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Actively Recruiting Teen Supers

Chapter Text

The sound of small talk seemed cacophonous when there were roughly 400 people adding to it. The clinking of champagne glasses and the tap-tapping of shoes on polished marble only added to the volume that a group of upper-class people could make.

The gala tonight was the spring gala of the Martha Wayne Foundation, held on every second Sunday in May. All proceeds donated tonight would go towards the maternity wards of hospitals in order to provide the utmost care possible for single mothers or victims of abuse.

Bruce knew that this was a very important night, both for the hospitals of Gotham and for network making for Wayne Enterprises. He knew this very well, but…

Honestly, he’d rather be down in the cave, going over cold cases from decades ago.

“Ah, Mr. Wayne!” a smooth voice greeted from behind. Bruce kept himself from tensing, but only just. Whoever was behind him had snuck up so stealthily that even his battle-honed senses hadn’t been able to pick them up.

So that meant it could only be…

“Mr. Masters!” Bruce replied with an eager, open smile. “Or should I say Mayor Masters? It’s good to see you at my gala tonight!”

“Oh, you know I would never pass up an opportunity to rub elbows with other politicians and multi-millionaires.” Vlad offered a hand in greeting. “Though it’s not going to be Mayor for much longer I’m afraid. I’m abstaining from this next election.”

Bruce kept his smile from tightening through sheer practice. “Heading for something higher up? Governor? Senator? ... President?”

“Oh, heavens no!” Vlad waved the idea away. “Can you believe what Luthor would do to me if I trampled on his turf? No, I’m staying out of politics. Too much work, no recognition, you know.”

He didn't and didn’t plan to, but having a villain out of the running for President was always good in his book. “So, I take it you’ll be busy with the company then?”

“Quite so,” Vlad answered, eyes skimming the crowd. “Along with teaching my apprentice.”

Bruce couldn’t help a stiffening of the muscles. He hadn’t heard anything about an apprentice from any of the League’s sources. Yes, Masters was rather low on their priority list, all things considered, but he thought he would have heard something. “Oh? This is news to me! Have you found someone to leave the company to?”

“It’s a fairly new venture in itself. Though, whether he inherits my wealth or not has yet to be seen.” Vlad took a sip of his wine, evidently displeased with who he found in the crowd —or rather, who he didn't find. “How is your heir, by the way? Has he become a respectable young man yet?”

“Oh, Dick is wonderful! He’s top in his class at Gotham Prep and helped his math club win the regional award,” Bruce boasted, meaning every word of his parental rant. “He’s shaping up to be quite the social butterfly too!”

“And to think he came from the circus,” Vlad grumbled into his glass. “Though I can’t say mine is much better.”

The grumbled remark came as a surprise. Vlad had made his disgust at Dick’s heritage clear in no small way. The fact that he was hinting at taking in such a child was interesting to say the least.

“Where did you find him? If you don’t mind me asking,” Bruce added to curb the social taboo of gossip.

“His parents and I go way back, to our college days. Unfortunately, with them, he’s never had a normal childhood.” Vlad glared over his glass. “We still don’t see eye to eye most days.”

“Dick and I still run into problems every now and then, but that’s part of being a parent,” Bruce said encouragingly. All the while he was planning to do some digging and possibly save the boy from Master’s plan, whatever it was. If he could get a name…

“I suppose that’s what it looks like from your view, but I assure you, our situation is vastly different.” Vlad perked up suddenly. “Is that the Duke of Manchet? I must go pay my respects before the night is out. Ta!”

Bruce watched him go before reaching up to the small, unnoticeable comm device in his ear. He clicked it twice, then made his way to the grand staircase to wait. It only took minutes for his ward, Richard Grayson, to appear before him.

“What’s up, B?” Dick asked, head tilted curiously to the side. “I thought the signal was for emergencies. No one’s running and screaming though.”

“It’s not an emergency, but it is a time sensitive mission.”

Dick’s face grew serious.

“Vlad Masters has an apprentice,” Bruce said lowly to his ward. “Young, from what I can tell. See if you can’t find someone new around here, one that doesn’t quite fit in. We made need to do some recon on them.”

*             *             *             *             *

“Got it, B,” Dick replied, the serious edge of Robin dipping in before he was all smiles and pre-teen quirks. Mission in mind, Dick quickly made his way through the crowd, thankful for whoever it was that livened up his night. He wasn’t sure how he would have made it through the gala without it.

Kids were pretty easy to find, at least around Dick’s age. They either stuck around their guardian or migrated to the food table to pick through the hors d’oeuvres. Given that Bruce hadn’t seen the kid there when he spoke with Vlad Masters, Dick was betting on the latter being true.

He was right.

The teen was older than him by a year, two at most. His suit was off the rack, that much Dick could tell, meaning that he wasn’t used to these social gatherings. He was also picking at the food like he was hungry but wasn’t sure if any of it was actually edible —much like Dick had done at the beginning (and still occasional did).

“Not to your tastes?” Dick asked, already knowing the answer. The boy startled, whipping around to face Dick and nearly dropping his plate in the process. He reclaimed his balance just in time to avoid a nasty spill, though the look on his face forced a laugh from Dick himself. “Sorry about that! Didn’t mean to sneak up on you. You okay?”

“Dying of a heart-attack, but fine otherwise,” the boy drawled, looking over his shoulder at the food. “And the food’s good, just…”

“You have no idea what it is,” Dick finished.

“I have no idea what it is,” the teen agreed.

“This one here is mainly thin crust and cheddar cream cheese,” Dick said, pointing to one of the platters. “And this over here is caviar.”

“Yeah, I’m going to avoid that one.” The teen wrinkled his nose.

“I don’t blame you.” Dick shrugged. “I hear it’s an… acquired taste.”

“I think most things are. The host here has weird tastes.” The teen offered his free hand. “I’m Danny Fenton, you?”

“Richard Grayson,” Dick replied. “Ward of the host with weird tastes.”

“Oh, shoot!” Danny sputtered. “I didn’t mean to—! The food is —I mean—!”

Dick laughed, high and cackling. “Dude, chill out! I know for a fact that Bruce avoids half of this stuff on his own. He won’t get made that you insulted his hors d’oeuvres.”

Danny deflated with a relieved sigh. “Sorry, I’m just… not used to this, the whole… rich people thing.”

“No offense?” Dick grinned. “I could kind of tell. That suit does not look like you spent upwards of 10 grand on it.”

Danny looked down, fingering his suit jacket self-consciously. “It was this or have Vlad buy a new one for me and there’s no way I’m putting myself in his debt.”

Dick honed in on the name immediately. “Vlad? As in, Vlad Master?”

Danny cringed, which was… interesting. “You’re not a groupie, right? Do rich people even have those? Is that a thing?”

“Depends,” Dick replied. “If you’re free with your wealth and aren’t a part of some diabolical trade like human trafficking or underground drug ring, then you can get quite a following.”

“For real?” Danny looked one part mystified, one part disgusted. “Anyway, that didn’t answer my question.”

Dick laughed. “No, I guess it didn’t. I’m not a groupie of his, just informed. It pays to know those of high status and who will potentially stab you in the back.”

Instead of being alarmed or defensive about the slight to his mentor, Danny seemed relieved. “I’m sure that will come in handy.”

You don’t know the half of it. Dick thought to himself. Before he could continue his subtle interrogation of the other teen, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Ah, Richard, so this is where you ran off to. Who’s your friend here?”

Danny seemed to fold in on himself in the presence of an adult, but Dick just turned with a bright grin. “Hi Bruce! This is Danny! He’s here with Vlad Masters.”

“Masters?” There was a question in Bruce’s eyes, but Dick just kept his smile bright. Bruce turned to Danny with an equally bright visage. “Oh, you must be the apprentice he spoke of then?”

What?!” Danny squawked, dropping his plate of food.

Oops, looks like this was news to him.

“Ah! Daniel! There you are!” Vlad materialized form seemingly nowhere. He wrapped an arm around the teen’s shoulders good-naturedly. From Danny’s expression, it was nothing but restraining. “And you found Bruce Wayne and his young ward. How… nice.”

“Can it, Fruit Loop!” Danny shoved his arm off, heedless of the scene he was making. Wow, he had quite the temper, didn’t he? “What’s this about me being your ‘apprentice’? Is that how you’ve been introducing me to people?!”

“Now, Daniel.” Vlad’s expression darkened. “This isn’t how you behave in public.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Danny threw his hands up in aggravation. “You don’t seem to care about how I feel being called your apprentice! Why should I care how you look in front of your friends?!”

Dick raised his eyebrows. Perhaps he and Bruce had been hasty in their assessment?

Vlad glanced around at the looks and mutters they were gaining. He glared at Danny for a long moment before taking a long, slow breath. “You’re acting like a child, Daniel. What would your mother think?”

The question stung Dick, but it appeared to not affect the teen.

“To be honest?” Danny crossed his arms. “Pretty dang glad I’m standing up for myself. Especially to you.”

Vlad was the one to flinch at that.

Before the elder man could continue their back and forth, Danny turned away. “I’m going back to the hotel. I’m done with this.”

Dick watched as the teen stomped off, the crowd parting around him. No doubt he would be the talk of the gala for the rest of the evening, but Dick knew Danny didn’t care. It was one of the joys of not belonging to the upper class —you didn’t care what these people thought of you. You would never see them again.

After a minute of silent stewing, Vlad turned to them with a politely strained grin. “I do apologize for Daniel’s actions and behavior this evening. He isn’t used to these kinds of events.”

And if Danny had his say, never would be —Dick was sure.

“No apologies necessary,” Bruce replied, that dumb PR smile on his face. “I remember several times in the beginning when Richard wasn’t quite used to these fairs. I’m sure everyone will lay it to rest sooner or later.”

“Not quite soon enough for me,” Vlad muttered darkly as he scanned the crowd around them.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what is his story?” Bruce asked. “It doesn’t seem like you to adopt an apprentice out of the blue.”

“Apprentice, yes. Adopt? Hardly,” Vlad scoffed and place his empty wine glass on a passing waiter’s platter. “You couldn’t pay me to live with that boy. I would go mad within a day. Trust me, I’ve tried.”

Dick’s mouth twisted down at the corners. If Vlad couldn’t stand Danny and likewise Danny to Vlad, then why…?

“Then… why call him your apprentice?” Bruce wondered aloud, voice pitched to polite curiosity and adorable idiocy.

“Because I have no children and have recently felt the burden of the years I have lived.” Vlad gave him a sly side-eye. “And Daniel and I… well, we have more in common than it first appears. Much more in common.”

Before Bruce could ask any more leading questions, the man disappeared into the crowd, a dark look on his face.

Boy Wonder and Dark Knight exchanged a glance.

Looks like they might need to look into this more than first planned.

Chapter Text

“So… what was with today, Bruce?” Robin asked as he practiced his handstand walk against the Batcave floor. “I get that Masters is a competitor, but we’ve never interrogated kids before.”

“If it were anyone else, I wouldn’t have worried,” Bruce said as he searched through several news reels and old footage. “But Vlad is like Sports Master, ruthless in using everyone for his games, even those close to him.”

Robin paused and flipped to his feet. “You think Danny is in a situation like Artemis?”

“Or possibly worse,” Bruce replied. “Vlad Masters is also knows as Vlad Plasmius —a ghostly villain that had taken to haunting a small town called Amity Park in recent years.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute!” Robin waved his hands emphatically. “Are you telling me Vlad Masters is a ghost?!”

“Or a being with ghostly powers at the very least,” Bruce replied. He brought up some old traffic footage and news broadcasts of a blue-skinned, cape-wearing ghost.

“Aster.” Robin cackled. “Wally’s never going to believe this!”

“Vlad isn’t the only thing in Amity Park either,” Bruce continued, pulling up more footage of other ghosts and ghouls. “It seems to be on an upward trend in the town to be attacked almost daily if the reports are to be believed.”

“Seriously? Not aster!” Robin’s eyes widened at the sheer number of reports and news reels. “If this is such a big deal, why aren’t we helping? Why hasn’t someone from the League been sent to investigate?”

“For the simple reason of: we aren’t sure how.” Bruce selected one ghost in particular, a mechanized bounty hunter.

 He paused the video just as the hunter fired a weapon. “From the research I’ve been able to find, they are firing blasts of ecto-energy here, but what that substance is or where to it comes from is another matter entirely. Scientists Madeline and Jack Fenton have created weapons to fight back with, using this ecto-energy, but where they are getting it hasn’t been confirmed and they are remaining tight-lipped until their thesis is finished.”

“Whoa!” Robin grinned wildly. “Are these ghost busters? Real-life ghost busters?!”

“They prefer some term called ‘Ghost-kateers.’” Bruce frowned.

He typed at his keyboard as more videos rose up along with profiles on the two scientists and several newspaper articles. “They were thought to be crack-pots by the scientific community early on for studying the supernatural. After a lab accident involving a colleague and friend of theirs, they lost most of their funding and recognition. They had some money from previous patents that allowed them to move to Amity Park, Illinois, where they continued their research outside of public eyes.”

“That colleague of theirs, what happened to them?”

“That colleague was Vlad Masters.”

Robin choked and turned on Bruce. “What?!”

“It seems that accident is what gave him his ghostly powers,” Bruce said, leaning back in his chair to stare up at the information before them. “But it’s just a theory, based on events of the recent past.”

And also a common link to many hero origins, like his own friend Wally West —a.k.a. Kid Flash. Normal kid one day and then, one failed chemistry experiment later, he’s running at the speed of sound. Ghost powers aren’t outside the realm of possibility.

“Okay, so, scientists blast their friend some powers and then skip off to the middle of nowhere.” Robin crossed his arms and leaned against the control panel next to Bruce. “That doesn’t explain the influx of ghosts.”

“Their last documented funded project had been on an interdimensional portal to what they had dubbed the ‘Ghost Zone’.” Bruce pulled up the approved Research Grant request. “Best idea? They completed it, got it working…”

“And ghosts escaped from it to wreak havoc,” Robin finished, getting the gist. “At least, they’re taking care of the problem they made right? That’s what those weapons they make are for.”

“Somewhat.” Bruce pointed to the earlier videos he had brought up. Robin looked over just in time to see Jack Fenton fall flat on his face.

“Ooh!” Robin winced. “That’s got to hurt.”

“Madeline is an adept fighter and efficient marksman. Her husband on the other hand causes more harm than good in most cases,” Bruce continued. “He can be a wild card at best, loose cannon at worst.”

“So if they aren’t dealing with the ghosts…” Robin looked over, worried. “Who is?”

As if in answer, all of the ghost videos simultaneously flashed green. The cameras panned in various directions to catch sight of a floating teen, the palm of his jumpsuit smoking from the ecto-blast. Looking at his suit, Robin could see nothing but ‘hero’, from the monochrome colors down to the emblem emblazed on his chest.

Some videos continued with further fights, some ended with the terrorizing ghosts being sucked into a small cylinder (a thermos?), but all continued to focus on the ghost boy. The official news reels ran with a bottom ribbon of various titles: ‘Danny Phantom on scene’, ‘Danny Phantom saves the day again!’, ‘Danny Phantom: Hero? Or Menace?’

“Danny Phantom?” Robin asked, jittery with something akin to hero worship. He really couldn’t call it that, since he worked with actual heroes, but it was a similar level of excitement.

“Originally named ‘Inviso-Bill’ by the public, he’s been both the answer to several ghostly attacks and the cause of several others.” Bruce gestured to the bounty hunter frozen on screen. “Code name Skulker has claimed multiple times to be after the boy’s pelt.”

“Ew.” Robin wrinkled his nose. “Not aster at all.”

“Whereas the Fright Knight was unleashed by him for some reason unknown to the public.” Bruce pulled up a video of a dark smog covering the city. “He and Plasmius have gone toe-to-toe often, with Plasmius even putting out a bounty on the kid’s head.”

“Man, if this is what Amity Park has for superheroes, I’m not surprised they didn’t call the League. They’d think we were more trouble than we’re worth!”

“The boy is untaught, but he has steadily been rising in public opinion as he gets control of his powers. The students of Casper High in particular have been outspoken on their adoration.”

Bruce scratched at his chin in thought. “And his powers a growing at a seemingly exponential rate. In the beginning, he could only make simple ecto-blasts and fly. His intangibility and invisibility seemed to only work when least needed. Now, he’s got those under control and increased his repertoire to include shields, unstable clones, cryo-kinesis, and a wail on par with Canary.”

Robin let out a low whistle. “And he’s been around how long?”

“A little under a year.” Bruce’s eyes hardened. “He’s someone that could either be very good news or very bad news for the world at large.”

“But, his fighting Plasmius right? So he’s a good guy!”

“A hero is not always the one to fight evil. Sometimes, evil fights itself, like a snake eating its own tail.” Alfred said, stepping forward with a tray of food. “Tea and biscuit, young master?”

Robin cheered and scooped up a couple to munch on. The gala’s food had been good for a snack, but Robin was a growing boy. He need more if he wanted to make it through patrol that night. Biting into one, he turned his attention back onto Bruce. “So what’s Plasmius’ beef with him?”

“Not sure, but it’s not something I want to let dwell too long.” Bruce pulled his cowl on as he stood. “I’ll have some tea when I get back, Alfred. Don’t wait up.”

“Of course, Master Bruce.” Alfred said, dutiful as every night. And every night, they found him at the computer or dusting the cave, waiting for them to come home.

“Are we visiting him tonight?” Robin asked. “Don’t you think it’s too soon after the gala?”

“Wait too long and Vlad will be back in Illinois or Wisconsin, somewhere Batman has no place being at all.”

“I guess… so what are we doing? Ambush and attack?”

“We’re talking.”

“Just talking?”

“Just talking.” Batman smirked at his charge’s groan. “Sometimes, simply talking will reveal more information than interrogation will.”

“Ugh, but talking’s no fun!” Robin grumbled.

Batman spared him a look. “Well, I suppose you could patrol while I talk to them…”

“Solo?” Robin brightened at that.

Batman nodded. “But call me if you run into trouble.”

“You got it, B!” Robin ran over to his motorbike and, hands on the rear, feet over his head, flipped into his seat. Before he put his helmet on, he called back. “See you later!”

Then he was gone.

Batman shook his head, but couldn’t help a small grin. Kids.

Chapter Text

It was easy to find the hotel Masters was staying at. A little act from Brucie Wayne needing to speak about some business matters and the hotel manager gratefully rattled off his room number. A quick look at floor plans and a trip in the Batmobile and Batman found himself silently slipping in through the hotel window just as Masters was walking out from the two bed sleeping area.

It took a few moments for the millionaire to notice, but when he did, his reaction did not disappoint.

“Batman?!” Vlad Master backpedaled from the window before he remembered himself. Donning a polite PR smile, Vlad gestured to his penthouse suite. “Can I help you with something? A drink perhaps? I’m really not sure why you’re visiting me of all people and so late!”

“Of course you do, Mr. Masters,” Batman addressed solemnly, leaving nothing of the mask of Bruce behind —no formalities, no first names, no familiarity at all. “I’m here for information.”

“Information?” Vlad turned his back and headed to the kitchen, opening a cabinet to search for a glass. “On what? What could I possibly know about that the World’s Greatest Detective couldn’t find?”

“You have been living in Amity Park for some time, correct?” Batman watched as the Millionaire’s grip tightened on the cupboard handle. Bingo. “I’m looking for info on a certain ghost.”

The air grew steadily colder. Vlad closed the cabinet door to face Batman, one hand behind his back. “Oh?”

“Perhaps you’ve heard of him.” Batman threw a few photos to Vlad to break their stand-off. They skidded across the tile floor. “Danny Phantom.”

Vlad’s eyebrows rose in subtle surprise and the chill in the air evaporated. He held his hands out grandly. “Oh, that ghost!”

If Batman didn’t have reason to believe Plasmius and Phantom were on bad terms before, he did now. “So you do know of him.”

“Of course I do!” Vlad settled his hip against the kitchenette counter. “He was nothing but a thorn in my side while I... During my time as mayor. The publicity on him is toxic. People love him one minute and hate him the next. He’s difficult to put lightly… but what has caught your attention about him?”

