TW: character death (in that funky Danny Fenton way), injury, emetophobia, blood/ectoplasm.
Word count: 9704
Danny walked into the portal alone.
Fortunately, Jazz was there when he came out.
The Fenton household was strange, though it had its own sense of order. As much order as two ectobiologists could maintain, with two children nestled awkwardly between their work. Jack and Maddie Fenton spent most of their days down in their basement lab. They were married to their work almost as much as each other. Twenty years of research drove their hands and hearts. Each day promised another chance to make a new discovery in their field.
Their children grew used to the cacophony of lab work. The banging of sheet metal, the whirr of drills, the crackle of blowtorches. They kept mostly upstairs or out of the house, avoiding the noise. Waiting for the moment their parents finished their work and returned to them.
It was an old song and dance, one the children learned from an early age. The eldest, Jazz, waited anxiously for each wave of their creativity. Whenever she caught that manic gleam in her mother’s eye that spoke of inspiration, she would step up to pick up the slack. Their parents hardly cared for themselves when enthralled with their work, let alone Jazz and her little brother, Danny.
Normally, those sparks of inspiration would burn brightly for a couple of weeks at most before either fizzling away in defeat, or culminating into success. Jazz and Danny knew not to expect that same pattern when their parents began construction of their life’s work: The Portal.
Those twenty years produced many smaller projects, but everything came second to the portal (everything). Weeks turned into months and each day of it saw more progress. A gaping maw in the earth, lined with metal and spilling wires.
As the summer dragged on and their parents fell deeper and deeper into their work, Jazz and Danny waited. They waited through June, and July, and soon it was August. School would start in two week's time, and Danny looked forward to starting his first year of high school. He spent most of the summer avoiding the house, hanging out with his friends, Sam and Tucker. It was easy to forget about the portal over burgers and fries, or trips to the movies. They rotated houses for sleepovers– avoiding Danny’s when they could.
Danny and Jazz were both home when their parents finished construction of the portal. The cheers that emitted from the basement practically shook the entire house. Jack ran upstairs before they could move, ushering both of them down to the lab.
It had been weeks since Danny went down there. What small measure of order the lab once held had gone. Tools and spare parts littered the space, strewn haphazardly across the stone floor. Danny picked his way cautiously across the minefield of spills and loose bolts.
The portal yawned before him, a massive hexagonal tunnel through the basement wall. Danny couldn’t see very far into the tunnel. It lay cloaked in shadow, waiting.
Jack and Maddie stood side by side, facing their children with wide, unhinged grins. Their jumpsuits were dirty, stained with oil and grime. Dark bags lingered under their eyes, and Danny wondered if they had even slept the last two nights. Jack picked up a power cable, holding it high for all to see.
“At long last, the Fenton Ghost Portal is complete. We’re about to make history!” he exclaimed, turning to view the portal with a reverent expression.
The air felt charged with energy as he launched into a speech that went in one of Danny’s ears and out the other. Research, ghosts, dimensions– Danny found the portal far more interesting than anything his father had to say about it. He wanted to know what had absorbed his parents’ hearts and souls. He didn’t want to hear a speech– he wanted to see the thing for himself. To know if it was worth the time and energy they had put into it.
Eventually, Jack’s words tapered off expectantly. Danny waited with bated breath as he lifted the cables higher before slamming them together with more force than was necessary.
For a moment, a green spark rippled through the center of the portal. It lit up the inner mechanisms, the light sharp and wavering.
The light fizzled out as quickly as it came.
Jack’s arms fell to his sides, the cable slack in his grip. He and Maddie stared at the dark, empty portal. Listless.
“I don’t understand… it should have worked, Jack. Everything was perfect,” Maddie said, grabbing madly at her hair.
Jack just shook his head, utterly despondent. He dropped the cable to the ground and heaved a heavy sigh.
Danny watched as all of the light drained from his parents’ eyes. They turned away from the machine and trudged back upstairs, hardly saying a word between them.
Their parents never took failure well. They would wallow in the lows between unsuccessful projects, and Danny dreaded to see how long it would take them to recover from this particular defeat.
Twenty years that amounted to a hole in the wall.
Danny stood before the dark portal, an empty feeling creeping into his chest. If any of his parents' insane machines could have worked, he prayed it would have been this one. He didn't know what they would do now. If they would return to the portal and try again, or let something else consume them.
Jazz slung an arm over Danny's shoulder, giving it a squeeze.
"Maybe things will go back to normal now," Jazz said, without any certainty in her voice.
Danny mumbled an agreement as they followed their parents back upstairs.
His eyes lingered on the portal as they went.
Jack and Maddie didn't return to work on the portal. They wandered through the house, drifting aimlessly, not even looking at the basement door.
They might as well have been in mourning. A somber energy lingered in their every movement and word, as though a tombstone marked the laboratory. As though their work lay buried, dead and gone.
It didn’t surprise Jazz and Danny when their parents suddenly decided to go on a trip. They packed their bags the same day they announced it, before heading out the day after. A convention seemed like the perfect thing to lift their spirits, and truthfully Danny wasn't sorry to see them go. The atmosphere of the house brightened considerably without their sulking.
The first day their parents were gone, Jazz went out with her friends. She paused at the door before she left, making sure that Danny wouldn’t miss her absence. He assured her that he was probably going to hang out with Sam and Tucker. Video games, the mall– they had little more than a week before school started and Danny planned to make the most of it.
Jazz waved him goodbye, saying she’d be back in time to order pizza if he didn’t make plans with Sam and Tucker.
The moment the door shut, Danny called his friends. With his parents gone, it was a perfect weekend to have them over. They could have free range of the house, use the big living room television for video games, and they could do it all without any incessant racket from the lab.
Sam answered first, but Danny was quickly disappointed to learn that her parents had invited guests over and wanted Sam to stay and keep their daughter company. Tucker, too, was busy. His parents had decided to take him on an impulsive day trip out of the city as a last hurrah before the end of summer.
