Author: After a discussion with a friend and a poke in the form of a piece of fanart, I've decided to give you an installment of Daniel Masters.
However, it is here I warn you: Daniel and I are now in very different places. I started this story in 2008, and much has happened since then that has changed me, but Daniel is still Daniel. He and I no longer fully see eye-to-eye. The story is arguably finished (not in this chapter, on my word file), and I will be posting the rest of it, but if the writing doesn't feel the same...well, that's why. Typos and other grammar errors are the result of mental exhaustion and I request for them to be ignored.
Disclaimer: Never has been, never will be.
Vladimir quirked an eyebrow as he finished making himself a new stock portfolio. Yes, it made sense that he was going to play the Stock Market, given that it was all he knew and Vladimir wouldn't take well to working under someone else's command. It would take him some time to fully profit from his gambles, but he already had a start-up business, funded by money that he acquired from sources that Daniel didn't want to know.
"You better pull your weight," Daniel warned, but all he got was an amused smirk.
"Don't you have somewhere to be, little badger?"
Daniel shrugged dismissively. "I am there, technically."
"I have a clone at the electronics store."
"Aha. Well, then. What are you planning on doing?"
"Try to find a way to fit you into my life."
It had been three days since Vladimir had arrived, and Daniel's life was teetering dangerously. It was…odd, having Vladimir back in his life, and in a setting and time that didn't match and didn't have a place for him. He needed to be reconciled with Daniel's present, and quickly. After some thought, he had decided that the best way for that to happen would be for Vladimir and Danny to meet. It would be his present meeting his past, and that would somehow incorporate Vladimir.
It was worth a shot at least.
He wasn't certain how long Danny would nurse his wounded pride, but when he could likely get in contact with Vladimir at any point through a clone, he wasn't particularly worried about missing his chance. Danny would seek him out sooner or later to demand answers as to what had happened in his and Vladimir's battle—well, in Danny's beatdown, really. It promised to be an interesting discussion, whenever it happened.
"Care to run a few errands with me, frootloop?"
Vladimir quirked an eyebrow. "You actually want to be seen with me in public."
"We're not at home," Daniel said flatly. "And with you having short, red hair now, no-one will connect you with the mayor."
It was odd, seeing Vladimir as a red-head, but simultaneously tremendously funny. It would take some getting used to, but that was the case with most things regarding Vladimir and his current existence.
"Not to mention the casual dress," Vladimir drawled.
Daniel snickered, "Only you would call what nice slacks and a higher-end polo casual."
"It's not my fault that most of the population dress like heathens," Vladimir said coolly, causing Daniel to shake his head in amusement.
"We should find clothes for you, then," Daniel said and gestured towards the door. "Sound like a plan, frootloop?"
Vladimir logged out of whatever he was doing and closed the laptop. As he stood, a flicker of pain crossed his face, which sent a spike of well-concealed panic through Daniel.
"Creaky bones, frootloop?" he teased instead to conceal his anxiety.
Vladimir gave him a dry look and said, "Less creaky bones and more recovering from making a crater in the pavement due to a certain person's efforts."
Daniel gave him a lop-sided smile. "Yeah, well, I had to make sure you were mine and not an impostor."
"There's already one Vlad here," Daniel said. "And there has been a lot of strange activity, so it was possible that you were just an illusion, a fake meant to throw me off and kill Danny. So I had to test you as thoroughly as I knew how." Daniel paused. "Not like you went easy on me or anything."
Vladimir hummed and Daniel passed him to open the door.
Daniel blinked when he saw Danny standing before him, his hand raised to knock on the door that was no longer there.
Well, this is fortuitous, Daniel thought as he stepped out from his doorway to allow Danny to see Vladimir, who had been two steps behind him.
"Danny, meet my father; Father, this is Danny."
Daniel could almost hear the cheesy Western music from how the two most important people in his life stared each other down.
To both his and Danny's surprise, Vladimir offered his hand to the younger half-ghost. Danny hesitated for a second longer before grasping Vladimir's hand, giving him a firm shake that had Vladimir nod slightly in approval.
"Daniel talks about you a lot," Danny said after he let go.
"Probably nothing as nice as what he says about you," Vladimir drawled, which provoked a cautious smile from Danny.
