I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.
― Gail Caldwell
Shannon got out of her car and stared up―and up― at the huge Frankenstein of a building sprouting out of the corner lot in an otherwise perfectly ordinary neighborhood.
Her crotchety old GPS had gotten completely garbled in the little tangle of streets in this part of town. She had stopped for directions just a few blocks away, at a gas station run by a weathered old man in a baseball cap, busily scratching off lottery slips.
He'd rubbed his chin and stared at the address she showed him, then scowled. "Oh, you mean FentonWorks. How could not see that eyesore? Two blocks east, you can't miss it. Even when you want to."
Shannon had found this a bit odd, but now she understood the man perfectly.
The bottom half of the building looked normal enough: two stories of old red brick, a small front stoop with tiny grassy plots on each side between the house and the sidewalk, a garage crammed into the narrow side yard, leaving a four-foot passageway that showed a glimpse of a fenced back yard. Ignoring the enormous customized RV wedged into the driveway, she could have strolled by without ever suspecting it might be different from the surrounding buildings.
Until, that is, she looked up at the enormous metallic structure perched on top. The pot-bellied sphere squatted on the flat roof, , practically another story in itself. A glass observation window crowned the front, bristling with all kinds of radar, satellite dishes, and…were those cannons? To add to the over-the-top absurdity of it all, a backlit neon sign spanning an entire story hung on the front, reading FENTON WORKS in bold orange and green.
This was where Danny had come from? He was such a regular kid. It seemed almost too extreme in contrast. Though having ghost powers was strange, she supposed. Shannon took a firm grip on Harley's leash, tucked her tupperware of cookies under one arm, and marched up to the front door. She rang the doorbell.
"Coming!" someone called from inside.
A moment later the door opened, revealing a tall, pretty redheaded young woman. She had a textbook in one hand, a finger stuck in the closed pages. The girl looked at Shannon with polite curiosity, and for a moment Shannon felt a little ridiculous― how was she supposed to introduce herself?
Then the girl's face lit up and she tucked the textbook under her arm, extending her hand. "You must be Shannon! Oh, and you brought your dog, wow! We weren't expecting you until tonight."
"I got an early start." Truth to tell, she couldn't sleep― too preoccupied with the 'maybes' of this visit. She'd gotten the occasional update from Patrick over the past few weeks, but no word from Danny. It was hard to say how he was really doing without seeing it for herself.
The girl shook hands and then offered her fingers for Harley to sniff. Harley wagged her tail and gave them several sloppy licks; she looked equal parts pleased and horrified. The girl wiped her hand on her jeans and straightened up, smiling. "Come on inside, Danny will be back any minute."
Shannon followed her into an ordinary living room― though oddly prolific with pillow embroidery. "I don't think I caught your name," she said as she sat on the couch. Harley flopped down at her feet.
"I'm Jazz," the girl said, looking surprised. "Jazz Fenton."
"Ah," Shannon nodded, though that didn't clarify anything. "Sister?"
Jazz's face fell. She set down her textbook on the coffee table and folded her arms low in her lap. "Danny didn't mention me. All that time."
"He didn't talk much about anyone," Shannon responded gently. "I think he was afraid that if he did, I might recognize the names and make him go home. Or maybe he didn't want to remind himself of how much he missed you."
The girl bit her lip and looked away. "If he missed me, he could have come back sooner."
At least he came back, Shannon wanted to say, but she held her tongue.
"You could have found us," Jazz added, studying her. "Danny's disappearance, especially the first one, wasn't exactly low profile."
Shannon stroked Harley's ears. "There's a whole host of reasons why I should have, and why I didn't. Your brother just seemed so… I don't know, so fragile when he came to me. Like his sense of security had taken a beating. He stayed with me because I let him be, without questioning who he was― or what he was― and I do sincerely believe he needed that. I'm sorry it caused you grief, hon, but it was the right thing to do."
"I realize that," Jazz pulled a lock of her long red hair over one shoulder, running her fingers down the strands. "Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful― very grateful― that you found Danny, and not some creep who'd take advantage of him. It's just… he's my little brother."
"I get it," Shannon said, and offered a smile. "I had one too." Still had. Somewhere. He hadn't found his way back yet, but if Danny could do it after all this… maybe Todd could, too.
"Oh." Jazz caught all the meaning behind the past tense, and her face tightened in empathy. "I see."
