Four aspects to space. Four senses lost in the vacuum. Four senses need to be reacquired. Taste was covered in the last chapter. Now we have sound, touch, and scent. But there's more to this chapter than Vlad's chaste hedonism. He is a man with a plan after all. And around that plan life continues.
This chapter is written in the 3rd person (various characters).
This chapter is rated T for innuendos, chaste hedonism, and for describing a possession (overshadowing) in detail.
After Vlad Masters' mysterious landslide victory several months ago, Amity Park made the best of their new mayor. Unlike their previous mayor this man was willing to accept the idea of ghosts and even began implementing laws to curb the destruction and heartache caused by ghost attacks. Of course this meant Danny Phantom was affected negatively by ghost curfews and enforced curbs on his power displays. But the town considered it a small price to pay for not having to worry about finding their homes caved in by a stray ectoblast. Phantom's supporters called the laws draconian and 'lame', arguing that evil ghosts weren't going to follow some little anti-ghost laws while rampaging through the city.
These were the first of Vlad's laws that Mayor Foley overturned. The town cheered when he did so, praising their illustrious hero. Danny Phantom was enough of a good guy to save the whole world and there was rumor of some sort of truce among the Ghost Zone. Surely there was no need for such laws unfairly targeting their hero. Surely he could protect them all better without being hampered by silly little laws.
Vlad Masters grinned in the darkness. He watched the TV screen as the nightly news replayed that day's press conference where the young mayor publicly struck down these laws and all their provisions. "You didn't read those laws, did you, boy?" Vlad whispered at the screen.
Something the town had praised Masters for was a city-funded program for Spectral Insurance. It sped rebuilding efforts, took some of the financial burden off of the property owner, and allowed for the creation of a city-funded ghost hunting team.
Vlad chuckled in the night and headed down to his lab. He passed by the Mark 4, now dissolved to its crumbling aluminum frame, glass components, and an engine block. His goal was the ghost portal. He transformed and stepped inside.
"And who can tell me the significance of Steinbeck's essays in The Grapes of Wrath?" Mr. Lancer scanned his classroom, looking for anyone who might have half a clue.
No one. They weren't even paying attention to him. Most eyes were watching Fenton out of their corners, trying and failing to be subtle. Honestly, Lancer wasn't surprised. Some of the other teachers did it too, this tip-toeing around the issue. Nobody seemed to know how to handle a ghostly student. How they could have missed it for two years. How Daniel could have hidden his ghostly nature from family, classmates, authority figures for two long ghost attack filled years. It was their own fault. They never paid attention.
Lancer paid attention. Sometimes it saddened him that he seemed to be the only one who did.
Daniel wasn't paying attention either. At least he and his friends usually paid Lancer that courtesy. But not today. Today Daniel was too busy staring out into the sky. Thinking about flying, probably. Lancer couldn't blame him, it looked like a lovely day for it. Still, this wouldn't do. Lancer wasn't up here to listen to himself talk, he was here to teach. He walked to the back of the class and circled around to come up behind Daniel's seat. He raised an eyebrow and put on his usual 'annoyed' face. "Mr. Fenton!" he snapped.
Danny jerked upwards with a shocked shriek. His chair fell backwards and he went with it. Lancer wasn't fast enough to dodge and felt the boy collapse against him...
Lancer was trapped under the ice, drowning in freezing water. He couldn't feel or move anything as the bitter cold froze every cell in his body. All he could do was look up through the ice to see... his classroom? Someone else was looking at his hands, moving his fingers. His students were staring at him with expressions of unabashed horror. He could hear his own muffled voice from above the ice, could almost make out the words...
He reached for that light, that warmth. He grasped it for all he was worth and pulled. "The Exorcist, Fenton, don't do that!" Lancer shouted as he regained control. He spun around to glare at his spectral student.
Danny was plastered upside-down against the wall where he'd been thrown. He fell to the floor as gravity remembered it still had hold over him. "I'm sorry!" Danny said, looking as scared as most of the others. "I-I didn't mean to, Mr. Lancer."
Mr. Lancer watched as Daniel picked himself up, put his chair upright, and tried to skulk back into it without making more of a scene. He sighed and snatched a sheaf of papers away from Tucker.
"Hey!" Tucker complained. "I gotta proof those!"
Lancer looked them over. City council material about bike lanes in the downtown areas. "Not in my class you don't," he said. "Now pay attention!"
"Yes sir." Both boys answered simultaneously.
"Man, being mayor is hard," Tucker whined, leaning on his elbow and actually opening his book.
Lancer stalked back to the front of class and slapped the pages onto his desk. And brought his hands up to his mouth to breathe warm air into them. White Fang, he was cold.
Danny blocked out Lancer's voice as he started to lecture on Steinbeck's essays. He stared down at his blank sheet of note paper. He had more important things to worry about than 70 year old essays. Like what to do about his parents.
"Fenton!" Lancer snapped.
Danny shot up again, this time managing to avoid knocking over his chair or overshadowing anybody.
"My office after school, Mr. Fenton."
"Yes sir." Danny pouted started to at least try to take notes. Even after saving the world I get detention. Figures.
After school Danny trudged up to Mr. Lancer's office. He didn't want to deal with detention today. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do, there was just so much on his mind.
It was a week since that ill-fated but incredibly tasty trip to Vlad's place. A week since finding out about the Mark 4. A week of avoiding his dad because of the sullen glares and the uncomfortable silent treatment. Late-night excursions to the park to shoot at soda cans and surplus melons helped with the misplaced aggression but he always ran out of targets far too quickly. Flying wasn't very useful either; last night he'd flown into a cloud bank and woke up this morning to a news report on a freak early-summer snow flurry.
Danny snapped out of his funk as he saw Tucker leaving Lancer's office, stack of papers in hand. "Hey, Tuck," Danny greeted.
"Good luck, man, Lancer's in a mood," Tucker warned. "You coming over after he lets you go?"
"Wouldn't miss it," Danny lied. He didn't really want to. He wanted to spend time with his friends, goofing off at the Nasty Burger, evading homework, ghost training in the park. Not laying around City Hall with Sam being weird and Tucker too busy doing actual work to pay attention to them.
Tucker gave a blinding grin. "Thanks, man! You're the greatest!" He ran off down the hall.
Danny sighed and walked into the room to face whatever doom awaited him. He closed the door.
"Sit down, Danny," Lancer said, gesturing to a chair. Danny reluctantly shoved his butt into a chair and crossed his arms over his chest. He could feel an epic pout beginning.
"Something's bothering you, Danny," Lancer said, pulling up a chair as well. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Danny gave Lancer an are-you-kidding look and continued his pout.
