SHE LIVES!

…Well, not quite. Seeing as how I've been scared half to death/laughed myself half to death several times since I've last posted anything here, I'd say I'm about… Oh… well, somewhere around one hundred and twenty-seven one hundred and twenty-eighths of the way dead. Now to explain away my C in math somehow.

Well, either way, better late than never. That'll be my motto for a while, so if you're reading any of my other fanfictions, get used to it. Hah, it's an explanation, and an excuse! ...I think.

Ah, but remember, there are no such things as excuses, only reasons.

Anywho, if anyone's confused by Vlad's antics—and I bet you are—never fear. All will be explained in due time. So, in fact, will be the little snippets in here about other people. Hey, they aren't just thrown in there randomly, you know!

With that being said...

(PS: Honestly? I really have only the slightest idea where I'm going with this.)


III
Suspicions


Danny paced nervously around his room, a combination of adrenaline, worry, and just all-around anxiousness preventing him from sleeping.

It was stifling. He opened the window, but it did little to help. The air was warm and still. He slammed it shut and paced around the room once more.

Thinking...

Vlad, it must've been. Skulker never works for anyone else. That thing...too much like the Plasmius Maximus for my liking. ...Was it? No, it looked different. I think. Danny frowned. Then maybe it wasn't Plasmius, just Skulker? But that makes no sense! Skulker wants my pelt (Ew); he couldn't care less about whether or not the town knows who I am. Danny searched around for another possible suspect, going down a list of possible names. Walker? But he dismissed the thought. Skulker would never work for Walker. Unless he was being forced to? ...No, that can't be right. So it's Vlad. But...we had a truce! He wouldn't dare...and not because of my mom...

Danny's frown deepened and he threw another dirty glare at the twighlight outside his window. Quiet, peaceful, still—a perfect night for flying. Only thing was, he couldn't risk being seen in public in his ghost form. Too many cameras, undoubtedly. But it was so hot!

And he wanted to fly.

As if on cue, there came a wisp of blue breath, shivers temporarily turning suffocating heat into icy cold. Danny paused in his restless pacing, wondering what to do. He battled with himself.

It's an excuse...

But I can't risk anything!

Still, if it's a ghost...

Someone else can handle it!

No one else has a ghost sense; no one knows it's there...

Ghosts attack. They'll know.

Exactly, and who could protect them...?

Mom and Dad.

They're really not that great...

But Mom is.

And there's Valerie.

They'll be there no matter what. And if they see you...

They won't see me. I'll go invisible.

Not to fight.

I'll be fine; they can't catch me.

They know what they're dealing with, now; they can.

It's probably only the Box Ghost.

They could take care of it.

But if they aren't there...

They'll be there. They always are.

I'll bet Valerie's out right now.

She's still not as good as me.

What if it isn't the Box Ghost?

...What if it's Vlad?

Then it's part of his plan. Best to not play into his hands.

Maybe...

Maybe...

Danny shook off the last traces of his ghost sense and tried, for the first time, to suppress it. He didn't need to know if there were ghosts around. He didn't need to fight anymore—it was too dangerous, anyway. What was the worst that could happen?

But, still... A lot can happen—has happened—to this town.

Danny sat on the broad windowsill and buried his face in his hands. Ghost sense again—he shivered, and buried it. Shook it off, and buried it, thrusting it away from him, his thoughts, and even his subconscious mind.

That should do it, he thought with grim satisfaction. If I can't sense ghosts, I won't fight them, and—well, it'll be better for everyone.

Exhausted with the effort of thought and the emotional and mental aspects of the day, Danny fell asleep, right on the windowsill.


Dawn came and went.

Danny's alarm rang itself hoarse and stopped, deciding that, if its owner weren't up by then, its owner simply wouldn't get up.

"Danny!" his mother's voice drifted up from downstairs. "Breakfast's ready!"

Still he continued to sleep.

Jazz passed the bathroom and frowned. Danny hadn't been at breakfast, so she'd assumed that he was still getting ready. But she heard neither the running water of the shower, nor the sound of Danny dropping something clumsily in his drowsy, early morning way.

She checked his room. All Jazz saw was the empty bed. She didn't look as far as the windowsill.

The empty bed worried her. She frowned, closed the door, bit her lip. If Danny wasn't in the kitchen, wasn't in the bathroom, wasn't sleeping in late...

