Christmas was, without doubt, Samantha Manson's favorite season of the year. Which one might find slightly curious, seeing as how she was Jewish and did not celebrate the holiday per se. Still, there was something about the season that seemed to briefly transform her, year after year. It always started the night before Thanksgiving, because she felt that she had a lot in her life to be grateful for. In spite of the grating homelife she had, it could be a lot worse. Her parents were together. They loved each other, they loved her, and they begrudgingly tolerated her Gothic lifestyle. Not that they didn't make attempts to get her to change, but Sam was proud of who she was, and rather thankful that in spite of the conflict in her home that her rigid beliefs and independent streak could cause, they were still a family. And there was, of course, her extended family, Danny and Tucker, and even the rest of the Fenton clan were becoming more like relatives to her as time marched on. And altogether, it seemed to be a good thing that she had going.
And so, slightly out of character, Sam was happy. To put a point on it, she was getting to the "wastefully cheerful" part of her holiday cycle. She always became less gloomy just before Thanksgiving, and became sunnier each week until Chanukah, which she did celebrate, and then continued to let her feelings climb through Christmas when they peaked, carrying her from Christmas to the New Year until her more normal demeanor began to manifest itself when school started up again in January. It was a cycle that Sam didn't even entirely understand herself, but she had long ago learned to simply go with it, fighting the urge only gave her odd nervous twitches.
Now, it was Christmas Eve, one of her favorite nights of the year. Even though her family did not celebrate the holiday religiously, there was kind of a secular tradition with it in her home. But this year was different. She wasn't spending it with her parents and her grandmother around a fire, not this time. Although Sam did cherish time with her grandmother, tonight was meant to be something a little more special. She was sixteen now, and not much longer for the halls of the Manson estate. This year, she was having a private little party with Danny and Tucker, who had also gotten begrudging permission to break away from their parents for the evening, as long as they returned home by 2AM. It was just going to be a nice little gathering with a late dinner and a viewing of It's A Wonderful Life, which was Sam's favorite holiday movie, mainly because in his own way, Danny reminded her so very much of George Bailey, making his own constant sacrifices for the betterment of Amity Park.
The boys were out running some last minute Christmas Eve errands of their own, and Sam was content to use the free time to make sure that everything was perfect. After much pleading with her mother, she had been allowed to use a small set of the finer holiday China for her little soiree, and a set of goldware. Normally, Sam didn't like to flaunt her family's wealth, nor was she interested in sophistication, but she just wanted to do something a little more mature and proper than takeout from the Nasty Burger. Idly, she wondered if there was some dormant gene of her mother's that was beginning to activate as she grew older, but Sam pushed that thought out of her mind. So she wanted to make a little impression, big deal. And if it happened to highlight her abilities to be a proper hostess to Danny, so much the better, right?
Sam hummed to herself as she began to actually set the table, complete with water goblets and champagne glasses—she had procured a bottle of sparkling apple cider from the local grocery store earlier that day for the occasion, which was currently chilling in the wine cooler to what she hoped would be perfection.
"There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy
As we pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie"
She sang to herself, softly, admiring her work as she folded the napkins in a fancy manner, fastening each one with a miniature skull clip she had ordered online from one of her favorite gothic shopping sites. Everything was all set. The salad was in the fridge. Her grandmother had prepared two Cornish hens, one for each of her friends, and they were nestled in the oven on a warm setting, just enough to keep the meal fresh without drying it out. Of course, her own meal still stuck to her preferred, ultra-recyclo vegetarian diet, but still included several of her favorites, like a tantalizing green bean casserole, made with a cream of mushroom soup that utilized soy milk. It was also something she knew Danny would actually eat some of, and, if he was in enough of a holiday mood, Tucker might even try out a bite sized morsel. And, of course, her meal couldn't be complete without her own "steak," which was actually a slab of tofu and assorted ground vegetables garnished with onion and bread crumbs. All that was left now was to put the loaf of bread in the oven when the boys arrived.
"Where are they, anyway?" Sam wondered to herself as she glanced up at the clock, which advised her it was nearly seven o'clock. She shook her head. "Danny must be doing his last minute shopping routine. Again.'
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Indeed, Danny Fenton was at the mall with Tucker, trying to scurry through a checklist of last minute gifts as the various stores around him were trying to close up shop for the evening. He was rather tempted to use his ghost powers to phase through one or two of the mall stores that had already shuddered, but he had a sneaking suspicion that if a random boy appeared out of nowhere while they were busy counting the day's receipts, it probably would end with him in a holding cell.
"Tuck! What's left on the list?" Danny asked, walking at a very brisk pace that the technogeek had to exert himself to catch up with. "Let's see, you got the vanishing crème for Spectra, and the remote control for Technus, and Sam's holding that quill for the Ghost Writer…so, I guess that just leaves Ember, Skulker, Youngblood, and the Box Ghost. Oh, and Frostbite, of course."
"Frost Bite's gift is homemeade, I owe the guy a lot. And I've got a that box of old Halloween costumes in the back of my closet, Youngblood should get a kick out of that. And hey, the Box Ghost can have the box, he'll be thrilled!'