"Has there been any trouble with your parents?" Lancer asked. "I heard Vlad Masters has returned, is that it? You know you can talk to me about anything."
Danny snorted. He gave Lancer an unimpressed look.
"You've always been able to talk to me about anything, Danny," Lancer said. "Anything at all."
"That's rich," Danny said, not bothering to hide his contempt. "'Anything at all' you say. Ffft. How would you have reacted if I'd told you my real problem last year? What does the teaching manual say to that, huh? 'Well, Mr. Lancer, I'm half ghost!' That would have gone over real well. You'd have told my parents or stuffed me in a hospital or got in my way or something really stupid. I've never been able to tell anyone and now suddenly you're demanding I trust you? You haven't earned that trust!"
Lancer's expression was unreadable. He'd expected an outburst like this. "What if I told you a secret of my own?" he asked, taking care not to sound eager. "Something no one else knows?"
Lancer watched the ghost boy's expression. Closed in, unwavering, a truly impressive pout. But he hadn't left yet. That made him hopeful, made him think that maybe he could get through to the boy. "About a year and a half ago there was a ghost attack during the lunch period. You probably don't remember this one in particular, there's been so many. I remember every detail. I had lunch duty that day so I had to watch the cafeteria to keep the food fights down. And then this ghost appeared out of the back freezers and attacked. Danny Phantom showed up. His appearance struck me as so random but I used his distraction to get all of the students out. Except one.
"I counted twice but one of my students was missing. I knew he was here at school and I'd seen him in the cafeteria when the ghost attacked. I realized he must still be in there. So I went back in. The cafeteria was a complete mess. Tables were thrown everywhere as this monster slapped them around like they were toys. For a long moment I saw visions of my missing student trapped under rubble and unwilling or... unable to cry out. And then I heard him scream."
Lancer looked up from staring into empty space as he remembered. Danny's pout was gone, replaced with a slowly dawning realization of his own. "My blood ran cold at that moment," Lancer continued. "There was no mistaking my student's voice. And he was screaming in agony. I looked toward the sound and saw the ghost had tendrils wrapped around Phantom. Shocking tendrils. His screams rose and fell in pitch with the varying power I could see being pumped into him. And then it stopped. Phantom looked exhausted and in incredible pain but still managed to shake off those tendrils and blast the ghost into some sort of submission before sucking it into a... thermos or something."
Lancer stared right into Danny's eyes. He hadn't seen such awe from the boy in a long time. "I've known about you since freshman year," he admitted. "I never told your parents. I never had you sent to a hospital. And I have never gotten in your way. You wouldn't have surprised me, Danny. I already knew."
Danny's mouth hung open in shock. Two words kept rampaging through his head: Lancer knew! He didn't realize he'd lost control over his own intangibility until after he'd fallen through the seat of his chair.
"Although to be honest, I thought you were dead," Lancer said. "A ghost masquerading as the boy you used to be, maybe unable to accept your death. It never crossed my mind that you might still be alive."
"I'm not dead," Danny whispered. "I'm only half-ghost. Like Vlad."
Danny kept staring at Lancer. The creepy calm the man exuded was exceptionally disturbing right now. Danny's stare evolved from awe to incredulity to betrayal. "You knew all along!" he shouted, phasing out of the chair to hover in front of Lancer. "You knew the whole flippin' time! And you still gave me detention! You watched me get bullied and picked on and you knew what I could do to all of them and you did nothing to stop it! You knew what I went through and you never gave me a single extension or a break or nothing!"
Lancer waited for Danny's outrage to spend itself. Only then did he figure logic might break through the boy's anger. "I let you out of my class when you asked," he said. "I stopped calling your parents about it as soon as it was apparent to me that they didn't know. After particularly bad ghost fights I always allowed you an extra day to complete your homework before marking it late. I always had a lie prepared for when your parents called the school to complain about how you didn't come home or how you came home with new bruises. I still gave you detention and I never stopped the bullies because you were trying so hard to cultivate the illusion of being a normal student. Who was I to break that illusion by showing you special favor?"
Danny sank back down to his chair. Every word Lancer said felt like a stab to his ego. He and his friends always prided themselves in being able to handle the stress of ghost hunting alone. Of being superheroes without adult interference. And it turned out there was an adult looking after them the whole time. Worse, it wasn't one of their parents. It wasn't Jack or Maddie or someone they would have expected. No, it was their goddamned English teacher. Danny closed his eyes and sighed. His pout was gone but a sulk was welling up in its place.
"How are your parents taking it?" Lancer asked. "Have you had any trouble with them?"
"Yes. Wait, no!" Danny sighed. "I mean, it's complicated. It's a bunch of things."
"You know, you really can talk to me about anything."
Danny still didn't really believe that but he figured it couldn't hurt to try. "I did something really dangerous. I put my friends' lives in danger to go retrieve my arch enemy from deep space. I-I had no idea it would be dangerous, either. I didn't even think about it. Heck, we never told any of our parents what we were doing. We were seconds away from ending up dead and no one would have had any idea where we'd gone or what had happened to us. I've never asked them to risk their lives with me. They just do. And I don't think I could live with myself if something happened to them because of me."
"Maybe they know they're risking their lives," Lancer suggested. "And they do it anyway."
"But I didn't think this would be dangerous! None of us did. We just thought we'd portal into space, pick the guy up, deal with his ungrateful ass, and then be home in time for curfew. Instead we end up chasing the 'sunrise on Venus', of all things and... and..." Danny took a breath. "We got lucky. We got damned lucky. I passed out using my ghost powers to keep the Specter Speeder together and Vlad was still coherent and decent enough to use his own to keep us from getting crushed and it was all just luck! We've always been lucky, all the time. But what happens when our luck runs out? Who dies when suddenly luck gives up on us? How do I live with that?"
"You take the guilt and you use it," Lancer said. "You use that guilt to make sure you move faster, look harder, whatever it takes to prevent it the next time. And the time after."
"How would you know?" Danny demanded, sneering.
Lancer turned haunted eyes to his student. "I've lost students before," he said. "Suicide, recklessness, depression, failure. They trusted me to keep them safe, to look through their masks at the hurt and the pain within and I couldn't see it. They trusted me with their lives and I failed them. I thought I had failed you just the same way before I found out."
"Oh..." Danny looked down at his hands, sneer fallen.
"I have to live with knowing how badly I failed them. I can stay depressed and obsess over my failure or I can use that guilt to make sure I deserve your trust." Lancer waited for the boy to pull his thoughts together. He didn't have anything planned for today but procrastination to avoid grading a stack of truly awful sophomore essays.
