Chapter Four: Debriefing

By Ysabet

Author's Note the First: Prior to writing this thing, I hadn't seen the end of the series. Now I have seen it, aaaaand, with my fangirl goddesslike powers, I declare this to have happened in an AU wherein the whole damn Phantom Planet plot never happened and his parents still haven't got a clue about what their son's been up to (jeeeeeeze, people!) It's been a few years, Danny and crew are 17 or thereabouts, and it's all business as usual. So there. sticks out tongue at Nickelodeon for daring to cancel the series

Author's Note the Second: This chapter is a bribe. A bribe, I say! To one ELLEN BRAND, who writes damn good Detective Conan and Danny Phantom fics (not combined, or not exactly, not yet, though one can hope considering that comment that Cade made in the most recent chapter.) Ahem? Hello? Icka M. Chif got me started reading her stuff, and all I can say is that I want to write like that. So… yes; this is a bribe for her to write more, like, oh, a sequel to her most recent Detective Conan thing (Unprofessional Opinion) or maybe to her Danny Phantom stuff, or maybe to both…. feeds EB's plunnies Viagra and donuts as an encouragement I love her stuff. It makes me want to write more. Y'all, if you haven't read it, go and do so NOW, okay? Shoo! Go! What're you waiting around here for? Just go already, would you? You can read this later…

Author's Note the Second-and-a-half: Hi, Icka!! XP Thanks for beta-ing!! (Icka named the chapter, btw. Blame her.)

Military bases, no matter where they are or what nation they represent, all have the same smell to them. It's faintly grayish, composed of cheap paper, machine-oil, decades of dust, the ever-present funk of human sweat and nameless species of mildew that even the evil khaki-labeled cleaning products approved by governments around the world cannot kill. Variations exist, of course; you wouldn't expect a Foreign Legion outpost in the wilds of the African deserts to reek in the same way that a Panamanian training camp would… but somehow they all end up smelling like God's own locker room.

"Doesn't anybody ever air this place out?" asked Danny, hurrying through industrial gray corridors. "It STINKS in here." He had dropped to his feet rather than remaining airborne; for some reason, the sight of a floating teenager seemed to disturb the military types that they kept passing in the hallways.

"We're kind of far from fresh air," said the other Danny—Doctor Daniel Jackson, some sort of scientist as far as Danny could tell, and apparently the local Voice Of Reason—dryly. He had a nice voice, not as sarcastic as O'Neill's or condescending like a lot of adult voices were. "It's not like we can open the windows on nice days."

"Oh. Where're we going, anyway?" Soldiers rushed past. Man, this place was busy—

Jackson dodged a rifle-toting body ("Sorry sir!") and gave him a Look, then looked heavenward as the intercom blared again:

"Warning, warning, iris is opening, iris is opening—"

"Right. Big gray room, giant Space Donut, lots of weapons. Silly me." Danny rubbed at a bruised elbow that the Box Ghost had managed to wham into the wall. "The Box Ghost came through without any trouble; this 'iris' thing—you normally have to open that, right?" Vague mental images of Darth Vader shouting 'Close the blast-doors!' filtered through his head, and he frowned as they stomped along at a fast clip, thinking. "What would trigger it to open automatically? --and please don't say 'That's classified', or I'll scream violently and disappear through a wall, okay?"

The other Danny shot him a look that held more than a trace of envy in it. "Wish I could do that sometimes," he muttered. "…right. The iris is usually triggered by a transmitting device that our teams carry; if something tries to access it without the right code being transmitted—" With his fist and the flat of his hand, he mimed something that looked remarkably like a fly hitting a windshield. "We don't get a lot of unexpected visitors anymore these days… um, well, not as many as we used to. Not as such. So… how did you trigger it when you came in? And where'd you come from, anyway?"

