Maddie knew there was no chance of Phantom returning to the park today.
She went anyway.
Skipping over her usual hiding place, Maddie sat herself down in the middle of the clearing where she'd first seen Phantom reading a book on a lazy Monday afternoon. The amount of action this park had seen since then was incredible. The burnt and splintered trees, lit now with an eerie orange glow from the sinking sun, stood almost as a testament to all that had happened here this week. Maddie tried her hardest to ignore them.
Time had passed in strange ways today—it was hard to believe that the sun was already that low on the horizon. School must have let out hours ago. She'd have to return home soon to start on dinner, though even that small task seemed impossible tonight. Maybe she could order a pizza? Either way, she didn't have to go home just yet. Jazz would be fine on her own for awhile, and Danny…
Maddie curled herself into a ball, resting her weary head against her knees.
The discovery she had made the night before should have possibly spurred her to even greater efforts in unraveling the mystery of Phantom. Her family was involved now, in ways she couldn't have previously imagined. What greater motivation could a mother have? She should have redoubled her efforts to find answers, tracked down Phantom, interrogated Vlad, pulled Danny out of school and asked him to please, please talk to her… but she hadn't. Her previous passion had instead evaporated overnight, leaving her numb, passive, and utterly spent, save for a small, persistent feeling of guilt.
She had to be the worst mother in the world. What did it matter if she were to figure everything out now? All this time Danny—her baby boy, her son, who at one point in his life had shared secrets and backwash with her—had kept from her the biggest secret of his life. Kids didn't tell their parents everything, she knew that. She'd had her fair share of secrets from her mom as a teenager. But something like this? His friends obviously knew, and Jazz, so why would he not confide in her?
The worst part of it was that she didn't even know what exactly he'd been through. Had he been operated or experimented on? Had he consented to the process, or been forced into it? All she had were theories, along with a horrible, growing certainty that whatever had happened to her son, Vlad Masters was the one to blame. Danny had always been openly hostile towards the man—she'd have had to be blind not to notice that—but she'd always assumed it was for more obvious reasons, like Vlad's tendency to insult Jack and hit on her right in front of him. Now she realized that she should have paid more attention. Maybe then she would have noticed that there was something more sinister between Vlad and her son.
Then, of course, there was Phantom. Somehow, everything always came back to Phantom.
For the first time that day, tendrils of her former curiosity began to creep back as she wondered for the millionth time what his relationship to Danny really was. Despite the friendship Phantom had formed with Danny's friends, she couldn't remember a single instance this week when Phantom had so much as mentioned her son. Of course, that was hardly conclusive—her observations had taken place over a relatively short period of time. Much stranger was the fact that, as hard as she tried, she still couldn't remember ever having seen the two together. Surely if she had, she would have picked up on the physical similarities before now. Maybe they had avoided being seen together for that specific reason—so nobody would notice how strangely similar they looked. Or… Maddie frowned as she reluctantly considered a second possibility. What if Phantom was overshadowing her son, possessing him and stealing away his life? It wasn't impossible. Earlier she might have even said it was probable, but now? Somehow, she couldn't believe it. She had seen too much of the good in Phantom to believe he was capable of that—although there were those acts of evil from his earlier days still left unexplained...
As always, guessing was getting her nowhere. She really only had one viable option now as far as she could see—talk to Danny.
It was going to happen eventually. They couldn't avoid seeing each other like this for much longer. Still, it hurt a bit to realize how much she dreaded that conversation with her son.
Footsteps padded softly in the grass behind Maddie, and her eyes snapped open at the sound. Immediately her thoughts strayed to Phantom, but then her brain caught up with her and she realized that Phantom wouldn't have audible footsteps.
"How long have you been out here?" a small, feminine voice asked. Maddie relaxed.
"Not long." She turned to find Jazz standing uncertainly behind her. "How did you know where I was?"
"Danny," she said simply. "That is—I mean, he didn't know you were here but he told me about last night, and I kind of guessed."
Of course. Mouth thinning, Maddie turned back around. "Where is he now?"
"…Tucker's. He said he'd be back later tonight."
