Humans and Ghosts
"Even if people have betrayed me, even if my heart was broken, even if people misunderstood or judged me, I have learned from these incidents. We are human and we make mistakes, but learning from them is what makes the difference."
Warnings: Exploration of ghosts and humans, Fenton family issues, swearing, parent!Jazz, blood, dark implications, mortality and morality, you shits wanted angst so here's some angst.
If there was one thing Danny Fenton perfected since receiving his powers, it was how to pretend.
Pretending was easy, all you had to do was look the other way. When there wasn't enough food in the house, Danny pretended; when he wouldn't see his parents for days, he pretended; when his teachers demanded answers, he pretended.
When his parents boasted about killing him, he pretended.
(They don't know, they don't know, they don't know).
When he was little, he thought they had the best job in the world. Fighting off bad guys and saving the day with super cool weapons they made- it's every child's dream to have parents like that. Ghosts were the villains; his parents were the heroes.
Then they were the laughing stocks of the town, and as Danny grew he started to understand. Ghosts weren't real and his parents were delusional, chasing after a childhood figment of everyone's worst nightmare. Maybe as a kid he had loved his parents' determination and never-give-up attitude, but as a teenager he noticed their ignorance for what it truly was.
And then he became what he never believed in.
Humanity was ripped from his fourteen-year-old self and he was suddenly faced with his own corpse every time he looked in the mirror.
He was pretending every time he took a breath- every time he dawned the mask of liveliness- and could no longer look anyone in their eyes so he wouldn't have to lie to their face.
He was something new. Not a ghost, not a human, but some fucked up mix in between that wouldn't find validation from either side. The ghosts resented his humanity and the humans feared what they couldn't understand; they spend lifetimes running from the concept of death that when they're faced with the reality of it, they pretend.
(Ghosts are the enemy, ghosts can't feel, killing a ghost doesn't mean you're killing a person because they're dead, dead, dead, dead).
Danny wasn't human anymore, but at the same time he was very much so because he grew up looking the other way.
It happened during English class with Mr. Lancer, where things always seemed to happen.
When the light above the projector turns on, it's a signal that something big is happening with ghosts, but it isn't happening near their location. The light means that if the teacher wants to, they're allowed to pause class long enough to tune into the GBS (Ghost Broadcasting System) and make sure everything in Amity Park is okay.
"I suppose this is a good stopping point," Lancer commented when he noticed the light. He closed the book he was reading from. Whispers of 'Phantom' were passed around the classroom because whenever the light turned on it usually had to do with a ghost fight downtown.
"Did you duplicate?" Tucker asked, leaning forward to whisper in his ear. Danny shook his head.
Lancer turned on the monitor and went about setting up the lights. The first thing Danny felt when his parents suddenly appeared on the screen was embarrassment.
"Hey, Fentonail! It's your crazy folks!" Dash laughed, encouraged when everyone else joined in.
"He can see, Dash, but who knows? Your ugly mug is enough to blind anyone," Sam snapped.
"Shut it, Manson!"
"Make me, Baxter."
"For the love of Romeo and Juliet, people, please," Lancer interrupted. They quieted down, but Danny could feel Dash's angry stare and just knew he'd be in for it later.
His parents looked like Jazz in the sense that they appeared professional and prepared; Danny could almost picture them pulling out spreadsheets and PowerPoints in their cleaned-up looking Hazmat suits. Just as well, Danny prepared himself for embarrassment: the excited glint in his mother's eyes could only mean bad things for his reputation.
They started off talking about ghosts. It was the usual speech focused on how they're "post ectoplasmic human consciousness," but then it got weird.
"Of course our test subjects–" Maddie started to explain.
The person interviewing them cut her off quickly with, "I'm sorry, did you say test subjects?"
"Well, the only way we can learn about these beings is to study them in depth," his mother responded without missing a beat.
There was a noticeable shift in the atmosphere of the classroom, but the only thing Danny could focus on was the rapid beating of his heart.
"It's how we learned they are merely projections of people and not actual 'living' beings. They respond to pain, but only because it's a phantom feeling passed over from their death. Some, miraculously, even breathe as if mimicking the motion of a living body."
"How fascinating!" the anchor praised.
The funny thing is, adults tend to miss the small things: little words and phrases that imply something larger is happening that you might overlook. Teenagers, with their tendency to jump to conclusions, don't.
"Respond to pain," Dash stated. It was a fact, not a question. He was uncomfortable and the downward twitch of his mouth showed it.