"From the Ghost Zo—" said Danny automatically, a little distracted—and froze. "…from a sort of, uh… alternate dimension? Not here, but really close to here? And I don't know how I triggered it; one second, business as usual, the next, whoosh." They dodged a clatter of soldiers who were double-timing it gangway down the hall, briefly found themselves flattened side by side against a cold cement wall and Danny glanced sideways to find curious blue eyes examining him. He fought back an urge to melt into the concrete.

Tentative fingers reached out, almost brushing the nearly invisible white glow that always seemed to outline his body; most people didn't really notice it, but this guy… "You're glowing; just barely, but—and It's cold," said the other Danny, surprised; one eyebrow climbed. "…cold's a more conducive climate for energy than heat, isn't it? Heat's a byproduct of…" the scientist allowed his words to trail off a little apologetically.

Danny rubbed his head; it ached. Would aspirin help a halfa's headache? He hadn't a clue if it would or not. "Of being alive, yeah. Errr… can we leave the whole life-death-afterlife thing 'til later? It kind of makes most ghosts twitch when you talk about it." The last of the soldiers pounded past, big boots clumping, and they fell in line behind them. "My field's mostly built into me, I emit it instead of being held together by it, so it's not as visible as a lot of 'em," he explained. "Boxy, his field keeps his form Boxghost-shaped—what's the word, 'cohesive'?—but I'm a little more on the, um, solid side, so my field's pretty damped down." Or that was how he, Sam and Tucker had worked it out. He could extend his 'glow' when he wanted to, and he did when things got more hairy than usual or when he exerted himself; anytime he did anything that exhausted him afterwards that white glow had been far more visible, shading deeper into green. It had to do with being partially alive, he thought, with having a physical body available to use as a template for his spirit form.

"Solid?" They had arrived at the Temple Of The Giant Space Donut, and Danny hung back just a bit; from the noises emitting over the heads of the mass of uniformed bodies in front of them, he was pretty sure what he was going to see. The small video-screen back in the interrogation-room hadn't done it justice. "And you're more solid because…" If you weren't looking for it, you almost couldn't hear the coaxing subtext in the other-Danny's voice: Heeeeere, little fishie, take the nice bait…

Danny stretched on tiptoes, trying to see past a particularly tall military lump; after a moment he gave up and allowed himself to drift vertically just a bit. "It's the whole living-dead thing again," he said absentmindedly, a feeling of dismay creeping along his spine at the sheer volume of the bellowing growl coming from the ramp in front of the donut-thing. "We don't like to talk about it; we're all real sensitive and emo that way—oh man, it IS him," he groaned as a familiar yell split the air:

"—I will mount your heads on my WALL if you dare shoot at me again—"

"Friend of yours?" asked the other-Danny, also peering; dammit, he didn't have to float—

"Not even," sighed the halfa, covering his eyes with one hand. "Calls himself 'Skulker'. Likes to hunt; big on taking down his targets from behind, sideways, frontways, anyway he can get 'em, and he's not real good at listening to reason…. but I can always give it a try, I guess. You do not want him around, believe me... One sec." Drifting considerably higher, Danny allowed his personal field to expand, making himself light up like the Afterlife's biggest undead firefly. "Yo, Skulker? It's me. We need to—"

"GHOST BOY!! I should have KNOWN that this was your doing!" BLAM

Ducking the virulent green energy-bolt that had nearly taken off his white-haired head, Danny winced and held up placating hands as it impacted on a wall somewhere behind him. "—talk," he finished wearily. "Look, this isn't the kind of situation that can be solved by a fight," he explained to the hulking metal-suited phantom. "I'm in the same boat—oh, do NOT do that ag--!! Dammit, Skulker, STOP WITH THE SHOOTING, OKAY?!?" Two more bolts had just seared their way past, and the halfa danced sideways through space to avoid them. At least it's not Technus, he consoled himself, and belatedly felt a horrific chill at the thought of the technoghost managing to get his spectral hands on all that high-tech government equipment—

