"What do you mean, you can't change back?" asked Daily.
"What do you think I mean?" asked Danny, stepping off the cloth, then stooping to ball it up into something he could easily carry. "I can't go back to being Phantom."
"Then they really revived you?"
"No," said Danny, "I don't think so." He could still feel his ghost half, he just couldn't grab it. It had been like this for less than a minute and he already hated it.
Daily shifted, looking around the park. "Okay, um. Can you do any of your… stuff? The ghost stuff?"
Danny bit his lip and cycled through his basic powers. Nothing. He shook his head.
"Oh, that's bad. You're just like a normal kid now."
He wasn't wrong, exactly, but Danny wished he'd phrased it at least slightly differently.
"A normal kid… In the park in the middle of the night…" Daily shook his head. "We shouldn't be here when McGee comes back. He still hasn't chilled out."
Meaning, he was still looking for things to report back to the agency that sent him in the first place. Danny groaned. "Don't worry, I'm going home." Maybe his parents would have some insight into what had happened. Or, at least, who they had sold Ghost Catcher thread to.
"Hey, no, wait, you can't walk home from here like that. You're not even wearing a coat."
"I don't really have another option—"
"I'll drive you."
"Isn't that Collin's car?"
"He won't miss it. And he left the keys."
Danny stared for a moment at the blatant lies, then shrugged. He could still hear distant sounds of people running through trees and bushes. It would take a while for Collins, Paterson, and McGee to catch everyone, assuming they caught anyone at all, and Fentonworks wasn't that far away.
He walked back to the car and opened the door, the front one, this time, and slid in. Daily got in the other side, then stared blankly at the steering wheel.
"You do know how to drive, right?" It was a valid question. Danny had never seen Daily drive.
"Of course I do! I just haven't driven this car before." He started the car up, and very slowly pulled out onto the road.
The slowness of the drive gave Danny time to further assess himself. His ghost half was definitely, absolutely, still there (thank goodness). It just felt… weighed down. Pinned. Tied up.
He started picking at the glowing thread. The patterns were repeated on his skin, but maybe it was just a matter of taking off his clothes…
The car slowed to a halt. "Do you need me to walk you in?" asked Daily, drumming his thumbs on the steering wheel. "I can… Explain to your parents? Or maybe your sister?" Jazz was mentioned in a significantly more helpful tone than his parents.
"No, I've got it," said Danny, opening the door. "Thanks for the ride. You'll let me know what you find out about that cult and…" He gestured at himself. "Whatever they did."
"Okay," said Daily. "Yeah. Of course! That's my job, right?"
Keeping an eye on and researching cults was part of Daily's job, but telling Danny wasn't. Still. "Yeah," said Danny, smiling weakly.
Collins frowned at the empty parking lot. "Paterson!" he called.
"Yeah?" came Paterson's voice, echoing across the park.
"Did I, or did I not park here?"
Collins groaned. "Give it up, they got away!" He sighed. "Possibly with my car."
Danny did not have the best track record when it came to telling his parents about things, but he was trying to get better. Still, he felt like the present subject had to broached delicately. That was why he was sitting on the floor outside their bedroom, listening to his dad snore.
He wanted to tell them. He wanted to fix this. But he didn't want to admit how much trouble he'd gotten into and how a bunch of cultists had gotten the better of him.
But he was trying, and his new, ugh, magic glowing tattoos weren't something he could hide. He picked up the broom he had brought with him and opened the door. No point in knocking, they both wore earplugs to bed. He picked up the broom and poked his dad with the end of it.
"Hmhph?" said Maddie. "Ghost?" She had a small ectoblaster in her hand already.
"No, just me." Danny put down the broom and raised his hands.
"Oh, Danno," said Jack, rubbing at one eye as Maddie pried the earplugs from his ears. "What are you doing here?"
Danny bit his lower lip. "I… might have screwed up."
"Danny, sweetheart, that doesn't sound like it was your fault. It would have happened even if you stayed home. You were kidnapped."
"I guess." It still felt like he could have done something. Maybe if he'd paid a little more attention to the cults, kept a closer eye on what they were doing.
"But we do need to see what we can do with all this." She picked up his hand and rubbed her thumb over one of the green marks on its back. "…and about that summoning thing. I don't like that these people can just snatch you away whenever they like."
"And we'll never let them do anything like that again! Or else!" said Jack, brandishing the spatula he was using to flip the pancakes.
