The Art of Science
A note: Ah! Finally it's here and it only took me how freakin' long? Sorry about the wait guys, but I've got big news!
I got married! Yay...and insert huge smile here...but enough about that. ; )
Anywho, here's the first chapter and I do hope you all enjoy it, though it's a bit...oddly written I think, because I've been a bit out of it, as you might think, lol. Oh, and poke me when, not if, you find typos...
On a special side note: Denarius, from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul, I thank you. Your kind words in your review of AOC affected me deeply and I just wanted you to know how appreciated your thoughts on my writing and story were, and though I couldn't reply to you because you didn't leave an email, I thought it most appropriate to do so here. I only hope you read this chapter and see this message: Thank you.
To everyone else who has reviewed anonymously, my sincerest thanks to you. I only wish that I could respond to you all, as you've all been absolutely lovely to me!
Thank you, to all my reviewers for your continued support and patience. I love you all so very much and hope that you continue to enjoy my story. Nothing puts a smile on my face faster than knowing that I've made someone's day a little brighter with something I've written. Love to you all and now on with the story!
Chapter One: Hypothesis
"I hate Thursdays," Danny ground out as he slammed his locker open in the early morning emptiness of the hallway, "I hate them almost as much as I hate...having to do math homework, a paper for Lancer, having detention, and fighting ghosts."
"Since when did you hate Thursdays?" Tucker popped his head around the door of Danny's open locker, wondering at the fine mood that Danny seemed to be in, "As far as I knew, the only thing that you hated that was related to the calendar was Christmas, and you seemed to be getting over that..."
"Vlad is coming over for dinner tonight," a thermos appeared momentarily in Danny's hand, before it disappeared back into the mess his locker was rapidly becoming, "I'm still in hot water with my parents over our weekend escapades, Sam caught so much crap from her parents about Monday that I doubt she'll ever be allowed to so much as breathe in my direction again let alone answer her phone, and we have a wonderfully boring assembly this morning. What, I ask, could make my day any worse?"
"Tut, tut, Daniel," ice water ran down the back of Danny's neck as a shadow fell over the two teens standing in the hall, "Ask and you shall receive, isn't that one of those cliché lines that you're so fond of?"
"No way," the young man ground out as his head lowered even further in an attempt to keep his brightly burning, green eyes from being seen by anyone else.
"My dear boy," Vlad heartily patted the halfa on his shoulder, a malicious smile turning up the edge of his mouth as he felt the youth tense to the point of shaking, "didn't you know that your dear Uncle Vlad would be giving today's lecture on the importance of getting, and keeping, a good job in today's society, even at so tender an age?"
"No clue," Danny took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down, turning slowly as he did so to face a man he hadn't seen or talked to since he had defeated and forcefully split him, "I guess it's just my luck."
"Of course," Vlad nodded and congenially ruffled the boy's hair, then stepped back a few feet from the pair, "Don't tell me you're still suspicious of me. After all, what could I, a powerless, rich, old man do to you now to ruin your life?"
"You mean besides scar me for life by hitting on my Mom?"
"Danny?" Sam's voice came from the corner of the hall where she appeared, standing drenched head to toe yet again as she had been earlier that semester, a murderous look to her eyes as she marched up to him and spared Vlad not a glance, "I thought you said Shadow'd forget in a week. I thought you said he wouldn't care if Johnny didn't."
"I was, uh, wrong?"
"You think?" Sam pushed her wet hair off her damp forehead and tried to rearrange her soaked clothes, all without much luck before she realized that the man standing beside Danny was none other than Vlad Masters, owner and CEO of Axion Labs and the archenemies of her halfa, "Why...?"
"You know," Danny turned hard eyes to Vlad, scooting over so he more fully covered Sam and Tucker from the man's sight, "That's a really good question right now."
"Samantha E. Manson," the man bowed elegantly, offering her a kind smile as he straightened again, "So wonderful to finally have met you, though I'm sure you would have liked to meet me under more...dry conditions."
"Probably," the girl folded her arms and watched him wearily, "It's...nice to meet you too, Mr. Masters."
"Pleasure's all mine, I assure you," and he swept off without another word, leaving three very unsettled teens in his wake, though at the moment Danny could only focus on one minor detail.
"Samantha E. Manson?" he watched Vlad until he was around the corner, then turned in cute confusion to his newly acquired girl, "Emily? No, wait, Emile?"
"Not even close," Sam moved off with sigh, Danny following in her wake with a very amused Tucker in tow, "You should actually stop while you're ahead."
"How about Eustace?" Tucker helpfully added his own two cents, "Or Eugene."
