With how Sam and Tucker stared through him as they walked into the school, Danny thought idly, watching the smoke curl up lazily into the fall air, he might as well be a ghost right now.
He thought he might have caught a slight glare in his direction from Sam. Polluting the environment and all that. If she had bothered to ask before beginning her judgement, she would have known that he filtered everything out with his powers: no cancer, no pollutants. Just the relief of the nicotine.
But she hadn’t, of course. No surprises there. He remembered the accusation coming up, but not when. After all, by now he couldn’t even remember what the latest—and final—break had been about. Too many smaller ones to keep track of at this point.
With a sigh as the ember on the butt of the cigarette reached his fingers, Danny stubbed it out, depositing it properly into the ashtray, thank you very much, Sam. Though technically for teacher use only, perks to being the worrisome loner (and now of a legal age to smoke) meant that they were less likely to come down on him for smaller shit.
Too worried that he’d finally snap and off himself, maybe, or blow up the school. As if: he had put way too much effort into preventing either of those to ever let them happen, let alone do it himself.
With a resigned sigh, he jogged inside after everyone else, heading for his locker.
Four years of dodging genuinely lethal projectiles gave him the reflexes he needed to duck the yogurt cup sailing in his direction without a problem, but as it hit the wall, the remaining contents splattered everywhere—and mostly over him.
Ignoring the noises of disgust around him with a sigh—he had a hard time feeling any sympathy for slightly sprayed bystanders when he had a massive glob of yogurt on his shirt—he turned.
The culprits didn’t surprise him; while his tormenters from his first year had grown up and out of bullying, for the most part, the sophomores and freshmen who were too big for their britches tended to think the local loner, even one older than them, was the perfect target over which to assert their “dominance.” Generally harmless, but obnoxious.
What did surprise him was the individual standing behind the two underclassmen, gripping their shirts in large fists and holding them so that their feet dangled off the ground.
“What the hell is your problem, huh?!”
Dash Baxter had grown even bigger in four years, but it suited him: instead of an awkwardly huge ninth grader, he was now much more reasonably proportioned. He had mellowed out as he grew, as well, even letting his hair get a little longer, and by and large realized that being an asshole just wasn’t worth it.
That didn’t mean that his temper had completely faded, though, and as Danny inspected him, looking for the drops of yogurt on the letterman jacket that had undoubtedly brought Dash into the fray, he almost felt sorry for the kids.
But despite his inspection, he found nothing.
“You don’t just throw yogurt at people!” Dash snapped, shaking them by their shirts like you might with the scruff of a particularly disobedient puppy. “That’s messed up!”
“But he’s weird! ” one of them whined, earning himself an even harder shake from Dash.
“Yeah, so? Since when is weird a bad thing?”
Danny froze, blinking in surprise at the words.
“No buts, or I’ll kick yours! He’s not hurting you, so don’t be a jackass!”
Danny watched as Dash shook them once again for good measure, then dropped them to the ground.
“Don’t let me catch you at it again!”
They scampered off, metaphorical tails between their legs. Meanwhile, Danny just stood at his locker, yogurt sliding down the front of his shirt, as he stared at Dash—who wasn’t even looking back. Instead, he glared after the underclassmen, distracted.
The sight sent a surge of irritation through Danny. Dash was gonna come in, pretend to be a hero, and then ignore him, huh?
“What the hell, man?” he asked. It came out sharper than he had intended. Dash jumped slightly, then turned to face him, looking…
Sheepish, Danny realized with incredulity. Dash Baxter was watching Danny Fenton with a sheepish expression.
“Sorry,” Dash continued, as if he hadn’t already just turned Danny’s world on its head. He met Danny’s eyes, expression sincere. “I know you could’ve handled them yourself. Didn’t mean to imply that you couldn’t.”
It had to be some sort of parallel universe. Or Danny had died—again—but this time, he hadn’t half stuck around. “That’s not—I don’t—” Danny sputtered, irritation long gone and replaced by disbelief. “ Why? ”
Dash shrugged, now looking distinctly uncomfortable. “I mean, you’re not really defenseless—”
“No, I mean, why yell at them?” He yanked open his locker, grabbing the spare shirt he kept there, just in case. He tugged the dirty one off, not even caring that he was in the middle of the hallway. “You’ve never cared before.”
“Oh. Uh…” Dash seemed to have trouble finding words, eyes locked somewhere below Danny’s, as Danny yanked on the new shirt. “It’s just a shitty thing to do, right?”
“Pick on people?” Danny’s voice was dry. “Yeah, I’d say so.”
Dash visibly winced, and Danny couldn’t really bring himself to feel bad about it.
In a continuation of Twilight Zone -esque events, Dash shoved his hands into his pockets, massive shoulders hunched. It was kind of adorable, actually. The thought came to Danny against his will, a result of an attraction that had plagued Danny for four years, even if he was very good at pretending that little inconvenience didn’t exist.
Dash’s eyes lifted to meet his. “Everything, man. How I treated you. God, I was a huge dick. I can’t believe you’re actually talking to me now. I made your life hell.”
“Yeah,” Danny replied, voice flat. “You did.”