"They don't mean torture, right?" Paulina voiced, manicured nails curled over her mouth as if she were afraid to taste the stench of wrong in the air. "Phantom–"
"Get over it," Valerie interrupted. "You have a stupid little crush on a projection of someone. You literally want to date a dead body."
Paulina was quick to stop her, eyes pinched in anger. "I wasn't going to," she paused to take a breath. "I meant that Phantom wouldn't let them experiment on his own kind. He'd rescue them."
"Did you not hear what the Fenton's just said? They're not alive. Ghosts are just projections of people who want to terrorize humans because we're still alive and they aren't," Valerie countered.
Her arguments were famous in Lancer's class. She would challenge any and all ghost sympathizers to a battle of facts and wits and she never lost because Danny and his friends never spoke up with the truth.
"So?! Does that give them the right to hurt–"
"–they don't actually feel it! Pain is just a–"
More people joined in and it was Valerie against almost the entire class – some people support only science and facts and won't let emotions like sympathy get in the way – a fight in which nobody saw an end to.
Danny's mom went on speaking. "Their bodies reform after several days if they are disfigured enough, and the length of time depends on the power of the ghost." She was smiling. "It was with a particularly difficult subject that we discovered something new."
Jack joined in, and the class went silent. "Ghosts have cores that stabilize them; essentially that's what keeps ghosts grounded to the living plane."
"As this particular test subject's body deteriorated and prepared to reform itself in the Ghost Zone, we noticed a small concentration deep within its projection – probably the only real thing about a ghost's body."
Jack laughed, a deep sound that shook his shoulders. "We knew it was important because the being tried to hide it from us. So, of course, Maddie and I studied it as fast as we could before the being could return to the Ghost Zone. And, well, we saved it."
The anchor was puzzled. "Saved... the ghost?"
Maddie and Jack shared a look of accomplishment. "The core of a ghost is the only thing keeping it tied to this plane of existence so all we had to do was remove it. The soul, tortured for so long and forced to stay where the living dwelled, ascended," Maddie explained, smiling at the camera.
"We saved it."
Amid the dead silence of the classroom, Danny Fenton leaned over the side of his desk and threw up.
(All those times his ghost sense had gone off within the house, but he could never find a ghost nearby; when he swore he heard bumps in the night, but couldn't figure out from where; when he woke up sweating – a scream on the tip of his tongue – feeling an emotion he knew wasn't his.)
"Daniel," Lancer's voice soothed, sounding both hesitant and extremely worried.
Oh, right, he had just made a mess of Lancer's floor.
Danny breathed, slowly and carefully, and allowed his teacher to tilt his head back and feel his temperature. He absentmindedly noticed that Lancer had turned off the broadcast, and that Valerie was still arguing in the background.
"Test subjects! They're torturing–"
"–but how do you know?" Dash's rough voice cut through the confusion. "Maybe they didn't save them and–"
Danny could just make out the shape of Valerie as she shoved a finger into Dash's chest. "That right there was actual proof of what I've been telling you since the beginning! If you really still believe your oh-so-special Phantom is a hero, then wouldn't he have stopped it if they weren't really helping?"
Sam's voice was dripping in anger somewhere to his left. "Did any of you stop to think that maybe Phantom didn't know?"
Lancer set him up on his desk again, facing forward. He heard him say something about getting a janitor to clean up the mess before trying to break up the fight still carrying on behind him with threats of detention. No one listened.
Dash was practically spitting with rage. "Well if you and ghost freak over there actually listened to us for once," he pointed a thumb in Danny's direction and everything suddenly came into focus again.
"Wait, you think I'm on her side?" Danny breathed, wide-eyed as everyone turned to him. Even Sam and Tucker paused, still hovering.
This was the first time he had ever spoken during the arguments on ghosts.
Dash's posture was stiff, but Danny could see a slight change, a certain openness when he faced him. "Your parents are."
The atmosphere was suffocating: two hunters had just admitted they tortured ghosts, his class was split on how to handle this information, and neither side knew the actual facts of the situation because his own fucking parents were supposed to be experts on ghosts.
(If you looked close enough you would see it waver.)
"Did you know that my parents have never talked to a ghost before? They hunt them, they study them, they… capture them, but they've never actually talked to one."
The class held onto his every word. "My parents," he continued after a deep breath, fidgeting with his hands as he spoke, "are researchers who don't discover things and then make theories; they make theories and then search until they find 'evidence' that supports what they already think."
"So, you don't think they're right," Valerie said. Her voice was softer when she spoke with him rather than the others.
