Chapter Five: Deals

Disclaimer: Yeah, yeah, I don't own DP. Moving on.

A week passed before Agent L finally called and asked Jack whether or not he and Maddie would accept their offer, and since Vlad had made very little progress, he and Maddie agreed. Although Maddie had done next to nothing in the week and a half since her son's death and had barely managed to say "yes," Jack hoped that maybe moving and having Jazz back would be able to distract them both from their pain. Seeing his daughter at the wake and at Danny's funeral had been nightmarish, mostly because they'd been forced to immediately watch her walk out of their lives again, and from the looks of it Jazz hadn't been handling it much better.

"How soon before I have my daughter back?" he asked Agent L as he signed the paperwork. On a different day he might have thought about whether or not they were really doing the right thing. Sure, the FBPI were brilliant ghost hunters and were the only officials to take their research seriously, but they had always been a little too extreme for both Jack and Maddie's taste. He worried a lot about what they would use the portal for now that they had a free pass to the ghost zone, and he seriously hoped that they wouldn't do anything so drastic that it would put everyone else in danger.

"We'll inform the appropriate agencies and Vladimir Masters this evening that Jasmine may be returned to your care in the morning," replied the agent calmly as he flicked a nonexistent speck of dirt off the cuff of his white suit jacket. The house was a bit of a disaster at the moment since neither Jack nor Maddie had concerned themselves much with cleaning, and the remains of a week's worth of cheap take-out and instant dinners were scattered about the kitchen. Although his suit was still clean, the mere sight of all the garbage made the agent consistently look down as if it would suddenly transfer from the room to his clothing. Seeing the disaster made him seriously reconsider the deal he had made with them about returning their daughter, but ultimately what happened to the girl mattered very little to Agent L. "You will have one week to clear out your belongings and to hand over the property to us. We have paid for a new household for you to live in on the outskirts of Amity Park, and you may begin moving in there immediately. If the house is not to your liking, then please let our agency know and we will make another arrangement."

"Thank you, Agent L," said Jack quietly as he escorted the agent out the door. He wasn't worried about the new house at all. Anything was better than remaining here, and honestly, if Jack had had it his way, then he would have moved them out of Amity Park as well. Maddie, however, had refused to go so far away. Leaving the house in return for her daughter was something she could accept; abandoning the place that they had finally started to think of as their home was not, and although she protested, Jack knew that she still held onto the faint hope that maybe their son was alive and lost in the ghost zone somewhere. Even after his funeral, she still could not let that hope die.

And Jack could not bring himself to crush it, for in his heart of hearts, he wished for the same miracle.

"Oh, and Mr. Fenton? One of our scientists will be over tomorrow. Please go over your research and blueprints with her, or at least cover enough ground that she will be adequately prepared to take over your research," he commanded.

"There's too much to do in just a day," said Jack, a bit skeptical that anyone would stand a reasonable chance of taking over his and Maddie's research. They were the foremost experts in their field, after all, and had earned their impressive reputation for a reason. Even the FBPI didn't have a paranormal scientist capable of understanding half of their research (or at least not one that Jack or Maddie had heard of before), and Jack couldn't help but feel a little worried that whoever it was would be calling on him and his wife for explanations for months despite Agent L's assurances that the FBPI would respect his and Maddie's wishes to be left alone after this.

"Then just do what you can to at least prepare her for anything vitally important regarding the portal or the prototypes that you have constructed so far," said Agent L. "We wouldn't want another accident, eh?"

A shudder passed through Jack as he thought once again of his son, of his scream as it echoed over the security footage from that day that his wife had watched countless times . . . "No, Agent L," he agreed softly. "I'll do what I can. If you have any questions afterward, then feel free to ask me. But . . . please. Leave Mads out of this, okay? She . . . She just can't right now."

"I understand," lied the agent, for he had never cared for anyone, never had a real family to call his own, and the Fenton's pain was as distant and as unknowable to him as all had believed the Ghost Zone to be before the day of Daniel Fenton's demise.

