The corridor stretching out in front of him was bathed in dim blueish light, that illuminated no more than necessary so the night shift had enough light to see where they were going but kept the hospital dim enough not to disturb the sleeping patients.
A sign above a door in the middle of the corridor told Danny that he’d landed in the isolation ward and though he couldn’t see anyone he turned invisible out of pure instinct. His legs were nothing more than intangible mist as he moved down the corridor with the curiosity of a child who had snuck into the room their parents ordinarily kept locked.
He’d solemnly promised not to interfere with anything outside of their agreement, but that couldn’t stop him from at least looking around. It wasn’t like he’d been put right where he’d wanted to go either. Like last time he had to find the scene of the metaphorical crime by himself.
Each room that he passed through he saw, a single person in a single bed, some were visibly uncomfortable with whatever condition had brought them here while others simply looked exhausted.
Danny caught a glimpse of the bathroom mirrors and would have passed through but halted, perhaps because of uncertainty, although… no, that was exactly what he had Clockwork’s amulet for. And it wasn’t too late to return just yet, because he hadn’t actually found Vlad or spoken a single word with him. His life wasn’t so bad the way it was now. He’d made it to college, he didn’t feel the urge to destroy everything and anything in sight, and Sam and Tucker were still with him. His parents didn’t know. Not yet, but that was alright. One day, Danny kept telling himself.
As he became visible again a face with greenish skin, pointy ears and flaming hair looked at him. From his half-open mouth peeked a pair of fangs. The only familiar thing about his face were the eyes, still the same glowing green as they had always been. A little smile flashed over Danny’s face, showing off his fangs as he did so.
He’d taken a page out of Dan’s book. It had taken time and effort till he had been able to alter his regular ghostly appearance to this, and though it was strange Danny felt a tinge of pride. It must have been what had convinced Clockwork, or perhaps the Master of Time only had a morbid curiosity when it came to fate. All that Danny was concerned about was that he had agreed to his proposal.
Taking a deep breath Danny turned himself invisible again and zipped through the other rooms till he found the one he had been looking for.
Vlad’s room looked like the tent his parents had confined him, Sam and Tucker to when they had been infected with the deadly ecto-acne. This time it wasn’t, but apparently science hadn’t figured that out yet. His mother surely would’ve known, but that wasn’t an option of course.
Somehow Danny had expected Vlad to be awake and lamenting his fate, but in the greater scheme of things, it was probably a good thing that he'd managed to find some sleep. With a sigh Danny floated over the nightstand where a folded photo of his mother stood in a small picture frame. Perhaps it was a good thing too that Vlad hadn’t taken to destroying all pictures of his father on sight, Danny pondered.
He studied the photo of his mother for a while. It was a beautiful picture of her in a dress that had little ghosts all over it and Sam would have loved if it had been less colourful. Her long red hair hung in curls over her shoulder, as she smiled at the camera. Now that he got a closer look Danny realised that it must’ve been taken just before she had entered college. And though he couldn’t see who had been photographed with her Danny could say with certainty that it hadn’t been Vlad.
“If you weren’t such a creep, this would’ve been really sweet,” Danny observed with a little scowl. The picture had made him smile, seeing his mother so young and happy, perhaps excitedly looking forward to her future, just like Jazz when she had entered college and how he had hoped to feel. Space was finally within his reach, but… instead of words the dull sound of an explosion that was just a faint memory of something that had never happened finished that thought for him.
And yet, the picture wasn’t with his parents but with Vlad and that really spoiled the find for him.
With a quiet sound Danny made himself tangible again and set his feet almost silently on the floor. Beside him he could feel a warm tingle, but he paid it no mind instead tried to quietly open the drawers of the nightstand to see what else Vlad had brought with him.
There was a notebook, a small assortment of pens, loose research papers, chewing gum, sharpeners and erasers for his pencils and a couple of books. Other than that nothing of value or interest that Danny could see.
Beside him Vlad shifted in the drowsy state between sleep and waking up. He mumbled something incomprehensible but clearly annoyed. When he realised that someone was beside him, even more, that this someone couldn’t possibly be human Vlad scrambled into an upright position and pulled at the blanket up as if he meant to hide behind it.
“What on earth are you doing here! I said no visitors!” Vlad hissed angrily. “I’ll have the nurses kick you out.”
