Once Danny was sure his father's college friend was at least two miles away (at least), he left the subway platform himself. Walking up, into an unknown city, it was blindingly bright. Even though it was overcast, Danny swore he could see the sun through some of the clouds, reflecting off of skyscrapers and directly into his eyes.
He squinted and followed the horizon. He felt lost, despite not having moved at all. Despite being surrounded by people on all sides and 360 degrees he was lost and alone and unsure. This was it. This was what he had wanted all along.
But, right now, he wasn't set on it. Now that he was here (if here was a place at all), he didn't know what to do or even which direction to walk in.
He'd never been to this particular city before but they were all the same. Tall buildings, lofts, museums, slums, a coffee place on every corner maybe even a park or two. He shrugged and decided that forward seemed a good place to start. It was like a bad metaphor for what to do in life. So cheesy and lame and force-fed to him that now it was almost ironic.
Or just a really bad joke.
He smiled to himself and knew it wouldn't be so bad. He'd already taken the first step, made it this far, survived a subway car overflowing with creepiness and unwanted thoughts of his family and here he was.
He'd always meant to come to this city, he knew. He decided then and there. He slid his hands into the coat pockets, almost feeling pleased enough to whistle. Humming in his head with great gusto. His stomach feeling light and empty and him feeling a buzz.
He decided that he enjoyed wearing the over-sized coat and the vintage fedora. That somehow, they really were cool and not just a bad set-back in the fashion world. Like he cared about that anyway. Clothes or the way they fit or who enjoyed those things. He just knew that he felt content.
And he could pretend he was a detective in a black and white murder-movie.
He grinned at that. "Detective Danny Fenton" sounded way too good not to be real. It had to exist somewhere, outside of his mind. If only he was old enough. And smart enough. He was certainly desperate enough.
After Danny had walked far enough and his confidence had dwindled, he latched himself onto something that looked and felt familiar.
A dimly lit coffee shop. One with black walls and black ceilings and the word "Artistes" in the name. A place where he fit in. A place where everyone was so different and wrapped up in their own worlds that they paid no attention to the teenager in the musty trench coat.
Danny found the loose change in his pocket and bought a small coffee. Something to keep him warm and awake. It was a bitter taste and even more so when he decided he was too old to put three packets of sugar in his drink. So he settled with two.
When he woke up in a purple armchair an hour later, he was confused and even more exhausted. Apparently even Goth coffee wasn't strong enough to keep him awake.
Why was he so tired? Why did he feel so dead?
And then he suddenly noticed where he was. How the girl across the way had blue hair and a fur coat. How every other person in there was dressed in all-black and smoking cheap cigarettes. How the guy behind the counter had five facial piercings and was playing with his cell phone.
How much he missed his best friend. How much he missed both of them.
How, after two days, all he could think about was what Tucker and Sam were up to. Going to school, eating at the Nasty Burger, bowling in Sam's basement, being entertained at the expense of Dash Baxter.
God, he even missed Dash Baxter.
But it was normal to feel regret and remorse and forlorn. No matter how much he hated goddamn Amity Park. They were still Sam and Tucker, despite what had happened.
He left the coffee shop, no longer able to handle the smoke and déjà vu or inhale. Had everything been a mistake? Had coming here been a mistake? Was he overreacting and alone and insane or was there an explanation for all of it. Well.
Danny shivered, wrapping his coat tighter. Maybe he should go back. Maybe he could understand that running away from home is not a solution. That the subway station was only a few blocks away and he didn't know where else to sleep for the night. Like, somehow, the subway station was the closest thing he had to a home. In this city. He'd known it the longest.
Settling down on a bench, watching a homeless man fall asleep on the other side of the station, he was convinced.
"This isn't so bad," he sighed. Hopeful he could get used to this life. Hopeful a cop wouldn't find him and call his parents.
When he closed his eyes, weary and too exhausted to care what happened to him, he couldn't stay still for long. Not by choice, but because someone was shaking him awake and he didn't care who it was; he was not in the mood.
And, of course, it was that creep Vlad Masters. Every silver hair in place and grinning like a madman. Standing over Danny and staring at him like he might devour the boy in one bite.
"Do you need somewhere to sleep Daniel?" He enunciated.
The blue-eyed boy avoided looking at the older man. Vlad Masters was so close, Danny could smell his breath- it was minty fresh- and could see thin wrinkles on his forehead. Danny didn't dare inhale, somehow convinced that doing so would cause him to taste that minty breath and wrinkled face. Like it would stay with him, always.
Vlad sat by Danny's feet, brushing the dust off of his sneakers. It was almost comforting and far too strange to be anything but.
Vlad checked his watch, trying to will the clock to spin faster. Danny knew he couldn't out-wait Vlad Masters, but he was going to try. He closed his eyes, thinking of anything but the strange man at his feet. Knowing that, if he moved just one inch, they might touch.
He hoped he was asleep, or getting there, but there was no such luck. Sleeping on that train and sleeping in that coffee shop had warn him out. He was too exhausted to sleep, too nervous about what might happen to him knowing how alone he was.
Did he dare? Was Vlad's mansion any safer?
Danny sat up and nodded. He did need somewhere to stay. Somewhere cleaner and drier than a subway station. He knew that. He also knew his Dad had trusted Vlad, with his life, when they were in college together. He could do the same; at least until he had a plan, knew where he was running away to. He had to stop eventually.
Vlad noticed his small gesture and helped him up, offering an impeccably clean hand. Danny took the offer, following the man towards wherever he was going in his polished Italian loafers.
"When did you get here, anyway?" Danny asked. He hadn't even noticed Vlad enter the station, let alone sneak up on him.
"Why my boy, I never left," was the echo, laughing.
Danny shivered, hoping it was a joke. That was why they were both laughing, right? It was all one big fucking joke.
He wished he knew the punch-line.
Hey, only three months between updates this time!... No? I don't want to make excuses, but, here it is. I'm not that happy with it but I just want to finish this story and be done with it. I already have the next (and last) two chapters planned out. It may take a while, but I know what I'm doing this time around. So, I just want to thank everyone that reads this story. To know that Vlad and Danny won't die; not just yet. That some of us will always ship this awkward and highly-illegal pairings is touching. 3 Hahaha. I love you all.
Ohh and BTW, if you know where the coffee shop Danny was in came from, I will write you a really short oneshot. I swear! It's from a fantasy book. (Is that a good enough hint?!) And there is a cameo by a character from that book in this chapter as well. If you've read the book, you might be able to pick up on it... Otherwise, good luck.
Danny Phantom (c) Butch Hartman