“I don't get it,” Valerie said, opposite of Danny. “You could've taken off work today, but you didn't. Why?”
Danny, who was momentarily immersed in his calculations, gave a fleeting 'in a moment' expression, before gingerly setting his tablet at the edge of the laboratory counter. He returned Valerie's inquiring gaze with an amiable shrug, provoking her curiosity further. Fortunately for Valerie, he was sitting down, that way she didn't have to look up at him to make eye contact. Taking after his father, Danny had finally peaked in Senior year, growing to 6'1” and surpassing the height of almost all of his friends. It infuriated Valerie to her core, because it just wasn't fair that after all these years scrawny, little Danny Fenton could be taller than her. Damn those Fenton genetics. (Though, she admits she tried to convince herself that being Phantom probably had something to do with his growth spurt too.)
Although, his height was outwardly the most noticeable change about Danny over the years, it wasn't exactly the most significant. Not long after the asteroid incident, she noticed he started to grow more confident, probably due to the fact that he was reassured with his parents' acceptance of his other half. Even though he kept his secret contained in Antarctica, coming clean seemed to complete improve his overall mentality, which not only helped him fight ghosts better, but also gave him the energy to approach situations at school more realistically. And even though most people at Casper High didn't witness Danny's spontaneous reveal, those who knew his secret (such as Kwan, and herself) helped exponentially.
Of course, the most prominent change within Danny was the latest adoption of a more paternal role. Three years ago, after constantly worrying about the consequences of Sam's pregnancy with their firstborn, James, he'd been majorly overprotective of his wife and half-ghost son. (And soon, with his daughter, who was yet to be born in another month.) But with the expected defensiveness of his family, came the onslaught of horrible dad jokes. Personally, Valerie blamed Danielle; after she suggested the nickname “Daddy Phantom”, Danny hadn't stopped saying it... for three years.
Sometimes, Valerie wished her punny, cloned girlfriend wasn't so much like her original. Their shared sense of humor was literally going to kill her.
Danny leaned loosely against his chair and answered her impetuous question. “I don't really see any reason to miss work today. After all, I'm sort of over ceremonies; they're nice and all, it's just... they're unnecessary after a while.”
Valerie gaped, “You're kidding, right? 'Unnecessary?' Danny, it's the tenth anniversary of the Disasteroid! You saved the world ten years ago, today.”
“You think I don't remember?” he asked. “I mean it's not like we were both there-”
“Oh, don't get smart with me,” Valerie rolled her eyes. “You know they're holding the Phantom appreciation festival today. Seriously, it's your own holiday, and you're not going to even show up? What the hell, Danny?”
“I've skipped it the past two years, Val,” he argued. “Why is it different now?”
“Ten years is a big deal. You actually can't expect me to believe that you don't feel... amazed by it? You're going to act like you didn't save all of existence when you were sixteen and pretend like it's just another Thursday? You could leave work right now and all you'd have to say is “Disasteroid-versary” and Mr. Bianchi wouldn't even care, because everyone remembers what Phantom did. What you did.”
Danny rolled his eyes, “And then what? Go ghost, arrive at the festival, and let everyone adore me? Or should I just silently watch as Danny Fenton?”
Valerie glared at him, “You're killing me.”
“I have work to do, anyway. Your Dad didn't help hook me up with this job just so I could be Phantom all day. I got this for a paycheck, so I can actually further research in using ectoplasmic energy alternatives and 'assist' the Red Huntress.”
About four years ago, after Danny had obtained a degree in physics, he had a lot of trouble trying to hold down a job. After all, it's hard to get any work done when you have to constantly leave to fight ghosts, also while maintaining a secret identity.
Meanwhile, in the time since Vlad was exiled into space (or, wherever he went after that), the employment within Axion Labs was completely restructured. And after a few wise decisions, Damon Gray managed to snag a high enough position to hire who he wanted. Which is how Valerie started working at Axion Labs as the Red Huntress, capturing ghosts for non-invasive experiments and allowing the technology of her suit (which had bonded to her body) to be studied and replicated.
So, after hearing about his career struggles, Damon offered Danny a job at Axion Labs specializing in studying how ectoplasm and otherworldly substances can be repurposed as fuel and how they pertain to the environment. However, the unofficial part of the job agreement was that Danny would pose as the Red Huntress's technician. Whenever there was a ghost attack, Danny's co-workers were told that he had to leave to monitor Valerie and remotely act as her 'ground-control'. Of course, that was all an alibi; he'd really just transform in a secluded area and deal with the ghosts as Phantom. Occasionally, someone would slip-up, and an Axion employee would discover Danny's secret. It had only happened twice, to date, but Damon would take control of the situation and would compose a confidentiality contract.
“This job is supposed to allow you to freely fulfill your duty as Amity's hero, while working. I think this counts,” Valerie debated.
