A/N: First of all, I would like to royally apologize for not updating this fan fiction with the finishing wrap up chapter for a full month! ML and I feel completely awful. It's both our faults, but mostly mine, and we apologize to all you wonderful and supportive readers. Just know that a lot of things delayed the both of us, and we're really thankful for all your patience. You guys are awesome! So without saying anymore, here's the final chapter! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I only have to say it one more time. ML and I don't own anything Danny Phantom. Everything else is ours.
Previously In The Collector: Lots of things happened. It was the awesome and final takedown of the Collector! Melody and Ryder started the fire, and after a long and grueling battle with their adversary, Danny tricked the Collector before beating the ghost to a pulp. Now we get to flash ahead and peek into the lives of our four freed captives and how they integrate back into their normal lives.
Chapter 33 A Toast of a Lifetime
The apartment was dim, warm, and lonely when Melody used the key she knew was poorly hidden in the mailbox beside the door to let herself in. She had tried knocking, but nobody had answered. Melody feared the worst.
Heart wedged in her throat, the girl timidly looked around the small living room and stuffy kitchen space that greeted her. The furniture was old and beat up, but Melody instantly recognized it because she had helped Matthew pick out and move the scruffy furnishings into the place when he first bought the apartment. That meant he was here.
Sure enough, walking deeper into the room, Melody almost gasped when she found Matthew stretched out on the floor on his back, dead asleep. Two stacks of papers he was grading for the 8th grade science class he was teaching sat beside him, half finished. In his hand he held a paper, behind his ear was an uncapped red pen, and in his mouth was the cap.
Smiling somberly, Melody realized he was just as cute and lovely as she remembered him. She almost didn't want this moment to end. She almost just wanted to remember as she saw him now, walk out the door, and spare herself any heartache. Then again, the rewards to staying and discovering the truth rooted her firmly to the ground. She had to know if he was willing to still love her.
Matthew looked much older than the girl. He was somewhere in his early 30's with a tuff of unkept dark brown hair, a pair of thick black-rimmed glasses that were now askew on his face, a sharp nose and jaw line, and the starting of a scruffy beard.
"The ugly beard is new," Melody said quietly while placing a hand on the side of her face to prevent herself from crying.
As if hearing her, Matthew stirred, slowly waking up as he looked around in a groggy daze while propping himself up on his elbows and taking the cap out of his mouth. Spotting Melody standing nearby, the man froze in surprise. Like a deer in headlights, Melody did the same. This was the moment of truth. Depending on his reaction, Melody would know if he still wanted her or not. She knew him so well, she'd be able to see the truth in his green eyes that now studied her as if she was some glorious, supernatural specimen. Truthfully, he believed he was still fast asleep and dreaming this entire encounter.
Fixing his glasses with one hand, Matthew croaked out hopefully, "M-Mel? Is that...is that really you, Mel?"
All Melody could do was nod. She could feel the sobs fighting and scratching inside her chest, begging to be free. What she hated most was crying like a little girl in from of him. It was so weak and unromantic.
"Melody!" Matthew whispered as he flung himself to his feet and rushed toward her to capture the girl in a tight hug. He was much taller than Melody, but that didn't encumber her from hugging him back with all her strength. She didn't want to let him go. She had lost him once for far too long. Never would she allow that to happen again.
"I searched," Matthew breathed out in wonderment as he gently ran his hands through Melody's short hair. "I searched for you for...for so damn long. I missed you so much, Melody. I can't believe you're back."
There was no anger, yelling, or demanding to know what happened to her from the man. Instead, as if sensing her feelings like he always did so perfectly, Matthew continued to hug her without saying another word. He was going to let her tell him everything on her own time. He understood that she could be a little traumatized. Somehow he just knew exactly what Melody needed, and that thing was him.
The perfectness of it all was what finally cracked the girl. Breaking down into sobs, Melody clung tighter to the man and cried into his shoulder. Matthew looked down at her in sad surprise. For the many years he had known and dated Melody off and on, he had probably only seen her cry two times, and those had only been a few tears shed before she had returned to her Ice Queen status. As he held the girl in his arms, Matthew that whatever happened to Melody had changed her. Despite this scary thought, he was still prepared to stay by her side and help her whenever he could.
"I was so...so s-scared," Melody mumbled through her sobs. "I was scared y-you w-would...leave me. I wouldn't...I wouldn't blame you, but I was so scared!"
"Oh, Mel, it's okay, baby," Matthew said as he pulled away slightly. He held the girl's face in both his hands, using his thumbs to brush away the tears on her cheeks as she gave some soft sniffs. Resting his forehead on hers to get her attention, he assured her, "I told you that night that I would not leave you. I meant that. You promised the same, and I knew you meant that despite your past."
Looking up into his eyes, Melody said with a shuddering sigh, "Jeez, you better not be saying that just to woo me over now only to dump me later on."
"Prove it, mister."
"I can pinky promise you."
Giggling at the silly notion, Melody raised her pinky as Matthew did the same. As she brushed more tears out of her eyes with her free hand, they linked fingers for a moment. Matthew chuckled as the girl returned to hugging him, running his hands through Melody's hair again.
"It's actually really cute," he said suddenly.
Pulling away to look up at him curiously, Melody asked, "What is?"
"Your hair. It's adorable! Although I prefer long hair like you used to have it, I think I love this style just as much as the old one. Why did you cut it, though? I thought you liked it long too."
"I-I didn't-. Someone else cut it," Melody answered, looking off to the side as the miserable memory of the Collector cutting her hair returned to her.
Sensing her shift, Matthew quickly said to pull her back to him, "Well, I love it, Mel. Long hair, short hair; it doesn't matter. You're too sexy to let your hair stop you from looking awesome."
Eyes returning to Matthew's face, Melody suddenly broke out into a familiar cold smirk as she said, "Dork, you are such a brown-noser." Before Matthew could comment, she leaned closer to him so that their faces were less than an inch away and said, "But I love that about you, cheese ball." She hesitated before she whispered very seriously, "I love you, Matthew."
"I love you too," Matthew whispered back.
Those words exchanged, the two shared a kiss.
He'd never really been a fan of school. Even when he was a little kid, Ryder could remember sitting at his desk, doodling pictures onto the top of his desk, and staring woefully up at the clock waiting for the school bell to ring. It wasn't that he'd disliked school. It'd actually been pretty fun: starting food fights, switching peoples' lunches during playtime, and, of course, nap time.
However, as Ryder lingered on the sidewalk outside of Monterey Elementary School, he was reminded of all those years ago when he'd been in school. He knew that the 3 o'clock bell was close to ringing, though he'd lost his watch at some point after getting out of the "Ghost Zone" and eventually making his way back home to New York City. He was actually, almost positive that he'd pawned it off to get food, but the past couple hours were kinda fuzzy.
If someone asked him the exact path he'd taken to get from Amity Park to New York, he'd probably just stare blankly back at them. But that was okay because he was waiting for his son, and he had a delicious foot-long hot dog to keep him busy. However, Ryder knew this would only keep him preoccupied from waiting as long as it would take him to eat it. And, considering he'd been eating mush for the past four months, he knew that wouldn't take very long.
In mid-bite, Ryder paused as he felt something cold prodding into his lower back. Swallowing the food he was already chewing, the thief muttered, "My 'I'm-about-to-get-mugged' senses are tingling."
"What are you doing here?" a soft, furious, Latin voice hissed into his ear in response. It was a voice he'd become very familiar with over the past few years. The accent was thick but just as lovely as he remembered it being.
Nearly dropping his hotdog out of surprise, Ryder whispered, "Espera-"
"Shut up!" the woman snapped back at him, shoving what he knew was a gun deeper into his back to keep him quiet. Though he wanted to turn around to look at her, he stayed still. He'd learned that it was generally best not to argue with Esperanza when she was angry...and had a gun.
"I asked you what you were doing here," Esperanza said slowly, her breathing sounding very loud to Ryder for some reason. He wondered if she'd just ran here or something.
"I'm here to pick up my son from school," Ryder answered just as slowly. He kept his eyes locked straight ahead as he added, "Like I do everyday."
"No, you don't!" Esperanza corrected him as she grabbed him by the arm and forcefully turned him around to look at her. She was just as tall as he was and perfectly matched the phrase: "tall, dark, and beautiful." Ryder wasn't sure if she was from Venezuela or Brazil or Spain, but he knew she was Latin due to her dark complexion, and the accent, of course.
As Ryder stared back into Esperanza's brown eyes, he couldn't help but wince at her fierce expression. He'd seen it a few times before...mostly back when she'd been trying to kill him.
Shoving an open palm into his chest, Esperanza growled, "I do. I pick him up from school. And do you know why?"
"Well, I could probably gue-"
"Because you aren't here!" the woman interrupted him as she shoved him again with a good amount of force. "You've been gone for months! Months, Ryder!"
"I know," Ryder said, rubbing a hand against his sore chest. He looked down at his dropped hotdog with a sad expression before sighing and lifting his eyes back up to meet Esperanza's. "But I'm back now, and I'm not gonna leave again."
The pair locked eyes for a long time. Ryder stayed silent as he tried to decipher the look on Esperanza's face. He nearly yelped in shock and jumped away from her when he saw tears, actual tears, shining in the woman's eyes. He had never seen Esperanza cry. Not once. Ever. Maybe she'd stubbed or toe when she was -
"I thought you were dead," Esperanza whispered, her voice remaining steady as ever even as she continued to stare right back into Ryder's eyes. "Jet...I thought I would have to take care of him. I thought I'd never see you again, Ryder."
