A Wish Your Heart Makes
A/N: Danny Phantom, Gargoyles, and anything Disney-related does not belong to me. (As if anybody had any doubts.) Kudos to Ellen Brand for working out (and letting me borrow) a background for Vlad that explains why he became such a crazed-up fruit loop. This story occurs some unspecified time after Gargoyles' "The Gathering", and not long after the Danny Phantom episode "Reality Trip". If fluff were a genre, I'd stick this there.
Toss. Turn. Repeat.
Helicopter maintenance, Vlad Masters thought fuzzily, head buried under a pillow yet again. Or possibly buried in it. He was probably tangible, but he didn't feel like waking up enough to check. Work on the Portal. Find some better way to clean up ghost vulture feathers...
Like anything else, the problem with taking over the world is the details. So many details.
Three of which were particularly troubling him, this night.
Foley. Miss Manson. Young Daniel.
Three wary, determined, socially outcast teenagers who'd done more to throw roadblocks in his path than any of the blind, naive adults about him. Particularly Daniel. Though the little badger had just as often helped, unbeknownst to him; nudge a fourteen-year-old's feelings of insecurity and wish to protect his family just right, and the latest ghostly obstacle would wind up facing a young halfa's ecto-blasts and at least three Fenton Thermoses.
Very few foes could compete with the one, let alone the other. Combine those weapons with Daniel's growing sense of strategy, and Vlad's own skillful aid when needed... while many creatures might put those three in danger, he hadn't met one yet that could keep them there.
So why did he have the feeling there was something terribly amiss?
"Because even with history rewritten, those who dwell deep enough in magic can sense what might have been."
Many men might not ask questions when a lovely redhead appeared in their bedrooms unannounced. The odd, queenly harem-girl's outfit, the jeweled skullcap, the green skin - many men would have ignored it all, drawn like moths to the flame of otherworldly beauty.
Many men were not Vlad Masters.
Who, in a flash of black rings, was someone else entirely.
"I don't know who you are, Madam," Vlad Plasmius stated, firm but polite. Red hair. Silken arm-drapes. And a definite form, not a trace of genie-like smoke. Not Desiree, then. "But this castle is my haunt. And you have expressly not been invited."
"I need no invitation." Her smile was warm, but had a hard edge he recognized from watching his beloved Maddie; a woman who meant to state facts, and threats be damned. "It might interest you to know that your godchild, and his friends, have just set reality back into a safer path. And that before they did, the world was a far more dangerous place for him, or you, or any creature steeped in magic."
My godchild? But Daniel was not-
Still. He did look after the lad. Teach him. Guide him. In his own way. From the skewed perspective of the Ghost Zone's inhabitants, it might be enough to count.
Or wherever she's from. She's not setting off my ghost sense - yet she feels of power.
Which was one reason he was listening, and not attacking. Never leap into an unknown situation. That, he'd leave to one orange-jumpsuited idiot, Jack Fenton.
Who unfortunately is not here... memorize her appearance. Something this powerful has to have left a record somewhere.
The redhead's voice softened. "He was exposed to the world, Vlad. Hunted. Almost caged, by those idiots in white. Threatened in ways I will not see done to any child, especially after-" She shrugged, deliberately cutting off the thought. "Reality has shifted back, and few remember how it was. I choose to be one of those few." Green eyes cut back to him. "Vlad Plasmius. Thief. Villain. Rouser of creatures far better left untouched; even such as I would prefer not to deal with Pariah Dark, and you woke him only to further your foolish quest for power." She blinked, deliberately casual. "Would you have saved Daniel, if you could?"
Idiots in white? Vlad could imagine what the Guys In White would have done to a helpless human-ghost hybrid. Even after all he'd done and seen, the thought chilled his blood. "I may be a villain, Madam, but I am not a monster."
"No. You're not. Even though I left you to become one," the redhead said softly.
"Then only one question remains." Her gaze bored into his, and power glowed green about her.
A wave of his hands summoned a glowing red shield; a calculated risk. Few beings could blast their way through his defenses in one blow, and he still didn't know enough to know who or what she was.
She regarded the barrier with an amused, respectful nod. And smiled. "How much would you be willing to give up, to have Daniel as your son?"
And something was crushing ectoplasm about him; he tried to teleport out, couldn't-
"Would you be willing to give up your hate?"
The world flashed green, and then dark.
"Banzai!" Jack Fenton shouted, plugging in the proto-portal.
Bright, burning pain-
Vlad Masters collapsed to the lab floor, vaguely aware of his best friends, Jack and lovely Maddie Feynman, trying to catch him...
Of his best friends' hands going through him...
Pain and thought vanished.
Bed. Not soft, but not quite hard as a rock. Typical graduate student poverty, which he suffered through like everyone else; his parents might have wealth to burn, but they'd intended their genius son to be a lawyer, or a politician. Not an engineer.
In that sense, the stiff mattress was a relief. Wherever he was, it wasn't home.
"Jack! I think he's waking up!"
"V-Man!" Massive hands grabbed and shook him. "Talk to me, buddy!"
"Shoulders. Crushing," Vlad got out, prying his eyes open to peer blurrily at two worried faces. "Maddie? Jack? What happened?"
"What didn't?" Maddie brushed back long curls of red hair. "Our calculations were off. The portal exploded-"
"At least you caught me before the diet soda got into the mix," Jack muttered, eyes downcast. "I don't even want to think about what the potential biochemical reaction could have been. Bad enough Vlad got blasted with whatever got through the portal..." Jack's eyes lit up, elated and worried at once. "Ah, you're sinking through the bed again, buddy. Might want to stop that before your parents get in here."
"I'm... what?" Vlad said faintly, looking down at himself.
Or not looking down, given that his lower half had turned translucent and slipped through sheets, mattress, and bed-frame with a feeling like cold fog.
