Twelve years after the accident
Sam wasn't sure if Danny had a plan when they flew away from the train and the ever-growing crowd beside the tracks, but as soon as she saw the direction he was headed, she knew exactly where he was taking her: to Tucker and Valerie's. He kept them invisible until they touched down on the front steps of the red-brick townhouse, releasing the power that cloaked them both as he morphed to human form. When he reached out to ring the bell, it hit Sam why Danny had chosen to come here first.
He'd come to say good-bye.
They waited in silence for someone to answer the door, but Sam kept a firm grip on Danny's hand, as if she could keep him with her and stop what was coming by sheer force of will. After a moment, the door opened, and Valerie poked her head out. She was smiling at first, but as soon as she took in their grave expressions, her own turned to alarm. Stepping backwards and opening the door wider to let them in, she looked over her shoulder and called out in a panicked voice. "Tucker!"
Sam had never seen Tucker sit so completely still. His lips were pressed into thin lines, and when he spoke, it came out as a croak. "Why?"
Danny frowned. "What do you mean, 'why?' I couldn't sit by and let a kid get hit by a train when I could save him!"
"I don't mean that! I'm not an idiot—although that kid obviously is, walking on a train trestle. I'm talking about turning yourself in tomorrow. Why on earth would you do that?"
"Uh… it's not like I have a lot of choice here."
Tucker gaped at him. "Not a lot of choice? Your wife has more money than God! The two of you could disappear for a long, long, time. Or you could go into the Ghost Zone. No human could touch you there, and you know Frostbite would let you live in the Far Frozen. That's two choices, right there. Both of them a damn site better than turning yourself in."
"Tucker, you are a member of Congress! You did not just tell me go on the lam!"
"Like hell, I didn't! You didn't do anything wrong!"
"Not yet. But if I ran, I would be doing something wrong. C'mon, Tuck, why are we rehashing this? We already had this discussion three weeks ago!"
"Three weeks ago we didn't know for sure what they'd do to you. Now we do. They will haul you away, dude. They said so in plain English. They will haul you away and lock you up someplace very, very bad and very, very secret. Who knows when we'd see you again?"
Danny leaned back in his seat and exhaled loudly, then scrubbed his face with his hand. "You know why I have to do this." He looked to Valerie, who was sitting at Tucker's side. "Val, please explain it to him."
She shook her head. "I don't know, Danny. I know you want things to be better for Danielle. No one understands that better than I do, but do you have to nail yourself to the cross to make it better?"
He grunted in annoyance. "I'm not trying to play martyr here! I was absolutely ready to go about my life with that stupid cuff on my wrist and not use my ghost powers, but turning that kid intangible was the only way to save his life. Full stop. And I wasn't gonna sit by and let him die, not if I could prevent it. So I did prevent it, and now I've gotta take the consequences because that's the deal I accepted when they let me go. And if I go back on my word, then all of this, everything we all went through over the past month—everything we've been doing for the past ten years—it all means nothing, because I'll have just proven them right."
Tucker looked at him like he was insane. "Man, you got nothin' to prove to anyone! You've saved the world, you've saved the town, you've saved more of us individually than I can count—and I'm a techno-geek, so I can count pretty high. In binary, even. And tonight, you saved a kid's life. But none of that means a damn thing to them, so quit trying to prove something to people who will never, ever listen and just take your toys and go home!"
"I am home! You're asking me to leave my home. Forever, Tuck. If I did what you're suggesting, I could never come back."
"You might never come back if you let them take you!"
"I don't think it'll come to that. And they're not the ones I'm trying to prove anything to. I know that's a lost cause. It's the people in the middle. The people who haven't decided. What do you think will happen when this story hits the press? You don't think that'll have an impact on people? That it won't make a difference in the election in November? That it won't make a difference in the courts when Sam sues them for wrongful imprisonment? This is gonna be the eventual nail in the coffin of the Anti-Ecto Control Act. You know it as well as I do. This is the fight now, Tuck, and this is my part in it. Let me do it, then you do your part, and Sam will do hers, and then someday in the not-too-distant future, Dani won't have to live in fear of this happening to her."
