Paulina: Part II
Twelve years after the accident
When they finally returned to Amity Park, the crowds were insane. People massed around their home, around FentonWorks, even around Tucker's and Sam's parents'. It was better than in Washington—people here were largely supportive, and Danny saw signs everywhere that read Amity Park Supports Danny Phantom. But for the first few days, they couldn't walk out onto the streets without being mobbed, and he already found himself missing the anonymity that being Danny Fenton had always afforded him.
They decided to stay over at his parents' for a day or two so at least he could start working again without having to try and get through the crowds to get there. Danielle was also home from Northwestern on what would probably be her last summer break before med school got really intense, which was another reason Danny wanted to stay at FentonWorks. With Dash and his partner, Patrick, also staying over so that Dash could better keep an eye on security while things were so crazy, it made for a full house. Danny was therefore a little surprised to actually get a moment alone in the kitchen when he came up from the basement lab to grab a snack.
It didn't last long. He'd barely managed to down two handfuls of corn chips when Dash came in from the living room with the kind of grin on his face that set off warning bells in Danny's head. "There you are, buddy. Someone's here to see you." His voice had an almost sing-song quality that made Danny even more leery.
"Everyone wants to see me. Your job is supposed to be to keep them away."
"Oh, I think you'll make an exception in this case." The grin widened, and Danny braced himself.
And yet, he still wasn't prepared for who came around the corner. "Paulina?"
He hadn't seen much of her since high school, but she looked pretty much the same—flawlessly beautiful, with hair a little shorter, but still a deep, glossy brown. She was wearing a pink summer dress that set off her curves and her dark skin perfectly. She smiled at him, her expression somewhere between flirtatious and the smug look of a predator who had just cornered her prey. "Danny Fenton. All these years, and it was you all along."
Dash walked by him on the way towards the front hall, and Danny grabbed his elbow and, while smiling at Paulina, hissed at him. "You are so fired."
He just grinned. "Last I checked, your dad still signs my paychecks." And then he left Danny alone with Paulina.
She crossed her arms, her eyebrow arched as she continued to appraise him. "Danny Fenton… Danny Phantom. I feel like I should've known."
"Yeah, well. I was fourteen, and I come from a long line of people who think up really bad names. It beat the heck out of 'Inviso-Bill,' though."
"Still. It seems so obvious. It just never occurred to me to look for a secret identity. I thought you were a ghost, and that was that."
"Yeah, that's probably the one reason we were able to keep it secret for so long. No one knew there was a secret."
She smiled again, that same predatory smile that made him wish he could go intangible and sink through the floor into the basement to get out from under her appraising gaze. "So, if you were the Ghost Boy all along, how is it the two of us never hooked up?"
"Uh… you do know my wife is right upstairs, don't you? And I'm reasonably sure she could kick both our asses."
"When you're a human, or when you're a ghost?"
He considered a moment. "Either. She's awfully good with my dad's weapons. Although, it's pretty much a moot point." He held up his left arm, letting his white lab coat sleeve slip down a bit to reveal a black band around his wrist. About the size of one of those bulletproof bracelets Wonder Woman wore, the device was a miniaturized version of Vlad's old Spectral Energy Neutralizer. As long as he was wearing it, he couldn't go ghost or use any of his ghost powers.
Paulina's expression darkened, and he could've sworn he saw a flash of anger, but then it was gone and the teasing expression was back. "She still wear those combat boots all the time?"
Danny grinned. "When she's not in court. The court shoes are scarier, though."
Paulina shook her head. "I just can't get over it. You, the Ghost Boy. A lot of things make so much more sense now. Like, why you and Dash Baxter suddenly became tight after high school."
"Actually, Dash didn't find out I was Danny Phantom until after we became friends, when I trusted him enough to tell him."
"And Valerie, with that whole out-of-nowhere crush she had on you at the end of ninth grade."
Danny snorted. "Are you kidding me? Valerie hated Danny Phantom. She found out who I was along with everyone else who was working in that control tower in Antarctica during the asteroid crisis, and she wasn't very happy about it at first."
Paulina shook her head again. "All those people found out… how many was it?"
"Almost eighty people, and it took nearly ten years for word to get out. Hard to believe."
"Sometimes people just want to do the right thing. Mr. Lancer and Val's dad were there, and they saw pretty quick on the news the way things were shaping up with the anti-ghost laws and everything, so they got everyone together and convinced them to keep it a secret."
She flashed another dark look before resuming the more flirtations expression. Taking a step closer, she leaned on the back of one of the kitchen chairs. Danny tried not to notice how much cleavage he could see from this new angle as she tossed her hair back over her shoulder. "What about you, Danny? Why did you always keep it such a secret from everyone?"
"Uh…" He tapped on the band on his wrist again.
"I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the one-on-one. I know for a fact you had a crush on me in high school. Why didn't you just tell me who you were? And don't get your shorts in a bundle or give me the wife-is-right-upstairs line. I'm not hitting on you."
"That dress begs to differ."
"This old thing?" She batted her eyelashes a few times. "I can do way better than this if I want that kind of attention. All I want from you is to understand why nothing happened back then, when I had such a thing for you and you so obviously had a thing for me."
He sighed. "You never had a thing for me. You had a thing for the guy with the cool powers."
"Which was you."
"It was me, but so is this." He tapped on his chest—his very human chest—for emphasis. "Crushing on Danny Phantom wasn't enough, Paulina. Yeah, I liked you in ninth grade, but I wanted you to like me. Not some image—"
She cut him off with an upraised palm. "I think I've already heard this lecture."
