The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
December 24, 4:30 pm CST
One Year Later
Sam looked out of the Fentons' living room window onto the darkening streets of Amity Park. It was snowing, and the ground was already covered in soft, white drifts that reflected back the green and red Christmas lights draped around the window, along with the green and orange neon FentonWorks sign above the door, and the faint green glow of the Ghost Shield that not only surrounded the house, but was infused through all the walls and floors as well. It was almost sundown on Christmas Eve, which meant the Christmas Truce would be in effect shortly, so they weren't trying to keep ghosts out so much as they were making sure one particular half-ghost stayed in.
In the window's reflection, she watched her nine-month-old son, who was sitting on a blanket in the middle of the floor in the sunken living room behind her, chewing on a bright green ring decorated with smiling white ghosts. He was teething, and that ring, a present from Grandpa Jack, was the only thing that seemed to soothe him. Next to him, his two-year-old cousin was playing with a dilapidated stuffed bear that resembled Albert Einstein with his eyes removed. She was using it to try to get the baby's attention. At first, he wasn't interested, but after she danced the bear in front of him, he would reach for it, and she would snatch it back, crying, "MINE!"
Watching them through the hazy reflection of the window gave Sam the rather wistful sense that she was looking through a time portal at a young Jazz and Danny instead of their respective children. Charley, with just enough red hair to pull back into tiny pigtails on top of her head and wide blue eyes that resonated with the confidence that she and she alone knew exactly how the world ought to work, was Jazz in miniature. And her cousin, like his father before him, seemed only to want to find his own place in the world, preferably one not dominated by a bossy, overbearing, older female relative who was determined to make him her pet project. Sam was sure if she were to snap a photograph of this moment, she could find several just like it in one of Maddie's old photo albums.
As if to complete the sense that she was looking through a window in time, Sam could hear Jack and Maddie rehashing their same old Christmas quarrel while Maddie basted the Christmas turkey and Jack set up two folding tables and several chairs in the large open area next to the stairs just outside the kitchen door. Nick was helping him and, in between fighting with Maddie about the existence of Santa Claus, Jack was arguing with him about whether or not they could squeeze all seventeen chairs plus one high chair around those two tables, or if they had to haul another one down from the Op-Center.
"I'm telling you, Maddie, if the Specter Speeder can get to Saturn through a Ghost Portal, then why wouldn't a sleigh be able to traverse the globe in a single night? And we can totally squeeze nine chairs around each table, Nicky."
"I hardly think a reindeer-powered sleigh has the same capabilities as a rocket-powered vehicle designed for spirit-plane exploration. The aerodynamics alone make it unfeasible."
"Kinda like trying to fit nine chairs at one table. I'm gonna go get another one from the Op-Center, Jack."
"Stay right there, Nicky. We don't need another table. And who needs aerodynamics if you're traveling through another dimension?"
"You're not actually proposing that Santa Claus uses Ghost Portals to—"
Another cry of "MINE!", punctuated by a high-pitched wailing, drowned out the arguments from the kitchen area. Sam turned around to see that her son had dropped his teething ring in his attempt to reach for the stuffed bear, and he couldn't find it again.
Sam sighed and got up from the couch. "Hold on, Mommy's coming." She squatted down beside him and picked up the green ring, but before she could hand it to him, he disappeared. Great. Fortunately for her, he'd only gone invisible, not intangible and, a moment later, she felt his fingers curl around the ring in her hand. Then, it was floating in the air, once more getting soaked by drool.
"Charlotte Madeline Reilly!" Jazz had come down the stairs just in time to see the floating ring. "Are you teasing your cousin with Bearbert again?"
"MINE!" Charley insisted, hugging the bear to her.
Jazz descended the two steps into the sunken living room and scooped up her daughter. "No, it's Mommy's bear, and if you want to play with it, you have to play nice. No teasing your cousin!" She set Charley down a few feet away from the floating ring and gave Sam an apologetic look. "Sorry."
"No big. He didn't go intangible or start to float this time, and his powers are too weak to make the teething ring invisible, so we can keep track of him by watching it."
