Notes: I usually post reasons for delays in my profile, but just for those who missed it, sorry for the wait. My first year of college is almost done, and I've rarely been more relieved before in my life. I don't even have any idea how I managed to whip this up and edit it with the pressure of my scholarship riding me for all it's worth. Luckily, come May 6th it means almost four months of break and largely uninterrupted writing time!
As for the story itself? Incoming angst. Seriously. I always make myself to sort of "become" the character I'm writing, but with Danny, I just wanted to leave him to his own devices rather than dealing with his huge bucket o' problems. As a whole, this chapter was the hardest of anything I've written simply because so much needed to be addressed, and with every issue there were so many different feelings cropping up from such different characters.
Chapter Twelve – Subconscious Mind
"So you're really Dan's mother. You were pregnant with him."
"And Vlad's the father. He put his thing in your -"
"Right. So he's your mate, then."
"...Okay, now you lost me again."
"For the last time, Dani! Yes, he got me pregnant with Dan. Yes, I get glowey-eyed under certain circumstances. No, he is not my mate because I am not in love with the fruit loop!"
Danielle paused, a look of dawning comprehension painting her face before it was replaced with a reproving glare. "Oh. Now I get it. So Mr. Manly Fenton here is in denial, and you've been using my best friend to cover up for your insecurities." Her eyes glowed green, and Danny swallowed his sudden wariness.
"No! I would never do that to her!"
"So then how else do you explain it, Danny? I lived in the Ghost Zone for a while – enough to know that when two ghosts are mates, they're bonded to each other for afterlife. Only to each other." She shook her head. "It all makes sense now. The whole secret relationship between you two."
"Hey, it wasn't my idea to keep it up! I was ready to be open about us dating a month into it!"
"Oh? Then why did you want to make it a secret in the first place? It was your idea." Danny was silent. "Well?"
Danny sighed. "Because I didn't want Vlad and Dan breaking us up. They both get really jealous. If you knew some of the things they've done to some of my ex-girlfriends, you'd get it."
"And why are they jealous in the first place? It couldn't possibly be because you're not supposed to be dating other people, right?"
Danny's eyes flashed green in warning. "Danielle."
"Don't you 'Danielle' me," she snapped, then paused, a knowing smirk making its way onto her face that made Danny nervous. "Now it makes so much sense! If you won't give the fruit loop the time of day, then... of course, Desiree would be..." Her eyes widened, and she quickly covered her mouth, anxiously turning the other way.
The man eyed her suspiciously. "What was that?"
"What was what?"
Danielle shook her head. "Nothing! Just – nothing! It's just... well, you hear things in the Ghost Zone, with some of the friends I've made."
"Dani, what -"
"And... well, you said it yourself, right? It's not like you'd get jealous."
"Just tell me already!" Danny snapped, something bubbling strangely in the pit of his stomach as he tried to make sense of the words.
The clone took a deep breath. "Well... it's not like someone can't just wish Desiree to look like someone else, with the right motivation for her. And Vlad's always been good at bribery. If he's that desperate... I mean, it's probably because you don't pay attention to the gossip in the Ghost Zone much anymore, but..." She bit her lip.
The man took a second to take that in. Once the meaning sunk in, he rolled his eyes. "Yeah, okay. Vlad's way too obsessive to go for anyone else."
"Are you calling me a liar?" Danielle hissed.
His eyes flashed with uncertainty, his muscles tensing before he found himself growing angry. "This isn't funny, Danielle."
"Who said I was trying to be funny?" she retorted, anger lacing her own dead-serious voice.
Danny stared skeptically at her, yet his resolve was slowly crumbling as the debatably untrue situation wound itself into his mind. Vlad would never be that desperate! Especially when he had Danny right under his roof, free to subtly molest whenever he didn't mind acquiring new bodily harm.
...Then again, this was the man who created a complex hologram program of his mother back in the day and moved all the way to a town he hated from his secluded, luxurious Wisconsin home just to fulfill his obsession with Danny and Maddie.
"You're so full of shit, Dani," the man told her in an aggravated voice, reaching subtly for the phone in his pocket before he began composing an angry text message. But before he could hit send in a heat of the moment bad decision, Danielle phased the phone out of his hand. "Hey!"
"'You're a hypocrite,' blah blah blah, 'wish-granting ghost sluts,' she read, her tone as she did so doing nothing to keep Danny's blush down. "Easy on the caps lock there, Mr. Lovesick. And would it kill you to spell check?"
Danny snatched the phone back from his doppelganger, and Danielle was suddenly aware of how close the livid man was. "Get out, Dani," he hissed.
Danielle huffed indignantly. "Hey, I'm trying to help you!"
"Well, you're not doing a very good job at it!"
"No, you're just stubborn and in denial!"
"I AM NOT IN DENIAL!"
The man paused, eyes wide at how hysterical his pitch had sounded. His already vivid blush took a turn for the worse as Danielle stared at him with a triumphant expression. He sighed. "You were lying about Desiree, weren't you?"
"Yep. And I honestly can't believe you fell for it. You must be more in love with Vlad than I thought."
Danny sent her a weak glare, sitting down at the kitchen bar again. "I'm done arguing about this, Dani. It's none of your business."
"But you came here to talk about Valerie, didn't you?" Danny snapped.
That seemed to sober the younger woman up, and her expression fell into a nervous one as she avoided his gaze. Sighing, she sat down next to him and ran her fingers along the shapes in the marble countertop. "...Well, you obviously know we had a fight. She threatened to kick me out, but Jenna got kind of hysterical and Valerie kind of told her that she wasn't really kicking me out. So I thought it'd be best for both of us if I just stepped out and let her deal with Jenna first."
"And she obviously talked about me, since the first thing you said when you came by was that I was a jerk for not telling you that I'm 'gay for Vlad and have a ghost womb.'"
Danielle smiled sheepishly. "Hey, what kind of cousin hides the fact that they carried a kid for nine months? You know, I was mad about that, but I realize that it makes sense you didn't tell me. I wouldn't have told me either. I live with Valerie, after all."
