A/N: Long chapter, WoOt. Turns out I had more time than I thought this week, so I decided to crank out this baby instead of sleeping last night (not meant to be a pity party, I just meant that I was completely seized by inspiration and could not leave the computer until I had this done). So sorry if parts of this don't make too much sense, they made more sense last night. Anyhow, because I see quite a few story alerts and faves but have no idea how to reply to those, I'm just going to go ahead and say here: THANK YOU FOR ALL THE LOVE. You inspire me to keep writing, but really.

And sorry if I haven't replied to your review personally! I tend to lose track of those things.

Enjoy this huge, somewhat angsty update! :) ~IM

Chapter Two: Just Us

After lunch, the rest of the school day was a bit of a blur; P.E. always went by pretty quickly, despite Danny's and Tucker's utter lack of athletic abilities, and History hadn't been much different.

Ms. Karam had simply reminded everyone that they would be having a guest speaker the next day before putting on a short documentary on the First Ghost War. Most of the class fell promptly asleep, but a few staunch students made it through the first forty-five minutes or so. Even Sam, who harbored—according to Danny and Tucker—an unnatural fascination with history, had trouble keeping her eyes open after that.

Everyone in the class knew all about ghosts and even more about the war; they had heard plenty from their parents and older siblings. It had lasted six years, and consisted of the biggest clash between humans and ghosts thus far. Some of them had even lost family in the conflict, but because it had ended when most of them were one or two years old, the freshman class of Casper High found it difficult to think of the war as anything other than another past event with dates and names to memorize.

The documentary ended with some talk of the good things that had come from the first paranormal war—new technology and a sense of preparedness, should there ever be a second—and Sam, Tucker, and Danny eagerly rushed back to Mr. Lancer and their homeroom.

Danny, for one, couldn't be happier that the day was finally done; it left him free to think about other things, like Sam, her crazy ideas, and how mad he was at Tucker—and himself—for not thinking before opening his big mouth.

Even as he waved goodbye to his friends and began the fifteen minute or so walk back to the giant, neon "FentonWorks" sign that signaled his home—his dad never was one for subtlety—he couldn't stop thinking about how impossibly stupid he could be.

Yes, it did bother him that he was having weird, too-real dreams about his parents and that they had to go and fuel his paranoia by locking the basement door and watching him like a hawk if he was ever within two feet of it. Did that mean he had to tell Sam that? No. Did he tell her that? Of course he did!

It wasn't hard; all he had to do was tell Sam that he'd been having recurring nightmares and thus, trouble sleeping. DONE. Problem solved. But no, he'd needed advice of all things.

Sure, all he'd asked her was how—hypothetically speaking, of course—she would confront her parents about keeping secrets from her, but that had led to Sam asking what secrets he meant which led to…you get the picture. Point was, now the girl was hell-bent on finding out just what his parents were hiding from him in order 'conquer his fears' while satisfying her own, morbid curiosity.

"You could just say no, Danny."Tucker had said. The bespectacled boy had admitted earlier that he hadn't really been paying attention—something which Danny was still a little peeved about—and offered to take his side should he decide to shoot down his girl-who-was-a-friend-but-not-my-girlfriend's schemes to break into his basement.

He shook his head at that thought. Sam was nothing short of unyielding, and if Danny said no she'd probably get herself into even bigger trouble without him. Plus, she'd been right when she said that the chance that there was something horrible residing in his parents' "secret lair" of sorts was just as great as the possibility that the elder Fentons just didn't want anyone going through their old stuff. After all, there were probably plenty of dangerous, old research projects that they had kept when they quit ghost hunting.

Danny stopped midstride, reminding himself to breathe before continuing forward.

All right, so if he wasn't going to stop her, might as well go over the plan she'd concocted so he could play his part. Phase one, as Sam had put it, started with Danny informing his parents and sister that his friends would be coming over tomorrow.

Simple enough.

Phase Two began once they were together; the three of them would break into the basement, eliminate the possibility of some dark, Fenton family secret, go back to his room after locking the door and reinitiating the security systems, and pretend like they had never left.

Again, easy.

Since Jazz typically stayed in her room when Sam and Tucker were over, and his parents were working up at the local research facility until six, no one would ever even know. So then why did it feel like this was going to end badly?

