Actions

Work Header

desert island, gun to your head

Work Text:

If admitting a problem is the first step towards resolving it, Teddy Wong is the sanest voice on the Nolita staff, because at least he can admit he's fucked up enough to need professional help. It isn't easy, being the rational one, but that's Teddy's cross to bear; he's worked with the core Nolita team often enough over the course of his career to understand that they won't change. Jack's an arrogant shithead who's replacing all his addictions with work; Steven's a manipulative shithead with no moral line; Seth's a neurotic shithead who...well.

Seth's under the delusion that he's Jack's left-hand guy or something, that on some level, the kitchen is the Jack-and-Steven-and-Seth show, which tells Teddy all he ever needs to know about how well Seth can read a crowd. The simple answer is, Seth can't. The longer version involves more pop psychology than Teddy can really tolerate in any given stretch of time unless it's tied to his own process. His therapist agrees.

Sane has been relative in every kitchen Teddy's ever worked, but never more so than when he works for Jack Bourdain.

Then Jack hires Becky Sharp so he can meet-and-greet out front and inevitably, fucks up. Becky fucks Jack for a chance to fuck him over, which fucks them all over to the tune of brunch, which fucks Teddy out of his regular therapy spot. Which is not cool, man, Teddy's making progress and some things, even an envelope of cash can't fix.

Finding a new therapist isn't hard, exactly, because this is New York, man, neurosis comes with the area code, but finding a good one? That's going to take a while.

Apparently, it's hard to understand the truth about restaurants unless you've worked in one.

.

"You chopped off a man's finger?" Prospective Therapist #4 blinks at him. She's not writing on her little note pad anymore.

Teddy stares back. "To be fair, his finger was in my way."

Therapist #4's eyes widen. She twitches her pen. "You realize I'm obliged to contact the authorities if I believe you're a danger to yourself or others, Mr. Wong?"

Teddy cocks his head, can't quite figure out how the appointment's gotten so off-track so quickly. "Hey, whoa, can we get back to my father? Because I feel like I was really making progress with the last guy about my sublimated rage--"

In retrospect, poor choice of words.

So no, as it turns out, they can't talk about his father yet, Therapist #4 wants to hear more about Steven and Nolita's opening night and since she digs her expensive heels in, Teddy does, too, because he knows he has issues but he doesn't cut his co-workers up for fun.

He doesn't bother making a follow-up appointment when their hour's up. When he gets to work, he throws an eel head at Steven's face and talks shit about Jim's mom until he doesn't resent the brunch thing anymore.

Jack doesn't say a word.

Nothing new there.

.

The one thing Teddy has going for him, beyond that regular therapy session and his fucking process, is his genius with fish, because he has mad, wicked skills that make critics weep. No matter how weird or fucked up or intolerable the rest of his life gets, all it takes to ground him is an hour alone with Jim Beam and a whole fish to cook. He doesn't even care what kind of fish it is, usually, just brings home whatever catches his eye. And he makes it work for him because hyperbole aside, he is actually that good.

So he does a little soul-searching and cooks a little fish and everything is fine.

For a while.

That first week without his therapist? Teddy cooks a lot of fish.

::

One of the other great things about being a fish genius is the surprising amount of head he gets from what he’s calling the Teddy Wong fan club; half the kitchen at the new seafood place in Tribeca wants in his pants and Teddy’s never been one to turn down sex. He gets cornered in The Snake Pit by a sous chef hopeful fresh out of culinary school and starry-eyed over Teddy’s fugu skills and when the kid offers, Teddy follows him into the men's room, leans back against the stall wall while the kid sinks to his knees.

The kid’s good, new enough to the business to get off on Teddy talking shop but definitely not new to sucking cock; doesn’t even protest when Teddy works his hips to fuck the kid’s mouth.

It doesn’t take long to get off on it—Teddy’s definitely had worse—and because he’s not a complete asshole, Teddy helps the kid up, tugs him in to wipe the kid’s swollen mouth with his thumb.

“I’m thinking of going to Japan myself,” the kid says, like they’re still having the conversation from the bar.

“You should.” Teddy can be optimistic, even encouraging, for this kid he’ll never see again. He likes to think that if it came up, someone else would do it for Jim. And because the kid’s bright-eyed and hopeful and probably never getting to Japan, Teddy humors him a little more, tugs him in for a kiss.

He’s tugging up his zipper when the kid opens the stall door and Teddy finds himself meeting Cameron’s Perez Hilton stare. Teddy hikes his eyebrows and fixes his shirt over his jeans. The kid looks awkwardly between them when neither Teddy or Cameron moves and from there it’s a terse look and a polite non-smile before the kid leaves.

Cameron opens his mouth. Closes it, screws his face up, then tries again. It’s amusing as hell.

“All yours,” Teddy deadpans with a nod back at the stall.

Cameron does a pointed double-take at the bathroom door. Teddy assumes Cameron’s staring at the last place they saw the kid. “Well, this is new.”

Teddy shrugs. “Is it.”

Cameron scoffs in gape-mouthed awe. “Really?” He laughs a little, lowers his voice as he leans in conspiratorially. “Really?”

Teddy shrugs again.

“And here I had you as a wishful thinking ping.” Cameron eye-fucks him appraisingly, makes the universal face of not bad, not bad.

“Equal opportunity lech,” Teddy offers. “I'm told I fly under the gaydar.” He swoops a pilot hand.

“Is this a secret? Are we a big ol’ closet case? Tell Aunty Cameron all about it, honey,” Cameron starts and Teddy can’t help his smirk any more than he can help the way he leans back on the sink counter, arms folding across his chest.

Teddy hasn’t been a closet case in years, not since his junior year of high school, when he’d figured out the joy of getting laid by something other than his own hand. It doesn’t come up at Nolita because, well, his friends are shitheads who reach new heights of self-absorbed and the only one it might actually impact, ever, is Seth, who gives new meaning to living in denial.

Seriously, Cameron’s seen Seth with Tanya, he knows it’s true.

Cameron looks thoughtful when Teddy wraps his explanation up, then Cameron cocks his head. “So that time you offered…”

Which is how Teddy ends up renegotiating terms for the happy ending he promised all the waitrons who pushed more fish than cake, because apparently, Cameron flogged that salmon like a champ.

::

Sometimes it alarms him, how oblivious Seth is. Sometimes Teddy thinks when Seth’s running late for work, it’s because he’s been mugged on the subway by a little old lady or he’s been taken in by a cult, neither of which would really surprise Teddy at this point.

Look how his big payoff went down. Thirteen thousand in hard cash—thirteen large plus, Teddy figures, but Seth won’t cop to anything concrete and Tanya confirms at least thirteen—right there, hand-delivered in small bills and everything, and Seth wanted to impress the bookie, what the fuck and he just let it walk away like every woman Seth’s ever talked to at The Snake Pit. Plus, Seth still owes Teddy $20.

Seth always owes Teddy $20, no matter how often he pays Teddy back. Teddy’s never talked that over with his therapist but it’s come up occasionally with the fish.

::

There is a reason Teddy walks out on Jack so much and that reason is this: Jack is an asshole. It has absolutely nothing to do with how far Jack will go to seduce him back, because Jack never really does.

And while Jack's always an asshole to some extent—which, realistically, explains a lot about why they get along—there are times Jack pushes Teddy too far. Bad enough Teddy's got his father's voice in the back of his mind, pushing always pushing Teddy to grow up now, get a real job; he doesn't need Jack there to shake Teddy's faith in his fish genius skills.

The things he can do with a whole halibut and a bottle of Jim Beam go a long way toward reminding Teddy Wong why it's good to be Teddy Wong.

And sometimes, all it takes is one ill-timed abduction from his new job.

.

“Should’ve seen him, mate. He was vicious trying to get you back,” Steven says on their way to The Snake Pit the shift Teddy’s kidnapped from Jazz Fish. Seth’s blown him off—again, damn it—to walk with Jack and Jim. Teddy’s not even guessing what that’s about, man, he knows how much Seth enjoys his cream puff sulks.

So Teddy concentrates on Steven, who hasn’t left his side and who does actually seem happy to have Teddy back in his Nolita jacket again.

“Seth? Vicious? Nice.” Teddy hikes a brow.

“Oh yeah. Forked your replacement. Offered you a massage.” Steven nods, solemn and sage. Teddy knows him well enough to trust the mischievous glint in his eyes. “Still won’t give up the sodding bandana, though; you might have to take that by force.”

“Yeah, but then we’d have to look at his chicken neck.”

Steven snickers wildly, mutters something that sounds like “chicken hands”. Teddy decides he probably doesn’t want to know. “Well, he is a bloody girl.”

“A massage, huh?” Teddy smirks. Then he realizes what else Steven said. “Wait, forked?”

Steven’s got an arm draped over Teddy’s shoulder companionably but his steps falter and he plants a hand on Teddy’s chest. “Should’ve seen it, mate. Don’t think I’ve ever seen him that worked up.”

The thing is, Steven knows. Seth’s oblivious like a motherfucker but Steven’s not and unlike Jack, he’s not always so distracted by his own shit that he misses what’s going on with everyone else.

And Teddy can't quite believe the massage was Seth's idea.

::

Sometimes, Teddy thinks he’d have done better at Jazz Fish, where he had everybody awed, an obscene mound of product to play with at will and smoking hot waitrons lined up to fuck him in pairs.

Sometimes, he wonders why he’s still in New York, why he hasn’t packed up his knives and found himself a cheap seat to somewhere far, far away. He could head back to Japan easily enough and he knows there, they'd appreciate his skills.

Sometimes he tells himself it's just a different kind of respect, that he's actually happy working Jack's line again, just enough autonomy to keep Jack the hell away from seafood and to kill time talking smack about Jim's mom when he gets bored.