"Those are boys' names," Danny jumped to defend Sam, only to lean around her to ask, "They're boys names, right?"
"Yes, they are," she pushed him away, moving a bit more towards Tucker, which put her a bit more towards her classroom which she was currently slipping inside, "And no, they aren't my middle name."
And the door closed right on Danny's nose, which set the boy to rubbing and his best friend to laughing, all while Sam kept her head down and headed to her desk, the girls in the room already talking about what they had just seen, 'Rumors, rumors, everywhere, and not a drop of truth to spare...'
"Geeze, does the thermostat have to be set so low, or do teachers just like torturing their students?" Sam was in a fine mood, still wet from her second encounter with the fire hydrant and upset with the number of looks she was receiving because she'd shown up drenched for the second time on a perfectly cloudless day, 'This is ridiculous. Why is it me that the ghosts always seem to show up around or decide to pick on?'
"You know, you could always ask Mrs. Price if you could run down to the gym to change into your gym clothes," a girl to Sam's left answered her rather rhetorical question, though thankfully it was actually good advice for once, "She'll let you, I mean, your teeth are chattering."
"Thanks, I might do that," Sam ground out as she hugged her arms closer to her. She hadn't even bothered to bring her backpack with her to class as it too had been completely soaked, all books and papers effectively ruined. It was currently sitting in her locker, more than likely leaking all over her other items, 'Not like I can't replace them. I should go to the gym, but I really don't want to walk around school by myself when Vlad Masters is here. I know he doesn't have his powers anymore, but that doesn't mean he isn't dangerous.'
"Good morning class," Mrs. Price, their third period math teacher began her morning monologue, only to pause and wait patiently as the tardy bell finished ringing, "As you know, this morning we have a special guest speaker and will be attending a lecture in the auditorium. You'll be pleased to know that it's Mr. Masters, owner and CEO of Axion Labs. The Business Club set up everything as part of one of their projects, and certainly did a wonderful job."
"Yeah," Sam mumbled under her breath, dreading the auditorium because it was always far colder in that particular building than anywhere else in the school, "Wonderful job. Let's applaud them."
"Alright, we'll go ahead and head down now, as I see several other classes are doing so," the teacher stood and walked to the door, "Straight to the auditorium and I expect you straight back here after we are done to either finish class or retrieve your items. I'm not sure how long this will take."
The class stood and began their journey out the door and down the hall, when Sam spotted Tucker and Danny standing off to the side waiting for her. Figuring this would be her last chance at dry clothes, the young woman hurriedly caught her teacher, a hand to her elbow to draw her attention, "Mrs. Price?"
"Sam," the older woman smiled down, "Honey, you're wet!"
"Yeah, I kinda' noticed," a wry grin split her lips as she let the sarcasm slip for a moment, "Do you think I could run down to the gym and change into my gym clothes? I'm freezing."
"Well," the teacher looked up the hall to where the students were migrating, then back down where the two boys stood waiting and raised an eyebrow, "Maybe I should come with you?"
"Um, it's not necessary...," she followed the teacher's gaze, and suddenly understood her reservations, "but I guess if you want to. I'm just gonna' run to the gym and I'm definitely not going to let those two go in with me."
A laugh sounded from where Tucker and Danny stood, the two boys relaxing against the lockers as they waited patiently for Sam to finish talking about whatever she was talking about. They were having their own conversation about the time Shadow had targeted Tucker, leaving him labeled Bad Luck Tuck for the rest of the school year. When Sam finally started to move towards them, Danny was the first up and walking towards her, "Ready to go to the oh so boring lecture my dear, old Uncle Vlad is giving, Ms. Drenched?"
"Oh ha ha," Sam continued past the two, with them turning to trail her almost automatically, "I'm going to the gym."
"I know you like to keep fit and all," Tucker shook his head as he wondered what was going on, "but I'd rather sit through Vlad's lecture than go to the gym."
"You don't have to go," Sam shrugged, then glanced back over her shoulder to see Mrs. Price walking behind them all, "besides, I've already got an escort and I'm just going to change into dry clothes. I swear, if I never see that ghost again it will still be too soon."
"Escort?" Danny turned and looked behind them, noting that the math teacher hadn't been walking to a different part of the school as he'd assumed, "So, the teacher's going with us?"
"With Sam," the woman gently corrected as she'd finally been acknowledged by the three, "You two should head back to the lecture before it starts."
The doors to the gym were just in front of them, and both boys turned to stand arms folded on either side, much to Sam's annoyance and the amusement of Mrs. Price. Sam simply folded her arms and gave them both a rather glacial glare before marching into the gym, noting that the door swung in so she needn't worry about hitting them as she came back out.
