Minor reference to self-injury in this chapter.
As Danny grabbed his shirt out of the drawer, he heard a knock on the door. With a sigh, he called back, "Yeah, Mom, I'm up."
"Daniel, may I come in?"
Vlad. Danny slowly closed the drawer. "Um, yeah. Sure."
The door opened and Danny pulled on his shirt, not looking at Vlad. He wasn't sure how to act after last night.
"Are you ready for all of this?"
Why was Vlad acting concerned all of a sudden? Danny just grunted in response and pulled out socks. He heard the older man sigh.
"Your healing presents problems with this surgery. The more injured you are, the longer it takes to heal, but it will be focused on a specific cut on your arm. The process will start before they're even a quarter finished."
Danny hadn't even thought of that. "Great. So you tell me now?" He turned to glare at the older halfa. "Way helpful. Thanks Vlad. Good looking out." He folded his arms with a scowl. Now how was he supposed to do this? Mom would find out something was weird with him for sure.
"There is a serum that I've developed for this. I would have given it to you last night, but it wasn't fully developed until about an hour ago." Vlad pulled out a syringe with a clear liquid in it and Danny stepped back.
"Woah, you're not sticking me with that. You don't even know if it'll work or if it'll make my powers freak out."
"It's been tested, Daniel. It will slow your healing to human standards for a few hours at least, though it might last up to a week, though not longer." Vlad still spoke calmly, almost kindly. The see-sawing from day to day was driving Danny crazy.
"Oh, you tested it. You've just been, what, sticking me with needles all week when I've been asleep? Is that why you invited us to stay here, so you could have someone to test?" He fought to keep his voice from rising. He didn't want Mom overhearing.
With a sigh, Vlad bent over and lifted the leg of his pants, suit pants even this early. On his calf was a patch of white gauze. "I didn't test it on you."
"What the – That's not –" Danny didn't know what to say, arms loosening in shock.
"Normally, I wouldn't test something so extreme on myself. However, as you know, there aren't many halfas around and this is important. I know how much you value keeping your powers secret. I even used a localized anesthesia on the area to ensure it wouldn't react." Vlad let go of the cloth and straightened. "Are you willing to have the injection?"
"I, uh, sure. I guess." Danny was partially surprised the man had gone to such lengths for him. Not that he thought of it, he really shouldn't be. Vlad had let them stay in his home for now, including Jazz, he hadn't insisted on being part of Thanksgiving even though it was in his house, he trained Danny without asking for anything and, when Danny wasn't grounded, even paid him to do it as part of his job, even though Danny really only worked less than half of the time. He'd been honest with Danny about dating Mom, and tried to protect Danny, even if he went overboard. Vlad really did a lot that he didn't need to. "Um, thanks."
"Of course." The man looked a little taken aback. "Please roll up your sleeve. The entry site won't heal fully before the effects kick in, but it will heal enough that it won't be noticeable and definitely won't be obvious."
"Yeah." The teen complied, holding it to his shoulder. Vlad uncapped the syringe and tapped the barrel. "What're you doing that for?"
The older man blinked, again seeming surprised that Danny was paying attention. "I'm making sure there's no air bubbles caught in the serum. If there's an air bubble in your bloodstream, it will most likely be fatal."
"Oh." Danny looked away as Vlad took his arm, adjusting the angle. He sometimes forgot how much taller Vlad was.
"Hold your arm there for a minute." Something cold and wet touched his arm and Danny automatically jerked his arm away. Vlad held what looked like a wet wipe in his other hand and Danny could smell the same sharp scent that seemed to underlie doctor's offices. "It's just to clean the injection site."
"Sorry." He offered his arm back.
Vlad swept over the area again before setting the wipe on the dresser and taking the younger halfa's arm. He angled Danny's arm again so it was in the light, and pushed the needle in. Danny winced and the man depressed the plunger before pulling out the needle. "There."
"Uh, thanks." He rubbed his arm slightly, fingers coming back with a small smear of blood, but it seemed to have already stopped.