"Oh, yeah, you're not playing the martyr, not at all." Tucker threw up his hands. "Sam, would you talk some sense into him, please?"
Sam twitched, startled at being drawn into the argument for the first time. She felt like… well, like a ghost—only partly present and not quite real. She shook her head, holding up her hand, and only with great difficulty found her voice. "Don't, Tuck. I…" She covered her mouth with her hand, unable to say anything more.
Danny took a moment to squeeze her arm, then got up and moved to the couch so he could put his hand on Tucker's shoulder. "Come on, Tuck. I appreciate what you're saying, I do. I know you don't want anything bad to happen to me."
"You got that right."
"But I have to do this. For Dani."
"I get what Dani means to you, okay? But the girl lived on her own in the Ghost Zone when she was thirteen. And now she's twenty-three. She can take care of herself. And if you're that worried about her, you could always take her with you. You know she'd go in a heartbeat."
"No way." Danny sighed. "You don't get it, Tuck. She lived in the Ghost Zone on her own because of me. Because I didn't take responsibility for her like I should have. And that's why Vlad was able to hurt her—almost kill her—three times before it finally sunk in that I should've had her stay with me all along. And even then, it was really more my parents than me that figured it out, despite the fact that she's my…" He made a strangled noise at the back of his throat, and Sam had to bite her lip to keep herself steady.
Danny closed his eyes and tried again. "She's my responsibility. The most important responsibility I have. I blew it nine years ago, because I was young and stupid and preoccupied with my own stuff. But I won't blow it now. I can't. She's too important to me."
Tears were trickling down Valerie's cheeks as she reached across Tucker to put a hand on Danny's knee. "Danny, she's important to me, too. To all of us. But you're being way too hard on yourself. Everything bad that has ever happened to her is Vlad's fault. No one else's. You've always been there for her, even before you think you have. I was there when you saved her the first time around, remember?"
"No, that was the second time," Tucker corrected. To Danny, he said, "You saved her from Vlad that first time, too. And that was after she helped him kidnap you." He sighed. "Val's right. You've been there for her, from the beginning."
"And I need to be there for her now. To make this world safe for her, so she doesn't have to run to the Ghost Zone, like she did then." He looked at Tucker. "You promised me you'd have my back, Tuck. No matter what. I need you to let me do what I have to do. This… it's hard enough as it is without having to fight you, too."
Tucker hung his head, shaking it slowly back and forth. "Oh, dude, that is so not fair."
"None of this is fair. That's why we have to change it. This is the fight that's in front of us. Please, Tuck." His voice became a hoarse whisper. "Help me."
Once more, Tucker was still, and then he buried his face in his hands, his shoulders bobbing up and down, and Sam realized he was crying. She bit her lip even harder and looked down, fighting to keep her own emotions in check. And when Danny pulled his friend into an embrace, and Valerie threw her arms around both of them, Sam couldn't bring herself to join in. It was going to be a long night, she knew, with many good-byes. And she wasn't ready to say hers.
They went to Jazz and Nick's next, and it wasn't any easier, although Jazz, at least, didn't try to argue with him. She cried and kissed his cheek, and Nick clasped arms with him and said a few words, and all the while, Sam hung back, still feeling oddly ghost-like and detached. She had to turn away when Danny clung to his eight-month-old niece until she got restless and cried to be set free.
It wasn't quite so bad at Dash and Patrick's. Dash mostly tried to lighten the mood with his usual smart-aleck jabs, and Danny rebuffed his repeated offers to stay over at his and Sam's to play bodyguard, "just in case the jack-booted thugs don't wait until morning for you to turn yourself in." Before they left, they saw on the television that the story had hit the ten o'clock news, and Danny called his parents to tell them he was okay and that they were on their way over.
