When he returned home from school earlier that day, Danny made a beeline for the kitchen to grab a snack before diving into his homework.
“All right,” said Maddie in disappointment as she spoke to someone on the phone. “Well, maybe another time.” After exchanging goodbyes, she hung up the phone.
“Who was that?” Danny asked as he pulled open the door of the refrigerator.
“Vlad.” Maddie didn’t notice when Danny slammed the door shut and gaped at her. “I was calling to invite him to come stay with us.”
“Why would you do that?” spluttered Danny.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Maddie frowned, puzzled by her son’s question. “Vlad’s a friend of the family. I thought it would be nice to invite him for a visit. We haven’t seen him for some time now.”
“But, Mom, he-” Danny started to say, but he stopped short when he couldn’t think of an argument other than Vlad was evil. He used that argument often, and his parents started giving him angry looks whenever he mentioned it.
“I don’t see why you continue to be so unfriendly toward Vlad.” Maddie placed her hands on her hips as she frowned at her son.
“Have you forgotten that time he told you to leave Dad for him?” Danny grew frustrated with this usual debate. Why did his parents always seem to overlook everything that Vlad did to them?
“Yes, and I was not happy with that either,” Maddie agreed. “But you should put that behind you already. Vlad did save your life during that ghost attack four years ago. You should be grateful to him. In any case, Vlad refused the offer since he’s very busy at the moment.”
Very busy? Danny wondered. That’s suspicious. Why would Vlad give up this opportunity? He has an invitation to come in here and attempt to kill my dad and sweep my mom off her feet. Danny rubbed his chin in thought. When an idea hit him, Danny’s brow shot up. Vlad was up to something. Danny could feel the truth of this fact deep within his bones.
Danny planned to stop Vlad before he could do anything. That night, he snuck down to the laboratory after he was sure his parents were asleep. When he pressed the button, the doors of the Ghost Portal opened with the gears squealing as metal ground against metal. At the loud noise, Danny cringed and feared it would wake his parents. Heart beating fast with worry, he wasted no time. The familiar rings passed over him, changing him into Danny Phantom. After he entered the Ghost Zone, the Portal doors slammed shut behind him. Danny sped off in the direction where he remembered Vlad’s Portal was. Not many ghosts were wandering outside of their own realms, thankfully because Danny wanted to avoid all unnecessary fights against pointless ghosts.
Time passed slowly as door after door went by Danny. The scenery rarely changed from the dull swirl of green. Only the doors themselves varied every now and then with the occasional floating land mass. To the left he spotted Pariah’s castle, to the right was the door to Technus’s laboratory, and straight ahead was Skulker’s island.
When he saw Skulker returning to his home, Danny halted and quickly glanced around for a spot to hide and avoid confronting the hunter. However, all around him was open space, and no hope of concealing himself presented itself. Inevitably, Skulker noticed Danny’s presence. Their gazes met for all of five seconds before Skulker raised his arm, taking aim at the hybrid with one of his many ectoplasm firing weapons that suddenly popped out from its hidden compartment. Danny sped forward, zigzagging through the barrage of blasts that rained down upon him. As he flew, he charged a blast of his own between his hands and upon reaching Skulker released it, hitting the hunter and sending him soaring backward and blackening his chest plate.
“What are you doing here, Ghost Child?” demanded Skulker. He had detached his left hand, preparing to use a different weapon.
“I don’t have time to deal with you,” Danny muttered. He continued flying toward Vlad’s Portal. An ectoplasm rope wrapped around his feet, jerking him back toward Skulker. He turned and shot at the ghost. His blast missed, but it was enough to distract Skulker. He snapped the rope binding his feet and flew off with Skulker following some distance behind him.
Danny’s progress went slower with Skulker delaying him with small scuffles. A wave of relief came over Danny when he spotted the Portal into Vlad’s laboratory. Before he could reach it, Skulker grabbed him around the waist, and they both tumbled through the Portal. They wrestled on the floor. Danny blasted Skulker, who slammed into the ceiling. He scrambled to his feet and got out of the way as Skulker fell to the ground where Danny lay a second before. While Skulker recovered, Danny glanced around the laboratory. His gaze landed on a strangle device sitting on a table along the left wall a few feet away from him.
Paying no attention to Skulker struggling to his feet, Danny walked over to look the device over more closely. The device was in a box shape. It had wires running from one place to another and looked like a tangled mess. On the top he found three sets of random numbers. If they had any meaning to them, Danny couldn’t decipher them. He picked up the device and turned it in his hands like it would reveal its purpose to him by doing so.
The door of the laboratory flew open. Danny turned upon hearing the noise. Skulker, who was trying to sneak up on the young hybrid, did the same.
“Don’t touch that!” shouted Vlad at the same moment that Skulker leapt at Danny.
Hugging the device to his chest, Danny dodged the attack. Skulker caught his foot, and Danny landed hard the ground as the device was freed from his hold and clattered against the floor. A flash of light clouded Danny’s vision, and pain followed. Danny felt like he was being stretched in all directions. He tried to scream as his limbs were nearly pulled right out of their sockets. Then he felt a shrinking sensation, like he was being squashed between two large hands. The weird stretching and shrinking ended after mere minutes. Danny remained lying on his stomach; in too much pain to think of moving. He didn’t even dare to open his eyes; instead, allowing oblivion to take hold of him.
“That wasn’t finished,” Vlad growled at Skulker, who guiltily tried to inch closer toward the Portal. The machine sat on the ground with smoke rising from it. Where Danny previously lay was now empty space. “Do know how long it took me to make that time machine?”
“It was only a prototype,” Skulker offered, trying to calm Vlad’s rage. He knew the man labored for many months on the time machine. After all, Skulker helped him with it from the very beginning.
“A prototype that was almost ready for testing!” Vlad shouted. “And now all that work is ruined. Daniel certainly has inherited his father’s bumbling ways.”
Skulker couldn’t argue with that since Danny tended to be a klutz, though years of training made far more competent in a fight. “At least you now know that your time machine is capable of transporting a human being through time.” He glanced around the laboratory. “And by the looks of things, the Ghost Child hasn’t lost any limbs.”
“Not in the present, you mean,” corrected Vlad. He was slightly pleased with that fact, but it didn’t excuse the anger he felt about his plans being ruined. “It’s still possible that he lost body parts during the trip through time. This is the worst thing that could have happened.”
“I don’t see the problem,” Skulker said in puzzlement.
“Do you have any idea where Daniel landed in time?” Vlad glared at Skulker, who felt all the more like getting out of the half ghost's laboratory. “He may not have arrived at the destined time. He may not have arrived all in one piece. He has no way back because the time machine stayed here. I can’t follow him because the machine destroyed itself just sending him through time. Even if I rebuilt the machine, which as you know would take months, I have no way to guarantee that I would find whenever in time Daniel has gone.”
“But the Ghost Child isn’t in this time period, so you don’t have to worry about him getting in your way,” Skulker pointed out like that solved everything.
How can Skulker not see how Daniel being trapped somewhere in time can be completely disastrous to the flow of time? Vlad wondered. Daniel is as much a bumbling idiot as his father! He masked his emotions by glowering at Skulker for his idiotic statement. “Nothing good can come from this,” he muttered.
Danny groaned as he rolled onto his back. His body felt stiff, and his head ached. The chirping of birds only increased the pain in his head. Sitting up slowly, he cringed at the stabbing pain in his lower back. His shoulders drooped, and he sighed, wanting to go back to sleep yet knowing he wouldn’t be able to. When he cracked his eyes open, he squinted at the bright light shining down on him. What met his sight once his vision cleared sent waves of worry rushing over him. He sat on a patch of grass in a courtyard of sorts set among the buildings. People walked past him in a hurry, and the place buzzed with their chattering. But what had worried Danny was how the people looked. The women had big hair, and the men had mullets. And their clothes! Danny pinched himself to make sure the fashion nightmares he saw were real.
“It’s like I’ve fallen into the eighties,” Danny murmured slowly to himself.
After a moment of staring at the people, Danny shook the thought from his mind. He took a deep breath and began to assess the situation. I have no clue where I am or how I got here, he thought. The last thing I remember is going to Vlad’s castle to see what he was plotting. He had some sort of device that he didn’t want me to touch. I dropped it. There was a flash of light and that horrible feeling. Danny shuddered as he recalled the stretching and shrinking sensation he experienced before blacking out. On the bright side, that thing didn’t kill me, Danny thought dryly as he stood and dusted off his pants.
Before he could continue thinking about his situation, Danny’s stomach growled and ached with hunger. Food would have to come first, he decided. He reached into his pockets, but they were empty. With a groan, Danny remembered that he left his wallet on top of his dresser. While he grumbled about his misfortune, someone bumped his arm.
“Look at what he’s wearing,” whisper the girl to her friend.
“I know,” the other girl said as they both looked over Danny. “Total loser.” They giggled and continued walking through the courtyard.
I should be used to that by now, thought Danny, feeling a bit hurt at being called a loser.
“Let’s go grab a bite to eat,” said another passing person.
The mention of eating made Danny forget about the girls’ comments. He followed after the group of boys. His feet led the way, and he was far too hungry at the moment to object, even if he couldn’t afford anything. They passed by more buildings until they reached a street. The group of boys crossed the street, but Danny stopped. His gaze had landed on a sign near the last building he had passed.
I’m at the University of Wisconsin? Danny thought in shock after he read the name on the sign. This makes no sense. Danny put his hands on his head and pulled at his hair. The action gained him a few looks from the college students. However, Danny was too busy freaking out and trying to figure out what had happened to really care about what the students thought of him. Vlad’s device thing sent me to the University of Wisconsin. Why would he want to go there, or well, come here? And why does everyone here dress like they’re in the eighties? But all of his thoughts came to a stop when he spotted someone walking by him. It was a woman with frizzy brown hair and violet eyes. Danny thought he recognized her, but he couldn’t place where he might have seen her.
“Hey, Maddie, that guy is checking you out,” whispered the other woman walking with Maddie. “He’s kind of cute, even if he dresses oddly.”
“Harriet, you’re not trying to set me up again, are you?” Maddie asked as she gave her friend a stern look. “You know I’m in a relationship already. And it’s a good, happy relationship.”
“I don’t know how you can date that moron,” Harriet said with a sigh. “He thinks ghosts actually exist! How he’s not confined to a mental institution I’ll never know.”
“Jack is not insane!” snapped Maddie, offended by her friend’s comment. “And I happen to be working with him on his research in the paranormal studies. Do you think I’m insane as well?”
“I think the fact that you’re dating Jack Fenton answers that well enough,” muttered Harriet. “I still think you would be better off with Vlad. Even if he’s into the whole ghost thing, he at least seems more normal than Jack.”
“Harriet,” Maddie shook her head, “as hard as it may be for you to believe, I like Jack. Vlad’s nice and all, but I just don't like him in that way. And you can’t say a word about our relationship to Vlad. I don’t want him to feel like a third wheel when we’re all hanging out.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Harriet gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “You’ve already told me that a million times.”
That’s… my mom! Danny thought in alarm. He now remembered how his mother looked in the college photo he saw long ago in Vlad’s castle and that one time he went into the past thanks to Clockwork's help. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t recognized her sooner. But what is my mom doing here? And why does she look so young? As the questions swirled in his mind, Danny followed after the two women. He hoped that he might learn more about his situation. Because he was trailing behind at a distance, since he didn’t want to look suspicious, Danny lost sight of Maddie when she entered a building. Harriet disappeared in the crowd of students, but Danny didn’t really care about following her. He hurried to the entrance of the building, but when he went inside, he still saw no sight of Maddie. Wandering the hallway, Danny peeked through the small windows on the doors, but Maddie wasn’t in any of the rooms he checked.
“Either enter or leave, but don’t block the doorway,” ordered someone behind Danny as he was looking into one of the rooms. Danny stepped aside so that the man could open the door. As he held the door open, the man glared at Danny, who cowered under the gaze. Not sure what else to do in that situation, Danny entered the room. The man pushed him out of the way before he walked down the aisle until he reached the row where his friends were. Danny scanned the room. After he didn’t find Maddie, he started to leave when the teacher announced the start of class.
“Take your seats,” said the teacher as his gaze landed on Danny. He waited until Danny took a seat in the back row before he introduced the topic of that day’s lesson.
Danny glanced around at all the students with pencils in hand and ready to start writing down the equations. When the teacher turned to the chalkboard, he decided to make an attempt to sneak out of the classroom. Before he could even stand up, a hand landed on his shoulder. He turned around, surprised to find a man sitting beside him. He was sure no one had been there a moment ago.
“If you try to leave, you’ll just draw his attention,” whispered the man as he glanced at Danny. He looked familiar, but Danny couldn’t recall anyone he knew who had slightly tousled black hair with the beginnings of a mullet and wore glasses that on any other person might have looked nerdy but they seemed to suit this man rather well. “I really doubt you want to be yelled at for two hours, though the class would be glad for the distraction from the actual lesson.”
“Yeah, that wouldn’t be fun,” Danny said with a weak smile. “What class is this anyway?”
“Calculus,” replied the man, and Danny groaned, hanging his head. “Not a fan of math I take it?”
“I’ve never done well in math,” Danny explained. “Oh, I’m Danny.” He held out his hand toward the man.
“Vlad Masters,” he said and shook Danny’s hand. His brow rose in a puzzled expression when he saw Danny’s shocked look. “Is there something wrong?”
“N-No, nothing, sorry,” stuttered Danny as he tore his gaze away. First I see a younger version of my mom. Now I meet a younger Vlad, Danny thought as fear crept up his spine and into the back of his mind. I couldn’t have really gone back to the past… could I?
“You should probably be paying attention to the lesson,” Vlad said, placing a pad of paper and a pencil on Danny’s desk. He noticed earlier that Danny lacked any materials needed for class. “I’m the TA, so if you have any questions about something, you can ask me for help.”
Danny glanced toward the front of the classroom and cringed. “I’m already lost,” whispered Danny, though he wasn’t sure why he would even care. He wasn’t really in the class, after all. Leaning over, Vlad put an arm around the back of Danny’s seat as he explained how to do the problems on the teacher wrote on the board. Danny felt awkward with Vlad so close. He couldn’t lean back without feeling Vlad’s arm pressed against his back, and he had to lean toward one side or else he would feel Vlad’s breath washing over his face. How was he supposed to concentrate on calculus with his archenemy leaning so close to him?
“You do understand what I’m telling you, right?” asked Vlad after a period of time.
Danny jumped at the question and glanced at Vlad. “Er, kind of,” he answered weakly. “Sorry. It’s a bit hard to concentrate when you’re so hungry.” It wasn’t a full lie, since Danny was hungry.
“Welcome to life as a college student,” Vlad said, not surprised by Danny’s statement. “Anyway, if you want to continue going over the problems, you should come by this class again. This class is every Tuesday and Thursday.” He smirked when Danny sputtered in shock. “Did you think I thought you were enrolled in this class? We’re already three weeks into the semester, and this is the first time you’ve ever shown up to this class.”
Danny glanced around the room. “How can you tell with so many students in the class? Maybe I am enrolled in the class, and you just didn’t recognize my face.”
“Then why were you so eager to try sneaking out at the beginning of the class?” asked Vlad, continuing to smirk as the color drained from Danny’s face. “I don’t really care if you’re not actually enrolled.” He leaned back into his seat and took the notepad from Danny’s desk. After tearing off the top sheet, he handed it to Danny to keep. “People audit classes all the time, so no one is going to kick you out. I’m surprised a freshman like you even has the time to audit a course though.” He packed up his things and stood.
“Uh, well, I thought it might, um, be good to get a head start on calculus,” Danny said, following Vlad. He still couldn’t believe this was the same Vlad that he knew. This Vlad actually seemed nice. I guess it is possible that Vlad was nice before that incident, Danny thought as they walked out of the classroom.
“It’s nice that you have a desire to improve upon your weak points,” said Vlad. “Just be careful not to overload yourself with extra work.” He gave Danny a quick pat on the shoulder before he walked down the hallway.
As he watched Vlad leave, Danny wondered what he should do now. He had wasted two hours with Vlad that he could have used to search for his mother. Or I could try to find my dad, thought Danny as he joined the throng of students heading for the exit of the building. I guess I really should be looking for a way back to my own time. Then again, I would like to see my dad. Leaving the building, Danny went to search for his father.
Danny sighed as he collapsed onto a bench. Throughout the day, he had wandered around the campus, but he never saw Maddie or Vlad again. He also failed to find his father. As the sun started to set, and it began to grow colder, Danny came to a sudden realization. He had no money and no place to stay the night.
“This is the worst thing that could ever happen to me,” muttered Danny as he dropped his head into his hands. When I get back, Vlad is so going to pay for this, he thought in a moment of anger before he fell into despair. But how am I even supposed to get back? I could try squeezing through the Proto Portal and search for Clockwork. But what if they haven’t built the Proto Portal yet? How am I supposed to get into the Ghost Zone then? I’ve met past Vlad, so clearly they haven’t tested it yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not built. But even if it is built, that doesn’t mean it’s operational. If I could just find a way to get to Clockwork, he could take me back to my own time. But how do I get into the Ghost Zone without a Portal? He stared with wide eyes at the ground as a whispered escaped him. “I’m doomed.”
“Why so glum, kid?” someone asked, causing Danny to jump and glanced up. The larger man stared down at Danny. He wore a wide grin on his face, which Danny recognized almost immediately.
“Da – um, what?” asked Danny, catching himself before he could let the word “dad” slip out.
“I asked why you look so down,” Jack said as he took a seat next to Danny. He set the bags he was holding, that Danny noticed only at that moment, on the ground by his feet.
Danny could smell Chinese food wafting from the bags, and it made his stomach growl in hunger. Wrapping an arm around his waist, he blushed and glanced briefly at Jack. “I’m kind of hungry,” he explained in a small voice. “And I don’t have any money on me.”
“You and practically every student on campus,” said Jack in a joking manner, but Danny could see concern in his eyes. “But sometimes you get lucky.” He motioned toward the bags of takeout. “You do a favor for someone and you’ll get something in return.” Bending over, Jack reached into one of the bags and retrieved one of the boxes. He handed it over to Danny. “I can’t sit here listening to your stomach growl. Eat.”
Danny hesitated before accepting the box. When he opened it, he found rice inside. “Are you sure I can have this?”
“If I wasn’t sure, I wouldn’t have offered it,” Jack said as he gave Danny a spork. He watched Danny dig into the rice before he continued. “Now what is a kid like you doing out at a time like this? And alone too?”
Danny paused with the spork raised halfway between the box and his mouth. “I, um,” he mumbled. He lowered the spork back into the box and dropped his gaze to the ground. “I don’t have a place to stay.”
“No place to stay?” Jack leaned against the back of the bench. “Did your roommate kick you out or something?” He frowned when Danny shook his head. “Does your family live around here?”
“I - I’m not from around here,” answered Danny. It was true since his home was in Amity Park. “I kind of ended up here by accident.” If anyone else sat down beside him and started asking those questions, Danny would never have answered so openly. However, this man was Jack, his father. What reason did he have to fear being open with him? He knew it would be dangerous to the future, though, if he mentioned anything about who he was. He didn’t want to affect the past too much and risk changing the future.
“That’s not good.” Jack released a sigh, loud and contemplative, as he folded his arms across his broad chest.
Danny stared at Jack. As his brow creased in worry, he wondered what Jack was thinking about. He was mildly awed by how deep in thought his father looked. He couldn’t recall many times when he ever saw that expression on his father’s face.
“It’s decided!” Jack shouted suddenly as he slapped his hands on his legs. He grinned, ignoring Danny’s bewildered expression. “You’re coming home with me.”
“W-What? Are you sure?” Danny asked, surprised by how quickly his father had come to that decision. This was the best scenario Danny could have hoped for. He at least knew his father wasn’t some kind of weirdo on the prowl for innocent, naïve freshmen to prey upon.
“Will you stop asking that already?” Jack sighed and shook his head. “I said it so I meant it.” He stood and picked up a few of the bags. “Now get up and help me carry these back to my place.” He started walking away into the growing darkness.
Danny wasted no time. Leaping to his feet, he grabbed the rest of the bags then hurried off to follow Jack. He was glad his father was such a laid back and easy going kind of guy, but one thing nagged at his mind. “You don’t care to know about where I came from?” he asked after they walked some distance across the campus.
“Afraid I would try to contact your family?” Jack gazed at Danny out of the corner of his eye. “It probably would be the smart thing to do. Ask you where you came from and why you’re here, I mean. I know virtually nothing about you. My roommate says I’m far too trusting toward strangers. But I can’t help the way I am. I like helping people.” He shrugged. “Anyway, I know from past experiences, and my roommate could tell you all about those, that poking and prodding into someone’s life isn’t always the best way to do things. It usually just makes the person more withdrawn and less likely to tell you anything. Though I suppose asking you where you came from really isn’t prodding that much into your personal business.” He paused to glance at Danny. “So where are you from?”
Even in the past, my dad sure likes to blather on about stuff, thought Danny in amusement. “Where I’m from,” he mumbled. Is there any harm giving away where I’m from? He couldn’t find any reason why that would affect the future in any way. “I’m from Amity Park.”
“Amity Park!” Jack shouted, and he released a booming laugh. “That’s where I’m from. You’re quite a distance from there. Do you mind if I ask how you ended up here?”
Danny shrugged. “It was just kind of by accident,” he answered, not sure how to explain further. I guess I should think up some sort of background story while I’m stuck here, he thought, knowing from past experiences he could get himself into trouble if he went around making up different stories each time he met a new person. He was lucky that Tucker and Sam could help him out of those situations when his secret was nearly exposed.
“Not something you want to discuss, huh?” Jack nodded like he understood as he opened the door to the building they stopped in front of.
“Well, it’s just - I left home,” said Danny as he followed Jack into the building. “I didn’t mean to end up here.”
“Whatever happened at your home,” Jack started, but he shook his head. “You shouldn’t run from your problems. Of course, I can’t force you to go home and face your problems. You’re free to stay here as long as you want.”
“Thanks. That’s really nice of you,” Danny said as they reached the third floor of the building. They walked down the long hallway until they arrived at Jack’s room. Jack shoved his bags into Danny’s hands; then he fished out his keys from his pockets.
“Welcome to my home,” Jack said as he threw the door open. “It’s not much.” He shrugged, walking into the dorm room with Danny following slowly behind him. “Hey, V-man! I got us dinner!” exclaimed Jack before he grabbed Danny by the shoulders and pushed him forward. “Can I keep him?” He grinned widely.
“Tell me you didn’t bring home another stray,” groaned Vlad, turning to his roommate. He blinked at Danny, who stared back mutely. “We meet again,” he nodded; then he glared at Jack. “Don’t treat people like pets. And why are you even asking if we can keep him?”
“Because he has no place else to go,” Jack explained as he pushed Danny farther into the rooms. “I already told him he can stay here, so your vote doesn’t matter.”
“I could go if it’s a problem,” mumbled Danny. He inched toward the door, but Jack forced him to sit on the couch beside Vlad.
“It’s not a problem,” Jack said as he dropped down onto the couch and forced Danny to press against Vlad. The couch wasn’t big enough to hold the three of them. “Right, Vlad?”
Vlad frowned before he turned back to the television. “I guess it’s okay,” he grumbled, not wanting to appear as the “bad guy,” which seemed strange to Danny who kept thinking about future Vlad.
“Great! He can share your bed,” Jack said as he pulled the boxes of food from the bags and placed them on the table before them.
“What?” exclaimed Vlad and Danny at once, both staring in shock at the larger man.
“Well, he can’t share my bed,” Jack explained. “I’m too big, and those beds are too small.”
“I could sleep on the couch,” Danny suggested.
“This thing is way too uncomfortable, and we’re pretty sure this is where the smell of our room is originating from,” Jack said. Danny hadn’t even noticed the strange odor, since the smell of the Chinese food was much stronger at that moment.
“Jack, you’re my best friend,” Vlad said with a sigh, “but sometimes you really like to push the limits of our friendship.” He grabbed a box of chow mein and a spork from the table. “Why exactly do you need a place to stay, Danny?” He stared at the boy beside him as he took a bite of his chow mein.
“Um, well,” mumbled Danny, feeling awkward as he sat squashed between his future dad and his future archenemy.
“Hey!” Jack exclaimed suddenly as he recalled something. “You said you met before.” He stared with a puzzled expression at Vlad. “When was this?”
“He was auditing the Calc class I TA for,” Vlad explained. “So as a student here, you, Danny, should have your own dorm room. Why do you say you have no place to stay?”
“Why would he be auditing a class if he’s not a student here?” Jack asked before he bit off one end of an egg roll.
“Wait. So you lied to me?” demanded Vlad as he turned toward Danny.
“I,” Danny mumbled and glanced around the apartment. “I didn’t mean to.” His gaze rose to meet Vlad’s glare, and he could see anger in the man’s eyes. Ducking his head down, Danny feared Vlad would lash out him for the lie. When no reaction occurred on Vlad’s part, he thought, Of course he isn’t going to yell at me. I have to stop thinking of what Vlad in the future would do.
“Hey, you any good at Pac Man?” Jack asked suddenly, breaking the silence that fell over them.
“Jack, you’re supposed to be studying,” Vlad said and frown disapprovingly at his roommate.
“Aw, come on, V-man!” whined Jack. “It’s only one game.”
“You always want to play games instead of studying,” Vlad grumbled. “I’m just looking out for you. I wouldn’t want you to break your solid B minus streak.”
“And I appreciate your concern as a friend. But what’s wrong with goofing off every now and again?”
After his father nudged him in the ribs with his elbow, Danny added, “And it’s only one game. What’s the harm in that?”
“And it’s not good to spend all your time studying,” Jack said. “I’ve had classmates who spend almost every waking moment studying and when it comes to major exams, their minds just go blank.”
“That’s an excellent point,” Danny agreed. “You have to give your mind a break. That’s a good fact to remember.”
“Come on, Vladdy!”
Vlad stared at two men before he released a sigh. “I get the point already! I guess one game wouldn’t hurt.” He cracked a small grin when Jack broke into a wide smile of triumph.
That accident really changed Vlad a lot, Danny thought, surprised that Vlad caved so easily to Jack’s pleading. I never would have thought this was how dad and Vlad spent their college days, he mused as he watched the two men get caught up in playing Pac Man. Maybe this won’t be so bad. I can get to know my dad and Vlad when they were still friends while waiting for them to finish the Proto Portal. Once that’s built and operational, I can slip into the Ghost Zone, find Clockwork, and go back to my own time. Crossing his fingers, he prayed that plan would actually work.
“Thanks for the clothes,” Danny said after he pulled on the T-shirt that Vlad gave him.
“It’s nothing,” Vlad said, shrugging from where he sat at his desk as he highlighted a few important passages in his book. “It’s not like you could borrow any of Jack’s clothes.”
“Well, I could have, but I wouldn’t want my clothes falling down every five seconds,” Danny joked with a grin. It fell flat when Vlad continued to sit with his back toward Danny. “I guess I’ll leave you to your studying.” He climbed into Vlad’s bed, but when he lay down to sleep, he noticed how loudly Jack was snoring. “How do you ever fall asleep with him as a roommate?”
“It takes a long time to get used to.” After closing his book, Vlad switched off the light and walked over to his bed. “Earplugs help too.”
Danny chuckled at that as he moved aside to give Vlad room to lie down. “Earplugs would come in handy right about now.”
“He got away without studying again,” mumbled Vlad irritably as he sighed. “Yet he’ll still manage to get straight B minuses. It pisses me off sometimes.”
“Do you get mad at Jack often?” Danny asked curiously. He rolled onto his side and propped his head up with one arm.
“Only when he does something really stupid.” Vlad turned to face Danny. “But he always manages to do something to get me to forgive him. I’m really not sure how he does that.”
That all changes in the future, thought Danny with a frown. If he hadn’t gotten so obsessed with my mom, maybe he and my dad would still be friends. As he considered how that might affect his life, Vlad as a friend to the family rather than an enemy, he liked the idea. Well, I'm probably going to be stuck here for a while. I’ll need to figure out how far along they are with the Proto Portal somehow so that I know how much time I’m going to be spending here. He glanced at Vlad, who stared back with an expectant look. “I’m sorry. Did you say something?”
“You space out just like Jack,” murmured Vlad, shaking his head. “Jack and I have early classes tomorrow. You’re free to do whatever you want, of course. Unfortunately, we don’t have an extra key to let you borrow.”
“If I do go out, I guess I can just wait for you or Jack to return,” Danny said. “Would it bother you if I sat in on your Calc class again?”
“So your interest in furthering your knowledge was genuine,” said Vlad as a small smirk tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I’d be happy to tutor you. But for now, good night.” He rolled onto his other side.
Danny lay down with his back toward Vlad. He curled up on the bed trying to get comfortable, but he found it difficult. The last time he shared a bed with another boy, it was at Tucker’s house and they were eight at the time. After putting as much distance between him and Vlad as possible, he started to doze off. However, he was jerked awake a moment later when Vlad’s arm smacked him on the head. Between Jack’s loud snores and Vlad’s unconscious attacks, Danny received little sleep that night.
That couch is starting to look a lot better right now, thought Danny after Vlad kicked him in the back. Does Vlad even realize he’s such a restless sleeper? He sighed as he stared into the darkness of the room. I guess I’m going to be here for some time. He winced when he received another blow from the sleeper next to him. While I’m here, I could try setting Vlad up with someone. But how would that affect the future? He thought on that for a while, weighing different scenarios of altered futures in his head. Well, my parents are already a couple, so nothing will stop them from getting married and having Jazz and me. As long as I don’t do anything to change what happens during the accident, that is. So it should be okay if I get Vlad a date. And if I’m lucky, he’ll stop being so obsessed with my mom. After some time, he finally fell asleep. When he woke up again, the sun shone brightly through the window with its curtains thrown wide open. Groaning, Danny sat up as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Jack and Vlad already left for their classes.
“Please tell me the Proto Portal will be finished soon,” Danny begged the empty room. “I don’t think I can survive on only a few hours of sleep.” But how am I supposed to find out about their progress on the Proto Portal? he wondered as he climbed out of bed. I can’t just ask them about it out of the blue. I mean, my dad might be willing to blather on about it. But what if they haven’t even started building it yet? I can’t suggest something that may alter the future greatly. He began the search for something to wear. His own clothes were lost among the dirty clothes thrown in one corner of the room. He found clean jeans and a shirt on Vlad’s side of the closet. After getting dressed, Danny stared at the pile of dirty clothes. “Maybe I should do their laundry.”
Danny searched the room, and after stubbing his toe on the desk’s leg, he discovered the pile of clothes hid a basket. So they hadn’t just been randomly throwing their laundry in one corner, he thought as he freed the basket from the clothes. While he was separating them into lights and darks, he heard his stomach growl loudly in hunger. I guess I should eat something first, he thought and walked around the couch. When he flopped down on it, he got his first real whiff of how bad the strange smell was. I am definitely not sleeping on this couch, he thought, holding a hand to his nose.
They hadn’t finished all of the Chinese, so there were still plenty of leftovers for Danny to choose from to have for breakfast. He ate the last two egg rolls and half a box of fried rice. Sitting back, he planned to relax for a while; then he noticed a note on the table with a key on top. He picked up the note and read it.
I figured you wouldn’t want to be locked up all day, so I’m leaving a key for you. I’ll be returning late tonight anyway.
“Dad’s going to be out late? That’s suspicious,” mumbled Danny, dropping the note back on the table. He stood up and pocketed the key before he returned to separating the laundry. After that was completed with the lights in the basket and the darks still in a pile in the corner, Danny left the room with the first load of laundry. He walked down a few steps before he realized that he didn’t know where exactly Laundromat was, if the building even had one. He noticed a woman at the bottom of the stairs. She held a basket of clothes in her arms.
“Hey!” Danny called out as he jogged down the steps to meet her. The woman turned to face him as he approached. “Do you think you could show me to the Laundromat?”
“Sure,” answered the woman, smiling at Danny. She glanced at his basket. “You don’t have any laundry detergent? I guess you’re new to the whole do your own laundry thing, huh?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess you could say that,” mumbled Danny as he blushed. He learned to do his laundry, but it slipped his mind to check his dad’s room for laundry detergent. “I’m Danny,” he said as he followed the woman down the stairs.
“Laura,” said the woman. She had a nice smile, though her looks were quite plain. Her long brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She wore sweats, since the rest of her clothes were dirty. “I’ve never seen you here before. Are you new here?”
“Yeah, I’m staying with some friends. I thought doing their laundry would be a good start of showing my thanks,” Danny replied. How exactly do I go about asking a girl out for Vlad? he wondered, feeling awkward at the thought.
“Nothing says thanks like clean underwear,” said Laura as she opened the door to the building’s Laundromat. “I’m still working off a favor for one of my friends.” She set her basket on a table; then she turned to stare at Danny. She opened her mouth, hesitated, and shook her head.
“What is it?” Danny asked, noticing the action as he opened the door to one of the washing machines.
“I was just thinking that perhaps we could help each other work off our debts to our friends.”
“How do you mean?” asked Danny as he gave the woman a puzzled look.
“Well,” Laura said slowly. Grinning, she walked over to where Danny stood. “I thought that we could set our friends up on a date.” She was a few inches shorter than Danny and had to look up at him as she blinked brown eyes.
Danny stepped back and stumbled over the basket at the feet. Laura grabbed Danny’s arm. With a tug, she stopped him from falling over backward. However, when he collided with the woman, Danny accidentally tackled her to the ground.
“S-Sorry!” stuttered Danny, blushing madly when he noticed one of his hands had landed on the woman’s breast. He shot up into a kneeling position and snapped his hand away.
“Man!” exclaimed someone standing in the doorway. Danny looked up to see a dark haired woman. She dressed in tight pants and a sports bra with a loose sweatshirt that hung off her shoulder, like she just returned from working out at the gym. “Why is it every time I come in here, there’s always some couple making out?” The question made Danny blush darker as he climbed off the woman.
“You just have very bad timing, Sara,” replied Laura. She took the hand that Danny offered and allowed him to help her to her feet.
“So who’s your new friend?” Sara asked, staring at Danny.
“This is Danny,” replied Laura as she hooked her arm around Danny’s arm. “And we were just discussing the possibility of going on a double date.”
“You aren’t trying to set me up on a blind date, are you?” Sara glared at her friend.
Laura released Danny and walked over to her friend. Danny frowned as he watched the two women whisper to each other.
“Sara agreed,” announced Laura as she turned toward Danny. “So talk to your friend, and if he agrees, meet us here.” She took a piece of paper and a pen from Sara and scribbled down the name of a bar. She handed the paper to Danny. “Let’s meet around, say, nine, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” replied Danny as he pocketed the paper. Is it sad that I have better luck with women in the eighties than I have with women in my own time? he thought dryly. On the bright side, getting Vlad a date wasn’t hard. Now I just hope that he likes her.
“You – You cleaned,” were the first words Vlad managed to say after he opened the door of his dorm room. He shared a room with Jack for so long that he forgot there were people capable of cleaning.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t really have anything else to do,” Danny said as he finished making Jack’s bed with fresh sheets. Especially since I didn’t have to spend hours finding a girl to go on a date with you, he thought, though I suppose it would have been smarter to find out how far they’ve gotten on the Proto Portal. He turned toward Vlad.
“It’s nice to have a roommate who knows how to clean,” said Vlad. After closing the door, he walked over to the couch and flopped down on it.
“And you never cleaned because?” Danny prodded as he joined Vlad on the couch.
“Hey, I would have if I didn’t have a lot of work – oh, who am I kidding?” Vlad sighed. “I’ve been just as much a slob as Jack.” He leaned against the back of the couch and put his feet up on the table.
“Being a slob must be a guy thing,” said Danny, shrugging. “I never would have bothered cleaning if this was my room.” Silence came over them as Danny wondered how he could convince Vlad to agree to the date. “So, um, how was your day?”
“I think some of my classes are far too easy for me,” answered Vlad, his face wrinkling in mild disgust. “How am I supposed to expand my realm of knowledge when my classes don’t challenge me intellectually?”
Danny stared at Vlad for a moment before posing the question, “Would you really want all of your classes to be challenging?” When Vlad gave him a puzzled look, he continued, “If all your classes were hard, you would be overwhelmed with work. You don’t want to overload your brain, right? That's how people burn themselves out.”
“I suppose you do bring up a good point,” Vlad said after a moment’s thought. “A few easy classes will allow me to focus more on the harder classes.”
“Speaking of giving your brain a break,” Danny said slowly. He glanced at Vlad and almost expected to find the man glaring at him in suspicion. Instead, Vlad merely looked on with curiosity in his gaze. “I thought we could go out tonight to a club. Maybe, um…” Danny trailed off as he reached into his pocket for the note that Laura had given him. “Uh, the Bunny Bar.”
Vlad leaned over and glanced at the note. “That looks like a girl’s handwriting.” He lifted his gaze and frowned when Danny laughed nervously.
“You’re rather observant,” mumbled Danny. “I bumped into this girl on my way to the Laundromat, and she told me about this bar. I thought maybe you and I could check it out.”
“Why me and not Jack?” Vlad’s eyes narrowed.
“Jack’s not here,” Danny answered as he shifted awkwardly in his seat. “I knew he wouldn’t be back until late this evening. He left me a note and his key in case I wanted to go out during the day.”
Leaning back, Vlad sighed and shook his head. “Jack is always so careless,” he muttered. “We don’t even know you that well, and he trusts you with the key to our dorm.”
“You don’t think I’m trustworthy?” Danny looked hurt, even though he knew the Vlad of this time period had no real reason to trust him.
“You seem like a nice person,” Vlad replied. “But the first thing you did was lie to me. There have also been a lot of reports about people having stuff stolen.”
“I’m not going to steal from you!” Danny snapped. Sighing, he lowered his head. “I didn’t mean to lie to you. I just - I didn’t know how you would react when you found out I wasn’t a student. I was afraid you would yell at me or kick me out of the class or something. And you had been so nice to me when you thought I was a student. I didn’t want to make you angry.”
“I’m more angry about the fact that you lied to me than that you aren’t a student here,” Vlad said in a calmer tone than Danny expected. “I wouldn’t have cared that you don’t go here.”
“I’m sorry. I won’t lie to you like that again.”
“And the idea of going to the bar?” Vlad asked and heard Danny gulp.
“Well, you see,” mumbled Danny as he reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. “All right. The truth is that the girl I met in the Laundromat wants to set you up on a blind date with her friend. She thought it would be a good way for both of us to work off our debts for favors that other people have done for us.”
“And you agreed to this?” Vlad demanded. The angry tone of his voice made Danny flinch.
“Is there really any harm in it? I’ll be there too so if you don’t like the girl, you can tell me and we’ll leave.” Danny stared hopefully at Vlad.
“I don’t like the idea of blind dates,” Vlad explained. “Besides I already have my eye on someone.”
“Oh?” Danny frowned, knowing exactly who that someone was. “And have you asked this person out?”
“N-No,” stuttered Vlad, thrown by the question.
“When were you planning on asking this person out?” asked Danny, trying to think of some way to convince Vlad to go on the blind date.
“Well, I – I hadn’t - I hadn’t planned on it yet.” Vlad coughed and tried to regain his composure. “She’s a good friend of mine. I have to go about asking her out carefully. What would happen if she rejected me? It could ruin our friendship.”
“I know how that is,” Danny said, thinking of the time when he thought he had feelings for Sam. Thankfully, the single date they went on hadn’t completely destroyed their friendship. “If there’s so much risk asking out this friend of yours, then would it really be that horrible to go on a date with someone else?”
“You’re going to continue to pester me about going on this blind date until I agree, aren’t you?” asked Vlad, frowning.
“Of course!” Danny grinned widely. “You’re not going to make me beg, right?”
“You’re acting like Jack,” Vlad murmured. “Pestering me until I agree to what he wants. I’ll go, but I don’t promise that I’ll enjoy this date.”
You could at least give the girl a chance, thought Danny, frowning at Vlad’s last statement. “Where are you going?” he asked when Vlad stood.
“To take a shower,” Vlad answered like it should have been obvious. “Though I would have preferred to take it later when I know I would be able to take a hot shower. But since I’m agreeing to go on this date, I might as well make myself look presentable.”
As subtle as he could, Danny raised his arm and sniffed. The bad odor made him realize that he could use a shower as well. “I’ll go to,” he said as he stood. After Vlad gathered his things, they headed down to the bathroom. When they got there, a mob of men were already there, waiting for their chance to use the showers. “Is it always this busy?” Danny whispered to Vlad.
“During the day,” grumbled Vlad, who hated this part of dorm life. “But around midnight, it’s mostly empty.”
They waited in silence for their turn. Vlad sometimes went to speak to some of the other men, but no one wanted to give up their chance at the showers. When he finally got into the shower, Danny enjoyed the spray of water, even though it was quite cold. He was happy to be able to scrub away the dirt and grime that had accumulated during the many hours of cleaning he did that day. Vlad, on the other hand, was less than happy with the cold water. He muttered to himself about how much he hated showering at this time of the day. He then cursed angrily when suds got into his eyes.
After they had finished showering, they walked back to Vlad’s room. Danny felt awkward about only wearing a towel around his waist while he hugged his dirty clothes to his chest in an attempt to cover himself from the sight of the other men lingering in the hallway. Being used to it, Vlad strode forward, more confident about his nearly nude appearance. Danny was relieved when they reached Vlad’s room and were behind closed doors.
“I guess it’s a good thing you did the laundry,” Vlad stated as he searched his clean clothes for something suitable for them both to wear. “What time did you agree to meet them at?”
“Nine,” answered Danny as he pulled on the pair of pants that Vlad had thrown at him. “What do you want to do for the few hours that we have until then?”
“I was thinking of studying,” Vlad replied and turned to face Danny. “But I suppose you’re going to be like Jack and want to play games.”
“I wasn’t going to suggest that,” Danny said, though it was his first thought. “What were you going to study?”
“Just some paranormal studies homework,” answered Vlad as he finished dressing. He turned away from Danny and walked over to his desk.
“And what are you working on in that?” Danny crossed the room to join Vlad at the desk.
“Just some theories that Jack, Maddie, and I have been discussing these past few weeks.” With his brow raised, Vlad glanced at Danny. “You don’t find that weird? Most people laugh and tease me about it.”
Danny frowned at the resentful tone in Vlad’s voice. “I don’t think it’s weird,” he answered after some time. “And I don’t think there’s anything funny about it. What kind of theories are you working on?”
“You wouldn’t be interested in them,” Vlad replied as he picked up some papers sitting on top of the desk.
“How do you know I won’t be interested in your theories?” Danny tried to catch a glimpse of the papers Vlad was looking through, but Vlad quickly snatched them out of sight and stored them away in a drawer of the desk.
“Let’s just play some Pac Man until it’s time to go,” said Vlad, stepping around Danny and heading toward the couch. He flopped down on it and grabbed the game controller from where it sat on the table.
Curious to know about the theories, Danny was tempted to sneak a peek at the papers. Sighing, he walked over and collapsed beside Vlad on the couch. They took turns playing, and in a matter of moments, it turned into a contest to see who could score the highest.
“Hey! Don’t turn it off!” shouted Danny when Vlad turned off the Atari.
“It’s nine,” Vlad said. He grabbed a jacket from the closet and pulled it on. “We’re supposed to meet those girls now.”
“Oh, right,” mumbled Danny, frowning. He got so in to the contest that he forgot all about the blind date. Sighing, he stood and followed Vlad to the door.
“You never told me what these girls are like,” said Vlad as they headed down to the first floor of the dorm building.
“I didn’t? I guess it slipped my mind. You never asked about them.” Danny paused to think about the women he had met earlier. He realized he didn’t really know much of anything about them. “Well, their names are Laura and Sara, and they… seem really nice.”
“So basically you got us dates with girls that you didn’t even bother to get to know?” Vlad asked flatly as they stepped out of the dorm building.
“Um, yeah, you could say that,” replied Danny, grinning weakly. He expected Vlad to get mad at him, but he only received a sigh and a shake of the head as a response.
They walked for some time in silence. Vlad led the way since he actually knew where the Bunny Bar was. He went there once or twice when a few of his friends forced him to go along with them. When he noticed Danny shiver, Vlad frowned.
“You should have worn a coat,” Vlad said, trying not to sound like he was scolding the man.
“I don’t exactly have a coat to wear,” mumbled Danny. He wrapped his arms around his body.
Vlad sighed as he removed his coat and offered it to Danny, who blinked at it.
“But won’t you be cold?” Danny asked.
“I’m used to the cold weather here.” Vlad shrugged.
Danny glanced between Vlad and the coat. Then he decided to take the coat before Vlad changed his mind. He pulled the coat on and wrapped it tightly around his body. It was still warm from having been worn by Vlad. They walked the rest of the way to the bar in silence.
When they reached the Bunny Bar, worry finally hit Danny. What if Vlad hated both girls? What if he couldn’t find anyone for Vlad to like?
“You didn’t suddenly get cold feet, did you?” asked Vlad upon noticing the worry on Danny’s face.
“Why would I have cold feet?” Danny chuckled and tried to force away any more negative thoughts. “Do they serve any good food here?”
“You’re expecting me to pay, aren’t you?” Vlad sighed when Danny responded with a nod and a hopeful look. “Fine, but in return you have to,” he had to pause to think of a suitable exchange. However, nothing came to mind at that moment. “You’ll have to continue cleaning our dorm room until I can think of something else. Oh, and you have to do the laundry too.”
“So now I’m your maid?” Danny asked in a musing way. If it meant he could eat and have a place to stay, then he didn’t mind having to clean.
“Hm, I wonder if I could get you one of those French maid outfits,” Vlad said, but from his tone Danny couldn’t tell if it was a joke or if Vlad was serious.
“You wouldn’t,” Danny growled in the cold tone that he used when a ghost pushed him from bantering mood to dead serious.
“I was only joking,” said Vlad with a light chuckle. Shaking his head, he opened the bar door.
“It didn’t sound like a joke when you said it,” muttered Danny grumpily as he followed Vlad into the bar. When a group near the back burst into loud shouts, Danny jumped in shock. He glanced toward the group and found five men angrily throwing pretzels at a television hanging above the bar.
“Do you see the girls anywhere?” Vlad asked, and Danny shook his head after he didn’t find any familiar faces. Vlad led the way around the bar to another section that Danny hadn’t noticed at first.
“Danny!” The shout made Danny turn his head. Laura, waving her arm to get Danny’s attention, stood at a booth to their left and near the back.
“That’s the girl?” mumbled Vlad, not looking very impressed by the woman’s appearance.
