Danny Phantom let out a scream of pain as an ectoplasmic energy blast collided with his chest. He staggered backward, gasping for breath, as his opponent, Vlad Plasmius, charged at him, another blast in his hands, ready to be fired. He did fire it, and his aim was exact; the blast collided into Danny who had not moved from where he was leaning against the concrete guardrail of the bridge their fight had taken root for support. He was clutching his injured chest, and ectoplasm oozed between his fingers and dripped onto the cracked, weather-beaten pavement. His breathing was heavy, the air being pulled in in long, weary sighs. His head was heavy, and everything had taken on an eerie, nightmarish slowness and an unclear haze.

There seemed to be no word to describe the extent of pain that he felt. None would be severe enough to describe it exactly. Because he didn't think he'd ever been beaten as badly as he was now in all of his ghost-fighting career, let alone by Vlad. He'd come to believe that Vlad did care about him some, and thus when they fought he tended to be more gentle than some ghosts…most ghosts, in fact. Perhaps it was safer to say all ghosts, because none were so tediously gentle as he. But then, none had intentions like he did. They wanted Danny Phantom out of the picture, but in Vlad's case it was the opposite. It seemed that he, more than anything, wanted Danny in the picture.

In convincing Danny to join him, or at least attempting to, he did not stand by and simply ask Danny to do so. He liked to first establish that his powers were in fact the dominate, unprecedented of the two, which he did by challenging Danny. While his aim was never to kill, he liked to rough Danny up some as means of further convincing him to join him. He strived to establish an ultimatum for Daniel which was more or less true: join me or die. And while this had so far proved ineffective, Danny knew how prideful Vlad was and was sure he was unable to admit that, yes, he had made a miscalculation–this strategy was hopeless. So he would keep trying, attempting to prove it to himself so he did not have to taste defeat. This was, of course, what seemed to be Vlad's objective for today.

Danny's head was numb, his mind unable to think. He felt as if he were underwater, at the bottom of some monster-ridden ocean, his skull shattering as the water pressure bore down on him and he struggled to breathe at the same time. And while his body was in so much pain that it pleaded to quit, to fall to the ground and give into unconsciousness at Vlad's feet and be vulnerable to whatever he had planned for him, his mind was not numb enough to allow for this to happen. He was still acutely aware of the consequences this action held, and he was determined to hold his ground. But he did not know how long it would be until his body took control over his mind and he found himself in that position exactly.

The other blast hit him squarely in the chest once again, followed by Vlad's gloved fist as it was driven into his stomach. Danny staggered backward, but managed to stay upright, still leaning against the concrete walls of the bridge, his hands clawing at it like a lifeline. Vlad smiled condescendingly as he took a step away from Danny and seemed to back down for the time being, for which Danny found himself extremely grateful. Vlad watched interestedly in silence as Danny attempted to regain some composure—that was, if he'd had any to begin with—as he managed to steady himself enough to step away from the guardrail and assume some sort of weak fighting stance.

Vlad laughed at him scornfully. "Oh please, Daniel, don't tell me you're going to continue resisting me?"

A low growl escaped Danny's clenched teeth. He cleared his throat and spat at Vlad's feet in disgust and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand in a barbaric manner. Vlad noted briefly the blood intermingled with his phlegm. The back of Daniel's silver glove on his right hand was smeared with blood.

"I'm always going to resist you, Vlad," he hissed, his teeth clenched again, eyes burning with fury, "no matter what you try."

"I wouldn't be so sure, Daniel," Vlad said confidently.

"You know you won't ever get me to join you and you're too prideful to admit it."

