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Maddie had never felt so lost. 

She had been through much in her life, growing up on a struggling farm, leaving her home and her family to pursue her studies, working harder than she ever thought she could for a university scholarship, having to leave her sister to care for their dying father alone. She knew loss, and she knew change, but she couldn’t have ever imagined the grief she felt now. Nothing could compare, nothing could come even close. 

It was one thing, to lose a father to a year’s long battle with cancer, to know it was coming a mile away, to see it with every cough and every wheezing breath. He had been a smoker, all his life, she would remind him every time he lit up a cigarette of the risk he was taking. They had just been words at the time, she never wanted her warnings to become predictions. 

But it was another thing entirely to lose the man you expected to live the remainder of your life with, in a matter of moments, and to have it ripped from you with sudden, violent intent. 

Maddie knew how to mourn a death, she didn’t know how to mourn a murder. 

When her father was first diagnosed, she had always wondered if she could have changed things, had she been tougher on the old man. She could have fought harder for his health, she could have taken the cigarettes, soaked them, trashed them, kept them from him whatever the cost. She knew that it wasn’t her fault, logically she knew, Alicia would take any opportunity to remind her that she’d done all she could, that he was just a stubborn old badger who wasn’t going to change for nobody. There was nothing else Maddie could have done. 

Not this time though. This time she knew there was something she could have done. 

She had become complacent, it was rare for a ghost to target them, their reputation did precede them after all, and it was rarer still for a ghost to act with such subtlety. She hadn’t expected the assassination, hadn’t even remotely seen it coming. 

But she should have. 

She should have taken the extra precautions, should have checked the scanners and packed extra weapons. She had just been so excited for the party, to see the look on Jack’s face when they wheeled out that massive cake, it had a fudge filling, she just couldn’t wait to see him bounce with joy when he took that first bite and tasted his favourite dessert of all time wrapped up in chocolate and frosting. 

He never knew that there was fudge in the cake, he never got to taste it. Of all the things that made Maddie’s chest tighten and her breath catch in her throat, of all the things, for some reason that was the one that hurt the most. She would never get to see his eyes light up with delight, not for cake, not for a new invention, not for anything... not anymore. 

That night would play over and over in her dreams, she wanted to call them nightmares, but as cold and aching inside as they left her when she awoke, she didn’t want them to ever stop. In her dreams she took those extra precautions, in her dreams she kept him safe. She would capture that vile monstrous ghost and Jack would pull her close and kiss her softly and they would shove cake in each other’s faces and they would laugh and dance and- 

She would wake up. Alone. Nothing but cold, empty sheets beside her. Once or twice she turned over, almost expecting him to be there, she almost thought she could feel him beside her, just for a moment, right at the cusp of dreaming and waking. Like if she could just hold him tight enough, she could pull him back into her life when her eyes opened again. 

But they were only dreams, they would only ever be dreams, and Maddie wasn’t a dreamer. Maddie didn’t hope and wish, Maddie got things done. Maddie rolled up her sleeves and tackled her problems head on with all of the tools at her disposal, and the tools she had right now were guns. 

A lot of guns. 

With single-minded determination she let cold fury sweep her grief aside and began her one-woman crusade. Every day she was out there, searching, hunting, doing all she could to track down the scum-sucking creature that tore the love of her life away from her, and she was going to return the favour by tearing it limb from limb. She was going to make it pay. She didn't know if ghosts were capable of feeling pain, but when she got her hands on that Wisconsin Ghost, she knew it wouldn’t take her long to find out, and she was going to enjoy every brutal moment of it. 

Over the past week she ate little more than protein bars or anything else convenient that she could eat on the go, she barely showered, barely even touched her hair. She looked a wreck, she felt a wreck, but those things didn’t matter. Not when that monster was still out there. 

She knew that the Wisconsin Ghost didn’t tend to stick around Amity Park, it was Phantom’s turf after all and the two were known mortal enemies, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was still around somewhere. Watching from the shadows, silently gloating over his victory, he could be ready to strike at any moment. He was a showman, an egotist, he always had a flair for the dramatic, his appearances tended to be public, loud and vying for attention. It said much that for a ghost whose sightings were so few, he was known so well. 

So she hunted. Waiting for him to make a move, waiting for him to put on a show, surely he would show up to brag and boast, to rub his victory in her face. 

Tomorrow, she’d think, tomorrow he’ll be out there. Tomorrow she’d take him down. 

