It was a dizzying ride back to the land of the living, and at one point Daniel really thought he might throw up.  He closed his eyes to block out the swirling lights and sounds around him, and between one second and the next he came crashing to the ground.  He lay there, groaning and gasping for a moment, before he slowly sat up and looked around.  It took him a long moment, but he realized he was in the Manson’s empty foyer…

He stood up on shaky legs, eyes wide.  He was back?  But how, he was supposed to be dead!  How could he be back?!  

Daniel took a few cautious steps forward, looking around and silently thankful no one was around.  Surely he would cause a commotion if someone saw him; he must look like a right ghost!

Except when he paused before his reflection in a tall mirror, he couldn’t help but gasp quietly in alarm.  Because there before him stood a sixteen year old boy with bright blue eyes and raven black hair.  He looked… alive!  But how was that even possible??

CREAK.

Daniel turned around sharply at the sound, eyes locking with those of the bored, large nosed butler.  The man sniffed, then turned his head back into the manor.  “Young Master Fenton has returned…”  he drawled, opening the doors wider.  

In a matter of seconds, Daniel heard the sound of pounding feet as his father and mother came rushing into the foyer, taking him up into their arms.

“My baby boy, where have you been?!”  Maddie cried.  “We’ve been worried SICK!”

“You were gone all night and a day, young man,” Jack snapped softly.  “Where on earth were you?”

“I-I… I w-w-was…”

“And she had the nerve to leave a NOTE!”

Pamela and Jeremy Manson slammed through the opposing doors, the redheaded woman furiously brandishing a small bit of paper.  They both stopped in their tracks when they saw Daniel.  “YOU!” Pamela snarled, advancing on the boy.

“You stay away from my son!” Maddie barked, moving in front of him.

Lady Manson shoved Daniel’s mother away from him and stuck a red-tipped finger in his face.  “It’s YOUR fault that our little girl ran off with that Korean bellboy!!  If you hadn’t been so SLOW, she would have wanted to stay!”

Madeline looked like she was about to throttle the woman, and Jack actually had to hold her back.  “DON’T YOU DARE CALL MY SON SLOW!”

“YES?  WELL THAT’S WHAT HE IS!” Pamela snapped, rounding on Daniel’s mother instead.  “How else do you explain him being gone for SO LONG!  ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS MEMORIZE A FEW SIMPLE DAMNED SENTENCES!”

“B-but I did m-memorize them!”  Daniel protested, stepping forward to defend both himself and his mother.  He shrunk back a bit when the Mansons turned their glare back on him, but held his ground.  “I have a s-speech i-i-impediment, that d-doesn’t make me s-slow.  It only g-gets so bad when I’m upset or n-nervous.  I’m s-sorry I ran away, I got s-stranded in the w-woods… but I d-didn’t know th-that Samantha would l-leave!  I didn’t m-mean for that to h-h-happen!  But it’s not m-my fault if sh-she loved someone e-else!”

Jeremy gasped mockingly, hands on his cheeks.  “Oh MY, isn’t HE just SO TALKATIVE now~!”

The boy’s cheeks flushed in shame and he grew quiet once more, but he kept his head high.  His hands were shaking, but he hid it behind his back.  He wanted so desperately to talk back, to call them out… but he knew that would do no good for his family.  “You’re just a poor son of an inventor, how DARE you speak to me that way!” Lord Manson continued to shout.  “We’ve just been ROBBED of our only socially suitable way out of this and it’s YOUR FAULT, kiddo!”

He grinned – all teeth and no humor – getting into Daniel’s face.  The boy sucked in a breath, shrinking away.  “Well guess what~?” he chimed.

Instantly, his face grew thunderously dark.  “NOW WE WOULDN’T EVEN MARRY OUR CAT OFF TO YOUR FAMILY!”

“Now see HERE–!”  Jack bellowed, dragging his son behind him protectively.  “Shout all you want, but don’t go aiming your toxic hot air at MY son!  It’s YOUR daughter that ran away, and from the looks of it, she planned this for DAYS, before she even met Daniel!  And you wanna know something else?!”

He pushed a finger into Lord Manson’s chest, sending the slighter man stumbling back with a gasp.  “I wouldn’t want YOUR name to taint the Fenton legacy to begin with!  Your money and your name aren’t worth your POISON!”