Gulping down his surprise, Ryder said quietly and sincerely, "I'm never gonna leave you guys, Espy."
Esperanza remained silent for a moment before she shot out a hand, grabbed a fistful of the front of Ryder's shirt, and pulled him towards her so that she could kiss him.
Nobody was more shocked than Ryder was as he stood rigidly still while Esperanza kissed him. After a moment of pure shock, he loosened up and gingerly kissed her back. He wasn't going to question such a good thing happening to him. They'd never kissed before, but he had entertained the idea of him and Esperanza getting together many times before. Maybe she was finally coming around.
Esperanza pulled back slightly, but not far, and looked right into his eyes. "Don't you ever leave us like that again, Ryder," she told him angrily. "Do you hear me?"
Ryder nodded back at her, still dazed from what she'd just done. He swallowed and said breathlessly, "Loud and clear, Espy." He glanced down for a moment before looking back at her and asking, "So are you, like, into me or somethi-"
"Don't push your luck, Ryder," Esperanza said, letting go of his shirt and shoving him back slightly as she turned to face the school. However, Ryder could see that she was smiling a little bit. And a small smile from Esperanza meant a lot more than it did for anyone else.
Grinning widely, Ryder looked back at the school just as he heard the bell ring. Almost instantaneously, the front doors were flung open as a wave of kids poured outside. Ryder peered over the youngsters heads, searching the sea of faces for the one that mattered to him the most.
The thief's heart nearly stopped in his chest when he saw a small, bouncy afro scooting to the edge of the crowd as it made its way towards them. The frizzy ball of hair quickly took on a face with pair of adorable hazel eyes, a smile missing a few teeth, and a short body clad in jeans, a t-shirt, and light up Spider-Man shoes.
Ryder's eyes connected with Jet's and vice versa. The little boy froze in place, the smile dissolving from his face as his eyes widened. He almost dropped his Power Ranger lunchbox as he stared up at his father in utter disbelief. His lips trembled slightly, forming the word, "Dad?"
Ryder felt tears rise in his eyes as his throat clenched up. His boy looked just the same as he had four months ago. Maybe he'd somehow managed to get cuter than before, but that was it. Taking trembling steps forward, the thief held his arms out to Jet, saying the boy's name under his breath. He almost couldn't believe that Jet was right there. His son was so close.
As if a switch had been flicked, Jet's expression of shock disappeared as his eyes lit up with unimaginable amounts of joy. "Dad!" Jet yelled, flinging his prized lunchbox away as he rushed forward. "Dad, dad, dad!"
Ryder dropped to his knees just in time for his little boy to crash into his chest and wrap his arms tightly around his neck. Jet continued to say his name over and over again as Ryder hugged the kid close to him, closing his eyes as tears ran down his cheeks.
He held the back of Jet's head, whispering over the boy's own tears, "I'm here, Jet. I'm here."
Jet leaned backwards so that he could look into his father's face, sniffing loudly. He reached up to touch Ryder's face with both hands as if to make sure that he was real. "Dad," the boy said, his voice trembling, "are you really here?"
Reaching up to hold Jet's tiny hands against his cheeks, Ryder nodded slowly, smiling through the tears in his eyes. "Yeah," he croaked, throat clenching up all over again. "Yeah, I'm here, Jet. It's me, squirt."
Jet's green eyes filled with even more tears as he buried his face in his father's chest and hugged him all over again. "I m-missed you, daddy," the boy sobbed as Ryder wrapped his arms around his back and rocked him gently.
"Shh," Ryder softly told Jet, running his hand down the back of the boy's head to calm him. "Shh, buddy. I'm here. I'm not going away again, Jet. I'm not gonna leave you."
Ryder looked up when he felt a hand touch his shoulder and saw Esperanza smiling softly down at him again. The thief's chest swelled with happiness and more tears came to his eyes. This was his family. After so many months of missing them, he was finally back. He could finally be with them all that he wanted.
He closed his eyes, sending up a silent prayer of thanks. His past had been hard, but every moment was worth it to have the people in his life that he could call friends and family. Ryder would go through everything again if it meant he'd end up right here with these two people to call his loved ones.
Smiling a little, Ryder kissed the top of Jet's head and said through a tearful chuckle, "Boy, do I have a story for you guys."
Letting the front door swing open, Vlad stood where he was on the threshold of his mansion as if he was timid about going inside the large, empty house. Peering tiredly inside, Vlad noticed that the maids had kept the house and its contents perfectly clean and spotless without him just like the gardeners had kept up the manicured shrubs and lawn that lead up to the house outside in pristine condition. Nothing had changed. His absence hadn't accounted for anything.
It was almost unfair. Vlad knew he had completely transformed everything in him over the past few months, yet his home had stayed resolutely the same: cold, lonely, dark, and towering.
Giving one last glance at the outside of his house, Vlad ventured silently inside and closed the door behind him. Standing in the middle of his foyer, the man slide his hands into his pockets and stood still again as his mind slipped into pondering and reflection.
After working so hard to free himself for many months, Vlad suddenly realized he didn't know what to do next. He was still in a state of disbelief, if he had to be honest with himself. Although he wasn't necessarily happy or content, it wasn't as if he was sad and depressed. He felt as if he was in a strange limbo between these two feelings, caught in an uncertain state that was waiting to be resolved.
Like a fantasizing child, Vlad thought that if he fell asleep that he would somehow wake up back in the museum, where fear, anxiety, and the Collector ruled over him. Unlike Danny, Vlad still hadn't felt the sweet taste of relief wash over him. He knew at some point his emotions would catch up with reality, but until then he would fight the numbness of sleep depravation pressing upon his mind and busy himself with something more enticing.
Finally, with a determined smile, Vlad decided that if he was going to be stuck in this emotional funk that he was going to distract himself mentally until it eventually went away.
That established, the man pushed up his sleeves and headed for his lab underground. Although he was exhausted physically, the man's mind was refined and sharper than it had ever been. It thirsted desperately for activity, and Vlad was going to quench that thirst by throwing himself into working on his inventions.
One look at his lab, though, almost deterred the man. The bland, mechanical feel of the room reminded Vlad too much of the main room in the museum he'd been forced to live in for far too long. If he added a picnic table, it could have been complete. With a thin frown, Vlad observed the room and thought through his block.
"Well, this has to change," he murmured to himself.
Gathering as much equipment as he could hold, Vlad moved all that he needed up out of the lab and into the library upstairs. He went back down, snatched up more things, and returned to the library to only repeat the process. After many trips back and forth and up and down, it was well into the afternoon, half his lab was now moved to the bright and welcome library, and Vlad was sweating but smiling at the hard effort.
Once Vlad deemed that he had enough tools and equipment to help him build the things he wanted to in the environment he liked best, the man let his creativity and scientific knowledge get to work. It was one of the most liberating experiences that Vlad had ever felt as he spent hour after hour toiling happily on different inventions. He let himself forget everything: the misery of the past few months of captivity, his drastic character change, all the pain the Collector had caused, his friends who were finally spending time with their loved ones, his overwhelming guilt, what he needed to get done as a mayor now that he had returned to Amity, and his astute feeling of loneliness.
Not until the sun had long gone down, the moon and stars came up, and the early morning hours of darkness descended upon the mansion did Vlad pry himself away from his work. By this time, Vlad was covered with grease, smears of ectoplasm goo, sweat, and any other regular grit that accompanied a truly dedicated ghost gadget inventor. The smell and feeling reminded Vlad of his old college days when he would build and create for endless hours with his friends, when only Jack's nagging stomach would alert the group that it was probably time to pack things up for the night and find a late night burger joint for the big, starving man.
For the first time since the accident that changed his life, Vlad's memory of those times weren't dark and resentful. There was still a bitter sweet residue on them, but that was better than the usual sadness or anger. After all, they were memories of a fond time. Looking around at all his recent work that day, Vlad hoped he would make more like those in the coming years.
Listening to his now very loud and demanding stomach, Vlad went to the kitchen, made himself a simple sandwich, grabbed a can of soda out of the fridge, and returned to the library. He sat down on one of the couches in the room that looked out over his half finished inventions that looked like a haphazard yet glorious mess of mechanical parts.
With dirty hands and an absent mind, Vlad ate his sandwich and downed his soda. Only until the meal was gone and sat snuggled away in his stomach did Vlad release a shuddering sigh and pulled his mind back to reality. His mind perceived his situation as if it was crystal clear now. No more was he driven by money, status, and power which brought about anger and bitterness. No. He had a second chance to make a better life for himself full of love and prosperity. The bond of darkness over Vlad's heart had been broken. He was tied to it no more.
A sad smile reached Vlad's lips as he felt the long awaited for wave of relief crash over his body. He was free. He was truly free.
The smile still on Vlad's face, he uttered one last, long sigh as if in submission to his feelings, and relaxed in his seat while closing his weary eyes. The fear and worry was washed away for one wonderful moment. In merely seconds Vlad feel into a deep, fulfilled sleep.
The first thing Danny had done when their group finally parted ways after months of living together was transform into his ghost half and go for a flight. It'd been so long since he'd been able to truly let go. Let go of all his fears of the Collector's punishments, the safety of his friends or to stop worrying about what his friends and family were thinking about while he was gone.
With the wind whipping through his hair and the sun beating down on him, all of his problems went away. In that moment, he felt more free than he had ever before.
The teen looked down on his town, a true smile blooming to his face at the familiarity of all of it. Everything was the same as when he'd left. For some reason, in the museum, he'd always been terrified that something awful would happen to Amity Park while he was gone. But, now, when he could see it from above like he always had in the past, he knew there'd been no reason to worry.
