The Ghost of Christmas Present: Part VI
December 22, 11:00 pm CST
It was getting close to eleven o'clock when the phone rang again. Sam had changed into pajamas—purple flannel maternity bottoms, an oversized black tank top, a long, purple plush robe that she didn't even bother trying to close over her large belly, and fuzzy purple slippers—but otherwise she hadn't moved from her corner of the couch and her laptop. Arching an eyebrow, she looked from the muted television, where Congress was still in session, to the intruding phone, shooting it an almost accusatory glare. Only one person gets away with calling me this late, and he should be a little too busy to be making phone calls right now. She picked up the receiver, and a quick check of Caller I.D. confirmed her suspicion. Pressing TALK, she put the phone to her ear. "What are you doing, calling me? You're supposed to be on the floor of the House."
On the other end of the line, Tucker snorted. "I do get a bathroom break every now and again."
"Ew! Tucker Foley, you'd better not be calling me from the bathroom!"
"Oh, ease up. I'm in one of the committee rooms. You know I always call from somewhere private and run anti-bugging software. I trust the Guys in White to not listen in about as far as I could throw Mr. Fenton."
"I love that you are so paranoid. But why aren't you on the floor?"
"They'll still have a quorum if I step out for fifteen minutes, and I needed to take a breather from all the tax talk, if that's all right with you."
"I am your constituent. I expect you to be hard at work representing me."
"Which will be kinda hard to do if the constant droning puts me to sleep."
"Any sign of them adjourning anytime this century? Maddie will absolutely have kittens if you don't come home for Christmas."
"Yeah, she and my mom both. No, I can't imagine they'll keep us through Christmas Eve. As much as the anti-ghost contingent wants to try and sneak stuff in under the wire before they lose the majority, they've got families bugging them to come home for Christmas, too. I'm guessing we'll get out sometime tomorrow. Then it'll be a mad scramble for flights."
"Forget that. I'm sending our plane first thing tomorrow morning. I don't wanna take any chances on you missing the vigil or Christmas Eve at the Fentons'."
"Ooh, a ride home on the fancy Manson Learjet." Then he let out a sigh. "Oh, shoot. I'll have to get permission from the Ethics Committee, since that would definitely fall under the category of a gift from a personal friend valued at more than two hundred and fifty dollars. Not to mention the fact that you are with a lobbyist organization."
Sam grunted in annoyance. "I'll send the plane and let you deal with the red tape. Just make sure you get home soon. What's left after the tax code, anyway?"
"Just the flu shot bill and the clean water bill."
"How are those looking?"
He exhaled into the phone. "I dunno. The revisions to the flu shot bill closed up all the loopholes, and the clean water bill looks fine."
She could hear his unspoken skepticism. "But?"
"But… the flu shot one comes from the Department of Homeland Security, and two of the sponsors of the water bill are suspicious, so…"
"So you're suspicious, too."
"Yeah. But nothing I can pinpoint. I'll vote no on the flu bill either way. I'm all for vaccines, but this goes way too far. The water bill, though… it's something I'd vote yes on if I could just be sure it was really just about water."
"Not that I trust them any more than you do, but maybe you're over-thinking this, Tuck. I appreciate that you're worried about me and the baby, and Danielle, too—"
"It isn't just you guys. Don't forget, Valerie's DNA was altered by whatever Technus did to her with that suit. And that's not even getting into all the other ways humans have been 'contaminated' with something ecto-based. You and I have both been infected with ecto-acne. Jazz was hooked into the Ecto-Skeleton while it was running on energy from the Ecto-Converter. You, Jazz, Dash, Paulina, and the entire student body of Casper High got bit by those ghost bugs. The whole damn town of Amity Park was plugged into Undergrowth's Mind Vines. I could probably come up with a million more examples. Where's the line? The Anti-Ecto Control Act is just vague enough that any of those things could be considered a violation, and that gives them absolute power to do whatever they want to any of us."
"Hello! You think you're telling me anything I don't already know? What do you think I've been spending the last decade of my life fighting against? I'm just saying, with all the ways they could be trying to come after us, you might be focusing too much on those two bills."
"I dunno, Sam. My gut's telling me they're trying to sneak something through Congress, and this is their last, best shot."
"Maybe your gut needs a break."
"Oh, you're one to talk. What you need to do is turn off C-SPAN, close your laptop, and put on one of those Christmas specials you love. Not Rudolph, 'cause despite the theme of promoting differences, the misogynistic and downright mean characters make you wanna throw things at the TV. Pick Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Or The Year Without a Santa Claus, so you can sing along with the 'Snow Miser' and 'Heat Miser' songs."
