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The Espil Mirror

Chapter Text

Plasmius smiled up at the huge doors before him, his fangs shining and his red eyes glowing. This was it; he finally found it. After months of searching, he’d discovered the solution to his problem, the remedy that would allow him to gain all he’d wanted.

“It was almost too easy,” Plasmius mused to himself, pushing the doors open and floating into the room. It was dark, even by ghost world standards, cobwebs glistening in the corners, from wall to wall. It reminded Vlad of the many rooms in his mansion that went unused, growing dusty and haunted from neglect. “Though why it would seem so abandoned is beyond me. Especially when it possesses an item such as this.” Plasmius smirked widely as he floated across the room, to the only object in the vast emptiness.

“The Espil Mirror,” Plasmius said in awe. “A divine item made billions of years ago, forged by magic, to show the user what he truly desires and how to obtain it. Barely any protection in this place for such an incredible item…strange.” Vlad brushed his gloved hand over the glass face of the mirror, wiping away the layer of dust. It glowed to life and Vlad saw his smile grow in the mirror as the image morphed. “The better for me in any case. Now Espil Mirror…show me how to achieve what I desire!”

The glass of the mirror shifted and rippled like the surface of a clean lake. Vlad waited with baited breath for the image to still and clear.

“Vlad Masters…”

“Actually, I prefer Plasmius,” Vlad said, his excitement evident as wind blew from the mirror. A mist formed over the glass and rose. The mist twisted and formed until a translucent spirit appeared before Vlad. Her features weren’t clear except for her solid blue eyes. Her body was long and icy white, wisping like smoke. “You must be the guardian of this fine mirror.” Vlad mused, his gloved hand glowing pink as he prepared to quickly defeat the guardian and utilize the mirror.

The spirit raised a hand. “I am not here to deter you from what you seek.” Vlad raised an eyebrow but allowed the ecto-energy in his fist to fade. “I am merely the spirit who inhabits and owns the mirror. Any can utilize its powers.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” Plasmius said with a smirk, looking back to the mirror before him. The mirror shifted again, forming and reforming. “Show me how to get what I desire.”

“What is it you desire most?”

Vlad looked back up to the spirit, who regarded him passively. “Revenge,” Vlad said with a smirk. The spirit continued staring at Vlad, and then floated behind him. Vlad barely flinched before he felt something--the spirit's hand--reached into his chest. He felt a constricting feeling on his insides, a coldness so bitter and filling, racking through him.

“Revenge…hmm?” the spirit mused.

Vlad opened his eyes and saw into the mirror's face; he saw Jack’s grave, cracked and forgotten. Maddie stood by it, gazing passively and then looked out the mirror towards Vlad. She smiled.

We’re together now. We can finally be together, Vlad.” Vlad grinned and ignored the ache of the hand still lodged in his chest.

“Hahaha! Jack Fenton dead! And the lovely Maddie, finally mine at last!” His fangs glistened evilly. “How do I do it? Tell me Mirror!”

“This…this is not what you truly desire,” the icy spirit said and the mirror’s images faded.

“No!” Vlad said, reaching out to the glass. “Who are you to say what I desire?!”

“I can see it…I can feel it,” the spirit said and Vlad felt the hand in his chest reach deeper. “That desire is a cover for your real wishes. The deepest desires are usually ignored and shunned, as the mind focuses on old desires or simpler dreams.”

“Hmm…deepest desires covered by simpler wishes,” Vlad mused. “I suppose merely wishing for Jack’s death and Maddie’s love is a bit…simple. Maybe I should better utilize this powerful item by using it to achieve my destiny.” Vlad looked behind him at the spirit and smirked. “To rule.”

“You wish to rule…” she repeated and Vlad felt that restricting pull at his chest, aching and cold, deeper still inside him. He clenched his teeth but peaked at the mirror as once again it twisted and formed.

On the glass, Vlad saw hundreds upon thousands of people, humans and ghosts alike, bowing before him. He saw posters hung up of his face, his name on the TV, people smiling out of the mirror, calling him Lord Vlad, Master, ruler.

“Yes…yes that’s right. That’s what I truly desire! Show me how to obtain my true wish!”

“No…this is what you think you deserve, what you think fate demands of you because you’re half ghost,” the spirit said and Vlad’s head snapped over his shoulder to glare at the specter. “You’re not human or ghost, you belong to neither world so you think yourself above them because of your detachment. You think it’s your rightful place to rule, since you feel you cannot belong.”

Vlad’s red eyes narrowed dangerously as his irritation turned to anger. “I do not believe myself worthy of ruling out of self-pity! Are you going to show me how to get what I desire or not!?”

“Why don’t we first discover what you truly desire…” Vlad gasped as he felt the hand reach deeper still, to his very core. It clenched and held, his body going numb. He felt a cold wash over him, holding him. He tried to breathe, to take a breath but everything felt frozen and his lungs weren’t working.

“Wha…what are you doing?” Vlad wheezed out, his voice barely a whisper. He wanted to conjure his strength or his power, to force her away but nothing was working. She had a hold on his entire essence.

“Reaching into the very center of your soul, to see what it is you’re hiding from yourself.”

Vlad clenched his eyes, willing her out, willingly his body to move. After a moment, Vlad heard a familiar laugh and opened his eyes, looking into the Mirror’s glass.

Danny Phantom was before him. He was flying, flying away from Vlad, but it seemed like Vlad was chasing him.

“Daniel..?” Vlad scoffed, his voice still very quiet. “That little pain in my neck…?”

Vlad watched, eyes narrowed until Danny glanced over his shoulder and laughed. The sound wasn’t taunting or bitter; it was a real laugh. Danny’s white hair wiped before his green eyes as he flew, his smile wide and open. “Come on Vlad, it’s like you’re letting me win! You getting old?” Danny laughed again and flew faster. Vlad watched and he wanted to laugh too suddenly; he could almost feel the wind rushing his face as he flew after the boy, he could feel that mirth build in his chest before it turned into happy laughter.

The image changed and Danny was human, staring out of the mirror at Vlad. He was smiling happily. Vlad had never seen that expression on Danny’s face aimed at him before, as though the boy were…happy to see him.

Vlad, can you teach me that move where you turn you’re ecto-energy into a weapon, like a sword!” Danny asked excitedly. “That was so cool!”

The image blurred a moment and then reformed. Danny’s expression had turned melancholy, his shoulders slumped as he gazed to the ground somewhere out of view in the image. “Vlad…it’s getting harder to keep my powers a secret. What do I do?”

Vlad wanted to respond, to comfort the boy. He understood the pain of keeping something that was half of who you are a secret, especially for the boy who had a family he loved and wanted to trust. Nobody understood Danny’s position as much as Vlad, and he had always wanted so badly to talk to the boy about it, to share his pain and experiences like…like…

“Daniel…” Vlad muttered, moving toward the mirror. Danny smiled at Vlad, who reached out to touch the glass. Danny’s hand moved up to meet the gloved one. “Yes…I think…this is what I wanted…someone to talk to…someone to understand…when I found out Daniel was a half ghost, I was so…relieved…” Vlad touched the cold glass surface, but swore he could feel Danny’s warm skin under his gloved fingers.

“This is what you truly desire…” the specter said behind Vlad, but the man wasn’t listening.

“Danny…finally.” He looked briefly over his shoulder and then back at the mirror. “Tell me, how to do it…how do I make him accept me as his fath—”

The image suddenly swirled and Danny was lying on his side, gazing at Vlad tiredly. Danny’s lower half was covered by a dark green sheet, his torso bare. “Huh?” Vlad said, looking confusedly at the image. The covers looked a lot like the sheets of his own bed. And why was Danny naked…?

Suddenly Danny was facing the mirror, his cheeks blushed red, his blue eyes averted as he smiled shyly. Vlad felt his heart jump at the cute, innocent display from the ghost boy.

Danny was now walking beside the mirror, his hand outreached as though he were holding hands with…

“What is this?” Vlad said, stepping back from the mirror.

“It is what you desire.”

“No, what you’re showing me is…is some kind of twisted fantasy!” Vlad said angrily, glaring at the offending mirror. “This is sick; it’s some kind of trick! To deter me from what I truly want or to scare me away!”

“This is what is in your heart, in the very center of your soul,” the spirit said passively, no emotion crossing her features. “This is your very deepest desire.”

Vlad stared at the mirror, which had Danny gazing out of the mirror at him. Vlad’s dark eyebrows knitted together and he stepped closer, looking down into the boy’s face. Danny lifted a hand against the glass, as though wanting to reach out to Vlad. “I love you.”

Something inside the half ghost sparked at these words, these three words he had craved to hear so desperately most of his lonely life. Finally they were being directly at him, sincerely and gently, from someone who was so much like him. Danny was someone Vlad had wanted to share his life with for a long time; to train with, and share experiences with and be a family with. Danny was the only one in the world whom Vlad felt such a strong connection with and made him feel less lonely. But to be loved this way…

“I want Daniel as a son…not…” Vlad muttered as he watched the image change. Danny standing in front of Vlad’s bed, a positively sultry look in his blue eyes as he hooked his thumbs in his unbuttoned jeans and pulled them down passed his hips.

Vlad looked away quickly, his heart hammering in his chest and his throat suddenly dry. Vlad had never thought about Danny this way! This was sick and wrong, how could this spirit tell him that this was his deepest desire!?

A pull to his core forced him to open his eyes, to look back into the Mirror's face just as the image changed. Danny was looking up at him, his head rested on a pillow. His hair was mused, his eyes were cloudy and his cheeks bright pink. He was panting and Vlad blushed at the absolutely debauched state of the boy. Vlad's eyes widened and his heart pounded, his blood boiling hotly in his dead veins.

"This...this can't be..."

"Why not?" the spirit asked behind Vlad. "You love the boy, do you not?"

"Yes, but not like this! Not..."

"Physically?"

"Daniel is...too young." Vlad blinked as the image changed. Danny stood before him, clothed this time, but Vlad noticed something different about him. His shoulders looked wider, his face longer and some stubble lined his chin. Danny was saying something about some professor. He laughed, that carefree, easy laugh and looked over to Vlad, not up at him.

Vlad blinked. The image changed. Danny’s appearance didn’t, he was still much older. He was sitting on a couch reading and sipping coffee. A black and white cat jumped into his lap. Danny absentmindedly stroked the soft fur. He looked up and apparently noticed Vlad, smiling welcomingly and patted the seat beside him.

Vlad let out a broken cry and fell to his knees before the mirror. That was it. That was Vlad’s deepest dream and desire. Love, a home, a family. Someone like him, who loved him. Vlad didn’t need that person to be Maddie, he didn’t need to rule over every other being in the universe; he just wanted love, and acceptance. And to get this all from Danny, to get everything from Danny, all forms of love from the one being in the world like him…it was perfect.

Vlad gazed at the boy in the mirror, who was kneeling down and gazing carefully at Vlad. “What’s wrong, Vladdie? Feeling your age?” Danny laughed and Vlad couldn’t help smiling with him as tears streamed down his face. Danny noticed the tears and tilted his head. “I love you Vlad.”

“Oh…Danny. I love-- I love you too!” Vlad cried, sobbing and putting his hands to the mirror. Vlad wanted it, he wanted it so badly. This love. He didn’t want Danny as a son, because then eventually Danny would leave him for his friends, for his girlfriend, for college and his own life. He didn’t want Danny as a student because eventually Danny would grow up and become his equal, and then he’d go off on his own, to learn new things even Vlad couldn’t teach him. He didn’t want Danny as a friend, he wanted more! He wanted all of Danny, his very heart and soul! Vlad was selfish and consuming; if he was to love and have love, he’d have it in all its facets! Instead of a family with Maddie as lover and Danny as son, Danny would be his only and all.

Vlad was shaking, his wide red eyes leaking ectoplasmic tears. “How? H-how to I get this!?” Vlad demanded desperately, looking over his shoulder and up at the spectral guardian. “Tell me how I get him!”

“It will take time, Plasmius. A lot of time.”

“I want it now!” Vlad demanded, his eyes flashing, fangs bared. The spirit stared passively. She uttered not a word. Vlad eventually calmed, breathing deeply through his nose. This ghost wasn’t here to deter him from his goal. She wasn’t going to trick him or make things difficult. She was neutral, straight-forward and honest.

“Many have come seeking the path to their desires. They discovered their deepest secrets, but could not face what they needed to in order to obtain them. Are you willing to go through anything for what you truly desire? Are you capable of sacrificing and showing great patience in order to achieve this happiness that you seek?”

Vlad sighed, looking back to the mirror, to Danny who smiled at him and laughed with him and loved him. He couldn’t lose this. “Is it possible? Is it really obtainable in my life?”

“Yes,” the spirit said. “You can gain this in your life.” Vlad gasped out a weak laugh. It didn’t seem possible! “But as I have said, it shall take time. Many years, perhaps.”

Vlad nodded. “I waited twenty years to try and snatch up Madeleine. I can wait a few more for this.” Vlad wiped his face and stood up. He put his hand to the mirror, where Danny’s cheek was reflected. The boy tilted his head, as though leaning into Vlad’s touch. Vlad stared with a gentle, steady gaze and then dropped his hand and turned to the ghost guardian behind him.

“Alright then, spirit. Tell me how to achieve what I truly desire.”

Chapter Text

Vlad stood before the mirror in his mansion’s entrance hall. It was oval-shaped, trimmed in gold with a polished face that shined a perfect reflection. Vlad ran a hand over his carefully tied back hair, raised his chin and squared his shoulders as he adjusted his red necktie, and then rubbed a hand over his neatly trimmed beard. Perfect.

The mirror’s face fogged over, like steam filling the area, obscuring the mirror’s view. Beyond the fog, Vlad could see solid blue eyes in a smooth oval face framed by wispy white hair that faded into the fog around. Vlad narrowed his eyes at the mirror.

“You’re sure this is going to work?”

“Your relationship currently with the boy is far from ideal,” the spirit said, her voice quiet in the large entrance hall. Vlad rolled his eyes at the statement. Try ‘non-existent’. “So the first step towards what you desire is to change that through kindness.”

“Kindness? Right.” Vlad’s voice was filled with skepticism and annoyance, cringing at the very idea of having to ‘play nice’. “So basically, after the grand act of kindness I did for Daniel, he should realize I’m not a bad guy and come banging on my door to be with me.”

“It’s not just a simple act of niceness, Vlad. You must stop the fighting. You must show the boy you’ve changed. Appease him. He will begin to take notice of the changes you are going through,” the spirit clarified.

“Right, I’m supposed to assume a sixteen year old is going to notice the delicate art of subtly,” Vlad muttered with a roll of his eyes, mentally wondering how he’d gone from chasing after a mature, smart, age-appropriate woman, to some hormonal, angsty ignorant teen boy. With a shake of his head, Vlad made the final adjustment to his collar before heading for the door. He looked over his shoulder once more at the mirror and said, “You better hope this works, mirror.”

Vlad was completing paperwork in his mayoral office when the young teen hero finally made his appearance, flanked by his trusty Goth and tech-nerd sidekicks. Vlad looked up with a smile, positively radiating with excitement. He’d been waiting for this ever since he’d set up the “nice” gifts to the boy earlier in the day.

“Ah, Daniel. Pleasure to see you here, though I don’t believe we’ve scheduled an appointment.”

“Can it Plasmius, whatever you’re up to, you need to stop it right now,” Danny demanded, stopping in front of Vlad’s desk and crossing his arms, a serious expression on his young face.

Vlad paused a moment, his throat suddenly dry. It was unnerving in a sense, seeing Danny live in front of him after seeing those images of his heart’s desire in the Espil Mirror, after flipping all his goals and plans to focus on this one boy. He’d seen the boy smile at him, laugh with him, blush in front of him…he wanted to see it all in person, now, but the Danny before him wasn’t the same Danny as he’d seen in the mirror. Not quite. Not yet.

Vlad coughed briefly into his fist and then leaned back in his chair with a casual smile, forcing down the strange feelings and longings clawing at his chest. “My boy, you didn’t like the gifts I gave you?”

“Gifts? I’m a social pariah now at school!” Danny exclaimed. “You hired bodyguards to make Dash leave me alone? You had the cafeteria people make specialized meals for me during lunch? And you had gift baskets on my desk during every class!? How did you even manage that!?”

“Yeah man, that’s kind of a new level of creepy,” Tucker pointed out.

“I was merely being nice,” Vlad said with a nonchalant shrug. “Everyone likes a nice gift basket.”

“Please Vlad, we all know you’re not nice. You’re trying to screw with Danny somehow, and we just want you to know that whatever you’re planning, we’ll figure it out,” Sam said, glaring at Vlad who simply stated dryly:

“Right, because I’m supposed to be afraid of three teenagers, one of which has mediocre fighting powers while the other two use obsolete fighting gear a dimwit created in a lab.”

At the insult towards his father, Danny’s eyes glowed green and he growled threateningly. Vlad’s heart sped up just the tiniest bit faster at the display of raw emotion and the uncontrollable power surging within the boy, so similar to his own.

“Easy Daniel, no need for the scary eyes. Honestly, and I’m giving you scouts honor,” Vlad said, putting his hand to his chest and his other hand up in a mock pledge. “I am not planning anything. Simply being nice.”

“Well I don’t want it, so take it all back,” Danny said firmly, turning to leave the office. Sam and Tucker followed close behind, Sam sending one final glare over her shoulder before they were gone.

Vlad leaned back in his chair and sighed heavily. “I suppose that could have gone worse,” he muttered. Sighing again, he leaned forward and picked up his phone. A moment later his secretary answered. “I need to cancel a few hired hands I had employed at Casper High School.”

So the boy hadn’t liked his gifts. Vlad honestly couldn’t understand why. Danny was always complaining about the bullies and the nasty food. And it was true what Vlad said—everyone likes gift baskets!— especially since Vlad filled them with Danny’s favorite candy, CD’s, concert tickets, NASA posters…

Vlad stroked his beard thoughtfully. Maybe this situation was going to be more complicated than he thought. Vlad hadn’t expected it to be easy. He hadn’t expected a few gifts to make the boy come crawling to him; the man wasn’t stupid. But he had expected…something. Progress of some sort. He just wasn’t good at this sort of thing, he supposed. And perhaps years of failure at wooing a certain red-head should have taught him that he needed a new approach. A more subtle, long-term one.

Well if Vlad had any sort of virtue inside him, it was patience. He would continue to follow what the mirror spirit told him, and wait for the desired results.

It was late in the evening, and Vlad tilted his head to the side till his neck popped. He hated days like this, where he actually had to sit at a desk and do mundane human work. Paperwork, meetings, phone calls, all day, with barely any break for a cup of coffee. The man desperately wanted a cigarette, but instead picked up his mug in the corner. The liquid inside had long cooled, but Vlad simply ignited a small hum of energy to his hand, which quickly warmed the coffee. He took an appreciative sip, humming pleasantly just as a current shot up his spine, making the hairs on his neck stand on end as his core sensed a ghost nearby.

Vlad smiled. A perfect way to end a dull day. Putting down his cup, Vlad quickly transformed and phased out of the building, floating high and invisible to try and spot the certain ghost presence he had felt.

“Ah there he is, doing that hero thing again,” Vlad said with a smirk, floating closer but not enough that the boy would sense him near.

Danny was currently engaged in battle with a green ecto-plasmic octopus. He was holding his own very well and Vlad was content to float back and watch.

The young teen hero had grown considerably in the year and a half since they’d first met. Back then, the boy had been a joke, his powers wild and erratic, completely weak and out of his control. Vlad had only bothered with the boy back then because (A) he was Jack and Maddie’s son, and (B) he was a half ghost like Vlad. That in itself made Vlad intensely interested in Danny.

But now, as Danny was nearing the age of seventeen and barreling from boy to man, Vlad was impressed with what he saw. Not only had the boy mastered some moves that had taken Vlad years, like duplication and the Ghostly Wail (which Vlad still hadn’t quite figured out, regrettably), but he also had a pretty decent handle on his core element powers. His body was filling out nicely, his personality had matured slightly…Vlad smirked at the incredible boy Danny had turned into.

And soon enough, he shall be all mine, Vlad thought with a smirk as Danny managed to subdue the ghost long enough for his friends, who had been standing on the sidelines until the right moment, to suck the specter into the Fenton Thermos.

Vlad took that opportunity to lower towards the street, turning visible and clapping slowly. It would definitely be a “nice” thing to do to compliment the boy and tell him exactly how impressed Vlad was with him.

“Very good, my boy. Very good. It seems you are finally growing into your powers.”

Danny and his friends’ head snapped up to Vlad. Danny’s eyes flashed as he glared up at the older halfa. “Plasmius. I should have known you’d be sticking your nose around again.”

The boy’s hand glowed a neon green and Vlad had barely raised his hand before he was shot into the nearest building by a strong blast. The boy’s reflexes were always quick, Vlad thought bitterly as he rubbed his head, pushing away from the crumbling brick of the wall.

Danny advanced and Vlad quickly put up his hands in peace. “Calm down, Daniel. I’m not here to fight.”

“Right, you just showed up to exchange witty banter and make fun of my dad before flying back home to watch football,” Danny said with a roll of his eyes, floating by Vlad, his tense stance showing that he was ready for any attacks. “Typical Tuesday then?”

“You know me by now my boy, if I had some nefarious plot, I would be bragging about it while your tiny teen mind tries to understand it,” Vlad said with a shrug, causing the present teens to intensify their glares. Vlad briefly flinched inwardly. Nice. Remember to be nice. Step one. Vlad quickly cleared his throat and said, “I’m not planning anything. In fact, I’ve given up on nefarious plots all together.”

“Ha, we’ll believe that when we see it,” Sam stated, crossing her arms. “You’re up to something Vlad, and we’re gonna find out what. We always do.”

Vlad scowled down at the Goth as he floated up to Danny’s level. He turned his gaze to the teen ghost and smiled, his fangs glistening. “I’m merely being nice.”

“Nice doesn’t exactly suit you, Plasimus,” Danny said with a tilt of his head, suddenly zooming forward and punching Vlad, sending the older man crashing back into the wall in an explosion of brick and dust. “In fact, I don’t actually think you’re capable of nice. So why don’t you just stick to creepy and alone.” Vlad narrowly dodged another ghost blast, tumbling through the air and out of the way. He turned to face the boy, glaring angrily and hand blazing with pink energy, but Vlad quickly caught himself. He couldn’t fight Danny.

Before he could say another thing to defend himself, Vlad felt something coil around his ankle and tug. Sam had the Jack-o-ninetails, and flung Vlad down to the street below, electricity shooting up and down his body. He landed on his back, cracking the cement below him and gasped, phantom pain shooting up his back and threw his limps.

He opened his eyes to see Danny racing down towards him, his fists charging up for another blast. Vlad quickly put up a pink electric shield around himself just as the blast hit.

“Enough!” Vlad shouted, standing and releasing his shield in a gust of energy, knocking the human teens to their backsides, and sending the ghost teen tumbling back through the air.

Vlad rose high into the air, glaring down at the young group of ghost hunters. He bared his fangs, his body itching to fight back, to attack and show them who the stronger fighter was. The only thing holding him back…the only thing calming his rising anger…were those images in the mirror, those three words uttered so sincerely from the boy before him. The spirit had said it was possible. Currently, Vlad seriously doubted it. But he had to at least try. What else did he have left to lose?

Sighing deeply, Vlad lowered to the ground, his feet landing softly. Black rings hooped around his waist and separated up and down, transforming him soundly back to Vlad Masters.

Danny blinked and looked down to Vlad, confusion and apprehension clear in his green eyes. All this time, always fighting each other, considering each other the other’s greatest enemy... Even if Vlad didn’t really want to acknowledge the boy’s strength and progress that was quickly rising to rival his own, even though he wanted to mock the boy’s need to be a hero, Vlad respected Danny. And though the boy would never say it out loud, Vlad knew Danny respected Vlad.

But now, Vlad wanted more. He had glimpsed a life he could only dream of. One with happiness and understanding, but it was a life with his enemy, with a boy who saw Vlad as some villain, an entity of evil and cruelty that could only be fought, never loved.

Vlad was determined though, and he would keep pushing, pushing until the boy was forced to see things his way, was forced to change and turn from everything else to only face Vlad. And if that took years and some pain and humility, then so be it. Vlad was ready.

“I’m not here to fight you,” Vlad repeated, staring seriously up at the boy. “I’m done fighting you.”

Vlad turned to leave, walking silently down the street, back towards city hall where his car would be waiting. He didn’t turn back, but he felt the teens’ eyes on his back, thought he could especially feel Danny’s, all the boy’s confusion and uncertainty boring into his back.

Back in his mansion an hour later, Vlad took off his coat in the entryway, hanging it up. He glanced into the mirror in the hall, which fogged over as he said, “This all better be worth it.”

“You shall have it all, in time.” Vlad scoffed and glared at the object where the spirit communicated through. “This is merely the first step towards it, Vlad Masters. There will be many trials, many obstacles you must face that you will hate, that will seem more difficult than the last but this is the key to gaining the boy’s love.”

Vlad sighed in irritation. “Well, for the sake of my sanity, the next step better be something easier and less harmful to my pride.” The silence that followed didn’t assuage Vlad’s fears in the slightest.

Chapter Text

Vlad stood at the front door of the Fenton household, his teeth grinding, his shoulders tensed and his eyebrows knitted together over his murderous eyes. Crushed in his fist were the stems of a colorful bouquet. Vlad wanted to set the flowers ablaze.

This next step was, to delicately put it, much more difficult for Vlad to face than the last. Much more. Being nice was relatively easy for the billionaire; he had to act pleasant and gracious to fellow businessmen, needed to charm and flatter a few people in his days to get what he wanted. The hardest thing about it was refusing to fight Danny, despite how much fun it usually was to test the boy, to push him and challenge him and see first-hand just how much the boy was growing.

But this! Vlad had outright refused when the mirror spirit had told him, shook his head and put his foot down. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t!

“You must,” the female specter had said calmly, staring out from the bathroom mirror in Vlad’s master bathroom. “The boy’s trust in you will go up. You must gain his trust before you gain his love.”

“Yes yes, I understand that! The boy sees me as a villain, so he’ll never accept me as anything more until I show him I’ve changed, I get it,” Vlad grumbled. “I’m willing to take away all the CCTV cameras I have located outside his home and school, disable all the bug-cams I have in his home and around town, I’m even willing to disconnect all ties with any of his ghostly enemies! But this I simply can NOT—“

“Vlad Masters,” the spirit had interrupted and Vlad looked to the mirror mid-tirade, his breathing fast and his eyes burning with fury. “There is no other way.”

The specter had ignored all Vlad’s protests, refusals and tantrums, because she knew just as well as Vlad—even if he wouldn’t admit it—that this was the best way to get Danny’s full attention and even so much as attempt to mend the rift Vlad had created between them these past few years.

So, for the sake of Vlad’s future, the man had to let go of his past.

He rapped quickly on the wooden door a few times, praying beyond hope that no one would answer. He knew it didn’t matter, that he’d just have to come back at another time and try again, but it was nice to wish.

The door opened a few moments later, and Maddie Fenton appeared, donned in her usual teal jumpsuit, the hood down.

“Vlad Masters?” she asked, her violet eyes widening slightly at the unexpected guest on her doorstep.

Vlad stared at the woman before him for a moment, the woman he had loved nearly all his life, and still felt even now a small warmth spread through him. How many dreams had he had of finally gaining this woman’s love? How many fantasies did he indulge of spending a nice evening alone with the beautiful Madeleine? She had always been such a sweet, strong, smart woman, and still was. But she had chosen another, leaving Vlad feeling miserable and bitter and in so much pain.

He closed his eyes, breathing deeply, knowing that love still existed in this house for him, just from another source. A source raised by his former love and his former best friend.

Vlad sighed and opened his eyes. “I’m sorry for stopping by unannounced but there was something I needed to…discuss with you and Jack. Mind if I come in?”

Maddie looked over Vlad a moment, suspicion evident in her eyes but she nodded and stepped back. Ever since Vlad had “saved” young Danny from the Ghost King nearly a year ago, Maddie had been more receiving towards Vlad, no longer dumping tea in his lap or shooting him hateful glares. It had been nice, though of course it wasn’t enough to get her to leave Jack for him.

“These are for you, by the way,” Vlad said, handing her the bouquet while doing his best to resist giving her his signature winning smirk.

“Vlad,” Maddie growled in warning. “If you are starting this again after—”

“Nonsense! That’s a thing of the past, Maddie. Let’s put it behind us. I’m merely being gracious, as you are allowing me into you are house so unexpected and all.” Vlad said with a wave of his hand, the picture of nonchalance. “I’ve been meaning to—”

“Is that Vladdie at the door?” Jack appeared from the stairwell that led to the underground lab. Vlad inwardly cringed as Jack walked over, smiling broadly, slapping a large solid hand on Vlad’s back, jolting the man forward and nearly toppling him. “What brings you by, V-man?”

“Vlad apparently needs to discuss something with us,” Maddie said, her gaze still holding an icy challenge as she headed towards the kitchen. “Though I can’t imagine what about.”

Vlad and Jack followed but Vlad paused before entering the kitchen as a certain young teen appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Vlad!” Danny exclaimed, his face turning from surprise to irritation in a millisecond. “What are you doing here?” Danny descended the stairs, Vlad quickly taking note of the boy’s attire; his usual white and red T-shirt, and baggy jeans. Vlad hated the clothes, wishing the boy dressed a little better instead of looking like some sloppy teenager. The boy only had white socks on his feet, telling the man that the boy was obviously in for the night, which seemed strange since it was Friday, and Vlad assumed teens always had some sort of plans for Friday nights. Well that worked in Vlad’s favor anyway, knowing Danny wasn’t going to be going anywhere.

The answer to Vlad’s curiosity of Danny’s lack of social-life was answered as he saw two more teens appear at the top of the stairs. Ah, his friends are over. Perfect. Vlad thought dryly with a grimace, looking back down to the boy.

His eyes traveled over the young face, seeing more of his father in his features than his mother. The dark hair and his height… When had Danny suddenly reached his chin? The boy used to barely reach his shoulders not too long ago. Would the boy reach his father’s monstrous height of 6’5 someday? Vlad seriously hoped not, he quite enjoyed being able to tower over him. Danny was very slight though, thin like his mother, almost delicate. His eyes were a similar light color, soft and kind, though of course that kindness was never pointed at Vlad.

“I’m merely here to talk with your parents,” Vlad said with a tilted smile.

“Right, and by that you mean flirt with my mom and insult my dad,” Danny said with a roll of his eyes, crossing his arms in front of him. “What’s this really about?”

Before Vlad could speak, or even decide what to say to the boy, Maddie came back over and said, “Danny, you and your friends stay upstairs; adults are talking.”

Danny looked shocked for a moment, probably not having heard those words since he was about ten. Then he looked slightly annoyed but flashed Vlad a smirk. “Alright mom,” he said and rushed upstairs, whispering to his friends who had waited patiently for him.

Vlad shook his head. Vlad knew Danny was going to use his ghost powers to turn him and his friends invisible to ease-drop on the conversation. Danny knew that Vlad knew this. But what Danny probably didn’t know, was that Vlad was counting on Danny hearing this conversation in secret.

Vlad followed Maddie back into the kitchen, where he saw she had put the flowers into a small vase and set it on the counter. He smiled briefly and then cleared his throat, preparing for the un-preparable.

“So what’s up, Vladdie? Need a new chairperson on the board down at city hall?” Jack asked, that familiar large grin on his face. “I’ve been thinking that this town needs a new Ghost-Hunting Committee, really get the citizens involved and I figured—”

Vlad held up a hand, his patience already wearing thin. “No Jack, that’s not what I’ve come to talk about. There’s been something I’ve been meaning to tell you two for…a while now and—”

Vlad thought he saw a flash of something in the corner of the kitchen, behind Jack and Maddie. Vlad paled slightly, knowing Danny was indeed there and listening. His mouth went dry and a hot embarrassment flooded through him, despite knowing Danny was supposed to hear this. But now that it was about to happen…

“There’s…well, I’ve been wanting to say that I’m sorry,” Vlad choked out, coughing into his fist before making eye contact with the Fentons. They both looked equally surprised. One because she never assumed Vlad was capable of apologizing, and the other because he couldn’t fathom what Vlad would need to apologize for. Vlad could only imagine young Daniel’s face.

Vlad let them have a moment of shock, to process the statement before he continued. “I’m sorry for…” Vlad trailed off, his nerve suddenly lost. He stared at Jack, the man he hated more than anyone else, and Maddie, the woman he loves—loved—for most of his life…he couldn’t do it!

“I’m sorry for…not being around as often as I ought. I mean, I’m no longer living across the country so I should be visiting my favorite family, right? Mayoral duties have been holding me up, but I promise! I’m going to be around more often, to spend quality time. Like the old days,” Vlad finished with a sickly sweet smile.

“That’d be great Vladdie, we’d love to have you around more!” Jack exclaimed, slapping Vlad on the back again. Vlad knew he’d have bruises later and ground his teeth to keep from killing the man right now.

“Of course,” Maddie said, more hesitantly, obvious unsure how to feel about the situation.

“I just feel as though I haven’t been a good friend to you lately, to either to you or your children,” Vlad said mock-sincerely, shooting a smirk in the corner of the room where he knew Danny was listening. “All these years apart; I want to be a part of the family now, really connect like I should have so long ago. I isolated myself for so long, neglected calling and even now that we reside in the same city I still have acted so rudely. Can you ever forgive me?”

“There’s nothing to forgive, Vlad,” Jack said with a sincere smile. “You know you are always welcome in the Fenton home. Why don’t you stay for dinner?”

Vlad paused briefly. He hadn’t intended to stay, but maybe he might as well. It would be a good opportunity to see Danny more, be “nice” again and gain brownie points. “Sounds lovely!”

“Great! I’m making my special meatloaf tonight!” Jack exclaimed and Vlad resisted the urge to roll his eyes. As the Fentons got busy in the kitchen—Maddie grumbling about a sudden guest at dinner and Jack buzzing about his best friend’s stay—Vlad noticed a shift in the corner, Danny probably leaving the room. Vlad smirked.

“I’m going to go to the bathroom for a moment,” Vlad excused himself, leaving and heading upstairs. As he reached the top step, Danny appeared, arms folded and a scowl on his face. Sam and Tucker stood behind him once again, the classic back-up to the teen with a hero-complex.

“What the hell was all that about?” Danny demanded. “What are you planning now?”

“I told you Daniel, I’m not planning a thing this time,” Vlad said with a shrug. “I’m simply—”

“Being nice, yeah yeah, you tried that before. I’m not buying it.”

“Well then, maybe it’s not justsimply being nice,” Vlad said quietly, his dark blue eyes locked with Danny’s lighter ones.

The boy opened his mouth to comment but was interrupted by, “Danny! Come down here and help me set the table!”

Danny sighed and glared at a smirking Vlad. “Coming mom!” The teens hurried down the stairs, Danny shoving Vlad with his shoulder and the other two merely glaring.

Vlad shook his head and continued to the bathroom. He locked the door and sighed. He stood there for a moment, back against the door and mind racing. Now what?

The room grew cooler suddenly, and the air turned misty, a white fog blurring everything. Vlad breathed out in surprise at the sudden drop in temperature, a puff of white mist escaping his lips, reminding him of Daniel’s “ghost sense”. It seemed appropriate as Vlad glanced at the mirror on the opposite wall.

“You didn’t do what you were supposed to do.” Vlad heard the whispered voice clearly in the small bathroom and walked over to the mirror above the sink, where two solid blue eyes stared out at him. The face was as passive as always but her tone held a hint of irritation, it seemed.

“I apologized. That was the next step,” Vlad argued, putting both hands on the edge of the sink as he stared at the mirror guardian.

“No. You were to apologize for the wrongs you caused the Fentons. All the wrongs, even the ones they know nothing of.”

Vlad gritted his teeth and ground out, “I couldn’t. I couldn’t look that oaf in the face and apologize for still hating him, for lying and taunting him behind his back. I couldn’t tell him I’d flirted with his wife and tried to steal her away, that I’m still in love—was in love with her! I couldn’t apologize for putting Maddie in a comprising position!”

“Why? Why can’t you let go of your hateful feelings, the past feelings of these two that have been dragging you down?”

“They are all I have!” Vlad hissed, wanting to yell but forcing his voice to be quiet. “These feelings I have, of rage and revenge and love for Maddie, they are all I’ve held onto since the accident! For twenty years it’s all I’ve thought about, all I’ve planned for and dreamed of! I can’t…I can’t let go of it all.”

“You need to,” the spirit said, her voice calm but firm. “You need to let go of the past Vlad Masters, or you will never get your ideal future.”

Vlad scoffed and looked away. Could he do it? Could he release all that he’d held onto all this time? Twenty years…

He shook his head. No. The past was all he had! What would he be without his past and his feelings? “I can’t…”

“The child needs to know that you care enough, that you are not the same man he met years ago. His first impression of you was a man out to kill his father and marry his mother. That image needs to change.”

“And it will,” Vlad said decisively, standing up straight and deftly adjusting his necktie. “I’ll change how he sees me, don’t you worry.” Vlad smirked and walked back to the door, putting a hand on the knob. “I don’t need to apologize to the Fentons; I simply need to show Danny in my own way that things are different now. That I’m a new man.” He chuckled, clearly picturing the images he saw in the Espil Mirror, relishing in the new future he was to gain. He opened the door and the fog cleared, the image of the guardian spirit fading away. “I will make Danny love me no matter what, without letting go of my past.”

Dinner was relatively civil, in Vlad’s opinion. There was lots of nasty looks, double-meanings and snide remarks, as well as at least a dozen peas flung across the table by a spoon, but nothing Vlad couldn’t handle. It was beginning to whittle away Vlad’s patience but he forced himself to maintain a level head.

“So Daniel, you are a junior this year, correct?” Vlad said, taking a sip of his drink as Danny gave a faint shrug. “Looking at colleges yet?”

“We’re hoping he chooses our old alma mater!” Jack exclaimed, casting a proud smile at his son. “Imagine that; the three of them going to college together just like us!” Tucker, Sam and Danny seemed to shrink away into their seats, avoiding Mr. Fenton’s gaze. Apparently being compared to their friend’s parents and arch-enemy was “uncool”.

“Well if young Daniel wanted to go to the University of Wisconsin, he’d be more than welcome to stay with me in my castle. I still own it, though I currently live in Amity Park. It would save on housing costs and all that,” Vlad said, folding his hands in front of him and sending the boy a smirk. “It would give us time to spend together, to really…get to know each other, now that Daniel is growing into such a fine young man.”

“No thanks, I doubt you get good reception in that big lonely house of yours. And I’m severely allergic to cats,” Danny said, standing from the table. “I’m done eating.” Sam and Tucker followed the boy into the living room, Vlad’s eyes watching them.

Vlad stood with Maddie and Jack, helping to clear the table. He offered to help wash dishes with Maddie as Jack went to the attic to find some of his old college gear to parade around in.

The two of them were quiet as they washed the plates and cups, Vlad glancing at her every now and then. This was the first time in a long time that he was this close to her, alone, without her glaring at him. Vlad found himself smiling, sliding slightly closer, wanting to bump his arm against hers lightly, maybe jest a bit to get her to smile back, like she used to…

No! Vlad shook his head, straightening up and stepping away slightly as he scrubbed a sudsy cup. Maddie isn’t the goal anymore…but she’s all I’ve thought of for twenty years…Daniel is the new goal! He’s the one that’s going to accept me one day!

Vlad shook his head, trying to rid his conflicting thoughts from his mind. He glanced towards the living room, where Danny was sitting on the couch next to Sam, Tucker sitting at their feet. Sam was leaning towards Danny, whispering in his ear, something that made Danny laugh and shove her playfully. Vlad’s eyes narrowed and he heard a loud crash followed by a surprised scream.

“Mom!” Danny called, hurrying over just as Vlad glanced to Maddie in concern.

“Vlad, the cup! What happened?” Maddie exclaimed, a hand to her mouth. Vlad looked down, just noticing he’d crushed the glass cup in his hand. Blood seeped from between his fingers, flowing thickly into the sink, tainting the soap bubbles a dark pink.

“Butter biscuits,” Vlad muttered, dropping the glass into the sink and gripping his wrist.

Maddie turned the faucet on and pushed Vlad’s injured hand under the water. Vlad hissed slightly as the soap was washed away. She then steered him to a chair and said, “Don’t move. I’ll get the first aid kit.”

Vlad watched as Maddie left, smiling slightly at her concern. The sharp sting of his hand caused him to shake his head and looked down at his palm, bloody and full of glass. It hurt like hell now, but at the time he’d been focused on other things. He was surprised he even got as mad as he did, but the scene…it had brought up passed feelings and similar times, when he’d witnessed his best friend flirting with the woman he loved. Now he had a chance with someone else, someone like him and some…goth human girl wanted to get in the way!

Danny stood before Vlad. “What happened, V-man? Got upset cuz my mom told you she wasn’t interest in bitter old men whose only friend is a cat?”

Vlad rolled his eyes as he turned his hand intangible, the small shards of glass falling silently to the floor. When Vlad’s hand returned to a solid form, his skin prickled uncomfortably. He sighed. “Just a slip of concentration is all. No need to worry on my account.” He sent Danny a weary smile, but Danny merely scoffed.

“No one’s worrying Vlad, trust us. We think it’s fitting actually, a small bit of karma from all the terrible things you’ve done to Danny,” Sam said, crossing her arms and narrowing her violet eyes.

Vlad glared at the little goth girl, finding her snide voice particularly annoying. “Like what Daniel and I do is any concern of yours,” Vlad said venomously.

“Actually, it is,” Sam said back with equal heat.

“Danny is our best friend. Not that you’d understand the term,” Tucker said, standing protectively by Danny. “What happens to him is our concern and his enemies are our enemies.”

“And we’re not convinced for a second that any of this ‘nice guy’ act is legit,” Danny said finally, just as Maddie returned with the first aid kit.

“I’ll do it, mom,” Danny said quickly, taking the box from her.

“Don’t be silly, Danny. You don’t know how to patch up an injury. I’ll be done in a second—”

“I want to help. Besides we need to clean up the glass before dad gets back down and freaks out, right?” Danny asked.

Vlad glanced to the sink and then down to his cut up hand, knowing Jack would dote on him and ask a million questions if they didn’t clean up soon. “The boy is right, Maddie. The children shouldn’t be cleaning broken glass, and Daniel is old enough to start learning proper care technics. I’ll assist him.”

Maddie nodded and went to carefully clean the glass from the sink and off the floor as Danny pulled a chair in front of Vlad, sitting down to face the injured man.

“Though I’m sure you’ve learned some medical skills from cleaning up cuts and bruises from your heroic ghostly adventures, hm, Daniel?” Vlad murmured with a smirk as Danny grabbed the bottle of peroxide and uncapped it.

“Yeah,” the boy agreed pleasantly, pouring the alcoholic liquid directly onto Vlad’s cut up hand. Vlad nearly screamed, swallowing it in time as he jerked back, biting his lip from the excruciating burn. “Cuts and bruises mostly caused by you.

Vlad glared at Danny, his hurt hand shaking slightly and his blood running hot as the two teens chuckled behind the boy, but Vlad forced himself to manage a weak smirk. Control yourself. Be kind, bite your tongue, don’t get angry. “You flatter me,” the man murmured as Danny grabbed the bandages and starting wrapping Vlad’s hand. The teen actually did a decent job, making Vlad wonder if the boy had actually spent nights bandaging wounds after their fights. The thought didn’t make Vlad smile like it might have at one point.

“Thank you, Daniel, you did very well actually,” Vlad said, careful not to flex or clench his hand so as not to disturb his cuts or the bandages as he inspected the boy’s handiwork.

“Yeah yeah, I just didn’t want my mom near you more than necessary,” Danny said with a glare. “Whatever you’re planning, keep her and my father out of it.”

“My concerns are not for them anymore, Daniel. I can assure you of that,” Vlad said, standing. He had enough of Danny’s bitter mood. He was getting tired, tired of trying to be nice. The itch to throw the boy down, to drag him out into the street and make him shut up was getting too strong.

Vlad turned to Maddie, who was tossing away the remainder of the glass. “Thank you for a lovely dinner Maddie. I’m sorry for the glass as well, I’ll more than compensate for it.”

“No need, Vlad, really,” Maddie said quickly.

“Well, then tell Jack I’m sorry for leaving so abruptly, but I really need to get going,” Vlad said, heading to the front door before Maddie could question him or stop him, but she wasn’t likely to do either.

“And goodnight Daniel, I hope to see you soon,” Vlad said with a nod. “Thanks for bandaging up my hand.” He ruffled Daniel’s dark hair with his uninjured hand, much to the displeasure of the teen. Vlad chuckled at the small annoyance he caused the boy and left the house before anything else could happen, not sure if he had really accomplished much of anything that night.

Chapter Text

Vlad smiled, happy to see Maddie standing beside him. Her back was to him, her short orange hair looking as soft as her womanly curves. He reached out for her, but when she turned to face him, Danny was suddenly standing there, smiling up at Vlad.

Maddie’s son…

Vlad smiled and rubbed his thumb softly on the boy’s cheek. “Hello son,” he whispered and bent down to kiss the teen softly on the lips.

Danny reached up, wrapping his arms around Vlad’s neck, deepening the kiss. Vlad smiled as he heard Danny humming happily. Vlad pressed his hands to Danny’s back and then lower, rubbing rhythmically as their bodies pressed together, warm and soft. He never wanted to let go.

I can’t lose him…this boy who is like me…this boy…

Vlad panted into the warm mouth, tongues and lips melding and caressing, expressing love without forming words. Danny moaned quietly, moving shyly against Vlad’s larger body, rubbing his hand on the back of the man’s neck. “I love you Vlad,” the boy whispered breathily, but the boy’s voice was so hushed and Vlad’s mind was so high, Vlad wasn’t sure if the boy hadn’t actually said “dad”.

So sweet…so young…too young, like a child…like a son…

All Vlad cared about was this, those words, the heat and the press of their bodies, as Danny connected their lips together again, deeply and intensely, slowly and desperately as the boy clung to him, holding him as though wanting to faze right into his body, forming them together into one complete being. The warmth and the need Danny was displaying, to touch Vlad and love him and please him, it was driving Vlad absolutely mad.

Danny…my son…or someone’s son…I love him… I want him…

“My boy, my boy,” Vlad murmured, kissing Danny’s lips and cheek and neck, and rubbing his hands up and down Danny’s back and sides and then finally between his legs. “My Danny…”

Just like me…I love her…I love HIM…I want…I need…

“Vlad!” Danny moaned loudly, throwing his head back in bliss. “Vlad…I…I hate you.”

xxx

Vlad shot up from bed, his heart hammering, sweat coating him like a second skin. He panted and looked around him. He was alone. He raised a shaking hand to his face but paused when he noticed the bandages. Danny…

Vlad shivered, the remnants of the dream lingering in his mind, leaving him unsure. He shifted slightly to check the clock on the nightstand but paused when he noticed a small—or not so small—problem the dream had caused between his legs. Groaning and feeling suddenly very disgusted, Vlad threw off the covers and hurried to the bathroom, quickly disrobing and hopping into the shower. He turned the water to cold and shivered at the sharp contrast of freezing water on his burning skin, but at least it got rid of his problem quickly enough.

After cleaning and washing his hair, Vlad turned off the water and got out, wrapping a clean towel around himself.

He hadn’t taken a hot shower, but a mist covered the mirror. Sighing, Vlad wiped the fog away to reveal two gleaming solid blue eyes staring back at him. He glared at the spirit in the mirror.

“I’m done,” Vlad declared. “I don’t want this anymore. I want you to show me what I really want, what I’ve known I wanted all this time! Revenge on Jack, Maddie’s love and the world in the palm of my hand!”

“That’s not your true desire—”

“That’s nonsense!” Vlad yelled angrily, slamming his fist on the rim of the sink. “I hate Jack! I’m in love with Madeleine!! And I deserve to rule, to rule everyone, it’s what I’m destined for!”

“You are forgetting what you saw,” the spirit said, her voice holding a note of disappointment. “This is why souls fail to reach their truest desires…fear, and doubt and disappointments cloud their goals. It gets too hard, too frustrating, and they fear—”

“I’m not afraid!” Vlad exclaimed angrily. “I’m simply—”

“You love the boy,” the spirit interrupted, her voice firm and definite. “Didn’t your dream make you realize the way in which you care for him?”

“I don’t want to have sex with a child!”

“It’s not about sex, Vlad Masters,” the spirit said. “You are not grasping the core purpose here. You are not aiming to simply have intercourse with the boy.”

Vlad ran a hand through his damp hair, his thoughts running wildly through his mind, the spirit’s voice ringing in his ears. That dream had chilled him. To his core. Seeing Danny with him like that in the mirror had been a shock at first, even a bit disturbing, but the love he had seen behind those sultry looks, the kind words spoken to him…that’s what Vlad wanted. But that dream…he had felt it, the touches, the heat, it had seemed too real, and it left Vlad confused. He had liked the dream! He had liked holding Danny, had liked hearing Danny’s faint pants and his whispered words of affection. He had felt complete, had felt loved. But shouldn’t it be wrong? He had aimed to be the father of Danny, not a lover! He was supposed to love Maddie, not her son! It was all just a big spinning jumble in Vlad’s head, leaving him confused and conflicted.

Could this work? Could Vlad possibly love the boy this way and get him to return that love …?

“No,” Vlad exclaimed, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “Daniel is a boy! A stubborn, reckless, petty teenager who isn’t mature enough to understand a single thing about life, who thinks he can play hero and save the world when all the world is ever going to do and has done is shut him out and tear him down for being different, for being too kind and naïve!”

The spirit remained silent a moment longer, staring out of the mirror at the near crazed man. “You care for the boy Vlad Masters; that much is evident. You need to hold onto that, remember that and know that it is possible for Danny Fenton to care for you back, to love you one day as you love him.”

“But not as father and son…”

“No. As something more.”

Vlad squeezed his eyes shut as the images and feelings of the dream entered his mind again. He shivered. This was the first time in his life that he felt so…confused. As though he were falling and falling, unsure of how far or for how long he’d fall or what would happen once he landed. He had no plan, no definite answers other than a few images he’d seen in a mirror and the words of a guardian spirit. He needed to cling to this spirit, and let her guide him, because he felt so lost but Vlad wasn’t exactly used to taking orders.

Vlad kept his eyes closed, breathing deeply once, twice, and on the third long exhale, his shoulders untensed and the furrow between his eyebrows disappeared. He conjured up the image of Daniel in the mirror, smiling at him and talking with him. A strange flutter filled his chest, but he wasn’t entirely sure what it meant.

Vlad opened his eyes and sighed, rubbing his face with his uninjured hand. “So then…what do I do now?” he mumbled into his palm before glancing into the mirror.

“You still need to—”

“I’m not apologizing,” Vlad said firmly. “If I’m going to do this at all, then I’m skipping to step three. Come on already, out with it!”

“Step three,” the mirror spirit said, her voice a bit more tense than usual. “…involves the other people in the boy’s life who are most important to him. In order to get to young Danny, you must first get to those around him.”

“Meaning? Can we skip the vague explanations and skip to the part where you tell me what I have to do?”

“You have to gain the acceptance of his friends,” the spirit said. “If they still distrust you and hate you, Danny is going to take their feelings into consideration. If you are rude to his friends, he won’t appreciate it.”

“Great,” Vlad said, throwing up his hands in aggravation. “I have to befriend two teenagers to win the heart of another teenager!” Vlad rubbed at his forehead, a heavy headache forming between his eyes. “I’m too old for this…”

“Daniel’s family and his friends are the most important people to him. You must get on their good sides.”

“Right right,” Vlad sighed. He buried his face in his good hand and shook his head. “And I know exactly how to do it.”

Over his usual pristine suit, Vlad wore a long peacoat with a white scarf around his neck. He rubbed his hands together as he leaned against the fence outside Casper High School. It was getting colder and colder out as it neared winter.

Vlad checked his watch briefly, glancing towards the school’s main doors. Almost time.

A few minutes later, he heard a muffled ringing. There was a moment of silence and then the doors burst open and teens of all shapes and sizes poured from the school. Vlad turned away, staring at his black car parked on the curb and waited. He seriously hoped Danny hadn’t gotten himself thrown in after-school detention today. He didn’t feel like waiting any longer.

Vlad needn’t worry as the teenaged trio appeared from the high school and started walking down the sidewalk.

“Whoa, that’s a Bentley!” Tucker exclaimed as they noticed the parked car, but not the man by the fence. A lot of other teens had stopped to appreciate the car as well, carefully blocking Danny’s view of Vlad. “Who’s the rich kid whose parent’s bought them this for their sixteenth birthday?” He pointedly looked to Sam.

“Hey hey, my parents bought me that purple Camry, remember?” Sam said with a nonchalant wave of her hand. “I wouldn’t want something as noticeable as this anyway. I mean the kid’s parents have got to be loaded, and the kid’s obvious just flaunting his cash.” Sam rolled her eyes with obvious distaste.

“Actually, I think I know a certain billionaire who owns a car like this,” Danny said to himself and Vlad smirked.

“Glad you appreciate it so much,” Vlad said loud enough for the group to hear. Danny and his friends turned to see Vlad, who simply smiled in greeting.

“Other than to prove that you are this ‘high and mighty’ mayor with way more money than you deserve, what are you doing here?” Danny asked, walking over to the older man.

“I’ve actually come for you three,” Vlad said, trying for a friendly smile but more likely flashing an awkward smirk.

“Come to tempt us underage teens into you are car with promises of candy?” Tucker asked, with an unimpressed air.

“Try the promise of a trip to the Amity Park Mall,” Vlad said, dryly. He stood up straight and smiled down at the teens. “A day long shopping spree, no limits. What do you kids say?”

“We’re not kids,” Sam said defiantly. Vlad grimaced. “And we don’t need you to buy us things, it’s not going to get us to trust you.”

“Yeah Vlad, so just can the nice act already. It’s getting real old,” Danny said with frustration. He and his friends turned and started walking away down the sidewalk. Vlad blinked, his face carefully blank.

He pulled something out of his pocket and held it up casually, staring at his own reflection in his gleaming Black Bentley. “I’ve got a gold Masterscard.”

The three teens all paused and Vlad smirked. Tucker was the one who turned first and Vlad could only imagine the geek’s eyes shining behind his glasses as he stared at the credit card. Vlad glanced over to see the nerdy teen elbowing Danny. Vlad’s hyper-sensitive hearing picked up their whispers.

“Come on, Danny! Let’s just go! We could get that new game we’ve been dying to—”

“No, Tucker,” Sam interjected. “We’re not taking bribes from Vlad Plasmius!”

“It’s not a bribe,” Tucker insisted. “He’s not asking us for anything, just offering to take us shopping. And even if he was trying to buy our trust or something, he’s not gonna get it. But what’s a little shopping gonna hurt. We take the card, go to the mall and go nuts, all on Vlad’s credit! He’s being very generous, I think.”

Danny glanced at the billionaire and Vlad looked back. Danny smirked and walked over, snatching up the gold card. “Unlimited, you say?”

They had been at the mall for a little over an hour and Vlad was seriously wondering if the teens were actually going to buy the whole place out.

The goth girl of course had been against it in the beginning, but when Danny and Tucker continued making crazy purchases of whatever happened to catch their eye, and then the two boys dragged Sam to some dark store with brick around the entrance, shoving the card into Sam’s hand, it was like her maturity switch turned off and she was just another rebellious teen with a parents’ credit card.

Vlad rearranged the parcels in his arms; bags dangled from his elbows and pinkies, his hands balancing heavy boxes one on top of the other until he could barely see where he was going. The purchases piled up, the kids handing Vlad more and more stuff as they passed each store, Vlad haphazardly swerving away from strangers as he tried to keep up with the younger shoppers. I’m Vlad Masters, billionaire, Mayor of Amity, extremely powerful and brilliant half ghost scientist…reduced to a couple of teenagers’ personal butler. Vlad sighed. All for love, he supposed.

As the teens raced into yet another store, this one seeming to sell music CD’s and DVD’s mostly, Vlad threw all the bags and boxes to the floor in a relatively secluded corner away from the bustling crowd of shoppers, pulling out his cellphone and making a quick call.

In a few moments, three old green vultures complaining in thick Russian accents fazed through the wall before Vlad. He pointed to the bags and boxes on the floor. “Take these back to the house.”

Vlad sat at a small round table outside an ice cream shop in the mall, his chin resting in his palm as he gazed at all the random passing shoppers. Children dragging their parents’ to get ice cream or toys. Teens in herds, sauntering around with no money in their pockets (Vlad glared at his group of teens with plenty of money in their pockets). Grandparents hauling way too many bags for their precious grandchildren. Couples old and young, holding hands.

Vlad chanced a glance at Danny, who was trying to convince Tucker that the ice cream stand did not and could not put like pieces of bacon on a chocolate sundae with sausage instead of a banana. Even if Vlad succeeded in all this, even if he actually managed to get Danny’s love and everything he’d seen in the mirror, they wouldn’t have what these couples have. Not only would they be a same-sex couple, which was still a touchy subject in most of the country, but Vlad was obviously much older than Danny. He would get in serious trouble for pursuing Danny at this age, but even once the boy turned eighteen in a few years, people would still send them nasty looks should they ever try to walk the mall holding hands. The boy was young enough to be his son!

Vlad sighed. Was it even worth the trouble? Danny hated him now anyway, maybe it wasn’t worth all this just to have to hide it away anyway if it did happen. Danny wouldn’t be able to tell his parents…maybe not even his friends…

Danny wouldn’t be happy. How could he be? Being in a relationship with Vlad would just be another added secret to Danny’s already secret-filled life. It would cause more trouble than it was worth. Danny couldn’t stand Vlad now, and the trust between them would always be strained.

What do I care? Vlad suddenly thought bitterly. If I want something, I’m damn well going to get it! Danny is the perfect companion, the perfect person to share my life with, I already established that a long time ago. What do I care if he has to lie to his friends and family, what do I care if people don’t like our relationship!?

But would it even work…is it even worth it?

A shadow passed over Vlad’s shoulder, making him look up. Nobody was there, but he noticed the goth girl laughing about something, leaning against Danny as she tried to catch her breath. Vlad clenched his teeth and glared down at the table, not wanting to see Danny like that, happy with someone else. He didn’t want to see a potential romance forming right in front of his eyes, right before he even had a chance! Not again…

I can never win! It isn’t fair! Vlad felt a nasty burn fill his chest and his hands vibrate with energy, a faint pink glow emitting from inside his clenched fists. It’s always like this! I try and try, I find someone to care for and I mess it up!

No…someone always takes it from me. Someone always messes everything up and I’m left alone, left abandoned and angry and—

“Here.” Vlad looked up, so lost in thought he hadn’t noticed Danny walking over. The boy now stood by him, holding out a cone with chocolate ice-cream and chocolate sprinkles. Vlad blinked, and looked from the cone to Danny as though Danny were trying to offer him a pink dress to wear. “I wasn’t sure what kind you liked so I got chocolate. Everyone likes chocolate.”

Vlad took the ice cream carefully, still slightly confused by the situation. “You couldn’t have just come over and asked me?” Vlad inquired, twisting his cone around, staring at it.

“Well I was already in line and it just occurred to me to get you one,” Danny said with a shrug, sitting down briefly. He licked at his own ice-cream, strawberry with chocolate sprinkles. He looked to Vlad, who was still staring at his ice cream as though he thought it would sprout wings and fly away.

Danny scoffed lightly. “You can eat it, it’s not poisoned.”

Vlad scoffed as well, as though the very idea that he was scared to eat ice cream was laughable, and he ate off the swirled tip of the ice cream. He couldn’t hold back the quiet hum of pleasure, biting into the chocolate sprinkles. It had been a long time since he’d had ice cream.

“So, I know this is somehow involved in some kind of nefarious plot you have,” Danny began, leaning back in his chair calmly, keeping a level gaze with Vlad. “But thanks for the shopping spree.” Danny fished in his pocket and pulled out the little golden card, sliding it across the table towards Vlad.

Vlad took the card and Danny stood. “Daniel,” Vlad said before the boy could leave and walk over to his friends. He stood, grabbing the boy’s arm so Danny would stay and look at him. He looked into Danny’s blue eyes, trying to get the boy to understand, even though he didn’t understand a single thing himself. “I’m not planning anything nefarious. I’m not scheming, Daniel. I…I’ve changed.”

Danny looked at Vlad, eyes searching. Vlad stared at him, face blank but heart pounding. He didn’t know what to expect, or what to hope for. He didn’t know if he wanted Danny to give him a chance, to hug him and tell him everything was going to be okay and that they’d try… Or if he wanted Danny to yell at him, remain angry at him and attack him so Vlad could attack back, so Vlad could stop all this and make everything normal again, so he could go back to everything he knew, back to things that made sense.

Danny merely shook his head and pulled his arm from Vlad’s grip. “I don’t believe you. Not after everything you’ve done. And no amount of shopping sprees is ever going to change that.” Danny turned and walked over to his friends.

Vlad stared after him, wanting to pull Danny back and hug him, wanting to tackle him to the ground and shake him until he listened, wanting to talk to him, and yell at him and hit something and run away; wanting to understand what he was thinking and feeling but knowing that trying to grasp the emotions and thoughts running through his mind to try and sort them out was like trying to be Masters and Plasmius at the same time.

He looked down at the ice cream in his hand, at the bandages wrapped around his palm, and then towards the teens conversing animatedly, pointedly ignoring him in their own separate joy. He licked at the chocolate dessert, shivering from the icy feel on his tongue, deciding the only thing to do was move forward from here.

“So are we quite done here?” Vlad asked as he approached the teen’s table once he noticed they were done with their ice creams. “Or were you three planning on buying all the television sets at the electronic store as well?”

Vlad scowled at the teens seem to debate about this seriously amongst themselves, but Vlad shook his head. “No. Daniel already gave me back the card so I’m taking that as a sign this trip is over. We’re leaving and getting some food, before you kids see yet another thing you want to buy.”

“Wait, this little ‘bonding experience’ isn’t over yet?” Danny asked suspiciously, standing from the table. He looked around Vlad’s feet and towards the other tables. “And where’s all the stuff we already bought?”

“Back at my place already, waiting for you. So if you want it, then let’s get going.” Vlad ignored the glares directed at him as they followed him out the mall. It wasn’t exactly like this was the first time he’d been the object of their anger.

Vlad pulled up outside his large home in Ultra Posh Pulter Heights, the richest neighborhood in Amity Park, naturally.

The teens got out of the car, Danny turning to face Vlad as the man closed the driver side door behind him. “So what’s the deal? Gonna barbeque in the back and act like a big happy family?”

“If you want to play the mommy, then by all means,” Vlad said off-handedly, making Danny grimaced in obvious creeped-out distaste. “Since you won’t want to play the son, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Danny agreed dryly. “I’d rather play the strong hero kicking the crazy villain’s ass.”

Vlad smirked at the challenge, wishing he could call the boy out on it and see if the ghost kid could put his money where his mouth was. But alas, rules were rules. No fighting allowed.

“I was more so planning on ordering food and letting you kids have some fun before taking you back home.” Vlad smiled over his shoulder at them just before unlocking the door. “Just trying to show you I mean no harm, of course.”

The teens all shared a look, a look that blatantly showed their disbelief, as though Vlad were trying to convince them that Santa really existed.

