Written for DannyMay2020 Days 19 and 24, Doors and Mask.
Danny was more nervous than he would care to admit. Sure, this was the fourth royal ball under his rule, but there was so much that could go wrong. Between his staff's insistence that he open the ball with a speech, the difficulties he'd already encountered with catering (seriously, how hard was it to serve purified ectoplasm?), and the strict dress code Lady Feiyan had taken upon herself to set... he was not feeling at all confident.
To make matters worse, it was going to be his parents' first endeavor into the Ghost Zone. He'd coached them as best he could on what not to do during the ball, but they could be dense sometimes. The last thing he needed was for them to insult one of his ambassadors and throw the entire party into turmoil. Or worse… find out that he was Phantom.
Still, he'd made it through tougher situations. He just had to stay on top of things before they inevitably spiraled out of control. That wouldn't be too hard, right? After all, Jazz said everything would be fine! He prayed to the Ancients that she was right for once.
With minutes to spare, he managed to corral his parents into the Specter Speeder. They'd been a bit put off that he knew how to drive it—especially since he didn't even have a learner's permit—but he'd played it off.
"I don't always have time for a ghost to escort me around the Ghost Zone. So, I figured out how to drive it myself. It's about as easy as my space shuttle games—"
"Those are still games, Danny," Mom reminded him.
"Yeah, but I've never crashed it, have I? You've never even noticed I've used it. So clearly, I know what I'm doing."
"He's got a point there," Dad pointed out. "Take it away, Danno!"
Mom's eyes widened. "Wait, let me buckle—"
Once they'd all found a seat, Danny slammed on the brakes. Initially, he'd wanted to take his time flying to his palace to give his parents a better look at the Ghost Zone before the ball, but they were short on time. He'd planned to leave half-an-hour earlier, but his parents had spent so long getting ready that it was essentially the eleventh hour. He couldn't blame them for fretting so much since he'd been the one to drive up their anxiety in the first place. He'd ranted about Lady Feiyan's stupid dress code five too many times and now his parents were convinced that they had to dress to the nines. In reality, the dress code wasn't that important—Danny just found it so ridiculous that it was impossible not to rant about.
Mom was dressed in a dark blue, chiffon dress that stopped above her ankles with black flats. Her hair was put into an up-do and for the half-life of him Danny couldn't figure out how she managed to pin up such short hair—but it worked. To top it off, she had a black masquerade mask—compliant with the dress code—that curved over her nose and loosely framed her indigo eyes.
Dad, on the other hand, wore his finest and only suit. He'd had to get it dry cleaned after Vlad had dirtied it at the college reunion all those years ago, but it still fit him quite well. His navy tie complemented Mom's dress and his mask was nearly identical disregarding the size. It was jarring to see him outside of his HAZMAT suit considering he wore it everywhere. Sometimes Danny was even convinced that it was melded into his skin like his own suit was in ghost form.
Alas, it was a welcome change to see Dad all dressed up with Mom. Maybe he could convince one of the ghosts to take a picture of all three of them before the night was over. Not that they could show anyone, of course. Danny was dressed in his stupid royal garb, which was really just his fleece cape, ring, and crown. Normally he'd wear them over his HAZMAT suit but since he was attending the ball in his human form he was donning a plain white dress shirt and black slacks. Of course, since it was a masquerade ball—which was another of Lady Feiyan's ideas—he had a minimalist green mask that didn't distract from his crown.
"Do you really have to go so fast, sweetie?" Mom asked. Danny had just taken a sharp turn to dodge a floating island, which in retrospect it would've been okay to fly straight through it since he was human at the moment. Still, he was expected to make the opening remarks soon and it wasn't like they could start the royal ball without the Ghost King himself.
"Sorry, but we're really short on time. If you guys want to sightsee, I'm sure I can take it slow on the way back."
"If we're not too tired from partying!" Dad nudged Mom in the ribs. For a moment, Danny's mind wandered somewhere beyond his consent and wondered if it was too late to fully die.