“His powers were considered ‘standard fare’ for ghosts when he first started out —at least according to some scientific studies.” Batman flashed an articles he’s printed out. “Do you remember the Fentons?”

“Ah, yes, sweet Maddy and her useless oaf of a husband.” Vlad crossed his arms. “I’m not sure what you think I can add. If you want the science behind it, you’ll want to take a trip to Amity Park yourself. That old fool can blather on for hours about his deranged ideas…”

“Hey! That better not be my dad you’re talking about.” A new voice joined the conversation. Batman shifted subtly to keep eyes on the unknown party, but he needn’t worry. It was someone he’d already met, if only briefly.

Vlad’s young ‘apprentice’, Danny, walked out in a pair of light blue pajamas.

“Daniel?” Vlad looked annoyed and slightly worried about his temporary charge being within Batman’s view. “What are you doing up?”

“Got thirsty. Heard voices. The better questions is, why do you have company so late?” Danny yawned and turned to look at Batman fully, only for his jaw to drop. “Is that Batman? Is that the Batman? Batman is here?!”

“The one and only,” Vlad replied grumpily. Slowly but surely, the polite, scheming mask of a business man was disintegrating in the teen’s presence.

“Oh man! Sam is going to freak when she hears about this!” Danny pulled out his phone, presumably to text this ‘Sam’ he spoke of, only to freeze and read the air. “Uh, Vlad? … Why is Batman here? What did you do?”

“Why must you assume I did something to warrant this?” Vlad gritted his teeth before a smug look scrawled across his features. “Mr. Batman here came looking for information on a certain ghost of Amity Park. A certain… hero?”

Danny paled alarmingly as he looked between Vlad and Batman, then the pictures scattered on the floor between them. “O-oh…”

“And he came to the right place!” Vlad clapped his hands together and slid over to Danny’s side, looming over the poor boy. “Isn’t that right, Daniel?”

“No!” Danny shouted, then more quietly. “No, what~? Come on, no way. What … what would we know about Phantom?”

“Well, we are from Amity Park, the ghost’s favorite haunt,” Vlad said sweetly, ignoring Danny’s glare. “And you are from Casper High, a school well known for its students’ defense of that menace.”

“... Not a menace,” Danny grumbled as the air started to chill again.

“Ah, perhaps not. He’s quite capable of getting rid of those other vermin, isn’t he?” Vlad looked over his shoulder as he sauntered back to the kitchen to pour himself a sparkling soda. “But if you’re looking for information, Daniel here has been in the thick of it in more ways than one. After all, his parents were the ones to make that ghastly portal to the Ghost Zone.”

They were? Batman didn’t remember reading about the Fentons having children, but they had been pretty private about all matters since the first accident and the loss of their funding. Danny flinched when Batman’s gaze fell to him.

“I mean, yes? My parents built the Ghost Portal, but I am not the person to ask about it.” Danny held his hands up in surrender. “I can’t follow what my math teacher says. There’s no way I’m going to follow quantum physics.”

Vlad snorted in the background, most likely some inside joke from the way Danny glared at his back.

“Then what can you tell me about Phantom?” Batman nodded to the photos.

“He’s a ghost?” Danny shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “I don’t know. He doesn’t really stick around for interviews. Why does it matter anyway?”

“It matters because he is an unknown entity left to run about without restraint,” Batman said steadily. “And he’s only getting stronger as he gains control of his powers.”

“But, he’s a good guy! A hero!”

“For now, he is,” Batman agreed. “But every hero walks a thin line between good and evil. With power, comes the responsibility to use it properly. The greater the power, the heavier the burden.”

“Wow, you took that right from Spiderman’s origin story, didn’t you?” Danny said sarcastically, but his gaze was already on the floor, taking Batman’s words to heart.

Finally, the boy confided. “Phantom… isn’t always a good guy. Sometimes, he jumps in without thinking and gets in over his head. Sometimes, he makes a problem bigger no matter how much he tries to fix it and sometimes he doesn’t ask for help when he needs it most…”

Batman raised his brow under the cowl, intrigued by the complex assessment from a teenage boy, especially one who reportedly supported Phantom.

“But he still tries. He never stops trying,” Danny continued, looking up with a fire in his eyes. “He tried to help before the media liked him. He tried to help when the only people to believe in him were… kids like me. He tried to help before we even know his name. He doesn’t do it for the recognition, for fame or glory —honestly? I think he’d like it better if people left him alone. No, he does what he does because he has to. Those ghosts out there? He’s the only one that can put them back where they belong.”

Danny gave him a wane smile. “Like you said, power and responsibility, right?”

Batman stared for a long moment as Danny looked down. He caught Vlad watching in the background, a disgusted look on his face. “You obviously feel very strongly.”

“Everyone does. School, media, government —everyone.”

“Not everyone,” Vlad cut in, arms crossed. “The menace is untaught. In the beginning, he caused nothing by property damage and he hasn’t gotten much better since then. Has he gotten more control of his powers? Yes. But does he use them correctly? Are they any less dangerous than before?”

Danny looked to be glaring at Vlad again.

I think that boy needs a teacher, someone who can help him grow, to become strong —a force to be reckoned with.” Vlad’s lips twisted in a greedy grin before his face fell flat again when he looked at Danny. “Instead of some paltry hero running around town trying to put out fires as quickly as the other vermin starts them.”

The tension was thick between the two, the air so chilled Batman could almost see his breath. It was obvious he should change the subject, but he wasn’t sure his next topic would be much better.

“What about Plasmius?” Batman cut between the two, reminding them of his presence. The two stayed quiet for a moment before Vlad turned back to his drink.

“Plasmius?” Danny smirked. “Oh, he’s a jerkwad.”

Vlad choked on his sparkling soda, liquid dribbling down his chin to his robe. Batman eyed the pointed look Danny shot him. It almost seemed like… Danny knew who Vlad was…

Could it be?

“Excuse you!” Vlad sputtered. “We will not have such language in this—!”

“A real Fruit Loop,” Danny continued. “That freak weather storm a couple months ago? Him. That attack on Nasty Burger when the bounty ghost hunters came by? Him. The day that Amity Park got scooped up and trapped in the Ghost Zone? Him.”

“Wait, what?” Batman nearly broke out of his character, so great was his surprise. “What happened to Amity Park?”

Danny stared with wide eyes, as if he had let slip a secret he hadn’t meant to “Oh… yeah… I had always wondered why the world didn’t make a bigger deal about that. I mean, a city up and leaving for a day? Citizens, buildings, and all? Seems like it’d make national news…”

“Unfortunately, or fortunately, if you’re looking at it from a PR perspective…” Vlad set his glass down and patted dry his robe. “Amity Park rarely draws tourists despite its recent claim to the supernatural. Out in the middle of nowhere, no one really notices when you disappear for a day or two.”

That… sounded far more alarming than Vlad’s tone made it out to be. What made it worse was Danny’s nonchalant shrug, as if in subtle agreement.

As if sensing Batman’s disbelief, Danny explained. “It’s all fixed. Phantom trapped the ghost responsible away, the city is back to normal, plus some very well-paid therapists and no one got hurt. Well, except Phantom, but that guy’s used to it by now.”

Batman was sensing that there was far more to that story than he was being told. He might need to track down more information later, but not as the Bat. Bruce Wayne might need to scout the area for a new chapter of his business in or near Amity Park soon.

“Is that everything?” Vlad asked, crossing his arms over his damp robe. “Or are there other inane questions on your mind?”

Batman narrowed his eyes, reading the others’ body language. The last question about Plasmius had struck too close to home for Masters, but had left Danny with a more open and honest set to his shoulders.

It was obvious that Danny felt strongly about Phantom, something Vlad took great pleasure picking away at. Likewise, Danny knew Vlad was at least associated with Plasmius and used snarky comments and trivial name-calling as a way of retaliating for Vlad’s cheap shots. There was obviously more to unpack there, but Batman couldn’t afford to take any more time from his patrol. He’d left Robin alone for long enough.

“That’s all for now,” Batman concluded. “Thank you for your… honest answers.”

Danny smiled brightly whereas Vlad scowled; two complete opposites.

Batman wondered how Vlad thought he could change Danny’s mind when his ‘apprentice’ was obviously rooted in Phantom’s camp.

Perhaps there was a fact that Batman just didn’t have yet…

*             *             *             *             *

He was several rooftops away from the hotel when he gave Robin a call. “Robin, come in. Status check.”

The sounds of fighting came over the headset. “Slight gang activity on the corner of 9th and Boston. Five of these guys decided tonight would be a good night to break into a bakery.”

“Down Boston… the good bakery?”

“Yeah, the good one. Oof—!”

Batman listened to more yells and thumps. “Do you need help?”

Nah.” One last thud and the sounds of fighting died. “That was the last one. I’ll leave them tied up here and send Gordon an anonymous tip. Where are you?”

“Atop Gotham Bank,” Batman replied. “Got some intel from our friends in Amity Park.”

“I know that tone. You go answers, but left with even more questions,” Robin said. The sound of wind and static told Batman he was already grappling to his location. “So, what’s the plan?”

“How do you feel about a short vacation?” Batman answered.

Chapter Text

“The facilities of Casper High School are state-of-the-art, I assure you,” Principal Ishiyama said as she led the way through the school halls. “Our biology class dissects robotic frogs which are anatomically correct and reusable. We also have the Study-o-Matics which can pack 24 hours of learning into a single school day. I know it’s a bit unorthodox, but we’ve had great results thus far. Why! Tucker Foley just broke the record on CAT scores previously held by Miss Jazz Fenton, a Senior of our school and National CAT Score holder.”

“Very impressive.” Bruce nodded as he and Dick followed her to her office. “I never would have thought of robotic frogs. Would have made biology a lot less repulsive.”

“Trust me, Mr. Wayne, when I say they are anatomically correct, I mean in all aspects, squishy bits and liquid too.” Ishiyama gestured to the free seats in front of her. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you a question.”

Bruce waved her on.

“Mr. Wayne, please don’t take my question with a callous tone, but why Amity Park? Why Casper High?” Ishiyama folded her hands. “From what I know, you are based firmly in Gotham and Richard is already enrolled in Gotham Preparatory Academy. I’m not sure we could offer him a better education here.”

“Maybe, maybe not, but I’m not here to compare schools.” Bruce folded his hands on his knees. “I am thinking of opening a new chapter of Wayne Enterprises in the area. The Midwest has always been cheap in terms of living conditions and products. But doing so would often take me out of Gotham for extended periods and rather than leave Richard alone, I would like for him to travel with me. For that to happen, I need to make sure there are adequate schooling opportunities for him.”

“I suppose that does make sense and I do wish you well on your business ventures,” Ishiyama said. “For students thinking of attending, we often have them follow a current student around for the day in a sort-of mentorship program. Why don’t I get Richard set up and you and I can continue our discussion?”

“That would be wonderful.” Bruce smiled down at Dick. “I would hate for him to get bored while we talk.”

Ishiyama smiled and hit her intercom pager. “Please send Miss Manson in.”

There was a pause, then the door opened to admit a girl a year or two older than Dick. The black on black ensemble blared her gothic persona, but the tints of purple and green in her clothes were interesting accents.

“Miss Manson, this is Richard Grayson. He will be shadowing you today.” Ishiyama gestured. “Richard, this is Samantha Manson.”

“Sam,” the girl corrected, holding out her hand.

“Dick,” Dick corrected as well, taking her hand.

She frowned harshly. “Excuse me?”

“My name,” Dick said as he let go and gave her his best version of a Brucie-smile. “Richard makes me sound old, so I go by Dick.”

“... By choice?” Her nose wrinkled.

“Yes.” His smile grew wider at the familiar reaction.

“Well, suite yourself.” She shrugged and jabbed a thumb behind her. “First class starts in five minutes. History.”

“What are we learning?” Dick asked as he followed her out the door. “Or are we? Isn’t it close to finals?”

“Yeah, you got lucky with the scheduling there.” Sam led the way through the halls as many students meandered around or ran in some cases. “Which I’m kind of surprised about? Aren’t you close to finals?”

“Last year of middle school.” Dick explained. “And the high school finals were last week. Gotham Prep tweaked the schedule so students can have more time for summer break. Works for those who have to move for college or are going on cruises over break.”

“And yet, I still would prefer public school over something like that or Amity Prep,” Sam muttered to herself. Down the hall, an African American teen leaned outside an open classroom door, phone in hand. “Hey, Tucker!”

“Hey, Sam,” Tucker replied, focused on his phone. “Just give me a second. I need to catch this Pikachu.”

“Well, when you’re done there, I want to introduce you to my shadow today,” Sam said, pulling Dick front and center. “This is-?”

“Richard Grayson! Ward of Billionaire Bruce Wayne, father of Wayne Enterprises, the biggest tech company since Luthor Corp!” Tucker fumbled with his phone before shaking hands with Dick. “Please to meet you, Mr. Grayson.”

“Thanks, but that’s all Bruce. I’m nothing special.” Dick smiled. “And please, I go by Dick.”

“By choice?” Tucker’s eyebrows rose.

“That’s what I said!” Sam exclaimed. “Anyway, this is Tucker Foley, general Techno-nerd.”

“And current holder of the highest CAT score in history, or so I’ve heard.” Dick laughed. “And here you were making me into a big deal! You’ll probably become the next Bruce Wayne yourself!”

“If only.” Tucker broke into a toothy grin. “Okay, so we’re both a bit of a big deal.”

“We’ll be even more of a big deal if we don’t get to our seats,” Sam said as she checked her watch. “Come on, I need to introduce Dick to the teacher before we start.”

The morning passed quickly with one exception. At Sam’s English hour, the two waited at the door right up to the bell. Sam checked her watch every fifteen seconds or so, muttering. “Where is he?”

“Miss Manson.” A paunch balding teacher leaned out the door. “I understand that waiting for Mr. Fenton is a favorite past time of yours, but if you do not do so from inside the classroom, he will not be the only one receiving a tardy today.”

“Yes, Mr. Lancer,” Sam said reluctantly. She spared one look over her shoulder before leading Dick into class and introducing him as her shadow. The teacher pulled out an extra seat for Dick and the two sat as Mr. Lancer went through roll call.

In the middle of that, someone stood and waved their phone. “Mr. Lancer! Phantom is on the news again!”

“Tail of Two Cities, that’s the second time today!” Mr. Lancer exclaimed as he worked his computer to a news network. He turned the monitor around and joined the class as they watched the superhero Bruce showed Dick earlier appear on screen —literally. That’s invisibility for you.

“Which one is it today?” a blonde jock called. “I hope it’s that Ember chick.”

“Yeah! She’s so hot!” an Asian jock shot back. “Her or that biker guy’s girl. Either’s good.”

Dick looked down to find Sam’s fists clenched. He heard her give a loud sigh at the two students’ antics.

“It doesn’t look like any big names today,” Mr. Lancer replied as he watched the news. “It looks like a couple of Ecto-octopuses… Ectopuses… Ectopussi? Either way, he should finish them off quickly.”

And as they watched, Phantom did just that. It took two ecto-blasts and a lot of chasing but then he was rounding them up and sucking them into a… thermos. That’s what it looked like to Dick.

The class and audience on screen cheered as the ghost hero quickly fled the scene, not even sticking around for a wave. Strange… if he were a night-time hero like Batman, Dick could understand, but the ghost acted more like Superman, not caring who saw him when. Usually, Superman would at least throw a smile someone’s way.

Maybe he had somewhere to be?

Dick looked down as Mr. Lancer called the class to order. Sam’s fists still hadn’t relaxed.

“Now class, I understand how much you appreciate Phantom’s deeds, but we need to focus,” Lancer said as the door to his class opened. “And I would appreciate it if you learned to show up on time. What happened this time, Mr. Fenton? Got lost on your way back from the bathroom… again?”

The class broke into laughter, all except Dick and Sam.

“Got stuck in my locker,” the boy replied, blue eyes down-cast.

Lancer heaved a sigh but waved him to his seat. “I sure hope this behavior doesn’t continue in Summer School, Daniel.”

“You and me both.” Dick heard the boy grumble as he sat behind Sam. The two boys looked at each other, blue eyes connecting, but where Dick smiled pleasantly, Danny Fenton’s brow just drew together in confusion.

He couldn’t have forgotten Dick already, could he? It had only been a few days. Then again, see one rich socialite kid, see them all.

The look of confusion cleared from Danny’s face when Sam twisted around to whisper. “Tell you at lunch.”

Then they both turned to the front to pay attention to Mr. Lancer’s presentation on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s Monster and the project they were doing in lieu of a final exam.

Once the class ended, it was time for lunch. Danny joined Sam and Dick on their way to the cafeteria, but waited for introductions until after they’d made their way through the food line.

Dick had to say, the food at Gotham Prep definitely had an advantage over the food at Casper High.

“I know where I saw you!” Danny said suddenly as he put his tray down. “You were from that party Vlad dragged me to!”

“Party?” Sam echoed.

“Richard Grayson,” Dick re-introduced himself. “But I…”

“Go by Dick,” Tucker said as he took a seat next to them.

“And yes, it’s by choice,” Sam cut in before Danny could ask.

“... Okay then.” Danny shrugged and dug into his food with gusto. Really with far more excitement than the average teen should. He was almost on par with Wally for Pete’s Sake!

“So… I saw the battle Phantom had this morning,” Sam started, resting her chin in her palm as she took a bite of the apple form her bag lunch. “Both of them. Seems the ghosts are pretty active today. Any theory why?”

“There’s no special holiday that I can think of,” Tucker said as he scrolled through his phone. He cut off a chunk of the meatloaf without looking and jammed the whole thing into his mouth. “No full moon, no Friday the 13th, no crazy rituals.”

“Ugh, Tucker!” Sam screwed up her nose in disgust. “Manners much?”

“What?” Tucker looked up, wide-eyed, then gestured to Danny, who looked like he was seriously considering licking his plate. “Oh, so Danny gets to have bad table manners, but I don’t?!”

“You know that’s different!” Sam looked like she was going to say more, but stopped herself.

“Wake me up in ten,” Danny said, not noticing the tension in the air. Then he just… put his head down on the table and was asleep. 60 to 0 in 0.1 second flat.

Dick was kind of envious.

Sam and Tucker shared a look before Tucker fiddled with his phone. “I’m setting a timer for 20.”

“Won’t he be mad?” Dick asked.

“He really won’t care. His memory gets a little fuzzy after a while,” Tucker said, as if that weren’t medically worrying. “Now, about these ghosts…”

“Are they attracted to magical artifacts?” Dick asked. “Or is there a scientific way to control them?”

Sam and Tucker stared at him.

“Sorry for the weird questions, but there have been some pretty strange things to happen in Gotham. I was just wondering which ghost category these fell into.” Dick shrugged.

Sam and Tucker shared another look before Sam answered. “The Ectopussi and the Vultures from this morning are both animal based. The Ectopussi aren’t very intelligent and act more like feral animals. The Vultures can be reasoned with and bribed if needed.”

“Ember’s music can control ghosts but only to make them into adoring fans. Other than that, we haven’t encountered any other way to control ghosts,” Tucker noted.

“Freakshow,” Sam chimed in.

“Oh yeah, he had that creepy staff, didn’t he?” Tucker looked contemplative. “That really did a number on Da —Phantom.”

“Creepy staff, some kind of magic?” Dick guessed.

“As far as we could tell,” Sam agreed. “We never got a close look before it got shattered. Other than that, nothing comes to mind.”

“So if there’s no conventional way to control ghosts, they must be acting on their own.” Dick tapped his fingers against his cheek. “Do you guys have a map? Maybe location can tie them together?”

“Sure, let me just…” Tucker pulled a large tablet out of his backpack. “More room the better.”

Suddenly, Danny awoke with a gasp. “Guys, it’s-!”

He stopped, looking at the three of them, eyes focused on Dick. “Three?”

“Three?” Sam echoed.