Just like that, Danny was alone with nothing to do. He sat on the couch, lost in his thoughts. A lazy day playing video games by himself wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it dragged Danny’s mood down all the same. The house still felt cold and lifeless in the wake of the portal’s failure. His eyes flickered absently to the closed lab door. He resented what lay beyond it.
Without thinking much of it, Danny stood and opened the lab door. Everything downstairs looked the same as it had several days ago. The mess, the disorganization– the dark portal. Danny kept his eyes on the tunnel as he made his way down the stairs and over the mess on the floor.
He faced the portal head-on, craning his neck to look at the unlit light overhead. It looked finished– ready and waiting. Danny remembered the light that sparked within it, a single heartbeat that promised something more.
For every failure his parents had, they had another success. Why did their most impressive work– the thing they poured more time and energy into than anything else– fail?
Glancing back around the lab, Danny’s eyes landed on the hazmat suits hung along the far wall. Most of them were teal and orange, though he recognized a white one tucked on the end.
Danny grabbed it from the hook, rubbing his fingers over the material. His parents purchased the suit almost a year ago, when they entered the home stretch of their portal research. Danny remembered how happy his dad was, presenting Jazz and him with their own suits. He said that one day they would explore beyond the portal as a family, once they had conducted enough research to know what to expect.
Danny wondered if a hazmat suit would even be enough to protect a person in a ghost dimension– the Ghost Zone, his parents called it.
Though, looking at his baggy shirt, Danny supposed the hazmat would provide more coverage than that at least.
Glancing at the door, as though worried Jazz might come home and catch him in the act, Danny pulled the suit on. It fit a bit loosely, but he didn’t mind. Danny was used to wearing clothes that obscured his body shape.
Danny stared at the black gloves covering his hands, flexing his grip. The suit was comfortable, but Danny still couldn’t fathom how his parents wore them at all hours.
There were a lot of things he didn’t understand about his parents.
Danny loved his mom and dad, but he didn’t get them. He didn’t understand how they poured themselves so fully into their ghost obsession. There wasn’t even any proof, as far as Danny could see, that they were right. In all the years his father ranted and raved about ghosts, Danny had never seen one. All they had to show was 'ectoplasm' and the strange properties that came with it.
He thought that maybe the portal would help him understand. That it would shed light on the enigmas that were Jack and Maddie Fenton. That it would, somehow, strip away years of feeling second fiddle to ideas and theories, of all things.
Yet the portal gave no answers.
It drew Danny’s eye, the darkness deep and pressing. It consumed his thoughts, just as it had his parents’. Anger and frustration twisted in his belly like a knife. Danny grit his teeth and marched to stand before its maw.
Up close, Danny felt a draft through the tunnel. A quiet breath, borne from the dark. It sent a shiver down his spine, and for a moment Danny considered walking away.
Something kept him rooted to the spot, though Danny couldn’t say what. His eyes traced the metal lining of the portal, running over its circuits and bolts. It resembled many of his parents’ inventions, though magnified in scale. Danny wondered what could have gone wrong with the device, and if it was even fixable. For all he knew, the issue could be as impossible as a wayward theory, or as simple as a loose bolt.
Danny found himself taking a step forward. He ran a hand along the machine’s wall, looking over the bolts, wondering if it could really be that simple. Maybe he could stumble upon the issue and be the one to fix it.
Danny wasn’t surprised, however, when nothing stood out to him. Though his parents used strange scrap metal to complete most of their projects, they had gone above and beyond for the portal. It still had a certain style that spoke of their work, but the materials were clean, and each of the bolts flush.
Sighing, Danny accepted that he might never know what went wrong with the portal. Unless his parents gutted the machine and returned to the project with fresh zeal, it might never see completion.
Hell, for all Danny knew, it was impossible anyway.
Danny stopped when the darkness grew too deep. He could see the dark shape of the archway around him, but none of the finer details. The draft seemed to grow, breathing down his neck.
He had seen enough.
Turning on his heel, Danny made to walk out of the tunnel. He barely managed a step before one of the thick wires snaking through the portal snagged his boot.
Time seemed to slow as Danny pitched forwards, towards the wall of the tunnel. He stuck out his left hand to catch himself.
Danny felt something give.
A gentle click sounded, echoing slightly in the tunnel. Danny sucked in a sharp breath–
The world exploded around him.
A blinding flash of green stained Danny’s vision. A roaring, buzzing sound tore through the air. A shock ripped through his hand, along his arm, and found purchase in his very soul. It burned. Everything burned– his skin, his blood, his bones. He saw green, and black, and nothing all at once. An eternity passed, each second of it dragging through the agony that wracked his too-small frame.
Someone was screaming, and it took Danny a lifetime to realize the sound came from his own scorched throat.
The burning, burning, burning dulled into an ache deeper than the ocean. The green stretched on just as far, an endless expanse of rolling, crashing waves that thrashed Danny upon unforgiving rocks. He knew nothing but that pain. He felt nothing but fear– the terrifying realization that he was slipping away, lost in that sea of green.
Someone was still screaming. He couldn’t tell if it was him anymore.
Just as soon as the burning shock came, it faded away– with everything. The world itself seemed to sink beneath the green waves, and Danny felt something inside him drift along, embracing the current.
The last thing Danny remembered thinking– the only coherent thought he could muster through the chaos– was that he hoped Jazz would be okay without him. She had always protected him, guiding him away from the hazards within their own house. Bringing what small order she could to the chaos.
He squandered her efforts.
Danny couldn't even protect himself.
A sound woke him. A word, called distantly. It echoed in his aching head, garbled and indistinct.
He rolled onto his back, groaning as his muscles protested, achingly sore. He kept his eyes shut tight, feeling as though any visual stimulus might worsen the nausea twisting in his gut.
Why was he in so much pain? Where was he? What happened?
The voice called again, closer and more urgent. It sounded like a name, though his sluggish mind refused to understand it.
He took slow, deep breaths to ground himself. Beyond the deep ache that settled within his bones, he felt… light. Too light, as though he might drift away from the ground. Panicking slightly, he gripped at the surface beneath him. It felt like stone, though something covered his fingers, muting his touch.
