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At 3:15 Danny, Sam, and Tucker walked quietly through the Fentons’ front door. At least Sam and Danny did. Tucker slipped on the icy front step, lunged forward, and slammed his knee hard against the rail before catching himself luckily on the doorknob. Had Danny and Sam not been so worn and so anxious, they might have felt sorry for him.
3:15. The three had been careful to return home normal time, bus stops factored in. They hadn’t been in class since 11:20 that morning, so they hedged their bets and hoped none of their afternoon teachers had bothered to take attendance—a safe assumption from past experience.
In the four hours of time since they left Casper High, the three of them had accomplished exactly nothing. The first hour—until about 12:10—had been spent at the Nasty Burger, tucked in their usual back booth, trying to come up with a plan of action for dealing with ghost killers. With the hazy outlines of a plan, they’d returned to school, scoped out the rooms, and couldn’t find a single trace of the Winchesters. Somehow, that was worse than running into them headfirst.
The brothers’ absence sat uncomfortably in Danny’s chest; it felt like losing sight of a spider in the dead of night. Some part of him hoped that meant the brothers were gone, out of his hair, a false alarm. But another part looked over his shoulder every second, double-checking street corners, imagining the cold tingle of ghost fingers around his neck when he let his guard slip.
He was hunting killers, and if they were savvy to him, he’d be the first one picked off. His weariness leeched into the air, infected Sam and Tucker all the same. In the Nasty Burger they’d had a set of eyes trained on both doors at all times and, in Sam and Tucker’s case, spector deflectors enabled for good measure. They had no way to keep that kind of 360 degrees guard up once they returned to scope out the school; instead they just flitted from room to room, searching, scanning, letting the paranoia fester in their stomachs.
Eventually, when each had accepted the terrifying reality that they’d really truly lost the Winchesters, they settled on talking it out in the park. Public place. Lots of people. Lots of families. As far as they could tell, the Winchesters didn’t attack in the open.
"I don’t think the cops really know whether or not Sam’s killed anyone. I mean the murders in the bank coulda been either of them, but they think Dean’s the more bloodthirsty." Tucker dug his feet into the dirt beneath the swing. It creaked wildly, the chain links frozen together in the cold January air. "Apparently these two get really violent protecting each other, so we gotta watch for that. If we take these guys out, we gotta do them TOGETHER."
With their three minds combined, they hadn’t been able to dredge up anything new, anything of use. All they knew for certain after those four hours was that the Winchesters were dangerous, and that the Winchesters had vanished. If they were lucky, it was for good, and if not—well, they prayed luck was on their side.
By 3:00, they knew they had no choice but to return home.
Four hours, four wasted hours—Danny rubbed his temples as he walked listlessly to the living room couch. Sam and Tucker followed without argument (Tucker hobbling as he held his bruised knee) and only risked speaking in clipped tones.
"We can’t worry too much right now, Danny," Sam whispered in a voice that didn’t agree with her. "Keep an eye on the Fenton-scanner—that’s how we pegged them last time."
"Finding them isn’t our biggest worry Sam," Danny said back, elbows to his knees, eyes deep in thought. "We’re dealing with ghosts who are very, very prone to collateral damage. Humancollateral damage. We need to find them yeah, but more importantly we need to capture them somewhere far away from people, but the risk to us…” Danny rubbed harder at his head. “Guh, I can’t think straight.”
"Headache?" Tucker asked.
“Danny!”His mother’s voice called from the kitchen. “Is that you?”
"Yeah!" he called back, wincing. The clatter of cabinets nearly drowned him out.
“I’m gonna need the couch in a minute, sweetie. You and Tucker and Sam can go upstairs.” From the pitching and fading of her voice, Maddie must have been moving around. The bang and shut of more cabinets reinforced that idea.
"Why?" Danny started to ask, but other voices cut him off, too quiet to make out.
A pause, then Maddie answered someone who clearly was not Danny, "You sure you don’t mind?"