Danny turned in the air, aiming himself towards Casper High. School had already begun. He'd missed his entire summer while being trapped in the Ghost Zone, but, for some reason, Danny knew he wouldn't trade the experience for anything else in the world.
His worst enemy wasn't his worst enemy anymore. Not only had he gained two amazing life-long friends, he'd also gained someone he knew that he could trust and rely on whenever he needed. Danny knew that the bond he'd made with those three people would never diminish as long as they all lived. He believed it deep in his gut, and his gut was rarely wrong.
Setting his face in a determined frown, Danny changed direction again, flying straight for his home now. He'd been indecisive on who he'd wanted to visit first, but, in the end, it was no contest. He missed his family more than he'd ever thought he would.
As Danny traveled speedily towards Fenton Works, he couldn't help but let his mind drift back to the past few months and, most importantly, their escape from the museum. Their group had won. They'd beaten the Collector with all the odds stacked against them. And, not only had they won, they'd completely and utterly destroyed the Collector once and for all.
Danny had seen the ghost's face when he realized his defeat. He knew the Collector could no longer even call himself the Collector...or the Curator, for that matter. With the museum nothing but a pile of ash, the ghost had nothing to curate.
The boy knew that months ago, he would've felt slight sympathy for the ghost, even after all he'd done. But Vlad wasn't the only one who had changed. Danny knew he was different. Not only was he stronger with his ghost abilities, he felt all around stronger. His stay in the museum had only strengthened his beliefs and his morals. He believed even more than before that you could never give up when times got tough.
Danny smiled and shook his head at his wandering thoughts. Even in his head, he still sounded like the cheesy, overdramatic superhero that he was. And, quite frankly, he was more than okay with that.
Dropping swiftly through the air once he had spotted his oddly made but endearing home, Danny landed on the sidewalk outside Fenton Works and quickly transformed back into his human half. He took a moment to let out a tense sigh and run his hands through his hair. He was very thankful that most of it had grown back. He didn't look like he'd run away to join the army so much anymore.
Squaring his shoulders, Danny marched up the steps to his house, his heart beating wildly in his chest. He wasn't nervous. He thought that he was just anxious to finally see his family and, maybe, a bit worried by how they would respond. He truly hoped they wouldn't be mad at him for being gone so long.
The teen paused on his doorstep, raising a hand to open the door. His hand stopped inches away from the doorknob as he reconsidered just walking in. Danny bit down on his bottom lip and rang the doorbell instead. For some reason, he felt a bit awkward about just walking into his house without being invited in.
Maybe it was because he hadn't actually seen a real house in four months or so.
Danny jolted himself out of his anxious thoughts when the door swung open. He quickly raised his eyes, freezing on the spot when his gaze connected with his mom's.
Maddie didn't move either as her eyes locked onto her son. She didn't even appear to be breathing as she brought a hand up to cover her gaping mouth. "Danny?" she whispered around her hand, her voice shaking terribly.
The boy smiled sadly. He could already feel the burn of tears building in his eyes as emotions rose up inside him at just looking at his mom. He quickly nodded, saying, "Y-yeah...it's me, mom."
Tears rose up in Maddie's eyes when Danny spoke, and she lowered her hand, smiling right back at her boy. Before Danny even knew what had happened, his mom had jumped forward and pulled him into a crushing hug. She was crying as she ran her hands through his short, spiky hair and called over her shoulder, "Jack! Jazz! Danny's here! Danny's home!"
"Danny-boy?" came Jack's immediate, shouted reply from somewhere back inside the house. Moment later, his pounding footsteps were heard as he came barreling out onto the stoop. The large man hesitated for only a brief second before he too wrapped his arms around both his son and his wife, hugging them tightly as he said, "Oh, Danny. I can't believe this. You're home, Danny-boy. You're actually home."
Though Danny was being slowly crushed to death, he still managed to croak out through his happy tears, "Yeah, dad. Sorry it took me so long."
Before he could say more, another voice yelled from behind the massive group hug, "Danny?"
The teen instantly recognized the scream as Jazz's right before he felt his sister throw herself into the Fenton Family Hug-a-palooza. Danny couldn't even decipher the amazed exclamations of his mom, dad, and sister, but he could feel their worry and fear leaking away as they held him in their arms.
He knew they wouldn't have to worry for his safety anymore. That thought made his smile grow as he wrapped his arms around his mom's waist and hugged her back as strongly as he could. There'd been a time when he couldn't stand his family's hugs, but, now, he couldn't be happier to receive one.
Danny also knew he had to visit Sam and Tucker immediately after this, and the thought only filled him with more joy. He couldn't wait to see them and be able to tell them all that had happened. But, for now, his love and attention were meant for only his family. And they deserved every moment of it.
-One Week Later-
Danny couldn't help but feel a little nervous as he strode up the long, extravagant driveway that led up to Vlad's mansion. He figured it was just lingering feelings of anxiousness from back before the museum. Back then, he'd dreaded the sight of any house that even somewhat resembled a place that looked like Vlad's because it reminded him of their feud.
He also knew he was a little worried about Vlad himself. They hadn't spoken since they'd gotten back home and parted ways, and Danny couldn't help but think that, maybe, the man didn't want to talk to him. Maybe Vlad just wanted to be alone after everything that had happened.
A part of the teen knew that that couldn't possibly be true, but, a lot like Vlad, he worried. He knew he had to trust that Vlad wanted to stay friends just as much as he did.
Letting out a quiet breath as he reached the mansion's massive entryway, Danny hesitated for only a moment longer before reaching out and pressing the doorbell. He wasn't about to walk in uninvited.
After about a minute or two, the door finally opened and a middle aged lady with blonde hair stuck her head out with a scowl. She wore a regular pink hired maid uniform with a stitched on name tag that read Jessie. Looking down as she smacked her gum in an ostentatious manner, the lady asked Danny skeptically, "Who are you?"
Danny blinked in momentary surprise as he looked back up at the lady. Honestly, he hadn't expected this when he knocked on the door, but, now that he thought about it, he probably should have. Vlad was rich, after all. He guessed that it was normal for rich people to have maids and stuff.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Danny said slowly, "Um...Danny. Danny Fenton. I'm, uh, I'm here to talk to Vlad. Is he...around?"
As soon as she heard his name, the lady relaxed and swung the door wide open. "Danny Fenton? Yeah, come on in, kid," she said while waving him through. "Mr. Masters told me you'd might show up randomly." Giving him a degrading grin, she chuckled with her hands on her hips, "Didn't think you'd be so short, though."
Once Danny had stepped inside the mansion, he instantly saw how drastic the insides had changed compared to the outside. Although all the usual expensive furniture remained, it definitely wasn't as tidy as it used to be, as flat surfaces were covered with bits and pieces of metal, wiring, tools, and paper. The more he looked around, the more Danny noticed the big, metal parts of equipment and half done inventions. It almost reminded him of his parents' garage back home with all the piles of useless ghost junk lying around. The only difference was that all the junk here was being used for one thing or another.
Jessie led the teen through the building as if she owned the place, saying knowingly over her shoulder to Danny while still smacking her gum, "As you can see, this place is a mess despite all my best efforts. None of this is my fault, okay? This is all Mr. Masters' idea. Not mine. I don't know what happened to that man while he was gone for so long, but he's totally weird now. Don't tell him I said that, okay?
"Anyways, he turns this place into a mad scientist's house the second he gets back and then tells me and my crew not to touch anything. Yeah, right. Like I'll be able to dust with some laser-zapping gadget sitting on the mantle piece! Oh, and get this. He still wants us to clean the place even with all his crap lying around. I don't know what's junk and what he wants to keep. He's out in some la la land, for all I know. Although he did give us all a raise. That was nice. So he can't be all that bad."
Stopping at the entrance to the library where the main hubbub of inventions sat, Jessie muttered, "Still, it's just creepy." Nodding her head toward the open room, she told Danny, "He's in there somewhere. Have fun, kid."
"Um...thanks," Danny answered quietly, still lost in a daze after seeing the drastic changes to Vlad's home. Sure, he hadn't been inside it very many times before, but this was just bizarre. Everything was totally different and, according to this lady, so was Vlad.
The boy gave Jessie a timid smile before pushing the door of the library open and peeking his head inside. He was still a bit timid about actually venturing too far into the room considering how weirdly crowded with junk it was.
"Hey, Vlad?" Danny called uncertainly, stepping completely into the room with an eyebrow raised slightly. This was all just so weird. Vlad's house looked a lot like his own house now. He lingered by the door as he added with a small smirk, "Did you hit your head or something this time, fruitloop?"
From his position on his back underneath a bigger and more updated version of a ghost portal he was currently working on, Vlad rolled his eyes. With a smile in his voice, Vlad called over, "I'm over here, Danny. Don't worry. There was no cranial damage this time."
Following the sound of Vlad's voice, Danny picked his way across the room until he reached Vlad's side. He took a second to look around in awe, shake his head, and focus back on Vlad as he said with a grin, "That's debatable."
He examined the current invention Vlad was working on and tilted his head a bit to the side. "Is this what you've been doing for the past week, you weirdo?" Danny teasingly asked.
Pushing himself out from under the portal's base on a flatbed roller, Vlad shot Danny an undaunted smirk. Sitting up, the man grabbed a rag to clean his greasy hands as he told Danny, "Not this entire week, per se, but it has taken up a lot of my time. I was going to design the ghost portal so that any ghost can go through it from this side, but only ones with certain ectoplasm signatures can come through from the Ghost Zone."
