Danny took in a shaky breath, eyes closing as he forced himself to let the anger go.  He turned around to lean over his kitchen counter, head hung low as he breathed slowly, in and out, in and out…

“Damn it, Val…” he muttered, the anger faded and replaced with a heavy tone.  “You know better than to work me up like that…”

His hands came up to cradle his face, obscuring it from sight.  

Valerie hesitated, keeping her distance while Danny – quite literally – cooled down.  They tended to have these spats every once in a while.  They were close friends, of course they would!  She was actually one of the few people that could even rile him up at all… but she had never made him this angry before…

She swallowed, drumming her fingers on her thigh; a nervous tic.  Now that she thought about it, a lot of the things she had said about that kid… Wow.

“You’re right,” she admitted, looking at the floor.  “A lot of that was – no, all of that was out of line.  I could have called your cell phone and I didn’t.  I apologize.  I guess I didn’t realize that you kinda…”

Valerie shrugged awkwardly.  “…Loved the guy.”

Danny literally CRUMPLED.

He slid down the counter until he was sitting on the kitchen floor, big blue eyes lost and SCARED.  He looked up at Valerie, eyes misting.

“Oh god, Val… what am I going to do?”

His hands came up to tangle his fingers in his hair, pulling and tugging on the strands as if he were trying to punish himself.  “I… I’m in love with him.  I’m actually in love with this kid and I… Oh god Val, I can’t go through that again!  I can’t!”

He looked up at her, big shoulders starting to shake.  “Spectra… She was HERE a few nights ago, and even SHE knew!  I effing drew her in with my misery and–”

He cut himself off, trying to stop himself from actually breaking down even worse.

“…What do I do, Val?”

For a moment, Valerie stood there – stock still – staring down at Danny.  She hadn’t meant “love” like LOVE love!  She had just assumed it was more of a family love for that kid.  “Uh…” she stammered.  “H-His name was, um… Victor…?”

“Vladimir…”  Danny sniffed, wiping away a stray tear on his cheek.  “Vladimir Masters…”

“Right, uh… Vladimiar…”

Danny shot her a mild glare.  “VladiMIR.”

“VLAD DIH MEER.  Okay…”

Danny snorted, sniffling drying up to be replaced with soft giggles.  He still sat there, like a lost child on the kitchen floor, but hell!  At least she got him smiling again…

Valerie coughed a laugh – still struggling with the realization that her 28-year-old half ghost superhero of Amity Park was “IN LOVE” with a boy in the hospital that was ten years younger than he was.  //Good lord, Meer, how many people would want to be you right now and you don’t even realize…// she thought with a sigh.

After a minute, Valerie’s green eyes refocused on Danny’s trembling form.  

She hesitated for a moment longer.  But finally, she walked over to him, knelt down beside him, and… very awkwardly patted his forearm.

“There there…?  I, uh…”

Valerie groaned at the sound of her own VOICE.  “I’m sorry, Danny, you know I’m no good with emotional stuff,” she confessed.  “I wish I COULD give you some kind of advice…”

Danny chuckled again, shaking his head.  “Naw, it’s… It’s ok…  I think I gotta figure this one out on my own huh?  I’m just glad you’re here…”

He looked up at her, smiling.  “You’re like, one of my best friends, Val…  I’m glad you got my back.”

He sighed, finally climbing to his feet.  “Just um… could I ask you a favor?”

Valerie scrambled for something she COULD give an answer to.  “Sure, yeah!  Anything.”

She furrowed her brow as she considered that.  “Anything?”

The huntress refocused on Danny.  “Yeah, anything.”

He met her gaze steadily, eyes imploring her to grant him this one wish.  “Stop me from doing anything stupid.  You were there, last time this… this happened.  I don’t trust myself not to make the same mistakes…  So please…”

Blue eyes glimmered, pleading.  “Protect me?”

Valerie’s brows came together, her eyes gleaming determinedly as she squeezed his arm – maternal protectiveness bright in her gaze.  

“Always, baby boy.”

~*~*~

In the darkness of his hospital room, a overheated body convulsed under the covers.  The luminescent strips had burnt out entirely.  The room’s temperature had increased to over a hundred degrees in a matter of minutes.  Glass cracked in the windowpane.  The needles and wires monitoring body temperature and vital signs were spazzing out – glitching and fizzling and peeping anxiously in the dark.  

Vlad knew Danny wouldn’t abandon him.  He knew that.  He had heard the anger in his voice when it was implied, but… but he couldn’t shut his brain off!

A lightbulb in a nearby lamp exploded like a pop rock.

He hadn’t even begun to think about the financial side of this accident, not since he had been that portal light up green and explode in his face.  Valerie Grey was RIGHT.  He had missed all three finals.  Even if he headed back now, his final grades had to be lower than Cs!  He was going to lose his scholarships and once that happened, he was going to be SLAMMED with debt.  Coupled with the loans he had taken out for supplies and the hospital bill – oh god, the hospital bill.  He had no insurance.  He was looking at an initial base sum of almost a hundred thousand dollars WITHOUT interest!  He would spend the rest of his life working to pay that back.  He wouldn’t be able to get a decent job… Would never become anyone of any worth or importance… just a bum sleeping on someone’s couch working behind a counter for the rest of his life hello can I take your order would you like FRIES WITH THAT–!

“I need to get out…!” Vlad heard himself whisper.

He threw off the covers – not seeing them catch on fire as he went – and limped towards the door, throwing it open.  A nurse immediately spotted him.

“Hey, Vlad, it’s late!” she told him grouchily, needing her next cup of coffee five minutes ago.  She tried to take his arm.  “You need to get back in bed and–”

Vlad’s eyes flashed red.  “GET OFF ME!!”

Suddenly, the nurse was slamming into a wall at the opposite end of the ward.  She hit the ground, unconscious; Vlad ran the other way, panting, eyes flickering between red and a bright, maddened cobalt.  Maybe if he just moved fast enough!  Maybe there was a way to get back to Amity U and maybe he could FIX this before it all spiraled out of–!

An unearthly screech ripped from his chest as he slipped down through the floor again.  

A split second of darkness – like he had blinked – and then Vlad had crashed into the tiny welcoming office on the second floor.  The receptionist screamed as the edges of her paperwork caught fire and the air rippled with heat.  Vlad’s back hit the corner of the desk.  Pain shot up his spine; another ghostly shriek left his throat as the door flew open and security ran to grab him.

A big hand sealed around his arm, only for the flesh to sizzle and the security guard to let go, yelling “HOT!”  

Vlad’s body – not even listening to his panicking brain anymore – lunged at him.

Eyes glowed pure scarlet.  Fangs extended.  Smoke was filling the room.  Fire was catching.  Books and clothes were burning.

HISSSSSS–!!

BONG!

A reverberating crash echoed as the other guard bashed the lunging beast aside with a fire extinguisher.  Vlad was unconscious before he even hit the floor – rolling across the burning carpet and slamming against the wall, under the receptionist’s desk.  

A beat passed.

The young woman hid behind the guard, who barked a request for backup and the fire department into his walkie talkie.  Over the fetal position of the creature that he had knocked unconscious, the desk smoldered, then that, too, caught fire.  Sirens wailed in the distance.  Flame-retardant foam was sprayed hurriedly over it all…

Including Vlad’s limp, motionless body.

END EPISODE TWO

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