Author's Introduction:

See, I told you all I'd finish it. (waves a slender finger admonishingly at anyone who doubted her.) It's been a long ride, but this story—and how well it was received—has exceeded my expectations A and B the C of D. I'm really so happy that everyone's had such a good time with this. I have, too, and I'm proud to finally put a bullet in this one.

Now, it's Sunday, and you know what that means—UFOs! (tosses the final chapter on the table for the audience's perusal, then quickly exits stage left) Run for your lives!

Eye of the Beholder

a Danny Phantom fanfiction

Chapter Eight: It's True That It's You

I know we've been friends forever, but now I think I'm feeling something totally new
And after all this time, I've opened up my eyes
Now I see you were always with me
Could it be you, and I never imagined?
Could it be, suddenly, I'm falling for you?
Could it be you were right here beside me, and I never knew?
Could it be that it's true that it's you, that it's you?
Because today is the start of the rest of our lives
I can see it in your eyes
But it's real, and it's true, and it's just me and you
Could it be that it's true—that it's you?

The air in Mr. Lancer's classroom was still with anticipation. Every video essay had been screened, and now all that remained was to grade the final film and prove once and for all who had the more beautiful subject—Dash Baxter or Danny Fenton.

The two adversaries stared each other down like a bad Western. Danny had an urge to pull an imaginary trusty six-shooter. Dash folded his arms across his barrel chest, trying to look casual, as if he knew he had the whole thing in the bag, but his eyes scanned the room like nervous radar, gauging reactions, looking for reassurance.

But there was only one person in the room who had control over the final verdict. Mr. Lancer's brows arched as the two boys bristled at each other. "Mr. Fenton," he said calmly, interrupting the standoff. "While your video's subject was a bit more conventional than Mr. Baxter's, your use of freeze-frame was clever and humorous and your narration was very well done. Your explanation of why you chose your subject was also very interesting. I did note the absence of a soundtrack; including music might have added to the mood of the piece. Barring that, this is a solid, touching piece of work." The bald teacher's expression broke into a rare, benevolent smile, eyes twinkling as if he'd decided Danny wasn't a complete waste of time. "You get an A."

Despite himself, Danny blinked, a smile threatening his face. "Really? An A?"

Lancer nodded. "Good job. Let's see you keep it up for the rest of the term."

"All right, Danny!" Valerie cheered, grinning at her friend.

Tucker clapped Danny on the shoulder. "Way to go, man."

Danny smacked a fist down on the desk in triumph. "Yes! I can't wait to tell—"

Like a power failure, the smile fizzled and blinked, dropping from Danny's face. His shoulders slumped with the weight of his earlier tragedy.

The bell rang. "Class dismissed, everyone," Lancer said. "Have a good weekend—I think we could all use a few days' rest. See you on Monday."

The students, happy to be free, stampeded for the door. Smiling appreciatively at their enthusiasm, Lancer let them pass—all except one. Stepping in front of the door, he fought a smirk as Dash skidded to a halt to avoid a collision.

"Not so fast, Mr. Baxter. I believe you owe Mr. Fenton a set of car keys to be returned on Monday."

Dash looked horrified that Lancer even knew the terms of the wager, let alone that he was helping to enforce it. Danny chuckled, unable to believe that Lancer was on his side for once. The jock grumbled, reaching into the pocket of his letter jacket and producing the keys, which were on a ring attached to a metal "#1" in the Casper High colors. He shoved them at Danny. "You'd better not even scratch my car, Fenton, or you are so dead!"

"Don't worry, Dash. I'll show your ride a good time." Danny grinned—a weak grin, but a grin nonetheless—and twirled the keys around his finger. Dash's face turned bright red and he strode out the door on a wave of muttered curse words. Valerie and Tucker followed the jock out into the hallway, stealing glances back at Danny, who remained in his chair, staring at the keys.

Lancer's smirk relaxed as he addressed his student. "Congratulations, Mr. Fenton. You deserve your A."