She'd learned a lot of tricks over the last nine months for keeping a close eye on her son when he wasn't wearing the Spectral Energy Neutralizer Jack had designed to fit onto his leg. She liked to take it off him whenever he was in a safe environment and someone could keep a close eye on him. That way, he could have a chance to grow into his ghost powers, much like he would his other developmental stages. Jack had created a playpen that could generate its own domed Ghost Shield, but so far she hadn't felt it necessary to use it all that much. The baby hadn't shown much interest in crawling yet, and when he did, he didn't go far, making him fairly easy to find even when invisible. He hadn't started pulling himself up to stand, either, probably because he could float a few feet off the ground, and it was easier to do that when he was reaching for something over his head than to stand up.
His intangibility was more of a concern, but Jack had come up with a solution to that, as well. He and Nick had redesigned the Ghost Shields in her house, FentonWorks, and just about every house in town they regularly visited so that instead of merely creating a dome around the house, the shielding could be switched to run through every wall, floor, and ceiling, making it impossible to phase from one room to the next. With these precautions—and a little extra childproofing from floor to ceiling in case he got better at floating—Sam was content for the time being to let him play unhindered whenever she could watch him closely. She expected that safety would become a bigger issue down the road, as he got older and more mobile.
Jazz shook her head as she eyed the floating green ring. "I don't know how you do it, Sam. Kids are hard enough without ghost powers."
Sam smiled. "Lots and lots of help. Talk about a village raising a child…"
"Speaking of, where is everybody? The candlelight vigil is in just a few hours, and I can tell by the fact that the Great Santa Claus Debate is dying down that dinner will be ready soon."
"Tucker and Val and their families should be here any minute. I was just watching for them, as a matter of fact. Patrick had to work, but he said they'd definitely be here before dinner—like Dash would miss feeding time. Lancer called to say he'd be here by five, and Paulina had to stop by her family's first—although why she's coming here instead of staying with them, I'll never know."
"Same reason as Mr. Lancer, I guess. Sharing dinner together before the vigil feels… important. But why are you asking me?" Jazz gave her a pointed look. "She's your friend."
"She is not my friend. She's my employee."
"Right. The only employee who gets an invite to Christmas dinner." Jazz rolled her eyes. "What about your parents? They're coming, too, right?"
"Yep. I guess it really is the season of miracles." With the third and fourth nights of Hanukkah coinciding with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year, planning the holidays had been challenging, especially with both sets of grandparents wanting to share their grandson's first holiday season. But Sam's parents had surprised her by agreeing to come to Christmas Eve dinner at the Fentons so they could all celebrate together.
"You seem to be getting along a lot better with them these days," Jazz observed.
"I have to admit, they've really made an effort ever since the baby's birth. I mean, they're still not thrilled with having a half-ghost grandson, but they're really trying to adjust." Sam was even finding herself visiting them regularly without being prodded. "We were just over at their house the night before last for the first night of Hanukkah, and it was… nice."
The doorbell rang before Jazz could reply, and she picked Charley up and went over to answer it. A small crowd comprising of Tucker, his parents, Valerie, and her dad came into the living room, brushing snow off their shoulders and heads. Jack stopped fussing with the tables, and Maddie emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on the green and red apron she was wearing over her usual blue hazmat suit. They welcomed their guests and directed those bearing gifts to the Christmas tree. Sam, however, stayed on the living room floor beside the baby so she wouldn't lose him in the general chaos of greetings.
Tucker spotted her while depositing an armful of wrapped packages under the tree, and he came over to join her. "Happy Hanukkah, Sam. Where's my godson—uh, the floating teething ring, I take it?"
She grinned up at him and nodded. "Charley was teasing him with Bearbert, so… Well, you know how it goes when he gets upset." He seemed to use his powers most when he was upset or uncomfortable. It wasn't all that unlike Danny in the early days, actually, when he used to go intangible or invisible at random moments, often when under some sort of stress.
Tucker sat down cross-legged on the floor beside her and put his hands out, carefully feeling for the baby until he found him. "Come give your Uncle Tucker a big hug." He looked like a mime as he scooped the invisible bundle into his arms, except for the fact that his glasses suddenly began floating off his face.
With a squeal of delight, the baby reappeared, one pudgy fist curled around the glasses, and the other still around the teething ring. He dropped the latter and tried to bring the former to his mouth as a replacement, but Tucker liberated the oversized frames and jammed them back onto his face, then retrieved the teething ring to give it back to him. "Uh-uh-uh! Don't play with Uncle Tucker's glasses."
Sam snickered. "What, no contacts?"
