Actions

Work Header

One to Speak and the Other to Listen

Work Text:

Danny Fenton is one of the most unassuming people that Sam has ever met. Simple, quiet, a little nervous at times, but otherwise perfectly normal. He’s a background person; his only purpose in her life is to help set the scenes around her, one of the mindless societal sheep that fill the streets and make them what they are. She’s never spoken to him any more than necessary (which has been virtually never), and he’s thankfully done the same, unlike some people she’s had the displeasure of working with. She sees nothing special in him, aside from his eyes being a particularly nice shade of blue, and she doubts she ever will.

That is, until the first attack.

She doesn’t think much of it at first, barely sparing a second glance when he suddenly drops what he’s doing with a muttered ‘excuse me’ before darting off down one of the hallways, but there is something about the look on his face, pale and tense and full of panic, that catches her attention. It’s some kind of medical condition, his friend says when she presses him for answers as he walks by to grab the equipment cart Danny had been moving, but he’s not allowed to divulge any more details than that, so she drops it. She doesn’t care that much, after all, and Danny returns about ten minutes later looking a little worn out but otherwise perfectly fine. So long as it doesn’t disrupt her work too badly, he can do whatever he wants.

It happens again a couple of weeks later, during the quieter part of the afternoon while they’re the only two around. They’re both cleaning up for the day, returning supplies to the shared sciences cupboard when he suddenly stops, snaps his head up to search frantically around the room as if he heard something, and, bored and moderately curious as she is, Sam asks him what he’s doing. His eyes snap to her, akin to a deer in the headlights, and for some reason he seems more scared of her than whatever else is going through his mind. “Nothing,” is all he says, “Excuse me,” and then he turns and heads for the back room. She lets him go.

She mostly stops questioning it, focusing on more important things than a strange teenage boy she has the unfortunate pleasure of being stuck in the same building with, but now that she’s taken notice once, she can’t help doing it again. Professor Greeney seems to know him, frowning at him as he runs past them in the hallway, seemingly in some mad rush. “That boy,” he sighs with narrowed eyes, “How he manages to keep a passing grade, or a job, I’ll never know.” Sam tries to question it further without raising suspicion, but all he can tell her is that Danny is notorious for randomly ducking out of classes. It’s consistent with what she’s seen of him, at least, but she still wonders.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon when he wanders into her lab, trailing along behind Tucker Foley. She can hear them in the hallway before they get there, Danny saying he doesn’t like the eco lab with a hint of genuine distaste to his voice, and Tucker reassuring him that it will be fine, that they’ll ‘duck in and out in a flash’. They’re only there to ask for a heat lamp and a couple of scalpels, apparently, so Sam wanders off to find some and get them out of her space as quickly as possible with only the warning of “Don’t touch anything.” She rounds the items up and brings them back out, handing them to Tucker, and then her eyes fall curiously on Danny, arms crossed and shoulders hunched and shaking something awful, as though he were standing in a meat freezer and not a college laboratory. She narrows her eyes at him, and he seems to notice, staring at her for a second before shifting his gaze and stepping out of the room, Foley close behind.

“I think Sam Manson is a ghost,” Danny says, once they’re way out of earshot and safely in the robotics lab, helping Tucker set up the equipment they’d just brought back.

Tucker pauses in untangling the lamp cord, and then he just cocks his head back and laughs. “Sam Manson? As in, the spookiest girl in the school? Who probably wishes she was a ghost? I think you’re losing it, buddy.”

Danny frowns, fiddling with the corrugation on the edge of the box they’d used to carry their things. “Tucker, I’m serious. Either the eco lab is conveniently always really cold, which I think is bad for plants anyway, or there’s a ghost around there. The astronomy room is right next door, and she’s one of the only people who stays in that part of the building as late as I do, aside from the professors. She always gives me these weird looks, too, like she might be on to me.”

Tucker sighs, setting the lamp down on the desk with a metallic thunk. “You seriously think she’s a ghost?” he asks, and Danny nods. Tucker thinks about it for a moment, and then his face turns oddly serious. “Do you know what this means?”

“Don’t say it,” Danny mutters.

Stakeout.”

And so it is that Danny finds himself spending his night snooping around a college girl’s dorm room. Tucker had said that she was bound to have tons of books on occultism and the darkness of the human soul, what with her goth-ness and all, and he wasn’t wrong; whatever isn’t part of her college degree is dark and scary and a little bit interesting, if he’s honest with himself. As for evidence that she’s a ghost, any of the occult items she has strewn about could be seen as such, but there’s nothing solid he can hold against her, and he’s kind of relieved, if frustrated that the mystery of the eco lab remains unsolved. Just to be sure, he waits until she comes home, waiting for the familiar chill to follow her through the door, but there is thankfully nothing. He doesn’t stick around after that, heading up to the roof of the building to give Tucker a call, reiterating his findings. “It has to be something in the lab itself then,” Tucker suggests, and since Danny doesn’t really want to ransack the eco lab this late at night, he decides to check it out after school tomorrow.

