Disclaimer: Danny Phantom belongs to Butch Hartman. CSI belongs to Jerry Bruckenheimer's production company. (Hope I spelled that right.) If I were making money off of this, you can be dang sure I would not be working customer service for a living... This story is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and adult themes. See, kids, this is what happens when you mix pixy stix, Coke, and an all-nighter... Thank you to Jen Bigley for Sara's assessment of Vlad!

Running Blind

"Okay... this is a new one, even for us," Greg Sanders announced, pulling on his gloves. Even as he did so, his eyes stayed locked on the pathetic heap of rags lying beneath the overpass. The body, dressed in the familiar battered gear of a transient, was shriveled and dried, almost as if it had been mummified. The eyes had sunken in, and the mouth was fixed open in a silent scream. Even after the things he'd seen working night shift, the junior CSI had to admit that this one gave him the chills.

Even Grissom looked a bit disturbed by this one, although, the younger man thought privately, with him it was tough to tell. But the shift supervisor's frown was deeper than usual, as he turned towards the detective in charge of the scene.

"Jim? What's the story on this one?" the bearded man inquired, opening his kit.

"Somebody nearby heard screaming, crashes, saw flashes of some weird green light," Brass answered, shrugging. "They called it in, a unit responded, found this guy. The rookie managed to get back to the car before contaminating the scene."

Grissom cocked an eyebrow. "I'm impressed. Anybody establish a perimeter?"

"Not yet. We were waiting for you guys before we went tramping around in the dark."

"I appreciate that," the criminalist replied wryly.

Only half paying attention to his boss's conversation with the detective, Greg drifted closer to the body. Training his flashlight on the corpse, he frowned as something glistened on the wool shirt. Reaching out, he was surprised to find a trail of sticky, viscous slime.

"Uh, Griss?" the blond called back. "You might want to come take a look at this..." Even as the older man reached his side, Greg was carefully taking several samples of the strange material.

Kneeling next to Greg, Grissom's frown grew deeper as he realized what Greg was looking at. "Now that's something you don't see every day," he commented.

Greg snorted. "Maybe we should tell Brass to put out an APB on a six foot slug," he replied, grinning as his superior flashed him a look. It wasn't often he could get the better of Grissom in a verbal exchange, and he was enjoying it.

"Looks like there was a hell of a fight here," the other man mused, playing his flashlight along the torn and battered ground. "Get some pictures of this, will you? And... are those scorch marks?"

"Looks like it," Sanders replied, picking up his camera. "This is gonna be a weird one, isn't it?"

Grissom's response was an absent murmur, as he turned away, his flashlight fixed on something else that had caught his attention. A green stain discolored the guardrail that protected this area of the underpass from the street. The edge was sharp, he noticed... If it weren't for the color of the stain, it would look very much like someone had been injured in the struggle. Quickly, Grissom took a sample of the material, noticing as he did so a second, much smaller splotch on the ground.

Ignoring the color... he cut himself here... stood up, clutching the wound... and moved off? A quick search revealed a second stain, then a third, leading in a staggering path towards the nearest building complex.

"Jim," he called, "Come take a look at this."

The detective obeyed, eyebrows rising as he saw what Grissom was pointing out. "What is that, an antifreeze trail?"

"I don't know... let's follow it." Grissom set off along the line of spots, ignoring the imprecations Brass was muttering beneath his breath about stubborn scientists who didn't know what was good for them.

Halfway to the complex, the trail was marked by a much larger puddle, this one a mix of green and a very familiar red. He frowned, looking up and back at his companion.

Brass snorted. "Don't need Luminol to guess that's blood... Why don't you let me take the lead?"

Mouth tight, Grissom simply nodded, allowing the smaller man to lead the way, gun drawn. The blood trail led the two men to an alleyway between two of the buildings, populated mainly by a dumpster and some overflowing trash cans.

"Hello?" Brass called, halting at the alley's mouth. "Anybody in there? Vegas PD..." Only the sound of the freeway nearby answered him. Cautiously, he made his way deeper into the alleyway, following the trail as it curved in a staggering path to the side of the dumpster. Suddenly he cursed, holstering his gun.

"Call the ambulance," he ordered, falling to his knees. "We've got a live one."

Pulling out his cel phone, Grissom did as ordered, moving forward to see what Brass had discovered. When he did so, he nearly dropped the phone in shock.

"Christ, Gil," Brass breathed, "it's a kid."

"You look like hell," Catherine Willows opined. Raising his face from his hands, her boss shot her a sharp look.

"Thank you, Catherine," Gil Grissom responded dryly. "Jim told you what happened?"

"What there was to tell," the blonde replied, sitting down next to him. "You found a kid unconscious in an alley, a kid who apparently bled all over a crime scene... bled green all over a crime scene." She shot him a skeptical look. "Green, Gil?"

He sighed, moving over to make room for her on the hard hospital couch. "If you've got any suggestions, I'm all ears. The splatter pattern is consistent with bleeding from an arm injury inflicted by the edge of that guardrail. I'm having a hard time coming up with any other explanation."

"And I'm supposing the kid has an arm injury?"

"Major laceration of the upper bicep," he agreed. "Bound up very professionally with pieces of his t-shirt. Somebody knew what they were doing."

"Hmm." She gave him a long look, knowing how he got when kids were involved in a crime. "Any word yet from the doctors?"

"They gave him a couple units of B positive and put him in a bed. Aside from the arm wound, the doctors say he's mainly just malnourished and dehydrated." He winced. "Actually, what they said was that you could pretty much count the kid's ribs."

She shook her head. "No ID?"

"Nothing. I took his fingerprints... I'll have Nick run them through CODIS when we get back. The doctors said he was showing signs of waking up, though, so I want to try and check in on him before going back to the lab. Maybe we can get some answers faster."

"And you want to make sure he's okay," she added knowingly.

He sighed. "Cath... I don't think he can be a day over fifteen, if that. His clothes were dirty; he's thin as a rail, and according to the doctors, he's a mass of old bruises and scars. Not to mention that whoever he got in a fight with, it wasn't that transient. The guy doesn't have any visible defense wounds, and we're not even sure what he died of yet!"

Anything else he might have said was cut off as a rather tired-looking nurse came out into the waiting room. "Mr. Grissom?" she asked, looking at a clipboard. "The doctor asked me to tell you that the John Doe in room 354 is awake."

The first thing Danny realized as he woke was that he was lying on something soft. This had become rather a novelty the past few months, since concrete floors tended to become hard even through the small bedroll he carried. The second thing he realized was that there was something beeping off to his right, a very familiar beeping at that. And third was the smell.

Aw, shit, I'm in a hospital, the teen thought groggily, eyes forcing themselves open. Yep, the walls and ceiling were that institutional beige that no sane person could live with more than a week. Blue eyes dragged to the beeping heart monitor, then downwards to where an IV line was sunk in his elbow.

Oh, that is going to HURT when I have to take it out... Even though he could just go intangible around the needle, he'd still have a hole in his arm, and his body would take great pleasure in reminding him of that.

Okay, Fenton, focus, he told himself, fighting against the muzziness in his brain. No armed guards or smarmy billionaires at your bedside, so they probably don't know who you are yet. Even if they run your prints or something, it'll take time for the search to raise any flags. Enough time to escape from the hospital, at least. The smart thing to do would be to leave Las Vegas altogether, but he knew he couldn't do that. Not while the thing that he'd fought tonight was still on the loose.

What I wouldn't give for Tucker and his PDA, he thought darkly. Research would come in very handy at this point... With an effort, he forced his thoughts away from his friends. He couldn't afford to break down now, no matter how much the idea appealed to him.

"Oh, you're awake!" a feminine voice said. Danny's eyes drifted towards the door, as a blue-clad nurse entered, carrying a clipboard. "How are you feeling?

He couldn't help it... he rolled his eyes, making the nurse laugh. "Okay, stupid question," she agreed. "Feel up to a drink of water?"

Dear God, yes. His mouth felt like he'd been force-fed one of Dash's gym socks. Even in his weakness, his nod was energetic enough to draw another laugh from the nurse.

"Okay, hold on one second..." Pressing a button, she smoothly raised Danny's bed until he was in an almost sitting position. Then, picking up the glass, she handed it to him, retaining her hold until it was obvious that his hands had the strength to support it.

The water tasted heavenly, but Danny forced himself to sip it slowly, not wanting to get sick. After he felt his throat was sufficiently lubricated, he carefully set the glass aside.

"Thanks," he rasped, giving the nurse his best smile. It must have looked pretty pitiful, because he could detect a hint of a wince in the smile she gave him in return.

"You're welcome... you know, I don't know your name. You didn't have any ID on you when you were brought in."

There's a reason for that, Danny thought bitterly, but he forced another smile. "Danny," he replied, the rasp fading as he spoke. "Danny Parker."

"Well, Danny Parker, I'm Lisa Blake. I'm sure you're tired and sore, but there's a gentleman from the police who would like to talk to you about what happened tonight... do you feel up to it?"

Inside, he groaned, but he forced himself to shrug indifferently. "Sure... why not? Get it over with." Then maybe they'd leave him to go to sleep, and he could go ghost and slip out of the hospital. Assuming he could even walk on his own...

Lisa smiled at him again, tucking a pillow behind his head before leaving to go get the cop. Danny sighed, closing his eyes and trying to come up with the best story he could to explain tonight.

"Danny Parker?" A man's voice asked, from near the door. Opening his eyes, Danny turned towards the speaker... and cursed mentally. The man standing there wore civilian clothes, rather than a uniform; that meant he was either a detective, or a specialist of some sort. And that meant that this wasn't just a routine interview. Not to mention that the blue-grey eyes behind those glasses were watching him with a keen, intelligent interest and an oddly quiet strength.

Clockwork, Danny thought numbly. He reminds me of Clockwork. And as much as he liked and respected the Time Master, the fact was that keeping his secret from someone like that was going to be ten times harder than from any normal person.

Why can't my life ever be easy?

Realizing the man was waiting for an answer, Danny shook himself and nodded. "That's me," he replied. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm Gil Grissom, with the LVPD crime lab," the man replied, coming closer. "Do you mind if I sit down and ask you a few questions?"

Yes. "No, that's fine," Danny replied, sitting up a bit straighter. "What do you need to know?"

"Well... for starters... what happened to you?" Grissom nodded to the bandage on Danny's upper arm.

The teen shrugged as best he could. "I don't honestly remember it that well," he replied. Which was true enough... fights were always a blur, more so when you hadn't eaten in three days. "I was looking for a place to bed down for the night... found a nice place between some concrete barriers... then I heard somebody screaming. Real near. I ran towards the noise... and it gets kinda fuzzy. I remember something hit me... and my arm hurt, and there was too much light, and noise, and I tried to find some place to hide. I knew I was bleeding, so I tried to bandage myself... then I guess I passed out and woke up here." All of which was true, if somewhat incomplete. But there was no way he was going to tell a police forensic technician that he'd transformed into a ghostly form and fought off a metamorphic supernatural entity that had just... eaten the poor unlucky bastard it had managed to catch sleeping.

And... the look Grissom was giving him said he didn't believe he was getting the whole story. Great. But instead of grilling him further, Grissom simply cocked his head.

"You were looking for a place to sleep?"

"Yeah, I'm a runaway," Danny replied defiantly. There was no way this man didn't already know that, given the state of his clothes, hair, and how obviously he was in need of a meal. Better to weave his lies out of truths-- It was easier to make those believable. Vlad had taught him that.

"Why? You're all of, what, fourteen? What made you decide to strike out on your own?"

"Fifteen this past October," Danny replied, folding his arms. "And you won't believe me. Nobody ever does."

Blue-grey eyes locked onto his. "Try me." Grissom's voice was dead serious.

"... My parents have this friend," Danny replied slowly, wondering at himself. "He's... I don't know what he is. I don't think he's insane, exactly... but then, I wouldn't say he's in his right mind, either. And... he's obsessed with my mom. Thinks she should have married him, not my dad. But she won't ever leave Dad... and so... well, this guy's after me now. And no matter what I do or say, no one will listen. Everybody loves him. I couldn't stay there anymore... "

"I see." The tone of the response was neutral, but there was a killing frost behind it. "What about the police?"

A bitter snort. "Are you kidding? He's rich, and powerful. Even IF I could get the cops to arrest him, he'd buy his way out, one way or another. Or threaten... same thing." Danny's voice trailed off as he looked down at the sheet. "Cops have families too," he finished softly.

"What about your family? Your parents? They must be going out of their minds, you know."

"I know. But... believe me, it's better if they never find out. As long as they think he's their friend, they're useful to him... but when he can't use them anymore... he tends to be very thorough at... cleaning up."

"Is he the reason you have enough scars to pass for a road map?"

Danny winced. "No... He's not stupid enough to do anything that leaves evidence," he said bitterly. "That stuff... I'm just accident-prone. Really."

One grey eyebrow quirked. "You bandaged your own arm, Danny. Quite professionally, too. That tells me you're used to not having access to a hospital."

"I wasn't the most popular guy in school, which made me a target for the ones that were. Between that and the accidents, I learned what I could handle myself. Didn't want anybody getting the wrong idea about my parents."