From the divided kitchen, sandy head over his shoulder, army green tie loose at the knot by his neck, Dean Winchester walked into the living room. “No ma’am I don’t mind at all!” He faced forward, eyes bright. “Hey kids, long time no see.”
The smile on his face flickered and fell when aghast horror met his appearance. Dean gave himself a once-over.
"Something on my suit, kids?"
Behind him, a second man entered. His hair was slicked back with perhaps too much gel, and he held a silver dish supporting a teapot and six teacups on it. “No need to be rude Agent Millikan.” He bent at the waist and set the contents down on the coffee table, looking up with an amicable smile. “Sorry to intrude, we just—”
Sam Winchester’s voice fell flat. His eyes lingered on the same burning fear and hatred that radiated from the three gazes. Fear bubbled in his own gut when he considered the possibilities.
"Am I the only one getting changeling vibes here?" Dean whispered in a voice so quiet Sam was scarcely sure he’d spoken. Dean dipped to pour himself a cup of tea as he spoke, masking his mouth.
"Sorry boys," Maddie entered with just a pot of coffee, "This was pretty sudden. I don’t have any snacks."
Danny, Sam, and Tucker tensed when Dean moved from his spot on the far couch. “Almost forgot.” He pulled a folded yellow grocery bag from his coat, and with the quick rustle of shifting plastic, he produced a tin of unopened bakery scones.
"Perfect," Maddie answered, surprised, and she took them to lay out on the table beside the tea. She stood again and alighted to the kitchen to get a serving dish.
With his mother’s back turned, Danny snaked a thin finger out from his lap. He zapped the tin off the table with a quick flick of his wrist and one tiny ghostray. The Winchesters watched the scones fall, spilling onto the carpet with two-dozen dull thuds.
"Oh shoot," Maddie muttered. She’d craned her head around the kitchen divider and immediately locked eyes with the fallen treat. "I’m so sorry."
"Don’t worry Mom, it happens," Danny answered with a deathly iciness to his voice.
Maddie skirted back into the living room and gathered up the scones one by one. “Are you sure you wanna stick around Danny? They’re just interviewing me on my latest ghost work.” She shoved them all into her apron and held the fabric. “They wanna know how your father and I pulled the town back to earth.”
"Dimensional compression and a pass back through the Fenton portal," Danny answered with the same coldness. "That’s how. You don’t need to sit down to tea with these guys."
"Danny be nice," Maddie scolded softly and left to dump the spoiled snacks in the trash.
Danny shot an accusing finger out to the two surprised brothers. “I know what you—” he hissed through his teeth just before his mother’s head reappeared around the corner.
"You boys got everything you need?"
The Winchesters looked up from Danny. They took a moment to recover from the half-issued threat, but they did so with warm smiles. Dean nodded to Maddie, but Sam patted quickly at his breast pocket. “Oh shoot—I forgot my notebook. Please excuse me.”
He lighted quickly from the couch and left through the front door. Maddie called out as an afterthought, “Careful! The steps are icy.”
The remaining brother smiled warmly and assured her, “The front steps were salted when we got here. You’ve got no reason to worry, ma’am.”
Danny only offered an uncomfortable glance to Sam and Tucker, one which they returned as Tucker rubbed absently at his sore knee he banged
"Salted?"Danny mouthed. With just a slight twitch, Tucker shook his head. Danny said nothing more when he felt Dean’s eyes follow him.
The younger brother returned 30 seconds later with his notepad tucked under his elbow. He looked up, nodded with a smile, and retook his seat beside Dean. His hand trailed absently to his leg, wiping once, and leaving behind what looked suspiciously like salt crystals.
Maddie sat quickly after, brushing crumbs off her front and sinking back into an armchair. “So how does this work? You guys have a set of questions you need me to answer or—”
"It’s just a normal conversation," Sam started, leaning forward, engaged. "We talk, you talk, and my partner and I will write down anything we think is useful in the article."
