This is the most useless thing in existence, Teddy had scribbled at the top of the notepad which lay perfectly in the middle of their desk, just to the left of their stack of exhibits and just to the right of their heavily-tabbed copy of Winfield and Jolowicz on Tort.
Billy spent a lot of time not looking at this note out of the vague sense that he was here to do a job and that job meant listening to Von Doom's interminable cross-exam closely. Somehow, despite this, when he finally caught himself looking down, he found that he'd already written back, What else is new in our lives?
Teddy barely waited for him to set the pen down before picking it up again. Tic-Tac-Toe? his scrawl suggested hopefully.
Billy spared a brief glance toward the judge who, honestly, mostly seemed to feel like this was the most useless thing in existence too. Without another thought, he grabbed the pen out of Teddy's hand, drew a board, and scratched an X down in the centre.
Three rounds later, Billy half-zoned in to the trial in progress with the suddenness of someone who has just heard the same question asked twice and blinked. "Uh," he said as his brain tried to catch up and remember enough of second-year evidence law, "your honour, we object to this line of questioning. It's a collateral matter, and the witness just gave her answer."
Teddy drew a circle in the upper right corner and won his second game.
"You should just buy off the jury when you get that far," said Tommy over lunch because Tommy was in the habit of saying things like that loudly in public places where other lawyers could turn and look at them like they were all insane.
Eli rubbed at his eyes. Tommy didn't seem to notice.
"I buy off juries all the time."
"We're not buying off the jury, holy crap, Tommy," Billy said tiredly.
Teddy laced his fingers together on his chest and leaned back far enough so that he could stare at his shoes under the table. "We could buy off the jury," he said.
"No," Billy said sharply, rounding on Teddy and shaking his terrible cafeteria muffin at him. "No felonies. Bad Teddy."
Teddy just grinned.
"Calm down. You'll be fine," Eli told them both like the mature and level-headed adult he managed to be somehow. Against all odds.
"Who even opts to try torts by jury these days anyway?" Billy huffed and then squawked almost immediately when Kate arrived, shoved him to one side, and attempted to share a chair with him.
"Someone inject me with caffeine right now," she said, ignoring Billy's attempts to shove her back off of his seat. "I have a show cause this afternoon and no cause to actually show."
"Can't help with the caffeine," Tommy said, with a leer, "but I could inject you with something else, if you know what I mean." Then "Ow, fuck," he said when Eli flicked him hard in the side of the head.
"Girlfriend," Eli reminded him. "Also, that wasn't even good."
Billy sometimes felt like he spent half his life in his office, a feeling only exacerbated by the fact that he probably spent more than half his life in his office. His office was a barren little cave that had windows and no couch, but Kate let him uses hers when she wasn't there, and he kept a pillow in the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet for just those occasions.
By his second week at the firm, Teddy stopped trying to find him in his office in the mornings and just came to Kate's office with a coffee in one hand and a comb in the other.
Billy would drink the coffee down in big gulps and brush the tangles out of his hair as best as he could and then croak, "Morning."
Teddy would smile and say, "You're an idiot. We have a depo in half an hour."
And then Billy would sit in the conference room while Teddy charmed a hostile witness into giving up all her secrets and Billy ate the bagels meant for visitors and thought about how Teddy was the best damn junior associate he'd ever seen. He probably deserved Billy's job more than Billy did, and Billy knew within a day and a half that he kind of wanted to sleep with him, and it was all very melodramatic – crushing on your new second chair was not a thing people did outside the USA Network – except that Teddy sometimes looked at him like he wouldn't mind if they slept together either. Which made it less melodramatic and more like something that was probably just going to happen eventually. Maybe.
"You gigantic gay motherfucker," said Tommy apropos of nothing, coming into Billy's office at 1PM in the afternoon despite the fact that, really, he didn't work here.
Billy did not flinch, and he barely glanced up because this was fairly typical of things Tommy said by way of greeting.