BLAM

"Aack! STOP, you asshole!" Getting more irritated every second, Danny went skywards (or in the right direction, anyway) and skimmed along the rock and cement overhead, dropping down to the ramp before the other spirit could get another shot off. "Jeeze, do you ever listen? You got pulled through some sort of tunnel, right? Big silvery thing, like being sucked down a toilet drain? Dumped here? Me too, and if you'll just stop being a trigger-happy moron for five seconds—"

"--it will give you time for your mortal friends to aim with more precision? I don't think so, boy," sneered this year's winner of the Mister Uncongeniality Contest, sighting through crosshairs. His aim wavered slightly, and sparks danced along the circuitry of his armor; the trip through the tunnel thing had been much harder on his mechanical casing than on Danny's more ghostly physique... and the effects were visibly accelerating. As a crackle of static danced blue fireworks across one shoulder-mounted gun, the hunter winced and staggered slightly. "Whatever this vile place is, I will not be tricked into—" At that point, with the sound of tiny fireworks going off, one metallic hand fell off onto the ramp, CLANG!!

"Aaaargh! What—is wrong with me?"

From where he was pushing through the crowd behind Danny, Jackson muttered: "…aside from having your hair on fire? WHY is his hair on fire? And his goatee? Why the flaming goatee?"

Danny shrugged. Better not to ask.

Electrical snakes of current writhed across Skulker's armor; had he been wearing his more heavily-gunned suit, thought the white-haired halfa, he probably would have been spewing shells and energy-bolts in all directions. Luckily for them, though, he seemed to have gone for a summery stripped-down look today, sort of like a Blackbird SR-71 as opposed to a Panzer tank. The soldiers surrounding them were beginning to mutter and look askance at each other; from their front ranks, O'Neill said casually, "Having a bad day—'Skulker', right? Looks like maybe you could use a hand…"

"Oh, you did NOT just say that," groaned Danny. The man smirked in his direction without removing his eyes from his target, weapon steady. "Of course you did. Look, Skulker? Settle down—lower your power levels, crank back, something like that, whatever—and we'll see if we can help—"

The other ghost, mechanized teeth gritted, staggered back a few paces. "I—think—not," he hissed, clutching at where his ribs would have been had he been flesh and blood. One finger came unhinged with a miniscule pop and dangled, wires sparking. "I will not—aagh!—throw myself on s-something as—doubtful as your mercy—" And with one desperate, almost-awkward leap, the armored specter threw himself backwards—

--into the Gate, which still glowed vibrant silver. As he vanished into the mercury-bright pool, it momentarily shimmered green; "I w-will seek you out—later—halfa!" he growled before the rippling light took him. With a sliding CLANG!!! the thing that they called an 'iris' closed over it all and the hum of energy died to nothing.

Silence; even the soldiers were still.

…and then, quite prosaically, Major Carter stepped forward and began spraying the iris with her trusty naquada-dust-laced water gun, spritz! spritz! spritz! spritz! for all the world like a rather militant housewife misting her plants against aphids.

The soldiers relaxed. O'Neil shook his head. "Well, that was weird."

And Daniel Jackson turned a blue gaze towards Danny once more. "So," he said brightly, "what's a 'halfa'?"

Danny groaned again.

Later...

More coffee, this time in a more congenial (if messier) location, the lab of one Doctor Daniel Jackson. Following the old 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' chestnut, Danny (Fenton, one each) found that he had acquired a certain amount of guarded trust; hence the coffee and lack of naquadah-laced shackles.

Man, if that stuff about caffeine stunting your growth is actually true, I'm in a lot of trouble, mused the white-haired phantom, swirling the dark liquid around in his cup before drinking. Of course, considering the nightmare sludge that he and Tuck had been drinking for the past couple of years-- if the effects had been retroactive, by now they would both have shrunken down to the size of Skulker's actual shriveled form. And speaking of which... "--no, no idea why his hair's on fire," answered Danny a little belatedly to the question that he had just been asked. "I mean, it's just always been like that. Saves on haircuts, I guess..." He snorted. "Seems to be sort of common among the more powerful spirits, really; there's this one woman with a flaming pony-tail-- kind of cool, really, but it must be hell to sleep in." He took a deep swallow.