Danny nodded as he walked past Vlad and headed toward the booth. “Hey, Laura,” he greeted her. “This is my friend Vlad.” He gestured to Vlad.
“I’m Laura,” she introduced herself to Vlad. “And my friend is Sara.” Sara waved at Vlad from where she sat in the booth. Vlad nodded a hello to both women, and the action received a frown from the other three. They slid into the booth, Danny sitting next to Laura and Vlad next to Sara.
“So, um, you girls look nice tonight,” Danny said awkwardly. Laura cleaned up quite well since their meeting in the Laundromat. She wore a sleeveless blue dress that cut off about mid-thigh. Sara had on a red dress with one strap slipping off her shoulder. “Don’t you think they look nice, Vlad?”
“Yes, quite lovely,” agreed Vlad as he reached across Sara to grab one of the small menus. “Have you already ordered?”
“Aren’t you two sweet?” Sara giggled, blushing as she glanced at Vlad. “We were waiting for you to arrive before ordering drinks.”
“So what’s good here?” Danny asked.
“You’ll be having water,” replied Vlad, offering Danny the menu. “They have some hamburgers. I can’t guarantee their taste.” Danny took the menu to look over the hamburger choices.
“You’re not twenty-one yet?” asked Laura as she blinked in surprise.
“I’m only eighteen,” answered Danny. “That’s not a problem, is it?”
“No, no problem,” Laura said with a shake of her head. “Even if you are underage, I’m sure we can slip you a small sip every now and then. No one will notice.”
“I think I’ll just stick with water,” Danny said after catching the disapproving look on Vlad’s face. “So what are you two majoring in?”
“Well, I was working on a science major,” answered Sara, “but it just seems like a lot of work, and I don’t really understand half of what the professor says. I’m thinking of switching majors or maybe dropping out of this college and going to a beauty school.”
“So you plan on becoming a beautician?” asked Vlad with a frown.
“Yeah, I mean I’ve always had a knack for doing hair and makeup and stuff,” Sara said, smiling brightly.
“What about you, Laura?” Danny asked, deciding to move away from Sara’s chosen career. Danny could see that Vlad didn’t much like the idea of dating a beautician.
“I’m working on a journalism major,” answered Laura.
“Really? I have a friend getting a major in journalism,” Vlad said with a sudden interest. “Where do you want to work? The Wisconsin Reporter? Or maybe the Milwaukee Journal?”
“Actually, I was thinking of working at someplace like the Starlight Exaggerator,” Laura explained.
Danny glanced at Vlad, whose eye twitched and he looked like he was trying to restrain himself from saying something rude. “Where are the waiters?” he asked quickly. He peered around, trying to find someone that worked at the bar to call over so that they could order drinks.
“Why would you want to work at a sleazy tabloid and write garbage about the latest Hollywood scandal?” shouted Vlad, not caring who overheard him.
“The Starlight Exaggerator isn’t a sleazy tabloid!” argued Laura.
“Could you two not argue,” Danny started to ask, but he shrank back when both of them snapped angry looks at him.
“The Starlight Exaggerator doesn’t publish the latest Hollywood scandal,” Laura continued. “They have lots of in depth articles about other things too. It’s not all about some actress having Big Foot’s baby. They just post that kind of stuff on the cover to get the public’s attention.”
“They shouldn’t have to do that sort of thing if they wanted to be taken as a serious magazine,” Vlad muttered.
“You’re the one who believes in ghosts,” said Laura, narrowing her eyes as she folded her arms.
“I wouldn’t expect an airhead like you to understand anything about paranormal studies.” Vlad climbed to his feet and walked away from the booth.
When he started to follow Vlad, Danny heard Laura say, “Your friend is a real jerk.” Danny almost turned around to say he agreed with Vlad about the sleazy tabloid, but he thought it better to chase after Vlad. He met up with Vlad outside the bar where the man was waiting, leaning against the wall of the building.
“I shouldn’t have snapped like that,” mumbled Vlad, looking like he almost regretted his words.
“That was pretty rude of you,” Danny said as he folded his arms and attempted to look mad at Vlad. “Why did you start yelling at her like that?”
“I don’t know.” Vlad sighed and looked away. “It annoyed me to hear that she wanted to use her major in journalism for something like that. That tabloid does nothing but report on Hollywood scandals and make up these bogus stories about aliens and big foot and… and ghosts.”
Danny’s brow shot up at the mention of ghosts. “What did they say about ghosts?” he asked, deciding that was what really made Vlad go off about the tabloid.
“They made up all this bogus stuff,” Vlad replied, shrugging. “They provided no scientific evidence for their research. Their images looked like they took a picture of a mirror with the flash on and then made it blurry.” He said nothing more about the tabloid.
“I’m sorry,” said Danny after a lull in their conversation. “I shouldn’t have forced you to go on this date.”
“No, I-” A growl cut off Vlad’s words. He smirked as a small blush colored Danny’s cheeks. “I guess I should feed my maid.” He started walking down the street. “I think there’s a Denny’s somewhere nearby.”
“Do you really have to refer to me as your maid?” Danny hoped he didn’t sound like he was whining.
“Why not? You are my maid, aren’t you?” Vlad glanced over his shoulder at Danny following a few steps behind him. He tried to keep his expression serious, even when Danny hung his head and sighed. “Between you and Jack, I’m going to end up running out of money rather quickly.”
“But doesn’t Jack also get paid for being a TA?” Danny asked as he head snapped up.
“Yeah, but he has this habit of spending his money on unnecessary items,” explained Vlad.
That sounds like dad, thought Danny, shaking his head. A few minutes later, they arrived at the Denny’s. It wasn’t terribly busy; only a few groups of people sat scattered around the restaurant. Vlad led the way to an open booth, and they didn’t have to wait long for a waitress to greet them and hand them menus to look over.
“I really hope I have enough money to pay for both of us,” muttered Vlad as they scanned the menu.
Danny glanced up at him. “Would you rather share something? I’m not all that hungry, and there’s always the leftover Chinese.”
“It’s okay,” Vlad said. “I think I can afford two classic burgers. Do you mind if we got water instead of sodas?” Danny agreed to that decision, and Vlad told the waitress their order the next she came by.
“Can I ask you something?” asked Danny after growing bored with glancing around the restaurant.
“I never said you couldn’t,” replied Vlad with a look of curiosity on his face.
“What got you believing in ghosts?” It never occurred to Danny until now that he never questioned why Vlad and his parents were so interested in ghosts.
“Do I really need a reason to have a fascination with something?” Vlad grinned at the waitress as she set two glasses of water on their table before she walked away again. When he glanced back at the man across from him, Vlad found Danny waiting with an expectant look. “Why am I interested in ghosts? I guess it started with a fuzzy image.” He picked up his glass and took a sip. “I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first, but I was the only person who saw the fuzzy image. As I grew up, I began to realize it could have been a ghost. Other kids my age might have been scared to realize this, but discovering this only made me more interested in it. I started researching ghosts, reading stories about real life haunted houses and castles. I even made up a few theories about ghosts and their existence, but they never really panned out. The field of paranormal studies is fairly small, since there are a lot of skeptics out there, so I think there’s a great possibility of making some amazing breakthroughs.” He smiled warmly, shocking Danny who never saw such a smile on Vlad. “Someday, I’m going to be famous for making the biggest discovery in paranormal history.”
“Or you could be famous for being the richest man in Wisconsin,” Danny said.
Vlad stared at Danny. He wasn’t sure at first what he should think of that comment. After a moment, he laughed, making Danny flush and shift awkwardly in his seat. “Me? The richest man in Wisconsin? You have a wild imagination, Danny.”
The waitress approached their table then and set down the two plates. Their conversation halted as Vlad and Danny dug hungrily into their burgers. Neither realized how hungry they really were until the food was placed before them and the delicious aroma filled their nostrils. When they finished eating, Vlad paid the bill. He had just enough money. With their bellies filled, they walked back to the dorm building.
“The date fiasco aside, this night turned out to be rather nice,” Danny commented as the dorm building grew nearer.
“Yeah, I guess it did,” agreed Vlad, glancing at Danny. He bit his lip to keep from smirking as he placed a hand on Danny’s shoulder to make him stop walking.
“What?” Danny asked and blinked in confusion.
Vlad reached into his pocket and retrieved a clean handkerchief. He wiped away the red smudge on Danny’s right cheek while trying not to laugh at the sight. “You had a bit of ketchup on your face,” he explained.
“I’ve been walking this whole time with ketchup on my face?” exclaimed Danny, blushing madly at the realization.
“I only just now noticed, if that makes you feel any better,” Vlad commented.
“Not really,” mumbled Danny as he pouted in embarrassment. I must have looked like a child with that on my face! he thought, frustrated with himself. Silence followed as they continued walking. They entered the building and headed up the stairs to third floor. When they reached Vlad’s room, they found Jack waiting at the door.
“Forget your key again?” Vlad asked as he reached into his pocket for his own key.
“I lent mine to Danny,” answered Jack in a mumble. “I thought you two would be here when I came back.”
“Ah, sorry,” Danny apologized. He forgot all about Jack while they were eating.
“It’s okay. I wasn’t waiting long.” Jack shrugged as Vlad opened the door to their room. “So where did you two go?” Jack asked, walking into their room.
“We wanted something other than leftover Chinese for dinner,” Vlad answered, not really in the mood to tell Jack about their dates. “Anyone up for a game of Pac Man?” he inquired before Jack could ask any more questions. Both Jack and Danny agreed, and the contest resumed.
Danny awoke the next morning and found the dorm room empty once again. I guess they had early classes, he thought as he rubbed his sore back, which seemed to be Vlad’s preferred spot to attack. Standing, he yawned and stretched as he glanced around the room. He had already done most of the cleaning the previous day. It’s amazing how much cleaning you can get done when you have nothing better to do, he thought and took a seat on the couch. Maybe I can earn some money doing laundry and other chores for people. I can’t just mooch off Vlad and Dad the whole time. When the door creaked as it opened, Danny leapt to his feet. He almost switched to his ghost form until he saw Jack stick his head into the room.
“Oh, you’re awake,” Jack stated the obvious as he entered the room. In his hands, he held a white paper bag and a cup holder with two Styrofoam cups.
“I’m sorry,” Danny said, frowning in confusion as he fell back onto the couch.
“I was afraid I would wake you up,” explained Jack and joined Danny on the couch.
“Don’t you have class?”
“No, my first class doesn’t start for another few hours.” Jack set the bag and cup holder on the table. “I went out to get us some breakfast. I didn’t know whether you liked coffee or not.” He picked up one of the cups.
“Coffee is fine,” Danny said as he took the proffered cup. He didn’t much like coffee, but he felt it would be rude to reject the drink after his father went out and bought it for him. “What’s in the bag?”
“Doughnuts,” answered Jack, but he left the bag sitting on the far end of the table out of Danny’s reach. “However, I want to hear the truth about where you were last night. I may not look it, but I can tell when Vlad isn’t telling me the full truth.”
Danny frowned. He didn’t often get to see this side of his father, the serious, no jokes side. “I - I wouldn’t feel right about telling you something that Vlad might not want you to know,” Danny said, though he didn’t understand why Vlad had wanted to keep it secret.
“Vlad and I share everything,” Jack said then he paused and dropped his gaze to the coffee cup in his hands. “Almost everything. There are times when Vlad keeps things from me, and there are some things I can’t share with him.”
“What can’t you share?” Danny stared at Jack and pretended to be curious. He already guessed that it was about his relationship with Maddie.
Jack lifted his gaze to Danny and stared for some time before he sat back. “This conversation never happened. Everything we say right now remains between us.” Once Danny agreed, Jack continued. “Vlad and I have been friends with this girl Maddie for quite a long time now. Maddie and I… We’ve been in a relationship for the past six months. At first, we tried not to admit our feelings. We didn’t want to make Vlad uncomfortable by having a relationship. But what Maddie and I share, I think it’s real love, like we’re soul mates. I want to tell Vlad, but I don’t want to hurt him. He won’t like that we kept our relationship a secret from him. What makes the whole thing worse is that I think Vlad might like Maddie. He never came out and said it, but I still feel like I’m betraying him by dating the woman he likes.”
“Vlad may feel betrayed, but it’s Maddie’s choice who she dates,” Danny said. “And Maddie chose you, not Vlad.”
“Maddie said things like that too when I told her I thought Vlad liked her,” Jack admitted. “But I’m still afraid of destroying our friendship because of this.” Jack took a sip of his coffee. “I just wish there was someone else for Vlad to fall in love with. But that just makes me feel selfish. I want Vlad to have someone to avoid feeling guilty about my relationship with Maddie.
“Maybe a little selfish,” mumbled Danny, realizing he was also being selfish with his motive to find someone for Vlad. “I set Vlad up on a blind date last night. It ended pretty badly though. Vlad got upset when one of the girls said she wanted to work for the Starlight Exaggerator.”
“Oh,” said Jack, wincing. “Yeah, I can understand that. Vlad was really offended when they published this totally bogus article trying to prove that ghosts don’t exist and that the field of paranormal studies is a joke. The worst part of it all was that they didn’t even bother with scientific research. They merely had one of their random writers voice their thoughts on the field. Maddie was angry with the article too.” Jack picked up the bag and held it open for Danny, who eagerly took one of the glazed doughnuts. “That also explains why Vlad didn’t say anything about it,” Jack said as he took a doughnut for himself. “Vlad doesn’t like talking about failed dates, even to me.”
“When you say it like that, it sounds like he has a lot of failed dates,” mumbled Danny as he licked the icing from his fingers.
“I can’t say for a fact that it happens a lot,” Jack said, finishing off the last bite of his doughnut. “As I said, he doesn’t talk to me about them, and I’ve learned that I shouldn’t ask about them.” He glanced at the clock and stood. “And I need to get going now. I’m supposed to meet with some students who had questions about the class I TA for. The rest of the doughnuts are for you. And remember, this conversation never happened.”
“What conversation?” Danny asked, grinning widely as he reached into the bag for another glazed doughnut.
“I’ll see you later then.” Jack waved as he walked out the door and left Danny to finish off the doughnuts alone.
Once he had finished the doughnuts and coffee, Danny wiped his hands clean before he got up to change his clothes. “Now to check on that Proto Portal,” Danny mumbled as he transformed in his ghost form.
If my parents or Vlad are there, I don’t want them to see me, he thought, flying through the wall and out of the building. He floated around the campus for some time before he finally found the science building where he remembered they tested the Proto Portal. Dropping down to ground level, he flew into the building and wandered the hallway until he found room 101.
When he entered, Danny found it empty. He walked around as he scanned the room. It wasn’t much different from how he remembered it when Clockwork sent him back in time. Papers and books were scattered a few of the tables. Some of the tables contained bits and pieces of experiments or labeled beakers and vials. He found the Proto Portal on one of the tables. The Proto Portal only had its base constructed with a few other pieces lying strewn around it.
“They’ve only just started it,” murmured Danny with a sigh. His shoulders drooped, and he hung his head. “I guess it’ll be a while before I can get into the Ghost Zone to talk with Clockwork.”
Danny had no choice but to wait for his parents and Vlad to complete it. If he were to complete it himself, it would affect the future too greatly. For one, Vlad wouldn’t get hit by the explosion created during the testing of the Proto Portal. Danny, also, had no idea had to actually build the Portal, and he didn’t dare try.
“I just hope it won’t be too long before they finish building the Portal,” said Danny as he floated out of the science room. But since I’m stuck here, I might as well make some money to help out my dad and Vlad, he thought, flying back to their dorm room. When he reached their room, he checked the room to make sure Vlad or Jack hadn’t returned while he was gone. Finding the room empty, Danny transformed back to his human self. “Now to get to work,” he mumbled as he left the room. He walked down the hallway to the next door. His hand raised, posed for knocking, when the door suddenly opened.
“Can I help you?” the man asked, frowning. He held a basket of clothes in his arms.
“Actually, I was hoping I could help you,” replied Danny. “I would like to offer my services to you.”
“What kind of services?” the man asked, his eyes narrowing with suspicion.
“I’ll do your laundry for you or clean your room,” explained Danny then he realized he might sound like some sort of crazy person.
“For a fee, of course,” said the man, smirking. “Well, I do need to get this laundry done, but I have a big paper I need to write.”
“You’re in luck then. If you let me do your laundry, you’ll have more time to work on your paper.”
The man handed the basket to Danny. Then he reached into his pocket for his wallet. “I’ve only got five dollars on me. My roommate may have more, but he’s in class at the moment.”
“Five bucks works for me,” said Danny, grinning as the man handed him the money. He headed down to the Laundromat, which had three other people already there doing their laundry. I guess it wouldn’t be smart to do more than one person’s laundry at once, he thought, setting down the basket. I wouldn’t want to have to refund the money because of stolen items. After sorting the laundry, he put the first load into the open washing machine. He sat watching it for five minutes before it occurred to him that he should have brought something to do while he waited.
Danny spent most of the morning sitting in the Laundromat. Out of boredom, he settled for watching the other people in the room and observing their little quirks. By the time he switched loads, two of the other people finished. That left one other person in the Laundromat. It was a tall man with spiky blond hair. He had his head leaned back while he spit into the air and caught it again in his mouth. The silence dragged on until finally the buzzer went off loudly. Danny dumped the dry clothes into the basket before switching the second load from the washer to the dryer. He took the basket back to the spot where he was sitting and started folding them while he waited.
After all the laundry was washed and folded, Danny headed back up the stairs. He walked down the hallway until he reached the right door. Shifting his hold on the basket so that he had it held with one arm and supported by his hip, he knocked on the door and waited for the man to answer it. When the door opened, Danny was shocked to find a woman standing there in only jeans and a bra.
The woman raised an elegant brow as she stared at Danny. “What do you want?”
“I, uh, I,” stuttered Danny, his cheeks growing red at the sight of the woman’s exposed flesh. He tore his gaze from the woman. When his eyes landed on the door number, he realized his error. “I’m sorry! This is the wrong floor,” he said hastily before he turned and jogged down the hallway. He ran up the steps to the next, and correct, floor and down the hallway to the proper door.
“Dude, you are a life saver!” exclaimed the man when he answered the door. He took the basket from Danny.
“No problem,” said Danny, grinning. “If you want me to do your laundry again, I’m in the room next to yours.” He pointed in the direction of Vlad and Jack’s room.
“Cool. Hey, I’ll even tell my friends about you.” The man smiled and waved as he closed the door.
Danny walked toward the next door. His day continued on this way, with an occasional man slamming the door in his face. After he returned another basket of folded, clean laundry, Danny turned around and saw Vlad walking toward him.
“What were you doing?” Vlad asked as he glanced between Danny and the door he stood before.
Danny followed his gaze a little nervously. Then he had a sudden idea. “Oh, nothing,” he replied with a tiny smirk as he walked past Vlad.
“You’re coming out of some random guy’s room, and you call that nothing?” Vlad demanded angrily.
“I never even went into the guy’s room. So how could I be coming out of it?” Danny tried to sound nonchalant about it, but the accusation made him a little annoyed. “It’s nothing for you to concern yourself with.”
“You’re keeping things secret from me again,” stated Vlad; his lips pursed in an angry line.
“You make a poor role model sometimes,” muttered Danny as he turned around to face Vlad. “You get upset when I keep things from you, but you go and keep things from Jack. I thought you two were supposed to share everything.”
“I – I-” Vlad stuttered, trying to think of a comeback, but Danny’s statement threw him off. “I don’t like discussing my failures with anyone.”
“Do you think he’s going to laugh at you or something?” Danny asked, his brow drawing together in confusion. “Everyone goes on a few horrible dates during their lives. I bet Jack could tell about some of the date disasters he's had. Besides if he was going to laugh at you, it would more likely be about your knitting than that blind date last night.”
“I never thought about – How do you know about that?” Vlad’s expression changed from thoughtful to suspicious within seconds. “I don’t even keep any of my knitting supplies here.”
“I, um, I overheard you talking about it in your sleep,” replied Danny, wincing and praying Vlad believed him.
“I don’t remember having any dreams about knitting,” Vlad said, completely puzzled.
“Do you actually remember every dream you have?”
“I suppose not.”
“So what are you doing back here?” Danny gave a mental cheer at the change of topic.
“I thought you might have forgotten about sitting in on the calculus class,” Vlad replied.
“I didn’t forget!” argued Danny, though it did slip his mind while he was doing the laundry. “But it’s a good thing you came to get me because I don’t remember what building that class was in or what time it was at.”
Vlad wore a look that said “I knew that would be the case” as he shook his head. Turning down the hall, Vlad led the way down the stairs and out of the building while Danny followed after him. They walked in silence toward the building housing the class in the mathematics field.
Danny began wondering what exactly he should do now. My reason for finding Vlad a date is kind of selfish, he thought with a frown. But it couldn’t hurt to try finding him someone. I just went about it all wrong last time. I should look for someone he’s more compatible with instead of setting him up with some random girl I met. And if I leave things as they are, Vlad will just become obsessed with my mom, and we’ll still be enemies in present time. Danny sighed and lowered his head.
“Something wrong?” Vlad asked as he held the door open for Danny.
“Ah, no, nothing,” answered Danny quickly. “Just, you know, thinking about how confusing this class is.” He forced a grin to his face and walked past Vlad and into the room.
Vlad frowned as he watched the younger man. When the teacher started talking, Vlad joined Danny in the last row of seats. He handed Danny a piece of paper and pencil and leaned over toward him, and the tutoring session began.
“I don’t understand any of this,” muttered Danny as he glared at the sheet of paper in his hands. Vlad held onto Danny’s upper arm and guided him through the throng of students in the hallway. “This might as well be a foreign language!”
“You seem to be grasping the formulas quite well,” Vlad insisted, but Danny could tell the man was growing weary of encouraging him.
“You don’t have to be nice to spare my feelings.” Danny sighed and folded the paper before he stuffed it in his back pocket. “All my teachers never hesitated to tell me what a poor student I am. Well, except Mr. Lancer. He always tried to help me, except when he was taking sides with the bullies, but that was mostly in freshman year.”
“There are teachers like that.” Vlad shook his head. “They like making it difficult for their students to pass, or they try to break their students’ confidences with cruel words. You just have to learn not to let their words drag you down.”
“I suppose,” mumbled Danny with a frown. “But I don’t think there’s any way I’m going to learn this calculus stuff.”
“Stop that already!” Vlad snapped, causing Danny to jump at the firm, forceful tone he used. “You’re not that bad in math.”
Folding his arms, Danny stared at Vlad, daring him to prove his statement.
“You don’t believe me.” Vlad sighed. They stared at each other, neither speaking, until the corners of Vlad’s mouth twitched. “Care to make a little wager then?”
“What sort of wager?” Danny asked, not liking the look on Vlad’s face. It was a look he grew accustomed to seeing on the older man whenever Vlad had some trick up his sleeve.
“I think you can pass the next exam,” replied Vlad, already expecting the skeptical look now gracing Danny’s face. “So here’s the bet: if you pass, you have to,” he paused and pretended to think. “You have to do the laundry and clean while wearing a French maid outfit.”
Danny gaped at Vlad, his mouth hanging open. Then it snapped shut as he frowned. “What is this obsession with French maid outfits?”
“I’m not sure.” Vlad rolled his shoulder in a small shrug. “Somehow the idea just amuses me.”
“Right,” said Danny, not believing the man’s words. “And if I fail?”
“That is for you to choose.”
Danny thought about all the possibilities. The one option that stuck out in his mind was to force Vlad to go on another blind date. He did still want Vlad to find someone else to stop his obsession with Maddie. He shook the thought from his mind as another idea occurred to him. “All right,” Danny said after some more thought. “If I fail, then you have to tell about your theories on ghosts.” And this way, I can keep tabs on their progress of the Proto Portal, he thought with a mental smirk, proud of his plan.
“That’s what you want?” Vlad hid his mild shock with confusion and a frown. Danny nodded in response. “I guess I can agree to that. But you have to do your best on the exam. You can’t fail on purpose.”
“That never crossed my mind.” Danny grinned.
“Good. I have to get to my next class, but starting tonight, I’m going to start drilling those formulas into your head so you’re prepared for the exam.”
“I’m so looking forward to that,” muttered Danny in a sarcastic tone. They waved as they parted ways, and Danny headed back toward their dorm. After he entered the building, Danny jogged up the stairs to the third floor. With a sigh, he walked down the hallway toward the room he was sharing with Jack and Vlad. He had his hand on the knob about to open the door when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to find a tall, black man with nervous look in his eyes standing before him.
“I, um, a friend of mind said there was a guy living his this room offering to do laundry and stuff,” said the man, stuttering and coughing as he glanced away with an uncertain look.
“Yeah, that’s me,” Danny said, grinning friendly. “Is it just laundry?”
“Actually, I'm having a date come over,” replied the man, looking more embarrassed. “My roommates, well myself as well, are slobs. Do you think you could clean our room?”
“Sure.” Danny followed the man down the hallway to his room. When he entered the room, he gave a low whistle at the mess he found. I hope he pays me well for this, he thought as he rolled up imaginary sleeves and got to work.
“So you’re sharing a room with, oh what are their names,” said the man, “that Masters guy, and, um, Fenton?” He sat on one of the beds and leaned against the wall as he watched Danny clean.
“Yeah,” Danny answered, his brow knitting together as he frowned.
“Huh.” The man nodded his head.
Silence passed. The man scratched an itch on the inside of his foot. Danny made a face as he lifted a plate by a sock that was glued to it by some leftover food. He couldn’t tell what the green and brown goo plastered to the dish was.
“You don’t think they’re… odd?” asked the man after a while.
Danny raised his head to look over the top of the table. “Odd? They aren’t odd.” He ducked down again to grab the last bit of trash under the table. He climbed to his feet and dumped the trash into a basket that he spotted near a desk. “This isn’t going to be about their belief in ghosts, is it?”
“It was,” mumbled the man, shifting awkwardly. “I guess I just never understood why anyone would be interested in that kind of thing. I mean, I’ve never seen any real proof of ghosts existing.”
“Just because you haven’t seen proof, it doesn’t mean no one has seen proof,” said Danny, straightening some books on a shelf over the desk.
“I guess… that’s true.” The man fell silent once again, allowing Danny to work without interruption.
“Why did you ask?” The thought was nagging Danny’s mind throughout the long silence.
“Oh, my younger sister sent me a letter. She’s taken an interest in ghosts, and I’m just trying figure out why she would suddenly be interested in them.”
“Does she really need to have a reason to be interested in ghosts? Could you move so I can make the bed?”
“No, I supposed she doesn’t really need a reason.” The man climbed off the bed then leaned against the wall. “I guess I just wanted to understand her. I feel like there’s this gap between my sister and me, and it just keeps getting bigger. We used to be really close, you know.”
“That kind of makes me think of my sister,” said Danny with a fond smile. “My whole family believes in ghosts, but my sister, always thinking she’s the sane one, refused to believe in them. It kind of drove a wedge between us. It wasn’t until she started believing in ghosts as well that we’ve started getting closer. So if you want to keep a close relationship with your sister, I suggest just accepting her interest. Don’t go around teasing her for believing in ghosts. You don’t have to believe in them yourself, but maybe you could try to show a little interest in it just to let her know you don’t think she’s some weirdo.” He finished making the bed and turned toward the man.
The man scratched the back of his shaved head. “Well, I guess that would be fair,” he said after some thought. “She did come to my basketball games even though she didn’t particularly care for sports.” He noticed then that Danny finished cleaning the room while they had talked. “How much do I owe you?”
“Oh, I don’t have any set payment. I’ve been letting people pay me whatever they feel is appropriate for the work.”
The man nodded as he got his wallet. He pulled out two bills, a twenty and a five, and handed them to Danny. Taking the money, Danny was a little disappointed. The room wasn't exactly fun or easy to clean with how much trash and questionable leftover food cluttered it, but he didn’t want to ask for more and seem greedy.
“Thanks for the advice,” the man said, following Danny to the door. “None of the guys I know would have bothered to actually offer me advice. They would have just laughed at me and said I’m worry over nothing.”
“No problem.” Danny grinned at him. “Talking made the work go a lot faster. As for your friends, don’t listen to them. Family is important.”
“My thoughts exactly.” The man chuckled. “Well, thanks again, and if I ever need my room cleaned again, I know who to ask. Well, see you around.” He closed the door.
Danny found a few people loitering around the hallway. How long did I spend in his room? he wondered as he made his way through the small crowd toward his own room. When he reached door, Vlad was already there, holding it open.
“You can’t tell me that I didn’t just see you leaving the room of some guy,” Vlad said as he closed the door behind them.
“I wasn’t going to deny it,” said Danny, sounding almost puzzled.
“What were you doing in there?” Vlad stood by the door with his arms folded as he frowned at Danny.
“I had planned on surprising you,” replied Danny with a pout. “I did a little work for some of the men on this floor, laundry mostly, but that last guy, I cleaned his room. I thought maybe this time I could treat you to dinner… and Jack.”
“Oh,” Vlad responded, his brow lifting in surprise. “That’s thoughtful of you.”
“Well, I figured I can’t just mooch off you and Jack.” Danny flopped onto the couch. He sighed as he picked at a loose strand on the hem of the shirt he wore.
Vlad stared at the forlorn expression on Danny’s face. “All right. What’s with that look?” he asked as he joined Danny on the couch.
Danny glanced at Vlad. “Well, it’s just while I was cleaning that guy’s room we got to talking about some things. It kind of got me thinking of my family. I miss them.” Well, Jazz mostly, and mom. I haven’t really seen her much since I arrived here, he thought. It’s kind of cool spending time with dad like this. And getting to know Vlad a little hasn’t been all that bad either.
“Maybe you should call your family,” Vlad suggested.
“No, I can’t,” said Danny quickly. “It’s, um - My family situation is a bit complicated.” He swallowed nervously when he caught the suspicious look in Vlad’s eyes. “So why don’t we get started on that tutoring stuff?”
Vlad frowned at the change of topics. He dug into his book bag for notebook and dropped it into Danny’s lap. “All right. Let’s continue where we left off in class,” he said. Danny opened the notebook to a clean page, and they began that night’s tutoring session.
Danny sighed as he relaxed on a bench outside the dorm building. For weeks, he was stuck inside doing laundry and cleaning rooms or studying with Vlad for the exam. The only times he actually left the building were to join Vlad in his calculus class or when they had enough money combined to eat at a nice restaurant. The rest of the time, they ate whatever Jack or Vlad managed to bring home for dinner.
I haven’t even had time to look for someone for Vlad, thought Danny as he sighed yet again. At this rate, I’m never going to stop Vlad’s obsession with Mom. He stood, deciding he had taken a long enough break from work. Before he could turn back to the building, he caught sight of Vlad walking with a woman at his side. Danny watched the two chat with each other, and he was surprised to see Vlad smiling and laughing at something the woman had said. Oh, Vlad, you're making this too easy for me. Danny grinned. When the woman waved and walked away, he approached Vlad.
“Who was that?” Danny noticed Vlad jump slightly.
“That? A girl from one of my classes,” Vlad answered as he walked past Danny and toward the dorm building.
“You two seem to get along quite well,” Danny pointed out and followed behind the man. “And she’s pretty.”
“Do you want me to introduce her to you or something?” Vlad turned to frown at Danny.
“No!” Danny coughed and looked away when Vlad raised a brow at him. “That’s not what I was trying to get at,” he mumbled. “Haven’t you ever thought of asking that girl out before?”
“Go out with Amanda?” Vlad looked thoughtful then he shook his head. “I don’t think I’m her type. She would probably say no if I asked her.”
“You won’t know if you never ask her,” Danny pointed out. They entered the dorm building and started walking up the stairs to their floor. “I think your chances of her saying yes are good.”
“You’re quite the optimist,” mumbled Vlad. “I don’t think I want another failure in the world of dating. I’m still bitter over that blind date you set me up on.”
“Okay.” Danny sighed. “I apologized for that. I shouldn’t have just said yes to the first girl I met. But this girl Amanda - You already know her, and you two seem to have a decent relationship already. What is there to stop you two from going on a date? Or are you afraid to ruin a friendship with her as well?”
Frowning, Vlad stared at Danny. “My friendship with Amanda isn’t even close to the kind of friendship I have with Maddie.” He stopped before the door to his room. “Why are you so interested in my love life anyway? You pushed me on that blind date, and now you’re pushing me to ask Amanda out.”
“Is there something wrong with wanting a friend to be in a happy relationship with someone?” Danny reached past Vlad to unlock the door then entered the room.
“It’s suspicious if you ask me,” grumbled Vlad as he followed the younger man into the room. “Do you want to start your lesson now?”
Danny glanced at the clock that sat on the desk. It was already past five. “Yeah, okay,” he said and took a seat on the couch. “I guess I’ve done enough work for today.” He grinned as Vlad joined him with a pad of paper and pen in his hands. They continued from where they left off during their last lesson. When Jack returned, they called it a night and happily dug into the Chinese takeout that Jack brought home.
“What’s up with you?” Jack asked as he plopped onto the couch. He grew tired of listening to Danny sigh every ten minutes. He could no longer concentrate on his studies.
“This is the third time this week that Vlad hasn’t returned on time.” Danny frowned as he turned to face his father. “Do you know where he is?”
“Nope,” Jack replied, shaking his head. “Vlad hasn’t said anything to me.”
Frowning with his lower lip jutting out only a little, Danny folded his arms. “He’s supposed to be helping me study for that stupid calc exam.”
“Well, you can always ask him when he gets back.” Jack picked up the game controller to start a game of Pac Man. “But are you sure you want to put all that effort into passing the exam?”
“Excuse me. What?” Danny asked, blinking in shock of his father’s question. There’s no way Dad would encourage me to fail, he thought.
“I know about that little bet you have going with Vlad,” Jack explained with his gaze glued to the television screen. “If you pass the exam, Vlad is going to make you dress in that French maid outfit.”
Danny gulped, having forgotten the consequences of the bet. He was too focused on studying the material for the exam that the bet slipped from his mind. “He’s not really going to hold me to that, right?”
“Oh, trust me, he will.” Jack wore a tiny smirk. “So would you really want to pass the exam knowing the humiliation that awaits you when you pass it?”
Danny frowned as he thought. Why is he asking me this? I can’t believe Dad would ever tell me to cheat or purposely fail an exam. “I couldn’t cheat in that way,” he answered after some time. “Vlad is trying so hard to prove to me that I’m not as bad in math as I think I am. It wouldn’t be fair to either of us if I cheated like that.”
“Good answer!” Jack tore his gaze away from the television to grin at Danny. “I would be disappointed in you if you took the easy route out of the bet.”
Danny raised his hand to punch his father’s shoulder when the door opened. Vlad entered the room and ignored the stares from the other two as he walked toward his bed.
“Why are you so dressed up?” Jack asked the question that was floating around in Danny’s mind as well.
Vlad wore one of his nicer suits. His tie was undone, and he gripped one end and removed it with a quick tug. Tossing it onto his bed, he next removed his jacket and dropped it on top of the tie.
“I think he’s ignoring me,” Jack mumbled with a frown when Vlad remained silent. His watch beeped right then, and he glanced at it. “Ah! I have someone I need to meet.” He got up and grabbed his coat from the chair at the desk. “I’ll see you guys later.” As he pulled on his coat, he left the room.
Danny watched Vlad, who kicked off his shoes then lay down on his bed. “Where have you been? You were supposed to help me study for the exam.” For a moment, Danny feared that he would receive no answer. Then Vlad sat up with his body hunched over and his arms resting over his thighs.
“I went out with Amanda,” whispered Vlad.
“Really?” Danny stood and walked over to the bed and sat beside Vlad. “How did things go?”
“Well, she seemed to be pretty interested in me, and we did get along rather well.”
“But there’s a problem, right?”
“I just don’t see her as anything but a friend.” Vlad sighed and leaned back on the bed. “We went out on three dates, but they didn’t feel like dates. It felt like being out with a friend, like hanging out with Jack or something.”
“Does this mean you broke up with her tonight?” Danny lowered his gaze to the floor as he picked at a loose thread on his jeans.
“Yeah.” Vlad breathed out with a sigh. “She was pretty upset too. She asked me to give us another chance, saying that I couldn’t know after only three dates if I loved her or not. While I did have fun with her on those dates, I just - I couldn’t make myself love her.”
“Because you’re still in love with Maddie,” mumbled Danny, feeling disappointed. He hoped if Vlad gave another woman a chance, he would stop obsessing over Maddie. Why do you have to be so stubborn, Vlad? he thought as his fingers wrapped around the loose thread and yanked on it. You only went on three dates with Amanda. Three! Okay. So Sam and I only went on one date before realizing we could never be more than friends, but our situation was different. We had been best friends for years. Vlad and Amanda were only casual friends. They didn’t have a deep friendship to ruin by dating. Why are making this so difficult for me, Vlad?
“Hey!” Vlad shouted, sitting up and laying a hand on Danny’s shoulder. Danny jumped at the sudden contact. “Are you okay? You spaced out there for a moment.” Vlad stared at him with concern in his eyes.
“Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” answered Danny, grinning. “I was just thinking about stuff.”
“I see.” Vlad sat silently for a moment. His hand remained on Danny’s shoulder. “Have you already eaten?”
“Um, well, Jack brought home sandwiches from the deli.” Danny blinked at the sudden change of topics.
“Oh.” Vlad frowned. “Well, would you like to go out for some ice cream?”
“Now? But it’s past ten.” Danny’s brow furrowed.
Vlad sighed and leaned closer. “I’ve kind of fallen into this habit of getting ice cream every time I end a relationship or a girl breaks it off with me.” He leaned back, shrugging. “It’s become my little way of grieving; even if it doesn’t get rid of all the pain.”
“That sounds like something a gir- I mean, I’d love to get ice cream!” Danny forced a grin to his face when Vlad started to glare at him.
Vlad stared at him a moment longer before he stood. “Great! Then let’s go. I know this great little ice cream shop just off campus.” He pulled on his jacket then he walked over to the closet and grabbed another coat for Danny. They left the room as Danny pulled on the coat. Once out of the building, they headed through the northern exit of the campus.
“So how did you get into this ice cream eating habit?” Danny asked curiously as they walked.
Vlad remained silent for a while, and Danny thought he wouldn’t answer. “My mom, actually. Nothing helps to ease a heart in pain than a tub of your favorite ice cream, she told me after my first girlfriend dumped me. And after that, I would get some ice cream after each time I got out of a relationship.” He shrugged as they reached the ice cream shop.
“I see. So you were close with you mother?” Danny got into line with Vlad.
“Well, I guess,” Vlad answered, the corners of lips turning downward. “I mean, I was lot closer with my mom than my dad.” When they reached the front of the line, he ordered two cones of vanilla ice cream. “So how is your relationship with your parents?”
“Um, well,” mumbled Danny. What can I say that won’t have any effect on the future? He accepted the ice cream cone that Vlad passed to him. “I guess you could say that there’s a bit of distance between me and my parents.” He took a lick of the ice cream as they started walking again. “They mostly focus on their work and are sometimes completely oblivious to my existence. I’m not trying to say they’re bad parents. They aren’t! They’re really good parents. They’re just - They're not always around when I need them. You know?”
“So you have a fairly decent relationship with your parents,” Vlad summarized. “Why exactly did you leave your home?” Licking his ice cream, he stared with furrowed brows at Danny.
“I didn’t exactly plan on it. I didn’t really have a reason to leave. I-” he paused, thinking of how to explain what happened without telling too much of a lie. “I just left and ended up here.” He shrugged, unable to think of a better explanation.
“I suppose you won’t be more honest about the reason even if I prod you for it, right?” Vlad glanced at Danny out of the corner of his eye as he took a long lick from the ice cream.
“Sorry,” Danny replied with a wince. “It’s a bit complicated.” Because I can’t really say anything that won’t affect the future without it being a complete lie.
Vlad frowned at the answer, but he didn’t press further for the truth behind Danny’s situation. They continued walking and eating their ice cream as the cool night breeze drifted past them. It was a pleasant night and perfect for a stroll around campus, which is what they did instead of heading back to their dorm right away.
Danny growled as he racked his brain for the answer to the calculus problem he was working on. He lay on a patch of grass between two buildings, a five minute walk from the dorm building. To his left, Jack lay on his back as he read a comic book that he received as payment from an underclassman who asked him to do a favor.
“I hate you,” Danny said in a growl as he rubbed viciously at the paper with the eraser of his pencil.
Chuckling, Jack rolled onto his side. “I hear that coming from you less each day though,” he commented as he looked over Danny’s work. “That has to be a sign that you’re getting better, right?”
“I guess,” Danny mumbled, starting the problem again. “I wish this stupid test was over with already. I’m sick of this waiting.”
“You’ll do fine.” Jack put a large hand on Danny’s head and tousled his hair. “Vlad told me he thinks you can ace the test in your sleep.”
“How optimistic of him.” Danny swatted at the hand. “He just wants me to pass so he can humiliate me.”
“Well, yeah, there is that,” Jack said, chuckling. “But he does want to prove to you that you’re not all that bad in math, at least not when you actually put your mind to learning it.”
“Yeah, I know.” Sighing, Danny folded his arms over the notebook then he rested his chin on his arms. “I just want it to be over with, you know? This waiting is driving me insane. At least, the test is finally tomorrow.” Danny saw Jack nodded in understanding while he thought.
“So this is where you two have been hiding,” someone said behind them. Danny sat up on his knees, turned around, and found Vlad standing there.
“I thought Danny could use some fresh air while he studies,” Jack explained, sitting up as well. He waited for Vlad to sit as well before speaking again. “I had an idea.”
“Should I be worried?” Vlad voiced what Danny was also thinking.
“Oh, funny, Vlad.” Jack rolled his eyes. “Danny’s been studying hard and stressing out over this test. I think after he takes the test tomorrow, we should go do karaoke. It’ll be a group thing, but not a large group. I wouldn’t want to make Danny uncomfortable with a bunch of strangers. I’ll ask Maddie and Harry to come as well. It’ll give Danny a chance to unwind before you tell him the results of the test.”
“Plus you get off the hook for your own studying.” Vlad narrowed his eyes at Jack, who grinned innocently. “But I suppose Danny does deserve a fun night out, no matter what he gets on the test.”
“I can’t imagine the two of you singing,” Danny said, staring with wide, unblinking eyes at the two men.
“The best part about karaoke is that it doesn’t matter how bad a singer you are.” Jack wore a wide grin.
“If it did, we would be banned from stepping foot in any karaoke bar ever again,” Vlad grumbled, glaring at Jack. “Especially with the way he sings,” he staged whispered to Danny.
I am so getting pictures of them singing, Danny thought as he laughed.
“Well, I gotta get to class now.” Jack stood up and dusted his pants. “I’ll tell Maddie about karaoke when I see her.” He waved goodbye to them before he walked away.
Danny lay down on his belly again and picked up his pencil. Vlad joined him, leaning close so that he could look over the work Danny already finished.
“I should have made the problems harder,” Vlad murmured when he saw Danny got nearly all of the problems correct.
“They’re hard enough already.” Danny erased another mistake in his current problem.
“I wouldn’t be able to prove you’re capable of understanding calculus if I gave you all easy problems.” Vlad reached over and pointed to one of the previously completed problems. “This one is wrong.”
Danny growled and erased the wrong answer. “You’re annoying sometimes,” he muttered. He continued working on the problems with Vlad pointing out his errors. By the time he finished all the problems with the correct answers, Vlad had to go to class. They parted ways, and Danny headed back to their dorm to return to work.
“It’s over! It’s finally over!” Danny shouted, grinning in his post-exam high. He bounced as he walked down the street with Jack at his side.
Jack chuckled as he watched the giddy man. “How do you think you did on the test?”
“I don’t really care right now,” answered Danny. “I’m just so happy for it to be over with.” He released a sigh of elation. “So we’re meeting the others at the karaoke place?”
Jack nodded. “Maddie and Harry are probably already there. And Vlad, I think, is coming a bit later. I think Vlad is going to correct your test before joining us.”
“I don’t want to know the results yet.” Danny sighed out his happiness in a one long breath. “I’ll be depressed to hear that I failed, but I’ll be humiliated with that French maid outfit if I pass.”
“Well, this is the place,” Jack announced, pulling on Danny’s arm to drag him inside the karaoke club far too quickly for Danny to catch the name on the neon sign hanging over the door.
Danny’s thoughts and worries about the test were driven away by the loud din within the club. Tables lined one side of the long, narrow room while the bar lined the other side. A short platform, only about two or three inches off the ground, stood at the front. A young man sang and danced about on it. He didn’t seem to care that he looked like a dork or that he kept messing up the words. Danny chuckled at the man as Jack guided him through the crowd and down the narrow space between the tables and the bar until they found Maddie and Harriet sitting at one of the tables.
“Evening, ladies,” Jack greeted with a wide grin. “This is Danny, the honored guest of our night’s festivities.” He ruffled the younger man’s hair, much to Danny’s annoyance. Taking the free seat across from Maddie, Jack picked up her hand and dropped a kiss upon it. “And this lovely lady is Maddie,” he told Danny while staring into Maddie’s eyes.
“If they’re going to be flirting all night, I’m leaving,” muttered the other woman as Danny sat in the seat beside Jack. “I’m Harriet Chin.” She extended a hand out to Danny, who shook it.
“Well, they can’t flirt all night since Vlad should be showing up at some point.” Danny glanced over to see Maddie leaned over the table to give Jack a kiss.
“So have you already chosen any songs?” Jack asked after Maddie pulled away. Danny noticed that they still held hands, and Jack’s thumb ran gently over Maddie’s knuckles.
“We handed in a few slips,” answered Maddie, smiling. “But you’ll have to wait for your name to be called to find out which songs.”
“Jack forgot to mention your name, so we didn’t pick any for you,” Harriet told Danny.
“That’s okay.” Jack slapped his free hand on Danny’s shoulder. “He can do a duet with someone if he wants.”
“Perhaps I’ll just sit and laugh at you all,” Danny said with a weak smile. His knowledge on music of the eighties was limited, and he knew he would only look silly trying to sing lyrics of songs that he didn’t even know.
“You can’t get off that easy.” Maddie shook her head. “The honored guest must sing at least one song.” Danny groaned as he lowered his head. Maddie reached over with her free hand and placed it on one of Danny’s hands. “It’s really a lot of fun. And no one is going to care how poor of a singer you are.”
“Yeah, just look at that guy,” said Harriet, pointing to the stage. They all cringed as the man sang horribly off key to I Will Survive.
Danny laughed a little. “Okay. I guess I can try one song. Just don’t laugh at me too much.”
