Chapter 8

First Dates and New Beginnings

During the evening Valerie went out of her way to avoid Sam. Not only was the girl in a bad enough mood what with her dating Danny, but Sam had gotten a call from Leandra that afternoon requesting her presence at a Sunday brunch for the Stryke family. She had retreated to her room shortly after shutting herself away with the rest of her food and a cup of herbal tea.

"Have a good time" Valerie told Jazz and Dani. Jazz had decided to make the night a 'sisterly bonding night'. Valerie thought it was nice, she was very glad to see that Jazz was helping in making Dani comfortable, and being the family she needed.

When she left, Jazz was just getting ready to order a pizza for the two. "What do you want on yours, Danielle?"

"Pepperoni….and sausage and uh…pineapple maybe. "

""Okay then," Jazz said, "I like most of that... I'll just order that. Without the pineapple if you don't mind too much."

"Okay." That was something for another day; after all, they did say there was a nice cafeteria.

Jazz phoned in the order, after making sure the campus would let in deliveries, and turned to Dani... "So, first," she said, "we can do our toenails." She found herself getting quite excited. While she loved having Danny as a brother she always wondered what it would have been like to have a little sister.

Dani looked a bit confused and titled her head slightly. "Do…what to them?"

Jazz laughed, picking up her makeup kit from a counter, "Paint them, it's pretty, and it's something of a social activity, I suppose because you're close and working together, it inspires more conversation"

"Oh" Dani looked down at her toes, "I guess that sounds fun."

"I'll start, since this is your first time." Jazz pulled what looked like a miniature chest of drawers, and opened one. "What color do you want?" Dani looked at her toes, unsure of what might look best with them. All she could think of is her favorite color.

"Well, red I guess." She said with a shrug. Jazz pulled out the red bottle and unscrewed it.

"Okay, stretch your legs out front. Don't worry I've done this plenty of times." She said. Dani gave a nervous little laugh.

"Okay, if you say so..." She watched as Jazz took out some tools. With a small pick she gently scraped them. Dani only winced a few times. Then Jazz started painting the biggest ones first.

"So…if you don't mind me asking, what was it like growing up in Vlad's house?" Dani sighed, she expected the question.

"Well…he was nice actually. I mean at first he gave me everything I wanted when he wasn't busy. He didn't lose his patience too much. I mean when he trained me he was as stern as he needed to be. Really it all just seems worse when thinking about what came later. But….at the time I never knew."

"I wouldn't have pegged him as that type…when he was trying to bond with me and Danny…well with me he always seemed like he was trying so hard, to be nice and gain our trust and sometimes tried to use slang" Jazz winced , "it was a bit…"

"Awkward?"

"Painfully" Jazz said.

"Well, with me it seemed natural, I suppose that's why it was such a shock when he turned out to be….you know" She looked down at her half painted foot, "Maybe it was weird for you because he didn't know what you had already been told, or already knew."

"…that would make sense" Jazz said. "and I'm sorry you had to go through that….If I could have done anything I would." Dani sighed, she knew Jazz's heart was in the right place but still being apologized to after the fact didn't do anything for her. It's not like Jazz had any way of knowing and really it wasn't her fault.

"It's fine…it's all in the past. I'm much better now." She said. "He can't hurt me anymore, right?"

"Just try not to get too closed off because of it. It's amazing how many psychological problems can come out of closing yourself off from people." Jazz returned to painting the toes on her other foot.

"I'm fine, I mean, even after some misunderstandings when Valerie and I first met, I got to know her" Dani said.

"….what misunderstandings?" Jazz looked up.

"It's nothing, it was a misunderstanding because Vlad was playing her, I really don't want her to be blamed." Dani said. Perhaps she should have chosen her words more carefully. The sound of a doorbell interrupted them.

"Hide" Jazz whispered. Dani nodded and went invisible as Jazz got up to take care of the pizza. She returned with a box and a couple bottles of soda. Dani popped back into visibility licking her lips. Jazz smiled and got out some plastic plates and cups. She poured the both of them a generous helping of soda. "Cheers?"

Dani smiled and tapped her glass "Cheers."

Sam tried not to pay attention as Valerie prepared for the date and Jazz and Dani talked. She jammed her headphones in her ears and listened to her music in her own separate room until she was sure Valerie left. As she waited she looked at her ID card. It was surrounded by a border of brown. Not the color she would have chosen to represent her power but it really didn't matter. It was an ID card; it didn't need to be pretty.

In the other room she overheard snippets of the conversation. Before Valerie left she and Jazz had been talking about Jazz's most recent idea, to teach Dani by themselves with some workbooks from the campus bookstore. It was a bit ambitious she had to admit. But she figure Jazz Fenton could handle it if anybody could. Dani had been getting very friendly with Jazz, and she already knew Valerie very well.

Sam didn't dislike Danielle, really. She didn't trust her initially for helping Vlad kidnap Danny, but after she heard some of the story she softened up a bit on the kid. Vlad was her only father figure, that had to suck. Sam's own adoptive parents could be obnoxious and narrow minded (especially her mother whenever Maddie Fenton was involved) but Vlad was actually evil and dangerous.

Sam thought about the invitation from Leandra. She had been prepared to refuse because she was pretty certain she didn't want to learn anything else unpleasant about Leandra and the older girl's bossy tone and insistence rubbed her the wrong way. She didn't need this girl to be her mother. But Leandra was stubborn and Sam could only get her to stop pestering with a "I'll think about it".

She got out her computer and started to distract herself with computer games. She had gotten quite good at playing solitaire. She would often play it when her mother grounded her, a little way of showing she wasn't to fussed about it. It was fun to rattle her like that. As she was drawing closer to a win, a Skype window popped up on her screen. The prospect of going out to eat with Leandra didn't seem to appeal to her, but she was curious about meeting other Stryke relatives. Leandra did say she could bring a friend. Maybe Tucker.

Tucker Foley-T. Fine Calling.

Sam rolled her eyes, like she always did at Tucker's Skype name, but took the call. Solitaire had really lost its excitement; she already knew how to win. The first thing she heard was a bit of background noise.