Danny groaned. Maybe it was because he could already sense that something would go wrong, like there being a second, silent alarm attached to the basement door that he wasn't aware of, but Danny couldn't help but feel like it had something to do with whatever they would find down there—no matter what Sam said to assure him otherwise.

Still, he couldn't exactly talk to his parents about it. They might ask him why he wanted to know, and—since Danny couldn't lie very well—he'd answer anything they asked, regardless of whether he was ready to or not. He didn't want to deal with something like that over a little misplaced paranoia, and he was pretty sure that there were some things about him that his parents were better off not knowing; like Dash's bullying or certain early morning incidents.

Speaking of which.

Danny brought his hand shakily to his chest, almost sighing when the warm flutter of a heartbeat greeted him. He'd been surreptitiously checking on and off throughout the day, but was no less relieved each time he felt the organ stubbornly proving his earlier thoughts wrong. Perhaps he was mistaken.

Still, even if he had only imagined himself dead, that did not stop Danny from worrying how he would hide his slightly sickly appearance from his parents. At least, from his mom—she would be most likely to obsess over such a trivial thing, as she always had, and want to take blood samples or run tests specifically designed with his somewhat unique physiology in mind.

He grimaced at that thought; if Danny was right—and he had a feeling he was, despite any evidence to the contrary—his parents would not be particularly pleased with what they found….

Best not think about that just yet.

A sudden shudder wracked his thin frame, then, and he frowned slightly before checking the small, silvery device adorning his wrist for the first time that day. To the casual observer, it might seem as if he were only checking the time.

But the device was by no means a watch, and Danny cursed at what he saw in its cheery, LED lit screen before picking up the pace; breaking into a run once he saw his breath fog and condense in an eerie, bluish mist.

Fear can be a funny thing. People, as a general rule, tend to have many fears—some rational, some not—but all fears seem to have one, unified cause.


And perhaps it was this that had young Danny, hardly old enough to drive, let alone ponder his own mortality, quickly bounding through the front door of a large, imposing red building without any other thoughts on his parents or hiding himself until he looked a little less like death itself. Maybe it was this that also had him flicking on the Fenton family ghost shield without registering that his mother was in the kitchen, or that she would undoubtedly hear the low but loud hum that accompanied the glowing force field as it flickered into existence.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was the elation that fear and adrenaline and the thump, thump, thump of his racing heart were very human traits that had him throwing caution to the wind.

"Danny!" His jumpsuit-wearing mother cried, immediately running to her son and throwing her arms about him in a sign of concern and relief that he appeared mostly unhurt. "Oh, sweetie, are you alright? You look like you've seen a ghost!"

Danny considered struggling, maybe pushing his mother away as most teenagers sought to do, but he couldn't bring himself to stop feeling the incredible warmth that radiated from his parent, nor the sweet scent that wafted from her reddish-brown hair. More proof that he was very much living, if only for the moment.

"Hah, you could say that. Jazz had a school council meeting, by the way. She says she's sorry but she might miss dinner." He managed, but between the little air he could take in thanks to his mother's tight hold and the strange morbidity his thoughts had taken, the light tone sounded a bit forced.

Maddie waved his statement off, as if well aware of her daughter's busy schedule and too concerned with her other child to think about it at the moment.

"How many were there this time?"

Danny thought a moment, seeming hesitant before glancing at the silvery device about his wrist again in order to study its no longer blinking screen. "Well…I thought it was two. That's weird…." The portable ghost-tracker showed him and his mother as two little blue dots against a very plain, grid like layout that vaguely resembled the part of the street they lived on.

If there had been any ghosts in the area, he would see larger, red dots moving or staying still or whatever their ghostly counterparts were up to. He could've sworn he'd seen two massive ectoplasmic energies, practically on top of him, but now the screen seemed oddly if not eerily calm.

"I guess not." He finished lamely. "Sorry for the scare."

His mother broke her hold of him, putting him at arm's length so she could study his expression. "Honey, that's the third time a ghost has followed you this week. Now, I'm not one to question a ghost's motives—and your sensitivity to them has always made you a target of attacks—but Danny…this hasn't happened so often before, and frankly, I'm worried. You're lucky that you weren't late to school again because of…whatever this is."