Vlad hesitated a moment as the key slipped into the lock. He took a breath and then released it, knowing this was essentially unknown territory, inviting Danny and his friends into his home, but his hands were tied. He wasn’t sure how well this would go but he clicked the key to the right and swung the door open, merely hoping for the best.

“Welcome to my esteemed estate, children. Please do make yourselves at home.”

Vlad left the teens in the living room as he headed to the large kitchen. He knew leaving teens alone in a large house with all kinds of expensive things could be dangerous, but he figured the teens wouldn’t break too much if he left them alone for a moment. Or at least they wouldn’t break anything that couldn’t be replaced. Hopefully.

He checked the cabinets and refrigerator to see if there was anything he could quickly make to satisfy his three young guests. Being a bachelor, albeit one with expensive taste, left him a little thin in the food department, especially knowing the “sophisticated” palettes of sixteen year olds.

Vlad sighed and pulled out his phone, making a quick call yet again.

A few moments later, Vlad heard someone approach. “So how’s it going, Uncy Vlad?”

Vlad snapped his cell phone shut just as Danny approached. Vlad flinched slightly at the nickname the boy decided to use. Vlad had wanted to be the boy’s father, pined after his mother, the boy referred to him as his uncle…and now apparently Vlad wanted to date the boy. Creepy was written all over this situation, so Vlad quickly shook it off and ignored the name.

“Just last minute dinner preparations,” Vlad said with a casual air. Vlad paused, noticing the two were alone in the kitchen. He vaguely wondered where the boy’s friends were but ignored it in favor of taking advantage of this rare opportunity.

The boy was cute, Vlad had to admit. He had never really looked at the boy in that way, but he was. Vlad wasn’t loathe to admitting he’d looked at men before as he looked at woman—though he’d never been with another man—he was an open-minded enough, so it didn’t take a huge stretch of Vlad’s imagination to appreciate the leanness Danny was developing under the baggy clothes, or the delicate sky blue shade of his expressive eyes that contrasted nicely with the light skin and dark hair. Hair that always seemed so careless, so boyish and wild, as though the kid was always moving, always running his hands through it. Vlad suddenly had an impulse to run his fingers through that hair, find out for himself whether it was soft or rough, thin or thick, muse it up himself, grip it and—

“Helloo, Earth to Vlad?” Danny asked with a weird expression on his face, waving his hand back and forth in front of Vlad.

The older halfa blinked and shook his head. “Sorry, I was just…thinking,” Vlad said lamely.

Danny shook his head. He looked around the kitchen a moment and then commented, “You know, this is the second time I’ve been in this place. It’s weird because both times I came in willingly and with you acting like you cared about me.”

The words shocked Vlad slightly. The content alone was strange but also the way they were said, casually but still with a sting.

“The first time was when I had those weird weather powers, and you were trying to keep me happy,” Danny said with a laugh. “That was your fault, by the way.”

Vlad chuckled lightly, remembering the event with a shiver. That hadn’t exactly been one of his shining moments. “Yes it was, and I apologize.” Danny looked at Vlad, surprise clear in his eyes. Vlad was a bit surprised by his own words as well but more so surprised that they had been genuine.

Danny shrugged. “It’s all part of the game, right? You’re the big bad villain who has evil plots, a sad backstory, a bitter temper, and puts me and innocent people in harm’s way. I’m the hero, who forgives and forgets, who saves the day and always manages to foil your schemes at the end of the day.” Danny crossed his arms and raised his chin smugly and Vlad couldn’t help but laugh at the cute picture the teen made.

“Yes that does seem to be how things go between us, but I happen to remember a few fights where I came out on top,” Vlad said with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. “Most of the fights in fact. I do have over twenty years of practice, my boy.”

“Yeah, but I’m catching up quickly,” Danny said with a challenging grin. “You better start training more.”

“You have been improving, greatly I might add,” Vlad said, with a hint of pride in his voice. He smiled slightly, enjoying the more casual atmosphere between them at the moment. He liked the weird relationship he had with the boy, that allowed them to exchange banter back and forth sometimes without any real malice. His good feeling increased even more when he noticed Danny’s eyes light up slightly at the praise he received.

“Really?” the boy asked, his voice suddenly devoid of any sarcasm or challenge, just mere curiosity and hope.

Vlad nodded with a smile. “Indeed. In fact, with some proper training, you’d be a real force to be reckoned with, Daniel, here and in the Ghost Zone. You know my offer still—”

“No,” Danny said, raising a hand with a shake of his head. “I already told you, not going to happen.”

“And why not?”

“You’re the villain and I’m the hero, Vlad. That’s how it is, how it’s always been. We can’t get along, or train together. Besides, I told you, I’m not renouncing my dad.”

“I don’t want you as a…” Vlad sighed, looking away a moment. He paused and then trained Danny with a withered but serious look. “What if I don’t want to be the villain anymore, Daniel?”

Danny shook his head with a smile. “You can’t just stop, Vlad. It’s in you are blood! Besides, you are too good at it. I have too much fun fighting you!”

Vlad couldn’t help the smile that forced its way to his face. Fighting the boy truly was fun, a thrill to face a creature just like himself. The verbal battles with the boy were just as rewarding, so Vlad would have to satisfy himself with this from now on.

“I’m serious though, Daniel, as flattering as that comment was,” Vlad said, looking at the boy before him. “I’m not fighting you anymore from now on. At all. I’m not going to be going after your family or plotting anything. I have other things in mind…less nefarious things. Can’t you give me a chance?”

“No,” Danny said, his eyebrows lowering as he glared at the older man and Vlad could feel the light casual atmosphere turning cold again. “No, I can’t. Ever since I met you, you’ve been conniving and lying. When I first met you on the day of the reunion, you seemed like a nice guy. My dad was excited to see you, you had a cool house and you were really friendly. But then…I met the real you.” Danny glared at Vlad. “I can’t trust you.”

“I’m sorry, Daniel,” Vlad said, his voice quiet. Things weren’t getting better. He just wanted to say something…something that would make the boy understand he was trying for him! “I’ll just keep trying.”

Danny seemed to want to say something, to ask something but then stopped. He turned and hopped up onto the counter, sitting and swinging his legs. He smiled mischievously and Vlad found he rather liked that smile. “You know Vlad, you never did give me that foot massage you promised.”

“Hm?” Vlad mused with a confused blink. The boy’s moods and thoughts were as unbalanced as always, going from light, to angry, to teasing in a matter of moments. Vlad seriously hoped the boy would grow out of his swinging hormones soon or he’d get a headache.

“From when you had to cater to my every whim during the weather incident,” Danny said with a smirk. He kept swinging his feet. “You had promised to give me a foot massage. I had really been looking forward to it.”

Danny laughed, probably imaging the humiliating picture Vlad would make as he catered to the boy like a servant at the boy’s feet. But Vlad had a different picture, of himself running his hands on the boy’s heels and calves, massaging the tension and licking the instep of the small foot, eliciting moans from the teen due to the pleasurable ministrations.

Vlad smirked and stepped over to Danny, dropping to one knee and cradling one of Danny’s red converse in his hand. The boy froze in shock.

“I could fix that now, if you like,” Vlad asked with a raised eyebrow. “Just think of it as more kindness, so you’ll finally believe I’ve switched sides.”

Danny’s eyes widened and he quickly shook his foot out of Vlad’s grip. “N-no thanks!”

Vlad chuckled and stood, standing close before Danny, letting a hand rest on the counter by Danny’s thigh. “Another time then,” Vlad said quietly.

Danny’s shocked and confused expression was absolutely adorable. Vlad realized he had just found his new favorite way of teasing the boy.

“Hey, is he hassling you, Danny?”

Vlad and Danny turned towards the doorway of the kitchen, where Sam and Tucker now stood. Vlad scowled.

“And where, pray tell, have you two been all this time?” Vlad asked, standing away from Danny to direct his gaze on the other two teens.

“Bathroom,” Sam said.

“Needed to make a call,” Tucker said, both their faces completely casual and blank.

“Mhmm,” Vlad said dryly, his gaze going from the “innocent” teens to Danny who had been acting way too friendly and talking more than normal this whole time. He sighed. Getting played by teenagers. He really was getting old. “Well, no worries. Despite the fact that you two were snooping and Danny was the very successful distraction,” Vlad smirked at Danny briefly. “It doesn’t matter because I’m sure your little search proved fruitless.”

He smiled expectantly at the two teens, who didn’t say a word but looked slightly shaken that Vlad had discovered their little scheme. “As I said,” Vlad began with a wave of his hand. “I’m not planning anything or doing anything evil, so I don’t care if you want to flip my mansion upside-down trying to find something suspicious. Although, I wouldn’t appreciate the mess you’d make.”

A delicate ring filled the house suddenly and Vlad excused himself from the room to answer the door.

That was quick, Vlad thought, slightly disappointed to be interrupted. They probably took one look at the address and figured if they came fast enough they would get a nice tip.

Vlad opened the door and as expected, there stood an eager young kid with uneven stubble and thick eyebrows holding his ordered food. “Hello Mr. Mayor! I must say, it’s exciting delivering your pizza! Though I didn’t realize you could eat this much all by yourself—”

“Yes, thank you,” Vlad said tersely, taking the pizzas and handing the boy his money. The boy counted it, obviously disappointed that he had only been handed the expected amount, no tip included.

“Uh…”

“Have a nice day!” Vlad said with a sickly sweet smile and slammed the door with his foot. He was only supposed to be nice to Daniel and his friends, not every teenager in Amity Park.

Vlad walked back to the kitchen where the friends were all standing together, probably discussing whatever things the two had managed to find in their snooping adventure through his house.

“Dinner is served!” Vlad said proudly, dropping the pizzas onto the kitchen island. “One Meat Lovers for young Mr. Foley, One Vegetarian for Miss. Manson, and of course one Pepperoni and Pineapple for young Daniel.” Vlad opened each pizza box as he announced them, the smell of cheese, sauce, bread and assorted toppings filling the kitchen, making the teens forget any plans and gaze at the food like starved wolves.

“I’m not going to question how you know our pizza preferences,” Sam said as she grabbed a piece of her veggie pizza. “I’ll just chalk it up to more stalking and classic Vlad-creepiness.”

“I just pay attention,” Vlad said with a tight smile. He turned to Danny who was already half done with one of his slices. “You don’t mind if I take a slice from your pizza, do you my boy?”

“You like pepperoni and pineapple?” Danny asked around a mouthful of pizza.

“Back in college, when your father and I were roommates and we were ordering pizza, this was what we’d get,” Vlad explained as he grabbed a slice for himself. “I liked pepperoni originally and he liked pineapple. We would compromise and get both, and after a few times we grew a fondness for the both together.”

“Ha, so that’s why this is all he orders,” Danny said after he swallowed, gazing down at the pizza after hearing its story. “I grew up with this stuff.”

Vlad smiled at the boy for a moment before biting into his slice. The familiar taste brought up happy memories, tainted by bitter feelings, so Vlad could only stomach one slice.

After dinner, the teens all gathered in the living room to play with all their purchases which Vlad had had his vultures drop in this room. Vlad watched them from the corner of the couch, watching the kids as though it were Christmas.

Vlad suddenly got a strange warm feeling, as though this were a nice family gathering, but it brought up images of someone sitting beside him on the couch, leaning against him contently as they watched the kids…

He shook his head. It was strange. He watched Danny, and though the scene before him made him think he should feel as though he were fathering Danny and seeing him as a son, it didn’t sit right with Vlad. After that dream this morning and the light flirting that had (without Danny’s clear understanding) taken place in the kitchen, it was slowly becoming easier for Vlad to see Danny as a potential love interest instead of a son.

“How do you start this thing up?” Danny complained, handling his new phone as he touched the screen and turned it this way and that.

Tucker glanced over as he sensed a tech problem. “You got the new Noria? I’ve never handled one before.”

Recognizing the word, Vlad glanced over to see Danny handling a cell phone made by Mastersoft. “Daniel, come over here. I do own the company that makes those, after all.”

“Don’t you mean stole the company,” Sam muttered as she sorted through the new accessories she bought herself. Vlad scowled at her but looked to Danny as said boy scooted over to Vlad, sitting by the man’s feet.

“Alright, so show me how to use it,” Danny said. “The commercials made it seem cool, like I could use it to see the stars and plan for asteroid sightings and things.” Vlad bent over, his chin almost resting on Danny’s shoulder as he looked at the phone in Danny’s hand.

“That’s true, and you can also program the phone to alert you to different eclipses, NASA activities, and have your calendar follow the moon phases,” Vlad explained as he poked at the screen, setting up the device and programming the features he mentioned, showing Danny how it all worked.

“Thanks for the NASA posters by the way,” Danny said quietly as he watched Vlad install some helpful apps. Vlad paused briefly but continued, his heart fluttering slightly at the quiet words. So Danny had at least kept some of the stuff from the gift baskets, as well as appreciated them. Vlad smiled, enjoying the thought and the current closeness of the boy.

“Dude, it can do all that?” Tucker asked, who had scooted over just as Vlad finished up. The man sat up, nodding. “I didn’t think you actually knew how to use the stuff. I figured you just sat at your desk filling out paperwork for the company.”

“I run the company,” Vlad clarified with a raised eyebrow. “I make sure I know what the scientists are working on, what’s being sold, how and how everything works.”

“So you could like, make a new computer that syncs up to the Game Station or make a PDA that’s shaped like a watch?” Tucker asked excitedly.

Vlad arched an eyebrow with an amused smile. “Yes, I suppose I could so long as the technology is there. I could also get you free passes into the company to see all the newest gadgets, as well as free prototype versions to keep before they are released on the market.”

Tucker looked about ready to burst, his eyes wide and shining with happy tears. Danny laughed and nudged Vlad’s knee. “Stop it, you are going to give the poor boy a heart attack.”

“I bet that’s his plan,” Sam muttered, giving a dry glare toward the group of boys.

Danny gave Sam an exasperated look while Vlad glared at the young goth girl.

“Right, because it’s part of my evil scheme to spoil you kids until you all die of joy,” Vlad said dryly.

“It would be a better method than some of the other plans you’ve had, like trying to burn me at the stake but you know, it’d still get the job done in the end,” Sam bit back, glaring fully at Vlad without blinking an eye.

Vlad blinked in surprise and then smirked. “You know Samantha, I always admired that about you. Your spirit.” Sam rolled her eyes. “You’re only a human, and yet you never back down when it comes to something you care about.”

“Duh, that’s what love means,” Sam said and then blinked and blushed lightly, sputtering as she glanced at Danny. “I mean…well I defend things I love like… I mean not love love, just love like a friend! But, well…”

Vlad laughed, enjoying the teen girl being frazzled instead of bitter. Teens were so easy to tease sometimes.

“I’m sorry about that whole witch thing, by the way. I got a bit caught up in the era, it seemed,” Vlad said lightly.

Before Sam could say anything, Vlad looked down to Danny who mumbled, “This is the most I’ve heard you apologize…ever.” Danny wasn’t looking at Vlad when he said it, seeming to be talking to himself more than anything as he toyed around with the phone in his hands, his knees pulled up to his chest.

Vlad gazed down at the young boy, hoping this would be the start on the right path. He leaned down towards Danny’s ear. “And I mean every word.”

Danny jumped slightly, obviously not having expected Vlad to have heard him. His eyes widened but he shook his head and glared at Vlad. “Yeah sure.” He stood and his friends followed. “It’s getting late, Vlad. We need to head home.”

Vlad looked up at the boy before him, wondering why the boy had evaded so quickly instead of arguing more like normal. “Sure thing, my boy. Let me just grab the keys and I’ll drive you all home.” Vlad couldn’t resist reaching out and ruffling the boy’s hair as he passed, his fingers lingering a second longer than they should have in the soft, thick locks.

As Vlad exited the room, he paused when he heard whispers. He focused his hyper-sensitive hearing on the conversation, curiosity getting the better.

“What do you mean?” Vlad heard Danny say to something he had missed.

“You and Tucker acting all buddy-buddy with Plasmius! Come on Danny, you are falling straight into his trap!”

“Oh come on Sam, we were not. And besides, there’s no harm,” Danny said casually and Vlad perked up a little. “Vlad’s not doing anything right now—”

“He’s always doing something!”

Vlad sighed hotly, glaring into the empty hall before him. That girl! Would she forever be a thorn in Vlad’s side? The nerd was easy enough to win over and thankfully due to the mutual gender aspect, Danny sometimes leaned towards Tucker’s line of thinking. But the girl was tougher. She was thick-headed and smart, acting as the mother hen, as the moral compass of the group, and Vlad knew Danny had a soft spot for her.

“Yeah, you think I don’t know that. I just mean, there’s no immediate threat. He’s obviously trying to pull something, I’m not going to suddenly start hanging out with him and share cooking recipes. I just mean there’s no danger in just having some fun. He’s paying for all this.”

“Yeah Sam, Danny’s right. He’s buying and he’s not attacking. Whenever he finally reveals his plans, Danny will take him down like usual.”

“God, you guys can be so thick sometimes! This is Vlad we’re talking about, the guy who makes Danny’s life a living hell every chance he gets! He’s not a puppy, he’s a wolf, don’t mistake them! He will bite you if you’re not careful!”

“I know, Sam. You are right, I’ll be more alert.”

“Thank you.”

Vlad ground his teeth together, the anger in him boiling wildly in his chest. She’s ruining everything! Vlad had been so close! The boy and he had…well not connected per say but had at least managed some decent conversations today without spitting fire at one another.

Vlad turned, intending to go out there and tell the girl off, or kick her out of the house, when a chill run up Vlad’s spine and a whispered voice said, “Don’t do it, Vlad.”

Vlad turned, noticing a familiar ghostly glow around the hallway mirror. He sighed and walked over to it. “That girl,” Vlad began, pointing towards the living room. “Is going to be my main obstacle, isn’t she?”

“In a sense,” the guardian spirit agreed passively. “But if you go in there with the anger you are feeling now, you are going to ruin everything. You’ve made progress Vlad Masters, significant progress.” Vlad thought he heard a hint of surprise in the ghost’s quiet voice, as though she were impressed, especially since Vlad had basically failed and skipped the second step in this whole thing.

Vlad smirked, preening at the thought of progress towards his goal.

“The boy is noticing your behavior and realizing you are not a threat. He’s picking up on the way you act, the things you say, and more importantly, how you are treating his friends. This is good, Vlad Masters.”

The man smirked. “Excellent,” Vlad said, now reassured that despite Miss. Manson’s warnings to Danny, things were still going his way. He grabbed the keys off the hallway table, an aura of confidence around him as he looked towards those cold solid blue eyes in the mirror. Maybe things were looking up after all. Vlad chuckled. “Just a little more playing nice, kissing up to his friends and family, and the boy will be all mine!”

Chapter Text

Vlad pulled up the car in front of Fenton Works. He scowled at the large neon sign above the house, announcing the family’s location to any and all who cared. So large and loud and obnoxious, just like Jack.

Vlad looked to Danny who unbuckled his seat belt. Vlad had already dropped off the other two teens at their respective homes. Danny was last of course, since Vlad wanted just a moment alone with the boy, to perhaps give a proper goodbye, finally figure something out to say that would make the boy do a double take, perhaps smile and say something in return that gave Vlad hope that the boy would soon see things his way.

“Daniel, a moment,” Vlad said as Danny reached for the car door handle. The ghost boy paused and looked to Vlad. The older man faltered a bit. “Uh…” Problem was, Vlad hadn’t exactly planned out what he was going to say.

Before Vlad could call upon some hidden sentimental, emotional side of himself, Danny’s ghost sense went off, just as a shock ran up Vlad’s spine.

“Great, it was almost going to be a quiet, ghost-free day,” Danny mumbled as the white rings surrounded him, turning him into Danny Phantom. Acid green eyes looked to Vlad. “This isn’t somehow your fault, is it?”

Vlad raised his hands as though to prove their cleanliness. Danny shook his head and fazed through the roof of the car.

Vlad leaned over the steering wheel and peered out of the windshield, watching as Danny began to fight some giant ferocious green beast that had fazed through some buildings and appeared.

“Whoa Cujo! Hey, it’s just me! Whoa boy! How’d you get out of the Ghost Zone again!?” Danny called, grabbing onto the beast’s thick black collar to try to rein it in from the destruction it was causing.

“Vlad Masters.”

Vlad sighed, not taking his eyes off the ghosts outside. “Can this wait, I’m trying to watch the show.”

“It’s time for the next step, Vlad Masters. And now might be the perfect opportunity.”

“Oh?” Vlad inquired, finally glancing up into the rearview mirror where the familiar solid blue eyes stared back.

“Similarities, Vlad,” the spirit said.

Vlad arched a silver eyebrow. “Is this becoming some kind of dating service? I’ve got to find ‘common interests’, like a love for long walks on the beach, drinking caramel and chocolate macchiatos and writing poetry?”

“This is about finding common ground, Vlad,” the spirit said, ignoring the sarcastic comments of the billionaire. “The boy can’t take a serious interest in you if you two cannot find common ground to bond over.”

“Yes, true,” Vlad mused, smiling slightly as he pulled the keys out of the ignition and stepped out of the car. “Well then this should be easy at least. Danny and I are already a lot alike. I mean we are the only two half ghosts in existence and that’s—”

“Whoa whoa, Vlad look out!” Vlad looked up and suddenly was tackled to the ground. He looked up in surprise to see the giant beast, its massive paws crushing his chest, growling down at him, bright red eyes glaring and drool dripping down from a mouth full of sharp snarling teeth. The drool dripped onto the front of Vlad’s suit, positively revolting the man despite the monster that seemed about ready to eat him.

Vlad glared up at the beast. “This is a new suit, so if you wouldn’t mind…” Vlad growled, his eyes flashing red for a moment. The green ghost stopped growling and suddenly a thick tongue stuck out, licking Vlad on his face, leaving a slimy trail.

“Ugh, Daniel, get this thing off me before I resort it to ectoplasm!” Vlad cried just as Danny floated over, laughing.

“He usually hates cat people. Do you secretly have a love for slobbery, cuddly dogs, Vladdie?” Danny asked, floating over to Cujo’s large head and scratching him behind the ear. The giant ghost dog barked happily and suddenly turned into a small happy green puppy, who continued to lick at Vlad’s face.

Vlad sat up, his face scrunched in disgust as he held the squirming puppy away from him. “Cats are quiet and clean; dogs are way too over anxious and…ugh affectionate,” Vlad said, standing and handing over the ghost dog.

“You’d think you’d want something overly affectionate in your home, instead of a moody old cat,” Danny said, scratching the dog under his chin. “I’ll never understand why lonely people choose even lonelier animals as companions.”

Vlad pulled out the red handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped the drool from his face. “Cats have basic manners, for one thing,” Vlad said dryly, glancing at Danny to point a glare at the boy, but paused when he noticed the laughing Danny not listening and playing with the puppy, who was floating around the ghost boy’s head, yapping and panting happily. He likes dogs. Great, there goes that similarity, Vlad thought with an irritated twitch in his eye.

“So I assume you know this little beast,” Vlad mused.

“Yeah, he caused some trouble at Axion Labs a few years ago and ever since he’s kind of shown up every now and then. He really is sweet, he just needs someone to play with him,” Danny said with a smile.

“Seems he’s really taken a liking to you,” Vlad said dryly, just as the dog floated up to Vlad and licked his cheek again.

Danny laughed as the man wiped at his face with his sleeve, grabbing the dog and holding it under his arm. “Yeah, and he seems to like you too, though God only knows why.” Danny smirked as Vlad struggled with the rambunctious pup. The older man looked to Danny pleadingly, so Danny laughed and took Cujo once again into his arms. “I wish I could have a dog, but this little guy belongs in the ghost Zone. I’ll have to bring him back—”

The front door to Danny’s home suddenly opened, Jack Fenton standing in the doorway with some kind of blinking gadget in hand. Danny yipped like the puppy and stepped behind Vlad, quickly letting the white rings turn him human again with Vlad as an effective shield.

“Vladdie? That you?” Jack asked as he came down the steps to the sidewalk. “Be careful! There’s ecto-energy going crazy right now! There’s a ghost around here! Dang specters getting close to my home!”

Vlad rolled his eyes as Jack came closer, following the tracking device’s blinking and beeping. The gadget lit up when it was pointed straight at Vlad’s chest. Jack looked to Vlad in confusion and Vlad just smiled innocently, his heart actually beating a bit faster than normal. It would be really bad timing if Jack suddenly decided to use his head and connect the pieces…!

Jack put a hand to Vlad’s shoulder and moved the man to the side to see behind him and was surprised to see his own son standing there, looking just as “innocent”.

“Danny? What are you doing here?” Jack asked. “Have you seen any ghosts floating around?” Jack looked down at the machine in his hands which was going nuts, blinking and beeping, indicating a strong ghostly presence.

Vlad noticed Danny’s worried gaze, and Vlad try to send him a reassuring smile but he worried too. Vlad’s repressed ghostly powers were vast and insanely strong, combined with Danny’s own hidden powers and the currently invisible ghost behind the boy’s back, that machine might actually explode from the intense ghostly pressures it was picking up. And that might be bad.

“No dad, I haven’t seen anything,” Danny began quickly.

“Huh,” Jack said, looking into the skies and then shaking his head. He hit his thick fist against the contraption with a sigh. “I just don’t get why these machines keep lighting up around you, Danny-boy.” He pointed the machine away and towards Vlad, watching it light up and beep even louder. “And now it’s even doing it for Vlad! Man, I need to tweak this thing and try to get it to work!” He looked to the sky again and sighed. “I guess it was just a false alarm.”

Jack then retreated back towards the house. “Oh and Vlad, you are more than happy to stay for dinner!”

Vlad sighed as Jack entered the house, squeezing the bridge of his nose. “Every time I see that man, I’m reminded how big an idiot he really is.”

“Hey, you can’t call him that when you know his invention works just fine,” Danny argued as Cujo turned visible and floated around Danny, licking the boy’s face. “Good boy, Cujo.”

“It’s not the technology not working, it’s the fact that he can’t connect the pieces,” Vlad said with a shake of his head.

“So, you wanted him to figure out that you and me are ghosts?” Danny asked with a confused tilt of his head.

“I don’t want him to, I’m just commenting that he’s an idiot because he hasn’t.”

“My mom hasn’t figured it out either you know.”

Vlad paused, glancing to Danny. “Well then she’s an idiot as well.”

Danny’s eyes widened for a moment but then he glared at Vlad. “Quite bashing my parents okay, and just be happy they haven’t figured it out or you would be ripped apart molecule by molecule.”

“And you wouldn’t be?” Vlad asked with a raised eyebrow.

Danny faltered a moment, breaking eye contact as he glanced to Fenton Works. “Well…I’m their son—”

“If you trusted them not to rip you apart should they ever find out about your ghostly half, then why haven’t you told them?”

Danny didn’t respond, his gaze resigned and far away as he stared at his front door. Vlad sighed.

“If you tell them and they still love you, that’d be great. You’d still have your happy little family but without the fear and lies. But, if you told them and they rejected you, still saw you as an enemy, then you’d lose your family. And the thought of them hating you and trying to kill you is scary enough that the more favorable outcome just isn’t worth the risk.”

“Exactly,” Danny said with a sigh. “You’re lucky you don’t have a family to hide from.”

“No matter the circumstance, it’s never lucky to not have family,” Vlad said sternly, his eyes narrowing at Danny.

Danny shrunk back a bit, shame suddenly flashing in his gaze as he realized what he’d just said. “No you’re right, I’m sorry. I mean, well…”

“And for the record,” Vlad said, cutting the boy off before he could ramble on like he was prone to sometimes. “I do still have to hide. I have my masks just as you do, Daniel. You have to act the perfect son, the normal teenage student, and the ghost fighting hero, being what people believe you to be, switching back and forth with your roles and your double identity.

“I have to act the kindly mayor for the people of this city.” Danny rolled his eyes and Vlad smirked. “I have to play the old college buddy of Jack.” Vlad rolled his eyes. “As well as the evil villain to satisfy a certain ghost boy’s growing hero-complex.” Vlad chuckled and reached out, ruffling Danny’s dark hair.

“You’re not pretending there,” Danny said, shaking his head and brushing away Vlad’s hand. He smirked as he tried to fix his unruly black hair. “That’s your true face.”

Vlad shook his head. “I’m not a villain, Danny.” Before the boy could argue, Vlad said, “But I’m not a hero either.”

Danny paused, looking at Vlad carefully. He grabbed Cujo from the air and turned back into Danny Phantom.

“No. You’re right, you’re not a hero. You can never be one.”

Vlad had no reason to argue. He didn’t want to be a hero. He saw the pressures the boy put himself under by saving the city, by fighting all the ghosts. People relied on him, to always win, to always know what to do and make the right choices. It was too much pressure for a teen who could barely control his powers, who still had to graduate high school and keep this all a secret from everyone. Heroes were glorified and it seemed like Danny liked it, but Vlad knew it was way harder to be a hero than a villain. But then again, being a villain just didn’t pay off as well as one would think sometimes.

But for some reason, Vlad didn’t want Danny to believe this. He didn’t want Danny seeing him as a villain, and even though Vlad had no intentions of suddenly becoming some saint and fighting crime, he didn’t want Danny believing he couldn’t be a hero. He wanted Danny to…to count on him, to look up to him and to…believe in him. He wanted someone’s faith, someone’s trust, and Vlad realized that someone was this boy.

“Why can’t I be a hero?” Vlad asked. He stared at the boy’s green eyes, searching. His eyes were wide, hoping the boy would see some potential in him, some good. He didn’t think he could bare the ghost boy seeing him as just another enemy, as just some obstacle, just an evil force he needed to rid the city of. He needed to be something to the boy, something substantial and important and permanent!  

Danny merely shook his head and looked away. “I need to return Cujo to the Ghost Zone.”

Vlad’s hopes dropped. He nodded. “I’ll go then. Don’t let me get in the way of your hero thing.”

“My dad invited you to dinner.”

Vlad paused, wondering if that was an invitation in the boy’s voice. It sounded more like he was reminding Vlad so that the man wouldn’t break his dad’s heart. “I’m sure your father won’t miss me. He’s got his own family.”  

Danny looked ready to say something else but Vlad merely turned and got back into his car, slamming the door shut without another glance at the young ghost hero.

Chapter Text

Vlad sat at his desk, fighting off a burning headache from all the routine, tedious paperwork that had to be done for this town. He needed to sign papers, plan meetings, read papers, attend meetings, make phone calls, ignore phone calls, run around town, make announcements…sometimes Vlad wondered why he’d thought world domination was a good idea; trying to run a city was time-consuming and boring, imagine running the whole earth!

Besides this, Vlad also had multiple companies he owned that he needed to take care of on a daily basis. That left absolutely no room for the main thing Vlad wanted to focus all his time and energy on: the Danny problem.

He called it a problem and not a goal or plan because currently, it was a problem. A big problem, and a real pain in the ass. Every time he thought he was making even a small step forward, he seemed to do something wrong. Danny’s quick temper and unpredictable teen emotions made reasoning with the boy impossible.

Maybe I should wait another ten years, and try this whole thing again when he’s 26…Vlad thought, rubbing his forehead. But then that she-bat will already have swooped in and sunk her plastic fangs into him! I’ll have already lost him!

Vlad scowled, knowing he had to grab the boy now. Ugh, I sound like some predator on the children’s playground…

It’s not like Danny’s a child though; he’s sixteen. And despite his emotions, he has mellowed out and matured in the few short years I’ve known him. Given time, he’ll become a fine young man, capable and responsible and incredibly powerful.

Vlad’s headache dulled some at the idea of watching Danny age and mature by his side, being there during it all, spending his life with such a person. It wasn’t such a bad thought, and it made this whole dilemma that much easier, knowing what awaited him at the end.

I just wish the end would come sooner…or easier.

Vlad sat back, staring at all the unfinished paperwork he had yet to touch. He glanced at his watch. It was late enough that he could cut out, head home and perhaps take a long bath, make a hot meal and catch the game. He sighed…yet another bachelor night. No one to return home to. Well except Maddie.

Vlad glanced guiltily to the corner of his desk, where a framed photo of the human Maddie sat. He leaned forward and grabbed it, resting his elbows on the desk as he gazed down at the smiling face. He hadn’t gotten rid of this old thing yet, despite knowing he should. There was no point in keeping it, he had given up on her, hadn’t he? It felt wrong to keep it now, like if Danny came in and saw it, Vlad would feel like he was caught cheating or something. Vlad chuckled without humor.

He looked at the picture one last time and then stood. He walked around to the side of his desk and held the framed photo over the waste basket. He hesitated though.

“Butter brickle,” Vlad muttered, rubbing his face wearily. He stepped back and opened the desk drawer, quickly shoving the picture frame inside face down, grabbing his car keys and exiting the building in a hurry.

As he pulled out into the street, he glanced into the rearview mirror and nearly had a heart attack at what—or who—was staring back at him, causing him to swerve slightly and earning a few honks his way.

“Could you please refrain from just appearing in my rearview mirror while I’m driving!?” Vlad exclaimed as his heart rate slowed back to normal. The man sighed. “Well, what is it? Here to reprimand me for not going out to findmy similarities with Daniel?”

“Finding similarities takes time, time that needs to be spent getting to know the boy,” the blue eyed spirit in his mirror said calmly. “The next step shall go hand in hand with that one. As you spend time with him, finding common ground, you must also continue to gain his trust and respect along the way, through opening up.”

Vlad glanced to the mirror, arching an eyebrow. “Opening up? You mean like telling him my feelings, and all the awful horrors of my childhood?”

“Opening up simply means being honest with the boy, willing to confess feelings or experiences you’d rather keep to yourself. If you are to have this child as a main part of your life, you need to be comfortable with talking to him,” explained the guardian specter.

Vlad nodded as he continued to drive, his mind reeling. The very idea of talking to Danny about his feelings was almost laughable, and quite frankly a bit humiliating. But he supposed it made sense.

“Alright. But I’m not going to hold his hands, gaze into his eyes and confess my undying love for him or anything. The boy will be lucky to get an “I’m feeling hungry” out of me at this point. That is, if he’ll even bother talking with me.”

Vlad returned home, the silence of his entrance was overwhelming. For the past few days, Vlad’s house has seemed bigger and emptier than it has in twenty years. He feels lonelier than ever sitting on the couch, making dinner, going to bed.

Most days he’d talk to himself, his mind reeling with plans and schemes and plots, all of them brilliant and promising more fortune and power, things he believed would eventually make him happy. Those thoughts and plans distracted him from the fact that his house was so cold. They distracted him from the hundreds of empty rooms, from the lack of family portraits that normally adorned homes, the absence of laughter or conversation. Some days Vlad had his vultures over, giving them commands. Other days he’d bare through the Diary King’s ramblings. But most of the time, it was just Vlad. Vlad and—

“Meow!” Vlad smiled as a small white cat slowly slunk around the corner and towards Vlad. She rubbed against his leg in greeting, purring softly. The man bent down and picked her up, walking through the house towards the kitchen.

“Ah Maddie,” Vlad said with a soft smile, rubbing the cat’s stomach. “You’re the only one to keep a solitary old man company around here.” Vlad smiled fondly. “I really should thank Daniel for suggesting I get a cat in the first place. I know he said it to mock me, but I like to believe he said it because he was truly concerned. I suppose that would count as opening up.”

“Meow!” Maddie nuzzled Vlad and purred as the man stroked her back. Vlad smiled; knowing Maddie was always happy to see him made the loneliness ebb significantly. He had never had a pet before, had always seen them as a nuisance instead of a pleasure, but when Danny had offhandedly suggested it, for some reason it had stuck in his mind.

“That boy’s been changing me since the beginning, little by little, and I never realized it…” Vlad mused, putting Maddie down in the kitchen and grabbing her bowl. He filled it with milk. Perhaps that was a good sign.

Part of Vlad wanted to go back to the Mirror, the actual Espil Mirror and see those images again, forgot everything between him and Danny these past few days and just watch the mirror, interact with that imaginary being that smiled kindly at him, that told him he loved him. It would be better than going back to the real Danny. Back to that house where Jack owned his happy life, where Maddie barely tolerated Vlad, where Danny didn’t trust a word Vlad said. Those images in the mirror had been so sweet. Strange and impossible, but so so sweet. I’ll waste my life away in front of that mirror…maybe eventually the images will change into something more realistic, more possible…

Vlad felt something behind him, breaking him from his melancholy. “Meow!” Maddie’s cry was impatient, and Vlad realized he hadn’t put her bowl down for her. She meowed again and jumped onto the counter, pushing Vlad’s hand away with her head so she could lap at her milk in peace.

The man sighed and leaned against the counter, a hand covering his eyes. He laughed bitterly. “No matter what…no matter who it is…I’m messing something up…I’m making someone mad.” Vlad looked to Maddie. “Maybe it’s me. I’m not meant for love. My father always complained about me, my mother never got close to me, I had no friends until college and then they…” Vlad gritted his teeth and shook his head. It was happening again. On Vlad’s bad days, when plans and work and football couldn’t distract him, Vlad would slip into memories. Painful memories of all his failures, of all the people who’d hurt him, of all his years alone. Self-pity. He hated it. I’m Vlad Masters, I’ll have whatever I want from this world! It owes me EVERYTHING! Vlad would tell himself that, over and over. But now, with Danny on the brain and his impending mission, it was starting to take its toll on Vlad.

He looked around him, at the grand kitchen, not a speck of dirt out of place, not a soul to be seen. Vlad left Maddie to her dinner and walked out of the kitchen. The living room sat dead, the large television black and empty, its surface reflecting Vlad in mock of a mirror, only this mirror was empty. Vlad hurried from the room into the entrance hall with all his Packers paraphanila. All this green and gold, the one constant in Vlad’s life since his childhood that has brought Vlad pleasure, that he is able to focus his time and energy on. 

Empty. All of it. Just possessions, just junk. Vlad looked to the stairs, that would lead to empty rooms, lead to his own bedroom, an empty bed waiting for him, cold and large…

“I need to get out here.”

Vlad grabbed his coat and threw open the door. He stopped with a start when he saw Danny standing in the doorway, with equally wide eyes and a fist raised, as though he had been about to knock.

Vlad blinked. “Daniel?”

Danny took a step back, a strange hesitancy and fear in his body that contrasted with the normally cocky and brash boy Vlad normally faced.

“Uhh...” Danny muttered, glancing towards Vlad’s hand, which held his coat. “Were you going out?” Before Vlad could respond, Danny was shaking his head and stepping further back, turning to leave. “Never mind, I shouldn’t have come anyway…”

“Wait.” Vlad’s mind was reeling, different scenarios and problems and feelings jumbling through his head, but his body reacted before he could even process a single thought. He grabbed the boy’s shoulder, stopping him from leaving. “Wait, you don’t need to go. You came all this way for something, I assume…?”

Danny shook his head again. “No, I—” Vlad’s hand suddenly fell away from the boy—well actually fell through the boy as Danny’s body suddenly went intangible and then physical. Danny noticed and swore quietly. “Look, I should just go.”

He can’t! It was like an alarm going off inside Vlad, his heart hammering too fast, a panic rising in him at the thought of being alone again tonight.

“Just…stay for dinner then. It’s not too late yet, I’m sure your parents will be fine with it,” Vlad tried, putting on a tight lipped smile, trying for kindness and generosity, but his nerves felt shot and he was pretty sure he was trembling. What’s wrong with me…?

Danny paused, glancing to Vlad, then beyond Vlad into the house, looking as though he were staring down into the lair of a beast. Finally he sighed and shrugged slightly. Vlad released a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and stepped to the side, allowing Danny to enter.

The boy walked down the hall and into the living room, his footsteps slow and his head looking left and right. His shoulders seemed tense.

“Daniel?” Vlad asked, not sure how to properly respond to the situation before him. “Not that this isn’t…I mean what are you—” Vlad scratched his beard thoughtfully. “Is everything alright?

“Yeah. I was just…in the neighborhood,” Danny said with a shrug, his voice too casual. “Thought I’d pay a visit to my favorite Uncle.”

Vlad winced. That damned nickname again…

“Ah yes, of course,” Vlad murmured with a nod, his eyes on the boy. “Well if you would like…” Vlad began, walking over to the couch and picking up the remote. “You can watch television while I begin cooking.” Vlad handed over the device, which Danny tried to take, but the boy’s hand turned intangible and the thing clattered to the ground. “Why are you—”

“Ah ah ah…” Danny breathed and then, “ACHOO!” A beam of green energy shot from Danny and towards the wall, blasting straight through.

“Butter biscuits!” Vlad exclaimed angrily, looking towards the boy. Danny didn’t look smug though, he looked scared. Vlad’s anger cooled when he realized the boy probably wasn’t here just to mess up his house. “Your powers…what’s wrong with them?”

“What? Nothing!” Danny said quickly, waving his hands in front of himself.

Vlad arched an eyebrow. “Daniel…”

Danny paused and then glared lightly at Vlad. “Nothing’s wrong, Vlad. Look like I said, I’ll just go. I shouldn’t even be here.”

Vlad grabbed Danny’s arm before the boy could go anywhere. “You’re obviously in no condition to go anywhere. What happened?”

“Right, like I’m gonna tell you what’s wrong,” Danny said with a glare, pulling his arm away.

Vlad gave him a steady glare and Danny sighed. He sat on the couch and didn’t say anything for a moment, seemingly debating about something in his mind from the conflicted look in his eyes. Finally he looked up at Vlad, and said, “That machine my dad had aimed at us the other day…since he believes it’s got bugs, he’s been tinkering with it. It started sending off strong ecto-currents that made my powers short out.” As if to further prove his point, Danny slowly starting rising from the couch, floating until his head hit the ceiling. Vlad quickly covered his mouth with his head to stifle the laugh that was just about to tumble out.

“It’s not funny! This sucks! I feel like I’m fourteen again, and just got my powers. It’s annoying,” Danny grumbled as he tried to push off from the ceiling. He only managed to move so his back was pressed to the ceiling instead of his chest. He glared down at Vlad, who smiled smugly up at him.

“So why did you come here then?” Vlad inquired. “I mean even with control of you are powers, you are barely a threat to me, so why do you think that in this state it was a good idea to come to the house of you are ‘arch-enemy’?”

Danny scowled. “Yeah I know.” He fidgeted uncomfortably in the air. “But…I can’t stay home, being like this. It was bad enough before, but look at me! How would I explain this!?”

“And you couldn’t go to a trusted friend’s house?”

“No, for the same reasons,” Danny said with a scowl. “This is worse than when I first got my powers, it’s just so glitchy and random that I can’t risk being around people. It’s not exactly like I could just float to the ceiling like this in front of their parents! And Sam’s family is doing their Hanukah thing this week so I didn’t want to interrupt.” Danny seemed to pout, glaring at the wall. “I just hate to be a bother…”

Vlad looked up at the boy, who had felt alone and afraid and had decided to come here, to Vlad at such a vulnerable time. This was definitely some kind of progress! Vlad smiled and raised his hand, offering it to Danny. The ghost boy stared at it suspiciously a moment, as though expecting a pink ecto-blast to shoot out. Finally Danny reached and grabbed the man’s hand, allowing Vlad to pull him down.

Vlad smiled and wrapped an arm around the boy’s waist to pull him so his feet were hovering just above the ground. The boy was flush to his chest, and Vlad felt a tingle run through his body. Vlad stared down at the young face and asked, “So then you decided to come here until the effects of that stupid device passes?”

“Well not at first,” Danny admitted with a slight smirk when he noticed Vlad’s disappointment. “I originally went to the park and just hung around there. It’s already dark so I figured no one would see if my powers shorted out.”

“That was still very dangerous,” Vlad chastised. “If you floated like you did now, you could have floated a hundred feet into the air and then suddenly dropped. And what if a ghost came around, like Skulker and your powers weren’t working?”

Danny rolled his eyes. “I know, thanks for the concern Mom.” Vlad flinched slightly. Despite knowing that Danny was just kidding, the joke reminded Vlad that he couldn’t act the parent around Danny anymore. But it just seemed to come naturally to Vlad, wanting to protect the boy, to guide him and teach him.

“It got cold…and I got hungry,” Danny muttered, his cheeks turning a light pink. Vlad’s heart fluttered slightly at the adorable picture Danny made and his own cheeks heated up when he realized how close they were standing. “You’ve been acting…well weird lately, but I figured I could at least come here for a bit since you are the only other person in Amity Park who wouldn’t freak out if I suddenly started floating to the ceiling or walking through walls.”

Vlad laughed. “I’m the only one in Amity Park who could do those things with you, Little Badger.” Vlad floated a few inches off the ground, smirking down at Danny.

A weird expression crossed the boy’s face. He stared at Vlad and then looked over his shoulder at the ground. When he looked back to the man, he seemed to suddenly notice Vlad holding him so close, with his arm around him, and struggled away.

“Uh r-right,” Danny muttered, managing to get out of Vlad’s grip and falling gracelessly to his feet on solid ground, his hold on gravity restored. For now. “So uh…it’s okay for me to stay here then, right? It’s not like this is the first time a Fenton kid ran to you when home wasn’t exactly the best place.”

Vlad laughed and Danny smiled uneasily as they both remembered when Jaz had ran away to Vlad’s house after fighting with Danny, only to later realize she was trying to do undercover work on Plasmius.

“Of course Daniel, make yourself at home.” Vlad bent down and picked up the fallen television remote, handing it to the boy.

Danny glanced at the television, not bothering to turn it on. “All they’re giving is Christmas specials,” the boy complained with a scowl. “I hate December.”

“Really?” Vlad said with a quirked eyebrow. “I thought you’d love Christmas like everyone else. You’re normally so peppy and family-oriented.”

“Yeah well, Christmas isn’t always the happy, joyous holiday at my house like it is for everyone else. Never has been,” Danny said with a dark look, averting his eyes.

Vlad was taken aback for a moment at the comment. Danny had just…opened up to Vlad! It made a warm spark fill Vlad’s chest, knowing the boy was comfortable enough to confess something so personal, even if he hadn’t gone into detail.

But Vlad also felt a pang of sadness. Danny always seemed so happy with his family, defending them to the near-death, and despite the boy’s moods, he seemed like a relatively normal, happy teenager. But with this one comment, Vlad could tell not everything in Danny’s family life was ideal. And it had nothing to do with his powers; this was something that had haunted Danny for a very long time it seemed.

Vlad wanted to reach out, and comfort the boy somehow. With the responsibility of Daniel’s feelings, Vlad needed to be able to react properly. He needed to know the right words to say, the best action to take. A pat on the shoulder? A hug? A kiss?

Okay definitely not that last one. Vlad shook his head with an awkward cough.

“You can put some music on if you want then, instead of television,” Vlad suggested lamely, realizing how rusty he was with entertaining guests. It was different if it was an associate or a ghost worker, but this was Danny. Someone he actually cared about, and a teenager at that! He wasn’t sure what these “hip young kids” liked to do or eat, or how they liked to be comforted.

Vlad figured he’d done something right when Danny simply nodded and headed to the compartments under the TV to look for the stereo and some CDs.

Vlad went back to the kitchen, pulling out the food he had planned to make for tonight. He spent a while preparing the meat and cutting up the vegetables, pleased with the familiar monotony of cooking. It was a simple activity, but demanded full attention, which helped to calm Vlad’s nerves a bit and distract his racing mind. He put the meat in the oven to bake just as he heard Danny exclaim, “No way!”

“If your glitchy powers have burned another hole in my wall—” Vlad’s threat was cut off as a god awful guitar riff blared loudly through the rooms. The familiar sound formed a rock in the man’s stomach and he hurried into the living room. “No no no! Not that!”

Danny was laying on the carpeted floor, his laughter overpowered by the harsh grunge sound coming from the speakers. Danny finally sat up, wiping his eyes. He held up the small cassette box that had the name of the band he was playing. The Skunk Punks.

“Dad told me you guys had a band but I didn’t think you’d have a recording of it,” Danny laughed. “Who’s singing? Please tell me this wasn’t you.”

“No,” Vlad ground out between clenched teeth. This music brought up way too many negative memories for Vlad and having the boy sitting there laughing at him was in no way helping Vlad’s souring mood. He was breaths away from strangling the brat. He should have destroyed that cassette years ago. “This was the other member of the band, named Nick. He didn’t stick around long once the band started getting…picked on.”

“You were bullied?” Danny asked, lowering the volume on the stereo. He looked pensive for a moment. “You guys aren’t that bad.”

Vlad smirked. “Thanks for the comforting lie, Daniel.”

Danny laughed and pressed the stop button on the stereo, throwing the room into blissful silence. “What else do you have?” He looked through the other cassettes and CD’s as Vlad rounded the couch and sat down, deciding it might be safer if he monitored Danny’s choices. “All of this is from the 80s.”

“Well that is the decade I grew up in, Daniel,” Vlad said deadpanned. “Sorry it’s not Keisha and Ashton Timberlake.”

“That’s Justin Timberlake,” Danny said with a laugh. “He’s kinda like the current Michael Jackson. Speaking of which…” Danny put in a cassette and Billie Jean started playing over the speakers. “I’ve come to appreciate the classics of the 80s thanks to my parents, so it’s not a big deal.”

Vlad nodded, not really wanting to talk about the giant age gap between him and Danny, but happy Danny at least liked this kind of music. That’s a huge leap in the similarities department anyway.

“Meow!” Vlad looked over at the irritated mewling, knowing Maddie was probably upset about being ignored for a stranger.

Danny looked over and smirked. “So. You did get that cat, then.” The boy laughed and Vlad scowled as Maddie curled affectionately at his thigh, begging to be pet.

“Yes well, I suppose I must thank you,” Vlad said, a bit unwillingly due to the boy’s smug attitude, but remembering to heed the guardian spirit’s words. “Maddie here has been great company. Haven’t you, girl?” Vlad cooed, scratching the purring cat behind her ear.

“Maddie?” Vlad flinched at the terse, cold tone of Danny’s voice.

Damn! I forgot, so stupid! Vlad smacked himself mentally. That’s what I get for trying to open up! “Yes, Daniel. It’s short for my hometown.” Vlad gave Danny a blank, bored look, thankful he was a practiced liar and a fast thinker. “Madison, Wisconsin. Maddie.”

“Smooth save, Plasmius,” Danny said with a roll of his eyes. He scooted back away from the stereo to lean his back against the couch, sitting on the ground just a few feet away from Vlad. Vlad wanted to move closer, run his fingers through the boy’s hair like he was doing with Maddie. The urge was sudden and strong, and it frightened Vlad slightly. It was a new sensation, this need for affectionate human contact.

“So you were actually born in Wisconsin?” Danny asked, glancing up at Vlad. Vlad’s brows scrunched curiously. Was this Danny’s idea of starting a conversation? Vlad supposed this was a good way to open up to the boy.

“Yes I was,” Vlad said carefully, still not completely sure where Danny was going with this topic.

Danny smiled a bit. “So like, did you live on a cheese farm?” Vlad could tell the boy was holding back laughter. Ah, so that’s it.

“Actually I did, up until college.”

“Wait for real?” Danny asked, surprise written on his face, his smile widening. “Like, with cows and chickens and waking up at 5 in the morning?”

Vlad chuckled but nodded.

Danny burst out laughing. “You're a farm boy!?”

“Hey watch it young man. If you remember, your mother is also a country girl.”

“Sorry, sorry!” Danny said between laughs, shaking his head. “It’s just hard to imagine this—” Danny moved his hand up and down, vaguely gesturing to Vlad. “—wearing overalls and milking a cow! You're all stuffy and proper, a total rich boy!”

Vlad scoffed, not sure what was so funny about living on a farm in his youth while currently being successful and wealthy. “Yes well, people change.”

Danny’s laughter died down and he looked at Vlad, the words Vlad had just uttered sinking in. “I guess so.”

There was a pause in the conversation, stretching out awkwardly. Vlad didn’t want the talking to stop though. Despite the embarrassing topics so far, it was good. “Daniel, I know you don’t want to believe that I’ve changed but—”

“You haven’t,” Danny said with a shrug, his tone casual. “I know you're up to something, Vladdie; you always are. Even now, I’m sure you’re coming up with some evil plot to imprison me or whatever because I’m weak—”

“To me, you’re always weak,” Vlad teased, despite his rising irritation. “And I’m not planning any—”

“I’ve known you a while Vlad, I know you by now,” Danny said and stood. “I really shouldn’t even be here, acting all buddy-buddy, as Sam puts it.” As Danny turned, something in Vlad’s mind clicked.

Vlad stood suddenly, walking over to where Danny had wandered. “Stop,” Vlad said simply. “You are making excuses. We’re sitting and having a decent conversation for once and you start getting uncomfortable.”

“What are you talking about?” Danny asked defensively, averting his eyes from the ever approaching Vlad. The back of Danny’s knees caught on the coffee table when he tried to step back and he tripped, suddenly turning intangible and falling through. He stumbled back and Vlad fazed through the coffee table to grab Danny’s wrist before the boy fell. The two stumbled into the wall, Vlad pinning the boy by his wrist.

Danny’s eyes widened and he pushed at Vlad. “Let me go!”

“No,” Vlad said firmly, putting his other hand on the wall by Danny’s head, effectively caging the boy in. Danny’s eyes flashed green angrily and the white rings appeared around his waist. Unfortunately for the little half ghost, his powers were still on the fritz and the white rings merely fizzled away, leaving behind a miffed Danny Fenton.

“So you are going to take advantage of the fact that my powers are down. I knew it; you haven’t changed at all,” Danny sneered, glaring up at the older halfa. Vlad stared at the boy, dark blue eyes narrowed. Their faces were close together, and Vlad could feel the boy’s heart beat racing in the wrist he had pinned to the wall. They were almost chest to chest, and Vlad felt that same charge run through him.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Daniel. But you're acting like a child. I’m not The Joker, or Lord Voldemort, or the Boogeyman! I’m not some evil entity, I’m just a man. We can sit and talk like adults, but you, with your childish black and white views, can’t grasp that concept and so at the first sign of actual civility between us, you reject it and start acting suspicious of me when I’ve done absolutely nothing to warrant it!”

Danny’s eyes widened but he looked away, like the stubborn teenager he was. Instead of facing his mistakes and accepting his way of thinking was wrong, he fought it. He clung to what he knew, to what he believed was right despite all the evidence against it. Vlad thought Danny was better than that, more mature. The self-righteousness of the heroes.

“You were able to relax some without noticing it when you were here with your friends, because they are a comfortable safe world for you. But with just you and me…” Vlad sighed as Danny started squirming in his grip, obviously no longer listening. Vlad released the boy and stepped back.

“I’m not afraid of you,” Danny said, his heated glare aimed at his enemy.

“I never said you were.”

“And I’m not a child! I know what you're capable of, it’s not like I’m imagining all the evil things you’ve done.”

“But like an ego-centric hero, you ignore the good I’ve done, because you are not comfortable with it.”

“Never mind, this was a mistake,” Danny muttered, shaking his head and heading towards the exit. In a panic, Vlad grabbed at Danny’s hand. He couldn’t let things end like this with the boy again. He needed to make some kind of progress, anything! He couldn’t let the boy storm out when he had finally trusted Vlad, opened up to him. He couldn’t lose this!

“Wait,” Vlad said softly. Danny paused and stiffened but he didn’t wrench his hand from Vlad’s. Vlad wasn’t good with emotions. What man really is? Vlad had never had a real family, had been alone so long that he really didn’t know how to act around people he cared for. He squeezed Danny’s hand and said, “At least stay for dinner.”

The two of them sat at the table for dinner and Vlad just couldn’t wrap his mind around the situation. Danny still seemed tense and uncomfortable, so there was no dinner conversation, just the monotonous click and scrap of forks and plates as they ate, and every now and then the sudden crash and hushed swear if Danny’s powers acted up, making him drop his fork.

Vlad glanced up from his plate occasionally, watching the boy eat for a few moments across from him. A few weeks ago, Vlad would have been thrilled! Daniel in his home, acting relatively civil and sharing a dinner with him. A domestic scene really, a father and son living peacefully together.

But Vlad just…couldn’t see the boy that way anymore. He wanted so badly to run his fingers through the boy’s hair again, to reach out and take his hand, hold it and smile, and to be smiled back at. He didn’t want to raise this boy who was already almost a man, he wanted to share his life with this boy!

Geez… Vlad thought, slightly shocked by the thought. I sound head over heels, like I want to propose to the little brat! Vlad knew he hadn’t progressed too far in his quest to win Daniel, and it was mainly due to Danny’s stubbornness, his black and white views and his damn hero’s pride.

This kid, I swear! That heart of gold of his needs some tainting…

“You and my dad really were close, huh?” Danny suddenly asked, surprising Vlad out of his thoughts.

“Hm?” Vlad muttered unintelligibly, his fork clicking against his plate as he set it down to look at Danny.

The boy had finished his food and was giving Vlad a strange look. “Well that thing the other day with the pizza, and then the band…you guys were roommates for two years,” Danny began, glancing down to his cup briefly. “You’re his best friend, Vlad. Well, he considers you his best friend anyway. How could you possibly hate him so much after being so close? And while you still remember both of your favorite pizza toppings and kept your old recording?”

Vlad sighed, pushing his plate away and folding his hands in front of him. He wasn’t sure where this line of topic came from, but he was willing to indulge for the sake for conversation. “Daniel, it was your idiot father’s fault—”

“How can you sit there and call him an idiot!” Danny exclaimed angrily, slamming his hands on the table. “How can you talk about how much you changed when the one thing I’ve known about you from the beginning is the same? I know he caused the accident, but he apologized! I know my father married the woman you loved, but she never loved you back—”

“That’s not true!” Vlad exclaimed without thinking, glaring at the boy and slamming his hands on the table as well. “Jack stole her from me, as well as my life!”

“Is your life really all that terrible!? You’re a billionaire for God’s sake, with incredible ghost powers—“

“I never asked for any of this!!” Vlad yelled, rising from his seat. “I never asked for powers, I never wanted them! All I wanted after college was to marry a woman I loved, have kids, have a family, and live a peaceful live! I didn’t care about money or power then, I didn’t want to be anything special! I may have it all now, but I never had the one thing I wanted; love! What good is all this money and statues when I have to come home every night to nothing; to a huge empty castle that I fill with stuff just so it doesn’t seem as empty as it is! Jack Fenton stole that dream from me by taking the woman I loved and destroying my body, he ruined my chances, and ruined my life!!”

Danny and Vlad stood on either ends of the table, glaring at one another stubbornly. After a few moments, Danny’s shoulders lowered and his gaze softened slightly. “I…”

“Don’t bother with any kind of pity, please,” Vlad huffed with a wave of his hand, sitting back down. He rubbed his forehead tiredly. This was not at all how he wanted this dinner to go and he was pretty sure that was not what the specter had meant when she had told him to “open up”.

“I wasn’t…Vlad, he didn’t do it on purpose. Please, if you just talked to—”

“No, Daniel. The fact of the matter is is that it was his fault. I spent years suffering in the hospital because of him. He got distracted, it was his invention, and I will never be able to forgive him for it.”

Danny just stared at Vlad, his eyes searching for something, which he didn’t find. The boy sighed and dropped his gaze to the table. “I know.” Danny sat back down but fell straight through his seat, falling harshly to the floor. “Damn it!”

Vlad hurried over, extending his hand to help Danny up. Danny brushed off the hand and pushed himself to his feet, dusting off the seat of his pants in an irritated huff.

Vlad sighed, scratching the back of his head. “I thought those annoying side effects would have worn off by now,” Vlad muttered, gripping Danny’s shoulder, steering him into the living room and pushing him to sit on the couch. “Your father’s an even worse inventor than I thought.”

“He’s not! And you know it!” Danny defended angrily, his eyes flashing green. Vlad didn’t know if it was because of his glitchy powers or if Danny was just that ticked off right now. “You know he’s a good inventor and a good man, you just act like he’s an idiot so you have even more of a reason to hate him!”

“Like I really need to explain myself to a teenager!” Vlad muttered. “Just stay here! I have an extract in my lab that should help with the ghostly power glitches. I created it once my ecto-acne resurfaced a few years ago, just in case it should ever come back.”

“It shouldn’t come back,” Danny said dismissively with a bored yawn. He leaned back into the couch. “Trust me.”

Vlad raised an eyebrow, wondering how Danny had even figured out the problem all those years ago. Despite how he seemed, Vlad knew the boy was just as intelligent as his parents. Well, his mother anyway, Vlad thought bitterly.

“How come I didn’t get ecto-acne when I gained my ghost powers?” Danny asked suddenly.

Vlad looked to Danny a moment, pondering how to answer that question. He then transformed into Plasmius. Danny flinched and looked ready to jump up and fight but Vlad put a hand up to stop the boy. “Calm down, Daniel, I’m just explaining your question.” Danny eyed the ghost before him cautiously, but slowly relaxed, leaning back into the couch and keeping his eyes trained on Plasmius.

“When your idiot father created the first ghost portal, it was simply a prototype, that I knew wouldn’t work, and it was fueled with impure ectoplasm, that is to say synthetic ectoplasm.” Danny nodded hesitantly, apparently following along well enough so far. “Similar to grease on the skin, the impurities of the ectoplasm caused the ecto-acne to break out on my human skin. The impurities caused my skin to turn blue in my ghost form—” Vlad indicated his current face. “—unlike your ghost form which looks basically human. That’s because the ghost portal you now have actually works, so it’s connected to the real ghost zone which has pure ectoplasm.”

Danny nodded, now staring at Vlad with open fascination. “Because of all those impurities, my body was wracked with diseases and heavily damaged, as well as mutated my ghost form. As I’m sure you’ve heard, I had to spend years in the hospital with all kinds of weird illnesses and symptoms, from throwing up ectoplasm, to rashes, and the basic ghostly glitches.” Vlad indicated Danny, who unknowingly, had turned invisible.

There was silence, and Vlad held his breath, unsure what was going on in the boy’s head currently, especially since the temporary invisibility made it so Vlad couldn’t see his expression.

“That must have been…” Danny’s quiet voice said in the air, and suddenly the boy appeared on the couch. Vlad was surprised to see Danny gripping his knees tightly, his face scrunched in distress. His eyes were shining. Vlad’s eyes widened at the figure before him, stunning him into silence. “…awful. When I first turned into Danny Phantom, I thought I’d died. It was terrifying and I didn’t even have all those crazy side effects, well except not really being able to control my powers. I sometimes forget you went through all this too…the fear and uncertainty. Except you were alone.”

Danny blinked and shook his head, the wetness in his eyes fading. Vlad blinked and stared at the boy, suddenly able to breathe again. “Yes well. After a certain amount of practice, one gets use to it.” Vlad wasn’t sure if he was referring to the ghost powers or loneliness. “I’ll be right back.”

Vlad turned intangible and disappeared into the floor. Once down in the lab, he quickly found the vial he held in an anti-freeze chamber, to keep it fresh through the years. He knew this would help Danny’s glitches subside enough for the boy to go home tonight safely.

“At least I can do this much for him,” Vlad muttered. “Since I’m no good at anything else.” Vlad glared at the vial a moment, thinking to just a few minutes ago. Had Danny almost…cried…for me?

Vlad shook his head. No, it must have been some kind of trick. Or it must be the ghostly glitches, affecting Danny’s emotions as well. That would explain his random fits and sudden change in attitudes.

Yes that must be it, Vlad thought gravely. Danny hated Vlad, he’d said so himself plenty of times! Hadn’t he?

Now that Vlad thought about it, Danny had never actuallysaid the words, “I hate you.” That was something he supposed, but Danny’s actions definitely shouted I hate you. Most times.