“You don’t want them to do that,” Danny grinned showing off his fangs. “You know what I am, don’t you?” Leisurely he closed the drawer he’d just opened and allowed Vlad to study him with equal amounts of fascination and horrified curiosity.
There was nothing malicious about his question, it was simple curiosity whether Vlad fully understood his condition yet. He probably didn’t. Perhaps he wasn’t fourteen but that would have hardly given him any more clues.
“Oh great, you’ve come to mock me,” was Vlad’s dry assessment as Danny lifted his legs off the floor and crossed them in the air.
“Somehow I should have expected this,” Danny sighed to himself. “Against better judgement and knowledge – not here to mock you.”
Vlad’s piercing eyes still raked his figure, but there was nothing about his appearance that would give Danny Phantom away. He’d traded his jumpsuit for something more Vlad-like for this conversation.
“You…” Vlad’s voice was dripping with accusation. “It was you who made me this abomination!” Furiously Vlad’s brows knitted together and within a flash he’d turned into Plasmius.
“Cool,” Danny couldn’t help a little laugh. “You already figured out how that works, do you still accidentally turn partially intangible?” He asked, trying to remain calm in the face of Plasmius’ almost unchanged form. He looked the part of course, it was unmistakably him, but right now Vlad looked like nothing more than a scrawny, nerdy college student in a Halloween costume. It was almost enough to make Danny laugh and only through well-trained restrained managed not to.
Easily he moved out of reach when Vlad tried to grab him, more than likely to hold him accountable for what he thought Danny had done to him.
“Well, I suppose I should thank you,” Vlad acknowledged grimly when he didn't succeed. “This way that idiot's accident didn’t completely ruin my life now did it.”
“Jealous much?” Danny wasn’t sure if he were to ever outgrow the snarky comments, but he had a feeling that it was a doomed endeavour. Still, he managed to resist the urge to defend his father. That wasn’t why he was here after all.
As Plasmius, Vlad’s ecto-acne was gone, but he looked just as miserable and bitter as before. Danny allowed himself to be grabbed by the front of his shirt. “I’m forgetting myself,” he said, turned himself intangible to escape the grip and let himself sink to the floor. “I didn’t give you your powers,” he admitted and took a quiet breath as he transformed back. “I’m here because I’m like you.”
Disbelief mixed with surprise on Vlad’s face, as the realisation of what he had just seen was slowly sinking in.
“I’m a halfa, just like you.” With folded arms and shaggy dark hair, Danny stood at Vlad’s hospital bed. They were about the same age and height, although Vlad was a good deal skinnier than him. A lanky young man who had prematurely greyed due to an unfortunate accident. And thought his life over because well... he wouldn't be Vlad if he didn't think that.
Amused Danny watched as Vlad gawked. “Did that moron cause another accident?!” He suddenly fumed.
“Nope,” Danny replied. Which was technically true, he had caused the accident himself, however, it hadn’t been possible without his father’s miscalculations. But Vlad didn’t need to know that. “Well, there was an accident,” Danny admitted and swapped back into his newfound ghostly form to float at Vlad’s bedside again. “But it was kind of my own fault…” He shrugged.
Beneath his clothes Clockwork’s amulet weighed heavy and cold against his chest, an ever-present reminder that he couldn’t stay.
“So there is a cure for this blight?” Vlad was suddenly intrigued and Danny didn’t have to guess to know that he was talking about the ecto-acne.
Glancing at his mother’s photograph Danny hoped that she might forgive him, but he couldn’t allow Vlad to make up with them. Not yet. “There will be one…” Danny admitted.
“Oh, trust me, there was plenty acne involved when I was turned just not the ghostly sort maybe that’s why I was spared,” Danny replied dry-witted. Being a teenager had been no joke and he was more than glad that he’d grown out of it. But of course he couldn’t let Vlad know that.
Miserably Vlad changed back into his human form, his previously dark hair turned grey within an instant and hung unkempt down his back, his red eyes turned into a sorrowful blue. He grumbled something from which Danny could only make out buffoon and never forgive – he could piece the rest together himself.
“Fortunately, for both of us that’s not why I’m here.” And for the first time, Danny realised that he meant it. He was happy not having to meddle with anyone’s relationships to that degree. It was far more responsibility than he wanted, besides, just like he had told Clockwork – he liked his birthday and he would be happier if it happened.
Warily Vlad glanced up at him, his face covered in ecto-acne and the look of someone who truly believed every good thing in his life lost. “Oh, spare me the pity,” he growled.