Mom pursed her lips. "How long do these things usually last?"
"I don't really keep track of time. It's never really easy in the Ghost Zone, but I'd say anywhere between three to six hours?"
"That isn't too long! Back in college, Vladdie and I would go to these frat parties and—"
"Dad, please stop there."
The last thing he needed tonight was to be thinking about Vlad, who was fortunately banned from ever setting foot into Danny's palace and consorting with any members of the royal staff. Back when Danny was first named as Ghost Prince, Vlad had lost his shit and had attempted to seize the Ring of Rage and manipulate the Fright Knight. Upon learning that Danny was heir to the throne, the Fright Knight quickly switched sides and teamed up with Danny to take Vlad down. It'd been a bitter victory but Vlad hadn't tried anything since. However, Danny couldn't help but wonder if his trust in the knight was misplaced after the incident in his kitchen. For the time being, he was on royal probation and demoted as Danny's advisor until he proved that he could be trusted not to blow his secret.
Soon enough, Danny parked the speeder right outside of his palace. Some of the guards seemed a bit alarmed, as did some of the guests pouring through the main entrance, but he waved them off through the windshield. Before throwing open the doors and entering the palace, he turned to his parents for one last run-through of what they'd practiced.
"Alright, what are three things you never ask a ghost? Go!"
"How they died!" Dad burst.
"What their obsession is," Mom added.
He nodded. "And?"
They both thought for a moment before Mom broke the silence.
"How powerful they are?"
"Yep! Now, what are you not supposed to do during the ball?"
"Drink the ectoplasm, announce that we're ghost hunters—"
"Go through any doors, talk with the Box Ghost—"
"Don't ask questions about Phantom, don't do the Macarena—"
"Avoid any and all ancient politics, especially Caesar—"
"And never audibly make a wish," his parents finished in sync.
"Alright, I think you guys are ready. Now," he held open the door to the Specter Speeder, "let's get this party started."
As soon as they passed through the threshold of the main hall, Danny was whisked away by some of his guards, and Maddie and Jack were left alone. Maddie was a bit put off by her son's abrupt departure but decided not to dwell on it in lieu of taking in the lively scene before her.
The dull exterior of the palace paled in comparison to its grandiose interior. It almost reminded her of castles that she'd read about in fantasy books, with ceilings so high that you could only look up and find darkness. There were hand-carved pillars decorated with skulls and iridescent drapes that appeared to catch the light of nearby ghostly auras.
Across the throng of ghosts donning masks similar to her own, there was a massive throne made from some kind of glossy black material—obsidian?—and suspended on a platform nearly ten feet above the floor. Maddie couldn't see how sitting on that could ever be comfortable, but Danny had once mentioned off-handedly that he'd made a few 'modifications' to make it much more tolerable. Maybe he'd fitted a cushion to it that blended in with the throne? She'd have to ask him later.
The ghosts themselves were much more varied and jubilant than she had anticipated. Maddie had expected to encounter the standard humanoid ghosts that had once invaded Amity Park, but many of the ghosts were far from humanoid at all! Among the crowd, she could pick out yetis donning blue kilts and headdresses that disappeared into their tufts of white fur. Meanwhile, three seven-tailed kitsunes—each brown with white coats—chased each other above the crowd. Maddie could faintly make out wreaths of red flowers and ribbon hanging from their necks.
What was really interesting was that each respective group wore some kind of mask, respective to their own culture. And to think that only a month ago Maddie had dismissed the idea of ghosts having the intellectual capacity to form separate cultures! Ultimately, she was grateful that she had learned Danny's secret and that he'd set her straight. The last month had been difficult in more ways than one, but Danny had taken the time to debunk each and every one of her misconceptions about ghosts. Now that she was actually here, in the midst of it all, she wondered how she had once been so ignorant.
"It's breathtaking," Jack marveled.
"It really is."
