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stamina, stamina (i used to be holding the camera)

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You couldn’t pay Dash to admit this out loud, but he’s kind of regretting coming to this party. 

He doesn’t even know the kid who’s throwing it; some freshie whose dad works with Kwan’s dad anxious to score popularity points. The house is the same kind of nice as any A-listers, including his own. Fifteen enormous rooms with three people to rattle around them on a normal day, a swimming pool with a waterfall, all of the furniture artfully arranged like its been freshly plucked from a Pier 1 showroom. The kitchen’s got two ovens and a separate stove for some goddamn reason. No way either of this freshie’s parents are actually utilizing the space-age kitchen the way it’s designed to be. Daddy freshie works 80 hours a week and, from what gossip Kwan overheard his own dad spilling on a conference call, spends most weekends in the bed of a woman ten years younger than his wife. Mommy freshie is platinum blonde with heavy laugh lines at odds with how her forehead refuses to move and acrylic talons done in a French manicure. She laughs too loudly at the kind of chaos that only thirty drunk teenagers can wreck as she plays indulgent barkeep. Mommy freshie reeks of tequila and desperation. Dash’s own mom would flay this woman alive and be thanked for even bothering.

The music pumping out of the giant speakers (looming in a living room that doesn’t look like it’s ever been sat in) is loud enough to resonate in Dash’s chest, warring with his own heartbeat. THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD. There are words to the song, rattled off too quickly for him to pick out more than a handful. He has no context for the wrathful tone of the musician. The N-word is one he picks up a half dozen times in quick succession. There’s not one black kid at this party that he’s seen yet. 

Mommy freshie might have been an actual bartender in her former life; whatever she’s serving out with a wink and a nod and a “Better you have fun here instead of somewhere dangerous!” is strong. She’d handed him a paper cup brimming with something ink-dark, nearly no ice to water it down with. He’d downed it in three grimacing gulps alongside Kwan and Toby, the new wide receiver, and in no time at all his easy buzz had slam dunked into a total drunken topor. Damn, that took him out at the knees.

Dash parks his ass in a corner until the room stops spinning, attempting small talk with a redhead chick wearing fake eyelashes and glittery lipgloss. They have to shout to make themselves heard. She’s got a laugh like a roughly squeezed dog toy, but she’s actually pretty funny. Eventually she wanders off to go dance with her friend, and it occurs to Dash that he doesn’t know where Kwan went.

He gets up, abruptly realizes he’s still very fucking toasted when he tilts right into a bookshelf, takes a minute to laugh at himself. What a fucking waste of time. He could be home right now, working on The Plan. His big ticket out of the most haunted town in America. His one shot at not ending up a washed-up joke with a wife he’ll hate, a couple of kids he’ll regret, and a back surgery all under his belt long before he’s 30.

The last thing in the world he wants to be when he grows up is his father. 

He meanders from room to room, shying away from shadowed corners where limbs and tongues are tangled with total disregard of the leering and whooping. Kwan’s no voyeur. That’s half the reason they’re still friends, actual friends, despite the hell high school turned out to be. He shoulders past some kid he vaguely recognizes from geometry class sophomore year—the nose ring’s new—keeping an eye out for any glimpse of familiarity. Somehow the number of people here has doubled since he and Kwan got here. Mommy freshie’s vanished from the kitchen. Something glass bursts in a wet and brittle burst of noise barely heard over the pounding bass. Someone swears. Onlookers laugh.

No sign of Kwan on the first floor. There was a moment of hope out in the backyard, but the guy who climbs out of the pool shaking his head like a dog is only Kwan-adjacent in body type. His face is all wrong, a stranger. Definitely older than most of the people here. Hopefully he’s just a neighbor or something. Somebody normal.

Upstairs is a bust too, and he nearly busts his ass going up and down the stairs. Dash has to swallow a bizarre jolt of envy when he sees the freshie’s bedroom. It’s fucking massive, easily twice the size of his own, and the bed’s off in nook that must be part of the circular tower that marks the entrance to this wanna-be castle. There’s a flat screen hung on the wall bigger than the one in his own living room, an aquarium screensaver at odds with the framed posters of bikini girls draped over loudly painted muscle cars.

