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Rewind.

Maddie keeps her eyes on the tv screen as the figures wind their way backwards to the start of the video. She won't look away. Can't. Doesn't dare.

If she looks away, she'll have to focus on something else. The quiet, dusty lab around her. The uncleaned ecto-weapons by the door. The green blood smattered on the blade.

The hollow, empty house looming over her head…

The video hiccups a bit as she hits the start of the feed. Old VHS tapes are odd like that, buzzing out with static where the film wore thin from too many pauses and restarts. It's a sign she's hit the beginning. Maddie presses play.

"Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I let you down here."

It was an old security tape, filched from the lab. Onscreen, three teenagers, her son at the lead, slip into the camera's field of view. Maddie leans closer, enraptured by the movement, even though she's seen this moment enough times to have it seared into her brain.

Maybe, if she focuses hard enough, she can learn the secret - how to rewind her own mistakes, go back to a time when none of it has happened, just like in the video.

"Whoa, check it out! This thing's huge! I can't believe your parents built this!" A pause, while the kid adjusts his glasses. "Bummer that it doesn't work though, dude."

"Damn. Was it really supposed to open a portal to the underworld?"

"It's 'The Ghost Zone,' Sam. And yeah. My parents were pretty heartbroken when it didn't work. It kinda just… fizzled out. I hope they're not too upset."

The detached, clinical angle of the shot doesn't do the moment justice. Danny'd always been such a kind boy, thoughtful and empathetic to a fault. Maddie's throat closes up a little, leaving her struggling to breathe. They had been upset. Unbearably so. Their life's work - as Danny put it - fizzled out before their very eyes. It'd been a hard loss to take, one that she and Jack might never have recovered from, had the Portal not miraculously started working on its own, days later.

God. Now she almost wishes it hadn't.

A bright flash draws her from her reverie. Maddie blinks at the screen. A camera flash. In her distraction, she's missed part of the video; Tucker's casual "Lighten up, dude,", Sam's request for a photo op, Danny grabbing a hazmat suit to pose with while she dug the device from her backpack.

"—Got it," Sam waves the printed Polaroid to air out the negative.

"Okay. I showed you the portal. Can we get out of here now? My parents could be back here any minute."

Where had they been that day, anyway? Maddie wonders. Grocery shopping? Visiting the park? Moping, as they tried anything to get their minds off of their most recent failure? If they'd been there —

If they'd been there—

"Come on, Danny," comes Sam's voice, treacherous in its fascination. "A Ghost Zone? Aren't you curious?"

Danny looks into the Portal, clutching the custom white suit made specially for him. Sam smirks, knowing. "You gotta check it out."

Maddie hits pause.

Rewind.

"You gotta check it out."

Pause. Rewind.

"You gotta check it out."

Rewind.

"—gotta check it out."

The remote feels cold and heavy, like ice in her hand. In that moment, a selfishness grips her. She could blame Sam. For all if it. Everything that happened, it all started here, and it started because—

—But she can't blame Sam, because the next moment, Danny turns back, his eyes sparkling with an adventurous spirit. It's a spark of curiosity, brimming at the thought of the unknown; a look she's all too familiar with, one she's seen often on her daughter's face, her husband's - even her own, in the mirror.

"You know what? You're right. Who knows what kind of awesome, super cool things exist on the other side of that Portal?"

That curiosity, it's a Fenton trait, not one that needs to be stoked like a fire. That spark's been burning within him, since the cradle.

"Don't go in," she whispers, as if her advice could change the course of history. Even if he could hear her, though, it would be no use. He can no more resist the call than he can resist breathing.

He pulls on the hazmat suit. Skintight, white with black edging. It's like staring at a photo-negative. Watching her son, Maddie's stomach twists.

How couldn't she see it before?

"Alright. I'm going in." He says. His first footsteps echo, loud, in the hollow of the blacked out Portal…

Maddie's breath shudders in. She grips the remote and, before she can stop herself, hits the button.

Rewind.

She watches as her son walks backwards, double-time, out of the entrance to the Portal. The panic that gripped her fades.

"Mads?" From somewhere up above, echoing down the staircase, comes her husband's voice. Maddie is glued to the video screen, and almost doesn't hear him. Regardless, she definitely can't answer. What would she even say?

"Maddie?" His heavy footsteps echo in the stairwell, trudging closer. "Are you down there?"

A hitch in the tape. Maddie presses play.

"Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I let you down here."

Drawn by the sound, Jack trudges the rest of the way down the narrow staircase. She feels a slight reverberation in the floor when he reaches the landing behind her. She doesn't turn around.

"The police called back. Officer McNally said he'd file a missing persons report, and they promised to keep their eyes open. But—" she hears the way uncertainty causes his voice to die in his throat when she doesn't turn to greet him. After a long moment of silence, he draws up to her side. "What are you watching?" he asks at last.

"It kinda just… fizzled out. I hope they're not too upset."

Question. He'd asked a question. Maddie swallows and struggles to answer. "Security tapes," she chokes out.

Understanding, an incomplete kind, dawns on Jack, and vigor jumps back into his bones. "Mads, that's brilliant!" he booms. "Why didn't I think of it? He comes into the lab all the time! We can use the security tapes to see when he last—"

"I found this tape in Danny's room," she interrupts.

Again, his voice falters in confusion.

"Under the bed," she elaborates, as if that will help. And continues watching, detached.

"Can we get out of here now? My parents could be back any minute."