Near the front of the hall, someone played a trumpet. The crowd surged forward and Maddie did her best to stay by Jack's side in the chaos. Some of the ghosts took to the air to get a better view of the throne, which helped clear the floor and give Maddie a better vantage of the platform where her son was now standing. There was a tangible air of confusion among the ghosts when Danny waved, but it immediately dissipated once he cleared his throat.
"Ghosts and Ghouls, Spirits and Souls… I welcome you tonight to the tri-annual royal ball. Among others, I would like to thank Lady Feiyan of the Imperial Province for organizing this event and for all her hard work ensuring that everything runs smoothly. Uh, we have refreshments along either side of the hall so make sure to sample some of the ectoplasm. We also have a great assortment of musicians, including by much popular demand, popstar Ember McLain." If Maddie hadn't known better, he'd just rolled his eyes—but she was much too far away to tell for sure. "Feel free to mingle with some strangers and just have an all-around good time. Thanks!"
He stepped off the edge of the platform and Maddie had to stifle a gasp. Rather than careening to the floor, Danny easily drifted down with a grace only reserved for ghosts. She'd suspected that the physics in the Ghost Zone were inherently different from Earth's, but seeing it in action was a whole other phenomenon. Was the force of gravity less here? From what Danny exhibited, that was the only solution. However, it didn't feel any different than it did on Earth to Maddie. Maybe the offset in the force of gravity was subtle enough that she didn't feel it when walking, or maybe the force itself was inconsistent! That went against everything in the textbook world of physics. Oh, this visit was already revolutionary!
Behind her, someone coughed. She turned and found a humanoid ghost with mint skin and chalk-white hair. They were wearing some sort of red patterned pantsuit, which only clashed with their green complexion. When Maddie found their face, she had to do a double-take. Like everyone else, they had a masquerade mask... except theirs was fit for a face with four eyes.
"Excuse me, are you the King's human parents?"
She exchanged a glance with Jack who was just as baffled. "Yes?"
"Oh, excellent! I've never met any humans—this is just so fascinating! I'm Xerin, you could call me a bit of a bio-enthusiast. Humans shake hands, yes?"
They held out both their hands to Jack and Maddie at once. Reluctantly, she accepted the ghost's cold grip and released.
"Wow, your hands are both so warm! I've heard that humans are warm-blooded, but it never occurred to me exactly what that meant. Is it true that your blood is regulated by your circulatory system?"
She didn't know what to make of this ghost. Their interest in humans wasn't exactly flattering, but in a sense she figured it was ironic. She and Jack were very much interested in ghosts the same way that Xerin was allured by humans. Who would've thought?
"Yes!" she shot them a smile. "Our hearts pump blood through our veins. In a sense, our hearts are similar to how your core would maintain ectoplasmic circulation."
"You know, Mads and I would be happy to answer your questions about humans if you answer some of ours about ghosts," Jack offered.
Xerin's eyes widened. "Really? Oh, that would be great!"
"Well, we are biology experts on top of our ghost research."
Jack laughed. "I think that's a little considerate, honey. You're the biology expert, I'm just a guy with a knack for engineering."
They talked with Xerin for quite some time. Maddie learned that unlike most ghosts she'd previously encountered, they had been born in the Ghost Zone which made it difficult to visit the human world without destabilizing. Ghosts that had died with an anchor in the human world—a corpse, she assumed—could cross between the worlds with ease. Of course, there were always loopholes for ghosts without anchors to stay energized in the human world. Sometimes ghosts would prey on emotional energy or artificially charge themselves with ectoplasm, but most preferred to stay in the Ghost Zone.
Xerin themself longed to visit the human world one day but had no means to keep themselves stabilized. Hmm… maybe she and Jack could invent some kind of device that energized born-ghosts just enough to stay stable. Although, it would be catastrophic if something like that fell into the wrong hands.
"So is it true that the human world has—what is the word? Oceans?"