If she hadn't been listening for it, Maddie might have missed the slight hesitation that gave away the lie.
"So I suppose if I went to Tucker's right now, he'd be there?" she asked levelly. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her daughter blush.
"Well, you know, they might have gone to the Nasty Burger, or a movie, or—you know what?" Jazz said, frustrated. "I'm done with this. It's obvious to me that he's going to have to tell you what's happening sooner rather than later, even if Danny still needs convincing."
"Couldn't you tell me?" Maddie asked. Jazz winced.
"I'd prefer that you didn't ask me to do that," she said. "Danny would never forgive me, and honestly? It'll be better coming from him. Besides, it will be a huge step in Danny's psychological growth when he finally brings himself to tell you."
Maddie's mouth quirked up a little at that last comment, but she didn't respond. After a moment, Jazz stepped forward, joining her mother on the ground.
"So what's on your mind?"
"Am I a terrible mother?" The words slipped out of Maddie before she could stop them. Jazz looked up in surprise.
"What? Of course not! Why would you think—"?
"Then why doesn't Danny trust me?" she asked pleadingly. "Doesn't he know he can come to me with anything?"
"Trust… isn't the issue," Jazz said hesitantly, and Maddie sighed.
"Then what is? Have I been too inaccessible? Too distracted by ghosts? I had my reservations about working while you two were little, but Jack couldn't get those government grants on his own, and I thought that at least I'd always be home, even if I was down in the lab—" Maddie cut off, not sure what else to say and already feeling that she'd said too much. "I just feel like our family is splintering apart, and I don't know what to do."
She hadn't intended for Jazz to hear all this. In her mind, moms were supposed to always be there to support their children, not the other way around. Then again, Jazz had never been an ordinary girl. One glance at her daughter's intensely concentrated face had Maddie smiling despite herself. She could almost see her daughter referencing textbooks in her mind like it was all some kind of psychology project. Come to think of it, she was probably relishing the role of therapist here.
"I think what you're feeling here is a common worry of working moms," Jazz said eventually. "They want to supply all their children's needs, but feel that by being absent, they're giving less of themselves. However, for the conscientious mom, those worries are often unfounded, and it helps that you work from home. You've always been available to us, both physically and mentally. Now, have you been easily distracted and obsessed with ghosts?" Jazz paused, which Maddie thought with amusement was rather polite of her—she'd heard Jazz's complaints on this subject often enough to know her daughter's opinion. "Maybe you have been, a little. How much have you been able to figure out, anyway? About Danny, that is."
Maddie laughed shortly. "Not much. Just that he and Phantom are… similar. Connected. As if Phantom were Danny's ghostly counterpart or something. I know that Phantom is the result of some experiment, but how did Danny get involved? And why wouldn't he tell me anything about it, when I'm an expert on ghosts?"
"Haven't you thought that maybe that's the problem?" Jazz asked. "You might be an expert on ghosts, but you're also a ghost hunter. He was probably worried about how you would react, and just trying to protect… Phantom." A tinkling piano song filled the air, and the two of them jerked in surprise, Jazz reaching automatically for her pocket. "Sorry, that's my phone. Let me see who it is."
Maddie considered this while Jazz fumbled with the small device. It made sense, and what's more, it made her feel the tiniest bit better because at least it was a reason she understood. She and Jack had been a bit zealous in their dislike of Phantom.
"Sorry, I'd better take this," Jazz said, flipping it open. "Hello? Sam, what's up?"
Curiously, Maddie looked over. She couldn't make out the tinny voice on the other end, but as they spoke, Jazz's expression became vaguely concerned. "Are you sure? I talked to him less than an hour ago, and he seemed fine. A little down, maybe, but—" Sam's response must have been angry, because Jazz raised a defensive hand. "Okay, okay! I believe you. No, I don't know what's going on." With a sideways glance at Maddie, she said, "Look, I can't talk right now. I'll call you back, okay? Yes, I'll tell you as soon as I talk to him. Don't worry, we'll knock some sense into him. Uh huh. Good-bye." With a small beep, she hung up.