The place is empty when he gets there, and he figures he’s got about twenty minutes of free roaming before anyone shows up, so he gets right down to it, rummaging through everything he can find while trying to leave it how he found it, looking for something, anything, that could tip off his ghost sense. He can’t feel anything now, which goes to prove that it’s a person and not the room itself and in turn leads back to Sam, but he tries to put conclusions aside until he has more evidence.

Just as he’s rifling through the professor’s desk, someone clears their throat in one of the most obnoxious ways possible, and he stops dead. “What are you doing?” Sam asks across the room, and he almost breathes a sigh of relief; he’d been expecting the professor. This, he could handle.

“The storeroom is locked,” Danny says evenly, “I was trying to see if Professor Greeney had a spare key around here, since I couldn’t find him or Doctor Woolfe anywhere.”

She stares at him for a moment, her thick eyelashes dropping lower as she narrows her eyes, but then the room drops about thirty degrees and he is suddenly distracted from whatever she was going to say. Professor Greeney rounds the corner into the room, stopping when he spots Danny and the look Sam is giving him, his own brow furrowing. “Mister Fenton,” he says lowly, practically a growl, and Danny wonders what he’s ever done to him to deserve this kind of hatred.

He makes the connection, though, and understands. “It’s you,” he breathes, and Sam is suddenly both confused and vastly more interested. Danny quickly realises his mistake, and makes a move to remedy the fact. “Thank goodness it’s you. May I please borrow your keys, sir? I need some things from the astronomy room and the doctor’s not around.”

Greeney looks greatly unimpressed by this intrusion, but reluctantly pulls out his keys and holds them up in gesture. Sam watches closely as Danny heads up to them, looking for the signs she thought she saw from across the room, and she’s not wrong; he’s shivering again, lips terse and pale, and it only seems to be when the professor is around. She remembers Tucker saying he has some kind of medical condition, but for him to react to a single person like this, it’s got to be something else. Professor Greeney tells her to show Danny to the storeroom so that she can bring the keys back when he’s done, so she follows him out and next door to the astronomy room. She’s never been in here before, and while it’s pretty much what she expected, she’s still a little bit impressed despite herself. Danny silently weaves between the desks with practised ease to show her to the storeroom door, rubbing his arms for warmth that is already in the room as he watches her shove the key in.

She doesn’t leave after she’s stepped back to let him in, watching him pick equipment off the shelves with a thoughtful expression. “What are you after?” she asks, and Danny stops, looking over at her.

“I’m setting up for study tonight,” he tells her, holding up a sextant and a little box she doesn’t recognise; dew zapper, it says on the front. “I have to practise mapping.”

It’s not exactly a lie – he is stargazing tonight, though he wasn’t planning to pick up this stuff until later – and Sam seems to believe him, even if she does watch him with that dubiously bemused look she often carries. It’s better than her finding out that he was snooping around the eco lab for evidence of ghosts, at least. “Whatever,” she says, one shoulder tipping in a shrug, and then she’s gone, the door clicking shut behind her, and Danny can breathe a sigh of relief. At least he has his answers now; Greeney is the one he’s looking for, and now it’s only a matter of finding out whether or not he’s up to something sinister.

He shares this newfound information with Tucker, who seems to think that they should tell Sam, so that she can keep an eye on the professor from the inside, but Danny is quick to shoot it down; telling her that Professor Greeney is a ghost would not only make him sound insane, but would also alert her to his own abilities. “She’s smart,” he says, “She’ll figure it out,” but Tucker is sure that if they go about this the right way, she’ll have no reason to suspect him. He doesn’t exactly want to spend the rest of his college days working next door to a ghost, so he needs to do something about it, and it seems like Sam Manson is currently their best option.

She’s thankfully still in the lab when he heads back there, and, more importantly, Greeney isn’t anywhere in sight, so he knocks on the door and tries to ignore her glare when she whirls around, wary of the small hedge clippers in her hand. “Um, hi,” he starts intelligently, and she seems about as impressed with this conversation as he is, just in a darker fashion. “Sorry if I’m interrupting anything. I just, uh, I was wondering if you’d be interested in some stargazing, by any chance? Tucker and I are doing some tonight, and I thought you might want to try it out. You know, if you’re not busy or if you–”

“Danny,” she says, and he abruptly stops, snapping his mouth shut. It’s kind of cute, she thinks, in a frustrating sort of way. “Before I let you ramble on and embarrass yourself any further, why are you even inviting me?”

It occurs to Danny that he probably should have thought this through a lot better. “Well, you sometimes seem kind of interested in it, and we are just next door. Was I… wrong in assuming that?”

Nobody has invited her out to something like this in a long time, and she honestly isn’t sure what to say, so she keeps to her disinterested visage for lack of anything better. “Sure, I guess,” she says evenly, giving a slight shrug as she turns to occupy herself with collecting equipment for her trip out to the greenhouse. “I'll tag along.”

Danny’s face lights up a little, and she tries very hard not to focus on the fact that this makes her feel something. “Great! I, uh, guess I’ll see you tonight then. Stockton building, seven p.m.?”

“Deal,” she agrees, and wonders what exactly she’s getting into.