"T. Fine? Really?" It was an amused voice with a rather posh sounding accent to it.

"Shaddup!"

Tucker's face popped up, looking annoyed at someone offscreen.

"Hey Sam!"

"You know…you really should consider changing your username. "She said, " I can tell you…that's a girl repellant."

"Come on, girls like a guy with confidence." Sam raised an eyebrow.

"And how many girls have you gotten the attentions of using your 'catchphrase'?" Tucker opened his mouth but then closed it.

"Anyway….you okay?"

"Of course I am" She tried not to sound sarcastic."Why wouldn't I be?"

"….uh okay ….well anyway…" Tucker did a rather poor job of 'carefully evading the subject' – over-careful and painfully awkward- and Sam groaned and rolled her eyes.

"You know if you're going to tiptoe around me about it, don't. That's only going to piss me off more."

"Are you serious? You don't want to talk about it, and now you don't want me to skip around it?" Tucker said.

"No I don't want to talk about it, but don't act like I'm going to burst into tears if you mention it." She said. She heaved a sigh, she was being kind of mean to him. "Sorry. Anyway, what are you doing for the night?" Tucker shrugged.

"Nothing really."

"I offered to shuffle up some cards, but he didn't seem interested." A voice from the bed, the same accented voice from before, came from the side of the screen.

"Dude, you said you'd been to a casino before. Why play when you know you're going to lose?" Tucker said.

"Ahh, you assume that being at a casino means I'm good," There was a chuckle, "I'm flattered, but no. I – I'm completely rubbish at it, I just go to make sure Sylv doesn't spend too much having a flutter on everything that stands still long enough." There was a bit of movement and another person came into view. A boy with sleek dark hair and glasses. Presumably the roommate.

"Sylv, huh? Is that your girlfriend?" Sam asked. For a moment a look of bewilderment crossed his face and he burst out laughing.

"Sorry….sorry…I just…oh hell that's" he shook his head wiping tears from one eye. "No. Sylvester. He's …ah he's one of my cousins. Can hardly hold on to his money for a moment."

"Oh…I assumed it was short for Sylvia." She said sheepishly.

"I wonder what his reaction would be if I called him that." The boy said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"Don't blame me if you get decked in the face." Sam said. The boy looked at her in confusion.

"…decked?"

"Punched." Tucker said.

"Oh …. well Sylvester's not that thin skinned" he shrugged waving a hand flippantly. "He doesn't usually hit me unless we're hitting each other."

"Is this some weird family tradition you have?" Sam asked quirking a brow.

"Certainly, it's called being…ah frenemies, I think the term is." The roommate held up a hand, "But passing over my quirky family traditions. I don't believe I've introduced myself. I am Shiro..Aka…Blade 'Toyaka'." He gave a small bow. Now, she thought, he was showing off a little, trying to impress perhaps. It was a little bit amusing.

"Interesting nickname, I really thought Tucker was pulling my leg when he told me that. I'm Sam. Sam Manson."

"I'm going to take a gamble and assume you do not like being addressed as Samantha."

"You'd probably be taking more of a gamble if you tried"

"She's not kidding." Tucker said. He had seen this firsthand in middle school, when another kid had tried to address her as such. Shiro took a seat on the side of the bed.

"So, what's your ability then, if you don't mind me asking? I already know these two's"

"Oh, uh Geokinesis …um second type" When she was getting her ID she learned that there were two types of geokinesis, ground type and plant type. The receptionist had been rather unamused when she remarked that those sounded like Pokémon types. "I wasn't sure whether or not that was a personal question." Shiro waved his hand.

"When we're all cozy behind the school walls, it's as common as asking what's someone's sign. Aquarius by the way, and human to animal shape-shifter." Sam brightened up.

"Really?" She asked, sitting up. She found herself blurting out a few questions she had. What was it likes, what did animals talk about, and what forms did he know? She stopped, a bit self-consciously, seeing him awkwardly rub the back of his neck looking perplexed.

"Wow…usually people laugh and say 'prove it' once they get a good gander at me" he said. Both Sam and Tucker had the same question

"Why would they do that?" Shiro's voice took on a sudden sharp bitterness and he huffed indignantly.

"Apparently they expect beast-shifter blokes to be some sort of big hard sort" he said. "My ex laughed at me for a solid two minutes straight, and said I was too 'twiggy' to be one." Sam made a face.

"Ugh, I can see why she's your ex."

"Eh, I didn't break it off over that. There were other reasons." He looked a bit nervous for a moment. "Anyway… shapeshifting blokes are expected to be big and tough."

"That sounds like a dumb stereotype to me." Sam said. Shiro shrugged a shoulder.

"Eh, there are enough that are like that to make people believe it's the norm. Nothing I can do it about it but sit here in my little corner with my inferior genetics." He gave a dramatic forlorn sigh. 'Quite the drama king' Sam thought. But he was also funny and interesting to talk to.

They got to talking about other things and when Sam mentioned their old school, Shiro seemed interested but also quite shocked.

"You've been to a public school? I've heard all sorts of stories about those. My mum always told me that they're poorly staffed, have terrible lessons, and let some students get away with anything." He said. "A cousin of mine told me a sports player killed a girl he had sex with and his coach helped him cover it up..."

"That's kind of extreme, but based in some truth. Our school pretty much, yeah. Although the popular crowd hasn't tried murder yet, thankfully. "Sam said, "I don't know about that. Might be true….but it probably got headlines because that sort of thing doesn't happen every day. What's really more worrying is the public school system's habit of pushing drugs on students that they can't control, and whatever goes on at the places where they get their meat." She knew about the first one from a report she did for health class on drugs (Tetslaff hadn't been amused but she did say it could be on anything relating to drugs.)

"They what?" Shiro looked at her incredulously.

"Well prescription drugs like Ritilan and stuff. " Tucker had been assigned to be her partner on that project. "Legal stuff."

"But still very harmful, and being used by school systems to drug up students to force them to fit in their one size fits all learning system , rather than changing to accommodate the student-" Sam said. Tucker cleared his throat.

"Sam…that's not exactly helping" he discretely nodded towards Shiro who looked quite shocked.