"So what about Skulker and Ember?"
"For Skulker, I'm thinking some polish for that armor of his. I mean, no reason to give him anything he can use while he hunts me, right?"
"You said it brother! Let's not go knocking on trouble's door. Alright then, so just Ember/"
"I'm thinking a guitar pick, if we can make it to the store."
"Couldn't she use that against you?"
"It's the guitar that she uses, the pick is just a pick." Danny pointed out.
"I dunno, still seems like inviting trouble Maybe you should just get her some mascara or something."
"I'm not buying Ember makeup! That's like, something you do for your girlfriend. Which she is so totally not. Add to that the fact that she is Skulker's girlfriend. I haven't read up on the Ghost Zone Book of Etiquette, but I'm pretty sure that a really fast way to end a truce is to give gifts to a ghost's boyfriend that could be deemed a little too friendly."
Tucker blinked. "It was just a suggestion."
"Sorry, Tuck." Danny sighed. "I'm just a little stressed."
"Are your parents making your Christmas difficult again?"
"No, they've decided to lay off the whole Santa thing after the stunt I pulled last year. I've just been studying for mid-terms and hunting ghosts and doing all the family holiday activities…plus I kept putting off this shopping trip. I took care of you and Sam and my family weeks ago, but it's just felt kind of odd to go out and get this stuff for ghosts who spend most of the year out to get me." Danny sighed, slowing down as he skidded to a stop right in front of the instrument store for Ember's gift.
"I guess maybe it's just part of being a ghost? Better to just embrace it, Danny. Sometimes, we just are who we are. Take me for instance, I'm a technophile and proud of it." He grinned, patting his friend's shoulder.
Danny slapped his forehead, not from Tucker's comment, but at his own oversight. "Johnny 13! Ah crud, I forgot about him and Kitty."
"Wax for his bike, same as Skulker." Tucker thought of a quick save. Here, I'll got get the wax, you handle the pick. Meet you back in the food quart in twenty minutes."
"You know Sam will kill you if you spoil your appetite!" Danny called after his friend, but if Tucker heard him, it didn't show as the beret-wearing boy darted off as fast as he could walk without being accused of running by mall security. Danny ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head as he went about his business.
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Twenty minutes later, Danny sat in the nearly empty food court of the Amity Park mall, while Tucker waited patiently at the Nasty Burger Express counter, their last customer for the evening. Danny drummed his fingers in impatience. This shopping trip had knocked the wind out of his sails. "Next year, I'm planning ahead." Danny muttered as his friend finally appeared opposite him at the table, with a spread of four double Nasty burgers, two large fries, and two chocolate shakes.
"Hey, at least we got everything on your list." Tucker pointed out. "And right in time to. This place is starting to get a little empty."
"Tell me about it." Danny sighed, reaching for a burger. "At least it's all finally done. All I've got to do now is slip into the Fenton Portal tomorrow night and get my ghost party on."
"What do ghosts do at parties anyway?" Tucker responded in between bites of his Nasty burger.
"Surprisingly, pretty much the same things we do. It's kind of odd to drink with my enemies one night each year, but you know, I think I understand it. I mean, even all the ghosts don't get along with each other, it's not just a them versus me thing. I guess it kind of helps us all remember that we're all in this afterlife thing together. Um, you know, even though I'm not actually dead yet or anything."
"Perish the thought." Tucker smirked. "Speaking of gifts, what did you end up getting Sam?"
Danny sighed slightly. "You'd be surprised how hard she is for shop for."
"Oh no, believe me. I know she isn't easy to shop for. But it's got to be even harder for you."
Danny blinked, looking confused. "Why?"
Tucker took a sip of his chocolate shake, muttering something unintelligible about his friend's penchant to be completely clueless in the face of an obvious opportunity. Pulling the straw out of his mouth, the dark boy set the drink down and revealed his own gift to the missing member of their party. "I got her something both tech savvy and goth sensible. A simple software set that will allow her to create her own dynamic backdrops with ease. Now she can turn her mouse pointer into a bat, have a spider web screen saver, even customize her own icons and fonts to suit her mood. The software does all the work, all she has to do is tell it what she wants and make any desired tweaks. I think she'll love it!"
"I'm sure she will, Tuck." Danny nodded, eating some of his French fries. "Me, I kind of went the homemade route. I mean, it's not like there's anything I can really buy for Sam that she can't already get on her own, so I figured I would try to do something a little different. She's seemed a little…I dunno, different lately."
"She always gets cheery around the holidays. Don't worry, it won't last. A week after New Year's, and her goth indifference will be back in full force, promise."
"No, that's not it. I've gotten used to the whole upbeat Sam thing. It's more like she's, ugh, I can't really put my finger on it. She just seems like she's on edge sometimes. Like she's waiting on a flight that's been delayed, and getting worried that it might be cancelled."
"You don't say?" Tucker asked coyly, finishing the rest of his burger with speed learned through years of all too brief school lunches, and reaching for his second to unwrap.
