Brzzz… brzzz… brzzz… clk…
Danny groaned at the unwelcome noise. He was not eager to wake up yet, especially not to a stupid 'silent' cell phone alarm. Silent? How was that silent? The vibrate mode still made noise. The silent part was nothing but false advertisement.
So, in light of his current blind hatred of silent cell phone alarms, he resolved to get just a few more seconds of sleep. Tightening his grip on the blankets, he curled further into the blank, painless passage of sleep.
Then, something rustled around. It was getting closer. No ghost sense. Not a ghost. If it was not a ghost, then he didn't need to wake up. Period.
But, life wasn't so easy. Soon, he found himself being shaken awake by one very tired, very bruised sister. And all of a sudden, his memories hit him like a train on a track.
He was in the GAV. His mother was kidnapped. Valerie was here (as the Red Huntress). And something bad happened to his dad and sister.
Oh, man. And his arm. Oww…
He stiffly sat up, adjusting his arm so that it wasn't so squished into the couch. "Jazz?" he mumbled.
"Hey," she whispered back, clearly relieved to hear his voice. "You're looking a little better."
"Thanks." With his good hand, he rubbed his sore neck. "How long was I out?"
"About five hours."
"Shhh!" Jazz quickly put a hand to his mouth. "Dad's still asleep, and you're… uh… you're not-"
"Ugh…" He noted his current humanity with a hint of annoyance. "I was getting so good at controlling it, too."
"You're lucky dad's behind a curtain right now."
His eyes flicked back to where his father's snores were rattling against the metal walls. "Yeah," he agreed. He stretched and relished the feel of actual furniture beneath his bones. Then, he noticed something new.
"Hey Jazz," he whispered, "my arm doesn't feel like it's crammed in a Fenton Incinerator anymore."
Her eyes rose up from her phone's screen, trailing to his arm which was completely obscured by a sling. "Do you think what Dad did worked?"
Danny shrugged, happy to realize that the motion didn't bring any new onset of pain. In fact, now that he was really thinking about it, it really only ached. And itched. But the itching was probably more due to the Fenton Foamer than anything.
"Well, I hope its working," Jazz finished.
He reached up and tugged at the makeshift sling. The moment Jazz noticed, she slapped away his hand. "I swear," she threatened, "if you do not stop messing with it, I will get the thermos."
"But it's itchy!" he whined, "and I kind of want to see what it looks like…"
"You don't need to see it because its itchy," she informed him. "Hurry up and switch. I'm about to wake up Dad."
"Fine, I'm hurrying." Reluctantly, he pulled himself onto his feet, sad to leave the soft embrace of his nested blankets. With one sharp thought, he shifted into ghost mode, core humming with a strong and vibrant thrum. He looked himself over, glad to see that his suit had rebuilt itself. Though as rebellious as any teenager was, he didn't particularly enjoy the sleeveless look.
Jazz looked back up from where she had shielded her eyes. She gave him one last appraising nod before she turned her back.
Now's my chance!
Not wasting a second, he immediately began to fidget with the sling. It was oversized and bulky, fashioned from one of Jazz's old hoodies, so it took some clumsy wrangling to get at his secured arm.
"Thermos." Danny froze, hand hovering over the sling. That word was not just a threat, but a promise. His sister slowly swiveled her head towards him, eyes narrowed.
And he feigned innocence as fast as he could. Leaning casually against the counter, he said, "Thermos? What thermos? We don't need a thermos, unless its for coffee? Do you want coffee? I'm making coffee."
As he busied himself, he heard Jazz sigh, mutter something about being the only adult in this situation (rude), and continue towards their sleeping father.
Phew. Forgot how scary she can be.
Within moments, the snoring ceased, and another hyper-exhausted Fenton joined the kitchen.
Jack blinked tiredly at his surroundings before he settled on staring at Danny (Phantom). The man watched blankly as Danny measured the grounds. To which, Danny just kind of avoided eye contact. It was weird being Phantom, and he was still not entirely sold on the idea that his dad wouldn't recognize him.
When he reached to turn on the faucet, his dad stopped him with a light touch to his hand. "Can't use that water kid. We're saving it for the bathroom. Here, use this." With a foot, he kicked open a floor cabinet and gestured to stash of water rations. Military grade because Fentons didn't do anything halfway.
