Simple Physics

Chapter 20 - Reverb

Of all the things Tucker expected to find after being dragged, inexplicably and with no small sense of urgency, from his last period biology class and to the principal's office, an undulating horde of students, teachers, and police officers, was not among them. At the sound of the spiteful jeers tossed his way as Lancer guided his approach, his stomach gave a foreboding lurch. Few things that involved angry teenagers and uniformed cops in the same relative vicinity ended well.

A female staff member, whose face Tucker only vaguely recognized from turning in many a tardy slip to, met them at the main office door. When she opened her mouth, though, Lancer cut her off.

"You may inform Principal Ishiyama, again," he stressed, "that I still strongly disagree with bringing Mr. Foley into this so early. Surely at least the other students could have been cleared out first? Crime and Punishment, this situation is still dangerous!"

Without waiting for her reply, they moved in, and Tucker noted in a sort of off-handed manner that Lancer – whether intentionally or not – made sure to keep himself between Tucker and the crowd at all times.

By the time they actually entered the office lobby, Tucker couldn't honestly say he was surprised by the array of faces that greeted him. He was surprised by the state he found them in, and immediately upon absorbing the details, his already churning stomach knotted, like a roiling anemone folding in on itself.

Thus, his outburst of "Dash!" came out sounding significantly more like a blurted squeak than anything else. Nonetheless, it served its purpose, jerking Dash's head up as instantly as if pulled by a puppeteer's string, and after working over his initial surprise, Dash's shoulders visibly tensed.

Brow furrowing and fists closing in on themselves, he jerked out of his seat, demanding of Lancer, "What's he doing here!" without a moment's pause. "He hasn't done—he doesn't have anything to do with this!" he insisted. "You can't just-"

"If you would kindly sit down, Mr. Baxter…" Lancer cut in coolly, but it lacked any sharp, reproving element, and when Dash begrudgingly complied, he nodded. "Very good. Now, Mr. Foley, if you would please wait a moment with Misters Lee, Baxter, and Williams…"

Tucker nodded mutely, but barely registered Lancer's nod and subsequent exit, his attention fully monopolized by Dash and the process of trying to ascertain a plausible rationale for his current "state of affairs," i.e.: barefoot, shirtless, and handcuffed, nursing a bloodied lip and an already-impressive shiner from his wary perch on the wide bench outside the principal's personal office. After a long moment and much guesswork, each possibility turning up worse than the last, he eventually frowned, and decided to take it one baby step at a time.

"Dash…what happened to your shirt?"

That sparked three reactions.

Dash blushed, Kwan gave a sort of low groan, and Tyrone snickered indiscriminately. Tucker's puzzlement deepened. At length, Dash pursed his lips, and then, wincing, he gave up on the expression and shrugged instead, still managing to look somewhat guilty all the while.

"It wasn't my fault, okay? We…" He flicked his tongue over his lip, grimaced, and lifted his hand, the links on his cuffs clinking as he brought the back of his palm to his mouth. "It was…in the locker room, so…didn' 'xactly 'ave time to get…dressed…"

Tucker raised his eyebrows, noting the slurring effect of Dash's fiddling, and he scanned the empty front desk. Spotting what he wanted, he snatched an unattended Kleenex from an open box by the office phone and approached the seated trio.

"I wasn't complaining," he clarified, earning two T.M.I. looks from the boys flanking Dash's left and right and a corresponding blush from the front and center. "Just wondering, that's all. Here…" When he motioned, Kwan scooted over enough to give him room, and he offered up the sheet of Kleenex as he took a seat, "…put something besides your sweaty hand-germs on that and quit picking at it…and you should get some water on it too. It doesn't look like any of you cleaned up at all…" Cue: baby step number two. "How did you end up in handcuffs, anyway?"

"Defendin' yer honour," "Trying to get himself killed," and, "Okay, he was begging for it…" answered him simultaneously, and Tucker blinked.

"Right…so, umm…who was begging for what, why killed, and what honour?" he asked, and Tyrone snorted.

"Oh, yeah, man…I can see why you keep this kid around…"

Tucker tossed him a sidelong glance. Then, after a moment's debate, he settled on observing him in full. Finally, after coming on no concrete conclusions he asked, "You know, no offense, but…what are you doing here, anyway? I assume this is Team A, and Team B is as busted up as you all are in some separate room, but…last time, I kina got the impression you were on their side," he said, jabbing an emphasizing thumb in the direction of the still-rumbling commotion outside, and Tyrone frowned.