He tries not to think about why that is unless he's drunk, because some things are just not helpful to his process.

::

He’s wrist-deep in crusting yellowfin when Steven starts, which is a pretty damned good reason to keep his head down, as far as Teddy’s concerned. He’s worked with these guys long enough to see the trainwreck coming when the conversation turns to Seth’s hypothetical—always, always hypothetical—sex life, especially if it’s something Steven starts.

When Seth rates Kate Hudson over Gwyneth Paltrow on the fuckable scale because it’s easier to moan, Teddy spares him a wry look.

“You moan the last name?” Steven asks, bemused at best, and Seth, who still can’t tell when he’s crossed a line, says, “Dude, I’m usually alone,” like that’s ammunition any reasonable person gives up at work.

Sometimes, Teddy wonders if Seth has any idea what a tempting target he makes. Really, Seth’s lucky they’ve got Jim around to prank.

Seth tries to get back a bit of his own with the Queen or Barbara Bush thing but Steven’s flippantly kinky and predictably perverse and obviously Teddy should pipe up before Seth makes it worse somehow but fuck it, whatever, Mimi strolls in.

Nolita’s kitchen hates Mimi more than they like teasing Seth. Teddy’s sort of waiting for the day no one’s quick enough to stop Ramon.

“Oh, so we’re playing that game, are we?” Mimi looks gleeful, like she thinks she’s caught them in the act or whatever, which only underscores how very little she knows about how the kitchen runs. They’re sixteen kinds of degenerates back here, they are like this all the time. “Let’s make it interesting. If you had to do one guy in the kitchen, who would you do?”

Cue the rush of automatic denials. Teddy turns his attention to the yellowfin, busies himself with work. He has a fugu license, man, he doesn’t have to prove his manhood to anyone.

Still, he glances up to see Mimi’s eyes narrowing, her face turning sharp. Teddy’s definitely the last sane voice in the house. “All right, desert island, gun to your head.” Mimi waits expectantly.

Steven offers up a heavily qualified Jack, who fires back like there’s some chance he’d be the asshole there. This is one of many reasons Teddy’s therapist asked so much about Teddy’s job, the blatant denial going on. Teddy’s really going to miss that guy, man.

Mimi’s gaze meets his and holds. Teddy flashes her a wicked smirk that just dares her to ask. Her eyes narrow. He cocks a brow. Her gaze slips away, flustered and wide, and falls on Seth instead.

Seth, who can’t stop handing ammunition to the room.

“No,” Seth says with his version of force. “I am not playing.”

Mimi sidles up to him, curls herself around his back and coos, “Oh, what’s the matter, pastry boy? So insecure about your manhood you can’t play a little game?”

Seth caves. Of course Seth caves, there’s a live woman hanging off his back. “Fine,” Seth says quietly, like volume helps. “Steven has been to boarding school and I think he’d be sensitive.”

Teddy goes through the motions with his yellowfin. If it weren’t for Jack’s latest brainwave, this one might actually be coming back.

Jim steps up to throw himself on his paring knife, like there’s any question who he’ll pick, and Mimi cuts him off before he can get a word in, turns her poll on the rest of the kitchen crew, calling them out as she goes and quite obviously tallying points.

Teddy ties with Steven—apparently, he’s made an impression on the dishwashing crew—and Jack edges both of them out, which Teddy is absolutely going to bring up at The Snake Pit after shift, and it would end there except…
Teddy tells himself Seth can’t help himself, he takes this shit personally and probably always will, but there is a difference between playing along with Mimi and actively recruiting votes.

And as it turns out, Seth’s so busy wondering—out loud, Christ—why no one said his name that he apparently misses the fact Mimi never did ask Teddy or Jack.

Which suits Teddy just fine.

.

Donna chimes in when she swings through to collect Table 3’s order from the pass. Seth gets her because Seth is right there and Teddy looks up from his saute pan long enough to catch her eye, give her the nod. Been there, done that, not going to judge.

Donna smiles, broad and toothy and distinctly satisfied. “Steven,” she says and when Teddy’s eyebrow twitches, she says, “Variety’s the spice of life,” on her way out the door.

Seth sputters ridiculously. Jack slides Teddy a suspicious look. Teddy counters with a saucy hip bump as he swings by, one more step in their ballet.

.

“Steven, huh?” Teddy asks as they’re heading to The Snake Pit after work, careful to keep his tone mild because he can’t bait Seth now. Sure, there’s no one they know in earshot except Jim, who still squeaks at his shadow and does his best to dodge Ramon, but Seth’s already trainwrecked enough for one night. There’s a line, man, and Teddy knows how far he can push his best friend.

Seth flushes a little, then puffs himself up and scowls. “She caught me off-guard.”

Teddy nods vaguely. There’s not much he can say.

Seth coughs up a nervous laugh. “Besides, it's not like anyone takes it seriously, right? It's just a game. Doesn't matter."

If Seth actually believed that, he wouldn't be Seth.

"No, right, you're right." Teddy snorts a little, mostly to himself. "It's not like I'm going to bang half the dishwashing crew."

Because they're friends still, whatever else they are, when Seth makes his little sound of dismay at the reminder, Teddy lets it go.

.

“So. Um. Mimi didn’t ask you,” Jim says when they’re alone at their table at The Snake Pit, which is ballsier than Teddy expects from the kid.

Teddy tips his glass easy and offers up, “Maybe Mimi didn’t need to ask.” He can see the Mormon upbringing warring with what Teddy likes to think is Jim’s developing street sense, and while Teddy’s curious what Jim’s going to make of that, he wants to keep it away from Seth.

“W-who were you…?” Jim starts, wide-eyed again. It’s fucking criminal, how easy this kid is.

Teddy leans in conspiratorially, so of course the kid does, too, and when they’re all-but temple-to-temple, Teddy leers. “Isn’t it obvious, cupcake?” He watches Jim’s mouth part in what’s almost certainly shock, suppresses the urge to steal a kiss. Not that he’s interested, not in Jim, but he thinks it might make the kid’s head explode and Seth’s got $20 riding that Jim won’t last the month before he quits.

Teddy Wong is a bad man. A very, very bad man. Because he doesn’t just push the kid to public hetero panic, he actively enjoys the fallout, and Jim’s stuck on wordless and stunned until Teddy says, mock serious, “I’d make it so good for you,” at which point Jim stumbles and fumbles as he pulls his chair away.

No, really, Teddy is terrible because he doesn’t even bother to hide his laughter when Jim tips off his chair.

.

“You broke Jim,” Seth says, holding their next round and staring intently at where Jim’s buried his head in his arms.

“All for you, baby, all for you.” Teddy eases back in his chair, waits for Seth to slide him his drink.

“Nice. I like it.”

Of course he does. There’s a reason they’re best friends and it’s not Seth’s dubious social skills.

Seth slides into the seat beside Jim and pats his back. “Hey there, little guy. We keeping you up?”

Jim makes a hilarious noise.

::

Teddy's pretty sure he's the reason his last therapist doesn't eat out anymore. He'd feel worse about that but when Teddy met him, the fucker apparently did brunch and anyone that deluded needs to stay away from haute cuisine.

Really, it's for the greater good. Teddy's saved his therapist from overpriced mangling of last week's catch, man, it is practically a good deed.

Still, by the time the blatant brunching tendencies had come up in their sessions, they'd already meshed pretty well, enough so that Teddy could overlook that flaw if he focused on the potential progress in sticking around.

Not so with Therapist #6, who hears Teddy's a chef of some sort and thinks he's fast food. When he says no, fish genius, he's at Nolita and his crusted yellowfin made Food & Wine magazine, she tells him how much she loves their brunch.

Teddy doesn't bother going back. He'd rather join a Jungian group than take a rabid bruncher on, man, there's got to be a line.

::

Teddy’s tucked into a corner of The Snake Pit, nodding sympathetically at the hot brunette who’ll be taking him home tonight if he can fake sympathy right. She’s telling him about her acting career (which isn’t so much a career as it is auditions she’s blown) and her actual job (waitress, big surprise, slinging overpriced Italian in some tourist trap) and she sounds so incredibly grateful for his time, it’s basically a done deal. Won’t even have to cook for this one, he thinks, which is fine with him; the food’s only ever as important as the sex and cash it brings. Unlike Jack, Teddy’s got his priorities straight and right now, his priority is getting his hot brunette in a cab.

She flutters her lashes at him, gives him a self-effacing smile that hammers home how long she obviously hasn’t been living in New York. Teddy braces his forearm against the wall, angles himself in a little closer with a hip-cocking lean.

“You’re such a good listener,” she says.

Teddy nods again, as solemnly sincere as he can fake. Waits for her to suggest they take this conversation somewhere a little quieter—bedroom, alley, backseat of a cab, at this point Teddy doesn’t even care, he’s up for a quick slink into the ladies’ room if that’s what she wants—and watches those big eyes flutter with resolve.

He knows what’s coming, of course he does, so he’s less than thrilled to feel a big hand clamp on his arm. He’s even less thrilled to hear, “T-Rex, my man.”

Teddy freezes for a moment, can’t help himself. Seth plasters himself to Teddy’s side, tips his cheek to Teddy’s shoulder in what better be a drunken, oblivious haze. Teddy finds an apologetic smile for his hot brunette and says tightly, “Something I can help you with?”

Seth responds like Teddy’s his new favorite cuddle toy.

The hot brunette smiles awkwardly. Teddy can see her pulling away, all his careful nodding and patient sympathy disappearing because Seth’s an oblivious dick. “Friend of yours?” she asks.

