Vlad marveled the three story brick house defaced by an obnoxious FENTON sign and what can only be described as a giant tin hat on top. He reached for the doorknob but stopped himself. Years ago, this wouldn't have been a problem, just walk in, say hi. Hug Jack, kiss Maddie on the cheek.
Flushing, he wrung his hands. They'd fallen out of contact for what was it now, fifteen? Twenty years? It had all just become too much. His pain, their happiness. His loneliness, their romance. His...changes...their family. He couldn't keep answering their questions, couldn't keep pretending he hadn't changed, and couldn't keep acting like he still wasn't in love with Maddie.
Couldn't keep acting like he didn't blame Jack for all of it.
But that didn't mean he didn't miss him.
It didn't mean he didn't miss having somebody who knew everything about him, all of his secrets, his wants and desires. His fists clenched. Jack knew-he knew how he felt about Maddie, and he went and married her anyways while he fought for his life in the hospital.
Which is why when Vlad saw his number pop up two days ago, he screamed and sent an ectoblast at the wall, destroying a priceless signed football by famous coach Vince Lombardi. In a rage he listened to the message, slowly crushing the phone between his fingers.
"Hey Vladdie, uh, sorry I know it's been a while and I hope you're doing better. Um, Mads and I...we need your help. I, uh, wouldn't ask if...sorry. I'm not good at this. I'm sorry about whatever it is...uh...just call me back. Please...I, uh, I really miss you."
He'd never heard the large man sound so...small. His finger hovered over redial before he slammed the phone back on the receiver and went back to sulking in his chair, spinning the ring around his finger.
About an hour later, his phone rang again with a number he didn't recognize. After letting it go to voicemail, he listened to it, slipping to the floor next to the phone table.
"Vlad, it's Maddie."
She didn't have to say her name: he'd memorized that voice long ago.
"I know Jack called you, and I know that you and him...aren't on the best terms, and I get it but...Jack and I are in a lot of trouble. We...did it, Vlad. We opened a portal."
His heart stopped and static filled the air around him.
"A fully operational portal to the Ghost Zone. It's...it's amazing and to see our work-yours included-become reality...words can't describe it."
She paused. Vlad couldn't move.
"But something went wrong. And now-we're in danger. You're the only one we trust enough to...please just...our address is…"
He hadn't even packed a bag. Hadn't called his companies to tell them he would be out of town. Hadn't gotten anyone to feed his cat. He just transformed and flew as fast as he could to some backwater Illinois town called Amity Park. But as soon as he got here, floating, invisible across the street, he stopped. Remembering who he was. Remembering what they'd done to him. Remembering that even if he offered Maddie everything he had, she'd never be his.
But he couldn't bring himself to leave.
After two days of sleeping in the self-proclaimed, "best hotel in Amity Park," and buying new clothes in lieu of packing any, he stood outside their door. Feeling like the geeky college freshman who Jack took under his wing so many years ago.
He should have called.
He should have just gone in invisible and seen what the problem was.
He should have-
He rang the doorbell.
Two seconds later, a redheaded girl came to the door. Sixteen, maybe seventeen. Large bags pooled under her eyes and her hair was a tangled mess-she looked like he felt.
"Can I help you?"
Realizing he hadn't said anything, he sputtered in a way he hadn't since he was eighteen. "Yes, uh..Yes." He cleared his throat. "I'm Vlad Masters-your, uh, parents called me?"
"Oh, you're Vlad. The Vlad!" She blinked at him and began smoothing down her hair. "It's so nice to meet you, I'm Jazz. Sorry, I didn't know you were coming, I uh, wow. I've read about your businesses-it's amazing what you've been able to do with-"
"Can I come in?"
"Oh! Oh! Yes sorry! How rude of me-I swear I'm not as much of a nut as my parents." She laughed it off, but her eye twitched.
"Just, uh, just make yourself at home, I'll, uh, go get Mom and Dad-"
"-I think they're in the lab." She opened a large steel door in the kitchen and ran downstairs.
Taking off his jacket and placing it on the coat rack by the door, he took in the photos. Twenty years had aged his friends. Jack's hair was graying, and Maddie had the lightest of wrinkles around her eyes. He looked at the photos of the children, Jazz, who he just met, had trophies littered around the room for various academic competitions. The boy, Vlad wanted to say his name was Dale or Derek or something like that, looked like the perfect blend of both his parents.
The metal door suddenly slammed open.
"VLADDIE!" Jack ran towards him and wrapped him the tightest hug, pinning his arms against his side. "It's so good to see you!"
It took everything Vlad had to not go intangible. "Jack-can't breathe-please."
"Oh! Haha! Sorry V-man!"
Ah. Yes. The nicknames.
