Hans Rotwood was not in a very good mood when he was discharged from the hospital. Oh, he knew he was lucky to be in there, and he knew it was his own foolishness that had landed him there, but he wasn't happy about it. The scratches would heal and the bruises would fade, but his sprained right wrist meant he wouldn't be able to do much in terms of capturing, studying, and exposing magical creatures to the outside world anytime soon. His just dessert, certainly, for his overzealousness and rash act. But it was a bitter pill to swallow.
Jake Long had won again.
Him and that Danny Phantom, anyway. Rotwood was certain the phantom had not yet left the city. If he had, he had not yet returned to the ghost dimension. He'd spent far more than the past few weeks studying natural portals between here and there, and the phantom had been a young ghost. Inexperienced. Prone to mistakes, undoubtedly, and the same cockiness that Mr. Long carried. Not a knowledgeable ghost when in it came to tracking down and passing through unpredictable openings between the worlds.
His lesson had been learned, of course. He wouldn't be opening Pandora's Box again—even if he did happen upon the real one, which was rumoured to have surfaced in New York not too long ago but upon which he had yet to lay eyes. But he was not a man to give in easily, and that is why he still intended to attend the Paranormal Studies Convention and meet with the Fentons in person to inspect their inventory.
He realized now that he'd left behind the one thing which may have saved him this embarrassment: the net gun they'd sent along for the very purpose of easing the capture (and recapture) of ghosts. There was little he could do about that now, for what's done is done, but he still held out hope that, with the right equipment, he may yet be able to capture a ghost.
A quick search after the cab ride home revealed that all his equipment—including the cameras with which he'd filmed everything—was missing. There was a chance that they were in the park, but he figured it was far more likely that Mr. Long already had possession of them. He highly doubted that the escape of Shackles Jack and his gang would go unnoticed by the American Dragon.
He washed up, changed his clothes, pulled out a spare monocle to replace his broken one, and set off for the park. The walk would give him time to clear his head, to plan what to do as well as he could. He would pick up his car and head off again to the one electronics shop in Chinatown which always seemed to be devoid of customers, and then he'd barter, if he had to, to regain what was rightfully his.
If he was lucky, perhaps they had not collected all the cameras in the park, or perhaps they had not checked the ones they had gathered, realized that it held his treasured evidence, and set about destroying what he'd risked so much to get. If he was lucky, perhaps they were preoccupied with the unfortunate escape of the ghosts. If he was lucky….
He had not been lucky in a very long time, at least not when it came to anything remotely involving Jake Long, and he was careful not to get his hopes up this time. But he meant to look all the same. One time, Jake would slip. One time, he would get what he needed. One time, his actions would be undetected and all his hard work, all his persistence despite all his failures, would pay off.
It wasn't long after Danny had dropped Haley off at her school that his ghost sense had gone off. He'd been flying through a residential area, above the rooftops but still in plain sight if anyone ever looked up. Given the rarity of that, he hadn't bothered to go invisible. It wasn't worth the energy.
Besides, from what he understood, Shackles Jack was the leader. And not a leader like Dash was for the rest of the football team back at Casper High, but someone who was both intimidating and smart. He didn't need to come into a fight with any less strength than the little flying took.
Of course, it might not be much of a fight. As the first ghost—Solitary Sam—had taunted, this was more binding than overshadowing. He couldn't just force the ghost out. But at the same time, as he'd also learned when dealing with Sam, the ghosts were restricted by their human hosts. They couldn't use their powers. No flying. No invisibility. No ectoblasts or wails or what have you. All they had was possession. That was, essentially, their vulnerability.
They could overtake people, but then they were restricted by human limitations.
Danny grimaced. The knock Jonathan Long had taken had been a mistake, but it had shown him something, at least. If Shackles Jack had already possessed some poor guy, then Danny needed to fight him as if he were human.
Considering it wasn't like dealing with Freakshow, that was…harder.
