Disclaimer: Danny Phantom and all related characters and concepts belong to Butch Hartman. I'm making no money from this. Though if I were I would totally buy Sam: might as well save one of the gang from the axe, and she's least expensive to feed. Well, except for the ghosts, who don't eat at all, but that goes without saying.

Notes: My first Danny Phantom fanfic! You need to be familiar with the episodes "Fanning the Flames" (Ember's debut) and "Shades of Gray" (Valerie vs. the ghost dog) for this story to make sense.

Summary: Danny finds himself playing peacemaker when the ghost dog starts tailing Ember. But he has to get the job done before Ember works her magic on Sam.

Hot Dog!

A Danny Phantom Fanfic by

Nate Grey (XMAN0123-at-aol-dot-com)

"If this is a salad," Samantha Manson said slowly, staring down at the bowl on her tray, "then Tucker is a 45-year old Korean woman."

Danny Fenton and Tucker Foley traded similar exasperated looks, but both knew better than to speak. Sam was obviously trying to drag them into another long food-related argument, just so they'd all eventually get tired of fighting and give up on this little challenge altogether. The problem was, she was very, very good at that, and worse, she knew it.

"Hold on. Is this a radish or a bloody fingertip?"

Tucker closed his eyes, put down his Nasty Burger (of the extra Nasty Sauce variety), and pushed his tray away. "You know," he sighed loudly, "when someone's best friend says they will go with said someone to a certain fast food establishment and try the new salad, generally that involves actually EATING at least one bite before complaining."

Sam glared at him before turning pleading violet eyes on Danny.

"Sorry, Sam," Danny murmured uncomfortably, not liking to side against either of his best friends. "But you haven't actually tried it yet."

"I don't WANT to try it. Not until this thing has been DNA-tested, anyway."

"Okay, that's it. You've just forced my hand." Tucker removed his glasses, carefully cleaned them on his shirt, and replaced them. Then, with a determined scowl, he stared at Sam and said simply, "Chicken."

"I am NOT chicken!" Sam shouted. She was doubly insulted, of course; not only was Tucker calling her a coward, he'd used a meat word to do it.

"Hey, I've eaten your grass on a bun," Tucker pointed out. "The least you could do is try a new Nasty Salad."

"Can you even hear yourself?" Sam asked incredulously.

"You know it's just a name, Sam," Danny sighed, sounding extremely tired. "You never had a problem with the food here before..."

"Yeah? Well, this wasn't here before! And I don't see either of you eating one!"

Tucker rolled his eyes. "We don't HAVE to. We love meat, and the lettuce on a Nasty Burger is the same as the lettuce in a Nasty Salad, anyway."

Sam stubbornly crossed her arms over her chest. "I'll eat some when you do."

Seeking to avoid prolonging the argument, Danny quickly moved over to Sam's side of the booth, took her fork from her, and speared the questionable reddish-purple object before thrusting it into his mouth. He was so focused on chewing that he never noticed the hint of red that arose in Sam's cheek from the close proximity and the brief brushing of their fingers.

Sam stared at him closely, and smirked in satisfaction as Danny swallowed, gagged, and thumped his chest in an attempt to get the bite down faster. "Ha! I knew it tasted horrible!"

"Yeah, but not for the reason you think," Danny said weakly. "I just remembered... I hate radishes."

Sam actually opened her mouth, as if to apologize for making Danny eat a food he didn't like, when she caught Tucker's eye and decided against it. "It shouldn't count, anyway," she decided. "You've probably got a ghostly digestive system that can handle anything."

"Oh come on!" Tucker protested. "You're just trying to get everyone BUT you to eat it! We went to all this trouble to get you something you're supposed to like, and now you're backing out! You're lucky we don't make you eat a whole burger just for wasting our time!"

Danny groaned and buried his face in his hands as Sam and Tucker went back and forth over who should've been eating what. He was actually tempted to eat the salad himself, radishes and all, just so they'd stop snapping at each other. Before he could, though, a blue mist slipped from his lips, and a familiar shiver ran down his spine.