Vlad drank her in, imprinting this image of her in his mind. She was still stunning, purple eyes, red hair, and that soft smile. But there was something in her eyes, something off that caused Vlad to walk over to her and pull her into a hug. "Hi."
He swallowed as he pulled away and cleared his throat.
"You guys never told me that Vlad was Vlad Masters! This is crazy!" Jazz ran another hand through her hair. She was just as nuts as her parents, just in a much more aware package. She gasped suddenly- "I'll bring Danny down!" She ran up the stairs and out of the conversation.
Right. Danny. Not Dale.
"So, how are you?" Jack asked.
"Fine. Fine. Business is booming." He put his hands in pockets to keep from wringing them. "You?" He looked straight at Maddie.
"Oh, you know," Jack laughed but his eyes darted off to the left.
Maddie cleared her throat and looked at her husband just as the house started shaking. "Get down!" She shouted and dove at Vlad, tackling him to the ground. The proximity would have killed him if Jack hadn't jumped on the pile and smushed them both.
"Sweet butter crumpets, what are you doing!"
"Shhh!" Jack said.
"Vlad," Maddie whispered, her breath warm on his neck. "Look."
Above them, the kitchen cabinets flung open and plates and pots clattered to the floor. Knives went flying across the kitchen and into the wall near the stairs to the lab. Ice covered the walls, starting at the ceiling and slowly creeping down the floor.
Vlad would have shivered if he were capable.
Just as suddenly as it started, everything calmed and the three crawled away from each other.
"A poltergeist?" Vlad muttered. His core thumped heavily in his chest, the ecto energy still lingering in the air like a dense fog.
Jack grimaced. "That's what we think, but we haven't been able to capture its physical form yet so there's nothing we can-" He looked over at his wife and both of their eyes bugged.
"The kids!" they shouted together and went running towards the stairs.
Vlad rolled his eyes; they hadn't changed at all.
"I'm fine!" Jazz shouted as she came down the stairs, testing each one as she crept back down. "Just another seismic anomaly-"
"Seismic anomaly!" Jack looked about to burst. "Jazzy, could a seismic anomaly throw knives across the room?"
"No! Dad don't be crazy-it's not ghosts-Ghosts don't exist!"
"Then how do you explain the portal!" Jack tested back.
They continued arguing as Vlad back stood up. It appeared Jazz inherited her mother's brain and her father's persistence. What a...disturbing combination. "Could I see it?"
Maddie's furrowed brow loosened with something else beside the squabble to focus on. "Of course, but-" She looked back over at Jazz. "Where's your brother?"
"I don't know. He wasn't in his room."
"Funny," Jack's eyes narrowed, "Do you think the ghost…?"
"There's no such thing as ghosts! It's a perfectly explainable case of seismic activity and magnetic fields!"
Maddie didn't hear her daughter. "If the ghost has Danny then-"
"I'm fine!" A voice shouted down the stairs.
Vlad's core lurched to the left as his body jolted with his ghost sense. Was it coming back? He scoped out the room until his eyes stopped on Danny Fenton, hoodie pulled up so you could barely see his face other than the dark circles under his eyes and adjusting his sleeves to hide pale skin and the end of a scar on his left hand. Vlad narrowed his eyes. Vlad glanced over at Jack and Maddie, but they didn't even flinch at the strangeness of their son.
"I was just in the uh...bathroom. I'm fine." His eyes widened when he saw Vlad. "Um, hi, you're uh, Vlad, right?"
"Yes. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, son." Vlad reached out to shake the young man's hand, every atom of his being jumping around without notice to the humans around him. It wasn't possible. It's...It couldn't possibly have happened twice. He didn't have any ecto-acne, he was probably just possessed-
The handshake sent a shock through both of their systems. Vlad's hand felt frozen, and he pulled it back quickly. He couldn't take his eyes off of the impossible boy who stared at him with wide eyes.
"Sorry!" the boy sputtered.
"Are you okay?" Maddie asked.
"I uh-um, I can explain. I-" The house started to shake again.
Jack pulled out an ectogun making both Danny and Vlad jump again.
"Just a little static electricity, Madeline, nothing to worry about." The shaking stopped, but Vlad felt wide fearful eyes land on him. Vlad looked away from him and glared at Jack, "And please, Jack, put the gun away. It's not necessary."
Like a hurt puppy, Jack tucked the ectogun into the holster on his belt.
"Could I please see the portal?" Vlad asked. It took everything in him to not look back at Danny.
"Right! Of course!" Jack looped an arm around Vlad and pulled him towards the stairs.
Ducking out of his grasp, the billionaire turned around and smiled at the bug eyed teen. "Care to join us, Daniel?"
"I don't really like-I mean-"
"Come on, Danny-none of us should be alone while there's a ghost in the house-Jazz that means you, too," Maddie said.
