Danny let out an unmanly shriek before he slapped a hand over his mouth. He was caught. The ghost had spotted him. Danny began whispering every swear he knew, in both English and Esperanto, under his breath as the fire ghost's gaze burned a hole in his back. Slowly, the halfa turned around to face the skeletal specter, discreetly reaching to his belt for his Fenton phone.
The ghost's magenta hair flickered like fire in irritation as he pinned Danny with a glowing gaze. "Hey, kid, you're a ghost, I'm a ghost, we should help each other out, yeah? Could you maybe," he gestured with his- well, he didn't have chin or a bottom jaw, so teeth? fangs? Danny didn't know- at the extension cords wrapped around him, "lend me a hand?"
The ghost's voice was deep and smooth with a slight Spanish accent, and held a pleasant note that Danny didn't expect coming from a ghost of his kind. He didn't sound angry, maybe a little annoyed, but mostly he sounded friendly. Relaxing just a little, but not dropping his guard, Danny floated a few feet closer.
"Why don't you just phase out of them?" He suggested warily.
The ghost sighed and slumped his shoulders. "I can't. If I use any of my powers, I could fry the equipment. My boyfriend would punt my skull back to Texas if I did that."
Danny smiled and relaxed a mite more. "I know the feeling." He chuckled, thinking of how Tucker was always aggressively protective of his electronics. The boy finally closed the distance between him and the ghost and picked up one of the cords to give it a tug. "You're really stuck tight, aren't you?" Danny mused. He looked up at the ghost and almost gawked at how big he was. Not that Danny was big by any definition, but this guy towered over him. He was as tall as Danny's dad, and as wide as the senior Fenton was at the shoulders, too, though this ghost's proportions were more triangular than the brick his dad was. If he hadn't already sensed that the ghost had no ill intent toward him, Danny would have been hightailing it out of there at sonic speed.
The ghost must've noticed Danny's staring and his eye sockets crinkled at the edges in a way that somehow came across as a smile. "It's ok, little guy. I'm not gonna hurt you. I know I don't look like the most pleasant ghost, but I'm not mean. Been taking anger management classes and everything."
Everything about this ghost was conflicting. He looked like a malevolent specter, but exuded the aura of a guardian spirit. Despite Danny's mind screaming at him to run, his ghostly core was telling him the opposite. A few beats of silence followed as Danny's ghost and human instincts warred, but the bound specter waited patiently for the boy to make up his mind.
Finally, Danny suppressed his fear and decided that this guy was good, even if he looked like a murderous skeleton ghost. The boy gave a small smile and began unwinding a yellow extension cord that was pinning the ghost's arms to his sides.
"So, how exactly did you get into this mess?" Danny asked casually while he worked.
The ghost sighed in irritation and tried to gesture with his fangs at a group of trees to the side of the clearing they stood in. "My supposedly loyal companions decided it would be positively hilarious to dump the whole pile of extension cords on me." He huffed. "They know they aren't supposed to mess with the equipment! I'm so going to take away their music privileges."
Danny looked into the trees and saw a few pink blob-like ghosts flitting among the branches. He could hear the faint sound of melodic giggling. The boy laughed and shook his head before getting back to untangling the specter.
"Blob ghosts can be mischievous. Don't blame them, it's in their nature. Though, I'd like to know what you were doing out here with all this stuff, anyway." Danny questioned, tugging at a cord.
The ghost chuckled, a deep, rumbling sound that Danny could practically feel since he was standing so close. "My boyfriend built these with the help of my girlfriend. They measure ectoplasmic radiation. We're trying to see how much the area is affected by having a direct portal to the ghost realm nearby, and by consequence the ghosts that visit. I've already set up a few Geiger counters around town."
Danny hummed thoughtfully. "Why would you want to know that?"