"Perfect timing," he sighed in relief, slipping out of the booth. A few quick glances around Nasty Burger turned up nothing unusual, but then Danny spotted more than a few people just outside running past wildly, as if they were being chased. And sure enough, seconds later, a huge green dog ran by, each bark comparable to a lion's roar.

"Not him again!" Danny quickly ran outside, stuck two fingers in his mouth, and whistled sharply.

Almost instantly, the ghost dog slid to a stop and spun around. All traces of aggression faded from him at once, and his purple tongue lolled out as he bounded back towards Danny, barking happily.

Danny sighed in relief as he held up a hand to bring the oversized ghost dog to a stop a few feet away from him. "At least he remembers me. Now I just have to find out why he's back."

The dog leaned down and licked his face, its flamelike tail wagging back and forth excitedly.

"Okay, boy," Danny said, reaching up to scratch the dog's large jowls. "Why don't you tell me what you're after this time, huh?"

In response, the ghost dog barked once before shrinking down to a mere puppy. He pawed at Danny's leg a few times before turning around and starting off in the direction he'd been running initially.

Danny, however, picked up the puppy before he could get too far. "You'd better let me help you look. You attract way too much attention on your own." He shifted to his ghost form and took to the air, flying towards whatever his canine friend was looking for. It was then that he noticed the puppy's collar, which had bore an Axion Labs tag last time, now held a simple silver nametag that read "Relish." It took half a minute for Danny to get the joke. "Your owner has a really weird sense of humor."

0000000

Presently, said owner was hiding in an alley, and having a very bad day. This was largely because she was trying, with a great deal of difficulty, to clean dog doo from her boots. Unfortunately, there was a lot of boot to clean, the dog doo itself was invisible, and since the smell clung to the boots either way, it was nearly impossible to tell how close to being clean they were.

"Dumb ghost dog," she muttered angrily, scraping her boots against the ground for seemingly the hundredth time that night. "If I ever see your dumb, drooling face again, I'll-"

Her vengeful thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Amity Park's most infamous (and, ironically, heroic) half ghost.

And of course he would be carrying the only creature she despised even more than him under one arm.

"Back off, dipstick!" she shrieked, leaping to her feet. "I know we're enemies, but this is just cruel and unusual!"

The ghost boy stared at her uncertainly for a long moment. "Ember?" he asked at last, green eyes widening in surprise. "You mean... you're his owner?"

"NO WAY!" she yelled at once.

Anyone else would have believed her. But Danny Phantom was apparently the Ghost Dog Whisperer, because he looked down at the puppy, and reluctantly, Ember did as well.

He wasn't her puppy. Although from the way he was yipping excitedly and trying to jump out of Danny's arms, one could certainly make that mistake.

"Are you sure he isn't yours?" Danny asked slowly. "He really seems to like you..."

"You bring that fleabag any closer, and I'll blow you all the way across town!" Ember threatened, her hands glowing with hot pink energy.

While he didn't bring the dog any closer, the ghost boy was giving her a very curious look. One that Ember didn't care for in the least. "Why's his name Relish?"

"Skulker thought it'd be funny," she answered, scowling at the memory. "You know, because I'm hot, and he's a dog, so he's a hot dog, and-"

He stopped her to save them both the headache. "Yeah, I get it. Unfortunately."

There was a long pause.

"So he IS your dog," Danny concluded seconds later.

Ember's eyes widened in panic. "NO! I don't want him! Keep him away from me!"

"You're scared of him?"

"No! I HATE him! He went all over my boots! He went on my guitar! He ATE my band! All he ever does is go on valuable things and wreck whatever's left!"

"So let me see if I have this right," Danny said slowly. "You finally have someone that genuinely likes you, without having to be manipulated by your spells... and you want to get rid of him?"

Ember actually considered that for a moment. "Yeah. But he's a dumb dog. What's your point?"

"He's not dumb," Danny corrected defensively. "He's probably only destructive because you don't play with him. He knows commands and everything."

"I'll believe that when I see it," Ember snapped.

"Okay, fine. But when he obeys, you have to apologize for calling him stupid. And you really should either way." He put the puppy down and pointed at Ember. "Beg, boy."

The green puppy instantly zipped over to Ember, placing his front paws on her boots and whining softly, staring up at her with his wide, hopeful red eyes.