"What!" Jazz sputtered, "There's no ghost! And I have things to study for!"
"Which you've been studying for since six this morning. Now come. Both of you."
Vlad started down the stairs last and the massiveness of the lab captivated him. Not the latest technology available, but if Vlad knew anything about Maddie and Jack it was that they could take anything and make it state of the art. Even humans.
His eyes fell on Danny again. He watched the kid physically shake with each step he took into the lab eyes darting over everything. Vlad gasped when he watched the kid's foot slip through the floor, sending a layer of ice around the lab.
"Nobody move!" Maddie said, eyes narrowing around the lab, trying to pinpoint where the anomaly was coming from using the device on her wrist.
Jack had the gun out again.
Vlad bit his lip and knelt down. Locking eyes with Danny, he sent him a smirk before charging the floor with his own electricity to dissipate the ice. Vlad almost laughed at the look of recognition in the boy's face.
Vlad put a finger to his lips, internally shaking.
"It looks like the ghost's moved to another room," Maddie said.
Vlad stood and helped Danny up, this time braced for the shock of uncontrolled cold. The boy hadn't taken his eyes off of him. Getting a closer look at him now, Vlad saw just how pale he was, the almost grayness of his lips, the glowing twinge to his eyes, the sharpness of his canines that would only increase with time. He hadn't learn to hide it yet.
Releasing him and spinning towards the adults, Vlad asked, "The portal?" But he already knew, he could feel it: radiating from the far wall. "Can you feel it too?" Vlad whispered to Danny.
"Yes, of course, right over here," Maddie said, walking towards a control panel near the octagonal doors in the far wall. The doors opened slowly, revealing a giant, glowing green portal. "Quite an upgrade from the proto-portal, huh?" she smirked.
Vlad's eyes widened as the portal pulled him over to it. They'd done it. Well, Vlad was certain that Maddie did most of it but it should have been impossible to create a stabilized, artificial portal. But they'd actually done it.
"I wouldn't get too close, Vladdy, not without a hazmat suit at least," Jack said seriously. "It's a beaut though, huh?"
Vlad just nodded; he couldn't help but agree. This must've been what mutated Danny. They knew the first one had ruined his life, and then they went and built one in the basement of their own home? He bit his lip, surprised that the scale of this monster didn't just outright kill the boy.
Maddie sighed, walking up to Vlad, a tablet in one hand, monitoring the portal's levels. "It would be if it was just a window and not a door. We created a set of ghost-proof doors to try to stop whatever is tormenting us from coming through-"
If it were Jack talking, Vlad would have snorted.
"-but they don't appear to have helped."
"Because it's not ghosts!" Jazz interjected, "You guys created a giant contained wormhole-which, before you try to stop me," She narrowed her eyes at her father. "-should be impossible! So I'm bending my rationality enough to account for that! It's creating earthquakes and disrupting the magnetic fields to create, what you would like to call, a poltergeist."
"Then why is ice forming over so many surfaces? And why-"
"Jazz; Jack. Stop. Both of you." Maddie sighed. "Jazz, honey, your theories are valid, but your father, Vlad-"
The way she said his name made his heart flutter.
"-and I have more expertise in this area than you."
"You're a ghost hunter?" Danny asked, taking steps backwards towards the stairs.
"Enthusiast. Hunter is such an ugly word," Vlad said but clenched his jaw when Danny didn't relax.
"And he's one of the best!" Jack smiled. "What did you always used to say, V-man? That if only you could get your hands on a ghost you would tear it apart molecule by molecule? Haha! What a thought!"
Danny somehow got paler.
"Atom by atom. And that was a long time ago. Before...well…" Vlad sobered. "Before the accident."
Jack tensed, and Maddie stopped typing.
Vlad cleared his throat, looking at Danny. "I had, what you could call, ecto-acne due to severe...ectoplasmic contamination. My research at that point switched to curing and...managing that."
Danny opened his mouth to say something, but Maddie spoke first, "Which is why your father and I always wear hazmat suits in the lab. To protect ourselves."
"And thank God, you had one on when the portal shocked you, Danny-boy!" Jack smiled.
"Come again," Vlad said.
"Oh, Danny here got the old Portal working! Genius, this one!"
"Genius!" Jazz pulled out her hair, "He could have been killed! And you're commending that behavior?"
"But I'm fine," Danny stuttered, right hand rubbing his neck. "It was just a little shock, it was nothing. I'm fine. Perfectly, fine. And alive." He swallowed the last few words.
"And how exactly did you get it working?" Vlad probed and then the lights began to flicker.