"Actually, I was thinking more about how involved Vlad was in the whole Dan deal..."
The two remained silent for a moment, each contemplating the billionaire with varying degrees of confusion and contempt.
"You don't hate Dan now, do you?" Danny joked to break the tension.
"Well, maybe I would've a little if I had known Vlad was the father from the get-go, but he's still a cute kid," she said with a smile. Danny got the feeling that she wasn't entirely joking with the statement. Danielle sighed, and even though it pained her to talk about her argument with the woman she had grown to consider a sister, it was preferable to talking about the man who had created her and then thrown her away.
"Anyways... Valerie was pretty mad. She started accusing me about – well, everything she could think of. You know how she is." Danny snorted and nodded. "I obviously had to tell her I knew you were half-ghost – that it wasn't my secret to tell and that's why I never told her about it. Let's just say that wasn't what she wanted to hear. She didn't really let me get a word in after that."
"I'm sorry," Danny said with a weary sigh. "This is honestly, completely my fault. I should have told her. I should have told her so long ago."
"What, you really think she would've reacted much better? Valerie doesn't like ghosts, Danny. It's plain and simple. Trust me, she barely tolerates my ghost half. You think your parents are bad? No way."
"You seriously think it's not as bad as it can get with the Vlad thing piled on top of everything? I mean, I know I was stupid and everything, but I really did – do care about her!"
Danielle raised a skeptical eyebrow, and was about to reply when her cell phone went off. Looking at the caller ID, her eyebrows shot up in surprise and she answered before the phone could ring a second time.
"I can?" She gave a relieved smile, and Danny couldn't help but also sigh in relief at what was surely good news.
"Okay, I swear I can explain everything if – wait, you're not waiting for me with an arsenal of ghost weapons lined up, are you?"
"Well, I'm sorry if I'm a bit nervous about coming home to someone who might or might not want my head on a platter!"
"Right, sorry. Still kind of mad about earlier."
"Right. I'll see you."
She ended the call, and in a flash of blue rings she transformed into her ghost half. Danny stood up and put a hand on her shoulder. "Are you sure she won't be waiting for you ready to tear you apart molecule by molecule?"
The woman rolled her eyes. "Yes, mother. I'll be fine."
"Alright..." Danny said hesitantly, before quickly hugging her. "Call me if you need something, okay?"
She nodded. "And I promise I'll try to fix things between you guys."
"No. If you're going to fix anything, try and get the okay for Jenna to see Dan, okay? Please," he said, sincerity and even a pleading edge in his voice. Of course, Danielle understood and nodded before phasing through the kitchen wall.
Valerie's talk with Jenna after Danielle had been essentially kicked out had been a disaster – and that was an understatement. Just as Valerie had suspected, her daughter had been all too aware that Dan was a ghost, but she had been aware of nothing else – not of Vlad, or Danny, or Dan's parentage. Apparently, Dan hadn't even really told her he was half-ghost, but rather she'd found out because of the boy's eyes or something along those lines.
When Valerie had asked about it, Jenna had said the exact same thing Danielle had about Danny – that it wasn't her secret to tell. Long after Jenna had run up to her room crying, Valerie was kicking herself for having let her emotions grip her with such intensity and, in turn, upsetting her little girl like she had. The amount of yelling involved had been uncalled for. And then there was Danielle...
But how was she supposed to deal with this? Everyone she knew had lied to her, those she was closest to! Dammit, she had loved Danny! She had been so sure that they'd take things to the next level any day now, but he had gone and ruined it!
No, he had ruined it the day he had led her to believe he wasn't Phantom. He had ruined it since they were fourteen years old. She didn't even really care that he was a ghost as much as she did about the fact that he had lied to her like he had. Even worse, that he had used her, had led her on while he was in some sort of... twisted relationship with a man nearing his sixties! She supposed it fit – a ghost for a ghost, giving birth to a ghost. She had no place in Danny's life, and now that she knew what she did, she intended to keep it that way.
Valerie sighed and held in yet another cascade of furious, heartbroken tears.
I won't cry for a ghost, she thought, though her resolve crumbled just a little as she heard yet another loud wail coming from upstairs. Jenna had been crying on and off for hours, and refused any comfort or apologies form her mother.
Instead of dwelling on that, she walked over to the window and surveyed the skies. Danielle should've been back by now, assuming she had flown. Then again, Valerie had no idea where the woman was. For all she knew, she was with that lying ghost, and he and Plasmius lived on the other side of town. Either way, she was not looking forward to the upcoming yet necessary talk.
It had been painful realizing that she really hadn't meant to snap at Danielle like she did. She had been so sure she was furious at the woman for lying to her as well. But it wasn't her fault – it was all Danny. Danny and Vlad. Just judging by the way Jenna had reacted, Valerie knew she would never be able to really kick Danielle out. Not even for a day. And judging by Danielle's skepticism about coming home again, Valerie's inappropriate reaction was clearer than ever.
But maybe now that it was all over, she could forget about the whole thing and get on with her life, just as Danielle had without Plasmius. Maybe they could both just forgive and forget and move right on.
Danielle's first words as she phased into the house told Valerie that she would have no such luck.
"I know you don't want to talk about Danny, but we have to at least talk about Dan."
Valerie's eyes narrowed. "I was going to start by apologizing to you, but I guess I won't now. I have nothing to say about that family of freaks."
"Oh, so you're saying I'm a freak, too?" Danielle yelled.
"Shh! Keep your voice down!" the dark-skinned woman hissed. "I think Jenna's heard enough fighting for one day!"
The hybrid sighed exasperatedly before beginning again in a hushed voice. "You know, you lied to him, too. You never told him you knew about Vlad."
"Well, what was I supposed to say? 'Hey, Danny, not to scare you or anything, but you're living with a psychopathic man who's also a ghost and who's probably corrupting your kid as we speak!' Was that what you wanted me to tell him?"
"I'm just saying, you're not so innocent yourself, Valerie!"
"Oh? Believe me, Dani, you can't get any lower than cheating like he did. How do you explain him being with Plasmius while secretly dating me, hm? It's sick!"
