The Ghost of Christmas Present: Part XI
December 23, 4:30 am EST
Valerie raced over the National Mall towards the Capitol Building on her jet sled, in violation of at least three anti-terrorism laws. But with Tucker not allowed to use his cell phone, PDA, or any other communication device while in session on the floor of the House, she wasn't going to waste any precious time driving or taking the Metro from their apartment in Alexandria to get word to him. If it meant ticking off a few Metro Police officers or the Capitol Police, so be it.
Her breath caught as she passed the Danny Phantom statue, and then the Capitol Building lay ahead. Veering right, she angled her sled up over the long flight of stairs on the south side of the West Front entrance. Without even stopping, she clicked her heels together, and the sled and suit disappeared while she was still in midair. She hit the ground at the top of the steps at a dead run, barely stumbling as she raced towards the House Visitor's entrance, pulling her I.D. and her House gallery pass out of her inside coat pocket as she went, skidding to a stop only when two Capitol Police officers stopped her at the door.
She waved her identification at them. "I'm Valerie Gray, Representative Foley's fiancée. I need to see him right away."
The officers were obviously in no hurry as they slowly perused her I.D. The taller of the two looked her over. "I'm sorry, Ms. Gray, but the congressman is in session right now."
"I know that!" She tapped her foot impatiently. "If he wasn't in session, I would've just called him on his cell!" Taking a breath, she tried again. "I have an urgent message for him. A family emergency. We need to return home right away."
At last, he nodded, handing her I.D. and gallery pass back to her. "Follow me."
Tucker rubbed his eyes under his glasses. Caroline Strong of Arizona was arguing in favor of the new Clean Water Act, and Tucker found himself agreeing with all her points, but he still had reservations. Why were two of the most anti-ecto members of the House sponsoring this bill when they'd never so much as voted in favor of an environmental bill, let alone sponsored one before? It was gnawing at him, and as he listened to Representative Strong's speech, he kept searching for some hidden agenda, some piece of the bill that could somehow be used to collect DNA samples from the public against their knowledge.
Chris Sanders leaned over to him. "It's a good bill, Tuck. Stop looking between the lines."
"It's my job to look between the lines."
Chris sighed. "Not at…" He checked his watch. "Four-thirty in the morning." Shaking his head, he leaned back, looking exhausted. "This is insane. I don't know how we can be expected to make rational decisions at this hour."
"I hear ya, man." Tucker nodded his agreement. "I think that's—"
"Excuse me, Mr. Foley?"
Tucker turned to find the Sergeant at Arms leaning over his chair. Tucker sat up straight. "Yes?"
The Sergeant at Arms handed him a folded slip of paper. "Your fiancée said she has an urgent message for you."
Tucker's eyes widened as he took the paper and thanked the man. His heart beating in his chest—an urgent message from Valerie at four-thirty in the morning could so not be good—he unfolded the paper. There were only two words written there, and he sucked in his breath as he read them.
Blinking, he looked at the note again, sure he'd read it wrong. But no, there it was, in Valerie's familiar script. He's home! It couldn't possibly mean what he thought it meant, though. Could it?
"Tucker?" Chris leaned towards him again. "Everything all right? 'Cause I never thought I'd say this to a black man, but you look as white as a…"
Tucker turned to Chris, something resembling a laugh escaping him. "A ghost?"
A movement in the Visitors' Gallery above the Speaker's podium caught his eye, and Tucker looked up to see Valerie hurrying in. She was too far away for him to see her face, but her hands were clasped together under her chin and she had that live-wire look she would get when she was really excited or agitated about something. It was all the confirmation he needed, and he jumped to his feet, crumpling the note in his hand.
Chris hissed at him. "Tuck? What are you doing? What's wrong?"
The Speaker glared at him from the podium, interrupting Caroline Strong. "Would the gentleman from Indiana like to ask the gentlewoman from Arizona to yield?"
