Danny stumbled out of the other side of the time portal. He felt disoriented and nearly tripped over the time machine that lay broken on the ground directly in front of where the portal appeared. The pieces clicked quickly into place. He was back in Vlad's laboratory. He lifted his head and found Vlad leaning against one of the tables in the room. His stomach lurched as his chest tightened. What was he to say to this man? For Danny, what happened took place mere moments ago, but for Vlad, twenty-four years passed.
"And now everything has come full circle," Vlad said, meeting Danny's gaze but not moving from where he stood.
The words echoed in Danny's mind as he swallowed hard. What did Vlad expect him to say or do now? Danny's trip into the past didn't change anything. He couldn't snap at Vlad about being obsessed with his mother for twenty years. He knew that would happen even before he was sent back in time. He was to blame for that obsession. It was his meddling in Vlad's life that resulted in that outcome.
"Where do we go from here?" Vlad asked after a long pause of silence.
"Where?" Danny repeated softly with his eyes locked on Vlad. It felt too soon to deal with everything. His mind was still trying to catch up to present day. His gaze lowered, and his heart sank. "I broke my promise to you. I disappeared. I lied to you." He couldn't think of what else to say. He couldn't even imagine what Vlad went through after he disappeared that day. But did that pain give Vlad the free pass to do everything that he did? All the attempts on his father's life? Every scheme to steal his mother? Hurting his friends? Making clones of him? But his feelings for the Vlad from college were still fresh, and it stabbed at his heart to know that he was the reason Vlad did all that, all because Vlad loved him and he disappeared.
Vlad's hand landed on Danny's shoulder, making the younger half ghost lift his head. "We both made mistakes." His voice held a world of regret for his actions, and Danny could see it in the expression on Vlad's face. "I couldn't deal with what happened when you left. I tried to bury those feelings and pretend like you never existed at that time. Latching onto those feelings for Maddie was another way of masking the pain." He sighed, turning his gaze away from Danny. "Now I understand why you disappeared like that, why you kept secrets. If I had realized things sooner, if I had recognized you the moment we met at the reunion, maybe things would have been different."
Danny frowned, slowly turning over all the facts in his head. Then he sighed. "But if you hadn't done everything that you did, I might not have come here that - er, I guess it's still the same day for you. But I wouldn't have come here and accidentally wound up in the past." He glanced at the broken machine at his feet. "Why did you make that time machine?"
Vlad picked up the machine, turning it over in his hands. "The plan was to go back in time and stop myself from meeting you." He didn't look up to see the expression on Danny's face at that answer. "Since Clockwork refused to help me, I needed another means to achieve that goal. It wasn't until after this machine took you back in time that I realized the true reason Clockwork wouldn't help me."
"Because I needed to stumble on that machine and go back to your college days." Now everything was making sense to Danny. His trip into the past no accident. He realized now that Clockwork could have stepped in and returned him to the present day at any time. Instead, the Master of Time waited until Danny made a decision that could have thrown the timeline into chaos. Danny met Vlad's gaze. "So where does this leave us?"
Danny was still in love with Vlad, despite everything that happened between them. For him, they made love only last night. But what about Vlad? That was twenty-four years ago for him. Did Vlad still love him like he did in college? Did all the anger and bitterness since Danny disappeared change anything?
"There's a lot of bad blood between us," Vlad admitted, noting when Danny winced. "We've said and done things that hurt each other. I don't think we can simply overlook everything that happened and go back to how things were in the eighties."
Danny's shoulders sagged, and he wondered if it was possible to live with a gaping hole in his heart. "Then are you saying that you want to end it?" It was true in the three years that passed since the whole clone incident Vlad kept his distance. Did he want to continue with the way things were during those three years? After what he experienced in the past, Danny didn't want Vlad completely cut out of his life.
"That wasn't what I meant." Vlad walked over to one of the tables and placed the time machine upon it. His back remained to Danny. "I would like to try again, if you want to as well."
Danny stumbled over to where Vlad stood. His heart almost felt like it was soaring. Vlad would give him another chance? "Yes," he said as he took Vlad's hand and laced their fingers together.
Vlad stared at their hands. "It won't be as simple as just saying you want to. I don't want you leaping into this thinking everything will be the same as back then. I'm not that same man."
Was Vlad seriously trying to dissuade him now? Danny grabbed the back of Vlad's neck and leaned in until their lips touched. Vlad removed his hand from Danny's hand and placed them on the young half ghost's hips, pulling him closer as they kissed. Danny could almost imagine that he was still in the past with a younger Vlad holding him. When they parted, Danny stared straight into Vlad's eyes.
"I still love you," Danny said firmly. "And I don't care if we have to go through a lot of hiccups from here. I want to be with you."
Vlad pressed his forehead against Danny's forehead. His eyes closed, and for a moment, they stood there silently. "I don't think you realize how happy I am right now," he whispered, his breath washing over Danny's face. Then he sighed as he pulled away from Danny. "But we'll take it slow."
Danny wanted to argue, his cheeks flushing as he recalled what was last night for him. "Fine," he agreed reluctantly, his happiness deflating a little. "So what's our next step? Go on a date?"
Vlad leaned on the table as he folded his arms. "That is the next logical step. But I think you're forgetting something."
Danny's brow knitted as he tried to understand what Vlad mean. What could he be forgetting? Then it hit him, and he groaned. "School!" He smacked a hand to his head. During his time in the past, the only school work he worried about was the calculus course that Vlad worked for as a TA. "What time is it?"