Standing up, the man stretched a little as he said, "Anyways, you didn't come to hear me ramble on like your parents I'm sure do. What brings you by today, Danny?"
The teen couldn't help but give the ghost portal another curious glance before bringing his full attention back to Vlad. He knew the man had changed because of the museum, but this was just way too weird. He looked like a totally different person right now. It was a little hard to comprehend.
Brining his head back into the game, Danny sent Vlad a grin. "You're coming to dinner at my place," he told the man confidently, his voice holding zero hesitation. He obviously didn't even think the man would try to object. "Y'know, like, a congratulatory feast thing."
Danny pointed at Vlad as he added, "Don't think you're getting out of it, either. 'Cause you're not."
Vlad gave Danny a half-hearted glare. Although he enjoyed the prospect of celebrating their freedom and doing that with Danny, the man was wary about having to meet up with Danny's parents and friends after his moral transformation. Of course Danny knew and had seen first hand Vlad's change, none of the others had. They would be more than suspicious of him, and Vlad knew he'd have to be on his best behavior in an attempt to win them over. He could tell already it was going to be one whole night of trying to please everyone and not be offended by glares and more. It would be awkward and uncomfortable on more than just his part, to say the least, and Vlad wasn't in the mood to partake in that.
Inclined to or not, one look at Danny told Vlad that he was going to have a harder time arguing than actually going. Still, it wasn't like the man to give up so easily on his stubborn nature. Giving in too easily wasn't exactly an option.
"You sound awfully sure about this," Vlad ventured out with a wry smile.
"Of course I'm sure," Danny answered, pinning Vlad with his own grin. The teen was more than confident that he could at least get the man to the front door. That was all that really mattered. He put his hands on his hips and steadily stated, "You're going and that's final. I don't care if I have to drag you to the door, you are totally going."
Danny's big smile delved down into a smirk as he said, "If it comes down to it, I'm pretty sure I can kick your butt before I drag you to the party. But we don't have to go that far, right?"
Putting his hands on his hips, Vlad said matter-of-factly, "We might have to, with that kind of insolent talk. Who was it who trained you for three whole weeks? Yes. That would be me. Therefore, you could by no means 'kick my butt,' thank you very much."
Not daunted in the least, Danny matched Vlad's posture and said with his grin still lingering on his features, "Who was it that went all crazy butt-kicking machine on the Collector? Yeah, that was me. You don't wanna set me off, Vlad. It gets ugly."
"I'm afraid you're only proving my point, my boy," Vlad said with a laugh. "Might want to check the logic to your argument one more time. But," Vlad said while raising a finger as if in thought, "speaking of that battle, I was going to give you something." The man looked around the room, mumbling under his breath, "If I could only remember where I put it."
Moving with sure steps, the man started to pick his way through the equipment in the room as he went on the hunt. Musing aloud as he searched, he murmured, "When did I become so messy?"
"Probably about the same time you turned your house into a yard sale for ghost hunters," Danny piped up, following behind Vlad with an innocent smile. The only reason he was following Vlad was because he was scared that if he lost sight of the man in the room, he'd never see him again. With all this junk heaped into piles, there was an actual possibility of that happening.
Smile widening, Danny asked, sounding more eager than he probably realized, "Is it a present?"
Though he was fifteen now, he still got extremely excited about getting presents. He had no idea why.
With a little, unseen grimace, Vlad answered, "Not...exactly."
After a few more seconds, Vlad spotted what he was looking for. The now perfectly shaped sphere of metal was under a pile of notes. Brushing the papers away, Vlad picked up the orb that was now a little bit bigger than his hand but still sat lightly in his palm and checked a small digital screen on the side.
Smiling slightly, he turned back around toward Danny and held the orb up for the teen to see. "It's Ptolemy," Vlad explained. "I moved him to a bigger, better orb, but I'm afraid being confined in any small space can give your essence more than just a cramp. I would like it if you took him, you being the responsible superhero and all."
Danny's smile disappeared about as quickly as it had appeared. He stared down at the orb, unwanted memories coming to mind. Sure, he'd joked about the final battle with the Collector moments ago, but that didn't mean he actually wanted to think about it seriously.
Raising his eyes to meet Vlad's, Danny shook his head and held his hands up. Honestly, he wanted nothing to do with Ptolemy, or anything else that would remind him of the museum.
"What am I gonna do with him?" Danny asked, continuing to shake his head. He knew if he was given the orb, then all of responsibility for the deranged ghost would fall onto his shoulders. He wasn't sure how to handle that. "I can't...I can't take care of that little jerk."
Tight frown on his lips, Vlad looked off to the side in thought. Like Danny, he didn't want to be responsible for Ptolemy and his power. The main reason behind Vlad wanting to give the orb to Danny in the first place was because Vlad didn't want to become tempted to use the ghost for his own gain in the future. What if Vlad ever relapsed into his old self? What would stop him from using Ptolemy then? He felt it wiser for Danny to take the ghost and keep it out of reach, but if Danny was unwilling, what else could Vlad do?
Returning his eyes back to Danny, Vlad said with a helpless shrug, "I'm not sure if it's wise if I keep it, Danny. That is all I can say."
Vlad didn't have to say any more for Danny to instantly understand what the man meant. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked down at his feet, unsure of just what to say. He knew exactly why Vlad wanted Ptolemy out of his hands, but Danny still wasn't confident in his ability to take care of the ghost.
What if he let Ptolemy out to stretch his legs and he somehow got away? Danny didn't want to be responsible for losing the ghost that was partly responsible for the torture they'd all gone through. However, Danny knew that keeping the orb would make Vlad feel better so...there really wasn't a choice.
Sighing and shaking his head, Danny reached out and took the orb from Vlad's hands as he said, "Fine, I'll keep it." He glanced down at the orb for a moment before looking right back at Vlad and stating firmly, "But I'm not doing this because I think it's safer to keep Ptolemy away from you. I trust you, Vlad. I know you're not going back to what you used to be. And if you ever ask me where I'm keeping this stupid thing in the future...I'm gonna tell you."
Leaning back as he folded his arms across his chest, Vlad grumbled, "Well, you shouldn't."
Danny arched an eyebrow, asking skeptically, "And why not exactly?" He rolled his eyes as he added sarcastically, "Because you're gonna 'turn evil' on me or something? Yeah right, Vlad."
"It would simply be wise not to tell anyone, including me, where you put it," Vlad advised patiently. "I'll tell you now that once the rest of the Ghost Zone figures out the museum has been burned down and the Collector's power source is gone and taken to the humans world, there will be some ghosts who will come looking for Ptolemy. Therefore, it would be best if only one person knew the orb's location."
"Fine, whatever," Danny agreed, rolling his eyes again at how serious Vlad was being. He didn't think that was his biggest problem to worry about when it came down to Ptolemy, but he'd just go along with it to appease the man. Vlad liked to worry, after all.
"I'll stick it in the safe I have built into the wall behind my dresser first thing when I get home," he promised Vlad with a smirk. Focusing back on his present task, Danny said, "So can we go now? You're gonna be late to your own party."
"Myown party?" Vlad questioned, trying not to sound too alarmed. Suspicion finally made it's way into Vlad, and suddenly the man could see that Danny was hiding something. Whatever it was, Vlad instantly deemed it unpleasant. "Now, you told me this was merely a celebration. You did not say anything about this being a party about me."
Narrowing his eyes as he leaned down to scrutinize Danny closer, Vlad asked dubiously, "What are you hiding?"
"Um..." Danny grimaced a little as he looked back up at Vlad. Crap, he thought to himself with an internal growl of frustration. Totallybusted.No,okay,justbecool,becool.Youcandothis.
"Uh...I'm hiding...this orb!" the teen exclaimed, holding the device up just in case Vlad hadn't been able to see it before when he gave it to him. "Obviously, I'm hiding this orb and that's why we need to get back to my house now. Duh, Vlad."
Danny quickly turned to head back towards the door (and escape Vlad's knowing gaze) as he said, "Now stop wasting time just 'cause you wanna stay here and be a recluse."
With a snide smile, Vlad nodded as he watched Danny try to leave yet failing at the task as he practically stumbled in his guilty haste over every object that stood in his path. It was all too obvious now. Danny had always been such a bad liar. Now all Vlad had to do was squeeze the truth out of him.
Rolling his eyes, Vlad set off after the teen, calling, "Hey! What kind of horrendous excuse was that? I thought I taught you better. I know you're lying about something." Surging ahead, Vlad nimbly cut the teen off before he could get out of the library. Backing up so Danny didn't slam right into him, Vlad lightly placed a hand on Danny's chest while saying uncompromisingly, "I'm telling you now that I'm not going anywhere until you give me the truth, Daniel. Understand? None of your cute, little surprises ever end well for me."
Danny's grimace at hearing his full name was quickly replaced by a stubborn expression as he squared his shoulders. He wasn't about to be beaten so easily. Even if he was the worst liar ever, he could pull this off.
"Okay, name one time one of my surprises ended badly for you," the teen demanded, giving an offended huff as he did. He was mostly hoping to distract Vlad long enough for him to think of something clever.
"Oh, you're already getting into the distraction technique," Vlad said with a mean smile. "You must be floundering. Let's stay on topic, shall we? I'll answer your question as soon as you answer mine first. What are you hiding?"
Scowling back up at Vlad with narrowed eyes, Danny grumbled, "Nothing. It's just dinner, okay? I didn't mean that it was your party, I just meant that it's important that you're there. Everyone wants to see you. It's not like that's a big secret. Stop being so paranoid, Vlad."
