“Why is it that every time we do this at your house something goes wrong?” Danny muses as he punches Vlad through the wall into the mansion’s gym.
“Because, my dear boy,” Vlad bites out, using a hand on the ground to lift himself up, “I’m always prepared for your little games.”
Danny laughs at that. “What, like when you kidnapped Jazz? Yeah, that worked out real well for you, fruitloop.” He has to turn intangible to dodge Vlad’s irritated plasma blast response to his sarcasm, and then give chase as Vlad tries to sweep around underneath him for a punch.
“Hmm, more like when I trapped you and your mother at my cabin in the woods.”
What? Danny repeats his confusion out loud, but he’s too occupied with trying to decipher Vlad’s comment to notice that Vlad wasn’t after him, he was looking for the Plasmius Maximus. Which is in the gym, why?
“Oh, no you don’t!”
“Oh yes, I very much will!”
Suddenly their fight becomes a game of cat and mouse. Nothing Danny hasn’t faced before, even with Vlad. But this time, he’s in the middle of nowhere (rural Wisconsin) with no friends in sight - and one touch in this game of tag means he’s depowered and helpless for three hours.
Danny’s not as worried about that as he should be.
He scopes out his options – he can’t outrun Vlad until he’s tired, they’re at about the same stamina and strength right now, and he can’t fight him hand to hand since Vlad only needs one lucky shot to take him down. He has to get the device away from Plasmius, then. Long distance shots it is.
The problem with that is, Danny isn’t a great shot while flying away.
It only takes six plasma blasts that miss the tiny target of Vlad’s right hand for the guy to catch up to him. To minimize damage from falling, Danny dives.
“Ha!” Vlad shouts triumphantly when he catches Danny on the leg with the modified taser. Shocks run through Danny and stun his legs still – but Danny’s been through this enough times that he has enough mobility in his upper body to twist Vlad’s arm until he touches the Plasmius Maximus to Vlad’s left side.
Now, they’re even and Danny’s pissed.
Before Vlad’s even collapsed, Danny yanks him down to the ground to try and pin him. “You stupid fruitloop! What were you even doing with that thing in the gym! Now we’re both stuck like this!”
“That’s not my fault Daniel. You were-“
“Don’t start with that. You know I’ll always try to stop you.” Danny suddenly notices what position they’re in and his grip lifts enough that Vlad can shove him off and bend Danny’s arm back.
They spend the next few minutes trying to trap each other. Vlad might be taller, but Danny’s faster, and has the benefit of youthful reflexes to block the guy’s attacks.
Eventually, Vlad’s extra weight wins over and he’s able to pin Danny down by sitting on his thighs and pressing his forearm to Danny’s throat. Also, Danny’s starting to freak out. Because it almost felt fun to wrestle like this. And even though Vlad’s arm could seriously damage his windpipe and he can’t move out of the way, he knows Vlad won’t actually kill him.
Though maybe that’s his sick hope talking.
Danny needs to get out, like now. Before Vlad figures out what’s going on in Danny’s head and this gets a lot worse.
Nearly breathless, Vlad finally answers Danny’s question, now that he has the upper hand.
“I keep one of these handy devices in the gym because it allows me to practice hand to hand combat for situations just like this one.”
“I doubt this happens to you often, Vlad,” Daniel bites out past the arm against his throat, glaring defiantly into Vlad’s eyes. Though he seems surprised by his own words.
Was that a compliment? Best not to think about that too hard for the moment. “Yes, well, establishing myself as a both a powerful man and ghost requires some semblance of practice, and occasionally I have to win these simple fights without revealing my secret identity, but you wouldn’t-“
Vlad must have let up using his full weight against the boy for just a moment in his prideful monologue, because Daniel gains just enough leverage to put his feet against the floor and boot Vlad off. Vlad pops up, and widens his stance to prevent Daniel from knocking him down again.
Only he doesn’t fight. He runs.
“Well, that’s not very heroic of you. Didn’t you come here just to ruin my carefully crafted plans? You shouldn’t leave things unfinished, my boy.” Vlad brings himself all the way to full height and starts walking towards Daniel’s retreating back. It doesn’t matter if Vlad catches him immediately. He can have the ghost/human shield up in a moment’s notice.