Well Danny has been acting more civil lately…he even came to me when he was in trouble. That shows he trusts me, Vlad thought, grasping at straws.

Vlad clutched the vial. “Who knew getting into the heart of a teenager would be so complicated? Well, teens are known for their melodrama.”

Vlad noticed a shift out of the corner of his eye and look up from the vial in his palm, noticing a shadow before him on the wall. Plasmius turned quickly but nothing was there. He looked all around, but he was alone in the lab.

Shaking his head, Vlad fazed up into the ceiling and back into the living room. It was empty.

“Daniel?” Vlad called. He looked left and right but didn’t see anything. Vlad glanced over to the front door. “Guess he left. Didn’t want to stick around with some lonely old specter anymore.” Vlad scowled, clutching the vial in his hand tightly.

He transformed back into Masters just as a figure appeared in the living room.

Danny was lying on the couch, his arm pillowing his head, his sneakers still on his feet as he breathed deeply. Vlad’s eyes widened slightly. “He…fell asleep here?” Vlad took a step closer. “Danny?” The boy didn’t move, his mouth parted slightly as he slept. Vlad blushed slightly and looked away.

“He must have turned invisible in his sleep,” Vlad muttered, placing the vial on the coffee table by the couch. He floated and fazed into the ceiling, to the second floor, where he grabbed a clean blanket from the hallway cabinet. He floated back down into the living room and, after carefully taking off the young halfa’s shoes, draped the soft blanket on the thin boy.

Vlad sighed. “I just don’t get you, Daniel,” Vlad whispered, gazing at the exhausted teen. All those power malfunctions must have taken a bigger toll on the boy’s body than Vlad thought. He reached out, running his fingers slightly into the boy’s hair. Danny sighed softly in his sleep and relaxed more into the couch.

“Goodnight, Little Badger.”

Chapter Text

Maddie purred, nuzzling her face to Vlad’s cheek. Vlad laughed and scratched the cat’s white head. “Good girl. I love you, Maddie.”

Maddie purred, the sound warm and deep, slowly turning light, like laughter.

Danny now sat in Vlad’s lap, his arms wrapped around Vlad’s neck, his face buried in the crook of Vlad’s shoulder.

Vlad continuing stroking the soft hair, smiling pleasantly as the boy giggled, snuggling closer.

“Vlad, I love you.”

Vlad smiled to himself, burying his nose in the soft hair. Danny looked up, leaning close, closer, until their lips grazed, barely a breath between them. Danny reached up, his hand touching Vlad’s chest. A white puff escaped the boy’s lips, making Vlad’s lips tingle from the coldness and Danny smiled.

“I felt you. We’re the same Vlad, only I’m good and you’re bad. What are we going to do…?

“What are you going to do?”

Vlad opened his eyes, feeling warm under the thick blanket, squinting a bit at the sun coming in through the sheer window curtains.

He stood, stretched and yawned. He grabbed the robe on the chair by the desk in the corner and a hair tie, leaving his room to grab a cup of coffee.

Stepping down the last steps to the living room, Vlad stopped with wide eyes. Danny was laying on the couch, still sleeping deeply if his heavy breathing was any indication. Maddie was curled up next to the boy, snoozing and enjoying the warmth no doubt.

He actually stayed the night, Vlad thought incredulously. I thought he’d have left before I woke up.

Vlad walked over, noticing the untouched vial on the table. The boy probably wouldn’t need an elixir to help with his shortening powers, since the effects probably wore off by now, but Vlad figured he’d make the boy take it when he woke anyway.

Vlad smiled at the sleeping teen, his mouth open slightly and his arms up by his head, the blanket askew from the tumblings throughout the night. Vlad noticed Danny’s T-shirt had bunched up a bit, giving the man quite a view of the flat stomach and navel, and a glance at the blue underwear peeking out from the top of the waistband of his jeans.

Vlad blushed slightly but smiled. It was just too endearing. The position, the face, the vulnerability, the soft sounds. It made Vlad feel young, like a teenager again, giddy and happy and nervous, with a warm flutter in his chest. He wanted to wake the boy gently, run his fingers through the dark hair and kiss his cheek until the boy opened his eyes, warm and sleepy and smiling for just a moment. Vlad wanted to crawl in next to the boy and hold him, let him continue sleeping as he watched, as he felt the warmth of the other halfa next to him and felt the gentle rise and fall of his chest and the soft breath as he slept—

BRRRIIING!

A blaring ring erupted through the silence and his happy thoughts. Vlad thought he’d become a full ghost at the way his heart nearly jumped out of his chest. Maddie awoke with an annoyed hiss as she jumped from the couch. Danny mumbled and shifted and Vlad lunged at the phone on the side table.

“Hello!” he whispered quickly, glancing over to the couch. Danny slept on, his mouth still hanging open and Vlad realized the boy might very well be able to sleep through an earthquake. He didn’t know whether to blame it on the boy’s age, or the boy’s hectic tiring lifestyle.

“Vlad?” the other halfa’s heart jumped a little at the voice on the other end. “Sorry to call so early but…well, I woke this morning and noticed that Danny hadn’t come home last night. I called his friends but they said they hadn’t seen him, so I was just wondering…you are the mayor and all, and Danny knows you so—”

“Don’t worry Maddie, he’s here,” Vlad said, leaning against the wall, eyes on the couch. He kept his voice neutral and low, but knowing the boy wouldn’t wake eased Vlad a bit. “He came by a bit late last night. Sorry I didn’t call, but as I said, it was late so I figured I would call you up in the morning. I apologize if I had you worried.”

Vlad heard Maddie sigh in relief and then, “Oh thank goodness, I’m just glad he’s alright. He is alright, isn’t he?”

“Of course. He’s currently asleep.”

“Do you know why he left last night? Was there a reason he went to your house?” Maddie asked and Vlad scowled at the suspicion that was slowly dripping into her voice.

“He was just having a rough night, I believe. Needed a new change of scenery,” Vlad explained casually. “I’ll have him back home as soon as he wakes, Maddie. Now have a good morning!” Vlad quickly hung up and headed into the kitchen, a strange feeling in his chest.

Vlad reentered the living room, switched on the light, dropped the tray he’d been carrying on the table by the couch and turned on the TV. He lifted the boy’s feet and sat down just as said boy’s face contorted and scrunched, pulling the blanket over his head and groaning as he tried to block out the offending noise and light.

Vlad pointed the remote at the TV and changed it to the news.

“Ugh, what time is it?” Danny complained from under the blanket, his voice hoarse with sleep.

“Eight fifteen.”

“Eight!?” Danny groaned in disbelief, throwing the blanket off himself to glare at Vlad. Danny seemed to freeze for a moment, eyes glancing from Vlad, to the blanket, to the room and then down to his feet which were resting on Vlad’s lap currently. He yelped and drew his feet close to himself, folding under the blanket, and a light pink growing on his cheeks. He groaned and scratched at his bedridden hair, making the black mess stand up in awkward angles. Vlad wanted to mess it up even more but schooled his expression as he regarded the youth. “Why is it so early?”

Vlad chuckled at the whiny, rough voice of the just woken teen. “Because I am an adult, and I don’t waste the day sleeping. Now eat up, Little Badger, your parents expect you home.” Danny looked to the tray of food on the table with tired eyes and a loud, muffled growling was heard, coming from the general direction of the teen boy’s stomach. Vlad laughed loudly, and Danny blushed slightly but leaned over to grab the tray and pull it onto his lap. “Don’t forget the vial.”

Danny looked to it and then to his hands. A ring of light circled the boy and then suddenly black hair turned to white and rumpled jeans and a T-shirt into a black jumpsuit. Vlad never grew tired of watching this boy transform, marveling silently at the fact that there was someone just like him. “My powers seem stable enough.”

“Just to be sure,” Vlad said, taking in the boy’s unnaturally green eyes, and the fact that in this form, Danny’s hair looked much neater. “And it should help for when you go back home, if your idiot father is still experimenting.”

Danny scowled but grabbed the vial, uncorking it quietly and sniffing it. He recorked it and put it to the side. “Maybe after breakfast,” Danny muttered, swiftly changing back into a human as he picked up the fork and started shoveling eggs into his mouth. He hummed in appreciation. “You’re not too bad of a chef, Vlad.”

“Well thank you, Daniel. I’m glad you enjoy my cooking. Maybe it will prompt you to visit more often?” Vlad inquired, resting his elbow on the arm of the couch and his chin upon his knuckles, gazing at the boy calmly. “I mean despite your obviously lingering suspicions—” Vlad glanced at the corked vial. “—your trust in me is definitely getting better. You did eat that food without checking if it were poisoned, after all.” Vlad chuckled.

Danny swallowed the food in his mouth, dropping his gaze to his plate. “Well I mean…it’s not like we…never mind.”

Vlad sat up a little straighter. “What was that?”

“Nothing,” Danny said firmly, quickly shoveling the rest of the food into his mouth at a disturbing rate. He gulped down the orange juice and put the tray back on the table, swallowing as he pulled his shoes on. Vlad just sat there, his eyes wide at the speed the food had disappeared at. Danny stood up, looking at Vlad. “Thanks again for…well all this.” Danny transformed into Phantom. “We should do dinner sometime.” Danny laughed, and it sounded teasing, but Vlad’s heart jumped a little.

He smirked. “I’ll hold you to that, my boy.”

Danny’s smile faltered slightly, and turned to go before Vlad called his name. Danny turned and barely caught the small vial Vlad had tossed at him. Vlad smirked. “Make sure to take your medicine, Little Badger. Just in case.”

Danny looked at it, but nodded and pocketed the item, waving awkwardly and then turned intangible, rising and leaving the mansion.

Vlad sighed, leaning his head on the back of the couch, rubbing at his eyes tiredly. “Well that went well…” Vlad said, his hand moving down to rub at his mouth and chin thoughtfully. He smiled mischievously. “Seems I can start speeding things up a bit.”

“Things are going well as they are. You try to force anything or hurry, and you’ll scare him away.”

“Ah, and so the love expert decides to insert her expert opinion again,” Vlad muttered, rising from the couch and clicking off the TV. He put his hands in his pants pockets and walked calmly up to the nearest mirror, which was a blurry image of the mirror spirit in the living room window.

“I know you are getting impatient—” she began.

“I’m not going to jump the kid, I’m just going to…be a bit more straightforward from now on,” Vlad said with a smirk. “I’m not really one for beating around the bush. I’d much rather just be honest.” Vlad chuckled.

“And how well do you think that will go?”

“Honestly? Well,” Vlad said with a confident smirk. “We’ve got enough in common, and he’s starting to like me, I can tell. This has all been a pretty good sign in my opinion. I just have to be more direct and he’ll—”

“Just as you thought being direct with Maddie would make her join you. You’ve given her every opportunity to leave her husband for you, and she’s denied you.” Vlad scowled at the spirit’s words, leaving a bitter taste in his mouth at the mention of his past failures. “You are getting there, Vlad Masters. Don’t let yourself become overconfident; that has worked against you in the past. Patience is key at this point.”

Vlad groaned, his hands clenching into fists. “But the amount of progress I am making is good, so what’s so wrong with moving things along just a bit more? I hate just sitting there by him when all I want to do is…is take his hand, and hold him close. When my dreams are so sweet yet when I wake all I have is a little ghost boy who still considers me too much of an enemy to properly get along with me. If I come clean about what I’m really after pertaining to him—”

“He will reject you,” the spirit said definitely, not a hint of doubt in her voice.

Vlad sighed. He rubbed his forehead tiredly. “So then…what is the next step? What do you suggest I do? I just want to get somewhere with the boy…Somewhere concrete. I feel like I’m teetering on the edge with him all the time, that one tiny wrong step might throw me completely backwards.”

“And you are doing well, Vlad Masters. Simply use all the rules and advice I have given you so far. Continue and do not falter, and the boy will be yours.”

“Vlad! Great to have you, come in come in!” Jack greeted, giving Vlad a solid handshake and a rough slap on the back. “It’s really great of you to come by! I think Maddie is getting tired of me rambling about my newest invention.”

“I’m not tired of it, I just don’t think the calculations are correct in order for the machine to succeed as it is,” Maddie intercepted, her hands on her hips as Vlad pulled off his jacket and scarf. A brief glance around the room and Vlad saw that the Fentons were getting ready to celebrate Christmas. A plump evergreen sat in the corner, covered in ornaments and lights and tinsel. Stockings hung with the family’s names. It looked the picture of warm friendly home, so Vlad wondered where Danny’s resentment for Christmas time came from exactly.

“Ah, miscalculations,” Vlad mused with a bitter smile, closing his eyes briefly as waves of painful memories flowed through him. “Must let your wife check over those, Jack. Wouldn’t want another accident, would we?”

Jack had the intelligence to at least look bashful, scratching his head awkwardly and laughing, agreeing that allowing Maddie to fix some math might be the best course of action.

“Hey Vlad,” Danny muttered as he made his way over from the kitchen, a cereal bowl in his hands as he walked over to the older halfa briefly.

Vlad and Danny hadn’t talked or even seen much of each other since the accidental sleepover. That was merely a few days ago, but Vlad took the lack of trouble and Danny’s greeting as a sign that they were still on relatively good terms. Good. It was better than the normal hostility he received whenever he saw Danny.

Jack had invited Vlad over due to some new invention he was working on. Since Vlad had told them he’d try to visit more and get closer to the family, he had agreed to come by. Of course, it was always nice to see Danny again too. There was just something about the boy, whether it was his wit, his humor, his cute soft hair, or just his presence in general, that made Vlad relax just a bit, that made Vlad want to smile.

Vlad noticed the colorful circles in the bowl floating in cold milk and smirked. Danny glanced to his parents who were now in the kitchen, slightly out of ear shot as they prepared the dinner table. The boy looked back to Vlad with a slightly subdued look and Vlad raised his brows. “Thanks again for the other day.”

Vlad wasn’t sure whether to play it cool, smirk and wave off the compliment, smile and jump for joy, laugh, be suspicious, tease the boy, or continue staring in shock. Instead, brows lowering as he gazed at the boy, Vlad said softly, “It was nothing, Daniel.”

Danny stared at Vlad, a strange look on the boy’s face. He looked away, glancing towards the stairs. “I’m going to be in my room. So play nice with my parents or I’ll be back down here to kick your ass.”

Vlad smirked and reached out just as Danny was lifting the spoon to his mouth. Vlad put his hand to Danny’s head and patted it affectionately, Danny pausing to stare at Vlad. It was then that an idea popped into Vlad’s head, and before he could tell himself it was a bad idea, he leaned downed and took the spoon into his mouth, smirking as the boy’s eyes widened and his cheeks tinted a cute pink. Their noses almost touched.

“W-what the hell!?” Danny hissed, pulling away, snatching the spoon from Vlad’s mouth. “Why’d you do that, you creep?”

Vlad chewed the extremely sugary cereal, unable to hide his smug grin. Danny just shook his head and turned away.

“You get crazier every day, I swear.”

“Don’t you mean loopier?” Vlad asked innocently. “Enjoy your Fruitloops, Daniel.”

Danny tensed but then hurried up the stairs to his room, Vlad’s eyes following him and chuckling. It truly was fun to tease the boy, seeing how flustered he got. Danny was used to Vlad making digs at him about his powers, about his family, his grades, his temperament. This new style of teasing was fun because Danny wasn’t prepared for it.

Vlad made his way into the kitchen where Maddie and Jack were. Vlad stood beside Maddie, trying to mostly focus on her words and her voice, drowning out Jack. Maddie was always so intelligent, always full of so many different ideas and her speech was always so sophisticated. Maddie would ask Vlad a question and he would include his two sense on the issue. Jack would explain an idea he had and Vlad wouldn’t be able to hold back the reason that idea wouldn’t work, despite wanting to just get through the evening with as little interaction with the large man as possible.

Vlad eventually found himself in a debate with Jack though, the two men going back and forth on the subject, with Jack having just as many points and valid ideas as Vlad. Maddie would jump in every now and then to either defend or explain something.  Vlad’s usual irritation at Jack’s general presence began going down as the ideas and words continued. The debate was healthy and it felt good for Vlad to get this into a conversation without feeling like he had to try too hard, or overthink. It was…almost enjoyable and Vlad felt a lightness to the whole situation.

This was what it had been like… The thought came to Vlad suddenly, unexpectedly, and shocked Vlad in its trueness. It had been like this more than two decades ago, before the accident, before Plasmius, before the wealth and the ghosts…before Danny…

Maddie laughed at something, a pretty sound to Vlad’s ears and she reached out, touching his arm.

Vlad blinked and realized he didn’t feel anything. There was no jumping heart, no intense warmth or happiness. The touch was gone as soon as it’d come and they continued talking like old school friends.

As Maddie tried to explain to her husband that his “genius solution” was quite impossible, Vlad watched them quietly. They were so in sync with each other, it was so physical and obvious to anyone who watched them for just a few moments. Their bodies turned towards each other as they talked, the way they moved together in the same motion when they were on the same track, the comfort they had around each other, the casual constant touches, the smiles Jack shot Maddie when she said something particularly intelligent, the pride in Maddie’s eyes when Jack showed such passion for what they both loved.

Vlad found it both sickening, and slightly endearing. He hated that, he hated watching it. But was it because he wanted Maddie to be like that with him? Or was it because he was envious and wanted that for himself, but with someone else?

Vlad’s eyes drifted upwards, vaguely wondering what the ghost boy was doing up there.

“Mind if I excuse myself for a moment?” Vlad cut in politely and the couple simply nodded, not breaking in their debate. Vlad gently rolled his eyes with a smile and quietly snuck up stairs, his smile growing at the anticipation of seeing Danny. Just the thought of talking to him was always exciting for Vlad, having wild debates, the banter back and forth that always made Vlad laugh. Even though Danny was much younger, there was a sort of freedom Vlad had when talking with the young teen, no need to censor or pretend with him.

Vlad opened the door and saw Danny sitting at the computer, empty cereal bowl sitting beside him on the desk.

“Actually getting some serious studying done?” Vlad asked with a smirk. Danny jumped and immediately clicked out of whatever he had been looking at, spinning over to glare at Vlad. Vlad quirked an eyebrow. “Or perhaps you were doing something a bit more…recreational. Which is of course normal for a boy your age, no need to—

“No, god, no. And it’s none of your business either way, you pervert.”

Vlad quirked an eyebrow and went into the room, standing behind Danny’s chair. He leaned over, one hand on the back of the chair and the other hand gripping the computer mouse over Danny’s hand, even as the boy struggled. Vlad clicked the minimized tab and his eyes widened.

“Hey don’t—”

“This is a digitized version of the InfiniMap,” Vlad said in awe, his eyes trailing over all the lines and land formations that created the Ghost Zone, small black and red X’s dotting the areas that the young halfa had probably explored.

Danny moved slightly away from Vlad, snatching his hand hastily from Vlad’s grip but not clicking out of the program. “Yeah it is, you nosy fruitloop.” Danny shot him a glare but Vlad could tell it didn’t hold as much heat as it used to. Danny seemed to hesitate, glancing back to the screen before saying, “Sam and Tucker helped me chart the places out. Exploring all the different realms and islands.”

Vlad looked to Danny then and was surprised to see a soft smile on the boy’s face as he gazed at the map. “It’s amazing, being able to go to these places, walk around and explore. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. This kind of thing is why I wanted to be an astronaut; traveling to new worlds, seeing amazing things. The ghost zone is so huge and scary and weird but it’s also…”

Danny trailed off, coughing slightly as though embarrassed by his rambling. Vlad smiled slightly. “It’s also very beautiful, in an ethereal sort of way.” Danny looked to Vlad. “And it’s fun, being able to walk the world as though it’s our home too. The Ghost Zone is dangerous for humans but for us…we can freely travel in both worlds. It’s an incredible gift, isn’t it?”

Danny nodded, looking back to the map for a moment before closing it out. “Yeah, but you still don’t get to see it,” Danny said, throwing Vlad a lazy smirk. Vlad shook his head with a chuckle, standing up straight and folding his hands behind his back.

“Yes well, I have my ways of getting the information I want, Daniel my boy,” Vlad said with a smirk. “Don’t ever forget that.”

“And there’s the Vlad I’ve grown to know and hate over the years!” Danny said with a teasing smile, softening the blow of the word “hate” thrown so casually at Vlad.

“Well since you hate me so much, maybe I should go bask in your mother’s company some more downstairs…” Vlad said with a shrug, glancing at Danny briefly to see the flash of neon green eyes. Vlad smirked and reached out, ruffling Danny’s dark hair. “And there’s the protective, hot tempered Daniel I’ve come to love so much.”

Vlad immediately felt like biting his own tongue off once the words were out his mouth but Danny didn’t seem to find anything weird about it. Vlad internally sighed as he stepped away to sit on the edge of Danny’s bed. “Relax, Daniel. I was only teasing you.” He glanced around the room a moment, noting the lack of dirty clothes on the floor or clutter on the bed. Danny was a relatively clean teenage boy, which was nice. Vlad also noticed a certain NASA poster hung up by the door and smiled. So he really had liked his gift basket…

Vlad rested his elbow on his knee and his chin in his palm as he gazed at Danny with a calm smile. “Since it seems you don’t want me to leave so badly, I’ll keep you company.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “I don’t need your company. In fact, I’d much rather you just leave the house all together and leave me and my family alone.”

“Aw but Daniel, wouldn’t you get lonely?” Vlad mused.

“I think you are thinking of yourself,” Danny said. “That’s why you bother me all the time, since you’re always cooped up in the house with only your cat.”

“Hey play nice, Maddie makes for great company,” Vlad said lightly. “You two seemed to be hitting it off well enough the other day on the couch.”

Danny paused, looking away for a moment. “Thanks for the vial, by the way,” Danny said, still not meeting Vlad’s eye. “It…helped.”

“Of course Daniel. I told you that you can come to me, should you ever need to.”

“Yeah well…” Danny shrugged, scratching at his neck. “I guess…I mean, I guess I can. For some things anyway.”

Vlad was surprised by the confession, but pleased none the less. He smiled. “Good.”

“I still don’t trust you but—”

“Oh come now Daniel, please stop being such a child,” Vlad snapped. So close! Why, every time he thought Danny was starting to like him, the boy had to ruin it, had to continue pushing Vlad away! “You are your mother’s son, so I’d assume, or at least hope, that you’d inherit her smarts and not your father’s stupidity and just—”

“And that’s just it! That right there!” Danny exclaimed angrily. “It’s the thing with my parents! You just can’t get over them, you can’t forgive and forget! This…thing that you’re obsessed with involving them, it’s never going to go away and as long as it’s there, I can’t trust you. I can’t even like you! It’s just so irritating.”

Vlad glared at Danny after that sudden outburst. “I already explained to you the issues with your father.”

“Yes, and I understand, but that doesn’t change anything. It was twenty years ago, Vlad. You seriously need to move on.”

Move on!?” Vlad hissed. He remembered the mirror’s words, the second step. Forgiveness. And here it was, rearing its ugly head again. The mirror had been right, Vlad needed to complete all the steps in order for Danny to accept him. But Vlad just couldn’t do it. “I will not. Never. Not after what he did. I explained that your mother is not my focus anymore, I’ve…I’ve moved on from her, and I’m trying to become friendly with you but you make it so difficult! Always about others, your family and your friends, well what about you, Daniel? What do you think of me?”

“I think you’re selfish,” Danny said seriously, his gaze hard. “I think you want everything for yourself, you want everyone to just do what you say. You don’t care what others want, you just want to do it your way. That’s your problem.”

That’s what you think? We’ll you’re just some kid with a hero complex, who acts like you’ve got all this power, like you’re the savior of the world that everyone loves and fears when you’re just some scared kid who can barely do anything right!”

“You’re some bitter old man who can’t handle rejection or failure and bullies others until you get your way! You’re gonna be alone forever because you focus on a woman you can’t have, a dream that’s completely impossible and a boy who won’t love you no matter—”

Danny didn’t get to finish. Vlad rose and grabbed Danny, phasing the two of them out Danny’s window. As they fell to the streets below, grabbing and punching at each other, they both simultaneously transformed just before crashing into the gravel. A puff of dust blocked them from view. A bright green blast glowed and Plasimus was thrown away from Danny and high into the air.

Danny Phantom sprung from the ground, flying towards Vlad and punching him onto the Fenton roof. Plasmius spun in the air and managed to land on his feet, bringing his hands together and throwing a ball of pink energy at Danny, who dodged. Vlad blasted again and again and then flew up, punching Danny in the face and kicking his side hard, sending him to the rooftop.

Vlad glared down, seeing red, his echo of a heart racing with adrenaline at the fight, his body nearly vibrating with power as he let all his frustrations out.

All the smiles and laughs, all the gentleness and casualness, felt like it was for nothing! All those things Danny had said…it wasn’t that they had been said that made Vlad so angry, it was that they had been true! He was so frustrated; frustrated that he couldn’t let go of his anger and the past, that Danny couldn’t let go of his suspicion, that they were both so stubborn and similar, that Vlad cared so much for the boy, so much more than he’d ever cared about Maddie and yet couldn’t do a thing about it, couldn’t seem to fix anything!

Danny stood, slightly hunched over as he held his side. He glared up at Vlad but the boy’s eyes were just as bright, just as alive as Vlad felt. Vlad raced downwards, fist drawing back as he prepared to hit the boy again and again and again until he shut up, until he stopped saying those things, until he believed that Vlad had changed, that Vlad—

“No!” Vlad hissed, his eyes widening suddenly, his feet landing on the roof and skidding to a halt, his fist stopping just inches from Danny’s nose. Danny blinked, his eyes wide.

“No,” Vlad whispered, shaking his head and backing away, black rings circling him as he stumbled from the ghost boy. Vlad Masters shook his head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“Wait, what are you doing?” Danny said, his voice irritated and his expression confused.

“I told you…I wasn’t going to fight you anymore, Danny.”

Danny’s eyes widened and then he glared at Vlad. “Stop it.” Vlad turned away. “Stop. Stop this…whatever this is and just fight me!”

Vlad ignored the boy’s shouts, his hands trembling as he turned intangible and sunk into the floor. Once in Danny’s bedroom, Vlad hurried down the stairs.

“Vlad, it’s about time for—hey are you feeling alright?” Maddie came over, her expression concerned, reaching out to touch Vlad’s face.

Vlad brushed her hand away hastily, staring with wide eyes at the woman before him. She looked so gentle in that moment, so caring and concerned, her maternal nature visible and bright.

Vlad stared at her a moment, not answering, his thoughts in a jumble, running through his mind, his body jittery. He shook his head.

“Sorry, I’m just not feeling myself suddenly…a bit sick perhaps,” Vlad muttered, putting a hand to his forehead. He stepped towards the door when Maddie made to reach for him again. He shook his head. “I apologize for always leaving so early and hastily, but I think it’d be best if I took my leave now.”

“Leaving already, Vladdie?” Jack asked, entering from the kitchen.

Vlad didn’t say a word, quickly turning and rushing out the door, ignoring their confused and concerned gazes.   

“Ouch!”

“Sorry, Danny,” Sam muttered as she took her hand away from Danny’s side. “It’s just bruised, not fractured which is good. Just try to take it easy today, okay?” Danny nodded, lowering his T-shirt. Sam scowled, shaking her head. “I knew that snake hadn’t changed.”

“Well it did seem a bit too good to be true, believing that Vlad had actually given up his evil ways,” Tucker said from the desk chair, sitting backwards on it as he talked with his friends. The geek sighed. “It sucks though, because having Vlad as an ally would have been cool. I mean he’s not bad when he’s not evil, but you know…the dude is evil to the core, I guess.”

“You guys don’t get it,” Danny muttered as Sam finished with Danny’s injuries, putting a band aid on Danny’s cheek. “He stopped.”

“Stopped after he nearly cracked your ribs,” Sam said. “Don’t try rationalizing it Danny, he—”

“No. He stopped. In the middle of the fight, just like that. The look on his face, it was…” Danny shook his head. He didn’t understand any of this. These past few weeks—hell, these past few days—involving Vlad have been so confusing.

“So what are you saying, Danny?” Sam asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t understand what he’s doing but…the other day I went to his house.”

“What!?” Sam and Tucker exclaimed.

“My powers were malfunctioning and I needed to get out of the house—”

“Dude, you know you can come to my house any time.”

“Yeah or mine. Danny, that was dangerous.”

“I know, Sam. But the thing is…he didn’t do anything. He didn’t threaten me or fight me or anything. He just…cooked dinner and talked to me. I even fell asleep there and—”

“Danny, you stayed overnight?” Sam asked, her eyes wide and fearful despite Danny obviously being alright.

“Yes. I know it was stupid, I hadn’t planned on staying. I just fell asleep on the couch. I woke up with a blanket over me and breakfast all made. You guys, he had the perfect opportunity to get rid of me or capture me or whatever it is Vlad wants from me and he didn’t take it. He didn’t do anything.” Danny looked at the two sets of eyes that stared at him, all different ranges of worry and confusion and anger, all the emotions boiling inside of Danny.

He shook his head again with a sigh. “I hate this. I hate feeling so small and stupid, not knowing what he’s planning. He’s clever and sneaky and devious. He’s always up to something, I’ve known that since I’ve met him. But I just feel like…like maybe this time, he’s not.”

The goth put a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I hate the man, and I don’t trust him one bit. But you know him best, Danny.”

“Yeah dude. If you think this is him being sincere, then maybe it is.”

Danny leaned his elbows on his knees and buried his fingers in his hair. “All I know is that something is different. Whether he’s actually planning something or not, something’s changed with him. I can tell.”

“I’ve noticed it too,” Tucker admitted. “I mean that whole thing with the shopping spree. That whole day he was…pleasant, I guess. It was weird, but I just feel like this is something different from him. I’ve seen politicians “pretending” to be nice, but this seemed a bit more genuine.”

Danny nodded, agreeing with his friend.

“You think maybe he’s being controlled by another ghost or something? You know, like making him nice…?” Tucker tried, shrugging.

Danny shook his head. “I would have sensed another presence. And besides, Vlad’s too powerful for that kind of thing.”

Sam stayed quiet as the boys talked. Danny glanced at her, noticing her worried expression. He sighed and then looked up with a more determined air, standing up from the bed. “I’m going to go talk to him.”

“Oh no, I told you to stay in bed today,” Sam said quickly. She glanced to Tucker. “Tucker and I can go talk to him—”

“Not gonna happen. No offense, but that’s not exactly the best idea,” Danny said carefully, smiling slightly at Sam.

“Yeah, he’s Danny’s arch-nemesis,” Tucker agreed.

“Look” Danny said pointedly. “I just mean that you tend to get…confrontational around people you don’t like.”

“Oh like you don’t want to punch that guy in his smug face every time he talks?” Sam asked, crossing her arms. Danny shrugged uselessly. Sam sighed. “Fine, if you really need to do this now, then we’re at least coming with you.” She stood up from the bed, Tucker following.

“Thanks, but I want to do this on my own,” Danny said, transforming into Phantom. Sam seemed slightly hurt that Danny really wanted to leave her out, a frown on her face and worry in her purple eyes. Danny grabbed her hand and squeezed. He loved his friends, but he felt he needed to do this alone. It would probably go easier with just him and Vlad, without Sam and Tucker’s judgmental glares from behind him. “It’s just easier this way. He'll be more likely to tell the truth if he doesn't feel ganged up on. Don’t worry, I’ll be careful.” Sam looked up and sighed, smiling slightly with a nod, squeezing his hand back before letting go.

“Please do, man,” Tucker said with a worried look. “Vlad is dangerous. Especially since we don’t know what he’s doing.”

Danny nodded and turned intangible, flying through the walls. He needed to find out what was going on with that fruitloop, even though Danny never really wanted to know what went on in that crazy cheesehead’s mind.

“You fought him.”

“It was an accident.”

“You hurt him.”

“I know. But I stopped. I stopped and I—”

“You still have not forgiven his parents.”

Vlad didn’t respond.

“Vlad Masters, the steps I have given you…the advice is all to help you gain what you truly desire. You must obey them in order to get the boy’s love.”

“I know I know I know!” Vlad exclaimed angrily, pacing the hall in front of the mirror. “I messed up, like I manage to mess up everything else! I lost control—he was just being so infuriating! I just…” Vlad was currently in his ghost form, fangs bared as he steamed, eyes blazing murderously. “This whole thing is infuriating. I hate feeling like this, like a complete failure. I’m tired of being treated like a villain, like some unloveable monster.”

Vlad thought about Danny’s mistrust, his accusing words. He saw the boy’s angry eyes, his hateful glares, the excitement they had felt as they fought. Vlad’s fists shook and glowed bright pink, his anger erupting as he roared, sending a violent blast at the wall beside the mirror.

A gaping hole stared back at Vlad as he transformed back into Masters, his shoulders heaving as he panted. He stared at the calm spirit in his mirror but only thought of Danny. Of the boy’s power during their many fights, of the boy’s rare smiles, his care free laughs, the peaceful face of the exhausted hero who trusted Vlad enough to crash on his couch…

Vlad sighed and straightened up, rubbing his face tiredly. This was pointless.

“I’m so tired of feeling like this. Of being alone.” A shadow passed down the hall, a thick mass that made Vlad looked up. He narrowed his eyes, black rings appearing around his waist as his eyes darted around—

Knock knock.

Vlad looked to the front door, the rings disappearing before they could transform him. He narrowed his eyes and glanced around the hall for a moment. He saw nothing.

The man turned back to the door and ran a hand over his head, flattening back his hair as he reached for the doorknob. He opened the door.

“Daniel?” Vlad stared at the young boy in his doorway. The first thing he noticed was the band aid on the boy’s cheek. It made Vlad’s blood run cold. “Why are you here?”

“We need to talk,” Danny was using his “mature adult” voice that Vlad admired in the teen. “About…well a lot of things.”

“Always such a way with words,” Vlad muttered, but opened the door and stepped aside, allowing the teen to make his way into the expensive home.

Danny made his way to the living room and sat on the couch. Vlad made his way over and Danny stood again. Vlad watched the boy pace for a bit, and as he walked, Vlad noticed Danny wince a bit and touch his side.

“I’m sorry,” Vlad whispered and in the silence of the large house, Danny heard and looked up. He stopped his pacing. “I’m sorry for-for the fight and for…all this. For everything. I’m sorry Daniel, I’m—”

“Vlad, whoa hey,” Danny said, eyes wide and shaking his hands in front of him as though to physically stop Vlad’s apology onslaught. “I’m not upset. We fight all the time—”

“I told you I wouldn’t. I tried, I’ve been trying and yet I still can’t seem to—” Vlad shook his head, rubbing at his face, his hair, shutting his eyes. He couldn’t do anything right. He never managed to get what he wanted, he’d never be able to get happiness because of who he was, because of the stupid things he did, because he was just unloveable and selfish…

“Vlad. Vlad, calm down. Here, sit.” Vlad felt himself being pulled forward and then gently pushed down, onto the couch. Vlad leaned his head forward, ignoring the weight beside him. “Vlad listen, I don’t care about this.” Vlad looked over to Danny, who indicated the Band-Aid on his cheek. “This is nothing, I’ve gotten worse from the Box Ghost!”

Danny laughed but Vlad didn’t feel up to laughing. He felt sick.

The teen sighed, scratching his head nervously. “Look. We fight, and try to beat each other and best each other and most of the time I can’t stand you. But I don’t like, hate you.”

Vlad looked to Danny with wide eyes. He said it. He admitted it. Danny didn’t hate Vlad. It made the older halfa feel lighter.

Danny leaned his elbows on his knees and stared at his hands. “We’re enemies but we’ve also got this unspoken understanding. We never really try to destroy each other. And we help each other.” Danny looked to Vlad. “When the Ghost King attacked, we worked together. When you messed up with Vortex…” Vlad grimaced. “You asked for my help. And I gave it. Of course you did just up and abandon me right afterwards but…it was the principle, I think.”

Danny paused then and it was then that Vlad realized the boy was trying to make him feel better. The notion was so absurd that Vlad simply sat there, dumb founded, his heart hammering in his chest. He stared wide eyed as the hero spoke, and Vlad felt his heart swell, felt a tenderness form over him and envelope him, an affection for this boy he had attacked, this boy who should by all rights despise him and yet came all this way just to try and make Vlad feel better. It was too ridiculous, too insane and idiotic and nonsensical, and yet it made Vlad happier than he’d ever felt in a very long time.

“And I know I can count on you too.” Danny’s voice was hushed, almost hesitate. “I never told anyone about this but…a while back I saw a glimpse of the future, or a possible future. An alternate future. Clockwork showed me. It was a future where I …caused the death of all my loved ones.” Vlad’s eyes widened as he stared at Danny.

“What?”

“Mom…dad…Sam, Tucker, Jaz…even my English teacher. I couldn’t save them, it was my fault,” Danny buried his head in his hands, as though reliving these memories that hadn’t happened. Vlad reached out, touching Danny’s shoulder. The boy tensed but then relaxed. He looked up. “I was alone. The only one who understood me…who I could talk to…was you. The only one I was left with. I looked to you for help and you took me in. You cared for me, helped me. Unfortunately I was too far gone to really heal but… you were there for me when I needed you.”

Danny’s blue eyes searched Vlad’s. Vlad stared at the boy before him, who had grown so much, who was so much like himself and yet so much better. Who he couldn’t imagine ever hurting again, who he wanted to see happy all the time, who he wanted to count on him…

“Ever since I saw that future, I knew there was…something between us. That even though we fight, that there’s always going to be this connection. This weird understanding between us that says we’re not real enemies. Or at least…not just enemies.” Danny shrugged. “I don’t actually see you as a boogie man, Vlad. I don’t see you as some scary evil; I just can’t trust you. But…well I mean, I don’t really know how I feel about you but…lately you’ve been different and I just need to know what’s going on because…we’ll I’m going crazy.”

Danny laughed tiredly. He scratched his head awkwardly. “I’m rambling now, I’m sorry, I’m just trying to say that—”

Vlad let out a laugh and the release felt good. He smiled, putting a hand to the boy’s head, brushing Danny’s bangs from his face and burying his fingers in the softness. Danny didn’t flinch or pull away, simply looking to Vlad with a flushed face, waiting. “Its fine, Daniel. I understand what you're trying to say. I truly do appreciate the concern.”

Danny smiled slightly over at Vlad, but averted his eyes quickly. Vlad took his hand away, laying it on the couch, between him and Danny, Danny’s hand hairs from his own. “I like fighting with you Vlad,” Danny said with a laugh. “You're the only good challenge I’ve got, and I learn a lot from you, indirectly. You’re what I know I can be, except you know, a good version.”

“So what you’re saying is, you look up to me?”

Danny tilted his head, a pensive look on his face. “I guess so. In a weird way.”

Vlad shook his head, unable to force the smile from his lips. His hands shook as he reached over, putting his arms around the thin boy and pulling him close. He held the boy for a moment, enjoying the feel of Danny pressed close, enjoyed the smell of the boy’s shampoo. “Thank you, Daniel.”

Danny didn’t return the hug, his hands hovering awkwardly by Vlad’s side, and when Vlad finally pulled away, he saw the boy’s eyes were comically large and his cheeks were a light shade of red. Vlad laughed.

“I know what I’m doing might not make sense, and I’m not going to expect you to immediately trust me. But I just need you to know, I’m done with the enemies game. I’m not scheming, or plotting. No experiments, no flirting with your mother, no plans to kill your father. I promise you Daniel. I’ve never lied to you before. I need you to believe that.”

“You’ve been so weird lately…” Danny muttered, more to himself than to Vlad. Danny run a hand through his hair, a strange look crossing his face, his eyebrows knitting together. “Being nice, and no fighting, and…and…” Danny blushed, shaking his head.

Vlad leaned back in the couch, gazing softly at the boy beside him. “Danny, you’re sixteen. I can’t expect you to understand everything I do, at least not yet.” Vlad sighed. “It’s not the right time. But I just need you to believe me…” Vlad took the plunge and put his hand over Danny’s. “I don’t want to hurt you. Ever.”

Danny’s blue eyes searched Vlad’s for a moment, and then it seemed he finally found what he was looking for. He nodded. Vlad felt Danny’s fingers gently, hesitantly, shyly, begin to curl around his large hand.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

Danny looked at Vlad for a moment, sky blue eyes meeting twilight blue. Then Danny looked down to their hands and Vlad smiled as the boy’s face exploded into a deep blush. Danny pulled his hand away, folding it with the other in his lap, staring down.

Vlad laughed and ruffled the boy’s hair. “So why don’t you stay for dinner?” Vlad suggested, his smile inviting and his heart racing. He felt giddy.

“Dinner?” Danny asked, and then glanced out the window. “I didn’t even realized it was evening already.” Danny looked to Vlad, who had stood from the couch and headed into the kitchen. Danny quickly stood and followed.

“Yes, and you did suggest we do dinner again sometime,” Vlad pointed out with a smirk, waggling his pointer finger.

“I did not,” Danny huffed, but from the irritated blush on his face, Vlad knew he remembered well. “Fine, but I’ll help this time. You know, just so you don’t feel tempted to sneak some rat poison into my bowl.”

Vlad chuckled as he shrugged off his black suit jacket and draped it over the back of the kitchen table chair. He unbuttoned his cuffs and carefully followed his sleeves up to his elbows. He looked to Danny, who had been watching Vlad carefully, almost awkwardly. He was staring at Vlad’s hands.

Vlad smirked and put a hand to the boy’s head, pushing back slightly so the boy would look up at him. “Focus Daniel. Breathe, it’s just us here. Just two halfas, cooking dinner together. Not Plasmius and Phantom, or Masters and Fenton. Just Vlad and Danny. We know each other, no need to seem so put out.”

Danny nodded with a weak smile. “Right. So, what should I do! I’ve never actually cooked, except to help my mom bake a cake once for Jasmine’s eighteenth birthday.”

Vlad walked over to the pantry and pulled out two aprons. He wrapped one securely around his slim waist and tossed Danny the other one. Danny grabbed it deftly and looked at it. He scowled and turned it so Vlad could read the large red block letterings that spelled out KISS THE COOK.

“Really?” Danny deadpanned, quirking an eyebrow as Vlad smirked, trying not to laugh. He walked over and took the apron, slipping it over Danny’s head and then reaching his arms around to tie the strings behind Danny’s back. Vlad smirked down at the boy.

“I think it’s cute,” Vlad said, finding Danny in his baking apron entirely endearing. He was tempted to follow the word’s instructions and lean down, but contented himself with ruffling the soft black hair. “Go to the refrigerator and pull out the meat I left in there. I believe pork chops, sweet potatoes and carrots would be a nice dinner, don’t you think?”

Danny smiled as he went over to the fridge. “I love sweet potatoes.”

Vlad hid a small smile as he got to work getting all the materials. “Yes, I know.”

“Here, hold it like this,” Vlad said, having glanced at Danny struggling to peel the potatoes. The vegetable kept slipping from the boy’s hands and Vlad kept wincing, scared the ghost boy would eventually cut himself.

“I know how to—” Danny began but cut off when Vlad stood behind him and reached around, his larger hands covering Danny’s slightly smaller ones.

“Hold it this way, you’ll have a better grip,” Vlad muttered in Danny’s ear. “And cut firm and quick, away from you.” Vlad moved their right hands in unison, peeling the potato efficiently, small slices of brown skin neatly falling to the counter. Vlad kept up the motions for a few more minutes, his cheek touching the boy’s cheek just barely.

When Vlad figured Danny would grasp the motions better, he stopped and straightened up, not completely releasing the boy yet. “There, think you can manage on your own now?” Vlad glanced to Danny with a smirk but faltered slightly when he saw the boy’s face was a deep red. “Daniel? You okay?” Vlad asked, leaning forward slightly.

Danny flinched away, staring down at the potato and slicer in his hands. “I’m fine, I can handle slicing some potatoes.” Vlad noticed a slight tremor in the boy’s hands but he was peeling the potatoes much more securely. Vlad nodded.

“Afterwards, cut them into cubes and put them in this bowl. Then I’ll show you how to prepare the meat and we’ll see where your cooking skills lie, in comparison to your…mediocre fighting abilities.”

“Hey, my fighting abilities are top, I’ve kicked you are old ass plenty of times before!” Danny argued, his face returning to its normal pinkish hue.

“You do realize that I’ve never actually fought you like a true adversary, right?” Vlad countered with a smirk.

“Wait wait, what are you trying to say?” Danny asked suspiciously. “You never considered me a real threat!?”

Vlad laughed. “Oh no, Daniel, don’t misunderstand me. You are very strong and sometimes you can be a threat. But I just never fought with everything I had before, not against you, not like I would someone I actually wanted to kill. Most times I’m just trying to gage out where your level has gotten to, observing what you’ve learn so far, or testing you.”

“So why don’t you stop messing around, and let’s have a real fight?” Danny asked, a daring smile on his face and his blue eyes going acid green. Vlad looked to the boy, to the band aid on his cheek and merely shook his head.

“As fun as that would be, I gave you my word, and I am nothing if not a man of my word,” Vlad said with an air of pride, chin raised.

“Right,” Danny said with a roll of his eyes, finishing peeling the last potato. “Like a chivalrous knight or valiant gentleman. My hero.”

Vlad smiled as Danny began cutting up the potatoes, his heart fluttering lightly at the domesticity of the scene. The teasing conversations, the casual touches, the air of home Vlad felt right now, for the first time in too many years. He couldn’t resist reaching out once more to gently ruffle the boy’s hair before getting to work with dinner, reveling in the simple fact that Danny didn’t shake off those touches.  

The two sat at the table, Vlad’s eyebrows scrunched together in concerned amusement and Danny’s face twisted into an irritated red blotch of embarrassment. They stared down at the plates of food before them, mainly constructed by Danny with the aid of Vlad’s advice.

“Well, as they say, never judge a book by its cover,” Vlad began awkwardly, picking up his silverware. “It might not taste as bad as it looks, but we’ll never know just sitting here.” Vlad cut into the meat and took a bite. He chewed and cringed slightly, forcing a smile to his face. Danny, who had been watching expectantly, turned even redder, which couldn’t have been healthy, and looked very much like he wanted to turn invisible and sink into the floor. Considering that it was possible, Vlad was surprised the boy didn’t do just that. “It’s not that—”

Danny stuck his hand into his pants pocket, pulling out a worn looking black wallet. “I’ve got about thirty dollars from allowance money. It’s not a lot but it should be enough to pay for Chinese maybe, or we could drive to—”

Vlad held up a hand, already cutting into the meal on his plate with patience. “Its fine Daniel, put your wallet away.” Vlad looked down at the food Danny had made with his own hands, that Danny and Vlad had essentially made together. Vlad smiled and ate another piece of the tough, slightly overcooked pork chop. It was delicious. “It’s edible Daniel, no need to let it go to waste. It’s only your first time preparing a meal, I didn’t expect it to be five star.”

Vlad continued eating quietly, focusing on the food instead of the boy across form him. “The potatoes turned out pretty good, actually,” Vlad commented.

“You cooked those, I just peeled them and cut them up,” Danny murmured, his fork poking at the food.

“But looked how wonderfully you cut them, into perfect little squares!” Vlad exclaimed with a laugh, managing to pull a light eye-roll from the teenager. “Daniel, I know you wanted to show off, but I’m proud and you did well.”

Danny looked up to Vlad and then down at his food. “It wasn’t like I was trying to impress you or anything…”

Vlad smiled warmly. “Of course not.”

The two finished their dinners quietly, Vlad clearing the table once they were done. “For dessert, we can bake a cake if you like, since apparently you at least have some experience in that,” Vlad suggested with a smirk, putting the dirty dishes into the sink. “We can stop by the store quickly, and you can pick out chocolate or vanilla and whatever frosting you—”

“Actually, I was going to head home,” Danny said awkwardly, scratching his head. “Not that this wasn’t fun but…well it’s late and my parents will expect me soon…”

Vlad paused, his arms in his suit jacket. He continued pulling it on after a moment, buttoning the bottom and smoothing it out, keeping his face neutral.

Stupid, so stupid…Vlad was getting carried away. This was nice. More than nice, it was good. Very good, but it didn’t really mean anything. Danny wasn’t his friend; the suspicions were still there. Things were better, yes, and Vlad felt good about how things were progressing. But he couldn’t spend the whole night with Danny as though this were normal, he couldn’t just drive to the store and pick out cake mix and bake in the kitchen together and then sit and eat and watch TV and then head to bed like—

“Right, of course, of course!” Vlad said, shaking his head. “Silly me, you’re what, sixteen? You must have a curfew still, poor boy.” Vlad put a hand to Danny’s back, guiding the boy to the door. “Now, this has been fun, thank you very much for…coming by to talk. A poor old man like me can get lonely so it’s nice to have company every now and then.” Vlad paused, his hand on the doorknob. He tightened his grip, afraid to ask but needing to none the less. “If it’s not too much of an inconvenience Daniel, perhaps we could do something like this regularly.”

Danny’s eyes widened slightly as he stared up at Vlad. He quirked an eyebrow, lowering his chin. “You mean…suffering through my horrible cooking?”

Vlad laughed. “I simply mean spending time together. I already told you that I’m no longer taking the role of villain in your life. So instead I’d wish to make a different role for myself. I think spending time together like this would help. I know it would definitely improve your skills in the kitchen, at the very least.”

Danny kept his eyes trained to Vlad’s, once again searching. Vlad sighed. “I guess what I’m saying Little Badger, is that I’d like to start over with you.”

Three different emotions flashed over the ghost boy’s face—surprise, confusion, suspicion—until he closed his eyes and sighed, an unreadable emotion in the boy’s blue eyes when he opened them again. “That would be nice, Vlad. Really.”

Vlad smiled, his heart jumping and his mind racing. Finally! All the things they could do together now! Not only would he be able to teach Danny the finer points in cooking, but he could tutor Danny in any classes he was having trouble in, finally train him with his ghost powers, they could see movies together and find out what kinds of movies they liked, or take flies through the ghost zone, filling in the missing pieces of Danny’s electronic Inifimap—

“But.” The word shot straight through Vlad’s thoughts and sunk deep. Danny fixed Vlad with a hard stare. “We have too much in common.”

Vlad’s confusion was evident, but he articulated, “Huh?”

“You can’t let go of the past, and neither can I.”

Vlad felt the words like a knife in the chest, twisted and piercing.

“Daniel, our situations are—”

“Different?” Danny asked. “No, they’re not. Not really. I’d love to…” Danny sighed, shaking his head. He looked regretful and irritated. He shot a glare at Vlad. “I’d love to be closer to you Vlad, really! Tucker said it himself, that having you as an ally would be great, especially for learning new things and having someone to talk to that’s experienced in this ghost stuff, and that doesn’t want to kill me! You’re a scary enemy but you’d make an amazing ally, and even so, just hanging out with you without the ghost stuff isn’t bad. You’re …a cool guy, when you’re not being a total ass. And even though I might believe you when you say you’re not scheming anything, I just can’t let go of what you did.”

Vlad blinked, his mouth dry. “Daniel, I don’t expect…I mean, despite my feelings towards your father, they don’t affect how I feel about you.” Vlad’s voice was low, not so much pleading as it was imploring. “What your father did destroyed my life, but I’ve never done something that irreversible to you, have I?”

“What my dad did during your accident was just that…an accident! But what you did to me and my friends and my family, you did that willingly, with intent! So yes, I suppose it is different and yes, in a way it is irreversible because your actions were so much worse!  Because you lost all my trust. If you still hate my parents, if you still can’t forget something that happened twenty years ago, then how can I believe you really changed!? I mean, what if one day my dad says something stupid and because you still hate him so much, you snap and try something! What if because I defend him, you get angry at me and break your promise to never fight me? You’re just as reckless as me, just as hot-tempered. You used to be predictable though, I knew you were always up to something, knew I couldn’t trust you, knew you were the enemy. Now… now I don’t know where we stand together, I don’t know what to expect from you anymore. At all. God Vlad…” Danny ran his fingers in hair, irritation evident in his angry eyes. “I just wish…I really wish…I could trust you.”

Vlad’s hand dropped from the doorknob. He stared at Danny, not sure what he was feeling at this moment. Danny stared back, apparently waiting for Vlad to say something, do something, anything. But when Vlad did nothing but stare, Danny dropped his gaze. “I’m sorry,” Danny said. The teen looked about ready to say something else, but closed his mouth and looked to the door. “I’ll see ya.”

Danny reached for the door and opened it, making Vlad step back a few feet to allow him to leave.

Say something! Come on, Vladimir, don’t let him go! Say something, stop him, DO SOMETHING!

Vlad stood there, and watched as Danny left, rooted to the spot by some deep sense of loss, and stubbornness. The door closed, and Danny was gone.

Moments passed, minutes, and finally Vlad stepped forward and collapsed, his knees hitting hard on the floor, his forehead thumping against the wooden door. “Fudge buckets!” Vlad hissed, hitting his fist against the wall. What was he supposed to do!

Every encounter he felt closer to Danny, closer still to happiness and yet it felt as though he were always taking one step forward and three steps back! Every time he got closer to his dream, he felt himself slipping back, down more and more with every word…when would Vlad finally fall? What was he doing wrong!?

Vlad shut his eyes and shook his head, knowing perfectly well what he was doing wrong. Danny had spelled it out for him, plain and simple. A sixteen year old…explaining to me the main issue in our complex, otherwise impossible, relationship.

It’s Jack. It’s always Jack! Vlad felt the anger rising, like it always did when he thought about that oaf. The memory of pain, of fear, and the years of boiling rage, of bitter regret. He ruins everything! He ruined my life, took away my chances with Maddie and NOW he’s ruining my relationship with Daniel!!

Vlad’s core heated and he saw red, felt his forked tongue hissing against a pair of razor fangs. His fault…all his fault…it’s always him, he ruins everything!

I’LL KILL HIM!

“Stop, before you ruin everything.”

Vlad hissed, rising gracefully to glare at the mirror in the hall with piercing red eyes.

“He’s already ruined everything!” Vlad bellowed. “All my misfortune, all my suffering, all the things that were taken from me…it’s all because of Jack Fenton!”

“No, Vlad Masters, it’s because of you.”

“No!”

“Yes,” the spirit said, her voice as calm as ever. “Look at yourself.”

Vlad watched as the spirit faded from view, her solid blue eyes disappearing, the fog clearing until Vlad only saw his own reflection in the mirror. Saw the pointed ears, sickly blue skin, black hair like horns and fangs like a beast. Red eyes like a demon. He hadn’t even felt himself change.

“He did this…he made me like this—”

“No, Vlad!” Despite her not being visible, the spirit’s voice was strong. “Jack Fenton made you half ghost, yes. But you turned yourself into a monster. You ignored their calls and their invites, you turned to trickery and thievery to gain your wealth, you allowed yourself to become so consumed by your bitterness and hatred that all you can see is red when you think of Jack Fenton. That’s why your eyes are solid red now instead of the glowing blue they originally were, that’s why your skin is blue and sinister, it’s because of the evil that seeped from your heart when the ectoplasm ravaged your body, now living within Plasimus’ core. Your emotions have tainted you and destroyed you, from the inside out.”

Vlad shook his head, shutting his eyes, the words like needles in his ears, making him angrier, making it harder to think. It wasn’t his fault, it couldn’t be all his fault!

“You need to face yourself, look deep inside yourself and accept it all, face the truth before you can ever hope to gain acceptance from others.”

“There you go again, telling me about myself, about what I need and what I want! I know it all!” Vlad yelled, glaring at the mirror despite no longer seeing the spirit there. He was merely yelling at himself. “I’m not to blame! I will have it all!”

“Then you need to let go—”

“I won’t! It’s all I have, all that’s left!”

“If you want Daniel—”

“I don’t!”

“You do. You love him.”

“I…” Vlad blinked and shook his head, snarling like an animal, like a beast straining against the restraints that bound him. “I don’t know! I don’t know, I don’t know!”

“You have trouble seeing into yourself, trouble compromising and facing your own problems and inner demons…” the spirit said calmly, her voice cool as steel. She appeared in the mirror once again, obscuring Vlad’s vision of himself. Vlad let out a breath, a sound like a cry of relief or a cry of anguish. “Many have had similar problems but yours…” The solid blue eyes seemed to see through Vlad momentarily. “Yours are bigger, and much worse. It’s time you finally faced them, Vlad. It’s the only way. I wish you luck.”

The mist vanished, as did the spirit, once again leaving Vlad staring at himself, breathing heavily. He glared at the mirror momentarily, opening his mouth to ask the mirror a question, but paused, red eyes widening when he saw something in the mirror behind him. A dark figure.

Vlad quickly turned, expecting it to be gone but there it stood.

“You…” Vlad growled, the sound low in his throat. “Who are you? You’ve been following me around for some time now, a shadow on my wall.”

The shadow didn’t speak or move, simply a dark figure in the dim hallway. My ghost senses aren’t going off…is this thing even a spirit…? Vlad wondered. He clenched his fists, a dull pink emitting from his fingers. Well, whatever this thing is…it’s about to wish it hadn’t appeared to me today!

Vlad barely tensed in order to raise his arms, when the shadow moved forward, one arm reaching out with blurred movements, gripping Vlad’s forehead in a tight grip. Vlad reached up to try and dislodge the grip but the shadow’s other hand shot out and grabbed Vlad’s hand.

“What are you—”

Two familiar red eyes opened towards the top of the shadow and a fanged mouth opened. A bright pink glow emitted from Vlad’s chest suddenly, and Vlad heard a sharp inhale. The pink aura began flowing away from Vlad and into the shadow’s mouth.

Vlad’s eyes widened and he struggled, a pain erupting in the very center of his chest, like hooks in his heart were trying to pull it free, ripping and yanking. Vlad screamed and thrashed, feeling his energy diminishing as a steady stream of pink mist flow from him into the shadow’s gaping mouth.

“Stop!” Vlad shouted and released a burst of energy, which felt like Vlad were ripping all the hooks out, leaving him reeling in pain, but it had managed to push the shadow creature away. Vlad leaned against the wall, huffing heavily, putting a hand to his chest. He wasn’t injured, and the pain dulled to an internal ache, leaving him hollow.

That thing…was it just eating my core energy…??

Vlad looked to the creature before him, eyes widening as he noticed features he hadn’t before. Horn-like spikes on the head…movement like a cape…red eyes and fangs…

It looked like a shadow duplicate of Plasmius.

“What the hell…” Vlad muttered, eyes wide. The creature moved and Vlad flinched, but the shadow merely turned and fazed out of the front door.

Vlad stood there, stunned. It just left? What was that thing? Why did it look like me?

Slumping to the ground, Vlad let the black rings circle him, feeling the relief of blood and warmth and a heartbeat wash over him, erasing the ache of his injured core.

Where had that thing come from? What was it? Vlad glanced to the door, glad it was gone, but curiosity peaked.

He sighed, trying to catch his breath when he suddenly realized, “Danny!” Vlad stood up, jumping into the air and transforming, immediately jetting out of the house. That thing might be after any ghost in town, and Danny’s got such an eye for trouble! Vlad thought panicked. If that thing catches hold of him, it may very well suck out all the life force in his core! Vlad wasn’t exactly sure what that would mean for a half ghost, but he didn’t want to find out on Danny.

Vlad searched the town, but because he couldn’t sense the shadow creature, he wasn’t sure where it had flown off to. Vlad growled in frustration and headed towards Fenton Works.

If that creature finds Danny first, Danny will recognize it and think it’s me! The thought suddenly popped into Vlad’s mind as he neared the Fenton home. I can’t let that happen! I need to protect him!

Plasmius rounded a corner and paused. The shadow was there, and it was already fighting Danny!

“No!” Vlad shouted and rushed forward. He reached out and grabbed the shadow, slamming it into the building across the street.

“Plasmius!” Danny called. “What’s going on?”

Vlad looked over his shoulder and floated over to Danny. “Daniel, that creature is not me, or anything I’ve done! I promise, I have no idea what—”

Danny disappeared as Vlad was grabbed and slammed to the street below. The shadow pinned Vlad’s arms, its mouth opening and Vlad’s pink aura rising and trailing into the shadow. Pain erupted inside Vlad. He tried to bite his lip, feeling a wetness as his fangs pierced his blue lip. He wouldn’t scream in front of Danny. He needed to be strong!

“Hey! Stop, let him go!” A green blast sent the shadow away from Vlad, who rolled over, gripping his midsection and gasping for breath. He felt dizzy, stumbling to his feet. He looked over to see Danny blasting the shadow over and over, a fierceness to his actions.

“Daniel…Daniel, be careful! That thing eats ghosts’ core energy!” Vlad shouted, but flinched when Danny glanced over at Vlad, resulting in the shadow creature striking out, grabbing Danny by the throat and throwing him at a Fenton Works wall.

Vlad glared at the creature, eyes glowing. The thing looked slightly bigger than before, the black mass thicker, the red of its eyes brighter. It’s getting stronger…

It raced forward and grabbed Danny before the boy could fall to the ground. It pinned him by the neck and Vlad watched as a bright green mist left the boy’s chest and entered the shadow. Vlad’s stomach roiled and his blood turned cold when Danny shut his eyes and began screaming.

“No!” Vlad shouted, racing forward but the shadow was suddenly in front of him. But it was also still feeding from Danny. It can duplicate!?

This clone shadow reached out and a clawed hand attacked, deep scratches lining Vlad’s abdomen. It struck and struck, sometimes hitting when Vlad was too slow. What is this thing!?

“AHHH!!” Danny screamed, struggling against the shadow. Vlad glanced to Danny, but that moment of distraction was enough for the clone to attack, grabbing Vlad, wrapping around Vlad like a python, squeezing and squeezing.

Vlad felt those hooks inside him again, felt that agonizing pull as the shadow fed, eating away at his essence. No no no…Vlad struggled, flexing and pushing but he felt his energy draining, felt his strength fading. I can’t fail him…I can’t let him down, not now…

“Hey! You ecto-freaks better stay away from my home, or there’ll be trouble!”

For the first time in Vlad’s life since the accident, Vlad was grateful to hear the overly excited voice of Jack Fenton. Vlad forced his eyes open in time to see Jack shoot the shadow feeding from Danny. Phantom didn’t move, merely fell to the ground.

A second shot would have hit Vlad in the chest, but instead hit the clone that was wrapped around him. Vlad sighed in relief, hurrying to the ground and towards Danny.

“Daniel? Danny!” Vlad called, putting his hand to Danny’s shoulder and shaking lightly. He could have cried with joy when Danny groaned and opened his eyes, sitting up and rubbing his chest.

“Ugh…Vlad, what—what happened?” Danny murmured, looking up. “Mom! Dad!” He immediately covered his mouth but his parents hadn’t heard so he continued watching quietly. Vlad turned and watched as Jack and Maddie fought the shadows. “Wait, there’s two of those things now? What are they? My ghost sense didn’t go off when it arrived. And why do they look like—”

Danny cut off at a sharp cry. Maddie had been grabbed by one of the shadows and lifted into the air.

“Maddie!” Jack and Vlad called, just as Danny cried, “Mom!”

Vlad and Danny rose into the fight, Vlad blasting the clone and Danny catching his mother, who had dropped from the creature’s grip. Vlad fought the clone, moving fast despite his soreness. He couldn’t let up for even a moment. If this thing grabbed him, it’d only get stronger. The main shadow, that had been feasting on Phantom’s core, was nearly three times bigger now, not effected by the blasts from Jack, Maddie and Danny.