So it is that she finds herself standing at the door to the boy’s dorm building at nearly seven o’clock at night, Danny’s room and phone number shakily scrawled across her hand. She sends him a text to let him know she’s there, sitting on the bench conveniently placed just beside the doors and waiting for him to either reply or show up. He funnily enough does both, replying to let her know he’s on his way down and then appearing not two minutes later, seeming simultaneously nervous and excited as he shows her up to his dorm.

It's honestly about what she'd expected, Danny living in the same room as Tucker; half the room is covered in posters and diagrams of space shuttles and the stars, a couple of bands she's vaguely heard of, a few books on psychology and ghosts mixed in amongst the college textbooks sprawled about, while the other half is a mess of cords and components, splayed out seemingly at random but likely with some sort of system in place, a computer with three different monitors in the corner covered in the artefacts of an engineering major, meeting in the middle with piles of video games and music CDs and some empty cans of soda lying about. He apologises for the mess, grabbing a bag from his bed as he explains that most of it is already set up upstairs, and then he shows her back out and up to the roof, where Tucker is setting up a laptop that's plugged into the telescope that sits square between the back of the stairwell and the adjacent edge of the building.

She is immediately lost as the two of them start talking about specifics of the telescope's adjustments and co-ordinates they need and various other things that go over her head, mostly because she's stopped listening, but then Danny calls her over and invites her to sit down, asking if she knows anything about the equipment or astronomy. She knows very little, which at this point in time becomes quite apparent to her, but thankfully Danny seems to catch on when she shrugs and says a little; he begins to explain the more important parts of astronavigation and what some of the devices do as he sets them up, before turning their attention to the laptop, which he claims records a live feed from the telescope for easy review. “It's nowhere near as good as looking through the real thing,” he tells her, “But it gets the job done.” She's just amazed at how different he is up here, in his own field; he's no longer the Danny she knows, timid and quiet and seeming to drift through things, but an entirely new Danny, a bright blip in her peripherals fuelled by his passion for the world beyond and burning as bright as one of the stars he so admires. She's glad that she's been able to witness such a thing.

That is, until their third hour of stargazing, in which she finds that it is really not her thing. She tries her best not to look bored, which turns out to be fairly easy considering that Tucker has taken to occupying himself with something on his phone and Danny is more focused on his study than she's seen anyone be in a long time, alternating between looking through the telescope and making notes on various charts he has sprawled about, and she only wishes that she'd at least brought a book with her. At least they have music going, playing quiet and tinny from the laptop's speakers. “Hey Sam,” Danny says abruptly, and her attention snaps up to him. He waves her over, watching as she gets up and steps over with a little trepidation. “Take a look,” he offers, stepping back from the telescope. “Be careful not to move it, though. Tell me what you see.”

She's not sure where he's going with this, but she decides to humour him, leaning down to take a look through the eyepiece. “Stars, mostly,” she says, not sure what she's supposed to be looking for. “Empty space. There's a big one up and to the right a little.”

“Jupiter,” he breathes, and she pulls back from the telescope to look at him, staring up at the sky as though he could see it with his naked eye. “Beautiful, isn't it? Jupiter's always been one of my favourites. There's just so little we know about it, so little we currently have the technology to discover.” He watches for a moment longer before he realises that Sam is staring at him, perplexed by something in him, and he is suddenly very conscious of himself. “Sorry,” he laughs easily, “Got ahead of myself there. I’m gonna pop downstairs, fetch a jacket. You guys need anything?”

“It’s seventy degrees,” she says, wondering why he’d need a second jacket over his overshirt, but he just shrugs it off and disappears downstairs, leaving Sam alone with a telescope she knows very little about and a nerd she knows even less.

“He gets like that sometimes,” Tucker says with a vague hand motion, “I wouldn’t worry about it. In other news, what’s your stance on ghosts?”

“Ghosts?” she repeats, frowning as Tucker holds up his phone in gesture, some game about ghosts open on the screen.

“Yeah, ghosts.” He raises his eyebrows, a smile touching his face. “Do you still believe in them?”

She scoffs, indignantly crossing her arms. “What, just because I wear black and probably practice witchcraft or Satanism or something? Real nice.”

Tucker is quick to defend himself, but in doing so accidentally slips up in his reasoning. “No, no, I didn’t mean it like that! I was just asking because we think your professor is a gh–” He freezes there, and while he could have easily covered it up, the pause is what gives it away, realisation dawning on his face. “Uh, a great fan of the occult.”

Sam is having none of these excuses. She knows what he was getting at. “My professor?” she asks, arching an eyebrow. “Greeney? You think he’s a ghost? What would make you think that Greeney is a ghost?”

Tucker figures the cat’s out of the bag now, and he may as well come clean about it. “Let’s be real here, he’s kind of creepy. He’s always alone in his office or off doing some weird thing in the back ends of the school, and Danny’s always freaked out by him.”

“What does Danny freaking out have to do with it?” she asks blandly, but she’s piecing it together in her mind, the way Danny always acts around the professor, the cold reaction only to him.

Tucker hesitates, trying to find the words and coming up vastly short, but then there is a click as the door opens followed by a heavy sigh of “Dammit, Tuck,” and their attention turns to Danny, looking vastly apologetic and a little frustrated with his friend as he picks up on their expressions and the tone of conversation. “I’m sorry, Sam, I– It’s not what–”

“Hold up,” she snaps, cutting him off, and his mouth snaps shut again. “Let me get this straight. You both think that Professor Greeney is a ghost, of which I’m expecting you have some form of evidence, and Danny is somehow able to sense the fact?”