"Play dead," Ember muttered.

The puppy quickly rolled onto his back, his legs twitching every few seconds.

"Told you," Danny chuckled softly, a smug grin on his face.

Ember scowled at him. "I'll be impressed if he can stay like that. Forever."

"Can't you at least pet him?"

"I'd rather kick him. Doesn't even hurt him," she complained darkly.

"You kicked him?" Danny asked in shock.

"Yeah, but he thought it was a game. He just got really big and tried to sit on me." She suddenly noticed the look of disbelief on her face. "Look, I'll show you." Ember drew back her leg to deliver a powerful kick, only to end up on her back as Danny snatched the puppy out of harm's way.

"I can't believe you're a puppy kicker!" he cried in outrage, holding the puppy protectively to his chest. "Who does that?"

"I do, so long as he's around!" Ember shot back, getting to her feet. "So if you don't want him kicked, keep him out of my hair, and especially out of my boots!"

The two ghosts glared at each other in silence for a few seconds, waiting for one to make the next move.

Finally, Danny snorted and turned to walk away. "Guess I was wrong about you, Ember. The only fans you can handle are the ones you force to love you with your spells."

It was a cheap shot, and he was baiting her, clear as day. Still, Ember had her pride, and she wasn't about to let Danny Phantom talk down to her. If Skulker ever heard about that, she'd never be able to live it down.

But then, she wasn't the only one with a weak spot.

"Hey, dipstick!" Ember called out, her lips curving into a cruel smile. "Did you and Sammy ever manage to hook up while I was away? Or do I have to work my magic again?"

Danny froze on the spot. It was almost as if an electrical shock had run up his spine. And though he didn't turn around, Ember could hear him all too clearly when he spoke.

"Stay away from her. Go anywhere near Sam, and I swear I'll make you regret it. Just stay away from her!"

Ember grinned wickedly. "Keep the mutt away from me, and I will. Otherwise, I might slip in some invisible dog doo and accidentally slide all the way over to Sammy's house, and then accidentally play a certain song. Accidents happen every day, y'know. Sniff my boots if you don't believe me."

Danny lowered his head. "If you don't cause any trouble in Amity Park for one month, I'll retrain the dog not to be so destructive. But if you do anything before then, I'll send you both back to the Ghost Zone... after being locked in the same Fenton Thermos for a while."

It took a lot of self-control for Ember not to blast him in the back for threatening her. But the idea of the puppy being well-behaved enough for her to deal with was strangely appealing, especially if she didn't have to do any of the work involved.

"You got yourself a deal, dipstick. Seeya in a month."

Without another word, Danny became intangible and sank into the ground, taking the puppy with him.

Ember grinned as she reconsidered the terms of their agreement. "He only said I couldn't cause any trouble. He didn't say I had to leave..."

0000000

One Month Later

"Are you sure you want to be here, Sam?" Danny asked for the third time, leaning against the alley wall. "I mean, you know how Ember is when we're together..."

"Hey, I helped train this ghost dog, too," Sam insisted, pointing at the green puppy sitting patiently at their feet. "If she's got a problem with that, then I've got a Fenton Thermos with her name written all over it."

Danny gave her an odd look. "Why were you so eager to help train him, anyway? You told me you were a cat person."

"Tell you later," Sam replied mysteriously.

Before Danny could ask why, Ember appeared in a spout of blue flames.

"Hey, babypops," she greeted, grinning wickedly. "Got something for me?" If she was surprised to find that the puppy didn't immediately try to jump her, she hid it well.

"We reviewed all the basic commands with him," Danny informed her, motioning to the puppy. "But that means you actually have to use them. You can't just say, 'Touch it and die, you dumb dog,' and expect him to know what you mean. You have to say 'stop,' or 'heel,' or something else he'll already know. Any questions?"

"Just one." Ember smiled and tapped her chin with a finger. "Now, when you say 'we' taught him... you mean you and Sammy, right?"

Danny stared at her, more than a little confused, and a bit wary. "Yeah... why?"

"Oh, no reason," she replied, her smile widening.

This made Danny throw a nervous look at Sam, who was staring intently at the puppy, and making a point of not looking at Ember.

