The Ghost of Christmas Present: Part X
December 23, 3:00 am CST
Something was wrong.
At first, Sam wasn't sure what, but she'd been sleeping soundly on the living room couch, having fallen asleep there crying over Danny, and now she was wide awake and completely alert. The room was dimly illuminated by the reddish glow of the Christmas lights, and "Carol of the Bells" was playing on the MP3 player, which she'd never turned off. A quick check of the clock told her it was three in the morning, but she had no idea what had awoken her. She put her hand to her belly, feeling a fluttery kick as she did so. Everything seemed fine with the baby, and she didn't need to go to the bathroom. No cold feeling, either, so it wasn't a ghost.
Then she heard it over the music. The distinct rattle of the front door, and movement in the entryway.
Someone was in the house.
Her heart pounding in her chest, she sat up as quickly as she was able and reached into the pocket of her robe, her fingers curling around the handle of her ever-present Fenton Phaser. She cursed the security alarm for failing to activate, until she realized she'd never gotten around to turning it on before falling asleep. Had it been just her, with no baby to be concerned about, she would've laughed at the irony. Jack and Nick had spent hours arguing over how best to configure the system to protect her, only to have her fail to turn the stupid thing on.
Another sound from the entryway got her moving again. Slipping her hand into her computer bag, still propped up against the side of the couch, she searched for the Fenton Porta-Portal remote. When she couldn't find it, she frowned, then swore silently as she remembered that she'd left it on the fireplace mantel when she'd opened up a portal for the Box Ghost. Squinting into the weird shadows cast by the glow from the Christmas lights, she could see the small, gray device exactly where she'd left it.
Across the room.
At least she still had the Fenton Phaser. It was the same one she'd had the night Danny had been arrested. Since then, Jack had modified it, adding a taser-like element that would give it an added punch against humans. It wasn't lethal, but would hold off an attacker long enough to allow her to escape through the Porta-Portal… if she could get to the remote, that is.
Easing herself off the couch, she gripped the Phaser in both hands and kept it trained on at the doorway into the entrance hall as she sidestepped towards the fireplace, being careful to stick to the shadows to stay as hidden as possible. There were more noises loud enough to be heard over the music—the scrape of wood-on-wood that she guessed was the legs of the little decorative table that stood near the door grazing the hardwood floor, and a clunking noise that sounded like the intruder had upset the vase on top of it, then caught it before it could crash to the ground.
Sam wrinkled her nose at the prowler's odd behavior. The Guys in White rarely went for a stealthy entrance when a SWAT-team-style invasion would do, and they always traveled in pairs or more, whereas it sounded like only one person in her doorway. Could it just be a run-of-the-mill burglar, then? It certainly wasn't a ghost, judging by the lack of Ghost Sense from the baby. Unless… It occurred to her that Danny had never been able to sense ghosts when they were overshadowing humans. What if Walker or one of his Goons was attempting to trick her by overshadowing someone? But, like the Guys in White, they tended to travel in pairs or larger groups.
Before Sam could reach the fireplace, a silhouette emerged in the doorway. She tracked it with her Phaser, making sure to stay well back in the shadows so that if it were just a burglar, he wouldn't be able to see that she was pregnant. Then, the prowler froze, and she realized she'd been spotted. For a long moment, they both stood completely still, two silent and unmoving shadows, as if Clockwork had stopped time. On her stereo, "Carol of the Bells" rose to a crescendo, making her heart beat faster. She took a breath to steady her nerves and keep her voice from shaking as she kept the Phaser aimed at the intruder. "Okay, that's far enough. This weapon works on either ghosts or humans, so whichever you are, you'd better think twice before you take another step."
Sam could make out arms rising into the air in a gesture of surrender as the figure did take one more step, bringing himself out of the shadows and into the dim light cast by the Christmas tree. "How about a little of both?"
Sam felt most of the air rush out her lungs, and her legs nearly buckled beneath her. "Danny?"