Sam sniffed. "You don't know me."
"Yeah, right. You reading Hamdi again, or have you moved onto the Military Commissions Act of 2006?"
"I thought so. Face it, Sam. I know you better than I know myself. It's always been you and me, right from the beginning. The Thermos schleppers and the ass-cover-ers."
"The ones who clean up the mess and take the blame."
"The original Team Phantom."
She suddenly felt very nostalgic. "Ever miss those days, when it was just the three of us? When Danny Phantom didn't belong to the whole world—he was just ours?"
"Yeah. There was a certain… rush, I guess, knowing something no one else did."
"And then there was Jazz. Then Danny's parents. Valerie and her dad. Lancer. Your parents and mine. Danielle. Nick. Dash. Our little secret club really grew over the last ten years, and that's not even counting the rest of the people in Antarctica."
"You have to admit, the extra help was nice. And not having to lie to his parents."
"True," she conceded. "I remember when Jazz first told Nick, I was so relieved to have someone who knew so much about the equipment helping us out, I didn't even care that it was one more person closer to the world knowing. We were a good team when it was just the three of us, but we were a better team with all those extra players."
"We're still a good team, you know. We're just fighting a different kind of war."
She sighed. "But what good's the team when the center's gone? And everyone's expecting me to step in and fill the void Danny left behind, Tuck. Me and a baby that hasn't even been born yet. I mean, you should hear the way everyone is so caught up in this pregnancy. Nick said something earlier, about people needing hope, and putting that all on the baby because he's Danny's son. It's a bit overwhelming."
"Since when do you pay attention to what other people think?"
"How do I not? It's everywhere I go. It's in twenty-seven messages on my voice-mail, and that's just since this morning. It's in how everyone from Jack on down to the kid who delivers my newspaper wants me to name the baby after them. It's in the way people on the street stare and either try to manhandle me like my belly is public property, or back away slowly, like if they threw holy water at me, it would hiss and burn. I feel like the entire world is watching what is supposed to be a very personal time in my life, and the only person who isn't is the one person who matters—his father."
"Well, at least he was there for the important part."
"That's not funny, Tucker! It's… it's exhausting. I'm not Danny, and the baby isn't Danny, either."
"You don't have to be Danny. Superpowers aren't what's gonna win this thing, Sam. Not anymore. It's you in the courts, and me in Congress. That's where the real fight is now, and we're gonna win this for him. Sidekick power, baby!"
She almost laughed because she could envision Tucker curling his arms to show off imaginary muscles. But the reality of her situation made it hard to find much amusement. "Yeah, but it's not like we can just wave a Fenton Thermos or the Ghost Peeler at the problem and make it go away. We may have the majority in the House and Senate come January, but not enough to override a veto, and there's two more years left before the White House finally changes hands. The courts will take even longer. We'll probably win in District Court next month, but there will be a stay while they appeal, and even if we win the appeal, there'll be another stay while they appeal to the Supreme Court, and it could be three years before we get heard there. Three years, Tucker!"
"You knew we'd be in it for the long haul."
"But I didn't know I was going to have a baby! Dammit, Tucker, I don't have three years! I only have three months! Three months, and all it will take is one judge granting the government access to my medical records, or one public display of ghost powers, and they will have the absolute legal right to take my baby away from me!"
"That is not gonna happen." His voice was low and defiant.
"No, but I can't fight a legal battle if…" She trailed off, deliberately leaving the thought unfinished. By design, she never discussed her contingency plans with Tucker. He knew what they were—he wasn't an idiot. But for the sake of his political career, if she ever had to use those contingency plans, he needed to be able to honestly say she'd never discussed them with him. "And even if they leave us alone, and everything else goes in our favor, it'll be two or three years minimum before we turn things around. So much could happen in three years. It could be too late by then. It could already be too late, but even if it's not, by then the baby will be a toddler. He'll have spoken his first word, taken his first step…"
She felt the weight of everything they were trying to do—everything she was trying to do, all without Danny—press down on her again. "How am I supposed to do this alone, Tucker?"
"You are so not gonna do this alone."
"I know." She shook her head. "I shouldn't complain, with all the support I have—"
"Sam. You are not gonna do this alone. Are you hearing me? You are not alone. Ever. Full stop. Three months, three years, it doesn't matter. It won't be too late."
