Jake Pierly was dead.
Well, truth be told, he had been dead for years now. He didn’t MEAN to die. Only a handful of people knew that his body was six feet under in a coffin.
In fact, Jake would go as far as to say that he was pretty good at being dead.
It happened after Milo Senior…. disappeared. Milo- Jake’s Milo, Jake and Dan’s fiery little boy- was so little still.
Jake had just started working from home, juggling parenting with editing. He was already falling behind, but Milo was a child. Milo took priority. He always had.
Jake would sneak downstairs and work all night, futilely trying to catch up, drinking coffee until he was sick. It was a miracle that Jake didn’t kick it earlier, to be honest. Dan didn’t know or at least pretended he didn’t.
Jake supposed what Dan didn’t know didn’t hurt him.
The day Jake died was painstakingly normal until he got a knock at the door. He got up, stretching, joints popping. Dan wouldn’t be home for another hour or two.
Milo squealed excitedly and ran to the door, standing on his tippy toes to unlock the door.
Jake gently put a hand on Milo’s shoulder and got on his level.
“Hey, remember what we said about strangers? Dan’s not gonna be home for a little while longer. We don’t know who that is yet, kiddo. We have to be safe.“
Milo’s face quickly fell, and Jake immediately felt guilty.
The knock sounded again, louder and more urgent. Jake peered out the window to see someone curled in on themselves, bundled up and concealing their face.
Something was wrong.
"Hey, I know! How about you go play in your room for a bit? I don’t think you’ve fed Mr. Sharky today.”
Milo opened his mouth to protest, but his face turned to surprise.
“Oh no! I’ll be right back. Dad, stay there."
"It’s Jake,” Jake corrected, spoken so quietly he could barely hear it himself.
But Milo was already gone, running full speed to the kitchen. (Besides, Jake didn’t MIND being called ‘Dad.’ It just… felt wrong. And not part of the plan he and Dan had carefully constructed.) Jake watched with a soft and tired smile, hearing clanging and rustling in the pantry before he saw Milo run to his room.
The person knocked again.
Jake swallowed the lump in his throat before opening it.
Sure enough, there was Aaron.
“Miss me, big brother?"
Dan Fuller was doing his best. Parenting surprisingly fit him like a glove. It was hard, sure, but it made him so happy.
He missed his old friend, but Milo filled him with such a surge of pride that Dan could never articulate.
Dan was tired from work but excited to get home. He twirled his keys around a finger, whistling an old Problem Sons song. He turned the corner, picking up pace. He was about half an hour early, ready to surprise the two with dinner. Nothing could break his stride.
What did Milo and Jake do today? Did Jake remember to eat? Did Milo–
Any further coherent thought stopped. Dan’s head filled with static as the bag of food hit the floor.
The front door was open.
Milo was crying- screaming crying– so loudly that Dan could hear it from two houses down. Dan took off running, almost tripping and breaking his face on the top step.
Aaron was frantically beating at Jake’s chest, who was sprawled across the ground. Some… tools sat near Aaron’s feet, but they seemed forgotten. Milo sat at the other side of Jake, frantically patting his face.
"Daddy! Wake up!”
Aaron, immediately upon hearing someone at the door, shot his head up.
“I-I only meant to scare him! I swear! He won’t– he fell over and-"
Dan scooped a struggling Milo up, who was anxiously trying to get back to Jake. Dan after a moment, after seeing the still form of his friend, turned to Aaron.
"What. Did. You. Do.”
It wasn’t a question, but Aaron began spewing out like a festering wound anyway.
“Nothing! We were going– I was going to get my stuff, but he started complaining that he wasn’t feeling good or something, and then he fainted! I found out and came to see him and– I can’t- he’s not waking up. What do we do?”
Swallowing down the urge to beat Aaron’s face into a bloody pulp, Dan spoke in a voice he didn’t recognize. If Milo wasn’t there, Dan wasn’t sure what he’d do.
But Milo was. And Milo came first.
“We call for help.”
The rest of the day was a blur.