"I never asked Sam and Tucker to risk their lives for me," Danny said. "Don't they know how dangerous it is to be around me? I'm attacked by ghosts on a near-daily basis, my arch enemy is hell-bent on killing my dad and marrying my mom, I'm hunted by very powerful enemies both human and ghost. Everyone around me gets hurt!"
Lancer smiled. "Somehow I think they already know the danger," he said. "Ask them. It's their choice to follow you. It's their lives to risk."
"Doesn't make it easier," Danny mumbled.
"No it doesn't. But if something were to happen I think they'd rather be there with you. Instead of being forced to watch." The way I'm forced to watch.
Danny sat there and stared at his hands. He knew what those hands were capable of. But that didn't mean they were strong enough to carry the weight of his friends. His hands had unleashed and then imprisoned the Fright Knight. His hands had been the ones to defeat the Ghost King in honorable combat. His hands wielded ectoplasm like an explosive, ice like a fine blade. He had carried the weight of the world for one terrible moment in these hands and then given it back.
Maybe they were strong enough.
Vlad basked in the familiarity of his old haunt. The grand entryway to the building was alive with footsteps as aides and volunteers, visitors and workers ran to and fro in the cavernous hive. Nobody paid attention to the invisible presence in their midst. Nobody paid attention to the ghost standing on the big copper seal of Amity Park set into the floor in the middle of City Hall.
Until the alarm went off. Oh butter brickle, Vlad thought as he flew up through the ceiling to his destination. FentonWorks apparently succeeded in installing those damned ghost alarms he'd kept vetoing. They were the first things he'd be personally ripping out of the wall as soon as he regained his rightful place.
Vlad drifted down the halls, as invisible and insubstantial as a draft of air. He felt his path following a familiar one, leading him to his old office.
The door to the mayor's office was ajar. Obscuring the nameplate of the rightful mayor was a sheet of paper that read "Tucker Foley, Esq." As if the boy was 'esquire' of anything. He heard a conversation within. Vlad settled in to eavesdrop.
"Yeah I know, look, Danny's in here with me, could that be it? No? Fine... No don't call the Fentons, I'll just have Danny Phantom take a look. What other Danny did you think I meant?" The Foley boy.
"Something wrong?" The Manson girl.
"The ghost alarms your dad installed went off, Danny. Security wants to call your parents." Foley again.
"Ugh and that would be a nightmare." Vlad grinned at the long-suffering tone in Daniel's voice. "You want me to check it out?"
"Could you?" Foley.
"Could I not and say I did?" There was a pause and the sound of a heavy exhale. "Crud. Fine, I'm going ghost."
Vlad leaned against the wall as nothing more than an insubstantial specter and waited for Danny Phantom to search and not find. The boy always did have a problem with seeing those things hiding right in front of his face.
Daniel flew out of the office and down the corridor. He still uses doors even in ghost form, Vlad noted. At least the boy didn't degrade himself by pretending to need the elevator.
Vlad waited for a moment, not sure if he should head inside now or wait until Daniel returned. He could hear a sigh from inside, the sigh of someone under a very heavy, very boring workload. "Man..." Tucker complained. "Being mayor sucks harder than I ever thought."
"Told ya," Samantha said.
It won't take much... Vlad grinned.
"I need music," Tucker said. "Danny won't mind if I use his mp3s, right?"
"Go for it," Samantha said.
There was a series of soft ticks and a few unbelieving scoffs before the boy seemed to settle on something. Electronic noises flowed out of the room, slowly coalescing into notes and tones as a deep bass thrummed. Vlad's eyes drifted shut and he shuddered. He wasn't normally one for techno music but something about that deep bass thrummed through him to satisfy an ache he didn't know he had. He sighed as a deep voice began to flow in and out among the notes and percussive thrums to sing. The voice sang a sentiment he could agree with, something he used to wish in his more morose moods.
Let the wind erase me like the memory of a kiss
Let these waters take me away from all of this
I long for anonymity to wipe the features from my face
One single moment of escape then I can wake myself again
He exhaled a shuddering breath that steamed hot in front of him. There was a ghost nearby. He held his breath and opened contented eyes to take in the landscape. He was still in the hallway, entranced by the music flowing out of his rightful office. He pressed against the wall but couldn't really help the slight writhe as his natural rhythms matched themselves to the pounding bass. He smirked as Phantom floated past, looking confused. The boy flew back through the door.
The sound of Daniel's transformation marred the music. Vlad gave a glare into the room before he knew what he was doing.
"No one important," Daniel said. "Probably just a random specter. I couldn't see anyone and if they meant business we'd know by now."
"Thanks, Danny, you're the greatest." Vlad noted Foley didn't sound quite as grateful as his words implied. "Sooo... You said Sam was right? About what?"
"Yeah, what was it?" Samantha asked.
"Lancer knew. About my ghost powers."
Vlad was tempted to throw the door open and demand explanation. Instead he stood and listened. The song changed to something melancholy. It was less important; he could hear the spit-take as someone spat whatever they were drinking all across his beautiful oak desk. Vlad resolved to have one of the little urchins clean it with their tongue for that.
"Dude! How? How long? You're shittin' me, you gotta be!"
"Tucker! Danny, this is serious. How did he figure it out?"
"Year and a half," Daniel said. He sounded ashamed. As he should, careless boy, Vlad thought. "And he didn't see me transform like Jazz did. He heard me scream. Just my voice was enough. Hey, Tucker, there's a difference between my voices, right?"
Maybe not so careless...
"Not much," Foley admitted. "I mean, you always sound like you. Sam and I don't notice a difference anymore. Damn, and he hasn't said anything until now? Wow."
"I don't think he believes I'm half-ghost. He thinks I'm all ghost. That I'm dead. Do you have any idea how creepy that is?"
Oh yes, yes I do...
The song changed again to something Vlad recognized. It wasn't as familiar as his beloved Tchaikovsky but it was still something he could sing in his sleep. He had to fight not to snort in amusement. I didn't know Daniel had a thing for musicals...
He could hear the snicker leak out of the Foley boy.
"Wait, this is Danny's music?" Samantha.
"Hey, I like this song," Daniel defended.
"Something you wanna tell us?" Foley.
"I am secure enough in my masculinity to listen to the occasional song out of a musical." Vlad grinned in pride as Daniel sounded just like him.
"I can vouch for that," Samantha said, sounding like she had some sort of leer attached to it.
Surely they haven't... Nah...
"Shut up, Tucker, we haven't." Vlad could hear the glare Daniel was giving his friend... Was the Manson girl his girlfriend now? Vlad sneered at the possibility. That won't last...
The music shifted as it blended from one section into another. Vlad found himself ignoring whatever relationship issue was going on in there in favor of those familiar words as they flowed through his mind.