Dash feels out of his element, and vaguely wanting something to busy his hands with. He takes another loop through the kitchen, failing to find Kwan there but managing to arrive in time to find another senior doling out shots of something they call a blue suicide, never mind that it’s a garish shade of purple. It tastes like drain cleaner and numbs his whole mouth. He’s going to regret everything when he spends all of Saturday huddled miserably over the toilet, but—

—fuck it, he thinks sourly, grabbing another shot amid a loud chorus of whooping. Absolutely fuck it. What’s it even matter. He’s young and stupid and full of wasted potential, and for all he knows a ghost could kill him tomorrow. So. Fuck it.

Three guys are huddled around the kitchen sink, doing something horrible with a bottle of Everclear and a watermelon. He already knows that combination only ever ends in vomit. He cradles his second horrible shot carefully in both hands, skirting his way past two giggling girls. The music pounds and shrieks; somebody’s put on some bullshit from that DDR game everybody loved a couple years back, and now the whole house is brimming over with mean and incredulous laughter. 

Even as the first shot starts to freshen up the tingling numbness of his hands he accepts that he needs a break from the crowd or he’s gonna flip his lid. He eyes a trio of doors in the hallway perpendicular to the main entrance. One of them’s gotta be the garage, right? He doubts too many people would be in there.

He fumbles his drink to one hand, grimacing when it spills a little, and tries his luck. 

“Voilà,” he mutters to himself, when it’s not a coat rack he opens up on but the garage. He totters down the two steps, slamming the door behind him harder than he meant to. Whatever. Not like anybody’d hear it over the shitty music.

There aren’t any cars in here now, though there’re stains on the concrete suggesting two park here regularly. There are a bunch of storage shelves, cardboard boxes labeled in bubbly black letters. CHRISTMAS, a bunch yell at him. HALLOWEEN, half as many holler. The world’s smallest Pomeranian barks at him from the lap of none other than Danny fucking Fenton.

“Ugh,” Dash says.

Fenton simply raises one amused eyebrow, a tangle of gangly limbs heaped atop a pile of camping tarps. One of his eyes is swollen, well on its way to bruising. “Nice to see you too,” he says.

“What’re you doin’ here, Fenton?”

The other eyebrow crawls up. “Wow. No insulting pet names? You must be drunk.”

He makes a face, mostly hating that Fenton’s right. This is far from the first time he’s ever been this drunk, so he’s well acquainted with how calm and uncreative he is at this point. He nods at the dog. “Cute.”

Fenton’s grin is a wide and shameless slice of pink-stained teeth. Far from the first time, Dash wonders who the fuck has the guts to put this psycho through the wringer. He gave up intimidating Fenton years ago. “Right? I’m kinda tempted to steal him. I’m no good with living dogs, but at least I’m smart enough not to lock one in the garage without any fucking water.”

Dash blinks. Affront curdles unpleasantly in his gut, followed sluggishly by outrage. He thinks of Pookie, killed in junior year thanks to yet another ghost attack, and is completely fine with the growl that decides to crawl into his voice. “The fuck.”

Fenton nods agreeably, then points to a cereal bowl full of water a few feet from his knee. There’s another cereal bowl next to it, partially filled with kibble. “Don’t worry. I took care of it.”

Next to Fenton's other knee is an entire tray of neon-bright jello shots. Half of the plastic cups are empty, which is as good a reason as any to explain his sloppy grin and loose joints. He never relaxes at school, always walking around like he's itching for any excuse to throw a punch. The one buttery light in here is just bright enough to see the white scars criss crossing his thin face. 

Dash nods at the tray, and raises his own eyebrows in turn. Fenton’s grin widens.

“Figured I’d do all a’ their livers a favor,” he says. “Or at least their taste buds. These things are awful.”

“You weren’t invited,” Dash says. He doesn’t bother making it a question. Fenton’s not been invited to a single party since freshman year, at least as far as Dash knows. He’s too—much. Everybody uses a different adjective to describe him—too weird, too mean, too rough, too freaky—but they can all agree on one thing. Fenton is too much for anybody to risk having him around.

Fenton laughs, low and slow. The Pomeranian shivers under his broad hands, demanding scritches to calm it down. Fenton obliges, never breaking eye contact. “Course not. Nobody likes having the freak around. I’m a goddamn magnet for ghost attacks after all, aren’t I?”

“I—”

“Relax. I was in the neighborhood, heard the ruckus. Thought I’d crash it, have a little fun. That’s not a crime, is it?”