Skulker was gone; the Box Ghost was currently languishing in a cell or something somewhere; he had coffee, and nobody was pointing a gun at him at the moment. It was all good, except for--

"I don't s'pose you feel ready to tell us about how and why you ended up here in the first place, do you?"

--except for the oversized khaki fly in the ointment, sitting to his left. Siiiiigh... "I was shoving another ghost out of my territory back through a portal into the Z-- where we come from; he put up a fight, there was sort of a, I dunno, a lightning storm? And we both got sucked in through the portal, which was not acting like normal." The halfa gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Called himself, um, Univaco-something, had this thing for computer parts; I had to kick his butt out of the local Radio Shack's parts storage warehouse. Item-obsessed ghost for sure; those can be a pain." At O'Neill's blank look, Danny sighed again. "See, it's like this--"

(Beside him, Jackson had opened his mouth to expound on the subject; after a second he closed it, looking a little bemused.)

"--there's a couple of different categories of ghosts; you can tell 'em apart by the colors of their fields," said the halfa, warming to the subject. It was nice-- it was more than nice-- to have people actually paying attention to him without threats, screams, energy weapons or pain involved. Bit of a novelty too. "Item-obsessed spirits are like the Box Ghost; they have a kind of mania for one particular thing, they get their strength from associating with that thing and they can get really goofy over them." He held out his mug for a refill; a fascinated Jackson obliged. "Possessive spirits are another type, a nasty one; they leech energy from who or whatever they possess. Hard to get rid of; I hate those. And..." Danny frowned. "...then there's place-bound spirits; they're tied to, well, places, duhh. They get their strength from locations, sometimes in this plane or sometimes elsewhere. Very protective types."

"And the glows? You said something about colors--"

Danny shifted a little uncomfortably. "Yeah... Item-obsessed ghosts have blue fields, possessive spirits glow red, and place-bound spirits are green." There was a short silence; from the cluttered office's corner, Mister Forehead-Tattoo-- Teal'c-- grunted softly. "What? So I'm sort of tied to my home, so what? No big deal; I can handle being away for a little while." He looked away, staring down into his coffee-cup again. And he could handle it, it didn't normally bother him at all to be away from Amity Park. Except--

It hadn't really started until maybe a year past; he'd noticed it on one of his parents' interminable 'family vacations' after he'd been Phantom for, what? about eighteen months? A kind of... itch; a kind of uncomfortable, nagging, pulling feeling, not enough to really hurt or anything. It had been a puzzle; then it had become an annoyance. But after three days or so, it had graduated from 'pain in the ass' to 'I think I'm gonna be sick', and then one night Danny had woken up to find himself in mid-air, white-haired and nearly a quarter of the way home.

People shouldn't fly in their sleep. He had nearly gone straight through a mountain. Finding his way back to his family's campsite hadn't been much fun, either.

Fortunately their trip had ended prematurely with a call from one of his mom's old friends about a troublesome haunting in their home state, so... it hadn't become an issue. But it could have, and he knew it. Afterwards, he, Tucker, Sam and Jazz had spent more than a few nights hammering out the problem, and Danny was less than comfortable with the conclusions that they had come to. The idea that he was any kind of 'obsessed' spirit was a little hard to take, but as soon as he had gotten back into the Amity Park area and in particular near the lab... Danny had been able to feel it, a tingling, reassuring strength flowing into him even as he took the stairs to the lab at a fast clip; the closer he had gotten to the portal-- to the place where he had 'died' originally-- the better he had felt.

Jazz had discovered him curled up in front of the portal downstairs, one hand clutching the edge like a child with a favorite teddy-bear. Their parents, fortunately, had been too busy with unpacking to pay much attention.