Grissom nodded, but Danny could tell that he wasn't convinced. After a moment's more silence, the man stood.

"Well, the doctors want to keep you for a day or so for observation... after that, though, you'll be considered a material witness, in the temporary custody of the state. Interesting thing about that? Until the case is closed, nobody can take you out of Las Vegas. Or even state custody. Not even someone who's supposedly authorized by your parents." The criminalist pinned him with a serious gaze.

"Give me that long to see if I can't help you out of the situation you're in. If I can't... well, state custody isn't always as... vigilant as it ought to be. If you happen to disappear before your family "friend" can collect you..." He shrugged. "Oops?"

Danny stared at him, stomping down the laughter bubbling up in his throat. He didn't even know this man, and here the guy was offering to go up against Vlad Masters for him.

"You seem like a resourceful kid, Danny," Grissom continued. "I'm pretty sure you can get out of this hospital on your own. I'm asking you not to. Stay here. Help us solve this case... and let me try to help you as well."

Help. Danny's eyes slid shut as he let out a sigh. He hadn't had that in... well, he really didn't want to think about it. Opening his eyes, he studied the man before him one more time.

"Okay," Danny said finally. "You've got a deal."

To Grissom's total lack of surprise, Sara practically pounced on him as he entered the lab. "Please, please, tell me you at least went home and showered before coming here," the brunette pleaded, eyeing his somewhat rumpled appearance.

"Showered, yes, home, no. I used the police station's gym. Had spare clothes in my car. Meet with your approval, Nurse Sidle?"

She rolled her eyes at him, but fell easily in step as the two of them headed down the hall.
"Greg and Cath said there was a kid at the scene?"

"Fifteen. Black hair, blue eyes. Gave the name 'Danny Parker,' but since he admitted to me that he's a runaway trying to avoid discovery, I seriously doubt that's his real name. Either he's been on the run a long time, or he got used to tight spots before he hit the road, because Brass would have been impressed with the once-over he gave the hospital room."

Sara frowned. "Any sign of connection to the vic?"

"Aside from the fact that it looks like he bled all over the scene, nothing. He admitted to being there, but can't remember much of what happened, which is certainly possible given his physical condition. We'll know more once Doc Robbins finishes the autopsy, and we can find out what actually killed the guy, because just from looking, I have no clue."

"Okay, when you're stumped, I start to worry."

Whatever he might have said in response was cut off as Nick leaned out of one of the doorways that lined the hall, waving a manila file folder.

"Hey, Griss," the younger man called. "Ran those print sets for you, came up with two matches. Want me to give you the rundown?"

"Please," Grissom replied, altering course towards Nick.

"Okay, set one, from the vic, belong to a Leonard Gaskins. Priors are basically drunk and disorderly, disturbing the peace, public intoxication..."

"Indecent exposure?" Sara broke in, reading the paper over Grissom's shoulder.

Nick grimaced. "He was... uh, answering nature's call. In public."


"Basically he was an alcoholic, lost his job, his house, everything, to the bottle. No indications in there why anybody would want to kill him," the dark-haired man continued.

Grissom nodded absently, flipping papers. "And set two?"

"Set two sent up a major red flag. A missing persons case out of East Texas, a little town on the Gulf called Amity Park. One Daniel Andrew Fenton, Danny to his friends, fifteen, listed as a probable runaway since there was a note left. Parents said there were no previous indicators, and the note just said that everybody would be "safer" without him. There's a picture in there, too."

Grey eyebrows rose, as Grissom looked up from the folder. "That's our hospital patient, all right. Find anything else out?"

"Yeah, there's a huge reward out for any information leading to the kid's return," Nick replied. "Apparently some big shot tech boss, Vlad Masters, is a--"

"Friend of the family," Grissom finished, voice flat. "Nick. Sit on this as long as you can. Danny Fenton's a material witness, and I don't want Ecklie blowing the case, angling for the publicity that his return will bring. Sara, I want you to get me whatever information you can on Vlad Masters and Amity Park. It's possible that Fenton was the target rather than the vic. Either of you know if Hodges has finished those samples Greg and I brought in?"

Sara snorted. "I'd hope so. Greg's been in and out of there all night, stoking the fire under his butt. Says he has a bad feeling about this."

Grissom made a face. Greg's hunches themselves might not be particularly scientific, but he couldn't deny that the evidence so far proved that they were generally right. And frankly, he had a bad feeling about this one himself.

Under other circumstances, the relief on David Hodges' face would have been comical, Grissom thought, as he entered the lab. It was obvious that Greg had been making a pest of himself all night, unusual behavior, given that the junior CSI still vividly remembered being in Hodges' shoes. One look at the grim expression on Greg's face, however, and Grissom knew why. Sanders wanted answers, and quickly.

"Please say you're here to rescue me," Hodges begged, his attention turning to the shift supervisor. "I'm about ready to stab him with a pipette."

Grissom chuckled. "That depends. Do you have those samples done?"

"You know, if I didn't have certain people hanging off of me every minute, I might be able to get my job done faster," the balding man retorted. "But it so happens that yes, I do." Picking up a folder from the table, he handed it to Grissom. "Hot off the printer."

"Thank you," Gil replied absently, already scanning the report. Beside him, Greg crowded closer, trying to get a look at the information.

"So?" the blond asked finally, giving up.

Grissom frowned, looking up at Hodges. "Inconclusive?"

"You managed to stump me, the computer, three reference books and an online guide. About all I've got is that the clear stuff is a hydrocarbon of unknown type, slightly acidic. The green stuff's even weirder, though... I did it second, so it was sitting for a bit... it separated out, like blood does. The top stuff was identical to human plasma, but the bottom stuff... elemental traces of copper, similar to the way you'd find iron in blood. If I didn't know better, I'd almost assume it was blood, from some type of alien organism."

The two CSIs blinked at him. "What would be the function of copper in blood?" Greg asked, curiously.

"Well, this is all speculation here, so, y'know, take it with a grain of salt, but... if an organism for some reason had a "brain" that required electrical stimulation instead of oxygen, copper would be your best choice for your hemoglobin equivalent... But, like I said, all speculation."

Grissom made a noise in the back of his throat. "All right, what about the other samples taken from the trail? The red ones."

"Human blood. Fresh. DNA matching indicates that yes, it was from the kid in the hospital. Although..."

Blond eyebrows rose. "Although?"

"I got some seriously weird errors running the DNA. Only on the kid's blood, and the scene samples, though... all the test stuff shows the system working fine. But the system keeps showing me an extra pair of chromosomes. No clue what the extras might be, but that kid is not genetically normal."

The two field investigators looked at each other. This was getting weirder by the minute.


The pathologist looked up from his work and shrugged. "He's definitely dead," he reported. Grissom rolled his eyes.

"Thank you, Albert. Do we, perchance, know what he died of?"

"Acute dehydration? You're looking at a perfectly mummified corpse, which makes time of death pretty much impossible to tell. The tissue's like shoe leather, the blood is gone, the eyeballs have deflated... something sucked every drop of moisture out of this man's body. Even the Egyptians weren't this efficient. I opened up his skull and found the brain shrunk to about half its size. Other than that, there's no sign of damage, not even defensive wounds."

Grissom regarded the shriveled husk with interest. "Any idea what mummified him?"

"No clue. I did find more samples of that slime from his clothes, though, in the mouth, under the arms, in the body cavities... like he was immersed in it. Traces of it in the lungs, but not enough to suggest he drowned. Frankly, this is quite possibly one of the strangest corpses I've ever seen, and that's saying something. One thing's kind of odd, though... his hair."

Regarding the dry, brittle mass crowning the corpse's head, Grissom frowned. "What about it?"

"It's all there. Generally during the mummification process, clumps of the hair fall out due to the dehydration. The hair shrinks, gets fragile, and either breaks or the roots come loose. He's lost a few bits on the table since he's been there, but nothing like what you should see after mummification. That would suggest that he was mummified on the spot where you found him. And very, very quickly."

"How quickly?"

"Well, for comparison, the Egyptians took eight days. This guy... I'd say less than five minutes."

Blink. "That would require being immersed in something completely hygroscopic," Grissom theorized slowly. "If it was a chemical fluid, there should have been traces of a tank... or a hose or something."

"Not to mention a lot more slime on the body and inside the respiratory tract. The closest thing I've seen to this..." The older man hesitated for a moment. "Well, it was in an amoeba. Engulf the prey, suck out the nutrients, and move on."

Blue-grey eyes fixed on him. "Albert. Are you suggesting that our vic was attacked by the Blob?"

The social worker, Danny mused, was definitely beginning to remind him of a fish. First of all, her glasses were thick enough to make her look like a walleye, something he'd noticed as soon as she walked into the hospital room. Not to mention, her pursed mouth and expression of perpetual disapproval gave her the appearance of a parrotfish at a particularly well-stocked reef. And her slack-jawed, gaping expression in response to the bombshell he'd dropped was now making her look like a landed bass.

"I'm sorry, what was that?" she asked finally, flailing for control of the conversation.

"I said, I'm not going to a foster home," he replied calmly. "If you want to place me in state custody, I'll either bunk in a jail cell, or go with Mr. Grissom. Take it or leave it."

Still flustered, the fish-woman shoved her glasses further up on her nose, buying her some time. She then shot a furtive glance over at Grissom, who was leaning against the wall by the door, looking more amused than anything else. The grey-haired man gave her a small shrug, as if to say he wasn't going to get involved. Having received no help there, she then turned back to Danny.

"Danny, I know you probably feel very attached to Mr. Grissom, since he brought you into the hospital, not to mention is in charge of the case. However, I'm afraid that assigning you to his custody is--"

The teen cut her off, not even bothering to let her finish. "I'm a material witness, not a suspect. So, it's not conflict of interest, since it in no way causes Mr. Grissom to have a stake in the outcome of the case. He's had to pass a thorough background check to be employed by the police, so he's not likely to be a threat to me in any way. And I've been taking care of myself since I've been on the road, so fending for myself in somebody's apartment for a few weeks is a snap. It's not like he'll need parenting skills or anything."

Obviously unused to logical argument from her charges, the woman sputtered and tried again. "Danny, given the trauma you've suffered recently, we really feel it would be best if--"

"Trauma?" He gave a broken laugh. "Lady, I have been shot at, beaten up, stuffed head down in a toilet, shoved into closets, pushed down a flight of stairs, and seen more dead people than I particularly want to remember-- and that was before I ran away. If I wasn't traumatized long before I hit the road, not sticking me in with the Brady Bunch isn't going to make much of a difference at this point. And also? I'm fifteen years old, not five. I was at a twelfth-grade reading level last time anyone checked. Don't patronize me, it just makes me madder."

The noise that came from Grissom sounded rather like a muffled snort, and the innocent expression on the man's face cemented Danny's suspicion that the criminalist was enjoying this.

Seeing that she still looked ready to argue, Danny moved to cut her off completely. "Look. Let me make this as clear as I can. It's Mr. Grissom or nobody. I can be out of your custody and back on the road the second you turn your backs. I'm the freaking ghost of Houdini. I've stayed alive this long by being choosy about where I crash, and I'm not making an exception just for your stupid procedures. Got it?"

Fish-woman sighed, accepting defeat. Looking up, she cocked her head and asked him one more question.
"All right, but... why him?"

Danny let his gaze drift from her to the quiet man who had been watching them both. "Because he can't be bought or browbeaten," Danny said softly.

That got a quirked eyebrow from Grissom. "Where did you get that?"

"Asked the cops that Detective-- Brass, I think, assigned to make sure nobody put a pillow over my face in the middle of the night. They said you could care less about money, and didn't give a damn about your career... all you cared about was your team, and your evidence." He broke into a sudden smile.

"They said you were the best-- you had to be. Anyone else would have been fired for stepping on that many well-connected toes."

The social worker sighed. "Very well... Mr. Grissom, we'll be checking on Danny once a week for a while, just until things get settled in... This is most unusual, but given the circumstances, I think we can make it work. If you two will excuse me... I have paperwork to go file." Giving them both a perfunctory smile, she swept out of the room.

"So," Grissom commented, standing up straight. "Did the guards say anything else about me?"

Danny grinned. "Well... the phrase 'bug nut' did come up once or twice..."

Following Grissom across the threshold of the small townhouse, Danny stopped dead. He didn't think he'd seen any place this clean in... ever. In the Fenton household, disorder was a way of life, especially with experiments and equipment always in various stages of assembly. Tucker's parents were slightly better housekeepers, but this place... Danny got the feeling that Grissom didn't live in the townhouse so much as bunk there.

Which would about fit with the cops' comment that most of his mail went to the lab instead of the house, because there was a better chance of him getting it. Almost unconsciously, Danny found himself taking off his shoes at the door, the way he usually did on those rare occasions he was allowed into the Mansons' showplace of a house. This place felt a little more welcoming, but no more lived-in.

"The guest bedroom's down the hall and to the left," Grissom called over his shoulder, as he headed into the kitchen. "You can put your stuff in there. How do you feel about pizza for dinner?"