Shannon's eyes wandered around the living room. It was cozy, two overstuffed chairs flanking the couch, the walls a soft inviting blue. The coffee table sported a few magazines between Jazz's textbook and Shannon's tupperware― old copies of Genius and something called Ghost Getters Monthly. When she looked closely at the embroidered pillows, she realized most of the stitchwork depicted jaunty stylized ghosts.
"I shouldn't have jumped on you like that right after you got here," Jazz said at last. She tucked her hair back behind her ear with a rueful smile. "I'm not making much of a first impression, am I?"
Shannon nodded, accepting the apology. "I can tell that you love Danny very much. That overprotective streak runs in the family."
Jazz smiled. "You should see my dad when one of us gets sick. A regular three-hundred-pound mother hen."
Shannon snorted at the mental image. "Gracious, that sounds terrifying."
"As long as he doesn't get ectoplasm in the chicken soup, it's actually nice."
Shannon ran her hand along the handle of the leash and asked carefully, "And your mother?"
"Oh." Jazz's expression darkened. "Danny did mention her."
Shannon winced; she knew it had to be a delicate subject, but for Danny's sake, she had to ask. "It was more what he didn't say. I met Maddie when she came for Danny, and Danny defended her himself, but… Jazz, do you really think he's safe here?"
Jazz uncrossed her arms and straightened, meeting Shannon's gaze. "I understand why you'd ask that, but he is. Absolutely."
Shannon nodded. She would see for herself soon, but the sincerity in this girl's eyes gave her much more confidence. "I'm glad."
"He's different now than he was before all this," Jazz added, sounding thoughtful. "Quieter. He doesn't smile as much. But he's not hurting as much, either. Back at the hospital, months ago… it got bad. We didn't realize how bad until he'd already left." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I think you were right. Being with you helped. I think it was good."
"I sincerely hope so."
The door banged open, startling Shannon and Harley, though Jazz seemed completely unphased. "Jazzy!" someone bellowed from outside. "Guess what we caught today!"
"This is going to get a little weird, just so you know," Jazz said in a low voice. "Keep your dog away from anything green."
A huge man in an orange jumpsuit burst inside, arms and hair dripping with greenish fluid and a huge, Danny-like grin on his face. He had what looked like a souped-up cooler in his arms, which gave off an angry hum like a swarm of captive bees. "It's a big 'un!"
Shannon hung onto Harley's leash as the lab jumped up, straining her collar and sniffing furiously.
Jazz sighed and stood up. "If you don't hose off, Mom will get mad. We have company, so no ectoplasm on the rug."
The big man glanced around and noticed Shannon. He beamed. "Oh, it's gotta be Shannon! I'm Jack! Jack Fenton!"
"Dad!" Jazz put a hand on one hip and pointed at the door. "Backyard detox now, introductions later!"
Right on cue, a big glop of the green stuff dripped off the man's arm and splatted onto the carpet. "Whoops." Jack gave a quick salute and backed through the door. "We'll clean up in a jiffy!"
"Shannon's here?" A familiar and welcome voice called from outside. "She's early."
"Go hose off Danny, she can wait," Jazz called back.
"No duh, I don't want to get this crap on the rug."
Shannon stared at the greenish wet splotch on the floor, which… seemed to be moving?
Jazz sighed. "I'll get the ectovac and clean this up. Back door's over there," she waved at the far end of the living room. "You can meet up with the guys out back if you want."
The girl disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Shannon alone. Harley sniffed at the goo, which was definitely moving. Shannon pulled firmly on the leash and stepped in the backyard.
In place of a back porch, the house had what amounted to an industrial chemical shower― a six by fifteen square of whitewashed concrete with a central drain. Several showerhead sprayers lined the brick wall, ending in a fully-contained shower with a sink beside it.
A steel case labeled EMERGENCY stood next to the door. Shannon peered inside to find an odd-shaped gun and a futuristic-looking... thermos? It looked a lot like the ones Danny had stashed in her basement.
The big man Shannon had seen before― Jack― stood on the cement, hosing off his broad shoulders with the sprayer. Danny stood next to him, bent over with his head under the shower's clear water. He wore a jumpsuit the same bright orange as his father's. Danny groped for the handle to turn off the shower and straightened, dripping bangs covering his eyes.
"Need a towel, son?" Jack rumbled, running a white towel over his own hair.
"No thanks." A loud splat sounded and Danny's hair sprang up into its usual fluffy disarray. Shannon blinked. Did he just… let the water fall through him? Well, that was one way to get dry. When you were a ghost. Half ghost. That concept still took some getting used to.