There is a long silence that stretches across the roof, until Danny gives a heavy, worn-out sigh. “Yeah,” he murmurs dejectedly, “That’s about it.”

And then Sam smiles. “Alright, that is really cool,” she says, and both Danny and Tucker look up at her in surprise. “Finding out that ghosts are still here, and not only that, but my very own teacher is one? Totally kickin’. Have you always been able to sense ghosts?”

Danny really isn’t sure what to say to that, having got a much better reception to this kind of thing than he’s used to. “Uh,” he says intelligently, swallows, tries to collect himself. “Not always. For about six years now, roughly.”

“Six years? Were you able to during the Ghost Reign?” Danny freezes, a subtle noise as Tucker sucks air through his teeth, and she very quickly realises that she’s messed up; from the look on Danny’s face and Tucker’s reaction, there is something between them that she doesn’t know. “I’m sorry,” she says hurriedly, “I didn’t mean to… You know.”

Danny looks away as Tucker gets up from his seat, casting a glance at Sam. “We, uh. We don’t really–”

“It’s alright, Tuck,” Danny says, stepping aside to focus himself on organising his astronomy books, scattered about the telescope and their makeshift table. “She can know. Tucker and I grew up in Amity Park, we were there during the Reign.”

“Oh,” she breathes, pauses, tries to be sympathetic – the Ghost Reign was a huge issue across the whole world, America in particular and especially Amity Park – but her curiosity is far too great to come off as properly sympathising. “I’m sorry, I have to ask, but what ever happened to that ghost kid? Phantom?”

He stops, opens his mouth, hesitates, closes it again. “Nobody really knows,” Tucker says instead, “He just stopped showing up after the ghosts stopped coming.”

“He wasn’t really needed anymore.” There is something in Danny’s voice, then, and Sam knows that she needs to drop it. She understands that tone, even if she doesn’t really know the man it’s coming from.

“So,” she says deftly, “What do we then do about Greeney? I mean, is he a threat?”

“We don’t know,” Danny replies, seeming glad for the change in topic. “All I’ve been able to find out is that he is a ghost, we don’t know if he’s hostile yet. Which is why we’re telling you.”

“You want me to spy on him?”

“Not spy, per se,” he says, seeming to dislike the use of that word, “Just keep a newly attuned eye on him. See if he’s doing anything that should put him under scrutiny. You don't have to, if you don't want to,” he adds quickly, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. “I just. I just want you to be aware of what's happening, in case he does turn out to be up to something, and I don't want any more damage than necessary if he attacks. You're one of his closest associates right now, so we can avoid a lot if you help us out, but I'm not trying to pressure you.”

She simply scoffs, imitating a flippant hand gesture with a quiet ‘pfft’. “You're asking me to spy on my professor, who is, apparently, a ghost,” she says, and then she smiles at them. “I'm totally in.”

Sam has always thought that spying on someone would be easy, especially if she already sees them on a near-daily basis, but it's much harder than the movies gave it credit for. Nothing has really changed between them, she knows that logically, but it is harder to tell her brain that. Snooping has a deep psychological effect, making her feel as though she is being watched, as though he already knows even if he doesn't in reality, that she has to watch her every move with close scrutiny so that she doesn't get caught.

It doesn't really help that Danny isn't lending much of a hand. Tucker can't – it would be suspicious for a nerdy engineer to suddenly start hanging out with the goth ecologist – so Danny, being right next door, is the obvious choice for aid, but he's been avoiding the lab even more than usual. He tells her that he snoops around after hours sometimes, trying to find any hints of malevolence, and while she believes him, it doesn't make it any easier for her.

She’s beginning to think that maybe these boys are just leading her on, playing some cruel and long-winded hoax, that ghosts are long gone and she’s following cold leads, but then Greeney finally slips up. It’s subtle, something she would have easily missed had she not been looking for it. He was watching a news broadcast in his office while she works in the lab, keeping him in her peripherals, and when they showed an act of vandalism in which some teens set fire to a tree, he lost it. He’s always been an ill-tempered person, but she’s pretty sure that eyes don’t literally turn red; it’s only a brief flicker of crimson across his irises, a faint green glow in his skin, then she blinks and it is gone. It would be easy to pass it off as hallucinatory, a trick of the eyes, but the boys have opened her eyes and she knows better now than to turn down the other path.

“He’s definitely a ghost,” she tells them later, watching with disgust as Tucker shoves more meat in his mouth than she thought possible. “I’ve never seen any in person, but he had the whole glowy thing down-pat.”

“We already knew he was a ghost, though,” Tucker muses, “Danny figured that out. We need to know if he’s evil.”

“Judging by the red eyes and the anger management issues, my vote is for yes.”

“We’ll have to try drawing him out,” Danny says, having been unusually quiet during this exchange. “Find a way to get him to shed his disguise, so we can confront him and find out what his motive is for being here. If it’s not anything nice, we’ll… have to take him out.”