Gently shutting the door behind the agent, Jack wasted no time with a farewell as he turned to packing up the household. He had set Maddie on some of the easier tasks—packing up the dishes and clothing and appliances and cleaning the kitchen, for example—and he had decided to take on the harder chore of packing up the photos and their son's room. Seeing their son's smiling face looking back at him, feeling his presence in the space that he had lived in for years, was so overwhelming that Jack spent most of his evening alone, sobbing quietly. Not for the first time, he wondered if it would ever get easier, if he would ever be able to look at a photo of his son without breaking down into tears.

If nothing else, at that moment Jack Fenton believed that he would never again have anything to do with the paranormal. His son's death had been a harsh lesson about the price of tampering with the supernatural. Vlad's accident should have been warning enough, but no, he and Maddie had continued on, had continued researching despite all the signs that showed they should stop before something truly terrible happened, and now it was too late to take it back no matter how much both Jack and Maddie wished they could.

Little did Jack know, however, that even as he swore to abandon his research and his former dreams, the first semi-powerful group of ghosts were emerging through a natural portal nearby.

And although a group of ectoplasmic octopi seemed more absurd than threatening, the trio of ghosts was the first in series of waves that would soon rock Amity Park and put an end to Jack and Maddie Fenton's early retirement.

Vlad Masters did not believe that Daniel Fenton was dead.

Of course, he had a special reason for not instantly assuming the worst. Having suffered from a similar lab accident years ago, Vlad knew that there was still the possibility that the boy was alive and lost somewhere within the Ghost Zone, either unwilling or unable to get home. Indeed, his own accident had left the billionaire hospitalized for quite a long time, and so it was not absurd to presume that boy might currently be unconscious and helpless somewhere within the Zone and desperately in need of a kind benefactor's assistance. The lack of a body only seemed to strengthen this possibility even as it seemed to negate it for everyone else, but then again, no one else knew about Vlad or the unusual aftermath of his accident. They simply couldn't conceive of such a possibility, of such a thing as a half-ghost, not when the evidence from their perspective pointed so sharply towards poor Daniel being dead.

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he pictured the scene—Vlad, triumphantly returning with the poor boy in his arms, safe and sound and forever indebted to the wonderful man who would be his savior and future mentor. After all, who else could possibly hope to understand what the boy was going through after his painful accident, or the loneliness and suffering he'd had to endure for the couple of weeks that he was trapped within the zone? No one could, naturally, no one but the billionaire, and so he would take the boy on as his pupil and treat him like his son . . . something which would naturally be even easier once the lovely Maddie abandoned Jack to take her place beside the man who had saved poor, young Daniel. After all, why would she ever want to stay with Jack? He was the one that developed the portal and created the infernal device in the first place, and it was probably—no, definitely—Jack's fault that Danny almost died. And unlike Maddie, who was beautiful and intelligent and open-minded, Jack was an oaf who would never see past the ghostly nature of his son. He'd seek to destroy the little badger, not accept him, unlike Vlad who would welcome the boy with open arms . . .

And, of course, he'd take the girl back, too. Glancing over at the red-headed young woman who sat quietly curled up in a chair with a thick psychology book on her lap, Vlad couldn't help the grin that appeared as he considered that particular stroke of genius. It hadn't taken very long for him to hear about poor Daniel's accident—that oaf had called him quickly enough when he realized that Vlad had something he wanted, even if it was just his influence with some of Amity Park's local officials that were concerned for Jasmine's safety—and although Vlad felt no particular fondness for her, he knew that taking Jasmine in and doing everything he could to assist her during this tough time would only help improve his relationship with Maddie.

Of course, Maddie might be a little upset when she learned that Vlad had been stalling with Social Services . . . It would have been easy to convince the fools to give Jazz back to her foolish father and wonderful mother, especially given his rather unique abilities, but Vlad hoped that he'd be able to use the time with her to develop a relationship with the girl and to have more time with Maddie. He'd even managed to quickly purchase a new home in Amity Park just to be closer to his beloved and to make the girl happy, although he'd had to overshadow and bribe a few more people than he would've preferred to in order to have the transaction go through so quickly and to avoid all of the usual nonsense involved with purchasing a home . . . It was frustrating, but in the end it would all be worth it. Amity Park was closer to the portal that young Daniel had passed through, and if Vlad could manage to gain access to it he'd have a much easier time of finding the boy. The Ghost Zone, after all, was somewhat confusing to navigate and so vast that it might as well be infinite, and real world locations had no obvious relationship to locations in the Ghost Zone. It might take Vlad days or weeks to determine where the Fenton's portal was relative to his own portal in the Ghost Zone, and the longer it took him to locate, the less likely that Daniel would still be close enough to where he'd come through. And that, of course, just meant that it would become even harder for him to rescue the boy.