Harley barked, tail wagging as she pulled at her leash. Danny looked up. When he saw Shannon, his face broke into a dazzling smile. He came over and hugged her― with arms that were perfectly dry, she noticed. "Shannon! Hey!"
"Hey yourself," Shannon said, grinning back. Danny hugging and smiling? Suddenly she felt a thousand times better about letting him come back here. Danny knelt to pet Harley, who returned the greeting with sloppy dog kisses and a tail that beat against Shannon's legs.
Shannon extended her hand to the older man as he tossed aside the towel. "I'm Shannon Rozzo."
"Jack Fenton!" Shannon tried not to lean back as the man loomed over her, all orange hazmat and smiles. Her hand vanished into his huge rubber-gloved one. "Great to meet you, Shannon! Thank you for taking care of our son."
"Pleasure was mine."
There wasn't much of Danny in this man's square jaw and broad frame, but familiar blue eyes twinkled down at her as he shook her hand. "Hope he didn't eat through your whole pantry, this kid's as bottomless as the john back at Spittoon!" He winked. "And almost as hard to find, let me tell ya!"
"Dad, don't be weird."
Jack jostled Danny good-naturedly, nearly knocking him flat. "That's my job, Danno! Embarrassing you in front of your friends is dad priority number one."
"Uh, shouldn't your first priority be to keep that from escaping?" Danny pointed at the cooler, which had risen, rattling, several feet off the ground.
Harley whined and backed behind Shannon's legs. Shannon had a hard time not backing away herself. Things just― floating like that, that wasn't supposed to happen. Except here in Amity Park, apparently.
"Good night! It's a fighter!" Jack dashed off to wrestle the cooler back to the ground, turning up a dial on the top. The bee-swarm sound intensified.
"Don't worry, it won't actually break out," Danny said. He took Shannon's arm and pulled her closer to the back door, giving Harley a reassuring pat. "Mom and Dad are pretty good at designing containment units."
"So is this your usual look?" Shannon made an effort to ignore the still-rattling cooler and glanced at Danny's hazmat suit. "It's a good color for you."
Danny rubbed the back of his neck with a bashful grin. "Nah, this is just for the ghost hunting."
"I thought you couldn't... you know." She waved her hand vaguely. He had never clearly explained what, exactly his real, healthy ghost side involved, and the video she'd watched had only provided a vague impression― White hair? Flying? Laser hands?― but just a month ago it hadn't been functional.
"We're doing it the old-fashioned way." Danny pulled a chunky silver and green gun out of a holster on his waist and twirled it before reholstering it. "Mom and Dad think it'll help my ghost side."
"All ghosts have an obsession," Jack chimed in, tucking the cooler under his arm. "A thing they've gotta do, no matter what. We think for Danny that's protecting people from ghosts! Makes sense since he's got ghost hunting in the genes. Helping keep Amity Park safe'll take away that obsessive itch― and keep him out of dark alleys with creeps and their guns." Jack said this last in a stage whisper over Danny's head that could have been heard two rooms away.
Shannon hid a snicker behind her hand.
"Dad," Danny rolled his eyes. "I didn't go look for those guys, that just happened."
"Stick with what you know, son." Jack clapped him on the shoulder. "I'd rather you wrestle a giant undead squid then go up against a cold hard bullet any day."
"Next time you're doing the wrestling." Danny wrinkled his nose. "I think I've still got ecto-ink in my sinuses."
"Squid ghost?" Shannon eyed the cooler uneasily. "Is… is that a thing?"
"Welcome to Amity Park," Danny said with a wry smile. "Dad, you'd better get that thing to Mom. I don't think Shannon wants a live demonstration."
"Right!" Jack slapped the side of the cooler. "We'll learn all sorts of neato stuff from this sucker. Such an ideated form for an animal type! And those regenerating tentacles, wow! You could hack them off all day!"
Jack stiffened, his exuberant mood vanishing like a popped balloon. "That is… meaning… we won't be doing that. We wouldn't." It was startling to see someone so full of life and energy suddenly still and unsure, his big hands wrapping around the cooler, tightening and loosening as he looked at his son.
Shannon glanced between the two of them, seeing the tension but not fully understanding it; there was a lot she still didn't know about what had happened to Danny. His father hadn't been involved, had he?