Danny sighed, leaning back in his chair, playing absently with the keys. "Thanks, Mr. Lancer, but I'm not sure the ride's worth the price of the ticket."

"Remember what I told you," he said. "Don't give up."

Danny smiled, getting out of his chair and heading for the door. "I gotta tell you, Mr. Lancer, I'm always learning in your class."

Lancer returned to his desk, shaking his head. It was compliments like that that helped him get out of bed every morning and write lesson plans long into the night—to teach more than just equations and passages from novels.

The home-ec class was packing up their things when Danny burst into the room. "Sam?"

"Hi Danny," Paulina cooed, waving her perfectly manicured nails at him. "Where's your camera?"

Willing himself to be polite even in his haste, to sound calm, he asked, "Where is Sam?"

Paulina's empty eyes went wide. "Oh. She gave me some cookies to help me out with my project, and then she left early. Said she was sick."

Danny was feeling pretty sick himself. "When did she leave?"

"About twenty minutes ago," Star interjected, licking frosting over her fingers. "She wouldn't tell us where she was going, just that she didn't feel good." The blonde satellite shrugged. "It must have been pretty bad to make her that upset, though. She looked like she was crying."

Danny wanted to go ghost, then split himself in two so he could beat the hell out of himself.

"Wait, where are you going?" Paulina called as Danny sprinted back out into the hallway.

"Should we chase after him?" Valerie asked, watching Danny go by as she and Tucker sat in the hallway.

"I know it feels like we should, but we probably shouldn't," Tucker said. "He just needs to go find her. They'll work it out. They always do."

Valerie chuckled. "If this is how the first video assignment went, I'm scared to death of the final!"

Tucker laughed. "No, I got it, I got it. You want to know the real tragedy of this? Danny's gone and Sam's gone, which means I don't have a ride home!"

"You're horrible!" Shoving him playfully, Valerie snorted. "If you're looking for something to do, come with me to work."

Tucker's face fell. "No way, girl. I can't go near that place. I don't want to get Nasty Sauce thrown all over me!"

Valerie gave him a look and grabbed his arm. "Oh, come on, you big baby. I'm sure the protesters are gone by now and the regular customers have found their way back. I'll give you Nasty Fries. On the house."

Tucker's stomach won out. "You better be right, Gray."

Mr. Lancer smiled down at his gradebook. He had to hand it to Danny Fenton. The kid had class. And he wasn't half bad at editing either. It was a shame Ms. Manson hadn't shown up to class—he had a feeling she'd have been pleasantly surprised by the final product of Danny's filming.

A frantic knock at the door jarred him from his thoughts. Looking up, he exclaimed, "Circus of the Damned! What are you doing here?"

Danny was sitting in Dash's car, hands on the steering wheel, eyes fixed on a middle distance.

He didn't get it. He'd worked so hard. When the assignments had been given out, the idea had come to him in a flash of clarity that you usually had to meditate to have. He had wanted to use the camera to show everyone, to help them see what he saw every day—that Sam was special, that she was beautiful.

And they had seen. They'd clapped and smiled and Lancer had given him an A. And it had just been gravy to stick it to Dash and win their side bet.

But Sam hadn't seen the video. Sam couldn't see what Danny saw—she didn't seem to know how special she was. All she'd seen was that he hadn't been honest with her. She'd been hurt and upset when all he'd wanted to do was make her see.

The car he was sitting in was the ultimate testament to his victory, a victory over every plastic popular who'd ever laughed at them, but he didn't turn the key to start the engine. He didn't want to go anywhere, didn't want to do anything. It didn't feel right if he couldn't share his victory with the only person who could truly appreciate it.

Damn it. He'd spent too long being a coward. He wasn't going to back down this time. He turned the key, and the engine roared to life, but he took little pleasure in the rumble of the car around him. It was only a vehicle, a means of transportation. Zero to sixty down the boulevard and he was already halfway across town, halfway to where he wanted to be, halfway to Sam.

