My first story! I intended this to be a one shot when I started, but something happened and now I expect it to be about five chapters long. Also, I know that this plot/storyline has been worked to death—sorry! I just wanted to take my own swing at it.

I own nothing. Well, I own some things, but definitely not Danny Phantom.

"Ghost detected."

Maddie's pulse quickened, and she slammed on the brakes of the Fenton RV, quickly pulling over to the side of the road. She had just stopped off at the grocery store and was on her way home when she realized that now would be the perfect time to test out the improvements on the Fenton Finder v2.5. School was out, but Danny and Jazz could take care of themselves for a little while, and Jack was so immersed in his latest invention ("The Fenton Ghost Nabber!") that he wouldn't notice if she came home a couple hours late. Not that she had expected to find much—three in the afternoon wasn't exactly prime time for ghost appearances—but she'd hoped to at least pick up some minor level spooks.

"Analyzing… analyzing… ghost located 500 feet south-southwest."

Frowning, Maddie looked in the direction indicated. What was a ghost doing in the public park? Well, there were no roads, so she'd have to go on foot. Grabbing the Fenton Finder, she slipped out of the driver's seat, headed to the weapon's arsenal, and, after a moment's hesitation, grabbed the Fenton Bazooka. That would be enough to handle almost any ghost she came across. Flipping the hood of her jumpsuit over her head and securing her goggles, Maddie tightened her hold on the bazooka and stalked silently across the park, eyes peeled for any sign of movement.

"Ghost located 300 feet ahead."

She recognized this area of the park. The lack of playground equipment kept smaller kids away, but it was popular with teenagers in the summer because of the many secluded clearings and the huge shade trees. However, on a chilly November day like today, the place was deserted. Grateful once again for the thermal properties of her jumpsuit, she kept walking.

"Ghost located 100 feet ahead."

There was a clearing just ahead—that must be where it was hidden. Maddie pressed a button on the Fenton Bazooka, and it powered up with a low whine. She'd have to fix that later—no need to advertise her position to a ghost before she could even see it. Almost quivering with excited anticipation, she dove into the trees ahead of her.

"Ghost located 50 feet ahead."

Looking up, Maddie bit back a gasp and immediately muted the volume on the Fenton Finder. Of all the ghosts she might have found, she had never expected it to be this one.


Floating several feet in the air, Phantom was hunched over something she couldn't see with his back turned to her. He hadn't noticed her approach, which was probably all that had saved her life. Quickly, she raised the Fenton Bazooka, centering her target within the crosshairs—and hesitated. Maddie had no moral objections to shooting Phantom, despite the current public opinion that he was a hero. He had shot at her and Jack, for heaven's sake! On the same day that he'd kidnapped the mayor! It was amazing how often that little act was forgotten in the town's rush to hero-worship the ghost. No, if she had even an ounce of civic responsibility, she would shoot Phantom now, right now, while he still hadn't noticed her and wouldn't have a chance to defend himself…

But that was the problem. As much as she disliked the ghost kid, something within her objected to the act of shooting down anything, even a ghost, in cold-blood like this. Shooting in battle was one thing—that was self-defense. In the heat of the moment, it was easy to forget what you were doing. However, this felt so premeditated. Hidden in the shadows like this with her gun trained on a target, she felt like some sort of assassin, like a murderer...

He's already dead, you idiot, Maddie scolded herself, tightening her hold on the gun once more and pressing her finger against the trigger. This is for your family, remember? This is for Jack and Jazz and Danny…

But still, she hesitated.

Phantom yawned, flipping over onto his side to face her, and she froze, almost shooting out of sheer panic. However, as his carefree posture quickly made it apparent that he had not seen her, she relaxed again. Then she saw what he was holding.

A book? she wondered, letting the tip of the bazooka drop a few inches. It looked like a book, but he was too far away to see it very clearly. Pressing a button on the side of her goggles allowed her to zoom in on his image, and soon she could see him as clearly as if she was standing right next to him. It was a book—Frankenstein, to be exact.