Afterwards the two siblings had talked quietly about how ghosts, traditional non-laser-shooting dead-people ghosts, supposedly hung around the scenes of their lives-- and deaths. A death punched a small, personal hole into the Ghost Zone, allowing energy to filter through into the living world in a tiny stream; that free-floating energy was available everywhere in the Zone to be soaked up by ectoplasmic entities, like sunlight by plants. Everything the existed needed energy to continue existing, which explained why spirits stayed where they did unless they found other ways of supplementing their energy-- possession, for instance. Or they became like Skulker, without a place in the living world, dwelling permanently in the Zone and only leaving for 'hunting trips'.

People who didn't have reasons to hang around supposedly went on past the Zone to wherever regular dead people went, but the ones who got snagged by their own psyches, hang-ups, traumas... obsessions... became ghosts.

That was how it worked, so far as they could tell. And... beyond that? Who knew?

...and ...this was getting him absolutely freaking nowhere. Danny looked up from the floaty swirl of cream on the surface of his coffee to several interested stares and a whole lot of silence. "You okay, kid?" That was O'Neill again, both big hands curled around his own mug, sharp eyes fixed on Danny's hunched-over slump. "You look like somebody's dog ate your homework. How old are you, anyway?"

Danny Fenton-- Danny Phantom-- glared at the older man; interrogation time again, jeeeeze... "You want that in human years or ghost years? How long since I was born, or how long since I got this way?" He took another swallow and grimaced; it was growing cold-- coffee always cooled quicker when he held it in his spectrally-cold hands, gloved or not. "Sorry," he muttered. "Touchy subject." One he had hoped to avoid, actually.

...and maybe it was the fatigue-factor finally clamping down, maybe it was the bruises of his fight with the Box Ghost aching, maybe it was the effects of distance at last settling into his ghostly bones: but he was suddenly so sick of all this. For one blinding moment, all Danny could feel was an overwhelming desire for home.

Unaware of this, Jackson cleared his throat and settled back with his own mug. "As I understand it from what research I've seen published on captured ectoplasmic entities," he said carefully, "most of them seem to suffer a kind of withdrawal and weakening after being separated from their energy sources for prolonged periods of time; it's a little like starving would be for a normal human. Is this-- is being away from your home area going to be a problem for you?"

Silence.

And at last, Danny sighed. He didn't want to do this, but... "No. 'Cause I'm heading back, right now. Thanks for the hospitality, but it's time I was out of here and back home; I think I'm gonna have enough problems there to take care of to last me the next century, if things are as weird there as they are here." Draining the last of his coffee, he stood and placed the cup on the edge of Jackson's cluttered desk. "You can chuck Boxy back through the gate if you want; me, I'll find my own way out. No offense, but I've seen plenty of movies; and I think I'd better make tracks now before you decide I've seen too much and can't be allowed to... leave or... something..."

Oh man. The looks he was getting, from O'Neill and that Teal'c guy--

O'Neill rose to his feet, sitting his cup on the same desk; even leaning back on his elbows against a bookshelf, the guy looked way more intimidating than Danny was happy with. "'Fraid we can't allow that, kid. First off," and he began ticking points one at a time on his fingers, "I don't care how long you've been around-- 'til I get reason to treat you otherwise, you're still a minor. Second, we need more info from you, like how the hell that Skulker guy got back through the Gate-- that's not s'posed to happen, it's a one-way deal-- and... other stuff." From the way his eyes narrowed, 'other stuff' had some importance to it. He held up another finger and tapped it. "Third, you're a civilian in a highly-classified area, and you ain't goin' NOplace until I say so. Flat. That's it. Fourth-- seems like you might have a problem of your own here-- HEY!!"

That... O'Neill's litany of Thou Shalts-- was the last straw. The grey-haired officer's indignant shout followed Danny's fuming fade into invisibility. So they wanted to keep hold of him? Let's see them try, he sniped to himself as he slipped soundlessly from the chair and made a sideways dive through the nearest wall.