“Sorry…” Almost sheepishly Danny scratched the back of his neck.
It had taken years for the thought to take root but now it was too easy to imagine himself in Vlad’s shoes. Perhaps if he had been older and less dependant on his parents he would have isolated himself the same way, out of fear what his parents would do to him if they found out.
“We’re of the same kind,” Danny explained and easily made himself comfortable, sprawled out in the air above the hospital bed so that Vlad had to look up to him. “I know what it’s like, I have some years of experience on you, I can teach you.” The last part of his sentence echoed three-fold through the small hospital room as Danny split himself into three just the way Vlad had when he had told him the same thing.
Biting down on the inside of his lip he managed to hold back a little smile when astonishment briefly flickered across Vlad’s face. “I could do that?” He gasped, excitement mixed with disbelief again. “I could do that,” he repeated, a sly expression on his face.
Probably thinking about all the ways he could use this power against his father and win his mother over, Danny thought as he watched him and bit back the commentaries he wanted to make. Or perhaps he was already planning his future robberies, but he couldn’t let him know about that either.
Perhaps that was why Clockwork had agreed because he knew how futile this effort was and he only waited for Danny to realise it himself. The Master of Time was kind of funny like that sometimes.
Without prompt Vlad turned himself back into a ghost and tried to copy Danny’s trick, but he didn’t even manage to grow a second head. Frustrated and disappointed he turned his attention back to Danny. “Why doesn’t it work?” He demanded.
“Dude, you’ve been a ghost for like a week, it took me half a month before I stopped turning intangible involuntarily.”
“I know,” Vlad grumbled.
It was only then that Danny realised that Vlad hadn’t been looking for an answer, but simply a way to let out his frustration. Fair enough. It was probably better this way than if he let it consume him. “Seriously, though, you should work on that first.”
Vlad glowered. “I’ve never seen you around here.. are you a new student?”
“Something… like that… you can call me Neil,” Danny offered helpfully and tried for a smile. “Or Phantasma, that’s what the other ghosts call me.”
“I know,” Danny replied, showing his fangs as he spoke. A glance at the clock told him that it would soon be time to go.
“What did you call me before?” He asked thoughtfully.
“A halfa? That’s what a human with all the powers of a ghost is called,” Danny explained, realising that he really did know more than Vlad right now. Of course it had occurred to him, it was just the first time that it was really sinking in. “That’s what the ghosts call us anyway.”
Something that resembled a little smile showed on Vlad’s face, it was a confused kind of relief, the kind that you only got by finding something familiar and like you without fully understanding all aspects of it.
Danny had set no particular time for his stay, other than that he needed to go back before someone would miss him. He figured they still had a few moments. He couldn't sleep anyway, and when he did he didn't sleep well.
Strangely enough, Clockwork’s elderly form smiled at him when Danny stepped out of the portal and rearranged himself into a more familiar form, before he offered Clockwork his amulet back in his open palm.
“Thank you,” Clockwork answered in the form of a child now. “I will reserve judgement for now and await your next visit.”
“What about the Observants?” Danny asked, it was the first time he had actually considered them.
Clockwork chuckled. “Do not concern yourself with them, ghost child.”
“I’m not a child anymore, you know,” Danny replied, pointedly. Although Clockwork didn’t seem to be mocking him with this expression like some of the other ghosts.
“But you are a child compared to be,” Clockwork replied matter-of-factly. “Very well,” he said at the tail-end of a sigh and shifted into his adult form. “I will call you Phantom then,” he conceded, a little smile playing around the corners of his mouth.
Danny returned the smile, ignoring the dull sound of an explosion that had never happened in the back of his mind. Perhaps, if he hadn’t had Sam and Tucker, hadn’t had Jazz or the support of the town as Danny Phantom at least, he would have blamed Clockwork for this, but Danny felt no resentment towards the rather strange ghost that called himself the Master of Time.
Perhaps Clockwork even knew. Perhaps he didn’t. Danny wasn’t concerned about finding out, but he wanted the sound of the explosion to stop which had been meant to tear his life to shreds.
For two years it had been the background noise to his life before he had managed to forget about it. Then college had come and at first everything had been fine, but a couple of months ago he’d woken up to the deafening sound of the Nasty Burger blowing his family and friends to bits and pieces. Ever since the cycle had started anew.