"Do you have an appointment?" he asked Tommy, who didn't answer. "Does he have an appointment?" he asked Jonas, as Jonas walked past his door, but since Jonas wasn't actually Billy's admin, all he got in return was a blank look and a shrug.
"You're supposed to have an appointment," he said finally, again to Tommy, who was now arranging himself comfortably in the chair on the other side of Billy's desk.
"I want a favour," said Tommy.
"Of course you do," said Billy.
"Of course I do," Tommy agreed, nodding. "I have this friend of a friend who's up on possession charges."
"I'm not a criminal lawyer," Billy pointed out automatically, though by now he knew that Tommy knew and that when it came to favours, Tommy didn't really care. And predictably, Tommy barely batted an eye at him.
"It's total bullshit, obviously," Tommy continued. "I was hoping you could talk to your A.D.A. friend. See if something could get worked out."
"You could ask Cassie yourself," Billy pointed out.
Tommy shrugged. "Yeah, but she tolerates you and doesn't like me. So unless I dye my hair and go the comedic mistaken identity route, it's better if you do it."
Billy shut his eyes. "Please tell me that's not actually a thing you do."
"Not recently," said Tommy, a grin in his voice. "Deal?"
There were things, Billy was sure, in his life that he had done to deserve his brother, but he was never sure what they were. Billy opened his eyes. Tommy stared back like the giant karmic retribution he was.
"What do I get in return?" Billy asked.
Another shrug. "I'll dig up some dirt for you on that tort whatever thing you're working on, if you want."
"Bywater versus Metropolitan Transit Authority?" Billy asked. "Our biggest class action in years? That tort?"
Tommy held up a hand and made a blah blah motion.
"Blah, blah," he actually said redundantly. "Just tell me what to look into."
After a moment, he added, "And remember to call off Cassie."
At six, Teddy brought him Chinese take-out. Billy looked up gratefully from stacks of case law on industrial safety standards and smiled like this was the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen. Teddy tended to look especially good in blue shirts, so it might not have just been the food. They ate and went over Dr. Reed's prep for tomorrow for a half hour until they were both going cross-eyed out of boredom.
"Are you going to do it?" Teddy asked, poking barbecued pork and fried noodles with his chopsticks. "Ask Cassie?"
"I don't know," said Billy. "I guess."
Teddy poked his food some more, thoughtfully. He had soy sauce on his chin, and Billy was staring at it and wondering if he should mention it and also wondering if there was a limit to how much life could turn into a romcom or if it would just keep going until one day he found himself inexplicably in Central Park, getting tangled up in the leash of the dog he didn't own.
"Do you know what I hate?" Teddy finally asked.
"Class action certifications?" Billy guessed.
"Class action certifications," said Teddy with a firm nod.
Cassie was on her way into court when Billy called her the next morning. He had timed this precisely to make sure the call was as short as it could possibly be. They were both very busy people, and Billy tended to sound like an idiot on the phone.
"Your brother is probably a criminal," she told him when he asked. "You do realize that, don't you?"
"Yes," said Billy because this was objectively a fact. "I heard these charges might be kind of bogus, though. And I would owe you dinner."
He had gone to law school with Cassie what seemed like a lifetime ago, and they had gotten along okay in that way where she came from a long line of lawyers and was terrifyingly determined about prosecuting criminals of all flavours, and he had vaguely noble notions about helping people and thought his mom had probably smoked a lot of marijuana when she was younger.
Cassie sighed. "I'll see what I can do," she said and hung up.
Billy flicked his phone over to SMS and texted a quick done off to Tommy.
thnx bro, came the response a few minutes later. get you the good stuff asap.
Billy's phone buzzed again almost immediately.
no homo, said the message.
Kate, reading over his shoulder, nearly snorted coffee out her nose.
"Sometimes when we're in public, I pretend I don't know him," Billy confessed.
That afternoon Von Doom tried to get their medical testimony thrown out as immaterial. If they hadn't been expecting it, Billy would have probably been morally outraged. As it was, they were expecting it, and Billy had to pretend to be morally outraged anyway.
