"Oh shoot, stupid—no, no did I drop it? Crap. And why—it—it won’t—" Maddie jammed her thumbnail into the closed hatch of her ectogun. She peeled open the battery compartment and patted absently at the floor with her fee hand, searching for the missing screwdriver.
She looked up to find Danny staring at her from across the room. He cocked an eyebrow at her, covered the distance between them, and retrieved the screwdriver from beside the living room table. He held it out to her with a small smile.
"Thanks, Sweetie," Maddie answered. She clenched it between her teeth and found the screw holding the whole gun together at its spine.
"What are you doing?" Danny asked.
"Trying to fix this darn gun." Maddie let out a sharp ow and retracted her hand, staring in dismay at her cracked nail. “It won’t fire.”
"Can I see it?"
Maddie bit her lip, but relented. She thrust it out delicately, blaster pointed away from Danny, and gave over the screwdriver with it.
"Careful," she warned. "Don’t want to shoot yourself."
Danny turned it ninety degrees before lifting it from her hand. “That doesn’t mean you have to turn it toward you, Mom. Not much better if I blast you.”
Maddie waved off the concern. “This gun is special…it only injures ectoplasmic entities.”
Danny’s jaw tightened. He nodded. “Oh.”
Maddie watched him survey the gun. He flipped it over, smoothed his fingers over the handle, played with the hammer in back. Her attention shifted to him, to his skinny, scar-peppered arms and the defensive stance of his legs.
"Danny, can we…talk about this?"
Danny looked up from the gun. His lips were loose, eyes apprehensive. “Talk about what?”
Maddie threaded her fingers together, head falling. “You gotta believe me…If I’d ever known—if your dad or I ever knew—we wouldn’t have…We never meant to scare you. We never meant to hurt you like we did. I’d take it all back. God I’d take every bit of it back if I could. The portal. The hunting and the—”
Danny’s hands had frozen on the gun. He stared hard at his mom before sinking into the couch next to her.
"I didn’t tell you to make you feel guilty, Mom." He flicked open the battery hatch.
"You kept it from me because you were scared of what I might do…I just—how could I make you feel that way? How could I make it seem like…like ghost-hunting came before you? Before you or your sister? I’d never…” Maddie couldn’t find the words to continue. Her knuckles had gone deathly white.
"I kept it a secret for a lot of reasons," Danny answered back calmly. He popped out the strange, square-shaped batteries that hummed green at his touch. "For a lot of selfish reasons too. It was easier."
He flipped the batteries in his hand and turned his head. Maddie looked up like a scolded dog, but the anger she expected to see in his eyes wasn’t there.
"I hunted you," she whispered, and she could feel the knife those words left in her heart.
Danny laughed. Maddie felt her whole world rock.
"You should have heard the jokes I made about that." His eyes sobered and he jimmied the batteries back into the gun. "You want to know why I waited so long to tell you, Mom?" His free hand found her shoulder and gripped it hard. "Because of this. Because I was afraid you’d blame yourself. You and Dad are scary, yeah, but it was never anything I couldn’t handle. It was a choice I made for reasons I can’t really explain, but don’t for a second think this was because I didn’t trust you, or didn’t love you, or believed you loved me any less because of it.”
Maddie’s lip trembled at the relief welling in her heart. “But I still—”
Danny silenced her with a playful blast to the carpet.
"Stop trying to fix this, Mom. It isn’t broken."
Maddie stared down at the carpet, at the patch Danny had shot. True to the gun’s purpose, it hadn’t so much as left a stain behind on the entirely non-ectoplasmic rug.
She put out her shaking hands and eased the gun back.
"How’d you…fix this so quickly? You didn’t even take it apart."
Danny stood. He turned to smile at her. “It wasn’t broken. You put the batteries in backwards, Mom. I didn’t fix anything.”