"It sounded like it was related to the date somehow."
"That doesn't comfort us much, sweetie. Especially considering what they did to you. Do you think they really involved your, ah…"
"I mean…" Danny trailed off and took his hand back. He rubbed his arms against the sudden chill. "I don't know. It's not like I've never gotten my powers knocked out of whack. It could be like that. Might even have a time limit."
"But?" prompted Maddie.
"But… it feels different," admitted Danny. "It's weight, not static."
"Do you think we'll need to, uh, what's the word again, for digging up a, um…"
"Exhumation," said Maddie, before Jack could come up with a proper euphemism for corpse.
Danny wasn't really comfortable about his… mortal remains. But the pauses and too-obvious references were, in many ways, worse.
Literally everything else about his life was better than when he'd still been keeping things a secret, though! He did not want to go back!
Except maybe to earlier tonight, when getting the dead half of his body shoved back into him wasn't something he had to worry about happening.
"We'll have to ask the police about that," said Maddie. "Maybe we can start with a few simple tests after breakfast, though. See if how much your readings changed from your baseline."
"Hey! Could be that all you need is a trip through the old Ghost Catcher!"
"Ghost Catcher string partially caused this," said Danny. "I'm not sure it's a good idea to, uh, cross wires."
"There shouldn't be any problem with that," said Jack. "The strings aren't reactive with each other, they wouldn't work if they were. Speaking of which, how did they even get it into this cloth?" Jack used the spatula to point at the cloth, which was spread out over Jazz's chair. "Usually, you have to have special tools to work with any of it, or else it just falls through."
"I don't know, they didn't really say anything beyond path of enlightenment nonsense. You know, the whole 'we worship you but won't listen to a thing you say' thing."
Maddie sighed. "We'll just hope they get caught so they can tell us what they were actually trying to do. In the meantime, we'll do our own research… And maybe you can use this as a break. A little vacation."
"In the same way sick days are a vacation, I guess."
"Do you feel sick?"
"No," said Danny. "Not yet, anyway."
"Maybe you should stay home from school until we can find a way to undo this."
"Aw, no, Mom. I don't want to miss any school. I've been actually doing okay this year."
"But we don't know how any of this is going to affect you. What if it is temporary, and your… body is involved. What happens if it times out in class?"
Danny swallowed, suddenly nauseous. "I hadn't thought about that."
The chief of police sat in his office, blinds drawn, two thirds of the trouble trio and Cameron Daily.
"You're telling me that the person who is primarily responsible for protecting our city from hostile ghosts has been nerfed by cultists. Cultists that you let get away."
"Hey!" said Daily. "I didn't know you knew what nerfed meant, chief!"
The chief groaned. "Find these cultists. Figure out what they did. Get the Fentons whatever they need to undo this. Fast."
"Alright," said Maddie, as if she hadn't been having a whispered argument with Jack only minutes before, "I'm going to city hall to file the exhumation paperwork. You two stay here unless something happens to Danny. No leaving for ghost attacks."
"Aw," said both Jack and Danny.
"No buts. This is a sick day for Danny, and someone needs to look after him the whole time." She pointed sharply at Jack. "Don't run off."
Danny hunched his shoulder. He wasn't that bad to look after, was he? Not that he wanted to be looked after.
"But if I'm the one to talk to Vladdie, it'll be faster!"
"It'll be hours, sweetie, if you two get started. If he doesn't leave you in the waiting room," she added under her breath. "You know how you two get."
"Not when Danny's at stake!"
Maddie gave him a look.
"Fine," said Jack.
"Maybe you two can do something together while I'm gone. Fudge, maybe? Or cookies?"
"Oooooh!" said Jack. "Yeah! Cookies! How does that sound, Danno?"
"I have homework," groused Danny.
"I can help with that, too!"
"Goodbye, guys. Oh! Remember, if I'm not back by lunch, run the tests again, okay?"
"Will do, Maddie!"
"Okay, Mom," said Danny, giving a little wave.
"Good, good. So, keys, cell phone, wallet, boo-staff—" The door clicked closed, cutting off the rest of her list.
"Okay," said Jack, thumping Danny's back and giving him a little shove at the stairs. "I'll get the kitchen set up! You get your homework!"
"Yeah," said Danny. "Okay."
"Fundge here we come!" said Jack, pumping his fist. "Get it? Fundge?"