“Unless another ghost shows up,” Danny started, “I'm not leaving this lab.”
Six minutes and thirty-seven seconds later, Danny tensed as a chill taunted his spine, spitting out the usual blue mist that tickled his throat. It was followed by the sound of Valerie's own ghost sensors activating, signaling the presence of a hostile specter somewhere close.
Valerie smiled, “Let's get to work now, shall we?”
It didn't take them long to find the opposing ghost. After all, flair was her specialty, and even though it was 'Disasteroid Day', ghosts didn't really find any sentiment in holidays besides Christmas, so Ember had no guilt about crashing the festival. Or setting it on fire with her guitar.
When Ember set eyes on Phantom, Valerie close behind him, she ceased her arson spree and grinned wickedly. “Took you long enough, Phantom. I didn't know how many more of those balloons with your face on them that I'd have to blow up before you arrived.”
Danny groaned, seeing that this was one of those dead-end 'negotiation fights' and decided to jump straight to the point. “What do you want this time, Ember?”
Strumming a short C chord on her guitar, she brushed her fiery hair to the side of her face and narrowed her eyes, “Your next kid is a girl, right?”
Danny, caught off-guard, froze. “Are you threatening my daughter?”
“Huh?” Ember asked, “No. Of course not. Sure, I have it out for you and your family, but little kids are always out of the question when it comes to fighting, Dipstick. I have some principles, geez.”
“I was going to tell you that you're going to name your daughter after me,” Ember boldly declared.
Behind him, Valerie audibly snorted.
Danny sputtered uncomprehensively for a moment before mustering a sensible response,“Um... how about a no? After all, Sam and I have already agreed that we're calling her Lilith Elise Fenton, and that's final. And then there's the fact that you're literally my enemy, so I have no reason to name her after you.”
“Do you think I care? That child, will be named after me! It will ensure everyone will know my name. Yes, it will be her name, but it will also be mine. And once word gets around the Zone that Phantom named his child after me, I'll be more famous than ever!”
“Well, too bad, because there's no way in Hell I'm ever affiliating my daughter with you, Ember!” Danny said, charging up an ectoblast in his palm, signaling Valerie that it was time to actually begin the fight.
Since it was two against one, it didn't take them very long to detain Ember, who kept insisting that if Danny didn't comply with her demands, she'd make Skulker hunt both of his children the day they turned twelve. It wasn't the first time he'd heard that threat, though. Many of the ghosts followed the unspoken rule that it wasn't morally right to fight children, but once they were old enough to properly defend themselves, they were 'fair game' to attack. It terrified Danny that when James finally turned twelve years old, a majority of his enemies would target his son as well; it was a burden that neither of his children should have to suffer.
Neither of them had asked to be born into the ghost world, tangled with having to hide their dual nature from human society. It also wasn't fair that they would have to fight for their lives by the time they were in middle school. With the many benefits of being half-ghost, there were obvious downsides of being Danny Phantom's child.
Attempting to push some of the more depressing concerns out of his mind, Danny focused on aiming the upgraded Fenton thermos at Ember so he could flee the battle-scene before he got trapped at the Phantom festival against his will. As soon as Ember's form was seized by the beam of light and pulled into containment, Danny looked towards Valerie, who was hovering idly in the air, inattentively holding a hand to her ear. For a moment he wondered if she had a head injury, before realizing she was listening to something and using her hand to block the noise of the wind. He assumed that during their fight, somebody must have called her via the Fenton Phones, which he had inconveniently left back at Axion Labs. From what he could see of her expression below her visor, it was something urgent.
From where he floated, he saw her mutter a few words, absently nod, and presumably conclude the call. She glanced back at him and said in a staid tone, “Tucker just called. He said that we need to get over to your place as fast as possible.”
Panic clutched Danny, daring to pull him out of the air for a moment. His first thought was that Sam was going into labor, after all, her due date was in two weeks. However, Valerie had said they needed to go to his house, not the hospital. So that at least meant that she wasn't going to give birth soon... unless they needed him to fly her to the hospital because she was in labor. Adrenaline surged through his veins, forcing him to attempt to determine the severity of the moment.
But with the current evidence, there was simply no way to tell what situation awaited him. So with no further preamble, Danny shot into the air faster than Valerie could steady her jet-sled.
He phased through the wall of the first floor of their house, wildly trying to locate the predicament. And thankfully, it wasn't what he had expected.
Sam was sitting on the couch with James next to her, anticipation etched on her face rather than any indication of pain. Standing across from her, was Tucker, wearing a bulky camera around his neck. James, in the center of it all, was the most odd picture in the room. He was snuggling in his mother's arms, eyes steadily focused on the floor, with a cross of nervousness and excitement on his face. He shivered as if someone was breathing down his neck and continued to cling to Sam. And most weirdly, he was wearing the white HAZMAT suit that his grandpa Jack had made him for Christmas (even though Danny insisted that he didn't need it). Danny had only seen him wear it a handful of times, but it was usually only when Jack was around or when the boy decided to play superhero like his Dad.
