Jazz was in her room, staring at a blank piece of paper, knowing she should be putting down ideas for the college application essay but unable to do it.
It would be nice to think that she could just go back to bed, but she'd always had trouble sleeping in the middle of the day, even when she was tired as she was right now. And now, she just couldn't focus. She was worried about Danny. She knew he didn't know what to do, and she knew that he didn't always pick the best course of action when he didn't have any time to really think things through. It wasn't the same as when he was fighting a ghost. She'd never question his judgement in a fight. But intellectual battles had never been Danny's thing, and their mother….
Well, Maddie was getting awfully close to Danny's secret, and Jazz wasn't sure Danny would be able to keep it if Maddie didn't just stop.
The quiet knock at her door made Jazz look up. "Come in," she said softly, having a sinking feeling she knew what this was about.
Sure enough, Maddie came in, dragging Danny behind her. She closed the door and the two of them sat down on Jazz's bed. Maddie didn't let her son go.
"We need to talk," Maddie said.
Jazz swallowed and looked at Danny.
"She knows," Danny said dully. "I told her. She just doesn't believe me."
"What?" Maddie's gaze snapped to Jazz. "You knew?"
"Like I said," Jazz said. "I found out shortly after it happened. I just didn't tell Danny I knew."
Maddie shook her head. "That's not what I mean. Jazz, you knew how far this went? You encouraged it? And you didn't tell us?"
"Told you she doesn't believe me," Danny said bluntly.
Jazz switched her gaze back to her mother. "Mom, what's going on?"
Maddie sighed. "Jazz, I think you already know. Danny thinks he's Danny Phantom."
"But…." Jazz couldn't help but hesitate. "He is."
"Jasmine, please. You shouldn't encourage him."
"No, Mom, he really is." Jazz glanced at Danny again. "If she doesn't believe you, why not just show her? I mean, you did tell her. Showing her can't be that much worse."
"I can't go ghost," Danny explained. "Mom gave me an ecto-suppressant when I was Phantom and it shorted out my powers. It hasn't worn off yet."
"Jazz, really. Surely all your psychology books don't tell you the best thing to do is to encourage Danny's delusion?"
"It's not a delusion, Mom," Jazz said softly. "Danny really is Danny Phantom. I've seen him change myself. That's how I found out."
"Oh, not you, too," Maddie said unhappily. "Jazz, I don't know what Phantom told you—"
"He didn't tell me anything," Jazz said. "I saw it for myself. I'd known something was wrong; I just hadn't ever imagined that it was what it turned out to be." She joined them on her bed, sitting next to her mom. "Danny should have told you before," she said quietly, "but can you really blame him for keeping it a secret?"
"For how long?" Maddie demanded suddenly as she turned on Danny, a quaver in her voice.
"Since I got the Fenton Portal working," Danny said, still keeping a monotone voice. "I guess I should have unplugged it before I turned it on, but in my defence, I didn't know I was pushing the 'on' button. It was dark in there."
Maddie frowned. "There isn't an 'on' button," she said. "There's just an 'off' button, and that's only the emergency switch to kill the power."
"The 'on' button's inside," Danny said, finally looking at her and letting some expression seep into his voice. "I'm sorry, Mom."
Maddie shook her head. "No. This has gone on for long enough, you two. I don't know how Phantom managed to convince you of this, Danny, or what you actually saw, Jazz, but I can't stand for it. This has to stop. My son is not a ghost. It's not only ludicrous, it's also impossible. You can't be dead and alive at the same time."
"Well, I don't think I technically am," Danny said slowly. "Jazz? Can you explain it?"
"We think Danny's caught in a state in between," Jazz said quietly, keeping a watchful on her mother to judge her reaction. "It's not that he's not alive, and it's not exactly that he's not…dead, but that he's both at the same time. A paradox. Like a play on the Copenhagen interpretation of Schrödinger's cat." She went on to explain what they believed, noting that Danny would still be able to live and die like anyone else. She didn't add that they knew Danny would still have as normal a life as possible for a half ghost because they had Vlad as an example, but she hoped she sounded earnest enough that Maddie would just take her at her word.