The flickering got more erratic and beakers began to shatter around them. Vlad didn't move, keeping his eyes trained on the boy whose eyes glowed bright green. Making sure the other Fentons weren't looking, he teleported to the boy and whispered in his ear. "You need to calm down."
"I can't-I-" The boy's hands started glowing green.
Vlad grabbed them and absorbed the energy. Glancing back at Maddie and Jack, he saw the two pressed under a workbench, holding Jazz. "They are going to see, and you're going to out us both."
"I-I don't know how to control it!" A wind screeched around the room scattering papers everywhere and lifting up the smaller pieces of tech. It sounded like they were in a wind tunnel.
Desperate green eyes looked up at Vlad. "What's happening to me?"
Vlad's core sunk. He was instantly transported back to being a young adult, bed ridden, alone, trying to hide a slowly mutating body. The doctors had no answers. The government was catching word of him. Fearing that he wasn't human anymore. Not knowing how to stop the mutations. Not having anybody to talk to about what was going on. He looked at the kid, watching a transformation slowly wash over him.
White hair. Black and white jumpsuit. Same terrified green eyes. Vlad blinked. This kid already had a ghost form. Everything was happening so much faster to him.
"Shit! Shit! Shit! They're going to see!" Eyes looking to Vlad for answers.
Vlad never was a father, but the way this kid looked at him made him feel like one.
"No, they're not."
The kid gasped when Vlad's eyes turned red as he filled the room with darkness. It would buy him a few extra minutes to try and calm the kid down.
"How do I stop this? I don't even look human as a human anymore! How did they not notice? Shit, please don't tell my parents! They'll-they'll-How don't they know? Do they know about you? How are you-?" Danny was hyperventilating. Vlad doubted he knew that he didn't need to breathe.
"I got shocked by the other portal-but that's not-"
"How did you get inside the protoportal?"
"Inside? Wait-you were inside the-Holy fuck." He swallowed the word back down. "I will explain everything, I promise. But my darkness is only going to buy us so much time before your parents start trying to find us."
"You did that?"
"Just like you're shaking the house and throwing things."
"But not on purpose! I can't do any of this on purpose! I'm possessed or dead-holy fuck am I dead?"
Vlad gripped his hands tighter and began to feel the kid's ecto-energy burning his fingers. Pecan pie, this kid's strong. "You're not dead. Well…"
"You're half ghost."
The wind stopped. "Half…? So, what, I'm half dead?"
"Danny! Vlad! Where are you guys!" Both halfas jumped and the wind picked up again.
"We're okay!" Vlad shouted, "Stay where you are!" Taking a deep breath, he knelt down in front of the kid. "Look, you are, as you said, 'half-dead.'"
"And you're awful at this."
Vlad rolled his eyes. "And I can explain all of this but right now we're running out of time and you need to change back."
"But I can't control it!"
"Yes, you can." Vlad's eyes flashed a bright red. If this kid got him caught by Maddie and Jack-the most (Maddie forgive him) incompetent ghost hunters he'd ever met, he'd-he'd...He couldn't even threaten him fully in his head. He saw too much of himself in him.
"Do you feel a ball of energy in your chest, near where your heart is but hums instead of beats?"
"Uh." Danny's brows furrowed. "Yes-yes."
"That's your core. It's like, um, the heart and brain of your ghost form." He gestured to the way Danny looked right now. "You need to engage that and transform back to your human form."
"How-how do I do that, I don't...I…?"
"You need to relax. Everything that's happening is because you're scared. Right now all of your powers are triggered by emotions, but we-I will help you control that, understand?"
"Why would you help me?"
"Because I…" Vlad blinked. He had revealed to this kid that he'd never met before his biggest secret. Hadn't even thought about it, just used his powers without even thinking. He should leave, overshadow the kid to make him forget everything, and then never come back.
"Because I know what it's like to be afraid. And I know what it's like to not have any control or anyone to talk to and I know you have no reason to trust me because you've never met me, but I want to help you. I want…"
"My parents said-"
"I know. But they don't know that this is possible. I didn't know that this was possible until it happened to me. They're never going to suspect you of anything unless they outright see you transform, understand? So you need to focus and change back."
Danny nodded and took a deep breath. As he closed his eyes, Vlad let go of his hands.
Slowly, the wind stopped and the house quieted while the boy in the middle of all of it took deep breaths. In a flash, he changed back into the small boy Vlad had met not thirty minutes ago.
"Nice job," Vlad said, ruffling his hair.
"Thanks." His voice had a certain amount of amazement in it.
Vlad stared at him for a good second, and the first smile he'd felt in years crossed his face. He willed the darkness away and let out a breath he'd been holding.
Jack ran over to the two as soon as the darkness dissipated. "Are you two okay?"
"Yeah." Vlad kept his eyes on Danny. "I think we're going to be fine."