Sorry for the delay in updates, preparing for finals and stuff. 'Tis the season.

Okay, so, I've been doing my homework on this zombie fic. I've watched Zombieland approximately 9123409123987 times, I've read the three The Enemy books available in America a million times, and I'm in the middle of my first read-through of World War Z. I've watched the preview for WWZ about 900 times, along with the preview for Warm Bodies. I've literally been drowning in zombies for the last week, and that's just in my down time.

With that being said, I've...er...borrowed a few elements from those other mediums in this chapter. I'll do a more specific disclaimer in the footnote, because I don't want to give anything away about this chapter up here, but I don't own certain terms and ideas used in this chapter, along with any of the characters you recognize.

Rather low-grade graphic live-action kill scenes in this chapter. Be aware.

I don't own Danny Phantom. Enjoy.


Wide Awake

Chapter Four

December 3, 2012


For several moments, Danny could not move. He merely stared, his knees digging into the dirt road, as Valerie attempted to make him respond. It was too much for his mind to process; for over a year, he wandered the United States, coming close to the borders of Mexico and Canada multiple times, because he was convinced there was nothing for him on the ground, just to be told by his ex-girlfriend of all people that his best friends were alive the entire time.

"Take me to them." He said, his voice hollow and hoarse.

"Get up, then." Valerie said. Danny scrambled to his feet immediately, his eyes flickering from blue to green as he did. Valerie took a cautious step back, her own eyes widening at the action, but she did not comment. She shook her head and gestured down the dirt road. "It's this way."

"Where are we?" Danny asked, desperately trying to keep his nerves out of his voice.

"Clifton, Texas." She said, her eyes on the horizon.

"How did you guys end up in Texas?" He asked, incredulity evident in his tone.

"We knew Paulina's folks had property out here, and she mentioned there was a bit of a cliff within the property, so...we struck out for the ranch." She heaved a great sigh. "'El lindo relajo.' Know what it means?" Danny winced and shook his head. "It's Spanish. It means 'a beautiful mess.' It's the name of the ranch."

"And Tucker and Sam are on the ranch?" Danny asked.

"Yep. Everyone is. We've been there for about nine months."

"Where were you guys for the first three?"

It was Valerie's turn to wince. "Um...here and there. We drifted for a while. We weren't really sure what we were doing, we were just...trying to stay alive. Y'know, surviving. We...we lost a lot of people back then." Her eyes were clouded and fixated on something Danny could not see. "It was really, really hard for a while. We were just trying to take it day by day, y'know? It was after about a month that Paulina said something about her ranch."

"Paulina's here?" Danny interrupted.

Valerie shook her head. "Not anymore."

The silence between them was nearly palpable. Danny swallowed hard.

"Look," Valerie glanced at him, her eyes still cautious. "I need to know right now if you're planning on staying with us. There's work that needs to be done if you are, we're gonna have to take an extra mouth into consideration when we're gathering food, and we're gonna have to find another bed, and fit you in with the rest of the barracks..."

"I'm gonna stay." Danny said firmly. "And don't worry about sleep, I'll just bunk with Sam and Tucker. As for food...what?"

Valerie was eyeing him uneasily at his words. "Um...I don't know if sleeping with Tucker and Sam is such a good idea, Danny."

"What do you mean?" He asked, his steps faltering. "Why isn't it a good idea?"

"Look...they're really not the same people they were before. They're not the same Tucker and Sam. They've been through a lot...and they've been operating for the last year under the impression that you're...dead. They...they're different, okay?"

"They can't be that different," Danny said, shaking his head. "I mean, yeah, I would expect a change, a major change, but it's not like they won't be happy to see me, right?"

Valerie was silent, her face still creased in uncertainty. "Honestly, I don't know how they're going to react. They're sort of...unpredictable now. Sometimes they react exactly the way I am expecting them to react, and then other times...they do the complete opposite of what I'm planning on. I can't tell you either way what they're going to do, but I can say with absolute certainty that, at least at first, you shouldn't plan on sleeping with them."

"Well it's not like the cots aren't going to be all together...right?" Danny asked hopefully.

