Jack was gone.
Danny fought the sudden emptiness in his chest. Spectra would be in heaven if she was here, some part of him observed with detached bitterness.
Dad had left. Danny had failed whatever test had been going through Jack Fenton's head, and he wasn't even worth telling that in words. He'd just… walked off. Gone. To… mull it over? To storm into the lab? Or would he barge right back up, weapons blazing? Danny rubbed his sweaty palms against the sheets.
His mother sat herself on the edge of the bed that Jack had just vacated, resting a hand on Danny's knee. "He just needs some time."
"For what?" Danny snapped. The bitterness in his own voice surprised him. "Is it that hard to grasp? I'm not normal, but I'm still..." He found himself trailing off, gazing at her hopelessly. "I'm still me, right?"
His mother opened her mouth, hesitated, then closed it. Danny's heart sank—her eyes betrayed her. His tongue stuck to the roof of his dry mouth—his mind wheeled in a vicious loop. They both were—they were both— Ice rushed through his blood.
Spectra's words echoed harsh and hollow in his mind—Who knows how they'll react? Hatred? Fear? Or maybe they'll actually pity you, like the sad excuse for a ghost that you are—
"Mom, please," Danny begged. She had to get it. At least one of them had to. "I know it's weird, and doesn't make any kind of sense, but… I'm not a ghost. Or—human, really, but it's not something you have to… have to fix."
Maddie shifted uncomfortably. "Danny-"
"Please. It's me." The room dipped and rocked—or was that just his head? He forced himself to sit a little straighter. "A-and if you don't get that, if that's not okay with you, I can deal." Even though he really, really couldn't. "I'll just…"
Do... what? Strike out on his own? Camp out in Sam's attic? Hide in the ghost zone, scavenging whatever human food he could find? Vlad? None of them were good choices.
"Danny." Maddie finally reached across the space between them, lay a hand on his rigid shoulder. "Please don't say that, we… of course we'd never..."
He looked up tentatively and winced at the weak smile on her face, the tears brimming in her eyes. Danny pulled away from her touch.
She shrank back, wrapping her arm tightly around herself. Danny felt a jab of guilt—doubled by the cast and sling, the dark circles of pain and exhaustion under her eyes. His fault.
A cough, deep and rumbling. Danny glanced up— Jack. He loomed in the doorway, blocking out the brighter light in the hall. There was something white and green clasped in his big hands.
"Hold still," Jack said shortly. Danny froze. This is it, he thought hysterically. this is how it ends, he's going to suck me up in some device and they'll never let me out again, and—
He flinched as something ice cold and lumpy dropped onto his head. Hand darting up, Danny grabbed it and inspected the thing cautiously. Frozen peas.
Danny blinked up at Jack, bewildered. "Dad?"
"You looked like you were hurting," Jack said, a little gruffly. He tugged the frozen veggies out of Danny's hands and returned it to his head. "Leave that where it'll do some good, kiddo."
Jack sat down with a heavy sigh—not at the end of the bed, but right in the center. The bed groaned at the abuse.
"Makes you think," Jack said at last. "Makes you think about a lot of things."
Danny nodded stiffly. Icy coolness seeped into his head from the frozen vegetables, soothing the ache. The bed tilted underneath him… but that wasn't dizziness; the mattress was sagging, sloping under Jack's weight. Danny tensed and leaned subtly toward the wall.
"How long since you…" Jack gestured broadly, as if the room contained the answer. The mattress creaked and dipped further. "...well, got like this?"
Danny felt himself slipping. He resisted the urge to cling to the headboard like a little kid. Instead he played with the hem of his shirt, leaning back further. "Um… Freshman year."
His parents exchanged glances. Danny pretended he didn't see the fear and disappointment mingled there. Cold seeped out of the makeshift ice pack, penetrating his hair, trickling down his neck. A swell of cool air from the vent beside the bed made goosebumps run up his bare legs.
Jack slumped. The bed sank. It must be practically touching the floor. "That long, huh."
"Yeah." Danny answered, distracted. He was really slipping now.
"And you've been fighting… things like that?" Jack's voice dropped to a low, ugly growl. "That shadow monster that had Mads?"
"Spectra. A-and other ghosts." Danny came to rest with a bump against the older Fenton. He sat rigid, his shoulder barely brushing his father's.
Jack didn't seem to notice the contact, or his fear. "How many?"
