Author's Note: I want to be completely honest with you guys. I've been dealing with fear of...sucking at life, lately. :( And it's kind of seeped into this story. I got major writers block for a while, because I'm not sure about my writing being *insert cool thing here* enough. So, I went through half the alphabet editing this chapter- as in, I created a new file every time I substantially re-wrote this, and named the new file with the next letter in the alphabet each time. O_O; And the beginning still sucks! O_O
So, I guess I'm saying I'm sorry for taking so long, especially with a chapter I had written but then felt compelled to re-write ad infinitum, and I'm going to try really hard to just relax and have fun with this starting now, because it should be fun! And that goes for real life, too, lol. I hope you're enjoying the story, despite the sporadic updates. I really want things to speed up- maybe grammar will suffer, or I'll write something really stupid, or whatever. But it's worth it, I think, if I'm not super stressing over this thing, and hopefully a lot more life will come out of it. :) Maybe you can tell me when I screw up, I'm really good at taking constructive criticism. Also, if you have any advice for how to be more regular about updating, please throw it my way. :) So...thank you SO much more sticking around, I really, really love all your reviews, and just knowing somebody out there enjoys reading my story! Thank you.
Sam set the newspaper clipping, and her mug, down. She could feel Jazz's eyes on her, but didn't look up. She felt too exposed already, with her emotions probably written all over her face right now. She pulled out the letter, and started reading.
A Little Therapy: Part Two
First of all this is in no way a threat, so you can calm down.
Sam snorted. Smooth.
Second: I'm sorry. A thousand times over. I'm sorry, for everything. I wish this letter could convey to you how I feel, how I've changed. It can't.
Sam felt her throat tighten.
I will say that I love you, all of you. I will never hurt any of you again in any way. And if you don't believe me, at least rest assured that Clockwork won't allow it.
That made her pause. Clockwork wouldn't allow it? A brief memory from the night Nathaniel was kidnapped rose up. There had been many strange, stressful moments that night, and until now this particular incident had been practically forgotten. But now it struck Sam as important, almost like a piece to a puzzle she had been unconsciously trying to solve:
Sam had brought the Fenton RV to idle while she, Jazz, and Tucker spoke with Danny and Dan, who had been looking for Nathaniel elsewhere in the ghost zone.
Dan had just suggested that they go see Clockwork for help in locating Nathaniel. Sam turned to Danny...to see sheer panic in his wide eyes.
Sam found herself questioning a basic assumption: that Dan had broken his way out of Clockwork's lair. Yet Dan was promising in this letter that Clockwork could somehow make him behave. That along with his suggestion that they go to the time ghost for help implied something other than the typical relationship between jailer and escapee.
Sam knew next to nothing about Clockwork. But whatever was really going on...Danny knew something about it, and he hadn't shared that information with anyone. It was the only way to explain his panic. That fact churned quietly in the back of Sam's mind as she continued reading Dan's letter.
You're probably worried about me and Vlad working together, right? You don't need to be, believe me. That's easier said than done, I know. But essentially, Vlad helped get me back on my feet after Christmas,
Back on his feet...? Ghosts were like...rubber balls. You could throw one against a brick wall repeatedly, and they'd still be pretty much fine. Okay...they might need maybe a day to get better, but...
Then Sam understood. She had guessed at the time, but now she was sure; Dan really hadn't fought back, at all. He was an idiot for not running away, but...he'd kept his promise.
...and along the way I asked him to teach me a few things about business. He agreed, and things took off from there. You're still suspicious, right? All I can say is that what you see in that newspaper is what you get. Nothing more. There is no evil plan in the works.
Sam stared at those words. I...know that. I've known that since December. The emotions she had kept mostly in check until then finally flared up. Part of Sam wished she could see Dan again, if only to say those words out loud to him, yell them at him. She still had dreams about him, though they had changed over time. He would be kneeling on the ground, begging. His voice was always rough, almost a whisper; it would catch in a way that showed he was trying as hard as he could to hold back tears. And she would feel this horrible pain in her solar plexus, almost like a slow motion punch, every time she had to see the emotions play over his face while he told her how he'd changed, told her how sorry he was...
Sam let out a deep, shuddering sigh. She had to get that memory of their conversation in Idaho out of her head. It only dredged up painful truths. She knew who Dan was...what he was, probably more than anyone. She understood that the biggest difference between him and Danny were the horrific life experiences that had shaped him as a person. But if Jazz, Tucker, and Danny, especially Danny were to find out how she felt, it would hurt them deeply.