Tomorrow never came. 

Every false alarm on her radar was a knife to the chest, every small poltergeist and spectre in her path was a stab of disappointment, she made short work of them. She wasn’t here to capture subjects, she was out for blood. 

She saw very little of her children, occasionally Jazz would stop her in the hallway and ask her to sign something, Maddie never read the papers, she knew what they were for, she couldn’t bear to look at them. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was proud of Jazz, for handling all of the arrangements, for taking the responsibility that should have been hers. She felt equally guilty for leaving her own daughter, barely an adult herself, to take the weight of it all. Jazz liked to stay busy when she was upset, but this was something she shouldn’t have to do on her own. It wasn’t even something she should have to do at all. Maddie was her mother, it should have been her. 

But that ghost was still out there. 

As long as he existed he was a threat to her family. She couldn’t let herself be distracted by paperwork when she should be out there hunting him down. Jazz was handling it, she would have to make it up to her later, she would understand, she even joined Maddie on some of her hunts. She knew this was important, she knew Maddie couldn’t lose focus on this right now. 

Of the little time she spent with her daughter, she saw her son even less. 

Danny was barely a shadow in the Fenton house, Jazz told her that he was spending a lot of time with his friends, and he was doing okay despite everything. Maddie didn’t believe her. She knew Danny was far from okay. 

The night of the party, after the toast, after Jack... Danny had burst into the room. She didn’t know where Danny had been until that point, she hadn’t even realised he was missing from the festivities, when he returned his clothes were rumpled, his shirt torn and his hair singed. Later at the hospital he explained that he’d figured out that the Wisconsin Ghost was there, that he had tried to stop him, but he’d been too late. 

Her own son had done a better job trying to protect Jack than she had. 

As soon as he’d seen his father on the ground, he tore across the room faster than she thought anyone could possibly move and leaped at Vlad, she’d never thought her own son to be capable of the brutality she’d seen that night. He had the man’s suit twisted in his grip, his other fist pulverising Vlad’s face into a bloody mess. 

She had been in total and complete shock, holding onto her husband as he gradually went limp beneath her hands, watching her son beating the hell out of a man before her eyes. People had started to try pulling him away, but he’d simply tightened his grip on Vlad’s collar and screamed in his face. 

“HOW COULD YOU?! HOW COULD YOU??!!” 

His voice echoed in her ears for hours, sending chills throughout her entire body. She wasn’t sure if it was her own adrenaline, or the look of feral animalistic fury on his face, or the gut-wrenching shredded cry of his voice, but for just a moment those words sent a cold terror racing down her spine, a terror she didn’t entirely understand. 

She’d seen very little of Danny since then, and a part of her was glad for it. She thought she knew her son, once upon a time, but he had become someone different over the past year or so. She couldn’t put her finger on exactly what it was that had changed, most of the time he still acted like himself. He made bad jokes and threw peas at his sister during dinner, he would sneak up behind her while she was cooking and put his cold hands on her neck to make her jump, he’d laugh like a madman as she took a mock swing at him with a wooden sauce covered spoon, but sometimes he would be so... quiet. He’d become sullen and distant, if she asked him what was wrong, he would turn to her, smile and brush it aside, acting like nothing was wrong... acting. Like someone else was wearing her son’s face. Every once in a while, she would give him a quick scan for ghost activity. He’d given off a few false readings after the portal had first opened, he’d been in the lab that day and had been standing right in front of it after all, it wasn’t too surprising to find some residual energy clinging to him. 

But nothing came up beyond that. He was still her son, he hadn’t been replaced or overshadowed, he wasn’t under any ghostly influence. She almost hoped he was, then she would know how to fix it. She was at a loss when it came to regular teenage rebellion. 

Missing curfew hadn’t been too much of a surprise, even Jazz had been guilty of that from time to time, although it was often due to extensive studying, not running around town with his friends doing who knows what. Skipping school had come as a complete surprise, and then he was sneaking out while he was grounded. The boy she thought she knew wouldn’t have don’t those things, but the boy she thought she knew couldn’t have beaten a man half to death either. 

The memories tended to blend together, Jack’s pale face, Danny's vicious screams, Vlad bruised and bloodied, and the ghost. Rising up from Vlad’s prone form as Danny was dragged kicking and screaming away from him by one of the party guests. He’d looked ready to start his assault anew on the ghost, who was laughing in triumph. Maddie had pulled her gun, but he disappeared before she could even take aim, shooting up through the ceiling in a streak of blinding light. 