He winced, remembering for a moment the Saturday detention slip sitting at the bottom of his backpack, which caused her to pause, her eyes calculating. "Is there something going on that I should know about? Ghosts feed off of negative emotions, sweetie; you really shouldn't bottle up whatever it is that's bothering you, especially with your…condition. And are you taking your medica—?"

"No." Danny said, just a little too quickly before rapidly backpedaling. "I mean, yes, I have been taking my meds, and no there's nothing going on." At the entirely unconvinced look upon his mother's face, he sighed. "I promise, you don't have to worry, Mom. I'm sure that the Fenton Watch," he displayed the now obviously Fenton-issue piece of tech, "is just registering me or something again. I have an ecto-signature, too, remember?"

He bit his lip at that last statement, hoping that the slight quiver in his voice wasn't too noticeable. He wasn't quite lying, exactly; he really did have a faint but very real ecto-signature due to the massive—or, massive when compared to the norm—amounts of ectoplasm free-floating in his bloodstream; but he knew as well as she did that the device on his wrist had been calibrated with that in mind so that it wouldn't register him as a threat.

So, unless Danny's faint ecto-signature had grown, whether due to an increased amount of ectoplasm or otherwise—and what that otherwise could be, he wasn't thinking about, not one bit—there was no way that he would show up as a red dot on the little screen. And certainly not as two.

If Maddie Fenton thought of this, she didn't let it show; instead, she nodded slowly, her eyes far off in some guilt-ridden thought—as they always seemed to be when the subject of Danny's inhuman qualities came up, he couldn't help but notice—and when she spoke again, her voice seemed much less frenzied, and much more accepting of some unknown circumstance.

"Right." She replied; her eyes a little tired when they focused back on Danny's too-pale face and the still dark bags beneath his blue eyes. "You do look a little sick, though, sweetie." She removed a glove to tentatively touch her hand to her son's cool forehead, almost as if afraid that he would flinch away—a thought that didn't escape him as he fought the urge to do just that.

"Mind checking your blood-ectoplasm content for me? Just so I know I don't have to worry about you." She smiled, and he tried to return a smile of his own.

His face contorted into a grimace instead.

"Please?" She pleaded, again, her violet eyes suddenly seeming fragile and desperate in some way that Danny wasn't too sure he wanted to know. All thoughts of refusal and worrying about what was hiding in his blood were chased away.

"Fine." He sighed, pulling his left arm up so that the Fenton Watch was well within his eyesight. The fingers of his right hand worked deftly, years of practice aiding him in toggling quickly through the settings on the contraption. In a matter of seconds, a small needle poked itself out from the side of the object, allowing him to prick one of his right fingers enough to draw blood for the device.

"Ouch. I'll never get used to that…." He murmured, and his mother gave him a sympathetic smile before turning back to watch the screen as it analyzed the sample it was given. Both of them waited anxiously, though for differing reasons, for the marvel of science to make a sound. The thing beeped in an ill-fitting note of triumph when the test was done.

"Analysis complete. Records show a 1% drop in ectoplasmic levels since last documented observation. Data also conclusively indicates a 98% stability overall. Homeostasis, maintained."

Danny and his mother exhaled slowly, letting out breaths they both hadn't realized that they'd been holding. Maddie looked to him with a small, much less frightened smile and the boy felt himself return a grin with much more vigor than before.

"I guess you're fine, then."

He laughed, feeling lighter than he had in what seemed like days. "Yeah." He breathed. "I guess I am." His mother smiled more warmly at his relieved tone, and he tilted his head a bit. "Hey, where's Dad?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "Oh, you know your father; can't live without his fudge. He went to the groceries a few minutes ago to get some more."

"Are you serious? Didn't we buy some, like, yesterday?"

They laughed at that, both picturing the large, orange jump-suited man running through grocery aisles and dodging other shoppers in his pursuit of happiness.

Neither noticed the wisp of bluish mist that escaped Danny in the breaths between his laughs, nor the nearly imperceptible shiver that ran down his spine.

"You ready?" Her eyes bored into her friends' during the last few minutes of Ms. Karam's lecture. For Sam Manson, the school day couldn't have been longer, and now that there were hardly ten minutes separating she and her "grand plan," the girl was nearly breaching her usual apathy in the face of anticipation.