Danny shrugged and gave his dad a reassuring smile. "I know, Dad, don't worry about it."
Jack looked relieved and patted Danny on the back. "That's good, son. I'll take this to your mother." Hefting the cooler, he disappeared inside the house.
"He's trying," Danny said, looking after him. "I kind of wish he was still oblivious, but… I guess it's nice that they're thinking about how I feel." He sighed and unzipped the top half of the jumpsuit, revealing a white undershirt. He tied the sleeves around his waist and stretched. "Hungry? Jazz made sandwiches earlier. We'd better get to them before Dad does."
"Sure." Shannon tugged on Harley's leash and trailed after the teen into the house. They entered the kitchen, a bright yellow room that smelled of windex and fresh limes. It was fairly standard, if she ignored the huge doorway at the end of the room bordered in thick black and yellow stripes, with steel-plated stairs leading down to parts unknown.
Danny opened a lower cabinet and rummaged inside. "How's Nicki?" he asked, his tone carefully casual.
Shannon smiled. "Really good! No signs of infection, and she's pushing through physical therapy like a champ. She'll be back to work part time at the clinic soon. All the regulars have practically buried her and Liz in casseroles." She hesitated; she'd kept her spare bedroom open, just in case, but… it looked like it wasn't needed. "I've been thinking of offering her my place once she's ready to work. Frank and his wife are willing, but they live further out than I do."
Danny chuckled and twisted the cap off a bottle of water― right-handed, Shannon noticed. He handed it to her. "Told you it wouldn't take long to replace me."
Shannon sat down at the kitchen table and took a sip. It was ice cold. "There's nobody quite like you, Danny."
He opened the fridge, peered inside cautiously, then pulled out a plate piled high with sandwiches. Setting it on the table, he peeled off the plastic wrap covering it. "Scientifically speaking, I guess that's true."
"It's a compliment, hon. Take it."
Danny shrugged. "Okay." As he picked up a sandwich, a dog raced up from the basement. Shannon heard the scampering feet first, and she tightened her hold on Harley's leash, just in case― though Harley was utterly absorbed by the sandwiches just a few inches from her quivering black nose.
A green― green!― creature appeared at the top of the stairs, clearing the last step with a gravity-defying bound. It… it glowed. It took Shannon's brain five full seconds to reconnect her original thought of 'dog' to the furry green thing trotting up to them. It was― when she really looked at it― obviously a puppy. Just green. And it glowed.
The salami slipped from Shannon's sandwich and landed with a splat on the floor. Harley gulped it down, then gave the newcomer a friendly sniff. The puppy sat on its haunches, cocked its green head to one side and whined.
Shannon offered it the now-meatless sandwich, which it seized, then scampered under the table to devour it out of Harley's reach.
"That's Cujo," Danny said. "Mom's letting me keep him as long as he doesn't destroy the house." He didn't seem to notice the dog's strange color, giving it a scratch behind the ears and reaching for his soda.
"That's great," Shannon said automatically, trying not to stare. She selected a new sandwich and kept Harley's leash looped snugly around her hand. Just in case.
As they ate, Shannon listened to Danny chatter, dropping names she'd never heard, talking about exotic things as if they were normal, ectoplasmic attacks, ectosignature scanners, someplace called 'the ghost zone.' With a mixture of satisfaction and regret, she confirmed her first impression. He was happy. A lot happier than he'd ever been with her. Shannon smiled wryly at her own thoughts. That's what she'd been hoping for, wasn't it?
"So," Danny dumped their plates in the sink, then turned to Shannon with a hopeful grin. "You want the tour?"
He jabbed a thumb at the back door where they had entered. "The backyard is pretty contaminant free, so Harley's okay out there― just be careful around the buildings. That shed's got all kinds of ectoplasmic residue. I've caught the back window looking at me sometimes."
Shannon's hand was getting tired from the grip she had on the leash. "Noted."
"The lab's downstairs." He waved at the huge doorway― the place the puppy had come from― bordered with yellow and black stripes. Eerie green light came up from somewhere below, and when she listened closely she could hear the whir of power tools. Danny led the way back toward the front door, the strange dog trotting at his heels. "Living room― I guess you saw this part already. It's pretty boring."
The spot on the carpet had been freshly scrubbed, and Shannon caught a whiff of cinnamon and armpits.
There was a staircase against the front wall and Danny led the way up to a long, narrow hallway. "Upstairs we have the bedrooms, and on top of that the Ops Center."
