By Someone with Time on Their Hands
Summary: After the clones are destroyed, something vital finally snaps in Vlad's mind. Danny may wish he'd been obsolete after all.
In Vlad's defense one could say he was merciful enough to allow the boy one last good day. A full Saturday of Daniel Fenton hanging out with his friends starting with a few hours at the water park, two more at the mall, a breather period at the Manson abode and two hours at the movie theater enjoying the splendor that was the third Nolan installment in the Batman franchise. The trio spent one last half hour gushing over the cinematography before parting ways, Tucker exiting at lightning speed, leaving his friends to walk awkwardly to the young lady's house. They exchanged some stuttering innuendo at her doorstep before the boy fled the oncoming glares of Mr. and Mrs. Manson. All of this without so much as a single ghost attack. An ideal day from every angle in his book.
This in mind, one could also say it was particularly sadistic of Vlad to do what he did at the zenith of his young archenemy's joy.
Danny kicked the front door shut with his heel and replayed the stinger scene of Gotham City in his mind. The door opening on an Arkham Asylum cell with a faceless inmate shuffling a card deck. In walks Dr. Harleen Quinzel in full doctor getup, the inmate asking her name, and then the close-up of Joker's scarred smile stretching into a grin. As soon as the credits rolled the audience had gone insane, himself included, as the buzz for Batman 4 swept through the air. He got chills just thinking about it. He'd just reached his bedroom door when a literal chill wrapped up his spine and a coil of white breath snaked between his teeth. His face shrank into a scowl. "Going gyaaaaaaahh..!" Electric green rankled through him in a million familiarly painful wires. For a split second he was back in the Colorado lodge, before last week's nightmare with the clones, and Vlad was driving the Plasmius Maximus into his torso like a tiny pitchfork.
The second passed and his knees almost buckled. Downstairs he heard his parents and sister shout his name, heard their feet stampeding for the steps. Danny turned to see a wall of metal, false eyes and flickering green. He almost saw the dart too, but it vanished into the side of his neck like a flash. Skulker spared him a quiet, "Sweet dreams, ghost child," before the world stained black and his mind fell into a chasm of sleep. His family went silent and the image of the new grinning Joker dissolved into mental mush. What might have been two minutes or two hours later, the sound began to trickle back. There were thin mechanical beeps, pulses and hums around him. And voices.
"--didn't say it was for this, Plasmius--,"
"What do you care, you're paid, now be g--,"
"I care that you're planning to mentally castr--,"
"I said leave--,"
"—my greatest prey and keep him as some sick, pseudo--,"
"Get out, Skulker."
"Not without the child, as he is or dead over my shoulder. Either way would be a mercy by comparison, so you can take your grand and shove it up you're a--." Danny heard something like a cross between a computer frying and the Ghost Zone's greatest hunter choking on an Adam's apple he didn't have. There was the alien sound of ecto energy at work, metal limbs and white fabric thrashing. He heard Skulker sputter something that might have been Vlad's name, wavering in and out of his artificial baritone and the high shriek of the true form in his false skull. Danny tried to open eyelids that felt were lined with lead. He tried to sit up—to make any part of him rise off the metal slab he seemed welded to—but everything was detached and a 1,000 pounds each. He heard a final explosion of energy and rent armor. Skulker said nothing.
"Hmph. The Ghost Zone's greatest hunter makes for greater scrap metal." Danny strained his eyes open just enough to see Plasmius' frame drift closer. There was a blooming flower of silver shards, black fabric and a smattering of neon green beyond him. His eyes suddenly found the strength to stretch open into bulging blue windows.
"Skih…Skuh-hulllk--you…" His lips were like cold dough that wouldn't move right with the slug that had replaced his tongue. Vlad snorted good-naturedly and reached out. Danny felt bugs crawl where Plasmius touched the side of his head and turned him to look up. The older halfa was grinning down at him.
"Waking up, little badger? Good, good, we need you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the full effect. But before I get on a roll, I feel I should apologize for some poor phrasing during our last rendezvous." The man's pale face drew into a disturbingly honest look of remorse. The glove on Danny's temple dropped to rest beside his bound wrist where it drummed contemplatively. "I recall saying that once the good clone was finished you would be 'obsolete.' Heh, I think back on that entire fiasco with a great deal of embarrassment. I mean, all those clones—up to and including that malignant brat Danielle—they were…placebos. Forgeries. The true obsoletes, and I was so deadest on somehow pouring your character into those mindless shells that I convinced myself you were just a prototype. I'm big enough to admit when I'm wrong, seldom as such occasions are." Vlad looked down into the boy's face and admired the hybrid of confusion and fear twisting there. "It would be petulant to automatically call the original a prototype and try to swallow a cheap copy simply out of frustration." He laughed. "Definitely a childish tantrum from my end, and I heartily apologize for it."