"What's up?" Maddie asked, and Jazz shrugged.
"Sam and Tucker think Danny's been avoiding them today," she said, looking a little annoyed. "He does this sometimes. I think he's trying to keep everybody safe, or something stupid like that. As if cutting everybody off would do any good. Don't worry, he'll be fine."
"But he wasn't even there yesterday," Maddie said, confused. "He was asleep. Why would any of it be his fault?"
Phantom had been there, though. Disturbed, Maddie remembered the ultimatum she'd given him yesterday afternoon, and Phantom's promise to avoid contact with Danny's human friends. That couldn't have anything to do with Danny's behavior now, could it?
A big orange blob came hurtling through the trees and crashing into an unsuspecting Jazz and Maddie before they could so much as scream. Maddie flailed around in panic, and for a moment, everything was a confused tangle of limbs, red hair and jumpsuits. Then she caught sight of a familiar face.
"Ghost boy!" Jack thundered, struggling to get up while recklessly brandishing his weapon. "Get your ectoplasmic tail back here so I can tear it apart molecule by molecule!"
Spitting out a mouthful of grass with a grimace, Jazz gave Maddie a questioning glance. Maddie shrugged apologetically.
"I haven't told him yet," she whispered, and Jazz nodded in understanding.
"Soon?" she mouthed.
Maddie nodded. Though she still hadn't figured out how to convince Jack that Phantom was, in fact, a "friendly ghost," that conversation would have to happen soon. But not now.
"Come on, Jack," Maddie said, offering a hand to pull him up and almost getting pulled down herself in the process. "Wherever he is, I'm sure he's long gone by now."
"I almost had him, Maddie," Jack said glumly. "I was this close! But he sped up as soon as we got to the park."
"Wait, you mean Phantom was here?" Maddie asked sharply, glancing around. "How recently?"
"Just a couple seconds ago. Hey!" he exclaimed, snapping his sausage-like fingers. "Now that you're here, we can find him together! And if we take Jazz with us we can count it as quality family time! Now if only Danny were here…"
"Actually, I think it's time for dinner," Maddie intervened. "We can go ghost hunting later, okay? Besides, it's gotten chilly all of a sudden," she added, shivering. Even through her jumpsuit, she could tell that the temperature must have dropped ten degrees.
Jazz gasped quietly, whipping her head around in confusion, but Maddie didn't notice.
"Aww, but Maddie…" Jack whined.
"How about we order some pizza tonight?" she said. "And once we get home, I'll get you a big plate of fudge."
The distraction worked.
"All right!" he cheered, running off. "Let's go!"
"Hold up, Jack!" Maddie called. "The Fenton RV's over here."
"I don't know. I was too busy running to notice. Hoo boy!" he grunted, falling to one knee as exhaustion chose that moment to hit him. "I'm gonna feel that in the morning!"
Maddie shook her head, smiling fondly at her husband's antics. "Don't worry, I'll drive. Are you coming, Jazz?"
Jazz, who was standing with her back to Maddie, seemed to be arguing with herself, but when she eventually turned around her answering smile was very self-satisfied.
"Coming!" she said cheerfully, almost skipping past Maddie with excitement. Confused, Maddie stared after her. Then an icy breath of air hit her ear, and she shivered.
"Meet me at nine p.m., on top of the Ops Center," a familiar, echoing voice murmured, and Maddie's head whipped around so fast that her neck cracked. The air beside her was empty. No one was there—or at least, nobody visible.
"Phantom?" she said softly, but there was no reply. Giving one last fruitless glance around her, Maddie raised an eyebrow at Jazz, who smiled blandly back at her.
"I suppose you put him up to that," Maddie said, joining into step with her daughter as they walked to the RV together.
"Thank me later," Jazz said. "It took a lot of work to get him to agree to this."
"Thank you," Maddie said honestly. "But I thought you wanted Danny to talk to me?"
"Oh, he'll be there too," Jazz said, winking mysteriously, and Maddie rolled her eyes as she climbed into the RV. Jazz was enjoying this way too much.
Jack was waiting for her in the passenger seat.