"I…" Tucker tried to get brain functioning on proper procedure, but he couldn't quite think straight and fumbled through as best he could. "Madam Speaker, I apologize for the interruption, but I have just received word from my fiancée of a family emergency requiring my immediate attention. It cannot wait for an appropriate written request of leave at the end of business."
The Speaker raised her eyebrows. "A family emergency?"
"Yes. It's… of a personal nature, one that I don't wish to have entered into the Congressional Record. But it's vital that I return to Amity Park immediately."
The Speaker looked to the Minority Leader who, as Tucker's party leader, would normally be the one to sign off on his leave. "Does the gentleman from New York object to granting the gentleman from Indiana an emergency leave of absence?"
He turned to Tucker, frowning, but then shook his head as he faced the Speaker once more. "No, Madam Speaker."
She eyed Tucker as if she were a school principal and he were a wayward student she knew was trying to ditch class with a fake excuse, but couldn't quite prove it. "The gentleman from Indiana is excused."
"Thank you, Madam Speaker." Tucker nodded towards his party leader as well, since he was only allowed to directly address the Speaker or whoever was chairing the session, then quickly began gathering up his things and shoving them into his briefcase. In the Visitors' Gallery, Valerie was already leaving.
Chris looked up at him. "What happened? Is everything okay?"
"Everything's…" He sucked in another breath and saw that his hands were shaking. "I don't know." And before Chris could question him further, he turned and walked down the aisle and out of the House Chamber.
In the corridor, he headed towards the stairs that led up to the Visitors' Gallery just as Valerie came hurtling down them. She flung herself into his arms, her momentum spinning him a full hundred and eighty degrees. "Can you believe it, Tuck? He's—"
"Hold up." He cut her off, jerking his head towards the Capitol Police officers and the Sergeant at Arms standing near the Chamber doors. Disentangling himself from her embrace, he took her arm and dragged her down the hall to the nearest committee room. When they were inside and he'd shut the door behind him, he turned to her. "Is it true? Is Danny really home?"
She nodded. "Nick called, about fifteen minutes ago. I flew over here on my sled."
"But… how? What happened?"
"He was sketchy on the details. I guess that about half an hour ago, they just dumped him on his own front doorstep. He scared Sam half to death."
"They… wait. You're saying they let him go?"
"They're over at FentonWorks now. Tuck… they did something to him. He's sick or something. Nick didn't know any details."
The relief and joy Tucker was feeling soured, turning into a knot in his gut. "What did they do?"
"I just told you, Nick didn't know any details. Listen. We can stand here talking about it, or we can go see for ourselves." She held out her hand, and a helmet materialized.
Tucker took a step back. "Oh, no. I am not flying all the way to Amity Park on your sled."
"I've got one of Mr. Fenton's Porta-Portals—the one that opens up near the Far Frozen. A fifteen-minute trip through the Ghost Zone from there to the Fenton Portal, or a two-hour wait for a two-hour flight to Chicago and an hour's drive to Amity Park? Your choice."
Tucker groaned, taking the helmet. "Why is it always for Danny that I end up on the back of your sled?"
They walked quickly towards the underground tunnel that connected the Capitol Building to the Rayburn House Office Building, waiting until they were well inside before Valerie activated her suit. She jumped aboard the sled, toeing the Porta-Portal remote attached to it. A flash of light opened in the tunnel, coalescing into a swirling mass of glowing green light, and Tucker climbed onto the sled behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and clinging to her as tightly as he could. She shot off through the portal, closing it behind them, and they raced across the Ghost Zone, Tucker biting back screams the whole way.
It was a little less terrifying than flying on her sled in the Human World, however. Here, there was no ground onto which he could splat. And humans were intangible in the Ghost Zone anyway. But when they finally reached the Fenton Portal, Valerie didn't stop, instead soaring through the portal and up the basement stairs into the kitchen. Tucker shrieked in fear as she navigated the narrow stairway. Once in the kitchen, she finally came to an abrupt halt, sending him tumbling off the sled.
