A/N: All right, this follows my story Connections, and it is written for anyone who requested a sequel and/or didn't realize I'd actually marked Connections as 'complete'. The timeline follows D-Stabilized and completely ignores Phantom Planet, thereby going a bit AU, but that should be easy enough to figure out, given the title. Standard disclaimers apply. Enjoy!
It had been a week. Maddie wasn't sure what to do. Jazz hadn't brought the subject up again, and Danny certainly hadn't. And neither had she.
Because she wasn't sure how.
It had all been so simple. At first, anyway. She'd readily admit that she hadn't known what to think when she'd first seen Danny Phantom get hit by the Booo-merang, the tracking invention that had somehow keyed itself onto her son, Danny Fenton. But then the pieces had begun coming together. Phantom had formed a connection with Danny. Danny was contaminated by Phantom's ecto-signature. He'd been afraid that their love of science, their thirst for discovery, would override their concern for his safety, so he hadn't told them. He'd kept it a secret.
But the secret-keeping had come with other burdens. He tried to avoid them, to dissociate himself from their ghost-related family activities. Phantom had preyed on Danny's innocence, his gullibility, his naivety, his natural desire to help others but keep his head down at the same time, avoiding unnecessary attention.
And Phantom, she'd believed, had managed to gain Danny's friendship, to lull him into a false sense of reality. To make him believe things that were not true, could never be true. And if Phantom had asked something, enlisting Danny's help, Danny had complied, thinking he was helping a friend. If Phantom wanted to know about their latest inventions, Danny would tell him. If he needed the Ghost Portal open, or another Fenton Thermos, or even a warning that they were going to hunt for him, Danny would be able to help.
Danny had begun to depend upon Phantom's friendship. He'd skipped class to meet with him, snuck out at night, ignored his homework and his chores, his family and his friends, in favour of a ghost's company. She and Jack had made their own excuses for Danny's behaviour, and Jazz and Sam and Tucker had covered for him repeatedly, and they'd believed whatever excuse they'd been given. They hadn't wanted to see it.
She hadn't wanted to see it.
And now she couldn't ignore it.
Phantom was just supposed to have formed a connection with Danny. A strong one, granted, but only a connection nonetheless, something that could be broken. All connections could be broken. But this…. She wasn't so sure this could be, not anymore.
It wasn't just the assumption that Phantom had overshadowed Danny—overshadowed both her children, in fact—to make her believe the impossible. To make her question her son's sanity or the reliability of the years of science she had behind her. To make her question everything.
She could have ignored it, pushed it off as a cruel trick of Phantom's, if she hadn't uncovered a smidgeon of truth, something that, in one light, could be seen as a modicum of proof.
The 'on' button was on the inside of the portal.
The button that wasn't supposed to exist, to her knowledge, and very likely the thing that had ensured that the Fenton Ghost Portal had failed to activate when they'd first plugged it in, had had to have been turned on. She knew that.
She also remembered, all too clearly, what she and Jack had been told by Danny and his friends upon their return to the lab that day. The day the Ghost Portal had begun to work. The day of Danny's accident.
"…must've hit something…"
"…cords were twisted, might've been a bad connection…"
"…had to plug things back in, probably got 'em in differently or something…"
"…got a bit of a shock, but, really, Mom, it's nothing…"
"…not much more than a bit of static…"
"…doesn't need to go to the hospital, right, Danny?"
"…and, hey, look, it's working, so that's good, right?"
The garbled words of the chattering children swam in her mind as she thought of it. Sam's quick reassurances that Danny was fine and did not need to go to the hospital. Tucker's slightly nervous look, what she'd always chalked up to the mere mention of a hospital visit, as he steadily pointed out what might have gone wrong when they'd first tried activating the Fenton Portal and how Danny might have, in a fit of sheer dumb luck, been able to fix it. And Danny's own self-conscious smile as he half-heartedly recounted what had happened when he'd done the very thing they'd warned him against time and again—playing with their inventions, especially without supervision—and how he'd gotten lucky. How the consequences, this time, hadn't really had any effect.
They'd monitored him after that, of course, but aside from a few irregularities that became stable, Danny appeared to be perfectly fine. He was a bit jumpier, admittedly. A tad more clumsy than she'd remembered at first, but that had gone away. He'd gotten more sure-footed, more confident and even stealthy, as time had gone on.
And his unexplained absences, his obviously sleepless nights and lack of effort in school, had only gotten worse.