"Eh. I didn't wanna mess with 'em. I'll put them in before we head out to the park for the vigil. Gotta look good for the press." He wagged his eyebrows up and down in an exaggerated mock flirt, but the mention of the vigil made Sam's smile fade. Tucker noticed the sudden change in her mood and sobered as well. "Hard to believe it's been a year."
"A year." She shook her head, frustrated. "And what have we accomplished? A Congressional investigation into the vaccine scam and every other horrific thing they've done, and the Guys in White still haven't been shut down. Meanwhile, Danielle sits in a jail cell for committing the terrible crime of not being like everyone else."
"Hey. I know it feels like we haven't accomplished much in the last year, but look what we have accomplished. Danielle was granted habeas rights, and they were forced to bring her before the judge just a couple of months after her arrest. That was something we never got for Danny, not even after five months. And they had to move her out of whatever secret location they had her in and into the old Amity Park penitentiary—"
"Which they run."
"But it's here, it's not secret, and they have to allow her regular contact with her lawyers and her family, which means they can't try poisoning the ghost out of her, like they did with Danny."
"They're still experimenting on her."
"But under close scrutiny. And we even get to all visit her at once tomorrow for Christmas. That's huge progress, Sam."
"It's not enough."
He looked over towards the Christmas tree where Valerie was helping his parents and her dad arrange the gifts they'd brought. "You don't have to tell me. Dani's officially my stepdaughter now, too, you know." He turned back to Sam, flashing the ring on his left hand, as if she needed reminding. One of the first things Danielle had insisted when they'd first been allowed to contact her was that Tucker and Valerie go through with their wedding without her. After some arguments, they'd arrived at the same solution that Danny and Sam had used for their wedding issues—they had two ceremonies. The first was held in Danielle's jail cell, with only family in attendance. The second was a large, formal affair at the Grays' church in Amity Park.
Tucker grinned at Sam. "Who'd have guessed when we had to share that flour sack baby in ninth grade health class that we'd someday share an actual stepchild? Danny and Val's child, no less. Tetslaff must've been psychic. Which… kinda creeps me out a little, come to think of it."
"Oh, you're hilarious."
He sighed, obviously disappointed that his attempt at joking her back into good spirits fell short. "Just wait 'til after the presidential election next year. They're so going down."
"I'm tired of waiting, Tuck. After what those lowlifes did to Danny, and to Danielle, I'm not gonna be able to really relax until they're gone."
"I hear ya. But at least they can't do anything more to hurt our family." He gave the baby a significant look as he bounced him up and down, making him laugh in delight.
Sam's face softened into a smile as she looked at her son. He looked so much like his father, with his shock of unruly black hair—a lot for a nine-month-old—and big blue eyes that sometimes, when he was upset, would glow green. She wondered if someday he'd be able to go fully ghost and get Danny's white hair, too. The thought of her son in ghost form made him seem more vulnerable, somehow, and she found herself reaching to take him from Tucker, as if by merely holding him herself, she could protect him from all the hate that he would encounter in his life just because he wasn't like everyone else.
Clenching her jaw, she looked over the top of his head at Tucker. "I know they can't do anything more to our family, but they've already done enough, don't you think?"
Although the Santa Claus argument ended, as it did every year, with neither side capitulating, Nick was the clear winner of the table argument, and when they all gathered for dinner, there were three folding tables pushed together to make one long one banquet table, piled high with an elaborate multi-cultural feast that included Christmas turkey, Hanukkah latkes that Sam's mother had made a point of preparing egg-free without so much as a hint of complaint—another sign of their improved relations—Mrs. Foley's baked yams and Mr. Gray's fried okra, three different kinds of tamales from Paulina's favorite caterer, and Mr. Lancer's mushroom pierogi. To top everything off, Patrick brought six different pies, including a vegan pumpkin pie. At least, Sam was pretty sure it was vegan, judging by the way Dash had practically thrown it down in front of her place setting as if it were toxic waste.
It was already after sundown by the time dinner was ready, so they started off with Sam's father lighting the menorah that sat on in the center of the long table. He lit the tallest candle in the middle, the shamash, and recited the two blessings, first in Hebrew, then in English. "Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha'olam asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu l'had'lik neir shel Hanukkah. Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us by his commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah. Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha'olam she'asah nisim la'avoteinu bayamim haheim baziman hazeh. Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in days of old, at this season." Then, he used the shamash to light three of the other eight candles.
