Bitter Reunions

This episode, the introduction to my favorite villain, is naturally my favorite of the bunch, although I have never stopped resenting Danny's refusal of Vlad's rather generous offer of nurturing his powers. I know that I would have accepted in a heartbeat, but perhaps that is because I have no regard for what is typically considered moral and my own father can be quite…Jack-like at times. Whatever works for you, Danny, but I still can't stop longing for you to give in and obey Vlad's commands. So now you will.

~DM/P


"Well son, you're looking much better. I was wondering if you could do me a huge favor," the man said, laying a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder, smiling slightly down at him.

Sitting in a chair at a table on which a wide selection of mainly cheese-based snacks had been arranged, the boy pulled his head out of his arms and looked up to see Vlad Masters standing over him in his usual attire—that same incredibly uncomfortable-looking suit he'd been wearing yesterday, one which Danny Fenton could not imagine wearing constantly, let alone around the house.

Although he was in no mood to smile, for he didn't think he'd ever been so humiliated in his life at his father's actions—the man was jumping up and down like a second-grader on Halloween night after he's had some time to investigate his candy-filled pail—he thought it only courteous, so with some trouble he forced his lips to turn up robotically for the man.

"Oh, sure, Mr. Masters," he said, and paused, seeming to consider, then said, "But call me Danny…son's what my dad calls me."

"Oh, yes, yes, of course. Now, could you go to my lab, second door on the right? There's a present in there for your father that," Vlad Masters laughed slightly. "I'd like you to bring down."

Danny was briefly disturbed by this; it wasn't so much that he was being asked to bring the present in—he could understand that the man most likely didn't want to leave his party to do the errand himself, and had probably seen that he looked bored sitting alone at the snack table and didn't have anything else to keep him busy. Rather, the way he'd asked, that little chuckle that had inhibited his voice as he'd said it. But the boy quickly dismissed it, figuring that the gift he would be giving his father would be something in connection to the happenings of their past—a funny anecdote that could only be explained through his or that.

"Okay," he said, standing from the table and walking off in the direction of the lab.

When the boy was gone from his vision, Vlad Masters' expression—one that was very friendly, encouraging, but held strong notes of underlying maliciousness—perhaps better described as the look of a politician—shifted, souring entirely as he turned to stare at the hopping man and the woman who stood next to him, her purple eyes following his movements in irritation. A deep resentment flashed in his eyes then, and his large hands clenched briefly into fists.

"Maddie," he sighed longingly, and in his eyes there was also an unmistakable lust that caught the light and danced endlessly, "that lab accident cost me my youthful chance at you," But the self-pity, that look of one who feels they could be no further wronged no matter the knowledge of starving children in Africa, left, because the politician's expression returned swiftly, the eyebrow rising a bit and a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, "but that's all about to change."

Danny Fenton opened the door to the lab and wandered in, the soles of his shoes (the ones he reserved for functions of this nature—not that he went to that many) tapping gently on the metal floor. The sound echoed hollowly throughout the place, and looking around the boy dimly noted how much nicer the lab of Vlad Masters was compared to that of his parents, who left ectoplasm smeared on the beakers and countertops and didn't bother to put away their tools or stash their calculations, which were sprawled messily onto any inch of blank paper they could find strewn across the desktop. Masters' lab was sparkling clean, and the countertops were cleared of any debris. The Ecto-filtrator, unneeded of changing.

"Present?" Danny mumbled as he glanced around, having fully expected to see a big pink box with a blue ribbon sitting squarely on the first table his eyes found. "I don't see a present."

Well, there was something, but it was no outstanding fuchsia box with a silky bow attached that would have wholly satisfied his hungry eyes. Instead, it was a picture in a small rectangular frame. He went to it and plucked it off the shining metal table on which it sat, and stared down at it for a moment; in one corner of the picture, there was a young man with charcoal gray hair and unmistakable blue eyes. Next to him, a girl with incredibly curly red hair who Danny Fenton recognized to be his mother, not without surprise and slight disgust, however. And the other corner…torn out.

"Hey, wait a minute," Danny said softly, and reached into the inner pocket of his suit jacket and removed the missing corner of the picture, on which his father's smiling face stared back, the eyes sparkling with the ignorance of a child. He pushed the missing piece of the picture into its waiting space and his eyes grew wide with fear. "Oh, no. No way."