"Oh yeah," Jack said, "oceans actually make up most of the Earth."
"And—and you travel the oceans by boats? Water vehicles?"
"Well, you can. These days when most people want to travel across the ocean quickly they go by plane, but boats are still pretty common. Have you ever heard of a cruise?"
As Jack explained the mechanics of different types of water-travel, Maddie allowed herself to glance around the hall. Many of the other ghosts were conversing and dancing. Up on the platform where Danny had made the opening remarks, a band was playing what sounded like traditional folk music.
Along the opposite wall, ghosts lingered near the refreshments table. She spotted Danny tagging along with a group of humanoid ghosts. They didn't seem particularly starstruck by him like the other guests, so perhaps they were friends of his? One ghost—a slender man in purple robes—passed Danny a chalice of ectoplasm. At first, she saw Danny politely refuse the drink. When the ghost continued to insist, Danny shot a fleeting look over his shoulder and accepted the chalice. His friends raised their own chalices to him and Maddie watched in horror as Danny downed the entire glass of ectoplasm. Pure ectoplasm! What was he thinking? It would burn through his body faster than any acid! He needed his stomach pumped and now!
Before she could think, Maddie threw herself into the crowd of ghosts to try and reach her son. Behind her, she heard Jack call her name. As tempting as it was to fill him in, she didn't have any time to lose. By the time she made it across the hall to the refreshments table, Danny and the group of ghosts had vanished back into the crowd. He could be anywhere by now. What if he fell in the middle of the floor and—and—
Stop. Focus, Maddie.
Why did he drink the ectoplasm? He knew it was poisonous, he warned her as much! Maybe he had reason to believe that it wouldn't be poisonous for him because he's the Ghost King? Maybe the properties of his crown and ring protected him from poisoning! But why would he want to drink it? It's not like it would taste good to a human!
Now that she thought about it, it was unlikely that he was in any real danger. He was the King—if he showed any indication of being hurt, the ghosts would drop everything to help him. Well, at least she hoped. Still, that alone didn't change matters.
Maddie wanted answers and she wanted them now.
She spun on her heels and entered the crowd once again. It shouldn't be so hard to find Danny among all these ghosts, right? He was wearing a glowing crown for fuck's sake!
She spent five minutes scouring the main hall for Danny when she caught a glimpse of a green masquerade mask in her peripheral vision. The figure slipped into a side corridor before she could get a proper look, but she had a gut feeling. Maddie broke into a run and called his name. Her pleas didn't do her much good since they were easily drowned out by the current singer, a blue-haired ghost who had once posed as a popstar in the human world.
Finally, Maddie reached the corridor and stepped through the threshold. It was dimmer than the main hall due to the lack of ghostly auras, but she could still see quite well. The walls were lined with green torches and purple drapes, which were less impressive than the ones in the hall but still stunning. Every twenty feet or so, there would be an ironclad door… which spelled bad news for Maddie.
The corridor stretched out so far that there was no way the figure had made it to the end before she entered, so the figure—if it was Danny—had entered one of the doors. The first problem was that there was no telling which door it had been; the second problem was that one of Danny's only rules had been not to go through any palace doors. But if she wanted to find her son, she'd have to make that sacrifice. After all, he'd already broken one of his own rules by drinking ectoplasm in the first place! Fair was fair.
(At least she told herself.)
Maddie took a steadying breath and approached the first door on her right. It was a regular iron door, definitely not one that she'd find out of the ordinary if she approached it in the human world. Well, maybe a little considering that it was iron. There was a slim chance that there was anyone behind this door, but she didn't let that quell her hope. She wrapped her hand around the handle and pushed.
The hinges of the door creaked as it swung inwards. From what she could tell, the room behind the door was some kind of storage room because there were artifacts nested on shelves and tables as far as the eye could see. Hesitantly, she stepped through the door to get a better look at the room, to see if Danny was somewhere beyond one of the shelves. In retrospect, she should have just called out and waited for an answer because as soon as she let go of the door, it slammed shut behind her. And for some goddamn reason, the ghosts that had designed this place had the audacity to forget to include a handle on both sides of the door.