Sam bit her lip as she watched from across the table. Hanukkah was a holiday of light and miracles, but after so much loss over the past two years, it was impossible to not feel the holes left by those who were absent.
Her father caught her eye, looking a little misty himself. After he replaced the shamash in the center holder, he addressed the assembled group. "My mother was always the one who lit the menorah at Hanukkah. This is our second year without her, and as much as she and I clashed over, well, pretty much everything, it's hard not to miss her during the holidays. Being here, in this home with such an… eclectic group—" This made Sam smile; he'd actually managed to say the word eclectic without derision— "I can't help but think how happy this would have made her. She loved our faith and its traditions, and she taught me, and my daughter after me, to cherish it and our heritage. But she and my father also had a great appreciation for the other traditions observed this time of year. They believed that we should learn from the best of what other cultures and religions have to offer, and that light and miracles and hope are for everyone."
He looked at Sam. "My daughter took that lesson to heart more than her mother and I. She's always been one to celebrate our differences rather than be afraid of them. And because of that, we have a beautiful grandson, who brings together not only two very different families and two different religious traditions, but two different worlds. I… I can't pretend I am as comfortable with that as she is, but this little boy is living proof that my mother was right." He directed a fond smile at the baby, chewing happily on his favorite green teething ring in the high chair beside Sam. "Grandma Ida and Granddad Benjamin would be so proud, Sam."
She blinked back tears at the unexpected compliment, and Sam's mother sniffed and put a hand on her husband's arm as he sat down.
Jack, looking a little choked up himself, leaned across Maddie to slap Sam's father on the back. "Hear, hear, Thurston." Then, he rose, offering his own Christmas blessing. "This is a season of joy, and light, and community. As I look around this room, at all the different faces, and families, and backgrounds, I can't help but be grateful for each and every one of you and how you've touched our lives. But we also remember who can't be with us, and hope that change will come soon." Sam saw Valerie press her lips together, her head bobbing in agreement. "And we remember those who are gone, but never forgotten. They live on in our hearts, and in our memories, and in the children who come after them." Like Sam's father, Jack smiled at the grandson they shared. "Especially their namesakes."
Her dad nodded. "It's an old Jewish tradition, naming children after relatives who have passed away. That way they can always remember their connections to family they never knew. I just didn't expect my daughter to do something traditional."
"Some traditions are good ones, Dad." She had to swallow over the lump forming in her throat as she looked at her son.
Paulina, never one to let a touching moment pass without making it somehow about her, flashed Sam a bright smile from the far end of the table. "That's why you didn't name him after me! Because you had to name him after dead people!"
"Hey!" Tucker leaned back in his seat on the other side of the high chair, his arms folded in indignation.
Sam rolled her eyes. "Oh, don't get your shorts in a bundle, Tuck. He's only half Jewish, remember?"
This seemed to appease him. "All right, then."
Jack looked around the long table at everyone gathered there. "I don't know about all of you, but I'm starved." He reached for the bowl of mashed potatoes, but Maddie slapped his hand away.
"You haven't finished saying grace yet, Jack."
"Oh, right. Good bread, good meat, good God, let's eat!" And he reached for the mashed potatoes once more.
Maddie heaved a weary sigh. "Jack…" But everyone else was starting to heap their plates with food, so she let it go and helped herself to some of Mr. Lancer's pierogi.
Sam was mashing up some of the latkes for the baby when a squeal of indignation erupted from his high chair. She turned to see that he'd dropped his teething ring onto the floor and, in reaching over for it, went intangible—but, thankfully, still visible—and freed himself from the high chair's restraints. Silently cursing herself for forgetting to put the Spectral Energy Neutralizer back on before strapping him into the chair, she dove for him. It was futile trying to catch him while he was intangible, but at least if he re-solidified, he'd land on her instead of crashing to the floor.
As it turned out, he did neither. Frustrated by the loss of his favorite green ring, he howled in outrage and, instead of falling down, started floating up. Sam made another grab for him, but he was still intangible, so she might as well have been trying to capture smoke. He continued rising well over their heads under the room's vaulted ceilings, like a balloon whose string had been released.
The floating seemed to soothe him, and once he was well out of anyone's reach, he turned solid again, but continued bobbing up and down, chewing on his fist jammed into his mouth. This only served to add to Sam's fears that he would fall and hurt himself, and she bit back another curse. "Fabulous. No interest in crawling or pulling himself up, but now he's suddenly figured out how to float eight feet in the air."
