A/N:

I'm sorry if there are errors. I haven't started my homework yet and I need to. I will edit it later, likewise with the last chapter.

~VC


Vlad stared at me, his gaze now more skeptical than anything, skeptical and very inquiring, prodding.

"You haven't noticed this, Danny?"

"No!"

"I'll bet you have," he said gently but certainly. "I have."

"What are you talking about?"

"Danny," he said slowly into my ear, speaking in that fragmented, I'm-talking-to-an-idiot tone of voice. "Listen. I've told you that you don't have to hide this from me. You can be open with me. Now why don't you stop playing dumb?"

"I'm not playing dumb. I have no idea at all what you're talking about."

"Of course you do. You may deny it, but you know. You feel it, Danny. And so do I. That is why you shouldn't be so afraid. You can be honest. I'll understand. I promise," he told me softly, encouragingly.

Again, I was left without much ability to talk. Dumbly, I uttered again, "What?"

"We're more alike than you know, Danny," he said. "What your father—that big, unintelligent lug—did to us has connected us in more ways than one. We're both halfas, yes, but do you know what that means, really?"

"We're half-human, half-ghost, right?"

"Which are complete opposites, aren't they?"

"Well…yes…"

"You are…we are…incredibly weak without our ghost powers. With them, our strength is tripled. Our hair and eyes are changed—reversed. And even our personalities are changed when we are in our ghost forms. It becomes so much easier to harm someone who deserves it—or maybe who doesn't—when you're Danny Phantom, doesn't it? But as Fenton, you'd never harm that Dash boy, stupid as he may be, would you? You couldn't."

"No," I admitted, still staring off in another, safer direction, "I couldn't."

"But you've harmed him in your ghost form."

"Yes."

"Are you proud of it?"

"No, I'm not, of course not. I don't believe in hurting anybody, no matter what they do to you."

"But you do believe in it. At least, as Danny Phantom. Sometimes you may not even remember harming someone or defeating a ghost, for it is something you cannot control. Our emotions are altered greatly in our ghost form. When we change, we do things we may not normally do and cannot help doing so—but it seems we want to do them, even if the idea would disgust us as humans. That is why I might come across as rougher when I am around you as Plasmius. I don't mean to harm you to a certain extent, and I certainly don't enjoy doing so, but it is something I simply can't control. It's as if I have a need to fight you in order to survive. When I see you, something goes off inside me, almost as if it can recognize competition, a source of adrenaline, when it senses it, and a switch seems to automatically flip. I feel as though I'm an animal—a cat, perhaps, who has mauled its competition when it has smelled a steak thrown out in the back of a supermarket…your father—" He growled, the hand that held me unconsciously tightening, his fingers of the other hand crushing the cigarette between them, burning the gloved appendages. "—look what he's done to us."

I said nothing—I couldn't, because I could recognize with an undeniable clarity that he was right, and that he had a right to be angry. I had felt bad for him, I guess, even know I knew he was going to do something to me—was doing something—but I was so disturbed by this rage he kept constantly bottled up inside him, and it hurt me to think he'd been dealing with this for years because of my father.

I felt terrible, but I kept silent, not allowing myself to disrupt his fit of anger, even though he was gripping me so tightly I couldn't breathe, and his nails were digging ruthlessly into me. I thought that if I did bother him—or move—he might do worse.

But he didn't. He soon seemed to realize what was happening—how his composure had flown out the window—and he sighed and released me with a flash and the machine-like but somehow very whispery noise that followed as he turned back into Vlad Masters. I turned and watched him with wide, wet eyes.

"Don't you see?" he said sadly, putting a hand on my shoulder. "Don't you see how it changes us?"

"Yes," I responded with sadness of the same degree, nodding. "I see."

"It changes us in so many ways, Danny, and one of them is our sexual preference. In our ghost form, what we are attracted to changes just as the color of our eyes does—it reverses. Can you understand that?

"I don't know."

"Do you remember when I saw you at the lake a few months ago? You were there with your friends, and you were sitting with them on a blanket on the sand by the water. You were Danny Fenton, of course. Do you remember what you were doing?"

"No."

"You were staring at that girl. The Latino. Black hair, blue eyes, too much eye-shadow."

"Paulina."

"Yes. Do you remember what she was wearing?"

"A pink bikini bottom. The top had white flowers and—"

"And left very little to the imagination," Vlad interrupted firmly. "The bottom piece, likewise."

"I know."

"And you were staring at her, Danny. You were staring at her ass and her breasts with your eyes glazed over and drool dripping from your open mouth. Underneath your swimsuit you were hard, weren't you, because she was shaking that ass of hers as she ran along the beach after her friend—or maybe her partner, I don't know how you kids like it—that blonde one. Her breasts were bouncing and you were hoping they'd fall out of her bra, weren't you?"

