Finally, another chapter! Sorry this was so long in coming.
"Why, Daniel!" Sam was startled when Danny cringed and turned to look up at the man. "What a pleasure to see you here, we so rarely get to talk."
Vladimir Masters stood a little too close to Danny, his hands behind his back as he towered over the boy. There was something … smarmy about the adult; his expression was smug and his body language suggested that he was used to ruling over all he surveyed. Danny's fists were balled, but otherwise he looked nervous and defensive. Sam raised her eyebrows in confusion.
"… Hi, Mr. Masters," Danny said slowly.
"I'm hurt! You don't look very happy to see me, son," Vlad said.
Danny opened his mouth to reply when Jack popped up behind Vlad with an overly joyful expression. Jack, Sam realized, never did anything halfway. "Vladdie! Glad you could make it! Let's go down to the lab, you've got to see all the great stuff we're working on!"
An expression flashed over Vlad's face. Sam could only read it as utter disdain and irritation. It disappeared as quickly as it came, however, and he smiled fondly at Jack. "That sounds wonderful, Jack, please … show me your fantastic inventions."
And with that Jack grabbed Vlad by the shoulder and marched him downstairs.
Danny's shoulders slumped the moment Vlad had left the room, glaring after him. He started to follow them down the stairs, but Sam grabbed his arm. "What was that all about?"
Danny glanced at her for only a brief moment before looking away. "It's nothing."
Sam snorted. "That's your excuse for anything you don't want to talk about."
She was startled when Danny's shoulder suddenly slid out of her grasp, her fingers closing on nothing before he moved away. "Look, he's a really important guy, so it's a bad idea to piss him off," he said, sounding a little exasperated. "He's kind of playing both sides. He's negotiated with someone on Pariah's side to make sure that Amity keeps getting the supplies it needs for everyone to survive even though we're in the Ghost Zone."
Sam raised her eyebrows. "And yet he's sponsoring the war on Pariah?"
"Supposedly Pariah doesn't know that. I don't know how he does it, I'm not there." Danny closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, letting it out through his nose. "I'm glad he does what he does."
There was a 'but' in there. Sam pushed it. "Sounds great, but he seems kind of ..."
"Weird? Two-faced? Hates my dad but totally in love with my mom?" Danny interjected.
"I was going to say 'nasty', but that'll work. Totally in love with your mom?" Sam asked.
Danny pressed his face into one hand. "Vlad has a history with my dad. Mom and Dad just made the first stable ghost portal, but they'd been trying to build one since like 1980, along with Vlad. Er … let's just say that Jazz and I weren't the first ghost portal related incident."
"They poisoned Mr. Masters?" Sam gasped.
"Actually, it gave him a bad case of ecto-acne and the white hair." Danny shrugged. "Go figure. Uh, Dad said Vlad held it against him for years, until the whole Pariah Dark thing raged out of control." He paused. "Vlad is the one that pointed my parents to the castle in Wisconsin."
"That was nice of him. But back to the 'totally in love with your mom' thing," Sam encouraged.
Danny made a frustrated sound. "It's obvious whenever he's around her. He's all, I dunno. Smarmy."
"Your dad seems to think they're still best friends."
Danny shrugged, not replying, and looking towards the basement door with visible trepidation. "He's not a bad person," he said without much conviction.
"But you still don't like him," Sam nodded understandingly. "Danny, ninety percent of the adults in this world are put here to be a pain in a teenager's neck."
"… Is there something you're not telling me? Again?" Sam asked.
Danny blinked, his gaze going back to Sam as if just hearing her for the first time. "I hate it when he calls me 'son'," Danny said, and then he turned and started up the stairs, his previous lighter mood demolished.
Sam saw what Danny meant about Mr. Masters being 'smarmy' around his foster mother that evening at dinner.
It was a busy affair, although nothing gourmet. It seemed that Mrs. Fenton rarely did any cooking – Jazz tended to throw together meals. She enlisted Danny and Sam's help the moment she breezed in the door.
"I'm home!" Jazz called, and Danny looked up from the game of checkers he and Sam had begun.
"How was your first day at school?"
"Oh, fine, except in the middle of the afternoon Walker showed up, looking for y—Sam," Jazz answered, cutting off mid-word.
Danny and Sam looked at each other. "I told her," he said.
"He told me," Sam said simultaneously.