Tucker gave a curt nod and a small smile, trying and failing to pay attention to whatever Ms. Karam was going on about—although that had more to do with the fact that Ms. Karam was "mighty fine, and totally digging the T-man" than her actual lesson—while Danny spared a glance to the clock hanging above the chalkboard that their instructor was using.

Nine minutes and counting. He mouthed, grinning at the excitement threatening to spill over from her eyes. The look on her face was a rare form of cheer that she only reserved for monster-movie nights or similar weekend activities with her friends. She almost never smiled during school hours.

But Sam had every reason to smile; not only was Danny looking much better than he was not twenty-four hours ago—something she had noted with satisfaction in the morning—but he also seemed to now fully support her plans to rid him of his fears; a fact that she wasn't about to complain over.

Seven minutes, fifty seconds.

She drummed her fingers lightly, occasionally sharing an anxious grin with her friends as the rest of the class's gaze seemed to gravitate towards the only point of interest in the room, just above their teacher's head.

Five more minutes.

"...The Guys in White had counted upon the Fentons to create some sort of "portal" into the ghosts' world, so that we could take the fight to them. However, they never completed their pet project, due to familial troubles, and likely destroyed the machine to prevent ecto-exposure to children around Amity Park and the world…."

Sam and Tucker, along with the half of the class that had heard Ms. Karam, turned to glance at a suddenly tense, wide-eyed Danny.

"The fact that it was never completed, some speculate, is the main reason that the conflict between our worlds never escalated in full, and why Mayor Masters was able to negotiate peace with the more sentient ghosts; officially bringing an end to the First Ghost War. Any questions?"

There were two minutes left in class, though the classroom's attention had been drawn to something far more interesting than the clock or Ms. Karam; namely, three certain students, sitting in the middle of the classroom and the glares of their peers.

Sam scowled back at as many of her classmates as she could, silently demanding that they leave Danny alone or else, but the message didn't seem to sink in. Especially with Dash—his sneer was most prominent among the crowd.

"No?" Ms. Karam called again, sounding completely oblivious to her students' silent war and the fact that one of her own students was a Fenton and thus object of disdain. "Well, that's all I have for you then." She turned to face her class, and Sam noted with annoyance that immediately the entire room shifted back to looking to the front.

What sheep.

The bell chose that moment to ring, and Ms. Karam called over the rush and bustle of people packing their bags and sorting through their things that she was sorry that their guest speaker hadn't come today, and that they could look forward to the fact that he would definitely be coming on the following Monday. When she said to have a nice weekend, Sam scoffed.

"Come on, Danny. We have to get to Lancer, remember?" She whispered, helping him pack after noticing that a few too many eyes had fallen back to her friend, still numb with shock, for her liking. She knew the rumors that circulated, even if she pretended not to—for Danny and Tucker's sakes, she told herself—but sometimes it really pissedher off that people could be so immature.

"Yeah." Danny said, eyes still a little glazed from the strange surge of attention he'd received in class. It was as though, for one, striking moment, everyone who'd ever pretended that he didn't exist had actually seen him. Seen him, and hated him.

Sam helped her friend to her feet, but bristled when she heard the obviously loud-enough-for-everyone-to-hear snickers of the one jerk she'd been trying to avoid.

"Gosh, Fen-turd, as if you weren't already a freak. Now you're telling me that your parents up and quit just because their son was too weird?" None other than Dash Baxter punctuated this with a loud laugh and high fives with a few of his friends. He ran a hand through his ugly, bleach-blond hair before continuing.

"Man, it must suck, knowing that you're the reason that everyone hates your freaky, ghost-loving family. Heck, Valerie's mom might still be around if your parents weren't total losers." More laughter.

While Dash and his fellow jocks continued to joke around at Danny's expense, the poor boy merely sat, as if still trying to process the looks of absolute loathing—tinged with fear of the unknown, of the unusual—that he'd only seen in his nightmares. After a few attempts to get him on his way to the door, Sam gave an exasperated sigh at her friend's stupefied expression and, upon sharing a hard look with Tucker, turned to the one boy that she could honestly say she hated.

"Leave him alone." She said firmly, eyes defiant and full of the air of rebellion that she always seemed to carry with her. A hint of fear crossed Dash's face, his eyes looking more than a little at a loss over fact that someone had stood up to him, but he snorted and played it off readily.

