you a facebook message and think that's fair? Your fucking dad died they should be here for you."

Jazz had seen Spike worked up over a lot of things, difficult schoolwork, unfair treatment from teachers, other kids who'd try to goad him into fights. He was always rather intolerant of other people, but he didn't pick fights, he actually had a real problem with people who did.

He had a surprisingly strong hatred for injustice, for people getting away with being shitty to other people on purpose. Some of their most intensive conversations came from his frustration with the school system ignoring kids who needed help. He had more than once even ranted on behalf of Danny.

Now he believed she was the one who had been wronged, and she was feeling firsthand what it was like to have someone so passionately supportive of her.

"You're here for me." said Jazz, smiling softly.

Spike, once again, refused to make eye contact. His cheeks flushed a very gentle pink.

"Yeah." he said.

"I guess you can't argue that you aren't a good person now." she said, smiling gleefully. "C'mon, I wanna hear you say it."

She had tried to get him to say it so many times, just once she wanted him to admit it, just once. He huffed in exasperation, but for the first time ever, and with an unavoidable smile twitching at the corner of his mouth, he relented.

"I'm not a bad person." he sighed, sucking his lips in to hide the grin he couldn't hold back.

Jazz threw her arms around him, and shook him in an excited little wiggle.

"I'm so proud of you!!"

Spike kept his arms very firmly planted to his sides, and he tolerated the hug in the same way a particularly patient cat might, but he still couldn't quite put his smile away. Jazz's joy had always been rather infectious.

"Yeah yeah okay, you finally got me. Yay. I said the magic words. All my problems are cured now." Spike snarked, but there was no bite to it.

Jazz opened her mouth to say more, but with the screeching of tires, she saw the large shape of the Fenton RV turn into the street.

"Shit!" Jazz stood abruptly, grabbing the flowers. "I gotta go!"

She rushed up the steps and opened the front door, but before closing it behind her, she gave him one more smile.

"Thank you." she said. "I really mean it."

He waved, then shoved his hands in his pockets and quickly strode away.

Jazz closed the door, and her one brief moment of normalcy was over, as she began the arduous task of hiding the very large, glowing ghost man in her kitchen from the incredibly violent ghost hunter about to enter the house.

Just another day in the life of a Fenton.

Chapter Text

"MOM'S COMING!"

Jazz's voice echoed through the house after the loud slam of the front door.

Jack stood from his place at the table, beaming.

"Mads!" he began to rush to the door, but Jazz stood in his way, pushing him toward the living room.

"You need to go upstairs! NOW!" Jack barely budged as she pushed her whole weight against him. "You can't let her see you! What do you think is gonna happen when she comes in to find a ghost in her kitchen?!"

Jack almost opened his mouth to argue, he wasn't just some ghost, he was her husband. She wouldn't attack him would she?

...Would she?

"Dad!" Jazz's voice was still shrill but she'd lowered her volume, he could hear the door to the RV slam shut outside.

What would he do if a ghost showed up in his kitchen, looking like a funhouse mirror version of his dead wife? They had always promised each other they wouldn't come back, that they would choose to move on...

He would think she was an imposter, a fake, he wouldn't know that ghosts didn't get to choose.

The sound of keys jangled in the front door and Jazz almost began to whimper as she shoved against him with all her strength.

"Dad please."

But Maddie would know it was really him, surely she would know.

The doorknob turned and Jack's heart- core pumped hard in his chest, he could feel the energy thrumming through his body, pooling in his hands and making his fingers tingle.

As soon as the door began to open, he felt hands grabbing his shoulder, and suddenly he was roughly yanked up through the ceiling into the ops centre.

As soon as the confusion from the sudden motion passed, he lashed out with his large fists at whatever had grabbed him.

"GET OFF ME GHOST!" he roared, his fists flashed bright white and crackled and buzzed as a bolt of lightning shot across the room and hit the wall with a loud crash.

Barely missing Phantom- Danny, his son, by inches.

Jack lowered his fists in horror.

"Danny! Don't sneak up on me like that I thought your were a gh-" he paused. "Uh... a threat."

Danny was barely paying attention, he was still standing by the burn mark on the wall, gripping his left arm tightly.

"It's fine." he said in a clipped tone. "You missed. It's fine."

His fingers dug harder into his bicep, the static in the air making his hair stand on end.

"Hey, I... I'm sorry." Jack rubbed at his neck awkwardly, wincing at how wrong it felt with his massive fingers, he lowered his hand. "I guess I'm just a bit jumpy."

He looked at the wall, then stared down at his hands, the loud pumping of his h- core had slowed, the tingling in his fingers was gone.

"I didn't even know I could do that." he mumbled, excitement creeping into his voice. "How do I do it again?"

He thrust his palm outward against another wall, the ops centre was built to handle it, his previous blast had left a mark but barely a dent.

Nothing happened, no lightning erupted from his fingers, not even a spark.

"What were you thinking?!" Danny snapped.

Jack jumped, surprised by the sudden, harsh tone.

"I'm sorry." said Jack, again. "I really didn't mean-"

"I'm not talking about that." Danny said, gesturing sharply to the wall. "Mom was seconds away from seeing you, why the fuck didn't you hide?!"

"Hey, watch your language!" Jack scolded. "I may be dead but I'm still your dad!"

Danny gripped at his hair in frustration, Jack could see ice creeping over his fingertips, sharpening them to points.

"She would have destroyed you! Don't you get that?!" He stared at his hands for a moment, the ice drew itself back into his skin as he balled his hands into fists. "You told me you understood why I kept this a secret, you know why you can't just go and walk up to mom like everything is normal. What were you thinking?!"

"I... I just..." Jack could feel his throat tighten as his eyes burned. "I just thought, if I could explain... I wanted her to know I was still here."

Danny's shoulders slumped and he breathed out heavily.

"We'll tell her, we will. Just not right now, okay?"

Jack nodded, swallowing down the lump in his throat. It was a hard thought to stomach, he had to hide in his own house, from his own wife. The woman he loved with every fibre of his being, the woman he  planned to grow old with, the woman he trusted with his life, was now someone he needed to fear, someone who would shoot him on sight.

Was this how Danny felt? All this time?

Jack crossed the room and pulled his son in close. Danny wrapped his arms as far around his huge barrel chest as possible, while Jack tried his best not to crush his boy, super healing or no.

"I'm sorry Danny." his voice cracked. "I'm sorry we made you feel like this."

"It's okay dad," said Danny. "Let's just focus on what happens next, okay?"

He pulled away and smiled a little.

"How about we keep that," he glanced back at the burn mark on the wall. "From happening again?"

Jack hopped from foot to foot, giddy with excitement. He was going to learn how to shoot lightning, he was going to learn how to take down enemies with a single flick of his finger! He wondered how his body was able to conduct it, the energy came from his core of course but what made it shoot down his arms instead of into his feet? Lightning normally looked for the easiest route to the ground but his lightning seemed to shoot outwards like-

"Daaad?" Danny snapped his fingers in front of Jack's face. "Are you listening?"

"Oh, heh, sorry Danny-boy, was a little lost in thought there."

Danny huffed, sounding only slightly annoyed, but he had a smile on his face.

"I just texted Jazz to let her know where we are, she's gonna distract mom so Sam and Tucker can sneak up here."

"And then you can show me how to do  that lightning thing again!" Jack exclaimed.

Danny shook his head.