"Dunno." He shivered again and clutched at the slippery bag of peas. Jack's body was a wall of warmth beside him, but the closeness sent chills up his arm. "A… a lot, I guess."
"All this time," Jack said. "And we…" The man slumped, leaning on his knees. "I've been hunting my son."
Danny glanced up, startled at how soft his father's voice was. He nodded slightly and inched away, hand creeping up to rub his neck. "You never got close though," he tried, cracking a half-smile.
"We could have killed you," he said, twisting to look at him, so close Danny could feel breath tickle the side of his neck. Danny stared fiercely at his knees. "We could have captured you, locked you away or-" Jack cut himself off, gripping his hands. "Why didn't you tell us sooner?"
"I didn't know how, okay?" Danny looked around the room, eyes flicking from dirty clothes to crumpled homework to the door, half ajar, light spilling in from the hallway in a yellow band on the carpet. "A-and anyway, I'm pretty good at dodging things. I wasn't in real danger… you guys might chase me around some, shoot at me - but it was no big deal." He traced a wrinkled scar on his arm, from back when one of Mom's plasma guns had nearly ripped off his arm.
"And I just… it was hard, y'know?" He shrugged. "I want to tell you that… that I'm me. I'm alive. But how do you prove something like that? Without-without checking me out on the inside, right?" He chuckled, but the smile didn't quite make it onto his lips.
"Hell with this," Jack muttered. Then a big, warm arm enveloped him, squeezing him tight.
Danny glanced wide-eyed at his mom, feeling dizzy. Wasn't Da-wasn't Jack in the middle of questioning his humanity? Maddie had a small smile playing around the corners of her mouth. Danny craned his neck to examine Jack's expression. His father looked back solemnly, but with a flash of something mischievous in his eyes.
Jack glanced up toward Maddie. "Fudgecicles. Stat."
"On it, sweetie." Maddie kissed Danny on the forehead and left the room. Panic thrummed through Danny's veins and he felt abandoned all over again.
"Let me go—" He struggled weakly, but it was like being held by a padded vice.
"I guess you'd rather have soda, if you're still feeling sick. Are you?"
"Dad—please—" He felt suffocated-trapped- Raw fear overcame his exhaustion and he phased, crashing to the floor. Danny gasped—landing on broken ribs hurt. He coughed and curled into a ball.
Jack sprang up and bent over him. The pain in Danny's ribs and the sudden echo of the fight just hours ago-something huge and menacing towering over him as he lay helpless on the floor-sent his panic into overdrive.
"Get back," Danny hissed, arms trembling. There was power crackling up his arms and he knew from the way Jack pulled back that it was visible. Jack's hand dropped to his side, near the ectogun that hung from his belt. Danny's eyes fastened on it.
Jack followed his gaze. His hand dropped. "Danny, you can't think that I-I'd never-"
"Never?" Danny said quietly. He watched with a sick sort of satisfaction as his father deflated like a punctured toy.
In the awful silence that followed, Danny pushed himself up against the wall. He drew his knees up to his chin. His head ached. The satisfaction faded, leaving him hollow.
"Danny. I won't hurt you. I won't ever—" Jack's face twisted with emotion. He fumbled at his belt, and in a moment it swung rattling from his hand. In two quick strides he pulled open the door and flung the belt out into the hall. Danny listened, speechless, as the belt crashed down the stairwell.
Dad never took off his ghost weapons. He slept with those things.
Jack sank down next to the open door, shoulders slumped, big hands open in his lap. "Never, Danno. Not if you were the worst one out there. If I'd…" he shuddered.
Danny recognized that thing he'd been hearing in Dad's voice—guilt. Good, the angry part of him said. "You would've killed me."
Jack hesitated, rubbing the back of his neck. "...yeah."
Yeah? That's all he had to say?
It took everything he had to drag himself up and stagger the few steps across the room, but glaring down his dad was worth it. "Shouldn't you, I don't know—apologize? Hey son, sorry I almost blew your head off, let's go have some fudge?" Danny sliced a hand through the air and he knew his eyes burned green. "You wanted me dead, Dad."
Jack stared at the floor and said nothing, hands clenched.
The dizziness was back, tilting the floor under Danny's feet. He stared at the dull blue carpet and the green stains on Jack's boots. He wondered queasily if it was his ectoplasm. Probably. He'd left a lot of it on the warehouse floor.
