He was incredibly detailed, so real in every feature. Ghosts should never have this kind of accurate anatomy; they were reflections at best, vague reworkings of the original form held together by a simplified electrical matrix. But Phantom...he was different. Refined. Almost human in his physiology. It was as amazing as it was baffling.
Maddie leaned over the specimen, as if a closer look would solve the problem.
On the other hand, Phantom was a perfect example of an ectoplasmic entity. He had the same faint translucency. The same luminescent aura. The same echoing, not-quite-there quality in his voice. She prodded the chest with a gloved finger. Same icy cold skin.
"Ow! I said hey! Stop poking at me!"
Even the clothes looked real, as if they weren't an extension of the body. There was a faint seam from a zipper down the front, and the gloves had a believable thickness to them.
"Geez, come on. I don't know how much more of this staring I can take. If you're going to look, look at me, don't stare at my body like that. It's kind of cree-uh, what are you doing? Hey!"
Maddie reached out and took hold of the zipper.
"I'm not even sure that comes o-oh, crap, it does."
The thick hazmat-like material parted, revealing a skinny, pale, but incredibly human-like torso. It had real skin with a similar tone to Phantom's face. She could even see the ribcage and the individual musculature.
"Fascinating," she murmured.
The ghost, who had flushed a becoming shade of chartreuse, rolled his eyes. "Yes, I'm sure my utter lack of abs is a tribute to the wonders of science. Will you put my shirt back on now?"
Maddie ignored him and pulled the zipper down further.
"Wait. No. No, no, no!" Phantom's voice cracked as he strained to watch her move further down the table. "You can't take my clothes off! I'm a minor! Violation of rights here! Not cool!" He pulled against the restraints to no avail. "This is so not happening..."
The ghost froze, eyes wide in horror. He went ever so slowly from bright green to ash white.
She stared down at Phantom, head tilted to one side, completely perplexed by the inexplicable sight. It was so... so completely not what she had expected.
"Phantom? How on earth did you get a pair of Fenton Works briefs?"
"Did you steal them?" Maddie demanded. "Have you been swiping anything else from the Fenton inventory?" The thought made her skin crawl. What exactly was this ghost's obsession anyway?
Phantom writhed against the restraints, giving her a scandalized glare as the flush on his face turned several shades greener. "Are you nuts?! Who would want Jack Fenton's face plastered all over their...their stuff! You know?"
"Then why are you wearing them?"
He squirmed. "It's not like I have a choice! They kinda came with the jumpsuit..."
"Are you saying they formed out of your psyche?" That was an idea about ten times as disturbing. She backed away slowly, reaching for the tools on the counter.
"Yes! No! What?!"
Maddie snatched up an electroprod and flicked it on. A spark jumped from the device and sizzled on Phantom's exposed chest. The ghost yelped.
"Get that thing away from me!"
"Answer me clearly, ghost! Why are you wearing the Fenton Briefs?"
"I can't help it if I died in the weirdest, most embarrassing pair of underwear that ever existed!" he burst out.
Phantom froze. All the color drained out of his face, leaving him starkly pale in contrast to his earlier blush.
Maddie frowned down at him, trying to puzzle out that statement. "You what?"
The ghost fidgeted, fingers tapping against the handcuffs in a nervous beat. He licked his lips and glanced at her sideways. "...I died in them."
Maddie stared at Phantom; he had to be lying. Those briefs were custom printed and shipped directly to their house. There was only one living boy who had access to the Fenton inventory. The only one who would ever have the opportunity to wear a pair of Fenton Briefs would have been...
It was such an absurd idea. Funny, even. Danny, Phantom? Maddie blinked, only half aware of the electroprod dropping to her side. Danny Phantom. Danny Fenton. Their names were so close. She'd never even thought of it before. It was coincidence, of course. Wasn't it?
"You're not saying..." Coincidence or not, it somehow frightened her. Her son? Danny? Died?
Phantom sighed, staring up at the ceiling. "Remember how freshman year of high school there was an accident in the lab? You know, with the ghost portal? Remember how after that your son refused to wear anything with Dad's face on it ever again?"
"Yes, but..." Danny Fenton. Her son. Phantom. The similarities were clicking into place with blinding speed. It just couldn't... but it had to be. What other explanation was there?
"Now you know why."
"Danny never liked the Fenton Briefs," Maddie said blankly, grasping for something—anything—to prove him wrong, to shore her mind up against all the suspicions—no, the realizations—that had come pouring in. It just made too much sense.
"It was laundry week," Phantom muttered. "And you can't wear boxers with jumpsuits, you know that. They get all bunchy."
Maddie shook her head, gripping the device tighter. "He wouldn't. He'd never..." She looked this ghost—this ghost that looked suddenly much more familiar—sternly in the eye. "Danny never wore them."
"He—no," Phantom swallowed visibly. "I. I did, Mom. Once."
Maddie shook her head, backing away until she bumped into the table. A tray of instruments clattered to the floor, scattering razor-edged scalpels and sharp steel probes across the lab flor. They were there for the sole purpose of examining, analyzing, dissecting the ghost before her. The one who was dead. The one who was...who wasn't. He couldn't be.
Maddie felt numb. The words wouldn't leave her throat. "Danny said...he said he'd never be caught dead in them."
Phantom—Danny—let his head drop back onto the table with a weak laugh. "Well, darn."