"Actually we're gonna start with the basics. You've got flight and intangibility down already, way faster than I thought you would, but I think invisibility is the most important right now."

The hatch in the floor squeaked open and Sam and Tucker made their way up, Tucker was holding some kind of golden staff. Danny made an unpleasant face.

"Please don't tell me you got sand everywhere again."

"Why? You don't like sand?" Tucker asked innocently.

"No! It's course and rough and irritating and it gets ev-"

"Are you two gonna quote that every time this happens?" Sam groaned. "I will absolutely learn a muting spell I swear to god."

"Woah, what happened to the wall?" Tucker turned to Jack, eyes wide. "Did you do that?"

"Yep!" Jack beamed, standing proudly. "I have Lightning Hands!"

Sam and Tucker looked at each other, then over to Danny, an unusual expression passing between them. Danny's mouth pulled taught in return and gave a quick shrug. He was gripping his left arm again.

"Okay dad," Danny turned back to him, smiling. "The first rule of invisibility, try not to be seen!"

Jack stared at his son, raising a single eyebrow.

"That's it?"

Danny laughed.

"Yeah well, it takes some getting used to, but that's pretty much the first step. You have to convince yourself that you don't want to be seen, imagine you're hiding from an enemy."

Jack tried to imagine it, he really did, he squeezed his eyes tight and thought hard about disappearing.

He peeked an eye open.

Danny was still staring at him, tapping a finger against his mouth in thought.

"Anything?" Jack asked.

"No, try again."

He tried, by god he tried, but it was hard to make himself feel the need to hide from a foe. No matter how big and scary he imagined an enemy to be, his first instinct was always to fight. He could already feel his core pumping energy back into his body just from thinking about it.

Danny stared at Jack's fists as they began to snap and pop with power once again.

"Okay stop, stop, I think we might need a different approach." Danny thought for a moment. "Okay how about, uh, well, what is invisibility? Scientifically?"

"Well, we can see things because of light bouncing off stuff!" Jack began, excitedly. "It's made up of tiny components called photons, they're like... little packs of energy, like laserbeams! So being invisible would be like... dodging billions of tiny lasers! Or since light's also a wave it could be like, uh, being at the beach and not getting moved around by the waves and currents."

Danny nodded.

"Uh, yeah okay, so just... imagine that then!" He patted Jack on the arm encouragingly.

Jack tried again.

He knew what going intangible was like, he just had to picture himself doing that with a billion tiny lasers, he imagined the light particles passing right through him the way he could pass through walls.

"Yes! There you go!" Danny clapped. "You're a natural!"

Jack looked down at his hands, he... well, he couldn't see them clearly but they weren't totally invisible either. It was like an outline, faded and colourless, but there.

"Ah this isn't invisible." Jack pouted in disappointment. "I'm just kinda transparent."

"Oh yeah, no that's normal. All ghosts can still see themselves, but you're definitely invisible to us." Danny smiled proudly, eyes roving somewhere around Jack's right ear, then back at his face as he returned to visibility. "You're really good at this."

"Feel up for a costume change big guy?" Sam asked, a sketchbook tucked up under one arm.

"Ooh can I put a big-"

"I've got a Fenton logo in here don't worry." She flipped the book open to show him her design. "If you're not vibing with it we can make alterations."

"This is so cool!" Jack grabbed the book and held it up to his face. "I look like a superhero!"

Sam's mouth pulled up in a restrained half smile, she looked very pleased with herself.

"How do I make me look like that?" Jack asked, pointing enthusiastically at the drawing.

"It's a lot like all the other stuff you learned." Danny shrugged. "Mind over matter, changing your entire physical form can be tricky, but surface level stuff like hair and clothes is pretty simple. I think it's because we're like, used to being able to change those things so it comes more naturally."

"Alright so I just... think about it?"

"It is slightly more complicated." Danny explained. "But I think you'll get it, your body is made of ectoplasm now, so are your clothes, which means your clothes are a part of you. So you picture it less as 'changing clothes' and more like... a chameleon or a cuttlefish changing the colour of its skin."

"Oooh, like camouflage!" Jack exclaimed.

"Yeah! Except you're camouflaging into a superhero instead of a leaf or a rock." Danny grinned. "Just focus on the details one at a time. Start with the hood and goggles, you have those on your usual hazmat suit anyway so they should come pretty naturally."

Jack hadn't even realised he didn't have them already. He thought about his usual suit, the weight of the goggles against the back of his neck, the comforting pressure of the hood fitting snuggly around his head. He drew his hand up behind his neck, grabbed, and pulled.

What he grabbed didn't feel exactly like his hood at first, it was squishy and malleable, gooey, like... ectoplasm. Right, it was made of ectoplasm, his ectoplasm.

The goo began to fall apart in his hand as he lost his concentration, so he gripped it tighter, and thought hard about the fabric of his hazmat suit. That smooth almost plastic like texture, how cool it felt against his skin. As he pulled the gooey mass of ectoplasm over his head, he felt it become something solid and familiar, as his safety goggles pressed comfortably against his face.

The top of his head began to tingle unpleasantly, and within moments the wild crackling of his hair tore through the top of the hood.

"Oh, oops." he touched his head carefully, feeling the spiky mass of electrical currents.

"Ah, yeah, I think your body might be using your head as an outlet." Danny grimaced. "My body normally uses my tail for that, but it happens to my hair too if I'm building up too much energy, covering it up is like covering the exhaust pipe on a car."

"Ah that's alright, it's still covering the rest of me!" He gave Danny a thumbs up, then peered around himself carefully.

Huh, that was odd.

"You alright Mr F?" Tucker asked.

There were lights flickering around the walls. He removed his goggles and looked again, they were gone.

"Huh, weird." Jack muttered as he put the goggles back on.

"What is it?" Danny asked, trying to follow Jack's gaze.

"I think..." Jack's eyes traced the little lights as they flittered in a pattern he found oddly familiar. "Suffering Spooks! That's the layout of the powerlines in the walls!"

"You can see electrical currents?!" Tucker exclaimed, grinning ear to ear. "That's so  cool! Here, what does my phone look like?"

Jack peered at it carefully.

"Uh, it's one big light blob." he said in disappointment. "I think the circuitry's too small and tight, it all blends in together."

"Man, I wish I could do that." Tucker whispered in reverence. "All I can do is get sand everywhere."

"Dude, you can do way more than that." said Sam.

Tucker glared at her. She raised her hands in a calming gesture.

"I know, I know, you don't like to use those powers, but you do have them."

"Wait, I'm lost, what can he do?" asked Jack, scratching his head in confusion.

"Nothing, forget about it." Tucker gripped the golden staff in his hand tightly, turning away from everyone and focusing on his phone. "Don't you have a costume to finish?"

"Right, yeah, sorry." Sam shifted awkwardly. "Anyway, let's do the belt! It's sort of a utility belt, I figured even if you have ghost powers now, you might still wanna carry around some weapons. No reason not to stick with what you're used to."

"Oh, hold on a minute, I can help with this." Danny quickly flew down through the floor, returning not even a minute later. "Here!"

He handed Jack one of his own hand made utility belts, obviously snatched up from down in the lab.

"Put it on, and then just do the chameleon thing again to change its design, your body will incorporate it as a part of you."

"I can do that?" Jack asked.

"Yyyep," said Tucker, still focused on his phone. "I lost my first ever PDA to Skulker that way, jokes on him though, it bound him to my schedule."

Jack clipped the belt on, enjoying the familiar weight of it. He looked back at Sam's sketchbook, as she held it up for him.