And even if Sam could somehow take the pain he had caused completely out of the equation- because her own outpouring on Jazz's shoulder earlier was proof it still lingered- she couldn't alter the fact that the family Dan longed for was gone, destroyed, and the one that existed in this timeline already had a son. The simple truth was that they had someone else to love. And focusing on that fact only made Sam miserable.
And if she were to make a space for him in her life...it would hurt and alienate Danny. She wouldn't have to say a thing; her forgiving actions would betray how she felt. And if Danny realized how much she saw of him in Dan, how could he ever understand how she still loved him? Knowing that, in another time, another dimension...maybe he could have become Dan? It was too cruel, to ever let Danny see that, and thus suggest that he might be capable of hurting her as his older self had done.
Sam squeezed her eyes shut. The thought had never occurred to her quite that way before. But it was true. She loved Danny. And her encounter with Dan could never change her love.
That thought was intense enough to make Sam shiver as if cold. She was finally seeing her own feelings about things she hadn't had the courage to deal with before now...and that was powerful. And a little painful. But despite her own bad experiences...Sam also felt weirdly grateful for all the good in her life, for her friends and family. Maybe she was thinking of the world Dan had come from, where her life was over at age fourteen? She didn't know. But understanding her forgiveness toward Dan was definitely wrapped up in this feeling. And it was strangely empowering.
A few moments passed by, and those feelings receded. Unfortunately, she was left with the familiar ache she felt when thinking of Dan's isolation. Sam felt herself tearing up slightly, and made a gargantuan effort to pull herself together, before the waterworks could get started. Jazz was still sitting quietly nearby, patiently waiting for her to finish, and she had already cried enough for one day. She took a deep breath, and went on reading.
Maybe this will help. Vlad's a better guy than we gave him credit for, Jazz. In my original timeline, when you and everyone else had died, he was there for me. For an entire year, he looked after me. I can't explain that in a letter either, even if I wrote out every single thing he did. But I learned a lot about him then, and I can definitely say that you can relax. That doesn't mean he's a saint. For instance, I guarantee he's found a way to read this letter. But when it comes down to it, he's mostly harmless.
Sam put the letter down. Her vision was threatening to blur.
I will not cry.
The tears came anyway. She stood slowly, as if taking the defeat with as much dignity as possible, and headed to her bathroom. Sam waved Jazz back when she stood, and closed the door behind her.
Then Sam quietly let out her emotions. After a few minutes she turned on the tap water and splashed her face a few times. She straightened up, and gazed at herself in the mirror.
Sam understood the tears. She was mourning the decision she realized she had unconsciously made. But now that her thoughts had clarified, the decision was the same:
She had to cut Dan out of her life, because if she didn't, Danny would find out why she was willing to let him in. And that would break Danny's heart.
There could be no contact in the future. Dan wouldn't be "playing uncle" with Nathaniel. He couldn't see his parents again, in some form or fashion, or...rekindle his old friendships. Sam closed her eyes, brow furrowed. An image formed of Dan in the ghost zone, with Nathaniel in his arms. He hadn't wanted to let him go.
Sam forced the image out of her head. She couldn't afford to torture herself with it. She took a few long, measured breaths. If it wasn't for all of his similarities to Danny, this wouldn't be so hard. No...there wouldn't have even been a conscious decision to make. She could have been happy knowing he was...digging ditches in Siberia for eternity.
But every day Sam couldn't help but see the truth about Dan. Her son wasn't the child of a monster. He was the child of her...lost, once beloved friend. And despite Dan's betrayal of that friendship through his attack over a year ago, Sam couldn't pretend she still didn't care for him on some level. She was, after all, a fiercely loyal person.
It was a terrifying thing. And it was why this decision was so hard.
But if it's between him or Danny, then...there really isn't a decision to make at all, is there?
A weight lifted from Sam's shoulders as she realized that. She still wasn't happy about it, but she could at least move forward now. That was it, then. She would get on with her life...and forget about Dan. She stood there for a long moment, letting this thought settle. Then she opened the bathroom door, and sat down with Jazz again.
This time, after Sam found her place in the letter, she only skimmed. With the decision about Dan made, she suddenly wanted to get through this as fast as possible, to put it to rest. She barely registered the words she was reading as she went. He explained his disguise, explained why he was trying to get rich. Asked her to...
