Not long after the third anniversary of his death and the first anniversary of his coronation, Danny should have expected something to go wrong. It had been a while since something irreversibly life-altering had occurred and he was a fool for not seeing it coming.
First, he'd been born into a family of ghost hunters—which was the least bizarre thing about him—and then another world had opened inside him, essentially half-killing him. Once he finally came to terms with the fact that he was the physical embodiment of Schrödinger's paradox, he accidentally stepped up as his town's superhero and started lying. He started lying a lot. Really, he couldn't remember a single day since his death he hadn't lied to someone. If they gave awards for lying Danny would certainly have an Emmy by now, but unfortunately, the closest thing to a 'lying award' was American politics. After a brief stint with his nemesis becoming mayor, Danny decided that he never wanted anything to do with the back-handed art of lawmaking ever again. Of course, fate would have it that thanks to his superhero career, he was suddenly next in line to be Ghost King! Just great. Fucking wonderful.
They forced him to attend etiquette lessons and galas to learn about ghost culture. They made him wear an awful fleece cape and the sacred Ring of Rage and Crown of Fire. Hell, he spent two weeks in the Ghost Zone's wilderness to 'prove his worth' as king and to placate his critics. If he were not bound to silence, he would tell his critics that they were more than correct doubting a half-human child to rule an entire dimension. He was only sixteen! He didn't want absolute power and he knew next to nothing about strategy and courting and all the Lord and Lady bullshit they expected of him. He just wanted to stay home for a night and play video games. Was that too much to ask?
Fortunately, after his coronation, much of the hype had died down. His overseers let him rule as he saw fit as long as he attended the bi-annual assembly in his palace, they let him off the hook. Still, Danny visited his palace about once a week just to make sure that things were running smoothly. He might hate his job, but he wouldn't let his personal distaste cloud his duty to the billions of denizens of the Ghost Zone. Besides, he had more time on his hands since he'd given up his superhero gig. Now that he had authority over all ghosts, he could command them to leave the human world alone. For a while, life was good!
He should've known that it was too good to last. All good things must eventually come to an end; that was a universal truth of life that even half-death couldn't liberate.
It happened on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. He had visited the Ghost Zone three days prior and last he heard everything had been in order. The turf war in the Medieval Realm was finally grinding to a halt and Danny's latest legislature to reduce lair seizures was panning out well. There was a royal ball scheduled for next month that Lady Feiyan requested he lent a hand in planning and the month after that he had an audience with the Observants. None of it was urgent whatsoever—nothing more than mundane affairs to attend to. He had more homework for Calculus that week than he had Ghost King duties!
There should have been no reason for the Fright Knight to appear in his kitchen, reading the latest report of happenings in the Greco-Roman Province. After all, all his staff knew not to approach him in the human world unless it was absolutely dire. Better yet, all his staff knew not to approach him as Danny Fenton under any circumstances! The Fright Knight—Danny's direct advisor—should have known this more than anyone! Yet, as Danny tried to wave him down with a bag of potato chips and gesture with his eyes that he should leave, the Fright Knight remained ignorant to Danny's clear distress.
His parents were only four feet away, watching the bizarre encounter with what can only be described as a cross between bafflement and horror.
"—there is a crowd amassed in one of the central courtyards of New Athens and the local policing authority has requested the throne's assistance in driving them out, though it's highly questionable that we take any action considering that the crowd has not resorted to hostilities. In other news, Lady Pandora has sent you a letter with updates on the one called 'The Box Ghost' whom I understand is her latest apprentice. I have left it in your 'room of bed' along with a notice from Lady Feiyan that she expects you to review the list of guests before this Saturday, my King."
At the end of his tirade, the Fright Knight bowed his head in a flourish and waited for his King's dismissal. Danny tried, but the only sound he could utter was a soft choking noise that neither satisfied or alarmed the armor-clad ghost. He could feel his parents' eyes burning holes into his skin and he wanted nothing more than for this to be an extremely vivid nightmare. They had heard everything the Fright Knight said, even when he'd called Danny his King. Ancients, he was fucked. He was fucked a hundred times over—no, a thousand! There was no way he was getting out this without letting his secret out of the bag and—and—
He was hyperventilating now. He didn't need much to air breathe in the first place but that didn't make hyperventilation any more pleasant. He breathed and breathed and breathed and none of it made it to his lungs. Why wasn't there any air in his lungs? He was inhaling so much and it didn't make sense why his lungs couldn't hold onto all that air.