Perhaps it was because they'd received that little bit of advance warning before Danny and Sam showed up on their doorstep with the news, but Sam was surprised at how well the Fentons were coping. His mother teared up when she hugged him, telling him how much she loved him and how proud of him she was. His father looked misty and, like Dash, tried to crack jokes, but he embraced his son for a long time, until Sam thought he would smother him.
It was Danielle who surprised her the most. Danielle, who last month had argued as long and hard as Tucker had against Danny revealing his identity and turning himself in, now said very little. She seemed resigned to his decision—until she pulled Sam from the living room into the kitchen while Danny was distracted talking to his parents.
"You aren't going to let him do this, are you?"
Sam sighed, not wanting to discuss it with her any more than she had with Tucker. "It's his decision, Dani. I can't tell him what to do."
"You're his wife. It's your job to tell him what to do!"
"That's not true and you know it. I can't stop him—"
Sam frowned. "What?"
"I'm not gonna sit by and watch him do this, especially not for some misguided notion that it's helping me. I'll fight him if I have to, when he goes to turn himself in."
"Fight him?" Sam gaped at her. "You can't be serious! You aren't powerful enough to fight him!"
"I haven't used my powers in months. You'd be surprised at how powerful I can be when I'm well-rested."
"Not enough to beat Danny!"
"I won't have to beat him. I just have to be strong enough to get him into the Ghost Zone with this." Dani put her hand in her pocket, then produced a small, gray box that looked a little like a garage door remote.
Sam's eyes widened. "The Fenton Porta-Portal? What are you gonna do with that? Open a portal and force Danny into it?"
Danielle arched an eyebrow in response, and Sam groaned. "Oh, come on! I don't care how well-rested you are. You're not strong enough to force Danny to do anything."
"But I could be… with a little help from you. All you have to do is put that on him." She pointed to the kitchen counter where a chunky, white belt lay next to the toaster.
"A Specter Deflector?" She blinked, dumbfounded. "You want me to put a Specter Deflector on him? It'll shock him!"
"It'll sting, but it won't really hurt him. What it will do is keep him in human form and suppress his powers enough for me to do the rest."
Sam put her hand to her forehead. "This is insane, Dani. Even if it worked, once we got him into the Ghost Zone, what then? We can't keep him prisoner."
"We won't have to. He'll agree to stay."
"Why would he do that? He's made it perfectly clear how he feels about running off to the Ghost Zone."
"There won't be any reason for him to come back here, that's why. Think about it, Sam. If I fight him while he's turning himself in—"
Sam's jaw dropped as she realized what Dani was saying. "You'll reveal yourself! The Guys in White will know you have ghost powers!"
"Exactly. And then he can't use protecting me as an excuse. He'll have to go into hiding. We both will."
"This…" Sam shook her head. "You can't do this, Dani. It'll kill him."
"No, Sam. It'll save him. Don't you want to save him?"
"How can you even ask me that? But at what cost?"
"There is no cost too high! Dammit, Sam! This is Danny! There is no one more important to me, and I know there's no one more important to you, either. If we can save him, then we should do it."
"Do you know what you're asking me to do, Dani? Do you realize what it will do to him?"
"Does it really matter if he's still with us? Is there anything in this world you want more than to still have him with us?"
Sam closed her eyes. "No."
"Then help me. Help me save him."
They were silent during the short trip home from FentonWorks. When they got in the house, Danny closed and locked the door behind them, flipped on the security system, making sure the ghost sensors, door alarm, and security cam were all operating, then leaned against the doorjamb as if exhausted. "That was… not fun."
"I didn't expect Tucker to take it so hard. Or Dani to take it so well, for that matter. What'd she say to you when you guys were in the kitchen?"
Sam swallowed. "Nothing."
"Nothing? You were talking a long time. She's not plotting anything, is she? I wouldn't put it past her."
She hesitated a moment before answering. "No. She understands."
