Danny tugged experimentally at the handcuffs, but he already knew it was no use. They were too tight to wriggle out of, and he couldn't even turn the cabinet that he was chained to intangible to give himself a bit more freedom. Well, he could, except that it would require a lot of explaining and accomplish nothing, since he'd still be chained to the stupid thing, given the nature of the handcuffs. As it was, he couldn't even run if it came down to it.
He should've figured it would come to this, though. It's just…. He hadn't ever thought his dad would poke around at things like this. That was his mom's job. Jack Fenton was the inventor, not the fine tuner.
His mom had probably said something to him. "Try to spend some quality time with Danny." Or maybe, "Do something you'll both enjoy." Even, "Why not figure out why everything we invent tries to kill our son? I'm sure Danny would appreciate that."
His parents loved him. He knew that. But at this rate, if they kept trying to protect him, he would wind up dead.
But things were different if Jazz was right. And she probably was. It was Jazz, after all. He could count the times he remembered her being wrong on one hand. So, Maddie knew. But since she hadn't told Jack, and Jazz hadn't warned him about anything, Danny figured she must have accepted it. That she wasn't going to shoot him immediately. She might have even forgiven him for keeping it a secret.
But if his mom knew, then it wouldn't be long before his dad found out, either. Danny wasn't sure of the best approach to that. Jack had a trigger-happy instinct. Even if he didn't mean to do it, Danny wasn't so sure he'd escape getting shot at. But then again, his dad might be more…. Well, accepting wasn't the right word, not when it came to ghosts. Amiable wasn't quite right, either. It was more…. Open. That was it, or at least, that was as close as Danny could get without having Jazz's vocabulary.
His parents both knew the general rules of ghost hunting, the lore that was accepted and the lore that was not. They could separate fact from fiction, or at least what they figured was fact from what they figured was fiction, though Danny knew very well that their idea of fact didn't always come close to the truth. But they knew the science behind it, the literature and the studies and everything, and they'd contributed to it.
But if he was going to tell them something that completely ignored everything they knew, his dad would probably believe him first.
Well, since it had taken his mother a week, that probably wasn't that far of a stretch. But his dad didn't rely on logic as much as his mom did. Jack probably wouldn't be able to invent so many crazy things if he did. Thinking something was impossible was less likely to stop Jack Fenton from trying it.
Besides, if Maddie didn't tell Jack what she'd found out, she'd make him do it. She'd said as much last week before she'd realized exactly what the situation was. That's what she'd told him, after all, when he'd asked her not to tell his dad. "I'll let you tell him yourself, then, all right?" That's what she'd told Jazz. "Your father has to know, too." No doubt she'd told herself the same thing, once she'd realized the truth.
He'd rather do it himself anyway. At least, he would if it weren't for the fact that he was currently trapped. Right now? Playing clueless seemed like the safest option.
But if it came to it, he might not have a choice.
Well, not a pleasant choice. Just the sort of choice he'd had when he'd told his mother. If he didn't tell, something he didn't want to happen would. Something that was bad for him. Something worse than just confessing. Getting hunted down by Maddie and unable to hide, for instance, or getting shot at repeatedly by Jack in a situation where he wouldn't miss.
But the time for keeping secrets, Danny suspected, was running short. And this time, there wouldn't be any more quick fixes. No erased memories or aborted timelines. No do-overs or second chances. This revelation would stick.
Danny groaned. He hoped he hadn't blown it already, with the way he'd ended up telling his mother. The fact that he had yet to see the dissection tools unearthed was a good sign.
But the fact that his dad was at the computer screen, his large bulk completely blocking the screen unless Danny stretched far out to one side, wasn't. His dad hardly ever went on the computer. That usually was what his mother did, though he probably used it more than anyone else in the house. To see Jack so diligently bent over the keyboard, staring at the screen….
He couldn't wait until Jazz got home.
Jack Fenton really didn't want to do this. He didn't want to know. But he had to do something. It wasn't like he could ignore it any longer.