After a pregnant pause, he shrugged, expression going neutral. "Sometimes people jus' need a good knock upside the head…an' as it happened, I came to agree with yer boyfriend on who that somebody was."

Tucker mirrored the other boy's frown of moments before, well aware that a lot went unsaid in that explanation, but before he could press for details, Tyrone flipped the tables.

"So, how did you get that shit on my phone, anyway?"

Tucker's face heated. "Oh, uhh…" Caught outright, he looked guiltily away, "…a technician never reveals his secrets?"

Tyrone scoffed. "Ya, uhhuh…an' my gran'mammy 'kin score nothin' but net from-"

"Misters Lee and Williams…" Lancer cut in abruptly from the door, "…if you would follow Mrs. Parkinson to the councillor's office, please…and Misters Baxter and Foley…" He paused to grant them an assessing glance as Kwan and Tyrone obligingly stood, and Tucker's hand jerked automatically off of Dash's wrist and back into his lap, "…wait in my office. I'll deal with you two in a moment."

Tucker swallowed. Dash's cheeks looked like valentines. In silence, they retreated together to the confines of Mr. Lancer's vice-principal's office.

Once in, Tucker caved to the need to give a more thorough inspection, reaching up and brushing the loosened curtain of bangs from Dash's forehead to check for head trauma, noting the severity of various bruises, and running a gentle thumb under his darkening eye – only to have Dash wince anyway.

"Sorry," Tucker apologized, moving his thumb but not withdrawing his hand, "it's just…jeez, how many guys were you up against, anyway? Did you decide it would be cool to take on your whole sports team or something?" At Dash's look, Tucker's shoulders slumped. "Please tell me you didn't-"

"Not the whole team," Dash excused himself. "It was only a few guys…like two…or three, or five, or…umm…" Dash looked thoughtful, "…seven…"

"Seven?" Tucker yelped. "And how the hell did you work it through your skull that taking on seven-"

"I wasn't counting," Dash defended. "It might not have been that many! Or it…mighthavebeenmore," He rushed that bit, "but the point is, I just…it was…" As his words trailed off, Tucker pursed his lips, and finally he asked, uncharacteristically meek, "Why are you so mad?"

Tucker's scowl darkened. "Umm…hmm, let me think…because," he snapped back, "as far as I can tell, someone called you a queer, and suddenly it's an all-out free-for-all brawl? I don't know what you think-"

"It wasn't that!" Dash cut in, and at Tucker's look, he hesitated. "Well, I mean, yeah, it kind of started like that…" he admitted, but just as Tucker opened his mouth for the I-told-you-so, he barrelled on with, "…but that wasn't what the fight was for, okay? I was doing good…I was ignoring everything he was sayin' and it wasn't anything he said about me, it was…when he started in about you that…"

Tucker's stomach took a hard dive – a water balloon, dropped from a five story building. "You…got into a fight…because someone called me queer?"

"No!" Dash jumped in immediately, and then, "Well…I mean, that was part of it, but…no, it wasn't, it—it was worse than that! And…I…" He let out a defeated breath, observing, "You're even more upset now…" and Tucker shook his head, hands going up wildly.

"Yes, I'm more upset now! Because now I know it was part my fault, and-"

"It wasn't-"

"-I hate seeing you hurt like this, so to hear that it was because…because someone—dammit, Dash! People make fun of me all the time, don't you get it? It's not something special, it's not something new…it just happens, and just because we're…" Tucker waved his hand vaguely about, "…whatever…'boyfriends' now doesn't mean you have to…to assume some sort of 'heroic duty' to defend my name behind my back, and-"


"Do you know what it feels like?" Tucker insisted. "To be dragged up here and see cops and…and to know that it…it must have had something to do with you, and then to see you, and see that you're…all…" Tucker swallowed hard, "…it's—it just…it sucks okay?" he snapped with sudden ferocity. "It really, really sucks, and I hated it, and it made me so worried, and sick, and—and furious, and-"

"You were worried about me?" Dash blurted, sounding like a man genuinely startled with a pleasant surprise, and Tucker's words ground to a stuttered halt.

