Disclaimer: Butch Hartman created Danny and friends, Nickelodeon owns them. I don't even get a little of the credit. Or the money, sadly.

Rating: T for occasional language

Warnings, pairings, and spoilers: Post-canon. Canon character depicted as gay. DxS, TxV, Jazz x OC, but no romance or slash.

This story fits into the events from my fic Ghosts in the Closet. It's a stand-alone, but it basically follows about six months after chapter eight, "Dash," foreshadows the events of Closet, touches on the same themes, that sort of thing. Kind of like a companion story that fleshes out Dash's character arc a little bit. It also refers to events from chapters 20, 21, and 27, "Thicker Than Water, Parts I and II" and "The Ring, Part II," so spoilers for that, if spoilers for another fic count as a "warning."

Another important thing to know for this story is that Danny's identity is not common knowledge. Since there was no media present when he revealed himself in Phantom Planet, there's nothing to say the people who were there didn't agree to keep it to themselves. Think Spider-Man 2 train scene.

Acknowledgments: As always, I couldn't do this without my fabulous beta testers, Dragondancer5150 and Lunnaei. Well, I could, but it would have a lot less readable. You ladies rock!

Karma's a Bitch

How did I get here?

It wasn't the first time in the past six months he'd asked himself that question. He was, after all, Dash Baxter. Football star. King of Casper High. The world was supposed to have been his oyster for at least another decade. Quarterback at Notre Dame. First—or at worst, second—round draft pick in the NFL. Money, fame, maybe a high-end athletic shoe named after him.

So how did he end up in the basement lab of FentonWorks helping its proprietor do maintenance work on a spaceship-looking vehicle he'd invented for flying through the Ghost Zone?

It was a rhetorical question, of course. He knew exactly how. Red-shirted his entire freshman year at Notre Dame until the very last game of the season against USC, and his entire career, his entire future, was over with one sack that tore through his Medial Meniscus and the ACL and MCL ligaments in his right knee—the dreaded "terrible triad"—and that was that. Notre Dame opted not to give him a medical exemption, and it was buh-bye, scholarship. Buh-bye, NFL. Buh-bye, Nike Dash shoes.

Didn't help matters that he'd picked that exact point in his life, when he was reevaluating his entire plan for the future, to come out. Dash Baxter, gay. So not part of the Notre-Dame-NFL-Nike-Shoes plan, but since that was dust anyway, what the hell was the point of hiding it anymore?

Well, his old man kicking him out, for one, which pretty much ended any chance of college funds from that quarter. Although truth was, with the A Plan pretty much his only plan, there wasn't much point to staying in college, either.

And so he'd ended up... here. Gay security guard for a ghost-hunting lab and all-around gofer to the nut job dad of the kid he used to beat up in high school because he lived in a ghost-hunting lab and had a nut job dad. Couldn't get further away from Notre Dame and the NFL if he'd been abducted by aliens and transported to another galaxy. Hell, that would have once seemed more likely to him than... this.

"Hello? You in there, Dashster?"

He blinked. "Oh, yeah. Sorry Mr. F. What did you need?"

His boss gave him a searching look. "You know, you didn't have to work late tonight. I coulda got Danny to help me out when he got home. Or Jazz's boyfriend. He's not so bad with the mechanical stuff."

Dash arched his eyebrow. "Uh, sure, if by 'not so bad' you mean he's a freakin' mechanical engineering genius."

Mr. Fenton waved away the correction. "He can hold his own with a tool box. The point is, you didn't have to stay late. You must have something better to do on a Saturday night?"

For a usually oblivious, absent-minded professor type, the guy did have his moments where he was pretty perceptive. Affecting the casual air that had kept him top of the A-List in high school, Dash brushed away his boss's concern. "Nah. Nothing much for me to do tonight."

It wasn't a lie, not really. Sure, Kwan was having his huge end-of-summer blowout bash tonight, the party-to-end-all-parties (until next year, at least), and sure, he'd been invited. But the thought of going didn't much appeal to him. Kwan was still his best bud, and there were a few people who'd be there, like Paulina, and maybe Brendon or Chris, who weren't complete homophobic douches, but even the ones who weren't didn't have a lot of use for a washed-up ex quarterback, not when they still had their scholarships and their careers and their athletic shoe sponsorships ahead of them.

