Somehow, and quite stupidly, Danny thought in retrospect, but well, he’d thought he would find Vlad outside of Clockworks tower. Given that Vlad knew both Clockwork’s insignia now and the location of the Infi-Map it really hadn’t seemed that far-fetched.
Frustrated Danny stared at the list he’d made of all the events he could remember involving Vlad since he’d become a half-ghost.
“And that was the last of it,” Tucker announced while Danny crossed the last item of the list. Vlad had hosted the reunion, he had stranded him and his mother “accidentally” at his mansion through a fake advertisement, he had infected Sam and Tucker with the deadly ecto-acne. He’d tried to steal his parents’ portal through – in retrospect – rather comical means, had taken in Jazz after she’d had a falling out with him and had wanted to prove herself by capturing Vlad… or something like that but it definitely still had happened. Dani was also still around as well as Vlad’s questionable but ultimately not entirely horrific track record as mayor of Amity Park. In high school it had driven him up the walls, however now the Master’s Blasters and their little “an-eye-for-an-eye”-feud made Vlad look more like a comic book villain in Danny’s mind.
Emphasis on comic.
“Everything’s just the way it was, seems like your little time travel experiment hasn’t born any fruits,” Tucker concluded sounding awfully pleased about it, while Danny tried to hide his face in his arms.
He had one hand in his hair, the other resting on the crook of his elbow, as he grumbled into his table. Danny had been trying to ignore the twisting feeling in his stomach which must have formed his insides into an elaborate knot by now after crossing everything off his list.
“Hey, that’s good,” Sam continued. He could hear the little that tugged at the corner of her mouth in her voice. “You didn’t seriously believe that Vlad would change just because you gave him a friend?” She almost made it sound as ridiculous as Danny felt right now.
Pressing his lips together he moved both hands into his hair and though it was futile because he wasn’t trying to block out a real sound. Danny tried to cover up that he used his arms to block his ears when he joined both hands behind his head.
“Danny?” Sam and Tucker spoke in unison, sounding awfully concerned. More than he wanted them to be for sure.
The deafening sound was leaving his ears, allowing him to see clearer and be aware of his surroundings again. It was only now that he noticed how his vocal cords seemingly only wanted to produce a deeply frustrated growl – the likes of which would have made Dan proud – and he had dug his hands into his hair so hard he was always tearing at it.
“Your eyes, man,” Tucker said, pointing at his face.
“Yeah, and your… teeth…” Sam added. As surprised as she sounded, there wasn’t nearly as much concern in her voice.
Instinctively Danny bared his teeth, before he had a mind to feel them with his tongue, immediately noticing the sharp edges of his canines. And though he couldn’t see it directly he saw a dim green glow shining back from the display of his monitor.
Forcibly Danny took a deep breath, and then another and another until his body complied and his two best friends didn’t look as concerned anymore.
“Are you okay? You know you can talk to us…” Sam sounded sympathetic. And she meant it. He knew that she meant it.
He would have lied, but they had come to an agreement about that for everyone’s mental wellbeing on matters like these. “Just… not right now,” Danny replied. He glanced at them and ended the video call. No lies, but he was allowed to keep a secret or two. Of course that didn’t automatically make it easier but it gave him some room to figure things out on his own without having to pour his heart out at every occasion. Not that he didn’t want to, recently he just found that he couldn’t.
Leaning back in chair Danny closed his eyes and stretched out his legs.
As Sam and Tucker had recounted past events with him, he had expected at least a couple minor differences in their memories of how things had happened. But their recollection of each event had been in sync. Clockwork had sounded so encouraging when he’d sent him on his way that somehow, someway Danny had expected to encounter immediate change. And yet… nothing.
A part of him wanted to blame Clockwork, a more reasonable portion of himself wanted to at least ask the Master of Time before placing blame, but the stubborn part of him wanted to find out for himself.
It wasn’t like he could ask Vlad…
He couldn’t ask Vlad. He couldn’t sleep either.
There was no correlation between these two things, but Danny blamed one on the other anyway.
Because he couldn’t sleep his brain forced him to contemplate the fact that his trips to the past had been ultimately futile.
Danny stared at the grey shapes that danced about his ceiling. He wasn’t sure what the maximum number of days were that a human could go without sleep or whether that number also applied to halfas, but Danny had a feeling that if he didn’t get some sleep soon he was going to find out the uncomfortable way that would have all the people he didn’t want to in his life concerned.
There was single stupid moment where he considered his parents, just on the off chance that his mother might develop something that would help him sleep. But it was three in the morning and he wasn’t up for discussing his accidental death with the two people who spoke of wanting to dissect him first chance they got because they weren’t able to put two and two together on their own.
Unfortunately, Jazz was better versed in psychology than ghost biology, and Dani wouldn’t be any help either.
Warily staring at Skulker’s grinning face Danny could only think that perhaps his idea wasn’t as genius as it had appeared to him on his way here. He’d barely made it within range of his island in the Ghost Zone before the first firearm had targeted him.
If he had been any more tired it would have likely hit him, and Danny could only thank his abilities of morphing and turning intangible for not getting hit.
“Gotcha, ghost boy,” Skulker grinned.
He’d locked a set of missiles sprung from his shoulder onto him without even waiting for Danny to explain his presence and just this once Danny didn’t plan to. Ending up as a pelt on Skulker’s wall wasn’t exactly how he’d planned to get some sleep, but he wasn’t going to be fussy now.
For years it had aggravated him that he would only have to lock eyes with Skulker to start a fight, even worse he only needed Skulker to set his sights on him and next thing Danny knew he had a rocket on his tail.
But just this once he was glad for it that words weren’t Skulker’s choice of weapon. “Catch me, you third-rate wannabe hunter.” It wasn’t the most provocative instigation Danny had ever come up with, but in his defence his brain hadn’t had a rest in about half a week. And that only counted the days he hadn’t slept at all.
Before the missiles could hit their target, Danny shot out of the way. Admittedly he would have preferred a more hands-on fight but as rowdy as Skulker was, as he reasonable he could be when given the right motivation.
Within minutes Skulker had set every rocket, missile and gun in his possession after him. Those that didn’t crash into objects in the way to their target, phased through him if he didn’t morph and move his body out of the way.
Being a ghost gave Skulker the advantage of never running out of ammo, when he could almost magically conjure them up out of his surroundings in this world. That being said even Skulker had enough brains not to set his weapons loose in close range where he was at risk of being collateral damage himself. Luring him into a physical fight wasn’t as easy as Danny had imagined, yet Skulker didn’t disappoint. Actually, in all the years he’d known him, Skulker had never disappointed him – only frustrated him.