Or perhaps it had been because he’d seen Dani who had just started college and been excited to see a familiar face again. Dani had been lucky, luckier than she herself perhaps realised. Or perhaps it had been Jazz's blabbering on about her psychology lectures because she required someone to talk at to get her thoughts straight every now and then. One by one they had stacked to form a Jenga pile of misery.
Hospitals smelt like nothing in particular, well that wasn’t quite true, they smelt clean. Sometimes like bleach or alcohol, or old people, or unfortunately unpleasant depending on the specific room you were in. Vlad’s room in the isolation ward however smelt simply… clean. There was no hint of the sweaty, sickly musk of a sick person. Just a miserable man with ecto-acne.
As he approached Danny thought he could see a little reddish gust leave Vlad’s mouth. Curiously he eyed the other man, making a circle around him while Vlad wrote in one of his notebooks. Equations that looked familiar from his parent’s laboratory but didn’t make the most sense to him.
Again there was a little red gust and Vlad glanced around. Danny waited. He hadn’t planned on staying invisible but seeing that Vlad was trying to figure out his ghost sense he wanted to see if the other noticed.
“Is that you Neil, or were you just my imagination after all?” Vlad asked sarcastically.
Easily Danny turned himself visible again, lifting the corners of his mouth to show his fangs. Pointy ears and greenish skin to match gave Vlad something familiar to look at. Although he hadn’t been able to do much about the black and white colour scheme of his clothes Danny had been able to make them look a little more like Vlad’s. This time however Danny allowed him only one good look before he turned himself human again.
“Not your imagination,” Danny admittedly awkwardly. Time had passed, but evidently more for Vlad than for him.
“How very kind of you to grace me with your presence.”
“I have a life you know.”
“If you haven’t noticed – I don’t!” Vlad hissed sharply.
Danny winced ever so slightly, but he managed to keep the sympathetic look that Vlad had last time interpreted as pity from his face. “I’ll come back, as long as you’re here.”
“Here? Oh please, I’ll never get to leave this hospital…”
“In time,” Danny simply replied with all the certainty he could find. Whether or not Vlad wanted to believe him, his teenage years spoke of a different truth than the man in front of him believed in. Besides Clockwork would likely have his head if he told Vlad the truth. “What are you doing?”
“Realising that I’m never getting out of this hospital,” Vlad grumbled and after a moment of hesitation handed his notebook over to Danny.
Now that he got a good look at the equations they suddenly looked a lot more familiar. They looked like what his mother had been scribbling on loose scraps of paper while trying to find a cure for the deadlier version of what Vlad was suffering from right now. “Why are you the one trying to cure yourself, isn’t that supposed to be the hospital’s job?” Danny asked, raising a brow.
Vlad arched a brow in response. “Name one hospital that knows how to deal with ectoplasm.”
“Touché.” Danny sighed. “Do you still phase through things when you don’t want to?”
“No,” Vlad replied without looking up from the notebook as Danny handed it back to him.
Despite knowing the answer Danny asked, “why don’t ask the people you built the portal with?”
“Are you crazy?!” Vlad fumed, “I couldn’t–” The picture of Maddie caught his eye and turned his head away. “I couldn’t ever show her my face like this…” After turning into Plasmius he added, “or like this.”
He believed it. Danny could tell just by looking at his face and he couldn’t even blame him. In a way, Vlad had been right when he’d said they were more alike than Danny had wanted to admit, but it hadn’t been in the ways Vlad had thought them to be. Both of them were hiding from her. Danny glanced at the picture of his mother in the summer dress. Each for their own reasons but with causes too similar. Once again he wanted to say that his mother would find a cure, just like she had in the future, even without him to point her in the right direction. Instead, Danny only let a quiet sigh.
His eyes had been focused on a crease in the bedsheet lifted to look at Vlad who was once again engrossed in his notebook. “Can I… ask you something weird?” Danny wasn’t quite sure whether this was a good idea, he couldn’t let Vlad get over his mother if he didn’t want to disturb the timeline too greatly, but he had a feeling that Vlad wouldn’t get over her unless someone forced him to.
He hopped over the end of the bed and made himself comfortable at the foot end with his legs crossed, forcing Vlad to draw his close. Instinctively Vlad seemed to float out of reach and though it was hardly his doing Danny felt pleased as he watched him.