"I-I…uhh…" He blinked upwards, and Dash eyed him curiously, something new swirling in his expression, just beyond reach of identification. Tucker fought the urge to stare at his shoes. "That was…I mean…well…ye-"

The door opened, and it might as well have been a gunshot for as high as they jumped, jerking apart like preteens caught unawares on a clandestine first date. Lancer barely spared them a glance, and Tucker eyed the cop that followed him in warily, but he only motioned for Dash to offer up his hands.

"Cuffs," he said, jingling keys by way of explanation, and when Dash obliged, he shook his head, mumbling something vague about lucky bastards, 'kids these days,' and rampant ungratefulness that Tucker couldn't fully catch as he removed the restraints. He left immediately afterwards.

"He's right, you know," Lancer said evenly, gravitating towards his desk as Dash rubbed sorely over the pink rings left on his wrists. "You are beyond fortunate to be getting off as lightly as you are. It's precisely this kind of barbaric foolhardiness that lands boys in reform school…and as it is, your friend Mr. Williams may not be so lucky."

Tucker watched Dash's fingers falter in their ministrations, and wondered if 'fortunate' in this case meant 'privileged enough to have connections with the power to bail him out.' Did that mean that Tyrone didn't have someone to save him from serious trouble? And what about Dash? Did that mean that his parents were already involved in this?

Apparently, Dash was wondering the same thing. "Do my paren-"

"But, alas…that is not why Mr. Foley is here," Lancer said, drawing Tucker's attention back, and when he looked up, Lancer's eyes were on him. "Do you know why you're here?"

"Umm…" 'Because some guy said something about me and pissed Dash off?' The bell to dismiss class sounded loudly through the halls, and he wondered how long Lancer planned on keeping them. He shook his head, admitting, "Not exactly, no."

"I see." Lancer moved behind his desk, opening a drawer and fishing around. After a moment, he produced an all-too-familiar document, and dropped it out on the desk top, the bold headlines readable from across the room, even if the picture quality was abysmal. "I assume you're familiar with this, are you not?"

"Err…" 'How could we not be…?' Tucker cleared his throat, feeling suddenly very awkward. "Well, yeah, but…I don't see how that relates to-"

"If this were the usual prank and nonsense that I initially assumed it was, then you'd be right, Mr. Foley, it wouldn't relate at all. However…" Lancer's eyes darted between them, "…if there were truth in this, and that, correspondingly, lead to any of my students being put in danger…"

Not gawking outright suddenly became a formidable challenge. "Are you seriously saying…" Tucker finally managed to say, "…that you'd object to something like that being legit because it pose a threat to the other students? Did you not see what they just did to Dash? If that's not what you call-"

"I never said anything about objecting."

"-dangero—oh…" Tucker's anger melted as quick as it came; then, confusion replaced it, "…wait, what?"

"I was implying that it would be dangerous to you, Mr. Foley…and to Mr. Baxter…and, as we have seen in evidence today, to anyone else unwise enough to get themselves caught in the crossfire. Hate crimes can be vicious and violent things…especially among the youth, and while it is nominally none of my concern what any of you get up to on your own time, here at school, your health and general well-being are well within my jurisdiction."

Tucker frowned. "Okay…so…why am I here?"

"You are here because, if there is validity to these…rumours, then I believe it would be in your best interests to inform me, so that it can be seen to that…incidents…of this sort do not happen again…or, if they do, that someone of authority can be made more ready to counteract it in its early stages."

Tucker blinked. "So…you're like…mandatorily requiring me to come out to the entire staff of Casper High?"

Lancer gave him an odd look. "I suppose-"

"My parents know about this, don't they…" said Dash, not bothering to intonate it as a question, and Lancer switched his focus.

"Yes. Both your parents have been contacted and informed of the situation-"

"Do they know what-"

"They only know that you were involved in another fight," Lancer answered without waiting for the question, and a visible amount of tension seeped from Dash's stance.

He swallowed and nodded. "Okay, good-"

"However, if there's more to this than that, I believe it would be wise to-"

"No!" Dash blurted, and then blushed, the tension rushing back as fast as it left. "That is—I jus-"

"It's all bullshit," Tucker came in over him, and earned himself two startled stares in the process. He ignored them, and silently prayed that his casual, airy tone held for the duration of his lie. "When I tutored him last semester, we had to spend a lot of time together. Apparently some people figured it would be funny to take that and exaggerate it. The morning that picture was taken, I couldn't drive to school like usual, or get a ride from any of my friends, and I had his number, so I called him. He took me to school. Someone snapped a shot when we were both under the umbrella…and since it was raining hard, you know, it was kind of natural for both of us to want to be under the umbrella. And that was it. Now people are just making a spectacle. So…can I go home now?"