"Daniel." Vlad had recapped the syringe. "I'd like to speak to you about last night. I overreacted. I was worried and this is a stressful situation. I'm sorry I felt the need to react the way I did and I apologize that I upset you. In the future, though, I do ask that you use more caution. I am worried about you. There a lot going on and it is affecting you, even in such small measure as this. Do you understand the gravity of the situation?"
Wow, Danny hadn't expected Vlad to apologize at all. "Yeah, sorry."
"As long as we don't have any more problems, we can put it behind us." Vlad adjusted his sleeves and picked up the used sanitary wipe. "Depending on how the surgery goes, they might have you stay overnight, but you might be home by dinner. You'll be alright, though. I'll keep an eye out to make sure nothing happens."
"Thanks. Mom's probably waiting for me."
"You'll be fine." Vlad paused, then squeezed Danny's shoulder and walked out of the room.
Frowning, Danny stared after the man. What had that been about?
"Danny! Are you ready?" Now that actually was Mom, calling from the floor below.
"Coming!" He yanked on his socks and headed down.
His head was still a little fuzzy, even though it had been a while since he'd woken up. There was only a small incision on his forearm, currently covered by gauze. He wouldn't have to stay the night, but for now they had him in a recovery room. The social worker had already come and spoken to him and Mom to make sure everything would be alright with recovery or if they needed any help.
"When you're released, do you want to get takeout to eat or would you rather me cook you something at Vlad's house?" Mom sat by his bed, adjusting his blankets every so often.
"I don't really want to go out." He just wanted to sleep, since he'd barely gotten any and being knocked out hadn't been restful.
"Alright. What do you want me to make?"
"I don't care."
"Then we'll figure it out later." She squeezed his knee. "How's your head, sweetheart?"
Danny paused, unsure how to ask the question he'd had since he woke up. It was more like questions, but they were all about whatever had been in his arm. What was it? Who put it there, if they could tell that sort of thing? They could tell on forensic TV shows, so maybe he'd get to know, since Vlad wasn't sharing. What did it do? He opened his mouth, and a nurse came in with instructions on how to take care of the cut. When he left, the doctor signed the release form and Danny decided he'd rather wait to ask Mom about it than stay in this room to talk to the doctor who might not even know.
Mom stepped out of the room while Danny dressed. He could hear Mom talking to someone, but there were so many sounds that his head was too heavy to pick out the conversation. He opened the door and they abruptly stopped talking. Mom looked upset and a JCPD officer was standing across from her looking concerned.
The officer turned to him. "Hi, Daniel, I'm Officer Chayka."
"Hi…" Danny glanced at Mom.
"Daniel, I was just talking with your mother about the electronic device extracted from your arm."
"Did you find out what it was?"
"Oh. Well… JCPD has a wonderful forensics department."
That sounded like they were avoiding the question. Danny frowned. "So is that where it is?"
"It was en route." Officer Chayka stated confidently.
"Was? So did it get there?" The teen didn't like how this sounded. The officer wasn't saying something.
"That's a weird question." The officer laughed.
Mom frowned. "Considering the circumstances, no. It is not a weird question at all. Why don't you answer that, officer?"
They gave Danny a smile. "We're handling this, Daniel. You don't need to worry."
"Danny, they've lost it." Mom obviously wasn't happy.
Danny's eyes widened and he looked at the officer. "You lost it!?"
"We did not!" The officer sounded offended. "We were transporting it. It was removed during transport."
"So someone stole it?" That was even worse.
"No, of course not. The package was tamper evident and had not been touched."
"But it's gone." Danny started to fold his arms, then stopped himself. He couldn't fold his arms very well with a sling.
"No, we have the package."
"So what about the thing in my arm!?"
"Kid, you need to show me more respect-"
"Respect on a personal level," Mom interrupted, "is earned. Right now, I want to know what happened to that device, Officer Chayka."
"The JCPD is not liable for anything that has happened. We followed procedure in securing it in the single use, tamper evident bag and signing through chain of command. This was all captured on camera. When the package arrived, it hadn't been tampered with. We have come to the conclusion that the device was rigged to self-destruct once removed."
The lines around Mom's eyes and mouth deepened. "So you have shards and debris."
"No, we do not."
She took a breath. "How did you conclude it had self-destructed?"