Danny's fingers twitched unhappily as the older halfa jammed his hand into the boy's lax palm and shook it for him. "So, bygones on that." The teen slurred something that might have been an insult. Vlad nodded. "But that's about where the apologies run dry, because I don't and won't feel any remorse for what I'm going to do to you. To be fair, a great deal of blame is on your head, my boy. If you had just accepted my offer in the first place, maybe given me an inch in the mentor department, this all would have turned out differently. We'd be upstairs in the castle, talking Packers or laughing over the merits of having Uwe Boll assassinated. If you'd given me so much as an inch. What did you do instead? You threw my good will in my face and spat on it. As proud as I was of your manipulative skill, you went so far as using emotional blackmail to lock me in that blasted belt! You've fought me in every endeavor you stuck your nose in and by some enraging deus ex machina or other, you have defeated me more often than not!"
Plasmius drove his fist into the smooth steel of Danny's table. It left a perfect mold of the man's knuckles. The teen looked from the imprint to the angry rictus on Vlad's face, the latter thankfully aimed at a wall rather than him. The millionaire flexed his taut hand and sighed. "It should have turned me off, I know. Someone with a weaker will would have given up on you, tried to paint you as some adversary not worth his time. But we both know I'm far from weak and, I'll admit, more than a little obsessive. It's all part and parcel with being half ghost I suppose. Spirits can't exist without a drive to keep existing after death. That upstart Ember is an attention-seeking authority-hater and that drives her. Technus constantly needs to be upgraded. Skulker is—was—fixated on hunting and overcoming the ultimate quarry. The fool assumed you'd be escaping my clutches as you have before, and had he not discovered the plan he'd have just taken off with my cash, waiting for my next futile commission."
The older halfa shook his head and looked at something beyond Danny's perspective. "But I'm off track. I assume your obsession as Phantom is to protect. To save what you see as your city and flock from the constant threat of the spectral freaks and their own goals. Very noble. Very ideal. Very, very stupid." He didn't look away from his new point in the distance, but gripped his chin thoughtfully. "Or would it be insanity? Albert Einstein said something about insanity being to repeat the same action and expecting different results. You do expect different results don't you little badger?" Finally Plasmius looked down at the boy and was rewarded with a break from the bewildered stare. Now he was getting the patented Scary Eyes © glare, but without the benefit of glowing green.
"Ih—It's called doinn…doing the right thing…fruit…fruit loop…" His mouth was beginning to work again. Vlad snorted, spared the point on the other end of the dark lab another glance, and turned himself to face the young man.
"Really? I call it you running on a treadmill while you think you're reaching a finish line. Some fantasy point in time where all the big bad ghouls are beaten, you'll have freedom from the self-appointed responsibility of shielding your loved ones, and hey, maybe even shaking hands with Neil Armstrong before taking your own trip into outer space! Not that you even hope for that anymore. You're not so clueless as to think you'll do anything more than run your education, your life, and any semblance of a future into the ground as you slowly drop everything but your inane heroics from your priority list. You knew all this, so yes, your obsession is fueled by insanity." Danny opened his mouth. "Then again, I'd be calling the kettle black if I didn't address myself." He watched Danny press his lips closed again. Saving whatever adolescent quip he had for later. "My obsession is nothing so piddling as wealth or artillery power," he flared a hot starburst in his palm and snuffed it, "but it's just what I told you during the Colorado fiasco."
"You're not a villain, all you want is love," Danny quoted without a stutter. "Plasmius, that's an utter load. A load you might even believe, but a load nonetheless. All you want is control and that's the only reason you want Mom and m--." The boy's skin jumped on his flesh as the black glove shot down like an anvil beside his skull.
"Wrong, Daniel! I don't care what little hypotheses you have typed up on your computer's quaint little rogues gallery database, or what psychobabble theories your sister has filled your head with. I don't care because you. Don't. Know! You don't know what it's like to be the only child of parents who occasionally forgot they had a child. You don't know what it's like to only be befriended by an obese idiot from a jolly family and a one-in-a-million seraph that was already so bafflingly in love with the aforementioned idiot that she wouldn't spare you a second glance. You don't know what it's like to lose the prime of your life to that same idiot because of his technological impotence. You don't know what it's like to stew in a hospital as that idiot and your blind dream woman get happily married and leave you to decay into some abomination of life and death. You don't what it's like to train alone for twenty years to hone the powers gained from said idiot's bumbling, all the while watching the idiot stay wed to your beloved, watching them have the children you know you'll never have!"
