Flight of the Albatross

3

Sam was sure that she should be ashamed of herself. Danny hadn't been gone but a day and she was already finding herself missing him more than should be possible. Day one had actually started out much better than she'd expected, but she'd had Tucker helping distract her from Danny's sudden absence. Not that he was all that helpful. Tucker spent far too much time talking to his PDA still, which was becoming more and more disturbing the more one on one time she spent with him.

Granted, the PDA held more pictures of Danny (and of Danny and her) than anything else Sam could think of, so she could tolerate the strange relationship Tucker had with it if only for that.

"Come on, Sam, put a happy face on," Tucker cajoled her. She sighed and tried to paste one on. He winced. "I said happy, not sadistic. Did your mom get on your case when you got home?"

Sam muttered a few pithy phrases liberally littered with degrading descriptions of her mother. Of course Pamela Manson had jumped straight on her when she got home. It was bad enough, according to her mother, that she even associated with Danny. But to see him off at the airport when his delinquent ways were finally being dealt with?

Oh. Oh, no. Oh, hell no.

The resulting screaming match was why Sam was curled up on Tucker's bed instead of hers, trapped listening to him talk to his PDA, his computer, his laptop, his other computer, his MP3 player, and a few strange robotic things she wanted to know nothing about. Especially the one that faintly glowed. It was bad enough Tucker played mad scientist with the data they'd collected on Danny over the last few years.

To know he was also making strange ectoplasmicly enhanced and/or powered robots?

Nope, she was content with living by 'ignorance is bliss.' For that matter, Sam was sure Tucker's parents considered it their own personal religion. Otherwise Tucker might already have been seeing a shrink or two.

The mental meandering was a good sign, Sam decided. If she could consider the mental state of Tucker Foley then surely she was dealing somewhat better with the sudden loss of Danny. Even if she really missed him. Her eyes burned with the tears she desperately didn't want to feel. He was coming back, after all! It wasn't like he was going to be gone forever. Just… eight months. Not forever.

But it sure as hell felt like it.

"Sam, you're brooding again," Tucker told her on a sigh.

"I know," she muttered, eyes smarting. "I can't help it."

Tucker snorted as his thumbs danced across the screen of the PDA. "You're actually doing a lot better than I thought you'd be. Though…" He paused as though considering his words before slanting a sideways glance at her. "If it hadn't been for the fight with your mom I think you'd be crying on your bed like a little schoolgirl."

"Tucker Foley!" she shrieked, sitting up and flinging a pillow at him. He merely ducked his face to his shoulder in an effort to protect his glasses. The purpose was almost defeated by the shaking of his shoulders as he laughed at her making Sam's eye twitch until she, too, joined him. "You're a jerk, Tucker," she told him.

"Yeah, but you knew that when we met."

"You did pour yellow paint all over my dress," she agreed.

"You asked for it," was all he said, because he knew she really had asked for it. Even at six Sam had hated the color pink, a fact which eluded her mother more than a decade later. "I'll give you another day or so to brood before I really start mocking you."

"I hate you," Sam muttered as she buried her face in the mattress. "But I do feel better," she admitted, letting her head tip to the side so she could send Tucker a mock glare.

Now Tucker smiled and Sam sighed at him as he smugly told her, "That was the idea. And now that you're all perky again you can go sneak into your house."

She groaned. "I intensely dislike the fact that you have so many dates."

"You're just jealous because you wish Danny would ask you out," he said blithely having long known the truth. After all, half of Amity Park could tell the truth of how the two felt about each other. It was just their own blindness and stubborn pigheadedness that had kept them apart for so long. But he'd gotten used to that over the last few years, and now that Danny wasn't around nonstop, he could needle Sam a little.

Maybe they'd finally get it together.

"Shut up, Tucker," Sam muttered. "And I think I'm going to try climbing the back into Gram's room. She'll understand."

Tucker made a vague noise of assent and Sam sighed as she crawled off of his bed. "Don't break anything. And remember, Sam. He'll be back, alright?"

"Yeah, I know." But the reply was melancholy at best. "I'll see you tomorrow, Tuck."