"Ever stop to think that maybe he isn't with Vlad? It's not as simple as who's dating who, Valerie! You know nothing about ghost mating -"
"I know enough about it to know that Danny – that Phantom knocked himself up with Plasmius DNA!"
"Oh, now who's yelling? Keep your voice down! You're right in saying it because I saw Jenna crying when I phased in earlier." Valerie winced, but Danielle kept going before she could be interrupted. "He didn't want to, Valerie! What kind of guy willingly gets himself pregnant? It was an accident, on both their parts! In fact, he doesn't even want to be with Vlad! It's a biological thing – he has to be around him! More importantly, Dan has to be around Vlad in order to do as much as survive! That's the reason why Danny's even living under Vlad's roof!"
"If Phantom 'has' to be with Plasmius, then why was he with me?" the huntress demanded.
Danielle sighed. "Because he's an idiot," she conceded softly, and Valerie raised an eyebrow. "Just because he tells himself he doesn't want to be with Vlad doesn't mean he doesn't want to deep inside. Or that he doesn't love you, but in a different way than both of you thought... I'm sorry, Valerie."
The older woman grit her teeth and turned to look out the window, hiding the hurt on her face. "So it's true. He was with Vlad this whole time."
The hybrid rolled her eyes, fed up with explaining things and having them twisted around. "No, he wasn't. Not like you're thinking, anyways. He kept you a secret because he didn't want to be with Vlad," she said, mentally adding that the latter statement wasn't as true as Danny thought it was. "And because he didn't want to lose you."
Valerie scowled, turning around again and directing a pained glare at the younger woman. "Well, it's too late now."
Danielle sighed dejectedly, turning back to her human form and sitting on the couch. "Yeah, it is." A pause. "But it's not the kid's fault, you know. He was born into this – he had no control over it. He doesn't even control the lies that he has to tell. He just follows what his parents say. These are big secrets the poor kid has to shoulder, Val."
The huntress scoffed. "Yeah, secrets that he unloaded onto my little girl. She knew he was a ghost - "
"Just like Danny's friends always knew he was a ghost and kept it from their parents. They're just kids. They're not even teenagers yet. Why are you getting them involved in this?"
"I'm not going to let my little girl be put in danger! I'm not going to let her hang around a dirty ghost!"
"He's a little boy!"
"He's a ghost!"
"I'm running away!" Both women turned to look at the voice that had just spoken up over their steadily rising voices. There stood Jenna, her backpack in one hand and her travel case in the other.
"W-What?" Valerie stuttered.
"If I can't see my best friend anymore, then I'm running away! You can't stop me from seeing my cousin!"
"Cousin?" Danielle asked, confused.
Jenna turned to her with an obvious stare. "If Danny Phantom's your cousin, and if he's Dan's dad... uh, mom?" A momentary look of confusion crossed her face. "Whatever, we're still cousins! And family's the most important thing in the world! Mom said so!"
"You're not even really related to Dani, Jenna!" Valerie tried to reason. "And you're not going anywhere, young lady!"
"Yeah, I am!" she snapped back, defiantly opening the front door of the living room.
"Jenna Gray, I will drag your little butt back in here!" Tears welling up in the girl's eyes made Valerie immediately falter. "Oh, don't start crying again, baby!"
"I don't get it! He's my best friend! He's nice to me, he's not a bad ghost!"
There was a long, uncomfortable silence as Jenna stood sobbing on the doorstep. Danielle walked over to the girl and kneeled down next to her, whispering comforting words into her ear while smoothing back her curly hair. Valerie looked away from the scene, chewing on her bottom lip and wishing last night had never happened. Finally, enough was enough, and she spoke up.
"Things are going to change, Jenna."
"I said things are going to change... Now, go upstairs and let me talk to Dani. I need to discuss how things are going to work out with you... still seeing Dan from now on," Valerie said, though her words seemed to pain her.
Jenna immediately stopped her crying, looking incredulously at her mother with hopeful, tearful eyes. Suddenly, she broke away from the half-ghost woman and hugged her mother tightly. "Thank you, Mommy! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
"Jenna, nothing's final yet. Now, go upstairs."
The girl didn't need telling twice, and she bounded up the stairs with a new spring in her step. Valerie sighed deeply, shaking her head in frustration. After a moment, she grabbed her cell phone from her pocket and threw it at Danielle, who barely caught it.
"Call him. Tell him to count himself lucky that I'm not making Jenna switch schools. I want no contact outside of what they already get in the classroom. The boy's not allowed in my house, and my daughter isn't allowed anywhere near that hellhole Masters owns. She's not allowed near FentonWorks, either."
Danielle stared blankly at the woman's retreating back before she snapped back to attention. "No way! I'm not doing it! This is your fight, not mine."
Valerie stopped and glared at her. "It was your idea! Make up your mind already!"
The hybrid woman returned her glare, and without another word, she slammed the phone down on the table before going ghost and flying out the front door.
After several frustrated sighs and many minutes of staring uselessly at the cell phone on the table, Valerie finally picked up the wretched thing and dialed Danny Fenton's number for the last time.
Dan watched his mother's face fall with each word Ms. Gray uttered from the other end of the telephone, his supernatural hearing catching her cold tone but not enough words to make out what she was saying. His father's hearing though, much more developed than his, seemed to catch more of the conversation, and the hand on Dan's shoulder shook with restrained rage every now and then.
Finally, after only two short minutes with no chance for Danny to get a word in, the raven-haired man hung up the phone with a weary sigh.
"Well, that could've gone better," Danny mumbled, running a hand through his hair. He briefly glanced at Vlad before his gaze fell on the boy staring intently at him.
"What did she say?" Dan ventured. The hand on his shoulder tightened.
"Yes, Daniel, what did the biggest mistake of your life say?"
Danny's eyes flashed green. "I swear to God, Vlad..."
The youngest half-ghost glared at the both of them before transforming and hovering between them. "WHAT DID SHE SAY?"
Both men winced. "Dan, don't yell," his mother scolded.