Danny had dragged their brawl out till it had become hard to stay in his ghost form and he’d been forced to suck Skulker into the thermos. With anyone else he might have found a different ending but he had neither the capacity nor will to force the other to listen. So thermos it was.
“Thanks for the fight,” Danny muttered exhausted and patted the thermos affectionately now. He could feel Skulker trying to break free from within it, but Danny had screwed the lid shut tightly and wasn’t willing to take his chances.
Ready to drop dead Danny made his way back to his dorm, and though a shower might have been in order he forfeited it in favour of trying sleep for now.
Like a stone he’d sunken into his bed, thinking about how Skulker hadn’t even made a single comment about his new appearance, but then again that was rather like Skulker. Shoot first, ask questions later.
Warily Danny lay on his bed and stared at his desk.
But sleep wouldn’t come as the hours passed. No matter how many times he closed his eyes. Sleep just wouldn’t come.
As the early light of morning illuminated the small room he slept and lived in Danny had reached a decision.
He’d waited until after his last lecture for the week, sent Sam and Tucker a short text about where he would be going and to notify Jazz as well if he stopped replying. Though he still liked to believe that it wasn’t likely.
It was a long way to Wisconsin by human means, however with Frostbite and the Infi-Map in his back pocket it had taken Danny about half an hour. Vlad had moved back into his mansion there once his time as mayor of Amity Park had been up, which was to say shortly before Danny had left for college which had made the decision all the easier.
He had nothing more than a backpack with his laptop, a couple books and some clothes with him, the remaining space he’d filled with whatever he thought important. Which wasn’t a lot considering Vlad didn’t lack much in life.
Frostbite had dropped him off in the woods surrounding the mansion, where Danny had changed back into a human mostly out of habit and not out of concern what Vlad might say about his new appearance. Truth be told he hadn’t even considered that to be an issue yet.
There was a strange sort of comfort in the fact that Vlad was the same amount of surprised and pleased when he opened the door for him, as he’d always been. Almost like nothing had changed at all. Danny hoped for almost.
For the longest time in his life he’d been forced to look up to Vlad to look him in the eye, not having to do that anymore felt strange. Even though he should have grown used to that during his visits to the past, but perhaps it were the sleepless night that made everything strange recently.
Also that had been a different Vlad.
Not the sleazy, creepy Vlad that wouldn’t stop flirting with his mother and turning his life upside down every chance he got. Not the Vlad who’d been driven to mad desperation when Danny hadn’t renounced his father and refused to join him.
The first initially pleased response quickly made room for a scowl of probably false concern. “Wha–”
That was all Danny let him get out before he grabbed Vlad by the collar and leaned in the most uncomfortably, threatening manner into his personal space till their face almost touched. “I. Need. Sleep.” Danny growled.
What he couldn’t see was the green flare in his eyes and the fangs in his mouth, all he could see was how Vlad’s eyes darted over his expression.
“And you’re going to use that fancy laboratory of yours to find something that makes me sleep or I will make you regret opening this door, are we clear? ” He didn’t notice how his speech slurred into the rough, clipped sounds of the language the ghosts called their own.
“Of course, Daniel,” Vlad replied deviously sweet.
“Say ‘we are clear’! ” Danny hissed, his speech static and less clear than before.
Vlad swallowed, but didn’t avert his eyes. “We are clear,” he replied more easily than Danny would have been comfortable with under different circumstances. “Come on badger, I’ll cure your sleeplessness.” He continued sympathetically and immediately placed a hand on Danny’s shoulder when he let go of his collar.
Grumbling Danny slung his backpack over his shoulder and followed inside. Once again considering to reprimand Vlad for calling him badger, but unwilling to find out what he might come up with if Danny complained about it.
To his surprise Vlad led him down to his laboratory without trying to put shackles on him and if he hadn’t been so tired perhaps he would have made a comment about it, but at this point all Danny had energy for were demands and staying upright. He wasn’t really sure how he’d managed to take legible notes in class, but perhaps this was one of the perks of being the son of scientists.
“So, what happened?” Vlad loosely gestured at his appearance, as they walked down the stairs. “I would hope you know better than to get into meaningless fights at college.” Vlad spoke with haughty scorn, like for some strange reason he really did expect him to be better than that.
Danny snorted. “Maybe I am.” His remark was pointed from lack of sleep, but only made Vlad raise a brow. As far as he was concerned Danny thought, he just had made the easiest catch in the history of ghost hunting.
Somewhere along the way to the laboratory Danny had started floating when his feet had become too heavy to drag forwards anymore, and when he noticed he couldn’t be bothered to set them down again.
Without really taking in anything that he saw Danny looked around the lab and eventually drew his legs up into the air to make himself comfortable. Just to make sure he pulled his backpack onto his lap and wrapped his arms around it in case Vlad wanted to snoop while he slept.
Having read his intention Vlad scoffed. “Oh please, Daniel, I wouldn’t stoop that low…” He replied with a glance towards him, while Danny floated just a little more upward – just in case.
While Vlad rummaged around his desk and put the countless devices, flasks, tools and substances to use that he had at his disposal, Danny drowsily stared at the closed ghost portal. He must’ve been staring for quite a while before it occurred to him what it wanted to remind him off.
“Shit.” Danny fumbled to get the thermos out of his backpack. As soon as he grasped it Skulker knocked into it so hard that he also sent it clattering to the floor. He managed to catch it at the last second and scrambled towards the portal.
“And what do you think you’re doing now, Daniel?” Vlad asked without looking up from his experiment. If he had looked he would have seen Danny affectionately patting the thermos before he plugged it into the portal to dispose of its contents.
“I fought Skulker because I thought tiring out my body would do the trick, also because he shoots before he asks questions and I didn’t get a chance to put him back where he belonged at college,” Danny chattered on, still in the language of the ghosts, not quite sure why he was telling Vlad any of this. “Didn’t work, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Vlad muttered, very much still using human words, seeming content with his explanation. Or at least content enough to let it stand. For the moment.
Danny pushed the buttons that released Skulker back into his realm and stuffed the thermos back into his backpack. With the thermos secure Danny pushed himself off the ground and made himself comfortable in the air again. It couldn’t compare to an actual bed but it was surprisingly comfortable. This time he used the backpack as a pillow to lean against.
“Why aren’t you comfortable.” Vlad remarked dryly. It was, of course, a rhetorical statement.
“Mrhm.” (It didn’t sound much like that, more like someone had briefly turned on a spirit box before changing their mind). Danny closed his eyes, they had retained their green glow just like his mouth had kept the fangs and though he had noticed the latter Danny hadn’t bothered to put any effort into removing them from his appearance.
