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The first time Valerie had asked her dad why it was always so foggy in Amity Park, he’d laughed kindly, and explained to her how fog worked. She had accepted the explanation, worked through it a while—as children were wont to do—and then realized it didn’t actually explain anything.

The second time she asked, he frowned at her, telling her it wasn’t foggy at all. She had looked at the green mist seeping from between the tiles of the sidewalk, pouring out of the dirt between the roots of trees and grass, and resolved not to ask again.

Of course, that didn’t stop her from asking Star. Star, after all, was her best friend, and surely she would understand what Valerie meant. Right?

But Star hadn’t understood either. Claimed that she didn’t see the fog that seemed impossible to miss. And worse still, Paulina overheard. Overheard, and spread rumors all around the school. Before Valerie knew, everyone in the school thought she was crazy, that she saw things that weren’t real.

Valerie had looked at the coalescing mist, watched it thicken and coil into the shape of a cat, and decided that she would just have to figure it out herself.

And, honestly? She had. It wasn’t perfect, of course, but she thought she had done fairly well for herself. Not that she could ever tell anyone what she knew, what she could see. She just had to take one look at the Fentons, at how far their children had been cast out for the crime of being related to people so sure of the existence of ghosts.

She herself had clawed her back way to mildly reputable, over time. Valerie Gray had no plans to go back to that pit of nonexistence.

So, yes. She could see ghosts. Or, maybe not ghosts proper. Spirits seemed to be a closer description. The natural presence of ectoplasm in the very atmosphere of Amity Park, seeping into their reality from another dimension.

Loathe as she was to say it, she was pretty sure the Fentons were at least somewhat right about ghosts. They lived primarily in a different dimension, sustained by its ectoplasm. In places where the boundary between their own dimension and the so-called Ghost Zone grew thin, this ectoplasm could seep through.

It was the ectoplasm in the air which supported lingering spirits, however briefly. Never long enough for them to develop into a proper ghost—which apparently could be seen by anyone—but enough for Valerie to see them. The recently diseased remained incorporeal, soft and foggy like the green mist they were made out of.

It was… Well, not okay, certainly, but… normal? For her, at least. There was no danger to it, not really. The lingering spirits were short-lived, couldn’t touch, and didn’t make sounds. Often, they didn’t even realize she could see them. And why would they, when no one else could?

So by age fourteen, in her first year of high school, Valerie had quite settled into this pattern of existence. Yes, she could see ghosts, and no, she didn’t plan on doing anything with that skill. What could she do with it? Become an ecto-scientist like the Fentons, dismissed for the rest of her life? Please. No, she was perfectly satisfied with living an ordinary life, without ever acknowledging her ability to see ghosts and spirits.

Until, one perfectly ordinary day, not too long after the school year had started… Danny Fenton changed.

Now, Valerie didn’t know him all that well. She had fought too hard to become a respectable kid to throw it away on outcasts like him, pity or no. And pity him, she did, because she knew what it felt like. To be pushed away just because they were different.

But, unlike her, Danny Fenton had friends. He might’ve wanted better, but he wasn’t alone. He would make do. It wasn’t her problem, so she didn’t bother with him.

Seeing him walk into Lancer’s classroom absolutely wreathed in ecto-green smoke made her reconsider her previous conclusion. Because that? That wasn’t normal. She had, quite frankly, never seen anything like that before.

It took considerable effort to keep her eyes off of Fenton. The fog continued to pour out of him, thicker than most spirits could manage. Something must’ve happened at his home, with his parents’ inventions. Something which caused him to emit ectoplasm in such high amounts.

Well, maybe it was just his body expelling it? That would explain it, yeah? It would stop eventually, once all ectoplasm was gone, and then everything would be fine again.

Besides, it didn’t seem like he injured or dying or whatever else could cause it. So. Nothing to worry about.

Except it didn’t go away. Not entirely. Over time, the fog seemed to… change. No longer did it seep out of Danny like it poured out of the ground, but now it seemed to coil around him. Like it had settled in his flesh, a perfect mimic of his body except in the soft mist of ectoplasm. It was almost like the few times she had seen spirits pass through physical objects, but not… not quite.