"Right…" she said, "It's a pretty different lifestyle than you're used to probably."

"Apparently so" for a second she awaited some superior comment like Leandra had made, but no such comment. He shifted in discomfort and embarrassment. But a few moments ago, it might have been her imagination but he had sounded almost impressed with them. "Right, sorry….I probably sound quite stupid."

"It isn't stupid to be curious about something you're unfamiliar with." She said. She remembered what had been said about the Toyakas. But so far the Strykes had been quite arrogant and self righteous , wrapped up in their own importance while the only Toyaka she had met so far was , at worst pretty sheltered and perhaps a bit ignorant.

"So were you recruited by a head of household too?" Shiro said, probably attempting to change the subject.

"No. I chose to when I found out that-"She almost said 'that Danny was invited'. He was still on her mind. Danny wasn't the reason she chose to go here, it was her family.

'But would you have gone if it weren't for him?'

"….yes?"

"-when I found out I was adopted. My birth parents were Psi" It was rather personal even Tucker was shocked to hear it come out of her mouth at that moment. But it sounded better than saying that she only chose this to follow a friend. "They were part of the Stryke family." She half expected some negative reaction from Shiro; after all she'd heard about the Strykes and Toyakas. He looked a bit awkward.

"Ah. Well….you're in luck, there's a lot of teachers here who are fond of the Strykes." He said giving an uneasy smile.

"Yeah….well….I'm still a bit unsure what to make of them so far." She said, "My first introduction to them was well…"

"Leandra? She's enough to put anybody off yeah." Shiro said. "They're not all that bad apart from the obvious radical sorts." Tucker gave him a look but he ignored it.

"Where did this rivalry start anyway?"

"Who knows, there's probably a thousand and one theories. Most of them have to do with someone wronging the other, and a dozen revenge duels. Neither side really let go for ages . Psi have a habit of holding onto history, and old grudges. Sometime in the 1800s our families took to politics and the whole mess started up again." Shiro explained.

"Politics….that'll do it"

"I know some of them hate blindly, like Rex's followers and Lawrence-"

"Lawrence is a Stryke?" Sam felt her heart sink. As if Leandra wasn't unpleasant enough, Lawrence had shown a deep contempt for Modernist opinions and anything that challenged 'Psi tradition' during his opening speech at orientation.

"He's a Stryke ally, one of the people under the Traditionalist umbrella. Freethy, McDane, Fletcher, Llewyn" Shiro ticked off the names on his fingers. "Lawrence is a Freethy….engaged to Leandra…" Sam did a spittake, spraying the herbal tea she had been drinking all over her laptop screen.

"Leandra's engaged?" she asked, "But she's….she's only about Jazz's age-"

"She's eighteen. Old family sorts tend to start arranging your future spouse at sixteenish, and have you married off before twenty" Shiro said. "Surprised she didn't mention it yet, she was right thrilled about it and showing off her new engagement ring to all her friends just last term." There was a bit of bitterness when he spoke about her. It made Sam feel guilty when she thought of the way Leandra had talked about him. He looked uncomfortable and looked away.

"So the Stryke teachers….are they the same way?"

"Some of them yeah, there are some who keep their opinions to themselves, but the outspoken ones are the most common. One of them is the nurse, always gives me looks and has a clever remark when I come in. Asks me what heart I'm breaking today." She would have asked if he was that type, but seeing the way his shoulders drooped and he seemed hurt by the suggestion. He took off his glasses and folded them open and closed. "Nothing more embarrassing than having a teacher remind you that you 'have a reputation'."

"Dude…harsh." Tucker said.

"More like student harassment!" Sam said, firing up, "Did you report it? Teachers shouldn't be allowed to bully students like that!"

"It was a little while ago, and well I do have a tendency to sneak out….go to parties…just loosen up forget about strict parents and stuff. I didn't want to bring any attention to it, not worth it, you know." They talked a bit more about other teachers at the school; a few of the descriptions interested her while others concerned her.

She was finding Shiro very interesting to talk to. He seemed decent, sometimes rather funny, and his commentary on the Psi community was very interesting. An idea grew in the back of her mind. Part of her knew it was a sketchy idea, but it was very tempting especially when she thought about where Danny was now. For the last few days since he met Valerie at the airport it's been nonstop "Valerie, Valerie, Valerie". She liked to think that lately she and Danny had been getting close, and maybe there was a chance he had felt the same way and she might have been able to tell him. But now that was all forgotten and while she wasn't going to get involved in messing with his romance, it ate at her. She needed a distraction, and she had an idea for a distraction that might also tell her what she longed to know about Danny.

"So….you know any good places to go then?" she asked.

"To go?" Shiro asked, looking between Tucker and her.

"Yeah, like for a date." Sam said, "if that's all right with you."

"Uh Sam, are you sure?" Tucker asked. Shiro looked flustered and a little unsure as well.

"Tuck, I'm a big girl, tie my own boots by myself and everything. I can handle a guy." Sam said.

"Perhaps you should listen to your friend…I –I mean I'm flattered thank you but…well…" Shiro said.

"Do you plan on hurting me?" Sam asked. Shiro looked rather taken aback.

"N-no, of- of course not" he said ,"Well there's a nice place behind the Golden Plaza, I've heard that it's not too wild"

"Not too wild" Tucker gave Shiro a look, "dude….what is this place? A club? And what exactly is too wild to you?" Shiro gave a weird strangled sounding laugh.

"Don't worry….it's fine."

"Tucker….I don't need you to be my parent."

"I'm not that sort, I have a younger sister! I wouldn't do anything to a date that I would kill a bloke for doing to Ana."

"I should hope you don't plan on treating me how you treat your sister." Sam said making a face.

"No! I didn't mean that…I just…look…I'm going to treat you well all right?"

"Tucker doesn't need to be worrying about that because he knows or should know that I wouldn't put up with someone who didn't." Tucker quickly closed his mouth and Shiro started stammering.

"Oh o-of course…I didn't mean to imply…"

"Just relax, all right." She said. He stopped talking and just looked awkward.

"So…er that good though? Golden Plaza, tomorrow night. At eight maybe. I can get a taxi, or maybe a cousin to drive me." He said, "They'd have to be really distant though."