“I can’t promise that we won’t laugh,” said Jack. “But we can promise to not tease you afterwards.”
“That makes me feel so much better,” Danny grumbled, but he wore a small smile on his face.
“We can get one of the books if you want to look through the songs,” Harriet suggested. When Danny agreed, she got up and walked over to the bar where she asked one of the bartenders for the book with all the songs listed in it. She returned and handed the book to him. As Danny glanced through it, Jack leaned over his shoulder and mumbled names of songs as he read down the list.
“Should we do a duet?” Jack asked Maddie, and Danny glanced up to see them gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes.
“That might be a bit risky,” Maddie admitted as she frowned. “Vlad could start thinking there’s something between us. I think it’s best to stick to solos or groups of three when we’re involved.”
“I feel like we’re betraying Vlad’s trust by keeping our relationship a secret,” said Jack, lowering his head with a shameful expression.
“They’re starting on this again,” groaned Harriet. “I’m getting a drink.” She stood up again but paused when she turned toward the bar. “Vlad! It’s great to see you again,” she said loudly to be heard over the noise in the club.
Danny’s head snapped up, and he saw Vlad walk toward their table. He glanced to his side, and to his relief, Maddie and Jack pulled apart from each other. Jack waved his hand, gesturing the other man over, even though Vlad clearly spotted them already. When Vlad reached their table, Danny noticed a woman walking close behind him and instantly recognized her as Amanda. Danny’s brow knitted in a frown as he watched Amanda murmur to Vlad that she had to use the lady’s room. After she hurried past their table and toward the restrooms, Danny remained glaring at Vlad.
“I was just about to get a drink,” Harriet explained as Vlad took a seat next to Danny. “Since everyone’s here now, should I just order for everyone?”
“I’ll go with you,” Jack said, standing up. “I want to give the guy a few songs.” He squeezed past Danny and Vlad and into the narrow gap.
“I’ll just have water,” said Danny and Vlad together. They glanced at each other, Jack was already heading toward the bar, and both Harriet and Maddie raised a brow as they stared at the two men.
“I’ll have a margarita,” Maddie told Harriet before she joined Jack at the bar.
“I thought you broke up with Amanda,” Danny whispered, his hand gripping Vlad’s wrist tightly as he glared at the man.
“Oh, Amanda is your girlfriend?” Maddie asked, smiling sweetly. “Why didn’t you say anything about it?”
Vlad cleared his throat before he said, “Actually, I broke up with her.” He glanced over to catch Maddie’s frown. “We’re still friends. I think Amanda might actually still want a deeper relationship with me though.”
“But Vlad has made it clear that he just wants to be friends,” said Amanda as she took the seat across from Vlad. “I’m Amanda.” She turned and smiled at Maddie.
“Maddie,” she said, returning the smile. “It’s a shame that Vlad doesn’t want to continue dating you.”
“So I’ve graded your test,” Vlad said loudly, clearly trying to redirect the conversation away from his relationship with Amanda. Danny frowned, his mind still focusing on the fact that Vlad brought Amanda with him. “Would you like to know your grade now?”
“I’ll give you the pleasure of holding that over my head for the rest of the night,” Danny muttered grumpily as he returned to looking over the song list.
“I was going to anyway.” Vlad smirked smugly.
“I knew you would.” Danny shot him a sour look.
“You two seem to get along quite well,” Amanda said as she watched their exchange. “How long have you been friends?”
The two men stared at each other before Vlad answered, “Not too long.” His brow drew together. “How long have you been living with us? About a month?”
“Something like that,” Danny agreed. Has it really been that long? he thought, wondering how the time went by so quickly. Sighing, he rested his chin in his hand as he flipped the page. “I don’t know any of these songs.”
“Well, you can always go up with someone else and just kind of mumble along to the song,” suggested Maddie.
“I probably would have done that anyway.” Danny smiled at his mother. “At least then there would be another person to share in my humiliation.”
“And Jack surely wouldn’t mind sharing your spotlight of humiliation.” Harriet handed a margarita to Maddie. She sat down between the other two women. She sipped from a margarita of her own.
“What about me?” Jack asked as he reclaimed his seat beside Danny. He slid down the two glasses of water for Vlad and Danny, but he had no drink of his own. “Oh, was there anything you wanted?” he asked Amanda.
“Not at the moment, no,” Amanda answered with a kind smile.
“We were just saying how you wouldn’t mind embarrassing yourself,” Harriet clued Jack in. “I think Danny might be more comfortable singing with a partner.”
“I’d be glad to!” Jack slapped Danny on the back. “Just let me know what song you might want to do.”
They continued chatting with each other. Danny watched the interaction between his parents and Vlad with interest. Whenever Vlad left the table, no matter how brief, Maddie and Jack entered their lovey-dovey mode, holding hands and staring into each other eyes. The moment Vlad returned, they returned to acting like just friends. When Harriet was called up to sing, Vlad took her seat so that he could better speak to Maddie.
“I signed you up for ‘Somebody to Love,’” announced Jack, smirking wickedly.
“What?” Vlad scowled at the other man. “I am not doing that song again.”
“Aw, but I love when you sing it.” Maddie pouted in disappointment. Danny watched Vlad as his mouth twitched in an attempt to frown. Danny almost thought Vlad would refuse.
“I guess I could sing it once,” mumbled Vlad. He looked unhappy about his own answer, but when Maddie grinned and clapped her hands happily, Vlad let a smile grace his face.
Dad can bully Vlad into doing things, thought Danny, amazed, and mom only has to ask and Vlad does it. No one - other than Amanda, who had applauded Harriet’s performance – noticed when Harriet finished and rejoined them at the table until the next singer was announced.
“And our next singer is,” said the bartender running the karaoke, “Jack Fenton!”
“Do you want to sing with me?” Jack asked Danny as he stood. “If you sing now, you won’t have to sing again.”
Danny hesitated. He hated the idea of singing in front of a crowd, and it was worse because he didn’t know the songs. Eventually, he nodded and stood. Jack’s large hands dropped onto his shoulders, and he guided Danny up toward the stage.
“Don’t you ever get sick of singing this song?” the bartender asked Jack.
“Nope!” Jack grinned widely as he shoved a microphone into Danny’s hands.
Danny glanced worriedly at his father and wondered what song the man could have picked. The music blared through the bar, and Danny stared blankly at the words scrolling by on the television screen set before them. Dancing Queen? his mind screamed. Dad chose Dancing Queen?
Jack gave Danny a small nudge in the ribs with his elbow. Danny gulped before he tried to mumble out the words to the song. His mouth felt dry, and his voice was hoarse. He winced with each butchered word that left his mouth. He glanced at his dad, who he was shocked to find was not only singing but dancing along to the song. The dance looked like it was well rehearsed.
When the song finally ended, Danny breathed a sigh of relief. He trailed behind Jack back toward their table where he dropped heavily into his seat.
“Not bad for a first timer.” Vlad gave Danny a kind smile.
With his head lowered, Danny blushed in embarrassment. “I don’t think I even got one word right” He lifted his gaze to gawk at Jack. “You have a dance to go with that song?”
“Yeah.” Jack blinked. “Doesn’t that song just make you feel like dancing?”
“It’s hard to feel like dancing when your stomach is turning in knots.” Danny hunched forward on the table.
“It gets easier each time you go up to sing,” Harriet said, patting Danny on the shoulder. “I was absolutely terrified the first time I went up.” Danny smiled a little. “But those three,” she pointed toward Jack, Maddie, and Vlad, “they didn’t seem to care at all the first time they went up.”
Maddie shrugged. “We find singing up there fun and relaxing.”
“I was forced into it,” Vlad argued grumpily. A silence fell over their table as Harriet, Maddie, and Jack stared at Vlad. Danny could clearly read the expression on their faces: “You know you enjoyed it.” He grinned as Vlad twitched uncomfortably under the combined stares of his three friends. The tension was broken when Amanda asked what all their favorite karaoke songs were.
The night grew late, and everyone sang at least one song except for Vlad. When his name was finally called, Vlad stood and walked up to the stage with an air of confidence. He took the microphone from the bartender, stepped onto the stage, and focused his gaze on their table, not even bothering to look at the lyrics on the screen.
“Can anybody find me somebody to love?” Vlad sang. His voice wasn’t that great, but he poured such emotion into the words that it tugged at Danny’s heart. “Each morning I get up, I die a little, can barely stand on my feet, take a look in the mirror and cry.”
As he listened to the lyrics, Danny thought about them and frowned. He remembered the time when Vlad made the clones. Vlad said that all he wanted was love. Could he really only have wanted love? Danny wondered, almost ashamed of the cruel words he said to Vlad.
“I get down on my knees and I start to pray till the tears run down from my eyes.”
Danny recalled the expression of pain and sorrow that twisted Vlad face when his perfect clone degenerated. That expression now tore at Danny’s heart.
“I just gotta get out of this prison cell, someday I’m gonna be free, Lord, find me somebody to love. Can anybody find me somebody to love?” Vlad sang as the song came to an end.
“Are you okay, Danny?” Maddie asked, laying a hand on Danny’s arm to get his attention.
Danny jumped and blinked at her. “Oh,” he replied, voice thick with emotion. He paused and cleared his throat. “I’m fine.” He smiled reassuringly at Maddie.
“Are you sure? You looked like you were about to cry.” Maddie frowned as she gave his arm a little squeeze.
“I think it’s about time to go,” announced Vlad when he returned to the table.
Amanda checked her watch and gasped. “I should have left an hour ago! I have a test of my own to study for.” She stood, grabbing her purse. “It was nice meeting all of you.”
“Nice meeting you too,” Harriet said as she stood. “Why don’t you walk back to campus with us? We’re all leaving now anyway.” Amanda agreed, and the six of them left the club and headed back to the college campus. When they reached the campus, they parted into two groups. The men headed toward their dorm building while the women walked off in the direction of their own dorms.
“Did you enjoy yourself?” Jack asked as they entered their room.
“Yeah, it was fun,” Danny answered. “But I can’t believe you were actually dancing to that song.”
“Are you ready to know the results of your test now?” Vlad asked, smirking.
“You just had to bring that up now.” Danny sighed. “All right. Tell me.”
Vlad walked over to his bed where his bag sat. He reached into it and dragged something out. “Congratulations! You passed,” Vlad announced as he held up the French maid outfit. Danny groaned and hung his head.
“It won’t be so bad,” Jack said, trying to sound reassuring as he patted Danny on the head.
Danny walked over to Vlad’s bed and flopped down on it. “I’m going to sleep,” he muttered as he rolled onto his side, facing toward the wall. “Wake me when my punishment is over.” He heard Vlad laugh as the bed dipped. When he felt a hand wrap around his ankle, Danny shot up and glared at Vlad.
“You aren’t sleeping in my bed with shoes on,” Vlad said flatly as he pulled off one of Danny’s sneakers.
“I can do it myself,” Danny muttered and pulled off the other sneaker. Then he lay back down and tried to fall asleep. Jack and Vlad changed into their pajamas before they climbed into their beds. Danny heard Vlad mumble something about his nice clothes getting wrinkled. Danny snorted in response. He stayed up for some time, listening to the snores of Jack across the room.
That song, thought Danny, it’s like it was written for Vlad. It must have been hard for him being alone all those years. He rolled onto his back and stared at Vlad, who was already fast asleep. He doesn’t deserve to suffer alone with no one. Why couldn’t I see that before? I was so obsessed with treating him as my enemy that I never even thought of what he was dealing with. He sighed. We were both being stupid: him with his obsession to hide his pain and me because if I saw him as anything other than a cold-hearted bastard, it would be harder to fight against him. Danny drifted off to sleep, but his dreams were torment by loneliness.
“I can’t believe you’re making me wear this,” Danny groaned, pulling on the white ruffle bordering the bottom of the black skirt that he felt was far too short. The maid outfit came with a white apron that he sloppily tied around his waist and a white headdress that Vlad forced him to wear with the outfit.
“Stop fussing with it,” Vlad ordered, slapping Danny’s hands. He adjusted the attachable white collar with a black ribbon tied in a bow.
This is more embarrassing than that time the whole school saw me in the My Fair Lady dress, thought Danny as he fought back a blush. “How long are you going to make me wear this?”
Vlad lifted his gaze to stare thoughtfully into Danny’s eyes. “At least a month,” he answered flatly. “And I’ll know if you’ve cheated.”
Danny groaned and hung his head. “Wait,” he said, lifting his head and raising a brow. “How would you know if I cheated?”
“He has his connections,” Jack explained as he flipped through his class notes. “Not that it matters.” He turned around to face the two men. “Danny’s too much of a nice guy. Even if he has the opportunity to cheat in this, I know he won’t do it.”
Why am I not surprised that Vlad has connections even in college? Danny wondered as he watched Vlad gather his things for class. “You just love to humiliate me,” he grumbled, mostly to himself.
“Consider it payback for setting me up on that horrible date with Laura,” Vlad countered with a smirk as he walked toward the door. “I’ll see you both later tonight.”
“You’re evil!” Danny shouted with no real heat to his voice. “And your date was Sara, not Laura!” The door shut behind Vlad, and Danny wondered if the man even heard him.
“He’s not evil,” said Jack.
Frowning, Danny plopped onto the couch beside his father. “He’s making me wear this. And you say he’s not evil?”
“Being a little cruel isn’t the same as being evil.” Jack closed his notebook and set it on top of his other books. “Anyway, shouldn’t you be happy about passing the test?”
“It was only about a B minus.” Danny shrugged, though passing did make him a little happy. But now Vlad won’t tell me about their theories on ghosts, he thought sadly, which means I won’t know how they’re progressing on the Proto Portal.
“What would Vlad have to do if you had won the bet?” Jack asked, drawing Danny out of his thoughts.
“Oh, um,” Danny mumbled, fussing with the skirt again. “I asked Vlad to tell me about your ghost theories.”
“I didn’t realize you had an interest in ghosts.” Jack stared at him in mild surprised. “Well, if you want to know anything about our research, you can always ask me.” He grinned widely. “Unfortunately, it'll have to wait. I have to get to class now.”
“Oh, all right.” Danny climbed to his feet as Jack did the same. “I’ll see you tonight.” He closed the door after Jack left. Walking back to the couch, he cleaned away the mess they made while eating their breakfast. Once that was finished, Danny grabbed the room’s key. After searching his outfit, Danny exclaimed, “Shoot! This thing has no pockets.” Sighing, he tried to find some place to store the key. In the end, he stuffed the key into his shoe and left the room. “This is so humiliating,” Danny grumbled as he walked down the hallway. His stomach twisted in uncomfortable knots. I don’t want the guys to see me in this, he thought, but he knew there was no way he could avoid it.
The exclamation made Danny stop. His muscles tensed recognizing the voice. The first guy to see me just had to be Digory, he thought, glaring at the ceiling. He hits on everyone in a skirt!
“Hey, there, sexy,” Digory said, trying to sound cool. He walked up to Danny and slipped an arm around his bare shoulders. “How about you and I go back to my room and play a little game of the naughty maid?” A sly smirk spread over his face.
“Isn’t it usually the naughty nurse?” Danny asked in a low, flat voice. He glared at Digory, who jumped a few feet away.
“D-D-D-Danny!” Digory's gaze traveled up and down Danny’s body before he slapped a hand over his eyes. “Why are you wearing that? I just hit on a guy! What is wrong with me?”
“I’m not wearing it because I want to,” Danny mumbled, unable to hold back the dark blush that graced his face. “You’ve hit on other guys.” His eyes narrowed when Digory started to deny it. “I’ve seen you. You were totally flirting with Ben, not that he even noticed.”
“Ben can be a bit dim.” Digory wore a fond smile. He snapped his worried gaze toward Danny. “You’re not going to say anything about that, are you? Ben is so straight it’s not even funny.”
“As long as you don’t try hitting on me again, I won’t say anything. So how long have you known that you’re… you know?”
“I’m not!” Digory quickly denied. “I’m totally a big boob guy. It’s just – Ben makes me feel something I’ve never felt for anyone else.” He shrugged and scratched behind his ear. “I guess that doesn’t make any sense. Uh, so do you want to do my laundry?” He pointed back down the hallway in the direction of his dorm room. “We’ve got a large load that needs to be done.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” Danny followed after Digory as they walked down the hallway. Is a person still considered gay if he only feels attracted to one man? he wondered. He shook his head as he sighed. Why am I even wondering about that? It’s not like I’m in a similar situation or anything.
“So why are you wearing that?” Digory asked as he opened the door to his room.
“Lost a bet,” grumbled Danny. “Can we not talk about it? I would rather delude myself into believing I’m not wearing this at all.”
“Then I guess I shouldn’t pry.” Digory turned to grin at Danny. “But you probably shouldn’t be making any more bets with that person. Who knows what he would make you wear next.”
“I don’t even want to think about that,” groaned Danny as Digory returned with an overflowing basket of clothes. “And I think I’ve learned my lesson.” Danny took the basket from the man. “No more bets for me.”
“That’s probably for the best.” Digory handed Danny fifteen dollars as payment. “I may be in class when you finish. If so, you can leave the basket in your room, and I’ll stop by later today to pick it up.”
Danny nodded as he lifted his foot so that he could stuff the money into his shoe. “Vlad could have at least picked something with a pocket,” he grumbled, making Digory chuckle. He walked down the hallway and headed down the stairs to the Laundromat.
Today was a slow day. When he arrived, Danny found no one in the Laundromat. He sighed in relief, glad that he would be spared great embarrassment for few people would be visiting the Laundromat that day. Setting the basket on a table, he started sorting through the clothes.
Danny finished putting in the first load of laundry when the door opened. He glanced up from his task of trying to find a more comfortable way to store the money and key within his shoe. When he saw the woman who entered the Laundromat, Danny’s throat ran dry. He forgot that she also lived in the dorm building. “L-Laura!” stuttered Danny.
Laura stared at Danny. Her expression twisted into one of disgust. “Why are you wearing that?”
“Oh, um, I lost a bet to Vlad,” mumbled Danny, lowering his head to hide his blush. “So, um, I’m sorry about what happened.” He lifted his gaze when he received no response. He saw a smirk on Laura’s face and frowned, disliking the look. Why do I have a bad feeling? “Things were said that were regretted later. Do you think we could let bygones be bygones? Forgive and forget?” He gave a hopeful smile.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, sure.” Laura waved her hand. “Already forgotten.” She crossed the room and took a seat beside Danny. “Actually, I was kind of hoping I would bump into you again.”
That was a quick dismissal. Danny frowned, feeling puzzled. “Why?”
“Yeah.” A sheepish grin crossed Laura's face. “See. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and that date came up. So of course, I told her about Vlad. Nothing bad,” she added quickly when she noticed Danny’s disapproving frown. “Anyway, my friend wanted me to ask Vlad to have a look at her dorm room. I figured Vlad wouldn’t want to speak to me, much less do a favor for me.”
“Why does she want Vlad to look at her room?”
“She seems to think there’s a ghost living there. I told her there’s no such thing as a ghost, but she won’t listen to me. She’s totally freaking out about it.” Laura laughed.
“Ghosts aren’t something to laugh about,” Danny stated, annoyed. “It’s fine if you don’t believe in them, but don’t go around making fun the people who do.”
“Y-You believe in ghosts?” Laura asked, trying to keep the disgust off her face.
Why did I ever let her talk me into do that stupid blind date? Danny felt so irritated that he almost wanted to prove to her the existence of ghosts, but he knew it wasn’t worth the risk of exposing his secret. “Yes, I do, and I would appreciate it if you stopped laughing at me and everyone else who believes in the existence of ghosts.” He wanted to make a dramatic exit right then, but he had to stay and finish doing the laundry for Digory.
“I’m sorry.” Laura tried to make it sound like a real apology. “Will you at least ask Vlad to look at my friend’s room?”
Danny sighed as he stared at the woman. After a moment, he answered, “Yeah, okay.” I can’t just let a ghost wander around. “You’ll have to give me her name and room number.”
“Oh, right! Of course!” Grinning, Laura reached into her purse for a pad of paper with a pen hooked on the spiral binding. She scribbled down her friend’s name, dorm building, and room number. Ripping the sheet from the pad, she handed it to Danny. “Thanks for doing this.”
“It’s no problem.” Danny glanced at the note before stuffing it into his shoe.
“Well, I should be getting to class now,” Laura said as she stood. With a smile and a wave, she left the Laundromat.
Frowning, Danny watched Laura until the door closed behind her. Why do I feel like she’s planning something I won’t like? He remembered the smirk on Laura’s face. He saw that kind of smirk on a far too many ghosts’ faces. It was a smirk they used when they planned something horrible. Well, whatever it is, I’m sure it can’t be as bad as something a ghost could do. Danny shrugged off the bad feeling as he stood and went to change the load of laundry.
Danny sighed as he flopped back on Vlad’s bed. “I’m so glad the day is over,” he told the empty room. Immediately after he finished doing laundry for the last person of the night, Danny changed out of the French maid outfit and now relaxed in a pair of jeans and a white shirt. Each day he spent wearing the French maid outfit felt longer than the previous day. “At least the guys here aren’t teasing me all that much,” he thought out loud, feeling a little relieved by that fact.
When the door banged open, Danny jumped up. His leg phased through the bed, and he quickly stumbled free, hoping no one noticed. Vlad stomped into the room and dropped onto the couch in a rather un-Vlad-like manner. Jack entered after him and closed the door behind him.
“Did something happen?” Danny asked, catching the distressed expression on Jack’s face.
“It’s nothing,” growled Vlad, his tone not able to hide rage.
Standing out of Vlad’s range of vision, Jack gestured wildly with hands for Danny not to press further. When Danny held his tongue, Jack said, “I was thinking of picking up some food. Is there anything you want, Vlad?”
“I’m not hungry,” Vlad growled.
“So if I don’t bring you anything, you won’t be angry?” When Vlad turned and glared at him, Jack flinched. “Right. Got’cha. Danny, do you want to join me?”
Hesitating, Danny glanced between the two men. “Yeah, okay,” he replied climbing to his feet. He followed Jack to the door, but he paused and looked back at Vlad, who glared at the blank television screen. I better not say anything, he decided as he walked out the door. If Vlad had his ghost powers right now, he would probably blast me for saying anything. He sighed as they walked down the hallway.
“Don’t worry.” Jack rested a hand on Danny’s shoulder. “He just needs some alone time to cool his head.”
“What exactly happened?” Danny lifted his gaze to Jack.
Jack sighed, shaking his head. “We were discussing some details about the Proto Portal. That’s the new project we’re working on, but I’ll tell you about that later. So we were walking around campus when this group of guys suddenly called out to us.” He stopped speaking, and Danny stared at him as he tried to work out how to say what happened. “They started calling us… faggots.” He said the term in a strangled voice, like it was a difficult word for him to say. “They said a lot of other things, but I’m not going to repeat them. You shouldn’t hear things like that. I wish I hadn’t heard what they said. I tried to laugh it off, but Vlad just exploded with anger. He started shouting at them, telling them we weren’t involved with each other and stuff. But the guys didn’t believe him at all. I had to drag Vlad away from them.”
“They actually think you and Vlad are gay?” Danny gaped at his father. How can anyone think that? he wondered in shock. For one thing both of them are totally in love with Mom.
“Well, it’s not exactly the first time,” Jack said with a small chuckle. His head lowered, and he wouldn’t meet Danny’s gaze. “But that was really an inside joke type thing with only Maddie, Harriet, Vlad, and me. Harriet made a comment about how Vlad and I got along so well that we almost seemed like a couple. So we would make jokes about that.” He sighed and looked at Danny. “But this was different. This wasn’t just some joke among friends. This was cruel words meant to provoke and hurt the ones they were said about.”
Danny glared at the floor, his eyes flashing green in his rage, as his hands curled into fists at his sides. “How can they do that? How can they treat Vlad like that?” With his gaze still to the floor, Danny missed Jack raising his brow.
“It’s not pleasant, but it happens,” Jack said sagely. “The world isn’t filled with nice, happy people who get along with everyone else. If it was, we wouldn’t have wars. You just have to learn to take life with a grain of salt. Life dishes out a lot of shit, and you just have to learn to deal with what you’re given, no matter how unpleasant it is.”
“I know that,” Danny snapped. “But-”
“Vlad’s a strong guy.” Jack placed a large hand on Danny’s head. “He may get angry and frustrated quickly, but he knows how to work through his feelings. He’ll get over this.”
“You’re not worried about other people going around talking like that about you?” Danny demanded. He doesn’t seem to get over things that well in the future, he thought grumpily.
“Their opinions don’t matter.” Jack sounded like he was trying to convince himself of that too. “It hurts. I won’t deny that. But when it comes down to what really matters, I don’t care what they think of me. The only ones whose opinions matter to me are my friends.”
There’s a lesson I need to remember time and time again. During his few not as shiny as he would have liked moments in high school, he lost sight of what really matter. Popularity had its temptations, he knew that quite well, but each time, it got easier to break free from its hold on him. “So you and Vlad joked about being a couple?” Danny asked, raising a brow as he stared at his dad. I can’t even imagine them doing that. His mind rejected the image.
“Only around Maddie and Harriet. It was during our freshmen year only. It’s not like we’re the only ones who experimented with other people of the same sex. I mean take Ben for example.”
Danny’s brain momentarily stopped functioning when his father said “experimented.” They didn’t actually – Danny gulped and shook the thought from his mind before it could be finished. If they did, I don’t want to know, he decided. Then he remembered the last thing Jack had said. “Wait. What was that about Ben?”
“Ben, he’s experimented with other guys before.”
“But Digory told me he was straight,” Danny said, frowning.
“Just because you experiment, it doesn’t make you gay.” Jack laughed and smacked Danny on the back, making the younger man stumble. “But I suspect that Ben might lean toward the same sex. He pretends to be really straight to keep everyone else from suspecting.”
“But Digory flirts with him so much,” Danny mumbled. “How can Ben not notice it?”
“Oh, he notices it! He just lets Digory think he’s too dense to notice.” Jack laughed again when he caught the confused look on Danny’s face. “The thing is that Ben doesn’t want to be someone else’s experiment. He wants the man to be genuinely interested in him, not a man looking to screw around with another man because it might be interesting. And Digory doesn’t really give him much faith with the way he goes chasing after girls.”
“But Digory told me that Ben makes him feel something he’s never felt before. Maybe if Digory starts acting like he’s serious about a relationship with Ben-” He stopped when he saw Jack shaking his head.
“Don’t start playing matchmaker with them,” Jack told him. “If they’re going to get together, they can do it on their own without outside help. If Digory can’t learn to act serious about Ben on his own, then maybe they aren’t made to be with each other.”
“I guess you have a point.” My attempts to set Vlad up with someone haven’t exactly been successful.
“You can’t let Vlad know I told you about this though,” Jack said, disrupting Danny’s thoughts. “I don’t think he really wanted you to know what happened, even if this rumor is being spread all over campus. I think he’s afraid it would change your view of him, but he would never say that out loud.” Jack smiled, but Danny caught a hint of sadness in his expression. “I might have to worry about my position as his best friend.”
Danny blinked wide eyes at his dad. “I could never replace you as Vlad’s best friend,” he said, trying to reassure Jack. I don’t even want to know what Dad would be like if he knew how Vlad really felt about him in the future, Danny thought sadly.
Jack threw an arm around Danny’s neck, nearly choking him. “You’re such a nice boy.” He grinned widely. “So what shall we get for dinner?”
“Hm.” Danny thought about it. “How about picking up a pizza?”
“Oh, that’s a good idea! Then we can bring some back for Vlad,” Jack suggested. “Even if he says he told us not to bring him anything, we can just say they were leftovers. I know Vlad will probably be hungry by the time we get back.”
Jack led the way to the Pizza Hut down the block from the campus. When they reached it, Jack ordered them two pepperoni pizzas. They sat at one of the tables and waited to be served.
“You’re not still dwelling on the rumor are you?” asked Jack when he noticed Danny staring at the table with a miserable look on his face. “Trust me. It’s not as a big a deal as you think it is.”
“I don’t think I could get over it that easily if people were spreading rumors about me like that,” Danny muttered.
“It’s not about you, now is it?” Jack smirked. “Why don’t we discuss something else?”
Danny frowned for a few more moments before he snapped his head up. “Can you tell me more about that Proto Portal you mentioned earlier?” He grinned when Jack started blathering on about the project. It’s a good thing dad loves talking about their inventions, he thought, listening to Jack describe how the Proto Portal was supposed to work.
When they left the Pizza Hut, they had four slices of pizza leftover for Vlad to have. Jack carried the box as they walked back to their dorm room. The sun was beginning to set when they arrived back at the dorm.
“We’re back,” announced Jack as they entered the room.
Maddie looked up at them. She placed a finger to her lips and pointed at Vlad, who had his head resting her lap. Jack crept across the room as silently as he could manage. He set the pizza box down on the table before he gave Maddie a quick kiss on the lips.
“What are you doing here?” Jack whispered. Danny took off his shoes then he walked over to Vlad’s bed to sit down.
“I heard about the rumors,” Maddie whispered back with a troubled expression on her face. “I wanted to come and check in on you both.” She gave Jack a small smile. “He certainly knows how to rant. A few of your neighbors came by to tell him to shut up. He finally stopped ranting and fell asleep a few minutes ago.”
Jack sighed, shaking his head. “How did this rumor even get started?” he wondered out loud.
“Apparently, it was started by a girl that Vlad dated once.” Maddie scowled darkly. “I overheard her telling a bunch of girls that Vlad likes younger men in dresses.” She glanced at Danny, who frowned. “When I told Vlad about it, that’s what set off his ranting.”
“Are-” Danny started, staring at his mom. “Are you saying that that rumor is my fault?”
“I didn’t say that.” Maddie shook her head.
“But you looked at me when you said it.” Danny's brows drew together. “And I’m the only one that Vlad’s forced into a dress recently. But that was only because of a silly bet. And the maid outfit is just a joke between us because I do the laundry and clean the room for him. And other people.”
“I’m not putting any blame on you,” Maddie said in a firm tone. “You can’t control people getting the wrong impression because some vindictive witch placed the notion in their minds.”
“The only one to blame is the one spreading the rumors,” Vlad muttered, not moving his head from its spot in Maddie’s lap. “I’m not mad at what they think. I’m mad at what they say to my face.”
A tense silence fell over the four before Jack broke it. “We brought you pizza.”
“I told you I wasn’t hungry,” grumbled Vlad as he sat up.
“If he doesn’t want it, I’ll take some,” Maddie said, smiling as she opened the box.
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t have any,” Vlad mumbled. After Maddie took a slice, Vlad picked up a slice for himself.
“So that’s it?” Danny asked as the three friends began talking about other subjects. They paused and stared at him. “You’re not going to do anything to stop the rumor?”
“What point is there in doing that?” Jack asked. “Eventually, the rumor will just die. People will move on, and the whole thing will be forgotten.”
“Easy for you to say,” Vlad muttered. “The rumor isn’t directed at you.” He sighed and leaned back against the couch. “But I know better than to let their words get to me. I’m mad at myself for letting them get to me back there.” He glanced at Jack, and they all could read the silent “thank you” playing on his face.
“Now that’s interesting.” Danny heard Vlad say. He looked up from where he knelt on the floor as he cleaned under the beds. Vlad stood in the doorway, blocking the person to whom he spoke. Danny frowned when he couldn’t hear the second person whispering to Vlad. Nodding and thanking the person, Vlad closed the door.
“What was that about?” Danny asked. I know he’s not the same as the Vlad in the future, but I can’t help feeling he’s plotting something.
“Just a little information gathering,” Vlad answered as he sat down on the couch.
Standing up, Danny eyed the man suspiciously. “What kind of information?” He dropped some crumpled papers into the waste basket before he walked over to stand in front of Vlad.
“Just some stuff for a little side project.” Vlad smirked slyly, increasing Danny’s suspicions.
“What side project?” Danny narrowed his eyes at Vlad and tried to look intimidating.
Vlad grinned in response. Danny suspected he was about to say something then changed his mind. His expression changed into a scowl as he stood to loom a few inches over Danny. “It’s none of your business, so don’t stick your nose where it’s unwanted.”
“I – I’m sorry.” Danny flinched. Why am I apologizing? I have a right to be concerned over this!
Vlad sighed. “I didn’t mean to snap at you.” He collapsed back onto the couch, and Danny joined him.
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with the rumors, would it?” Danny asked hesitantly. “It has been a few days already, and I thought you all said you weren’t going to let it bother you.”
“As perceptive as Maddie,” Vlad mumbled. He lifted his head and stared at Danny. He remained silent for so long that Danny began to squirm under the intense gaze. “I’m still not telling you what the conversation was about.”
“Vlad!” Danny shouted. He blushed darkly when he realized how whiny it sounded. Vlad smirked at that reaction, and Danny felt his inside twist. Stop staring at me like that, he silently ordered, unable to tear his gaze from Vlad’s eyes. The staring continued, and Danny began to worry. Why won’t he stop staring? Or say something? he thought in a panic. And why am I still staring? He opened his mouth but snapped it shut a moment later. I have to say something to break this up. But what?
Resting a hand on Danny’s knee, Vlad pushed himself up off the couch. “I have some stuff I need to take care of,” he announced as he walked toward the door. “And I believe there’s a lot more crap under Jack’s bed that needs to be cleaned up.” He exited the room, not even noticing the stunned and panicked look on Danny’s face.
When the door closed, Danny released the breath he was holding. What was that? screamed his panicked mind as he leaned back against the couch. He rested a hand on the knee that Vlad touched. Why did he touch my knee when he got up? Did he do that on purpose or just an accidental placement of his hand? He rubbed his thumb over his kneecap as he thought. How do I know that a small part of that rumor isn’t true? He almost smacked his forehead for thinking that. Dad did say that he and Vlad “experimented.” He cringed at that thought, and the image it produced. And Vlad does seem to have this unhealthy obsession with me and the French maid outfit. Groaning, Danny flopped onto his side and buried his face into the smelly fabric of the couch. Why am I even thinking about this? Vlad’s not gay. He’s in love with my mother. He felt an odd pull and sat up.
“No more thinking about that,” Danny told himself in a firm tone. “You have cleaning to do.” He walked around the couch and knelt down beside Jack’s bed. Vlad wasn't kidding when he said there was a lot of crap under the bed. “I cleaned this two weeks ago! How did it get so messy under here again?” grumbled Danny as he scooped out the trash hidden beneath Jack’s bed.
When he finished cleaning the room, Danny changed into regular clothes, since he was done with his maid duties for the day. He lay down on Vlad’s bed and sighed as he stared at the ceiling.
If Vlad is plotting something, than he can’t be over the rumors, Danny thought with a frown. Why is it bugging him so much? If he can joke about being gay with Dad, why does everyone thinking he’s gay matter? He shook his head. Would I want people thinking I’m gay when I’m not? No. So why would Vlad not be angry over this? But that’s the whole point of the rumors, to make Vlad angry, to provoke a reaction out of him and damage his reputation. Vlad should know not to play into that person’s hand.
Danny raised his hands and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his palms. Vlad has become a lot less restless at night. The thought came to him suddenly, and he blinked at his hands hovering inches over his face. Why am I thinking of that? he wondered, though it was true. Vlad stopped kicking him in the back and punching him throughout the night.
“I need to stop thinking about this,” Danny muttered as he sat up. “Maybe a walk would do me some good.” He grabbed his shoes and slipped them on before he left the room. Before he could take two steps down the hallway, he ran into a short blond man. “Oh, sorry.”
“I’m all right,” the man said with a grin. “No harm done.” He stared at Danny before recognition lit up his brown eyes. “You’re the French maid guy, right?” He pointed a finger at Danny.
“Yeah, it’s Danny.” He flushed, scratching at his cheek with one finger. Great, I’m being called that now? How embarrassing! “You’re Ben, right?”
“Yeah.” Ben nodded. “I know we’ve seen each other around before and all, but we haven’t exactly gotten the chance to formerly introduce ourselves before.”
Danny shrugged it off. “You were with your friends and I was with mine. It couldn’t be helped. And it’s not your fault you were in class every time that I stopped by your room.”
“But I wanted the chance to thank you for doing the laundry and cleaning that pigsty we call a room.” Ben grinned. “You do good work.”
“Thanks,” Danny mumbled, and an awkward silence fell over them.
Ben ran a hand through his short hair and scratched the back of his neck. “So, um, do you want to go grab a bite to eat?”
“Well, I think Vl-” Danny hesitated. Why do I keep going back to Vlad? I’ve been so focused on him and hooking him up with someone. “Sure, okay.” He smiled, and Ben returned it. They walked side by side down the hallway.
“So do you like it here?” Ben asked, an obvious attempt to strike up a conversation.
“The calculus class seems good,” Danny replied. “That’s pretty much the only class I’ve been too.”
“Then you’re not an actually student here?” Ben blinked in surprise.
“No, I’m just staying here for the moment with Jack and Vlad.” Danny frowned as he said Vlad’s name.
Ben stopped walking when he noticed the frown. “Having problems with Vlad?” he asked with concern in his eyes.
“Um, I guess you could say that.”
Ben eyed Danny for a moment. “He’s keeping secrets from you, and you’re worried about it.”
“How – How did you know?” Danny blinked, shocked and amazed.
“I’m a psych student,” Ben said, shrugging. “My teacher says I have a good ability for judging people. But back to your problem. Have you confronted him about it?”
“Well, yeah, but he only told me it wasn’t any of my business.” Danny sighed. “But I know he’s up to something.”
“I hope he’s not planning anything bad. Especially if it ended up causing your break up.”
Danny jerked and blinked a few times. “Break up? What are you talking about?”
Ben stared, not saying anything for a long moment. “You and Vlad… You’re a couple, right?”
“Is that part of the rumor going around?” Danny groaned in annoyance. “No, we’re not a couple.”
“Oh, sorry. Then, you aren’t seeing anyone at the moment?”
Danny thought he saw an almost hopeful look in Ben’s eyes, but he quickly dismissed it. “Nope. Not seeing anyone.”
Ben stepped closer and hesitantly took Danny’s hands, giving the younger man the chance to back away. “Would you mind if we made this bite to eat into an actual date?”
“Um, wait, what?” Danny blinked rapidly as he stepped backward, his gut twisting uncomfortably. “I – I’m not gay.”
“I’m sorry,” Ben mumbled in embarrassment. “I guess I was reading something that wasn’t actually there.”
“What exactly were you reading?” Danny demanded. And why am I still holding hands with him?
“I thought that you two were a couple,” explained Ben. “Every time I saw you two together, you seemed like one. But since you’re not in a relationship, I was thinking maybe I had a chance to start one with you.” He laughed a little. “Wow! I think this is the first time I’ve misjudged a person’s sexuality.”
“What about Dig – I mean. Do I come off as gay to you?” Danny wondered, Is that why girls don’t want to date me in my time? Because I seem gay?
“Dig?” The confusion lifted from Ben’s face. “Oh, Digory! He’s not gay.” He shook his head when Danny started to speak. “He may feel some sort of attraction toward me and the idea of being with a gay may interest him, but I’m not wasting my time on a guy who would leave me in a heartbeat when the right girl flashes her big breasts at him.”
“Oh,” Danny mumbled dumbly.
“As for the other question, you definitely caught my attention.” Grinning, Ben lifted Danny’s hand and kissed the back of it. “But maybe I’m just hoping for something that’s not there.”
Danny freed his hands, not liking the weird feeling coiling inside him. “You seem like a nice guy and all, but I’m not really into guys.”
Ben looked unconvinced. “Not like I can force you,” he said, shrugging. “But if you ever change your mind about that, give me a call.” He glanced at something over Danny’s shoulder and smiled weakly. “I believe I should be going now. You’ll have to take a rain check on that bite to eat.” Waving, Ben walked away and left Danny standing there in confusion.
“That has to be the weirdest thing to happen to me since I’ve gotten here,” muttered Danny. He sighed, his shoulders drooping. He thought I was gay! Danny turned and found Vlad standing behind him. He jumped back a step. “V-Vlad!” Danny could see anger in Vlad’s eyes, though the man tried to mask his emotions.
“I was just stopping by to let you know I would be out all night,” Vlad said evenly. “And I brought you some dinner.” He held up a white plastic bag for Danny to take. “I’ll see you sometime tomorrow.”
When Vlad turned to leave, Danny seized his arm. “Wait.” He gulped, trying to think of what to say. “Whatever you saw, um-”
“I didn’t see anything,” muttered Vlad as he tore his arm free from Danny’s hold. “I still have a lot of stuff I need to do for my project.”
“And what exactly is this project?” Danny demanded, feeling annoyed and frustrated. If he didn’t see anything, why is he acting so coldly?
“It has nothing to do with you,” Vlad snapped.
“If it’s about the rumors, then it does have something to do with me!” Danny shouted. When Vlad turned and glared at him, Danny flinched. “Are you plotting some kind of revenge?”
Vlad hesitated, and for a moment, Danny thought he would yell at him again. “And what if I am?”
“What exactly is that going to accomplish?” Danny sighed. “Is that really going to make you feel better? Stooping to her low level?”
Vlad’s nose flared, and he ground his teeth. “I suppose it wouldn’t make me feel all that great,” he ground out unhappily.
Wow! Maybe getting Vlad to do things runs in the family, Danny thought, mildly amused by Vlad’s change of heart concerning his revenge plot. But I should probably keep an eye on him. He could just be saying that to get me off his back. “Why don’t we go eat?” Danny grinned as he raised the plastic bag. Vlad agreed, and they walked back upstairs to their room.
Danny sighed as he rested his chin in his hand and stared at Vlad. Ever since his run in with Ben, Danny couldn’t get his mind off the topic of their conversation. Even when he tried to focus on other things, it would find its way back to the forefront of his mind. I am not gay, Danny thought with a frown. How many times have I said that in the last few days? It seemed to him that the more he tried to reaffirm that statement the less it convinced him of being true. This morning was the worst, he grumbled, recalling what had happened.
That morning, Danny woke up earlier than usual because of an odd weight upon him. He discovered the cause of this when he touched the weight and found it to be Vlad’s arm wrapped securely around his waist. Danny gulped as his insides knotted. His mind panicked. He didn’t know what to do. If he moved, he would wake Vlad. What's the problem with that? his mind wondered. Would Vlad even care that he was sleeping with his arms around the younger man sharing his bed? Danny didn’t wish to find out.
The time passed slowly, and Danny felt the tug of sleep pulling on him. He found it strange that he wasn’t freaking out more about discovering himself in Vlad’s arms. It feels nice, comfortable even, he thought as he nuzzled his head into the pillow.
It shouldn’t feel natural to be in the arms of your future archenemy! Danny’s mind screamed at him. I’m not gay. And even if I was, why would I fall for someone who tried to kill my dad? Among other villainous acts.
“Are you listening?” Vlad asked, interrupting Danny’s thoughts.
“Oh, uh, yeah,” Danny said and restrained himself from jolting back when he became aware of their closeness. “I was just, um, thinking about the situation with Ben and Digory. I think they at least deserve a chance at a relationship. I know Ben said Digory isn’t a hundred percent gay, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be bi, right? Ben could just be acting paranoid because he’s afraid of being hurt. I mean, he actually thought I come off as gay.” He laughed until he noticed the impatient look on Vlad’s face. Danny bit his lip and dropped his gaze to the notebook on his desk. “Er, where were we?”
“Forget it.” Vlad sighed as he leaned back in his seat. “Class is about to end anyway.” A moment after Vlad spoke, the teacher dismissed his students. They packed away their things and left the classroom.
“I’m sorry about not paying attention,” Danny said as they walked through the hallway toward the building’s exit. “I kind of have a lot of things on my mind.”
“What things?” Vlad asked, curiously.
“Just stuff.” How am I supposed to tell Vlad about the thoughts that keep running through my mind? he thought with a mental growl. Why did Ben have to put the idea of homosexuality in my mind? Saying he thought Vlad and I were an actual couple.
Vlad stared at Danny like he expected the younger man to continue. When Danny remained silent, Vlad said, “My classes don’t meet tomorrow, so I’ll have the whole day free.” He hesitated for a second as Danny stared at him in wonder. “So I thought we could spend the day together. Go somewhere off campus, maybe a movie or something.”
Danny blinked and stared, replaying the whole thing over in his mind. Why does that sound like every time I asked out a girl? All nervous and afraid of rejection? he thought, finding it hard to think of Vlad in that manner. No, I’m probably just reading too much into that because of what Ben said. Like Vlad would ask me out on a date! Danny almost laughed out loud, but he stopped himself. “Yeah, sure, that sounds like a great idea,” he answered with a bright smile. “I could use a day of rest.” And a day out of that maid’s outfit.
“Good.” Vlad nodded. “Good. Well, I need to get to my next class now.”
“Yeah, okay. I’ll see you later.” Danny stood and watched Vlad disappear among the crowd of students hurrying to their next classes. Sighing, he started walking back to the dorm. Vlad asking me on a date, he thought and laughed to himself. He would never do that. I mean, he’s in love with Mom. There’s no way he would like me like that. He frowned as he stopped and turned his head to gaze up at the passing clouds. I need to stop thinking of this.
“What did you think of the movie?” Vlad asked as they walked out of the movie theater near the college campus.
“Oh, it was good. Horror movies are always good,” Danny answered, smiling. Though I’ve already seen that movie so it wasn’t all that scary, he added to himself. His insides were twisted with anxiety, and a few times during the movies, he feared the popcorn he ate would make a return trip back out his mouth. The worst part of it all was when he noticed Vlad stretching and thought he would try to put his arm around him. Danny blushed at that memory. Why am I thinking like this based on stupid rumors and a comment from one person who knew me all of five minutes?
“I thought we could go there,” Vlad said as Danny broke from his reverie. “That is if you would like to go there.”
“Um, I’m sorry.” Danny winced. “What were you talking about?” He noticed an annoyed look pass over Vlad’s face before he sighed.
“It’s past noon, and we haven’t had lunch yet,” Vlad explained. “I thought a nice sit down place would be good.”
“Yeah, but ‘nice sit down places’ cost quite a bit of money,” Danny pointed out. “Money that we can’t afford to use on a single meal.”
Vlad frowned at that, and Danny guessed that he disliked his response. “I suppose you have a point,” he grumbled. “Then where do you want to eat?”
Danny thought on it for a while. “I’m kind of in the mood for pizza.”
“Didn’t we have that for dinner once this week already?” Vlad asked, and Danny got the impression that he was sick of pizza.
“No, we had it last week. But if you want something else, we can get something else.”