Lancer looked skeptical at best and a little more than mildly disapproving. But then, convincing Lancer wasn't really the goal. As long as he got off their back, didn't spread news to the rest of the faculty, and most importantly didn't say anything to Dash's parents, then Tucker would feel accomplished.

At long last, Lancer released a concessional sigh, but he held on to his frown. "Very well…if you're sure that that's all you have to say…" He cast a glance towards Dash – who shook his head, and then hastily nodded, as if changing his mind about which would be appropriate. Finally, he just coughed, his face pink all over again.

"Yeah, that, uhh…that sounds about right," he agreed choppily.

Tucker made a mental note never to have Dash lie for him, either.

Lancer pursed his lips, but didn't comment. "Alright…then you are both dismissed—but…" He emphasized as Dash practically bee-lined for the door, "…Mr. Baxter, you should be sure to report to my office immediately tomorrow morning in regards to your punishment."

Dash's feet dragged, his shoulders drooped, and his uttering of "Punishment?" sounded so much like a puppy's whine in the face of discipline, that Tucker had to turn his face to the floor to cover for the momentary twitch of a smile that betrayed him despite his best intentions.

Lancer looked impressively unfazed. "Yes, your punishment," he repeated. "You didn't think you'd damage school property, interrupt the latter half of a school period, and nearly give three boys concussions without any consequences, did you? You should be happy you didn't break any bones…otherwise, I'm afraid it wouldn't have mattered who you had standing up for you, you'd have found yourself behind bars before the day's end."

Dash opened his mouth as if to complain further, but then shut it again a moment later, scowling in silence. After a short pause, Lancer raised his eyebrows.

"You are dismissed, gentlemen…unless you have something pressing to add?"

Dash turned for the door, opened it with perhaps a little more force than necessary, and exited. Tucker followed.

"Oh, and Mr. Foley…" Lancer's words caught him with his hand on the doorframe, and Tucker paused.

After a few dragging seconds, he turned. "Yes, sir?"

"You know…not all adults are out there to trap you or judge you or otherwise make your life miserable…sometimes we do honestly want to help, and whether you believe it or not…we can also prove to be surprisingly understanding."

Tucker's cheeks warmed, and he dipped his head, taking comfort in the fact that Lancer wouldn't be able to tell, from that distance. "Yes…I'm aware of that, sir, and I meant no offense to you, it's just…" He trailed, searching for the right words. "It's just…something about the faces he makes…when the subject of his parents comes up…I guess it really just gives me the sense that they aren't exactly the 'understanding' type…you know?" he said, tilting his head back up to see Lancer's reaction to the final admittance. The amount of empathy there surprised him.

"I see…well, in that case, I suppose I must concede your point. However…I would ask, then, that you do me one favour…"


"Try to see to it that he doesn't continue to let his frustrations over these 'rumours' escalate to the point where he ends up injuring himself and his peers?"

Tucker wondered if the undertone of 'Watch out for him for me, will you?' was all in his head. He nodded anyway. "I will."

Lancer nodded in turn, and, finally feeling dismissed, Tucker left.

He found Dash waiting just across the way, weight casually propped against the still-vacant front office desk and arms folded. Apparently everyone previously crowded around the door had found better things to do after the bell, because the halls were as empty as everywhere else, as far as Tucker could tell. He wondered where they'd carted all the other boys involved off to, but the thought passed quickly. Probably still in the counsellor's office.

"Shouldn't you be in the bathroom by now?" Tucker asked, and Dash looked up, as if just noticing him. "You need to get something cold on your eye as soon as possible or it's gonna swell up something crazy…maybe see the school nurse if she's still around? You're already gonna be stuck looking like a one-eyed Willie reincarnate for the next couple days…"

Dash snorted, but then shrugged, presumably not too terribly concerned about it one way or the other. "I'll go eventually," he conceded, "but…figured I'd wait for him to let you out, anyway, 'cause…" He pushed up off his perch, shoving his hands in his pockets as he went and inadvertently nudging his beltline a good half-inch or so lower in the process, "…is Danny still around, or are you gonna, like…need a ride, or something?"