She stomped her foot in frustration. Her brother was so stupid! He must be out fighting some ghost or other—and after yesterday!

Jazz gritted her teeth and went downstairs, preparing every likely alibi in her mind. It never hurt to be prepared.


"Danny!" Maddie called, going up the stairs. She passed her daughter, whose brow was furrowed in deep thought. The maternal figure of the Fenton family passed it off as just Jazz's way of preparing for some test or other that day at school, and continued on her way upstairs.

"Danny?" she asked, tapping on the bathroom door. The door swung open, revealing an empty bathroom.

"Danny! Wake up!" she cried, stomping on down the hallway and pushing open the door to his room with far more noise than was necessary. She had learned that, with Danny in the mornings, it was best to make as much noise as possible.

"DANNY!" she shouted, shoving every cover and the pillow off the bed. THAT should wake him up, she thought with satisfaction, but only until she noticed that her son wasn't present. Maddie frowned and left the room, overlooking—as had Jazz—that Danny was, in a feat of balance, simply asleep on the window sill.

She returned downstairs, to find her husband sneaking a peanut butter cookie from the cookie jar. Maddie chose to ignore it, and instead addressed her husband.

"Jack," she said (and here he jumped, whirled around, and hid the cookie behind his back like a guilty child), "I can't find Danny anywhere!"

Determining that his wife would not, in fact, reprimand him for early-morning snacking today, Jack shoved the cookie in his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. He swallowed. "Normally he's in his bed, or trying to avoid going to school."

Maddie shook her head and took a seat at the table. "I've looked everywhere, Jack," she answered, despite the fact that the one place she had not checked was the windowsill of Danny's room. "He's nowhere to be found."

"Mmmm," Jack answered, eating another two cookies and downing the lot with a swig of milk. He wiped his chin. "It's not like Danny to miss breakfast. Maybe a ghost—"

"Jack, that's brilliant!" Maddie shouted, leaping up. "I'll scan the house for spectral activity immediately!" she swept her hood and goggles over her face and gave her husband a quick peck on the cheek.

"Ah," said Jack after her retreating figure. "Then does that mean I can eat his breakfast?"

When no reply was forthcoming, he helped himself to Danny's by now rather cold morning meal.


Maddie ran into Jazz who shouted a quick goodbye as she ran out the door, realizing she was late for two morning tutoring sessions with a few sophomores. "Bye, sweetie!" Maddie answered her daughter, taking her attention off of the Fenton Finder for only the briefest moment it took to acknowledge her eldest child.

"Ghost detected," the Fenton Finder bleeped in a feminine monotone. "Ghost directly above you."

She hurried up the stairs.

"Ghost ahead." Maddie moved faster.

The Finder led her straight into her son's room.

Hah!, Maddie thought, I've got you now, ghostie! and leaped over the threshold into her son's room.

Nothing. Not even a 'Boo'.

"Well, that's odd. I could have sworn-" she began, but was cut off immediately by the Fenton Finder.

"BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! Ghost directly ahead! Ghost power capacity exceeds expected levels! BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! You would have to be some kind of idiot not to notice the ghost directly ahead of you! BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! Thank you for using the Fenton Finder. Have a nice day!"

Danny jerked awake and fell off the windowsill.

Maddie jumped at the resulting crash. "Danny!" she shouted, and ran over.

Danny was still mostly asleep, groggy, and very disconcerted and surprised to find himself on the floor. At first he thought—well, he wasn't sure what he thought. Most likely, something along the lines of 'five more minutes.'

"Ohhh..." he groaned, forcing himself into a halfway-sitting position. "I feel like I fell out a window..."

"Sweetie! Oh, I'm sorry—are you alright?"

"Wha- Mom! Wh-what are you doing here?" Danny asked, blue eyes focusing on his mother.

"Oh, well, we couldn't find you this morning, so we thought it was a ghost, and—what were you doing, sleeping on your window sill?" Maddie switched off the Fenton Finder, which was now bleeping on to say, "You must be less competent than Jack Fenton to not notice the ghost in this general vicinity."

"Thank you," Danny moaned to the sky. He turned to answer his mother's question. "Oh...Well, I was having a hard time sleeping, so..."

"So you fell asleep on your window."

"Uh, yeah," Danny finished, rather lamely. He lowered his eyes. "I, uh—sorry."