"You didn't chicken out after all!" Jazz crowed. Danny flushed, scowling, but she didn't give him a chance to answer. "Walker showed up looking for both of you. It was hilarious, really." She hung her backpack neatly by the door. "I'm going to be so glad to get Amity out of this mess. History is about Pariah Dark? Honestly. Boring!" She rolled her eyes. "So, what did you want for dinner?"
All of this had been said faster than Sam or Danny could get a word in edgewise. Sam wasn't sure if she had an appetite yet; every twenty minutes or so, she remembered that she was virtually under house arrest. It made her feel sick. "I dunno."
"Anything Vlad doesn't like," Danny joked.
Jazz's eyebrows shot up towards her hairline. "Vlad is here?"
Danny nodded. "And hitting on Mom in the basement while Dad tries to tell him about all our inventions, again." He rolled his eyes.
Jazz gave Danny a hard, searching look. "He's not …?" But the look evaporated after a moment, and despite Danny giving no visible answer, she changed the subject. "Okay, I guess it's cooking for six tonight. Let's see if the chicken is thawed."
Danny beckoned Sam to follow himself and Jazz into the kitchen. "She cooks. I used to cook, too, but I don't really have time any more."
"I can't imagine why," Sam said dryly. "You can cook?"
"Well, I'm best at hot dogs …"
"Danny doesn't give himself enough credit," Jazz interrupted. "He makes mean macaroni and cheese."
"With hot dogs!" Danny added, raising a finger.
"As long as he doesn't use the Fenton Microwave …"
"Last time Mom made hot dogs with the Fenton Microwave, they came to life," Danny explained to Sam.
Sam tried to imagine this. "… What …?"
"They had little faces on them and everything," Danny elaborated. "And teeth. Sharp, tiny teeth."
"… And that is another reason why I don't eat meat," Sam declared.
"You don't? Danny, why didn't you tell me?" Jazz accused.
"I didn't know?" Danny answered, looking confused.
"I didn't tell him," Sam confirmed.
"Mm … well, I'll see if we have enough pasta to make a meal …" Jazz rooted around in the pantry.
Dinner ended up being spaghetti with chicken breast. Danny looked chagrined when he was enlisted to tell the adults the food was ready, but he disappeared down the stairs obediently.
Sam helped set out the dinner plates. "You're okay with me living in your room?" she asked.
Jazz dished out the pasta next to Sam. "Why wouldn't I be?" she asked lightly. There was a short pause, then Jazz continued, "Have your parents called looking for you?"
"They've probably tried my cell phone a million times," Sam sighed. "I left it at home, along with everything else." It had occurred to her earlier in the day, but she didn't know how she could get her things. "I can't call to tell them I'm okay from here because my parents have caller ID, and I can't let them know where I am – or who I'm with," she added, knowing that Jazz would suggest Danny's cellular phone.
Jazz nodded understandingly. "We'll send Danny to pick up some clothes for you, all right?" she suggested sweetly, reminding Sam of Maddie.
Before they could continue, however, Danny reappeared along with Vlad, Maddie, and Jack. "Dinner is served! Spaghetti and chicken," Jazz announced. "Hello, Mr. Masters!"
"Hello, dear," Vlad said pleasantly, slipping smoothly into the role of the kind adult. Danny glared at him from the corner of his eye, but pasted a smile on his face the moment Vlad looked his way. "Mm, this looks scrumptious! You must be quite the cook."
"Thank you," Jazz answered smoothly. Sam thought she saw a momentary look of irritation, but it might have been her imagination. "Have you met Sam yet?"
Sam suddenly realized she hadn't been formally introduced to the billionare as Vlad's eyes turned to her. "Hi," she said, able to act just as smoothly as Jazz. She couldn't help the desire to be a little snarky, though, and continued, "My name's Samantha, but call me Sam or I will banish you to the deepest depths of the Ghost Zone."
Vlad raised his eyebrows and chuckled in response, taking her hand and shaking it with a grip that was slightly too tight. "Very well, 'Sam'." He said it with a vaguely mocking tone before taking his seat – opposite Mr. Fenton, but right next to Mrs. Fenton.
Danny's glare darkened.
Jazz sat on Vlad's other side, and Danny sat opposite his mom, leaving Sam the seat between Jack and Danny.
"Maddie, your handiwork simply has me flabbergasted," Vlad pronounced as they started on the meal.