“We work together,” Teddy answers, because he refuses to explain their relationship with Seth right there. She blinks at him. He remembers that he can’t actually introduce them because he doesn’t remember her name, so Teddy brightens his smile to something terribly Nice Guy, which he hates doing when it might give his hook-ups ideas, and pats Seth on the cheek. He’s very careful not to make it look like a slap. “You need something, buddy? Can we put you in a cab?”

Damn it, the hot brunette looks concerned. About Seth, who is so getting his ass kicked tomorrow, no matter how this ends.

Seth sighs dreamily. “Don’t be mad at me, T-Rex,” Seth says, which sends a cool rush of hesitation up the back of Teddy’s neck. “Wasn’t thinking straight.” Seth lets out a nervous little laugh Teddy never wants to hear again; he sounds deranged.

“Cab it is,” Teddy says, quirking his brows to silently suggest he has no problem humoring his cling-on as long as the hot brunette comes with.

“Jim says you’re mad I picked Steven,” Seth mumbles. Croons. It takes a lot to get Seth to affectionate drunk but apparently, he’s there. Teddy hooks an arm around Seth to anchor him up because really, the public cuddling needs to stop now, Seth’s definitely wandered into the cockblock zone and Teddy is definitely not amused.

And that’s before Seth starts mumbling about how of course he’d rather do Teddy, of course he would, wouldn’t even need the gun, and Teddy steels his smile as the hot brunette bites her lip, slips that much further away.

“I should have known,” she says, and Teddy says, “No, what, no, there’s nothing to know here,” and tries to wrangle himself away so there’s less cuddling while Seth tells Teddy’s shoulder how sensitive he’s sure Teddy would be.

“I’m so sorry,” the hot brunette says with that sweet smile Teddy wants wrapped around his dick, which is clearly now a pipe dream. “I wasn’t even thinking.” Then she hits him with a line about someone named Heather telling her all the good ones were taken or gay or both and since Teddy can’t follow her with drunk, cockblocking Seth cuddling him, all Teddy can do is seethe silently and watch her go.

As soon as they’re alone—or, well, as alone as it gets in The Snake Pit an hour before last call—Teddy rolls Seth off him to pin Pastry Boy to the wall by fisting his shirt.

Seth blinks at him. Then Seth smiles and laughs that stupid, cockblocking laugh, like he hasn’t seen Teddy in days, and Seth’s whole face lights up, which is just…not fair. “Hey, T-Rex.”

“I have asked you not to call me that,” Teddy says tightly.

“Gonna change my vote.”

“We’re not still playing, man. That was a game and it is done now and you need to just. Let this one go.” Shut the fuck up, he thinks, because he’s still not sure what he’s doing with Seth, what he wants. All Teddy knows for certain is that whatever he’s waiting for isn’t going to happen at The Snake Pit an hour before close.

“You should change yours.” Seth nods. Then Seth groans. Teddy’s going to have to wait until tomorrow to kick Seth’s ass for this because right now, Seth wouldn’t feel a thing and Teddy likes results when he takes his revenge. “Ahahaha, now I have a vote.”

“Do you.” Teddy narrows his eyes, moves in to wedge Seth up with a thigh when Seth’s nodding makes him slip a little down the wall. Teddy’s got a fist curled in Seth’s shirt, sure, but his other palm’s braced against the wall not far from Seth’s head and frankly, Teddy isn’t inclined to be kind right now. The cockblock’s bad enough but Seth’s gone and poked this thing they don’t mention, ever, and Seth’s too drunk and oblivious to engage.

“I’d be sensitive, too,” Seth promises through a sweet, sweet smile and he leans his head back, closes his eyes like he trusts Teddy to keep him up, keep him safe.

It’s too good to pass up. If Teddy’s going home with blue balls tonight, so the hell is Seth.

“Is that what you want, Seth? A sensitive fuck?” Teddy croons it like he’s talking to his hot brunette, hovers so he’s ghosting his words over Seth’s mouth. “You want me to take you out first, maybe cook for you? I’ll make anything you want, baby, all you have to do is ask. You know that.” Seth squirms, licks at his lips. Teddy gets a little mean with his thigh, which makes Seth’s breath catch. It’s probably the closest Seth’s had to sex in months, if not years. “Anything you want, baby, all for you.” Teddy can’t help the wicked spread of his smile.

If Seth opens his eyes now, sees it, he’ll know something’s up. Instead, Seth squirms again and sighs.

It's the longest cab ride of the year, he swears, because Seth's dead weight on his arm the whole time and the driver keeps watching them in the rearview and muttering "No stains" but Teddy wrangles stupid, mostly-sleeping Seth into bed in a few careful moves and stands back to see if Seth wakes up.

Because he doesn't, because all Seth does is curl a hand up by his face and sort of sigh again, Teddy tugs Seth's pants off and texts Seth pictures of his own ass. He leaves Seth's boxers on Seth's head as his parting shot and heads for home.

Sleep takes a while.

.

Donna swears they're co-dependent but Donna didn't see them at the Dreadnaught. Relatively speaking, they're practically hands-off.

At some point, when he has a functional therapist lined up, Teddy thinks it might be time to get a professional opinion on this shit.

.

Cameron meets him in the mens room of Nolita an hour before dinner service starts, wary from the moment Teddy makes him flip the lock until Teddy tells him why.

"What's it worth to you?" Cameron asks, apprehensive and amused in a way that suggests he's seriously considering granting Teddy's request.

Teddy cocks a brow, cocks a hip, and leans back against the counter, puts himself on display. "I'll make it worth your time."

Cameron watches him with a delicious little smirk that won't last long once he's in arm's reach. "What would I have to say?"

.

Two hours later, Seth has an official vote.

.

Jack’s whining about his blogger hook-up again, because what Nolita’s short of, day-to-day, is Jack whining about his personal life. Steven’s baiting him, obviously, because what else would Steven do, and Jack’s pissed enough to bite.

“I wouldn’t know,” Steven drawls smugly. “I’ve never been rated anything less than spectacular.”
Teddy ducks his head and scoffs. Jack ignores him; Steven gives him a dirty look.

As Steven shoulders by him to get cracking on his mise, Teddy says, “Solid 20,” words little more than shaped breath.

Steven glares. Teddy smiles, distinctly insincere.

Three minutes later they're out in the alley, allegedly for a mid-prep smoke. "Twenty my arse," Steven bites, jabbing a gesture with his cigarette. "Spec-tac-ular."

"I'm sure you are." Usually goes unspoken, if not quite unsaid.

Steven's glare turns sharp in self-defense. "I'll have you know, I was not in my right mind."

Teddy nods, flicks his ash. There's something very comfortable about standing back quietly, keeping his mouth shut and letting his friends hang themselves.

Steven bristles. "I'd lost a limb. Well, a finger. That's enough to throw anyone off his game."

"You looking for the handicap here, man?" Teddy's brow wings up. Seth stumbles out the door about the time Steven jerks a nod. "Shock, stitches, blood loss, I'd say that's worth +5."

"I'm up to 25, eh?" Steven smirks.

It's such an easy shot; if he were better, nicer, Teddy would let it slide. He wonders what his last therapist would say about the perverse glee he gets from correcting, "Up from 15."

"What are we handicapping?" Seth asks, eager to play, too because Seth always is, and it's nothing, easy, to hold his hand out for a quick chicken-feed and that's all it takes to have Seth laughing along with a punchline he can't possibly understand.

The great thing about the feed the chicken fingertip brush is how easily it ends an in-joke, how much explanation it avoids when used by members of the core Nolita crew.

.

Steven, by virtue of being Jack's go-to guy, draws the short straw and has to spend his night trapped at a table with Jack and his manpain over the mediocre sex score on that chick's blog. It's hilarious to watch so they do, Teddy and Seth just far enough away that Steven can't physically drag them in, close enough to overhear Steven's attempts at sympathy.

Schadenfreude is such a great word, Teddy thinks as Steven pulls a face and pats Jack's back, because this shit is going to be funny for years.

Jim tags along like the conscience they don't want, which means Teddy spends a lot of time swapping knowing looks with Seth and getting drunk. Jim's still a little leery of sitting too close when they're alone, which means he's determined to fill every awkward silence by talking at Seth, who isn't even trying to hide his gleeful smirk anymore.

Steven looks like he's torn between boosting Jack's ego and ditching Jack entirely to find a sympathetic hook-up for himself. At this point, it's only a matter of time.

.

Jim comes back from the bathroom with what Teddy considers his Boy Scout face, earnest and determined and young.

"Um, hey, Teddy?" Jim starts, awkward enough that Teddy fantasizes about getting the kid drunk someday just to see how he acts. "Your friend at the bar said to tell you that blogger lady ranked the wrong chef and that, um, that you're definitely at least a 26."

"Hey, whoa, someone rated T-Dot?" Seth rocks back in his chair and laughs. "Who?"

Teddy squints at the bar and can't spot anyone he knows, which probably explains the score. Probably didn't bring his best moves to someone he planned to forget and whatever, that's still better than Jack.

Jim tries to dodge Seth's question, Teddy assumes, because there's a lot of stammered um-ing going on, but Jim doesn't have nearly the experience Teddy does, so no surprise Jim caves.

And possibly Teddy's had more to drink than he thought because he doesn't get the dodging until he spots the curly-haired kid about Seth's age rocking two fingers like a wave.

Seth must figure it out about the time Teddy does because the laughter stops. Jim says something Teddy doesn't care about and probably Seth says something back but honestly, Teddy's busy reassessing the guy; not bad from a distance, Teddy's definitely done worse.

For a while, Teddy thinks this, too, has disappeared into the strange world of Seth's denial.

Then they're alone at the table because Jim finally calls it a night and Teddy makes the expected wisecrack about it being Jim's bedtime, does he want someone to tuck him in, and Jim's getting better about not scrambling back when Teddy pulls this shit on him, maybe Jim is picking up a little street sense.