"Pepperoni and mushrooms are a gift from the gods," Danny replied, following the directions he'd been given. His "stuff," of course, was no more than a clean pair of jeans, a week's worth of underwear, and about ten t-shirts donated by somebody named Greg. Danny hadn't even heard of half the bands the shirts were advertising, but he figured anything was better than hospital scrubs. His favorite red and white T-shirt had, sadly, gone the way of the dodo after the hospital orderlies had removed it from him. Not only had it sacrificed its lower third for bandaging, but he'd been wearing it pretty much non-stop for two months, since his spare had been torn in a scuffle with Vlad's vultures... in Cleveland, he thought. Most of Ohio had run together in his memory.

Stowing his minimal belongings, Danny headed back out to the living room just as Grissom returned from the kitchen. "Pizza's on its way," the man reported, "should be here in twenty minutes. You want something to drink?"

Danny yawned, casting a glance at one of the nearby chairs. The thing looked very soft and extremely comfortable. "Coffee?" he asked hopefully. To his surprise, Grissom didn't seem to disapprove.

"How do you like it?"

"However I can get it," Danny replied, with a grin. "But if I've got a choice, sugar, no cream. I've drunk truck stop coffee, though. Black."

Grissom shuddered. "Great, we'll let you handle it the next time someone lets Jim make the pot. You develop a taste for that on the road?"

"Nah," Danny replied, following absently as the other man headed back to the kitchen. "I was drinking coffee by the end of ninth grade. You should see the stuff my friend Tucker makes... it eats the spoon." Danny smiled wistfully, remembering the look on Sam's face when she'd found out just what was in Tucker's patented "Foley's Finals Fuel."

"Late night study sessions?" his host asked with studied casualness.

Danny grimaced. "You could say that," he replied, his voice wry. Usually he was studying the pavement as the ghost-of-the-day tried to pound him through the asphalt... Close enough, right?

Coffee in hand, the two of them headed back out to the living room to wait for the pizza. Once they were comfortably ensconced in their respective chairs, Grissom folded his hands and pinned Danny with a direct gaze.

"Danny... Since I'd planned to take you in to the lab with me, at least for the next few days, I figured I'd better get this said while we're still in private. When you were still unconscious, the hospital took your fingerprints, and I had one of my team run them through the database. They came up with a match... Danny Fenton. Missing for five months, from Amity Park, Texas."

The teen felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. His fear must have been visible on his face, because Grissom quickly raised a hand and continued.

"The database only returns the results to the terminal doing the searching. It doesn't store the information or the search anywhere else. The only way anyone could find out what we got would be to bug that particular terminal, and I'm pretty sure nobody's thought to do that. Given what you told me that night in the hospital, I had Nick sit on the information... As far as anyone, including Social Services, is concerned, we couldn't find a match, and you're Danny Parker until somebody says otherwise.

"The information also turned up a reward for information on Danny Fenton's whereabouts, offered by one Vlad Masters, a family friend. Is he the one you were telling me about... the reason you ran away?"

Throat too dry to respond, Danny simply nodded, still staring warily at the man across from him. He knew Vlad's money couldn't buy Grissom, but... he knew from experience how Vlad's charm often got him what money couldn't.

Grissom's mouth drew taut. "Well, that fits with Sara's summary of the information she found on him... I believe her exact words were 'Slime in an overpriced suit.'"

Danny choked on his laugh. "I think I'm going to like this lady."

"I think you probably will too. The only people who know who Danny Fenton is are my team, and believe me, none of them will talk. Especially not to a slimeball like Vlad Masters. Frankly, if I told Catherine what you've told me about him, they'd probably never find his body. She's got a daughter just about your age."

"Yeah... my mom and my sister are the same... if I could tell my mom everything, she'd chew Vlad into tiny bits."

"So... what made you run? You obviously lived with it for a while before deciding to hit the road. What made you decide it was time to go?"

The boy sighed, looking up at the ceiling. For a long moment, the words wouldn't come, locked in a tight lump in his throat. Finally, he lowered his eyes to meet the concerned pair that awaited his answer.

"It was my fifteenth birthday, actually... It was a little party, just my family and my two best friends; and of course, you can guess who invited himself. And he had a present for me, too. It was a telescope, state of the art, reflecting telescope... a scaled-down version of the kind of thing they have in observatories. See, all my life, I wanted to be an astronaut. That's kind of out of the question, of course, since my math grades were lousy even before I ran away. But I still like astronomy. The stars-- it's like they're always there for me, even if I'll never be up in space, beyond the curve of the sky..." He trailed off, aware of the raw longing in his voice.

"My mom got me a CD that I'd been wanting. My dad got me a book. Actually, I should say my mom got me a book and signed my dad's name on it. Dad's a great guy, but he's forgotten his and mom's anniversary for eighteen years out of twenty. No way he remembered my birthday in time to get a present. And... they were great presents, they were things I wanted, but that telescope was-- it was like holding a dream, you know? But it was poison, because it came from Vlad. Not that he was trying to buy me or anything, he knows better than that. But it wasn't really a gift, either. It was his way of telling me that he knew me, better than my parents did or ever would. That he knew what I wanted, and he gave it to me. And no one else ever can, not like that. And the worst thing is... damn it, he's right. He knows bits of me I don't want anybody to know, the things I don't want to be, to think, to feel. That's when I knew I had to go, had to get away. To be where he couldn't find me, couldn't get at me, where I'd be free of him. And where if I did fall, I wouldn't poison anybody but myself."

He fell silent then, surprised and almost appalled that he'd let so much of himself out. But as he'd thought before, talking to Gil Grissom was like talking to Clockwork; a calm, stable warmth that just listened, never judging, because it had seen far worse than you could ever hope to be.

Sitting back in his chair, Danny sighed. "He's going to find me eventually, if I stay in one place," he commented, changing the subject.

The older man nodded. "I know. But even after he finds you, he's got to get possession of you. And given that you're in my custody, and I'll make quite a stir if you disappear... that'll slow him down too. He's not going to get past us without a fight, Danny, even if all we can do is buy you time to disappear again."

"Thanks... I haven't even had that much in a long time."

Just then the doorbell rang, and the conversation ended there.

Years of working the night shift in Las Vegas had taught Jim Brass that there would always be something that could surprise him. Sometimes it was a good thing, sometimes bad. A lot of times it was a Grissom thing, which was a category all its own. He'd tentatively placed the skinny, black-haired teenager planted in the break room under that last one, seeing as how he'd last seen that face under an oxygen mask, being loaded into an ambulance from a fresh crime scene.

Ambling over to the coffee pot, Brass pretended not to notice as the kid looked up from his book, blue eyes quickly sizing him up for possible threats. Gun-shy, he noted, but not scared, just... careful. Which fit with what Gil had told him about the kid-- Danny, he recalled. Still, something didn't seem to fit quite right.

The kid never said what this Masters guy did to him. Which... it's not a case, so there's no real reason to, but... I don't think he's ashamed about it. Given how he handled that social worker, he's got a spine of steel. He didn't get specific for a reason.

Idly, Brass took a sip of the coffee, leaning against the counter as he did so. Over in his corner, Danny'd apparently decided Brass wasn't a threat, and had returned to his reading. The detective's eyebrows rose suddenly as he realized that the boy wasn't just reading the book... he was taking notes. As far as he knew, there hadn't been any attempt made yet to even evaluate Danny's education, let alone assign work to bring him up to speed.

As far as social workers and the majority of the PD knew, their visitor was a runaway using the probable alias of Danny Parker, material witness to a murder case, with prints that had come up a zero on the system. His thoughts moved to the little file Grissom had oh-so-unofficially let him read over. Daniel Andrew Fenton, "Danny" to friends and family, age 15, resident of Amity Park, Texas. Sophomore in high school, with grades slowly rising from a C average towards a B, with the occasional A interspersed for flavor. By all accounts, a quiet, average kid, whose parents were certified paranormal investigators and certifiable loons. The kid in the files didn't have a lot in common with the one sitting in front of him, though. For one thing, "slacker" was about the last term he'd apply to Danny. Too much determination in those eyes, not to mention too much focus. Besides, it was obvious Danny'd known exactly what he was doing when he hit the road. Most runaways ended up strung out, dead, or worse within a few weeks. Danny had been moving around the country for months, without an apparent goal, but with definite survival instincts. Running away wasn't a slacker's impulsive decision; it had been a calculated, measured step.

What did he do to you, kid? Brass asked silently. He didn't hit you-- you're used to that, bad as it sounds. Either you'd live with it, or you'd kick his ass. And I don't think it was sexual, either. You want this guy nailed, bad. And you're smart enough to know that even he couldn't buy his way out of a molestation charge. That leaves emotional abuse. But everybody says your family's close, even if they're nutballs. So what did he do to you that you couldn't live with, but they couldn't see?

There was a puzzle piece missing, damn it, and he couldn't shake the feeling that the answers to Danny's secret were tied up with the mummy down in the morgue. And while Grissom might worship evidence alone, Brass hadn't lived as long as he had by ignoring a hunch, either.

Shutting his book with a thump, Danny stood, yawned, and stretched in a way that made Brass's back hurt just watching him. The teen then headed out of the door, heading in the direction of the restrooms. Brass topped off his coffee mug, then headed for the door, swinging casually past Danny's table as he did so. Looking down, he read the words printed on the jacket, and blinked. Sibley's Field Guide to the Paranormal? This whole situation was getting weirder by the minute.

It was amazing, Greg mused, how even now that he was a full CSI, meeting Grissom in his office still felt like being called in to talk to the principal. Which, given portions of his misspent youth, was a situation he was more familiar with than he'd like to admit. Taking a deep breath, he reminded himself that Grissom didn't laugh at people, even for the stupidest mistakes, and pushed open the office door. The man behind the desk looked up over his glasses, one eyebrow raised.

"Yes?" the shift supervisor prompted.

"Got a possible angle on the mummy case, wanted to run it past you," Greg replied, shutting the door behind him. "You mind?"

Grissom shook his head. "Not at all. Go right ahead."

"Okay. I know you always say that the evidence has the answers... so in this case, I thought, maybe we're not asking the right questions. I mean, we've practically ruled out any known means of death, we've got nothing placing anyone at the scene other than Danny and the vic, and we've got a ton of evidence that's only telling us that its weird. Anyway, I was checking over Danny's file, just in case there was a connection, and I thought of something. See, the file says that Danny's parents are licensed, certified paranormal investigators. The existence of paranormal entities is acknowledged by the US Government, and backed up by scientific evidence."

The grey-haired man tilted his head. "You're thinking this death is paranormal?"

"Actually, in this case, I'm thinking crypto-zoology," Greg admitted, lacing his fingers together. "I mean, after all, the Greek and Roman unicorn eventually turned out to be a rhinoceros, and Norwegian trawlers actually pulled up a kraken a few years back, although we call 'em giant squids today. An unknown, possibly paranormal animal isn't out of the realm of possibility."

"Is this about Robbins' giant amoeba?" At Greg's puzzled blink, Grissom waved a hand dismissively. "Never mind, keep going."

"At the very least, it would give us another angle to test that slime we found on the body, since we weren't looking for anything paranormal. Because frankly, every other path we've taken is a dead end. So far, this is the only thing that makes any sense."

For a moment, Grissom was silent, obviously considering this. Then he nodded. "Run with it. See where it takes you. You're a good enough CSI to know if you're getting ahead of the evidence."

A smile of relief spread across Greg's face. "Great. And... you might want to tell Brass to have the patrol cars keep an eye out. If this is an animal, then it's probably killing for food... which means there'll be other bodies."

"You're right," the other sighed, rubbing his temples. "I've got a very bad feeling about where this is going."

"The next time Grissom has a hunch, remind me to put in for vacation time," Warrick commented, letting the latex glove snap into place.

Catherine Willows nodded absently, raising her camera for another snapshot. "Do you see anything else around here to photograph?"

He shook his head. "Transient, dry culvert on the outskirts of the city, been here at least a week, judging from what's left of his dinner... Not that we can tell from the condition of the corpse, since it's been dried out. Bet this guy wouldn't ever have been found if Brass hadn't dropped that hint to the patrol cars."

"This is weird. Even for Vegas. Even for us." Letting the camera hang from its neck strap, the blonde woman absently ran a hand through her hair. The sun was high in the sky above them, but since the corpse was obviously related to a graveyard shift case, she and Warrick had gotten the call. Unfortunately, they'd found absolutely nothing around the body that might have come from an assailant.

"No defense wounds, no obvious cause of death aside from the whole dehydration thing... And is it me, or does it look like he was scared out of his mind?" Kneeling beside the corpse, Warrick indicated the raised hands of the corpse and the drawn face, frozen in a silent scream.

Catherine nodded, hunkering down next to him. "Yeah, like the other one. But no signs of a struggle, or anything he could have ingested to cause hallucinations..." Peering closer at the victim's shirt, she frowned, then pulled her camera up and took two quick shots.

Blue-green eyes regarded her with interest. "Find something?"

"Maybe. Looks like a trail of something dried across this shirt... maybe the same slime that Greg and Grissom found on the last one. We'll have the lab run it, see what they come up with."

He nodded, scanning the area absently. Then it was his turn to frown. "Cath. What's this scene missing?"

"Besides evidence?" she asked archly.

"Very funny. We're out on the outskirts of Vegas. This guy's been here for at least a week. Why aren't there any animal tracks? Coyotes should have been all over this place."

