Danny touched down behind the school and leaned against the wall, one hand firmly over the gash in his hip. He blinked at it, feeling bleary. It wasn’t bleeding, exactly, ectoplasm was too viscous for that, and it tended to gel quickly, but… Yeah. It didn’t feel good either, and it had been oozing before.
He should get it cleaned out and put a bandage on it. Fast. Before he missed even more classes.
Also, what would happen when he changed back to human? Like, when he changed back, his wounds were usually less bad, but they were never completely gone, and he usually didn’t get anything quite this deep. Or long.
Mostly he just got bruises. Or scratches. One time he thought he’d broken a couple of fingers. Which had motivated him to learn how to punch properly, but, well. Yeah.
Cuts like this were new and terrifying territory. Why did that ghost have a sword?
Maybe he should just try and stay a ghost for as long as possible? Would he heal faster like that? He didn’t know.
Between keeping everything secret from everyone, protecting everyone, and trying to live his life to whatever extent ‘live’ and ‘life’ still applied to him, he hadn’t any time to test the- the limitations of- of whatever he was now. Maybe he could have made time, but he hated this so much.
(He wanted to be a normal person in a normal town with a normal family.)
He took a deep breath, and trued not to notice how it didn’t make him feel refreshed, or that he hadn’t been breathing since he sat down against the wall.
Right. First aid.
And he still had classes.
Slowly, he reached into the wall and pulled out the kit he had hidden there.
He slouched into sixth period, avoiding Sam and Tucker’s eyes. No one else really paid him any mind, although the teacher frowned at him. It was still passing, though, and he didn’t get called up or told to go to the office. So. A win.
It didn’t feel like a win. It felt like pain.
Sam leaned forward. “Where were you?” she hissed, through her teeth. “You missed fifth period completely.”
Danny shrugged and regretted it instantly.
Tucker huffed and turned away. “If you’re going to skip class,” he said, “you could at least tell us what you’re doing.”
“I’m just—” started Danny. “I’m not doing anything.”
“Don’t lie to us, Danny. We—” She bit down on her lip. “We are still friends, right?”
“Of course we are!”
Sam looked dubious. Tucker, for all his staring as he came into the classroom, wouldn’t meet his eye.
Then the teacher started class.
“It has to be drugs,” said Sam to Tucker, sitting on the steps in front of the school. “I don’t know how Danny could be that stupid, but it’s the only explanation.”
“Maybe the hospital gave him painkillers back in August and he couldn’t get off of them?” suggested Tucker. “I think that happened to one of my aunts… She got better, though.”
“Maybe,” said Sam. Her face twisted up. “But how is he paying for them? Like, he doesn’t have an allowance.”
“Underground fighting ring?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Someone’s beating him up,” said Tucker, “and it isn’t Dash.”
Tucker shrugged, scowling at his PDA. “I hate this,” he said. “I hate – Why won’t he talk to us, Sam? It isn’t like we’d throw him under the bus or rat him out. He knows that.”
“He should know that,” corrected Sam. “And I’m so mad at him, but…” She trailed off, staring down at the weathered concrete of the steps.
“Yeah,” agreed Tucker. “Do you think we should tell Jazz?”
“Heck, no,” said Sam, immediately. “What is that going to do? We need, like, an intervention or something.”
“Don’t you need someone’s whole family for something like that?”
“I’m going to intervene right in the face of whoever is selling Danny drugs.”
“Ah, the violence route,” said Tucker. “How did we get here so quickly?”
“Shut up,” said Sam. “Anything else we do is just going to get Danny in trouble, and I’m not doing that. Even if he’s being a garbage friend right now.”
“Yeah…” said Tucker. “So how are we doing this?”
“I may not be the best friend in the whole wide world, but even crappy friends don’t let each other beat up drug dealers in alleyways on their own, even if they do have five years of self-defense classes under their belts. What if this guy has a gun? What if there’s more than one?”
Sam buried her head in her hands. “Frick,” she said, very softly.
“Would this count as vigilantism, by the way? That’s illegal, right?”
“Frick,” repeated Sam, more passionately.
“Is this going to be our superhero origin story?” asked Tucker, turning his eyes skyward and making his voice waver dramatically.
“Don’t even joke about that. The only superhero we know of is dead.”
Tucker turned to look up at Sam. “I still can’t believe you believe that. Something weird is going on, but… ghosts? That sounds more like Danny’s parents than anything acquainted with reality.”