“Three? Three… yes! Three!” Danny laughed nervously as he got to his feet. “On my math homework, the one I was having a problem with? It’s three! Not four! What was I thinking?”

Dick’s Robin senses were tingling. Something wasn’t right here.

“I’d better go fix that before class!” Danny pointed back towards the hall they’d come from. “So I will! Right now! Bye!”

“If you need help, call Jazz!” Sam yelled over the din. Danny didn’t show any recognition that he’d heard.

The three of them watched him run off before Dick had to point out the obvious. “He left his bag here.”

Sam sighed heavily and dragged it over to her side. “I’ll take it to him. Geometry is right after lunch anyway. Hey, Tuck, how long was he asleep for?”

“Eh, fifteen minutes give or take. Which means we’ve got another ten minutes of lunch left,” Tucker said as he checked the time on his phone. “Oh, hey, news update. Another ghost attack.”

“Three in one day?” Sam sounded slightly annoyed, but mainly concerned. Did the over activity point to something else on the horizon?

“Yeah, but this time it looks like Wolf,” Tucker said, pulling up the news feed on his tablet. “So it shouldn’t take long. He and Phantom are allies after all.”

“Phantom’s got allies?” Dick asked, curious for more information about the mysterious ghost hero.

“Yeah, but not many and it all depends on the day,” Sam said, leaning over the tablet. “Hey, isn’t that a two-headed bear?”

“It is.” Tucker frowned. “Maybe it won’t be so short after all…”

The footage was shaky as Phantom appeared and he and the humanoid looking wolf tag-teamed the stitched together bear. The fight took about as long as earlier in Mr. Lancer’s class. Phantom had just sucked the bear into his thermos when the lunch bell rang.

“It’s pretty cool to watch him fight.” Dick beamed. “He’s like a superhero, like the Justice League!”

Sam scoffed. “Better than the League in my opinion.”

“Huh?” Dick frowned. “Do you not like the League?”

“It’s less of an opinion and more of a fact.” Tucker gave an apologetic shrug. “The League has never helped us with any of our problems before. Any big ghost dooms day has been thwarted by Phantom.”

“Have you ever thought to call them?” Dick asked.

“Ha!” Sam snorted. “And how are we supposed to do that? Not everyone can be like your dad with a direct line to Batman.”

Tucker paused in throwing away his trash. “You don’t, right Sam?”

Sam rolled her eyes. “No, Tucker, I don’t.”

“Just checking.” Tucker finished his clean up and threw his bag over his shoulder. “You would be the one to have a secret connection, out of all of us.”

“Just because I’m rich does not mean I have superheroes at my beck and call.” Sam threw her bag over her shoulder, all her trashed saved for a compost bin at home.

“Rich?” Dick asked.

“Small Manson fortune, nothing big.” Sam shrugged like it was no big deal. “Nothing like you and the Wayne fortune.”

Well, she wasn’t wrong.

“So, are all other ghosts just animals? Aside from Phantom?”

“Not at all.” Tucker brought up a website-a blog about each ghost Amity Park had seen. Dick made not of the site to research later. “Actually, we get a lot more humanoid ones on the regular. Plasmius especially has it out for Phantom. These animal-based ones are a little out of the ordinary.”

“Maybe that’s a clue?” It certainly seemed so for Dick. After all, two was coincidence, but three was a pattern —an old detective adage.

“It might be?” Tucker’s mouth screwed up in concentration as he regarded his phone. “But a clue to what exactly?”

That, Richard didn’t have an answer for.

Chapter Text

“We’ll talk more about this later,” Sam said as she came to a stop beside another classroom. “Aren’t you supposed to be in gym?”

Tucker winced. “Fiddlesticks! I’m going to be five minutes late! Coach always adds a lap per minute late to how many we need to run.”

“Better hurry then.” Sam’s smirk was decidedly sadistic.

“Or I could skip?” Tucker looked down the hall, presumably to where the gym was. He looked very close to following his own suggestion.

“And have more laps when you come in tomorrow without a doctor’s note?” Same raised an eyebrow

Tucker heaved a long sigh then took off at a jog. “I’ll catch you later!”

“See you!” Sam waved and then led the way inside. The routine was familiar now and Dick quickly found himself in a chair next to Sam. The bell had only just rung when Danny arrived at the door, out of breath from an obvious run.

“Cutting it close, Mr. Fenton, but I’ll allow it,” the teacher said from her desk. “Do you have last night’s homework?”

“I… uh… forgot it?” Danny said, voice tilting up at the end in question.

But wait, isn’t that what he ran off to work on? Richard narrowed his eyes.

“As always, Mr. Fenton, your forgetfulness astounds me.” The teacher let out an exasperated sigh. “Please just take your seat.”

Danny scrambled to obey. Seeing his bag by his chair, he looked over to Sam to mouth a silent ‘thank you’ before digging through for a pen and notes. Dick tried to pay attention to the class, but it was Geometry, something that, as a Mathlete, he had a firm grasp on. Instead, he found his gaze drifting to Danny several times throughout the hour. Something about this teen was making his detective senses go wild.

He just couldn’t figure out what.

The class after was a study hall, one Danny and Sam shared again.

A ginger-haired girl was already waiting for them at a table. She looked up and waved them over when she saw them. When she saw Dick, she smiled brightly and asked. “Who’s this?”

“This is Richard Grayson,” Sam introduced him. “He’s been shadowing me today.”

“He goes by Dick,” Danny said with obvious glee at the older girl’s dismayed look. “And yes, by choice.”

“Really?” The girl winced but held out her hand. “Jazz Fenton. Danny’s older sister.”

“And previous holder of CAT’s highest score in the nation,” Dick replied with a firm handshake. “Are you upset about losing that title?”

“Not in the least!” Jazz waved her hand flippantly. “Tucker’s good at what he does. Dash, I might be upset about, but he’s, well, Dash. Tucker’s earned his place. I won’t fault him for taking the top position. Besides, I already got my college acceptance letters. There’s no need to cling to some societal construct created for the sole purpose of encouraging teens to study.”

Oh no, she’s one of those people, isn’t she?

“So you’re saying that studying is an oppression pushed upon us by past generations and should be avoided at all costs?” Danny asked gleefully and —what? That sentence sounded entirely out of character for him, especially with what Dick had seen that day and before at the gala. Yet Sam and Jazz seemed to take it in stride.

“Oh no. You’re not getting out of this.” Jazz crossed her arms.

“Danny, if you don’t pass your classes, you’ll be stuck in Sumer School,” Sam stressed, already opening her books to specific pages. “Then what will you do?”

“Die of boredom,” Danny answered promptly and without sarcasm.

“Danny, this isn’t a joke. This is your future,” Jazz said in the same tone as Dick’s therapist. Oh yeah, she was definitely one of those people. “Now come on. Let’s work on this together.”

Danny sighed but complied.

The rest of period was devoted to helping him with various problems and vocabulary. From Dick’s own tutoring experience. Danny was actually pretty smart. His willingness to learn also led to him grasping concepts quickly, though Jazz and Sam did have to try a few different methods of explanation until one stuck. Honestly, Dick wasn’t sure why the teen was failing his classes if he was this smart.

At least, not until Danny sat up straight in his seat, face suddenly pale. “I —uh, bathroom!”

“Take the hall pass, Fenton!” the teacher on watch ordered before he left the room. Danny obeyed, practically running from the room.

“Is he okay?” Dick asked, worried about the strange behavior.

“Yes,” Sam said, just as Jazz said. “No.”

The two girls looked at each other.

“No,” Sam said, just as Jazz said. “Yes.”

They shot the other a frustrated look.

“Danny has… irritable bowel syndrome,” Jazz said slowly as if she were testing her words. “So he’s not okay in the sense of needing the bathroom right now, but he is okay in the sense that this is normal for him. So yes and no.”

Sam looked mildly impressed at Jazz’s explanation, though she didn’t follow up with anything but, “Better hope Dash didn’t overhear you. Danny would be so mad if he gets teased about this.”

Jazz rolled her eyes and the conversation turned away, but Dick was still suspicious. A lot of things weren’t adding up, too many to be coincidental. He was still suspicious even when another student went up to the teacher on watch to ask to go to the restroom.

“One student at a time. You’ll have to wait for the other to come back.”

“But… it was Fenton.”

The teacher looked up and around at the tables. Not spotting Danny, she sighed and took another pass from a drawer. “Don’t dilly-dally like Fenton does.”

The student nodded and left.

Minutes passed. The student returned. Danny did not.

Sam and Jazz each snuck glances at the clock, trying to check on the time without being overt. Danny had been gone almost half an hour by the time he finally returned, quietly slipping into class. He had less than a minute before the end of the period.

“So, where were we?” he asked as he sat.

The bell rang.

Danny groaned and hid his face in his hands.

“Gym,” Sam said, standing and gathering her books. “Don’t worry, I’ll quiz you on the animal kingdom classification while we run laps.”

“Oh joy.” Danny sighed, looking thoroughly frustrated with himself and life in general.

Dick didn’t bring any clothes for gym, but Danny luckily had a spare on hand. Dick was glad because gym was his favorite class, bar none. It was the only one he could burn off his excess energy in and always got appreciative looks and praise for his gymnastic skills.

Favorite class by far.

“Twenty laps everyone, then walk a lap. Don’t forget to stretch!” the coach yelled before blowing her whistle. Dick went through a few basic stretches, not wanting to show off quite yet. He easily kept up with Sam and Danny, the former running backwards with a text book in hand as the other panted through his fifth and sixth laps.

“Butterflies.”

Animalia, Euarthropoda, Insecta, Lepidoptera.”

“Slugs.”

Animalia, Mollusca, Gastropoda.”

“Seals.”

Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, Carnivora, Canidae, Canis.”

“No, that’s dogs! Why can’t you remember this?”

“They bark!”

Dick snickered.

Danny shot him a glare, then moved away.

Dick thought he’d offended him until he saw Sam follow, narrowly missing another student as they overtook him. Then Danny moved back, Sam mirroring him and Richard realized that Danny had been signaling her to an obstacle in her path so she wouldn’t have to turn around. Her own immediate response told him they did this maneuver a lot.

He wondered, absently, if it could have any use in team exercises back at Mount Justice. Eh, thought for another day.

Laps finished, they walked a circuit, Sam now beside Danny and facing the same direction as they went over Class characteristics. They had finished Reptiles just as the coach called the class to order.

“You, new kid in the back,” the coach called out. Dick perked up, realizing her gaze was on him. “You a transfer?”

“He’s my shadow,” Sam replied. “This is Dick Grayson.”

“What’s your favorite sport?”

“Gymnastics, Ma’am.”

The coach scoffed. “Girly sport.”

“Actually, I think you’ll find that it’s very demanding,” Dick replied with an easy smile. “I used to do it in the circus.”

The coach looked intrigued. Most people did when he mentioned the circus. “Show us what you’ve got.”

“With pleasure,” Dick said as he did another quick stretch. “I’ll admit that I’m used to being on trapeze, so my floor routine isn’t as impressive. I’ll need some mats to use though.”

“Baxter!” the coach shouted. “Take a couple friends of yours and grab some mats from the storage shed.”

“Yes, Coach,” called the blonde jock from earlier. His tone was easy, but the glare he sent Dick’s way was not. Oops, he didn’t mean to step on toes.

He was a little surprised when Danny subtly put himself between them.

It took very little time for the groups of jocks to run to the storage shed and show off their muscle by hauling back the long folded mats, two for each pair. When they’d been laid out next to each other and tested by Dick himself to make sure they wouldn’t move, he stood at one corner and took a running start.

He never learned the official names for some of the flips he did and others were completely made up by his parents, but names weren’t important. The feel of gravity warping around him, of his hands on the mat, then feet, then nothing at all, was as exhilarating as ever. It was nothing compared to the trapeze Bruce had set up back at the manor, but it still left him breathless and smiling when he stuck the final landing.

He tuned back in just in time to hear applause erupt from his audience. He smiled and gave a theatrical bow.

“Not bad, Grayson.” The coach looked impressed and also like she was trying not to show it.

“That was so cool!” a girl with a Spanish accent gushed as he walked back to join the crowd. “Have you thought about joining a cheer squad?”

“Nah, I’ve got enough extra-curriculars going on as it is,” Dick said, thinking about his nightlife. Yeah, no time for more than that.

“Oh…” the girl pouted, then brightened with a coy smile. “Do you think you could teach me some of those before you go back to Gotham?”

Did she just flutter her lashed at him? He’s pretty sure she did. She knows he’s thirteen, right? And that she’s sixteen-ish? And that he’s Bruce Wayne’s ward?

On second thought, that last one might be the reason for her subtle flirting.

“I don’t mind,” Dick answered amiably, trying not to burn any bridges early on. “But I think Coach has final say.”

The coach looked pleased that he didn’t immediately cave. He wondered how many people the girl had wrapped around her finger. This coach wasn’t one, that’s for sure.

“Since we’re only a couple days away from finals, I suppose a free day for tumbling wouldn’t hurt anything,” the coach decided. “Nobody do anything stupid though! I don’t want to have to call your parents from the back of an ambulance.”

The class answered with a chorus of ‘Yes, ma’am’.

“Good. Now, everyone pair up. No gymnastics without a spotter!” The coach blew her whistle loudly.

 The girl from earlier looked over to Dick, but he’d already started back to where Danny and Sam had paired up. By his count, the class had an odd number with him there. He didn’t need a spotter anymore —hadn’t since he was six —so he’d let everyone else pair up and maybe do some demos if the coach asked.

Sam seemed to hardly need a spotter, she was so athletic. Dick wondered if working out was a hobby of hers. It certainly didn’t seem like one of Danny’s.

“Come on, Danny,” Sam urged. “A somersault is one of the easiest rolled to do. Just try.”

“I am,” Danny said in clear annoyance. His head was down and hands flat on the ground. He tipped several times, but each time, his body corrected automatically.

Dick watched for a minute before deciding. “Sam, grab his butt.”

“What?” Danny choked, but Sam caught on. Before he could bring his head up to question further, she grabbed his glutes and pushed. Danny let out a noise of surprise as he rolled and his feet landed in the grass. He sat there for a moment, stunned. “… You touched my butt.”

“And you did a somersault.” Sam patted his head. “See? Was that so hard?”

“… You touched my butt.”

“Yeah, yeah. Get over it.” Sam rolled her eyes. “Stand up and spot me for a Round-off.”

He groaned and flopped backwards, lifeless. “Do I have to?”

“Yes,” she demanded, reaching a hand down to help him up. He groaned, but obeyed.

“So…” He brushed dust off himself. “Does this mean I get to touch your butt?”

She gave him a deadpanned stare.

“Right, yeah.” He nodded and kept his hands to himself. Sam proved to be efficient at Round-offs too. Danny only needed to catch her at the end as she over shot her landing. They smiled and she thanked him for the catch.

“Now, do a somersault on your own,” she challenged. His expression immediately darkened.

Dick got called to demonstrate a couple back overs for a group of girls who looked to be in the cheer squad, if the matching duffle-bags were to be believed. When he got back to Danny and Sam, Danny still hadn’t completed the somersault Sam tasked him with.

“Why is this so hard for you?” Sam asked as she watched him get his feet halfway over before falling the wrong way.

“I don’t know!” Danny huffed, clearly getting frustrated.

“Hmm…” Dick watched for a second as the older teen made another attempt and failed. “Let’s try something else.”

“Like what?” Danny asked, finally uncurling from his hunched ball. He took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders as he did so.

“Hand stand,” Richard suggested. “You can start in the same position, but this time, when you put your feet over, Sam and I will catch them.”

Danny let out a long suffering sigh.

“Would you rather be playing dodgeball with Dash?” Sam raised an eyebrow.

“Depends, is he on my team?”

“Does it matter?”

Danny took a moment to think before sighing. “No, and no.”

“Great, now tuck in your shirt and get to it.”

“What, don’t want to fall victim to my amazing abs?” Danny asked, jokingly.

“More like ‘don’t want to give Dash more ammo’, prepubescent-wonder.”

“Hey! I have chest hair!”

“One. You have one.”

“It still counts!”

Was this a thing high schoolers worried about? Normal ones, as in not-crazy-rich and not-people-like-Connor-and-Wally. Or maybe Wally worried about it? Dick would have to ask.

With his shirt now tucked into his shorts, Danny assumed the position again. Dick and Sam stepped up to each side and, when his feet came up, caught them and pulled them straight.

“Okay, now, push up and straighten your arms,” Dick instructed, having to go on his toes to keep his hold on Fenton’s calf. It was times like these that he hated behind so short. Sam didn’t look to be having the same problem.

After some grunting and wobbling, Danny managed to straighten his arms enough to lift his head. He let out a surprised laugh. “Hey! I’m doing it!”

“Good, now Sam and I are going to let go,” Dick warned as he slowly backed away. Danny wobbled, but his body corrected itself easily, even as his arms trembled.

“Nice going, Danny.” Sam smiled, then added sarcastically. “We might make a gymnast out of you yet!”

Dick rolled his eyes.

“Uh, guys?” Danny’s face started to redden with strain. “What do I do now?”

“Well, you could try walking around,” Dick suggested. “The mats are pretty flat, but they’re soft enough to make it harder than normal floor.”

“No, I mean…” Danny’s face was getting really red. “How do I get down?”

“Oh! Just tighten your abdominal muscles and make sure your feet come down fir—!”

Danny tipped over, belly-flopped hard onto the mats.

“Or that.” Sam put a hand on her hip. “That works too.”

Danny groaned.

“Come on, walk it off,” Sam urged. “You’ve been through worse.”

“Do I have to?” came the muffled reply.

“You still have to spot me, but Coach saw your attempt. So she’ll probably pass you on class participation.” Sam nudged him with her foot. “Come on. Up. Don’t fall asleep down there.”

“Wasn’t gonna…” Danny grumbled, but pushed himself to his feet. His eyes were half-lidded, making Dick question his claim, but he was up and going again. The teen shook out his arms before looking to Sam. “Now what?”

“Now…” Sam looked contemplative. “Lock your fingers together, arms straight, and squat like this.”

“Um…” Danny copied her, even as questions arose. “Okay? But… why?”

“You’re going to throw me, and then catch me,” Sam said.

Dick’s eyes widened. Oh, he knew what she was about to do. It should not be done by amateurs. “Uh, Sam, I don’t think…?”

“It’ll be fine!” Sam waved him off and backed up several steps. Danny’s eyes cut to him, honing in on Dick’s nerves, but then Sam was running for him and they shot back with laser-focus. She jumped, put one foot in his hands and he launched her into the sky.

It really wasn’t high, not compared to what Connor and Dick’s other friends could do, but for one of Danny’s stature and seemingly non-athletic build? It was amazing.

At the crux, Sam performed a flip, then fell back with a twist so Danny could catch her in a bridal carry, easiest to do with only one spotter.  Danny’s eyes were wide, like he had no idea what he’d just done. Sam patted his cheek and he dropped her legs.

“Thanks for that,” she said. “I always wanted to try out that move.”

Danny grinned, not realizing just how much what he’d done shouldn’t be possible for someone who has never attempted that move before —him or Sam.

There were a lot of things that weren’t adding up about this kid.

“Fenton! Manson!” the coach shouted as she marched over. “While that was an impressive display, I don’t want you doing it again! That was dangerous and stupid and these kids will want to imitate you! What was it I said about ambulances?”

Danny’s good mood quickly soured as he hung his head. Sam looked pretty indifferent. “Sorry, Coach. It won’t happen again.”

“It better not.” She narrowed her eyes before looking over at the rest of the class. “That goes for all of you too!”

“Sorry, Danny.” Sam put a hand on his shoulder. “I didn’t mean to get you in trouble.”

“Hey, we both are.” Danny gave her a wane smile. “And at least we didn’t get detention. I don’t need another one on top of what I’ve got.”

“Ugh, detention again?” Sam made a face. “Well, at least you’ll get a chance to study.”

