The observatory had been de-funded and shut down almost a year ago, a result of light pollution from Amity Park, the frightening proximity of ghost attacks, and all the scientists quitting when the Guys in White shot a missile at it while chasing Danny, breaking the mirrors of the main telescope.
Still, the observatory was a good place to go stargazing, and Danny had sort of made it his unofficial haunt. It wasn't as if anyone was using the building, after all. No one minded if he brought in some of his parents' old computers, or replaced the telescope's mirrors with his ghostly ice. He wasn't bothered or harassed when he brought in his old mattress and sleeping bag, or when he brought in a mini-fridge he'd gotten for cheap at a garage sale and one of his parents' prototype ecto-converters.
It was nice, to have a place he could go. Somewhere to hide if things went bad. Somewhere he could bring his friends, or just be himself.
He taped another star chart to the wall. He'd found this one in the bottom drawer of one of the desks at the bottom level. It was a bit ratty around the edges, but it had cool retro vibes. He smiled, smoothing it out.
He really loved space, loved astronomy, loved the stars. He couldn't get enough of them, even here.
On some level, he knew his ghost half had latched on to his love of space. His thoughts of the stars had the same vibrant intensity as his deep-seated need to see his people happy and safe. Heck, if he was stargazing while in ghost form, he'd wind up with constellation-shaped freckles. He didn't like to think about that, though. The fact that he had Obsessions. He never talked about it, even if he was sure Sam, Tucker, and Jazz could see it. The idea of his... ghostly needs being used against him scared him too much.
But, when he was here, or when he was with his smiling friends and family, it was so easy to forget all about that. So easy to be happy himself.
So, he did.
He floated himself back onto his mattress and sighed. Being at home was too stressful right now. As he did with increasing frequency, he planned to sleep here, tonight.
A patch of night seeped through the ceiling of the observatory and blended perfectly with the star charts hung on the walls. It crept, silent, to pool in the shadows under Daniel Fenton-Phantom's makeshift bed.
Nocturne had been watching this place for some time. At first, he thought to make it his new base, after his foothold in the mattress factory had been discovered and dislodged. After all, a ruined observatory fit with his theme.
He had, however, been surprised to discover that Phantom, of all people, had claimed it as his own.
The younger ghost hadn't shown any signs of being interested in space before. It didn't fit his theme, which was entirely based on comic book superheroes. Still, Nocturne could recognize the signs of a dual Obsession as well as any ghost, and better than some.
A thin line of mist escaped Phantom's lips, and his eyes flickered open. Nocturne struck, pushing him back to sleep. He had done this several times, now.
He had tried trapping Phantom in dreams once or twice, before finding the observatory, but somehow the little brat always seemed to find a flaw in the dream and wake himself up. He had tried attacking him while he was held under, asleep, but, again, Phantom woke up. It was intensely frustrating.
But, now, with him sleeping out here, alone, most nights, Nocturne had a freer hand. He had more time to work with, more time to be subtle. To be delicate.
It was fortunate that Nocturne's theme and Phantom's second Obsession meshed so well. One could almost say that the stars were smiling on Nocturne.
Nocturne was certainly smiling on them.
He touched one tendril of darkness to the back of Phantom's neck, nurturing a dream, and slipped another under his twitching eyelid. If everything went well, he would test his progress tomorrow.
Danny shivered as his ghost sense went off as he stepped into the school building. He groaned. He'd been hoping to make first period on time today. If this was the Box Ghost again, he was going to snap.
He ducked into the bathroom, went ghost and-
-it suddenly occurred to him how nice Venus would be tonight. It would be almost at its furthest possible distance from the Sun, as viewed from Earth, so it would be bright. The moon would be new, too, so the seeing would be even better. It would be a great time to try out the telescope, he was pretty sure he'd fixed the hydraulics. He could see it in his minds eye-
He blinked, hard. Wow. He'd never zoned out that hard on the way to a ghost fight. In class sure, but... He shook himself. He had things to do.
The results, Nocturne mused, weren't exactly impressive, but he had expected that. It would take time for the seeds he had planted to come to fruition.