Seth doesn't laugh and Teddy doesn't think anything of it until they're alone and Seth's palm lands flat on the table.

“You’re sleeping with guys now? When did that start?”

That’s Seth’s serious business face. Teddy considers giving him a flip response. For anyone else, he would. “The first time a decent offer came along.” Because he’s blitzed and loose and relaxed, Teddy even manages a half-assed shrug.

Seth gapes. Teddy really shouldn’t laugh. “When were you going to tell me?”

“Why would I?”

“Why would you not?”

Teddy’s face scrunches as he turns away. He holds a single finger up. “Hey now. We are friends. I don’t have to tell you everything about my life.”

“Best friends,” Seth says with a wounded tone. Teddy likes Seth, mostly, likes Seth a lot, but sometimes he’s painfully close to Jim.

“You tell me everything?” Teddy tries again, because they have gone years without talking while they’re not on the same crew and what he’s heard about the years he’s missed seem pretty goddamned sparse to him. “No, no you don’t. Secrets, man, secrets are good.”

Teddy can’t quite help the face he makes but at least he gets his finger down before he can do anything as stupid as touch Seth.

“For you, T-Bone, I’m an open book.”

Teddy slants Seth a look of bland scorn. “What have I told you about nicknames?”

“Aw, you don’t like that one?” Seth grins boyishly, his version of a smirk. “How about T-Bag? That better, buddy?” Then Seth burbles laughter and rubs his hands together in glee, happily distracted from the conversation by the urge to practice Teddy’s terrible nicknames.

Seth has a stupid, dorky laugh. Teddy has no clue why he likes it as much as he does and with the ongoing therapist hunt, he’ll have to wait a while for useful professional help. His last therapist tried to tell him there were emotions—of course there were, it’s Seth—and that Teddy needed to stop living in denial.

Teddy likes to think his therapist would have rescinded that advice if he’d ever actually met Seth.

::

Would-be Therapist #9 starts off by trying to change his meds, talking the whole time about how chemical assistance will facilitate the process, like that needs to change.

Teddy doesn't even stick out the whole hour.

::

Finding out about Jim and Tanya makes Teddy's fucking night. Kissing with tongues for those two is like Snake Pit head for anyone else, because Jim and Tanya act like they're still in junior high, and from the moment Teddy overhears Jack's quiet, baffled pride, Teddy feels his face light up.

It's too good to pass up, he thinks, it's fucking perfect.

Seth is going to cry. Teddy needs to be there to watch Seth break.

Jack says no because Jack's a big, responsible killjoy now and he seems to think Seth's going to fly into a homicidal rage, which just goes to show how very little attention Jack's paid to Seth's mood over the years. Jealous Seth snaps violently, yes, but the worst he'll do is sandbag Jim before he gets hauled away for his own good and honestly, Seth does pretty much just that dogpile-leaping onto Jack's bed without knowing the good news, which is oddly charming and very, very Seth.

.

They're alone in the alley because Seth dragged him outside by the sleeve and since Teddy wants the fuck out of the hairnet as much as he can, Teddy plays along. Seth looks strangely anxious, borderline concerned, and he doesn't comment when Teddy balls the hairnet up, shoves it up his sleeve, which suggests Seth's got something big on his mind.

This should be good, Teddy thinks as he lights himself a smoke.

"You notice anything weird lately?" Seth asks, edging past concern into paranoia quick.

Teddy blows out a stream of smoke in the general direction of the Nolita door. "Around here? Never," he deadpans.

"Ha ha. Very funny. I think someone has a little crush."

Huh. "We know." Seth makes a face in response. "Seth, man, you bought her lingerie. That's not exactly subtle, you know."

"What? Not me, Jim." Seth hiss-whispers the name. Teddy fights the urge to roll his eyes. "You don't think I'm subtle?"

"Wow. No." Teddy can't help himself, man, it's too easy to pass up. Personally, he'd figured Seth would start with jealous rage and work his way to sulk but apparently, Seth's starting from freaked out, instead. Teddy can work with that. "What about Jim?"

In Teddy's defense, he does actually know how to smoke. The choked inhale and the coughing fit that follows are completely, totally Seth's fault, man, because Seth's actual theory is a whole new level of insane.

"You," Teddy repeats when he's got the coughing fit mostly under control. "You—Jim has a crush on you?"

Seth nods furtively. "It's—Don't laugh. I am serious. Did you hear him in there?" Seth slips into falsetto, which brings Teddy's fist up to his mouth because if he's seriously not laughing, he needs something to bite on. "'Ooooh, Seth, I think you can do anything. Ooooh, Seth, you're so cool.' What am I supposed to do with that?"

It occurs to Teddy that what Seth's actually asking is how to turn Jim down. There are so many things wrong with that, Teddy doesn't know where to start. "To be fair, I don't think Jim uses words like 'cool'."

"Fine," Seth spits like a wet cat. Panicking Seth is still a total joy to watch and Teddy's grateful to be out here for reasons beyond getting out of his hairnet for a while. "'Jiminy, Mr. Richman, sir, I think you're swell. Let's go get ice creams and hold hands and be boyfriends.' Is that better, Theodore?"

He can't laugh or Seth will fork him or something, and he can't clear things up or Jack will fork him or worse, so there's not a whole lot Teddy can do. He will pull something if Seth keeps going, though, which means he needs to shut Seth up.

"You're right."

"What?" Seth's head lifts.

Teddy clears his throat. "I said you're right, man. That is awful." He overdoes the sympathy just a bit, which Steven might catch but Seth apparently does not, so Teddy keeps going with all the charming sincerity he can fake. Seth needs advice here and this is not shit Teddy wants to hear about secondhand. He clears his throat again, wrangles himself a straight, solemn face. "You have to tell him. Seth, man, you are going to have to break his heart."

"What? No. What do I say?" Teddy squeezes his eyes closed at the obvious opening there but Seth must pick up on it, too, because there's a rush of babble then, Seth getting defensive about his personal life. "I've done it with girls, lots and lots of girls, but he's a guy. It's different with guys—isn't it different with guys? It would be different, right?" Seth gasps, flustered and riled. This is what happens when Seth goes it alone, he freaks himself out over an imaginary crush. "What if he's a stalker? I could be stalked."

Fuck, now Seth's wide-eyed again and it's just easy to angle himself, get an arm up around Seth's neck to anchor him in. "You have to tell him, man. You have to make yourself clear."

"I do." Seth nods, soaking this shit up, buying everything Teddy has to say. "I do, damn it, I will." Seth's earnest enthusiasm dims with a thought. "But how?"

"Don't worry, man, I've got your back."

.

"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this," Seth protests quietly once he's heard Teddy's plan—which, to be fair, is less an actual plan than a prank—but Teddy overrules the protest with a single sharp look. Seth frowns at the floor. "Dude, you really think this will work?"

Teddy claps his shoulder. "Oh yeah, definitely. I know it will."

And all it takes to get Seth on-board, all it ever really has, is a quick, friendly smile and a quick chicken-feed.

.

The hard part is the timing, because that is key, and also keeping a straight face, because Teddy blows the first great opportunity imagining Jim and Seth figuring out anal prep which will be hilarious until he dies, but eventually, they're on.

It’s easy, trapping Seth by his station, moving in close enough to pin him there with the promise-threat of contact and a long, hot stare. Seth’s eyes are very dark, very wide, and they catch enough light from overhead to look like glass.

Easy, too, to croon quietly, like Seth's a hook-up Teddy's working in some corner of The Snake Pit on a decent Saturday night, to charm with time and talent like Seth's a waitron at Jazz Fish turned groupie over his crusted yellowfin.

"Come on, baby, don't be that way," Teddy says, caging Seth in by his mise, angling himself for the appearance of space.

"I don't think so," Seth says, steadier than Teddy expects, which isn't right, damn it. If Teddy's going to be shot down before the entire kitchen crew, he is going to make this good. Seth might not be interested but Seth's not the only member of the Nolita team and Teddy hasn't even started working his way through the dishwashers yet. So Teddy holds firm, meets Seth's stare with his best you-want-to-fuck-me look. Seth scrounges up some resolve. "And don't call me 'baby'."

"What, now you're objecting to nicknames?" Teddy works up something close to pleading eyes, gets a hand up on Seth's shoulder to thumb suggestively at the stupid mauve scarf. "If that's all you're objecting to, I'll call you anything you want."

Seth's eyes widen. He shifts away slightly but pressed back against Teddy's station, there's nowhere for him to go and he must figure that out, too, because he lifts his chin. "Trust me, that is not my only objection. This is me objecting to a lot."

"Yeah?" Teddy breathes, close to Seth's mouth, trying to keep the twitch-smirk of victory from his own. This close, he can feel Seth's choppy breathing, the thrumming of Seth's pulse flaring ruddy color high on Seth's cheeks. Seth's eyes are very, very bright. "Like what?"

Seth squeaks. It would be so easy to lean in, play with that soft, shocked mouth. Teddy lets himself smile, slow and slick. "I am straight," Seth says carefully but he doesn't sound sure and he's so, so tense, the little muscles in his ribcage flexing-fluttering under Teddy's touch. "I am straight like a straight thing and I am very, extremely not gay."

"You sure about that? Because you don't sound very sure."

"I am a line," Seth says, eyes wide and dark, a flash of himself that spurs Teddy on. That fucking opening is too good to pass up.

"Some lines curve," Teddy points out and Seth squeaks again.

"What curve? There is no curve. I am a knife of straightness here, a knife."