“Danny!” The name sounded again, this time clear. His name.
Danny rolled back onto his side, teeth gritted as every muscle in his body protested. He recognized the voice– Jazz. Jazz was calling for him.
She sounded frightened.
Planting his palms on the floor, Danny hoisted himself up onto his knees, panting with the effort. His head swam with dizziness. Tentatively, Danny opened his eyes.
He found himself surrounded by darkness, though… he could still see. Danny slowly took in his surroundings, blinking away the bleariness that fogged his vision. The Fenton lab materialized around him, each disorganized, dark detail pronounced… and tinged green with a faint, wavering light.
Danny had never seen so well in low light before. He always had bad visual snow at night, the darkness swamped with rippling static. The static hadn’t left now, but the images through it seemed much more defined, as though he were almost seeing them in daylight.
He didn’t know what to make of it. Nothing made sense. Danny couldn’t remember why he was down in the lab– on the ground. He hung his head, staring at his hands–
Hands covered with white gloves, stained with green smears…
They seemed to glow, and none of it was right.
The gloves had been black. Danny remembered, through the hazy fog of his mind, that the gloves had been black.
He remembered wandering down into the lab. He remembered grabbing the hazmat suit from the hook. He remembered walking towards the portal and…
Danny couldn’t remember when he started hyperventilating. The memories flooded through him, a chaotic onslaught of twisted green, flashing lights, and pain beyond pain.
The green still remained, stained over the dark lab like a filter.
Danny whipped his head around, blood roaring in his ears.
The portal stared back at him, alive with a swirling green vortex. A gristly trail of the same bright color came from the portal, leading straight to where he lay.
The word ectoplasm came unbidden to his mind.
Danny dragged himself backwards, scrambling over the discarded materials on the lab floor, knocking away bits of metal and rubber and leaving more green smears across the stone. He kept his eyes firmly locked on the portal, as though the thing might swallow him whole if he turned his back on it.
(It already had.)
Distantly, Danny heard his name called again, followed by hurried footsteps.
“J-Jazz?” Danny called out, the words cracked and broken from his raw throat, echoing strangely in the quiet.
The lab door must have opened, judging by the way natural light spilled into the lab. He didn’t dare turn to look. He listened as the footsteps carried down the stairs, breaking the silence.
“Danny, what are you–”
The footsteps stopped suddenly, faltering. Danny heard a shoe scuff, followed by the clank of metal. Against his better judgment, Danny tore his eyes from the portal.
Jazz stood, crouched at the foot of the steps. She held onto the railing tightly, with her legs splayed in a manner that suggested she stumbled and caught herself. She stared at him, her eyes stretched wide, reflecting the green glow of the portal.
“J… Jazz?” Danny asked, croaking out her name. The echo remained, tied solely to his own voice.
Jazz stiffened. She slowly pulled herself up with the railing, her body turned towards the steps, tensed as though ready to flee.
“Wh-who are you?” Jazz asked.
The words cut deeper than any knife. He slowly raised his hands, eyeing the stained white gloves that covered them. The gloves weren’t the only thing that had changed, he now noticed. The sleeves on his arms were black, as though the colors of the suit had traded places. Danny couldn’t fathom how. He didn’t understand, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
Rocking slightly, Danny’s eyes found Jazz’s. She hadn’t moved an inch.
“Jazz, it-it’s me,” Danny croaked out. “It’s m-me, I… Jazz, I-I’m scared.”
Danny watched as her eyes stretched still wider. Slowly, as though she were approaching a wild beast, Jazz let go of the railing. She kept one hand behind her, ready to grab it again, while her other reached out towards him.
“Danny is… is that you?” she said in hardly more than a whisper.
Her caution sent something fluttering inside his chest and Danny felt bile rise in his throat when it thrummed. He clutched at the black chest of the hazmat suit, desperately feeling for whatever sat between his ribs.
He could feel a strange humming beneath his fingers that was never there before. It spiked with his nerves, growing into a dissonant tattoo. It felt like a heartbeat, only wrong, and…
Danny had no heartbeat pounding alongside it.
His breaths came quick and shallow, harsh against the ragged skin of his throat. Spots popped into Danny’s vision, and darkness crept along the edges.
“D-Danny?” Jazz said, her voice wavering nearly as much as the thrumming in his chest. She sounded much closer now, though no less nervous.
All Danny could do was nod, the gesture hardly perceptible as he rocked on his heels. Nothing felt real– everything was too much. Jazz was afraid of him, and Danny couldn’t tell why.
Could she hear the thrumming buzz in his chest, or was there something else?
Jazz’s shoe scuffed on the stone floor. The sound was so close and sudden that Danny flinched back, a keening sound torn from his lips. He stared fixedly at the ground, not daring to look her in the eyes when she knelt before him.
She made a soft, shushing sound. “It– it’s okay. You’re okay,” she said quietly, her voice warbling like the broken notes of a scattered song.
Every bit of Danny shook. He couldn’t stop hyperventilating. His head felt as light as his body. The world spun and his stomach rolled.
Danny quickly turned his head, distancing himself from Jazz before letting loose the contents of his stomach. He gasped for breath, hands planted shakily, eyes firmly shut.
A hand tentatively fell between his shoulder blades and Danny tensed. Jazz’s touch was light and fluttery at first, before she began to rub her hand in slow, soothing circles.
Opening his eyes, Danny saw the bile painting the stone floor. It glowed a lurid green, as vibrant as the stains that led to the portal. It smelled faintly of citrus and ozone.
(Ectoplasm. Why was there ectoplasm inside him?)
Danny scrambled back to sit on his haunches, feeling Jazz’s hand pull away before it settled more firmly on his arm. He didn’t look at her. Danny couldn’t bring himself to look at her.
Tears welled in his eyes. A choked sob bubbled up from his chest. Danny shrunk in on himself, feeling infinitely small. Scared in a way he had never been before.