This place can't be THAT big. I'll just keep going 'til I hit the outer wall, scout around, find a map someplace-- there's got to be a gas station around, there are gas stations everywhere-- and figure out how to get home from there... And so he kept flying. Rooms whipped past; soldiers, equipment, a really amazing amount of dorms and bunks (he was moving too fast to make out details, but they were clear enough), more equipment, some sort of huge motor-pool, even more dorms... and then blackness.

Lots and lots and lots of blackness. SOLID blackness, very much literally. Were they underground? He angled his 'flight' up.

More blackness. More, and more, and more, and more, and more--

Where the hell ARE we? Well, fine, they want to play it that way? Jerks. He paused for a moment, then angled again; it was almost impossible to tell precisely if he was pointing straight up, but it ought to be a pretty near thing. Good, let's get the hell out of here, he thought, grinning unseen in the unrelenting darkness, and poured on the speed.

It took forever.

Blackness and blackness and blackness and-- JEEEEZE, how deep are we?!?-- and blackness and more blackness and more and more and moreandmoreandmoreandmore-- Am I even flying the right direction? What if I get lost? What if I angled too hard and I'm flying straight down? Oh shut UP-- and it was thick and unrelenting and just black black black, and he couldn't even tell if he was moving or not, there was no air to riffle past, no feeling of friction or momentum or resistance, just blackness blackness BLACK--

--and light

He screeched (figuratively) to a stop, eyes tearing up almost instantly. When he could see again, they widened.

Standing on one foot in front of him was a-- Marine? His tattoo said 'SEMPER FI', so probably-- without a shirt. He was on only one foot, because not only was he without a shirt, he was without anything in the way of clothes except for the jockey-shorts that he was currently maneuvering his other foot through. And according to his horrified expression, Danny had at some point during his little trip dropped the invisibility.

"EEAAAAGH!! JESUSCHRIST!!"The Marine screamed like a little girl and toppled over, naked extremities flailing; Danny yelped and backpedaled into darkness again--

--aaagh!-- and then forward once more, this time to streak past the hapless soldier ("Sorry! Sorry!"), through a door, and RIGHT through a number of other rooms which happened to also be full of half-naked clothes-changing men... and women... whoah...

Screams and shouts followed in his wake like auditory turbulence; hand over his eyes but peering between fingers, the panicked halfa streaked (so to speak) down the first clear hallway he reached, shot through a thick wall into a space that did not have naked military types in it, braked, and dropped to the floor in a nerveless heap.

GNNNGH...

Okay. Okay. Right. Just going to stay here for a while. Not moving, not moving, not going anywhere... What the #$!! was all THAT, for crying out loud? Must've been some sort of-- shift change? Looked like the gym locker room back at Caspar High, only with actual muscles... and, uh, co-ed... which I did NOT look at, nuhuh, noway nosir... um. Much...

He raised his head very, very slowly, just in case there were naked Marines in hiding nearby; but nothing jumped out, thank God. Mops, buckets, a broom, shelves opposite him on a wall barely five feet away; lots of cleaning-products up there, most of them with O.D. green labels... A janitor's closet. A wonderful, wonderful, janitor's closet that somebody had left the light on in; Danny closed his eyes in utter and complete thankfulness.

As exhaustion filtered in to replace whatever a halfa's body used for adrenalin, he settled down between two buckets and an industrial-strength jug of bleach, white head cradled in his hands. Wherever he was... whatever this place was, it was too. Damned. BIG. He couldn't just go zooming off in any direction-- even heading straight up seemed to have problems. What if he ended up flying right through that Gate thing? Who knew what it'd do to him? What if he ended up trying to pass through some of that 'naquadah' stuff? Or, and this was a really horrifying thought, he found himself inside O'Neill's room during a shift-change? Or Mister Forehead-Tattoo's?

It didn't help that he was feeling like shit by now, either. Being this far away from the Zone and Amity Park WAS starting-- hell, had started a while ago-- to tell on his endurance. Staying in ghost-form might have been safest, but it probably wasn't smartest. God, he was tired.