“She must be really great, to have you and that other guy fighting over her,” he stated, pointing at his mother’s photograph. And of course she was, she was his mother.
Vlad pulled a face, his red eyes staring drearily at Danny. “Not much of a fight now is it.”
For a terribly strange second Danny felt compelled to tell him about the ability to overshadow people but it was gone before his mouth could do something terrible. Instead he remained silent. “Was that taken before college?”
Vlad turned his attention towards the picture and sighed fondly in the way Danny had come to loathe because it meant he was going to flirt with his mother while muttering death wishes for his father under his breath. Still, he kept quiet and let Vlad reminisce about whatever the picture reminded him of.
“Shortly, yes,” he eventually admitted. “I took the picture.”
Danny sighed a sigh of relief he didn’t know he had been holding, realising only now that he’d feared Vlad had stolen the picture somehow because it didn’t look like it belonged in some yearbook.
“She’s beautiful, smart and all I ever wanted.” Now he truly looked wistful as he stared at the picture.
Danny sighed again. “So, you want her to be happy right?” Again, that dreaded explosion that never was rang in his ears.
“Yes, but with me, not that blunderhead who almost killed me!”
“Technically he did,” Danny caught himself thinking aloud. There were no ghosts without death, however, he could see on Vlad’s face that that had been the wrong answer.
“Thanks for reminding me, unfortunately, half-ghosts aren’t legally exempt from taxes,” Vlad growled.
Unexpectedly amused Danny snorted. “God I wish… no college tuition, no taxes…” A deep heavy sigh broke free from his chest. “They would have to rewrite the law on what legally dead means….” And that was where it stopped being funny. Ghost bureaucracy already wasn’t fun in the ghost realm, Walker had made sure of that, he didn’t need the human world to start with that too.
Vlad didn’t ask, although Danny had a feeling he wanted to and the answer would have been that he had wanted to check up on him. Instead Danny wanted to know, “how are your ghost powers treating you?”
Unexpectedly Vlad almost grinned. “Very well,” he announced, puffing out his chest as he did so. “This form is so much more powerful than my human body, if I didn’t need the other for this world I’d probably leave it.”
Drawing ins a sharp breath Danny couldn’t help the concerned frown. “Word of advice. Bad idea.”
“Why did you try it?”
A dry smile answered Vlad. “You haven’t got the foggiest.” Danny breathed out a quiet sigh.
“… alright? – Peachy.” Danny muttered, closing his eyes. Lately he could hear the sound of all good things in his life dying more often and it was harder to ignore. “Let’s get some fresh air…”
Shadows danced over the grey ceiling of his dorm room of which Danny couldn’t say which were real and which were figments of his imagination. Whenever he closed his eyes he could hear the explosion again. Over and over and over. Like a broken record playing in his mind.
A warning of what he could have become and locked up in the thermos Clockwork was guarding. A shadow that Danny felt would walk with him till his twenty-fifth birthday, till he would have officially outgrown Dan.
“Danny?” Dani’s voice roused him from his half-sleep.
With a sigh she opened the door. Concern of the sisterly kind showed on her face as she approached him. “I knew it, you haven’t been sleeping, what are you up to? I don’t sense any ghosts.” Her scrutinising became almost judgemental when she put her arms on her hips.
“I’m fine,” Danny yawned and made room so Dani could sit on his bed. “I’ve just been busy.”
“I know college-tired-Danny,” Dani replied, matter-of-factly. “I know studied-all-night, played-video-games-all-night, talking-with-Sam-and-Tucker-all-night, did-three-weeks-worth-of-homework-in-one-night Danny and this is not you right now,” she assessed astutely. “This is been-chasing-ghosts-for-a-week-straight-Danny.”
In brotherly fashion Danny threw his pillow at her face. “Sometimes I hate that you’re me.”
And though Dani smirked there was a sympathetic edge to her expression. “So who is it?” Danny hesitated. “I’ll find out anyway.” The way she said it, it almost sounded like a threat.
Before he could stop himself Danny looked at her, studying his twin, his little sister for a moment before he said, very quietly, “Vlad.”
Wide-eyed Dani froze, clutching the pillow he’d thrown at her. “He is here?” She whispered. The sudden mention of her creator sent a mix of shock, disbelief, fury and fright through her system. No matter how much her powers had grown Vlad had done too much to her too early, and a part of her had remained that little girl scared of dissolving.