“It’s o-okay,” Jazz said, though her voice had no more conviction than it had the day the portal was finished. “Just breathe, j-just… breathe with me, Danny. It-it’s going to be okay.”
She squeezed his arm, rubbing her thumb across the sleeve of his suit.
Danny listened as Jazz began to breathe in the counted, rhythmic pattern she taught him in middle school. Her breaths wavered as much as her voice, though she resolutely soldiered on. Without thinking much of it, Danny found himself following her lead.
The breathing technique once helped Danny through the panic attacks when he first started to transition and the bullying worsened with the change of his name.
Those days felt like mere inconveniences compared to this.
His head began to clear with the measured breaths, though exhaustion replaced the fog. He sank against Jazz, unsure when she’d moved so close. She had one arm wrapped securely across his shoulders, firm but with enough slack to let him retreat if he wanted to, but Danny had no such thoughts. He buried his face into the crook of her neck, squeezing his eyes shut. Sobs wracked his body as he wrapped his arms tightly around Jazz, fisting his hand into her long ginger hair.
Danny hoped the ectoplasm staining his hands wouldn’t hurt her. He desperately didn’t want to let go.
Shaking, Jazz followed suit. She pulled Danny close, one of her hands carding gently through his hair. He melted into the embrace, feeling wet drops splash on top of his head as Jazz cried.
“I–I don’t know what’s h-happening, but… it’s going to be o-okay. We’ll figure this out,” Jazz stammered.
Danny squeezed her tightly, as though he could simply hide himself in her arms and never have to face the world again. She felt warmer than usual. Had her hugs always been so warm?
Just when Danny felt secure, enveloped snugly in her embrace, a chill swept over him. The warmth disappeared, and Danny opened his eyes as he lurched forward and heard Jazz shriek.
Danny landed hard on the stone floor and twisted around, his eyes blown wide as Jazz scrambled away, passing through his torso.
Danny quickly patted at his body, worried his own hand might slip through his stomach, but was relieved when his hand felt resistance.
The relief was short-lived, dashed by Jazz’s terrified expression and the way her hands shook as she crept towards him.
“Danny, what is going on– what h-happened?” She sounded close to hysterical, and Danny wasn’t far behind her.
He just shook his head, words failing him as Jazz reached to touch his arm again. Danny tensed, worried she would slip through his body like vapor.
A weight lifted from his shoulders as he felt her arm gently land on his.
Sighing wearily, Danny met Jazz’s gaze. He could see so many questions brimming in her teary eyes, and Danny hardly knew how to answer a single one of them.
The portal sat behind Jazz now, haloing her in its verdant glow. The endless swirl of green sent a shiver down his spine. He could still feel the cold press of it around his body, fighting against the searing shock of electricity.
The word ectoplasm still danced in Danny’s mind, accompanied by far-off memories of his dad’s endless lectures.
The portal, the gory trail across the floor, the stains on his gloves…
Jazz followed Danny’s eyes to the portal, her lip quivering. The light from the portal gleamed off of her tear-streaked cheeks, and Danny noticed a smear of ectoplasm along her chin.
“What happened, Danny?” she asked once more, her voice so soft it was hardly more than a breath.
“I…” The words wouldn’t come easily to Danny’s lips. Jazz slipped her hands into his gloved ones, squeezing them tight. Danny focused on the green stains between them, squeezing back.
“I was… inside the portal,” Danny managed to say. Each word cracked and broken.
A sharp intake of breath. Jazz squeezed his hands so tightly that it hurt. His left hand throbbed with pain– before her grip suddenly loosened.
Danny watched in horror as his left hand slipped seamlessly through hers. He whimpered, too afraid to consider what that meant.
Jazz didn’t say anything. She simply held on firmly to the hand that remained in her grip. “In–inside?” she pressed, her voice rising an octave in fear.
Staring at his left hand, Danny hesitantly held it out to her. Just as hesitantly, Jazz reached to accept it. Once more, his hand chose to obey the laws of physics and slipped into hers.
Danny nodded, his head pounding with the movement.
“Inside,” he echoed– in more ways than one.
Jazz took in a deep breath and let it out shakily. She shook her head, seeming lost. Defeated.
“Danny, you look so different…” she said suddenly, meeting his gaze with a pinched expression.
A fresh wave of panic tore through Danny’s chest, accompanied by that strange thrumming.
“Di-different how?” he demanded, shuffling uncomfortably.
Something between pity and fear found its way into Jazz’s eyes. She lifted her right hand and stroked his hair, pulling a lock of the sweaty strands forward.
When she said nothing, Danny didn’t understand. He furrowed his brows, waiting for her to say more, when he finally paid attention to the hair in front of his eyes.
He wasn’t sure how he didn’t notice it before. Sweat and ectoplasm had slicked some of his hair back, plastering the locks to his forehead, but surely he should have seen the white strands of hair hovering over his eyes.
Danny ripped his other hand from Jazz’s and pulled at his own hair, dragging more of it into his line of sight. It was snow-white– whiter than the gloves, and glowing more brightly.
“No…” Danny said, the echo in his voice taunting him. “N-no, no… no.”
Hands fisting through his hair, he tugged at the snowy strands and doubled over. It had to be a dream. All of this had to be some cruel, sick nightmare…
“Danny,” Jazz said, her voice steadier, but no less shaken than it had been since she stepped foot in the lab.
Danny didn’t look at her, though he listened as she kept speaking.
“Danny, what happened when you… when you touched the portal?” she asked.
She skirted around the detail of him stepping foot inside the machine, as though burying the truth would make any of it easier.
The portal loomed behind her, seeming infinitely taller from where they sat on the stone floor. A doorway of death, opened only by taking what it gave.
Danny knew what had happened. He knew it the moment he felt no heartbeat in his chest. He knew it the moment he saw the glow of the portal.
He knew it the moment the button clicked beneath his hand.
“I was electrocuted,” Danny whispered, not meeting Jazz’s eyes.