Heading out into the dusk Sam pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and fiddled with it. It was probably too soon to call him. She's appear clingy or something. But it was touch and go the first block between her house and Tucker's, her fingers dialing the number to the secret cell—a number she had memorized within minutes of Danny boarding the plane—light enough not to actually call him. It was soothing in a way, enough so that when her cell began to vibrate and ring in her hand Sam shrieked and nearly dropped it.

She didn't even glance at the screen as she fumbled the phone in her hands to her ear, something that she was sure she was going to regret once the screeching started. "Hello?"

"Sam!"

The smile was instantaneous. "I was just thinking about you," slipped out before she could censor the words. She could have kicked herself at that, just the type of clinginess that she was trying to avoid.

But she could hear the smile in his voice as he said, "Good; now I know I'm not going to be forgotten since I'm not there to make faces at you."

"I could never forget you, Danny," she said, this time not caring what anyone thought or made of the statement. At least she could play off the best friend card if she was making a mistake by admitting she felt something more for him.

"Good to know since I feel the same." The connection crackled for a moment as she started walking again, but it quickly cleared. "So how's everything holding up? Any attacks for me to worry about?"

"Not yet." She felt bad for admitting the yet part, but it wasn't like Danny didn't know that there wouldn't be at least a few while he was gone. "But we're ready for it, we can handle it. You just… Um, I'd say concentrate on whatever you're doing down there. What are you doing?"

He snorted in disgust and she rolled her eyes at the very Danny sarcasm she could picture. "Not much yet. I'm not going out to the boat yet even though I'm the last arrival. Something about having to pass a basic swimming skills test, and getting a crash course in CPR. They tell me I'll learn the rest once I'm allowed out there."

"Well, that's nothing to worry about," she agreed. They'd all learned to swim years ago and two years taking care of Danny Phantom's injuries had taken them all past basic first aid—CPR included. That one had been Sam's idea, since ghost fighting was risky to all of them. "Are you still very angry?"

"You have no idea," he bit out, and Sam winced. He sighed then. "But there's nothing to do about it now. I'm stuck here, at least until we set sail."

"You get to see all sorts of new things, though," she offered tentatively, trying to give him something positive to think about.

"I had to get a passport. The photo is horrible. I look like Poindexter without the glasses."

She laughed out loud as she turned onto her street. "You have to send me a copy, I have to see that."

"I'm not sending anyone copies, especially you, Sam. It's hideous." He choked on a laugh. "And you know it has to be for me to say that. I sound like a Paulina, almost."

"But you have to say it with her accent, and that annoying voice of hers," Sam teased.

"No thanks," was his immediate refusal. "I'd rather have my teeth pulled without Novocain." There was a pause and then Danny was cursing quietly. "Dammit. Sam, I'm sorry, I have to go. There's a curfew and I can't get caught with this cell. I have to be able to talk to you guys."

If it wasn't such a girly move, she would have sighed forlornly. "It's alright, Danny. I have to go home and face the music."

"Your mom, huh?" he asked sympathetically.

"Oh yeah. But call me soon? Let me know how you are? And Tucker, too," she added breathlessly, overeager to try and pretend that she wasn't desperate to talk to him more, or at least again as soon as possible.

"I will," he promised. "Miss you already, Sam."

The click and dial tone was painful to hear; he hadn't even said goodbye properly. But, Sam thought, that might be self defense. Maybe he just didn't want to say goodbye to her because he felt the same way. A girl could dream. But for now, she had to try climbing the trellis to her grandmother's room. In the dark.

Maybe yelling at her mother again was a better idea.

xXx

If he hadn't spent so much time in the last two years fighting ghosts nearly nonstop, he would probably have been a little more tired after the morning's exhausting drills. He had tested competently as a swimmer, which was expected. He certainly wasn't going to do it professionally, but he'd spent a lot of time on the beaches of Lake Michigan and learning to swim and float had kind of been a necessity. In fact, Danny was a little surprised that there were people who couldn't swim, especially in this day and age. But not everyone had a fondness for water or a body of it readily available to play in.

The first aid sessions had gone even better, also what he'd expected. After all of the crap he'd been through not to have learned as much as he had would be pretty sad. Though being named a junior medic wasn't planned. However, he certainly wasn't going to say no, since he knew that he was capable. And it also made him look a bit more responsible, something that might help offset this junior gang member label he'd been tagged with.