"Your father might be excited to see me. That much I believe," Vlad said, trying to remain firm. Somehow this always proved difficult when he butted heads with Danny. "I'm not so sure about the rest of the friends and family. You do understand that this encounter with all of them will be incredibly uncomfortable, correct?"
Of course, Danny knew this already. He'd been sure to explain to Sam and Tuck that Vlad had changed for the better, but even his closet friends didn't believe him. He knew that if it would take them a while to come around, then it would take his family even longer to realize the same thing.
That was why Danny wasn't going to have Vlad confront his friends and family just yet. Unfortunately for Vlad, he didn't know that.
Giving Vlad a reassuring smile, Danny said, "Vlad, don't worry. I promise everything's gonna be fine. It won't be awkward. You're gonna have fun. Just trust me, okay?"
Vlad was silent for a moment, looking down at Danny with a softening expression. Then, as if a switch had been flicked, the man shook his head and stepped away. "No. Nope," he said stubbornly. "I can't believe I almost fell for that."
Grinning in annoyance, Vlad leaned down so that he was eye level with Danny as he told him, "It's not fair. With an innocent face like yours, anyone could believe you with that endearing look you give. Enjoy it while you still have it, boy, but I'm not buying it. What are you really up to?"
"Ug, Vlad," Danny growled in frustration. He couldn't take this any longer. Sure, he'd been the one voted most likely to get Vlad out of the house, but this was just ridiculous. The man was too stubborn and paranoid for his own good. At this rate, they'd die of old age while everyone was waiting for them.
Patience quickly snapping like a small, frail twig, Danny threw one hand in the air while pointing the other right in Vlad's face and shouting, "Just go open the front door!" He paused for a moment, glaring right back into Vlad's eyes as he added sternly,
"I mean it!"
All Vlad could do at first was blink in surprise. He'd expected more smooth talk from the kid, not a snapping of patience. Usually it was the other way around. In a way, it was kind of comical, and Vlad had to bite back a laugh at the look of pure seriousness on Danny's face that really shouldn't have belonged there.
"You promise to tell me what you're up to when we get to the front door?" Vlad asked playfully. He wondered how far he could push the boy now.
"Yes!" Danny snapped back, lowering his arms as he clenched his hands around the orb to keep himself from punching Vlad. He just wanted the stupid jerk to have a good time, and Vlad was making that feat extremely difficult! It was more than frustrating!
"Look, I'll show you how to do it," the teen growled, reaching out to grab Vlad's sleeve as he strode past the man and pulled him purposefully towards the exit of the library. "You put one foot in front of the other. There, see? Not so hard."
By now Vlad couldn't keep his laughter in. Just seeing the teen so upset because he was losing an argument was funny in Vlad's book because he looked too similar to a pouting toddler who wasn't getting his way on the playground.
"Oh, don't be frustrated, Daniel," Vlad teased with a small laugh as he allowed Danny to drag him back to the front door. "I mean, it's a celebration. You should be joyful."
"Shut up," Danny told Vlad without even looking back at him. He had an objective in mind. And that was getting Vlad to the front door in one piece. This was easier said than done, of course. The teen could just tell how much Vlad was enjoying annoying the crap out of him.
"You're going to have fun, and you're going to like it!" Danny added in a serious grumble. For the first time, he felt like the annoyed adult while Vlad was the cheeky teenager. It was a terrible role reversal.
"Mmm. As fun as getting death glares from your friends and Jazz while placating your father's childish antics are, I would honestly stay here and work on that portal all night," Vlad drawled with a faint smile. "Oh, but don't let my complaining stop you from manhandling me all the way through my house. What is the rush, is what I want to know."
Danny's glare suddenly went away at the question, and he glanced back at Vlad as he flashed him a snarky grin. "Well, in your case, we're racing against the clock," he told the man, flaunting a superior smirk. "A dude your age doesn't have time to waste, Vlad."
"And now we return to the old people jokes," Vlad muttered sarcastically with a sigh. "And you wonder why I'm avoiding going with you."
"Oh, be quiet," Danny responded with a growing smile. They had finally reached the front door. The end of his journey was over. "We're not going to a pity party, Vlad."
Chuckling at his own joke, Danny let go of the man's sleeve and spun around to face him as he gripped the doorknob with one hand. He grinned up at Vlad as he opened the door, flung it open, and stepped quickly to the side just as he shouted, "Surprise!" along with the group of people standing on Vlad's doorstep.
The group of people turned out to be Ryder and Melody accompanied by their loved ones. Melody stood very closely to Matthew as she smiled back at Vlad while Ryder stood on her other side of her with his son sitting on his shoulders, balancing a white box on top of his bald head. Esperanza lingered beside Ryder, looking annoyed and uncomfortable, but willing to ride this experience out till the end.
Vlad instinctively stepped back in alarm when the door was first thrown open, but his guard went down instantly when he saw who it was on his doorstep. For a moment Vlad silently stood there with his eyes taking in each person individually. Then, with a laugh, a brilliant smile came to his features.
Shooting Danny a mock glare, Vlad told him, "You are horrible, but you already know that, don't you?"
Danny gave Vlad an innocent shrug. "I might," he admitted, his smile growing as he gestured at the group crowded in the doorway. "For the record, they ran into me. Also for the record, this is what I was hiding...but I bet you figured that out by now."
"Nice place ya got here, Vladster," Ryder butted in, taking a moment to glance around approvingly before bringing his eyes back to the man. He chuckled and grinned as he nodded his head upwards, saying to Jet, "Tell 'im what you got there, kiddo."
The little boy matched his father's grin and lifted the box off Ryder's head as he declared proudly, "We brought cake!"
Vlad grinned up at Jet as he took the cake before it dropped and splattered all over the floor he knew Jessie just cleaned. "Well, it's much appreciated," Vlad told the boy. Whispering to Ryder, Vlad said half seriously, "You better watch him. He has your inane smile, and, quite frankly, I don't trust it."
"That's probably a good call, " Ryder assured Vlad just as quietly. He laughed as he added, "He's about ten times as diabolical as I am. Not to mention, twice as cute. That makes for a deadly combination." He put a hand over the side of his mouth as he mumbled for Vlad's ears only, "I'd keep a sharp eye on this one if I were you."
Jet crossed his arms on top of Ryder's head and propped his chin on them as he smiled over at Vlad. "Aren't ya gonna open it, Mr. Vlad?" he asked, eager to see the man's reaction. His dad had told him a bunch of stories about the museum, and Vlad was definitely his favorite character in all of the exciting tales. It was like meeting Spider-Man in the flesh for the little boy.
"Oh, gawd, what did you do to it, Ryder?" Melody asked as she peered dubiously over at the cake.
Shaking his head and preparing for the worst, Vlad opened the box and everyone leaned in to see what the cake looked like. It was in a regular square shape, but on the flat surface was a colorful frosting outline of Batman. Off to the side of the iconic superhero figure, though, was a less talented creation of frosting that said the words 'Vlad' with a little arrow pointing to Batman.
Melody instantly burst into laughter but tried to stop when Vlad shot her a reproachful glare. Hanging onto Matthew's arm, she told Vlad with an innocent grin, "Oh, it's just that Matthew and I share an inside joke about Batman. That's all. Don't we, Matt?"
Looking very unsure of himself, Matthew said with a shrug, "Sure."
Chuckling under his breath, Danny nudged Vlad's arm good-naturedly as he said to Matthew, "Don't worry. I think we all have an inside joke about Batman." He sent Vlad another innocent smile and added with a shrug, "Besides, the cake looks good. Can't deny that."
As Vlad turned his disapproving gaze back over to Ryder, he found the man grinning silently at him, as if he was waiting for something to happen. It didn't take Vlad much longer to figure out what that was.
Jet leaned forward a little, swinging his feet in excitement as he asked, "Don't'cha like it, Mr. Vlad? Dad said you'd really like it!"
Vlad knew he was stuck between a rock and hard place. While he would have liked to have given everyone in the room deathly glares, there could be no dirty looks turned in Jet's direction. The boy and his adorable smile could win over the iciest of hearts, and it was no match to Vlad's thawing one.
Sighing with a small smile as he looked up at Jet, Vlad told the kid, "It's perfect."
If possible, Vlad's words managed to make Jet's smile brighten up even further as he exclaimed, "Cool! Dad, dad." The little boy leaned forward to peer into his father's upside-down face as he said, "You were right, dad!"
Smiling calmly back at his son, Ryder replied knowingly, "Of course, Jet. I'm always right."
Ryder had found that acting like he always knew what he was doing was one of the most effective, if not the best, parenting techniques out there. It always seemed to assure Jet and that was really all that mattered.
Melody and Matthew shared a grin, the girl whispering with a giggle to her boyfriend, "He's so cute!"
"Here, all of you can come in," Vlad said as he stepped away from the door. He glanced deeper into his house with a grimace. When the week of vacation was up, Vlad had planned to move all his ghost parts and equipment back down to the basement, but now he realized he hadn't began that process soon enough. Just his luck that he would have to entertain some of the most important guests with his house looking like a crazy pack-rat of ghost junk lived there.
As the four moved on inside and Danny closed the door, Matthew stuck his hand out for Vlad to shake. As they shook hands in greeting, Matthew said with a smile, "So you're the infamous Vlad Masters Mel keeps talking about. It's good to finally meet you, Vlad."
"It's good to meet you too, Matthew," Vlad said with an honest smile. Pointing to a beaming Melody, Vlad told the other man, "You have a very brilliant girl, right there." Smirking, he added, "Only when she's not beating you up, of course."
"Oh, of course," Matthew said with a knowing grin.