Danny slowed and hovered for a moment, listening, trying to figure out which house the ghost was likely to be in. He could go looking, yes, but this wasn't Amity Park. People weren't exactly aware that a ghost might drift (or be punched) through their walls at any given moment. They wouldn't act accordingly.
A streak of red caught his attention, though, and he saw Jake Long land in a nearby alleyway. A moment later, a very human Jake was running across the street and up to the door of one of the buildings. Danny landed behind him as Jake raised his hand to ring the doorbell. "There's an easier way to do this, you know."
Jake jumped. "Man, don't do that!"
"What, did I scare you? Kind of the point." Danny allowed himself a quick grin before returning to the business at hand. "My ghost sense went off. I'm guessing that means Shackles Jack is around."
"Yeah, I figured as much. This is Brad's house."
Danny raised an eyebrow. "Brad as in the school bully you pointed out to me?"
Jake nodded. "Brad was there at Camp Mugwomp, where all this started. He was the head of Cabin 6. The ones who won the cup. The ones the ghosts were going to possess in the first place."
Great. A ghost with an agenda. He should've figured. Danny grabbed Jake's arm. "Easier way to do this, like I said."
Danny turned them intangible and was pulling Jake into Brad's house when he heard, "The Mortons have a security system! Brad's dad's a policeman."
Danny gave Jake another grin as he dropped their intangibility. He did, however, drop his voice to a whisper—just in case. "So long as it's not the FentonWorks Anti-Creep Mode, I'm fine. Besides, Brad's still here if Shackles Jack is. The security system might not even be on."
It was more by instinct than anything else that ended their conversation after that. Danny had no idea what they'd find, and, frankly, he doubted Jake did, either. But he somehow doubted either of them had ever expected to see Mr. Morton standing over his unconscious son, laughing with a voice that—surely—was not quite his own.
The timing of Danny's moan of "Oh, crud." matched Jake's faint exclamation— "Aw, man."—perfectly.
"Jazz, sweetie, wake your brother up."
Jazz groaned, pulling off the Fenton Mask before straightening up and opening her eyes. "What time is it?" she asked blearily.
"Back home or local time?"
Danny was the one notoriously bad at math, but Jazz had been up more than half the night expecting her phone to go off—hence the lack of Fenton Plugs—and she wasn't quite awake. She never had the best sleep in the Assault Vehicle. "Local, I guess."
"Just after 9:30."
Fully awake now, Jazz craned her neck to look out the window. "Where are we?" She could see no telltale signs from here. It was a city. She could tell that much. She just had no idea which one.
Jazz caught sight of her mother's wry smile from the passenger seat before, "Your father decided he'd had enough sleep and switched me off at four this morning."
Jazz raised her eyebrows and did a quick, rough calculation in her head. "Are we here?" she asked incredulously, turning to peer at the skyscrapers again.
"Only the very outskirts," Maddie informed her. "It'll still be a while before we get settled in. We'll probably head straight to the convention grounds if that's all right with you and Danny, honey. We can eat something for brunch then."
"It's fine," Jazz said immediately. She glanced over at the Tuck-bot 9000, knowing she'd have to turn it on soon. "Mom," she began slowly, "if Danny and I stick together and promise to meet you at the convention grounds, can we go off on our own for a bit? We'll be careful, I promise!"
"Just take some ghost-fighting weapons with you, Jazzerincess!" Jack said, turning around to look at her for one terrifying moment.
Jazz shrieked as the Assault Vehicle began drifting out of its lane, and she instinctively clung to the edges of her seat. "Wrong side of the road, Dad!"
"Whoops! Sorry there, Jazzy-pants." Jack turned his attention—and eyes—back to the road and jerked the vehicle back into its proper lane. "But with the ghost hunting convention in town," he continued when the blaring horns of the other drivers had died off, "you can't take the time to look twice before shooting these spooks!"
"It's the Paranormal Studies Convention, Jack," Maddie said in the weary sort of voice that Jazz knew meant she'd been over this many times already. "It's not so much about hunting the ghosts as studying them."