"No matter, sweetie, I'm just glad you're alright." She glanced at Danny's digital clock. "Oh my goodness! It's already seven thirty! Danny, you'd better hurry or you'll be late for school!"

"Not like it'll be different from any other day," Danny muttered.

"What was that?"

"Er, nothing, nothing. So, do I get breakfast, or did Dad eat it already?"


Shelly Makamoto stomped into the station that day with a fully disgruntled air. She flung her bag down on a desk and marched right up to Tiffany Snow, and shoved an accusing finger in her face.

"So!" she fumed, "I'm out sick for one week—one week—and you make the biggest story of a lifetime without me! I wouldn't have believed it of you, Tiffy, but all's fair in show business, isn't it!"

"I-" Tiffany said, leaning away from her angered coworker.

"Oh, save your breath for the camera, Snow! You staged this whole act!"

"Shelly?" Lance asked. "I knew you were sick, but I didn't know it extended so far as a mental illness."

Shelly stared at him, opening and closing her mouth, fishlike, several times. Tiffany stifled a giggle.

"You're in on this too, aren't you?" Shelly accused, when she finally managed speech.

"What are you talking about? I'm just the weatherman," he mumbled, and thumbed through a stack of papers. Tiffany glanced at them; weather charts and such stuff. She'd never understand it.

"I- but you're..." Shelly stopped. "Oh, fine." She sighed and collapsed in a chair. "I'm just more than a little tired. A week sick, then a great day yesterday, and I missed it."

"Oh, it wasn't all that-" Tiffany began, but stopped at the look Shelly thrust at her. "Okay, so it was. Here," she handed Shelly her own stack of stories. "This is all what's what. Familiarize yourself; you've got about twenty minutes before you're going out to report live on our Ghost Boy story. And think of a good name for it, too, while you're at it."

"Really?" Shelly remarked, shuffling through the papers. She pulled out a pen and scribbled out a quick few notes. Shelly looked up at Tiffany. "Thanks, then."

Tiffany tossed her hair over her shoulder. "Don't thank me; you're the one who's gonna run around out there. Everyone's going crazy for news on this, and I really don't think we're going to find that ghost around anywhere if he doesn't want to be found. He went up and talked to us all before, and I'd be willing to bet that that's that. But if nothing picks up, you'll be stuck with another interview with the Fentons. Me, I'm just glad I get to stay here in this studio."

"Well, hey, if I've got the worst job at this station, I might as well make the most of it," she said, glumly, but with a hint of optimistic cheerfulness.

Lance, who was by now feeling thoroughly depressed with the morning, corrected, "No, I've got the worst job at this station."

"What are you talking about? Even you said so yourself—you're just the weatherman," Shelly answered.

"Oh, really? Let me see that." He grabbed the papers from her hands, ignoring her loud protest of, "Hey!"

"We're here live on the scene where the famous Ghost Boy was last spotted," he read in a falsely high-pitched voice. "With us for an exclusive interview are Amity Park's own resident ghost hunters, Jack and Maddie Fenton, to shed some light on the case of the most recent discovery—or rather, near-discovery—of Danny Phantom's true identity." Lance looked up over the paper. "Oh, that's so terribly hard! It almost killed me to say all that. Hmph."

"Well, not when you've been out with the flu for a week," Shelly said crossly. But no sympathy came, and after a few minutes, she said—even more crossly, "Lance? Are you even listening to me?"

He looked up from the piece of paper. "Hmm? It's just that I just noticed… Fenton, Phantom... Isn't it ironic that the ghost hunters' and the ghost's last names sound so similar?"

Shelly gave him an angry look and grabbed the papers from his hands. "You're the weatherman," she said, shooing him away with a wave. "So go do weather!"


Valerie ran through the hallways of Casper High, thinking that they had been designed that way for the sole purpose of providing a confusing labyrinth that would make it more difficult for students to get to classes on time.

"Oh man, oh man, oh man!" she mumbled as she skidded around a corner. "I can't be late again!"

She was tired, too, and it wasn't helping. She'd fought some odd ghost—she hadn't caught the name—who had insisted on asking no less than a dozen times whether or not she'd be his friend last night. The Friendly Fiend, as she'd settled on calling him until further notice, was the first of a good many ghosts of that night. Sleeping wasn't much of a possibility, either, as she'd spent the whole night poring over that picture of the partly de-transformed ghost boy until she fell asleep. The picture, which she had tucked into her Math book, was still covered with a reasonable amount of drool.