The action surprised Danny enough that he actually shivered. He never thought his dad would be so comfortable with Phantom that he'd casually grab his hand. It was weird and scary in its own way. If his dad didn't fear Phantom, then what was stopping him from pulling Phantom apart, molecule by painful molecule.
"Uh, thanks," Danny stuttered after discreetly putting some distance between himself and his dad. "I can take it from here." The subtext was clear.
Give me my space.
"Right," his dad grunted. With one last curious look, Jack shuffled off into the bathroom.
Jazz, who was sitting in the passenger seat, merely glanced back at the interaction.
"Did you see that?" Danny mouthed.
Jazz only offered a shoulder shrug as a response before leaning back and closing her eyes.
"And you're usually the fink around here," Danny muttered to himself. The plastic ration bags were proving difficult to open one handed. "And I'm not usually so useless. This sucks," he said to his slinged arm. "You suck and you're useless."
After a few more frustrating attempts to open the bags, he eventually remembered that he could just turn the bag intangible and let the water pour out that way. Perfect. Easy.
And just like that! He spilt it everywhere. Great. Not even a little water made it into the pot.
The commotion stirred his sister who, after immediately recognizing the issue at hand, jumped up and poured the water for him.
"Ohmigosh. Sorry Danny. I forgot. One hand. I'm so sorry. I should have thought of it earlier."
To which Danny could only respond, "this is humiliating. Can't even open up a bag."
"Danny!" Jazz reprimanded. "Don't say that!"
"Well it's true!"
"You are healing," Jazz huffed. "When you're done, I'll let you open all the bags and bottles you want."
Talking with Jazz helped instill a degree of normalcy. He could almost pretend he wasn't Phantom right now. Almost. It was still hard to ignore the weightless tugs at his core and the glowing.
"Anytime, bro. Would you like to do the honors?"
Eager for some caffeine, he quickly smashed the ON button and nearly applauded the gurgling sound of heated water. He pointedly looked her square in the eye. "If you ever use the word 'bro' again, I might have to remove it from Lancer's hip new lingo phrase book."
Jazz snorted. "He still has that."
"According to my new English teacher, he's had it for decades."
"I remember when he referenced it in the middle of my senior exam week," Jazz smirked. "He told everyone to 'stop killing the chill and jive with the flow.'"
"Yeah, that sounds about par for the course."
"Oh, but that wasn't the worst of it. He somehow convinced Teslaff to play along, too!
Danny nearly choked. "Teslaff?"
Jazz nodded once, looking like a wizened old gossip sage. "Teslaff," she confirmed.
"I don't believe it."
"Totally happened. Living witness right here."
Danny grinned, happy to fall into the usual sibling banter. He pointed at her accusingly. "Video evidence or it didn't happen."
"How would I have-" but Jazz was cut short.
"Video evidence or what didn't happen?"
The new voice startled Danny so bad that his core frizzled and jumped a foot into the air. He looked sheepishly at his dad before forcing both of his feet to the metal floor. "Uh, nothing?"
Jack crossed his arms, but the gesture was more thoughtful than scornful. "Sure didn't sound like nothing."
"Inside joke, Dad," Jazz explained cooly. Maybe a bit too cooly. "By the time we finished explaining it to you, it wouldn't be funny anymore."
Jack raised an eyebrow, but quickly conceded. He did look a little disappointed, though.
"So…" Danny drawled, desperate to escape the awkward atmosphere. "I'm going to go to the bathroom now. Is there enough water to take a shower?"
His dad looked at him quizzically, perhaps befuddled that a ghost would ask to use his shower. "Not really. You could probably get away with rinsing your hair, but a shower? The tank's less than a quarter full."
"Thank goodness," he mumbled. "I feel like a wreck." With that, he happily retreated to the privacy of the tiny bathroom. It was small and cramped, but he wouldn't be scrutinized here. This would be his last break before he had to put his game face on for who knows how long.