However he couldn’t keep them closed for long. So he contented himself with replying to Sam’s and Tucker’s texts and watching Vlad. “So, what’s the catch?” Danny asked lazily. “And don’t say I have to renounce my idiot father,” Danny mimicked him mockingly. “That’s getting old…”
For the longest while silence answered him. When Vlad eventually set down the flasks he was holding and let his concoction simmer, he turned his head to study Danny who was floating a couple feet above his lab equipment. Instead of acknowledging his question however Vlad asked one himself. “Why didn’t you ask your parents?” He paused. “Maddie at least, should be able to come up with something useful,” he muttered.
Tired as he was Danny didn’t have it in himself to argue with Vlad, or anyone for that matter. “I’ll tear that ghost apart molecule by molecule! ” Danny mimicked his father and mother and pulled a face. He knew better, the reality gauntlet had given a rare chance of being known without anyone remembering, but he didn’t want to take his chances when he was on the brink of becoming a zombie. It made the little voice in the back of his mind that doubted the reality he’d been allowed to glimpse in all the louder and unbearable.
“Right, so I’m the lesser evil?” Vlad wanted to know matter-of-factly, clearly not as pleased with the situation as he had previously been.
Danny showed him a toothy, wary grin. “Exactly and now look sharp I don’t know how long halfas can go without sleep and I don’t want to find out.”
The substance smelt strange and tasted even weirder but Danny downed it in one gulp. Something in the back of his mind told him that it was a bad idea, but now that he’d held the supposed cure in his hands Danny hadn’t able to hold himself back. If Vlad was giving him any more than a sleeping draught it was now too late to worry about it.
Danny had a vague memory of dropping several feet down onto a couch. In that moment it had been the most comfortable couch he’d ever had the pleasure of lying on. He’d been asleep almost instantly and didn’t remember much from after that. Every memory he seemed to have, seemed like half a fever dream. Vlad had been standing over him and muttering to himself, other times he seemed to have only passed through the room and then he had some memories of a large white cat snuggling up to him.
As he woke pale sunlight illuminated the library he’d been sleeping in. Danny figured it was a library because of the magnitude of books surrounding him on dark wooden shelves that reached up almost endlessly to the high ceiling.
Mumbling something incomprehensible Danny rolled onto his back watching the shadows on the ceiling, while he idly wondered how many days had passed since he’d come here. He was sure Vlad would be able to tell him.
“Would it have killed you to warn me,” Vlad grumbled from somewhere nearby. “I had to fend off your nosy friends and sister when you didn’t text them after the second day.” The exasperation in his voice was almost enough to amuse Danny.
He didn’t try to get up despite the concern of the voice in the back of his head because he had surely missed more than two days. “Consider it a gift for old time’s sake,” Danny replied cheekily and managed to convince himself to sit up after a few more moments.
What had looked like early morning sunlight before Danny now recognised as little rays of light sneaking through gaps in a grey afternoon sky. It had stormed while he’d slept and though the rain had stopped everything was still grey and wet and bleak, even the light.
Less concerned than he should have been Danny stared out the large window opposite of where he’d been sleeping. Ignoring Vlad he walked towards it and studied the garden out back that stretched out in front of it.
“You haven’t told me what the catch is yet.” He spoke just loud enough that Vlad would hear him. In the silence that followed Danny rested his hand on the cool window pane. He could feel the ice hovering under his skin.
“You owe me,” Vlad replied coolly, almost casually. He was closer than Danny had expected. In the vague reflection on the window he looked for a ghostly glow. As he did that little ice flowers bloomed under his palm and he quickly drew it away before he would accidentally freeze Vlad’s entire window and part of his library.
“Owe you what?” Danny wanted to scoff, but his voice felt breathy. Carefully he turned his head in search of Vlad who was standing not far behind him. “My grades – otherwise you’ll kick me out of college?”
“Unfortunately, that’s already the case,” Vlad replied rather unimpressed. “Scholarships make for great public charity,” he said with a shrug. “And I own the company that gave you yours.”
“Ah…” Danny drew out the sound with the same miserable undertone that Vlad had had in his voice.
Vlad’s eyes raked him up and down, but not in their usual begrudgingly dismissive manner, this time he looked uncharacteristically curious. Any other time it might have made his skin crawl, but now Danny only stared a hole through him with furrowed brows. Having spent so many days with Vlad’s younger self in the past few months Danny could tell now that something was on his mind. A question or perhaps a thought that he was trying to untangle.
Danny tilted his head a little and folded his arms.
“You owe me,” Vlad simply repeated. “You’ll know when it’s time.”
There was a good chance now, Danny realised, that Vlad didn’t intend to share whatever was on his mind. But the realisation was quickly pushed aside by another, that he was now indebted to the other. Trying to take a deep, quiet breath he couldn’t stop himself from balling his hands into fists and hiding them under his upper arms close to his chest.
“Say Daniel, since when do you know the language of the ghosts? ”
It was only then that Danny recognised the sounds from Vlad’s mouth for what they were. A sharp breath caught in his throat and tension raised his shoulders. He’d picked up single words and phrases over the years, and occasionally his ghost half had sputtered incomprehensible gibberish when talking with Tucker and Sam but he had never made a conscious effort to try and learn it until Vlad had wanted to and he’d simply been caught up in the middle of it. Now he had better control over it, albeit it was far from perfect.
“Do you know all the things I’d rather do than calculations?”
“Can’t imagine why that would be,” Vlad responded with dry sarcasm. He’d never stopped poking fun at the fact that math wasn’t Danny’s strong suit and given all the things Vlad could have chosen from, Danny had eventually decided that he might as well live with it before Vlad came up with something worse to make fun of.
Fortunately, that seemed to settle the matter for him and Danny managed to relax a little again.
“Fortunately,” Vlad continued, folding his arms behind his back, “for you that means your absence has been excused, your deadlines extended and notes of all your missed lectures gathered from the top student in each class–”
Danny gasped sarcastically and touched his chest over his heart. “Uncie Vlad, I didn’t know you cared so much…” He hadn’t called him that in ages and doing so now made him feel ridiculous, but it was a small price to pay to get on Vlad’s nerves.
Vlad’s eyes narrowed. “If you tarnish my impeccable record you won’t even be able to go as Danny Phantom,” Vlad threatened.
“Vlad, if you bar me from space I will personally ensure that they will have to come up with something worse than hell to describe your life,” Danny replied matter-of-factly but with enough sharpness to give his words the appropriate meaning.
“Don’t make me laugh.”