Technically, yes. Not like Dash is in any position to point fingers though. Underage drinking is underage drinking, invited or otherwise. He grunts instead, wavering his way across the garage to lean unsteadily against a workbench that doesn’t look like it’s ever been used. He takes great care in setting his drink down so as not to spill any more of it; talking to Fenton always gives him a headache. He’s gonna want the extra lubrication for this freak’s bullshit. 

The Pomeranian tumbles clumsily out of Fenton’s lap to come sniffing at Dash’s ankles. It’s so fucking tiny. Dash’s heart swells with helpless joy in the face of such a ridiculous orange puffball. He sinks to his knees, gritting his teeth against the spins of having drunk too much too quickly, and lets the dog bounce around in his hands. It’s got a collar on, a hint of black amid its fluff and a jangle of metal. It takes him a few tries to catch the tag, and he has to squint to read it. 

“Charlie, huh,” he says. It comes out in an embarrassing slur of syllables, barely intelligible. Shu-sharlie. Fuck, but he’s druink. He doesn’t like getting this sloppy. His head still feels clear enough, but his body’s been turned to so much sludge. If anything were to happen—if a ghost were to show up—he’d be less than useless. He’d be a liability.

Charlie the Pomeranian is wheezing he’s so excited to have another person focusing on him. It’s probably a good thing the little guy’s locked out here instead of in the midst of 30+ drunk teenagers. That sounds like a good way for a dog this little to end up dead, and nobody’d ever own up to it either. He digs his nails in a little deeper up and down Charlie’s back. His hands are that perfect amount of tingly to send shivers up and down his arms. He can’t help but grin stupidly at the dog. He wonders if Charlie is freshie’s dog or his mom’s. Either way, Fenton’s right. It’s not right to leave a little guy like this without any food or water. At least it’s cold in here.

“Yup,” Fenton says agreeably. Dash blinks at him. Blinks again. Realizes he must’ve said some of that out loud. Grunts. Figures that’s enough of an answer for the likes of the freak.

Fenton seems fine with even that much. He huffs amusement through his nose and takes another jello shot (yellow) from the tray. He slurps it down, shudders, tosses the empty plastic. “I like getting drunk,” he declares. “Shame I can’t actually stay drunk for long.”

“Yeah?” Dash offers, wary. 

“Yeah,” Fenton says. “Nothin’ matters after a while, y’know? It’s just—elsewhere. All the bullshit. Shoved off out of sight for a little while. It’s just you, me, and Charlie here. S’like I get to be normal for a while.” 

Fenton grins.

Dash shivers.

“Yeah,” he says. “S’pose it’s nice.”

Fenton laughs again, rougher than before. “Aw, what? Does the reigning party king disagree?” 

Dash snorts. “Yeah. Right. Th’fuck gave you that idea?”

Fenton shrugs, gestures expansively at all of Dash. “Hot-shot quarterback four years running. Isn’t being a party animal, like, part of the job description?”

Dash grunts. “You watch too many movies.”

Fenton snorts, picks up another jello shot (orange), slurps it down. Dash feels a vague sense of disquiet. Unease. Concern. He’s pretty sure that tray was full when Fenton stole it. He’s pretty sure nobody ought to drink that many jello shots that fast, but he doesn’t know how to tell Fenton to quit while he’s ahead without sounding like he cares. He stays quiet, scritching Charlie under the collar. Charlie has obviously declared him the best thing to happen to him since Fenton. 

“You’re funny,” Fenton says, pointing at him with a third jello shot (orange again) already in hand. “I forget that sometimes, but you are. When you’re not trying to be, anyway.”

“Huh?”

“When you’ve got a audience.” Fenton frowns, irritation there and gone again. “An audience. When you know people’re watchin’, you’re awful. I fuckin’ hate you when you’re showin’ off.” There’s not an ounce of ire in his voice. Matter-of-fact and business-like. It’s fucking bizarre, but that’s Fenton all over. “But when you’re on your own? Talking shit for shit’s sake? You’re actually pretty funny.”

Dash frowns at him. He feels like he’s being insulted somehow, but any way he looks at it Fenton doesn’t actually sound insulting. “...Thanks.”