"I am very good with knives," Teddy purrs. “I’d be so gentle. I’d make it so good for you. You know I would.” Seth’s cocky smile’s completely gone, left his mouth sweet and slack, like Seth’s not sure what kind of response he’s supposed to give here. Teddy thinks he knows how Seth feels; Teddy’s the one starting this, pushing it, and even he can tell it’s getting out of hand. “Wouldn’t want to scare you off.”

Seth blinks at him, unsteady and unsure. Teddy stares back, can't bring himself to laugh it off just yet. He will, knows he should, but while there's a chance Seth might actually do something, Teddy knows he'll wait.

He's been getting good at that.

Then Seth burbles a laugh, just as shaky as he looks, and Teddy has to force himself to keep deadpan.

"Thanks but no thanks, buddy. Think I'll take a pass." Seth gets a hand up to force space between them and wiggles himself free to back away slowly, like he doesn't trust Teddy out of his line of sight. Seth forces a smile; it's tight and shaky, too. "Not that I don't appreciate the offer but as you know, I like girls."

And that's it, Seth's big line, and it probably means something that Seth remembers not to direct it at Jim, who's watching in shock from the pass.

"All right," Teddy hears himself say, only it doesn't sound like his voice. "Can't blame a guy for trying."

No question Teddy has the attention of the room, sly looks from the dishwashers, Steven's careful nonchalance; no question they've all just watched him get shot down, by Seth of all people, which just seems wrong. Seth's the only one laughing, he just hasn't figured that out yet and honestly, Teddy hopes violently that Seth never does.

Because Teddy's honestly not sure he could explain how that backfired though evidently, it did.

Then Seth's rolling his shoulders like he has to square them up, and he's adjusting his bandanna like he needs something to do with his hands, and Teddy eases back against Jack's station to watch Seth squirm himself back to Pastryville and thankfully, before anyone can say a thing, Jack and Mimi sweep in, bickering away.

So that's the mood broken, then, which is probably just as well. Teddy grits his teeth, turns back to his mise.

He can still feel Steven staring and the very last thing he needs is Steven's well-intentioned advice.
He's prepping shrimp, unseeing and working mainly by rote, when he hears Jim's quiet enthusiasm seep through his dissociative state.

"I wouldn't worry about it," Jim says, confidentially. "That's just a thing he says." And Teddy could have gone forever without ever hearing Jim say, "He did it to me, too, and he hasn't even groped my rear," while they're at work.

Steven sputters a little, looks at Teddy like he thinks Teddy's lost his freaking mind. Which, honestly, might be exactly what's going on today. This is what happens when he can’t see his therapist, man, he fucking warned them about this shit.

Later, when Jack and Mimi have taken their ridiculously unresolved issues into what's passing for Jack's office these days, Steven brushes past him with a long frown of stiff-upper-lip dismay. "Search for the new therapist not going well, then?" Steven asks when he's settled congenially by Teddy's mise, leaning in against the counter, all extremities well out of the way of Teddy's knife.

"It could be better," Teddy admits.

Steven blows out a baffled breath. "Right. Yeah." Steven doesn't say it could be worse, which is pretty much why Teddy and Steven get along. "Snake Pit tonight, you think?"

Teddy bites his lip and nods.

.

"Dunno what to do about you two," Steven says later, well on his way to drunk. "I mean, ordinarily I'd say just blow him, let him figure it out himself, but with Seth, I'm not sure that'd work."

Teddy takes a long draw on his beer. He's not drinking-drinking tonight, for reasons he feels should be clear. "Dunno what you mean." Teddy's very careful not to meet Steven's gaze.

"Come off it. It's your old pal, Steven." Steven spreads his arms, like he's actually a fantastic catch. Teddy resolutely does not laugh. No point encouraging Steven if there's a chance Jack and Becky might show; there's no question Teddy has the dubious pleasure of Steven's company as long as Jack has other ways to fill his time and frankly, talking with Steven is nowhere near as fun as spending time with Seth. "What can't you tell me, eh? Probably done worse in my time and I've probably done it better."

Teddy's caught himself noticing Seth's eyes more, watching Seth's mouth and Seth's hands, forgetting the flat ass and the incredible capacity for denial when he gets caught off-guard by Seth's stupid laugh. So clearly, he's defaulting to sex. Which is weird, because he's usually on his meds a lot longer than this before he dissociates this much from the rest of the world.

Obviously, he's not telling Steven that. Instead, he sucks a slow breath in between his teeth, toys with his glass.

Teddy tells Steven about his therapist hunt instead, the hot receptionist and the hypo-therapy nut, Dr. Drug 'Em and Dr. Let's Explore Re-Birth. Teddy thinks about telling Steven about his meds, because Steven might actually understand; cooking is passion and pleasure and sense, none of which Teddy's meds ever let him keep. While he's on them, the whole world needs salt and Teddy's got too much invested in never letting himself be that kind of bland again.

Trouble is, he doesn't want to tell Steven, he wants to tell Seth. So instead of talking feelings he doesn't have anymore and potentially violent mood swings, he frames the whole furtive process into one-liners about random hook-ups and the vast array of therapy quacks he's already crossed off his list.

If Steven knows that's not what's bothering him—which Teddy feels is a toss-up at this point—he has the good sense to keep it to himself, for which Teddy rewards him with a round.

.

Teddy's been in therapy most of his adult life because he has issues to resolve and he is working on them, really. He's even made progress to a point, though he can feel himself backsliding since brunch cost him his regular slot. Still, he's retained enough pop-psychology to understand himself—he knows why he shuts people out, why he needs near-constant reminders he's his own man—but apparently, he just can't help himself.

He likes keeping Seth on edge, knowing how easily controlled Seth can be for anyone who cares enough to try. Seth is sweet and soft and insecure in ways Teddy's not sure he's ever been—Seth would have fallen like his stupid souffle metaphor if he'd grown up in Teddy's house—and Teddy gets off on jerking Seth's chain any way he can.

Teddy's still working out whether he wants to fuck Seth outright or just mindfuck him into next week but he knows there's fuckery involved.

::

Still no joy on the therapist hunt and Teddy can't cook right when he's on his meds because there is balance and Teddy cooks on the edge, man, Teddy lives in extremes, and all the meds do is narrow the whole world down to one solid, steady line of numb. He knows they help as a last-ditch thing—they have to, right, that's why they're prescribed—but there's a pretty fucking huge downside to staying on them and it's always a little worse when he stops the goddamned pills and when he thinks about it, he wants to kick Jack's ass for that fucking brunch because until then, damn it, Teddy was fine.

It's almost enough to send him back to acupuncture again; the only thing stopping him is that 's what his father wants. Teddy has a process, damn it, and it works for him. Just, he really needs to get this lack-of-therapist thing fixed.

::

Ramon steals his lobster and sets up a shrine in the back and all Teddy can do is watch awkwardly and try to talk the faithful down. Negotiation gets him nowhere because apparently, Ramon sees the Mother of Christ in a patch of carapace markings and apparently, nothing Teddy's going to say is going to outweigh that. Some small part of him envies Ramon that kind of faith. The rest wants to distract the pilgrims out of the backroom until Teddy can get his fucking entree in a pot.

Seth's had some luck talking to Ramon, in that Seth did buy Jim back for the team with a hot dog and pocket change, so when Seth hovers beside Teddy to watch the worship going down, Teddy thinks maybe this is Seth about to hit him up for $20 for some bright idea.

Instead, Seth's there to mock.

Pop psychology says it hits Teddy as wrong as it does because it strikes that independence nerve, suggests Teddy's not measuring up, and it's worse because it's Seth, who for all his sweetness and his tendency to socially trainwreck, seems essentially secure about himself in ways Teddy cannot manage without an hour of therapy every week. They've been teasing Seth about his bandanna for years and Seth still wears it every day. Teddy falls back on his fugu license when he thinks his masculinity needs a boost but Seth is unapologetically a patissier, a walking, talking, smirking cream puff.

And he's chuckling happily at Teddy's expense.

Teddy's been rough with Seth a lot, maybe rougher than he should have been with his best friend, but this is the first time Teddy's actively been mean. He takes Seth's face in hand, forces Seth out of his denial by literally directing Seth's attention to Jim and Tanya obviously making time.

Seth makes a helpless sound Teddy refuses to define.

When Seth starts to flail awkwardly, obviously lost, Teddy smiles.

And when Seth takes off in a hyperventilating rush, Teddy leans against the doorway to watch a pair of busboys plan a novena for their holy sea roach.

.

Steven gets dragged into the situation with Ramon because Jack fucked Becky, who fucked their Portuguese baby eels, which means they need that lobster to feed that judge. Teddy doesn't mind sharing the joy here, there's more than enough to go around, but if Jack's cooking that lobster, it's not Teddy's entree anymore.

"We could offer to have it blessed," Steven suggests, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully and staring at the isolated tank on the quasi-altar Ramon and his minions have set up. "Get it baptized, if you like."

Steven mimes dunking the lobster into something; Teddy suspects it's a pot. "You lose another finger, I am not giving you a hand again."

"Not going to let me try to up my score, then?" Steven snorts quietly, shakes his head and tsks. "Pity, that. I'll cry myself to sleep."

"You know you will."

"Don't think they'd go for it, huh?" Steven tilts his head a little. "We could give them Jim. He goes to church; think that's holy enough for them or should we get a Blessed Virgin tattooed on his arse?"

Teddy considers it. Can't help wondering how Seth would react. "Evidence suggests they'd actually prefer me," he deadpans, hiking a menacing knife to forestall Steven's inevitable smartass remark. "You are not getting me tattooed."

"For the best, really. Don't think anyone would believe there's Blessed or Virgin anything about you, mate." Teddy doesn't say anything but the knife doesn't move. "Take a Midol, sweetheart. No one's pimping your arse for shellfish. No, not even for an Epicure." Steven sighs a little, guides Teddy's knife away with a fingertip. "Can't say I care if Ramon breaks Jim but we've already lost Seth and we can't be down two chefs tonight."