He’d called Sam and Tucker, and then Jazz, to calm them down. Reason told him he shouldn’t stay, that he should let fate take its course. That whether Vlad figured him out or not shouldn’t have any influence on his life. Not like this at least. And yet, as he sat on the floor of Vlad’s library surrounded by its otherworldly quiet he felt a calm down to his icy core that made him lethargic in the most comfortable way possible.
Sprawled out on the floor between couch and coffee table, Danny had surrounded himself with the notes Vlad had spoken of earlier, the books he’d brought and more from the surrounding library, couch cushions, snacks he’d kept in his backpack and his laptop.
The shelves looming overhead had appeared intimating to him at fourteen, now they felt protective when he glanced up at them.
Whatever Vlad was up to, Danny had to admit to himself that he didn’t much care, no matter how many broken laws it involved. It was the first time in weeks that he was able to think clearly and he wouldn’t let a revengeful old man spoil it for him.
Time and space had melted into fuzzy insignificance when something warm and heavy plopped itself down on his chest.
A pristine white cat with long, well-kempt fur was studying him from where it was sitting on his chest. It had curious amber eyes, and judging by its weight was being spoiled rotten at every opportunity. Danny’s mouth twitched. So Vlad had taken him seriously back then.
Burying his fingers in the soft fur Danny combed through it for a collar and the attached pendant. It was small and silver and cool against his hand. “Maddie.” Danny read out loud and had to press his lips together to keep his mouth from trembling, although he couldn’t say why. The discovery should annoy him, and a couple years ago it would have, but now it only brought up something uncertain that made his insides wobble. “I bet you’re the most spoilt cat in the world,” he smirked instead and scratched the sides of her head.
“Are you keeping him good company?” He asked as if Maddie could understand him.
Her ancient amber eyes blinked at him and she made a quiet little sound that Danny decided was definitely affirmative. Then she continued to purr, a deep rumble that he could feel throughout his ribcage. Danny gave a quiet sigh, slouching down as he wrapped his arms around Maddie’s soft, warm body. Stretching his legs out to rest them on the coffee table. “You think he’ll mind if I borrow you for a couple weeks?” The prospect of getting to bury his head in her soft white fur after a long day of college and ghost hunting seemed divine.
“Why yes, he would mind,” Vlad said with sharp disapproval.
Jumping to his feet Danny clutched Maddie to his chest. He had suspected that Vlad might not be far if his cat had found him, but he hadn’t expected him to be standing right behind. Maddie stared perplexed at him and her owner, but remained otherwise unperturbed. She only gave a little mew when Danny soothingly patted her little body which he kept cradled against his chest. The fact that she liked him seemed to annoy Vlad, but he did scarcely more than furrow his brows in response.
“I need this more than you.”
“Aren’t you getting too old for that?” Vlad simply sighed.
“Dan’s… reserved for someone else.” The words were out before he could stop himself. Averting his gaze Danny glanced at the floor, barely noticing how he hugged Maddie just a little tighter now. “Nobody gets to call me that. Not before I’m twenty-five.”
“Very well,” Vlad sighed again. Apparently not in the mood to question Danny’s priorities on the matter. “Would you please give her to me, she needs to take her medicine.”
Uncertain for a moment he hesitated before he opened his arms and let Maddie sort herself out as she climbed from his into Vlad’s arms. “What’s wrong with her? She doesn’t seem sick...” A perfectly healthy soft cloud that was able to make all his stress disappear, as far as he’d been concerned until now.
“How about you tell me instead what you’re still doing here,” Vlad replied while he held Maddie almost protectively against his chest.
The question made him pause, although Vlad would probably agree to let him finish his homework, it wasn’t the reason why he was staying. He could just as well finish it on his way back home if he chose to travel the distance without Frostbite and the Infi-Map, but the truth was… that he didn’t know. The tranquillity he’d felt after Vlad had first left him alone had overcome him so suddenly he hadn’t been able to summon the strength to move or thoroughly consider his actions.
Awkwardly Danny scratched his arm. “I could finally… think,” he mumbled, and only glanced at Vlad to gauge his reaction. “I want to finish some things first, just in case I can’t sleep again if I go back.”
“Will you go back if I put regulations in place that will let you sleep?”
“Spare me…” Danny groaned, well aware that Vlad was not only serious but more than willing to spring into action right away. “You can’t do anything about that anyway, unless you give me a 30 oz cup of that sleeping draught – but you can tell me how you knew that I know the ghost language.”
Vlad rolled his eyes. “Because you kept talking in it before you fell asleep.”
Unfortunately, he remembered very little about what had happened after he’d come here. Danny remembered standing at his door, he vaguely had an image of being led inside but most things after that had blurred or were just blank spaces. However it didn’t seem like Vlad was lying. “Wait,” Danny frowned, “you don’t want me to stay?” Not that he would beg him to, it was only that it was odd after Vlad had spent years trying to convince him to change sides.
“Quite frankly, I can’t come up with a reason why on earth you would want to willingly, but be my guest.” As he spoke Vlad sounded caught between pleased and suspicious. Admittedly, there had never been a time when he had wanted to stay out of his own accord, but to be honest Danny might have taken the library with him if given the chance in an attempt to keep the tranquil feeling that had settled in his bones. Somehow not even Vlad’s presence could change the way he felt in this place.
After Vlad had left with Maddie, while making sure that Danny was aware that he was just taking care of her and she really belonged to the sister he didn’t have, Danny had been left alone again with his piles of notes and homework. As he sat down to continue a wave of drowsiness overcame him. Despite all the sleep he’d already gotten all his body wanted right now was to sleep even more. Briefly he wondered if Vlad had drugged him in more than one way, but instead of contemplating that he stretched, grabbed a bag of chips and forced himself to focus.
He’d told Jazz once. Nothing was going to keep him from going to space. No amount of ghosts, arch-enemies, or ghost-hunting parents would stop him. Not even his frustrations with math, but that was an entirely different problem to tackle. So a little drowsiness certainly wasn’t going to be a hindrance now.
This time it was the smell of food that roused him and brought his mind back to reality. He followed it, half-walking, half-floating till he reached the source of the mouth-watering smell.
“You cook?” Danny managed after staring a hole into Vlad’s back for several minutes. He’d been so preoccupied with the smell and his hunger that he had taken him time before he’d been able to form a proper sentence.
“I’ve fed you before, remember?” Vlad replied.
Right, Danny thought as he lifted himself into the air to float towards Vlad at the stove. But he had been fourteen and briefly able to control the weather with his mood, so there arguably had been more important things on his mind. That was hardly comparable to what was happening here.
Danny made a vague sound to indicate that he remembered. “Do I have to renounce my father for you to share with me, I’m starving, I’ve only had junk food since I woke up,” he admitted in a mutter as he spied over Vlad’s shoulder. “If you say no I’ll order takeout on your card.”
