Morning came quickly in that part of the world.  Wind flowed through the pine trees, and royal trumpets blew as Vulgarian banners were taken out of storage, dusted off, and flown from the windows.  The villagers rose early to finish their final preparations for the baron’s birthday.

Those preparations, however, were deep beneath the village square in a large, underground cavern.  Danny and Vlad looked around them in awe as Clockwork led them in, through a secret passage in his own cellar.  It was full of candles and what seemed to be a store of supplies and… weapons?

“What is this?”  Vlad asked, looking around.  “You look like you’re planning for a war.”

“An uprising, as a matter of fact,” Clockwork admitted, leading them deeper in.  There were many ghosts there, speaking in low tones as they watched the humans.  “You see, the baron and baroness are rather unfit to rule, and this town has hit a serious decline under them.  You could say, a rebellion has formed.”

“You plan to overthrow them!” Vlad marveled.

“Yes.”

“C-Clockwork…”  Danny asked, voice raspy from crying nearly all night.  “What about Danielle?  Is she… is she alright?”

The ghost turned to look at him, smiling softly.  “You could say I have a man on the inside.  He wouldn’t have let anything happen to her.”  

His smile dropped.  “However, for letting her get captured in the FIRST place, he and I will certainly have WORDS…”

Danny looked relieved to hear that his daughter was okay, but a fresh wave of tears still left him.  The young man still blamed himself for what happened, and he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if his baby girl got hurt…

Vlad sighed softly and held Danny close for what felt like the umpteenth time that day, giving Clockwork a disapproving look.  “Could you leave us for a moment?” he muttered.

“Be ready for dress and makeup in twenty minutes,” the toy maker replied unaffectedly.

With that, he turned away and joined another group of ghosts in debate over swords.  Vlad frowned, but led Danny to a seat carved out of the granite wall; studded with candles, it was surprisingly warm and dry…

The older man sat, gently pulling Danny into his lap.  “It’s okay, Daniel…” he murmured, stroking the younger man’s hair.  “We’ll get her back.  Her and your father.  It will all be okay…”

“Th-they’re all I h-have, Vlad…”  Danny said softly.  There were still tears in his eyes and in his voice, but at least he had long since stopped sobbing.  “I just… I can’t lose her… Vlad, sh-she’s my whole w-world…”

Vlad gently cupped Danny’s cheeks, gazing up into his eyes.  “It will be alright…” he whispered.  “I promise you…”

The silver-haired man tucked his head under his chin, rocking the slender men gently.  He had never had to comfort someone like this before… He had all the money in the world, but no children or spouse of his own…

But perhaps, one day in the future, that might change…

“A gentle breeze from Hushabye Mountain…”

Danny sniffed, eyes wide with surprise as Vlad’s deep voice murmured in his ear – that familiar lullaby.  “Softly blows o’er lullaby bay… It fills the sails of boats that are waiting…” the man sang, low and velvety.  “Waiting to sail your worries… away…”

Slim fingers curled in Vlad’s vest, the tears and shaking starting to subside.  “It isn’t far… to Hushabye Mountain.  And your boat waits down, by the quay…”

Danny raised his head, gazing into Vlad’s own with mournful, but trusting blue eyes.  His voice was slightly raspy from crying, but it was still so soft and young and sweet.  The young man had a big heart…

And it was very much open, with room for this kind gentleman.  

“The winds of night so softly are sighing, soon they will fly your troubles to sea…”

Unknown to the two humans, they had once more garnered a small crowd around them, mostly of the ghost children the villagers intended to hide down here during the invasion.  They swayed softly, quiet, as the humans sang a song of dreams and hope.

Vlad’s voice joined Danny’s on the next few lines, his deep voice harmonizing so well with Danny’s own.  “So close your eyes on Hushabye Mountain.  Wave good-bye to cares of the day…”

“And watch… your boat… from Hushabye Mountain…”

The majestic older man gazed down at Danny, warmth in his eyes.  “Sail far away…”

The young man stared back, quietly in awe as their breath mixed – lips barely an inch from one another’s…  “From lullaby…”

“Bay…”

Danny wasn’t sure what overcame him then, and he may find later he regretted letting his mixed up state of emotions get away from him…  But at that moment, all Danny could think about was pressing his lips to Vlad’s.