She was trapped in this room.
It wasn't like this was undeserved. After all, Danny had warned her not to open any doors and now she was stuck. Just great! How knew how long it would be before she was found? The last time Jack had seen her, she'd run off into the crowd with no explanation! And she still didn't even know where Danny was!
Ugh, could this situation get any worse?
She turned to the nearest shelf of artifacts to see if there was anything that might be able to open the door. A crowbar would be really handy right now. Then again, this was a millennia-old palace full of ghostly apparatuses and the chances of finding a crowbar in this room were next to none. In her search, Maddie found what looked like an old sundial, several scrolls of parchment, and a Rubik's Cube of all things. There were other objects, peculiar ones that she couldn't put words to and decidedly ignored them. She'd seen enough horror movies to know that playing with mysterious instruments never worked in anyone's favor.
Ultimately, what caught her eye was a grand tapestry that spanned the length of a full wall. Upon closer inspection she realized that it depicted Phantom of all ghosts, which was odd within itself because Danny had insisted on his behalf that Phantom was a young ghost—not older than three-years-dead. That was about all that Danny had told her about Phantom, besides that he was a good ghost and that it'd be best for everyone if she avoided discussing him at all. Apparently, he had a very controversial reputation in the Ghost Zone, and even mentioning him could throw the ball into pandemonium. She figured any ghost that barred its own kind from the human world wouldn't be very popular among other ghosts.
So it was curious that this tapestry appeared to depict Phantom fighting what appeared to be a faceless shadow ghost. She traced her thumb along the silver and black embroidery and looked from side to side. From what she could tell the tapestry appeared to be some sort of timeline of Phantom's accomplishments. Intrigued, she followed the tapestry to the beginning…
The first picture depicted a young boy entering a tunnel. Below the image, there was a short inscription that read 'the bridge between worlds'—a portal, perhaps? Maddie moved on to the next picture in the series. It showed the black-haired boy being electrocuted—blue strands of thread ripping through his body and jetting upwards. The same image showed him stepping away from the tunnel as a ghost, as Phantom. This time, the inscription below read 'halfa-born'.
Had Phantom died in a portal? That couldn't be right… Danny had said he was no more than three-years-dead. She had finished her portal three years ago. Was this suggesting that Phantom had died in their portal? If so… who could he possibly…?
On closer inspection, the boy in the portal had both black hair and blue eyes. The pieces fell into place and suddenly her brain filled with static.
Danny wasn't a ghost. Surely, this was nothing more than a coincidence, wasn't it? She'd seen him bleed, eat, and grow! Those were all human nuances that ghosts physically couldn't emulate!
Maddie shook the thoughts from her head. She was being ridiculous, surely the tapestry would show that Phantom and Danny were two separate people. So, she turned to the next image in the series.
Phantom stood in a fighting stance, wielding two ectoblasts in each fist. Furthermore, twin halos were encircling both his upper torso and waist. Between the two rings, the weaver had stitched what appeared to be a human heart, captioned 'a foot in both worlds'.
Well, that did little to dissuade her gnawing theory that Danny was Phantom. She bit the inside of her cheek and tried not to think about it because if she thought about it, she would only convince herself that it was true. It couldn't be true. She'd hunted Phantom, she'd sworn to impress inhumane forms of torture on Phantom! He couldn't be—couldn't...
Pull yourself together. This is madness! The tapestry is just figurative, isn't it? The caption 'a foot in both worlds' was hinting Phantom's loyalty to the human world.
She looked on and saw that the next series of pictures depicted Phantom battling a wide range of foes. Among these pictures was the first picture she had spotted of him combating the shadow ghost. The progression of images eventually led to his battle with the former Ghost King, Pariah Dark. Danny had told her about the ghost's valiant effort against his predecessor and how he'd stepped in at the last moment to deal the final blow. Contrary to this, the tapestry omitted Danny's involvement in the fight at all. Or so she thought...