"Ops Center?" Shannon echoed.
"The big silver thing on the roof? I don't know if you noticed it."
Shannon snorted. "I noticed."
"It's got all this gear for ghost hunting, but we only use it for big emergencies, like if the town gets zapped to another dimension or comes under a mass ghost attack. You know."
"Right," she agreed, as if this was all perfectly normal. "Most people just stock up on canned food and extra batteries."
"We keep emergency ham in the Ops fridge. You wouldn't believe what it turns into, though― oh, hi Dr. Wagner."
Patrick leaned out of a doorway, curly hair sticking up every which way and a toothbrush in his mouth. "'ey 'anny, Sh'non," he said around a mouthful of foam. He leaned out of sight and spat, then reappeared sans toothbrush. "I see you made it." He grinned. "Interesting place, isn't it?"
Shannon grinned back. "That's putting it lightly."
"Did you seriously just wake up?" Danny asked.
"Yes, seriously." Patrick stifled a yawn. "I'm making up for the all-nighters I've been pulling. I can't live off coffee and four hours of sleep the way you Fentons seem to." He ran a hand through his hair, multiplying the cowlicks, and tucked a manila envelope splattered with toothpaste under one arm. He strode down the stairs two at a time. "Let's go to the kitchen, I've got some news for you!"
Danny eyed him. "News or more shots?"
"Both!" Patrick clapped him on the shoulder as he passed. "Come on."
"Oh joy," Danny muttered, but obediently turned around and plodded after Patrick.
"Shots?" Shannon inquired, following him. She seemed to be doing nothing but playing catchup. Harley and the puppy, who had sniffed each other thoroughly, trailed behind them, black and green tails wagging.
Danny held out his arm and showed Shannon the crook of his elbow, peppered with bruisy red hypodermic marks. "Dr. Wagner and Mom cooked up this stuff that's supposed to fix my ghost half. You remember how using ghost energy made me faint all the time?"
"I have some vague recollections of you nearly dying on us, yes." Leave it to Danny to make such a gross understatement. Shannon gave him a pointed look, which he ignored.
"Whatever they came up with, it seems to be working." Green flame flickered up in his palm and danced across his fingertips. Shannon caught a faint whiff of citrus and sulphur. "I can do stuff like this now."
She stopped short, staring at Danny's fingers, the medical part of her looking for burns. There were none.
Danny let his hand drop, his smile fading. "Too weird?"
"No― no, honey, it's just…" Shannon crouched and scratched the puppy's ears. Cujo's fur felt ice cold, as if he'd just come out of a freezer. Strange red eyes curved into happy crescents at the attention. "This is all new territory for me." She looked up and smiled. "So it's helping? That's great."
He shrugged, making a face. "It'll be even better when they stop poking holes in me."
They entered the kitchen, where Jazz had reappeared and was sitting at the table, keeping a watchful eye on Patrick. Patrick had set aside the manila envelope for a pair of latex gloves, and was removing a carefully-labeled mason jar from the fridge. He held it out for Shannon's inspection. "Not bad for a brand new branch of medicine, right?"
The label read FOR DANNY INJECTIONS ONLY in bold black Sharpie. Shannon stared at the bright yellow-green liquid. It shifted and bubbled inside the jar and almost seemed to glow. She put her hand on Danny's shoulder. "I hate to break it to you hon, but that's Mountain Dew."
Patrick shook his fist. "Curses, you've discovered our secret ingredient! Though seriously, not even Danny could drink this stuff straight without dangerous side effects."
Jazz leaned forward and peered through the mason jar. "What is it made of again?"
He patted the jar and grinned. "It's one part human plasma, two parts denatured ectoplasmic concentrate, and a kick in the pants of raw nutrients tailored to suit a halfa's chemical makeup. Which we're mostly inferring since we have no detailed records of Danny's healthy human blood chemistry pre-incident."
Danny dropped into a chair at the kitchen table. The puppy curled up at his feet, pink tongue lolling. Greenish drool dripped on the floor. "So basically I'm back to playing lab rat."
Jazz sat bolt upright, looking horrified. "Danny!"
"I'm kidding, Jazz, geez. Relax."
Dr. Wagner took a syringe out of a box in the kitchen cabinet and began measuring out a dose. "Hey, he's not dead yet. I'd say the experiments are a success."
Danny shrugged. "Isn't the whole point for me to be able to go ghost?"