So he did.  

Vlad sighed softly, grip squeezing gently around Danny’s shoulders, pulling him closer and leaning deeper into their soft kiss.  The young man’s hands moved into his hair, tangling in his braid, pulling him closer–

“Ahem…”

Both men flew apart as Clockwork came to stand beside them, a single eyebrow raised.  “While I’m happy you two seemed to have finally taken a step forward in this relationship, I’m afraid it’s time.  My… informant, has arrived.”

Danny blinked, looking over Clockwork’s shoulder… and promptly launched himself out of Vlad’s lap in a sudden fit of RAGE.

“YOU!!”

Vlad caught the young man, standing in order to hold him to his chest while he too glared at the tall, very familiar ghost over Clockwork’s shoulder.  “Clockwork…”

Dan chortled, stepping out from the shadows.  “Ah, easy, easy~!  I’m one of the good guys, here.”

“You took my DAUGHTER!”

“If she had stayed hidden, I wouldn’t have taken her,” Dan smirked, smugly picking at his nails.  “Look, she was right by the window, and if a soldier happened to see her and I ‘didn’t,’ all this would be for nothing.  I needed to keep up appearances.”

“If you hurt one HAIR on her head…”  Danny snarled, barely keeping himself in check.  

Dan rolled his eyes in response.  “She’s in the east tower with the other human.  Her grandfather or whatever.  I even fed them.”

“When this is all over, Phantom,” Clockwork murmured in a hushed tone as he lead Vlad and Danny away to get ready.  “You and I are going to have words.”

Dan snorted, turning to walk away.  “Right, ‘words.’  That’s all it ever is with you, you old bastard.  Your window of opportunity is ten minutes.  I’ll signal you when I’ve cleared out most of the guards.  Once all this is over, I’ll be out of your hair for good.”

“Dan.”

The large ghost stiffened, whirling around angrily.  “What?  What more do you want– UNNF!”

The others quickly turned their eyes away when Clockwork suddenly slammed Dan into a nearby cave wall, hand tight around his neck.  The humans were quickly whisked out of the room for their makeup and costumes, and weren’t around to see Clockwork raise Dan clear of his feet, and slip a hand behind him to cup his ass in a very rough and possessive manner.

“If you think, I’m going to let you just walk away after all the trouble you’ve put me through… you, young man, have another thing coming…”

“Uhhhhh, Clockwork–?”

The older ghost pressed against his chest, voice low in his ear.  “Run along… and do as I say… and you better be there when this is all over.  We, have some unfinished business…”

Dan growled as both his neck and ass were squeezed tightly, before he was dropped and Clockwork was gone.  The big ghost blinked… then a sly grin crept over his face, and he all but ran from the caverns and back towards the castle.  Perhaps Clockwork wasn’t as uninterested as he once thought!

~*~*~

As the sun rose higher in the sky, the guests began to arrive at the castle for the baron’s birthday party.  Baron Johnny and Baroness Kitty sat behind a grand table, the main ballroom dripping in decorations and ghastly green fog – a perfect ghostly party, with liquor and snacks galore.  Johnny very quickly got drunk as a skunk, his wife feeding him grapes and laughing when he tried to munch on her fingers.  The party was in full swing as all the noble ghosts danced and spun around the ballroom floor, haunting music filling the room from the skeletal band in the balconies.  Dan stood in a dark corner, watching the festivities take place.  He had already gotten rid of a few guards now, making it look like they got sick or drank too much.  Now, he just needed to wait…

Kitty suddenly stood up from behind the large banquet table, her large black and toxic green ballgown swishing around her as she banged two goblets together.  “SILENCE!”

The band stopped playing and the room fell quiet.  She turned to grin down at her husband.  “I have a surprise for you~!”

Johnny giggled drunkenly, sitting up.  “Ohhh, I love surprises~”

Kitty smiled, then turned to face the large doors, raising her goblet of wine in the air.  “Summon the toy maker!”