Although as much as her son’s actions had scared her, she understood them. That rage and fury was unfamiliar on her son’s face, but it was familiar to her. She knew that pain, she knew that agony, and she wished he could channel it into something like she was, yet it was Jazz who joined her on the hunt, not Danny. 

Danny knew that the Wisconsin Ghost was responsible for Jack’s death, he’d seen it himself, he’d admitted as much to her in the harsh light of that hospital waiting room. Yet, with Vlad’s blood coating his knuckles and splashed across his cheek, he told Maddie in no uncertain terms, that Vlad was not going to step foot in their house, Danny couldn’t promise that he would hold himself back next time.

Had Danny really been holding himself back? Maddie wasn’t sure how much further he could have possibly taken things. If he’d gone any harder, he could have killed him. 

Maybe that’s what he meant, Maddie thought with a shiver. It had sounded like a warning, but it felt like a promise. 

She didn’t tell Danny that Vlad had called her, she didn’t even tell Jazz. Her daughter wouldn’t think it was right to hide things from him, and maybe it wasn’t, but Danny’s hatred of Vlad was misplaced and irrational. He simply couldn’t separate the actions of Vlad with the actions of the Wisconsin Ghost. In reality, Vlad was as much a victim as they all were, the man’s will had been completely overridden, he had poisoned his best friend against his will. The guilt had been eating him alive. 

“I’m so sorry Maddie.” he had cried over the phone, “I was weak, I couldn’t fight it, I’m sorry... this is all my fault.” 

He sounded so broken, as he trailed off into quiet sobs. 

“It’s not your fault.” She’d assured him, tears straining her own voice. “There was nothing you could do, if he couldn’t use you, he’d have just used someone else.” 

“But I could have done something. Warned him somehow I could have-” 

“We can’t change the past Vlad.” she said, her voice harsher than she intended. “We can’t go back, he’s gone, but I promise you Vlad, we’re going to find that ghost. We’ll make him pay.”  

He was quiet, she gave him a moment to find his words. 

“Thank you.” said Vlad, in a quiet shaking tone. “If you ever need anything, anything, please, I’ll be here. You are always welcome in my home.” 

“I appreciate the gesture Vlad but,” Maddie held the phone to her chest for a moment, Danny’s screams echoing through her bones, before placing the phone to her ear again. “But I think the kids need more time... Danny... needs more time.” 

He’d gone entirely silent on the other end, she waited, biting her lip anxiously. 

“Maddie, please let him know that... that I don’t blame him, for what he did. I deserved every moment of it, it was the price I paid for my weakness and-” 

“Vlad stop.” 

“-And he has every right to hate me, I failed you, but I will make it up to you. When you’re ready to let me in, I’m only a phone call away.” 

She and Vlad may have had a rocky past, he’d acted inappropriately and overstepped her boundaries, but she was more than willing to put that behind them. He was a grieving broken man who needed a friend, just as she did. They’d both lost someone dear to them, but where Maddie had her children, Vlad had no one. 

She hadn’t pushed it though, she was being honest when she said that they needed more time. As misplaced as Danny’s anger was, she feared that pushing him would just make it worse. 

Maddie finally began to take a few breaks with her hunting, in favour of working on some new weaponry. She’d already done the last of the circuitry on the Fenton Shield Buster, Jack’s latest pride and joy... and also his last. She felt a sting in her throat every time she looked at it. 

She struggled with gadgetry, it wasn’t something that came naturally to her, she specialised in biology and chemistry, with some dabbling in physics and coding. Engineering had been Jack’s strength, he’d taught her everything he could, but she still relied on his blueprints to make anything more than a standard quick-shot pistol. Even with the blueprints she struggled with the more complex creations, she knew they had plenty of weaponry stored in the vault, but when the two of them worked together she always felt as though they could do anything, but now... now... it was almost as though she’d had her right arm lopped off. 

She began to spend more and more time in the lab, poring over Jack’s work. Her hunts had been getting her nowhere, her time was better spent preparing for a fight with the Wisconsin Ghost instead of just looking for one. She figured that the Shield Buster could take him down, Jack had been certain it was going to change everything. It broke through shields, it cauterised ectoplasm, and it was built like a mini bunker, and when she finally had a chance to test it- 

She blew it. 