Fenton wheezes laughter, digging the heel of one hand into his swollen eye before throwing back the shot. Put a gun to Dash’s head and he woulda sworn Fenton wasn’t one for drinking. Not out of like, moral reasons or whatever. Not like his sister Jazz, who had once spent a half hour expounding at Dash all her reasons for waiting to drink so much as a hard cider until she was 21. Fenton just always seemed… uninterested in something so normal as partying. Like it’s beneath him to do something so normal.

That… that doesn’t feel right, actually, now that Dash is thinking about it. He knows Fenton tried the partying scene way back when in their freshman year, but that may as well be a hundred years ago with all that’s happened. They’re all different people than they were way back when.

Not for the first time, Dash wonders what seniors in normal high schools in normal cities do and feel on the cusp of graduation. Him? He’s just—fingers crossed, eyes squeezed shut, hoping nothing as cataclysmic as Pariah Dark or Undergrowth turns up before he can graduate and get the fuck out of this hellhole. If something as bad as that turns up he knows he’ll be less than useless. If something as bad as that turns up all he’ll be able to do is lay low and pray Phantom saves his ass.

Once upon a time he was the big man on campus. Once upon a time was a long ass fuckin’ time ago, though.

“Uh oh,” Fenton says, eyes glittering. “That’s not a happy face.”

Dash scowls. “What d’you care?”

“I care,” is all Fenton says. He looks at Dash like he expects Dash to know what the fuck he’s on about without needing him to spell it out. Dash lives to disappoint though, so he just pours Charlie the Pomeranian out of his lap so he can awkwardly heft himself up enough to grab his shitty shot. He’s tempted to down it to get through the worst of the taste, but he’s a little bit sure he’s one hard shock away from puking already. He settles for glaring at the noxious purple drink, twisting the cup in his hands. The smell of it alone burns his nose.

Fenton huffs quietly. Neutrally. Dash can’t make heads or tails of what the huff’s supposed to mean. “You come here alone?”

What does Fenton care? Why would Fenton ever care about him? “Uh. No. I came with Kwan. Couple other guys from the team. They’re—” He waves his free hand vaguely at the door to the house. “—around.”

“Around,” Fenton echoes, his tone that flat sort of sarcastic he’s infuriatingly good at, pointing out how not around Dash’s friends are currently. Like Dash doesn’t know. Like Dash is an idiot who needs every little thing spelled out for him. What an asshole. 

“Yeah,” he says. “They’re off having fun. That a crime?”

Fenton rolls his eyes so hard his head follows suit, dropping heavily to one shoulder. His eyes—one narrowed thoughtfully, the other swollen nearly shut—are too bright, too focused. For all that he physically seems as trashed as Dash is, he’s way too attentive. “And what about you?”

“Huh?”

Another indolent gesture, sweeping across the garage. “The party’s inside, dude. Why'd you come out here?"

"Why did you?" Dash counters.

Fenton snorts. "I wasn't invited, remember? I show my face and Keith'll throw my ass to the curb."

"Who?"

Fenton's sharp gaze turns pitying. "The guy throwing the party. Damn, Baxter, tell ‘im how you really feel, if you can even be bothered to remember what he looks like.”

He does know what the freshie—Keith, apparently—looks like, thanks very much. He’s that particular kind of burly that’d just be fat on anybody who didn’t spend all his time running drills. Another year, two max, he’ll be the biggest guy on the team. Probably one of the biggest guys in school, period. Not that Dash’ll be around to see how he shapes up. Best case scenario Dash’ll never step foot in Amity Park again.

He grunts, glowering at his shot. He doesn’t want it. Why the fuck did he even grab it? He should’ve quit while he was ahead with whatever the hell Keith’s mom gave him. He sets it clumsily down so he can fish his cell phone out of his pocket.

“Well?”

“Huh?” Oh, right. Fenton had asked him a question. “Wanted some air.”

“Air,” Fenton repeats flatly. “In the garage. Instead of out on the half-acre of yard?”

“I wanted some space,” he says through gritted teeth.

“Space. Which clearly this McMansion is lacking. I swear you could fit all of Fenton Works in here with room to spare. Well, not the lab. And definitely not the Ops Center. Okay, maybe I’m not one to throw rocks in glass McMansions, but—”

His temper, already strained from being at this stupid party too long, frays entirely. “I wanted to be alone for five fuckin’ minutes, okay?! Is that okay with you? Fuck, Fenton, just let it go!”