Not that he'd actually realized it until he'd seen Danny with the Fenton Ghost Catcher. Before that, Danny—or whatever ghost was in him—had fooled him. That was a terrible thing to admit to himself, knowing that he, Jack Fenton, had been played for a fool by a filthy, good-for-nothing ghost when he was one of the best ghost hunters in the country. But for all his protectiveness, he'd never expected that, if a ghost was going to pull something like this, it would actually work.
He'd always thought he'd know the moment one of his family was overshadowed.
But he couldn't deny what he'd seen with his own eyes. When Danny had knocked the Ghost Catcher and accidentally shoved one hand through the ring, Jack hadn't seen a haze come off him like he would have expected, had Danny's contamination been more concentrated in that area of his body. No, he'd seen, undeniably, a hand and an arm, nothing more than a ghostly outline but undeniable nonetheless, separate from Danny's own flesh-and-blood limb.
That much ectoplasm wasn't just contamination.
"Uh, Dad?" It was still Danny's voice, the same tremors that Jack would expect from his son, the same note of uncertainty that he heard all too often in his son's voice. Only this time, it was tied to a note of fear. "What are you doing?"
He probably shouldn't answer. It was just a ghost, after all. It was using Danny as a mouthpiece. Danny was probably trying to fight it off—he might even have been the one to ensure the 'accident' with the Fenton Ghost Catcher—but Jack knew how hard it could be to throw off a ghost when it managed to overshadow you. For many people, it was nigh on impossible.
"Just checking something on the computer, son," Jack finally replied.
It wouldn't take long to get a match, providing the ghost was one they had on file. And if it was a ghost that had ever come through Amity Park before (and they'd noticed), they would have it on file. The ecto-signatures he had for any of the ghosts capable of overshadowing wouldn't be as accurate as for those they'd actually captured, since getting an ecto-signature reading off a residual trace meant there was always some degree of breakdown before the ecto-signature was recorded, but they ought to have enough traces in the system to pinpoint partial matches. Likely suspects, if not the culprit.
It had been Maddie's idea, after he'd come up with the Booo-merang. They'd need something, she'd said, to program their weapons with. Keeping a database on file was faster than trying to get a reading in battle, loading and priming the weapon, and then firing. It would make his targeting missiles, once he made them, that much more effective.
"Maybe you should do it after lunch?" Danny suggested. "I mean, I'm hungry. It's got to be getting late, isn't it? Two bites of cereal doesn't count as breakfast, Dad."
"This won't take me very long, Danny-boy."
He'd called Danny that since, well, since Maddie had sung it to lull him to sleep, night after night. She was the Irish one, not him, but he'd, well…. Danny had been special, to him. A different sort of special than Jazz. Maybe because, when Danny got older, he'd always shown a bit more interest in ghost hunting—and ghosts in general—than Jazz. Danny hadn't ever developed the need to see something to believe it, not like Jazz had.
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.
The computer beeped when it found the match. There was only one: Danny Phantom.
He should've guessed.
"Just a minute, Danny. I need to find something."
No wonder he hadn't wanted to 'test' the Fenton Xtractor. No wonder he'd said it wasn't necessary to try the Fenton Weasel, saying it was essentially the same. No wonder the Ghost Gabber still repeated everything he said. No wonder he'd suggested making their weapons blind to his ecto-signature.
Only Jack hadn't used Phantom's ecto-signature. He'd taken the reading from the Booo-merang. From the day he'd invented it and brought it up from the lab to show the kids, it had locked on to Danny and Danny alone.
Something wasn't right.
"Dad?" Movement behind him. Danny was straining as far as the handcuffs allowed. Trying to see what he was looking at, no doubt. "Oh, crud."
The game was up, then. The cat was out of the bag. Jack turned to face his son—or rather, the ghost that had overtaken his son—and Danny hastily backed away.
Jack's eye fell on the Ghost Gloves and on the Fenton Weasel, both in the pile of weapons he hadn't tried yet today, and remembered the last time he'd used the two of them. Phantom had helped save his family, then. The Fenton Ghost Portal had been threatening to overload, and that evil Wisconsin Ghost—Vlad Plasmius, Jack remembered—had tried to kill his family and steal his portal.