"We'll just wait here!" Danny called through the door, then turned back and sunk to sit on the floor, "Don't worry, she won't take that long. For a girl, she gets dressed faster than any boy I know."
"She even picked him up for the dance last week and had to wait like the guy usually does," Tucker laughed, for once deciding to wait on teasing Danny about what he'd said because of the teacher in front of them, "We won't be late Mrs. Price."
"I should hope not," she looked confusedly between the two boys, then to the doors they were mock guarding for their friend, "Sam has been your friend for a while now, correct?"
"Yeah," Danny shrugged, a small smile coming to his face, "I guess since about mid-semester. That's when she really started hanging out with us."
"I'm glad," the woman nodded, then took a step back as the doors started to open, "My, she does change fast."
"Comes with the territory of being a bit darker than your parents think is appropriate," Sam pulled self-consciously at the shorts she was in, feeling they were a bit short to be walking around school in for no other reason than to just wear them, "Can we just go to the auditorium? I put my clothes in the dryer down there, so hopefully they'll be done by the end of the lecture."
"To the auditorium!" both Tucker and Danny let out the cry, much the same way as they often did for the Nasty Burger and jumped to propel Sam forwards, Mrs. Price laughing silently to herself at their antics, "Here we go to see the great Vlad."
"Wonderful," Sam repeated as they hurried down the hall, the two boys on either side of her providing a margin of warmth, "Just wonderful."
As soon as they sat down in the last three seats available Danny drew in a deep breath and slung his arm over the back of Sam's seat, 'Not that comfortable, but not that bad either. Wonder if there's a chance Vlad will just cancel?'
"Good morning Casper High," Mr. Lancer's voice rolled out across the auditorium, "Please remember that when we have a guest speaker I would appreciate it if you were all on your best behavior, or you will be reorganizing the library for the rest of your high school careers after school with me. Let's give a hearty welcome to Mr. Vlad Masters, shall we?"
"Hurrah," Sam and Danny both let the word slip as a spattering of applause echoed across the teen filled room. Turning to look at one another, Danny grinned and Sam just blushed, and none of it went unnoticed by Tucker who was sitting on the other side of the girl.
"So on Monday when you said you talked," he looked them over, laughing as Sam pulled back from Danny and sunk lower into her seat, "You meant that you..."
"Tucker Foley," a teacher's voice came from their right, effectively cutting off the boy's teasing. Grumbling to himself about bad timing, but still smiling at the way the two were acting, Tucker figured he'd get off at least one more jib at the pair before settling down.
"Geeze, just messing with the lovebirds."
"Lovebirds?" Sam turned slowly to Tucker with murder in her eyes, Danny quickly sneaking his arm away lest it be damaged somehow from her wrath, "We are not lovebirds."
"Yeah," Danny pulled back even further, worrying that she just might actually give in and kill his other best friend, "You might not ever want to say that again, Tuck."
"Whatever you say, lovebirds."
"We're not lovebirds!" the double reply echoed through the now silent auditorium and several heads turned to find Danny Fenton and Sam Manson blushing and sinking further into their sits, unconsciously mimicking one another as they folded their arms. To everyone's amazement, Foley was laughing his head off and somehow still alive after so horrendously embarrassing the dark girl.
"Students," Vlad's voice finally appeared as did the man, a microphone in his hand as he walked out on the stage, "If we're quite done with the immature outbursts, let us start this morning's lecture. There will be plenty of time for girls later in life Daniel."
A wave of laughter washed over the gym and Danny sunk even lower, his mood darkening as he realized that Vlad was targeting him, 'Sure he doesn't have physical power, but he's always been good at mind games and putting me in awkward, not to mention embarrassing, positions. Damn the fruit loop!'
The rest of the lecture was spent in brooding silence for Danny, with Tucker and Sam looking on worriedly. Neither really knew how to lighten the mood at that moment, but Tucker was working out a plan. Danny wasn't going to have to face the man alone tonight if he could help it, and he was sure that Sam would agree.
Now they just had to finish out the lecture and hope that it wasn't too terribly boring.
"Mr. Masters, please remember that you need to be at the Fentons' at seven thirty sir," Suzie's voice rang clearly through the speaker of his cell phone as he marched through the halls of the school, carefully avoiding the rush of students who were running desperately late to lunch because of his lecture, "Also, a Mr. Adrian King called to let you know that your shipment will be a half day late due to unavoidable circumstances. He left a return number."
"And how did you manage to get him to do that?" Vlad paused for a moment, letting several students with arms weighed down by books pass him by, "He never leaves a number by which I can contact him, even when asked politely."