"I guess." Danny shrugged, beginning to eat his first burger with more fervor now, stopping in between large bites to articulate his point. "It's no big deal. Maybe she's just going through some girl stuff. I mean, it's not like she can really talk to us about…you know, girl stuff."
"Yeah, I guess there's something to that." Tucker nodded, then suddenly put down his burger. "Hey, if that's true, then why is she always all up in our guy stuff?"
Danny blinked. "Um, because she's a total tomboy?"
"I still can't believe how much better she is than us at most video games." Tucker sighed. "It stings twice as hard considering it kinda falls into the tech category." He slumped, taking solace in the feel of a beef patty between two sesame buns in his hands. "At least meat has never betrayed me. Well, okay, maybe that one time with the Lunch Lady ghost, but still, meat has a way better track record than technology!"
"Yeah, but that's only because of Technus. If it weren't for him, technology would still have a good record, right?" Danny laughed.
This time it was Tucker's turn to blink. "Hey! You're right! I knew there was a reason you were my first love." Tucker grinned, pulling out his P.D.A. and planting a kiss on the touchscreen.
Danny made an unpleasant face. "Ugh, do you two want to be alone?"
"Nah, it can wait." Tucker shrugged. "So what do you think of this movie night at Sam's?"
"I think it means I won't be at home tonight, so no chance of something happening that activates my innate grinchness. This year is going to be a pleasant Christmas for all—Foleys, Mansons, and Fentons alike." Danny stood like he was making a proclamation, picking up the box of fries in front of him and emptying it into his mouth, then grabbing the rest of his burger. "Come on, let's get going before she gets all annoyed at us."
"You mean annoyed for slacking off until the last possible second to do our shopping? Because I think it's already too late for that."
"No, I was thinking more like how we're a little overbudget on time. I promised Sam I would get us there by seven. But I never expected it would be so hard just to find some gifts for ghosts."
"So we'll be a little…okay, an hour late? We'll just phone our parents and say we need an extra hour. We can cut down on the travel to and from Sam's place if you can give us a little boost, if you know what I mean."
Danny grinned. "Okay, but I'm warning you now, it's a cold night. Don't blame me if you can't feel your fingers and toes when we get there."
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The grandfather clock in the Manson dining room chimed with the arrival of eight o'clock, but not the appearance of her friends. Her grandmother was busy pouring gravy over the hens to make sure that they didn't dry out, her green bean casserole was congealing, the potatoes were clumping together, the vegetable medley had gone cold, and the sparkling cider was in danger of losing its sparkle. It was an unmitigated disaster, and she suddenly felt very foolish for thinking that she could pull something like this off. And doubly so for relying on her friends to take things seriously. Sam wasn't certain who she was more disappointed in—her friends for letting her down, or herself for counting on them for something serious that didn't involve ghost hunting. Sighing, she leaned on tiptoe to blow out the candles in the Menorah at the center of the table, only to have the job done for her by a sudden gust of air from the front door.
"Um, hi, Mrs. Manson." Danny said sheepishly as he pulled off his winter coat. "Yes, it is really cold. Sorry we're a bit late, my last minute shopping didn't go exactly as planned and the um…walk here took a bit out of us. Right, Tuck?" Danny asked, giving his friend a supreme I-told-you-so look.
Tucker wrapped his arms around himself, still shivering, and declining Mrs. Manson's offer to take his jacket. "Yeah. I j-just need a m-min-minute to warm up-p." Tucker said, his chattering teeth accentuating the sentence.
"Samantha is in the dining room." The Manson matriarch advised, a hint of distaste in her mouth. "Honestly, you boys, there's a difference between being fashionably late and being rude."
"I know, I'm sorry. I should…" Danny trailed off. "I should be apologizing to Sam." Danny resolved, wiping his feet carefully and moving beyond the foyer, crossing the distance to the dining room where Sam looked on with an intense expression. He looked at the spread on the table, the large arrangement of dishes and refined dinnerware, and felt ashamed. Nothing about his day had gone as planned, and now he had obviously ruined a surprise his best friend had gone through a lot of trouble to plan.
"Oh, Sam. I'm…" He wasn't even sure what to say as Tucker joined him in the room, still shivering, but less intensely than he had been at the door. Whatever Danny had been about to say died on his lips. The word 'sorry' felt so wholly inadequate, and as he turned away from the table to look at his friend, he could see it written all over her face. She wasn't angry. She was disappointed. He knew that look. It was the same one she had given him nearly two years ago, by a water fountain in the part. It had culminated in Sam wishing they had never met. But there was more to it this time. Back then, she had simply stormed off, angry. Sam was hurt, and she was trying valiantly not to give that impression because she didn't want to ruin Christmas Eve.
"It's okay. You didn't know." Sam shook her head. "I…I should've said something. I just wanted it to be a surprise, something different. I mean, we're older now, and I just thought that this might be…nice."
"Aw, man." Tucker stated, moving further into the room. "Seriously? We ate Nasty Burger instead of this?"