“You don’t even have my credit card, Daniel.”
“You want to tell me they won’t know who to bill if they show up on your doorstep?”
“I’ll trade you a plate of dinner if you answer me some questions,” Vlad decided. Danny replied with a non-descript sound, hung up on his hunger and the fact that Vlad apparently was a decent cook. It made sense, given that he had to feed himself and that he couldn’t hire anyone to stick around if he wanted to keep it a secret that he was Plasmius. Not to mention his laboratory and all his gadgets.
“Why are you here? You’ve slept, I’ll call my favour in when I need it, you’re free to go,” Vlad questioned, and rightfully so.
With his thoughts fuzzy from the smell of food and studying for hours on end, it took a while for Danny to process the question without boiling it down to its most basic elements. – Vlad bad. Escape good.
Awkwardly Danny averted his gaze. It felt odd, he thought, odd to consider telling Vlad anything this personal without expecting to have it used against himself. It had been easier with past Vlad, but that Vlad hadn’t known who he’d been and even if he had told him his real name, it wouldn’t have mattered up until much later.
Making himself comfortable in the hot air above the stove Danny studied him for a moment then looked away again. Perhaps this too was part of it all. Clockwork would know, but Danny couldn’t ask him now, all he could do was trust his gut. Unfortunately, his stomach was preoccupied with the prospect of food instead of making plausible decisions.
He only glanced at Vlad again when the other reached up to move him, specifically his head, out of the way of the stove to prevent any unwanted hair in their dinner. The action seemed almost thoughtless, but very few things that Vlad ever did were thoughtless even when he was consumed by his own emotions.
“I couldn’t sleep for almost two weeks,” Danny mumbled into his arm against which he’d leaned his head after making himself comfortable. Vlad’s eyes bore into him for a moment and though he didn’t ask Danny could guess the question.
“Jazz kept talking about her lectures about all the ways life can fuck you up, I don’t think she noticed,” of course she hadn’t she’d simply wanted to share her knowledge with him, she’d been too excited to notice and he couldn’t even blame her. “Then Dani showed up,” briefly it occurred to him that perhaps he shouldn’t be talking about her, before he remembered that Vlad likely owned her scholarship too. “Maybe it was mum and dad…” Wanting to tear him apart molecule by molecule. Knowing better helped little when he had to keep hearing it. Danny closed his eyes and rolled over so Vlad was faced with his back if he looked up at him. “I keep thinking, you know, how ironic,” his voice became bitter, “it is – if I hadn’t had Sam and Tucker, even Jazz, I…” His throat trembled with words he didn’t dare to speak.
“You could have been me,” Vlad reasoned, sounding strangely defeated. Not at all like it might please him that Danny would have joined him if only things had gone just a little different.
“Would have,” Danny muttered almost silent, words heavy with emphasis and promise. He’d never admitted it out loud. Not like that. Not as an acknowledgment to himself and his other self. The future that had been meant to be. “I would have been worse than you.” Instead of human words his speech had become clipped sounds distorted by instances of white noise again.
Irrespective of dinner Danny swiftly turned around and knocked Vlad to the ground. “Maybe I should just rip him out of you anyway,” he growled, this time well aware of the fangs in his mouth and the glow in his eyes. “See what good it does.” He didn’t really want to, but giving in to the restlessness was a relief.
With claws on his hands Danny’s fingers bore into the ground under Vlad’s shoulder, smashing the other into the tiles next to his head. Mostly because he wanted to see what happened.
What happened was that he suddenly found Plasmius under himself and was knocked him into the cabinets. “I won’t scorn a good fight, but now’s not the time. You’re injured and you aren’t thinking clear.”
Danny growled, but unfortunately Vlad’s attempt at self-defence had reminded him of a rather nasty collision his shoulder had had with a rock in Skulker’s territory. The pain was almost blinding as he tried to stand now.
Grumbling he allowed Vlad to sit him down at the table but he waved off an ice pack in favour of the cool touch of his own hand. Brittle sheets of ice crawled under his shirt to cool the injured area.
Danny sighed with instant relief, while Vlad returned to tending to their dinner.
It was a small and simple realisation that he was doing so, but so ridiculous that Danny couldn’t help the laugh that burst out. Immediately he clapped his hand over his mouth, but when nothing happened he dropped it onto the table again. The pain in his shoulder had numbed but he still wasn’t comfortable moving it.
“Skulker – I imagine,” was Vlad’s cool assessment. He’d transformed himself back into a human before Danny had been able to get a good look at him.
After spending so many days in the past he realised he had kind of wanted to get a good look at the present Vlad Plasmius just for comparison, but as far as he had been able to tell from that brief glance there wasn’t an obvious difference.
Reluctantly Danny made an affirmative sound. He’d allowed his long-time rival to toss him around more than usual in the hope of keeling over the moment he saw his bed. Unfortunately, he was here now. Exhausted despite all the sleep he’d gotten, injured and without motivation to return back to normal life.
Again Danny pushed his hand under his sweater so that he could let a thin layer of frost crawl over the injured shoulder.
He had trusted Vlad too. Danny blinked, attempting to sort his thoughts, realising that he’d been simply too hesitant to allow the thought to take root. His other self, Dan, had trusted Vlad when he’d been all on his own. Enough to ask the unthinkable – but he’d been fourteen of course that had looked like the answer to all his problems – and Vlad had yielded.
Awkwardly Danny attempted to sit straight without further hurting his shoulder, and when he couldn’t quite succeed simply slumped into his chair again.
Vlad had been awfully quiet, Danny noticed, when he came over with two plates of dinner. The smell made his mouth water once again, but he managed to restrain himself and scrutinise Vlad instead who looked decidedly unimpressed as he sat down across from him and started eating. “So I’ve answered enough questions to earn my plate?” Danny asked, almost mocking.
Vlad let the fork sink halfway to his mouth, silently returning Danny’s stare.
Shifting again in his chair, Danny was gald that Skulker had injured his left shoulder and not his right. Perhaps his visits to the past had made him more trusting, perhaps it was the weariness, perhaps the hunger, but he dug in unthinking of the possible consequences. But then again Vlad had never done anything to his food in all the years he’d known him so to accuse him of that now was probably more than ridiculous.
The warmth of the food eased the pain just enough, and let him think a little clearer. And though he hid it quite well, Vlad seemed kind of amused when Danny licked the plate clean in his ravenous state. It had taken further restraint not to try and sink his fangs into it because it wasn’t enough, but it would have to do for now.
Somewhat sated and a little warmer again Danny sank back in his chair. Some coffee would make it perfect now, he thought as he closed his eyes.
