Vlad's an atheist in this chapter. That shouldn't surprise anyone. If a character talking about the nonexistence of God offends you, please don't tell me so because you were warned.
Tucker woke up from a rather peaceful sleep, considering the circumstances. For one sleep-ridden moment he wanted to believe that all of it was a dream, but that thought was quickly expelled from his mind. He rubbed his eyes for a moment and then leaned up on his elbows. He jumped a little in shock when he noticed Jazz was sitting the armchair across from him. "Jazz?"
Jazz was looking directly at Tucker, but it was clear that she wasn't seeing him. Tears were streaming down her face and her breathing was labored.
"Jazz? What's wrong?" Tucker asked worriedly as he sat up to get a better look at her. "What happened? Did you have a bad dream?" Tucker's face paled, "Did… did Danny do something?"
Jazz shook her head, her eyes closing. "No… Danny didn't do anything."
Tucker stood up and Jazz couldn't help but avert her eyes as she realized that he was shirtless. Sitting down in the armchair with her, Tucker pulled Jazz into his lap. "Then what's wrong?" He wrapped his arms comfortingly around her waist from behind. "You can talk to me, Jazz," he placed a light kiss on her neck and Jazz was relieved that he couldn't see her blush.
"I'm just worried, Tucker. I'm scared. I've never been afraid of Danny before. Danny is good. At least I thought he was. Maybe his ghost half is just inherently evil, but Sam was keeping him good. What if we never find her, Tuck? Or worse, what if we do find her and she's… dead?" Another wave of tears crashed over her, "I don't like being afraid of my baby brother, Tuck, I don't like it."
"Jazz. Danny is good. His ghost half was neutral, it became good because of him. I've known Danny for a long time, Jazz, and one of his biggest fears is that he will lose someone that he loves. He's especially protective of Sam, we know that. And his biggest fear is being realized, of course he's not going to react well to it."
"But Tucker, what if he does go insane? What if he really does lose his mind?"
"We'll deal with that when and if it happens."
Jazz turned in Tucker's arms and buried her face in his shoulder. "He's my brother, Tuck… my baby brother, I'm supposed to take care of him. How can I take care of him now?"
"Shh," Tucker whispered soothingly, "shh, everything will be alright. We'll find Sam. Danny will be okay." He stoked her short red hair and placed soft kisses on her forehead. "It's all gonna be okay."
"How do you know? What proof do you have?" Jazz begged, searching his beautiful green eyes as if the answers she needed would be written there. There were answers there, that she wanted, but not the ones she needed right now.
"I have hope, Jazz. It might not be logical, there might not be proof for it, but I have hope."
Jazz tear-stained face broke into a smile. "You're amazing, has anyone ever told you that?" Her palm found its way to his cheek and she rubbed her thumb under his eye.
Tucker smirked benevolently. "A couple of times."
"I mean it, Tuck, I don't know what I would do without you," Jazz smiled and placed a quick chaste kiss on his lips. She pulled away and blushed. "Um… I'm sorry, I-" she was cut off by the soft warm prying of Tucker's lips. "Mmmph…" she moaned. She smiled as he continued to gently caress her mouth with his.
Upstairs, Danny shuffled sleepily into the bathroom, jeans a little more wrinkled than they were yesterday, though he was sans shirt. Danny grinned as he thought blissfully of calling Sam. He wanted to tell her that he had broken up with Valerie and that she was the one he had loved all along. The dream-addled thought made him giddy.
He froze and bit back a wave of tears when he realized that he couldn't call her. In the bathroom, he stood at the sink and splashed cold water over his face. After wiping the excess drops off with a towel he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, jaw nearly dropping at what he saw.
Beginning at his left eye, spreading over the top of his cheek and the bottom of his forehead, reaching back into his black hair was horrible, blue and purple, face-mangling bruise. Gently, Danny fingered the disfigured skin, only to wince a moment later. He hadn't realized Tucker had hit him so hard. Danny sighed resignedly as he moved his hand away from his face. Guilt crashed down on him and threatened to drown him. Tuck had given him exactly what he deserved. "I should've been there to protect her…" he lamented. "I deserve a lot worse than this, Tuck," he muttered to no one.