That vein of conversation carried on for a while, with Jack insisting that you needed to hunt the ghosts down to study them in the first place and Maddie pointing out that, to a certain extent, observation was suitable and that the actual hunting of the ghosts only pertained to one particular aspect of a larger picture. Jazz tuned the debate out, instead leaning over to power up Danny's stand-in without being too noticeable. This wasn't the first time her parents had gotten wrapped up in their own conversations. She knew the drill.
Sure enough, some time later, Maddie twisted around to look at Jazz again. "I'd like you and Danny to stay with us for the first bit, honey. You can help us unload some of our things and get a feel for the place. And then, if you promise to stay within a few blocks, you and Danny can go off together."
Jazz smiled. "Thanks, Mom." Even though she probably would stray a lot more than a few blocks….
"Are you sure you don't want to hang out with your old man, Danny-boy?" Jack asked, this time mercifully keeping his eyes on the road.
"Comment does not compute," the robotic voice responded. Jazz couldn't help but cringe. While her parents had accepted the explanation that Danny had a cold, she still wished Tucker had been able to modify the robot's voice pattern somehow.
Jack heaved a sigh. "No, I guess not," he said dejectedly. "You kids don't want to do any more work than you have to." There was a short pause, then, "But tomorrow, the three of us can go and talk to other people there and blather on about ghosts!"
Jazz didn't need to see her father's face to know that he was grinning. Not only could she hear it in the brightness of his tone, but she also had heard him say similar things often enough to know what to expect. "I can watch the booth with Mom, Dad," she offered. "And then you and Danny can, uh, bond!" Danny would not be impressed with her for that, but she had no doubt he'd come up with some way to weasel out of it.
Besides, there was always the chance that Jack would forget to bring them along in the first place, too eager to get on with talking to—or, more often than not, at—other people about his passion.
"Good idea, sweetie," Maddie said. "You and I can spend some mother-daughter time together."
"And I can work on my ghost envy thesis," Jazz muttered under her breath.
It wasn't long before Maddie and Jack were absorbed in their own conversation up front again and Jazz was left on her own. She pulled out her cell phone and dialled Danny's number. It rang a few times, which meant he didn't have it turned off, which meant—
"Now's really not a good time, Jazz."
"Hello to you, too, little brother," Jazz returned wryly. "Have you caught all the ghosts yet?"
There was a pause. "Working on it."
"Can I call you back? I'm a little busy."
Jazz sighed. "Then why is your phone on?" Jazz could just imagine Danny rolling his eyes. "All right. Fine. I just wanted to let you know we made it to the outside of the city." In anticipation of Danny's question, she added, "Dad took a few extra shifts at the wheel."
"Really?" It was, Jazz knew, a not-question in reference to her former statement, not her latter.
Still, the relief in Danny's voice was evident. As was the sudden crashing in the background. "Danny, what's going on?" But even as the words were out of her mouth, Jazz knew the answer. "You're in the middle of a ghost fight, aren't you? What have I told you about staying focussed?"
"It's not, uh, exactly what you're thinking. You guys have the Fenton Ghost Catcher, right?"
"We have one of everything," Jazz assured him, repeating what she'd told Susan Long.
"Yeah, I got the run down over breakfast. I just wanted to be sure. I think we're gonna need it."
"I can't bring it with me, if that's what you're thinking."
Another crash, and the distinct sound of something shattering. Danny might've been higher up when he'd first answered the phone, but he must've moved closer if she could hear things this clearly now. "How soon is it going to be unpacked?"
Jazz sighed. "I don't know, Danny. It's going to be a while until we even get to the place the convention is being hosted. More than an hour, for sure, judging by the traffic. Are you going to tell me what's going on?"
"Better do that later." Danny's voice was apologetic. "Jake looks like he needs a bit of help. Call me when the Ghost Catcher's unpacked, okay?"
"All right. Be careful." She stressed the last part, but she wasn't sure Danny was really listening to her.
"I will. Thanks."