Quietly, Valerie resolved to continue to ignore it. It wasn’t her problem. Just because she could see spirits and ectoplasm and what-not didn’t mean she had to be responsible for it, did it? Danny’s own parents were ghost experts. If something was wrong with him, surely they would know?

So she turned a blind eye, unwilling to get involved with any kind of ghostly business.

The first ghost she saw, therefore, wasn’t in real life. It was on the television.

Of course, no one seemed to realize it was a ghost. A massive lumbering heap of flesh—meat products, apparently—which had lumbered around near the school briefly before disappearing. All kinds of explanations popped up, but none quite rung true—and none could deny the shaky video footage.

Shaky video footage, on which Valerie could clearly see the dense green fog in the meat, binding it together with some kind of ectoplasmic force.

The footage didn’t last long enough to see the thing disappear, but witnesses said that it suddenly fell apart, showering the parking lot with seemingly mundane meat products. The clean-up had been a huge mess, or so they said.

It left Valerie feeling… off-balance. For years, she’d learned about her ability, figured out what was what. It seemed stable, certain. There were limits, things that were always the same. Ectoplasm, and spirits. And now, for the second time within a month, she saw something she didn’t know.

So she gritted her teeth, and decided to check out the leftovers of… whatever it was that had lumbered around her school.

Looking back, she wasn’t sure why she had expected to learn anything useful from the leftover meat. A little ectoplasm clung to it still, when she found some that the clean-up had missed, but it was rapidly evaporating away. Nothing worth noting.

The whole event became a turning point, anyway. Within weeks, ghosts became an undeniable reality in Amity Park.

If nothing else, it at least gave her an excuse to learn more about her ability. Ghosts didn’t look much like spirits, she found out. Their bodies were made out of dense ectoplasm, clearly corporeal, and perfectly visible to everyone. They did, however, emit ectoplasmic mist—apparently they just constantly leaked the stuff when they weren’t in the Zone.

Which led her back to Danny Fenton. The way he smoked was certainly similar to how proper ghosts emitted ectoplasm, but it wasn’t quite the same. Nor was it quite the same as when ghosts overshadowed humans, or when ghosts possessed or otherwise controlled objects.

No, Danny Fenton remained unique in his condition. And honestly? It kind of pissed Valerie off. Yes, the introduction of proper ghosts to Amity Park had forced her to learn more about her ability, and yes, she still refused to acknowledge its existence to anyone but herself. But she still wanted to know, to understand.

And Valerie Gray is no coward. She wanted to know, so she would know, damn it all. Curiosity might’ve killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back, no? And she’d spent several months trying to satisfy this bit of curiosity. Now all she had to do was corner Danny Fenton and demand the truth from him.

Okay, so cornering Fenton was easier said than done, Valerie discovered. He was, apparently, incredibly slippery. Multiple times, she had followed him into a dead end, just to find no one else present. At this point, she was fairly certain that his ghostly infection had come with ghost powers.

Which would just figure, wouldn’t it? Count on the universe to give her the ability to see ectoplasm constantly, while someone like Fenton gets something cool like intangibility? And now that she had a running theory, she needed actual confirmation, too!

She rattled her fingers on the desk she was sitting behind, staring at Lancer but not taking in any of the words he was saying. Well, shit. She’d totally zoned out in the middle of class. That would probably come back to bite her in the ass.

A few seats closer to the front, Fenton jerked in his seat, blowing out a denser cloud of foggy ectoplasm. Usually this was promptly followed by him trying to excuse himself out of class. And, well. That was a good opportunity, wasn’t it?

Quickly, faster than Danny could, she put up her hand. Lancer paused, frowning, but called on her anyway.

“Can I go to the toilet?”

Lancer heaved a weary sigh but nodded nonetheless, and Valerie sped out of the classroom, steadily ignoring Danny’s frustrated look. She waited outside the classroom, not wanting anyone to see her lingering but not willing to risk missing Danny altogether.

Luckily, she didn’t have to wait long. Within minutes, Danny Fenton stormed through the classroom door, clearly in a rush.