She’d been waiting for Phantom to show up, she was surprised it took as long as it did, Jazz thought it was because her feverish hunting had scared all the ghosts away, Maddie knew better. The ghost boy was avoiding her. He wasn’t stupid, he’d shown time and time again that he could think and plan and strategize more than a few steps ahead. As much of a show off as he was, he'd know that Maddie would be on a hair trigger. Staying away was smart, but unfortunately, she needed him. 

He was the only one who might know where to find the Wisconsin Ghost. 

But she blew it.  

The shots had gone straight through his shield, as she knew they would, they cut right through his ghostly flesh, like she knew they would, his wounds healed over almost instantly. That wasn’t right. The gun was supposed to prevent healing, had she messed it up somehow? Did she wire it wrong? 

A sudden, loud roar made her ears pop, and nary a minute after, the ghost boy had sped down to greet the barrel of her gun, and for just a moment they were face to face. Usually Phantom looked almost human, more-so than most other humanoid ghosts. People would often forget how dangerous a creature he was, they’d treat him like a normal boy, or even like a superhero, but if there was ever a reminder of Phantom’s alien nature, it was right at this moment. When his icy blue face was mere inches from hers, with wolfish teeth pulled back in a snarl and hair of flame licking at his temples, his sclera had entirely succumbed to the toxic green of his irises, his pupils had turned a blinding white. It was a monster, not a boy, that placed one hand on the barrel of her gun, and unleashed a spear of ice down the barrel. 

Maddie dropped it immediately as sparks flew from the metal plating, she pulled a standard pistol from her belt and shot at Phantom as he held the Shield Buster by the protruding shard of ice, and then slammed it down, shoving the ice further into the gun. The front of the barrel split and bowed outwards at the intrusion, and Maddie watched as her husband’s last gift to her was torn to pieces from the inside, as her shots smacked uselessly into the ghost’s chest. 

She dropped the gun and pulled out her staff, ready to take him down with her bare hands, ready to crush it against his throat as she dragged the information she needed out of him one way or another, but as fast as the monster had appeared, it was gone. The ghost boy stood before her again, looking for all the world like any other teenager, save for the green freckles and glowing eyes. She wasn’t fooled though, not like the rest of Amity Park, she’d seen what he truly was under that façade. 

He looked at the gun, then glanced to her, almost looking a little embarrassed. 

“Sorry you had to see that.” said Phantom, he would have sounded genuine if Maddie hadn’t known better. “You caught me at kind of a bad time.” 

Maddie didn’t let him say any more, as she lunged at him with a cry, but her staff hit nothing. He was gone. 

Dragging the wreck of the Buster home she could feel the tears stinging her eyes, the shame and rage colouring her cheeks. 

She screwed it up, she lost Jack’s Shield Buster, she lost her one chance at interrogating Phantom, without the Shield Buster she didn’t stand a chance. If it couldn’t even take down Phantom, what chance would it have had against the Wisconsin Ghost? It didn’t even matter in the end, since she managed to get it fucking destroyed

Tears ran down her cheeks and splattered against the metal table. She was sick of crying, she was sick of being upset, she was sick of feeling helpless. 

In a burst of rage and frustration she grabbed the wrench and swung her arm with all her might, letting her voice tear out of her throat. As it crashed into a filing cabinet she heard a squeal, Jazz was standing right by the dented cabinet, eyes wide and face pale. 

Maddie felt her stomach sink as cold hard regret filled her, she could have hit her. The cabinet had warped under the weight of the wrench, the paint had been skinned off the metal. That could have been Jazz.  

“Oh my god Jazz! I’m so sorry I didn’t hear you!” Maddie rushed over and pulled her daughter sideways against her chest, holding her close. “I’m so sorry, are you okay?” 

Jazz didn’t move for a moment, she just held onto Maddie’s arms as they encircled her, taking deep breaths, she was still staring at the filing cabinet. It could have been her, had Maddie aimed just a little to the right... 

“Yeah, yeah just,” Jazz swallowed, “Gimme a minute.”  

Maddie couldn’t believe she’d done that, she couldn’t believe she let herself do something so stupid, that she let that god damn ghost boy get to her like that. 

Her daughter held her close, as Maddie let her heart out in the small space between them. She didn’t know what she’d done to deserve such a kind and understanding young woman for a daughter. She had almost caved her skull in, almost killed- and yet Jazz was still the one reassuring her. 