"My parents are right about a lot of things, and they're wrong about a lot of things," Danny settled on, pointing a single finger where the projector was earlier. "My parents don't like to talk to ghosts, and they really don't like to actually go into the Ghost Zone long enough to learn about them, but I have no problem with listening and I like to ask questions first, shoot later."
This time Valerie's voice was curt. "You're a sympathizer then."
Danny knew she was innocent; he knew that she was just trying her best and fighting for what she believed was right, but every single moment where he bled because of her gun came rushing forward and he said, "Well I sure as hell don't believe in murder."
Valerie's scowled. "They just said–"
"–and my parents are wrong, okay? I never speak up whenever you guys fight because why in the hell would you listen to me when my parents are the supposed experts, but I am telling you right now they are wrong."
The class was absolutely silent as they listened and Lancer had yet to make a move to change that so Danny continued. "Cores are intimate. They're – okay, they're like a soul. Imagine if everything that represents you was compressed into a tiny ball of matter and placed at the very center of your being," he explained, subconsciously placing a hand over his chest. Some of the students mimicked the motion.
"What keeps a ghost here is subjective and completely dependent on how they died; it has nothing to do with their core."
The blood was rushing to his head, but he couldn't stop. "Do you think ghosts want to be here? Sure, some of them stay behind to watch over family members, but most want nothing more than to move on to wherever they go when they're finally able to leave."
He was standing at 5'4, but for some reason he appeared to tower over his classmates. "I've only seen that happen once, and it was because the ghost chose to leave. Something in their very core changed and recognized it was time, and they faded away, but I still remember them vividly."
Danny could feel Sam and Tucker grabbing his shoulders. Whether they were offering support as he practically vibrated with anger and grief or attempting to stop him from talking, he would never know. He recalled all the allies he'd made since becoming half ghost – even his enemies had a special place in his heart – and tried to remember how long it had been since he'd last seen some of them.
(Was one of them the one his parents–?)
"When you destroy a core, the very soul of a person, ghost, whatever, you cut them from existence. No life, no afterlife, no reincarnation, no rising to heaven or falling to hell. You just don't exist anymore. Imagine that happening to your parents, your best friend, a young child who didn't want to become a ghost, but for some reason did," he snapped, fists clenched and eyebrows pinched.
"What my parents did wasn't saving a soul. It was murder."
Valerie's chest was rising and falling far too quickly to be healthy. On the other side of her, Danny could see Dash and Paulina struggling with this new information. They looked thrilled when Danny voiced his support for their side, but as he went on everyone's expressions fell.
Even Lancer held a hand over his mouth, cheeks tinted green. "Don't worry, you don't need to throw up," Danny breathed. "I already did that for you."
"And if you don't believe me," Danny added before Valerie could open her mouth again, "talk to Jazz, the top scorer of the C.A.T. who received a Yale acceptance letter two days after applying. Or Tucker, who can hack into the government's files and show you every flaw of their research. Or Sam who has probably been in the Ghost Zone more times than any of you have ever seen a ghost."
"Or me," he finished, "the freaky kid with ghost hunting parents who has to live with the fact his family tortures and murders people in their basement. Because until five minutes ago, I actually felt safe sleeping in my own house."
"Your parents only hurt ghosts," Valerie said. Her voice was shaken and small. "They'd never hurt someone who's still alive."
Danny stared her dead in the eye. "Well, I guess it just depends if they think you're human enough."
Things were shifting in Amity Park, at least in the eyes of the teenagers. The adults may have been willing to ignore the implications behind what his parents and the government were doing, but the younger generation would not. And they would fight if necessary.
Danny didn't know what was going to happen to his family, his school, and his town, but he did know that this changed everything.
(Pretending his parents were good people had been so much easier.)
"Humans think the absolute worst thing that can happen to anyone is death," Youngblood explained one day when he passed the ghost's lair. For some reason, Danny stopped to listen.
"So, we're dead; and to your kind that means nothing worse can ever happen to us because, like I said, we've already experienced what you view as the worst."
He paused for a moment, making sure Danny was watching him. "We're insignificant to people like them, and no matter how hard you try and ignore it, your parents are hunters. You do understand what they'll do when they catch you, right?"
"If," he voiced, defensively.
"No, Phantom, when."
Danny shifted. His gloved fingers rubbed up and down his arm, a nervous habit he never lost. "I'm their son."
Youngblood's expression was heartbreaking. "You're their prey."
A/N: This was originally part of "Secrets Revealed," but I received so many PMs and reviews asking for it to be made into a separate story so here it is. Sorry to everyone who got this notification thinking it was the final chapter update. I am currently working on that and will post it very soon.