"Uh... anyway, there's three special commands you need to know about," Danny added, still not completely comfortable with the situation. He directed his gaze to the puppy and said calmly, "Mustard."

Instantly, the puppy that had to look up at all of them grew into its much larger form of an imposing ghost dog.

"Ketchup," Sam chimed in, smirking as the dog became a puppy again. "And the last one is a very special command that can only be used at specific times..."

Five minutes later, Ember and her dog were gone.

"That went well," Sam commented lightly.

"You're not under a spell, are you?" Danny asked uncertainly. "I mean, Ember didn't...?"

"No, Danny," Sam assured him. "I always keep my Fenton Phones with me, just in case. But as far as I know, Ember kept her promise."

"So why'd you want to help with the dog again?"

She stared at him for a long moment, even as her mind traveled back to a conversation she'd had one month ago...

0000000

Sam woke up to find a very unwelcome visitor hovering over her bed.

"Morning, Sammy. Sleep well?" Ember asked sweetly.

"I was, until now," Sam replied, already reaching for the Fenton Thermos under her pillow. Only it wasn't there anymore.

Ember sighed in disappointment. "Now, how are we supposed to have girl talk if your first reaction is to go and use something like this?" She held up the thermos. "I'll just hang onto it for now, okay?"

"What do you want, Ember?" Sam demanded.

"Oh, you've got it backwards, babypop. This time, it's all about what you want, and what I can do to help you get it."

"Don't do me any favors. Anything I want, I'll get on my own."

"You think so, huh?" Ember asked doubtfully. "So how many other girls is Danny going to be with before you finally take what's rightfully yours?"

Sam's eyes widened, but only for a second. "I don't know what you're-"

"Yes, you do, Sammy." Humming a lively little tune, Ember casually floated up to the ceiling. "Admit it. The few hours when I made him fall helplessly in love with you was one of the best nights of your life. And you wouldn't feel any differently about him even if I hadn't done anything. All I did was put your feelings out in the open. I did you two a favor, and I think it's time you collected on his heart, before someone else does."

"What's in it for you?" Sam asked, glaring up at her.

"If this were really important to me, do you think I'd bother with talking? Or do you think I'd just bust in here and play a love riff?"

"So you expect me to believe that you're doing this out of the goodness of your heart?"

Ember smirked. "Don't be silly, Sammy. Ghosts don't have hearts. Only half-ghosts like your wannabe boyfriend do. But that doesn't mean we can't break them, and I'm sure you know that already."

Sam shook her head. "And that's supposed to make me trust you?"

"Nope, but you don't have to." With a flick of her wrist, a glowing CD appeared in Ember's hand. "Wanna hear my latest single? It features Amity Park's friendliest ghost boy, warning me to stay away from his precious Sammy. It's almost cute, how protective he sounds."

"You should've listened to him."

Ember sighed dramatically as she tossed the CD into Sam's lap. "I'm a ghost, Sammy. I know what it's like to miss out on the good things life has to offer. What's your excuse?"

Long after Ember had gone, Sam found herself unable to answer that question.

0000000

"Let's just call it my good animal activist deed for the month and leave it at that," Sam said at last, reaching out to grab his hand. "Come on, they're playing the new Dumpty Humpty music video tonight. We can watch it at my place."

Danny blinked a few times as she began dragging him down the street. "Don't you think we should call Tucker-"

"He's busy," Sam interrupted.

"But I thought-"

"Busy," she repeated firmly.

"Sam, I don't think-"

Sam stopped and turned around to face him. "Danny," she said calmly. "We are going to my house. Alone. No one will be there but us. So we'll be alone, in my house. Okay?"

He stared at her for a long moment. "Um... okay. But, I'm not going to run away or anything, so do you really have to-"

"As a matter of fact, yes, I do," Sam interrupted, squeezing his hand. "I happen to like holding your hand very much. Do you have a problem with that?"

Even if Danny did have a problem with it, he wouldn't have said so. Sam didn't look angry, exactly, and yet he got the feeling that disagreeing with her just then would've been extremely bad for his health.

"We're not really going to watch that music video, are we?" he guessed.

"Of course we are," Sam replied, as if that should've been obvious. "But we've got about four hours before it actually comes on, and I have some ideas about what to do until then."