But when Maddie just buried her head in her hands without a word, Jazz couldn't help but be worried about how her mother was taking it all.
This wasn't possible. Regardless of Jazz's theories, this just wasn't possible. Danny's not a ghost. How many times had she said that to Jack?
And how long could she keep putting everything down to a connection with Phantom?
She needed to get rid of it. She needed to break that first. To start, she needed to decontaminate Danny. And, from the sounds of it, Jazz. But Danny was her priority.
Maddie stood up, ignoring the startled looks on her children's faces. "We need to get to the lab," she said.
Danny and Jazz exchanged glances, but they stood up, too. "Mom," Jazz began tentatively, "maybe it's best if you—"
"We're going down to the lab," Maddie repeated firmly. She started out, and they trailed after her.
The Fenton Ghost Catcher was in the corner of the lab where they'd left it. She dragged it out to the middle of the room, careful to avoid the experiment of Jack's that was still set up on the counter. She checked that she had it facing the right way—with the separate side away from her—and turned back to her kids. "Come on, Danny," she said.
Danny had frozen in place. "Um…."
Jazz pushed him forward. "Go on," she said, adding something else that Maddie couldn't quite catch. Danny shot her a worried look but came forward anyway.
The reason for her son's reluctance became clear the moment she'd dropped the Fenton Ghost Catcher on him. He had been overshadowed, likely the entire time. Danny Phantom was forced out of his body, and he lost no time in going invisible before she could take any shots at him. The ecto-suppressant must not have worked as well on him as she'd thought if he could stay in control of Danny for so long. He'd probably been pretending for most of the time in the Assault Vehicle.
That wouldn't surprise her, really. He was a ghost, after all.
"Danny, sweetie, are you okay?" Maddie asked. He was still looking a bit dazed—an after-effect of being overshadowed, she knew.
"Yeah, Mom, it's totally cool," Danny said, yawning widely. "Relax. I'm fine. Just tired." Another yawn.
"But you're all right, Danny?" Maddie pressed.
He waved a hand. "Hundred percent human," he said. "Chill out."
"It must have been Danny Phantom talking, Mother!" Jazz exclaimed, earning an annoyed look from Danny before he seemed to decide glaring at her was too much trouble.
"Yeah, whatever," he said, yawning again. "I'm going to bed." Without another word, he spun on his heel and marched out of the lab.
"Danny always does seem to be tired, doesn't he?" Maddie commented. "But after last night, I can't say I blame him. I just hope it'll be better now that I'm able to sort out this connection with Phantom." She turned to her daughter then. "Come on, Jazz. I can't excuse you from this, either."
"No, of course not, Mother!" Jazz said immediately, striding up. She stood very still, arms pinned to her sides, as Maddie picked up the Fenton Ghost Catcher again.
Maddie wasn't really sure what she had been expecting. It had been possible, of course, that Jazz had just been humouring Danny, but she'd simply thought that her daughter had unwittingly formed a connection with a ghost as well. She hadn't expected to expunge Phantom a second time.
Or had it been a second time? Likely not, she decided as Phantom again made himself scarce, phasing out through the ceiling before she could react. Though she'd only seen him do it once or twice, she knew Phantom was capable of duplication. That he had managed to hold it for so long, while overshadowing both her children, simply meant he was stronger than she'd anticipated.
The ecto-suppressant probably hadn't worked at all, at least not at the dosage she'd given him. She'd have to make note of that. She and Jack had been documenting Phantom's growth as a ghost since he'd first appeared, mainly because he appeared so regularly, but even though they'd been astounded by some of the gains in his abilities, she hadn't quite been expecting this.
Jazz picked the Fenton Ghost Catcher up off the floor, standing it upright. "I'm going to take this upstairs," she said, "in case we need it again. I mean, if Danny Phantom comes back…." She trailed off.
"You still think he's a good ghost, don't you?" Maddie asked, reading her daughter's expression.
Jazz nodded, biting her lip.