“Yeah, as long as there aren’t any…” Danny paused and looked at Dick. “Bullies. As long as there aren’t any bullies there to pick on me. And knowing Dash…”

“Ugh. Dash.” Sam’s gaze cut to the blonde jock from before. “Just… do your best.”

“Will do,” Danny promised. “How much longer until the end of class?”

“About ten minutes,” Sam answered. “Meaning that coach will let us leave in about five to change.”

“Want to meet up with Tuck at the Nasty Burger later?” Danny suggested.

“Either that or your house.” Sam scowled at the ground. “My parents are being stupid again and I’d really like to just not deal with them for a while.”

“Can do,” Danny said confidently. “Now, any more things you want to try?”

Sam smiled.

Dick watched on, trying to figure out just what it was that was driving his detective senses crazy. What was it about Danny Fenton that just… didn’t sit right?

Chapter Text

Just like Sam said, the Coach let them go five minutes early to change back into their clothes.  Dick returned the uniform Danny lent him and then he and Sam waved the teen off as he headed to detention. Dick and Sam returned to the office where his guardian would be waiting for him.

“Hey, I think Bruce is planning to stay in the area for the next few days,” Dick started as they walked the path to the main office. “Can we exchange numbers? It was really fun hanging out with you, Danny and Tucker and I don’t have any other friends in town.”

Sam looked torn over some decision Dick couldn’t possibly know, but finally, she relented. “Sure. But I’ll warn you. We won’t always be able to hang out. Tucker’s studying for finals. My parents like to drag me away at the most inopportune times and Danny… well, he’s got a lot going on. But I’ll be sure to give you a call when we all get together.”

“That would be awesome!”

They exchanged numbers, then Dick arrived at the office.

“Ah, Richard,” Principal Ishiyama greeted. “I’m afraid your father had to step out for important matters. He said he would send a car for you when school let out. If you want, you can wait in the office…?”

“That’s okay.” Dick waved her off. “I’ll wait outside. That way, Alfred won’t have to wait long.”

“Very well.” Ishiyama nodded.

Sam walked with him to the school doors, then waved good-bye as she and Tucker took off on their own. Dick had just found a bench to wait on when he heard screams coming from down a few blocks over. He looked both ways, searching for a car, but saw none.

“Sorry, Alfred,” he muttered to himself, subtly checking his belt. “But time waits for no man.”

Without another thought, he threw on a pair of sunglasses and raced towards the screams.

Weaving through the alleys and crowds, he arrived on the main road just as a flying robotic suit came into view. The suit was firing blasts of green energy at buildings and road signs, causing destruction, but not harming anyone.

With a start, Dick recognized one of Phantom’s enemies: Skulker.

Ghost attack? In the middle of the day? Granted, it was as overcast as it had always been and criminals struck whenever they pleased, not just during patrols… but come on!

How did people get any work done when they were bombarded with ghosts at all hours of the day? Even Batman and Robin only patrolled at night, trusting the police to the daytime criminals.

And yet…

No one was running away.

“Ghost boy!” the bounty hunter shouted to the sky. A slot on his arm opened to reveal a futuristic looking blaster. “Prepare to meet your doom this time!”

A brief bout of silence as the crowd looked around.

“Ghost boy!” the hunter bellowed. “Come out of hiding at once, you coward!”

“Yeah, yeah! Sorry I’m late,” the voice that returned was so full of sarcasm it hurt. A glowing figure soon appeared above their heads, much to the crowd’s delight. “What’s with the frontal assault though? Don’t you normally stalk me until you can get the drop on me?”

He did? That sounded… exhausting. Robin would probably get nightmares, getting literally hunted like that. Not that he didn’t do that to some of his villains, but still

“True!” the hunter grinned devilishly. “But then, you would be expecting that, no wouldn’t you?”

“I… guess—? Wah!” the flying teen yelped as he got blasted with a beam of neon-green energy. “Oh! Hey! That’s a cheap shot!”

“All’s fair in love and hunting!”

“I don’t think that’s how that saying —GOES!” Phantom shouted as he dodged shot after shot. When there was a pause to recharge, Phantom graced the hunter with a tired glare. “Look, you’re the fifth one today, Skulker. How about giving me a break?!”

“It’s cute that you think that fact is coincidence.” Skulker’s grin widened and he took aim. Phantom let out a startled sound and took off at high speed in the opposite direction.

Robin looked back towards where Alfred was surely waiting for him by now, before hightailing it after the duo. He sent a signal from his Bat-tracker: Phantom found. Trailing. Hold for backup.

*             *             *             *             *

He followed the trial of destruction fairly easily.

Honestly, Robin was no stranger to Superman’s battle fields, but the sheer amount of property damage between two ghosts was phenomenal. There were buildings with person sized dents in them and inches deep skid marks in the concrete roads. Yet people kept walking and driving like this was a normal thing for them. Maybe it was.

And how strange was that?

He soon caught up to the sounds of active combat rather than just the after effects of it. The scene he came upon left him breathless.

Phantom, laying discarded amongst a pile of bricks and mortar, obviously just having been thrown into the building behind him. Bruises were already starting to form on his unnaturally pale skin and green ooze dripped from a cut above his eyebrow and corner of his lip.

He looked far worse for wear than any year-old hero had the right to be.

“Well, Ghost Child, it appears that today is my win. Finally, I shall have your pelt as part of my collection.” Skulker stood over him, battered but victorious. A mechanized hand reached down to drag Phantom up by the hair, unheeding of the pained groan. “You know, if you had not have fought so much in the beginning, I would have been fine merely keeping you in a cage. You brought this on yourself.”

“Anyone… ever told you…” Phantom coughed. “You gloat too much?”

A glare, then a look of shock as Phantom shoved a cylinder into the Ghost’s torso. A flash of blue-white light, an outraged cry, and the hunter was gone.

Robin was shocked that the ghost still had it in him to fight back, but in a life or death situation, did he really have a choice?

Besides, Phantom wasn’t quite done yet.

“Hey there,” Phantom called from where he wavered in place. “You okay, kid?”

Robin tensed before running over, adopting a fanboy facade. He had messed up his hair earlier while he ran and that and the sunglasses should create the ‘Superman effect’ that hid Robin’s civilian self. It had yet to fail Clark. “I’m fine, thank you, Phantom! But you don’t look so good…”

“I’ll be fine,” Phantom slurred, waving off Robin’s concern. “Ghosts are hardy. I’ll heal up real fast.”

“I don’t know, you look real unsteady there.” Robin reached out to catch his arm. “I think you should sit down.”

“No, no, I’m…” Phantom wobbled, listing too far to one side. “I’m… maybe I could sit. Take a… take a breather.”

“That’s a good idea,” Robin agreed, helping Phantom down onto the pile of rubble. “How’s your head?”

“Fuzzy. Real fuzzy. It’s not… not normal.” Phantom squinted at him, green eyes glazing over. “What did you...?”

Then those eyes rolled into the back of his head as he slumped over entirely.

“Sorry, Phantom,” Robin said, capping the needle with the tranquilizer in his hand. “But I couldn’t pass this opportunity up.”

He was just glad that the tranquilizer worked on ghosts too.

He took a moment to update Batman and ask about his next step. He knew he needed to get Phantom to the Batcave, but the question was how. After all, Amity Park didn’t have a Zeta-tube.

Phantom in custody. Request flight to Gotham?

Call up Kid Flash. Have him take you and Phantom to the nearest Zeta. I will follow with Flash and a containment unit.

Containment? Oh, right, because ghosts can phase through any of their normal containment rooms. Robin is curious where he was going to pick one up, even as he texted Kid Flash.

Well, Bruce is Batman. He’s sure he’ll figure something out.

*             *             *             *             *

“Good thing a ghost shield came standard with the hotel room.”

Danny groaned as he opened his eyes to see… darkness? No, not really dark, just… dim. A cave, a space meant to be dark, but lit by the light of screens and computers and low reflect LEDs.

Oh, and the giant green dome surrounding him.

“Oh no,” Danny groaned, hands going to his hair. “No, no, no!”

He was caught, trapped in a ghost shield.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened to him, but each time was never good. His enemies knew he was half-human, so he could walk through the shield. Vlad had stopped even using it when he and Danny had their spats. Skulker had learned his lesson after the first go. Whoever had sealed him in thought him completely ghost.

So that left the Guys in White… or his parents.

“I see you’re up.”

Or neither.

A deep voice greeted him —sounding nothing like his father. Sitting up, Danny searched the dark for the owner of the voice, finding one shadow that stood out among the dim. “...Batman?”

“So you’ve heard of me?” The Dark Knight stepped forward, close enough to the dome to light his features.

“Uh, yeah? I mean, who hasn’t?” Danny shrugged as he looked around. “The better question is: Why are you here? Or… why am I here? Where is here? I don’t remember any caves in Amity Park.”

“That’s because you’re not in Amity Park,” answered a second voice, younger, friendlier. Another shadow at the vague outline of a super computer that Danny could see beyond the blinding green light. “Welcome to the Bat Cave.”

“Bat Cave? Like… the Bat Cave?” Danny couldn’t help but take in his surroundings again. Still, the bright light made it near impossible to distinguish anything beyond the barrier. “It’s darker than I pictured it.”

“Pretty sure that’s all you, Glow-boy,” the second voice said as a lithe figure hopped down from a faint silhouette of a control panel. If the first shadow was Batman, then the second had to be… “Robin here, pleasure to meet you.”

“Trust me, the pleasure’s all yours.” Danny winced as he got to his feet. “Why am I here? What do you want with me?”

“Whoa, chill out, dude!” Robin said as Batman walked to where the boy came from. The computer booted up, contributing more light to his surroundings. “B just has some questions about ghosts and stuff —your composition, abilities, origins —that kind of stuff. He might take some blood samples, but it’s only for medical reasons. By the way, how are your injuries? You looked to have similar anatomy to us, but we really aren’t sure about physiology here.”

“I’ll heal,” Danny bit out, covering a pained throb at his side with a hand. “But samples? Composition? You choose the hero of Amity Park for this? Really?”

“Well, you are the most human looking ghost, all things considered.” Robin shrugged. “And pretty easy to approach, compared to other ghosts.”

“Approach?” Danny frowned. “Wait, you’re that… that kid!”

Robin stiffened and Batman looked over, gaze hard.

“The one with the glasses! Man, I can’t believe I have to look out for civilians now!” Danny groaned and ran a hand through his hair. He inhaled deeply and set his shoulders. “No, never mind. I don’t have time for this! Let me out of here!”

“I hadn’t believe a simple energy shield could stop a being like you, but perhaps I was wrong,” Batman said, typing away at his computer. “What does it feel like to you?”

“Is this a commercial Fenton shield or a prototype?” Danny replied sarcastically.

“Does it matter?”

“One feels like a wall, the other shocks me,” Danny deadpanned.

Batman narrowed his eyes. “Commercial.”

“Well, that’s one less thing to worry about.” Danny pressed his free hand against the swirling green energy. It fizzled at his palm similar to pop rocks in his mouth, but it didn’t hurt. The integrity was solid though. This wasn’t an unstable shield that he could tear a hole through. He would need to go human to get through.

“Interesting,” Batman noted lowly. “So you can still feel pain.”

“Post-humaneous does not mean inhuman.” Danny shook his head, catching himself before he could be distracted again. “Look, it doesn’t matter! I need to get back to Amity Park!”

“I’m sure the town can survive without its hero for a day or two,” Batman said. “I have more questions.”

“It really can’t,” Danny said, desperately searching the dome for a weak point. “If you wanted to ask questions, there are better ways than kidnapping people to go about it.”

“I mean… he’s not wrong, B,” Robin said from where he’d sat down just outside the dome. “And his town has a pretty bad ghost problem. Worse than I think the civilians know. He’d said that Skulker was the fifth that day.”

“Skulker!” Danny’s hands flew to his suit, searching for the Fenton Thermos. “My thermos, where did—?”

“You mean this?” Batman held up the chrome and neon green cylinder. “I was trying to ascertain its mechanical layout and purpose. Does it open?”

“Yes, but —don’t open it!” Danny pressed his hands frantically against the green dome, as if to stop the Dark Knight from twisting the cap. Batman looked up, expectant. “It’s a containment device. It seals ghosts away until I can get them back to the Ghost Zone. If you open it, they’ll be released into your cave and that’s… bad news. Very bad news.”

“Hmm…” Batman stared at the cylinder in contemplation. Finally, he set it down, much to Danny’s relief. “Robin, stay put. I’m going to give J’onn a call.”

“And have him check out Amity Park?” Robin asked.

“He’s the best choice to combat non-physical beings,” Batman agreed.

“Or, and here’s an idea.” Danny’s gleeful start fell prey to anger. “You could let me go!”

Batman and Robin stared at him, then the Dark Knight turned away. “It should only be a few minutes.”

Danny let out a long groan and dropped his head onto the dome.

This was going to be a long night on top of an already long day.

Chapter Text

“Soo…” Robin rocked back on his heels. “What’s it like being a ghost?”

“Ghastly.” Danny gave him a flat look. He groaned as he stiffly settled himself down against the dome. “If I’m gonna be stuck here, you could at least give me something to entertain myself with.”

“... Like what?” Robin asked, genuinely curious. “What do ghosts play with?”

“What do you play with?” Danny retorted. Okay, maybe he was being a little harsh, but he’d had a rough day, gotten kidnapped, and was kind of sick of people thinking of him as some alien creature.

Yes, he was a ghost.

No, he did not play with the bones of dead people. Gross.

“... I have a Rubix Cube,” Robin said, a grin on his face.

“A Rubix cube would be fantastic!” Danny replied, only slightly sarcastic ‘cause — dang, when’s the last time he played with a Rubix cube?

“Wait here!” Robin said as he jumped to his feet and ran off.

Danny almost retorted with ‘where else could I go?’ but stopped, because — this was it.

This was a golden opportunity.

Batman and Robin were gone. He was alone. He didn’t doubt for a second that there were cameras in the cave, but the light of the dome should cover his transformation and the shield had been placed next to a nice, dark corner of the lab space.

Keeping watch on the dimly lit stairs, Danny shuffled around until he was in front of the dark corner. Steeling himself with a breath, he transformed back. The pain in his side felt like it had torn open anew, but it always felt like that. His ghost-self had nerve endings that were far more numb than his human self’s were.

It still caused him to grit his teeth, but he couldn’t remain motionless for long. The space behind the dome was tight. He had to stand and press himself flush to the wall to be out of reach of the shield and only then could he turn back. The pain subsided with the flash of ecto-energy.

Footsteps on the stairs and Danny turned invisible, floating up overhead.

“I’ve called J’onn to—?” Batman stopped when he realized there was no being in the shield —and no sidekick on watch. “Robin!”

“Behind you, B!” Robin said as he skipped down the stairs. “What’s up?”

“Where is Phantom?” Batman demanded, crossing his arms.

“Uh, duh? In the shield—?” Robin looked over, only to drop the Rubix Cube. Danny drifted down to pick it up, because, hey! The kid got it for him. The cube turned invisible at his touch. “He’s gone?! How did he get out?!”

“He may just be invisible,” Batman hedged. “Waiting for us to lower the shield to check so he can make his escape.”

“Or, I might have encountered these shields so many times that I’ve figured out a way around it,” Danny said, dropping his invisibility from above their heads. He toyed with the scrambled Rubix Cube in his hands.

Batman and Robin jumped back into defensive positions, Robin with a long pole, Batman with his Bat-a-rangs.

“Calm down,” Danny said, hand on his hip. “I won’t attack you because, unlike some people, I am capable of reasonable conversations without the other party being confined.”

Robin looked sheepish, but Batman simply narrowed his eyes.

“Anyway, you can call off your friend, John or whatever, because I’m heading back to Amity Park right now,” Danny said as he swooped over to snatch up his thermos and drifted higher. “If you want to talk, you can find me there. Otherwise, leave me alone.

And then he was through the ceiling and gone.

“Aw, my Rubix Cube!” Robin whined. Batman stared at him. “What? The Rubix Cube is sacred! Don’t doubt the cube!”

*             *             *             *             *

Danny wasn’t entirely sure where he was. He had flown through a huge mansion on the way up before stopping just below the cloud layer. He wondered, absently, whether the owner of the mansion knew that they had some Batly neighbors or if the mansion belonged to Batman himself. It would make sense, if Danny thought about it. How else would Batman have all those cool gadgets?

“Think about that later,” Danny told himself. “Figure out where you are, and where you need to go.”

The sun was setting to his left, a worrisome fact. Either he’d been out longer than he’d realized or he’d switched a couple time zones (or both). He scanned the area until he found a patch of trees that could cover him while he transformed back and dug his phone out.

The pain was just as excruciating as before, but then it was over and he was setting up a GPS trail home. He really should have guessed that he was in Gotham, but despite knowing its name, he had no idea where the city was on the map.

Apparently, it was close to New York City. Good to know.

Taking to the skies again, Danny blasted off, putting his 215mph top speed to use. He might have to check that because the trees seemed to be blurring together at a faster rate than normal, but that was a thought for another day.

A little over an hour later, he was dropping into his bed, spent.

“Danny?” his mother called through the door.

Danny groaned.

“You are here.” She opened the door without any more warning. Good thing he was already back to Danny Fenton. “Your father and I were just beginning to worry, young man!”

“Sorry, Mom,” Danny yawned. “Ran into some trouble on the way back.”

“Was it a ghost?” Jack Fenton asked seriously, eyes looking at the corners of Danny’s room suspiciously.

“Not this time, no.” Danny rolled over and sat up. “Just a couple kids wanting to gang up on me. You know how high school is.”

“Hmm…” Jack still looked suspicious, but bought the excuse. His mother, on the other hand, took it as her parental initiative.

“Danny…” Madeline Fenton came over to sit next to him, a hand on his shoulder. “You know you can come talk to us if you need anything, right? We’ll always be here for you.”

“I know, Mom.” Danny flashed her a tired grin.

“Good.” She returned with a grin of her own. Then it dropped. “But you’re still grounded for missing curfew.”

“Ugh!” He flopped back into bed.

Why couldn’t he ever catch a break?

*             *             *             *             *

“Wow…” Robin said, a little in awe of the fast moving streak on their radar. Batman had tweaked one of their previous radars, used to track energy such as kryptonite or Flash’s lightning, in order to trace sources of ecto-energy based on Phantom’s composition. In places like Amity Park, it would have little effect.

In places like Gotham? Where there were no ghosts?

Phantom showed up like a beacon, every 215mph-moving-atom of him.

“Is it normal for ghosts to fly that fast?” Robin wondered aloud. “And, if not, how can he?”

“Most of his base attributes seem to come from the average of the ghost population, so I would assume they can,” Batman answered. His eyes narrowed at the screen, where a segment of the footage from their Bat-cameras played on repeat. “What I want to know is: how did he get out?”

“He said he made a work around.” Robin shrugged, turning his attention to Batman’s screen.

“But what is that work around?” Batman wondered.

“Um…” Robin scratched at his head. “Does the shield go underground? Like, in a full sphere? Or does it only make half of one?”

“If Phantom escaped by going underground, he would have done so the moment he woke up in the shield,” Batman said. He adjusted some of the lighting of the video and slowed down the speed. “He didn’t. Instead, he made it seem like he was still trapped.”

“Maybe he didn’t want us to know?” Robin put a hand on his hip. “If we did, it would be easy to tell the Fentons about the glaring weakness of their shields and for them to fix them with a new batch of prototypes. Meaning, the next time he was caught, he would be trapped.”

“Except the shields are meant to be used on humans to keep ghosts out,” Batman said. “What we did was out of the ordinary, to use it in reverse.”

“I don’t think it was.” Robin thought back. “He didn’t seem too surprised to find himself in a shield, not any more than he was to find himself in the Batcave.”

Batman grunted and narrowed his eyes. He adjusted the saturation values of the video clip.

“I still think he just wanted to keep the work-around secret.” Robin crossed his arms and leaned back on the control panel, out of Batman’s way. “It’s too bad for him. We have cameras.”

“He knew about the cameras,” Batman said, making Robin’s jaw drop.