He watched Phantom dance through the sky, fighting Ember, and gave the metaphysical string that currently tied Phantom to him another little tug. Phantom didn't slip into a daydream, didn't even pause in his assault, but he saw the moment when Phantom's focus wavered, and Ember did, too.
Oh, this was going to be fun.
Danny had stars on his mind today. It seemed like every time he blinked, there they were. His focus was trashed. How could he concentrate on the French Revolution when the history of the stars was so much longer, more violent, more dramatic, more majestic?
Maybe he had been spending too much time at the observatory. But he deserved something for everything he went through, didn't he? He could treat himself now and again, right?
"Are you feeling okay, Danny?" asked Sam.
"Y-Yeah," said Danny. "Just a little tired, I guess."
"Right," said Sam. "Have you been sleeping at the observatory again?"
"Well, maybe you should try a real bed tonight."
"Maybe," said Danny, not wanting to commit when his parents could be brewing who-knows-what in the kitchen sink again.
Sam gave him one last concerned look before turning down her street. Tonight was a patrol night, but she wouldn't be joining because she had family over.
Danny chased the ghost beaver who, until a few minutes ago, had been merrily chewing down telephone poles, through the storm drains under Amity Park. They burst from the ground in a relatively dark residential neighborhood, and Danny had to stop for a minute to stare up at the sky.
He'd never be able to get over just how beautiful the stars were.
A human shrieked in the distance and Danny cursed as he realized the ghost beaver had gotten away.
Alright. Enough was enough. Danny wasn't always the most focused person, but the past couple of days he had been a total space cadet. This couldn't continue. He couldn't let his hobby get in the way of saving people's lives, and that's what it was doing.
Fine. No more indulging himself. No more nights at the observatory. No more astronomy books. No more space documentaries. No more stargazing. Not until he could get himself under control.
If the Phantom hadn't been such a thorn in his side, Nocturne would almost pity the boy.
As Nocturne watched from a distance, it became obvious that Phantom had no idea how to manage his Obsessions. Nocturne had to wonder if he even knew what they were, with how he was behaving. His ignorance was, well, painful. Clearly, the boy needed some kind of instruction.
Well. Nocturne could provide that. Later. In the meantime, this just made it easier for Nocturne.
After all, you couldn't stop yourself from being hungry by refusing to eat.
"Danny," said Tucker, gently shaking his shoulder. "Hey, man, are you okay?"
"Uh?" said Danny, peeling his face off his hand. "What? What's going on?"
"School's been over for five minutes," said Tucker.
"Oh," said Danny, blinking. He'd- He'd missed all of class. Not really a loss, honestly, since it was history and Pluto was a fascinating planet with-
No. Stop that. Stop.
"Is something bothering you?" asked Tucker.
"I don't know," said Danny. "I just keep zoning out. I don't know why."
"Could it be, you know, a ghost thing?"
It certainly could. In fact, Danny knew perfectly well it was a ghost thing. Specifically, his ghost thing.
He forced a smile. "No, I don't think so. I probably just have ADHD or something." What would his friends think, if he couldn't even control his own mind anymore? He'd always been troubled by the thought of his friends finally realizing what a freak he was and abandoning him, but now even the slightest hint of risk in that direction seemed untenable.
"If you're sure," said Tucker, dubiously. "I mean, you're the expert."
"Yeah," said Danny.
"So, feeling up for the Nasty Burger?"
"Yeah, let's do that."
Nocturne glided from shadow to shadow, just out of range of Phantom's annoying ghost sense. This would be the moment of truth. The moment he found out whether or not all his planning and careful preparations payed off.
Finally, he loomed up, over the three teenagers, and pulled, hard, on the strings he had tied to Phantom. Phantom gasped and froze, but then relaxed, just marginally. Nocturne saw tiny stars flare to life in the dark space of Phantom's pupils, and then that darkness expanded, pushing at the boundaries of Phantom's irises.