"Even after he overshadowed you."
"I think he was trying to throw you off," Jazz explained. "To make you think things were more serious than they actually are. I mean, you're right. He is…was…connected with Danny, in a way. But it wasn't as terrible as you thought it was, Mom. I think it might have done both Phantom and Danny good."
"I mean it," Jazz said. "And, really, you were thinking about it all too much. You've got to admit that. And Phantom might be a ghost, but he's still a teenager. I think he was trying to play a trick on you."
Jazz looked apologetic. "I don't think he knew quite the effect it would have. It's probably best if we just don't tell Dad. I mean, the idea that Danny could be part ghost is absolutely insane," Jazz added, though all of a sudden her voice was too bright, her smile too forced.
"Ludicrous," Maddie agreed. She was rather relieved to note that though her words lacked conviction, they seemed to satisfy Jazz.
Jazz hoisted the Fenton Ghost Catcher into her arms. "I'll just take this up to Danny's room," she added, "to remind Phantom not to play any pranks on us, okay?"
"Of course, honey."
Jazz disappeared up the stairs, but Maddie remained in the lab, trying to work out everything she'd learned.
Jazz's last words had seemed to confirm that Phantom and Danny were indeed connected, though Jazz was adamant that there was nothing to worry about. Of course, she knew they had to be connected somehow, even if the connection wasn't as significant as she'd begun to think. There was the matter of the Booo-merang, after all.
But Phantom…. How long had Phantom actually been overshadowing Danny? Since just the time in the park or from the time Danny had come home? She knew Phantom had had to have had something to do with Danny's reappearance so soon after she'd released him, but she couldn't be certain that he'd actually done anything harmful. For all she knew, he'd simply found Danny searching for him and returned him home.
But to assume that, Maddie knew, she'd have to admit that Phantom wasn't an evil ghost. Well, not a completely evil ghost. There were still a few occasions that would require some explaining, and she would want to learn the proper story of his connection with Danny. She wasn't quite sure she wanted to ask Danny himself now for fear that Phantom might, unbeknownst to her, overshadow Danny again without her realizing.
How could she have not noticed the fact that Danny, and then Jazz, had been overshadowed? They were her children, and she was a ghost hunter. She knew the signs. Why hadn't she seen them?
Maddie sighed. "I must be a terrible mother," she murmured. She ought to try to convince Jack that they should spend a little more quality time together as a family, with their children, rather than simply working in the lab whenever they had a free moment. Things might not have gotten this far if they'd done that.
She'd have to talk to Jack.
Tomorrow. Once she'd gotten some rest and could think clearly again. Because that's all she needed. Just a bit of rest, and this would all make sense….
Danny, who had just gotten to sleep despite the brightness of his room, didn't enjoy being prodded awake. "Go away," he mumbled.
"I can never go away," came the righteous-sounding response.
Danny groaned and rolled over. "We'll fix this tomorrow," he said, looking Phantom in the eye. "Just go fight ghosts or something. I'm tired."
"I, Danny Phantom, cannot allow—"
"Shut up," Danny growled. "Mom'll hear you. And if you keep that up, you won't sound any better than Technus or the Box Ghost." Phantom looked hurt by that remark, and Danny finally dragged himself into a sitting position. "Why can't you ever let me get some sleep?"
"Because we have a duty," Phantom insisted, though he made a clear effort to keep his voice down. He ignored Danny's smirk as he said 'duty', continuing, "A responsibility. We have to protect this town."
Danny groaned. It was too early…late…whatever…to be thinking about responsibilities. "Can't I just get one day off?"
Phantom crossed his arms. "You can't get a day off," he said simply, still hovering in front of Danny. "I can't do this without you. We need to work together. We learned that last time."
Danny yawned. "I guess it was fun," he said. "And I got to hit stuff." But he was so tired now, and he wouldn't get any sleep if he fused back with Phantom. Well, not enough, anyway, because a ghost was bound to show up, and his ghost sense would go off and wake him up, and then he'd have to fight the ghost….