Servants rushed around as they helped the guests to their seats, opening up the floor.  The doors opened and Clockwork came strolling in, dressed in his best dark purple suit and cloak.  He smirked subtly in Dan’s direction, before facing the baron and baroness.  “Good morning, your highnesses,” the ghost murmured, bowing low.  “I wish you a happy birthday.  May you get everything you deserve.”

Johnny waved his hand, uncaring.  “Yes yes, enough pleasantries.  What have you made me this year?”

Clockwork straightened, smiling benignly.  “Why, I do believe I have outdone myself this time, your highness.  See for yourself.”

He turned and clapped his hands, signaling for his ‘help’ to bring in the gifts.  Fellow ghosts from the village came in carrying two big boxes.  One was a large square box, while the other was long and triangular in shape.  They gently set the boxes down, standing the tall one up lengthwise.  

Clockwork came forward and unlocked the tall, triangular box.  “I do believe you will find that this toy has no match.  It is one of a kind and perfectly flawless.  A masterpiece, if you will.”

He stepped back with a dramatic flair as the other ghosts pulled the walls of the box away.  

“I present to you… the Doll Prince.”

//Doll Prince?// Vlad thought incredulously to himself.  //When did we come up with that monstrosity of a name?//

Nonetheless, he kept his face serene as cool green light washed over him – unveiling him to the crowd of ghosts.  His platinum hair was covered, bound up inside an ornate black wig and silver circlet, which flowed down his shoulders in long, dark braids and curls, like an embodiment of shadows.  His skin had been painted an iridescent blue that glowed under the lights, and he was dressed all in white silk – a tailcoat, puffy sleeves, clinging breeches, and a long, red velvet cape that draped around the platform.  With his height and regal posture, Vladimir was an awe striking figure…

“Soooo… you made me a mannequin,” Johnny deadpanned, unimpressed.  “Like, sure, they’re creepy but… really?  A mannequin?”

Clockwork smiled and bent down, twisting a key locked in the side of Vlad’s box.

Internally, the older man sighed in resignation as he heard that blasted music box begin to play and the platform began to slowly spin, reflecting his visage in every mirror.  The villagers had to teach him an entire dance and song to sing in less than a night, and Vlad was at the edge of just tossing it all away, leaping off the platform, and punching a ghost in the face.

But of course, that wasn’t an option.

So – along with the chiming notes – Vladimir straightened, moving like a doll, and began to sing once again…

“What do you see,

You people gazing at me!

You see a doll on a music box that’s wound by a key…

How can you tell I’m

under a spell, I’m

waiting for love’s first kiss!”

//Seriously, who came up with these lyrics…?// Vlad thought to himself.  But a quick glance at the baron proved it was doing the trick; the blonde was enraptured by the display.

“You cannot see

how much I long to be free!

Turning around on this music box that’s wound by a key.

Yearning…

Yearning~!

While… I’m… turning around and around~”

Slowly, the platform came to a stop, and the man resumed his starter position.  The crowd erupted in adoring applause.  Vlad was still muttering in his head to himself.  //Honestly, I am a retired commander of the army, I should be sneaking in with the others, not being the honest-to-goodness DISTRACTION–!//

Then, Danny’s box banged open.

Gasps of shock rang out as before them sat what they believed to be another lovely, if smaller,  doll.  Danny’s black hair had been pulled and tucked away under a long white wig made of light, fibrous cotton.  The wig pillowed and seemed to float around his shoulder like snow, adding to the strange ghostly allure they had put into his costume.  Danny was already a very pale young man, so Clockwork had simply accentuated that by dressing him all in black.  He wore a black billowing peasant shirt with a green scarf wrapped around his waist, and a pair of embroidered black pants.  

It was pretty clear that this doll, while beautiful, was meant to represent the rogue in the ‘doll prince’s’ life, just like a little fairy tale.  Kitty looked enchanted with the doll, while Johnny frowned.  

“A puppet?  What am I to do with a–”

Danny tilted his head up.