"It's fascinating! Ectoplasm has so many amazing properties!" The ghost exclaimed excitedly, trying to face Danny, even as he was untangling a cord from around his legs. "Everything is radioactive, even humans give off electromagnetic radiation, it's just not enough to make much of a difference. Things that are extremely radioactive can cause harm, but ectoplasm doesn't seem to affect anything, despite it being really really radioactive. My friends and I have a theory, that it's a different kind of radiation altogether, probably due to the fact that it comes from another dimension. We want to know just how different, though. Amity Park has the highest levels of ambient ectoplasm, so here we are!" The skeleton positively gushed.
Danny mulled over the ghost's words. He knew enough about the science behind ectoplasm to understand some of what he was saying, but he was still confused as to why a bunch of ghosts would want to know about how it affected the real world, when they could just visit the Ghost Writer and read about it in his library. Danny tugged at one particularly tight knot before it finally gave, releasing the large man's arms. "That is an interesting theory. I'm just a little confused. Why would you, a ghost, want to find out so bad that you'd conduct your own experiments? Seems like a hassle." Danny said.
The ghost seemed to be thinking about Danny's question for a moment before he shrugged and began to aid in untangling himself with his newly freed arms. "I may be a ghost myself, but the supernatural has been and always will be my passion. In fact, now that I'm a ghost, I can help further my team's research! It's really not so bad once you get used to it. Being dead, I mean."
Danny winced and paused in his work. "I wouldn't know, being a halfa and all." He said.
The ghost made a questioning noise as he tugged at a cord caught under one of his protruding ribs. "A halfa? What's a halfa?"
Danny, startled, dropped the last cord and looked up at the now completely freed ghost in shock. "Y-You don't know?" He was replied with a shake of a head. "Don't you know who I am?"
Again, the ghost shook his skull before tilting it to one side. "No. Should I? Are you some kind of ghostly celebrity?" He said with a chuckle. He turned away from Danny to pick up a piece of machinery and attach one of the tangle-free extension cords into it.
Danny stared at the man while he worked for a moment, thoughts going a mile a minute. Every ghost and their ghostly grandmother knew who he was. He and Vlad were the talk of the Zone, with them being the only specters who could walk among the living still because they belonged there just as much they did the Ghost Zone and all. The fact that this guy didn't know about him or about halfas was both confusing and telling.
"Have you... ever been to the Ghost Zone?" Danny asked slowly, his previously dropped guard was hastily thrown back up as he floated back away from the ghost warily.
The specter glanced up from the gadget he was fiddling with and blinked in surprise at the look on Danny's face, saddened and confused by the boy's retreat. "N-no. I formed right where I died. I've never had to go to the ghost dimension, I'm perfectly content out here." He hunched his shoulders slightly, as if he were trying to make himself look smaller, which was an impossible feat for someone so big.
Danny backed up a few more inches. This ghost was extremely powerful. Very few could live outside the Ghost Zone without returning to replenish their reserves. He had to have some source he was drawing energy from. The only way a normal ghost could survive outside the Zone was if they found a way to satisfy their obsession, but most were too restless to actually settle for one source, unless that source was specific to their obsession, like a person they'd known in life. Or... he could be preying on other ghosts.
Danny abruptly shook off that train of thought and berated himself. He of all people should know not to jump to such a conclusion. Every new ghost he met would be greeted under the assumption they were benevolent until proven otherwise. This ghost had done nothing to him or the people of Amity, and had been nothing but kind so far. Besides, Danny realized with a guilty pang, the poor guy was looking really sad for some reason.
The much larger specter's broad shoulders were slumped, and his skull was bowed low as he clasped his hands together against his chest. Before Danny could say something to comfort the Ghost, he spoke, "I'm sorry. Don't be scared, please. D-Did I do something wrong?" He lifted his skull just enough to peek down at Danny, glowing magenta eyes searching.
Danny, feeling immensely guilty for causing the huge ghost to somehow look more like a kicked puppy than an intimidating skeleton, quickly floated closer and shook his head vigorously. "No! No, you didn't do anything wrong! I'm just being paranoid. I'm not used to ghosts of your kind being so benevolent." Danny said in a rush. He took a steadying breath before straightening his posture and thrust out a hand. "L-Let's just start over. Hi! My name is Danny, it's nice to meet you."