Nngh. Yelling when drunk leaves his head pounding. He slumps against the workbench, bullying his thumbs into typing out a legible text to Kwan. Where r u?? This party sux. Here’s hoping Riley, the other wide receiver and tonight’s DD, didn’t sneak a few shots. Again. He really doesn’t want to crash here if he can help it.

Charlie bounces his front paws off of Dash’s knee, demanding more scritches. Dash obliges a bit, then takes a few pictures to send to Star later. She’s as weak for cute dogs as he is. She’s the only one of his friends who cried over Pookie.

“Are you okay?” 

It takes him a beat to realize it’s Fenton who asked. His voice has gone soft with—genuine concern in a way Dash is certain he’s never heard before. He lowers his phone to stare incredulously.

Fenton immediately ducks his chin and looks down at Charlie, looking weird all over. Embarrassed. That’s what he looks like. Dash can’t remember the last time he ever saw Fenton look anything less than confident and sneering, but lo and behold: an unmistakable embarrassed flush darkening his ears to match the pink stains too many jello shots has painted on his scarred face. 

“I—” Fenton breaks off, clearing his throat. “You’ve seemed—down. For a while now. Didn’t know how to ask without, y’know. Overstepping, or something. But I… are you okay?”

Dash swallows. Wets his mouth. Considers his options. Not like anybody talks to Fenton but his own freaky friends, right? Not like anybody’d ever think to talk to Fenton if they could help it. He huffs through his nose a little, abruptly too tired for real laughter. Damn, but he must really look pathetic if Fenton’s been worried about him. “I… didn’t get my scholarship.”

“What?”

“Scholarship,” he repeats, taking care to get all the damn slippery syllables out. It’d be great to be able to feel his fucking tongue if he’s gonna hash this conversation out with Casper’s freakiest freak. “I needed a full ride and I flubbed it. The recruiter said—” His mouth twists. That’s nothing Fenton has any right to hear. “Can’t afford the college I was gonna go to otherwise, so. S’all kinda fucked. So. Yeah. I’m not okay.”

Fenton’s quiet a moment, rasping his fingers together to catch Charlie’s attention. The Pomeranian trots over happily enough, falling over to let Fenton get at his little belly. It’s so cute Dash thinks he could almost die happy right here, but like hell is he even gonna make jokes like that anymore. Not when three kids from Casper have come back as ghosts after getting killed in some of the real nasty attacks, never mind however many others. 

“I thought….” Fenton hums. “I thought you were the real-life Ritchie Rich. More money than you could ever spend and all that.”

Dash snorts unkindly. “Thought you woulda figured it out by now, Fenton. Us A-listers aren’t really all that rich, y’know. It’s all—what’s-it. Smoke and mirrors. Keeping up with the Joneses.” He shrugs. “Y’know. Bullshit.”

Fenton laughs, and almost sounds like he means it. “Guess I shouldn’t take everything Sam says at face value, huh?”

Manson, right. Sometimes he forgets that girl’s the real kind of rich, the kind that leaves everyone but Paulina’s family choking in the dust. “Definitely not.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” A fourth jello shot (green) appears in Fenton’s free hand. “So. No backup plan?”

He grimaces, shrugging one shoulder. “Never thought I’d need one, y’know?”

“Mm.”

“But. I’m—workin’ on one. Should be doin’ that now. I dunno why the hell I agreed to come here. None of this matters anyway.”

“Pump the breaks there, Captain Nihilism.” Fenton throws his head back to down the shot, his long throat working with an audible gulp. “You got loads’a potential, y’know? You’re more’n just a dumb jock, for all that you pretend so hard that that’s’all you are.”

“Uh.”

“Shut up. It’s a compliment.” Fenton hauls Charlie into his lap to get better leverage. Charlie is nothing short of euphoric. Does Keith’s family ever pay the little guy any attention? “Here’s what I see, okay? A good guy. A good fuckin’ guy who’s had his whole life upended by monsters deadset on killin’ him. Not out of anything you’ve done, or been for, or wanted to be, or whatever. Just ‘cuz the mess your meat woulda made on the pavement would’ve made a funny sound. That’s it. That’s all humans are to ghosts. A bit of fun. A bit of use. Like—like a puddle a kid’ll stomp in just to see how big a splash they can make. That’s what you are.”

“Fuck you too, Fenton.”