Sighing heavily, Danny turned and trudged back into his room, throwing on what may or may not have been a clean shirt. He wasn't exactly inclined to care at this point. He trudged downstairs as though his feet were made of lead. His whole body felt heavy. He'd never been out of contact with Sam for this long and it was starting to prod at his heart with fiery hot knives. Any part of him that wasn't focused on finding Sam was dedicated only to breathing.
Upon reaching the living room, even that was suspended.
There, curled up tightly and entwined in the armchair, were Tucker and Jazz, whispering sweetly to each other. Danny's jaw dropped to the floor just before it snapped shut and clenched. "Ahem," Danny coughed low in his throat.
Jazz and Tucker jumped apart as though the other were on fire.
"D-danny, it's not what it looks like," Jazz stammered out, but her face belied her words. She was flushed and her lips were red and swollen. The tangles in her hair could not be excused by bed head.
Tucker said nothing, he merely looked at Danny with suspended eyes. He was waiting. He'd seen Danny get angry at Jazz's boyfriends before, he did not want to suffer their same fate. So he was waiting.
Danny cast an indifferent look at the both of them and headed into the kitchen.
Tucker and Jazz exchanged an uneasy look before following him, careful not to make any sudden noises. Danny had always warn him emotions on his sleeve, when he was mad, his eyes flashed green and his eyebrows furrowed at the same time his lips set into a thin line. When he was sad, he cried and withdrew; his eyes got more blue than usual and when he was happy, his eyes sparkled and he wouldn't stop smiling for anything.
The indifference was disturbing. Danny was completely unreadable. His eyes were blank, almost as though he had been hypnotized. They were green, but not glowing. His mouth was one flat line and his breathing was barely detectable, almost as though he was doing it completely out of habit and not necessity.
"Danny…?" Jazz began gently. "Are you okay? Do you want something to eat?"
"I'm fine," he deadpanned. "I'm not hungry."
Tucker and Jazz were both taken aback. Their friend, whose voice had also always conveyed emotion, sounded like that of a robot. There was little to no inflection and it was extremely disconcerting.
"Man, you should eat something," Tucker advised.
"Do you know where Sam is?" Danny asked, looking at Tucker with dead green eyes.
Tucker raised an eyebrow at him. "No, Danny. Why would I?"
"Don't talk to me unless you have something to say about where Sam is. I am not concerned with food. I am not concerned with sleep. I am not concerned with you two fucking each other. I just want to find Sam and like I've said before if you're not going to help me, then stay the hell out of my way," where there would have been anger in his voice by the end of his speech before, now there was nothing.
Somewhere, deep in Danny's subconscious, was the scared, pure, heroic little boy that he always had been, but circumstances were driving him over the edge. Danny was angry, very angry. So angry in fact that his mind had shut him down so that he would destroy all of Amity Park. Now, all that was showed was indifference.
"Danny," Jazz began in her logical voice, "Tucker and I are not together and we are certainly not… 'fucking' as you so delicately put it. And in any case, what Tucker and I do together is none of your business. Now you need to take a deep breath and a step back and look at yourself."
Danny heaved a huge sigh. "Jazz…" he began in a consenting voice.
"Yes, Danny?" She answered hopefully.
"Shut the hell up," he finished coldly. He stood up from the chair he'd been sitting in and headed for the basement. "I'm going to look for Sam. I will wait ten minutes for you two. If you're going to help me, be down in the Specter Speeder and ready to go." He disappeared through the basement door.
"You think we've lost him, Tuck?"
"No… not yet. But if we're not careful, we're going to very soon."
Jazz heaved a sigh. "I don't want to lose him, Tucker."
"Me neither, Jazz. Me neither…"
"But Mr. Masters…" Valerie began as she changed behind the screen, into the fresh clothes Vlad had provided for her upon reaching his mansion. When Vlad had exposed Danny in a fight so many years ago, Danny had in turn exposed Vlad and Valerie was well aware that both men were half ghost, but for some reason, she didn't hold the same grudge against Vlad that she did Danny.
Vlad smiled charmingly as she poked her head out from behind the screen. "Please, my dear. Call me Vlad."
Valerie gulped slightly at his vampire smile, "Um, okay. Vlad," she stilted the name out awkwardly, "I don't understand. I could have had him right then and there."