Vlad focused on the beast before him. “What are you?” Vlad hissed, dodging a clawed attack.

“You have trouble seeing into yourself, facing your own problems and inner demons…” the mirror spirit had said. “Many have had similar problems but yours…yours are bigger, and much worse. It’s time you finally faced them Vlad. It’s the only way. I wish you luck.”

Is this was she had been talking about…? Vlad thought, blasting the clone away for a moment. “I had thought she was being metaphorical…not literal!”

Vlad looked to the larger shadow, a monster of a creature, a shadow of himself. Is this all my bitterness…all my anger and hatred…? The shadow didn’t speak, only hissed and growled, attacking and fighting, red eyes terrible and fanged mouth gaping, greedy and selfish and angry. It may have been the mirror’s doing…but somehow all the anguish I’ve felt…all those repressed emotions have materialized into this…

Danny was suddenly hit, thrown away from Jack and Maddie’s side, crashing to the streets below. The clone noticed and ignored Vlad, flitting towards Danny. “Oh no you don’t,” Vlad growled and raced after it.

“Jack!” Vlad paused briefly, looking back towards the others at Maddie’s terrified cry. Her hood had fallen off, her hair wild around her and a cut on one cheek. Jack was struggling under the weight of the grand monster’s hand, the hunter reaching desperately for his weapon that had been thrown just out of reach.

“Ahhh!!” Vlad looked to see the clone had reached Danny, the green mist feeding into it. Vlad grabbed his cape and whipped it around himself, teleporting down by Danny. He roared with anger, a blaring pink blast knocking the clone from Danny. He looked down to see the boy’s left shoulder revealed, the suit torn and a green liquid flowing from a deep wound. Green ectoplasm trailed down from his nose, and his white hair was dusty with debris.

“Daniel, stay with me, it’s okay,” Vlad soothed, putting his hand under Danny’s head and lifting him up into a sitting position.

“Vlad…my parents…” Danny groaned, his green eyes wide and shining as he searched them out. He saw them over Vlad’s shoulder. “No!”

Vlad turned and saw the monster shadow cornering the two hunters, both without their weapons and badly injured. “Does it only feed off ghost energy? W-what if it does something else to humans?” Danny voice was high as he tried to rise. Vlad held him down. “Let me go! I have to help them!”

Vlad created his own clone but the pull on his core hurt deeply. Just then, the clone of the shadow appeared again, bigger from its feast. It raced down towards the two halfas.

“Protect them!” Vlad shouted at his clone, just as he turned and covered Danny with his body. The clone of the shadow latched onto him, sinking its fangs into Vlad’s shoulder. Vlad screamed as it fed from him, his core feeling like it was being pulled apart, stretching and ripping, like claws tearing everything inside him.

Vlad tasted the acidic ecto-plasm in his mouth, heard the echo in his ears of screaming, saw only red and pain in his eyes.

Vlad opened his eyes as his body got heavier, as the pain consumed him. He saw Danny below him, cut and bruised and bleeding, his mouth open as though he were screaming something but Vlad couldn’t hear any of it. He was just happy the ghost boy was alive.

Vlad felt his energy slipping away, and felt the black rings circle him, turning his ghost form human. He was immediately released and thrown to the side, landing harshly on the concrete, his head hitting the curb and his vision going black.

“Vlad! No, Vlad!” Danny screamed, watching as Vlad’s pink aura was consumed and absorbed into the shadow creature, as pink ecto-plasm leaked from Vlad’s lips and from his chest and from the wound where the beast’s fangs pierced his blue skin. Vlad’s red eyes opened and stared down at Danny, a small smile spreading over pink stained lips before he slipped into his human form.

The shadow clone hissed and pulled away, throwing Vlad to the side. Before it could now begin feasting on Danny, the ghost boy’s eyes turned an icy blue and he hit the shadow with a frozen blast, blowing it away.

“Mom, dad!” Danny cried, looking over to see Vlad’s clone, which had a pink energy shield around itself, Jack and Maddie, disappear as Vlad apparently lost consciousness. Danny glanced to Vlad’s still form but raced to his parents. “Stay back!” Danny demanded, landing in front of Jack and Maddie, between them and the monster.

“Ghost boy! We don’t need your protection!” Danny groaned and turned to see Maddie glaring at him. She had a large bruise on her forehead and a cut on her cheek. Jack was leaning against her heavily, cradling his arm tenderly.

He’d rarely seen them so beat up from a ghost fight, and when they did, his blood boiled and he felt scared. These were his parents! They were supposed to be the strong ones, the ones who knew what to do, and had the power to do it. But now, Danny had the power. He had to protect them.

Danny glanced to where Vlad had been thrown but couldn’t see him through the debris and the great shadow monster before him. Vlad is the strong one…he better be okay. Please Vlad, be okay!

Danny ignored the shouts from the Fenton hunters; they were in no position to shoot him in the back anyway, especially with a bigger problem rearing up before him. The smaller shadow clone shifted closer and then disappeared. The main ghost got bigger as all the core energy the clone had absorbed went into the main shadow.

Great, Danny thought, not backing down but swallowing uncomfortably. He immediately started a barrage of attacks; ecto-blasts, ecto-energy balls, ecto-discs, even some core ice attacks but the monster was too strong.

It reached out with a hand but Danny narrowly dodged the clawed grip. He stayed where he was. I can’t move! I can’t leave them! Danny glanced over to see Maddie talking to Jack, assessing injuries and their options.

The distraction was a mistake though. When Danny turned back, the clawed hand was mere feet away. Danny only had time to flinch and throw his arms in front of him, tensing as he expected the sting of attack but when it didn’t come, he opened his eyes.

Vlad Masters stood before him, blood pouring from the new wounds on his chest.

“Vlad!”

“Danny…do you trust me?” Vlad asked, groaning as he turned from human to ghost. The black rings stuttered a bit on his chest, as red blood turned lighter, to an inhuman pink. Danny stared at Vlad’s back a moment, at a loss for words. “I’m going to over shadow you.”

“W-what?” Danny finally said. “H-how would that…” Danny looked around him at the monster, at Vlad, and back at his parents. There was no time!

“Daniel! Do you trust me!” Was Vlad’s only answer, his voice bordering on desperate as he barked the question.

Danny paused for only a moment. “Yes.”

Vlad nodded, staring up at the beast a moment more before turning intangible and floating backwards, sinking into Danny’s form. There was a jolt, as their cores touched and then merged. It was like electricity through the body, igniting every nerve ending in a flash, making them energized and alive. It was a warm feeling, intense and heavy.

Vlad tried to move but a pull stopped him. Daniel, you have to trust me. Give me control. Vlad felt Danny’s reluctance, his mistrust, his insecurity, and his protectiveness of his parents. Vlad felt it and understood it all. It’s alright, Daniel.

Their cores synced up and Vlad was in. He looked down at his white gloved hands, his small young body wrapped in a black suit with a D insignia on the chest. He looked up and noticed a pure white fringe of hair in front of his eyes.

I feel so light…so young. The power this boy possesses without the knowledge to use it; incredible!

Vlad smirked up at the monster with Danny’s young face, green eyes shining red with excitement and renewed power. “Now I’ll show you how it’s done!”

Vlad took a step back to steady himself and inhaled deeply, chest puffed out. He ignited his core energy, Danny’s ice core, and released it. A ghostly wail erupted from Danny’s mouth, piercing and huge, tinged with the frozen properties.

The shadow creature received a direct hit, his body backing away. Ice slowly formed around its body as the ghostly wail hit again and again, the streets tearing up, windows shattering, dust flying up into the air.

The creature finally stopped moving, its body now solid ice. Vlad stopped the attack and fell from Danny’s body.

Danny slumped to his knees and transformed back into a human, exhaustion written all over his face. Vlad nearly followed suit, his body aching, every muscle screaming and his core in a lot of pain. But he held on, for just a bit longer.

He stood straight, glaring at the frozen monster. “This thing…I subconsciously created it. It’s a formation of all the bitterness I’ve held onto, of all the mixed up anger and humiliation and regret.” Vlad stepped in front of Danny. “Because of all these blasted feelings, I’ve lost so many people… hurt so many people. I’m not going to let that happen anymore! I’m not going to let myself be dragged down by all these old feelings anymore!”

Vlad rose, face to face with the frozen shadow. “I’m not going to hurt the only people I’ve found myself caring for, the only people who’ve cared about me despite everything I’ve done.” He surged forward, his body trembling with the building power until he was illuminating pink, eyes blazing. “I won’t let you hurt the people I love!”

Vlad blasted straight through the demon creature’s head. It glowed for a moment and then burst, shards of ice shooting out, slush and snow falling to the ground. Vlad fell to the streets, groaning as the black rings slipped around him finally.

I did it. It’s over… Vlad thought, as his head lolled to the side. He saw Danny rushing towards him, just before Vlad’s lead eyes closed, a small smile forming on his lips. He was so tired, but he’d never felt lighter.

Danny’s okay. I’m never going to hurt him again. I swear.

It’s all finally over.

Chapter Text

Consciousness hurts much more than sleep, so Vlad kept his eyes closed, hoping the blissful darkness of his mind would return.

He felt tightness all over, a dull throbbing through his body. He cracked an eye open, and sighed in relief when he saw that wherever he was was dimly lit. He twitched his fingers, each one separately. He wiggled his toes and breathed deeply. He was okay. Now the only other thing on his mind was…

“Danny…”

“Vlad? You awake?” Vlad turned his head and his eyes widened. He sat up, immediately regretting it when his temples beat like a drum. He groaned, putting a shaky head to his forehead. “Hey hey, what are you doing! Lie back down, you idiot!”

“Danny…are you okay?” Vlad rasped, his tongue clicking awkwardly against the roof of his mouth and his teeth. “W-what—”

“Would you just stop for a second,” Danny sighed, stepping away from the bed for a moment. Vlad’s head spun as he tried follow the boys’ movements, his vision blurring on the sides. Danny returned to Vlad’s side quickly, a glass of water in his hands. “Here.”

Danny put the cold glass to Vlad’s lips. The older halfa drank greedily, the cooling liquid heaven in his dry mouth and in his burning throat. Vlad grabbed Danny’s hand, forcing the cup back more as he drained it.

“Better?”

Vlad nodded, wiping his mouth tiredly. His head felt clearer, but his body was still so heavy. His chest ached, and when he touched it, he felt bandages wrapped tightly around his abdomen.

“Lay down. Sleep some more. My parents will be back in a bit; they’ll be able to help better,” Danny said softly, putting his hands to Vlad’s shoulders and gently pushing the man back onto the bed.

“Are you alright?” Vlad said quietly, his eyes roving the boy’s frame and face, looking for any noticeable injuries.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Just sleep, Vlad,” Danny said.

“Are you sure? You’re not hurt? Your parents, are they okay? A-and that shadow…god, Daniel, I’m sorry, that shadow was—”

“Sleep, Vlad,” Danny said, his voice firm. Vlad heard the boy’s words, but he didn’t want to sleep. Everything hurt, everything ached and he was so so tired. But he wanted to stay with Danny, explain everything, make sure Danny was okay, make sure Danny didn’t hate him—

“No, Danny, just answer my questions, please,” Vlad murmured, reaching out with a bandaged hand.

“You need to rest up, Vlad,” Danny said. He glanced to the door and then sighed, sitting on the side of the bed. “I’ll explain everything later. I need you to sleep now, please.”

Vlad’s vision was fading, his lids getting heavier. His heart was beating too fast and his chest felt like it was ripping open. He gripped Danny’s sleeve. “Do you hate me?”

Danny seemed surprised by the question, but shook his head. He hesitated, and then reached out. “Of course not.”

Vlad let out a breath, like a sigh, when he heard those words and when he felt Danny’s hand on his head, fingers running through his hair, massaging his scalp softly.

“Sleep Vlad.”

Vlad let his eyes fall shut, soothed by the gentle touch, comfortable and safe. Danny was okay. He didn’t hate him.

When Vlad woke again, he felt more alert. He opened his eyes, his head clearer. His limbs still felt tight and heavy. He felt a small hand on his shoulder, a voice call his name. He looked over.

“Danny…?”

“Vlad, you’re awake,” said the voice, decidedly feminine, and not the voice Vlad wanted to hear right now. “How are you feeling? Can you sit up?”

Vlad looked up to Maddie, to the concern in her eyes. He nodded silently, wincing slightly as he forced himself up.

“Good good. Are you in any pain? Can you transform?”

“Huh?” Vlad asked, his mind going into a panic for a moment. He must have misheard her.

Maddie’s smile was patient. “It’s alright, Vlad. We know. We saw you and Danny go from ghost to human. He told us everything after we got you back in here to treat your injuries.”

“So…so you know then…about the accident?” Vlad asked carefully.

“Why didn’t you tell us, Vladdie?” Vlad looked to the doorway to see Jack, his massive frame filling the space. His shoulders were hunched, his face miserable. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Vlad stared at his hands, which were gripping tightly to the thin white sheets over his legs. Jack knew Vlad was Plasmius—the Wisconsin Ghost—Jack saw all the horrible things Plasmius had done, to Jack and Maddie and this town, and yet…and yet he looked so guilty now! Why!? How could Jack look so distressed and guilty and miserable after everything Vlad had done! How could Jack and Maddie stand here, taking care of him, in their own home, after everything he’d—

“I’m sorry,” Vlad whispered. “I’m sorry. For everything, I’m sorry.”

“Vlad, we—”

“No, wait, just…let me say this. I should have a while ago, a long while ago but I…” Vlad shook his head before straightening up as much as the bandages would allow. He fixed them both with a hard stare, noticing the small cuts and bruises on their forehead or cheeks, all because of Vlad. He sighed and finally letting it all go. “I can’t expect any kind of forgiveness, but I’m sorry. I’ve done awful things, unforgiveable things. All these years, I blamed you Jack, for the accident. I blamed you for turning me into a half ghost and essentially ruining my life. I wanted to make you feel as bad as I felt, and it caused me to…” Vlad glanced to Maddie briefly. He didn’t want to say it out loud, only because he feared telling Jack that he had constantly tried to steal Maddie’s affections might cause a rift between Jack and Maddie. He didn’t want that. Instead, he gave her an apologetic stare. “…caused me to do some really terrible things. I’m so sorry for it all.”

Vlad looked back to Jack, who seemed shocked. “You’ve been nothing but a good friend from the beginning. That accident back in college, I know it wasn’t your fault but I let my own foolishness and misery cloud my judgment, and for that I truly apologize. I can only hope you believe me.”

Jack and Maddie stared at Vlad a moment, and just as Jack opened his mouth to speak, a voice from the doorway said, “I do.”

The adults all looked over and Vlad’s eyes widened to see Danny standing there, half covered in shadow from the hall and half in the light of the room. He looked very tired.

“Danny, you should be in bed,” Maddie said softly, her voice hoarse as though she were holding herself together, as though she were just as tired and haunted as the rest.

“So should you and Dad,” Danny said, stepping into the room. “You haven’t rested all day. I want to talk to Vlad anyway. Alone.”

Vlad watched as Danny’s parents hesitated and then walked over to Danny, muttered something quietly before exiting, Jack shooting Vlad an odd look before disappearing. Vlad wondered how they were taking all this. Finding out their college friend was half ghost because of an old experiment, finding out their own son was a half ghost due to a similar experiment, and now everything Vlad had just said. Vlad figured they were now too emotionally and mentally drained to argue, as well as awkwardly cautious and gentle around Danny. They had been hunting their own son for years. They must be horrified.

“How did they take it?” Vlad asked once Danny closed the door to the room. “Them finding out about your powers?”

“It was…stressful. Only because of everything that had happened, and you were so injured, and I was injured, they didn’t really have time to think and react properly. It was just a huge shock so they haven’t really responded to it much. I think they’re mostly just feeling bad about all these years now,” Danny said, not looking at Vlad, but anywhere else in the room. The medical supplies, the water jug, the extra sheets, the drawer beside the bed. Anywhere but Vlad. “They’re dealing with it though, and they haven’t kicked us out so…I have my fingers crossed that means they don’t want to rip us apart, molecule by molecule.” Danny chuckled but the sound was hollow and forced.

“I’m causing you all trouble,” Vlad said with a sigh. “None of this would have happened if it wasn’t because of me.”

“What’s new there?” Danny said, his lips turning up slightly in the corners. He finally looked to Vlad, his blue eyes cautious, shy. “I would have had to tell them eventually, I just never knew the right time. You helped to…push it forward.”

Vlad smiled weakly. “When I actually try to do right, I still cause trouble. Now I know how you feel trying to be the hero of this fickle town.”

Danny laughed a bit louder at that and Vlad’s smile widened a bit more. The tension was broken.

“So…all that was true then?” Danny said, standing by Vlad’s bedside. “Everything? You trying to be nice, you apologizing to me and now to them…you’ve actually changed?”

Vlad nodded. “I have.”

Danny nodded too. He looked away again, just standing there for a moment. Finally he sat on the edge of the bed, his shoulders slumped, his elbows on his knees. He looked so tired. Vlad reached out, wanting to touch the boy for comfort but held back at the last minute, his hand dropping softly back down to the bed. The man sighed. “You should heed your parents’ words Daniel, and get some rest too.”

“I can’t sleep,” Danny said, shaking his head. “Thoughts keep racing in my head, about all this. And I just want to know…I mean, I guess I just want to know what happened.”

“With what?”

“With you? With—us?” Danny said, looking at Vlad. “One moment you’re this scheming, evil laughing, revenge seeking, mother-flirting villain and then suddenly you’re giving out gift baskets and apologizing and buying ice cream for my friends and protecting me and being nice! Vlad, this was the first time ever that you put someone before yourself. You protected me, shielded me. You got hurt in my place. You’ve never done something like that, and I just can’t sleep when I see that my arch-enemy is so different with literally no kind of explanation for it!”

Danny’s ramblings halted, his wide eyes fixed on Vlad, pleading. Vlad listened, not saying a word, not moving a muscle.

Finally, Vlad chuckled, closing his eyes and shaking his head.

“What?”

“I’m just realizing how young you really are,” Vlad said with a crooked smile.

Danny’s cheeks reddened and he glared at Vlad. “W-what’s that got to do with anything? I’m not some stupid little kid, you’re just crazy! None of this makes any kind of sense!”

“Yes, I know. But If you were a few years older, perhaps you would have figured it out,” Vlad said, another chuckle building in his chest. The older man just felt so tired and so light, and for some reason this whole situation seemed funny. He shook his head and looked to Danny. “You really can’t think of any reason I’ve changed? Looking at how I’ve been acting all this time?”

Danny paused, his blush still visible as he glared at the man. The sixteen year old seemed to pout when he apparently couldn’t come up with an explanation. “Can you just be straight forward for once in your life?”

Vlad laughed. Well, the boy asked for it.

Vlad’s heart beat very fast in his chest but he remained smiling slightly as he reached out for Danny’s hand. “It’s because I love you, Little Badger.”

Danny’s eyes widened slightly, his face going redder. He looked away. “Well, yeah I figured. I mean other than all the fighting, you did want me as a son…”

Vlad shook his head. He gazed at the boy before him gently. Such a young, strong, sad, happy, sweet boy. So much like himself, isolated and yet surrounded by friends and family. This boy who made him laugh and smile and made him angry and irritated. This boy he loved more than he loved anything else in this world. A warm feeling swelled inside Vlad.

He reached out, running his hands through the boy’s dark hair, so soft. His hands gently traced down to the boy’s cheek, hot from the blush on his face. Vlad moved his hand to the back of Danny’s neck. The ghost boy shivered.

“Not like that, Little Badger….” Vlad muttered, leaning close. Danny’s eyes widened. He didn’t move as Vlad briefly rested his forehead against the boy’s, and then gently pressed their lips together. It was soft, and brief, a mere butterfly touch.

Vlad moved back slightly, his heart going too fast as he looked at Danny’s shocked face. Vlad wanted to lean down and kiss the boy again and again, but he restrained himself, dropping his hand and pulling away completely.

“I understand if you don’t share these feelings, Daniel,” Vlad said, his voice serious and he grimaced at the slight tremor in it. “I don’t exactly expect you to reciprocate them, but all I ask is that after all this, you don’t kick me out of your life. I’d rather simply be a mentor, or a friend, then nothing to you at all.”

Danny didn’t move, his eyes still wide. Vlad sighed, a furrow between his brow. “Well, say something boy, don’t just—”

Danny suddenly burst to life, as if someone hit an ON button. The boy wrapped his arms around Vlad and buried his face in the man’s neck. “Thank you thank you thank you!”

Vlad’s surprise was apparent as he stuttered, “W-what for?”

“Thank you, Vlad,” Danny exclaimed, holding him tight. Vlad stared at the ground as the boy clung to him. Finally he wrapped his arms around the slim young form, holding the ghost boy close. He could feel a spark deep inside him, and the warmth only grew. He never wanted to let go.

“I’m injured, not elderly, Daniel. I can sit down on my own,” Vlad huffed as he sat on the couch, wincing slightly at the tight pressure in his abdomen. The injuries were almost completely healed but the remaining bruises and healed scars left the man feeling sore and tight almost every time he moved.

“Could have fooled me, the way you hobble around and groan,” Danny quipped with a smirk, sitting down beside Vlad. Their knees touched. Danny grabbed his backpack from the corner of the couch and began pulling out notebooks and text books, handing Vlad a pen and grabbing a pencil for himself.

“So how’d you do on the test today?” Vlad asked, watching the boy as he shuffled through the notes.

“It all just clicked!” Danny laughed, beaming at Vlad. “For like the first time ever, I actually understood Algebra 2 math!” Vlad smiled at the boy’s excitement, glad he could help the boy in his studies.

Vlad had spent the weekend in the Fenton home, recovering. It was awkward at first, due to all the confessions he had bestowed upon the family. Danny must have talked to his parents, or perhaps Jack was just that forgiving of a man, because Maddie and Jack continued caring for Vlad, talking with him and joking with him. Briefly, when Jack and Vlad had been alone, Jack had spoken to Vlad.

“Put the past in the past?” Jack had suggested carefully, his voice hopeful. “We were so close. Let’s just start over, Vlad.”

Those simple words…Vlad hadn’t expected to be as moved by them as he had been. Maddie hadn’t outwardly forgiven him, but she made him warm soup every evening and coffee every morning, and not once had she dumped them in his lap, so Vlad assumed everything was smoothed over.

Now Danny…Danny had been by Vlad’s side nearly every second since their conversation. He sometimes would get flustered if Vlad touched him, or not look Vlad in the eye as they talked but Vlad chalked that up to teen awkwardness.

It was nice though. They talked, and played video games, Danny showing Vlad all the newest systems and games, Vlad taught Danny chess, and Sunday night, Vlad had helped Danny study for a math test. Now as they sat, Danny discussing what he’d learned in class and asking Vlad for any input, Vlad couldn’t help but smile.

Danny laid the notebooks out on his lap, scribbling in it. “Okay so he said that this is supposed to represent these numbers, and then you have to divide by 2 to get this.” Danny explained. Vlad leaned close, looking at the notes.

“Don’t forget to square the whole thing,” Vlad informed, pointing it out. Danny nodded and did just that, getting the correct answer.

“Thanks,” Danny smiled.

It was strange, living with others, waking up to noises and footsteps, of smells in the kitchen. It was strange to be greeted warmly and gently reprimanded for not putting his plate in the sink, and for someone to grab his arm and lead him to the living room to play games. It was weird to converse about nothing over coffee, it was weird to wave goodbye as Danny went off to school. The house smelled so warm, the couch and rugs worn, pictures of family events everywhere, small things lying around like Maddie’s books, Danny’s games, Jack’s half-finished sandwich, Jasmine’s magazines piled neatly, that made it seem like a home as opposed to the neat, ritzy glamorous estate Vlad occupied. Alone.

Vlad felt out of place here, in this home, like he didn’t belong, but also felt like he never wanted to leave. This was all he’d wanted, a place to stay where he felt cared for, where there were people and activities and laughs. And Danny. So long as Danny was there, that’s where Vlad wanted to be. But he knew he couldn’t stay.

Jack and Maddie had taken everything rather well, and that was probably mostly to do with the fact that they were trying to appease Danny. The guilt they must have felt once they had found out the ghost boy was their son…they were now simply trying to keep the peace. And Daniel…how was he taking it? For the boy to find out Vlad, a grown man and a past enemy, had romantic feelings for him? It was odd that he didn’t seem disgusted or angry or more scared. Vlad decided to see that as a good thing. He didn’t want the boy feeling pressured or nervous. Vlad had promised he wouldn’t hurt the boy. He wanted to give Danny time to think, and so Vlad knew it’d be best for him to give the boy space.

Vlad sighed and looked to Danny. “I’ll be leaving tonight after dinner,” he told the boy.

Danny paused in his homework, looking to the man with an odd expression. “How come?”

“I’m nearly healed. I don’t want to over stay my welcome—”

“You are not a bother Vlad, really—”

“I can’t stay forever, Daniel.” Danny paused and didn’t say anything more after that.

“You should visit though!” Danny piped up, eyes bright. “I-I mean well, math is hard and you really help to make things make sense. And since you’ll be better, maybe we could actually…you know train in our ghost forms. Now that mom and dad know everything, I wouldn’t have to hide anything and we could practice in the lab.”

Vlad smiled. “I’d like that, Daniel.” He reached out, running his fingers briefly in the boy’s hair. Danny flinched slightly and blushed, immediately looking away. Vlad paused and dropped his hand, a pensive look on his face as he regarded the boy. “Daniel, I need you to understand something.” Danny looked up at Vlad. “I told you before, that should you not return my feelings, I wouldn’t be upset.”

Danny’s blush deepened. “I-I know.”

“So don’t feel as though you owe me anything,” Vlad said, leaning back against the couch. “You’re a good boy, so because I saved you and your family’s lives as well as confessed my feelings to you, you might feel obligated to…be nice to me. That’s not the case, Daniel. I want you to tell me to come by because you want me to, not because you feel like you should. I’m not going to get mad and throw a fit.”

Danny smirked slightly. He shrugged. “Well you do have quite the explosive temper if I remember correctly…”

“Oh make no mistake, I will pout and sulk and throw a tantrum like the grown-up I am,” Vlad said with a smirk, earning an earnest laugh from Danny. “But I wouldn’t get angry and snap. I have changed Daniel, I feel it. I’ve put all the stuff between me and your parents in the past finally, as I should have a long time ago. And my feelings for you are strong.” Danny’s smile faded slowly and he fidgeted slightly, looking down at his notes. “I love you, Daniel. More than I thought I loved your mother. More than I’ve loved anyone. And that’s never going to change.”

Danny paused and then nodded. “I mean…” Danny trailed off and shook his head, his blush deep. “I’m just really grateful to have you here, Vlad. It’s nice, because you’re a half ghost like me. Like I said, I’ve always kind of looked up to you in a weird way and now to finally have you as not my enemy is…amazing. And it’s nice because I can tell my parents are happier now too. And everything’s finally cleared with them, and I feel…” Danny’s eyes had grown wet and Vlad moved closer, putting an arm around the boy. Danny stiffened but when Vlad made no other motion than to simply comfort the boy, Danny leaned into the embrace. “I feel so much better. I don’t feel afraid of my parents anymore, and I don’t feel afraid of you anymore. There’s no more secrets. And no more fighting. I mean, other ghosts I can handle but you were human so you were different. So I can handle your…feelings…for me, because at least then I can feel safer, knowing you’re not going to suddenly make everything go back to how it was.” Danny paused. He looked up and then quickly pulled away, rubbing at his red face, sniffling slightly. “God, I’m rambling again and crying, so lame.”

Vlad put his hand to the boy’s cheek, wiping a drying tear trail with his thumb. “I’m glad, Daniel. And I promise, you won’t have to be afraid again. I’m not going to change how I feel about you. You don’t have to try so hard.”

“But I really do like hanging out with you though Vlad. I do want to start training with you,” the boy said. “And…well mom and dad want you to—and I want you to too!—to come over for Christmas Eve and Christmas.”

Vlad’s eyes widened slightly, pulling his hand away from the boy. “Christmas?”

“Yeah, it’s coming up soon, and well, we figure you probably don’t do much for the holidays so we wanted you to come by,” Danny said, scratching his neck awkwardly. “This is all weird for us, Vlad. I mean you used to be my arch-enemy. And my parents know that you’ve done some bad things in your ghost form. But since you are trying, well we’ll try with you.”

“Thank you, Little Badger. That means a lot,” Vlad said with a smile and a nod. “I’d be honored to come by for the holiday.”

Danny smiled and looked back at his homework.

About an hour later, as Maddie began the dinner and Danny helped her clear the table, Vlad made his way to the guest room to pack his very few things. Basically just a set of clothes Maddie had grabbed from his house for him while he had been bed-ridden and a bag. He would be leaving in another few hours.

Slowly, a mist filled the room. Vlad paused and turned to the window, pushing away the curtains. Dimly in the reflection of the glass, Vlad saw the blank face of the mirror spirit, large solid blue eyes staring back at him. Vlad smiled, for once not annoyed by the face of the spirit.

“Thank you,” Vlad said with a nod.

“You’ve done very well, Vlad Masters,” the spirit acknowledged with a small nod of her own. “But it’s not there yet.”

Vlad sighed. “I know, the boy doesn’t love me but…I’m happy. For the first time in forever, I’m actually happy. I like where things are right now and that’s new to me. This feeling.”

“It’s good,” the spirit agreed. “You’ve finally fully acknowledged your feelings for the boy.”

Vlad’s eyebrows knitted together. “I’ve acknowledged my feelings since I saw those images in the Espil Mirror.”

“No Vlad. You saw something that you didn’t even realize you wanted. And then you saw the potential and you began wanting it. You pursued it, but along the way you nearly gave up many times. If you truly loved the boy, you wouldn’t have. If I told you now, that it was impossible to be with the boy, would you stop loving him and pursue another?”

“No,” Vlad said immediately, and realized the truth of her words. He hadn’t loved Danny when this all started. He had cared for the boy mostly, but now…now it was so different. “I can’t imagine my life without Daniel.”

The spirit nodded. “Yes, see it now? You were struggling with yourself, with your past, with your fading feelings for Maddie and your growing feelings for the boy. Now that you finally truly love him, he can truly love you, in time.”

Vlad looked away, deep in thought and then nodded. He can truly love me…Vlad thought, remembering the images in the Espil Mirror, remembering that the guardian spirit had promised it was possible. The thought made that warmth well up in Vlad again. He smiled to himself. He can love me…

“How long till—” Vlad asked but suddenly the mist faded and the mirror spirit disappeared.

“Vlad, mom says that dinner’s ready.”

Vlad turned to see Danny in the doorway.

“Something going on outside?” Danny asked curiously. Vlad looked to the clear window and then back to the boy.

He shook his head. “No, just admiring the view.”

“Right because Buster Street in such a five star sight,” Danny said with a roll of his eyes but smiled. He glanced to Vlad’s bag and his smile faded slightly. “Right, you’re leaving soon.”

Vlad smirked and walked over, ruffling the boy’s hair. “Gonna miss me, Little Badger?”

“I’m not going to miss your snoring,” Danny mumbled, irritation in his movements as he tried to fix his hair. “The walls aren’t all that thick you know, and I’m right next door.”

Vlad laughed. “Yes well, it’s not exactly like you’re the quietest sleeper either, boy.”

Danny blushed slightly. “I don’t snore!”

“I fear you will end up like your father,” Vlad sighed as though the thought deeply distressed him. “I could never sleep, and the worst was when I had a test the next day. I once had to sleep in the stairwell just to escape his monstrous snores.” Danny seemed mortified, as though he were truly terrified to become as horrid a snorer as his father. But when the boy noticed Vlad’s twitching smirk, the boy glared at Vlad and punched the man’s shoulder.

“Oh shut up! I so do not snore!”

Vlad laughed and shook his head. Laughing felt good. Danny eventually smiled and laughed too and it felt so good. Vlad’s mind was spiraling with pleasant thoughts, his core filled with a warm feeling, and so without a thought, he reached out, wrapping his arm around the boy, his other hand coming up to cup Danny’s cheek and leaned down.

This kiss was stronger, a firmer press of lips, Vlad’s eyes closed as he enjoyed the contact. It had been so long since he held someone like this, since he could be this close and gentle and intimate—

“Hey hey,” Danny muttered, pulling away. He blushed deeply and struggled from Vlad’s grip. “M-mom’s dinner, remember? You know, food! Now. I’m hungry and I bet you are too so w-well...” Danny didn’t look at Vlad, his face a bright red and his expression troubled. He stepped towards the door, away from the man. “I’ll meet you downstairs.” The boy fled.

Vlad stood there, his lips still tingling from touching the boy’s lips, his fingers aching to run over the boy’s flesh. His heart was pounding, his face hot. He ran from me. Vlad stood there a moment, staring at where the boy had been. What if I’ve scared him off?

Vlad shook his head. “Relax Vladimir, it’s not as though he’s going to fall into my arms just because I kissed him and said I love him. He’s a teen. Just because he didn’t kiss back or anything doesn’t mean anything. Besides even if the mirror was wrong and he never loves me that way…Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad…maybe it wouldn’t be too lonely. As long as he doesn’t forget about me.”

Chapter Text

“Look, it’s Santa Claus! With his white hair and beard, and giant bag full of rich goodies!”

Vlad looked up and rolled his eyes as Danny floated down towards him, laughing. Vlad had just pulled up outside the Fenton House, hauling a large sack of “goodies” for the holidays. Danny must have been on the roof, for he now floated down in his ghost form, landing lightly on the front stoop as Vlad ascended the stairs.

“Enjoying your new found freedom with the powers?” Vlad asked, tilting his head towards the front door, referring to the fact that Danny no longer had to be so cautious in his ghost form around home anymore.

Danny smile faltered slightly. “Yeah it’s been good.”

Vlad put his bag down. “What’s wrong, Daniel?

“Nothing just…” Danny glanced behind him at the front door, where muffled shouts could be heard. “The usual.”

Vlad stepped over to the door, going intangible and sticking his head through the door. Maddie and Jack stood in the living room, their faces fierce and their voices raised at an alarming volume. Vlad had never seen the loving couple argue like this before. This was the usual? Maybe Vlad’s chances with Maddie hadn’t been as dismal as he’d initially thought.

Vlad pulled out and grabbed his bags, fazing it silently into the house and setting it down. He then grabbed Danny and floated them up to the roof.

“They get like this a lot, then,” Vlad began, almost like a question but already knowing he was correct.

Danny shrugged, not bothering to look at Vlad. “They’re good the whole year. I mean a few fights here and there, its normal. But the holidays are normally a time when families get together, and spend time with each other. You know, jolly and merry and all that crap.” Danny sighed.

White rings circled his waist and turned him back into Danny Fenton. He sat down, leaning his elbows on the roofs short ledge and resting his chin on his forearms, an annoyed glare in his blue eyes. “But no. Not the Fentons. They decide that they’d rather spend the holidays ignoring their kids more than usual and fighting about the stupidest things. It’s like all their pent up anger just explodes on Christmas, for whatever reason. They fight about ideas, and view points, and issues, where to put the tree, and what Christmas movie they should watch first and everything! It got better for a bit a few years ago, and some Christmas’ they just kind of ignore with each other. But god, I’m just so tired of it!  I just want things to be…normal. Just once. Just in something.

Vlad listened silently as the boy ranted, knowing Danny needed to speak his feelings, uninterrupted. But once the boy was done, Vlad sat by him, putting a hand in his black hair to soothe the steaming teen.

“Have you ever talked to them about this?” Vlad asked.

“Yeah, but they don’t listen,” Danny mumbled, head still leaning against his arms as Vlad’s fingers gently ran through his hair. The boy’s shoulders seemed less tense. “I’m sixteen. They never listen to me about anything.”

“But now that they know your secret, and realize that you’re not just some teenager but a maturing young man, they should pay more attention to your issues. You just need to talk with them,” Vlad explained patiently.

Danny sighed. Vlad looked at the boy, realizing how young he really was. Danny was afraid to talk to his parents about a lot of things, already fearing they wouldn’t understand or accept something. Vlad had been on his own and independent for so long, he sometimes forgot what it was like to live with one’s parents. To still live not as an adult, but in constant critique of adults, and constantly needing their approval, while subconsciously craving it.

“I know it seems hard now, Daniel…when they get like this. But in a few years, you’ll be out of the house and on your own. And when you come home for the holidays, they will be so ecstatic to see you again that they won’t even remember to fight.”

“Pfft, Jaz is back from school for the first time. They gushed and asked her questions and helped her unpack but then suddenly exploded again and now look at them!” Danny argued.

Vlad didn’t say anything for a while, the chilly December air nipping at his nose and rustling Danny’s dark hair. A particularly bitter wind blew, Vlad’s hair wiping back and Danny bringing his shoulders up a bit to block the wind from the back of his neck.

Vlad unwound the scarf from his own neck. He tapped Danny’s shoulder and when the boy looked up in curiosity, Vlad tied it securely around the boy’s bare neck. “I know what you are dealing with, Daniel.” Vlad’s voice was quiet, and as the wind settled and Danny’s hair stopped blowing, black bangs fell over wide blue eyes. “My family life wasn’t ideal either. Most holidays were pretty plain, but I remember one year in particular…” Vlad paused, his navy eyes darkening at the memory. “We were a poor country family. Few gifts on Christmas. I was seven, and I was opening my gift. It was a parka from Russia that my grandmother had sent for me. My mother had spent the money my father had given her to get me nice Church suit to get the package and have it wrapped.”

Vlad paused a moment, and Danny didn’t say a word, listening silently. “My father wasn’t…overly fond of my mother’s background. She had been a Russian immigrant, barely spoke English. He didn’t like her speaking Russian to me. He wanted her to become American.”

“You were born in the 60’s right?” Danny asked quietly. “The Cold war?”

Vlad looked to the boy beside him, cheeks and nose pink from the cold, Vlad’s red scarf secure around his neck. Vlad smiled. “That’s right, my boy. I’m impressed. Seems you have been paying attention in class.”

Danny shrugged off the tease, smiling at the initial praise. “History is more interesting than math.”

Vlad smirked. “Yes well, the aftermath of World War II, as well as the growing tension between Russia and America is what caused my mother to come to America. And I guess in a way it spawned my father’s hate of the culture. He was very focused on a…perfect family, I suppose.”

“That sounds familiar,” Danny muttered. “I remember this loopy guy I once knew, tried to clone me and steal my mom so he could create this “perfect family” he envisioned himself having.” Danny shot Vlad a smirk.

Those words made Vlad shiver slightly. …did I really turn into my father? I swore that I would never… Vlad shook his head and forced himself to chuckle, trying to push those kinds of thoughts away. He raised a silver eyebrow. “Oh? And what happened to this loopy man you once knew?”

Danny shrugged. “He moved on I think. Finally woke up and tried being a normal human being.” Danny smiled at Vlad. “I like him better now.”

“That’s probably because he realized turning you into the perfect son wasn’t the correct course of action to take,” Vlad practical purred, leaning close.

Danny blushed slightly and moved his face away, scratching at his head awkwardly. Oh, Vlad just loved to tease this boy. “So uh…what happened?”

“Hm?” Vlad said, casually moving to sit beside Danny.

“When your dad saw the parka.”

“Oh,” Vlad said, his teasing mood fading. “He took it and threw it into the fire place.”

“What?” Danny exclaimed, his head whipping to the side to look at Vlad in shock. “Damn, are you serious?”

Vlad nodded. “My mother pulled it out of the fire with her bare hands and patted it down but it was ruined. She held it and sat there all Christmas, crying. My father took me out. I was so young, I didn’t really understand at the time.” Vlad remained quiet after his story, looking out over the roofs of houses, the streets below to Amity Park, a city so different from the Wisconsin cities and towns he’d grown up in.

“That’s…awful,” Danny eventually said. “I can’t believe that happened.”

“It was like that a lot,” Vlad said. “I don’t tell you this so you’ll feel bad though, Daniel. I don’t say all this for sympathy. I merely tell you, so you understand that I know what you’re going through.” Vlad put his hand on Danny’s shoulder, encouraging the boy to look him in the eye. “I know it’s hard sometimes when you feel like no one understands you, or listens to you. I just want you to realize Daniel, that I’m here for you, for anything. Advice, to vent, a safe home, company, anything. I’ve lived a while, I can help you. We’re more alike than you may care to admit. Take comfort in that.”

Danny blinked and smiled. “Thanks.”

The boy’s smile made Vlad’s heart race. He wanted to stay up here with the boy for a bit longer, talking some more, but a loud knock from below interrupted.

Danny and Vlad leaned over the edge of the roof to see Sam Manson standing before the Fenton’s front door.

“Sam’s here,” Danny said with a smile.

Vlad blinked. “Why?” he asked, unable to keep the irritation from his voice. “Shouldn’t she be spending the holidays with her overly pompous parents?”

“You’d know overly pompous, rich boy,” Danny said with a laugh, oblivious to the tone of the older halfa. “I invited her. Sam celebrates Hanukkah, and it came before the 25th this year. I thought it’d be cool to have her over for Christmas.”

“Right. Super cool,” Vlad muttered, as Danny jumped from the roof and transformed into Phantom mid-fall, landing lightly behind the Goth teen. Vlad scowled as he watched them hug and laugh. They were so close with each other.

Vlad teleported down to the front door. “Shall we then, children?” he asked, opening the door to the Fenton’s home.

“What are you doing here?” Sam asked, standing on the outside step as Danny entered his home.

“Daniel invited me,” Vlad said with a smirk, entering the house after Danny and putting a hand on the boy’s lower back, guiding him away from the Goth and into the house. “Jack, Maddie.” Vlad cooed loudly enough for the couple to hear. When the two hunters stopped fighting mid-sentence to see their son and their newly arrived guest, excited faces replaced the angry scowls. “Happy Holidays.”

“Vladdie!” Jack exclaimed and Vlad felt Danny give a sigh of relief to see his parents finally stop fighting. He probably knew that now that guests were here, especially one of the guests being his dad’s best friend, the fighting was probably done for good. Vlad couldn’t help but feel a tingle of pride, knowing he could help his young Daniel’s spirits go up for Christmas.

Danny pulled away from Vlad’s touch as Jack came over, blushing slightly but transforming back into his human form to help Sam out of her coat. Vlad watched them silently, ignoring Jack until Maddie also came over. “Vlad, why don’t you bring your things upstairs to the guest room?”

“Oh yes,” Vlad said going to the front door where he had put all this things for the weekend. He picked up his large sack of gifts for the family and carried them to the Christmas tree in the corner. Vlad noticed Danny showing Sam some of the ornaments adorning the family tree.

“I made this one when I was five, in arts class,” Danny explained with a smile. Vlad glanced up, saw Danny’s fingers lightly touching the ceramic rocket ship, crudely colored, still shining as though freshly painted.

Sam touched it, looking at the bottom. “This is too cute. You even put your name on the bottom, with a backwards Y and everything.” The girl laughed and Danny laughed with her. Vlad wanted to hit something.

The man stood, leaning towards the teens. “Finding it interesting, Samantha, the cultures and celebrations that the normal people of society partake in? I mean, you’re into that whole “teen rebellion” thing right, where you reject even the tiniest hint of conformity or normality, parading around in black and preaching about animals rights, and what not?”

Sam glared at Vlad, Danny joining her. “Hey, back off Vlad. Sam’s Jewish, of course she’s not going to celebrate Christmas. That’s got nothing to do with her personality though.”

“I just don’t like following the mindless sheep of America’s youth these days,” Sam said self-righteously, crossing her arms and sticking her nose up as she stared down Vlad. The pompous air of someone raised in money. Vlad knew the look well; he had to perfect it himself years ago, in order to grow in the industries he’s involved with. “But I proudly celebrate my culture, as well as the cultures of others. Open-mindedness is what’s going to bring the world together. Not that someone like you would know.”

“Hey Sam—” Danny tried to cut in, but neither she nor Vlad were listening anymore.

“Oh, as though you know so much about me,” Vlad sneered down at the girl.

“I know the kind of person you are. Someone who steps on others to get what he wants, who uses money and power to gain control. And when you can’t have that control, you take it by force. You talk nice, but you’re part of the problem with this world, relying on money and bullying to get what you want.”

“While spoiled brats like you act so targeted,” Vlad argued. “Like the whole world is stupid and against you, as though you’re the only logical being because you wear combat boots instead of high heels, and act like a boy instead of curling you’re hair. You think just because you don’t eat meat or wear pink that you’re better than all the other girls in school. I’ll tell you right now that the only thing special about you is the fact that you’re friends with Danny Phantom. He and I are special, not you.”

“Powers don’t make a person special, it’s what they do with them that does! You both may share being half-ghost in common but at least I’m friends with him! You just want to use him! You’re jealous of his friends and family, you’re angry at the world for not giving you everything you want so you act all high and mighty, like some big shot because you’ve got billions of dollars and all these ghost powers! But that’s all you’ll ever have because I know all this “nice guy” crap is an act and sooner or later you’re going to mess up and Danny’s not going to give you a second chance again! You’re not special Vlad, you’re sad and alone.”

Vlad’s eyes flashed red and he stepped forward but Danny shoved himself between them.

“Guys, stop it!” he stage whispered, glancing over to his parents who were in the kitchen preparing the table. Danny looked to them both. “What the heck you guys? Why are you suddenly at each other’s throats?”

“Uh, hello? He’s Vlad Plasmius, evil villain extraordinaire?” Sam said like Danny was missing the big picture. “I know you said he saved your life or whatever but that doesn’t mean his personality has changed at all.”

“I’m giving him a chance, Sam,” Danny said firmly and Vlad couldn’t resist a childish smirk. He wanted so badly to stick his tongue out but he didn’t dare stoop that low. “But,” Danny then looked to Vlad pointedly. “Only if you show me you deserve it. If you’re going to show me you’ve changed, you have to be polite to my friends too, Vlad.”

Vlad flinched inwardly, already reminding himself of the guardian spirit’s lessons. Step three…be nice to the friends…right right. Vlad scowled, realizing once he’d passed a step, it wasn’t like the step was over. Each step was a lesson, was a change Vlad had to go through. He had to keep them, continue them all. Always be kind, and forgiving, and try with Daniel’s friends. These things wouldn’t end.

Vlad sighed, sucking up his pride just enough to say, “I apologize, Daniel. It’s the holidays, we should all be trying to get along.”

“Thank you,” Danny said after a moment, glancing to his parents again. “They’re finally acting civil right now, I don’t need you two fighting instead.” Vlad dropped his gaze, ashamed. He didn’t want to cause Danny any more trouble on Christmas. Vlad stepped back, not saying another a word. He turned and headed to the door, grabbing his overnight back and heading upstairs to the guest room next to Danny’s.

He set his bag down on the bed.

“Don’t lose focus, Vlad Masters.” Vlad sighed, rubbing his face tiredly.

“I’m not,” he said, walking over to the window. “I’m just tired of competing with people.”

“Don’t let yourself slip back into old habits,” the guardian spirit continued on. “You mustn’t.”

“I won’t. I’m not, I just—” Vlad shook his head and turned away from the faint image of the mirror spirit.

“I warned you this girl would be an obstacle,” she said. “She’s close to the boy. They’ve been friends for a very long time. She knows things about him that you don’t. She has his trust, his affections. You must gain all that and more, while still being kind to her.”

“You ask too much of me,” Vlad muttered in irritation, sitting on the end of the bed. He shook his head. “I’m a businessman. I’m not exactly a kindly saint. I can’t just ignore her snide remarks, her self-righteous air. Ugh, she’s the kind of teenager I hate the most!”

“That’s because she reminds you of yourself.”

Vlad barked out a laugh. “Ha! I didn’t realize you could be funny, mirror spirit. I only thought you were good for decent advice and nagging skills to rival an old house wife.”

“She’s determined, stubborn, strong-willed and not easily cowed. She’s not afraid. In these ways you two are alike, and that is why your personalities clash so much.”

“That and the obvious reason that we’re both interested in the same half-ghost boy, but you know, that’s just a minor detail,” Vlad snarked quietly, standing up from the bed. He sighed in forced defeat. “But, yes, I see your point, mirror spirit. As always, I shall have no other choice than to heed your word and curb my tongue.”

“Have I led you astray so far, Vlad Masters?”

Vlad paused, glancing over at the shadowed figure of the spirit in the window. His gaze softened. “No. You’re right.”

He exited the room quietly, running into Jasmine who was exiting her old bedroom. “Oh Vlad, I heard you were coming by for Christmas,” she said, her tone a tad guarded as her eyes roved over him. “I also heard about what’s been going on these past few weeks.”

Vlad didn’t say anything. Jasmine certainly had grown over the years, just as Danny had. She was eighteen now, an adult. She held herself like one too, not just like a teenager that acted like an adult. She had been as old as Danny is now, but Vlad saw the difference. Then, Jasmine had wanted to be an adult, and although she was mature and smart, she had tried too hard to act older than she was. Danny knew his age. His maturity hadn’t come from wanting to be treated differently, or trying. It had come through experience, and trial.

“Hello Jasmine. Are you still suspicious of me too?” Vlad asked, his eyes hard as he stared at her.

“I’m not sure yet,” Jaz said, just as calm and firm. “Danny seems to think you’ve changed. We’ve talked about it.”

Vlad’s eyebrows rose slightly. What had Danny said?

“I trust my brother in the end. I trust his judgment. He’s not some little kid anymore, so if he trusts you, I will. Unless or until you give me a reason not to.”

Vlad smiled slightly, and nodded. He always did like Jaz. She was very level headed and logical, which he appreciated in others, but there was always a fierceness as well, a fire and a protectiveness very much like her younger brother. “Fair enough.”

Jasmine nodded too and headed downstairs, Vlad following behind. Jasmine went to the living room to see if any Christmas specials were on television. Vlad went into the kitchen but bumped into Danny who had been exiting with a bowl of chips.

“Sorry,” Danny said when Vlad grabbed Danny’s arms to steady the boy.

“Snacking before dinner, Daniel?” Vlad asked with a lifted eyebrow.

“It’s the holidays,” Danny said with a shrug. “Regular eating order doesn’t exist. I had candy canes and chocolate chips pancakes for breakfast and fruit cake for lunch.” Vlad grimaced at the teens terrible eating habits.

“Yeah well, be careful little brother. Different kinds of rules apply on the holidays,” Jaz said, causing the two halfas to look over curiously. She raised her blue eyes above their heads. They looked up. Vlad smirked wickedly, and Danny’s face burst into a deep red. Mistletoe.

“Well well, you know the rules Daniel,” Vlad said with a chuckle. He grabbed Danny’s chin, glancing to see if Maddie and Jack were around. They seemed busy with dinner preparations. Sam was nowhere in sight and Jaz, having only pointed it out as a joke, was now seemingly focused on flipping through the channels. Vlad leaned down.

“S-stop,” Danny exclaimed in a hushed tone, putting a hand over Vlad’s mouth just as Sam arrived from down the hall. Danny quickly pushed away and headed toward his friend, his face still an unhealthy red.

“You okay, Danny?” Sam asked curiously. She glanced to Vlad. “I step away to the bathroom for a second and he’s already bothering you?”

“It’s nothing, Sam. Let’s just watch Rudolph with Jaz,” Danny muttered, grabbing Sam’s hand and pulling her to the couch. Vlad glared at their hands, feeling cheated.

Reign it in…stay calm, Vlad thought, struggling internally not to “Go Ghost” as Danny would put it and throw Ms. Samantha into the Ghost zone. Vlad sighed and shook his head, heading into the kitchen.

“It’s great having you here, Vladdie!” Jack exclaimed as he helped his wife finish up the dinner preparations. “This is the first time we’re spending the holidays together. And you’ve always been like a part of the family, especially now after…” Jack glanced to Danny over in the living room and then to Vlad guiltily. “Well now that everything’s all cleared up and out in the open between everyone.”

“Yes, it seems to be a great relief to Daniel to finally have his big secret revealed,” Vlad agreed. “It seems to be making his holidays easier. He can actually relax.”

“He’s had it hard over the years, hasn’t he?” Maddie asked quietly, not looking up as she cut the chicken.

Vlad watched her for a moment. She was tense and unusually quiet. He noticed as she worked and as Jack helped, they didn’t exactly look at each. They both seemed awkward, a complete change from the usual in-sync happy couple Vlad was used to. “He hasn’t talked about these passed two years with you much?” Jack and Maddie were quiet. “He’s probably just trying to get used to everything.”

“You two seem to be getting along better,” Jack said with a smile. “You’ve been training a bit, right? Ever since you’ve gotten better. Has he talked to you much about anything?”

Vlad paused. “We’re not really all that close,” Vlad admitted, the sentence bitter on his tongue. “Just like his trust in you two will take a bit of getting used to, so too will his trust in me. We’ve butted heads often due to…our respective views and my nature before. But it’s getting better.”

“Well I’m just glad to have my son and best friend completely back,” Jack said with a smile. “Makes the holidays that much better! Plus, now I can blather on about ghosts and you and Danny can actually contribute!”

“Yes of course,” Vlad said with a sigh and a shake of his head. He had a feeling this would be coming up soon enough; Vlad had been a half ghost for over twenty years. Jack now knew this, and so knew Vlad would be a plethora of ghostly knowledge. “But speaking of better holidays, Danny did mention something to me.” Vlad paused, waiting to make sure he had the couple’s undivided attention. “The both of you are my best—and only—friends, so I have to tell you that your antics during the holidays are bothering Daniel.”

“Antics?” Maddie asked, confusion written on her face as she finally looked away from her work.

“The arguing,” Vlad said point blank, fixing her with a hard stare. She squirmed. “Every Christmas it happens. Imagine the poor boy’s anxiety; hiding secrets from his parents who barely pay attention to him on a regular basis, and then on the holidays, when families are supposed to come together, you two decide to deem this time acceptable to take out all your frustrations on each other.”

“It’s not like we chose this time in particular,” Maddie argued, her eyes narrowed in insult. “Jack just decides that December is the best time to—”

Vlad raised a hand. “I honestly could care less why you two fight during the holidays or what about. I’m simply informing you of your son’s discomfort. He’s gone through enough, hasn’t he?” Maddie and Jack, glancing uneasily at each other, then looked over to their son. “For his sake, at least. Make this a happy Christmas.”

“Of course, Vlad. You’re right,” Jack said with a nod. “Mads and I do fight too much around this time. We’re supposed to be a family, and we don’t even act like one on the most important day of the year!” Vlad couldn’t hold back a grimace. A family…a family with the woman I loved and the boy I…Vlad shook his head. Those feelings don’t exist anymore. Just shadows of my past anger and jealousy. Move on. Danny will be more than a son to me anyway, soon enough. “Thanks, Vladdie. I knew you were a good friend.” Jack patted Vlad heavily on the back.

“Right,” Vlad muttered, straightening with a wince. The things I put up with for that boy’s sake…

Vlad watched as Maddie and Jack looked to each other, a silent conversation going on between them, something that people who were very close somehow managed to do. Understanding each other with little to no words, just a glance or a touch was all that was necessary. Vlad felt envy well up inside him as the couple smiled to each other, a peace brought between them without a word. The man glanced towards Danny and Sam, wondering if those two were that close… and if they were, then Vlad had little to no chance getting between them and being with Danny. As little a chance as Vlad had had trying to steal Maddie from Jack…

“Alright, why don’t we start off this Christmas right, then. Its dinner time!” Maddie announced happily, putting the last food platters on the kitchen table. “Danny, Jaz, Sam, come on in and eat!”

 The teens entered and Vlad watched as Danny eyed the food hungrily. He sat eagerly. Vlad and Sam’s eyes met. Immediately, each sat on either side of Danny.

Bowls were passed, plates and silverware clanking. Danny and Jaz talked about past Christmas’, Jack told a story about when he almost discovered Santa Claus, and Maddie humored him, smiling pleasantly, though neither agreeing nor disagreeing with any of the facts in the story. It seemed Vlad’s little talk had paid off.

The smells, the sounds, the laughs, the food and the stories. It was like the cheesy movies Vlad sometimes saw during the holiday mornings. Never had he personally experienced it. Sitting among friends, surrounded by so much laughter and noise. He wasn’t in some office hall during a Christmas party; he was in a home. Daniel’s elbow hit his at times, their hands meeting once or twice when they reached for the salt or the mashed potatoes. Danny would laugh, bump his knee against Vlad’s. In no time at all, Vlad found himself smiling and sharing his own stories—the less sad and pathetically lonely ones, of course—happy when he could make Danny laugh.

The only down side to this whole dinner was a certain black cloud sitting to the right of Danny. Said cloud laughed, whispered, and joked with Danny, sharing stories and references only they understood or remembered. Sam knew Danny, knew how to get his attention. Vlad found himself competing, irritated when he’d be interrupted by the Goth’s words. Over the ghost boy’s head, Vlad and Sam stared each other down, each hating the other for their own reasons, and wanting to keep Danny away.

Pop!

Jack stood, the newly uncorked champagne bottle dribbling from his hand. He poured a glass for himself, Maddie and Vlad. Jaz, Danny and Sam got sparkling cider.

“A toast! It’s been a rocky year, but today we celebrate good family and friends,” Jack began. “Now I know I may not be the smartest guy in town—” Vlad resisted the familiar urge to make a comment. “—but I do know one thing; today I’m surrounded by my amazing family, and that makes me the luckiest guy alive. Nothing beats family and love during the holidays!” Jack lifted his glass and drank, the others at the table following. As Vlad sipped his champagne, he glanced at Danny. Family and love…

“Very nice speech, Jack,” Vlad acknowledged as Jack sat down. Maddie then stood, her glasses held in her hand gently.

“For those of you who haven’t celebrated a Fenton Christmas,” Maddie began, looking to Sam and Vlad. “This is an old tradition. Each member makes a small speech, about the year or what the holidays mean to them. Something they’d like to share with the family.” Maddie turned her gaze to Vlad a moment and Vlad swallowed. “Vlad. Over the years we’ve had our differences, and for the most part you had lost all my respect and favor.” Vlad suddenly felt like sinking into his seat. “But you’ve shown me, that even a man as nasty as I thought you were, can change. That is an incredible thing. You’ve proven a great devotion to this family, and more importantly, to my son Danny.” Vlad glanced to Danny, who blinked in surprise and ducked his head, apparently embarrassed by his mother’s words. “All I can say now is, I’m glad you’re here with a family who loves you, Vlad. I hope for more years like this.”

Maddie lifted her glass and the family followed, sipping their drinks but Vlad’s drink remained frozen in his hand as he stared at Maddie. His gaze softened and he nodded at her. After the incident with the ghost shadow, Maddie hadn’t said much in ways of forgiveness or anything. This right here, this was it. Maddie had finally forgiven Vlad, for everything he’d done. And though Vlad no longer wished to pursue Maddie romantically, this meant more to him than she might realize. He lifted his glass. “Thank you Maddie.”

She nodded and smiled, sitting down and taking her husband’s hand. The couple smiled at each as Jasmine stood.

“This year, I’ve started college at Yale University,” Jaz began. “It’s been an incredible experience and I’m excited for the life ahead of me. But here, in Amity Park, is where my family is and where my home will always be. I may be studying psychology, but ghosts will always be my life, whether I want them to be or not.” Jack cheered and the table laughed. “And now that’s not just because we’re a family of ghost hunters.” Jasmine smiled at her little brother. “It’s because my little brother is part of one. I’m happy I can finally say that out loud and proud, because he deserves the praises! I’m proud of you little bro, and of our whole family!”

She raised her glass and everyone drank. Jack and Vlad refilled their now empty glasses. Danny looked to Sam, who seemed to protest a moment before slowly rising. “So, I’m not Christian, and I don’t celebrate Christmas with my family. But I love the meaning of it. During Christmas, family comes together and celebrates life. They exchange gifts that show appreciation and love. Everyone is jolly and in a giving mood, and despite my normally dark outlook on life, I think this is a great time of the year. I’m happy to be celebrating with my best friend and his family.” She raised her glass and everyone drank.

She sat and Danny stood. Vlad smiled up at him, waiting. “Well, all I can really say is that I’m grateful this year. Grateful to finally have my secret out to my parents. Grateful to have family and friends so understanding and accepting. Grateful to not be torn limb from limb.” Danny laughed and his parents laughed as well, though Vlad could tell theirs was more forced. “But I gotta say, I’m really grateful to be rid of one of the biggest pains in my neck.” Danny looked down at Vlad and the man’s eyes widened slightly. “I’m grateful to be rid of that jealous bitter mean man, and to now have someone I can really grow to trust.” Danny lifted his glass at Vlad. “Welcome to the family, V-man.”

Vlad smiled and clicked his glass against Danny’s. The two sipped and Danny sat. Vlad then stood, gathering his many thoughts. He buttoned his suit jacket and stood straight, his glass in hand. He’d stood before crowds before, bigger than this. He knew how to stand, how to speak, how to smile and how to emphasis his words. It was second nature to him. Never before had he been as nervous as he was now.

“Among me tonight are the people who have changed my life in the biggest of ways,” Vlad began. “Whether they changed me physically,” Vlad glanced at Jack with a slight smirk. “Or emotionally,” Vlad quickly looked to Danny. “I’m undeserving of the praises I’ve received. I’m undeserving of this lovely dinner. A month ago, I never would have admitted to that, so blinded in my ways that I thought myself entitled to everything.” Vlad paused, his gaze softening as his voice grew quiet and serious. The table was silent. “It was a tough lesson, realizing that trust must be earned back once lost, and that love can grow anywhere, in unexpected places, though not always in the ways we hope or expect.” Vlad looked to Maddie and Jack, and then Danny, all eyes glued to him. “Ahem. Before I take the risk of sounding like Jack and rambling on,” Jack laughed. “All I can really say is, thank you. I promise from now on, I will always be here, for all of you, as my family.”

Vlad raised his glass and drained it, the table cheering as they raised their glasses.

The dinner went by well after that. Vlad had a few more glasses of champagne, laughing over old stories from college.

The atmosphere was easy and fun, alive and warm. Vlad found himself lost in the happiness, glowing with this new feeling, of comfort and true comradery. He poured himself another glass, laughing at something Maddie said when he noticed Danny and Sam leaving the kitchen and moving towards the living room. They paused in the doorway.

“Planning on getting an early Christmas gift, Danny?” Jaz teased, indicating the mistletoe above them. Vlad watched, expecting Danny to just walk away, to ignore his sister’s teasing, to laugh and—

Sam folded her arms and opened her mouth to lecture Jaz on the pointlessness of the mistletoe and how it was simply made for men to get with women on the holidays, but she was cut off when Danny pressed his lips to her cheek. He pulled away, smiling and laughing at the blush on Sam’s cheeks.

Vlad didn’t move, staring at the couple. His insides suddenly felt cold and the light airy feeling turned cloudy and murky.

Danny had pulled away from Vlad. Told him to stop. Never reciprocated. But with Sam…Danny had initiated it.

Of course…of course, Vlad thought bitterly, his eyes narrowing as he watched the two teens move into the living room. A young girl, pretty and smart and a friend…of course he’d like her, why would he even entertain the idea of some 43-year-old man flirting with him…?

Vlad stared down at his empty champagne glass. Was this his fourth or fifth drink? Vlad scowled and grabbed the bottle from the counter, pouring himself another glass full.

“Vlad? Vlad, get up. Come on, wake up.”

The voice swam through his thoughts, hazy and buzzing.

“Vlad!”

Vlad felt his body being shaken violently, heard the voice screaming at him, causing a split right between his ears. He forced his eyes open to see Danny faintly before him, the boy’s face irritated.