Valerie snorted. "He's his father's son. Why bother doing anything physical if he can use his ghost powers instead?"
Mr. Lancer, sitting next to Paulina, sighed. "Another lazy Fenton to someday grace the halls of Casper High. Why couldn't he be like his aunt instead?"
Jack, Sam's dad, and Dash, the three tallest people in the room, pulled back their chairs and climbed up on them try and catch him, but he was over the table, and none of them could quite reach him. Dash scratched his head. "You want me to go get a step-ladder?"
"What good would it do if he's over the table like that?" Sam sighed. "Man, I wish his father were here."
"So you have wished it, so shall it be."
Sam turned. Standing in the doorway to the kitchen, in ghost form, was Danny. He had his arms crossed and was smirking at her, a mischievous glint in his green eyes. "I thought you'd stricken the word 'wish' from your vocabulary, though."
Relieved to see him, she nevertheless arched her eyebrow, maintaining a dry tone. "I figured it was safe since it's Christmas Eve. Now, can you please get your son down? He's learned a new trick."
Danny frowned, confused, until she pointed up at the ceiling. He followed her gaze, then groaned. "Benjamin Tucker Fenton! What are you doing up there?" He looked back at Sam. "When did he learn to do that?"
"About five seconds ago. Can you please get him down, now? We can't reach him over the table."
"And make it quick," Paulina added. "I don't want baby drool on my tamales."
While Danny flew up to the ceiling to retrieve his wayward son, Sam went over to the living room sofa, where she'd left the diaper bag, and rummaged around in it until she found the Spectral Energy Neutralizer. She watched as Ben eluded Danny's grasp several times before he finally caught him. Using his own ghost powers as a counter against his son's so that he couldn't go intangible and escape again, Danny settled back down onto the floor beside the high chair. While he held the squirming baby, who protested with loud wailing and a face red with indignation, Sam snapped the Spectral Energy Neutralizer onto his leg, then retrieved the green teething ring from the floor and handed it to him. After a moment, he calmed down again, and she took him from Danny to put him back in his high chair.
The commotion over, everyone returned to their meals, and Maddie looked over at Danny. "We thought you wouldn't be back until much later, sweetie, or we would've waited to start eating."
"Yeah," Sam agreed as she strapped Ben into his chair. "I thought the Christmas Truce didn't even start until sundown, and that was less than an hour ago"
Danny shrugged, morphing into human form. "Yeah, well, you know how time's kinda… fuzzy in the Ghost Zone. Things got rolling well before sundown Amity Park time. Besides, have you ever tried ghost Christmas goose?" He gave a dramatic shudder. "I ate a few bites so as to not offend the Lunch Lady, but I wanted to be good and hungry for Mom's turkey. Ooh, and Mrs. Foley's yams." He smiled at Tucker's mother.
Maddie got up from the table. "Well, good. We were just getting started. I'll get a place setting for you. Jack, go get another chair."
"I can do that, Mom."
"Don't be silly. You take it easy. It'll just take a second." She headed into the kitchen with Jack behind her.
Danny raised his eyebrows at Sam, but she just shrugged in response. After Frostbite's team had come up with an anti-venom for the poison that had very nearly killed him, Danny's recovery had been long and slow, and his mother tended to treat him like he was still fragile, always wanting to do the most simple tasks for him, even while she somewhat paradoxically accepted the more dangerous duties he undertook as his powers and strength gradually returned. It was as if by controlling the little things, she could somehow keep him safe from the big things. Danny had long since given up attempting anything more than token protests, but Sam knew it still irked him a little. As someone who watched and worried alongside Maddie through his recovery, however, a part of her sympathized with her mother-in-law.
When the Fentons returned with a chair and place setting, Sam slid the high chair closer to her to make room for Danny on the other side of it, next to Tucker. Danny, meanwhile, began heaping food onto his plate. As he reached for some turkey, he eyed the latkes Sam had mashed for Ben. "He should be old enough for turkey, if I throw it in the food processor with the potatoes or yams, don't you think?"