'Danny' as opposed to 'Fenton' or some other distasteful variation, Tucker noted silently, mildly surprised, but pleased. "No, he…probably left already…I'd guess…" he answered without putting much thought into it, his attention naturally divided by the recently-bared ribbon of skin above Dash's waistline, exposed courtesy of his shift in position, "…but, umm…" He cleared his throat and dragged his eyes up – with no insignificant amount of effort – back to Dash's face. Whether or not his gaze took rest stops along the way was another matter entirely. "I shouldn't need a ride…unless someone, you know, trashed my car or something since I drove it to school this morning." At Dash's look, he hastily added, "Which I have no reason to believe anyone did, I'm just sayin'…"

"Mm…" Dash still looked dissatisfied, but at least temporarily placated. "So you're gonna go home now, then?" he asked, and Tucker, eyes wandering again of their own accord, yanked his gaze back to Dash's.

In his defence, dealing with Dash shirtless was sort of like facing down a walking, talking Calvin Klein add and trying not to stare.

"Yes…well, soon," he amended. "Are you going to go clean up, or what?"

"Yeah," Dash answered, "or, well…soon." He smiled, shifting his hands to where only his thumbs hooked into his pockets, and, of course, drawing Tucker's attention back down with the movement. "Thought I might go back and get my clothes first, though…" By the time Tucker looked back up, Dash was smirking, "…unless you'd rather I don't?"

Caught, Tucker's face warmed. "Oh, well, I mean, you know, yeah…clothes are always…" Dash's toes curled against the office carpet, and when he stepped forward, somehow instead of 'optimal' as he intended, Tucker said, "…optional…" He didn't realize his mistake until Dash laughed aloud – a warm, full sound that shook his shoulders and banished in an instant the lines of tension previously gathered there – and Tucker, for all his embarrassment, decided a little of his pride was easily a worthwhile sacrifice for that.

"I like how you're thinking," Dash teased on approach, closing in until barely a foot lay between them, and Tucker never quite figured out how his hands wound up on Dash's hips once he drew close enough – alighting, but barely touching, like birds perched on the border between the waistline of Dash's pants and the soft of his skin, allowing him to feel both at once – and he wasn't sure if the purpose of the gesture was to discourage Dash from closing in any further or to assure that he didn't back farther away, but he couldn't quite summon the will to withdraw, in any case.

"Yeah, well…you…" Tucker wanted to close his eyes and hold his breath, because this was a bad, bad place for this, he knew, but Dash was closer still than he was a half-second before, and if Lancer took one look out from his office or if anyone happened down the hallway outside, there would be no explaining their way out of anything for sure. Unfortunately, "Are you…sure this a good place…to…" didn't come out nearly as steadfastly as he intended.

Instead, his sentence faltered at the first gentle pressure of a forehead against his, and "No," Dash said quietly. "In fact…it's probably one of the worst possible places…" he admitted, but then he tilted his head down anyway, and as warm breath on his lips foreshadowed things to come and his pulse declared a field day in his throat, Tucker wondered absently if they were both secretly exhibitionists at heart. Then, his lips parted under Dash's mouth, the kiss swallowing his first, desperately restrained sound of consent as his hands on Dash's hips twitched a fraction tighter, upping to a cling, and, given their history on such things, he decided that yes, yes they were definitely exhibitionists.

He groaned, soft against Dash's mouth, his stomach clenching as their tongues tapped, and then twined, Dash's hands – at his hips now – a warm, familiar weight, fitting them together, grounding him.

Far too soon, Dash pulled back (never mind that they shouldn't have been kissing in the front office in the first place) and Tucker swallowed against a dizzying swoon, clutching tighter still to his base of support and wondering what the heck he was supposed to do now, with hands full of his half-naked boyfriend and an erection that probably wouldn't be going down anytime soon without a fight.

When he said as much, using only slightly less explicit terms, Dash chuckled unforgivingly.

"Well, how about I get some clothes on. That should help, huh?"

For the moment, Tucker opted out of developing a cocky response in favour of simply accompanying Dash back to the locker room. And the shirt did help. Some.

Thus, some thirty to forty-some-odd minutes since his initial trip to the principal's office, Tucker sat on a locker room bench, his hands propped back behind him, nodding his approval as Dash re-presented himself.