Asked Sam to spend the money for him. It brought her up short, but before her resolve could waver and her emotions could register the request, she pushed forward again, determined to get to the end of this thing to and be done with it.
Sam got through the last part, where he told them how he had changed, told them he loved them, in just a few seconds. Then she clamped down for a moment, putting up an emotional barrier before what she'd just read could properly register.
Sam put the letter down, and crossed her arms. She glared into space. Her mind churned, refusing to settle on anything for the fear that it would focus on something unpleasant, like guilt. She refused to feel that emotion right now.
Jazz spoke into the silence. "I guess you're...not going to use the money...?"
Sam's eyes widened for an instant. She had forgotten about Jazz's presence in the room. She frowned again, "Of course not." Sam slowly blinked a few times, and realized she was clenching muscles all along her shoulders and back. She slowly uncrossed her arms, and let the angry look on her face drain away along with the tension in her arms. She looked over at Jazz, the unusually timid, and patient Jazz.
"So...Danny got angry at you about this, huh?" Sam smiled a little, wanting to let Jazz know that she wasn't upset at her, that she could talk to her about it. She hoped.
Jazz still looked pretty hesitant. "Well, not exactly..."
Sam raised an encouraging eyebrow. "I'm not angry now, and I doubt I will be after you tell me whatever it is you did to get Danny upset, either..."
Jazz's eyes widened, and the mood shifted suddenly. Sam felt the distance open up, and tried to hide her disappointment. Jazz obviously didn't feel comfortable telling her. They both sat, the silence growing more awkward by the second. Then a quiet noise made both girls look toward the playpen, and Sam jumped up, relieved at the chance to give them both some space.
Jazz watched as Sam went to Nathaniel. After a few moments she picked him up; he was wide awake; and walked to her bed, where she set him down and crawled on herself, sitting cross-legged. She faced away from Jazz.
Jazz sighed to herself. The look on Sam's face after finishing the letter had been...grumpy, at best. Jazz stood, frowning to herself. She knew this was probably stupid, and Sam would probably be a lot more angry in a few minutes...but she felt strangely compelled to tell the other girl the truth. Not...everything. Not about her visit to Clockwork. That still wasn't completely clear in her own head. But Sam would probably hear about what she had told Danny about Dan, about his phone call, sooner or later, anyway, so it was probably better to hear it from her, now. Jazz walked over to Sam's bed, having decided, and spoke to Sam's back.
"Listen, Sam...I'm just." Sam saw Jazz check herself out of the corner of her eye; she literally stood up straighter and put a hand up as if telling herself to stop.
Jazz started again almost immediately, and what she said drew Sam's full attention to her instantly. "Dan...called me on the phone. And I thought he was Danny."
They stared at each other for a brief moment; Sam's eyes wide with surprise and Jazz with a squared jaw, obviously awaiting her reaction. Sam broke off the stare, looking back down at Nathaniel, who had grabbed her thumb and was shaking her hand back and forth. She hadn't missed the tears starting to form in the corners of Jazz's eyes.
"How...long did you talk?"
Jazz let out a whoosh of air and sat on the edge of the bed next to Sam. She faced out, hunched over, while Sam faced in, toward Nathaniel and the head of the bed.
"Hours." The word held power. Sam could feel something in her change. The thought that maybe Jazz...
Sam stopped herself, and turned instead to watch Jazz's profile. The agonized look on Jazz's face threw Sam's thoughts into hyper drive. Had Jazz somehow come to the same conclusion she herself had about...who Dan was? Or, no, she was probably just freaked out about mistaking him for Danny. But was that solely why Danny gotten so upset with her...?
"So...I guess you're mad." Jazz still sat slightly hunched, looking down at her hands. She was playing thumb wars, which didn't work very well when you were your own opponent.
"Is that...all you told him? I mean, how did you..." How did you react when you realized it wasn't Danny on the phone? Sam wasn't sure she wanted to ask.
Jazz snorted, in a half hearted laugh. "You're really perceptive, Sam..." She bit her upper lip, then frowned up at her briefly. "It was bad...I actually told him...you're going to hate me if I tell you this..." Jazz looked down at her hands again, and paused for a long moment. But before Sam could think of how to respond, she went on in a hurry. "You know, I really respect you, Sam. You're such a good friend to Danny, and Tucker...and I feel like I'd really like to be..." She petered off for a moment, voice turning weak. "I don't seem to be very good at making close friends..." Jazz stopped, leaving an awkward silence.