As one, Jack and Maddie yanked him back up by the arms, waiting with tense expressions until Vlad shivered, suddenly finding warm and solid in one twitch of will. "That's been happening since the night before last," Maddie said briskly. "We've been able to stall everybody by saying you were just burned out from the last exam, but-"
"They're out there, V-Man," Jack said, cheerful mullet hair uncharacteristically flat and serious. "Think you can hold it together long enough for us to fend 'em off?"
No choice. His parents already disapproved of his field of study and his friends. If they had any idea that... this... had happened - he wouldn't see the outside of a hospital until they were convinced he was in no fit state to ever embarrass them again. "Give me a moment."
"You're going to need it." Maddie caught her lip in her teeth, violet eyes shadowed with worry as she fished out a compact mirror. "I think we can convince them it was one of the football team's pranks gone wrong. I hope."
Cupping it in trembling hands, Vlad stared at hair and eyes bleached white and eerie blue. What happened to me?
This is all Jack's fault...
No. No, it was their experiment. Their choice, to pry into the realms beyond normal matter and energy. He'd only been the closest to the blast.
And at least it wasn't Maddie. He remembered that much; Jack taking Maddie down in a tackle when that first ominous whine left the proto-portal. Out of range of that killing green fire...
Focus, Vlad told himself firmly. Get past your parents first. Then-
Well, then he'd see.
But Jack and Maddie were there. As they couldn't have been, if the results had been any worse; one hint of physical injury, and his parents would have swept in like the ancient Greek Furies, dragging him off to suffer and likely banning his only friends from ever coming near him again.
Whatever's happened to me... I don't think I could get through it without them.
I hope I never have to...
"And it was such a promising line of inquiry," Anastasia Renard said regretfully, elegant blue suit untouched by a hint of chalk or smoke as she looked over the charred ruins of the proto-portal. "You're quite certain it didn't work?"
"Er - yes," Vlad admitted, trying not to sweat. Or turn intangible. The wife of Cyberbiotics' CEO was quite the scientist in her own right. One tiny detail out of place... "We did get some intriguing readings, but it seems clear that we need to do a bit more study of the underlying conditions surrounding cross-dimensional rifts before we can make another attempt." If we ever do.
Feeding Jack a cinnamon-applesauce cookie in the corner, keeping them both professional and quiet, Maddie gave him a wink, and a thumbs-up.
"Well, basic research is always worthwhile," Anastasia observed. "And given that the three of you have already produced some potentially profitable patents... I'll be talking to my husband about expanding the grant positions."
"Expanding?" Maddie jumped in, startled. "You mean, the grant-"
"-Was originally only meant for two post-docs, yes," Anastasia said regretfully. "I'll have to see that changes."
Vlad felt a smile on his face, despite his best efforts to stay professional. "You will?"
"Of course I will. Break up such a successful trio of promising young scientists?" Anastasia chuckled, covering her mouth with a genteel hand. "Why, I'd have to be some sort of cruel, heartless villainess, wreaking havoc simply because I was bored with petty human lives."
The trio blinked at her.
"My, look at the time." Anastasia eyed the slim gold watch on her wrist, and sauntered out of the lab. She paused in the doorway. "Do keep me informed of your progress. I have a premonition your work will lead to something quite intriguing... in the future."
"Okay," Maddie said slowly after Anastasia was safely out of earshot. "Did anyone else have a weird feeling about that woman?"
Jack and Vlad traded glances, shrugged.
"Must be my imagination," Maddie laughed. "We have a grant!"
"Yes!" the two men chorused, bringing their hands together in one triumphant clap.
And vanishing through the floor.
"Whoa," Jack's voice drifted up from the level below. "Who'd have thought dusty old Professor Crawford kept the last three decades of the swimsuit issue in a locked cabinet?" Pages flipped. "Whaddaya know - this was a good year."
"Oh, cheese logs!"
"But what if she says no?"
"Jack!" Vlad ran a determined comb through his nervous best friend's hair, straightened the striped tie over Jack's orange jumpsuit, and craned his head back to look Jack in the eye. He consciously did not drift off the floor; Jack needed to focus on the situation, not distracting hints of ghostly attributes. "Who's the real genius in this trio?"
"Maddie is," Jack admitted.
"Who's the marksman who can outshoot either of us blindfolded, with the flu, in the middle of a howling thunderstorm?"
"Maddie is," Jack said nervously.
"Who's the first-degree black belt who would have broken both of our arms if she'd disliked your taking her on a date, both of you cutting it short when I called for help, and all of us winding up glued to a wall by those ecto-pusses for hours?"
"Maddie is," Jack nodded numbly. Blinked. "Maddie is?"
"Mm-hmm," Vlad nodded, absently rubbing a still-sore arm. He'd healed much faster these past two years, ever since the accident, but asking Maddie to show him that last throw she'd used against a ghostly bat had possibly been a bit above his skill level. I still need to make going intangible more of a trained reflex, and less of an instinct. There's no reason to hit a wall if I don't have to.
"I just-" Jack hung his head, looking a bit like a wet puppy. "I may be dense, V-Man, but I suppose it finally hit me. If she says yes to me... she says no to you."
"I won't deny it hurts," Vlad said quietly. "But-" He swallowed, and focused on his large, woebegone friend. "The two of you are my best friends. You're happy together. And... I know Maddie wants children."
The ectoplasm is fused to my DNA.
I'll never be normal. Never again.
"We'll find an answer, Vlad. One way or another," Jack promised. Blue eyes were uncharacteristically serious, as the larger man planted firm hands on Vlad's shoulders. "But I promise you this. No matter what happens, you will always be part of the Fenton family."
"Uncle Vlad," the halfa mused. Summoned up a smile. "I could get used to that." Shivered, and watched his breath waft out the window. "Oh, butter biscuits!"