So-- (Danny shifted a mop and two brooms to make way for his feet; the bare overhead bulb with its pull-chain flickered fitfully) --so what were his options? Unconsciously mimicking O'Neill from earlier, he began to tick them off on one hand...

One: I can stay right here and rest up. Problem with that is that I'm running out of energy and it's not gonna get any better. Two: I can drag my sorry ass back to O'Neill and Jackson and that Teal'c badass, and while I've seen worse, I think I've spent enough time drinking their coffee for today, thanks. Three: I can sneak down to that Gate thing and see if I can get it to open later. Problem there? That 'iris'. Unless I take a giant squeegee to it, it's covered with Naquadah-dust courtesy of the Mad Doctor and her Spritzer Of Doom. And I don't know how to open it. And at least one ghost that I know of, that Univacosaur that started the whole mess, went SPLAT against it when he followed me. So-- no, not good. Aaaaand... Four? Four, right: I can sneak around a bit, try to gather up a little more info, and stay Danny Fenton as much as possible. The more I'm Fenton, the less energy I'll use; it won't stop the drain, but it'll slow it down at least.

Okay. Option Four it is.

...I wonder if anybody's figured out that I'm missing yet? Bet Sam and Tuck have; they must be tearing their hair out back home. How long have I been here, anyway? Flying... that felt like it went on for ages, but I bet it wasn't all that long. A few hours for the med-exam-and-interrogation, a half hour fighting Boxy, then a little more time for Skulker, then a little more for coffee-in-the-other-Danny's-office, and then the flying... no, not all that long. But-- how long did it take me to go through that damned tunnel-thing? I have NO idea; could've been instantaneous, could've taken days...

I need a newspaper. Or a TV. Or somebody who can answer questions. Or some Tylenol.

So tired...

The Box Ghost, he's somewhere here, but he'd be worse than useless. O'Neill'd stick my ectoplasmic butt in some sort of kryptonite-, I mean naquadah-jail... and that Teal'c guy'd do the same thing, only he'd mace me first. Other-Danny, Jackson... he wasn't so bad, but holy freaking hell, he asks a lot of questions! Makes good coffee, though. Seems kinda nice, too, when he's not going 'whyyyyyy' at me.

Distance dragged at him, intensifying the ache in bruises, the heaviness of gravity. Danny yawned; his eyes slid closed.

It was about seven p.m. when I got sucked in through the Portal, right? If the trip WAS instantaneous or close to it, it's gotta be... dunno. Tired; can't think. ...sometime between midnight and dawn, if we're still even close to the same time-zone. Oh, wait, didn't they say we're in Colorado? What time is it in Colorado? Hell, what time is it in Amity Park?

Can't think. Maybe if I took a nap, could think better. Maybe...

Around and around in his slightly battered skull the thoughts went, circling like Plasmius' vultures. Danny's breathing slowed, deepened; gradually he slid a little lower against the wall.

...if it was around midnight there, then... Colorado's an hour behind, so... but if that damned tunnel took more than...

Tired. So tired. Man, hope Sam and Tuck don't freak out too badly when don't show up f'r school... sorry, guys...

So tired. Tired. S'rry—Jus' little nap--

A breath; another, in and out and slow with sleep. Two foggy, glowing rings of light skated across and around the teenager's form, and when they faded the white hair had darkened and the thin, pale glow that always edged his skin had vanished...

...and Danny Fenton slept the sleep of the justifiably exhausted, far from home in a janitor's closet more than twenty stories underground. For a little while, at least.

Overhead, without any fuss, the light-bulb burned out.

Author's Note the Third: Next time... the plot not only thickens, it widens, deepens, and develops a distressing need to go on a diet. Sorry this one took so long.

Author's Note the Fourth: Well? Did you go read Ellen Brand's stuff first? If you didn't, why the hell not? Go, go. makes shooing-chickens motions with hands Some people, I swear.