"Jazz...I'm really...honored that you want me as your friend." Sam smiled gently at her profile, willing her to look up. "And, I mean, we are friends. And we'll...build on that over time." She grinned and let out a ghost of a laugh. "I'm definitely taking you up on the girls-day-out offer sometime soon...because I'm over with shopping by myself. Or with my mom. And Danny and Tucker...it's just not the same." Sam hoped Jazz could hear the humor laced through her words.
Jazz looked up, that same sheepish look in her eyes back from when she'd first shown up earlier that day. She smiled hesitantly.
"You say that now..."
Sam stared at the other girl for a moment, amazed at this side of Jazz she'd never seen before. Did she really have a hard time making friends? Or...close friends? She was such a focused, intense, confident, smart person- not to mention straight forward and somewhat obsessed with her chosen career...she was like her dad, in a lot of ways. But, maybe those qualities limited the number of people who wouldn't feel...threatened around a person like her. You had to have a lot of confidence to be around Jazz. And a tolerance for psycho-babble.
But Sam knew this was a side issue. Jazz was really afraid of being rejected for...disloyalty. Or...was it loyalty? Just not the kind Danny could appreciate?
"I...think I know what you're afraid of saying, Jazz." Sam paused, trying to think how to word this. She could feel herself entering uncertain territory concerning her decision to cut Dan out of her life. "Did you tell Danny that you..." She couldn't quite say it out loud. What if she was completely wrong?
"Oh, Sam! Please forgive me..." Jazz was suddenly staring at Sam, her intense blue-green eyes searching for something. "He's just...so much more than a monster from the ghost zone..." Her eyes were plaintive, begging her to understand.
Sam had to look down, a frown etched on her face. She could feel the emotions from her cry in the bathroom earlier fighting their way up again. But she couldn't share that with Jazz. She brought a hand up to pinch her nose, and closed her eyes. She could feel Jazz still watching her.
"Jazz..." Sam bit her lip, and let out a huff of air. She kept her eyes closed. "I..." Then something moved inside her, and words she suddenly realized she really wanted to say came out. As she spoke, her eyes met Jazz's.
"Nathaniel is not the son of a monster." Sam stared for a moment longer, then ran a hand through her hair in an exasperated movement...and turned back to her son.
No one talked for a few moments, unless you counted Nathaniel's baby-speak.
Sam spoke, voice coming out hard. "Don't tell Danny I said that. Please, Jazz."
"I won't." Jazz shifted around, to sit cross-legged next to Sam, finally facing the same way, toward Nathaniel.
Sam went on, voice softer. "I...understand what you're saying...trying to say. And...there's nothing to forgive. That phone call just made you recognize your own...y-you know. But it's really hard for Danny to take."
Jazz took a moment to respond, with a careful, quiet tone. "That's exactly why he got upset. Because...I told him I saw Dan as a sort of..." Jazz shifted and Sam glanced up to see the pain in her face. It was the same pain, in part, that Sam knew very well.
"A brother." Sam quietly finished the thought for her, and Jazz glanced up, confirming it with the dark, embarrassed look in her eyes. She still expected Sam to be angry.
What Jazz had said implied a lot. The temptation gripped Sam for a brief moment to reciprocate completely, and to tell the older girl exactly how she saw Dan. But part of her didn't think she could ever voice those thoughts out loud, and shouldn't- not if she wanted to protect Danny from finding out. Sam stared down at Nathaniel as she struggled for safe words.
Jazz remained silent, looking away. Part of her was still waiting for Sam to get angry, to express how betrayed she felt.
Finally, Sam went on, keeping her voice gentle as she spoke. It was hard, because this came so close to what she couldn't afford to say.
"That's...okay, Jazz. Because he's getting better now. He wants to make things better. And I never would have believed it, but Vlad is actually helping him. He's...getting there." She snorted, and smiled softly, as she attempted to play patty-cake with Nathaniel. "So, you know...good luck to him..."
Several long moments went by, while Sam paid close attention to her son, too nervous to look up. What she said...it had to sound a little strange.
But eventually, the feeling of eyes on the back of her head was too much, and she looked up...and got caught. Jazz was smiling at her softly. There was something so straight forward there, it made Sam feel almost bashful. It was honest admiration, aimed at her. Sam finally look away, embarrassed.
