The Ghost of Christmas Present: Part V
December 22, 8:00 pm CST
Sam was looking up other cases defining "enemy combatants" when the doorbell rang. Shoving her laptop further off to the side, she pushed herself up onto her feet, grunting as she did so. So much for not having to struggle to get up yet. She gave only a cursory glance through the peephole—she already knew who it was—before pulling the door open. "Hey, Nick. I'm really sorry about this."
He shrugged as he stepped inside, stomping his feet on the doormat to get rid of the snow. "Not your fault, Sam." Tall and lean, with short-cropped, light-brown hair, Nick Reilly looked more like a soldier than a mechanical engineer. "Typical Fenton insanity. But I don't need to tell you."
"Yeah, but you and I are the ones who joined this family by choice, so who's crazier?"
"Point. So, he still messing with the system?"
Sam cocked her head towards the kitchen as she shut the front door. "Still at it. Just don't stay here all night fighting about it, okay? I'd like to get to sleep sometime before dawn."
He grinned in confirmation and started towards the kitchen. "Hey Jack! Whadja do to the system this time?"
Their father-in-law poked his head out from around the door. "Hey there, Nicky. Don't know why Jazz had you come over. I'm just making a simple update. Nothing you need to be concerned about."
"Yeah, right. Every time you make a 'simple update,' I spend three hours figuring out how to rewire it so it doesn't kill anyone. It's the whole reason I left Axion to come work at FentonWorks, remember?"
"No, you left Axion to come work at FentonWorks so you could apprentice under the Master."
Nick rolled his eyes at Sam, then disappeared into the kitchen with Jack. She could hear the argument continuing over the Christmas music playing on the stereo as she returned to her seat. For all their squabbling over anything mechanical, Jack and Nick were actually quite fond of each other, and each greatly admired the other's abilities. Their disagreements were part of their friendship, and Sam pretty much tuned it out while she looked over the text of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
Three files and two hours later, they were still going at it. They might have stayed all night, had Maddie not called and demanded that Jack come home. He reluctantly complied, grumbling that he would be back the following day to "fix" whatever Nick was "wrecking," and then was gone.
Nick stayed almost an hour more before emerging from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel. "I can't decide if that man's a certified genius, or just certifiable."
"Both," Sam replied, rolling her neck to get rid of the crick she'd developed. She started to get to her feet and Nick hurried over, reaching out a hand to help pull her up. She grinned, sheepish. "Thanks. Another month, and it'll take a crane to lift me."
"Nah, you look fantastic. Just right for six months."
She rolled her eyes. "I look like the Fenton Blimp. Speaking of which, what'd he wanna do this time?"
"He wanted to have an automated defense system, kind of like the 'Anti-Creep Mode' at FentonWorks, only not based on ecto energy."
Sam arched an eyebrow. "Uh… so then how would it differentiate between the bad guys and, oh, say, me?"
"Yeah. That's pretty much the problem."
"Jazz is right. The thing is gonna shoot me in my sleep."
"Nah, I shut down that portion. It's not a bad idea, though, having an automated defense to give you time to get out. If he refines it, he might have something. So long as I'm the one that gets it operational, that is."
Sam chuckled. "Thanks, Nick. Don't know what I'd do without you and Jazz."
"Perish in a Fenton Fireball of Doom."
She rolled her eyes again, then put her hand to her belly when the baby give her a particularly hard jolt. Nick's eyes narrowed in concern. "Little Nicky okay?"
She groaned, throwing up her hands in annoyance. "Not you, too! What is with everyone wanting me to name the baby after them? Jack—he gets a pass, since it is his grandson, and he likes everything named after him. But Dash? Paulina? Now you? I don't get it."
Nick smiled and leaned against the kitchen doorjamb. "Just so you know, I was only kidding. But… I'm not sure you get exactly what this kid means to people. Not just family, but people in general. Amity Park. There's a lot of hope riding on that kid. People want… they wanna be connected to that in some way."
Sam sighed, shaking her head. "He's not the Messiah, Nick. And he's not Rosemary's Baby, either. I wish people wouldn't try to make him one or the other. He's my son. And Danny's son."
"That's just it. With everything that Danny Phantom means to this town—and to everyone anywhere who recognizes what he's really about and isn't afraid of him just because he's different—the thought that he can have a son, that maybe a little piece of him can be passed down and live forever… that's huge. It brings people hope in a time when there's a lot to be afraid of."
"I don't want my son to be some sort of icon, or just 'Danny Phantom, Jr.' He's gotta have a chance to be his own person."
"I know. And I think you're exactly the kind of mom who will give him that. But don't underestimate what he means to the world."
Sam rubbed her temple as if nursing a headache. "Just thinking about being a parent at all is overwhelming enough."
"Tell me about it." Nick let out a little huff of air. "Charley's a year old, and I still look at her and wonder when her real parents are gonna show up, 'cause I can't possibly be responsible for a whole other person."
"Is it ever not terrifying?"
"I'll let you know if I get there."
"That's encouraging. You are a great dad, though. I love watching you with Charley. She's gonna be a total Daddy's Girl."
"I don't know. Do you ever see the way she watches everything? She's got a lot of her mom in her, always looking like she's scrutinizing the world."
"Heaven help us all!" Sam shook her head. "I love Jazz, but I will strangle her with my bare hands if she doesn't stop trying to psychoanalyze me. If she had her way, I'd be a quivering mass of raw nerves."
Nick cocked his head and narrowed his eyes, looking thoughtful. "You know why she does that, don't you?"
"Because she's an obsessive-compulsive control freak?"
"There's that." He gave her a half smirk, but his eyes still looked sober. "But the real reason is that focusing on someone else—you in this case—is the only thing that's keeping her from completely falling apart."
Sam frowned. "Falling apart? Jazz?"
Nick nodded. "She's terrified of losing you, and her nephew. This whole thing, what happened to Danny… it really threw her. All these years of protecting him and looking out for him, all those near misses and close calls, all the times you guys thought you'd lost him… I don't think it ever really occurred to her that the day would come when he couldn't fight back and win."
Jazz's words from earlier came back to her. I wanna know if you think he would've fought back, if he'd have known. Sam pressed her lips together and looked up at Nick. "That's just it. He could've fought back."
"Which makes it harder, doesn't it?"
"I think… Jazz just always believed in her heart of hearts that he was invincible. That nothing could touch her little brother."
Sam looked down at the floor. "Yeah. I think we all thought that on some level, didn't we? It's how we got through the day, letting him do the things he did. By believing he'd always come back."
In her mind, she could hear Danny's voice, even though she hadn't been there when he'd actually said the words. Hey, kid. Do you believe in ghosts?
She closed her eyes. I believe…