“You’d believe it, too, if you were there,” muttered Sam. “If you—” She shook herself. “Whatever. You, me, tomorrow?”
“If I knew what you were asking me to do, I’d probably say yes.”
“Following Danny, duh.”
“Sure, but… Joking about punching drug dealers or whoever is beating Danny up aside, we should probably treat this as just recon. Because I don’t want to get shot by some crackhead in an alley. Like, if I did become a ghost, my parents would kill me.”
“Not if the Fentons got you first.”
“Aw, Sam. You wouldn’t let them hurt your bestest undead friend, now would you?”
“Best undead friend? No. You? Yes.”
Tucker snorted, choked, and started wheezing.
“Anyway, I’m not getting into a fight with you anywhere near me. If you didn’t take yourself out, you’d take me out.”
“Don’t say it.”
“Bad luck Tuck.”
“Ugh, you said it.”
Both of them sighed, staring across the street without really seeing anything.
“Tomorrow, then,” said Sam, feeling vaguely relieved.
“Tomorrow,” agreed Tucker.
Whatever had decided to crawl out of the woodwork to torment Danny today hovered on the edge of his awareness, making him shiver intermittently as he played the most aggravating game of ‘hot and cold’ in the world. Where was it? He’d lost track of it after he chased it away from Mr. Quigley, the janitor.
His breath came out blue, briefly, and green flashed in the corner of his eye before something checked him against the shoulder. He stumbled, biting back curses (he was a superhero, now, technically, and he needed to be a good role model), and gripping his hip. The cut from yesterday had healed a lot, but not completely.
But- He knew the ghost was close, now. Close and fast. He’d been trying to save his energy by tracking the ghost down as human, but now… He felt himself smile.
It was not a particularly nice smile. It was full of all the stress and nonsense he’d had to put up with since August.
He was going to beat this little interloper into the ground, teach it better than to haunt his town, hurt his people and get away with it.
Bright white light swept over him, and he jumped into the air.
“No,” said Tucker. “We did not just see that. I refuse.”
“That was—” Sam made a large sweeping upwards motion. “He just flew off! What the heck kind of drugs do that? This is—This is—I don’t even know how to say it!” She kicked a nearby garbage can and then sunk down into a crouch.
(Even in this state of mind, she was not kneeling on the ground here. It was gross.)
“We didn’t—It’s got to be something his parents made. Like Fenton Ghost Steroids or something,” said Tucker, who was shaking.
“His parents,” said Sam. “His parents. They’ve been shooting at him, Tucker.”
“I mean… Yeah. I guess so. But we didn’t… Sam,” he croaked. “Did Danny die and not tell us?”
“No. No. Just, no. No way. He—You were right, earlier. It has to be ghost steroids or something, and his parents don’t know, so that means we still have to beat up his dealer, but they’re probably a ghost, how do we beat up a ghost?”
“We could ask Danny’s parents?”
“God, no!” She shook her head violently. “Did you miss the part where they’re shooting at him?”
Tucker shrugged, defensively. “Well, who else could teach us how to fight ghost drug dealers?” He pushed his glasses up his nose and stared up at the sky. “Maybe it’s not drugs, though? Like, in retrospect, if it isn’t painkillers, I can’t really see Danny taking drugs. Even ghost drugs that give you superpowers.”
“I hate all the words that just came out of your mouth. I must be having a psychotic break.”
“Hey, wait, that’s my line. I’m the one in denial. Give it back.”
“Find your own denial.”
“We can’t both be in denial. Someone needs to drive this car.”
“Drive you right off a cliff, that’s what I’ll do. And I’m going to kill Danny for not telling us about whatever this is.” Sam’s gestures grew progressively more violent.
“I don’t think you can kill a ghost. They’re already—”
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence.”
Tucker held up his hands in surrender. “Do you think we should wait for him to come back?”
“He probably won’t,” said Sam. “I mean… he can… fly… apparently.”
“Yeah. Can’t believe he had his superhero origin story without us.”
“This isn’t a joke, Tucker,” snapped Sam.
“Well, I’m sorry I have a coping mechanism, okay?” Tucker sighed. “Should we go back to class?”
“I guess,” said Sam, kicking at the ground. “We’re jumping Danny at the first opportunity, though.”
“Duh,” said Tucker.
Danny limped into seventh period, drained, and flinched away from Sam and Tucker’s glares. He felt sick.
There wasn’t anything he could do about the ghost attacks except try to finish them faster, but he’d been a terrible friend lately. They probably were starting to hate him. They were going to leave him. He could tell. He couldn’t even blame them.