“No, pizza’s fine.” Vlad led the way down the street toward the Pizza Hut located near the campus. When they entered the restaurant and found the place packed, Vlad muttered, “Looks like everyone got the idea to come here for lunch.”
“I don’t see any open tables.” Danny frowned as he scanned the restaurant for some place to sit.
“There’s about an hour wait for a seating,” said a voice, making the two men turn.
“Ben!” Danny greeted, surprised to meet the man at the Pizza Hut. “What are you doing here?”
“Digory and I decided to come here for lunch,” Ben explained. “He’s waiting for our pizzas to be ready.” He glanced between Vlad and Danny before an idea came to him. “Why don’t you join us? We got a pepperoni and a vegetable pizza. We thought it would be nice to take the pizza to the park to eat them since it’s crowded in here.” He grinned at Danny. “Consider it making up for that rain check.”
“That sounds like a great idea,” Danny said, grinning at Ben.
“Great. Then I’ll just go let Digory know about it.” Ben walked through the crowd of people waiting in line.
“I never agreed to that,” Vlad muttered.
Danny stared at Vlad and wondered why he sounded annoyed. “What’s wrong? We get a free meal out of this.” Vlad grumbled, but Danny didn’t hear him since he was too busy thinking about Ben and Digory. They’re always hanging out with each other, Danny thought, trying to come up with a way to get the two men to talk about starting a relationship. And always flirting with each other. Well, Digory more than Ben. They act more like a couple than Vlad and I do.
“Let’s go,” Ben announced when he returned a few minutes later.
Carrying two boxes of pizzas, Digory trailed behind him. Ben put his arm around Danny’s shoulders as he led the way out of the restaurant. Danny glanced nervously behind to find Vlad scowling and Digory looking quite angry. As they walked toward the park, they chatted, though Ben did most of the talking.
“So if you’re not a couple,” Ben whispered softly to Danny so that Vlad and Ben couldn’t overhear their conversation, “then why does it look like the two of you are out on a date?”
“You know, I could ask the same of you and Digory,” Danny countered as he narrowed his eyes.
“You didn’t deny that it was a date.” Ben smiled widely, like somehow the statement made him triumphant.
“You didn’t either,” Danny shot back, and the smile faltered. “I don’t see why you don’t at least think about having a relationship with Digory. What if he really does love you? You can’t be a hundred percent sure that he’ll leave you for a woman.”
“Yeah, well, I could ask why you don’t consider having a relationship with Vlad.”
“Uh, for one thing, Vlad would never like me like that,” Danny said. “For another, I’m not gay. For a third thing, I already know Vlad is in love with someone else.”
Ben glanced over his shoulder and smirked. “That jealous look on his face says otherwise.” With the smirk still on his face, he turned back to Danny. “I’ll make a deal with you, since you’re so interested in my love life. I’ll give Digory the chance to prove his feelings for me if you give being in a relationship with Vlad a chance.”
“You’re expecting me to refuse this offer, aren’t you?” Danny asked dryly.
“Of course.” Ben grinned with a look in his eyes that made Danny frown. “You’re straight, after all. Why would you accept this deal?”
“I’m not going to fall for that. I accept your offer.” It wasn’t until the smirk on Ben’s face widened that Danny fully realized what he said. He gulped. “Uh, I didn’t mean that.”
“Nope. Too late.” Ben shook his head. “You agreed and you have to stick to that.”
Danny sighed as his shoulders drooped. “I can’t believe I agreed to that.”
“On the bright side, I’m sure you’ll have made Digory very happy,” Ben pointed out. “Even if it doesn’t last for long.”
“It’ll last longer than any relationship between Vlad and me,” grumbled Danny.
“We’ll just have to wait and see about that.” Ben patted Danny on the back before he dropped back to talk to Digory.
“What were you two talking about?” Vlad demanded as he fell into step beside Danny.
“Huh? Oh, nothing,” replied Danny quickly with a small nervous laugh. “Nothing at all. Oh, hey, look!” He pointed ahead of him. “It’s the park.”
“You’re hiding something,” Vlad said, frowning.
“N-No, I’m not.” Danny shrank away under Vlad’s gaze. He heard Ben laughing and turned to glare at him.
Ben coughed and tried to appear innocent. “Let’s find a place to sit,” he suggested as he urged Digory forward to take the lead.
After they wandered around for a while, they found an open picnic bench. Sitting down, they opened the two boxes of pizzas and began eating. For some time, an uncomfortable silence reigned over them until Digory broke it by asking Vlad about his studies. Danny felt relieved to have the conversation change topics, though Ben smirked at him whenever their gazes met, and the nervous twisting of insides came over Danny again. He finally managed to relax after Ben and Digory had to leave to make it to their classes.
“That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” Danny asked, turning on the bench to face Vlad.
“What was with those looks Ben kept giving you?” Vlad asked in a too casual tone.
“You're too concerned with that,” Danny muttered with a sigh. “If you must know, I was trying to convince Ben to give Digory a chance. You can see why we had to whisper, right? Digory was walking only a few steps behind us, and we didn’t want him overhearing.”
“I assume you managed to convince him?” Vlad asked, and Danny nodded. “How did you do that?”
“Must you know every pesky little detail?” Danny demanded, a bit annoyed with the questions.
“Yes, I must.” Vlad finally turned to face Danny. He sighed as he pulled out a handkerchief. “You seem to be in the habit of getting food smeared on your face.” He wiped the tomato sauce from the corner of Danny’s mouth.
“I’m not the only one,” Danny said with a grin. He reached up and wiped away the cheese with his thumb from Vlad’s face. Without thinking, he licked the cheese from his thumb. They stared at each other as Danny slowly drew his thumb out of his mouth, scraping the cheese off with his teeth. Vlad’s gaze dropped, and he gulped as he watched. Letting his hand fall away, Danny thought it seemed like Vlad was leaning closer. Suddenly, Vlad jerked back, shock playing across his face.
“I think it’s about time we get back to campus,” Vlad mumbled as he gathered up the pizza boxes.
That was so stupid of me! Danny screamed at himself and blushed darkly. When he started to help, Danny brushed his hand against Vlad’s hand. Quickly, he snapped it away while butterflies tickled his insides. This is all Ben’s fault, he told himself. After they threw the boxes into the trash, they started walking back to their dorm.
Danny sighed as he finished making the bed. When he turned, he almost bumped into Ben, who he hadn’t realized was standing there.
“How is your end of our deal going?” Ben asked, smirking at the shorter man dressed in a maid’s outfit.
Danny frowned. “You are evil,” he muttered as he watched Ben step around him to sit on the newly made bed. “I don’t even know how to act around him anymore!”
Ben patted the bed, and Danny sat down beside him. “Just act the same,” he advised, watching Danny straighten his skirt. “There’s no difference between courting a woman and courting a man except the gender. Just be a little flirtatious, but don’t go overboard with the flirting. Be subtle about it. You don’t want to come on too strongly.”
“I don’t do all that well with dating women.” Danny sighed and leaned his head back against the wall. “You’ve made me all confused. I always thought I was completely straight, and now I’m having all these weird thoughts about Vlad. Like when I’m lying in bed in his arms, it just - it feels right somehow. Completely different from when I slept with-” He cut himself off and blushed darkly. I’ve never even told Sam and Tucker about that!
“With?” Ben prodded with a wide smirk.
Danny glanced at Ben then looked away and repeated the actions a few times. What harm could it do? he wondered. “It was this girl named Paulina,” he said and pretended to straighten his skirt out again. “It was junior year, and my friends and I snuck into the party she was holding at this really expensive place.” He paused to gulp and wipe slightly sweaty hands on his skirt. “My friends got caught and kicked out, but I had slipped away before the popular kids discovered us. Paulina had gotten a little drunk and when I ducked into one of the side rooms to hide, she started coming on to me. This is a girl that I’ve crushed on since my freshmen year, so an opportunity like that wasn’t one I even thought to give up, though I probably should have. I should feel lucky she didn’t try to scream rape afterwards. She was the one kissing me and ripping off my clothes.” Then again, my being Phantom at the time probably had something to do with it, he thought. “It - It wasn’t exactly everything I thought it would be. It was pretty disappointing. I had to think of other things to,” he coughed.
“To keep you aroused?” Ben asked, and Danny’s blush was the only answer he needed. “And that didn’t tip you off?”
“Well,” Danny said weakly as he shrugged. “I thought it just meant that I wasn’t really all that attracted to her.” He glanced at Ben. “I never thought it would be that maybe I liked guys instead.”
“I was like that too,” Ben said, giving a kind smile as he patted Danny on the head. “The first time I kissed a girl, it seemed so unnatural. So I experimented with other girls, but I kept getting the same results. I thought there was something wrong with me. Every time I made out with a girl, I was always thinking about another guy to keep in the mood. I didn’t want to believe I was getting aroused by guys. Then I caved in and experimented with this other guy, and it just felt right, natural, like I was supposed to like guys in that way.”
Danny stared down at his hands as he picked dirt from beneath his nails. “Why me?” he wondered out loud then he sighed. “And why does it have to Vlad of all people that makes me feel like this?”
“You don’t get much of a choice on who you fall for.”
“And,” Danny said, turning to stare at Ben. “How are things with Digory?”
Ben looked flustered for a moment then he heaved a sigh. “They’re going much better than I thought they would.” He ran a hand through his hair as a fond smile played on his lips. “Digory really does seem genuinely interested in me. Well, on our first date, he tried to get a little action. After I told him if he tried anything more than handholding I would kick him in the balls and never speak to him again, he backed off. I didn’t think he would. I thought all he was really interested in was having sex with me.”
“See what happens when you give people a chance?” Danny asked, grinning.
“Yeah, well, the same could be said about you considering homosexuality,” Ben retorted.
“I guess so.” Danny sighed as he climbed to his feet. “I should be going now. I thought I would go buy some dinner before Jack and Vlad return from their classes.”
“What an obedient little maid Vlad has found for himself.” Ben joked and reached into his pocket for his wallet while Danny scowled at him for the comment. “I’ll see you around later,” he said and handed twenty dollars to Danny.
“See you!” Danny stuffed the money into his shoe before he walked toward the door. With a wave, he left the room. I can’t believe I actually told someone about that night with Paulina, Danny thought as he walked down the hallway to his dorm room. When he reached it, he peeled off the maid outfit as he kicked the door shut. He dressed quickly, happy to get out of the maid outfit. No matter how much he wore it, he could never feel comfortable in it.
Once he was changed, Danny grabbed the money he made that day and shoved it into his pocket as he stepped into his tennis shoes. He left the room and headed down the stairs and out the building. What should we have for dinner? Danny wondered, walking around campus. After thinking for a while, Danny decided to pick up some tacos. The nearest taco stand had barely any customers when he arrived. He ordered and paid for the food and left within a matter of minutes.
Carrying the bag of hot food in one hand, Danny headed back to campus. As he walked, he heard a small cry. He paused and glanced around, but he saw nothing. About to take a step, he heard the soft mew again. Out of a nearby bush stepped a kitten with white fur. It had black fur around its bright green eyes and black fur on its feet. It walked up to Danny and rubbed itself against his legs as it mewed again. Danny knelt down and checked for a collar but found nothing around the kitten’s neck.
“Are you lost?” Danny asked as he scratched the kitten’s ear. He scanned the area. No “missing cat” signs were in sight, and no one else was in the area. “Would you like to come home with me and have some food?”
The kitten looked up at him and mewed.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Danny adjusted the bag of food before he scooped the kitten into his arms.
Danny walked back to the dorm while the kitten purred loudly. When he reached his room, he dropped the bag of food onto the table in front of the couch. Carefully, he set the kitten on Vlad’s bed before scanning the room.
“Where did I put that little bowl?” Danny asked the empty room.
Then Danny remembered a moment later and retrieved the bowl from a cardboard box set next to the television where he placed all the dishes they had. When he turned around, he found the kitten jumped off the bed and now was trying to climb onto the table. Danny quickly snatched up the bag of food and placed it on a shelf above Vlad's desk, which was too high for the kitten to even try to reach.
Picking up the kitten, Danny placed it on the couch. “Now you stay put,” he ordered the kitten. Taking the bowl, Danny left the room and headed down the hallway to the bathroom. Once he filled the bowl with water, he returned to the room where he found the kitten on the desk. It stood on its hind legs, balancing against the wall as it cried. Danny set the bowl down on the table before he walked over to the kitten.
“I thought I told you stay put,” Danny scolded the kitten as he picked it up. “I supposed I should get you some kitty food.” He walked back to the couch. “I really shouldn’t let you have human food.” He placed the kitten on the table, and it went for the bowl of water immediately. “Should I give you a name?” Danny wondered out loud as he watched the kitten.
When the door opened, Danny tore his gaze from the kitten. He stared at Vlad, who entered the room, but Vlad’s gaze was focused on the little black and white kitten.
“What is that thing doing here?” Vlad said the word “thing” like it was a foul word. As he pointed at the kitten, his face twisted with anger.
The kitten paused in its drinking. It turned to Vlad and opened its mouth to mew then its fur stood on end as its back arched. It released a hiss and back toward the end of the table.
Danny frowned at the kitten’s reaction. “I found him when I was coming back from getting food."
“Get rid of it,” Vlad ordered. “I hate cats.”
“I knew that already,” Danny muttered as he picked up the kitten that continued to hiss.
The kitten struggled, not wanting to be held. It twisted in Danny’s arms and dug its claws into his skin. Danny yelped then screamed when the kitten kicked with its feet, tearing long scratches down his forearm. He released the kitten, and it dropped onto the floor, landing on all fours. The kitten hissed once more before it scurried toward Jack’s bed and hid beneath it.
“This is why I hate cats,” Vlad growled as he rushed to Danny’s side.
“The kitten was acting fine until you came in.” Danny cradled his wounded arm against his chest.
Vlad retrieved a handkerchief from his pocket. “That cat is going once we get this cleaned up.” He pried Danny’s arm away from his chest and pressed the handkerchief to the bleeding scratches. “Hold that there,” he instructed Danny before he went to retrieve the first aid kit that Danny stored away in their closet.
“It’s not that bad,” Danny said, wincing at the stinging sensation running up his arm.
“Trying to put on a brave face, how cute.” Vlad guided the younger man toward the door as he ignored Danny’s spluttering. He ushered Danny down the hallway toward the bathroom.
“I don’t need you to bandage my wounds.”
Vlad paid no attention to Danny’s words as he took the wounded arm and forced Danny to hold it out and away from his chest. After grabbing a few paper towels and wetting them in the sink, he dabbed at the bloody mess, carefully cleaning the wounds.
“At least they seem to have mostly stopped bleeding,” Vlad noted. He reached into the first aid kit and pulled out some gauze and a roll of bandages. “Even Jack isn’t stupid enough to bring a cat into our dorm,” he muttered as he laid the gauze over the wounds. Then he wrapped the bandages around Danny’s arm.
“Why do you hate cats?” Danny asked then he blinked in surprise that he said it out loud.
Vlad finished with the bandages before he looked up. “Did this not clue you into anything?” he asked, waving Danny’s bandaged arm. “I don’t like cats because they hate me and attack me.”
Danny’s mouth dropped open to form an “o” shape, but a lump in his throat prevented him from making a sound. Still holding Danny’s hand, Vlad continued to stare Danny in the eye. The nervous, sweaty hands feeling came over Danny as his heart beat rapidly.
Why do I keep feeling like this whenever Vlad stares at me like that? Danny wondered, swallowing the lump. His insides twisted, and he almost jerked away when he noticed Vlad moved slightly closer.
“You’ve been acting strangely lately,” Vlad said as the gap between them grew even smaller.
“No, I haven’t,” Danny said in a wavering voice.
Hardly any distance was between their bodies now. Vlad seemed to search for something in Danny’s eyes. His head tilted forward, but at the last second, he snapped his head back. A strange panic surged through Danny, and his body leapt into action. His free, unwounded hand shot out and caught the back of Vlad’s neck, keeping him from moving any farther away. He leaned forward, but in his rush, he banged his head into Vlad’s head.
“Ow!” Danny pulled back, rubbing at his forehead.
“What was that?” Vlad demanded, holding his forehead.
“I’m sorry!” Danny fought a blush. I tried to kiss him! He wanted to smack himself for his actions. Now Vlad probably thinks I’m a dork. Hearing a soft chuckle, Danny looked up, and he blinked at the small smile on Vlad’s face. “What? What’s so funny?”
Vlad shook his head, the smirk never leaving his face. “We should go take care of that cat,” he suggested as he closed up the first aid kit. He glanced at Danny and frowned. “And you need to change.” He waved a hand at the blood stained shirt that Danny wore.
“Yeah,” Danny said lamely, holding his bandaged arm to his chest to hide the stains. He ran his hand over the white cloth encasing his arm as a light blush bloomed on his cheeks. “Um, thanks for bandaging my arm,” he murmured.
Vlad stared at Danny then he shook his head again. “You’re acting strange again. What’s with this nervousness around me?”
Danny gasped softly. Vlad noticed it! But what am I supposed to say? he wondered.
“Are you going to give me an answer?” Vlad asked. When Danny remained silent, Vlad shook his head. “Fine. Don’t answer.” He picked up the first aid kit and headed for the door of the bathroom.
Then Vlad stopped and turned around. Stepping closer, he cupped Danny’s cheek with his hand, and Danny gasped at the touch. He jerked his head, but Vlad’s hand held his head still. Lips pressed gently to his own as an arm wrapped around his waist, pulling him flush against Vlad’s body.
Vlad’s kissing me! Danny’s mind screamed. The panic faded from his mind, and his body relaxed. This isn’t so bad, he thought as he slowly began to return the kiss. It’s not the same as a girl. His lips aren’t as soft. But he’s a good kisser. When Vlad pulled back, Danny bit his tongue to hold in the whine that tried to escape him.
“That’s how you kiss someone,” Vlad said, smirking. He turned and walked out of the bathroom, leaving behind a very stunned Danny.
“I’m sorry, little guy.” Danny set the kitten down on the ground. Vlad allowed the kitten to stay for the night as long as Danny promised it would be gone when he returned from classes the next day. After he did a little tidying up to their room, he gave the kitten a bowl of water. Then he brought the kitten back to the place where he had found it.
Staring up at Danny, the kitten cried. Danny gave no reaction. The kitten rubbed itself against his leg.
“No, I can’t take you back,” Danny said sadly. “Vlad doesn’t like you, and you don’t like Vlad.” He absently ran a hand over his bandaged arm. “And I like Vlad, so I don’t want to make him ang-” Danny stopped and stared with wide eyes at the kitten. I just said I like Vlad, he thought, stunned by his words. Do I really? Well, I do like him as a person and a friend. I’ve really had the chance to get to know who he once was. But do I like him as anything more? He recalled the previous day when Vlad bandaged his wounds. He tried to kiss Vlad, and he enjoyed it when Vlad kissed him. A blush rose to his cheeks, and Danny buried his face in his hands. What is wrong with me? I liked kissing my archenemy!
He groaned and rubbed his temples, feeling a headache coming. But it’s not like he’s my archenemy right now so there’s nothing wrong with liking him. I mean, he has been really nice to me. And I did make that deal with Ben about considering the possibility of homosexuality. When Ben gave Digory a chance, things turned out all right. So the same could be said about me and Vlad, right? I just have to give him a chance. But what do I really feel toward him?
A chill ran up his spine, and Danny gasped, sending out a wisp of the blue mist that was his ghost sense. Standing, he spun around to see a young boy running toward him.
“You found my cat,” the boy said with a bright smile and mischief in his eyes. The kitten released a hiss before it shot off into the bushes. “Ah! And when I had finally found her.”
“You - Youngblood!” Danny almost changed immediately into his ghost form, but he restrained himself upon seeing the confused expression on the young ghost’s face.
“Youngblood?” he asked, tilting his head to the side. He then glanced down at the outfit he wore and laughed. “I guess I forgot to change out of my pirate clothes after my friends and I were playing by the lake.”
That’s definitely Youngblood, Danny thought staring at the child ghost. But he’s not going by that name yet?
A frown suddenly settled onto Youngblood’s face, and he stared at Danny. “You can see me,” he said, his frown growing deeper. “No one else I talked to could see me. They didn’t even hear me when I started screaming at them to pay attention to me.”
He doesn’t know he’s dead, Danny realized with a sense of dread. “What is the last thing you remember?” he asked hesitantly.
“Well, I was playing pirates with my friends,” Youngblood answered as he tapped his chin in thought. “We were sword fighting when I… fell into the lake.” The frown returned. “I can’t remember what happened next.”
Well, that explains his childishness and his pirate obsession, Danny thought dryly. “This might be a bit hard for you to take,” he said, trying to think of how to put it delicately. “When you fell into the lake,” Danny winced at the annoyed look on Youngblood’s face, “I think you may have drowned.”
Youngblood continued to stare then he burst into laughter. “You – haha – You expect me – haha – to believe that I’m – hahaha – dead!” He almost collapsed to the ground in a fit of giggles.
“I’m serious!” Danny stomped up to the boy and raised a hand.
Youngblood flinched as Danny’s hand swung at him, but it never made contact. His hand passed right through the ghost’s head. Shock played over Youngblood’s face then anger swept over his features. Danny stepped back as the air around them grew colder and the wind picked up.
“I am not dead!” screamed Youngblood as ectoplasm blasts shot from his hands.
Danny instinctively raised his hands to protect his face while he switched to his ghost form and called up a shield of ectoplasm. The blast ricocheted off the shield. Youngblood shrieked his fury and continued flinging blasts at the shield. This is why I hate telling new ghosts that they’re dead, Danny thought, surprised by how much strength Youngblood was putting into his attacks.
Concentrating on his powers, Danny split himself in two. It took him three years to master the cloning skill, and even then, he was still far under Vlad’s skill. Vlad could make three clones of himself while Danny still could only make one perfect copy. Leaving the copy within the shield, Danny turned intangible and sank into the ground. When he popped up behind Youngblood, he blasted the child ghost in the back, sending him crashing to the ground. Danny called back his clone, letting the shield dissolve.
Youngblood sputtered, spitting out blades of grass, as he sat up. “How did you do that?” he demanded, turning to face Danny. He stared with awe at Danny who floated above him.
He got over that anger quickly, Danny thought as he frowned at Youngblood. What am I supposed to do with him? I can’t send him to the Ghost Zone. “Many years of experience,” he explained, not knowing what else he could say to Youngblood. But the line reminded him of something Vlad said to him once.
“Can you teach me to do that?” Youngblood bounced into the air in his excitement.
Danny hesitated. He didn’t want to set the ghost into another fit of fury. “I really can’t,” he answered with a small wince.
“First you tell me I’m dead,” shouted Youngblood. “Then you won’t even teach me how to do anything now that I’m a ghost!”
“Hey, no one taught me how to – oomph!” A ball of ectoplasm smacked Danny square in the chest, sending him hurtling back until he regained control. When he looked to the ground again, he found no sign of the ghost. He heard a shout of “I hate you” and looked up to see Youngblood stick out his tongue before he flew off. Sighing and shaking his head, Danny landed on the ground. “I already knew you hated me,” he murmured as he glanced around the area. No one was around to have witness the fight or to catch him changing forms.
Once he changed back to human form, Danny started walking toward the college campus. As he walked, his thoughts returned to Vlad and the kiss. Did it mean anything to him? he wondered. Or was he only trying to tease me? His chest tightened, and Danny quickly shook that thought from his mind. He reached up a hand and touched his fingers to his lips. I do want to kiss him again. But would he want to kiss me again? I should just ask him directly about it instead of assuming things on my own.
Danny let those thoughts subside as he entered the dorm building and climbed the stairs. When he entered their room, he found the man dominating his thoughts already returned from his classes.
“Vlad.” Danny blinked. “What are you doing back so soon?”
“My teacher didn’t show up,” Vlad explained as he set down the newspaper he was reading. “So after twenty minutes, we all decided to leave.”
“I see,” Danny mumbled, looking away. He chewed on his lower lip as he thought, I wasn’t expecting to talk to him about the kiss so soon. He wanted some more time to prepare himself. “Um, V-Vlad, we need to talk.” His breath caught in his throat as Vlad stared and waited for him to continue. “A-About the k-ki – About what happened yesterday,” he trailed off, seeing the smirk that spread onto Vlad’s face.
“You mean the kiss,” Vlad said as he stood up and approached Danny, who gulped and wiped sweaty palms on his pants. “What about it?”
“I, well, I,” stuttered Danny. Having Vlad stand so close only increased his nervousness. “Why did you kiss me?”
“Wasn’t that what you were trying to do when we knocked heads?” Vlad stepped closer. “You wanted the kiss, right?”
“Well, yes, but,” Danny answered, trying to recollect his thoughts. “But why? Were you just teasing me? Or did you want to kiss me back?”
“What is it that you want?” Vlad touched a hand to Danny’s face, making him gasp softly.
“What I want,” mumbled Danny. He thought he knew what he wanted, but the words were hard to get out now that he had to say them. Vlad’s hand caressing his cheek didn’t help the situation. I do want to kiss him again, don’t I? His heart began beating fast as his tongue slipped out to lick along his dry lips. What is it I really feel? he wondered. Was it merely nervousness that made his heartbeat quicken? Was it only a mild attraction that made his gut twist? Then he realized something as he stared at Vlad, who still waited for his answer. The only time I’ve felt like this is when I thought I was in love with Sam and Valerie. But this is different than that. More… intense, he thought, unable to find a better way to put it. He continued staring at Vlad then he finally reached a decision. “What I want is… you.” He finished the sentence in a soft whisper.
“That doesn’t sound very certain to me.” Vlad took his hand away.
Danny grabbed the hand quickly. “I am serious!” His voice was stern, more certain. He pulled Vlad closer and seized his lips in a fierce kiss. Wrapping his arms around Vlad’s neck, he leaned into the body before him. Hands skimmed down his sides, making his muscles twitch at the feathery touches. He prodded at Vlad’s lips with his tongue and received entrance immediately. When the hands on his hips slipped up his shirt, Danny moaned deep in the back of his throat while he explored every inch of Vlad’s mouth with his tongue.
When Vlad tore his lips away from his mouth, Danny released a whine and attempted to follow. However, Vlad held him back.
“That was better,” Vlad said in a husky voice. He ran his hands up Danny’s chest, gaining another moan from the young man. He jerked his hands out from under the shirt and received a confused look from Danny. Shaking his head, Vlad said, “If you’re serious about a relationship, then it can’t be based purely on a physical attraction.”
“It’s not!” Danny shouted quickly. “My feelings didn’t develop simply because I think you’re sexy.” After realizing the words that had left his mouth, he blushed. Why do I keep letting embarrassing things like that slip out?
“Sexy, am I?” Vlad smirked at this new knowledge.
“Well, I’m not going to deny it now,” Danny mumbled, looking away.
“You’re so cute when you’re embarrassed and pouting.” Vlad pulled Danny’s face back toward him and dropped a quick kiss onto Danny’s lips.
This is so weird, Danny thought as he stared into Vlad’s eyes. So why does it feel so natural? He frowned when another thought occurred to him. “What about Maddie?” Danny noticed a slight change in Vlad’s expression and his gaze held a coldness not present a moment before.
“I do still like her,” Vlad admitted. “Perhaps I’ll always feel something for her.” He slid his fingers through the raven strands of Danny’s hair. “But lately, it’s you that I keep thinking about. You’re the one that I see in my dreams, that I enjoy waking up next to each morning.” He chuckled lightly and shook his head. “I’ve never even seriously considered this kind relationship.”
“Neither have I,” Danny said, slightly saddened to hear that Vlad might always have some feelings toward his mother.
“Then I guess the next step is for us to actually go on a date,” Vlad suggested. “I believe Jack will be out tonight, doing whatever it is he does when he goes out. So we can go out together without worrying about him suspecting anything.”
“You want to keep this a secret from him?” Danny raised his brow in mild surprise.
“Just for the time being,” Vlad answered as he walked back to the couch. “I know Jack’s an open minded kind of guy. He wouldn’t hate a person based on their sexuality. He might be shocked a bit at first, but it wouldn’t stop any of us from being friends. As long as we keep our hands to ourselves at night, of course.” He smirked at Danny, who blushed lightly at the implications. “I just don’t want to announce our relationship to world. Jack isn’t exactly the greatest person to ask to keep a secret.”
Unless it’s keeping his relationship with Mom a secret from you, Danny thought.
“I have to get to my next class now.” Vlad grabbed some books from the table. “So I’ll see you later tonight.” Grinning, he walked back over to Danny and gave him a quick goodbye kiss before he left the dorm room.
“I can’t believe I’m going on a date with Vlad,” Danny whispered to the empty room.
As they walked down the street side by side, Danny felt waves of nervousness and paranoia wash over him. He kept sensing eyes upon them, watching their every move. He knew it was silly because no one gave them a second look.
I’m just freaking out because this is my first date with a guy, Danny decided. A guy who happens to be my archenemy in the future. He shook his head. Stop thinking like that. This Vlad isn’t completely like that Vlad.
“I'm afraid I can’t really afford to take you some place nicer,” Vlad said, disrupting Danny’s thoughts. He held the door open to the McDonalds.
“This is fine,” Danny said and grinned. At least he didn’t try taking me to some fancy restaurant, he thought as they entered. I actually know what I’m ordering here will taste good.
“Why don’t you find us a table and I’ll order the food?” Vlad suggested when he noticed the long line.
Danny almost argued – did he look like a girl, who needed her date to order for her? – but he decided against it. Vlad probably just wants to make sure we get a table, he told himself. He left Vlad to stand in line and went in search of a free table. Many other people had the same idea. Danny noticed most tables claimed by a single person. The remaining free tables were in the back near the restrooms. Danny plopped into a booth seat and waited for Vlad.
When he arrived, Vlad carried a tray with two large sodas, two Big Macs, and two large French fries. “I hope you don’t mind my ordering for you.” He gave a sincere apologetic look.
“I don’t mind,” Danny said despite his dislike of Big Macs. He would have preferred a plain cheeseburger, but he didn’t want make Vlad feel bad. I could have always told him my order before look for a table, he thought and mentally cursed his stupidity. Vlad passed out the food, and they began eating in an awkward silence. Danny nibbled on his fries, not sure what to do now. He noticed Vlad fumble with the ketchup bottle and almost sprayed himself with it. I guess he’s just as nervous, Danny thought as he hid his laughter with a hand over his mouth.
Vlad scowled at Danny’s reaction. “I’m so glad you find me so amusing,” he grumbled as he squirted a small amount of ketchup onto his fries.
“I’m sorry,” Danny said, getting his laughter under control. “I just never imagined seeing you fumble with a ketchup bottle.” He grinned and reached over to dip his fry into the mound of ketchup.
“I – This is just all new to me,” Vlad mumbled.
Danny raised a brow at the un-Vlad-like manner in which he spoke. A smile slid over his face. “You’re not the only one who’s nervous and uncertain about this whole date with a guy thing.” He took a bit of the fry and munched on it. “Maybe I should have talked to Ben about this. He’s dated guys before.”
Vlad frowned. “You’ve been speaking with Ben a lot lately.”
Is that jealousy? Danny wondered. Shrugging, he used a napkin to wipe the salt from his fingers. “We’ve just been talking about stuff,” he said vaguely and grinned at Vlad.
“Stuff?” Vlad’s frown deepened.
“You know, stuff.” Danny caught a twitch of Vlad’s eye and decided teasing the man further might not be the best idea. “We were talking about our love interests, if you must know.” He picked up his soda and took a long sip from it.
Vlad wore a smug smirk. “And what did you say about me?”
“Mostly I was trying to deny having any feelings for you. But it got harder to believe myself each day.” He grew flustered under Vlad’s stare. “I mean, I kept wanting to believe I was a hundred percent straight, but day after day, I found myself slowly growing more and more attracted to you, so it was getting harder to tell myself I had absolutely no interest in guys. And why am I still talking? I can be such a spazz.” He wrapped his lips around the straw in his soda and looked away.
A scream interrupted the awkward silence that fell over them. Danny and Vlad’s heads snapped around to the source. An elderly woman, who just walked out of the restroom, stood pointing a finger at Danny. Terror danced in her eyes.
“Demon! Child of the devil!” shrieked the woman, drawing the attentions of more customers. She reached her free hand into her purse and pulled out a cross and rosary. Holding the cross out toward Danny, she mumbled prayers.
“What are you shouting about?” Vlad demanded, frowning at the woman who disturbed their date.
“He’s not human!” screamed the woman.
Danny swallowed nervously. Did she see me earlier? Fear coursed through him, freezing the blood running through his veins. But I didn’t see anyone around to catch me changing.
“Is there a problem?” the manager asked when he arrived at the scene.
“What right do you have to point at someone and claim they aren’t human?” Vlad shouted furiously.
When Vlad stood to tower over the woman, Danny shot out his seat. He grabbed Vlad’s hand and dragged him away from the woman, who began preaching scriptures. This is just what we needed on our first date, he thought as they exited the McDonalds.
“This whole date thing already had me nervous, I don’t really need the whole restaurant’s attention directed us,” Danny muttered. “And I don’t need you to defend me.”
“What exactly was that about?” Vlad asked as he folded his arms and glared at Danny. “Why was that woman saying that stuff about you?”
“I don’t know!” Danny shouted, throwing his arms up in frustration. “I’ve never even seen that woman before in my life.” He pondered, searching for some excuse to give Vlad. “Maybe she leapt to the assumption that we were on a date and she’s completely against homosexuality.”
“She only called you demon and child of the devil,” Vlad pointed out, and Danny winced.
“I… have no idea what was wrong with her then,” Danny said. “Can we just say she’s crazy and move on?”
Vlad stared at Danny for a moment before his arms dropped to his sides. “All right,” he agreed. “I wouldn’t want to go back in there and try to ask her what her deal is.”
I really hope she didn’t actually see me transform when I fought Youngblood, Danny thought, relieved that Vlad agreed to drop the subject. “So now what?”
“Well,” Vlad mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck as he glanced up at the darkening sky. “I was planning on taking you up there after we finished eating. I guess there’s no reason not to go there now.” He started walking down the street.
“Where are we going?” Danny asked as he followed Vlad, who grinned and kept silent. He played through different scenarios as they walked. The longer they walked Danny wondered if Vlad even had a destination. “You enjoy keeping me in the dark, don’t you?” Danny finally asked.
“No.” A smirk twitched at Vlad's mouth. “Well, actually I do. But I wanted to have this be a surprise.” He turned down a small pathway almost hidden by a dense forest.
“Are we at least getting close to whatever it is?” Danny jogged to catch up with Vlad.
“Yes, we’re here.” Vlad pushed aside some bushes to reveal a small cliff overlooking the college campus. “I like coming up here sometimes to get away from the hectic life of college. I haven’t been up here in a while though.”
“It’s a nice view.” Danny walked over to the cliff and started to sit.
“No sitting.” Vlad grabbed Danny’s arm and hauled him back onto his feet. “The view isn’t the only reason I brought you up here.” He walked over to a tall tree to their left and reached up to retrieve something hidden within its branches.
“A boom box?” Danny raised his brow as he watched Vlad set the boom box on the ground and turned it on.
“A little music to dance to,” Vlad explained. “I leave it up here for when I want to listen to a little music while I relax.”
“Dinner and dancing.” Danny shook his head. “Why didn’t I think of that? I hope you aren’t expecting me to be the girl in this.”
Vlad frowned, and Danny realized he had. “We can alternate,” he suggested, though it looked he had to force himself to say it.
Danny almost laughed, but he held it in. He couldn’t imagine Vlad dancing the woman’s part. “I guess that works.” After a moment of hesitation, he added, “And I guess I can be the girl first.”
Vlad placed his hands on Danny’s hips. At first, their dancing was awkward, and Danny kept stepping on Vlad’s feet. Danny was surprised by Vlad’s patience toward teaching him to dance properly.
This is really nice, Danny thought, not even noticing that they went through quite a few songs without switching roles. I really like living here in this time with this Vlad. Do I really have to go back? If I go back, Vlad and I will be enemies again. I don’t want that. I don’t want to go back to a time where Vlad and I are enemies and where Vlad wants to kill Dad and take Mom away. I want to stay here. I want this Vlad. His hands tightened around Vlad’s shoulder, but he didn’t notice it until Vlad stopped their dancing.
“What’s wrong?” Vlad asked concerned.
“N-Nothing.” Danny forced a smile to his face.
“You’re crying.” Vlad cupped Danny’s cheek and wiped away the tears from one eye with his thumb.
Danny quickly wiped his other eye. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he mumbled. I must seem really silly. Crying over this. The Proto-Portal still hasn’t been fully built yet and I’m worried about having to make the decision to go back or stay here. As long as the Proto-Portal remains incomplete, I don’t have to worry about that. But if I stay, the effect that would have the present – No, I don’t care about the effect. I don’t want to leave this Vlad.
“Maybe we should go back,” Vlad suggested. He left Danny long enough to turn off the boom box and hide it behind the tree again.
“No, I’m fine,” argued Danny. “Let’s continue dancing.”
Vlad closed the distance between them. “What were you thinking about before?”
“I-” Danny gulped. He met Vlad’s gaze and realized that he was making him worry. Sighing, he looked away and mumbled, “I was just thinking about how I didn’t want to leave you.”
“Why were you thinking about that?” Vlad asked puzzled by the strange turn of Danny’s thoughts.
“I have no idea,” answered Danny, laughing a little.
“Well, this certainly has been one of my more interesting dates.” Vlad took Danny’s hand. Then he led Danny down the pathway, and they walked back to their dorm.
“Do I really have to keep wearing this?” Danny demanded as he stopped before Vlad, who sat on their smelly couch. He was dressed in the French maid outfit and placed his hands on his hips. His face wore an expression of displeasure and annoyance. For several weeks now, he was forced to wear the maid outfit as a result of losing the bet. He hoped as their secret relationship went on, Vlad would allow him to stop wearing the outfit. Vlad kept silent.
Lifting his gaze from the book he read, Vlad adjusted his glasses. “I thought you would be over your embarrassment by now.” He returned to his book.
“I am!” argued Danny unhappily.
“You’re just saying that so I’ll let you off the hook.” Vlad turned the page. “You still have to wear it.”
Danny groaned in frustration. “Why are you torturing me like this? If you had real feelings for me, you would end this already.”
Vlad sighed as he set his book aside. Removing his glasses, he placed them on top of the book. He stood and approached Danny, who didn’t budge from where he stood despite his dislike of the expression on Vlad’s face. It was the one Vlad wore when he planned something unpleasant.
“That is a horrible line to use on someone you say you care about.” Vlad shook his head at the confused look on Danny’s face. “It’s a line usually intended to trick a woman into having sex with you. ‘If you really loved me, you would sleep with me.’ It’s terrible. The man brags about having sex while the woman is left feeling violated because she wasn’t ready to participate in the act of loving making. Women generally view sex as a commitment between two individuals and not something you do with just anyone. It’s worse when they feel pressured into doing it. Men have a tendency to be ruled by their hormones.”
“I wasn’t trying to do that,” Danny said, still confused. “I just want not to wear this anymore.”
“I just thought I should warn you of the implications of such a line.” Vlad placed his hands on Danny’s hips and drew him flush against his body too fast for Danny to react. “And I happen to find you quite sexy in this outfit.” He let one arm wrap securely around Danny’s waist while the other slipped beneath the skirt.
“Stop it!” Danny shouted as he squirmed violently and pushed Vlad away. When Vlad released him, Danny stumbled backwards and tripped, landing hard on his butt.
Vlad sighed, shaking his head. “I’m not one of those guys who pressures others into sex.” He frowned. “And we aren’t nearly comfortable enough to even be considering having sex.”
“You were testing me?” Danny asked, feeling slightly hurt by Vlad’s actions.
“I was merely curious to see how far our relationship had gotten,” Vlad explained. “You’re still rejecting the idea of being with a man, even if you think you are comfortable with being with me.” He returned to the couch and sat. “I do feel our relationship is progressing quite well though.”
He makes it sound like some kind of experiment, Danny thought grumpily as he climbed to his feet. He walked over to the closet. I guess it kind of is in a way. We are testing this relationship to see how true our feelings are for one another.
“What are you doing?” Vlad demanded when he saw Danny undressing.
“The rules state that I only have to wear the maid outfit while I’m doing laundry and cleaning.” Danny grabbed a pair of jeans from the closet and put them on. “Since I’m finished with my ‘maid duties’ for the day, I’m free to wear what I want.”
Danny’s stopped before grabbing a shirt as an idea hit him. Walking over to the couch, he settled himself into Vlad’s lap straddling his waist. Vlad’s brow shot up, and curiosity danced through his eyes.
“Do you really think I’m sexy?” Danny wanted to know as he leaned close to Vlad. “I know there are much better looking guys out there.”
“You’re sounding like a girl,” Vlad replied in a flat tone.
“I’m not sounding like a girl!” Danny growled. “Look. I know I’m not very attractive by a lot of people’s standards so I want to know why you find me sexy. Is it just the maid thing?”
Vlad chuckled and cupped Danny’s face. “It’s not the maid thing alone. Your body alone isn’t what I find sexy. It’s your mind,” he tapped Danny’s forehead, “and your heart,” he tapped Danny’s chest, “as well.”
Danny fought back the warm mushy feelings Vlad’s statement sent rushing through him. He never thought Vlad capable of saying such things to him. He took hold of both of Vlad’s wrists before he leaned in to kiss him. They were supposed to take things slow. He knew that. However, at that moment, he couldn’t resist the urge to kiss Vlad. He received no struggle from him. Instead, Vlad quickly deepened their kiss. Releasing Vlad’s wrists, Danny slid his hands up Vlad’s arms and wrapped them around his neck. Vlad’s hands ghosted over Danny’s bare chest, making muscles tense. They came to rest on Danny’s hips and cautiously, giving him time to pull away, drew him closer.
When the door to their room opened, Danny jerked his head away from Vlad. They both snapped their heads around to the open doorway where Jack’s large body blocked out most of the view to the hallway. Jack quickly slammed the door shut behind him. He stared at them, and they stared back. Silence ruled the room for many moments as Danny remained seated in Vlad’s lap.
“How long have you two been keeping this a secret?” Jack asked finally in a calm tone.
Danny gulped as he slid off Vlad’s lap.
“It’s not that we don’t trust you, Jack,” Vlad said smoothly. “We just wanted to explore our feelings, see if what we felt was real or just physical, before saying anything.”
“And?” Jack prodded as he folded his arms over his chest.
Danny shared a look with Vlad.
“I think they might indeed be real,” Vlad answered.
Relief came over Jack as he crossed the room and plopped onto the couch beside Vlad. He drew Vlad into a crushing hug, making Vlad gasp as he breath rushed out of his lungs. Danny merely blinked and stared, wondering what to think of the scene before him.
“Oh man!” Jack released Vlad, who coughed and tried to regain his breath. “I’m so happy for you two.” He climbed to his feet and drew Danny into a crushing embrace.
Danny swore his eyes would bulge from their sockets and rib cage would break. When Jack released him, Danny dropped heavily onto the table before the couch. He held a hand to his chest as he panted. I forgot how painful Dad’s hugs can be.
“Can we tell Maddie and Harriet?” Jack asked, turning back to Vlad.
“I would rather not say anything just yet,” Vlad replied.
Danny frowned as he stared at Vlad. He doesn’t want Mom to know about him being involved with another man, he thought. I bet he still has feelings for her. He climbed to his feet and walked over to the closet to get a shirt.
“Where are you going?” Vlad asked, his voice almost giving a hint of urgency, when he noticed Danny walking toward the door as he pulled the shirt over his head.
Danny paused at the door, taking a deep breath to clear his mind. He needed an excuse. “I just thought I would take a walk before it got dark,” Danny answered.
“Why doesn’t Vlad go with you?” Jack suggested, and Danny could imagine the grin on his face.
Stop trying to give us alone time, Danny mentally yelled at his father.
“I have some homework and tests to grade,” Vlad said, making Danny wonder if he sensed his desire to be alone.
Danny left the room before Jack could suggest something else. Sighing, he walked down the hallway and knocked on a door. A moment later, Ben opened the door.
“Uh, Danny,” Ben said and blinked. “What are you doing here?”
“Can we talk?” Danny knew his expression was pitiful, but he felt horrible on the inside. A pinching sensation in his chest nearly took his breath away.
Ben stepped aside to allow Danny into his room. He shut the door afterward and turned to Danny, who took a seat on the couch. “What did you need to talk about?”
Danny remained silent for a long while. He took one of the cushions on the couch and hugged it tightly to his chest. Staring ahead of him, he refused to meet Ben’s gaze. “It hurts,” he murmured softly. “I think Vlad isn’t over his crush on someone else, and it hurts.”
Ben walked over and sat beside Danny on the couch. Danny slid sideways, falling over to rest his head in Ben’s lap.
“What exactly happened?” Ben asked as he gently stroked Danny’s hair.
Danny shook his head. “I don’t know. He only said he didn’t want to tell her about us, and everything started to hurt.”
Ben sighed. “Are you afraid he’ll still leave you if she gives him the chance to be in a relationship?”
“I – I don’t know.” Danny frowned, his hold tightening on the pillow. “I don’t think she’ll leave the relationship she’s in.” He shook his head fiercely. “No, I know she won’t leave it.”
“Then why are you letting it bother you so much?”
“I don’t know. Can I just stay here for the night? I want to clear my head without Vlad and Jack hovering about.”
“Yeah, sure,” Ben answered, still stroking Danny’s hair. “I think my roommate is going to be out tonight anyway.”
“Thanks. I owe you for this.” Danny fell asleep with his head in Ben’s lap as he tried to sort out the strange jealous feeling that coiled around his heart.
When he woke up the next morning, Danny still felt the jealous pang in his heart, but he felt well enough to face Vlad. Standing, he stretched. A sudden heat against his cheek made him jump. He heard Ben chuckle and looked to find him holding out a paper cup of coffee.
“I got you some coffee while I was out,” Ben explained as Danny accepted the drink. “How are you feeling?”
“It still kind of hurts.” Danny focused on the warmth of the coffee seeping into his hands as he held the cup. He shrugged and glanced up at Ben. “But I’m better now.”
“Are you sure?” Ben stared at him, clearly concerned.
Danny nodded. “Thanks again. I owe you. And now, I should get back.” He could see the man still worried about him, but Ben opened the door. They said their goodbyes, and Danny returned to Jack and Vlad’s room. As soon as he opened the door, a hand grabbed his arm and dragged him into the room. The cup dropped from his hand, spilling hot coffee over him and the floor. He gasped in pain as the hot liquid hit him.
“Where have you been all night?” Vlad demanded. “Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been?”