"The package was empty and had not been tampered with."
"Mom, let's just go." This was frustrating, but he could tell Mom was getting more upset and angry and this person wasn't going to give them any answers. "I just want to go home."
Mom stopped and looked at him, an odd expression on her face. "Okay, Danny. Let's go."
As Mom drove, Danny automatically glanced around, checking to see if there was… he wasn't sure. If there were any threats, maybe? He was just being paranoid. Although, did it still count as paranoia if someone had literally stuck an electronic device in his arm without him knowing?
"Danny?" The words were hesitant and Danny swallowed. He'd been worried that he'd say something when he was partially out of it from the amnesia. What had he told her? Had he let something about his powers slip? Or about when he'd visited Clockwork? Or about arguing with Vlad?
"Where did you want to go, honey?" She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye.
Frowning slightly, Danny answered, "I thought we were going to Vlad's house. Do you want to go back to the apartment?" He'd be okay with that. It was really nice having so much space and privacy and stuff at Vlad's, but it was Vlad's.
Mom blinked. "Oh, no, sweetheart. We can go to Vlad's."
"I don't care." Danny leaned back in his seat.
Her eyes still on the road, Mom brushed his hair back. "I love you, Danny."
"Yeah." He shifted. "Love you too."
Vlad poured himself another glass of wine, looking tired. "What will they do now that the device is gone?"
"Hopefully try and work out who did this, but more realistically, they'll most likely won't do anything further. Danny, honey, do you need any help?"
"I can feed myself." This was the third time Mom had offered to help him. Vlad had an early dinner prepared by the time they got back and it was a pasta dish that didn't need cutting up. Just because he wasn't left-handed didn't mean he could use it.
"Daniel, please." Vlad's exhaustion reflected in his voice.
Sighing, Danny looked at Mom. "Sorry. I shouldn't have snapped." She was just worried, like she always was.
"It's alright, honey." She glanced between him and Vlad with the same odd look she'd had at the hospital. Danny couldn't tell if it was confused or curious, but he didn't care. She wasn't upset and that's what counted. He took another bite and heard his cell phone ringing faintly from another room. He glanced towards the hallway with a frown. Why was it on?
"Your phone must be on loud, Daniel. I can hear it ringing." The man casually took another drink. What was he up to?
"Oh, Danny, that reminds me." Mom reached over to place her hand on his left one. "Since you'll be home from school for a few days recovering, you can have your phone and computer privileges back."
"Really? Thanks!" He saw Vlad take another drink to cover up a smile. Is that why he'd said it, so Mom would remember? That was actually kind of cool.
"When you're finished with dinner, you can call them back."
"I'm finished." Danny stood up, grabbing his half-full plate.
With fond exasperation, Mom sighed. "You can call them back and then come finish."
Grinning, the teen left the plate on the table and headed for the hall.
"It's on my nightstand, upstairs."
He hurried up both sets of stairs – it really was pretty cool that Vlad had risked Mom asking him how he could hear it – and to Mom's room, a couple doors down from his. Her room was tidy, as usual, and he grabbed his phone and opened it one-handed as he headed to his room. He had a lot of missed calls the past few days from Sam and Tucker.
Flopping onto his bed, he dialed Tucker back, the last to call him. It barely had time to ring once before Tucker answered.
"Hey. Is everything okay?"
He could hear Sam in the background. "Is that Danny? Is he okay? Give me the phone!"
"No, just let me talk to him – Danny, Mom said you were having surgery and – stop it Sam! And you haven't been answering your phone. What happened? Are you okay?"
There was a rustling and a yelp, and then Sam had the phone. "Danny, what's going on? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm more worried about Tucker." Danny rolled his eyes with a smile. He really had missed them.
"Tucker will be fine. What happened?"
With a sigh, Danny explained what he knew about what had been in his arm – which, obviously, wasn't much. Tuck and Sam were both quiet for a second.
"Wait. Danny, why would someone want to put a tracker in your arm?" Sam's voice was oddly quiet.
Danny undid the Velcro strap on the sling so he could lay more comfortably. "I guess it has something to do with Vlad."