The other ghost stared down at the offered hand for a startled moment before his eye sockets crinkled happily again. He reached out and gave Danny a firm handshake, taking care to not crush the boy's hand in his own much bigger one. "I never did tell you my name, did I? I'm sorry, that was rude of me. It's very nice to meet you too, Danny! My name is L-"
The ghost's voice was suddenly drowned out by the shrill shriek of Danny's Fenton phone, casing them both to jump in surprise. Danny quickly plucked the phone from his belt with an apologetic glance at his new acquaintance and held it to his ear. "Hello?" He greeted.
"Danny? It's Jazz." The voice on the other end said, sounding a mite breathless.
Danny tensed up, face grim and grip tightening around the phone. "Jazz, did something happen? What's the status on the ghost hunters?"
"Yeah, about that... I don't think you need to worry about the Mystery Skulls."
Danny raised his eyebrows in surprise, and the skeleton ghost in front of him watched curiously, looking concerned. "Wait, what? What do you mean?"
Jazz's voice sounded awed as she spoke. "You should have seen her, Danny! The blue one, Vivi, she just-"
Again, much to Danny's frustration, they were interrupted by a loud noise. This time it was the screech of tires as an orange van came careening down the park path with no regard for the fact that it was not a road. Danny yelped and leaped out of the way before the van could hit him, turning invisible and intangible as he went. Unfortunately, the Fenton phone was not so fortunate. It was smashed to bits as the van skidded to a stop right where he'd been standing, only a few feet away from the specter still out in the open, who was curiously unfazed despite nearly being run over.
It was the Mystery Skulls' van, Danny realized with dread. Why were they there? Did they track him? Did his parents send them to hunt him down?! Danny's fear quickly turned to confusion when he noticed that the ghost he'd almost befriended was still floating in plain sight. The boy opened his mouth to warn him, but closed it when he noticed that the ghost was watching the vehicle with an expectant look on his skull, as if he were familiar with it, and was waiting for something to happen.
Danny didn't have much time to ponder on that, though, because in the next moment the driver's side door slammed open and Vivi Yukino came storming out of the van. She looked absolutely livid, and Danny felt a shiver of fear go up his spine. His new acquaintance simply floated in place, unflinching, as the angry ghost hunter stomped right up to him.
"Lewis! You will not believe the absolute bull honkey those supposed ecto-scientists were spouting!" Vivi shouted, shaking her fist in the general direction of Fenton Works.
Danny blinked in surprise. Lewis? Was that the ghost's name? How the hell did they know each other?
Danny's rapt attention was drawn to the other door to the van flying open, and he only grew even more confused when Arthur Kingsmen practically fell out of the vehicle and stumbled to the newly named Lewis' side. The blond man fell against the ghost's chest, groaning loudly.
"Oh man, Lewis, I'm so glad to see you! Vivi drove the whole way here! While angry! I'm lucky to be alive!" Arthur wailed, leaning heavily against the specter, which in tern forced him to grab the over-dramatic blond, lest he let him fall to the grass.
Lewis tried stuttering out a response, "Uh, guys-"
Vivi puffed her red cheeks and stomped a foot angrily. "Arthur, now's not the time to be extra! We have a real problem! Those Fentons are completely inhumane! They've conducted horrible experiments on the ghosts living here! They've performed dissections, Lewis! Dissections!" Vivi snarled, disgusted and mortified.
Arthur yelped when he was suddenly dropped the the ground. "They what?!" Lewis gasped. "Y-You can't be serious!"
Vivi growled lowly and began to pace. "I'm dead serious, Lew. They were going on and on about how they would tear apart any ghost they got their grubby hands on 'molecule by molecule.'" She ranted, hands clenched into shaking fists at her sides. "They said that ghosts don't feel pain, or- or have emotions, or even think like humans do! What do they know?! They've obviously never even civilly talked to a ghost before! All they do is hurt them!" Vivi suddenly halted right in front of Lewis and turned to him. Danny was shocked to see tears welling in her eyes. "We have to leave before they can hurt you!" Vivi choked on her words and darted forward into the ghost's arms. "I don't want to lose you again."
