Danielle: Part VIII
December 22, 9:30 am EST
Dani hadn't expected to hear anything from the Guys in White anytime soon, so when the elections came and went, she wasn't worried. She'd stayed behind in D.C. when Tucker went back to Amity Park to campaign in the middle of October, not because she thought she'd need to meet with them again, but because she was afraid that if she got anywhere near her family—Danny's family—she would let something slip. With Valerie, it was easier, because she alone was more her family than Danny's. Valerie had even stayed behind in Alexandria with her until just before Election Day, and while it was irritating to be treated like a child who needed a babysitter, she couldn't help but be grateful for the companionship of the one person whose love for her wasn't dependent upon her love for Danny.
Sam came to D.C. a few times, both before and after the elections, to lobby for Danny's freedom. She was always accompanied by Dash. Apparently, she'd been getting all sorts of scary e-mails and letters, and people here were fiercely divided as to whether they idolized or demonized Danny and his unborn child. The first two visits, she'd tried to see Dani, but by the third trip out, she'd pretty much given up.
Thanksgiving weekend arrived, and Dani was supposed to go home for Valerie and Tucker's wedding. That was the thing she was most dreading, because there would be no way to avoid Sam and the Fentons. When the wedding was postponed, she canceled her flight, torn between relief and disappointment that she wouldn't have to see them after all.
November rolled into December, and Tucker and Valerie, still unmarried, returned to D.C. Congress reconvened, and there was a contentious debate over a mandatory DNA testing bill, just as Tucker had predicted back in August. Dani watched it closely, along with Valerie, each of them terrified it would pass for similar and yet completely different reasons. When it failed, they took Tucker out to celebrate. With that last hurdle crossed, Dani was sure that she would be hearing from the Guys in White soon.
It was the middle of the month before she got an e-mail from Miguel on the free e-mail account she'd set up specifically to communicate with him. She'd rushed to his office, only to find that the deal had fallen well short of what was acceptable.
"They're offering immunity for the foster parents," he began.
"Which is redundant, since Jack and Maddie are covered under the original agreement Danny made," Danielle finished for him. They'd added that for appearances, and also to give them negotiating room.
"And immunity for the biological mother."
She raised an eyebrow at this. "What kind of immunity? Just from conspiracy-related charges?" That would be another redundancy; Valerie was also covered under Danny's original agreement.
He smiled. "I worded it very carefully to cover any charges that fell solely under the anti-ecto codes, and they didn't balk."
"Okay. So far so good."
"Unfortunately, that's where the good news ends. They're offering to release Danny, but under the same terms as the probation agreement he was under in June. And they're offering nothing at all for the baby or any future children."
Dani's shoulders slumped. "Then it's worthless. Last time, Danny was home all of two weeks before he had to go ghost to save someone's life. What are the chances he won't run into the same kind of situation again? And the whole point of this little exercise was to protect the baby. What good is an agreement that doesn't do that?" She closed her eyes, crushed.
A hand settled on her arm. "Dani, it's a negotiation. We offer them more than we need, they come back with less than they're really willing to give. That's how it works. We'll counter offer."
She opened her eyes and looked at him. "But Christmas Eve is just over a week away. I just… I want him home, Miguel." Suddenly furious, she slapped her hands down on the conference table. "I am so sick of people thinking they can play God with me and the people I love. First Vlad, now the Guys in White… I'm done with it. No deal. The original offer, or nothing."
"Dani, let me explain the concept of 'negotiation' to you…"
"I'm tired of negotiating with the Taliban. All or nothing, Miguel. Tell them. If I walk, Danny's daughter disappears forever."
He sighed. "Okay. You're the boss."
Now, a week later, she was beginning to regret her rash decision. It was only two days until Christmas Eve, and even though she spoke or e-mailed with Miguel at least twice a day, he never had any news for her. The Guys in White had remained completely silent after their first offer, and she couldn't help but think she'd made a huge mistake insisting on all or nothing, a mistake for which Danny and his baby were going to pay. She'd spent her entire opening shift at Queequeg's this morning obsessing over it, to the point where she was almost worthless to her coworkers.