"Why?" Sam asked.

"Trust me, you don't want my aunt to know I'm dating you. Or my mother for that matter. "he gave a little shudder.

"Fair enough." Part of her was excited, part of her was nervous about what she had just done. Asked a member of the 'enemy' family out on a date, not to mention the guy who was Danny and Tuck's roommate. 'A bit early to be starting something isn't it?' her common sense told her.

Who cared though? She was just living her own life.

"Tucker, you …could you wait a bit to tell Danny?" she asked. "At least until after the date?" It wasn't fair to ask him to keep a secret from his friend, from their friend.

"….I can try. But are you-"

"You better not be asking if I'm sure. I wouldn't have asked if I wasn't. And don't give Shiro a hard time, please. I asked him. "

Danny found Valerie waiting by the gates of the school. He was reminded of the brief time they dated before, how quickly he went from dreading seeing her to looking forward to it in mere months. It was so sudden he didn't even really think about it until it happened, a few chats and they were falling for one another.

He hurried up his pace to catch up with her before the sky darkened all the way. She was waiting near the bushes at the front of the school, on the bench the students who had been waiting for their IDs had sat, wearing a somewhat overly large, but nice looking coat. One of the things he had learned when dating her was that Valerie Grey was good at looking good, and could find decent clothes whether she had money or not.

"Hey…" He came up to meet her. "You….you look nice." Inwardly he wanted to smack himself, that sounded stupid…cliché almost.

"Thanks" she gave him a warm smile. "How have you guys been doing?"

"Allright…got a roommate, don't know what to make of him yet. From some big name family, but doesn't seem to be too proud of the community. I think I mentioned earlier"

"The Toyaka guy? I hear that their family has a rivalry with Sam's" Valerie said, "we'd better be careful, because it seems pretty fierce. Leandra seemed to talk about them like they were the scum of the earth. I wouldn't be surprised if many of them wanted revenge."

"Yeah…. By the way, how she doin'?"

"Sam? She seemed down that we were-" Danny shook his head.

"No…I mean….um" A look of realization dawned on Valerie's face.

"She's doing well…she and your sister are having a bonding night." She said, lowering her voice. "It was kind of adorable." Danny smiled.

"I bet. Jazz will love having a little sister and Dani, well it's good that she has more people looking out for her." He looked around, just to be safe. "Now…uh…how about a flight on Air Phantom? I've done this tons of times with my friends, so it's safe. But I understand if you want to use the hoverbo-"

"..I wouldn't mind…"

Vlad stared at Kagami for a moment in shock, words failed him. Did she just say what he thought she said? How could she possibly- He decided the best route was to play dumb.

"Not- excuse me madam, what exactly do you mean, not a mere human?" he said, faking indignance and confusion. Kagami sighed rolled her eyes, with a look that said she's heard this before.

"Spare me the act, dear. I've grown quite weary of it. It should comfort you to know that you are amongst the most excellent of company." She gestured to herself, "I have a very special power, alongside my regular abilities. This is all strictly confidential of course in case you're worried."

"Regular abilities? What do you mean?" Vlad asked.

"Of course. I am a Psi, Mr. Masters, human to human shape-shifter. Having looked at some of your early theorems and studies – college I assume, my dear?-I believe that you are at least somewhat aware of people like me." She said. He was very suddenly reminded of some of his work before Jack and Maddie came into his life-in fact it was what had drawn him to someone like Jack in the first place He had been researching some old studies. "You were interested in the studies of Dr. Rosencrantz?"

He had been doubted and scoffed at before for studying the findings of Dr. James Rosencrantz who had been thought a crackpot for believing and trying to prove the existence of highly adaptable humans with 'natural mutations'. Even though he had published a book with scientific evidence that pointed to it. Vlad had attended a seminar led by the man. Rosencrantz had sound ideas for how his 'mutant humans' could exist, though he was often accused of 'chasing unicorns' by other academics. Vlad started quietly looking into his studies.

He had been enthralled by the ideas and some of Rosencrantz's genetic theories, and what it could mean for science, for research, for regular humans like him. If all humans could achieve what these 'mutants' could, well there were all sorts of possibilities. And Vlad preferred not to close his mind to them.

When he had reluctantly admitted his secret fascination to his newest roommate, -Jack Fenton, he was surprised when Jack shrugged and accepted it rather than laughing at him. He later found out when talking to Jack more-when Jack let something slip when drunk, that these theories weren't just possible, they were real. And thus had been the beginning of a doomed friendship. He had quietly studied them on the side even after he fell out with Jack, but he still didn't see fit to reveal Jack's family. He thought about it, once, but dismissed the thought. Even if he could prove it, a grudge against one man, however great was not a good reason to endanger a whole society. That kind of betrayal felt repugnant to him.

Jack may have betrayed him, but he was going to be the bigger man. Besides, these mutants had much to offer the world if given the chance.

"But how could you know?" Vlad asked, "Anything I wrote on that was under a pseudonym."

"I followed Rosencrantz for a time, and out of interest, looked up some of the work of those who followed him. Those would be people to keep an eye on for safety's sake. Your name came up far too often for it to be a coincidence and the pseudonym was an easy enough puzzle for my son to work out." It wasn't unlikely for a Psi to have a wary eye on Rosencrantz, Vlad thought. Though his work was brilliant the man's attitude toward his "mutants" was cold and untrusting, almost dehumanizing at times. While Vlad had been interested in how they could help society, Rosencrantz seemed to focus on what a threat these "creatures" could be.

Still finding out all this was unsettling. Especially to find that one could so easily link his early work to him.

"I was pleasantly surprised by your work I must say, most people who believes in his theories seemed to be interested in how to get us on an examination table in pieces" She said.

"So…how long have you been following my work?" She looked thoughtful for a moment.

"Oh, a few years now. Your name came up unusually often in business news. It was, forgive me but, hard to buy that it could be a coincidence after the first few times you won this company or that. "Kagami smiled, "First few times, I thought luck, but one can only have so much luck. There had to be something more. "She looked over him. "So…now that you know my secrets, what's yours?" She had him now, and heaven help him he wasn't interested in letting go.