Danny rolled the window down and gave his best "scary eyes" (as Vlad Plasmius had once called them) to the bearded man hefting a bucket of Nasty Sauce. "You throw that sauce on this car and you'll be tied to its bumper and dragged down Main Street while I see how far I can push the engine."

At a frantic wave from the man, the rest of the protesters split to allow the Ferrari to glide through the parking lot like a shining red shark. No one bothered Danny as he exited the vehicle and pointed a warning finger in their direction, then stalked through the doors.

"Gimme another Slurpster," Tucker moaned, slumping down in the booth closest to the register and the soda fountain as Danny came in.

Danny's eyes widened in horror at the sight of all the cups strewn around the techno-geek, the straws sticking from their lids gnawed beyond all sense.

"I think you've had enough," Valerie said carefully.

Tucker's eyes blazed from behind his glasses. "I'm not paying you to count them. I'm paying you to pour."

"You're not paying me at all," Valerie said in exasperation. "I shouldn't even be letting you use those coupons. Some of them are expired." But she filled another Slurpster and slid it to the techno-geek. "It's really not as bad as you think, Tucker," she said, trying to inject lightheartedness into her friend. "People are still crossing the picket line to come in. See? What can I get for you, Fenton?"

"Nothing," Danny said. "Have you guys seen Sam? Did she come in here at all?"

"You haven't found her yet?" Tucker exclaimed. He moved over in the booth to make room for Valerie, and she sat down.

Danny slid into the booth across from them. "No," he said miserably.

Like good friends will, Tucker and Valerie put aside their own crisis when confronted with a bigger problem. "Where did you look?"

"Everywhere." Danny ticked off his day's travels on his fingers. "I've been to the park, the Skulk and Lurk, the zoo, Bucky's Music Megastore—I even went to Midnight Corsets. She isn't anywhere. I probably put more mileage on Dash's car than he has."

Valerie sighed, patting Danny's hand. "Well, let's put our thinking caps on. Maybe we can come up with a place you haven't looked."

Their brainstorming was interrupted by the arrival of a guy with dreadlocks lolling on the shoulders of his PETA t-shirt and a woman in a poncho and Birkenstocks.

"Um…can we help you?" Tucker asked.

"You guys crossed the picket line?" Valerie added dryly, arching a brow. "Is the world ending?"

"Well, we wouldn't have crossed the line," the woman said, "until we saw that he was here." She turned adoring eyes to Tucker.

"Yeah. Hey, man!" the guy added, smiling at Tucker. "Can we buy a chai for the guy who helped expose the poor conditions of the Nasty Burger?"

"We don't serve chai!" Valerie said angrily, while Tucker closed his eyes and pulled his hat down over his ears.

"Stop saying that," he said through gritted teeth. "I love the Nasty Burger! I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure they stay in business—even if I have to drink a million Slurpsters!" Taking a bottle of ketchup from the holder at the end of the table, he aimed it at the intruders and squirted it at them. "See how you like it!" he screamed. "Take thy beak from out my heart and thy form from off my booth, hippies!"

Danny watched in fascinated horror as the protesters beat a hasty retreat. Tucker squirted some more ketchup at them for emphasis. "Dammit. Where do they keep coming from?"

"Has this been happening often?" Danny asked.

"All day," Tucker groaned, banging his head on the table in despair.

"Oh, no," Valerie cried, looking out the window. She'd just caught sight of more protesters amassing around a van that had just pulled into the parking lot. To her horror, the van had the local news station's insignia painted on its side, and some guy in a vest was hauling camera equipment out of the back. "Now they've got cameras. This is going to be all over the news tonight."

"Camera," Danny murmured, pounding one fist on the table. "That's it. Maybe I can get my video back long enough to prove to Sam what I was really trying to do. Thanks, you guys!"

"Good luck, Fenton!" Valerie called as Danny sprinted back through the glass doors. "Hope it works out for him, Tucker," she added, only to find that the space beside her in the booth was empty. "Tucker?"

Tucker was at the window, beating his fists on it and throwing napkins against the glass in a fit of rage. "Go away, PETA!" he screamed.