She was quiet. Everything felt too quiet. The thrumming in his chest filled the silence, much more a feeling than a sound, though it reverberated enough to quietly buzz. Danny wasn’t sure if Jazz could hear it. Everything was much sharper now, from the shapes in the dark lab to the sound of Jazz’s nervous breathing.
Before Jazz could say anything, Danny let an idea take root in his mind. It fought with everything he knew– everything he was taught. A wicked, dangerous idea that undermined the Fenton name.
“Jazz, am I… am I a ghost?” he asked.
The glow of his suit and hair. The echo to his voice, and the ectoplasm that came from his belly. The light feel of his body, and the way he phased through hers.
All brought on by the shock of the portal, and the wash of its green glow.
Danny didn’t know what else he could be, considering it all.
(The shock still echoed in his aching body. His left arm twitched, the muscles spasming painfully at the mere thought.)
Jazz shook her head forcefully, though she struggled to deny it. She opened her mouth, making broken, disjointed sounds that barely constituted words, before she clamped her jaw tight.
She simply shook her head again, hanging it low as she grabbed Danny once more by the shoulders and yanked him into a ferocious hug.
Jazz always gave strong hugs, but Danny wasn’t sure if she’d ever held him so tightly. He returned her embrace, hoping beyond hope that he would stay tangible this time.
“You can’t be a ghost,” Jazz said quietly, disbelievingly.
Danny swallowed a lump in his throat, wishing he had some water to cool the sting. The word ghost kept rattling around in his mind until it settled there. It sounded right, though it shouldn’t.
Throwing every bit of trust he had into his words, Danny said, “But what if I am? Jazz, I… I don’t have a h-heartbeat.”
If this was being a ghost, he certainly didn’t feel like the malevolent, uncaring echoes their parents spoke of. Danny could remember everything, and he felt just as strongly as he had before stepping foot into the portal. He loved Jazz. He trusted her with his life…
And now his death, he supposed.
Jazz’s vice-like hug tightened and Danny swore he felt his back crack under the strain.
Jazz’s arms shook as she said, “Whatever you are, you’re my brother.”
Those words warmed Danny to the core. He buried his face back into her shoulder, not caring that he left tears, snot, and ectoplasm on her shirt. Just knowing that Jazz was here for him, no matter what, made it all bearable.
The warmth pooled in Danny’s chest, soft and soothing. He focused on the feeling, gasping as it spread across his body.
A sudden bright light burst from Danny’s torso and Jazz stumbled back– but did not let go of him. They both watched with mounting dread as the light morphed into a ring and split.
The glaring white rings swept over him, trailing up and down his body. Danny winced as the light went up his neck and over his head.
Jazz squinted, blinking dazedly. Her eyes widened, fresh tears welling in them.
“Danny!” she cried, tackling him in another hug.
For a moment, Danny didn’t understand. He awkwardly returned her hug, unsure what the light had done. It wasn’t until Danny felt the heavier weight to his body that he began to understand.
Jazz wouldn’t let go, but Danny could see black hair hanging in front of his eyes. He raised his right hand behind her back, delighted to see that the white gloves and black sleeves of the hazmat suit had gone, somehow leaving him in the blue shirt he’d worn before entering the portal.
Somehow, he was himself again.
Where the hazmat suit had gone, he couldn’t say.
“Thank goodness,” Jazz said under her breath, so quietly that Danny was sure he wasn’t supposed to hear.
When Jazz finally let go, she fixed him with a bright smile. She looked him up and down, as if making sure everything was the same– and then her eyes snapped suddenly to his left arm.
Danny quickly did the same, holding it up to get a better look. It didn’t take long for Danny to notice what she saw. A large pink starburst of a scar covered his palm, branching out into feathery, bolt-like patterns. It circled up the entirety of his left arm, disappearing under the sleeve of his shirt.
Jazz had no words.
Neither did Danny.
Silence stretched between them as both traced the marks across Danny’s arm. It served as undeniable proof that the worst had happened. That what happened to Danny could not simply fade away with the dying light of those strange blue-white rings.
“Are you okay?” Jazz asked nervously.
Danny could only nod, feeling lost.
“Am I still…” he began to ask, unsure.
What Danny could see of himself, other than the scar, seemed normal enough, but he needed Jazz’s reassurance.
Jazz didn’t respond right away, as though his words drifted slowly to her ears. She reluctantly pulled her eyes away from the scars marring his arm, looking him in the eye.
“Well, your, um, hair and eyes are back to normal, but I–”
Alarm bells rang in Danny’s head and he raised his hands to his face, pulling at the corners of his eyes.
“What was wrong with my eyes?” he demanded.
Jazz fidgeted uncomfortably under his glare, picking at her nails. She bit her lip, glancing away before she said, “They… Danny, they were green and glowing.”
Danny blinked, surprised. Shaken. He patted at his cheek, staring down at the ectoplasm stains on the floor.
“You didn’t… say…” he said, dumbstruck, his voice cracking horribly on the words.
Jazz huffed, her lip quivering as she said, “You seemed a little overwhelmed for that.”
Danny couldn’t help but laugh. A cold, broken little chuckle that probably didn’t meet his eyes.
“I suppose…” he said quietly.
Danny stared back at the portal, wondering if his eyes had been the same shade of green. The thought soured his stomach, and he felt–
That same thrumming at his center.
Placing a hand across his chest, Danny felt for the strange humming that lay there. Somehow, it remained with the scar…
Though this time it sat alongside a slow, steady beat.
“I have a heartbeat,” Danny said. “I–I have a heartbeat still,” he repeated, as if to assure himself.
Jazz froze, eyes stretching wide. She snatched up Danny’s right hand and pressed her fingers to the interior of his wrist. Her brow furrowed as she felt for his pulse, and he watched her relax when she found it.
“It’s slow, but… there,” she confirmed.
“I’ll take slow over gone,” Danny said a little too quickly.
Jazz choked out a small huff of a laugh. Her eyes were watery and their hands, once more clutched together, both shook.