He hadn't succeeded, Jack had to admit, because Danny Phantom had helped him out of a tight spot in exchange for his own freedom. And then Jack had been able to show the Wisconsin Ghost exactly what he thought of people who threatened his family.
But one good deed couldn't make up for all the bad things Phantom had done or how much damage he'd caused this town.
"Uh, Dad, there's, um, something I should probably tell you," Danny said. "Could you just, um, listen for a minute? Before trying to kill me?"
Phantom was trapped in Danny as long as Jack kept the cuffs on him. But now that Phantom knew he knew that Danny was being overshadowed, Jack couldn't imagine why he'd keep up the pretence of calling him 'Dad'.
But, as far as Jack knew, Phantom hadn't hurt Danny. So, he'd listen. For the moment.
"There isn't anything you can tell me, ghost, that'll make me go easy on you," Jack said simply.
Danny cringed. "Noted. But, uh, Dad? You know how Mom's been acting kind of, well, withdrawn this week? Preoccupied? Sort of?"
Jack's eyes narrowed. "Maddie's been doing research," he said.
"That's my fault," Danny said. "It's because I told her. I mean, I thought she'd given it up, but Jazz phoned me yesterday, and apparently she hadn't."
Jack sighed. "I know you're not Danny, Phantom. Stop pretending you are."
"I'm not pretending, Dad. I'm your son."
"You're in my son."
Danny opened his mouth, closed it, and looked at the floor. After a beat, he continued, saying, "What did Mom tell you about last weekend?"
"That's none of your business, Phantom."
Danny looked back up. "Dad, it's still me. I'm Danny Phantom, all right? He's not overshadowing me. He is me. I am him. Whatever. We're the same, because it's just me. I'm half ghost."
Jack stared at him.
"Before you say it's not, it is possible. You know when you built the Fenton Portal? You put the 'on' button inside. And you didn't turn it on before you plugged it in."
"That's why it didn't work." Jack murmured. He didn't know why he was listening. It was nonsense. It was…impossible. Just because Phantom somehow knew about the 'on' button inside the Ghost Portal, it didn't mean everything else he was saying was true.
Danny nodded eagerly. "Yeah. My problem was that I didn't unplug it before I turned it on. That's what happened when I had my accident, Dad. I got shocked, and, well, Jazz thinks it mutated my DNA or something. But I'm half ghost."
Jazz? Why did Phantom have to bring her into this conversation? It was bad enough he claimed that he'd fed this story to Maddie.
And that Maddie had heard enough of a ring of truth in the tale that she'd actually researched it.
He got the feeling that he didn't know the whole story.
"Why are you telling me this?" Jack demanded.
Danny rubbed the back of his neck, a sign that Jack had seen often from his son. He was still nervous, unsure of himself. "Because I have to," he said. "I've kept it a secret for too long. I should have told you in the beginning when I'd meant to." He paused. "And because, well, Jazz said Mom has probably figured it out. I mean, I told her last weekend. I had to. She wasn't going to stop going after me. But she didn't believe me because I couldn't offer her any proof. You know how Mom is, Dad. Jazz has to get it from somewhere, right? But I told her, and it just took a while for it to sink in. For her to accept it. But I think she gets it now. And you…. You can't be the only one not to know, Dad, and I don't want you to find out the hard way. Finding out this way is bad enough."
Jack still didn't move. And as much as he usually had to say, he found himself struck speechless.
Danny gave him a weak grin. Probably happy that he hadn't pulled any weapons on him yet, considering they weren't exactly in short supply. "Um…." He raised his arms as high as the cuffs would allow. "Goin' ghost?"
It came out uncertain, like a question. But that made it no less effective, whatever it was. A bright ring of light appeared around Danny's waist. As Jack watched, it split into two, quickly sweeping up and down over his body. When they faded, dissolving into the bright aura that surrounded the body, Jack found himself facing Danny Phantom.