Why'd you have to do this to me!
What's going on around me
Is barely making sense
I need some explanations fast.
I see my present partner
In the imperfect tense
And I don't see how we can last
I feel I need a change of cast.
Maybe I'm on nobody's side.
The sentiment was one Vlad could take to heart and often had. He found his lips silently forming the words. The thought struck... But... what attraction does this song have for Daniel?
And when he gives me reasons
To justify each move
They're getting harder to believe.
I know this can't continue
I've still a lot to prove
There must be more I could achieve.
But I don't have the nerve to leave.
Everybody's playing the game
But nobody's rules are the same
Nobody's on nobody's side.
Better learn to go it alone
Recognize you're out on your own
Nobody's on nobody's side.
A new voice joined in the music. It wasn't overly talented but it wasn't terrible. Vlad went still as he realized Daniel was singing defiantly, probably to the ridicule of his friends. Vlad wasn't even sure if Daniel realized what those words might mean if taken in a stranger context.
The one I should not think of
Keeps roaming through my mind
And I don't want to let that go.
No lover's ever faithful
No contract truly signed
There's nothing certain left to know.
"And now the cracks begin to go," Vlad hissed, his voice faded when compared to Daniel's carefree singing. He wrestled with his own voice to keep it quiet as Daniel belted out the bridge.
Never make a promise or plan
Take a little love where you can
Nobody's on nobody's side.
Never stay too long in your bed
Never lose your heart, use your head
Nobody's on nobody's side.
As the singer's voices extended as long as possible between stanzas Vlad basked in the sound washing over him. His eyes fell closed and all that existed was the music and this strange duet shared between villain and hero. When the next verse began Vlad didn't stop himself.
Never take a stranger's advice
Never let a friend fool you twice
Nobody's on nobody's side.
Everybody's playing the game
But nobody's rules are the same
Nobody's on nobody's side.
Never leave a moment too soon
Never waste a hot afternoon
Nobody's on nobody's side.
Never stay a minute too long
Don't forget the best will go wrong
Nobody's on nobody's side.
Never be the first to believe
Never be the last to deceive
Nobody's on nobody's side.
The music continued but Vlad was no longer half of a duet; he hadn't been for several stanzas. He popped open one eye to the confused and strangely triumphant gaze of Daniel. Vlad checked himself to make sure... Yes, he was still invisible. He couldn't have been that loud, could he? Worse, two teenaged faces were peering out of the office door to look confusedly up and down the hall. It took a moment for him to catalog how he'd look if they could see him: arms stretching up to phase through the wall behind him, hips canted at a suggestive angle due to his slow dancing writhe, hair spilling everywhere, a look of sheer bliss on his face...
Vlad realized he probably looked like a porn spread. As quietly as he could he pulled his arms out of the wall, ran his fingers through his hair to tame it, straightened his ascot and jacket, and retrieved his cane.
"I can hear you're there..." Danny said, looking straight at the source of sound. The singing voice was one he'd recently become familiar with. "...Vlad."
Sam snorted and tried to cover a giggle. "You're kidding me. That's Vlad?"
Danny gave her a look and in a grand gesture crossed his arms over his chest and gave Vlad a leer. "You're such a fruitloop."
Vlad bopped him on the head with his cane. Juvenile action or no he still snickered as he allowed himself to drop his invisibility. Danny held his head and glared at the older man. "I like that song," Vlad said. He walked past the teenagers into the mayor's office as though it were rightfully his.
"Hey! I'm mayor, Plasmius!" Tucker said, pointing to himself. "This is my office now!"
"And such a job you're doing," Vlad said. "Overturning laws before reading them. Approving ideas that should have died in committee. Statues... Such a job."
"As if you could do better," Sam said.
"Oh but I did. I did so much for this town."
"Save it, Vlad," Danny warned. "I mean it, I'll-" His words were cut off as a puff of cold air escaped from his mouth. Danny glared at Vlad.
Vlad felt his own ghost sense, a hot breath like a predator's spilling from his lips. "That's not me," he said. "I think it's outside."
Danny groaned and leaned out of the window. "Really? Really? Fine. I'm going ghost!" He transformed and flew out the window to the street below where Technus had the contents of a hardware store coalescing into a giant mechanical spider.
"Such a bother," Vlad said, watching the battle begin. "So much paperwork every time one of them shows up. And you get to do it all."
Tucker gritted his teeth.
"Danny'll save everyone," Sam said.
"Oh, of that I have no doubt," Vlad allowed. "After all, it's just Technus. Daniel will save lives and injuries will be minimal but then there's all the property loss. Their little battle will rampage through the town and you get to deal with it. Good thing Amity Park has anti-ghost legislation with provisions for helping people put their lives back together."
Tucker went pale. He gulped and winced as Danny threw the mechanical spider into a building. Several floors collapsed as the monster flailed.
"When you get right down to it, Danny Phantom is, well... he's a menace. There's no other word for it. He never deals with the aftermath and believe me, there is always one. Insurance dealings, rebuilding, placating the masses, and of course trying to raise taxes quietly to pay for it all. It's a nightmare."
"Danny's not a menace, he saves people!" Sam defended.
"And with the right government to spin his deeds the people would adore him for it," Vlad sneered. "I don't think that's you, Foley." He sauntered back into the hallway and exited the building as a human. Whatever perceived lack Technus was trying to make up for with his monologues, the ghost had an impeccable sense of timing.
A worthwhile investment... Vlad smirked. He'd have his city back in no time.
Mr. Lancer flipped his book closed. He stood at his lectern, having chosen to read the final chapter of The Grapes of Wrath aloud instead of assigning it. He was rewarded for his decision by perhaps the first instance this school year of his entire class staring at him in rapt attention. Well, almost. Foley still hadn't opened his book, instead his eyes were quickly scanning a stack of pages in a manilla folder.
"Um... ew," said Paulina.
One student was all it took for the entire class to erupt in editorials. Incredulity, disgust, confusion, the standard questioning of why the school board allowed such books in the classroom, Lancer had heard it all in his years of teaching. He waited for the din to die down a little bit, content that at least his students were discussing the book.
"Why was that scene even in the book?" asked Danny. General assent met his question.
"It's an example Roman Charity," Lancer said. "That's your assignment. Explain to me what this scene is doing in the book. I want two pages on Roman Charity and how this final scene ties in with the themes of the book. You have until Monday. Today is Tuesday. You have all week to work on this paper, don't just put it off until Sunday."
"What if we really don't think it should be in there?" Valerie asked.
"Then argue that point intelligently and use examples to back up your opinion," Lancer said. "Try to convince me. Research the time period in which this book takes place. Use that research in your paper."
