There were certain words that Paulina never associated with herself. Unattractive. Unkind. Ruthless. Sneaky. They were ugly words, and Paulina had spent the majority of her formative years ensuring that ugliness was something that would never touch her. She was perfect: pretty, popular, and if not the most rounded student, she still knew how to get a decent grade. In short, she had everything a teenage girl could ever want.
Except for the perfect boyfriend.
She'd dated Dash Baxter for a number of months, something she less than fondly termed her two year waste of time. It wasn't really two years, but that didn't stop her from pointing it out to Dash any time he brought up their past.
After him she'd been on three dates with Kwan, two with Jonathan from the defensive line, four dates with Jeremy who was the second string quarterback. Roughly one date per varsity basketball player, two each for the varsity wrestling team, and she'd spared six months for the captain of the varsity soccer team. She hadn't, however, managed to score a date with the handsome and mysterious Phantom of Amity Park.
She was, however, feeling extremely philosophical about that failure as she headed to the halfway point of her senior year. Paulina was, if nothing else, very practical when it came to justifying anything that didn't go her way. She could always blame it on someone else, or decide that she hadn't really wanted it all along. She did exactly that with Phantom, because (she justified the one time Star had dared mention it) he was dead, and she wasn't, and how could any girl expect to have a decent boyfriend if he was already dead?
Change was a concept that Paulina was intimately aware of, since she changed everything about her on a momentary basis to become what she wanted to be in that exact moment. Hair, clothes, makeup, level of disdain. She had that down pat. So it was easier for her notice certain changes in other people.
Most notably, one Danny Fenton. She vaguely remembered him as a freshman – gangly, awkward, and obviously very much in crush with her. Her recollections of him as a sophomore and junior were sketchier. Danny Fenton, it seemed, could carry off the bad boy persona. But not, much to her relief, in a way that required leather, tattoos, and a constant aroma of smoke or alcohol.
No, he carried it off in a rather deceptively innocent manner. Skipping classes, or entire days of school altogether. The obvious injuries and bruises that practically screamed 'don't mess with me!' The surprisingly muscled body that was only seen in glimpses that made more girls than she speculate. The messy hair, and those eyes! Not to mention his whole attitude. It wasn't much, just a smugness that pulled at his mouth, amusement in his eyes as people watched him and wondered who'd beat him up. It was just there, this indefinable air of you should see the other guy.
Paulina didn't want to see the other guy. Not at all. Paulina wanted to see this guy. Paulina wanted to see this guy so badly that she was currently tanking her calculus class with an F instead of the steady high C she knew she could pull, because among the hidden talents of Danny Fenton, he was apparently a mathematical genius. She knew for a fact that, though his two geeky best friends tutored him in many subjects, he was the one they came to when math class got too hard.
(Another word that Paulina never associated with herself was stalker, unless someone was stalking her.)
Knowing this Paulina had contrived to have him tutor her, which was possibly the best plan she could have come up with. His parents were strange, and extraordinarily demented. But they didn't mind that Danny had Paulina in his room, wearing her cutest and most revealing outfits, with the door closed, leaning so close together he gave her chills as he attempted to save her calc grade.
Danny, however, was extraordinarily dense, because she had nothing to show for all of her efforts except a D on their first report card and Danny's remorse that he hadn't helped her at all. On the plus side, when her father had grounded her, he'd pretty much given her an all-expenses pass to visit Danny under the ostensible guide of extra tutoring.
The problem was, it was four weeks later, she was weeks away from going on Christmas break, and she had absolutely nothing to show for it. It was, in short, unacceptable. Paulina Sanchez wanted a boyfriend for Christmas and, much more importantly, New Year's Eve. And she wanted that boyfriend to be Danny Fenton.
But she had a plan.
It took all four of the weeks of grounding to decide on what was stopping Danny from sweeping her off of her feet and then to decide what to do about it. He was a very private person, Paulina had learned since school started. He wasn't on Facebook, or on Twitter, or on any of the other places she might have been able to make some harmless flirtation to spur him into asking her out. So Paulina got creative.
She'd spent four days out of the last ten pretending to be sick so that she could convince Danny to download Skype. After all, sick or not, she was still behind in math and desperately needed his tutoring. And once that was done all that was left was to arrange the opportunity to get the other woman out of the picture.