"It's going to be a long day," Valerie lamented as she returned to her post at the register.

Two hours ago, Danny had been the king of Lancer's class. Now he was practically on his knees, shamelessly begging his tormentor for mercy.

"I've just got to have it back," he said. "Please, Mr. Lancer. You don't understand."

"I understand that if I allow you to have your video back, I'll have to allow everyone in the class to have them back," Lancer said, leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers like a true megalomaniac. "And then they will be swapped and edited, and anyone who takes my class in the future will have a free pass for the entire semester's assignments. No go, Mr. Fenton."

"I'll bring it back, my word of honor. I'd only need it for an hour—less than that—a quarter."

"You are upset. You're slipping into verse." Lancer sounded mildly amused. "Maybe I should get you to sign up for the drama club."

Danny nearly snarled, but he kept himself in check. If he'd ever needed to grovel, now was the time. He told himself it would be good practice, because he would probably have to repeat the performance with Sam. "Mr. Lancer, if I don't get my video back to show someone, my life is going to be ruined. This is the single most important thing I've ever had to do in the entire history of events."

Lancer's eyes twinkled. He was interested. "Dare I ask why this is so important, Daniel?"

Danny felt the blood rush to his face. He was going to have to say it, and to Lancer of all people. "I'd rather not say."

"Then I'm afraid you've given me no good reason to bend the rules in your case, Mr. Fenton. Good day to you, sir."

Panic sang through Danny's veins. "Mr. Lancer—"

"I said good day." Lancer turned towards the blackboard, the discussion seemingly closed.

"All right! All right!" Danny cried in defeat. "I need to show it to...someone. Someone needs to know...why I made that video, and I need the visual aid."

Again that twinkle in the teacher's eye as he turned back to face Danny, who was getting the feeling that he was the mouse in this game. "If you think such a vague explanation will move me, then you haven't been paying enough attention in public speaking class, Mr. Fenton. Perhaps you should take some lessons from your friend Ms. Manson. She was far more convincing when she came to see me earlier."

Danny's ears perked. "Sam? She was here?"

Lancer pretended nonchalance, but it was obvious he wanted to smile. "She showed up here about half an hour ago and asked if she could see the videos from my class—one video in particular, actually. Apparently she'd already seen Mr. Foley's—she looked a little nauseous when I mentioned it."

Danny's heart was knocking painfully in his chest, hardly daring to hope. "Did you show my video to her?"

"I asked her why she had to see it. She said that there was footage of an animal she'd rescued from a park on it, and she couldn't remember what park it was, so she wanted to see the video to make sure. I have to say I was disappointed in such a weak story, especially from a student as creative as she is."

"You didn't believe her?" Danny asked.

"Not for a second." Lancer looked smug. "We're talking about the girl who launched a campaign to free all the dissection frogs from the biology lab. And if I remember correctly, that wasn't too long after she changed the cafeteria menu to an all-vegetarian buffet and all of my top-grade steak mysteriously disappeared."

And started fighting back, Danny thought.

Lancer continued. "Ms. Manson wouldn't step foot on a soapbox without all her ducks in a row. There's no way she'd forget what park she was dealing with, or the exact coordinates of that park on a map, or what specific small creature she was trying to save. It was a good try, though," he added. "Good enough that I took pity on her eventually."

Danny's nerves stood on end for a second. "You let her see the video? What did she say?"

"She stammered a thank-you and ran out of here. I would suggest you have a talk with her, Mr. Fenton. She's a bright girl, but your obliviousness seems to be contagious, and there's a lot at stake here."

"Don't say 'steak'," Danny said, still remembering the meat monster.

"I didn't say 'steak', Mr. Fenton. I said 'stake'," Lancer sighed. "Must we go over homophones again?"

"Don't have the time. I have to go catch Sam." Danny headed for the door.

"Oh, Mr. Fenton," Lancer called. Danny turned to see his teacher smirking. "What about your video? Don't you need it?"