He could tell by the groans that his students were writing down their assignments. All save one. Lancer stalked over to Fenton's corner of the room and heard the chatter die down to nothing. Even Danny tensed up a bit. Lancer ignored it all and swooped down on his target.
"HEY!" Tucker shouted.
Lancer snapped the manilla folder closed and held it above Foley's head. "You will get these back after school, Mr. Foley," he said. The folder was thicker than the usual batch of papers he confiscated from this boy. He was curious but resisted opening it.
"I can give it to you after detention if you'd prefer," Lancer warned.
Tucker gave Lancer his best evil-eye and pouted in his seat. Dammit, those papers were important!
After school Lancer sat in his office with his feet on his desk. He figured it was his own desk, he could get away with it. And it allowed him to use his foot to keep the manilla folder from walking off due to mysterious ghost powers while he read Oscar Wilde and waited.
The room grew cold. Lancer quirked an eyebrow. He wasn't surprised. "Tell your friend he needs to come get his own paperwork, Danny," Lancer said, not even looking up. The room warmed up as sounds of annoyance dissipated. A few moments later his office door opened.
"Come in, Mr. Foley," Lancer said. "And close the door."
Tucker grumbled and let the door close. He reached for his stack of papers.
Lancer kept the heel of his foot on the manilla folder. "Sit down, Mr. Foley."
"Am I in detention?" Tucker asked, getting snippy.
"Do you need to be?" Lancer asked.
Tucker tried but couldn't out-authority the teacher. He sighed and glared at the floor. "No, sir."
"Then sit down." Lancer marked his page and put the book down. He pulled his feet off his desk and rearranged himself so he was sitting properly. And waited until Foley gave up and sat down.
"Mr. Foley, did you realize the amount of work involved when you accepted the position of mayor?" Lancer asked. "Think carefully."
Tucker opened his mouth to answer but no words came out, he hadn't thought of them yet. He tried again. "I thought it would be cool," he said.
"I bet you did. And I bet it is cool. But it's also an awful lot of work, isn't it?"
Tucker shrugged. "I guess."
"'Guess' nothing," Lancer said. "I spoke with your other teachers today. You've missed two essays in my class in the past month. One was turned in late, one is still missing. Mr. Falluca says you're missing a lab write-up and you still have to schedule a make-up test. You've been caught reading city council material instead of paying attention in every class, somehow even in gym class. Quite frankly, Mr. Foley, I'm worried about you. You're going to burn yourself out before long if you keep up this workload."
"How would you know? You're just a teacher."
Lancer pulled a photo off of his desk and gave it a carefully rehearsed forlorn look. "Teachers work a lot harder than you think," he said. "During the school year I'm so busy I never get a chance to see my sister and once break comes along, well, I can't afford the airfare."
Tucker got curious and came over to Lancer's side of the desk to look at the photo. It a picture of a red haired woman in a pink dress. Kind of a hairy woman, too, and chunky. Big shoulders. And a goatee...
"That's just you in a dress!" Tucker blurted.
Lancer dropped the act, not entirely sure how to proceed. He went for the direct route. "You're the first student to figure that out in five years," he admitted, putting the photo away.
Tucker's eye twitched.
Lancer gave up the charade and went right back to his original point. "Politics is not an easy career choice, Mr. Foley. And should you wish to return to it later that door is always open. But you are still a teenager. You should be worried about finding a date to the prom, not trying to approve contracts over..." He picked up the folder to use its contents to make a point and flipped it open. "...over ghost attack repairs? What happened?"
"Technus happened. Danny had to take him down. Now I'm stuck with the bill. It's just not fair!"
Lancer closed the folder and handed it to his student. "Think long and hard, Mr. Foley. What part of Danny's ghost hunting do you want to take part in? Because your current role appears very close to 'janitor'."
"What?" Tucker asked, not getting it.
"City hall cleans up after his activities," Lancer explained. "Would you rather hunt ghosts with your friend or clean up after the mess he leaves?"
Lancer waved towards the door, signaling Tucker he could leave. The door nearly flew off its hinges with the boy's escape. Lancer smirked as he thought he could hear the faint shout of "freeeeeeee..." echoing down the hall. He put his feet back on his desk and lost himself back in his book.
Danny and Sam sat in the back seat of Tucker's official city vehicle. Sam leaned her elbow against the door and sighed. "Tucker, is there any chance we can do something else today?" she asked.
"Yeah, Tuck, I'm sorry dude but going to city hall every day is boring," Danny agreed.
Tucker sat in the passenger seat, trying to speed-read all the pages he couldn't finish in school thanks to Lancer's daily confiscation. His aide drove them. "I can't, guys," he said. "Either we hang out at City Hall or we just can't hang out. I don't have time anymore for anything else. Amanda, these figures are a joke, right?"
Tucker's aide Amanda launched into a spiel about how the figures really weren't a joke and yes the city's 'ghost fund' was almost empty even though the fund was supposed to last the entire year.
"But it's barely June!" Tucker whined.
"City Council budgeted a smaller ghost fund for this fiscal year," Amanda explained. "They felt the policies set by your predecessor would decrease the necessity for such a fund. Most recent estimates projected the fund to last until October. The latest ghost attack drained the fund's resources and threw that estimate out the window." She glared in the rear-view mirror at Danny.
Danny glared right back. "So you're saying this is my fault," he snapped.
Amanda didn't answer.
"How bad is it?" Tucker asked.
"Amity Park had been projected to operate on a slim budget surplus for this fiscal year," Amanda said. "After two years of deficits we needed that surplus. When the ghost fund empties we'll be forced to pull from the general fund again. If we lose that surplus we'll be looking at cuts in services to make up the difference. Or tax adjustments but the last parcel tax increase was stricken down in referendum. We would have to wait until the November election to put a sales tax increase to general vote and I doubt we'll get the two-thirds vote necessary."
Danny tuned out the woman driving. She never liked him. Worse, she used all these words he hadn't learned yet. Seriously, he doubted Tucker knew what she was saying either. They weren't supposed to take economics in school until next year.
A breath of cold air warned him someone was coming. "I've gotta..." he said, trailing off.
"Lucky," Sam muttered under her breath.
"I'm going ghost," Danny said, unbuckling his seat belt. He noticed Amanda's knuckles go white where she gripped the wheel before he pushed off and exited the car through the roof.
And was hit with a steel fist.
Danny was thrown into the busy intersection. Though he was intangible that didn't stop drivers from panicking and trying to swerve around him. Cars sideswiped each other and traffic snarled.
"Skulker!" Danny shouted and took to the air.