And then, not to help matters, some sort of tentacled creature had held her up on the way to school, making her even more late than she already—

"Oof!"

Valerie glared up from the floor at whoever had knocked her down. "Watch where you're going, creep!"

"Shoot! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, I was just late and— Wait, Valerie?"

"Danny?" Valerie blinked and took in the image of her boyfriend. Well, ex-boyfriend, she reminded herself bitterly. But for the best, really.

"I, uh...Hi." The ghost boy scrambled around, clumsily gathering up Valerie's books, and then clumsily scrambling to his own feet and shoving the books at her. "Here." He seemed to realize that she was still sitting on the floor, and extended a hand to help her up, dropping two of her books in the process.

"Here," he repeated. Valerie took his hand and allowed him to help her up. Both blushed shyly.

"I..." Valerie began. She accepted the proffered books. "Thanks." She bent to pick up the rest from the ground. As she grabbed her math text, however, a slip of paper fell from the pages and fluttered to the ground. She retrieved that, glared at the picture, and looked up at Danny with a softened expression.

Then she did a double take.

And a triple take.

Undeniably, the ghost boy in his human form and Danny wore the same clothes.

"D-Danny?" Valerie asked shakily.

"Yeah?"

"Are those-" she paused, choosing her words carefully. Danny didn't know that she was the mysterious hunter who chased ghosts. She couldn't tell or even hint as much to him. She finally decided on the casual (she hoped) remark of, "Say, Danny? Where did you buy that outfit?"

Danny blinked, entirely taken aback by the question. "Gee, uh...I don't really remember."

"But you must have some idea, don't you?" Valerie asked, inwardly rolling her eyes, shaking her head, and thinking, Boys. Don't care enough about fashion to remember where they bought their clothes.

"Well...Try the mall, I guess, but...why do you want to know?" he asked, sudden suspicion glinting in his eyes.

"Um," Valerie said. Think fast, Gray. "I was just wondering...because...Well, my cousin, see, it'll be his birthday in a few days, and I was thinking that his wardrobe could use an upgrade, and because, you know, you've got such a great taste in clothes and he looks a little like you—not exactly like you, but kind of like you, you know, and I was thinking that maybe it would be a good thing...to get...for…him." Oh, man, why am I still talking? Ugh, I am such a spaz! "Yeah."

"I didn't know you had a cousin," Danny remarked. Thoughtfully, Valerie noted, and casually. I can't believe I pulled that one off!

"Well, anyway," Danny continued, thrusting Valerie's last book into her arms, "I guess I'd better get to class. See ya around, Val."

"Bye, Danny!" she waved. "And hello, Ghost Boy," she said darkly, looking at the picture in her hands. Her first—and only—lead to finding out who Danny Phantom really was. It's a good thing they both wear the same clothes.

...Hey, and that's weird...They both have the same first name!

What a coincidence.

The bell signaling the end of first period trilled through the air. Valerie winced as people flooded the hallways.

Ah. Well this sucks! You'll have to wait for after school, she silently told the Ghost Boy, and tucked his picture into her notebook.


And there you have it! One great big chapter full of wonderful chapterness. Whoop. I know I said that this chapter would be entitled Close Calls, but Suspicions fit it better somehow. And I'd totally intended it to be longer, but that's just the way it falls out. But, hey, quite a bit of humor, lots of thoughts, lots of sentence fragments…Oh, it's just my style here, see? Ten pages, whoop, although I think about nine minus the author notes.

I was gonna have a bit with Vlad in here, too, but I've decided that that can wait. I need for…er…a few things to happen first. Yeah. I have that much of the plot worked out, about two chapters ahead. Congratulate me on that I managed to remember that for however many months it's been since I last updated...anything. Heh heh.

If you'd like to read more of my useless rambles, explanations, ect., then you may feel free to check out my profile. Or, if you're reading any of my other stories and are wondering whatever the heck's happened to them, that'd be good, too.

Thanks for reading. Now review, and not only will I be ecstatic and remember to reply in a timely manner, I'll give you an imaginary Vlad plushie that says, "Oh, butter biscuits!" when you squeeze it. :D

-E.P.