"First, tell me more about what you can do, what is your very special power?" he asked.

"Are you a superstitious man" she said, looking over him warily, "The sort who believes that people are damned to hell for being a little extraordinary?" He quirked an eyebrow. "…let me put it to you this way…do you believe in a little thing known as alchemy?"

"I know of it… yes, the scientific side of it at least." He said. "if you're asking me if I'm religious? Agnostic strictly speaking. But I don't see how this is here nor there, unless…" he started putting the pieces together in his mind, "…do you mean to tell me that you are practicing magic?"

Her arrogant smirk was all the answer he needed.

"So, college reunion?" Valerie said, "That's how you met him?" They were sitting at Ed's Easy Diner, a place that Jazz had suggested for them earlier when Danny asked her for help finding a place. Both of them looked over their menus making small talk.

"Yeah apparently he was my dad's best friend in college." Danny said. "The double bacon burger looks good."

"Really" Valerie raised an eyebrow, "Because there was one time I was talking with him and he mentioned something about killing your dad.

"Yeaaaaah" Danny said, "..basically he got in the way when Mom and Dad were working on a portal and got blasted when it opened. It gave him horrible ecto-acne and had him stuck in the hospital…and apparently gave him ghost powers. He still blames my Dad for 'stealing' my mom. One time when Mom and I were out in the woods near his vacation home , which was totally his doing, he made his moves on Mom while ordering some ghosts to kill Dad." Valerie cringed in sympathy.

"Wow…what a creep." She said.

"Yeah no kidding." Danny said, "First time we met he tried to schmooze up to me when he found out I was half ghost to, only to corner me and make me choose between him and Dad. Made Jazz and I fight to the death once too."

"You're joking!" Valerie said, wide-eyed.

"Unfortunately no" Danny said. "He told me once that he knows my grades…I only wish I was joking."

"You know….you should file a restraining order….I mean if he's doing all this to you and your mom. I know your parents are friends and all, but that's pretty much harassment." From the way Danny looked at her in response it seemed as if he hadn't thought of that.

"I wish….but….I don't know how I'd prove it…." He said. "He'd probably mess that up, though, cause you know, ghost powers…"

"Oh right" The both of them stopped talking as the waitress came over.

"Double bacon burger, fries and a shake"

"I'll just take a classic basket and a coke." Once the waitress was gone they resumed the conversation. "well anyway…you still have that ring I returned? Maybe we could just pretend I never gave it back." He reached into his pocket and handed it to her. "….it says Sam here doesn't it" she said after looking over it. Danny's face went red.

"It does? Oh man….that's what it said. I'm sorry…my Dad…he must have thought-" he stopped when he realized she was laughing.

"It's fine. I'm just- you mean you never figured out what it said." He looked down sheepishly.

"I kind of thought it meant 'Wes' like you did." he said, "My dad's handwriting has always been a bit…uh, weird. He must have done it with a laser pointer."

"It actually looks kinda nice; I suppose we can get someone to fix it though." She slipped it on her finger. It bothered her just a little bit, but she knew it wasn't' Danny's fault. Eventually the waitress came over with their food.

Danny reached for the ketchup, as he picked it up he noticed the label on the bottle. "That's a weird way to spell ketchup."

"It's an old fashioned spelling; I've seen it in a few books. Must be a regional thing." Valerie said.

"So ," Danny started on his burger, "You looking forward to the new school?"

"It's been all right so far. I'm just waiting to see if it's changed much since my mom was here. " she picked up one of her onion rings, "You seen any ghosts yet?'

"Luckily, no" he said. "My Dad says this place is full of them. Did you bring...uh your gear?"

"I managed to sneak it along. "She smirked, "I wouldn't mind fighting ghosts with you again…Phantom."

The next morning would find the group of American students slowly beginning to settle in. Sam would normally have found Valerie coming in after the date on cloud nine unbearable, and she found it annoying a bit. But she forced herself to focus on her plans for the night. She would be doing her own thing tonight. She got up, got ready and kept to herself through the day, not letting Valerie see any annoyance.

"You want to tell me what's going on?" Valerie asked. That afternoon as Sam was getting ready for night out.

"Valerie just because I'm not sulking about you and Danny doesn't mean there's something going on with me. I have a life outside Danny, if you haven't noticed." She clipped in another earring and fastened the necklace around her neck.

"Sam, what are you getting ready for, are you going out to some fancy thing with the Stryke girl?" she asked. Sam scoffed and rolled her eyes.

"Please if this was about the thing with Leandra, she would be dragging me out of here that is if she could." She said.

"Well...you're acting a lot like….Sam, are you going out on a date?" Jazz looked up at that.

"I told you I had life outside hanging with Danny." She said, "I got to talking with Tucker and the roommate, Shiro. He seemed like an interesting guy."

"Their roommate?" Valerie and Jazz asked. "Sam, are you sure, that seems like a very risky idea, I mean if things go wrong... it might get awkward with them."

"Guys, I can take care of myself. I talked to him, and he didn't seem like the kind of guy who would pull anything, and even if he was, I can take care of myself." She picked up her phone turned it back on and dropped it in her purse.

"Well you should try thinking of how your actions will affect someone else" Valerie said. Sam stiffened and turned around.

"Are you…are you calling me selfish…? For going on a date?" she asked. Before anything more was said Jazz came between them.

"Hey both of you calm down. Sam's allowed to make her own choices Valerie" she said, "and Sam, Valerie was just-"

"I don't care." Sam said. "I'm living my own life; she can just get over it."She put her ID card in her purse and sealed it shut. Without hearing anything more from the two girls she left and firmly shut the door behind her. She took a few deep breathes, she wouldn't ruin this by spending the night angry. She was trying to get away from this, from the situation, and deep down, away from Danny at least for a little bit.

She found Shiro outside the gates of the school, pacing nervously. He seemed to be waiting for something.

"Did Danny ask anything?" He looked up.

"Sama-Sam" he laughed in a weird wheezy way. "No…no…I didn't even tell him I was on a date. I just said I was going out one last time for the summer." He ran a shaky hand through his hair. He was reaching into his pocket fingering something in it.

