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maybe one day I'll be home again

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 It’s a robbery. Just a plain old robbery at the 7-11 on the corner of Jacob and Marley, no ghosts involved at all. Just some guy with shaky hands and a gun. It’s like the opening out of one those crime shows there’s fifteen ripoffs of on TV; idiot teen steps in front of loaded gun in idiot attempt at playing hero. The pounding in his ears could almost be mistaken for the opening theme music.

“Oh, shit,” the guy says.

Danny’s mouth stutters, but he can’t push any words out. He can’t seem to breathe around the dull heat punched through his chest. His sneaker’s wet. The glass Coke bottle he’d been holding must have broken.

“What did you…?” The cashier shakes his head, eyes so wide Danny can see white all around his dark irises. “You shot him.”

“I didn’t mean to,” the guy blurts out. Like saying that will magically make it all better.

“You shot him.”

He can’t breathe. He’d just stopped in here for a soda and a couple protein bars on his way home from patrol. The guy had burst in waving the gun when Danny had been mentally calculating if he had enough for a bag of gummy worms too, stammering out hoarse demands without even looking to see if anyone else was in the store. It’s after midnight on a Tuesday though; who would be?

“Shit,” the guy says again. He looks terrified. He looks like somebody who’d be desperate enough to rob a corner store; gaunt and unshaven, stains and holes in clothes a little too big for him. He doesn’t look like a murderer.

Danny swallows. He finds the strength to lift his arm, to touch fingertips to the wet hole in his chest. They come away red. Way too red. He’d just touched it for a second, but his fingers are slick to the crease of his palm. He sways. One of the men shouts as his knees hit the floor, protein bars scattering from his other hand. Cold soda soaks his jeans; warm blood soaks his shirt.

He’s been hurt before. He’s been hurt bad before. But never when he was human. Never by another human, never with a weapon that wasn’t at least a little bit jury-rigged with ghost-fighting tech. This. He doesn’t. He doesn’t know what to do.

The guy’s hands had been shaking, but Danny had walked right up to him, overconfident and stupid. He’s been fighting ghosts long enough that he forgot humans can be just as dangerous. Shaky hands. Fear? Drugs? Doesn’t matter. The gun couldn’t have been more than a few inches away when it had gone off.

He can’t breathe.

“You shot a kid,” the cashier’s yelling. “Are you crazy? I was gonna give you the money!”

“He—he got in the way! He was trying to stop me!”

“So you killed him? Shit, man, put the gun down, okay? You’ve done enough.”

They keep yelling at each other, both high and frightened. The gun’s still in the guy’s hand, not like he means to shoot the cashier but. Still. It could still be loaded. The guy’s freaked out. What if this plays out like bad TV? No witnesses, trash the security tapes. The gun’s probably stolen already. The cops’d just have two bodies on their hands. Danny’s school ID is in his wallet. He wonders what the cashier’s name is, who this guy with the gun is too.

He slumps against a rack of candy bars, feels it bow under his weight. “Nnn,” he slurs. He can’t breathe. The pounding in his ears is hiccuping, hard and off-kilter, like he’s about to pass out. That’s. That’s not good. His shirt’s soaked. He’s shaking. All bad signs.

“Put the fucking phone down,” the guy with the gun yells, brandishing it at the cashier. Danny can’t see what the cashier’s doing from where he’s spilling across the floor. This is bad. If he doesn’t. He’s gotta do something. The guy’s gonna kill—

“St—” He chokes. Blood in his throat, filling his mouth. He drops his chin and lets it leak out, too weak to spit. “Stop.”

Incredibly, the guy stops. Stares down at him like he’d forgotten Danny was even there. Danny’s chest hitches pointlessly. Is it his imagination or can he feel the bullet, an alien lump of metal caught at a weird angle between his muscles, his organs? Don’t. Don’t think about it. Can’t breathe. Who cares. He doesn’t bother breathing half the time he’s Phantom anyway. What’s it matter now that he’s human?

“Luh. Leave ‘im ‘lone.” Ugh. Not his most eloquent. So sue him. “Drop it.”

“Kid,” the cashier says from somewhere out of sight. “Kid, hey, don’t talk. Just stay still. I’m gonna call an ambulance—”

“Like hell you are,” the guy yelps, not looking away from Danny.

“He’s gonna die if I don’t. I don’t care about the money, man, just let me help this kid before—”

Stop.”

They stop.

Danny stops too. He forces himself slack, makes himself limp. Don’t struggle. Stop. Stop. He’s been hurt before. He’s been hurt bad before. This isn’t. This is bad, but he isn’t dying. He isn’t. He won’t die here. His lungs empty. His head lolls. The pounding in his ears beats once, twice, then stammers to a standstill.