Maddie frowned, lowering the bazooka completely. All thoughts of shooting him were lost in the light of this new mystery. She had often wondered what Phantom got up to in his free time when he wasn't terrorizing the town and causing massive property damage, but this… well, this was nothing like what she had expected. Why was Phantom reading a book? His glowing green eyes flicked back and forth as he read each line, entirely focused on the page in front of him, and for a moment Maddie's own eyes got lost in the motion. It was such an everyday thing for him to be doing that she could almost pretend he looked like a normal teenager. Well, if you didn't count the luminescent green eyes, his slight transparency, or the fact that he was glowing. And floating.

Music rang out across the clearing, and Maddie had to stifle another gasp, sinking further into the bush that was hiding her. Phantom jerked back to awareness, looking around wildly before he seemed to catch himself. With a wry grin, he reached into his pocket and pulled out… a cell phone? Maddie blinked. Where had Phantom gotten a cell phone? She grinned as she wondered what Danny would say if he found out that even the most wanted ghost in town had a cell phone, and she didn't. Then it occurred to her to wonder who exactly would call Phantom on a cell phone.

"Hello?" he said, his voice echoing as if from a great distance the way all ghosts' voices did. She'd always thought there was something vaguely familiar about Phantom's voice, but it was impossible to say exactly what. Phantom's face broke into a grin. "Hey Sam! How's it going?"

He paused, waiting for a response, and Maddie was struck again by how absurdly normal he looked.

"Yeah, I'm practicing splitting myself in two. I think I finally have the hang of it, but I want to make sure before I start working on three. Vlad can do four, you know," he scowled. Maddie was still trying to work her way through that sentence when he continued. "Anyway, I left my other half at the school." He laughed, his face forming into that cocky smirk Maddie knew so well. "Lancer'll never know the difference."

Vlad? School? Phantom couldn't possibly mean Mr. Lancer the teacher—was there some other Lancer, or maybe he literally meant a lancer? Realizing there was no way to figure out everything he was saying, Maddie resolved herself to remember as much as she could and write it all down as soon as she found a piece of paper. What she wouldn't give for an audio recorder right now!

"Anyway, I'm just hanging out at the park right now. Yes, as a ghost. It's easier to hold the duplication that way. No, nobody can see me." He rolled his eyes. "Geez, Sam, don't worry so much! I'm hidden in a clump of trees, and it's not like anybody even comes here during the winter anyway. I'm just reading Frankenstein." A short pause. "Tchh. You would like that book. I can't stand it. I mean, sure, the story's cool, but all of those wordy descriptions kind of ruin it." He made a face, and his voice became sarcastic. "No, Sam, of course I don't have a reason for reading it. I just figured I have so much free time I'd spend it all reading something I hate." His face softened. "Actually, I'm reading it because of Dani." Maddie's ears pricked at the familiar name, but then he went on. "You know, Danielle. My 'cousin?' I finally got her settled down and going to school, and then her English class assigns her to read Frankenstein of all books! Apparently her teacher said some stuff…" His voice rose in frustration, and he started floating around in agitated circles. "Of course she's taking it badly! I mean, think about her situation! Anyway, I've tried to talk to her, but she won't listen to me, and I thought that maybe if I read the book myself, I could help her more. If I write my report on it, I can even make it count as homework."

He paused again, for longer this time. Maddie didn't move. She could barely breathe with all of this bizarre information swirling around in her head. Nothing was making any sense. School? Homework? That was what normal teenagers talked about, not ghosts. And since when did ghosts have cousins, or family at all? Maybe Phantom was simply reenacting remembered conversations from his past life— though if that was the case, then who had called him on the phone? Was Danielle perhaps a family member he had left behind when he died, or was she a ghost like him? Maddie's breath caught. What if ghosts actually had some sort of organized society? Was it possible that Phantom actually attended some sort of ghostly high school? Sure, it sounded farfetched, but how much of a stretch was it really to think that ghosts might try to pattern their afterlife after the human life they'd left behind? After all, Maddie had never actually gone into the Ghost Zone—she didn't know what it was like. Was such a thing possible?

Phantom started talking again, and Maddie listened eagerly once more.

"You're probably right, Sam," he sighed, then with a half-smile added, "you usually are. I'll give her some time, though I still need to talk to her at some point. Sorry I snapped at you." Glancing down at his phone, Phantom did a double take. "Aw, crap! Is it that time already? Mom's going to kill me if I'm late to dinner again! Yeah, I'll see you tonight for patrol—same time as usual?"