“I sincerely hope, you didn’t go to class like that,” Vlad stated, who had seemingly only waited for Danny to get back into a responsive state
“Like what?” Danny asked, and Vlad gestured at his face, specifically his mouth and ears.
Even without feeling his ears Danny knew what he meant, but as he looked down at himself he was still wearing what he’d had when he’d come here. So that was probably good. However, at this point he couldn’t say anymore if he was restless because his ghost core was unstable, or if it was the other way around. With a sinking feeling in his stomach Danny pushed the chair back so he could get up. “I should…” The ghost language came frighteningly easy over his lips these days.
He couldn’t just tell Vlad, it didn’t work like that, did it?
“Go.” Vlad finished, who was now openly studying the changes which had occurred in his appearance.
“Take a shower,” Danny added and avoided looking at Vlad, hoping that the other wouldn’t see how his eyes turned green that way. Although it was almost impossible to hide the sheen once it was there. Danny was almost certain that his voice wasn’t human anymore either. It was hard to tell recently.
“The fridge is open if you’re hungry,” Vlad said matter-of-factly, and despite the curiosity with which he’d studied him he made an effort to sound awfully disinterested.
The warmth of the shower chased away most of the weariness that had returned to his body in the kitchen, and though it further eased the pain in his shoulder it didn’t disappear completely. It wasn’t the only bruise he’d sustained in his fight with Skulker but it was the worst. Blood had crusted over the back of his shoulder where the skin had been scraped off. Small wonder it hurt so much.
Carefully Danny dressed and cared for the smaller scrapes and bruises first, they were in less need of attention, but mostly it was because doing so made him feel accomplished and gave him more energy to deal with his shoulder. It allowed him to distract himself from the greenish tint of his skin. It was a like reverse event of that one day he’d spent climbing the house of his parents with Dash. Instead of slowly turning human, his appearance slowly became more ghostly. The thought unnerved him. So he was all the more glad to hide his skin under a fresh change of clothes, pull the hood of his sweater up and stuff his hands in his pockets so he didn’t have to see them.
As best as humanly possible and without looking too much into the mirror Danny had dressed his shoulder and though he’d done little more than apply gauze pads and bandages he already felt much better for it.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t return to college in this state, which rendered all of what he or Vlad wanted unimportant.
Danny had resumed his place in the library, however, this time, on the couch and when that had become too uncomfortable he’d lifted himself into the air. Without even realising that he was levitating.
By the time he looked at the grandfather clock that Vlad kept in the library for sheer inexplicable reasons, given that those weren’t meant to be quiet unlike libraries, it was two hours past midnight.
Alarm rushed through him with the realisation that he should have been asleep hours ago, before Danny remembered that he’d slept for several days – Vlad hadn’t specified how many, but it had been at the very least two. So it was probably okay for his body to need a while before it tired out like usual. With a sigh Danny carefully lowered himself along with the books, pens and notes he’d accumulated under and on top of his laptop, and in his pockets, onto the floor. There he let everything but his laptop fall unto the soft carpet with dull sounds as he watched with an equally dull expression, as if he hadn’t been sure what he’d expected to be happening but couldn’t be surprised either.
Setting his laptop aside Danny closed it and stretched, taking care not to harm his shoulder, before he went about examining himself.
The fangs were still there.
So were the ears.
His skin had the colour of a murky turquois as he examined his hands. Claws had spawned from his nails as well – or had they been there since the kitchen? Danny vaguely remembered boring his hand into the floor tiles. – Vlad surely must’ve been overjoyed to have him around. – But he hadn’t had them in the shower, or when tending to his wounds. (Surely, he would have noticed them there).
Given the time and since his stomach was rumbling again Danny decided to take a look around the mansion. Even Vlad had to sleep. Occasionally.
His first stop was the kitchen where he raided the fridge for some cold leftovers. Back when he’d been victim to Vortex’s power he hadn’t really paid any attention to what Vlad had prepared for him other than the flaws in it. He’d been too preoccupied with being an obnoxiously, demanding, pedantic, gleeful teenager because his arch-enemy had to cater to his every whim.
Arch-enemy. Danny wasn’t sure if he was still able to call him that after the past few months.
Enemy. For the time being it seemed that was still right, although it felt kind of awkward too.
The hallways of Vlad’s mansion were as dark as they were empty and would have been spooky if he’d been ten years younger, but right now Danny rather enjoyed the quiet dark surrounding him. It felt like the perfect environment for a ghost, like somewhere he belonged in a strange sense.
Unexpectedly Danny stopped when he realised he had stopped floating, he couldn’t say when his feet had touched the ground, but it had had something to do with the silence. It calmed him. Or perhaps it was the knowledge that everything that, and everyone who demanded things from him were far away.
When he couldn’t hear any sounds from the lab Danny went to investigate, he’d never been curious to a fault, but he had never quite been able to keep himself from snooping either.
Jazz knew, he thought absentmindedly, as he left the empty box of leftovers on one of the tables to examine Vlad’s inventions. Most were similar to what his parents had invented, but Vlad certainly had a knack for gadgets that could be used for spying. Could, Danny scoffed. Had was more likely.
Jazz knew that Vlad Masters was the ghost Vlad Plasmius, although he still didn’t approve of how she had found out. Even though he could understand her motivation in retrospect somewhat better. She’d simply been excited to share in his activities. Looking back he could sort of smile about it, Danny realised as the corners of his mouth quirked up involuntarily.
Picking up devices in various sizes and of various functions, and vials of strange substances (some from this realm, some from the other), Danny strolled through the laboratory until his curiosity was satisfied. Despite Vlad’s interest in surveillance it was very much like his parents lab he realised, and that it felt strangely like home despite the different air that surrounded it.
Danny stopped and stared for a moment, trying to absorb that little bit of familiarity he felt. A wave of calm eased some more of the tension in his body and though he couldn’t see it Danny was certain that his appearance had become just a little more human too.
He would have blamed his ice core but given that he wasn’t freezing everything he touched and shivering so hard his bones rattled it was unlikely that the centre of his being was what troubled him.
When he felt like the lab had given him enough peace he turned around to leave but was promptly stopped by Vlad blocking his way.
“I thought I’d find you here,” he said with folded arms although he didn’t sound angry, just matter-of-factly.
With ease Danny balanced his unprompted step backwards and scrutinised Vlad. Unfortunately being a half-ghost didn’t come with night vision, but Vlad was familiar enough to him that he could make out his figure without difficulty. As a ghost Vlad might be stronger, but as a human Danny had the upper hand now. He’d been filling out Dan’s form more in the recent years. First he’d barely noticed, but now… (Perhaps his reflection had added to it all too. He couldn’t say anymore).
