Thicker than Water: Part I
Five years after the accident
First it was the ghosts. They weren't any of the usual suspects—poltergeists, mostly, and they didn't cause any real problems, just a lot of mischief and minor vandalism. But there were a lot of them, and they came more and more frequently as it got closer to Halloween. It became such a problem that Jack, Maddie, and Danielle couldn't handle the overrun on their own, and Danny, then Sam, Tucker, Valerie, and finally Jazz, started staying overnight in Amity Park even on weeknights and commuting to school, or sometimes skipping classes altogether so they could get some sleep after spending entire nights sucking poltergeists into Fenton Thermoses to be released back into the Ghost Zone, only to have them return the next day, and in greater numbers.
Then came the Guys in White. They showed up on Halloween night, vowing to clean up the "Ectoplasmic Invasion," for which they blamed Danny Phantom. They'd done a pretty good job of it, too, mostly because instead of releasing the captured ghosts back into the Ghost Zone, they kept them, taking them to whatever secret installation it was that they took ghosts.
It meant that there was less work for Danny and the others, so they didn't have to stick around Amity Park and could get back to focusing on school—in theory. In practice, the presence of the Guys in White was much more worrisome and distracting, not to mention dangerous for Danny to be around much at all. Danielle, too, even though her powers were diminished. It seemed as if the town had been overrun by white suits and ecto-signature tracking equipment, leaving the entire Fenton family on edge, and Danny and Danielle practically living in Fenton Ecto-flage belts, which Jack had invented not long after finding out that Danny was half-ghost. They looked like Specter Deflectors, only instead of repelling ghosts, they masked Danny's and Danielle's ecto-signatures from any sort of tracking equipment.
The first weekend in November, Jazz came home, partly to help Danny and the others figure out exactly why so many low-level ghosts were getting loose in Amity Park, but mostly to spend time with Nick. The first reason was made more difficult by the presence of the Guys in White and the need for Danny to stay low profile. This in turn put Jazz in too foul a mood to really enjoy the second reason.
"I don't get it, Jazz." They'd just come from Queequeg's Coffee, where a foursome of Guys in White had shown up, causing Jazz to storm out in a huff. Now they were walking through the park, hoping the brisk air would help her work out the frustration.
She gave him a peevish look. "What don't you get, Nick? Why I'm angry at the way they came in and practically took over our town? Why their complete overkill methods for dealing with the ghost equivalent of teenage pranksters bothers me? Or why I resent them blaming Danny Phantom, who's never done anything but help this town?"
Nick sighed. "No, no, and no. All of that I get. I do, Jazz. I just… I don't get why you can't let it go. I mean, you all were running yourselves ragged going after all those ghosts, and now someone else is doing it for you, so can't you at least sit back and enjoy the respite?"
"No, I can't."
He let out a huff of air and cocked his head sideways to look at her. "What aren't you telling me?"
"Nothing. I… nothing."
It wasn't the first time he'd asked her that. And as long as she was keeper of her brother's secret, it wouldn't be the last. It was a constant battle with herself, how to reconcile the desire to let Nick into every part of her life, and the desire to protect Danny and his secret at all costs. If things kept going the way they were with Nick—and she really hoped they would—then she would have to tell him eventually. But until she was sure, until she knew this was someone who was going to be in her life for a long time, she couldn't do it. She'd already been largely responsible for the nearly eighty people in Antarctica finding out. She didn't want to be responsible for even one more.
But Nick was growing less and less patient with her evasiveness. He came around in front of her and stood in her way, blocking her path, and took her by the shoulders. "Don't give me 'nothing.' It's not nothing. I know your family has some past bad experiences with the Guys in White, but not enough to explain the way you all are completely wigged by the feds, acting like you have something to hide. What are you hiding, Jazz?"
She tried to laugh it off. "Come on, Nick. You saw the Op-Center the first time you met us. You've seen the basement lab, the Ghost Portal, and you've met my father. You've even gone ghost hunting with us. What other skeletons could we possibly have in our closet more embarrassing than any of that?"
He was not amused. "That's what worries me."
"Jazz, I love you."