He could clearly hear the voices outside the door, but he was too preoccupied with his business to care. Of which he had a lot. His hair was grimy and matted. Phasing helped ease cleaning it, but then the real issue was the apparent lack of shampoo. He ended up using bar soap which left a strange waxy residue and made it stick up oddly. He managed to phase some of the wax out, but for the most part, he was just going to look half feral until he took a proper shower.
"Just my luck," he told his reflection. "You look like you've just been electrocuted." He fussed some more, trying to get at least some of it to lay flat, but to no avail. "And you get to look like that for quite a while. Good going Fenton."
Groaning in defeat, he accepted his current fashion statement and left the bathroom. "You're up," he told Jazz. "I don't recommend using the bar soap as shampoo, by the way."
One look at his head, and Jazz quickly agreed. "Noted. Glad you went first."
He feigned emotional turmoil, throwing his hand over his chest dramatically. "You would sacrifice your own broth-" He cut himself short, just now remembering that he was Phantom and not Fenton.
Jazz just looked at him oddly. "Gonna finish that thought or can I just…"
"Go," Danny urged. "Don't wait up on me."
"Roger that." And she quickly disappeared behind the metal door.
This is gonna be hard.
Danny would be the first to admit that he was the absolute worst at separating Phantom and Fenton. He would also argue that he didn't really need to separate them since they were both just Danny. Now, that sentiment was coming back to bite him.
"How would a teenage ghost turned superhero act on a camping trip slash rescue mission while in the company of ghost-hating maniacs?" he wondered aloud as he poured his own cup of coffee. "Stay thy hand, hunter. I, Phantom, am here to save the day?" He considered it for a split moment as he stirred in his cream and sugar. "No. That's awful. I'd rather clean the Fenton Stockades than stoop to that level. I'll just act cool. Nothing weird about me. Just your average ghost… that also happens to have a human body… yeah okay. Maybe that is a little abnormal. But I can play it off. No big deal. Doesn't affect anything. I'm still just me."
He nodded to himself as he tore into a breakfast bar. "Yeah. I got this. All I have to do is not give myself away. Easy."
Why did it not feel easy?
Coffee in hand, mouth filled with granola, Danny stepped outside to look for his dad. They'd need to leave soon, so he thought he should try to round up the gang.
He looked left. He looked right. He even looked up before he remembered that Jack couldn't fly. Stupid ghost instincts. Jack was nowhere to be found.
"Hey, Jazz. Is that you?" Oh! There he is. Underneath the RV. Of course.
Ducking down, Danny met his dad's startled gaze with a, "sorry . Just me. Jazz is still getting ready."
Jack blew out a heavy, pensive breath. "Don't sneak up on me like that," he grumbled distractedly. He was busy pulling at some metal. Was that… a loose tread? "I have to fix this before we leave."
"Oh." Danny stood back up and turned in place. He could hear the water running inside, so Jazz was still not ready. And he couldn't see Valerie anywhere outside the ghost shield. Probably hidden in a tree somewhere… hopefully. When he decided he had nothing better to do, he crouched back down. "Can I help?"
His voice startled his dad again who promptly knocked his forehead against the underside of the RV. Holding his head with his hand, he groaned and grumbled, clearly frustrated. "I guess, yeah. I was going to ask for a flashlight…"
"Oh-" Danny smiled. This was something he, Danny Phantom could help with. "I gotcha covered." Coffee stored safely in his lap, arm outstretched, he let a cold and bright energy pool in his palm. "I learned to do this while camping. Pretty handy."
Too preoccupied to really pay any mind, his dad continued wrestling with the bent metal. "You an outdoorsman?"
"Bleh! No. Too many bugs. I'll take the city any day of the week."
Jack grunted and cursed as his grip slipped. Then, he closed his eyes and rested his head in the mud. "Beginning to agree with you, kid. This would be a cinch in a garage."
Danny frowned in thought. "Can I look?"
"Knock yourself out." Worming his way back out from the RV, Jack finally noticed what his source of light was. He cursed again, this time ducking down as far as the earth would let him.
As a result, Danny flinched, and the light instantly winked out. He held up his good hand complacently. as Jack openly stared. Unwilling to make the first move, Danny tensely waited.
Good going! Use ghost powers around ghost hunters! A recipe for instant friendship.