"It's the logo from your RV, so it should be pretty easy to picture properly." she said, pointing at the little sketched F symbol.

Jack touched the front of the belt, wondering why he'd never thought to put it there himself. He imagined how he would do it, crafting and shaping the symbol, welding it to the metal of the belt.

He looked down and found the bright green stylised F staring back at him. He grinned.

The rest of the outfit came easily enough, Jack really liked the circuitry motif Sam had come up with, and she traced spots over his suit where she thought they would look good. He followed her lead and pictured the patterns blooming out from under her fingers.

The one on his left shoulder was an exact replica of the circuitry from the clock radio he deconstructed as a kid, he could still see the patterns clear as day in his mind. One section down his right side came from the first computer he ever took apart.

Once Sam was satisfied with his look, she gave him a tight nod and glanced around the room.

"Right, no mirrors, hold on." She stepped back and held up her phone. "Say fudge!"

Jack put his hands on his hips and posed as superhero-y as he could, but just before Sam could snap her picture, there was a tuft of white hair in his face.

"Do you mind?" Sam raised a scathing eyebrow.

Danny moved, giggling, before turning around to lean over Jack's shoulder.

"Behave yourself this time, you fucking gremlin." she cussed under her breath as she raised the phone once more.

She snapped a few quick shots and brought them back over for Jack to admire, he had to take his goggles off to see beyond the phone's electrical glow.

It was still unsettling, seeing those abnormal arms attached to his body, and the colours were still all wrong, but with the circuitry accents and the utility belt, he could have stepped right out of a comic book, strange proportions and all.

And with the hood pulled up and the goggles glowing a vibrant orange, the suit kind of reminded him of Maddie.

He could picture it clear as day, her hood keeping her hair out of her face as she welded one of their newest weapons together, her goggles glowed bright orange in the light of the blowtorch. The suit might not have looked quite like his, but it felt like home.

His eyes wandered up to his shoulder, where Danny was perched, chin resting against his folded arms. He was sticking his tongue out, it was an odd shade of blueish green instead of the normal  pink. The second picture had caught him mid laugh.

"Hey, could you send me this one?" He asked Sam. "Once we finally tell Mads what's goin' on, I wanna put this up on the wall!"

"Sure Mr F, I'll text it to Danny." said Sam with a smile. "It's a good one."

"No, it's not a good one!" Danny pointed, hovering over her shoulder. "Look, my eyes are closed!"

Sam wrestled him away, the two of them laughing as they shoved at each other.

Everyone froze when the hatch to the ops centre squeaked open.

"It's just me!" Jazz called up, raising a hand over the lip and waving.

She pulled herself all the way into the room and gasped when she took in Jack's new appearance.

She smiled brightly, opening her mouth to say something, before her face fell drastically into a look of near panic.

"Oh no, oh no why didn't I think of this before it's so obvious."

"What?" Danny dropped to the floor, turning back into his human self as he approached his sister. "What's obvious?"

"The flaw! The flaw in Vlad's plan, using his ghost half as a scapegoat, it meant he'd never be able to show mom that he's a halfa, but he-"

"He can change his appearance just like us." Danny finished, eyes growing wide with horror. "He could make his ghost half unrecognisable, she'd never even know it was him."

"Not unless we told her." said Jazz, in a firm voice.

"Not yet." Danny hissed.

"Danny we need to do something!"

"What we need is to avoid backing Vlad up in a corner and giving him nothing to lose! He's not an idiot Jazz, you don't think he has backup plans? You don't think he's found some way to screw us over if we move against him?"

Jazz's eyes widened and she took a few deep, angry breaths.

"There's something you aren't telling me." she said, her voice trembling. "He said something to you didn't he."

Danny's lips were pulled tight, but he didn't respond.

"Was it me?" she asked. "Did he threaten me?"

Danny remained silent.

"It wasn't just you." Sam spoke up quietly. "He told Danny he'd take out all of us, one by one."

"And if he couldn't get to us," Tucker continued. "He'd go after the school, he'd kill whoever he got his hands on first."

Jack stared at Danny, he'd told him about the threat to Jazz, but he never mentioned the rest. Even now, after finally being able to be himself around Jack, he was still keeping secrets. Jack shouldn't have expected Danny to trust him with everything right away, he'd held everything so close to the chest for so long. It couldn't have been easy to let Jack in, clearly it was going to take more time to earn back his son's trust.

"Why wouldn't you tell me?" Jazz asked, softly, an edge of hurt in her voice.

"You had enough to worry about." Danny waved her off, dismissively. "This was my problem."

"Oh no, no no no you can't do this. NOT anymore," Jazz's voice was razor sharp as she cut into him. "This is dad's murder, we're ALL involved. You can't shut me out, you can't shut any of us out. You have no right."

Danny glared at her, but he didn't argue.

"We need a plan that will keep Vlad contained before he can hurt anyone."

"Thought of that," Sam spoke up. "He might have goons on the outside ready to cause havoc if anything goes wrong."

"Okay," replied Jazz, thinking, "Then we need to threaten him back, something that will force him to back down."

"We thought of that too," said Tucker. "We don't have anything to threaten except exposing his identity, and that just leaves us at a stalemate."

Vlad, right.  With everything else going on Jack had almost forgotten.

Vlad, his old friend, his best friend, had... murdered him. He trusted him, he treated him like a brother, let him into his house like he was family, helped him when he was in trouble.

Jack felt his core pulse and energy flooded into his hands once more, his hair sizzled like an overloaded power-board and his fingers tingled with electricity.

Everyone in the room turned to look at him as he clenched his teeth and balled his large hands into fists.

"I'm gonna tear that no good piece of scum limb from limb."

"Dad, wait, just calm down a minute."

He could barely even process Jazz's words as a hot flush of rage roared through his ears.

"He murdered me, in front of my wife. In front of my kids."

"Dad!" Danny's cold hands closed around his fist. "I need you here with me dad, I need you here with me okay?"

"He killed me."

"I know dad, I know."

"He wants to kill Jazz."

"We won't let him."

"Because I'll kill him first."

"DAD."

Danny's voice struck him like a bucket of cold water, his ears were ringing as his head spun.

"We cannot rush blindly into this, I know you're angry, you have every right to be angry, but we need a strategy. If you go fight him right now he will destroy you."

Jack shook his head, propping his goggles up on his forehead, the flickering electrical currents were too much for him right now.

"How do you keep doing that?" Jack asked wearily.

"Doing what?"

"That thing with your voice." Jack sat down on the floor, his legs felt wobbly.

"It's not important right now."

"You can control ghosts." Jack snapped, "I'm a ghost, that makes this pretty damn important."

Danny folded his arms tight against his body, mouth pressed into a hard line.

"It won't work on you as strong as before, now that you have a physical body." Danny said. "And I'm not gonna use it on you just whenever I want, I only do it if I feel like it's necessary."

"I don't like it." said Jack, his voice hard.

"Neither do I!" Danny exclaimed, his voice cracking. "It scares the shit out of me! It scares the shit out of anyone I accidentally use it on! But I'm stuck with it, okay? It's not going anywhere and the more stressed out I am the more it slips out, so can we please just try and keep calm and sort this shit out, please?"

"Dad, are you okay?" Jazz rested a gentle hand in his shoulder. "You don't look great."

"I'm just tired Jazzy, I'll be alright."

Jazz glanced over to Danny, who shrugged.