They heard a startled yelp from the living room, then the sound of a baby crying. Patrick rushed into the kitchen holding Jazz and Nick's wailing daughter just as Tucker was climbing shakily to his feet. When Patrick saw them, he breathed a sigh of relief. "It's you! Aren't you supposed to be in Washington?"
"We took a shortcut through the Ghost Zone," Valerie told him as her suit and sled disappeared.
Patrick rolled his eyes as he bounced Charley up and down, trying to calm her. "You'd think after five years, I'd get used to all the strange things that go on around this place, but—"
"Patrick," Tucker interrupted. "Where's Danny? Is he here?"
"He's up in the Op-Center. The family's all up there with him, along with Dash, and Sam's doctor. This poor little one has an ear infection and won't go to sleep." He indicated Charley with a nod of his head. "I'm watching her so Jazz and Nick can be with Danny."
"Thanks, Patrick." Tucker leaned over to a panel in the wall among the kitchen cabinets and pressed his hand against it while calling out, "Two to the Op-Center."
A huge pneumatic tube came down from the ceiling, surrounding Tucker and Valerie. Tucker closed his eyes at yet another terrifying trip—this one mercifully brief—which took them both from the kitchen up into the giant hodgepodge of metal that Mr. Fenton had built onto the roof of the house. They landed in the center of the room and found themselves facing Mr. and Mrs. Fenton and a petite Asian woman in her late thirties, whom Tucker recognized as Sam's obstetrician, Leanne Mihashi. The three of them were huddled around what looked like medical diagnostic equipment, the sight of which caused Tucker to shudder with dread. Even the prospect of seeing Danny wasn't enough to completely override his fear of hospitals.
Startled by his and Valerie's unexpected arrival, the Fentons and Dr. Mihashi looked up in unison, and Mrs. Fenton's eyes widened in surprise. "Tucker! Valerie! How on earth did you get here so fast?"
"Came through the Ghost Zone on my sled," Valerie answered.
Mr. Fenton beamed. "The Fenton Porta-Portal working for you then, Valerie?"
His wife gave him an admonishing look. "Jack! I don't think they're here to talk about your inventions." Smiling at Tucker and Valerie, she nodded towards the corner of the Op-Center where a portion of the room was cordoned off with plastic curtains. "He's in there with the others."
Tucker swallowed. "Is he—?"
"Why don't you go see for yourself?"
He gave a jerky nod to Mrs. Fenton before heading towards the infirmary with Valerie, his heart pounding in his chest as he approached the opening that served as a door into the area. Dash and Nick were standing just inside the opening like two sentries, and in the middle of the area, Jazz and Sam were seated on either side of a hospital bed. In the bed…
Tucker's breath caught in his throat as his gaze settled on his oldest and closest friend. He looked weak and haggard, with a day's growth of stubble on his chin, and hair even more unkempt than usual, but Tucker had never seen a more wonderful sight in his entire life.
Then, Danny spotted him, and a smile lit up his too-pale face. "Tucker!"
Everyone else in the room looked over at them, and Sam's mouth dropped open. "You're here! How did you get here so fast?"
"Hitched a ride on a sled through the Ghost Zone." He jerked his head backwards, indicating Valerie, standing behind him.
Danny's eyes widened. "Wow. You hate riding that thing. I'm touched."
Tucker almost laughed. Man, it sounded like Danny. A little weak, but… same Danny. Tucker opened his mouth, intending to come back with some smart-aleck reply, but the words seemed to evaporate off his tongue, and he could only gape at the man a part of him had feared he might never see again.
It was Jazz who broke through his stupor. "He doesn't have anything contagious, you know. You can come in and say hello."
When he still didn't move, Dash nudged him in the shoulder. Tucker stumbled forward toward the bed, as Sam moved aside to give him room. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he threw his arms around Danny, clinging to him as he tried to blink back the tears that came. The two men held each other for a long time, no one saying a word, until Tucker broke the silence, his voice hoarse and raspy. "Dude. I am so glad to see you."
