Five and a half years after the accident
"Business must be pretty good for your parents if they're hiring more help."
Danny shrugged as he opened the front door to his parents' house and ushered Sam inside. "Well, yeah. Things have been good for FentonWorks ever since we got all that publicity after the asteroid, but I don't think them hiring someone is as much a question of business being good as it is the fact that it's an election year. The ghost/anti-ghost rhetoric is heating up, so having some extra security is just smart, especially since I'm only around on weekends and school breaks."
She arched an eyebrow at him, but didn't say anything. She didn't need to. They both knew that his parents were more concerned about extra security when he was around, especially after his narrow escape two months ago. The election just made for a good excuse.
Stuffing her hands into her coat pockets, Sam stamped her boots on the doormat to shake off the snow. Danny did the same to his sneakers, and then they both headed towards the kitchen. "You just want some coffee, or something more exotic?" he asked her. "My parents got an espresso machine for Christmas."
"Has your dad messed with it?"
"Yeah. I think I'll take a hot cider, if you have any."
He grinned at her. "Wise choice. I'm pretty sure I can come up with something that's a little less scary than—" Danny stopped short as he entered the kitchen. "Dash Baxter?"
The muscular blond seated at Danny's kitchen table looked up at him. His hair was slightly longer than the flat top Danny remembered from high school, and he was wearing a stylish leather duster instead of that ubiquitous letterman's jacket, but otherwise, he looked the same. Dash Baxter, Danny's high school nemesis, sitting at his kitchen table.
A look of recognition registered in his eyes, and then a wide grin broke out across his face. "Fen-to-matic! And Manson! Still together, huh? I always knew you two would be in it for the long haul. Happy New Year!"
Danny and Sam blinked at each other, then Danny turned back to Dash. "Uh… hey, Dash. What are you doing here?" He looked around, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. "You're not trying to hook up with my sister again, are you? 'Cause she's seeing someone."
Dash laughed, that sort of harsh, barking sound that usually meant Danny was about to get pummeled. "Nah. She's not exactly my type."
A worse thought hit Danny. "And my cousin's not available, either." Not to you, anyway. Fortunately, Danielle was in Aspen on a ski trip with Valerie and her dad, although how she could stand to be so close to that place, he had no clue. If he could help it, he'd never set foot in the state of Colorado again.
Dash still looked amused. "Uh… also not my type. I'm actually here for a job interview, if you can believe that."
Danny thought his jaw might come unhinged from the rest of his face. "A-a job interview? You wanna work here? At FentonWorks?"
"Yep. Pretty weird, huh? I guess your folks are looking to hire some full-time security. Figured I was pretty good at wailing on stuff. Might as well get paid for it."
"Uh…" Sam sounded as shocked as Danny. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Dash, but aren't you playing football at Notre Dame? I thought you got a full-ride scholarship."
"Yeah." Dash scowled. "It kinda went away when I busted up my knee. Really stinks, too, because I was red-shirted most of freshman year, played one lousy game at the end of the season, and BAM! I get crushed under, like, the entire USC defensive line. Knee goes out, and it's too screwed up for me to keep playing, so bye-bye scholarship."
"Wow, that really does stink." Danny surprised even himself with the fact that he actually felt kind of bad for Dash.
The ex-jock grimaced. "Yeah, pretty much. But I've had a year to recover, and to get over it. Time to figure out what's next."
"And working at FentonWorks is what you came up with?"
Dash laughed again. "I know. Who'da thought? I mean, we always had your folks pegged as freaks, at least until the asteroid. But I saw the ad for a security guard and thought it'd be kinda cool to work with people who hunt ghosts and help out Danny Phantom every so often. I met him once, you know. We worked together to get away from some hunter-ghost guy." His chest puffed out in pride. "It'd be awesome to work with him again."
Danny gave Sam a sideways glance and saw her biting her lip to keep from laughing. Resisting the urge to elbow her in the stomach, he turned back to Dash. "Uh, yeah. You never know."
The door to the basement opened, and a man that looked like he had to be at least a hundred years old shuffled out. Danny's father was right behind him, sort of hovering, as if he were afraid the old man might topple backwards down the stairs. "That is an impressive resume, Mr. Stabonowski. It must've been tough being a security guard during the bank runs of the Great Depression." He gave a sort of nervous laugh, then nudged Mr. Stabonowski toward the door leading to the living room and out of the house. "We'll let you know what we decide."
When the old man disappeared into the living room, Danny's dad heaved a sigh of relief, then caught sight of Danny and Sam. "Danny! Sam! Is it the weekend already?"
