Danny woke slowly, softly, aware of muted light falling over his face, filtered by his curtains. He turned over, snuggling more deeply into the cushions and blankets around him. A blanket brushed over his front and dull ache down his front became a prickling, burning stripe of agony, from groin to sternum, radiating up to his shoulders.
He gasped and curled in, suddenly painfully awake.
What– Where– When– How–
He didn't remember getting an injury like this. He didn't– He didn't–
It hurt. Hands shaking, he pulled his blankets away, revealing a chest swathed in clean, white bandages. He touched them. There was something underneath that hurt. It hurt.
What had happened? He looked around for his phone. Sam and Tucker would know what– No, they had moved out for college years ago. They had… No, they'd come back after they graduated. They… Where was his phone?
His phone wasn't here. Not on his bed, not on his bedside table, not on the floor.
He had to see.
With steadiness that came from years of experience, he stripped the bandages off layer by layer. When he was done, what was left was…
His breath caught in his throat. No, no, no, no, it couldn't be.
An autopsy scar, clear as day.
He stared at it for a long minute, barely daring to breathe. A tiny whine built in his throat, eventually escaping. The sound jolted him into action. He couldn't stay here. He had to go.
Danny had maintained a go-bag for years. It wasn't because of his parents. Rather, it wasn't just because of his parents. There were so many other people that were more of a threat, especially once his lack of aging became obvious and coming clean to his parents became necessary.
Or so he'd thought. Autopsy scars didn't just materialize while you were asleep in bed. They had to be put there. By people.
He didn't think they would ever do it. He didn't think they would ever do it. He didn't think they would ever do it. Ever.
Jazz had thought otherwise. Not seriously, maybe, or else she would have made him come with her when she moved for her residency. But she had never fully dismissed the possibility. Neither had Sam.
Apparently, they were just smarter than Danny.
He didn't move quickly. Jumping from his bedroom window had been painful, and he didn't want to see what his ghost form looked like. He was scared. He was so scared. He couldn't remember the last time he was so scared.
He pulled the hood of his hoodie down lower, aware of how strange he must look in the sweltering heat. Why was it so hot? Temperatures usually didn't get this high until August.
It didn't matter. Sam's house wasn't far.
Maybe he should have gone into the Ghost Zone instead. But to do that, he'd have to go down into the lab. He didn't want to go into the lab.
But Sam's house loomed–
No. That wasn't her house anymore. She had an apartment downtown.
He leaned against a nearby power pole, dizzy and confused. Why was he having so much trouble today? He never slipped up like this, except when… When…
Well, waking up with an autopsy scar probably wasn't good for his mental health.
Paper crinkled under his elbow, and he looked down to see–
Himself. A faded color printout of Phantom grinned up at him sandwiched between the words INFORMATION WANTED ON PARKER PARK INCIDENT and REWARD. A picked over fringe of telephone numbers hung off the bottom. The paper looked weeks old, at least.
Danny didn't remember any incident in Parker Park worth a reward, least of all one he was involved in. He hadn't even had a fight there since… He didn't know. He reached down and pulled up one of the telephone number strips so he could see what was written on it.
He… he felt like he recognized it.
He shook his head. He had to get a move on, get to Sam's apartment.
The sun looked strange. The light looked strange. All the wrong angles, shining down the streets and humming off the sidewalks with a high, headache-inducing buzz. His go bag hung heavy on his shoulders, biting into the stitches that inched up his clavicle with every step.
He didn't want to be here.
He couldn't go back.
Could he go forward? How long had he been missing? Had they noticed he was gone yet?
Would they come after him?
He was breathing too fast. Running too hot. Almost human temperature, and clammy with it. Had he picked up an infection? Was it shock?
The shadows of a nearby alleyway beckoned invitingly. He just needed a moment to rest, and he'd be on his way again.
He stepped into the tunnel-like alleyway. It was cool, almost cold. The light didn't reach all the way down, but glinted green off of glass in the concrete. Why anyone would put decorative concrete in an alley, though, was beyond him.
He walked deeper, trailing his fingers along the left-hand wall, fiddling with the hoodie of his zipper with his other hand. This alley seemed so familiar. But of course it would. For that matter, he was intimately familiar with most dumpsters. He'd been protecting this city for over a decade, now. It would be stranger if he didn't recognize this alley on some level. But–
He hissed and pulled his hand away from the wall. Something had cut his palm. He glowered at the wall. He did not need an infection from some… alley…
Since when was he wearing gloves?
He turned his hands over, the black plastic reflecting the little green lights all around him.
And then the lights weren't so little.
Green flared ahead of him, brighter than neon, an electric, impossible glory. Brighter than life. Brighter than death.
And he screamed.
"Thank you so much for calling us," said Maddie. "When we went up to check on him this morning and he was gone…" She didn't finish the sentence, settling instead for checking Danny's vitals again.
"Least I could do," said Dash, his smile tight and strained. He fidgeted with the work gloves stuck through his belt. "Is he going to be okay?"
"He'll be fine." She hoped. She'd been hoping, ever since Danny had– Since what happened last April in Parker Park.
"I've never heard him scream like that before. Even last spring."
Maddie pressed her lips together. "I know, it's just… side effects." Of what, she didn't say. Of the near-fatal wound he'd taken back in April? Of his half-death eleven years ago today? Of whatever kept the scar from his emergency surgery from healing all these months? Both? All? Neither? None?
She didn't know.
"He's been getting better," she said.
"Yeah, I've heard," said Dash.
"This was just a bad day."
Danny groaned, head turning away from her.
"It's okay, sweetie, Dad will be here soon." Jack had been looking for him across town. It would take another few minutes for him to get the GAV, and the medical supplies best suited for Danny, here.
"I hope you find the bastard that did it," said Dash. "I hope he rots in hell, doing that after all Danny's done. If that's worth anything."
"I'm sure Danny would be happy to hear it," said Maddie, trying not to feel too brittle with the knowledge that Danny might not remember enough to make a statement like that mean anything to him, no matter how pretty the sentiment.
"I'm here, Danny. Do you remember what happened?"
"The portal… I was… The portal?"
Really not a good day, then. But he squeezed her hand, and it was better than being limp and insensate.
"I should go," said Dash, hooking a thumb over his shoulder. "I've got work. You guys gonna be okay?"
The sound of the GAV shrieking down the street was distinctive. Maddie forced one more smile. It would be the last one today. "We'll be fine."