Plasmius' eyes were blazing with crimson loathing as his hands tightened and crackled in synch. Danny felt his witty remark basin run dry as worried eyes took up his face. He strained against the bonds pinning him, not trying to transform, but trying to inch as far away from the erupting lunatic as he could. The teen shrank in on himself as Vlad finally whirled to him, teeth bared and brow dragged down into a hard V. "Most of all Daniel, most of all, you don't know what it was like to have you thrown into the equation! The only other ghost hybrid in existence, the child I deserve, as Jack—FENTON'S—SON!" With that Plasmius raised a colossal globe of power over his head and Danny was sure he'd be ash in the next second. Plasmius hurled it into a distant computer. It exploded in a way that would make most Chinese fireworks look like BiC lighters. The explosion seemed to depressurize the man somewhat and he ran a glove through the black of his hair; sighed.
Danny watched him unblinkingly, his fingertips digging into the slab. "In you I saw and still see the vital prize in my life. A son born from my Maddie and the same undead genetics your father's engineering thrust upon me. A scion that could understand me, that I understood and could mold into a protégé, an heir. But you continue to be as stubborn as your dear mother. At every turn you deny me, always burying your head in the sand when confronted with Jack's incompetence, with your own need for a mentor. You go so far as to injure and mortify me on choice occasions. And Daniel…" Vlad turned a freakishly gentle smile on the boy as he raised his hands. Danny couldn't hold in the yelp as the older halfa latched his gloves into the boy's shoulders deep enough to leave handprint bruises under the cotton. "That infuriates me like you can't even imagine." The sentence came out in an inhuman growl with his eyes holding back just enough not to fire lasers through the boy's forehead.
"I do horrendous things to my enemies, my boy, and unfortunately you've done your best to surpass your father on my most hated list. I daresay you're tied with him by now! Therein lays my problem. I despise the boy who's done nothing but hinder my plans, save Jack Fenton's life and wallow in the joy of peers that have been with him since childhood. He is my enemy and he deserves the worst punishment possible. Still the issue remains that you are the one reward I have sought after the hardest. More than tracking down Pariah Dark's powerful trinkets, more than…ha, I can hardly believe it…more than trying to seduce Maddie. I didn't stop to ponder the latter until recently. Why did I focus so vehemently on cloning you and just settle for circuitry to replace her? Why have I been turning a blind eye to my love to spend more time on veering you towards me? Most pressingly, why have I never just saved myself the stress and outright killed you?"
Skulker's words suddenly rang back to Danny's mind: Not without the child, as he is or dead over my shoulder. Either way would be a mercy by comparison. Everything inside the teen dried and shriveled closer to his stomach. "I don't know, Vlad." Plasmius finally lifted his grip from the boy's shoulders and took a step back.
For a moment it looked like he wouldn't say, but then a cold whisper dropped from him, "Because I wouldn't be much of a father if I killed my son for going through the rebellious stage." Vlad reached out again and this time he rested his palm atop Danny's head as he had when the boy first entered his castle so long ago. "I want my son, little badger. I always get what I want and blasting your skull off would hinder that. This love-hate ordeal has been coming to a head for some time and," he gestured grandly to the dim lab, "here it is. Now you might be wondering how I'm going to solve the conundrum of disciplining the enemy in you while preserving my son. Are you curious?"
Danny shocked himself by answering. "I'd have to be suicidal not to be." Vlad nodded approvingly and stalked to the mystery point in the distance.
"Quite right. I can't kill you obviously, but then, there are so many things worse than death aren't there?" Now he'd vanished into the beeping, humming dark as he moved glasses and shuffled equipment. "I can just imagine you going over all the worst case scenarios. Maybe some dastardly villain finds a way to blackmail you into doing their crimes of choice. Perhaps being just a minute too late with friends or family dying as a result. Ooh, touched a nerve on that one I see. Awful situations the both of them, but certainly not the worst. I'll take the liberty," a drawer closed in the dark, "of bringing that one to life." Plasmius returned from the shadows wearing thick black goggles and holding something in one fist. "Let's bring the two main points back for review. One, insanity is repeating the same action and expecting different results. I'm about to end my own lunacy by using a whole new method of persuasion. Two, the fact that you can't fathom the maddening loneliness that has suffocated me until now is about to be remedied."