It didn't help that she was also suffering from homesickness. Christmas lights and decorations everywhere made her think of Jack and Maddie's stupid annual Christmas quarrel, and she was missing them so much she could taste it, like bile in her throat. She missed Jazz and Nick and little Charley—the one member of the family that really was her cousin. Charley's first birthday party had been right after the elections, and Dani had missed that, too. The pictures Valerie had shown her had only made it worse.
She even missed Sam. Redirecting her energy into this new plan to save Danny had pretty much burned away the last of her resentment over what had happened the night of his arrest, and after hearing from Valerie that Sam had a doctor's appointment later this afternoon, Dani wanted so much to call and hear from Sam's own lips that the baby—Dani's half-brother—was doing well. She didn't dare, however. She had kept herself insulated from everyone but Valerie and Tucker for a reason. She was afraid that if she saw any of them or even spoke to them on the phone, she'd let something slip, and after the fiasco the night of Danny's arrest, she knew talking to Sam in particular was a bad idea.
But Sam wasn't the only one she needed to avoid. Maddie had that maternal instinct and, after the harsh awakening she'd had when she'd discovered that Danny had been hiding a whole other life from her for two years, she'd learned to keep a much sharper eye. It was hard enough for Dani to keep her plans hidden from Valerie. Fortunately for her, Valerie was looking for signs that she was planning some sort of attack, not a legal maneuver, and Dani kept everything from Miguel on her tablet and only checked her e-mail from work or an internet café, never from home. Even so, she was always on edge, afraid that her plan would be discovered before she could secure Danny's freedom, so the last thing she needed was a whole family full of people she had to hide things from. That was why she had to keep them all at arm's length.
At least, that's what she told herself. In a small part of her heart, a part she didn't like to admit existed, she knew her bigger fear was that if she saw her family again, she wouldn't be able to do what she had to do. She wouldn't be able to leave them. With five months and five hundred miles of distance between them, it was easier to keep focused on what she needed to do for Danny. This way, she could almost convince herself she was only leaving Valerie and Tucker behind, not everyone she loved.
And so, with the homesickness and her growing fear that there would be no counter offer weighing on her, she found herself too distracted to be even remotely useful during her four-hour early morning shift. After putting a healthy dollop of whipped cream into a soy latte that was supposed to be both nonfat and non-dairy—her fourth incorrect order in the last fifteen minutes alone—she was considering begging off work early and go see Miguel to try and set up a new offer. It was nine-thirty, only a half an hour until her shift was scheduled to end anyway.
When her manager came out from the back room, Dani headed over to her. "Hey, Marty. I think I'm gonna need—" She stopped short, her heart leaping into her throat when she saw Miguel walk through the door. And by the look on his face, she could tell he had big news. She turned back to her manager. "—to take my break now, if that's okay."
Marty arched an eyebrow at her. "So that's why you've been so distracted the past few days. New boyfriend, eh?"
Dani blinked. "What?"
"He's cute." She squinted in Miguel's direction, checking him out. "A little old for you, maybe. What's he, like, forty?"
"How should I know? He's not my boyfriend. More of a… family friend. So, can I take my break now?"
Marty smiled. "Why don't you just call it a day? You're supposed to be off at ten anyway."
Dani slipped from behind the counter and met Miguel at a table in the corner where they could talk without being overheard. "You have news." It was a statement, not a question.
"I have news."
He grinned at her. "They're prepared to release him tonight. Well, more like tomorrow morning. It'll probably be after midnight."
Dani squealed and lunged across the small table to throw her arms around Miguel's neck. "YES! I knew they'd go for it!"
"Don't get too excited yet," he said, backing off and looking a little embarrassed. "You have to accept the deal first."
Her euphoria evaporated. "They're not giving us everything."
"No. But pretty damn close. They're offering immunity for the foster parents and the biological mother."
"Same deal as before?"
He nodded, giving her a meaningful look. "Valerie will be safe, no matter what they find out about her. And they're giving Danny full immunity, too. He can use his ghost powers whenever and however he wants, so long as he doesn't use them to commit a real crime."
It was all she could do to keep from squealing again. "Awesome! That's… wait. What's the bad news, then? The baby?"
"Immunity for the baby, should it have ghost powers. But just the one Sam's already carrying. No deal on any future children. They were really firm on that."