"Yes. Without killing you, preferably."
Jazz scooted her chair closer and nudged her brother's shoulder. "Easy as every other part of being a living paradox."
"Dead paradox?" Shannon ventured.
Danny grinned at her. "Exactly."
Patrick held the filled hypodermic up to the light, gazing at its contents critically, then turned to Danny. "Alright, Schrodinger's kid, let's do this."
"I'm starting to look like a drug addict." Danny sighed and held out his bruised arm. The puppy perked up and jumped into Danny's lap, wriggling close.
"You vetoed the intravenous method, so don't complain."
"I wasn't going to sit around attached to a bag for a week." As Patrick took his arm, Danny tensed and turned away; still not over needles, it looked like. His right hand bunched in the puppy's electric green fur. Shannon and Jazz watched in silence as Patrick injected the glowing substance under Danny's skin. An eerie flicker of light ran up his arm, tracing the veins, then disappeared.
Patrick capped the sharp, pressed a bandaid over the new needle mark, and pulled off his gloves. "There. Now you'll never have to get a shot from me again."
Danny glanced down at his arm, then up at Patrick. "Wait, that was it?"
"Yep, and that was just the final booster. I got your newest blood panel from Dr. Stein this morning, and it checked out." Patrick picked up the manila envelope and flicked it, looking triumphant. "Copper levels are back to normal― your normal― and you're no longer metabolizing sugar to fuel your core, which means you're accepting the ectoplasmic transfusions and your core has restabilized. Probably."
Danny rubbed at the spot on his arm. "Probably?"
The doctor shrugged. "Give me a break here, my study of ghost hybrid biology started exactly one month ago. I'm still getting over the idea that you have a cluster of extradimensional energy in your chest and it's not causing cardiac arrest. Between your mom's work and mine, though, I'm fairly confident."
"So I'm cured." He flexed his fingers, staring at them, then looked up. "Probably."
Patrick grinned. "Yes."
"There's one way to find out," Jazz said. She leaned forward in her chair, a smile playing on her lips. "Go ghost."
That meant nothing to Shannon, but Danny apparently understood, because he glanced sharply at his sister, then at Shannon and Patrick. "What? Right now?"
"Why not? Everyone here knows already."
"Well, okay. Uh…" Danny looked around at the three pairs of eyes fixed on him and blushed. "It's not easy to do when everyone's staring at me."
"Then close your eyes," Jazz suggested.
"Fine." Danny closed his eyes, frowning in concentration.
Shannon leaned forward, hair prickling on the back of her neck as the atmosphere changed― an electric charge that she could almost smell, tingling on the edge of her senses. After a moment a soft white halo sprang up around Danny's waist, brightening to a blinding white. It split in two, traveling across his body, down to his fingertips and up to the crown of his black—no, white—head.
When the brightness faded, a ghost floated just inches above the kitchen floor. The ghost from the video― black jumpsuit, white hair, glowing. Harley barked and backed under the table. The little green dog scampered after her, licking the black lab's muzzle. Shannon sank into the nearest chair, staring. Wow.
"I did it?" The ghost's voice sounded odd, echoey and distorted. He looked down at himself, then up at Jazz, an exuberant grin on his face. "I did it! It worked!" He jumped into the air, tapping the ceiling. "Woohoo!"
"Danny! Look at you, you're back!" Jazz threw her arms around the boy― the floating, glowing boy― and he hugged her back. "You look amazing!"
"Woah." Patrick sat back and nearly fell out of his chair. He caught himself by the table's edge, still staring. "Woah. Danny?"
Jazz covered a snicker with her hand. "I think you broke the doctor, little brother."
Danny floated over and poked Patrick in the chest, the grin lingering. "You okay there? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Patrick sputtered, too nonplussed to recognize the joke. "You― you are, you're a ghost!"
"Well duh." The ghost rolled his eyes― green eyes. "Wasn't that the point? You act like you haven't been studying my inhuman blood for the past few weeks."
"Invisible chemical changes and little green light shows on a video are one thing. You're… you're, well― look at you!" He waved a hand, taking in Danny from head to toe.
Danny rubbed the back of his neck and turned to Shannon. "Pretty weird, huh."
Weird didn't begin to cover it. He didn't even seem like the same person. He was lit from within, Shannon realized, and that played tricks with the shadows cast on his face. She recognized the eyes though, the same oddly luminous green eyes that she'd glimpsed now and then during his stay with her.