"Uh… it's still winter break, Dad. School doesn't start again until a week from Monday."
"Oh, right. All these interviews your mother and I have been doing. I don't know whether I'm coming or going." He looked at a clipboard lying on the kitchen table. "Let's see… Dashiell Baxter?"
Dash stood up. "Yes, sir. Call me Dash."
Danny's father face lit up as his eyes went back and forth between Dash and Danny. Although Dash didn't tower over Danny as much as he once had, he was about Jack's height, which still put him a good three or four inches taller—not to mention six inches broader—than Danny, who was trying not to groan as he saw the wheels turning behind his father's eyes. Although the position was ostensibly for a security guard, Danny knew damn well his parents were at least partially thinking bodyguard. The fact that throughout middle school and high school Dash was the person Danny most needed guarding from did not exactly make him more comfortable with the situation.
Jack scrunched up his nose as he eyed his prospective new employee. "You look familiar, Dash. Have we met?"
"Danny and I used to go to school together. We were just catching up, in fact." Dash flashed Danny a broad smile.
"Old high school chums, eh? That's wonderful!" Danny's dad beamed. "Well, come on down to the lab. Mrs. Fenton and I have a few questions for you."
"Of course." Dash let himself be guided toward the basement door and down the staircase beyond.
When his dad pulled the door closed behind, Danny turned to Sam. "Okay, was that not the weirdest thing ever?"
"It'd be even weirder if your dad actually hired him."
Danny shuddered. "Don't even joke."
If Danny had thought Dash applying for a job at FentonWorks was the weirdest thing ever, he'd gravely underestimated the propensity for the absurd in the Fenton household. He was still heating up some cider on the stove—apparently his father had "fixed" the microwave recently—when the basement door opened, and Dash and Danny's dad appeared at the top of the stairs. "Mrs. Fenton and I will get back to you by the end of the week. We have a couple more interviews tomorrow, but I will say that I'm very impressed with your credentials."
"Well, I know working backstage security for an Ember McLean concert isn't exactly the same as working a bank during the Depression, but seeing as my grandfather was, like, just a baby at the time…"
Jack blinked, then he threw his arm around Dash's shoulders and the two of them laughed amiably. Wiping his eyes, Jack slapped Dash on the back. "We'll be in touch, Dash." Then, he spotted Danny. "Show your old buddy out, will you, Danny? I've got some things cooking in the lab I need to get back to." Without waiting for an answer, he went back down into the basement.
Dash looked at Danny. "Actually, Fenton, I'm glad you're still here. I was hoping I could take you and the girlfriend for some coffee at Queequeg's."
Danny blinked. "You know, you don't have to kiss up to me, Dash. My parents will be deciding who to hire, not me."
"I'm not kissing up to you. I just… figure I kinda owe you, is all. I know I was a jerk to you in high school. Thought maybe a cup of coffee would be the start of an apology."
Danny once again exchanged stunned looks with Sam before he answered Dash. "Uh… yeah, I guess. The cider was kinda taking too long to heat up anyway."
"Cool!" Dash grinned, slapping Danny on the back hard enough to knock him forward a few steps. "Let's go!"
Sam leaned into Danny as they headed toward the front door. "Just when I thought I'd seen every freakishly bizarre thing I could ever see at FentonWorks…"
Queequeg's Coffee was packed, but Danny, Sam, and Dash managed to find a table in the corner. They made small talk for a little while, Dash telling them about the surgery on his knee and the rehabilitation that followed as he sipped his frothy candy cane mocha cappuccino from the holiday menu that was still in effect.
Sam put down her caramel soy latte. "I don't get it, Dash. Why'd you quit school just because you lost your scholarship?"
"Couldn't afford it."
Danny frowned. "Couldn't afford it? Your parents might not be as loaded as Sam's, but they seem like they can afford Notre Dame."
Sam nudged him. "Real nice."
"No, he's right," Dash said. "It's just that my dad cut me off when I came out."
Danny froze with his espresso halfway to his lips while Sam almost spit her latte all over Dash. Wiping her mouth, she stared at him. "Wait. 'Came out' as in came out? Of the closet?"
Dash gave her a patronizing look. "You gotta problem with that?"
"Are you kidding? I think it's awesome!"
He narrowed his eyes. "Really. I didn't know my sexual orientation was of interest to you."
"Oh, it's not. But coming out means you're finally being true to yourself—that's what's awesome."
Danny gaped at her. "You knew?"