Sam Manson. The very name made a frown pull at her face. Sam Manson was everything that Paulina wanted to be and didn't want to be combined into one bitchy package. Rich, talented, and as much as Paulina absolutely didn't want to admit it, pretty. But she wasn't popular and she dressed like a reject from a bad vampire novel. Not that the stupid girl cared of course, when she could spend all of her free time making sure that Danny didn't ask Paulina out. Because Danny Fenton hadn't dated anyone since freshman year. And it was that stupid puta's fault, Paulina knew.
That was why she was hiding in the alley next to Danny's house, waiting for him to get called out just like she and Star had planned. She wasn't entirely sure what Star was going to say, but she knew that the girl was up to the task. After all, Star didn't like Sam Manson either, and even more, she didn't like when Paulina wasn't happy. So she would make it happen, and then Paulina would be able to put her plan into action.
She glanced down at the slim designer watch on her wrist and waited impatiently as the hand ticked around it again. 5:15, Star would be calling, and if everything went perfectly Danny would be flying out the door in three – two – one –
The front door of Fenton Works slammed open and the object of her affections raced out, slinging his jacket on as he went. Paulina stared after him curiously until he turned the corner that would lead him to Casper High. She spared two seconds to wonder what he'd been told, but quickly shrugged it off. She had things to do that didn't involve wondering what Star said.
With a glance around to make sure no one was watching, Paulina strolled out of the alley and to the sidewalk. Salt crunched under her shoes and she wrinkled her nose at the way it made her heels want to tip. But it was better than trying to find her footing in snow on three inch heels. The stairs leading to the door were cleared of snow and salt free. Paulina knocked twice and waited patiently for someone to answer the door.
When it opened she pasted on her brightest parent appeasing smile and chirped, "Hi, Mrs. Fenton! Is Danny home? I left my notebook here after my session and I needed it to study for the test tomorrow." Bait laid and practically ensured, Paulina continued to smile. Nothing like saying the words 'test tomorrow' and acting like an eager student intent on doing well.
Mrs. Fenton blinked at her. "Danny just left, he said there was something at the school."
Paulina bit back the urge to roll her eyes and stamp her foot. Honestly, all she wanted was to get a notebook so far as his mother knew. Why did Paulina have to lead her along like this? She should just have told her to run up and get it. But, for the sake of appearances, Paulina kept her smile on her face and tried to add a touch of concern.
"Oh, I hope it was nothing bad." She waited a beat before bringing the conversation back to Paulina gaining entrance to Danny's room. "But I really need my notebook. I if could just run up and get it?"
"Of course, dear," came the expected and coached answer. Another gratuitous parent-friendly phrase and Paulina was on her way to Danny's room completely unsupervised.
She would have to act fast, Paulina knew. The geeky older sister was off at college, but either of his parents could stroll by any time they wanted and Paulina was supposed to be getting a notebook, not messing around with his computer. She spared a moment to lift her jacket and pull her math notebook from where it was Tucker into her jeans against her stomach. It was a tight fit considering how snugly she insisted on wearing her pants, but the notebook didn't show any suspicious creasing.
That done Paulina headed straight for Danny's computer. She swished the mouse on the desk and was pleased to see that Danny hadn't logged the computer off. She didn't have his whole password and certainly didn't fancy trying to figure out the last two digits. Thank god she didn't have to.
With practiced movements Paulina started up his Skype account, making free use of his saved settings. While it was logging on she quickly shifted his webcam from the right of the monitor to the left, angling it so that it would sweep a good portion of the room and, most importantly, the bed. Whenever Danny tutored her he liked to sprawl across the bed and sometimes she even sat there too. If she was going to get any dirt on Sam Manson the bed would be the most incriminating place for it.
After making sure the webcam was centered Paulina set to opening the tools menu and then the options. Calls, advanced settings, and with a few particularly vicious clicks of the mouse Paulina had set his Skype to answer automatically with video feed. She quickly minimized everything and then opened the screen saver options to make the screen blank after a mere minute.
