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Valerie had always fancied herself a hero. Not like Phantom, but a true hero who saw things as they actually were. Ghosts were destructive and cruel, maybe not always evil, but the world would be better off without them in the long run. The dead should stay dead, and she was merely helping them get there. She, Valerie, the Red Huntress, had always been a hero in her own head. But right now, holding an ecto-rifle to the back of Phantom’s head while he struggled to even remain conscious, she didn’t feel like one.

          Phantom’s green ectoplasm was smeared and leaking all over both the alley and himself. The fight with Skulker had been a rough one, and Phantom could barely move, arms tightly clutched over his bleeding wounds. His aura was dim and wavered in and out, but the sheen of ectoplasm was brighter than ever, especially since he had lost much more than a person who was bleeding out reasonably could. It’s matted his hair, coagulating like blood, and healing his body so fast she could see the skin slowly creep close on some of his more minor wounds. But his ankle was broken, and some of those deeper gashes would be closed in a couple of hours, even at the rate he was healing. Phantom was weak at the moment. Skulker was currently sitting in Phantom’s stolen thermos. It was just him and her right now.  

          Valerie didn’t hold the same views on ghosts as the Fenton’s did. She knew ghosts could feel, some had once been human. They felt pain, or at least imagined it. If they believed they were supposed to be in pain, then they were. Ghosts were creatures of subconsciousness, based on their own former consciousness, melded together by ectoplasm. Not all of them were evil either, some, like Phantom, had good intentions, but still brought destruction with them nonetheless. Phantom thought he was a hero, or he acted like it, and never seemed to acknowledge the extent of the destruction he had brought onto Amity Park. To Valerie, it made everything so difficult. It would’ve been easier if Phantom was malicious, but he was a ghost who didn’t know better. Who was he to care about the state of the living? This was why she had to look out for the people of Amity Park and get rid of the ghosts no matter their intentions.

          Valerie hadn’t earned this. Here she had the biggest threat to Amity Park, right at gunpoint and weakened where he wouldn’t be able to fight back. But she hadn’t been the one to bring him to this point, she hadn’t earned her revenge against Phantom, but her feelings were irrelevant in the grander aspect. She needed to get rid of him if she was to make Amity safe again, so she could be the hero Amity deserved.

          Phantom’s breathing shuddered, whether out of fear or pain, she didn’t know. Phantom didn’t need to breathe, but he did so anyway because he believed he needed to. Valerie often wondered about this strange ghost, who looked to be her own age, “protected” Amity and all of its residents and regularly got the shit beat out of him by both her and other ghosts alike. What made him so different? Was it a territory thing? Obsession?

          “Hey, Red, nice night we’re having, huh?” Phantom quipped, voice wavering.

          He was scared. Scared and injured, yet he still spoke.

          “It is, actually. There’s a nice breeze, the night is crisp, and I have a ghost at the end of my rifle. Nothing could make this night any sweeter,” Valerie returned.

          “About that… can we do this another time? I’m a bit tired at the moment, but I promise I won’t ghost you next time.” And there was the pun. God, she hated those stupid puns.

          “Sorry, Phantom. No can do. I’ve got a quota to fill tonight.”

          Phantom swayed a bit, wavering where he knelt and went to look at her, but a nudge from her weapon stopped him. There was a moment of silence before either of them spoke again. Valerie was waiting, she knew she was, she just didn’t know for what. She had so many questions for Phantom, and he was in no place to refuse any of them, yet she couldn’t bring herself to say them.

          “Well, if you’re going to shoot me, Red, you might as well do it soon, I would prefer it if you did. This silence is killing me.” Phantom said.

          There was another moment, then “Why?

          If he had been facing her, Valerie imagined he was raising one of his eyebrows. “You’re going to have to be more specific than that, Red.”

          “Why are you like this? You quip and make jokes when you’ve had the shit beaten out of you, even when I’m holding a gun to your head, Phantom. You’re hated here in Amity, you know that, but yet you still come back and getting the shit beaten out of you. So, Why?

          Phantom let out a long exhale, and his shoulders sagged, he turned to face her, and she didn’t stop him this time. He had healing cuts on his face alongside green bruises. He would’ve had a black eye had he been human. He was healing fast though; he’d be able to escape if she delayed much longer. But his eyes, windows to the soul, and from the look in them, he had one. She could see guilt, pain, misery, and most of all, regret.

          “Because this is all my fault. If you’re going to kill me, then do it soon, and have the Fenton’s close the portal, and most of the ghosts will leave,” he said, tone low but his eyes challenged her to do it, but Phantom looked so sad.

          “How is this your fault?” It was a demand, definitely not a question. She didn’t want to make him feel better, not after what he had done to Amity, not what he had done to her. But why would Amity’s whole ghost problem be his fault?

          “I’m the one who turned on the portal.”

          Oh… that made sense. Nothing happened in Amity before the Fenton’s portal had powered up, it was the beginning of it all, and Phantom had been one of the first ghosts spotted.

          Valerie remained quiet for a minute, contemplating, and watching Phantom deal with his own injuries, his gaze no longer meeting hers. Guilt, that’s what drives him. But it was all his fault. And now, she could fix it all. She could get revenge. She could save Amity Park. She could prove to herself that she was a hero. Valier powered up the ecto-rifle and removed the barrel from directly against Phantom’s head. She saw Phantom stiffen, preparing for his own doom.

Rage bubbled up in her gut. Of course, this was all his fault, it always had been. Phantom had a habit of ruining lives, hers included. He deserved this for what he’d done, not just to her, but all of Amity Park.

          Valerie steeled herself and the rifle matched her emotions, red hot. She waited no time pulling the trigger this time. Phantom made a vain attempt to escape, launching himself into the air like a rocket, but the crimson energy blasted him in the small of his back, knocking him clean out of the air and into the brick of the alley. He didn’t get up this time.

          Valerie let out a shaky breath. Of course, just when she was ready to put Phantom out of his obvious misery, he would attempt to bolt, because she had waited too long. But that rifle could dissipate low-level ghosts with one semi-clean hit and usually severely injured anything higher without armor. At nearly point-blank, Valerie was surprised it hadn’t blown straight through him, but it nearly had. The wound was already pooling ectoplasm, and a chunk of his back the size of a fist was gorged from his back, just left of his spine. He was out cold. It wouldn’t end a ghost, but a wound like that would put him down for a while, but she might as well finish her job for the night.

          Valerie stood over Phantom and charged up a second shot. A bright white ring burst around Phantom’s waist, blinding her. It split across him and took with it Phantom’s glow. His colors had inversed on themselves, white hair to black, jumpsuit replaced by a quickly stained shirt that once had been white, and sickly pale skin. He was bleeding red, not green. She had no idea what happened but… it wasn’t like anything she had ever seen. Phantom had transformed into someone, someone who at least from her current view if he hadn’t been covered in his own blood and ectoplasm, would’ve been human.

          Valerie nudged him gently with her boot, ecto-rifle in her hands just in case this was just another one of Phantom’s tricks. He didn’t respond, so Valerie turned him over to see his face and was staring at the boy known as Danny Fenton, who looked like he was seconds away from death.

She no longer felt anything like a hero as much as she did a murderer.