"Hey. So, uh, Maddie," he started, and Maddie looked over to find him looking extremely uncomfortable, glancing at her sideways with embarrassed concern. "You've been a little bit off today. Are you—well, is everything okay now?"
Maddie's heart warmed, even as she winced—she must have been really out of it today if even sweet, clueless Jack had noticed. Her husband might not be very good at the whole emotional comfort thing, and he might never remember the date of their anniversary, but his heart was in the right place. It was how she knew that when she finally presented her case to him about Phantom, he would eventually accept it.
"Yes, sweetie. I'm… okay now." And she was. Jazz's talk had helped, and with her upcoming meeting with Phantom, she had the feeling that the craziness of this week's ups and downs was finally coming to a conclusion.
"Good!" He looked immensely relieved. "Now let's go get some pizza!"
"We're ordering pizza?" Jazz asked from the back, sounding equally relieved. Maddie bristled a little—it wasn't like every meal she cooked came to life.
"Yep!" Jack said. "And it's gonna have pepperoni and sausage and bacon and…"
Maddie stopped paying attention as she noticed the weapon still clutched carelessly in Jack's fingers.
"Jack," she said as she started up the vehicle. "Why do you have the Fenton Phantom Grabber with you?"
"Because I was hunting Phantom," he said. Duh.
Glancing back, Maddie saw that Jazz's attention was fully immersed in her cell phone. Still, she lowered her voice.
"Do you think I could borrow it for the night?" she asked. Her husband's shoulders sagged—he was always slightly possessive over his newest invention.
"I guess," he said reluctantly. "Why, do you think you'll need it?"
Maddie paused in thought for a moment, pulling away from the curb. When she eventually spoke, her voice was decisive.
"Yes. I think I'll be needing it really soon."
Five minutes to nine found Maddie pacing restlessly on top of the Ops Center, fiddling endlessly with the Fenton Phantom Grabber in her hands. She knew she was early, but she couldn't hold in the hope that maybe Phantom would show up early, too. Besides, she couldn't stand another minute of Jazz sending her those annoyingly knowing glances. She loved her daughter to death, of course, and she was grateful to her for setting up this little rendezvous, but she'd forgotten how… well, to be honest, how irritating Jazz could be when she had a secret.
Of course, there was always the possibility that Phantom would come late, or even not show up at all. Jazz had said he didn't really want to come. And where was Danny?
Her pacing continued. Two minutes to nine.
Maddie stopped. Slowly, she let out her breath before turning around. Phantom was perched on the railing, looking up at the stars. The position reminded her of Danny, and she wondered briefly whether he had the same fascination for the night sky as her son did, but then he spoke again.
"I'm starting to think this was a mistake. I'm still not sure if I'll stay, all things considered." He glanced back at her, expression guarded. "You have about five seconds to explain that thing you're holding, or I'm gone."
Maddie realized suddenly that Phantom's relaxed position was just an act. His muscles—or his ghostly equivalent thereof—were tensed and ready for action, and if she didn't do something quickly, he would be gone before she could stop him.
"Wait," she said, hurriedly tossing the device towards him. It skidded across the metal floor, coming to a stop near his feet. Phantom stared down at it, then up at her, confused.
"I wasn't going to use it," Maddie said hurriedly. "I'm giving it to you. Do whatever you want with it—break it, incinerate it, whatever. I just wanted you to know that we won't be hunting you anymore."
Phantom's mouth opened slightly in surprise.
"I was sure," he muttered, almost to himself, but then he shook his head with a smile, truly relaxing for the first time that night. "Never mind. Uh, thanks." He jerked his head towards the device on the floor. "For that. I never liked nets, you know. I mean, I guess there are worse things out there, and most nets are pretty easy to escape, but I always hated them the most."
"Why?" Maddie asked, walking slowly to join him. Phantom tensed, and she jerked in surprise. Looking sharply at each other for a moment, they slowly relaxed with rueful grins. They were both on edge tonight.