Jake Pierly was pronounced dead at the scene. Aaron was arrested on charges of assault, though Dan had trouble paying attention to what they exact details were. Aaron went willingly, seeming to be in shock himself.
Police asked questions. So did doctors and neighbors. Dan didn’t remember answering them, but they left, so he assumed he did a satisfactory job.
Dan came to again, holding Milo close. Milo’s eyes were so puffy they could barely open and he was sniffling into Dan’s shirt, which was reduced to essentially nothing more than a snot rag. Dan nuzzled his head into Milo’s hair, letting tears fall without thought.
“What are we gonna do, buddy?”
Jake came to with emotions first.
Seething, unrelenting rage.
Something urged him to keep resting—it felt good. When was the last time he rested?—but then he heard a cry echo in the distance.
“What are we gonna do, buddy?”
That’s right. Dan and Milo needed him.
Why was he sleeping again? He needed to work. He needed to kill Aaron to protect his family. He wanted to strangle Aaron for so many years of abuse. He wanted to ruin Donna’s life, watching her wail in a way she never did for her sons.
He wanted to hold his family. His family wronged him. They hurt him over and over and over and he would get them back-
No. His real family.
He pushed himself off of the floor, which seemed to want to suck him back in.
He staggered to his feet. The world seems to shift around him. Was he drunk? That’s… worrying. He’d been clean for some time now. What happened?
Jake walked into the living room, guiding himself along the wall. Dan was there, holding Milo tight. Things were still fuzzy, but Jake was almost certain that he had never seen Dan so distraught. Even after Milo (Senior)…
“Dan? Wha’s… wha’s wrong?” Jake’s mouth felt stuffed with cotton, but he had to check.
Again, nothing. Dan just stared into space, clutching Milo as if his life depended on it. And, even stranger, Milo- who was usually so full of life, playing hard until his head hit the pillow- was letting him. Milo wasn’t even running a fever that morning.
The realization hit Jake like a truck. That morning was normal. It was supposed to be normal. He answered the door, and…
Aaron. Aaron did this, this is Aaron’s fault Dan was crying, it was Aaron’s fault that Jake was-
The world seemed to spin, and Jake took an unnecessary step back. He almost phased through the floor but caught himself at the last minute. He really died, huh? He looked at his hands and, for the first time that evening, really looked at them. They were pale, even for Jake, and almost translucent.
Through them, he could see his mourning best friend.
He couldn’t leave them. They were his family. He couldn’t let them down.
With all the energy he could muster, he screamed.
With a sudden shriek, there was Jake.
Dan’s head shot up with horror. Milo initially cringed but immediately squirmed out of Dan’s grasp as soon as he saw the other presence in the room.
He flung himself around Jake’s legs. Jake couldn’t even bring himself to correct Milo, instead choosing to bend down to hug him.
Dan looked on in shock, unable to say anything as tears quickened their pace down his cheeks. Jake glanced up and made eye contact.
“Hey, Dan. I’m home.”
He held out a hand for his best friend, and Dan got up on shaky legs to take it. As soon as their hands clasped, Dan melted into the hug between the other two, shocked how… real Jake felt.
Dan wasn’t sure how much time passed with the three holding each other. Dan only let go after hearing his mother scream in the doorway.
The Fullers arrived to comfort one son and mourn another. It took a lot of explaining and crying, but the Fullers were just relieved to see Jake wasn’t gone.
They ended up covering the burial which Jake… didn’t attend. He stayed back, playing with Milo. The autopsy proved his cause of death was cardiac arrest, likely from stress (on his body and in general) combined with the shock of seeing his estranged brother.
Aaron ended up being found not guilty, as there was no proof beyond his bag of belongings that he did anything. And, for what it counted, Jake supposed, Aaron did try to resuscitate him.
(A few years later, an old Walkman was placed on Jake’s grave. Jake pretended not to know who it was from, though he took great pleasure in running his hands over the aged and loved plastic.)
Most people didn’t seem to realize Jake had ever died. His clients never asked. Jake really only left the house when he had enough energy to appear normal without any hiccups. His name was still on the lease. Bills were paid on time. No one suspected a thing.
Of course, learning to be dead wasn’t easy. It took a lot of energy to be seen, much less physically touch other people.