“I stayed with Ben,” Danny admitted, seeing the anger on Vlad’s face.
“Why didn’t you say anything about it?” Vlad released Danny's arm.
“I just - I needed some time to myself,” Danny replied then sighed at Vlad’s annoyed expression. He had to tell Vlad what was bothering him. “Do you even realize how your words affected me last night?”
“What words?” Vlad frowned.
“You don’t want Maddie to know about us,” Danny said, stressing his mother’s name. “To me, that sounds like you’re afraid of her finding out because you still think there’s a chance she might start liking you in that way.”
“That’s not it at all,” Vlad chided. “I just don’t want to go around telling everyone and their mother about our relationship. I like to keep my private life private. Even from close friends sometimes. I would have preferred to keep Jack from knowing, but clearly that wasn’t possible after last night’s activities.” He smirked at Danny, remembering what they were up to when Jack entered the room.
“I know it’s silly! And I know it makes me sound like a jealous girlfriend, but I am.” Danny pouted. “How can I not be? You told me you were in love with Maddie.”
Vlad took Danny’s head between his hands and forced the younger man to look him directly in the eyes. “Listen to this and pay attention. I do not date someone just to play around with their emotions. I like you a lot. I’m attracted to you. You have no idea what you do to me sometimes. And if Maddie were to suddenly come to me and throw herself at my feet, I would reject her. I will not let a past love destroy the relationship we have.”
“That was so incredibly sappy,” Danny said before chuckling. “But very much appreciated.” The words reassured Danny. As long as he stayed in this time, Vlad’s eyes would be solely on him. Something occurred to him, and he blinked. “Why aren’t you in class?”
“Because I was worried about you! You just disappear on us. You could have been kidnapped or beaten up or raped or abducted by a ghost!” Vlad shouted. “I was just going to look for you again when you walked through the door.”
Danny only then noticed the bags under Vlad’s eyes. He really was worried about me, he thought guiltily. “Perhaps you should take the day off. Get some rest.”
“I can’t,” Vlad said, sighing. “I have classes that I have to be at today. But tomorrow,” he grinned, “tomorrow I can take off.” He went about the room, grabbing the things he needed for his classes. When he was ready, he halted in front of Danny. “Promise me you won’t disappear anymore, and I’ll end your punishment.”
“I promise.” Danny grinned and bid farewell to Vlad as he left. Sighing, he turned to the mess on the floor. “At least I don’t have to dress in the French maid outfit to clean this up.”
The silence was getting to Danny. Jack sat at the desk working on a paper while Vlad sat on the couch reading. Climbing off the bed, Danny walked to the couch and plopped down next to Vlad.
“What are you reading?” Danny asked. He rested his head on Vlad’s shoulder and tried to read the page the book was opened to.
“Beowulf.” Vlad flipped the page.
“Is it any good?” Danny grabbed the side of the book nearest him and pulled it closer so that he had a better view of words on the page.
“It’s required reading.” Vlad yanked the book out of his hold. When Danny looked up at him in confusion, Vlad added, “I need to get this read today and write a report on it.”
“Oh,” Danny said lamely as he sat back. Is Vlad annoyed with me? he wondered, feeling hurt. “Maybe I should make a food run.”
When Danny stood, Vlad closed his book as he sighed. “Danny, I wasn’t trying to push you away. It’s just that my education is my first priority at the moment.”
Danny shrugged and put on a smile. “I was only thinking that you guys would be getting hungry now. I know I am.”
“Oh, yes, food please!” begged Jack as he turned around in his seat. “And please let me go with you! I can’t stand sitting here for another moment without a break.”
“Oh, fine,” Vlad said with an exasperated sigh. “We’ll go out for some food. But not for too long.” He narrowed his eyes at Jack in a threatening manner. “You still have a long way to go before that paper’s finished. And I’m reading over it to catch all your errors.”
Danny tried not to laugh at his father’s gulp. He knew his father made lots of errors with calculations, and he didn’t doubt that he would make errors while writing papers too. “You don’t have to come along if you need to get that book done,” he told Vlad.
“A little break won’t hurt.” Vlad stood and stretched a little. “And I think I could really use one as well.” He approached Danny and dropped a quick kiss upon Danny’s lips before he walked toward the door.
The kiss left Danny with a pleasant tingling feeling. He almost skipped after Vlad out the door until a large hand dropped onto his shoulder. Gasping, Danny put a hand to his chest as his heart beat quickly. He forgot his father was still there.
“I’m glad you dropped into our lives,” Jack whispered. “I always hoped that Vlad would find someone. I’m glad it’s a good person like you.” He ruffled Danny’s hair before walking out the door.
Danny stared at the doorway as a frown settled on his face. How would you feel if you knew I was your son and that I am attracted to the man who has tried to kill you on multiple occasions? He doubted his father would still be so glad about his relationship with Vlad. He left the room, closing the door behind him. If he went back to his present time, wouldn’t it destroy their relationship? Danny’s heart hurt at that thought.
“Something wrong?” Vlad asked, falling back to walk beside Danny while Jack led the way.
“It’s nothing,” replied Danny. He grinned when he caught Vlad’s worried gaze. “Don’t worry about it.” He gave Vlad a peck on the cheek before skipping ahead to walk with Jack. “Where should we go for dinner?”
“I want Chinese,” Jack said. He glanced over his shoulder. “Is that okay with you?”
Danny could see the worried look still on Vlad’s face, but a nod and a shrug confirmed that Vlad was okay with the suggestion. Vlad came to walk along side them and draped an arm over Danny’s shoulder. They walked in that manner to the Chinese restaurant that Jack liked best.
As they turned down the street, a scream rang through the air. Danny spun around, his ghost sense going off. Before he could react, an ecto blast hit him square in the chest, sending him flying back. He slammed into a street lamp and collapsed to the ground.
“Danny!” Vlad shouted, rushing to the fallen man.
“It’s a ghost,” Jack whispered in awe as he stared up at the midget of a ghost floating in the air.
“Are you all right?” Vlad asked, more concerned with Danny’s physical condition than the ghost.
“I’m fine.” Danny let Vlad help him to his feet. He glanced up at the ghost, and his eyes narrowed. Why did Youngblood have to reappear now of all times? He couldn’t transform in front of Vlad and his father. The people fleeing in terror probably wouldn’t notice him slip off behind something and transform, but Vlad and Jack would, especially Vlad who supported him. He forgot how much it hurt to be thrown into something by an ecto blast while in his human form.
“Looks like I’m getting better at my control,” Youngblood announced as he grinned at Danny.
Next time I see him, I’m going to hurt him, Danny thought, glaring at the ghost. A lot!
“Vlad, we should go,” Jack whispered to them. Danny hadn’t even noticed when his father joined them. “We have nothing to defend ourselves with.”
“Look out!” Danny shouted as he shoved Vlad aside. Youngblood’s ecto blast slammed into Danny’s side, knocking him to the ground again. Great! Just great! I can’t stop him without transforming, he growled at himself, wincing at the pain surging through his body.
Jack grabbed Danny and hoisted him over his shoulder as he followed after Vlad down the street.
“Come on!” shouted Youngblood, his laughter trailing after them. “I just want to have a little fun with you.”
“Put me down,” Danny ordered, the desire to pummel the ghost raging inside him.
“You’re hurt,” Jack said. “And – Maddie, that’s not completely operational yet!”
Danny twisted in his father’s hold to see what was going on. He spotted his mother carrying some kind of bazooka with her. “How did you know to bring that?” he wondered out loud.
“I heard someone cry ghost,” explained Maddie. “I grabbed the nearest weapon and came in search of it.”
Jack dumped Danny in Vlad’s arms. “You take him to get his wounds bandaged. Maddie and I can deal with the ghost.”
“But I-” Danny started only to have Vlad cut him off.
“Don’t bother,” Vlad said, supporting Danny as they walked back to campus. “Once Jack gets in that mode, there’s really no reasoning with him. The ghost hurt someone he cares about.” He smiled at Danny. “Jack isn’t so forgiving to those who attack his friends.”
“I know,” mumbled Danny, remembering when his father first made him proud to be his son. Though I never would have seen that side of him if Vlad hadn’t attacked and tried to steal our Portal, he thought as he frowned. He’s not that man yet, he told himself firmly when the first hint of doubt about their relationship poked at his mind.
“How would you know?” Vlad asked in mild confusion as they neared their dorm.
“Oh, I, um,” Danny said, stumbling for an explanation. “I guessed? He seemed like the kind of guy who would be protective of his friends.”
Vlad thought it over before he nodded in understanding. “I suppose you’re right. He does kind of give off that vibe.”
“I can walk fine on my own,” Danny offered, pulling away from Vlad. The blasts hurt more than they would have if he was in ghost form, but he could manage walking without help, even if he did enjoy the excuse to press up against Vlad. “I’m surprised you didn’t want to stay and help capture the ghost,” he commented, in what he hoped was nonchalant manner, as they walked up to their floor.
“As interested as I am in learning more about ghosts, there are some things that are more important,” Vlad explained. He took Danny’s hand and gave it a squeeze.
Danny fought to force down the heat rising to his cheeks. “I told you I was fine. It didn’t really hurt that much.”
Vlad stopped before their door and turned on Danny. “That ghost hit you with two ecto blasts, and you were thrown into the lamp post. You are not fine.” He opened the door and dragged Danny inside. “I’ll never understand what goes on in that head of yours,” he muttered as he sat Danny down on his bed. “You have no idea how badly those blasts could have hurt you.”
You have no idea what I already know about ghosts, Danny thought, suddenly wanting to yell the truth in Vlad’s face.
“I should have been the one to push you out of the way,” Vlad continued as he yanked Danny’s shirt up and over his head so that he could examine the spots where Danny had been hit.
“I’m not some damsel in distress,” snapped Danny. “I don’t need to be rescued, and I’m not some fragile little thing that you need to protect from breaking.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.” Vlad sighed, resting his hands on Danny’s shoulders. “I just - I don’t want to see you getting hurt.” He dropped his gaze to look over Danny’s wounds.
“I’ve had more than my share of run ins with vengeful spirits,” admitted Danny as he wrapped his arms around Vlad’s neck. “Their blasts may sting, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
“You’ve met ghosts before?” Vlad's brows shot up to his hairline in surprise.
Danny knew he was treading into a dangerous topic. At any point, he could let his secret slip, but he didn’t care. He wanted to impress Vlad with his knowledge. “I have,” he answered, pulling Vlad down on top of him as he lay back on the bed. “But we can talk about that another time.” He leaned his head up to kiss him, but Vlad held him down.
“I don’t want to talk about it another time,” said Vlad in a serious tone. “I want to discuss it now. I want to know what you’re hiding from me.”
Crap! I just had to open my big mouth, Danny shouted, mentally smacking his forehead. What could he say that wouldn’t damage the future? Did he really care about that anymore? But if he damaged the future, he could wipe out his own existence. He looked up at Vlad, who waited with an expectant look in his eyes. He had to say something.
“Well, you see,” Danny said, stalling as he formed some excuse in his mind. “My parents, they’re kind of the crazies of our little town. They have this whole obsession with ghosts. So I’ve kind of been dragged into their work more times than I can count.”
Vlad thought over what Danny told him. “That’s interesting. But that does explain why you didn’t think Jack and I were strange with our ghost research and why you were so interested in knowing about our Proto Portal. Why didn’t you just say so before?”
“I,” Danny mumbled, racking his brain for another excuse. “I just don’t like talking about my family much.” It sounded lame in his head and worse when he said it out loud. Vlad wouldn’t believe that, would he?
“What happened between you and your family?” Vlad stroked Danny’s cheek.
Danny could see concern enter Vlad’s eyes again. “It’s nothing I want to talk about.” He pulled Vlad’s head down, hoping to distract him with a kiss. However, the door banged open a second before their lips could meet.
“This isn’t going to happen every time I enter the room, is it?” Jack asked as he shut the door behind him.
Vlad sighed as he climbed off Danny. “Did you get the ghost?” he asked, watching Jack plop into the desk chair.
“No,” Jack grumbled. “It got away, and the weapon malfunctioned. We’ll have to work on fixing it.”
“And there goes another opportunity to learn more on ghosts,” Vlad said, shaking his head in disappointment.
“Maddie went back to work on the bazooka, but she told me to come back here and work on my paper,” Jack said. His eyes narrowed a little. “Since someone told her I was behind on it.”
“You listen to her more than you ever listen to me,” Vlad responded with a tiny smirk as he snatched his book from where it rested on the table. He returned to the bed and sat down next to Danny. “I’m surprised she didn’t come over here as well to make sure you work on it.” He helped Danny sit up, and Danny leaned against him as Vlad opened his book to read again.
“What are we doing here?” Danny asked with an exasperated sigh. He flopped down on the roof top and leaned against the little wall. Vlad dragged him off before sunset to climb up onto the roof of a little shop on the street where Youngblood attacked them. Now it was well past midnight.
“We’re waiting for that ghost.” Vlad checked on a rod, a piece of ghost hunting equipment he grabbed before he left the science lab where they kept most of their work.
A prototype of the Jack-o-Nine-Tails? Danny wondered as he stared at it. “Do you really think that ghost is going come around again? It’s been a few weeks since then. The ghost is probably gone.” At least, he hoped Youngblood decided to go elsewhere and leave him alone. Without a workable Portal, he couldn’t send Youngblood back to the Ghost Zone. And here I thought Dad had just been sneaking out on dates with Mom, he thought, now able to put the pieces together.
“Ghosts haunt an area.” Vlad looked up and eyed Danny. “I thought with all your experience from your parents’ work that you would have known that.”
“From my experience,” Danny said slowly as he moved closer to Vlad, “I know that ghosts don’t necessarily remain in one place. They aren’t exactly bound to their places of death.”
“Bound, they may not be,” Vlad said in agreement. “However, that doesn’t mean they don’t haunt the areas where they died. Ghosts lose their memories of their mortal life after the body dies, so its place of death holds meaning to it.”
Danny shuddered, recalling his accident in the Fenton Portal. It hadn’t fully killed him, but it felt close enough to dying. He could clearly recall the surge of electricity running throughout his body as screams tore from his throat. It was the worst experience of his life.
Vlad noticed Danny’s shivering. Pulling off his jacket, he wrapped it around Danny. “I told you it would get cold,” he whispered before kissing Danny’s cheek.
Danny smiled at the gesture, even if Vlad misread his actions. “Why don’t we stop for tonight?” He yawned widely. “It’s late. I’m tired. You have class tomorrow. And there’s been no sign of a ghost.”
Vlad frowned. “Is this boring you?”
“No!” Danny said quickly. He bit his lip seeing Vlad’s eyes narrow at him. “Okay, maybe a little boring.” He sighed and leaned against Vlad. “But we’ve been here for hours, and all that you’ve done is play with your stick.” He waved at the metal rod in Vlad’s hands.
Vlad stared at the rod then he turned to Danny as a devious smirk spread onto his face. “Would you rather I played with your stick?” he asked, leering down at the other man.
Danny stared for a long while before it hit him. “I didn’t mean it like that!” He turned his head away in embarrassment. A frown settled on his face when he heard Vlad chuckle at him. Arms wrapped around him and pulled him into Vlad’s lap.
“Bored, are you?” Vlad asked, his arm breath tickling the back of Danny’s neck. “You don’t find this setting romantic at all? The two of us alone, under a starry sky?” He squeezed his arms around Danny and rested his chin on Danny’s shoulder.
Danny leaned back into Vlad as he tilted his head up and gazed at the starry sky. It was nice. The night was clear, all was quiet, and no one was around to disturb them. I love it here, he thought, letting his eyes fall shut. I love being with Vlad. I love the way it feels with his arms around me. I love Vlad. His eyes snapped open, and he stared at the sky in shock. Wait. What did I just say? He sat up, pulling away from Vlad.
“What’s wrong?” Vlad asked, and Danny could hear the worry in his voice. He tried to pull Danny back toward him, but Danny only pulled farther away. “Okay. Now you’re worrying me.”
I just said I love Vlad, Danny thought, too distracted by this to answer Vlad. Yeah, okay, I’m attracted to him. That much was obvious to me. But love? Is that really what I feel? He turned in Vlad’s arms and stared into his eyes. His gaze softened, and he felt his heart skip a beat. He leaned in and kissed Vlad, lips gently pressing against lips. Love, huh? His arms wrapped around Vlad’s neck, and his fingers toyed with the black locks of Vlad’s mullet. It could be love, right? His tongue ran over Vlad’s lips and sought entrance. Vlad admitted him, and Danny’s tongue slipped into his mouth, running over smooth teeth and rubbing against Vlad’s tongue. I’ve never wanted to be with anyone this much before, Danny thought. When hands grabbed his ass, he gasped into the kiss as heat washed over him. This isn’t just lust. It can’t be. I love him too much for it to be only lust. Danny pressed closer to Vlad, wanting to feel more of the man.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Vlad whispered, his lips brushing against Danny’s lips. “I don’t want you to feel rushed.”
“I’m ready,” replied Danny in a husky voice; his eyes half-lidded with desire. He kissed Vlad again before he pulled away to stare fully into Vlad’s eyes. He’s so beautiful, he thought, caressing Vlad’s face. He’s a wonderful man. Kind, smart, compassionate. Everything I could want in a boyfriend. But most of all, he makes me feel so special with only a simple look.
Vlad stared at Danny like he was trying to figure out what the other man was thinking. Sighing, he pushed Danny off his lap. “I don’t want you to feel forced into saying you’re ready if you’re not,” he explained as he stood.
Danny’s mouth dropped open, words attempting and failing to form, as he watched Vlad gather his things. “I don’t feel forced to do anything!” he snapped, climbing to his feet. “I feel ready. And don’t think you would be the first person I would have sex with. I’m not a virgin.”
Vlad paused and turned to face Danny. He scowled as jealousy danced in his eyes. “Not a virgin?” he demanded. “And just who have you had sex with then?”
“A girl,” Danny answered as he folded his arms. “A really hot girl. And it was a dumb thing to do. The only thing I felt toward her was a lingering lust from a stupid, superficial crush. And after that, I told myself I wouldn’t have sex again until I found someone really special to me.” He approached Vlad. “You’re that person, Vlad. You’re the one I want to be with. I want you to be my first as a gay man.” He blushed faintly at the embarrassing words. “I want you because I love you.”
“Do you mean that?” Vlad asked with a hint of uncertainty hidden in his voice.
“I wouldn’t say something like that if I didn’t,” explained Danny. “Love isn’t a word I like to throw around carelessly. I wouldn’t say I love you unless that’s how I truly felt.”
Disbelief showed for a brief moment on Vlad’s face, making Danny worry. Then Vlad smiled warmly as he laced his fingers with Danny’s. When he started walking toward the ladder they used to climb onto the roof, Danny hesitated, blinking at the confusion he felt.
“Where are we going?” Danny planted his feet firmly on the rooftop, forcing Vlad to stop.
“You don’t expect us to do anything up here, do you?” Vlad’s brow arched, and he looked a little appalled at such a notion. “I will not have us engaging in any sort of sexual activities on a hard rooftop. Especially one as filthy as this one.”
Danny’s voice squeaked out when he said, “Sexual activities?” He paused and cleared his throat.
The words sent a jolt running through his body, not from nervousness or fear like he would have experienced only a few weeks ago but from the anticipation. He wanted to experience this with Vlad, with the man his heart fell in love with.
When a thought hit him, Danny asked, “Then we’ll be going back to the dorm? But Jack is there.”
“Then I suppose you’ll have to keep quiet.” A smirk stretched over Vlad's face, reminding Danny far too much of the older Vlad’s devious smirks. “If you can, that is.”
Danny couldn’t fight back the blush that rose to his face at Vlad’s words. Thinking about his father catching them made his insides twist with excitement of the risk.
They climbed down the ladder and started walking toward the college campus. The trip back seemed longer as Danny’s anticipation grew. When they reached their room, Vlad cracked the door open carefully and peeked inside. Jack lay in his bed, his chest rising and falling as his snores filled the room. It wasn’t exactly the most romantic setting for their first time, but a nice, clean, soft bed was better than a cold, dirty, hard rooftop. After removing their shoes, they crept over to Vlad’s bed. When they sat down on the bed, it creaked. Danny shot a glance at his father, who continued to snore in his sleep.
“Are you-” Danny started to ask until Vlad placed a finger to his lips.
“If you talk, you might wake him,” Vlad whispered softly, and Danny shivered in delight.
They gazed at each other in the darkness, each giving the other time to back out if he changed his mind. Vlad took his finger from Danny’s lips and caressed his cheek. He pulled Danny closer, and their lips brushed together in a gentle kiss. Danny’s heart pounded as he leaned closer, pressing his lips fully against Vlad’s.
His hand slid down from Danny’s cheek to rest on his hip as Vlad pushed Danny down onto the bed. Danny placed his hands on Vlad’s chest and dragged them down and yanked Vlad’s shirt free from his pants. His muscles clenched at the feel of Vlad’s hands roaming beneath his shirt. Tongues battled each other while hands traced over lean muscles.
All thoughts of his present and ghosts and archenemies left Danny’s mind. All he thought of was Vlad’s touch and Vlad’s kiss and how much he loved Vlad.
When he woke up the next morning, Danny first noticed the pain radiating from his backside. It hurt far more than he remembered it hurting the previous night during their love making. Pain faded from his mind as giddiness rose up in him to take its place. He buried his face into the pillow while he thought of the events of last night.
I made love to Vlad, he thought giddily, not caring if he was acting like a love-sick school girl. He was greatly overjoyed by that mere fact, which was completely different from how he felt after that one time with Paulina. Not very long ago, the idea would have made him ill and sent him into spasms with thoughts of “ew, that’s disgusting.”
Danny realized something as he started drifting toward sleep again. Panic seized him, and he shot up in the bed. He was alone in the room. Vlad and Jack already left for class. Sighing, Danny flopped back on the bed. Class, he thought and laughed. For a brief moment, he feared that Vlad left right after their love making. Then he remembered Vlad had early classes, and they were in Vlad’s dorm room, after all.
Rolling out of bed, Danny didn’t much care about the fact that he was nude. He stretched and winced at the renewed pain. I hope it doesn’t hurt this much every time, he thought as he walked toward the closet to get some clothes. After getting dressed, Danny went to sit on the couch when he discovered something on the table. A plain white bag sat beside a paper cup of coffee. Next to them sat a note with a red rose on top of it. Danny picked up the rose and the note.
Regretfully, I had to leave you earlier than I would have liked. You looked so peaceful, so I left you to sleep. Especially after such an eventful night. Since I thought you might be hungry, I bought you a few doughnuts and coffee. I hate the idea of speaking to you about last night through a note, so I shall speak to you about it later.
I love you,
Danny smiled warmly at the note as the giddy feeling returned. Then he noticed more writing, not in Vlad’s script beneath it.
Walking in on you making out is one thing. Waking up to you having sex is SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! In the future, I would appreciate it if you did not have sex while I’m in the room.
Danny couldn’t hold in the laughter at his father’s note. After being so careful about not making too much noise, Jack still caught them in the act. That fact should have mortified Danny. Instead, it amused him. He was still feeling too giddy to let it bother him. Setting the note on the table, he held the rose to his nose and breathed in its fragrant scent as he flopped down on the couch. Love, he decided, was an incredibly joyous emotion to experience.
Danny hummed as he finished cleaning up their room. He was still on a giddy high over the events of the previous night. Setting a few books on the desk, he noticed a note lying there. When he picked it up, he read over the unfamiliar handwriting.
“Oh crap,” Danny breathed out, suddenly remembering when he first received the note from Laura. The note contained the room number and dorm building for Laura’s friend Tiffany, the one who believed there was a ghost haunting her room. Danny’s good mood came crushing down around him as he stuffed the note into his pocket. Quickly, he put on his shoes before leaving the room.
“Danny!” called the familiar voice of Jeremy, who lived a few doors down.
“Hey, Jeremy,” Danny greeted as the tall black man approached him. “How are things with your sister?” It had been a while since the two of them had a chance to really talk to each other.
“Better,” Jeremy answered. “This ghost stuff is actually a lot more interesting than I thought it would be.” He grinned, a bit embarrassed to have admitted that. “So, uh, I thought I would try to catch you early. Think you can do my laundry first?”
“Actually, I have something I need to take care of today,” replied Danny, wincing slightly when Jeremy frowned. “But I could do your laundry first when I come back.”
“Yeah, okay, I guess that works.” Jeremy stared at the floor. Then after a moment, he looked up at Danny again. “I have to leave for class soon. And I’ll be out for the rest of the day. That’s kind of why I wanted to catch you early. I guess I can just leave a note for a roommate, letting him know I asked you to do my laundry.”
“All right. Well, then I guess I’ll you around,” said Danny awkwardly. “Oh, wait. Do you know where the Jefferson North building is? I have to meet with someone there.”
Jeremy chuckled for a moment before he realized Danny was serious. “It’s the dorm right next to ours.”
“Oh.” Danny laughed a little in embarrassment of his stupidity. “I guess I never noticed.” After exchanging goodbyes, Danny continued walking down the hallway. He trotted down the stairs and exited the building.
Crossing the walkway between the two dorms, Danny tried the door to the Jefferson North building but it was locked. He glanced around and saw people walking around, but no one seemed to be going in or out of the building to allow him to slip inside. With so many people around, he couldn’t go ghost and phase through the door. Sighing, he did the only other thing possible. Cautiously, he gripped the door handle while he held his other hand to the lock looking like he had the key to unlock it. He made one finger intangible and slipped it through the lock. Pushing the door forward, he found it opened easily and grinned. He climbed the stairs to the fifth floor where Tiffany lived. When he found the right room, Danny gasped as a chill came over him, and a blue wisp escaped his open mouth. He knocked on the door.
“M-May I help you?” asked the woman who opened the door. She had dark circles under dull blue eyes and looked like she hadn’t slept well in months.
“Yeah, um, Laura said you thought you had a ghost living here,” answered Danny. The situation was strange for him. He never had to speak to the people living in haunted areas.
Tiffany stuck her head out and glanced both ways down the hallway. “I thought Laura was asking Vlad Masters to come and take a look.”
“Ah, yeah.” Danny rubbed at the back of his neck. “Vlad, I don’t think he would be too willing to do any favors for Laura so I thought I should come take a look at your room myself. Sorry it’s taken me a while. I got caught up with some other things I had to deal with.” Like realizing I’m in love with Vlad, he thought, almost smiling.
“You know about ghost stuff?” Tiffany asked a bit skeptical. She didn’t seem to mind the delay.
“I know a few things.” Danny waited as Tiffany merely stared at him. After a moment, she opened the door wider to allow Danny into her room. “So when did you first start to notice there might be a ghost living here?” Danny glanced around the room and spotted the ghost of an elderly woman sitting on the desk in the corner of the room. She had short white hair, spotted by a few red strands, and her skin was horribly wrinkled.
“I’ve had a bad feeling about this place ever since I moved in.” Tiffany stood by the door and wrapped her arms tightly around her body like it would ward off the ghostly presence. “Some of the other girls said that everyone in this room ends up dropping out of college. Two weeks ago, my roommate left. My grades keep getting worse and worse. I’m beginning to think this ghost wants us to fail.”
“That may actually be true,” mumbled Danny. “I’m going to have to, um, do some ghost related stuff. Do you mind leaving for a while?”
Tiffany looked uncertain, opening her mouth to protest. Then she nodded and left the room. After the door closed behind her, Danny turned to face the ghost.
“I want you to stop haunting this dorm,” Danny said in as commanding a voice as he could muster.
“Oh, that was threatening.” A smirk stretched across the ghost's aged face. There was something about her that Danny almost found familiar. “But I’m going to have to say no. I rather like the set up here. These college girls have so much troubling their pathetic little lives. It does wonders for my appearance.”
“You still look like an old hag,” muttered Danny, and the ghost glowered at him as her green eyes blazed with anger. Danny ignored the glare – it wasn’t nearly half as intimidating as Vlad’s glare – and thought about how the ghost worked. There was a familiarity about the ghost, like Danny had met her before. A ghost who feeds on the angst of her victims' misery in order to make herself young and beautiful? Why is that familiar? “That sounds like Spectra,” he said out loud, surprised that he hadn’t made the connection sooner.
“How do you know my name?” the ghost asked, blinking in surprise.
“Wait! You mean you are Spectra? Penelope Spectra?” Danny gaped at the ghost, who nodded. “But you look so old!”
“Do you think I haven’t noticed that already?” Spectra demanded. The room grew chilly, making Danny shiver. “It’s hard to keep a steady meal of angst when the students continuously drop out.”
Wow! She wasn’t all that bright in the past, Danny thought. Does this mean Bertrand is the real mastermind of the two? He shook the idea from his head and focused on the current problem. “All the more reason for you to stop haunting this dorm,” he said, quickly thinking of something that might convince Spectra to leave the dorm. “If you really want to become young and beautiful, wouldn’t it be better to haunt some place where you can feast on a large number of troubled souls?”
“I-” Spectra started then she stopped. “Actually, that is a better idea. The way I’m doing it could take years before I’m as young and beautiful as I should be. With more people to feed on, I can achieve my goal sooner.” Her expression soured as she glared at Danny. “Why would you help me?”
“I’m wondering that myself,” replied Danny as he sighed. It’s not like I can really do anything. Fighting would be a waste. I can’t trap her in the Thermos and send her back to the Ghost Zone. The Portal and Thermos don’t even exist yet. I already figured out that fighting a ghost off otherwise would be more trouble than it’s worth with Youngblood. And I don’t want to destroy the dorm room. Too many questions there.
“All right. I’ll stop haunting this dorm.”
“There’s no way I can talk you into crossing over or whatever, is there?” But Danny already knew the answer.
“Don’t be selfish. I’ve already agreed to leave this place,” answered Spectra. “You are the strangest human I have ever encountered.” With a wave of her arm, shadows rose to wrap around her. When the shadows broke apart, Spectra was gone.
“I’d argue, but that’s probably true,” muttered Danny dejectedly. “Well, at least I got her to leave the dorm, which was the whole point of this little visit.” He walked to the door and opened it. “V-Vlad!” he shouted, stunned to find the man standing in the hallway and talking to Tiffany. “What are you doing here?”
“I was going to ask you that,” replied Vlad with a sour look. “I found this girl’s address on a note. I didn’t think you would actually come over here, but when I ran into Jeremy between classes, he told me you had asked about Jefferson North.” Tiffany glanced between the two men in confusion. Vlad closed the distance between him and Danny. He wrapped his arms around Danny and held him close. “What purpose did you have for visiting some girl in another dorm? Certainly not to clean her room or to do her laundry.”
Danny gulped at the stern glare Vlad gave him. He heard Tiffany gasp holding her hands over her mouth at Vlad’s possessive display. “Actually, I was asked to do someone a favor,” Danny answered before pulling out of Vlad’s arms to address Tiffany. “You shouldn’t have any more problems, Tiffany.”
“Really? The ghost is gone?” When he nodded, Tiffany threw her arms around Danny and hugged him tightly in her excitement. “Thank you so much!”
“Ghost? Why didn’t you tell me about this?” Vlad demanded as he tore Danny free from the girl.
Danny thought he saw a hint of hurt behind his blue eyes. He waited until Tiffany said goodbye to them and skipped into her room before he focused his attention on Vlad. “She seems a lot happier now,” said Danny with a forced smile. He started walking down the hallway, and Vlad followed.
“You didn’t tell me about this ghost,” Vlad said, and Danny could tell he was growing angry. “You told me last night you loved me, and now you’re keeping secrets from me.”
“I thought the moment I mentioned who had told me about this, you wouldn’t want to accept the favor,” Danny said. “You were really angry with Laura after everything that happened.”
“I am angry with Laura, but that wouldn’t stop me from investigating a possible ghost haunting the dorms!”
“I’m sorry. I should have told you.” Danny gave an apologetic look. “But it turned out to be a false claim.”
“How could you tell?” Vlad asked as his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “You have no equipment with you. Nothing to detect ghostly activities.”
“Well, there were none of the normal signs of a haunting.” Danny winced on the inside. Why did Vlad have to find out about this? Why did Tiffany have to give away that the favor involved ghosts? “But Tiffany looked like she completely believed there was a ghost living there. She seemed to think that the ghost was causing her to do badly in her classes. I thought maybe if I told her the ghost was gone, her luck would change.”
“I should check it out.” Vlad turned around and walked back toward Tiffany’s room.
Danny grabbed Vlad’s arm. “That’s not necessary! I told you there’s no ghost.”
“How much do you really know of ghosts?” Vlad demanded as he turned back to Danny. “You go into the room without any sort of ghost detecting devices and claim there’s no ghost. How can you be sure there’s not a ghost haunting that room? Do have magical powers that let you sense a ghost’s presence?”
“Magical powers? Don’t be silly.” Danny laughed nervously. That’s actually almost close to the truth. “Can’t you trust me on this? Trust that my parents work with ghosts has given me enough knowledge to know when there is or isn’t a ghost haunting someplace.”
“You lied to me again,” Vlad stated, startling Danny, who hadn’t expected the change in topic.
“I – I’m sorry. I-” Danny dropped his gaze. I’m making such a mess of this. “I guess I can’t really tell you not to check the room.”
“Good,” Vlad said as he walked toward the stairs. “Because I was going to check the room anyway.”
“The room is the other way.”
“I need to get some equipment,” Vlad explained, and Danny winced at his forgetfulness. “And I’ll need your help to carry some of it.” They walked down the stairs and exited the building.
At least Spectra left, Danny thought as they walked through the campus. So it wouldn’t really hurt to have Vlad check the room. He was torn from his thoughts when Vlad led him into the science building. They walked down the hallway to room 101. Looking around, Danny found the room to be different from how he remembered it when Clockwork let him go back in time when he wanted to stop Vlad from getting ecto acne. They aren’t even close to finishing the Proto Portal, he thought, noticing only bits of it were fully constructed.
“Carry this,” ordered Vlad as he shoved a large metal box with wires connected all over the sides into Danny’s arms. There were dials and switches on the top. A wire ran from one side to a long stick that Vlad held.
“What is this?” Danny asked, frowning at the device.
“It detects paranormal activity.” Vlad led the way out of the class room. “If there’s a ghost hiding in that room, this thing will tell us.”
“I see,” Danny mumbled. He sounds really excited about finding a ghost, he thought with a small smile. He liked seeing the passionate side of Vlad.
As they returned to Jefferson North and Vlad waited for someone exiting the building to open the door for them, Danny had a sudden bad feeling about the whole thing. He wasn’t sure why. The closer they got to the room, the stronger the feeling got. He couldn’t seem to shake it. They arrived back at Tiffany’s room before Danny had much time to think on the bad feeling. Vlad knocked on the door, and a moment later, Tiffany opened it.
“Hi,” greeted Tiffany as her brow furrowed. “Did you forget something?”
“Vlad wanted to check your room himself,” Danny answered with a laugh.
“It shouldn’t take too long,” Vlad said. “I just need to wave this,” he held up the long metal stick, “around the room, and it’ll tell me if there’s a ghost anywhere.” He glared out the corner of his eye at Danny. “Forgive me if I don’t fully trust my friend’s opinion of there being no ghost.”
“I - Well, I guess that would be okay.” Tiffany stepped back and opened the door to allow the two men into her room.
Vlad flipped some of the switches and adjusted the dials on the device that Danny carried. Then he entered the room. He walked around, sweeping the stick over the whole room. The device made some static noise and nothing more. When he finished, Vlad sighed in disappointment.
“Looks like you were right,” Vlad said to Danny. “There’s no ghost.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” said Tiffany.
“Yeah, I’m sorry for disturbing you again,” Danny said as he stepped out of the room with Vlad.
“It’s okay,” Tiffany said, smiling. “You just wanted to make sure there was no ghost. I’m glad you double checked. It kind of makes me feel more secure. So, um, thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” said Danny. “Well, I guess we’ll see you around.”
“Oh, right, see you later.” Tiffany waved as she watched the two men walk down the hallway.
“That was somehow very disappointing,” mumbled Vlad as they walked down the stairs. Danny almost felt bad about not letting Vlad find out about the ghost. Vlad held out the stick for Danny to take.
The moment Danny touched the stick the machine released a screaming beep. Danny jerked his hand back like he was burned by the stick. With his eyes wide, Vlad stared at Danny. He swept the stick over Danny, who backed away until he was pressed against the wall. The machine continued beeping. Panic flared through Danny as his heart thundered in his chest. His hands went intangible. The machine hit the ground and clattered down the stairs, ripping the stick from Vlad’s hold.
“What’s going on, Danny?” Vlad asked slowly.
Danny froze, not knowing what to do. Would Vlad believe him if he said the machine must be faulty? Danny almost smacked himself for that thought. Vlad was far more observant than his parents. He wouldn’t brush off what the machine proved with a simple “something must be wrong with it.”
“Danny,” Vlad said loudly, drawing Danny back to reality. He wore a stern look that demanded the truth be told.
When did he get so close? Danny wondered absently as he stared up into Vlad’s eyes.
“That machine indicated that there’s some sort of paranormal activity going on around you.” Vlad's hands rested on Danny’s shoulders. “If you know something, tell me. I don’t want to hear another lie.”
“I-” Danny tried to say, but his throat closed up, keeping anything he might have said trapped inside. He broke free from Vlad’s hold and ran down the stairs. Vlad’s shouts and quick footsteps followed behind him. Danny blocked out the noise, all the panicked thoughts running through his mind, and focused only on running away.
Danny ran around the corner and stopped. He glanced back around but didn’t see Vlad anywhere. Sighing, he leaned against the side of the building. What was he supposed to do now? Could he go back and tell Vlad the truth? No, that could alter the future too much, Danny thought, torn between his feelings for Vlad and his want to maintain the timeline. I have to at least tell him something.
Taking a deep breath, Danny started to round the corner when the world around him shifted. His vision turned fuzzy before fading into black. Tick, tick, tick echoed in his ears as his vision came back to the sight of gears turning slowly. It took him less than half a second to realize what had happened.
“Clockwork,” Danny muttered as he spotted the ghost floating before his time portals. Of all the times that he could have brought Danny back to the present, Clockwork had to choose right then? Right when Danny was about to tell Vlad something close to the truth about his powers? “Send me back!”
“I cannot,” said Clockwork in his usual calm tone.
“I want to go back!” Danny shouted. “I want to be with Vlad, back in the eighties. Why are you refusing this?”
Clockwork sighed. “You don’t belong in the past. You’ve tampered with it far too much already. What do you plan to do if you went back? Do you think Vlad would be satisfied with the half truth you would tell him? Could you stay in the eighties and keep the timeline in tact so that you don’t wipe out your own existence?”
Danny choked on his words. He hadn’t fully thought out what he would tell Vlad, but he knew Clockwork was right about Vlad not accepting only partial truth. His hands curled into tight balls, nails digging into flesh. He wanted to go back to Vlad in his college years, but after what just happened, he doubted he could remain there without destroying the timeline or, worse, destroying his relationship with Vlad by telling lies and half truths.
“You have to return to where you belong,” said Clockwork. The long hands of a clock appeared and swung around, opening a portal to Danny’s present time. “It’s time that you return.”
Danny stared at Clockwork as the words worked through his mind. It was his time to return to the present? The gears turned in his head, but before he could piece everything together, a force sucked him through the portal.
“All is as it should be,” Clockwork mumbled to his empty lair after the portal closed again.
Over there! Vlad caught sight of Danny just around the corner of a building. Danny wouldn’t have time to get very far before Vlad rounded the corner. However, when he did run around the corner, Vlad found no one in sight. He searched everywhere he could think for Danny to hide, but he found nothing, not even a hint of the man’s presence. Vlad dropped to his knees, feeling a tight pain in his chest. Danny had vanished.
The only clue to the time he had was that the sun already set by the time Vlad started back to his dorm. Everything was silent as he walked; the air colder than he thought it should be. Someone bumped into him along the way, but he felt nothing. He was numb, his senses deadened. Danny was gone. The thought played on repeat through his mind.
The door to his room creaked as Vlad slowly opened it, peeking inside to see if Jack was there or not. Jack sat on their couch. His head was tilted back, and his mouth opened wide as he snored. Vlad crept into the room and as quietly as possible closed the door behind him.
“Where have you been?” Jack demanded, his snoring stopping abruptly.
Halfway between the door and his bed, Vlad froze. Don’t ask, he pleaded Jack. Don’t bring him up. Don’t want to think about it. “Out,” he answered at last, continuing to his bed.
Vlad’s breath hitched in his throat. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about him. He peeled of his shirt and threw it into the laundry basket near their desk. He stared at the basket. He’s not going to do laundry anymore. The room is going to be a dump soon.
“Jeremy stopped by,” Jack continued when Vlad remained silent. “He said Danny promised to do his laundry, but Danny never stopped by to pick it up. And now you return without him. Where’s Danny?”
“He’s gone!” roared Vlad, spinning around to pin Jack with a glare. “He’s gone and not coming back so just shut up.”
Jack blinked a few times in a clear expression of confusion. “Gone? What do you mean gone? Gone where?”
“Just - Just shut up! Don’t talk about him.” Vlad turned his back on Jack as he climbed into bed and threw the covers over his head. He wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t going to let this hurt him.
Jack stood. Vlad could hear him walking over the squeaky floorboards to his bed. The mattress dipped as Jack sat down and placed a hand on Vlad’s shaking shoulder. “I never realized it was that serious between the two of you,” Jack said, his voice calm, kind, soothing. Vlad hated it. “I know you two were close. I mean you had sex-”
“We made love,” snapped Vlad crossly. “I do not have sex. I am not a hormonally driven teenager who goes around having casual sex with just anyone.”
“I know.” Jack sighed. “You loved him, didn’t you?”
Vlad bit down on his tongue, tears stinging at his eyes. Of course, Jack would see through me, he thought bitterly, wishing for once Jack would just be the oblivious oaf that he usually was. “Please just leave me alone, Jack.”
Jack leaned down so close that Vlad could almost feel his breath through the blanket. “Whatever happened between you, I know he’ll come back to you.” Jack squeezed his friend’s shoulder before climbing off the bed.
Vlad wrapped the blanket tightly around himself. Danny was gone. Danny wasn’t coming back. Vlad finally opened his heart up enough to confess his love, and Danny shattered his heart by running away. Do not cry, he ordered himself, scrubbing away the tears threatening to spill from his eyes. You will not let him hurt you like this. He started to drift off to sleep as tears rolled down his cheeks to dampen his pillow.
“I’m worried about him.”
Vlad overheard Jack telling Maddie one day months later. He stood outside the class room they used for their experiments and inventions for their work in paranormal studies. He stepped out for a while to get the tools that Jack forgot to bring with them to work on the Proto Portal. Leaning against the wall, he listened to what his two friends were talking about.
“He’s burying his feelings,” Jack continued, and Vlad could hear that annoying concern in the man’s voice. “It’s like he’s trying to convince himself that Danny never existed so that he doesn’t have to deal with that pain.”
“Jack, you can’t force him to deal with it,” Maddie said in that calm, understanding tone that Vlad always loved about her. “This is his way of dealing with it. The pain right now may be too much for him to handle. Just give him some time.”
“I still can’t believe he ran away,” Jack said, and he sighed. “They were so happy. I really thought they would stay together.”
“I’m sure there’s a reason. Danny wouldn’t just leave for no reason, would he?”
“Well, he did run away from home. He never explained why though.”
How nice of my friends to talk about me behind my back, Vlad thought grumpily as he walked into the room. “I’ve got the tools. Now we can finish up work on the Proto Portal.” He set the box of tools down on the table. “If we hope to finish this for testing Friday, we better work late tonight.” Reaching into the box, he paused when he felt a hand on his own. He looked up and blinked at Maddie.
“There’s no rush,” Maddie told him with a smile. “We can push back the test date if we can’t finish it before then.”
“We already posted the fliers,” Vlad said, smiling back at Maddie. His cheeks grew warm as he noticed she still held his hand. Maybe she does have feelings for me, he thought, even while part of his brain yelled at him for tossing away his feelings for Danny so easily. He’s the one that left me, he snapped at that other part. “We should do everything we can to meet that date.”
Maddie squeezed her hand around Vlad’s hand. “I don’t want you over working yourself.”
Smiling, Vlad turned his hand and laced his fingers with Maddie’s. “I’m not. I’m fine.”
“There’s the screwdriver I needed!” Jack shouted, reaching into the box. Maddie yanked her hand free as she backed away to allow Jack room to grab the tool.
Vlad glanced at Maddie, who smiled at him before she went to check some of the calculations. Maybe I should take the chance and ask her out, he thought, taking a pair of pliers from the box. Maybe I’ll ask her out when we’re testing the Proto Portal. Then it can be a sort of date and a celebratory kind of thing. He grinned at that thought as he started helping Jack with the project.
“Vlad, I know you’re hurting,” Jack whispered as they worked.
“I just said I was fine, didn’t I?” Vlad asked with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“I don’t believe you. You can’t be fine. Danny disappeared, and now you’re acting like some emotionless doll.” Jack grabbed Vlad’s hand to make him stop working for a moment. “You’re throwing yourself into working on the Proto Portal. You’ve been concentrating on it for the past six months. Why haven’t you bothered to search for Danny? He could be hurt or in trouble, and you’re acting like you don’t even care.”
“Why should I care?” Vlad demanded in an even tone. He snapped his head up and pinned Jack with a glare. “He left me! He’s the one who kept secrets. He’s the one who decided to run away instead of speaking the truth. I have no reason to care what happens to him now.” He could feel tears burn at the edges of his eyes. This was why he wanted to forget Danny: it brought up too much pain. He slammed down the pliers he was using. “I’m going for a walk.” He left the room before either Jack or Maddie could say something to stop him. He needed to recollect himself, cool his head, bury his memories of Danny. Think of Maddie, he told his brain. You were in love with her long before Danny appeared in your life. That little voice in his head told him that was a lie.
“You made changes?” Vlad asked, trying to keep his voice calm, but anger was rising in him. He hadn’t returned to the lab room since Jack kept pushing the topic of Danny.
In fact, Vlad crashed at Digory’s room for the past week. He showed up at the man’s door drunk the first night. Digory didn’t ask questions, and Vlad was thankful for that. He didn’t want to have to explain his odd behavior, and he was sure the other man already knew the reason anyway. The only time Digory gave away that he knew was when he commented, “I know we’ll see him again.” He said it that morning when Vlad announced he would be returning to his own room.
When he arrived at lab room 101, Vlad found that they completed the Proto Portal in his absence but with a few changes that they never bothered to discuss with him. If they wanted to make adjustments, they should have come to me and talked about it, he thought as he narrowed his eyes at Jack.