If he told them—
They’d be in danger.
Danger from what, at this point, wasn’t clear, because even if they knew, Danny wasn’t going to let them near any ghost fights, but danger was definitely involved. A lot of it.
But if they stopped being friends with him…
The cold thing that had taken up residence in his chest cringed, and he stumbled. Dash laughed, made an inane comment about his coordination, and lobbed a ball of paper at the back of Danny’s head. Danny barely noticed.
He didn’t want that. He needed his friends.
Sam and Tucker were having some kind of conversation with only their facial expressions by the time Danny sat down, effectively ignoring him. Now the little ball of cold in his chest felt crushed.
(Just barely, he resisted the urge to check his pulse. Whatever had been added to him, he still had that.)
(He was still alive.)
Sam and Tucker were very studiously not looking at him.
He sank lower in his chair.
As soon as they were able to, Sam and Tucker dragged Danny into a secluded nook formed by the intersection of two of the school’s exterior walls and shaded by a large bush. It was unlikely that anyone would bother them there.
Danny looked surprised, apprehensive, and oddly pleased at the same time.
“Uh,” he said, very eloquently.
He probably intended to say more than that, of course, but Sam didn’t give him the chance.
“We followed you when you skipped today,” she said.
Immediately, all the blood in his face drained away, leaving him bone pale. “What?”
“In our defense,” said Tucker, “we thought you were meeting a drug dealer. Or going to fight in an underground club.”
“No, we didn’t,” said Sam. “Well, we did with the drug dealer, but not the underground fighting ring. That’s stupid. Drugs make so much more sense.”
“You think I’m on drugs?” wailed Danny.
“Thought,” emphasized Tucker. “Past tense.”
“That’s not any better!”
“Au contraire! Now we think you’re on ghost drugs!”
“I am not on ghost drugs!” hissed Danny. “Where would I even get ghost drugs?”
“Your parents?” suggested Sam.
“Why would my parents have ghost drugs?”
“To drug ghosts with? I don’t know, man, your parents are weird.”
“Why would ghost drugs even—Wait. How much did you even see?” asked Danny, squinting suspiciously. “Did you actually see anything, or are you just trying to get me to say something?”
“To be fair, we are trying to get you to say something.”
“We saw you turn into the ghost boy and fly off after a ghost,” said Sam, sharply.
“Oh. Heck.” Danny leaned against the wall. “You did see something, then.”
“Yeah, and we want to know, if it isn’t ghost drugs, how? And why?” asked Sam. “And why didn’t you tell us?”
“I just, um. I didn’t—This is just—I’m freaked out, okay? This is really freaking weird, and I—You’re not going to tell my parents, are you?”
“If you’re getting high off of ghost drugs,” said Tucker, “then, yeah, maybe. Don’t think we haven’t noticed you looking like hell. There’s got to be a bunch of side effects from ghost drugs.”
“Oh my gosh, Tucker, I’m not on ghost drugs. There are no ghost drugs, and, considering everything, I’d really prefer it if you didn’t give my parents the idea of ghost drugs because that’s the absolute last thing I need.”
Danny finished the sentence in a rush and now he was breathing too much, which was just great, because apparently that was a thing that could happen to him, now. Going from maybe not needing to breathe to breathing too much… He was really having doubts about his humanity right now, and his friends were mad at him because they thought he was on ghost drugs. Ghost drugs.
“I’m not on ghost drugs,” he said, perfectly calm.
“Are you—Dude, I think you’re hyperventilating.”
Okay. Maybe not perfectly calm. He slid the rest of the way down the wall to the ground, which, wow, was a thing he was doing a lot, lately.
“Danny?” asked Sam, hesitant.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Mostly. Just. Give me a minute, okay?”
They gave him a minute. The minute spiraled into five. Then ten. Which was a really long time to spend in anxious, awkward silence.
“Okay,” said Danny. “So. Uh. Accident. In the lab. With the stupid ghost portal. It kind of messed me up a bit. Like. And then I’ve been able to, uh, turn into a ghost. Since then.”
“You can just… turn into a ghost?” ventured Sam.
“Just, like, whenever?”
“Yeah. Pretty much. At the beginning I couldn’t control it at all, which was pretty, um… Yeah. And I can’t when I’m too tired.”
“So, you can die on command?”
“I’m not dead!” snapped Danny.