A newly-familiar whine told him Jack was charging their prototype ecto-blaster. "Let's get 'em!"
"Maddie?" Vlad reminded him archly.
"You're right," Jack nodded, digging for their walkie-talkies. "She won't want to miss this!"
He'll never change. Rings of gray light shifting his form to Vlad Plasmius, the halfa flew out to battle.
"Hemophilia?" Vlad touched his goddaughter's cheek, watching the precious little one-year-old yawn and toss in her sleep. "Jazz? Oh, no..."
"She's all right. She's just a carrier. Like I am." Maddie's voice was thick with tears, as she gripped the side of the crib with white knuckles. "They found it - found it in a routine test, during vaccinations. I never thought to check..."
"Nobody could have known, Maddie." Jack patted his wife's shoulder, giving her a determined smile. "We're going to get through this. You'll see." Shoving her gently toward her daughter, he caught Vlad's eye. "Hey, buddy? How about we give the girls a little alone time."
Well, Jack will never be subtle, Vlad thought, phasing them up onto the roof of Fenton Works. But he's not quite as dense as he used to be. "This must be serious, old chum."
"Serious as it gets." Jack studied his hands, as if they ought to be seeking out another piece of fudge. "Maddie wants another baby. So do I, honestly."
"A genetic counselor should have told you the odds," Vlad said levelly. Carrier if you're lucky. Unaffected if you're truly lucky. And if it's a boy...
Hemophilia was survivable. But the odds of surviving a lifetime without a blood transfusion... for their own reasons, they all kept up to date on modern medicine. And there were stories in the medical community of some kind of unnamed virus in the blood supply, undetectable by current science. A killer.
"I know." Jack took a deep breath. "That's why I'm going to ask... for something I wouldn't ask, from anybody who wasn't family."
For the first time in years, Vlad turned intangible from pure shock.
"Again!" A delighted seven-year-old squealed.
Leaning back against the massive radio tower atop Fenton Works, a firebird of pink energy fading out over his hand, Vlad regarded the dark-haired boy sitting on the roof by him, and grinned. "Now, now. Patience is a virtue... and a very useful character trait to build, for a scientist or a ghost-hunter." Even if the ghost-hunter is half ghost himself.
A trait the little badger had not appeared to inherit, thank goodness. Oh, there was certainly ectoplasm in his system; the boy healed readily, and his usual core temperature was low enough to make a school nurse frown. Not nearly as low as Vlad's, but still...
Stop borrowing trouble. He's healthy, and he's normal.
Something blew up, down in the lab; Vlad felt the tremble through reinforced brick.
"Fire extinguisher!" Jack called out.
"Got it, Dad," Jazz sighed.
"Here, sweetheart," Maddie's voice floated up.
Well, as normal as any Fenton ever gets.
"What's a character trait, Uncle Vlad?"
"Something adults talk about when they want you to do something you don't appreciate until much later," Vlad said wryly. Seven-year-old, keep it simple... "Like combing your hair in the morning. It's not fun, true, but think of how much it would hurt at night if you didn't."
"Ow," Danny muttered.
Vlad nodded, content to just laze here on sun-warm brick. He'd been out of town since just before school had begun a few weeks ago, handling various monetary, legal, and ghostly problems. All of which had left him bruised, but undaunted. Now, he was back, it was Saturday, his family was fine, their science was humming, and if they'd made no further progress in separating his ghost and human halves, his investment strategies had made certain they all had the funds to keep trying.
Not that he was entirely certain he wanted to be just human, anymore. The things he'd done, the wonders they'd all seen... true, ghosts brought their share of danger, but without them - life would be horribly boring.
And if Daniel is normal, and I could find someone as smart and appreciative as Maddie, who'd accept me as both Masters and Plasmius... well, no one said the family couldn't grow a little. "So tell me about this Sam and Tucker again?"
"They're awesome!" Danny sat up, as if he'd heard something Vlad couldn't. "And they're here!"
Now Vlad heard the small footsteps in the stairwell, tentative with the shock of whatever had caught on fire below. Oh dear. He did like children; he even seemed to be good with them. Fenton children, at least. But how would he calm down two youngsters who hadn't grown up with things exploding at odd moments?
And... Danny was far ahead of him, laughing all the way, jumping into the doorway to pull out an African-American boy with a red hat and some kind of hand-held computer game, and a little girl in oddly dark play clothes, with blue-black hair and startling violet eyes.
Like Maddie's eyes.
"Um, Danny?" the boy ventured, pointing back down the stairs. "Does that happen a lot?"
Danny shrugged. "Aw, you just have to learn to duck, Tucker."
"And who are you?" The girl - Sam, by default, Vlad assumed - eyed him with what would grow up to be a truly impressive glare.
"Vlad Masters," he answered levelly, taking in her mixed wary and hopeful look. I used to look that way, before Jack... hmm. Sam. Samantha Manson? Of the toothpick-twirler Mansons? Now, there was a name in the upper levels of the millionaire tax brackets. Oh, you poor child. Blessed with intelligence and individuality enough to find your way to our humble abode - and cursed with a family that will never appreciate either. "I'm Danny's uncle; I work together with his parents."
"Chasing ghosts?" Tucker said skeptically.
Vlad inclined his head. "Among other things, yes."
Which seemed to be all the three of them needed to hear to set him aside as adult, not currently important, and start talking about everything that had happened since school had let out yesterday. Vlad leaned back against the radio tower and let them chatter, only snapping back to attention at a word that sounded something like fireworks.
"You play with fireworks?" Sam frowned.
"Well, of a sort," Vlad temporized. It was the family cover story for why odd lights and booms seemed to go on near Fenton Works every other night. The town didn't bother them about it too much; he'd taken great pains to make sure their little block was zoned as special industrial, so no one would complain about the noise. "I'm afraid I don't have any with me at the moment-"
And... why did there seem to be an odd chill climbing his throat? Not nearly strong enough to be ghost sense, and yet...