"No, my dear, you could have killed him right then and there. There is a very big difference, Valerie," Vlad tried to smile benignly at her, but it kept coming out as condescending.
"So why didn't you let me kill him then? I thought you wanted him dead."
Vlad smiled almost fondly as Valerie stepped out from behind the screen, dressed in a short, flowing red dress. He found himself almost thinking that he would miss her. "Ahh, you look lovely my dear."
Valerie blushed slightly, but kept her game face. "I thought you wanted him dead," she repeated.
"No, Valerie, I said I wanted him destroyed. There is no way you could have killed Daniel."
"I can take him. I don't care how powerful he is."
"You misunderstand, dear girl, you cannot kill Daniel. It is impossible."
"He's immortal?" Valerie questioned. If Danny was indeed immune to death, it would make quite a lot of sense.
"No," Vlad answered simply, purposefully forcing her into a game of questions.
"He's already dead?" Valerie was feeling very confused. It was a feeling she did not like. She seemed to be living a lot of her life in confusion lately. She missed the days when Danny and Phantom were not the same person in her mind. Things were so much more black and white then.
"No," Vlad answered, growing impatient with his pawn as he led her down a spiraling staircase to the dining room. "To be sure, he can die, but you cannot kill him. Clockwork would have stopped you." Valerie had been such a valuable asset at one point, but now she was utterly useless to him.
"Clockwork?" She asked curiously.
"The ghost who controls time," Vlad replied.
"Doesn't God do that?"
Vlad let loose a hearty laugh. "Haven't lost your faith in the All-Mighty Father, have you? Surprising, but pleasantly so. There aren't many idealists left in the world. With everything you've seen, all the death, all the lost souls, I would have figured you would have lost hope in God and all his promises."
"If I lose faith, then what do I have to fight for?"
"The thing I always assumed you were fighting for: revenge." Vlad began leading her through a series of corridors that reminded Valerie strongly of a labyrinth.
Valerie looked down. She'd always thought that she was serving some higher power by relieving the world of evil ghosts. But Vlad obviously thought otherwise and she feared looking like a silly little child in his eyes. "I guess…"
"Really, you and Daniel never cease to amaze me," he began condescendingly, "All the horrors you encounter in the world and yet still you cling on to your faith. Both of you. It's rather endearing. Of course, where you cling to God, Daniel clings desperately to a love that will never be his."
Valerie kept her eyes averted from Vlad, instead taking the opportunity to stare at the walls that were bejeweled with paintings. Everything about Vlad's castle seemed to be extravagant, almost grotesquely so. Everything was colorful to the point of garishness and Valerie sorely wanted freedom from the assault on her senses.
Vlad led her through an intricate French door, into a rather grand dining room. The walls were crimson and the carpet was the color of rich wine. The large banquet table and chairs were made of mahogany. All the red was starting to make Valerie a little uneasy, but she said nothing. What wasn't red in the dining room was gold instead.
Vlad pulled out a chair for Valerie, "Do sit down, my dear." He took the seat to her right, at the head of the table. "Dinner will be served shortly."
"It's very nice of you to do all this for me, Mr. Masters."
"Vlad, my dear, Vlad," he corrected with a smile that would make a crocodile cringe.
Valerie smiled weakly back and was suddenly grateful when the food arrived. Spreading her napkin on her lap, she sifted through the contents of her plate, poked at them carefully with her fork. sniffed the food delicately.
"Checking for poison?" Vlad asked as though the idea were completely ridiculous and Valerie was just being silly. If there had been any room in his heart for fondness, he certainly would have felt some for Valerie. She was, after all, quite endearing. At times she seemed to be a younger, female version of himself and had he the time and energy, he might have liked to make her his apprentice, but she was nothing but a nuisance to him now.
Valerie sat back in her chair, wrung her hands in her lap and blushed. "Umm…"
Vlad smiled fondly at her. "It's quite alright, my dear. I understand. I would do nothing different were I in you position."
"Of course," Vlad continued, "I have always been your benefactor, but from afar. It is strange that all of a sudden I would open up my home to you. Although, it is purely self-interest."