"I don't really know," he said, frowning in thought. "I guess, when enough people go after you with nets… I don't know, it makes you feel kind of like an animal. It's degrading, you know? I mean, people don't hunt people like that. It's…" He paused, searching for a word. "Dehumanizing. It's dehumanizing." He grinned. "Heh. I bet Lancer thought I wasn't even listening when he taught us that word."
"Lancer?" Maddie asked, vaguely recalling him using that name before. Phantom raised an eyebrow as if it were obvious.
"You know, Mr. Lancer? Teaches English, along with almost every other subject in the school?"
"You sit in on his classes?" Maddie asked disbelievingly.
"Yeah I—oh. Right." Phantom grimaced, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "Geez, I don't even know where to begin."
"Begin with my son," Maddie said quickly. Phantom glanced back at her, and she twitched a little, but went on. "I know you're connected. Closely, even. Just… just tell me what he's been through. Has he been hurt? Is he all right? Where is he? Jazz said he'd be here."
"Connected, huh?" he muttered. "I guess you could say that."
With a sudden, fluid motion he jumped in the air. Maddie let out a startled gasp, stepping back, but Phantom didn't go very far. Instead, he started pacing back and forth through the air, much as she had been doing earlier. He looked nervous.
"Look," he said abruptly, coming to a halt. "There's a lot to tell you, and even though I've kind of been planning this moment in the back of my mind for years, I'm not really sure how it's all gonna play out. So just… let me talk, okay? This is something I've been keeping secret for a long time, and it's gonna be hard to get it out. Danny… don't worry about him. He'll be here soon."
Maddie nodded slowly, and Phantom let out a long breath.
"Okay. So. It all started two years ago. I guess I should start by saying that I—we—Danny—" Phantom paused for a moment, then nodded. "Danny wanted to tell you everything when it first happened. He almost did, at first, but something always happened to interrupt, and… anyway, after a little while he started to get a handle on things, and he thought that maybe it would be easier if you didn't know. He still thought that he could tell you if he needed to, but… I don't know, I guess he felt a little grown up keeping this a secret. Like some sort of super hero." Phantom smiled, shaking his head. "He was only fourteen, you know. Everything felt kind of like a game back then." His smile faded. "But then there was that whole mayor thing with Walker and his goons, and I became infamous. You started to recognize me when you saw me. And you hated me." He looked at her earnestly. "You have to understand. I've made mistakes—I've been manipulated, controlled, framed—but I've always tried to do the right thing. I never meant to hurt you, or anyone else. You have to believe me."
"I believe you."
Maddie was almost surprised by her own response. Phantom shooting her, kidnapping the mayor, and stealing from all those jewelry stores… those were facts she'd held onto almost viciously as proof that Phantom was evil, even if he'd managed to trick the rest of the town into believing otherwise.
But now? She'd seen him when he thought no one was watching. She'd watched him love, cry, and fight to protect his friends and her family. And now that he was so close, staring at her so pleadingly with a face that, though blurred and distorted by his ghostly glow still reminded her so much of her son…
She believed him.
Phantom relaxed. "It was all an accident, you see." He gestured to himself. "This was an accident. Danny didn't mean to split himself like this."
"Danny didn't… but wait," Maddie blurted out before she could stop herself. "You mean it wasn't Vlad?"
Phantom blinked. "Vlad?" He shook his head with a brief laugh. "No, that wasn't Vlad. I mean, he can be blamed for a lot of things, but not this. He comes later—or earlier." Phantom grimaced, shaking his head. "I'm not very good at this, am I? Vlad split himself over twenty years ago, when he was in college. He didn't even know about me until we met at that college reunion in Wisconsin."
"Vlad Masters split himself in college?" Maddie repeated, and Phantom raised an eyebrow.
"You figured that out? Well, I guess it wasn't that hard. How many Vlads do we know, anyway?"
"But when did it happen? Vlad, Jack and I always did our research together…" Her voice faded off as it came to her. "The ghost portal?"
"Ecto acne wasn't the only symptom of having a ghost portal explode in his face," Phantom confirmed, making a face. "Glad that didn't happen to me, though. Yuck."
"But what about you? What about Danny?" Maddie frowned. "He never got caught in a ghost portal."