"Father and I were just about to run errands," Daniel said, seizing the opportunity. "Care to join us?"
Daniel received incredulous looks from both Vladimir and Danny.
"It doesn't make sense that my father is in this time now, it's a different life. I think that if I can be comfortable seeing you together, everything will settle down," Daniel reluctantly confessed.
Vladimir's expression of understanding was less obvious than Danny's, but the both comprehended what he meant.
"Where to first, then, little badger?" Vladimir asked and Daniel saw Danny jump. It appeared that Danny had some reconciliation of his own to do regarding Vladimir's presence.
"Mark paid me yesterday," Daniel said and took a folded up envelope from his back pocket. "I need to deposit it so we can go food shopping and get the frootloop more clothes so we don't have to share any longer," Daniel finished dryly.
Vladimir sighed softly and he heard a choked snicker from Danny.
Daniel shooed Vladimir the rest of the way out of the door and physically and ghost locked it behind them. "Bank first."
"How are we getting there?" Danny asked.
"On foot," Daniel answered. "I'd like to show my Father around where he'll be living for now."
Daniel's statement had been said loudly enough that any curious neighbors would have likely heard, and might therefore dispel any speculation of there being a different reason for Vladimir's presence.
The three made their way down the creaky, treacherous steps to the street. Daniel hung them a right towards his bank.
"So…was it you that I fought?" Danny asked slowly, looking at Vladimir.
"Who I fought," Vladimir corrected. "And yes, we fought. Although, I'm glad that Daniel no longer makes the mistake of hitting things before asking questions. Imagine how much less pain you would have been in had you simply stopped and demanded to know who I was rather than assuming I was up to no good."
Daniel suppressed a smirk at how easily Vladimir found the right buttons to push that made Danny twitch.
"I've been dealing with a lot of new ghosts lately," Danny groused, "who have never meant anything but trouble. And it's not like you look particularly nice and I can definitely see Plasmius making some kind of semi-clone of himself to do evil ghostly things while he seemingly keeps his hands clean as he plots somewhere else."
Vladimir seemed amused. "Would he really do that?"
"I wouldn't put it past him," Danny said and picked at a loose thread on the hem of his T-shirt.
Vladimir was silent for a moment. "What else should I know about him?"
Danny looked puzzled.
"I'd like to know his reputation and previous actions so that I can avoid blundering into the same mistakes he has made. We are, probably, very different people, but just as there are similarities between Daniel and you, I imagine that there will be some quirks we share, and I'd rather not give away that I have any kind of…relation…to this Vlad."
Comprehension dawned and Danny grew thoughtful.
"You were only ever here for that incident with the Ghost King, if I recall correctly," Daniel said as he caught Vladimir's attention. "I'm guessing you didn't get a lot of sightseeing done."
Vladimir's lips twitched slightly. "You could say that."
Daniel was glad to see that spending time with him had some positive effects on Danny, given how he asked: "How do I know that you're not here just to make life difficult? That you're some ghost taking advantage of Daniel's past?"
Daniel smiled faintly and put a hand on Danny's head. "Danny, would you be able to tell if a ghost was impersonating your dad?"
Danny nodded immediately. "But I thought that he wasn't you dad?"
Daniel looked over his shoulder to Vladimir, who seemed to be more interested in a shop window than the conversation happening. Daniel hesitated before waving the question away. "Father is more formal, which was necessary in the society that we used to live in."
It was an unsatisfactory non-answer, and Danny frowned in disapproval.
"You get the idea, though," Daniel said and started walking again. "Trust me on this, Danny."
Daniel continued forward, and looked over his shoulder after a long moment, and felt a pleasant shiver drag up his spine to see Vladimir tilted slightly to the side as Danny spoke quickly and softly to him, gestures animated enough to tell him the subject matter was himself and his and Vladimir's relationship. Vladimir's face had always been closed to Daniel, but the older man was less capable of controlling his body language. Although time and experience had obviously made him more cognizant of how his posture betrayed him, it had been the one barometer that Daniel had on the man's moods and thoughts, so it didn't entirely matter if he had improved.