“You’re warmer,” she said with a note of reluctance. “You… you were cold.”
Danny just nodded his head, letting the sobering fact roll over him. He thought of how warm Jazz had felt– how warm she still felt.
An icy chill settled over him, considering the implications of ectoplasm-green eyes and a chill to his skin.
No sooner did the thought strike him, Danny felt that sensation of cold wash over him in the same manner the warmth had. The bright light returned, and this time Danny leapt to his feet.
His legs shook violently beneath him as he backpedaled, staring at the damning beam of light. Danny tried to will it away, but it pressed on, unrelenting.
Wherever the light passed, it left the hazmat suit behind.
“No…” Danny said, immediately noticing that the echo had returned to his voice. “No, why is this happening? This can’t be happening.”
Danny paced on the spot, hugging his arms around himself, stumbling over the trash on the floor as his knees wobbled.
Jazz slowly stood, watching him with frightened eyes and a tense set to her shoulders. She held her hands clasped in front of her, wringing them.
“We–we’ll figure this out,’ Jazz said quietly. “We could go to the hospital, they might be able to help.”
Danny rounded on her, exasperated– overwhelmed.
“Jazz, what is there to fix? I can’t just go to a hospital like this, I– I died. The portal ki–”
“Don’t say that,” Jazz said quickly, her hands flying to her sides, her fists clenched and trembling. “You– you still have a heartbeat. Ghosts can’t… Danny, you can’t be… dead.”
Shaking his head, Danny continued to pace, wandering the lab in discordant circles. His wobbly legs barely kept him standing. His boots kicked at the junk on the floor, the metal clattering loudly across the stone.
One particularly large piece of metal caught Danny’s foot and, with a sinking jolt, he was back inside the portal, falling, falling, falling.
Fear raced through him, white-hot and icy-cold at the same time. It gripped at his chest, and Danny threw his hands forward, wondering how much the shock would hurt this time around.
His hands crashed onto one of his parents’ work tables, sending implements scattering in a noisy, rattling crescendo.
“Danny!” Jazz called, racing to his side.
She warbled something in his ear, fretting over him in a doting, loving way perfected through years of being an older sister to a clumsy brother. Danny didn’t hear what she said. His eyes stared, fixedly, at a mirror on the table.
The person staring back at him was hardly recognizable. Snowy hair framed the face, and acid green eyes burned beneath the glowing strands. The eyes flickered back and forth as Danny took in the face, its skin oddly tanned with a green undertone in the cheeks. The pupils were as white as the hair, two spheres of light that constricted to tiny pinholes amidst the glowing green irises.
It was him, Danny knew. Whatever he was, whatever he had become–
It was him.
Danny realized Jazz was gripping his right hand, patiently standing beside him. A soft, warm presence in the cold, quiet lab. He felt lucky to have her here. Relieved to not be alone.
Only… he worried what would happen when anyone else saw. Danny was no stranger to being uncomfortable in his own skin, but this...
He felt like a monster.
“How am I going to face M–Mom and Dad?” Danny asked, not looking away from the mirror.
Jazz stiffened beside him. Her grip on his hand tightened and she rubbed her thumb over his gloves comfortingly. Absently, Danny noticed that the stains had somehow disappeared from those gloves.
The stains remained on Jazz’s hands.
“They love you, Danny,” she said. “They love you and this shouldn’t… this shouldn’t change that.”
Danny grit his teeth, watching as the eyes in the mirror flared more brightly. He shut them tight, not wanting to look at them any longer.
“They hate ghosts, Jazz. You’ve– you’ve heard how they talk about them.”
He didn’t need to elaborate– Jazz knew. How many times had they heard their mother tell them that ghosts were evil, manipulative monsters? How many times had their father passionately told them he would love to get his hands on a ghost– to tear it apart, molecule by molecule, and find just what made it tick.
That thrumming in Danny’s chest grew, alongside a squeezing ache. Frankly, Danny wasn’t sure he could say any of it aloud. His cracked voice had begun to waver again, fresh tears welling in his eyes.
Danny felt Jazz pull him away from the mirror. He went along without a fuss, trailing after her like a lost little dog.
“Let’s get out of the lab, okay?” she said.
Jazz led Danny up the stairs, letting him lean on her shoulder. The exhaustion that clung to him felt deeper than bone. Each step drained his energy, and he wanted nothing more than to sink down, curl up, and fall asleep.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Jazz left him at the door and quickly ran to close the living room blinds. Danny stood awkwardly in the doorway of the lab, feeling like a stranger in his own home.
Noticing his hesitation, Jazz told him to go sit on the couch while she flitted through the kitchen, opening one of the cabinets.
Danny obeyed, shuffling into the living room and over to the sofa. He went to sink down onto the plush cushions– but shouted as he slipped through the couch. A cold, shivery feeling encompassed Danny as he stared at the padding inside the cushions.
A crashing sound came from the kitchen, followed by Jazz’s hurried footsteps. Danny felt her grab one of his hands. She tugged, hoisting him to his feet with more force than was necessary. Shakily, Danny stepped away from the couch, breathing heavily.
“I d–don’t know how to stop that,” Danny warbled.
Jazz frowned, clearly shaken but trying her best to tamp down her own feelings. “Come on, let’s get you some water,” she said gently.
Jazz took Danny's hand again. After all the times she’d grabbed it tonight, it felt like an extension of his person.
They both went into the kitchen, stepping around the shattered pieces of glass cup Jazz had dropped. Danny noticed for the first time that his boots were as white as the gloves.
At Jazz’s gentle nudge, Danny pulled out one of the dining room chairs. He pressed the seat with his palm first, making sure he would stay solid, before daring to sit down.
They didn’t speak as Jazz pulled another glass from the cabinet and filled it with cold water. The clock on the wall ticked loudly in the silence, grating against Danny’s already-frayed nerves.
He took the glass of water from Jazz gratefully. His throat still burned, an echo of the screams that rang in his ears.