Maddie smiled, pleased.
"Mrs. Fenton, how long have you and your husband been hunting ghosts?" Dean asked with a toxically fake smile.
"Since college. We met there, and it kind of became our shared passion."
"And where was this?"
"I don’t think you should really answer that," Danny cut in quickly.
A beat of thick silence followed. Maddie licked her lips and offered a smile that came too late. “Honey, why don’t you Sam and Tucker head up to your room?”
"I just mean how do you know these guys are really legit?"
"Here they are asking for personal information from you and you don’t know who they are! You hunt ghosts, Mom! You make enemies!"
The taller one extended his hand to Danny, who jumped in surprise. “Hi, I’m Agent Rutherford. This is my partner Agent Millikan.” The man flashed his badge again before stowing it in his pocket. “We’re columnists and consultants for the FDA. I could give you a contact number for my supervisor.”
"How am I supposed to trust it if yougive it to me?” Danny whispered.
"Danny that is enough." Maddie stood, flustered, and ran her hands over her apron. “I’m really sorry. He’s usually much friendlier.” She bent at the waist, mouth to Danny’s ear, and muttered, “Danny, Sweetie, I’m touched that you’re so concerned, but this is very important to your father and me. Just give us 30 minutes alone, okay?”
“They’re…Mom, they’re ghosts. They’re dangerous. You gotta—“
“They are not ghosts,” Maddie whispered back before Danny could finish. “We have fourteen different sensors in this room alone. You should know we’re safe.”
Danny fumbled quickly in his pocket. His fingers brushed over the EMF meter he’d stowed inside. The hum was gone; the device was quiet.
“Alright…Alright Mom, sorry. Just paranoid. We’ll be up in my room. Excuse me.”
With that Danny got stiffly to his feet. His too-wide eyes lingered on the Winchesters before he motioned to Sam and Tucker. Slowly, quietly, they made their way upstairs. The creaking steps echoed loudly in the unnatural quiet below.
“Danny, we can’t leave her—“
“Trust me,” Danny hissed, and the three disappeared beyond the railing all together.
The three adults watched them go in silence.
“I am…so so sorry for that, Agents,” Maddie voiced with a touch of redness on her cheeks. She made to refill the brothers’ cups, which only had a sip or two taken out of each. “This whole ‘wormhole into the Ghostzone’ business has everyone on edge. It’s not his fault.”
“Yes…yes about that,” Sam leaned forward, a coil of slicked hair escaping and coming to rest just above his left eye, “What triggered that? How exactly did the whole town vani—“
Sam was silenced by a cacophonous BOOM from the laboratory below. Mrs. Fenton stiffened, jumped to her feet, and unsheathed a small and faintly-glowing gun from her apron.
“Oh yes! Now is the perfect time to steal all the Fentons’ equipment!” a young and laughably evil voice trilled from the basement.
Sam and Dean were on their feet too, but not before Mrs. Fenton had taken off to the basement stairs spitting “Phantom!” as she ran.
“I guess if no one else is using this ectogun, I’ll just take it!” Phantom gloated as he surveyed a rack of toxically gleaming equipment. He’d loosed a large bazooka from its spokes and now swung it haphazardly in the air.
“Drop the gun, Phantom!” Maddie roared, her own micro version trained on the white-haired boy.
He complied, hands flying up with perhaps too much expression. “Oh no! Not Maddie Fenton! Not the single greatest ghost hunter this half of the country has seen! No ghost in its right mind would mess with her unless it wanted to be torn apart on spot! I surrender!”
Maddie lowered her gun a fraction of a degree and cocked an eyebrow at the floating intruder. She hardly caught the flicker in its attention, the shift to the two suited men standing behind her. In a flash, Phantom had rocketed toward her. He narrowly missed the blast from her gun, looping to the left and almost losing his balance mid-flight. He recovered, threw both hands out, and skipped high into the air.