Sam watches Danny closely, trying to figure him out. He seems incredibly reluctant to confront ghosts, which is understandable given he’s from Amity Park, but he has such a burning need to stop them, to keep people safe from them. She has trouble understanding why, until Tucker sighs and raises an eyebrow. “You still got your dad’s thermos?” he asks, and just as Danny nods, it clicks.

“Oh my God,” she breathes, and they both stop to look at her, confusion writ in their features. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice before. You’re the Danny Fenton. Your parents are the ones that designed Fentonworks, right?”

Danny freezes, sucking in a sharp breath and just holding it, staring at her with such sudden fear that something churns in her gut, like kicking a puppy. Tucker moves to stand up, but then Danny holds up a hand, stopping him as he takes a deep breath. “Yeah,” he says eventually, flicking Sam a smile. “That’s me. Was kind of hoping you wouldn’t make the connection, though.”

“I’m sorry,” is all she can think to say, “I didn’t–”

“It’s alright, Sam. Really. We’ve got bigger things to worry about right now. Here’s the plan…”

And just like that, he’s changed the subject, and Sam doesn’t have time to think about what must be going through Danny’s head until later that night, while she’s sitting alone beneath the open window of the eco lab. She wants to ask more about the Ghost Reign, about his parents, but the look on Danny’s face keeps flashing through her mind; she’s dabbled in psychology enough to know post-traumatic stress when she sees it, and she does not want to push her bounds, or his.

The light flickers on in the room above her, and there is a two second gap before her phone buzzes in the dirt beside her; Green light, it says beneath Danny’s name, and she grins despite the situation. He hadn’t wanted to use code, but Tucker had insisted, and Sam had to agree that they wouldn’t get many chances like this again, so he’d eventually caved. She thumbs the safety back on the ecto-weapon (she’d spent a long time marvelling over it when Tucker had handed it to her) and waits for the signal, almost hoping that she’ll actually end up in the thick of the fight.

Danny hopes she won’t. He placed her there to keep her out of harm’s immediate way, a safety net if Greeney tries to escape (which, with his luck, he probably will). He barely even wants to let Tucker into the fight, but he’s had Tucker beside him for years, and cannot deny him now. He watches from the corner of the room as Greeney crosses through the lab to his office, holding his breath until the door has shut, and then he pops out to the corridor to grab Tucker.

“We're going right in,” he whispers, and Tucker nods, clutching his weapon as Danny grabs hold of his arm. They duck back through to the lab, then fly straight for the door, phasing through it and stopping on the other side, revealing themselves.

Greeney drops the papers he'd been gathering as they suddenly appear in his room, Tucker with his weapon raised and Danny with translucent green flickering around his hands. He's surprised at first, as he would be, but then his face settles into that distasteful frown he has whenever he sees Danny. “I thought it was you,” he says evenly, eyes narrowing. “I couldn't believe it until now, couldn't recognise you properly. You're a ghost story now, back in the Zone, yet here is proof that you are still among them.”

“State your business, professor,” Danny says, and Tucker raises his weapon a little bit higher. “What are you trying to accomplish here?”

He grins, sweeping his arm in gesture at the room. “Can't I just be trying to live a life here? Being a college professor is more fun than you'd expect.”

“I've met enough of your kind to know better.”

There is a moment of silence, and then Greeney laughs, the hollow cackling laugh that so many of them carry. “Yes,” he chuckles, “You certainly have. Out of respect for your legend, I'll let you in on part of my plan; I'm using miss Manson as a pawn.”

They both blink. “Sam?” Danny asks, “What are you doing with her?”

“Cultivation,” Greeney reveals, and they pause. “I'm growing her into the perfect queen.”

“The queen of what?” Tucker growls, but then Danny gasps as he makes the connection, the energy fading from his grasp.

“No,” he breathes, and they both look at him, Tucker in confusion and Greeney with a smug look. “It can't really be... You shouldn't be here.”

“And yet,” Greeney replies, splaying his arms in show.

Tucker isn't quite sure what happens after that. Everything moves in a blur, too fast for him to follow; Danny turns from scared to furious, his eyes burning blue and frost following his wake and he darts forward, leaps for Greeney so fast that wind kicks up behind him, but Greeney is ready, plants growing from their tiny pots on the windowsill to impossible sizes, blocking his advance. Danny moves around, throws a bolt, misses, catches Greeney's hip with another just as a vine snakes around his chest and throws him against the wall. Tucker fires off a couple of shots while Danny is out of the way, clipping Greeney in the shoulder with one, but it does little damage and he is promptly wise to his tricks. A vine snakes up around Tucker's wrists, crushing his hands and tearing the gun from his grasp, and his only defence goes hurtling towards the window.

Sam yelps in surprise as the glass bursts open, showering the grass outside with shards of it and a heavy thunk as something lands and clatters amongst the wreckage. Tucker's weapon, she recognises, glancing up at the window where she can glimpse thick vines and a blue-green glow. Her earpiece crackles, and then Danny's voice comes through, “Amber!” hissed through clenched teeth before it goes dead again. She holds her weapon a little more firmly; that was the call to stay alert, to be ready.