“No, not this Vlad, not here,” Danny quickly shook his head, but that only made Dani wary. “I’ll show you.”
For a brief moment as they entered Clockwork’s tower Vlad was forgotten as Dani gaped in silent awe. “What is this place?”
“My realm,” Clockwork promptly replied, then he turned to Danny and added rather sharply. “I don’t remember this being an open house.”
“It’s not an open house if it’s the same person entering,” Danny replied and Dani smiled at the Master of Time. Her outfit hadn’t changed much, she still wore the same black and white two-piece jumpsuit. Her long white hair had become more like Ember’s and Dan’s flames but she still wore it in a ponytail.
Clockwork made an understanding noise, however he still didn’t seem entirely pleased with the situation. “What brings you here?” He asked, his adult form shifting into an elder as he spoke.
He’d thought about that all the way here but even now that he stood before the other Danny didn’t quite know how to explain himself. Thoughtlessly he let his gaze wander. In the background there was the continuous sound of something knocking into metal, but it only really registered when Dani asked about it.
“Can you show her what was supposed to happen to me?”
Clockwork hummed, studying the both of them for what felt like a small eternity, while he went almost twice through all of his three stages. “Very well.” With a flick of his wrist the images that had been playing on the open portal blurred and formed something entirely new and yet, for Danny at least awfully familiar. He’d never seen it play out in its entirety; Dani’s horrified stare was glued to the portal.
“No, I won’t believe it.” Vehemently Dani shook her head. In the background Dan knocked with audible force into the thermos. “Wait, is that the Vlad you’ve been seeing?” She asked with even more disbelief, frantically looking back and forth between the image on the portal and Danny.
“No,” Danny said, to his surprise in unison with Clockwork. “That isn’t me and I won’t become that,” Danny said still as certain as he had been on the first day.
“But he does exist,” Clockwork added with the thermos in hand.
Dani raised a brow. “Gee, talk about an awkward family reunion,” she muttered, eyeing the thermos warily. “He can’t get out, right?”
“Not a chance,” Danny assured her with a little smile. Dani returned it. “We were lucky you know? I had Sam and Tucker, even Jazz, you had me and them…”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I don’t know how I would have turned out if I'd had only my parents around whose every second sentence is how they want to dissect me first chance they get. When my future was brought to his attention Clockwork gave me a second chance because I gave everybody else a second chance,” as he spoke he could see the realisation dawning on Dani’s face.
“What I think about that aside – why are we in the Ghost Zone if you’re giving Vlad a second chance?” she questioned.
Clockwork flicked his wrist and the image blurred again before reassembling itself to a picture of Vlad in a hospital bed. For a moment he let Dani puzzle over Vlad’s ecto-acne riddled face.
“Please tell me, I’ll be spared that face, I was so looking forward to clear skin,” she sighed.
“Don’t worry, the portal I died in wasn’t fuelled with diet coke instead of ecto-purifier.”
“Somehow that only makes me mildly feel better… tell me again why we’re meddling with the past?”
Danny scoffed. “I’m not meddling.”
“You’re hoping he’ll turn out nicer if he’s not alone all that time… You do realise he’s kind of doing that to himself, don’t you?” Dani scowled.
“He’ll never confide in dad, and seeing mum in this state is out of question, who else do you think he could talk to? Loneliness turned me cruel, Dani, what if it was also his crutch.”
“You mean next to his egotism, greed, obvious sadism, obsessiveness, pettiness…” Dani began listing on her fingers. “Not to mention how power-hungry he is, also…” She bit her lip. “If he becomes nice then I…”
To her surprise Danny shook his head. “I can’t go that far, all he’s supposed to know is that he’s not alone.”
“And you think that’s enough?”
“One test that I cheated on was enough for me,” Danny replied with a shrug. Feeling far from as indifferent as he acted. He studied Dani, trying to keep the worry from her face. There was no need to explain to her why he believed that it wouldn’t be necessary to remind Vlad what he was missing with Maddie.
Once he would find out that Jack’s son was the half-ghost boy history would take care of itself. It had taken some time but eventually Danny had understood, he had been in every possible way the child Vlad had felt robbed of. Jazz was an ordinary, human teenager, but he, he had been the same as him and he’d been the son of the love of his life. Of course Vlad had wanted to have him in whatever way possible. It didn’t mean that Danny liked it or agreed with it, but within the last years, an awful lot had suddenly started to make sense. Too much, if anyone had asked.