Vladimir was curious, although no-one else would have pinned it. It was in how his body was turned towards Danny, at how he would idly nod or shake his head every now and then, how his fingers idly tapped his thigh. Danny had his full attention.
It still left him uneasy, seeing his past and his presence speaking to each other and walking side-by-side, but Danny seemed to have adapted to Vladimir's presence easily enough.
It reminded Daniel just how brittle he himself was. He smiled sadly as accusations rang through his mind, forcibly faint memories tugging at his consciousness. He waited for the two to catch up and Danny fell silent when Daniel matched his stride to theirs.
"Gossiping about me, eh?" Daniel asked with a small smirk. Danny snorted, while Vladimir's face remained carefully neutral.
"You barely told him anything," Danny said and crossed his arms. "How can you get him settled in if you don't tell him about what is important?"
"I said I understood why," Vladimir replied as he stepped around a distracted mother trying to calm her tantruming child. "And that what he considers important is probably different from what you consider important."
Daniel sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "We're almost to the bank. I guess since Danny so kindly brought it up, you have any questions about what's going on around here and what can be found in Amity Park proper? Danny can obviously help answer," Daniel finished dryly.
Vladimir was silent for a moment before nodding slowly.
"Why do you trust Daniel?" Vladimir eventually asked Danny. The question seemed to catch the younger teen off-guard, and he scratched the back of his neck in unease.
"I…why do you ask that?"
"Is it that strange a question to ask? We do happen to be talking about my son."
Daniel looked to Danny, curious. Jasmine had told him one thing, but he wanted to hear it from Danny directly. He had never bothered to ask, if only because, to him, Danny's trust was a given, although to hear Vladimir claim him as his son was…
Before he had been abducted to the time he found himself in, if Vladimir had claimed fatherhood of Daniel, he wouldn't have reacted. That was the way things were at the time, but Vladimir would never truly be his parent. Now, however, he felt strangely…warm, had a sense of belonging that was foreign and terrifying.
Vladimir really had become his father in the ways that counted, and he had no idea if the man before him was like the man he had left behind. And if he wasn't, how would that change things? They were already feeling each other out all over again, already trying to reconcile past expectation and present reality. It wasn't too hard, given that Vladimir had a rather static personality while Daniel's quirks and ticks were predictable to the older man. Unfamiliar, yes, but not complete strangers. Then again, Daniel had introduced Vladimir as his father, not his foster-father, so perhaps that had already indicated a shift in perception of their relationship.
Danny was silent for a long moment as they walked before he sighed in frustration. "See, you and Daniel are alike here—you have conditions on everything. You don't do anything without a bajillion different reasons, but I don't need that." Danny paused. "Saving me from Skulker and then not turning me in to the GIW or some other agency and treating me nicely might've helped, though."
Vladimir shot a slightly incredulous look to Daniel before humming. "So you trust Daniel simply because you feel that he is trustworthy?"
Danny nodded, which made Vladimir's eyebrow rise slightly.
"Don't bother telling him that's inadvisable, because he hasn't listened to me when we've touched similar topics," Daniel drawled, which made Danny roll his eyes.
They reached the bank and Daniel made quick work of the deposit, idly flirting with the clerk as she maneuvered the money into his account. Daniel made a quick note of the deposit and balance in his checkbook and smirked faintly at the stubborn look that had formed on Danny's face. He was glad that, for once, someone else was being treated to Danny's stubbornly held beliefs about the inherent goodness of people. It seemed to annoy and perplex Vladimir as much as it did he, and the similarity between them made an uncomfortable shiver work its way up his spine.
"Onward," Daniel said and turned Danny towards the door and Danny was forced to phase through the glass or else end up faceplanting into it. The younger teen gave him a dirty look that Daniel replied to with a smirk that he was sure would annoy Danny.
The supermarket was intentionally close by, and they had nearly entered when Daniel's step hitched at the cries of "Danny!" from behind them.
Daniel sighed heavily as Danny facepalmed.
"Well, I guess this is the full immersion, huh?" Daniel said casually. "You're going to be meeting Samantha and Tucker."
"I see," Vladimir said slowly and turned to see Danny intercepting his two friends.