He remembered all the times he'd thought Danny was a ghost and all the times Maddie had sighed, responding with an exasperated, "Jack, Danny's not a ghost." He remembered the first time he'd turned the Ghost Gabber on and how its translation of Danny's speech then had been no different than it had been earlier today: "I am a ghost. Fear me." He remembered the Fenton Finder, blithely saying that he must be some sort of moron to not notice the ghost directly ahead whenever he found himself face to face with Danny.
That Wisconsin Ghost was right after all. He was an idiot.
He started to laugh.
All those times he'd been presented with evidence, and he'd ignored it. Chalked it up to coincidences. Hadn't considered the truth.
Well, the truth hadn't actually crossed his mind, especially if this was it, but still. He'd never heard of anything like this. That didn't mean it was impossible, but to think, getting hit with that much ectoplasm and energy at once….
Couldn't've been much different than what had happened to Vladdy back in college, though Vlad didn't seem to come out of it with any ill effects except that hideous ecto-acne that they'd finally managed to cure. If this was an ill effect. Jack couldn't be sure. Danny kept trying to duck doctors and avoid appointments with an ease that had suggested he'd taken a page out of Tucker's book, but now Jack knew why.
"Hey, Dad, I, uh, get that this is a lot to take in, but, um, you do believe me, right? Because this isn't a trick, and I'm not nuts, and you're not nuts, and, well, if you don't believe me, maybe phone Jazz? Or call Sam and Tuck over? They can vouch for me. They were here the day of the accident, remember?"
The ghost boy. Inviso-Bill. The ghost kid.
His son, Danny Fenton.
Another flash of light, and when Jack was able to focus again, he was looking into Danny's worried blue eyes. "Dad, are you okay?"
His son, Danny Phantom.
They'd had a ghost living under their own roof, and they hadn't even noticed. Some ghost hunters they were.
Poor Danny. No wonder he hadn't wanted to tell them. They'd probably scared him out of his wits. He'd probably scared him out of his wits.
But the very idea….
"I'm fine, son," Jack finally managed.
"You do get that it's me, right? Entirely me? Only me?"
"I get it, Danny-boy," Jack said, smiling. "I get it." Even if he didn't entirely understand it—well, even if he didn't understand any of it—he got it.
"So you're not going to shoot me, right?"
Poor kid. This past year can't have been easy for him. "I'm not going to shoot you, Danny," he assured him as he pulled the key to the handcuffs from his pocket. Danny, who had tensed, relaxed when he saw the key. "But you have a lot of explaining to do."
"Jack?" Maddie called. "Danny?" She and Jazz had just gotten home, and from the looks Jazz was giving her, Maddie knew they were going to have to have a family talk now. It was better to squash her irrelevant fears of facing her son that had grown out of guilt than to sit through another lecture from her daughter and a week of silent glares if she put it off.
"They'll be here, or at least, Dad is," Jazz said. "The Assault Vehicle's still here." In a louder voice than Maddie's, she called, "Dad? Danny?"
"In the lab!" came Jack's answering shout.
Jazz paled and took off running. Maddie followed, knowing Jazz was thinking the worst and unable to offer her any comfort otherwise. Jack could be overzealous when it came to his work, she knew. She was, too, though not quite to the same extent.
The sight that met her eyes when she reached the bottom of the stairs didn't comfort her. Weapons were scattered everywhere. Green goo—ectoplasm samples, perhaps, or maybe the anti-ghost goo from the Fenton Foamer; she couldn't tell—coated part of the floor. She couldn't see Danny.
And then Jazz, who was a few feet ahead of her, shrieked.
Maddie's heart skipped a beat.
And then she heard Danny's unmistakable laugh, Jack's chuckle, and Jazz's angry but relieved exclamation: "Danny!"
"You scared me half to death," Jazz chided as she continued. "You have no idea what I was thinking when I saw that!"
Maddie moved closer to join them, and she caught sight of white hair and green eyes that were joined by a grin that was all too familiar to her. "I knew exactly what you were thinking," came the response. "That's why I did it." The eyes swivelled to her, noted how she was staring at his face and the slick green that covered the front of his suit, the sight that had so terrified Jazz, and the cheerful expression dropped. "Uh, hi, Mom."