Daniel had his hands cupped out in front of him, frowning as if trying to work his way through the multiplication tables backwards. Fingers curled. Blue eyes narrowed-
Emerald fire sparked free from small hands, meeting between them to merge and grow into a sparrow-sized hawk of green flame.
So much for normal...
"Maddie! Jack! Jazz!" Vlad swallowed hard, looking at the small ring of faces; Sam and Tucker's amazed, Danny's sweaty and triumphant. "Get up here!"
Twiddling a small screwdriver between her fingers, Maddie stepped aside from the passing rush of teenagers. "Don't touch anything unstable in the lab, kids!"
"We won't, Mom!"
"Absolutely, Mrs. Fenton!"
Listening to the trio thunder down into the basement, Maddie sighed, and finally leaned back in her kitchen chair with her mug of cocoa. "I'm still not sure building another portal is a good idea."
Jack surfaced from his own mug, licking off a chocolate mustache. "Now, Maddie, we've all been over this. Natural portals into the Ghost Zone can close up without warning, or get taken over by stronger ghosts than Vlad. We need a stable passage into that dimension." He brightened. "Besides, think of all we can learn talking to the ghosts in their natural environment!"
"Most of whom are far more reasonable than those obsessed enough to break into our world," Vlad pointed out, dropping a glowing marshmallow into his own mug. Except for those like Walker... well, he can be avoided. If we're careful. "I have my doubts as well, Maddie, yet - the ectoplasm we can create in the lab helps, but it simply isn't enough. I need to absorb emotions from other people, or I need the Ghost Zone. Or both. And I'm not a growing young teenager."
"Seven years sure flies when you're sitting on the paranormal secret of the century," Jack grinned. "I'm amazed we've managed to keep it quiet this long."
"We wouldn't have, without Sam and Tucker," Maddie said practically. "Sometimes it scares me, how good they are covering for Danny at school."
"Someone has to," Vlad observed pragmatically. "It's been almost twenty years, and I still slip using my powers at times. We've tried to teach him to be responsible in what he does with his abilities. Outside of that, we can only give him the tools to make good choices, and hope for the best."
Maddie smiled back, finally relaxing enough to sip her cocoa. "I still hope he'll make brown belt in a year or two."
"I still can't believe the Baxters wanted to press charges," Jack muttered, frowning. "That Dash has half a foot and twenty-five pounds on our Danny. What's this jock obsession with lockers, anyway? That never happened to me."
"You weren't small enough to fit in one when you were dropped into the high school piranha tank," Vlad observed darkly. Took a deep breath, and let it sigh out. Let it go. It's over. It's done. And Danny was able to get out of the situation without using anything... unusual. Well, not that anyone noticed, at least.
"And you were?" Jack sat up straight, concerned. "Vladdy, I never knew."
"It was a long time ago, old chum," Vlad shrugged. "I wouldn't mention it now, except... well, to be blunt, I didn't grow into my height until less than a year before the university. He's going to be small for quite a while yet. Combine that with intelligence, and the family reputation - he's going to be a target."
"What's wrong with our family's reputation?" Maddie asked, genuinely puzzled.
"Five words, Maddie," Vlad said dryly. "Attack of the Christmas turkey." Setting his mug down, he bent back over the portal schematic spread over the kitchen table. "There has to be some reason it didn't work. Ecto-filtrator?"
"Filled and operational," Jack nodded. Glanced at his wife. "Dimensional tuning circuits?"
"In sync, apparently," Maddie nodded back, then glanced at Vlad. "On switch?"
"It's-" The halfa frowned, retracing circuit diagrams he'd stared at for weeks. That can't be right. "Wait a moment. This looks like it's..."
Lights flickered throughout the house.
"...Inside the portal?" Vlad said weakly.
"Mrs. Fenton!" Sam's voice echoed up the basement stairs. "We need some help down here!"
"Thirty-four beakers smashed in a month. Banned from handling anything breakable on school grounds, ever." Tucked in next to her son on the couch, Maddie shook her head.
"Which is actually kind of cool," Jack mused, perched on the opposite side of the reinforced cushions. "No one's going to ask you to try to set up the audio-visual equipment for the health seminar. Of course, kids in these times probably don't believe you can catch girl cooties from handling the tape reels, but..."
"Dad! This is serious!" Jazz crossed her arms, looking stern. Glanced at her little brother. "You do know this is serious, right?"
"Yeah, but - I didn't mean to. The shelf turned intangible while I was getting our lab supplies!" Danny burst out. And groaned. "And... nobody else in the world would even try to use that as a valid reason, would they?"
"Probably not," Tucker stuck in, tapping away on his PDA.
"Oh, I don't know," Sam observed, sending a wry glance Vlad's way. "I get the feeling somebody might have dropped a few bits of glassware in his day."
"More than a few," the elder halfa admitted, seated backwards on a kitchen chair. Traded a speaking glance with his best friends. "Yes. Well. I think you're old enough to hear this, if your parents agree."
"This isn't the part where you tell me I'm adopted, is it?" Danny said warily.
"No, sweetie," Maddie smiled. "It's a little more complicated than that." She squared her shoulders. "This actually started back about twenty years ago, when all of us were in college..."
The explanation took most of an hour, and left all four teenagers speechless and pale.
Eyes glowing slightly green, Danny found his voice first. "...You're my father?"
"You're my father?"
Vlad sat up in his bed, heart pounding in his chest. Almost, he still expected to be sitting in a homey kitchen, a stunned young boy still staring at him with eyes bright as the Ghost Zone.
Danny. My little badger.
And that sense of power was still ringing through the air, a pink mist coalescing into the redhead's smug form. She tilted her head, waiting.
For me to attack? Oh, but I want to.