"Guys, really, it's no big deal. I should've told you." Sam protested. "I just didn't want you to get the wrong idea. It's not that I've gone all pretentious or anything, I was only thinking maybe we should try to do something more mature. I mean, we're seniors now and-"
"Sam, really. We're the ones that need to apologize. Me most of all. I shouldn't have put off my shopping until the last minute like this."
It was at that moment that a platter containing two Cornish hens was placed onto the table, Sam's mischievous grandmother hard at work, no doubt. Upon seeing the small, moist birds displayed, Tucker removed his beret, holding it solemnly in his hands. "I say we eat anyway. Sam clearly went to all this trouble, we shouldn't let her food go to waste. I'm sorry we were late. And that we stopped by the Nasty Burger in the mall. That was my idea. It's not all Danny's fault."
"You guys, it's fine, really. Next time I'll just-"
"No." Danny said simply, placing a hand gently on her shoulder. "It's not. You're right, Sam. We should be more mature. And if you went to all this trouble, we're going to enjoy it. Besides, it looks…remarkably not like what I expected."
"Oh, don't worry. It's all vegetarian. Much of it even ultra-recyclo vegetarian." Sam smirked. "Except of course for the meat. I tried not to push my diet choices on you two."
"I love it."
"Yeah, well, it's…kind of cold and congealing." Sam sighed.
"So we'll warm it up."
Sam almost seemed unsure of herself, blinking. "So, you mean, you actually want to eat my cooking?"
"Look, it's obvious you went to a lot of trouble, Sam. I don't want to just throw your food away. Especially when it smells this good. You sure this is ultra-recyclo vegetarian?"
"Well I wouldn't eat it otherwise." She turned towards Tucker. "You can eat your entire hen—my only stipulation is you must have some of the green bean casserole."
Tucker grumbled for a moment, but the smell of freshly cooked meat overpowered his urge to resist. "Deal." He resigned. "You know, Sam, this is really impressive. Call me indelicate, but I never pegged you as the domestic type, Sam. What brought this on?"
Sam sighed, twisting the fingers of her hands together uncomfortably. "Look, we won't be in high school forever. And when it's over, there's college. And I really don't want to be subjected to seven days a week that alternate between only school cafeteria and fast food takeout or delivery. I'm expanding my horizons."
"Doesn't that kind of go against your whole indifferent goth vibe?" Tucker smirked.
Sam held her ground. "Yes. But at the same time, it also plays into the goth love of self-sufficiency. Scoff if you want, you'll be the one trying to beg meals off of me."
"She's got you there." Danny elbowed his friend, pulling up one of the chairs. He ignored the food already in his stomach and resolved to eat as much of the feast Sam had prepared as he could. "Um, for the record though Sam, you will tell us next time you do something like this, right?"
Sam nodded in response.
"Good Because I hate disappointing you."
With considerable effort, Samantha Manson trampled a combat boot over the fluttery feeling she got in her ribcage at Danny's comment. This was not the time or the place. "I, uh, I'll just go heat up some of the side dishes. You can start eating, it's alright. I won't be gone long." She stated, picking up several luke-warm vegetable dishes and carrying them into the kitchen.
Tucker took a seat on an adjacent side of the table to Danny. "She really went all out, didn't she?"
"Yeah." Danny said absently, gently carving into his small bird with a fork. "I feel like a heel. She really wanted to impress us, look at all this trouble she went to. She's always been a better friend to us than we are to her."
Tucker couldn't get over how dense Danny Fenton could be. No one was this oblivious, were they? It had to be intentional, right?
"I mean, look at how much effort she went to. This is huge! What would make Sam spend most of her day cooking like this?"
Danny sighed. "I don't know, Tuck. But it's pretty obvious this is important to her. So let's be sure to make a big deal about it.
Tucker shook his head sadly. "Clueless."
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An hour later, two teenage boys were completely stuffed, while their girl companion was pleasantly full. If there was one thing Danny had learned, it was that Sam could actually cook. Not that he was ready to convert to an ultra-recyclo vegetarian diet, but it seemed as though he could find enough things to eat on it that he would scrape by if the school cafeteria instituted the menu for a week like it had that one time. Although he really hoped that didn't happen—less over the food concern and more over the prospect of having to fight the Lunch Lady Ghost again. Rubbing his stomach for comfort, Danny maneuvered himself out of the chair. "Ugh, Sam, I think you outdid yourself." He held a hand up to his mouth to stifle a belch. "On second thought, maybe I did."
"I'm just glad you enjoyed it. We're old enough now that we deserve a touch of class every once in awhile."
"The green bean casserole was good.." Tucker admitted. "It could use some gravy. And maybe some chicken nuggets. Oooh, I know, it could be a dipping sauce for chicken nuggets! Now that would be good!"
"Right." Sam rolled her eyes. "You should quit while you're ahead."
"Duly noted." Tucker said cheerfully. "But if your vegetables make me spend the rest of the night in the bathroom, I'll be coming after you." Tucker intoned. "Anyway, it's movie time now, right? Because I don't think I could do anything that would require me to move."