Besides, he couldn't think of anything more depressing than listening to his old high school gang talking about getting ready for their junior year of college, or pre-season training camp, or any of the other things that made him feel more acutely the loss of the life he was supposed to have had.

Mr. Fenton tilted his head, considering Dash's answer. "You coulda gone out with Danny and his friends. I know he asked you to join them."

Dash winced. Fenton had turned out to be a sorta cool dude, and they'd managed to strike up something of a friendship in the six months or so since Dash had started working for his parents. Which said a lot more about Fenton than it did about him, considering how he had always made the guy a special target back in high school. But Fenton had turned out to be pretty forgiving—more forgiving than Dash probably could have managed if the situation had been reversed. Hell, they'd even gotten to the point where he could mangle his name at every opportunity, calling him Fen-toenail or Fen-toid or whatever else popped into his head at the moment, just like he used to, only as sort of friendly banter instead of the taunts they once were.

But Fenton and his BFFs Sam Manson, Tucker Foley, and Valerie Gray were pretty tight and, in some ways, even more cliquish than the high school A-List used to be. While it was true he'd invited Dash to hang with them at the Nasty Burger for their own good-bye to summer before the four of them headed back to Purdue Calumet next week, there was just something about hanging with them that made Dash feel like he was always the odd man out.

Not because of any lingering resentment from high school. At least, he didn't think that was it. It was more like... like they knew something Dash didn't. Some special secret to which Dash wasn't privy. Probably had something to do with the ghost-fighting, or with Danny Phantom, who seemed to have some sort of connection to FentonWorks and, sometimes it seemed, to Fenton and his friends in particular. But it went deeper than just that, and every time Dash was with them, no matter how nice they were, no matter how well he felt like he was getting along with them, he still felt like an outsider.

How was that for irony? Him, an outsider from a group he'd once considered some of the biggest losers of Casper High. Manson would probably say karma's a bitch, and she was probably right, but Dash Baxter was nobody's tag-along or pity invite.

He again adopted his breezy, A-list-star-quarterback air. "Eh, you know how the four of them are, all couple-y and junk. You need an insulin shot for all those puppy dog eyes between the lot of 'em." That was stretching it a bit. Neither Manson nor Valerie were much the hearts-and-flowers types and were as likely to kill their boyfriends as kiss them if they tried too much PDA, but it worked as an explanation for Mr. F.

"I thought you had a..." Mr. Fenton wrinkled his nose in confusion. "... what do you guys call it, anyway? A boyfriend? Partner?"

Dash bit back a grin. The guy was blunt and clueless, but it was an honest clueless. There was no malice or judgment behind his lack of knowledge about gay relationships and what terminology to use. For not the first time, Dash wished his own dad were more like Mr. F. "Boyfriend'll work. And no, I don't. I was dating someone for a while, but it wasn't too serious, and we broke up a couple weeks ago."

"Oh, sorry to hear that."

Dash shrugged. "No big. Like I said, it wasn't too serious."

Nodding, Mr. Fenton reached for a wrench out of his tool kit. "Well, I appreciate the help getting the Speeder ship-shape, but I didn't want you to feel like you had to work late."

"No problem. And the overtime doesn't hurt."

Mr. Fenton wrinkled his nose. "Doesn't hurt you, maybe..."

Dash ignored the complaint. Although Mr. Fenton would occasionally gripe about overtime—and every other expense that went along with having a full-time employee, since FentonWorks had always been just him and Mrs. Fenton until they hired Dash back in January—he knew the Fentons both liked having him around as much as he was willing to be there. Ghosts were a hot-button political issue, and it was a presidential election year, so Mr. and Mrs. Fenton were both pretty twitchy—

A pounding from upstairs caused Mr. Fenton to jump and drop his wrench. Frowning, he looked up toward the ceiling of the lab outside the Speeder. "Is that the front door? Who would be coming by at this hour?" He looked at a clock on the wall. "Almost ten o'clock. Maddie and the girls should be getting home about now. Maybe her house key got separated from the car keys?"

The pounding continued, more insistent, and Mr. Fenton heaved his massive bulk out of the Speeder and headed toward an intercom system built into the wall of the lab. Thumbing the TALK button, he spoke into the speaker. "That you, sweet cheeks? You lose the house key?"