Vlad checked his watch. "Almost three in the morning."
Danny groaned again. "I should be getting up in three hours, and I think I didn't get all my homework finished." He grabbed at his hair, trying to remember, but months passed for him since he left home.
"Your education comes first. I know this is your senior year, but I won't accept poor grades from you." Vlad almost sounded exactly like back in college to Danny. "I expect you to pass all your classes, and I know you can do it if you put in the effort."
"That would be a lot easier without having to worry about ghosts attacking," Danny said with a pointed look at Vlad. The older half ghost left him alone the last three years, but his freshmen year hardly gave him the time to study with all the ghosts that attacked along with all of Vlad's schemes.
"I can ensure that you won't have to deal with ghosts while focusing on your studies." Vlad paused in thought. "Mostly. I wouldn't want your skills to get too dull over the rest of the school year." He wore that devilish smirk that Danny grew accustomed to four years ago.
"How about I agree to let you train me and you keep all the ghosts out of my hair until I graduate?"
"I can agree to that." Vlad nodded with a smile, and Danny got the feeling that he walked right into what Vlad wanted.
Well, as long as I don't have to deal with ghost attacks so that I can study, I guess that's okay. But Danny didn't want to let Vlad think he could get away with manipulating him. "But you have to make the effort to reconnect with my dad." He folded his arms, thinking this to be a victory. "No more dodging my family." He pointed at the busted machine. "And I believe your latest excuse is no longer valid. You're coming to visit like my mom wanted."
Vlad released a suffering sigh, like the thought of visiting with Jack and Maddie would be torture. "I suppose I can make an appearance. We can continue discussing things at that time then." He walked over to the Portal and opened it. "For now, I think you should head home. You'll want your sleep if you wish to stay awake in class."
Danny walked over to the Portal and paused next to Vlad. After hesitating for a moment, he gave the man a kiss on the cheek then dove quickly into the Ghost Zone, transforming into his ghost form as he entered.
Danny relaxed in his room, lounging on his bed as he flipped through a book. The graduation ceremony was tomorrow, and he was free until then to spend his time doing nothing at all. He still couldn't believe how quickly the rest of the year flew by, or how much easier his classes felt when he no longer spent all his time worrying about the next ghost attack. He got passing grades in all his classes, including a few As to go with his B minuses. That fact made his chest swell with pride.
When the doorbell rang, Danny jumped off his bed. He tossed his book on his desk as he passed it then raced out the door. His mother beat him to the front door and greeted their guest with a peck on the cheek as the man entered the house. A smile broke onto his face when Danny met gazes with the man. He jogged down the stairs and threw his arms around the man's neck.
"Congratulations on your graduation," Vlad said as he returned the hug. His voice held a tone of smugness that Danny read as a "I knew you could do it."
"I never would have done it without you." Danny knew he owed Vlad for more than simply having faith in his academic abilities.
"Okay, okay. That's enough of that," Jack said, driving a wedge between the two men. "The rule still holds. No getting handsy in our house." He sent a glare at Vlad, who held up his hands and pretended innocence.
Danny flushed, remembering the reason for that rule. The one time he was intimate with Vlad, his father was sleeping in the same room, and Jack woke up in the middle of it. "Dad," Danny whined with his cheeks burning red. "We aren't doing anything like that yet." Vlad still insisted they take things slow with their relationship, and most of their relationship since Danny returned from the past involved long talks, a few dates, and training as promised. It wasn't all cheerful either. There were times when something would spark a heated fight between them. But they were both willing to work through those hiccups, even if they needed some time apart to cool their heads.
Jack huffed. "I just don't want a repeat," he grumbled, gaining an exasperated sigh from his son. Then he cheered up and slapped Vlad on the back. "Want to tell me how you two did it?" The question made Danny groan as he buried his face in his hands. Thankfully, Vlad was used to Jack's embarrassing comments. Jack's brow drew together as he stared at his son, not understanding that reaction. "I meant the whole time travel thing! I've been dying to know how that happened ever since we got pulled into the Ghost Zone during that invasion."
"It's really not that interesting a story," Vlad said with his standard response whenever Jack brought up the time travel. He and Danny discussed this months ago and decided it was best to keep Jack and Maddie out of the loop on the time machine and about them being half ghosts. "And I had such a long flight here. I was hoping to spend the evening relaxing."
"Not before dinner," Maddie said already walking toward the kitchen. "I planned a big supper when you said you would be arriving today." Jack followed after his wife, giving the two men a moment to be alone.
Danny waited until his father disappeared through the kitchen door. Then he gave Vlad a quick kiss on the lips, afraid if it was any longer, his father would come storming into the room to break them up. "I'm glad you could come."
"I wouldn't miss your graduation for the world." Vlad smiled warmly.
Jack's face appeared in the doorway. "You two better not be getting handsy."
"We're not!" Danny rolled his eyes as a light pink colored his cheeks.
"We better go join them," Vlad suggested, ushering Danny toward the kitchen door. "So, the University of Wisconsin?" A grin tugged at his lips as he lifted an eyebrow at the young half ghost.
Danny beamed at him. "I liked it there."
Author's Note: Ah~ This behemoth of a story is finally finished~ XD I hope you all enjoyed it, and thanks for the many reviews!