Admittedly, it wasn’t the worst thing anyone at school had done to him. Being stabbed in the back by friends sucked way more than getting picked on by enemies.
“I…” Dash glanced away, clearly torn, but Danny said nothing. Let him sweat.
“It was never about you,” Dash finally blurted out. “I mean, it was, but nothing you did. It was all on me.”
Danny shoved his locker shut, crossing his arms and watching Dash, irritated. “Listen, if you’re gonna tell me that it was because you felt bad about yourself and wanted to divert yourself from your own inadequacies by taking it out on me, I know. That still doesn’t make it okay, and if this is some—”
Woah. Wait. What? This had gone beyond Twilight Zone and crossed straight into utterly surreal.
“What the fuck?”
Dash swallowed, and watching him sweat no longer gave Danny the satisfaction he had expected. At this point, he had to be as uncomfortable as Dash.
“You’ve always been… y’know.” He gestured at Danny. “Never been ashamed of… you’re bi, right? But still, your parents never minded.”
The last words carried an unexpected weight to them. Danny eyed Dash sharply, but despite the fact that his bullshit sense was tingling (just as effective as his other sense, actually), he didn’t push.
“I’ve been in therapy for a couple years, now, and… and it’s helped. A lot. She’s helped me deal with stuff and unpack the reasons for what I did. And I…” He swallowed, ears going a little red, and Danny’s suspicions increased. Not that Dash was lying ; no, he seemed sincere about being sorry. But his reasoning for the bullying was sketchy, at best. “I took out my internalized homophobia on you. Which was fucked up. And I’m sorry.”
It spoke volumes that hearing Dash use four- and five-syllable words was the least weird thing in this entire interaction. Danny had absolutely no idea what to say to any of this, so he went with the first thing that came to his mind. “That still doesn’t make it okay.”
Dash grimaced. “No, no, I get that. This isn’t me looking for absolution or anything.” Had Dash been studying for the SATs, or was this more therapist talk?
“Then what?” Danny asked, voice blunt.
Dash shrugged, looking away. “Just to say sorry.”
Danny opened his mouth, but no words came out, and they stood in silence until the warning bell rang.
“Gotta get to class,” Dash blurted before, true to his namesake, he turned and dashed off down the hallway.
Danny watched, equal parts incredulous and amused, as the realization swept over him.
Dash Baxter had a crush on him.
Still, the thing that threw him off the most about this whole thing?
“We’ve really got to stop meeting like this.”
Dash Baxter also had a massive crush on Danny Phantom.
That, Danny had known for years. Admittedly, he had always thought that Dash wasn’t aware of his feelings—that he'd built up some sort of “no homo” excuse to justify them to himself—but recent revelations made that little bit of knowledge more interesting.
As did it the fact that Danny was now in ghost form, sailing easily through the air, carrying Dash bridal-style away from the collapse of a building.
“We? You and me?” Dash sputtered, and Danny really could get used to that awkward, flustered look. “You mean, you remember me? You know who I am?”
Danny’s toes lightly touched the ground as he landed, and he decided, right then and there, to have a little fun.
“Of course I do,” he murmured, smirking as he raised an eyebrow at Dash—and not setting him down. “How could I not? You’re… well, really memorable.”
“I am?” Dash croaked, and Danny offered him a roguish grin, almost regretting not trying this sooner.
“Yeah, you are. I mean…” Danny gave his bicep a deliberate squeeze, surprising himself with how firm it was. The lingering afterwards was… not so intentional.
Dash laughed nervously, face flushed a dull pink. “Y-yeah, you know, gotta keep… working out and stuff.”
“Sure,” Danny replied, still holding Dash. Dash didn’t move to get down, either. God, that had been a terrible line, and Danny couldn’t stop grinning.
“Well, thanks for saving me. Again. Don’t know what I’d do without—”
Danny hadn’t planned it; it had just happened. These sorts of things did, when you had just learned that someone who had been your mortal enemy throughout high school had a crush on you. Especially when you’d low-key had a crush on them the entire time, too.
Danny leaned in slowly, Dash’s eyes widening, and pressed a long, deliberate kiss to Dash’s mouth.
Danny had done his fair share of kissing, some with people he had really liked, some done more out of obligation. Still, he knew enough to realize that —he probably had more experience than Dash had.
Not that the kiss was bad, by any means, but Dash seemed to tense up as he tried to kiss back, a little clumsy, and definitely not with any idea about what he was doing. So Danny took the lead, tilting his head, coaxing Dash into somewhat more proper technique, enjoying the sensation of rough lips against his own as the kiss changed from awkward to eager.
He could use some practice—not that Danny had any complaints about that fact.
But right as the two of them began to really get down to business, Danny felt Dash gasp softly against his mouth—and a moment later, Dash had yanked back, eyes wide.