"Oh, but there really isn't anything to admit. You'll join me. You know everything I've said is true, but you're too prideful to admit it. You know that you're unhappy. Your father and mother swoon over your sister for her achievements and don't give you the time of day. When they do, the only thing they say is how poorly you perform in school and how you're letting your life go down the drain. They compare you to her, don't they? Because you're not the best in math and science and literature they look down on you, don't they, Danny? But what gives them that right? After all, they are the ones who gave you these powers which are your main distraction when it comes to school, aren't they? You have no time to study or do your work or even be present at school because you're so busy fighting ghosts, which, of course, are ghosts they couldn't catch themselves. Isn't that right, Danny? You're left to clean up their messes time and time again, and what do you get in return? Nothing, nothing at all. Nothing but abuse. And it's not just your parents, is it? You're looked down upon by the whole town as well. You've saved so many people and all you've ever gotten were cold stares and the title of "villain". You come home from these fights, fatigued, depressed. You've got no one to bandage your wounds or help you in any way. You lay in bed at night wallowing in pain until you fall asleep for a few hours before another ghost comes up or you've got to get up for school, where you can hardly keep yourself awake, only to have to take a test and fail it because you didn't have time to study. Haven't you ever wondered why, Daniel? Haven't you ever wondered if there was something better? That is what I've been trying to offer you. I don't understand how you can resist," Vlad said, and his voice was soft with understanding and what reminded Danny vaguely of compassion, but he would not be dissuaded.

"Even if any of that were true, I wouldn't want anything from you. Get that through your head and get out of my town," he said, even though he knew it was all true, all of it. And that was what made it so hard for him when he asked him to join him, because it made Danny feel that Vlad knew much more about him than he did himself, and that they were so alike in the sense that they could both understand each other, which was a relationship Danny wanted to be able to say he had with someone. It made Danny begin to believe that perhaps Vlad did know what was best for him and could give that to him. And it was so tempting, the idea of it. It also brought such guilty comfort to him on those nights that Vlad spoke of, as he lay in bed convulsing in pain. To know that there was a way out was the only thing that set his mind at rest anymore. And he wanted more than anything to have that escape. He'd thought about it, contemplated the possibility when he became desperate enough. Once he had almost left his bedroom with the intent of going to Wisconsin to Vlad's ghostly manor, but in the end had gone back to bed, because he'd realized the one thing that would deter him from doing so. It was not an angel who wanted to provide him escape; it was Vlad, and that changed everything. He might hate what his life had become, but he did not hate it enough that he would go so far as becoming what he had taken an oath he wouldn't—evil. Joining him would mean abandoning his morals, everything he stood for, and becoming just that, because he knew Vlad and everything he stood for and knew that he would try to turn him into that as well. So he would resist, though he knew, truthfully, that he really didn't deserve to.

"Daniel…"

"You had better not ask me to join you. I won't. Understand?"

"Fine, Danny. In all honesty, I don't plan to ask you anymore," Vlad said, smiled, and turned away and began to walk in the opposite direction. Then he said without turning around, "I suppose I'll have to force you. But I won't let you put yourself through this hellishness any longer because of your own stubbornness. You'll join me soon, Danny, and you'll find it such a relief to have a new father."

"Over my dead body!"

Vlad turned around, and on his face he wore a grin like the Cheshire Cat's. "Believe me, little badger, that can be arranged easily," he spoke in a low, confident tone that was brimming with uncontrolled excitement just below the surface.

Danny's eyes widened as he stared at Vlad, who only continued to smile at him.

"Well, this has been entertaining as usual, Daniel. It seems that each time I see you you're a little bit stronger, more practiced, shall we say? You continue to impress me as always." He turned away and waved his hand. "Keep up the good work."

As Vlad flew into the air and headed in the opposite direction, Danny called after him, "Fuck you, Vlad!"

"You too, Danny!" Vlad called back cheerfully before disappearing from Danny's sight.

Danny sighed in aggravation, turned back into his human self, and collapsed onto the pavement without pause.

"Great," he sighed, looking at his electric scooter which seemed to be sitting miles away while it was only a few feet.

He staggered to his feet slowly, gripping the guardrail, only to fall to the ground once again.

He cursed loudly enough that it seemed plausible that Vlad, who was already halfway to Wisconsin, could have heard it.