“W-what? Stop screaming and shaking me,” Vlad muttered with a rough voice, waving away Danny’s hand.

“I’m not screaming, you’re just drunk,” Danny said, his voice still too loud for Vlad’s liking. Irritation was evident in the young tone.

“Not drunk,” Vlad said, sitting up and putting his head in his hands for a moment. When the spinning faded enough, he squinted up. He looked around, realizing he was in the downstairs lab of the Fenton home. “Why ‘m down here?”

“God, you don’t remember anything, do you?” Danny sighed. He folded his arms as he stared down at Vlad like a troubled child. “You drank your way through all the champagne. You and my dad were going on and on about ghosts and football and cheese forever. You two danced to the Christmas songs, sang Snow Miser and Heat Miser, you tried to dance with me and then tried to dance with the tree. Then you turned into Plasmius and tried dragging me into the ghost zone to attend the annual Christmas Truce party. My dad wanted to go but my mom locked up the Specter Speeder and took him to bed a while ago. You passed out down here.”

Vlad blinked, none of that familiar at all. He figured Danny was exaggerating to try and embarrass Vlad, but when Vlad looked down at himself and saw green pine needles clinging to his black suit, he cringed at the idea that maybe he had actually tried to dance with a Christmas tree.

“Butter brickle,” Vlad muttered, leaning back against the wall. God, this is humiliating. How is Danny going to see me now? Why the hell did I let myself get so drunk!? Was I having that good of a time that I completely—Vlad paused mid-mental tirade as a memory smacked itself to the front of Vlad’s memory. The mistletoe. Danny and Sam.

“Here,” Danny said, holding out a glass of water and a seltzer tablet. Vlad glared at them, waving his hand as though shooing off a pesky fly. “Come on, just sober up and come upstairs so I can go to bed.”

“I’m not that drunk, Daniel,” Vlad snapped quietly, not moving from the ground.

“Did you not hear a word I said?” Vlad didn’t respond. “You went and got yourself completely hammered at a small Christmas Eve dinner and ended up passed out cold in the basement. You’re telling me that’s not that drunk?”

“You’re sixteen, still a child,” Vlad said. “Like you’d really know anything. I barely had a sip.”

“Right. An entire bottle is barely a sip,” Danny muttered. He shook his head. He glanced down at the glass and tablet, his eyes narrowed. “But fine. I’m the child. You’re just the one supposedly in love with a child, so what does that say about you?”

“Says how truly desperate I am,” Vlad muttered bitterly. “That damn mirror’s fault anyway…”

“Mirror?”

Vlad looked up. He leaned back, smirking up at the boy, his head still pounding violently. He desperately wanted that tablet and water, his mouth dry and throat raw. “I never told you, did I? Why I suddenly started acting all nice and giving?”

Danny looked away, a redness to his cheeks, visible even in the dim lighting. “You said it was because you love me…” the words were quiet and Danny’s irritated face only grew redder once the words were out of his mouth.

“Yeah, but I didn’t just wake up one morning and think, “You know, it might be easier to chase after Maddie’s son, instead of Maddie. He seems like the more reasonable choice of lover.”” Danny’s head turned to Vlad, a narrowed suspicious look in his blue eyes. “It was a mirror. The Espil Mirror, hidden away deep in the Ghost zone. Capable of showing the viewer his deepest desires, as well as showing him how to obtain them.”

“So what, you saw yourself marrying me instead of my mom in the mirror?” Danny said sarcastically, his eyebrows still narrowed.

Vlad laughed bitterly, his throat burning. It felt good. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. “It showed me how cute you look on your back.” A beat and then a burst of cold slapped Vlad in the face. He sputtered and wiped at the water dripping down his face.

“Screw you, Vlad,” Danny growled, his face red and his eyes blazing green. The now empty glass of water was still outstretched towards Vlad, dripping lightly from the lip. “Stay down here alone for all I care then. But if you’re going to continue to be an ass-hole again, then I don’t want to see you tomorrow morning. Got it?”

Vlad stared up at the boy, water dripping from his chin. His head felt slightly clearer of the alcohol, but now it was merely buzzing with anger and frustration.

“What, so you can finally be alone with that she-bat without me getting in the way?”

Danny had been heading towards the stairs. He stopped and looked to Vlad, an incredulous look on his face. “That’s what this is about? You’re jealous of Sam? Are you serious?”

Vlad put his hand to the wall behind him and forced his way to his feet. He stumbled a bit, his head buzzing again but he made his way over, his expression dark. “Do I have a reason to not be threatened by her?”

“Of course not!” Danny said. His angry expression turned to surprise at his words, apparently realizing the implication of them. He shook his head. “I mean, first of all, it’s none of your business.”

“Whom the one I love loves is my business,” Vlad said, standing close to Danny, his voice hard and low. Danny stared up at him, not backing down despite the words.

“She’s just my friend, Vlad. You can’t get like this just because I hang out with her,” Danny said. “She’s my best friend, I’ve known her way longer than I’ve known you.”

“She’s just a human—”

“Oh can it, we’re not vampires or some immortal being,” Danny cut in. “Everyone isn’t beneath us or different from us, so get that thought out of your head. We were completely human once too. Yeah we’re both half ghosts, but that doesn’t suddenly give you some kind of claim on me!”

Vlad didn’t say anything a moment. Danny was right, Vlad couldn’t let himself go back down into those feelings, those feelings of taking by force, or controlling everything and everyone. Of separating himself, thinking himself higher than all others because he was half ghost. But god, Vlad wanted so badly to hold Danny, to have him and never let him go, not to anyone! They were the same, what right did anyone else have to be with the young halfa. Seeing Danny with anyone else made him, so mad he saw red! Can’t let myself get like that anymore…

“Fine, if I have nothing to be jealous of, then you wouldn’t mind answering a few simple questions for me?” Vlad asked, his voice casual with an edge. Danny stared at Vlad a moment, his anger turning into confusion. “Do you love her?”

“Huh?” Danny stuttered, his eyes no longer green but a confused blue. “W-what…y-yeah, yeah of course I love her. She’s my best friend.”

“Are you in love with her?”

Danny looked surprised. “N-no, of course not! I—”

“Do you like her?”

“What is this? What’s the point of—”

“Just answer the question, Danny.”

Danny glared up at Vlad, his cheeks pink. “I mean yeah I like her.” He paused. “Well, not like…I mean…I don’t know what I’m…” Vlad sighed. Danny grit his teeth. “What’s the point of all that? You just asked me the same thing in three different ways.”

“They are completely different questions,” Vlad said calmly. His head pounded dully and his throat was still raw. Everything was tired. Danny tried to argue but Vlad cut him off. “Here, I’ll show you. Daniel, do you love me?”

Danny’s arguments stuttered to a stop, his eyes wide. “I…no, I mean well…I don’t know really…”

“Hmm,” Vlad knowledge, keeping his expression unreadable. “Are you in love with me?”

“N-No, definitely not!” Danny said, his face a deep red, his eyes staring away at the stairs, the boy’s only escape from these questions.

“Do you like me?”

Danny looked to Vlad again, a confused helpless look on his face. Vlad almost felt bad for hounding the boy; he looked so young, so innocent. But Danny wasn’t a kid anymore, and he needed to realize this.

“No, I mean yeah but…well, I don’t know…”

Vlad sighed. “You see. If all three of those questions were essentially the same, you’d have been able to answer them all with the same answer. They all mean different things Daniel, and you realize that, hence your confused answers.”

Danny blinked. “But what’s the point of it?”

“The point, my boy, is that this is all essentially pointless at the moment,” Vlad said with a shake of his head. “You don’t even know what you want.”

Danny blinked up at Vlad, his lips pressed tightly together. Vlad stared at those lips, his mind working. Vlad reached up and took the boy’s chin with his thumb and index finger, tilting it up. Vlad saw Danny swallow, saw the boy’s blue eyes lock with his, wide and cautious. Vlad ran his thumb over Danny’s lower lip briefly and Danny gasped softly. Vlad leaned down.

“Danny, you down there?” The two halfas jumped. Footsteps were heard coming down the stairs and Danny grabbed Vlad around the waist, tackling him down behind the lab table and turning them both invisible.

Vlad landed heavily on his back and groaned quietly when Danny landed on top of him. Vlad glanced to the bottom of the stairs and growled as he saw Sam appear, looking around the lab, up and down.

“Danny?” she whispered. She looked around. “You in here?”

Danny looked over and made to stand it seemed, but Vlad quickly wrapped an arm around Danny, pulling him down onto him, holding him close to his chest. The weight felt comfortable, Danny’s legs tangled with his.

“What would she say if she saw us like this?” Vlad whispered in Danny’s ear, and felt the boy stiffen.

“Shut up, you ass,” Danny hissed, his face beet red, glancing over his shoulder at Sam as he struggled lightly in Vlad’s hold. Vlad smirked.

“Wonder if he found Vlad. The guy was probably too stubborn to take the pill anyway,” Sam muttered. She turned and headed back upstairs. Vlad paused, staring after the Goth.

Danny waited a few moments and then turned them visible and pulled away, stumbling up from Vlad. Vlad let him, sitting up. “Sam suggested the pill for me…?” Vlad asked, his voice quiet.

“Yeah, she did,” Danny replied, his tone hard and his eyes looking at the wall. Neither spoke. “I get that you might be…jealous or whatever,” Danny began, his voice tense and his cheeks tinting slightly. “But you can’t act like how you did with my mom. Not again Vlad, please. Don’t go all control-freak, heartless fruitloop again.”

“What if that’s just the real me?” Vlad asked quietly, his face blank. “What if this nice guy act is just that; an act to get you to like me?”

Danny looked down at Vlad. “Is it?”

Vlad looked up at the boy, wondering what the right answer was here. Vlad felt different, felt like he just wanted to be happy with Danny but…

“I don’t know,” Vlad said, looking away.

Danny’s shoulders dropped. “Seems that’s the only answer we’re capable of tonight…” Danny laughed shallowly. Silence ate the air around them once more.

“It’s late. Let’s just go upstairs,” Danny suggested tiredly. Vlad nodded and stood, following the boy out of the lab. They descended up to the second floor, Danny stopping at his door. Vlad went to pass him and go to the guest bed, but Danny stopped him with a hand on his wrist. Vlad looked to the boy and Danny seemed to falter slightly, pulling his hand away.

“Uh…just hang on a sec, okay?” Danny whispered quickly and entered his room. Vlad stayed in the hallway and heard whispers from the bedroom. A female voice. Vlad couldn’t help the jealousy that welled up at the idea of Sam staying in Danny’s bedroom overnight, even if she was sleeping on the floor. He tried to force it down, but the feeling was hot in the back of his throat and behind his eyes. It wasn’t fair. Maybe I haven’t changed as much as I thought…

Danny returned quickly and some of Vlad’s jealously faded. In the boy’s hands was a thin square object, wrapped in green and yellow. Danny handed it to Vlad, his eyes averted.

“It’s past twelve so…Merry Christmas Vlad,” Danny said, his voice strange as though it felt odd to utter the words. “I wasn’t sure when to give it to you, cause I really didn’t want to do it in front of anyone—not cause its bad or weird or anything!—I just…it’s more like a thank you I guess, but now after what you did, well…”

Vlad put his hand to Danny’s head, ruffling the dark hair affectionately. It was so cute seeing the boy so frazzled over him. “Thank you Daniel.”

Danny looked to Vlad, ducking his head quickly before muttering, “Night.” And escaping into his room, closing the door quietly.

Vlad chuckled and entered the next door guest room, a smile tugging at his lips. He closed the door, heart racing and sat on the bed, already peeling the paper back. Daniel got me a gift…Vlad’s first in a long time.

It was a frame, with a photo of Danny and Vlad. Vlad stared at the image. Danny was smiling into the camera on the left, close, with shining blue eyes and a grin like he was about to laugh. Vlad was on the right, a bit further back it seemed, his face turned slightly, his expression curious as he looked at something out of view. Danny must have taken it at some point in the past few weeks, without Vlad even being aware. Had it been for this reason, to give the picture to Vlad as a surprise gift? Or had Danny simply wanted to take the picture, and then later decided to give it to Vlad?

The man stared at the framed photo for a moment, his thumb running over the glass where Danny’s smile was. A personal gift. A thoughtful one. It made Vlad smile, but it also made him feel sick to his stomach. He thought about the things he’d said to Danny in the basement, the way he’d acted, the childishness of his behavior today.

Vlad put the photo on the nightstand and buried his face in his hands.

Vlad followed the smell of coffee down the stairs, his head foggy and his limbs tired. He’d dressed in his white dress shirt and black slacks, his hair pulled into as neat a ponytail as he could despite how awful he felt. He hadn’t slept at all that night.

Vlad entered the kitchen to see Maddie pouring herself a cup of coffee. She was dressed in a robe and slippers. Sam and Danny were sitting at the table, Sam in a black nightgown and Danny in a white T-shirt and plaid pajama pants. The Goth was drinking a cup of coffee and Danny was scarfing down a plate of eggs and sausage.

“Coffee?” Maddie offered, holding out a warm mug. Vlad took it with both hands.

“Thank you,” Vlad muttered, his voice hoarse. He ignored the jug of warm milk Maddie held out to him and drank deeply from the mug.

“Geez, you that hung over from last night?” Sam muttered as she sipped her own drink. “Though drinking straight black coffee is commendable in its own way, I suppose.”

“Lay off Sam,” Danny said with a roll of his eyes, his mouth full of food. He swallowed and looked to Vlad, who glanced back. “You’re a bit over dressed for Christmas morning, you know.”

Vlad glanced down at himself. “Am I? I didn’t think it’d be appropriate walking around in my underwear.”

Danny choked slightly on his breakfast and Maddie looked slightly taken aback. “You sleep in your underwear?” Danny asked and then immediately blushed and looked away, raising a hand. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter, don’t say a word. I really don’t want to know.”

Vlad smirked and chuckled, taking another sip of his drink. His gaze went from the back of Danny’s head to Sam who sat across from the boy.

Had Danny said anything to his friend about what happened last night? Vlad watched the two teens, but it didn’t seem like he had. Why, Vlad wondered. Didn’t the boy tell his little friend everything? Now that I think of it, I doubt he even told anyone about my little confession to him…probably embarrassed or something…

Vlad sipped the black coffee, ignoring the bitterness as it cleared his mind somewhat, dispelling the headache.

“Merry Christmas, Vlad,” Maddie said, a bit awkwardly after Vlad’s indirect confession to his sleeping attire, but her smile was genuine as she passed him to leave the kitchen. Vlad watched her go, remembering how that smile, how those kind words would have made him feel. Remembering how just the sight of her would put him into a better mood. But why? Because she was pretty? Because he had a crush on her years ago when her favorite singer had been Madonna and her number one accessory had been leg warmers?

Vlad knew little to nothing about the woman who had been the sole object of his affections for over two decades. Vlad glanced to Danny who was laughing about something with his friend. Vlad smiled. Danny’s favorite color was red. He wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. He loved Dumpty Humpty and had an appreciation for 80s music. Danny feared rejection from those he loved. Danny loved to protect those he loved, and would do so fiercely, to the death if he had to. He had an absolutely adorable look when he smiled, all boyish and wide eyed. His laugh was carefree despite the terrors Vlad knew the boy faced. Danny was half-ghost, and Vlad knew how lost someone could feel when they were neither alive nor dead.

Vlad knew this boy, better than he’d bothered to know anyone. And he wanted to know more, wanted to know everything. He wanted to see what Danny would become in a few years, he wanted to experience all new things with him and show him everything he’d learned and experienced in life.

Danny stood and put his plate away, leaving the room with Sam right beside him. But maybe…maybe Danny was meant to share all that with someone else. Vlad glanced into the living room to see that Jack had joined his wife on the couch, his arm around her as he beamed, wishing her a Merry Christmas.

Vlad stood in the kitchen with his mug of bitter coffee, milk and sugar sitting close by on the table. He watched the happy family, the happy couples, sipping his drink, leaving a heavy empty feeling in his stomach.

“Alright, why don’t we get this Christmas underway?” Jack exclaimed with a loud clap of his hands.

“This is the part where the good kids get toys and the bad ones get a lump of black coal,” Danny stage whispered to Sam.

“I’m guessing there’s no Transformer toy under there for you this Christmas then, hm?” Sam smirked back and Danny laughed.

The boy looked to Vlad with a smirk. “Hey Santa, why don’t you go first? You’re the one with that big bag of stuff.”

Vlad looked to the boy and then to the sack he’d put under the tree. “So eager to get your coal from Santa, hm Danny?” Vlad asked with a smirk and stood from his seat, making his way over to the tree. He lifted the bag and reached inside, pulling out a small envelope. “First is the parents, though, I’m afraid. Only fair I should think.”

Maddie looked surprised and Jack smiled as he took the envelope from his friend. “Thanks Vladdie!” He ripped it open and he and his wife looked at the things he pulled out. They’re eyes widened. “Tickets to California!”

“You two have never been on a real vacation, correct?” Vlad asked, with a raised eyebrow. He smirked. “And I hear the ghosts on Alcatraz are of an interesting and diverse selection.”

“Vlad you didn’t have to—” Maddie began but Vlad raised a hand.

“I have billions Maddie, and until now, the only person I’ve ever been able to truly spend my earnings on has been myself,” Vlad said. “I wanted to splurge a bit.”

Maddie still seemed uncomfortable accepting such a gift but smiled and thanked the man, smiling to her excited husband.

Vlad smiled slightly and reached back into his bag. He pulled out a neatly wrapped box with a silver ribbon. “For the lovely Jasmine,” Vlad said, handing the box to Jaz, who sat in her light pink pajamas, orange hair knotted into a loose braid on her left shoulder.

She eyed Vlad for a moment, and then took the gift, carefully unwrapping the box. “A new laptop?” Jaz breathed. She turned the box over. “Wow, this is the latest model.”

“It should help to have your own computer at college,” Vlad said. “It beats those typewriters we had to use for our essays.” Vlad glanced to Maddie and Jack who laughed and agreed.

“Uh, thanks Vlad,” Jaz said with an awkward smile, glancing from the man to her brother and then back to the laptop, her smile widening slightly.

Vlad looked back to his “bag of goodies” and rifled around a bit, before pulling out two smaller boxes, just as neatly wrapped in a bright paper. He handed both to Sam with a neutral look on his face. “The red one is for Mr. Foley.”

Sam’s eyes widened and then she quirked an eyebrow at Vlad. “You got us gifts too? Why?”

“You’re Danny’s friends,” Vlad said with a simple shrug and didn’t seem about to say anymore on the subject. There really was nothing else to say about it.

Sam ripped hers open to see the box of a new phone. “My mom tried to buy me this phone,” Sam muttered, glaring lightly at the box.

“But you didn’t accept it, because you don’t want to accept your parents’ money. You want to earn it yourself,” Vlad said. “But at the rate you’re going, being as busy as you are, you’d never be able to afford it for yourself. So I figured I’d give it to you as a gift, hoping you could at least accept it then.”

“I don’t need any sort of bride from you,” Sam said, her voice quiet so that Danny’s parents wouldn’t overhear. “Money can’t buy you friends.”

“Sam, just chill,” Danny muttered firmly. “He’s being nice.”

“Oh yeah, didn’t we agree this whole nice thing was an act?” Sam hissed.

“Yeah well what if it’s not?” Danny whispered back, Vlad watching this little spat. “We’re supposed to be the good guys, right? Then we have to give second chances. I already told him I would, so cut him a break for once.”

Sam’s eyes widened slightly and Vlad smiled.

Sam looked to Vlad and then to box. “I ordered it in black. Pink or aqua just didn’t seem your color,” Vlad added, before moving back to grab his last gifts. He missed Sam’s small smile.

Vlad reached into the bag once more and pulled out two things; an envelope and a neatly wrapped box. He handed them both to Danny.

Danny smiled slightly and took them, opening the box first, guessing what it was by the similar shape it had to Jaz’s gift. “You’ll be starting college in another year. And it’s got enough power for online gaming,” Vlad said with a smirk as Danny revealed a new laptop.

“Awesome,” Danny said with an excited smile. “It’ll be great to get off that old chunky desktop.” He laughed and held the envelope. “This isn’t a one way ticket to stay in Wisconsin for a week, is it?” Danny smirked and quirked a dark brow as he ripped it open.

“Would you have preferred that, Little Badger?” Vlad asked, his voice low and deep, causing a slight blush to form on Danny’s face at the implication.

Danny pulled out two tickets. “Oh, tickets to the Kennedy Space Center!” Danny’s face split into a huge grin. “Man, I’ve been dying to go there, this is amazing!” Danny looked up to Vlad and seemed to momentarily forget all their past fights and conflicts. For a moment, Danny’s face was open and happy, smiling up at Vlad in awe and excitement. “Thanks, Vlad!”

“Glad you like it, Daniel,” Vlad said quietly, his smile gentle.

“So who are you going to take with you; Tucker or me?” Sam joked with an elbow nudge. “And just remember, Tucker is an expensive guest because he needs to eat every half hour.”

Danny laughed and argued that Tucker at least didn’t start random protests and chants in public whenever they went on trips.

Vlad’s smile fell slightly. He made his way back to the armchair, sitting down and staring at the fireplace where a quiet fire was popping and burning. Maddie stood and started handing out gifts to her family, the sounds of paper ripping and happy exclamations filling the air.

Vlad resisted the urge to pout at this point, but he couldn’t completely abandon his childish ways, or his petty jealousies. He should have expected Danny would want to go with a friend instead of him.

But as Vlad watched the scene before, as he saw Danny smiling and laughing with his family and with Sam, Vlad realized this was good. Look how happy he is like this, Vlad thought mildly, his gaze gentle as he regarded the boy. He smiled slightly. He’s happy, and I’m able to be here, a part of that happiness. Before all this even started, my presence would have been a cloud over his holiday. I wouldn’t have what I do now.

If I can’t be the sole object of his affections as he is for me, shouldn’t I be grateful to even be a part of it?

Vlad returned home late that day, his stomach filled with dinner and a brand new Packers poster under his arm, from the Fentons. He placed it carefully on the ledge by his Packers memorabilia wall to be hung up later, then shrugged off his coat and hung it up on the hook by the door. He walked down the hall and up the vast staircase to his grand master bedroom. There, he carefully pulled out the framed photo Danny had given him, placing it quietly on his nightstand, his fingers lightly touching the corners of the frame, his gaze passive. He turned away, shrugging off his black suit jacket and tossing it onto his bed. He began untying his red necktie when a quiet voice made him pause.

“Very good, Vlad.”

“Yes,” Vlad said mildly, pulling the tie from his neck and walking over to the large mirror on the wall. “Yes, it all did go very well, didn’t it?”

The blue eyed spirit stared out from the mirror and nodded slightly.

“I’m happy,” Vlad said, tilting his head slightly as he looked away. “For the first time, I actually felt really happy. Not so alone. I don’t want to lose this feeling. Ever.”

“And you never will,” the spirit agreed, her voice taking on a light tone. “Continue as you are and soon the boy will love you as you love him.”

Vlad was silent a moment, his eyes dark. He closed his eyes, releasing a heavy breath and then looked into the mirror. “No. I don’t want that anymore.”

The mirror paused a moment. “Don’t want that anymore?”

“That kind of love from the boy,” Vlad clarified calmly. “He loves the Goth. He’s happy with her.”

“Don’t let your jealousy dissuade you, Vlad—”

“I’m not,” Vlad said quickly, firmly. “I’m not. I’m merely doing what I should have learned to do a long time ago; let go when it’s just not meant to be. I had to let go of Maddie because she was happy with another. I see it’s the same with Danny.”

“No Vlad, it’s not,” the spirit said. “I told you, he can and will—”

“No, I won’t do that to him,” Vlad said, shaking his head. “All my life, I’ve been selfish. Now…now because I love him, I don’t want to be selfish with him. I don’t want to force him to love me, if he wants to be with another.”

“You have changed, Vlad,” the spirit said quietly. “You don’t need to force him. He can love you on his own. You must not give up.”

Vlad smiled slightly. “Why not? I’ve fought so hard my whole life. And now, I’m happy with what I am finally given. It’s more than I’ve ever had.”

“You aren’t someone who accepts a small amount. You don’t stop at good enough. You said you wanted everything from Daniel.”

“And I told you I was done being selfish—”

“No, you are done being hurt,” the spirit cut in. “You are scared that should you receive the boy’s true love, you wouldn’t be able to handle the hurt should he decide to leave you.”

“I’m not scared—”

“Yes you are. You want to play it safe, stay as a friend of the family, keep yourself distanced and alone but accepted. You’ve become comfortable and used to loneliness that even though you crave companionship so dearly, you are too scared of it now.”

“I’m not scared,” Vlad growled, hating the mirror for always reaching into his heart, for seeing straight into his fears and desires. What gave her the right!? “I’m simply content. I don’t want to pursue that dream anymore. I want what I have now. I’m happy and that’s the end of it! I want Danny to marry someone else and have a family with someone else, someone young and happy and good for him!” Vlad’s eyes glowed red and burned. “I want him to smile and enjoy life, and he won’t have that with me! It won’t work, but as long as I can be in his life, I know I’ll be happy!” The air around Vlad rippled and pulsed with his building emotions and energy. His teeth elongated into fangs. “I’m fine with being alone!”

“But you love him.”

Vlad let out a sad cry. The air went still, his fangs disappeared and his solid red eyes stared wide and desperate at the mirror. “I love him more than anything…so I can’t lose him. I can’t…”

“So you are giving up then,” the spirit asked, and Vlad wasn’t sure if it was a question or a statement. He nodded anyway.

“Yes. For the first time in my life, I’m going to put someone before myself,” Vlad said quietly, his tone defeated and lost, the sound of a man with no other options, but confident in his choice nonetheless. “For the first time since I can remember, I’m giving up.” Vlad stared into the mirror, his eyes going from solid red to the more human deep blue, his gaze haunted and tortured, but steady as always, like a bullet. The spirit saw the resolution in the man’s eyes, saw that look so different from the unsure, confused look Vlad had worn before. Vlad knew what he was saying, knew what he was feeling, and now thought this the best course of action. To protect himself, and to once again save the one he loved most.

The two were quiet for a moment, regarding each other, separated only by the thin reflective glass.

“That’s very unfortunate, Vlad Masters,” the spirit said. Vlad tiredly rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to say something biting but suddenly the room dropped drastically in temperature. The fog thickened around him, turning everything white and clouded, surrounding his vision and prickling against his skin. Vlad gasped out a breath of frosty air and stared in surprise at the mirror.

“Wha—” Two clear white arms reached out from the mirror and grasped Vlad, turning him intangible and pulling him into the mirror.

Chapter Text

It’s always a strange sensation to wake up in complete darkness. To open your eyes and for a few brief moments wonder, Am I still asleep? Is this a dream?

Vlad wondered that as he looked around himself. His head felt like it was full of cotton, and his body had that sensation of intangibility; hollow and thin and too light for comfort. “Cheese logs, where am…”

His voice echoed around him like a whisper and suddenly he saw a circle of light before him, breaking through the darkness. Vlad stared and soon realized he was staring back at himself. “A mirror…?” he mused, reaching outwards towards his reflection.

The image in the mirror morphed and twisted, the features of his face shifting slightly, his hair darkening until the face in the mirror was not his own, but eerily similar and just as familiar.

“Dad…” Vlad breathed, taking his hand away.

What are you still doing up? I thought I sent you to bed!” The man’s thick eyebrows were turned downwards, the all-too present scowl of disapproval aimed down at Vlad. “And what’s this you’re reading? This isn’t for school, is it? Ghost stories? You’re not a little kid, quit filling your head with fairy tales! What do I tell you over and over; study! Get smarter, or you’ll never be anything!” Vlad felt himself cower and flinch at the reprimand, a fear cultivated within him since birth resurfacing despite some unconscious knowledge that he needn’t be afraid anymore. “Useless.”

The image changed, the face morphing once more, the lines of the jaw softening, the hair darkening even more and elongated until a woman with wide eyes and thin lips stared out at him. “Mom.”

The woman didn’t say anything, simply looked at Vlad for a few long moments, a sadness in her eyes.

You’ll be like him one day. Just like him. Controlling. Bitter. Unhappy. Obsessed with something he can’t have.” These words were said quietly, sadly, the kind of soft voice used during a funeral. Vlad never remembered his mother saying those things to him before, didn’t remember her saying much of anything to him at all...

“Mom, I’m not. I’ve changed,” Vlad heard himself saying, believing it to be true, wanting her to believe it to be true.

Then why are you here?”

Vlad didn’t say anything, not sure what she meant. Her image faded. “No wait!” Vlad called but suddenly the mirror rapid flickered, briefly showing his mother and then his father, flashing angry eyes and then soft saddened ones, features morphing and twisting quickly before him, the mirrors glow growing brighter and brighter.

Get out of my way.”

“Be a good boy.”

“Money is what will make it easy in life, remember that?”

“Family is important, moy syn*.”

“All I wanted was an obedient wife and a capable son. Look at this mess.”

“Vladimir…”

“You’ll never get better like that, stupid boy!”

“Tak zhe kak vego*…”

Vlad shut his eyes, the darkness only intensifying around him but once his eyes were closed, the voices stopped, like the plug from a television being yanked from the wall, the screen going blank and silence filling the room. Cautiously opening his eyes again, Vlad saw that the mirror wasn’t gone but now showed a new face.

“Jack.”

Hey Vladdie! I’m ordering take-out tonight, want anything?”

“Thanks for helping me study, V-man. I would have bombed that test for sure without you.”

“That cat Maddie, she’s a blast. And she’s into ghosts, like us!”

“Vlad…I’m so sorry, this was never meant to happen. Please you’ve got to—”

“No no no,” Vlad muttered, shutting his eyes again. But he could still hear the voices this time, Jack and Maddie’s now too. The fun they had and the way Jack had begged for forgiveness, only to be met by silence and hate. The accident had hurt Vlad badly but he began to realize he had probably hurt Jack worse by his anger. I forgave him though! I apologized! Didn’t I? I can’t quite…

Vladdie, my man!”

“If you saved Danny’s life, then I say bygones!”

It was all a mistake, just talk to us.”

“All I can say now is, I’m glad you’re here with a family who loves you, Vlad.”

The voices were like bugs in his ears, too loud, too many, too confusing, buzzing and jumbling in his head, despite how much he shook it, despite how tightly he closed his eyes. More voices joined in, his parents again, his father’s anger and disappointment, his mother’s sadness, Jack’s kindness and pleas, Maddie’s betrayal and hurt…all of it aimed at him, all of their voices like screams in his mind, driving him crazy. Even the kinder words hurt, even the forgiveness felt like a stab, because he heard the other voices, the accusing voices overpowering the kindness that Vlad knew he didn’t deserve.

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry…” Vlad whispered, his voice drowned by the others, like a man lost at sea, the ocean’s merciless roaring covering his cries for help, dragging him deeper and deeper into the dark.

“…Danny? Danny!”

Danny started slightly and looked up to see Sam looking over at him, ticked off. “You’re the one that begged us to quiz you for the test tomorrow and you’re not even paying attention.”

“Sorry, Sam,” Danny muttered, glancing out the window one last time before rearranging himself on his bed so he faced Sam completely, forcing himself to concentrate.

“Something bothering you, man?” Tucker asked, flipping with little interest through his own biology textbook. “You’ve more spacey than normal lately.”

“It’s nothing,” Danny said with a shake of his head. “Nothing I shouldn’t have expected, anyway.”

“Meaning?” Tucker prodded, clearly more willing to talk about Danny’s issues than continue studying.

“Meaning its Vlad, acting weird as always,” Danny said, picking up some of the index cards and flipping through them. Mitosis. Mitochondria. Nucleus. Deoxyribonucleic Acid. Where is he…?

“What’s he done now? Send you flowers and ask you to prom?” Sam quipped with a roll of her eyes. “I swear, this nice guy act is getting old. When’s he going to give it up already?”

“It’s not an act Sam, something’s different about him,” Danny said, putting down the cards, not having the attention span to concentrate right now. “And it’s weird because normally he visits every other day and helps me with school or training or whatever but I haven’t seen him since Christmas. It’s not like him to just disappear like this.”

“Actually, it is like him,” Sam said, shutting the textbook on her lap, realizing no studying was going to get done at this point. “He either realized his little scheme of acting nicey-nice isn’t working and gave up, or this is part of his plan and he’s off setting up phase two.”

“Phase two of what?” Danny asked with a sneer.

“I don’t know, I’m not the evil mastermind! Some kind of plot to steal you away or clone you again or brainwash you!” Sam exclaimed, throwing up her hands. “Look Danny, I know you want to give him a chance, but I’m worried about you. I don’t trust him, not after everything he’s done to you.”

“You think I trust him!” Danny exclaimed, eyes wide. He got to his feet, pacing the room as he released all the pent up emotions and thoughts that had been running wild inside him since all this began. “You think I want to give him a second chance after he tried to hurt my dad, steal my mom and giving me a black eye every other week! You think I want to believe my arch-nemesis suddenly had a change of heart and I’m just supposed to forget all that crap between us never happened! I’m the one whose parents were targeted Sam, I’m the one who fought him and got my ass beat all the time by him, I’m the one who had to cover up the injuries he gave me to my parents when they asked! I know he can’t be trusted, I know the man is insane, I know!”

Danny’s eyes flared green and a gush of frigid air blew through the room from Danny’s core, making his friends shiver. Sam stood up, carefully walking over to her friend, putting a hand on his shoulder. The glow around the boy diminished and his eyes faded to blue. Her voice was soft when she spoke. “So then what’s going on?”

Danny didn’t speak, not sure what to say. How does he explain Vlad’s behavior, his confession? Does he tell them about the kiss? About Vlad’s feelings? That might make them worry more, and honestly, Danny didn’t want to think about all that right now. It was too much.

“He wants to change, guys. And he has. This isn’t the kind of nicey-nice act when he stands in front of the townspeople and makes all these fake promises with that slimey smile plastered on his face. This isn’t the guy who makes backwards comments to my dad and laughs behind his back. He hasn’t fought me once. He hasn’t threatened me, or laughed at me, or made me feel like some stupid kid. He actually apologized to my parents, to my dad guys!” Danny shook his head, running a hand through his hair. “Every time I think about Vlad, the Vlad I used to know, he seems like a bed time story. Like some monster my parents told me about, that I used to be afraid of. But now, thinking about him, seeing him and talking to him, it’s like I removed the monster mask to see…a human. Just another person. And suddenly the fear is gone but I’m still confused because they are technically the same person but not.” Like Phantom and Fenton. The same but not. Danny sighed and looked to his friends, back and forth between their faces. “Does this make any kind of sense?”

“No,” Tucker said honestly and Sam shot him a look.

“I just get scared sometimes that if he’s really trying to change for the better and I reject him, that he’ll just go back to how he was. And I just really don’t want that when I have this hope that maybe me and Vlad can be—” Friends? Family? Danny thought about the kiss. He blushed and quickly said, “not enemies anymore, at least.”

No one said anything for a while. “You really think he’s trying?” Sam asked quietly, not removing her hand from Danny’s shoulder, her expression concerned. Danny nodded. “You know him best, Danny. And I trust you. It doesn’t seem like he’s controlling you in anyway, so all I have to say is, be careful.”

Danny nodded again and for some reason, it felt like a weight lifted from his shoulders.

“So then, what do you think is wrong?” Tucker asked. “I mean, you said he hasn’t been around since Christmas. Do you think something happened to him?”

“I tried calling him a few times, but nothing. I haven’t see him around town, but it’s not like I snuck into his house or office or anything,” Danny said with a shrug.

“And why not?” Sam asked, putting her hands on her hips.

“Yeah Danny, I mean hello? Ghost powers?” Tucker said, waving his hands in front of him. “That’s kind of what they’re made for, sneaking around intangible and invisible.”

“If something’s happened or wrong, we should go check on him,” Sam said firmly. “Especially if this is unusual behavior. If he’s planning something, we need to find out sooner rather than later. And if he’s actually changed and something’s happened to him, we should probably help. Or take pictures.”

Danny shot Sam a look but it didn’t hold any real heat. She was trying at least. They both were. Danny nodded and transformed. “Alright then, let’s go.”

Vlad ran. Darkness was everywhere, all around him and he wasn’t sure if he was actually moving anywhere but he ran from the light behind him, from the voices and the faces. He ran and ran for what felt like decades.

Danny fazed the three of them threw the roof of city hall, down into the mayor’s office. Turning solid once more, the trio looked around. The room was dark and empty. “City hall closes at 6 so everyone should be out of the building by now,” Sam said, walking over to the front door. “Close the curtains.”

Tucker stepped over to the big window. “Wow that’s a nice view he’s got from here. You can see most of the city! A guy could get used to this,” Tucker exclaimed before firmly closing the thick curtains.

“That’s so he has optimal view of his prey. Classic predator behavior,” Sam said with a smirk, flicking on the lights.

Danny began searching the place. But there wasn’t much to see. There were small things on the desk and in the room that identified Vlad’s personality like a Packer’s mug on the corner of the large desk and the oversized self portrait of Vlad himself hung up on the wall. Danny rolled his eyes. Everything else though was standard office mayor stuff. Regular business papers, a planner full of meeting dates and associates phone numbers. Danny flipped through some of the files in a tall filing cabinet for a few moments before finding a thick one labeled DANIEL. Knowing immediately that it was no coincidence, he flipped through it. Report cards, progress reports, class schedule, applications Danny had filled out, his lunch password, a list of interests and hobbies, likes and dislikes, a few snapshots of Danny, both ghost and human. There was nothing too suspicious or nefarious in it technically, but all the same, it weirded Danny out. This guy really is nuts, isn’t he? I wonder if all this is from our enemy days when he used to spy on me or if this is recent due to his new… Danny blushed, the idea of Vlad obsessing over Danny in a romantic way like he’d done with Maddie was…strange and…

“That snake, I knew it!” Danny looked over to see Sam looking at something in one of the drawers in Vlad’s desk. She pulled an object out and faced it towards Danny as he made his way over. His heart sank and he reached out, grabbing a photo of his mother. Framed. Of her smiling. From Vlad’s desk drawer. The only way he would have been able to get a picture like this was more spying…stealing old photos from the house…was this recent? Had he done this a while ago or…

Did it really matter? It was still here, still in Vlad’s office, in his freaking desk! Danny gripped the frame tightly, the strength from his ghost half causing the glass to fracture with a light crack. “But he said…he said…” Had he lied? Vlad said he wasn’t focusing on my mom anymore. He said he was done! He lied! He obviously still has feelings for her so what else did he lied about!?

Danny scoffed and handed the photo to Tucker. “Can you put that in your backpack? I don’t want to leave it here,” Danny said curtly, continuing to look around the office, more thoroughly this time, his expression steely as he rifled through drawers and papers, not caring if he made a mess as he tossed folders to the ground, leaving drawers open, papers scattering across the floor.

“I don’t think anything’s here, Danny,” Sam said finally. “It makes sense he wouldn’t have anything ghost related or evil lying around in this generally public area. Let’s go check his place.”

“Fine,” Danny said, walking over to his friends. “Let’s just find out what happened to this creep and be done with this.”

Danny grabbed their wrists in either of his hands, turned them intangible and flew out of City hall. They landed in Ultra Posh Pulter Heights and down in front of the front door to Vlad’s large home. Danny turned tangible and knocked briskly on the door. “Guess he’s not home,” Danny muttered after barely a few moments, and walked straight through the door.

Sam and Tucker shared a look before they heard a click and Danny opened the door for them.

“I don’t sense him around so let’s just split up. You guys take the bottom floor and I’ll take upstairs. Call if something happens or if you find anything,” Danny said, floating upwards before Sam grabbed his hand.

“Danny. Uh, are you okay?” Sam asked. “I mean we’ve always known how crazy Vlad is, and that he’s creepily obsessed with your mom. So—”

“It still doesn’t make it right!” Danny snapped. “Imagine if it was your mom’s photo you found in his desk drawer!”

Sam flinched slightly and grimaced. “Why anyone would want to be obsessed with her perm and pink frills, I’d never know…” Sam drifted off, realizing Danny was seriously upset about this. “I know, it’s bad. But I mean, you’ve never freaked out like this before unless he did something…extra bad, I guess.”

“He did, in a way…” Danny muttered, shaking his head. “I’m gonna go look around.” Danny gently pulled his hand from Sam’s grip and fazed up through the ceiling.

It wasn’t the picture. Well, not just the picture because like Sam had said, Vlad’s creepy obsession with Maddie was common knowledge by now. No less creepy, but expected at least. That is, until Vlad had told Danny Vlad had no more interest in Maddie. Vlad had apologize to Danny’s parents, to Maddie, and told Danny that he loved him! Was that a lie? Danny felt an anger at that, a humiliation burning in his face.

Did Vlad love Danny but still have feelings for Maddie? Maybe Vlad wanted to give up on Maddie but couldn’t forget her. Danny shook his head and fazed through the walls until he found Vlad’s bedroom. “I shouldn’t be making excuses for him,” Danny grumbled, looking around him.

Danny glanced to the bed. Neatly made. What’s the point, it’s not like the guy gets any guests, Danny thought bitterly. Tossed careless on the bed was a black suit coat, part of Vlad’s classic attire. Danny walked over. So was he here recently? He picked it up. It’s not warm…so he probably hasn’t been here in a while.

A sharp scent tickled Danny’s nose. Glaring at the garment, Danny bushed but couldn’t help lifting the coat to his face, sniffing it slightly. Vlad’s expensive cologne still clung to it, but it was faded. The familiarity of the smell made Danny close his eyes, imaging Vlad’s deep voice, so proper and nice when it rumbled quietly, when it praised Danny or laughed. It made him think of those comforting hugs, and Vlad’s warm hand on Danny’s head. Danny blushed deeply, his face buried in the material. What was happening to him? It felt like a disease growing inside him, making his thinking tilted, making his body warm. This scent was like a trigger, addictive and comforting but just thinking about the man made Danny pissed beyond belief. So why was his heart beating like this? Why had Danny been so panicked all this time at the thought of Vlad being in trouble, or ignoring him or…

Danny inhaled again, wanting that warm feeling back but the picture frame in Vlad’s office floated back to the surface of Danny’s mind, tainting all the laughs and the secrets and the help and the trust. He lied to me! Danny thought desperately, his hurt like a knife. This shouldn’t feel like a betrayal considering their history. But Vlad had promised, had seemed to change, had told Danny he loved him…

Danny closed his eyes, the tightness in his throat painful. His thoughts were a jumble, running back and forth, his anger clashing with his worry, his heart running too fast, his nerves shaking too frantically, his—

“Meeoow!”

A sudden crash startled Danny up into the air. He dropped the coat and looked down to see Maddie perched on the bed’s side drawer, looking up at him, her tail twitching back and forth. Danny sighed and lowered back to the ground. His boot knocked into something when he landed and looked down, picking up the item the cat had dropped.

A framed photo. The photo he’d given Vlad for Christmas, of the two of them. Danny stared at it a moment, feeling his thoughts and emotions warring inside him as the two smiling faces stared up at him. Anger won out at the thought of that smiling face lying to him this whole time and Danny suddenly wanted to toss the photo against the wall. He wanted to vaporize it with his ghost ray. He just wanted those smiling faces gone.

Danny slammed the photo back onto the side table, face down, startling Maddie, who hissed and jumped onto the bed. “Sorry kitty,” Danny said lowly. He eyed the cat as she pawed at her master’s coat, nuzzling it and meowing. “Any idea where you’re daddy ran off to?” The cat ignored him, rolling around in Vlad’s coat. “Really wish ghost powers gave me the ability to talk to animals…” Maddie sat up and meowed. She stretched and jumped from the bed, padding out the door. The boy sighed. “This is why I’m a dog person. Cats are weird.” He shook his head at the memories of Vlad and Cujo, the man’s complaints, claiming he was a cat person. That day Vlad had taken Danny’s friends out for a shopping spree. Was all of that a ruse?

Danny shook his head and sank into the floor, wanting to be out of that bedroom and out of this house quicker, so he didn’t have to think about these things anymore. He found Sam and Tucker meeting back in the living room. Sam had Maddie in her arms. “Anything?” Danny asked.

“Place is empty and dry,” Tucker said with a shrug. “No sign of the dude or any evil plots.”

“Great, then let’s go home.”

“I thought you wanted to find out where Vlad went,” Sam said. She smiled down at the cat, who purred contently as Sam stroked her back. “I found a bag of cat food in shreds in the kitchen. Seems like Vlad’s been gone from the house for a while…” The goth looked to Danny expectantly.

“So far, all I know is that he came here sometime after Christmas, but when that was or where he is now…I’m clueless.” Danny shrugged.

“Maybe he’s in his Colorado home,” Tucker suggested. “Or maybe he’s just been in the Ghost Zone all this time for some reason.”

“I honestly don’t care anymore,” Danny said with a wave of his hand, suddenly feeling very tired of this whole thing. “I’m not gonna travel half way across the country or all through the ghost zone to find him. Plasmius is a big boy, he can—wait a second.” Danny paused, a thought popping into his head. “Tucker, take out your laptop real quick.” Tucker looked to Sam briefly but shrugged off his backpack, pulling his small computer out. “Open up the Infi-map program. On Christmas Eve, Vlad mentioned something about some kind of magical item in the Ghost Zone, called the April Mirror or something.”

Tucker typed away on his computer for a few moments and then turned it around, showing the other two the screen. “The Espil Mirror?”

“Yeah that,” Danny said, watching as the digital map found the island the item was located on. “He didn’t say much, but he did say this mirror is the cause of his change and nicey-nice behavior. I wonder if maybe this item can give me some answers about what’s going on…”

“Alright so let’s go check it out,” Sam said, putting the cat gently back on the ground. Danny watched as Maddie trotted off towards the couch and curled up on the cushion. Memories of Danny’s accidental sleepover on that couch flashed through his mind.

“Sorry guys, but I’m going it alone,” Danny said, looking back to his friends.

“No way,” Sam said firmly, eyes narrowing at her friend. “This is a mysterious island, one we haven’t charted yet. Who knows what dangers are there? Plus, if Plasmius is there and he’s acting even stranger than normal, that adds to the danger. Obviously this mirror isn’t just any ordinary item if it caused big bad Vlad to go good. Who knows if it might change you too? You are not going alone.”

“I am,” Danny said, voice quiet but firm, a hint of apology in his tone but also the stubborn protectiveness he’d learned from his role as ghost hero. “Sorry guys, but it’s too dangerous for you to come. I’m just going to go in, investigate and get out. I need you to stay around here and see if Vlad shows up. And I need you here in case any minor ghosts start causing trouble while I’m gone.”

Sam looked ticked off and Tucker looked worried but Danny was set in resolve.

“We’re not sidekicks or lookouts Danny, this is too dangerous for—”

“Sam, I know you’re being protective but I’ve done dangerous things before and I’m fine.” Danny saw Sam open her mouth to argue but shut it quickly when Tucker reached out and touched her shoulder. Tucker knew when Danny’s mind was made, he was just as stubborn as Sam. Someone had to back down, and that someone needed to be Sam right now. She looked between the two boys, seeing the answer in their eyes and gave a long, clearly irritated sigh.

“Fine. But you have two hours Daniel Fenton, or we’re going in there and finding you,” Sam said firmly. Danny smiled reassuringly and grabbed Sam and Tucker’s wrists.

“Deal.” He turned them intangible and sunk through the floor, down into the hidden lab. Vlad’s lab was large and quiet, technology sitting around them, untouched. Tucker walked over to the computer and hooked his PDA to it, clicking away.

“Two hours Danny, I’m serious,” Sam repeated, gripping his hand briefly.

“I’ll be fine, Sam,” Danny said as the ghost portal groaned open, the familiar spiral of green ecto-energy humming softly, ominously, tinting the room in a soft green light.

“All set,” Tucker called from the computer. Danny walked over and bumped his fist to Tucker’s. “Be careful man.”

“Will do,” Danny said. Danny sighed and looked to his friends with a smile. They waved. Danny faced the ghost portal. “Don’t worry kitty,” Danny whispered to himself. “I’ll find your daddy. And give him hell to pay for all this.” Danny clenched his fist and flew forward into the Ghost Zone.

Vlad stopped when he saw a figure before him. The figure had sharp features, sharp teeth, sharp red eyes and chilled Vlad to the bone.

“You’ve allowed yourself to become a monster,” Plasmius said, his sharp toothed grin nearly splitting his face. “Look what you’ve become!”

“I’m not a monster!” Vlad yelled back. “All I’ve done is—”

“Take and take and take,” said a voice to his left. Another Plasmius figure. “Steal and destroy and kill!”

“I’ve never! I was just angry, I deserved to—”

“You deserve nothing.” Another to his right. “Only pain and loneliness for everything you’ve done!”

“I’m trying to make up for it, please! I don’t understand what—”

“You’ve caused too much damage.” Behind him. “You’ve hurt them beyond forgiveness.”

All around him, demon like faces of Plasmius sneered and insulted Vlad, their images twisted like the mirrors of a fun house, every time he turned and looked, their features were more grueling, more deformed, crueler in nature.

Revenge!”

“Anger!”

“Hatred!”

“You attacked them!”

“You attacked her!”

“You attacked him!”

 “You lied!”

“You were a coward!”

“You claim to love him and yet look at what you did to him!”

Vlad saw before him flashes of his life, of his schemes, of his fights. The reunion, the ghost animals, the ghost hunters Vlad had hired, the clones, the Ghost King, always using Danny, always hurting Danny. Vlad watched but all he saw was Danny’s anger, heard Danny’s screams, his insults, his pleas, his confusion. Vlad heard his own voice, laughing, throwing insults, yelling in anger, so pompous, so arrogant, so cruel!

“I did all that to him…how can I expect forgiveness…or love…after all that…”

You’re putting innocent people’s lives in danger, Plasmius.”

“I’ll never join you!”

I just can’t trust you.”

Vlad looked around him for the source of the voice, for the boy who changed everything. But all he saw was those taunting reflections, those twisted images, surrounding him, crowding him.

Vlad…Vlad!”

Vlad turned and turned, searching for a way out.

He did some bad things…”  Images flashed before Vlad’s eyes again, of all his mistakes, of all the fights and the schemes. “But he’s not the same as he was before!”

The voices and the taunts quieted a fraction, their laughter softer as that one voice cried out above the rest.

He’s trying. Despite everything, he’s really trying!”

It was quite the trip. Danny thankfully developed a decent mental map in his head and followed it towards the island that had been shown on the infimap program. The island was very small compared to other ones he’s seen. Most of the surface held a grand palace, painted white with the windows black and empty.

Cautiously, the boy landed before the grand doors, taking a deep breath before swinging them open. He stuck his head inside first, looking around. It was dim and empty. Danny slowly floating inside, taking in the cobwebs and the ancient pillars, the flecks of green dust-motes floating lazily through the room. “This place could use a good spring cleaning.”

Danny’s eyes were drawn towards the far end of the room as he floated deeper into the open room, where the only object to be seen sat.

Danny flew over. “This is it,” Danny whispered, staring at the dusty face of the mirror. He looked all around him. “So where the hell is Vlad?” Not a sound or a motion was made. Danny groaned in frustration. “Not here. So where then? And how does this thing connect to it all…?”

A shiver ran up the boy’s spine and a puff of cold white air escaped his lips as a light mist surrounded Danny. The half ghost jumped back, preparing to fend off whatever ghost inhabited this place.

“Danny Fenton.”

Danny looked around, confused. “Who’s there?”

Before the boy, a ghost appeared, forming from the mist that bleed from the mirror. Her form was white, her face smooth and blank, as white as her hair that blended into the mist. No mouth, no nose…set on her oval face, only two solid blue eyes.

“I am the ghost who inhabits and owns the Espil Mirror,” the spirit said, her voice quiet and calm, cool like the mist surrounding the magical object.

“Uh hi…” Danny glanced from the mirror to the spirit, finding her disembodied speech a bit creepy. “Sorry to bother you, but have you by any chance seen a ghost by the name of Plasmius? I know he visited your mirror a while ago. He’s tall and blue with fangs and weird black hair. He’s got a cloak like some kind of Dracula wanna-be?”

“Have you come here searching for your deepest desires?” the spirit asked.

Danny blinked. “What? N-no, I’m looking for a ghost. Has he been by here recently?”

“Many ghosts come to my mirror, searching for their greatest desire and how to obtain it,” the spirit replied and Danny felt his teenage patience wearing thin as the spirit refused to directly answer his question.

“That’s great, and I’m sure it’s a great line of business but have you seen Vlad or not?” Danny asked, trying desperately to keep his tone in check. “I know he came by here before, he’s used this mirror. Do you have any idea where he is now?” The spirit tilted her head slightly, regarding the boy before her passively. Danny sighed. “Please, I just really need to know where he is.”

“Why?” the spirit asked. “Is that what you desire most?”

Danny blinked. “What? No, it’s not what I…I mean, it’s what I want now. He’s been acting weird and I haven’t seen him for a while so I’d like some answers from him.”

“Will those answers fulfill your deepest desire?” the spirit asked, floating behind Danny. “Look into the mirror, and see what it is you truly want.”

Danny glanced to the mirror, but noticed the spirit reaching out towards him from the corner of his eye. “Hey, back off,” Danny grumbled, floating away from the misty ghost. Too many close encounters had made Danny skeptical of any stranger ghosts. This lady was no exception. “Look, I don’t want any trouble. Just tell me what you know about Vlad and this mirror and I’ll leave.”

“I am not a threat to you, Danny Fenton,” the spirit said, ever the calm, neutral air. “This mirror is not a trap or something to fear. I created it long ago to help people.” The spirit gazed at the object of her creation, her solid blue eyes almost seeming fond despite her blank expression. “So many hide their desires away, either out of fear or insecurity. So many are unaware of their truest dreams. This mirror allows them to see it. Reveals it completely and truly to them, removing the mask beings all try to hide behind. I help them find their truest selves, and show them it’s possible to obtain their deepest happiness.”

Danny heard her words and looked to the mirror. He remembered Vlad’s story, as crude and drunken as it had been, and imagined what might have happened here. “So, Vlad came here looking for how to get what he wanted…and ended up seeing something else instead, didn’t he? Something he probably hadn’t expected to see…” Danny reasoned softly. He imagined Vlad standing before the mirror, eager to see what ever fortune or power the older halfa always aimed for. Danny sighed. “Crazy fruitloop. Heh, he must have been pissed.” Danny shook his head and clenched his gloved hand into a fist, whirling around to look at the spirit again. “So if he saw…me, or us, or whatever it was in the mirror and realized that’s what he really wanted, then where is he now? Why’d he just disappear without telling me anything? He abandoned his precious little cat, for ghost’s sake! And if he really loves me according to this mirror, then why does he still love my mother!?”

Danny shook his head, his angry voice echoing around him in the large room. “He probably lied to me anyway…” Danny muttered. “Like he always does. I’m sure he saw himself ruling the world with my mom as his queen in the mirror.” Danny grimaced in disgust, turning away from the spirit and leaning his forehead against the cool glass.

“When someone visits my mirror and utilizes its powers, they are sometimes surprised by what they see…” Danny suddenly felt a cold pull inside of him. Before he could react, the mirror’s image changed before him, his own reflection morphing and twisting until a familiar face smiled out towards him.

Paulina? No…Valerie? Sam? Danny closed his eyes as the morphing images teased him. “No, stop. I don’t care what you think I want, all I want is know what happened to Vlad. I’m not here for any games!”

Danny, there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you…”

Danny kept his eyes shut, not wanting to see the face that matched that voice, whether it was Paulina, Valerie or Sam. He had longed for those words…the obvious meaning, the clear path those lips would take as they spoke of affection and possibilities and missed opportunities to tell the truth…

Just like Vlad.

Danny gasped when he suddenly felt something tug at him, a pressure in his chest, where his icy core was. He looked behind him to see the mirror guardian there, her arm reaching out into Danny’s back. “Hey! W-what are you—”

“Making things easier for you,” the spirit replied calmly.

“Get away from—”

Daniel…”

Danny’s eyes widened at the familiar voice. He turned to the mirror to see Vlad, a small smirk on the older man’s face as he regarded Danny through the mirror.

I’m proud of you, my Little Badger.”

Danny’s heart leapt at the praise, his face turning warm at the sincere smile directed at him.

Vlad’s hand reached out, as though offering it to Danny. Danny’s fingers twitched, wondering what it would feel like…those long warm fingers that felt so nice in his hair…what would they feel like intertwined with his own fingers, or drawing lines on his sore back or—

“Stop it,” Danny muttered, closing his eyes and shaking his head.

Daniel, it’s alright. You don’t have to fight so hard anymore. I’m here.”

“Stop!” Danny exclaimed, pulling himself away from the spirit behind him and from the mirror. It felt like pulling claws from his flesh. He backed away and noticed the image of Vlad fade from the mirror. The spirit didn’t move, her arm still outreached where Danny used to be. “Just stop…”

“Why?” the spirit asked, her tone ever calm and cool.

“Because that’s not…you’re just going to show me the same thing you showed Vlad and it’s not…”

“Not what you believe you want?”

“I know what I want!” Danny yelled angrily.

“Do you? There’s a lot of confusion in you, a lot of uncertainty about who are you, about your future and the relationships you hold with others. You want to find Vlad Masters, that’s what you repeatedly say. But why do you wish to find him so badly, if a part of you feels angry at him?”

Danny opened his mouth but faltered for a moment. “…because he’s missing.”

“So you believe you have to be the hero and find him? That’s all?”

Danny glared, his heart racing, his head still full of Vlad’s voice from the mirror’s image. Hearing it had made Danny feel relief for just a moment, seeing him again after these two empty weeks.

Danny knew why he needed to find Vlad. He knew it, and looking at the spirit before him, he realized she knew it too. Was this how Vlad had felt when he’d first arrived, after having this spirit digging around inside his heart to learn more about him than even he knew or wanted to admit to? Vulnerable and raw and confused and scared?

“Enough games. I get it. Just tell me what you know about Vlad!” Danny yelled, already knowing it’d be in vain.

“Ghosts come to me for help. They come to find out their deepest desires. What is it you desire the most?”

“I already told you…” Danny growled, tired of the questions and the aversions.

The spirit didn’t say a word. Danny’s hand clenched into fists, his hands glowing green. A sound came from the spirit, almost like a sigh. “You two are the same. So resistive to the truth. So afraid to be happy.”

“I’m not afraid to be happy.”

“You are afraid to be happy with Vlad.”

Danny flinched away, his face burning what must have looked to be an unhealthy green. This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t believe what she was saying to him!

“Why are you searching for Vlad Masters, Danny Fenton?” the spirit asked, her tone strong in the quiet of the room. “If you will not allow me to assist you, then you must answer that for yourself. I can’t help you until you do.”

“I told you…he’s missing and-and his cat is—”

“Why are you looking for him?” Danny’s heart pounded in his chest. He shut his eyes, remembering Vlad’s voice, his stupid jokes, his annoying pompous attitude, his comforting touches, his uneasy smiles that he wasn’t used to giving, his promise, his dark eyes and deep laugh…

Danny’s voice was quiet and raw. “I miss him.”

The air seemed to warm some, the atmosphere releasing as Danny breathed a sigh he hadn’t realized he was holding. He looked to the spirit before him, floating closer until he stood between her and the mirror. “Please. Please, you know what I’m feeling, better than I do. It’s hard for me to put into words, because I don’t even understand it myself! Ever since he’s been trying, I’ve been feeling…confused. I’m used to being angry at him, and fighting him, and knowing he’s always up to something and pretty much hating him! Now…now I don’t feel that anymore. Now all of that is gone and I’m left with a man who says he loves me and protects me and is more like me than anyone I’ve known. Who’s tried harder for me than anyone and makes me feel…” Danny’s face burned and he shook his head miserably. “But he’s still lying! How can I feel all this for someone like him? How can I still miss him after…

“You said you were a spirit who showed users their deepest desires, and then helped them to get those desires,” Danny said, lifting his head and fixing his green eyes to the spirit’s blue ones. “I want to get Vlad back. Help me.”

“You’re very set on that desire. Is that truly what you want the most?” the spirit asked

Danny swallowed, his heart feeling too large for his chest. His head was swimming but he opened his mouth and said in a weak voice, “Yes. It’s been driving me crazy ever since he’s disappeared. He’s been on my mind constantly, worry has eaten away at me, and curiosity, god it was almost obsessive. I checked my phone constantly to see if he called or at least texted. I spent all afternoon and night in the living room, waiting to see if he’d knock on the door, or call the house…” Danny hid his face in his hands, embarrassment stealing his words for a moment but it felt so good to say all this, to just release everything he’s been feeling and thinking. “I can’t just leave him! You are the one with the magic mirror and this ideal to help people get what they want so help me! I want Vlad back, so tell me what happened to him!”

The spirit stared at Danny, and something about the air around her made Danny think that if the spirit had a mouth, she’d be smiling. Her head turned to the mirror.

Danny looked over too, moving closer as the mirror’s surface rippled and pulsed, the mist swirling around it before clearing to reveal Vlad.

At first, Danny thought this was the spirit trying to show Danny his “deepest desire” again but something about this image of Vlad was different. The man’s eyes were half-lidded, as though in a trance. He was human, with no suit jacket, no tie, not moving. Danny eyes widened as he stepped over, putting his hand up. “Vlad?” The image in the mirror didn’t move. “Vlad!” Danny rounded on the spirit. “He’s in the mirror…?” She nodded. Danny glared at her. “Why? What did you do to him!?”

“When someone gives up on their greatest dream, they are essentially giving up on themselves. What’s the point of going on when their one chance at true happiness is dismissed?”

“What are you talking about?” Danny asked carefully.

“Vlad had been doing well. He was trying and making progress. But he reached a point, and let fear take over.”

“Vlad? Afriad?” Danny said with a wry smile. Those two words have never been in the same sentence whenever Danny thought of Vlad.

“Vlad thought what he was given was good enough. When you accepted him, when he was accepted into your family and into your favor, he became satisfied and afraid to pursue you further. Afraid of total rejection should he go further. Afraid you would never be happy with him, and that’d be left utterly alone once more.”

“Wait…so Vlad’s actually been…telling the truth?” Danny asked, muttering more to himself than to the guardian spirit. He looked to the mirror, to Vlad’s tired expression. “He really did see…me in the mirror? He’s actually been trying?”

“Trying very hard. Like you, he initially rejected what he saw in the mirror, but eventually saw the truth in it. He’s struggled and fought with me and with himself, but he’s learned and grown.”

Danny smiled slightly to himself. “He did change. I knew it…”

“He had to do many things he didn’t want to…had to make tough decisions and let go of the past. It was hard for him, he clung to his past and the pain it caused, like a security blanket. He had so much anger inside him, so much bitterness and loneliness and pain, I had to use my magic to manifest it, to create the beast Vlad turned himself into, so Vlad could see for himself, and physically destroy it.”

“That shadow beast…” Danny muttered with a nod. “And the framed photo in the desk…” Vlad had a hard time letting go. Like the mirror spirit said, the past was a comfort to Vlad, something familiar in all the chaos and uncertainty around him. Vlad kept the picture for that reason alone, not because he still loved Maddie. Everything was starting to make sense, the pieces finally fitting together and Vlad’s transformation suddenly not so random and unexplained. “So he changed…and then he gave up? That’s not like him, why would he—”

“He claims he was being selfless, allowing you a better future with another,” the spirit said. “He didn’t even allow you the chance to choose him.”