Valerie stuck out her leg, intending to trip him up, or at least slow him down.

Instead, Fenton’s leg became soft and fuzzy in an awfully familiar way, and went straight through hers.

“Uh,” he said, immediately pausing to stare at her. “You didn’t see that.”

She snorted, despite herself. “It was hard to miss, Fenton.”

“Yeah, well…” He paused, seemingly lost for words. “Forget you saw it?”

“Definitely not.” She pushed away from the wall, stepping closer to him. “I wanted to talk to you about that, anyway.”

Danny swallowed, eyes darting side to side. “About what, exactly?”

“Something’s up with you.” She looked around the hallway as well, making sure to keep him in her peripherals. “But we can talk somewhere a little more desolate, if you want.”

“I kind of… need to get going?” he tried, feebly. “Seriously, Valerie, I can’t…”

He definitely looked like he might start running any minute. Well, no time for the subtle approach then. Just as well, she supposed. She wasn’t very good at subtle. “I can see ectoplasm.”

Danny… stopped. Froze in his tracks. “I’m-- what? Sorry, what?”

“I can see ectoplasm,” she repeated, turning around to face him properly. “And spirits, when they’re around. I would’ve said ghosts, but everyone can see ghosts, now that they’re actually around.”

“But isn’t ectoplasm…” he gestured vaguely, catching up to her again. “Kind of everywhere?”

“It’s constantly seeping out of the ground, yeah.” She grinned. “And ghosts evaporate the stuff. So do you, but it’s not quite the same. And you kept disappearing after I cornered you into dead ends, so I figured it was something ghost-related.”

He made a face. “I’m bad at this. I also seriously need to get going, Val, I wasn’t kidding about that.”

“What, because you put out a burst of extra ectoplasm?” She frowned at him. “You gonna pass out because you expelled too much, or something?”

“You saw that? Ugh.” He shook his head, visibly refocusing. “Anyway, no. That was my ghost sense, which tells me that there’s a ghost nearby. Which is probably gonna attack any minute now, so…”

“So?” she repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Call your parents, or whatever you wanted to do. I finally got my opportunity to get these questions answered, I’m not letting you slip away that easy.”

Fenton shot her a look that was caught somewhere between exhausted and frustrated. “If anything happens, I’m blaming you.”

“What, were you gonna beat it up?” She snorted, then sobered at his blank look. “Oh, well. Don’t let me stop you, I’d love to see that.”

“Shut up.” He stopped next to his locker, turning away from her to unlock it. “What did you want, anyway?”

“To satisfy my curiosity.” She shrugged at the incredulous look he threw at her. “Is that so hard to believe? I’ve lived with this ability for years, I knew every aspect of it. Even now with the ghosts around, I’ve figured out almost all the bits. Your ectoplasmic contamination is the only thing that I don’t understand.”

“And you were hoping I would explain?” His locker clicked open, and Danny reached inside to take out a shiny thermos, styled with ecto-green like every other Fenton product. “There’s nothing, Valerie. Don’t worry about it.”

She scoffed. “I’m not worried, I’m curious. What’s the harm in telling me, anyway? I already know you can go intangible like a ghost, and it’s not like I’ll tell.”

“Sure you won’t.” He rolled his eyes, closing his locker once more. Apparently the thermos was all he wanted from it. “And I’m supposed to just, what, rely on your ability and desire to keep a secret?”

“Please. Last time I tried to tell anyone about my own abilities, I was kicked down to the bottom of the popularity ladder. I have no plans to go back.” Her eyes trailed away from him, catching on the increase of ectoplasm on the other end of the hallway. “The only thing that’ll happen if I try to tell anyone is that they’ll think I’m crazy. Again.”

“Yeah, or my parents hear and think I’m a ghost again.” He looked up from the thermos in his hands, frowning at her. “What’re you looking at?”

The ectoplasm pulled together, coalescing into something dense enough to be a ghost, even if it lacked the color. It clearly wasn’t a spirit, not nearly life-like enough for it, despite it’s vaguely humanoid shape.