"No." She shook her head. "Never even occurred to me, actually. I just think it's always a good thing when people stop going along with the crowd and are themselves."
"Yeah, you've never had a problem being different, have you?" Dash's tone was too ambiguous for Danny to tell if he meant it as a slight or a compliment. "So, what about you, Fenton? You seem pretty shocked."
"Well, yeah. You hit on my sister in ninth grade!"
Dash rolled his eyes. "Well, duh. It's called 'the closet' for a reason. You might have noticed, I didn't really date a lot in high school, but I did make a few attempts. First to try and prove to myself I was really straight. Then, when that didn't work, to prove it to everyone else. Your sister always seemed… I dunno. Safe. She was pretty, and popular enough to make me look good, but too smart to ever get really serious. It wasn't until after I hurt my knee and I thought my life was about to fall apart that I finally decided I needed to be honest with myself. My dad kicked me out of the house when I told him. Hasn't spoken to me since. My mom cried, and she thinks it's awful, like I have some sort of horrible disease or something, but she still calls me every now and then, when my dad's not around."
"That's terrible." Sam looked furious on his behalf. "Why do parents have to do that to their own kids?"
Danny shot her a warning look. This is not about your parents. Although she was more or less getting along with her parents these days, things could still be strained. They never did completely warm up to the idea of their daughter dating a half-ghost. Whenever he and Sam were in Amity Park, she spent as much time at his house and as little time at home as possible, and when she did go home, it was mostly to see her grandmother.
Dash shrugged. "It wasn't just my folks. About the only one of my so-called friends who didn't completely blow me off afterwards is Kwan. We still hang out when he comes home from school. He's at UCLA. Well, Paulina was cool with it," he amended, "but I pretty much dropped off her radar when I busted my knee."
"I could've told you the crowd you hung out with were pretty lousy friends," Danny said. "Look what they—what you—did to Valerie when her dad went bankrupt."
Dash actually had the good sense to look contrite. "Yeah. We were pretty awful. I… I actually was hoping to run into her. I wanted to apologize for the way I treated her, too. You see her much?"
Danny nodded. "All the time. She goes to school with us at Purdue Calumet. Tucker Foley, too, but they're both out of town right now. Val's on a ski trip in Colorado, and Tucker's at some techno-geek convention in Vegas. We do come home most weekends and breaks, though." They'd all chosen Purdue Calumet specifically because it was so close to Amity Park, so they'd never be far from the Fenton Portal—or the ghosts that came through it looking to cause trouble in the Human World.
"Ah, Foley." Dash took a sip of his cappuccino. "I guess he's on my list of amends to be made, too. Not as high up as you or Valerie, but still…"
Sam put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her hands. "You sound like you're doing a twelve-step program or something."
"Nah, not really. I just… well, like I said, when I busted my knee and lost my football career and my scholarship and pretty much everything I had planned out for the next decade or so of my life, I kinda did some soul searching. And being on the receiving end of the kind of treatment we regularly doled out was a bit of a wakeup call. I know I was really harsh with you, Fenton. Well, all of you guys, but mostly you."
Sam eyed him. "It's called 'karma,' Dash. Maybe being gay, you should've thought of that before you decided to become the Casper High bully."
Danny cringed—Sam was nothing if not forthright. But Dash seemed to take it in stride. "Actually, I think the reason I was always wailing on Fenton was because I'm gay."
Sam's eyebrows almost shot past her hairline. "Wait. Are you saying you had a crush on Danny?"
Danny very nearly choked, and he and Dash both cried out, "EWWWWW!" in matching tones of horror. Then, Danny looked at Dash, his cheeks burning. "Uh… not that there's anything wrong with that."
"Thank you, Jerry Seinfeld." Dash rolled his eyes, then shot a look of disgust at Sam. "And no, I so did not have a crush on your boyfriend here. What I was going to say is that, well, I guess I figured the best defense was a good offense. As long as I was pounding someone else into the ground, then no one would start to really think about me and see that I was different. I mean, most people don't think 'gay' when they see a tough-guy quarterback, you know? That's why I was always wailing on you, Fenton. Your folks were the town freaks with the whole ghost thing… at least until we all found out they were right. And you were always kinda scrawny and mostly a nice guy who wouldn't fight back, so you were an easy mark. That's why I asked you here. The least I could do is take you out for coffee and say I'm sorry."
Danny nodded. "I appreciate that, Dash." And he was surprised to find that he actually did.
"It's no excuse, I know, but it's hard, keeping this huge part of your life a secret like that."
Danny glanced at Sam before answering. "Yeah. I guess it would be."