“Your plans will fall apart anyway, Plasmius. You don’t need me to ruin your evil schemes. You do just fine on your own,” Danny throws over his shoulder, while opening the door to the football field and dashing outside.
Well that was definitely an insult.
“Maddie, activate the ghost/human shield.”
“Anything for you, sugarplum.”
It takes Vlad a manner of minutes to catch up with Danny who, instead of hiding or running, is helplessly batting at the shield on the other side of the ghost shield. Vlad is quite confused by this turn of events.
“Daniel, what is the matter with you! Why are you running! You know this is a futile endeavor, you simply-“ Vlad reaches out to turn the boy’s shoulder and hold him against the shield. Daniel doesn’t flinch at the touch – he must have heard Vlad coming – but Vlad almost does at the look in the boy’s eyes.
His pupils are dilated. His body is shaking. His skin is flushed. All of these could be fear responses, or from the exertion of running to the edge of the field, but it doesn’t add up. Daniel switched from fighting to fleeing, when? When Vlad tased him? That can’t be, since Vlad’s own bruised shoulder is evidence enough of their wrestling match. No, Danny ran after he surprised himself at his own words and bucked Vlad off-
No. It can’t be.
Danny can’t do it anymore. If he just sits here, at the edge of the shield, maybe Vlad will get bored with him and leave. What is he going to do, punch him when he can’t – won’t – fight back? Carry him back to the mansion and –
“Is this lust or love, Daniel?”
“I don’t know. Wait, no. No! Neither! What the hell, Vlad?” Danny finally looks up.
Vlad’s not smiling. He’s not laughing. He’s not even making that stupid little evil smirk he does when he knows he’s got the upper hand. Like he did when –
Stop thinking, Danny.
Why would Vlad ask that? Unless he figured it out? They’ve been doing nothing but fighting this whole time. He has no reason to think – unless running is all the answer the guy needed.
But if Vlad really had figured out Danny’s crush, he’d be mocking Danny. He’d be using it against him, to make Danny give up his dad or… or reveal his secret, or some other harebrained scheme.
Why isn’t Vlad laughing at him?
“Because I know how it feels to have what you love – who you love – turned against you. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, even you, little badger.” And apparently Danny said that last thought out loud.
But seriously? Vlad is going easy on him because what – empathy? This doesn’t make any sense. Vlad never misses an opportunity to torture Danny – with insults, not physically – and this is the most vulnerable he’s ever been. Helpless without his powers, yet another secret in the hands of his arch enemy, and trapped behind a wall he can’t break free of.
“Go away,” Danny says quietly. It’s his last resort. “Leave me alone.”
Vlad raises his hands in what on anyone else would be a placating move. “If that’s what you want. But I can’t get your powers back any faster than I could access my own. You’d be here lying on the grass with nothing to protect you. If you’d like, I can send for the plane and you can be back to Amity Park before the effects wear off – without me ever bothering you.”
Danny tries again to read any kind of reaction in Vlad’s face – reciprocation, disgust, anything – and fails. He doesn’t really feel like walking all the way back to Vlad’s house, to get in Vlad’s car, to take Vlad’s plane back home all on Vlad’s pity. He just found out that the man he has a crush on – an older man, who is his enemy and his equal to boot – doesn’t seem to feel anything for him. And he can’t run away from this. He just wants to curl up in a ball and die.
“Go away,” Danny says, this time a little louder but with a lot more wobble in his voice.
Vlad says nothing, but Danny hears his footsteps as he walks away.
Lost in his own thoughts and self-loathing, Danny barely feels the tranquilizing dart as it pricks his shoulder.
When Vlad is sure that Daniel is finally asleep, he picks him up as gently as possible and carries him back to the gym, through the house, and to the car.
He feels so light and fragile in Vlad’s arms. He wonders why it never occurred to him to hurt Daniel in this state, but he banishes the thought as it comes because he already knows why. Daniel is too important to him, too valuable to be rid of forever. They are the only two of their kind. Vlad has so much to offer to Daniel – has, already offered it - and Daniel may be the only other person who can understand him as he is. A whole being that is more than just his two halves.