He looked haggard, his hair still about the same length, but more unkempt than usual. There was a slight shadow of a beard on his chin, his eyes were a little sunken and, even in the dim light, his skin seemed pale. He looked thinner, too—gaunt instead of lean and muscular. She didn't recognize his coat or clothes but, then, he'd been wearing pajamas when he'd been arrested, and that had been the middle of summer. The scene was so unreal that she thought she must be mistaken, that it must simply be someone who somewhat resembled Danny, until he gave her a sheepish grin that was so Danny that her heart caught in her throat.
"Hi, honey, I'm home."
It sounded like him, too, with his dry wit, as if he'd just been gone an hour or two fighting some ghost. It was surreal, him standing there as if he'd never been gone, and she couldn't move, could hardly even breathe. Afraid that it was a dream, or a trick, or… something she couldn't name, she kept him in the sights of her Phaser. "Danny? Is it…? But… how?"
Still keeping his hands in the air, he shrugged. "They just… let me go. Stuck me on a plane, then a van, and then dumped me off here on the doorstep with no explanation."
She blinked. "Let you go? Just… let you go?" It didn't make sense, couldn't be real. "Five months of fighting every injunction and stay we filed, of refusing to bring you before the court or even tell us if you were still alive, and they just let you go?"
He moved his right hand, and she reflexively jerked the Phaser, causing him to freeze again. "Okaaaaay, you're obviously a little freaked out. Not that I blame you. But if you promise not to shoot me, I have something for you." He moved his hand again, slower this time. She tightened her grip on the Phaser, but let him dip his hand into his jacket pocket. When he pulled it out again, it looked empty, but then he held up something between his thumb and forefinger. Something small and round, and when the light hit it, she caught a glint of gold and gasped.
Her class ring.
He gave her another sheepish grin. "It took a little longer than I would've liked, but I did promise…"
"Danny," she breathed, tears filling her eyes. The Phaser slipped from her hands, clattering to the floor, forgotten, and she was out of the shadows and across the room without even knowing how she'd gotten there. As soon as she touched him and was in his arms, kissing him, she knew he was really real, that this wasn't some cruel trick or dream.
She barely had time for that to register, however, when he abruptly jerked back from her. "Whoa!"
She frowned, confused. "Danny?"
He was staring at her, a look of complete shock in his eyes. She couldn't understand what could possibly be wrong until she realized his eyes were locked, not on her face, but on her abdomen, protruding out through her open robe. He started stammering. "Y-you… you're…?"
She began to laugh and cry all at once, covering her mouth with folded hands, as if she were praying. "They didn't tell you. How could they not tell you?" She stopped, smiling up at him through her tears. "You're gonna be a father, Danny. Well, technically, again. But your first son. He's due in March."
This seemed to break through the stupor he was in and he met her eyes again. "A… it's a…?"
She nodded, her hands still in front of her mouth. "I can't believe those bastards didn't tell you. We tried everything we could think of to force them to let us get word to you. But they wouldn't tell us anything. Not if you knew, not if you were okay, not even if you were alive." Tears were streaming down her face in earnest now.
"I… they… every so often, they'd throw tabloids at me. One hinted you were… but… it was the same paper that said you and Tucker were… so, I wasn't exactly taking it as gospel truth."
She let out a disgusted grunt, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "Stupid tabloids! They cropped Valerie out of a picture of the three of us… from a 'Save Danny Phantom' rally, of all things. Last July."
He blinked again, looking back down at her belly. His hands moved as if he wanted to touch her but couldn't quite summon the courage. Nodding her permission, she pushed up her tank-top to expose her extended abdomen, and he tentatively reached toward her. A look of wonder crossed his features as his fingers brushed across skin stretched taunt over the solid mass of muscle that sheltered the life they had created together. "You… you're really…? But… how?"
She laughed, unable to summon enough snark to reply as she had when Tucker had asked the same question. "In Washington, just before the press conference and the House hearings. Maybe even on our anniversary. I was so worried about you and so distracted, I forgot to take my pills. Three times that month."