She shrugged. "Possibly because he's dried out?"

"So's beef jerky. People eat it."

The look she turned on him could have withered a fichus. "I'm beginning to understand why Sara became a vegetarian." But she stood; brushing off her pants, and went over to where the remains of a can of beef stew had been left to decay. Leaning down, she looked closely at it, holding her breath as she did so. Her eyebrows drew together, and she stood up quickly, still frowning.

"Damn. I've been around Grissom too long," she muttered, photographing the can in close-up.

Warrick stood as well, curious. "What is it?"

"The stew. There aren't any maggots in it. And this stuff sure wasn't dried out. You want to tell me how a can of stew lays out in the sun for a week, and doesn't attract a single fly?"

"... You notice that the more evidence we find in this case, the more questions we find that don't have answers?"

"Yes. And I really, really don't like it."

"Okay, I know all about people not wanting to get involved and everything... but we're ten feet from the Strip," Sara declared. "And nobody heard anything?"

"Does seem kind of strange," Nick agreed. "Especially given that her boss's statement puts the time of death between two and five this morning. That time of night, there should have been somebody to hear."

The body had been found in an alley behind an all-night diner, recognizable only by the nametag on the waitress's uniform it wore. The diner's staff, when interviewed, said that Marlene, the victim, had gone out to dump a bag of trash in the diner's dumpster. She hadn't returned, a fact that had gone unnoticed until the end of her shift, when she couldn't be found for sign-out. One of the other waitresses had gone back to check, and had found the corpse. The girl had required sedation.

Sara sighed. "Guess we should run through the check list. Defensive wounds?"

"None," Nick replied, gently examining the shriveled hands.

"Slime found on clothing?"


"No obvious cause of death?"

"Three for three."

She stopped. "Nick? What the hell is going on here?"

Biting his lip, her partner simply shook his head.

"Okay. She walked out the door... up to the dumpster... and tossed the bag in." As she spoke, Sara mimed the actions she was describing. "Now, you'd expect her to turn around and go back into the building... but instead, she wound up there, deeper in the alley. Why?"

The dark-haired man blinked. "Somebody grabbed her?" he offered.

"And she didn't scream, or fight, or make any noise? No, she'd almost have to have gone back there under her own power. So either she saw something back there, and went toward it..."

"Or, something got between her and the door, and she ran away from it," Nick finished, coming to stand next to the smaller brunette.

"Right. And in a panic, she doesn't scream, maybe because she doesn't have the breath... steps back near the wall there, and whatever it was happened."

The other CSI nodded. "Question is, what got between her and the door?"

"And how'd it get there without anybody else seeing it? I mean, if it frightened her that badly, it couldn't have been something that would pass for normal on a city street."

"... Have you noticed we're saying 'it' now?"

She gave him a somber look. "I don't see any way a human being could do this. Do you?"

He sighed. "No. But if you tell Grissom I said that, I will booby-trap your locker for a month."

"Understood," she replied, smiling. "Okay, so, somehow, it got between her and the door... Nick, try and stand where it would block me from the door and the road both."

He took a few steps sideways. "Like this?"

"Left a bit more... okay, yeah. Perfect. Okay, so if it didn't walk in from the road... where'd it come from?"

"Not the diner," Nick replied. "No way it could have circled around without her noticing it."

Sara nibbled on her lip. "And the diner's the only door that opens onto the alley. What, did it just drop out of the sky?"

There was a moment of silence as the two CSIs regarded each other. Then in unison, their gazes moved up... to the fire escape that terminated in a platform... four feet above Nick's head.

An evil grin spread across Sara's face. "Feel up to a career as a step-stool, Nicky?"

He just groaned.

"Three dead bodies, approximately three days apart each. No wounds, no obvious cause of death, corpses discovered completely mummified on the spot. Does anyone have anything interesting to report?" Grissom asked, his tone less than hopeful. The other CSIs, gathered around the long conference table, simply looked at each other.

"Well, if you define 'interesting' as 'even more confusing than before,' then yes, we've got something," Cath replied, tossing a stack of photos on the table. "The scene around the oldest body? Totally empty of animal life. Even the insects were keeping at least thirty feet from it."

Grissom frowned. "That's a common response to a predator, though for it to last a week, the animal must have left a territory marking somewhere."

"Some predator, to scare off everything from the flies to the coyotes," Sara mused.

"A true omnivore," the shift supervisor agreed. "Greg, more backup for your crypto-zoology theory."

Nick slid another report across the table. "Yeah, well, it gets weirder. We got samples of that slime off a fire escape close to ten feet off the ground. No clue how the thing got up there, but looks like that's how it got into the alley without being seen. Looks like it dropped from there, scared the waitress further back into the alley, and then... whatever it was happened."

"I'm sensing a pattern to these blank spots in our info," Warrick commented.

Laying two folders on the table, Greg shifted forward. "I might be able to fill in a couple of them," the youngest of the team replied. "First, the autopsy reports on the two new bodies, from Robbins. As you can imagine, they've kind of jumped up the priority list, given everything. On the culvert guy, no real changes from the one we've already found... traces of slime found in the body cavities, dehydrated, no indication of wounds, but on the waitress, we've got something different. The wrist bones were both cracked, though of course with all the blood and moisture gone, there wasn't any bruising to indicate that on the outside. Also, some moderate tissue damage to the labia and vulva, though again, no bruising."

Sara blinked. "She was raped?"

"Well, there were traces of slime found in the vagina just like every other body cavity. Possibly whatever it was just caused a little more damage there than other places."

Catherine made a face. "Greg, that just seems to bring more questions, not answers."

"I know, I know. But this might clear things up a little. I did get a hit on the composition of the slime. Not a full identifier, but enough to narrow it down to a chemical family. According to at least three sources, including Ghostbusters International, what we've got is a form of ectoplasm."

Five incredulous stares focused on the end of the table. Throwing up his hands, Greg shook his head. "Hey, I know how it sounds, but these are scientifically verified sources, tested by authorities on physics, biology, and chemistry. I have run every test I can think of, checked every source, talked to everybody and his Uncle Louie, and that stuff is ectoplasm."

After a moment, Nick shrugged. "Heck, I guess it's not that crazy, given some of the stuff we've seen."

"Greg, not that I don't trust your work or your answers, it's just... a ghost? Hard to get my mind around that," Sara confessed.

"Well, it's probably not a true ghost," Greg replied. "I mean, assuming it is a fully paranormal entity, and not just something that happens to leave ectoplasm behind, it's probably not the spirit of a person or anything. It's just basically a consciousness of some type in a free-floating energy matrix rather than an electrochemical one in a cell structure, like we are."

There was a moment of silence, as the other five stared at him once again.

"It's a family thing, okay?" the blond explained, exasperated.

A thoughtful look crossed Grissom's face. "Greg... that would be an electrical matrix, basically, right? A brain that required conductive stimulation?"

"... Hodges' green blood? Well... kind of. I mean, an ectoplasmic entity probably would bleed something along those lines, but if our predator was wounded like that, we should have seen blood somewhere closer to that first body."

"No, not the predator. The blood was an analogue for human, Hodges said..." He trailed off, frowning, then blinked.

"Is it me, or did it just get freezing in here?"

Oh, this is not good, Danny thought to himself, as he took the shortest route back to the restroom; a route that just happened to go directly through several walls. He'd been using his ghost form to keep himself informed about the case, sitting in on meetings and skimming reports. He'd drawn the line at the morgue, however. The lab had enough ghosts wandering its halls-- there was no way he was going to head to where they were probably thickest.

He'd known Grissom and his team were good; heck, it was one of the reasons he'd stayed around, knowing that he'd find the monster quicker with their help. But it simply hadn't occurred to him that Grissom, at least, would be able to make the leap from his ectoplasmic to his human blood. Now he just needed to go back to Danny Fenton and head back to the break room before Grissom started to wonder where he was.

It was just after turning the last corner before the break room that he saw her, leaning casually against one wall, wistful expression on her face. Following her gaze, Danny saw Nick and Sara emerging from the conference room, deep in some type of conversation. They weren't looking in his direction, so Danny drifted over towards the young brunette whose corona of blue ectoplasm indicated that she was one of the restless dead that still walked the halls of this place.

Most were police officers or laboratory techs, felled in the line of duty or by illness, returning to pace the routines they'd followed closely in life. Many of those weren't even true ghosts, simply recordings, bits of memory and emotion pressed on the world where they'd been. Others were true spirits, but unaware of their deaths, oblivious to the fact that they passed their days unnoticed by those around them. This woman, however, looked almost alive, and from the expression on her face, she knew only too well what she was... and what she was no longer.

"Hey," Danny said quietly, not wanting anyone to notice him talking to what they'd see as empty air.

Brown eyes slid in his direction, registering obvious surprise that he could see her. "Um... hey," she replied uncertainly, shifting her feet.

"I'm Danny. Danny Fenton. You... well, are you okay?"

She gave him a surprisingly perky smile. "Actually... yes, I am. I'm Kirsty. Kirsty Hopkins... nice to meet you, Danny." Cocking her head, she frowned. "Um... aren't you alive, though?"

A wince. "Mostly. It's a long story. Let's just say I can see ghosts that most people can't, and leave it at that."

"Fair enough. So... if you're alive, and you're kind of young for the police... what brings you here?"

"Material witness, mainly. It's kind of complicated. How about you? Are they still working on your case?"

Still smiling, she shook her head. "No, they solved it. Got the guy convicted, too. I'm not stuck here, really. If I chose to, I could leave. But I'm not ready yet."

Danny nodded, leaning back against the wall beside her. "I'm guessing it has something to do with Nick?"

"Yeah." Despite her ghostly nature, Kirsty actually blushed. "I... well, I was a working girl when I was alive. And twice, I kind of got into some trouble that Nick helped me out of. Without asking for anything in return, even. He just... he was the only person I ever met that really cared what happened to me. And when I died, he almost got framed for my murder. He's just too sweet for all the rotten stuff that keeps happening to him. So, I stayed to try and keep an eye on him. There isn't too much I can do to help, of course... but sometimes a little push is all it takes, you know?"

His answering smile was soft. "Yeah. I know."

"Don't worry. They'll help you too. It's what they do, and they're really good at it," she assured him.

"I know that too," he replied. Then he straightened, seeing Grissom come down the hall from the direction of the break room.

Here we go he thought apprehensively.

When the older man reached him, however, his expression was thoughtful, rather than upset. "Danny? Do you mind coming to my office for a minute? I think we need to talk."

Danny sighed.

He'd never been particularly good at reading people, Grissom mused, but then, in Danny's case, he didn't have to be. The boy's face was an open book, especially when he was worried or upset. It made Grissom wonder how he'd kept as many secrets for as long as he had.

"So, how much of the conference were you listening to?" he asked casually. Blue eyes widened.

"Conference? I don't know what you're talking about," Danny replied, gaze shifting leftward.

The CSI shook his head. "Technically, you really shouldn't have access to information about the case, but in this, I can't say I blame you. Especially since I doubt you've ever been able to trust the authorities to handle things before."

"Mr. Grissom," Danny started, only to stop short as he saw the photograph Grissom laid on the table before him.

"Evidence, Danny. It's my specialty. Danny Phantom, Amity Park's spectral defender, disappears from sight, about five months ago. Ectoplasm, green blood, and one unconscious teenager at a crime scene, a teenager covered in old injuries and with a set of reflexes and ingrained habits that would make any cop I know proud. The fact that you're obviously keeping several secrets from your parents, only some of which have to do with Vlad Masters-- he knows what you are, doesn't he? That's part of the reason he wants to control you so badly."

As he spoke, Gil watched the boy across from him slowly deflate, a look of wariness bordering on abject fear in his eyes. Almost despite himself, Grissom leaned forward, fixing his eyes directly on Danny's.

"Danny, whatever you're hiding, I'm not going to blow your cover, and I'm not going to freak out. You have an alibi for the last death, since you spent the entire time going over your statement with Brass. As far as the case goes, you're cleared, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the only thing anyone else has to know. But if I'm going to help you, I need to know what's going on. Please."

For a moment, Danny just sat there, silent, staring back at him. Then, drawing a long breath, he nodded.

"I guess the place to start would be... U of Wisconsin, 1985. My mom, my dad, and Vlad Masters, their lab partner, were doing an experiment involving a portal into a dimension of ectoplasmic matter..."

Listening to Danny tell his story in dry, matter-of-fact tones, Grissom had to stomp down his anger and incredulity. How on Earth could a fourteen-year-old boy go through the type of constant stress and physical abuse that Danny'd taken, and slip by completely unnoticed except for detentions and lectures? Hadn't anybody noticed his injuries? His wariness? The kid sat with his back to the wall in the break room, and Grissom would bet that he'd had the same habit during school lunch. And the most important question; how had one boy come so close to dying so many times, with nothing, even respect, to show for it, and remained sane?

Danny concluded his explanations with a quick summary of the extremely tangled mess that was his relationship with Vlad Masters. Grissom had a feeling the teen had only scratched the surface of the issue, but he wasn't going to complain; from what little information he had, it was a snarl worthy of a graduate-level psychology course, and he doubted Danny himself understood it fully. It was an open question if even Masters did. Reigning in his temper, Grissom nodded.

