So it's been a year since I posted this story. I wasn't actually planning to update it at this point, but something I watched recently gave me a lot of inspiration, so here's a new chapter.

Danny was tired. Never, after all his ghost battles, had he ever reached this level of worn down and burned out. Something seemed to sap the strength from his limbs, turning them into useless, quivering masses of flesh. He sagged in his mom's arms, relieved when she only tightened her grip and held him up. "We'd better get you home. You don't look so good," she said apologetically. Danny sighed and nodded, too exhausted to argue. He was feeling a little strange, kind of tingly and fuzzy. His body ached all over, like Vlad, Skulker, and Technus had all decided to play a game of kickball with him as the ball. Pushing himself reluctantly away from his mother, he started the long trudge home, swaying a bit across the sidewalk like a drunk.

He heard his mother lean down and scoop up the gun, and couldn't help the icy cold frisson of fear that crept down his spine. On some level he was sure his mother would never hurt him, but he had spent too many hours dodging blasts from her to ever be completely comfortable with her having a weapon at his unguarded back. He hated it, but he couldn't stop it, and he wondered what his mom would think if she knew. Too engrossed in his own thoughts to pay attention to the world around him, Danny stumbled over a sudden dip in the sidewalk, exhaustion slowing his reflexes. He would never admit to a single soul how warm it made him feel inside when his mom's hand came to rest protectively on his arm, steadying him. "I'm fine," he muttered. His mother only gave him a doubtful look, and the hand remained where it was.

They weren't really too far from their house, but they were taking forever to get there, and Danny knew it was him slowing them down. He tried to push his body harder, force muscles that were still burning and shaking to haul bones that suddenly felt made of lead. They needed to get off the street before anything else showed up; he wasn't sure he could fight off the Box Ghost at the moment. His mother shot him another of the dozen or so concerned looks she'd sent his way since leaving the alley, and Danny sighed.

"Look mom, I know you're having a hard time accepting this, but I'm used to this kind of stuff. I'm not going to fall apart here," Danny nearly snapped, his pain and exhaustion making him irritable, and twisting what was meant to be a comfort into something that made his mom look stricken, as though he'd slapped her across the face. Danny ran a hand through his hair, absently noting the sting of gravel under his fingernails, and took a slow deep breath. He hadn't meant for that to come out that way. "I'm sorry, mom," he muttered. "It's been a long day." A long, miserable day, and it wasn't near over.

"It's okay, honey, I understand," his mom said softly, making Danny feel even more like the world's biggest jerk. "If I was you, I wouldn't be very happy with my mother either."

Danny dropped his head into his hands and massaged his temples, attempting to dull the constant thudding behind his eyes. He really wasn't in the mood to be having this conversation right now. "Look mom, this isn't your fault, none of it. You didn't know what the portal did to me, you didn't know who I was. I hid it from you because I was scared and stupid. I thought you would hate what I had become, that you would hate me. But I should have known better. I'm sorry." His voice slowly lowered until the last word was barely a whisper.

Maddie swallowed hard, her eyes misting, as she watched her son's shoulder's slump and his gaze fall to the floor. She couldn't imagine the life he'd lived since the accident and it made her heart hurt to know he had to do it alone. There were so many questions yet unanswered, but from the little she'd seen, Danny had done nothing to deserve the contempt he seemed to heap upon himself. Before she knew what she was going to do, her free arm was reaching out for the tired boy in front of her, drawing him in, squeezing him tight. trying to press all her love and acceptance into his hurting soul. She knew that she and Jack were responsible for a lot of that hurt, despite whatever Danny might think, and she swore to herself that they were going to make it up to him somehow.

Sighing tiredly, Danny let his head fall against his mother's shoulder. He knew they shouldn't be doing this, that they needed to keep moving, but for now all he wanted was to bask in the comfort offered him. So many times, usually after getting the ectoplasm kicked out of him in another brutal ghost battle, he had wanted to tell her everything, just for her to kiss his owies all better and make him feel safe again for a few minutes. Make him feel like the child everybody thought him to be. He told himself he hadn't really needed it, even as he squeezed his eyes shut tight, fighting the pricking at the back of his eyes. "Shh, honey, it's alright, you're alright," his mom whispered, fingers running soothingly through his hair, and the dam broke. Danny felt the tears pour down his face and didn't quite know what he was crying for.

"Aw, isn't that touching?" A deep voice shattered the silence, causing Danny and his mother to jump apart, the latter raising the weapon she still carried. "The ghost child is having a bonding moment with one of his human nemesis." Skulker grinned and raised his weapon, as usual choosing the worst possible time to show up. "As odd as I find that, I'm not one to turn down a chance at free prey. Two pelts for the price of one!" he exulted, and fired. Danny and his mother dove in opposite directions, the blast smashing through the sidewalk where they had stood seconds before. Coming up in a crouch, Danny locked eyes with his mom, adrenaline flooding his system, pushing the lead out of his limbs and clearing the fog from his mind. The old familiar 'fight or die' response. His mother nodded and immediately raised her weapon and shot Skulker in the face.

Except the narrow beam of light sailed harmlessly through the spot he had been in, as Skulker fired his jets and shot toward Maddie. She responded with a roundhouse aimed for his head, but almost fell when he phased out and passed through her, spinning around to come up behind her. Danny watched him aim his weapon at the back of his mom's head and instinct kicked in. Before he knew what he was doing, the rings had formed and suddenly he was Danny Phantom. The pain bit into him with a sudden sharpness that wrenched a small scream from his lips, but he clenched his teeth so hard he knew his jaw would ache in the morning and somehow maintained his form. Launching himself at Skulker, who had turned slightly at the sound of his scream, Danny caught him under the chin with the toe of his boot, flipping him onto his back. Preparing to jump into a high kick, Danny was startled as a column of blue light shot from his left, sucking a yelling Skulker up into a Fenton Thermos that his mom had seemingly produced from nowhere.