"Not anymore, apparently." Danny ran out the door. Two minutes later, he stuck his head back in. "Oh, and thank you!"

Lancer smiled. "All in a day's work, Danny. And when you do catch up with Sam, tell her I expect her bright and early Monday to start that sewing for the drama club."

"Sewing?" Danny asked. "Drama club?"

"Well, she knew I didn't believe her ridiculous story. Rather than give up the way you were about to, she elected to bargain with me in exchange for a viewing of your illustrious film. Her gown for Ms. O'Boyle's class was stunning, and the drama club is putting on 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' this winter. Come Monday morning, she's my main seamstress." Lancer's grin turned positively wicked. "So don't keep her out too late this weekend, Romeo."

Danny muttered something, blushing as he escaped into the hallway.

Lancer had the last word, although no one was there to hear it. "Lord, what fools these mortals be'!" he quoted in a chuckle to the blackboard.

Danny had contemplated climbing to Sam's window, but he didn't want to be pushy when she was already upset with him. Besides, it probably wasn't good to be in a position where an irate Sam could shove him over a two-story drop. Vaulting out of the car, he ran up the front steps and rang the doorbell. The sound of chimes echoed through the big house. When no one answered fast enough for Danny, he rang the bell again and knocked politely with his knuckles.

Still no answer. The rational part of Danny's brain (which sometimes sounded like Jazz) told him that they probably weren't home, but the paranoid part of his brain (which sometimes sounded like Vlad Plasmius) insisted that she was ignoring him. He abandoned the bell completely and knocked loudly with the side of his fist until his hand started to hurt.

Despair flooded him, but he wasn't going to give up. Not this time.

He jumped back down the steps and stood on the sidewalk, head tilted up towards Sam's window. "I know you're up there, Sam. I know you saw the video, and I know you don't want to talk to me. But what you don't seem to know is that I did all this for you. Beauty's in the eye of the beholder, and I wanted everybody to see what I saw, to know what I know—that you're beautiful."

He felt profoundly tired after finishing the speech. But the door didn't open, nor did Sam fling open the window and confess undying love. There was nothing but silence save for the sound of his labored breathing.

Collapsing on the front steps, he cradled his head in his hands. There was nothing more he could do. Whatever happened next was entirely up to Sam.

Feeling utterly empty, he decided to go home.

Closing the door softly behind him, Danny felt a sudden pang in his chest, missing Jazz. She would have known what to do. He wanted to go up to her room and tell her his problems, talk it out with her like she'd always wanted him to do. A phone call just wasn't the same as his sister's brow furrowed in thought, her strong hug.

He walked slowly towards the kitchen, unsure of what to do with the rest of his night—with the rest of his life—if Sam truly never wanted to see him again.

But as he stepped through the doorway, there she was, sitting at the kitchen table. Her eyes were red and the tip of her nose was pink, as if she'd rubbed at it with too many harsh tissues. As soon as she saw him, she brightened, as if she were hardly daring to hope.

He allowed his own hope to show on his face. He felt as though he'd been looking for her for years and then had walked into the kitchen to find her there on some not so very special day. "Sam," he said softly, wanting to reassure her. "Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes."

She smiled back, looking relieved that he had started the conversation. It was a weak smile, watered down by a bad day and a lot of misunderstanding, but it was still lovely. "Let me guess. You were at my house?"

He chuckled softly. "Eventually. First I was at the school parking lot, then the park, the zoo, the bookstore, the corset shop, the Nasty Burger…and then I went to Mr. Lancer's classroom and made an idiot of myself, then I went to your house and made a bigger idiot of myself before coming here."

She looked puzzled, but didn't ask about the "idiot" part. "You went to Lancer's classroom? So did I."

Danny smiled ruefully. "I know. I went there to try to get my video back so I could show it to you. He had a lot of fun yanking my chain before he told me that you'd already come by and seen it."

She blushed, eyes darting guiltily away. "Well, I had to basically sell my soul to the Casper High Drama Club in order for him to let me."

