Simple Physics

Chapter 8 - Conflict

“It’s…Friday…night,” Tucker panted into the mike of his three-way, cold air burning his lungs as he maneuvered the dim streets of Amity Park at a fast jog. “I should be…scarfing down pizza…slaughtering digitized monster-beasts…hacking into the White House…”

“Or watching pretty blonde quarterbacks drag the Casper High ghosts into yet another demoralizing defeat?” Danny provided cockily at the other end, and Tucker almost tripped.

“Concentrate, guys,” Sam’s voice interrupted, “I think I’ve finally got a lock on our guy…down on thirty-fifth, just south of the Nasty Burger.” Her connection buzzed, then came through with, “Tucker, you’re closest. Back Danny up till I get there.
I think we’ve got something real on our hands this time…be careful.” With that, she clicked out.

Tucker rounded a corner, squinting through the gloom as his feet pounded the pavement, but still no sign of their target—or Danny, for that matter. He tapped his mike. “Danny?”

“Aye?” The connection was fuzzy, and Tucker mentally noted to double-check their systems after they wrapped up this “mission” of sorts.

“I can’t see a damn thing with this fog…and I think it’s gonna to rain. Where are you?”

No sooner had the words left his mouth, than two shots of electric blue something erupted about three feet from his left shoe, sending shattered brick and rock everywhere in a spectacular display of flying, radioactive sidewalk. Not a second too soon, the effects phased through his body, and then it was up, up, up—shutting his eyes as tightly as possible and clinging to Danny for dear life, literally, as they sailed out of the streets—and onto the rooftops.

“Danny…what…” Tucker’s legs quivered as Danny set him down, and he clutched his stomach, grimacing as it churned with the same upside-down, twisted, gurgly feel he got every time Danny decided to give impromptu flying lessons. “What was,” he tried again, but Danny interrupted.

“I was hoping you could tell me,” he said, hovering now by the rails at the edge of the building.

“Ngh, yeah, well…” Tucker leaned against a large thermostat, wincing and willing his stomach to settle. “I didn’t actually see it but,” He pulled off his glasses, squinting once before rubbing the lenses, then slipping them back into place, “I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the box ghost.”

Danny threw his hands to the sky. “Great! I never would have guessed.”

Tucker opened his mouth, but instead of words, a screeching wail filled the air, and his head snapped skyward. The last thing he saw before a biting whirl of icy wind forced him to duck his head was an eerie streak of spindly blue, snaking through the sky like limp lightning. Then, Danny was up, gone and far away, and Tucker’s only thought was, “I’ll kill him if he dies.”

The wind must have accompanied the spirit, because it seemed almost alive—nipping and stinging; caustic and unbelievably frigid. It seeped into his flesh like a spirit in itself, and in accompaniment with the moaning above—a heart-wrenching wail pitiful enough to suck the last drop of hope from even the happiest soul—Tucker honestly wondered if they had finally met a deadly match. He hunkered down to the rooftop, shielding his eyes as he tried to make out Danny’s zipping figure through the wind and mist, and tuning himself back into the three-way.


“Found it yet?”

“It found us. Look, this thing is…nothing I’ve seen before. It must be fresh from the ghost zone but it’s like…a florescent blue dementor or something…” These were the moments Tucker hated the most—hunkering in a corner, talking into a gadget and watching Danny brush death a thousand times, unable to do anything more than witness the freakshow.

“A florescent what?”

“A…a thing that sucks happiness,” he explained hastily, less concerned with describing the freakish wailing spirit overhead and more concerned with his best friend—who looked to be fighting a standoff. “It’s just…get up here quick, alright? We’ll need more than the Fenton thermos to—Danny!” And the connection died there because the standoff had just ended—in favor of the shrieking specter—and a silver-haired body was skidding, limp, across the rooftop.

A brief sprint later, Tucker was collapsing at Danny’s side, to his knees, his heart a lead weight in his chest as his existence hung on the anticipation of a sign of life—any sign of life. Then, Danny’s lashes fluttered, lips parting with a soft groan, and Tucker breathed again.




Tucker ducked as a green shield encased them, the glow extending from Danny’s upraised palms into a science-fiction-worthy orb that deflected the lethal onslaught of glowing ectoplasm that followed a half-second later. As soon as the deadly shower let up, the shield flickered out of existence, and Danny struggled to his feet, staggering uncontrollably.

