Twelve years after the accident
Despite being an activist and lobbyist, Sam hated politics. She hated all the backroom deals and trade-offs, the constant maneuvering when what she really wanted was to just do the right thing. It was ironic, then, that the political maneuvering is what bought them their reprieve. The Guys in White had wanted to haul Danny off to some high-security "containment installation" the second the press conference was over, but the politicians wanted their turn first, and part of the deal they'd all struck with Danny's lawyer before he would agree to turn himself in was that he would testify before the House investigative committee.
So they held him in D.C., using anti-ghost restraints, which Sam also found ironic, since she knew, even if they didn't, that Danny's ice powers could break through them in about ten seconds. Every day for a week, he was brought back to the Capitol Building where he testified at length, telling them about his accident, his powers (though they never did figure out about the ice powers' ability to counteract anti-ghost restraints), the Ghost Zone, and anything else they could think to ask him. It got dicey only when they asked if he knew of any other half-ghosts. He told them about Vlad, and that distracted them for a while, but when they got back around to questioning about the present existence of other half-ghosts, Danny answered, "To my knowledge, there are no other humans who became half-ghosts, or who can change into a ghost form." It was technically true—Dani wasn't a human who had been made half-ghost. She was created half-ghost, half-human to begin with, and she hadn't been able to change into ghost form for nine years.
His coming out even more sharply polarized a nation already divided over ecto-rights, with many hard-liners citing his "deception" as proof that even a ghost who had saved them couldn't be trusted and should be treated as a dangerous criminal, while others flocked to show their support, calling and e-mailing their representatives and senators and demanding that Danny be released.
In the end, it was the politicians' fear of being seen as "too extreme" by either side during an election year that caused them to push the Guys in White, Homeland Security, the attorney general, and the president into striking a deal. Danny would be released on "probation," his left wrist fitted with a cuff, much like the anklets that some prisoners on home arrest would wear. It was a scaled-down version of the Spectral Energy Neutralizer that Vlad had commissioned Skulker to create back when Danny first got his powers. The government had found the plans when they'd seized Vlad's property after he'd tried to blackmail the world during the asteroid crisis, and now they used them to make sure Danny could not go ghost or use his powers. So long as he wore the bracelet, which could track his location, the Guys in White would leave him alone. He could go back to work, even continue ghost fighting, provided that he did so as a human, using man-made weapons. However, if he removed the bracelet, or used his ghost powers for anything, no matter how small, benign, or even "heroic"—one congressman had even said it that way, using air-quotes—then he would be in violation of his probation, and the Guys in White would arrest him and isolate him in one of their secret "containment installations."
One week after the press conference where he revealed himself to the world, Danny was released, and he returned to Amity Park with his family, opting to stay, along with Sam, in his old room at his parents' house until some of the furor died down. That way, he could still work and spend some time training on using the weapons and equipment without his ghost powers.
On their first night back, Danny modeled the bracelet for Sam as the two of them were getting ready for bed. "Pretty stylin', huh?"
She regarded it with her head cocked. "Well, it is black, and kind of has that punk-rock thing going on, so I guess it works for me. But mostly, I'm loving anything that lets you come back home with me."
He gave her a thoughtful look. "You know that they want me to fail this little test, don't you?" Holding his wrist closer to her, he pointed to its lock. "Look at how flimsy this is. One good crack, even with my regular, wimpy, human-strength, and I could break it right off. Which is exactly what they're hoping I'll do."
"So don't give them the satisfaction. Keep your nose clean, fight ghosts with a Fenton Bazooka like us mere mortals, and everything'll be fine."
"That's what I plan on doing." He reached over and touched her face. "Have I ever told you how grateful I am to be back with you?"
She flashed him an inviting smile. "Why just tell me, when you can show me?"
Within a week, things had calmed down enough that Sam and Danny could return to their own home, and by the end of their second week back in Amity Park, life was even starting to feel normal again. Sam was glad to see that Danny was getting the hang of using the ecto-weapons as a human, although it still frustrated him to have to carry so much stuff on him and to not be able to use defensive measures like shields or intangibility. And more than anything, he hated not being able to fly. Truth be told, Sam hated it, too. Fortunately, Congress had just recessed, and Tucker and Valerie had returned home to campaign for Tucker's re-election. This helped get Danny's mind off of the things he could no longer do, and Sam was grateful for the distraction.