The guilt over nearly hurting her, and the gratitude she felt for how much her daughter had done for her, were the only reason Jazz’s suggestion didn’t send her into a rampage. 

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but you have to ask yourself what’s more important. Capturing Phantom, or taking down the Wisconsin Ghost, because realistically? You might not be able to have both.” 

She was right, of course she was right. 

After Jazz went back upstairs Maddie sat at her desk, head in her hands. 

A truce with Phantom. She didn’t team up with ghosts. Jazz hadn’t seen Phantom the way she had, he was a monster masquerading as a boy, everything about him was a lie. The image he put off, the wise-cracking teenager who helped little old ladies clean their gutters, helped innocent young children find their lost pets. It was all an act, and she had finally seen the proof with her own two eyes. 

But nobody would believe her. His act was too good, even Jazz had fallen hook, line and sinker. The only person she hadn’t heard sing his praises was Danny, she’d seen his friends hanging around the ghost kid more than once, but never was Danny there with them. At least one of her children had some sense. 

She picked up her tools and started inserting a circuit board into a gadget she had been trying to fix earlier in the day, it was a net gun, they were tricky things. She always had trouble getting the release mechanism right, the nets came out all tangled. The fluorescent light over her head flickered slightly, she looked up at it, but it settled down after a moment, she’d have to check the bulb later. 

Before too long, a smell started to waft down the stairs, Jazz must have been cooking again. Maddie felt a pang of guilt hit her as she realised that her little tantrum had likely resulted in Jazz’s sudden stress outlet. 

“Mom?” 

Maddie started, her hand jittering over the fine slit in the open mechanisms of the gun. 

“Oh god, Danny.” she put her tools down and rubbed at her face. “Don’t scare me like that!” 

She deserved it, after scaring Jazz half to death. She also felt like she should have been used to Danny creeping up on her by now, he had feet of velvet, he could walk across gravel in an echo chamber wearing steel capped boots and she still wouldn’t hear him coming. 

“Jazz is making lunch. Sam and Tucker are coming over to eat too, do you wanna join us?” Danny offered, looking around at one of her specimen shelves, he picked up a jar, pulled a face in disgust and put it back down. 

Maddie sat back in her chair, it had been a while since Danny had his friends over, as far as she was aware at least, it wasn’t like she’d been home often enough to know. 

“I don’t think I’ll be very good company.” said Maddie. She’d just lost her husband’s magnum opus and nearly bashed in her daughter’s skull, she was not in the mood to be around people.

Danny came over to the desk and rested his elbows on it, looking up at her and smiling. 

“Jazz is making scrambled eeeeeggs.” he announced in a sing songy voice, bouncing on his toes a little. It had been a while since she’d had Jazz’s scrambled eggs, the smells were still wafting down from the kitchen, tempting her. “C’mon mom you haven’t eaten all day, how are you gonna work on all this fiddly stuff if your hands are trembling? You need food.” 

Maddie tucked her shaking hands into her lap. He had a point, the last thing she’d eaten was half a Nasty Burger the day before. 

“C’mon.” he put his hand out and motioned for her to stand up. “We’re getting you some lunch.” 

She followed him upstairs, where Jazz greeted her with a plate of eggs and toast already there for her. She gave Jazz a hug and Danny a quick kiss, before returning to the lab with her lunch, she didn’t deserve these kids, she truly didn’t. She was supposed to be the one looking after them

She didn't realise how hungry she was until she took the first bite, she was finding it hard to pace herself but she heeded Jazz’s warning and made sure to take her time. It felt good to have warm food in her stomach again. She’d barely finished when Danny had returned with more food. She didn’t think she’d be up to eating more, but her appetite had suddenly become ravenous once she got a taste of the eggs. Jazz’s cooking was far easier on the palate than one of those awful burgers. He put the plate down beside her, before leaning an elbow against her specimen shelf. 

“Hope you left room, this is a two-course meal kinda day.” he grinned. “I know you probably would have liked a little more time for your food to settle, but Tuck was digging into the mac ‘n’ cheese pretty hard so it was kind of a now or never type thing.” 

Maddie felt a chuckle escape her lips, despite the awful morning, Danny had started to make her feel almost normal again. It felt good to laugh, it also felt wrong, as if she was moving on too soon. As soon as she took a bite of macaroni, Danny moved away from the shelf to pick up her empty plate, but before he could head to the stairs she stopped him. 