“Idiot…” Danny muttered, his cheeks flaring a bright green. “This was because of Sam, wasn’t it? He’s always so overly dramatic, so controlling and jealous and…” Danny groaned, leaning his forehead against the mirror. “Such an idiot.”

Danny narrowed his eyes, stepping back. He turned his hands intangible and reached for the mirror, but he felt a jolt and his insubstantial hands hit the glass. Danny growled and tried again and again until he was banging against the mirror.

“Danny Fenton, you and Vlad Masters are two beings I have never encountered before.” Danny paused in his rage, his chest heaving as he listened to the quiet words of the spirit. “You are someone who will do anything for those you care for. Vlad Masters is someone who has never been the object of such care. Both of you complement each other, balance each other; good and bad in both, ghost and human.”

“Yeah,” Danny muttered, looking up to Vlad, his anger melting away as concern and confusion filled the space. “He’s always said how alike we are. But all this is just…too much. It makes sense, but it also doesn’t. I mean…”

“You are half ghost and half human. You are dead and yet alive. And yet you can’t grasp the concept of love?”

“Love for Vlad?” Danny whispered, his voice so lost, so desperate for an answer. “I know I’ve been worried about him and i-it’s been… well nice spending time with him without consistently fighting or being on edge. And finally knowing for sure that this is all genuine makes me feel…” Danny sighed a heavy breath, his throat aching and his eyes suddenly stinging. He breathed in deeply, running his hands over his face and through his white hair, trying to focus and stay calm, clear his head so he could maybe understand all thiw! “What am I supposed to do?”

Danny looked over to the mirror, his eyes narrowing. “Let Vlad go. I don’t know what kind of rules you have for this thing, but you can’t keep him here. You need to let him go.”

“When someone utilizes my mirror, it’s an unsigned contract between us,” the spirit began. “Vlad Masters saw what he wanted, and I promised to show him the way to get it. When Vlad falters…when he gives up…I will do what I can to assist him.”

“So trapping him in a cursed mirror is helping him to date me?” Danny asked deadpan, eyes narrowed.

“He will be out eventually. When he realizes and remembers why he wants what he wants.”

“So…I just have to wait for Vlad to be done with his inner journey or something?” Danny sighed, scratching his head. He floated over to the wall opposite the mirror and crossed his legs, floating passively a few feet of the ground. Danny wouldn’t leave till Vlad was out. He finally found the man, found out what happened to him and what’s been happening but Danny still needed answers. He needed to talk to Vlad and straighten some things out.

Danny stared at the mirror, Vlad standing motionless within it. “Guess this may take a while…”

Vlad tried to ignore everything else around him and focus on that one voice. That voice that brought light to this darkness, that voice that somehow filled Vlad’s head with peace instead of fear and guilt.

Vlad! Vlad, it’s me.”

Where was he? Where was the voice?

Vlad, you need to wake up. I believe you. You’ve changed. You’re NOT the same man you were. You’re better. You’re kinder and that’s good. You don’t have to change completely and you don’t have to be perfect. I’m here, I’ll work with you!”

Vlad didn’t immediately notice, but the other voices started to disappear as this one voice continued to speak. The angry voices faded, the saddened tones died away. Vlad focused on these new words as his mind grew clearer and clearer.

“Is it true…could it be true that…”

The past is never going to change…but the future isn’t set in stone, I know that from experience. We can make of it whatever we what, you can change it! But you have to believe you can, Vlad. You have to take that chance.”

Vlad listened, his heart swelling, tears on his face, his eyes wide as his mind contemplated the idea. Could it be possible for him? Could he truly change things, get the happiness he so desired despite everything…

No. No! Vlad shook his head, the fear folding in on him once more, drowning him, choking him. It was chains around his wrists, his waist, and his chest, constricting until Vlad couldn’t breathe. All those other voices, telling him what he’d done, all the guilt and anger and obsession and failure, all the cruelty. It couldn’t be erased. Vlad couldn’t have true happiness, no he was fine where he was, safe on his own, safe in the darkness…at least he wouldn’t hurt anyone. At least he wouldn’t get hurt. That voice must be wrong. It had to be…

Danny sighed for the seventh time, his cheek resting in his palm, elbow digging into his knee as he continued to float in the silent room. “How long is this going to--?”

A movement in the mirror caught Danny’s eye and he perked up. Vlad shifted slightly. “Is…is he waking up?”

The mirror spirit floated by the item, her solid eyes intent on the reflection. Danny floated over, noticing Vlad’s expression looking more strained, his eyebrows narrowed, his shoulders shifting. “He looks like he’s in a nightmare…”

A crack slashed across the face of the mirror’s glass. Danny gasped and jumped back in the air. “Whoa…uh is that normal?” When the ghost boy glanced over to the guardian spirit, he noticed her eyes slightly widened, a look of surprise on her otherwise blank face. “I’m guessing not.”

Vlad definitely looked like he was in the throes of a nightmare, tossing and turning in the mirror, his face contorted in pain and stress. Danny carefully floated closer. “Vlad…” Another crack broke over the glass. Danny tried to swallow the thump forming in his throat. “V-Vlad. Vlad!” Vlad’s fit seemed to get worse. The mirror’s face wavered, the whole frame vibrating, the room rumbling as Vlad fought within the mirror, within whatever world he was in. Cracks splintered and spider-webbed across the mirror, Danny’s panic rising, fearing what would happen.

“Vlad! Vlad, it’s me! Its Danny, please wake up!” Danny called, not daring to touch the mirror, not knowing what to do. He turned towards the spirit. She didn’t move, her eyes wide. “Help him! Please, what’s happening!”

She didn’t respond, she didn’t move. This wasn’t normal, something was wrong. Danny looked back. “Vlad, wake up! Please, you need to come back, you need to wake up! Vlad, its Danny! Please Vlad, wake up!” Danny’s screams were high and loud in the large room, the cracks echoing and the rumbling growing louder, echoes of cries from the mirror, a piercing note emitting around them. More cracks appeared, distorting the image.

Danny looked to the mirror spirit, tears prickling in the corners of his eyes. “Please, what’s going on? You have to help, tell me what’s happening to him! How do I get him out! Tell me!”

“Vlad Masters…is seeing all his past mistakes, all his wrong doings…and he needs to find hope on his own, with his own strength. That’s the only way to crawl out of his past completely. But…” her eyes were stuck on her mirror that shook and rattled, the glass fractured and smashed from the inside, spots webbing outward in long splinters. “…he’s fighting in there. Fighting himself and the darkness around him. He doesn’t want to believe what he can have.”

“Such an idiot!” Danny hissed, turning and slamming his fists against the mirror. “He’s too stubborn, he never listens! So self-pitying, so dramatic!” Danny’s fists slowly unclenched, his fingers opening carefully and his gloved palms touching the mirror’s surface. “He’s so used to being alone, that he doesn’t know what to do with people’s affection and acceptance. He thinks in order to do good by them…he has to give up all his happiness for them, thinks he has to remain outside of their life as he can for them to be happy. As if he can’t be happy with them.” Danny shook his head, his rambling words pouring out as he tried to piece together the impossible puzzle that is Vlad’s crazed mind. “He’s always been a crazed up fruitloop.”

Danny lifted his head and looked up to Vlad’s reflection. Vlad, you need to wake up. I believe you. You’ve changed. You’re NOT the same man you were. You’re better. You’re kinder and that’s good. You don’t have to change completely and you don’t have to be perfect. I’m here, I’ll work with you!”

Vlad bared his teeth, his eyes tightly closed. He looked in such pain, tears spilled from the corners of his eyes and another crack filled the room as the mirror’s glass broke more, the rumbling shaking under Danny’s hands and feet.

“The past is never going to change…but the future isn’t set in stone, I know that from experience!” Danny said hastily, his eyes wide as he yelled over the roaring and cracking and high pitched shrieks. Danny remembered the awful future, remembered the horrible monster he could have been, remembered the old frail Vlad that had helped Danny… “We can make of it whatever we what, you can change it! But you have to believe you can, Vlad!”

Danny’s shook his head, his heart beating too fast, unsure if his words were making any kind of difference. Vlad continued to thrash and strain, his head moving back and forth, his eyes squeezed tight, and suddenly his mouth opened in a silent scream and the mirror shattered. Danny just barely had time to react, his instincts turning him intangible as the glass flew through the air, dust and debris and shards and fragments flying everywhere.

When it cleared, Danny brought his arms down and opened his eyes to see Vlad standing where the mirror had been, now only shards and glass layered around him. Danny turned tangible, his eyes wide. “….Vlad?”

Vlad wavered on his feet and nearly collapsed but Danny flew forward, catching him and holding him upright before the man fell to his knees in the sharp glass below.   

Vlad blinked wearily, putting a hand to his head. He looked to the boy beside him. “Danny…?”

“Vlad?” Danny croaked, his voice hoarse from the screaming and from the thump that seemed to have permanently lodged itself in his throat. He stared at the man, looking over his face and neck and hair. He didn’t look hurt. Danny smiled weakly. “You alright, Fruitloop?”

Vlad’s eyebrows scrunched in confusion. He looked behind him and all around, at all the glass and pieces of metal, and then back at Danny. “What…happened?”

“Do you remember anything?”

“I remember…going home after Christmas. I was talking to…the mirror.” Vlad tone suggested he remembered. Vlad put his hand to the ground despite the shards littering the area and pushed himself up, Danny keeping a hand on his elbow in case the man stumbled. They both looked around. “Where is she?”

“Maybe she’s gone…like the mirror,” Danny said, indicated the remnants of the magical item. “You did quite a number on it. What the hell was going on in that thing?”

Vlad closed his eyes and shook his head. “It’s all fuzzy. I remember fragments and…images but…” Vlad looked to Danny, his gaze agonizing and worried. “I just know that…whatever happened, I feel like…like all I’ve been doing is making bad decisions.”

Danny shook his head. “No. You’ve been making good decisions. I know what’s been happening Vlad, she told me. Explained it all, that you really have changed and have been trying.” Danny smiled. “I had a feeling. I had hoped it was all true, and I could tell something was off but…now I know for sure.”

Vlad blinked and his gaze softened. A small smile spread over his lips. “Well. Then I guess I’m glad for all this trouble then. It seems some good came from all this.” Vlad’s stance visibly relaxed, his tension melting away.

“Yeah,” Danny agreed with a smile. “I feel like walls have finally broken down. That we can kinda of start over, you know?”

Vlad’s face sobered some. “No. Not start over, that can never happen between us. The past is part of us Daniel, yours and mine. Our past is part of our relationship, we can’t ignore it.”

“But I can forgive it,” Danny said seriously, and Vlad’s eyes widened a little. Danny paused, swallowing the dry lump in his throat. “A-and I do.”

It never seemed to be something Vlad was capable of, but Danny suddenly found himself looking up at a Vlad that was lost for words. The man reached out cautiously and then grabbed Danny, pulling him close.  

Danny’s eyes widened, his face buried in the crook of Vlad’s shoulder. The strong, masculine scent, so sharp and expensive, surrounded Danny and the boy closed his eyes, sinking into the warmth and strength of Vlad’s arms. Vlad was safe. He was back. Danny wasn’t going to let him disappear again. And they were going to figure this all out. Together.

“What are you doing here, Daniel?” Vlad whispered into Danny’s white hair.

“You’ve been gone a long time, Vlad,” Danny explained. “I was beginning to think you ditched me.”

Vlad chuckled, his hold tightening slightly before pulling away to look at Danny. “How long was I gone?”

“A couple weeks,” Danny said. “I’m surprised the town didn’t collapse from a lost mayor.”

“I have precautions in place in case I’m out of commission for long periods of time,” Vlad explained dismissively. “Prerecorded messages, hired help and my vultures have instructions for a situation like this.”

Danny laughed and rolled his eyes, the tension breaking like the glass at their feet. “Should have guessed, you old fox.” Danny looked down at his feet and around the room. “This whole thing just proves how crazy you are. You even broke an age-old magical relic.”

Vlad grimaced as he looked around too. “In my defense, that damn spirit was the one who dragged me into that mirror. She thought she knew me.”

“She clearly underestimated the messed up mind of Vlad Masters,” Danny said with a smirk. Vlad shook his head and sighed, unable to even argue that at this point. “Feel better though? I mean she was trying to help you, I guess.”

“She helped me more than I could ever repay,” Vlad said with a shake of his head. “I don’t know where she went but without her, I’d still be that same bitter villain. And now that I’m apparently with her once more…I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“What do you mean?”

The man sighed and gave Danny a weary look. “I just don’t know how to do this. How to…fix things.”

Danny looked around his feet once more and smiled wryly up at Vlad. “There’s no fixing this, Vlad.”

“I meant—”

“I know what you meant, but it’s the same deal. We can’t fix things. We can just…pick up the pieces and try to make something new from it, I guess.”

Vlad smiled slightly and shook his head. He reached up, ruffling Danny’s white hair. “When did you get so mature, you little brat.”

Danny laughed, not bothering to try and act tough or grumpy, just smiling at the lightness in his chest and the sound of Vlad’s teasing voice and the feeling of those warm fingers in his hair once more. The fingers paused and moved downward, down Danny’s cheek, feather light, and down to his chin, gripping it slightly and tilting it upwards.

“What do we do from here, Daniel?” Vlad asked and Danny’s heart sped up again, the sound of his name on Vlad’s tongue, said so quietly, the question sounding so lost, so hopeful, so innocent from a man Danny hadn’t realized he’d begun to care for so much.

“I don’t really know,” Danny said quietly, his green eyes locked on Vlad’s dark blue ones, not moving a fraction, wanting to read every emotion or thought he could.

Vlad smiled slightly. “That makes two of us then I guess.” They didn’t move. “Things will never be the same again, from here on. It’ll be harder, more complicated…”

“Maybe that’s not a bad thing,” Danny said softly, his heart hammering too fast, his nerves on fire. He felt like he’d float away if not for Vlad’s hand gently cupping his chin, and Vlad’s eyes that held him so secure despite their own lostness. “We’ll figure this all out. Together.”

Vlad blinked a couple of times, as though waking from a deep sleep, from a dream. He leaned down, Danny’s eyes lowering slightly as he found himself leaning closer…closing the gap…

A loud roaring and then a crash startled the two halfas apart, a floating space craft crashing through the door into the room.

“Danny!” two young voices called. Danny looked to see Sam and Tucker in the Spector Speeder, Sam driving and looking pissed. “Two hours Danny, I warned you!”

Danny didn’t react at first, his mind racing too quickly to process anything, much less form a cohesive sentence.

“Well come on. You found him and since it doesn’t seem you two are at each other’s throat, I’m assuming the rescue mission was a success,” Sam said, pressing a button for the side door to slide open.

“Though it does look like something happened,” Tucker commented as he took in the destroyed scene of the room.

“Y-yeah,” Danny said finally, coughing to try and break the hoarseness of his voice. “Yeah, but it’s nothing we can’t discuss later.” He looked to Vlad and smiled, tilting his head towards the Spector Speeder. “Come on, let’s go home already.”

Vlad nodded and followed Danny into the machine, leaving the shattered remains behind.

Chapter Text

Danny leaned forward and spoke quietly but intensely with his friends, the Goth’s sharp voice cutting loudly through the small space of the Spector Speeder as the group soared through the Ghost Zone homeward.

Vlad leaned against the seat, his head back and his eyebrows scrunched together. Now that he was sitting, his body was feeling the stresses of the passed week that he spent suspended in that mirror’s mindscape. He felt heavy and his mind was buzzing unpleasantly. He wanted to sleep for about a day and half. That would be enough time for his body to recover, for his thoughts to settle and sort themselves out, and for him to get over the embarrassment of having been saved by a group of teenagers.

“Okay okay, but what’s the plan Danny? He’s back, great whatever. Is he like…on our side? Is he part of the team? Or is he finally just gonna move back to Wisconsin and leave us alone?”

Vlad scowled at the girl’s voice in general but kept his ears tuned in, awaiting the boy’s response. A pregnant pause filled the vehicle, soothing to Vlad’s aching head but squeezing his stomach uncomfortably.

“I mean…well he said that…I figure he could just continue training with me…if he wants but I’m not sure if…” Vlad sighed as the boy’s inevitable rambling spilled unfiltered from Danny’s mouth. Vlad opened his eyes slightly and reached out, gently touching the boy’s back to gain his attention. Danny jumped slightly and looked over his shoulder.

“You’re awake,” Danny said, leaning back to talk more directly to Vlad. The man noticed Tucker glancing back briefly, but once he met the older halfa’s eyes, the tech nerd averted his gaze back down to his handheld device, focusing on navigating the Goth out of the Zone.

“I wasn’t actually asleep, more so trying to tune out all the chatter that was going on about me,” Vlad muttered, his voice rough.

“Sorry,” Danny said, his shoulders lowering. “We’re just trying to…”

“Figure everything out,” Vlad said with a nod. He closed his eyes. “Seems that’s the main issue now, isn’t it?”

“That among a few other things.”

Vlad looked to the boy, confused by the anger hidden beneath the casual comment. Before Vlad could question it, Tucker turned back around and said, “We found the portal back to Vlad’s place.”

“You used my ghost portal?”

“We went looking for you, and since we were already in your house—”

“You all were in my house?” Vlad exclaimed, his teeth bared. Anger felt good right now; in all the confusion that led to this and that would inevitably follow, it felt good to cling to something familiar. Something Vlad knew well. “Teenagers running amuck in my home, looking through my things and going into my secret lab! Honestly!”

“Not exactly like it’s a big secret, dude,” Tucker chuckled. “Well not to us anyway.”

“Well lovely,” Vlad muttered, leaning back against the seat. Vlad felt Danny shift away. He looked over to see Danny open the side door and go out into the Zone, helping Samantha up front to navigate the Spector Speeder through Vlad’s portal into the human world.

This big cumbersome thing in my lab. If this child breaks anything, I swear—

The speeder lurched as they passed into portal and an abrupt crash echoed loudly in the lab, followed by the sharp shattering of glass. Silence followed and Sam and Tucker looked over their shoulders towards Vlad, fear in their eyes as Vlad’s eyes flashed red.

“Don’t worry they’ll clean that right up!” Danny said quickly, flying back towards the side door and grabbing Vlad’s arm, effectively pulling him out of the Speeder before the inside could be painted with his friend’s insides. “Let’s just get you upstairs while they work on that!”

Vlad allowed himself to be dragged upstairs through the ceiling, all the way into Vlad’s bedroom. The room was quiet, Vlad’s suit coat and tie tossed to the floor and bed. Vlad’s eyes narrowed. That mirror managed to drag me away, for two whole weeks, from my home! I’ve grown sloppy.

“So what is it you wish to talk about Daniel?” Vlad asked, unbuttoning his dress shirt sleeves as he made his way to the closet.

“What do you mean?”

“Can we please skip the feigned innocence? You whisked me away from your friends so fast my head is still spinning, so clearly there’s something you wished to discuss with me, away from them,” Vlad explained firmly. He unbuttoned his dress shirt, wanting to shower and sleep but knowing he’d have to address whatever was on the boy’s mind first.

“I—can’t you change in the bathroom or something, like a normal person!?” the boy sputtered when Vlad slipped off the dress shirt. It fell to the floor at Vlad’s feet.

Normally, Vlad would have taken this opportunity to tease the boy, but right now he was too damn tired. He rolled his eyes, already shrugging on the new clean shirt before the boy decided to have a heart attack. “Calm down, Daniel, you’re not a child.”

“Yeah but when a man who claims to be in love with me suddenly starts undressing in front of me in his bedroom, I think its within my rights to get weirded out!” the boy snapped, surprising Vlad with his honesty.

“So that’s what this is about then?” Vlad said quietly, suddenly unable to meet the boy’s gaze. He turned around, back facing the boy as he buttoned up his clean shirt.

This was why Vlad had wanted to simply get clean and sleep for a whole day; because of all the “excitement”, Vlad hadn’t been able to properly analyze recent events. Even now as he tried to sort through his thoughts, a vague fuzziness washed over him, confusing everything.

The mirror is gone, it seems, but I haven’t actually been able to confirm that. Though I suppose after her recent hobby of abduction, I wouldn’t be too thrilled to see her again.

The boy came to find me. That much is obvious, but why? Vlad chanced a glance over his shoulder, noticing the boy simply standing there. Still in his ghost form, his figure letting off a light glow, his hair shining in the dim room, his pale face downcast. He looked small. He looked young, and that bothered Vlad immensely, especially considering what they were about to discuss.

“Daniel. Thank you for coming to find me.” The boy’s head lifted quickly, wide green eyes locked onto dark blue. “I’m loathe to admit it, but without you I may have been stuck in that mirror for much longer.” Vlad turned to completely face the boy now, squaring up his shoulders as he prepared his next statement. The blow would be a hard one, but he’d face it. “I believe we are even now. You no longer need feel obligated to me. We can continue on as we once were. It’ll be a relief to everyone, surely.”

The boy’s surprised look melted into open confusion. “What?”

Vlad sighed. “I saved you and your family from the shadow beast. You saved me from the mirror. We are even now Daniel, so you don’t have to feel obligated to be nice to me. You don’t have to have me over for dinner, or deal with my…” Vlad sighed uneasily, the pit in his stomach widening. “…my feelings. It’ll be—”

“I can’t believe it,” Danny cut in, shaking his head. Vlad scowled at being interrupted but couldn’t rebuke the boy because Danny continued. “You’re still on this. Geez Vlad, I told you I wasn’t hanging out with you because I felt I had to. I didn’t save you because you like me and I felt bad for you. God you’re always acting so smug and smart, and now after everything you went through with the mirror… you’re more clueless than I am!”

“Clueless?” Vlad repeated, his voice rising in baffled outrage. “I’m the clueless one!?”

“Yes, extremely clueless!” Danny yelled back, his green eyes glowing bright. “You gave up because of Sam! God, you’re still the same! Trying to control everything, not giving anyone a chance or a choice! You assume you know everything, like you’ve got it all figure out! That’s how you like things, easy to read like you’re playing a game of chess. That’s not how things are Vlad, that’s not how any of this works! You left before I could decide for myself about all this and that wasn’t fair! You gave up before I even had a say; that’s why I went after you!”

Half way through, something in Vlad’s brain clicked and understood what Danny wasn’t directly saying. He stood there, mouth clamped shut and eyes wide as Danny rambled on, only part of Vlad’s mind listening, the other half spinning the meaning around and around…

“You’re saying you wanted the opportunity to choose…” Vlad said after a long pause, his voice surprisingly calm despite the turmoil running inside him.

Danny’s eyes narrowed. “I just…” He let out a sigh and white rings circled his waist. White hair became black and a human hand raked through it, a light blush now coloring the human flesh. “I just don’t want you over reacting. I don’t want you getting jealous over Sam or anyone else, cause then it’ll be like it was with my mom all over again.” Danny grimaced and shook his head. “I don’t want you thinking I’m only forgiving you because you saved me and helped me out.”

“So what do you want?”

Danny buried down his hands in his thick hair and covered his eyes with his palms, shaking his head. He looked exactly as Vlad felt, but Vlad was an adult who knew how to hide his emotions and show decorum, while Danny was a teen who wore each and every emotion on his sleeve. Vlad found it endearing in its honesty.

“I just want…” Danny shook his head and Vlad almost felt bad for him. Almost. But at the core of Vlad’s being, he wasn’t exactly nice, and Vlad didn’t have the self-control to stop himself from taking a step closer to Danny while the boy was too distracted by his own confusion.

“Do you want me to leave?”

“No no, I don’t…” Danny looked up to notice Vlad was suddenly closer. He took an unconscious step backwards.

“So you want me to stay?” Vlad stepped closer still. Danny backed up but his back hit the wall.

“I…”

Vlad put a hand on the wall by Danny’s head. He stared down at the boy, whose cheeks were coloring steadily in his embarrassment at not being able to properly articulate what he wished to say. Vlad smirked. Endearing indeed. The boy’s emotions were trouble most days but at moments like this…How could Vlad resist teasing when this boy looked so cute right now, mouth stuttering incomplete sentences and his blue eyes averting away from Vlad…

“Stop staring at me like that,” Danny growled quietly, his face red and angry blue eyes staring at the wall to the left.

“Like what?”

Danny looked back to Vlad, in the eye, and Vlad loved the boy’s courage. He smiled a crooked grin and put out his hand, rubbing the pad of his thumb daringly over the boy’s lower pink lip. Danny’s anger melted into shock, his blush returning over his face.

“Like you’re a cute little ghost who hasn’t properly learned to speak yet?”

Danny glared but it was weak because Vlad kept stroking his bottom lip, slowly. Vlad’s smirk was soft, enjoying the heat coming off the boy’s face.

“So you don’t want me to leave. Do you want me to continue your training then?” Danny nodded. Vlad nodded as well and Vlad pulled his hand and fingers from Danny’s face, moving them up into his dark hair. Danny’s eyes fluttered closed. “Do you want me to continue doing this?” Danny paused this time, his cheeks red but he pressed his lips together and nodded. Vlad smiled and massaged the boy’s head briefly. He could imagine Danny purring.

They had been interrupted in the Ghost Zone, when something had seemed to almost happen. Vlad dared to believe it could be recreated, so he leaned closer, his other hand on the wall to hold him up. “Do you want me to kiss you?”

Danny’s eyes flew open and he gasped silently when he saw Vlad leaning close to him, dark blue eyes staring intently. Vlad watched the boy swallow thickly, watched a pink tongue dart out to wet those pink lips. Vlad leaned closer, the hand in Danny’s hair moving to the back of the boy’s head.

Danny’s hands were suddenly fisted in Vlad’s shirt but the man couldn’t tell if he was being pushed away or pulled closer. Danny was merely holding on. He leaned closer, the fringe of Danny’s black hair tickling Vlad’s forehead and Danny squeezed his eyes shut. Vlad felt the boy’s chest against his own, felt his rapid heartbeat. Vlad’s eyes slipped shut as he moved the last few breaths closer…

“Danny!” In an instant, the door to Vlad’s room was slammed open and Vlad was pushed roughly away, losing his footing in his surprise, falling on his ass just as two teenagers entered the room. “Danny! What…Was he bothering you?”

“No, we were just…talking,” Danny said, his voice uneasy. Vlad growled lowly as he pushed himself off the floor and dusted of the seat of his pants and sleeves. Danny gave him an apologetic look. Normally, Vlad would have reveled in how debauched Danny looked; hair slightly mussed, deep blush coloring his cheeks…but due to the fact that this was the second time in under 24 hours that Vlad was forced away from those pink lips, Vlad wanted nothing more than to forget Step 3 and break both the little intruder’s necks!

“Maybe we’d better just go,” Danny said quickly. He pushed away from the wall and passed Vlad. “We’ll take the Spector speeder.”

Before leaving, Danny stopped Tucker. “Oh wait, can I see your backpack?”

“Uh yeah,” Tucker said, shrugging off his backpack and handing it to Danny. Danny opened it and stuck his hand in, searching around for a moment before pulling something out. He walked over to Vlad, who furrowed his eyes in confusion.

“We found this while looking for you at your office,” Danny said without a hint of apology at the implication that they went through and basically stole something form Vlad’s private office. The boy handed Vlad the photo of Maddie. Vlad’s eyes widened as he took the photo cautiously, in shaking hands, realizing what this was. That photo on his desk. The one he almost threw out but instead had put away. Danny probably assumed that he still…Vlad felt sick.

He shook his head. “Danny, this was—”

“I know. I know how hard it was to let go, trust me,” Danny said, flashing a brief smile.

Vlad nodded, handing back the framed photo. “It was hard, but I have. So take this back. I’m sorry.”

Danny took it with a smile, nodding. Danny turned back to his friends and Vlad noticed Tucker and Sam looked shocked by the small interaction. Vlad smirked.

“Uh, I’ll see you Monday?” Danny added as he stood in the doorway.

Vlad blinked, a strange nervousness filling his stomach. He turned away from the boy and waved his hand dismissively. “Goodbye, children.” Vlad was proud his voice held its usual demeaning professional air. He listened as the sets of footsteps left his room and hurried down the stairs.

Vlad stood in his bedroom a few moments more, listening and feeling. He could sense Danny’s core energies fading as he grew further and further away and then eventually disappear completely as he went into the Zone with his friends.

Vlad ran a hand threw his hair, pulling out the tie as he made his way to the bathroom. Might as well take that shower now.

His mind was strangely blank as he stopped in front of the mirror, but that dreaded nervous fluttering wouldn’t leave his stomach. He stared at his reflection, not admitting to himself that he wished the mirror would fog over, that familiar blue eyes would appear and a soft voice would tell him what to do.

Did he do right? Wrong? Had he messed everything up, or was he still headed in the right direction? And what was he supposed to do from here?

Vlad shook his head. Maybe he was clueless after all.

“Can we invite Vlad over for dinner tonight?”

“Are you and Vlad going to be training tonight?” Maddie asked as she lifted her goggles from her face. She and her husband were working on some old gadget, tweaking it a bit to make it function better. Danny knew to steer clear of them when they were in experimenting mode at this point, so he hovered by the edge of the kitchen as he spoke.

“No, I just thought it would be nice, since Jaz is going to be home this weekend. Figured we could make a big dinner or something,” Danny shrugged, good at playing aloof from years of lying to his parents. They still never could quite tell when he wasn’t sharing everything, and even though that fact didn’t make Danny particularly proud, it had its uses.

“Sounds like a great idea, son!” Jack exclaimed with a big toothed grin. “I love when Vlad is over, he could help with this do-dad!” Jack lifted the gadget away from Maddie, who seemed to have been doing some very important work on it from all the sparking it was doing as Jack waved it around.

“Cool.” Danny left the kitchen and went up to his room, slowly closing the door behind him. He glanced to the digital alarm clock on his night stand where three bright red numbers shone. It was 3:45. Dinner was usually at 6 so Vlad would arrive around 5 or 5:30. That gave Danny roughly an hour to…

Panic, basically. He didn’t know why really but his heart was beating the way it did when there was a test in English and Danny hadn’t been able to study the night before. He felt nervous for some reason. This was the first time he was going to see Vlad since the indecent. Despite asking Vlad to pick him up Monday after school for training like normal, no show from Vlad again after school.

Vlad had called the house yesterday, so Danny didn’t have to worry that Vlad had gotten himself kidnapped again. Jack talked to Vlad on the phone for a bit, mostly Vlad apologizing for being away for so long with no explanation, it seemed from what Danny had heard from this end. Vlad hadn’t asked to talk to Danny, nor did he call Danny personally though.

No calls, no messages, no appearances. All week. It was Friday and Danny was a bit irritated that the man was effectively ignoring him. Danny tried not to be immature about it though, the man did have a job, he was the mayor after all, so it made sense that he might be a bit busy but honestly, the guy couldn’t be so busy that he couldn’t send a quick text or something! That was partly why he asked his parents to invite Vlad tonight, so that the man would be come by and Danny could see what the problem was.

Danny ran a hand threw his hair, glancing at himself in the mirror on his dresser. His black hair was sticking up at odd angles and his t shirt was too big on him. He was too thin and not tall enough, and his hair was a mess. Many times Danny wondered why any girl would like him and now he found himself wondering why Vlad liked him. Maybe Vlad’s avoiding me because he realized what a loser I am.

The thought was natural, and popped unbidden into his mind. After years of being bullied in middle and high school, it was hard to get rid of those kinds of thoughts, but imagining it was true made Danny extremely uncomfortable and agitated.

Danny grabbed the brush from his dresser, one he barely used because he’s a guy, and attempted to try to awkwardly tame his hair. He pulled and pushed, but after a mere minute he tossed the brush down back onto the dresser with a frustrated huff and went to his closet. He ripped shirts from their hangers, holding them against his chest before tossing them aside, pulling them off one after the other and repeating the process. Everything was too childish, or too big or too stained. Didn’t Danny own anything half way decent?

As Danny pulled out his dress shirt that he only used for church or school dances and held it against himself, it occurred to Danny that he was actually contemplating wearing a dress shirt to dinner in his home just because Vlad was coming over. Danny groaned, throwing the shirt to the ground, not caring if it wrinkled. He flopped down on the bed, covering his face with his hands. He didn’t know how to get rid of this fluttering in his stomach, or how to calm his racing mind.

Danny heard the door to his room creak open and he sat up quickly. It wasn’t who he had been expecting standing in the doorway but he smiled and stood anyway.

“Jaz!” Danny’s sister smiled as she entered the room, the siblings hugging tightly. “Did you just get here?”

“Yeah, a friend from school dropped me off on her way to the airport. Two days in the car together, and you learn too much about each other.” Danny smiled, his nerves forgotten with the new excitement of his sister’s arrival. Jaz looked around the room, noticing all the clothes littering the floor. “Yeesh Danny, I know you’re a teenager but what’s with the mess? Got a hot date you’re getting ready for?”

Danny groaned and sat on his bed, burying his face in his hands. Why’d she have to say that!? The fluttering knot was back in Danny’s stomach.

“Ohh, so it is! Tell me everything, who is it? Is she cute?” Jaz giggled like a little girl, sitting too close to Danny and nudging him until he took his face out of his hands.

“No, it’s no one, its nothing like that,” Danny muttered, not shoving back as Jaz continued to nudge him impatiently.

“Danny, I’ve been out of the house for months and we don’t call each other as much as we did my first year of college. I need to know everything that is going on in my baby brother’s life!”

Danny sighed. Jaz had been a pain to Danny most of his life, especially the teen years because of Jaz’s bossy know-it-all attitude, but Jaz was also an incredibly smart and protective older sister. She was always there for Danny when he needed support or advice. And now was definitely a time for advice.

“Okay,” Danny said carefully and Jaz crossed her legs and folded her hands over her knee, giving Danny a patient smile. She lifted her eyebrows expectantly. “It’s not a date but…what does it mean if you get nervous about seeing someone…and you suddenly start caring how they see you, despite never caring before?”

“Sounds like my baby brother has a crush,” Jaz said, her smile positively giddy.

Danny felt himself pale. He stood from the bed abruptly. “What! No I don’t, that’s impossible!”

Jaz jumped slightly at Danny’s very loud, nearly panicked retort. She put up her hands to placate her brother. “Whoa calm down Danny, its fine. You’ve had crushes before—”

“No but this is different, this can’t be a—” Danny shook his head, pacing in front of Jaz. “I mean…seriously it’s impossible, I could never…”

Danny paused, looking to his sister, who stayed seated, her eyebrows raised. “Is it Sam?” Jaz asked with a patient tone.

“What? No no, god no, it’s not that,” Danny said, burying his face in his hands. He sighed. “Well…What’s the difference between liking someone as a person, and…well liking them like that?”

Jaz nodded. “It’s a tough question, but I think the main difference between liking someone platonically and liking someone romantically is how they make you feel. If someone makes you feel nervous but excited, makes you feel good about yourself, someone you enjoy being around…it feels different from other friends, other people.” Danny didn’t say anything, his mind racing as he tried to piece things together, events and feelings and words. “Danny?”

Danny sat back down next to his sister. He didn’t look at her, just ahead at the floor. Danny felt a soft hand on his shoulder. “Danny? What’s going on? I’ve never seen you so work up about a girl before? Who is she?”

Danny shook his head. “It’s nothing. Someone has a…crush on me and I just don’t know how to react to it I guess.”

Jaz tilted her head, tucking some stray orange hair behind her ear. “Is it a girl from school?” Danny shook his head, forcing himself not to laugh at the absurdity of all this. “Is…is it a ghost girl?” Danny groaned and shook his head. He couldn’t tell her. But he wanted to, he wanted to tell someone. He didn’t know what to do anymore!

“No Jaz, it’s…” Danny licked his lips, his heart beating too fast. He closed his eyes. “Its…Don’t tell mom and dad anything okay?” Jaz nodded, her eyebrows furrowed in his concern. “Um…it’s a boy.”

It wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t exactly the truth because he knew Jaz was picturing some kid from school with a school boy crush on Danny, not the rich forty year old mayor suddenly in love with Danny.

“Oh!” Jaz said, her surprise clear as her eyes widened and Danny felt himself turn red as her own cheeks pinked. “Oh well that’s…definitely something else.” Danny buried his face in his hands again, groaning. Maybe talking to his older sister about his love life issues wasn’t the best idea, especially in regards to questioned sexuality. “So…a boy likes you and you’re wondering if maybe you like him back?”

“But that’s impossible right?” Danny asked, looking to his older sister like the little sibling he was, craving guidance and answers from someone older and wiser. “I mean, we never liked each other but now he likes me and he’s changed and he’s kind of nicer and I guess I like him but not like that, at least I-I don’t think like that because—”

“Do you think he’s cute?”

Danny’s mouth snap shut and he gave Jaz an incredulous look. She shrugged. “A good way to find out if you like someone is if you think they’re cute. Sometimes you can like someone mostly for their personality but I figured I’d ask.”

Danny didn’t answer. He didn’t know how. He didn’t want to.

“Danny look. This isn’t a big deal. Either you like him or you don’t, and no matter what, it doesn’t mean a thing. It doesn’t mean you’re gay or not either way, and you know no matter what happens, mom and dad are going to be happy for you.” Danny almost laughed again. Oh yeah, if they find out Vlad’s in love with me, they’re going to just be thrilled.

“Try not to stress about it too much Danny,” Jaz said with a smile, finally standing up from the bed. “You’re young. Questioning yourself and figuring out things about yourself and others is part of growing up.”

“And when she starts spouting platitudes from her psychology textbooks, that’s when I must kick her out my room,” Danny said, standing and gently pushing Jaz towards the doorway. She laughed and opened the door.

“I’ve got to go put some of my stuff away anyway and get ready for dinner. I heard Vlad’s coming over,” Jaz said with a roll of her eyes. “How’s all that going? He still acting like he turned over a new leaf.”

Danny wanted to tell her they had been talking about that this whole time but decided he didn’t want to get into it just now. Instead he said, “He did turn over a new leaf. I think you should study his brain and write a paper about it, figure out how his insane mind works.”

“That’s not a bad idea actually,” Jaz said with a laugh, heading down the hall. “I’ll consider it for my thesis paper!”

Danny laughed and closed the door to his room. He sighed. The talk was…almost helpful but Danny had no real answers and he still felt nervous, if not more so. He hated this feeling but he didn’t know exactly what was causing it or how to fix it. The boy was tired of his mind racing so he kicked off his shoes, flopped down on his bed, and closed his eyes.

It felt like barely a moment later that he felt a hand on his head. “Daniel, come down stairs for dinner.”

Danny’s eyes shot open and he flipped over. Vlad stood by his bed, smirking down at him. Danny sat up, quickly scrubbing his face to wake himself up, but he inwardly groaned when he wiped a trail of drool from his chin. His face burned and he didn’t think he could feel any worse.

“Uh, hey Vlad,” Danny murmured, unable to meet the man’s eye. “You’re actually here.”

Vlad’s quirked a thin silver eyebrow and chuckled. “Indeed. Miss me, Little Badger?”

Danny scoffed and looked away. “Hardly.” Danny glared at Vlad then. “If you seem to care so much about whether I missed you, where have you been? You disappear for weeks because of a spirit attack so I go and save your sorry ass but then when you return home, you don’t come by or call or anything for days.”

“I was trying to settle things back down with my companies and city hall due to my unexpected absence,” Vlad said but something in his tone sounded too rehearsed. Vlad was too busy picking invisible lint from his coat sleeve, not meeting Danny’s eye.

“Any other reason?” Danny prompted carefully.

Vlad’s gaze lifted and met the boy’s. He sighed. Vlad sat beside Danny on the bed, the heavy weight making Danny lean slightly towards Vlad. “I guess I was a bit…nervous about meeting with you after the whole incident with the mirror,” Vlad said carefully and Danny was surprised by the admission. Vlad? Nervous? It didn’t seem possible, let alone something Vlad would admit. Maybe Vlad really has changed, despite the fact that that one sentence had sounded like Vlad was pulling it out of himself with difficultly.

Vlad leaned his elbows on his knees, burying his face in his hands. It was such a… human thing to do, it kind of shocked Danny. Vlad looked more vulnerable in this moment than Danny had ever seen, and the impulse to reach out and comfort the man was strong.

“I don’t know how to do this. Not on my own.”

“You’re not on your own,” Danny found himself saying before he could rethink it. He looked down at his own hands. “I’m here you know.”

“You’re still so young,” Vlad muttered into his palms. “I guess that’s kind of part of the problem.”

“I guess,” Danny said. He wasn’t even really sure what they were talking about right now, but he felt he needed to say something or Vlad would fall apart.

“Among other things,” Vlad said, and Danny heard the smirk in his voice and then saw it, a bitter twisted thing, as Vlad lifted his head from his hands, rubbing his beard briefly. Vlad looked to Danny, his eyes searching once more. Danny always felt self-conscious being scrutinized like that, those deep blue eyes focusing so pointedly on him. “Daniel—”

“There you guys are.” The two males looked to the doorway to see Jaz poking her head in. She looked suspiciously between the two. “Uh, dinner’s ready you know.”

“Oh right,” Danny said. He glanced towards Vlad, who seemed irritated by the interruption but stood. Danny followed him up and out his room, also a bit disappointed.

“I found them,” Jaz announced as they entered the kitchen. The three sat around the table with Maddie and Jack. Danny sat across from Vlad, and the polite table conversation began as the food was served. Vlad talked with Jaz about college, how things were going and the subject in general. Even though Vlad was a science and business man, he seemed knowledgeable in nearly all areas and managed to talk relatively easily with Jaz about psychology, even when she used three syllable words that made Danny’s head spin.

“Psychology is an important part of business, it’s good to know the ins and outs of how people think,” Vlad explained with a chuckle.

“I’m sure Jaz can help you figure out why you’re a fruitloop,” Danny said with a smirk and Vlad rolled his eyes.

When dinner was over, Vlad offered to clean dishes. “I’ll help him!” Danny said quickly, and a bit louder than was probably necessary. Vlad didn’t look up but Danny saw the small smirk on the man’s face as Vlad cleared the table. Danny blushed.

Maddie blinked. “Well okay Danny, if you really want to.” She laughed and Danny walked meekly over to the sink, standing beside Vlad.

“I wash, you dry?” Vlad asked casually, carefully putting all the dishes in the sink. Danny shrugged and nodded. Vlad shrugged off his suit coat, tossing it on a kitchen chair and began to carefully roll up his shirt sleeves. Danny found himself watching, fascinated by the reveal of lightly tanned skin, the soft silver hairs on the strong forearms. Danny couldn’t quite understand why, but for some reason seeing Vlad like this was…odd. Something about seeing him with his coat off, his sleeves rolled up made him seem human, similarly to how seeing Vlad so frustrated earlier had the same effect. One was emotionally human, this one was physical. Imagining Vlad waking up in the morning, shaving, brushing his teeth, putting on deodorant and pulling on his pants was so odd. Such normal mundane things seem beneath Vlad, who held so much power and held such an air of “bigger and better than life”. Always so put together, so neat, it almost seemed to Danny that the man just woke up that way; it never occurred to Danny that Vlad had to work at it, had to create this image of himself for others to see and marvel at.

Watching Vlad pull off his coat and roll up his sleeves and let down his guard was like watching a beast or snake shed its skin, reveling a man beneath…It made Vlad seem human, and it made Danny want to see the man instead of the figure Vlad tried to seem.

“I think when you offered to help, you actually had to do some work Daniel, not just stand and stare.” Danny blinked, noticing Vlad’s hand were now wet and soapy and he was handing an equally wet dish to Danny to dry and put away.

“Right, sorry,” Danny muttered, grabbing the dish rag and plate, effectively doing his part and pointedly trying to not stare at Vlad anymore.

The two washed in relative silence for a while, the only sounds the gentle splashing of water and the clattering of dishes as Vlad washed and Danny put away. Vlad grabbed some forks and spoons from the sink, washing and rinsing them off before handing them to Danny. Danny’s hand had to almost cover Vlad’s as he tried to grab the silverware, and Danny nearly dropped all the utensils when the warm wet hand reminded Danny of their brief hand holding moment back when Vlad had asked Danny to try and believe him. Danny blushed more thinking about how he had initiated it!

“Alright, Daniel?”

“Y-yeah, fine,” Danny muttered, busying himself with drying and putting away. God, why did this have to be so awkward!? Why had Danny even volunteered for this, why did he suddenly want to be this close to the man that was once Danny’s greatest enemy!? Everything was upside down and it was running havoc in Danny’s head and chest.  

He heard Vlad sigh and saw the man glance over his shoulder briefly before lowering his voice and saying, “This isn’t weird for you, is it?”

“Washing dishes? Nah, I’ve done it a few times before,” Danny joked uneasily, his heart hammering at Vlad’s low tone.

“You know what I mean Daniel. If my touching you, even innocently, is going to make you jump like I’ve molested you—”

“No, it’s not that!” Danny whispered quietly, his face heating up. God, why was he getting so embarrassed so much!? Every time he was with Vlad, he felt like a bigger idiot than normal! It was like school all over again, when he would trip over his words in front of Paulina or trip over his own feet in front of the class and he’d feel so small and stupid. But it was weird because with Vlad he didn’t feel small or stupid. He felt…well liked for one thing, since Vlad was trying so hard to get Danny to like him. It was flattering in a way, but with so much of the man’s attention on him, Danny was constantly scared of doing or saying something immature.

Danny sighed when he realized his brain was going haywire again. “No really, it wasn’t that. Well I mean—”

“I don’t want things to be awkward Daniel, that’s sort of why I decided to keep my distance for a little while,” Vlad said, his voice low, masked by the running water and clanking of dishes so no one in the living room would hear their conversation. “I wanted to give you time to think.”

“Think?”

Vlad smirked, scrubbing a particularly sticky dish. “Yes I know the concept is foreign to you, hence why I gave you a decent amount of time.”

Danny scowled and bumped his elbow against Vlad’s. “Shut up, I aced my math test remember?”

“With my help, if I recall correctly,” Vlad said lightly, bumping his own elbow against Danny’s. Danny smiled as Vlad handed him the plate. They were quiet again for a few moments, the silence less suffocating this time. “I simply wanted to make sure you thought about things and figured out what you wanted.”

Danny swallowed, putting away the last of the dishes. Vlad rinsed the suds from his hands, shaking them off in the sink and turning off the faucet. It was suddenly very quiet, and the silence returned to its tense nature. Danny offered the dish rag to the older man, who dried his hands deftly. Danny realized the man was simply waiting for some sort of response.

Danny looked up at Vlad nervously. “Well I—”

“Great, now that you’re done helping out, why not come down to the lab and help Maddie and I with a new experiment?” Vlad and Danny looked over to see Jack walking into the kitchen, his wife in toe.

“I need some help with calculations, if you’d like to offer your input,” Maddie said with a smile. “I still can’t quite understanding how ecto-radiation factors into the mechanics of some of the devices you were explaining last time you were over.”

Vlad blinked and looked down to Daniel. He opened his mouth as though he were about to tell his parents no but Danny quickly put up his hands, backing away from the adults. “Alright well while you scientists have fun…” Danny transformed in a bright flash and hovered in the kitchen briefly. “I’m going to go for a quick fly.”

Vlad’s eyes furrowed as though it pained him that Danny was running. Not that Danny was running, Danny just needed time to…think.

“Alright son, but remember to fly out of sight. I don’t want any amateur ghost hunters causing you trouble,” Jack said with a wave of his hand, already heading down to the lab. Maddie followed and Vlad hesitated, but before he could say anything, Danny took off, fazing through the ceiling and up out of the house.

The air was clean out here, cold and fresh despite the fact that in this form, Danny didn’t really care about air. But it felt good against his dead skin so he flew higher and higher.

He wanted to talk to Sam and Tucker about all this but he couldn’t. He wanted to talk to Jaz more, explain exactly what was going on so she could psycho-analyze him and tell him what to do! But this wasn’t really something he could easily explain to any of them without having to deal with a whole bunch of other complications. Hey my old enemy who used to try to be my dad now has a huge crush on me and its making me feel weird feelings and I don’t know what to do about it. Thoughts?

Danny sighed and flew higher. Honestly, the only person he could talk to, and wanted to talk to, was basically being held hostage down in the Fenton lab with his parents.

Vlad was pretty sure Maddie was trying to ask him something for the third time, something about the difference in gravity in the human world and the ghost world but Vlad wasn’t listening. His mind was on Danny. Shocker.

Things between them were…tense, obviously but not like they used to be. They couldn’t always stand in close proximity of each other without the boy throwing insults and nasty glares. Now, it was more so that they couldn’t say anything to each other. Vlad didn’t want to push any boundaries. He was scared of messing up now that he didn’t have a guide. The mirror had become a crutch and Vlad feared he’d fall now that he was left on his own. So he was treading carefully. Very carefully, but it was hard when the boy was so young! Danny didn’t understand a thing about relationships due to his minimal experience and his communication skills were worse than his writing skills.

It wasn’t helping that the two of them were going to have trouble getting any time on their own to really talk, what with Danny in school, Vlad in charge of the town, and Danny’s pestering friends and family constantly demanding all of the young hero’s time.

Vlad figured maybe he could ask Maddie and Jack if Danny could start training sessions at Vlad’s place, claiming there were too many distractions here and that the equipment Vlad had was better equipped for a halfa. Then at least the two could talk.

If Danny was even willing to talk. The boy had all but fled from the kitchen about an hour ago, obviously not too keen on any kind of conversation with Vlad. Maybe Vlad was going to have to just tie the boy down and—

“Ow!” Vlad jumped when something large and heavy fell on his foot. “Butter biscuits!”

“Sorry Vlad, but if you weren’t day dreaming that wouldn’t have happened,” Maddie teased. “Would you mind—”

“I need a break, I’ll be back in a moment,” Vlad muttered gruffly, leaving the room quickly, going up the stairs, grabbing his suit coat and heading out the door. The air was chilled and Vlad slipped his coat on, despite his heated core making it so the chilly air didn’t affect him. The cold honestly felt good on his burning skin though. His mind was tumbling over itself, back and forth and he felt stuck. Vlad hesitated, then dug into his coat pocket, pulling out a small carton of cigarettes. He sighed, and pulled one out, lighting it was a spark from his core.

Vlad had begun smoking in his late twenties, after the incident. He had been in a very self-destructive mindset at the time and needed an outlet. Drinking had been too dangerous, since it messed with his control and that was difficult enough with the weird powers. Plus, since Vlad had wanted to get into the world of business, it wouldn’t do to destroy his brain cells by becoming a drunk or druggie. So smoking it was. As the years went on, and Vlad grew more and more in control of his powers and his life in general, he hadn’t leaned so much on smoking. It became a social thing more than anything.

He blew out the smoke slowly, shaking his head. The stresses of this whole mess were wearing at Vlad’s nerves, and the need to smoke had itched its way back into Vlad’s mind, into his veins and lungs.

“I hadn’t expected all this when I had found that mirror…”

“You probably expected you’d be walking with my mother down the aisle, didn’t you?”

Vlad didn’t flinched, glancing up to notice the white haired hero floating a few feet away above Vlad’s head.

“Funny how things work out,” Vlad agreed, taking one final drag before flicking the only half burnt cigarette to the ground and snuffing it with the heel of his shoe.

Danny watched with a reserved look on his face. The boy probably didn’t approve of smoking. Or maybe he wanted to ask Vlad for one. Vlad wouldn’t give it to him, of course, but he’d understand why the boy would want one. Vlad’s hand were already itching to grab another one.

Danny shrugged and floated higher, up onto the roof of the house. Vlad transformed and floating upwards, transforming back and landing soundly next to the boy.

“Sorry about abandoning you with them,” Danny said with a shy teasing smile.

“They managed to drop a wrench on my foot within the course of an hour, I don’t know how you could have possibly survived with them for sixteen years.”

“Almost seventeen.”

February was Danny birthday, that was true. “Ah yes, you’re right. You’re getting older and older.”

Danny sat down on the edge of the roof, feet dangling as he looked out over the town. Vlad sat beside him. This seemed to be the only place they could really talk. Last time they had been up here was Christmas, before Vlad had disappeared for a few weeks. He looked now to the boy beside him, his heart swelling slightly, at the gentleness of Danny’s profile, of the delicate boyish features, filling out into those of a strong young man, outlined in the dimming sunlight.

“Speaking of birthdays, I was thinking of using those Florida tickets you gave me for Christmas and using them for my birthday,” Danny said, his tone casual.

“That sounds like a marvelous idea, Little Badger.” Vlad tried not to think about Danny in Florida with Sam. Them at the beach, sharing a hotel, maybe even a bed…laughing and making memories…

“I thought maybe you’d want to come.”

Vlad was still steaming in his nightmares, not registering what the boy said for a moment. Vlad blinked and stared at Danny. “What?”

“Well,” the boy shrugged. “We obviously need to…talk I guess, about things and since it’s nearly impossible to do so here, I thought maybe a weekend away would give us time.” Danny shrugged again and then gave Vlad a coy smirk. “And I figured you weren’t terrible company to have on my birthday.”

Danny was inviting him on vacation. Just the two of them. For his birthday. Vlad didn’t know what to say, how to react. He wanted to kiss the boy, surely, but since Daniel was right, they needed to talk, Vlad opted for smiling and putting his hands on the boy’s hand. Danny’s face turned pink as Vlad ruffled his hair slightly.

“Thank you Daniel. That’s very kind of you.” Danny smiled, and maybe Vlad was imagining it, but he felt Danny lean slightly against his hand.

Danny’s birthday was about two weeks away. They could survive a little awkwardness until then. They could survive this strange tense peace that they had until they were forced to breach those final walls built between them and figure this all out.

Vlad smiled even as his heart beat strongly in his chest, even as he removed his hand from the boy’s soft hair, allowing them to simply sit side by side with a few inches between them. The mirror had believed in them. He wondered if her disappearance was a good sign or a bad, but she had believed in them, in Vlad. So Vlad would do what he always did; he would keep trying.

Chapter Text

Vlad stood before the mirror in his mansion’s entrance hall. It was oval-shaped, trimmed in gold with a polished face that shined a perfect reflection. Vlad ran a hand over his carefully tied back hair, raised his chin and squared his shoulders as he adjusted his red cravat, and then rubbed a hand over his neatly trimmed beard. Perfect.

The mirror didn’t fog over. Two solid blue eyes didn’t stare back at him, only two human blue ones, full of uncertainty. No soft, controlled voice reassured him that kindness and patience or whatever was the key to making sure everything worked out. Vlad was on his own now.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have complained about the spirit so much,” Vlad muttered, his head dropping between his shoulders as he leaned against the small table in the hallway. “I don’t know what I’m doing…” Vlad shook his head and stood up straight. No self-pity. No focusing on the past. Only the present and the future. The mirror had told Vlad this would work out, that Vlad would get his heart’s desire. And he would.

“You can do this,” Vlad whispered to his reflection. “You are not going to mess this up, you hear? Everything will be fine.” A few months ago, Vlad would have believed he could do anything. He would have believed he was in control, that he could have anything he wanted, that he deserved everything he wanted.

Now, he stood before a plain mirror, his clothes pristine and his hair neat and his heart hammering away, and he wasn’t too sure how it would all play out.

But despite the uncertainty, Vlad turned away from the mirror and smiled. He couldn’t wait for the weekend to start.

“You’ve got your toothbrush?”

“Yes mom.”

“And you have the tickets?”

“Yeah mom.”

“And you made sure to pack enough clean underwear?”

Danny groaned and blushed, waving away his mother’s concerned pats. “Geez, enough mom! I’m fine! It’s just for the weekend, I’ll be back by Sunday night! I’m not actually going to the moon!”

Maddie chuckled and pulled her son into a tight hug. “Ooh I know Danny, I’m just being a mother. I have to nag you, especially when I’m going to miss you so much!”

Danny’s face stayed a light pink as he awkwardly hugged his mom back. Being a sixteen year old boy, filled with embarrassment towards your folks and a need for rebellion, could be hard when you had parents as caring as Danny’s. “I know, mom. I’ll miss you too.”

“And don’t forget you are Fenton Anti-Ghost anti-BO!” Jack exclaimed, tossing Danny a can of spray-on deodorant that had the word Fenton on it, a little cartoon ghost on the side, crossed out in red. “I made it so it won’t give you that terrible rash anymore. Not that my little ghost boy will really need this anti-ghost stuff but—” Jack laughed and ruffled Danny’s hair, his hand big and heavy and overly fatherly. “It’s just a precaution.”

Danny groaned as he tried to fix his hair; it had taken him nearly twenty minutes in the bathroom to get it to stop sticking up at weird angles! “Of course dad. But ghosts won’t really be a problem. No one bothers Plasmius,” Danny said, smirking at the thought of someone like the Box Ghost versus Vlad.

“Yes well, even so… be careful,” Maddie said once more, fixing Danny’s collar and kissing his forehead. A honk was heard from outside. Maddie’s lips pressed together a moment.

“That’s him!” Danny said, his heart beating quickly with nerves. He shrugged on his backpack and grabbed the handle of his suitcase. “I’ll see you guys Sunday!”

Parked outside was a slim black limousine. Vlad was leaning against the car as the limo’s driver was exiting the front seat and heading over to grab Danny’s suitcase. Danny rolled his eyes as he walked up to Vlad. “You always have to make a scene, huh? Couldn’t have just rented a little car for the trip to the airport like a regular person.”

“I’m worth at least five airports, sprayed in gold,” Vlad said with a smirk. “I don’t do regular.” Vlad gave Danny a meaningful look at those words, his smirk softening some and Danny coughed, ducking his head to block his blush.

A high-pitch honking caught Danny’s attention. He looked over just as a small purple car pulled up to the curb, Sam and Tucker hurrying out.

“Guys,” Danny said in surprise. “I texted you last night. I’m going to be back in three days, you didn’t have to come see me off.”

“Yeah well, three days could turn into a mysterious three weeks when Plasmius is involved,” Sam muttered, glaring pointedly at Vlad, who glared back coolly, still leaning against the car with his arms crossed. Sam looked back to Danny. “We just wanted to see you first.”

“Its fine, guys, really.”

“Plus,” Tucker said, pulling out a small box and envelope from his backpack. “Since you’ll be spending your birthday tomorrow down in Florida, we just wanted to give you your present now.”

“But don’t open it till tomorrow!” Sam interjected quickly. She and Tucker shared a look. “It’s from both of us.”

Danny smiled and took the gift. “Thanks guys.”

Tucker and Danny touched fists and Sam threw her arms around Danny’s neck. “You gonna be okay alone with him all weekend?” she whispered urgently.

“We’ll see,” Danny whispered back with a laugh, patting Sam’s back affectionately. He glanced over her shoulder at Vlad, whose eyes were dark and angry as he glared at Sam’s back. Danny smirked and shook his head, pulling away from Sam. “I’ll text you.”

“Make sure you do, dude!” Tucker exclaimed. A loud cough caught the trio’s attention.

“If this touching little good-bye is over, Daniel and I have a flight to catch,” Vlad said tightly, opening the back seat door.

“Oh lay off, it’s your private jet. You tell them when takeoff is,” Danny said with a laugh. He turned to his friends and rolled his eyes. “Rich boy.” They laughed.

“Yes and Rich Boy is getting impatient,” Vlad quipped, his eyebrows knitted together.

“Alright alright,” Danny said, waving good-bye before getting into the limousine. Vlad looked to Sam and Tucker, nodding once.

“Children,” he farewelled, before letting to the limousine, closing the door. The car took off.

Danny sat silently, adjusting his backpack onto the floor and looking around him. The space was huge, white and smelled sweet. The seats were warm and Danny stretched out his legs leisurely, not worrying about dirtying the clean white carpet under his sneakers. Vlad probably had this thing cleaned every week anyway. But despite the space, Danny felt enclosed.

Vlad sat across from him, Danny’s eyes drawn to him in the confines of the car. He squirmed when he saw Vlad looking at him. For the past two weeks, things had been…breathable. They hadn’t spent a whole lot of time together, Danny focusing on school and friends and family and Vlad focusing on his work and the town. When they were together, either for tutoring or training, there wasn’t much tension. Danny believed it was because they had a plan. They didn’t have to worry about trying to bring anything up or figure things out because they knew in two weeks, then one week and then a couple days, they would have ample time to talk. It was liberating. That is, until this weekend finally arrived.

Geez, he didn’t think this would be that awkward, being alone with Vlad in a car though. After so much time being relatively normal, it was quite miserable to have things back to how they’d been. Tense.

“I was thinking we go to dinner once we arrive in Florida,” Vlad commented mildly, leaning forward and opening the small installed cooler. He pulled out two glasses and a bottle. “There’s a nice restaurant in the hotel. Soda?” Vlad lifted a cold can. Danny nodded dumbly. Vlad snapped the can open and poured the drink into one of the glasses. He handed it to Danny and then poured himself a glass from the clear bottle.

Vlad sipped his drink, eyeing Danny. Danny stared at his glass. “Daniel.”

“Hm?” Danny blinked, looking to Vlad.

Vlad smirked lightly. “You don’t have to look like you’re being hauled away to your execution. You did invite me, you know?”

“I know, I know, I just…” Danny shook his head. He startled slightly when Vlad moved. The man stood slightly, hunching a bit and then sat down on the seat beside him. Warmth emitted from the man, his scent sharp and strong. Danny wanted to lean against the man suddenly. Instead, he avoided eye contact and sipped his drink.

“Relax, Little Badger,” Vlad said quietly, his voice deep as he reached out, his fingers playing lightly in Danny’s dark hair. “It’s just you and me here. No need to get so nervous.”

“I think I’m nervous because it’s you,” Danny murmured, still not looking at Vlad. He felt Vlad’s hand stop moving in his hair. The large hand moved to his chin, tilting his head up. Danny unwillingly met Vlad’s gaze.

Vlad leaned down, placing a soft kiss to Danny’s forehead. “Relax, Danny. Nothing is expected of you. This weekend is for you, to celebrate your birthday.” Vlad’s hand moved from Danny’s chin to his cheek, his thumb gently stroking the boy’s soft skin. “I’m nervous too Daniel. But, everything will fine. As cliché as it is, just be yourself.” Vlad smirked.

Danny swallowed and nodded, moving his face from Vlad’s touch to sip his drink. The two finally had time together on their own, away from everyone else, away from Amity Park. This was good. Having a new setting would allow the two the opportunity to not only talk, but enjoy each other’s company without everything around them that would remind them of the tensions that had always been a part of their relationship. A fresh start.

Danny relaxed against his seat. There was no need to be so flustered and nervous. This was Vlad. He knew Vlad, he didn’t have to pretend around Vlad, or try to act a certain way, especially now that they weren’t enemies. Danny didn’t have to put up a brave front, he didn’t have to act smart or tough or brave. Danny could relax.

This made Danny smile and he closed his eyes, realizing that for the first time in years, he could truly have a vacation.

The flight on the private jet was nice. The two talked casually, Vlad explaining about the different airports he had stationed in different areas, Danny telling a story about the first time he went on a plane and his father had nearly started a panic in the other passengers when he had accused a stewardess of being a ghost. The conversation was easy and the two laughed frequently, both dancing carefully around each other for the first time, without trying to best the other, or manipulate the other. It was a tad awkward and exciting and a huge relief, like meeting someone for the first time that immediately caught your interest, or seeing a close friend again for the first time in years. For so long these two were adversaries. For so long these two felt they knew each other, only now realizing they barely had. And for so long, their relationship had been spiraling ever downward, plummeting toward hatred and disaster, towards a point where the damage would have been too great to fix had they continued on their path. But now, they were climbing up, together, attempting to mend something near irreparable. It was possible it seemed, as they reached for something greater, as they breached that bridge. They were alike. They were connected. The feeling was strong, and though both had rejected it for so long, they raced towards each other now, eager to see what would happen next.

