Coming Out: Part II
Twelve years after the accident
"We're good to go for a press conference." Tucker looked less than enthusiastic, even on Danny's computer monitor. He was back in Washington, acting as sort of a deal broker between Danny and the government.
Danny nodded. "Rob worked out everything? Full immunity for everyone who knew?"
"Yeah. You were right; they're not really interested in us once they've got Danny Phantom. The House committee was a little more reluctant, but they figured it was worth it to get you to appear, since they couldn't figure out how to subpoena a ghost."
Sam squeezed closer to Danny so that the micro-camera on his computer could pick her up as well. "What about your seat, Tuck? They're not gonna try and force you to resign or anything over this, are they?"
He snorted. "Depends on who you ask. The real anti-ecto zealots will push for it, but Frank Palisade told me off the record that as long as the so-called 'conspiracy' didn't cover up anything criminal outside of the anti-ecto laws, then it's unlikely anyone but the hard-core crowd will call for any sanctions."
Danny let out a small sigh of relief. "That's good. I really don't want your career to tank because of me."
"My career only took off because of you. And have I mentioned lately that I couldn't care less? I'm only agreeing to any of this at all because it's your call to make. I'm still firmly in the you-should-keep-your-mouth-shut camp."
"Well, it's too late for that now. So, when's the press conference?"
"Friday, here at the Capitol. My press secretary is sending out the press release."
"Friday?" Sam frowned at Tucker on the screen. "You scheduled it for this Friday?"
"Well, yeah. You're an activist, Sam. You know the drill. Friday's the best day to keep the opposition from having time to get in a response before the weekend."
"I know, but…" Sam glanced at Danny, and it was then that he realized why she was balking. She turned back to the screen. "Friday is our anniversary."
Tucker groaned. "Oh, man. I totally forgot. I'm really sorry, guys."
Danny reached over and squeezed her hand. "Maybe it's a good omen."
"Yeah, but I would've liked to have spent our fourth anniversary together before you turn yourself in and they…" She averted her eyes as she trailed off.
"We can still celebrate our anniversary. Technically, it'll start at midnight Thursday night. And that is when our first wedding was."
She looked at him again, giving him an ironic half-smile. "Celebrating the ghost anniversary instead of the human one. That seems somehow fitting."
Danny nodded but, for some reason he couldn't quite pinpoint, her calling it their "ghost anniversary" unsettled him more than he cared to admit.
It wasn't unusual for Danny and Sam to make love whenever he came back from some particularly difficult battle, but this was the first time he could remember ever having done so before going off to face one. Time was usually of the essence, and their good-byes were brief and often public out of necessity. Now, as he stood looking at the Capitol Building through the window of their tenth-floor hotel room at four in the morning on their fourth wedding anniversary, with only hours left before the press conference, he decided that maybe the usual rush to leave was better. This felt…
It felt like waiting to die.
Not that he wasn't grateful for every single moment he got with Sam. Or even that the sex hadn't been as good. It had been… different. Slower, more deliberate and lingering, like they were afraid to let go of each other because they didn't know when the next time they could touch would be. But a sense of melancholy hung over them, and they were both too preoccupied with what was coming to be fully in the present. Sam in particular seemed more scattered and distracted than he'd ever known her to be.
For Danny, the fact that he wasn't preparing to fight, at least not physically, made it worse, because instead of having battle plans on which to focus, all he could think about was Sam, and how hard it would be on her. It gave him a new respect for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his philosophy of non-violent resistance. Physical battles were so much easier.
A reflection flickered in the window, but he hadn't needed to see it to know Sam was there. She wasn't a ghost, but he could sense her presence in a different sort of way. It brought warmth instead of warning, and he welcomed the interruption as her arms slipped around his waist from behind. Standing on tiptoe so she could rest her chin on his shoulder—a more difficult feat than when they'd first started dating, seeing as he'd gained a good four inches on her since high school—she looked out the window with him. "This is quite the view we've got here."
Downtown Washington, D.C. lay spread out below them, with the Capitol Building directly ahead and the National Mall over to the right. The sky was just starting to turn pink to the east, signaling the approaching new day.
Maybe his last day as a free man.
"It's an interesting city," he agreed.
She grimaced. "'Wretched hive of scum and villainy' comes to mind for me. So. Couldn't sleep, I take it?"
"Not so much. I didn't wake you, did I?"
"Hm-mm. I couldn't sleep, either."
"It's hard, sitting around and waiting to not fight."
"Don't say that. I need you to fight. You're the one who said it was just a different kind of fight."
"I know, but…" He closed his eyes, leaning his head against hers a moment, then he pulled out of her embrace so he could turn and face her properly. "Sam, there's something you need to know."
She gave him a wary look. "No good conversation ever started with those words. You having an affair or something?"
He grinned at that in spite of himself. "Yeah, you got me. I'm having an affair. With Ember. It was the only way I could get her stupid songs out of my head."
She chuckled. "Well, it's been nice knowing you, then. Hope your pelt looks good on Skulker's wall."
"Thaaaaanks." He took a breath, sobering again. "Sam, if anything happens to me—"
"No, Danny. Just… don't. It feels like you're saying good-bye."