Maddie stood proudly next to her husband, head held high.  “And clearly your daughter wasn’t good enough for OUR son, if she has such poor taste as to go running off with some foreign BELLBOY.”

Daniel slowly pulled away from the screaming group of adults, hands coming up to cover his ears as he squeezed his eyes shut.  Why had he come back to this mess?  Why had he come back at all?  He wanted to be back in limbo, with his sister!  With Vladimir, his husband!  Where he was loved and safe and away from all of THIS!

It would have been better… if he just stayed GONE!

“NOW, now, everyone.  Please~”

Danny froze, eyes flying open.  //Oh no…//

The echoing, authoritative click of blood-colored heels sounded throughout the foyer.  The adults’ heads turned, flustered at the disdainful look in the sharp, emerald eyes of Penelope Spectra.  “We are nobles~” she murmured daintily.

She placed a hand on both the men’s chests, parting them with a delicate push.  “Shall we try to act like it?”

Jack huffed, glaring at the blonde man.  Jeremy straightened his suit and combed a hand through his hair.  “My apologies for our guest’s vile behavior, Lady Spectra,” he said, nose in the air.

“Oh don’t you GIVE ME THAT–!!”

“Mr. Fenton.”

Jack fell silent again, frowning angrily but only to the point that Penelope wouldn’t disapprove.  Madeline sighed and came to the green-eyed lady’s side.  “Thank you…” the woman murmured.

“Not at all, Mrs. Fenton~”

Spectra’s eyes zeroed in on Daniel.  A slow smile spread over her lips.  “Not at all…” she purred.

Daniel swallowed, immediately uncomfortable under her gaze.  There was something she wanted from him, that much he could tell from the predatory look in her eyes that he recognized from those numerous scenes in Clockwork’s window into time.  But what, he had no clue.  He and his family had no money for her to take, so what in the world could she possibly want?

Either way, he had no desire to stay and find out.  

“Mother, f-father…” Daniel called politely, moving once more to stand beside them.  “Perhaps it is t-time we go home…”

His mother nodded, giving Lady Manson one last baleful glare.  “Yes, perhaps you’re right, dear.”

“Wait.”

Penelope smiled sharply, holding out a hand for Daniel’s mother.  “Madeline, oh, may I call you Madeline?”

“Oh, of course!” the other woman enthused, curtsying and taking her hand.  Jack frowned – more in confusion than disapproval – but hung back with his son as the two women discussed something in low murmurs.

“…Oh my goodness, but… Lady Spectra, he’s only sixteen!  Surely you don’t–”

“It would only be for financial reasons, Madeline~  I like you and your husband, there’s no need to worry,” the lady whispered, smirking and patting her hand.  “I would take good care of him, you know that.”

“Y-Yes, I do, but… it hardly seems appropriate…”

“Let me worry about public opinion, Madeline.”

Daniel’s blood froze when he heard the next words that came out of those dark red lips.  “Whom I marry is my business~” Penelope purred.

The boy was frozen in horror, unable to move as his mother and Penelope came back to him and his father.  He felt sick to his stomach suddenly, everything seeming to move in slow motion around him.  He watched as his parents talked with Penelope, about the marriage, about a WEDDING, right in front of him!  Like he wasn’t even there!  After the mess with the Mansons, he couldn’t really blame how his parents so easily warmed up to the idea, seeing as Penelope appeared to be a very kind and stable woman.  But again, without his consent…

And they didn’t know!  They didn’t know what she was!  And he couldn’t even SAY anything because he had no proof, no evidence!  No one would believe him!

//Why…. why me?  Why marry me, why?!  I want to go back to Vlad!  I don’t want to be HERE!//

“Well, I believe it should happen as soon as possible.  No time like the present, no~?”

Daniel suddenly felt very faint.

Penelope turned to smile at the Mansons, ever so charming.  “Surely we should not let your preparations go to waste?  Just imagine the news!  Everyone will be so thrilled to hear how you hosted my wedding in such a homey little chapel!  Won’t it be marvelous?  I will of course invite all our richest and closest friends~?”