“Oh god,” both men whisper feebly.

Oh. Hey. Hey. Now that his body’s not having a conniption, he feels—okay, good is maybe stretching it, but he feels better than he did a minute ago. He’s pretty sure he can stand up. It takes him a couple tries; he’s still feeling cold and weak, there’s not much leverage off the rickety shelves, and he’s a sticky mess of blood and soda. He manages it okay though, one elbow resting heavy on the counter, a slippery grin on his face, his knees shaking but keeping his weight.

Both men are screaming at this point, and the guys pointed the gun at him again. He huffs. It feels weird. He decides not to think about why it might feel weird. “Seriously?” It comes out phlegmy, or maybe it’s better to say bloody. Ugh. He swallows, grimacing. “I, nngh. I think you did enough already. Don’t you?”

“Wh-what the hell are you?!”

That’s a dumb question. This is Amity Park. He doesn’t bother dignifying that with a response. Instead he narrows his eyes, bares his teeth in a feral grin as neon green stains the flickering white lights overhead. “I think you should go,” he rasps. “Before I change my mind. Leave the gun.”

The guy drops the gun and bolts. The automated chime on the door sounds so absurd after everything that’s happened Danny wants to curl up and giggle. Maybe later. He swallows—guh—and looks over at the cashier. The poor man’s pressed up against the wall of cigarettes, gray-faced with eyes wide as saucers, his mouth a perfect O.

Nothing he says is going to make the man any less afraid. He doesn’t have a clue what he’d say anyway. He doesn’t have a clue what’s happened. He looks down at the spill of blood—his blood—across the tile, the candy bars, the counter. The broken glass, the spilled soda. What a mess.

Wait. Blood. Bad crime shows always do DNA tests, right? He doesn’t know anything about how that stuff works, but he does know he’s spilled… well. More than enough to stop his heart. A lot.

He looks back at the cashier, who hasn’t moved. The cashier swallows, stammers out, “Wh-what?”

He doesn’t say anything before he sets fire to the counter. More specifically he sets the blood he’s left smeared all over on fire, but the sudden green flare sure looks intimidating. The cashier whimpers. Danny, one hand clinging tightly to the counter, methodically melts down the entire rack of candy to a noxiously sweet-smelling slag, then burns the tiled floor black and bubbling. As an afterthought he runs a hand across himself, drying the blood on him in a wave of sour heat so he doesn’t drip anymore.

He bends down—whoa, easy there gravity—and picks up the gun. It’s heavier than it looks. He keeps the barrel pointed at the ground, finger off the trigger ‘til he taps the safety on. That’s about all he knows how to do with guns that aren’t meant for ghosts. It’s enough for now.

He should probably care about the security footage too. He takes an experimental breath; he’s almost positive he can feel the bullet shift. Yeah. Screw the footage. He’s got bigger problems.

“Sorry about the mess,” he says, and, since his cover story begins and ends with horrible 7-11 apparition, he vanishes. He stands there a minute longer to make sure the fire goes out; he’s not trying to burn the place down, he’s just trying to destroy any evidence he was there. The cashier watches the fire too, gaping like a fish. When it gutters out he sinks to the floor and buries his head in his knees, breathing wetly.

Danny phases through the door. Some terrible part of him wants to turn visible long enough to set off the automated chime to scare the cashier one last time. He doesn’t. He keeps walking, unseen, down the street for the nearest alley three buildings down. He can duck in there, have a minor panic attack because seriously, what, then he can call—

Call who?

Tucker can’t handle anything worse than a bad scrape without going gray and shaky. He’s got the steadiest hands out of all of them, sure—that A in Sewing isn’t a fluke—but this isn’t something he can bribe Tucker to patch up with puppy eyes and movie tickets. This isn’t something that can just be patched up, period.

Sam’s got the strongest stomach of the three of them and she’s a better liar than Tucker, but this is way beyond anything they’ve had to deal with before. They’ve smuggled a lot of medical supplies out of his parents’ basement, but they aren’t equipped to handle gunshot wounds. The bullet’s still in there. He can’t ask her to go digging around in his chest for it. Did it shatter? He could just phase it out. Maybe it’s better to leave it in for now. Less evidence to leave lying around—

His chest throbs. A low cry is squeezed out of him, more surprise than pain. He staggers, trips over his feet, almost faceplants on the sidewalk. His bloody hand jumps to his chest, fingertips pressed to the hole over his heart. He wavers in the middle of the sidewalk, in the relative darkness between two pools of yellow street light. What was that?