The guests gasped and stepped back.  Johnny slowly shut his mouth, watching in interest as the doll slowly climbed to its feet, much like a puppet would with invisible strings.  Enchanted, perhaps?  It seemed Clockwork really had outdone himself if he was dabbling in such arts…

The doll slowly stepped clumsily forward, a smile painted on his face with green dots of blush shaped like hearts on his cheeks.  He bowed before the baron and baroness, his gloved hands waving in the air like they were pulled on strings.  The baron laughed and bowed mockingly back, waving a hand to let the doll do as it pleased.  

Kitty clapped her hands excitedly as the band picked up again, playing a livelier version of the music box’s tune.  The little peasant doll hopped and danced around, the ghostly crowd laughing and cheering him on as he made quite a spectacle of himself.  Danny had no problem making a jester of himself; it was no different than the times he had entertained his little girl.  Just act wild and silly and make them laugh, that was the goal.  And sure enough, he had everyone in the ballroom, including the baron, roaring with laughter as he continued to make a dancing, smiling fool of himself.  

Finally, the song ended and he gave a flourishing bow as the ghosts cheered.  He straightened up and turned to the other side of the room and bowed again, only to stop halfway and pull back up, pretending to be entranced with the ‘doll prince’ before him.  Well, he didn’t have to pretend much, Vlad looked amazing even dressed up like this…

He clumsily made his way over, pretending to fawn over the other doll to the ghost’s amusement, before bending down and turning the key.  He stepped back as the music box started to play…

Then it stopped.  

Danny scowled, looked down, and gave the box a right kick.  

It started up again, causing another roar of laughter to spill through the audience.  Danny walked around the music box, following the spinning ‘doll prince’ as he began to once more move and sing…

//Oh sugar cookies, this was not part of the program!  What is he doing?!// Vlad panicked.  His mind scrambled to remember the lyrics.  And so the older man sang his song and danced his dance, all in tune to the music box and just as doll-like as the first time.  

But this time, he wasn’t the only one singing.

“What do you see,

You people gazing at me!

You see a doll on a music box that’s wound by a key…”

Danny smiled up at him, so sweetly, and sang in tune with his own song.  “This lovely, lonely man, I’ve only known a day~

I look at him, and cannot look away…”

Vlad almost swallowed his tongue, eyes widening a smidgen from hearing a song that had come from his own heart mere days ago.  Now, he was hearing it from his young love, directed up at HIM.

“How can you tell I’m

under a spell, I’m

waiting for love’s first kiss!”

“He’s such a love~!  

He’s such a lovely, lonely man~!”

Danny danced around Vlad as he sang, beaming up at the man as he spun around.  Only to stop dead at the sight of himself in the mirror.  The words died on his tongue as he took in his reflection.  

//Oh my god, I look ridiculous!//  he thought, turning his head to look in the other mirror then back again.  //What on earth did they do??  Is that even going to come off?!//

“You cannot see

how much I long to be free!”

As seamlessly as he could, Vlad shoved Danny.  Danny’s head knocked into the mirror.  WHAM!

“Turning around on this music box that’s wound by a key.”

Startled out of his sudden stall, Danny quickly turned with a flourish, smiling once more though his eyes were a little wider then usual and he was trying his hardest not to pout up at the older man.  The crowd laughed as, to them, it looked like the peasant doll had gotten in the other’s way and was knocked by his arm.  

Johnny, however, squinted suspiciously.

“Yearning…”

“Oh what a love!

Oh what a lovely, lonely man…”

“Yearning~!”

Danny slowed his spinning as Vlad did the same, instead walking beside him as the ‘doll prince’ finished his song.   “While… I’m… turning around and around~”

“Oh, how I love this one and only man…”

Danny bowed as Vlad finally stopped turning on the music box, stepping forward like he planned to give the back of his hand a kiss, only for the ‘doll’ to raise his arm out of his reach with a smirk.

Danny couldn’t help but smile back at the tease, slowly straightening up as the ghostly crowd laughed and cheered at their performance.

“JUST A MINUTE!”

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