“You ever seen a ghost look like a bulking robot before?” she asked, faux casual, turning to look at Fenton. “Big plane-like wings, some kinda mohawk?”

“Shit,” he muttered, peering into the direction where the ghost was. “You can really see him?”

“Well, I was trying not to let him know that, because he doesn’t look very nice.” She rolled her eyes. “You know him, then?”

“Skulker.” Danny shook his head, hands wringing around the thermos. “Fuck, and there’s no way I can catch him unaware with the Thermos. I’ll have to fight him.”

“What, you?” She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Well, don’t let me stop you, I guess.”

Danny straightened up properly. “Don’t tell anyone about this.” Then he paused, looked down at the thermos in his hands, and shoved it at her. “Use this when he gets distracted.”

“Uh, okay?” she replied, taking the thing in her hands. It didn’t seem like a weapon to her, but it would be just like Jack Fenton to disguise a ghost hunting weapon as a thermos, of all things. “What do you plan on doing?”

“Not dying, hopefully,” Danny grumbled, and then he— changed. The ectoplasm that steamed off of him suddenly thickened, until Danny was hidden in dense fog. Light flashed within it, like a thunderstorm.

When the ectoplasm reduced back to normal amounts, a ghost stood where Danny had been.

“Shit,” he muttered, combing a hand through his unnaturally white hair, “I still can’t see him.”

“You’re an idiot.” She sighed, turning to look back at the hulking mohawk ghost. “At the end of the hallway, can’t miss him.”

“Thanks, Val.” The ghost-that-had-been-Danny kicked off of the ground, zipping towards the first one.

What had the world come to?

Lucky for her, she didn’t need to play seeing-eye person much longer, because the robot ghost dropped his invisibility when Danny came close enough.

Instead she stood there, watching the two ghosts fight. With a thermos-shaped Fenton invention of unknown purpose in her hands. Great.

It wasn’t even a good fight. The robot ghost relied almost entirely on guns which shot ectoplasm-based lasers, while Danny kept trying to get in close and punch the thing. Not even some kind of martial arts, no, just teenage-level brawling. Ugh.

He was flung into the wall next to her, slumping down with a groan. She clicked her tongue at him. “Not very impressive.”

“Thanks,” he grumbled back, pushing himself to his feet. His voice, even through the warbling echo that all ghosts possessed, was clearly frustrated. “Could you do better?”

“Well, I am a trained black belt,” she pointed out, before holding out the thermos. “What does this do, anyway?”

“Catches ghosts.” He rose into the air, but his flight was shaky. “Please don’t point it at me.”

“Well, duh.” She stepped back, allowing him a straight shot at the robot ghost. “Go distract him, will you?”

“Since when are you in charge?” Danny grumbled, but he flew off anyway, darting around the other ghost and drawing him back in her direction.

Valerie shook her head, wondering vaguely how she’d gotten into this situation. How many years had she sworn not to get involved into anything related to her ability to see ghosts? And now here she was.

“Here, Skulker Skulker Skulker,” Danny jeered, pitching his voice like he was calling to a runaway dog. “Here, Skulkie Skulkie Skulkie!”

The other ghost snarled, lunging forward at Danny.

Valerie stepped forward, uncapping the thermos in the same movement, and pressed it against the side of the ghost. It swore, but was unable to escape the coiling vortex of the device, sucked into it in the blink of an eye.

“Huh.” She blinked, automatically capping the Thermos again. “That worked better than expected.”

“Yeah, sometimes my parents can get it right.” Danny touched down next to her, soundlessly. “Uh. Thanks, I guess.”

Again, the ectoplasm pouring off of him thickened, clouding him for a brief moment as light flashed. When it fogged away, it left a regular looking Danny Fenton.

Valerie glanced down to make sure the device was locked, then turned to Danny. “You can have it back in return for more answers.”

He snorted, shaking his head with a wry smile on his face. “Should’ve figured as much. Guess I can’t get out of it, huh?”

“What’s the point in hiding if you’ve already shown me… whatever that was supposed to be?”

“Eh, fair point.” He shrugged, almost fatalistically. “Let’s get early lunch and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know, deal?”

She considered him for a moment. “Deal.”