Despite everything, Danny laughed. "Oh, yeah. He said to tell you that he wants you at school early Monday to start some kind of sewing project."

Sam buried her face in her hands. "I know. Somebody kill me. I had to promise I'd help sew the costumes for the drama club. They're doing 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. And here I thought my sewing days were over."

It was as good a segue as Danny was going to get. Someone had to bring up the eight-hundred pound purple-backed gorilla in the room. "Was it worth it to see the video?" His voice was scratchy without his conscious control.

Throughout the course of their friendship, Danny and Sam had hugged each other a lot. But for the rest of his life, Danny would never forget how good this particular hug was, how she felt like homecoming as she collapsed almost wearily into his arms. Years later, whether they were walking side by side with their hands clasped or in the throes of an argument, he would remember this embrace and realize all over again that he loved her.

"Of course it was worth it," she murmured into his shoulder. "I'm so sorry I yelled at you. But Danny, why didn't you tell me?"

He'd had a thousand answers for that question over the years, excuses he'd given to Tucker, to Jazz, to himself. They swirled in his mind for a second and then disappeared, and he gave her the truth as he now saw it.

"I don't know." Neither of them seemed able to let go of the other, and there was that hush that came over everything when they were alone together, that feeling that everything was so close to perfect.

He smiled suddenly into her hair, although she couldn't see it. "Sorry. This isn't very romantic, is it?"

She laughed, and the vibration and sound against him warmed him to his fingertips. "Well, it's not Shakespeare, but it's okay."

"I had a better speech before," he said. "I spent the whole drive over to your house coming up with it. And then I wasted it on your empty house."

Sam was a lot more eloquent than he was. "I don't need speeches," she said. "Or videos. I—wait a minute." She pulled back slightly in his arms, looking confused. "You drove to my house? In what? Don't tell me you took the Assault Vehicle." She grinned.

He grinned back. "It's an RV, and no, I didn't. I almost forgot to tell you the best part." Letting her go, he reached into his pocket and produced Dash's key ring. Twirling it on his pointer finger, he said, "Remember that time I had to decorate Lancer's haunted house and lost that bet with Dash?"

Sam remembered; her nose wrinkled. "Yeah. Underwear sandwich."

Danny's grin widened. "Well, today I got my revenge. Come on out front. I'll show you."

When she stepped out the front door and saw the car, Sam's hands flew to her mouth. "That's Dash's car."

"It certainly is," Danny chuckled. "All mine. All weekend."

She laughed out loud, appreciating it just as he'd known she would. "But how? There's no way Dash would let you drive it!"

"He would if he lost a bet and had our entire film class and Lancer around to make sure he didn't welsh," Danny said.

Sam arched a brow at him. "Dare I ask what the bet was?"

Danny allowed himself to look smug. "I bet him that I'd get a better grade on my video because I'd have a more beautiful subject than he would."

Sam's eyes popped, mascaraed lashes touching her skin all around. "Danny! I can't believe you made a bet with him at all, after the last time."

The smug look faded into shyness, which he tried to cover up with what he hoped was a nonchalant shrug. "This time I knew it was a sure thing."

Sam blushed. "Who says you're not romantic?" she murmured, but she couldn't resist asking, "What if you had lost?"

Danny chuckled, remembering the terms of the bet. "He said I'd have to attend a whole day of classes in that dress you made for home ec."

Sam cradled her head in her hand again, but she was smiling. "I'm going to burn that thing, so I'm glad you don't have to."

"Me, too," he said, sensing that he was on a roll with the romantic remarks. "I thought it looked much better on you."

She averted her eyes and he smiled. Yes, definitely on a roll.

She ran a hand over the gleaming hood of the car. "This is amazing, Danny. What are you going to do with your prize? Drive out to Vegas? The Indy 500?"

"I was thinking something a little more local," he said, jingling the keys at her. "Want to go for a ride?"

Sam grinned and it was magic. "Yes, please."