But before the boy's mind was fully able to comprehend what this meant, exactly, a cool wisp of blue slipped from his slightly open mouth, and he gasped, his heart skipping excitedly as it always did, but he quickly composed himself and transformed into Danny Phantom, the ring of light sweeping over him as he donned his black and silver uniform. However, the Ghost Boy had little time to react as the Ectopuses reached down from where they floated above him and snatched his arms in their slithering green tentacles. He cried out as they hauled him upward, but like with his ghost sense, he quickly recovered, and, snarling, he kicked them, one by one, jabbing the toe of his silver boot into their ectoplasmic bodies with such force that they were repelled rearward as he screamed, "Let go!" Returning to the cold steel floor of Vlad Masters' lab, Danny stared in the direction he'd flung the two ghosts, the light in his young eyes shifting rapidly in steadily increasing alarm.

"Those ghosts," he said, his voice teetering on the edge of falling into a scream. "They were two of the first ghosts I fought!"

"And they're not alone, pup," came a voice behind him, and suddenly Danny Phantom found himself trapped inside a glowing green net, one which shocked him upon landing as he crashed to the ground. He cried out, and once the initial surprise had passed he was left sitting against the wall in a hazy state, his eyes crossed and his mouth agape as he was overcome with dizzying pain. However, it did not last long, and quickly he blinked to clear his clouded vision, although he would come to wish later that he had not, because he was met with the oh-so-pleasant sight of perhaps his most formidable enemy to date, Skulker, the hunter in shining but mismatched armor.

"Skulker!" he screamed, and mechanically readied himself for a fight, breaking out of the surprisingly ill-constructed net and charging the deceptive ghost. Easily, Danny Phantom kicked him with the same force he had the Ectopuses, and similarly, the hunter flew backwards into two ominous tanks, which vaguely reminded the boy of something you might find in a morgue or chemical plant, that lined the walls. The pipes to which they were connected snapped free and a champagne-colored gas spilled out.

"How did you get back into your Ecto-skeleton?" the boy cried, his fists clenched tightly in front of him defensively, "What are you doing here?"

"All excellent questions," the hunter said as he pulled himself up, seemingly unfazed. In his hands, he now held a small black box, which he threw easily to the boy. "Catch."

Incredibly, the box opened, and with a high robotic grumble, it reformed around him, incasing him almost completely, save his head. Danny's eyes grew wide and his mouth hung agape in awe; winded, the boy uttered, "Hey! I can't phase out of this! It's disrupting my powers!"

Smirking, the hunter raised one hand, where a keypad—seemingly to control the device—sat on his wrist. He lifted one finger and said, "And that's not all it does," as he pushed one of the glowing blue buttons.

This, too, uttered a sharp robotic sound, and the box began to shock him agonizingly for maybe five seconds at most—however, they were perhaps the most painful five seconds of his young life, and instantly he changed back into Danny Fenton and lingered dizzily. He was so weakened that momentarily he could not keep his head up, and it fell forward against the glowing green box, still warm. He was tempted to go to sleep right then and there, and he might have, if Skulker's alarmingly large metal hand had not gripped his head roughly and yanked it back up. The boy groaned slightly, and lingered in the haze for a moment more, until the sound of the hunter's blade being drawn brought him back.

His teeth clenched together in fear as it was placed lightly against his neck, and nervously the boy began to laugh. "The glowing blade is new."

"You like it? I've had some upgrades," Skulker said brightly; then, like Masters the politician, he shifted into seriousness as he continued, "Now…"

"Enough!" the voice came, and their gazes shifted from the blade's length to the suited man who stood there stiffly with his hands clasped behind his back. "I didn't free you to kill the boy, Skulker. Your work is done."

Retracting the blade, the hunter pulled away from Danny and apologetically rubbed the back of his neck. "Yes, well, I—" The PDA embedded into the metal cuff on his wrist beeped and displayed the message "GO TO LIBRARY…CHECKOUT BOOK ON PURPLEBACK GORILLA." and the hunter sighed in tired aggravation. "I've got to go to the library and checkout a book on a gorilla. Again!"

With this, Skulker turned intangible and exited the lab via roof. Danny stared after him for a small moment, but quickly his accusatory gaze shifted to the man who stood before him, smirking quietly.

"Skulker? The Ectopuses? I don't understand!" Danny cried, aghast, and Vlad's expression became condescending.

"Of course not. You're what? Fourteen?" he said, waving a hand as if to say Just how stupid are you? Then, in an almost distracted fashion, he began to walk around the box, his hands clasped cordially behind his back, and Danny, who was not an owl and could not turn his head in a full circle, shivered, wholly expecting the man to shove something into his all too-exposed neck. "Too young to drive and not in college yet? I sent those ghosts, and others to test your father's skills. Imagine my surprise when I find you, the second ghost-hybrid his foolishness created?"

"Second?" Danny said in the same winded fashion, his apparently very tiny mind unable to comprehend what he was hearing.