Lewis leaned back and tipped Vivi's head up so he could lovingly wipe away her tears. "Mi Amor, nothing is going to happen to me. If anything, now we have even more reason to stay. The ghosts need protection from the Fentons, and we have to prove to them that ghosts are just as cognitive as as any human."
Vivi shook her head and buried her face into Lewis' suit. Her words were muffled, but Danny still picked up what she said next. "What if they try to exorcise you? I can't go through that again, Lewis. We've had too many close calls!"
Arthur came up behind the shaking girl and rubbed soothing circles into her back. "He's right. Come on, Vi, you know we can't leave. We can't let the Fentons hurt any more ghosts." He said softly.
As Danny watched the exchange, his confusion fell away with a dawning realization. Now he knew what Jazz meant when she said that he wouldn't have to worry about the Mystery Skulls.
"I'll be fine, Vivi." Lewis said softly. "This won't be like last time. We know who we're up against." The ghost pulled away from Vivi suddenly with a gasp. "Oh! I almost forgot! We have an ally this time, too!" Lewis groaned and slapped a hand over his face. "I'm being so rude, I haven't even introduced you to him! He must have been so startled by the van." Lewis turned away from his friends and scanned his surroundings, growing more frantic when he couldn't locate the other ghost. "Oh no, we didn't scare him off, did we?"
Arthur looked around as well, confused. "Scare who off, Lewis? I don't see anyone around."
Danny realized that he was still invisible and quickly returned to visibility. Unfortunately, by doing so, he gave the poor blond a heart attack.
"Holy Shit, a ghost!" Arthur shrieked. He quickly scrambled to Lewis and cowered behind his huge frame.
For some reason, this made Danny absolutely lose it. The ghost floated a few feet above the ground, curled into himself as he laughed uncontrollably.
Lewis seemed a little annoyed, but mostly confused. He crossed his arms and gave Danny a disapproving look. "That was mean. You aren't the kind of ghost that scares people for fun, are you?" He asked.
Danny had to catch his breath and suppress his laughter before he could reply. "N-No, no, it was an accident. I actually don't like scaring people, but-" the boy covered his mouth as another bout of chuckles escaped him. "He got scared by me, a ghost, and immediately hid behind you, also a ghost."
For a moment everyone was silent, then, much to Danny's surprise, Arthur spoke. "You're right. I should have hidden behind Vivi. Lewis has already started going into dad mode on you, while Vivi wouldn't hesitate to beat you with a bat." The blond said in a pensive voice, a smile threatening to break out across his face.
Lewis barked a laugh and shoved at Arthur. "I have not gone dad mode on him. Besides, if he even dared to harm a hair on your head, I wouldn't let the fact that he's a kid stop me." He huffed, crossing his arms in mock hurt.
Arthur chuckled and shoved Lewis back, but couldn't make the much bigger man move an inch. He tried again, but got the same result. The two men were soon distracted from their roughhousing by Vivi, who stepped forward, brows furrowed as she studied Danny. The boy fought the urge to back away as the girl scrutinized him. She stood almost nose-to nose with him, humming thoughtfully.
"Ah- Vivi, what are you doing?" Arthur asked slowly, sounding confused.
Danny couldn't see him past Vivi, though. Her blue eyes were narrowed as they darted back and forth across his face. Danny began to sweat nervously under her intense gaze.
"You're Phantom, aren't you?" She asked suddenly. Danny flinched back in surprise, but she paid it no mind and plowed on. "The Fentons talked about you a lot; said you were a white-haired menace in a black hazmat suit. They sure do hate your ectoplasmic guts."