He released the TALK button, and the speaker crackled. "Jack Fenton? Federal agents. Open up."

His entire body stiffened, and Dash was reminded sometimes there was a reason the Fentons were twitchy. Hopping out of the vehicle's side hatch, he asked his boss, "You want me to get rid of 'em?"

Mr. F. pursed his lips, considering a moment, before shaking his head. "No, I've got this." He pressed the TALK button again. "What do you want?"

"We need to talk to you and your family."

He bristled at the mention of his family. "What about?"

"Fenton, open up, or we're coming in. Now."

"Hold your horses. I'm down in the basement. Give me a minute to get upstairs."

"You've got half a minute."

His jaw tightened and he almost seemed to forget Dash was there as he began muttering to himself. "Damned anti-ghost Gestapo. Why can't they leave my family the hell alone?"

"You want me to go up there with you, Mr. F.? Stare 'em down, make sure they don't cross the line?"

"They always cross the line. It's what they do." He narrowed his eyes. "No. It's better if they don't know you're here. See if you can get a hold of Maddie, give her a heads up. Danny, too... although I'm not expecting him before midnight. He and his friends always stay out late. Better to find out what's going on before you call him. If I bring them into the kitchen, you can listen in at the stairs, assess the situation. Once you know what they want, you can call Danny."

Dash nodded, suddenly glad his minor bout of depression had kept him at work instead of going off to Kwan's party. Because if there was one thing he understood about his job, it's that this was exactly what he'd been hired for. Not the stuff in his official job description, which was a lot of blather about lab security, protection of intellectual property, and other such mundane corporate concerns that the Fentons actually didn't seem to care about all that much.

No, this was his real job, the job behind the one they put down on paper, the one no one had ever spelled out, but he'd picked up on pretty early in the game, reading the signals the way he used to read an opposing team's defense and adjust his plays accordingly, and it pretty much boiled down to one thing: keep the grunts from the government's ghost-hunting agency, known around these parts as the Guys in White, away from Danny Fenton.

He didn't know why, and he didn't care. Well, okay, he sorta did care. It was weird, this thing with the feds and Fenton. Weird because it didn't extend to his older sister, Jazz, but it did extend to his cousin, Danielle, the two tons of sass packed into a hundred-and-twenty pounds of girl who had started living with the family sometime around Dash's and Fenton's senior year of high school. Sure, she had some health problems, something that knocked the wind out of her sails every so often, but that didn't explain her guardians' issue with the feds.

Weird, too, because they weren't the only ones who got nervous whenever the feds were around. Jazz, Foley, Manson, even Valerie—they all seemed to close ranks around Fenton and his cousin around the Guys in White. Not enough that they noticed, brain trusts that they were, but enough for Dash to figure out pretty quick that that was the real reason he'd been hired, to somehow be a wall of muscle between them and Fenton.

And most of all, it was weird because it was the only thing that did seem to worry his folks. They lived in a house with a freakin' ghost portal, for cryin' out loud, but that didn't bother them at all. Hell, the old man took an almost creepy delight in sending his son, daughter, cousin-slash-ward, and any and all of their friends out chasing after ghosts with nothing more than some jury-rigged ecto-whatsits that he'd cooked up days before and had only half tested.

But let the feds show up, and it was Threat Level Red around FentonWorks.

It wasn't Dash's job to care why, though. He wasn't the quarterback anymore, the guy with the radio in his helmet who got all the instructions direct from the coach and knew the reasoning behind every play and why and when it should be called. Fenton was the quarterback now. Which sorta made sense, since he was the one who was probably going to inherit this whole crazy lab—lock, stock, and ghost portal. And sometimes he seemed to really get ghosts in a way even his folks didn't.

So, Fenton was the quarterback of Team FentonWorks, and his dad was the coach, which made Dash the guard, now. Maybe the offensive tackle, depending on the day. But either way, it was his job to protect the quarterback, period. Not to ask questions about why this particular quarterback seemed to be a more special snowflake regarding that particular white-suited defensive line. No. It was do his job, guard the quarterback, and don't ask questions.

And that's exactly what he intended to do.