"Yeah," said Danny, giving him a weak smile. "I get it." He started for the stairs, irrationally annoyed he couldn't fly up them. He wouldn't have flown up them anyway. He hardly ever did that.
He walked into his room and stopped. Actually, where was his homework? Where was his backpack?
He started looking behind and underneath things, the process all the more tedious because he couldn't just reach through them. Hopefully he hadn't done something stupid like phase it into the wall last night. 'Oops, I made my homework inaccessible to the living' was not going to fly in any of his classes… Unless he blamed it on his parents… Food for thought. He paused to email a request for class notes to Sam and Tucker. Halfway through writing the message, he heard the screaming doorbell go off.
"I've got it!" called Jack.
"Okay!" Danny hit send on the email and kept looking for his backpack. He dropped to the floor to look under his bed, scowled as it wasn't there, either, then got up and tripped over his sheets, pulling them off his bed.
Why had he put his backpack in his bed? So stupid.
He shouldered it and prepared to go downstairs, but…
Something was wrong. He thought back, trying to decide what it was. Living… or unliving? Half-living the way he did, he was pretty good at pinpointing the sources of vague senses of wrongness.
It was quiet.
The front door hadn't shut.
Holy crap, had someone just kidnapped his dad?
Emergency blaster, emergency blaster… He held his backpack by one strap to use as a bludgeon – the books in it were certainly heavy enough – and held the blaster steady in his other hand. He would activate the Defense System, but his parents had ripped a lot of it out after the reveal and were still in the process of reinstallation.
He tapped his door open with his foot and ventured out into the house. It really was too quiet. Almost suffocatingly so. He held his breath. Probably not the best choice, strategically, but something about everything…
He hit the bottom step of the stairs, turned into the kitchen, and ran into two people wearing oxygen masks.
His reflexes were better, so he started firing immediately. Ectoblasters weren't meant to hurt humans, not really, but the impact to the chest was enough to knock both of the men back. The recoil was equally sufficient to knock the air out of Danny's lungs. He wasn't really trying to hold his breath, after all.
He ran past them, inhaling, and… stumbled, suddenly dizzy.
Stupid mistake!Sometimes his instincts were good!
Something touched his upper arm, and he lashed out, swinging his backpack backwards. There was an oof sort of sound, and one of the men toppled over. The other one pulled the backpack out of Danny's hand, which was a mistake, because he was still holding the gun. Ectogun. Whatever. He shot him.
Then… Outside. Whatever was in here, they couldn't have enough to get the whole neighborhood, and if they could get away with just oxygen masks, it probably wasn't super toxic. Also, if it had spread very far, someone in the neighborhood would have noticed. Probably. Maybe.
They'd notice enough to complain, at least.
Halfway through the living room, he had to breathe again. Human physical limits sucked.
Black spots danced over his vision and left him on his knees. He got back up and went for the door, stumbling drunkenly. He hit it with his face. Why were doors so hard to operate?
The black spots slowly grew until they consumed his vision.
"Did… did he just run into a wall?"
"Just because he's perfect doesn't mean he smart. And get rid of… we… need… backpack…"
Collins and Paterson stared at the most significant piece of physical evidence regarding Daniel Fenton's kidnapping.
"If you're not going to say it, I am," said Paterson.
"Don't say it," said Collins.
"I really want to, though."
"I think 'my homework ate a kidnapper' is a great excuse for not doing it. That kid is brutal. How much blood do you think is on that thing?"
"Paterson, he got kidnapped."
"Yeah," said Paterson, a grin plastered on her face, "and that's terrifying, thanks. Let me have this."
McGee escorted Daily through the front door of Fentonworks, his hand firmly on the man's shoulder. "Got him," he said.
"Oh, man," said Daily. "So, this is what a real crime scene looks like." He saw the backpack and squeaked. "Is that blood?"
"Yeah. Now do your thing and find out why these two think what happened last night in the park is connected to this. Fenton wasn't actually involved in that, was he?"
"His family takes care of the gravesite," said Collins. "And this is the biggest crime in Amity Park for years. We have to look at everything."
"Uh huh," said McGee. "Well, I'm going to go back out and question the father."
Collins groaned internally. Dealing with McGee was usually… if not exactly fun, then at least amusing, but dealing with his everything on a case like this… With Danny's… possibly with Danny's life on the line, who knew how that worked with the whole cult thing…
"Do you think we can offload McGee on someone else?" he asked Paterson.
"And give him something to actually report to his bosses? Not a chance."