“You almost ready, Daniel?” Vlad called, zipping up his suitcase and sliding it back under his bed.

The hotel room was, of course, the Presidential suite, complete with two full sized beds, large flat screen TV, a separate living space area away from the bedroom, with a kitchenette and a grand bathroom with a tub. It was pristine and neat, everything Vlad was used to, but Danny had stared in awe when they had entered, his grin amazed, especially when he had thrown open the double glass doors to the baloney, looking out at the beautiful view of the city. Vlad had felt a swell of pride, that he could spoil Danny in this way, knowing the boy deserved every luxury after everything he’d had to deal with in his short life.

Danny had taken a short nap when they arrived, knocking out once he’d hit the plush hotel bed. Vlad had found the boy’s exhaustion endearing, not waking him till 5 so they could get ready for dinner downstairs. Danny was now in the bathroom dressing while Vlad had dressed in the bedroom.

Vlad walked up to the bathroom door, rapping twice with his knuckles. “Come on, Little Badger, you’re sixteen, it’s not like you need to shave. It shouldn’t take you half an hour to shower and put pants on.”

Vlad smirked as the door opened quickly, expecting to see the scowling face of the young man, but his smile quickly fled. “I’m going to be seventeen in a few hours, firstly. And secondly, I do so shave!” Danny’s indignant plea for his post-pubescent existence was lost on Vlad.

The boy was dressed in a light blue button up, black slacks and black dress shoes. A dark blue tie hung crookedly from his neck and his soft black hair was awkwardly brushed back out of his face, leaving Daniel’s forehead and eyes clear in view.

Vlad swallowed, words lost to him, his face flushing slightly as he stared down at the boy. Danny glared up at Vlad, but when Vlad continued staring at him, Danny raised an eyebrow suspiciously, his shoulders lifting awkwardly. “What are you staring at, you fruitloop?”

Vlad blinked and reached up, deftly unwrapped Danny’s tie and fixing it. “That explains what took you so long. You were trying to figure out how to tie a tie instead of just coming out here and asking for help,” Vlad commented casually, his regular smirk hiding his initial blush.

Danny scowled as Vlad tighten the tie at his throat. “Whatever. It’s been a while since I had to wear one of these, okay? I just figured this restaurant was going to be fancy and I didn’t want to look like a loser next to you since you’re always in a suit.”

“Daniel, it wouldn’t matter if I wore my best Armani and a sombrero, no one would even notice me next to you tonight,” Vlad said in a soft voice, his smile small as he adjusted Danny’s collar. The boy looked so mature, finally out of those baggy clothes and in something much neater. The shirt and pants hugged Danny nicely, showing how much Danny had grown over the years, both in height and muscle definition, and with the boy’s black hair out of his face, it allowed Danny’s blue eyes to shine. Danny looked older and very handsome. Vlad lightly touched Danny’s cheek. “Shall we go then, my boy?”

Danny ducked his head, ever the bashful kid, stepping around Vlad and out into the living room. He glanced back at Vlad with a light smirk. “You clean up well, Masters,” Danny said teasingly, Vlad looking virtually unchanged from his usual everyday attire aside from the short red ribbon now being replaced with an actual deep red tie. “I think you’d look better with your hair loose though.” Vlad looked surprised, unconsciously touching the black hair tie at the nap of his neck. Danny seemed to realize what he said and coughed into his fist. He shrugged, looking away. “I just mean, since I’ve got to wear a suit instead just jeans and a shirt, I figured you could do something different..”

“It makes working easier, with it out of the way,” Vlad muttered as he slowly pulled the tie out. His silver hair fell to his shoulders thickly. Vlad glanced away, his cheeks tinting slightly, suddenly feeling naked. “Better?” He glanced towards Danny, who stared at him a moment before blushing as well, nodding. Vlad combed a hand through his hair briefly to make sure it was unknotted. It was rare Vlad went out with his hair untied, finding it looked unprofessional and worrying his hair would tangle. But the thought that maybe Danny liked it this way sent a youthful excitement and bashfulness through Vlad. Look at me, worrying about my looks because of a teenager, Vlad scoffed to himself mildly.

Vlad smirked and nodded towards Danny. “Well then, if we’re all set…”

Danny nodded and the two made their way out of the hotel room, Vlad’s hand resting lightly on the small of Danny’s back.

They took the elevator down to the main lobby, and from there, down the long hall to the hotel’s restaurant. “Oh wow,” Danny breathed as they entered. “Good thing I decided to wear a tie.”

Vlad chuckled as the host greeted them. “Table for Masters, please,” Vlad said casually. The man checked his list and immediately blanched when he realized who stood before him.

“Oh Mr. Masters, of course! Right this way! We are so pleased to have to this evening!” The man led them through the restaurant to a small table towards the back, the lighting of the place dim. A single candle sat on the table. “Can I start you off tonight with a bottle of Dom Perignon?”

“For me, yes please. And a glass of cola for my guest.” The man left and Vlad smiled over at Danny, who was looking around the restaurant, eyes widened in awe. His head was turning this way and that, looking at the elegant guests and the efficient servers and the live music being produced softly from the corner by an elderly pianist. “Enjoying the ambiance?”

Danny shook his head slowly. He ran his hands over the pristine white table cloth, fingering the wrapped silverware. “I’ve never even seen a place this fancy, let alone stepped into one,” Danny muttered, an odd tone to his voice.

“Well I’m glad I could take you here then,” Vlad reassured. “It’s always good to experience new things.”

Danny looked to Vlad a moment and opened his mouth, but a waiter returned with a glass of cola and an empty glass, a thin tall bottle nestled in his arm. “For the young gentleman,” the waiter said, gracing Danny with a smile as he set the boy’s drink before him. “And for Mr. Masters.” The waiter smiled genially at Vlad and set the empty glass down. He popped open the bottle, pouring a small amount for Vlad to taste. When Vlad nodded that the drink was acceptable, the waiter then left the bottle on the table and gave them their menus.

Vlad looked through the menu, already knowing what he was in the mood for. He glanced over his menu to see Danny squinting at his own. Vlad hid an amused smirk. “Having trouble, Little Badger?”

Danny glared up at Vlad and then at his menu again. After a moment, the boy sighed and put the menu down on the table. “Okay, I have no idea what any of this is.”

Vlad chuckled, putting down his own menu. “I’ll order for us both then. I have a vague idea of the kinds of food you like.”

“Right, because you used to be a stalker,” Danny teased with a smirk. “I found my file in your office, by the way. It’s pretty fat.”

Vlad smirked uneasily, more embarrassed than irritated that Danny had went through his office. “Yes I noticed the mess you and your friends made in my office, thank you.”

“You really should have Jaz study your brain; you could be certifiably insane. You did take away all those bug cams, right?”

“Consider them gone after this weekend,” Vlad said and at Danny’s appalled look, Vlad chuckled. “I’m teasing Danny. I got rid of those a while ago.”

Danny looked skeptical but nodded, glancing around him briefly before allowing his eyes to settle back to his menu. An odd expression, gracing his features. Vlad didn’t particularly like that look. Had he said something wrong? “What’s wrong, Daniel?”

“Nothing,” Danny muttered, folding the menu and silently putting it to the side.

“Something,” Vlad clarified sternly. His heart was starting to beat a bit fast at the thought of having done something wrong and he really didn’t want Danny brushing it off. “Out with it.”

“It’s nothing, dad,” Danny bit out in irritation.

Vlad blanched, taken aback by Danny’s words. Was he trying to parent the boy again? He hadn’t intended to, but perhaps it came out like that when he spoke firmly to the boy. Vlad groaned, wishing beyond hope that the age gap between them wasn’t so large. Vlad couldn’t act like a parent but Danny really shouldn’t be acting like a stubborn brat right now either. “I apologize Daniel, I didn’t mean…”

“No, I’m sorry,” Danny said with a sigh. “It’s just that though.” Vlad quirked an eyebrow in confusion, waiting for Danny to elaborate. “It’s all this.” Danny gestured around them. “I just feel so…inadequate around you.”

Vlad’s initial shock burst into laughter. Danny glared at the man before him, obviously unsure of the humor in the situation. “It’s not funny, Vlad. You’re a billionaire! You go to places like this all the time, while the fanciest place I’ve been is Sam’s house! I’m not sophisticated or intelligent. I’m just…some stupid kid.” Danny lifted his glass. “Drinking cola at a place like this because I’m not even twenty one yet. Geez, I’m not even seventeen yet!”

Vlad felt his stomach churn. “If our ages make things too uncomfortable for you Daniel…”

“It’s not that they make me feel uncomfortable,” Danny began, his irritation melting into frustrated embarrassment as he struggled for the right words. “I just feel so…immature around you. You’re an adult, a full grown adult with success. Makes me think you’re going to realize I’m too young to take seriously…”

He’s worried I’m not going to be interested in him because he’s too young, Vlad realized in astonishment. Yes, Vlad had initially had an issue with Danny’s age when the Espil Mirror had first revealed the type of relationship it expected Vlad wanted with Danny. But now, Vlad realized Danny wasn’t as young as he seemed. Or at least, didn’t act as young as he was. A bubble of warmth filled Vlad when he realized Danny was afraid Vlad wouldn’t be interested in him.

Vlad smiled. “Daniel, you may be only sixteen, but you are so much more mature than your age suggests. You’ve had to take on so many responsibilities over the years, so many burdens that would have crushed anyone lesser than you. You impress me daily with your forgiveness, your kindness and your strength. I’ve never seen you as a stupid kid, even years ago at the College Reunion when you could barely hold your own against me.” Vlad chuckled, warmed by the small blush on Danny’s cheeks that had formed from the praise. “I know you’re not rich or used to the blue bloods lifestyle. I don’t expect you to be. Remember, I wasn’t born into this kind of life either. It takes time to get used to, trust me. I enjoy spoiling you though, Daniel. I’m sorry if I overwhelmed you with it. But just remember, I don’t think less of you if you don’t know what Sole Meunière is.”

Danny smiled lightly and laughed, glancing down at his menu. “Is that what you’re ordering us?”

“No, instead I was thinking you’d enjoy a Filet Mignon with Balsamic Glaze. It’s basically just steak and balsamic vinegar."

“Hey, I think I’ve heard of that,” Danny said with a smile.

Vlad smirk slightly. “Not completely clueless then, I see,” he teased.

The conversation continued more naturally from there. The waiter came, took their orders and menus. Vlad listened with a smile as Danny told Vlad about school, about his ideas for college in another year, about his plans for the future. He told Vlad about how much better he was doing in math, about the way he used to train with Sam and Tucker compared to how Vlad helped him out now, about how he first got interested in astronomy. Danny went on and on about how excited he was to visit the Kennedy Center tomorrow. Vlad smiled through it all, loving how Danny’s eyes would light up when he spoke of something he loved or that excited him, how the boy’s face was a perfect reflection of his feelings, how he waved his hands around as he spoke. Vlad realized he’d never seen the boy speak like this in front of him; they had never been this comfortable around each other. Knowing the boy was now, Vlad could listen to this boy talk for the rest of his life.

When the food arrived, Danny dug in, humming appreciatively, nearly groaning. “Oh my god, this is amazing,” Danny moaned around his fork.

“Glad I chose correctly for you,” Vlad chuckled, digging into his own food.

“What did you get?” Danny asked curiously, glancing over at Vlad’s plate.

“Seared Scallops. Want to try?” Danny looked at the plate skeptically. Vlad chuckled, picking some up with his fork and holding it out to the boy. Instead of taking the fork like Vlad had assumed, Danny leaned forward, his lips wrapping around the fork as he tasted the food.

“Mmm, that’s good!” Danny exclaimed happily around the food, smiling as though he hadn’t done something so flirty and suggestive. Maybe he hadn’t even seen it that way. This kid is going to kill me! Vlad thought, his face flushed as he continued to eat with the fork Danny had just eaten from.

They ate quietly for a time, each finishing their small meals, until the waiter returned with new menus. “Anything for dessert, gentlemen?”

Danny took the menu, glancing to Vlad questioningly. Vlad smiled and waved his hand. “Choose anything you like, Daniel?”

Danny flushed lightly. “It’s not that, I just…I still don’t know what anything on here is,” Danny muttered lamely, staring at the menu as though trying to hide behind it.

“If I might make a suggestion then, young sir?” the waiter said with a kind smile. He leaned over, pointing at something on the menu. “The Dobos Trote is delicious and light. My own son orders it everything he visits.”

“He’s not my son.”

“He’s not my dad!”

Vlad and Danny looked to each other as the words quickly tumbled out their mouths. Danny nervously looked back to the menu. Vlad coughed into his fist. The waiter looked back and forth between the two uncomfortable guests. “Sorry for assuming. Uncle and nephew, then?”

“No. W-well sorta but…he’s actually my…kinda…uhh…” Danny stammered, gesturing lightly and then scratching his neck. Vlad could practically see the boy sinking into his chair as he stammered on.

“The Dobos Torte and Chocolate Liqueur Soufflé for me would be lovely,” Vlad said with a tight smile, crisply handing his menu back to the waiter. His hard gaze, which normally sent any regular middle-class human into a tremor, had the usual desired effect on his waiter, who stuttered out an apology, nodded and took the menus. He turned on his heel and left. Vlad sighed, massaging his fingers into his temple. “Sorry you had to be on the spot like that, Daniel.”

“It was bound to happen eventually,” Danny said with a small shrug, staring down at the empty space before him.

Vlad stared at the boy. His stammering had brought up a good question to this whole strange situation. What were he and Danny to each other? Before this whole thing, they had been enemies, naturally. Not that they really could have introduced themselves as such in their human forms. But now, after everything, where did they stand? Was this a date? Were they simply going out to eat, as what, teacher and pupil? Friends of family? Boyfriends?

Vlad shook his head at that last thought. It sounded so juvenile, so high school, calling Danny his boyfriend. It was wrong anyway, they weren’t dating. And it wasn’t like Vlad was even really sure Danny actually had feelings for him. Yes, Danny had come to save him from the Espil Mirror, and yes, Danny had invited Vlad to come with him to Florida for his birthday but it wasn’t exactly like that had been a love confession. Vlad tilted his head slightly as he regarded the boy across from him. What would Danny have seen, had he looked into the Mirror…

“I’m sorry.” Vlad blinked at the soft voice.

“Hm? Sorry for what, Daniel?” Danny’s eyes stayed glued to the tablecloth. Vlad narrowed his eyes and spoke before Danny could. “You have nothing to apologize for, Daniel. If anything, I do, for putting you into these…uncomfortable situations.” Vlad waved his hand irritably in the general direction of the waiter’s station. “This whole situation is…absurd, frankly. It’s our genders and our ages. God, I’m a forty-three year old man, in love with a boy I once wanted as a son! And you’re a still a teenager; a young boy who should be with a young girl your own age, not here with—”

“It’s my decision who I should be with, who I like, and who I want to spend my time with,” Danny insisted with narrowed blue eyes, his teen pride poking through in his tone. “I mean, I’ve never been interested in a guy before, but…well if I want to be with one, then I don’t care what others think. And yeah, you are like twenty years older than me but…” Danny shrugged awkwardly. “I’ll be eighteen soon, and its not like you’re all wrinkly or something.” Vlad made a sound between a scoff and a laugh. “You don’t look old, or even really act old. You’re just as immature as me most times!” This time Vlad really did scoff and roll his eyes at the audacity of the boy calling him immature!

Danny groaned, running his fingers threw his hair. Vlad was surprised the boy was even bothering to defend this…this non-dating whatever it is, all while not being beet red. There was a healthy blush on the boy’s cheeks, most definitely, but at this point, Vlad was almost sure even he was blushing.

“This isn’t something I would have ever thought would happen,” Danny said slowly, staring at the white tablecloth. “Any of this, you being nice, and apologizing and us being good, not just the…the romantic stuff.” The blush darkened slightly but Danny pushed through the stubborn determination of a teenage boy. “But honestly, it’s not that bad.” Danny looked Vlad in the eye, his gaze serious and earnest. “I’ve been driving myself crazy about all this for the past month, but we’ve both already established that our lives have always been crazy and abnormal and generally fucked up—” Vlad started slightly at the language coming from the teen. “—so why don’t we just accept things as they are and move forward? No more worrying about age, or gender, or that past enemy thing and just…see what happens, I guess.”

Vlad didn’t say anything for a moment as Danny finished. Finally Vlad smirked lightly, lifting his glass and raising it towards Danny in a faint salute before sipping it. “Well said, Daniel. Perhaps you are the mature one here.” Danny laughed and Vlad nodded. “Sounds like a good idea, Little Badger.” Danny nodded too just as the waiter returned with their desserts.

Maybe this won’t be so bad, Vlad thought mildly, his spirits light once more. This boy…how does he do this to me so easily? He makes me lose all sense and patience, yet makes me feel happier than I have been in years with the simplest words or a smile. Vlad shook his head as Danny exclaimed once more with loud noises and funny expressions about how delicious the dessert was. Vlad laughed heartily, his heart and core filling with that warmth. I never want to lose this boy.

The pair made their way out of the restaurant, the hotel’s clock chiming ten o’clock. Danny walked over to the elevator, but Vlad caught the boy’s hand before he could press the button. Danny looked curiously to Vlad.

Vlad smirked down at the young teen. “I know a quicker way. And a much funnier way.” He turned intangible and the contact between him and Danny caused the boy to also turn intangible.

“Why not just take the elevator?” Danny muttered, but Vlad could hear the smile and excitement leaking into his young voice.

Vlad ignored the question, his smirk still firm on his face the two floated upwards through the ceiling. “Have you ever haunted a hotel full of rich old folks, Daniel?” Vlad asked, his tone casual as he tried to hide his underlying excitement.

“Are you serious?” Danny asked. “That’s wrong.”

“Aw come on, you’re telling me you’ve never wanted to make a lamp switch on and off and make some chair float and tip over before?” They continued rising.

“I mean, I’ve done it to Sam and Tucker and Jaz before, but usually not strangers…”

“Heroes,” Vlad scoffed with a role of his eyes. “Always playing by the rules. Come on, Daniel, I’ll show you how a real haunting is done.”

The duo fazed through their hotel room door around midnight, laughing loudly as they turned tangible.

“Oh my god, did you see the girl’s dad! He looked like he was about to wet himself!” Danny exclaimed between laughs as he fell on his bed, holding his side.

“I think he did. The little girl looked more excited than scared. I’m sure she’s watched Casper the Friendly Ghost enough times to think spectral activity is fun,” Vlad said as his laughs died down. It’d been so long since he’d pulled jokes like this. He had done it often when he’d first gained some control on his powers many years ago, still being an immature twenty year old at the time. But since Danny could do everything that he could, Vlad had thought it’d be fun messing around like this. Vlad figured Danny had pulled pranks before, but obviously only on his friends since he was a good kid, as well as Danny only being able to pull these jokes on his friends, never with his friends. This was something he and Danny could only do together. Vlad loved it.

“That was hilarious,” Danny breathed, his laughs finally settling down. “But we cannot do that again. It was beyond mean. Sam will have an aneurysm when I tell her about this.”

Vlad’s nice mood fell slightly at the name. He scowled as transformed back and began to undo the tie around his neck. “Yes well, you could always not tell the little worry-wart.”

“She means well. She helps keep me in line,” Danny said, his tone soft as he spoke fondly of his friend. Vlad’s mood turned grayer and grayer. “Way too many times I’ve tried to use my powers against other who didn’t really deserve it, or for my own personal gain. She always keeps me grounded.”

“She holds you back, it seems,” Vlad muttered. “Probably just jealous of what you can do, and so tries to stifle your fun.”

“You’ve really got a problem with Sam, don’t you?” Danny said after a moment. Vlad had his back turned to Danny as he faced his own bed, pulling off his suit jacket and undoing the buttons of his cuffs.

“No problem at all,” Vlad said stiffly.

“Oh my god, you so do,” Danny said with a laugh.

Vlad glared over his shoulder at the boy who was lying on his own bed, his arms behind his head and a smirk on his lips. “Oh I so do not. And I fail to see what’s so funny.”

You are!” Danny exclaimed, turning onto his side to look at Vlad, leaning his head against his palm with his arm propped up on his elbow. “You’re jealous of Sam, still! After everything!”

Vlad looked away with a deep scowl, his face humiliatingly red from irritation and embarrassment as Danny lay there, laughing at him.

“Vlad, she’s my best friend. And I’m not going to lie to you; I did like her for a while.” Vlad’s eyes blazed red and he felt his hands fizzling with heated pink energy. “But!” Danny began hastily when he apparently noticed Vlad’s anger. “Not anymore! That was like, freshman year! And in my defense, I literally had a crush on anything that smelled like a flower and smiled at me. I was fourteen!”

Vlad didn’t look at Danny, his anger not completely assuaged as he silently seethed. Vlad vaguely wondered if they made a rose-scented men’s cologne. Vlad blushed miserably at the pathetic thought, shutting his eyes.

“Hey.” Vlad didn’t look over his shoulder or turn around. “I don’t like Sam anymore. We work perfectly as friends, I’m not going to ruin that.”

“Just as we worked perfectly as enemies. And we now work decently as…whatever this is,” Vlad said roughly with a flip of his hand. “What if this is ruined?”

“I don’t think it will be,” Danny replied. “And a way for whatever this is to not get ruined, is trust. I need you to trust that Sam isn’t someone you need to be jealous of. Yes, she knows nearly everything about me. Yes, I’m very comfortable around Sam. And yes, I’m going to talk about her sometimes, because again, she’s my best friend! I hang out with Tucker just as much, you gonna be jealous of him too?”

“Probably,” Vlad said lightly with a shrug, finally turning to face the boy who now sat up, kneeling on the bed towards Vlad. “But honestly, I’d be jealous if my cat sat on your lap too long.”

Danny laughed and shook his head. “You really are a fruitloop.”

“Does that bother you?”

Danny smiled and shook his head. “Not as much as it probably should. I mean…” Danny blushed lightly, scratching his cheek. “It’s actually kind of nice.”

Vlad quirked an eyebrow at the confession. He smirked softly, crossing the small space between their beds. He leaned over, his hands on either side of Danny as he balanced over the seated teen. “Oh? My intense jealousy and possessiveness is nice?”

Danny blushed darker, looking up at Vlad through his black bangs, which had fallen back over his forehead from lying on the bed. “Well…it’s always nice to feel wanted. Especially when most people are calling you a freak, or a loser.”

Vlad’s eyes darkened dangerously in an instant. “Has someone said that to you?”

Danny shrugged. “High school kids can be mean.”

“You’re bullied…” Vlad whispered. Vlad had known that. He’d seen the jocks; he’d seen the footage from his CCTV cameras. Back then, he hadn’t paid much attention. He’d been irritated mostly that Danny wasn’t using his powers against the bullies, but for the most part Vlad had overlooked it as normal high school dynamics. Now, Vlad felt a burning rage inside him at the thought of some block head hurting his Danny, or of some preppy Prima Dona calling him names, of kids shoving him down or laughing at him, or making Danny think of himself as less or as undesirable.

“Daniel,” Vlad said softly, swallowing down his rage. He put his knee on the bed so he could lift his hands to Danny’s face. He ran his thumb lightly over the boy’s cheek as he held Danny’s face delicately. “I love you. I don’t want anything those idiots say to hurt you, because you are so much greater than them. Your kindness is perhaps too generous, not only forgiving someone like me, but for pardoning people like them. I never want you to believe you are less than them, or that you are unwanted. I know it’s been a hard time in high school, but I need you to believe me.”

Danny’s red face was too cute, especially as he then smiled in embarrassment. “I know, Vlad. I don’t really care what they think anymore but…thank you.”

Vlad stroked the soft skin under his thumb, leaning forward. He paused just breaths from Danny’s lips. A small push and they would touch. Vlad could almost feel him, his body aching to kiss the precious boy senseless. Danny’s breath hitched slightly and he shut his eyes quickly, his lips tightening. Vlad’s heart stuttered in rejection and he pulled away, his hands dropping from Danny’s face.

“It’s late. Let’s go to bed, Daniel.” Danny opened his eyes quickly and stared as Vlad got off the bed and moved towards his own, a strange expression on the boy’s face that Vlad couldn’t read. “We’ve got a big day planned tomorrow, Little Badger. We need you bright eyed and bushy tailed for the Space Center!”

Vlad unbuttoned the top notch at his neck before turning around with a smile. Danny still sat motionless on his bed, starting slightly when Vlad placed a hand on Danny’s head, petting him affectionately. “Happy birthday, Daniel.”

Danny glanced to the clock on the nightstand between their beds. “Oh! It’s past midnight.”

“Very perceptive, my boy,” Vlad smirked, moving towards his suitcase and grabbing his nightclothes. “Seventeen now and still just as smart.”

Danny scowled, scooching to the edge of the bed to grab his own pajamas from his bags. Vlad headed towards the bathroom.

“Thanks, Vlad.” Vlad paused in the doorway, glancing towards the boy who smiled over at him. The sight took Vlad’s breath away. All he could do was nod and enter the bathroom, not even completely sure what the boy was thanking him for.

Silently changing, Vlad glanced towards the mirror, half expecting the guardian spirit to appear and praise him. Or reprimand him. He still wasn’t sure how well he was doing in all of this. Well if that smile was any indication, I’m assuming I’m doing things right, Vlad thought with a grin on his own face. The grin faltered slightly when he thought about just minutes before, when he had been about to kiss Danny. The boy still seemed a bit uncomfortable with that. He had seemed scared, closing his eyes as though flinching away.

And then there’s some of the things he’s been saying, Vlad mused to himself. He was a smart man, he could figure things out on his own, without some mystical being guiding him by the hand. How hard could it be to figure out the feeling of a teenager? Danny commented on my hair earlier, wanting me to leave it loose. And then he was worried that he was too young for me. And he didn’t want me getting jealous of Sam.

But he hasn’t outright, said anything! Vlad thought in irritation, frustrated that these clues just didn’t seem concrete enough. Like he said, teenagers go after anything that smell like flowers and smile! What if this is all just him being nice? What if my attention and money and love have charmed him, but he doesn’t have actual feelings for me, just…infatuation or something?

Vlad groaned as quickly stripped himself and put on his night clothes. I’m getting so many different signals from the boy, I don’t know what to do!

Exiting the bathroom, Vlad saw Danny already in pajamas, lying under the blankets, knocked out. Vlad chuckled silently. This boy can fall asleep in a wink.

Folding his clothes neatly and putting them back in his suitcase, Vlad walked over to the nightstand. He gazed at Danny a moment, reaching out to lightly touch the boy’s soft hair. Like before, when Danny had accidentally slept over Vlad’s home during the boy’s powers malfunction, Danny sighed softly, his head moving into Vlad’s touch.

“Good night, Daniel,” Vlad whispered, clicking off the lamp and moving under the covers of his own bed.

Chapter Text

Danny blinked blearily, confused at first by everything. Why does my bed feel so soft? Where are the Glow in the Dark star stickers on my ceiling? Who the hell is snoring so much?

Danny looked to the left to see Vlad lying on a separate bed, his hair loose and knotted around his face, his mouth hanging open slightly as he snored. Danny sat up and stretched, the initial memory lapse from sleep gone. He was in the hotel room. He and Vlad had taken a plane down to Florida to go to the Kennedy Space Center for his birthday. Which was today. Danny was seventeen today.

He scratched his head and yawned, remembering dinner last night, and the conversation the two of them had had. Danny glanced over again, watching as Vlad slept. Danny tried to fight the grin from his face, forcing himself not to laugh. Seeing the uptight, neatly pressed and always aristocratic Vlad Masters with bedhead, snoring with a line of drool trailing down his chin was just too cute. And hilarious.

Danny smirked to himself, pulling out his phone.

Vlad was pulled harshly from sleep by a burning brightness. He groaned and pulled his pillow over his face, effectively blocking out the light. His features relaxed as he tried to regain sleep.

“Vampires really do hate the sun, don’t they Vladdie?” Danny’s all too amused voice called from somewhere across the room. Vlad didn’t bother dignifying that with an actual response, merely grumbling to himself in irritation from under his pillow. Vlad heard Danny laugh. “I remember a certain someone claiming that adults don’t waste the day sleeping.”

Vlad peaked from his pillow and noticed on the nightstand, the clock read 8:45 AM. Vlad blinked, realizing he was in a hotel with Danny on the boy’s seventeenth birthday. Right right, Vlad thought to himself, throwing the pillow to the floor and rising, blinking blearily at the sunlight blaring into the room. Danny stood out on the balcony in his pajamas, barefoot and short bed ruffled hair moving gently in the breeze.

“I guess I’m not used to not waking to an alarm clock or my phone buzzing from calls from work,” Vlad said, his voice still annoyed and rough from sleep. Vlad scrubbed at his face tiredly, yawning into his fist. Danny turned around and padded back into the room, glancing toward Vlad. Danny stifled his laughter. “What?” Vlad asked, glaring lightly at the boy.

Danny pointed to his own head and laughed openly. Vlad touched his hair, feeling how it bunched on the left side from sleep. Vlad ran his fingers through the knotted mane of silver, trying to tame it back into something manageable that wouldn’t make Danny laugh at him.

“Want some coffee?” Danny called as he left the bedroom.

“Yes please,” Vlad called back, internally screaming for it as he slowly rose from the bed. He was fit for his age, due to training and his ghost powers. He made sure he ate right and stayed in shape, made sure to take care of his body as best he could, to avoid the all too common “gut” that men his age tended to develop, but there was nothing Vlad could do about aging. Well, at least nothing that Vlad had discovered yet. Mornings hurt sometimes, and if Vlad got a long rest, he tended to take some time to stop being so stiff and cranky once he’d woken up. “I’m going to shower first,” he called, already grabbing his towel and heading into the bathroom.

He stripped off his warm night clothes, turned on the shower to a high temperature and stepped inside, moaning contently as the hot jets of water massaged the sleep from his limbs.

Today was Danny’s birthday. Vlad massaged the shampoo into his hair, mentally preparing himself for the day ahead. Be nice. Be calm. Be forgiving. Be nice. Vlad repeated this to himself over and over. Come on Plasmius, don’t mess this up! Let’s give Danny that Masters charm and show him a good time!

Once he finished washing up, he stepped out and dried off, wrapping the towel around his waist. He stepped in front of the mirror, wiping away the fog from the hot shower, the motion familiar.

He looked at himself. At his long wet hair, silver from the accident more than twenty years ago. Would his hair have started graying naturally at this point? Vlad looked at the dark rings around his dark blue eyes, at the stubble along his jaw, cheeks and neck.

Vlad deftly pulled out his shaving cream and razor. The scratchy scrap of shaving was the only thing heard in the bathroom for a time as Vlad quietly worked. Once finished, he dabbed on some aftershave and brushed the knots from his still dripping hair.

He looked at himself again, liking the image more now. Vlad enjoyed his appearance. He took pride in himself, in how he looked. He took care of himself and was confident in his looks. But with someone as young as Danny, Vlad found himself always rechecking himself in the mirror, always making sure he was just right, that everything was in place.

Vlad yawned and grabbed a dry hand towel from the bathroom’s shelf. He began drying his still dripping hair. Today was going to be a good day. As soon as he had that coffee.

Danny started up the machine to brew the coffee, just as he heard a door close and then the muffled sound of the shower starting. He walked back into the bedroom to change. He had packed some clothes his parents had gotten him for Christmas, deciding it would be a nice occasion for the new shirt and jeans.

Once dressed, Danny found himself in front of the full body mirror, tilting his head as he looked at his new clothes, running his hands over them and threw his hair. The way Vlad had looked at me yesterday when I was wearing my suit… it was like he really thought I was handsome, Danny thought, a light blush appearing on his reflection. He probably won’t look at me like that in just jeans and this new shirt…I wonder if he even likes how I look most days. He’s always so put together and then there’s me beside him looking so… Danny sighed and shook his head.

Danny never cared much for his appearance, figuring comfort mattered more. Everyday he’d throw on some worn jeans, his favorite T-shirt and brush his hair just enough so his mother wouldn’t complain. And honestly, Danny figured he wasn’t all that good looking anyway. Girls never really paid much attention to him. He knew he wasn’t ugly, but Danny never actually thought of himself as particularly attractive. The only time he’d really felt confident was…

White rings circled his chest and separated. Black turned white and blue turned green. In the mirror, Danny now saw Danny Phantom, clad in his form fitting black and white suit. It was like a switch; Danny smiled at his reflection, enjoying the look of himself, of the unique coloring of his features, the way his suit hugged his body, making him look fitter and taller. He looked strong. He looked confident. Girls swooned for their hero, guys wished they could be as cool as Phantom, and ghosts trembled when Phantom let out his powerful ghostly wail. As Phantom, Danny felt good and strong and invincible. Everyone loved or feared him, and if they didn’t, Danny felt confident enough to fight and to protect.

Except around Vlad. Whether Danny was Phantom or Fenton, with Vlad around, Danny didn’t feel like he was putting on a mask. He didn’t feel like he had to act a certain way depending on his form. At least, he didn’t feel that way anymore. He felt unsure either way, but he also felt loved either way.

No one’s ever looked at me the way Vlad does…Danny thought again, staring at his reflection and running his gloved hand threw his white hair, wondering what Vlad saw in him. He says he loves me…he tries so hard to be…good, for me. I’m still so young and immature. As a human, I’m awkward, and as a ghost I’m still fumbling. And even so, Vlad’s always seemed interested. But what if I disappoint him? Or bore him? Or what if he realizes how young and inexperienced I am…

The idea made Danny feel miserable and embarrassed. He’ll never be bored though. I’m the only other halfa. That’s why he cares about me so much.

This thought came from the back of Danny’s mind and shocked the boy slightly. Was that it? Was that the only reason Vlad even cared about him? Because of Phantom? If Danny was only human, would Vlad even bother anymore?

Danny shook his head and shut his eyes. The thought hurt. It hurt worse than Danny thought it would.

“No. Stop being negative. It doesn’t matter what I wear, my age or if I’m Fenton or Phantom! Vlad will still like me,” Danny convinced himself, turning away from the mirror. Right?

“Quite right, Daniel.” Danny nearly jumped out of his skin at the voice, the white rings circling him as his powers shorted out from the fright, rapidly changing him back to Danny Fenton. He turned to see Vlad entering the bedroom, a white hotel towel around his waist and a white hand towel being rubbed into dripping silver hair. “I like the new shirt, by the way.”

Danny blushed deeply, beyond mortified but Vlad barely glanced at him, and he wasn’t even smirking his usual smug grin. Danny’s eyes moved from Vlad’s face to his chest as he walked by. Damn, does the man do nothing but workout! Danny thought frantically. He’s in his mid-forties, he’s got no right to look like that!

Vlad didn’t seem to notice Danny’s flustered staring as he turned to his bed, giving Danny a view of his back. Danny stared at the strong back, a lightly tanned color, broad shoulders, and strong arms. I’ve never looked at another guy this way…Danny thought absentmindedly, his face heating up as Vlad continued to dry his hair with the hand towel. Danny idly wondered what touching Vlad’s skin would feel like, what those muscles would feel like, flexed under his fingers, where the skin was soft, whether Vlad was ticklish or if the man would blush lightly if Danny kissed him between his shoulder blades—

“Is the coffee ready, Daniel?” Vlad asked, startling Danny from his embarrassing thoughts.

“Oh right!” Danny said, hurrying back to the kitchenette and away from the near naked Vlad Masters.

Danny kept his mind busy by searching the cabinets until he found two white mugs, and quickly began pouring the fresh coffee. Danny’s eyebrows knitted together in concentration as he focused on pouring the milk and adding sugar.

The task was thoughtless though. It was mechanical and automatic and did little to chase away the frantic thoughts running amuck in Danny’s head. He thought about his encounter with the mirror spirit, the things he’d said and the things she’d said to him. Danny thought about his time so far with Vlad, the way the man had changed, the things he’d said to Danny and now the feelings Danny got when he was around the man. Love? Lust? A crush? Interest? Danny was seventeen, not much brighter than he’d been when he was a clueless freshman. He still didn’t fully understand the things he felt or what love really was. All he knew was that spending time with Vlad was exciting, like listening to music you used to love, or reaching the next level of a game, or starting a new book. Unknown and familiar and exciting all at once. Danny was fascinated by Vlad and comfortable around the man. He liked how the man spoke and held himself and smiled and laughed and smelled and looked…

And yet there were still doubts, still fears. But even still, Danny found it all so exciting, thinking of his nemesis this way, learning about him, spending time with this Vlad Masters!

Danny sighed, shaking his head as he picked up the two mugs. This is all so crazy. Danny couldn’t help smiling.

He entered the bedroom once more to see Vlad in his usual black slacks, black socks and white button-up. Danny felt a stab of disappointment at the loss of Vlad’s bare skin. God, I’m still the same hormonal teen!

Danny handed Vlad the steaming coffee mug. Vlad took it and sipped it deftly, his face immediately twisting unpleasantly. “Too much sugar.”

“Sorry, I just made it the way I take it,” Danny murmured as he sipped his own cup. “I didn’t know you took yours bitter, like your soul.” Danny smirked when Vlad rolled his eyes.

“And you take yours as sugary as your view of the world. Well at least it woke me up,” Vlad said, sipping the coffee once more before leaning forward and kissing Danny lightly on the temple. “Good morning, Daniel.”

Danny’s initial surprise quickly faded as he smiled, watching Vlad, who seemed much more alert and awake now. A cup of coffee does the soul good, Danny thought pleasantly as Vlad put down his mug and grabbed his usual black jacket. Danny quickly put a hand out. “Oh, no no no. Not the usual Vlad-suit.”

Vlad arched an eyebrow. “Vlad-suit?”

“It’s my birthday, wear something different! Something casual,” Danny said with a laugh. “You do own clothes that aren’t suits, right?”

Vlad seemed about ready to argue the point, but then apparently remembered something. He quickly bent down into his suitcase and pulled out a Packers jersey, a large grin on his face. Danny blinked, imagining Vlad walking around with that on. It was kind of adorable. “I was thinking less…green and gold. We’re going to a Space Center, not a football game.” Vlad looked bit disappointed, folding up the jersey and putting it away.

“Fine fine,” Vlad mumbled, sliding his black suit jacket off his shoulders. He unbuttoned the sleeves of his dress shirt, folding the sleeves up to his elbows neatly. He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and turned to Danny. “Better? This casual enough for you?”

“It would be, if you untucked your shirt.”

“I am not untucking my shirt.”

Danny laughed openly and sipped his coffee, realizing he wouldn’t have enjoyed this morning as much if he had been with anyone else.

They arrived at the Kennedy Space Center promptly an hour later. Vlad’s hand kept traveling to his neck, the lack of a stiff collar and tie unfamiliar, making him almost feel naked. Vlad silently thanked Danny for making him change outfit ideas, though. Vlad, having spent most of his life in Northern America, forgot how hot it got in Florida, even in February. He would have been sweltering in his full suit.

Danny handed over the tickets at the front desk, his eyes wide as he looked around him before they even properly entered. Vlad smiled at the boy’s excitement. He was as bouncy as that little green ghost puppy, smiling widely as they entered the short security check point.

Vlad had to admit, the place was interesting. The building was sleek and the attractions were incredible. They walked around, looking at huge to-scale models of rockets, engines, space shuttles and moon cruisers. There were pamphlets with information but as they searched the Center, Danny buzzed with facts, explaining to Vlad the mechanics of the machines, the regulations, spitting out dates and names like an encyclopedia. Vlad was amazed that the boy knew more than just about stars and planets; he was seriously dedicated to this stuff and knew it all.

“Oh cool!” Danny exclaimed as pointed at something on his pamphlet. “They’re having a showing at the IMAX theater soon, about Mars. Lets go see it!” They entered the theater ten minutes before the showing and found seats, Danny buzzing with excitement. When the showing began, Vlad found it interesting, but he couldn’t keep his eyes from Danny. The boy’s blue eyes were wide as he watched, a small smile on his face, the picture of pure joy.

Vlad could get used to this. He’d give the boy the whole solar system if it kept that expression on his face and kept the boy by his side.

The pair continued through the Center, stopping at speeches and seminars given by actual astronauts and NASA workers, Danny soaking it all up. They walked in a huge room that was a replica of the NASA station that connects to the ship on Earth, dozens of computers and monitors filling the room, a tour guide explaining it all.

“Wanna have a little fun?” Danny said with a smirk as he pointed to the huge spaceship on the side of the map.

Vlad quirked an eyebrow. “What did you have in mind?”

Danny chuckled and grabbed Vlad’s wrist, pulling him to the corner, out of sight from others. Vlad, for a brief hopeful foolish moment, thought Danny was acting his age and intended to do some inappropriate public making out. But Danny turned intangible, Vlad following with Danny’s hand still on him. They floated through the building to the huge space craft and fazed inside.

“I think anti-gravity is a bit different than just flying,” Danny commented mildly as he let go of Vlad and floated. “But the affect is still cool.” The boy floated inside the craft, upside down and sideways, grabbing onto handles and props as though he needed them to control his direction. Vlad stood planted on the solid floor, watching in amusement.

“The effect is lost if you still have gravity,” Danny pouted teasingly, looking to Vlad upside down, his black hair falling out of his eyes. Vlad rolled his eyes with a laugh and floated a few inches off the ground.

“Better?”

Danny laughed and shook his head, floating over and reaching out. “Here, take my hand.”

Vlad swallowed and reached out, floating towards Danny and grasping his hand. They interlaced fingers and laughed as they pretended it was anti-gravity that kept them afloat, Danny looking out the windows and gaping as though he were watching the Earth slowly drifting away from them.

Vlad silently wished they were. He wished he could stay in this cramped huge spaceship with Danny, pretending and laughing. Just them, floating away from others.

 

The Space Center really was huge. There were games that Vlad and Danny competed in, the competitions getting heated. There was a food court that of course had everything way more high priced that necessary but with Vlad around, Danny was able to try nearly everything they offered, filling himself with enough energy to enjoy the rest of the exhibits.

As they walked around the huge building and outside in the nice air where outdoor exhibits were held, Danny would see something and grab Vlad’s hand, pulling the man to this or that, smiling widely. Vlad always felt a small jump in his heart every time Danny’s hand grabbed his, every time they stopped moving yet Danny didn’t let go.

As the duo pasted a restroom, Vlad began getting the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps a super-sized Saturn shake had been a bit too large. “Excuse me a moment, Daniel,” Vlad said, putting a hand to Danny’s shoulder. “I’ll just be a moment.” Danny nodded and Vlad headed into the bathroom. It was crowded with other men and boys, but Vlad didn’t pay them any mind. It was like he was on a high; he was too happy right now for much of anything to bother him, even with a full bladder and a bathroom full of strange men and fussing children. Once Vlad was at the sink to wash his hands, he suddenly had the huge desire to look into the mirror and thank a certain someone. I wonder where she went…

Once he exited the bathroom, Vlad searched the area for Danny. He spotted the boy, but froze when he noticed someone beside him. It was a girl, probably around Danny’s age. She wore a NASA T-shirt, and had curly blond hair held back by a purple headband. She was cute. Vlad watched as Danny said something to her and the girl smiled and laughed, lightly touching Danny’s arm.

Vlad stalked over. “Ready to continue, Daniel?” Vlad asked crisply, his gaze cool as he tried not to show his irritation.

“Yeah sure. Lucy was just telling me that they’ve got simulators upstairs that let people try to land the shuttle or feel what it’s like to blast off!” Danny said excitedly.

“Lucy, huh?” Vlad murmured, the name sour on his tongue as he glared lightly at the girl. She was ignoring Vlad anyway, finding it more favorable to smile at Danny, and flip her blond hair over her shoulder.

“Yeah, you and your dad should come up with me and my mom. I want to go on the experience ride again, it was so much fun!” Lucy suggested excitedly, again touching Danny’s arm.

“Oh, he’s not my—”

“Sounds like a great idea, let’s get going then, Daniel, while Lucy here finds her mother instead of conversing with strangers,” Vlad cut in with a polite smile, putting his arm around Danny’s shoulders and pulling him away and down towards the elevator, leaving Lucy confused behind them.

“Hey, that was rude,” Danny said, glaring at Vlad before trying to look over his shoulder towards the girl. “She was nice.”

“Oh yes, so nice,” Vlad bit out, his hold on Danny’s shoulder firm as they entered the elevator. Vlad quickly pressed the CLOSE DOOR button, and the two were alone.

“Oh don’t tell me,” Danny said after a moment, giving Vlad a look. “Are you seriously jealous, again?”

Vlad looked over to the boy, grabbing Danny’s chin and tilting his head up. Vlad leaned down, his mouth mere centimeters away from Danny’s. The boy gasped slightly. “Yes, I am. Immensely. I am always jealous.”

“There’s no need,” Danny muttered, his eyes locked on Vlad’s. Vlad saw apprehension in Danny’s blue eyes, and uncertainty and…something else.

The elevator beeped and Vlad pulled away from Danny just as the doors opened. “Shall we go then?” Vlad asked with a tight smirk at the apparently shell-shocked teen.

“As long as you don’t get jealous of me staring at a spaceship,” Danny muttered as he hurried out of the elevator. Vlad’s gloomy mood stuck as he followed the boy.

Danny managed to land the shuttle with minor incidents, which impressed Vlad and made Danny jump up and exclaim, “Look out NASA, Danny Fenton is going to be the next Neil Armstrong!”

Vlad rolled his eyes but couldn’t help smiling, all thoughts of jealousy and that girl completely gone.

They went on the shuttle launch experience ride, which had Vlad’s teeth shaking and his body vibrating unpleasantly even after they wobbled back out into the hallway. They went along with the Atlantis exhibit next, a huge show case and spectacle, Danny bouncing with excitement as they revealed the Atlantis shuttle (in the most dramatic way possible, Vlad mused with a light role of his eyes, still smiling) at the end.

Vlad’s smile disappeared when he noticed what awaited him at the end of this exhibit, that would lead them back down to the main floor.

“You have got to try it with me!”

“No thank you,” Vlad said resolutely, shaking his head at the large slide that childishly led the way down.

“Hey, it’s my birthday, which means you’re obligated to do as I say,” Danny argued with a smirk. “Come on, it’ll be fun.” Vlad looked away, a grumpy pout on his lips. Danny chuckled, poking Vlad’s cheek. “Oh come on, Vladdie, stop with the pouty face, you look like a stubborn five year old.” Danny reached up, pulling at Vlad’s cheeks in an irritating attempt to make the man smile. “If it helps, I’ll let you know that I’m not into blonds.”

Vlad cocked an eyebrow and glanced to Danny, his intrigue peaked. “Oh? So then what are you into?”

Danny rolled his eyes with a smile. “Grumpy old silver foxes who go down slides with me.”

The ridiculousness of the statement made Vlad laugh. “Ha you laughed! That means I win!” Danny exclaimed, pushing Vlad towards the slide.

Forcing himself to let go of his bitter jealousies, Vlad sat down at the top, Danny plopping himself down in front of Vlad, between the man’s legs. Vlad put his hands carefully on Danny’s shoulders, the boy’s hand on his knees as he looked back and said, “Ready!”

“As I’ll ever be I suppose.” Vlad liked the position they were in though, enjoyed being close to the boy, ever as they went down. It wasn’t scary, Vlad wasn’t a child, but he gripped tightly to Danny’s shoulders as the boy whooped and hollered. They slowly slide to a stop at the end and stood, Danny laughing.

“Awesome, right?” Vlad simply ruffled Danny’s already crazy hair and they headed towards the main exhibit area, where large models of ships and statues of astronauts in their full outfit stood, with small signs that gave information Danny already had memorized. Danny and Vlad walked around, marveling at the pieces. Danny gaped and smiled, tightly gripping Vlad’s wrist as he pointed at everything, explaining in greater detail that the info signs. Danny paused and looked down at his hand, and for a moment Vlad thought the boy would get embarrassed and let go. Instead, Danny pulled up Vlad’s sleeve, revealing Vlad’s wristwatch.

“What time is it?” Danny asked as he lifted Vlad’s arm to look at the watch. Vlad watched, realizing how strange it was that Danny was touching him so casually, grabbing him and moving his arm like this. Vlad couldn’t help smiling slightly.

“I’m going to make a quick call to my parents,” Danny said, letting of Vlad and wandering off towards the corner and away from the crowds of people.

Vlad watched for a moment then continued to look at the astronomical pieces, amazed by the grandeur and mechanics. I should start working on another invention, Vlad thought mildly. It’s been a while since I worked in my lab. I had been working on those anti-bodies prototypes for nights on end. Maybe I should pick that up again. Ever since discovering the information about a magical mirror, Vlad had ignored his scientist side, focusing on the goal the mirror had sent him to; getting Danny. Maybe Jack and Maddie could help me with some of the rougher parts, Vlad mused. He blinked, realizing the thought he’d just had. It still amazed him that he’d held such old feelings for those two for so long, and in only a few short months, Danny had completely changed him. Vlad sighed, the sound one of pleasant defeat. He smiled slightly. What has that boy done to me

“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” Vlad looked over at the sound of the voice. A woman, in her thirties or forties, stood beside him, smiling. “All this.”

Vlad glanced around him. “Yes, it’s all very impressive.”

“My daughter’s been begging for me to take her here ever since she was seven,” the woman gushed with a smile. “She’s been interested in NASA and space since I can remember, so she was thrilled when I surprised her with these tickets.”

Vlad smiled. “My…” Vlad faltered slightly. He cleared his throat. “I know the feeling. I gave these tickets to someone recently for his birthday and since arriving, he hasn’t stopped smiling. He’s dreamed of being an astronaut since he was a boy as well.”

“Such big dreams, kids have,” the woman said with a smile. “Was it your son you gave these tickets to? Are you here with him and your wife?”

Vlad suppressed a smile at the thought of addressing Danny as his wife. “No, no children or spouse just yet.”

The woman’s smile grew and she glanced away briefly, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear with her left hand. She looked at Vlad through her lashes, her hand devoid of a ring. “You know, it’s funny. I saw you and I thought you reminded me of someone from a magazine.”

“Oh?” Vlad asked, arching his eyebrow.

“Vlad Masters. He’s this billionaire from Wisconsin, very handsome. You look very much like him.”

Vlad smirked at the obvious compliment. “Why thank you, being compared to a handsome billionaire is quite the compliment. I don’t believe we’ve properly introduced ourselves.”

“Oh!” the woman said prettily, reaching out her hand. “I’m Evelyn.”

Vlad reached for her hand just as a smaller, male hand grabbed his hand firmly. Vlad looked up to see Danny standing there, an irritated expression on his face.

“I finished my phone call. So glad you’re meeting new people in my short absence,” Danny said, his blue eyes narrowed.

“I was lonely,” Vlad teased with a mock-pitiful expression. “And this lovely woman was simply—”

“Well let’s get moving. Still so much to see!” Danny chirped in. He looked to Evelyn. “Nice meeting you anyway.”

Danny, his grip still tight on Vlad’s hand, dragged the man away. “Okay, either you are completely clueless, or you’re an asshole,” Danny growled out, still holding onto Vlad’s hand as they walked through the building.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“That woman was so flirting with you, don’t act like you didn’t see it!”

“She was nice.”

Danny paused, looking at Vlad, who smirked innocently down at Danny. “You knew,” Danny hissed in disbelief. “You’re an asshole, you knew she was flirting with you the whole time and you just humored her.”

“It wasn’t like I was going to ask her to meet me at the hotel,” Vlad said. “I just humored her long enough for you to finish your phone call. To keep me entertained until my Little Badger returned to me.”

“You mean until I could see you two and get jealous?” Danny seethed.

“Were you jealous, Daniel?” Vlad smirked, his lips twitching in wicked glee as Danny blushed furiously. Danny looked down at his hand, which was gripping Vlad’s tightly. Danny pulled away, his face an adorable red. “Is there any reason for you to be jealous?”

Danny looked to Vlad a moment, his expression fearful and irritated and embarrassed and searching…

Vlad stood there, staring down at the young ghost boy, a pleased smirk on his face until Danny finally narrowed his eyes and stormed off, his face still deliciously flushed to the very tips of his ears. Vlad couldn’t help chuckling as he followed. Oh how I love this boy.

“No.”

“Yes.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Oh come on, it’s not that bad.”

“I completely refuse.”

Vlad saw the boy roll his eyes but he didn’t care. Finally, when Danny was sure he’d seen and tried everything the Space center had to offer— twice— Danny had despairingly agreed to leave, and since Danny was a seventeen year old boy, he was already hungry again. Vlad would have loved for Danny to spend as much time there as he wanted, but the place would close for the day eventually, and it was already growing late.

“But it’s my birthday,” Danny tried with an innocent smile up at Vlad. The boy had somehow found a Nasty Burger in the Florida area, not too far off from where their hotel was, and was now trying to make Vlad enter the restaurant and actually eat the food they served there.

“I drank over-sweetened coffee, allowed you to let me prance around without a jacket or tie, went down that slide…I think I’ve sacrificed enough for your birthday, thank you very much,” Vlad said huffily, ignoring Danny’s cute pout. The boy had a small NASA pin pinned to his shirt, as well as a bag of many other NASA souvenirs for himself and friends; Danny had spent almost an hour in that huge gift shop. Yes, Vlad believed he’d given more than enough for the boy’s birthday; he didn’t need to add permanently damaging his digestive system to the list.

“Yeah and you also flirted with a woman right in front of me,” Danny muttered, glancing toward Vlad.

“You flirted with a girl today as well, if I recall.”

“I did not! We were talking!”

“As was I.” Vlad heard the boy huff in exasperation and smirked, loving how jealous the boy had truly been about the woman. Reigning in his smile, Vlad gave the younger halfa an unimpressed lift of his eyebrow, crossing his arms in his stubborn resolution to not enter the fast food joint.

Danny sighed. “I don’t want to have to do this Vlad, but your leaving me with no other choice.”

“What, you’re going to beg?” Vlad asked with a smirk, a touch of eagerness to his playful voice.

“Ha, you wish,” Danny said, pulling out his phone. He pressed some buttons for a moment and then turned the device around, showing Vlad the screen, a satisfied smirk that had no place on a boy as innocent as Daniel sitting on his face. Vlad looked at the picture and immediately blanched. He made to snatch the phone but Danny pulled his hand away with a laugh, shoving the phone back into his pocket.

On the screen had been a picture of Vlad, from this morning, fast asleep, mouth gaping open, hair a knotted mess and a line of drool running down his chin.

“Daniel, that is completely inappropriate!”

“Oh yeah, says Mr. Bug Cams Hidden all over the Fenton House?” Danny said with a pointed look, arching a dark brow. “You’ve done way worse, Vlad. This is innocent blackmail.”

Vlad couldn’t argue; it was true, he had done much worse, so he honestly couldn’t complain that Danny was finally starting to play dirty, despite how humiliating it was.

Vlad swallowed his pride and embarrassment and smirked lightly. “Well played, Little Badger. I am rubbing off on you, aren’t I? You’ve really improving on the skill and manipulation of using an enemy’s weakness against them.”

Danny smiled playfully up at Vlad. “What can I say, you’re too good a teacher, I guess.” Danny laughed and Vlad just smiled. “The fact that we’re no longer enemies also adds to the fun.”

“Agreed,” Vlad said, putting his hands behind his back and looking up at the fast food joint that was already releasing the scent of fried food and grease. “Fine Daniel, you win.”

“As always,” Danny said with a proud lift of his chin. He smiled and opened the door. “Don’t worry, it’s really good.”

“I’m sure it shall live up to its name.”

“”Nasty is only one letter away from Tasty”, as Tucker always points out,” Danny said with a laugh and Vlad rolled his eyes.

This time, Danny ordered for both of them, already knowing the menu by heart. The two sat with their trays, piled with fries and shakes and onion rings and large greasy cheeseburgers in thin wrappings. They sat in the back corner, away from the group of teens in bikini tops and flip flops. Florida was certainly a different world from Madison and Amity Park.

Danny eagerly ripped open his sandwich, taking an inhuman sized bite and humming pleasantly. “Nothing beats a big greasy burger from Nasty Burger.”

“Except maybe a nice Veal Marsala,” Vlad murmured under his breath.

“Oh stop being so stuffy and just eat it!” Danny exclaimed.

Vlad sighed and ripped open his sandwich. He stared at it a minute. I’m Vlad Plasmius. Vlad Masters! I can eat a stupid fast food burger!

Vlad bit the burger, feeling sauce ooze out on the corners of his mouth, tasted the cooked meat and lettuce and condiments and the soft bun and before he could stop himself, a hum escaped his throat. It was so greasy and fatty and good. It reminded Vlad of his college days, nights full of pizza and burgers and junk food till he and Jack had been too sick to move the next day.

Danny laughed loudly, his face scrunched in amusement as he doubled over in his chair.

Vlad swallowed, glaring at the boy. “Pray tell, what could possibly have you laughing now?”

Danny calmed some, gasping slightly as he handed Vlad a napkin. Vlad blushed slightly, rubbing the napkin on his mouth. “Glad you enjoyed it, Vlad,” Danny managed between chuckles. “It’s nice seeing the great Vlad Masters loosen up.”

Vlad blinked, putting down the napkin. He rolled his eyes and tossed one of his fries at Danny’s face. “Shut up, boy.”

Once they arrived back at the hotel, Danny dropped his things off on his bed, grabbed a towel and shut himself up in the bathroom for a shower. Vlad stayed in the bedroom, changing into night clothes and sitting on the edge of his bed for a moment. He couldn’t stop smiling.

His heart was pounding. His thoughts were full of Danny; the boy’s voice, his laugh, his pout, his smiles, his blazing green eyes, his happy blue eyes, his soft black hair, his thick white hair, his moods, his kindness, his stubbornness, his innocence, his insecurities. Vlad couldn’t get enough and spending the whole day with the boy had been more fun than Vlad had had in a long time.

Vlad stood, silently pacing the carpeted room, his thumb coming between his teeth. Don’t mess this up…don’t mess this up…

Too many times did Vlad’s over confidence ruin things. Too many times Vlad was disappointed, abandoned, tricked or left heart broken. He didn’t want that with Danny.

For a long time, Vlad had been alone. All alone. He hadn’t trusted anyone, or gotten close to someone. He had holed himself away with his riches and plots and schemes of revenge, with his fantasies of a woman who had never loved him. But now he had glimpsed a new life, a new dream that could be his and it was within reach, at the very tips of his fingers! He was so close and that scared Vlad, but also excited him.

Vlad was used to force. He was used to getting what he wanted by any means, and dismissing others needs or feelings. Being alone made a person cold, made them forget to worry about others. Twenty years had numbed Vlad, nearly turned his heart to stone as he fought for only himself, since no one else would. Danny had changed that. He had forced Vlad to change. To try and thaw his cold heart, and remember what it meant to truly love someone.

The door to the bathroom opened and Vlad spun around. Danny emerged, his pajamas on as he roughed towel dried his hair. When he poked out from the towel, Vlad caught sight of blue eyes through a wet curtain of black hair. The boy’s skin was slightly flushed from the hot water and the scent of hotel shampoo and soap wafted off Danny.

“What?” Danny asked, slowing lowering the towel as he stared at Vlad, who was staring at him.

“Oh, nothing,” Vlad said, walking over and taking the towel from Danny. He put it to the boy’s head and gently rubbed at the wet hair, massaging the wetness away. He pushed the towel back and Danny scowled likely up at Vlad, a darker flush on his cheeks.

“I can do it myself you know.”

“I know,” Vlad said with a lazy smile, continuing to gently dry the boy’s dripping hair.

Danny looked away. His eyes landed on something and he smiled, walking away from Vlad and the towel. “I almost forgot about Tucker and Sam’s present.” Danny grabbed the gift from the top of his bag; a card and a small wrapped object. He sat on the side of his bed, opening the card quickly and reading it, a smile on his face.

Vlad watched quietly, a content smile on his face. Did it bother him that Danny smiled because of others? Yes, but it also made Vlad happy that Danny was happy. That Danny was loved by many, as he should be. A few years ago, Vlad wouldn’t have been able to smile like this; he wouldn’t have been able to put aside his possessiveness and jealousies for someone else. But the main reason it pleased him, was that out of all these people Danny knew and liked, he had chosen Vlad to be here today. And that spoke volumes.

Danny’s laughter cut through Vlad’s thoughts and he looked up. Danny held up the unwrapped gift. It was a DVD.

“It’s a movie we all saw last year on my sixteenth birthday,” Danny explained. “Rider the Vampire Hunter. I loved this movie.”

“The irony isn’t lost,” Vlad murmured, putting out his hand for the movie. “You get the popcorn.”

Danny and Vlad sat on Vlad’s bed several minutes later, the lights off, the movie playing, and a popcorn bowl already half empty sitting between them.

More than once, Vlad and Danny’s hands touched in the bowl. More than once, at a point in the movie where it was supposed to be scary, Danny and Vlad were either laughing or scoffing, criticizing the horrors and effects, or yelling at the stupidity of the hero and heroine.

“You’ve got to admit, that Count Fred is a handsome devil, and his plan would have been flawless had it not been for Rider’s girlfriend’s inexplicable psychic abilities.”

“You’re just agreeing with the villain because he looks just like you.”

“Why thank you, Daniel, I always knew I was a handsome devil.”

Vlad chuckled at the visible blush on the boy’s face even in the limited lighting. “Well you’re a tad more…blue,” Danny muttered, staring fixedly at the screen. Vlad laughed and Danny couldn’t help chuckling too.

They were quiet for a bit as the movie continued, Vlad occasionally glancing to the boy beside him. He noticed Danny’s far off look. The boy sat beside him, his legs drawn up to his chest, his arms resting on his knees and his chin on his forearms. He stared at the screen, but didn’t seem to be watching it, his fingers picking at a loose strand on his pajama bottoms.

“Daniel. Everything alright?”

“Hm?” Danny glanced over. When he noticed Vlad watching him, the boy straightened out his legs and leaned back casually on his hands. “Yeah, why would anything be wrong?” Danny said with a smile that Vlad thought seemed a bit forced.

Vlad’s eyes narrowed slightly at the boy. Danny scratched the back of his head, looking away from Vlad. “Daniel…”

“It’s nothing, really. Just…just thanks again, for everything lately. I never would have thought spending the day with you on my birthday would have been this…fun.” Danny smiled awkwardly and Vlad smiled, reaching out to pet Danny’s hair affectionately. Danny closed his eyes at the contact, a content smile on his face and a gentle blush coloring the tops of his cheeks. “I like when you do that…”

Vlad’s eyes widened slightly at the confession and his fingers stilled. Danny looked up when he noticed the pause. Vlad’s hand slipped from the top of Danny’s head to the boy’s cheek, his skin soft against Vlad’s warm palm. The two stared at each other, the air thick between them, their bodies close but not close enough, their eyes fixed as though both were searching for something, afraid they’d miss it if they looked away.

Everything that had happened between them…everything they’d ever said, everything they’d ever done…everything Vlad had tried to fix, everything he’d sacrificed to get to this point…sitting in the small space that separated them on the bed…

Vlad’s thumb traced a small circle on Danny’s cheek before slowly letting his hand fall to his side. Vlad had never been one to be afraid to take a risk to get what he wanted. But that was usually after months of planning, of carefully ensuring everything would go his way. And this…this wasn’t something he was willing to risk so easily. He was a patient man when it came to something important to him. Nothing had ever been as important as this.