The quiet intensity in his voice worked on her like a valve opening to release the tension trapped inside. Usually, she was the one gripping onto hope through sheer force of will, just to keep everyone around her from sinking into despair. With Tucker, he was the one who kept her from going under. She let out a long, slow breath. "Thanks, Tucker. I… You have no idea how much I needed to hear that."
"Hey, that's what I'm here for. I love you, Sam. You know I've always got your back."
A smirk curled onto her lips. "What are you trying to do, get the tabloids talking about us again and trash your career?"
"Heh. It didn't work before the election, and it won't work now. We already confessed our most sordid secret—that we parented a sack of flour together in ninth grade health class."
"You're forgetting the 'Flour Power Daycare' scandal, and your mother baking all of our classmates' 'children' into chocolate chip cookies."
"Hey, the public doesn't need to know everything. Besides, as soon as this baby's born and they see he's got Danny's blue eyes—"
"Or his glowing green eyes, or intangibility powers, or the ability to fly…"
"Well, we'll try and keep that under wraps. But still, I'm thinking any lingering rumors about you and me will be put to rest once and for all."
"I don't know. You know how they love to drag out that picture of us with your arm around me after that rally in the park."
He snorted. "Right. The one that conveniently cropped out Valerie with her arm around you on the other side."
Sam raised her eyebrows. "Speaking of Valerie—"
"We're not speaking of Valerie." He sounded stiff and annoyed now. "I'm not gonna get into this again, Sam. Everything's fine with me and Val."
"Fine, maybe, but not what you want. I don't like seeing you put your life on hold, and Danny wouldn't, either."
"How is my life on hold? We're perfectly happy the way things are."
"For how long?"
"For as long as it takes."
She let out a grunt of frustration. "This is crazy, Tuck. You guys are living in limbo, and I hate watching you do it. Haven't you waited long enough?"
He laughed at this. "Talk about the goth calling the kettle black! It took you two years just to admit you liked Danny as more than a friend, then another six months after that to admit you were in love with him. And that's not even getting into how long it took before you two finally did the deed, so don't talk to me about waiting a long time. You are, like, the most old-school goth ever."
"Oh, for Pete's sake, Tucker. What are you, fourteen? Being a goth means I think for myself instead of doing what everyone else is doing or thinks I should be doing. Danny and I were sixteen when we got together, and I don't buy into the whole idea that teenagers have to be mindless slaves to their hormones. We were too young, period. So we waited."
"Mrs. Fenton put the fear of God into you, is what happened."
"That, too." She cringed at the mortifying memory of Danny's mother taking her aside to have "the talk" not long after she and Danny had started dating. At least Maddie had spoken to her in private instead of with Danny, leaving him to his father instead. Even so, talking to her boyfriend's mother about sex at age sixteen hadn't exactly been a pleasant experience. "She was smart to do that, though," Sam admitted. "Let's face it—with what little we knew about Danny's biological makeup, we didn't know at the time if birth control would even work. I mean, the guy does have the ability to phase through solid walls…"
Tucker snickered. "Yeah, I hear you. Though she must've done a real number on you, to scare you off any other form of birth control, too."
Actually, Sam had started taking birth control pills their freshman year of college, figuring that something that affected her system rather than Danny's had the best shot at working, but they still held off sleeping together until well after that. "That wasn't the only reason we waited, Tucker, and you know it. But can you blame us for being extra cautious? It's not like there'd been a lot of case studies on half-ghosts." That was long before they knew of the extensive research his mother had already been conducting. "There was just no way of knowing until we tried it what would happen with Danny's unique genetic makeup. He could've been infertile, for all we knew, or completely resistant to any form of birth control, or anything in-between. We just didn't know, and I sure as heck didn't want to find out the hard way at sixteen. Or even eighteen."
"I think we can safely rule out infertile."
"Thank you, Dr. Foley. And how is this any of your business, anyway?"
"Best friend privileges, Sam. I get to be all up in your biz-nass."
"Just so you know, Tuck, I'm rolling my eyes. And, by the way, that's a two-way street. You and Val—"
"Sam, we can go 'round and 'round on this, but it isn't gonna change anything."
She sighed. "I just want you to be happy. Really, completely happy."
"And I want you to be happy, too. But that's not gonna happen for either of us for a while, is it?"
"No." She closed her eyes. "No, I guess it isn't."
"But hey. We still got each other. The Thermos schleppers and the ass-cover-ers."
She smiled into the phone. "The ones who clean up the mess and take the blame."
"The original Team Phantom. And we're gonna get it done. I promise you that."