Danny licked dry lips. "Well, I… I guess this is it."
Jack glanced up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"The worst part. Of you finding out. Death threats, got that out of the way." He laughed humorlessly. "Unless you… you have something else you want to say?" His voice cracked, and Danny cringed, but he stumbled on. "Let's get that over with, okay? Say it now. What a disappointment, right? What a liar. What a monster. What a freak."
"Danny, you're- how can you even…" Jack's fists clenched. "You aren't those things, damnit. You're..." He drew back and ran a hand over his face. "I know it's been rough-with us-on you, sometimes, but you're..." A tremor ran through the hand covering his eyes. "You're our son."
"I was your-"
"Stop it!" Jack clambered to his feet, towering over Danny. "Stop that."
Jack stood silent for the longest time. The floor creaked. Fabric shuffled, and two black gloves dropped to the floor. Danny blinked at them in confusion.
A warm, bare hand dropped lightly on his hair, ruffling it slowly. Danny went stiff and still. It slid down and cupped the back of his head. Warm, bare skin pressed against his neck. "Danno." Jack sounded more solemn and quiet than Danny had ever heard him. "You are… who you are. And I love you, Danny. Understand? Dead or alive, I…you're my son. Always."
Danny shook his head, glaring at the carpet, which blurred and spun and didn't make any sense anymore. A sob tore through his clenched teeth, and it hurt, his cracked ribs flaring up like fire, and that awful knot of want in his chest that was tearing him to pieces. He couldn't mean it. He couldn't mean it.
Arms went around him, this time lightly, and that was good because Danny was sure that any second he'd shatter. A tiny noise slipped past his throat and he held his head down, face burning with shame.
"Come here." Jack pulled him into an embrace, his own voice going rough. "Come here."
Danny's heart crumbled, and he let go. Gasping, he buried his face into his father's shoulder, gripping the jumpsuit for dear life. Jack held him close. Danny started when he felt something wet hit his neck.
"I'm so sorry, son," he heard Jack mumble. "So sorry."
That only made Danny sob harder. He nodded his head, unable to breathe or speak.
When it was over, all strength had left him. Danny pulled back - suddenly very aware of the snot and tears all over his dad's jumpsuit - and wiped at his nose. Gross.
Jack coughed and rubbed his own eyes, though one hand stayed firmly on Danny's shoulder. "Think you can make it back to bed?"
"Um," Danny gulped-then snorted at his own squeaky voice and almost choked from his congested nose. He wrapped his arm around his dad's and locked his knees. "Maybe?"
Jack chuckled and with one sweep of his arm half-led, half carried him back onto the bed. He snagged the forgotten peas off the floor and settled them firmly back on Danny's head. The soft sheets felt like heaven, soft and heavy, threatening to pull him into sleep; exhaustion throbbed in his bones.
"I guess I need to tell you how it happened…" he said softly, a little timidly, fiddling with the bedsheets. "Why I'm, you know. Part ghost."
Jack let out a long breath and cleared his throat, leaning back to look Danny in the eye. "You need to get better. That's the important thing. We'll figure out the rest later."
Danny dropped his head back on the pillow, feeling warmer and… safer than he had in… a long time. It was more complicated than that, a lot more complicated… but right now, all he could feel was relief. That, and his head was pounding. He reached up to rub at his temples, wincing at the tender bruise he could feel under his hair.
Jack's face softened. "Really, though, you hit your head pretty hard. You sure you're okay?" A few seconds of jostling and a gloved hand appeared an eye-crossing three inches from Danny's face. "How many fingers am I—"
"Dad." Danny pushed away with a half-hearted scoff. "'I'll be fine."
Jack grinned. "That's my boy."
Geez louise that was difficult. Endings are tricky, especially for short stories with messy problems that the characters will have to deal with for a long time. Still, we conquered at last, and voila! It is finished. Collabs are tough, but it's soo worth it, especially with a talented writer like Anneria. She's amazeballs. 'nuff said.
(Oh and also if there are any typos left that's my fault! We went over this thing so many times I don't even wanna look at it anymore. XP)
Thanks again for reviewing and reading our story!
Finally, iT'S DOOONNNE. This thing caused way too many headaches and there were a lot of squabbles on deciding the characters' fates, but I think it worked out well in the end. It's always fun collabing with this knucklehead. Hopefully there will be more to come. :D