"Heh. About that." Phantom squirmed uncomfortably. "You know the ghost portal downstairs? You know how two years ago it didn't work?"
Of course she remembered that moment. The excitement, the thrill of having finally created a portal to another dimension that should have, in theory, worked… only to have it fizzle and die, as their experiment became just another failure. That is, until—
"Danny fixed it," Maddie said. Eyes wide, she looked up at Phantom. "But he never told us how. What happened?"
"Honestly, I'm not sure it was ever broken," Phantom said. "From what I've been able to tell since then, there was some sort of double switch involved. Both switches needed to be on in order to activate the portal. One of those switches was outside the portal, and one of them… was inside." He grinned a little, though the expression was bitter. "In the future, I'd recommend turning on the inside one first."
Maddie's eyes widened with dread. "You don't mean…"
"My—Danny's friends were down in the lab, and Sam kind of dared him to go inside. He went in, tripped over some wires, fell against the switch, and…" Phantom spread his arms wide like some circus performer ending a trick. "Ta da."
It was a dark attempt at humor, and Maddie didn't laugh.
"How did he survive?" she asked in horror. "That much electricity—but then, the ectoplasmic residue might have affected the process," Maddie muttered to herself. "Changed the nature of the electric shock, making it non-fatal. Or partially fatal? Is such a thing even possible?"
Phantom shrugged. "You're the scientist, not me. Whatever happened… it hurt. A lot."
"You remember it?" Maddie asked, and Phantom nodded, scratching his neck.
"Umm… well, yeah. I haven't really told you the biggest part of all this. You see—"
"Wait," Maddie stopped him, wide-eyed. "I think I know what's going on."
"You do?" Phantom asked, his face an odd mixture of hope, relief, and dread.
"Of course!" Maddie jumped up and started pacing. "You have all of Danny's memories, don't you? When the portal turned on, all that electricity and the trauma of the moment imprinted the free ectoplasm floating around with Danny's consciousness. It's how most ghosts are formed… but because Danny wasn't dead, the imprint was much stronger than normal! In essence, part of his humanity was transferred to you."
Phantom's face fell, but she didn't see it. "Uh, Maddie…"
"It's why you feel such a connection to Danny's friends and family. It's how you've been able to maintain those connections. In your mind, it's as if you're actually Danny!"
"But that still doesn't explain Danielle, or—"
Maddie stopped mid-sentence, turning to face him.
"I'm not your mom, Phantom," she said quietly. "Whatever you might think you remember, I'm not your mom."
"But that's the thing," Phantom said, his face twisted painfully. "I've been talking as if Danny and I are two separate beings. In reality… that's not the case."
Maddie stared at him. Her heartbeat was increasing rapidly, though she wasn't exactly sure why yet. "Where's Danny?" she asked again.
"I'm trying to tell you," Phantom said, pointing to himself. "He's right here."
"That's not possi—"
"Have you ever seen me and Danny together?" he persisted. "You were watching all this week—you've seen Danielle. If human and ghost Danielle are separate, how could they both be dating Tucker? How could human Danielle exist at all, if I was the one who was cloned?"
Maddie flinched as every hole in her theory was mercilessly exposed. "Of course I've considered all that," Maddie managed, "but just because I haven't found an explanation doesn't mean there isn't one."
"There is an explanation. Mine."
"But you're a ghost," Maddie said, exasperated. "Danny's a human. I've seen him. Maybe you feel like you're Danny, but—"
"Look," he sighed reluctantly. "Maybe it would be easier to show you."
Maddie stopped short, reminded of Vlad and his attempts to "show her" something as well.
"Show me what?" she asked. It came out as a whisper.
"Don't hate me, okay?" he said, avoiding her gaze. Familiar white rings appeared around his waist, and with nothing to stop the process this time, they separated and traveled across his body. Maddie watched in fascination as Phantom transformed before her eyes, black and white jumpsuit disappearing to make way for worn jeans, a familiar white t-shirt, and red tennis shoes. As the last ring of light passed over his head and winked out of existence, white hair became black, and as he looked at her, she saw that glowing green had become brilliant blue.