He faintly registered his Mom stepping towards him, only for the Fright Knight to shove her back into the counter. Through his mantra of breathe breathe breathe he realized that was a very bad thing. The Fright Knight had just manhandled his Mom like she was nothing more than a sack of potatoes. His Mom.
Bound to Danny's word, the Fright Knight ceased his aggression toward his parents and flew back to Danny. Dad helped Mom up from where she'd been knocked against the counter and promptly cocked an ectogun straight at the Fright Knight's head.
"Not another move, spook! How dare you lay hands on my wife!"
"She was approaching the King of Ghosts in his weakened state. I have no intention to harm humans unless they pose a threat to my Lord."
Danny choked back his rapid breaths and evened his intake of air. "Dad, I swear, I have no idea what he's talking about."
The lie rolled off his tongue so fast that he didn't even have to think about it. His parents seemed to take his word for it and turned back to the Fright Knight.
"Why do you think our son is your King?" Mom asked. "And what's all this talk about New Athens and Lady Feiyan?"
The Fright Knight's cape of flames dimmed for a moment. "I do not have to prove the authenticity of my claims to humans, even if said humans are parents to the King. Though, if it would sate your curiosity I would simply ask my Lord himself."
"He's just a ghost trying to mess with you guys," Danny pleaded. "I don't know why, but you trust me, right?"
"Of course, son!"
"I don't know." Mom shook her head. "I mean, I trust you, sweetie. But what does this spook have to gain by calling you King?"
"I am sworn to the throne until the day my Lord perishes or until I fade into the nether myself!" the Fright Knight declared.
That… definitely wasn't helping. His parents looked even more suspicious now. He wished there was a way to indirectly send the Fright Knight back into the Ghost Zone but he would not obey anything less than a formal command.
"Maybe he just wants attention?" he suggested.
Dad knit his eyebrows. "Son, what aren't you telling us?"
"Nothing! Why are you guys suddenly accusing me of things just because a ghost says so? You never listen to ghosts!"
Most days Danny was crushed that they shot first and asked questions later. Today, things would be much less complicated if Dad had actually taken a shot at the Fright Knight rather than hearing him out first.
"This ghost had no reason to come into our kitchen," Mom pointed out. "If what he said is true, he serves you because you're a King. I hate to say that I'm buying into the words of a ghost, but so far it's the only explanation that makes a lick of sense. It's much too stupid to be a ploy—even for a thick-skulled ghost like him."
He scoffed. "I'm human! How the hell would I even become a King of Ghosts? This is just crazy! Are you hearing yourself?"
"It is kind of out there, Mads…"
"Whew! Thanks, Dad!"
"... but I think that you have a point."
Mom stepped forward and placed her hands on either of Danny's shoulders. Her steady indigo eyes met his own and he instantaneously felt his capacity to lie dissolve into nothing. He was vulnerable now. If she wanted, she could pry each and every little truth out of him like it was nothing. He shouldn't be afraid of his own mother, but her intimate gaze scared him shitless.
"Tell us the truth, Danny."
After three years of lying, what was he supposed to say? That he'd die and that she'd never noticed? That he'd become a superhero and that she'd believed him when he'd said that the bruises were from stray doorknobs and table corners? That he'd inadvertently been sucked into a world of royalty and couldn't escape it if he'd tried? That the reason he lied so much was because he was scared of what she would do once she knew? That the weapons mounted on the basement walls sent chills up his arms because he knew that one day he could be on the other side of the barrel? That he couldn't remember what it was like to be wholly human anymore and that one day he anticipated becoming a full ghost, forever?
"It's true," he whispered. "It's all true."
She brushed a strand of hair from his face with a frown. "That's what I thought."
"You're really the Ghost King?" Dad asked.
"I never wanted to be."
He gulped. "It's a long story."
"How about we sit down, then?" Mom suggested.