"Both of you can shut up," Melody grumbled in a pretend pout as she pushed Matthew away and punched Vlad in the arm. Walking over to Ryder and Jet, she said in a huff, "I'm going to go hang out with the people who don't insult me."
"Yeah, the five-year-old," Matthew shot back, which only brought another grin to Vlad's face. He was glad to know Melody had caught herself a man who was just as annoying to her as he was. She would need someone in her everyday life that didn't let her get away with everything.
"Hey, I'm six now!" Jet declared, crossing his arms over his chest resolutely even as he continued to smile. He was pretty proud of the fact that he was so old now.
Chuckling quietly, Ryder said to Matthew as he lifted Jet off his shoulders and placed him on his feet beside Esperanza, "Don't mess with the kid's age, Matt. I told people he was three years old for years."
"Why would you do that?" Danny asked with a curious smile. He knew that he was talking to Ryder, but that still didn't quell his desire to understand the man's motives. Everything he did was just too weird not to question.
Ryder let out another laugh, patting Jet's fluffy hair as he said, "I had to teach him to count somehow, right?" The thief glanced over to Esperanza only to find the woman trailing listlessly around the hall, her eyes instinctively searching out danger that probably wasn't there.
That was pretty much the only reason the woman had agreed to come to the party. Whether she liked it or not, Ryder knew how much she worried about him and Jet.
Ryder smiled a little at Esperanza's back before leaning over to Melody and whispering, "I totally made out with Esperanza."
Melody looked a little impressed by Ryder's statement. "Way to go," she said with a giggle. "How did that happen?"
As Vlad led them down the hallway and to the nearest living room that held the least amount of junk, he explained, "Don't mind the mess. I'm working on several projects at once and kind of...got carried away."
"No freaking duh," Melody said as they were forced to squeeze through the labyrinth of parts.
"Yeah, bit of an understatement, Vlad," Danny assured the man with a grin once they had all made it safely into the living room. Without hesitation, the teen threw himself across a comfortable looking armchair, claiming it as his own.
While managing to keep a close eye on Jet and dodge all the junk in his way, Ryder confidently told Melody, "I'm just irresistible to the opposite sex, of course. Once she saw me after so long, she couldn't stop hersel- hey, Jet, don't touch that."
The thief broke off his story as he strode forward to pull the laser-y looking device out of his son's hands before placing it back on the shelf it'd come from. Pointing down at the boy, Ryder said, "No touching, Jet."
Jet pursed his lips in a pitiful pout as he nodded sullenly. Though, his sadness didn't last long as he quickly focused on the other inventions in the room and went off to explore them.
Shaking his head after the boy, Ryder returned to Melody's side as he finished with a grin, "She couldn't stop herself from making out with me."
Curling up on a big, leather couch, Melody said with a skeptical smile, "Right. Sure. Are you sure you're the chick-magnet and not Jet? 'Cause I'm pretty sure he's the cute one."
Ryder held up an index finger, saying seriously as he took a seat on the other armchair across from the couch, "That may be true, but he just reels them in. I'm the one that seals the deal."
The thief had to break off again as Jet scooted past him with a determined expression. Ryder reached out, pulled something from the boy's pocket without him even noticing, and turned to toss it into Vlad's hands where it belonged.
"Sorry about that wallet, Vlad," Ryder apologized, flashing a sheepish grin as Jet met up with Esperanza, and the woman took over responsibility of making sure he didn't steal anything else. "Kid can't help himself sometimes."
Vlad caught the wallet, frowned, checked his empty back pocket, and then frowned some more. Shaking his head, Vlad murmured incredulously, "He's definitely your son."
"Thanks, Vlad!" Ryder said cheerfully as he got comfortable in his seat and propped his feet up on the coffee table in front of him. He looked more than content and was obviously taking Vlad's comment as a compliment. "He's pretty awesome," the thief murmured with a smile.
Ryder looked over to Melody, Danny, and Vlad, giving them each a grateful grin as he said, "I wouldn't have seen him again if it wasn't for you guys so...thanks."
"Aw, you're welcome, Ryder," Melody said. She chuckled as she added, "Although I had no clue how we ever managed to get along at the end there."
"Miracles still happen, I guess," Vlad said as he started the leave the room. "I'll be right back. We need a knife to cut the cake and some plates."
"I'll help you carry it all," Matthew volunteered.
"Would you like to help too, Miss Esperanza?" Vlad asked the lady politely.
Esperanza raised her flinty eyes up from Jet to meet Vlad's, but said nothing in response. Sensing the rising awkward moment, Ryder quickly popped up from his seat, saying, "I'll help! I love carrying stuff."
Once he was close enough to Vlad so that Esperanza couldn't hear, Ryder whispered under his breath, "Don't take it personal, Vladster. She doesn't really talk a lot. And she doesn't like new people...or parties...or cake. Or, y'know, fun in general. She's getting better, though."
"No. I understand," Vlad said as the three traveled back through the throngs of ghost stuff, heading for the kitchen. Out of everyone there at the party, Vlad knew he was probably the only person who understood exactly how Esperanza felt about parties. Until his capture, he hadn't been a real lover of fun and he still wasn't the biggest of fans, but he was learning to enjoy such things. Hopefully she would too eventually. Living with Ryder and Jet, Vlad had a feeling she'd mellow out at some point. It was like a rule.
As the three men collected plates, silverware, and cups around the kitchen, Matthew finally said quietly as he stared down at the plates in his hands, "I don't know exactly what all of you went through in that museum. Melody still hasn't given me the entire story, but I personally really want to thank you two for bringing Melody back.
"You know, she's a whole new person now, but in a good way. She has more purpose, and she actually started talking to her family again. I think you guys helped her with that, and I appreciate everything you two and Danny did for her." He looked up at the two men finally, saying, "Thanks."
Ryder pulled his eyes away from the extremely expensive looking cups he'd discovered in the cupboard above him and looked over at Matthew. His eyes started to drift back towards the cups, but he hastily yanked them back to the other man as he smiled slightly.
"You don't gotta thank us," the thief told Matthew. "Melody's awesome, and she helped us too. I don't know if she told you, but it was just me and her in the museum for the first few weeks. And...well, I know I woulda gone crazy if she hadn't been there."
Ryder pointed over at Matt as he balanced a stack of less expensive looking cups with his free hand. "You better take good care of her, Matt," he said seriously. "She's my best friend now, and I know she's happy with you so just keep her that way, alright?"
Brightening up, Ryder added cheerfully, "And you guys can still totally babysit if you want to! Jet likes you already, I promise."
Matthew gave a laugh. "I guess pickpocketing in the Walker family is a term of endearment," he said.
"As long as they give whatever it was back," Vlad joked as he grinned maliciously at Ryder.
The thief didn't look fazed by Vlad's smile in the least as he raised his chin and said, "We don't steal from friends...but, if we do, we give the stuff back every time."
Ryder bobbed his head up and down in agreement with his own statement. He paused after a moment before adding slowly as he looked at Vlad, "I promise to empty out Jet's pockets before we leave as a side-note."
"Good," Vlad said, grin still there. "And then I'll empty yours."
Ryder's gaze shifted towards the ceiling as if he was considering Vlad's statement. After a pause, he smirked and nodded. "Fair enough," he agreed, smirk growing into a grin. "Now let's go eat some cake."
"Alright, alright, let's go," Vlad sighed with a shake of his head while Matthew tried not to crack up. All Melody's stories about Ryder were more than correct. She hadn't done his character justice when she tried to explain him to Matthew.
Meanwhile, back in the living room, Melody watched Jet gallivant around the room in a curious frenzy as she asked Danny, "So what have you been doing since you've gotten back, short stuff? Did you have to go to school right away? That would totally suck."
Danny smiled a little, his gaze trailing after Jet as well. The kid seemed to see every bit of the room as a new adventure waiting to be explored. He was just like a miniature version of Ryder. It was almost scary.
Bringing his eyes over to Melody, the teen sighed a little as he nodded unhappily. "Yeah, I had to go back," he said in a surly mutter. "My parents gave me a couple days off, but I already missed a few weeks. I really don't need to be behind anymore. Other than that...everything's been pretty normal; even for my standards. It's kinda awesome, actually."
Smile returning at the thought, Danny asked curiously, "What about you?"
"Well, I moved back in with Matt," Melody said with a smile. "but I got bored right away. He's gone all day teaching, so I don't have much to do besides searching for a decent job. So that's what I've been doing. Oh, but I did stop by my parents' house the other day. Even played some Halo with my little brother. Heh. This girl still has some skills. I kicked his ass and totally won his respect, 'cause I'm awesome."
Danny couldn't help but laugh. He didn't think he'd ever miss Melody and Ryder as much as he had in the past week. It was nice to see them again, and he could only hope they all managed to stay in touch in the future. Knowing Ryder, he had a lot of hope that would happen.
"So have you put your thieving career behind you?" Danny asked with a smile. He was pretty proud of Melody for going to see her family like she did. He'd been even more proud if the girl decided to use her smarts for the greater good.
Melody shrugged indifferently, saying, "It's fun and easy, but it's too dangerous. Especially with, you know, wanting to start a family and all that jazz." She looked away from Danny as she said more seriously, "Honestly, I'm a bit interested in, well, this stuff." She pointed around the room, continuing, "When Vlad was teaching me all about ghost technology and crap in the museum, it was actually pretty fascinating. And I picked it up really easily. I just...get it, ya know? You're the one with ghost busters as parents, though. Tell me, is there a career there?"
Danny forced down a laugh of surprise. Honestly, he hadn't seen that coming at all. He made a mental note to share the news with Ryder so that they could tease Melody about that later.