Of course, it might make it look worse, like he was always patching himself and his nonexistent gang up. Which was just an annoying thing to realize.

He'd been subjected to everything by the captain of the ship, who pretty much just introduced himself as Cap and put him through his paces. The man was probably his father's age, but that was where the similarities seemed to end. Where his father was large and burly, Cap was much leaner and obviously prepared to back up his orders with force, something Danny had been informed of early on.

There would be no dissension in the ranks, all orders were to be followed immediately for safety purposes, and if they weren't, well… And his parents signed him up for this!

He'd spent the night reading the packet Cap had given him, learning everything he could before he actually got shipped out literally. Danny didn't feel much better for it, though, since most of it looked like it needed practical application to be learned properly. At least he knew which side was port and which was starboard. Though he did wonder what was wrong with left and right.

He'd learn a lot more shortly because they were on their way out to the Albatross II, a short boat ride from the dock. Under other circumstances, Danny thought he'd probably have enjoyed his ride out to the ship. The powerboat he was in seemed to be flying, salty spray kicking up into his face. It stung his eyes and tasted extremely unpleasant, but he didn't mind that so much.

The ship itself sat easily in the water, a gleaming white thing with ten dark portholes running down its side. The two masts rose tall and dark, rather majestic over the body of the Albatross itself. Great white sails were still furled along them. It was a sight to behold, no matter the circumstances Danny could agree with that. But he didn't have to like it.

The ride out to the ship was short and within minutes Cap eased the small powerboat alongside the much larger craft. There was no easy way onto the ship, just a semi-precarious climb up a rope ladder with his duffel slung across his back. Danny was sure at least twice that he was going to fall, but he made it all the way up and onto the deck of the ship before feeling the need to sink down and sit on the dark, solid wood beneath him.

"You'll get used to it, Danny," Cap told him as he followed closely behind, offering a hand to pull him back to his feet.

"Do I have to?" Danny asked, hoping he didn't sound like a whiny idiot.

Cap only chuckled a little. "That is your way on and off the Albatross when we're not docked, so yeah, you do. But you did fine. You didn't fall, and you didn't turn green. I'll bet you don't even get seasick."

Danny paled at the thought. Seasick wasn't something he'd considered when he listed all of his grievances about being thrown into this mess. He'd have to revise his list now; just one more strike against his parents' judgment of him and their idea of punishment. Or reformation. Whatever, he didn't care about the semantics right now.

"Alright, guys, gather round. We've got our last crew member to introduce," Cap called.

Danny tensed as a group of boys h is age emerged from various places on the deck. Several of them were taller than he, the rest his own height or shorter. Danny spent the next minute cataloguing the ones he thought were going to be a problem and dismissing the rest, a talent he'd learned thanks to Dash and his cronies. He heaved an inward sigh. Most of them looked like they could be trouble.

"This is Danny," was the short introduction he was given before Cap went through them one at a time, first names only. It was annoying, because Danny doubted he would remember any of the names, but he had months to learn.

He tried to match them with his new found mental images of them. Robbie, who was lean and very Latin looking; James who gave him a smirk from beneath too-long brown hair. Luke, he Danny pinned as a smarmy trouble make even though he had the surfer good looks that probably netted him a different girl every weekend. Ricky was a large plain boy that was close enough to Luke that Danny expected it was gang behavior in the making.

Jimmy was smaller with red hair and seemed to be trying to fade into the background. George seemed to be joining him in the wallflower habit, though Danny blinked at the afterimage behind him before it faded out making him wonder if he'd already succumbed to heat stroke. And Matt, the last one, who made Danny shiver a little as he was forcibly reminded of Vlad, despite having dark hair and dark eyes that were a complete polar opposite of the fruit loop.

He gave a weak smile and wave before Cap hustled him down below deck to show him his assigned bunk. Danny followed, hating how obedient he was having to be. But he figured he was going to hate just about everything about this because of the complete and utter injustice of being forced here.