"Seth is fine," Teddy counters, because he is. Or, he will be, once he's had his sulk.

Steven pinches the bridge of his nose and scrunches his face in pain. "Bloody tiring, you are. All right," he says, looking up with distinctly Steven resolve. "Here's how it's going to be. You get out there and handle Princess Profiterole and Uncle Steven will take care of the holy seafood."

It is not a request. "Should I send Jim in for his tattoo?" Teddy tries, gut fluttering uneasily at how very not-a-request it is.

"No need. Time to get out the big guns."

Teddy's not sure what Steven means by that, but he'd bet it involves Jack.

.

Seth's outside in the alley, not far from where he landed when the crazy chocolatier hit him with the delivery van that time. Teddy doesn't like thinking about that, man, how sad and stunned and betrayed Seth looked until the EMTs took him away, how long Teddy'd spent talking up the nurses, working his fish genius social skills on the nurses while Seth drifted in and out in post-op.

Not that Seth looks much better now. Teddy steels himself. He knows Seth's moods, damn it, he knows Seth.

"You knew," Seth starts. Can't even look at him once he's seen Teddy flinch, apparently. The knot in Teddy's gut moves like bait. "How long?"

"Couple days," Teddy tries. "Not. Not long."

"You have a good laugh at me, Theodore? That's—" Seth's hands come up to his forehead and push off like an idea taking flight. "—that's what that was yesterday, huh? Jim was trying to tell me. Hell, Jim did tell me, Jim's a good kid, that's why he has—" Seth cuts himself off. The sound he makes is nothing like his laugh. "And what about you? Huh? You come running out to laugh? Of course you did, what else would you do? I mean, your best friend gets his heart broken, what's not funny about that, right?"

That's uncomfortably close to the truth, close enough that Teddy wants his meds, something to take the edge off the hot curl of something—guilt—that he's let himself get this reliant on a process, that he's let his control slip. He shouldn't need a therapist to not make Seth look like that.

Seth smiles bitterly. Not, uh, not just bitter for Seth, bitter by a fucking standard scale. "I don't know why I'm surprised. You've been an asshole for months. Shutting me—all of us out. Keeping secrets. Being—"

"Being a moody bitch?" Teddy suggests, dark deadpan. That, at least, he can possibly blame on the meds.

"Being a dick," Seth spits. "You know, I expect to get jerked around by Steven and Jack and...and…" Seth flings a hostile hand out in the direction of the door. "But you? I thought you had my back."

"It's not like that."

Seth moves forward, restless and bristling. "Yes, yes it is. It's exactly like that. You—" he catches himself again, makes another wild-eyed flail of dismay. "—that's why Steven threw the dart at me, right? I mean, it was Steven, right? Because I have to say, Theodore, I think I'd be disappointed if you missed such an obvious opportunity to put a literal knife in my back." Seth straightens sharply, recoils in an indignation that has no business fitting his face so well. "I don't know when you decided to stop laughing with us and start laughing at us but frankly, I got enough of that in high school."

Teddy's good at distraction, is the thing, skilled and experienced at dodging when he wants, redirecting the conversation to suit himself. He's dodged every serious conversation Seth's tried to have in he-doesn't-even-remember how long, chalked it up to his fucking self control, and he knows he should know what Seth needs to hear right now, exactly what Teddy needs to say to defuse this thing before it clusterfucks.

Only, that's not puppy-eyed betrayal and Teddy has no moves ready to counter whatever it is.

"It's not," Teddy says and all his quick, clever words are gone and maybe that's why instead of trying, he tips in to tease Seth's curled lip with his teeth. It's not a kiss exactly, not in any sense Teddy ever expected he'd have with Seth but it's close and it's good and Teddy wants more.

And for one long, glorious fucking moment, Seth lets him take.

Then Seth shoves. Teddy stumbles back a few steps, surprised by Seth's show of strength.

The way he looks then, eyes dark, shining slits, mouth pulled tight, it's so much hotter than it's been, a look Teddy's seen too often in himself when he stares in the mirror too long.

"Congratulations, asshole," Seth says, low and tight. "You just made it worse."

.

Teddy slinks back inside Nolita, not at all sure what happens now. He can't, uh, this isn't a poached fish thing and it's going to take a hell of a lot of Jim Beam to wash the hot ball of something—guilt fear panic frustration self-disgust—away.

He starts thinking about Jazz Fish.

He starts thinking about Japan.

He's not the sole sane member of the Nolita team anymore, not even close, and he's uncomfortably aware there's change on the way. He's not sure he can stay, not if he's going to see Seth every day, not if he's going to have to—

"And?" Steven says expectantly, cocking his head in for effect. Teddy blinks. "Done so soon, then? Brilliant. What, is he powdering his nose?"

Teddy feels his mouth work. He makes an actual sound, if not quite a word.

Steven must get it—Steven knows, Steven would—because his whole face changes, loses that cocky mug for something serious as hell. And here Teddy thought nothing short of the end of the fucking world could get that look off Steven's face. "Did it not go well?"

Teddy thinks about speaking again. Shakes his head instead. Steven breathes deep through it, nods back.

"All right, then. Why don't you, erm, go that way and I'll just...pop out for a bit, shall I?" Steven waves a hand in the vague direction of Teddy's station and waits for Teddy to go.

It feels like being let off the hook. Twenty minutes ago, hell, two minutes ago, Teddy would have gone with a swagger and probably a wisecrack about Steven's tendency to pop out for a bit.

This time, Teddy just shifts a little to let Steven slip past. As he passes, Steven murmurs, "Think we've still got a salmon in the walk-in could do with a bit of prep."

.

The next time Steven passes, Teddy's fumbling his way through a fillet, unmistakably off his game at unmistakably the wrong time. He's tried angry muttering, tried just knuckling down, given serious thought to seeing if the bartender will float him a bottle of Jim Beam, since it's not like Steven's going to let him leave.

Steven says, "Bloody hell, are you trying to chop all your fingers off?" and snags his wrist in a firm grasp.

"Leave it," Teddy says tightly. "I'm fine."

"The hell you are."

"Let me cook."

Steven looks torn for a moment. "Prat. Fine, but if you chop anything off yourself, you're on your own." Steven ducks his head and lowers his tone. "Any other night, mate, any other night, you know I'd send you home. Don't need lollygaggers on my line."

Any other night, Teddy would be mocking the 'lollygaggers' or pointing out that it's not actually Steven's line; no one tells Teddy Wong how to cook. The temptation's there now, Teddy knows he could, but he can't shake Seth's dark eyes yet, the sense that Teddy still can't trust his own control.

.

Then there's Jack hovering with a holy lobster and an apprehensive Ramon, Seth drunk and furious when Jack finally talks him into manning up, someone spouting about miracles and Becky Sharp bearing gifts.

It feels like a roller coaster night, one of those stretches that's just fate fucking with them all, leaving useless drama and awkward moments in its wake. Teddy spends all of it locked down tight, unwilling or unable to deal with anything that's not his goddamned fish.

He's certainly not going to deal with Seth, who's working relentless at his station and who won't stop muttering tributes to his manhood.

This night can't end too soon. Teddy wishes he hadn't left the meds at home.

.

When Steven finally waves him off—Jack's having some kind of moment with Becky Sharp—Teddy heads straight for home. Sure, they did just basically win an Epicure and yeah, that should mean it's time to celebrate, but he's in no mood to work The Snake Pit tonight.

Steven sends him off with the fish of his fancy from Nolita's walk-in and Teddy tries to get into the spirit of things by hitting up liquor store for a bottle of Jim Beam on his way home.

Then it's nothing but the relative peace of his own head for a while. Which isn't actually peaceful at all.

.

Teddy stares down the fish in his best saute pan. The fish stares back, dead-eyed and well on its way to overcooked. He hasn't said much to it, not much to say, but he's stuck on the results of his last tasting fork.

Teddy's head jerks back like the fish just called him out. He can feel himself getting combative again, which is good, combative is definitely outside the mid-range numbness of the meds, but he really hates why he is so worked up.

"You need salt." Teddy jabs an accusing finger at the pan. "How do you need salt? You don't need salt, you never need salt now, I have seasoned you enough."

The sauce simmers. The fish cooks. That's all the reaction he's going to get here, he knows that, he's not insane, but he can't help wishing for some kind of response. He walks himself mentally through the cooking process so far, ticks off all the places he's already seasoned this dish and jerks again at the prospect that his palate is off.

His whole goddamned night is a guarantee he's off the meds, he's not imagining that part because otherwise, he would have had some kind of goddamned control, but the meds mess with his palate, make everything bland, and that's what he tasted on that fork. There is a balance to his life, man, and it always shows up in his food and he's made this dish so often, he calls it Teddy's Drunk Fish, he can make this perfectly when he's too fucked up to see, and tonight it's wrong.

Teddy just...doesn't even know anymore. He would kill to have a professional to call here, let alone pay after-hours rates.

He tentatively tastes the fish again. Maybe he's wrong, maybe it's fine, maybe he's just imagining the salt thing because his head's a mess.

It might not need salt.

Three taste-tests later, he's still not sure. Maybe he missed a step. Maybe he didn't season enough. Maybe it's fucking perfect and his palate's fucked.

The worst part of it is, he doesn't even know the better option here.

Who knows how long he spends in his kitchen, staring at the fucking fish and trying to think himself down, before he gives up and takes it off the heat, turns off the burner and sets the pan aside.

Then he leaves the kitchen alone, man, because he's not getting anything out of being there, anyway.