Or he could leave Phantom to fend for himself for one more day while he got some sleep. That sounded really good right now, sleep….
"Danny Fenton!" Phantom snapped.
Danny opened his eyes quickly and blinked blearily at his separated ghost half. "Sorry," he muttered.
"I had to fix things, you know," Phantom said, with a trace of annoyance in his voice. "I overshadowed Jazz, let our mother think I orchestrated our confession."
Danny raised an eyebrow. "Where'd you learn a word like orchestrated? I don't remember knowing that word." He did, of course. He lived with Jazz, after all. But it wasn't something he thought he'd ever use.
"Can you focus?" Phantom asked. "We need to pull our act together to convince our mother that you're not half ghost!"
Danny shrugged. "She separated us with the Fenton Ghost Catcher. She'll just assume you overshadowed me. Problem solved. Now can I sleep?"
Phantom started muttering to himself, but Jazz came in at that moment. Her soft knock on the door gave Phantom time to flick invisible, though he turned visible again when he realized she was alone. She gave them a small smile as she set down the Fenton Ghost Catcher and stepped off to one side. "Merge side is facing you," she said.
Oh, yes. Jazz paid way more attention to their parents' inventions than he ever did. Even now, he rarely did more than figure out what to put on his 'must avoid' list. The Fenton Ghost Catcher was still on that list.
He should remember to add that ecto-suppressant, too.
Danny reluctantly got to his feet, hoping that he'd get lucky and would get at least an hour of sleep before a ghost showed up.
"Ready?" Phantom asked.
Danny yawned, then nodded. Phantom picked him up and flew through the Fenton Ghost Catcher. He tumbled out the other side, whole again and in human form. He looked back at Jazz. "Thanks," he said.
She smiled. "No problem, little brother. You just needed a little help pulling yourself together, that's all."
Danny rolled his eyes. "Joke's been used already, Jazz."
The smile turned into a smirk and she reached down to ruffle his hair before pulling him to his feet. "At least I didn't spend the last couple of minutes talking to myself."
"Shut up," Danny muttered.
"Who, me? Or are you talking to Phantom again?" Danny glared at her, and she laughed. "Try to get some sleep," she advised. "I'll study in the kitchen and keep an eye out for Mom. I think she's still a little shocked about everything, but your secret's probably safe. Overshadowing me was clever." She paused. "But if you do it again, I'll know it was you."
"And you'll, what, tell Mom and Dad?"
"I can always tell Mom that I think Phantom's up to something. That would keep you on your toes."
"Yeah, and she'd probably threaten to make me wear the Spectre Deflector again," Danny shot back.
Jazz's eyes widened. "She didn't."
"She did. Try to talk her out of it if she brings it up again?"
"Oh, Danny, of course I will."
"Thanks, Jazz." She might be annoying, but he really couldn't ask for a better sister. He was kind of lucky he wasn't an only child. If nothing else, he wasn't the only one his parents could embarrass.
And since Jazz knew, she covered for him. And she helped him out a lot. He probably wouldn't've been able to keep things up for this long if she hadn't helped him.
"That's what big sisters are for," Jazz said, giving him a hug. "Helping."
Maddie wasn't sure how long she'd stayed in the lab before realizing there was only one way for her to put this to rest. It wouldn't take long, but she had to do it. She just…. She had to know.
She moved slowly over to the computer panel, mindlessly keying in her access code. Given that they were aware of the existence of a ghost whose obsession was technology, she wasn't sure how secure their collected information truly was, but she'd agreed that it was necessary to protect their hard-earned information from someone who might misinterpret it. Or, as Jack had said, steal it. It had the same purpose as the Fenton Genetic Lock: sealing off the Ghost Portal, sealing off the database of their weaponry, sealing off their ghost records. It was meant to protect their information and, in the case of the sealed Fenton Portal, to protect the people of Amity Park.
She would admit that she'd come down a few times and realized that Jack had forgotten to close it, but he hadn't now. She punched in the appropriate information, and the doors to the Fenton Ghost Portal slid open.
