Disclaimer- Danny Phantom and all associated characters belong to Butch Hartman, not me. Az technically doesn't belong to me either, but I think the copyright on him ran out a few centuries ago... This fanfic is rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America.
The Beating of His Wings
"'The snow is lovely, dark and deep,'" Vlad Masters murmured, gazing out the window. The landscape outside his Wisconsin mansion looked like something off of a Christmas card, black branches outlined with white, forming a ghostly lacework in the gathering dusk. It was silent, peaceful. Pastoral. He snorted.
"Bah, humbug," he declared, quoting another very rich, very famous man.
"Now, now," an accented voice chided from behind him. "You know what happened to the last guy who said that at this time of year..."
To say that Vlad was not startled would have been untrue. However, years of experience kept him from showing it, and he turned slowly, curious to see what intruder could have avoided triggering his ghost sense. After all, no human could get past his security precautions... and that voice definitely did NOT belong to Daniel.
Sitting in the green wing-backed chair before the fire was a man, one unfamiliar to Vlad. He was an adult, younger than himself, athletic, with auburn hair and intelligent black eyes. He wore a black leather motorcycle jacket paired with jeans and a t-shirt of similar hue. And a pair of black motorcycle boots were propped on the antique coffee table in front of the chair.
Vlad arched an eyebrow. "Do you mind?"
"Not real well," the stranger smirked. But he did swing his feet down to rest on the floor.
Australian, Vlad realized, finally categorizing the accent. How... interesting. Nonchalant, he crossed the room to sit in the chair's companion, closer to the warmth of the fire. The other was unshaven, and combined with the intelligence in his eyes, that made him clearly dangerous. However, if he'd come for a fight, he would have started one already, so the billionaire felt comfortable moving closer for a conversation.
"Might I have the pleasure of your name, sir?" the white-haired man asked, crossing his legs casually.
The other grinned. "You can call me Az, mate. I'll answer to it." He patted his pockets, frowning when he only found a package of Nicorette gum. "Ariel, for the love of..."
Vlad cocked his head. "Problem?"
"Interfering sister." He tucked the gum away. "Now. Bet you're wonderin' why I dropped in on you this evening..."
"The thought had crossed my mind."
"It's about that." Az gestured to the pile of mail lying on a nearby end table. Foremost on the pile was a large envelope, the return address proclaiming it to be from FentonWorks, in Amity Park.
The older man blinked. "You've been reading my mail?" Odd, he was CERTAIN the envelope hadn't been opened before it reached him...
"Not exactly. Let's just say I knew what was in it. And I also know you're not planning on going."
One dark eyebrow arched. "I have no reason to."
"What, not even to see an old friend? Or the kid you've got a soft spot floor? Come on, Vlad, Christmas is about family. You really want to spend it haunting this mausoleum? And yes, the pun was intended."
Ice could have formed on Vlad's voice as he replied. "They are Jack's family. Not mine."
"They could be. And I'm not just talking if your hare-brained schemes ever actually work, which frankly isn't that likely. There was a time not too long ago when Jack and Maddie both would have called you family without a second thought."
"Jack Fenton stole my chance at the love of my life. His idiocy caused me to be hospitalized, crippled with pain, and ostracized at the peak of my youth." Rising from his chair, he started to pace in agitation. "He is a buffoon who does not deserve the woman or the son-- the CHILDREN he's been granted... And get your feet off that table!"
Az did so, throwing one leg over the arm of the chair he was in instead. "He's also the only man you ever considered calling a brother. A man willing to welcome you into his life and home with no hesitation after twenty years, after you pushed both him and Maddie away in your pain."
The white-haired man rounded on him. "And what do you know about it? What could you POSSIBLY know about any of it?"
"Everything." The stranger's eyes were dark and compassionate, something that shook Vlad to the core, dissipating his anger like mist.
Taking a deep breath, Vlad drew his usual self-possession about him like a cloak. "Ah. So this is the Christmas attempt to get me to re-evaluate my life? Are you Past, Present, or Future?"
The other snorted. "Common sense. You know I'm no ghost, or your breath would be making funky colors right now. But in the spirit of the season, pun once again intended... have you ever given much thought to what's going to happen to you after you die?"
"Is this where you give me a copy of 'The Watchtower?'"
"Only if I can smack some sense into you with it."
Vlad sighed. "More than likely, if I haven't defeated Jack by that time, I'll become a full ghost. I've prepared for that eventuality, though it does likely mean Daniel will be sucking me into that ridiculous Thermos of his."
"Unfinished business. I've seen that Ghost Zone... not somewhere I'd want to be spending my eternity. And what are you gonna do when they're gone? Maddie and Jack have each other, they have their kids... they have no unfinished business. Danny's not likely to either, assuming he gets off his butt about that Goth friend of his. So... eventually, you'll be alone. No chance of moving on peacefully. You gotta let go of your hate while you're alive... 'cause you won't get a chance after you're dead."
Walking back to the window, Vlad snorted. "That's it? No scenes of past joys, no promises of present happiness, no threats of fire and brimstone?"
A low chuckle sounded behind him. "You know better than that," Az replied, almost sadly. "There's no Hell in existence that could outdo the one you've made for yourself already."
Turning, Vlad opened his mouth to take exception to that... and found his study empty. Crossing to the wingback chair, he found it unchanged... except for a black feather, glossy, soft, and easily as long as his forearm. A pinion feather from a wing at least three feet in length.
He stared at it for a long moment, lost in thought. Then, slowly, he turned to the phone.
"Jack? It's Vlad... I just got your invitation... and I'd love to come."
The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land, you may almost hear the beating of his wings. -- John Bright (1811–1889)