Instead Vlad turned away, and fired up a laptop. Internet... Google, and search...
Yes. As he'd thought.
"Hemophilia is carried on the X chromosome," Vlad said, voice chill and level as ice. "It wouldn't matter who the father was."
"You may be obsessed with what you can never have, but you do prefer to deal with reality," the redhead said evenly. "I thought it would be kinder to grant you a vision that you know to be false."
Vlad glared at her, not caring if a hint of red limned his eyes. "It never could have happened."
"As you saw it? No," the woman allowed. "I have many powers, but I cannot change the past. It is as it is. Your accident, your obsession, your hate... all have been, and cannot be altered." Her gaze softened. "But your illness has been cured. Maddie may not love you, yet she still cares about the man who rescued her son from Pariah Dark's forces. Jack Fenton still holds you as his truest friend. And even young Danny..." her lips twitched. "He may value you more as an example of what not to do. Yet you are a halfa, as he is, and there are things you share with no one else in the world."
Oh, if only. "The first time we met, he said he didn't want to fight me," Vlad said, half to himself.
"He still doesn't," the redhead stated. "For a moment, he had the power to remake all reality in his grasp... yet all he did was undo the ill another had wrought. You, who have threatened him, and his family, and all he cares for - you were left untouched, Vlad." She smiled. "He doesn't hate you. He never did."
I rather doubt that. But Vlad stuffed the urge to make a caustic remark into the corner of his mind, focusing on the green-skinned problem at hand. "Much as I might appreciate the insight, I can't recall having ever done you a favor, Madam-"
Her eyes crinkled. I'm sure of it. We have met before, then. When? Where?
"-So I have to wonder," Vlad went on, not missing a beat. "Just what do you get out of this?"
She chuckled softly. "Why, options, Vladimir Masters."
I think I'm beginning to understand why the little badger hates my using his full name.
"After all, I'm a grandmother now. I must look to my offsprings' future. Danny's actions have allowed me to see a threat to come, before it could become a reality. And because of what you and he are, hybrids created by the human magic known as science, I can not only see, but act." Her voice dropped slightly, half a whisper. "For the law that cannot be broken, can surely be bent."
Which was all the warning Vlad needed to reach out to the wisps of ghostly energy that permeated the real world, and teleport elsewhere-
Her laughter followed him. "Suits of snow, iron minds,
"On halfa's blood will lay no binds;
"Someone else's problem, they will seem,
"Like phantoms, out of a paper-pusher's bad dream.
"Bloods commingle, clans enlarge-
"Amity Park, a young falcon's charge
"As gold and green mark Plasmius' realm on high.
"Look! Badger cubs as falcons fly!"
And he was... back in bed? Blinking sleep-sand out of his eyes, as if he'd just woken up.
A delicate hand traced Vlad's cheek, and faded away. "I can't change the past, Plasmius. The present, however..."
Jazz Fenton shot out of bed, Jack-o'-Nine-Tails in one hand, the other up in a karate block. Heart pounding, she waited for a thump that never came. Please don't let Danny have fallen through the floor again. I think Mom was working late in the lab, and-
No. Not unless he'd scrabbled his way back up fast enough to switch on his computer. Creeping to her bedroom door, she could hear the quiet ping of speakers warming up, and a few other clacks that long experience told her were likely the web-cam being set for a two-screen split.
He's going to wake Sam and Tucker up? At this hour? Yeah, it's summer, but still. Jazz shuddered, trying to shake clinging shreds of dark dream. Oh boy, he must have had as weird a nightmare as... I did...
If it was a nightmare. After that mess with Freakshow and the Reality Gauntlet, she wasn't sure about anything anymore.
Well, I'm a pushy big sister. I can do this.
"-And Vlad was your uncle," Jazz overheard Sam's whisper, just before she opened her little brother's door.
"Or we thought he was your uncle, which I have to say is a yikes all by itself-" On-screen, Tucker shut up as she came into view. "Uh-oh."
"Jazz!" Dark hair rumpled, Danny glared at her from his bed. "Do you mind?"
"If we all had the same dream about a weird supernatural redhead casting a spell on Uncle Vlad?" Jazz said pointedly. "Yeah, I mind."
"Oh, you've got to be kidding," Sam's stunned voice came over the speakers.
"I don't think she is, Sam," Tucker said warily. "But... it had to be a dream, right?"
"More like a nightmare," Danny muttered. "Jazz, it was weird, but I'm fine-"
"Fenton Genetic Lock," Jazz said firmly, getting a good grip on Danny's wrist. Not that it would matter if he went intangible, but hopefully he was too frazzled to think of that. "Now."
I never thought I'd be invited up here, Vlad thought, stepping onto Fenton Works' roof in the fading sunset. But then, this has been a very bizarre day.
Starting with waking up, yet again, from that unknown being's influence, to find a very odd phone message waiting on his machine. From Jasmine Fenton, of all people.
"Look. I don't like you. You know why. But... something really weird happened last night, and we're worried, and Danny's... never mind. If you're in trouble, tell us, okay?"
"Before it comes and bites us," Sam's voice had shoved in. "Again."
"Sam!" Jazz had sighed. "Mr. Masters, let me just say this once. If you don't call back, we are going to come looking for you. Just in case. All right?"
And then, once he'd gotten off the plane to Amity Park, and stopped in for tea with Jack and Maddie...
"I really don't know what we ate last night, but I'm marking it off our menu," Maddie had laughed. "Imagine! Letting our subconscious turn Von Willebrand's into hemophilia."
"Von what?" Vlad had asked, confused.
"Oh - it's nothing really important," she waved it off. "I found out about it after Jazz was born... but she's fine, and Danny doesn't have a trace of it."
"Luckier than we deserve, that's us," Jack agreed. "What is that, one out of sixteen chances?"