“Of course!” Jack grinned, shaking hands with her.  “Thank you so much!!”

Daniel’s parents looked at him happily.  “Isn’t this great news??”

The boy swallowed, eyes wide as he stared between Spectra’s snakelike eyes and his parent’s happy ones.  He felt like the world was spinning out of control–!

Oh… that was just the room…

Daniel swayed and passed out.  

“W-Whoah, whoah!!” his mother yelped, catching him as he fell.  “Goodness gracious, my poor baby boy!  What’s the matter with him– oh, he’s fainted dead away.”

Madeline looked up apologetically at the lady.  “I’m so sorry, Lady Spectra.”

“Please, no apology needed~” Penelope smiled cooly.  “Take him home, let him rest.”

The Fentons crowded out of the Manson’s house and into the rain, back to their carriage.  The red-clad woman followed, waving delicately.  “The wedding’s in three days~!” she called, grinning.  “I’ll send my assistant to help with the preparations!  Good night~!”

Jack and Madeline waved out the carriage window.  “Thank you!  Good night!”

The woman continued to wave as the horses turned around the rippled, overflowing fountain, and trotted away down the soaking street.  Once they were out of sight, however… she slowly lowered her hand.

“Yes, yes…” Penelope breathed, a devilish smirk curling her lips.  “Good night~”

~*~*~

“Aaaaaand WHY in the WORLD are you marrying that little nervous piece of shit?” Bertrand drawled, helping to unlace her bodice.

“Because, he’s a PRETTY little nervous piece of shit,” Penelope replied easily.  In the high, rich room that the murderess called her quarters, she breathed out in relief as the shell around her torso came free, and went to her vanity to remove the pins in her hair.  “Besides, I have enough money to last me a while.  Why not secure myself a nice little toy?  If I need more gold, I can just off him to make it look like an accident~!”

The redhead shook her hair loose and smirked back at Bertrand, making a show of squishing her breasts together and pursing her lips.  “Because beautiful widows are SOOOOO vulnerable~” she cooed.

Bertrand chuckled.  “Well, at least in this case we won’t have to move around so soon.”

He smirked at her as he helped slip on her lacy overrobe.  “So, are you planning to dress your tiny groom up all in white?  He’s certainly the virgin in this relationship.  And you always did look more smashing in red~  No one can blame a noble WIDOWED woman like yourself to dress in whatever she pleases for her wedding~”

“Hmmm, there’s a thought~”  she purred, liking the idea.  “A nice white little suit, yes!  We will make just a DARLING couple~”

“Ha!”  Bertrand snorted.  “If the little brat can say his vows this time!”

“Hahahahaha!!”

~*~*~

Meanwhile, gazing into a portal in Clockwork’s citadel, Vladimir’s scarlet eyes went wide with horror and rage.  “How…” he whispered, “could you let this happen…?”

The master of time chortled and floated away.

Vlad leapt back to his feet, running after him – seething in fury. “NO!  How could you DO THIS TO ME?!” he yelled.  Tears streamed down the older ghost’s face as he stuttered to a stop before the lord of limbo.  “I-I… I can’t do this again!!  I can’t let this happen!!  Is Daniel even living, is he not?  I-I…!”

“Do you honestly think you are not able to do the same?” Clockwork replied evenly.

Vlad stared up at him in shock.  “…What…?  What are you talking about…?”

Behind him, the moment in time changed.  The ghost blinked, more tears slipping out as he turned to look, and Clockwork continued to speak.  “When you bonded with Daniel – a union between the living and the dead – you broke the rules,” the older spirit smirked.  Vlad knelt before the window, staring into the moment where Daniel accepted his proposal.  “You cheated death, and took life for yourself.  Daniel cheated life, and took a little slice of death into himself.  It was all done, from the moment you put that ring on his finger.”

“But…”

Vlad turned to stare up at Clockwork; his fingers pressed against his chest, desperate.  “What does that make me…?” he whispered.

The master of time was silent for a moment.

And then, he GRINNED.

Vlad spun around as the image in the portal changed again – showing a closed pair of chapel doors.  “Go get your lovely ghost bride~” Clockwork smiled.