Danny decided a brawl with Vlad wasn’t worth the effort in his current state, but that he wouldn’t back down so easily either.
“What did you mean when you said ‘rip him out of me’?” Vlad inquired, tilting his head slightly. “Plasmius? My core?” He almost scoffed. As if the mere notion that Danny could do as much as scratch him was ridiculous.
The corners of Danny’s mouth lifted almost on their own to form a snarl that he barely managed to hold back. For Vlad, that seemed to be the confirmation he’d been looking for. Even more, Vlad suddenly seemed strangely doubtful where he had previously been certain.
“Plasmius,” Danny replied. His voiced sounded alien to himself, and he was uncertain why he said anything at all. “But he trusted you,” he muttered.
Vlad made a quiet sound that wanted him to explain himself.
“Dan did… I did, when I… he didn’t know where to go, I guess that’s why I’m here.” Because Vlad was the only person he could go to who might understand. Otherwise he would have to tell Jazz about Dan. Or his parents about himself, and Dan too. Sam and Tucker knew about that but they didn’t know half as much about ghosts as his mother did. Or Vlad, for entirely different reasons. “I know I should tell them, but it feels more like something between me and you. Some version of me anyway.”
“Is that what you were trying to tell me in the kitchen?”
The kitchen. It had only been a few hours ago, but it felt like an eternity.
“Something like that,” Danny replied. He felt tired again, but not in a way that would let him sleep. How on earth could he tell him. How on earth could he tell anyone. “You used the Ghost Gauntlets,” the words came out almost on their own. “I asked you to, so I guess in a way I betrayed you, but you were the adult, you should have known better…” Danny stabbed a finger into Vlad’s chest, who to his surprise let him. The accusatory action didn’t feel half as good as Danny thought it would so he let his hand sink again.
“You asked me to what?” Vlad asked, though the context of Danny’s words was obviously lost on him.
Danny stopped for a moment and examined what he could see of Vlad’s reaction in the da. “Remove my ghost half.”
“And why exactly would I do that?” Vlad continued.
He hadn’t known what else to do, Danny thought but only shrugged. “Not important,” he decided for the both of them. Vlad’s shrug seemed to say that he was fine with it, at least for the moment. Danny pondered for a moment, trying to figure out what exactly was important however. “You removed him, and he removed Plasmius, and…” Danny halted, and swallowed. “Fucked off I guess, dunno,” he mumbled, focusing his stare on Vlad’s chest rather than his face because it was easier saying all that when not looking someone in the eyes. Although his troubled expression would be hard to see for the other in the dark.
Vlad sighed, sounding strangely approving. “So you’ve come to settle the score,” he replied, and then quieter added, “I thought I’d never get it out of you.”
“No, I don’t want to fight, I want to stop hearing that damned explosion!” He hadn’t meant to raise his voice or shift it in out of human vocals and intelligible ghost sounds. He’d grabbed Vlad by the collar and pushed him back against the stairs. By the time they were on the floor he wasn’t even remotely human anymore and his claws were boring into the ground.
“You’re destabilised,” Vlad mused with too much fascination for Danny’s liking so it earned him a threatening growl and his shoulder pushed into the edge of the stairs. “I was wondering what caused the change in appearance…”
With too much ease Vlad had pushed him off, but to his surprise Danny only landed a couple feet away on the floor instead of against the cabinets which would have further injured his shoulder. Instead of blinding pain and rage he was now only filled with mediocre frustration.
Grumbling Danny gathered himself up off the floor and dusted off his clothes, more out of habit than out of need if he was being honest, but if anything it made him feel somewhat better.
“Now, that’s better,” Vlad decided. He’d changed into his ghost form and though it was dark Danny could see enough of Plasmius to realise that he looked barely any different than all those years before. Well, he wasn’t as lanky as the first time Danny had seen him back then, but it was striking how little he’d really changed overall.
“And you’re stuck,” Danny observed, feeling strangely haughty like he’d bested Vlad at a game he had previously only been a spectator to. “You never change, you’re still as bitter and vindictive as when I first met you,” he sneered, hoping to get the better of Vlad’s quick temper but unfortunately he didn’t.
Danny was mulling over that as he studied Vlad. Wondering if perhaps he had achieved something after all. Frustrated Danny turned himself intangible and disappeared.
It had been days since they had spoken to each other. Danny had taken full advantage of the size of Vlad’s mansion to keep out of his way. He kept to the top shelves of the library for the most part because it kept him out of sight and if he stayed in the back of the library it felt like he was isolated not only from the rest of the house but also the world. Vlad left the notes of his lectures at the desk at the front of the library, and though it was strange to begin with the eeriest part was the punctuality with which they appeared.
When he called Sam and Tucker they weren’t thrilled about his continued whereabouts but glad about his attempt at communicating. Hearing their voices almost made him want to tell them. Perhaps then he could leave and finally sleep somewhere other than the laboratory.
There was a space under the tables which he’d outfitted with a sleeping bag, some blankets and a few pillows where he retreated to every now and then to get a few hours of shut-eye whenever Vlad worked on his devices. The sounds of it reminded him of home, of all the things his parents had invented over the years and in a way it helped to clear his mind of the disturbances that occurred when he tried to sleep too.
With half an ear Danny listened, peering out in between a gap in the blankets hanging from the underside of the desk that let just enough light in to let him see that only half the lab was lit. Occasionally he could hear steps and watch Vlad’s dark-clad legs walk by, often while he muttered to himself but other than that nothing happened. “Counter question,” Danny announced and listened amused to how Vlad almost jumped, and then cursed under his breath. Evidently he’d forgotten that someone was keeping him company. “Why are you letting me stay?” Vlad could hardly say that it was to polish his reputation in the eye of the public, given that only a select few people knew that he was here to begin with.
Vlad’s reply was nondescript muttering, however his tone said all that Danny needed it to.
Careful not to further injure his shoulder Danny crawled out from under the table, making himself comfortable in mid-air so that he could study Vlad with furrowed brows. He was inclined to question Vlad, but ultimately decided against it. However Danny soon averted his interrogative stare when Vlad studied him equally intently. It wasn’t quite that he stared however, it was what it brought attention to.
Danny pulled his hood over his head to hide the ears and glared at the floor. Ever since his last visit to Clockwork his appearance hadn’t quite wanted to go back the way it was supposed to be. At this rate, Vlad would figure it out just by looking at him. Danny clutched at the fabric covering his ears as if that helped any with hiding them.
When he glanced up, something that he couldn’t quite place passed over Vlad’s expression. Realisation and dismissal seemed to occur hand in hand, as if his thoughts weren’t making sense to him.