"About," Maddie nodded. "Which is far more probable than that dream! You and Danny being some kind of impossible half-ghosts, created by our portals..."
"Why, that's about as likely as you deliberately infecting Sam and Tucker with ecto-acne!" Jack boomed, clapping him on the back hard enough to slosh tea over his hand. "What an imagination we've got, eh, Maddie?" He grinned. "So what brings you out to our neck of the woods?"
Vlad tried not to wince. "Actually... I came to apologize," he said reluctantly. "I was thinking... about some of my actions at the reunion, and other times." He swallowed. "They aren't those of the man I hoped to be, back when we were together in college. Before the accident." You're not a child. You have the strength to do this. You must. "Would it help if I said I've been an idiot?"
"Aw, don't be that way, V-Man!" Jack gave him a friendly grin. "You're a genius! Like me."
"I rest my case," Vlad muttered dryly.
"You do look better," Maddie said thoughtfully, tapping her chin as she peered into his eyes. "I was wondering about that... from the readings I took while we were curing your ecto-acne, you must have been in a constant low level of pain even when it wasn't active."
How could I think of pain? I was missing you.
"That would be enough to make anyone a little bitter." Her smile was warm, but only friendly. As it had always been, if he'd only looked. "Bygones, Vlad. Now," Maddie shoved him gently toward the stairs, "Go up there and tell the kids you're fine."
Jack chuckled heartily. "They woke up this morning convinced you'd been attacked by some kind of malevolent supernatural enchantress!" He bent near, Fenton Bazooka appearing as if from nowhere. "Were you?"
"I believe I'd remember that," Vlad said warily, all too aware of what that oversized portal-generator could do. Getting sucked unexpectedly into the Ghost Zone was not on his list of things to do today.
"We had to let them raid the weapons locker before they'd calm down," Maddie chuckled. "I think they have everything up there but the kitchen sink!"
"No, they have that, too," Jack had said thoughtfully. "So go up there and show them you're okay, right, V-Man? We need that sink back."
Which had led Vlad to where he was now; stepping onto the shadowed roof of Fenton Works, facing a loose semi-circle of armed, angry teenagers and one very angry teenage halfa, fists glowing as green as his eyes.
Holding onto human form with an effort, Vlad let out a sigh. "Would any of you believe me if I said I didn't do it?"
Sam snorted. Tucker frowned. Behind the faceplate of the Fenton Peeler, Jazz bit her lip.
"Actually..." The green energies around Danny's fists dimmed. A little. "A mess like this doesn't quite seem like your kind of thing. I think."
"Mess?" Vlad frowned. "I grant you that vision was disturbing, yet-"
He almost missed the boy's flinch. Almost.
Well, well. You bluff better than I realized, don't you, Daniel? You're not certain your parents will accept you. Not at all.
But for the space of one dream, they did.
The cruelty of it set even his teeth on edge. To give the boy what he must want most in all the world, then snatch it away...
"I didn't mean it that way," Vlad said, deliberately softening his tone. "You deserve a family who knows you for who you are. All of who you are. If events had turned out differently... I would have been proud to be your mentor. Part of your family."
"But they didn't, did they?" Sam bit out. "So you had to pull out some of your weird bioengineering tricks and force the issue!" Violet eyes narrowed, lining him up in an ecto-blaster's sights. "And I thought GMO food was unethical!"
"I what?" Vlad said blankly. "I never-" No, that argument won't work. Use reason. "Daniel's Wail left a lab full of expensive, hard to obtain equipment in very many, very small pieces. I haven't had the heart to rebuild it after what happened... and more important to you, I haven't had the time."
"He's got a point," Tucker admitted, flicking a glance at his two best friends. "Been tracking VladCo.'s equipment purchases? Nothing like what he'd need in there."
"And bioengineering wouldn't change the records in the Genetic Lock." Jazz deactivated the Peeler, metal armor retracting back into the weapon's handle to leave a worried sixteen-year-old behind. "That had to be ghostly influence. Or... something."
Change the- Vlad fit shreds of fact together, and tried not to blink at the incomplete picture. "What happened?"
"If I wanted to talk about it, which I don't, I wouldn't talk about it with you!" Emerald blazed up around Phantom's fists, hungry for something to strike.
She hurt him, Vlad realized, staring into furious green. That woman - she hurt him in a way I never dreamed he could be hurt. How?
A wisp of dream-memory fluttered through his mind; of looking into younger eyes, blazing emerald for the very first time...
Careless of his suit, he dropped to one knee, and opened his arms.
Green narrowed. "Oh, I don't think so."
Vlad didn't move, watching silver rings appear and split apart from Daniel's waist, leaving a frustrated black-haired fourteen-year-old standing defensively on the rooftop, before he whirled and stalked away. "Just... go away, Vlad." The voice was thick; angry, and hurt. "You finally got what you wanted. Go away and leave me alone."
"I never wanted this." I wanted to be loved. I wanted... not to be alone. But not like this. Slowly, Vlad stood. "A creature like that has to have left some trace in the paranormal annals. We can find her."
"Whoa!" Blaster tucked away, Tucker flung up skeptical hands, PDA glinting in the fading light. "All this time you've been after Danny, and now you're telling us you want to fix this?"
"Believe what you want, Mr. Foley," Vlad said bluntly. "But no one plays with my mind, or even my enemies', and walks away unscathed."
"Now that, I can believe." Sam didn't put her blaster down, but she lowered the sights. "So. That last weird bit, when you thought you were awake, and you weren't... you really thought she knew you?"
"That was my impression, yes." They saw that? Why, I- No. Embarrassment later. Perhaps they won't try to fry me after all. "Couple that with the statement that she felt somehow responsible for my becoming Plasmius, which makes no sense whatsoever-"
The grant Jack and Maddie got, and I didn't. Because I was - ill. The grant that gave Jack and Maddie the start they needed to found Fenton Works, and get married...