“Danny, wait a minute.” he looked back at her with an oddly blank expression on his face, one hand was holding her plate, the other hand was stuffed in his pocket. 

“Yeah?” he asked, cautiously. 

There it was again, Maddie thought. That bizarre feeling, like he had shifted in some way. Before, her son had been standing there, joking with her like it was the most natural thing in the world, and then suddenly it was like glass had slipped between them, creating a disconnect of some kind that she couldn’t quite explain. Suddenly she wasn’t so sure she wanted to continue, but she’d already initiated, she may as well follow through. 

“I just wanted to run something by you.” she said, hesitantly.

Danny visibly relaxed, his hand dropped out of his pocket and the subtle tension in his shoulders and jaw released, and suddenly that strange sensation of otherness was gone. 

“Yeah sure, what do you need?” he asked, his lips perking in an encouraging smile. 

“It’s,” Maddie took a deep breath. “It’s about Vlad.” 

The smile slipped off his face in an instant, and where there had been a wall of glass between them, Maddie now felt a wall of cold iron. 

“No.” he stated. 

“Danny, I’m not talking about inviting him over.” she reassured him, “I just think we should talk, just talk! It can be over the phone if you-” 

“No.”  

Never had she felt a word weigh so heavy and solid in the air. Danny turned away from her, his face like a slate of stone, and for a moment she was back in the hospital waiting room, with those cold blue eyes boring into her from a blood splattered face. 

As soon as he was out of sight, Maddie realised she was holding her breath. She hated this, she hated when her son made her feel this way, when he made her feel afraid. It wasn’t right, it just wasn’t right, he had never done anything to hurt her, he had been nothing but loving to her his entire life. Even when he was skipping school, even when he was breaking curfew, he never stopped being kind to her, he’d never given her any reason to fear him. 

Until she had seen him kneeling over her old friend with blood dripping from his fists. 

As soon as she heard the lab door close, she pulled out her phone and began to dial. It only rang out once before it was picked up. 

“Maddie?” Vlad’s sounded pleasantly surprised. 

“Hi, Vlad.” she ran a hair through her tangled hair, biting her lip. “Is now a good time to talk?” 

“I don’t think there could ever be a bad time.” he said, a slight jovial tone breaking through the low, tired drawl his voice had held since the last time they spoke. “Is everything alright?” 

“I’m just...” Maddie paused, a mix of anxiety and frustration squirming in her chest, before her thoughts began to tumble from her mouth. “I tried talking to Danny, I wanted him to just, maybe talk with you over the phone? To help him come to terms with what happened but he, oh god this is going to sound ridiculous but, honestly sometimes I feel like I’m talking to a completely different person I... Vlad, sometimes, he scares me.” 

Vlad was silent, and suddenly Maddie’s brain caught up to her mouth and she instantly regretted saying those thoughts out loud. 

“I’m sorry Vlad I just, forget I said anything okay, I just-” 

“Maddie,” he cut her off gently. “It's okay, I understand. You saw a side of him none of us could ever have known he had. I myself couldn’t quite believe it when I was told how I had ah... sustained my injuries during my possession.” 

“I’m so sorry, Vlad." said Maddie, his battered face still fresh in her mind. “I hope he didn’t cause any permanent damage.” 

“It’s quite alright my dear, nothing a few weeks of rest can’t fix, and perhaps a... plastic surgeon or two.” he chuckled lightly, “I jest my dear, you’ve no need to apologise. Daniel was simply trying to protect his father, in fact I was rather impressed by his... determination, I suppose you could say.” 

“I'm glad to hear that Vlad, really, and I’m sure Danny will come around eventually.” she hoped. 

“Of course, my dear of course, as much as I ache for the company I will not press where I am unwelcome.” said Vlad, quite matter of factly, Maddie felt that awful guilt rising in her chest. 

“Oh Vlad no, of course you’re welcome it’s just that-” 

“I understand Maddie,” he assured her. “But if I may be so bold as to suggest, perhaps we could meet up somewhere neither here nor there? There is a lovely little café in town that has simply the most delectable apple danish, and I think the both of us could use something nice to take our minds off things, but the choice is yours of course. I would understand entirely if you needed more time-” 

“That sounds lovely Vlad.”  said Maddie, wiping a tear from her eye. “I could really use a friend right now.” 

“As could I my dear, as could I.”