It was still odd to see Samantha and Tucker up and about and alive, but the usual mild instability he felt was gone with Vladimir at his side, a grounding hand resting on his shoulder.
Danny shot Daniel a questioning look, and Daniel tilted his head slightly.
It might be good to get everything done with in one fell swoop.
Danny guided his friends over to Daniel and Vladimir and said, "Guys, this is Daniel's da—father, Mr. Masters."
Vladimir nodded slightly and said, "A pleasure to meet you."
Daniel and Vladimir had managed as many fast, cheap cosmetic changes possible, dying his hair a bright auburn, making him go clean-shaven, and getting deep brown colored cosmetic contacts. The effect was to render him nearly unrecognizable as Vlad Masters.
The two teens seemed to accept Vladimir without too much trouble, which was a relief.
"So Daniel actually does have a father, huh?" Sam said slyly and Tucker rolled his eyes.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Masters," Tucker said, being more politick than Sam for once.
"We've been looking all over for you, Danny," Sam said, attention quickly shifting away from introductions. "We were going to have a conversation about that, remember?"
Danny winced, then sighed. He gave Daniel an apologetic look. "I'll meet up with you as soon as I can, okay?"
Daniel nodded and watched the trio walk away, Danny using Tucker as a human shield between he and Sam.
"I didn't entirely believe you, you know," Vladimir said quietly. "But it is difficult to deny primary-source evidence."
Daniel smiled wryly. "Thought I'd completely lost it, eh?"
"Then it's really true—your family has survived as well. Maddie and Jack are still alive."
"Maddie and Jack."
Vladimir nodded and gestured to the supermarket. "Shall we?"
Daniel took the lead and picked up two shopping baskets, handing one to Vladimir. "We each have fifty dollars to spend. Make sure you pick things that will last two weeks."
Vladimir was obviously irritated, although hid the expression well. "Daniel, you do know that the last time I did my own food shopping was when I was in college."
"Think of it as a learning experience, frootloop," Daniel said cheerfully. "And an exercise in simple math."
As they headed towards the produce section, Vladimir lightly caught Daniel's wrist. "How are you faring?"
Daniel paused, then gave Vladimir a small smile. "Better. Not best, but better. Seeing you with Danny is a little…funny, really."
Daniel's smile grew slightly at the dry tone of Vladimir's voice. "It's nice to see someone else be as frustrated with him as I."
Vladimir simply shook his head. "You and he truly are different creatures."
"Which is putting it lightly."
"You must be leading a mostly vegetarian existence these days," Vladimir commented as Daniel idly browsed, they shifting away from the uncomfortable and private concern.
"Well, I mean, I do keep some protein in my diet," Daniel said. "Omnivorous existence is preferable for me after what I was used to in our former time."
"It really is gone, isn't it?" Vladimir mused over an apple.
Daniel simply nodded. While he had never doubted his home world having vanished, it was only because of the thoughtful tone Vladimir used that it really sunk in. His former home was gone. Vanished. There was no returning, as there was nothing to return to. Had Vladimir not been with him, the revelation would have been panic-inducing. But, his foster-father was there, which meant that the only truly important thing in his former life remained with him, and that was enough for Daniel. The rest of it, the wealth, prestige, the fancy houses and vacuous classmates, those he didn't mind losing, although he knew he would miss the power he wielded. It wasn't as if he couldn't accrue power again, especially in the Ghost Zone. He could become the boogeyman for Danny. He could be the one to do all the terrible things necessary to keep the Ghost Zone in line, things that Danny would never do, and he was certain that he would enjoy it.
It was interesting, pondering the concept of being someone's shield when he was such a broken vessel.
"What do you think of him?" Daniel asked as Vladimir pondered the vegetables spread before him.
"Again, you are two very different people," Vladimir answered. "But we can have this discussion where no-one could overhear."
Daniel's eyebrows rose slightly. Well his paranoia has gotten worse, Daniel thought, but acquiesced and turned conversation simply to potential meals.
He was surprised at how much junk food he had to talk Vladimir down from getting.
"My dear boy, you must remember that I have recently endured the end of the world," Vladimir drawled after Daniel took away a box of Bryer's Ice Cream.
"That doesn't mean that you can feast on junk," Daniel replied primly.
