fire • works: n 1 a device for producing a striking display by the combustion of explosive or flammable compositions 2 a display of fireworks 3 a display of temper or intense conflict
Nothing But Fireworks
Tucker realized that there would be repercussions, but he wasn't prepared to deal with them that particular Saturday morning. He'd slept until nearly eleven, dragged himself out of bed and headed groggily to the Nasty Burger for the breakfast of champions: a double-bacon cheeseburger with extra Nasty Sauce, washed down with cherry cola. And he almost made it, too—but as luck would have it, Valerie Gray was at that moment drowning her sorrows in a double mocha half-caff soy latte with whipped cream and extra sprinkles. And a glazed jelly-filled donut on the side. After all, it takes a lot of comfort food to compensate for getting stood up by your emergency back-up date on the night of your very first high school dance.
The thing is, Café Caffeine is just around the corner from the Nasty Burger. And Tucker may very well have the world's worst timing, so naturally he managed to pass by just as Valerie emerged from the café in the throes of a sugar/caffeine high. She was stoked, she was buzzed, and she was angry.
"Uh. . . Valerie!" Suddenly Tucker's mind spun through a fast rewind of the previous night. He had returned the Amulet of Aragon to its rightful owner while Danny and Sam shared the last dance of the night. Before that he had run herd over Mr. and Mrs. Fenton while Danny fought the dragon. Before that, he had been surprised by the level of Sam's enthusiasm as they ran together toward the school. Before that. . . .
Before that, Valerie had been expecting him to show up with a corsage. Before that, he had a date.
"Do you know how long I waited?" she purred.
"I. . . I. . . . I can explain." Well no, he couldn't. He couldn't explain THIS. Panic set in as he watched Valerie's face cloud over with irritation and disbelief. She was judging him already, before he could even begin to speak. And he couldn't even begin to speak because he didn't have a clue what to say. It would have been better if she had yelled. It would have been easier if she had just slapped him, or stormed off in a huff. But she was a girl, and if Tucker had learned anything about girls from Sam's passive 'who cares about the stupid dance' behavior over the last few days, it was that a girl could communicate a lot about what she was thinking by not expressing what she was thinking.
"Do you know how much time I spent getting ready?"
Tucker's mind raced. Obviously he couldn't tell her the truth, that his body had been taken over by a ghost and forced to take another girl to the dance instead. Not that he had tried to set things straight once he was back in control of his body, but it's not like it was his idea in the first place. Just the opposite, in fact. As far as he had been concerned, Sam had dug her own hole by playing snooty and indifferent all week. If he had known she wanted to go to the dance, he would have asked her in the first place and avoided all the endless humiliation!
"Would you care to explain where you were last night?" Val's smoky voice was sly and calm, her face a mild sea of reasonable curiosity. She was smiling, a thin, plastic smile with just a hint of teeth.
"L— last night?" Oh, smooth. He had stammered his way into an opening, maybe not the best one but his mind was not exactly brimming over with plausible excuses. "The dance was last night? I thought it was tonight!"
That seemed to catch her off-guard. She opened her mouth, as if she were going to say something, then closed it again. Then she frowned, tilting her head to one side and staring into the distance as if she were processing what he had just said.
Tucker couldn't stand the silence, so he started babbling. "Oh my God, you mean I missed it? It was last night? This is terrible! I was really, really, really looking forward to our date and I had even bought a new suit and. . . I don't believe this! I was playing this on-line Doomed marathon, and I just. . . . Are you sure the dance was last night?"
Valerie had remained in an attitude of silent astonishment throughout his outburst, and even after he ran out of gas she just stood there quietly, staring at him as though he were just an insect pinned to a display card. Finally she wrinkled her nose and sneered, "You are such a complete dork! I'm glad you didn't show up, because if you had then I might have actually had to dance with you." She brushed past him and began to walk away, adding airily, "Thank you so much for sparing me the embarrassment of being seen with you!"
As she marched away, Tucker couldn't help but notice the way her long, wavy hair bounced with each step, revealing tantalizing glimpses of the way she filled out her tight-fitting jeans. Valerie could have been his date— no, Valerie had been his date. He should have been dancing with her last night, not running around after Danny's dad and watching his two best friends dance with each other while he ended up alone. And when was he ever going to get another chance like that?
If there is any boy on the planet who has worse timing that Tucker Foley, it's Danny Fenton. And it was just his bad luck that he was also headed toward the Nasty Burger at that particular moment on that particular Saturday morning, approaching Tucker from behind just as Tucker's imagination raced and his frustration boiled over.
"Hey, Tuck!" Danny's voice was relaxed, almost jaunty. "Who was that?"
Tucker just stood there with his back to his best friend, watching Valerie turn the corner and disappear behind a tall hedge. He flushed and gritted his teeth, suddenly overwhelmed with resentment toward the one person who had put him in this situation, turning, slowly, deliberately, to glare at his friend. "It was Valerie. Do you remember Valerie?"
"Of course I remember—oh. I guess she was a little ticked off?"
Danny was trying to sound apologetic, but at that point Tucker was no longer listening. He was flashing back to the night before, the moment when Danny turned on him. He was reliving the experience of seeing his best friend invade his body, seizing absolute control from the inside. He was remembering that feeling of utter vulnerability and violation as he realized that there was nothing—absolutely nothing—he could do to defend himself.
"What did you say?"