"He's fine, he used a lot of energy today and he doesn't have a lot to throw around yet, he just needs rest."

"Can't you give him energy? Like before?"

"He isn't an ordinary spirit anymore, our cores aren't compatible, it would make him sick. He needs to recharge naturally."

"By going in the Ghost Zone?" Tucker asked.

Jack looked up sharply. Danny pondered the question, chewing on his lip in thought.

"The ambient ectoplasm in Amity is high enough that he can recharge here, it'll just take a little longer than it would in the Ghost Zone."

"How much longer?" Jack asked, his curiosity peaking once again.

Danny shrugged.

"I dunno, I guess a few hours maybe? The Ghost Zone is too risky right now, I wouldn't feel safe leaving you there while you're weak. Too many ghosts would take advantage because of your relation to me."

"Wait, wait a second." Jack raised a hand sluggishly. "The ghosts know who you are? They know you're my son?"

"Um, yeah."

"All of them?"

"...Yeah."

"All of the ghosts knew, and we didn't." Jack's shoulders sagged as he considered this. "I don't get it."

"It wasn't... on purpose." Danny explained in exasperation.

"Yeah he used to just randomly turn human mid battle all the time before he could control his powers." Sam chimed in. "Ghosts just don't really care about the whole secret identity thing."

"They probably know that Danny would be a bigger problem for them if he didn't have a normal life to keep up with." Tucker added. "The smart ones would think so anyway, the rest of the ghosts are just dumb and don't care."

"Okay, I think dad has had enough, we should let him get some rest... can ghosts sleep?"

"Sure, if they want to." Danny shrugged. "It's not really necessary like with humans, but it can speed up recovery."

"I'll get you some pillows, and a blanket."

"I got it." Danny flickered back into his ghost form and shot back down through the floor.

"Will he be safe sleeping up here?" Sam asked.

"Mom doesn't have any reason to come up here." said Jazz. "And she has to pass my bedroom to get here so I'll be standing guard."

Danny returned with a large bundle of blankets and pillows, Jazz started arranging them accordingly.

"I know it's not as comfortable as a bed," she said, apologetic. "We'll figure something else out eventually."

"On the plus side, you won't wake up with a sore back or neck." Danny grinned. "Being a ghost has its perks."

"Alright that's enough everyone, dad needs his sleep so shoo!" Jazz waved everyone out. "He's had a hard day, let him rest."

Sam and Tucker climbed back down the hatch and Danny flew over to give Jack a quick hug before flashing back to human and climbing down after them.

"Are you comfortable enough?" Jazz asked, tucking as many pillows and blankets around him as possible.

"I'm fine Jazzypants." He went to ruffle her hair, but took one look at the size of his hand beside her head and thought better of it. "You don't need to worry about me."

She gave him a swift kiss on the cheek and clambered her way back down the hatch, closing it behind her.

Jack laid back on the pillows, staring at the ceiling. His mind wandered down to his bedroom, where Maddie would be sleeping alone once again. At least when he was a spirit he could lay beside her throughout the night, offering some kind of comfort, even if she didn't know it.

As a ghost he couldn't even enter the same room without fearing her pulling a gun on him.

How could Danny stand it, being constantly vigilant around the people who were supposed to love him? Who were supposed to protect him?

He couldn't stand it, Jack realised. That's why he spent so much time with his friends, that's why he spent so much time flying around as Phantom, that's why he spent so much time away from home.

God he missed his wife. She was right there, just downstairs. She was so close.

He had to grit his teeth and clamp down on the urge to just fall right through the floor and scoop the love of his life up in his arms. He wanted to throw her around like they were 20 years younger, sweep her off her feet and kiss her until they were both breathless.

But he couldn't, he could only hope that she would visit him in his dreams. As his eyes slipped closed he fell into the dark comforting embrace of sleep, hoping, praying, he would see her there.

He learned something new about ghosts that night.

He learned they couldn't dream.

Chapter Text

Johnny took a long drag from his cigarette, watching the orange embers creep closer to his fingers. He'd nabbed the packet from the human world a few weeks ago, it was a brand he used to smoke way back in life.

He'd been told that addictions didn't cross over with them, but he could feel the ghost of his nicotine cravings regardless.

He was on his last one.

The SHWING SHWING sound of whetstone against metal paused as Skulker looked up, a plume of smoke tumbled over Johnny's lips as he leaned against the cave wall of the island lair.

"You want me to what?" Skulker growled.

"C'mon I'll owe ya!" Johnny whined. "It's just a pack of smokes, you'll be in and out, easy!"

"If it's so easy then why don't you do it?" Skulker resumed his knife sharpening, inspecting the blade carefully.

"Look I'm- I'm- I'm taking a break from going Lifeside alright?" Johnny stuttered, cigarette trembling between his fingers slightly as he took another drag.

"Is this about the whelp's mother?" Skulker asked, turning back to Johnny and raising a metallic eyebrow with a sneer. "You're not afraid of a human ghost hunter are you?"

"Of course I am! That woman's terrifying." Johnny repressed a shudder. "But she's got nothin' to do with it, you can see her a mile comin' in that fuckin' RV."

"Don't tell me you pissed off the whelp after the thing with his father." Skulker ran a finger over the edge of his blade, nodding in satisfaction as he propped it up against the cave wall. "Even I'm not poking that bear."

He picked up another knife, but paused as Johnny remained silent. He stared at him.

"You didn't."

"I didn't know okay! It was the same night the guy died, nobody knew!"

"Ancients Johnny," Skulker rubbed at his face in exasperation. "Anyone ever tell you you're an unlucky sonova bitch?"

"You should have seen him man." Johnny's voice was quiet and hollow. "I always knew the kid was more than he let on but-"

He shook his head, disturbing the smoke twirling up from between his fingers.

"I thought he still looked kinda human because he is kinda human, but it's all fake. He looks just like us underneath."

Skulker had all but abandoned his task as Johnny spoke, he cupped his chin in his hand, a pensive look on his face.

"So he's losing control of himself? Hm... this is bad."

"No shit." Johnny snorted.

"But we shouldn't be surprised." Skulker straightened up, he'd been leaning over his anvil for hours, he could feel the rivets in his back grinding as he stretched. "If someone came into my lair and destroyed my stuff I'd probably lose it too."

"Yeah but for us it's different." Johnny stressed.

"How?"

"Because we aren't like him." said Johnny, his cigarette had burned all the way up to his fingers, he ignored it. "He can do more shit than we can, he can do more than any ghost can. He's a freakin' tank."

Skulker stared for a moment, and then he laughed, a deep hearty laugh that reverberated throughout the cave.

"Don't tell me this is news to you." He picked up another knife. "He defeated Pariah Dark for Ancients' sake, of course he's powerful, but you're forgetting he has a weakness."

"Yeah yeah his protection obsession. I'm not an idiot, I know he can't end us, that's not what I'm getting at."

"Then what are you so afraid of?"

"He," Johnny took a shuddering breath, roughly rubbing his forehead, ash catching in the strands of his hair. "He can make you do shit."

The SHWING SHWING of Skulker's whetstone didn't stop, but his brow furrowed.

"What?"

"He can make you do shit." Johnny said through gritted teeth. "He told me to go home, and it was like the words were lodged in my brain man. Like they'd keep screamin' and screamin' and screamin' at me until I did what they said. It was fuckin' freaky."

A large CRACK resounded through the cave as the whetstone shattered within Skulker's grip.