"Um...okay, first of all, you've never even seen this ranch, so..." She sighed. "Most of our group does sleep in one central location, with the exceptions of me, Tucker, and Sam. I have my own room. Tucker and Sam share a room. Everyone else...well, they like to sleep outside."

Danny pushed the alarm he felt away, choosing to focus on Valerie. "How did you get your own room?"

"It was my dad's. But he's not with us anymore." Her eyes glazed over again. "He...um...he left."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Danny extended his hand and squeezed Valerie's shoulder, which she responded to with a weak smile.

"It's okay. The messed up thing about it is that it actually happens pretty often." She shook her head, sighed again, and turned her head back to the horizon. The road was beginning to curve to the left and the escalation was beginning to rise, along with Danny's heartbeat. "We're getting close."

"So...so Tucker and Sam share a room, huh?" Danny tried to keep his voice even. He saw Valerie shoot him a look, confirming that he had given himself away.

"Yeah. And I know what you're next question is gonna be. No, they aren't, but they act like they are."

"What?"

"They're not dating. They're not romantically involved in any way. At all. But they act like they are. Kind of like you and Manson used to act."

For some reason, Danny felt a savage wave of jealousy wash through him at her words. "Sam and I...we basically were dating before the Event. I never ever would have admitted it to anyone back then, but we were. How do you know that they aren't -"

"Because Tucker and I are involved."

"Involved? What does that -"

"We have sex, okay? We do it from time to time. He's interested in me, not her. I can guarantee it. They just...that night, they lost everyone they cared about, including you. They felt like the only thing they had left besides the clothes on their backs was each other. And for a while, that's how they acted. They wouldn't fight, they wouldn't even leave the bunker. They just clung to each other in the corner and Sam cried. She cried for, like, two weeks straight. It was really freaking weird. I had never seen her cry before. But then one day they went from 'you're the only thing I have left' to 'you're the only thing I have to lose.' And, Jesus Christ, did they act like it."

"Could...could you please explain what you mean?" Danny asked slowly, closing his eyes and trying to calm his breathing.

"They became a team. At first, they went out and fought and stayed side-by-side the entire time. One never let the other out of their sights. And then they started working together, playing off of each other as they fought. And now..."

Valerie paused, her eyes squinted and fixed on a spot in the distance. They were at the top of a rather shallow hill, offering the perfect vantage point to scan the horizon, which is exactly what Danny did. He was met with a rather intimidating cliff a few miles south east of where they stood, shrouded with thick green foliage. It protruded rather boldly from the otherwise flat lands around them. The sun was starting its' decent, throwing the scene into an intensified light.

"You hear that?" Valerie asked. Danny held his breath and listened carefully. At first, the only sound that reached him was the wind stirring the dust up at his feet and tickling the branches of the trees some feet off to his right. But then, just barely discernible through the silence, he heard a strange electronic chord progression echoing across a great distance to them.

"Is that music?" Danny asked, turning to Valerie and cocking an eyebrow.

"Yep. It's our signal. The Zack Bowl is starting."

"I'm sorry?"

"Can you fly us to that cliff over there?" Valerie pointed to the cliff. "I'll explain when we get there, but we need to hurry if we're gonna catch the beginning."

Without another word, Danny lifted Valerie by the armpits and raced across the wide field that separated them from the cliff. He scanned the ground beneath them as they soared, searching for signs of life. He found none.

The music was much louder by the time they reached the gates of the property. The fence was only a series of three parallel poles, easily accessible to the undead. Danny soared over, clearing his throat as they passed the front gates. Valerie rolled her eyes and gestured impatiently toward the cliff.

At the very edge, Danny could see lights flashing and dancing, moving like a fire. As they neared, he realized it was a fire, a huge twisting bonfire, coupled with human legs rushing past the fire to reach...

"Where are they going?" Danny asked, shouting over the wind.

"To the Bowl. The Sanchez family had a small soccer stadium built out here when Paulina was five and thought she wanted to be a professional soccer player. We converted it into the Zack Bowl. Let us down here."

Danny lowered them to the ground, his eyes wide as he flashed to Fenton. The trees and brush were thick where they stood, but it did not conceal the movement of at least fifty people making their way into a sizeable stadium, built right there in the trees. Valerie chuckled at his open-mouthed look of shock, before brushing past him. "C'mon, they're about to start, and I have to make the announcements."