Gradually, his dad unwinded, breath hitching in a nervous laugh. "For a moment, I thought…" He shook his head. "Were you seriously using that as a flashlight?"
Jack snorted. "Well that's handy, but maybe you could warn a guy first." He finally finished wiggling his way back through the mud. "I could have shot you on the spot."
"Ha! Yeah, you and what aim," Danny quipped, falling once again into his defensive one liners. His dad was taking this pretty well, all things considered, but it was still unnerving. He should have expected it when Jack gave his back a good hearty clap, but he didn't. If it wasn't for his core's resilience, then he would have face planted into the side of the RV.
"Hey!" Jack cheered, "and here I was wondering if you lost your sense of humor."
Groaning with embarrassment, Danny crouched down and stuck his head underneath the RV. "Let's just get this over with, please?" The problem with the tread was obvious now that he was looking at it. A few segments were dented inwards, hooking around the feeder wheel…
"Is this it?" He indicated the bent metal.
"Yeah! Darn thing's jamming the ol' Fenton Retreader."
"Oh! I get it. So you just need to get the old tread off." His eyes traced back up to where his father was curiously hovering. "I can do that easy."
"Yeah, watch this." Leaving his mug in the dirt, he stood up and curled his fingers below the frame of the RV. The vehicle was easily lifted, listing to the side as one Jazz Fenton squealed and the running water was hastily turned off. Danny winced as he heard the tell-tale stomping just before the door swung open.
"What the heck are you doing!" she gasped, clinging to the front door frame to keep from falling over.
"Sorry!" Danny called over to her. "Just fixing the car-"
"A little warning next time!" Jazz shouted, clearly annoyed. Water was splashed all over her face and clothes. Her shirt got the worst of it, clinging to her skin in spots and hanging loosely in others for a good, proper disheveled look.
"Good thing you weren't on the commode!" Jack shouted.
"Ugghhh," she grumbled. "I hate family outings." Staggering through the slanted door, she fell to the earth, grimacing when her feet sank into the mud. "Never shoulda left my dorm. I'm gonna go get the Red Huntress. Please refrain from tearing the RV apart while I'm away." That last bit was aimed directly at Danny, but he pretended not to hear it. Jazz was just in a bad mood. She knew he wouldn't actually tear the RV apart.
"Stay safe," Jack said, "we don't know what's out there."
Pointing at the Fenton Peeler on her belt, Jazz agreed. "Better safe than sorry."
With a touch of intangibility, the tread fell off and immediately sank into the mud. Jack whistled, clearly impressed before he had the wits to activate the Fenton Retreader. A few moments after the man clambered through the slanted doorway, hidden mechanisms whirred and shifted, snapping into place one brilliantly polished platinum tread.
"Did it work!" Jack yelled from inside.
"I think so!" Danny answered, curiously watching as his parents' engenius design folded neatly away. "Hold on, I'm going to put it down now."
Kicking aside the old tread, Danny gently replaced the RV in the mud. It sank a little, but held strong. "Looks good!"
Jack stuck his head out, awe written on his face. "Wow! Guess you don't stay down for long, huh?"
Taking some steps back, Danny reclaimed his coffee mug and appraised his work. "Can't afford to." He took a sip, meandering in his guilt. If he wasn't taken out in the first place, then none of this would've happened. He looked at his arm, still useless within its sling. "I don't know how to repay you for this…"
Jack's eyes locked onto his injury, too. "Just get my wife back, and we're even."
That's right. Focus on getting mom back.
"Deal." The ghost shield's static hum isolated his senses from the outside world. It was so thick, he could just barely see out of it. The shadowy trees hid almost everything from view. "How long do you think it will take Jazz?"
Growing uncharacteristically serious, Jack scanned the tree line. "Dunno. Maybe they're talking it out? You know how Jazz can get… lectury."
Somehow, this situation struck Danny as a lecture free zone. Jazz should know better than to waste time trying to instill some vain knowledge on Valerie… not when their mother could be in a whole heap load of trouble. "I don't think it should be taking her this long…"
His dad fidgeted irritably, clearly bitten by the same anxiety that Danny was feeling. "She knows what she's doing…" he hesitantly stated. "She knew what to do with you."