“Wait, what?” Robin whipped around to stare at the video. “How did he know about them? When did he see them? I couldn’t see them! Not with that bright glow from the shield!”

“I say ‘knew’, but it was more of a lucky guess.” Batman played the video, then paused it at the point right before Phantom disappeared. “Here, he’s pushed himself up against the wall. There are no cameras there and, if there were, the downward range would be too small to capture him in the view. He didn’t know for sure if there were or not, but he banked on some and worked around them.”

“Then he appears on the other side of the shield, with no camera to tell us how.” Robin scratched at his chin in thought. “Ugh, we’re missing something, I know it! There’s something in that video that we just can’t see!”

“No use getting worked up over it,” Batman said as he applied a different filter, trying to tweak the image enough to see something inside the shield. Robin is right, they’re missing something.

The question is: What?

“Ugh, I can’t deal with this anymore tonight.” Robin sighed and pushed himself off the control panel. “Hey, we have to go back to Amity Park, right? That’s where our civilian selves were last.”

“I have the Flash on standby to drop us back off. Him and Kid Flash,” Batman said as he took three screen shots and a copy of the segment and transferred them to his tablet. It didn’t have the same processing power as his computer, but it would be enough to do some more tweaks throughout the night.

“I bet Wally just loves that.” Robin yawned. “Well, I’m going to change real quick and then call Wally. If nothing else, I’ll make sure he can get some sleep.”

“I’ll be right behind you,” Batman called after him, mind already working on another possibility. If the human eye couldn’t see past that shield, what could?

Superman might be able to catch something or the Martian, but Batman wanted to keep his interaction with Phantom on the down-low at the moment. Having the Flash and Kid Flash in the know was more than enough. The League didn’t really like it when he just went and did things, but he’d had a chance and he’d taken it.

What about a spectrograph? Or other similar light-wave recorders?

He copied a few simple programs over to his tablet as well, just in case.

“Bruce, you ready?” Dick called down, already in his civies from that day.

“Almost,” Batman called back. He took ten seconds to change and grab his tablet, then met Dick at the bottom of the stairs.

“Zeta to Central City?” Dick guessed, already heading to the tubes.

“Only if you don’t want to drive.” Bruce’s lip twisted into a crooked grin. He programmed in their coordinates.

“Ugh. No.” Dick groaned as he stepped through. Bruce followed before he could lose the latter have of his ward’s complaint. “I cannot deal with a ten-hour car drive right now. Especially since it is 50% in the wrong direction!”

“Just 50%?” Bruce asked as the tingly feeling of the Zeta-tubes dwindled to a stop.

“Amity is West-South-West from here,” Dick said. “Central is just South-West.”

“Did I hear someone call my name?” a disembodied voice asked, just before Kid Flash stopped before his friend. Even though the banter was sarcastic, it was severely lacking in energy. Kid Flash must have been just as tired as Dick, maybe even more so.

His enemies came during the day with a very few rare night exceptions.

“Hey, Walls.” Dick rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. “Sorry about this.”

“I thought we were done carrying you guys when the Zeta-tubes started running.” Flash came to a stop beside his protégé.

“We were in a town without one,” Bruce said, in lieu of an actual explanation.

“Why’d you need to split anyway?” Flash asked. “Bat-signal calling your name?”

“Always,” Bruce deadpanned as Dick cackled.

“And who was that kid you had with you earlier?” Kid Flash turned that question to Robin.

“Um…” Dick looked over to Bruce for help.

“A meta-human.” Bruce opted to explain. “But he was badly hurt.”

“Then why not take him to a hospital?” Flash asked, eyes narrowing behind the cowl.

“We weren’t sure of his power set,” Bruce said, feeling his Batman persona surfacing even without the cowl. “We didn’t want to endanger civilians, but he needed professional help.”

“And you’re professional?”

“When you’ve sewn yourself together a couple dozen times, you learn a thing or two,” Bruce said curtly. It was things like that, reminders of his mortality, that often shut up other Leaguers.  He tried not to say things like that too often, but he did like a trump card up his sleeve. “Now, are you taking us back or not?”

“Is the kid okay?” Kid Flash asked as he turned to let Dick climb on.

“Oh yeah.” Dick laughed tiredly. “He’s a real spit-fire, that one. I kind of want him on our team.”

“Yeah?” Wally looked back, eyes glittering despite his weariness. Kid Flash could always be counted on to make friends.

“If for nothing else but the face you make when he explains his powers.” Dick cackled at the confused expression his friend flashed him, then the two were gone.

“Is he really okay?” Flash asked.

“He will be,” Bruce answered. He looked at his friend before adding. “There are some things I want to find out about him before I come to the League. I know you guys don’t like me working on my own…”

“—but you can get a lot of things done without us breathing down your neck.” Flash held his hands up. “I get it, Batsy, I really do. You don’t have to explain it to me.”

Bruce let his lips twisted into a rare smile. Rare, because Batman didn’t smile in front of the League. He just didn’t.

Then again, he wasn’t Batman right now, was he?

“Okay, time to get you into bed,” Flash said, sounding a little weirded out at Bruce’s soft expression. Bruce let his face fall neutral. “Same hotel from when I picked you up?”

“If you would.”

The faster they got there, the faster Bruce could take a look at that footage again.

He knew he was onto something, he just didn’t know how close he really was.

Chapter Text

The next day, Dick got a message from Sam about going bowling with her, Danny and Tucker.

It was sent at seven in the morning, but Dick didn’t get it until nine when he woke up, refreshed from his late night. With patrols, he was used to late nights, but last night was more so than usual. Typically, they had a system that allowed them to get at least 6 hours of sleep every night; whether that meant staying up late for patrol, waking up in the middle of the night to go out, or getting up early for a head start on the criminals of Gotham, Bruce always made sure that Dick got as much sleep as a growing boy needed.

With the occasional exception, like last night. Dick finally crawled into bed at 3 am, completely exhausted.

From the state that he found Bruce in, he’s sure his guardian stayed up even later. If he went to bed at all, that is.

“Bruce.” Dick tugged on his guardian’s sleeve, trying to get the man’s attention. Bruce blinked a couple times, then looked up from where he was hunched over his tablet at the small ensuite desk. “How late were you up?”

“What time is it?” Bruce asked, rubbing a hand down his face.

“9:07.”

“9:07,” Bruce repeated, as his answer.

Dick rolled his eyes. “Sometimes, I wonder how the state was tricked into letting you become my guardian.”

“To be honest, I’m pretty sure they were banking heavily on Alfred being the parental figure you ended up looking up to.” Bruce pushed himself to his feet and stretched. “And considering the job he did with me, I’d say it was a pretty fair assessment.”

“You run around in a bat suit at night.” Dick pointed out as he started going through the cupboards, looking for a meal. Finding no food at all, he turned to the room service menu.

“And I take down criminal empires.” Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Your point?”

“Nothing.” Dick rolled his eyes again and held up the menu book. “What do you want?”

“I’m not feeling hungry.” Bruce shook his head and started towards his luggage. “I think I’ll hit the shower and then sleep for a few hours instead. I’ll eat later. Feel free to get anything you want on the menu, though. I’ll pay.”

“I have no doubt.” Dick flipped through the pages, before remembering the text he’d received that morning. “Oh, hey! Before you hit the hay, Sam Manson —the girl I shadowed yesterday? —she and her friends are getting together to go bowling after school today. She wants to know if I can join.”

“Who are her friends?”

“Tucker Foley, current record holder of the CAT scores, and Danny Fenton, from the gala that one night,” Dick reported.

Bruce seemed to catch on the last name. “Fenton?”

“Yeah, you remember him, right? The kid you interrogated as Batman?” Dick looked up from his phone to see a serious look on Bruce’s face. “What? What is it? Something up with him?”

“See if you can get his finger prints off of something,” Bruce said, cryptically.

“Well, that’s not worrying,” Dick stated. “Any reason I’m treating my new friend like some kind of criminal?”

“Not a criminal.” Bruce shook his head, then seemed to pause to stare off into the distance. Oh yeah, he was definitely up all night. “I dug up something last night.”

“Yeah?” Dick straightened, menu book abandoned. “From what? That footage from his escape?”

“Yes.” Bruce nodded.

“What is it?”

“It’s… a long explanation.” Bruce rubbed at his eyes. “I’ll summarize… no, that’s still too long.” Abruptly, he turned around and continued heading to the bedroom. “I’ll tell you later. Just get something with prints.”

“Okay. Will do.” Dick looked down at his phone. “Oh yeah! I’m going to need money to bowl.”

“Will fifty dollars cover it?” Bruce called from the other room.

“It’s an outing of four teenagers to a local bowling alley in the middle of the Midwest,” Dick called back.

“So… a hundred dollars?”

Dick face-palmed.

*             *             *             *             *

“It was cool of your dad to let you come hang with us,” Tucker said as he put their names into the alley log. Well, he started with names, then switched to initials when he thought about putting Dick’s name up on the screen. It happened every time he went somewhere like this and Dick couldn’t help but laugh.

“It really was, even if he gave me way too much money for a game and shoes,” Dick said, thinking back to the chunk of change in his pocket. Well, at least he had something to hand over to a mugger if he ran into any. The way Amity Park was looking, it would most likely be a ghost mugger.

“And food! Don’t forget food!” Tucker licked his lips, like he could already taste the terrible hot dogs and fries available at the concession stand.

“This is a pretty nice place,” Sam said as she took a seat. She then made a face and lifted her foot. Gum stuck to her rented shoes. “For a given value of nice.”

“Hey, not everyone can have a bowling alley in their basement like you.” Tucker shot back as he finally finished with everyone’s names. “Hey, Danny, I put your initials as BD and then put you in front of Sam. Is that cool with you?

“What? Yeah, sure, whatever,” Danny said, mind entirely focused on a small toy in his hands.

“Aw, dude!” Dick beamed. “Is that a Rubix Cube?!”

Danny made a noise of confirmation. “I’ve been messing with it since last night.”

“Ah, the nostalgia.” Tucker sighed. “Remember when we would compete with each other to see who could solve it first?”

“You mean, the times you would take an hour and I was left for the rest of the day trying to figure it out?”

“Yeah, good times.” Tucker looked over to Dick. “We were six.”

Sam rolled her eyes and spoke to Dick. “Please, don’t grow up to be like them.

Dick grinned. “Too late. Wally and I love those things.”

Sam sighed, put upon. “I am surrounded by spazzes.”

“Okay, Danny.” Tucker elbowed his friend. “You’re up.”

“Huh?” Danny looked up at the board, eyebrows furrowed. “But… my name’s not up there.”

“Sure it is.” Tucker pointed. “BD, Bad-ass Danny.”

“I think it would be ‘BAD’, then.” Danny said, still frowning at the screen. Then his eyes fell to the next name. “Aw, gross, Tucker. Really? BD-SM?”

Tucker started cackling as Sam found a piece of trash to throw at him. “Mature, Tucker, real mature.”

“I don’t get it,” Dick said, looking between the three of them.

“And you don’t want to.” Sam gave him a flat look. “Trust me.”

“Your turn, dude.” Tucker wiped the tears from his eyes. “There’s not fixing it, not if you don’t want to reset the whole game. We only paid for two.”

“Ugh, fine.” Danny sighed and got to his feet, leaving the Rubix cube behind on the chair.

Bruce’s order of finding a fingerprint echoed through Dick’s ear, but, no, the Rubix cube would be noticed if it went missing. He’d have to think of something else.

Danny got a score of 7 for his first turn, quickly followed by a strike from Sam and a spare from Tucker. Dick thought about going for a strike as well, but decided to go with a 9 and a gutter-ball.

He couldn’t afford to show off too much after all.

The game continued in the same venue: Sam getting strikes and Tucker getting spares, both obviously well practiced. Dick varied it up due to some complex random number generator formula he’d decided on at the moment and Danny got a straight average score—which was a little weird given how well his friends played, but some people just didn’t have that kind of skill.

With the first game over and done, the four headed to the concessions in order to grab some food. Tucker and Danny each ended up with four hot dogs, fries and a large drink. Dick ended up with a corn dog and some onion rings. Sam had brought her own.

“They don’t sell anything vegan-friendly here.” Sam gave a disappointed sigh. “Even the fries are fried in lard.”

“It’s a shame you won’t eat anything with a face on it,” Tucker noted as Danny took a break from hotdog number three in order to work at the Rubix Cube again. “Cause, despite the look, these dogs are actually pretty tasty.”

“I’m sure your stomach will thank you for it later,” Sam said pointedly.

“Oh, it definitely will.” Tucker smiled, completely missing her sarcasm. “Danny, aren’t you going to eat your hotdogs?”

“Yeah, yeah, just… having some trouble with this cube,” Danny said, turning the cube over and over in his hands. It was still pretty messed up, maybe even worse than before. Dick was pretty sure he at least had one side done before.

Now it was all random.

“Take a break. Eat. And then let’s go back for another game.” Tucker shot a sly look Sam’s way. “After all, I still have to steal Sam’s win from earlier.”

“Oh, puh-lease.” Sam rolled her eyes. “You think you can beat me, Foley? After one measly month of practice to my ten years?”

“I don’t think so, I know so.” Tucker leaned back and crossed his arms, haughty. “Because I have a secret.”

“Oh yeah?” Sam rested her chin in her hand. “And what’s that?”

“Geometry.” Tucker grinned wickedly and ran towards the game counter.

“Oh no, baby-bumpers are cheating!” Sam yelled as she ran after him. “Face me like a man, Foley!”

Dick kicked his feet as he watched after them, before turning his gaze to Danny. The older teen hadn’t realized his friends had run off yet, completely distracted by the cube. He’d at least finished his meal, the greasy wrappers wadded up and left on his tray.

Oh wait. That could work.

“Hey, I’m taking my trash over,” Dick said as he stood. “Want me to take yours?”

“What?” Danny looked up, blinking back to awareness. He looked around to see Sam and Tucker missing, then down at his tray. “Oh, yeah. Thanks.”

“No problem.” Dick took his tray and then Tucker’s for good measure. He didn’t want it to seem like he targeted Danny’s specifically. Juggling all three, he made it over to the trash can. He dumped his, then had to pause and think.

Because Tucker and Danny’s trays had the same kind of trash on it: same hot dog wrappers and empty fry containers, and same number.

He thought only long enough to realize the problem before shrugging and pulling out two plastic evidence bags from his pocket. Turning one inside out over his hand, he took one wrapper at random from the first tray, folded the bag over and zipped it shut. He did the same with a wrapper from the second tray and then disposed of the rest.

He flattened the two bags as much as he could before stowing them on the inside of his belt. He hoped they wouldn’t make too much noise.

He returned just as an employee arrived to pull up the bumpers for Tucker. Sam looked unhappy, right up until she got an idea in her head. She leaned over to Danny, whispering in his ear. He paused from the Rubix cube, attention fully stolen. Then he grinned and…

Were his eyes glowing? No, it was probably just the fluorescent lights. Right?

“Okay, Tucker,” Sam started, leaning into Danny’s side. “You’ve got your bumpers, but I’ve got a secret of my own.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?” Tucker snapped back, far too confident with himself.

“Like Danny.” Sam jerked a thumb at him.

“Uh, Sam? Danny sucked last time.”

And…” Danny tacked on as he stood to take first turn again. “The right motivation.”

No, Dick was pretty sure his eyes were glowing.

Strike!

“What?!” Tucker stared down the lane where the pins were resetting themselves. “There’s no way! That’s not possible!”

“I think you’ll find that making strikes are very possible,” Sam said as she grabbed a ball and did exactly that.

“Not from Danny.” Tucker threw his hands up.

“Like I said, motivation.” Danny put his hands on his hips. “And I’m donating my points to Sam. Just, FYI.”

Tucker turned a glare onto Sam. “What did you promise him?”

“Tickets to the next Dumpty Humpty concert,” Sam said, self-satisfied.

“Dang it! I can’t out-bid that!” Tucker got to his feet with a harrumph. He chose his bowling ball carefully and positioned himself just left of center. Dick could see him eyeing the angles from where he stood and knew before Tucker let the ball loose that it would end in a —strike!

“Good job, Tucker.” Sam clapped. “Still can’t beat me, though, not with Danny on my team.”

Whatever Tucker was going to say was cut off by all of the pins falling down again. The trio focused on Dick. He shrugged. “What? I’ve always liked competition.”

Tucker grinned wickedly. “Dick’s on my side!”

Danny snorted.

It was a close match, but in the end, Tucker was a centimeter off on his last turn. They lost by a spare and Sam and Danny broke out into a partnered happy dance.

It was still more fun than Dick had ever had with his friends at school.

They broke apart then, the three needing to head home to study for finals and Dick needed to return with his trash to hopefully find some fingerprints on.

He really hoped Danny wasn’t a criminal. He was a pretty cool guy, if a little average. That thing with the eyes was really weirding Dick out though. Maybe it was a cornea condition.

(Or maybe, it was something else.)

Chapter Text

“Bruce, I’m back!” Dick called as he closed the hotel door behind him. “And I think I got something to pull prints off of.”

“Welcome back,” Bruce said from his position on the couch. He had his tablet in hand again, but he was scrolling through news networks rather than the footage from the cave.

“So, are you going to tell me why I had to go dumpster diving for Fenton’s fingerprints?” Dick asked, flopping himself half over the back of the couch. He was disappointed that it made his toes two inches shy of the ground.

“I got the idea of running the footage from last night under a spectrogram,” Bruce said, minimizing the new networks to pull up his other software. There was a side by side comparison of the footage and a color map of RF wave intensities. “You’ll notice that, with Phantom in the shield, there’s a high concentration and at the end, when he’s out and talking to us, there’s a far lower concentration.”

“Which lines up pretty well with how ecto-energy is converted into light, according to the Fentons’ research.” Dick nodded along.

“But there are two times where the intensities change greatly.” Bruce rewound the footage. As he did, the color map slowly grew in amplitude, from blue to red, until it looked like it did at the beginning of the video. “The variation between the ‘escape’ and his reappearance can be explained by his movement. The further away, the more muted his signal becomes. His invisibility has no factor, as the spectrogram covers all wavelengths, not just the visible light spectrum.”

“And energy can neither be created, nor destroyed, only change forms.” Dick recited his physics professor’s favorite law.

“Or pushed forward or backwards on the frequency spectrum,” Bruce agreed and rewound further back. “But here, during his escape, his signal disappears entirely. It’s not just invisible, it’s gone. It syncs up to what the graph looks like after he’s moved out of the picture.”

“But he still has to be there, since he reappears right after that.” Dick propped himself up on his arms. “I’m telling you, B. He went underground.”

“I kept what you said in mind, but I wanted to see if I could process the footage a little more.” Bruce pulled up another program, having to minimize the first. “I saved a definition of the spectrogram of the empty dome, so we could see what the basic ‘noise level’ was and sent it through a mixer to try and scrub the shield’s ambient light from the screen shots I took from earlier.”

“Like scrubbing white noise from a recording.” Dick’s eyebrows rose. He hadn’t been aware they could do that, though in hindsight he should have expected it.

“Exactly like that,” Bruce said, pulling up the new pictures. The first had a dimmer Phantom on the inside of a dampened shield and the last had him on the outside of it. The middle one though…

“That’s a person.” Dick squinted at the dark photo. “Right? That’s a person I see in there?”

“Yes. And when I enhance the lighting and saturation…” Bruce explained as he did just that. The photo slowly lightened, bringing the figure into full focus and…

“Danny Fenton?” Dick cocked his head to the side, squinting more. It… kind of looked like him. It was the right build, the right color hair. The clothes were plain, a white shirt and blue jeans, but the figure had been very good. Their face didn’t show at all and as far away as the camera was, they weren’t able to pick up any other distinguishing features.

It could be Danny, or it could be someone completely different. The main matter was…

“Whoever it is, is human,” Bruce decided, handing the tablet over to Dick for more scrutinizing. “Danny Fenton is my biggest suspect right now, but it could truly be anyone. Dark hair and short stature are nothing to go on, not really.”