"In that case, you might want to try out the new lounger we've got in the theater downstairs. I told dad it was a little excessive, but-"
"I am so there." He grinned. "Let's get to it!"
Danny chuckled at his friend. "I've never seen Tuck so enthusiastic to watch a seventy year old movie." He explained as Sam led the trio downstairs to the theater room.
Tucker wasted no time, jumping directly into the aforementioned lounge chair. Immediately, it began to shift and contort, moving the back support to an inclined position and lifting his feet up. After a few more contortions, Tucker found himself comfortably ensconced within the chair, his lower back being gently caressed by the supple material and his legs stretched out at the perfect comfortable range. "I think I'm in love…" He groaned absent-mindedly.
Danny chuckled, finding his own place on the love seat. Sam moved past the seating area and pulled a Menorah and some wooden matches off of one of the shelves. Reverently, she placed the Menorah onto the small table at the center of the room and lit the appropriate candles for the day, dousing the rest of the lights and bathing the room in the warm glow of the candles and the projection screen. Satisfied with her work, she then placed a disc into the projecting player and set the device to autoplay. Noticing that she seemed to be nervous, Danny patted the seat next to him gently. "Sam, come on, sit down. This is one of your favorite movies."
Sam nodded her head, breaking to turn off any remaining lights in the area and moving towards the love seat, sitting down hesitantly. She didn't know why she felt so nervous. The love seat was rather wide, plenty of room for two people to sit in comfortably without being all over each other. Something about this just felt different, though. As though the circumstances had changed. Sam reminded herself of why this was one of her favorite movies. Truth be told , it could be a little sappy, but for some reason, that didn't bother her at all at this time of year. Sure, by today's standards, it might be considered corny or out of date, but the message of the movie shone through into modern times no less brilliantly than it had when it came out so many years ago. Watching the young George Bailey rescue his little brother from the frigid water, losing his hearing in one ear in the process hit a little close to home. Maybe nothing of that exact nature had happened to Danny over the years, but he had certainly gotten himself hurt plenty on her own behalf, on Tucker's behalf, for his family, even for people who hated him. And he so seldom complained. These were the things that made a hero in her eyes, not ghost powers. And as a young Mary Bicke leaned over the counter of the general store and whispered into George's deaf ear that she would love him until the day she died, Sam practically felt her heart thud in her chest. It felt so loud to her that she was certain her parents could hear from two floors up, to say nothing of her friends.
When had this happened? Yes, alright, she could admit that she had been considering the idea of being more than friends with Danny for a long time. But it wasn't like she was doodling "Mrs. Samantha Fenton" on her notebooks or selecting outfits for his benefit. She wasn't even lying awake at night, pining over him. So why the sudden rush in intensity of the idea?
Cautiously Sam turned her head, searching for any reaction. Danny himself seemed completely taken in by the film. His face showed a bright smile, laughing at the appropriate moments, looking downcast in others. She did not see any indications on his face that showed he was having the same kind of reaction as her. Maybe her life was like the movie too, then. Perhaps she was Mary Bicke, perpetually in wait for a boy, soon to be man, whose eyes were to full of stars and dreams to notice her in the same manner she noticed him. That was alright, wasn't it? Maybe Danny needed a friend more than he needed a girlfriend. After all, none of his other attempts at romance had worked out. Being a hero got in the way of that. She was just being silly and selfish, and on Christmas Eve. She shook her head slightly, letting a few tears drop, but she didn't feel sad. She felt released. What matters most is that I always be what he needs me to be. Sam thought to herself earnestly, brushing a hand gently across her face and smiling. That's what a real friend is.
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Sam was content with her internal resolution for about ninety minutes. The scene where George and Mary were talking on the phone together with Sam had threatened to melt her resolve, but she persevered. It was Danny who got to her, when the movie showed George coming home from work in his distraught state. Danny leaned over and took her hand eagerly, pointing it at the screen. "You see that house, Sam. You could be so good at that sort of thing—interior design. I mean, I know you'd have your own unique flair and way of doing it, but I'll bet you'd be a natural." He spoke excitedly.
"I…well…maybe. I've never really thought about it. I mean, I know I don't really have to work, but I want to do something with my life. I just haven't really decided what, yet. Maybe I should be a professional ghost hunter. I've got lots of experience, right."
"You should do what makes you happy when you wake up in the morning, Sam. That's what I believe. For instance, I can't see myself doing anything that requires heavy application " He gently squeezed her hand for emphasis before releasing it.
The rest of the movie felt like something of a blur to her, George's trip through the alternate reality of Pottersville was something she floated through as though lost herself. She couldn't get over herself. It had never been such a big deal before, why did it have to start now? Frustrated, she moved her gaze away from the movie screen to the warm glow of the Menorah. It's candles shone brightly with a quiet elegance, and it was as though the answer was held within those flames. This was the last holiday season of their childhood. Soon they would go away to universities—probably separate ones. She couldn't, and wouldn't, deny Danny his destiny. He wanted to see the world and be a part of it. He'd been paying his dues in Amity Park all his life, and it would soon be time for him to be free. No one could deny him that. He would meet new and interesting people, and perhaps glow close enough to one or two that he could even share his secret with. Life had a way of giving people not what they wanted, but what they needed, and it gave her a feeling of peace. Sometimes, acceptance was the best answer.