Danny shook his head. "That's different! Valerie is… different. This is taking too long." He paced the circumference of the shield. "I can go check on them. Let me out."
At this, Jack looked nearly affronted. "I- I can't do that! You'll escape!"
"You have to trust me at some point!" Danny tried to reason, but as it was, his anxiety and paranoia was mounting just as his dad's was. "Just let me out!"
Jack shook his head and started marching forward. "No. I'll go get Jazz. You keep the RV warm."
"With that limp!" Danny argued, "you're going to hurt yourself!"
"I'll be back," Jack deftly promised, already several feet beyond the shield. But Danny didn't want to have any of that. His mom was already missing. Jazz could be who knows where, and his dad was just gonna march off into the unknown.
He pressed himself against the shield. "Stupid, stubborn, Fenton pride," he growled. "If there's gonna be anything that kills me, it'll be that." Jack disappeared beyond his range of sight all too quickly, and Danny's anxiety spiked. "Gotta get out of here," he mumbled to himself as he assessed the situation. "Phantom can't get through this… but maybe Fenton can?"
There was a chance. The first shields ever made had trouble with his human side, but as his parent's progressed, their shields got better. If luck was on his side, then the RV would still be outfitted with an antiquated shield design.
He flew to the back of the RV, switched, and ran straight towards the shield. It gave under his force a little bit, but otherwise didn't budge. His arm began to throb again at the abuse, quickly forcing Danny to consider alternate options.
Okay. Next plan.
Thinking quick, he jumped inside the RV, checking the front panel. The shield switch was clearly labeled, and he tried throwing it into the off position. Nothing happened. Crud. Must be some other controls he needed to activate. He scanned the interior, lined with almost as many knobs, switches, and levers as a space shuttle. Trying to maneuver through all the possible combinations would take too long. Plus, there's no telling which of these would actually hurt him! And really, that would be counterproductive to the whole rescue mission he was currently on.
He morphed back into Phantom as an idea began to develop. He couldn't get out of the shield, but that didn't mean that he couldn't move the shield. He hopped in the front seat and reached for the ignition… no keys. Dangit! He just couldn't catch a break.
"Okay, can't drive the RV." He started plotting aloud, worry increasing with each passing second. "Doesn't mean I can't still move the RV!"
He phased through the wall, eager to get going as soon as possible. He initially tried to fully lift the RV, but after it lurched and leaned unsteadily, he decided that picking the thing up and carrying it around would require the use of both of his arms. "Push it is then," he decided.
He jumped into the RV, popped it into neutral, and then jumped back out. It started to roll some down hill, and the shield moved with it, just as predicted. This will work!
Grunting, Danny began to push the RV with his good arm towards where the last of his family members disappeared to. He pushed it a few feet rather easily, but the farther it went, the more the front dug into the mud. Which meant… ugh! He'd have to pull it… and with his bad arm too.
He circled around and lifted the front back out of the earth. Pulling the thing would require a bit more muscle, and he only had one hand to steer with. Luckily, or unluckily, he soon discovered the next issue with the 'pull the GAV' plan.
Trees! The trees were freaking everywhere! Blocking any route he could hope to take into the woods.
How the heck am I supposed to get through this!
They towered over him, thick with decades of overgrowth. Sure, he could knock them down one by one, move the RV a little bit, knock down some more… but that seemed risky. The shield didn't give him a lot of room to maneuver, and the chance of a tree falling on the RV was pretty high… Not to mention that Sam might literally kill him if she found out that he indiscriminately kicked over trees. This could be, like, some sort of nature reserve or something.
And then, he could suddenly hear a voice! His father's voice! Finally! Jack was so loud that his shouts were carrying through the leaf litter. He sounded urgent, in trouble maybe?
He was trapped, and his dad was in danger. He paced the shield, trying to discern the direction of the shout.
And then finally, another sound. Footsteps. Running footsteps.
"Danny!" His sister burst from the undergrowth, brambles clinging to her jeans like frayed nerves.
"Jazz! What's wrong?"
She didn't pause to address the question, instead bolting right past her brother and into the RV. She stood over the switches, flipping the ghost shield on and off. Of course, the shield itself remained activated despite her attempts. "Locked!? Dad didn't say he locked it!"