"Sorry," Dan muttered, not sounding sorry at all. "But what did she say about Jenna?"
That seemed to sober the younger man up. "Ah... well, you can still see your friend. And talk to her. But there's gonna be some... conditions."
"Conditions?" both Vlad and Dan repeated.
"Yeah. You're... not allowed over at the Gray's house anymore, Dan. And Jenna's not allowed here, either. Nothing outside classroom time. She's not even letting Jenna feed the class rabbit in the mornings on the same days as you."
Dan shook his head as the explanation sunk in. "N-No! But Mom, she sits all the way across the room during class because she talks too much! That means we'd only see each other at recess!"
"Yeah, I know, Dan."
"And what about us building stuff with Dad!"
"Dan, I -"
"And flying with her Aunt Dani!"
"DAN! I know, okay? But I didn't set the rules this time!"
The boy scowled, flying closer to his mom. "Well, tell Jenna's mom to change the rules!"
"Dan," a stern voice from behind him made him start. He turned towards his father. "Things are not going to change just because we want them to." Vlad's face softened, and the saddened expression on his father's otherwise blank face made him uneasy. "Son, some people just don't tolerate ghosts. That's a fact of life that you have to learn to accept. Valerie Gray is one of the dangerous humans that we've discussed; she hates that half of us. She's not going to be friends with your mother any more than she's going to change her mind about letting your friend come over."
The boy had a horribly distressed look in his eyes before that look turned into angry determination. He ignored Danny socking Vlad in the arm while hissing, "How can you be that blunt with him, you insensitive jerk!"
Dan quickly grabbed the living room phone from its cradle, dialing one of the few numbers that he'd actually committed to memory. As soon as he heard the click from the other line, Dan answered, "Hi, is Jenna there?"
That finally turned his parents' attention back to him, but he flew above their heads as they both simultaneously made to grab the phone from him. "...You're the ghost kid, aren't you?"
The young halfa frowned in confusion, both at her detached tone and at the way she addressed him. He ignored the cries from below him to hang up the phone. "It's Dan. Jenna's best friend," he answered in an obvious tone.
He heard a weary and annoyed sigh on the other end of the line. "Just as well. I really didn't think your... mother," she spat out the word with pure venom, "would tell it to you like it is."
"You have no right to call this house. The only reason Jenna isn't switching schools is for her sake, not yours or Danny's. I'm only doing this to keep her happy until she grows out of that friendship."
"She's not gonna! Jenna said she'd always be my friend, and it's not fair that she can't come over now for no reason!"
"Oh, there's a reason, alright. The reason is that you're a ghost, and you're a danger to my daughter – and Amity Park."
Dan's eyes glowed ever more intensely as the conversation went on. He went intangible as his father, in his ghost form, went to grab the phone from him again. "I'm not gonna hurt anyone, though! And neither are my parents! What about our human sides? Jenna's Aunt Dani has a human side, too!"
She scoffed. "Look, kid, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your parents have already hurt people. Danielle is none of your business, but know that as a rule which she's proved time and again she's not a part of, ghosts are not good."
"Yes, they are!" The boy grew more and more frustrated with the argument by the second, clenching the phone between his gloved hands harder than necessary as he turned into a green cloud of ectoplasm which neither of his parents could touch.
"I don't have time for this! Look, you wanted an explanation for why I'm not letting you see Jenna like you want? It's because I'm sick of ghosts playing with me! I have more than enough evidence to know that ghosts are evil, and that's a fact! Don't call this number again."
Dan stared at the phone as the dial tone made his sensitive ears buzz, a storm of emotion in his scarlet eyes which darted nervously around the room.
"Ghosts are malevolent beings, usually described as ectoplasmic manifestations of post-human consciousness." That was what the books at school said, right? And the news reports and websites.
And the way his father described the word to him when he had asked what it meant not long ago...
Malevolent: malicious, wicked, hurtful.
Dan flinched violently as he felt arms wrap around him, realizing he'd lost his unpracticed cloud form as the phone was taken from his hands. He phased out of his mother's black-suited arms and flew backwards until he bumped into the chandelier.
"I-I don't get it!"
His mother paused, a worried look clear on his face. His father's ghostly form suddenly floated up to hover next to the other man. "Dan, sweetie, it's going to be alright," his mom tried to comfort.
Dan could do nothing but shake his head in confusion. "I don't get it!" he repeated. "I never hurt Ms. Gray!"
"Of course you didn't!"
Finally, it was all too much, and Dan turned intangible before skyrocketing through the ceiling to lock himself away in his room.
"Or I could just destroy you now and prevent this future," Vlad said, a crazed look in his eyes. "Didn't think of that, did you?"
Danny backed away a step, eyeing the Ghost Gauntlets with fear now. "N-No! I already stopped this future! ...Didn't I?"
In the second it had taken Danny to blink, the bearded Vlad was no more, and in his place was Plasmius, still holding the glowing Ghost Gauntlets and approaching him menacingly. Danny turned around to get away, but immediately bumped into a figure which then wrapped their arms around him. Softened red eyes met startled green ones, and Danny was hypnotized as those eyes turned a brilliant magenta. He could feel his own eyes turn red, and he exhaled happily as Vlad drew him in closer.
"I won't turn into him, Vlad. I promised," he said quietly before leaning in and capturing his mate's lips in a soft kiss. He was in ecstasy, pure bliss before Vlad pulled away and looked him in the eye with a soft smile. A smile which quickly turned into a grimace and made Danny frown in confusion.
"It's neither you nor I who are of importance here, Daniel. It is not what becomes of us, but rather the prevention of this!"
And then Vlad swiped at him. Gauntlets connected with his insides, where his chest was, and he felt something ripped violently from him. A familiar agony wracked Danny's body, tearing a scream from his throat, before it stopped just as abruptly as it had begun.
Danny opened his eyes from his prone position on the floor of Vlad's decimated underground lab. He looked around for any sign of the billionaire, either aged or in his ghost form or otherwise. What he found instead, however, knocked the breath out of him.