"I have my ways, sir," the brunet's smile was evident in her tone, and Vlad let a chuckle slip at the young woman's generally playful, buoyant nature, "Would you like the number or would you like for me to return the call for you?"
"I'll do that later this afternoon, when I return to the hotel," the man nodded to himself, once again impressed with the young woman's skills and capabilities, "He's often fallen behind on shipping the orders that I need, and with the way Axion is growing, this is no longer acceptable. I'll be the one to tell him that his services are no longer needed."
"Yes, sir," Suzie answered, her voice sounding a little unsure about something as she asked a question of her own, "Um, Mr. Masters?"
"Would it be a bad thing if I took the liberty of looking up a few new supplying companies for you, and chose a few of the best?"
"Not at all," a small smile spread across Vlad's face, "I'll review them as soon as I get out of this school and return. I trust you've already been told that arrangements have been made for my transportation this afternoon?"
"Good, I'll see you later," and he clicked his cell phone shut without a second thought, knowing that his latest addition to his staff had been a wise decision and smugly satisfied that he'd chosen her personally, 'Hand picked out of all the applicants, a college graduate wins and is the envy of thousands of people far more qualified, but lacking that certain something that Suzie has. Is it her innocent charisma or that wicked undertone that lets her claw her way into whatever she needs...perhaps both?'
"Ah, Mr. Masters," Edward Lancer was approaching rapidly from the doorway to his office, "It was an honor that you could come today to give your lecture to the students. I know that, personally, it was an insight into today's business world."
"I'm glad that I could be of service to these hallowed institution," Masters turned the phone over in his hand a few times, then placed it back into his pocket, thinking on how well his life seemed to be progressing, "Tell me, what do you make of young Daniel Fenton? I've been a friend of the family for years, known Danny for quite some time, but I would like another's opinion on the young man."
"Fenton," Lancer reflected for a moment, stroking his goatee as he thought the question over, "He is a talented young man if he would let it show. I've seen him ace a test after studying the material for only two or so hours, but he constantly maintains a C average. You, of course, know how bright his older sister is, and how incredibly talented both his parents are...it would appear that he is trying to break away from this to form his own sense of self."
"Perhaps," Vlad glanced around the halls, noting that they were nearly alone as the last few students scampered past, "Or perhaps he is just a teen with other things on his mind."
"Girls?" Edward Lancer questioned with a laugh, then nodded his head, "He does seem to have his fair share of girl problems at times, but no more so than any normal teenager. I believe your jibe in the auditorium embarrassed him quite enough in that area."
"Of course," he laughed as well, then frowned as he brought the conversation back into more serious territory, "Is he a trouble maker? Daniel has always had a bit of a Puck-ish sense about him, though in a clever way that has always made me interested in where his career goals have been oriented."
"Oh, Danny is a bit of a trouble maker in an odd way," a troubled look passed across the older man's face, "though sometimes I believe it is more of a ghostly influenced nature than the young man actually misbehaving. As far as career goals...at first the boy seemed very interested in NASA and anything to do with outer space...though it seemed to wane as this year progressed. He's not made mention of anything to his counselor, nor I, when I spoke to him of it."
"That is very interesting," Vlad nodded, understanding far more than he knew Lancer would about the 'ghostly influenced' happenings around Danny, "Well, I hate to cut this short, but I absolutely must run. Thank you again, Mr. Lancer."
"Oh, no," the men shook hands, "Thank you."
The day had been boring. That was really the only way to put it, as the lecture had lasted nearly two and a half hours, much to the consternation of both students and staff. The teachers, however, seemed to get a great deal more out of it than the teens, and thus were determined to talk about the 'wonderful' visit for the rest of the day. Being drenched, having to wear her gym clothes around, and the aforementioned problems had been quite enough for Sam, with the only spot of light being the chance that she and Tucker would eat dinner at the Fentons' that night. Of course, she didn't exactly have a say in what went on in her life all the time...
"No," Sam shook her head and backed away from the small, greenish child in front of her, "I am not going to play cowboys and Indians."
"Please?" the boy tried again, floating up to her level, "I promise I won't poke you again like I did in the hallway that time the jerk punched me. I'll even let you be the cowboy...um cowgirl if you want!"
"I can't," she shook her head, wondering just how unlucky she had to be to have two ghosts bothering her in one day, 'At least my clothes were dry by the end of that impossibly boring, not to mention long, self-glorifying lecture...'
"Why not?" Youngblood started to pout now, stomping his foot in the air as he questioned the girl, "Why can't you play with me? It'll be fun..."