What she’s not ready for is the grass snaking around her ankles, branches sprouting from seemingly nowhere grabbing her waist and hauling her up, dragging her through the window, impervious to the few shots she tries firing at them, and there is a flash of blue-grey light just as she is dumped unceremoniously on the floor.

“Sam!” Danny and Tucker call in unison, and as she looks up at them she wonders, not for the first time, if they’re a special brand of idiot, going almost entirely unarmed against a ghost powerful enough to conceal itself for so long and make trees out of thin air.

“Get her out of here,” Danny barks, and Tucker hauls her to her feet, making for the door, but Greeney is one step ahead of them, blocking the door with branches too thick for them to get through.

“I’m not letting you get anywhere,” he sneers, colour seeping in across his eyes and forming the clean, solid red she saw before. “Sam will help nurture my offspring, and the rest of you will die.” Sam snaps a string of foul accusations in response to that, but Greeney isn’t listening; his eyes have settled on Danny, smile stretching across his face, filled with the pure malevolence that Danny remembers from that time so long ago. “You,” he growls, “I am going to give a special kind of pain.”

The room pulses with green light as thick vines dart up from the floor, throwing Danny up against the far wall, the branches covering the brick snaking out and grasping his arms, his legs, wrapping around his torso and getting precariously close to his mouth. “Danny,” Tucker calls, “You have to fight him!”

“I won't!” he barks back, and Sam feels hopelessly out of the loop. It would sound nonsensical coming from anyone else, but such a conversation between these two means that there's something she doesn't know, something she doesn't understand.

There is a flash from Greeney's side of the room, and once they all uncover their eyes they see that he has shed his human form, creating a new body from the plants that fill the room. It's ghastly, big and thick and giving off more of a choking smell than the greenhouse. Sam gets the vague feeling that she’s seen it before. “I will bring your end,” he snarls, glowing with his wrath, “Painfully and mercilessly, as you have brought down so many of mine.”

“Danny!” Tucker cries, his hand still tight around Sam’s arm, “You have to do it now!”

Danny mutters a curse fouler than she’d have expected from him, and then the room flashes again, bright blue light that stings her eyes, and when it clears Danny is gone. “What happened to him?” she barks at Tucker, but he doesn’t have time to answer before sharp green light shoots past them and the plants blocking the door burn and whither and fall apart. Tucker doesn’t have to be told twice; he takes Sam and bolts, out the door and through the lab and straight out to the hallway, barely pausing as he drags her towards the door leading out of the building. “What about Danny?” she gasps, still in a state of shock at the sudden turn of events.

“Danny can handle himself,” he says, “Trust us,” and she has no other choice.

Undergrowth seems to somehow be more powerful than the first time Danny fought him, which is unfair given his already great power, but at least Danny knows how to fight him this time. It’s been a long time since he used his powers like this, but it still comes easily, as it always has, barely a conscious thought passing before his fingers go cold and ice is darting from his palms. These days he often forgets what it’s like, how it feels to truly be himself, and he revels in it even as Undergrowth gets hold of him, throws him down, knocks the breath out of him. He hasn’t had a fight like this in years; most ghosts recognise him when he shifts (or sometimes even when he doesn’t), respecting him enough to leave or knowing better than to fight him. It’s rare for a ghost to hold a big enough grudge to try attacking him these days, and he’d almost be glad that this one has if he wasn’t so worried about his friends, the school, the public if he gets out of Danny’s grasp.

It’s taxing, though. He’s forgotten how tiring these battles can be, especially against such powerful ghosts. The room is mostly ice by the time he grapples for the thermos, worn hands clasping around it and aiming, firing, hoping, grinning as Undergrowth is sucked in kicking and screaming. He takes a deep breath, releasing it with a shaky smile, but he can’t relax just yet; he’s worn out from the fight, bleeding in some places and battered in more, and he can’t stay here. Undergrowth always seems to knock too much out of him, but he’s sure he can make it back to his room, pulling himself off the floor and passing through the window in the direction of the dorms.

“Why are we heading back to Stockton?” Sam cries, and while Tucker had let her go back at the labs, she still followed close beside him. “Danny’s still there, we have to help him. That ghost is going to destroy him.”

“It won’t,” Tucker says, but he only sounds half-convinced. “We’ve had a run-in with that ghost before, back in Amity Park. He knows what he’s doing. And,” he adds as they begin the climb up the stairs, “If I’m right, he’ll meet us back here as soon as it’s dealt with.”

She’s dubious, but they’re the only two she trusts right now, and they have far more experience with ghosts than she does, so she has to stick to Tucker’s word. “He better,” she mutters, then keeps her mouth shut until they reach his room.

The first thing Tucker does when they step into the room is clear off Danny’s bed, moving books and equipment to elsewhere in the apartment. “What are you doing?” Sam asks him, watching awkwardly from the door.

“Being wrong, I hope,” he mutters back, pulling out his phone and anxiously tapping in Danny’s number. There’s a long silence in the room as it rings, both of them agitated until it eventually rings out and he drops the phone unceremoniously on his desk. “He better show up,” he says as he sinks down on his bed, “Or I’m burning his favourite book.”