There, lying not two feet from him, was the unmistakable figure of his son, the same glow as the gaunlets surrounding his body before it faded away. His black hair was out of its messy ponytail and sticking to his pale face with a sticky red substance, which was also caked in a trail leading from his mouth. Blood.
"No," Danny whispered incredulously, crawling over to his ten year old son and leaning down to move the hair out of his face. "Dan? Son? Honey, wake up!"
Taking the boy in his arms, Danny cradled him close to his chest and shook him a little to try and get a reaction. When he went to move hair out of his face again, he paused and realized he felt no breath being exhaled. His heart suddenly felt like it had ruptured, his core like it was on fire and burning him.
A silent scream died in his throat and tears welled up in his eyes. "No, no, no, no, no..." he said over and over again. "This isn't – this is a dream, a nightmare, it's not real, it's -"
Danny quickly turned around to where he had heard his son's voice, only to scream at the face which was suddenly inches from his own.
Glowing scarlet eyes with nothing but pure, unadulterated malice in them. Dead, dead eyes.
"What's the matter, Mommy?" Dark Dan Phantom said in his normal baritone, a smirk drawing up on his lips. "Don't you like me now that I'm all grown up?"
Danny shook his head frantically and choked on a sob. He went to hold his son tighter to him, but there was no longer anyone in his arms. He screamed, terrified. Then he screamed again. "N-No! No! Please! Please, please, please, no! Oh God, p-please!"
He was backing away now, crawling backwards on hands and feet trying to get away from the monster in front of him – from the monster that was not his son! Oh, God. His son!
The man gasped in surprise when he bumped into something, twisting around and whimpering at the sight that met him. "V-Vlad!"
It was Vlad in his human form, though he did not have a long beard or such deep bags under his eyes. His blue eyes, though, were just as haunted as the earlier Vlad's had been. He was covered in mud, blood, and ectoplasm, and staring pleadingly at him.
"Daniel... what have we done?" he choked out before dissolving into a puddle of ectoplasm. Danny's eyes widened and he lunged forward, hands clawing at the puddle as if trying to get some form out out it. All the while, he was screaming without reserve. For his mate, for his son, for anyone...
Danny shot up in bed. He was quickly hyperventilating and could only gasp for breath, a hand covering his mouth and his eyes shut tight. He heard someone yelling at him in the background, but he was frantic and couldn't have listened if he tried.
The sudden assault of incense, peppermint, and the ocean made him take one last sharp inhale before a whimper died down in his throat and his eyes snapped open. The first thing he saw was a very worried and annoyed pajama-clad Vlad.
"Are you quite awake, now?" Vlad snapped irately. Danny stared at the man, his hands moving on their own and grabbing Vlad's face in between them. "...Daniel?"
The man turned Vlad's head this way and that, checking for blood stains and making sure the man was indeed real. As Danny calmed down, the man's eyes turned from their bright magenta back into their normal blue, making the spell disappear and allowing Danny to think clearly once more.
Once he began to do so, he realized that he was in bed, and that the horrible ordeal he had just gone through had been nothing but a nightmare. He realized with embarrassment that Vlad had been watching him toss and turn throughout his dream (Vlad had a strange knack of showing up whenever he had a nightmare, the creep). Then, he realized he was still holding the man's face.
In a second, he pulled his hands away as if Vlad's face had burned him and pressed himself into the headboard. He looked away to glare angrily at his comforter, a furious blush covering his face. He tried to come up with something to say but words failed him in this more than awkward situation. All the while, he could feel the other man's eyes burning into him, their sickening worry and love all too clear in his mind.
An awkward silence passed between them, Vlad staring at the thrown-about comforter while trying to come up with something to say that wouldn't aggravate the younger man. He opened his mouth to ask the other hybrid if he needed anything, but was interrupted by yet another scream coming from the other end of the hall, obviously loud to have carried all the way into Danny's room.
Growling in frustration, Vlad quickly stood up and looked between Danny and the door. The younger hybrid was looking at him with pleading eyes, which Vlad understood all too well. They clearly said that Danny was not in any state to be dealing with Dan's nightmares on top of his own. It worried Vlad, but he appreciated the rare instance of trust and hastily made his way to his son's room.
As Vlad's footsteps receded, Danny relaxed a little. Still, the tension didn't leave him completely, his wide-awake brain jumbled with a plethora of questions and doubts. He had to fight the urge to barge into his son's room and check up on him after the wretched dream, considering the boy had just obviously awoken from his own nightmare and Danny wasn't in the best shape himself, on edge and still shaking despite what Vlad had done to calm him down.
Danny let out a long, weary breath and lay back in bed, staring at the ceiling as if it held all the answers.
And it was answers he needed, after that heart-stopping and shocking dream following such a trying day.
It wasn't the bits with Dan that worried him – those made him feel more nauseous than anything – but the parts involving Vlad. The man's recurring, if racy presence in his dreams was nothing new, but to lose him in dream form just as he'd lost his family and friends countless times was. He could only blame the day's incident with Valerie. Still, he blamed Vlad for the mating portions of it. Danny was sure that Vlad calling to him had been the thing to trigger that. Naturally, his thoughts then drifted to what had caused Vlad to be that desperate in the first place.
"Fuck!" he swore in frustration. "Fucking Valerie!"
He thought he could've had something with Valerie, something special and normal. But obviously, that was where he had gone wrong. There was no normal for him. There hadn't been normal for him since he had been a stupid teenager thinking it was a smart idea to mess around with his parents' inventions.
But then, whose fault was this whole mess? He could blame Vlad, but although he had pushed Danny over the edge on more than one occasion, he hadn't been the one to think getting into such dangerous territory would be a good idea. Danny had been simply flirting with disaster whenever he'd tried to get together with Valerie in the past, so why should it have been any different thirteen years later? Ah, lucky thirteen. Of course. Especially considering the fact that things were so much more complicated on his side now than they were back then, and that was saying something.