Ordinarily, he would be a sprawled-out heap of fish genius with an empty plate and an empty bottle by this point in a mood and maybe he wouldn't be all the way better yet but he'd be getting there. Instead, Teddy huddles on the floor not far from his couch, knees pressed to his chest, and buries his face, just curls up into himself like maybe that will help.

The knock on his door is an unpleasant surprise. Teddy's distracted but he didn't buzz anybody up and as far as he knows, none of his neighbors work his hours, so for a few moments, he pretends he didn't hear the sound.

The knocking gets obnoxious. Teddy gets up. And from there, his night gets odd.

It's Steven, clutching Seth, who's clutching a battered white box and trying to slide out of Steven's grip. For a heartbeat or two, all they do is stare; Steven at Teddy, Teddy at Seth, and Seth at his pastry box.
Steven looks like a degenerate Santa Claus. Seth looks glassy-eyed.

Then Steven cocks an arch look at Seth and mutters, "Now you shut up? You've got to be joking, Christ, do I have to do everything myself?" Then Steven's hitching Seth a little higher as Seth starts to slide and Seth gets combative in defense of the battered cake box in his arms and Steven drawls lazy, "Special delivery for a Mr. Wong," with understated steel.

Seth blinks at him, breaks into a sweet, foolish smile. "T-Rex," Seth sighs, catches himself and scowls. "I'm still mad at you."

Steven grumbles, "Bloody prat."

Seth hugs his cake box. Seth has had a lot to drink. Teddy lifts his brows. "Huh."

"Look, not that I'm not touched by this charming Mills and Boon moment but do you think you might let us in? I'm one more squirm away from dropping him on his head."

So despite all the reasons he should be alone tonight, Teddy does.

.

It should be awkward, Teddy knows it should, but Steven sort of pours Seth onto the couch and takes over the other end like he's too exhausted to stand much more.

"Fucking miserable day," Steven grumbles, sweeping both hands over his face like he can push the strain away. "Honestly, I know it's good we've won an Epicure—or as good as, really—but I'm not doing that again."

"Fucking horrible day," Seth chimes in. "Horrible." Seth stretches out the word.

"I had a panda shaved. Somewhere out there, possibly somewhere in the Bronx Zoo vicinity, there is a naked panda I had shaved. And I didn't even see it." Steven lolls back his head and stares at the ceiling. "Sodding Jack. One of these days, I swear, I'm going to strangle that man. Possibly with Seth's neckerchief. I was going to nick a roast."

"We are living in a world where Jim gets Tanya," Seth says mournfully as though Steven hasn't said a word. "And that bastard didn't even bake."

Teddy looks them both over, Seth and Steven and that battered box on Seth's lap. "Do I want to know what either of you are talking about or should we go straight to the whiskey now?"

"What, no shoddy night details you'd like to share?"

"I wouldn't even know where to start," Teddy answers, more honestly than he intends and surprisingly, they both nod.

"You could start with the biting," Seth says. "I gotta admit, I'm curious about that part."

Steven mouths biting? and makes a face. "Makes two of us, then."

"I dunno what you mean," Teddy dodges, automatic and dull.

Seth laughs humorlessly and throws out a grabby hand that hits Steven's shoulder and earns him a grunt. "Bring on the whiskey, T-Rex. I am drowning tonight until I can't remember my own name."

For a moment, Teddy just watches, struck by how very fucking familiar this is. He can't say Seth and Steven spend much time at his place and he doesn't spend time at theirs but mostly, he thinks, that's because their lives aren't anchored in where they pay their rent. He's probably spent more time this week 20 feet or less from Steven than he has here and hell, if he includes the time he's spent at The Snake Pit, he's seen more of Seth than he has of his own bed.

It feels bizarrely like they've brought The Snake Pit to him, which would make sense if that was something they did, and the only reason he's not getting outright weird about it is that Seth just called him T-Rex.
There were times tonight he wasn't sure he'd get that again.

He's pretty sure he knows how he's supposed to react but he's not confident until he catches Seth's amused, expectant gaze. "Hey, what have I told you about the nicknames?"

Seth flashes an approving smile, then works up an air of command. "Alcohol. Now, or no treat for you."

"Done the flask already, are you? I think I'm impressed." Steven turns to Teddy absently. "While you're at it, bring us some fish. I'm bloody starved and I reckon he's going to need something to soak up the scotch." Because he's an asshole, Steven mimes throwing up. Teddy's stomach churns unhappily but damn it, he laughs.

"This is scotch?" Seth peers at his pocket suspiciously. Steven snorts.

Teddy says, "No fish."

"No fish?" Steven sniffs and frowns. "Is it all gone?"

"Uh, yeah."

Seth swats at Steven blindly with his box. "Liar. This isn't scotch."

"Ow. Sodding—Stop that, you prick—" Steven says, trying to ward Seth off and steal possession of the box, which actually looks worse for being tossed around. Then they're quasi-wrestling on Teddy's couch, a mess of limbs and grunts and cursing Teddy wants to just stand back and watch for a while.

"Stop it, you'll hurt the food," Seth says, this close to a whine, and there's a dull smack Teddy can't place and Steven falls back to his end of the couch, curling up on himself and growling pathetic threats to whatever's passing for Seth's manhood these days.

Seth sits up victoriously and pumps a fist, rubs his fingers together at Teddy for a long-distance chicken feed. Teddy can't help chicken-feeding back.

"Honestly. Sidekick to idiots," Steven twists to glare at them both in turn.

"Bring forks, my good man," Seth declares. "For tonight, we feast on the meal of kings."

"Did you not hear me? There is no fish," Teddy says before he can catch himself, and Seth holds his ridiculously battered box like he's Vanna fucking White, one splayed palm framing the thing in jerky lines.

"Are you high? We are talking about the food of champions, Teddy my man, and that is clearly not fish."

"We have been through this," Teddy starts, remembers Donna dragging him by the collar into the walk-in, promising him she'd flogged that fish like a rock star and hell yes, she planned to collect. Good times. Didn't have that in Japan. If Seth's trying to restart that bet, man, Teddy may well end up fucking his way through the wait staff. "If it weren't for that little dog—" Teddy snaps and points, which makes Seth crow like he's seeing a 4th quarter Superbowl touchdown. "I had you," Teddy promises. "Did you see that pile? I had you beat."

Steven sings, "Idiots," and props his foot up on the couch, one finger twitching in metronome.

"People eat fish because they think it's good for them," Seth baits. "They eat cake for love."

"Food," Steven prompts. "Food and liquor. Sweet, lovely liquor." He arches an eyebrow and flounces a lordly hand. "If you ladies want to continue your slap fight, I can call for takeaway. I will, however, need the drink. Seems someone's finished mine."

Seth turns shifty and pats what better be a flask at his hip.

Right. Teddy's friends are insane, too. Huh. How'd he forget that?

"Okay, I am asking; what is in that box?" Teddy jerks his chin. Seth cuddles his box again, which, relatively speaking, makes yelling at fish okay.

"I baked," Seth says simply, beatifically, and pats the knot of string.

.

Teddy comes back from his kitchen with a fistful of forks and a stack of plates, resolutely ignoring the contents of his countertop because he is not ready to go there yet, and finds Seth and Steven arguing over what the thing is.

"I did not bake it for him," Seth hisses, back in wet cat mode. "You take that back."

"Or what? You'll fork me? I'd like to see you try."

Teddy leans in over them both to check it out and can't stop a high, hysterical laugh. Whatever's in Seth's cake box has had a rough night, too. "Uh, what is that?" Teddy points and tries very hard to get his laughter under control when Seth pins him with a pissy glare. Teddy clears his throat. "Or, should I say, what was that?"

"It is a donut," Seth says, way too prim for Teddy's composure.

"Cake," Steven corrects. "Look at it. It's huge. Size queen."

"Donut," Seth counters. "See? What does it look like?"

It's brown and round and there's a knotty sort of hole in the center Teddy can't quite believe came from a bundt pan. "An asshole."

Steven's face lights up. Seth is...not amused. "What? That is clearly a donut, T-Bone, you're both cut off."

"No, really, an asshole," Teddy says in a semi-serious tone and he's waving absently through sketching out the figure, explaining himself in wry deadpan, before Seth has the presence of mind to close the damned box.
Steven laughs so hard, he almost slides off the couch.

Seth gasps in horror and tries to clutch the box out of their reach. "Why would I make asshole cake?"

"Because you're the biggest pouf to touch a profiterole in the history of the world?" Steven suggests, which makes Seth swat at him again.

"Why would anyone make a donut that big?" Teddy shrugs easy, more himself than he's been in a while. "Exactly my point."

Seth draws a heavy sigh. "Yes, Teddy. I admit it. I made you an asshole cake. Because you are the biggest asshole I know and I thought if I made it in a form that really spoke to you, maybe you would begin to understand the joys of cake."

Teddy slips a hand out for a chicken-feed that makes Seth settle back, smug and has Steven getting verbally abusive for a fork. Steven's already snagged himself the whiskey and evidently, it's a straight-from-the-bottle night.

Seth's cake-thing looks like hell, a crumbling mess on one side that makes it look like someone huge has tried to pinch a section off, but it tastes awesome, like pretty much everything Seth's ever shared. There's something light and citrusy in the golden crust, a hint of spice under the sweetness Teddy's palate can't quite place, something Seth tells him is one of the many delicious secrets to being a pastry god.

Steven says he'd like to meet one of those, by God, but he'll settle for Seth for the time being, which is when Seth threatens to fork Steven's thigh if he can't be nice.

And maybe it's how much they're laughing, maybe it's how much they've all had to drink, but it takes them a long time to discover how much the spill of glaze on the big asshole donut cake looks like drying lube.

.