And as Vlad Masters transformed into the ghost he recognized as the ghost of his dreams, or so he'd thought upon regaining consciousness the night before, just as he would himself if there were a ghost to fight, he was just barely able to comprehend what he was seeing, either.

"You!" he screamed as he stared at the caped figure before him, the red eyes dancing madly in the light the bulbs overhead threw out, the fangs exposed by a sickening grin also catching the light and glinting sharply. "I'm going ghost!" he said, and cringed tightly as he attempted to transform into Danny Phantom again, but he was astonished to find he was unsuccessful in doing so. He glanced sideways, considering for a small moment, and attempted a second time, saying, "Going ghost!" Again, he was unsuccessful, and he glanced rapidly around in confusion and steadily increasing alarm. "Why can't I go ghost?"

Vlad Plasmius was regarding him indulgently, his fist caressing the black hairs that covered his chin, the elbow of this arm resting in the gloved hand of the other. "You have a battle cry? Hilarious. Hm…" He paused, waving a hand. "I, on the other hand, have this," the ghost leaned in and patted his glorious box lovingly, causing Danny to pull back as his alarm continued to grow rapidly, "A spectral-energy-neutralizer, designed by Skulker, paid for by me. And as long as you're contained within that box, you're as human as your idiot father."

"Let me out of here!" Danny screamed, feeling suddenly very claustrophobic, despite the fact that he'd always handled tight spaces with relative ease. The boy was not so much wondering why, or how, it came to be that Vlad Masters had gotten ghost powers like him, as he was what the man wanted with him, but he was sure it would not be pleasant, whatever it may be. In truth, Vlad Plasmius looked as if he'd stepped off the set of Dracula; he was, perhaps, the most frightening ghost Danny had ever laid his eyes on, and the idea that he was now completely at his mercy was more than he could handle. He was so horrified that he could have fainted, but he seemed to realize that doing so would prove fatal; he was sure that if he allowed himself to slip off into a safe place where there was no Count who would drain his blood with his blindingly white fangs, he would wake up in a box, but whereas his head was exposed now he would be completely incased. Vlad Plasmius would have buried him alive and he would hear his parents calling for him from above, from the world of the living. He wouldn't be able to phase out of the box and he would not be able to call back to them, either. Instead, he would lay there waiting helplessly to die, and above him Masters would be planting daisies… This image, while rather incoherent, was so vivid it made him scream again, and his lanky body began to shake violently.

"Why?" the Count asked, his back turned so that he could glare icily at the opposite wall, the smirk now disappeared from his face and in its place that resentful scowl of before, the sharp teeth bared. Danny would not realize it, but these hate-driven emotions were not directed at him—rather, what had become of him, because of the man who had ruined own life and was now attempting to do the same to a boy who had just entered high school. "So you can go back to stumbling through your adolescence, desperately trying to get control of your powers?" Now, he turned to look at the boy again, and the glare of the irisless and pupilless eyes sent Danny reeling in thick fear. "Powers, by the way, which I've had for twenty years?" The voice became softer, almost reassuring, as the ghost began to demonstrate several of his powers. His hands glowing, he said, "I have experience, my child. And the money and power attained through using those powers for personal gain, you see. I could train you, teach you everything I know, and all you'd have to do is renounce your idiot father."

Not through his adolescence, but Danny Fenton was certainly stumbling now as he stared at the vampire before him—stumbling to keep himself composed, although it had become easier now, because some relief had come with the realization that the ghost did not plan to bury him alive but was rather…asking him to join him in his conquest of evil, or whatever he was doing? The boy was lingering now in a haze that his astonishment at the man's request had induced, for he was unable comprehend how Plasmius actually expected him to give up his own father so as to gain some control of his powers. What was very troubling to Danny was the realization that something inside him seemed to scream "Yes! Take this chance! It'll be the last you'll ever get, Danny!" as if he needed help in this area of his life…and after a moment of consideration, he wondered incredulously as he stared at the vampire—past him now, for he was lost in thought—if perhaps there really was so much he had not learned that he needed to succumb to this stranger for his help. Of course, his powers had always proven a great challenge for him; many a frustrating hour he'd spent struggling to master his newly processed body, trying to keep himself from blasting Tucker as he tried to give him a high-five or slipping through the floor while his parents lectured him about the importance of coming home on time, but he didn't think…

And that's another thing! the tiny voice inside him interrupted suddenly, actually startling him so that he jumped slightly, his wide eyes closing quickly in a reflexive blink. It's their fault you're like this and they lecture you about coming home on time! As if you didn't wish you could!