~*~

Over the past three days, Daniel had done everything he could think of to back out of the wedding.  But after just the first day he quickly realised how POINTLESS it was.  His parents were too deep in Penelope’s charm, falling in love with their future daughter in law with every visit and every gift.  She was providing everything for the wedding, along with the Manson’s full ‘support.’  The flowers, the venue, the suit…

Daniel had never been so frightened before in his life…

His parents seemed to sense his supposed cold feet, made sure he got plenty of rest and never let him out of their sights.  He had tried countless times to go back to the woods, hoping he could somehow contact Vlad there, get back to limbo.  But with every moment filled with wedding plans and Penelope’s visits… he just never made it out of the house.

And now, here he was standing before a large mirror, dressed in a custom fitting white tail coat suit.  The tie was baby blue, matching his eyes, along with a blood red rose in his breast pocket.  His hair was pulled back with a matching blue ribbon, and he couldn’t help but feel sick to his stomach.  This… this was something he could imagine wearing to his and Vlad’s wedding, if they had a proper one.  But instead, he was playing the toy groom to Lady Spectra’s whims.

“Honey, it’s time!”  his mother chirped, leading him out of the little room towards the chapel hall.  She frowned at the expression on her son’s face, how pale he was.  “Darling, are you all right?  You’re positively shaking.”

Daniel clutched his left hand tighter, fingers warm against his true wedding ring hidden beneath a  white glove.  He had kept it well hidden the past few days and even now he refused to take it off.  He still had hope…

“M-mom…”  he stuttered, feet stumbling as he was pushed to the head of the aisle.  “I d-don’t… I don’t–”

“Nonsense, son!”  Jack cut in, mistaking his son’s fear for simple wedding jitters.  “I know how nerve wracking a wedding may seem, but once it’s over you’ll feel much better!”

“N-no, that’s n-n-not–!”

“Places, everyone!” an attendant snapped, and Daniel could only watch in distress as everyone sat down… and the organ began to play.

The doors opened behind him.

The boy seemed to shrink in on himself, not wanting to turn around – wishing a black hole would swallow him up – but eventually, Daniel saw a mass of blood red in his peripherals.  He swallowed, trying to scoot away.  

Penelope – dressed in deadly red silk and long gloves – took his hand none too gently.

They stepped forward.  

The old, withered priest looked down at them over his spectacles, slowly opening his little book with a creaking groan.  He was dressed all in black and his long beard looked dry and brittle.  Once more, Daniel found no sympathy or a friendly face.

“We are gathered here today,” he rasped.  “To witness the union between Daniel Fenton, and Lady Penelope Spectra.”

The priest’s speech drowned on and on, and Daniel soon found the noise fading to the background, drowned out by the sound of his rapidly beating heart.  His shaking grew worse and he winced slightly when he felt Penelope give his hand a punishing squeeze.  He glanced at her from the side of his eyes, taking in the sight of this temptress, this vixen, this killer…

His husband’s murderer…

No, no!  He couldn’t do this!

“Are there any here that object to this loving union?”  the priest drawled with a bored tone of repetition.  “If so, speak now, or forever hold your peace.”

And the for the first time, Daniel found himself able to speak his mind, his heart… without a single stutter.

“I object.”

A gasp went up from the attendees.  Jack and Madeline – seated in the front row – stared incredulously at their son.  Spectra’s sharp eyes flicked down to the boy.

“And WHY…” the priest rasped sternly, “would the GROOM object?”

“There are m-many reasons I could n-name…” Daniel said softly, but clearly.  He turned to look at his so called ‘bride’ with nothing short of disdain.  “The only r-reason she needs to hear, is th-that I know who she is, and w-what she has done.”

Her eyes widened just a tad, but her face remained cooley suave, trying to seem placating.  “Dearest, that’s just your nerves talking–”

“And the only r-reason THEY need,”  Daniel cut her off, wrenching his hand from her grasp.  “Is th-this!”  

With a flourish, Daniel pulled off his white gloves, and held his left hand aloft.  The golden ring on his ring finger shone bright in the light.  “I am a-already m-m-married!”

Jack stared with wide eyes at the ring.  “You ARE?!” he exclaimed.

“To whom?!” Madeline demanded, shocked.