Sam arched an eyebrow at him. "So you're feeding him, then?" They had an agreement, which they'd made when they'd first started introducing solid foods, that Ben could eat age-appropriate meat, dairy, and egg products, but only if Danny was feeding him. Sam had done extensive research into healthy vegan diets for nursing moms and babies, and when she was doing the feeding, it was strictly plant products. When she couldn't nurse, they gave him soy formula, but when it came to solid foods, she and Danny each picked what they wanted to feed him when it was their turn. Sam figured, like with everything else in Ben's varied background, he could make his own decision when he was old enough. After all, she and Danny had named him after his great-grandfather who, along with his great-grandmother, had always believed in the uniqueness of each individual. She'd wanted to honor her grandmother, who'd been her greatest influence and role model, but couldn't make a name out of "Ida" that she liked for a boy, so she'd chosen the name of the most important person in her grandmother's life instead.
Danny nodded. "Sure, I'll feed him. You sit back and enjoy your own dinner." He looked at Tucker. "Can I borrow your salad plate, Tuck? I assume you won't need it."
"Be my guest. It couldn't be going to a better cause."
Sam rolled her eyes, remembering that they'd also named the baby after the biggest carnivore on the planet. That had been Danny's decision, since Sam had picked his first name, but she'd readily agreed that it was the perfect tribute to their mutual best friend, the one person who had kept her from falling apart during Danny's absence and the first six months of her pregnancy. Now, however, she was having second thoughts as she glared at Tucker. "You stay out of it. If he grows up to be a meat eater, so be it. But it better not be from your propaganda."
While she chastised him, Danny took his salad plate, put a little bit of turkey and some yams onto it, then headed towards the kitchen before his mother could suggest she do it instead. Sam could hear the food processor whirring for about a minute, and then Danny returned with a disgusting-looking conglomeration of orange and tan puree. He sat down and offered the baby a spoonful, but no sooner did it go into Ben's mouth, when it came back out again, dribbling over his chin and onto his bib while he made a face.
Sam grinned. "Maybe we'll make a vegetarian out of him after all."
"It's not the turkey that's the problem," Tucker said. "Danny ruined perfectly good meat with those yams."
Tucker's mother, seated right next to Sam, leaned over her to scowl at her son. "You better not be talking about my yams, Tucker Foley!"
"Sorry, Mom, but a veggie's a veggie, even if you're the one who cooked it." He turned to Danny. "And speaking of disgusting foods, other than ghost goose—ew—how was Christmas in the Ghost Zone?"
Danny shoveled another spoonful of orange goo into his son's mouth. This time, it mostly stayed. "It was… I dunno. Weird. More than the ghost idea of Christmas usually is, I mean. It's like they…" He shook his head, at a loss.
Sam cocked her head. "Like they were glad to see you, maybe?"
"Yeah." He wrinkled his nose in confusion. "I mean, they've always been pretty welcoming towards me at Christmas, but this was different. I don't know how to explain it."
"I do. They missed you when you were gone, and they're glad you're back. You'd only been back a day and were still pretty out of it from that stupid drug last Christmas Eve, so maybe you don't remember how many of them came by to see you, but you coming back was a big deal to them. Almost as much as it was to us."
"Which is… weird. Because ever since I've gotten strong enough, I've been back to wailing on them when they mess around in the Human World."
"I know. What do you think it is that they missed?"
He chuckled. "You know, you just might be right about that. I think you get the ghosts better than I do."
"Goth," she reminded him. "Weird and freaky is my thing."
"True." A wad of yams and turkey splattered on his face, and he briefly went intangible to let it fall to the floor. "Oh, and Walker was there."
Sam raised an eyebrow at him. "Really?" Danny had been furious when she'd told him how Walker had been the one ghost who had gone after her when she was pregnant, but if the ghost warden's presence on Christmas Eve bothered him, it didn't show. She wondered if that was his human side being forgiving, or his ghost side really assimilating the spirit of the Christmas Truce after all.
"Ugh." Jazz made a face across the table as she tried to get Charley to eat some green beans. "I thought he was on the outs with the other ghosts because of the baby."
Beside her, Nick frowned. "And wasn't he the ghost that caused all the problems that first time the Guys in White arrested you, back when I first found out who you were?"
"That's him." Danny pulled the spoon away just in time to avoid Ben swatting it out of his hand. "But you guys know how the ghosts are. You need a playbook to keep track of who's made alliances with each other, and who's wailing on who."
"Whom," Mr. Lancer called out from the opposite end of the table. "It's 'who's wailing on whom.'"