Then, she whipped out her cell phone and called Star. "Do it," she instructed before the other girl had even managed a greeting. Ten seconds later Danny's Skype account was whirring into action and automatically receiving the video call from her computer at home. She minimized the window that had popped up when the call was accepting and then went to stand in front of the bed.
"Is it a good view?" she demanded.
"It's great, Polly. You came up with the best plan," the blond girl fawned through the phone. Paulina rolled her eyes, not caring if it would be picked up on the video.
She let Star ramble on as she waited for the screen saver to kick in once more. She knew it would, she already tested it on her computer, but there was no sense in not making sure of everything. She'd only been in his room for a few minutes. Paulina was sure she had enough time to double check.
The second the screen saver clicked on Paulina cut through Star's current one-sided conversation. "Is it still working?" she snapped, and gave a pleased smile when Star confirmed it was. She didn't even say goodbye before she hung up, snagging the notebook back up off of the desk and nearly skipping down the stairs. A cheery thank you was called to Mrs. Fenton before she let herself out and started for her house as quickly as she could in her heels.
She lived fairly close to the Fenton's, so it only took a few minutes to get home, into her room, and push Star out of the way as Paulina double checked her own Skype settings and muted the microphone so anything she said wouldn't be heard on the other end. Ignoring Star, as usual, Paulina quickly opened up a secondary program, the program that was going to make her entire scheme.
Without IMCapture, this would be a waste of time. But a few clicks later and Paulina was recording the video call, so that every single minute thing that happened would become wonderful blackmail to keep that stupid Goth girl away from her man.
"I lost my phone. I already said that three times," Sam told him as they started back to his house from the high school. Danny slouched along, randomly kicking at snow as he debated arguing with her.
"I'm not saying you didn't, I'm just saying I thought it was you," he finally replied as he straightened up and stretched. After the tension that had screamed through his body from the mad dash he'd made to Casper High, it felt good to relax a little with nothing more serious to bother him than the fact that Sam's phone was missing. He reached out a hand and took her bag, slinging it over his back. "Here, let me carry it."
She grumped at him of course. "I can carry my own backpack, Danny."
He waved a hand at her. "Yeah, yeah, you're independent and all. If I don't know it already then it's not worth saying it again." He only smiled when he heard her mutter and call him an ass under her breath.
"So anyway, it wasn't you, but what was with the drama?"
Now it was Sam who started looking extremely displeased. "I swear to god I will never sign up for something just to please Mother again. They want the theme to be pink and white," she nearly wailed, despondent over the inclusion of what Sam thought was possibly the worst. Color. Ever.
He slung an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close with a reassuring squeeze. "Cheer up, Sam. It's senior prom and it only happens once. Besides, you were probably trying to convince them to use black."
He smirked when her face flushed red.
"Maybe," she admitted. "But only for a few minutes!"
Now Danny snorted, shaking his head as he imagined how well the whole prom committee meeting must have gone. "Why don't you try and meet them in the middle. Like... Purple and white. You like purple, and white isn't really evil," he suggested.
She grumbled back but said nothing as they continued on. It wasn't until they were finally stepping through his front door, Sam taking her backpack back to follow him upstairs, that she confessed, "I don't want to compromise with them at all. I kind of really hate them."
Danny patted her back as he ushered her into his room. She collapsed across his bed while he just watched her, shaking his head and trying not be too amused by it all. He couldn't entirely ignore the niggling feeling of guilt that wormed it's way under the amusement either, because Sam had volunteered for the committee almost entirely to get her mother off of her back about being friends with him. This sent a frown straight to his face. Danny knew that his family had a questionable level of sanity, but he'd never done anything in particular to make Mrs. Manson hate him before he became Danny Phantom, and in all honestly the woman had fairly well despised him upon meeting.
He covered his annoyance at her mother with a smile as he dropped his own backpack and sat down at the head of the bed, digging out his English work. "Just tell everything to Dr. Danny," he teased her gently. "It can't be healthy to suppress all of your anger."
She rolled her eyes and grabbed his pillow to hit him, but he ducked before it made contact. "Now, now, Sam. These deep seated anger issues—"
"Oh my god, you need to stop talking to Jazz so much!"