"I can't because I have to meet my friends; I promised them I would and I don't want to break my promise," Sam tried to reason her way out of the small mess she was in, 'Tuck and Danny both said he was usually just a pest, but that he could be a bit dangerous. Maybe I should just play with him.'
"I want you to play with me, though," the little boy's eyes were starting to shine more brightly, a wicked frown settling over his face, "Forget the stupid human and the jerk halfa."
"They're my friends," she finally was getting fed up and any thoughts of playing along vanished at the insult to her boys. With folded arms Sam turned sharply and walked off, "I'm not going to play with a brat."
"I am not a brat!"
The crack resounded off the wall right beside her head and Sam jerked around and ducked just as another shot was fired off. The young ghost had a slingshot out and was firing odd looking marbles at her, leaving rather nasty burn marks on the wall where they hit. Taking a second to stare in disbelief at the boy who had just been begging for her attention, Sam quickly realized that the pest had turned dangerous just as she'd been warned. It didn't take much longer for her to start running.
'Gah!' the mental scream didn't really help her mood as she began to focus on her breathing, wondering just how long the young ghost would chase her before she was caught or he got bored, 'I'm not betting on the second one though 'cause chase was always a fun game when I was that young. What the hell am I supposed to do now? I don't want to shoot him.'
"Can't talk, ghost, gotta' run," and she was gone around a corner as Jazz watched in slight amazement, seeing nothing actually pass her but feeling cold just the same. That was enough to get her moving as well, dropping her shopping bag where she stood to better give chase.
"Sam!" the girl was right in front of her now and dodging a blast of green from seemingly thin air, "Sam, what ghost is chasing you?"
"Youngblood," Sam took the chance to dodge to the side, twisting out the way of the small fingers trying to grab her, "I thought you knew all these ghosts?"
"I do, but I can't see him," Jazz pulled out her cell phone and prayed that her brother was actually carrying his for once, "You can only see him if you're a child yourself."
"I'm not exactly a child," Sam groused as she stood in a standoff with the small ghost, both glaring angrily at one another.
"Big kids count too," the little boy finally ground out, arms crossed over his chest in a pout while Jazz hurriedly whispered something about a friendly problem and she and Sam needing a visit, "Just because you're old doesn't mean you have to be old all the time. Old outside doesn't make you old inside."
"That's nice to know," the young woman had been edging her way towards Jazz, hoping that the girl would have something on her to help, "Jazz, don't you have something we can use?"
"That's not fair!" Youngblood was growing more and more agitated, "You can't bring just let anybody play! We were the ones that were playing first."
"You were chasing me and trying to shoot me with exploding marbles!" Sam pointed an accusing finger at what looked like nothing, amusing Jazz even though the situation was serious, "That doesn't sound like playing to me, that sounds like trying to kill me!"
"What would be the point in killing you?"
He looked genuinely confused now, pulling back wearily as though the thought didn't quite fit somehow. Sam felt as though her jaw would drop in disbelief, 'One second he's trying to kill me, and now he looks like that was the last thing he wanted."
"You were shooting at me," the teen pointed out calmly again, Jazz watching her for any signs of distress as she seemingly talked the ghost down, "That seems like trying to kill me."
"I missed every shot," he was kicking the air now, as though ashamed of something, "I wasn't really aiming at you."
"It sure felt like it!"
"Felt like what?" a cool burst of air wrapped around Sam as Danny finally appeared, hovering just behind her and to the left between both girls, "He didn't actually hit you did he?"
"No!" the younger ghost sneered up at his competition, "I wouldn't hurt her, I just wanted to scare her a little."
"Then go scare someone else, you little brat," Sam was in no mood for ghostly posturing at that moment in time, "I've had a bad day, thanks to yet another ghost, and now you're shooting at me. Why did you even want to play with me in the first place?"
"I...uh," Youngblood hovered slightly closer to her as he seemingly puzzled out the answer to her question, but as he came within arm's length of the young woman, Danny had decided that it was quite close enough and moved to stand behind Sam, his own arm coming up to push him back with a shield, "No fair! I didn't even do anything!"
"You can answer Sam from back there," the halfa ground out, shield still between the girl and the other ghost. Youngblood considered Danny's statement for a second, then looked down towards the concrete with a look of intense concentration on his features.
"I just...wanted to play with you," the child finally shrugged, looking up with eyes desperate for the girl to understand, "I don't know why, I just saw you and thought it would be fun to play a game with you. And I wasn't being a brat!"
"Alright," Sam nodded, tired of being stuck in the standoff and ready to head to the Fentons' for dinner, "You weren't being a brat; you just startled me. Next time, if you want to play, ask me first and don't get mad if I don't want to."