"That's... no." Skulker stood up abruptly, ignoring his weapons, he headed to the entrance of the cave. "What brand do you like?"

"...What?"

"Cigarettes, which ones do you like?"

"Uh, Lucky Strike."

"Of course." Skulker groaned. "I'll see what I can do, no promises."

He deployed his jets, starting them up with an electronic whine before shooting off into the void of the Zone toward the Fenton portal.

Johnny watched him go, dropping his butt on the ground and grinding a heel into the embers, he headed out of the cave and mounted his bike.

Something about Skulker's sudden departure was brutally unnerving, and Johnny was pretty sure he wasn't going Lifeside just for his smokes.

"I don't like this Shadow." he said as the black shape crawled over his shoulder, growling in concern. "The fucker knows something."

Johnny wasn't sure he wanted to find out what.

Chapter Text

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.

"...Yes."

"Are you?"

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."

"Not just yet, I told Johnny I'd grab him a pack of smokes."

"You mean you told Johnny you'd steal him a pack of smokes."

"Potato potahto."

"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 it 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!"

Chapter Text

Jazz was surprised to find the door to her parents' bedroom was closed that morning.

It was the kind of thing many people wouldn't notice, or they'd probably brush off as inconsequential, but Jazz had always had an eye for spotting things that weren't quite as they should be. Danny used to even make a game out of moving things around the house to see if she would notice. She always did.

Jazz knew that the door to her parents' room was always left open during the day, which meant something had disturbed her mother's usual routine. She stood outside the room and listened carefully to the sounds of shuffling feet coming from inside.

It was halfway through the morning, her mother should have been in the lab or out hunting by now.

She carefully grasped the door handle and slowly turned it, cracking open the door to peek through. Maddie was definitely in there, moving back and forth through the room.

She opened the door wider, and watched silently as her mother placed another ecto-gun into the suitcase on her bed.

There was a tingling thrill of panic ringing somewhere in the back of her brain.

Maddie noticed her daughter in the doorway and paused, a pair of neatly folded pyjamas in her hands.

"Oh, Jazz, honey. I didn't hear you come in."

She continued to pack, tight lipped and tense now that she had an audience.

Jazz opened her mouth to ask her what she was doing, but something else tumbled forth.

"Please don't tell me this is about him." Jazz could hear the strain in her own voice as it forced its way past the lump in her throat. "Please mom you can't do this to Danny, not now."

"Jazz," Maddie heaved a heavy sigh and sat down on the edge of the bed, patting the sheets beside her.

Jazz took a seat and let her mother run her fingers through her hair, she hated it, the strands kept getting caught on her gloves and tugged uncomfortably at her scalp. She let her continue anyway.

"Sweetheart, it's just a ghost hunting mission, that's all." Maddie said softly. "Vlad's Wisconsin estate has just finished being rebuilt after that gas leak, and he needs me to make sure the ghosts that used to haunt the castle aren't still there."

"Can't he hire the Guys in White to do it?" Jazz asked, coldly.

"Oh honey, you know that they're incompetent." Maddie put her arm around Jazz's shoulders, squeezing gently. "They'd probably end up blowing the place up all over again."

"Look I get it mom, work is work I just... does it have to be right now?" Jazz asked, a pleading edge to her voice. "It's not like he's living there, can't it wait?"

"Well that's the thing honey," Maddie chewed on her lower lip, she had been doing that a lot lately, it was raw and cracked. "He's stepping down as Mayor, he'll be announcing it officially tomorrow. This whole thing has shaken him up and he just wants to go home."

Jazz stared at her hands, blinking rapidly as tears prickled at the edge of her vision.

Of course Vlad had been moving in the shadows, setting up the pieces, playing the perfect pathetic victim.

She should have been keeping a closer eye on her mother, could have checked her phone for recent calls, could have checked in with her on her hunts. Jazz had left Maddie alone and vulnerable, a perfect target.

How could she have been so stupid?

Because she trusted her, Jazz reminded herself, she trusted her not to go behind their backs. She trusted her to be honest with them, she trusted her to respect Danny's need for time, and space away from Vlad.

But Jazz had failed to consider one thing, behind their recent rocky history, Maddie and Vlad had been friends.

Good, close friends, she wasn't seeing a manipulative snake taking advantage of her, she was seeing a man who she'd known for years, who she used to spend so much of her time with, and he was hurting.

At least, he acted like he was hurting.

He'd known Maddie for just as long, he knew how to pull her strings, how to take her caring, protective nature and twist it into getting what he wanted.

"When do you leave?" Jazz asked in a small voice.

"Tomorrow afternoon." said Maddie.

"Are you going to tell Danny?"

Maddie was quiet for a moment, before answering slowly.

"I thought it might be best if you told him after I left."

Jazz felt the hairs on her neck bristle. How could she think that was okay? Going behind her child's back to spend who knew how many days away with the man who murdered his father?

Of course, she knew that Maddie didn't believe Vlad was truly responsible, she thought Danny was the one being unreasonable. In her mind she was choosing between helping an old friend or being bound by her son's irrational scapegoating.

Jazz couldn't blame her for the decision she made, she couldn't help but think that, had she been just as in the dark about Vlad's true nature, she'd have likely taken her mother's side.

"I understand why you're doing this." Jazz started, carefully. "But if you go behind Danny's back, he will never forgive you. You will lose his trust and you will not get it back."

Maddie got up from the bed, and continued to pack her suitcase.

"I don't want to hurt him." she said, as she began dismantling a particularly large weapon into transportable pieces, tucking them in between her toiletry bag and her spare hazmat suit. "But I don't want to hurt Vlad either, Danny has to understand that he's not dangerous. He won't hurt me, and he'll realise that when I finally catch the ghost that did this."

She yanked on the zipper of the case roughly, catching it on a glove that was still sticking out.

"So this isn't just about Vlad." said Jazz. "It's about the Wisconsin Ghost."

"His first sighting was in Vlad's castle." Maddie confirmed, wrestling with the stuck zipper. "The castle is gone but that doesn't necessarily mean the ghost is, he could be attached to the location rather than the building."

"You really think you're going to find him there?"

"I'm counting on it." Maddie finally tugged the zipper free and closed up the bag. "Once I bring that monster back, Danny will finally be able to stop projecting his anger onto Vlad. I might even string the creature up and give Danny some target practice, he's always been an awful aim."

Jazz tried not to shudder at her mother's ruthless words, she also tried not to think about how much she would enjoy shooting a pathetic and defenceless Vlad in his insufferable, smirking face.

"Wait, mom! That's a great idea!" Jazz shot up, clapping excitedly. "Why don't you bring Danny with you? You can take down the Wisconsin Ghost together!"

Maddie stared at Jazz, a thoughtful look on her face.

"I... I don't know Jazz." she folded her arms, lowering her gaze. "As much as I would love to teach him to hunt he's... I don't want him to get hurt. This ghost has taken enough from me."

"Then give him the Fenton Peeler!" Jazz pressed. "He'll be fully armoured, and he won't have to rely on aim, he can punch the crap out of a ghost in that thing."

A look of pain briefly flashed across Maddie's face, and it wasn't difficult for Jazz to guess what image was going through her mother's mind. She had seen the beatdown Danny had dealt Vlad that night too, it wasn't the kind of thing one  could easily forget.

"I'll have to think about it." said Maddie. "There is a lot to weigh up, but it's not a bad idea."

She gave Jazz a tight hug, and a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Just don't mention anything to him until  tomorrow, please?"