“Shut up. M’not done.” 

Fenton leans back against the wall, tarps squeaking under his ass and Charlie wheezing delightedly. His eyes are too bright, too clear, too focused. He’s easily had as much to drink as Dash but he hardly looks like. For all that he’s slouching he looks one spook away from bolting. He still finds a hidden well of sass to wag his finger at Dash like a disappointed teacher. Fucking weirdo. 

“You—okay. You. Dash Baxter, you fuckin’ lunatic—time and time again you coulda turned tail and ran off alongside every other human with a couple’a brain cells to rub together. You’re not shit against a ghost. You’re not shit against the Box Ghost! But you still—you still jumped up to protect your friends. All the time. Any time you thought you could make a difference you tried. You tried, man. And that’s awesome. You are awesome.”

Dash stares. It feels fairly fucking warranted. He kind of wants to pinch himself to see if he’s dreaming. Never in a million years did he think Danny fucking Fenton would ever have one nice thing to say about him. Why would he?

“What—” He coughs. His throat feels like he downed that second blue suicide after all, burning with a hurt too strong to taste. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

The way Fenton says it makes guilt curdle so heavy in his gut Dash wishes he were too drunk to hold his liquor. It’s—genuine, is what it is. Pfft. Who’d ever care about the town kooks’ delinquent kid? What reason has he ever given anybody to bother?

He swallows again, sliding his phone away. He’ll feel it if Kwan finally texts back, and anyway this—feels important. Necessary. Like it deserves his 110%. “What’re you gonna do? After graduation?”

Fenton rolls his head to look at Dash head-on, smirking indulgently. “Well, my folks run a little business, Baxter. Maybe you’ve heard of it. And business has been fuckin’ booming. Maybe you’ve noticed.”

“Fuck you,” Dash says again, without any venom this time. “Is that what you wanna do? I thought—”

“You thought what?” Softly spoken. Not curious, but cautious. Unease sends shivers up his skin, and he can’t for the life of him think of any reason why.

“I… I thought you hated ghosts.”

Fenton’s lip curls. In amusement, not disgust. In a joke Dash can’t make heads or tails of. “What ever gave you that idea?”

A hundred little reasons, too slight to list. A thousand. Dash can count the number of times he’s seen Fenton stand his ground against a ghost on one hand. He settles on a shrug. It seems safer. Smarter.

Fenton knocks his head against the wall. Thud. Charlie twitches, startled, but settles again quick enough. “I…. Ha. Y’know, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. How crazy is that?”

Dash stays quiet.

“Yeah,” Fenton says, like Dash confirmed something anyway. “I thought it was the coolest thing. Going where two, three dozen other people will ever go. Out on the edge of human endurance. Alive all the way up there thanks to a few tubes and canisters. Seeing the stars in a way nobody all the way down here could ever dream of.”

Fenton sighs, deep and explosive. Regretful.

“But that was then. Now? Now I’m—this. Fast-tracked. One-way ticketed into a role I never wanted. But if I stop…. Well. I got enough blood on my hands. I don’t need to start adding to that outta negligence.” He grins. All those jello shots have finally washed the blood from his teeth. “No rest for the wicked, right?”

His hip buzzes. Kwan, probably. He doesn’t reach for it. “...Right.”

Fenton leans forward without warning, the one eye capable of movement widening manically. “Hey. How were you plannin’ on gettin’ home?”

Dash blinks. “Uh. Riley was gonna drive—”

Fenton blows a raspberry at him, obnoxious and wet. “He’s plastered, man. Saw him fall into the pool when I breezed through the backyard. Skylar and TJ had to fish him out. No way am I lettin’ you get in a car with him at the wheel.”

“Wh—”

Fenton gives Charlie one last rough pet before easing him down near the water bowl, then swings up in a bizarrely boneless slide of limbs to his feet. He doesn’t waver at all. “Here—your birthday’s comin’ up soon, yeah?”

“What? I mean, yeah. Next week. How the hell did you—”

“I’ll get you home, safe and sound. My gift from me to you.” Fenton’s suddenly on top of him, closing the gap between them in the blink of an eye. Dash always forgets somehow, how frickin’ tall Fenton turned out. He looms, lean and gangly. The blue suicide appears in one of his hands like a magic trick. “Waste not, want not, right?”