Danny cracked up, laughing long and loud. It probably wouldn't have been so funny except that he knew Sam was absolutely right. Anytime he could quote her psychobabble jargon this easily was a sure sign that he was on the phone with jazz too much. Or a sign of the impending apocalypse. He would have worried but since they'd just stopped another ghostly apocalypse a month before, he couldn't bring himself to care. If there was one thing Danny had learned in four years of ghost fighting, it was that apocalypses, like buses, ran on schedules, and they were more likely to be late than early.
"Okay, okay, I'll try not to call her every other day," Danny conceded as the laughter died down. "But we were talking about you and prom committee. It can't really be all that bad, can it?"
She cut her eyes at him in annoyance as she began digging her own homework out. "You really did not just ask that," she nearly snarled. "They're such—such—God, they have no taste. They're content with carnations, crappy ribbons and the school gymnasium."
Danny wondered what was so bad about that, but hesitantly ventured to ask.
"We have a budget of twelve thousand dollars!" she nearly shrieked, her outrage palpable. "Do you have any idea what kind of prom I could put together for that much money? A great one! But they want tradition; cheap, lazy, lousy tradition, and any time I try and say something that doesn't fall in line with what they want, I get shot down by the prissy little princesses who wouldn't know a good idea if it bit them in the ass!"
She was breathing heavily, homework scrunched in her hand when she finished. Danny just raised his eyebrows for a moment and then offered an enthusiastic clap. "Wow, Sam. Nice rant."
Her face pinked a little but she only stuck her tongue out at him as she snatched at his homework to look it over. Peering at the little he'd written so far, small frown lines appeared between her eyes as she ticked off three separate errors. "It could be worse," she said offhandedly. "At least Paulina isn't on the committee anymore. She was the worst of all. Everything had to be pink and princess-y to suit her."
Danny pulled a grossed out frown as he tried understanding why Sam was marking yet another sentence. "She does have questionable taste," he agreed before yelping out a protest. "That was a great sentence! Don't cross it out!"
She chuckled and flipped her hair back, deliberately drawing a thick line through it. "It's a terrible sentence. It has no style."
"And you have loads of it," Danny muttered, half annoyed and half in agreement.
"I do. I may not flaunt my family's money, but that doesn't mean I'm some spoiled little rich girl."
The biting edge in her voice made Danny extremely grateful that she was saying it only to him. He could only imagine what would happen if anyone from the committee could hear her. But… It wasn't like she wasn't working hard, even if she hated planning prom. Part of him was beginning to think it was just because of the people she was working with and their introverted tastes.
"Okay, enough editing," Danny told her as he yanked his paper back from her. He retrieved a fresh sheet and began scrawling his name and class information across the top as she lounged back with a self-satisfied smile. "While I redo this, why don't you tell me what you would do for prom."
His pencil was the only sound, lead scratching away at the paper, for several minutes before she started explaining her vision to him. Danny listened to it with one ear while he tried living up to his written expectations with the other.
"It's not that hard," she was saying. "With that much money… There's this place that runs out of Chicago. I already talked to them and they'd bring one of their luxury yachts up here. Four hours on the water, chaperones provided, food provided, and with a thirty percent discount because I'm a Manson. We'd have enough left over to get a good DJ and some decent flowers. It's not that complicated, it's just too much effort for them to think up."
He dotted an i and laid his pencil down thoughtfully, quiet for a moment before he actually said anything. "That actually sounds pretty cool. Why don't you just tell them?"
"I tried," she said sourly. "They wouldn't listen."
"You could always tie them up," he offered. "Mom and Dad have a ton of Fenton Rope ™ down in the lab. Guaranteed not to let ghosts or pesky high school drama queens through."
Sam laughed at this, making Danny feel a little better. She was feeling down, but this was Sam. She so wasn't out. She just needed to get back into her kick-ass mind frame and tell the committee off. And if he was lucky, he could invisibly watch. As long as it wasn't him she was yelling out, Sam's temper was something he enjoyed.
"I'm going to take you up on that," she told him smugly.
"Anything for you, Sam," he retorted just as smug. "Now, explain to me why I can't use 'inundated' in this sente—"
The chill rose quickly in his throat and escaped his mouth as a haze of mist. Danny just groaned as his ghost sense went wild. "They can't do this when I'm not doing homework?" he groaned as he set his work aside.