"Junk food is cheap."
"It's also bad for you."
"I'm sure that the levels of nuclear radiation I was subjected to were also unhealthy."
"You're currently living in my house, so you abide by my rules, frootloop," Daniel replied, and Vladimir sighed in defeat, which made Daniel frown. The Vladimir of memories wouldn't have caved so easily, but it appeared that this Vladimir knew a losing battle when it hit him in the face.
"Father," Daniel said carefully.
"How are you feeling?"
A brief flash of shock passed over Vladimir's face before a wry smirk pulled at the corner of his lips. "I'm adjusting. It has been only a few days since I arrived in this human world."
"But you were in the Ghost Zone for a while?"
"It took time to gain my bearings," he answered with a shrug. He paused. "We can't get Oreos?"
"No, we can't get Oreos," Daniel reprimanded with an affectionate sigh.
"How are you going to get all these back to the apartment?" Vladimir asked as they were checking out, he having snuck in a few bags of snack-sized chocolate and candy.
"My pet and two clones," Daniel answered idly as he carefully watched the register, strategically shorting out the scanner at random intervals.
"He is useful, isn't he?"
Daniel quirked an eyebrow. "I did use him mostly for Ghost Zone errands, didn't I?" he mused. "There were enough human peons where we used to live that I didn't have to worry."
Once they were done bagging and outside in a discrete corner, Daniel summoned his pet to him, who immediately knelt before them both. Daniel split into two clones and handed a few bags over to them while draping the majority over the former-Walker.
"Make sure you don't break the eggs," Daniel idly instructed before his pet and the clones vanished.
"You've perfected your control, haven't you?" Vladimir said and Daniel shrugged.
"This place is…active, to put it lightly. I had to become as efficient as possible since I have had small run ins almost daily due to my being friends with Danny."
Vladimir made a thoughtful sound.
"Now, let's get you clothes."
A lesser person wouldn't have been able to tell Vladimir was relieved, but Daniel could read him well enough to know that his pride would recover from having to borrow his foster-son's clothing once he had clothes of his own.
They were walking leisurely to the mall when Danny appeared next to Daniel, a harried look on his face. Daniel dragged Danny to him and put an arm around his shoulders, and the younger half-ghost leaned into the support.
"Girls are scary when they want to be," Daniel said and Danny nodded glumly. "What did she get out of you?"
Danny grimaced. "So, I finally told her that I liked her but that I didn't like her."
"And it ended poorly?"
"Maybe," Danny drawled acidly, resentment and anger simmering in his voice. "I mean, come on! It's not like it's the end of the world that I don't want her for a girlfriend!"
Daniel let Danny go and he took the lead, gesticulating wildly as he ranted about the meeting and its less than stellar outcome.
Daniel jumped when he heard Vladimir chuckle beside him, although Danny didn't notice neither he nor Vladimir's reactions.
"Thank you for not putting me through such things," Vladimir said quietly and Daniel gave him a lop-sided smile.
"I just put other parents through that when their son or daughter complained about my machinations."
"We're not going to Kohls or Target," Vladimir warned as they approached the mall and Daniel laughed, which surprised Danny enough to cause his indignation to falter. The younger teen gave them both a look that Daniel couldn't interpret.
"So, uh, what exactly are we doing?"
"Getting clothes for the frootloop," Daniel answered.
"Appropriate clothes," Vladimir added, which made Danny crack a small smile.
"Why do you and Daniel dress so formal anyway? It's not like it'll matter anymore," Danny said. "Things've changed."
"Call it force of habit, if you want to call it anything," Vladimir said.
Danny didn't quite buy it, but was willing to let the issue drop. It was a small quirk, obviously filed under: 'well, he is Daniel's father.'
"I'm sure you'll be happy to know that we'll be going to mostly designer stores," Daniel said. "There are no ink tags there."
Vladimir's eyebrows rose fractionally as Danny scowled.
Daniel shook his head, which quieted Danny. "I'm making ends meet on my salary, Danny."
"Do you always steal clothes?" Danny asked, a slight tinge of bitterness to his words.
"Would you rather he walk around naked?" Vladimir asked mildly, which made Danny smile in chagrin.