Vlad Plasmius, who had been regarding the Ghost Boy with great interest and soft indulgence at his reaction to the man who was giving him the opportunity of a lifetime—the lifetime of an unfortunate Halfa, that was—seemed to sense this weakness in him, brief it may have been. It was as if the man could, in the moment the boy's eyes flashed as he blinked in alarm, read his thoughts as if he were plainly staring at a billboard. And like a vulture upon a newly deceased skunk on the side of the road, the man seemed to go swiftly onto the offensive as he said, "I suppose I can understand why you would be so fearful of me. I'm a monster, Daniel, because that is what your father has made me…has made us. You, however, are young enough that the change is only minor, but it will worsen as the tolls, both physical and emotional, grow heavier with each passing day that you are expected to maintain a normal life with your family—the people who have done this to you, might I remind you—and achieve good grades because they will be disappointed in you if you don't, all while you try to cope with these confusing powers. And you can never win, Danny, because while you might score highly on a test you will have done so at the expense of someone's life, or the money in the town's bank, and because you might have failed another test on another day to defend the town you will now be held at fault." One of Vlad Plasmius' gloved hands fell gently atop Danny's messy tresses as he stared down at him. "And I know how that feels."

Danny came swiftly out of his haze then and jerked his gaze up to stare intently at Vlad, his mouth slightly agape, his eyes large and wet in disbelief. He was fearful, but now it had not stemmed from the idea that the ghost would drink his blood or bury him beneath his garden. Rather, it was the realization that Vlad Plasmius had been absolutely spot on when it came to defining the most agonizing aspect of his new life—the pain he went through because of these powers, only to be shrieked at when he returned home one minute past ten or with a big red F stamped onto his failed paper because he'd had no time to study. But he knew it was more than just the powers, and Plasmius did, too. It was his father, of course, who was responsible for these powers of his and the pain that came with them. Danny did not want to admit this, as he never had, because he found that if he blamed it solely on fate, some of the pain seemed to fade; that was, if he told himself it had been God's doing rather than his father as the orange jump-suited man lectured him impatiently about the importance of school, it seemed not to sting as badly. But there seemed to be no denying the truth now, not with the vampire staring intently down at him, one hand on his head…and, with increasing horror, Danny realized there was no denying the comfort the realization brought that someone else could understand the pain he felt constantly, who had fought in the same battle he was now losing.

He's right, Danny moaned pathetically, shutting his eyes so he did not have to stare into those of the man before him, whose were all-knowing, and all-powerful, because once you had looked into them there was no letting go; the eyes of Vlad Plasmius you will swim in until you've drown. They expect me to do so much for them but they've made it so I can't!

As the man began to push his gloved fingers very gently through the boy's black hair, Danny dissolved into a fit of tears, unable to hold them back any longer, for a dam can only contain continuously flowing waters for so long.

Plasmius' expression softened considerably, but his underlying hatred for the man who had condemned them in this way had never left. "Do you see, Daniel?" he said sourly, but he continued to push his fingers through the boy's hair soothingly. "Do you see what your father has done to you and understand why you need to renounce him?"

He had never felt more cowardly, for he knew his father had never meant to cause him so much pain and was not conscious that he did so, but in that moment he was bestowed with the knowledge that it was a choice between his own health, already deteriorating, and his father's love, and it became clear to him that if he continued to endure his father's unconscious wrath, the anguish would drive him so far gone that anything his father did that could be considered remotely positive would not matter—he would have lost his mind, and a lunatic will find reason to hate even the purest of people. The boy also possessed the knowledge that while your husband may never lay a hand on you while sober, it does not mean you will escape unscathed after a bottle or two go down, and so, his weeping eyes lowering in defeat and his head hung, Danny Fenton nodded.

Still stroking his messy hair, thick with oil, Plasmius said easily, his voice lightened now as it seemed he had a victory beneath his belt, perhaps his first in twenty years, "Tell me you renounce him and I'll let you out of the box."

It took a while, but finally the boy managed to utter the words that no child should ever affirm of their parents, "I…renounce him." Then, struggling for control, the boy barked, tears still rolling down his thin cheeks, "But that does not make you my father."

Vlad Plasmius removed his hand from where it rested atop the boy's head, and, smirking, he pressed the button on the box's side to release Danny. The boy collapsed in a heap on the floor where the box had been, and he did not attempt to stand, for he felt drained of energy—life.

"We'll see," Plasmius said confidently, his shadow looming over Danny Fenton ominously. "Now, as for the matter of your father…"


Sha-ZING!

Well, I must go now. Two tests to study for, which I had been hoping to do a few hours ago, but this took waaaay longer than expected. I hadn't planned on posting this, but I realize I did not update anything last night so I decided to give you all a little teaser. I don't think I will continue this, but if you review I will do another episode, if you'd like. Give me ideas, but if Vlad is not involved, I do not bother.

~DM/P