"It'll be here when you get back," Sam told him, her violet eyes shaded with worry. "I'll cover for you."
He nodded and rose, stretching hard enough to pop his back a dozen times before settling back down to shift to Phantom. He paused when he felt her hand on his arm. "Be careful, Danny."
He nodded. "Maybe it's just one of the easy ones." He didn't waste any more time and shifted, the spectral energy flaring brightly before it settled to leave Danny Phantom standing there. He tipped his head at her before flinging himself into the air and through the wall.
Paulina was unamused to find that Star had stolen Sam Manson's cell phone to accomplish her part of the mission. However, she wasn't bothered by that either. If there was trouble over it Star would be the one busted for stealing, not her. After all, there weren't exactly any real laws against what she herself had done. She wasn't stalking, and she wasn't bullying, and honestly, the cyber domain was just too complicated for prosecution on this level.
Paulina was nothing if not secure in her sense of safety. After all, it wasn't like she was actually doing anything really bad. Just making sure she had the best boyfriend at Casper High.
It took less than ten minutes between the two girls to make all of the phone calls Paulina deemed necessary and, grounding or not, her papa was easily tricked into thinking the gathering for the impending humiliation was nothing more than a study group. And because, even though Dash and Kwan and plenty of her other ex-boyfriends came, more girls than boys came, she managed to convince him that having the door close was little more than something to keep them all from getting distracted.
She was happy and smug and superior by the time everyone was gathered in her room, sitting or standing or leaning, waiting for the show to begin. It was no secret amongst the girls that Paulina was after Danny Fenton for herself, but she only told the boys that she wanted to humiliate that Goth geek once and for all. And, loathe as she was to say it, when she mentioned that Danny himself might be embarrassed, it was enough to ensure that there was a wide live audience instead of just those who might see the video she was making.
Paulina, of course, had the ringside view at her desk and was pleased when Danny returned with the pendejo in tow. She was less than pleased with the easy way they were with each other, but consoled herself with the knowledge that soon it would be her that Danny teased and made jokes and reassured.
And then came the waiting, and the disgusting, annoying knowledge that she (and everyone else) would have to watch them until something happened. Unfortunately, when something did happen, it was nothing like what Paulina wanted. That stupid girl was insulting the prom committee. She was acting like their ideas – her ideas, that Paulina was carefully making sure her friends were carrying out on the committee while she wasn't on it – were terrible!
Sam Manson's voice filtered clearly across the speakers as she complained. "They're such—such—God, they have no taste. They're content with carnations, crappy ribbons and the school gymnasium." Just hearing it made Paulina's blood boil. Carnations were pretty, and cheap, too, so there could be a ton of them to cover the gym along with the ribbons.
And, in her opinion, there was nothing wrong with the gym. Lots of high schools had their dances in the gym. Hell, Casper High had held all of its dances so far in the gym. There was nothing wrong with that. Especially since the goodly portion of leftover funding could be directed into the winner's prizes for King and Queen which, naturally, meant half of it would be going to Paulina. That had been her idea, and a good one, even if it had taken weeks of carefully calculated shunning of her friends to make sure they would support her.
And then the bitch said, "At least Paulina isn't on the committee anymore. She was the worst of all. Everything had to be pink and princess-y to suit her."
Paulina felt her face go pale and cold before heat rushed up into it making her dizzy with the anger. How dare she. How dare she? And everyone heard it! it took every ounce of the little self control Paulina possessed not to turn and stare at the people she'd invited to watch the humiliation. Instead she bit her tongue for a moment, her brain searching furiously for something just off-handed enough to prove to them that she could care less what some loser geek thought.
She trilled a fake laughing, letting it sound scornful as she flicked her fingers at the monitor. "Coming from a tarado who thinks black should be the theme, that's not saying much."
She still refused to turn and look at anyone, merely tried to content herself that her own scathing observation would be enough to stem any damage to her reputation.
Besides, it wasn't like Sam Manson had any better ideas, Paulina contented herself arrogantly.
Despite hearing the Goth geek's opinions, Paulina was quickly becoming bored waiting. The only thing happening on screen was homework and complaints – nothing like what she needed to make Danny hers. She searched out a nail file on her desk and set to work smoothing the edges of her nails, making a show of not caring about the insult she'd just suffered.