"So Masters is tracking you by ghosts as well as by more conventional means?"

"Basically. Not that he can have Skulker or his vultures really kidnap me out of here, now that I'm set as your ward until the case is over. He can't afford to have you make a fuss, even if there's no legal way to connect my disappearance to him."

Grissom snorted. "Believe me, your custody is the least of the stinks I'm going to raise if he challenges me. The right bits of information dropped to the right people, and the human tendency to make assumptions will have child abuse advocates circling him like vultures."

"I knew there was a reason I liked you. Um, but what about my parents?"

"Well, the big question is, will they believe you over Vlad Masters?"

Danny sighed. "I... Yeah. They'll blame themselves, though, that they never saw. It's kind of the reason I haven't told them about... well, the whole ghost thing. I know they'll accept me, I just... they're lousy liars, but they'll also blame themselves for it, especially my dad. Besides, I don't want my mom to freak out about the fact that I'm going up against things three times my size, with attitudes to match."

"The decision to tell them about Danny Phantom is up to you. But if you let me, I may be able to make them realize that the fact they never realized anything was Masters' fault more than anything else. But that's for later. Right now, we've got something eating people in my city. Anything else you can tell me about the thing you fought that night?"

"Not really. It's literally a blur, between blood loss and the fact that I hadn't eaten in three days and slept in two. I remember it was... making a funny noise, though. Almost like it was singing." He shrugged. "I've been running patrols during the days, but I haven't caught any traces of it."

The older man blinked. "Wait a minute, you patrol during the day, and you're here doing research and reading our files at night... when do you sleep?"

A shrug. "I get a couple hours after patrol, before I come in. I... don't honestly sleep much. Never have."

"You don't sleep, your grades are erratic, your temper is erratic, and you're a caffeine addict..." Grissom gave him a long, considering look. "Danny... have you ever been tested for ADD?"

The startled look on Danny's face gave him his answer.

"Warning, warning, danger, Will Robinson!"

Greg's low mutter had Nick looking up from the paper in his hand, scanning the room for either Ecklie or the sheriff, the only two people to draw that type of defensive reaction from the younger man. Neither of them was in evidence, however, only a white-haired man in an expensive suit, currently charming the receptionist on duty at the front desk.

Wait a minute... Nick's eyes narrowed. White hair. Armani suit. A cultured accent and somewhat oily charm... Mouth drawing taut, the dark-haired CSI shot his friend a sidelong glance.

"Vlad Masters?" Nick asked, his voice barely audible. The blond responded with a sharp nod.

"Bingo. No wonder Danny bolted... the guy makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up."

With an effort, Nick forced his scowl to relax. No sense in letting Masters realize how much they knew about him just yet, after all. Even though he remembered all too well what it was like to be powerless against an adult, unable to even tell those around him what was happening. Danny's situation wasn't quite the same as his had been, but it was close enough.

Beside him, Greg seemed to be reading his mind, because the younger man put a restraining hand on Nick's shoulder. "Don't hit him, okay?" Greg cautioned. "Grissom's already called dibs on that."

"And Cath's staked her claim to the leftovers," the Texan agreed. "Laurie's looking kind of flustered... our move?"

The other man nodded. "Let's do it." Pasting on their best smiles, the two of them went forward to rescue the receptionist from the verbal knots Masters was tying her in.

"Hey, can we help you?" Nick asked, attempting to sound as friendly as possible. Behind her desk, Laurie shot him a grateful glance as Masters turned his attention towards the new arrivals.

"Perhaps so," the tycoon replied amiably. "My name is Vlad Masters, and it's recently come to my attention that you may have found a young man I'm looking for, the runaway son of some friends of mine. Regrettably, Daniel has some emotional problems, and combined with the trouble he's been having at school, it was apparently too much for him." Reaching into the folder he carried, Masters pulled out a 5"x8", handing the photo to Nick.

It looked like a candid shot, the type of thing snapped by a parent during a moment of inattention and forever after used to embarrass the child in front of dates. In the center of the picture stood Danny Fenton, soaked to the skin, but wearing an evil grin as he used the high ground provided by a picnic table to lay down fire with two hand-held SuperSoaker pistols. Covering his back was a black-haired girl in dark clothes, who seemed to be wielding a much larger water rifle. In the background, a black boy with glasses was wringing out a sodden red beret, the gleam in his eyes indicating coming vengeance. With a little surprise, Nick realized that in the entire time Danny'd been around the labs, he'd never once seen the kid smile. Knowing that was probably due to the man before him, Nick stomped down his temper before answering.

"This kid here, in the middle? Is he the one you're looking for?" Nick asked, looking up. At Masters' assent, Nick nodded.

"Yeah, he's here. Gave his name as Danny Parker... his prints didn't come up on the system, so we didn't have any idea who to call." Nick handed the photograph back to the older man, who looked extremely pleased. It took everything Nick had not to react when Greg's next words wiped that expression completely off Masters' face.

"Problem is, Mr. Masters, Danny's a material witness in a murder case. In fact, at this point, he's pretty much our only chance of solving this thing. So... unfortunately, he's gonna be in state custody at least until charges are filed."

Fascinated, Nick watched as a series of emotions flickered across Masters' face, almost too fast to follow. Annoyance, resignation, amusement, and something very like concern morphed at last into an expression of surprise that, after the panoply of real feeling before it, registered as more phony than Madonna's hair color. Okay... he's not surprised that the kid's involved in a murder case? I don't remember the file mentioning dead bodies being part of Danny's daily life.

Even as Nick was wrestling down his curiosity, Masters was replying. "Of course I understand, gentlemen. Still, I would like to see Daniel, just so that I can affirm to Jack and Maddie that their son is reasonably well and safe. These past five months have been very hard on all of us, as you can probably imagine."

"Absolutely," Nick replied smoothly. "We'll have to ask Danny's current guardian, of course... if you'll wait here, Mr. Masters?" Not waiting for an answer, he and Greg turned and headed back towards the labs. While Nick headed for Grissom's office, the younger man broke off to gather the rest of the team. Grissom and Masters butting heads promised to be a show none of them wanted to miss.

Word spread fast on the night shift, Sara mused. By the time Nick had collected Grissom and returned to the lobby, almost the entire lab had found some reason to be within earshot of the coming conversation. Even Archie and Hodges, who were unaware of Danny's real identity or situation, had somehow heard that Grissom was going to take somebody apart, and were anticipating the show. And quite a show it was going to be, if she was any judge.

Breaking away from his position behind Grissom, Nick veered over to stand beside Sara, who was ostensibly studying a folder full of case notes. Not that they were fooling anybody, she was fairly sure... Grissom knew them all too well for that, and judging by the raised eyebrow, Masters suspected something as well. But given the nature of this little confrontation, that was unavoidable... and none of them wanted to miss a rare chance to see their boss in action.

"Mr. Masters?" Grissom asked, reaching the front desk. "I'm Gil Grissom, the crime lab supervisor, and Danny Parker-- excuse me, Danny Fenton's temporary guardian."

"Indeed?" Masters' surprise seemed genuine. "That's rather unusual, isn't it? Given that Daniel is a material witness?"

The other man nodded, arms folded across his chest in a posture that was more casual than closed. "Under normal circumstances, yes, but in this case, given the obvious indicators of long-term abuse, it was decided that it would probably be safer for everyone involved if I took custody of Danny."

"Long-term... as in, more than the five months that Daniel has been missing?"

"Definitely. We're talking about a kid who took his own IV out to try and sneak out of the hospital. One who absolutely refuses to turn his back to any person in the room, no matter who. That first night, he stole one of the knives out of my kitchen and slept with it next to his bedside. I finally got him to tell me a little about his life before the road, and though he didn't give me any specifics, he told me enough about his high school to suggest a possible diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Apparently someone once pushed him down a flight of stairs and got away with it."

Sara couldn't help herself at that; she winced. Grissom's anger was palpable, supporting the truth of his statement. Not that Grissom lied very often. He usually preferred to tell just enough of the truth that people could jump to their own conclusions.

Lips thin, Masters nodded curtly. "I've known for some time that Daniel was having troubles with bullying at school, but he's been quite careful to keep the extent of it hidden, from his parents and from me."

"Not surprising. He doesn't have a lot of trust in adults." The criminalist cocked his head, studying the man before him. "I wonder why?"

Opening salvo, Sara noted, feeling Nick tense slightly beside her. Now they were getting somewhere.

Masters' shrug was eloquent. "Perhaps because the school administration has obviously been of no help to him in years past. Or perhaps because Jack and Maddie, as much as they care for their children, are not the most... involved parents in the world. I'd imagine Daniel became used to fending for himself quite young. He does, unusually enough, seem to have placed a fair amount of trust in you, however, Mr. Grissom."

"Parry and riposte," Nick breathed, no more than a centimeter from Sara's ear. She smirked. While the fencing metaphor was accurate, she was envisioning the contest more as a pair of betta fish that had been placed in the same tank. Graceful circling, lightning attacks, and quick recoveries. She could almost see the fins trailing behind them.

"Well, as I said, I have experience and training dealing with cases of abuse, especially in the kind that doesn't leave physical marks. Especially cases like that, you get used to being powerless, being afraid that no one will believe you. Finding somebody who will stand behind you, instead of the abuser... it makes a big difference."

Masters acknowledged that with a dip of the head. "I imagine it would," he murmured. "Daniel is lucky to have found such a defender. And while I understand that his presence is required for your investigation, I do hope you also understand why I would like to see him. Being told he is well isn't quite the same as seeing it for one's self."

"Absolutely, Mr. Masters. However... Danny doesn't want to see you. And I'm not going to ruin what little trust the kid has placed in me by forcing him to. If his parents want to come here to pick him up, that may be a different story. But given that Danny turned dead white when Nick mentioned your name... No, I'm not letting you anywhere near him. Not now, and not after the case ends. If the Fentons choose to, that's their decision... but I will be giving them my opinions on the matter. Now, if you'll excuse me... I have work to do." And turning on his heel, Grissom strode off down the corridor without another word.

Masters watched him go, expressionless, then turned and left through the main entrance. Turning, Sara looked up at Nick, who looked down at her with a half-smile.

"Touché," he commented. Which, really, said it all.

The fifth time he caught Danny twisting in his seat, Grissom finally couldn't hold back anymore. "What, exactly, are you looking for?" the man asked, casting a sideways glance at the boy in the passenger's seat.

Danny sighed. "No way is Vlad going to take what you said today lying down. And there's no chance he'll attack at the lab; it's too well defended. Even if he won, it would create way too much of a mess and draw too much attention to him."

"Wait-- well-defended? From paranormal attacks?"

"Um... yeah. There's a lot of ghosts there. Most of them are cops who died in the line of duty, or retired ones who couldn't give up the job even after they died. They'd never let somebody like Vlad just waltz in there without a fight. And besides them... Well, how many murders have you guys solved? There are a lot of grateful spirits who have put off moving on to watch over you guys. Because if it hadn't been for you, they wouldn't have the chance to move on at all."

For a moment, Grissom could only sit in silence, watching the road unroll in front of his Denali. Every CSI had moments of doubt, moments where they'd wondered whether or not the job they did was worth it, since the victims were all too often beyond any help that could be given. They didn't assail him often; the sense of closure and justice for the victim's loved ones was usually enough to keep him going. But to hear Danny's words, that his efforts actually affected the dead themselves... It was something he'd tuck away for when the little doubts crept out in the wee hours of the morning.

"So, you think he's going to sic his goons on us while we're driving?" Grissom said finally, as Danny turned once again to scan the sky behind them.

The boy nodded. "He can't go after us at the apartment. Again, too much attention, and besides, I warded the house with as many anti-ghost charms as I could. Admittedly, I'm not that great with magic, so it's not as effective as my parents' ghost shield, but it ought to hold. So yeah, he's going to try and hit us in transit. Keep an eye open for old ghost vultures. In fezzes."

Blink. "Fezzes?"

"Yeah, fezzes. With a tendency to slip into Yiddish. I don't know where Vlad hires his goons, and I don't really want to."

Old Jewish ghost vultures in fezzes. Okay, he was just going to let that one go for a while.

Thus warned, he was slightly less surprised when Danny suddenly exhaled a plume of blue smoke, the "ghost sense" he'd mentioned earlier. A quick glance in the rearview mirror, and Grissom yanked the steering wheel to the left, narrowly avoiding the blast of emerald energy that rocketed towards them.

"Skulker," Danny growled, twisting around again. "Looks like you have Vlad worried enough to bring out the big guns. I'm going ghost!" Silver light flared in the passenger's seat, and when it cleared, Gil Grissom got his first close look at Danny Phantom.

"Keep driving," the teen ordered, releasing his seatbelt. "Try to get this thing off the main roads if you can... less populated areas. The vultures will probably be around too, try to force you off the road, so don't slow down. Remember, they don't corner well."

Grissom blinked. "Danny, what are you-- DANNY!" His yell came too late, however, as the young hybrid phased himself through the roof of the Denali and was gone. Above him, the criminalist could vaguely hear the sounds of energy fire being traded, but he didn't have long to think about it, as the vultures, following Danny's prediction, appeared to assault his car.