Getting into the portal, however, would be tougher than Vlad hoped, since Jack had been hovering over it for days and now he'd apparently installed some kind of doors or security system to prevent any ghosts from entering or exiting through the portal. Personally, Vlad wasn't sure how well a set of doors would actually work at keeping a ghost out since they could simply go intangible, yet just in case there was more to the design than he'd heard (for once, Jack hadn't been willing to go into nauseating amounts of detail about his work when Vlad tried to ask him about it . . . his depression over his son and daughter was just too great), he'd arranged for a few of his ghosts to try to attack Jack by passing through the portal to get into the lab. Although Vlad probably should have followed them to figure out how to get to the Fenton's portal from his own, it would have been hard for Vlad to explain why he'd left poor Jasmine all alone for hours, potentially even for days, when he was supposed to be her guardian, and with how long it had been since he'd initially dispatched them, he was beginning to wonder if the foolish creatures had managed to have any luck at all locating the new portal in the Ghost Zone.

Perhaps he would be better off releasing Skulker and allowing him to destroy the doors and security system from this side to clear a path for him instead . . . No doubt the hunter would also stand a much, much better chance of killing Jack than any foolish ectopus. Jack Fenton was pathetic, but even he was likely too good to be thwarted by such a weak ghost, and with Maddie still supporting that oaf those ghosts would have almost no chance. Even Skulker might have trouble with her, and he didn't want to take the chance that the hunter would find her to be such worthy prey that he'd attempt to hang her pelt on his wall. Vlad's control over the ghosts only extended so far, and no amount of new weapons or materials could overcome Skulker's obsession with hunting "worthy" prey. For now, at least, he was better off waiting to see how the ectopuses faired. If nothing happened in another day or so, then he'd try a different approach.

"Jasmine, dear?" he said softly, and the girl looked up uneasily from her textbook, her expression clearly showing that she was uncomfortable with the endearment.

"Umm . . . yes, Mr. Masters?" she stuttered. "And really, it's just Jazz, okay? You don't need to call me by my full name."

"Ah, but you should never be ashamed of the name your sweet mother gave you, Jasmine," he told her with a faint smile. "It's quite lovely, really. Very respectable."

"Thanks . . . I guess, but my dad was actually the one who picked it out for me," she mumbled, frowning. "Didn't you have a question or something?"

"Ah, yes. I wondered, Jasmine, if there was anything in particular that you'd like for dinner this evening? My new chef finally started working today, and he's supposed to be quite the culinary genius," Vlad said. "He can supposedly cook dishes so spectacular that they've made grown men weep."

For a moment she paused and stared down at her book, her eyes not really seeing the words at all as she considered it, and then she quietly mumbled something.

"What was that, dear?" he asked, certain that he'd heard something about "glowing" in there somewhere, but that made little sense.

"I said that all I really want to eat is my mom's cooking, even if it glows," she replied, shaking slightly, and he could see the tears beginning to build up in her eyes. "She's a terrible cook, you know, and she and dad are always using their weird inventions to try and make dinner. I don't think I've had a meal that hasn't had some part of it that glows in years. I used to complain about it every day, but now . . . now I really, really just want something that glows." She chuckled softly, shaking her head. "That's crazy, isn't it? I'm totally losing it. I actually want food that's inedible."

And then the dam broke loose, and before Vlad knew it the girl was crying, weeping all over her book and her lap . . . He'd never, ever been very good with children, especially when they were sobbing like this, and biting his lip uncertainly he stood up to comfort her when his phone suddenly rang.

"Oh, butter biscuits," he cursed softly as he grabbed his cell phone, and glancing at the caller ID he noticed it was the Fentons. Of course, he had no way of knowing which Fenton it might be, and with the hope that his beloved's voice would be on the other end of the line, he flipped it open.