"Well, no, but—"
Daniel shook his head. "Where first, frootloop? The directory is over there."
Daniel didn't mind how long Vladimir took to look the place over, since he was obviously not seeing just the mall map. There were memories in his posture, and Daniel felt that breaking his revere would possibly result in at least property damage.
Daniel looked over to Danny, whose face was created with a frown.
"My father has…been through a lot," Daniel said slowly. "As he reminded me while we were food shopping, he basically lived through the end of the world and it seemed as if only luck, chance, or stubbornness was how he managed to make the transition over to this time."
Danny's frown deepened and he started to walk forward, but Daniel caught his wrist and shook his head. "I'm sure that he'll air everything out eventually, but trying to force anything out of him is like trying to make a stone bleed."
"Maybe he just needs to be told that you will listen."
Daniel smiled faintly. "Oh, he knows."
"We'll start here," Vladimir eventually said and put his finger over the numbered block that indicated the store. "And work from there."
"Onward, then," Daniel said and started off in the direction of the store, and a pleasant but unnameable feeling worked its way through him when he found Danny on his right and Vladimir to his left.
He very much wanted to smile, but that would ruin his image.
"So, uh, Mr. Masters," Danny said around Daniel. "What do you want to know about Vlad?"
"He lets you call him Vlad?"
"Well, I don't care what he wants," Danny said. "We're not like you two."
Vladimir hummed. "Why is he here?"
"Because mom is here," Danny said dryly.
Vladimir hummed, and Danny shot him a worried look. "You're not going to do that too, are you?"
Vladimir scoffed. "I loved your mother very much a long time ago, and I believe that I will always care for her. But, as she has not been in my life, she has faded into a pleasant memory and not a person. So, you need not worry about me pursuing your mother."
The tension in Danny's shoulders unwound by a fraction. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," Vladimir said and Danny coughed a laugh.
They arrived at the store and immediately headed for some of the more up-scale pieces, and Daniel saw Vladimir eyeing a number of the suits with unabashed desire.
"It has been a long time since I have seen clothing like this," Vladimir murmured. "The apocalypse does not lend itself to the finer things in life."
"Pick out everything you want and we'll figure out how to purchase it later," Daniel said with a shrug.
Vladimir gave him a look and Daniel said, "Consider it the beginning of repayment."
"Daniel," Vladimir said softly as Danny looked about with unabashed curiosity, which was understandable, considering his normal attire. "This is what I've wanted always, for both you and I."
Daniel knew he wasn't referring to their surroundings and looked instead at Danny.
Daniel paused. "Do you—"
Vladimir shook his head. "I've lost weight and shrunk slightly from all the stresses. Let's find if there is anything that will fit correctly or if I have to settle for less than perfect."
Daniel smiled wryly. "Just because you demand perfection doesn't mean other people do."
"More's the loss," Vladimir drawled.
Daniel leaned back on his heels and clasped his hands behind his back. There was something about it, the mundane nature of the scene, the casualness with which Danny and Vladimir were already interacting with, the probing questions between the both of them, the tacit acceptance of the answers given, that made the colors fade to grey-scale in Daniel's sight.
Perhaps it was because it was so normal that it made him nervous.
Vladimir held up a suit jacket and Danny said something to him that made Vladimir snort derisively.
It was getting easier, seeing the two of them next to each other. He could almost picture the photograph:
Danny standing in the middle due to him being the shortest among them, Daniel on one side, resting his forearm on Danny's head, leaning on the younger teen, obviously to Danny's indignation. Vladimir would be on the other side of Danny, and his hand would be on Daniel's shoulder as he sported a wry, annoyed yet affectionate half-smile on his face. That he could imagine such a thing told him that he was well on his way to accepting Vladimir into his new life and incorporating both he and Danny into the same world.
"Hey, Father," Daniel said, catching Vladimir's attention. Daniel held up a bright-ish pink shirt and said, "Real men wear pink."
Vladimir gave him a dry look. "Pastel, perhaps, but I believe that particular shade is reserved for your generation."
Daniel gave him a cheeky smile before re-folding the button down and placing it in a completely different pile than where it belonged.
"Maybe I'll pick something up for you, too, Danny," Daniel said and Danny gave him a look that was somewhere between horrified, intrigued, and flattered.