"Listen, Sam, I-"

"Undisputed ideas, Danny."

Those words made him very nervous, for some reason. "Sam, PLEASE! I just-"

"It's not going to be a fake out make out this time," she added.

Those words, however, had an entirely different effect.

"Oh. Well, those are always nice."

Sam paused and stared at him curiously. "Really."

Danny nodded. "Yeah, and... wait, why did I say that out loud?"

"I'm sure I don't know, Danny," she answered with a smile. "Maybe because it's true."

"Probably. Wait, I'm doing it again..."

"You'd better just let me do the thinking for both of us, then."

"Maybe we should go by my house first," Danny suggested hesitantly. "Mom was working on this Fenton Wash that's supposed to cleanse people of ghostly influence, and-"

Sam placed a finger against his lips. "Danny? I'm not under Ember's spell. I'm being spontaneous and forceful. Well, more so than usual. That's it. Now, are you going to come along quietly, or do I have to suck you into a thermos first?"

He gaped at her. "You'd do that just to get me over there?"

"Yes, but I'd hoped you'd want to come, anyway."

"It's not that I DON'T want to," Danny assured her. "It's just... well... you've never really been so up front about this. Concerning us, anyway. It's new, and a little scary."

"You fight ghosts, and you're scared of me?" Sam asked indignantly.

"No! Not of you, just... the situation. You know I haven't had much luck with girls."

"That's because you've never even tried your luck with me," Sam pointed out. "You've only gone after girls that are completely shallow, or that wanted to destroy you. This time, it's you and me, so it's totally safe."

"No, it isn't," Danny insisted. "Sam, you're one of my best friends, and if something went wrong, I wouldn't want things to be weird between us. It wouldn't be fair to Tucker, either. We couldn't expect him to take sides if-"

Without warning, Sam released his hand, drew back her foot, and kicked Danny's leg as hard as she could.

"OW!" Danny screamed, hopping on his good leg as he grabbed the aching one.

"So let me see if I'm hearing you right, Danny," Sam said angrily. "You'd rather risk everything to be with Paulina, who didn't care about you AT ALL, or Valerie, who would kill you if she knew the real you, instead of me? I've kept your secret for as long as you've had it! I've stood by you when no one else would! I've... cared about you for years. And none of that is enough for you to even give the thought of us being together a chance? Because if that's how you feel, I don't think I even want to be your friend anymore!"

"Sam, that's not what I meant!" he protested, reaching for her arm.

She smacked his hand away. "Don't! I've put my life on the line for you over and over again, but you don't even have enough faith in me to trust I'd never let anything come between us? I hope you do go crawling back to Paulina or Valerie, because any heartbreak they caused you wouldn't even begin to compare to what I'm feeling right now. To think I even helped you train that ghost dog in the hopes that you might realize how great we were together..."

"Wait! That's why you did it?" Danny asked. "Because you just wanted to be with me?"

"Yes, but obviously I made a mistake. It won't happen again."

"But, Sam, if that was all you wanted, we could've done anything else. Why would you do something you don't like just to spend time with me?"

Sam sighed miserably. "Because... I love you, Danny. I thought you felt the same way, and that we could finally do something about it. But if you don't, then..."

"Who says I don't?" Danny asked sharply. "All I'm saying is that there's so much that could go wrong if we do this."

"Danny, you're half ghost, your parents are ghost hunters, you have a ghost portal in your basement, and there are people out to get you everywhere you go! Do you honestly think things are going to STOP going wrong if we don't hook up?"

He blinked. "Does seem kinda silly, when you put it like that."

She smirked at him. "Like I said, I should be in charge of all thinking from now on."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it you that thought trying out the ghost portal was a good idea in the first place?"

"Yeah," Sam admitted slowly. "But if you hadn't, then we'd have to walk all the way to my house. And thanks to my brilliant idea, we now have the luxury of flying."

"I guess you're right," Danny answered, taking her hand in his. "I think."

"Oh, trust me, I am."

Seconds later, both teens seemed to vanish into thin air. Neither of them realized that they were being watched as they flew across the afternoon sky.