"Don't worry, I won't." Jazz lied.

Chapter Text

Jack and Maddie had many questions about the nature of ectoplasm.

They knew that different samples often turned up different results in their chemical makeup, from acidity to temperature, there were a multitude of variations. Some chemical compounds they hadn't even been able to identify, especially one that seemed to show up in samples taken during battle.

Jack was now learning that this unknown chemical was likely the ghost equivalent of adrenaline.

It seemed obvious in hindsight.

It was the reason Jack's hands tingled when he was scared or upset or excited, the ectoplasm being pumped from his core was flooded with excess power, pooling in his limbs with the intent to be released either offensively or defensively.

"At first it's instinctual." Danny told him as he repositioned Jack's arms at a better angle, facing the crudely drawn paper target sticky taped to the wall. "But once you get used to the feeling, you can figure out how to turn it off and on without relying on your emotions. That's actually pretty important because as a ghost your emotions are a lot stronger, and it's easy to lose your focus in a fight. A lot of other ghosts often prey on that, they try to rile you up with shit talk to distract you."

That honestly explained a lot, Jack thought. He'd always assumed Phantom's witty quips were just him being an arrogant smart-ass, it was enlightening to find out they were a tactical manoeuvre.

Although he did often snark just as heavily at the very much human Guys in White, so maybe there was an element of normal teenage smart-assery after all.

With Danny's guidance Jack had managed to unleash one or two solid blasts of targeted lightning, he didn't quite hit the little paper target, but he'd gotten close enough to singe the edges, Danny seemed pleased enough with the results.

"Elemental abilities can be hard to control. You're not gonna get it right away, you should have seen me trying to use ice for the first time." Danny snickered. "I nearly turned myself into a popsicle."

Jack was just readying his third attempt when the hatch in the floor opened up and Jazz pulled herself through. She glanced over at the burn marks on the wall and the mostly untouched target.

"I take it the training is going well." she said. Jack wasn't sure whether or not she was being sarcastic.

"We're getting there." said Danny. "This is probably a good time to stop though, how do you feel dad?"

Jack flexed his hands.

"How do I make 'em stop tingling without throwing lightning at something?" he asked, feeling the pooled energy crackling between his fingers.

"Oh, uh, that's what your outlet is for." Danny pointed to Jack's hands and then trailed his finger up to his hair. "Try to focus on redirecting the current from your hands to your head."

As Jack tried to visualise it, Jazz began to speak to Danny quietly, but with a slightly frantic edge to her voice.

"Mom is about to do something really stupid, but I think I might be able to get her to see reason, I just made a call to-"

She was cut off by Danny gasping, Jack could see a vibrant blue mist escape from his mouth.

Jazz didn't seem to notice the mist, but she did narrow her eyes and square her shoulders as if preparing for something to happen.

"What is it? Is there a ghost?" she asked.

"Yeah but it's familiar, one of the regulars I think." Danny replied, his eyes seemed to be following something moving around outside of the building, his gaze slid upwards. "Someone with an electrical core, probably Technus, they're on the roof."

C R U N C H

The sound of tearing metal stabbed through Jack's eardrums and he desperately clapped his hands to his ears as the noise ricocheted through his brain.

"Are you sure you're in the right headspace for a fight with Technus of all people? I mean you've just been training with dad's electri-"

"I'll be fine Jazz."

"Are you sure?"

"I'll be fine."

It took Jack a few moments to clear the fuzz from his mind, and when he did he noticed Danny was gone.

"It's okay dad, Danny will deal with it." Jazz assured him with a smile, but there was a tightness to her voice. "Just stay here, he'll be back soon."

She bit her lip, glancing nervously up toward the ceiling. If Jazz was worried, there was probably a good reason for it.

Squaring his shoulders and feeling the tingle of power still coursing through his arms, Jack lifted himself into the air and stuck his head through the ceiling, cutting off Jazz's cry of disapproval.

Once his head popped through the other side, he activated his invisibility and took stock of his surroundings. Danny was floating before a ghost Jack recognised, but instead of fighting, he found them talking.

"Technus, I am really not in the mood for this." Danny rubbed tiredly at his eyes.

"Okay look," the ghost responded in a nasally voice. "I heard about what happened, and I just wanna say, I'm sorry for your loss."

"That's... very considerate of you." Danny replied cautiously.

"I just want you to know." The mulleted ghost placed a hand over his chest. "That if you need anyone to talk to, do not come to me, I'm terrible at the whole comforting people thing."

Danny laughed.

"Noted, and can I dare to hope that this is the only reason you're here?"

The ghost actually had the decency to look sheepish.

"Yeah well, about that."

A long metal arm shot out of nowhere and grabbed Danny roughly, slamming him into the roof of the ops centre.

"Look it's nothing personal!" Technus insisted as Danny froze the robotic appendage, smashing his way out of the sharp claws. "I promised the other guys I'd set the Ghost Zone up with the internet, and they're all starting to get on my case about it, it's just business, you get it."

Danny dodged several more grasping claws and knocked Technus off the edge of the building with an ectoblast, but the ghost caught himself with his metal arms and climbed around behind one of the various satellite dishes.

"What does attacking me have to do with the internet?" Danny flew around the dish and had to swiftly drop down as some kind of metal projectile shot towards him.

"I don't have the right tech for this sort of project." Technus, supported by his many clawed arms, climbed back into Jack's view, ripping another one of the satellites from its bolted base. "But this stuff has great range! With a few of these I could bounce the signal right through the portal!"

"You could have just asked!" An ectoblast to Technus' hand had him dropping his loot with a clang. "I actually would have been totally down to help, and Tucker would be over the moon to get involved in a project like this. He's all about making tech advancements for the Realms."

The ghost placed a hand on one of the antenna support beams, sending a current through it. A number of power cables running up the support structure broke away and went flying over to Danny.

He was too busy freezing another of the metal arms to stop it from wrapping around his leg, and sending a violent current of energy through his body.

Jack had heard Phantom scream in pain before, but this was something else entirely. It cut through his mind like a hot knife, sending sharp spikes of fear through Jack's very being, and an intense burning pain that wasn't his own went careening down into his left arm. He felt like his bones were on fire.

Even Technus seemed shocked by the response, as the cord and the metal arms were drawn back in sharply, he stumbled back as though he'd been physically struck.

Danny turned around to face the ghost, a harrowing, ferocious expression stretched across his gnarly fanged maw.

"I told you." he growled. "I am not in the mood."

Technus tried to pull himself together, obviously rattled by the effects of the scream, just like Jack he was gripping his own left arm in pain.

"Y-yeah? Well, um." The ghost swallowed, "Uh, oh what's that over there?!"

As he pointed over Danny's shoulder, another cable shot out from the other side.

Danny obviously had not been fooled by the ploy, he obviously saw the cable coming, he'd have had no problem stopping it. In fact the ghost likely wasn't even intending to hurt him with it, likely it was merely a distraction so that he could get away.

But in that moment, none of that occurred to Jack. In that moment he saw the cause of his son's agonising pain going in for a second attempt and before he even knew what he was doing, he'd flown himself up onto the roof and grabbed the power cable in his big, strong hands and yanked. It ripped away from the metal structure, severing the connection between it and the ghost.

Jack could feel the electricity flow into him, his hair buzzed with the overload, his whole body crackling as the currents ran over his skin, arcing up and over his entire body.

