This one is for everyone who's been disappointed with the lack of Pompous Pep updates on this site. I understand, darlings. ;-;

OOO

Scared.

I'm so scared.

Why is it so scary here?

Blackness, blackness. Everywhere. Nowhere. It is Dark. It is scary.

When did it become so dark? Where are you now?

Where will you be?

It screams. You cannot hear it but you know it is screaming. You can feel it.

You know this voice. Where have you heard this before?

It is coming closer. It is moving out there in the darkness.

GET IT AWAY FROM ME! NO! GET IT—

No sight, no sound. It is moving again. How do you know? Oh! Listen. It is closer.

No use in running; you can't run from this. You can't run from me.

Hands. Cold icy dry. Why are they touching you? Shift, shift. It has moved again.

STOP, PLEASE! DON'T-! LET GO!

Cold grip squeezes your chest. It is holding your heart.

I won't let go. I'm not like you. I am not a FAILURE. I won't ABANDON them.

NO! I didn't! I'll fix it. I'll make everything better! I'll fix it! I'LL FIX IT!

Blackness, Blackness. His eyes keep switching; Blue, Red, Blue, Red. It is like a clock. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

"What's the matter little Badger?"

SHUT UP! SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! DON'T YOU DARE!

Grip. Squeeze. Tear. Shred. Fear. Tick. Tick. Tick.

DON'T TOUCH ME!

Falling. Tick. Falling. Tick. Falling. Tick.

Time's up.

OOO

"Wake UP, you little-!" a hand hit him roughly on the side of the head, much too large and firm to belong to Sam. He'd nearly swatted it away, but the voice the hand belonged to seemed so very familiar, he couldn't resist opening his eyes to see who had spoken.

Imagine his surprise when he saw a pair of red, glowing orbs on an angry blue face. He was, in fact, so stunned, that it had taken him back to the dream he'd been having. For a moment, he was tempted to reach out and touch the ghost—to see if perhaps he was still dreaming. Yet… a part of him didn't want to know. So instead, he gathered his courage, and in a meek, disbelieving voice, he said:

"…Vlad?"

Something changed on Vlad's face at the sound of Danny's voice. He was not, by any means, less serious or angry, but it was as if the word that had once died on his lips was suddenly reanimated; forced out, cold, and indescribably haunting.

Danny would have made a crack about vampires, but now hardly seemed like the time.

"Daniel."

The fire in his eyes vanished all at once, replaced with a familiar icy stare. They sat like that for a moment, staring at each other; neither making a move. A thousand questions raced through Danny's mind, but none of them would form fully into words before disappearing again. He was about to speak; mumble a bit to break the silence, when Vlad's voice, calm and collected, sliced through the air once more.

"You said you wanted to talk." Vlad's eyes narrowed, silently searching for something. "Well… go on. I'm listening."

"…what?" Danny's eyebrow furrowed. "Why are you…?" Along came a pause, accompanied by a look of utter confusion. "…what?"

"Last night, just before I kicked you out, you said you wanted to talk about something." Vlad raised an eyebrow, but continued to frown. "Well, what is it?"

"I…" Danny trailed off, still stunned, before hopping off the bed and glancing around the room nervously. "Wh-where are Sam and Tucker?"

"Daniel." Vlad growled, the impatience clear in his voice. Danny took a deep breath, mentally chanting, 'Don't fuck this up. Don't fuck this up.' several times in his head.

"Could you like… sit down?" Danny bit his lip, and motioned towards the computer chair. Vlad blinked, but complied, waiting for Danny to continue. "Um, and… maybe revert to human form?"

"Why?" It wasn't a question, but a demand for reason. Danny looked at him apprehensively.

"It's sort of… er… distracting." Danny fidgeted. Because you're intimidating like that. Not because you're gorgeous. Vlad rolled his eyes, two black rings revolving around his body, and his ghostly aura dissipating.

"Fine. "

"Uh, well…" Danny rubbed his neck, sitting down directly across from Vlad onto the bed. "I guess… I should explain a little first."

OOO

Danny could still remember when he'd told Sam and Tucker about his feelings for Vlad. It hadn't been the first time he'd feared for his life, but it had certainly been the most uncomfortable.

"WHAT?"

"Dude!"