"Relax. We're just going out for fun" she said. He nodded.

"Yes…." In a few minutes a sleek, shiny car drove up the window rolled down revealing a dark haired boy with partially sleeked back hair and a devious smirk.

"Oi…you called?" Shiro looked back to Sam rubbing his neck.

"That's our ride. This is my second…third cousi-" he turned to the driver. "You were third right?'

"Second, you dumb shit." The driver said impatiently reaching to give Shiro a light smack to the back of the head. "Ira Shizuya"

"I knew your name…I just wasn't sure….." Shiro fidgeted, looking agitated, "I have fifty bloody cousins, how am I supposed to remember where exactly on the family tree-"He sighed and gestured to the man, giving a sarcastic wave of introduction. "Ira Shizuya. He's somewhere on my family tree." Sam tried not to giggle at the light family bickering. Shiro opened the door, offering it to Sam. She climbed in and Shiro got in after her and pulled it shut.

"So…." She said. "Nice car."

"I know isn't it?" Ira said, "I got it for graduating school. My first was almost as pretty as this one. Almost." Bit of a braggart wasn't he? Shiro looked to her apologetically as if begging her not to judge him by his cousin. His arm brushed against hers and he pulled it back.

"So-sorry" he said, "I don't…am I allowed...?" Sam sighed.

"Shiro, you are allowed to put your arm near me. What's with you?" She said, "I get that you're not going to be a jerk to me."

"So….one last hurrah before school eh?" Ira asked.

"Yeah, kinda" Sam said.

"Going to party hard…huh? I remember doing that…used to –"

"Ira…I mean no disrespect but we'd really like to avoid that kind of thing" Shiro said.

"Yeah…save that for your last year "He said, "so where you two headed?"

"Grand Plaza" Shiro said. "There's a nice place behind it." The drive was a little quiet so Sam decided to break the silence.

"So….you taking any interesting classes this year?" she asked.

"Eh…a few…there's fencing, debate III…" Shiro listed them off on his fingers, "Law and Justice."

"Debate?" she asked, "I'm in debate , though it's first level"

"Ahhhh" his voice sounded strained, "I should warn you about that, it's um..Well it's not hard but some of the people in it, they can be downright frustrating."

"What do you mean?" Sam asked. Shiro chuckled dryly.

"The youngest students in there are twelve and thirteen years old. When I was in that class I spent half my time arguing with some kid who thinks that debating means ranting and cursing. Then there's the ones who are so convinced of their point, you can give a page of works cited and they'll still say you're full of shit. "

"You're better off arguing online" Ira said.

"Yes, thank you" Shiro said nodding. "I heard they got a better teacher lately, but still…."

"Well thanks for warning me. " Sam said, "It's a prereq to Debate II and III so I thought I should give it a shot."

"Well you can call me if you ever need a vent about it" he said.

"I'll keep that in mind." Sam said. "So, what's with all the sneaking around with your aunt…is she really that bad?" Shiro gulped and looked over to Ira.

"This one's all yours, mate" he said with a teasing grin. Shiro looked back to her licking his lips.

"She's….ah…well…she is rather….strange sometimes, and well….Aunt Kagami seems to always do whatever she wants. That's the thing about her. Sometimes you'll ask her not to do a thing and she'll just…do it anyway when she feels like it. She is in charge of the family and basically what that means is she can do whatever. Sometimes this is good….sometimes it's …" Sam frowned.

"That doesn't sound good."

"I mean she she's not that bad…it's not serious really, she's just….I don't know…she doesn't seem to care of she's being embarrassing or –or invasive and it's always just 'oh you know it's because I love you right' or something" He said. "Not to mention she's very critical of my mum. As if being head of household gives her supreme parenting wisdom" He shrugged. "But she does know how to deal with my dad so I can't complain too much."

"….What's your dad like?" Shiro shrugged a shoulder.

"Doesn't like me much, thinks I'm a bit of a disappointment" he didn't seem too bothered by the fact. "But…..anyway…let's not ruin the night talking about family." It was awkwardly quiet in the car again. She tried to tell herself that maybe she shouldn't bother him about it; everyone had their issues with their parents. She was certainly in no place to talk about parents.

It wasn't long before they reached the plaza. It looked like a pretty nice place, the sort that would be the host to fancy parties. Perhaps that's how Shiro knew of it.

"We have arrived at your destination." Ira said, parking on the side of the road. "Now, you know the rules Shiro…pay up." Shiro sighed and took out his wallet. He pulled out a few notes and handed them over. "Parking meter"

"Allright…fine..." he grumbled and picked out a few more to hand over. "That should cover the trip here and back."

"You got it. Don't get too pissed, won't you?" Ira said ruffling his hair.

"DON'T touch" Shiro snapped, swatting a hand away "You know…just for that I'm going to consider getting plastered sometime and call you up."

"Whatever you say, kid" Shiro rolled his eyes. He got out of his side of the car and went over to open the door.

"Thanks" Sam said. Shiro nodded. "So…you know this place."

"Yeah, been here for a few company parties." He said.

"Company parties?"

"New Capula Mobile" Shiro said, "My aunt was the head of it until she retired early, and Dex works there in the summers. My dad's also a manager. It's where we get most of our family's income."

"Wow…nice…" They went through the building and Shiro pointed out a few things around.

"It's just out back here….fairly small place, but nice enough." He led her to the doors that opened up to a row of buildings and a very large empty parking area.

"Have you been here before?" Sam asked.

"Oh yeah, I've been here a fair few times." Shiro said, "A friend told me about it" He led her arm-in-arm to the entry door, where a bouncer was manning the entrance. Sam noticed from the way he said things to the way he moved that he was trying to impress her. He handed the bouncer a card, and looked back at her somewhat apologetically. He seemed to have the understanding that she wouldn't be impressed by idiots who flashed their money as if it bought them the world.

He also seemed unusually cautious; she couldn't help but wonder what that was about. She appreciated consideration but asking permission for every move was a bit much. Some of the chivalry might have grated on her normally, but with everything she knew about him so far she assumed that it was out of ignorance. Shiro may have been knowledgeable in some ways but in others he seemed extremely sheltered, in that way that rich kids tended to be.