"Oh, Jack is the one that imagines everything," Maddie said pleasantly. "I just do the blueprints. Jazz, this is delicious."
"Another wonderful dinner, Jazzypants!" Jack agreed heartily. "Mm, Vladdie, do you want to be the first person to try out the Invisibility Suit?"
"Ah, no, I'm afraid I will have to decline," Vlad answered, a look of disdain crossing his face. "Perhaps Daniel would be the better candidate, hmm?"
Danny had been concentrating on his food, and he looked up in surprise at this. "Uh, no," he said pointedly.
"But it is your father's invention," Vlad answered, spearing a portion of chicken. "Surely …?"
"Daniel's always very brave with these things, but I think I'll be the first to try it on," Maddie interjected.
"Why, Maddie, how trusting of you," Vlad almost sneered.
"I helped build it, Vlad," Maddie pointed out. "I know its quirks as well as Jack."
"Anyway," Jazz suddenly said, "how are things 'outside'?"
"Oh, as hectic as ever," Vlad dismissed. "They're looking forward to hearing about your human portal, Maddie."
"Unfortunately, that may be a while in coming," Maddie sighed. "Reverse-engineering the Ghost Portal isn't going as smoothly as we hoped."
"And we're in the middle of working on the Fenton Suit," Jack added.
"And what, pray tell, is the purpose of such a suit?" Vlad asked a bit testily.
"It enhances the user's natural abilities one hundred times over!" Jack was obviously about to elaborate, but Vlad interrupted.
"And how would that help? Pariah is a thousand times stronger than a single human. You would have to build a hundred suits to defeat him in such a way."
"A hundred and one," Jazz muttered to herself.
"You would be better served to concentrate on a weapon, perhaps," Vlad suggested.
"The kind of power that would take …" Maddie mused aloud, waving her fork thoughtfully. "I doubt we have a generator that could manage it. If it did work, it would take far too long to charge."
"I know you could think of something, Maddie," Vlad said, his voice abruptly sickly sweet. Danny, who was watching from the corner of his eye, choked on his food. Sam leaned over and patted his back until he swallowed hard.
"How did you get into the Ghost Zone?" Danny asked as soon as his airway was clear.
"The same way I always have," Vlad answered, affixing Danny with an unnerving gaze. Danny met it steadily, but without the same resolve. "In any case, it's not of importance. I am far more curious, young Daniel, how you acquired the bandages around your arms."
Danny paled slightly. "I-I—"
"He was caught in a ghost fight!" Jazz interjected. "Walker is looking for Sam here because she supposedly has connections with a rogue ghost, and he was caught in the crossfire."
Vlad raised an eyebrow, looking over to Sam with a slight smirk curling his lips. "It's fortunate that Miss 'Sam' escaped any injury at all," he observed.
Sam puffed up, a little indignant at the man. Maddie was frowning at Vlad behind his back, but Jack was utterly oblivious. "Danny protected me," Sam said, her voice flat.
"Oh, really? How chivalrous of you, Daniel," Vlad intoned, his gaze going back to Danny.
Danny's eyebrow twitched slightly, but he wouldn't meet Vlad's eyes, his gaze firmly affixed on his plate.
"Oh, I almost forgot," Maddie said suddenly, and all eyes turned to her. "We've made an advancement in our intelligence. Sam has discovered where Pariah's sarcophagus is."
Vlad arched an eyebrow again. "Ah, really?" he glanced at Sam with an evaluating look, clearly reassessing her intelligence – or maybe her value. Sam glared back, not abashed about it at all. "That's wonderful. Unfortunately, it's useless without the Skeleton Key."
"I think you're only the third person to say that to me," Sam snapped, her patience frayed. But Jazz spoke over her: "It's better than nothing."
"It's certainly a start," Vlad allowed, visibly musing. "Mm … well, I'll see if I can't dig up anything about the Skeleton Key. Old texts, prophesies, things of that sort."
"I knew you could come through for us, Vladdie," Jack said with gusto. He pushed back his plate, getting up from his chair. "That hit the spot! Want to join me down in the lab?" he asked of Vlad.
Mr. Masters shook his head. "No, that's quite all right," he answered.
Jack shrugged his massive shoulders. "Thanks for the meal, Jazzypants!" And with that, he thundered away. Sam wondered if Mr. Fenton did anything quietly.
"So, Maddie …" Vlad began.