This wasn't just overshadowing. It wasn't just a simple connection, easily broken. Now, she wasn't even sure it was a complicated connection. It was….
"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 just an accident. I didn't even know this would happen. I didn't think this was even possible."
"I'm not a ghost, exactly. Just a half ghost."
"I'm Danny Phantom."
She knew of nothing to suggest that it was possible. And over the last week, she'd searched. Jack had even roused himself long enough from his contemplation of his latest invention, now nearly finished, to comment upon it. She'd given him a small smile and shrugged it off, making an off-handed remark about trying to figure out why their inventions had an affinity for Danny.
Jack had shrugged and reminded her of the reason they'd settled upon: too much contamination. Danny spent more time in the lab than Jazz, and he was the one whose responsibility it was to clean it while Jazz was busy with other chores and her thesis. And Danny, unlike either of them, flatly refused to wear a HAZMAT suit, claiming he didn't need to and didn't see the point of it. And now that they could probably get him to grudgingly agree that he should have worn one all along, it was too late. The contamination was at a low level, as far as they could determine, but he was contaminated with ectoplasm nonetheless. The accident wouldn't have helped matters.
She hadn't told Jack. Not a word of it. Not her suspicions, nor her conversations with Phantom, Danny, or Jazz. Not her decontamination of Danny and Jazz and the outcome, nor the lack of apparent effect it had had, given that Danny was still skipping classes and running late and not sleeping enough at night. And she hadn't pressed Danny to keep his promise, to tell Jack what was going on.
And she hadn't tried to catch her children out in a lie, either, terrified that if she did, it would shatter the last shard of what she believed to be true. What she clung to, even though she was aware now that it was all slipping through her fingers like water.
She could stop, she knew. Just as Jazz, Danny, and Phantom had urged her to do. She could let it go. Let it drop, if not forget about it completely.
But she…. She was close. Possibly looking at the answer and not seeing it. Refusing to see it. Scientists needed to keep open minds, she knew. How often had she said that and had Jazz argue that she wasn't? How many times had Jazz said that she and Jack were operating on assumptions rather than fact?
"You never even saw a ghost until after Danny got the Ghost Portal working! How can you know that they're all evil, that they don't feel pain or have emotions? Don't you even care that none of what you're doing is ethical? If you were doing this with anything besides ghosts, you could see it, but you can't, because you're dealing with ghosts. What makes them so different, Mom, from everything else?"
Jazz never was satisfied with any answer that Maddie gave her, and their argument on the subject was ongoing. It bubbled below the surface, creating fissures in their peaceful family life, ready to erupt if anything particularly big happened. And though Danny wasn't normally as vocal as Jazz, Maddie knew he felt exactly the same way. She just…. Now, she was terrified that she might know why.
She and Jack had never been able to extensively study Phantom. Not up close. They could just observe him from a distance. But she had to admit that he was a slight anomaly, a bit different from the other ghosts. At times. At other times, he was just like the rest of them.
"Do you trust Danny?"
Phantom had asked her that. Normally, in a heartbeat, she'd say yes. But now, she wasn't so sure she could. After this, well….
Danny hadn't trusted them because he thought they hadn't trusted him. And now that she had an inkling—perhaps more than that—of the reason why, she couldn't blame him. She wasn't sure she could trust him, either. And it broke her heart.
Perhaps Jazz was right. Perhaps she and Jack were too wrapped up in ghost hunting to be what they truly were: scientists. Perhaps she wasn't keeping as open a mind as she wanted to believe. Perhaps she was letting herself be blinded to the truth, letting herself be diverted along the wrong path by her assumptions, her misconceptions, her beliefs that weren't set in quite as much fact as she wanted to believe.
But if that were true, then…then all of this….
If her world was turned on its head, if what she thought was true wasn't and if what she thought was impossible was the truth, then Danny….
Danny and Phantom….
Her own son and that…that…ghost, that filthy piece of ectoplasmic scum, were….
"Mom, you don't get it, but I don't want you hounding me until you understand, okay?"
And that was the trouble. She hadn't stopped. She'd kept pushing. And now…. Now, she thought she might understand.
At least, she did until her logical mind reasserted herself, reminded her firmly to keep herself grounded in reality. But then she'd just think about that button, the one that shouldn't exist, the one that Jack had installed, for some inane reason, on the inside of the portal. The button that she was now all too sure that Danny had inadvertently pushed, activating their invention and getting a good deal more than a slight shock. The button that Phantom knew about. The one he couldn't know about, if he were merely a ghost from the Ghost Zone.