He followed Valerie closely as she weaved through the crowd toward the entrance. Two large men that Danny had never seen before flanked the entrance of the stadium, their faces masks of curiosity as they took in Danny's appearance. For the first time since the Event, Danny wondered what he looked like. He wondered how wild his face was, or his hair, or clothes, after roaming the country for a year.

"He's with me." Valerie said as she breezed past the guards. They let Danny pass without comment, though he could feel their eyes on his back as he retreated. Valerie opened a side door, away from the large ramp the crowd was currently filing up, and gestured for Danny to go ahead of her.

The door gave way to a short hallway, darkened with shadows, that ended with another doorway. Danny opened it cautiously and found a rather long ladder bolted to the walls. Valerie slipped past him, gave him a reassuring smile, and began to climb up the ladder. Danny sighed and followed, wondering whether or not he should just leave and find Sam and Tucker himself.

"You're not gonna want to try to find them, now." Valerie said as they climbed. "They're getting ready for the Bowl. They hate being interrupted when they're getting ready for the Bowl."

"What is the Bowl?" Danny huffed. Valerie ignored him, shoving a trap door open. He growled as she crawled through it and disappeared, stepping up his pace to keep up with her.

The trap door opened to the center of a small announcer's booth. Valerie was already settled in the left chair, straightening a stack of papers on a desk cluttered with electronics as Danny carefully closed the trap door and collapsed in the right chair. "The Zack Bowl is a competition we do every week. It's one of the only things that keeps us sane."

"What is it?" Danny asked, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.

"Well if you would let me finish, I would tell you!" Valerie snapped. "The Zack Bowl is something we came up with about five months ago. We were all getting antsy. You know, at first, we were just happy we found somewhere that kept us completely safe. That whole theory about zombies not being able to climb is...it's absolutely one-hundred percent true. They can't get up here. And for a long time, we were really happy that we were finally safe. But after a while...well, we were getting bored. Not everyone goes out to gather up food. In fact, most don't. So they were getting really, really bored, and when the world is ending, the last thing you want to worry about is the survivors getting bored."

"Do you have any idea how insane you sound right now?" Danny asked, his disbelief obvious in his face.

Valerie huffed. "I know. We really didn't mean for it to turn into such a huge production, but...I don't know, it just happened. The gatherers started this thing, they called it the Zack Kill of the Week."

"What's a Zack?"

"It's our term for zombie. Sam started calling them Zacks after Lars left us and the accident happened."

"...I have so many questions from that sentence alone," Danny massaged his temples. "Finish telling me about the Bowl, then, and I'll ask those later."

Valerie snorted. "Anyways, we started the Zack Kill of the Week, and whoever killed a Zack the most creative way won for the week. It was a joke, something to keep the situation at least a little light. Well, we kept talking about the Kills of the Week, and it was after Sam and Tucker dropped a fucking piano on this poor bastard Zack that the rest of the group demanded that they see the Zack Kills of the Week, and that they be the judges of the whole thing. Of course, it's really really dangerous to move our entire group out into the open just so they can be apart of some silly contest a few of us made up, so we had to think of a way to let them be involved without putting them in any real danger.

"Using the stadium was Tucker's idea. Up until then, this was nothing but a gigantic waste of space. A few Zacks get in to our land on a daily basis, so a few of us go out and round them all up and keep them in this sealed storage unit the Sanchez's have at the bottom of the hill. Every week, on Friday afternoon, Sam and Tucker hook that storage unit to the back of the truck and haul those Zacks up here to the stadium, and every Friday night our entire group gathers in the stadium and watches us kill a bunch of Zacks." She sighed, glancing out the window toward the sizable crowd now lounging on the benches raised eight feet above the stadium, which was flooded with artificial light. "I know it's stupid, and I know it's absolutely insane, but...it's killing Zacks and it's keeping the group happy. That's my main goal."

Danny chewed on the inside of his cheek. "I guess." He said uncertainly. "Do Tucker and Sam fight?"