“Danny, you can’t possibly-”

“I can’t just-”

The subsequent wail swallowed both their sentences simultaneously, shaking the glass of nearby buildings and forcing them to cover their ears, doubling over as the sound drilled in like a thousand needles, piercing and stabbing, no matter how they tried to drown it out. Then, it dropped several octaves, morphing into more of a rolling roar than anything else—waves crashing, magnified a thousand times.

When Tucker finally managed to look up, it was like watching a live-action episode of Space Trek—or something of the like—one of the ones where a giant, upside down waterspout of a black-hole split open space and time, crackling blue and black and purple and devouring everything within twenty light-years. Luckily, this black-hole took nothing but the blue-lightning specter as its prisoner, swirling it up with a deranged likeness to an oversized toilet-flush, then folding back in on itself and disappearing altogether. The moment it left, it began to rain.

Only then, as cool, misty droplets of a fall shower began sprinkling down over his upturned face, did Tucker shake himself from his daze. He came-to to find Danny’s weight resting heavily on his shoulder, and Sam’s concerned voice speaking into the microphone.

“—was that? Did you see? Tucker? Danny? Are you there?”

Amazingly enough, the hardware had survived everything intact; maybe it wouldn’t all need replacing after all. Tucker clicked in. “Yeah, Sam. We…umm…definitely saw it…and we’re alive. You might want to call 911, though, Danny took a pretty good—”

“Danny’s fine,” Danny cut in, sounding groggy and exhausted, but very determined not to visit the hospital. Tucker aided him in wrapping an arm over his shoulder as they staggered, at Danny’s silent insistence, toward the rail. “Where are you? Are you okay?”

“Not a scratch,” she answered. “Sorry I missed the action, but I’m on my way now. You two just stay put. I’ll be there before you know it.” When she clicked off, Danny turned to Tucker.

“That was too close,” he said. Silently, Tucker agreed. “I didn’t even…I mean…if it hadn’t of disappeared like that…I don’t know if we would have made it. It’s just…” He shook his head. “What about you?” he asked. “Are you-”

“I’m fine,” Tucker said, unable to hide the edge in his voice.


“I thought you died, Danny,” he cut in again before his friend could object further. “I think I have every right to be pissed, alright?”


“And you don’t even seem to care! You just go right back at it, back into the battle, the insanity, these crazy…things…always coming after us. I mean why the hell…” Tucker shut his eyes, forcing himself to slow down, breathe. “It’s not fair.”

“No. It’s not,” Danny admitted, “but…somebody’s gotta do it.”

“Somebody,” Tucker agreed, eying his best friend carefully, still pale, silver-haired and green-eyed—surreal, almost, “but not you, Danny. It shouldn’t have to always be you.”

“Maybe not. But until someone else steps up to the plate…it will be.”

Then, before Tucker could put together a suitable response, Danny reached out, catching his jacket cuff and effectively stalling his reply. Only then did Tucker notice it was singed—or, rather, looked as if something dangerously acidic had taken a large chomp out of it. His stomach gave a queasy lurch.

“How will you explain this to your mom?” Danny asked.

“I’ll…” Tucker blushed, not because of the question, but because instead of letting go, Danny was holding his wrist captive, running his thumb idly over the damaged cloth like a concerned caress, as if the attack had hit Tucker, as opposed to just the jacket sleeve. “I’ll…think of something,” Tucker replied, withdrawing his hand and crossing his arms, suddenly self-conscious.

“Hn.” Danny, too, crossed his arms, but he didn’t look cold, or self-conscious, as he leaned against the rail, looking down over the town once more. “Maybe someday, you won’t have to,” he said quietly.

Tucker blinked, confused. “Won’t have to what?”

“Think of something,” Danny clarified. “Maybe someday, none of us will have to ‘think of something’ to say to explain the where’s and why’s to our parents. Maybe someday, you’ll just be able to tell her…tell the truth. No more secrets and lies and…deception.”

Tucker wondered if he was still talking about a burnt jacket cuff. “Yeah,” he said, choosing not to voice his musings, “maybe someday.”