As Jazz hung up, she couldn't help but think of how many times she'd ended her conversations with Danny with those very words. Be careful. And he always promised he would be. But sometime promises and luck and a bit of care wouldn't be enough, and she wouldn't be there to protect him.
But at least someone was, if this Jake Long fulfilled his responsibilities.
"Yo, Danny, a little help!" Jake called, dodging the series of kitchen knives Shackles Jack was hurling at him. He'd already dragoned up, but he was starting to regret that decision. He felt like a bigger target. The knife that just pierced his wing really served to emphasize that point.
Brad was unconscious, so Shackles Jack must've done a real number on him once he'd taken over Mr. Morton. Mrs. Morton wasn't at home, so Jake figured she'd already gone to work. Shackles Jack had probably planned that. Maybe waited and watched. Or just bided his time after he'd possessed Mr. Morton.
Jake knew Shackles Jack was smart. He knew he was the leader of the group of ghosts. He knew he'd been looking for a strong body to possess. He just hadn't realized that, before blindly taking over Brad, Shackles Jack would actually pause long enough to assess the situation and realize that it was Brad's father who had the most power in the family. The only people Brad could lord over were other kids in school. But, as he'd told Danny, Brad's dad was a police officer….
Jake landed just long enough to remove the knife from his wing. Danny, who had looked as surprised as Jake—and, if he wasn't mistaken, Shackles Jack—when his phone had started ringing, had finally gotten off of it and swooped back down into the fray to help. He was keeping Jack occupied for the moment, giving Jake a chance to tend to his injury. It hurt—a lot—but he couldn't say he hadn't had worse. Some of the Huntsclan had gotten a lot closer when he'd been more inexperienced.
Besides, he could still fly. It wasn't like his wing was broken. Gramps probably wouldn't be impressed, since he'd probably make the cut—fine, puncture—worse by tearing it further when he did fly, but Jake was willing to put up with a little extra pain and suffering if it meant knowing they had Shackles Jack in line. Now, if only they could corner him like he'd been trying to corner Jake….
There was a crash, and Jake looked up to see the shattered remains of the teapot on the floor behind Danny. He looked irritable. "Hey," he said, looking down at Shackles Jack, "I was trying not to wreck stuff. Do you know how hard that is?"
"Very," Jake muttered under his breath, "when you can't hurt the guy who's throwing things." Danny had already given him the run-down on this possession thing, which was about what Jake had gathered from his observations of Solitary Sam: it would be like fighting a human.
Jake had enough experience in that department, mostly courtesy of the Huntsclan before they'd been wiped out of existence, but Danny still looked pretty uncomfortable. Of course, Jake wasn't convinced it was entirely because he wasn't just battling ghosts like he normally did. Not exactly, anyway. This wasn't something Danny had dealt with before. If he'd run into ghosts using magic and spells and stuff, it wasn't in the same way Shackles Jack and co. had.
Danny's discomfort was understandable, really. Jake couldn't blame him at all. He felt kind of uncomfortable, too. From what he'd understood, most of the advanced ghosts could overshadow people, as Danny put it. Possess them that way. Slip into their bodies and control them. But this…this was different. And Jake wasn't sure if it was because Shackles Jack and everyone else weren't phantoms like Danny and just didn't have that ability or what, but this spell evidently wasn't as easy to break.
Jake lost track of Danny and figured he must've gone invisible. He kept his eyes peeled, and sure enough, he caught sight of the barest shimmer in the air—right next to his shoulder. "The Fentons arrived early," Danny whispered, "but we'll need to knock Jack out if we're gonna win this without really hurting the guy he overshadowed."
"Get behind him," Jake murmured. "I'll distract him, you sneak up."
There was a pause, as if Danny was going to argue, and then he was gone. He regained visibility behind Shackles Jack and gave Jake a thumbs up signal with one hand; he was ready. In the time it had taken them to get all this organized, however, Shackles Jack had made his own move: he'd grabbed hold of Brad and now held a knife to his throat.