"What are you talking about, Plasmius?" Vlad said nothing and bit the finger of his right glove, slipping it off with his fangs. Danny raised a brow at the red metal band around the blue index. Something about it seemed to resonate through him. Not the Ring of Rage, but he did know the thing from somewhere.
"Have you ever imagined what it would be like for you and all your little friends to be alive…but out of reach? To be unseen and unheard for the rest of your life, never hearing their voices or seeing their faces when you know you'd be perfectly capable if not for a certain obstacle? I'm sure you haven't, because you've always been too fixated on what-if-they-die situations. Imagine further if the same was true of your family, and hey, why not your entire ghost-riddled town? All those loved ones and innocent lives lost only to some unfathomable handicap keeping you rooted away from them. Oh, I'm sure you'd comfort yourself with the thought of them being able to soldier on without you. But you have more enemies than friends and everyone knows it. The short of it is that my enemy is going to be sporting the equivalent of mental cement shoes as payback for going against me. Understand yet?" Vlad was barely a foot away now.
His fingers curled away from the prize in his palm.
"You're going to be locked in your own head."
Danny saw it. Tried to scream.
"Under my orders." Danny finally retrieved his voice just as Vlad phased the red shards in his glove into the boy's brain.
Danny howled and writhed in his bonds like a cat being dunked in acid. His irises flashed red by turns as his screeches jumped between animal gibberish and, "Don'tdon'tdon'tpleasedon'tknowstopstoppleasestopdon't!" It was a serenade to his ears as he intangibly welded the red pieces into the child's frontal lobe. The enemy Daniel, the one that had kept his son bound and gagged for so long, was paying for his transgressions. Paying in full and with interest.
The older halfa prayed that same enemy was coherent enough to hear, "Remember this? You remember that Circus Gothica and its abhorrent ringleader? You really should have gone back for the pieces under the bridge, Daniel. Should have destroyed the staff at any rate because now," he held up his free hand for the teen's wildly darting eyes to see, the bewitched red metal ring shining, "you're wrapped around my finger. You won't really appreciate the poetry of this until farther down the line. For now, I have business with my son." In one glorious moment he locked eyes with his enemy. He didn't need time to realize it seemed—the epiphany had struck him instantly and he communicated as much through that single frantic stare. This wasn't like looking too long into a spinning spiral or being hooked on some debilitating drug. He had a supernatural computer chip lodged in his brain and the madman was wearing the remote control. All at once he was seeing the tip of his future, lodged forever in his own skull--.
But that was enough to sate Plasmius for now. There were more important things that needed tending: "Sleep." There was a brief tingle where the ring touched his skin. Danny's irises became ruby dots before rolling up under his closing lids. His head dropped against the steel with a padded thunk. Moment of truth. Vlad Plasmius was replaced by Vladimir Masters. He took a minute to ready himself, his fingers turning the red ring anxiously. He watched the absurdly calm rise and fall of the young man's breath and the dreamy jitter of his eyes under the lids. Waited. Waited some more. He took a deep breath and knelt to the boy's ear. One hand drifted back to the teen's bound hand and grasped it. "Daniel." The eyes twitched but didn't open. The ring tingled. "When you awake you will believe the following with no doubts." Danny said nothing. "You see me as your father, better than Jack Fenton was, is, or ever will be. You want to be my son. You want to live with me. You don't care about the welfare of Samantha Manson, Tucker Foley, Jasmine Fenton or anyone else in Amity Park, barring your mother. You don't care if Jack Fenton dies. You wouldn't mind helping me kill him. If you have nightmares…nightmares about being trapped in your own body, wanting your old friends and family back, wanting to play hero again and the like…you will come to me for comfort. You will believe me when I say they are only bad dreams and they mean nothing. You will remember nothing of the ordeal leading to this moment or anything negative of our previous battles. You are home. You will be my son."
Vlad swallowed a sharp boulder past his throat and squeezed the boy's hand tighter. His eyes hurt. He had a quick flash of the perfect clone and the hours he'd spent whispering the same memorized phrases against the glass. It was harder to do now, the way giving a speech to a crowd was harder than giving it to a mirror. He swallowed again. "…Do you understand?" He watched the boy's mouth pantomime, "yes." His free hand slipped under the slab and triggered the shackles. All four retracted into the fist-printed surface leaving pink bands on the young man's wrists. "…Wake up, Daniel." The man barely heard himself. Danny flapped his eyes open as if hearing a gunshot by his ear and his thin hand squeezed Vlad's. He gasped and jolted upright as if he'd been drowning in a bathtub, red eyes fading to blue. Danny looked to the man bent at his side.
"Dad, what're we doing in the lab?"