He must have nodded because his parents started walking toward the living room. When Danny stepped forward, he realized that the Fright Knight was still idly suspended beside him, patient. Unsure how to go about matters, Danny cleared his throat. "Um, you can leave now."
The Fright Knight bowed. "As you wish, my King."
They didn't say anything, but his parents visibly became less tense when the knight vanished in a gale of violet flames. Once he'd settled in the loveseat opposite the couch, Mom broke the ice.
"So… the Ghost King. That's you?"
He tried not to wince. "Yep."
"And that knight ghost serves you?"
"How did you manage it, Danno?" Dad implored softly. "And why haven't you told us?"
"I, uh, didn't really know how to say it. I just felt like… if I didn't talk about it or told anyone, that I could still pretend like everything was normal. That I'm still normal, even though I'm not."
"Sweetie, you didn't have to pretend for us. We'll treat you the same no matter whether you're the Ghost King or not."
"Good to know..."
If only that was the half of it. Accepting that Danny was the Ghost King was the easy bit. Accepting that he was a ghost would be more difficult, especially once they learned that he was Danny Phantom—Public Enemy #1—himself. He dreaded their faces, their twin looks of terror once they realized that their precious son was nothing more than a stranger wearing what was essentially their child's breathing corpse.
Maybe he didn't have to tell them that bit just yet. After all, they had no reason to suspect that he was any less human. Sure, he was the Ghost King but if he put a convincing enough spin on his story they might be inclined to believe his gambit.
"I guess I should tell you how it happened. Do you remember that big invasion two years ago? The one where the city was pulled into the Ghost Zone and your Ecto-Skeleton went missing?"
"How could we not? That conniving ghost boy stole it! Three months of work—gone! For all we know, he still has it and is biding his time… waiting for when the city's at its weakest," Dad grumbled.
"Uh, yeah. The Ecto-Skeleton sort of got destroyed. Not that Phantom would attack the city, anyway! He's a pretty good guy and under my reign, none of the ghosts are able to attack our world."
Mom's eyes widened. "That's why there haven't been many attacks over the past few months? Because of you?"
"Almost all ghosts respect my authority. There's the odd few that don't, but I let Phantom take care of them since fighting off ghosts is kind of his 'thing'. Anyway, back to the invasion. Phantom stole your Ecto-Skeleton to fight off the last Ghost King and I followed him."
Mom gripped the edge of the couch, leaving lateral imprints in the shape of her fingers.
"Why? Danny, that's incredibly dangerous! You could have gotten hurt."
Dad suddenly paled. "He—he did get hurt! Vlad found him unconscious outside of the Ghost Shield. Remember, Mads?"
"Oh, yeah. But I'm fine now! Don't worry! So, the suit drained Phantom of most of his energy and there was no one left to finish off Pariah Dark—the last king—so I got in the suit and did it myself. I know it was stupid, but Phantom did most of the heavy lifting and after his efforts, I couldn't just let an evil ghost destroy the city! I locked him back in his sarcophagus, which made me the new Ghost King. At the time, neither Phantom or I had known about the ancient rites of conquest and it turns out that whoever deals the final blow becomes successor to the crown."
"And it doesn't matter that you're human? I'd imagine that most ghosts would hate that."
Well, he wasn't wrong there. Even though Danny had proved his worth, there were still many sects that detested a half-human king. Every now and then an assassin tried to bring him into his 'full power', but their attempts were almost pitiful. The last insurgent had tried poisoning one of Danny's chalices of ectoplasm but hadn't taken into account that most 'ghost-poisons' had little effect on a living immune system. Maybe it made him a little drunk, but that was better than the alternative.
"Not everyone's happy with it, but there's not much that they can do now."
"So what do you actually do?" Mom said. "Earlier, that fire purple ghost—"
"The Fright Knight."
"Yeah, the… Fright Knight. He was mentioning other ghosts and places in the Ghost Zone? You don't actually go to the Ghost Zone, right? Surely we'd notice if you were gone all the time."
His parents noticed a lot less than they thought, but now was not the time to say that aloud.
"I do. I can... get other ghosts to escort me around, yeah! That's how I navigate the Ghost Zone. When I'm there, I spend most of the time in my palace doing boring legal stuff. Like, I cannot stress to you how painful it is for me to just sit there and approve of every little article and treaty. Though, sometimes I visit other places and exploring ghost society is pretty fun."