"Ah, there you are, Ghost Boy," Skulker laughed. "I was worried my prize would become common roadkill." He aimed and fired.
Danny dodged the net thrown out to capture him. He flew serpentine around the armored ghost and drew them further up away from the city. "Why now?" he shouted. "I just saved the world! Both our worlds!"
"And that makes you most valuable," Skulker said, following. He raised an arm. His hand folded back to reveal a cannon that fired a blob of green at the halfa.
Danny got hit and enveloped in the green blob. Sticky ectoplasm bound his limbs together, tangled in his hair, clung to his skin and clothes. He couldn't fly and started to fall. As he plummeted down past a laughing Skulker he concentrated on his ice powers. The blob grew stiff before freezing and shattering. Danny crowed in triumph and swooped up to ectoblast the ghost in the back before heading toward the skies.
"Only a coward shoots a man in the back!" Skulker shouted, giving chase.
"What does that make you, Skulker!" Danny taunted. He laughed as he dodged another blast of goo.
"Turn and face me then!"
Danny thought that was an excellent idea. He turned in midair and puffed his chest out before unleashing a ghostly wail. Skulker was blown backwards by the force. Danny stopped the wail before it could finish him and sped down at his attacker. He slammed into Skulker, driving them both into the roof of a building.
"Ugh..." Skulker groaned. Even cushioned by his exoskeleton that hurt. And then he was blinded by bright light as that damnable boy twisted off his helmet and pulled him out of his battle suit. "No fair!"
Danny held the annoying little troublemaker in one fist like a stuffed toy. "What are you doing here, Skulker?" Danny demanded.
"What, I can't hunt my favorite quarry?"
Danny squeezed his fist tight.
"Okay, okay! Geez! Touchy aren't we, whelp? Fine. I'm on a job."
"And of course you jumped at a job where 'screw with Danny Phantom' is in the description. Who sent you?"
Skulker thought about it then smiled. Phantom was making the 'reveal the mastermind' part of this job so easy. "Fine," he said. "I'll tell you..."
In a spa on the outskirts of town Vlad Masters stretched out and groaned, pampered and content. He sank deeper into the thick clay of the spa's mud bath, feeling its heavy embrace close around his shoulders. He sighed, long and luxurious, before reaching for his flute of champagne. Hmph, empty. An attendant refilled his glass and dropped in a single blackberry while another massaged his scalp and ran muddy fingers through long, silver hair.
He supposed he should probably be attempting to reclaim his city. He had plots to plan, plans to execute, minions to direct... And then someone tilted his head back and that heavy warmth was everywhere, pressing in on him on all sides. He let his hands slip under, sliding them up and down his skin to feel the movement, the changes in pressure, the soft slide of clay against flesh. He stayed that way for a moment, an eternity before sitting back up. He used his hands and strategic intangibility to clean his face before picking up his champagne and taking a long, slow sip.
Evil plans could wait a day. Or two.
A commotion brought Vlad out of a relaxed haze. Angry voices were coming closer. He sighed and handed his champagne back to an attendant. He waved them both off for now as he mentally prepared himself to soothe the bruised ego and imagined slights of an evil minion.
"Vlad! I blame you!"
Or not. Huh. "Daniel, this is the second time you've barged in on me naked in as many weeks," Vlad drawled. He folded muddy arms over the side of the tub and leaned forward expectantly. "Is there something you're trying to tell me?"
Danny Phantom stood at the doorway to the spa's mud room. He appeared to be in mid rant about something but unable to continue. The rant died on his lips, hands falling to his sides. "What are you doing?" Danny asked.
"What does it look like?" Vlad asked, grinning.
"I don't... know..."
"I'm taking a bath." Vlad settled back in the clay, sinking to his shoulders.
"People take baths to get clean."
"People take baths to relax," Vlad said dismissively. "Now you are interfering with mine. If you insist on having this conversation now I can have the attendants draw a mud bath for you. Otherwise please leave." He rubbed his hands up his arms and into his hair in a mockery of the motions he'd use in a bubble bath. He arched back and sighed.
The boy hadn't left. Interesting. Vlad held up a hand and tried to snap his fingers. It made no sound. He tried again but to no avail. Fine. He slapped his hand on the clay to make the requisite noise and gestured towards Daniel.
Wow. He didn't know the boy could blush like that...
It was after curfew when Danny sneaked through the front door of Fentonworks. He didn't see anyone in the dark as he tiptoed as quiet as a ghost to the stairs.
"Ghost, 20 feet to your left."
Danny swore and stood where he'd been caught. His parents had gotten wise to his comings and goings and played dirty to try and enforce curfew. A good sweep with the Fenton Finder left no ambiguity as to whether or not he was home and made sneaking in that much harder. Danny squeezed his eyes shut against the assault of bright as his parents turned on the lights.
"Half an hour after curfew," Jack said. "Could be worse. Now then, young man, where were you?"
How am I supposed to answer that one? "Out," Danny said, cringing at how it sounded.
"Now, honey, you know that when there's a ghost you're supposed to call us," Maddie said. "We don't think you should be ghost hunting alone."
"It was just Skulker and I took care of him hours ago," Danny defended. "Besides, you just want the chance to hunt ghosts with me."
"Can you blame us, son?" Jack bellowed. He came up and gave his son a big hug. The hug stopped mid squeeze when Jack noticed something... odd. "Danny, you smell weird."
Danny phased out of his father's grip and ignored the man's tense shudder. "Look, Dad, I was just out. Skulker was hours ago, I dealt with some things, got carried away, lost track of time. I'm just... gonna go up to my room, okay?"
"Leftovers are in the fridge if you're hungry," Maddie offered.
"Already ate," Danny called as he ran up the stairs.
Man, that had been one weird afternoon. Danny grinned into his bedroom mirror. Nice but still Grade A weird. First there was the whole mud bath thing and frankly he'd never even seen that much mud since he was a little kid. Then there was the insanely normal conversation he'd had with Vlad about school and his teachers and Mr. Lancer in particular. Then the shower and then the massage and then this weird 'dinner' that mostly consisted of funky cheeses and fruit and crackers and wine, well, fruit juice in his case.
As Danny looked down at freshly manicured nails he had the strangest urge to reassert his masculinity somehow. He booted up his computer in preparation for blowing things up in Doomed. But first he needed another shower. The one at the spa wasn't very thorough and he was tired of rubbing fine white clay from behind his ears.
Tucker stood on the steps of City Hall, stammering his way through a press conference. He slipped his finger under his collar as question after difficult question was lobbed at him. Questions about rebuilding from the most recent ghost attacks, questions about what his plans were for dealing with that necessary menace Danny Phantom. Tucker didn't have the answers.