It's. Fuck. A lot of Jim Beam later, Teddy knows that much, and they've turned Seth's asshole-donut-cake into a mess of crumbs, so they're all reasonably well-fed, and they've played Pass The Bottle, My Day Sucked More for a while, which turned into the more traditional Why Jack Sucks and really, who doesn't enjoy that? Not Teddy Wong.

Teddy's on the floor by the couch because there's more sprawling room there, so it's easy to tilt one way and nudge Seth's leg. Seth lifts his head and grunts.

"I thought you hated me, man." Which, huh, wasn't what Teddy meant to say, but Seth doesn't look surprised.

"Nah. Got drunk, baked for a while, I'm good. Don't hate anything right now." Seth smiles crookedly, sleepy and wry. "Don't get me wrong; you're an asshole—"

"Hence the cake," Steven chips in, an arm thrown over his face.

Seth rolls his eyes. "But you're my asshole, right? And you're better than this guy most of the time—" he jerks a thumb at Steven, who protests blindly without heat "—and anyway, it means I get to be an asshole back."

Teddy narrows his eyes. "So we're okay?"

"Yeah, T-Bag, we cool."

Teddy turns away sharply and winces at the slang, which is terrible and needs to never come out of Seth's mouth again. "Hey," he protests. "I have warned you about that. You have been warned."

"What, T-Bag?" Seth rumbles a laugh he stops dead to say, "You bit me," like that explains everything.

"Kissed," Teddy corrects. "I kissed you, man. And you shoved me away like a dick."

"Could've been worse," Steven muses. "Could've slapped you like a big girl."

"Point to the cocky asshole hogging the booze." Teddy wings a grabby hand in Steven's direction; it goes ignored.

"You bit me, Teddy Ruxpin," Seth repeats, obstinate. "That means I can call you whatever I want."

"And you're choosing a cuddle toy?" Steven fires back, lazy. "You know, I think I might've put too much emphasis on the neckerchief. Might've, I dunno, overlooked some things."

Steven slants Teddy a wicked grin that says they're both honor-bound to give Seth grief.

"Admit it, Steven, you've always been jealous of the bandanna. You know you have."

"The only thing I'd want to do with that scarf is illegal in 49 states, but you keep believing that if you'd like."

Teddy can almost hear Cameron cringing at the fashion faux-pas, honey, no one likes that scarf, and it's as comfortable as slinking low by his couch, listening to Steven and Seth take shots at each other over a bottle of Jim Beam.

Fuck the meds, he thinks, and smiles.

.

Seth gets sleepy because Seth gets drunk and Teddy lets him slide low on his corner of the couch, one arm wrapped around his bottle like it's the new cuddle toy of choice.

When Seth dozes—finally, Teddy thinks—Teddy takes one look at the way Steven's eying him from the floor and decides this is a good time to get the dishes done. He's not hiding out in the kitchen, he is being a semi-responsible adult.

He does okay until he sees the fish, overcooked and caramelized in its pan; then Teddy falters mid-step and remembers through the happy whiskey fog that oh yeah, his life kind of sucks these days.

"Something catch your eye, mate?" Steven asks, far too close behind him. Teddy tenses but doesn't turn.

"No, I'm good." Of course, the way he answers, Teddy doesn't believe himself.

"And I'm shagging the Queen." Teddy snorts. It's a quintessential Steven response. "Want to tell me about the fish now?"

Teddy shakes his head. Steven takes another step closer, until there's familiar heat at his back. Steven drags a finger along the back of Teddy's neck, up under his hair. "Sweetheart, that wasn't a request."

Teddy shivers at the lightness of the touch. Stills himself for a moment, then turns to meet Steven's gaze, not at all sure how to explain about the fish.

As it turns out, all it takes is Steven's non-committal stare. "I can't tell if it needs salt." Which is everything he needs to say and nothing that makes sense outside his own head to anyone but the therapist he doesn't have anymore. So he waits for Steven to laugh it off, make it a joke Teddy can hide behind.

Instead, Steven says, "Yeah, you do. Fish genius, right? If the great Teddy Wong thinks that fish needs salt, it does. Simple as that."

And Steven says it like it is, like that's straight fact, an absolute. It's been a while since Teddy had one of those and Steven must see something slip across Teddy's face, the desperation Teddy can feel crawling under his skin for something solid to balance on, because Steven says, "Right, then, my turn, is it," and hooks Teddy's jaw with one broad palm, tugs him and turns him in for a kiss that doesn't end when Teddy's back hits the kitchen wall.

It's a strange blend of sloppy focus and careful strength, Steven leaning into him to hold Teddy still, making a distraction of light nips to Teddy's lips, hot curls and pushes of Steven's tongue. There's no seduction in the kissing, just easy, comfortable heat, but it's not like Teddy needs to be seduced here; Teddy knows the score. This is Steven paying back the helping hand from Nolita's opening night.

Steven's hot and solid and impossible to move, and when Teddy's hips jerk at the brush of Steven's hands on his fly, Steven pulls back a little for a smug, wicked smirk. This would be the perfect time for Teddy to throw himself into this, get back a little of his own, but Steven's hands make a mockery of the fact that Teddy's still technically wearing pants and fuck it, he can let Steven take the lead here.

Steven jerks him slow and rough, unrelenting pressure from a hard, skilled hand, and as hot as it is to watch Steven work his dick over with the patient focus they usually save for work, it's so much better to just lean back and watch Steven's face flush.

Teddy's hips work to let him fuck into Steven's palm, which Steven counters with rougher jerks and a little wrist action that makes Teddy grunt. His breath catches. His eyelashes flutter low. Teddy's whole world narrows to the dirty-hot-good building up, tunnel-vision of yes-more-now that has him reaching for Steven's waist, too, working his way through the trap of Steven's fly. Steven leans in and slows his hand, squeezing Teddy's cock as he growls, "Not yet," then bites Teddy's earlobe quick.

Teddy's cock jerks. Steven laughs, low and rough.

"Still at 15, am I? With my pity +5?" Then Steven's grinding into him, working fucking miracles with that hand and wrecking Teddy's slack mouth with his teeth.

Teddy...okay, Teddy whines. In his defense, fucking Steven's fucking hand job should not be this good. Teddy curls into him, digs his nails into Steven's neck when it feels like Steven might be considering pulling away again, and Steven hisses, "Bloody hell," and does something fucking evil with his wrist that pushes Teddy over the edge, drags him back to fine, combative form.

Steven's hands might be amazing—and they are, they definitely are—but Teddy's hands are gifts and one of the first things Teddy learned about fucking is that doing it right means giving as good as you get.
Steven tries to make this all about getting Teddy off, which Teddy understands because that's how helping hands go, man, they both know that, but that's not what this is. Not anymore. There's no distance here and neither one of them seem all that interested in space. Steven groans, gutteral, and tips his forehead to Teddy's temple when Teddy gets a hand around Steven's dick, which is harder than Teddy remembers from Nolita's opening night and slick enough from pre-cum to ease the way for Teddy's hand.

They're rough on each other, tipping close to battle-fuck when their stares lock and the whole world is the dark heat in Steven's eyes, because they've known each other too long to let their competitive streaks go, even now.

The last thing Teddy thinks clearly before Steven drags him over through a muffled string of coaxing curses is that when he licks Steven's cheek, bites his jawline, Steven tastes like salt.

Then it's just a hot flush curling up from his spine and pleasure jittering under his skin as Steven milks him through a string of shuddering aftershocks.

Steven shudders, too, who-cares-how-long later, spurts a wet, musky mess over Teddy's shirt and leans into him like a shield from everything that's not the here-and-now.

Which, fuck, Teddy has to at least try to kiss him for, because apparently, they're kissing now and not just getting off. It's, uh, a lot to take in.

Teddy feels wired and boneless, simultaneously ready to take on the world and barely capable of dragging his ass to bed, but at least he's not the only one still trying to catch his breath. Nice. Steven angles a weary, cock-eyed look at him but doesn't move away.

"Well?"

Laughter bubbles up Teddy's throat. "Twenty-five," Teddy decides, trying to look solemn but fuck, that's not happening now.

"Prick," Steven says lightly. "That was at least a 26."

"I had to fight my way into your pants," Teddy points out.

"So you did." Steven pulls a long, considering face. "Better now? Or is this going to take some healing cock?"

"Still chasing that perfect score, huh?"

"I could be convinced. Best not to wake Princess Profiterole, I'd say, but I'm not saying no. Chance to shag Mr. Fugu License? Who'd turn that down?" Steven cranes to eye the door for a moment, then turns back with a wicked grin. "Or we could draw penises on Seth while he sleeps. Have you got any magic markers about?"

Teddy hums. "Tough call."

"We could do both," Steven offers. "Seth first, I think, in case we wake him with the shag. Are you in?"

And Teddy thinks he knows but it is a fine line he's walking here and he's not entirely sure he's ready to jump off just yet. "Maybe not magic markers but I should have pens. But first, could you, uh—" Teddy leans, cranes and squirms to get a fork into the fish of doom sitting forlorn in its pan. "Taste this."

Steven does. Chews thoughtfully and makes a face. "Not your best work," he concedes. "Not bad, mind, but not your best." Teddy waits, bites his lip so he won't prompt the response he wants to hear. Right now, he needs the truth. "Needs…" Steven taps his palate with his tongue. "Needs salt."

::

"...and that's our hour," Therapist #42 says, setting down her pen like she has every week for six months, and Teddy nods, rubs his palms on his thighs before he stands so the parting handshake isn't gross.

"See you next week," he says as he turns her office doorknob and when he looks back, she's smiling a little and leaning back in her chair.

"I'll be here."

Then he's gone, out the door and hustling down to the subway to haul his ass to work.

Someone needs to be the voice of reason at Nolita and even if he's not exactly "sane", whatever that means, Teddy's close enough.

~end~