Meanwhile, Penelope’s eyes narrowed slowly at the intricate, beautiful ring on his slender finger.  Something was niggling at the back of her head… like something long forgotten…

Then, suddenly, the chapel doors slammed open in a rush of icy wind.

There – standing in the threshold – was a tall man, dressed all in darkest red, with his long platinum silver hair fluttering in the unnatural storm.  Scarlet eyes glowed bright in the darkness, all candles extinguished… and then, his delicate tie unraveled, flying past Penelope’s wide eyes…

Revealing a long, knotted scar on his throat.

Vladimir snarled, pupils contracting.  “HELLO, PENNY.”

Penelope turned white as a sheet as she dropped her bouquet of red roses, stumbling back and nearly knocking the priest’s podium over with her frightened, flailing motions.  The boy, however, paid her no mind as his eyes locked with the older man’s.

“V-VLAD!”  Daniel wailed, running at a full sprint down the aisle towards his husband.  The tears he had been holding back, along with those of relief, spilled down his cheeks and clung to his long, dark lashes.  He leapt into the man’s arms, wrapping his arms around his neck as he cried softly into his chest.  “I was s-so scared I l-lost you, that I w-would never see you a-a-again!”

Vlad breathed out in relief – but didn’t take his glowing scarlet eyes off Spectra once, as he ran his fingers through Daniel’s soft, dark hair, kissing his forehead and cheeks.  “It’s okay, little one…” he murmured.  “I’m here now…”

“I m-missed you so m-much…”

The boy practically melted in Vlad’s arms as he was held, cries going quiet as the silence of the chapel spread.  Daniel’s parents stared at each other in utter confusion, then back – and their eyes went wide as another hand touched their son’s shoulder.

Jazz came forward, her lips curved in a deadly smirk.  “Did you really think we would let that vile woman take you away from Vladimir~?  From US?”

“And we couldn’t let this cool cat have ALL the fun~!”  chirped a lively, accented voice.  Daniel looked up with a gasp to see not only his sister, but Tucker, his band, and so many of the friends he had made in that little bar below.  Around them, they could hear the gasps and screams of fright from the humans in the chapel, scurrying away from the door as more and more ghosts and creatures filled the room.  Even Cujo came to stand in front of them, barking viciously at the lady dressed in red as he grew to the size Daniel remembered him being in his prime.  

The boy gasped, shocked.  “H-how–?”

“Seems the ruler of limbo likes you, kiddo, and he gave us all a free pass tonight~!” Tucker grinned, teeth suddenly far bigger and sharper than Daniel remembered.  The skeleton crew laughed behind him, chattering and whistling.

Penelope growled and snatched a tall iron candelabra from the side of the altar.  The guests screamed and fled towards the sides of the room as she broke off the end – leaving a raw metal spike at the tip – and pointed it at the ghosts.  “You are not WELCOME HERE!  You… apparitions!” she hissed.  “This is the world of the living!!  You can’t–!”

“We can and we will…”

Daniel blinked, swallowing as he looked up at his husband.  “V-Vlad…?”

The older man gently handed him to his ghostly sister, and stepped towards Penelope.  “Please, take your friends and family away from this place,” Vlad whispered – red eyes round and crazed – his hair beginning to flutter in a wind Daniel could not feel.  “This woman and I… have unfinished business…”

Jazz took her brother’s hand and lead him to a safe corner of the room as the other specters began to fan out, creating a circle around Penelope and Vlad so she couldn’t get away.  The guests screamed and ran, emptying the chapel in record time.  Save for two.

“DANIEL!”  Maddie screamed as she ran forward towards her son, stopping just in front of him as she stared in shock at her long lost eldest daughter.  “J-Jasmine?”

She smiled sadly.  “Hello Mother, hello Father.  Sorry we couldn’t meet again at a more… happy moment…”

“How is this real?”  Jack breathed, looking awed but not afraid.  “You’re a ghost?  Truly?  How remarkable!”

Jazz actually laughed at that, smiling wider.  “Only you, dad, only you~”

“J-Jazz…”  Daniel interrupted, his eyes locked on his husband’s back.  “He’s going to be okay… right?”

“Of course he is.”