Below, Sam pulled into a parking spot, ready to pick them up. Seeing her, Danny grinned, philosophical detest of lies and deception utterly forgotten in a moment’s notice.

“So,” he said, holding out a hand and grinning like a madman, “do you trust me?”

Tucker swallowed, thinking of Aladdin as he held out his hand to Jasmine before he took her on a maniacal death-leap off a rickety building in Agrabah—only to land safely on a magic carpet, of course. But, there were no magic carpets in Amity Park, or at least none that Tucker knew of, and it looked like at least twenty stories to the parking lot.

Flying lessons, he thought, feeling sick to his stomach. Great. “Sometimes,” he said aloud, “I wonder if I should,” but he took Danny’s hand anyway, and the next moment, they were chest to chest, nose to nose, balanced precariously on the railing of a twenty-story building, and Tucker wondered if he might rather have just met a nice clean end via death-by-ectoplasmic-goo.

Danny’s green eyes twinkled mischievously. “You’re cute when you’re terrified, you know that?”

Tucker couldn’t even manage to glare, too busy screwing his eyes shut and waiting for the world to end. “You should have been born a villain,” were his last words before they toppled over the edge.

Twenty-four hours later, he sat safely in his room, at his desk, happily slaying countless hordes of digitized monster-beasts, a half-eaten box of pizza not two feet from his desk and the final boss battle theme from his latest videogame playing loudly in his ears. Life was good.

Or, at least it was—until the battle theme cut off abruptly in favor a few short bleeps that announced a new message on his cell.

Sighing, Tucker slipped his headset down around his neck, momentarily relinquishing his auditory entertainment and withdrawing from wild, monster-beast slaying mode in order to devote his attention to whoever dared disturb his devout slaughtering of all things evil and benign. He flipped open his cell.

It read: “We need to talk.”

He slumped in his chair. “Danny,” he groaned, knowing from experience that his friend was already somewhere in the room, “I was in a really, really good mood. Do we have to do this-”

“Now?” Danny finished his sentence, and Tucker almost jumped, head snapping up to find Danny hovering, legs crossed Buddha-style, about a foot above his monitor, one eyebrow raised and chin propped on his fist. “Yes,” he said. “I think we do.”

Tucker sighed. “I was two tiers from the dungeon’s end, Danny—two tiers. This had better be important…”

“It is.”

“Hn,” Tucker grunted, unconvinced, but he reached over to his mouse anyway, logging out his avatar and minimizing the player window. “Okay,” he said once through, leaning back in his chair, “Tell me, what is so god awfully important that it justifies delaying the inevitable beheading of the great Troll King Zaharuth, hm?”

“I think you’re making a mistake,” Danny said, and Tucker raised an eyebrow.

“Oh?” he replied, crossing his arms skeptically. “On what front?”

“Dash is an ass, Tucker.”


“Yes, he-”

“You invaded my room, interrupted my troll-slaying, and scared me half shitless with your ghostly appear-out-of-nowhere-and-give-Tucker-a-heart-attack nonsense to talk about Dash?”


“Go away, Danny,” Tucker groaned. “You’ve just wasted at least three minutes of my life and I’m quite ready to go back to beheading King Zahar-”

“I’m right, aren’t I?” Danny persisted, ignoring Tucker’s scowl of discontent when he made the keyboard intangible and, likewise, unusable. “He’s the one you spent that Friday with? He’s-”

“Not that it’s any of your business, Danny,” Tucker interrupted stiffly, “but I really don’t see where this is go-”

“It’s going to you being with Dash Baxter! Dash! Of all people, you had to pick-”

“I don’t know what your impression of the situation is, Danny,” Tucker said calmly—a cold contrast to Danny’s outburst, “but I’d like to point out that, for one thing, I don’t consider myself ‘with’ anyone, Dash, or otherwise, and for another, even if I were with someone, which I’m not, I wouldn’t consider it any of your concern one way or another, because-”

“Have you kissed him?”

“Danny, please-”

“Have you?”

“I think you should leave.”

“I just want to kno-”

“Yes,” Tucker snapped. “Are you happy?”

“…” Danny frowned. “No.”

Tucker sighed. “Look, Danny-”

“Is he a better kisser than me?”

Tucker dropped his head in his hands.