Then one of Phantom's little human friends started shouting at him, shooting at him. Nocturne's lips curled these humans had put him through quite a bit of trouble during his first attack on this city. It was time for some payback.
He seized the more annoying of the two in one hand, bringing him up to eye level. "Well, now, what do we have here?" The human screamed.
Abruptly, he felt his hold on Phantom slip.
Curses. He had moved too soon.
Danny hung in the air, hands on his knees, panting. He had driven Nocturne off, barely, but... He put a hand to his face. What was wrong with him.
"What's wrong with you?" shouted Sam, echoing his thoughts. "You just let him grab Tucker!"
"Sam-" said Tucker.
"No, she's right," said Danny, drifting down and returning to human form. "I don't know what happened. I'm sorry."
Sam frowned, heavily. "I know you've been going through something this past week, Danny," she said. "But, really. I hate putting all this on you, but... I mean, you're the only one who can fight ghosts like Nocturne."
"We're here to help," said Tucker. "But we can only help if you let us."
Danny looked down at his feet. He had doodled little stars all over the white parts of his shoes, so that didn't really help.
"At least talk to Jazz," said Tucker. "I know you don't like to, but... She does know about stuff."
"You think I'm going crazy?" asked Danny.
"No," said Tucker. "Just, maybe that you need to talk about things."
"You don't have to tell us if you really don't want us to know," said Sam. "We all know about secrets, but... This is hurting you."
"Alright," said Jazz, after Danny finished explaining. "I think I get what you're saying. But, um, are you sure this is you?"
"What do you mean? I'm definitely the one spacing out."
"Yes, but... This just feels like something Nocturne would do. You said he was the one you were fighting?"
"Yeah," said Danny, picking at the ruffle on Jazz's pillow. "But I was doing this before he showed up."
"Before you saw him show up," corrected Jazz.
Danny glared. "Why are you so against it being my fault?"
"Why are you so insistent that it is?" countered Jazz.
Danny shrugged, trying to put as much anger into the gesture as possible.
"What if," said Jazz, steepling her fingers and leaning forward in her desk chair, "we try triggering whatever it was that made you, um, space out?"
"I'll be right here to snap you out of it, or whatever," said Jazz. "Then, maybe, we can figure out what's causing it."
"I know what's causing it!" snapped Danny, slamming the pillow down on Jazz's bed.
"Oh," said Jazz, blinking. "You do?"
"It's because I'm a freak!" he said.
Jazz's face fell, though she tried to cover it up. "That's Spectra talking," she said, sternly. "You aren't a freak." She reached towards him, and put her hand on his shoulder. "You're my little brother, and you're a hero."
"But this is getting in the way of that," said Danny, fighting back tears. "I almost let Nocturne hurt Tucker."
"But you didn't. And you'll always be my little brother, no matter what."
"It's- it's still coming from me, though," said Danny. "Because I have Obsessions." He rubbed his eyes, even though they were still dry.
"Well," said Jazz, "we'll just have to figure out how they work, then, won't we?"
Jazz watched as Danny squared his shoulders and stared resolutely at the wall. It had taken some convincing, but Danny had agreed to try and trigger an 'episode.' Jazz thought he might be dissociating, or experiencing some kind of fugue state- But, at the same time, she knew those were both pretty extreme diagnoses, the conditions the sort of things that would wind up in thrillers, and the truth was probably something less 'exciting.'
"This isn't working," said Danny.
"Well, maybe that's a good thing?" said Jazz. "But... Try to think about what you were thinking about when it happened before."
Danny grumbled. Slowly, though, he began to relax.
Jazz tilted her head. There was something off about his eyes. His pupils were growing larger. Too large. She frowned. He should be in pain from the light at that dilation. Her own eyes widened. Human pupils didn't get that large. Or that sparkly.
She scooted back, just a little bit.
The black spilled into his sclera, then out of his eyes altogether as it reached his lower eyelids, dripping down his face like tears.
Nocturne started with surprise as Phantom gave their link a tentative tug. Then he smiled, taking up the slack. Perhaps he hadn't overreached after all.