Maddie had been prepared for Phantom to throw himself at her. Instead he’d ducked behind her, and snatched her two house guests by the lapels.
“Phantom!” she screamed, but the ghost had already vanished with her two interviewers.
When he phased out the roof, Danny already caught sight of Sam and Tucker sprinting on ahead. He couldn’t slow down for them, quickly overtook them, and just made it to the tall grassy knoll a half mile from his house before his left hand erupted in fire.
Danny dropped his two squirming dangling hostages with a hiss. They tumbled unceremoniously onto the grass below, darkened green stains running up and down their nice suits as they ground to a halt.
Danny’s attention was drowned in his scorched hand. He held it tightly by the wrist and floated just out of reach of the brothers as he examined it. Fine white grains coated his palm, and sizzling boils erupted up and down the length of his hand. He rubbed it off on his suit in panic, wild eyes locking again on the brothers who were quickly regaining their composure.
“What’d you do to me?” he hissed in panic, singed hand flailing outward. The taller one with the shaggy hair produced a tin can from his suit as though it were a gun.
“Salt!” he yelled back as he brandished the Shoprite brand container.
“What the hell do you mean ‘salt’?!” Danny rose higher, heart pounding, scanning the horizon for any sign of Sam and Tucker. They were supposed to meet him here, but even sprinting the uphill trek could take a good five minutes. “Why salt?! You gonna kill me with high blood pressure?”
“Don’t act tough!” the older Winchester shouted back, still very grounded. “I’d say it burned you pretty good!”
“Dean, please,” the taller one, Sam, responded. Both brothers had scrambled to their feet, and now with their dignity back Sam rested a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “Phantom! I’m sorry I salted you. But you kind of grabbed us by surprise. I didn’t have much of a choice.”
“Much of—I was protecting Mrs. Fenton. What’d you expect me to do?“
“’Protecting.’” Dean scoffed. He looked up, smirking when he realized he’d offended Phantom. “She didn’t seem too fond of Phantom. Little Mommy-Son skirmish going on? Or is she just clueless about who you really are?”
At this Danny blanched. Dean’s smile grew wider as the blood drained from his already sickly face. They knew him. They knew who he was. Serial killers knew his secret…
Danny’s arm snaked around his back, emerging with a fully charged Fenton Thermos. He flicked off the cap with a quick twitch of his thumb and pointed it at both brothers simultaneously. A harsh grating erupted in the air as Danny let the beam loose.
Sam and Dean buckled, flinched and raised their arms over their head in vain protection as the tractor beam enveloped them in a wash of blue light. A second passed. Another. Dean opened his eyes, looked around in mild amusement, and wiped at the harmless blue light reflecting off his suit.
“Nice, kid. Does it hold soup too?” Dean mocked. Sam, equally unscathed, had opened his eyes as well.
“What? No. Nononono.” Danny rattled the thermos and tried again. Nothing. It shined as pointlessly as a flashlight on the two brothers.
“Glad to see we’re not the only ones who thought to weaponize lunch,” Dean jibed again. He prodded Sam in the gut for some sort of back up to his joke.
“Look, kid, I think we got off on the wrong foot!” Sam called up to Danny. He took a step forward. “We’re actually huge fans, and we’re just here gathering information. We want to help! If you could just spare a few seconds of your time…”
Danny’s head shook methodically. “Oh no, I’m not that dumb. You’ll have to try harder.”
“Benefit of the doubt!” Dean tried as he edged closer. “Give us five minutes to prove we’re on your side.”
“Is that what you say to all your victims, or am I just special?”
“Victims?” Sam echoed in mock-innocence. “What victims? We want to help you! We want to get rid of the ghosts, and we want to help you pass on!”
“From one ghost to another, that sounds like you’re trying to kill me!” Danny called back from his ever-higher vantage point. He didn’t want to risk letting them out of his sight, but the higher he went, the safer he felt.