The protesters had breached the perimeter by the time they got back to the Nasty Burger, which meant it was safe to park in the parking lot. Danny tried to avoid his eyes straying as Sam got out of the Ferrari, but it was impossible when she was still wearing that awesome skirt.

Unfortunately, Sam's attention was diverted briefly when she saw the riot going on inside the restaurant. "What's going on in here?" she cried, running through the glass doors.

"Two people came in treating Tucker like a hero for making that video. They thought he was trying to further their cause," Danny explained as he followed her inside. "They must have tipped off the rest of the group."

It was true. Protesters swarmed around Tucker's booth, waving napkins and pens asking for his autograph. Chet Ubetcha's short stature wasn't helping him out; the newscaster was having trouble shoving a microphone towards Tucker as he asked, "Mr. Foley. How do you think the Nasty Burger will respond to your clever propaganda?"

Tucker's response was to display his fist at the newscaster, a Nasty Fry sticking up where his middle finger would have been.

Danny had to laugh at Sam's horrified face. "Bet you're glad you didn't take Lancer's video class now," he said, pressing a gentle elbow into her side. "Home ec's not looking so bad now, is it?"

Sam smiled. "You know, it's usually me who gets into this kind of trouble," she laughed. "Should we go try to help Tucker out?"

Danny grinned and pointed towards the booth. "Nah, I think Valerie's got that covered. Look!"

Sam followed his pointing finger to where Valerie, still clad in her uniform and visor, was trying to beat back a swell of protesters with a broomstick. Tucker huddled miserably in the booth behind her, munching Nasty Fries and Mighty Meaty Cheesy Melts being supplied to him by the Nasty Employees, who were happy to repay his loyalty to them with the best currency conceivable—food.

Valerie was fighting like a demon, yelling and sweeping one guy's feet out from under him with the broom, then turning to spray seltzer at a girl trying to breach the booth from behind.

Sam smiled appreciatively. "Just when you start to forget why you put up with Valerie, she does something cool."

Danny nodded. "Want to go eat somewhere else?" he asked.

Sam laughed. "Sounds like a plan." She reached for his hand, and he gladly took it as they walked back out into the now-quiet parking lot. He opened the door of the Ferrari for her, and she smiled as she slid into her seat. "Thanks," she said softly.

Walking around the car, Danny got in, but didn't turn the key in the ignition. "I just realized I never thanked you," he said, turning to Sam in the passenger seat.

"For what?" She smiled at him.

"For letting me follow you around with that camera," he said. "For…everything."

Sam laughed. "It's going to sound stupid, but Danny…you're beautiful."

He grinned, and then they were both laughing. And just like all the other times, he felt it, like the entire world was hushed and waiting, like he and Sam were at the edge of something so wonderful, and all he had to do was pull her near…

They came together as if it had been choreographed, and then his mouth was on hers and it felt like going ghost, like he was passing through her and blurring the lines that made them up, hands, lips, heat, impossible to tell but it was beautiful

The kiss was brief, sweet; they broke apart ever so slightly, breath still mingling, to let what they'd done settle around them. The last lingering traces of doubt disappeared as he nuzzled her gently. "Sam…"

She silenced him with another kiss, and he felt it—that ferocious attention, her high-voltage love. How he wanted to be her everything—

"Danny," she sighed happily. How long he'd waited to hear her say his name like that.

He helped her to him, holding her carefully as she crawled across the gear shift and into his lap. A purr rumbled in his throat as she straddled him; he put his arms around her to hold her close as their mouths locked again. The pressure of her slight weight in his lap was torture; what bare skin he touched was fever-warm. Sam, his best friend, the first girl he'd ever kissed—even if it had been a fake-out make-out—and all this time he could have had her in his arms like this. He pressed his tongue against the seam of her lips in a plea for entrance and Sam, who never yielded to anything or anyone, willingly opened her mouth to him. She slid her arms around his neck and made a pleased sound against his mouth.

The kisses were breathless, a little desperate at first with the pent-up energy of years of longing, but her body knew how to curve against his; his hands knew how to spread against her back.