Danny hardly took a sip of the water, however, before the glass slipped from his hands and fell to the ground with a resounding crash. He knew that his grip hadn’t been loose. The cup simply phased through his hands, slipping with no more difficulty than he had fallen through the couch.
Jazz looked him over, making sure he wasn’t hurt by the glass. She seemed to realize what had happened, and mercifully did not draw attention to it. Danny was glad for that, feeling entirely too close to breaking down again. Tears blurred his vision and Danny quickly wiped them away.
Jazz silently brought him another glass of water, this time leaving it on the table with a straw. Danny shot her a grateful look before drinking deeply. The cold water felt heavenly against his raw throat, and he couldn't help but sigh in relief.
Jazz filled the glass a second time for him before she began to sweep up the broken glass. Danny listened to the rhythmic sweep of the broom and the sharp tinkle of glass sliding into the dustpan. Jazz took her time, cleaning up parts of the floor where Danny was sure no glass had fallen. It was something to do, he supposed.
She filled the glass a third time before she tied off the trash bag and took it to the garage.
The clock continued its relentless ticking in her absence. Time stretched on, and after a while Danny heard the telltale sounds of Jazz crying. He gripped the glass in both hands, holding it like a small child, his throat tight with emotion.
When Jazz came back, her eyes puffy and bright, her nose red, Danny looked at her with matching watery eyes. He grinned ruefully and she matched that as well.
The sun was sinking low in the sky, the light from the windows fading with its departure. Danny hadn't realized that the power was out, though it made sense of the dark lab. The battery clock was the only thing alive in the too-quiet house.
(Other than the portal, though Danny remembered that his parents had a large backup generator hooked up to it. He hoped the thing wasn't somehow alive without it.)
Jazz busied herself around the kitchen, pulling supplies out of the cabinets. She grabbed several candles and lanterns, dispersing them around the kitchen and living room. Danny wanted to help her, but he couldn’t bring himself to get up. He stared at his empty glass, fixated on how the material reflected the green of his eyes.
Before long, the sun had set and the house was dark, lit only by the flicker of candles, the glow of lanterns– and the soft glow Danny himself emitted.
A hand gently landed on his shoulder and Danny startled slightly. Jazz was patient and quiet as she led him to the couch, this time making sure he safely sat down before letting go.
The couch was covered in blankets, pillows, drinks, and snacks. Danny wasn’t sure when she found the time to collect it all.
Probably in the time he sat staring into his glass, numb to the world around him.
They didn’t speak much as they both got situated on the couch. Danny hunkered under one of his favorite blankets– a starry blue one that Jazz gave him on his birthday several years ago.
Jazz nestled some pillows around them, making a sort of nest. Between the blankets, snacks, and being on the couch, it felt like one of their old movie nights– minus the television.
(Minus one black-haired, blue-eyed boy.)
Jazz tried to get Danny to eat, but his stomach pitched with nausea at the thought. She sighed, her brows knitting together with concern.
There was a haunted look in her teal eyes. Jazz looked so much older than she had earlier that morning when she shut the front door, running off to see her friends.
Danny hated that he made her worry. He hated that he had stepped foot inside the portal. It was such a stupid, foolish decision, and Danny wasn’t sure how he was supposed to live with the consequences of it.
(If he was even still living.)
“I’m sorry,” Danny choked out, lost in his own head. He clutched the blanket more tightly, leaning against Jazz. “I sh-shouldn’t have gone into the portal– I– I just wanted to see, and… I’m sorry.”
Jazz took in a sharp breath. She rounded on him, her lip quivering as she grabbed either side of his face.
“Danny. I don’t know why you…” She sighed, taking a deep breath as she paused. “We all make mistakes. I just… I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to stop this one.”
Tears streamed from her eyes, and Danny hated to know he’d put them there. Her apology rang bitter in his ears, and he vehemently shook his head, shaking off her hands.
“Don’t say sorry,” he said, his jaw tensed. “Please, don’t. It’s not your fault that I–I was being stupid… It was so stupid.”
Jazz settled back down beside him, inching closer so their shoulders pressed together. “You’re not stupid,” she said.
Danny let out a disbelieving huff before he rested his head against her shoulder. He noticed that Jazz shivered slightly at the contact, however, and quickly tried to pull away. His efforts were in vain when Jazz leaned in closer, closing the gap.
“I feel stupid,” Danny grumbled, leaning back against her shoulder. “I just… walked in… and tripped.”
Jazz shuddered. Her hand groped for his left, clutching it tight. His palm beneath the glove ached, and Danny wondered what the scar would look like beneath it in this form.
He didn’t dare look.
“That portal should have never been in the basement,” Jazz said. “If it wasn’t you, it would’ve…”
Her words trailed off and Danny made no effort to finish them. Entertaining the thought was unspeakable.
(The idea that he might have preferred it that way.)
“What is with those light rings?” Jazz suddenly asked, as if she needed something to focus her mind on.
The change in subject was welcome, though Danny wasn’t sure he knew how to answer her question.
Danny hummed to himself, the sound pairing well with the thrum in his chest. It had happened twice now, that strange burst of light, and Danny understood it no more than… anything that had happened.
All he recalled was the feeling.
The first time Danny felt the rings, they had been warm like a wash of summer rain, rushing through his being.
The second time Danny felt the rings, they had been cold, more like a winter storm circling him in snow.
Without answering Jazz, Danny tried to imagine that first feeling again. He couldn’t be sure if simply imagining it would do something, but…
That spot of his chest that hummed and thrummed suddenly felt warm. He leaned into the feeling, imagining it spreading– washing over him.
The light burst forth once more, and this time Danny did not cower when he saw it. He watched, fascinated, as it made the now-familiar journey up and down his body. Danny welcomed the familiar sight of his blue shirt– and even the scar on his arm. He felt for his heartbeat, sighing with relief when it gently beat against his fingers.
“How does that work? Can you control it? How do you feel?” Jazz stared with wide eyes as she hurtled the questions at him.
Danny couldn’t help but laugh. It felt good to laugh.