"There's a really, really bad joke in this," he muttered. "Good thing Greg isn't here to make it." He wasn't entirely certain how the vultures were keeping the 70 mph pace he was setting, but questions of paranormal biology could wait. He ducked as a large beak came swiping through his windshield, phasing through the glass without hesitation. Yanking the steering wheel to the right, he plowed directly into one of the birds. Caught by surprise, the vulture was still in solid mode, and went caroming off the side of the SUV to bounce into a streetlamp, a concrete road divider, and a passing van, finally contacting a building wall with a very satisfying splat.

A quick glance out his side window showed Danny and his opponent still following in the car's path, so Grissom chanced a hard right, his pursuers skating around the turn in his wake. Danny was right; they didn't corner well at all. Which gave him an idea. Of course, his mechanic was going to kill him, if the vultures didn't do it first.

The road ahead let out into a wide cul-de-sac, and luckily for him, it was empty of traffic. As he entered the wider area, he stomped hard on the brake, steering the car into a spin that bled off even more of its forward momentum. He managed to screech to a stop just inches before the brick façade of an office building. The vultures chasing him weren't so lucky.

Being solid enough to do damage has its drawbacks. Even an ectoplasmic entity is subject to the laws of physics, and Newton's Laws are quite unforgiving. The two vultures hit the windshield of the Denali hard enough to send a splintering crack from hood to roof, and more than hard enough to knock them both silly. Well, sillier, anyway. One vulture tumbled down to the road surface, but the other one, partially phased through the windshield by the force of the crash, retained enough consciousness to fix Grissom with an obviously concussed gaze.

"Vere'd you learn to drive, anyway?" it croaked, trying without success to adjust its fez.

"Drove a cab in LA during college," the criminalist replied, switching on the windshield wipers. Insult added to injury was apparently too much for the ghost bird, because it squawked once in outrage and disappeared. Before Grissom could head off to look for Danny, however, the teen came to him, pile-driving a distinctly woozy-looking robotic creature into the concrete. The white-haired boy was scorched, scratched, and battered, and the feral light in his green eyes told Gil it would probably be best to watch from a distance at the moment.

With a single quick twist, Danny removed the thing's head, pulling from inside a small, green blob-like creature.

"Um... can we talk about this?" the little creature chirped nervously. Danny simply walked over to a storm drain.

"Walk home," he said flatly, and dropped the tiny blob into the sewer. A flare of silver energy, and Danny Fenton stood in the middle of the street, eyes closed, breathing heavily.

Carefully, Grissom climbed out of the SUV and approached, making sure his footsteps echoed against the pavement. "Danny?" he asked hesitantly, stopping just out of reach of a panicked blow. "Are you okay?"

Blue eyes opened and fixed him with a weary gaze. "I'm tired, I'm sore, and I want to go home and sleep for a week. Other than that, I'm fine." He grinned slightly. "So... ever consider NASCAR as a second career?"

"This... is not the lab," Danny commented, blinking up at the old Victorian mansion in front of him.

Grissom grinned. "Nope. Masters knows you'll be there, and I don't put it past the man to find some sort of legal loophole that would let him at least get access to you long enough to do something sneaky. And there's no way I'm leaving you at the apartment for the same reason. But this... well, there's little to no chance of Vlad realizing you're here, and if there's any place in the city that's probably safe from supernatural intrusions, it's probably here."

Climbing out of the car, Danny squinted at the building. "What, exactly, is this place?"

"I'll explain in a minute. Come on."

The doorbell's chime was quickly answered by a woman with long, dark hair, and a dress and makeup that reminded Danny rather strongly of Sam. Her face lit up upon seeing Grissom, then grew confused as her gaze moved to Danny.

"Gil, we do have an over-eighteen rule here, you know," she commented wryly.

He winced. "I know, Lady Heather. That's part of the reason we're here... Um, could we talk about this inside? I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."

Another look at Danny, and the woman shrugged, stepping aside to let the two of them enter. As the door shut behind them, Grissom looked around the foyer. "Quiet tonight," he commented, hands in his pockets.

"It's still early. We don't really get started until later... why don't we talk about this in the parlor?"

Once seated in the elegant room, Danny looked from Grissom to their host, and back again.
"Does... someone want to tell me what's going on here?" the teen asked warily.

"Well... first, introductions are in order, I think. Lady Heather, this is Danny Fenton, a material witness in one of our cases, and a young man in a little bit of trouble. Danny, this is Lady Heather, the owner of this... establishment."

Danny had a sinking feeling. "Establishment?"

Full mouth pulled to one side, Lady Heather gave him an amused look. "It's a fetish club. B&D, mainly. We met through a case," she hurried to assure him.

"Oh. Okay." Despite himself, he had to snicker. "You're right, Mr. Grissom, Vlad's never going to think of looking for me here."

"Vlad?" Lady Heather's attention turned back to Grissom.

"Vlad Masters. The 'trouble' I mentioned earlier. I can't explain everything, but... Masters is at least a borderline sociopath, with an obsessive fixation on Danny and his family. Danny ran away because of it. Problem is, Masters has a lot of money, and a lot of skill using the pull that comes with it. I'm afraid he might be able to use it to get at least temporary access to Danny... who'd then conveniently disappear again."

She nodded thoughtfully. "So you want me to hide him here, someplace no one would ever assume you'd drop an underage teen?"

"Exactly. It shouldn't be for more than a couple days at the longest, and I wouldn't bring you into this if I had any other options. But there's no way I'm letting that son of a bitch get his hands on Danny."

"Very well, I'll do it. But you'll owe me one, Gil Grissom. And believe me, I will collect."

He grinned at her widely, rising to his feet. "I look forward to it, Lady Heather. I look forward to it."

After some thought, she'd decided the best place to put the boy was in the areas of the mansion set aside for her private residence. That should keep him out of sight of the clients, and also out of earshot of anything that might disturb him too greatly. Danny, she reflected, was almost as much of a puzzle as the man who'd brought him here. The hints of her profession made him blush like a boy five years younger, but the way he scanned each room and the careful balance of his walk were those of a much older, much less innocent soul. Grissom, being Grissom, had been deliberately uninformative about the boy's "trouble," and she wasn't about to take a guess. She knew Grissom too well for that. Watching people trip over their own assumptions was one of his great joys in life.

Danny'd settled down quickly enough with a couple books and several folders of notes, so she'd felt safe leaving him to go back to work, popping in to check on him every so often. It was obvious that he'd noticed her, though he only acknowledged her presence with a quick nod.

"Boy" wasn't nearly the right term, she decided early on. Danny might only be fifteen, but his maturity was obvious, and she'd imagine it was hard-won. She'd seen abuse victims in her work-- it wasn't uncommon for some to turn to fetishes to help work out their issues in a role-playing environment. Danny had the wariness, the sense of constant vigilance, and his sense of self-worth had obviously taken a beating, but... there was a sense of determination and will that wasn't common in cases of long-term abuse. Actually, he reminded her in some ways of some of the cops she'd seen, who came to blow off the stress of a job where they had to constantly be in control.

Danny, she thought, watching the boy idly from her doorway, would probably be dominant, at least, when he got a little older. Something in the wariness of his gaze suggested he was used to being in the power of others, deferring to authority and fading into the background. That stubborn jaw line and direct manner made her think that he probably didn't like having to take a secondary position in life.

"Back for the evening?" Danny asked, not even looking up from his work.

"For dinner, at least," she replied, heading for the kitchen. "Mind if I ask what you're working on?"

"Just some research." Shutting the book, he stretched, his spine popping quietly as he did so.

She snuck a look at the title as she passed the table to retrieve a pot from one cabinet. "Who's Who and What's That? You're into paranormal studies?"

A slight wince. "You... could say that. My parents are paranormalists. Specifically ghosts. I'm expanding my horizons, kinda."

"Well, I have a copy of the Annotated Tobin's if you'd like to read it. It should be on the bookshelf over there." She waved a hand towards the living room.

He blinked, sitting up straighter. "Really?"

"Yep. I went through a bit of a Goth phase in college, and it was interesting, so I kept up with it when I dropped the rest of the lifestyle."

Shaking his head, he laughed quietly. "Heh... figures."

One eyebrow arched as she set the pot of water on the stove. "Figures?"

"Oh, it's just you remind me of a friend. My best friend, actually, Sam. Actually, that's Samantha Manson, but calling her Samantha is a good way to lose teeth. She's a Goth, as much as she can be with parents who're still living in the fifties."

"Mmm. So, how do I remind you of her?"

"Well, you kind of dress alike, but you're also smart, tough, and don't care about what anybody else thinks of you, or thinks you ought to do or be. It's pretty obvious you're good at seeing into people, too, which Sam is, and you stand by your friends. I mean, you didn't even try to ask Mr. Grissom any more questions, you just let me in here."

She couldn't help but laugh at that. "Danny, if you haven't noticed by now, asking Grissom questions he doesn't want to answer is an exercise in futility. The man can turn a statement into a Gordian knot."

"And Alexander's solution isn't particularly effective, either," he agreed, a hint of a smile on his face.

Another laugh. "No, he doesn't intimidate well, does he? But besides that, I trust him. And it's obvious that he's very worried about you, and very upset with this Masters. I've rarely seen him quite that openly hostile. Or open about anything, to be frank."

Danny sighed. "Yeah. On the one hand, I feel kind of guilty about bringing Vlad's kind of trouble down on him and the lab staff, but... it's really, really nice to realize I'm not alone. I mean, Sam and Tucker, my other best friend, they know what he is, but they're kids, like me. They can't do anything about him."

"And nobody else sees what he is?"

The boy snorted. "He's rich, he's charming in a slimy way, he's smart... and it's not like anybody pays much attention to me anyway. The only time people notice me is when I'm screwing up."

His tone, matter-of-fact and without bitterness, made the words cut even more. He didn't even seem to think there was anything particularly wrong with the situation. A sudden thought occurred to her, and she smiled.

"Danny, I think I might be able to help you with that. You'd be surprised how much of the pack mentality still survives in human beings. How would you like to learn to be an alpha male?"

Blue eyes blinked at her in shock for a moment, then slowly, he smiled.

"You have a crack in your windshield," were the first words out of Jim Brass' mouth, as Grissom's Denali pulled up outside the lab. "What happened?"

Climbing out of the SUV, the taller man cast a glance over at the aforementioned crack. "Hmm? Oh... I hit a bird."

Brass's eyebrows shot up. "Must have been some bird."

"You could say that," Grissom replied. He looked quietly smug, a look Brass knew all too well from years of friendship. There was a lot more to this story than immediately obvious, but Grissom wasn't ready to share it yet. The man had entirely too much fun messing with people, especially when it came to something he knew and nobody else did.

"Hey, wait a minute," the detective frowned. "Where's the kid?"

Grissom shrugged, as the two of them headed for the main entrance. "Danny? I didn't want him here, where Vlad might be able to get at him, so I left him with a friend."

"A friend?" So far as he knew, the list of people Grissom considered friends could be written on a Post-it note. And most of them worked the night shift here at the lab. But if he hadn't left the kid with one of the other techs, who would he trust to--

Brass groaned. "Gil... you left him with Lady Heather? God, the kid's gonna have a heart attack."

That got an actual laugh from Grissom, a sound that Jim didn't hear nearly often enough.

"You underestimate him. He blushed a little, that's all. I think he's seen worse."

"Yeah, well... has he remembered anything else useful about the thing he saw?"

Grissom shook his head. "Remembered, no, but he did figure out a few things. One, whatever it is, it's not a true ghost, like Greg thought. Danny has a very distinct reaction to anything in a certain area of the ectoplasmic spectrum, and he didn't have it that night. So whatever it is, he's fairly sure that it's only partially ectoplasmic."

"I can't believe I'm having this conversation," Brass grumbled.

His friend grinned. "You should be more open-minded, Jim. The good news is, that narrows the field down a lot. Greg's doing most of the legwork on that, and I've reassigned everybody else to other cases until something breaks. Basically, though, there's not too much we can do, since we're brushing the edges of police jurisdiction as it is."

"Yeah. I know paranormal science is pretty legit these days, but... still seems weird, you know?"

"Believe me, I know."

Greg Sanders was, generally, a fairly easy-going guy. Goofy, yes, dedicated, yes, but generally very laid-back about most things. So when Catherine heard the tirade of profanity flowing from one of the lab's workrooms, she naturally had to stop and look in on him. Standing in the doorway, she had an excellent view of the young man as he sat at a paper-strewn table, hunched over a book and spouting a litany of verbal abuse in several languages, including what Catherine was fairly sure was Elvish.

"Contaminated sample?" she guessed, taking a hesitant step into the room.

Weary eyes rose to meet hers. "Huh? No, no... I think I just got an answer on the mummies."

One shaped eyebrow rose. "That didn't sound like a break in a case."

"Yeah, well, technically, it's the sound of a case going out of our jurisdiction. If I'm right, anyway." Standing up, he stretched expansively, spine popping.

"Do you know where Grissom is? I really need to talk to him," the junior CSI continued.

"You look like you need coffee, first," Catherine replied. "Go to the break room and get some. I'll find Grissom and get him down there. But after that, I want to be there for the explanation."