"I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with you traveling around a dangerous ghost world as you please. What if they try to hurt you?"
"Mom, I practically own the Ghost Zone. They can't hurt me there—I have power over them."
"Yes, but you were able to hurt the last king! What if they try to usurp you!"
"If I can't fight them off myself, then I have loyal followers that'll protect me. Pariah Dark didn't have many supporters because he was out of his mind, even for a ghost. It's all good."
Dad shifted his weight on the couch. "What do you mean you have power over the ghosts? Is it just status, or do you actually have powers?"
This… was an uncomfortable territory. His parents couldn't know about his actual ghost powers otherwise they'd want to run tests on him. Hell, they might run tests on him anyway. That only left showing them his royal artifacts, which were so ridiculous he didn't want to show them. Still, if he was coming clean about his life as the Ghost King he would have to show them sometime.
"Kind of. The Ghost King is supposed to wear the Crown of Fire and the Ring of Rage. The crown is supposed to give me absolute authority over ghosts and the ring is supposed to give me absolute power, but the ring doesn't work as well since I'm only human."
Danny shut his eyes and lightly probed at his core. It'd taken a lot of practice, but he could summon any accessories from his ghost form to his human form and vice versa. It was like pin-pointing parts of himself to morph rather than making a full, sweeping transformation. Finally, something in his core gave in and he felt the Ring of Rage wrap around his hand and the airy chill of the Crown of Fire settle around his temples.
The crown's name was a total misnomer; since Danny had a cold core, it manifested icy rather than hot. In a way, the cold around his head was comforting. Some parts of his palace felt stuffy, especially on his elevated throne. Even though it still appeared as green flames to the naked eye, the crown was a nice way to keep cool.
Meanwhile, the green-plated ring that had once been inscribed with Pariah Dark's cross-skull crest was now branded with Phantom's emblem instead. It wasn't that noticeable at a glance, but it was in his best interest to keep it out of his parents' sight. The last thing he wanted was for them to make the connection.
He cocked his head forward so that they would focus on the crown instead. "Ta-da!"
"Damn." Dad whistled.
Mom swiftly elbowed him in the ribs. "How does that work? How did you just make them—" she waved her hands around, struggling for words, "—appear!"
"Some kind of mental link. I don't really think about it."
"And that doesn't bother you?"
"Honestly, there's a lot of things that could bother me but I've learned to live and let go."
If he dwelled on every wild thing that happened to him, he'd never be able to function. Not that he functioned well in the first place.
"That's a good philosophy, son!"
"It sounds like something Jazz would say… Wait, does she know about this?" Mom asked.
"Oh my God, you told your sister before telling us."
He shook his head, vehemently. "I never told her, she figured it out on her own!"
"And she didn't tell us?"
"Well, I sort of asked her not to? Really, it's not that I trust you guys—I just wanted to pretend like it wasn't a thing. I don't want it to take over every aspect of my life."
He echoed the lies he'd told them earlier, hoping that they wouldn't see through the cracks in his veneer. That he had been afraid and that he was still afraid because they didn't know everything. That he wouldn't let them know everything.
Mom pursed her lips. "It isn't like her to keep something this big, though. She's dead awful at keeping secrets."
"Just two days ago you swore that I couldn't keep a secret either."
Dad chuckled. "I think you just got played, Mads."
"You're not supposed to laugh, Jack!"
"Oh come on, you can't help but admit that this entire thing is ridiculous. We thought both our children were so transparent but it turns out that we were blind the entire time!"
At the word transparent, Danny couldn't help but laugh too. Dad's word choice couldn't be more spot on! Before he knew it, he'd fallen into a fit of hysterics. Could this situation be any more ironic?
"Daniel James, stop that! This isn't funny!"
Now that he thought about it, this was such a stupid way for all his lies to unravel. He'd been meticulous, cautious. He always transformed out of sight of others and took painstaking measures to ensure that his parents' equipment wouldn't target him. He carefully set up alibis with his friends whenever he needed to slip away to the Ghost Zone and orchestrated distractions so that his parents wouldn't notice his absences. After all his hard work, it had all been undone by the Fright Knight! The fucking Fright Knight of all people!