"My dear, I have invested quite a bit of money in you and now my investment is in danger. Daniel has clearly gone off the deep end and should he decide that you are worthy of attack, he would kill you easily. It is safer to keep you here until he can be… dealt with, rather than risk your life and all of my valuable equipment."
Valerie nodded, suspicions slightly assuaged and began to eat the food that had been placed in front of her.
Vlad watched her, not once touching his own food. He smiled when she was finally finished, seeing the plate almost perfectly clean. "Did you enjoy?"
"Yes, thank you," Valerie replied courteously.
"I'm glad," he turned to a maid that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. "Bring out two glasses of wine, you'll find the chef already has them prepared."
The maid quickly disappeared behind a door and reappeared a moment later, carrying a tray with two glasses of red wine placed upon it.
"Care for a drink, Valerie, my dear?" Vlad asked courteously as the maid handed her one of the glasses.
Valerie took it, again warily. She didn't trust anyone, let alone a man who had invited her into his home, was old enough to be her father and treating her as though she were his date.
"Still suspicious, well I suppose you aren't completely naïve. Honestly, I almost miss the days when both you and Daniel were more easily plied," he released a small sigh of nostalgia, "more gullible."
Swirling the wine around in the glass, but saying nothing, Valerie observed the blood-colored liquid carefully, checking for any sign of poisoning. Suddenly, she stopped and set the glass down in front of her. "Thank you," she said curtly, "but no thank you."
"Smart girl. I'd like to take a little bit of credit for it."
"Don't," Valerie answered coldly, feeling less and less comfortable by the second. "Could I please have a glass of water?"
Vlad nodded in consent, "Julia, please bring our guest a glass of water."
The young maid curtseyed and rushed off to the kitchen, almost immediately returning with a plain glass of water. Valerie thanked her, but the maid said nothing.
"Satisfied?" Vlad asked with just a hint of smugness, trying to keep the smirk from creeping over his face.
Valerie downed some of the water and grinned slightly. "Yes, thank you."
"You know, my dear girl, you really have no reason not to trust me…" Vlad continued in the same condescending tone he'd been using toward her since she'd arrived.
Valerie merely eyed him for a moment before she began to sputter and cough.
Vlad finally allowed himself to smirk at her, all politeness gone, as she began to breathe heavily and writhe in her seat, "But that doesn't mean you should."
"Wh-what hav-e yo-you done to me?" Valerie choked out through her rapid breathing.
"You're a clever young woman, Miss Gray, but not quite clever enough. You played right into my hands, my dear. I knew that you would be suspicious, as you rightfully were, I also knew you would refuse the wine and would ask for water instead. I poisoned both just in case," Vlad explained.
Valerie clutched her head and moaned in agony. "With what?" She gasped.
"Cyanide," Vlad answered simply, "an extremely high potency. You should already be experiencing rapid heart-rate and breathing, and I assume a headache. Soon you will become very nauseous. After that, perhaps you will convulse and your lungs will fail-"
Valerie sent Vlad a vicious glare. "I know what it does, you bastard. You're murdering me."
"When you were fourteen, you and Daniel were far more useful to me, but now that he is insane and will be taken care of for me and you are too smart to be a pawn anymore, I have no use for you."
"So you're killing me?" Valerie wheezed. A spasm passed through her muscles and she fell off of her chair, onto her knees.
"Life does get very boring. I do need amusement every now and then."
Valerie would have glared at him again, but was distracted by suddenly losing everything she had eaten at dinner. Pain was searing in her lungs, throbbing and causing her to convulse and wretch on the floor.
"You know, that was a very expensive rug, my dear," Vlad chided. He watched with a sadistic smile on his face as she continued to spasm and gasp for air, like a fish out of water.
Valerie could feel her heart slowing down as her body shook harder and tears streamed out of her eyes as she lay on her back on the floor. The only thought running through her mind was how stupid she had always been in not accepting Danny's help and friendship and how humiliated she was now, dying like this. She was stripped of all dignity, unable to even control her own breathing, the most basic of vital functions.
Vlad turned away from her and walked coolly toward the doorway. He turned to the maid one more time as he heard Valerie's labored breathing die down before stopping completely. Knowing she would lie there in agony a little longer, he said, "Julie, will you please make sure that Mr. Benedict cleans up the mess when Miss Gray is… done."
Julie only nodded her head.
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