That went a long way toward improving her mood. It wasn't the first time he'd said that, either, but it was still just new enough to make her catch her breath every time she heard those words. She let a little of the tension drain out of her. "I love you, too."
"Then open up to me! I feel like… like there's this wall between us, and I don't know why. What have I done to make you not trust me?"
"I trust you, Nick."
"Then talk to me! 'Cause I feel like I'm living in limbo. Like… there's this huge thing that's lurking in the shadows—"
There was a rustle in the bushes behind them, and Jazz put up one hand to stop Nick while she reached into her coat with the other, searching for the plasma weapon she kept there. She'd just gotten her hand around it when something enormous, black, and ecto-green hurled itself at her from the bushes, snarling like a wild animal. She couldn't get her weapon clear fast enough, and she stumbled backwards, screaming, as the thing came bearing down on her. She could hear Nick shout her name, and then it was on top of her, knocking her down onto the path. She thought she was dead, that the beast was going to tear out her throat but, instead, it stopped and sniffed her. "Fratino!"
And then, with a mammoth tongue, the thing licked her.
"Jazz! Are you—" Nick sounded panicked at first, but stopped short when he saw the beast licking her. "Oookkay. It looks like you've made a friend."
"Get! It! OFF! ME!"
"I don't care!"
"Fratino!" The creature sounded almost joyful, and it jumped back, panting like a happy puppy.
"Uh…" Nick scratched the back of his head. "Did that thing just speak Esperanto?"
"What?" Jazz scrambled to her feet, backing away from the monster, which looked like a gigantic black wolf. In a glowing, green sweat suit. "How the heck should I know?"
"It's just… I think it just said 'sister' in Esperanto."
The wolf-ghost-thing looked like it was grinning. "Jes! La fratino de mia amiko estas mia amiko ankaŭ." Then it slurped her with its tongue again.
"EW! Stop that! I—wait." She looked at Nick. "Did you say it said 'sister'?" She grit her teeth. Danny. I am going to kill him…
"I… think so. My Esperanto is a little rusty."
"You know Esperanto, and you accuse me of having skeletons in my closet?" She reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone, hitting the speed dial.
Danny answered on the second ring. "Everything okay, Jazz? You see more of those poltergeists?"
"You wouldn't by any chance happen to know a giant, slobbering ghost-wolf that speaks Esperanto, would you?"
"That's what I said, a ghost-wolf—"
"No, that's his name. Is he—?"
"About ready to lick me to death. Jumped me in the park and scared about ten years off my life."
"Wulf jumped you in the park? That can't be good."
"Tell me about it! I nearly had a heart attack!"
"No, I mean, if Wulf is in Amity Park, then Walker can't be far behind."
"Thank you for your concern. And who?"
"Walker. He's, like, a self-appointed jail warden in the Ghost Zone. Think… the ghost version of the Guys in White. Makes up his own rules, doesn't like when humans and ghosts fraternize, doesn't mind a little torture to get the job done. He even dresses like the Guys in White, come to think of it."
"Okay, I get the picture."
"I helped Wulf get away from him a few years ago. Remember when all those ghosts were overshadowing people, and Mom and Dad formed those lame 'Ghostkateers' and everything? That was Walker and his Goons. He must be up to something if Wulf is here. Listen, Jazz. You gotta keep Wulf safe until I can get there. Don't let any other ghosts near him. Or the Guys in White, either."
"Danny… he's an enormous monster! How am I supposed to—?"
"Just tell him I'm coming, and to stay with you. Uh… 'Danny venas. Rest kun mi.'"
Jazz pulled the phone away from her ear to give it an incredulous look, then put it back again. "You're kidding me."
"Just do it, Jazz. I'll be there in a minute."
"Yeah, well the Guys in White are still all over town, so come as you are, got it?"
He sighed. "Yeah, I got it. Give me ten minutes, if I have to walk."
Jazz hung up and looked at the beast. "Uh… Hi. Wulf, is it? Danny venas. Rest kun mi."
"Amiko!" It made as if to lick her again, and she backed away with her hands up.
"No! Bad dog!"