"Wait, what's he got to do with it?" It sounded like Tucker had finally just put it on speakerphone.
"He said something about a business deal going wrong and now they're going after him and, I guess, me. I don't know if they know about my powers too and that's why they're targeting me too or not."
"What are you talking about?"
Sam spoke at the same time, "Why would they know about you?"
Shoot. They still didn't know about Plasmius, did they? Crap, they were going to be so mad he hadn't told them before, but they kind of needed to know now he'd said that. He took a breath. "I'm… Guys, I'm not the only half-ghost."
"You guys know Vlad?" Danny wasn't sure how else to tell them.
There was silence for a moment on the other end of the phone.
"No way." Sam breathed.
"Yeah. I guess in college, he became one too from experiments he and my parents were doing. He's really powerful."
Lightheartedly, Tucker suggested, "I guess now you can get some sleep."
There was another scuffle. "This is serious! Danny, does he know you have powers?"
"Yeah." He shuddered, remembering the disastrous reunion. "He's kind of been helping me with my powers. When I'm not grounded."
"How did he find out?"
Danny shifted. "I don't know. He must have seen me transform or something. That's how I found out. He transformed in front of me."
"Dude, are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah, Tuck. I guess he's got his house warded and everything."
There was another pause before Sam asked, "You're at his house."
"Not forever. Just for a while. It's closer to the hospital." He didn't feel like going into the rest of what had happened.
"Be careful. Does your mom know somebody might be after you?" Sam always had to go there, didn't she?
"No. She doesn't need to know."
"She doesn't need to know." The words were firm. "How's Gregor?"
"Don't change the subject."
"Then I gotta go. Bye."
He closed the phone.
"Daniel, I'm going to a meeting, so you're going to be alone for a few hours. Is that alright?"
Danny looked over the couch arm where he'd been staring, bored, at the ceiling. "Um, yeah?" Why was Vlad asking him?
"If you need something to do, you can always practice shooting with your nondominant hand, just don't overdo it."
"Got it." Danny turned his eyes back to the ceiling. At this point, he'd almost be happy to go back to school.
Vlad sighed. "I know it's hard letting it heal, especially when you're used to it going away immediately. My leg hasn't healed fully either, and it wasn't as deep. This makes it more realistic, though."
Vlad sighed and left the room.
This sucked. He couldn't play Doomed on the V-Box because it needed two hands. He'd trained with Vlad some, but the man had been working a lot the last few days and Mom had gone back to work Monday. He'd messaged Sam and Tucker a few times since Friday, but he was still annoyed with them and they seemed annoyed with him. He'd thought about telling Valerie what happened with the surgery, but how could he explain it? She didn't know he was Phantom and she'd be furious to figure it out. He just sent her a quick text Friday evening asking how she was. She hadn't answered.
He was grounded so he couldn't go out anywhere and Vlad was usually home so he couldn't leave – except, Vlad was leaving. He could get out of here for a while. School was in right now, so he couldn't go to a mall or anywhere in case he ran into a truancy officer, but he could get out of the house.
This time, he waited a while after he heard the door close, just in case Vlad had forgotten anything again. He wasn't snooping this time, but he still didn't want to get caught. Once he was sure Vlad was gone, he left the house, his phone still in his room. He didn't want to talk to any of his Amity friends right now.
By this point, he knew the walk to the train station pretty well. This time, he got there just before the train and didn't have to wait. From there, it was a bit of a walk to the cliffs. When he got to the top of the hill, Richard was sitting and watching him.
"What happened?" The shorter teen stood, one fluid movement. Danny was almost impressed.
With a half shrug, Danny strode over by Richard. "Surgery. They had to get something out of my arm."
The other teen was frowning. "What was in your arm?"
The thought crossed his mind to just blow it off, but why would he need to do that? It wasn't like he saw Richard at any other time. "It's really weird. It was some electronic thing. It might have been a tracker." How was he going to sit down? Normally, he used both arms.
"A tracker?" Richard sounded intense. Danny looked over to see him frowning, forehead creased.
"I don't really know. The police were going to investigate, but they lost whatever it was." That reminded him. He needed to ask Vlad if he'd seen anything since he'd said he was going to be watching the hospital.