That should have been his first clue. The second should have been the secrecy. That was mostly his fault, too. He gave her the idea, and she decided it'd be wonderful to just go with it for a little bit longer. But secret upon secret piled on top of each other like they all had been – just what was he thinking? His and Vlad's ghost sides, his relationship with Danielle, his son's real mother and father, his apparent ability to birth ghosts... geez, he didn't even know how he was able to keep up with it all on a daily basis!
Now that everything was over and he was able to put it into perspective, he realized what a horrible match he and Valerie were for each other. Valerie had her own secrets, after all, and they were distinctly more vicious and dangerous than all of his own combined, if only because of the grudges and revenge she'd been harboring for half her life. Was he really that desperate to get Vlad out of his head that he would not only get himself into such a situation but at the risk of a valuable friendship?
...Yes. He was.
A sick feeling settled into his stomach, and he gave a shaky sigh. It had never been Vlad's fault! It was his own! And in that situation, he'd placed them all in danger. His son had gotten hurt – in more ways than one – and the father of his child could've potentially gotten killed if it wasn't for...
That stupid bastard called me, he thought with spite that seemed unwittingly bittersweet. Just like Dan.
And it had indeed been just the same. The feeling had been just as surreal, intense, and painful as when Dan would constantly call for help as a baby. It was the same as when Dan had contacted him and Vlad through their familial core energy link, not even a year ago when a classmate had trapped him in a cramped art museum storage room with a human-ghost shield (courtesy of city upgrades by the new mayor and, of course, the Red Huntress).
Then there were the very words that had uncontrollably flooded his mind then, that had come from his very mouth. To protect his "family, offspring, and mate." Three words which he didn't dare think unless they were under a scientific pretense. He never wanted to consider anything with Vlad a family, and the other two were primitive and self-explanatory. But that didn't erase the circumstances, nor what had caused everything to come crashing down as it had.
"Vlad's my mate," he said to himself, a humorless laugh which was more of a scoff escaping him. Through the unease and defeat, he thought he also felt a sliver of relief.
Glad to hear we're finally on the same page, where acceptance is concerned.
"Shut up!" Danny snapped at the little voice that had taken to contradicting him in his internal dialogues.
You're talking to yourself, you know.
"No, I'm not. I'm talking to my ghost side which has made itself persistently more annoying."
We're the same person!
"We're obviously not!"
He almost heard the internal sigh that followed his words echo in his head.
If you say so. But please let's just keep the little admission that Vlad is your mate. Before you go crazy. Crazier. Whatever.
Danny was about to clamp up again as more thoughts about the billionaire surfaced, but he hesitated and instead sighed them away. He really was exhausted. Not just because of the fact that it was two-thirty in the morning, but also from all the lies and insane responsibilities he had to keep up with. He had scarce energy to deal with fighting with his ghost half as he had been for years.
Even after the accident, Danny had never pictured the best years of his life spent like this. Not a single detail fit into what he had thought would be his life at twenty-eight, from living with his arch-enemy who was also in love with him, to being a sixth grade teacher with meager pay, to having a son who was just a year shy of starting middle school.
Thoughts of his son brought a bucket of cold ice crashing down on his insides. He also would never have imagined himself failing a child of his like he had Dan. He had made a promise to keep his son happy and to teach him good, to keep him from any pain and suffering that he might encounter so that he would remain untainted by reality until Danny thought he was ready. But he'd made a lot of promises, hadn't he? And most of them, he'd either broken or was on his way to breaking through sheer individual fault.
Now, Danny was convinced it was all his fault. If he hadn't brought Valerie into their lives like he had, Dan wouldn't have gotten hurt, right? After all, there might have been a chance that Valerie would forgive him if he hadn't gone so far with her. He'd still have her treasured friendship, and everyone would have remained unharmed. He was worse than the worst of Vlad, because Vlad was practically selfless when it came to Dan.
His human development classes in college had done nothing to make the Catch-30 stage of his life any less unpleasant, or his future any more stable. In fact, Danny would say that, at twenty-eight years old, he felt more like teenager than he ever had when he actually was one. Meanwhile, his ghost side was reaching the stage of full maturity, reaching its full potential and becoming more detached from his human side than ever before. Running into the Fenton Ghost Catcher a few months ago had proved that.
He couldn't imagine the same thing had happened to Vlad. Vlad Plasmius may be psychotic, narcissistic, manipulative, and whatever other adjectives Danny cared to throw in there – but he was not indecisive, and he was not unsure. It was obvious to Danny that Vlad's two sides were perfectly in sync with each other. So why couldn't he have the same? Was it his fault, or his ghost side's? The way things were going, the answer leaned unfavorably towards Danny Fenton.
A door slammed in the hallway, followed by Vlad's frantic voice. Danny shut his eyes. With a shake of his head and a sigh, he called up green ectoplasm, opening his eyes to stare at it in hopes that the soft green glow would ease him into sleep once again.
His door creaked open, and Vlad peeked his head in. Danny was about to ask if Dan was alright, but Vlad beat him to a similar question. "Are you alright in here, Daniel?"
Worry creases lined his face, even through the darkness, as Danny's ghost vision let him see. Vlad was worrying over Dan. Over their son.
"Yeah," he croaked in a strained voice. "I'm fine. Just trying to fall asleep again."
He snuffed out the ball of ectoplasm before straightening the covers and staring up at the ceiling as he'd been doing for the past several minutes. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Vlad take a step forward, before he seemed to change his mind and withdrew again into the hallway.
"Alright, then. Try and get a some sleep. I'll check up on Dan later. Goodnight, little badger."
The door closed, but Vlad's suffocating presence remained in the room.
In that moment, he realized that he didn't just fear his ghost side. For so long, he had thought his steely resolve lay in remaining true to himself, to his human side first and foremost, and in not giving in to his powerful ghost half. But in reality, he realized that much beyond that, he feared his mating instincts which Phantom signified. He feared the ghost in the back of his mind. He feared Vlad and the relationship they were allegedly supposed to have.
He feared what they were able to create together, and he feared that he would not be able to keep that intact.
His father was on his bed not thirty seconds after he had woken up, a scream torn from his throat and tears rollling down his cheeks.