"Sam," he murmured between kisses, his arms phasing out and slipping through her, making her shudder.

"Hey," she chuckled. "Don't disappear on me, Phantom."

He smiled, his eyes heavy-lidded with years of romantic tension and the agonizing excitement of having her in his arms at last. "I'm not going anywhere, Sam. "

"Promise?" She almost whispered it against his mouth.

Breaking the contact, he raised his hands to cradle her face, making sure he was looking into her eyes when he answered. "Promise."

Fever and magnetism flickered through Danny's dizzy brain as they came together again, lips and the frantic beating of two hearts in an enclosed space. Something in the back of his head thrilled at the knowledge that he could have her in his arms like this whenever he wanted, and filed that information away to remember gleefully later.

Later sounded so much sweeter when he knew for sure that she would be there, and he had to let her know how excited he was about it, had to show her somehow with his embrace. He forced her back against the steering wheel with a fierce kiss—

—but a loud blast from the horn startled them both. Tension sang through Danny's muscles and Sam cuddled into his chest, looking back and forth for the source of the interruption before she realized what it had been.

Their eyes met and they both collapsed into laughter. It was the most romantic, exciting moment of Danny's life—he'd never thought laughter would have a place in it, but it felt so right to hold her as she giggled against him, and he knew what love was.

"Dash's car has a really loud horn," Sam laughed softly, a blush staining her face.

"Know what else it has?" he asked, a slow grin spreading across his face. "A big backseat."

Sam shuddered at the implications of that statement, her lips finding his. "Oh Danny."

Holding his girl tightly, Danny phased them both through to the back of the car.

Hey, hey baby! I wanna know if you'll be my girl.

(Hey Baby!, Bruce Channel)

Author's Notes:

Whooyahahahah! Another one down, now it's off to Tokyo to do some work with my Ronin boys.

Could It Be?: Yes, that is the song from the Kim Possible movie So The Drama. I like Kim Possible. It's a fun show, and anyone who says season 4 is bad, I will fight you, because I love it.

Circus of the Damned: Lancer's literary reference in this chapter is Laurell K. Hamilton's Circus of the Damned, which is one of her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels (one of the good ones, before the whole thing got out of control).

"The scary eyes": Vlad refers to Danny's "scary eyes" in the episode Maternal Instinct, which is one of my favorite DP episodes.

SlurpsterThe Nasty Burgers do not serve Slurpsters in canon, but Bueno Nacho does—also a Kim Possible reference.

Midnight Corsets: Midnight Corsets is a lingerie shop back in New York that had some cool (but expensive) pieces. It's on Austin Street, which I often miss in memory.

Bucky's Music Megastoreis best known for hosting Ember McLain's ticket giveaway in Fanning the Flames. Likewise, references are made to the zoo in One of a Kind, as well as Sam's campaign to free the dissection frogs in the same episode. Lancer also mentions the vegetarian menu in Mystery Meat.

The protesters throwing Nasty Sauce on Valerie and anyone who tries to cross their picket line is a dig on PETA and other animal rights activists for the way they would throw red paint on anyone they saw wearing fur. Tucker tries to turn the tables on them by repaying the favor with ketchup. I'm very in favor of animal rights, but jeez, people, behave yourselves!

Chet Ubetcha often anchors the local news over in Dimmsdale—where it's eventually revealed that he's almost as short as Cosmo!

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!": Lancer directly quotes Puck from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which remains one of the Bard's more fun pieces. I still like Titus Andronicus better, though.

Hey baby!: Hey Baby! is Bruce Channel's contribution to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. It's also a fun dance cover by DJ Otzi—no one sits down at a wedding I'm at when that song is playing.

Thanks again to everyone who's stuck with this story for such a long span of seasons. I'm glad you like it, and hope the ending didn't fail to please. I hope I can continue to delight with my work—it does give me such great joy.

Most of all, thanks to my best friend and my best beta, Cloudwalker. She works on these things harder than I do, I think—they wouldn't happen without her.