"Most everyone had choice of bunks, but since you're last man aboard you get the last bunk." Was it Danny's imagination or did he hear a note of apology? He shrugged it off as the older man continued. "You'll be in with Robbie. I know you already know the rules, but I want to make it clear that anything going on not on the up and up is going to get you busted. We clear?"

"Crystal," was all Danny said, hoping that it didn't sound too cold. Regardless of not deserving to be here, he sure as hell didn't want to start it off on the wrong foot.

"This is the common area," Cap went on as if Danny hadn't just come close to a verbal blizzard. "Cassie—you'll meet her later—and I have the rear cabin, Flipper—whom you'll also meet later—has the bow compartment. Head and showers are starboard, galley is port."

Danny blinked blankly for a moment until his mind retrieved the definitions, making him wrinkle his nose in distaste. Would it really be so hard to just say left and right? He tried not to bare his teeth too much, but for some reason the idea of just growling was very appealing. And again, Cap seemed not to notice. Danny wasn't sure whether he needed to be grateful for that or worried, considering his quick mental dossiers of his co-thugs aboard.

"You're going to be second cabin down on the right," Danny was informed, inordinately thankful for the non-nautical speak, even if he knew that was going to stop quickly. "I'll leave you to get settled."

There were at least real doors, even if there were no locks, he noticed as he let himself in and closed the door behind him. Not that he'd expected locks; that would be asking for far too much. Even if he was pretty sure he'd like to lock at least half of the other boys out. He just didn't know this Robbie character well enough to have an idea of whether getting locked in with him was at all safe.

It was larger than he'd expected, but Danny didn't feel any better about it. The floor was the same dark wood of the deck and the walls were an off-white that wasn't too blinding. There were two small desks against one of the walls complete with chairs that looked to have nylon cord securing them to the desks themselves. For rough weather, Danny supposed. The beds were more like bunk beds, secured to the other wall. The bottom one was already made up and there was a paperback lying open and face down on it. Danny sighed as he heaved his duffel up to the top one before stepping to the hull wall and looking out of one of the two portholes in the room.

This was a nightmare. An outlandish, horrible, terrible nightmare that he just couldn't wake up from.

He started when the cabin door burst open and the slim Latino boy came to a screeching halt to be framed by the door itself. Danny offered him a weak smile as he said, "Robbie, right?" vaguely recalling the name to face from the introductions he'd been put through not ten minutes ago.

The other boy, Robbie, regarded him cautiously as he nodded. "So what're you in for?"

Danny tensed and then forced his body to relax, muscle by muscle, until he was standing a little easier instead of ready to throttle his parents. Again. "My parents think I'm in a gang."

"Ah," was Robbie's sage reply. "I get into fights. A lot of them." Then he smiled in a disarmingly charming manner, shrugging and making Danny chuckle a bit. "I don't start them, but I do finish them."

"I know the feeling," was Danny's heartfelt sentiment.

"Alright, might as well get this out of the way," Robbie began as he closed the door behind him. Danny wondered at that, suddenly concerned that he was about to get into a fight for no reason. "Some of the other guys have a problem with it, but since I'm not sleeping in the same room as them I don't give a damn. You, however, I'm required to give a damn about what you think."

"About what?" was Danny's curious questioning now that he was pretty sure he was going to be on the receiving end of some hazing style ass kicking.

"I'm gay. Is that going to be a problem?"

"Uh, no," Danny replied automatically. "Not a problem, I don't care. Just, uh, don't hit on me, okay?"

Robbie laughed at him. "Another one of those straight boys. Don't worry, you're not my type." He waggled black brows suggestively making Danny want to cringe and double over laughing at the same time. "I like my men blond and buff."

"Oh. Oh god," Danny wheezed as the need to laugh overpowered any discomfort he was feeling about bunking with the boy. "Oh, I know someone who fits that bill perfectly."

"Do you really?" Robbie drawled. "You'll have to share that one with me, D."

"D?" Danny asked.

Robbie shrugged, amused. "One syllable. Which is one less than saying Danny. Come on, D, let's introduce you to the Albatross before we port out tomorrow morning."

"Port out, huh? You already know how to sale?"

Again, Robbie smiled, and this time Danny could see the amused teasing in it when he waggled his eyebrows. "What can I say? I'm a man of many talents. You can put your stuff away later, come on."