"YOU'RE JOKING! YOU MUST BE—"

"…Dude!"

"I MEAN, YOU AREN'T GAY! AND HE'S—HE'S—HE'S A—!"

"...HE'S A DUDE!"

Sam continued to shriek, and Danny sunk his face into his hands. Damn. He hadn't expected it would be easy, but how the hell was he supposed to explain when Sam kept screaming half sentences and Tucker was still stuck on the fact that the object of Danny's affections had a penis. Because the fact that he was a forty year old and Danny's arch nemesis where obviously not problems at all.

They were in a secluded section of the park, and night had yet to completely fall, leaving a thin line of orange glowing at the edge of the sky. It was where he and Tucker had met Sam in first grade, when their class had gone on a field day at the end of the year.

They had found her hunched up behind a thicket of thorn bushes, her hair a wild mess and mud caked onto her purple and white dress. Her knees were cut, and she'd had her face hidden away, as though she were crying. They had called out to her (like the good, Honorary Astro Rangers they were) and offered rescue, but when she looked up, they were both surprised to see her grinning like a fool.

Curiously, they had approached her. She beat them to the greeting, and promptly stood up, shoving both her open hands towards them.

"Wanna touch it?" She laughed, displaying a rather impressive looking centipede crawling around her thumb and twining itself around her fingers. Danny shrieked; Tucker fainted.

It had been the start of a beautiful friendship.

It was also, Danny decided, the only place he felt safe testing that friendship.

"—SHUT UP AND LET ME EXPLAIN." He yelled, clapping a hand over both their mouths. Tucker remained dumbfounded, but Sam glared indignantly at the treatment, slapping his hand away.

"How long?" She hissed, obviously displeased.

Well duh, he fought the urge to kick himself. You didn't think she was gonna smile and give her blessing, did you? He took a deep breathe, focusing his gaze on a single leaf of grass, began.

"I'm… not sure, really." He paused, going over the lines he'd rehearsed in his head. "It's been awhile I guess… I'm not sure exactly where it started…" He frowned. "Can I just… explain from the beginning?"

"Please do." She pursed her lip, but made no sound after that.

And so he told them.

He told them about how he'd initially he'd pitied Vlad after the cloning incident, and how angry he'd been at the thought of being replaced to the elder halfa, though he did not know why at the time. He told them about how the pranks he'd pulled that eventually made Vlad mayor were only started as an attempt to cheer him up; and (embarrassed beyond belief) how eventually the nude prank at the hotel had made his attraction to the man painfully clear. Tucker had made a choking sound at that, but he ignored it.

"But..!" Sam blurted out, looking much like a fish gasping for water. "You don't like guys! You like girls like… Valerie, and Paulina!" She said both names with disdain, but it didn't affect the disbelief in her voice. "I mean, it'd be one thing to say you're just homosexual… but only for Vlad? He's…! He's…!"

"Old!" Tucker blurted, looking hopelessly lost.

"—a narcissistic, contemptuous, conniving, egotistical asshole that's caused you nothing but trouble since the day you met!" Sam glared, and then added "And he is old! He's like your dad's age! "

He looked at them both, and then back down at his hands.

"I know, but… do you guys… remember the alternate timeline?" he rubbed his arm, and their faces went solemn.

"Yeah." Sam said quietly, looking away. "What about it?"

"In that timeline… Vlad abandoned everything—his schemes, his plots… for me. Because he had to be there for me. He… he even agreed to rip out my ghost half—"

"And that's a good thing?" Sam threw her hands up, exasperatedly. "Danny, that ended up destroying the world!"

"That's not the point I'm trying to get at, Sam!" Danny snapped, a bit irritated with her constant interruptions. "Vlad wants me to be a halfa. It's the only reason he's ever been interested in me, but…" She noticed his expression soften. "…he gave that up for me. He wanted put my happiness before his own needs. And… even during the cloning incident, he could have cloned anyone! He could have taken a blank clone… or himself… or even my mom, and just gave her ghost powers, but he didn't! He… he wanted me." He blushed a little, and Sam had to resist the urge to shove her fist into something.

"But…" Tucker finally said, slowly. "He… wants you to be his son, Danny. He doesn't like you like that. He wants your mo—"

"I know." Danny quickly cut him off, surprising both Tucker and Sam. "But… that doesn't change the way I feel. Even though it's pathetic and hopeless…" he shook his head, and looked back up at the two of them. "I still… you know?"