It might have worked, too, except then Danny asked her what she would arrange. A luxury yacht, full service catering, and a discount because her estupido family were some kind of uppity rich people who thought they were better than everyone else… Paulina nearly snorted, then winced visibly at how easily she nearly lapsed into such ugly behavior. Ironically enough, it only made her even more angry with the other girl.
But she could let it go, because by morning Sam Manson – and the name was a slur in her mind – would be out and Paulina Sanchez would be in and Danny Fenton would be hers. And then Star had to ruin it.
"That actually sound really amazing," she heard the blond girl murmur from behind her, and Paulina turned on her in a sudden fit.
"It doesn't sound amazing!" she almost screeched, her voice hitting a pitch that made hair rise. "It sounds like a waste of money, it sounds like she's trying to ruin Casper High's traditions!"
It sounds like she's trying to gyp me out of my prizes! But she was too smart to actually say it aloud.
Dash chimed in making Paulina turn her ire on him. "But a cruise sounds pretty cool, Paulina." And before she could respond Jennifer added, "And we'd be the first at Casper to do something like it."
"We discussed this," Paulina said severely. "We decided even before we were appointed to the committee." In her anger Paulina forgot that she was no longer on it, a side effect of her efforts to snare Danny Fenton. If she'd realized it she would have been even angrier at the lapse, but she was too far into the rant to notice or care.
"You all agreed with me. The theme was 'Once Upon A Dream' and the colors were pink and silver and white, and we were going to order hundreds of carnations and, and use ribbons, and make it a damned fairytale, and you are not—"
"What's that?" Kwan interrupted, pointing at the computer monitor. Paulina frowned at him thinking it was his attempt at distracting her until she noticed that she was no longer the center of everyone's attention.
When she turned back to the monitor she could see the smoky haze in front of Danny's face just as well as everyone else. Her brows furrowed, fear of wrinkles forgotten at the strange sight. Actually, it would have just been strange if the mist coalescing in front of his mouth had also been in front of the Goth geek's. Even Paulina knew enough to be able to assume it was from a ghost. You just didn't live in Amity Park without learning quickly that sudden temperature drops meant a ghost was nearby, usually within a few feet.
But the girl in black was less than three feet from Danny, and there was absolutely no misted breath in front of her. Worse was the fact that she didn't look surprised at all, which made it go from strange to absolutely weird.
She didn't know at all what it was, but from the practiced way Danny complained about homework and Sam promised to cover for him, Paulina seethed because it was obvious that the girl knew what was going on. And then she stopped him after he stood, one hand on his arm and her stuck-up face bent with worry.
"Be careful, Danny," she said to him. Paulina had no time to wonder about it as Danny nodded and said something about easiness, and then the screen of her monitor lit up blinding white where Danny stood.
It cleared after a second and Paulina stared, her mouth dropping open in shock, fingers clenching on the arms of her chair where she'd collapsed back after Kwan's interruption. In fact, her entire bedroom was silent, something that moments before Paulina would never have believed possible. There were nearly twenty teenagers crammed in – but there was nary a whisper or rustle of fabric.
Until—"Oh my god," someone breathed. "Danny Fenton is Danny Phantom!"
It was like pulling a cork from a wine bottle, the room exploded into denials, shocked acceptances, and outright disbelief. Paulina could barely move, though. Trying to equate the crush she'd had for years on Danny Phantom, the crush she had so recently given up, to the knowledge that Danny Fenton was the same person… Or creature.
For a split second her mind froze as Paulina's mind froze as she realized she didn't even know what he was. Was he alive? Dead? Undead?
Then, above the noise, she heard Star crying, "We need to find a TV!"
Ever the attention seeker Paulina stood straight up and declared shrilly, "My papa has a big screen. We can all see what's happening on it!"
They were a thundering herd down the stairs and into her father's den. He was watching baseball but Paulina paid it no mind as she assured him she needed the television and snatched the remote. She was standing front and center as she flipped the channel to the news station. A moment later Lance Thunder's face was filling the screen before the camera panned back to show Danny high above the ground fighting the metal ghost.