"Uh… right." Danny winced at his former English teacher before turning back to Sam. "So, anyway, Walker's at least willing to be part of the Christmas Truce again. And, believe it or not, when the Box Ghost mentioned wanting to see the baby, he didn't even make a fuss. All the ghosts were kinda disappointed I didn't bring him, I think. You both should come with me next year."
"Maybe." It wasn't so much that she was worried about the ghosts, especially not on Christmas Eve, but even after a year of recovery, Danny's ghost powers still weren't back to a hundred percent. Eighty-five, maybe, but for their son's first trip into the Ghost Zone, nothing short of a hundred would satisfy Sam. By next year, she hoped he would be. "We'll see how things are next year. And by then, Dani will be able to come, too."
Danny's eyes narrowed in determination. "Yeah, she will. Speaking of…" He twisted to look behind Tucker's back to Valerie. "Hey, Val. Who's all going to the penitentiary tomorrow to visit Dani for Christmas?"
"We are, of course." She indicated Tucker and herself. "And your parents and Jazz and Nick." She raised her voice so she could be heard further down the table. "Daddy, you're going with us to see Dani, right?"
Mr. Gray, sitting on the other side of Tucker's parents, nodded. "You bet, baby girl."
"How many visitors can she have at once?" Patrick asked from the far end of the table.
Sam shrugged. "They normally allow only two or three, but Miguel and Rob worked really hard to arrange a big family visit. We can have up to fifteen adults, plus Ben and Charley, for one hour. Ben and Danny have to wear Spectral Energy Neutralizers, though." She made a face. "But, anyway, Miguel wants to be there, so with us, the Fentons, Jazz and Nick, Tuck and Val, and Mr. Gray, that's ten."
"I'd like to go," Mr. Lancer said. "Unlike some people at this table who shall remain nameless, she was always a hard-working student. I look forward to seeing her resume her medical studies and get her M.D."
Dash leaned forward over his plate. "Can Patrick and I go?"
"I want to, too," Paulina added.
Sam's eyes widened. "You wanna go, Paulina? To jail? To visit someone you barely know?"
"Listen, Drusilla. I've been fighting for her freedom for a year, same as you. I'm the one who planned tonight's vigil for her freedom, even. Along with Danny, she's the icon of this whole movement. Of course I wanna see her."
Danny looked moved. "Thanks, Paulina. That… it means a lot to me."
Tucker shook his head. "We've really come a long way since the days Team Phantom was just you, me, Sam, and a couple of Fenton Thermoses."
"No kidding." Danny wiped another splatter of turkey and yams off of Ben's face—he couldn't use the intangible trick on him while he was wearing the Spectral Energy Neutralizer. "Who'd have thought back then that I'd be celebrating Christmas Eve with the ghosts and fighting humans in the courts? It's a whole new world."
"And when we're through, it'll be a better one." Sam looked at her son, who had smashed his fist into the plate of latkes that was still sitting in front of him and was smearing it onto the high chair tray. "So he won't have to ever hide a part of himself."
Danny gave her a wistful look. "Remember what I asked you the night we first got together? When I asked you if you wanted to go for a ride?"
"To see where the future takes us?"
He nodded. "Is this where you imagined the future taking us?"
She looked down the table at the people she considered most precious to her. Not just the Fentons, Tucker and his parents, or Valerie and her dad, but Mr. Lancer, Dash, Paulina… Even her semi-friendly relationship with her own parents was something she never would've thought possible a decade ago. She thought of Danielle, whom she'd once known only as some distant cousin of Danny's, and now her absence was painful to Sam in a way she couldn't have imagined back then.
And then there was her son, Danny in miniature, covered in as much glop as if he'd just survived his first Casper High food fight.
"Nope." Sam smiled, wiping a bit of mush off him with her thumb, not even caring that it had meat in it. "Not even close."
Author's Note: I really want to thank everyone who's joined me on this somewhat strange ride. I began writing this story almost a year ago, and it has been one of the most fulfilling just-for-fun pieces of writing I've ever worked on, and I'm grateful to everyone who's taken the time to read and to offer feedback. The past few weeks have been very difficult for my family, and this story and the comments I've been getting from readers have been a bright spot in all of it, and have made it just a little bit easier to cope with all the other stuff. I'm going to really miss this story now that it's done. When RL calms down somewhat, I hope to work on the sequel to Infinite Potential, of which I've written the prologue and first chapter, but then got kind of stalled on it with all the other stuff going on.
Thank you all so much for your support.