Sam grit her teeth. On one hand, she wanted to kick something really hard. She wanted to punch and scream and throw a hissy fit about how terrible a choice Vlad was, and scold Danny for falling in love with yet another person that would only end up hurting him.

Yet, on the other hand… it looked like Danny already knew all this. He had given up hope on his feelings, before he'd even told them. So why say anything in the first place?

"I… I don't get it, man. Why are you telling us all of this if you already know it's hopeless?" Tucker asked, almost as if he'd read her mind. She felt her heart twist when Danny made a face of utter heartbreak, looking much like he was about to cry. Before she could say anything though, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a beaten up shoe box, covered in stickers and duct tape and sharpie scribbling. She felt her breathe hitch at the sight of it.

"Why… do you have your Secret Chest?" She said warily, subconsciously moving a hand over heart. She glanced at Tucker, whose worry matched her own.

They had all sworn a pact to never bring out their chests… not unless the situation was absolutely dire. The last time any of them had seen Danny's chest was when Sam had changed schools for sixth grade. Even then, that had been a scheduled event that they'd planned two weeks ahead of time.

Danny said nothing, unsticking the duct tape and carefully opening the lid, sifting through the box before pulling out a bundle of folded yellow paper.

"This," Danny said quietly, running his fingers over the crinkles in the note. "is my Bucket List."

OOO

And he had thought that conversation was difficult.

He had stumbled through, and surprisingly enough, Vlad had not interrupted once, unless it was to ask him to repeat himself or to speak up.

"…You want to become my minion for a year, in exchange for me protecting your family while you're gone away to college?" Vlad blinked, clearly disbelieving. After a moment, he growled, feeling slightly insulted. "Daniel… that isn't what I offered you at all."

"Look, it was late and I— I mean, I wanted to get on your good side without… well…" Danny frowned, shifting uncomfortably on his bed. "I just… want to make sure they're going to be okay. All I want is for you to call off the attacks in Amity… and stay away from Dad." He paused, quickly adding, "Until I come back, at least. Then you can go back to—well, being you."

"And what happens if I say no?" Vlad crossed his legs, trying to ignore the last statement. Really, Daniel could be so oblivious. When was the last time he'd made a serious attempt at the fat oaf, anyway? Daniel hadn't noticed his change for the better at all! (Even if it was a bit on the slight side.)

"Then I won't go."

"Excuse me?" Vlad sat straight up, both his feet falling onto the carpet with a thud. He stared at the boy, speechless, while he continued on as though they were discussing the weather. He couldn't mean-

"I wasn't planning on starting college until January next year anyway… I still need to save up some more cash. " He sighed, scratching the back of his head, trying to ignore the way Vlad looked, completely dumb struck and wide eyed. It was almost cute. "I haven't told Mom or Dad I've been accepted yet, so… it's not like anyone's expecting—"

"Are you stupid, boy?" Vlad barked indignantly. He seemed… oddly flustered, Danny thought. "You can't throw away college for this pathetic little back water town!"

"Hey, you were mayor of this town, remember?" Danny snapped defensively, "Don't you have any pride?"

"Don't you?" Vlad shot back, making a few wild hand gestures."What, are you going to work at the Nasty Burger for the rest of your life?"

"You know, you've certainly got a critical point of view considering you're the deciding factor in all this. If you want me to go to college, all you've got to do is say yes." Danny gripped the edge of the bed, and met Vlad's eye with a challenging gaze.

They stared at each other a moment, until Vlad, growing slightly uncomfortable under Danny's unfaltering gaze tossed his head snootily to the side.

"I don't think so, boy." Vlad sneered bitterly. Danny raised an eyebrow. "I've offered you a place to stay time and time again, each ending with you being a stubborn little brat and losing your temper. You have never once treated me with any shred of respect. Too bad for you, Daniel Fenton, but the answer is—"

SCRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECCCHHH!

The noise was deafening, and accompanied a cool fog From Danny's lips and a hot steam through Vlad's. They twisted their necks towards the door, where the sound had come from, and gasped.