It was brutal, and somehow it was so much worse knowing that it wasn't two ghosts. She's seen the injuries – everyone had at some time or another. The same bruises and cuts and scrapes that had made him such an attractive bad boy. Now, it was different. Everything was different.
Paulina ignored her father when he protested the usurpation, her attention on the television with everyone else's. every hit, every blow, every weapon used against Danny was just a frightening piece of reality that Paulina suddenly wished she could un-see.
When he crashed thirty feet down into the pavement they all flinched as one, one of the girls even crying out a protest. When Danny rose again to dart back into the sky they held their breath in fear and anticipation. When he took hit after hit, unable to dodge the many missiles the metal ghost sent at him, they gasped.
When he finally got the upper hand and disabled the ghost enough to suck it into the strange thermos that Phantom carried, they cheered. Well, some of them cheered. Most of them breathed shaky sighs of relief before someone – Paulina never knew who – turned and headed back up the stairs.
It galled her to be following, but by the time she returned the remote control to her father and convinced him that they were doing a paper on ghosts, she was the absolute last person to her room. With a swift smack she got one of the basketball players out of her chair and resumed her place as queen of the room, her attention now returning to the monitor.
The idiota girl was on Danny's cell phone, which struck Paulina as odd until she recalled the number of times one of her own parents had interrupted her own calls on the house phone. She herself used her cell phone almost exclusively to ensure her parents never found out anything she didn't want them to know.
By the tears on the other girl's cheeks it was obvious she had seen the fight on television herself, since there was no way she could have made it to the scene and back. She was speaking in hasty worried tones as well. "We need more gauze, Tuck," she rattled off as she poked at a frighteningly impressive array of medical paraphernalia.
She nodded and rattled off a few more things before flipping the phone closed and turning to the wall expectantly.
Minutes later the battered and bloodied form of Danny Phantom drifted through. He was breathing heavily and his shoulders hunched as he touched down. Another blinding glare of light later and the computer monitor resolved itself into a beaten Danny Fenton and an anxious Sam Manson who rushed forward to tuck herself under his arm and take his weight as he started to droop onto the edge of the bed.
"Tucker will be here in a minute, and your parents are on their way to try and take care of Skulker," she informed him as she deftly pulled his shirt up, careful of the places where torn fabric was imbedded into the gashes on his back. "Oh Danny, this looks bad. We should take you to the hospital."
"No!" was the frantic response. The cry made several of the watchers, Paulina included, jump in their seats, startled.
The Goth geek's face softened for a moment before she nodded. "Alright, no hospital. Turn a little so I can start cleaning you up," she ordered.
As Danny did and the full extent of the damage was revealed to the watching webcam, Paulina heard Dash gulp and say, "This is so wrong. I've been beating on him for years."
She hid the smug little smile that crossed her lips. She would hold onto that piece of remorseful wisdom in case she needed to use it against him in the future.
She startled in her seat again with Danny's bedroom flung open, the crashing sound making her speakers whine for a moment as Tucker Foley rushed in, an overflowing bag of gauze clutched to his chest. "I saw what happened, how is he?" There was a moment when Tucker saw the wounds himself and hissed. "Fucking hell, Danny. You should go to the hospital."
The Goth puta sent a rueful smile at the nerd. "Already tried that one," she told him as she continued to blot away blood and debris. She sat down on the bed beside Danny and Paulina's eyes narrowed as she leaned her head forward to rest for a moment on his uninjured shoulder.
"If I'd never dared you to go into the Ghost Portal this wouldn't have happened," she whispered, but the words were still picked up by the webcam's built-in microphone.
For a moment Paulina sat there stunned, not even caring that Danny's hand crept around his side to reach for one of the stupid girl's in a reassuring squeeze. She had exactly what she needed, and anything else was just a bonus.
The moment of shock passed and Paulina couldn't help herself as she crowed her victory. "Oh, I have exactly what I need to use on her now!" she chortled in triumph. "Take that Sam Manson, you stupid bitch!" She would have gone on except that the video feed cut off on her monitor.
She jerked about angrily, spluttering when she saw Star's hand on the mouse, closing her Skype program and the IMCapture program as well. "What the hell are you doing, Star?"
"This is wrong, Paulina," Star told her without hesitation.