That was hilarious!
"Danny, I'm serious!"
When he caught his Mom's eye, his breath hitched in his throat. She was serious. Her eyes were stormy, murderous even. He'd seen that look before. The last time she'd worn it he had been Phantom, pressed against a grimy alley wall. Her gun had been inches from his cranium, so close that he could hear the wheeze of each individual component of the weapon. She'd said something along the lines of how she anticipated removing him from Amity Park once and for all, that his days of terrorization were over. He couldn't remember how he escaped, it had to have been over a year or two ago, but that look was forever burned into the back of his eyelids.
"I'm—I'm sorry. It all came over me at once."
She sighed. "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have yelled at you. It's just that I'm trying to wrap my mind around this. My son is ghost royalty! Who else can say that?"
"If it makes you uncomfortable, we don't ever have to talk about it," he offered. "You can just ignore me."
"What? Danny that's ridiculous, you don't have to keep a part of yourself hidden from us anymore. You're our son. We love you."
"It may be pretty out there, but it's not like we're ashamed of you. If anything, I'm proud!" Dad beamed.
"So you're okay with me spending my weekends doing ghost stuff in the Ghost Zone and having ghosts randomly appear around me?"
There was a pause. Neither of his parents spoke and for a moment, Danny suspected that they might bar him from ever going to the Ghost Zone again. Earlier, Mom had been rather shaken that he was visiting the other dimension at all. They had good reason to believe that it was dangerous and weren't wrong; even though he was the ruler of the Ghost Zone, that didn't mean it was a very gentle environment.
"As long as you're okay with it," Mom finally said. "Though, if ghosts start interrupting you at school I don't know how we'd handle that."
"It shouldn't be that big of a problem. But uh, thanks for understanding."
Dad nodded. "Of course, Danno. You know, if anything, we want to understand more about all this. Do you think that we could ever tag along to uh, your palace?"
He hadn't expected that question so soon, but he had expected it. There was no way his ghost-hunting parents weren't going to capitalize on the fact that their son ruled over ghosts. Hopefully, they kept their requests reasonable and didn't ask him to help capture any of his subjects for live experimentation. The thought alone made him shudder. He swore on his own core that he would protect all of his subjects no matter the expense, there was no way he would just surrender them to his parents on a silver platter.
Still, the fact that they were willing to visit the Ghost Zone itself was a start. Maybe this would work in his favor; if he could persuade them that ghosts weren't mindless compilations of protoplasm then maybe he could come clean about Phantom.
"Maybe not right away, but I can try to clear a day to show you around."
"Should we bring the gas masks?" he asked.
The idea of his parents wandering his palace in goddamn gas masks was comical in theory, but he could see a thousand ways it could go off the rails.
"Uh, the air is fine. There's not really a need for it."
"Really?" Mom sounded nonplussed. "We ran the probability, and the chances that the air was full of toxic ectoplasmic gas was nearly eighty percent. How fascinating that it's non-lethal!"
"I'm pretty sure that it's just air."
"Still, this will be so interesting," she leaned into Dad. "Won't it, honey?"
"You bet, Mads! Just let us know when you're ready, son!"
Their enthusiasm was sweet if not a little overwhelming.
"It's really not that exciting, I promise."
"Oh, you're just saying that… Mr. Ghost King."
He blushed. "No. Don't… don't call me that. It sounds wrong when you say it."
"What should I call you then? Lord of Ghosts? Ghost Master?" Dad's telltale shit-eating grin was relentless.
Danny threw his face in his hands, accidentally brushing his palms against the frigid base of his crown. He'd forgotten that he was wearing it and the realization only expedited his humiliation.
"Stop, you're killing me, Dad…"
"Monarch of Specters?" Mom suggested. "Ruler of the Dead?"
"Not you too!"
Despite his half-hearted protests, his parents continued to rattle off alternate titles for his kingship, and for the first time in a while, Danny felt like everything might just be okay.
Written for GothMoth's Phic Phight Prompt: Maddie and Jack discover their son is the Ghost King but still don't know he's Phantom.
I might continue this for DannyMay but I'm not sure yet!