"M-Ms. Gray! Jenna!" he cried on instinct, the last remnants of his troubling dream before he began to get his bearings. His father growled next to him.
"First your mother and now you. I'll kill that wretched woman! No doubt that ordeal was enough to give anyone nightmares!" Vlad ranted under his breath as he rubbed Dan's back.
The boy took a moment to calm down, though he instantly panicked again when his dad's words hit him and reminded him of the reasons he'd had the dream he'd just awoken from.
Dan's nightmare had begun as it always did, but it quickly descended into something right out of his current life, much less terrifying yet more troubling at the same time. Valerie shooting at him, giving an ultimatum, telling him he could either give up his ghost half and be friends with Jenna or he would have to be locked away so he would never come into contact with her.
"But I'm a ghost, too! I don't wanna be just human!" he remembered pleading.
"Too bad, then. I'll just destroy all of you!" Valerie had said.
"Yeah," Jenna had said, suddenly besides her mother. "Ghosts are scum, Dan. They don't even need friends! Just be human so we can be friends!"
And when he'd continued pleading, Valerie had literally pulled the ghost right out of him and ripped his ghost side apart molecule by molecule. He didn't remember the circumstances or the place, but he remembered the disgusted voices of ghosts he knew, telling him that there was no use helping a weak human who could not control his weaker emotions. Then everyone had turned into monsters, making fun of him and closing in. And that's when he had woken up.
Dan shook his head, the feeling of his dad's arms wrapped around him making him inexplicably panic even more. For some reason, he felt like he couldn't – shouldn't be taking comfort like he was. So he pushed Vlad away with as much force as his ten year old human self could muster.
"Dad, are we ghosts or humans?" Dan asked in a single breath.
The eldest half-ghost looked shocked for a second, surprised that his son would push him away after a nightmare. It wasn't like Dan at all. "Son, what's wrong?"
He made to put an arm around the boy again, but Dan flinched back and looked at him with a steely glint in his eyes. "Are we ghosts or humans?" he repeated.
Vlad shook his head in confusion at the odd question – or at least odd for the current circumstances. "You know we're hybrids, Dan -"
"No! We're either human here because people want to hurt ghosts, or we're ghosts in the Ghost Zone because humans don't belong with ghosts! The only one they call a halfa is Mom!"
"What are you talking about, Dan?"
Dan deflated. Truthfully, he had no idea. He had never felt so confused in his life! He didn't even know what he was confused about, and it made him frustrated to the point of tears. For some reason, he also felt frightened of his confusion.
"We are both human and ghost, son," Vlad began gently. "In some ways, we're blessed to be part of both of these. Ghosts don't get the rich lives and opportunities humans do, and humans obviously don't have the powers and joys that come with being a ghost."
The boy sighed and bit his lip, lying back down on his bed and facing away from his father. "Then why do we have to pretend we're not ghosts to other humans? Like the dumb kids at school and Jenna's mom?"
Vlad stiffened. Leaning over his son and petting the boy's head, he answered, "We've gone over this before, and unfortunately that answer still hasn't changed. People just wouldn't understand -"
"Well, why don't they just try to understand?"
The man sighed wearily. "That's just how humans are, lapushka. There's no way around it."
"B-But why? I don't g-get it!" Dan snapped, fresh tears welling up in his eyes and running down his face. He grabbed the pillow next to it and held it tight, the huge bed feeling forboding in his distress.
Vlad grimaced at the sight, wanting nothing more than to make his son ignorant of the prejudice that they were doomed to live with. He never thought he'd want his children to be unaware and unenlightened of human nature, to think good of the world like Danny was inclined to, but if this was the result of realism...
"I want Jenna's mom to accept us, and I wanna be Jenna's friend outside of school," Dan said in a demanding tone.
Suddenly, Vlad grew angry. "Alright, it's about time I said something. Ms. Gray has nothing to do with you, Dan, and now she has nothing to do with your mother, either. You are to forget about her. You can see your little friend in school, but you also have friendships outside of her – other ghosts, for instance -"
The young half-ghost sat up, almost knocking into Vlad in the process. "But you've always said I could have whatever I wanted if it made me happy! Well, for starting -"
"For starters," Vlad corrected.
"Whatever. I want Jenna to hang out with me like I can hang out with Box Lunch."
Vlad frowned in frustration. "I'm not going to say it again -"
"Then, I wanna be able to call you Dad in front of people and call Mom, Mom!"
The man paused, his every retort dying with his son's words as they struck a chord inside him. He wanted it as well, but it couldn't be helped. Dan knew that. "Dan, you know why we can't do that..." He sighed and ran a hand through his loose white hair. "I know it's hard to understand right now," he began gently, "but once you're older, things will start to make more sense."
Dan blocked out his dad's gentle voice as the man kept going. He looked away in a quiet huff, biting his lips and digging his fingers into his pillow. He was angry and frustrated. And where was his mom in all this? He didn't want to talk anymore, he didn't want to hear his dad spout the same old things about understanding when he got older, when humans never understood anything no matter how old they got! He just wanted to curl up at his mother's side, to be comforted while things turned better and good like they were supposed to be.
"You can't bring them back, so the least you can do is get rid of my feelings for them! You promised to help me, Vlad!"
The strange words from an unknown conversation filtered through his mind as they sometimes did when he was under stress. He couldn't explain it, but the littlest half-ghost suddenly felt a surge of unadulterated rage and helplessness course through him. The anxiety welled up in his chest until it hurt to breath. All of a sudden, he didn't want his father in the room anymore. All of a sudden, he wanted to be alone. Alone for the rest of forever, forever and ever. He no longer wanted to see Jenna, or anybody else besides that vague longing for his mother. And why wasn't he in the room instead of his dad? Didn't his mom care about him anymore? Was he scared of his nightmares, more scared than usual?
"Lapushka, are you alright?"
Dan startled as his father placed a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up into the man's blue eyes. Dan suddenly became aware of the feeling of his eyes glowing red. But again, there came that longing to be alone. "Get out of my room!" he snapped before he even realized he'd thought the words.