“So then…” Dick looked up. “Now what?”

“Now,” Bruce stood and went to his luggage. He pulled out the false bottom and with it, a spare Batsuit. “We take our host up on his offer of a friendly chat.”

*             *             *             *             *

“Put that Rubix Cube away,” Sam ordered, throwing a book into Danny’s lap. The teen flinched instinctively, but didn’t put down his Cube. “You’ve been at it all day!”

“Because every time I think I have it solved, there’s one blue square out of place!” Danny threw his hands up in exasperation.

“Dude. It’s a factory defect,” Tucker said, looking up from his own Chemistry notes. “There are 10 blue square and only 8 white. I noticed that hours ago.”

Danny stared at the cube in his hand before setting it down and dropping his face in his hands. “Why does the world hate me?”

“Chill dude.” Tucker laughed. “You solved the cube. Take a break from beating yourself up.”

Danny took a deep breath to settle his temper and let it out.

“You were actually getting pretty fast at the end there.”

“... I was, wasn’t I?”

Tucker grinned. “I always told you, practice makes perfect.”

“And now that you’re done, we can go back to more important matters,” Sam said, holding her phone up with a social media account up. “Like, why the Dark Knight has been staking out Amity Park?”

“Oh, yeah…” Danny jerked upright. “Wait, he has?”

“He’s only been here for the last half-hour or so,” Tucker said, his own phone out and scrolling. “Though, that’s really weird. Why is he here of all places. Isn’t Gotham more his territory?”

Danny paused, then groaned. “I think I know why.”

His friends both looked at him.

“Remember that ‘surprise trip’ I told you about last night?” Danny gave them a wane grin.

“No way.” Tucker’s eyes grew wide. “You were kidnapped by Batman. You were kidnapped by the Batman.”

“And you escaped from the Batman.” Sam frowned hard at the picture on her phone. “Is he chasing you down then? Do we need to call in reinforcements?”

“Did you get to see the Batcave?” Tucker gasped. “Did you see the Batmobile?!”

“He’s not chasing me down and no reinforcements.” Danny scowled. “Not if they’re Jazz. And yes, to the Batcave, no to the Batmobile. At least… I don’t think so. It was kind of dark.”

“Are you sure he isn’t chasing you down?” Sam shot him a worried look. “He doesn’t seem like the type to just let someone walk out of his secret base.”

“What about Batarangs? Did you get to see any of those?! Oh! And Robin! Did you see Robin?!”

“I’m pretty sure he would have found me long before now if he were chasing me down. And I wouldn’t see him coming.” Danny scowled at Tucker. “And will you knock it off with the Bat-memorobilia?”

“Just one last question.” Tucker held up a finger. “Cat woman. Is she hot?”

Danny and Sam both scowled at him.

“Danny, I’m just worried about you.” Sam put a hand on his shoulder. “Ghosts, we can handle. They’re straight forward and pretty weak after all your training. Villains almost took down the Justice League because of Batman’s strategies being leaked. We’re no match for him.”

“Be that as it may, I have to go talk to him.” Danny looked down at his hands. “If not, I have a feeling he might actually kidnap me again.”

“That is not filling me with confidence,” Sam said flatly. “Just want to point that out.”

“It’ll be fine.” Danny pushed himself to his feet. “I’ll stay out of close range and high-tail it out of there if it looks like he’s picking a fight. I’ll be back in time to study for Finals. Promise.”

“Just… be careful,” Sam said quietly. She tugged him into a quick embrace before pushing them apart. “Go.”

Danny grinned. “Going ghost.”

*             *             *             *             *

Batman was camped out on the tallest building in Amity Park for a little under an hour before his host arrived.

“Mind telling me why you’ve decided to make Amity Park your new home?” The voice wasn’t a surprise, though the direction was. A pale head peeked up at Batman from the edge of the building’s roof.

Before Batman could react, Phantom had already finished phasing through the building and hovered a few feet away from Batman, out of immediate reach. “I don’t mind questions, but I won’t be happy if this is an attempt to push me out of my own home.”

“Questions only,” Batman replied gruffly.

Phantom didn’t float closer, but his shoulders dropped from the tense set they had held. “Where’s your sidekick?”

“Hotel. It’s past his curfew.” Technically true.

“Curfew?” Phantom’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Isn’t he too young for hero stuff then?”

“Are you?” Batman asked. From where he was and the footage of the ghost’s time at the Bat Cave, Batman placed Phantom at about 14 years of age, if ghosts kept track of time like that. A fact that lined up with Batman’s suspect.

“That’s different,” Phantom protested. “I didn’t exactly get a choice in the matter.”

“Neither did he,” Batman said. “His parents were murdered by a mob in a fake accident. He had to grow up too fast. Most heroes do.”

Phantom’s shoulders drew up again, but not for a fight. “I… didn’t know.”

“Not many do,” Batman said softly. “What’s your story?”

Phantom worried at his lip before answering. “Lab accident. Typical, right? Get a nice zap and then everything is different.”

Batman suspected as much. If his knowledge of the Fentons’ research was up-to-date, they had continued with their project after losing funding, and if his suspicion of Phantom’s identity is correct, well…

It’s all too easy to draw conclusions.

“Was it in the Fentons’ lab?”

Phantom stiffened and glared at Batman. “Why do you ask?”

“Only ones with ecto-plasm powered equipment, most likely to turn a human to a ghost.” Batman’s eyes narrowed. “That is, if they’re still working on that portal from their last thesis.”

“... The Fentons didn’t know —don’t know,” Phantom said firmly, like he was defending them. “They work hard to keep the city safe, so you can’t go after them for something that wasn’t their fault. I was stupid and suffered the consequences. They had no hand in it.”

Batman was sure Phantom believed that, but with the Fentons’ track record so far, he wasn’t looking forward to another human-ghost hybrid.

But that was a chat for another day, when the Fentons realized what they’d done and had to answer for it. In the meantime…

“Your powers are growing exponentially since your first appearance,” Batman said instead. “But your control seems to be lagging. Do you have a mentor of any sort?”

“You mean one that doesn’t just call on me when he needs, or that’s a crazy fruit loop?” Phantom gave him a flat look. “I hope you’re not offering. I don’t think you’d be able to teach me how to use ghost powers.”

“Not me, but friends,” Batman corrected. “Black Canary has a screech similar to your wail and we have a number of energy-based heroes and ones with flight. Martian Manhunter could attempt to help with clones. I hear that’s not a strong point of yours.”

“I don’t…” Phantom frowned, but his face wasn’t overtly angry. It was more confused than anything else. “I don’t get it. First you kidnap me, now you’re offering to help me? What’s your deal here?”

“Power left unchecked can run rampant,” Batman stated. “Power refined can become the greatest tool you have.”

“Nice quotes there. They from Shakespeare?” Phantom raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t need help. I’ve been doing fine for the past year. I don’t need the League coming in now of all times.”

Not the result Batman wanted. He had hoped Phantom would take the offer, if only so Batman could view his training and know his limits. Coming up with a failsafe was easier when he knew what he was working with. If an offer to train with the Justice League wouldn’t work…

*             *             *             *             *

Danny’s refusal of help must have come as a surprise because Batman fell quiet. It wasn’t anything overt, Batman’s poker face was really stoic, but Danny didn’t doubt the Dark Knight had other reasons for the offer. It just seemed like a Batman thing to do.

Also a bit of a Vlad thing to do, but that was neither here nor there.

Danny was not prepared for his response.

“If you don’t want my help, at least let me put you in touch with some heroes your age.” Batman bargained. “If not for training, then at least as some like-minded individuals. You might find some use in backup.”

Yes, the Batman was bargaining with him. The sheer surreality of the situation had Danny nodding in acquiescence. “Sure?”

“Good. I’ll give you a communicator to contact them for emergencies, but I’ll let them introduce themselves.” Batman threw a small round device, which Danny nearly fumbled, but caught none-the-less.

He eyed it critically.

“Don’t worry, it’s not bugged.”

Danny’s gaze shot up. He hadn’t been worried, but now he was.

Batman seemed to notice, but ignored the look. “The team is over exuberant at times, but they’ve all been trained by their mentors. They might be able to help you with any questions you may have.”

“Thanks, I guess.” Danny put the communicator in his pocket, where he found another item he had on hand. “Oh yeah, I meant to return this. Tell your protégé thanks for the loan. Although, he should look into getting one that isn’t so… defective.”

*             *             *             *             *

Batman caught the Rubix Cube, eyeing it thoughtfully. By the time he turned back, Phantom was gone. Oh, so that’s what that felt like, but…

Batman switched the vision in his mask to heat and watched a significantly cooler spot soar away from his roof. Interesting… not useful during summer, but in the cooler months of fall, winter, and spring, Phantom was practically undetectable by human means. He’d have to keep that in mind.

For now…

He eyed the Rubix Cube.

Chapter Text

Batman returned to find his ward sitting on top of the counter of the kitchenette. His thumbs were working overtime on his phone, but as soon as Batman landed on the balcony, Dick was up and on his feet.

“So what’s our next plan?” Dick asked, taking the cowl from Bruce when he handed it off. “Phantom’s been extra wary since the last ghost attack, according to the news. So whatever we do, we’ll have to catch him off guard.”

We aren’t doing anything,” Bruce said as he set the Rubix Cube down and took out his fingerprint dusting kit. He was still in his suit which… probably wouldn’t be good if room service came by. He needed to change.

“What?!” Dick flailed at his side. “We’re retreating? But—! We’ve never just let a potentially dangerous entity run free before! Not without at least trying—!”

“I said ‘we’ are not going anything,” Bruce reiterated. He dusted the Rubix Cube and twisted it this way and that. A multitude of prints were smudged along its surface. “From what I can tell, Phantom has little to no pleasant memories where adults and figures of authority are concerned. My continued presence would only be detrimental in assessing his threat level.”

Dick crossed his arms in thought. “So what you’re saying is… I can seek him out?”

“Precisely. In fact, I would recommend it,” Bruce said as he carefully placed adhesive over the prints and pulled it away, keeping the oil patterns intact. “I told him that I would get him in touch with other heroes his age. You and the others at Mount Justice are welcome to check in on him at your leisure.”

“The whole team?” Dick’s eyebrows rose. “Are you thinking of recruiting him? I thought we were still at threat assessment level.”

“We are.” Bruce found another full print and worked it off too. “But I believe that your experience and teamwork would trump his raw power if it came to a fight. He also has a history of not actively seeking to kill his enemies, even those that attack him. With these facts in mind, I believe the team capable of containing him should it be necessary.”

*             *             *             *             *

Dick felt his heart beat faster and a giddiness fill his stomach. It wasn’t often that Bruce handed out praise, especially for the team as a whole. And when it came to assessments of potential allies and enemies, Batman was usually spot on.

“So when can the team head out? I want to show Wally that ghosts really do exist!” Dick bounced on the balls of his feet in excitement.

“There’s no Zeta-tube here, so we’ll have to book a set of hotel rooms, but given it’s summer…” Bruce looked up from the cube. “I don’t see why you can’t return as Robin once the Waynes are back in Gotham… as long as one other member from the team is here with you.”

“I have a feeling I won’t have trouble finding a buddy.” Dick grinned. The rest of the team was always excited to meet new heroes their age. And besides, Connor really needed to get out of the mountain. A vacation is exactly what he needed, what they all needed.

“In the meantime, I’ll go through what fingerprints I can find on this cube,” Bruce said. “I think we’ll find a match in those wrappers that you brought in earlier. If not… Phantom made it sound like he died recently, so I’m hoping to turn up something in modern records.”

“Won’t that only work if he’s already in the system?” Dick cocked his head to the side.

“Usually.” Bruce stood from the chair as his computer started running through databases. “But sometimes, interesting information turns up despite that. We’ll just have to see.”

If the prints don’t match the ones I got.” Dick pointed out.

“If.” Bruce agreed. They didn’t have the technology to check with them, so it would have to wait until they were back at the BatCave, but Bruce didn’t have many doubts.

A day later and the results were in.

One set matched and the figure in the footage wasn’t African American.

It was all too easy to guess.

(Dick thought that Phantom might need a couple lessons in stealth, but that was just his personal opinion.)

*             *             *             *             *

Truth be told, Robin did not return immediately to Amity Park. With Summer Vacation came a series of missions that ate up the first few weeks. Once those were done, it was a matter of catching his teammates on their own to explain the situation.

They decided to go in groups of three, just to keep Phantom off guard. They didn’t actually want to fight him, so showing up with a force of four super-powered teen, an Arrow and a Bat, wasn’t the first impression they wanted.

The first group was set with Robin (who was more familiar with Phantom), Connor (who could match Phantom in strength) and Wally (who… really just wanted to disprove the ‘ghost’ thing).

They arrived by Connor’s alien motorbike right as Phantom was fighting against… some rocker chick?

“Uh, Rob, what am I looking at here?” Kid Flash asked as Phantom flew backwards from a blast of sound waves. It was weird because, while Phantom seemed to follow the laws of inertia from the blast, he certainly didn’t follow the laws of gravity and instead was still floating several dozen feet above their heads.

“Ember, demonic songstress,” Robin said, reciting the information he’d memorized from the blog Tucker had shown him. “Her songs have the capability to entrance anyone she wants. From my sources, they have a number of other uses too, though no one’s gotten a chance to record them all.”

“Entranced, huh?” KF’s roved the ghost woman’s body. “I don’t need a song for that.”

Robin rolled his eyes.

Connor gave them both a hard look. “Aren’t we going to help?”

“I’m not sure stepping into this fight is a good idea.” Robin shook his head. “We could help… or we could be turned against him. As far as first impressions go, that would be the worst.”

“Well, for Connor and me.” KF crossed his arms. “Didn’t you kidnap him for your first impression?”

Robin shot him an unimpressed look, then turned back to the fight. “Besides, he should be finishing up soon.”

Just as he said that, Phantom opened his thermos (now known as a particle storage container to Robin and Batman) and Ember got sucked inside, letting out a string of curses as she faded.

Phantom seemed to sigh in relief.

“Nice job, Phantom,” Robin called, clapping his hands in actual applause. Phantom startled at the sound. “One of your regulars?”

“Oh great, you again.” Phantom looked down with a scowl. “What, here to knock me out? Drag me back to the Batcave?”

“Nah, just wanted to introduce my friends,” Robin said, holding out his arms wide in gesture to the other two heroes.

 “Wait, there’s more of you?!” Phantom drew back, obviously surprised.

“Well, Batman did tell you heroes, as in plural.” Robin crossed his arms. “We wouldn’t want to disappoint.”

Phantom face-palmed and grumbled to himself.

Connor frowned. “We aren’t here to ambush you.”

“How did you—!?” Phantom spied the emblem on his shirt and let out a long sigh. “Right. Superman’s son.”

Connor’s fists tightened as his face strained.

“Look, we just came for a vacation,” Kid Flash said amiably. “Like a road trip, you know? It is summer after all! And we figured you might like some friends!”

“Summer for you maybe.” Phantom rolled his eyes and scowled. “And I have friends!”

Robin’s eyebrows rose. That was news.

“What, like the ghosts you beat up?” Kid Flash asked. “Skulker, Technus and Plasmius, right?”

“Ugh!! That fruit loop?” Phantom stuck out his tongue. “I’d rather die than befriend him.”

“But… aren’t you dead?” Robin asked.

“It’s a figure of—!”

“He’s not,” Conner said, eyebrows drawing together. “I heard a heartbeat.”

The three froze, Phantom stiffening where he hovered above them.

“I’m sorry, what?” Kid Flash looked between the two rapidly, his face a blur. “Are you telling me that Phantom’s alive?! I so called it!”

“I don’t know about alive, but I heard… something.” Connor’s face twisted in confusion. “It’s not there now.”

“I think you just misheard.” Phantom laughed nervously. “Maybe someone was passing by behind me and you mistook them for me?”

“No. It was you,” Connor said, frowning angrily again.

“Dude, Con, it’s okay to mess up—!”

“Quiet.” Connor ordered, eyes hard on Phantom in concentration. Under his intense stare, the ghost fidgeted nervously for several seconds before he cracked.

“Well, this has been fun and all, but…” he tensed, a light cloud of mist spilling from his lips like it was the middle of winter instead of a few days from the summer solstice. “I have to go.”

Oooh, what is this beautiful piece of technology?” a nasally voice spoke up from behind them. The three heroes whirled to find a green skinned man hovering over Connor’s bike.

“Hey, back off!” Connor ordered, marching over with his fists clenched.

“Uh, let me think about that…” the man made a show of thinking it over before laying his hands on the bike. “No!”

In the next second, the ghost was inside Connor’s bike, twisting and turning it and transforming it into another form entirely —into a body.

“Oh yes, I think I like this very much!” said the ghost. Technus, it had to be the ghost with the ability over technology. It was the only one in Phantom’s roster of villains that had a habit of stealing tech for his hair-brained schemes.

“Technus, get out of there!” Phantom ordered, palm powering up.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, ghost boy!” Technus waved a finger at him.

“Oh yeah?” Phantom took aim. “Give me one reason not to.”

“Because Superboy’s bike is an alien being.” Robin was the one to answer. “One with sentience and feelings.”

“It’s what?” but Phantom was already dispelling the ecto-energy in his palm. “Why would you bring something like that here?!”

“To be fair, we didn’t know you had a technopath that could merge with technology!” Kid Flash argued.

“It’s on the Amity Ghost blog!” Phantom yelled back. “And it’s a techno-ghost, not technopath!”

“No such thing as ghosts!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Phantom dropped his face into his hands. “This day couldn’t possibly get any worse.”

Phantom!” a shrill yell cut through the air. It sounded female, with the burning rage of a thousand suns.

“And it just did.” Phantom clicked the thermos back onto his belt before intercepting a red streak. “You guys keep an eye on Technus while I handle Red! And don’t give him any ideas!”

“What are we supposed to do against that?!” KF waved his hands at the giant robot.

“From what I’ve read, Technus is one of the ghosts that likes to monologue., Robin said just out of ear-shot of the giant robot. “Let’s start there.”

“Are you serious? … You’re serious.” KF let out a heavy sigh before waving his hands to get the robot’s attention. “Hey! Mr. Giant Robot! We’re new to the area. Mind introducing yourself?”

The giant robot head turned to look down at Kid Flash. “… Hello.”

“…Hi?” KF said, uneasy.

“I am Technus! Master of Technology and all things electric!” the ghost-alien amalgamation held its arms out grandly.

Robin hoped that his introduction took a while.

*             *             *             *             *

“Today’s the day you die, Phantom,” Red Huntress growled. She had her blaster powered up and aimed. “For good.”

“Valeri, wait!” Danny held up his hands. “Truce! I call truce!”

“There’s no truce for ghost scum like you!” the Red Huntress bit back, but she did hesitate to shoot.

“Fine, whatever! Hate me if you want…” Danny gestured with both hands to the form that Technus had created that day. “But we have bigger issues here!”

Valeri gave the scene below an unimpressed look. “The day you struggle to take down Technus is the day Vlad Masters turns out to be a ghost.”

“Scarily ironic remark,” Danny grumbled to himself. Louder, he said. “If it were just Technus, I wouldn’t have any problems, but he took over a bionic alien to make that suit. If I hurt him, I hurt it.”

“Alien?” she scoffed and pulled her blaster back so she could put a hand on her hip. “You really expect me to believe some lame story like that?”

“The Justice League has at least three aliens in its founding members: Superman, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkwoman.” Danny listed off. He jerked a finger at the small figures below. “Those down there are some of their side-kicks.”

The Red Huntress gave a steely-eyed look before tsk-ing. “Fine. This once, I’ll help you. Afterwards, I’m taking you down.”

“Agreed to disagree,” Danny said before tipping into a dive to bring him back down right at the tail end of Technus’ long-winded introduction.

“So what’s the plan, ghost boy?” Valeri asked. “Beat him out of it?”

“Did you just here me?” Danny glared at her. “That tech is alive. It feels whatever we do to Technus. We can’t go in guns blazing!”