It had been a week, and the idea still took some getting used to.
For her, anyway. How long had Jack known? He certainly didn't look surprised, and she'd gotten the impression that neither of them had known.
She forced a smile onto her face anyway. "Hi, Danny," she said. And when she reached out to ruffle his hair and he let her, the smile on her face relaxed and stayed there.
It was Jazz who cleared her throat and looked pointedly between Danny and Jack. "When did you tell Dad?"
Danny glanced at his father. "Um, about an hour ago?"
"An hour?" Maddie couldn't stop the words from coming out of her mouth. "You didn't…. It didn't cross your mind to…?"
"I knew I had to tell him, Mom," Danny said. "Jazz told me last night that she figured you had figured it out, so I knew I couldn't keep this up. I would've waited until you got home, but, uh, Dad realized that whatever was wrong with me was a little more than just a little background contamination or whatever."
"He stuck his arm through the Fenton Ghost Catcher," Jack added.
Maddie could fill in the blanks from there. Jack had noticed that the ectoplasm in Danny's body was concentrated to the point that it had form. But now she felt terribly ashamed. Danny must think she'd overreacted, the way she'd taken the news. She hadn't believed him. Jack had. And if she were to judge by the bits of netting and burnt scraps of paper—along with the partial slab of fudge between them—she'd guess they'd been discussing it. And, in Danny's case, demonstrating some of what he could do.
"I'm sorry, Danny," Maddie said. "I should have believed you."
Danny gave her a hug. "It's okay, Mom. I told Dad more than I told you, and I could show him. I was actually kind of relieved that you didn't believe me at first. I mean, I'd thought I could get away with it."
"But you must have been disappointed, too," Maddie said quietly, keeping an arm around him. "When you told me the truth and I refused to believe it."
"That's the way you are, Mom," Danny said. "You're just like Jazz."
Danny grinned at his sister. "You can't deny it. You didn't believe in ghosts until they showed up, either."
Jazz frowned and crossed her arms but didn't argue.
Jack pulled her into a fierce hug and she gave a squawk of surprise before hugging him back. "Cheer up, Jazzerincess," he said when he'd released her. "It's the one time I've been right and you've been wrong! That might never happen again."
"May not," Maddie agreed, remembering how astute her eldest had been even over the past weekend.
The lab was a mess, but it didn't matter. They were a family, they were together, and they were happy. There weren't any secrets between them anymore.
Although Danny had a lot of explaining to do.
"You're going to let Danny continue doing what he's doing, right?" Jazz said after a moment. "Because he's doing the right thing?"
"He's risking his life," Maddie protested immediately.
Jack put a hand on her arm. "He's been doing it for a long time, Mads."
As if Jack's words had been the cue, Jazz's voice played in Maddie's head, repeating what she'd said last week: "Danny can take care of himself. He's been doing it for a while now."
"I've got to do this, Mom," Danny said. "It's my fault the town's in danger, anyway. I kind of, uh, accidentally showed the ghosts where our portal is." There was more to it than that, Maddie knew. Danny hadn't said it all, or at least, he hadn't said the main reason. He was still keeping things back from her. Things he knew she didn't want to hear.
But she'd watched enough of Phantom's fights to have a terrible feeling that she knew at least one of the other reasons.
"And there'll just be questions and speculation if Danny Phantom stops protecting the town or disappears altogether," Jazz pointed out.
"Wouldn't there be just as much if we stop hunting him without explanation?" Maddie asked. She hated the thought of even having to keep up the pretence, but if Danny had so fiercely protected this secret from everyone—from them—she didn't want to endanger it.
Jazz shrugged. "Next time something big comes up, take the truce when Danny offers it. The Red Huntress has before. And just don't call it off. Keep working with him. Pretend it's on a temporary basis, a trial if you like, but if people see you working together, they'll be more accepting of it." Jazz put a comforting hand on Danny's shoulder and added, "Besides, collaborating with Danny Phantom will give you an instant insight into almost every ghost that you've seen in Amity Park. Danny keeps his own files."