It felt like swallowing ground glass, lying to him. She was a good liar—she'd been lying for him for almost twelve years—but never in the entire time that she'd known him had she ever outright lied to him. The closest she'd ever come were a few lies of omission—the fact that her family was wealthy, or those two years she didn't tell him how she felt about him. But that wasn't an outright deception or betrayal of his trust, not like this, and it made her feel a little sick.
But because she never lied to him, he accepted her answer without question. "Good. You'll… you'll look out for her, right?"
It felt like she was dying inside. "Valerie…"
"I know Valerie will, but I want you to, too. You all need to stick together."
He watched her a moment, a whole jumble of emotions crossing his features. "You okay?"
Incredulous, she arched her eyebrow at him.
He winced. "Yeah, I know. Standard question. I just… You're so quiet. It's not like you."
"What do you want me to say?"
"I don't know. Be mad. Yell at me. Something. Anything."
"Yell at you? For what? Saving a kid's life? That was a good thing, Danny."
"But what I said, before, in the car. About how nothing could make me give up being with you…" His eyes flicked down before meeting hers once more. "You know this wasn't about me choosing something else over you, don't you?"
She nodded. "I know."
"Okay, so then why are you walling yourself off like this? I thought fighting with Tucker was bad, but—"
"Well, maybe Tucker wasn't wrong."
He stopped, blinking at her in surprise. "Sam…"
She took a step towards him, her resolve crumbling. "Danny, do you have any idea how much money is in that Swiss bank account? And since the Swiss don't have any anti-ecto laws, the U.S. government can't freeze it. It's not just my trust fund, either, although that's enough. The money my grandmother left me when she died, that's all in there, too. We could live comfortably a very, very long time off just the interest. You, me, and Dani. Your whole family, if they want. Tucker and Val, even. Anyone who wants to get away from this nightmare. There are a million places the U.S. government has no jurisdiction, no extradition treaties. And many of them are very ghost-friendly."
"You can't be serious."
"I'm dead serious. You always said you wanted to try living like the idle rich. Well, this is your chance."
"Sam, since when have you ever used money to buy away your problems and run away from a fight? This isn't you!"
"This… dammit, Danny! Tomorrow, you're going to—" She stopped, suddenly finding it difficult to breathe. And then the dam broke, and everything she'd been holding back all night burst through in a torrent. "You're going to walk out of my life tomorrow, and I can't… I can't lose you."
He was there in an instant, his arms wrapping around her as he held her tightly and let her sob into his shoulder. For a long time, he was silent, just holding her as she cried, and then, when he did speak, his voice was ragged. "I don't wanna go, Sam. I don't want to leave you. Not ever."
"I have to. You know I have to. Everything you've been fighting for the last ten years, everything we've ever believed was right—it'll all be wasted if I run from this. I have to do what's right."
She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed closer to him. "Why do you have to be so damn noble?"
He chuckled at this, a sort of sad, ironic laugh, and she could feel it rumbling through his chest. "I learned it from you."
"I'm not noble." She thought of Danielle, and how she'd lied to him about her.
"You always do what's right, even when it's hard. That's what you taught me." He pulled back just enough to take her chin in his hand and tilt her face up to his. "And you know this is what we have to do."
She blinked back the tears so she could see him properly. "I love you. I love you so much, Danny."
"I know. I love you, too." He kissed her, and she clung to him, as if she could keep him here if she just kept kissing him. But eventually, it ended, and he met her eyes again. "You're with me in this, right? You'll let me do what I have to do, and you'll stay here and fight them?"
She nodded. "I… yeah." Then, she sighed and pulled the class ring off her right hand. "It was nice while it lasted, but I guess it's time for this to go back to you."
He hesitated. "They won't let me keep it, I don't think."
"They'll probably hold all your personal effects. And when the courts or the new laws force them to release you, they'll have to give it back."
He smiled, taking the ring and slipping it onto his pinky finger. "Now that's my Sam. The fighter."
She smiled back, trying to bolster him, but the truth was, right now, she didn't feel like she had much fight left.