“What was it that you were trying to tell me in the kitchen?” Vlad asked once more trying to sound dismissive, but unable to erase the tinge of inquisitiveness his voice held.
The kitchen. Again. It couldn’t have been more than a few days since then. Or maybe a week? It was hard to tell time when days were melting into each other and nights didn’t seem to matter. Danny shrugged and lowered his gaze onto the tiled floor again.
“It was you, wasn’t it?”
Danny dared a glance up only to look away again. The question was exactly what it sounded like, although judging from Vlad’s expression there were parts of it that he didn’t quite understand just yet himself.
“What were you thinking?” There was no judgement in his words, however there was a demand for an answer. “You could have just asked for a truce – if you need one this bad that is.” The way he said it made it sound like something technical, like the truce the ghosts held on Christmas, but with less joyous agreement in light of the matter.
When Danny didn’t answer he added, “you’re Jack’s son.”
Somehow the words made him struggle to suppress a laugh, when Vlad said it so dismissively as if it explained everything that Danny had done. And it kind of did, he had to give him that. “After everything we’ve done to each other…” He muttered and folded his arms, still not daring to look at him.
“I’ve done to you,” Vlad corrected him, but Danny shook his head.
“Dani,” he simply stated and straightened his shoulders, ignoring the pain this caused him. That he had created her at all spoke volumes about him and about what that night he’d spent with his mother at Vlad’s house in the woods had done. Everything since the reunion must’ve stockpiled until it had formed some grotesque beast of hurt.
“That’s hardly on you,” Vlad judged.
Wryly Danny smiled. “I thought you’d be angry or shocked… I don’t know.”
“Oh, I am angry,” Vlad replied with a tinge of bitterness in his voice. “I spent almost two decades trying to find you, would it have hurt to let me know when you were going to be born? A hint would have been nice.”
Danny snorted, feeling as if Vlad’s bitterness was seeping into him. “And then what? You would’ve stolen me from mum and dad after the accident? I would’ve never believed you… you know that’s true, time had to catch up for both of our sakes, if I had changed too much I wouldn’t have been able to predict the outcome, I might have not even been born! ”
“So you keep telling me,” Vlad grumbled with folded arms, but made no effort to dismiss his claim.
“Someone,” Danny said quietly and made an effort to untangle himself from his position in the air and set his feet on the ground. “Someone once told me that I deserved a second chance because I gave everyone else one… this is yours…” His voice had grown quiet at the end of his sentence. “I… I can’t– we can’t undo Amity Park,” he shook his head, cautiously lifting his gaze to meet Vlad’s, “but you didn’t have to be alone.”
Danny took a quiet shaky breath. He’d only thought as far as making it through the trips to the past, not what would happen afterwards so this was just as much uncharted terrain for him as it was for Vlad. “I want to work with you, not against you.” Not that they had much of a choice to begin with, and quite frankly Danny had his own opinion on that but if they had to do this, he wanted at least choose the terms on which the foundation was built. “I want you on the same side as me…”
“You’re asking me to join you?” The notion visibly bewildered Vlad. Admittedly, that was understandable given how often Danny had refused the reverse. Although for quite good reasons.
The corners of his mouth quirked up involuntarily. “No, not quite – but I want to figure out what our side looks like.” Vlad studied him with furrowed brows as if he were trying to make sense of his words. “It’s really not that complicated,” Danny matter-of-factly assessed the situation for him.
“That’s not…” Vlad muttered. “Why? Why any of this?” He asked as if the idea that Danny had travelled through time just for his sake was at the very least borderline ridiculous. Or perhaps it was the time travel, Danny wasn’t quite sure if he was being honest. It were quite a few things that Vlad had trouble comprehending, judging by his expression.
There were dozens of words stuck in his mouth, but he was unable to untangle them so instead Danny simply reached out his hand. Realising that in a little more elaborate way it was exactly what he’d done each time he’d stepped through Clockwork’s portal. Each time anew he’d metaphorically reached out his hand.
There was, for a split second, the faintest hint of a smile on Vlad’s face. A weaker version of the expression he’d shown all those years ago when he’d been stuck with his mother in the woods, but just as genuine.
“No trick,” Danny assured him when Vlad grabbed his hand, well aware of what he must’ve been reminded of. The shift he felt going through his being was mirrored in Vlad’s expression which suddenly relaxed. “Human?” He asked, carefully examining his hands to see if his skin tone had stopped being otherworldly.
“You should have just told me, badger,” Vlad chastised uncharacteristically friendly.
Closing his eyes Danny let his head sink against Vlad’s shoulder, pressing his lips together to keep them from quivering, but all he managed was a weak smile. “Right,” he scoffed with bitter amusement, “I should’ve just told you that I’m the son of the man you despise and the woman you love, and that I’ve time travelled to keep you company when you most need it because I was supposed to lose everything just because I cheated on a stupid test, just because of a stupid mistake I was supposed to turn into a monster.” Danny swallowed in an attempt to keep his voice stable. “I should’ve just told you that.”
Danny swallowed the sound that he hiccupped when Vlad touched his healthy shoulder.
“Having a breakdown should be my part, little badger.”
This time he couldn’t hold back the sound in his throat. It was half a laugh, half a sob that shook as it came out. Danny took a short breath and wiped his eyes. “Sorry,” he muttered and though Vlad scowled, Danny could tell that he wasn’t seriously mad. “I’m sorry I attacked you,” he mumbled.
Vlad dismissed that one with a wave of his hand, looking almost as if he was concerned Danny would now make him start apologising for every fight he’d ever started.
“You said the breakdown was your part, I’m waiting,” Danny replied. He managed a smile and it broadened a little when Vlad returned it, much softer than Danny had expected he was capable of and what could have been interpreted as almost a little teary-eyed. “If you think you don’t deserve it, then work to earn it – ‘cause you’re stuck with me now.” Danny let himself sink against his shoulder again, “I’ll find you, whether you want me to or not, I’ll find you and I’ll be there.” Danny couldn’t help the grin when Vlad awkwardly tousled his hair. “That’s my part, so you better pull your weight.”
The sound that left Vlad’s throat was rough but genuine and if Danny hadn’t known him better he would have been inclined to say it was a laugh. It was brittle and stiff, almost a little mocking in light of his demand, but Vlad hadn’t let go of his hand.
The warmth of it and Vlad’s solid shoulder was grounding, Danny realised with a quiet breath. It fought away the awkwardness of standing here with him like this and allowed him the stability that he’d previously been unable to find.
“Thank you, Daniel.” Vlad said it so quietly that if he hadn’t been this close to him he wouldn’t have heard him.