"But, I don't—"
"You recently had a bad break-up with a girl, yes?" Vladimir interjected. "Perhaps, if you want to attract someone other than she, a change in wardrobe might help."
Daniel looked expectantly at Danny. For once his foster father had a valid point.
"I—but—I'm not really…"
"We can multitask, Danny," Daniel said cheerfully. "We'll go someplace more suited to your size and age after we finish finding things for my father."
Shopping for Vladimir was surprisingly difficult because the man himself was difficult. He was used to having clothing tailor-made for him, so having to stoop to mass-produced clothing grated against his sensibilities and pride.
"Oh come on, frootloop," Daniel sighed as Vladimir sneered at a three-piece suit Daniel offered him. "You want to walk around in: a) my clothing or b) pajamas, for the rest of the time that you're here?"
Vladimir scowled at the floor before heaving a sigh of his own. "Fine."
"That's the spirit," Daniel said and he managed to heap a small pile of clothes in Vladimir's arms before the former billionaire could protest.
"From the stories you told me, it didn't seem like you guys were so…" Danny gestured vaguely as he came up beside Daniel, indicating Daniel and Vladimir and their interactions.
"He's off balance. I'm off balance. He's changed. I've changed," Daniel said with a shrug. "Father also has a few quirks that I've had to cajole him around, as the opposite is true. You know you have to come out and give us a fashion show," Daniel called in the changing room.
A sullen, icy silence was his only answer, which made him shake his head. "We can get it tailored later. I'm buying these for you, remember? Until you make enough on your own to get things made to your specifications once more."
Vladimir eventually caved and bought the five most expensive items ("They fit the best," he had said archly when Daniel had protested), only two of which Daniel had actually paid for.
"If this is payback, it's awfully petty," Daniel drawled and Vladimir responded with only a smirk. "Now, Danny."
Danny grimaced, but Daniel's grip on his upper arm kept him from leaving. "Just one outfit."
"I know, I know," Danny muttered.
Daniel sighed. "I swear, both of you…"
Vladimir gave Daniel a small, slightly sad smile, and it made Daniel's good humor falter. He knew the look, knew what it meant. They had discussed it earlier, but it seemed like the closer and more familiar Vladimir and Danny became with each other, the more Vladimir was painfully reminded of all he had never had.
Daniel forced himself to give Vladimir and arch, haughty look that made him crack a small smile.
Daniel guided both Danny and his father into his chosen store, and Danny balked again.
"Daniel, really, you don't—"
"I do, stop bitching," Daniel replied and dragged him along.
"But, it's not how I dress! People will think it's weird and Tucker will think that you're trying to make me a mini-you or something!"
Daniel quirked an eyebrow. "Does he now."
Danny looked away and rubbed the back of his neck.
"We're getting you one outfit, Danny," Daniel drawled. "I doubt that counts as making you a mini-me."
Daniel rolled his eyes.
It took less time for Danny to cave to an outfit that both he and Vladimir approved of than it had taken for Daniel to coax Vladimir into a purchase, although not by much.
"I feel like a girl or something," Danny groused. "You taking me shopping and stuff for clothes."
Daniel shrugged. "Appearance is important. Girls appear to be more aware of such than guys, but that doesn't mean it's not equally true for both genders."
"You have to look the part you're playing," Vladimir added in a quiet, melancholy tone.
Daniel and Danny exchanged a nervous look.
"Yeah," Danny drawled. "But, thanks anyway. I mean, I don't really approve of how you got it, though."
Daniel smirked and ruffled Danny's hair, to the younger half-ghost's protests. "You know you can complain all you want and it will get you nowhere."
Danny smoothed down his hair and muttered, "Usually I can out-stubborn people."
"You obviously do not know Daniel as well as you think, then," Vladimir drawled.
Daniel snickered as Danny sighed.
"Home now," Daniel said.
"Still walking?" Danny asked.
Dusk was picking at the horizon when they exited, and they were leisurely strolling through the parking lot, playing chicken with the cars of irate shoppers, when a car with a bumper sticker proclaiming "Have you hugged your inner child today?" pulled up in front of them, stopping their advance.