He frowned, and then gave her a sheepish grin when he remembered. "Oh. Right."
She stood up straight and crossed her arms once more, the same teasing grin on her face. "So… that girl you told me about. The perfect one you had a crush on that was just a pretty face. Was that me?"
With a wary grin, he shook his head slowly. "Yeah… I think I'll let you decide for yourself."
"I suppose we should still keep some things a mystery between us."
She winked, and he stifled the urge to roll his eyes. "Is there a reason you're here, Paulina, other than tripping down memory lane? 'Cause we're still a good two years away from our tenth reunion, and I think I can hold off on the nostalgia until then."
"Actually, I am here for a reason." She dropped the flirtatiousness and became all business so fast he almost got whiplash. "I suppose I've made it no secret that I'm not a huge fan of your wife. I never really understood why she went off on such a major ghost-rights kick in high school, or why she would spend so much of her family fortune just to fight the anti-ecto control laws. Not that I'm in favor of the anti-ghost laws, particularly after what happened a few years back with the Guys in White—or as I like to call them, the Losers With No Fashion Sense. How a government agency like that gets away with ignoring pretty much everyone's civil rights just to catch a few ghosts, I'll never know. Heck, I would've even voted for your little geek friend in the special election last year if I hadn't moved to Chicago. I thought he did some good things with ghost laws in the state General Assembly. But now? Suddenly, it's perfectly clear just exactly what this is all about, and I'm prepared to do a little more than just vote for ecto-friendly candidates." Her eyes flicked to something behind Danny. "Speak of the bat girl…"
Danny looked over his shoulder to see Sam come into the kitchen from the living room. Her expression was the kind of scornful mock joy that Paulina always seemed to bring out in her. "Paulina. I'd say it's a pleasant surprise, but it isn't really either, and Tucker's the politician, not me." She slid up beside Danny, threading her arm through his in a way that was only slightly less proprietary than a rottweiler standing over a T-bone.
"Sam Manson." Paulina's smile hitched just slightly. "Still haven't discovered the whole rainbow of colors that exists outside of black, I see."
"And you're still really plumbing the depths of that vast intellect of yours to come up with such witty repartee."
"Uh…" Danny looked from Sam to Paulina. "Can we all put our claws away before someone—namely, me—gets hurt?"
"Some things never change," Paulina said. It was directed at Sam, but then she turned to Danny and added, "And some things change a lot."
Sam let out a huff of air. "Can we help you with something?"
"No, actually. I'm the one who can help you. As I was just about to tell your husband here, my family has a lot of political influence, particularly with the Latino community, and not just in Amity Park. We have a lot of money, too, though I suppose that's less important to you, seeing as your foundation is very well funded. Not that it would hurt to have multiple influential donors. And I should also mention that I'm a consultant with a major PR firm in Chicago, so I know a little something about how to market an idea."
Sam raised her eyebrows. "What are you getting at?"
"I'm prepared to lend my PR expertise, my family name, and its considerable influence—and money—to your cause. Not only will I get my papá to make a significant contribution to Tucker Foley's campaign—plus a few other key races to get anti-ecto candidates out of Congress—I will also use that influence with many of the senators and representatives Papá has cultivated ties with over the years, and push for the repeal of the Anti-Ecto Control Act. Are you interested?"
Sam's grip on Danny's arm tightened, and he looked at her, wondering what she'd do. The Human-Ecto Alliance and the fight to change the Anti-Ecto Control Act so that the government would no longer have carte-blanche to do whatever it pleased with ghosts—or half-ghosts—was her baby, and he knew what Paulina was offering would be a huge boon to the campaign. But she was also, if not Sam's least favorite person in the world, then certainly in the bottom five, and after a fleeting look of surprise, suspicion once again darkened his wife's features. "What's the catch?"
Paulina blinked, all innocence. "Catch?"
"Yes. Catch. What's in it for you? Because in all the years I've known you, I can't remember you ever doing anything when there wasn't something in it for you."
Something flared in Paulina's eyes, and Danny winced. He remained silent, however, preferring to stay out of the battle of wills between two of the most willful women he knew.
"Okay, how's this for a catch?" Paulina's gaze moved to Danny. "I do this, and in return, when we run those bastards out of office and the Guys in White can't even get jobs as dog catchers, then you lose the unfashionable wrist accessory and go back to being who you are. That's my catch. Amity Park needs Danny Phantom."
Danny wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. Even Sam seemed taken aback, her eyes wide with surprise. "Really? That's it?"
"Listen, Susie Monochrome. You think you're the only one who gets what Danny Phantom is about? Maybe I was never his BFF, or part of the Sidekicks Super Club, but that doesn't mean I don't have a vested interest. He—" She seemed to realize she was talking about Danny as if he wasn't in the room, and redirected her words to him. "You saved my life more times than I really care to think about. And I'm not even talking about all the times you saved Amity Park or even the whole world. I'm talking about me, personally. So you wanna know what's in it for me? That's it."
Danny suddenly found it hard to meet her gaze. "Paulina, I—"
"We look forward to working with you." Sam stepped forward, her hand outstretched.
Paulina regarded the proffered hand for a moment, then smiled as she grasped it in her own. "They say politics makes strange bedfellows."
Sam arched an eyebrow, but with the kind of expression she might use when harassing Danny or Tucker rather than one with any real rancor. "Yeah, you can just keep the bed references to yourself, thank you."