Another throb, as sharp as a knife, as hard as a kick to the ribs. He feels it under his fingers, feels something pulse under his skin. He doesn’t breathe. He doesn’t need to breathe right now. His jaw is clenched tight enough to make his teeth ache; his lungs feel like wet plastic bags. Throb. He curls in on himself, forcing one foot in front of the other. Throb. Stay invisible. There are cars passing by, people lingering at a street sign, looking around for whatever made that funny noise. Throb. Almost at the alley now. Almost there. Almost there.

He turns in and it’s mercifully empty. He staggers to the end of it, where dented trash cans and bulging black bags make a decent hiding spot. There’s a faint smell of old beer, old piss, something greasy gone to rot, all of it settling heavy on his tongue. He’s distantly glad he doesn’t have to breathe right now, more focused on the pulse beneath his crabbed fingers.

He turns visible again as he sags against the brick wall, grunts as another throb beats through him. There’s another one right on the heels of that one, and another after that. Something cool and wet dribbles out of the wound and he yelps, pulling his hand away.

Neon green paints his palm, filling the alleyway with dim luminescence. He’s gobsmacked, straight up speechless, even through the next hard throb of what can only be his heart trying to kickstart itself again. His heart, trying to pump ectoplasm, somehow funneled through that cold little spark in his chest that never leaves, that connection between his two halves, the reason he was able to walk away from being shot at all.

Okay. Okay. This. Uh. This is new. This is good? It hurts, but that makes sense. Maybe phasing the bullet out now is a good idea after all. He passes his hand through his chest, hears metal ping on the asphalt by his knee. Another pass to be safe. It’s probably enough. He’s more worried about the hole he can’t do anything about and the ectoplasm splurting sluggishly out of it with every beat of his inexplicably beating heart.

His vision blurs, dips, hazes over with unearthly shades of green. He swallows, blinking rapidly until he can see clearly again. Okay. Bad. This is bad. This is arguably worse, maybe. He doesn’t know. But he can’t stay here. He’s gotta get—where? Who’s closest?

...Valerie is, actually, but he doesn’t think this would go over well. He hisses laughter between his teeth. Home, then. Home, and Jazz. Jazz is gonna lose her mind when she sees him, and honestly? He’s not gonna blame her one bit.

Another particularly sharp throb makes him cough, hoarse and wet, and he spits out a glowing gob of he-doesn’t-wanna-know. His chest goes tight. Spots dance in his eyes the longer he sits there, rubbing at the slick mess all down his front. He spits again, wheezes on pure human instinct, and feels better.

Oh. Breathing. That’s a thing his lungs would like him to do again, apparently. He takes shallow, careful breaths. Guh. It smells nasty here. But he’s breathing, and it’s sore sure, but he’s breathing, and his heart’s beating, and while he’s not so sure he’d be able to stand at the moment at least he’s feeling pretty clear headed. All in all, he’s arguably doing better than he was ten minutes ago.

His hand’s wet again, cold and syrupy, like he stuck it in a can of paint. He wipes it on his jeans, leaving a huge neon smear. He peels his shirt off his skin, shivers when it sticks reluctantly, slips his hand under to palm the wound directly. Ectoplasm, at least, has a higher viscosity than blood.

He shivers again. Shock, maybe? He snorts, wincing when his chest protests sharply. Of course it’s shock, idiot. Each sluggish throb of his heart still feels like a kick to the sternum, green hazing his periphery. He breathes, putting as much pressure on the wound as he can. He breathes. He’s got to do more than this, but he doesn’t know what. Stop the bleeding—how? It’s his heart. If he plugs his chest, then he’ll have to deal with internal bleeding. Right?

...He’s definitely got to sign up for Anatomy next year. If he makes it that long. At this rate, he’s not sure if he’s gonna make it to school tomorrow—no, shhh, shut up, he’s gonna be fine. This is fine. He’s alive, sort of, right? He’s fine. He’s gonna be just fine. Somehow.

He knocks his head against the brick, looking skyward. From here he can make out a few twinkling stars, the dark gray smear of a cloud, the blinking red light of an airplane passing by. There’s always so much going on above the city. It’s not so out of reach as it used to be for him, but it’s all so still so impossibly far. Funny, that he finds some kind of comfort in that. Here he is, bleeding out for the second time in one night in an alleyway, and if he did die right here the universe would wheel on without him. It wouldn’t even notice.

He likes that. He likes that just fine. Sam’d call him morbid, and she’d be proud (and maybe a little worried), but hey. A guy’s gotta cope somehow, right?

...Huh. His heartbeat doesn’t hurt as bad now. Is that good? That’s probably not good. He takes a deeper breath, expecting splintered pain… and is surprised when there’s only soreness. He eases up the pressure on the wound, expects a fresh spill of cool ectoplasm, and yeah, there’s a little, but not nearly as much as before. What the heck?