On the drive to the airport Vlad considers what he’s just done. Yes, he has defied Daniel’s wishes to be left alone, but Vlad knows first hand what kinds of thoughts are running through the boy’s head. Daniel may have had a few crushes, but Vlad has lived far longer, and loved much deeper-
Those are memories too painful to remember, from before he grew into his new life as a confident and powerful man.
Vlad has made the right decision. Daniel will be more comfortable waiting out the rest of his power lapse at home where he can be surrounded by the family and friends Vlad has never truly had. Where he can’t be tortured by his own thoughts day and night because he will be dragged out of them by a loving support group.
As he waits at the airstrip for his pilot to arrive, Vlad writes a letter.
Danny comes awake suddenly rather than slowly, though there’s no alarm to wake him. A brief check at the clock – and the pale washed-out colors of his room – tell him that it is long before sunrise.
His most recent memories resurface to haunt him. Almost on reflex Danny changes into Phantom – it takes him a less than a minute to run through all of his powers to make sure he’s not been limited in some way. When he’s sure that even his core powers are at full strength, Danny relaxes and changes back. He’s still in the clothes he wore to school the day before, but his shoes are missing.
Danny is suddenly angry. Vlad tranqed him. Even after Vlad told him he’d leave him alone – defenseless, still, but alone – Vlad knocked him out and brought him home. Vlad lied.
Danny guesses he shouldn’t be surprised. And if he’s really honest with himself, he was probably dragging himself down to a really low place with his own thoughts at the end there. He really shouldn’t have believed that Vlad would throw him to the wolves (or ghosts, as it may be) after finding out about his “crush.”
The crush that makes him trust Vlad, even after everything he’s done to hurt Danny, Danny’s family, and Danny’s whole town.
Danny decides to deal with the whole being irrational and angry thing in the morning. He’s still a little woozy from the tranquilizer dart, and it’s far too early to be awake. He collapses back onto his pillow before realizing that he’s still in jeans, and would be a lot more comfortable if he changed into sweats at the very least. Danny doesn’t think he has enough emotional energy for anything else.
As he’s pulling up his sweatpants and tying the drawstring Danny glances over at his jeans and notices something white in his pocket that wasn’t there before. He walks back over and pulls out the folded piece of paper. There’s nothing written on either side. Deciding that Vlad is the only one who could have put it there, Danny sits back down on his bed, and unfolds the letter.
I can’t say I wasn’t surprised to learn of your feelings for me, if that is what they truly are. We’ve fought brutally for the entirety of the time I have known you and this leaves little room for anything but frustration and dislike to develop. Or so I’ve thought.
I’ve done some soul-searching. It didn’t take me long to determine that I’ve never truly wished you dead, little badger, and I hope you know that even in our human states I could never bring myself to kill you. But this is not what a relationship is founded on – a lack of murderous intent? It would be unhealthy and disturbing at best.
But there is more. And you know that. Ever since I learned of our shared heritage I have wanted you as my own – my son, my successor, my student – and this has led me to some unusual behavior toward you that I’ve come to interpret as admiration and affection.
It is no secret that you have grown quite far in your powers as well as your personality – no doubt with the help of your dedication to stopping my “harebrained schemes” – since we first met. But even now you are a child in the world of love.
You have not felt your heart break into a thousand indescribable pieces. Nor have you been so thoroughly rejected as to believe yourself worthless. Make no mistake – I do not wish this upon you, or anyone. But you have to understand that as much as I care about you, and your well-being-
Love takes time. Time we have not had together civilly, yet.
I brought you home against your wishes because I believe you will need your family most at this time, and because you will require space from me to come to your own decisions about the path forward. I didn’t do it to specifically to take away your agency in this matter.
I hope it calms you to learn that I will be taking a business trip for the next few weeks to Eastern Europe – both to settle some of my own affairs, and to assure you I will not be causing trouble for you as you consider what to do next.
You don’t have to have any contact with me either way. But if you decide you would like to talk about this when I return, you have my number and my home address.