"Gotta love those raging hormones," Ember laughed, sitting on the edge of a nearby rooftop. "All they needed was a little jumpstart, and it only cost me a month of fun. Looks like I came out ahead in this one. Right, pooch?"

The green puppy next to her barked happily, placing his front paws on her leg and wagging his tail.

A trace of a smile passed over Ember's lips before she abruptly picked up the puppy and stood up. "Come on, you dumb dog. Let's go home."

0000000

A week later, Danny and Sam had their first official date... and ended up eating at Nasty Burger with Tucker. Danny had been unable to find any restaurants that both served food without faces and didn't totally creep him out, but Sam didn't seem to mind. Tucker was allowed to take pictures for posterity, under the condition that there was no mention of the Nasty Salad (also under the condition that he refer to any potential offspring that might result from future dates ONLY as 'posterity,' as opposed to "lil' Dammy" and "Lilith Fenton").

The high point of the night, however, occurred shortly after leaving Nasty Burger, when something triggered Danny's Ghost Sense.

No more than few seconds had passed when Skulker flew past, screaming like mad. Several parts of his body armor were blackened, and his left arm was mysteriously missing.

Just a few seconds behind him was Ember, riding an enormous green dog with eyes like burning coals. They left a trail of large, smoking paw prints in the road as they passed, and the remains of Skulker's missing arm hung from the dog's mouth. Even stranger, every time Ember shouted Skulker's name, the dog actually grew bigger and gave off an even brighter green glow.

When it became apparent that Danny wasn't going to go ghost, Tucker asked, "Aren't you going to stop them?"

"I'm on a date," Danny replied. "Anyway, he probably deserves whatever she's going to do to him."

"We can look the other way this one time," Sam quickly agreed.

Tucker still wasn't convinced. "But we know how much damage Ember and the ghost dog can do individually, so shouldn't we be even more worried that they're together now?"

"The only one they're hurting is Skulker," Sam pointed out. "Maybe all Ember ever really needed was someone to hang out with. Besides, she's keeping Skulker off of Danny's back for a while, so in a weird way, it's almost like we owe her."

Danny and Tucker glanced at each other uncertainly, and then stared at Sam.

"What? She's doing us a favor!" Sam insisted. "Even if it's just coincidental."

"I don't know, Sam..." Tucker said slowly.

She rolled her eyes. "Well, Danny agrees with me, if he knows what's good for him."

Tucker looked at Danny, suddenly noticing that his friend's face was bright red.

"This is one of those 'Sam's in charge of thinking' moments, isn't it?" Tucker guessed. "Danny, could I talk to you in private for a second?"

Danny looked at Sam questioningly, and relaxed a bit when she nodded.

The two boys moved a short distance away.

"Explain to me again why Sam's in charge of thinking," Tucker demanded quietly. "Because it seems like you're just doing whatever she says."

"That's not how it is!" Danny hissed. "Look, she just has unlimited veto power when it comes to decisions like this."

"And how is that any different from what I just said?"

"It just is! Anyway, it was a trade off."

"What could you have possibly gained from Sam telling you what to do all the time?" Tucker asked in complete disbelief.

Danny blushed again, staring dreamily over at Sam. "I get to be in charge of kissing."

Tucker opened his mouth, paused, closed it, and frowned thoughtfully. Finally, he replied, "Good deal."

"Yeah, I thought so, too."

The End!

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Endnotes:

Yes, I realize Sam does eat salads from Nasty Burger, but I'm guessing even food from a faceless source has to look good to be appetizing. That, and bloody fingertips would count both as meat and food with a face, so no way would Sam eat one.

Ember obviously enjoys manipulating people. And she especially seems to get a kick out of messing with Danny and Sam. So just the idea of her being somewhat responsible for them getting together would probably be very amusing to her.

With time and experience, virtually all ghosts get stronger, or at least discover new aspects of their powers (just look how Box Ghost turned out in "Ultimate Enemy"). So it stands to reason that every ghost in the series, no matter how pathetic, would eventually become more of a threat, even as Danny himself got stronger. In other words, that's where the ghost dog's flame powers come from (although Wulf also has the flamelike tail, but no fire powers, so maybe it's just a dog/wolf trait in ghosts).