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Johnny took a long drag from his cigarette, watching the orange embers creep closer to his fingers. He'd nabbed the packet from the human world a few weeks ago, it was a brand he used to smoke way back in life.

He'd been told that addictions didn't cross over with them, but he could feel the ghost of his nicotine cravings regardless.

He was on his last one.

The SHWING SHWING sound of whetstone against metal paused as Skulker looked up, a plume of smoke tumbled over Johnny's lips as he leaned against the cave wall of the island lair.

"You want me to what?" Skulker growled.

"C'mon I'll owe ya!" Johnny whined. "It's just a pack of smokes, you'll be in and out, easy!"

"If it's so easy then why don't you do it?" Skulker resumed his knife sharpening, inspecting the blade carefully.

"Look I'm- I'm- I'm taking a break from going Lifeside alright?" Johnny stuttered, cigarette trembling between his fingers slightly as he took another drag.

"Is this about the whelp's mother?" Skulker asked, turning back to Johnny and raising a metallic eyebrow with a sneer. "You're not afraid of a human ghost hunter are you?"

"Of course I am! That woman's terrifying." Johnny repressed a shudder. "But she's got nothin' to do with it, you can see her a mile comin' in that fuckin' RV."

"Don't tell me you pissed off the whelp after the thing with his father." Skulker ran a finger over the edge of his blade, nodding in satisfaction as he propped it up against the cave wall. "Even I'm not poking that bear."

He picked up another knife, but paused as Johnny remained silent. He stared at him.

"You didn't."

"I didn't know okay! It was the same night the guy died, nobody knew!"

"Ancients Johnny," Skulker rubbed at his face in exasperation. "Anyone ever tell you you're an unlucky sonova bitch?"

"You should have seen him man." Johnny's voice was quiet and hollow. "I always knew the kid was more than he let on but-"

He shook his head, disturbing the smoke twirling up from between his fingers.

"I thought he still looked kinda human because he is kinda human, but it's all fake. He looks just like us underneath."

Skulker had all but abandoned his task as Johnny spoke, he cupped his chin in his hand, a pensive look on his face.

"So he's losing control of himself? Hm... this is bad."

"No shit." Johnny snorted.

"But we shouldn't be surprised." Skulker straightened up, he'd been leaning over his anvil for hours, he could feel the rivets in his back grinding as he stretched. "If someone came into my lair and destroyed my stuff I'd probably lose it too."

"Yeah but for us it's different." Johnny stressed.

"How?"

"Because we aren't like him." said Johnny, his cigarette had burned all the way up to his fingers, he ignored it. "He can do more shit than we can, he can do more than any ghost can. He's a freakin' tank."

Skulker stared for a moment, and then he laughed, a deep hearty laugh that reverberated throughout the cave.

"Don't tell me this is news to you." He picked up another knife. "He defeated Pariah Dark for Ancients' sake, of course he's powerful, but you're forgetting he has a weakness."

"Yeah yeah his protection obsession. I'm not an idiot, I know he can't end us, that's not what I'm getting at."

"Then what are you so afraid of?"

"He," Johnny took a shuddering breath, roughly rubbing his forehead, ash catching in the strands of his hair. "He can make you do shit."

The SHWING SHWING of Skulker's whetstone didn't stop, but his brow furrowed.

"What?"

"He can make you do shit." Johnny said through gritted teeth. "He told me to go home, and it was like the words were lodged in my brain man. Like they'd keep screamin' and screamin' and screamin' at me until I did what they said. It was fuckin' freaky."

A large CRACK resounded through the cave as the whetstone shattered within Skulker's grip.

"That's... no." Skulker stood up abruptly, ignoring his weapons, he headed to the entrance of the cave. "What brand do you like?"

"...What?"

"Cigarettes, which ones do you like?"

"Uh, Lucky Strike."

"Of course." Skulker groaned. "I'll see what I can do, no promises."

He deployed his jets, starting them up with an electronic whine before shooting off into the void of the Zone toward the Fenton portal.

Johnny watched him go, dropping his butt on the ground and grinding a heel into the embers, he headed out of the cave and mounted his bike.

Something about Skulker's sudden departure was brutally unnerving, and Johnny was pretty sure he wasn't going Lifeside just for his smokes.

"I don't like this Shadow." he said as the black shape crawled over his shoulder, growling in concern. "The fucker knows something."

Johnny wasn't sure he wanted to find out what.