"Yeah," he said, "that's much…well, less distracting, anyway, if not really 'better,' per say, depending on what sense of the word you're going for…" and Dash snorted, but looked rather pleased with himself anyway.

"What, you liked me better half-naked?" he asked.

Tucker rolled his eyes. "Well, I mean, not 'you,' as a person, better, but, uhh, eye candy wise? Oh, that's a tough one, let me think…yeah?" He waved one hand dismissively. "You're sexy…sexy guys tend to look good half-naked…or, you know, good at any level of naked, really…that's sort of the definition?"

Dash grinned, approaching. "You're-"

"Don't get started on me," Tucker warned, holding up a finger. "I'm-"

"-too modest," Dash finished, and Tucker meant to laugh. Really, because 'modest' was among the last of all adjectives he might ever dream of selecting to describe himself. But Dash planted a knee on the bench a half-inch from his thigh and a hand on the wall to the side of his head, and this time there really wasn't any legit reason they shouldn't be this close, given that they really did have the place to themselves. So, the laugh only halfway made it, and petered out entirely when Dash's lips started climbing the length of his jaw.

"I'm…not modest," Tucker argued, shutting his eyes as the ministrations progressed upwards: along his chin and then on, to the juncture of neck and jaw. "I actually…" His fingers closed in the fabric of Dash's shirt, holding rather than pushing or pulling, "…have been told more than once, that…I'm too forward and…full of myself…"

Dash huffed, sending warm air tickling down the back of his neck, and Tucker swallowed. "Forward, sure…" He kissed Tucker's neck, "…but you have way too many insecurities for someone who's full of themself…" and there, Tucker tensed.

The holding hand on Dash's shirt started to push (never mind that he might as easily have been shoving at the trunk of an oak for all the effect it had). "I-I'm not…insecure…" he objected, and mentally kicked himself for the way that came out: 'Oh, yeah, real stable Tuck. Way to make a point.' "I've just…come to accept some stuff over the years…and be realistic…that doesn't…make me…"

Dash allowed him about half of an average personal bubble's worth of space (at best), and their eyes met. "Okay…" he conceded, "…so, if it's just that, then why are you always so surprised when I say something nice to you, huh?"

Tucker's mouth opened, but his lips hung there, his tongue still, useless, and hugely uncooperative in his time of need, and at long last, his eyebrows furrowed up, torn, something guilty and conflicted knotting up in his gut.

Dash waited, patient, watching, and for a terrifying moment Tucker felt naked as an open book. He snapped his gaze away.

"I, umm…"

It wasn't that he thought Dash was stupid. He knew better now, obviously. Still, it continued to surprise him when Dash managed to make a valid, insightful point seemingly out of nowhere. So, cornered, with no real comeback and none forthcoming, Tucker finally, instinctively resorted to the first available option he came upon: evasive manoeuvres.

"We need to get something for your eye."

Dash heaved a sigh, frowning hard, clearly fully aware of the escape tactic.

It wasn't that Tucker meant to doubt the positive things Dash threw his way, and really, he hadn't even always been that way. If someone had expressed their undying affections for him freshman year, he probably would have taken it and ran with it, no questions asked. It was just, the process of growing up had a habit of hammering in harsher realities, and a guy could be rudely dumped, denied, or stood up so many times before he started building walls and making a more serious effort to take a candid look at the bigger picture.

Was it really his fault for being amazed, from time to time, that Dash was still sticking it through with him? When girls not half as attractive and on the rock bottom of the social ladder wouldn't give him the time of day? Dash was gorgeous. Tucker harboured no doubts in his mind about which of the two of them was easier on the eyes. And sure, he wasn't the kind of guy to look a gift horse in the mouth, but sometimes he just couldn't help but wonder what Dash saw in him, and when things like "I like you," "I missed you," and "I want this to mean something…" came out of the blue, it seemed only natural to be surprised.

He didn't want to be scared that Dash would eventually get bored one day and call everything off, or that it was all a big, fun game that could end in the blink of an eye. But the bigger fear was that if he let go of that caution, that if he let himself believe that Dash really, really liked him, and then it turned out that he was wrong

"Okay," Dash conceded at length, looking displeased but resigned, and Tucker released a shaking breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, folding his arms in on himself as soon as Dash backed off. Seeing this, Dash's frown changed, concern replacing frustration, and when he asked "Are you alright?" Tucker's eyes flicked to his.