Dani sighed, deflated. "Well, that's just great. So everything's fine so long as Danny and Sam don't wanna have any more kids. How fair is that?"
"Dani, I think this is as good a deal as you're gonna get. It covers every single major thing that mattered for all the people who are alive today. Getting more than that was a pipe dream. Besides, Sam's done a pretty good job of protecting the baby. You've gotta trust her and Danny to take care of any future kids that come along. And with any luck, there won't be any anti-ecto laws or Guys in White by then."
She thought about it a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, you're right. It's too close to Christmas to quibble. Let's do it then."
He hesitated, a conflicted look in his eyes.
She frowned. "What?"
"Are you sure you wanna do this? Really sure?"
"Ugh. Miguel. What have we been planning the past three months? Of course I'm sure."
He leaned towards her, lowering his voice. "You understand that once you reveal who you are, that you will lose every right you have? They've managed to hold Danny for five months without a trial or any sort of communication with a lawyer or his family. And he was born fully human and an American citizen. How much worse will it be for you?"
She pursed her lips. "I'm human and an American citizen."
"With an entirely fictitious identity. You weren't born, Dani; you were engineered. It's part of why they're willing to trade Danny for you, because you're even more of an aberration in their eyes. But it's also something that's gonna give them a lot of power to do whatever they want to you. Are you sure—really sure—you're up for it?"
Sighing, she met his gaze. "No. But I have to do whatever I can to make sure Danny and his baby are safe. I owe him that much."
Miguel looked at her for a long moment, then nodded. "Okay. And no matter what they think about your human rights, I'll still be your lawyer. The very next thing I'm gonna do is call Rob Collins at the Human-Ecto Alliance and arrange for a conference call for tomorrow morning, after Danny's release, so I can fill them in on the agreement you've made and we can all work together to figure out how to make Danny's case into your case. Because let me tell you something, Danielle Fenton. You were wrong about one thing—the world does need you. And I promise you this—I will not stop fighting until the world gets you back."
She had to blink to keep from tearing up. It had been a long three months since she'd first come to Miguel seeking his help. Through all their planning and then waiting it out together, they'd forged something of a friendship, and he was now the only person besides Valerie and Tucker with whom she'd had any sort of meaningful relationship since Danny's arrest. His concern for her served to simultaneously highlight her isolation from her family and give her one more tie that was painful to break. And yet, it comforted her as well. If the world needed her, it was because she was the one person who could bring Danny back, not weeks or months or years from now, but tonight. "I know, Miguel. And thanks."
He sniffed, giving her a self-deprecating grin. "Of course, it'll all be a moot point if your family kills me for arranging this thing in the first place."
"Are you kidding? You'll be a hero. The one who gave them Danny back."
"By taking away the person everyone from Danny on down was fighting to protect. I don't think they're going to be too thrilled with me."
"Oh, come on. Sam—"
"Chose to protect you over helping you save Danny. I expect a good dressing down from her in particular."
"They'll get over it, Miguel. Danny, home for Christmas. Home to see the birth of his son. It's worth it. They'll think so, too."
He looked like he wanted to say something more, but shook his head instead, becoming all business again. "I'll set up a meeting with the Guys in White for later today to sign all the documents, and when we have proof Danny's been released, you can drop the bomb on them." A smirk curled onto his lips. "I have to admit, I am looking forward to seeing the looks on their faces when they realize you've been under their noses the whole time."
"They're idiots. Idiots with power, which is what makes them so dangerous." Dani wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Now I just have to figure out how to keep Valerie from wondering where I got off to…" She trailed off as a thought occurred to her. "Wait. Can we meet in the evening? Like seven or eight?"
"Later would be better, yeah. We won't get confirmation they've released him until well after midnight."
"Good. Tucker and Val have an eight o'clock flight back to Amity Park, so they'll be leaving the apartment around five or five-thirty. With them gone, no one will wonder where I am at all hours of the night. I'd rather they not figure out I'm gone until Danny's back."
December 22, 10:30 am EST
"What do you mean, you're not going home tonight?" Dani gaped at Valerie. "You have a flight at eight o'clock!"