“Just a few,” Jack replied with his gaze focused on the clipboard in his hand. “But don’t worry, it’ll still work just the same as before.”
Vlad knew he could trust Jack, but the adjustments made him feel snubbed. They were all supposed to work on it together, not make changes and not tell one of the other members. He decided not to grace Jack with another comment. Turning his attention to Maddie, Vlad found her working on something with the Proto Portal. He walked over to her as he felt a flutter in his gut. Don’t be nervous, he told himself, preparing himself for what he was about to do.
“Maddie,” Vlad said in a charming tone as he leaned toward her, “there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time.”
“One second, Vlad,” said Maddie distractedly as she pressed buttons on a keypad attached by a wire to the Proto Portal. She turned away from Vlad. “Jack, did you remember to fill the filtrator with ecto purifier?”
“On it, baby,” Jack replied, blindly reaching out for the ecto purifier as he passed the shelf.
Why is she acting so differently today? Vlad wondered, watching out of the corner of his eye as Jack walked toward the filtrator. A week ago, she would have listened to me. He saw Jack pour the ecto purifier into the filtrator. He frowned as he noticed that look on Jack’s face. Following Jack’s gaze, he found Maddie returning that look. What? his mind screamed, rage flowing through him. Why are they making love eyes at each other? When did that happen? He glared as he watched the two “friends” walk toward a table with papers scattered on it.
Vlad turned his back on them, pushing down his rage. He didn't come to work on the project for a week and already Jack moved in on his crush! He gritted his teeth, trying to calm his anger. As he examined the Proto Portal, he said, “I’m telling you, Jack. It won’t work.”
“Bogus, V-man, it’ll totally work!” Jack said with his usual enthusiasm when it came to anything involving ghosts. “This Proto Portal is guaranteed to bust open the wall to the ghost dimension.”
Sometimes, he couldn't believe that Jack was the one to actually come up with this idea, though it had needed a little refining from Vlad and Maddie. Vlad shook his head, resisting the urge to snap at the other man. When this fails, Maddie will see how dumb Jack really is, he thought with a smirk to himself. He heard a rustle of papers, but he didn’t bother to look over his shoulder at the other two. He leaned in closer to better examine the design of the Proto Portal. A frown came over him as his heart ached. Danny had wanted to know more about the Proto Portal. Forget about him!
“Jack, these calculations aren’t right,” said Maddie with concern in her voice.
Heh, I knew it, Vlad thought, smirking again. Jack’s never been good with math.
“Bonzai!” shouted Jack, and it didn’t click right away in Vlad’s mind why he would say that.
The filtrator rumbled and clattered on the floor next to the table. Sparks shot from the Proto Portal. Vlad stared at it blankly, unable to piece together what was happening. Suddenly, a beam of ecto energy shot from the small opening, surprising all three of them.
“Argh, bogus!” Vlad shouted as the blast hit him directly in the face. He screamed at the pain shooting through his body, worse than anything he ever felt, except maybe the pain in his heart. Electric shock? a small voice in his mind questioned.
When the Proto Portal ran out of energy, the blast faded, and tiny sparks leapt along the blackened frame of the Proto Portal. Vlad swayed on his feet, ready to collapse. He hurt so much everywhere, and somehow it all felt wrong to him. Turning slowly, his head swimming, he faced Maddie and Jack. They gasped at the sight of him, and Maddie was horrified with her eyes wide and hands over her mouth.
That look on had her face felt like a crushing blow to him. What could make her look at him like that? Vlad covered his face. His fingers brushed over what felt like thousands of bumps covered in a film of oil and straining against his fingers ready to pop at any moment. Images flashed in his mind, those of the boy from his high school that no one wanted to speak to because of his horrible case of acne. What – I – How? With wide eyes, he stared at Maddie again. No! Can’t be - NO!
Not giving either Maddie or Jack time to speak, Vlad ran from the room. Thoughts raced through his mind as he tried to work out the reason behind this reaction. How could this? he wondered angrily as he rushed down the hallway. He bumped into people as he tried to hide his condition from them by covering his face. Blast? Acne? How? His body trembling with fear. What if acne wasn’t the only side effect? What if something worse happened to him? There had to be an explanation, a reason. Jack. The memory flicked through his mind like slide projector. That look that Jack and Maddie shared. It sent rage roaring through Vlad’s entire being. Jack caused all of this. I’ll kill him, he thought with a roar of anger, but it came out sounding like a cry of pain as he collapsed to the ground.
Vlad scowled at the trio of vulture ghosts after they reported back to him. Another failure. Were there no reliable ghosts he could use to test Jack Fenton’s abilities? No, it wasn’t his minions that failed. It was that blasted Danny Phantom that kept getting in the way.
“Leave,” Vlad ordered of the vultures with a dismissive wave of his hand. The vultures fled quickly in fear of his wrath. That much made Vlad smirk, but it soon vanished into a frown. “Danny Phantom,” he muttered darkly. “I don’t know who you are, but I’m going to put you out of commission. I will have my revenge on Jack Fenton.”
The doorbell echoed through the castle, and Vlad turned to glare at the door to his laboratory. Who dared to interrupt his planning? He stormed out of the laboratory and through the castle to front door. Throwing it open, he found the crew he hired to set up for the reunion party he planned to hold that coming weekend. The vultures may have failed him, but Vlad still had many more plans to carry out his revenge. The whole point of throwing the reunion party was to destroy Jack, and for that he would at least make it look like an actual party. He let the men into his castle and directed them to party room.
Hours passed slowly as Vlad instructed the crew of workers on how to set up the room for the party. It only succeeded in making him more frustrated. The men couldn’t follow even the simplest of his orders. Finally after five hours, Vlad happily showed the men out of his home. He sighed with relief to have that headache of his plan finished. The caterers would come early tomorrow with the food he ordered for the party.
A pleasant surprise greeted Vlad before he could turn back into his castle. He smirked as the RV drove up the driveway and parked in front of the steps. He noticed Maddie first as she climbed out of the car. His smile faltered at the sight of Jack, but he managed to keep it on his face as the family of four walked up the steps.
“Jack,” Vlad greeted as warmly as possible, walking the short distance to meet them, “and Maddie.” His smile widened only a little, and he clasped his hands together. “You’ve never looked lovelier, my dear.” He placed an arm around her shoulders. “Please, please come in.” He ushered them into the castle.
Vlad slammed the door in the man’s face as he smirked in satisfaction. The thick castle door muffled the sound of Jack’s voice as he tried to get their attentions, but he could still, unfortunately, be heard. If only she hadn't married that buffoon, Vlad thought with growing annoyance as he heard Jack knocking on the door.
Vlad smiled at the young girl when she commented on his decor. It was a difficult task when he really felt like sneering at her for what felt like an insult. He didn't need an interior decorator! His castle was exactly as he liked it. Almost, he thought as he glanced toward Maddie. Almost. Vlad could tell the young girl was an intelligent woman, taking after her mother, but clearly she didn’t understand the simple things in life.
“Jazz, hello,” said the boy, like he couldn't believe his sister had to ask about it. “Football helmets, jerseys, cheese heads.” He gestured at the sports paraphernalia decorating the entrance hall. “He’s a Packer fanatic.” The boy grinned smugly, like knowing this proved him better in some way.
Vlad grinned as he placed a hand on the boy’s head. This boy could have been my son, he thought as a sharp pain stabbed at his heart. It hurt to see this boy, sharing similar traits as himself, yet be the son of that bumbling idiot. Why Jack? Why couldn’t this really be my son? Anger filled him as he wished even more to exact his revenge on Jack. He lifted his hand away from the boy’s head.
“I don’t understand,” said the girl.
Is she trying to make sense of a man’s obsession with a sports team? Vlad thought with mild amusement, though mostly annoyance. This would be a long weekend if the girl insisted on psycho analyzing everything. He realized that could also be dangerous if she was smart enough to piece everything together.
Things didn't go as well as Vlad hoped. He tried to keep his temper under control, but the more he was forced to deal with Jack, the more his anger increased. This error came to his realization when Maddie suggested staying in their RV. He couldn't allow that to happen. The whole point was to have the Fenton family stay at his castle.
“You know, Jack,” Vlad started, realizing the daughter’s not so subtle comment of staying here wouldn’t be enough incentive to ensure that they would. Jack liked playing with his inventions, which the RV no doubt had plenty of, but that also made it easy manipulate him. Vlad removed his arm from Jack’s shoulders then walked forward to stand before a painting on the wall. “The Dairy King’s ghost could haunt these very halls.”
“I’ll get the bags!” Jack shouted before he rushed out of the castle.
Vlad smirked at the man’s response. He knew the mention of a possible haunting would make Jack stay. Something tugged at his mind, and he glanced over to see the boy joined him standing before the painting of the Dairy King. Think fatherly, he told himself as he turned to the boy.
“I do believe we never got a proper introduction.” Vlad smiled down at the boy. “Vlad Masters, though I’m sure you already knew that.”
“Yeah,” said the boy, “Dad told me some about his college days, and you came up.”
“I’m not surprised.” Vlad laughed. “We were roommates throughout college, after all.” He looked over the boy with a critical eye. The boy took after his mother, hardly close to matching his father in terms of height and build. He could have been mine, he thought, smile faltering. “And your name?”
“Oh, right, sorry,” replied the boy, chuckling nervously as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Danny Fenton.”
Danny. The name sent a stab of pain deep into Vlad’s heart. Quickly, he blocked out the thoughts before they could resurface again. Jack that bastard, he thought, fury boiling below the surface as he kept his outward appearance calm. “What a charming name.” He forced a smile onto his face.
Twenty years wasn't enough to fully erase the memory of that man who he once believed he loved. Vlad couldn’t bring himself to think of the boy with that name. Daniel. He would use that name instead. It was less painful that way.
Daniel gave him an uncertain, worried look before noticing his father enter with the bags. He hurried over to take his things from Jack. Vlad followed after them with his warm smile firmly in place.
“If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your rooms,” Vlad announced as he walked toward the stair case leading upstairs. They passed by his laboratory – he didn’t mention it, knowing that Jack would want to take a peek inside – and headed toward the wing with the guest rooms. “Dinner shall be served at seven sharp,” he told the family before they could enter their separate rooms.
Once the doors closed behind them, Vlad smirked and walked back down the hallway. How easy it would be to slip a little poison into Jack’s – No! That wouldn’t be satisfying enough. Vlad needed to ruin Jack’s life the same way Jack had ruined his life. For that, he needed to be patient and await his chance. Vlad headed down to the kitchens to whip up a splendid meal to serve for dinner.
Later that night, Vlad sat in his secret laboratory, watching his security cameras. Dinner went quite well, in his opinion. Jack blathered on about his latest inventions while his children stayed silent, looking rather embarrassed for their father. That element could play to his advantage in turning them against their father. A smirk slipped across his face as he checked the cameras one last time before leaving. He stood but stopped midway when Jack got out of bed.
“What is that oaf doing?” Vlad growled and glared at the man as he left the bedroom. He pressed a few buttons on the control panel, bringing up the feed from all cameras in the paths that Jack might take in his nightly stroll. “Where are you heading?” His eyes narrowed more when he noticed the vulture trio appear on screen. “Idiot birds! I told them-” The angry words caught in his throat and his eyes grew wide as Jack’s large from sank straight through the floor.
Vlad stormed out of his secret laboratory as black rings surrounded him, transforming him from his normal human self into his ghost self. Something was not right here, and he would find out what caused Jack to phase through the floor like only a ghost could.
When he arrived at the spot where Jack had last been, Vlad saw the white haired ghost boy rise up through the floor. The child had his back toward Vlad, clearly unaware of his presence. He lifted an eyebrow as the desire to laugh at the child's comments rose in him. Is this child serious?
The boy was quick, arm raised back ready to throw a punch as he flew toward Vlad. Cocky little brat. Vlad easily caught the boy’s fist and tossed him away like a little rag doll. The boy slammed into the wall, sliding down to the ground. When the ghost boy attacked again, Vlad caught him around the throat. Did he really think he could win with this level of power? Vlad smirked, holding the boy up before throwing him to the ground. “My vultures were supposed to bring the big idiot to me, but you’ll do,” he mocked, using the same manner of speaking. He watched in boredom as the boy sat up. “Danny Phantom, right?”
“You,” said Phantom, confused as his eyes darted around the hallway before landing on Vlad again. “You know me?”
Vlad was almost appalled by the ghost boy’s idiocy. Did he not realize how well known he was in the Ghost Zone? He floated backward and turned intangible, phasing through the wall into his private study. Curiosity made the boy follow him. So predictable. Vlad announced his knowledge of the ghost boy. What a silly hero complex he possessed! Vlad sneered at the boy before moving closer and leaning toward him. “Aren’t you going to try to shove me into your ridiculous thermos?” He floated around the boy, who followed his motion.
Shock and fear warred against each other in the boy’s eyes as Phantom fought to speak. “I don’t want to fight you.”
How this child ever managed to best his minions, Vlad couldn't guess. From what he witnessed so far, this Danny Phantom wasn't much of a challenge to deal with, much like a new born ghost still struggling to understand and control its new found powers. “No, no you don’t,” Vlad agreed with a smug smirk.
An energy blast charged in his hand, and he shot Phantom with it. The blast threw Phantom back. He slid across a table, knocking off books and the candle holder, before he slammed into the bookcase at the corner of the room. Vlad sighed with annoyance at the mess he would have to clean later.
Wasting no time, Phantom jumped back into the air. “Get away!” he shouted as he fired off his own green blasts.
Vlad created a shield that blocked the boy’s attacks. He watched unimpressed as Phantom threw blast after blast at him. But Vlad merely moved his shield to block each attack and mock yawned in boredom. How did Phantom win all those fights when he seemed to know so little about battle strategy? The child merely attacked head on with brute force and no apparent thought of learning from his mistakes. Once Phantom stopped attacking, Vlad let the shield vanish, no longer needing it. “Tell me, child. Can you do this?” Vlad split himself into clones, surrounding Phantom on all four sides.
Phantom spun around to look at each close as it appeared. He backed out of the circle, fear overriding the shock on his face. “No, I can’t,” he replied, voice nearly cracking. “How are you doing all of this?”
So young, so untrained, Vlad thought as he called his clones into a line. “Years of practice, which you unfortunately have no time for.” Eight hands charged up an ectoplasm energy blast. Each pair of blasts combined into four large beams that shot toward the child.
Phantom shouted as they slammed into his body then he dropped to the ground. He placed a hand around his body, standing up weakly. Vlad took no pity on the child. Phantom was a nuisance and too cocky for his own good. He needed a swift kick in the head to knock some reality into that inflated ego. For too long, Vlad heard of the ghost boy’s triumphs over his minions. Now he would let boy know of true strength, strength acquired through long, hard training.
Phantom had little power left after that combined attack by Vlad and his three clones. Vlad toyed with him, treating him very much like a useless ragdoll until Phantom managed to turn intangible and fly through the door. Vlad followed and landed on the floor by Phantom’s battered body. The ghost child had no strength left, falling into unconsciousness. Rings of white light appeared around his waist, and Vlad’s eyes widened a fraction in shock of the familiarity of them. Then the truth smacked him in the face as the rings traveled over the boy’s body and revealed a human child.
“The ghost boy is Jack’s son?” Vlad asked in shock. Similar black rings appeared around his own waist, changing him back to his human form. “Well, what do you know?” A devious smirk stretched across his face as plots circulated in his mind. He imagined the power he could gain with the ghost boy at his side, as his apprentice and heir. But first, he would need to gain the boy’s trust.
Vlad lifted Daniel into his arms, carrying him back to his guest room. When he reached it, he gently, caringly laid Daniel on the bed and tucked him in like a father would for his son. It remained a present thought in his head that this boy could have been his son. In terms of appearance, Daniel looked like he shared more in common with Vlad than Jack. He waited, watching the boy. A thought tingled at his mind, but he refused to let it surface.
“The punchbowl goes over there,” Vlad ordered one of his maids as he pointed toward a table on the far side of the party room.
Vlad woke up early that day to get a few more things set up for the reunion party. Only the food and beverage was left to be set out. However, he didn’t want anything ruined by sitting out, so he was left with only planning out where to place everything. As he prepared to yell at the maids again, the door opened. Vlad spun around, frustration flowing through him until he saw who was peeking into the room.
“Maddie,” he greeted with a smile as he walked toward her. “Did you need something?”
“This castle is so big that I got lost,” Maddie admitted, laughing lightly.
You’ll have plenty of time to learn your way around once you’re my wife, Vlad thought as he guided Maddie out of the room. “I was so busy with getting everything ready for the reunion that I’ve been a bad host. You must forgive me. I suppose you and the children wish to be served breakfast now, hm?”
“Oh, the cooks already made us breakfast,” answered Maddie. “Jack and I were curious to see if you kept up with any of the ghost research we did back in college.” They heard a loud bang from upstairs, and Maddie grinned weakly. “I guess Jack found-”
“My lab!” shouted Vlad before he rushed up the stairs to his laboratory. When he got there, his heart nearly stopped upon seeing Jack taking apart the spectral energy feedback regulator he worked on for months. “You!” he shouted, pointing at Jack. “Out of my lab! Out right this instant!”
“Hey, V-man!” Jack grinned, oblivious to Vlad’s anger. “We should trade notes sometime.”
“Jack, dear,” Maddie said as she passed by Vlad. “Why don’t we go check on the kids?” She managed to pry Jack away from the device and lead him toward the door. “Sorry about that, Vlad,” she said, offering a small smile as Jack walked grumpily down the hallway. “You know how Jack enjoys taking things apart.”
“Yes, well.” Vlad coughed slightly to regain his composure. “It was nothing a little time and work can’t correct.” Months worth of time, he thought even while putting on a smile. “I apologize for snapping like that.”
“Well, it is your lab after all.” Maddie still wore the small smile. They heard a crash, and she winced. “I’ll go keep him from doing anymore damage.” She hurried off down the hallway, following the noise as a guide to Jack’s location.
Vlad frowned as he watched Maddie disappear down one hallway. It’s no wonder Daniel ended up with ghost powers, he thought, seething. With such an oaf for a husband and father, Maddie and the children’s lives are in constant danger, and they don’t even acknowledge the extent of the threat his presence is to them. He turned his head and glared at the device Jack destroyed. He only had to wait out the hours until the reunion party then his plan would be put into action.
When time came, Vlad greeted with false smiles and well-trained manners the attendees of his reunion party. Soon he would put his plan into action. Soon he would ruin Jack’s life and have his revenge. However, for now, he needed to play the role of the gracious host.
The last of the guests arrived, and Vlad was finally given the chance to look around and see how everything was proceeding. He caught sight of Daniel sitting alone at a table near the back of the room. Daniel had his head resting on his folded arms, looking rather bored.
Perfect, Vlad thought as he weaved his way through the crowd to the boy. He needed a moment alone to speak to the boy but in a more private setting.
“Well, Son, you’re looking much better,” said Vlad, smiling at the boy, who immediately sat up the moment he heard the man speak. “I was wondering if you could do me a huge favor.” I would be a better father for him, Vlad thought. I would give him the time and care he needs to reach his potential. Jack could never do that. He doesn’t understand what this boy’s needs. He would never understand what Daniel truly is.
“Oh, sure, Mr. Masters,” Daniel said, eagerness lighting up his blue eyes. “But call me Danny,” insisted the boy. “Son’s what my dad calls me.”
Vlad kept his smile in place, feeling an odd sting at the name. Perhaps not now but one day, Daniel will call me father, he thought, pushing aside the foolish sting. I’m sure of it. “Could you go to my lab, second door on the right upstairs? There’s a present in there for your father that I’d like you to bring down.” He chuckled lightly.
“Okay,” Daniel said happily as he stood. He walked off, heading toward the exit of the party room.
Now that he had taken care of that little detail, Vlad turned and searched the room for his target. He spotted Jack on the dance floor doing the pogo, that ridiculous dance. His eyes narrowed, thoughts of hate for the man filling his head. Maddie stood beside Jack with her arms folded as she watched his bounce like an idiot. The anger and irritation he saw in her eyes spoke of her discontent.
Maddie. A dreamy sigh entered his voice as Vlad thought about her. But anger boiled through his veins. That lab accident cost me my youthful chance at you, but that’s all about to change. A smirk tugged at his lips. He would deal with Jack shortly, but first he had a certain matter to discuss with Daniel.
"Well, if it isn't Vlad Masters." The voice drew his attention away from Maddie.
Vlad stared blankly at the woman that approached him with a drink in her hand. He half suspected it contained more than simply the punch he served. When he recognized her, his eyes narrowed, and he struggled with his anger so that he wouldn't cause a scene. "What do you want?"
A wicked smirk appeared on her face as her gaze flicked toward the door that Daniel left through moments ago. "Just your type, isn't he?" she asked with cruelty in her voice. "I'm surprised you didn't put him in a dress."
Vlad twitched as he gritted his teeth. "I don't believe I invited you to this reunion, Laura." He would love to use his ghost powers on this woman and get payback on her for what happened twenty years ago. It would serve her right, but I have a bigger fish to fry.
"I was in the same graduating class as you." Laura looked smug at that fact, and Vlad only returned the look with a dull glare. "The invitation didn't say anyone from our class was excluded." She glanced back at the door. "Trying to sneak off to have a little fun with your new toy."
"Get out of my home," Vlad growled, his glare darkening at her. Her comments only reminded him of things that he wanted to keep forgotten.
But his response only made Laura smile like she won somehow. Before she could make another comment, another woman joined them. "I think that Cliff Hudgins over there," she told Laura, pointing into the crowd.
"What? Where?" Laura demanded, looking around for the man. The name only sounded vaguely familiar to Vlad. After the other woman pointed him out again, Laura hurried off to speak with him.
"I'm really sorry about that," the woman said, looking regretful. "She wouldn't leave me alone about coming to this."
"Quite all right," Vlad said, trying to sound like the encounter didn't bother him. He stared at her for a moment before he asked, "Tiffany, was it?"
The woman nodded with a laugh. "I wasn't sure you'd remember me. We only met that one time." Tiffany's gaze took in the crowd attending the party. "That Danny kid isn't here?"
Vlad's hand clenched tightly. Why did everyone insist on bringing him up? "No, he isn't."
Tiffany frowned at his answer. "Well, I just wanted to thank you for back in college and apologize for Laura." She leaned closer to him, lowering her voice. "She couldn't even get a job with her journalism degree. None of the magazines or newspapers would hire her. The only job she could get was announcing lotto numbers for some local news station, but I heard she might be getting fired soon."
A smile tugged at his lips, hearing that news, but it was a small victory to him. "That may be the best news I've heard tonight," he told her. "But if you'll excuse me, I have a matter that needs to be checked on."
"Oh, of course! Don't let me hold you up." Tiffany wandered off to mingle with the rest of the guests.
Everyone else was too busy enjoying the party to notice when he strolled out of the party room. Vlad arrived at his laboratory in time to hear Daniel say, with a small tremble in his voice, “The glowing blade is new.”
“You like it?” Skulker asked, sounding proud of his new weapon. “I’ve had some upgrades. Now.”
Vlad walked into the laboratory and found Skulker pressing the blade to Daniel’s neck, and his heart nearly stopped with the thought of what Skulker was about to do. “Enough!” he shouted, scowling at the hunter. “I didn’t free you to kill the boy, Skulker. Your work is done.” He glared, daring the hunter to protest.
Skulker stopped and stared at Vlad. His gaze drifted toward Daniel before he pulled back and stood up straight. He grumbled about something that Vlad hardly cared about. His flight equipment popped out of his back as he turned intangible.
Daniel watched Skulker shoot off through the ceiling. Vlad snapped his response to the boy's bafflement, his inability to understand. Some of his frustration toward Jack and all his years of waiting for Maddie seeped into his voice. He approached the boy trapped in the device that Skulker created, and he grinned with confidence. “Imagine my surprise when I find you: the second ghost hybrid his foolishness created.” He smirked at the surprise and confusion on the boy’s face. Daniel didn’t quite catch on, Vlad noticed. No matter. I’ll show him he’s not alone.
Vlad could see the gears trying to work in Daniel's head as he tried to figure out what Vlad meant by the comment. He decided to take pity on the poor boy. The black ring flashed before his eyes, and he stood before the boy transformed into Plasmius. He smirked as understanding entered Daniel’s gaze.
Vlad chuckled lightly as he watched Daniel try to turn ghost while trapped within the box. The boy was too amusing. A bit slow and too naïve, he thought, wanting to laugh at Daniel’s hero complex. “As long as you’re contained within that box, you’re as human as your idiot father.”
Vlad kept his back toward the boy as Daniel demanded to be released. He would prove to Daniel that he could teach him things Jack knew nothing about. I’m the better choice. You’ll see. I can teach you so many things. You can learn to control your powers if you join me. He turned to face Daniel as he demonstrated the various powers that he learned to control over the years since the accident. “I could train you, teach you everything I know. And all you have to do is renounce your idiot father.” What have you to say now, boy, after seeing what I can teach you? He smirked, waiting for Daniel’s answer.
“Dude, you are one seriously crazed up fruit loop,” Daniel said, and Vlad frowned at that response. “That is never going to happen.”
“Once your father is out of the way, we’ll see how you feel.” He laughed as he drew his cape around him. His body shifted in matter, tingling as it turned smoky. He swirled and vanished from the laboratory in a demonstration of yet another one of his powers.
Vlad appeared in a swirl of smoke in his wine cellar below the party room. His body became solid once again. Daniel had refused him. He was furious with that response. How could Daniel still want that buffoon for a father after seeing all that Vlad could teach him? Why did everyone choose Jack over him? Vlad needed to blast something to release the anger inside him. But he had a plan to finish. After he ruined Jack, Vlad would worry about making Daniel see him as his father.
Floating up through the ceiling, Vlad found he arrived in the right spot. Jack stood directly before him as he said something to Harriet. Vlad didn’t care what they were talking about. It wasn’t important. He overshadowed the big oaf, and like most others, Jack gave no resistance to the possession. It felt disgusting to be within Jack’s body, almost as if his IQ was diminishing simply by being inside him, but Vlad forced himself to stay. He had to finish this plan.
With anger fueling him, Vlad wasted no time. He grabbed Harriet and lifted her over his head, ignoring her shout of protest. This had to be done quickly. Vlad didn’t think he could last inside Jack’s body for a long period of time. Harriet smashed into the bowl of punch sitting on one table. Partygoers stared in shock at the scene being made before them.
Vlad made Jack’s lips stretch into a crazed grin as he surveyed the chaos brought on by his possession. People screamed in terror and ran for their lives as objects flew about the room. It was working. His plan would succeed. No one would trust Jack after this. Maddie and Daniel would join him and be his.
Vlad picked up a table and flung it toward door. People ran out of the room as the table smashed into the wall. The thrill of scaring people rivaled with the pleasure of releasing the pent up anger he felt. Vlad flew toward another partygoer by the window. Screaming, the man slipped and fell off the sill.
“If you live to tell the tale,” Vlad shouted for all to hear as he threw another man across the room, “remember that big, fat Jack Fenton did this to you.”
“Guess again, Cheese Head,” announced Daniel, making Vlad spin Jack’s body toward the source of his voice.
How could he escape? Vlad thought a second before Daniel’s being rushed into Jack’s body. He hardly had time to try and cling to the body before being ripped out. His howl at being evicted from the body echoed through the room as Daniel drove them through the wall. The younger hybrid only stopped once they reached Vlad’s library. Daniel made to punch at the older hybrid, but Vlad easily dodged then kicked the boy in the side. Daniel flipped in the air and landed on his feet.
Vlad tried to reason with the other hybrid, make him understand that together they could be unstoppable, as father and son. Daniel refused his offer again as he shot a blast at the older hybrid. Smirking, Vlad caught the blast, absorbing it with one hand. He exchanged it into his other hand before sending the blast back at the young hybrid. Daniel flinched, arms rising immediately to protect his head. That strong desire to protect himself brought out a force field around him, and the blast glanced off its side.
The threat was almost laughable really. Daniel would expose his secret to the world? Naïve little child, Vlad thought, frowning upon Daniel’s way of thinking. You are far too young to out think me, boy. “And so will I,” he informed the boy. “Honestly, if you expose me, you expose yourself.”
Loud honking interrupted their fight. The RV crashed into the library and nearly took Daniel down, but the boy leapt away in the nick of time. Vlad shot up into the air as the RV charged toward him. Once the RV stopped, he phased through the roof. Vlad grabbed Maddie and phased her out of the RV, ignoring Maddie shouting and struggling within his arms. He scowled at that. He would never let Maddie suffer as he had at the hands of bumbling Jack Fenton.
Jack jumped out of the RV and chased after them when Vlad flew farther away.
Vlad dangled Maddie by one foot as he floated out of reach for Jack. Don’t you see he can never save you? I can, Maddie. I have the power to save you when you’re in danger. Jack can’t do that. He couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag. You and I were meant to be together, Maddie.
“Jack, look out! The RV!” Maddie’s shout tore through Vlad’s thoughts.
Vlad looked over in time to see Jack leap out of the way as the RV drove toward them. The boy could almost do my job for me with those driving skills, he thought amused. But no, he knew Daniel was trying to save his parents. The boy refused his offer.
With a smug smirk, Vlad managed to block the attacks until the third shot fired ectoplasmic goo. Unable to do anything to avoid the hit, Vlad released his hold on Maddie right before the goo knocked him out of the air. He cursed the child, cursed Jack, cursed every little thing that went wrong in his life. I will not be defeated like this, he growled as he watched Daniel overshadow his father to save his mother.
“Jack, you did it!” Maddie exclaimed, the happiness in her voice slicing through Vlad’s heart.
No, Vlad thought as he refused to accept what he heard as truth. Maddie was merely happy that someone had leapt in to save her. Jack merely happened to be that person, and it hadn’t even been Jack. Daniel was the one who forced Jack into action. Jack would have stood like a lump as Maddie fell if Daniel hadn’t overshadowed him. Vlad was sure of that.
Daniel used Jack’s hands to grab Vlad and lift him off the floor.
“Oh, you’ve overshadowed Jack. Oh, I’m so scared,” Vlad said sarcastically. Does he honestly think this level of power is going to defeat me? he thought, angered by Daniel’s low level of strategist thinking. Vlad almost laughed at the suggestion of a truce, but something in the boy’s eyes made him stop. Daniel was dead serious about exposing his secret, both their secrets.
Daniel pulled him closer. “My parents will accept me no matter what. But if I expose you, well, heh, what would my mom think of you?” The corners of Vlad’s mouth turned down in a frown. “You’ll be miserable and alone,” Daniel continued as he set Vlad back on his feet. “For the rest of your life unless you call a truce.”
Vlad doubted the boy knew how much the comment cut into him. He already was alone and miserable, all thanks to Jack. “Using your opponent’s weaknesses against him,” he said as a proud smirk stretched over his face. “I am teaching you something after all. Very well, truce.” For now anyway, but eventually Maddie and Daniel would join him. He coughed before flying into the air, and in a dramatic shout, he announced his defeat at the hands of Jack Fenton. His voice lowered as he met gazes with Daniel. “Until next time, Son.” Crying out in false pain, his body became smoke again and faded from sight, leaving them aside from Daniel to believe he had been defeated.
How could that boy outsmart me? Vlad thought in a growl as he fled to his secret laboratory. He hadn’t expected his plan to fail in such a manner. Daniel never should have been able to escape from the spectral energy neutralizer. Reaching his secret laboratory, Vlad quickly brought up the security cameras from his other laboratory. He rewound the recording to the point just before he left.
There! he thought watching as a ghost released Daniel from his prison. Stupid Dairy King! Vlad pounded his fists furiously on the computer console. He hadn’t factored the ghost that haunted this castle into his plan. Releasing a roar of anger, he sent a pink energy blast screaming through the air. It slammed into the thick iron wall, leaving scorch marks. He blasted again and again, his rage driving him not to care about the damage to the wall at that moment.
When he used up all his power, Vlad sagged to the floor, reverting to his human form. He panted before snarling and beating a fist into the floor. For twenty years he schemed and planned for this. Discovering Daniel’s ghost powers took only a little maneuvering to work into his plan. And he failed because he hadn’t taken into account the ghost of the previous owner of his castle. Failure was not something he would accept.
Vlad waited in his secret laboratory until after all the partygoers left his castle. In the long hours he spent waiting, he realized even though his plan failed, it was not as badly as he originally thought. Daniel learned something from him. Vlad planted a seed of knowledge into that child’s brain. Daniel would soon come to realize that only Vlad could understand him, could teach him what he needed to know.
Vlad left his secret laboratory and headed to look at the damage to his library and party room. He would need to call in a cleaning crew to fix everything. At the foot of the stair case, he stopped and glared at the man standing over the broken down door.
“That must have been some reunion party,” said the man, shaking his head as he surveyed the damage to the front hall. “I never thought you would be the kind of guy to throw such a wild party, Vlad.”
“What are you doing here, Ben?” Vlad demanded as he walked with long, quick strides toward the man.
“Was I not invited to the reunion party? I seem to recall getting an invitation in the mail, though I must admit I seem to have arrived a little late,” Ben answered, ignoring Vlad’s glare as he glanced around at the damage in the front hall. “Failed to win her heart, huh?” He folded his arms with a serious expression on his face. “You don’t even love her. Why can’t you just let her be happy with Jack?”
“How can you say whether I love her or not? You don’t know my feelings.” Vlad’s hand curled into a fist, but he restrained himself from punching the man.
“Because I know you,” Ben replied softly. “I know you still love him, and I know he’s still out there.”
“Do not bring him into this,” Vlad ordered as a growl rumbled in his throat. The memories tried to find their way back to the surface again, but he forced them away, locking them tighter within his mind.
Ben frowned sadly at him. “Fine. I won’t talk about him.” He sighed and retrieved something from his jacket pocket. He held a pack of letters in his hand. “She may not love you the way you want her to, but she does want you to be in her life.” Ben offered the letters to Vlad, who sneered and smacked the letters from the man’s hand.
“I love her, and I won’t be happy until she’s my wife,” Vlad stated through clenched teeth. “Leave my home now, or I’ll call the cops to drag you away.”
Ben’s expression crumbled. “Danny’s heart would break if he saw you now,” he mumbled before he turned his back on Vlad and walking down the steps.
“He doesn’t have the right to be heartbroken,” Vlad muttered darkly as he turned and stormed through his castle.
Vlad sat in a business meeting, listening to the head director for one of his research projects ramble on about the progress of his work. The man wasn’t telling him anything that Vlad hadn’t already known, so his mind wandered to other matters.
The reunion and his fights with Daniel kept playing through his mind. How could he make the boy see that he was the better man? How could he gain the boy’s trust? Vlad knew hardly anything about Daniel except that he was a victim of Jack’s idiocy like Vlad himself. He needed to learn more about the boy, to understand him better, so that he could more easily lure the boy to him.
I could spy on him, Vlad thought absently as the man droned on becoming mere background noise in his head. But that takes time, and keeping up appearances as Vlad Masters doesn’t give me the kind of time I would need to pursue such a course of action. I barely have time to step out of the office while I’m here in Amity Park.
Vlad had been in meeting after meeting since his arrival. Once this final meeting ended, he had to rush back to Wisconsin to check on other laboratory facilities. The price of his fortune cut into whatever free time he had quite often during evaluation periods and maintenance checks and approvals of new projects.
At least it’s only a few times throughout the year, Vlad thought, idly rubbing his temple as he felt a headache coming. Did this man not know how to get to the point of his presentation? Vlad swore he was working with morons.
“In short, the suit should be ready to be used in a few days,” finished Mr. Hayashi, gesturing to the red suit on the mannequin.
“That’s all very well,” Vlad said, placing his hands on the table as he pushed himself out of his seat. Before he could say more, the security alarms rang. He clapped his hands over his ears and glared at the man. “What is going on here?”
“We just had a new security system put in,” explained Hayashi. “Perhaps there’s a small malfunction in it.”
It sounded more like a question than a statement, which didn’t sit well with Vlad. As president of Axion Labs, he refused to accept any little malfunction in its security. He stormed out of the conference room and down the hallway to his office. He equipped his office to be able to check in on any of the security cameras around the facility. Flipping them on, he quickly scanned through them looking for any intrusion.
“What?” Vlad exclaimed as he spotted the familiar form of Danny Phantom flash before one camera.
Vlad quickly brought up the next camera. His eyes narrowed, watching the boy point toward the black girl, who looked to be around his age and covered in some sort of ectoplasmic – Is that drool? Vlad asked, his brow furrowing. His question was answered when he spotted a dog run through and Danny Phantom chased after it.
“A ghost dog?” Vlad muttered darkly as the large dog rampaged around his facility, destroying months of tests and research. His hands clenched at his sides as he sneered at the beast.
Once the dog and Daniel were gone, Vlad’s gaze was drawn back to the girl, now hanging in the net along with the rest of the security members. He vaguely recalled seeing her here before. If his memory served correctly, her father was the chief of security.
Vlad could already guess that his director, who was busy checking the security features, would fire that man for deciding to implement a flawed system. The director had no knowledge of Vlad’s research on ghosts, though no one except those working on specific projects was supposed to know that. He couldn’t hold the poor man accountable for designing a system that didn’t guard against ghost attacks.
“Perhaps he should be given another chance,” Vlad mumbled as thoughts danced in his head. His gaze flicked to the door, a plan forming in his head. “But I have to make certain first.” He walked over to his desk and pressed the button on intercom that connected to his secretary. “Joan, could you cancel my flight back to Wisconsin?”
“Uh, but, Sir, you have meetings to attend,” Joan replied in uncertainty.
“And I have pressing matters to attend to here,” Vlad said, keeping his tone calm. “If a new security chief is necessary, I would like to be here to oversee the matter and ensure that the new system he installs works. Until this matter is resolved, I shall remain here.”
Vlad lifted his finger from the button before Joan could make any argument. Smirking, he strolled out of his office, heading back to the conference room. Looks like I might get to test that suit, he thought. However, before he could put that plan into action, he had a few details to take care of.
After some researching, Vlad had a name to put to a face of his chief of security: Damon Gray. Mr. Gray had a daughter named Valerie, and two years ago, his wife died of cancer. The two unit family struggled financially after that until Mr. Gray landed the security job at Axion Labs six months later. Now they would return to that same struggle.
Vlad shook his head at the thought as he took a seat on the roof top of the Gray house. He had no reason to care if this man fell on hard times. It was a common struggle for those on the lower end of the working class. He decided it was the daughter’s potential usefulness that made him care. Giving Mr. Gray a second chance to prove his worth would show the girl that he had heart, and she would be more willing to help him.
Vlad spotted Valerie as she walked out the front door, carrying a large box labeled “Val’s clothes.” She wasn’t a lazy girl who sat around and let her dad and the moving guys do all the work. Vlad liked that fact about her.
Daniel was present, along with his two friends. The black boy walked over to Valerie as soon as she came out of the house. They offered help, though Daniel’s Goth wannabe girl friend scowled, clearly not wanting to help.
“Thanks,” Valerie said as she glared at the trio of friends, “but I’ll pass.”
Daniel gasped, his ghost sense leaving his parted lips in a thin blue wisp that no one else seemed to notice. “I’m gonna have to pass too,” he said before he rushed off down the street.
There’s no way he sensed me, Vlad thought, frowning as he watched the scene before him. He was certain he suppressed his presence enough to go unnoticed.
The ground shook suddenly, and Vlad stood up, wondering what was happening. A large ghost dog broke out of the ground, sending a dresser filled with clothes flying toward the curb. The three teenagers jumped out of the way as the dresser crashed upon the sidewalk. A passing car ran through a puddle and splashed water upon the dresser. Valerie shot a glare at the ghost dog that was too busy sniffing the ground to notice.
Such anger, Vlad thought, smirking. If he could direct her anger toward – Then he spotted Danny Phantom flying out of the ground behind the dog.
“Whatever you are, get out of here,” Valerie ordered as she glared at the ghost. “You and your stupid dog have done enough.”
Perhaps making this girl see Danny Phantom as her enemy won’t be all that tough, he thought. Daniel was virtually doing that job well enough on his own without any interference from Vlad. He watched with mild amusement as the dog dragged Daniel around by his leg before they ended up in the moving van, the door slamming shut after them. Shouts, barks, and crashes filled the air as Daniel tried to capture the dog. A moment later, he phased out of the van with the dog in his arms. Then he flew off as Mr. Gray opened the moving van door.
“What’s going on here?” asked the man as he looked into the moving van, and Vlad could only imagine the damage done to the furniture.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,” Valerie answered, eyes narrowing with fierce determination.
Almost, Vlad decided as he left the Gray house and headed back to Axion Labs. The girl needed a little more nudging, a little understanding of what she witnessed twice now, before she was ready to receive his gift for her. Vlad still had a few adjustments and surveillance features to add to the suit, but everything was proceeding well.
The next day, Vlad decided to stop by the school during his lunch break. He learned that Valerie attended the same high school as Daniel. Reaching the school, he first sought out the cafeteria. He peeked through the window in time to witness Valerie being dumped on by her friends.
Vlad snorted at the sight. Right now, popularity was an important factor to these teenagers. They didn’t care if they hurt the feelings of others if those people weren’t in their little circle. Vlad could clearly remember the pain of being picked on by the popular people in his school. Shaking the memories from his mind, he focused his attention back on watching Valerie and Daniel.
Valerie sat alone at a table and looked depressed over the way the three popular people treated her. Daniel’s male friend, who Vlad discovered after doing a little background check was named Tucker, approached the girl. Whatever they spoke about didn’t last long as the ghost dog appeared to interrupt them, snatching up Valerie’s bag lunch and tearing it to shreds.
The other students screamed and ran from the cafeteria in fear of the ghost. Vlad sat back and watched the unfolding events. Predictably, Danny Phantom appeared again to deal with the ghost dog problem. Once distracted from the lunch lady, the dog leapt at Phantom, and they both phased through the wall. Vlad wondered again how Daniel could have bested him when he couldn't even properly deal with a silly dog.
Vlad floated close enough to overhear some of the conversation that occurred between Tucker and Valerie after the attack.
“Ghosts,” Valerie said in disbelief. Then she realized that Tucker was right. “Oh my god, ghosts!”
The girl finally knew what the boy and dog were and where to direct her anger. Now was the time to give her the equipment she needed to seek revenge upon the ghosts that ruined her life.
Later that night, Vlad paid a visit to the new home of the Gray family. His nose wrinkled at the dingy apartment. It almost reminded him of the dorm room he lived in during – No, he wouldn’t think about that time in his life. He focused on what was happening inside the apartment. With the window now open, Vlad could hear what was being said.
“I’m getting one last chance, Sweetie,” Mr. Gray told his daughter. “I’ve convinced them to let me guard what’s left of the research lab while they rebuild.”
I’ll let him believe that, Vlad thought with a frown. Mr. Gray barged in and stated his case before the director could tell him that he would already be given a second chance.
“Well, that’s great,” said Valerie with excitement. “How many of your employees can you put on it?”
“I don’t have any more employees,” Mr. Gray answered awkwardly. “I have to guard it myself, at night, in that.” He pointed to the uniform hanging on the back of the door.
“Nice,” mumbled Valerie, her hopes deflating as she hunched over. “And if things get worse, you can use that outfit to deliver packages.”
“Which reminds me.” Mr. Gray hurried off to grab a package and walked back over to where Valerie sat on the couch. “This arrived while you were at school today, from Wisconsin.” His watch beeped right then. “Whoa! Don’t want to be late. Bye, Sweetie.” Placing the package in the girl’s lap, he kissed his daughter on the cheek. Then he rushed out of the room to change into his uniform.
Vlad watched as Valerie stared at the package before cautiously opening it. She pulled out the note and read it aloud:
“Heard about your recent ghost troubles. Hope this helps. Vlad.”
With a smirk, Vlad vanished in a swirl of smoke. He had set things into motion. Valerie could hunt ghosts to her heart’s content while he would secretly be watching Daniel. He would learn more about the boy so that he could get Daniel to join him.
Vlad frowned as he watched the various screens playing back the data he collected so far. The cameras from his castle in Wisconsin didn’t catch enough of the boy to give him a better understanding of Daniel. The surveillance equipment on Valerie’s suit mostly captured the boy while he was Danny Phantom.
“I have information on Daniel’s developing skills,” Vlad muttered, noting the boy was still seriously lacking in skill. “But still nothing on Daniel himself, except his grades.” He sneered down at the file he held. Not even Jack had such bad grades.
Vlad tossed the file onto his desk, and it landed on top of an invitation from The Dalv Group. He sent the original copy of the invitation to Maddie and Daniel for them to attend a mother-son science symposium supposedly being held in Florida. However, that wasn’t where the plane would be taking them.
Smirking, Vlad strolled out of the secret room in his chalet. The bookcase slid back into place, hiding the entrance to the room. He walked out of the study, heading for the front door. A short drive around the woods surrounding his cottage would help relieve some of his frustration, he decided as he climbed into the golf cart parked outside.
Half an hour later, Vlad received a call from one of his ghostly henchmen. The plan worked, and Maddie and Daniel were currently parachuting to the ground somewhere close to his chalet. He snapped the phone shut with a satisfying feeling. After putting away the phone, he turned the cart around and started driving back the way he had come.
Perfect timing, Vlad thought when he reached the front of his chalet right as Maddie cut her way through the dense flora of the forest. Driving toward Maddie and her son, Vlad beeped the horn. “Why Maddie and Danny Fenton,” he greeted the two as he pulled to a stop in front of them. Vlad mentally cringed at calling the boy that. He wanted to forget the man he once loved, but just saying the name brought up the memories he so desperately tried to block from his mind.
“Vlad Masters!” mother and son shouted in surprise.
“What a surprise to find the two of you here!” Vlad pretended to be shocked at their presences, like it wasn't some well planned coincidence that brought the tree of them together. "Would you like to join me?"
“You’re up to something,” Daniel mumbled flatly, narrowing his eyes.
“Oh, you think,” Vlad returned with a smirk. Once Maddie took a seat in the back of the cart, Vlad lifted his wrist enough to speak into the communications unit on his watch. He sent the order to kill Jack to his minions. Finally, a plan that–
“What was that?” Maddie asked, cutting off Vlad’s thought.