"So you'll play with me?"
The child had brightened immediately, making all three living beings wonder at his sudden change in mood where Sam was concerned. Jazz watched the young ghost carefully, noting his posture, the tone of his voice, his facial features and made notes to herself about everything that had occurred. Danny's fists clenched and Sam could feel the energy starting to gather around the boy behind her, causing the hair on her neck and arms stand on end. It wasn't a comfortable feeling for some reason, which worried Sam because it had never really bothered her before.
"Next time," Sam reminded him shakily, her tone as gentle as she could make it to appease both ghosts, "If I can. Alright?"
"Alright!" Youngblood did a small jump mid-air with his fist raised in victory, "I'll catch you later then."
"Wait a second!" Danny leapt into the air, thermos in hand, but it was too late, "You can't just run off."
"Apparently he can," Jazz mused, watching the tiny dot that was Youngblood disappear over the horizon, "Look on the bright side Danny; you didn't have to fight for once, and Sam is safe. Nothing happened and now we can all head home without any bruises or scratches for once."
"Joy," Sam crossed her arms as Danny landed, changing as he did so, "I have a play-date with a ghost."
"You could have a double play-date," Danny suggested, frowning as he watched the spot where the child ghost had disappeared to, "As in, I could be there too, just in case he decides to try something again."
"I think I can take care of myself, thanks," Sam was agitated, pulled between the fact that she probably couldn't take care of herself in such a situation, and her own stubborn pride which stung at the insinuation that she couldn't, "I'm a big girl, remember Danny?"
"I think he's just worried Sam," Jazz intervened, heading off any arguments or further comments for the moment, "Danny, we have a dinner to get to."
"So do I," Sam smiled tightly at them both, "I was on my way over to your house. Tucker said he talked to your mom and asked if we could come...as we're both such huge fans of Mr. Masters."
"Really?" the grin that split Danny's face was blinding, and Sam had to admit whenever it was aimed her way she had butterflies racing in her stomach, "You're gonna' be there? Tuck too? You guys rock!"
"And I count for nothing?" Jazz loving hit the back of Danny's right shoulder, laughing at the puppy dog face she received for her efforts, "Come on you two, let's get home so we can get this dinner over with and Masters out of the house. I'll run back and get my bags, then catch up with you, alright?"
"Off we go then," and Danny started off with hands in his pockets, a tiny grin still clinging to his lips despite the evening's situation. Sam and Jazz both shook their heads and started off on their separate ways, knowing full well that the evening would be anything but pleasant.
"Hello, Mrs. Fenton," Tucker's smiling face greeted Maddie on her front steps, a tiny grin tugging at her own lips in return, "You don't mind a poor, wayward, desperately hungry boy standing in front of your door begging for a few scraps do you?"
"It might be better," she tilted her head in amusement in a gesture to usher the boy inside, moving to the left to let him enter, "if you came in and actually had dinner, that way you wouldn't be so hungry. Danny should be back soon, Tucker, he got a phone call from Jazz to come and help him carry her shopping bags home. I just hope she didn't buy as much as I think she did."
"I'm sure she didn't," Tucker followed the older woman towards the kitchen, where several pots on the stove were merrily boiling away, and the heavenly smell of roast was making its way from the oven, "And I sure can't wait for dinner."
"It's almost done," Maddie bustled over the range top stove, stirring a pot on her left and putting a lid on the pot to the right, "Why don't you grab a snack and wait for Danny in the living room?"
"We're home and we brought a Sam!"
"Or I could go and help Jazz with her stuff and laugh at Danny for having to walk home with those two."
Watching Tucker fondly as he left the kitchen and headed for the front door, Maddie silently sent a thank you heavenwards. Danny was happier than he had been for the past year, and though she desperately wanted to attribute that to normal teenage problems, something had felt very different about his moody bouts of silence and depression. Having another friend, who just so happened to be a girl he was romantically inclined towards, seemed to be doing the trick and dragging him back to the happy boy she knew so well.
The roast was smelling better and better, and with a glance to the clock Maddie pulled it out, piping hot and ready to be eaten. Dinner would be served in ten minutes, which would be just enough time to set everything on the table. The only question now was as to the location of their guest of honor.
'He's so punctual,' Maddie fretted to herself over the bowl of mashed potatoes she was whipping butter into, 'I'm sure Vlad's fine though, and if he's late it won't hurt anything but the boys' appetites. And Jack's, but I'm sure he'll forgive Vlad for that.'
"Maddie, baby!" Jack's voice broke through her thoughts at that and a smile broke across her lips, "I'm home and look who I found walking up to the door!"