A few times he overexerted himself, and it took days to reappear. Dan was distraught every time. After Jake would come to again, he would knock things around to remind Dan that he was near.
Dan began helping Jake out the same way as when Jake was alive: reminding him to rest, to stay calm, avoid caffeine, when to take a break, and so much more.
It wasn’t a perfect system. They failed, and they failed a lot. Once while cooking, Dan spilled salt in the kitchen. No matter how hard he tried, Jake couldn’t enter until every grain was swept up. Jake had to relearn how to eat and drink so Milo wouldn’t ask any questions.
Milo was too little to remember the "event" in the end. Besides, as he grew older, he focused on a new mystery: what happened to his biological father?
The first time that Milo asked, the mug Jake holding phased right through his fingers and onto the floor, breaking into hundreds of pieces. There was a moment that Jake thought he blew two dark family secrets.
But, no. Milo thought Jake dropped it in surprise, and quickly backtracked and explained his question.
Jake sighed in relief, getting a broom.
From there, he set a mantra.
“We don’t talk about Milo Senior in this house.”
Milo’s curiosity ended up helping Jake out in the end. Cody was great.
And the two’s research in the paranormal…
“—and that’s why Mr. Petersen’s ghost isn’t around anymore!”
Jake listened intently in the background to Cody’s rambling. Every time Cody and Milo had a ‘session,’ Jake learned more and more about himself.
Jake never really looked into… what he was. He had more important things to do, he always told himself.
Jake quietly gathered facts about himself, trying to leave his expression as blank as possible. Apparently, he had to be pretty powerful as laughable as it was to manifest as frequently and physically as he does.
The facts were a lot easier to pinpoint from there. He was probably spiritually attached to Milo and Dan (and Cody, too, as the years went on). He anchored himself accidentally in his guitar. As cheesy as it was, Jake came to the conclusion with Dan that his unfinished business was simply needing to be around his family.
One of the hardest straws to grasp was that he might be a vengeful spirit. Jake watched in mute horror as Cody discussed the normally benevolent ghost on 9th Street that destroyed himself trying to attack his killer, lost in his rage. Jake felt the gentle rumble in his chest all these years later, pulsing with the urge to destroy, maim, maul, hurt, kill get rid of Aaron. It took another late night with Dan, Jake’s whole form spasming and shuddering with his grief and horror, for Jake to feel like his presence wasn’t a threat to the family.
Sometimes Jake accidentally tampered with the equipment.
He threw off readings, and in one example… well, he hadn’t meant to be mourning loud enough spiritually for it to pick up on a recording. The date that ebbed out of his soul like tears; the day he lost his other best friend.
But, for Jake’s sake, they don’t talk about Milo Senior.
It was another haunt that Jake tagged along for. It turned out he was good at paranormal investigating, now much more attuned to the supernatural.
This one was supposed to be easy.
It turned out there was no ghost.
A demon manifested itself, destroying the house. Milo was leaning against the wall as Cody tried to keep him awake. Milo’s leg was not supposed to bend that way and he struggled to keep his eyes open after being thrown from the third floor. Cody’s glasses were broken from the flying shrapnel, and blood was trickling down his forehead.
Looking at his boys, Jake felt something snap.
He felt every ounce of rage and hurt, outpoured in Problem Sons. Locked inside after years with Aaron. Choked out to Dan in between sobs and vomiting.
Jake was angry.
“Hey, Cody?” Jake asked between his teeth clattering, every ounce of his body aching to protect.
“Y-yeah, Mr. Pierly?” Cody asked, barely listening. Almost all his focus was still on Milo, which Jake (the little part, still struggling to hold enough control to finish his thought) appreciated.
“You two stay out of danger and I’ll answer any questions you have later.”
A bright light caught the corner of Cody’s eye. Cody whipped his head around to see Jake engulfed in flame. Jake’s clothes shifted to the suit he was buried in as his skin began to fade, revealing a sharp skeleton underneath. Before Cody could cry out in horror, the wraith Jake spoke.
“NO ONE HURTS MY FAMILY!“