Becoming more thoughtful, the teen replied slowly, "It depends. I mean, my parents used to travel all over the place to find work before they had me and my sister. Now they just make a bunch of ghost weapons all the time. They're always pretty busy, but I think people are starting to take ghost stuff seriously now."
Chuckling, Danny said, "As long as you don't use any of your future, awesome inventions on me, I'd say to go for it."
"Miss Melody!" Jet suddenly exclaimed as he popped up over the arm of the couch Melody was sitting on. He leaned on the cushioned arm rest as he asked the girl with wide eyes, "Are you gonna be a ghost buster?"
Melody couldn't keep in a giggle as she gushed over the kid's abounding cuteness levels. "If they change their ugly jumpsuit outfits, I totally will," she answered Jet, flashing Danny a teasing grin.
Danny just smiled at Melody as Jet's eyes got even rounder, and he whispered in excitement, "I'm gonna know a ghost buster." He didn't hesitate to bounce in place before climbing up onto the couch to sit beside Melody as if claiming his spot near the future ghost buster.
As Jet sat down, Esperanza moved closer to keep a sharp eye on the little boy. These people didn't seem too untrustworthy, but she wasn't about to take a chance when it came down to the Walker family.
Obvious to his nanny's gaze, Jet looked over at Danny and questioned him next, "Mr. Danny, are you really a super hero? My dad said you were, but are you really?"
Chuckling, the teen leaned back in his seat, gave the boy a giant grin, and stated, "Yep, that's me." Danny lowered his voice to tell the boy in a secretive voice, "And Vlad really is Batman. Right, Melody?"
"Oh, yeah, of course!" Melody said right away, nodding enthusiastically. While picking on Danny was a fun past time, teasing the life out of Vlad was considered more like Melody's favorite sport. "He has the cape and mask and everything." Although she knew it was probably wrong to lie to little kids, this time she made an exception.
"Oh wow!" Jet said, grinning in even more excitement. He didn't suspect either Melody or Danny of lying to him, and he probably wouldn't have minded if he did. The boy couldn't believe his luck. He had a bunch of new friends that were all so cool.
"Who's ready for cake?" Ryder exclaimed loudly as he and the others strolled back into the room with the proper utensils and plates. The thief paused momentarily to smile at Melody and Jet. He'd always known that his best friend and son would get along, but it was just really nice to see it.
"I know someone does," Ryder continued, leveling his knowing stare on Jet who beamed right back at him. He didn't hesitate to plop a pre-cut piece of cake on a plate into the boy's lap. As he handed him a spoon, he said, "Just one piece for now, okay?"
Jet nodded in understanding, taking a huge bite of the cake as he did. With his mouth still full, Jet mumbled to Vlad, "Mr. Vlad, do you have a batcave under your house?"
Vlad had been about to hand Danny a plate of cake when he heard this. Before Danny could snatch the plate away, Vlad lifted it out of reach and glared down at the teen in annoyance. "What have you been telling this kid about me while I was gone?" he asked Danny, releasing a flummoxed sigh.
Danny could only smile innocently back up at the man. Ordinarily, he probably would've just told him what he'd said, but he really wanted that cake. "Nothing, Vlad," he answered, forcing his expression to become pathetic and pitiful as he kept his eyes on his cake. "I wouldn't say anything that wasn't the truth."
Vlad rolled his eyes, grumbling down at the boy, "Not even trying to come up with a decent lie, I see." An unkind, snarky smile hinted at Vlad's lips as he took a bite out of the piece of cake he had been planning to give Danny as retribution.
Ignoring the look of shock and horror on Danny's face, Vlad placed the plate in the teen's lap, saying, "Don't worry, dear boy. The cake is delicious."
As Danny stared down at the ruined cake, he heard Jet whisper, his cheeks bulging with food, "Oh snap."
Raising his eyes to glare at Vlad's back as he turned away, Danny remembered back in the museum when they'd had the food fight. Vlad had been the one to hit him first with his own tray of food. With the thought of vengeance in his mind, a grin slid to the teen's face.
Danny quickly reached out, snatched the cake off his plate, and threw it right into the back of Vlad's head.
Vlad froze in astonishment, the rest of the room doing the same as they all watched and waited in hushed suspense to see what Vlad would do now that a wad of cake was stuck to the back of his head all thanks to the ghost kid. Releasing an astounded, acrid chuckle, Vlad wiped off the cake with his hand and shook it off onto the coffee table.
"Oh, you shouldn't have done that," Vlad said with a vicious smile as he grabbed his own piece of cake sitting on the table and turned back around to face Danny. Walking briskly toward the teen, Vlad ordered, "Hold still."
"No way!" Danny shouted as he leapt to his feet, laughing at the look on Vlad's face. Hitting him with the cake had totally been worth it. Pointing dramatically at the man, Danny declared for the dramatic value alone, "You shouldn't have eaten my cake!"
"You tell 'im, Danny!" Ryder agreed as he sat down and began to eat his own cake. He was more than willing to watch another food fight while eating cake.
"Well, you shouldn't have been spewing lies to some poor, innocent child about me!" Vlad shouted back with a laugh as he chased Danny around the armchair.
"Cake and a show," Melody commented with an evil smile. "This trip was totally worth it."
"They weren't lies!" Danny laughed out, dodging to the side to dash past Vlad and run around to the other side of the couch. He leaned down slightly and told Jet with a grin, "Seriously, he's really Batman."
Waiting for just the perfect time, Vlad snatched up his chance when he saw Danny distracted with Jet. He took swift aim from behind the arm chair and threw his piece of cake, meeting his mark dead on. As the cake spatted into the side of Danny's face, the man let out a victorious cry.
"Justice has been served," Vlad told the group with a smirk.
With wide eyes, Jet murmured in utter astonishment, "Wow. He really is Batman."
Danny's grimace as he wiped cake from his hair quickly morphed into a triumphant grin. Vlad may have gotten him back for the cake, but he was the ultimate victor in the end. He'd successfully convinced Jet that Vlad was Batman. Mission accomplished.
Just as Danny opened his mouth to concede to Vlad that his revenge had been done, but the words died in his throat when Jet stuffed his tiny hand into his half-eaten cake and flung a big piece of it into Matthew's chest. He giggled loudly as he said, "More justice!"
Matthew was too shocked to react at first. He looked up when he heard his girlfriend give a snort of laughter at his misfortune. Melody gave him a guilty grin and shrugged. There wasn't much Matthew could do to Jet, him being just a kid and all...and the fact that he was way too adorable to throw cake at. On the other hand, there was one way to get his revenge.
Because his own cake had already been finished, Matthew reached out to grab Melody's to use against her with one of Melody's own mischievous smiles.
"No, no, no!" the girl squealed with some giggles as she tried to shield her cake from Matthew. "Not this again!"
"Don't worry, Miss Melody!" Jet assured the girl as he bounced to his feet on the couch. He quickly threw another glob of his cake into Matthew's face to defend his new friend, laughing as he said, "I'll protect you!"
Ryder sat back in his seat, smiling as he wiped a pretend tear from his eye. "That's my boy," he chuckled out. "Defending the weak and down-trodden. I knew I raised him right."
"Oh, that's just unfair," Matthew said with a laugh. "And I thought I had a rough time teaching a bunch of 8th graders. It's nice to know some people don't ever grow up. How you lived with these weird people for months, Melody, I have no clue."
Still giggling like a fool, Melody leaned over Jet and wiped off some frosting from Matthew's face so she could eat it. "Thanks, babe," the man said with a sigh. Glancing down at Jet, Matthew's smile returned as he wiped off some frosting from his face and and dotted it on Jet's nose. "That's payback," he told the kid.
Jet's grin widened, and he plopped back onto the cushions, looking more than just proud of himself. He didn't seem to take offense to the frosting as he dragged his sleeve across his face and giggled happily. "It wasn't justice, though!" the boy replied, crossing his arms over his chest as he nodded once.
"But it was definitely sweet," Matthew assured the kid. He looked up when Vlad dangled an unused working rag in front of him that he had found in the room. "Thanks," Matthew said as he took the rag and began to wipe off his face.
Turning to Danny, Vlad offered another rag for the teen. "You have a little bit of cake in your hair," he pointed out teasingly with a snarky grin.
"Oh, really?" Danny replied with a raised eyebrow. He put a hand up to his frosting coated hair and exclaimed in pretend shock, "Holy delicious frosting, Batman!"
Before Vlad could snatch it away like he'd done to the cake, Danny reached out and took the rag with a smirk. He rubbed it through his hair, forcing it to spike up into unruly clumps. At least they were clean unruly clumps. Glaring jokingly up at Vlad, the teen muttered, "This could've been avoided if you hadn't eaten my cake."
Looping an arm around Danny's shoulders, Vlad said, "True. Yet my revenge could have been avoided if you could miraculously learn to keep your mouth shut. Maybe one day, though. I like to dream big."
"Right," Danny sarcastically agreed with an eye roll. He grinned up at Vlad as he said, "You'd go into a deep depression if I ever learned to keep my mouth shut...right, Ryder?"
Though he hadn't been paying attention at all to their conversation, Ryder lifted his fork up and declared, "Yup!" before he returned to his cake.
"See?" Danny said, giving Vlad another grin. "If Ryder agrees, it must be true."
"Oh, surely I can't fight the logic in that sound argument," Vlad said sarcastically.
Despite himself, the man grinned and shook his head as he steered Danny and himself over to another couch. Collapsing into it with a happy sigh, Vlad looked out at his new group of friends. He was momentarily reminded of the four of them sitting at that picnic table, endlessly talking and teasing each other until they went to bed. At least the Collector had produced something good from all the bad he created. Somehow the fear and anger towards that ghost had made a family Vlad couldn't even hope for.