"Touch my son again," he growled, swinging the cord around threateningly. "AND I'LL RIP YOU APART. MOLECULE. BY. MOLECULE."

Technus pulled back, a stunned look plastered across his gobsmacked face.

"It can't be! You can't be! It's been a week!! How are you like this in a week?!" he turned to Danny, whether in fear or awe Jack couldn't tell. "He's not like you is he?"

"Technus." Danny sighed, his face back to its usual human-like appearance. "I think you should go home."

The ghost didn't argue, he just nodded, and like a dog with its tail between its legs, he disappeared from sight.

Jack watched Danny's eyes as they trailed downward, finally closing them with a sigh as, presumably, the ghost passed back to into his own realm.

"It had to be Technus." Danny pressed a hand against his eyes, rubbing his temples. "Of all the ghosts to find out, it had to be literally the biggest gossip in the whole ass Ghost Zone."

He lowered his hand, pressing Jack with a heavy look.

"Why didn't you just stay in the ops centre? I was handling it."

"Didn't sound like you were handling it." Jack rubbed at his left arm, frowning. "When I heard you scream like that I just, I couldn't just... I just wanted to protect you."

Danny sighed.

"I would be... a massive hypocrite if I got mad at you for that."

Jack huffed a laugh, pulling his son in for a hug.

"Ancients dad, I'm gonna overdose on hugs if you keep this up." said Danny.

"I don't care." Jack held his boy close, safe.

Danny only let himself be held for a moment before pulling away firmly.

"We should head back inside, mom could be up here at any minute, there's no way she didn't hear all that."

Maddie did, in fact, hear all that.

Danny insisted that Jack hide away in his bedroom while Maddie was checking the damage to the ops centre, it was too risky hanging about in there with her attention on the place.

Jack sat at Danny's desk chair, it was rather small, and he was almost afraid of breaking it, but it didn't seem to struggle under his weight at all.

He was reminded again just how different it was, being a ghost.

Danny's bedroom window was open, along with the nice breeze he could hear Maddie cussing up a storm as she began the arduous process of fixing the roof.

Jack's hands twitched, it would be so easy for him to go up there and fix everything for her. Now that he could fly, he wouldn't have to tether himself to anything, he would be able to carry all his tools up at once easily with his new strength.

"Dad?" Danny's voice cut through his thoughts, and he found himself floating up toward the ceiling.

"Uh sorry, was lost in thought for a bit there." he dropped back into the chair, twiddling his thumbs.

He could probably go up and fix it later that night when Maddie was sleeping, he could see in the dark now so it wouldn't be too hard. He'd need to pick up a few tools from the workshop, he wondered if he could power the tools himself and save him having to rig up the extension cord.

"Daaaad." Danny's voice floated by his ears again, and once more Jack dropped back down in his chair.

"Sorry, sorry."

Danny was sitting on his bed, homework spread out in front of him. He stared at Jack, his pen resting thoughtfully on his lip.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"I'm fine." Jack replied, raising his hands placatingly. "I'm not the one who got thrown all over the roof."

There was a soft little knock on Danny's door, followed by Jazz's voice.

"Danny, you in there?"

Danny got up and unlocked the door, letting Jazz in before quickly locking it again behind her.

She rounded on him almost immediately.

"I could hear you screaming from inside the ops centre! What happened up there?"

Danny turned away from her, he sat back down on the bed and picked up his pen.

"He caught me by surprise, but I'm fine. It didn't even really hurt." he said in a dismissive tone.

"Maybe not physically." Jazz said, she'd softened her voice, but was still standing firm. "I know you can handle physical pain, this was something else. I know how you get around elec-"

She paused and glanced over at Jack.

"Around ghosts like Technus. You keep telling me that you can handle it, but that? That wasn't handling it."

Jack wasn't a moron, he knew he could be oblivious, and often missed the obvious, but he'd seen the way Danny had reacted the first time Jack almost hit him with his powers. He heard the way Jazz talked to him before the fight. She'd almost mentioned electricity, and she'd almost done it again now before cutting herself off.

Clearly, Danny had a problem with electricity, and Jazz was trying not to make Jack feel bad about it.

He felt bad about it anyway.

"Hey uh, Danny?" Jack started awkwardly. "Did uh, something happen to your arm?"

Danny looked up sharply.

"What do you mean?" he asked curtly.

"When you were screaming I felt, uh." Jack gestured to his left arm. "Burning, it was like I was feeling your pain, but the ghost was grabbing your leg not your arm so..."

Jazz was staring daggers into the back of Danny's head, but Danny's eyes were locked onto Jack with an uncomfortable intensity.

"I thought you said you told him-"

"I did tell him." Danny cut Jazz off. "I just... skipped over the details."

"Details for what?" Jack asked, he hated feeing out of the loop.

Jazz was still staring at Danny, who was starting to shift awkwardly beneath her gaze. She sat down beside him and placed a hand on his back.

"Do you want me to tell him?"

Danny didn't answer, he was staring down at the papers strewn over his bedsheets.

Jazz took a deep breath.

"When Danny was in the portal," she squeezed his shoulder gently. "He put his hand on an exposed wire, the portal turned itself on because he completed the circuit. He was electrocuted."

Jack sat back, processing the information.

"That's... holy cow, that portal was hooked up to a generator running over a megavolt, that's over a million volts running through your body, 40 times what it would take to cook you to a crisp." Jack ran a hand through his hair, forgetting that he couldn't really tug at it anymore. "I mean I... I know you only... only kinda survived but my god, how?"

Jazz sighed.

"I can't really answer this part, Danny?"

Danny sat impossibly still on the edge of his bed, elbows resting on his knees as he stared intently at the floor.

"The portal did to my spirit what the spell did to you," he said, his voice sounded flat and detached. "I basically speedran the spirit phase and went full ectoplasmic entity within seconds. The only difference was that ectoplasm also animates dead tissue, like that one thanksgiving when the turkey came alive."

Jack remembered that rather fondly, it had been a great ghost hunting family bonding experience.

"You know how people who die for a few minutes on an operating table say they can remember floating above their body?" Danny continued. "Well that's what happened to me, except when my body was reanimated and my spirit was pulled back in, it took all the ectoplasm it absorbed back in with it. So I'm still a living human but at the same time I'm a fully formed ectoplasmic entity."

"Hol- hold on now," Jack stuttered, brain furiously turning over this new information. "So you're saying the ectoplasm in the portal healed your body?"

They had been experimenting with ectoplasm as a medical treatment for years due to its ability to revive dead tissues, but they had never quite been able to get it right. Maybe if they tried with samples taken directly from the energy within the portal...

"That... wow, that confirms our theories that ectoplasm can be used as a healing agent, we could unlock a whole new level medical advancement with this information! If this particular ectoplasmic compound can heal a body that's been subjected to that level of electrical damage, it could revive dead skin from third degree burns. It could make skin grafts obsolete!"

Jack had begun floating again in excitement, Danny stared at him, slack-jawed.

"I... uh, wow. That's not at all how I thought this conversation would go." he muttered. "But, I mean yeah, I guess you totally could."

"Okay, this is obviously a very exciting revelation," Jazz cut in. "But we still have more pressing matters to deal with before you get started on a whole new project."

"Oh, right yeah." Jack sat back down, a little sheepish. "Sorry, I get that this was uh, a pretty big deal, and I uh, I'm sorry if my powers freaked you out a bit. I can't really blame you considering what happened."