"Was Valerie mad about last night?"
"You think?" Tucker could barely channel his resentment into bitter sarcasm. "Here's a news flash for you: She's not the only one who's mad about last night."
"What are you talking. . . ?" Danny paused; the nuance of Tucker's hard expression, his thin, strained voice, seemed to finally sink in. "Are you mad at me?"
Tucker couldn't quite figure out where to start. He stalked off toward the Nasty Burger, Danny following along behind.
"Wait a minute, Tuck! If you're mad at me, at least talk to me. Look—I'm sorry you had to break your date with Valerie. Okay? Just talk to me!"
As they reached the alley that ran around the back side of the restaurant, Tucker grabbed Danny's arm and hauled him back toward the dumpsters. Danny stumbled along behind, and as soon as they were out of sight of the street Tucker shoved him up against the wall.
"You used me! You took me over and forced me to do something I didn't want to do, and I was helpless. Totally helpless! Do you have any idea what that feels like? No, of course you don't. You're the one with the ghost powers. You're the one who can just play games with my body any time you get a whim, and I there's nothing I can do to stop you."
"I wouldn't do that! I— Tucker, I totally wouldn't do that! I mean, it's not like I made you rob a bank or hurt somebody or run naked through the streets or anything like that. Okay, so I made you take Sam to the dance. And yeah, okay, so Valerie got stood up. What's the harm in that? She's a jerky snob, and Sam's our best friend!"
"Yeah. Well, I thought I was your best friend, too."
"And you are! Since forever! But seriously, you are blowing this way, way out of proportion."
"Did you hear me say 'no'? Did you understand what it meant when I said 'no'? Does the word 'no' not apply to you any more?"
"I didn't think—"
"No, you didn't think! You didn't think about how your actions would affect anybody else. Do you remember all that stuff your dad told us about ghosts? Do you remember that one of the natural characteristics of a ghost is a casual indifference toward human beings?"
"Well, take a look in the mirror, dude!"
That shut him up. Danny just stared, dumfounded, his mouth hanging open.
"You better start thinking hard about this, Danny. You better start figuring out what's a justifiable use of those powers of yours, while you still have two friends left. And here's rule number one: you don't use your powers on ME!"
With that, Tucker turned and began to walk away. Danny followed, reaching out to grab him by the shoulder. Tucker shrugged his shoulder away from Danny's grasp, spun around and abruptly lashed out with a shove to Danny's chest that knocked him to the ground. For a long moment, a moment that seemed to stretch out for a small eternity, the two friends stared at each other.
"Don't! Don't talk to me. Just. . . don't talk to me!" With that, Tucker ran down the alley and out to the street, having suddenly lost all interest in breakfast. He didn't even see Sam as he passed her outside the restaurant.
Sam watched, astonished, as her friend ran as though chased by demons, but he never slowed down. As she stared into the distance, Danny emerged from the alley behind her, rubbing his left hip and limping slightly. "Hey there, Sam."
"Danny! Are you okay?" Sam ran up to him, concerned. "Was there a ghost?"
"No, no ghost. I just— I just fell down. No big deal."
Sam fell in beside him and slipped her arm around his waist to offer some support. "Here, let me help."
Danny put his arm across her shoulder and allowed her to take just a little of his weight as they walked toward the restaurant's entrance. He smiled as he realized how well they fit together, how she was just tall enough to offer real support. Her close presence reminded him of their one, ethereal dance. They squeezed through the door into the restaurant and sat down at the first booth; strangely, neither one of them seemed particularly interested in getting any food.
Sam chewed her lip thoughtfully. "I think Tucker may be mad at me."
"What makes you think— I mean, why would he be mad at you? You didn't do anything to him."
"Well, you know, first he got stood up by Valerie, and then after we finished with old Paulina Dragon I asked you to dance instead of him. Don't get me wrong, I had a great time and I'm so grateful you flew me home after, but Tucker's the one who bothered to ask me in the first place."
"He's not—" Danny paused. Tucker may not have been the one to actually extend the invitation, and if he had gotten his way, Sam would have stayed home, but under the circumstances Tucker might as well get the credit. Danny reached out and clasped Sam's hands across the table. "Tucker's not mad at you, Sam. Believe me, I know what he's upset about and it has nothing to do with you."
There was a tingle where their hands touched, and Danny felt a flood of warmth wash across his face and a delightful frisson down his spine. Caught up in this new, exciting sensation, he completely lost his train of thought and narrowed his focus to the touch of hand to hand, and the vivid memory of the dance—and suddenly he could see nothing but fireworks.
Author's Note: This fic was inspired by the unlikely coincidence of two seemingly unrelated events. The first was the rapidly impending deadline of a fic contest with the theme of "fireworks"; I had idly wondered whether anybody was going to explore the word's "angry outburst" connotation, but had no intention of trying to write an entry myself. The second was the rapid-fire airing of five new Danny Phantom episodes during the week of July 9 through 13. Discouraged by the low quality of the writing in these third season episodes, I cued up a tape of older episodes that Saturday evening to refresh my memory of what made me love this series in the first place. As it happens, the first episode on the tape was Parental Bonding, and the scene of Danny overshadowing Tucker despite Tucker's having said 'no' four times kick-started the inspiration.
This is the whole fic. Obviously, Tucker and Danny must have made up some time after this conversation, but my desire was to describe the fireworks, not the sunshine.