He downs it, and immediately chokes. “Jesus Christ,” he coughs out. “What was that?”

“Uh. Dunno. You’re not gonna drive after all that, are you?”

“Ha! Hell no. I don’t even have my license. Didn’t see the point of botherin’, y’know?”

“Huh?”

“Watch your eyes.”

“Huh?”

The garage explodes with white light. Dash flinches hard enough to knock his head against the workbench. He’s drunk enough to not really feel it, clearheaded enough to know he’s gonna have a knot the size of an egg on his head come morning. He rubs his watering eyes, blinking rapidly—

—and Phantom’s standing above him.

Tall and muscled and lean, broad shouldered and long-limbed, a jaw any Hollywood star would kill to have, a devil-may-care grin splitting his scarred face. Phantom, Amity Park’s resident ghost superhero and arguably savior of the whole goddamn world, considering the monsters that he’s gone toe-to-toe with and beaten.

He looks just like Fenton. Of course he does. How the fuck did Dash never notice before now?

“They always harp on not drinking and driving,” Phantom says cheerfully. “Drinking and flying though, nobody seems to have a problem with that one.”

“Wh-wh-wha-whaaaaat the fuck?!”

Phantom holds his hands up peaceably, not that it actually means much because he can shoot lasers strong enough to level city blocks out of his palms. “Easy, easy, my dude. Peace be with you, and also with you. I was in an accident in my parents’ lab freshman year. I’ve always been Phantom. Phantom’s always only been Danny Fenton with a sci-fi dye job. Figured it was safer to keep it on the downlow, for all the good it’s done me.”

“You—you’re—the fuck—”

“I know, I know. Kind of a hard pill to swallow. We can talk on the way to your place. Better hurry though; I sober up quick thanks to my bullshit half-ghost anatomy. I might change my mind if you just sit there gawkin’ at me any longer.”

“H-half-ghost?!”

Phantom—Fenton??—sighs. Holds out one white-gloved hand to help him up. Dash stares at it for entirely too long. Trying to reconcile the rough palms of Fenton with the hero who’s saved his life more times than he can count standing in front of him. One and the same. Fenton and Phantom are one and the same—

“Accident,” he parrots, halfway to hysterical. The word may as well be filched from a language he’s never heard a word of before tonight. Swahili. Urdu. Thai. A meaningless collection of syllables he’ll never have any reason to parse. But here he is, trying to make sense of Casper’s freakiest freak being—

—a hero.

The white glove flaps impatiently in his face. He reaches up on some hindbrain instinct—hardly the first time he’s reached for Phantom, certain he was safe now that the one ghost in Amity Park’s corner had arrived on the latest scene of calamity. Phantom’s grip is iron. More than iron. Phantom could crush his hand to bone-splintered meat in half a heartbeat if he were so inclined, but he wouldn’t He would never, because Phantom is a hero—

Fenton has been a hero all this time.

Dash doesn’t know if he should blame the alcohol wreaking havoc on his system or this starstruck realization that the kid he used to beat on for fun is his literal lifesaver a dozen times over for how the garage is spinning in total freefall around him. He has to lean against Phantom to keep his feet under him. Phantom’s too cold for comfort, cold enough to hurt, but stalwart and reliable and strong all the same.

“Hey,” Phantom says, catching his chin with a few icy fingers. It’s only once he’s forcibly unable to shake his head that Dash realizes he was shaking his head at all. His whole world rocks on its heels, a breath away from tipping over entirely. 

“Hey,” Phantom repeats gently. “I know. Trust me, man. I know. It’s bullshit all the way down.”

“I—you’re really—?”

Phantom loops one long arm over his shoulders, pulls him close. His eyes are burning, impossibly bright, impossibly green. Ghost green. The same green that could burn in the hand loosely draped over his collarbone. The same green that killed Pookie, and three other kids at Casper, and who knows how many others besides.

But Phantom had tried to save them. Tried to save all of them. Even Pookie. Fenton had tried, and gotten spat on, and worse, for his efforts.

“Really,” Phantom says, and presses a kiss cold as an ice cube to the corner of his mouth. “Sorry to disappoint.”

“You. I. Um.”

Phantom chuckles softly, pulling back and bending down to give Charlie one last rough scritch up and down his spine for the road. Charlie seems totally unperturbed by the development of his favorite human not being as human as advertised. “You good to go? Anybody you wanna say hasta mañana too?” 