"Oh, umm…yeah, I'm…fine. Just got a…chill, for a second…"

"Mm." Dash pushed up, off the bench, and Tucker turned his eyes to the floor and shut them, listening to his footsteps as he walked off. A minute later, he received a nudge to the shoulder accompanied by a "Here…" and he looked back up, surprised. His cheeks warmed at the sight of the offering, and he accepted the jacket in silent, abashed thanks. "You know, for the record…" Dash continued as he started wrapping the extra cover over his shoulders, "…you say that 'fine' shit about as convincingly as any girl…you sure you don't wanna tell me what's up?"

Tucker's blush darkened, but he met Dash's eyes when he shook his head. "No, umm…not for now, anyway…"

"Mmkay…" Dash conceded, leaning down when Tucker stood, and the kiss wasn't innately special or extraordinary in any marked way – just quick and gentle – but it still made Tucker's heart race up to meet it, regardless. "So…" Dash said when he withdrew, "…what's up with putting cold stuff on a bruise, anyway? Isn't that just like, an old lady's story or something?"

"An old wives' tale?" Tucker corrected automatically, but smiled at Dash's willingness to change the subject without fuss. "No," he said. "There's real scientific evidence behind it. The cooler temperatures constrict the blood vessels, which keeps more blood from spilling into the affected tissue and restricts the size of the bruise…it also minimizes swelling and numbs the area and stuff, so it doesn't hurt as much."

Dash blinked. "Huh. Wow, where…when do you learn that stuff?" he asked, sounding, surprisingly enough, mildly impressed, and Tucker shrugged.

"It helps to know, sometimes…" Finished in the locker room, they started to head out, but at the door, a thought occurred to him, "Hey, you never did tell me what actually started that fight…?" and Dash's pace faltered for a moment.

Then, he pursed his lips. "Stuff…" he said vaguely, but at Tucker's look, he sighed and caved. "Okay, here…" He stopped walking and caught Tucker's hand, lacing their fingers together and holding them up between them. "What's the difference?" he asked.

Tucker blinked at their interwoven fingers, Dash's slightly broader and rather encompassing in comparison. "Umm…your hands are bigger?" he guessed tentatively, not quite sure what Dash was getting at.

Dash smiled strangely. "Well, yes, that's one thing…anything else?"

Tucker looked again, frowning thoughtfully. It was an odd game, but he'd play it, if it produced answers. "Yours are, umm…" He shifted his grip, the slightly courser skin of Dash's palm brushing his, and he said, "You have more calluses."

Dash laughed. "Yeah, but…" He shook his head, pulling his hand away, "…no." He looked considerate for a moment, and then held his forearm out, motioning for Tucker to do the same, as if they were going to compare sun tans or something. "Now what's different?" he asked, and Tucker looked at their arms, Dash's light, soft-gold tan in juxtapose with his…

'Oh.' Comprehension dawned, and Tucker let his arm drop back down. "Ah, okay, I see," he said aloud. "So it's 'cause I'm black, huh?"

For some reason, this really made Dash blush, which Tucker noted with silent curiosity, but he nodded anyway as they resumed walking. "Yeah, umm…well, I mean basically, I guess. It was just…" He drew in a breath, "…someone had some not so great things to say about it, and it…pissed me off, is all…you know?"

Tucker fit his hands into his pockets, eyeing the floor. After a moment, he said, "You know…sometimes people can just be-"

"I know," Dash cut in. "I know, I just…I guess I'm not very used to dealing with it…? That sort of…shit, I mean, and, umm…" He shrugged, "…well, you know…I'm not very good at…not hitting people, in general."

Tucker wasn't going to smile. He bit the smile, in fact. And he certainly wasn't going to laugh, because this was serious, and laughing would just make it okay and silly and-

When he choked on a snort, Dash raised a discerning eyebrow. "What?"

Tucker shook his head quickly, hand over his mouth. "Nothing."


"Nothing!" Tucker insisted, and then, at Dash's look, he groaned, dropping his hand back down in defeat. "You just…you make me smile, sometimes, okay? Is that going to be alright with you, your highness?"

Dash eyed him, another slow, creeping warmth of a very different breed from that of moments before rising on his cheeks, and at last, he nodded, looking quite pleased, if bashful. "Yeah, umm…sure, that's cool."

Somehow, they made it to their respective cars without further incident.  



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