"Break up such a successful trio of promising young scientists?" a shred of dream chuckled.
"Anastasia Renard!" Vlad growled.
Still facing away from him, something in Danny's stance loosened. "The lady from Cyberbiotics?" the teen ventured.
Vlad's eyes narrowed. "Red hair, same voice..."
"Same 'I know something you don't' smile," Danny finished, finally looking at him.
"Which, by the way, we've seen on you enough times to know," Tucker added.
"You really think it's her?" Sam asked. "But why would a supernatural being with that kind of power be pretending to be a CEO's wife?" The Goth girl frowned. "She could have at least been the CEO."
"She's a manipulator," Jazz said, half to herself. Realized she'd drawn a full set of skeptical eyes, and waved a hand. "No, no, listen! Remember how she said she was getting around some law? Bending it, not breaking it? And she could get around it by using her powers on you, because you two... aren't... quite like the rest of us," she finished lamely.
"Like Desiree. Gets what she wants, by giving people some twisted version of what they want." Tucker shivered.
"So I guess this really isn't your fault," Danny said reluctantly, shoulders slumped. "At least, not mostly."
I suppose that's better than I should have expected, Vlad thought. "This will take planning."
"Planning?" Sam blazed. "As in, you and us? I don't think so!"
"She's powerful, and she's an unknown," Vlad said levelly. "It may take all of us to subdue her." Though subdue is not what I truly want to do... and from the looks of the little badger, I doubt it's his first choice, either.
I wonder how much of that temper is mine, now? Or if anyone can truly tell the difference. He's always had a ruthless streak his parents lacked...
Shutting that oddly pleasant contemplation away, Vlad lifted an elegant brow. "Would you at least be open to the option of a truce?"
"Didn't we have one after the reunion?" Danny pointed out.
"For about fifteen minutes," Vlad allowed. "I'm hoping this one will last a bit longer." He regarded them all levelly. "If she's still using the identity of Anastasia Renard, she has access to much of Cyberbiotics' resources, and possibly others as well. Which means that beyond her supernatural abilities, you would also have to get past her mundane security to reach her. Security which will include innocent humans... and I doubt a creature such as that would hesitate to use them as shields."
That stopped them cold.
Good. Think. The business world can be even more ruthless than the Ghost Zone; if you're not prepared to be as vicious, you must lay your plans very carefully.
"I don't expect you to trust me," Vlad said bluntly. "You might take into consideration the fact that the four of you have gained the skills to cause me significant annoyance as well. Meaning I have as little reason to trust you." He met Daniel's gaze. "Can we at least agree that we have the same opponent?"
"And if we do?" Danny said pointedly.
"Then it would be to our advantage to share the information we can discover on her, before any of us commit to rash actions," Vlad stated. Stepped back, hands behind his back. "I don't expect an answer tonight. I only ask that you think about it. This creature was able to attack me in my own mansion, and work her will despite my best efforts. None of us should attempt to seize her without a plan." His voice dropped. "And quite possibly heavy explosives."
The four of them traded glances, questions asked and answered with a tilt of head, a silent shrug.
I used to have that. A long time ago.
I... miss Jack. A little. Though he's still an idiot.
"Don't call us," Tucker said at last, folding his arms.
"Of course not," Vlad said dryly. "It's far simpler to drop the information in your email." Turning, he walked back towards the stairs.
And stopped in the doorway. "Daniel. If you've ever used ecto-rays to simply... play with fire..."
Heavy silence behind him.
Vlad turned to face it, blue eyes sober. "Don't stop simply because a manipulative supernatural creature used that image against us both."
Don't let her take that from you. I've lost so much, being what I am...
I couldn't bear to lose the hope that you found a better way.
"You know," Tucker mused later in Daniel's room, hacking his way through the net to see what they could see on one Anastasia Renard of Cyberbiotics, "the problem with your arch-enemy offering a truce is in the details."
"You think?" Sam snorted, pacing back across the floor to where a still-shocked Danny was leaning up against the comforting shoulder of his redheaded-
What, sister? Half-sister? Three-quarters-sister, if the records in the Genetic Lock are right... oh, I am so going to kick Anastasia's behind with an ecto-blaster next time I see that green-skinned witch!
Well, pointed out a sardonic part of her mind, at least this makes Dani's story about being a third cousin more genetically plausible... eeyugh, d'you think Anastasia got her, too?
Actually, Sam kind of doubted that. Dani hadn't shown up in the vision at all.
Does she even still exist? She caused all kinds of trouble, yeah, but I wouldn't want anything bad to happen to her... no, Anastasia said she couldn't change the past. So - Dani was cloned in the past, she probably still exists now.
Sam's eyes widened. "And she has Danny's DNA!"
"Say what?" Three pairs of eyes shot her way.
"Danielle?" Jazz perked up. "That's right! Except for the mid-morph DNA..."
"Hey, it's someplace to start." Danny's face finally relaxed into a smile. "Thanks, Sam."
"Ah..." Sam felt her cheeks redden. "It's not like it's much. We don't even know where she is."
"Don't know where Anastasia is, either," Tucker said thoughtfully, clicking keys. "Divorced Halcyon Renard years ago, one daughter, pretty much dropped out of sight, lots of investments and ready cash... Wait a sec. I've got her showing up through Australian customs a few months back. Working for some division of Xanatos Corporation... hang on... yow. Something weird happened in the Outback near that facility. Like everything in the area just got wiped clean of life, outside of a few survivors." He shoved his glasses back. "And after that, some guy named Dingo starts showing up nearby as a vigilante, complete with weird shape-shifting armor. Anybody see a coincidence here?"
"Survey says, not a chance," Danny said wryly. Sobered slightly. "Everything was gone?"