“There’s no one around to see us,” Danny pointed out, a little dry. “I checked. Don’t worry.” Though Danny sympathized with Dash’s plight about being gay and not out, it stung a little, through no fault of Dash’s, that—
“N-no,” Dash sputtered, the soft pink of his cheeks now having deepened to a brilliant red. “That’s not—dude, I mean, if someone saw us—you’re kinda the biggest heartthrob in town, y’know?” Dash let out a nervous laugh, and Danny straightened a little at the compliment. Phantom's heartthrob status always had been on the periphery of his awareness, yes, but it did him little good in his real life, so he generally tried to ignore it. Dash’s words were a welcome reminder.
“Well, thanks,” he teased. “So what’s the issue? Need me to take you to dinner first? Didn’t peg you as the proper type, but—”
“It’s not that, either!” Dash’s voice had grown steadily more high-pitched, and Danny tried not to laugh. Dash might think he was making fun, but it was an affectionate humor, a reminder that there was so much more to Dash than Danny normally got to see. “Just… well, there’s this guy.”
Danny’s smile froze. “Huh?”
“A guy. That I like. Like, really really—can you put me down, dude?”
Danny obliged, needing to take a quick step back to clear his head. If this conversation was about to go where he thought—
“I like him a lot. And I don’t really think I’ve got a shot with him, right? I’ve always been a total asshole to him. But…” Dash looked away, and dear god, Danny was coming to the realization that Dash had always been more awkward than Danny had ever been. “It’s just weird to kiss someone who’s not… him.”
Danny continued to stare, wondering now if he had completely misinterpreted the yogurt situation last week. Because everyone knew about Dash’s crush on Danny Phantom. No way could his awkward thing for Danny Fenton ever top that.
Except, apparently, it had. And, if the pieces fit together the way Danny was beginning to see them, it might even predate Dash’s interest in the ghost hero persona.
“That makes sense,” he finally found himself saying, mind scrambling to figure out how the hell to respond to that. “And it’s no big deal, man. He’s a lucky guy, whoever he is.”
Dash opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Danny offered him a roguish wink. “See you around. Maybe I’ll save you and your boyfriend next time.”
Dash choked. “He’s not my—!”
But Danny was already flying off, at such a speed that he could barely see where he was going. He was too distracted with what he was going to do with this information to bother.
As the final bell rang, Danny stood, lost in thought.
He had thought long and hard about the encounter yesterday. Lost sleep over it, even. And he kept coming to the same conclusion.
So he was going to do it.
He took his time putting his things in his locker, knowing that Dash was likely delayed, held up by his friends. This at least gave him time to plan what he was going to say. He wandered out to the front of the school, leaning back against the front wall. He itched vaguely for a cigarette, but not badly enough to leave his spot.
And then he spotted the familiar jacket.
Danny started deliberately towards Dash, lifting a hand to motion him over, but froze when he saw him surrounded by friends. He nearly chickened out, lowering his hand and making to turn away—but at that moment, Dash glanced up, meeting Danny’s eyes.
He said something quickly to Paulina, who stepped back, then jogged over in Danny’s direction.
“Hey.” Dash’s voice was a little breathless, and if Danny hadn’t already been wise to this whole situation, he might have written it off as it being from the running. As if a jock would end up that out of breath from that.
“Hey,” Danny replied, grinning over at him and nodding in the direction of the sidewalk. Though students still crowded the schoolyard and would for some time, he dis wasn't to be out of earshot for this conversation. “Walk with me?” His chest felt lighter than it had in weeks. Months, even.
“Oh. Sure. I mean, we’ve got the same route home for a little, right? We can do that.”
Danny’s grin widened, and he had to glance away to not look like a total dork. He was pretty sure he had finally reached the pinnacle of what Dash considered cool, at least as much as he could for now. How the tables had turned.
“Not what I meant, but sure, I’d like that.”
Dash paused, and when Danny glanced back over, he could see the vague panic taking root. He reached out and nudged Dash’s shoulder, doing the only thing he could think to distract him.
“Do you wanna get dinner with me?”
Dash whipped back around to gape at Danny. “Wait, what? Like… like hang out?”
“Like a date,” Danny said firmly, and though internally his chest did somersaults, he did his best to keep his tone confident. “I want to go on a date with you.”
Dash stared for several seconds as the question seemed to spin over and over in his mind.
“With you, Dash.”
“Like a… a date date?”
Danny couldn’t resist: his lips quirked up in a smile. “A date date. Romance. Hand-holding. Maybe even kissing, if you want.”
Dash’s face went that adorable red from yesterday, and Danny’s grin widened. He was really going to enjoy this.
“Great!” Danny turned back to watch where he was going, and they began walking again. “I’ll text you.”
“Okay. Yeah, sure. Sounds cool.”
As they reached the sidewalk, Dash paused again, and Danny decided to take mercy on him.
“I’d still like to walk together, if you want.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Dash light up—then a mix of emotions, all too fast to catch, until he settled on determination.
In front of everyone, Dash’s hand reached out to take Danny’s. A deliberate motion, the significance of which Danny did not miss.
But this was Dash’s choice, and Danny wasn’t about to make a big deal out of it. Not right now, not in this moment. They could worry about reputations and rumors tomorrow. Today, they could just be two kids who liked each other kind of a lot, enjoying a nice walk on a warm spring day.
Danny couldn’t wait to tell him.