It was actually after one supervisor, two cups of coffee, the arrival of several "stray" CSIs and one police detective, and a call on speaker-phone, but Greg did get around to his explanation.

"Okay," Sanders began, "anybody here familiar with the term 'psychovore?'"

From the phone on the table came Danny's response. "Yeah... according to Tobin's, it's a supernatural creature that feeds mainly on human emotional states, most often heightened ones like fear."

Greg nodded. "Bingo. That would explain the facial expressions on all three of our corpses, not to mention their desiccated state. Most psychovores pull electrolytes from their prey, which also allows them to take in the electrical stimulation from the brain and nerves. I ran some further tests on that ectoplasm, and it has a fairly high electrolyte content."

"AND it explains the difference in the waitress' condition," Sara added. "The thing was trying to heighten the fear response."

"Okay, so we're fairly sure it's a psychovore," Grissom said thoughtfully. "Can we get a little more specific?"

The sound of rustling paper came over the speaker. "Actually, yeah," Danny threw in. "Remember I said it was singing? There's an entry here for the Lesser or Common Siren, a non-sentient shape-shifting psychovore that mesmerizes its prey with a hypnotic song, then shifts to something that'll terrify the prey."

Nick blinked. "Wait a minute," the brunet said. "I thought sirens were those bird-women from Greek myth?"

"Those are Greater Sirens," Greg replied, smirking slightly. "Common mistake."

Brass, who had been watching most of this conversation with the expression of a man humoring a bunch of lunatics, finally spoke up. "Wait a minute. I caught 'non-sentient' in there. This thing's basically an animal?"

That got a nod from Greg. "Probably about the level of a fairly bright dog, honestly."

"In that case, this isn't a police matter. It's a job for Animal Control," the detective replied dryly.

"I don't think a choke chain and an obedience collar is going to cut it here, Jim," Grissom threw back, just as dry.

Danny sighed. "No, but he's right," the teen said tiredly. "This is really something paranormalists handle, but Vegas doesn't have any of those."

The smile that crossed Grissom's face at that point was nothing short of evil.

"So... maybe the city should bring a couple in."

"You know, I'd almost forgotten what noon looked like," Danny joked, shifting nervously from foot to foot. The airport concourse was no more crowded than usual, but that was enough to have the backed up against a support pillar, doing his best to blend into the potted plants that seemed to be a common design motif. Reaching out, Grissom squeezed his shoulder reassuringly.

"Looks like they're about to start unloading the plane," the grey-haired man commented, gaze fixed on the gate. "Shouldn't be too much longer."

"Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of," Danny muttered.

Grissom smiled sympathetically. The ghost-hybrid hadn't been particularly HAPPY about Grissom's plan, but after some discussion, he'd agreed that it was the best, and possibly the only real solution to their current problems. That didn't mean he liked it, however, and the last fourteen hours had been occupied by an even-jumpier-than-usual Danny. Mentally, Grissom made a note once again to suggest Jack and Maddie Fenton have their son tested for ADD when this whole mess was over. The occasional mug of coffee did seem to be beneficial to Danny's concentration-- at least, when he wasn't in a state of near-panic.

As the passengers disembarked, the criminalist scanned the outflow, not entirely sure what he was expecting. Whatever it was, it wasn't what he got.

"DANNY!" A simultaneous chorus went up from three throats, almost immediately followed by three teens pouncing on his young companion. Danny managed one brief yelp before he was overwhelmed.

"Jazz... Sam... air..." he croaked, arms snaking around two sets of female shoulders. His assailants backed off slightly so that he could breathe, but his respite was short-lived.

"Daniel Andrew Fenton, what in the WORLD were you thinking?" the redhead scolded. Taller and a bit older, Grissom could nevertheless see in her face a slight resemblance to the boy she was scolding.

The Goth teen beside her nodded, violet eyes flashing. "Why would you just disappear like that? Do you have any idea how worried we were?"

He sighed. "Yes, I know, and I'm sorry. I had my reasons, although I don't know how good they are." Looking up, his gaze caught that of the third teen, who had remained silent while the other two had delivered their tirade.

"Tuck? You got anything to say?" Danny asked, tone slightly apprehensive.

Green eyes narrowed behind half-moon glasses. "I'm still deciding whether to hug you or punch your lights out," the black boy said flatly. Danny winced.

"Let's do neither and call it even?" he asked. Sighing, his friend reached out and clapped him on the shoulder.

"Only if you promise never to scare me like that again."

Danny nodded. "Deal," he said fervently. "What are you guys doing here?"

Jazz gave him a look that was pure big sister. "Gee, Mom and Dad get a call that you've been found, in Las Vegas, AND there's a ghost the city wants them to take out... I called Sam as soon as Mom hung up the phone!"

"Lucky for me, between my allowance and my parents Frequent Flier Miles, I could get three tickets out here," Sam added. "You think we're just going to let you twist in the wind?"

"Never." His smile was tired, but more sincere than any Grissom had seen from him. "So, uh... where are Mom and Dad?"

Tucker snorted. "Back of the plane. Apparently they had to move your Dad back there to balance the load or something."

Grissom frowned, but he didn't have too long to wonder at that statement, as the last of the passengers disembarked. Second-to-last was a fairly normal-looking woman in her forties, hair a darker red than Jazz's, wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Behind her, however, was one of the largest men Grissom had ever seen. Easily six and a half feet tall, he had a jaw you could crack rocks on, and his shoulders would put most linebackers in the shade. Also wearing casual clothes, he didn't appear to be either fat or particularly muscular; rather he was some strange blend of the two.

"They're not wearing jumpsuits," Danny said numbly. Sam smirked.

"You can thank Jazz for that one. She managed to convince them Child Services wouldn't be too impressed."

The couple's eyes fell on the little knot by the pillar, and both stopped dead.

"Danny?" The woman gasped, one hand grasping her companion's arm for support.

"Mom!" Danny's cry was at least half-sob, as he broke away from his friends and ran forward to be enveloped by his parents in a pair of large hugs.

Pushing her son back far enough to take a look at him, Maddie Fenton grasped his shoulders and shook him lightly.

"Danny, what on earth is going on? Do you have ANY idea how worried we were? Why would you leave us like that?" she asked, staring into his eyes.

Deciding that this would probably be a good moment to intervene, Grissom took a step forward, clearing his throat softly. All three Fentons looked up at him, Jack and Maddie's faces wary.

"Mr. and Mrs. Fenton? My name is Gil Grissom, I'm with the Las Vegas Crime Lab, and I've been Danny's temporary guardian while he's been here in the city. I've also been sent by the City to fill you in on the situation we've hired you for. Unfortunately, it's kind of a long, involved story, so if you don't mind, I'd like to move this back to the station, where Danny and I can go into some deeper explanations. Do you mind?"

Taking a look at his son, Jack Fenton shook his head. "Mr. Grissom, if it'll get us some answers, we'll go to the moon."

Grissom smiled. "The van's this way... don't worry, your luggage will be forwarded to the station. Promise."

Once back at the lab, introductions were made, and the situation with the siren was explained. Professionals though they were, Jack and Maddie were parents first and foremost, and it didn't take them long to get around to the topic they really wanted to discuss.

"Danny," Maddie asked, "why did you run away? I mean... what was it that you thought you couldn't come to us about?"

Danny sighed. "It's... it wasn't you guys. It wasn't because of you. I just..." He stopped, took a breath, and looked at Grissom.

"Tell the truth and spike his guns?" the teen asked.

"Usually the best option," the criminalist replied.

Another deep breath. "The only way you're really going to believe this is if I show you, so... I'm Goin' Ghost!"

Two silver-white rings appeared around Danny's midsection, sliding apart until the black-haired human boy was replaced with a white-haired ghost.

"Hi," Danny offered, waving slightly. His voice seemed to have an echoing quality to it that it hadn't held before.

"That? Is TOO cool," Greg commented, before being shushed by Nick and Sara.

Maddie stared at her son, mouth working, but no sound coming out. Beside her, her husband sat expressionless.

"That's why you left?" Jack asked quietly. "Did you think we wouldn't understand?"

"You've threatened to dissect him a couple times," Jazz offered.

Her brother winced. "That wasn't it, really. I mean, okay, its part of the reason I never SAID anything... not that I really thought you would, but I didn't want you to freak out over it... but no. That's not why I left. See... this happened because I had an accident with the ghost portal. I was kind of inside when I turned it on... and it zapped me. According to the blood analysis here, I've got a couple of extra chromosomes... So it made genetic alterations, I dunno. But... I'm not the only half-ghost around. Dad, you remember the ghost from Wisconsin, the one that tried to blow up the portal? Well.. he's a hybrid too. Just with twenty years more experience."

"Twenty..." Maddie gasped. "VLAD?"

"Vlad Masters. Vlad Plasmius, he calls himself in ghost mode. And... he hides it well, but between the ecto-impurities in his infusion, and cutting himself off, and the fact that he's always had a thing for you, Mom... he's not exactly sane. He wants Dad dead, you to marry him... and he wants me as his son, or at least his apprentice." Danny grimaced. "And he's not real good about taking 'no' for an answer."

Grissom grumbled. "Exhibit A, the windshield of my SUV."

Cocking his head, Brass gave him a sideways look. "You said you hit a bird."

"Ghost vulture. In a fez."

"... Why do I even ask you anymore?"

Ignoring this little side conversation, Danny continued, returning to human form as he did so. "Anyway... he's been playing with my head ever since he found out about me at the reunion, trying to turn me into him, get me to come to him. And when he gave me that telescope, I knew it was too dangerous for me to stay. I know I can turn into a monster; I've seen that future. I promised I'd never let it happen. So... I ran. Trying to stay one step ahead of him, so he'd spend his time chasing me instead of playing head games. Then I kind of tripped over this whole mess with the siren, and I couldn't leave without trying to stop it. Mr. Grissom convinced me to let him try to help me... and here I am."

"Well... I..." Maddie shook her head helplessly. "I guess I see why you've been breaking curfew."

Danny winced. "Yeah. The ghosts don't keep regular hours, and... well, I can't just LET them attack the city. If I'm there... I have to do something."

Jack stood, walking over to his son and placing both hands on his shoulders. "Danny, I can't say I particularly LIKE the fact that you're out there fighting ghosts, especially when I think of some of the hits I've seen you take out there... but I understand why you do it, and I understand why you ran. And I just want you to know, I'm proud of you, son."

The teen almost disappeared into his father's warm hug. Pulling back, he shot a look at his mother.

Her smile wobbled a little, but held. "Danny... this is a shock, and we're going to have a LOT to talk about once we get home. But the fact that you're COMING home is what matters right now, that and the fact that ghost, boy, or in-between, you're our son, and we love you." Taking a deep breath, she straightened, her manner becoming brisk and businesslike.

"Now... we have a ghost to catch!"

In the end, they'd decided on the oldest trick in the book; bait. There'd been a bit of a snag when Danny'd insisted on playing that part, since his parents had both utterly refused. Sam, Jazz, and Tucker hadn't been particularly enthused with it either. But the young hybrid had overruled all of them with grim determination and the flat assertion that he was the only one capable of pulling it in from far enough away to be useful. From the way Jack and Maddie Fenton had looked at their son after that, Grissom had a feeling they were beginning to see someone a lot older than fifteen, at least in all the ways that mattered.

Unfortunately, even a high-energy snack like Danny might not be irresistible to the siren. To be absolutely certain of luring it in, they needed a second piece of bait. Procuring his cooperation might be a problem, but Grissom was fairly sure he knew the right buttons to push to make that happen.

Vlad Masters, unsurprisingly, was occupying a penthouse suite at the Bellagio. Idly, Grissom thought about informing the man of just how many times the night shift had processed this particular set of rooms, but decided against it. If his senses were anything like Danny's, he'd know already.

"Mr. Grissom, what an unexpected pleasure," the billionaire said dryly, stepping aside to let him enter. "May I assume this is about Daniel?"

"You know, you might have better luck getting the kid to at least consider not hating you if you actually called him 'Danny' for once," Grissom commented, as the door closed behind him. "He hates the name 'Daniel' with a purple passion."

The white-haired man snorted. "Somehow, I rather think that has more to do with the fact that I address him as such than vice versa. But I digress. Tell me, how may I be of assistance to you today?"

"You may remember that Danny was in state custody as a material witness in a murder case? Well, the deaths have been ruled not to be murder; rather, they're the result of attacks by a supernatural creature known as a Lesser Siren."

Vlad nodded. "I'm familiar with the term. Quite an unpleasant predator."

"Very. But hardly a police matter, so the City of Las Vegas has retained the services of Jack and Maddie Fenton to deal with it." There-- the faintest of flinches, a minute crack in Vlad's imperturbable exterior.

"Unfortunately, to make sure it comes to them, they're going to need bait. Powerful bait." Grissom's smile widened predatorily. "Specifically, two ghost hybrids."

That caught the older man off-guard. Seeing the look on Grissom's face, he didn't even bother to deny it, simply tilted his head. "So Daniel's finally confessed his little secret to his parents, has he? I hope for his sake they took it well."

"Better than they took yours. But I think they're leaving dealing with all of that until after the siren is caught."

"Yes, about that. Given that this is no doubt a rather dangerous undertaking, why should I put myself at risk? I can see no real reward."