Being mayor sounded like a really cool idea at the time but now...
"I can't do this!" Tucker screamed suddenly. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I'm just a kid! Please stop making me do this!" He stormed up the steps, tears of frustration and shame threatening to spill.
Reporters stood in silent shock. Then they began scribbling notes.
"And there you have it," said the baffled reporter. "Mayor Foley has just left the press conference. The question on everyone's mind now: where is Mr. Masters?"
The TV screen went black. The man watching closed his eyes and leaned back. An evil grin spread across his face as he stroked the purring cat in his lap. The ghost behind him stood at attention, sharing his employer's satisfaction.
"The city is as good as yours, Sir."
"I know. All I have to do is claim it. I'll give it a day. Wouldn't want to seem too eager."
"Very good, Sir."
"And I should probably call off the dogs."
"I will inform Spectra her services are no longer needed. She will be most disappointed." The Chamberlain left Vlad to his thoughts.
Evil laughter echoed through the halls of Vlad's Amity Park manor.
Tucker hid in his office. More specifically he was hiding under the mayor's desk. It didn't feel like his desk. If he were honest with himself it never felt like his desk. It was Vlad's. Everything here was Vlad's from the desk to the art on the walls to the kick-ass sound system to the fountain pens he used to sign things. It was never his.
He cringed as the ghost alarm went off. The ghost alarm meant the phone would ring and then he'd have to do stuff. He didn't want to do stuff, he just wanted to hang out with his friends and goof off, avoid homework, play games, watch other people do all the stuff he was now required to do.
The phone rang and Tucker wanted to cry. It rang again and again. He reached up to grab it without coming out of hiding. Maybe if he stayed under the desk the news wouldn't be that bad.
The phone stopped ringing as someone else picked it up.
"Of course there's a ghost on the premises, you idiot. Do not contact the Fentons. I don't care. Then turn the blasted thing off or I will incinerate the building and do it for you!" The phone slammed back down on the cradle.
Tucker peeked out from under his desk at the not-at-all mysterious intruder. Vlad stood there, one hand curled in a claw and the beginnings of a pink charge of ectoplasm collecting there. "Who on Earth possessed you to make you think it was a good idea to allow Jack Fenton to install a ghost alarm in City Hall?" Vlad demanded.
Vlad closed his fist to reabsorb the charge. He leaned on his cane and observed this frightened little boy in front of him. This... child was whom the city council thought most appropriate for the position of mayor? Was the idiot I stole the election from busy? "Get up, Foley," Vlad said.
Tucker stood up. Vlad allowed the sneer he felt building to show. The boy did not know how to wear a suit. He'd merely thrown a tailcoat and top hat over his cargo pants and shirt. The tails were dusty and trod on from hiding under the desk, the hat askew. And he certainly didn't look the part, either. The boy stood hunched over, cowed. Maybe even broken.
"I'm not asking much," Vlad said, forcibly softening his tone. "I worked hard for what I had. I was lawfully elected after a very... difficult campaign." Vlad neglected to mention it was Jack's incredibly creepy 'support' that made the campaign difficult. "And as much as you don't want to admit it, I was good for this city. All you have to do is say the word and you can enjoy your summer freedom. You can go back to 'hanging out' with your friends."
"And you can go back to trying to make Danny your evil apprentice?" Tucker said, his voice holding much more bravado than his posture.
Well then. The boy wasn't broken, merely bent. "Eventually he will tire of playing the hero to my villain," Vlad said, a cryptic 'yes'. "Until that day I will scheme and he will try to thwart me. It's a dance, really. An ancient dance between optimism and realism. One day he will tire of the dance and accept my offer. But until then you don't have to be the one to deal with the mayhem we cause."
The offer was tempting. Tucker took in a shuddering breath, trying not to feel like he was betraying Danny by even considering it. "And if I refuse?" he asked.
"If you refuse the still dance continues," Vlad said, bowing slightly. "I scheme, he acts, and you find yourself trapped beneath what we leave behind. If you agree, the mayhem becomes someone else's problem. Mine. Daniel has yet to realize the importance of cleaning up after his own messes. That is the first thing I will teach him once he is mine and it is a lesson he will learn regardless of who happens to be sitting in that chair." He gestured toward the mayor's chair.
Tucker sat down in the mentioned chair. He pulled himself up to the desk and ran his fingers over the fine wood surface. He pulled a fountain pen from its mount and looked at it, really looked. The gold nib was lined with a silver metal on the tip. The breather hole was pitch black, dyed by the ink within. The pen itself was almost empty, its ink used up by Tucker while he was still ecstatic enough about being mayor and having all of this cool stuff that he used the fountain pens for everything, even notes in class. It had never occurred to him that these pens had a previous owner. "If you're mayor again, will the ghost attacks stop?" he asked.
Vlad scoffed. "You don't honestly believe I had anything to do with Technus or Skulker, do you?"
Tucker leveled him with an unamused look.
"Daniel told you." It was not phrased as a question. "When I'm mayor again this city will be mine. When this city is mine, ghost attacks not involving me go down. I'm sure at least Jasmine keeps track of trends like that. But what does it matter? Even if ghost attacks increase, don't you think it's better for the city to be run by someone capable of handling the aftermath? Someone who doesn't have to divide their attention between school and friends? Think about it." Vlad took his ghost form and winced at the noise of the ghost alarm going off again. He started to phase through the floor.
Vlad pulled himself back up. He tapped his staff on the floor before changing back. "Yes?"
Tucker sighed and bowed his head. He hoped he wasn't going to regret this.
"I don't like this," Jack said.
His cartoons were interrupted again because of Vlad. Specifically Vlad's press conference as Danny's little friend handed him the city. Neither he nor Maddie had been invited and Danny was off somewhere again.
That boy was so completely abnormal. He was half ghost? Creepy but fine, he'd never been able to seek out someone to help him fix it before. He was Danny Phantom? Weird and more than a little worrying but Jack already felt guilty enough without trying to pry into some of Phantom's less than savory actions. He didn't call his parents when out hunting ghosts? This one Jack couldn't understand. He and Maddie had been hunting ghosts since before the boy was born. They had PhDs in it! Well, Maddie had her PhD in it, Jack's candidacy had been stripped from him by the university right after Vlad's accident. Something about unsafe practices resulting in the disfigurement of his lab partner.
But worst of all... Danny didn't want to be fixed. Jack had never confronted him about it but neither had Danny asked. Danny would rather stay this half-dead abomination than be cured of his ectoplasmic taint. These ghost powers were reversible, they had to be. Otherwise...
Jack didn't want to think of the 'otherwise.'