"How did they lose it?"
Frowning, the teen replied, "Why are you interrogating me again?"
There was a pause. "I'm sorry. I'm simply concerned."
"Well, grilling me doesn't do anything." He got enough of that from Sam. "Maybe I should go."
"No, I –" Richard sighed. "I'm sorry. Need help sitting down?"
Richard grabbed his good arm, balancing him as he sat. Seagulls spiraled over the ocean and light glinted off it and the Titans Tower.
"No problem." The other teen sat back down beside him. "Are you okay?"
"I'm tired. I'm tired a lot lately." He sighed. "There's too much going on, too much bad blood coming back to the surface."
"That sucks. What's going on?"
Richard shook his head. "Issues I thought were dealt with are resurfacing. Problems I thought were dead and gone." He clenched his fist. "Things I've dealt with so many times, they don't have a right to be coming back. At this point, I'm starting to think he's immortal."
"… Just a man who's caused my family a lot of issues. I thought he was dead after… a fire. Turns out, I was wrong and he's bothering us again."
"Do you need any help?" Danny knew how terrible it was to have to deal with things over and over.
With a half laugh, Richard replied, "No. You wouldn't be able to. But thanks."
"I know more than you think." He was almost offended. "I've dealt with a bunch of people." Ghosts were close enough, right?
"Sure. Well, if I need something you can help with, I'll let you know." The teen sounded amused.
"You know what, I'll just go and you can condescend to someone else."
"Wait, no, I'm sorry." The words were earnest. "I'm sorry. This just has me stressed out and I'm not trying to take it out on you."
Danny sighed. "Fine." He could understand that.
For a while, the only sound was the waves. There was a tension now in the air and Danny couldn't relax. Great. That was the only reason he'd come. He let out a short sigh.
"Danny, I'm sorry. What's going on is really bad because of my history with this man. He's… certainly left his mark."
The teen glanced at the shorter boy. "That sucks. I'm sorry."
"Thank you. However, when I say you can't help, it's not because I don't think you can't do anything. It's because this man is dangerous. He should be in prison. I don't want to have anyone sucked into that that doesn't need to be."
That was something Danny knew about. "I get it. It's okay. I've been there." He was lucky to have Sam and Tucker. He really needed to try and talk to them more.
"I hope you haven't."
Danny didn't reply.
Danny didn't bring any keys with him when he'd left, so he'd planned to come through the garage since Vlad had given him and Mom the code when they'd moved in. He hadn't thought twice about it until he rounded the corner to Vlad's block and saw the man's car in the driveway.
He could try and slip in invisibly – but Vlad would be able to tell if he was using his powers to get in, if the wards even let him in. He didn't have a key to the garage side door and the garage door would make too much noise. He was busted.
Hesitating outside the front door, Danny took a bracing breath before opening it and walking in. He hadn't made it to the living room before Vlad was in front of him, arms folded.
"Daniel! Where were you?"
"Why do you care?" Daniel glowered up at the man. "You're supposed to be at a meeting. Why are you back?"
"Mr. Wayne had urgent business and needed to reschedule the conference call. Where were you? Why didn't you take your phone? I'm being forward with you, Daniel. Please show me the same respect."
Half of him bristled at the statement. "I was with a friend."
Vlad's jaw tightened. "I thought I told you to stay away from Amina. Why do you insist on disregarding everything I say?"
"I'm getting so sick of you telling me what to do and just expecting me to obey!" Danny's fists clenched, his right forearm twinging. "If you actually talked to me like a reasonable human being, maybe I'd actually think about it!"
Instead of arguing back, Vlad sighed. "You're right."
"I – what?" The teen blinked.
"Come on." Vlad gestured to the kitchen. "Let's talk."
Bemused, Danny followed the man into the kitchen. Vlad sat on a barstool, pouring himself a glass of wine. After a moment, Danny sat too. What was Vlad doing? He wasn't actually going to explain himself, was he?
The older halfa took a drink. "Alright. You would like to know why you need to stay away from Amina?"
"Yeah." Danny tugged at the sling as Vlad took another swallow.