Snapping his phone shut, Phantom stretched, scratching the back of his neck in a way that made Maddie suddenly think of her son.

"Maybe I can introduce Dani to the Box Ghost," he mused, swooping down to grab his book from where it had fallen. "A little misplaced aggression always does wonders for me."

Then he was off, soaring across the sky. Maddie watched his retreating form for a few seconds before slowly standing up, her cramped legs protesting the sudden change of position. Part of her could hardly believe that she'd been within feet of the ghost boy and had simply let him go, but that little voice was tiny now and getting smaller by the second. Madeline Fenton was, at heart, a scientist. That was why she had always been so interested in examining Phantom's remains once they finally got him, rather than blowing him apart "molecule by molecule" like Jack was so keen to do. She was starting to realize that she would probably never get that chance, mostly because she didn't think she had it in her to destroy him anymore—he was too sentient, displaying complex emotions and a level of care for others she hadn't thought a ghost was capable of reaching. No, she'd probably never get to dissect his remains, but it had never occurred to her before how much she could learn from him being alive. Well, not technically alive, but still. Witnessing this single conversation had already challenged many of her theories regarding spectral behavior. Were all ghosts capable of reaching such emotional complexity, or was Phantom simply different?

"I'm going to need some recording equipment," she muttered to herself. "And a camera." Glancing down at her watch, she gasped. "That time already? Dinner's not even in the oven yet!" Grabbing the Fenton Bazooka and Fenton Finder, Maddie dashed back to the RV. Jack could be pretty oblivious when his mind was occupied, but it wouldn't take him long to notice the absence of fudge!

Danny was already sitting at the kitchen table reading a book when Maddie finally walked through the door, her arms laden with groceries.

"Hey mom!" he said with a smile, but her view of him was quickly obscured as her husband filled the doorway.

"Maddie!" he boomed happily. "You're a little late today! Did you get my fudge?"

"Of course, dear," she said, giving him a fond kiss. "It's in this bag—here, can you help me?"

"What's for dinner?" Danny asked as Jack took the bags and began ripping through them to find the fudge.

"Nothing moving, I hope," Jazz called down sarcastically as she descended the stairs. "I still have nightmares about those hot dogs, you know. Those are definitely going in the memoir."

Jack let out a cry of joy as he found the fudge.

"Chicken casserole," Maddie said, gathering the ingredients from the tattered remnants of paper bags Jack had left behind. "It's going to be a little late, though—I was sidetracked by something on the way home. Have some Fenton toast if you're hungry."

Danny made a face, but set down his book and got up anyway to make some toast.

"What are you reading, dear?" she asked absently, glancing at the table where the abandoned book sat. She froze.

"Frankenstein," he answered, rummaging through the cupboards in search of bread. "Did you pick up any jam from the store, Mom?" He paused when she didn't respond, glancing back at her. "Mom?"

"What class is it for?" she asked, still staring at the familiar book.

"Um, English? Duh?" He waved a hand in front of her hand. "You still there?"

"Yeah," she said, tearing her eyes away to smile reassuringly at her son. "Sorry, just got lost in my thoughts, I guess. Jam is somewhere in the grocery bags… or at least, what's left of the grocery bags…"

"Thanks." Danny started digging through scraps of paper in search of the jam. Maddie watched him for a moment before giving herself a mental shake and turning her attention to the mess of groceries in the kitchen.

It's just a coincidence, she reminded herself. A weird coincidence, yes, but a coincidence nonetheless. It doesn't mean anything.

Something vibrated in her pocket, and she realized that she'd never unmuted the volume on the Fenton Finder. Pulling it out of her pocket, she switched the volume back on.

"Ghost directly ahead of you," it said in its cool feminine voice. "You would have to be some sort of moron to not notice the ghost directly ahead." Maddie looked up. Danny waved at her with a sardonic grin.

"Oh, shut up," she said, switching the device off again. "Hey, Jack, I've been doing some rudimentary research on spectral communities. Do you think there's a chance that some ghost children actually attend school?"

Constructive criticism is welcome!