Tucker took a step back, hitting the bush. “Sorry. I’m just trying to wrap my head around this whole… thing”
“Yeah,” agreed Sam. “I mean, you’re breathing and everything. That means you’re alive. You’re not dead.”
“I’m not dead,” repeated Danny. “I’ve just got, like, ghost powers, or something.”
“Yeah. That makes sense. Because you can’t be dead and alive at the same time.” Sam laughed. It sounded more than a little forced. “That would be—That’s impossible! Right?”
“Right.” Danny took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He was alive. Sam agreed.
“And, uh, thanks,” said Sam.
Danny looked up, surprised. “What?”
“For saving me from that ghost,” explained Sam.
“Oh.” He blinked. “You’re welcome? It really—I mean, of course I saved you. You’re my friend.”
Tucker leaned in. “I think Sam has a crush on ghost you.”
“Tucker, if I kill you, they’ll never find the body,” said Sam.
“No murder, please,” said Danny. He sniffed. “Are we—Are we okay, now?”
“No,” said Sam. She poked him in the head. “I still don’t get why you didn’t tell us. And you have to tell us everything. And let us help you. Because you really do look like you’re on drugs. That’s how crappy you look.”
“You can’t,” protested Danny, alarmed. “I’ve got, you know, but you-!”
“I don’t think she means actively fighting the ghosts, dude.”
“The hell I don’t.”
“Okay, maybe Sam wants to actively fight the undead, or whatever, but you need people to cover for you, at least. Your skipping out of class thing is… not subtle. Why do you do that, anyway? Why not go after the ghosts when it isn’t school time?”
“I don’t really have a choice,” mumbled Danny. “I can feel them, and it’s like, I don’t know…” He looked up. “Can we… talk about this somewhere else? I don’t want to do this in the open.”
“Crud. Yeah,” said Tucker. “No superhero stuff where normal people can hear it. Come on, we can camp out in my attic or something.”
“Are there even normal people in Amity Park?” asked Danny, pushing himself off the ground.
“I don’t—Oh my god, Danny, what is that?”
“What is-? Oh. Yeah. So. Ghosts are not gentle. And some of them have swords.”
“You got stabbed?” wheezed Tucker, his voice squeaking. “By a ghost?”
“More like slashed, but…” Danny raised his hands helplessly. “Yeah.” He rubbed one of his eyes. He was exhausted.
“Are you… okay?”
Danny laughed. “No. No, I am not. Can we go, now? Please?”
“I’m saying this as someone who hates hospitals, but you should get that looked at. Really.”
“I’m ninety percent sure I have ectoplasm in my blood, so I’m going to take a hard pass on that one.”
“Ouch!” said Danny. His most recent fight with a ghost had been violent, and he’d yet again come away with injuries Sam and Tucker deemed ‘serious.’ “Are you sure you’re doing this right?”
“Look, Mr. No-Hospital, I had to learn first-aid from YouTube. And I’ve only had a week to learn, because you didn’t tell us you decided to take up the family business.”
“Still more than what he did for himself,” said Tucker, peering over the back of Sam’s sofa. “It’s just butterfly clips, anyway. Not stitches.”
“Heh, butterfly clips,” said Danny. “Makes me think of—Ouch!—barrettes.”
“Berets?” asked Tucker, adjusting his hat.
“Barrettes. Hair barrettes. Like, you know, the one Star wears all the time. With the flower.”
“Oh. Yeah. No, I get what you mean. But, yeah, you’re right about Danny’s medical skills. Or should I say, the lack thereof.”
“Guys, I’m injured. Can you give it a rest?”
“Hm. As you let yourself walk around with a mostly untreated stab wound, no.”
“It was more of a slash,” protested Danny. Again. “A cut. Not a stab.”
“Keep telling yourself that,” said Sam. “Anyway, I’m done. And you’re lucky whatever’s going on with your body keeps you from getting infections. I had to pick so much gravel out of your back it isn’t even funny.”
“Are we sure he can’t get infections?” mused Tucker. “He could just be really lucky.”
“In no universe am I lucky,” groaned Danny. “You’d think the freak lab accident would have shown you that.” Danny sat up and stretched before pulling his shirt back on.
“Speaking of,” said Sam. “Are you ever going to tell us what actually happened? You said it had to do with your parents’ portal, but…”
Danny had frozen. “I…” he said, softly, not looking at either of them. “I will. It’s just… not yet. I’m not… Just not yet.”
“It’s cool, man,” said Tucker. “Take your time. We’ll be there when you’re ready.”
Danny smiled. “Thanks.”