Danny winced and tried to keep the sadness off his face at her last statement. "Y-yeah, that's me, Danny Phantom, but I haven't done anything to deserve the Fenton's wrath, I swear!" His voice raised in pitch until he was babbling almost hysterically. "I've only ever done good for this town, honest! I'm not a bad ghost! There have been a lot of misunderstandings and even some mind control. Whatever they told you, don't believe everything. They just really hate ghosts. I don't know why! they'd do anything to catch me-"
Then, much to his confusion, Vivi started to laugh. Danny quickly floated back a few feet, sure that the blue-clad girl had completely lost it. She tried to calm her laughter, but mostly failed. "Stop, stop." She managed to wheeze. "It's ok, I didn't believe a word they said, not after what they pulled. You don't have to worry about us, we aren't ghost hunters!"
Danny blinked in surprise, not expecting Vivi to catch on to his fear of them, let alone reassure him that it was unfounded. "Y-you're not? But the Fentons have been talking about you for days! They said you were ghost hunters!"
Vivi huffed angrily and crossed her arms, pouting. "Of course they did. We specifically told them that we wanted to study the ghosts, not hunt them!" She glared in the general direction of Fenton works. "I guess their definition of study and ours differ greatly." She spat with a grimace and a shudder.
Danny caught on quickly, and felt himself relax. She was obviously disgusted by his parents'... methods. "You know, if it helps any, I can tell you without a doubt that the Fentons haven't actually dissected any ghosts yet." He blurted in an attempt at cheering Vivi up.
It seemed to work, as she looked more intrigued now than disgusted. "Really? Well, that's a relief. After seeing all those horrible weapons they'd built... I assumed the worst." She shook her head as if to banish that thought and instead smiled at Danny brightly, who was starting to wonder how she managed to pull a complete one-eighty mood swing. She reached out and grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the other two who were waiting patiently for them. "Enough about that! Lewis was right, we are being rude! We've gotta introduce ourselves!" Vivi let Danny go a few feet in front of her other teammates and skipped to their side.
She threw out her arms and struck a pose. "I'm Vivi Yukino, leader of the Mystery Skulls, and cutest member, obviously." She giggled and bowed dramatically. "I specialize in the science of the supernatural, and I'm a witch in training!" She clicked her tongue and gave Danny a playful wink and a finger gun.
Next she draped an arm around Arthur and pulled him close. "Next is Arthur Kingsmen!" She announced loudly as the mentioned man smiled sheepishly and waved. "He's our mechanic extraordinaire! He can fix or build anything! He's practically a magician when it comes to electronics. As an added bonus, he's also smokingly handsome!" she gushed. Arthur blushed and spluttered incoherently when she leaned in and planted a kiss on his cheek.
Lastly, she threw her arms around Lewis and leaned against him with a sly grin. "You've already met Lewis! He's the brawn of the Mystery Skulls, even though he's got this bony butt-"
She paused and moved one of her arms behind Lewis, and he suddenly jumped with a yelp and his body erupted into a pyre of pink fire. Startled, Danny worried that Vivi would be burned by it, but she only laughed at his reaction as the flames vanished a split second later. What it left behind made Danny stare speechlessly. Where the skeleton ghost was a moment earlier, now stood the man from the article. If it weren't for Lewis' pitch black eyes, Danny would have mistaken him for a regular human.
"Vivi!" Lewis whined, rubbing his backside where she evidently pinched him. "You said you wouldn't do that anymore! You know it takes a lot of energy to change forms, even if it's involuntary!" Vivi only laughed at his expense as his cheeks turned magenta. He looked away, pouting playfully.
Vivi turned back to smile at Danny, but faltered when she noticed him gawking at Lewis. She elbowed him to get his attention, and Lewis too realized that something was wrong. The three members of the Mystery Skulls exchanged confused glances.
"Danny?" Arthur called, looking concerned. "You okay?"
Danny seemed to shake himself out of his stupor, and instead studied Lewis thoughtfully. "So, you're Lewis Pepper, the guy who went missing for a while. So, what happened? Did you fall into a natural portal and get zapped? Maybe you tried to build your own and became a halfa because of it?" The boy asked slowly, as if he were mulling over each word before he said it. He looked excited for some reason, and a mite apprehensive.