“Uh. Uh. H-hang on.” He scoots back the scant few inches between Phantom and the workbench he can manage, fumbling his phone out of his pocket. The text he’d felt earlier is from Kwan after all. Do u wanna bail? He texts back, heedless of typos in the face of Phantom standing a foot away from him, Chill out, got a ride. Ttyt.

He pockets his phone, gulps, forces himself to look up to meet Phantom’s—Fenton’s—neon green gaze. “I’m good.”

Phantom snorts. The same way Fenton does, of course. “Sure you are. Hang on.”

“Wh—”

Phantom grabs him, too cold and too strong, and a shiver like a painless electric shock runs through him from head to toe. His mouth snaps shut so hard his teeth click. He knows this for what it is. Intangibility. Weightlessness. Phantom hauls him up by the armpits with the same ease Dash could balance a football on two fingers. Charlie barks an alarm that will go unheard, and Dash is pulled up through the garage roof before he has a chance to wave farewell at the world’s smallest Pomeranian, and then they’re up, and up, and up—

A terrified yelp escapes him despite his best efforts. He vaguely, absently feels Phantom’s grip tighten on him. “S’okay,” Phantom says. “I got you.”

“I know,” he replies, then musters up the balls to ask, “This isn’t a joke, is it? You’re really Fenton?”

“Yup.”

No more, no less.

“Huh,” he says.

“I’m going out on a limb, you know,” Phantom says. “Trusting you with this. Sam and Tucker’re gonna kill me when they find out, but. Call me curious. I wanna know what you’ll do.”

Blocks of suburbia blur beneath Dash’s dangling feet at terrifying speeds. If Phantom were so inclined to drop him at this speed and at this height, it’d be a mercy if he died on impact. “What I’ll do?”

“I’ve kept the Phantom thing a secret all this time for a reason, “ Phantom says agreeably. “It’s not the ghosts I’m worried about. Not really. I’ve learned the hard way it’s people you gotta worry about.”

“Oh,” Dash says. “Okay.”

“Just think about it, will ya? As much as you can, in the shape you’re in. If you don’t remember this, then—whatever. But if you do? We—well. We can talk later, once you’ve sobered up. How’s that sound?”

“Insane,” Dash says, which sets Phantom off, laughing so hard he has to stop flying. Dash bobs in his grip, up and down, hideously aware of how far the ground is below him. An accident. An accident turned Fenton into—a ghost? Something like a ghost? He’s aging, unlike the normal humanoid ghosts that come and go for their own incomprehensible reasons. Fenton used to be ludicrously shorter than Dash once upon a time. Now he’s nearly as tall as Jack Fenton, wiry and hard-angled and supernaturally calm. All those infuriating and sleazy grins Fenton’s flashed at him over the years make so much more sense now. Of course the guy trying to strongarm fucking Phantom into a locker is a joke. 

“I won’t forget,” he swears. “And I won’t tell. I promise.”

Above him, Phantom hums. The ghostly echo in his low voice resonates down his arms, settling in Dash’s bones like an 18-wheeler rumbling by. Alien. Impossible. Incredible. “I hope so.”

“I promise,” Dash repeats as the roof of his house appears beneath him. This isn’t the first time Phantom’s dropped him off at home. It feels like it should be.

Phantom sets him down on the sidewalk, tail flickering, hands clenching and relaxing in haphazard turns. Nervous. Scared, even. Phantom—Fenton—is really sticking his neck out here. Dash is—flattered—to be trusted with this. He wonders how many others know. Foley and Manson, definitely. Are there any others? 

“Do your parents know?”

Phan—Fenton’s mouth quirks. “Nah.”

“How come?”

“Couldn’t find a good time to tell ‘em.” Fenton nods toward his house. “You got your keys? I can drop you into your room instead, if y’like.”

Dash pats his pockets, feels the familiar jangle of his keyring. “M’good. Thanks.”

“No problem.”

He grabs Ph—Fenton’s wrist, tugs him a few inches closer to the ground. “Thank you.”

Fenton’s arm wavers, fading cleanly through Dash’s fist like smoke. “...Yeah,” he murmurs. “See you around, Dash.”

“You too. Danny.”

Fenton blinks. His smile is small, shy, real. He winks out of sight, and Dash is alone again. 

It’s not half so bad this time, though.