“Then what do you expect me to do?” the Red Huntress demanded. “All I’ve got are guns and blasters!”

“I… I don’t know!” Danny shouted back. “Just… let me think!”

“Well hurry it up!” Red Huntress demanded. “Otherwise, he’ll figure out that he’s got the perfect hostage and decide to go on a rampage and take over Amity Park!”

“That is a great idea!” Technus was looking at them now, red eyes gleaming. “Forget you, Phantom. This girl should be the teacher!”

“Thanks a lot, Valeri.” Danny shot her a scathing look before taking off after Technus as the robot tore down the street. He flew low to the ground, catching up with the trio of heroes chasing after their ride.

“I’m really hoping you have a plan here, Phantom,” Robin said, huffing as he dodged debris and flipped over foot-shaped holes in the concrete.

“I’m still working on it,” Phantom said, voice tight. “Usually, I can destroy whatever body he’s made and separate him from the parts, but that won’t work this time.”

“Yeah, Superboy wouldn’t be happy if you did that to his friend.” Robin shook his head. “Is there any other way to separate a ghost from a body without destroying it?”

“No.” Phantom paused, remembering back to what may have been the worst day of his life. “Well… maybe.”

“Maybe?” KF echoed as he fell back to listen in on the two. “I don’t like a plan that hinges on a maybe.”

“I once fought another ghost in… someone’s body,” Danny said hesitantly. “I can overshadow Technus and try to force him out.”

“Overshadow?” KF frowned.

“You’ve done this before right?” Robin asked, to an affirmative nod. “So what’s your hold-up?”

“I’ve never tried to over shadow a technological… anything.” Danny winced. “I’m not even sure I can.”

“Well, there’s a first time for everything,” Robin said. “What do you need us to do?”

“I need your two friends to contain him,” Danny said, looking over his shoulder to where Red Huntress flew above. “You too, Valeri. Keep him in one place, okay?”

“Yeah, just blurt out my identity, why don’t you?” she yelled back before speeding up.

 “And me?” Robin asked.

“I need you to take this thermos and capture Technus when he comes out.” Danny handed off the thermos. “It’s important to catch him, wherever it is he pops out. If you don’t, he can escape and cause more havoc, or even try to force me out instead.”

“Got it.” Robin clasped the thermos tightly in his hands before taking out his grappling hook and swiftly swinging into the sky.

“So, seriously,” KF said, easily keeping pace with Danny. “What do you mean by overshadow?”

“Just keep Technus in one spot, okay?” Then Danny pulled up and away. He was easily faster than the technological behemoth, enough that he could circle Technus a few times before the ghost got smart. It was enough distraction for KF to update Superboy and the two to close in.

Kid Flash went about tripping up the giant bot while Superboy just… grabbed on and put his immeasurable super strength to good use.

“Unhand me at once, you insidious brats!” Technus ordered, trying to push Superboy off him. It looked a little like a human trying to get a small hamster to let go of their pant leg.

“Try this on for size!” Valeri shouted in Technus’ face. Small shoulder blasters came up, but instead of firing ecto-energy, they shot a very sticky web-like material right onto Technus’ bionic eyes.

Eeewww! I do not like your sticky, slimy, biological agent!” Technus whined as he swiped ineffectively at his eyes.

“Okay, he’s distracted enough,” Danny said to himself, swooping down to land just behind the robot’s left heel. He put his hands on the cool metal. “Here goes nothing!”

*             *             *             *             *

Robin was positioned on the tallest building at the sight of the fight. He could see his friends doing their best to keep Technus distracted and immobilized and Red Huntress was lending a helping hand. He had no idea who she was, but he made a note to have Bruce look into her later.

Phantom had called her by name. No doubt they were close.

Phantom himself had dropped to the ground right behind Technus, where he could easily be crushed in Robin’s opinion. But that must not have mattered to the ghost because, between one second and the next, the ghost touched the robot… and disappeared.

Technus froze up. His limbs went wonky and his head quirked at an odd angle. “Ghost-boy, what? Get out! I was here first!”

“Not gonna happen, Technus!” Phantom’s voice came over, loud and garbled, like he was talking through a speaker. The red eyes of the robot briefly turned green. “I’m not letting you destroy Amity Park!”

“You have no power here boy!” the eyes flashed red again. “Technology is my domain!”

“That may be so…” It sounded like Phantom was struggling, but his words held every bit of confidence Robin felt himself. “But this suit isn’t just technology! There’s a life here too!”

“What? Noooo!” The eyes turned blue, then the machine gave a whole body spasm. Technus was spat from the robot and Robin wasted no time uncapping the thermos. “You haven’t heard the last of meeee!”

Robin capped it tight after the ghost, just like what he’d seen Phantom do before.

He watched as the robot twisted and turned again, before shrinking back into a recognizable sphere.

A quick grappling hook later and he was on the ground, rushing over as Phantom appeared next to the Sphere and woozily leaned against it.

“Remind me never to do that again.” Phantom rubbed at his face.

“I don’t think Sphere would like it,” Robin noted with a raised eyebrow. He held the thermos back out to Phantom. “Thanks for the help.”

“Not much help.” Phantom looked back at the Sphere with a wince. “That’s the form she wanted. I’m… not sure how you’re going to get back?”

Robin laughed. “Don’t worry. Sphere just likes Connor the best.”

This was proven by Sphere immediately rolling over to Connor when he came into view, letting out a series of excited beeps.

“As much as I’m happy to see her out of Technus’ control, I’d just as soon never see her again.” Phantom gave Robin a pointed look. “It’s dangerous here. It’s not like other cities.”

“Maybe you could share your notes?” Robin suggested, keenly aware that the blog he’d gleaned info from was still just from a civilian point of view. “Just so we know what to avoid in the future.”

“And who,” Phantom agreed. “Or you could just not come back. There’s a thought.”

“Are you kidding?” KF raced up, arms held out spread. “This is the most fun I’ve had on a road trip ever!”

“I’d have to go with KF on this one.” Robin grinned at the other superhero teen.

“Now, I’ve got a few questions about these so-called ‘ghost’ powers of yours,” Kid Flash said as he threw an arm around Phantom’s shoulders.

Phantom let out a long suffering sigh.

Chapter Text

After the first impression, Phantom had reluctantly allowed the superheroes to come and go from his town as they pleased. He wasn’t like Batman or Superman or Flash who had claimed their hometowns as their territory —at least, not when it came to people.

With ghosts, it was obvious what his stance was when it came to them messing with Amity Park. With the rest of the team, he treated them like humans. They had every right to be there as he did…

So long as they kept to the harshly drawn line in the sand.

After that first fight, he’d met up with them again to lay out the groups of ghosts, which ones were okay for the team to take on and which ones he had to face personally. And which were his allies, because, he had allies. Not just human hunters that helped him, but actual ghost allies.

It wasn’t something the team expected.

“Hey, not all ghosts want to fight.” Phantom shrugged. “Some just want to be left alone.”

Most of his allies tended to remain in the ghost zone, though, so the team wouldn’t run into them often.

‘Often’ being the keyword.

It was one such occasion that caught the newest trio combo off-guard. Connor, Artemis and Kaldur had just been exploring the town; the first acting as a very stoic tour guide to the other two, when a yelp caused Connor to look up. Artemis and Kaldur reacted immediately, drawing their weapons as their eyes searched the skies.

“What have we got, Superboy?” Artemis asked.

“A ghost incoming.” Connor squinted against the harsh sun. “Not one I’ve seen on the list. Small, child-like, but not like Youngblood. She’s slightly older and kind of looks like… Phantom?”

The ghost was coming in fast, too fast.

“If she’s not on the list, then we have to assume she is new,” Kaldur said, dropping into a defensive stance. “And violent.”

“I’ll take her out of the sky.” Artemis pulled an arrow from her pack. She didn’t have any ecto-energy arrows, not like what she saw Red Huntress using from time to time, but if ecto-energy was like normal energy, then maybe…

“Artemis, wait!” Connor held out a hand, but Artemis had already drawn and fired.

The ghost was close enough now that Artemis could see her arrow hit her mark. The figure tensed and spasmed as electricity coursed through her, then dropped to the ground hard enough to leave a sizable crater in her wake.

“Move in and contain,” Kaldur ordered. “Superboy, call in Phantom for threat assessment.”

“Wait, I think she’s—!”

Artemis didn’t stick around.

She raced over to the crater and up the ripple in the pavement to stare down at the ghost. The ghost was that of a young girl, pure white hair and a suit with an emblem Artemis vaguely remembered from somewhere.

Surprisingly, the girl was already starting to struggle to her feet.

 “Stay where you are, ghost girl.” Artemis stared her down, bow drawn. She knew normal weapons didn’t do much, but the electric arrows seemed to be pretty effective.

The girl stared up, eyes wide and full of tears. She threw her head back and yelled. “Danny, help!”

“Danny?” Artemis repeated. An ecto-blast flew past her shoulder, singeing her hair. She whirled around, arrow drawn.

“Artemis!” Connor yelled.

“Get away from her!” A dark blur in the sky demanded as two more ecto-blasts flew through the air. The shots were wide, not wanting to hit the girl below, but Artemis knew warning shots when she saw them. She hopped sideways over the rubble as the blur rammed through the spot she’d just been.

She raised her bow to the new target, but Kaldur put a hand on her wrist. “Wait, Artemis.”

“Dani! Are you okay?” The dark blur resolved itself to a white-haired black-suited teen —Phantom if Artemis read the report right. She hadn’t actually met him in person. Robin seemed to be the only one he interacted with; Connor and Kid Flash tied for second. From what she’d heard, he was a teen hero like them, but he was helping the enemy stand and glaring at her instead.

“Oh great,” Artemis grumbled to herself as she lowered her bow. “Another bleeding heart.”

Both ghosts were standing now. The girl had her arms wrapped around Phantom’s waist, face in his stomach. Phantom had a protective arm around her shoulders and a dark look on his face. “Why were you attacking her? Did she do something wrong?”

“Not… really?” Kaldur held up his hologram document. “But Connor didn’t recognize her on your list. So we thought she was a new enemy, one you hadn’t fought before. We were just going to detain her until you arrived…?”

“So you just attacked her because she wasn’t on the list?!” Phantom’s eyes glowed brighter, as if fueled by his anger.

“Look! We were just trying to help, okay?!” Artemis crossed her arms and canted her hip. “If you don’t want mistakes, then just put her on the list!”

“She’s not on the list because she’s family!” Phantom shouted back and, suddenly, the protective stance and unreasonable anger made sense. It was a brother protecting his sister, not a hero protecting their villain. It also made sense for the girl to call out to him for help. He might be the only support she had left.

Did ghosts even have families?

“I… I’m sorry.” Artemis backed off. “I didn’t know.”

“Not many do,” Phantom said bitterly. He ran his fingers through his hair. “Dani? You okay?”

The girl sniffled and backed up a bit, though one hand remained twisted in his hazmat shirt. “I’m… I’m fine. Just some scrapes, some bruises, nothing I can’t handle.”

And have handled before went unsaid, but it still make Artemis wince.

“How are you related?” Connor asked, looking between the two. “Did you die at the same time? Do ghosts keep relations from previous lives or are you both actually related?”

“That’s a hard question to answer.” Phantom scratched at the back of his head. “She’s kind of my… clone?”

Connor’s eyes went wide.

“This is Danielle Phantom,” Phantom introduced.

“That’s Dani with an ‘i’, not Danny with a ‘y’.” Danielle pointed out.

“Wait a minute!” Kaldur held up on hand. “Clone? You can clone ghosts?”

“I mean, not really?” Phantom said as Dani opened her mouth to reply. “Plasmius, my nemesis, attempted to clone me, but all of the other clones… failed. Dani is the only one that was stable enough to survive, but even then, we’ve had close calls.”

“But that’s all over now!” Dani shrugged her shoulders. “Danny helped me out with one of his… I mean, the Fentons’ inventions.”

“You help her?” Connor scowled in confusion.

“Wait, the Fentons?” Kaldur cut in. “Those are the two ghost hunters, correct?”

“Ghost Hunters? No. Ghost Scientists? Yes.” Phantom scratched his cheek. “Although… Mo- Maddie, the wife? She’s pretty kick-ass.”

“And you still steal from them?” Artemis scoffed. “And what do you even steal? Isn’t everything they make dangerous to ghosts?”

“Not… everything. Sometimes, prototypes have the opposite effect. For Dani, I used an aerosol that was supposed to weaken ectoplasm in ghosts.” Phantom’s shoulders drew up, as if embarrassed. “It actually… did the reverse.”

“But it all worked out for me!” Dani perked up, brief scare seemingly forgotten as she took to the air above their heads. “Now, I can fly and turn invisible and shoot ecto-blasts and everything! The world is my oyster!”

“Speaking of, why did you come back?” Phantom looked up in concern. “Is everything okay? Did that fruit loop send more minions after you?”

“Not since the last time we kicked his butt.” Dani crossed her arms and glared at an errant piece of rubble before turning soft eyes onto Phantom. “Nothing has to be wrong for me to want to see you, y’know? Sometimes I just want to come see my cousin and check in.”

“I know. It’s just… that first time kind of set a precedence.” Phantom held his hands out in surrender. “You never came back after that either, so…”

“Okay, you got me.” Dani let out a long, exaggerated sigh; her entire body sagging out of the sky with it. “I heard the Justice League’s sidekicks were hanging around Amity. I just wanted to make sure they weren’t causing you any trouble.”

“And you did so by attacking us?” Artemis clenched her fists.

At Phantom’s pointed look, Dani quickly explained. “Not attacking! Just… maybe an overenthusiastic greeting.”

“Overenthusiastic?!”

“To be fair…” Kaldur cut in. “She never shot at us.”

“Just made an abrupt 90 degree turn and headed towards us at 90 miles per hour.” Artemis deadpanned as she crossed her arms.

“I did try to tell you,” Connor argued. “I heard her from the ground. She sounded like those girls that like to wave at Speedy during battles.

Phantom raised an eyebrow at his cousin. Her skin flushed a light tint of green. It took the humans a minute before they realized it was a blush, not nausea.

“What? It’s Artemis!” She gestured wildly at the female hero. “She’s my second favorite hero of all time!”

“Second?” Artemis cut in a little offended.

“Black Canary,” Dani said without preamble and, yeah, okay. Artemis could be second to her.

“I’m surprised you didn’t go for Wonder Woman,” Artemis commented.

“Too much Truth and Justice.” Dani see-sawed her hand. “I like my idols with a bit of dirt on them.”

And Artemis had no idea how to take that comment

“Well, now you’ve met her and fought her.” Phantom crossed his arms. “Are you gonna run off now? Or do you need a place to stay? I can probably set you up —and if not me, then Sam or Tucker have space.”

“Why are you being so nice to her?” Connor’s frown deepened. “She’s a clone, made by your enemy. Shouldn’t you be more wary?”

“Whoa… I am sensing a lot to unpack there, bro.” Dani hovered over Phantom.

“She was my enemy at one point, but…” Phantom bit the side of his lip, visibly struggling for the right words. “Who she was made from, who she was made by, it doesn’t have a factor on who she is.

“I mean, ghost powers, but other than that, Danny’s right.” Dani shrugged. “I learned that Plasmius was evil, so I stopped listening to him. And Danny’s helped me more times than I can count, in more ways than Plasmius ever cared to. I was created to do bad things, but I chose to be different.”

“And that’s all that matters to me.” Phantom shot her a blinding grin, one that Artemis was sure struck Connor a little too deeply. After all, for the same beginnings to have vastly different endings… it was a little shocking, even for her.

“Anyway, this is just a short visit.” Dani waved her hand flippantly, as if the last couple minutes of serious talk hadn’t happened. “I’m planning to visit France next, once I learn some of the basic language, but I wanted to see if I could catch any of the members of Young Justice and, maybe, ask a tiny favor?”

“Young what?” Phantom frowned.

“Young Justice,” Kaldur repeated. “It is the name of our group, akin to a Young Justice League.”

“Meh, could use work.” Dani wobbled her palm in an ‘iffy’ motion. “Makes it sound like you’re some offshoot of the Justice League. You should get your own name.”

“We… will think about it,” Kaldur answered, a bit bemused. “What was the favor you wanted to ask?”

“Oh, right!” Dani swooped down, getting right up in his face with the largest pair of puppy-dog eyes Artemis had ever seen. “Can I please, please, please, visit your hideout?”

“Dani!”

“What? Every superhero group needs one! Well, except yours.” Dani shot Phantom an unimpressed look. “I just want to see it once! Is it anything like the Hall of Justice? Or is it actually functional? Do you guys train there? Do your mentors work there too?” She gasped. “Does Black Canary visit?!”

Kaldur was no match for the combination of puppy-dog eyes and excited questioning.

Artemis decided he needed more training against pre-teen girls. His ability to hold out against them was abysmal.

Chapter Text

“-Superboy. Guest one, Phantom. Guest Two, Dani-with-an-i.”

“I can’t believe you got them to program that as your name,” Danny whispered lowly to Dani.

“I can’t believe I convinced them to let me come here!” Dani whispered back excitedly.

“Welcome.” Kaldur gestured grandly around himself. “To Mount Justice.”

“This is so rad!” Dani said, eyes wide as she looked about. “You’ve got a kitchen!”

“And a TV, sofa, and gaming station,” Robin said, standing front and center. “And bedrooms to crash in, just in case a mission runs late.”

“Welcome back, guys.” A yellow blur resolved itself into Kid Flash. “I see you brought company… and company’s sister?”

“Clone,” Kaldur said.

“Cousin,” Danny and Dani corrected at once. They looked at each other at the timing and shared a satisfied fist bump.

“Clone, cousin, whatev’s. She’s new.” KF flashed over, hand held at the ready. “Kid Flash, MVP of the team and arguably the best looking.”

“Dani Phantom, Dani with an ‘I’,” Dani said, taking his hand. “And I prefer Artemis.”

“I… don’t know whether to be offended or not.” KF frowned deeply.

“If it helps, I’m twelve,” Dani said, already looking elsewhere, trying to take in the view.

“Technically, you’re like four months old.” Danny held up four fingers to prove his point. “Plasmius didn’t make you until I had eight months into this superhero business.”

“Yeah, but I look twelve,” Dani defended as she floated around the control room. “That’s what matters most.”

“She’s not wrong,” KF told Danny. He just frowned.

“So obviously you guys crash here after missions and probably get briefed for them,” Dani stated. “What else do you do?”

“Well, we’ve had some pretty epic movie and game nights.” KF leaned against the door way to the living room, nonchalantly. “And nerf wars, come to think of it. This place makes for a great battleground.”

“Unless you’re in an actual battle.” Artemis scowled. At the ghosts’ twin looks of confusion, she shrugged. “Red Tornado had some company one day, the bad kind. We won, obviously, but it was touch and go for a while.”

“Hazards of a new team.” Robin shot her a knowing smirk.

“M’gann also uses the kitchen to make cookies and other goodies.” Kid Flash appeared beside the kitchen doorway. “She still mixes up salt with sugar sometimes, but she does her best.”

“Hey, got to get your calories.” Dani shrugged. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing I’ve eaten.”

“Do ghosts eat?” Robin asked, intrigued.

“Not ghosts!” Kid Flash held up his hands sternly. “We discussed this! They are inter-dimensional beings with bodies made of an energy construct. Which also explains where most of their powers come from: intangibility, invisibility, energy beams…”

“So you’re like me, but the next step?” M’gann asked as she flew in with a plate of brownies hovering beside her. “By the way, I made another batch. I remembered to set the timer this time!”

“Let’s see the results!” KF rubbed his hands together. He took a big bite of a brownie, only to pause and chew slowly. “Did you add lemon zest or something to this?”

“A little. Why?” she hovered anxiously. “Does it taste bad?”

“No, just… I was expecting a coco brownie.” KF swallowed. “Not a coco-lemon brownie.”

Dani zipped over and gathered up one in each hand. One immediately met its demise between her teeth. The other got handed over to Danny. “It’s an interesting flavor. Again, not the worst I’ve had.”