As he floated up to her, Shannon could feel the chill emanating off of him, like opening a freezer. The hairs stood up on her neck again; that unnerved feeling, the sense of the unnatural returned tenfold. This was a ghost. This was Danny who was a ghost. Wow.
"You look good," she managed. Her eyes dropped irresistibly to the floor and the three inches between his toes and the tile. "You're floating," she said, unnecessarily. Her mind seemed only capable of the most basic statements.
He smiled, and it was a familiar Danny smile. "You think that's neat, wait till you see what else I can do."
"Walk through walls, disappear, fly," Jazz listed, ticking off fingers. "He's― "
"Danny!" Jack Fenton's voice boomed through the house as he bounded up the basement stairs. "The ghost scanner is going nuts! There's a big 'un right― " The big man stopped short in the doorway, a huge gun slung over one shoulder and a blocky device in his hands. He spotted Danny in his new, strange form and his expression went to blank surprise.
"Uh," Danny drifted back ever so slightly. "Hi, Dad."
Shannon eyed the oversized gun and couldn't blame Danny's hesitance. What a strange and stressful life he must have lived, hiding himself from his own parents.
The ghost scanner dropped out of Jack's hands and clattered to the floor. He ignored the now-smoking device and walked up to Danny. His face contorted through a series of expressions, settling into an uncharacteristically sober smile. "It's good to see you, son."
Danny glanced at his toes, fidgeting with the hem of his glove. "Dad, you saw me half an hour ago."
"True, but now you're a ghost!" Jack tossed aside the gun and threw his arms around the ghostly teen, squeezing him tight. Then he let go and held him at arm's length, beaming. "Hot dog, Danny, you're cold!"
Danny grinned sheepishly "Well yeah, ghost."
"Maddie," Jack bellowed in the general direction of the stairs. "Get up here!"
"Daad," Danny's sister sighed. "Don't make this a big deal, he's self-conscious enough already."
"It's fine, Jazz, I gotta do this eventually. Dr. Harry said Mom needs catharsis, or something."
Jazz hummed unhappily. "Don't feel like you have to do it right now. You can take your time."
Shannon exchanged glances with Patrick. She tugged at Harley's leash. "We can leave and come back later."
Danny threw up his hands, floating toward his sister. "No, it's fine! Geez, it's not a big deal! Or it wasn't before you started talking about it and making it a big deal, Jazz."
She pursed her lips, frowning at him. "I was just trying to help."
"Yeah, well stop helping."
Seeing this supernatural creature bickering with his sister made the scene feel… strangely normal. Just like any other pair of siblings, Shannon thought. That might have been her and Todd fifteen years ago. Minus the floating and the glowing, that is. She was still trying to wrap her mind around that.
Maddie sat at a lab table, tinkering with a circuit board, though her mind was miles away. She pushed back with a sigh and turned to watch the ghost squid currently swimming circles in the containment tank. The past month had been… good. Better than she had ever hoped for after that night in the hospital. Their family was on the mend. She and Danny were, too. Slowly, but it came.
One night she'd gone upstairs to watch the stars after supper; Danny had showed up ten minutes later with a thermos of hot chocolate. It became a nightly ritual. Sometimes Danny talked about his day, the online classes he was taking, news from Sam, the latest horror movies, renovations to the observatory on the outskirts of town. Sometimes they talked about 'that place,' as the lab had become to both of them. Slow, limping, ginger conversations, full of hurts that neither of them wanted to stir, but they did talk.
Often they didn't say anything at all, just sat together and watched the stars gather.
There were shadows still; Danny startled easily. Maddie made sure to announce herself when she came into the room, to not touch him unexpectedly, but there were slips, and they hurt. He laughed less and brooded more. The GIW might be crippled, but it still existed, and despite Tucker's efforts, they knew far more than they should. Dr. Kerza was out there somewhere with his dangerous knowledge and unknown agenda. The thermos still sat at the far back of the shelf with a simple red V on its side, waiting.
"Maddie, get up here!" Jack called from upstairs, startling her out of her thoughts.
Maddie stood, brushing off her hands, and went for the stairs. They'd handle it. Together, as a family. In time.
"Do I get to have coffee now?" Danny was saying as Maddie stepped into the kitchen. His voice sounded strange and distorted, almost like―
Maddie stopped short. Phantom. Danny. He'd transformed. He floated next to Jack, running a white-gloved hand through his even whiter hair self-consciously, green eyes crinkling in a smile.