"Vlad," a warm smile greeted her as she rounded a corner, drying her hands on a dishtowel and ignoring four scathing looks towards the man from the adolescents in the living room, "Welcome back, I'm so glad that you could get away to visit. Welcome home, Jack dear."
"Smells great, baby," Jack planted a quick kiss on her lips, then moved off towards the stairs, "I'll be right back down, I just need to wash up for dinner."
"It does smell wonderful Maddie," Vlad nodded once, then turned towards the kitchen without casting any longing glances towards the woman, without insulting Jack in any way, and without saying anything to Maddie that her children would consider inappropriate, "Dinner is about ready?"
"Of course," she nodded, moving to follow the man and set the food on the table, "Kids, either wash up or come in here. We'll start when Jack gets back down."
"Is it just me," Danny turned towards his sister, a frown of confusion on both their faces, "or did Vlad act kinda'..."
"Normal?" Jazz supplied the word, then moved forward, shaking her head slightly, "Come on, we might as well get something to eat if we can. Is the pizza guy still on speed dial?"
"Yep," Danny grinned, ushering his two friends towards the kitchen, "Just in case it's hostile."
"Please don't let it be hostile," Tucker was repeating this under his breath, causing Sam to chuckle quietly to herself, "Oh please, oh please, oh please..."
"Daniel," Vlad made sure to sit himself in the chair that was directly next his own, though it was odd that he'd also placed himself between the halfa and Jack instead of between his mother and father, "Did you enjoy the lecture this morning?"
"It was...informative?" the young man shrugged his shoulders as he sank to sit beside the older man, not sure as to how the dynamics between them had changed if they had at all. Sam quickly filled in the spot to Danny's right, Tucker beside her, then Jazz beside him. It was a tight fit around their table, but with his friends and family there to buffer Vlad's presence, it almost seemed cozy.
"Ah, V-man, you went and talked at Danny's school today?" Jack had lumbered in, planting himself in his chair and unfolding his napkin into his lap in eager anticipation of his wife's meal, "How'd that go?"
"Surprisingly well, actually," Vlad turned politely to talk to his old college friend, surprising Danny and Jazz, "The students were a bit rambunctious at first, but they settled quickly. A few even seemed to enjoy it, though I think they were among those who invited me to speak."
"Well, I think it's just wonderful that you have the opportunity to influence those young minds," Maddie set the last of the dishes of food on the table and hurried to her chair, motioning for everyone to dig in, which they did with gusto, "Just think, after all the times we all ditched lectures in college, now you're the one giving them."
"Do you remember the time we went to the burger joint on campus to skip our teacher's lecture and ended up staying there so long he actually walked in and caught us?" Jack was roaring with laughter, Vlad joining in, though not as loud, and Danny moved back, bumping shoulder's with Sam. Unfortunately, Sam had been serving herself a batch of rather volatile carrots who didn't appreciate the jostling and immediately sprung up to attach themselves to her arms and legs.
A quiet squeak was all that announced that it had happened, and Danny reacted quickly turning to grab Sam's knee under the table and quickly turn her intangible. It got the carrots off of her, but also made her drop the spoon which she held. The resulting clatter made the rest of the table turn to find the table covered in angry carrots, a blush settling over Sam's face because of Danny's hand, and Danny trying to fight back one particularly aggressive carrot with his fork.
More laughter from the two men followed these events, prompting Maddie and Jazz to act in lieu of the men folk, "Danny, hon, just keep that carrot there, and Sam scoot back if you could sweetie."
"I got it," Jazz scooped one up, setting it back into the deep bowl they had originally been in, "And here's another one!"
"I got a couple," Tucker flipped three back into the bowl, grinning as he did so at getting to play with his food. Danny on the other hand, wasn't having much luck and eventually resorted to stabbing the carrot with his fork and quickly eating it, grimacing as it wiggled around his mouth, "Tasty?"
"Only when they don't wiggle all the way down your throat," the halfa replied, stabbing another one which immediately went limp, "Stupid carrots, no wonder I never liked these things."
"Alright," Maddie reached out to take the bowl and quickly fired several rounds at the food, settling the carrots down as well as everyone else, "It's all taken care of, so if you want some carrots Sam, you can get some. If anything else is aggressive, we'll take care of it before we try to eat it, right Danny?"
"Sure Mom," the halfa winced, noting that Vlad had turned adoring eyes towards his mother...or were those just admiring eyes. Either way, Danny was sure he didn't like it and was about to say something when Vlad turned to his father and patted him heavily on the back.