“I… think I can control it?” He said cautiously. “It felt warm the first time it happened, so I just tried to think of that.”
Jazz nodded slowly, though she asked once more, “How do you feel?” Concern dripped in her voice, and it gripped at Danny’s heart.
(His mercifully beating heart. Could a ghost truly have a heartbeat?)
The question was a loaded one. How did he feel? How was he supposed to feel, after…
The portal. The shock. His death.
“O–okay,” he said anyway. “I feel okay…”
The last thing Danny wanted right now was to explore his own head and decipher those feelings.
Jazz clearly wasn’t fooled. A world-weary sigh left her lips and she leaned back against him, resting her chin on top of his head. She was so much taller than him and, while it annoyed Danny most days, he was glad for it now.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do, Danny,” she said it more to herself.
The words shook something deep in Danny’s core. The thrumming pulsated alongside his heartbeat, and it was only then that he noticed how much it followed with his emotions.
“I don’t want to tell them,” Danny said suddenly, with some measure of conviction.
He didn’t need to specify who.
When Jazz didn’t immediately shut down the idea, Danny kept going.
“I–I don’t know what they’ll do, and I don’t want to… I don’t want to find out. If I can just look normal then they’ll n-never have to know, and I… won’t have to… find out....”
Jazz wrapped an arm around him, her hands still shaking slightly. Something about the gesture made Danny’s rambling trail off. He looked up at her, finding that she was nervously worrying her lip.
“Okay,” was all she said.
The response made Danny pause. He had expected her to disagree, or to try and come up with another plan, or to otherwise convince him that he needed to tell their mom and dad.
The last thing he expected was for her to agree.
“Really?” Danny asked, skeptical.
Jazz continued to worry her lip, so much so that Danny feared she might bite through her skin. Silence stretched between them as she seemed to collect her thoughts. Her eyes darted nervously around the room before coming to rest on him.
“I don’t know if it’s the best plan, b–but… They have so many weapons in this house,” her voice quivered, and Danny could see Jazz’s eyes trailing over several of the spots he knew held those weapons. “With the portal active now, they’re going to be more vigilant than ever and I… I honestly don’t know what they’ll think, Danny. I don’t know what they’ll do.”
The arm around him squeezed tightly and Danny leaned into her, closing his eyes.
“I love them. I know they love you,” she continued, as though she needed to convince herself more of the idea. “They just… don’t understand some things. They don’t think sometimes.”
It had taken their parents almost a year to even consistently use the right pronouns for Danny.
They still messed up sometimes.
Still, compared to this, coming out as trans to them had been little more than a hurdle.
(Though it had seemed like the tallest mountain peak at the time.)
They didn’t even resent him for it. They accepted trans people– him.
Danny couldn’t say they felt the same about ghosts.
“So this stays between us?” Danny asked, hating the hopeful note in his own voice.
There was another long pause, marked only by Jazz’s heart beating beneath his ear. The candlelight illuminating the living room flickered, shadows dancing across the walls. The entire room smelled like sickeningly sweet butterscotch.
“At least until we figure out what’s going on,” Jazz said. “What… all of this is.”
Danny felt he already knew, at least in some measure. It seemed obvious to him.
Perhaps it even was to Jazz, regardless of if she admitted it or not.
“Okay,” Danny agreed, accepting that it would have to do for now.
Some of the tension left Jazz’s shoulders. She hummed to herself, the sound vibrating against Danny’s head. His eyelids drooped low, exhaustion creeping through his sore body, weighing him down.
One last thought lingered in Danny’s sleep-addled mind as Jazz’s humming morphed into a lullaby he recognized from years gone by.
“I want to tell Sam and Tucker, though,” he mumbled against her shoulder.
The humming faltered and stopped. Jazz took a deep breath before she said, “Okay.”
A small smile graced Danny’s lips as Jazz resumed the lullaby.
Danny didn’t know what to expect from tomorrow. Their parents would be home in three days, and it wouldn’t matter if he kept this secret if he accidentally phased through something in front of them.
There was so much to figure out. So much to talk about with Jazz– with Sam and Tucker. Within a few short hours, his life had taken such a turn that Danny no longer knew what to expect around the corner.
(His life had ended after all, hadn’t it? Yet he was still here, his heart still beating.)
Danny pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind for later, focusing instead on Jazz’s lullaby. He let the sound carry his exhausted mind to sleep.
Jazz kept humming, even when she was sure Danny had fallen asleep. It was something to do. Something to keep her busy– to keep her mind from spiraling.
She held her little brother close, uncomfortably aware that Danny wasn’t warm. The cold chill disappeared with his transformation, but he still wasn’t warm.
It seemed normal for him now. Yet another strange thing to adjust to.
A soft, rhythmic rumble distracted Jazz. She stopped humming suddenly, focusing on the sensation. A familiar sound accompanied it, though it wasn’t something she’d ever expected to hear from her brother.
Throughout the evening, while holding Danny close, she had felt… something inside his chest. A strange humming that had nothing to do with his voice. She tried to ignore it, like so many other smaller details, but it persisted all the same.
She supposed this sound was connected to that humming. It came from Danny’s chest, rumbling like distant thunder.
Somehow, inexplicably, he was purring.
Jazz didn’t wake him. The sound was strange, but it was no more strange than anything else she’d seen that evening. She didn’t know a lot about animals, but Jazz did know that cats purr when they’re happy or content. If this was at all the same, then she supposed Danny simply felt safe– maybe even a little bit happy.
(If anyone could be happy in this situation.)
Maybe Jazz would discover later that she was mistaken with this conclusion, but she chose to cling to it now.
Jazz clung to her brother just as tightly, reluctant now to ever let go. Ectoplasm stained her shirt and hair, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave for a shower.
Sleep did not come easily to Jazz. When she first saw Danny in the basement, changed and stained by ectoplasm, she feared she had lost him.
Even now Jazz feared she might still lose him.
Whatever Danny was, however, he was still… Danny. Her brother.
Jazz would be there for him, no matter what. Human, ghost, or something in-between.