Relaxing back into the cushions like Vlad, Danny smiled out across the room. Much like Vlad, he was having flashbacks of the museum. For once, though, he wasn't thinking about all the bad stuff. It was so weird. Danny had thought that it would take him much longer to recover from the horrible experience of captivity. But when he was sitting here with everyone he'd experienced that feeling with, he didn't feel upset. He just felt content with his life.
Danny crossed his arms comfortably over his chest, letting out a happy sigh. A thought suddenly occurred to the teen as he brought his eyes back into focus and asked curiously, "Hey, has anyone heard that stupid ding sound yet? My mom was making dinner last night, and the oven totally freaked me out when it went off."
"Oh my gosh, yeah!" Melody said with a nervous laugh. "I had a run in with an elevator with that bell. Ug. Not fun."
"She refused to go up in an elevator with me the other day for an interview because of that sound," Matthew grumbled, still bit confused about the entire thing. "We had to walk up 15 flights of steps. All because of one bell. One bell!"
Danny let out a laugh as he shook his head and told Matthew, "We had a bad experience with an elevator." He paused before adding with a shudder, "And it's more than just a bell."
"Yeah," Ryder agreed, having finished his cake. He dropped the empty plate onto the table in front of him and grimaced as he remembered what the bell signified to him. "It's like...the symbol of all things horrible and terrible!"
"Dad yelled at the microwave the other day when my easy-mac was done," Jet told the group with a giggle. Before Ryder could object, Esperanza - who was leaning on the back of the chair he sat in - spoke for the first time.
"And then he made me go buy a new microwave," the woman said, shooting Ryder an annoyed glare that he returned with a nervous grin. "It had to make a different sound or he wouldn't buy it."
The rest of the room couldn't help but laugh at the mental image of Ryder screaming at a microwave. For some it was an easier picture to imagine than others.
Sensing it was his turn to answer, Vlad shrugged, saying a bit sheepishly, "Since everyone else has confessed, I have admit that I instinctively blew up a toaster oven the other day that had that bell. My maid Jessie wasn't very happy with me about that one, and explaining how it got that way was harder than the clean up job afterwards."
"Holy crap!" Danny exclaimed through a surprised laugh. "You blew up a toaster?" The teen couldn't stop himself from cracking up at imagining Vlad attacking a poor innocent toaster oven. The mental image was just too hilarious to not laugh at. Danny could hardly believe it.
Ryder looked just as amused as Danny did, but he put aside the feeling to lean forward and say with a raised eyebrow and a grin, "Jessie, hm? Is maid code for something? Like...secret crush?"
Vlad gave a laugh at just the thought of him romantically liking his maid. Although they shared the same stubborn quality, the lady's personality was one that took very many months for Vlad to tolerate. Jessie was a real piece of work. It was only because she cleaned the house so well for such little pay and with no questions asked that he had kept her around for so long.
"I think she is married, Ryder," Vlad told the man. "And she is just a maid, so don't read anything into it."
"Uh-huh," Ryder agreed, nodding slowly as he leaned back in his seat. "Sure, Vlad. It starts out like that, but then it blossoms into much more." The thief paused as if to gather his courage before he looked up at Esperanza and gave her a brilliant smile, "Right, Espy?"
Esperanza narrowed her eyes back down at Ryder, not looking pleased in the least by his statement. Chuckling nervously, Ryder muttered at Vlad and Danny as he slouched in his seat, "So, like I was saying, how'd that fight with the Collector go there at the end? You guys never told us what happened. And I'm not changing the subject or anything."
Vlad frowned at the memory of the battle with the Collector. Everything Vlad had cared about had almost been lost during that fight, and there were strong emotions that got carried along with the horrible yet also victorious memory. He pressed his lips together, trying to decide what to say and how to say it to keep the lighthearted mood going without flat out lying.
Forcing a smile to his lips, he answered while ruffling Danny's hair, "The credit should all go to this one right here. His dramatic little trick at the end saved us all."
Both eyebrows rising in surprise, Ryder said, "You don't say?"
Danny gave a small, abashed shrug when everyone looked at him. Like Vlad, he didn't really like to think about the final fight. Of course, he was proud of himself for taking the Collector down once and for all. However, he just didn't like how he'd been forced to do it.
Even though it was his clone that had gotten shot, the duplicate was apart of him at the time. A part of him had felt like it'd gotten shot and killed as well. It was an unpleasant experience. Not to mention, he didn't like that he'd had to trick Vlad for the scheme to work. He still felt guilty about that.
"It...it, uh, wasn't that big a deal," Danny eventually said as he rubbed the back of his neck.
"Oh, don't be modest now, shrimp," Melody said. "'Cause I lived months with you, and I know how much you can brag."
Danny rolled his eyes, giving Melody a playful smirk. "Right, I'm the one who likes to brag," he told her teasingly. Before she could reply, he released a soft sigh and leaned back, letting his gaze drift away as he thought back to that last battle. He didn't really wanna talk about it, but everyone here deserved to know the details.
"Well," the teen began, keeping his eyes focused off in the distance so he wouldn't have to look at anyone. "The Collector put on this ring that gave him this...I don't even know. It, like, super charged him. And nothing we were doing seemed to even be hurting him that bad. He just kept getting back up and taking all our hits like they were nothing."
Danny rolled his shoulders when he thought about it. He and Vlad could have so easily lost that fight if it hadn't been for what he'd done.
"So...I got hit pretty good at one point and kinda blacked out. When I came to, I saw that Vlad wasn't doing so good so I...cloned myself-"
"You can clone yourself?" Jet interrupted, eyes wide in disbelief. His dad had told him a bit about Danny and Vlad's powers, but that was just too cool.
Danny gave the boy a short smile and nodded as he continued solemnly, "Yeah. I cloned myself because the Collector had a gun and...uh, well, he was gonna use it on Vlad, but I tricked him with the clone and...it got shot instead of me." The teen cleared his throat uncomfortably and said, "I stole the ring while he was distracted and that's...that's how we beat him."
"Probably learned that stealing trick from Ryder," Melody said with a knowing grin to mask whatever grave emotions she was feeling. The two must have cut it really close, and just knowing how close they all had been to losing gave her a small harrowing feeling.
"I still can't get over all this ghost stuff," Matthew muttered with a baffled shake of his head, "as well as crazy and wicked that Collector ghost was toward you four. It was all just...sick."
"Yeah," Danny quietly agreed with both Melody and Matthew, watching with a sad smile as Jet slid off the couch and went over to sit on Ryder's lap. The little boy didn't hesitate to hug his dad, and Ryder instantly returned the gesture as he stared straight ahead with a thoughtful expression.
"But he's not gonna hurt anyone else ever again," Danny continued softly, his eyebrows furrowing as he gave a firm nod. "I wish you all could've seen his face when he knew he was losing. And without his power, he can't do anything anymore. We won...that's all that matters."
"Yeah!" Melody piped up in agreement. The girl was more than ready to move on with her life. Never was she someone who mulled around in the past, and she wasn't about to start that bad habit that night. Melody briefly shared a smile with Matthew before raising her glass of lemonade that had been served with the cake. "We should totally make a toast," she declared with a grin.
"Yeah, we should!" Danny agreed whole-heartedly as he snatched up his own glass and lifted it upwards. "What are we toasting?" he questioned with a smile. He looked around at everyone as he asked, "New beginnings? Or is that too cheesy?"
"We could toast cheesy things," Ryder suggested as he held Jet with one arm and his cup with the other. "'Cause cheese is pretty awesome."
"Then we'll have to add world peace somewhere in there," Matthew said with a grin shot in Melody's direction, delighted to see her roll her eyes.
Snatching up his own glass while wrapping his free arm around Danny's shoulders, Vlad raised the cup and said with a genuine smile, "A toast to freedom and new beginnings!"
"So we are going with cheesy things then," Danny said, giving Vlad a teasing grin before he lifted his glass up higher to join the man's.
The rest of the group held up their cups, each smiling for the same yet differing reasons. They'd all gone through hell and back again to get to this point, but, in the end, it was worth it. They'd started out so dysfunctional, but now they were a family in all the ways that it mattered.
Raising his glass up high, Ryder said with a blooming grin, "To freedom, new beginnings, world peace, cheese, and big butts everywhere! Amen!"
Written By: Pixiegirl13 and Mutantlover09
A/N: Ha ha! That ending line still cracks me up. I hope this ending sums everything up for you readers. We still have an epilogue coming at some point, but it's not very long.
ML and I really want to thank you readers for sticking with us down this long road. It's hard to write a fic this long and get this many readers to keep with us the entire time. You readers have been really awesome and supportive this entire time!
We also want to thank everyone who have done fan art. There's been some that we just stumbled upon on DeviantART, and it's really exciting to see readers taking so much interest in our writing! It's very inspiring. Others have posted links to their art in reviews, and we've really enjoyed looking through them! They're all so wonder, so thank you to everyone for the fan art!
It's sad to finish up a fan fiction after working on something for so long, but it's also a good, relieving feeling as well. All it really does it get me geared up for another fan fiction project I know will pop up down the line. I've got a few one shots stashed away, and there's a Danny Phantom and Hellboy crossover I want to eventually finish and post. So hopefully I'll be seeing you readers some more in the future! I'm not sure about ML's future fan fic plans, though, but she might have something stashed away in that creative mind of hers.
I'll try my best to answer your reviews! Thanks again for reading!