"Face it, Mom," Danny added. "If you guys didn't figure it out, who else is going to?"
"I can think of someone," Jazz muttered, and Danny elbowed her.
Maddie raised her eyebrows. "This isn't going to be the end of the secrets between us, is it?" It wasn't a realization she liked, but her children's actions had just confirmed it.
Danny gave her a rueful smile. "I can't tell you everyone else's secrets."
Jazz shot Danny a surprised look. "You mean that? You're not even going to tell them about…?"
Jazz trailed off, but Danny seemed to know what she was getting at. He nodded. "Not yet."
"One thing at a time, huh?"
"Hold on," Maddie said. "How much are we missing here, exactly? I thought…. Danny, your secret, it's…. I just get used to the idea, and now you're as good as telling me that it's just the tip of the iceberg?"
"It's been a year, Mom," Danny reminded her.
"And a secret like that snowballs," Jazz added. "Danny hasn't told me everything, either. I'm not even convinced he's told Sam and Tucker everything, even though I keep telling him he has to tell someone."
"Baby steps, Maddie," Jack said. "It took me almost an hour to get the story of last weekend out of Danny. It'll be a while before they tell us everything."
Maddie pursed her lips, remembering the mess of the lab and what else she suspected had gone on in that hour. She glanced at Danny, finally asking, "Even if we are ready to hear it?"
"He has to be ready to tell it," Jazz reminded her.
"We can make this work, Mom," Danny said. "Please. Just give me a chance. I can handle this, okay? I've managed it with Sam and Tucker and Jazz. If you guys pitch in and help, too, you won't need to worry."
"I help him a bit," Jazz had told her, "but Danny's strong and sensible, and he's handled things wonderfully. I would have thought you'd be proud."
She was proud, now that she understood.
She was also terrified.
And a glance at Jack's face told her that the decision lay with her, for all that he was the patriarch. He'd support her in whatever she chose. But if he was the one making the decisions, she suspected he'd side with Danny without hesitation.
This meant, after all, that Danny had an active interest in ghost hunting. For all that he had taken his own path, for all that he was…half ghost, he was still following his father's footsteps. And Jack knew that. He couldn't be happier.
She'd promised herself, back when Jazz had been born, that she would let her children take their own path. She'd known Jack would be encouraging them to take up ghost hunting enough for the both of them, though she suspected she'd done more encouraging of her own than she liked to admit. When Jazz had taken an interest in psychology, and Danny an interest in astronomy, she hadn't stifled it. She'd encouraged it as best she could.
After all, she was only where she was now because she'd been allowed to create her own path, to beat out her own unique track. Alicia had been given the same opportunity by their parents. They'd both taken vastly different trails, ending up in different lives, and they both enjoyed them to the fullest. It had meant making mistakes, overcoming setbacks and celebrating small successes. It had meant, at times, facing ridicule. It had meant taking risks.
She couldn't very well deny Danny the same opportunity she'd had.
She smiled at him, recognizing all the features of her son that she'd never allowed herself to see in the ghost who had been her hated enemy, Danny Phantom. "Yes," she agreed softly. "We can make this work."
A/N: Et c'est fini. There you have it, folks. What may have happened after the end of Connections, complete with the undeniable revelation that Danny Fenton is Danny Phantom on the part of both Fenton parents. And if you're wondering why Dani's ecto-signature never came up, well, I'm not sure that the Fentons are even aware of her existence, so we'll just say she's not on file.
Thanks to everyone who has followed this story and especially to those who have taken the time to review, namely Fluehatraya, Song of the Skies, Sulky Shadow, Amazing Bluie, NeverEnough15, ulimo, DizzlyPuzzled, Pheek, HalfafanD, MsFrizzle, Turkeyhead987, TheL3monTart, jeanette9a, Invader Johnny, hopeistheway, seantriana, luvdannyphantom, DragonAce1999, Baracudaz, fairyana, Pandombie, lion799, TheOneWhoStillBelieves, BeachCat, ChopSuzi, Fan, and LuNa.