"I… Is everything okay? It's… he's… okay? You're okay?"
She nodded. "We just had a checkup today, in fact. Well, yesterday, now. He's just where he should be for twenty-eight weeks. And your mom… she's been a godsend. She came up with a serum to make sure he couldn't phase right through—"
Danny jerked back again. "What?"
She smiled, wiping more tears off her face. "He's your son, Danny. Your DNA. Your powers."
"He's… a ghost? Are you sure?"
She nodded. "It was the ghosts who figured out I was pregnant in the first place. They could sense him."
His face darkened. "If any of them so much as—"
"No, no," she hastened to assure him. "They've been protecting us, actually. All but Walker, anyway. It's some sort of weird ghost thing, like the Christmas Truce or our wedding. The Box Ghost even brought him a Christmas present, just a few hours ago."
Danny shook his head slightly, as if he were trying but failing to make sense out of what she was saying. The dark look remained, however. "What about the Guys in White?"
"They don't know for sure if he's part ghost, so they haven't been able to do anything. No one but the family, our closest friends, and my doctor knows for sure. The government has tried to get a court order to force her to release my medical records and the results of the amniocentesis that confirmed his DNA has an ecto profile like yours, but so far we've blocked them. And we've… made backup plans just in case. Frostbite has already agreed to let us stay in the Far Frozen if things get dicey here."
"I…" He put his hand on her cheek. "Oh, Sam. I am so sorry. I had no idea you'd be in danger, too. I thought if they had me—"
"Shh." She put a finger to his lips. "It doesn't matter now. Everything's fine now that you're here."
He looked stricken. "I missed everything."
"No." She took his face in her hands and kissed him. The stubble on his face scratched hers, but she didn't care. "You're just in time. You came back just in time." The tears started to flow again. "You're back. I can't believe… in time for the baby. In time for Christmas." Then, a thought occurred to her, and she gave him a searching look. "You're… you're okay with this, right? The baby, I mean. You're not—?"
He blinked again. "Okay? Are you kidding me? A little stunned, maybe, but… God, Sam. Do you have any idea how much I love you?"
The kiss lasted much longer this time, melting away the last five horrible months as if they were nothing more than a nightmare from which she'd finally awoken. He was here. He would be here to see the birth of their son. To hear his first word. To see his first step.
He was home.
But when she stepped back a moment later, she frowned, realizing he was leaning on her a little more heavily than he should be. "Danny, are you okay?"
"I'm… a little…" He sagged against her, and her relief evaporated, replaced by alarm.
"Danny? Is it just the shock of the whole baby thing, or did they…?"
He gave her a rueful grin, and she really saw him and just how gaunt and pale he was. He seemed to struggle to find the right words. "They've been trying to find a way to purge the ghost powers. Shot me up with all sorts of stuff over the last few months. Can't go ghost or use my powers without…" He shook his head. "Kinda like what Vlad did to Danielle. I'm not feeling great in human form, either. That's probably why they let me go. I guess I'm not much of a threat anymore."
Sam sucked in her breath. "Those sick bastards. Come on. We've gotta get you to your parents'. Your mom will know what to do."
He was leaning very heavily against her now, as if it had only been the adrenaline from being home again, and then from finding out about the baby, that had kept him upright in the first place. "Not sure I can make it that far right at the moment. Maybe a rest first…"
The sudden urgency snapped her into Fight Mode, and she was all business. "Nothing doing, Ghost Boy. We'll take the short cut. Just lean on me."
"But you're pregnant." He actually said the word without stumbling on it this time.
"Yeah, we've already established that. I'm still in good shape, though. And it isn't far. We just have to get to the fireplace."
"I told you. It's a shortcut."
Taking his arm and throwing it over her shoulders and wrapping her own arm around his waist, she helped him across the room to the fireplace and grabbed the Fenton Porta-Portal remote off of the mantle where she'd left it. She aimed it at the fireplace and, with a flash of light, a swirling green vortex opened up above the hearth.