Friday night, two weeks after Danny's release and exactly three weeks after the press conference, Danny and Sam decided to take the long way home after a speech Tucker had given in front the Danny Phantom statue at the Amity Park City Hall. As Danny drove out toward the edge of town, away from the city lights, Sam found herself looking at her green and gold class ring, which Danny had returned to her the day of his release. Seeing it back on her right hand, where it belonged, made her realize that she was feeling something she hadn't felt since the day the first tabloid story about Danny had appeared—hope. She reached over with her other hand and rested it on Danny's leg. "You know what? I think everything's gonna turn out fine."
He gave her a sideways glance. "You keep talking that way, and you're gonna have to turn in your goth credentials."
"No, I mean it. Maybe it was Tucker's speech, or the way the people here are so supportive of you, but I think this is gonna work. You're doing great with the weapons, so it's not like you really need to use your ghost powers, and I finally feel like time is on our side. Tucker's gonna get re-elected by a landslide, the anti-ecto politicians are gonna get voted out all over the country, and we're gonna put the pressure on the president to not veto the Ghost Hunter's Act. And Paulina coming on board is the clincher. If the two of us can work together, anything's possible."
"Yeah, see, that's the kind of thing that makes me think you're being overshadowed. You're not being overshadowed, are you?"
She smiled and leaned over, whispering something in his ear.
His eyes widened, and he gave her another sideways glance. "Okay, you'd better be Sam, 'cause I don't even wanna think about a ghost suggesting that to me."
She laughed, settling back into her seat so he could put his attention back on driving.
"Still…" His tone turned more reflective. "I miss my powers. The flying especially. Man, I miss flying. I'm almost twenty-six, which means I've been a ghost for nearly half my life. Half my life. For most of the first half, I dreamed of being an astronaut, of flying in space. But never once in my first fourteen years did I ever imagine flying under my own power. And now? I can't get used to not being able to do it. Or going intangible. I hate having to open stuff, and walk around stuff. It's just… I miss it. And being invisible would sure come in handy with all the crowds and the paparazzi."
She raised her eyebrows at him. "You've come a long way from the guy who wanted to give up his powers and be 'normal.'"
"Yeah, well, after almost twelve years, being able to do all that stuff is normal for me."
"You'll get it all back. You just have to be patient."
"Yeah, I know. And it's worth it, don't get me wrong. Nothing could make me give up being able to live my life, here with you, just so I could have a few stupid powers."
They came to a railroad crossing and pulled to a stop behind a pickup truck just as the crossing gate finished lowering. The train whistle, still a little ways off, and the bells from the warning lights reminded Sam of the time Freakshow, the owner and ringmaster of Circus Gothica, had used his ghost-controlling crystal ball to force Danny and several other ghosts to go on a crime spree. Sam and Tucker had had to jump from a bridge onto a moving train to try and save him. "I swear, to this day, I can't hear a train whistle without thinking of Circus Gothica."
Danny was frowning out the windshield, distracted by something, but Sam kept reminiscing anyway. "I still can't believe I talked Tucker into jumping onto a moving train. It's amazing we survived our teen years at all, with all the stupid things we did."
Danny leaned forward with a start. "You mean, like walking on train tracks with a train coming?"
"There's a kid on the tracks," he said, already reaching for his door handle. He scrambled out of the car, and Sam followed.
They weren't the only ones. The driver of the pickup truck jumped out in front of them. "Hey, kid! Get off the tracks!"
Then Sam saw him—a teenager, maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, barely visible in the dark. He was standing on the tracks, waving his arms frantically, as if trying to get the train to stop. She looked at Danny. "Is he nuts? That train must be going, like, fifty miles an hour, and it can't be more than a few hundred yards away! No way it can stop that fast!"
A harsh, metallic, grinding sound nearly deafened them, and Sam surmised the engineer had seen the kid and had hit the emergency breaks. Still, he was way too close to stop. Danny was already running towards the track, with Sam close behind, but the guy in the truck got there first. Like a football player making an illegal tackle, he snatched the kid by the shirt and dragged him off the tracks, rolling with him into the dirt moments before the freight train's engine, shooting sparks as it continued braking in vain, hurtled past.