Maddie felt the familiar satisfaction of catching a dangerous ghost and turned to share a smile with her son, just in time to watch him collapse to his knees. His hands gripped his head so hard his knuckles turned white, and she could hear the shallow gasping of his breath. Tears slid silently down his cheeks to splash against the sidewalk, leaving faintly glowing spots around him. Racing to him, she crouched down next to him and wrapped one arm around his shaking shoulders. "Danny, change back now!" When he only continued to stare dumbly at the sidewalk, she shook him a little. "Change back! Please."

He raised his head and blinked bleary eyes, focusing on her with effort. Finally glowing white rings formed at his waist, slowly separating and traveling opposite directions down his body, changing him as they went. The first time Maddie had seen this happen, she had been in a total state of shock and not exactly focused on the details. She had missed the second time completely, all her attention on getting Skulker into the thermos. Now she watched in amazement as the light trailed across his limbs, dimming the slight glow surrounding him even as it lightened his tan skin to a pale white. His jumpsuit receded, slowly being replaced by jeans and a t-shirt, normal childhood wear. Watching the shock of white hair turn back to the pitch black he had inherited from his father and glowing green eyes back to baby blue, she realized that maybe she had missed the details because it hadn't taken this long before.

She darted her gaze to his face, taking in the grimace of effort, the slight sheen of sweat on his face, and felt the realization like a blow to the gut. Whatever their gun had done to him had gone a lot farther than a scratch on the cheek, she had known that. But now she started to realize that she may not be able to fix it. The energy from the gun fed on ectoplasm, and she suspected that ectoplasm fueled Danny's change from boy to ghost and back again. The next time he went ghost he could be trapped that way, and as a ghost he was made of ectoplasm, just a tasty snack for that stuff. Panic butterflies swarmed in her stomach as the glowing rings faded away and Danny still didn't open his eyes. "Danny?" she whispered, brushing the hair out of his eyes.

It felt like lead weights were glued to his eyelids and forcing them open seemed like it would take more effort than Danny could expend at the moment. The two changes in quick succession had sapped his energy like they never had before and the thought crossed his mind that he might die from this, in that cold, distant way that it often did in the heat of battle. He slumped against his mother, feeling her rapid heartbeat where their sides pressed together, knowing he was probably scaring the crap out of her, but unable to bring himself to sit up and act normal. "Forget this walking thing, I'm calling your father. Hopefully the Wisconsin Ghost has lost him and he's given up and gone back to the RV by now." Even the rising panic in her voice failed to shake him from his stupor.

He vaguely heard her pull out her phone and dial, his awareness drifting toward sleep. He was content to let her voice wash over him, until a particular name caught his attention. "Hey honey, me and Danny are stuck, I need you to... Vlad? What are you doing there? Why are you answering Jack's phone?" Suddenly Danny was sitting up, all vestiges of sleep gone. "Danny? Why do you want to talk to Danny?" his mom asked in confusion even as Danny reached for the phone. His mother held it frustratingly just out of his reach. "What's going on here, Vlad? Why do you want to talk to my son? Where's Jack?" Maddie demanded.

"Jack is fine my dear." Now Danny could hear his simpering voice over the line, and it set his teeth on edge. "I just need to have a word with your boy, and then you can talk to Jack as much as you like." Maddie opened her mouth, probably to protest Vlad's attempt to dictate when she could speak with her husband, but Danny lunged for the phone and pulled it away from her.

"Vlad, if you so much as lay a finger on him..." Danny shouted into the phone. Maddie watched with dawning comprehension; Vlad was somehow part of Danny's secret. And not a good part apparently.

"Ah Daniel, how nice to hear your dulcet tones," Vlad interrupted in that particular smug voice he got when he thought everything was going to plan. "Never fear, Jack is unharmed... for now." Danny's grip on the phone tightened until he thought the plastic might crack.

"Vlad, if you don't give him back, I swear I'll tear you apart molecule by molecule," Danny forced out through grit teeth.

"You are so like your father, Daniel. Of course you can have him back, did you think I'd want him to stay here?." Vlad made no effort to hide his disgust at the thought.

"Then what do you want, fruitloop?" Danny asked while trying to duck away from his mother's hands reaching for the phone. She was mouthing something frantically at him, but he ignored it in favor of focusing his attention on the receiver.

Up until this point Vlad's voice had been full of false genial good cheer, now he dropped all pretense and merely said flatly, "I require your presence at my mansion. And bring darling Maddie with you. If you do that, you can have your father back, and maybe I won't tell him who you really are. He's been on a rant about you for a while now, under the misconception that we're partners. Would you like to hear it?" Before Danny could answer, Vlad must have held the phone up, because he could suddenly vaguely hear his father in the background. The only phrases he managed to catch involved 'Phantom' and 'Wisconsin' and 'putrid piles of ectoplasm'. "It's all very tiresome, so be a good lad and come fetch him before I'm forced to silence him. You have three hours. Give Maddie my love." There was a click, and Maddie and Danny were left staring at each other over a silent cellphone, each wondering what they were going to do now.

And there it is. Let me know what you think. :) This story is going to be a darker look at the show, and the characters are probably going to do things they would never do on tv. I'm addicted to drama so there will probably be plenty of that too. I make up the science whole cloth, and I find I like writing fight scenes so I'll probably throw a few of those in here and there, for no apparent reason. ^_^ If you think you can handle all that, then buckle your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride. I pretty much have the plot planned out so hopefully it won't be another year before I update.