And then she turned it off.
Maddie looked over to see the last echo of the neon green light dissipate, and she was faced again with the familiar hollow in the wall. She'd gotten to know it quite well when she and Jack had been planning and installing it. The months—years—they'd spent putting it all together…. She'd thought she knew every inch.
But she also knew her husband. It was entirely possible that Jack had decided to add his own little touch, changing the blueprints one last time and forgetting to tell her. It wouldn't be the first time he'd tweaked one of their inventions without telling her. He always meant well, but if he was excited about something, he tended to have a one-track mind, and that made him forgetful.
She loved him all the more for that, every little quirk that made her Jack the one and only Jack Fenton.
It didn't take Maddie long to unplug the Fenton Portal—it was best to be safe, after all—and track down a Fenton Flashlight. But she stood at the entrance for longer than necessary, staring in.
Even with all the lights on in the lab, it was dark in there. Only the first couple of feet had enough light to really avoid tripping on anything. She and Jack hadn't had much trouble when they'd been assembling it; they'd had a light source with them, usually, or had been able to discern things just fine with their Fenton Goggles.
Maddie swallowed, hearing Danny's voice in her head: "The 'on' button's inside."
Well, she'd just have to find that out for herself, now wouldn't she? The very notion was ridiculous, of course, even for Jack. She was certain that if he'd mentioned it, she would have said something. After all, she could easily have told him not to put such a thing on the inside of the portal. It wasn't any use to them there.
Maddie turned the Fenton Flashlight on and carefully walked inside. Everything was still working as well as the day they'd put it together. No signs of corrosion, no evident loose wires or bolts, and everything still in its place. She and Jack would have to power it down for maintenance later—she wasn't about to start anything so critical now when she knew she was desperately in need of rest—but she doubted it would take them too terribly long to ensure that everything was up and running as it should. It could all be done within a week, surely.
Maddie was about to admit that her little foray had been silly, a ridiculous notion she should have squashed the moment the idea had come into her head, when her flashlight beam fell on a small panel.
There it was. Two small buttons, one green, one red. Both bore clear labels: ON and OFF.
The 'on' button. The one she'd thought didn't exist, the one she'd thought they hadn't installed, opting instead for the computerized system connected to it with those cables, was on the inside of the portal.
On the inside of the….
And, unbidden, Danny's voice came to her mind once more, repeating his earlier words: "The 'on' button's inside."
And, impossibly, it was.
A/N: All right, now I'm done. *grins* This story had an astounding response, so I hope I didn't disappoint too many people. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to review, namely Fluehatraya, Song of the Skies, Pheek, Cloud9timeforEmu, seantriana, nycorrall, Kiomori, awsomaniatica, Star Atomu Saturday, ColorLikeWhoa, kittyhawk09, jazzmonkey, jeanette9a, Sincerely the Sign Painter, Elle Aitch, SwiftslashxLeafstorm, Oak Leaf Ninja, Aka-sama, KimiUzumaki, PhantomPhoenix4, Annabell99, A Perplexing Puzzle, JuneLuxray2, Turkeyhead987, Amazing Bluie, DizzlyPuzzled, VampireFrootloopsRule, MickeyNC, Writer's-BlockDP, Yue Hikari, YourFavoriteCONTRACTOR, Lady GryphonInia, MadHatterMCR, Call me Mad, double-oh-nothing, Invader Johnny, DarkShadowKun, Kigyptnee, jh831, emmyrad, Superbluestar428, Wingflyer, BeachCat, Aaron Leach, Timetrixter22, FanficFemale, Katy, dreamwritergoddess, Kj-mid, Mistress moon11 (my hundredth reviewer!), Chad's Shortstack, Chrizzie1, jordylilly777, Wilona Riva, ForeverHalfa, Teah no kitsune, Miyu Hinamori, NeverEnough15, ulimo, LuNa, and SongoftheDarquePhoenix.
Additional note: Optional continuation in Confessions. But I still like this as an ending, and I would still appreciate knowing what people thought of this particular story just as it is here.