"I'm not trying to say good-bye. I think everything will be okay, I really do. If we pull this off right, then the political pressure might even be enough for them to put me on probation or something instead of throwing me in jail somewhere."
"It isn't jail I'm worried about. It's hidden labs and secret installations."
"I know. I'm just saying, I do think it'll be fine. In the long run."
"Good. Then there's nothing more to talk about."
She turned to walk away, but he grabbed her arm and pulled her back to face him. "Yes, there is, Sam. And I need you to listen."
"Why? Why now? Nearly twelve years and ten thousand different battles, and now you wanna talk about 'what if?'"
"Because for nearly twelve years and ten thousand different battles, I've always gone in fighting. And yes, I know this is still fighting," he added when she looked like she was about to correct him again. "But this time, I can't punch or blast the problem and make it go away. I just have to trust things will work out, and I do trust that things will work out, but if they don't, there's something I need you to know. If something happens to me, I won't become a ghost."
She blinked, clearly surprised. "What?"
"I… I don't know if you've thought about what would happen to my ghost half when my human half… when I die, but I have thought about it. A lot. And here's the thing. Ghosts—real ghosts, full ghosts—they exist in this world because they're attached to something they won't let go of. When… if something happens to me, I won't stay attached. I'm going to let go."
She looked stricken. "Right. It's not like there's anything here for you to be attached to."
He was taken aback by the bitterness in her voice, and he took her by the shoulders. "Whoa. Where did that come from? You know that's not true!"
"That's what I wanna know—where did all this come from? You always say you'll be back. Always. Even before I ever asked you to promise me, you'd promise me anyway. But now you're talking about something happening to you, and letting go." She twisted to break his grip on her arms and backed away. "Dammit, Danny! I don't want you to let go. I want you to fight. I want you to come back, like you always say you will!"
"Sam, as long as I'm alive, I will always fight to come back to you. That will never, ever change." Moving closer to her once more, he took her chin in his hand and tilted her face up to his. "Everything I am, every good thing in my life, everything that matters, you're a part of. That's why I won't settle for a shadow of it. After the asteroid, when you all thought I was dead, I started thinking. Maybe, if I could be a ghost, then you'd never have to lose me like you thought you had that day, and I'd never have to lose you, either. But it doesn't work that way. When I lost my powers, my ghost half, you said I wasn't me anymore. Well, that's what will happen if I lose my human side. I won't… I won't be the same. I won't be me anymore, and we wouldn't be us. I won't hang onto shadows, Sam, and I… I need you to know that, before I do this. And I need to know that you won't, either. That if something does happen, you won't be looking for me where I won't be."
"I never said I would. It never even occurred to me, because I'm not giving up on you living."
"I know. You hang onto everything that matters to you with both fists. I love that about you." He let out a shaky breath. "I love everything about you, Sam. Even the stuff that annoys the crap out of me."
She laughed at this, through the tears that were forming in her eyes, and it felt good to make her smile, even if just a little. He stroked her cheek with the back of his finger, catching a tear that had trickled down her face. "Clockwork told me once, 'In life, hold fast to what matters most. But when life ends, let go.' I promise I'll hold fast in life, and I want you to, too. Believe that you and Tucker will change the world and I'll be back, because I believe it. But be ready to let go. Just in case."
It took her a moment, but eventually she nodded. "But you'd better keep your promise about that 'hold fast in life' part."
He drew her into his arms, holding her tightly as she embraced him in return, her face resting against his shoulder. Laying his cheek against her silky, black hair, he breathed in her scent, and squeezed her tighter, wishing he could hold her forever. "Always."
Tucker had arranged a private room in the Capitol Building where they could gather before the press conference. Everyone who mattered to Danny was there—everyone who had been at his parents' a few days earlier, and even Tucker's and Sam's parents had flown in from Amity Park. The only one missing was Sam's grandmother, who had died just three months earlier. Danny changed to ghost form, and one by one, his loved ones hugged him and offered words of encouragement as they filed out to go find their seats at the press conference, until it was only he, Tucker, and Sam left. Just like it had been in the beginning. Tucker threw his arms around Danny. "I got your back, dude. No matter what happens."
"I know, Tuck. Thanks."
Then he left, and it was only Danny and Sam. He sighed. "I guess this is it."
She nodded, then took his hand and placed something in it. He didn't have to look to know it was the old University of Wisconsin class ring, but he looked at it anyway, blinking back the memories that it brought with it. "It's been almost exactly ten years since you first gave this to me in Antarctica and made me promise to bring it back."
"And just like then, no matter how this thing ends… this whole ride we've been on together? I wouldn't change it for the world. Not one little bit."
He smiled. "Me, neither."
And like she had ten years ago, she kissed him on the cheek. It wasn't a heart-stopping shock this time but, like then, it wasn't nearly enough to say all that she meant to him, so he pulled her into a proper kiss. When it was over, he leaned his forehead against hers. "Ten years since the first one, and you still take my breath away."
"You sure it's not your Ghost Sense?"
"Pretty sure." He sighed. "Well, are you ready?"
"Me, neither. But that never stopped us before."
He took her hand, and they walked together towards the door, where the world beyond was waiting for Danny Phantom to come out.