The gun’s still in his left hand, nearly forgotten. He’s not willing to put it down, still uneasy about the bullet he’s left on the asphalt by his knee, glinting in the green light of his ectoplasm. He can’t forget that, just in case. This neighborhood’s poor, not dangerous. A trashed corner store and an alley coated in ghost gore not a hundred yards away is going to raise questions, even in Amity Park. His parents are going to be all over this place tomorrow with a fine tooth comb. His dad might miss the bullet, but his mom? No way.

Right. Gunshot wound. Not bleeding as much as it was just a minute ago. That should be concerning. That should be really concerning. But, funny thing, he doesn’t feel worse. He feels… better?

He prods at it experimentally, and his middle finger doesn’t slip through like it did before. There’s—muscle? Something that feels like the slippery firmness of exposed muscle, anyway.

“No way,” he whispers, wide-eyed. There’s healing quick and then there’s straight up video game logic. This shouldn’t be possible. But even as he’s thinking that he feels something shift under his fingertip, feels something grow. He twitches his hand away. When he dares to touch again, there’s skin. Raw, tender, like the skin under a torn off scab. He swallows, reeling, belatedly remembers to keep breathing. “Oh. Oh, wow. Okay. Okay. Right.”

So. Not going to die. He wasn’t planning on dying here, no way, but. Still. Nice to have that confirmed. Uh. He’s maybe just going to sit here a bit longer. Give his body—his ghost half?—time to do… whatever it’s doing. No sense jumping up to head home just to bust his heart open again.

He grins weakly. “Oh man, this is nuts.”

But hey, if it works, right?

Mmm. Home. Right. He pulls his hand out from under his shirt, wrinkles his nose at the mess of blood and ectoplasm smeared up to his wrist. Gross. His left hand, the one holding the gun, is still clean. He eases himself cross-legged, places the gun on one knee, fishes out his phone and dials Jazz’s cell. She doesn’t pick up the first time so he calls again. She picks up the fourth ring.

“...’lo?”

“Hey, it’s an emergency.”

“Danny...? It’s the middle of the night. Where are you?”

“Yeah. Patrol ran long, then I, uh. Had some trouble. I’m gonna need your help when I get home.”

“Mm. What happened? Are Sam and Tucker—”

“They’re fine, probably home by now. I—” He swallows through a low throb of pain, tries not to think about what might be happening inside himself. “—I got hurt.”

“Hurt? What happened? How serious?”

“...Uh. Bad.”

“...Danny?”

He clears his throat, shakes off the cobwebs. “I’m gonna be fine. I just need to get cleaned up. Where are Mom and Dad?”

“Um, I don’t know.”

“Well find out.”

“Okay, okay. Just a sec.” Shuffling sounds. “Do you need me to come get you?”

“No. Just. I could use your help hiding some stuff once I get there.”

“Stuff?”

“My clothes are, um. Trashed. There’s a gun too.”

“A what?!”

“Yeah.”

“Where did you get a—a gun from?”

“Tell you later.” Ooh, he’s tired all of a sudden. He feels wrung out, sore, and starving. “Nnngh. Any sign of ‘em?”

Her voice drops to a whisper. “Looks like they’re asleep.”

“Mm. Perfect. Meet me in the lab with some clean clothes for me, okay? I’ll be home soon as I can.”

“Danny, talk to me. Tell me what happened. How badly hurt are you?”

“Told you, Jazz. M’fine. Just need to get cleaned up.”

She hums like she’s not convinced. “You sure you don’t want me to meet you?”

“I can fly faster than a car. M’not far, okay? Just. Fifteen minutes, tops.”

“That’s a long time if you’re flying.”

“I’m taking a breather right now, nosy.”

“Danny—”

Jazz .” He sighs, almost rubs his eyes but remembers how gross his free hand is. “I’m… I’m okay. I just need a few minutes. Picked up a new ghost power, I think. I’ll explain at home.”

“...If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay. See you soon.”

“M’kay.”

“I mean it. If you’re not here in fifteen minutes I’m calling you back. You don’t pick up, I’m calling Sam and Tucker.”

He chuckles softly, too tired to laugh. It hurts, but not half as much as it did a few minutes ago. “Okay, okay. Fifteen minutes, tops.”

He hangs up after they exchange quiet goodbyes and he sets his phone on his right knee, opposite the gun. He takes a deep breath, wincing a little. Not too bad. Two more minutes. He’s going to sit here two more minutes, then he’ll get up and head home.

He rests his head against the brick again, watches stars twinkle impossibly far away. A thought comes to mind unbidden that has him biting his lip to keep from laughing outright. It’s so dumb, but it’s the middle of the night and he may or may not have just discovered he’s a little bit functionally unkillable. So sue him, he’ll laugh a little.

He can never go back to that 7-11 again now that he’s gone and haunted it.