“Come on, Tucker…please?”

“If I tell you…will you leave?”


“Then yes,” said Tucker. “He’s a better kisser than you.”

Danny gaped. “But-”

“Now go.”


“The door…is that way,” Tucker said, pointing. “The widow’s over there,” He pointed again, “and, hell, if you want to get creative, there’s the ceiling, a wall, another wall, and hey! What do you know? The floor,” he said, indicating each thing as he listed it. “I’ll see you Monday, Danny.”


“You promised. Now-”

In the blink of an eye, Danny was no longer hovering over his computer, but moving forward, pushing his shoulders, and forcing him back, down, through his chair, and to the floor below. Two seconds and one amazingly painless landing later, Tucker was on his back, staring wide-eyed and bewildered into deep, midnight blue eyes—the déjà vu was overwhelming.

“That,” Tucker gasped as soon as he regained cognitive functions, “was totally and completely unfair.”

“Life’s not fair.”

“But,” Something about Danny’s breath on his neck was exceedingly distracting in a way that made it nearly impossible for Tucker to breathe let alone think or speak, and he swallowed a dry lump in his throat, “You…said…”

“I said I wanted to talk to you, Tucker, and you never let me…”

“You said you’d leave, and you’re not,” Tucker pointed out meekly, but his tone lacked its former resolve, much to his dismay, and Danny obviously wasn’t in the mood to back down easily.

“Why Dash?”

About there, Tucker gave up on getting Danny out of his room, at least for the time being, and switched to another approach. “Can we discuss this without you pinning me to my bedroom floor?” he asked in what he considered to be a very reasonable tone of voice considering the circumstances.

Danny frowned. “Will you talk to me?”

“If you let me up, and agree to leave when we’re done, then yes,” said Tucker. Danny debated a moment longer, then released him, standing and offering a hand up; Tucker accepted. “So,” Tucker began as soon as he was upright, “Dash. You have problems with him?”

“He’s spent the large majority of his high school career making my life a living hell. He takes pleasure in my pain. Ninth grade year, shoving me into lockers practically became part of his morning routine—walk into school, pound on Fenton, fail a few subjects, walk out. Hell, he probably-”

“Okay, okay! So…you have problems with Dash,” Tucker concluded. “Why does that make him unacceptable for me?”

“Because he’s unacceptable period!” Danny insisted wildly. “He’s evil, Tucker! He’s like…the kind of kid who eats puppies for breakfast! He rejoices in the misery of others and-”

Puppies, Danny?” Tucker interrupted, utterly incredulous. “Really, I think you’ve blown him a bit out of proportion over the years. He’s not-”

“I don’t trust him.”

“Neither do I!” said Tucker, and Danny paused, taking a moment to consider this obviously unexpected piece of information.

“You…don’t?” he asked.

“No,” Tucker replied honestly, “but that doesn’t make him a puppy-killing sadist…” At Danny’s look, he sighed. “Look, can’t you just accept that he might not be quite as awful as you have him cooked up to be?”

“I don’t want to,” Danny said. “I don’t like him.”

Tucker eyed his best friend, quiet and contemplative. Finally, he asked, “Is this really about Dash, Danny? Or you?”

Danny frowned. “Neither. It’s about you.” Tucker waited. “And, well, maybe some about me…and probably very little about Dash…except that he really is a cruel sadistic bast-”

“So it’s about you and me?” Tucker interrupted, and Danny opened his mouth, paused, then shut it, frown deepening. “Because that’s what you just said,” Tucker repeated. “You said it was about me, and then some about you…and if it wasn’t really much about Dash then that would make it about you and me. Right?”

“Well…I…maybe, but…” Danny’s brow furrowed. “It’s just… That’s not how I meant it to come out, alright?” he said, sounding irritated.

“Oh?” Tucker folded his arms. “Enlighten me.”

“Look, I just…think you can do better than Dash.”

“I thought this wasn’t about Dash.”

Danny scowled. “Okay, so I think you can do better, period. You deserve more than a pompous ass jerk who sees you as nothing more than something to mess with in his spare time when he can’t get his girlfriend to spread her legs fast enough. You-”

“And you believe that?”

“Of course I…” Danny faltered. “You don’t think that’s how I-”

“Dash doesn’t have a girlfriend, Danny.”