"Yeah. I missed you too, Tuck." Danny's voice was pretty gravelly-sounding, too.
Tucker finally released his friend and pulled back, quickly wiping his eyes under his glasses as he did so. "Don't ever do that again or, so help me, I will suck you into a Fenton Thermos myself. And… you look like hell, dude."
Danny laughed. It was a weak laugh, but it was Danny's laugh. "Yeah, well, so do you. You sleep in that suit?"
"Pretty much. Congress has been in a marathon session for…" He glanced at his watch, still set to D.C. time. "Almost twenty hours."
Nick snorted. "Our tax dollars at work."
Danny arched an eyebrow at Tucker. "And you left all that just to come see me?"
"Are you kidding? It was like getting a note from the principal's office excusing me from one of Lancer's classes. I owe you, buddy."
Danny paused for a minute, his face growing somber. "No. I owe you, Tuck. Big time."
Tucker frowned. "You owe me? For what?"
"Sam filled me in on some of the stuff going on the last few months." He reached out his hand to Sam, who clasped it in hers as Danny continued. "How… how you were there for her, especially when she first found out…"
Tucker slapped his forehead. "That's right! I finally get to congratulate you on the upcoming addition to the family. You excited?"
"Overwhelmed, but yeah."
"I get to be godfather, right?"
"Who else? I just…" Danny looked down, and his voice turned raspy again. "I'm so grateful that she had you through all of this."
"Correction. We had each other." Tucker placed his hand on top of Danny's and Sam's. "That's the way it works around here, remember? You're not my only best friend."
There was a cough from behind them. "Uh… as much as I hate to interrupt this touching moment…" Valerie was still standing by the opening in the plastic curtains, her, arms crossed and her foot tapping, although the tears in her eyes belied her annoyed posture. "You're not the only one who came all the way across the Ghost Zone to see him, Tuck. You wanna make some room and let someone else get a turn?"
Danny grinned. "Move over, Tuck. She's way better looking than you."
They all dropped hands as Tucker got up and stepped aside, standing next to Sam. Valerie slid into the place he'd vacated, pulling Danny into another long embrace. "I'm with Tucker, Phantom. You pull a stunt like this again, and I'm back to hunting your ass. You got me?"
As Valerie let go of him, Jazz gave her brother one of her patented overbearing-big-sister looks. "And they're not the only ones."
Nick, still standing with Dash near the curtain partition, nodded in agreement. "Hear, hear. I mean, do you have any idea what it's like being the only sane person working in the FentonWorks lab with your parents? Don't ever leave me alone like that again!" He gave a dramatic shudder, which earned him a pointed look from Jazz, but a snicker from Danny.
"Sorry about that." Then, Danny looked between Valerie and Tucker. "So, tell me. How was the wedding? It was last month, right?"
Valerie glanced up at Tucker, and he shuffled his feet a bit. "Uh…"
Danny's face fell. "Oh, no. Don't tell me…"
"They wimped out," Dash said when neither Tucker nor Valerie would speak.
Valerie put her hands on her hips. "We did not 'wimp out,' Dash Baxter!"
"And yet, I don't seem to remember a wedding."
"We're still together," Tucker quickly clarified to Danny, who looked crestfallen. "We just… we couldn't go through with it. Not without you."
Danny groaned, throwing his head back. "You have got to be kidding me. Tell me you did not postpone your wedding just for me."
"Told you he'd hate it," Sam said to Tucker.
Valerie put her hand on Danny's arm. "It didn't feel right without you there, Danny. But now you're back. We'll have a wedding soon enough, and it will have been worth the wait."
Tucker moved back closer to the bed and slipped his arm around Valerie's shoulders. "You got that right. One with the whole family."
Jazz drew nearer on Danny's other side. "Amen to that." Nick and Dash, too, stepped closer, standing at the foot of the bed and completing the circle around Danny.
Tucker looked around at the small group, with Danny in the middle of them, and a lump came to his throat. The center was restored and, for this one moment, he felt like everything was right with the world.