Once Phantom had locked Pariah Dark away in his sarcophagus, the picture detailed him falling to his knees. The next picture revealed Danny in his place, wearing both the Crown of Fire and the Ring of Rage.
Below the picture, the inscription read, 'The Rise of King Phantom'.
Maddie stepped away from the tapestry.
That confirmed it, didn't it?
Danny was Phantom. Not only had he lied about becoming the Ghost King, but he'd also lied about becoming a ghost! Some kind of half-human, half-ghost thing!
She hadn't even realized that she was crying until she felt the tears well up inside her masquerade mask. Disgusted, she discarded the mask and left it on the floor.
She was such a fool! An idiot! She'd actually believed that the Ghost Zone would allow her human son to become their ruler!
How was she supposed to feel about this? Was she supposed to accept that her son wasn't wholly human anymore? She wanted this to be reversible, but how would she essentially un-kill him? He'd changed in the portal whether she liked it or not.
She was hiccuping now. God, what a mess she was.
At some point she fell to her knees and sobbed into her hands. Call her melodramatic, but she didn't know how to process this. What she'd done. Crying was the most cathartic action she could take, being trapped in a room like this.
It must have been ten minutes until she heard the door open. By then, her sobs had died down considerably if not completely. Still, her face was streaked with tears and there was no way she could pretend she hadn't been crying.
"Mom? Is that you?"
She felt the air evaporate from her lungs.
He sighed. "One of the guards told me that he saw someone run down this corridor, but I was really hoping it hadn't been you. What's up?"
She turned and met his eyes. He was still wearing his fleece cape, ring, crown, and mask. For a moment, he appeared taken aback by her disheveled appearance before regaining his composure. He quietly joined her on the floor, blind to the damn tapestry behind him.
She shook her head. What if he hated her for knowing? What if this was the final fissure in their relationship? What if he rightfully blamed her for all that she had said and done to him as Phantom?
He carefully placed his hand on her shoulder. She noted that unlike Xerin's hand, his hand was warm. Alive. Human.
But he was a ghost.
"Did one of the ghosts say something to upset you?" he asked. "Was this too much? We go home if you want."
"No, that's not it. I—" she choked. "I'm okay. I just got trapped in here. I was, uh, looking for a bathroom?"
As an adept liar himself, Danny saw right through her charade. Of course he would.
"Mom, you can trust me. Does this have anything to do with why you were calling my name in the hall earlier?"
"You heard that?"
"No. One of my friends did, though. They told me and I've been looking for you since."
That didn't leave her much room to lie. He'd figure out she knew sooner or later and it wasn't like she could put off this confrontation forever.
She clenched her fists and released. Breathe in. Breathe out.
"I-know-that-you're-Phantom," she blurted.
Behind his mask, she saw his eyes widen. "What?"
"I—I saw you drink ectoplasm. Back at the refreshments table, with those ghosts. I tried going after you, but then you left and so then I looked in her and—and I found that." She pointed to the tapestry. "After everything, I didn't want to believe it, but it's the only thing that makes sense."
He looked behind him and visibly blanched. "I—I can explain."
"What is there to explain? You were shocked in the portal and now you're 'halfa-born', whatever that means. You didn't tell us because of all the cruel things we did and said and fuck—! I'm such an awful mother. I thought it was bad enough when I didn't notice that you were the Ghost King, but this too? How do you stand me? It—it was my portal that did this," she realized. "All I've ever done is hurt you."
Just like that she was crying again. Before she could react, Danny pulled her into a hug and whispered assurances that he didn't blame her. It was stupid. She should be the one comforting him! He was the one who had suffered! She was supposed to be the parent!