"Please," Valerie scoffed. "They're the fan favorites. They're part of the team division, but they're the freaking main event around here. Everyone loves watching Tuck and Sam kill Zacks." Valerie glanced at the clock mounted on the wall to her left, which read six o'seven, straightened in her chair, and dragged a small microphone toward her place. "I'll answer all of your questions right after the Bowl. No phasing out. Let them win this fair and square, got it?"

Danny nodded. Valerie cleared her throat and flipped a small switch on the base of the microphone stand. "It's that time again," She sang, her voice echoing across the stadium. The crowd cheered, many jumping to their feet in their enthusiasm. "Y'all know who's up first, give him a little love!"

The crowd renewed their energy as a metallic garage-like door rattled up, allowing a short, pudgy man to jog out from the shadowy tunnel. Valerie flipped the microphone off as the boy jogged to the center of the field, smiling and waving at the crowd. "That's Lester. Recognize him?"

"Holy crap." Danny breathed. His eyes darted from Lester to the crowd. "They're going insane."

"This isn't even half the noise they're gonna make when Tuck and Sam come out." She flipped the switch back on. "Alright, Lester, let's see whatcha got..."

She flipped the microphone off and leaned back, her eyes ablaze with excitement as another metallic door opposite the one Lester emerged from rattled open. Danny watched in horror as a zombie twice the size of Lester came shuffling out, its' arms stiff and raised as it tried to rush at the only reachable human on the field. Lester dodged the creature easily, and even from the distance Danny could see a look of grim excitement on his old classmate's face.

"Before Plague Z, there was Friday night football." Valerie paused as Lester's foot swiped out at the zombie's knees, causing the creature's legs to buckle, sending it crashing to the ground. The crowd cheered savagely. "Now, we have Friday night Zack attacks."

Danny could not find his voice. It died there in his throat as Lester planted one foot on the creature's neck, holding the beast down, before swinging his other foot back. His toe connected to the back of the zombie's head, and Danny could easily see the skull cave in around Lester's foot. The crowd's cheers were reaching deafening levels as Lester raised his arms in victory.

"Nice." Valerie chuckled. She flipped the switch on the microphone. "Excellent, dude, as usual. Let's hear it one more time for good ol' Lester." She paused, giving the audience enough time to cheer again.

This went on for some time, as one after another single men and women braved the field and killed zombies for sport. Danny saw zombies lose their heads to a chainsaw, an axe, garden clippers, and edgers. One girl even managed to kill a zombie using a banjo ("Aw, man, I loved that banjo!" Valerie shouted into the microphone as the instrument splintered and broke into several pieces). The sun was fully below the horizon, the only source of light being the floodlights above the stadium, when Valerie finally made the announcement that it was time for the teams division.

"And, as we all know, Clarissa sprained her ankle last week, which leaves the only functioning team Tucker and Sam, so...I guess...they win by default! Which means no more kills tonight! Everybody go home!"

She paused, giggling lightly at the sounds of protest rising up from the audience. "Aw, c'mon," She choked into the microphone. "You know I wouldn't do that to y'all!"

She flipped the microphone off as the loudest cheer yet rose from the bleachers. The garage door rattled open again, and for a moment, there was absolutely no movement. Danny realized he was perched on the edge of his seat, gripping the desk so hard his knuckles were white. What's taking them so long?

The thought had barely formed in his mind when a sudden burst of movement made him jump. A large red RV burst forth from the confines of the tunnel. Two figures straddled the RV, dressed in all black and topped with two shining black helmets. As they drove in a wide circle around the edge of the field, Danny could easily recognize them and tell the two apart, even after nearly thirteen months of separation.

Tucker slowed down long enough for Sam to slide of the back of the RV. She landed in a roll as he drove away, stopping herself in a defensive crouch as the crowd went wild. She straightened, but made no acknowledgement of the crowd. Her helmet was thick, concealing her face, but Danny could feel her scanning the audience. He felt her eyes dart over the announcers box, and he wondered if she could see a second figure next to Valerie.

"They don't really need an introduction, so...y'know, kill some Zacks and stuff, y'all."

The second garage door rattled open, and Danny could see Sam's entire body stiffening as she turned to the opening. Over the swell of noise from the audience, he could barely hear the sounds of the RV's engine revving as Tucker prepared. He had to remind himself how to breathe.