“I said flapjacks,” Vlad replied quickly. “Mmhmm, pancakes. I have pancakes.” I have to be careful around her, he thought as he started the golf cart again. He forgot how sharp her mind – and her hearing – was. But in a moment, he heard Daniel's shout of protest and stopped the cart. For a moment, he forgot the boy completely while covering up his error with Maddie. He frowned at the muddy mess now coating the boy's clothes. “Oh, I'm sorry, dear boy.” Vlad shut off the engine. “I didn’t see you back there.” He climbed out of the cart and approached the boy.
“Right,” Daniel muttered, wiping mud off his face before turning to glare at Vlad. “You planned that.”
“Hardly, my dear boy,” Vlad replied smoothly. He put a hand to Daniel’s back, careful not to touch any of the mud coating the boy. “Now let’s get you cleaned up. Shall we?”
Vlad led the two of them into his chalet. While Daniel glowered at him, Maddie appeared blissfully unaware of any tension between the two men. Vlad showed Daniel to a bathroom where he could clean away the mud. Then he brought Maddie to the study.
“Please make yourself at home.” Vlad gestured for Maddie to enter the study. His heart swelled when she smiled as she passed him. Oh, Maddie, if only you could know how much I love you. Vlad walked farther into the study as he watched her look around the room. "You-"
"Did you ever hear from him again?" Maddie asked, cutting off what he was about to say. She strolled over to the bookcase lining the wall. Then she ran her fingers over the spines of the books as she read their titles.
Vlad's throat constricted, and it felt difficult to breathe. Even she was trying to force him to keep that man in his memories! He swallowed thickly as he tried to reign in the anger. "No," he answered when he could give nothing away in his voice.
Maddie glanced at him with sadness in her eyes. "I'm sure he'll find you one day."
Vlad closed his eyes. This was not the conversation he was supposed to be having. "Perhaps, I don't want him to." He frowned at her. "He ran away from me. Why would he ever come back?"
"He must have a reason for leaving. You never did tell us exactly what happened when he left."
"Maddie, that's not-"
Vlad stopped when Daniel entered the room muttering to himself. He turned to look at him and frowned at the mud stains still on the boy’s shirt. Daniel’s face was mostly cleaned of the stuff, but mud clumps still clung to his hair. Never taking his eyes off Vlad, the boy walked into the room and dropped into one of the chairs, making Vlad cringe at the thought of the mud staining his furniture.
There was still more that he wanted to speak to Maddie about alone, but he was partly relieved to end the conversation about that man. Vlad put on a smile for the boy before he turned his attention back to Maddie. He needed to steer the conversation back on topic. At Daniel's comment about their arrival being a part of some villainous plot, Vlad chuckled in forced good humor. It seemed ever since their first meeting in Wisconsin at the reunion, they were doomed to be antagonistic toward each other. It wasn't what he wanted, but nothing he did was going to change the boy's opinion of him. At least, not yet. After making Daniel tumble out of his seat, Vlad turned back to Maddie, and a smile broke onto his face.
After some blundering, Vlad finally managed to turn the conversation in the direction he wanted. “Oh, the stealing you part?” Vlad walked closer to the woman. “Ah, you always could see through me. Oh, Maddie, I’m just going to come out and say it.” He dropped onto one knee before her. “Please dump Jack and stay here. You and Daniel both. What do you say?” Vlad smiled, waiting for an answer he was almost certain he would receive.
Maddie’s face burned red, strong emotions flashing in her eyes. Vlad waited with bated breath. What came next wasn't what he expected. A hand lashed out, and a loud smack echoed through the room as a stinging handprint reddened Vlad’s cheek. But that pain wasn't nearly as bad as the stabbing in his heart.
“How dare you suggest such a thing!” shouted Maddie. Vlad now identified the emotion dancing through her eyes to be anger. She stomped past him. “Come on, Danny. We’re leaving.” She grabbed her son’s hand and pulled him from the room.
Vlad quickly leapt to his feet and rushed after the pair. How could this have gone wrong? How could another of his plans failed? By the time he reached the open front door, the two of them were headed back toward the woods.
“Bye, Vlad,” Daniel shouted smugly over his shoulder. “And as a lonely, single man in your forties, might I suggest internet dating or a cat?”
“Mark my words, Maddie,” Vlad shouted after them. “Nobody says no to Vlad Masters. You will rue the day you spurned my affections. And. I. Will. Not. Get. A. Cat!” He slammed the door shut, chest heaving as he panted. How dare they reject him like that!
With rage filling him, Vlad stormed through his cottage, changing into Plasmius as he went. If they would not come to him by choice, then he would make them stay with him by force. He entered a secret laboratory beneath the chalet. Snarling ghosts, beasts that he mutated through experiments, waited in cages, reaching out toward him with sharp claws.
“I have a task for you,” Vlad told the beasts. “Bring me Daniel Fenton.” He slammed a fist onto the release button. The cage doors flew open, and the beasts shot out, phasing through the ceiling as they went to hunt for the boy. Vlad picked up a device that he recently invented from a table in the laboratory. He didn’t think he would get to use it just yet, but it would work well for the plan forming in his mind. He left the laboratory to wait in his study for the boy’s arrival.
A few hours later, his beast minions returned dragging Daniel in tow. They dumped the boy into a chair, circling around it to block all escape routes that Daniel might try to take. When Vlad floated forward, the beasts parted to make way for him.
“Nice petting zoo, Plasmius.” Daniel sneered as he met gazes with Vlad. As he jumped out of the chair, he transformed into his ghost half. “Where’s your lonely guy cat?”
Why does he have to keep bringing up stupid cats? Vlad thought angrily. He could hear it clearly in his mind, a deeper voice asking, “Why do you hate cats?” He cursed to himself, pushing down another memory. He would give Daniel no hint of the turmoil that question brought to his mind.
Vlad whipped his arm out from behind his back. Electric sparks danced between the two prongs of the device he held. He gave Daniel no time to react before jabbing the prongs into the boy’s chest. Daniel screamed as the shock ran through his body – a shock that Vlad knew too well from testing to make sure the device worked properly. He knew the exact pain that Daniel was in as his skeletal structure flashed into sight before rings of light formed around the boy. Vlad smirked as he watched the boy revert to his human form.
“What was that?” Daniel asked, obviously confused by what had just happened.
“Oh, I call it the Plasmius Maximus.” His lips twitched, trying not to grin too widely as he floated over to the boy. “It has just short circuited your powers for the next three hours. That’s midnight. I tell you this because I’ve seen your grades, and I know your bad at math.” He smirked at that fact, though the mention of math made another memory try to work its way out of the shadows of his mind. “I’ll give you five minutes before I send my minions to destroy you. The clock’s ticking, Daniel, on you and your father.” A smirk slid over his face. “Run.”
Daniel didn’t wait for him to say anymore before he raced out of the room.
After his minions left to give chase to Daniel, Vlad changed back into his human form. He frowned as he began pacing around the study. This wasn’t how he wanted things to go. What kept going wrong with his plans? Maddie was supposed to be his right now. Daniel was supposed to see him as a father. What was he missing? Why wouldn’t things go as he had planned? All he wanted was to fill the void left inside him by loving Maddie. Why was the world trying to stop him from having his love?
His feet came to a stop before one of the bookcases. His eyes ran over the titles of the books without really seeing them until they landed on his college yearbook. Its existence nagged at him after he conversation with Maddie. Vlad reached out and pulled the book from the shelf. “I thought I got rid of this one,” he mumbled, running a hand over the cover with a trembling hand. He knew what he would find inside the yearbook when he turned it to the right page. He quickly shoved the yearbook back into its place on the shelf and turned his back on it before he stomped out of the study.
Vlad checked the clock on the wall as he walked through the cabin. It was getting close to midnight. Daniel should return soon, he thought. Either the boy would finally agree to join him or his minions would return with a body. Vlad hoped for the former. The last thing he wanted was to kill the boy. Scare him, perhaps, but never kill him. Vlad did many acts that others would view as evil, but he was not so cruel as to take the life of a young boy.
Vlad walked through the entry way when he heard a knock on the front door. He strolled toward it at a leisurely pace. After all, he didn’t want to seem too eager, like he was waiting for their arrival. Opening the door, he smiled at the mother and son standing on his doorstep. After greeting them, he leaned down toward Daniel and smirked. “You’ve returned to me.” I knew they would come back, he thought as he pulled back the sleeve of his suit jacket to show the time on his watch. “Oh, and not a moment too soon.”
Hardly noticing Danny, Vlad was surprised by Maddie’s words and sweet smile. Did she really mean what he thought she meant? A smile spread over his face, hope bursting inside him. He wrapped an arm around Maddie, his hand fitting nicely into the small of her back as he guided her inside. Daniel followed them into the cabin.
Vlad helped the woman to sit on the couch in his study. The plan didn’t fail after all, Vlad thought briefly before he caught the seductive look on Maddie’s face. Pulling out some breath freshener, he opened his mouth and sprayed a few puffs into his mouth. He couldn’t kiss Maddie with bad breath! Then he leaned in as he thought, at last, Maddie has finally realized she should have chosen me all those years ago.
Maddie placed a finger to Vlad’s lips. “I couldn’t possibly. I’ve been out in the woods all night. I have to freshen up.” She stood and walked out of the study.
Vlad watched her leave, and when she left, he almost smacked himself in the forehead. I should have given Maddie the chance to freshen up before trying anything, he thought, hoping she didn't see his actions as too eager. He picked up a book and opened it to the last page he was reading. Ah, it even says right here, that a woman always wants to freshen up before engaging in intimate contact. Maddie, you really do want me.
“Uncle Vlad,” Daniel said, tearing Vlad from his happy thoughts.
Uncle! Vlad thought, his eye twitching with frustration. I don’t want to be your uncle. I want you to think of me as your father. He was certain he would make that happen one day.
Vlad glanced at the grandfather clock by the door to the study. Still fifteen more minutes until Daniel regained the use of his powers. But what trick did the boy think he had up his sleeve? “ Without your powers,” he laughed at the idea of Daniel trying to fight him, “well, I wouldn’t need fifteen seconds, would I?” He made his eyes glow red as he smirked at the boy.
“How can you say that?” Daniel looked surprised that Vlad would suggest such a thing. “I want to stay here with you, too.”
“Really?” Vlad’s eyes welled with tears. His heart squeezed as he replayed the words in his mind: I want to stay here with you. Has Daniel finally decided to see me as a father? His plan finally worked! Everything was finally coming together after so many years of planning. He would finally have the family he deserved, and Jack would be the one left alone and miserable. He stood up, setting aside the book he was reading. “You don’t mean-”
Daniel grinned as he held his arms out. “Give me a big hug, new dad.”
He called me dad! Happiness filled him as he moved to hug the boy. Daniel’s arms wrapped around his waist, and Vlad was dimly aware of hearing something snap into place. Electricity coursed through his veins. Vlad shouted out in pain as he stumbled back from Daniel.
“You little rat! You tricked me!” Vlad snapped, glowering at that boy as betrayal fueled his anger. He would make Daniel pay for this betrayal! “You know what this will mean for you, don’t you?”
Daniel looked at the watch on his wrist. Rings of light passed over the boy, turning him into the Phantom. “A much fairer fight.”
Vlad sneered at the boy as he transformed into his ghost mode. The belt around his waist intensified its shocks. Vlad growled in pain and dropped onto the floor, holding his head. He looked up only having enough time to see Daniel flying at him before the boy slammed into him and sent him flying into the wall above the fireplace.
Vlad spotted Daniel flying at him again and drew his cape around him as he turned intangible. Daniel passed through him and the wall behind him. With Daniel gone for the moment, Vlad struggled to free himself of the blasted belt that continued to shock him. What was this stupid belt anyway? With this belt on, he wouldn't be able to fight the boy. He felt Daniel’s presence behind him and spun around . He fired an energy blast at Daniel, sending him crashing into the wall. Daniel dropped onto his back with a loud thud.
“Foolish boy,” Vlad growled, smirking to hide the pain the shocks gave him. “Even with diminished strength, I’m still more powerful than you.” He concentrated on creating duplicates. Resistance. The duplicates strained to separate itself from the original. He hadn't struggled this much to make duplicates since he first tried the trick nearly eighteen years ago. The duplicates snapped back into him in a jarring effect that felt wrong: he hadn’t recombined properly. The belt was disrupting his powers!
“At a hundred and twelve miles per hour, I bet this hurts.” Daniel’s announcement alerted Vlad to the attack, but he had no time to react before Daniel’s fists slammed into both his heads.
Blast, kick, punch. Daniel reigned down his attacks upon Vlad, giving the older hybrid no time to defend himself. Vlad wavered on his feet with his powers exhausted and his strength fading fast. Daniel stood a few feet before him. He only had to blow, and the force of the breath knocked Vlad over onto his back.
“Fine, Daniel,” Vlad said, pushing himself up as much as he could. “You’ve defeated me." Though it was only because of the blasted belt that Daniel got the upper hand in this fight. He stuck two fingers into his mouth and whistled. His minions rose from the floor, snarling and growling. “Finish him!”
The beasts advanced on him but stopped when Daniel began to speak. Vlad gritted his teeth as his minions slowly processed Daniel's words. They wouldn’t dare, Vlad thought furiously, but of course, things refused to go his way. The beasts turned around and snarled at him, changing their target from Phantom to Plasmius. Fools! All of them! Vlad growled in his mind as his hands curled into fists.
“Don’t even think about it, you spectral freaks,” Vlad snapped at his minions. He stood, glaring at them. “I’m still more powerful than you.”
Two prongs stabbed into him, and he shouted as more shocks ran through him. His skeleton flashed through his skin as electric sparks danced around him. Black rings appeared and transformed him back into his human form.
“And now you’re not,” Daniel said before leaning toward him. “I’ll give you a five minute head start, Plasmius.”
“Really?” Vlad asked, a shred of hope flickering in him.
“Minutes, seconds. You know how bad I can be at math,” said Daniel before he stepped back and pointed at Vlad. “Get him!”
Vlad didn’t need any other warning. He ran out of the cottage with his former minions chasing after him. Stupid little punk brat, he thought furiously as he tried to outrun the beasts. He didn’t even consider heading back to his chalet and taking the helicopter to escape. Instead he ran in the direction where his plane waited.
“Get us out of here,” Vlad ordered the pilot as he ran up the steps and into the plane.
The beasts were right on his tail. When the plane door snapped shut, it sliced off one beast’s arm. The beast’s howl of pain followed them as the plane took off. Vlad breathed in relief, thankful to have a ghost plane that could take off from anywhere at any time. He ignored the flopping arm as he went to search the small supply kit he kept in the plane for emergency situations.
I had to let myself trust him, he thought angrily as he tossed different items from the kit. He had to have something in here that would free him of the cursed belt. Since it was no longer shocking him, Vlad believed the belt reacted to his ghost powers, which meant he had three hours to get it off before it started shocking him again.
You trusted Jack, a voice pointed out to him. And look what happened. You got ecto acne and ghost powers, and because of that, you lost Maddie.
Another voice spoke up, if you hadn’t trusted Jack, you never would have-
Silence! Vlad snapped at his inner voices. He snatched up a key and jabbed it into the keyhole, trying to pry open the belt’s lock. I can’t trust in anyone, he decided.
Vlad glared at his destroyed Portal. His castle was lost, but that fact was overlooked for the time. He could rebuild it whenever he desired. Without his Portal, he couldn't get the key. After all that time searching for it, he finally found the legendary skeleton key. If only he remembered to change that ecto-filtrator, the Portal wouldn't have exploded. Like his castle, rebuilding the Portal wouldn't be difficult. He had the money to do it. But time was another factor. It would take time to get all the right parts and reconstruct it from scratch. Time he didn't wish to waste while the key remained just beyond his reach. He couldn't be certain that the key would remain where he found it if he spent the months it took to rebuild a Portal.
He needed to find another working Portal. But who would even something like that? The idea hit him, and a smirk spread over his face as he changed back into his human form. Vlad reached into his jacket's inside pocket to retrieve a picture that he kept there. The picture was taken right before the twentieth reunion that he held. He sighed at the sight of Maddie, who warmed his heart like no other.
That's a lie, a nagging little voice insisted, refusing to be silenced even after twenty years.
Vlad ignored the voice as he skipped over Daniel’s image, ignoring the boy's very existence, to sneer at Jack. “I guess I’ll just have to take Jack Fenton’s.” He laughed at the idea formulating in his mind. It would be all too easy. His plan played right into Jack and Daniel's weakness, and he knew they would dance right into his hands.
Vlad cringed when he heard the exclamation. He stuffed the picture back into his breast pocket as he made his way out of the ruins of his castle. Rebuilding would come after he acquired Jack's Portal and the skeleton key. When he climbed out of the debris, he spotted the man on his doorstep, staring rather shocked at what remained of the castle.
"When Ben said you threw wild parties, I totally didn't believe it," Digory said, shaking his head. "I might have actually went to that reunion party if I knew it was going to be a blast." He frowned as his gaze turned back to the castle. "Though I didn't think that would be literal."
Vlad took a deep breath, forcing his anger deep down inside him. "Yes, well, luckily I was out when the gas main exploded," he explained as he folded his arms behind his back. "What can I do for you?"
Digory managed to tear his eyes away from the scene of destruction, and when he looked back at Vlad, he frowned. "Ben was pretty upset when he came back after that reunion party."
"And it took you until now to come say that?" Vlad lifted an eyebrow at him. He knew Digory wasn't exactly a genius, but he would have expected a confrontation sooner than this.
"Ben would probably kill me if he knew I came by." Digory shrugged, but guilt wrote itself in his expression. "He's not in town right now, and he would have found out if I tried to come by while he was still here."
"Trouble in paradise?" Vlad sneered. Sometimes he wished he would receive news that the happy couple finally called it quits. But they were one of the few couples from their class that stuck together since college.
Digory sighed at that reaction. "It's not all sunshine for us, you know. We have our ups and downs as well."
"Oh, what was it? Did Ben catch you checking out some big breasted woman?"
"You actually think I haven't changed since college, don't you?" Digory took a seat on what was left of the steps, but Vlad refused to join him. "Ben is still the only one for me." He stared at the billionaire, and Vlad could almost read the "and Danny is still the only one for you" in his expression. Unlike Ben, Digory didn't come out and say it. For some reason, that made Vlad like the man a little more, but it was a very small amount.
"Congrats to you then," Vlad muttered with his jaw set and clenched. Why did he have to meet such meddlesome people in college? "I assume you didn't come here just to boast about that."
"A friend can't visit another friend?" Digory actually managed to look surprised at the question. "And here I was, thinking I haven't seen you since college and it would be nice to hang out again. Maybe grab some pizza, you know."
Vlad did know, and he remembered quite well that day the four of them sat in the park enjoying the pizza. It was merely another unwanted memory to be squashed and forgotten. "Well, as you probably noticed, I'm quite busy." He gestured toward what was his home. "Castles don't build themselves after all."
Digory sighed as he stood. "Well," he patted a hand on Vlad's shoulder, "maybe another time then. And if you ever need someone, I'm still here for you." After one last pat, Digory started back down the driveway to the gate.
Vlad watched him go with a frown on his face. Frustration hummed under his skin. Digory didn't need to come out and say it for Vlad to know that what he really wanted was to remind Vlad about the one person he was trying so hard to forget. I love Maddie, he growled forcefully, but he could feel that little voice shaking its head disappointedly in his mind.
Before the week was over, his plan was set into action. A million dollar bounty was placed upon the head of Amity Park’s ghost public enemy number one, Danny Phantom. He hired the best known ghost hunters, which wasn't saying much. He saw their records, and none of them managed to catch even one ghost. He knew Jack Fenton would show up, even when uninvited. Vlad saw it as a perfect opportunity to make the man look like a fool, destroying Daniel’s respect for his father all while taking their Portal right out from under them.
Tricking Daniel was simple enough. With the hero complex, the boy performed exactly as he wanted, like he was tugging on the invisible strings to make Daniel move. He admitted that shock of ectoplasm lightning may have been a bit much, but those sharp barbs about losing Maddie and being bitter and alone dug too deeply into him. It was only a little payback, he reasoned in his mind.
He tossed Daniel down to the wait group of ghost hunters. After seeing the progress of Daniel's skills, Vlad couldn't foresee the boy being caught by anyone other than his father. The bumbling idiot also played into ensuring that Daniel wouldn't be caught by the useless ghost hunters that Vlad hired. With the way Jack messed everything up, they would be lucky if they didn't leave Amity Park gravely injured.
With the plan in motion, Vlad left to wait for the moment when he could ensure neither Daniel nor his father would be in his way. That meant only Maddie and their daughter Jazz would be there to stop him. He would love the alone time with Maddie, but after the mishap last time, he didn't expect a warm welcome from her. No matter, he thought as he flew through the sky over Amity Park. He would change her mind sooner or later. His priority now was getting that skeleton key.
Jack arrived right on time. Vlad wasn't actually keeping time, but if he was, he might have decided that Jack actually came earlier than he expected. It didn't matter though because in the end, both Jack and Daniel were exactly where he wanted them: caged. Vlad applauded them, for they were brilliant puppets.
The Wisconsin Ghost? Vlad sneered at the name that Jack gave his ghostly form. He didn't bother to correct it though. Let the fool think it was a clever name. Even if he gave Jack his true name, he doubted he would make the connection to his old college buddy. After all, they still hadn't realize Phantom was their son.
"Of course I have a Portal," he snapped at Jack. And again, Jack's obliviousness amazed him. Could he not put two and two together with the pieces laid out right in front of him? He was the only one other than Jack and Maddie who would know anything about building a Portal. But he didn't have time to sit around wondering over Jack's stupidity. "Live and learn, or in your case, die and learn."
Vlad smirked villainously before he flew off toward Fenton Works. Jack and Daniel were trapped for now, but Vlad knew it would only be a matter of time before Daniel found some way to convince his father to free him. Jack was the gullible type, after all. When he reached the laboratory in the basement of the Fenton's house, Vlad was disappointed to see how slowly the vultures worked on dismantling the Portal. If everything went as planned, then Maddie and Jazz would currently be locked in the weapons vault. Once again, your idiocy works to my advantage, Jack. He was already aware that they failed to put the handle on the inside of the door to the weapons vault.
"I don't suppose you could move any faster," Vlad prodded. He would never get the Portal dismantled and moved at the rate the vultures were working. I should have used different minions for this, he thought, ignoring the vulture's complaint about his age. They apparently aged about fifty or a hundred years each time they mentioned how old they were. He doubted their ages had anything to do with their slowness.
When a line wrapped around him, Vlad was surprised. Those blasted, useless wannabe ghost hunters hardly slowed Jack down. Then again, the chance to take out Jack in his home had some appeal. Vlad smirked as he felt Daniel's presence. "Oh, this is the greatest day of my life!" He could eliminate Jack and prove to Daniel how pathetic his father was.
Jack defeated the vultures with a triumphant yell. Impatience grew inside Vlad, and not because his minions were so easily defeated. He wasn't the least bit surprised to see them taken down by the buffoon. Daniel actually seemed impressed by that display. When he saw Jack running for the Portal, he moved to block the man's way.
"It's time someone put you out of their misery." Vlad punched his former friend, watching with satisfaction as Jack slammed into the wall. But the victorious smirk didn't last long on his face. He cursed his own foolishness when he saw that he put the Ghost Gauntlets right into Jack's hands. They probably don't work, he thought as he flew toward Jack. He would end this fight quickly.
Surprise flashed in his red eyes when Jack caught hold of him. How was this even possible? A string of curses ran through his mind was Jack threw him across the surface of one table. Those Gauntlets! They actually worked. When Jack held him with those Gauntlets, Vlad couldn't escape them. He couldn't use his ability of intangibility to phase through them!
He grunted as he hit another table, beakers crushing under him and spilling to the floor where they shattered. I suppose he does have his moments, he admitted begrudgingly as he gritted his teeth. He shot an energy beam at Jack and growled when it failed to hit the man. Jack was as broad as a barn! How could he have missed?
Vlad roared furiously as he flew up to Jack, readying an attack. He would not miss again! But ectoplasm suddenly blinded him. This was not possible! Vlad wiped the ectoplasm from his eyes, and in that moment of distraction, Jack seized him again. The doors of the Ghost Portal squealed as they opened, and Jack tossed him right inside.
How can I lose to that idiot? Vlad thought as the doors slammed closed behind him. Jack should never have been able to beat him. He planned everything out! Jack should have fallen to him. Daniel should have seen him as the better man. The Portal should be his right now. Where did his plan go wrong?
"The castle looks like it's coming along well," Digory said as he stared at the reconstructed castle.
"Yes, yes it is." Vlad took a deep, suffering breath that he released slowly. This wasn't the first time Digory stopped by since the start of the reconstruction. "When it's done, are you going to stop coming by?"
"Is that what you want?" Digory took out a beer from his bag and offered it to Vlad. "You haven't bothered to tell me to leave."
Vlad frowned at the beer but eventually accepted it. He was still bitter over the recent defeat, though it wasn't as bad as he thought at first. Daniel now had a newfound respect for his father, unfortunately. But Vlad came out of the whole ordeal with what he wanted in the first place. A hand slipped into his pocket and wrapped around the skeleton key. One step closer.
That wasn't exactly how he planned things to go. Vlad's hand closed around the Ring of Rage that he managed to escape with after stealing it from Pariah's Keep. His vision swam as Jack and Maddie stood over him, and he knew he was slipping into unconsciousness. Pariah Dark was far stronger than he imagined, and it was no wonder he was known as the Ghost King and feared by all within the Ghost Zone. Waking him to acquire the Crown of Fire was probably not one of his smartest moves, but one needed both the Ring and the Crown to achieve unimaginable power. Oh, the things one could do with that power!
His eyes fell closed as his mind began drifting into the darkness of sleep. He may not have accomplished what he set out to do, but he did uncover one helpful fact. The Fright Knight was not altogether happy with the current arrangement. He could acquire a worthy and loyal servant if he planned the small error of Pariah being free to work to his advantage. Well, Daniel would certainly prove useful.
And was that a new invention he saw Jack working on? He would have to find out more about that. When he wasn't so tired.
Vlad woke in the messy room of the youngest Fenton. He sneered at the clutter. How did the boy live in such a pigsty? The memory of his room back in college came to mind. He and Jack weren't exactly the neatest people, and their room was only clean for a while in their final year because - No, Vlad growled, forcing away all memories of that time in life. He left the room, carefully picking his way through the mess before he headed down the stairs.
"V-man!" Jack greeted, happy to see his old college buddy. "You gave us quite the scare back there."
Vlad frowned at the man. Maddie was nowhere to be seen, but perhaps that was just as well for now. He doubted she looked forward to a reunion between them after that incident at his chalet. "Yes, well, I must apologize for that." No time like the present to get information out of the buffoon, he thought as he entered the front room to join Jack on the couch. The idiot does so enjoy blathering about his inventions. "Did I see some sort of battle suit earlier?"
"You mean the Fenton pants with our new ecto skeleton?" Jack's eyes lit up with excitement. "With it, we'll be able to defeat any ghost, no matter how powerful it is." He grinned proudly at the achievement.
No matter how powerful? Oh, Jack, I must applaud you in giving me exactly what I need. Vlad held back the smirk that threatened to sneak onto his face when he heard that. Pariah was far too strong for him to fight on his own, but if he had that ecto skeleton, Vlad would be able to defeat him. But first, he would need to steal it from Jack. "Say, you don't mind letting me take a look at it, do you?"
Jack opened his mouth, in what Vlad assumed was going to be immediate agreement. But a thoughtful look entered his eyes, and he frowned. "No can do, V-man."
"What?" Vlad demanded, his fury sneaking out before he could reign it back under control. "What do you mean no?" Jack loved to show off his inventions! How could the man suddenly clam up about them?
"Before that, I want to know how you ended up in our lab."
Vlad's eye twitched. Why did Jack have to show a moment of intelligence at that moment? He expected the bumbling idiot to overlook that fact in his eagerness to blather on about his inventions. Obviously, he couldn't tell Jack how he wound up unconscious on the floor of their laboratory. How was he to get around that small problem? Jack wore that look that suggested he wouldn't drop this topic. Vlad glanced about the room until his eyes alit on something.
"How about a nice game of chess?" he offered with half a grin. "If you win, I'll tell you what happened. If I win, you'll tell me all about this ecto skeleton?" Of course, he could always steal the battle suit right from under Jack's nose to learn its secrets, but it was too easy getting Jack to talk. Besides, Jack never won against him in a game. Except maybe Pac Man.
"I'll get the board!" Jack jumped from the couch and hurried to grab the chess board.
Oh, Jack, you make this all too easy. Vlad grinned as Jack returned with the chess board and started setting out the pieces. Now if only you would step aside so that I can have Maddie. He struggled not to glare furiously at the man sitting across from him as Jack made the first move.
The game was going well as Jack stared in deep concentration, trying to determine the best move. Vlad wore a smug smile, knowing it would only be a few more moves before victory was his. Jack never was very game with games like chess. But Daniel returned before the game finished. And he brought Miss Gray with him, Vlad thought, curious what brought ghost and ghost hunter together.
When Jack's silly ghost exodus alarm blared, Vlad saw it as the perfect opportunity to have a little chat with Valerie, and put the next part of his plan into action. He left the little matter of a mass ghost invasion to Daniel as he guided Valerie out of Fenton Works. The young woman was growing more accustomed to the equipment that he sent her. He may have lied a little about her being the most capable. After all, she was still young and couldn't compare to Maddie. But he needed her to believe him and trust him since he would be placing something of great importance in her hands. He didn't really want the Ring of Rage to leave his possession, but with Pariah looking for it, Vlad needed to keep it away from him for a while. He wouldn't be able to work if Pariah had his eye on him. There was the added benefit to this plan: Daniel would be busy protecting Valerie and be completely obliviously to the reason why she was being targeted. And with Daniel busy, the battle suit would be a piece of cake to steal.
He's taking too long, Vlad thought impatiently as he watched Jack work on the battle suit. A day already passed since he stole the Ring from Pariah, and it wouldn't be long before the Ghost King sent out his army to search for it. The battle suit needed to be finished if he had any hope of defeating Pariah.
The doors of the Fenton Ghost Portal rattled then flew off its hinges. Vlad couldn't deny the smug feeling as one door slammed into Jack and knocked him to the ground. He pretended to try to warn his friend, at least to keep up appearances. Ah, perfect timing, he thought as he glanced toward the Fright Knight commanding his army of ghosts. He did have something he wished to speak with the Fright Knight about, another step in his plan.
How dare he touch the woman I love! Vlad glared at the Fright Knight, who grabbed Maddie before she could reach the lever to close the Portal. Of course Jack would make something with a fatal flaw. Well, if that was the case, then perhaps Jack would kill himself in the process of "saving the day," eliminating himself as an obstacle. Seeing the pants of the battle suit in action actually impressed him. If not for the fact that the ecto skeleton built into the suit could kill the wearer. Vlad would need to figure out a way around that before the suit became useable.
Vlad left Maddie to deal with Jack. Help remove Jack's pants? Never again. He needed to make sure everything went according to his plan. First on that list was initiating a truce with Daniel. He would need the boy's help, and that little hero complex would play nicely into his plan.
He found the boy at the high school, and with so many ghosts present, Daniel hardly noticed his presence among all the others. Waiting for the boy to be alone, he watched Daniel handle the blond jock that tried to stand in his way. Ah, so Daniel isn't as innocent as he pretends, Vlad thought in amusement as Daniel overshadowed the bully. That information was filed away into things he should remember. The boy held a seed of darkness inside him. If properly honed, well, Vlad didn't think it would take much convincing to make the boy see his side of things. But first, there was the matter of the Ghost King to deal with.
And for that, he needed Daniel to fight alongside him against a common enemy. Before he could work an angle on convincing the boy to help him, Pariah's army attacked, led by the Fright Knight. When a skeleton ghost loomed over Daniel ready to strike him down with a sword, Vlad blasted it away, surprising the boy. He needed Daniel alive and preferably not too injured from fighting Pariah's army. The Fight Knight grabbed him, demanding the Ring.
"I don't have it," Vlad snapped at him before catching himself. He lowered his voice, wanting to keep the conversation between him and the Fright Knight. "But if you joined me, perhaps together-" A shot from an ecto energy based gun interrupted his pitch. What lousy timing! Why did that girl have to show up now? He almost regretted that she was such a motivated ghost hunter, though she really was fairly good at it.
The Fright Knight seized the front of suit, but a blast from Daniel sent the Knight flying. Oh, butter biscuits! Can't they wait until I've gotten the chance to speak before attacking him? Vlad gritted his teeth in growing frustration. Oh, this just gets worse, he thought as the Fright Knight thrust his Soul Shredder into the ground, claiming Amity Park under Pariah. If Daniel didn't see the seriousness of the situation already, Vlad hoped the boy's thick head could figure it out after that.
When Daniel approached him later outside Fenton Works, listing off the points of his plot, Vlad almost laughed. The boy was still so naive. Daniel really thought that was all there was to his plan? Oh, what a simple minded child he was! Daniel didn't look deeper into the fact laid out before him. And apparently, he forgot all about the battle suit, Vlad thought smugly.
Oh, the boy had a temper too! Ah, Daniel was still so young. "Very good, Daniel. You're getting more like me with every battle."
The boy could deny all he wanted to, but Vlad could see the signs. Daniel was learning from him. He was letting his anger take control in his weaker moments. He was using his powers to achieve revenge on those that wronged him. But alas, Daniel was too blind to see the truth.
And still has a lot of learning to do, Vlad thought in a panic when Daniel grabbed hold of the sword. The boy had too much of his father in him, always bumbling around and messing up everything. Did Daniel not understand the Fright Knight's warning about removing the sword? But Vlad was too late to warn him not to pull the sword free.
The moment the sword was freed, the barrier around Amity Part shattered, and the town was drawn into the Ghost Zone. Pariah Dark was waiting for their surrender. The last thing Vlad remembered before falling unconscious was the immense pain of Pariah's attack.
When he came to, Vlad found he was back in Daniel's bedroom. How did that happen? But something else came to his attention as his gaze fell upon Valerie. The Ring was gone! That wasn't part of his plan. If Pariah had the Ring, he would be unstoppable! Hearing footsteps outside, Vlad turned invisible. He didn't want to answer any questions that Daniel's parents might ask. He phased out of the house. He needed to speak with the Fright Knight now before it was too late.
Finding the Fright Knight wasn't difficult. Convincing him would be another matter. "Think about it," Vlad said encouragingly, knowing that he had precious little time. "If you renounce your loyalty to Pariah and join me, you'll have freedom. You'll still have to obey my orders, of course, but when I don't require your services, you'll be free to do as you please."
The Fright Knight looked doubtful at the suggestion.
"No more being imprisoned within a pumpkin," Vlad added with a winning smile. "And you'll no longer have to fear Pariah returning. He'll be locked away for good." He held up the skeleton key, the only thing that could hope to lock the Sarcophagus of Forever Sleep and seal Pariah Dark. "And even if someone should allow his return, well, you'd be under my command, not his."
That point seemed to convince the Knight well enough. Every ghost in the Ghost Zone feared the Ghost King, even his servant. Vlad knew the Knight's loyalty to the King was not by his choosing. To ensure that the Fright Knight would no longer be ruled by Pariah, Vlad would need the Crown of Fire. But then, Daniel would help him acquire that little detail. With the Fright Knight's agreement to that deal, the pair flew off to Pariah's Keep.
The battle was already well into its final act. Some ghosts dared to join Daniel's side and fought the legion of skeleton ghosts under Pariah's command. Vlad ignored them. They were insignificant. When he entered the Keep, Daniel was struggling to keep the Sarcophagus closed and losing power, the battle suit draining him quickly. He wouldn't last much longer, and when he fell, Pariah would be freed again. Vlad stooped to pick up the Crown of Fire where Daniel dropped it and sent the Fright Knight a victorious grin. Oh, he loved to win! Vlad floated over to the Sarcophagus and slipped the skeleton key into the lock, returning Pariah to his Forever Sleep.
And Daniel still hadn't figured it all out in the end. He still didn't realize how he was used to ensure that Vlad would get every piece in this game that he set out to achieve from the beginning. With the Crown of Fire, he acquired the guarantee of the Fright Knight's absolute loyalty. After all, if the Fright Knight could be swayed from Pariah's command, what stopped someone else from convincing the Knight to abandon his sworn loyalty to Vlad?
"Return to my castle with the battle suit," Vlad instructed the Knight after Daniel collapsed.
Victory was theirs, and the other ghosts dispersed to return to their homes within the Ghost Zone now that it was saved from Pariah's reign. After the Knight took the battle suit and flew off in the direction of the Plasmius Portal, Vlad grinned down at Daniel's conscious form. The boy really made it all too easy to manipulate him. Vlad lifted Daniel into his arms before returning to Fenton Works. Daniel's parents would surely be worried when they found their son missing.
"Vlad!" Maddie shouted when he turned up on their doorstep with Daniel in his arms.
"He must have wandered outside the Ghost Shield," Vlad explained with false concern. "I found him lying there. The poor boy. Must have passed out from fright."
A strange look crossed Jack's face, and Vlad wasn't sure how to interpret it. Jack's gaze shifted between his son, worry over the boy's wellbeing clear in his eyes, and Vlad. Something unidentifiable flickered in his eyes, and he exchanged a glance with Maddie, who seemed to understand immediately what was going on in the man's head. Vlad's eye twitched. What exactly was going on between them?
"Don't just stand there, V-man!" Jack said cheerily as he dropped his hands onto Vlad's shoulders. He didn't give the other man time to argue before pushing him into the house. "You know you're always welcome in our home, Vladdy." Jack kept ushering Vlad up the stairs toward Daniel's bedroom. Maddie grinned as she followed after the two men. "You can stay in Danny's room!"
Vlad frowned, shooting a glare over his shoulder that Jack missed as he grinned like an idiot. Why did he make that comment? Vlad couldn't understand Jack, but then the way the other man's mind worked was always a mystery to him.
Vlad sneered at the festive cheer all around him as he walked the halls back to his office. He couldn't remember the last time he actually enjoyed the Christmas holiday, but the past twenty years gave him no reason to be happy like his employees. They had families to go home to and celebrate with, eating a big holiday meal, opening presents, and being merry in general. All good fun. For them.
All Vlad could look forward to after the work day ended was another lonely, miserable night. He had a grand castle. But what was the point when there was no one to share it with? Vlad sighed as he dropped into the chair at his desk. He felt exhausted, and his latest plans weren't progressing all that well. The ecto skeleton in Jack's battle suit was proving to be difficult to make use of. He still hadn't found the best way to eliminate that fatal flaw, and allowing anyone to test it could prove deadly for that person if too much energy was used.
He rubbed at his forehead. He was missing something obvious in the design. He was certain of it. But no matter how much he stared at the plans, he simply couldn't figure out a way to fix it. And his other project wasn't proving to be much better. Each failure increased his frustration. How difficult could it be? But every time he thought he was successful, it turned out to be another failure. He wasn't able to get anything right lately.
Perhaps it's the holidays, Vlad thought as he read over the reports laying on his desk. A pathetic excuse, he realized, but he couldn't think of another reason to explain this unusual drained feeling. Maybe he was getting sick. Vlad scowled at that notion. He was not getting sick. He refused to be sick!
When the day finally ended, he was relieved if only to escape from the merriment taking place around the office. Did any of his employees even get any work done that day? Vlad seriously doubted it. He offered only half smiles and bobs of his head as people wished him happy holidays. By the time he reached his car, he felt the serious desire to blast them all in the face, but he crushed that feeling along with many others.
Home at last, yet it offered him little comfort. The castle was dark and cold when he entered it. After lighting a fire in his study, Vlad collapsed into a chair beside it. He stared at the pile of mail in his lap, almost too tired to bother going through it. It was all bills to be paid, useless magazines trying to get him to buy things that he never signed up for, and a few random cards from old college friends.
Vlad lifted his head as a ghostly presence made itself known. "What do you want, Fright Knight?" He had little patience to deal with anything tonight.
"As I recall, there is a Christmas truce party that the ghosts hold," the Fright Knight answered. "Will my liege be attending it?"
Vlad frowned in thought at that reminder. The truce party slipped his mind with everything else that he was working on. He never actually bothered attending it in prior years, and with Daniel now half ghost, he felt even less like going to it. He wasn't in the mood to deal with Daniel, truce or not, though he doubted Daniel was aware that such a truce even existed among ghosts. He still didn't feel like taking the chance that he might run into Daniel there.
"I will not, but if you so desire, you are free to attend it," Vlad said with a dismissive wave.
The Fright Knight spent years, centuries even, imprisoned within that pumpkin. Vlad wouldn't be surprised if the ghost never got the chance to attend the truce party. He was surprised that he wasn't such a scrooge as to forbid the ghost from attending. The Fight Knight bowed before he disappeared from the study.
Vlad sighed as he returned to his mail. He sifted through the mound, tossing aside bills for later. The unwanted magazines went into the fire. He stared at the cards and one single package. Ben and Digory sent a card, of course. Vlad didn't think he wanted to read the message the pair wrote to him. Tiffany's card came in a pink envelop, and she merely wrote a short message wishing him a happy holidays and hoping he had someone to spend it with. Vlad frowned at that last line. Two or three other cards came from insignificant people from college. He couldn't recall any of them even with their names on the envelops. The last one came from Maddie and Jack.
Vlad stared at that card the longest, not sure if he should open it or toss it immediately in the fire. After the incident with Pariah Dark, Maddie seemed to warm up to him again, but there was something different about it. Vlad couldn't quite decide what it was or what caused the change. Releasing a sigh, he tore open the envelop. Maddie's delicate script wrote a message of holiday cheer and wishing Vlad would join them for Christmas, mentioning that there was plenty of space in Daniel's room for him.
Again with that comment? Vlad lifted his eyebrow in wonder. Then he shook his head and continued onto Jack's messy handwriting. Jack blathered on about various things relating to ghosts, like always. But something in the message made Vlad sit up and take notice. Jack was disappointed that Vlad wouldn't be visiting them because he had a new invention that he working on that he wanted to show him, though it was still only in the planning stages.
"A ecto converter?" A grin came over his face. "Why Jack, that's exactly what I need!" Already his mind was working out how to attach a ecto converter to the battle suit. It wasn't perfect. It was still missing something to make it all work, but he would think more on that after the holidays. He wouldn't be able to enlist Skulker's help until that silly truce was finished.
After relaxing back into his chair, his attention turned to the package. It was from Jack, and that earned it a curious lift of an eyebrow. What would Jack be sending him? Vlad would be delighted if it turned out to be plans for the ecto converter, but he doubted Jack would hand those over to him. After another long moment, Vlad decided to open the package. He tore off the brown paper covering then stared at the item sent to him. He gritted his teeth as his hands tightened around the plastic case. Of all the things the oaf could send! Vlad was half tempted to fling it into the fire and never think on it again. Instead he placed the game on the table beside his chair. Then he leaned back, rubbing his hands over his face as he tried to forget all those long hours they spent playing Pac Man. Why couldn't he forget that man?
When Jazz turned up on his doorstep, Vlad was surprised. What could have happened to make her run away from home? Well, as she said, her father was an idiot. The world suddenly seemed to working in his favor. He still needed one final piece before the battle suit was finally complete. Then, Vlad smirked, it would be ready for testing, and now he had someone to do the testing for him. It wouldn't be long before Daniel came running to save his sister from the "evil Vlad Plasmius." Daniel truly was such a simple minded boy.
He wasn't fool enough to believe that she simply came to him after fighting with her brother. He wasn't blind to the fact that Jazz helped distract their parents so that Daniel could sneak off when the ghost invasion happened. She clearly knew about his ghost powers. For how long, he couldn't say, but that hardly seemed to matter. She didn't instill much trust in him when he stepped out of his secret laboratory to find her sitting in his private study.
And with that wretched yearbook in her lap too! When she folded the page questioning why he and Maddie didn't end up together, he almost ripped the book right out of her hands. Too close! He could almost see the edge of the picture that he so desperately tried to avoid. If Jazz folded the page over just a little more, he would be able to see that man again. He did the only thing he could think of at that time: distracted Jazz with a hug.
She may be perceptive, but Jazz wasn't very good at the sneakiness. She was here for a reason, and Vlad had a fairly good idea what that reason was. He caught her in his secret laboratory. She figured out about his super weapon, but that was just as well, since she would be testing it shortly. His luck continued when Skulker showed up with the final piece and Daniel wrapped up in a nice package for him.
The suit worked beautifully now that the fatal flaw was fixed. The siblings put on quite the show with their fight. It seemed almost too easy, manipulating them like this, using their bitterness toward each other to spark such malice to pit them against one another.
"Where did I go wrong?" Vlad shouted at his empty castle hours after the "battle" was fought. Jazz and Daniel got away, and the battle suit was destroyed. How could they possibly have outsmarted him? He had the upper hand the whole time. He knew all their moves. They danced like pawns for him in a game of chess. Could Jazz have realized everything from the beginning? The note left on the battle suit before it self-destructed read: No. Not surprised. She knew he had ghost powers before he transformed into Plasmius? Did Daniel tell her that? No, the boy wouldn't have told her. He didn't seem to like that Jazz was butting into his ghost hunting.
"This game isn't over yet, Daniel," Vlad growled as he stalked through the halls of his castle. "I still have many more plans." He paused on his way to his secret laboratory and pressed a hand to his head. But maybe he would get a little rest before continuing to work on that secret project.
He knew something was wrong the moment that first bump developed on his face. Vlad took excellent care of his body and managed to never have another breakout of acne ever since the incident with the Proto Portal. The tired achy feeling that he experienced over the last few weeks now seemed like an obvious precursor to another outbreak of ecto acne. He was supposed to be clear of it! How could the ecto acne return? He needed help. There was no denying that. He wouldn't be able to work out a cure by himself, already the effects were making it difficult to even crawl out of bed in the morning. There was only one person he could turn to for help, but Daniel wouldn't give him that help, not willingly. Perhaps infecting his friends with the same ecto acne strand that he suffered from was going a bit far, but he needed to be certain that Daniel was properly motivated to find a cure.
His consciousness faded in and out as Maddie and Jack searched for a cure, but even they were stumped by the ecto impurities in the readings. After saying he had a great idea, Daniel disappeared off somewhere. Vlad only hoped the boy wouldn't do something stupid. Daniel's friends rested in the beds next to him, currently both sleeping. Maddie and Jazz stepped out for the moment, leaving only Jack in the quarantine chamber.
"Don't worry, Vladdy," Jack said with a faltering smile behind the helmet of his bio-hazmat suit. "We're going to find an antidote. Then you'll be up and about in no time."