Danny's brow furrowed. "A ghost portal? Why are we going into the Ghost Zone?"
"This portal opens out right next to the one in FentonWorks." She dragged him in through the opening, and the found themselves on a slab of rock beside a second, larger portal, this one surrounded by the familiar metal plating that indicated it was man-made. Sam aimed the remote at the portal they came through, closing it behind them, then limped with Danny through the second portal to emerge in the FentonWorks basement lab. Sam immediately turned to her right and slapped her hand down on the big red button there, activating the ghost alarm.
Danny had to shout to be heard over the alarm. "Uh… won't my parents shoot first and ask questions later with that ghost alarm blaring?"
"This is all part of the backup plan!" Sam shouted back. "If I need to get away quickly, I'm supposed to come here and get the Specter Speeder. They'll know it might be me."
Sure enough, moments later they heard thundering on the steps above and Jack's voice rang out, deep and menacing, over the alarm. "Who's down there?"
Sam called back. "It's me—Sam! Come quick!" She leaned over and hit the alarm button again, silencing it.
It was Maddie who replied. "Sam? Is everything—?" And then she appeared at the bottom of the steps and stopped short, gasping. Jack slammed into her from behind, knocking her forward a few steps.
"What in the sam heck is—?" And then Jack saw them, too. "Is that…?"
Danny, still leaning on Sam, gave his parents a wan smile. "Hey, Mom. Dad. I'm home."
They were all over him in an instant, until Sam thought he would be smothered under Jack's mammoth embrace and Maddie's kisses and tears. She allowed them a moment, but when Maddie started asking questions, Sam cut her off. "Something's wrong with him. They drugged him up with something, maybe like what Vlad did to Danielle."
"Oh, my poor baby!" Then, she became all business. "Do you know what they gave you, sweetie?"
He shook his head. "It's all a blur. They kept me drugged up a lot of the time, and they've been trying all sorts of things over the last few months to 'purge' the ghost 'contamination.' To make me fully human again."
Jack looked ready to punch someone. "I'd like to decontaminate them…"
Maddie shook her head. "They tried to do it with drugs? There are a million different ways to separate out the ghost from the human, but not with drugs. It isn't an illness."
"I know, Mom. I tried explaining it, but apparently a master's in chemistry and twelve years experience as a ghost doesn't count for much with them."
"Well, don't you worry, sweetie. We'll find out what they gave you and get it out of your system. Jack, get him up to the Op-Center. Sam, you call Dr. Mihashi right away."
Sam frowned. "My obstetrician?"
"Whoa." Danny shook his head as he leaned against his father. "I don't know exactly what they did to me, Mom, but I'm reasonably sure I'm not pregnant."
"She's an M.D. who's spent the last four months studying ghosts. Unless you know of any others, call her."
Sam nodded, following behind as Jack scooped up his son and, cradling him like a child, carried him towards the stairs.
When the phone rang, Jazz was already up taking her turn with Charley, whose ear infection had kept them up most of the night. Alarmed at getting a call at such an hour, she rushed to her bedroom with Charley in her arms.
Nick had already answered the phone when she got there, and the fact that he went from groggy to alert in an instant did nothing to ease her fears, nor did his sharp intake of breath into the receiver. "What? Are you serious? They just… in the dead of night with no warning or anything?" He paused, listening. "Yeah, of course. Jazz is already up with the baby. I'll send her right over." Another pause. "No, no, no. Let me take care of the rest of the phone calls. You need to be with them, and so does Jazz. I'll make the calls and bring Charley over in a bit, okay? We'll see you soon." Then, he hung up the phone and looked up at Jazz.
She clung to Charley, her heart beating hard. "Is it Sam? Did something happen to her and the baby?"
"No. Jazz. It's…" Nick swallowed, looking shell-shocked. "It's Danny. He's home."