"Jazz! Where's Da- where's Jack?"
His sister took a shaky breath, stepping away from the controls. "Slipped down a ledge. Can't get him out…" She lightly kicked the controls. "And APPARENTLY, I can't get you out either!"
It was rare that Jazz lost her composure, but she was losing it and losing it fast. He found himself wondering if she got any sleep at all.
Okay. Remain calm and evaluate your options.
Valerie! Valerie should be out there. Why doesn't she just hoist him out? "Val can get him out," Danny reasoned. "She's strong enough."
Throwing her hands in the air, Jazz growled, "she's gone! I looked everywhere. Dad looked everywhere. She's…" Jazz took a deep breath. "... she just left us." Her hand started fidgeting with her lose hair, pulling it over her bruised eye. It was matted from the wind and mist, clinging to her fingers as she tried to pull herself together.
Shoulda seen that coming. Valerie isn't one for joyous cooperation.
"Dad didn't tell me that the controls were locked." His sister's fiery eyes glared hard at the tiny levers dotting the front panel. "Do you know how to unlock them?"
"If I did, do you think I'd still be here?"
"Fair enough. Any ideas?"
"Good, because I got one and a lot of frustration to take out." Standing in the middle of the RV, she opened the fire escape hatch on the ceiling. Alarms started instantly blaring, but she paid them no mind as she pulled herself out and onto the roof.
Following suit, Danny phased himself out and hovered, watching in shock as his goody two shoes sister hammered away at the base of the shield emitter with the heel of her sandal. "Wait," Danny meandered, "stop! You're gonna break it!"
"That's the idea!" STOMP! This time, she kicked it so hard that her shoe went flying off into the distance. The stubborn platinum just wasn't giving in to her violent onslaught.
Oh. Duh, that makes sense.
"And people call me the problem child." Waving his sister away, he gripped the metal in his gloved hand. The cool shield energy nipped at his skin with needle pricks. Fortunately, the metal itself easily gave way between his fingers as Phantom tore the device right off its mount. "We are going to get in so much trouble for this," he muttered as the shield above warped and slowly faded like a melting sheet of green popsicle.
"Well, it's not like we had much of a choice!" Jazz defended.
"True. I just don't think I've ever been so directly destructive with our parent's equipment before. It feels wrong." The shield above him was still collapsing and melting. Apparently, whatever Jack had juiced this shield up with was some grade A stuff. It was taking a while to dissipate.
"And people call you the problem child," Jazz parroted with a maniacal, sleep-deprived smirk. "Okay, Dad is somewhere in that direction." She indicated towards the tree line. "Down in a ravine with a creek. Think you can find that?"
"Ravine with a creek," Danny answered, "easy. I got a bird's eye view, remember?" He pushed himself towards the ceiling, eagerly waiting for an opening large enough to squeeze through.
"Thank goodness," Jazz deflated. "I feel like I've just ran a marathon."
"Take a breather. I'll be back in a sec."
As he finally left the shield (free at last!), he rocketed skyward, above the treeline and towards the direction that Jazz had indicated. Sure enough, a creek bubbled along, carving out a snake like trail through the elevation. It was pretty, but not pretty enough to warrant gawking at in this situation.
So, upon spotting it, Danny dove and followed along the waterway, speeding along at a healthy cruise of about 60mph. Needless to say, at that pace, spotting Jack took no time at all. He was an oversized blot of bright orange in a sea of dark mud. To say that the man stuck out would be a severe understatement.
A/N: Wow! This is very mucho late. This chapter just absolutely REFUSED to be written. The stars and the moon and the sun and the planets and all the other space junk circling our meek planet aligned and dispelled unto me the WORST of writer's blocks. I'm serious. I have like over 10 of this chapter written (and deleted; and rewritten; and deleted). It just WOULD NOT happen. And then work and family and work again and family again. I almost gave up and released a total DUD instead of an actual chapter, and that would have simply not been cool.
Ahhh, it's been so long since I've updated. Thank you to all the new folks who've favorited and followed, and a big thank you Invader Johnny, FiveRivers, Fear the Fuzzy Bear, kimcat, MsFrizzle, Jatynzel, and the two mysterious guests for the reviews!