It’s the longest fifteen minutes of her life, sitting and waiting without really knowing why, the room quiet bar the sounds of them both fidgeting. She feels like she might go crazy, but then something – someone – passes through the wall and tumbles across the floor cacophonously, cursing in pain as they both yelp in surprise and jump to their feet. Tucker moves first, rushing over to help him up and onto Danny’s bed, muttering to him while Sam just stands there, staring at the ghost boy who had been missing for years.

It doesn’t take her long to make the connection, especially as Danny loses the last of his concentration and with it his hold on his form, pulsing back to a solid human body right in front of her. She can’t believe she didn’t connect the dots sooner; the two of them being from Amity Park, their reactions when she mentioned the Ghost Reign, his reaction to Greeney, the fact that he’s Danny freaking Fenton.

She doesn’t have time to dwell on it, though. Tucker asks her to hold him up as he darts to the bathroom, Danny’s head lolling into her shoulder as Tucker rummages through the cupboards. He’s still awake, but barely, his body definitely worse for wear, blood and ectoplasm and dirt smearing his skin. Tucker returns with a few first-aid supplies and begins to work on him, Sam helping him clean any open wounds and bandage the worst of them (she tries not to pay attention to the particularly nasty green-stained gash on his upper arm) before finally letting him down to sleep. Tucker seems too well-practised in the routine, having prepared earlier and knowing just what to do, and she wonders how often he’s had to patch Danny up, how often they’ve gotten into fights with ghosts that have damaged them badly enough to require that kind of action.

It’s quiet again once Danny has been taken care of and Tucker has cleaned up, sitting down at his desk and fiddling with one of his projects. “I assume you know now,” he says after a while of Sam watching him from the bed, gesturing vaguely towards Danny.

“Yeah,” she sighs, watching him from across the room. She’d never have expected when she first met him that she’d end up befriending a legendary ghost. Half ghost? She’s not even sure how it works. “I’m going to keep it quiet, though. I don’t want it getting out any more than you do.”

Tucker smiles, at that, looking over at his friend of so many years. “Could you do me a favour?” he asks, and she raises a questioning eyebrow. “If he doesn’t remember that you saw when he wakes up, then don’t let him know that you know. Pretend you missed it, at least until I’ve had a chance to talk to him.”

“Why?” she asks curiously, even though she is going to follow his advice anyway.

“Because he might not take well to somebody else knowing. The last time someone found out, it…” He trails off, staring at the machine in his hands with a frown for a moment, then picks up a screwdriver and distracts himself. “It didn’t end well, is all. It’s hard to tell how he’ll handle things these days.”

He lets Sam hang out in their room overnight, working on her essays on Tucker’s bed while he tinkers, until they eventually get fed up with work and end up watching a movie. Tucker falls asleep in the middle of it, leaving Sam alone in their apartment in the early hours of the morning. She could walk back to her own room, but she doesn’t really feel safe doing so (they have no guarantee that Danny actually defeated Greeney without asking him, and she doesn’t want to risk an encounter), and she wants to keep an eye on Danny. She’s sure he’ll be fine, considering the amount of fights he’d been in during the Reign (that the public knew about, at least, it was probably far more in private), but she’s worried nonetheless. It’s been years, he could be out of practise, it could be the final straw on the camel. There’s no way to tell until he wakes up.

She’s doodling in the corners of her workbook when he finally does wake, stirring without her knowing until he sighs heavily through his nose, and she looks up to find him staring at the ceiling. “Danny?” she says quietly, wary of waking up Tucker, and he looks over at her, eyes the same brilliant blue they’ve always been.

He furrows his brow, pushing himself up into a sitting position. “Sam? You’re still here?” he murmurs, rubbing sleep from his eyes and cringing as it pulls on his wounds.

“Yeah,” she says flippantly, “It was already late, so Tucker and I just hung out for a while. He crashed a couple hours ago. How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” he replies almost immediately, then pauses. “I mean, a little sore, but I’ll be fine.” There’s a long pause as he stretches, tenderly getting a feel for the damage. It could have been worse, he thinks; he will be back to normal in a couple of days. He turns his attention back to Sam then, trying to gauge her expression, to see if she knows. “Did you… What did you see?”

“I saw you rock up here beat to a pulp,” she responds, hoping not to give anything away. “Seriously, what were you thinking, going up against that ghost unarmed? He could have killed you.”

He grins, then, feeling a little more at ease. “A Fenton is always prepared for ghosts,” he says with only a little humour, holding up his arm, and his wristwatch pops open to reveal a miniaturised ghost ray. “He’s dealt with now either way. Locked up tighter than a drum. I’ll have to deal with the thermos later.”

She questions him about that, wondering how all this ghost stuff works, and he’s happy to oblige, telling her about his parents’ inventions (and a couple of his and Tucker’s making), what they do and how they work, until Tucker wakes up and she decides that she should go.

“Thank you,” she says as she is leaving, and she wants to say more, to thank him for risking his life and his secret, but she can’t just yet and so she finishes weakly with, “For everything.”

He smiles, tells her it’s fine, and then he hugs her, brief and awkward and entirely sincere. “I’m just glad it ended well enough,” he says, his mind flashing back to the last time he had fought that ghost. “And that you’re both okay.”