"Let me pass," Shackles Jack said, "or I'll see that this boy gets a taste of the other side."
Brad, to Jake's horror, stirred and groaned. He was coming around.
Jake dragoned down immediately. He couldn't risk Brad seeing a dragon in his own house. Hallucinations only went so far. It was bad enough to be plain old Jake Long in Brad's house—with anyone else, it would take a lot of explaining, but with Brad, Jake was pretty sure he'd skip to pummelling.
Brad blinked, groaning again as he opened his eyes. "Dad?" As he regained full awareness of what was going on, his eyes widened. "What the—?"
"Well?" Shackles Jack asked. He must've put more pressure on the knife because Brad yelped.
"Don't hurt him," Jake said. He didn't want to give in, but they didn't have any other choice.
He watched as Brad's eyes swivelled towards them. The shock was clear on his face, along with a mix of anger and fear. "What're you doing here, Jerk Long?" The tone was defensive. Brad was scared.
Jake opened his mouth, wondering what the heck he was going to say, and looked to Danny for advice.
Only, Danny wasn't there anymore.
"You give me a clear path and I'll release the kid," Shackles Jack told him. Jake saw Brad stiffen and shut his eyes. He obviously had no idea what was going on, and Jake figured that was probably even worse than knowing—even considering knowing meant knowing what Shackles Jack was capable of and what he planned to do.
"I'm not going to stop you," Jake said, holding up both his hands in what was probably a vain attempt to pacify the ghost.
"But I am." The voice was Danny's, but it came from Brad—along with a wicked right hook. It was from an awkward position, granted, but Danny caught Shackles Jack off his guard. Danny hissed a bit as the knife nicked him, but Jake guessed the damage was just superficial. The knife clattered to the floor and Jake scooped it up, sidestepping the ghostly brawl.
Shackles Jack was fighting back now, but even in Brad's body, Danny was quick. He managed to dodge most of the punches. But for all that he was retaliating, he wasn't gaining enough ground. Jake glanced around the kitchen, hoping to come up with some idea to help, and grimaced when he caught sight of the frying pan. It would hurt, but it would probably work.
Jake had managed to sneak up on Shackles Jack, and when Danny had ducked a punch, Jake had hit Mr. Morton round the side of his head with the pan. It was a heavy one (cast iron), and it made a horrible sound as it connected with Mr. Morton's noggin. Jake really hoped it wouldn't cause any damage, but he didn't have any better ideas, and they'd been desperate.
Danny flew out of Brad's body, and Millard Fillmore's school bully dropped to the floor, groggy. "He won't remember what happened," Danny said, "but we better not take any chances." He grabbed Jake with one hand and Mr. Morton with the other, turned them all invisible and intangible, and flew out of the house.
When Danny let them go, Jake looked at him and opened his mouth, but Danny cut across him saying, "Yeah. That's overshadowing. And like I said, most people don't remember being overshadowed. Especially not the first time. Sometimes they have vague recollections, or they remember for a few seconds afterwards, like you do a dream when you just wake up, but I've overshadowed people like Brad before and seen other ghosts overshadow them. They tend to have no idea what happened."
Danny shrugged. "He'll have a few unexplained bruises and a little cut on his neck, but he'll be fine. So long as his mom doesn't kill him when she sees the mess the house is in."
"And Brad's dad?" Jake asked, glancing at Shackles Jack.
"Same as yours," Danny answered carefully. "We've knocked him out, so now we'll have to tie him up. I can't just pull Shackles Jack out, so we'll have to wait until we can get at the FentonWorks stuff."
"You think that'll work?" Jake asked doubtfully.
Danny gave him a small smile. "The Fentons might be oblivious, and they might come up with a bunch of silly inventions with stupid names, but the things they make work. You don't have to worry about that." And, in a quieter voice that Jake probably wasn't meant to hear, Danny added, "I hope."
A/N: Anyone who has read a lot of what I write eventually realizes that the characters are not always right when they make assumptions. It's just much more fun that way. Thanks to everyone who's been commenting!