The Skulls stared at him for a while, confused, but then Lewis frowned and narrowed his eyes at Danny. "Hm. Are you asking how I died? Kind of an invasive question to ask a ghost, don't you think? Sorry to disappoint you, but I, ah, fell off a cliff, not into a 'natural portal' or whatever else you said." The ghost said, tugging at his ascot. He looked uncomfortable.
Danny immediately felt guilty, and internally berated himself for being so insensitive. Talking about the portal accident was hard for him, too, and he hadn't even died all the way. "Look, I'm sorry, it's just- I'm a bit confused. Ghosts usually can't change their forms, especially not into something that passes as human. The only kinds that can do that are shapeshifters, parasite ghosts, and Halfas." Danny gestured at Lewis, frustrated. "You're too powerful to be a shapeshifter, and the only parasite ghosts I've ever met were malevolent and their presence alone hurts humans, so you must be a Halfa." He concluded.
Lewis looked at Vivi and raised an eyebrow. Vivi, seeming to understand his unasked question, shrugged and shook her head. The ghost looked back to Danny and hummed thoughtfully. "You've mentioned that word before. Halfa." He repeated the word again, as if to test it on his tongue. "I asked you what it meant, but then you started acting scared, so I dropped the subject. Now you're saying I'm a Halfa, so I think I deserve to know what it is."
Lewis looked expectant, and Danny started to panic. He already told Lewis that he was a Halfa, and now Danny realized that was a mistake. These guys didn't know what a halfa was, and that meant he'd have to tell them that he technically wasn't a ghost. It would have been fine it it was just Lewis, as most of the ghosts in the Ghost Zone knew already, but two of the Mystery Skulls were human, and would want to see his other form, and could easily let his secret slip to others.
Danny realized he'd been silent for too long, and the Skulls were beginning to look concerned. Before they could speak, Danny tried stuttering out a response. "I- um... a Halfa is a kind of ghost... kinda. They used to be alive- but you knew that, ghosts usually were once a living creature. What I'm trying to get at is... a Halfa is a-" Danny felt his throat close up when Vivi leaned forward, looking excited and interested. He'd never told anyone else his secret besides his sister and his friends. To make it worse, he'd only met these people. He had no idea if they'd be able to keep it secret. He just couldn't risk it getting back to his parents somehow. He just couldn't tell them.
Unfortunately, someone else decided to.
"A Halfa is a ghost that is not yet dead."
The four jumped at the sudden voice and all spun around to stare into the trees, where two glowing red eyes shone from the darkness. Slowly, a huge form gracefully slinked out of the shadows and stood before them in the bright moonlight. Danny could only stare and try not to cower under the creature's intense gaze. It looked like a giant wolf. No, not a wolf, it was a fox. It had a great mane of black fur with two crimson streaks flowing from its head to the middle of its back. Seven long tails lazily waved behind the fox, the way they moved was almost hypnotizing. Around its neck was a red collar where a small golden tag gleamed in the moonlight. The beast was at least twice as tall as Danny, and practically radiated power. After a moment of complete silence, it opened its jaws and spoke again in a deep, regal voice.
"A Halfa is a human stuck in limbo. A living ghost. A creature tainted by ectoplasm that can move between worlds without a care, walking along a tightrope, teetering on the edge of death and life." The fox peered down at Danny with his gleaming red eyes. He didn't look aggressive, but his gaze wasn't friendly either. "You are a very powerful being, young one. How did you become this way? The senior Fentons are very much alive, so you aren't the offspring of a ghost and a human." The beast's oppressive gaze softened into something akin to sorrow. "They didn't make you this way, did they? Their methods are most... unusual, but they don't seem to be the kind to experiment on their own son."
Danny could only stand, frozen like a deer in the headlights as the fox spilled his most guarded secret for all to hear. Then, to make matters worse, he heard an unearthly growl practically shake the ground, and felt a presence come up right behind him. A large hand fell on his shoulder, and squeezed it gently, but Danny could sense Lewis' barely suppressed rage. Even then, he couldn't move.
"He's their what?!"