The ghosts attacked before Danny got there. First, it was just a couple of them, broad-shouldered, with ecto-tails instead of legs, and outfitted like police officers in riot gear. Wulf went ballistic, snarling and snapping at them as they tried to shoot him with weapons that looked like nightsticks, but shot like laser rifles. Jazz tossed a Fenton Blaster at Nick, and the two of them were able to fight back the ghosts and keep them from hurting Wulf. But then there were dozens of them, not just going after the ghost wolf, but attacking the city at large.
Jazz and Nick made a run for it, Wulf behind them. They ducked behind a tree, leaning their backs against it to catch their breath while Jazz looked for her Fenton Thermos in her coat.
Nick stared at her. "Geez, Jazz, how much stuff do you have in there?"
She found the Thermos and produced it with a smile. "You're dating a Fenton, Nick. Learn to pack a lot of heat. Now, cover me." She peeked out from behind the tree, aiming her Thermos at the ghost nearest her. She managed to snag it, sucking it into the ice-blue vortex and capturing it inside, but there were instantly half a dozen more to replace it.
"We are really outnumbered," Nick said.
"You think? We're gonna need some—"
A bolt of green ectoplasm from above blasted away two ghosts in one shot. "Backup," Jazz finished, looking skyward as Danny zoomed into view, hurling a mass of ectoplasm in one direction while shooting ice in another. He cleared out enough of the ghosts to land beside her and Nick, giving them a few moments to breathe.
"Need a hand? I—"
He was cut off when Wulf bounded up to him. "Amiko!"
Danny held up his hands. "Whoa. Good to see you, too, Wulf!" He looked around the mammoth creature towards Jazz and Nick. "I, uh… ran into your brother, Ms. Fenton, and he told me Wulf was here. The ghosts attacking are definitely Walker's Goons, but I haven't seen Walker yet."
Jazz put her hands on her hips. "What do you think you're doing? You're supposed to be laying low! This whole town is still crawling with Guys in White."
"Yeah, but where are they? When it was just a bunch of poltergeists and some minor vandalism, they were all over that action, but when a real threat to the town shows up…"
"Still. It isn't safe for you."
"I'll be okay. Gotta protect the town." He glanced at Nick before looking back at Jazz. "Your brother's with your parents, and they headed out towards the Lake District to fight off a bunch of Goons there. His friends are on their way here, to the park. I need to find Walker." He turned to Wulf. "Kie estas Walker?"
Wulf shrugged. "Mi ne sci. Mi venis tie ĉi averti vin, sed mi estas tro malfrua. Walker liberigis la poltergeists en via urbo. Li estas kolera tio, ke homa urbo havenoj fantomo 'fuĝanto'—vi. Li diras tio estas 'kontraŭ la reguloj.'"
Jazz frowned and looked at Danny. "Did you understand that?"
"A little. I think he's saying that Walker is the one who sent the poltergeists. Something about punishing Amity Park for 'harboring a ghost fugitive,' by which he means me. Walker says that's 'against the rules,' his favorite catch-phrase." Danny shook his head. "See, I told you he's the ghost version of the Guys in White."
A pink blast cut off any further conversation, and they had to defend themselves from another wave of "goons," as Danny called them. More help came from above as Valerie zoomed into sight on her jet sled, and Jazz couldn't help but take a moment to marvel how fluid she was with on that thing, like it was a part of her. Well, it was a part of her, come to think of it. Jazz didn't know the entire history of Valerie and her battle suit, but she did know that the one she had now was not exactly the same as the one that Vlad had given her when she was fourteen. Technus, the ghost of technology, had destroyed the original in a brawl with Danny several months later, and then had somehow used his powers to bond the broken pieces of it to Valerie herself, creating a sort of ghost-powered super-suit/jet-sled combo that Valerie could conjure up out of nothing merely by willing it into existence. It wasn't all that different from the way Danny could go ghost simply by wanting to.
Now that Valerie used her strange gear and remarkable skills to fight with Danny instead of against him, they made a brilliant team, and as they attacked the swarm of police-like ghosts in perfect synchronization from the air, Jazz, Nick, and Wulf fought a less refined battle on the ground. With the extra help, they had an easier time beating back the ghosts, and then the last few scattered completely when the Specter Speeder roared into view. Its hatch opened, and Tucker, Sam, and Danielle poured out, each armed with a Fenton Bazooka and a Thermos. Danny and Valerie landed beside them, both of them glaring at Danielle.