My head hung, eyes fell, and my face flushed. "Yes," I said, feeling ashamed for maybe the first time in my life for such a thing—I'd never felt slimy when it came to exploiting women; if they wanted to whore themselves for money or attention, it was fine by me. Great by me, but now I felt shame wash over me and pull me down into its sea like the rising tides and biting undertows of distant oceans. And I did not know why. Maybe it was because I was actually admitting it to someone; a thief might enjoy stealing, a murderer, murdering, but when faced with what they've actually done and its consequences, it becomes a whole other, unpleasant thing.

"But then that ghost came. Do you remember?"

"Yes, I do…Youngblood. The pirate kid."

"He was trying to cause commotion on what he called his 'island.' Strange, that one."

"Tell me about it."

"Well, he must be somewhat formidable, because you ducked inside the bathrooms and changed into Danny Phantom to stop him."

"Yes," I said sullenly.

"Do you remember what happened then?"

"No," I said, even though, in growing horror, I did.
"You fought him, and within seconds you had him sunk in the lake—an example of our increased strength and altered personality, of course—and you floated in the sky above the beach, waiting for him to resurface. And while you did, do you remember what you saw?"

"No." Again, I did remember, sadly, terribly, I did.

"You saw a young man standing on the beach below you, looking up at you, his mouth agape, his eyes shining in confusion and fear. I remember those eyes. And so do you. You thought they were beautiful, didn't you? Thought his body, was beautiful?"

Deeply, he expelled a fat stream of smoke he'd drawn in, his eyes closed, lost in thought, considering again. I thought he was waiting for a response, but before I could say anything, he opened his eyes and said promptly, and somehow charged with a new, bright energy, "How 'bout a drink?"

"What kind?"

"Apple cider." Later, I would learn this "apple cider" was actually apple cider-flavored beer he kept in a flask—and had probably put there just for the occasion because I know now that what he keeps in his steel flask is either whiskey, bourbon, or even cooking sherry if he's desperate for a drink and can't get his hands on the real thing.

"Okay," I'd said, because I was incredibly cold and I thought it'd warm me up some.

But it didn't, because after he'd removed the cap of the flask—odd thermos, I'd thought naively—and handed it to me and I slowly took a drink, I saw that it was cold. Stone cold. And it was bitter.

My face twisted, my nose wrinkled tightly, and I had to keep my mouth shut into order to prevent myself from throwing it up.

"Yuck," I said after I forced it down my throat. "What the hell kind of apple cider is that?"

"You don't like it?" he said innocently. "I made it myself."

"Oh," I said, feeling bad because I thought I had insulted him. "It's…uh…good, actually," I made myself say.

He smiled. "Well, I'm glad. Drink up. It will help us get through this."

That was, of course, a very odd thing to say, or so I'd thought…then. I couldn't see how cold apple cider would help me deal with this new revelation, but it became obvious to me shortly after.

I made myself swallow a good amount more, even though it was disgustingly bitter and made my head ache—not like any apple cider I'd ever tasted. I'm now incredibly amazed how compliant I was, considering the circumstances, but I suppose the whole, did-you-know-you're-gay? thing had distracted me sufficiently enough that I wasn't thinking about getting home, in bed so I could be ready to take my tests and give my presentation the next day, and I certainly wasn't thinking about what this all might be leading to. But I should have, and that was my mistake.

He told me to finish off the flask, and I did, trying to be compliant because—distractedly—I felt sad for him. Sad for his pain, sad for his anger at my father, and it felt as if it may have been my duty to make amends, though now I know it wasn't. It couldn't have been; I did nothing to deserve what happened to me that night, what Vlad did to ease his own pain.

I handed him the empty flask, showing him the inside so he'd know I drank it all.

"Good boy, Danny," he said, nipping at my ear again, making me squeak slightly. "That'll make you feel so much better."

"Okay," I said softly, my head pounding from the two bottles of alcohol I'd ingested. I felt incredibly woozy.

"You look tired," Vlad said gently. "Why don't you come home with me and you can rest there for the night?"

"No," I said, trying to be as stern as my whirling head would allow. "I gotta…get home…"

"I don't think that's a good idea, L.B.," he said, his tone very relaxed, and very pleased. It was almost as though I could hear that he was smiling in his voice, even though I was turned so that I could not see his face.

"…not?" I mumbled distantly, staring sleepily into the forest that lie before us, staring but not really looking. "What you talkin' 'bout?"

"You might collapse—faint in the street, that is. You could be hit by a car, robbed…even raped, Danny. No, it's best you come home with me for the night."

I can't," I said, barely there. "I need to…need to…"

"Shh," he said soothingly. "Stop talking. There's something we need to do, Daniel. I think now is a good time, now that you're good and drunk."

"Wha…?"

"I can assure you, this will explain everything, Danny. Afterward, there will be no need to say anything else."

With that, he collected his cigarette case, lighter, and flask, shoved them into the pockets of his coat, and picked me up, changing into Plasmius swiftly.

I blacked out.