Danny suddenly pushed himself back from the table. "I'm done," he announced, taking his half-eaten plate to the trash. Sam's environmentally-conscious self winced at the waste. "Wanna play Doomed, Sam?"
"Uh …" Sam had hardly touched her food. "I have to finish?"
"Go on, take it upstairs," Maddie said dismissively, smiling.
"I guess I'll watch you play!" Sam said with unintended enthusiasm. There was something undeniably creepy about Mr. Masters. She picked up her plate and abandoned Mrs. Fenton and her daughter to their fates, following Danny up the stairs.
"Okay, he's weird," she conceded to Danny once they'd reached his room. It contained several unpacked boxes, but the essentials were out – his computer, a cot, and surprisingly, a dresser. Come to think of it, hadn't Jazz already had a bed and a dresser in her room as well? "You have an awful lot of furniture," she remarked. "How did you move it in?"
Danny glanced back at her while his computer booted up. "It was here already. FentonWorks was my family's home before Amity fell to Pariah."
"Then you've lived here before?"
"For about six months," Danny answered with a slight shrug. "My parents adopted me and went pretty ghost-happy, but they got out because … well, as enthusiastic as Mom is about ghost-hunting, she saw it was a losing battle. Then I had an encounter with Wulf, and that was it, Mom had us out of here."
"An 'encounter'?" Sam demanded, trying not to sound as shocked as she felt.
Danny blushed slightly, but pulled up his shirt. On his side were four short, jagged, white lines, arching from his torso toward his ribs. "I don't really remember it, but apparently he swiped me with his claws while clawing a portal out of the Ghost Zone and into Amity. I just seem to have that kind of luck," he laughed weakly. "This is all that's left of it, and I'm okay, so …" He shrugged.
Sam didn't quite know how to react, so she nodded soberly. "I'm glad you're okay."
"Me too." Danny grinned more genuinely and turned back to his computer. "Tell me when you want your turn."
"Right." Sam looked around Danny's room and worked on her pasta. It was sparse, yes, but with the look of someone who hadn't finished moving in rather than someone who had few possessions. He'd put up a few posters, and all of them were of space shuttles and star maps. "You're interested in outer space?"
"I kind of want to become an astronaut," Danny said, sounding a little distracted. "… Actually, I really wanna be an astronaut."
"That's—nice." Sam almost said 'cute', but refrained at the last second. "Hey, Jazz was going to ask you if you could fly over to my place and pick up some clothes for me … are you okay doing that?"
Danny cringed, and he shot a glance over his shoulder, looking a little pained. "Like … underwear?" he whispered.
Sam colored. "Uh, well …"
They both sat there awkwardly for a long moment, contemplating the embarrassing idea of Danny picking up any of Sam's underclothes, when there was a knock at the door. "Daniel?"
Danny's eyes shot to his doorway. "Mr. Masters?"
"May I come in, son?"
Sam frowned, whispering. "What's with him and you?"
Danny ignored her. "Sure," he said, his voice grudging. He got up from his seat as his computer made splatty noises that indicated Danny's sprite had suffered a bloody death. "Coming."
Sam started to stand up as Danny passed her on the way to the door. She felt confused as to why Danny was so ambivalent towards Vlad. He clearly disliked the man, but he let Vlad—
"I was sorry to see you leave the table so early," Vlad sighed as Danny opened the door to his room. "I had hoped to get a chance to talk to you …" his gaze went to Sam. "Privately."
Sam cocked an eyebrow.
Danny sighed aloud, not hiding his disappointment. "What can't Sam hear?" He didn't move to let Vlad in.
"These are private family matters, Daniel," Vlad answered smoothly. "Regarding your parents, you, and myself." He smiled thinly as he let that sink in.
Does Mr. Masters know about Danny having ghost powers? Sam wondered. But Danny didn't defend Sam's knowledge. He just sighed again, a little more quietly, and stepped aside. "Sorry, Sam …"
Sam waved a hand, hiding her frustration. "Oh, it's fine," she said, with a fake smile. She shot Vlad a glare as she passed, however. "We'll talk later!"
"Great." Danny was too distracted to see how fake Sam's reaction was.
The door closed behind Sam, and she stared at it.
Then she knelt down and pressed her ear to the frame.
What did Sam hear at the door? Find out next time in … COMING HOME! Ahaha.
I love reviews! Thank you to everyone who has left them for the last chapters!