She stared, transfixed. It was one thing to understand that Danny had been Phantom all along. To see him again made it that much more real. This was her son, the ghost. Her son, the hero. Her son, Phantom. Her son, whom she'd last seen as a dying stranger on a cold bathroom floor.
Maddie bit her lip, but that did little to stop the tears that sprang to her eyes. "Oh, Danny."
He looked up at her and winced. "Geez, not again. Mom, it's okay…"
She held out her hands. "Come here, please?" Danny drifted closer, and she looked him over from head to toe.
He showed few signs of his imprisonment. The hazmat suit was spotless and smooth, white gloves and shoes in place, logo standing out against the dark fabric. He no longer had that starved, wasted look; and the hand, you would never know it had been injured. He looked at her with his glowing green eyes, expression uncertain. She stroked his soft, cold hair, then clasped his shoulder, watching her hand break the white line of his aura. Goosebumps ran up her arm at the sudden chill. Part of her expected him to dissolve into smoke right before her eyes.
"Danny," she said softly.
He studied her for a moment, then nodded. He seemed to realize she needed that one last confirmation. That he wasn't a dream, that he was here and whole and real. "Yeah, it's me."
"Oh, sweetie." Maddie wrapped her arms around her son and held him tight. "Welcome home."
All that Remains :: end
Shadow of a Doubt :: End
Home at last.
Well, here we are. Six years to the day since I posted a very short, simple prologue, hoping it would push me to complete a half-written fic scribbled out between final exams that spring. Back then my only goal was to finish something, damnit. It felt like an insurmountable obstacle, even just for the fifteen chapters I had to begin with… which grew to twenty-one… and I was absolutely determined not to write a sequel, convinced that I could never finish it. Funny how things work out, eh?
Since then I've married, moved across the continent, shifted jobs and life goals, seen births and deaths, grown older- probably a little too old to be writing this sort of thing, but I'm glad I did. I've learned so much through this crazy sprawling epic, about myself and writing as a craft.
It's been wonderful to experience the close reader/author dynamic that makes this particular medium so appealing. Thank you for coming along with me. Thank you for being my audience. Thanks for everything.
Not enough closure for ya? If you want my take on wrapping up all the loose ends, please read the AMA on Tumblr:
haikujitsu . tumblr (dot com slash) soadama
It goes into the future of all the canon characters, villains, and some of the OCs, answers questions about writing method, and a wee bit more ectoscience for good measure.
Thanks times infinity to my amazing beta readers! That's MyAibou, Anneriawings, LunarMothim, Misfit-toy-haven, Pumpernickel Muffin, Attu, Chintastic, and Cordria! Also a special thanks to Sarapsys, who has bailed me out of a tough corner more times than I can count. I can't stress how much their help-especially in this past year- made this possible. These folks are some of the best. Go give 'em your love.
Also thank you, one more time, dear readers. You've already begun writing in your goodbyes, and it's been bittersweet. I've loved seeing my story through your eyes, learning what brought you here, why you stayed, what moments you loved best, and which ones you didn't. Thanks for all the kindness and flattery and insight. Thanks for the critiques and challenging questions. Thanks for the keyboard-smashing enthusiasm that always makes me grin. I wish I could hug each and every one of you.
- Because someone will inevitably ask: No, there will NOT be a sequel! Six years is enough for any story. XP
- In January 2018 I will host a Q&A on Tumblr and answer any questions about SoaD and the fate of its characters that you may have. I'll put a link to it in my profile as soon as I've settled on a date. (ETA: done!)
- I'm also planning on one last SoaD fanart contest around the same time. Keep an eye on my Tumblr for news!
- While I'm officially 'retiring' from fanfiction, I do have a few WIPs and Tumblr fics I plan to finish up and post over the next year as I have time. I won't start anything new though, just tying up loose ends.
And, because it's been asked before:
- You are welcome to write SoaD-based fic, just credit me clearly as a source and provide a link to PoT/SoaD if possible.
- If you'd like to translate parts of PoT/SoaD into another language, be my guest! Please try to contact me first, and again, credit me clearly with a link back to the original.
- If you would like to do an audio recording of PoT/SoaD, again, same rules, but feel free. :)
If you're interested in where I go from here, look me up! I'll be writing as Kate Weize. I'm participating in a writer's group, the link to which you can find in my profile. Here's to longer and better stories as I move forward!
For the last time, and with love.