"What do you mean?" she demanded. "This was the whole point. To find something I could use to blackmail Sam Manson."
"What's your problem?" Kwan interjected. "We just found out one of our classmates has been risking his life on a daily basis to protect us, and you want to blackmail one of his best friends? They're all heroes," he finished heatedly.
She sniffed at him and ignored him. "You're lucky I already have the footage I need," she told Star.
Now Star narrowed her eyes for a moment. "I'm not going to let you do this to them."
Now Paulina's eyes narrowed and her lips pursed. "I made you Star, and don't you forget it. One word from me and you go back to being nerdy Elizabeth Andrews, the no-name math geek who had no friends."
Star's mouth quivered for a moment before it hardened into a thin line. "I refuse to let you blackmail them."
"I do, too," came another voice, and Dash came to stand beside Star. Paulina stared at him, eyes wide with betrayal, and then even more so as one by one her fellow popular students stood and sided themselves alongside Star and Dash. Voice by voice their refusal to help her rang out until there was nothing left but an angry, loaded silence.
"You can't stop me," Paulina finally hissed at them as she rose and snatched her mouse out of Star's hand. "You try and I'll ruin all of you, one by one. You see how popular you are, how far you go, when I'm through with you."
Now Star laughed, a harsh sound as she shook her head at Paulina. "You just try it, Polly. I'll make sure everyone knows what you really did that summer after our sophomore year when you were supposed to be spending a week at my house. Including your father."
Paulina froze, mouse in hand. She couldn't believe Star would do that, that she would even threaten it. No one was supposed to know about that, especially not her father. If he found out… She was as good as dead with his temper. Especially if he found out that she'd been having sex, much less that she hadn't been careful enough. Her stomach turned and her face paled and she collapsed dizzy and sick into her chair, the mouse now clutched to her chest.
"You wouldn't," she breathed, dark eyes searching Star's pale ones.
But the blue eyes stayed hard as ice. "Try me," the other girl promised.
"I… I…" Paulina had nothing left to say.
"And just to make sure that none of this ever accidentally gets out…" Star continued on as she gave the computer tower on the floor a solid kick. The metal side of its casing dented and the monitor flickered for a moment before it started bouncing a 'no signal' message across it. Star's foot reared back twice more to deliver more solid blow until something inside rattled and fell with a cracking sound.
Paulina's face crumpled as her current dream of Danny Fenton slipped away, battered by the united front of the people she'd so recently called friends. Silently she watched as they filed out of her room until Star, Dash and Kwan were the only ones left. With a glance at Paulina, Star hunched down and tugged the cords from the back of the computer tower.
"One of you carry this out," she ordered in a tone that made it seem a request. "Just to be safe," she added.
And like that, Paulina was left alone.
His parents hadn't returned yet, though he was patched up and stretched out on his stomach to keep his injured and aching back from hurting even worse. Tucker had helped him change since for the next day or so bending over would be on his list of things to absolutely not do. Then Sam had tucked him in while Tucker bundled away the supplies not used, hiding them in his closet, and then shoved the bloodied used supplies into the bag he'd brought with him, tying it tightly at the top.
"I'm going to head home so my parents don't get mad," Tucker told them both. "I sort of ran out without even telling them."
Danny grunted an acknowledgement as Sam nodded. "Thanks, Tuck," Danny muttered sleepily as he watched the other boy close the door behind him.
Next to him Sam sat on the bed, one hand resting gently on the uninjured shoulder where she'd rested her head earlier as she spouted the painful self recrimination. She pulled his sheet up a little further before sighing. "I'll wait around until your mom gets back. I'll make sure she thinks you're sick."
"What? Why?" Danny asked, nearly pulling himself upright. The sudden pain as the muscles across his back twitched stopped him before he did such a foolish thing.
Sam brushed his hair out of his eyes as she smiled softly. "If you can't dress yourself, how do you really think you'll be able to go to school?"
"Oh," he said sheepishly. "Yeah, you have a point."
"I always do," she whispered, leaning down and pressing a kiss to his cheek. "You can go back to school on Friday. Now you go to sleep."
He knew better than to argue with her, so he closed his eyes, a small smile playing on his lips. Before Sam had finished straightening up, her hand still warm on his shoulder, Danny was sound asleep.