"Sam. You are...a really amazing person." And almost under her breath, Jazz added something else. "You've forgiven him."
It wasn't really a question. Sam froze, feeling like a deer caught in the headlights. She kept her head down, only cutting her eyes up toward Jazz. Embarrassment made her stutter.
Jazz gave an unladylike snort, which caught Sam by surprise. That was her snort! Then, before Sam could react, she was suddenly tackled by Jazz in a sideways semi-hug.
Jazz laughed into her hair for a few moments, then pulled back slightly. "You are a very special person."
Sam swallowed and blushed, her mouth a flat line of embarrassment. That could be taken multiple ways, you know.
"Whatever you say, Jazz." Sam paused, dead serious. "But don't tell Danny."
Jazz smiled, looking way too lighthearted about it. "I won't."
Sam stared at her head-on. "Woah, seriously, Jazz...he wouldn't understand..."
Jazz's grin fell away, and for a second she looked completely serious too. "Don't worry. I know. And I promise I won't tell him..." then the grin was back, "what an awesome person you are!"
Sam rolled her eyes, somehow feeling happiness get its grip on her. She was still partly amazed at getting glomped by Jazz of all people. Actually, she was completely amazed they were actually talking about forgiving Dan, and that Jazz understood, and didn't hold it against her. Jazz obviously felt the same way, which just made the feeling grow into...giddiness, almost.
Sam had gotten to take a lot of weight off her chest today. She had even shared her secret about Dan, after all. Of course, she hadn't really clarified exactly what she saw in Dan- she doubted even Jazz could handle that. But it still felt good, even partially confessing, and to someone, she was just realizing, who could and would keep her secrets.
"You know, Jazz, you're going to be a really successful psychiatrist someday." Sam grinned as she finally pushed Jazz completely off her.
Jazz grinned back, and gave her a mock haughty look. "Of course." She broke back into a smile, and for a little while all three of them played together, much to Nathaniel's delight.
"Let's do each other's makeup...and have a party."
A tiny voice chimed in. "Paah-dey!"
Danny tapped lightly at Sam's window, hovering outside. He'd had a long boring day working at Vlad Inc., and the only break in the tedium had come in the form of a long, difficult Calculus class. He was tired, in a bad mood (had been for days), and definitely had studying he needed to d...
Danny lurched back instinctively at the thing which had suddenly appeared in Sam's window. He took a second look as the thing resolved into Jazz's grinning face. She was wearing ridiculously heavy makeup, with crazy green and dark blue eye-shading...or shadow or whatever...
He stared at her, incredulous. "Jazz?"
"Danny! It's safe." Meaning the ghost shield was down (though part of him wondered if some version of Ember on steroids wasn't in the vicinity). He floated slowly inside, to see Sam over by the wall socket, also heavily made up. Tucker was on the bed with Nathaniel. The smell of fresh pizza hit Danny, and he looked over to see several boxes set out on Sam's dresser, with root beer set in ice nearby.
Jazz chirped up at him. "Perfect timing!"
Sam chuckled as she plugged the ghost shield back into the wall socket. "Yeah. Tucker was about to lay claim to your pizza."
Danny raised his eyebrows, glancing over to Tuck, who pulled a face. "Man, I was really looking forward to pigging out! B-u-u-ut I guess you're being here is cool too..." He grinned.
Danny transformed, landing solidly on the floor, a smile finally reaching his face.
Then Jazz tackled him with a hug. He looked down, completely surprised, and hugged her back one-armed, by reflex.
They hadn't really spoken since he'd learned about the letter a few days ago. That conversation came back along with a wave of remorse.
Danny hugged her a little harder, then let go, and put his back-pack down. She caught his eye, and he smiled sheepishly, trying to give her a silent apology.
Jazz's smile widened. She got the message. "Come on Danny, get some pizza." Her eyes turned wicked. "Then we're battling it out with Super Mario Brothers, and you're going down!"
Tucker piped up. "Ha, you guys know I always win!"
Danny smirked. "We'll see about that..."
"...about that..." Sam started laughing, as she realized that she and Danny had just said the exact same thing. They shared a grin, which softened for a brief moment into something more tender.
Then Danny made his way over to the pizza, a smile still on his face. Sometimes...there were things more important than studying.
Author's Note: Thank you for reading, (^_^) and if you skipped over the author's note at the top, please take a second to read it. (And good-bye to that stinking letter! I've freaking over-used it at this point, right? Arrrg. )