She held up her hands before they could say anything. "I know, I know. Keep the Ecto-flage on and use the Bazooka. I'm not gonna attract the attention of the Guys in White."
Danny looked at Sam. "Make sure she doesn't."
Sam nodded and looked like she was about to say something else, but Danny cut her off. "I need to find Walker. Hunter, you come with me." That was what they publicly called Valerie whenever she was suited up in order to protect her identity. "The two of us can cover the most ground. The rest of you do what you can to keep the Goons from destroying the town. Wulf. Rest kun miaj amikoj. Mi trovos Walker."
Jazz called out to stop him before he could take off. "Wait! You can't just be flying around town! The Guys in White—"
"I'll be fine. Just watch my back. Like you always do." Then, he smiled at her before taking off into the sky.
The Goons were everywhere, and their group split up to tackle them. Sam and Danielle headed west, towards the high school. Tucker took Wulf and drew off a whole horde of Goons northeast to the far end of the park. Jazz and Nick went south, fighting their way through ghosts and crowds of humans who were running screaming in every direction. They ended up behind the small amphitheater where the Amity Park Community Theater group did Shakespeare in the Park each summer. Jazz had just gotten two more ghosts into a Fenton Thermos, which was now full to overflowing, when a sharp whine of feedback from the sound system speaker just over her head made her drop the Thermos and cover her ears with her hands. A deep, throaty voice rang out over the speaker: "Humans of Amity Park. You have harbored the ghost Danny Phantom in your world for too long. You can't run from your punishment. That would be against the rules."
Jazz poked her head out from behind the bandshell to see a tall, humanoid ghost in a white suit with black boots, black gloves, and a black fedora standing on the stage talking into the microphone. She looked back at Nick. "I'm guessing that's this Walker guy Danny Phantom is looking for."
"What should we—?"
A blast of ectoplasm from above knocked the white-suited ghost off his feet and Danny soared into view. "Hey Walker! My town, my rules."
Walker jumped back to his feet. "We'll see about that, punk." He created a ball of pink energy in his hands and hurled it at Danny.
The Goons converged, and Jazz and Nick got busy keeping them off of Danny's back while he fought Walker. Jazz got so absorbed in blasting ghosts in riot gear that she lost track of where Danny and Walker were fighting and almost everything else around her until she heard Nick groan. "Great. Now here come the feds."
"What?" Then, she saw them. Dozens of humans in white suits and jet packs. Ignoring the Goons who were still wreaking havoc in the park, they converged on the place where Danny was shooting down at Walker from the air. Jazz cried out in warning. "DANNY! BEHIND YOU!" Then she aimed her Fenton Blaster at the one nearest him. Just as she got him in her sights and was about to squeeze the trigger, she was suddenly knocked to the ground.
"Jazz! What are you doing? You can't shoot at federal operatives!"
Jazz grunted in frustration and rolled away from Nick. "Watch me!" Without bothering to get to her feet, she went to take aim again, but she was too late. A blast from one of the Guys in White hit Danny in the back, and he dropped from the sky like dead weight. Jazz gasped. "NOOOOOOO!"
Scrambling to her feet, she tried to aim again, but Nick grabbed her once more. "Jazz, stop! Do you have any idea what they'll do to you for assaulting a federal officer?"
She batted him aside. "I'm more concerned about what they'll do to him!" She looked around wildly, having lost where they were. She saw a group of Guys in White shooting at something on the stage, but realized that was Walker. Others were clearing Walker's Goons away from the amphitheater. Where's Danny? Where's—
And then she saw him. A pair of Guys in White—they looked like Operatives O. and K., the ones who caused him the most grief—had ensnared him in some sort of ghost net. He was lying motionless inside, unconscious, she guessed. Then, they trained some sort of beam on him that sucked him into a boxy-looking device. Before Jazz could even bring her weapon up to try and squeeze a shot off, they fired up their jet packs and were gone, taking Danny with them.