It was after one o'clock when the movie ended. Despite the feelings that had seeped into her chest earlier while watching the film, Sam felt significantly better. Acceptance was the answer she had really been looking for. The friendship she shared with the boys, both of them, truly, meant more to her than she could really express. Both Tucker Foley and Danny Fenton were always supportive and accepting of who she was, and liked her for that, not her family's wealth. That was more than she could wish for. Putting expectations on her friendship would only lead to her unhappiness. She stood up, stretching, and sauntered over to Tucker, who looked up at her groggily. "Don't take this the wrong way, Sam, but I think I'm in love with your chair."
Sam arched an eyebrow. "Do you want me to leave you two alone?"
"No, no, I can find the willpower to keep it platonic. But I might need help getting out of this thing."
"Come on." Sam smiled, taking hold of his hands and pulling. "You can do it."
With a grunt of regret at being extricated from the chair's loving embrace, Tucker reluctantly allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. "I'll miss you, baby." He patted the supple faux leather arm of the chair as he prepared to leave, looking at his friends with an exasperated expression. What was it going to take with those two anyway? Briefly, Tucker considered the idea of banishing them to a remote island for a year, or at least until they admitted their feelings for each other, but he didn't have the kind of cash it would take to maroon them. And it was likely their parents would disapprove as well, of course. Tucker was familiar with the old adage "You can't hurry love." After all, it applied far, far too much in his own life. But watching his friends was just painful. It seemed that the older Danny got, the more clueless he became. It had reached a point where Tucker was fairly certain that, were Sam to throw herself at Danny, that not only would the Fenton boy fail to catch her, but that she'd likely go hurtling through a second-story window and land in a mess on the pavement below. Maybe meddling wasn't his place, but if he had to endure one more of Sam's quiet whimpers while Danny blathered on about how cute one of the cheerleaders looked, he was going to be physically ill.
Withdrawing the secret weapon he had kept carefully tucked inside of his beret in case of running into some hotties at the mall, Tucker skillfully attached his homemade bob of mistletoe to his hat and carefully sauntered behind Danny, who was animatedly talking with Sam about the movie and how, unlike in year's past, he really felt like he had the spirit of Christmas in him for a change. Careful not to give away his presence, Tucker quietly removed his signature hat and placed it onto Danny's head unceremoniously, making the mistletoe shake slightly.
"Hey, what the-" Danny asked, in shock.
"Consider it a Christmas gift to my two best friends." Tucker grinned.
Sam looked up at the mistletoe dangling over her and Danny with a mixture of horror and humiliation. "Tucker, that's not funny! At all!" As if to emphasize her point, she stamped her left foot, reverberations from the thick sole of her combat boot hitting the wooden floor seeming to tingle up her leg.
Danny was left speechless. There wasn't a thing he could think of to say that felt right, so he stood there, mouth opening and closing several times with no sound coming out, rubbing his neck sheepishly and trying very hard to look anywhere but at Sam. Unfortunately, it was a gesture she did not appreciate.
"Danny!" She snapped her fingers twice, waving her hand in front of his face. "Earth to Danny. Come back to reality so we can decide on an appropriate way to punish him for this."
"Punish me for what? Jump starting what you've been unable to get going for how long?" Tucker adjusted his glasses, sounding annoyed. It's not cute like it was two years ago. It's just sad. Come on, this is Christmas!"
"I don't need your help, thank you." Sam responded, feeling her anger level rising, and allowing some venom to creep into her voice.
"Help with what?" Danny finally asked, looking as though he were somewhere between confused and upset.
"Nothing." Sam said quietly, looking away.
"Wait…" Danny said, coming to a realization. "This isn't a prank?"
Tucker looked up at his friend with an expression of hurt. "She spent most her day preparing a fancy meal because she wanted to impress you." Tucker told him pointedly. "Figure it out, clueless. I'm out of here." He decided. "Merry Christmas." The black boy said with a considerable amount of sarcasm, mounting the stairs that would see him out of the Manson home.
Sam looked after him, deflating. "Tucker, wait-" she called, but was waved off by the boy as he climbed the rest of the staircase without a word. "Ah, hell." Sam sighed, feeling as though she just wanted to collapse into her bed until her humiliation passed. Slowly, she massaged her temples, trying to recover.
Unfortunately, Danny's continued presence made that effort exceedingly difficult. "You were trying to impress me?" He asked rather honestly, as though he wasn't sure why she would want to.
"Just…forget it." She sighed.
"Sam, you're my best friend. I've always been impressed by you."
"Thanks." She mumbled sheepishly.
"I…I've been kind of a jerk, haven't I?" He asked.
"Danny, I really don't want to do this right now." She told him flatly, then her eyes widened at the site of Tucker's memento—Danny was still wearing their friend's beret, complete with mistletoe. "And take that stupid thing off!" She insisted, reaching up to snatch it from his head.