He reeled Phantom in. When the child was looking for dreams, it was easy to lure him in, to trap him.
Now... First thing. Those eyes. Keep them filled with stars. Then, if the boy was going to be his sleepwalker, he had better look the part. That raggedy old outfit would never do. Might as well make him pretty, paint his skin with stars, dust them through his hair.
There. That worked.
"Sam?" said Jazz, her voice crackling with static over the phone.
"Yeah? What's up?" asked Sam, sprawled on her bed. "Did Danny talk to you?"
"Yeah, but I think I screwed up."
"Hey, don't worry. He doesn't stay mad at people for long, you kn-"
"No, no, it isn't that. It's a ghost thing."
"Well, we sort of figured it was related to his ghost half."
"No, I mean, as in mind control, Sam. It's a mind control thing. He like, got stars, like Nocturne all over him, and his clothes melted, and maybe his eyes, too? I'm freaking out here, Sam."
"Okay, okay," said Sam. She was no longer lying on her bed. The dress box she kept her heavy anti-ghost ordnance in was open on her braided rug. She needed something that could do damage but not permanently hurt Danny... tough call. "What are you doing right now?"
"Gearing up," said Jazz. "I'm freaking out, not totally irrational."
"And where's Danny?"
"Jumped out the window. He's in human form, Sam, and he's dripping stars. His footprints are black. He's leaving puddles. Puddles of stars. I hate this so much. I'm going to end Nocturne, I swear."
"No complaints here," said Sam.
This was amazing, walking through space like this. The stars sparkled. Nebulae intersected his path like veils of light. The planets orbited around him, like a celestial crown. Something thick and wet dripped down his face, but it didn't matter. The stars danced. He wanted to touch them.
Tucker was already asleep. So was half the town, all of them just keeled over in place, black and starry hand prints on their shoulders, faces, and backs.
Danny had been busy. They hadn't seen Nocturne yet. By mutual agreement, Sam and Jazz were avoiding Danny and looking for the real culprit.
This was, however, hard to do when Danny stepped out from an alleyway, right in front of them, an absent smile on his face, his eyes fixed on something overhead.
"You go," said Jazz. "You have more experience than I do. I'll distract him."
"God, that's cheesy."
Sam turned and ran back the way they came.
Jazz cursed under her breath as Danny slowly walked towards her. Either this was going to work, or it wasn't, and, if it did, she was going to feel terrible because she knew Danny was insecure about his ghostly qualities, and-
Right, he was getting closer.
Jazz took a deep breath a screamed.
Something echoed through the space around him. He frowned. That wasn't right.
The sound came again. This time, he recognized it as a scream, but-
You couldn't hear things like that in space.
You couldn't walk in space, either.
In the scream was a cry for help.
The illusion crumbled around him.
"I'm so sorry, guys," said Danny. "If it wasn't for me-" He wiped away a tear with the heel of his hand. "You all could have gotten hurt so bad."
"But we didn't," said Tucker.
"It wasn't your fault, anyway," said Sam.
"But it was. If I wasn't like this, if I didn't have this weakness, everything would have been fine." He clenched his fists.
They were meeting in Danny's room today, as the most parent-free indoor space currently available to them. Nocturne had yet to be found, but they were pretty sure whatever hold he had over Danny had been broken.
"Hey," said Sam, "we've all been there."
"I've been there twice. I'm useless."
Jazz met Sam and Tucker's eyes over Danny's bowed head.
"You're the least useless out of all of us," said Jazz, "and I've been doing some research, before this happened, I mean, about ghost psychology. I know I don't understand what you're going through, but maybe I can help?"
"I don't know," mumbled Danny.
"Or maybe you could talk to Frostbite? Or Dora?" suggested Jazz. "They're ghosts, and they have Obsessions," she felt Danny flinch under her hand, "but they're still good, right? And both of yours- both of yours are fine. Nothing evil about them."
For a moment, Jazz worried that she had gone too far. She knew Danny didn't want to talk about that, not directly, so why did she bring it up?
Danny groaned. "Why do you always have to be right?"