"Oh man, Fentonio, can't believe you're letting your girlfriend fight for you now. Lucky for you, I don't hit girls." He paused, still smirking, but looking in Sam's now furious eyes as he addressed the boy standing dejectedly behind her. "What's next, your mom? Or…how about your hottie of a sister?" A couple of whistles and whoops followed that, and Danny seemed to snap to life. With a determined step forward, he pushed Sam back, opening his mouth to give the bigger, stronger boy a piece of his mind.

"Hey, you don't have any right to—"

The words were smacked away from his lips by a solid punch to the jaw.

The effects were immediate; Danny went down, lip split and bleeding, and the jocks—Dash included—took off towards Lancer's room, still whooping like monkeys, before they could be linked to the scene of the crime. Concern etched its way on both of his friends' faces as Danny rose shakily back to his feet, grasping Sam and Tucker's extended arms when he threatened to topple over.

"Are you okay, man?" Tucker asked, and for once all Danny did was nod, a sort of resigned expression on his face. Sam's heart clenched at the thought that getting teased and then punched for trying to defend himself and his loved ones was something he or anyone was used to.

"That jerk." Sam said, voice shaking as she fought back angry tears. "Don't worry Danny, we're gonna tell Mr. Lancer and the principal and they'll—"

"Sam, drop it." Danny sighed, and she couldn't deny the silent plea in his tired eyes. "Let's just get to homeroom, okay? We're already a few minutes late, and I don't need another detention…."

The three of them walked together to Mr. Lancer's room, then, their plans for the weekend forgotten in the face of more pressing matters for the moment.

"Ouch, Danny, what happened?"

The redheaded girl took in the dried blood on her brother's chin, as well as the prominent bruise forming on his jaw. If she didn't know any better, she'd say her little brother had been knocked some time into next week.

He gave her a sheepish grin, replying easily and with a few notes of practiced humor in his voice. "It's not as bad as it looks really, and I was just being stupid. I totally walked right into a door, just as some guy was opening it." His grin widened, careful not to aggravate the wound on his lip. "Just my luck, huh?"

Jazz Fenton rolled her eyes. Her brother could be so absent-minded and clumsy sometimes; it was a miracle that he'd made it to fourteen. "Well, be careful next time, okay Danny? I don't want Mom and Dad to think you're being beaten up at school or something."

Perhaps it was the irony of the situation, or the disapproving way that his friends were looking at him, but Danny laughed at that—a good, honest laugh that brought a smile to his sister's face.

"I'm glad that you're feeling better today, little brother. I worry about you when you're as out of it as you were." She tousled his hair, sharing a small smile of understanding with Sam and Tucker behind him. "You know I love you, right? And that you can tell me anything? Studies show that teens at your stage of development sometimes need to be reminded that there are people who are still willing to care and to listen, and I just want to make sure that you know that I am, no matter what."

Danny frowned at the psychobabble as he attempted to pat his dark locks back in place before addressing his sister. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but leave my hair out of it, okay?" At her amused smile, his grin found its way back onto his face. "And…thanks. For, you know, forging Mom's signature on my detention slip. I don't think she would've let Sam and Tucker come over otherwise."

Jazz winked. "No problem, Danny, but you owe me big time, got it?"

"Got it." He sighed, and she laughed before waving goodbye to him and his friends. She had yet another meeting to attend, and they were off to FentonWorks, to do who-knows-what in the hours they would be alone.

Sam turned to Danny, face more serious than it had been less than half an hour ago. "You think that 'ghost portal' that Ms. Karam was talking about could have anything to do with…well, you?"

Danny shook his head. "I honestly don't know. Maybe that's what my parents are hiding down there, but maybe not. Supposedly it was destroyed, right?"

Tucker frowned. "I dunno man, you said your parents didn't mention it to you or Jazz, right? So why would they bother keeping something like that a secret if it was destroyed?" His frown deepened. "And how is that publicly accessible information, anyway?"

Danny looked between his two best friends, wondering what they had gotten themselves into. "Only one way to find out, I guess." He said, looking up as they came to stop in front of the familiar, but somehow new rust-red building that he called home.

"You ready?" Sam repeated, mouth pressed to a thin line.

"Ready as I'll ever be."