And then Danny showed up on the steps of City Hall. He and Vlad made a show of making nice to each other and shaking hands as the reporter in the foreground gushed on and on about Danny Phantom welcoming back our 'esteemed Mayor Masters'.
"I really don't like this," Jack said.
"What's that, honey?" Maddie asked. She popped her head out of the kitchen, screwdriver in one hand.
"Vlad Masters is mayor again." The name felt like sandpaper on his tongue. How could he have been so blind? How could he not have seen Vlad's betrayal?
Maddie ducked back in the kitchen to bring out her half-completed project: recalibrated stabilizers for the Mark 5. "Are you surprised?" she asked, setting up on the coffee table. She pulled her goggles down, activated the magnification macro in the left lens, and went right back to work.
"Why couldn't Danny's little friend stay mayor? Faraday or what's-his-name?"
"Foley, dear," Maddie said. "And he's sixteen."
"So? Danny's sixteen and he's been hunting ghosts for two years!"
Maddie sighed and pulled out her jeweler's tools. "Have you seen his grades?" she asked. "He can't even keep up with your legendary B-minus average. Until last month most of his teachers thought he was an idiot or just not trying."
"So you're saying this Foley kid's grades are more important than Vlad being mayor again?" Jack demanded.
"I'm saying Tucker's future is the most important thing he should be focused on. And that means not being mayor while he's still in high school. Just as Danny's future is the most important thing he should be focused on regardless of whether he does or not. And if that means Vlad's mayor again then that's fine. We can vote him out when his term's up. Who knows, this town started getting better after he got himself elected. Sure he's evil and he has an unhealthy obsession with me. But... he was actually good for Amity Park in a weird way."
Jack pouted and tuned out his wife as she blathered. Her words blended together to a dull buzz while he watched the 'epic handshake' between Danny and Vlad turn weird as both of them seemed to be trying to out-grip each other while baring teeth. At least Danny understood that Vlad was evil. Or maybe Danny was just a traitor.
Danny had betrayed his family heritage by not coming to them the moment he got these ghost powers. He betrayed his species by using them for terrible things: theft, kidnapping, shooting ectoblasts at his parents. What was it he'd said on the rooftop? 'I've forgotten what it's like to just be human.' His own son wasn't human anymore. He hadn't been for years now.
Maddie didn't see it, she just accepted it and moved on. Danny's their son, why shouldn't she just accept it, she'd said. Jazz didn't see it either, she'd known and covered for him almost as long as he'd been half-ghost.
Maybe Jack could learn to accept it. But it would take a long time. He wasn't a man who normally held grudges but when his family was threatened...
Vlad was a threat. Danny Phantom was a threat too. But he was also family. If Jack were honest with himself even Vlad was family.
He didn't know how to deal with a threat from inside. How does a Fenton deal with traitors?
I don't know...
The midnight air was alive with power. The residents of Amity Park couldn't help but stare as the clouds above them seethed with the fury of the creatures within. The half-moon sat low on the horizon as bright rose and sickly green flashes lit the storm above them like otherworldly lightning.
For a moment it didn't matter that Danny Phantom and Vlad Plasmius were battling for dominance for some reason none of them were willing to comprehend. It didn't matter that their own mayor was one of the beings above, trading elemental fury like an ancient god. It didn't matter that his opponent was a mere child. Those who were willing to brave the spectacle watched in awe as a bolt of lightning arced to melt the tower of the local television station. As hail fell in July. As the storm grew so powerful the clouds themselves began to dance.
The stench of ozone surrounded Vlad as he screamed in ecstasy. Daniel flew at him again, eyes blue with cold fury as he formed a blade of ice in his hands and tried to skewer Vlad upon it. Vlad reached back to catch the lightning itself and whipped it around, shattering Daniel's blade of ice to hail down on the city below. He could smell the cold aura around the boy as he dodged the lash, the acrid sting of lightning incinerating the air itself, the water in the storm their mere presence had conjured.
"When will you see, Daniel, that you're mine?" Vlad taunted. "You always have been. Ever since the moment you first stepped into that portal."
Eyes green with power, Danny shot ectoblast after ectoblast in an attempt to tag his weaving opponent. It was an old fight, one they'd not had properly since before the clones. "I'll never be yours, you fruitloop!" Danny vowed. He grinned as he twisted Vlad's own words against him. "I can never be yours! You're my villain! You're here because of me! You're already mine!"
The proclamation gave Vlad enough pause that he was hit in the chest with a bolt of ectoplasm. Strange, Danny's ectoblasts smelled like the rest of him, like fresh snow on a tilled field. He pulled himself out of his fall below the cloud level. The wind twisted and turned unexpectedly down here, a howl that pulled on his cape and nearly sucked him into the funnel. He dove back up into the storm, lightning striking him as he rose. Smoke filled his senses as he allowed himself to conduct all that power, sending it straight at the boy.
Danny screamed, his voice merging with the thunder. Vlad followed his own element toward the boy, catching him as he lost control and began to fall.
Vlad fell with him, controlling their descent. He controlled it right toward his own mansion, phasing them through the stones. The boy was left in a bedroom while Vlad indulged himself and went out onto the roof to watch the storm.
Hail turned to sleet, coating plants and surfaces with supernatural ice. Lightning, still tinged pink, arced down to towers and lightning rods. The storm twirled as the remains of a tornado faded into a wisp. This was power. Not politics, not schemes, not money, not even winning the hand of the woman he loved. This. The storm born of their own strengths, feeding them, feeding off of them. Energy arcing around them, between them, exhausting them, leaving them giddy with euphoria.
Vlad sensed the runner he sent up before the strike. He reached up to aid it, arching back with a delighted scream as the storm answered. Lightning lit up his form, surrounding him in its beloved scent, before burying its current in the stones beneath him.
He collapsed against the railing, physically spent. He let his gasping breaths slow and calmed himself before heading back inside where Daniel laid on the bed.
The boy was right. But Vlad was as well. Daniel was already his as surely as he owned Vlad.
"We complement each other, Daniel," Vlad whispered, not caring whether or not the boy could hear him. "Together you and I are unstoppable."
He left Daniel to sleep off their battle. Tomorrow he would wake to find Daniel gone, already flown home to his parents. Tomorrow he would begin the long and annoying process of dealing with the aftermath and surreptitiously blaming Daniel for the worst of the damage. Tomorrow the dance would begin again.
Tonight the dancers would sleep as the storm blew itself out.
For the purposes of budgeting economics, Amity Park uses the Oct 1st to Sept 31st fiscal year. It is the fiscal year I am most familiar with.
Let the Wind Erase Me by Assemblage 23
Nobody's Side from Chess (the musical)