Phasing through the carpet, a large mass of black substance sat on the floor, seeping and dripping every which way, defying gravity. It grew tall and wide, nearly touching the ceiling. It bubbled for a second, just before two molten orange eyes popped open, and a gooey jaw unhinged. A lumpy string of substance detached from the body, resembling a finger pointing at Danny.

"HE IS THE ONE." It wheezed, sounding hoarse and crackly. "WE WILL TAKE HIM NOW."

OOO

"And then I grabbed the Jack o' Nine Tails and nabbed him!"

"That's fantastic, Dad." Jazz mumbled, picking bits of dried pancake batter out of her hair, while her father whizzed about the Lab, pulling things off shelves and not cleaning up in the least. "Look, I really think someone should go check up on Danny—"

"Aw, you worry too much, Jazzypants." He waved off the notion, sticking his eye up to the barrel of something, and then shaking it. When it did not react, he tossed it aside, moving to the next gadget. "I'm sure your mom's already on it, anyways."

"But-!"

"Hey princess, what do you think would make a better ghost scalpel?" He put a finger to his chin, and yanked down a box of parts. "An ecto laser, or a blade of reinforced ectoranium?"

"Wh-what do you need a scalpel for?" she replied, shaking very obviously, though her father did not notice it.

"Nothin', just your mom and I have our anniversary coming up, and I thought I'd get her something nice." He shrugged, and smiled. "She's so cute—always going on and on about 'dissecting the ghost boy for the sake of science'. We both know when I get my hands on him, I'm going to tear him apart, molecule by molecule!" He grinned triumphantly, and Jazz was thankful she hadn't had any pancakes, or they'd be on the floor about now.

"Hey, Jazzerincess? You okay? You don't look so hot."

"I'm fine!" she waved, a fake smile plastered onto her face. "Don't mind me, just a little… excited about all your recent… er, ghost findings."

"Really? Cause I gotta tell yah, there's a dozen more-!" Jack beamed, shoving boxes back into cupboards. "You know—but that ghost kid sure is interesting! Maybe I'll cut a sample out for Maddie to study before I destroy him." She felt her gag reflex act up again, but found it easier to repress.

"Oh really…?" she said weakly, feeling a bit woozy in the knees.

"Yeah! His ectoplasmic energy levels have been off the charts lately!" He scratched his chin. "It's funny. Ghosts don't usually gain power unless they have a group of minions to draw it from. That way, they never overload. I've never seen a solitary ghost change levels so sporadically…"

"Overload…?" Jazz blinked, suddenly curious. "What do you mean by that?"

"Ah, well… ghosts are like… balloons! …Sort of… " He frowned, thinking heavily. "when you blow up a balloon, you do it at a certain rhythm, right? Well, ghosts are the same way… they have distinct energy patterns… and if you put too much energy in one ghost at a time… it, well… pops." Jazz grimaced.

"…It pops?" She said, horrified. "You don't mean… literally, right?"

"I dunno, Jazzeroo." He shrugged. "Can't say I've ever seen it myself. Hey, wait! That gives me a great idea!" He clapped his hands together and twisted around, surprisingly graceful for his size. He bent down, disappearing only for a second, and then emerged again with an old moleskin journal. He flipped it open to a random page, and began to scribble something down. "What if we could speed up the weird energy cycles, and make him pop on purpose! I bet that would be cool!"

Jazz was mortified, backing into the counter behind her. He hands clawed at it for support, and she couldn't even be bothered to care about whatever the sticky substance between her fingers was. In her mind's eye came visions of Danny being inflated like some sick balloon until… until…

POP!

She bit back a yelp, twisting away suddenly and falling against the panel of the ghost portal. Before she realized it, the doors had slid open and closed again, if only for a brief moment. She pulled herself away immediately, and almost swore she saw something move from the corner of her eye. Yet, when she turned, the room was empty save for her and her father.

"…Jazz? Jazzypants? Hello?" Jack waved his fingers, and she looked up at him, startled.

"Uh… yeah. Hold that thought, dad. I have to, um… go to the bathroom." She whizzed past him, so quickly that he did not see her swipe the Fenton Peeler off of the counter.

Whatever you're planning, Vlad...!

OOO

I thought about making it longer cause I made you wait so long.

But I'm lazy, so that didn't happen.

(Note: When you guys update your fics, it makes me want to update mine. Just sayin')