The flickering light of the tv fills the lab, ominous in its glow. Jack hesitates. Maybe he's picked up on the subtext by now. Maddie can picture his eyes drifting from the staticy screen to the items in front of it, scattered across the table. He reaches out fro the shoebox sitting beside the tv. Taped to its front, written in the cursive, unmistakable scrawl of their son's handwriting, is a note that reads:

'If I Never Come Home'

"Maddie, what is this." Jack's voice is uncharacteristically heavy. Looking to her for guidance. For answers.

For once, she has none to give.

"Watch," Maddie whispers, still trapped by the screen. Automatic, her fingers hit the button.

Rewind.

With no other options to grasp at, he does.

"Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I let you down here."

Watches as the kids approach the Portal.

"Aren't you curious?"

Watches as their son zips up the hazmat suit.

"Alright, I'm going in."

Watches as he disappears into the empty cavity of their greatest invention.

Click.

Watches as it thrums to life, with a scream.

"Da—Danny no!" Jack yells in tandem with the two remaining teens. He lurches forward, hand outstretched, to stop the agony onscreen. "He's not - when did he -"

"It's old, Jack," Maddie whispers. "From when the Portal started working."

Jack spins to stare at her. "You mean - Danny's the one who—" he's visibly struggling with the information, the same way she did, on her first viewing. "But—he never said—"

Right, Madie thinks. He never said anything. Jack's confusion is laughable, though. Why Danny never told them—that much is painfully clear.

"Guys?" Over the yelling and the panicking and the electric cackle from the Portal, their son's terrified voice cuts through the din. "G-guys help, what's happening?!"

Tucker and Sam are black silhouettes stumbling backwards from a swirling green glow, but they freeze and scramble to right themselves, lurching forward to catch someone as he stumbles through the gate.

Phantom - Danny - emerges from the portal, falling to his knees.

"…No," Jack says. Disbelief is thick in his voice. "That can't be… no."

Maddie lifts the remote.

Rewind.

A flash of light. A curdling scream. A shock of confusion, panic, scramble.

Danny Phantom stumbles from the portal.

Jack stares for a long time. Then he reaches out, snatching the lid of the shoebox for a second look at the evidence. The note, accusatory, stares back at them.

"This is how he tells us." Jack doesn't often whisper, but it seems like he can't do anything else. Her husband looks at the empty shoebox, the screen, the VCR. "Our son is Danny Phantom, and this is how he tells us. I…" he trails off.

Maddie almost can't believe it, how easily Jack arrives at the conclusion. It took her twelve viewings for her to wrap her mind around it, and it still hasn't really sunk in. But then, that's always been Jack's strong poing - those intuitive leaps of logic. Ones every scientist both loathed and envied.

"Did it kill him?" he moves seamlessly onto the next question that tripped her. Somehow, Jack's voice is even quieter this time.

Maddie shakes her head no. If they watch the video long enough, about ten minutes in, Danny manages to change his way back to human. If their invention did kill him, it wasn't permanent. Not that time, at least.

She's too close to thinking about it.

Rewind.

"But—" she can't stop Jack from thinking, though. He barrels on, heedless of breaking the fragile grasp Maddie has on her sanity. "But if all this time — Phantom—"

A hitch in the tape.

"We've been—"

Press play.

"Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I let you down here."

"—Don't tell me we've been trying to waste our own kid—"

If Maddie weren't so detached, she might laugh. Waste. God, he can't even say it.

"Trying?" she asks instead. Bitter, the word sticks to her tongue.

She's not looking at the tape now. She's looking at him. And Jack, oh, Jack, he just stares down at her, a dark horror growing in his eyes.

He whips around to look at the bloodied weapons sitting at the base of the stairs.

Exactly where they left them two days ago, after that nasty ghost fight. When they came home to find a broken house, their daughter crying at the kitchen table, and their son just - gone.

"No." Jack backs up a step. "No no no no no no no—"

A flash of light. A curdling scream—

In an instant, Jack is moving. He snatches up weapons, whatever he can find, and bolts for the staircase, vaulting his way up to ground floor. Distantly, Maddie hears the doors slam. The RV thrumming to life. The screech of tires as Jack peels out of the driveway.

In the cold wake of his departure, Maddie turns back to the tv. She should go after him, she knows. But she's not quite done watching. Jack's always been a man of action, after all, but she's the analytical one, who studies, who marvels, who gathers the facts she sees.

Phantom, onscreen, slumps against his friends while he drips ectoplasm to the floor. He stares down at his white-gloved hands, his glowing green eyes wide in shock. Maddie wonders if he knew, then, what would become of him. What his parents, who raised him, who swore to protect him, would do.

She can't face those questions. Not yet. Not yet. Instead, she lifts the remote.

And rewinds.

A good scientist, a rational scientist, never draws conclusions while she's still gathering evidence. So as long as she's still watching—

A hitch in the tape. She's at the beginning. Maddie presses play.

"Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I let you down here."

As long as she keeps watching, she doesn't have to do anything with this information. All she has to do is watch.

So she watches. She rewinds. And she plays. She can't look away—

"Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I let you down here—"

She doesn't dare.

"Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I let you down h—"

All she can do is rewind—

"Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I let y—"

And rewind—and rewind—

"Mom and Dad would kill me if—"

Until she finds evidence contrary to her theory…

"Mom and Dad would kill me—"

Or she finds
Its inevitable
End.

"Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I let you down here."

Rewind.

"Mom and Dad would kill me if they—"

Rewind.

"Mom—"

Rewind.

"Mom—"

Rewind.

"Mom—"