In return Dani didn’t need to tell him that he should tell Sam and Tucker no matter whether this was going to turn out like he imagined or flopped.
“What crawled up your ass and died?” Danny asked. It certainly wasn’t the ecto-acne which had gotten to him, after three months of his time of doing this Danny had gotten more than a little good at differentiating between the frustration of yet another outburst of ecto-acne, and the moping because he thought himself too hideous to court the love of his life. But this. This was different.
Unceremoniously Danny transformed back into a human while he let himself audibly sink onto the floor. Vlad barely spared him a glance.
It was only then that he noticed the ticket on the nightstand. “Right,” Danny grinned with sudden enlightenment. “Packers. When’s the game?”
Vlad shot a glare at him.
“Dude.” Danny kept grinning, while Vlad kept glaring. “Ghost powers.” He paused while he let the words sink into Vlad’s consciousness. “Don’t tell me you didn’t think about that.”
“Of course, I thought about that,” Vlad grumbled. Transforming already as he sat up. He’d been learning fast and was already looking less like a lanky student and more like the Plasmius that had become familiar to Danny.
Watching football wasn’t what he’d planned to do today, but if it cured that scowl on Vlad’s face than it was worth a change of his plans.
“He was as happy as a little kid on Christmas.” Danny recapped his latest trip through time and space in favour of Vlad’s psyche.
Sam and Tucker stared sceptically at their computers, and Danny caught them trying to glance at each other.
“Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?” Sam questioned.
“Clockwork promised to undo everything if I failed.”
“And he just agreed to that?” Tucker added.
With a frown Danny stared at his two best friends. The truth was that yes, despite his initial reserve Clockwork had been rather easy to convince. “He also agreed to let me save Vlad from the ectoblast the first time, all those years ago.”
Mutual agreements were muttered and sighed in response to that, and then Sam brought up Danielle.
“To Vlad,” Danny simply said, “I’m betrayal incarnate. I’m the son of the love of his life and I’m a halfa, I’m everything he thinks he could have had if history had panned out differently. As soon as he realises that Danny Fenton is the ghost-boy he’ll want to make me part of his life no matter the cost, Dani’s creation is almost inevitable.”
Telling them had turned out easier than he had imagined. The only thing he couldn’t bring himself to tell them or Dani or even Jazz was the sound of the explosion in the back his mind. The ever-steady companion of his days and nights.
He could see the same concern and worry he had seen on Dani’s face on Sam’s and Tucker’s, but he could also see their will to believe in him. Where Dani was more likely to mirror his worst fears of a situation because she was too much like himself Sam and Tucker provided reassurance.
“I’m starting to think he wasn’t bluffing when he said he was holding back all this time.”
Sam and Tucker exchanged a glance.
“Well, that’s entirely possible,” Tucker conceded.
“Thanks for the boost of confidence, Tuck,” Danny replied dryly.
“Just being realistic, buddy, during your little visits you might have more experience than him for change but in the greater scheme of things he still had twenty years to practice and you only had about eight,” Tucker continued and Danny groaned, pulling the hood of his sweater over his face and burying it in his arms on the table that was littered with books and notes from lectures.
In an attempt to change the subject Sam asked whether he’d been to see the present Vlad since he’d started visiting him in the past. Danny attempted to shake his head, but when that didn’t quite work out he made a dismissive sound. “Part of the deal with Clockwork,” he muttered and eventually explained when Sam’s and Tucker’s expectant expressions wouldn’t go away. “I didn’t just ask Clockwork to let me visit Vlad, I made a deal with him,” Danny muttered and straightened himself.
“Vlad can’t know who I am, not the real me, whose son I am, he can’t know that he’ll never have a chance with mum, nor that dad would own up to his mistake if he understood it to its full extend, he can’t know anything about the future,” his eyes focused, first on Sam, then on Tucker, “he also can’t know until my last visit that I’m not from his timeline, as for present Vlad – Clockwork said my plan will work better if Vlad doesn’t get to see me until after my last visit to the past. And if it goes wrong Clockwork will immediately undo the past few months till right before I’ve asked him, we have a code word so I won’t get us stuck in a time loop.”
“Nice,” Sam snorted. “What’s the code?”
“Big word,” she grinned. Still, Tucker and her immediately made a note about it.