“Hmm…” Danny regarded the brownie, a bite missing. “I think I still like the kiwi-fudge milkshake from that one time better.”

“So… they can eat, but have no taste buds,” KF said to Robin. He earned himself an elbow to the stomach.

“The Mountain also has a state of the art training simulator,” Kaldur said, explaining more of the features of the cave. “It’s where our mentor, Black Canary, trains us in a variety of fighting styles.”

“Oh! There! I want to go there!” Dani shouted excitedly.

“Dani!” Danny called. “Cool it, will you? I know you’re excited, but getting up in people’s faces isn’t the way to express it.”

“You’re just jealous because Martian Manhunter isn’t known to come here often.” Dani crossed her arms with a pout.

“You’re a fan of my uncle?” M’gann asked, a little surprised.

Danny’s cheeks flushed a green and he glared at Dani. “I just… like space, okay? And he… and you are from Mars, our closest neighbor. I’m just… very curious.”

“I’d be happy to answer any questions you have!” M’gann beamed as the group headed towards the training hall.

“Oh, you don’t have to…” Danny looked up, the same excited gleam from Dani’s eyes in his. “Really?”

“Of course!” M’gann laughed, then a whoop echoed out into the cavernous room they’d moved to. High above Dani was flying around the room, checking out every nook and cranny. She landed in front of the team with the biggest smile on her face. “You guys really fight with Black Canary in here?”

“Sure do. In fact, “Robin strutted forward to point at Dani’s feet. “She’s pinned Connor in a chokehold there more than one time.”

Connor scowled. Dani held her chest, eyes trained on the ground. “I’ve stood where Black Canary kicked ass. I’m never going to wash my shoes again.”

“What about when you step in a puddle?” a new voice asked from the other side of the room.

“I’ll never walk. I’ll fly everywhere,” Dani answered before turning to look. She gasped. “Black Canary?!”

“I heard someone was a fan.” Black Canary halted in front of the tween ghost, hip cocked to the side.

“Definitely—am—yes—I,” Dani sputtered.

“Smooth.” Danny nudged her, ignoring the glare he got in return.

“You are Phantom,” Canary said, looking at him. “From Amity Park. And this is…?”

“Also Phantom, but Dani… with an ‘I’,” Dani said, having gotten a hold of her inner squealing fan-girl.

“Dani Phantom.” Canary smiled. “Nice name.”

Dani may have died a little on the inside. It was out of pure happiness, so that was okay.

“This room is used for more than just ass-kicking,” Canary said, gesturing to the room as a whole. “As teenage heroes, your powers and skills are still growing. This room can also be used to test different limits to find your base line.”

“Like how fast my fastest is,” Kid Flash explained.

“Or how far my furthest range is.,” Artemis added.

“Or what my maximum lift-weight is,” Connor continued. “And what exercises are needed to change it.”

“This way, if there’s ever a fight, we can come up with the best strategy to play to our strengths,” Robin said. “Rather than hoping that we can pull off a maneuver, we know what our limits are.”

“That sounds super helpful, actually.” Dani thought aloud. “I never know how long a trip is going to take when I fly. I try to follow a map, but they don’t really match the terrain, you know? Sometimes, I over shoot a town or run out of daylight and have to make camp in the woods.

“Such things aren’t circumvented entirely, but it does make it easier to plan in advance,” Canary said. She cocked her head to the side with a gentle smile.  “Would you like to run through a couple simulations?”

“Would I?!” Dani lit up, literally. The faint glow that surrounded her body brightened considerably at the offer.

“Uh, maybe you shouldn’t,” Danny cautioned. He winced at the look she sent him. “Look, all I’m saying is: we just got you re-stabilized. We don’t know how long Da—the Fentons’ formula will hold out. Doing something like this could eat up your time. By the time it takes me to get to Amity Park and back, it might be too long.”

“It’ll be fine!” Dani soothed, drifting over to stand in front of him. “I snagged that aerosol from last time. You know, just in case? I’ve never had to use it, so it’s still as full as when I first got it.”

“But you have it with you?” Danny asked, sounding exactly like the worried older brother.

“Always!” She pulled out a small bottle from her back pocket, giving it a showy jiggle. She put it back, so as not to lose it. “So don’t worry, coz’. I’ll be just fine. No turning into goop for this girl!”

“Okay… fine.” He relented with a long suffering sigh, then turned his green eyes onto Black Canary. “But I’m staying in the room. Just in case.”

“That’s fine. Tests don’t have to be done in solitude,” Canary said as she walked to a small control panel. “What would you like to start with?”

“Speed,” Dani answered immediately. “I really do need to figure out how long it takes to get from place to place.”

“A large portion of that will depend on altitude,” Canary said, pressing a couple buttons. “But we can get an average travel speed.”

Mechanisms moved about the room, revealing sets of speed cameras about the room.

“When you’re ready,” Canary said.

Dani nodded and floated up. She circled the room a few times to build up her speed. She couldn’t go from 0-to-60 like Danny seemed to pull off sometimes, but she was sure that would come with practice.

Once the room was blurring like she was used to seeing trees and mountains do, she maintained a random circuit. It wasn’t her fastest, but why push herself if the journey was half the fun?

“Okay, that’s enough,” Canary called.

Slowing down was a lot easier to do. Soon, she was landing beside Dany, bouncing on her feet excitedly. “So? How’d I do?”

“Your average there was 200 mph.” Canary’s eyebrows rose. “How long have you had your powers?”

“Since I was born,” Dani said proudly.

“She means four months.” Danny corrected. He ruffled her hair. “That’s still pretty good, Dani. I mean, it’s a little slower than me, but it’s still pretty good.”

“Bold of you to assume that was my top speed.” She gave him a sly look.

His grin turned to a look a surprise, then into a smirk. “Race?”

“Duh.” She took off, leaving behind a yell of ‘not fair!’

In not time, Danny passed her, waving as he breezed by, smug smile on his face. That was okay, because she just needed a few rounds around the room and—!

She blew him a kiss as she passed his shocked face. She laughed at his indignant cry.

The next few minutes consisted of a dangerous game of tag before Danny started to flag.

“What’s the matter, coz’?” Dani teased as she slowed. “Winded already.”

“Hey, I’m not used to flying more than what’s needed to catch ghosts.” He reasoned between pants. His cheeks were a little green from wind burn and a drop of sweat made its way down his temple. “Not all of us can take cross-country jaunts like you.”

“Don’t get too riled up.” She scoffed. “I still can’t go from 0-to-60 like you can. Or, well, 0 to 200?”

“Really?” He frowned.

“Yeah. I haven’t practiced enough.”

“I’ve always done that. I never had to practice.” He looked her over, as if looking for a problem. She hated it when people did that. It reminded her of her father. “I wonder if that changed with the something in the cloning process?”

“Who knows?” She shrugged, then noticed the figures waving at them down below. “Oh, yeah.”

They both descended, dropping to stand in front of Canary.

“Phantom, your max speed clocked in at 250 mph.” Canary read off the machine’s scanner. “Dani. You almost broke the sound barrier.”

“Sweet!” Dani beamed.

“Yeah, it is.” Danny ruffled her hair again, making it an absolute mess. “I was only at 215 half a year ago. You might actually break it one of these days!”

“Flex goals.” Dani batted him away and struggled to fix her hair. “What’s next?”

*             *             *             *             *

“So, how were they?” Batman asked. It was late at night. Robin was still at Mount Justice, hanging out with the two ghost teens and the rest of his friends. The girl clone was an unexpected surprise, but he’d already given Robin permission to pass on a communicator to her.

From the security cameras, Phantom looked thankful as his cousin gushed over having a ‘not-quite-phone-phone, because phones are so mainstream.’

Batman wondered how they kept in contact before, or if they did.

“They have their own strengths and weaknesses. Cloning didn’t make them equal,” Dinah said, dropping off a stack of papers and her report. “She beats him in speed, but he’s got her in the strength category. He has a more varied arsenal than she does, but whether that’s due to their individuality or whether her powers will develop in time, remains to be seen.”

“And his Ghostly Wail?” Batman asked, already shuffling through their results for pertinent information.

“He refused to use it.” She crossed her arms. “Even though I told him the training hall was meant to take damage. He says it’s a last resort only.”

“Hmm…” Batman narrowed his eyes as he looked over the girl’s charts and other notes Dinah had made. ‘Unstable’ sat in a dark red. He’d have to ask about it later. “Anything else?”

“His cryokinesis seems new.” Dinah shifted to his side in the dark of the cave. “Dani seemed to be surprised when he brought it up.”

Batman stiffened. “Danny?”

“Danielle Phantom, that’s her name I believe.” She reached forward to tap a finger on the header of Dani’s stack, where her name and basic information sat. “Though she goes by Dani-with-an-i, it seems.”

“Fitting,” Batman noted. So, did that mean she knew who Phantom was? Could she change like him? Or was it all a coincidence?

He’d have to investigate her more.

“They’re both good kids in unfortunate situations,” Canary said. “I was worried Phantom would act like Superman does to Superboy, but he seems to be more open to her.”

“Someone needs to be,” Batman said, turning back to the screens. “If her father is Plasmius, she needs all the help she can get.”

Chapter Text

Phantom returned to Amity Park that night, but Dani opted to stay and hang out with ‘actual girls, not plastic Barbies’. Artemis and M’gann were cool with keeping her entertained and the three of them had a slumber party that Kid Flash was totally not jealous of.

Dani stayed two days, then she was off into the world. She apparently spent most of her time as a nomad, which meant that she wasn’t getting proper schooling, but her grasp on foreign language and culture was better than even Robin, and he studied that stuff.

The summer turned into autumn and brought with it school. Dani flitted in and out, never staying for more than a day or two, but never gone for more than a fortnight. Phantom didn’t visit the base much at all, only when his cousin could convince him to join her in whatever plan she had. The two spoke often, now that they had communicators on hand. They made a private channel for themselves, but it wasn’t anything Robin couldn’t hack into if need be.

The team itself still visited Amity Park and Phantom was nice enough, but it grew obvious that something was on his mind, keeping his attention elsewhere.

“Hey,” Robin caught him one time after a quick patrol of the city. “Everything okay, dude?”

“Yeah, it’s just…” Phantom let out a frustrated huff. “Vlad hired a couple new ghost hunters around town. And they’re competent. More so than the Fentons or Red Huntress… More so than me. I’m glad for the help, I really am! But…”

“But fighting ghosts is your gig.” Robin put a hand on his shoulder. “I get it. It’s part of the reason Batman and I take on Gotham on our own. Yeah, we don’t have powers, but it’s our city. Not Superman’s or Wonder Woman’s. Ours.”

“Yeah, well…” Phantom’s shoulders dropped. “Maybe it’s a little more than that.”

Robin made a sound of question, but Phantom refused to talk more about it.

As the months passed and the days grew shorter, the team saw less and less of Phantom. Thanksgiving passed and Dani showed up to the cave for the meal, weary Phantom in tow and then…

Nothing.

Weeks passed.

Dani said that she knew what was up, but refused to say.

Robin tried to listen in on their channel, but the communicators were silent.

Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore.

First day of Christmas Break, he called Phantom, pacing the room as the communicator rang.

The voice that greeted him from the other end sounded different—less far away, less echoey. Dick had to wonder if he’d ever heard Phantom speak from the communicator. He never spoke to the team if he did.

“Phantom,” Dick said into the device. “I’m checking in. We haven’t heard from you in a while and Dani won’t tell us what’s going on. What’s with you?”

Robin?” The voice on the other end sighed. “I’m sorry I went MIA, but… I’m done.”

“With the team?” Well, that stung a bit. Robin had thought they’d been getting along, even if they weren’t the best of friends. “It would have been nice to at least know that before you ghosted on us.”

“Not just the team,” Phantom said. “Fighting ghosts, the superhero business, all effort and no thanks—all of it. I’m done. I’m just… done.”

“What?” What did he mean? Was Phantom going to the dark side? Was he becoming a villain? That couldn’t be… Dani would have said something, right?

“I’m sorry, Robin, but… I’m not going to answer the communicator anymore.” Phantom sounded sad. “It’s for the best.”

The call ended, but Dick wasn’t done. He had to know what Phantom meant. He had to get to the bottom of this. Someone like Phantom didn’t just stop being a hero. He was like Dick. It was in his blood.

Dick was determined to find out the cause.

Then the entire Justice League turned dark side and the conversation with Phantom fell to the back of his mind.

*             *             *             *             *

The Young Justice team had broken into the Watchtower on New Year’s Eve. They had recovered many heroes, but the original six were still left. Robin had to deal with a mind controlled Batman on his own.

In the middle of the fight with his mentor, his communicator trilled loudly. It was enough to make Robin misstep, something that couldn’t be afforded when faced with the Batman. Robin cursed and ducked a blow before rolling off the floor ledge and onto the level underneath. Batman was quick to follow.

Panting as he ran, Robin searched for a safe place to take the call. There was none.

The communicator trilled again.

“What?!” Robin barked into his communicator. He shot a grappling gun upwards and sailed through the air, Batman following close behind.

Where are you guys?!” A familiar yet not voice came from the other end. “We’ve got an emergency!”

Robin ducked into the vents. They were small enough Bruce couldn’t follow, but it only bought him as much time as it took for Bruce to find a terminal to the security system. If the defenses were activated, Robin would be toast.

“We’ve got an emergency of our own,” he shot back, fingers flying over his wrist computer. “Who is this? Phantom?”

Yes and I think my emergency warrants more concern!” The tinny voice was edged with panic. “Look, the world is about to be destroyed, I need you to get the League and—!”

“The League is down,” Robin cut in without a pause. “Mind control. My emergency. You’re on your own.”

On my own?! But I can’t—! I don’t have any—!”

Robin ended the call and scurried out of the vents. His hacking had only bought so much time. After all, he’d learned it from the Bat in the first place.

*           *           *           *           *

It wasn’t until afterwards, after they saved the League from themselves, that Robin remembered the call from Phantom.

“So not aster,” he groaned to himself as he dug out his communicator.

“What?” Wally asked. “Something else wrong? Please say no. I don’t think I can take much more!”

“Phantom had called me in the middle of our face-off,” Robin said, dialing the pseudo-recruit’s number.

The voice that picked up was harried.

“Phantom, what’s the situation?” Robin asked as the team and League gathered ‘round.

“Look, I can’t talk right now. There’s a giant meteor heading towards earth. I have maybe fifteen minutes before it hits us and everything we know is destroyed.”

“What?!” Wally squawked.

“It’s true.” Batman was already at a terminal, pulling up feeds. “The Disasteroid is what the media is calling it. Before the League went under, they had plans to blow it up. Looks like the missile hit the wrong asteroid.”

“Wait, so we went through all this trouble to save you guys and now Earth is going to explode?!” Wally looked close to hyperventilating. “Aunt Iris, the Garricks, Mom, Dad!”

“Wally, calm down!” Flash held onto is shoulders. “Superman can just fly over and smash it to pieces! They’ll be fine. Everyone will be.”

“Maybe if I was at full power.” Superman pushed himself up from the table. “That Kryptonite earlier did a number on me.”

“What’s more, even if he did, the remnants would rain down on earth, causing just as much destruction,” Batman warned. “If we had been in the right mind earlier…”

“No, you can’t…” Connor looked between the two of them. “There has to be something you can do! You’re Superman!”

“Superboy, there’s some stuff that even I can’t—!”

“Bull shit!” Connor shouted, teeth bared. “It’s not that you can’t! It’s that you won’t even try! Can’t lose a battle you never fought, right? Can’t mess up a son you never had!”

“Connor…”

“Guys, now is not the time for family drama!” Artemis pointed out the window. “Look!”

Everyone turned just as the earth disappeared before their very eyes.

It was like a wave; a single, all-encompassing tidal wave that started at the North Pole and spread itself south. From where the Watch Tower was positioned, they could see into the very core of the Earth until it, too, vanished as the wave reached the South Pole.

One second, two… then the asteroid flew by, larger than the Watch Tower, larger than some planets the League knew of. It sailed past, through the North Pole, through the center of the Earth and out the other end. Another second and Earth reappeared via the same tidal wave of power.

“Guys? Can someone explain to me what just happened?” Wally asked, green eyes wide. “Scientifically please.”

“Phantom turned the earth intangible,” M’gann breathed.

“He and every other ghost in existence,” J’onn agreed.

“Not exactly what I’m looking for.”

“The town of Amity Park let the creation of a world-wide device to distribute ecto-energy,” Batman relayed from the news network he was watching. “Phantom gather the ghosts and together, the device was able to harness their energy, amplify it, and use it on the entire earth.”

“Much better explanation.” Wally breathed a sigh of relief. “But, wow, Phantom did all that?”

“I think we should go down and congratulate him.” Robin put his hands on his hips, grinning widely.

“Especially for being there when we couldn’t be,” Artemis said, arms crossed.

“Does this mean we can also welcome him to the team?” M’gann asked, brightly. She fiddled with her air. “Officially, I mean. If he wants.”

“I don’t see why not.” Batman said as he watched the big screen. Three teens ran up to Phantom, tackling him until their combined weight took him down. The two scientists, Madeline and Jack Fenton were walking up, a serious look on their faces.

Batman had a feeling he knew what was coming next.

“B, you coming or what?” Robin called. “We’re gonna Zeta-down and grab a plane!”

“Just a minute.” Batman waited just long enough to see the bright rings around Phantom appear. Then he hit the jammer and watched as all live video feeds in the North Pole scrambled and turned to white noise. His own feed of the reporters showed them hurrying to fix their technical error, but they had already missed the moment of truth: Danny Phantom was Danny Fenton.

By the time the feeds came back up, all they caught was a family hugging each other, glad to still be alive to do so.

“Now, I’m ready.” Batman replied, turning with a swish of his cape.

“What was that about?” Robin frowned.

“Every hero needs their secret identity, especially from the world as a whole.” Batman said as they walked through the Zeta-tubes. “Phantom’s enemies already know who he is. He doesn’t need any more in the know.”

“What about the people there? The ones physically present?” Robin asked.

“His friends? Family? Teachers?” Batman shrugged. “He could use some more support. Besides, no hero keeps their identity form their family. Not for long. If he decided it was time to tell them, it was time.”

 

 

Epilogue

“I can’t believe you guys want me on your team.” Phantom said as the Zeta-tube announced his presence.

“After saving the world on at least three separate occasions?” Robin laughed. “I’m surprised B didn’t ask you sooner.”

“To be fair, we weren’t sure you wanted to join us after the silent treatment last year.” Kid Flash shrugged, pausing when the Zeta system announced two other names.

A23 – Sam Manson, A24 – Tucker Foley.”

“Whoa…” Sam said in awe as she took in the secret base.

“I can’t believe I’m in Mount Justice!” Tucker’s voice broke in his excitement. “It’s the original base, before they created the Hall of Justice and then the Watch-Tower out in space! This is comic-geek gold!”

“Just don’t go telling all your friends,” Shayera said as she leaned against the doorway. She and J’onn had been waiting to see the newest member of Young Justice, along with many others who hadn’t had a chance to greet him yet. “We like to keep this place a secret.”

Hawkwoman?!” Sam’s face lit up.

“And Red Tornado!” Tucker squealed. “Dibs on the Artificial Intelligence!”

“Dibs on the space warrior princess!”

“Hello Daniel.” J’onn greeted as the two other teens ran off. “I hear you are a fan of mine.”

Phantom’s face flushed green.

Pffft. Amateurs.” Dani scoffed from where she leaned against a wall. Beside her, Dinah raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“Nothing.” Dinah smiled.

Robin laughed. Yeah, he was pretty sure adding Phantom to the Young Justice, and later on the Justice League, was the best decision they could ever make.

And to think, he almost hadn’t wanted to go to that gala all those months ago.

Maybe Bruce did know more than he first let on.

Robin sought out his mentor in the crowd and saw Batman hanging around the edges, not working through the party for once. He raised his glass and Batman returned the gesture, small smile gracing his lips.

Robin laughed and rejoined his friends.