“Oh, no, you’re right, Tucker. I forgot. He has ten!” Danny snapped. “You think he doesn’t screw half the cheer squad on a daily basis? He’s the fucking quarterback! He’ll never give a damn about a nerd with an affinity for anything to do with html or the binary code. He probably doesn’t even know what the binary code is. He-”

“You think I don’t know this? I never asked him to give a damn, Danny! And frankly, I don’t expect him to. It’s not my business if he does half the cheer squad, or the whole cheer squad for that matter, monogamy isn’t part of…well…whatever the hell it is we have. He’s handy and attractive and willing and…that’s about as far as it goes at this point…alright?”

Danny eyed him, disbelieving. “And you expect me to believe you’re satisfied with that?”

Tucker looked away. “I barely know him, Danny, okay? Until about two weeks ago, I never talked to him. Since then, the grand total of our conversations can be summed up as either physics, or something along the lines of: oh, yes, higher, lower, faster, or insert curse word here. I could tell you his cock size way before I could guess his favorite color. I-”

“Alright, alright! I get it,” Danny said. “But…you still didn’t answer my question.”

“Which one was that?”

“The one where I asked if that kind of a thing would satisfy you…?” At Tucker’s silence, Danny sighed. “Look…I just don’t want you to get hurt, okay? I know I don’t have any right to dictate who you’re with…or not with, for that matter…but I think I do have a right to worry, and to tell you that, if you insist on continuing to mess with that rat bastard, that I’m here and very, very ready to beat the living daylights out of him for you the second he steps out of line, okay?”

Tucker sighed, lips twitching dangerously close to a smile, totally of their own accord. “Why does this sound so familiar?” he asked.

“Because I feel the same way now as I did the last time we talked about Dash…except that last time I didn’t know we were talking about Dash, only some guy dragging you off to the movies. Now that I know who we’re dealing with, I’ve added violence to the equation, because I know it’s justified.”

Tucker shook his head. “Look, Danny…it’s not that I don’t appreciate the concern, but I have no intention of getting my heart broken over a guy who cringes at the sight of long division. Yes, you’re right. Generally, I don’t approve of all-for-naught, strictly need-based relationships…but for now, that’s what I’ve got, and I’m willing to run with it. I think I can handle myself, alright?”

“I never said you couldn’t,” Danny murmured. “Just…promise you’ll let me know if something happens? If anything changes?”

“If he tries to pull macho-football player, abusive boyfriend crap on me, you’ll be the first to hear about it, okay? And, if at any point I start confessing my undying love for him…you have my full permission to knock some sense into me.”

“That’s a promise?”

“Yes, Danny,” Tucker said. “That’s a promise.”

“Right, well…I’ll leave you to your troll slaying, then.” But Danny didn’t move, just stood there, staring at the carpet and running a hand over the back of his neck idly. Finally, he frowned. “Tucker, are you sure he’s a better-”

Yes, Danny, I’m sure.”

“But how can you be?” Danny asked imploringly. “I haven’t kissed you in ages.” Tucker opened his mouth to point out that there were several good, solid reasons for that, but then Danny was right there, and his words faltered. “Maybe I’ve gotten better since the last time you kissed me…” Danny said quietly, hovering, barely a hair’s breadth away, and if Tucker had tilted his head, just a fraction of an inch…

Swallowing his pulse, Tucker turned away. “I guess I’ll never know, will I?” he said.

Danny’s sigh rippled across his cheek. “I guess not,” he consented, and with that, his form shimmered, becoming fainter, more transparent by the second. “For his sake, you better hope he keeps himself in check, Tucker.” Danny was barely visible now, little more than a shadow as he backed away into the center of the room. “One false step…” He was nothing but a voice, suspended in the darkness, “…and I’ll kill him.” Then, with the surety of a sixth sense, Tucker knew he was gone.

Immediately, he sagged against the bookcase. Suddenly, the ultimate fate of the troll king Zaharuth didn’t concern him in the slightest, and, cursing Danny, Dash, fate, hormones, and most of the rest of the world in general, Tucker hobbled, week-kneed, to his bed, and promptly collapsed, not even bothering to undress. He sincerely hoped Dash was having a better night than he was. 



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