Now he was trying to be positive? Vlad thought and would have sneered if he had the energy. He remembered not moments ago, Jack said he was a goner. A poor attempt at humor? Vlad closed his eyes for a moment before turning his gaze back to Jack. "Why Danny?"
Jack blinked, his brow creasing in confusion. "He's our son," he replied, the question clear in his voice. He didn't follow Vlad's meaning, but even Vlad was having trouble following his own thoughts.
"No." Vlad sighed, shaking his head. That didn't help with the pounding drumming against his skull. "I mean the name. Why, of all the names in the world, did you have to choose Danny?"
"Oh." Jack's expression fell, and his broad shoulders sagged. He wouldn't look at Vlad. "I know how much it hurt you when he left."
"You couldn't possibly know!" Vlad managed to keep his voice down if only to not wake the two teenagers sleeping in the room. This wasn't a conversation he wished to be overheard by them.
"I know it hurt you though. You loved him."
"And I thought he loved me, but he ran away the moment he got too scared to tell me the truth." Vlad's hand curled tightly around the bed sheets. The memory still stabbed at his heart. How could he simply disappear like that? It never made any sense to him. He still never understood why the paranormal activity detector went haywire the moment Danny touched the sensing rod. It was like-
"But that's the point," Jack said, breaking Vlad's train of thought.
Whatever was forming in his mind suddenly scattered to the far reaches where Vlad couldn't follow. He tried to recall what he was thinking before Jack interrupted, but it was gone. Curse you, Jack Fenton! Vlad took a breath to clear the burst of anger. "What do you mean?"
"I'm not as blind as you may think." Jack narrowed his eyes at Vlad. "I know you've been trying to bury all memory of Danny and pretend like he never existed."
Vlad winced. Since when was Jack ever the perceptive one? Jack was supposed to always overlook the obvious.
"And that's why I wanted to name my son Danny. I didn't want to forget him. He was important to me too. We were all such great friends. Do you think I don't miss hanging out with him too?"
Vlad looked away. He actually never gave any thought to how Jack would feel after Danny disappeared on them. His pain over the loss was too overwhelming to care how it affected Jack. "I just want him back," he whispered, closing his eyes. Tears gathered, threatening to spill as his chest hurt. It was the first time he admitted it aloud, or even to himself. He did want Danny back, but it was hopeless.
"Did you even search for him?" Jack laid a large hand over Vlad's still curled fist. It did little to offer his friend comfort from the long years of loneliness and heartache. "Even with all your money and influence, you couldn't find him?"
"It wasn't like I had much to go on," Vlad snapped and glared at Jack. "We only had a first name, and he never liked talking about his family. I never even knew where he came from."
Jack lifted his brow, seeming surprised by something Vlad said. "He came from here." He ignored the gaping look Vlad gave him as he continued. "The first time I met up with him, I asked him where he was from. He told me Amity Park."
"You never said anything about that!" Vlad tried to sit up, but the action drained him and he fell back onto the bed.
"You never asked," Jack pointed out as he checked the readings beeping off the machine next to Vlad's bed. "You could have asked at any point, but you never did. How was I supposed to know you never asked him where he came from?"
Vlad didn't respond. Something was turning in his head as the memories surfaced. Was it possible that he could have found Danny during all this time? Could Danny have returned to his parents after running away from him? Could he still be living here in Amity Park? No, something else was trying to make its way through the fog of his mind. But it didn't get the chance as his consciousness faded again.
When he woke next, it was to Jack pounding on his chest while yelling something about living. Vlad winced each time the fist dropped onto his chest. He was feeling worse than ever. How much time did they have left? Would Daniel fail him, fail his friends?
Daniel returned right then, and Vlad almost felt a swell of happiness to see the boy again. He must have found out the antidote to the ecto acne! Vlad relaxed into the bed as he rested, waiting for Maddie to whip up the antidote that would cure him and Daniel's friends. Ah, I knew I could rely on him, Vlad thought his mind drifting to other thoughts.
After drinking the ecto purifier, Vlad felt almost better. The fogginess of his mind cleared, at least, though he had trouble recalling what happened during his moments of lucidness while suffering from the ecto acne. Did he have a chat with Maddie? No, that didn't seem right.
"Vladdy, you're alive!" Jack grinned with relief down at his friend.
Vlad's brow knitted as he frowned. Some memory danced just out of his reach in his mind. After Maddie and Jack left, Vlad turned his attention to Daniel. Still so easy to move about the chess board. With the proper motivation. "Bygones?" he asked Daniel, hoping the boy would agree to a momentary truce while he recovered. He was still weak from the effects of the ecto acne, but hopefully it wouldn't be long before he had his strength back.
Daniel, however, refused.
That - That brat! Vlad grumbled as he paced around his study. He couldn't believe the boy would kick out a weakened man like that. But at least, he was cured of the ecto acne. Daniel probably wouldn't get over the fact that Vlad endangered his friends' lives any time soon.
The doorbell rang, and Vlad stopped in the middle of his pacing. Who could that be? Ignoring the pile of mail on his table, he left his study, heading for the front door. When he opened it, he blinked at the man standing on the other side.
"Ben? What do you want?" Vlad hoped the man wouldn't try to press the matter about trying to find Danny again.
"I was going through some things when I found an old roll of film," Ben answered with a shrug. He sighed when Vlad continued staring at him, wondering why he should care. "It's from when we were in college. I got it developed and thought you might want to see them."
"Why would I?" Vlad started to close the door, not waiting for an answer.
Ben stepped up and put out a hand to stop the door from closing all the way. "Just - I want you to have them." He shoved the envelope containing the developed film into Vlad's hand. "Look at them. Don't look at them. It's your choice." After that, he allowed Vlad to close the door.
With his gaze on the envelope, Vlad sighed. Did he even want to know what the pictures contained? If Ben insisted that he have them, then he probably knew who else would be in the pictures. Did he want to see them? He tried for all these years to keep that man out of his memories.
Vlad returned to his study and collapsed into his chair by the fireplace. When he did, the pile of mail spilled over onto the floor. With his eyes closed, he breathed out in exasperation. He didn't want to deal with the mail when he still had work to do on his secret project. Bending over, he picked up the fallen mail and placed it back on the table. The letter on top caught his attention when he noticed Maddie's handwriting on the envelope.
Vlad took the letter and tore into it. "Sorry you missed out on the eighties night here," he read over the note. "Wish you could have been there. Here are some pictures." He pulled out the pictures, snorting at how ridiculous Jack looked and swooning over Maddie's beauty. Then he froze when he came across the picture of Daniel dressed up in eighties styled clothing while he danced alongside his parents.
Vlad's mouth hung open as his brain tried to formulate some sort of thought. He grabbed the envelope from Ben and sifted through the pictures inside it until he found one that he wanted. He held up that picture next to the one from Maddie.
"He came from here." Vlad could hear Jack's voice. "He told me Amity Park."
"My parents," another voice rang in his ears, "they're kind of the crazies of our little town. They have this whole obsession with ghosts."
Vlad couldn't breathe. It was like being tackled by Jack and having all the air shoved from his lungs. How could this even be? He was wrong. This was wrong. It couldn't be possible!
Vlad watched, his heart sinking as another clone dissolved into ectoplasm. Nothing was working. His hands clenched at his sides as he ran through the analysis of all his files on Daniel. He still had some clones left. Many of them were deformed, mutated versions of Daniel, locked permanently in ghost form. Failures to create a perfect duplicate of the young boy. He ran over the data again and again every time another clone faded out of existence.
His gaze flicked to the young girl sitting on the other side of the room with bright blue eyes staring expectantly at him as she waited for any instruction he might give her. Unlike the other clones, her growth stunted two years shy of Daniel's current age. The other clones all grew to the proper age, though Vlad couldn't figure out how to make them grow past the age of their source material. This girl was the most stable of the clones, and Vlad contributed that to removing the Y chromosome upon her creation. He did so on a whim and was pleasantly surprised to discover she achieved not only a semi stable existence but was a hybrid like Daniel. From there, he was able to use her as an example to create his greatest clone yet.
But he was still missing one crucial piece to ensure the clone's survival. If Vlad allowed the clone to leave its containment unit, the clone would dissolve into nothing like many others before it. He sent the failed clones to retrieve Daniel without whom he couldn't complete his clone.
"What about me?" the girl asked. Vlad named her Danielle, but she preferred Dani. Since she woke, he treated her like a daughter, giving her only enough affection to keep her at his side. She was different from the other clones that left to follow Vlad's command in another way as well. When he created her, Vlad gave her more of the real Daniel's personality than he had with any of the other clones. Compared to the others, she seemed the most alive to him.
"I've told you it's risky for you to go out and use your powers," Vlad said smoothly as he crossed the room. He placed his hand on her head, ruffling her dark hair. "Without the mid morph sample from young Daniel, I can't stabilize you." It was a little lie he told her, though he grew fond of her over the time they spent together. She almost was like a daughter to him, and during their training, she seemed eager to please her "father." After stabilizing his perfect clone, he could always do the same for her. His priority, however, was the clone still sleeping within its containment unit.
"But who is more likely to capture him?" Danielle questioned innocently. "A bunch of creepy looking ghost attacking him, or his sweet innocent looking cousin?" She blinked up at him, putting on a small smile.
Vlad chuckled lightly as he patted her on the head. She took well to his lessons to come up with a plan to deceive Daniel. And perhaps it would work. Who better to trick Daniel than the girl? Daniel's personality suggested that he would immediately leap at the idea of protecting the girl, who shared his secret of being half ghost. "All right," he said at last. "We can try your plan as well."
A smirk, not unlike his own, spread onto Danielle's face. After the girl left to complete her mission, Vlad let the smile fall. He walked over the containment unit, placing a hand upon the glass that separate him from the clone.
"You're my last hope," he mumbled softly, sadness in his eyes as he gazed upon the sleeping clone that mirrored Daniel's ghost form exactly. He gave Daniel many reasons to hate him forever after all the schemes and attempts on his father's life. Daniel would never love him. But the clone would have no memories of those events, he made sure of that. This false Danny could love him. Vlad sighed as he rested his forehead against the glass. "How could I have been so blind not to see it was you all along?"
But now wasn't the time to dwell on past mistakes. He couldn't change all the bad blood between him and Daniel. All he could do now was focus on acquiring the mid morph sample to complete the clone.
When he arrived in Amity Park, two of the clones were already defeated by Daniel. Vlad cursed that fact, the continued string of failures, but not all was lost. He still had two clones left, and Daniel fell right for Danielle's trap. The boy foolishly thought his "cousin" would help him against Vlad, but Danielle stabbed - or should he say blasted? - Daniel in the back exactly like the daughter Vlad raised her to be. With Daniel in his hands, all that was left was forcing the boy to change form and take a sample during mid morph. His plans were almost complete!
It was no lie when he told Daniel that he would watch a hundred more bad clones dissolve into ectoplasm in order to succeed. The lie was that he wasn't trying to create the perfect son, but he couldn't tell Daniel the truth behind his desire to make a perfect copy of him. Daniel didn't understand, couldn't realize that everything he did was because of love. Vlad would never deny that he did terrible things to accomplish his goals. He knew Daniel would only ever see him as a villain. But once the good clone was successfully completed, Vlad would be out of Daniel's life for good. He would no longer have any need for the boy.
Unfortunately, Daniel proved to be stronger than he anticipated, resisting the forced change into ghost form. Vlad refused to fail again! He would get his hands on that boy and make him transform so that he could get the sample he needed. He spun around to give chase to the weakened boy when Danielle appeared before him.
"Am I an imperfection? A mistake?" Danielle questioned with tears gathering in her eyes.
It almost broke his heart to see that expression on her face. Perhaps treating her like a daughter was the real mistake. But Vlad needed her willing cooperation. Unlike the other clones, she possessed her own mind. Without the proper guidance, she would have defied him like Daniel. When the other bad clone dissolved, Vlad used that to remind her that without Daniel's mid morph sample, she would never be stabilized. Eventually, she would follow all the other bad clones, becoming nothing but wasted ectoplasm if she didn't help.
Providing her with more of Daniel's personality was perhaps the other mistake he made with Danielle. The moment she started showing a little resistance to his command, Vlad snapped, making yet another mistake. Daniel obviously got to the girl, convincing her to help him.
I'll show them, Vlad thought furiously after their blasts slammed him into the containment unit across the room. He climbed to his hands and knees, and the containment unit that fell on him rolled off. When his eyes fell upon it, his heart stopped. The fall broke the lid of the containment. Vlad watched helplessly as the good clone dissolved, his final chance for happiness disappearing right before his eyes. He could do nothing to stop it, couldn't save the clone from its fate. He couldn't erase the terrified look in the clone's eyes as it vanished. It looked so much like the look Danny gave him right before he ran away and disappeared from the college.
"No. No! NO!" Vlad shouted, not wanting to believe that he lost everything for a second time. He turned his gaze to Danielle for betraying him. All the misery and bitterness and loneliness, all the anger and the hatred building up over all the years went into that one burning glare. If she hadn't betrayed him! If she had simply done as he commanded! Whatever feelings he had for Danielle seemed to dissolve into nothing like the good clone. The pain of loss overwhelmed him again, like it did twenty years ago.
Vlad never imagined Daniel to have such power! Where did that Ghostly Wail come from? It didn't show up in any of the data collected from the surveillance on Valerie's suit. When the force of the Wail slammed him into the wall, Vlad couldn't maintain his ghost form any longer. When did he learn that? Vlad never developed a power like that. But the ability drained the boy, weakened him too much to stay ghost. Vlad climbed to his feet and marched over to them, changing back into Plasmius as he walked. Daniel thought he would be finished with that? Vlad would show him the proper use of power!
Perhaps he would have succeeded too, if not for Daniel's meddlesome friends arriving at that most inopportune moment. Vlad never thought to factor them into the equation. He never considered the idea that they would follow Daniel, or even have a way to track him, all the way to his chalet.
Vlad dropped his head into his hands as he sat in the dark of his study. The anger washed away into misery. His love was lost forever, and he would spend the rest of his life alone. No more schemes would be made. Chasing Maddie was a pointless endeavor that he would give up. For the rest of his days, Vlad would be nothing but a shadow of his former self.
Vlad refused to visit the Fenton's despite the repeated requests from Maddie and Jack. Seeing Daniel again would only tear at his heart, and he didn't think he could handle that pain. Even thinking about him made Vlad's chest ache. He needed to put Daniel out of his mind, but even three years later, he couldn't completely erase all the memories.
With a sigh, Vlad rubbed at his forehead as his gaze drifted toward the calendar on his desk. September was almost here, and some part of his mind pointed out that Daniel would be entering his senior year of high school. Vlad cursed himself for that thought. Why should he care about that?
Vlad lifted his head suddenly. Daniel would be eighteen by now, the same age as when they first met in college. Why didn't he think of that point before? No, Vlad thought as he left the office, ignoring his secretary asking where he was going. I won't allow him to go into the past and ruin my life.
The moment he returned to his castle, Vlad headed straight for the Portal. There was one ghost that could help him stop that terrible turn of fate. Clockwork's Tower floated before him, and Vlad flew down to land before the tall doors of the Tower. He didn't bother with knocking, instead blasting the doors open and storming into the Tower.
"Clockwork!" he called out when he reached the room where the Time Ghost viewed the passing of time through his many portals.
Clockwork kept his back to the half ghost. "Do you think you'll gain my favor by barging in like that?"
"Send me back to my college days," Vlad demanded. He stomped over to Clockwork and saw that Time Ghost was already viewing the moment when Vlad met Danny in his calculus class. Already, he was leaning over and explain how to do the problems while Danny scribbled down the equations, trying to work out the answers. "I want that moment to never happen."
"I'm afraid I can't allow that." Clockwork waved an arm, and the viewing portal changed to another scene, one completely unrelated the Vlad or Daniel.
"Can't allow?" Vlad resisted the urge to fire upon the ghost. He knew of Clockwork's power and knew it would be virtually impossible to win against him in a fight. How could anyone beat someone that could control time? "Why can't you allow it?" If he never met Danny in college, Vlad could be happy now in the present.
"I don't mess with time unless there is a reason." Clockwork turned to him, switching his form from young man to child. He frowned at Vlad. "Time is progressing as it should. I will not mess with the proper course of time because you feel lonely."
Vlad fumed at that response. Perhaps it was selfish of him to mess with time. But why should he be left bitterly alone until death finally took him completely? He wanted to rid himself of this terrible hole inside him.
Clockwork suddenly appeared old and a look passed in his eyes that Vlad missed. "You can scowl at me all you like, rant if you so desire. But I can't comply to your wishes. I won't interfere with what time has planned."
"Perhaps you might not help me," Vlad growled, shoving a finger into the ghost's face, "but I'll find a way to change time. I'll make things go the way I want them." His eye twitched when Clockwork merely sighed and shook his head. He turned away, his cape flapping behind him as he marched out of the Tower.
A plan was already percolating in his mind. He would need help to pull it off, but he had contacts among the ghosts, those that he employed who could aid him. Skulker came immediately to mind. The hunter would be able to procure the various bits and pieces that he would need.
Months of research and work, designing and redesigning, but things were finally coming together. The prototype still had some work left before Vlad could consider it ready for testing. He could almost sigh with relief, knowing he would soon be free of all his misery and memories of Danny that continued to haunt him.
"Hello," Vlad answered when the phone rang.
"Ah, Vlad!" Maddie said, and he could practically hear the smile in her voice. "I'm so glad I caught you."
Vlad sighed as he slumped into his chair. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?" He felt too tired to deal with this right now.
"Well, I was just thinking, it's been ages since we last saw you."
"Yes, yes." Vlad nodded. "Well, I am a busy man."
"Too busy lately," Maddie complained with a huff. "Anyway, we were thinking you could by for a visit. Maybe we'll have a nice family barbeque. Oh, but Jazz is at college. Hm."
Vlad pinched the bridge of his nose. Maddie might think it a nice idea, but to Vlad, it sounded miserable. "I'm afraid I can't. I have a project going on that needs my supervision. Can't trust some of the employees to get it right, and it's rather time sensitive, so I simply can't get away at the moment."
“All right.” Maddie sounded disappointment with that answer. “Well, maybe another time.”
"Another time, indeed," Vlad agreed, and after a quick goodbye, he hung up the phone.
He spent the rest of the day tweaking the prototype here and there. If he spent the next few days working on it, he was certain it would be ready for testing. He rubbed at his tired eyes when the night grew late. With a sigh, he gave up for the night and left his secret laboratory. After a good night's rest, he would start again.
Before he could leave his private study, he heard a noise from within the laboratory. "What is going on?" he muttered as he turned right around and stomped down to his laboratory. He was in no mood to deal with some random ghost invading his home at this late hour. When he reached the laboratory, he froze, his eyes growing wide with fear as Daniel picked up the prototype for his time machine.
"Don't touch that!"
But his warning came too late. After a flash of light, the device smoked, destroyed from the single use, and Daniel was nowhere to be seen. Months of work wasted in a single instant! It would take many more months to make another, and by then it would be too late. He dismissed Skulker after many angry words, and when the hunter was gone, Vlad leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor. He pressed his head into his hands as he stared at the broken time machine.
"Damn it, Clockwork!" Vlad closed his eyes.
Everything made sense now. Clockwork refused to help him, knowing that Vlad would immediately look for his own way into the past. Vlad needed to create the prototype time machine to allow Daniel to stumble upon it; thus, sending him back in time to when his parents and Vlad were in college. Clockwork knew this would happen all along.
"Idiot!" Vlad growled, wanting to kick something for not seeing it until now.
How could he not have put those pieces together? When the device went off the moment he touched the sensing rod, Danny panicked and ran away. Vlad could understand that reaction now. How could Danny tell him that he was half ghost? Despite everything that happened between them, there was still the timeline to maintain. Danny didn't belong in the eighties, and his continued presence could have serious repercussions, maybe even threaten to unravel the whole of time as they knew it. As much as it hurt him, Vlad couldn't blame Danny for running anymore. His disappearance now made perfect sense: Clockwork pulled Danny back to the present once his existence in the past became a threat.
"But why did I have to suffer through all this pain and misery?" Vlad drew up his knees, burying his face in his arms. He could do nothing more at this point but wait for Clockwork to return Danny to this point in time. But what would happen when Danny returned?
Danny stumbled out of the other side of the time portal. He felt disoriented and nearly tripped over the time machine that lay broken on the ground directly in front of where the portal appeared. The pieces clicked quickly into place. He was back in Vlad’s laboratory. He lifted his head and found Vlad leaning against one of the tables in the room. His stomach lurched as his chest tightened. What was he to say to this man? For Danny, what happened took place mere moments ago, but for Vlad, twenty-four years passed.
“And now everything has come full circle,” Vlad said, meeting Danny’s gaze but not moving from where he stood.
The words echoed in Danny’s mind as he swallowed hard. What did Vlad expect him to say or do now? Danny’s trip into the past didn't change anything. He couldn’t snap at Vlad about being obsessed with his mother for twenty years. He knew that would happen even before he was sent back in time. He was to blame for that obsession. It was his meddling in Vlad's life that resulted in that outcome.
“Where do we go from here?” Vlad asked after a long pause of silence.
"Where?" Danny repeated softly with his eyes locked on Vlad. It felt too soon to deal with everything. His mind was still trying to catch up to present day. His gaze lowered, and his heart sank. "I broke my promise to you. I disappeared. I lied to you." He couldn't think of what else to say. He couldn't even imagine what Vlad went through after he disappeared that day. But did that pain give Vlad the free pass to do everything that he did? All the attempts on his father's life? Every scheme to steal his mother? Hurting his friends? Making clones of him? But his feelings for the Vlad from college were still fresh, and it stabbed at his heart to know that he was the reason Vlad did all that, all because Vlad loved him and he disappeared.
Vlad's hand landed on Danny's shoulder, making the younger half ghost lift his head. "We both made mistakes." His voice held a world of regret for his actions, and Danny could see it in the expression on Vlad's face. "I couldn't deal with what happened when you left. I tried to bury those feelings and pretend like you never existed at that time. Latching onto those feelings for Maddie was another way of masking the pain." He sighed, turning his gaze away from Danny. "Now I understand why you disappeared like that, why you kept secrets. If I had realized things sooner, if I had recognized you the moment we met at the reunion, maybe things would have been different."
Danny frowned, slowly turning over all the facts in his head. Then he sighed. "But if you hadn't done everything that you did, I might not have come here that - er, I guess it's still the same day for you. But I wouldn't have come here and accidentally wound up in the past." He glanced at the broken machine at his feet. "Why did you make that time machine?"
Vlad picked up the machine, turning it over in his hands. "The plan was to go back in time and stop myself from meeting you." He didn't look up to see the expression on Danny's face at that answer. "Since Clockwork refused to help me, I needed another means to achieve that goal. It wasn't until after this machine took you back in time that I realized the true reason Clockwork wouldn't help me."
"Because I needed to stumble on that machine and go back to your college days." Now everything was making sense to Danny. His trip into the past no accident. He realized now that Clockwork could have stepped in and returned him to the present day at any time. Instead, the Master of Time waited until Danny made a decision that could have thrown the timeline into chaos. Danny met Vlad's gaze. "So where does this leave us?"
Danny was still in love with Vlad, despite everything that happened between them. For him, they made love only last night. But what about Vlad? That was twenty-four years ago for him. Did Vlad still love him like he did in college? Did all the anger and bitterness since Danny disappeared change anything?
"There's a lot of bad blood between us," Vlad admitted, noting when Danny winced. "We've said and done things that hurt each other. I don't think we can simply overlook everything that happened and go back to how things were in the eighties."
Danny's shoulders sagged, and he wondered if it was possible to live with a gaping hole in his heart. "Then are you saying that you want to end it?" It was true in the three years that passed since the whole clone incident Vlad kept his distance. Did he want to continue with the way things were during those three years? After what he experienced in the past, Danny didn't want Vlad completely cut out of his life.
"That wasn't what I meant." Vlad walked over to one of the tables and placed the time machine upon it. His back remained to Danny. "I would like to try again, if you want to as well."
Danny stumbled over to where Vlad stood. His heart almost felt like it was soaring. Vlad would give him another chance? "Yes," he said as he took Vlad's hand and laced their fingers together.
Vlad stared at their hands. "It won't be as simple as just saying you want to. I don't want you leaping into this thinking everything will be the same as back then. I'm not that same man."
Was Vlad seriously trying to dissuade him now? Danny grabbed the back of Vlad's neck and leaned in until their lips touched. Vlad removed his hand from Danny's hand and placed them on the young half ghost's hips, pulling him closer as they kissed. Danny could almost imagine that he was still in the past with a younger Vlad holding him. When they parted, Danny stared straight into Vlad's eyes.
"I still love you," Danny said firmly. "And I don't care if we have to go through a lot of hiccups from here. I want to be with you."
Vlad pressed his forehead against Danny's forehead. His eyes closed, and for a moment, they stood there silently. "I don't think you realize how happy I am right now," he whispered, his breath washing over Danny's face. Then he sighed as he pulled away from Danny. "But we'll take it slow."
Danny wanted to argue, his cheeks flushing as he recalled what was last night for him. "Fine," he agreed reluctantly, his happiness deflating a little. "So what's our next step? Go on a date?"
Vlad leaned on the table as he folded his arms. "That is the next logical step. But I think you're forgetting something."
Danny's brow knitted as he tried to understand what Vlad mean. What could he be forgetting? Then it hit him, and he groaned. "School!" He smacked a hand to his head. During his time in the past, the only school work he worried about was the calculus course that Vlad worked for as a TA. "What time is it?"
Vlad checked his watch. "Almost three in the morning."
Danny groaned again. "I should be getting up in three hours, and I think I didn't get all my homework finished." He grabbed at his hair, trying to remember, but months passed for him since he left home.
"Your education comes first. I know this is your senior year, but I won't accept poor grades from you." Vlad almost sounded exactly like back in college to Danny. "I expect you to pass all your classes, and I know you can do it if you put in the effort."
"That would be a lot easier without having to worry about ghosts attacking," Danny said with a pointed look at Vlad. The older half ghost left him alone the last three years, but his freshmen year hardly gave him the time to study with all the ghosts that attacked along with all of Vlad's schemes.
"I can ensure that you won't have to deal with ghosts while focusing on your studies." Vlad paused in thought. "Mostly. I wouldn't want your skills to get too dull over the rest of the school year." He wore that devilish smirk that Danny grew accustomed to four years ago.
"How about I agree to let you train me and you keep all the ghosts out of my hair until I graduate?"
"I can agree to that." Vlad nodded with a smile, and Danny got the feeling that he walked right into what Vlad wanted.
Well, as long as I don't have to deal with ghost attacks so that I can study, I guess that's okay. But Danny didn't want to let Vlad think he could get away with manipulating him. "But you have to make the effort to reconnect with my dad." He folded his arms, thinking this to be a victory. "No more dodging my family." He pointed at the busted machine. "And I believe your latest excuse is no longer valid. You're coming to visit like my mom wanted."
Vlad released a suffering sigh, like the thought of visiting with Jack and Maddie would be torture. "I suppose I can make an appearance. We can continue discussing things at that time then." He walked over to the Portal and opened it. "For now, I think you should head home. You'll want your sleep if you wish to stay awake in class."
Danny walked over to the Portal and paused next to Vlad. After hesitating for a moment, he gave the man a kiss on the cheek then dove quickly into the Ghost Zone, transforming into his ghost form as he entered.
Danny relaxed in his room, lounging on his bed as he flipped through a book. The graduation ceremony was tomorrow, and he was free until then to spend his time doing nothing at all. He still couldn't believe how quickly the rest of the year flew by, or how much easier his classes felt when he no longer spent all his time worrying about the next ghost attack. He got passing grades in all his classes, including a few As to go with his B minuses. That fact made his chest swell with pride.
When the doorbell rang, Danny jumped off his bed. He tossed his book on his desk as he passed it then raced out the door. His mother beat him to the front door and greeted their guest with a peck on the cheek as the man entered the house. A smile broke onto his face when Danny met gazes with the man. He jogged down the stairs and threw his arms around the man's neck.
"Congratulations on your graduation," Vlad said as he returned the hug. His voice held a tone of smugness that Danny read as a "I knew you could do it."
"I never would have done it without you." Danny knew he owed Vlad for more than simply having faith in his academic abilities.
"Okay, okay. That's enough of that," Jack said, driving a wedge between the two men. "The rule still holds. No getting handsy in our house." He sent a glare at Vlad, who held up his hands and pretended innocence.
Danny flushed, remembering the reason for that rule. The one time he was intimate with Vlad, his father was sleeping in the same room, and Jack woke up in the middle of it. "Dad," Danny whined with his cheeks burning red. "We aren't doing anything like that yet." Vlad still insisted they take things slow with their relationship, and most of their relationship since Danny returned from the past involved long talks, a few dates, and training as promised. It wasn't all cheerful either. There were times when something would spark a heated fight between them. But they were both willing to work through those hiccups, even if they needed some time apart to cool their heads.
Jack huffed. "I just don't want a repeat," he grumbled, gaining an exasperated sigh from his son. Then he cheered up and slapped Vlad on the back. "Want to tell me how you two did it?" The question made Danny groan as he buried his face in his hands. Thankfully, Vlad was used to Jack's embarrassing comments. Jack's brow drew together as he stared at his son, not understanding that reaction. "I meant the whole time travel thing! I've been dying to know how that happened ever since we got pulled into the Ghost Zone during that invasion."
"It's really not that interesting a story," Vlad said with his standard response whenever Jack brought up the time travel. He and Danny discussed this months ago and decided it was best to keep Jack and Maddie out of the loop on the time machine and about them being half ghosts. "And I had such a long flight here. I was hoping to spend the evening relaxing."
"Not before dinner," Maddie said already walking toward the kitchen. "I planned a big supper when you said you would be arriving today." Jack followed after his wife, giving the two men a moment to be alone.
Danny waited until his father disappeared through the kitchen door. Then he gave Vlad a quick kiss on the lips, afraid if it was any longer, his father would come storming into the room to break them up. "I'm glad you could come."
"I wouldn't miss your graduation for the world." Vlad smiled warmly.
Jack's face appeared in the doorway. "You two better not be getting handsy."
"We're not!" Danny rolled his eyes as a light pink colored his cheeks.
"We better go join them," Vlad suggested, ushering Danny toward the kitchen door. "So, the University of Wisconsin?" A grin tugged at his lips as he lifted an eyebrow at the young half ghost.
Danny beamed at him. "I liked it there."
Chapter 34: Afterward
After the events of Time Tampering, Danny is attending the University of Wisconsin.
Life since college went well for him. Ups and downs, as for anyone, were bound to happen. He fought with his lover from time to time, usually over the most ridiculous things, but they always found some way to make up in the end, even if it took a week or so apart to cool off their heads. One of their usual topics for arguments was over the situation with Vlad. Ben still hated the fact that Vlad never even tried to search for Danny after he disappeared from the college. Ben doubted Vlad ever told anyone what really happened when Danny left. With only the man's first name to go off, Ben never got very far in his search for Danny. It was really like the man disappeared off the face of the planet that day.
Digory kept telling him to let Vlad work it out on his own, but from what Ben saw, Vlad wasn't doing a very good job with handling his pain. His jaw clenched in frustration as he remembered the way Vlad chased after Maddie like a sick obsession. But that was years ago, and Vlad no longer pursued that silly dream of making Maddie his wife. Ben didn't know when Vlad finally gave it up or why, but he was glad his old college friend was finally moving on. If only they could track down Danny and reunite the pair, but Ben realized with a sigh that wasn't possible without more information on Danny.
Raking a hand through his short hair, Ben crossed the college campus on his way to his class. Maybe it was some pathetic hope that drove him to take up a teaching position in the psych department at the University of Wisconsin. After twenty-five years, it was hopeless to think that Danny would magically return to the college. By now, Danny would also be in his forties and would have little reason to lurk around at a college that he wasn't even attending for the few months that he lived in Vlad and Jack's dorm room.
Ben rolled his eyes, thinking he really needed to put the whole thing out of his mind. No matter how much he pushed the topic, Vlad would only continue to ignore him like he did ever since Danny disappeared. Ben entered the building housing his psych class and walked to the familiar room for the first in the new year. He expected to find plenty of shiny new freshmen faces in his class, several of which would probably think the class would be an easy A for them. He snorted at that logic, already planning to push those students the hardest so that they would think twice about trying to float through college.
Setting his briefcase down on the desk, Ben popped the top open to take out the papers he would need, the syllabus for the class that would be passed out to all the students. When he lifted his gaze to take a quick sweep of the students, he froze, the papers nearly slipping through his fingers to spill upon the floor. His eyes landed on a young man seated in the front row. The man looked exactly like Ben remembered him: the pale skin and raven hair and bright blue eyes. His style of clothing changed, but they were no longer in the eighties.
"I'll be passing out your syllabus now," Ben announced after clearing the lump lodged in his throat at seeing the familiar man again. He walked stiffly to the first row of desks and handed a stack of the papers to the first student. "Take one and pass it back."
He stepped to the next desk and the next in a repeated routine until he reached the desk where the man sat. When Ben stopped in front it, the man finally lifted his head from busily writing in a notebook. Their eyes met, and the man paled, gulping as he stared up at his teacher.
"Danny?" Ben questioned quietly, hesitantly, in case he was completely wrong. Part of him couldn't believe this was the same Danny he knew in college. How was it even possible for Danny to still look nineteen after twenty-five years passed? His mind spun simply trying to think of how that could make sense.
"Ben," Danny said numbly, absently passing back to the stack of papers to the student sitting behind him. "You," he laughed weakly, "teach here?"
"Yes." Ben frowned, but he still couldn't piece together how this was the same Danny. "And I should get on with the class. But I'll want to see you after class is over." He gave Danny a stern look that made the man shrink a little in his desk. Then he moved onto the next row to continue passing out the syllabus.
Ben didn't have much planned for the first day of class, usually using the time to introduce the students to the type of work they would be doing over the semester. Many of the students after seeing the syllabus and hearing Ben's speech groaned at the work load they would be required to do, gaining a tiny smirk from Ben. Danny made quick notes about everything Ben said, from what the teacher could tell with the way Danny's pencil never stopped moving and his blue eyes focused solely on the teacher. Ben thought he saw a flutter of nervousness and fear whenever their eyes met during class. Obviously, Danny wasn't expecting to run into anyone from twenty-five years ago when he finally decided to return to this college, making Ben wonder why he decided to return at all. Was Danny some sort of immortal being? Ben nearly laughed out loud at that ridiculous thought. But it reminded him of Vlad's work with Maddie and Jack that the trio did together as they researched ghosts. The humor at the idea of Danny being immortal died in his mind. If he were a ghost, that would explain how Danny managed to simply vanish so completely from the college. But why would a ghost attend college? Ben shook his head, throwing away those thoughts.
When class ended, the students gathered up their things as they headed for the door to file out of the classroom. Cramming his things into his bag, Danny hurried to follow after his classmates, perhaps thinking he could escape without being caught by his teacher. But Ben placed himself between Danny and the door as he folded his arms and stared down his nose like a stern teacher catching a student misbehaving.
"I, uh, have another class to get to," Danny offered weakly, blue eyes flicking toward the door.
"We need to talk before that." Ben closed the door to the classroom, shutting out the noise from the hallway and giving them privacy. "What is this, Danny? Why are you here now? How do you look exactly the same? Have you even thought about seeking out Vlad again? Why did you stay away so long? Why did you leave with no explanation?" He narrowed his eyes at Danny. "You're not leaving here until I hear a satisfactory explanation."
Danny sighed as he took a seat at one of the desks. "I totally didn't expect to run into you here," he mumbled, raking a hand through his hair.
"Well, you did. Now start talking." Ben refused to take his eyes off the man, like he feared the moment he did, Danny would disappear again and this time might not return.
"This will probably sound crazy." Danny lifted his gaze and frowned at Ben. "But the Danny you met in college, that was me from less than a year ago." He sighed again when he caught the disbelieving look on Ben's face. "An accident occurred, and I landed myself back in time when you all were attending college here. I didn't run away because I wanted to. Trust me. I never wanted to hurt Vlad. I love him. But I got ripped back to the present before I could explain anything. Which is probably good because I probably would have done or said something to completely ruin time and everything would be in chaos right now. All I can really say is, everything that happened back then and up to now, was exactly how it was meant to be."
"You're seriously trying to use time travel to explain everything?" Ben stared incredulously at the man before him. He supposed it wasn't completely out of the realm of possibilities when he was staring at Danny sitting right there in front of him looking barely older than the man he remembered from college. Unless Danny discovered the fountain of youth and kept its location safely hidden from others, Ben couldn't think of another possibility except for his ghost theory. In either of those scenarios, though, he couldn't think of a reason why Danny would attend college.
"Do you want me to get Vlad down here to confirm my story?" Danny asked, frowning but looking like he would do just that if he needed to. "It was his fault I ended up in the past in the first place. He built the time machine."
"So you have contacted Vlad?" Ben was suddenly far more interested in that point than the whole time travel explanation.
"Yeah," Danny shrugged and glanced away with an awkward look. "We've been trying to work things out. We've both said and done a lot of things over the years to hurt each other, but we both want to try to make this work. We still love each other. It just isn't always easy."
Ben laughed and took a seat beside Danny. "Love never is." He smiled fondly at the man. "But I'm glad you two are working on it." But something in Danny's comment tugged at his mind, and Ben frowned. "What do you mean over the years?" His brow knitted as he tried to piece everything out. "You weren't much younger than now when you went back in time, and you weren't at college with us for more than a few months. How could you have done anything to each other during the in between years if you were brought right back to the present?"
Danny sighed and leaned back with a look that said he really didn't want to rehash all of what happened. "Well, my first meeting with Vlad didn't go so well when I found out he was trying to kill my dad and steal my mom. And after that, we pretty much just bumped heads and I couldn't think of him as anything but evil."
"Wait!" Ben held up a hand to stop Danny as those words sank into his head. "Are you saying you're Jack and Maddie's son?" His eyes grew wide as saucers when Danny nodded sheepishly. "But - How - Do they know about you and Vlad?"
"Yeah, apparently they realized what happened after this whole thing that happened about five years ago, but they kept silent because Vlad and I were still clueless. I was too young, being only fourteen, and if I knew then that I was going to fall in love with Vlad, well," Danny laughed, "I probably wouldn't have believed it. I totally thought I was completely straight at that point, and the idea of loving Vlad would have grossed me out. But it probably would have messed up the timeline if they told either of us anything."
"I'm totally at a loss for words," Ben admitted, pressing his face into his hands as he digested everything that Danny said. Time travel still sounded unbelievable. Danny being Jack and Maddie's son blew his mind. After several moments, he shook his head. "I think I'm just going to pretend like the how all this happened doesn't matter because thinking about it is hurting my head." He leaned on one hand as he turned to look Danny over. "I'm just glad Vlad won't be alone anymore."
Danny smiled, a dopey look entering his blue eyes as he no doubt thought about Vlad. "Yeah, me too."
"Digory and I are dragging the two of you out to dinner one of these nights." Ben smirked evilly at the panic on Danny's face. "You didn't really think you could escape without having dinner with us, did you? And you know I have to tell Digory all about this."
"I was hoping it wouldn't come to that," Danny groaned, leaning his forehead on the heels of his palms. "Isn't there some rule against teachers having dinner with their students or something?"
"That's for dating their students. Which we aren't, but nice try." Ben laughed and patted Danny on the back. "However, don't expect me to go easy on you in class just because we're friends."
"I wasn't expecting that at all, and I'm pretty sure Vlad would want to have words with you if you went easy on me." Danny laughed, shaking his head. "He's still pushing me to do the best I can in school. Sometimes I wish I could find that annoying, but I know he's just trying to make me see I'm not as dumb as I used to think I was."
"He always knew you were bright as long as you applied yourself to your studies." Ben frowned as he glanced at the clock on the wall. "I suppose I've taken up enough of your time. You have classes to attend, and I should prepare for my next class. We'll arrange a dinner at a later time."
Danny sighed as he climbed to his feet. "I guess there's no way out of that." Then he shrugged and offered Ben a smile. "But it'll be great to see Dig again. I'm glad the two of you are still together. Aren't you glad I convinced you to give him a chance?"
"I could ask you the same." Ben returned the smile. "You and Vlad were really made for each other."
A blush colored his cheeks as Danny stammered out a goodbye before leaving the classroom. Ben grinned to himself as he walked over to his desk to gather up his things. He never imagined this turn of events, but he could feel the relief lifting a weight from his shoulders. He no longer had to worry about Vlad living alone in bitter misery.
Chapter 35: Afterward 2
Vlad returns to Amity Park with Danny during the summer break. Danny secretly enjoys dressing all dapper with Vlad and dancing but would never say anything about it. Tucker and Sam stop by and catch them.
"I feel ridiculous like this," Danny muttered as he stood before Vlad. "I look stupid!" Tugging at the vest he was forced to wear, he made a face that only received a sour look from the silver haired man. Dressing up in fancy clothes simply wasn't his style, and usually Vlad didn't make a big fuss about Danny dressing in his usual casual clothes.
"I do believe I spent the better part of two days having a video game tournament with you," Vlad reminded flatly as he slapped at Danny's hands to stop fussing with his clothing.
"Yeah, but you like playing Pac Man," Danny pointed out, folding his arms. "And you were the one that spent the five days before that working on a super screen to play it on, and making alterations to both the game and the controls to make it more difficult to play."
"You're just being a sore loser because I kept winning." Vlad smirked at the glower the comment received.
"I almost had you a bunch of times." Danny pointed a finger in the older half ghost's face. "And besides, you kept losing to Dad." He grinned impishly when Vlad's face turned red. Out of anger or frustration or both, he couldn't be sure. "But remind me again why we have to do this? Because I am perfectly okay with just spending the night curled up on the couch watching movies."
"Because," Vlad said as he took one of Danny's hands a placed it on his shoulder, "this is an important benefit that my company is holding here." He wrapped his arm around Danny, placing his hand on the man's back, as he took hold of Danny's free hand.
"Do I really have to go?" Danny sighed, not enjoying the thought of having to go to some silly benefit where he would probably be bored to tears. "Even if we do dance together at this thing, people will just think I'm some gold digging trophy boy or something. Or that you're robbing the cradle." He frowned, knowing their age difference usually got them looks from people that saw them together.
"Your parents will be attending as well. Even Jasmine will be there." Vlad led the dance around the open space in the front room of the house. They cleared away the table and couch and other furniture to make enough room so that they wouldn't bump into anything while they practiced. That, however, didn't stop Danny from occasionally stepping on Vlad's toes. The older half ghost made a face each time but managed to reign in any biting comment about Danny being a poor dancer.
"I get to lead sometimes though, right?" Danny frowned up at Vlad, remembering the time they danced on their first date together.
"Of course," Vlad agreed with a twitch of his mouth that suggested he thought things would go the same way as that night.
Danny remembered with an embarrassed flush that at some point during that night, they stopped switching who led and he got stuck being the girl for most of the night. But it wasn't all bad following Vlad's lead. The man was quite an excellent dancer, and despite a few mishaps from Danny, they became fewer and fewer while Vlad walked him through the movements of the dance. Danny found he couldn't stare Vlad in the face while they practiced. Even though he whined and complained about having to learn how to dance to go to that dumb benefit, he actually liked dancing with Vlad. It was silly but romantic, and he liked having Vlad's arms around him, holding him close as they moved, almost, in perfect harmony together.
That embarrassing thought made his blush reach even to his ears. He was so never telling anyone that he liked this.
At his friends' voices, Danny tensed up, his blush if possible growing even darker. When he turned to stare at their gaping faces, he wondered why they never bothered to lock the door. This moment took first place on his list of most embarrassing times his friends barged into his house.
"Sam! Tuck!" Danny laughed weakly as he quickly pulled away from Vlad and tried to put some distance between them. He never told Sam and Tucker about his journey into the past, or that he fell in love with Vlad. He never seemed to find the right moment or the right words to tell them. "What are you doing here?"
"What are we-"
"Why were you dancing with your archenemy?" Sam demanded, cutting off Tucker's stunned question.
"Vlad's not evil," Danny snapped and thought he caught a hint of a smirk from the older half ghost. "Well, not totally evil."
"Dude, but he's tried to kill your dad," Tucker reminded, still gaping at the pair of half ghosts.
"And did you forget about that whole creepy clone thing?" Sam made a disgusted face at that memory.
"Or that he infected us with ecto acne which could have killed us?" Tucker frowned, narrowing his eyes at Vlad.
"Yes, I know," Danny shouted in exasperation. "I remember everything he's ever done. And it's not like I was the nicest person in the world to him either. I poked fun at his pain and suffering without even knowing the true cause of it. If you really want to blame someone, you can blame me for hurting Vlad in the first place."
"I still put some of the blame on Clockwork," Vlad said calmly, not even the slightest bit affected by the glares of Danny's two friends.
"I feel like we've missed something." Tucker glanced in confusion between the two half ghosts. "Something very big."
Danny sighed, rubbing at his forehead before he told them the whole tale about his travel back in time to when Vlad and his parents were still attending the University of Wisconsin. By the end of it, his throat felt parched from the long speech, and he couldn't tell what his friends were thinking from their stunned looks at hearing the story in, almost, full detail. Danny didn't think there was any point in mentioning to them the first time he and Vlad slept together.
"So you're," Tucker made a face as he pointed between the two, "a thing now?"
"We've been a thing, as you put it," Vlad said with a sneer, "since Daniel's senior year."
"How?" Sam shook her head, having difficult processing everything. "And your parents are okay with this?"
"They knew since freshmen year." Danny shrugged. "They were just keeping silent until we," he pointed between himself and Vlad, "figured it out because otherwise it could have messed up how things were supposed to go."
"I'm surprised your dad could keep a secret that long." Tucker stared in amazement.
Danny laughed at that reaction. "Yeah, I couldn't believe it either. Dad isn't exactly the greatest at keeping secrets."
"And as for your opinions," Vlad narrowed his eyes at the other two as he looped an arm around Danny's waist and drew him closer, "they don't matter. Daniel and I are very happy together."
"Vlad, you-" Danny's argument was cut off when Vlad bent his head down and caught Danny's lips with his own as if to further prove their affections for each other.
"I don't know whether to think that's sweet," Tucker said uncertainly, "or be weirded out by my best friend sucking face with an older man."
"I vote that we pretend we didn't see that," Sam suggested.
"Yeah, I like that plan too," Tucker agreed. "We'll just, uh, go wait in the kitchen until you finish, Danny." Grabbing Sam's arm, Tucker led the way to the kitchen where they could avoid watching the two half ghosts kissing.