Vlad's eyes widened at his son's forceful voice and demand. Before he could come up with anything, Dan had turned ghost and was pushing at Vlad's unmoving body. He frowned. "That's enough! Now, you're going to tell me what exactly is wrong! Son, I just want to help!"
The boy stopped, his glare more furious than ever. "Get out of my room! It's my room, and I don't want nobody else in it!"
"Yes, but it's my house and I'm your father! We either work this out or -"
Without warning, Dan bounded under the covers, his head buried under two thick pillows. And then he began to shriek something akin to his Ghostly Wail in pitch, his voice not carrying out far because of the pillows muffling it. Vlad winced and resisted the urge to cover his ears as the boy threw his tantrum, kicking the covers around with his flailing spectral tail.
"Daniel Vladimir Fenton-Masters, stop this right now or you'll be in more trouble than you can imagine!" His visage changed from angry to inherently worried when Dan only kept on screaming, only interrupted by the equally muffled sounds of coughing and half-hearted sobs. "Dan, just calm down. Dan, please calm down."
And Vlad did. He didn't know what else to do! His presence was obviously upsetting the poor boy, and all he wanted to do was stop his son's distress at this point! He spent some time pleading with his son from the hallway, wondering if Dan could even hear him through the closed door. Eventually, his sensitive ghost hearing picked up the sound of rustling covers through the thankfully quiet room, with no more screaming inside. Just the occasional sniffle. Vlad stared at the door in indecision before deciding to come check on Dan in five or ten minutes, after he made sure Danny was okay – and that he hadn't heard anything just now. It wouldn't do to have Danny angry at him for the disaster that comforting Dad had been.
Inside the bedroom, everything was plunged into silence the instant the door closed. Peeking his head out from under the covers, the lack of light became obvious and frightening. Previous feelings of animosity faded, and Dan realized too late that he didn't really want to be alone in the big, dark room.
He gasped as he saw a shadow move out of the corner of his eye – though it was only the gentle swaying shadow of a tree in the moonlight. He ducked his head under the covers again and conjured up a ball of ectoplasm, bathing the haven under the black and yellow Batman sheets in neon green light.
Dan suddenly couldn't help but want either of his parents with him again, just to get rid of the fear he felt which was making the ectoplasm in his hand flicker wildly. Not to mention the confused thoughts running through his head, all of them focused on the fact that it wasn't fair!
He'd known what a secret was ever since he could remember. He knew that secrets were more important than anything, that they had to be kept... well, secret.
Secrets were what had made Valerie mad – beyond mad, actually. And apparently, everyone had to have a secret. He'd always thought there were no secrets within his family, since there were already so many secrets they had to keep outside of it, but his mother had proved him wrong. His mother had been Valerie's boyfriend without telling anyone. He was so confused, he just decided to ignore that angry and sad feeling that someone had done him wrong.
Now, at least he understood that things were wrong, despite everyone telling him he never would until he got older. But nobody else besides him understood, now. Not his parents, not his classmates, not even his friends – ghost or human.
Dan sighed. "I don't even have any friends besides Jenna! And the ghosts don't want to be my friends because I'm not allowed to do the stuff ghosts do," he complained to the empty room.
That was it! If he were a full ghost, he would have more friends than if he were half-ghost. If his parents and him were all ghosts, they could live in the Ghost Zone and do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted! They wouldn't have to keep any secrets, and they would be like every other ghost out there – only more powerful.
But he would've never met Jenna... Did that even matter anymore, though? Valerie had made herself clear, after all. And Jenna had other friends in school; they were really only so close because of the time they spent outside of the classroom, where Dan was free to be both a human and a ghost.
He was different, and different was a bad thing. But he didn't want to be different! He didn't want to be in between human and ghost if he couldn't be free to be both! He was even different from other ghosts, though. He'd heard his parents talking about it one day. All because of the nightmares he had and weird stuff he saw or heard in his head. In the movies, that would mean he was crazy, but his parents didn't think he was.
In fact, they seemed to know exactly what was wrong with him to be so different. They were his parents, after all. They knew everything... but they would never tell him any of it! Once again, it wasn't fair at all.
"I don't know why they can't just understand and make things better," he whined to himself, his speech slurred by the sleepiness that was quickly overcoming him yet again. He wasn't entirely sure who "they" were, as he began losing the battle to stay awake and alert in fear that something or someone would harm him in the darkness of the vast bedroom. With his eyes closed, he ventured to peek his head out from under the covers to escape the suffocating air underneath.
Dan felt the icy-hot red mist of his ghost sense drift out through his nose, but didn't bother to key into the energy signature. It was most likely his mom or dad. Maybe if he pretended to be asleep, they would go away and let him be...
"I can be your friend, little one. I understand," a voice whispered in his ear. Dan cracked his eyes open, and the last thing he saw through blurry vision before falling asleep was a glowing green luna moth sitting atop his bedroom dresser.
End Notes: Well, our favorite hybrids certainly have some tricky times ahead of them! Sorry if this chapter was on the boring side, but things are ready to pick up now! That last scene with Dan and Vlad took me at least two weeks to write where I didn't completely hate it, I kid you not.
Valerie: Don't judge her too harshly. As I said to a couple reviewers, yes she's being... well, a bitch, but she's got a right (to some degree). She was in love with a guy who's lied to her about being what she hates most, while also having an intimate connection with the ghost she considers her worst enemy which also borders on infidelity. And I could keep going like that. Just saying, as far as humans or half-humans are concerned, there's not really a "bad guy" in this story or situation.
Danny and Vlad: Keep in mind that Danny still doesn't equate mates and lovers to be the same thing, so semantics are important here. But yes – progress is slowly but surely being made between the two.
"Running into the Fenton Ghost Catcher a few months ago had proved that." – Yup, you've got that one coming as a oneshot next. Finishing this up first helped me with it, I must say. And as the trend goes, it won't be nearly as serious as this chapter was, I assure you.
Psst... reviews make me squee with happiness and get me through my finals! ^.^