It didn’t feel different. Danny didn’t know why he thought it would have. Perhaps because last time he had changed something about the past the ripple had had such a great effect that he hadn’t even been born, but now he couldn’t even tell if he was still in the same reality he’d been in before his last visit. Had the people around him always had the lives they had had? Surely Clockwork would know, and if not he than the Observants would, but Danny didn’t feel like asking.
He made a habit out of texting Dani when he didn’t see her through the day, and each day that she responded he felt a relief so deep and honest that he could hardly get used to it. She didn’t complain either.
It wasn’t a surprise to Danny that Vlad had used his continuous stay at the hospital to study the stock market, however it was a surprise that his first attempts at trading hadn’t involved overshadowing people. By now Vlad had learnt about that too and unfortunately as Danny had had to learn was quite adept at it.
Clockwork had warned him that his last visits neared, and although he’d known that would come, now that it was happening Danny had as little an idea how to go about it as at the beginning.
A part of him had wanted to change more. Strangely enough a part of him even wanted to stay with this version of Vlad that didn’t hate his guts, instead seemed to be looking forward to his visits as Neil.
Since his first fortune Vlad had changed the hospital bed to a private bed at home which allowed them a little more freedom when it came to playing with their powers. Which had evolved from simply passing a ball of ectoplasm between them into something that rather resembled a game of tag instead of a fight. It was a strangely entertaining change of pace after years of primarily using his power to fight and the occasional prank.
Which meant that he spent the majority of his time with Vlad in his ghost form these days. It had been a little odd at first, being allowed to be so careless around another person but eventually Danny had come to appreciate it.
Vlad was currently able to produce exactly two clones, however they were far from as powerful as they would become. And perhaps that should have concerned him because Vlad was quicker on the uptake than expected, yet somehow it didn't.
He hadn’t wanted to do it this way. Not only did it seem unfair, Danny was almost certain that it would undo some of the good his company had done for Vlad. But he couldn’t risk telling too much or Vlad following him. He couldn’t risk disturbing the timeline to that extend.
“I won’t return,” the words were easier said than he expected.
“What do you mean? I can finally leave my own house, this is where the fun begins!”
Danny grimaced at the thought of what Vlad’s fun would entail. Robberies and overshadowing so he could annex every company he desired into his little kingdom where all the rules had to adhere the every whim of Vlad. “I can’t return,” Danny clarified.
Where he had expected fury he was met with disappointment that was quickly hidden behind a mask of indifference.
“I have to return.” Only when he retrieved Clockwork’s amulet from under his shirt did Vlad spare a glance for him. “To where I belong.” He shifted his hand so that Vlad could see the insignia on it. A large interlocking CW on a cog that comfortably fit into the palm of his hand. “I’m sorry,” saying that felt a little strange but Danny meant it, “I should have told you sooner, but you have to trust me, I can’t have you meddling with time.”
Irritated Vlad furrowed his brows as the meaning of Danny’s words was beginning to dawn on him. “Oh, but you can?” His tone was mildly accusatory.
Danny smirked. “Insurance.”
“For what?” Vlad questioned.
“Being born,” Danny admitted with a shrug. “I kind of like existing, you know.”
Vlad growled, but it was pure frustration and not in the least threatening. A few months ago this would have made Danny suspicious, but now he waited till Vlad was able to process further information. “Who are you?” Vlad breathed while Danny floated upwards and out of reach, his hand firmly clasped around Clockwork’s amulet ready to yank it at any moment from his neck and send himself back.
“You’ll have to figure that for yourself, Vlad,” Danny replied. “Find this symbol and you’ll find me.” Without waiting for an answer Danny ripped the amulet off. Seconds later he stumbled through Clockwork’s portal. Frightened for a moment whether he had done the right thing. In an attempt to seem more certain than he was he thrust it back into Clockwork’s waiting hand. The Master of Time was awfully silent, but he didn’t say the word which Danny regarded as a good sign.
With a sigh of relief Danny allowed his ghostly form to shift back into it’s regular appearance. Running his hands through his hair on the side of his head however made him freeze when he realised his ears were still as pointy as Vlad’s. And Dan’s.
“You don’t have his look on your face,” Clockwork’s elderly form told him in a kind voice.
Carefully Danny felt his teeth with his tongue, they had remained pointy as well, although he barely felt the difference after wearing them during every visit to Vlad.
“See your work,” Clockwork encouraged him, but only earned a sceptical look from Danny.