The CSI's smile was as thin and cold as a razor blade. "Because I have the power to ruin you with just a few words dropped in the right ears, Mr. Masters. After all, a man your age really shouldn't be obsessed with a fifteen-year-old boy."

A look of real surprise and disgust crossed Vlad's face. "Mr. Grissom, if you are implying--"

"I'm implying nothing. The truth is an interesting thing. Tell the right bit of it to the right person, and people spin their own wonderful lies. All I have to do is state that your interest in Danny is inappropriate-- and trying to manipulate a boy into turning against his father and his principles is DEFINITELY inappropriate-- and even without proof, or without charges, the abuser label will stick to you like glue. Your empire will come tumbling down around your ears faster than you can blink."

Vlad seemed to deflate. "It would appear, Mr. Grissom, that you have me at a disadvantage. What guarantee do I have that even if I do as you ask, you won't act anyway, simply out of your distaste?"

"You have my word, which if you do any research, you'll find is good. I won't feed you to the gossip harpies as long as you do two simple things. You help us catch this siren, and then you leave Danny and his family ALONE. If I hear word one from any of those kids that you've been playing head games again, your face will be all over the National News as fast as I can dial a phone. Are we clear?"

"Crystal." The billionaire studied his opponent for a long moment.

"You, Mr. Grissom," he said at last, "are a very ruthless man."

Another knife-edge smile. "From you, I'll take that as a compliment. Come on... we've got a siren to catch."

"I can't believe he ditched us," Sam grumbled. "After all of that, he DITCHED us!"

Carefully hiding her smile, Sara poured more coffee into the girl's waiting mug. It was quite obvious where Danny had developed his caffeine addiction, looking at the way his three "assistants" went through the stuff.

"To be fair, he didn't exactly ditch us," Tucker corrected, sipping his own brew. "He didn't let us come with him. Big difference."

The hybrid teen had attempted to soften his refusal by asking his sister and two friends to keep an eye on Nick for him. Danny's assessment of her co-worker-- "The guy's got a karmic 'kick-me' sign on his back."-- had very nearly sent Sara into gales of laugher. Sadly enough, it was true, but she didn't think that Nick would particularly be pleased with that turn of phrase.

The last mug, belonging to Jazz, was filled and accepted without comment, the redhead's gaze far away.

"He's so... THIN," she said at last, seeming not to have heard the rest of the conversation.

Sam and Tucker exchanged concerned glances. "Come on, Jazz," the Goth girl said, her tone carefully nonchalant. "That's just how Danny is. He burns off everything he eats, especially when he's stressed."

Sara nodded. "He eats like a normal teenager, at least so far as I've seen. He's got a lot of muscle on him, even if you don't always notice it." Carefully, she didn't mention the fact that you could still see Danny's ribs if you looked closely. There were some things that just didn't need to be said.

Jazz sighed. "Yeah well... I don't know, he just seems so old. It's only been five months."

"He's not usually like this?" Sara perked up slightly. She'd wondered at the difference between the boy described in Danny's file and the one wandering around the lab. Some of it, she'd attributed to the fact of his secret, and yes, some of it from the effects of being on the road for five months. But the way Jazz sounded, Danny's personality had changed more than that would generally explain.

"No way," Sam replied. "Danny's... He's never been so decisive. He's usually too worried about people getting hurt to put his foot down like that. But... It's not that surprising a change, really."

Tucker nodded. "Deep down, Danny's always been tough. I think he's just too tired to think about trying to make everyone happy, the way he usually does. Give him some time to relax, and he'll be... well, a little more like the Danny we remember."

Another sigh from Jazz, who then looked up. "What I want to know is, what happened to Vlad? He's NEVER been as quiet as he was when Mr. Grissom brought him in."

"Um..." Sara had to fight the sudden urge to cough. "Generally, when Grissom 'persuades' somebody to do something... you really don't want to know how he did it. Don't get me wrong, he's a great boss and a great guy, but he can be nasty if he has to be. And he likes Danny, a lot. I get the feeling he sees a lot of who he used to be in Danny." A sudden thought occurred to her, and she snorted humorlessly.

"Funny... I just remembered; he told us once that back in high school... he was a ghost."

You could describe the situation as awkward, Danny mused, though only if you were into understatement. He had a fairly good idea of what kind of arm-twisting Grissom had used to get Vlad to cooperate with what the older hybrid had referred to as a "hare-brained, typically self-destructive scheme." It was almost amusing, in a sort of twisted way... despite everything, he could see his parents were rather tempted to agree with Vlad on that point at least.

But his parents had retreated to the end of the cul-de-sac, along with the members of the Vegas PD assigned to make sure nothing got TOO blown up or damaged, and it was now just him and Vlad, in ghost mode, sending out as much ecto energy as they could in hopes that the siren would read it as the paranormal equivalent of "Eat at Joe's." And the two hybrids were quite studiously avoiding each other's gazes.

Surprisingly enough, it was Vlad that broke the silence first. "Am I correct in assuming, from conversations I overheard earlier, that Mr. Grissom is attempting to convince your parents to have you tested for Attention Deficit Disorder?"

Danny blinked, but shrugged. "Yeah," he replied, still scanning his surroundings. "He's pretty sure I have it... says it explains a lot."

"I would agree," the older hybrid replied. "Your grades are atrocious, but you are FAR from stupid, Daniel. Rash, perhaps, and inexperienced, but that goes with being a teenager. And the merry chase you've led me on for the past five months certainly proves that you're capable of abstract thought and quick mental recovery."

Vlad was silent for a long moment, then he added, "I was worried about you. I must admit, having this entire thing over will be a relief, even if I have been neatly outmatched."

One eyebrow arched, Danny couldn't keep himself from shooting a look at his nemesis. "You were WORRIED about me?"

"Oh, don't sound so shocked, Daniel. I will admit that our relationship has been adversarial in the past. I'll even admit that I've... probably made several mistakes. Large ones. But quite apart from anything I may feel about either of your parents... You are important to me. And I've come to realize these last five months that I'd rather you be safe at home, even still as Jack Fenton's son, than any of the alternatives that have worried me these past few months."

The teen had to take a few moments to process that. He sighed.

"You do realize we're both seriously messed up, right?" Danny offered, mouth quirking. "Ghost powers seem to play some serious games with your head."

A snort. "Yes, I've suspected something of the sort on occasion." More silence. "So... what will you do, now that your secret is out and you've slain your dragon?"

Danny sighed. "I don't honestly know. What about you? You've pretty much lost any chance at my mother."

"Would it surprise you, Daniel, if I said that didn't bother me nearly as much as I'd thought? I think I'm tired of chasing someone who existed only in my mind. ... I think I'm just tired, full stop."

"Join the club." A wry chuckle. "Think we need therapy?"

"Find a practicing psychologist that specializes in the paranormal, and I'll cover the bills. If I may make a suggestion, however... Ask your parents if it wouldn't be possible to home school you. You don't need to go back into that den of piranhas, and you'll do better academically with a tutor who can adjust his teaching style to fit you, instead of expecting you to fit the least common denominator of the school system."

Green eyes blinked. "Home school? You think?"

"Daniel, I've been watching that place since you enrolled. More closely since I learned of your abilities. Casper High is headed for a meltdown, possibly another Columbine. Unfortunately, the administration there is so slaved to its golden football goose that any change is unlikely to come swiftly enough to avert such a tragedy, unless drastic measures are taken. Regardless, the one thing your parents and I DO agree on is that we'd prefer you were well out of the way."

"It... it's really not that bad," Danny managed, but his voice lacked conviction even to his own ears.

Vlad's voice grew harsher. "Not that bad? Daniel, you were shoved down a flight of stairs! I've seen your medical records, and I know very well that not all of those injuries came from your ghost-fighting. In fact, the ghosts are LESS likely to permanently damage you, because you'll DODGE those! Are you so paranoid about your secret that you refuse to stand up for yourself in any way, or do you feel you DESERVE the abuse of your peers in a way you don't deserve it from Skulker?"

Danny whirled to face the older man, green eyes glowing with a sudden flare of anger. "What the hell makes you think YOU of all people have the right to chew on me about this?"

"Because I'm the only person who sees what you go through, rather than just the parts you want them to see! Damn it, Danny, do you know why I really wanted you to come to me? With or without your mother, even leaving your father out of the equation? Because until the day you ran away, I was terrified that I was going to get a call from your parents, saying that you'd finally given up on being treated like a human being and decided to finally end your pain PERMANENTLY!"

Wind taken out of his sails, the teen could only stare for a moment. His mouth worked a couple times, then produced something even he wasn't expecting.

"... You... just called me 'Danny.'"

Vlad didn't have a chance to respond, however, as he and Danny both suddenly exhaled plumes of blue.

"It's here!" The older hybrid shouted, then suddenly shoved Danny hard, sending him reeling back along the pavement as something dropped into the space between them with a liquid smack.

The rest of the battle was a blur of shouting, dodging, ecto-blasts, whipping protoplasm, and above it all, that high, thin keening that the Siren produced. He and Vlad were immune by virtue of their ghost powers, of course, and his parents were both wearing the Fenton Phone earpieces, designed to filter out ghostly noises. It was a long, hard, messy fight, but finally there was nothing left of the siren but a cooling lump of slime.

Danny's breathing didn't even have a chance to slow down before he was suddenly seized by both his parents in a tight hug. Even as he fought for air, he realized that his little argument with Vlad had been audible at the end of the street. Oh great... he was going to be grounded until his eighteenth birthday if this kept up.

Over his father's shoulder, he noticed Vlad returning to his human form, brushing imaginary dust from the sleeves of his suit. Looking up, the billionaire locked gazes with Grissom, who had just finished taking samples of what was left of the siren's body. Vlad scowled.

"Stop smirking," he ordered shortly. The criminalist's grin only grew wider.

Despite his pending suffocation, Danny had to grin as well. Maybe there was something to this "Happy ending" stuff after all...

"Mail call!"

Gil Grissom looked up from the report in front of him as Greg stuck his head in the door, bearing an envelope and an extremely smug grin. Setting aside his pen, the shift supervisor raised one eyebrow at his subordinate.

"From the look on your face, I'm guessing it's not a subpoena."

The blond shook his head, grin widening. "Nope. It's a letter, for you. Return address is Amity Park."

Intrigued, Grissom took the envelope, shooing Greg out into the hallway before shutting the door. It had been a couple of months since Danny had returned home with his family, and he had to admit, he was curious about how the young man was doing now. He chuckled to himself as he opened the letter-- he wasn't the only one, given the fact that Greg was still hanging around outside. Danny'd even made an impression on Lady Heather, interestingly enough, though he hadn't wanted to inquire too much into that situation.

Unfolding the letter, he adjusted his glasses and began to read.

Mr. Grissom,

If you didn't guess from the return address, this is Danny Fenton. I've been spending the last couple months settling in, getting things back to normal, so this is the first chance I've had to sit down and write to you guys.

First off, I want to thank you guys, all of you, for your help. If it wasn't for you, I might still be running, and I'm POSITIVE I wouldn't have had the guts to tell my parents about Danny Phantom. They're taking it pretty well, by the way. I think my mom would like to ground me and keep me from ghost fighting, but Dad won't let her. We did a lot of talking after we got home, and they understand what it means to me.

They took your advice, by the way-- yes, I was diagnosed with mild ADD. Nothing the doctor wants to medicate me for, but they gave me a list of behavioral modifications (Jazz's words) and agreed that the occasional mug of coffee to help me concentrate was probably a good thing.

You'll probably be relieved to hear I didn't go back to school. Mom, Dad, and Vlad all agreed on that one, talk about your miracles, so I'm being home schooled. Vlad talked Sam and Tucker's parents into letting them do lessons with me and the tutor too, so I don't feel isolated, and they're both out of that mess too. Which isn't to say we're giving up on that one. Apparently Vlad's got a lawyer, and a lot of the teachers who don't like the discipline policy are getting together with him. I heard the words "Class Action" suit passed around. We'll see what happens.

Socially, not too much has changed. I had a little celebrity for a while in the social scene, having run away... Dangerous, bad-boy stuff. Most of it dropped away when it became obvious I was still nerdy Danny Fenton, but a couple of the football players who picked on me before actually apologized, and have been pretty cool to me since. And one of them, Dash Baxter, told the principal who it was that pushed me down the stairs, and the guy got expelled. So there is SOME justice in the world, I guess.

Vlad and I are actually both seeing a shrink-- separate sessions, of course. Things are still kind of weird with that whole relationship, but I think things are getting better. He and my dad actually went to a tech expo, without Mom, and it looks like they had a good time. Neither of them came back with any visible injuries, anyway.

Other than that, my life's pretty much settled back into the usual. Ghosts, fights, arcades, more ghosts. The Box Ghost gave me a welcome home present, though... it's a box. Nothing in it, just a box. Is it weird that I kind of feel touched?

Anyway, say hi to everybody for me, tell them I'm doing well and that I said thanks for everything. And tell Lady Heather that her lessons worked-- Sam and I are going on a date this weekend!



Folding the letter up, Grissom tucked it into one of his desk drawers, then stopped. "Lady Heather's lessons?" What could...

He shook his head. On second thought, there were some things even scientists just didn't want to know.