She leaves after that, saying she’ll text him later once she’s taken a well-earned nap, and he steps back into his room to grab a drink just as Tucker steps out of the shower. “Sam left?” he asks, and Danny nods as he drinks, still worn out from last night. Tucker looks at him for a moment, studies the way his eyes stare out of focus at the counter, the way his hands shake. “Relax, dude,” Tucker tells him, catching his attention. “I think that went rather well. Gree– Undergrowth didn’t cause any real damage, other than to you and his office, and Sam is still perfectly fine. Nobody got mind-controlled or turned into trees. I assume you cleaned out his office of any ghostly residue. It went about as good as it could have.”

Danny gives a frown and a thoughtful hum, tapping a finger rhythmically on the counter. “She didn’t see anything?” he asks, the question Tucker has been dreading. “You know, anything…”

“To do with ‘him’?” he finishes, and Danny nods. “What would you do if she had?”

He sighs, moving over to slump down on his bed. “I don’t know,” he mutters, tugging at his hair the way he does when he’s stressed. “We can trust her, I think, but… I don’t want any repeats of what’s happened before. With Jazz, Valerie, you with the GIW.”

“That was one time, man, and they didn’t even do anything except the good-cop-bad-cop routine.”

“The point still stands, there’s a chance of something happening if she gets involved, and I don’t want her hurt. I don’t even like that you’re involved, because of what’s happened. I’d rather be overly careful than not careful enough. I made that mistake.”

“But you trust her?”

Danny stops, looks at him, trying to understand. “Yes,” he says finally, “I do.”

Tucker smiles. “Then trust that she can handle herself. You and I have been doing this a long time, and Sam is more competent than you want yourself to realise. Give her a shot.”

He sighs, and Tucker knows that he’s won this one. “Fine,” Danny murmurs, “You’re right. I know you’re right, I just… I worry, you know? I guess I do owe her an explanation for what happened last night.”

“You can talk to her about it later,” Tucker agrees, “But first, you owe Woolfe an explanation for why you’re missing your lecture.”

Danny frowns, checks his watch, then gives a heavy curse under his breath; he has never been very good at balancing ghost-fighting with school, and it is not so different now. At least it’s a lecture and not a tutorial, and Woolfe is always understanding of the few absences he takes. It gives him time to work out what he’s going to say to Sam, too, running through endless scenarios in his head as he rushes through a shower and sits through the remainder of his lecture, trying not to fall asleep with the exhaustion still sitting heavy over him after last night.

He sends her a message later that night, asking if she wants to hang out, debrief after last night, keeping it vague enough and hoping she doesn’t pick up too badly on his ulterior motives. She replies barely a few minutes later detailing when she’s free and asking where to meet him, and after a little back and forth they settle on the Stockton roof.

He’s up there before her, sitting on the edge of the roof and anxiously tapping his fingers along the concrete, thinking and rethinking and ruminating endlessly until he hears the light creak of the stairwell door and the heavy fall of her boots across the roof. “Hey,” she says as she sits down beside him, and for a moment he is distracted by how dangerous her shoes look when she swings her legs over the edge of the roof and how good they look on her.

“Hey,” he says back, looking back out at the campus sprawling before them. He wants to say something else, wants to start somewhere, but he can’t think of anything to really break the ice.

“Feeling better?” she asks instead, her eyes passing over the quickly fading bruise on his cheekbone.

He offers her a brief smile, playing light of it. “Yeah, thanks. Been a while since I last got thrown at a wall.”

“It happens often?”

“I was a nerd in high school. It happened all the time.” She makes a knowing sound, understanding what that must have been like. A moment of silence passes between them, and Sam can feel how tense he is, how nervous the situation is making him. He sucks in a deep breath, long and shaky through his teeth, eyes averted down at his hands. “Sam, there’s… something I need to tell you,” he begins slowly, and she waits, giving him the time he needs. It has been a long time since anyone found out about this, and he has never outright told someone like this before. He feels like the best thing in this instance is to just say it outright. “I’m… I’m Phantom.”

For a moment she considers feigning surprise, pretending she didn’t make the connection, but she knows that he knows that she’s too smart not to have figured it out by now, and she knows that Tucker has almost definitely told him anyway. “I know,” is all she settles on, and by the look he gives her, it seems to be the right answer, but he has to ask anyway.

“You’re not weirded out by that?” he asks tentatively, “Me having ghost powers?”

“Weirded out?” she scoffs, grinning a little. “Are you kidding? I think it’s really cool.”

That’s some relief, at least, but then comes the bigger question. “And you don’t… think any differently of me for it?”

“Why would I?”

It seems so simple when she puts it like that. “It’s just… Sometimes people have acted differently around me, knowing what I am and what I can do. People always treat Phantom differently to me, but it’s worse when they treat me like that too.”

She hums in thought, looking away from him to watch a couple of students crossing the courtyard below them. “No,” she says finally, “You’re still plain old Danny to me. You just have a cool party trick, is all.”

Danny finally allows himself a grin, relief flooding through him at knowing she’s still the Sam he can trust. “Thanks,” he tells her, as sincerely as he can make it. She just gives him a smile in return, placing her hand gently over his between them; he thinks, not for the first time, that he is glad this has brought the closer.