For a moment, there was silence. He stepped forward, and then stopped with a wince as she automatically stepped back.
"Umm… ta da?" he said awkwardly, raising his arms.
Maddie didn't respond.
"Yeah, this is kind of what I've been keeping from you," he said, scratching his neck. "I… probably should have told you sooner. Sorry."
Still, she said nothing.
"Um, could you maybe say something? Please?"
"Wait," Maddie said slowly. "You're telling that I have Vlad Masters trapped in a thermos downstairs?"
Danny blinked incredulously, his expression morphing into indignant anger.
"Are you kidding me?" he yelled. "All that, and you're gonna ask about Vlad freaking Masters? Forget it, this is stupid. I'm out of—"
He cut off with a gasp as Maddie encased him in a bone-crushing hug.
"Oh, Danny," she said. "All this time… that was you? With Danielle and Skulker and—Danny you could have died! Wait, Danielle? That doesn't mean—Vlad didn't clone you, did he? Wait, so that means Tucker's dating—"
"Mom," Danny choked. "Can't—breathe—"
Maddie blinked, looking down at him before jumping back, allowing her son to breathe much-needed air.
"I know it's a lot to take in," he panted. "But yeah, it was me. Are you… okay with that?"
"Danny," Maddie said seriously, grasping his shoulders. "It is a lot to take in, and it might take a while to get used to it all, but you know that I love you no matter what, right?"
"Right," Danny said, grinning weakly back at her. "I guess I knew that. I just thought… I don't know what I thought. I guess I knew you'd accept me. You've done it before."
"I've—what?" Maddie asked, and Danny's grin widened mischievously.
"That was in an alternate reality, of course. It was—what, the second time I saved the world? The first time was—"
"Save it for later," Maddie said weakly. "If I find out anything else tonight, I just might have a heart attack." Then she thought of something. "Jack! Danny, we need to tell Jack tonight! He's going to keep hunting you until he knows."
Maddie paused, guiltily remembering every shot she had taken at her son. Sensing this turn of thoughts, Danny quickly captured her attention.
"Don't worry about it," he reassured her with a cocky wink. "There's no way Dad's gonna get his hands on me!"
Sinking through the floor, Danny reappeared behind her seconds later with a triumphant shout. Only then did he notice her shocked expression and the hand clutching her heart.
"Um, too much to soon?"
"A bit," Maddie said faintly. Shaking her head, she said with a stronger voice, "I do have one more question, though."
"Shoot," he said, grinning giddily. Maddie smiled back.
"Whatever are we going to do with Vlad?"
As expected, Danny glared at her.
"The freaking fruit loop again? For the love of crap! I swear I'm going to—"
Maddie laughed as her son ranted into the night.
D-d-d-d-done! I can't believe it! Seriously, I'm so happy to finally have this last chapter for you. I'm marking the story as complete, but I've considered writing a final epilogue chapter. Don't hold your breath, though—you're all familiar with my update schedule :P
I have a couple more ideas for fics that I might start to work on, but don't expect anything too soon. I have some major school work to do, including completely revamping my art portfolio for internship applications and working extra hours to pay for tuition, so I don't have much free time these days. I do have a couple of one-shots that might come out in the meantime, though.
Finally, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone who reviewed, watched, or even halfway glanced at this story. Seriously, I was blown away by the number of reviews I got on the last chapter. Even if I didn't reply to your review (which there is a 99% chance that I didn't—as you've probably realized by now, I'm a very slow writer and writing even one thoughtful review response takes more time than I'd care to admit), I literally jumped up and down every time I got a review alert (unless I was in the library, in which case I quietly muttered "hooray" under my breath). Receiving your feedback means so much to me, so if you have questions, comments, or anything else to say to me now that this story's over, please feel free
Pssh, this author's note is becoming its own story. Enough is enough. Sorry for any mistakes in this chapter-I edited it myself on 2 hours of sleep in an effort to get it out to you as soon as possible. Let me know if there's anything horrendous that I missed.
Thanks to all,