For his part, Danny was careful to keep it just out of Sam's reach, backing up when necessary and even standing up on his toes. "No, I don't think I will." He smirked.
"This isn't funny, Danny."
"I beg to differ." He grinned. "Watching you squirm is rather delicious." Danny frowned at the look Sam gave him. "Does it really bother you that much."
"Yes!" She shouted in the affirmative.
"All right, all right." Danny acquiesced, pulling the beret off his head. "Satisfied?"
"Hardly." She rolled her eyes. "I can't believe he did that!"
"What?" She asked, trying in vain to compose herself better.
"Maybe we should talk about this. If you're upset."
"I told you, I'm not up to doing this now, Danny. Just let it die, okay?"
An uncomfortable silence settled for nearly a minute before Danny could find his response. "Well then when are you going to be up to talking about it?"
The teenaged boy plowed over her sentence before she could even begin. "You're obviously upset, and you won't even tell me what's wrong. What happened to my best friend?"
"I am your best friend." Sam said tentatively, looking away. "So I just want you to be happy, okay? Come on, it's Christmas. Even I'm happy during the holidays." She smiled weakly.
"You don't look very happy." Danny told her in a soft voice.
"No you're not. You can't fool me. I'm going to have to make you happy."
"Ha! You?" Now she actually found the strength to laugh. "Like you could make me happy!"
"That sounds like a challenge." Danny grinned.
Sam blinked, suddenly more acutely aware of their surroundings. "A challenge?"
Danny sighed, extending his arms in front of him in a mock gesture of surrender. "I never should have been so late."
"I should have told you in the first place."
Danny shook his head. "I'm not talking about tonight. Haven't you ever dragged your feet on something because you were afraid of the outcome? Sometimes rocking the boat ends up capsizing it."
"You have no idea." Sam shook her head and, as though the absurdity and irony of the situation had awakened something in her, she laughed. It was light and airy, a tad different than what one would expect from Sam, almost like a giggle, but she was not quite that far gone.
"I kind of came to a conclusion a long time ago and I guess it just stuck."
"And that was?"
"That I'm really bad at relationships." Danny chuckled. "I mean, don't get me wrong. I've tried. I really thought I had something good going with Valerie back in the day. I know, I know, maybe some of it was Technus. But all the technology in the world can't make me feel something that isn't already there."
"You did have something good. Or at least, Danny Fenton did. You know she never could've accepted-"
"Maybe. Maybe not. I still believe I could have made her come around. Anyway, it wasn't meant to be, for either of us. She made her choice and I learned to accept that. It wasn't easy, but I got over it. Just like you got over that Gregor guy."
"Elliot. And please don't remind me. It's humiliating."
"I'm not. It was a life lesson."
"For me too." Danny said quietly. "Look, Sam, I should have."
Sam shook her head. "You will. When you're ready. That's what's important." Sam explained, as though finally realizing something for herself.
"Sam? When did you know? That you were ready?"
"When I understood that it wasn't about changing a friendship. Only deepening it." She said rather simply. "Come on, lover boy, it's time to go home."
"You are coming tomorrow night, right?"
"Isn't it a party for ghosts?"
"Yeah. But my invite has a plus two, so…"
"So someone was thinking of you."
"Probably Skulker. He's obsessed with getting me into his collection, after all."
"That's because you're one of a kind." Sam said, leading him up the stairway. She had already made herself entirely too vulnerable for one night. "And I happen to like it that way." She told him plainly as she handed Danny his jacket.
"You and Tucker should come by around four o'clock. I want to make sure I have enough time to give you your gifts. Oh, and can you bring that quill pen for the Ghost Writer?"
"Already wrapped and ready." Sam said. "But I can't promise you that Tucker will be all in one piece."
"He means well." Danny shrugged.
"I know. But I like to do things in my own time."
Danny nodded very simply, stretching out his arms and pulling his best friend into a hug, planting a gentle kiss in her dark hair. "I'm getting there." He whispered quietly, enjoying the scent of her shampoo before withdrawing. "I'll see you tomorrow." He smiled, carefully extracting himself from his friend and crossing over the threshold into the cold outdoors.
"On that day." Sam responded, waving goodbye. She watched her friend walk down the front steps and begin moving slowly down the street before reluctantly shutting the heavy door, leaning against it and sinking down to the wooden floor of the foyer, spreading her fingers across her face. "That was horrible." She muttered to herself, awash in a feeling of humiliation. She hated talking about her feelings, even with Danny. Everything always felt so much more complicated than it should be when she talked about it. Sighing to herself, she stood up and went back downstairs, straightening up the love seat and turning off all the equipment before dousing the lights. Someone in her family was kind enough to have put the dishes from dinner into the dishwasher, and Sam was relieved that she could retreat to the comfort of her room much faster as she turned the lights off downstairs, taking the Menorah with her to light her way to her bedroom.