"I didn't want to tell you this. I wanted... Well, I wanted you not to worry. I hoped you'd listen, out of a sense of self preservation, perhaps."
"Are you going to tell me or not?"
Vlad refilled the glass. "Amina is the girl you met in Amity Park who tried to bewitch you into coming with her."
"Wh-what?" That was not what he'd expected to hear.
"I wonder if you even remember her. If you don't, that will make this more difficult." Another swallow.
"No, I… Well, I sort of remember. The girl that you shot at, in the alley?" He couldn't remember her face, but when he'd met Amina, she'd seemed so familiar…
"Yes. That's why I've been telling you to keep away. That's why–"
"Wait," Danny interrupted. "How do you remember what she looks like? I don't even remember."
"She wasn't using her powers on me. They seem to be limited range and she was able to enthrall you without skin contact. I can only imagine what she would have been able to get you to do if she'd reached you before I got there." Shaking his head, Vlad took another drink. "It's an unpleasant thought."
"Why didn't you tell me?!" This seemed like important information.
"I didn't know you were hanging around her, at first. That's why I went to speak with her, to tell her not to try anything with you."
Danny remembered the hand-shaped ectoplasm burn on Amina's arm. "Wait, you let her find out who you are? Who Plasmius is?"
"She already knew." He refilled the glass of wine again. "She works for the people targeting us."
"What?!" Danny nearly fell off his stool.
"They don't know about your powers. I've made sure of that. But they do know about mine. There was nothing lost by visiting her in that form."
No wonder Amina always seemed so jumpy around him – and she'd been surprised to see him, the first time they met. She'd said she'd been to Amity too… how had he never put this together?
"I'm sorry, Daniel. I wish it wasn't this way. Between the Red Huntress and her, I wish you had real friends that weren't out to hurt a part of you."
He needed to talk to Amina and figure out what exactly was going on. "Valerie isn't bad."
"Please, Daniel, it's in her name, the Red Huntress. Amina is more dangerous than she is.. That's why I want you to stay away from her. I don't know the extent of her power. I haven't risked finding out."
"She's…" The teen trailed off. He didn't think Amina was really all that bad. This all sounded incriminating, but she never looked at him like she wanted to hurt him. She avoided him. Why would she do that if she wanted to hurt him?
"Daniel." Vlad's voice was stern. "Stay away from her. She is dangerous and I don't want you involved with her."
"I'll stay away. I promise." Danny looked at Vlad.
The man sighed. "Thank you."
Mom and Vlad were going out for dinner tonight. Danny could wait until then.
"Hey, Jace." Danny heard Mom talking with Vlad downstairs as they headed to the garage. They'd invited him to go with them, but he wasn't interested in being a third wheel. "What's up?"
"Danny, you okay? Why didn't you tell me you were having surgery? Ryan had to tell me." He could hear the distaste in Jace's voice.
"Sorry. There just was never a good time." The door to the garage closed and he could hear the rumbling of the garage opening. "I'm okay."
"Good. Sorry I didn't give you a time to tell me."
"It's okay." Danny half shrugged. "What're you up to? I'm so bored."
"Me and Mina are at the park off Riverdale Road and Sand Creek. Wanna join us?"
Perfect. He heard the garage closing. "Sure. We're staying with my mom's boyfriend right now, so it'll take a while because I have to take the train."
"Oh, get off at Darkwater station and go North on Marian Boulevard until you get to Sand Creek Avenue. You can turn right there and it'll be just up the street."
"Who names these places? Darkwater?" Danny grabbed his wallet and headed downstairs.
"Yeah, developers are weird." He heard someone laughing in the background. That was probably Amina.
"I'll be there in about a half hour."
"Great! See ya soon."
Danny closed the phone and left the house. He didn't know what he was going to say, but he was going to figure this out, tonight. He couldn't do it in front of Jace, though. Jace deserved to know if Amina was involved in anything, but Danny wasn't even sure she was. Vlad had lied before. Amina didn't seem that bad, but just in case, Danny would be ready. He'd uncover whether she was involved one way or another.
The scene that Vlad and Danny are referencing is in chapter 3, after the first line break.