"Vlad Masters speaking," he said, and winced the instant Jack's deep voice came over the telephone. It was really, really difficult not to tune him out, yet when Jack suddenly mentioned something about a deal with the FBPI, Vlad instantly snapped back to attention.

"You did what?" he hissed over the phone, his dark tone making Jasmine flinch, for she'd never seen him so angry. Although Vlad did have a bit of a temper, he was fairly adept at keeping it under control, yet this . . . this idiot always knew just what to do to bring that darkness out of him.

"We sold the place to the Guys in White," Jack explained once more over the phone, "in return for our daughter. I know it might've been stupid, Vladdie, but . . . but we needed our daughter back. Mads and I—well—we're falling apart. We just couldn't wait any longer. Agent L said that he'd be calling you, y'know, to work out the details and stuff."

"Are you insane?" roared Vlad, turning as his eyes flashed a brilliant red, for he knew his emotions were running too high for him to keep his eyes under control, and the last thing he needed was Jasmine to see it and think the worst of him. "Do you know what those fools—what they'll do to—and—"

"I know they probably won't do what's right," Jack admitted solemnly, much to Vlad's surprise since his old "friend" was generally hopelessly naïve and completely unwilling to realize when he'd made a mistake. "And I know I might regret this later, but I just . . . what else were we going to do, Vlad? If we refused, he threatened to seize the house anyway. At least this way we got our daughter back."

There were a thousand words, a thousand curses, and a thousand painful things that Vlad wanted to do to Jack Fenton just then, but somehow he managed to stop himself. Taking a long, deep breath and releasing it slowly, he forced himself to calm down and to try and feign some sense of composure. The situation was less than ideal, but Vlad was nothing if not brilliant. He would figure out a way to fix this mess, somehow, for if the portal was now in the hands of the FBPI, then it would be much, much harder for him to gain access to it. Although he didn't relish the thought of trying to find Daniel without that particular starting point, it seemed he now had little choice, and if the Fentons were getting Jasmine back then he'd have a chance to investigate the ghost zone in person rather than sending some other ghost in his stead.

Besides, the boy might not be anywhere near the portal anymore. Time in the ghost zone had a nasty habit of lining up less than perfectly with the flow of time in the real world, and although it had only been about a week since the boy had vanished on this side, it easily could have been as much as a month or more from young Daniel's perspective in the Ghost Zone.

Letting out a long sigh, Vlad forced himself to remain calm and asked, "So when will you be here for Jasmine?"

"We should be there tomorrow, if everything goes according to plan," he replied. "Look, Vladdie, I know that this wasn't the smartest move, but we had to do it, and, uh . . . well, thanks for everything you've done for us. If there's anything we can do for you, just let us know, okay?"

'How about you drop dead and give Maddie back to me?' Vlad thought viciously, but to Jack he simply said, "Oh, it was no trouble at all . . . and I suppose I do understand that you had no choice in the matter. Desperate times and all . . . But I have other things I need to attend to tonight, Jack, and I'll have to let Jasmine know so that she can be ready for tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" whispered Jazz suddenly, and turning around he saw her face light up, her eyes shining in a way that they never had before within these walls despite everything that Vlad had done for her. "Does that mean . . .?"

"Yes, Jasmine," he said as he hung up the phone and ignored Jack's hasty good-bye. "By tomorrow, you'll be back to eating all the glowing food you can handle, my dear."

A/N: Sort of late update, I know. The last week or so has been kind of rough between starting a new job, getting robbed, and being sick, and I haven't had much time to focus on my writing because of it. But it's here, at last, hastily edited thought it may be, so . . . victory, I suppose?

As a note, I originally thought about splitting this chapter into two separate ones, especially since the first half of the part with Vlad is a little slow, but in the end I think that they worked out okay together. Not great, but okay, lol. And remember, FBPI is synonymous with the Guys in White in this fic. I kind of feel like they'd have a real name, y'know, and a boring one at that . . . And I am going for a little more realism in this than the show had. Not much, but a bit more.

Anyway, as always, thanks to everyone who's reviewed thus far (as well as those of you who have alerted and favorited this story). It seriously means a lot to me, and I'd definitely appreciate getting any feedback you might have after this chapter as well since I didn't go over it as carefully as I normally do. So please, if you have a minute, drop me a review, 'kay?

'til next time!