"It's okay dad." Danny leaned forward and put a hand over Jack's. "You didn't know, I should have told you instead of just... hiding everything... it's just not easy for me to talk about. You're actually the first person I've ever really explained this to."

"Really?" Jack looked up in surprise. "What about Jazzy?"

Danny looked over at Jazz, who smiled back.

"She wanted to wait until I was ready to talk about it, so, yeah."

"I'm so proud of you." she wrapped her arms around Danny and gave a tight squeeze.

"For the love of the Realms, do I have a 'hug me' sign on my back?" Danny grumbled, but he didn't push her away. "Hey weren't you saying something about mom before Technus showed up?"

"Oh! Right!" Jazz pulled away and stood up, a scowl darkening her face. "Vlad's been talking to mom behind our backs! She's supposed to be leaving for Wisconsin with him tomorrow."

"WHAT?!" Danny shot up from the bed, fangs bleeding through as his face contorted with fury. "How could she do that?!"

"Look, we don't know what Vlad's been saying to her, or even how long they've been talking." Jazz wrung her hands anxiously as she spoke. "She thinks if she goes to Wisconsin she'll find Plasmius."

"His first known sighting was at Vlad's mansion." Jack muttered darkly, trying to ignore the taste of tainted champagne that crept into his mouth every time the man's name came up. "She probably thinks he'll have returned to his usual haunt."

"So how do we convince her not to go?" Danny snapped sharply, staring desperately at Jazz for guidance.

"I've got a plan." Jazz stated firmly. "I've already made the call to put it in motion, we'll just have to wait and see if it works."

At that moment, out in the backwoods of Spitoon, Arkansas, Aunt Alicia was making a phone call.

Chapter Text

Maddie stared at the mess on the roof, there were live wires laying all over the place, warped and broken shards of metal, support beams and steel sheeting strewn across the rooftop. She couldn't even think about going up there until she'd cut off the power to the ops centre.

She'd headed to the basement for a weapon as soon as the ghost detection system went off, but by the time she made it to the roof, the ghost was already gone.

Leaving Maddie stuck on cleanup duty.

After shutting off the power supply she got to work, coiling up the cables and collecting any loose pieces of damaged machinery.

She cursed loudly as one of the metal shards cut painfully through her suit, and she threw her haul at the ground in frustration as she pressed a hand over the wound.

This was the last thing she needed right now, it would take her weeks to clean up  this mess, and she'd need to clear out the spare fridge in the ops centre while the power was cut off, and make sure there was no severe structural damage to the rest of the roof. She'd be in a hell of a lot of trouble if a strong gust of wind took down one of the large dishes.

She'd be up there all night making sure it was structurally sound before leaving for Wisconsin tomorrow.

Maddie sat down against one of the untouched antennas, cursing again as she surveyed the damage. Maybe she could convince Danny or Jazz to come up and help her remove the bigger pieces of metal.

A jaunty little tune cut through the dower silence, Maddie pulled out her phone and checked the caller ID, groaning at what she saw.

With some hesitation, she answered.

"Mads what in the fuck do you think you're doin'." came Alicia's gruff voice.

"Hello to you too." said Maddie, rubbing tiredly at her eyes. "Alicia whatever this is about can it wait? This is a really bad time-"

"No, it cannot wait. What in the hell are you thinking running off to Wisconsin with that weedy little rich pig?"

"That is none of your business." Maddie growled, her phone almost creaking within her tight grip. "Who even told you about that?"

"Jazz, who was on the phone to me crying her guts up I'll have you know." Alicia snapped. "Are you really gonna leave those kids alone a week after their daddy was up and killed? You can't be serious Mads."

"It is none of your damn business Alicia." Maddie grit her teeth. "I am doing everything in my power to protect my family, so don't you dare-"

Alicia cut her off with a harsh, humourless laugh.

"Protect them? Leaving them alone for god knows how long while you're off chasin' ghosts is protectin' them?? Listen, I don't care if that damn ghost you're after is in Wisconsin, I don't care if you're hellbent on gettin' even, I care about Danny and Jazz. They don't need vengeance right now, they need their momma."

"Don't," Maddie's voice shook. "Don't tell me how to look after my kids, you don't know anything, you can't even have kids!"

Her hand flew over her mouth the moment the words left her lips. The phone went silent for several agonising seconds before Alicia finally spoke, her voice stone cold.

"I get that you're hurtin' real hard right now, and that is the only reason I'm gonna pretend you did not just say that to me."

Maddie squeezed her eyes shut as tears of regret prickled the edges of her vision.

"If you think runnin' away on the chance that you'll find that ghost in Wisconsin is protectin' those kids, then you ain't got the sense god gave a goose."

Maddie took a few shaky breaths, but didn't respond.

"Did ye even stop to think about if you were wrong? If this damn ghost has just been waitin' for you to take off and leave them all alone? And beside that, you been so caught up in huntin' for vengeance you left yer own daughter to do everything! The funeral prep Mads? You let her plan the whole damn funeral by herself? You're her momma, you're supposed to be there for her, she ain't supposed to be pickin' up after you. When you chose to have those kids you made a commitment, and right now you sure as hell ain't honouring it."

"But I have to catch him Alicia." Maddie insisted, a desperate edge to her voice. "For them, I have to-"

"Bullshit." Alicia growled. "You're doin' this for you and you alone Maddison. If this was really about the kids, you'd actually have listened when Jazz was beggin' you not to go. How the fuck do you call that 'doin' it for them'?"

"I didn't-" Maddie wiped the heel of her palm across her cheek as more tears fell. "I didn't know, they've been so strong, I thought they were okay. I thought they understood, I thought-"

"You thought wrong Mads."

Maddie gnawed at her lip as Alicia's words sank in.

"Do you remember momma's piano?" Alicia asked.

"Barely." Maddie sniffed and wiped her eyes some more. "I think... I remember you playing Old Man River."

"Yeah, momma taught me that. I was pretty good at piano, what momma didn't teach me I taught myself. I loved it, even after she died I could still almost feel her hands over mine helping me play. Man, I really loved that piano."

"Then why did you sell it?" Maddie asked.

Alicia was silent for a moment, Maddie was confused by the abrupt change in topic, but she knew Alicia didn't waste words she didn't need.

"Because after mom died, dad crawled into a whiskey bottle and didn't come out for nothin', not for the crops, not for work, not for me or you. I had to drop outta school to pick up the slack, but like hell was I gonna let you miss out on a decent eduction. When the time came, we needed money for your school books and some new clothes, and I only had one thing of any value to sell."

"Alicia," Maddie's voice shook. "You... you've never told me that before."

"And you know why?" Alicia asked. "Because I was yer big sister, and it was my duty to look after ye. It weren't fair that dad left that on my shoulders, it weren't fair that I had to lose what I loved, but I did what I felt I had to, and I didn't complain one bit because it weren't fair for you neither. Now you think about the kinda girl Jazz is, you think about how much she cares about all of y'all. Do you think she'd complain, even if it hurts? Even if she's givin' up what she needs to be what everyone else needs?"

Maddie didn't respond, but she knew the answer.

"If your daughter is comin' to me for support, then you ain't doin' your damn job. Pull yer head outta yer ass Maddison or I'mma take my shitty old truck all the way to Illinois and show up on yer doorstep to jerk a knot in yer tail."

Alicia hung up.

Maddie dropped her phone to the ground and buried her face in her hands, sobbing quietly as she sat among the wreckage of the roof.

She had a lot of fixing to do.