Other people were getting out of the cars that had pulled up behind Danny and Sam, and a small crowd was gathering around the teen and his rescuer, who looked both shaken and angry. "What were you thinking, boy? Trains can't stop on a dime!"
"You don't understand! It has to stop! My friend! He's stuck on the tracks! We were walking on that trestle, about a mile back, and his foot got stuck, and he can't get loose! I was walking back to town to get help when I saw the train coming!"
Sam couldn't help but notice that even braking, the train was still moving awfully fast. She could tell that Danny, who had a bachelor's degree in physics, was doing some quick mental calculations, and from the grim look on his face, the results were not good. Others in the crowd seemed to be coming to the conclusion that the train wasn't going to stop in time, and someone standing near her muttered under his breath, "Oh, man. It's gonna go right through him."
Go right through him. Sam and Danny turned to each other, and she knew he had the exact same thought she did. Their eyes met and held for just a fraction of a second, but it felt like forever. And then, his expression sober but resolute, he gave her an apologetic smile. "I'm going ghost."
She wanted to scream in protest, to rail against how unfair it was, how it had only been two weeks since they'd gotten their lives back, how he deserved to live, same as anyone else. How could this happen just when she'd dared to hope again? But she knew, even in that fraction of a second it took for those thoughts to fully form, that he would do what he had to do.
And that she wouldn't have it any other way.
Focusing on that, she nodded her consent. "I know."
Before she could even blink, he took his left arm and smashed his wrist, hard, into a nearby telephone pole. As he'd surmised when he'd first shown her the bracelet, it cracked like an eggshell, and he shook it off his wrist, wincing in pain from the blow. There was a bright flash, as the familiar twin rings of light changed him into ghost form, and he shot off into the sky. Wind gusted in his wake, blowing Sam's hair into her face, and she brushed it out of her eyes, watching as he disappeared into the night, headed in the same direction as the train. It would be less than a minute now before the train reached the trestle, but she knew Danny, who could fly upwards of a hundred miles an hour, would get there first.
The reactions from the crowd started to filter into Sam's consciousness over the sound of the screeching metal as the train continued to brake.
I think it was!
Think he'll save that kid?
Damn straight, he will.
Sam ignored it, keeping her eyes focused on the night sky, waiting for him to come back to her. She didn't even notice that the man from the pickup truck, the one who had pulled the first boy off the tracks, had come over to her until he spoke. "That was Danny Phantom, wasn't it?"
Without moving her gaze from the sky, she nodded.
"And you're his wife, right?"
Now she looked at the man, nodding again. "Yes."
He spotted the broken bracelet on the ground and bent down to pick up the pieces. When he stood up again, he turned them over in his hands. "I watched all those congressional hearings. He's… not supposed to do that, is he?"
"Will they arrest him?"
Her heart squeezed in her chest. "Probably."
"For saving a kid." A dark look crossed the man's face, and he pressed the broken pieces into her hands. "Listen. He was never here. I didn't see nothin', and I'll make sure no one else here saw nothin', either."
A wave of gratitude washed over Sam, even though she knew it was pointless, and she smiled at him. "Thank you, but it's already too late. The bracelet has a tracking chip. They knew the moment he broke it."
The man processed this. "And he did it anyway."
She nodded once more. "Yeah. That's just who he is."
A cheer rose up from the people around them, and Sam looked up to see Danny flying back with a second teenage boy cradled in his arms. He touched down next to where the first boy was waiting and, as soon as he'd released his charge, the first boy rushed up and threw his arms around his friend. "David, you're okay!"
The cheering grew louder and more enthusiastic, but Danny ignored the crowd, his eyes searching for Sam. As soon as he found her, he pushed past everyone else to get to her. The pickup truck man stepped aside, and Sam dropped the bracelet pieces so Danny could take her hands in his. Their eyes met, his still apologetic, but there was a confidence there, too. He'd done the right thing, the only thing he could do.
Feeling sick, scared, and angry, too, but most of all, proud, Sam smiled at him and squeezed his hands in solidarity. Then, as the crowd started to press in, he vanished, turning her invisible with him. The next thing she knew, they were flying, leaving the crowd, the train—which had finally come to a stop with its tail end still blocking the crossing—and even their car far behind.