"Outside of a couple people who bolted out ahead of an 'evil silvery wave', yeah." Tucker looked ill. "Hate to say it, but Vlad may have a point. If this is the level of stuff Anastasia messes with, we could be in way over our heads."
"Not like it ever stopped us before," Sam muttered. Caught a sudden drop of a blue gaze. "Danny? You okay? Sorry, standard-"
"Question, yeah," her friend muttered. "It's silly..."
"Trying to get Spectra to analyze her own compulsion to maintain a youthful appearance despite the mass negative effects on her surrounding psychosocial environment, that's silly," Jazz stated. "This is serious."
"Yeah." Danny's shoulders dropped. "I'm scared to look in a mirror."
"Say what?" Tucker blurted.
"I don't look any different, I don't feel any different, but..." Knuckles whitened on Danny's jeans. "You saw what Jazz found! And - that thing that was me, in the future-"
"Before you changed it," Sam jumped in, fast. Usually she tried not to think about that whole twisted stretch of time. But every once in a while... Man, why do we still eat there? It's not like I'll even touch most of the stuff on Nasty Burger's menu. "That ghost - ghost, Danny, not halfa - was part of you that was crazy with grief, and part of Vlad that we know has always been crazy with getting his own way. It didn't have anything to do with your DNA." Deliberately, she rolled her eyes. "Just look at my parents."
"You're still my brother," Jazz said firmly. "The nature-nurture debate in psychology may be very up in the air, but nurture definitely has an effect - and no matter what's floating around in your cells right now, Mom and Dad raised you. You're going to be fine." Her fierce look turned thoughtful. "You were fine even when Vlad did have a fifty-percent contribution. Maybe ghost-hunting obsession has a protective effect against lesser mental disturbances..." Red brows drawn down in concentration, Jazz lunged for a psychology text.
"And we've lost Jazz for the next half-hour," Danny said under his breath. Glanced shyly at his two friends. "You guys are really okay with this?"
"Okay is such a relative term," Tucker started. Caught Danny's look, and dropped the clueless act. "Danny, we're freaked. You're freaked. Jazz is freaked. Your parents would be freaked, if they thought it was anything other than indigestion-"
"I think even Vlad is freaked," Sam muttered.
"-But we're your friends, and we're not going anywhere," Tucker stated. "We got through you turning half-ghost. We'll get through this."
"Got to admit, compared to you falling through our hands? A little Vlad, not so big a deal," Sam added dryly. Looked down at her own hands, where fingers were weaving and unweaving without conscious thought. "Never thought I'd feel sorry for the fruit loop."
"Say what?" both boys chorused.
"He was so happy." Sam stared at interwoven fingers. "Not because of money, or power, or anything he's got now. Just still being friends with your parents. Having somebody there for him when his world went crazy." She looked down at her own black-and-purple outfit, thinking of the ranks of frilly pink dresses her mother had tried to force her into. "If I'd never had you guys for friends, I think I'd be crazy too." She shuddered. "Or like Paulina."
They stared at her.
"Yeah, yeah, I know - never gonna happen," Sam sighed.
"Actually..." Danny started awkwardly.
"That time in the Nasty Burger, when we didn't remember you? And you showed up in pink to get Danny's attention?" Tucker jumped in. Shot a look at the halfa in question. "Still hurts how well that worked, you know. Shove me out of my own seat, for a girl we thought was nuts. Really, really nuts." He glanced back at Sam. "Could kind of see it. Just a little," he added hastily, sweating at her glare.
"But even under all that pink, you were still wearing combat boots," Danny said dreamily.
Right, Sam thought grumpily. And we all know little Miss Perfect Paulina would never wear anything as unfashionable as combat boots.
Whoa, Sam. That's not a "longing puppy Paulina" look. That's a "we kicked ghost butt and wasn't it sweet" look. I think. Only I was the one kicking ghost butt, even if I didn't have the standard Fenton hazmat suit... what is it with this family and jumpsuits? Even Jazz has one stuffed in the back of her closet. Yeah, they're practical, given the kinds of lab and ghost messes Fentons usually end up in... and I guess once you get past all the weirdness, the Fentons try to make their inventions practical. I know Danny loves practical, especially in the middle of a ghost fight; he may try something crazy, but it's always because he thinks it might work.
And combat boots are practical. Especially when you're up against Nightmerica.
So maybe... Danny likes combat boots?
Now, that was going to take some getting used to.
"Anyway..." Sam gathered her thoughts. "If it really bothers you, we could always borrow the Specter Speeder and go talk to Clockwork."
Danny frowned. "He's not going to change the past for us, Sam."
"I didn't say you should ask him to," Sam said, nettled. Easy. Easy. We all want to kill something. Let's not start on each other. "But doesn't he know everything? Who else would have a better idea what Anastasia is?"
"Sweet!" Tucker grinned.
Danny looked tempted. Shook his head. "We should find out what we can ourselves, first." At Tucker's frown, he ducked his head. "He's the guardian of Time. We don't need to mess with that kind of power. It's like cheating."
And cheating, Sam was painfully aware, was something Danny never intended to do again. Ever.
"I wouldn't have gone to him last time, except you guys were dying. Even then, I almost screwed things up. Really bad." He shrugged, and managed a grin. "But if I did my homework, and found out everything I could... I think it'd be all right to ask a friend if he knew anything else that could help."
"Look out world, we have a plan." With an exaggerated wink, Tucker held out a hand for a high-five.
Grinning, Sam and Danny slapped it.
Intangible or not, Sam still felt the thump as Jazz looked up from her book - then collapsed in laughter.
Laugh - urg - all you want. When I get out of this floor, I'll-
Solid as silk, Danny's ghostly fingers brushed over hers.
Er... what was I thinking? Oh. Floor. Stuck in. Right.
Half in and out of the rug, Tucker rolled his eyes. "And the universe just waits for me to cop an attitude, right?"
An intangible pillow hit him in the face.