Valerie, who had an open suitcase and piles of clothes strewn around the floor of her bedroom but didn't seem to be in much of a hurry to actually finish packing, let out a grunt of irritation. "Unfortunately, the wonderful majority party has decided to hold things up. Tucker's been on quorum call since eight this morning, and it looks like they're gonna be in session all day. Probably well into the night."
"But it's Christmas! And… there's that vigil on Christmas Eve, and Maddie will be wanting everyone over at the house afterwards!" Dani was close to panicking now. If Valerie was here waiting around for Congress to finish their session, she was going to miss Danielle long before Danny was released, and if she got suspicious and started looking for her… Dani shook her head. "Well, you can go anyway, can't you Val?"
Valerie shook her head. "I'm not going without Tucker. We'll book another flight as soon as we have a better idea when they're gonna adjourn. I'm sure we'll still get home by Christmas Eve." She crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow at her. "What's it matter to you, anyway? You refused to come. Again."
Dani wasn't sure what to say. "You just have to go home, that's all. I…"
Valerie got a strange look on her face, and her eyes widened. "Oh, my gosh! You do want to go home, don't you? You're just too stubborn to admit it!"
"I…" And then it hit her. She was never going home. At least not for a long, long time. She wouldn't see Maddie or Jack. She wouldn't see Jazz or Nick or Charley. She wouldn't see Sam. She wouldn't be there when Danny came home, or for Tucker and Valerie's wedding. She wouldn't be there when Danny's baby—her own little brother—was born. She wouldn't even get the chance to say good-bye to any of them. Instead, she was going someplace she couldn't even imagine. Someplace where they would see her as a thing, a lab rat to be experimented on. It would be like her time with Vlad all over again.
The full impact of what she was about to do suddenly terrified her, and she started shaking. "Oh, God, Val," she breathed. "I wanna go home. I do." Tears started streaming down her cheeks before she could blink them back, and then she completely lost all control of her emotions. "I just wanna go home and see my family."
Pulling Dani into her arms, Valerie held her tightly, stroking her hair as Dani sobbed against her shoulder. "Shh. Dani, it's okay."
And Dani clung to her, the only person, along with Tucker, that she hadn't shut out of her life after Danny's arrest. She had thought it would be easier this way, that it wouldn't feel so much like leaving them all if she'd already left them. But she missed them all so much, it threatened to engulf her, and she had to bite down on the inside of her cheek as she cried to keep from telling Valerie everything. I don't want to do this. I want to go home…
But she had to do this. Danny needed her to. The baby needed her to. She struggled to push the fear back down, to regain control over it so she could do what she had to do, for them. For Danny, you have to bring back Danny, he gave up everything for you, you can't let him down now…
She almost didn't hear Valerie's quiet voice over the roar of her own emotions. "Listen, Dani. I have an idea. Why don't I call the airline and see if I can transfer my ticket over to you?"
It took a moment for the words to sink in. "I… wait. What?"
Valerie pulled back to face her, gripping her shoulders. "I'm sure we can talk the airlines into letting you have the seat I'm giving up if I drop the good congressman's name—and a nice big change fee—and explain the situation. Then you can go home and see everyone, and we'll get there as soon as we can."
Dani took a deep breath as an idea began to form. If Valerie and Tucker thought she was in Amity Park and everyone else thought she was in D.C…. She wiped her eyes with the heel of her hand. "Really? I… I can…?" She couldn't say go home. Not when she knew that she never would.
"Well, duh! I've only been trying to get you to go for three months now!" Valerie smiled at her. "Let's arrange it now, and then we can give the Fentons a call—"
"No!" Dani shook her head. When Valerie looked confused at her abrupt reply, she backpedaled. "I… I want to surprise them, that's all. The flight'll get in kinda late, and then there's the shuttle ride from Chicago. I think maybe I should stay the night at your place, and then go surprise them first thing in the morning, okay?"
"You'll go first thing in the morning?"
"I can tell Tucker, though, right? He's supposed to call on their next recess."
"Yeah, you can tell Tucker. Just let me surprise Jack and Maddie and everyone."
"Okay, then." Valerie squeezed her arm. "Let's call the airline and see what we can do to get you home."