Danny groaned and Daniel sighed while Vladimir looked on with an air of patient confusion.
"Danny," Jazz said without preamble as she stepped out of the driver's side. Her mouth opened to speak when she registered whom Danny was with.
"Father, meet Jasmine. Jasmine, meet my father," Daniel introduced. "Jasmine is Danny's older sister."
Jasmine gave Vladimir a cautious smile that Vladimir replied to with an affably chilly one.
"Pleasure," Vladimir said and Jasmine nodded.
"It is nice to meet you…?"
"Mr. Masters," Danny said firmly, and Jazz looked at him, surprised, before turning her attention back to Vladimir, who merely inclined his head.
She was silent for a moment before treating them to a wry smile. "Welcome to Amity Park, Mr. Masters. I'm glad you're here." Her attention quickly shifted back to Danny and she said, "You know, it's not good to run from your problems."
Danny threw his hands up in the air. "Look, she's the one who went crazy on me! She just kept on bugging me and pressuring me and stuff until I told her that I like her, but not that way. Then she got angry and started accusing me of all sorts of things that aren't true! Even Tuck was surprised at how she acted!"
Daniel caught Vladimir looking at him, and gave his foster father a small smile. "This has been some time coming and is a Big Deal, since they have been the preferred pairing and this shakes a number of things up."
"Jazz, just, just leave me alone! You don't have to psychoanalyze me all the time and stuff. I'm fine, she's the one who went nuts!"
Jazz sighed and Daniel put a hand on Danny's shoulder. "Jasmine," Daniel said cheerfully. "My father and I will take care of Danny until both his temper and Samantha's cool down. I assure you that having them anywhere close to each other with people whom they know might not bode well for anyone's sanity."
(Yours is already gone)
Jasmine seemed unconvinced.
"And if there is any sort of…ghost activity…who better to aid him?" Vladimir cut in and Jasmine paused.
A wistful smile slowly grew on her face. "I guess leaving him in your hands is safer for him than anywhere else. Have him back by curfew."
"Wouldn't think otherwise," Daniel replied smoothly. "Ah, if you could take this home with you? I bought something for Danny that might help him attract some positive female attention outside of school."
Jasmine looked at the bag Daniel handed her curiously, and she tossed it in the back seat before waving them farewell and taking off back towards Fenton Works (hopefully).
Danny huffed a sigh and Daniel ruffled his hair. He looked over to Vladimir, who seemed thoughtful.
"The Fentons really are alive," he murmured and Danny looked at him with incredulity that slowly faded into understanding.
"I can have you meet them," Danny offered, but Vladimir smirked and shook his head.
"I think that, the way things are going, we will meet regardless of your offer. Thank you, though."
Danny was obviously astonished at being thanked by Vladimir, and Daniel snickered.
The rest of the walk was uneventful aside from Daniel keeping Danny from going after a few random ghosts, as Val was not far behind them, and seemed to be enjoying herself.
"It is strange, seeing things like this," Vladimir said.
"What do you mean?" Danny asked, confused.
"Amity Park was, apparently, one of the last holdouts of human civilization when everything started to break apart. I believe it was because that, while the Fenton Portal no longer existed, the wall between the Ghost Zone and Human World was weakened, and therefore the two realms stabilized each other for far longer than the rest of the world."
"Oh," Danny said weakly. "Your home was destroyed?"
Daniel unlocked the door and pushed it open with his hip. The groceries were, to his relief, all put away and his pet was curled up in his usual corner, apparently 'asleep.'
Daniel felt Danny stiffen beside him, and elbowed the younger half ghost, making the wind whoosh out of him, which earned him a dirty look.
Daniel put down his bags on the floor next to his sofa and said, "Since we just went food shopping and I have manpower—Danny, frootloop, care to make dinner?"
Vladimir looked mildly annoyed while Danny gave a protesting cry.
"I'm sure you two can figure something out," Daniel said cheerfully and pushed them both towards his small kitchenette.
Vladimir sighed heavily and grabbed Danny's wrist, pulling him into it regardless of his weak complaints.
Daniel smiled faintly, dragging his and Vladimir's clothing to his room.
Perhaps things won't be so bad afterall.