"You've a wonderful wife, Jack," he smiled congenially and turned back to his food, "A fighter and a cook, what more could a man ask for?"
"Did he just?" Jazz had leaned in towards Tucker, who knew well how Vlad usually reacted to Maddie. Tucker simply nodded and continued to eat. The rest of the meal passed in easy conversation between the three adults and a confused and awkward silence between the four children.
'Maybe we didn't all have to be here after all,' Tucker continued his silent observation, as did the rest of his friends, 'Then again, maybe he's just on his best behavior for some reason and we should stick around after dinner for a while. I don't get it...'
"I don't get it," Jazz watched from the window as Maddie and Jack said goodbye to their old friend, who was apparently walking back to his hotel that night and wouldn't take their offers to drive him back into consideration, "Tonight was just weird, and so completely un-Vlad-like. All of my studies have indicated that he's obsessed with my Mom, that he's not the type of man to give up his obsessions..."
"Danny did split him," Sam glanced between the ranting girl and the boy who was changing into Phantom and stepping through the wall to escort Vlad home, 'The better to ensure that he isn't up to anything. I just hope Danny's careful.'
"True," Jazz nodded, then turned towards Tucker, "Do you think that would explain why Vlad didn't hit on Mom tonight?"
"Danny said that Plasmius, the one locked up downstairs, was more obsessed than usual with your mom," Tucker shrugged, moving to stand beside the window as well and watch as Danny revealed himself to Vlad, "Maybe the human Vlad just isn't interested..."
"Because it wasn't part of the personality that he was split into," Jazz suddenly finished Tucker's sentence and nodded to herself, "That almost makes sense."
"Who knows?" the boy leaned back in Danny's computer chair, stretching his arms far over his head and letting out a yawn, "We'll just have to see. With all the possible outcomes it's hard to tell exactly what's going on...just too hard to predict."
"No use worrying over it I guess," Sam settled herself on the floor, leaning against Danny's bed and hugging a pillow to her chest, "You three are experienced in this, and I'm just along for the ride for right now. Vlad didn't seem overly concerned with anything past eating dinner with his friends and their family...and the two tag alongs. Let's put on a movie or something and just wait until Danny gets back."
"Sounds like a plan," Jazz shrugged and settled herself much as Sam had while Tucker moved to pick out a movie and put it on, "I hope he gets back soon."
"He will," Tucker smiled and pushed play, then made his way to sit between the two girls, playfully teasing them about getting to sit between the two beautiful women. They settled down to wait, and hoped to themselves that everything was as fine as they were making it out to be.
"Danny, when the normal air temperature is about seventy and a person is constantly feeling like they're in a meat locker, it is not hard for one to figure out that a ghost is around them," Vlad paused under a street light a few blocks away from the Fenton household, "And considering the circumstances, Danny Phantom is probably the only ghost who would be tailing me."
"Yeah, well, you can't exactly blame me Vlad," Danny appeared to his right, standing far enough away to be safe. It was apparent that he'd been walking along with the older man, escorting him invisibly, "Things haven't exactly been normal tonight, and when things aren't normal it means you're planning something. The five people I care the most about are all in one place. I'm antsy, so sue me."
"My boy, let me tell you at this moment, so we may no longer have to have this particular discussion, I am no longer interested in you or your mother or your father in the way I was before," Vlad was looking Danny in the eye the entire time, making the boy more unsure of the situation.
"But you're still interested."
It was a blunt statement, and had Vlad raising an eyebrow and giving a wry grin, "So astute, Little Badger."
"So what do you want? You didn't just come to dinner to have dinner. You never do," the young halfa stood in Vlad's path now, arms folded and floating a good foot and a half above the sidewalk, "And why are you walking home?"
"I am walking because I fear with my recent lack of ghostly abilities, I've found that I exercise rather less than I should," a quick glance down to his midsection left Danny feeling slightly entertained, "As for what I want, Danny, it will take some time for that to unfold. Fortunately for you, it is of a rather less violent manner than before."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Danny wasn't sure what he was feeling at that moment, torn between elation that Vlad seemed to be telling the truth, and weary distrust of the man who had always acted so selfishly before.
"It means what you want it to at this moment," the man turned and continued on his way, "Go home, boy, you're family and friends are safe. I'm just a rich, old man who's gaining weight and a sudden sense of mortality that has been missing for several years."
And with that Vlad turned and walked off leaving Danny floating in the deserted street, lit only by the soft glow of the aged lamppost. Thoughts were rushing through him, confused and muddled and making too little sense, and Danny was just ready to go home as he was told.
This, he told himself, would be the only time he would willingly do as Vlad ordered. This and no other.