“’From one’…I—I’m not dead, Danny!” Sam shouted upward. He stashed the salt back in his suit as a peace offering. “What ghost do you think you’re talking to?”
“Oh don’t insult me, S-sam. Sam Winchester! I know you died! I know all about you!” Danny huffed back with false bravado.
The older brother’s face sobered at that. The open, fake friendliness disappeared. “Okay, so we probably don’t have the best reputation in the ghost community. I can see that. But Sam isn’t lying! We want to help, and if you really knew anything about us you’d know I brought Sam back to life.”
“…But you…you’re dead too!” Danny spat in growing desperation.
“Angels, man. Whole other story.”
“Well I’m not dead either!” Danny announced, hands thrown outward. “Apparently you know who I am, then you should know I’m not actually dead. I’m human. Ghost powered human. So I’d appreciate not passing on thank you!”
“What? So you were resurrected too?” Dean challenged into the sky with growing disbelief.
“I…Yeah if that’s what you want to call it!”
“Who went to Hell then?” Dean’s eyes were deathly serious.
“Who wen—What?!” Danny looked around desperately for any sign of Sam and Tucker. He had the Winchesters distracted, but he had no way to capture them. “Is ‘Hell’ a swirling black and green void with floating doors and ghosts who want to tear you limb from limb?”
“Not in my experience,” Dean deadpanned.
“Dean, you’re confusing him.”
“I know what I’m doing, Sam.”
Both brothers ducked at the sudden ectoblast that whizzed between them. It struck the ground with a glowing green implosion, and Sam and Dean twisted to stare at the sizzling ground.
“What the hell, kid?!” Dean shot forward, but Sam held him back.
“Hell or no Hell, I don’t care! I know about St. Louis. I know about the bank robbery. I know you two died and I know you’ve come back to kill people, so fight me here and now or I’ll burn you two to a crisp!” Danny summoned two balls of fire in his hands, ignoring the tremble in his limbs and he still floated backwards.
“….Oh,” Dean answered as he rubbed at his neck. “Oh, so you’ve got the National Inquirer version of ‘Sam and Dean Winchester died’ and not the actual, soul-selling…ah. Well. That makes things…less confusing?”
“Danny, please listen to us! Dean didn’t kill that woman back in St. Louis and we didn’t kill anyone in the bank robbery. Those were shape shifters! We’re hunters, Danny. We hunt supernatural things: vampires, demons,” he nodded back at Amity, “in this case ghosts. Misunderstandings because people don’t know the whole truth! Just let us talk to you, Danny. We can explain.”
Danny aimed carelessly at the two. “I don’t care what reason you have. Are you murderers or not?!”
Dean pointed back accusingly. “We kill what needs to be killed!”
"Dean don’t phrase it like that…"
"So you have killed?!”
"Monsters, Danny," Sam answered with a growing quiver in his voice. "We kill monsters."
"So is that your reason for this whole…FDA investigator team thing?" Danny threw both his arms out. "You’re—what—supernatural detectives? Dead supernatural detectives?”
“Sam’s telling the trut—“
“I’m talking to the freaking dead Hardy Boys here?! Is that your story!?”
Dean ran his fingers through his spiked hair as he growled in frustration, the pitch growing until he shouted out, “Yeah yeah and this is coming from Casper the Friendly Ghost here! I got an idea, how ‘bout you leave Amity and try to explain to anyone outside town how you’re a ghost-fighting ghost-kid superhero! Tell me how that goes over!” Dean kicked at the ground. “These things need context!”
Slowly, smoothly, Dean and Sam turned at the command. Behind them, panting heavily but with ectoguns raised, Sam and Tucker had them at gunpoint. Sweat dripped shiny and slick from Tucker’s hairline. Sam had more composure, but her chest still heaved in and out.
"You should have waited for us, Danny," Sam Manson scolded lightly.