"... I like being like this. I don't blame you for anything, you didn't know. And yeah, maybe I was scared and—and sometimes you took it too far. But this past you've changed so much of your ideologies for me. That's all I've ever wanted, Mom."
"Stop," she tried pushing him away. "Stop, Danny. You don't deserve this burden, you shouldn't have to hold me like I'm the victim. You were hurt so much and I didn't even see."
Danny, being her wonderful stubborn child, didn't let her break the embrace. "Yeah, but this is a shock for you. I've had a month to get used to the idea that you might find out. Not that I wanted you to, but… you're allowed to be upset. I uh, expected you to be more upset that I've been lying about being half-dead for like three years."
On some level she was mad. At the moment, her anger was submissive to her despair—she couldn't help but feel miserable in light of what she'd learned.
"I'll be mad later. I can't handle it right now."
"Oh, okay." He finally released his hug and rubbed the back of his neck. "Would it help if I showed you?"
She blinked the tears from her eyes. "Show me?"
"Y'know. My uh, transformation. Phantom."
"Oh. If that's something you want to do?"
He offered her his hand and they stood up together. He took a step back and held his arms straight at his sides. Just as depicted in the tapestry, a halo appeared around his waist and split. His dress shirt and slacks were replaced by Phantom's signature HAZMAT suit while his cape remained the same. His hair was bleached white and through his mask his eyes burned bright green. Though, she had the impression that the transformation didn't go quite according to plan. Immature as it was, she had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing.
Danny crossed his arms. "What? Not as impressive as you expected?"
"Not that, sweetie." She leaned forward and ruffled his now wispy, white hair. It felt like a cloud. "It's your mask."
He slipped the mask from his face and turned it over in his hands. During his transformation, the light-green masquerade mask had been dyed hot-pink. He groaned in a very Danny-like way and pushed the mask back onto the bridge of his nose.
"I forgot that happens."
He scrunched his eyes shut and the halo appeared again below his chin. It passed over the mask, changing it back to green.
"That's better," he decided. "Now it matches my crown and my eyes."
"I don't know, you looked pretty dashing in pink."
Despite his mask, she could see a hint of green blush.
"Though, for the King I guess you're always handsome."
"Stop it!" he huffed. "I can't believe I transform for you and all you do is compliment me. That's so gross!"
"Too bad. You've kept this secret for three years, I think I've earned the right to embarrass you."
He opened his mouth and then closed it again. "That's fair, I guess."
"So what now?"
"We could go back to the ball if you want? If not, I could probably find Dad and we can call it a night."
She was definitely overwhelmed. The reality that Danny was Phantom was still processing and she wasn't sure that she could handle facing all those ghosts. It wasn't like there wouldn't be another ball, there would be another in just four months. Still, Maddie Fenton wasn't one to just run away. Maybe it wasn't healthy or wise to stay, but she'd stopped crying. Hell, she was joking with Danny. Her mental breakdown was inevitable, but if she played her cards just right she might be able to postpone it long enough to enjoy the rest of the night.
"I think I'm okay to go back."
She couldn't blame him for sounding skeptical.
"No." She crouched down and picked up her own mask from the floor. "But I want to."
"Really, there isn't any pressure—"
"Daniel James. I want to go back to the ball and I want to spend the night mingling with ghosts. We can talk about all of this later, but I don't want to ruin what I've looked forward to for a month. So," she held out her hand, "dance with your mother."
He snorted. "That sounded really weird."
"What? Is the half-ghost Ghost King too proud to dance with his human mother?"
"I didn't say that. But fine."
He accepted her hand to dance. She was a bit startled at how cold it was now when only minutes before it'd been warm.
"So uh, what are we going to tell Dad?"
Oh right. Jack.
She'd left him in the main hall with Xerin. How was she supposed to explain that she'd trapped herself in a room and accidentally learned that their son was half-ghost? What kind of conversation starter would that take?
"I'm sure we'll figure it out later."
With that, she and Danny phased through the wall.
For all her trouble, her son owed her a dance.