“What's going on?” Danny asked, letting himself land on the carpet.
James looked up from where he was burning holes in the floor with his eyes (not literally, but he would eventually possess the ability). “Daddy, you're here!” he said, cheerfully. “Mommy and Uncle Tuck said that I – I'm gonna be able to look like you.”
Danny raised an eyebrow, “What do you mean? You already look like me, Jamie. You're my son.”
“Yeah and no,” James said. He pointed the logo on Danny's chest. “Phantom, you.”
Overall confused about the context, Danny tried to interpret James's words. What they had found out about born half-ghosts were that they developed their powers very slowly, and that it would take years for them to be able to achieve the level Danny started at as a ghost. That way, easing into powers was more subtle and less rigid. So far James had only exhibited invisibility and intangibility, and had yet to access a ghost form. Though... from the way had James phrased it, it sounded like he was suggesting that he thought he was close to transforming....
Sam, who had noticed Danny's thoughtful gaze, elaborated to cease his confusion. “Remember how your parents said it would take his core a while to mature enough for him to transform? I know they said he'd be around five or six, but apparently, their estimations were wrong. He's been showing obvious signs for the past twenty minutes. Also, we put him in the HAZMAT suit because we're guess his ghost half will keep what he's wearing.”
“Obvious signs?” Danny asked, completely flabbergasted. He hadn't actually expected the progressive rate of James's core maturity. “Like what?”
At that moment, James whimpered in Sam's arms, clutching his own sides and shuddering. A small burst of white light emitted from his waist and slowly circulated a halo around his body before fizzling out to nothing.
“Namely, that,” Tucker chimed in.
“Well, I see that now,” Danny deadpanned.
“Why it so cold, Daddy?” James asked innocently, still quivering.
Danny's expression softened, and he went to join Sam on the couch so he could support James. “It's your core,” Danny answered, gently. “Your core is like mine, an ice core. It makes cold energy. But since your body is also human, and humans are very warm, it will make you cold when you try to use it. But you'll get used to it, and learn to forget about it. It's like when you go tingly when you're intangible.”
“Makes sense,” James nodded. “But I don't wanna be cold.”
“I know...” Danny said, “but you can do this, James.”
“But I've not done this before,” he said, worriedly. Once again, a bring ring circled around James, before fading away in the same interval of time.
“But, you're doing great,” Danny reassured. He paused a moment before asserting a question, “So are you trying to change yourself, or is your body doing this on it's own?”
“It's just... happening,” James explained.
“What do you... what do you think would happen if you tried to change?” Danny asked.
James was silent. “How – how would I do that?”
“I can talk you through it, if you'd like,” Danny said. “After you do it for the first time, you gain more control over it and it gets easier.”
James nodded, “I can try.”
“Alright,” Danny said. “I want you to focus on inside of you, where your energy feels the coldest. The deepest part of your core.”
“Just think about it?”
“Think about how it feels. Think about how it feels more sensitive than the rest of you.”
“Okay,” the boy proclaimed, squinting his eyes shut, tightly.
“Alright,” Danny resumed, “once you think about all of that, pretend the cold gets bigger and fills up all your body. It might feel uncomfortable, but then after you change, the weird feeling goes away.”
It took James multiple tries before he could actually get the rings to go further than his kneecaps and shoulders, but after fifteen more minutes, he finally succeeded.
“You can do it, James,” Sam told her son, proudly. “We all believe in you!”
“Yeah James,” Tucker cheered, “go ghost like your Dad.”
James was still perched on the couch and squeezing both of his parents' hands in a death grip. Then, he opened his eyes and they lit up with the recognition of an idea. Before, he'd put all his focus into his inner power source, closing out the world around him. But...
James let go of his parents' hands and stated with fierce determination that was unnerving within a three year old, “Going ghost.”
This time the two rings formed smoothly, gliding across the toddler's body, changing his white HAZMAT suit to black, his black hair to white, and his mother's purple eyes to a vibrant green. You could hear a pin-drop as everyone examined James's new form with an admiration for his similarities to his father. James himself stared down at his now white glove and pulled at a strand of white hair and gasped.
Tucker was the first to break the silence among them. “He really does take after you, Danny. He's already mastered your stupid battle-cry.”
Sam looked at her now ghostly son, with a new-found sense of pride, “I'm so proud of you James....”
Danny smiled, “So I am, son.” He laughed, “This date must be marked for miracles. Ten years ago today, we saved the world... and now, today, my son is able to transform between his two halves. Our kid, James Phantom. How about that?”
Danny didn't need praise for saving the world anymore. He had everything he needed right here.