His sister took their arms, gently pulling them away.  “But, yes… we might not want to be in here!” she said, giving them a sheepish grin.  Daniel was about to protest – but the memory of the look on Vlad’s face made him change his mind; as Jazz dragged them out of the chapel, the last thing he saw was his husband and the ghosts… all converging slowly on an armed Penelope Spectra.  At the last moment, Daniel spotted a flash of dark, blue-black light–!

Then, the heavy chapel doors closed with a foreboding rumble.

A moment of silence passed…

And then, a blood-curdling shriek split the air.  

Thunder rumbled in the distance, dark clouds boiling overhead.  Flashes of unnatural light flickered in the windows, turning a thousand different colors.  The hair on the back of Daniel’s neck stood straight up as the screams continued, melding with the haunting cackles of the ghosts within and loud, eerie notes from a familiar brass trumpet.  However – despite his fear – he felt a spark of righteous fury ignite in his chest, listening to it all… witnessing the destruction of the last creature that had hurt Vladimir Masters.

Suddenly, the screams cut off.  The strange lights stopped flashing.

And an eerie voice echoed through the night…

“New arrival…”

Daniel swallowed, eyes wide as he watched the door of the chapel.  Slowly, it creaked open.

And Vlad stumbled out.

Immediately, the dark-haired boy ran to him, catching him before he fell.  Vlad’s strong hands seized the back of Daniel’s white suit – clenching fistfuls of the pristine fabric – and buried his face in the boy’s neck, half laughing and half sobbing…

Daniel clutched him just as hard, stammering hushed reassurances to his husband.  It was all over…

Finally over…

~*~*~

THREE MONTHS LATER…

“Daniel, could you possibly get me a cup of tea?”

Daniel beamed at his husband, giving him a kiss as he got up from his plush armchair.  “O-Of course~”

Vladimir smiled up at the young man cheerfully.  “Thank you, my dear.”

The green-eyed ghost boy smiled back happily.  Floating out of their living room, Daniel went through the high, echoing foyer, past Tucker who was dancing with his playing trumpet and ducking under a few books that shot through the air.  It had taken a month to figure out how life would work for the young newlyweds, and having a half-ghost son in law that was older than they were was a bit of a damper on Jack and Madeline’s views; however, with the discovery of Spectra’s fortune buried in a vault beneath her mansion, the financial situation was very quickly resolved.  The Fentons and Vladimir moved out into a beautiful plantation house in the country, where the remains of the money would sustain them comfortably for the rest of their natural mortal lives.  In the meantime, Danny’s parents were having a great time inventing new devices in the barn.  Most of them were even built to study ghosts with!  And while Vlad was still a topic that they didn’t exactly know how to address, his charm, looks, and wit were undeniable.  Jack and Madeline knew they would come around to the odder aspects of him, given time, and were as supportive of the marriage as they could ever be.

Daniel hummed happily as he phased into the kitchen, smiling happily at the sight of his sister sitting at the kitchen counter reading another pile of books.  “Afternoon!  Would y-you like some tea?”

“Certainly!” Jazz said with a smile, watching him putter around the kitchen as he made a steaming pot of earl grey.  She thanked him as he poured her a cup and handed it to her, before preparing a small tray to take back down for himself and Vlad.  “Are you and Vladimir still going out tonight?  Another date?”

The boy smiled sweetly, ducking his head bashfully.  “Y-yes…  Vlad says w-we won’t need a chaperon anymore, so…”

Jazz’s eyes widened a smidgen, before she smiled into her cup almost slyly.  “Ahh, I see.  Well, I’m happy to see you two have become so close.  You make a wonderful couple.”

Daniel flushed further, smiling.  “Th-thank you… he makes me h-happy!”

“And that’s all I could ask for~”  she chirped, grinning.  “Now go, before the tea gets cold!”

Her brother did as instructed after giving her a quick kiss on the cheek, then flew away back towards the living room with his tray of tea and finger foods.  Over the past few months, Vladimir had decided to properly court his little husband so they might become closer, with Jazz as a chaperone or by going on double dates with his parents.  Tonight, however, would be their first outing alone, as a true married couple.

And after all his dread, all his strife, all his reluctance at the concept of love only to be dropped into it headfirst…

Daniel just couldn’t wait for his real first date.

THE END

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