Vlad looked away and began to turn back towards the television when a gentle, “Vlad?” caused him to turn back.

“Daniel--?”

Before the name was even properly out of his mouth, Vlad felt lips on his, warm and soft and a little dry, pressing firmly. Vlad’s eyes were wide open, his heart racing. He didn’t get a chance to respond before Danny pulled back, but not too far.

“You…kissed me?” Vlad said blankly, the sentence not one of his most articulate as his mind frantically tried to catch up with what had just happened.

“Oh, is that what that was?” Danny said with a short laugh as though trying to diffuse the obvious tension in the air. When Vlad remained motionless and shocked, Danny’s smile faded slightly, swallowing nervously and scratching his head. “That’s okay, right?”

“Okay?” Vlad whispered hoarsely, his voice full of incredulousness. Vlad blinked and moved quickly. One hand behind the boy’s head, buried in the soft dark hair, one hand on the boy’s back, and his lips crushed against Danny’s. He kissed hard, his mouth pressed to Danny’s. The boy hummed in surprise then pressed back, and it was like a switch. Vlad groaned slightly, like a whine or a growl against Danny’s mouth, moving his lips against the boy’s, raking his fingers in his hair. Vlad felt hands on his chest and then felt them move around under his arms and to his back, where they gripped the back of his night shirt. He felt Danny kissing back, hesitantly at first, as though unsure what was happening or how to do all this, but after a few moments of fumbling, Danny was kissing just as intensely, one of his hands moving from Vlad’s back to Vlad’s neck, just under his ponytail.

Vlad felt like he was drowning. He pressed Danny closer to his chest, wanting to feel the boy’s warmth, and his cold core and his heart beating against his. Danny squirmed a bit as he adjusted himself, Vlad shifting as well until the boy was kneeling between his legs.

Vlad felt Danny panting hotly against his mouth. They shared a few messy open mouthed kisses, Vlad gently sucking the boy’s bottom lip, swiping his tongue out to taste the tanginess of the teenager. Vlad groaned roughly, pressed Danny’s chest to his own and a tingle ran from Vlad’s core up though his spine. Between their connecting lips a mist of white breath escaped, cool, making Vlad’s lips tingle as Danny’s core reacted to Vlad’s blazing ghost core. He didn’t think he’d get enough of this boy.

Finally Danny whined slightly, pulling his head away. Vlad looked down at Danny, cupping his face in both his hands, breathing heavily.

“So…that just happened,” Danny muttered with a weak smile. Vlad laughed and it felt good, like he was finally releasing the tension that was always between them.

“Indeed it did,” Vlad said, smiling at the newly ruffled hair, the redness of Danny’s lips, and the slightly dazed sparkle in Danny’s eyes. Vlad ran his fingers through the soft hair, unable to stop grinning down at the boy. “That okay?”

Danny scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Okay? You’ve been “almost kissing” me since you got better after the fight with the shadow,” Danny explained with an irritated look. “It was…frustrating.”

“If your flinches and scared expressions meant anything, I had assumed you didn’t want me to kiss you,” Vlad explained with a raised eyebrow. “Are you trying to tell me you did want me to kiss you all this time?”

“No! Well…maybe, but…” Danny stammered and clammed up, looking away with a light blush. “I don’t know, just ignore me.” Danny miserably bent his head and leaned his forehead against Vlad’s shoulder, effectively hiding his face.

Vlad chuckled, rubbing Danny’s back soothingly, trying to allow them both time to figure out what they were feeling.

“I was merely trying not to pressure you, Daniel,” Vlad explained.

“You were driving me crazy,” Danny mumbled against Vlad’s shoulder and Vlad laughed. A few silent seconds passed, neither moving. “So what now?”

“I can’t say, Little Badger,” Vlad answered quietly as they sat close together on the bed, his lips still tingling. Vlad brought a hand to them, gently running his fingertips over his lips, staring vaguely at the opposite wall, enjoying the feeling of Danny’s weight and warmth pressed against him.

Danny was quiet for a while and then, very quietly, “I’m scared.”

Vlad felt his heart constrict at the words and the vulnerability Danny showed by uttering them to Vlad. The older man hugged Danny to his chest, resting his chin on Danny’s head and rubbing his back. “I am too, Daniel. But…if this is okay—”

“It is,” Danny insisted quickly, pulling away and waving his hands in front of him. “Really, it’s…I think maybe that’s why I’m scared. Because you’re Vlad freaking Plasmius and yet it feels…right to be here and-and kiss you and I feel all giddy and nervous and excited and freaked out but it’s still good.” Danny pulled at his hair in frustration, looking imploringly at Vlad. “Does any of that even make sense?”

Vlad chuckled, rubbing Danny’s hair. “Surprisingly, yes. And that’s precisely my feelings as well.”

Danny sighed in relief, his hands dropping into his lap and he smiled crookedly at Vlad. “We’re weird, aren’t we?”

“Incurably so,” Vlad agreed with a smirk. “Nothing about this, about us makes sense and yet…”

“And yet it still feels right for whatever reason,” Danny finished. Vlad nodded and smiled, wrapping his arms around the boy once more, pulling him close. Danny’s arms encircled him, holding just as tightly. “Can I sleep here?” Danny whispered against Vlad’s shoulder after a few long seconds.

Vlad’s breath caught in his throat as thoughts flashed quickly through his mind, 90% of them too inappropriate to be having with a minor sitting in his lap.

“Danny, I’m not sure if that’s—”

“Just to sleep!” Danny insisted, his cheeks a bright red. “Really, just sleeping! I just want…I mean I’m getting pretty tired and my bed is all the way on that side of the room and its cold and—”

Vlad smirked, rolling his eyes at the exaggeration. “Oh yes, your bed is so far, Daniel. I would never want to subject you to that sort of torture.”

“Glad you agree,” Danny said with a laugh, pulling the cover out from underneath him and laying down, pulling the thick cover to his chin. He smiled up at Vlad.

Vlad stared down at Danny, feeling his face heat up at the sight. I feel like a young boy again! I’m blushing like a child, just because he looks so cute and happy all snuggled up in my bed—

“Vlad?” Vlad blinked, hoping his blush would fade. He coughed into his fist.

“Yes Daniel?”

“Thanks.”

Vlad looked down at the boy in mild confusion. “You’ve been thanking me a lot lately. I don’t think I’ve really done anything to warrant it.”

Danny smiled up at the man. “You’ve done a lot lately, Vlad. I’m really grateful.”

Vlad smiled slightly, busying himself with putting the popcorn bowl on the floor and turning off the television so the boy wouldn’t notice the blush on his face, and the tears in his eyes.

Vlad reached for the side lamp, and before clicking it off, he leaned down and kissed Danny’s forehead. “I love you, Daniel.”

Danny laughed nervously, blushing like the naïve teenager he was, pulling the covers over him and quickly saying, “Goodnight Vlad!”

“Goodnight, Daniel. Happy birthday,” Vlad said with a chuckle, turning off the light and laying down on the covers.

The room was quiet and Vlad’s heart wouldn’t stop beating. He was sure the boy next to him would hear it and never sleep.

Said boy shifted beside him and Vlad heard his soft voice. “Vlad?”

“Yes, Daniel.”

Silence for a moment. Vlad could barely see the boy’s face. “Um…could you kiss me again? Just one more time?”

Vlad’s heart leaped and he shifted over to the boy, hovering over him. He could make out Danny’s wide eyes and his nervous grin. Vlad leaned down slowly, pressing his lips lightly to Danny’s. It was gentle and careful, moving his lips slightly. His heart was hammering. It felt intimate, too intimate, as Danny reached out with both hands, putting his hands to Vlad’s face and kissing back. Their breath grew labored, Vlad’s head dipped low as he deepened the kiss, licking into Danny’s hot mouth, sucking the boy’s lip, his tongue, panting against the boy.

Slowly, Vlad pulled away, pressing one more single kiss to the corner of Danny’s mouth. “Goodnight, Danny.”

 

Sleep didn’t come immediately. The feeling of another body lying beside him in bed, someone warm and small and someone he loved dearly, was too overwhelming. Vlad’s heart was pounding, wanting so badly to hold the boy, to kiss him and kiss him until neither of them could breathe anymore. He wanted to hold Danny and never let go. He finally had someone to love and who loved him back.

A smaller hand suddenly covered his. No words were spoken and Vlad had to put his free hand to his mouth to stifle a choked sob, tears finally streaming down his face. He moved over, draping an arm over the boy and pulling him close, burying his nose in the dark hair, inhaling the scent, heart pounding, soaking in his warmth. He gripped tightly to the boy who wrapped his arms around Vlad. The man smiled and cried silently, thanking God, fate, the mirror, this boy, and all the stars in the solar system that he was here now, that this was real, that he was finally loved and no longer alone.

Chapter Text

Warmth. A gentle, comfortable warmth that made Vlad hum as his body and mind slowly woke from sleep. He opened his eyes slightly, seeing a mess of black hair, feeling it tickle against his nose. He saw Danny’s face, relaxed into sleep, so close to his own. The boy was under the covers, the blanket pulled up to his chin, his body lying close to Vlad’s lined up perfectly, snuggly. Vlad was lying on top of the covers, his arm draped around the boy, keeping him close.

It wasn’t a dream… Vlad thought with a smile. A relief spread over him, consuming his mind and body, leaving him completely relaxed, his limbs melting into the soft bed, his smile wide. He reached up, gently running his fingers through the boy’s hair, rubbing soothing circles into the boy’s soft cheek with his thumb.

Danny made a soft sound, stretched slightly, nuzzling into Vlad’s palm before slowly opening his eyes. The split second before Danny looked at Vlad, Vlad worried he’d see horror and regret in those blue eyes. Instead, he saw surprise, and then realization and then mild embarrassment. A blush on the boy’s cheeks, and then a smile.

“Morning,” Danny murmured, his voice rough from sleep.

Vlad smiled. “Morning, Little Badger.” Vlad leaned forward, kissing the boy’s forehead. “We leave back for Amity Park today. Do you want to leave early? After breakfast so you’ll be home for dinner?”

“Trying to get rid of me so soon?” Danny joked with a smirk, stretching leisurely under the covers. “I was actually hoping to lounge in bed all day. Order room service, watch crappy hotel television…maybe finally get that foot massage?”

The hopeful smile that slipped onto Danny’s face was sweet, too sweet. Vlad laughed. “Such a spoiled boy. I give you some fancy presents and suddenly you want to be treated like a young Prince.”

Danny turned onto his back and crisply clapped his hands twice. “I request cake for breakfast!”

Vlad shook his head and sat up. He shot Danny a twisted smirk. “You’re lucky you’re cute, kid, or that whole high and mighty act would get obnoxious real fast.”

Danny laughed. “You’d know about high and mighty acts,” the boy said with smirk. He turned towards Vlad, propped on his side by his elbow, his cheek resting in his palm. Danny opened his mouth as though about to speak, but closed it quickly and averted his eyes. He blushed lightly and then peeked over to Vlad with a small smile, “You think I’m cute?”

“The cutest,” Vlad growled, leaning down to kiss Danny’s cheek and neck, nibbling softly. Danny gasped and then laughed, sounding more like a breathless giggle, only spurring Vlad on more. He kissed along the boy’s jaw, trailing up behind Danny’s ear, making the boy sigh quietly. It was very close to a moan. Danny immediately slapped a hand over his mouth, cutting off the sound, his face bright red. Vlad chuckled. “Definitely the cutest.”

“Screw you,” Danny growled without much bite.

“And the one with the worst morning breath.”

Danny slapped his hand back over his mouth, his blush deepening. He slapped Vlad’s shoulder. Vlad smirked and took the hand away, kissing Danny fully on the mouth. “Go brush your teeth and use the bathroom, Little Prince, while I prepare your morning feast of sweets.”

The boy nodded and got out of bed, stretching his arms above his head, causing his T-shirt to ride up just a bit, enough to flash a strip of smooth back to Vlad, who blushed lightly with a smile. Vlad watched as Danny disappeared into the bathroom, and once the door clicked shut, Vlad flopped back onto the bed, a hand thrown over his face. He didn’t move for a moment, and then slowly a smile spread over his lips. He moved his hand down to cover the grin, but still felt it there, felt the happiness growing in his chest. The happiness scared Vlad.

The man shook his head, clearing the negativity away. I’m happy. That’s good. It’s not going to disappear. I’m going to be happy from now on, everything is going to be alright. Vlad said to himself as he sat up and reached for the phone, eager to have Danny’s special breakfast laid out and ready once the boy was done in the bathroom.

Twenty minutes later, Danny exited the bathroom, dressed in his usual jeans and T-shirt, towel drying his hair. He tossed the towel onto his bed and noticed Vlad not in the room. He exited the room and went out into the kitchen living room suite and gasped when he saw the assortments of foods laid out on the table, all kinds of fruits, pastries, pancakes, toast, syrups, and in the center, a small cake with strawberry frosting with a candle.

Danny laughed. “Oh my god, you didn’t. I was just kidding you know, you didn’t have to—how did you even—”

Vlad laughed at the boy’s stunned reaction. Vlad was already dressed also, black slacks and white button up, his hair knotted into a loose braid. “You should know by now that I do so love a challenge,” Vlad said with a smirk, sitting at the kitchen table, reclined back with one leg crossing the other, as Danny stared at the feast. “Especially one I know I can win.”

Danny shook his head with a laugh again, picking up a jelly filled powdered doughnut. “You really are loopy. But I guess I have to admit, it’s kind of nice being on the good side of Vlad Masters’ infinite wealth and connections. This is impressive.”

“Why thank you, Daniel,” Vlad preened, standing to partake in the breakfast feast as well. The two grabbed plates of foods and sat at the table.

“Mmm so good,” Danny groaned around his mouthful of food. Vlad chuckled and rolled his eyes at the mess Danny was already making on his face by stuffing himself with everything on his plate.

The two ate quietly for a few moments. Danny swallowed the food in his mouth and instead of lifting more, he quietly put his fork down, staring absentmindedly at his plate. “Everything alright, Daniel? Do you have a stomach ache?”

“No, I’ve got my dad’s iron gut,” Danny said with a light shrug and a small smile.

Vlad grimaced. “I sure hope you don’t get his actual gut.”

Danny rolled his eyes and chuckled but the smile faded again. He didn’t look upset, just contemplative, so Vlad tossed away any of his more negative scenarios and inclined his head, putting his own fork down. He folded his hands in front of his face, elbows resting on the table. “Tell me what you are thinking, Daniel.”

Danny looked up to Vlad, eyes searching a moment and then the boy sighed. “What happens now?” he asked. “I mean we have to go back to Amity Park today. It’s gonna be weird, being back with everyone after this weekend, now that you and I are…” Danny trailed off, scratching his neck, his cheeks flushed slightly. “I mean I’m still in school and m-my parents…”

Vlad sighed, closing his eyes a moment. These were some of the problems that Vlad had briefly pondered in his pursuit of Danny these two months. Now that he finally had him, Vlad had to face the issue of their age, of Danny’s parents, and the publicity. Vlad and Danny wouldn’t be able to be public, not with Vlad being the mayor of the city, people recognizing him everywhere he went, news reporters following him all hours of the day, curious as to his love life. They’d eat that up if Vlad was caught holding hands with another man, especially one young enough to be his son. Not only would reporters be banging on his door, but the police as well…

Vlad groaned, rubbing his fingers into his temples, the beginnings of a headache forming behind his eyes. Vlad was finally reconciling with Maddie and Jack; to now betray their trust by announcing all this had simply been to seduce their son! To announce he was in love with the boy and that Danny had, unbelievably, agreed to date him! They definitely weren’t going to just smile and give them their blessings. Vlad and Danny were going to have to hide their relationship, from everyone. Being half ghosts and therefore being able to be invisible and faze through walls seemed like it would make everything easier, but Danny was going to have to keep lying again and Vlad knew how much the boy hated that, how much Danny loved his parents and his friends. Oh god…would Danny want to tell his friends about all this…? Vlad found himself, not for the first time these past weeks, desperately craving a cigarette to calm his fraying nerves.

“Vlad!” Vlad opened his eyes, realizing Danny had been calling to him for a few moments. Danny’s eyebrows were knitted together in concern, the corners of his mouth turned down. “Vlad, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring this up now while we’re trying to enjoy breakfast. I—”

“No Daniel, its fine,” Vlad said, sitting up a bit straighter and moving his plate away. He’d lost his appetite. “You’re right to bring this up now. We should discuss this before anything else, now that we’re…er…” Vlad struggled to find the correct word. Danny squirmed in his seat slightly, not opening his mouth to offer any help. “…involved,” Vlad offered lamely, squeezing his eyes shut a moment to collection his thoughts. He sighed. “I think it’d be best if you called the shots with this from now on, Daniel.”

Danny’s eyes widened. He put a hand to his chest. “Me? Why me?” The boy looked almost panicked, as though the very idea that he’d have to take the reins in this relationship and call the shots was utterly terrifying. It was then that Vlad saw Danny as the boy he still was; Danny had fought all kinds of monsters and malevolent ghosts, had sacrificed his health and wellness for the safety of his friends, family and a town that flipped between worshipping him and hating him, had bested (even if Vlad was loath to admit it out loud) nearly all of Vlad’s schemes and plans, and yet…Danny was still only just seventeen, still suffering through high school, still afraid to disappoint his parents, still self-conscious about himself and the world around him. 

Vlad wanted nothing more than to take the boy into his arms, hold him until Danny wasn’t afraid anymore, until all the boy’s problems melted away, all the responsibilities lifted off his shoulders, all his insecurities forgotten as the foolishness that it all was.

Vlad sighed lightly again. “I’m the one who got you tangled up in this, I pursued you, made the first move. As the adult, I take responsibility for all of that. Since you’ve agreed to be a part of…this—” Vlad cursed himself silently at this own awkwardness, at his inability to correctly name this relationship they were now pursuing. “—then I just want whatever course we now chose to take to be what you want. If you want to keep it a secret from your friends and family, then I’ll agree to that. If you don’t want to continue this on a..ahem, a physical level back in Amity Park until your graduation next year, I’d agree to that too.” While fighting tooth and nail not to simply bribe the school into letting you graduate early, Vlad thought bitterly to himself. Or just personally tutor you for the next year.

Danny looked down at his plate again, his lips pressed tightly in a thin line, his eyebrows scrunched together. The two sat silently for a few moments, thoughts spiraling through their heads. Danny let out a sigh, running his hands through his dark hair, shaking his head. “Man, this is a real pain…”

Vlad’s insides ran cold and he suddenly felt ashamed. Danny doesn’t deserve all this…I’m only making his life harder, all for my own stupid desires!

“Daniel, there is a third option to consider,” Vlad said quietly, the words falling out of his mouth like drops of lead, heavy and thick. “We could just terminate this whole thing…pretend last night never happened, that I hadn’t confessed my feeling and intentions—”

“That’s not an option,” Danny said firmly with a roll of his eyes.

“Yes it is,” Vlad insisted seriously, his narrowed eyes aimed at Danny. “Daniel, don’t think you owe me anything, or that just because this has started that you can’t stop it should you ever—”

“Vlad, just shut up, okay?” Danny said, his blue eyes narrowed now too. “I’m not going back to how things were between us.”

“We won’t be enemies anymore Daniel, ever. Even if you should say you don’t want this anymore.”

“I’m not giving up!” Danny insisted, his eyes determined and angry, almost convincing Vlad he was being stupid by pushing this, that Vlad needed to be selfish and just accept the happiness he was being given, like he always did, but Vlad was just so scared of going back, back to that evil, selfish bastard and losing Danny forever…

“I’m just informing, that I’m not going to be that man again,” Vlad said, convincing himself just as much as he was trying to convince Danny. “I’m not going to be that hateful, violent, cruel man again should you—”

“I don’t want you being that lonely man again,” Danny said, his voice small, his eyes earnest.

Vlad felt his throat tighten. “I won’t, so long as I can still be a friend to you and your family. Daniel, I’m only giving this as a suggestion because it’ll be easier for you in life if you don’t have to deal with all this, the secrets, the talk, the—”

Danny abruptly stood from his chair, the legs screeching angrily as the boy rounded the table and stood by Vlad, leaning down to kiss the man on the mouth, silencing his words effectively. Vlad’s widened. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to kissing this boy, but he definitely didn’t think he’d ever get used to being kissed by this boy. Vlad closed his eyes, standing up, without breaking the kiss, pulling the boy closer, leaning down, pressing his lips firmly against Danny’s, deepening the kiss, holding Danny against him.

“After everything you’ve done for me…after all the changes you’ve made…you don’t deserve to be alone anymore,” Danny said quietly when they finally pulled away. “And honestly, I don’t want to stop this…involvement we have,” Danny laughed at the word, at their mutual inability to call it dating, or relationship, or partnership, or love or any other word that sounded too commonplace and ordinary and just not enough for this thing they had between them. No word would ever be enough to encompass everything they were, had been, and perhaps one day would be.

“Look,” Danny began, his arms around Vlad as Vlad’s were around him. Blue eyes looked up into dark navy. “I’ve dealt with much worse crap than this, like saving the town from Pariah Dark, or traveling through different eras of time trying to chase after some crazy ghost who had stolen my map.” Danny chuckled and Vlad groaned at the utter idiocy he had displayed in the past against this boy he now endeared higher than anything and anyone. “This is…complicated, yeah but it’s something that makes me happy so I’ll gladly deal with a few more secrets and sneaking around, but you’ve got to use that mayoral businessman brain to give us some options other than giving up, because the only thing I can think of is sneaking off for secret make-out sessions under the bleacher between fourth and fifth period!” Danny laughed and it sounded breathless and hysterical and slightly panicked and excited.

Vlad laughed and he was sure it probably sounded similar. He hugged Danny, resting his chin on the boy’s head, rubbing the boy’s back as he chuckled and laughed and tried to calm his racing heart.

“Okay…” Vlad breathed, inhaling and exhaling and then pulling away so he could look down at Danny. “Okay. So if you’re sure about this, then we’ll work through it, together.”

Danny smiled. “Thank you.” Vlad nodded, rubbing Danny’s back briefly before stepping away. He glanced to Danny with a smirk.

“But I think that whole make-out session under the bleachers should definitely be included in this whole plan.”

Danny rolled his eyes and laughed. “The mayor caught under the bleachers in a compromising position with young male high school student,” Danny announced. “I can see the headlines. It’d make front page across the country. It’d trend faster than when your naked ass was on live television.”

Vlad scowled, remembering the humiliation of being caught naked live when his hotel wall had miraculously become transparent with a news copter conveniently hovering nearby. “Enjoyed the view then, my boy?”

Vlad smirked at the deep blush that painted the boy’s face. Vlad laughed and grabbed the boy, peppering small kisses on those heated cheeks and along the pale throat. “That’s what I love most about you my boy, that’s how I know I’ll never grow tired of you and that all this stress shall be worth it,” Vlad muttered, Vlad’s eyes flashing red briefly as his heart raced. Danny’s flashed neon green in respond, his eyes wide. “We’re the same, made of the same unique signature. Neither of our genes completely human…we’re different, capable of so much more than anyone else, so much more interesting than any ghost or human in both worlds. Our competitions were always exciting, always challenging, always unique because of what we were capable of, because of our power.”

This whole thing is going to cause issues in the ghost community as well, Vlad thought then. Plasmius and Phantom working together. The two halfas. Vlad smiled at the thought. Ghosts would fear them, fear their combined power. But should the nature of their relationship be revealed to ghosts? If Vlad’s enemies knew how deeply he cared for the boy, they’d go after the ghost boy, try to use him to get to Vlad. Vlad held the boy tighter. He’d never let that happen. This was just another thing they’d have to add to their discussion on what-to-do-about-their-secret-forbidden-relationship.

Vlad looked to Danny when he noticed the boy not talking. Danny’s eyes, so human and sky blue, were averted, a strange look on the young face. Vlad, having assumed the boy would be smiling at the flattery he had just bestowed to the boy, quirked a curious eyebrow at the Danny’s withdrawn expression.

“Something else troubling you, my boy?”

Danny didn’t look to Vlad, seemingly contemplating whether to verbalize his thoughts or not. Vlad rubbed soothing circles into Danny’s back, patiently. “Is that…well is that the only reason you really find me interesting?” Danny finally asked, his voice quiet. “Because we’re both halfas?”

Vlad huffed a laugh, silver eyebrows still knitted in confusion. “Well of course that’s what draws me to you the most. It’s a link I have with no one else, when for 20 years I believed I was alone.”

“Oh…” Danny uttered, still looking away from Vlad. Vlad stared, still lost as to what caused the boy such a melancholy expression. Vlad’s mind raced, and then something clicked, the thoughts he’d had earlier rushing forward, that Danny was still so young, so self-conscious. When Vlad was in high school, Vlad had desperately wanted approval, wanted to feel he was liked and wanted for who he was, for all of him. Vlad still wanted that now, but with the young, it was such a fragile thing, their self-esteem.

“Daniel, when you first met Samantha, what attracted you to her?”

Danny’s head shot up to look at Vlad with a confused, shocked expression. “W-what the hell are you—”

“I don’t mean attracted in a sexual way,” Vlad said with a roll of his eyes. “Humor me. I simply mean, what made you want to talk to her, what made you want to get to know her and become as close to her as you are.”

Danny blinked. “W-well…I don’t know, she was just, different I guess.”

“Because of how she dresses, yes?”

“Well yeah, there’s not that many goth girls in Amity Park, especially when we were in Middle School,” Danny said with a shrug. He laughed slightly. “I remember seeing her the first time she had dyed her hair black, in eighth grade. Her head was held up high, she looked so proud in all black, like a shadow, like she was so comfortable with who she was even as everyone stared and all the other girls snickered. I wanted to be as confident as her.”

Vlad resisted the urge to get jealous at the praise and soft-spoken way Danny spoke of his friend. He pushed that down and continued on with his point, “So, you were initially interested because she was different. Because she interested you with her confidence and unique style. And even now, I’m sure those are huge reasons you still love her, but not the only reasons, yes?”

“Of course,” Danny shrugged. “She’s funny, smart, nice, a great gamer—”

“Yes yes,” Vlad interjected, waving away the praises with a scowl and a wave of his hand. He really didn’t want to stand hear listening to Danny list off all of Sam’s wonderful qualities. “So you now love her as a person, whole and completely. That is the same with my regards towards you, Daniel.” Vlad let his words sink in a moment before continuing. “I was initially interested in you when we met because I discovered you were a half ghost like myself. That and the fact that you used your powers for good, instead of self-gain like I did. But now, I know you. I know you are more kind than you perhaps should be, you are smarter than your teachers realize, you love deeply, you’ve got a fun spirit, enjoy 80s classics and pineapple pepperoni pizza, and have enough forgiveness to give someone like me a chance.”

Vlad smiled when Danny’s eyes widened in realization and a light blushed formed on his cheeks. Vlad leaned down, capturing those soft lips in a kiss, savoring the taste, relishing in the feel of Danny’s arms around him, holding him, kissing him back, a small smile on those lips.

“I love you Daniel, for all of you. Never doubt that, because Vlad Masters never does anything half-assed. Including loving a person.”

“God, you’re such a mushy romantic,” Danny said with a shake of his head. “I should have known when you kidnapped me and my mom to try and seduce her.”

“Oh Daniel, you do realize that now that I have you, whom I love immensely more than I thought I loved Maddie, you shall be kidnapped at least once a week from any and all school events, classes, family dinners and hang outs with friends, right?” Vlad said matter of factly, nodding his head.

“Such a crazed up fruitloop,” Danny muttered with a smirk. He leaned up, wrapping his arms around Vlad’s neck and hugging him tightly. “Thank you, Vlad.”

“I love you, Daniel,” Vlad said, holding the boy tightly. “No matter what happens.”

The two kissed, soft and gentle, hands gripping hands tightly, promising without words, confessing without sounds, loving with only their hearts. A bumpy road lay ahead, and both were well aware. Neither of them were strangers to tough times, to challenges and obstacles, but both of them knew that if something was important enough, that if something was truly worth it enough, then nothing would stop them.

The two decided to wait until a bit later to start packing their things for the trip back home. They also decided to wait until a bit later to begin the long, much needed discussion about What happens once we get back to Amity Park?

Those things could wait until later. The two decided to enjoy the rest of their breakfast, Danny got his birthday cake, and the two lounged in bed all day, watching TV, pigging out on room service and exploring this thing that had developed between them, slowly, carefully, patiently, with soft touches, well-placed kisses, breathless sighs and genuine smiles.

To anyone else, it didn’t make sense. But these two who were so different yet so similar, opposites reflecting themselves, they knew it would work out. Vlad had seen it in his reflection, had seen his happiness right here in this boy, and Danny saw it in the experiences, in the promises, in the changes he saw and in the life he was living. It was awkward and strange, but it worked.

Chapter Text

The two halfas thought they were good at hiding their relationship. They snuck kisses when backs were turned, held hands under tables, shared small smiles and winks when eyes were averted and managed to hold each other close when alone for a few precious moments. It was tough, but they believed they were doing alright. Of course, neither of them took into account their little slips, or mother’s intuition.

Maddie Fenton was a very intelligent woman. A scientist, featured in Genius Magazine on more than one occasion, co-creator of the first Ghost portal, as well as many other advanced ghost hunting technology. But besides being an incredible genius, Maddie believed herself to be a great mother.

She loved her two children, adored the time she spent with them, and couldn’t be more proud of the people they had become. Jasmine was off at an Ivy League, doing well in all her classes and excelling in her chosen field. Danny was exceptional in his chosen field as well, fighting ghosts when he was needed, sacrificing so much for his family and friends and this town, acting as a hero against the malevolent specters that plagued the city. In a way, both her children had taken after her.

Even with all the pride that came with it, guilt still haunted Maddie whenever she saw Danny “Go Ghost”, as he called it. She still remembered the times she had considered Phantom an enemy, had aimed her rays at him with the intent to shoot. Aimed at her own son, the boy she had raised and loved, who was her whole world. When that shadow creature had finally been destroyed, and she’d watched Danny Phantom collapse and turned into Danny Fenton, Maddie had felt like her whole world had flipped over, leaving her disoriented and confused, with a gaping hole in her chest.

So many secrets her own son had to keep from her. So many lies he was forced to tell, because he was afraid of his own parents, afraid of what he thought she and Jack might do to him if they discovered his ghost side. That was what tore Maddie up more than anything else; that her own son had doubted her love for him. That he was forced to lie, because he was afraid of her. Maddie vowed to herself that she’d never make him feel that way again, that she’d always be willing to listen and to understand, no matter what Danny had to say. He should never be afraid to tell his mother anything.

So when Maddie began to realize Danny was keeping secrets again, Maddie felt a hurt like a fresh wound just healed being ripped open again.

It wasn’t obvious at first. The first couple of days after Danny and Vlad had returned from Danny’s birthday trip to Florida, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Vlad visited often, every other day, for brief visits, sometimes bringing lunch, always Danny’s favorite. He’d spend time down in the lab with she and Jack for a bit, always making sure to go upstairs to say good bye to Danny before leaving. Some days he’d stay for dinner, sitting between Jack and Danny, across from Maddie, sharing news about the town, laughing about old college stories, asking Danny how school was going. Maddie was surprised to find herself once more enjoying Vlad’s company. She’d missed his dry humor, his intellectual conversation, the way he and Jack geeked out about football like teenagers, even now that they were well into their forties. Just last Sunday, Vlad had stayed over for the game, downed in his favorite Packer’s jersey, Jack wearing his old cheese-head hat. The two had screamed at the television, and bounced on the couch, she and Danny watching from the kitchen and laughing. It felt so good to see them like that again.

It had been harder to forgive Vlad’s secret, when Maddie found out about his ghost half. Plasmius, the blue vampire, the Wisconsin Ghost. Maddie remembered the College Reunion, how Plasmius had overshadowed Jack, and then abducted her. She remembered the disaster in Colorado, now realizing it all was some plot designed by Vlad; sending the invitation, having the pilot abandon ship right over Vlad’s mountain chalet, Vlad asking Maddie to dump Jack and have her and Danny stay with him. Maddie remembered the Wisconsin Ghost attacking Amity Park and Vlad Masters, the new mayor, attacking it, trying to make himself look good. And who knows what other nefarious deeds Vlad had been a part of all these years, that Danny had had to deal with. Knowing all this, in different circumstances, Maddie would have wanted to destroy Vlad the moment she saw him transform from one form to the other, reveling everything to her.

But he had been hurt. He had been hurt saving them. Saving all of them. And when Maddie and Jack spoke to Danny about Vlad, Danny said he believed Vlad was changing, that he was trying to make amends for everything. Maddie didn’t want to accept it, had wanted to deem everything he’d done unforgiveable. But Vlad had saved Danny’s life. Twice now. Maddie wanted to trust Danny, after everything. He wasn’t her little boy anymore; he was almost eighteen now, almost graduated from high school. He’d fought all sorts of enemies, faced way too many dangers and obstacles on his own. He was strong and brave and smart and Maddie knew she could trust his judgement. Danny was a man now, and she couldn’t be more proud.

So Maddie gave Vlad a chance, and she was happy she had. Despite everything, seeing Vlad over their house, no longer trying to flirt with her, laughing and goofing good-naturedly with her husband, training and tutoring her son…he was part of the family. This was everything the three of them had talked about in college; friends for life.

And of course there was the scientific aspect to all of this; Danny and Vlad were half ghost! This defied everything Maddie understood about biology and the ghost world, this was against every law of nature, both for the living and the dead! It just didn’t make sense that a being could be both alive and not alive! Jack and Maddie were discussing theories, with Vlad’s input of course, about what exactly this meant. Whether their ghost self laid vacant inside them when they were human, or whether Danny and Vlad actually died every time they transformed and then were revived when they transformed back. The last thing Maddie wanted to do was make Danny feel like a science experiment, but Vlad was more than happy to give samples, be hooked up to machines and wires so they could further study his genes and structure. He said it would be good for Danny in the future as well, figuring out exactly what they were and how their bodies were changing and growing over the years with the ghost genes.

Vlad was always very concerned about Danny. He was always asking about Danny’s grades, any bullies at school, if his powers were acting up, if he was eating right. The two spent a lot of time together, traveling through the Ghost Zone, practicing with their powers, up in Danny’s room working on homework. Danny would go to visit Vlad at his mayor office sometimes, helping out for community service hours for school. And sometimes Danny would go to Vlad’s for dinner, explaining that Vlad’s carrot cake was just too good to pass up.

Maddie could see them getting closer. Even before the whole episode with the shadow monster, Danny had went to Vlad’s and spent the night, which had seemed odd and out of character at the time, but now made a bit more sense. Danny had a confidant in Vlad, someone who understood the things he was going through, something who was similar to him. The two got along very well recently, joking and playing video games in the living room, teasing each other and helping each other. Maddie would have thought, at a different time, Vlad was trying to play the father for Danny. Now, Maddie saw these interactions for what they really were; genuine care and love for each other.

And that’s when Maddie started to really notice.

Long hugs during greetings and departings. Shy smiles at each other when they thought no one was looking. Vlad seemed to grow into the habit of affectionately petting Danny’s head when the boy did something right in a homework assignment, or mastered a new ghost move. Maddie noticed Danny’s pleased grins and lightly flushed face, similar to how Danny looked when he’d first started inviting Sam over to his house.

Maddie noticed how close they sat together on the couch. She noticed them sharing inside jokes, whispering to each other from time to time. Maddie wondered if it was their newfound alliance that now bonded them so much, made them so comfortable around each other. It was almost like a friendship Danny had with Sam and Tucker, so casual and fun, but strange to see between people so different in age.

It was something other than friendship though. Something deeper. Last week, Vlad and Danny had come out of the portal from a training session, Vlad’s arm bleeding from some attack. Danny had been by Vlad’s side the whole time, helping him upstairs, bandaging his arm, apologizing over and over again. Danny was always a caring boy, gentle and kind, especially to those he cared about. Seeing Danny so worried over Vlad, Maddie realized Vlad meant an awful lot to her son. And one time, when Danny had come home with a bruise underneath his right eye, Vlad had been next to the boy in a second, gently touching Danny’s face, asking if he was alright, demanding to know who’d done that to him. These two were so protective of each other now, not only enjoying each other’s company, but genuinely caring for the other.

Maddie watched them now, her mind reeling with everything she’d seen and observed. The two sat on the cough, thighs touching, Danny’s head inclined towards Vlad, almost leaning against his shoulder. From this angle, Maddie could just barely see their hands. Vlad’s gently cupped Danny’s.

Jack sat in his chair, snoring loudly as the couple ignored him, watching whatever program was on television at this time. They talked to each other in hushed tones, chuckling softly.

Maddie finished up putting the left over dinner in the fridge, averting her eyes. They thought they hid it well, similar to how Maddie and Jack had probably assumed they’d hid their flirting back in their college days. People in love tended to forget the outside world sometimes.

If Vlad had been told he’d be happy with his life without it involving attending Jack’s funeral and honeymooning with Maddie that same afternoon, Vlad would have scoffed and blasted through the speaker in his pursuit of revenge. Looking back now, Vlad realized what a truly horrible idiot he had been.

Every week, Vlad visited the Fenton home for dinner or to help the scientists with their latest creation. The comfort he felt in this house, the familiarity he felt now with this family…ever since his time in the hospital twenty years ago, Vlad had thought any chance at being friends with Jack again was utterly crushed. But Vlad was happy again, had his friends again like in college, all because of that amazing young ghost boy.

Vlad gazed to the boy seated beside him on the couch now, his heart swelling. The pair sat close together on the couch, legs barely touching, Jack’s snores over powering the volume of the television but neither of them really minded.

It had been a tough few weeks since returning from Florida. Vlad and Danny had discussed their plans for their relationship a few more times, deciding that they wouldn’t say anything to anyone until graduation next year, or until any moment before that Danny decided was appropriate. As Vlad had said, this was all in Danny’s hands now. When they told people, if they ever went public, it was all up to the boy. This frightened Vlad a lot, though he’d never admit it even to himself; allowing the boy this much control over him. Vlad was someone who always wanted to be in control, to know what’s happening, to know when and how and to call all the shots. That why he got into business and became CEO, that’s why he become Mayor. Power. Control.

But with Danny, and only with Danny, Vlad found he could let go of this choke hold he had on life. Vlad could relax, and enjoy himself. He could trust Danny, and even though he was scared to do it, he felt confident enough that Danny wouldn’t hurt him. But after so many years alone, after so many failures and heartbreaks and betrayals, it was still hard for Vlad to completely feel secure in their relationship.

Every now and then, Vlad found himself slipping. Slipping into old habits, old vices. His prominent two being his controlling nature and his jealousy.

Sometimes Vlad didn’t even know it was happening. Danny would be talking to his friends, or even his parents and Vlad would feel the need to stand next to Danny, to join the conversation or try to take Danny away from it. He’d feel this impulse to put his hand on Danny’s shoulder or run his fingers through the boy’s hair, to show some sort of physical claim on the boy in front of others. Something inside him just wanted all of the boy’s attention, all the time, and he wanted everyone else to know he had it. Vlad’s only priority was Danny, so in return, that’s what he wanted from the boy as well. Vlad wasn’t an idiot though, and knew Danny had family and friends he deeply cared for as well, and that he wanted to spend time with. Surprisingly, Danny was patient with Vlad. He didn’t get irritated when Vlad got clingy, he didn’t snap at Vlad every time he butted into a conversation he wasn’t supposed to, never yelled at Vlad for sneaking into his room at night. He was seventeen though, so of course there were times when he got flustered or frustrated, but Danny tried hard not to let it show. It was in those moments that Vlad loved the boy the most.

No matter how much he’d changed, or what he’d learned, or what he had now, there was always a part of Vlad that was small, and scared and vulnerable. A small part of him that had driven every scheme and plot to get Maddie. That vulnerable feeling inside him that craved love, that wanted to be needed and desired. That part of him had been denied so long, had festered and soured for over twenty years, and now it was like a dried plant, tasting water for the first time, needing more and more, craving more and more, until Vlad was desperate to just be near the boy, eager to hold him, to see him. Every time Danny smiled at Vlad, the man wanted to cry, every time Danny hugged Vlad or kissed him first, Vlad felt like he would never know sadness again. It was in those moments that Vlad could forget how close Sam and Danny were, that he could forget that he wasn’t Danny’s number one priority all the time, that he could forget that he had to hide his love for Danny from the world, despite wanting to scream it from the mountains.

Vlad smiled lightly as Danny commented on the program playing on television, enjoying the comfort and warmth of the boy sitting so close to him. He couldn’t resist moving his hand slightly, quietly, gently closing his fingers around Danny’s hand. His smile widened when Danny’s fingers automatically tightened around his. They kept their joined hands between them, hidden. After a moment, Danny moved his hand slightly, threading their fingers together. A soft sigh slipped from Vlad’s lips.

This was good. No matter what lay ahead, no matter the mistakes he’s made and would no doubt continue to make, no matter the struggles, Vlad was happy, so long as this boy was by his side.

Maddie sat at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of tea. Vlad had joined Jack and had fallen asleep, his head leaning against Danny’s as he slouched into slumber. Danny didn’t seem to mind, smiling briefly at the sleeping man, a shy fondness in his eyes.

At 10:30pm, there was an excited knock on the door. Jack jumped slightly, awaken by the noise but Vlad slept on, until gently woken by Danny. Those two were so comfortable around each other…

“That’s them,” Danny announced, standing from the couch and walking over to his mother, who pretended to be engrossed in her book. “We’ll get back to Sam’s place around three, after the midnight premiere is finished. I’ll text you, okay?”

“Alright, Danny, have fun,” Maddie said with a smile. Danny grabbed his backpack from the stairs and Maddie looked back to her book, taking a sip of her tea. From the corner of her eye, she saw Vlad stand from the couch and walk over to her son. Vlad touched the boy’s arm, voice low as he said something. Danny smiled almost reassuringly and said something back. The two embraced and Maddie felt her eyes turn away, as though seeing something too intimate and private to simply continue watching.

Vlad released Danny and allowed the boy to open the door for his friends.

“Hey man! Are you ready to see…

“MEGA SMASHDOWN ZOMBIES 2!” the three teens exclaimed in excitement. Jack grumbled from his seat as he tried to fall back asleep and Vlad couldn’t resist lightly rolling his eyes. Teenagers.

Sam paused, noticing Vlad standing just behind Danny. She moved closer to Danny and stage whispered, “He’s not coming with, right?”

Vlad narrowed his eyes. “No I am not “coming with.” You kids can enjoy your zombie smashers or whatever without me.”

Danny sent Vlad a wry smile and Sam sighed in relief. “Not that I didn’t want you there or anything Vlad, but I was just worried about you. There’s going to be a lot of flashing lights and jump scares. I wouldn’t want your shriveled old heart to give out.”

“How kind of you Samantha. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the show since wanna-be vampires don’t have hearts to give out.”

“Isn’t it past your bed night, old man?”

“Isn’t it past your curfew, little girl?”

“Alright alright ladies, break it up,” Danny said in exasperation but still with a smile tugging at his lips, putting a hand to Vlad’s chest as he stood between them. Vlad felt no actual hatred towards the girl. Irritation most of the time and slight jealousy the rest of the time but nothing that would actually warrant hate. Vlad had actually—and a bit reluctantly—grown to respect Sam. The mirror had been right after all; she was very much like Vlad in her focus and ideals, as well as being sharp witted and intelligent. It was actually fun, teasing her with biting comments as he had once bantered with Danny, back in their nemesis days. Danny too had seemed to sense that their banter was more so for fun and show than actual competition, and so let it be for the most part, taking it as a good sign.

Vlad smiled and ruffled Danny’s hair affectionately. “Have fun then, Daniel. Be careful.”

“Alright, night Vlad,” Danny said and left with his friends. The front door closed and that empty feeling he got whenever the boy was away returned to Vlad’s chest.

He sighed and returned to the living room area. Nothing enjoyable was on television. Vlad glanced to Jack, who was once again snoring away in his chair. Vlad smiled and shook his head. He glanced to the shelf above the fire place, noticing the family photos. He walked over, looking at the smiling faces, all so much younger than the ones he knew now. He paused to look at one in particular.

A small, freckle faced black haired kid grinned widely, one of his front teeth missing. A tan colored Band-Aid on his right cheek. Big blue eyes shining with delight, filled with the same life and excitement as nowadays.

“That was before everything.” Vlad looked over to see Maddie walking over, her eyes on the same photo. “Before Jack and I had gotten back into ghost hunting. Before we started working on the portal. Before Danny…”

“Before Danny Fenton became Danny Phantom,” Vlad finished with a nod. Danny was completely human in this photo. Completely normal, just like any other little boy. At that time in history, Vlad had truly been alone.

“You raised an incredible young boy, Maddie,” Vlad said.

She nodded. “I still wish it hadn’t happened though.” Vlad looked to Maddie. “I wish he hadn’t had that accident. I wish we had never created that portal, sometimes. He could have lived a normal, safe life. A life without fear, without all the lies and the pain. All those mistakes…”

“Daniel is who he is today because of all the struggles he’s had to face,” Vlad said, his voice firm and confident. “He’s strong and brave. You are closer to him now because of all that. Don’t regret the son you have now, in exchange for an ordinary one.” Maddie looked to Vlad quickly, as though to deny that that’s what she’d meant. “Danny was never meant to be ordinary.”

Maddie looked to Vlad a moment, and then nodded. “You’re right. I’m proud of Danny. And of course, you’d have more reason to want things to stay as they are. It led to all this.” Maddie indicated around her, and Vlad understood the meaning. Friends. Family. A home. “It led to you and Danny.”

Something about her tone…about her phrasing, the way she said it…Vlad’s heart beat just a bit faster. Vlad kept his eyes trained on the framed photo before him, silence enveloping the space between the two adults. It was thick, and Vlad found it hard to swallow around the lump forming in his throat.

“Do you love him?” The words were spoken in a whisper, as though afraid if they were actually voiced and heard, they’d become true. Whether that was a good or bad thing…

“Yes,” Vlad answered just as quietly, his respond immediate despite his now rising dread, no doubt in that single word. Maddie looked to Vlad, and he saw her violet eyes shining.

“Honestly? And you’ll take care of him?” Maddie asked, her eyes stuck to Vlad’s, wide and vulnerable. Vlad saw before him, not the woman he had loved for over two decades, not the genius scientist filled with so much knowledge and so many ideas, not the huntress, deadly to both human and ghost alike, not the wife of his best friend, not his friend, but a mother. Danny’s mother. This woman loved Danny just as much as Vlad did, Vlad realized with a shock. She cared for his safety and she held the same guilt inside her that Vlad held heavily in his own chest; we both hurt Danny in the past.

“I love him more than I’ve loved anything. More than I thought I loved you,” Vlad said quietly, earnestly, not looking away for a moment. “I’ve made mistakes, but I will never let anything or anyone hurt him again. He’s saved me. He’s my whole world.”

Maddie nodded and swallowed, looking away. Vlad knew woman to be more sensitive than men, simply by genetic design, but Vlad had never known Maddie to be overly emotional. This was something new. This was something that mattered. “He truly cares for you too,” Maddie said, breathing deeply, her voice steadying some. She looked to Vlad again, her eyes dry now, a small smile on her lips. Despite the feelings no longer being romantic, Vlad still loved this woman. She was so brave, so kind. She was beautiful, and she had given all this to her son, and more. “I can tell. He seems happier.” Vlad smiled, a light feeling entering his chest. “He loves you too.”

“He’s never said so before,” Vlad said, almost like an impulse, his smile fading slightly when he realized it was true.

“He does,” Maddie said. “Mother’s intuition.” Vlad laughed lightly. Maddie smiled. There was a pause, more comfortable now. A weight lifted from Vlad’s chest, this weight he’d carried for so long. In the beginning, Vlad hadn’t been able to rid himself of Maddie’s photo, of his thoughts and feelings towards her because he had clung to her, to this last connection to his human life and feelings, to his hatred and revenge. Talking with her now, confessing his love for another and having her support…it was like finally letting go of her, of her photo, of that dark suffocating past. Vlad smiled, breathing easy.

Maddie reached out, touching Vlad’s arm lightly to get his attention. “Would you like some tea?”

Vlad nodded and followed Maddie into the kitchen. She poured him a cup from the kettle and refilled her own mug.

“Thank you Maddie,” Vlad said quietly as he took the cup, his words heavy with meaning.

Maddie simply smiled and nodded, sipping her drink.

“Ahh…Vlad…”

“Is that good, Little Badger?”

“Mmm…r-really good. But—ah!—ease up a bit…h-hurts…”

“Like this?”

“Mmm, ohh, yes. God, Vlad your hands are magical.”

Vlad chuckled lightly, his slick slippery hands kneading into the boy’s skin, his deft fingers massaging deeply. He was in his white button up, no jacket or red cravat, his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, his top two buttons opened.

Danny, the darling boy, looked blissed out, his eyes closed, his mouth open in an O as Vlad squeezed and stroked, slick skin against skin, the boy’s chest rising and falling deeply.

“Ahhh, god…Vlad, you were born to do this. You weren’t lying back then when you said you gave a g-good foot massage,” Danny mumbled, a lazy smile on his face. He cracked open a tired blue eye, which shined pleasantly. Vlad smirked down at him, the boy’s feet resting in his lap as his lotioned hands worked on them, easing the tension.

“Yes well…there are other things I’m good at as well,” Vlad said in a low voice, one hand moving up to Danny’s ankle, around to his calf, massaging there briefly before moving to the back of Danny’s knee. The boy jumped at the ticklish feeling, his eyes opening fully to regard Vlad. Vlad smirked, not moving his hand.

“Oh yeah?” Danny said carefully, a challenging look in his eyes. “Like what?”

Vlad’s grin turned predatory, his hand moving higher up. Danny seemed to stop breathing for a moment, his cheeks turning pink, his blue eyes watching Vlad’s hand as it moved to the back of his thigh.

Vlad kept his hand there, and then leaned over Danny, his left hand by Danny’s shoulder propping him up. Vlad used his right hand to lift Danny’s leg, moving his body to press down to Danny, letting the boy’s leg drape over his waist. Vlad kissed Danny deeply. Danny gasped lightly and Vlad knew so much contact with the boy was going to drive him crazy. Before Danny could move his hands, Vlad pinned them down by the boy’s head, moving his lips against Danny’s, lightly biting his bottom lip. Danny moaned quietly, opening his mouth and their kiss became wetter, deeper, more desperate.

The sounds. The taste. Vlad loved this boy, wanted all of him. He wanted his heart, his soul, his mind, his body.

It’s been two weeks since Vlad and Maddie had that talk. It’s been a week since Jack, Maddie, Vlad and Danny all sat together to talk. It had been…awkward to say the least.

Vlad had sat beside Danny at the kitchen table, Maddie and Jack standing, arms crossed, asking all sorts of embarrassing questions. Well, more so embarrassing for Danny. Vlad didn’t think he’d ever seen the boy so red faced and squirmy. It would have been cute if he hadn’t forced himself to keep his eyes trained on Jack and Maddie as they talked. Obviously, most teens were a bit embarrassed to talk with their parents about their new homosexual relationship with their parent’s old college buddy.

They asked questions like how long this relationship had been going on, whether it was physical, whether they’ve had sex yet, what they planned to do while Danny was in school and once Danny graduated, etc etc. Vlad, being an adult on the same peer group as Maddie and Jack and wanting them to know he took his relationship with Danny very seriously, answered the questions seriously, sincerely, and vaguely, to avoid Danny as much embarrassment as he could.

Jack had found out about this relationship once Maddie confirmed it for him, and he took it well, considering. Obviously he was confused and a bit skeptical, as well as, as one would expect from a father, suspicious of Vlad. But once this talk happened and everything was out in the open, Jack was actually happy for his son and best friend, if not a bit uncomfortable. Which is what caused the rules.

After about an hour of talking and discussing, rules were established for both inside and outside the house. In the house, Vlad and Danny couldn’t kiss. They couldn’t be alone in Danny’s room with the door closed. Cuddling was to be limited to sitting beside each other, heads leaning against each other. Vlad had wanted to argue, not appreciating being treated like a child, but he held back, remembering that no matter how mature Danny was, Danny was still technically a minor. Jack and Maddie weren’t comfortable seeing very intimate displays of affection between them at this point and honestly, Vlad didn’t want to make out with Danny if Maddie and Jack were in the room anyway.

And so during times like this, when Danny came over to visit him in his mansion, Vlad could barely keep his hands off. They were alone, Danny had permission and acceptance from his parents which Vlad could tell was a huge load off the boy’s shoulders, and so he always had as much of the boy as he could.

Outside rules consisted of curfews and public displays. They all discussed it, and all agreed Danny and Vlad shouldn’t—and technically couldn’t—go public yet. It was better if they were not seen together too often, unless someone else was with them. Obviously no holding hands, no kissing in an alley, nothing. Danny wasn’t banned from staying the night at Vlad’s, nor were they expressly banned from having sex. But Vlad and Danny had discussed it on their own, and agreed sex shouldn’t happen until Danny was eighteen anyway. It made things easier, as well as gave them time and space to figure things out between themselves and within the relationship, before jumping into something like that. Trust is a huge factor when it comes to something as intimate as that, and since trust was something they never really had before, they decided it’d be best to strength that first.

Vlad took his mouth from the boy’s lips and immediately attacked his neck. “Ahh V-Vlad, don’t make a…god, last time I couldn’t even—look dad in the eye. He…ow, ah geez…” Danny mumbled as Vlad ignored him, biting lightly, sucking and licking the boy’s neck, loving the sounds he made, the way he squirmed under him.

After leaving multiple nasty looking marks that made that possessive little demon inside of Vlad purr, Vlad pulled away, pressing down on the boy and kissing him hungrily. His felt the lean muscles of Danny’s heaving chest underneath him, beneath the thin t-shirt he wanted to rip off the boy. He felt Danny’s soft, hot mouth and wet tongue. He felt the leg around his waist, pressing them closer, felt Danny’s moans vibrating against his lips. His mind was getting hazy, his skin too hot in all these clothes, the space on the couch too small, Danny’s squirming and moaning was driving him crazy…

Vlad pulled away and it was like a breath of air after being taken under by the tide. He had expected to be sitting up in bed, sweating and bothered, just another hot dream that Vlad had only seen back then as a sick confirmation of his twisted desires. He had seen Danny like this in the mirror; his face flushed, his mouth open and panting, his eyes filled with undisguised lust. It was all real now. And yet…

“I think…that’s good for now,” Vlad muttered, pulling the words out of his throat with herculean effort, forcing himself to push upright, detangling himself from the tasty boy beneath him. Danny’s eyes widened and he immediately pushed himself up too, wrapping his arms around Vlad’s neck, burying his face in Vlad’s shoulders. Having the boy hanging onto him like this was definitely not helping his efforts to control himself.

“God I hate this…” Danny muttered. “I don’t know which is worse; Not being able to touch you at all when we’re in front of people, or being able to touch you as much as I want when we’re alone, and enjoying it so much, only to have to stop when I’m…” Danny trailed off but Vlad knew what Danny was alluding to. He felt it, having Danny sitting so close.

He patted Danny’s back briefly, trying to keep contact minimal, but preening that the boy desired him just as much as Vlad desired this boy. “If it’s any help my boy, you’ve affected me greatly too.” Danny pulled away slightly and looked between them, to Vlad’s lap and then immediately looked away, his blush deep. Vlad chuckled, removing Danny’s hands from his shoulders. He needed to breathe. “I know it’s hard, Daniel, but we both agreed this would be for the best.”

Danny nodded. “I know. It just sucks that you’re always right…” Danny muttered with an irritated pout. “You’re good at that too.”

Vlad laughed and patted Danny’s hair. Danny smiled and moved out of Vlad’s lap, sitting beside the man, shifting uncomfortably. “Do you…need to go to the bathroom or…” Vlad looked away, scratching his beard awkwardly.

“No no!” Danny said quickly, his blush returning. “I’m fine just…need to think about other things.”

Vlad nodded. He still felt too hot. He still wanted to lay Danny down on his back, strip them both of all their clothes and—

“When do you want to have a talk with Sam and Tucker?” The words were out of Vlad’s mouth before he could think and he was grateful to his mouth’s quick thinking, not wanting to dwell on those kinds of thoughts right now with Danny sitting way too close.

Danny looked to Vlad, who, despite himself, still couldn’t keep his hands completely off the boy, his right hand moving to gently pet the boy’s soft black hair. Danny scooched a little closer until their sides were pressed to each other and then leaned his head against Vlad’s shoulder. Vlad smiled, putting his arm around the boy, still gently stroking his hair. It was amazing how their whole dynamic and relationship could completely flip in just about two months.

“Next summer. When we’re all talking about leaving high school and getting jobs and going to college, I’ll just casually bring up my secret boyfriend.”

“I bet they’ll be thrilled.”

Danny nodded. “That’s only if they both don’t figure it out on their own first. Mom figured it out, Jaz is gonna figure it out the first day she gets back…Tucker might not realize it but give it a little bit more time, and Sam might start to realize it. Mom’s right, we don’t really hide it that well.” Danny and Vlad shared a look and laughed quietly, touching their foreheads together.

“Sorry, it’s probably mostly my fault,” Vlad said quietly, a small smile on his lips. “I get…giddy around you and I never want to stop looking at you, or touching you.”

Danny averted his eyes a moment, embarrassed but quickly looked back. “Yeah well, we’re both a little obvious I think.” He chuckled lightly and shrugged. “Guess that’s what happens when you’re in love, right?”

Vlad’s eyes, which had slipped closed in contented bliss, now snapped open. His mind went blank for a moment and then buzzed with thoughts, with words, with hopes. He slowly pulled away, an arm still around Danny. He moved a bit to fully face the boy, put his hands on the boy’s shoulders, gripping tightly as though letting go would wake him from this dream. He searched the young face, his mind reeling. Those words, spoken so casually, as though they had been completely natural… Did he just…could he have just said…

“Danny…” Vlad swallowed, his heart beating too fast. He didn’t want to hope for it, didn’t want to believe it but wanting to reach for it anyway. He gripped Danny a little tighter. “Danny…please. S-say it…”

Danny’s initial shock at Vlad’s sudden intenseness melted away. He smiled, a smile filled with understanding and affection, and a twinge of pity that Vlad was reacting this way. 

Danny didn’t talk immediately, the tops of his cheeks and ears a light red. Vlad waited, blood pounding in his ears, his heart in his throat. He didn’t want to hope, but he found every fiber of his being almost vibrating with anticipation. He was shaking slightly, waiting for this thing he’d wanted his whole life. Danny took a breath and then looked Vlad square in the eye. “Vlad. I love you.”

Just like the first time, when those three words had been uttered to him by this boy, Vlad felt something move inside, some kind of physical reaction, wrenching his heart and squeezing his throat. But back then, there had been a glass wall separating Vlad from the boy, a ghost spirit torturing him with visions of what he hadn’t realized he wanted so much. Now, he had this boy, the real live boy, in his arms, and he couldn’t cling tighter to him. “Again.”

“I love you.”

“Please, again.”

“I love you, Vlad.”

Vlad couldn’t stop the smile, couldn’t stop the laugh, couldn’t stop himself from crushing the boy into his chest.

“Ack, Vlad!” Danny choked with a laugh, struggling slightly in Vlad’s arms.

Finally. Finally, Vlad had it. Had the one thing he wanted most. It wasn’t revenge, it wasn’t power, it wasn’t lust, it wasn’t control. Finally Vlad Masters was loved, completely and genuinely.

“I love you too, Danny,” Vlad said, moving to kiss the boy on the cheek, on the forehead, on his lips. Danny kissed back, hand behind Vlad’s neck. Vlad felt Danny crawl closer, into Vlad’s lap, never stopping the kiss. In between, while gasping for a breath, Vlad kept muttering those three words.

“I love you, Vlad,” Danny said with they pulled apart. “I love you very much.” He kissed Vlad firmly, their lips moving together. Vlad moved his hands to cup Danny’s face, holding the boy close. He never wanted this to end. But when they did part, breathing deeply, Vlad couldn’t keep the smile from his face.

He stood suddenly, excitement rippling through his veins. He transformed, a flash and then black rings circling him to create Plasmius. “Let’s go for a fly!”

Danny blinked up at Vlad in confusion for a moment and then laughed and stood. He stretched his arms over his head and transformed, a big grin causing his green eyes to shine. “Let’s do it!” Danny floated upward and fazed threw the ceiling, Vlad following close behind.

“A nice night,” Danny commented, looking up around him. The skies were a navy blue, the stars just beginning to peak out as the Sun disappeared far low on the horizon. Danny smiled at the skies for a moment and then grinned at Vlad. “Ready?”

Vlad smiled as he floated over to Danny, expecting to take the boy’s hand and fly through the calm air, but was surprised when Danny hit Vlad’s shoulder with his palm. “You’re it!”

Danny’s laugh vibrated through the night sky as he sped away, his spectral tail trailing behind him. “Oh you little…” Vlad muttered, chasing after the boy at top speed. They zigzagged through trees and cars, around buildings, chasing each other around and around, tagging each other, flying up and up and hiding in the clouds. Vlad’s heart was pounding, adrenaline zooming through his limbs, his fanged smile almost painful and his lungs burning as he laughed. He’d never felt so alive.

In a moment of silence as Vlad hide in the clouds, Danny nowhere in sight, Vlad lifted his face to the stars, breathing deeply the nighttime air, fresh and cold in his lungs. It was getting dark, but Vlad never wanted this night to end.

He wasn’t exactly sure how it all happened, when it all started falling into place and making sense. Vlad knew he wasn’t the hero here, knew he never would be, but he wasn’t the villain anymore either. That was the thing; he had been the villain before, Vlad knew that now. He realized all the mistakes he’d made, saw all the changes he’d had to make in order to stop his pitfall into tragedy due to his own evil, self-destructive ways. He wasn’t that monster anymore and that, he supposed, made it okay for him to have his happy ending as well.

Vlad vaguely wondering about the spirit who had kept watch over the mirror that had changed everything. Was she now free? Free to live her own dreams, free to follow the path to her own heart’s desire, instead of being forced to assist others in theirs? Whether it was foolish sentimentality or Danny’s goodness rubbing off on him, Vlad hoped she was free. He owed this to her, for breaking past his many walls and showing him, not so much what he wanted, but what he could become. He could become kind. He could become patient. He could become accepting and open and giving. He could become happy and loved.

“Thank you,” Vlad said to the air, to the stars. He turned away from the sky just as Danny popped up from the clouds like a daisy, tackling Vlad in the air.

“Gotcha!” he yelled with a laugh. Vlad wrapped his arms around Danny, laughing as they floated through the air. They looked upward, Danny noticing all the stars and pointing out all the constellations, naming them and their stories.

Orion was Vlad’s favorite. His and Artemis’ love was forbidden, but it was strong. Other than the ending where Orion was killed, Vlad wanted this moment to stay alive forever through time like Orion’s image in the sky. This moment with him and Danny, high over everyone else, over the school and the town and their problems, and their past, high enough that they could smile and hold each other, high enough that Vlad could be happy. He wanted this moment forever.

 

Unknown to the blue skinned halfa and the pale haired halfa, a benevolent smile was aimed toward them, a smile upon a white face, solid blue eyes watching silently as they laughed.