Three zombies came tearing out of the hallway, obviously freshly turned and not yet in the rigor mortis stages of decay. Tucker revved the engine almost violently, drawing their attention toward him, which was apparently exactly what he wanted them to do. As the three zombies lurched toward him, Sam took off at a sprint, her legs and arms pumping to propel herself forward. Tucker accelerated just as the zombies reached him, earning three ear-piercing howls from the zombies and shouts of approval from the audience. The zombies tripped over themselves as they attempted to follow, giving Sam enough time to catch up to them. She whipped a thin stick-looking object out from beneath her shirt and rammed it into one of the zombie's neck, yanking up violently. The zombie's head split in half, sending the creature falling to the ground with a dull finality. Sam whirled around as the audience cheered, her focus on the snarling zombie that stayed behind.

Danny barely registered the sounds of Tucker running the other zombie over with the RV as Sam and her zombie slowly paced in a wide circle, keeping an equal distance between each other. His heart was about to burst with anticipation when finally, something happened.

Sam suddenly took off across the field, earning another swell of sound from the audience. The zombie was close on her heels, and for a moment Danny could swear the thing had a hold of Sam's shirt. But she slipped away, curving into a large, lazy arc as she ran. He was so absorbed in watching Sam's every move that he did not register Tucker looping around to ride beside Sam.

He finally recognized that Tucker was coming to Sam's rescue, though, when the boy pulled in slightly in front of Sam and stretched his arm back to her. To Danny's astonishment, Sam seized his arm with her left arm, reaching back with her right to pull out another concealed weapon. She held the bat-like weapon by the thicker end of the stick, latching on to Tucker's arm with both hands.

Tucker yanked her forward, but instead of pulling her onto the RV behind him, he kept swinging his arm around. Sam used the momentum, adding to it by planting her feet on the hood of the RV and pushing, to swing all the way around Tucker. She was catapulted back toward the zombie, her feet not even touching the ground, as she raised the bat.

In one fluid motion, she swung the bat using her full body weight and connected with the zombie's head. The creature collapsed as Sam tumbled to the ground, rolling along the field. Her helmet came off, offering Danny his first look at her face. He was too far away to really make out any details, other than her midnight black hair was far longer than he remembered. It was tied back in a loose braid, but he could see it reached about mid-way down her upper arms. She was pulling herself to her feet amid the deafening roar from the audience as Tucker pulled in beside her and yanked his own helmet off.

"Jesus, I think we know who the winner is," Valerie muttered into the microphone. "Congrats, guys, now get outta here."

The audience was packing up and moving toward the exits as Valerie shut the microphone off. "So, whaddya think?" She asked.

Danny did not answer right away. He was watching Tucker and Sam moving across the field, their arms around each other, talking and laughing. He swallowed hard. "I think I want to go see them. Now."

Valerie did not move. "Let's give them enough time to get down to the locker room and change. They're not gonna want to see anyone until they've showered and everything and...I have a feeling that as soon as they see you...they're gonna forget about everything else. At least, for a while. Here, ask me a question, and I'll answer it, and then we can go down."

"Who was Lars talking about when he said 'tell midnight I'm waiting for her?'"

Valerie swallowed. "Ask me another question."

"Why did Lars leave?"

"Um...next?"

Danny exhaled noisily through his nose. "Why does Sam call zombies Zacks?"

"She was nearly killed by a zombie wearing a name tag with the name Zack on it."

"Was she involved in the accident you mentioned earlier?"

"That was the accident I mentioned earlier. We got careless, Tucker, Sam, and I, and we got trapped down in this basement by a bunch of Zacks. Sam was bracing the door, Tucker was trying to pry this emergency exit open, and I...was video taping the entire thing."

"D'you still have the tapes?"

Valerie nodded.

"I want to see them."

"Before or after you talk to Tucker and Sam?"

Danny paused, deliberating. "Before."

"Let's go, then."


Zacks - This term for zombies was borrowed from World War Z, from the chapter titled The Great Panic, in Todd Wainio's account, which is the last account recorded in that chapter. He never explains why he calls them Zacks, though, so I made that part up.

[Zombie] Kill of the Week - from Zombieland, obviously.

Next chapter should be up within the week. Keep an eye on it. Again, rating will probably change.

Thanks for reading!

- Tori