After the quick trek upstairs, Sam closed any remaining lights and set the Menorah on her nightstand, changing into a pair of pajamas by candlelight and then tucking herself into the warm covers of her bed before finally blowing out the candles. Things had a way of working out, and she already felt significantly less embarrassed about the whole Danny situation. For years, it was always on the cusp of being something more, but various circumstances, events, and shared apprehension had kept it officially platonic. It was best that they were on the same page—it was not a race to be won or barrier to be broken, but rather something to be arrived at when both of them were ready to make such a transition naturally. Forcing the issue would only ruin the moment. And with that knowledge, Samantha Manson allowed herself to quietly drift off into an untroubled sleep, and continue to be ready for the future.
XXXXXX Author's Notes XXXXXX
So I started off wanting to write something of a minor study on the major characters of DP, and this is what I ended up with. I've had elements of this story in my head since Christmas 2010, but I just didn't have what I needed to put them together and create something that I felt satisfied with. Fortunately, that little problem seemed to just take care of itself when I decided to sit down and dedicate myself to writing this story. Everything just seemed to come together without my really having to think about it. Sometimes things just work out that way, and this time, I couldn't be happier. Now, while the story isn't perfect, nor would I advertise this as my greatest work, I was still really please that I could find a way to tackle a Danny/Sam story without actually doing a romance. Not that I'm opposed to that at all, but I wanted to write something that I felt was more unique for Christmas. So, that was the reasoning behind this story. Here's hoping that it meets with the approval of all my usual readers and the fanbase at large. I don't even know where these things come from sometimes, but I was glad to bring it to you.
What else is there to say at this point, but a very Merry Christmas to all? Rest assured, if you're looking for an update to Seized With Life, don't worry, it's already in the works. That story seems to inhabit my mind quite a bit, so I always look forward to finding time to work on it and inject little things in my life into its tapestry. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who takes the time to read the random fanfiction that I post here, and enjoy your holiday season to the fullest.
Oh, and of course, the traditional signoff. Please feel free to reach out to me via review, PM, IM, e-mail, carrier pigeon, smoke signal, whatever your preferred method. Send your questions, comments, compliments, complaints, love letters, death threats, marriage proposals, and ransom demands to:
XXXXXX DP XXXXXX
Danny Fenton walked the snowy streets of Amity Park alone. He could have flown him, using the ghost powers granted to him in the form of his alter-ego, Danny Phantom, but for some reason, he felt like walking. The night was cold, and there was something satisfying about the way the thin layer of residual snow and ice crunched beneath his feet, it was cold enough that he could see his breath, but for once, Danny took solace in the knowledge that it wasn't his ghost sense going off. This was his annual respite from ghost attacks.
There was a comforting knowledge in the fact that ghosts celebrated Christmas in much the same way humans did. It made him feel a little more normal, and that he really was a part of both worlds. Getting right down to it, most of the ghosts Danny fought with really weren't that nefarious. Sure, they sometimes hatched the occasional take over the world scheme, but there always seemed to be something more behind it thank just being evil for the sake of being evil. The only ghosts Danny really feared were Vlad Plasmius and Pariah Dark, and it was doubtful that the vanquished Ghost King would be seen again, thankfully.
Danny took a deep breath of the chill night air, feeling somewhat invigorated. There was something big awaiting him, that much he knew to be true. But he wasn't quite ready yet. "Heh, still got a few irresponsible farces left in me." Danny grinned. The knowledge that everything he felt about his friends, both of them, was true was enough to help him through any difficult challenges that might lie ahead. Without knowing it, Sam had just confirmed to him that they were like a dysfunctional family of sorts. And even though Danny knew he was keeping the girl waiting, he found that he couldn't help himself. He needed to be certain that everything that happened between them was free of outside influence. After that whole business where Ember had made him inadvertently fall in love with Sam years earlier, Danny just wasn't willing to take the chance that anything that might happen could be fake or forced. It would be irresponsible of him to just, as Sam delicately put it, deepen their relationship without being honest with himself. Maybe it was time to open up that part of himself again. He'd spent the last year of high school keeping his heart rather closed to romance. Not that he didn't occasionally moon over Paulina...what red-blooded teenaged boy in Amity Park didn't? But ever since Valerie had put the red light on their romance, he hadn't really been open to the idea of dating. It seemed to always end with him getting hurt. Maybe now there was finally an end to that cycle. And then, Tucker could go from teasing them about getting together, to teasing them about making out. He was stealing time from Sam. He knew it, and more importantly, she knew at. There was only one place for their friendship to go. Danny was still exploring the road there. Sam just got there faster, but there was that old adage about girls being more mature than boys.
Words from the Cheshire Cat danced in his mind. "Only a few find the way. Most don't recognize it when they do. Some never want to." Danny rolled his eyes, but found that, in spite of himself, there was a smile on his face. Sometimes, the best gift wasn't what you wanted, sometimes it was what you needed-especially when you were too blind to even see that you needed it. The veritable way out "Thanks, Tuck." Danny said to the night as he made his way home, the Fenton Works Ops Center sticking out over the skyline from blocks away. "Merry Christmas."