As they entered the club, Sam had to take a moment to get adjusted to the sudden lights and noise. Crowds of teenagers were gathered together moving to the beat of the music playing. The dance floor lit up with flashing colors while lights from the ceiling blinked. There was a stage with a karaoke machine that wasn't in use. There was also a fully staffed bar.

Sam was a bit surprised, but then she remembered that laws would be different here.

"Can we drink?" she asked.

"If you're sixteen you can get a drink with a meal, which here could just be an order of fries or something." Shiro said. "It's pretty easy to get good drinks here. If you don't want to of course that's okay, I only will if you do and if you'd rather me not-"

"I actually don't mind" She was curious; after all, she had sips of wine before at the temple. She was curious about trying a little more. She was pretty sure she had the good sense not to overdo it, she had always been a bit rebellious, but she didn't resort to 'stupid things' well not usually. She knew the dangers of alcohol, but she also knew it took more than a sip, or even a glass. As long as she was careful nothing bad would happen. He led her to the bar and offered her a seat.

"I'll take a salad and a tropical sunrise" Shiro said. Sam looked over the menu; the drinks all had some very interesting names.

"I'll have a salad and the cider twist," Sam said.

"Keep an eye on your drink" Shiro told her as the barkeeper turned away. "Always keep an eye on your drink at these places, just in case. If you leave it for a long period of time, don't drink it. "Sam nodded.

"I know, It's one of the big things we were told in health class."

"Just making sure, I'm always shocked by girls not knowing this." He said. "Once a girl I was with got her drink spiked…" he went silent and looked away. "I don't want that to happen again."

"Don't worry, Shiro" she said, "I understand you're trying to help but I can take care of myself."

"O-of course" he looked down, abashed. She smiled at him and when he looked up, a bit embarrassed; she was struck by how much he was reminding her of-

Of Danny.

Sweet, maybe a little clueless and such a dork. She remembered what Valerie had said, and wondered, was she really being selfish? Was she stirring up drama, just to distract herself? It made her uneasy and she was grateful when the voice of the bartender pulled her out of it.

"Two salads, two drinks!"

"Oh that's ours" Sam said. She put it out of her mind and allowed herself to enjoy the food and fun atmosphere. The drink was….interesting. A bit strong but rather tasty. The music would change every now and then and the styles of dancing would change as well, to suit the music.

She felt a little more energized and as she finished her salad, more interested in joining them. Shiro was finishing off his drink. A girl nearby waved.

"Toyaka!" she called, coming over. She reached over and pulled him into a headlock. "What are you doing here, you scrawny little git? Got yourself a new girl?" Shiro looked quite uncomfortable and struggled to pull himself free.

"She's ….please…Carly…" the girl smirked at him.

"You look youngish , from that fancy arse school of his then?" she asked. Sam felt annoyed and was already starting to dislike the girl already; she didn't like being referred to as "someone's girl".

"I'm a new student, yeah. Care to let go of my date, he looks pretty uncomfortable." she said. The girl snorted and tightened her grip pressing Shiro toward her chest.

"Pfft. Then you don't know him very well do you? The little pervert loves it like this" she said, "He comes round at least once a week chatting up older birds. I dated him for a bit, tons of fun" She winked and then looked down at him gasping for breath and mussed his hair. Sam felt her temper rising.

"What part of let go do you not understand?" she asked. She wondered how old this girl was, she looked a bit older.

"Look you can just butt out, we're just catching up, aren't we, Toyaka?" she had loosened her grip a bit on Shiro. He still looked very uncomfortable and now red faced. He tried to sputter out something and Carly shoved him away. "That how it is? Get bent, you wanker." Once she was gone Sam leaned down to make sure he was okay.

"You dated her?" He rubbed his head and tried to pull himself up. She got a sudden flash of memory…one that clearly wasn't hers. Shiro was sitting next to a girl crying into her arms. She didn't get a chance to figure what she was saying before she was pulled out of it.

"Yeah….she was….uh lively I guess" Shiro said. "a bit rough though-"

"I'll say" Sam offered him a hand up, "….you really need to learn to assert yourself a bit better. Don't be a doormat for girls like her."

"…no use, arguing with her only got her angrier, and I'd rather not get her like that…"

"Why would you date someone like that?" Sam asked. "No offense…just…I don't – why date someone who has no respect for you?" Shiro looked down and gave a half-shrug.

"I dunno…." He said taking his seat again. He looked up at the bar tender, quietly asking for another. "After some mistakes I made the first time, I was afraid of hurting people, so I suppose I looked for someone who I thought I couldn't hurt…"

"-but when she's hurting you-"

"Carly didn't hurt me" Shiro sounded a bit exasperated, but not as much angry as tired. "Not really...I'm fine, Sam." He grabbed the glass of drink as it was passed to him and took a huge gulp. There was an awkward silence and then Sam ordered another drink as well. There was a part of her that wanted to ask about his past experiences but she brushed it off. She had just met this guy, and well, getting angry about someone's dating or possible sex history was a bit of a jerk move in her opinion. If she didn't like a guy doing it to her, she wasn't about to do it to someone else. Maybe if she would if suspected the guy had mistreated girls but this hardly seemed like the case.

She took a sip of her drink, watching him. Shiro was becoming a bit difficult to read now. There was something he might have done that he regretted, and she suspected it ate him up enough to care more about not hurting someone else than taking care of himself. He reached up and straightened the tufts of hair that had been mussed. A shame, he looked cuter that way, almost like…

Sam shook her head and took another drink. She wasn't going to think about that. She looked down in the drink, half left, she wasn't feeling terribly different. More relaxed though.

"You doing any better?"

"Yeah" he said, finishing off the drink. "Sorry…I didn't plan on having another…just-"

"You don't have to apologize to me, just, don't go overboard. I do hope to do some dancing at some point" she said. He looked up surprised.

"Really?"

"Yeah, this place is a dance club, after all" She finished off the last of her drink and then pulled herself up. "Come on, this sounds like a good song." She led him out onto the dance floor. They danced alongside each other, Shiro looking somewhat unsure of what he was doing. It was a different experience than the typical school dance, like a huge electronic rock concert. Sometimes they danced next to each other and sometimes they danced together.