"No….No guys get back," Danny breathed. He sunk now, like a stone, plummeting to the ground to get to his friends. "The thermos didn’t work on them. And I don’t think the guns—"
"You know, forget this," Dean seethed. His sharp green eyes turned suddenly to Tucker. He shot a quick elbow out that collided hard with Tucker’s extended hand. The latter yelped, clutched his quivering palm close, and Dean snatched the ectogun from the ground.
With some reluctance and hesitation, Sam Winchester shot in tandem for Sam Manson. His hit was noticeably lighter, noticeably slower, giving Sam Manson enough time to fire one blast before the older man made contact.
Sam Winchester hissed, brushed at the smoking shoulder of his suit, but still emerged largely unscathed and, worse, with the ectogun.
“Don’t touch them!” Danny cried in panic. He landed hard, shook the ground, and faced both Winchesters with palms extended, panicked tears in his eyes. He blinked them away as anger overtook his face.
Dean turned his newly-seized gun to Tucker, who flinched and looked instantly like a kicked 7 year old.
"What do you think that’ll do?!" Danny cried out. He wrenched both simmering palms to Dean, which seemed to make the older man question his decision.
"He’s a ghost, isn’t he?"
"Tuck—? No! No he is not a ghost! What could possibly make you think that he—no!”
"He’s not lying," Sam Winchester whispered. His wide eyes flitted to Dean, right hand still clutching the commandeered ectogun, left hand brandishing an EMF meter. Slowly he swept it around, watched it spike and quiver around Danny, watch it die to nothing when turned on the two teenagers who’d ambushed them.
Convinced, Dean trained his weapon on Danny instead. He held it out far in front of him, cocked, His brother rather unwillingly followed suit. Danny, at the losing end of this unfortunate triangle, had one ectobeam from each hand trained on each Winchester.
"I hit him, Danny!" Sam Manson called out in the quivering voice of one fearing imminent failure. "What happened? Why didn’t he drop?"
"They’re—They say they’re not dead! I don’t know. Sam I don’t know." Danny’s nostrils flared out, wild eyes jumping from one Winchester to the next.
"Oh come on, we’re not the weirdest party here to be claiming ‘I’m not dead.’" Dean brandished his stolen gun for effect. "You gonna talk or what, Casper?"
"I’m not dead!” Danny shouted, voice cracking. “You’re dead.”
"We’re not dead!" Dean challenged back. "You clearly are!”
"And they’re not either?” Sam asked with a jerk of his head back to Tucker and Sam behind him.
"No!" Tucker rallied.
Danny stared down the two barrels pointed at his head, sweat beading down his increasingly shiny forehead. “Wait….Wait. Those things, those guns, they only work on ghosts. Sam nicked him—other Sam—and it barely left a mark.” Danny swallowed hard and made both Winchesters jump when glowing white rings encompassed his whole body. They strung past, top and bottom, overwriting his white hair with black, jumpsuit with street clothes.
"You’re firing blanks now," Danny continued. "Those guns can’t hurt me. Can’t hurt Tucker or Sam either. We’re human." Danny unclipped the thermos from his back. "T-third time’s the charm, because if you two are really not ghosts, then this can’t hurt you.”
A beat of surprised silence followed, broken only by the hesitant voice of Sam Winchester.
"Alright…Alright we all made our points. We’re on the same page, yeah? So weapons down. Let’s talk it out."
Dean’s lips hardened into a thin line. “Or we take Casper up on his idea.” Dean aimed his shot. “Mexican standoff. If any of us are ghosts, we go down. If not,” he shrugged noncommittally, “might feel a little sting.”
Danny swallowed, still shaking. “Yeah…Yeah alright. Alright then.” He held the thermos at the ready. “On three. One…”
A sort of pain entered Sam Winchester’s eyes. He mouthed a small ‘sorry’ as he matched his brother’s angle.
"Two…" Danny ground out, though his legs had started to shake.
(to be continued)