"Danny Phantom. Danny Fenton. Don't you get it? We're the same."
It wasn't possible. It just wasn't possible. A human could not be a ghost, and a ghost could not be a human.
"You're making assumptions again, Mom! Why can't you ever just contemplate the possibility that what you think is true is wrong? Danny Phantom's done a lot of good for this town. He's not the same as other ghosts, and if you'd let yourself see it, you would. But you don't." A quiet huff, accompanied by Jazz's sharp, intelligent glare. "Just look at my scrapbook sometime. Try to see it the way I see it. Better yet, try to see it the way someone who didn't know anything about ghosts would see it. Don't just judge Phantom on the basis that he's a ghost. What you find might just surprise you."
What she found surprised her very much indeed, if she even entertained the possibility that the impossible could be true. The science behind it would be phenomenal, based off obscure hypotheses that had hardly a shred of evidence for support.
And yet, some small part of her refused to ignore it for any longer. There were just too many coincidences. Too many things Phantom knew, that Danny knew, that they shouldn't. Too many excuses that lacked any ring of truth. Too many lies once she listened for them.
She wasn't sure she could broach the subject with Danny, not yet. After a few wary glances the first few days, he'd fallen back into his usual routine. Jazz had kept a watchful eye out for longer, but she, too, had begun to relax. Maddie had acted her part well. No one had noticed that anything was off.
Jazz knew the truth of it all. Maddie had no doubt about that. Whatever it was, Jazz knew. Even if Danny hadn't told her, Jazz paid enough attention to figure it out. She was…. She paid more attention to him than she or Jack, Maddie knew. And she hated to admit it, to acknowledge how much she'd ignored her children, how much she'd let herself get carried away by her work and the joy she found in it.
Why had it taken this for her to notice something was going on? Why did she and Jack let themselves be lulled into a false sense of security by their own children, never rousing until someone was in danger? Why didn't they push for the truth when the excuses they heard didn't sound quite right, when things had escalated to the point that they were getting calls from Danny's teacher, Mr. Lancer? Why had they let themselves be talked into believing that it was just a phase, that it would pass, that things would sort themselves out, that it wasn't as bad as it looked?
"Hi, Mrs. Fenton! Long day at school. Danny fell asleep. We'll just take him up to his room…."
"Danny just, uh, tripped over a, um, rock. Yeah. That's it. A rock. He'll be fine, Mrs. F. Don't worry. No need to get up; we know the way…."
Even Sam and Tucker knew. Anyone Danny was close to knew. Just not them.
Perhaps the reason Danny hadn't told them wasn't because he didn't trust them, that he wasn't sure that they loved him, but because he was afraid of how they would react. That they would reject him. That they…wouldn't believe him….
That they'd find any other excuse to take the place of the truth because the truth, as it was, would leave a sour taste in their mouths.
Perhaps, if what was going on really was what she…what Danny had…. Maybe, if it was, Danny might even think that it was best this way. That it…protected them. Kept them safe. That ignorance truly was bliss.
What had she put her son through?
Maddie started, snapping her head to the doorway of the kitchen. She was sitting at the table, and Jazz was standing opposite her, holding a handful of papers and biting her lip.
"I was thinking that maybe I shouldn't just, you know, rule out any of the universities close to home. I don't have to go to Harvard or Yale or—"
"Jazz, honey," Maddie said, "you know we'll be happy with wherever you choose to go, no matter how far away it is. We'll miss you, but we'll be able to visit you."
"I know, Mom. I just don't want to rule anything out before I've really looked at it. I've gotten acceptance letters from a few nearby universities and colleges, and I was wondering if maybe you'd, well, mind coming on a few tours with me this weekend? For advice?"
Maddie smiled. "Of course not, sweetie. I'd love to take you."
Jazz gave her a relieved smile. "Thanks, Mom," she said, coming over for a quick hug before disappearing again.
This would work out well, Maddie thought. She could bring the subject up when she was talking to Jazz. She could judge her reaction and then figure out if she needed to take a different tack with Danny. And Danny…. It would do Danny good to spend some more time with Jack.
Besides, Jack needed to know. She wasn't sure whether she knew, really, but Jack needed to know, too. She'd told Danny as much, and she'd promised him that she'd let him tell Jack himself. She meant to keep that promise. She'd broken too many to her son already.