When they danced together, well Sam learned that Shiro did seem to have some skills in dance, because he seemed to know a lot of the traditional tricks dips and twirls enough to put a modern spin on them. At one point she caught another memory, this time a happier one. Shiro was with two other kids around the same age, they appeared to be a trio much like herself, Danny and Tucker. There was a boy with sandy blonde hair, and a brunette with two long curled strands of hair on either side of her face, and she looked like a few of the kind of girls Sam had hung out with in the 7th grade Earth Club, though more hipster than goth. The three of them looked young, probably about eleven. The memory was simple, just the three of the laying in the grass outside some sort of fair, and it was gone as suddenly as it came.

"Are you –"whatever Shiro was about to say got cut off when someone cut in, pushing him away. It was a tall burly young man, a Dash type, Sam realized.

"Piss off, won't you, pretty boy?" Not this again. Thankfully, this time Shiro looked like he was prepared to fight back. "She's way out of your league."

"Hey" Sam pulled her arm away. "I was actually dancing with him because you know, he has manners. "

"Yeah well his last bird can tell you that I'm a lot more fun." He leered, leaning closer to her. He was getting dangerously close, so she leaned forward to give him a good shove backwards.

"I don't care, I'm not interested." Before the jerk could do anything she hurried over to Shiro. "You okay?"

"Yeah I'm fine…" he fixed a glare at the guy. "Did he –"

"I'm fine" she said. The guy pulled himself back up and for a moment he looked like an enraged bull.

"Gold digging slag." He muttered. "Come back to me when you want a man."

"I already have one" Sam said coldly. She turned to Shiro, "How about you?"

"Mneh, all right." He straightened his jacket, "Takes a bit more than that to properly rough me up. Why don't we give it a break? "

"Sure, but let's not totally call it quits just on his account. Maybe we can get a dessert to share?" she asked.

"Eh…sure…though, I'm not that fond of chocolate…so..." he started leading them back. She looked over the list of desserts, they all looked pretty good but the special of the day, Hot Crème ala Mode, didn't sound like it had much chocolate.

"We'll take the special of the day" What happened after that was a little blurry but from what Sam remembered it was pretty fun. They finished the dessert, both oddly giddy and giggling after (Shiro knew some funny, if not always appropriate jokes) and returned to the dance floor.

Somewhere near the end, they were on their way out when the jerk from earlier tried something. Sam wasn't quite feeling herself but she vividly remembered and enraged hiss Shiro attacking the bigger guy as he grabbed her waist. Afterwards they were out in the parking lot and she was oddly calm, unusually calm even while he panicked and ran his hands through his hair muttering 'they saw me shift'.

"Nobody noticed…and nobody cares." She told him, "You fought a guy to help me…if you ask me, that's something to be proud of."

"Y-you think?"

"Definitely." Ira picked them up again and in the back seat, a stare turned into one kiss which led to a lot of kissing before Shiro pulled back panicking again. It took Sam a bit to realize what had happened, she had gone overboard, and gotten drunk. She was pretty sure it was after the dessert. It must have had something in it. Shiro was nervous the entire way back, she could hear his wheezy breathing and the mantra of 'He's going to kill me'. She did what she could to calm him down, though admittedly neither of them were are their best.

What a disaster.

Danielle had never had so much caffeine in her body, and for the first portion of the night she felt like she couldn't stop moving. She and Jazz talked, did each other's fingers and toes, albeit Jazz's were quite a tad sloppy, and sang along to the songs on the concert DVD Jazz had put in-bringing Valerie into the madness before the sugar crash set in. She managed to stay up for half of The Little Mermaid before falling asleep.

She would regret the movie choice a bit.

Sometime during the night Dani had a dream, a horrible and strange nightmare where she was trying desperately to get to the Fentons, turned into a mermaid instead of a ghost for some strange reason, and tried to run away from a demonic Vlad Plasmius who carried a powerful pitchfork. She tried desperately to paddle to Danny and Jazz, to be saved while Vlad's pitchfork blasts slowly melted her. Just as she almost got to the Fentons, one last blast reduced her to slowly melting goo.

"Danny…I'm sorry…

As she slowly died the last thing she heard was Vlad's words "You'll never escape where you came from, Danielle."

She awoke shaking and only realized she was crying when she felt the salt on her lips. It was the middle of the night people all around her were sleeping. She took a few deep breaths. ' It was just a dream…just a dream' she told herself.

"Dani?" Jazz sleepily looked up.

"…I-I'm fine" Sniff. Jazz got up anyway and walked over.

"You're crying…what was it…" Jazz reached over and turned the bedside lamp on. "Did you have a nightmare?"

"Yeah…kinda" Dani said, wiping her face. Jazz pulled her close.

"I'm sorry, I should have guessed you wouldn't react well to so much caffeine so suddenly" she said. Dani shook her head, sniffling.

"It's not your fault…I have dreams about him sometimes" she said. She didn't like admitting it but she knew if anyone would understand Jazz would. Slowly she recounted the whole dream. "a-and I just..melted…even though the ec-ecto stuff Danny gave me was supposed to work" Jazz pulled away for a moment shocked.

"Danny gave you ecto-dejecto?"

"Yeah…it saved my life." Dani said. "I'm not sure how…but"

"Huh…" Jazz said pulling close again. "Well, I promise you, we won't let that creep touch you again and if you're ever sick just tell me right away." Dani nodded.

"I know…I know it worked. I've done all sorts of stunts over the last m-month and I still haven't melted" she sniffed, "It's still scary to dream about –" Jazz held her close until she fell back to sleep. 'Vlad is far away, Vlad is far away and I'm never going to melt again' Dani told herself.

A/N: There's chapter 8 done. And if anyone's weirded out by the whole dream thing I tend to remember a lot of my dreams and trust me they are that weird sometimes. Dreams are a place where anything can happen and it always seems to make sense at the time, even when it really shouldn't. Next chapter is going to be a big Sam chapter, where she goes to lunch with the other Strykes. More things will be revealed.