"Given that the defense is seeking to limit the class definition to only those who suffered damage from smoke inhalation," said Billy, "I think the nature of the other injuries suffered that day and their connection to the fire and the central issue of whether the fire was caused by the MTA's negligence makes Dr. Reed's evidence clearly material."
"The MTA," said Von Doom in his deep, courtroom voice, "is of the opinion that the current class definition is unduly broad. The damages that someone who suffered from smoke inhalation and someone who suffered, for example, burns might possibly, potentially be entitled to are measured on entirely different standards."
"Which is something to be sorted out at the remedy stage," said Billy. "Not at certification."
Judge Rogers considered this and then made a go ahead motion at Dr. Reed to continue with his answer. Billy sat down again. Teddy pushed their pad of paper over towards him.
I have Bohemian Rhapsody stuck in my head, said the note written across the middle of the page.
I would kill for a shawarma right now, Billy wrote back.
They recessed late that afternoon after Von Doom finished with their last witness, and Eli took them both out for a celebratory "Now We Get to Ask Leading Questions" drink. Which turned into two drinks. Eli left before the third, citing an 8:30 motion to dismiss the next morning, and Billy would usually have gone with him to share the cab back to the office, but Teddy's smile was wide and bright and perfect and proud, and Billy felt good about the case they'd made too, so they had two more rounds and slouched together in their booth, warming each other's shoulder through proximity. Teddy's hand found its way to covering Billy's on the vinyl seat between them, and his thumb traced patterns over Billy's knuckles.
"I've never been any good at estate litigation," Billy told him because he had the sudden, tipsy desire to tell Teddy something profound and meaningful but knew that law school had stripped out his capacity for thinking of profound and meaningful things to say in order to make more room for case precedents.
Teddy bit his lip, though, and tried not to grin, and Billy thought maybe he understood anyway when he said, "I had a bad experience with estate litigation once. I've been kind of gun shy about it ever since."
"Probate fees," Billy said earnestly, and Teddy did smile then.
"Yeah," he said.
They didn't kiss or anything that night, but Teddy did successfully hail him a cab, and Billy figured that in New York City that still meant something.
The next day was Saturday, and Billy drank his body weight in water for breakfast and then went into work anyway, despite it being the weekend and despite being slightly hungover, because he always found staying at home with his goldfish depressing.
He should've figured that Tommy would be there, since Tommy was a mutant whose power was knowing when the worst time to show up was and then showing up anyway.
"Found something," Tommy said, reminding Billy that Tommy was also a mutant because he was really, really good at finding things.
Billy looked longingly at the little office kitchen where his one true love, the office coffee pot, was waiting for him and then waved Tommy into his office.
"What did you find?" he asked, once he was seated.
Tommy unslung his backpack from one shoulder and rummaged around before producing a folder full of surreptitious snapshots of documents. Billy flicked through, and most of them looked perfectly legally-obtained, but Tommy liked to be surreptitious about things no matter what he was doing. Probably a habit developed from when he was out being a criminal the rest of the time.
"Inspection reports from the city," Tommy explained. "The MTA waived inspections on three trains, including the one that started the fire, a month before it happened to avoid paying overtime because they were pissed at the union. It hadn't been inspected since a month before that."
"Oh," said Billy, nearly swallowing his tongue. "Oh."
Tommy's expression transitioned smoothly from smug to a little worried. "If you're going to start making out with those pictures," he said, "I'd like enough warning so that I can leave the room."
Shut your stupid, occasionally brilliant face and let me enjoy this moment, Billy was about to say, but Kate knocked on his door and interrupted that thought before it could escape.
"Wasn't expecting to see you in this morning," she said in a knowing sort of way that did nothing to indicate what it was she knew.
"Tommy brought me the most beautiful present ever," said Billy. "Once we get certified, they are beyond dead."
Kate gave Tommy a long look and then said, "I guess there's a reason we still let you in the building after all."
Tommy smiled at her serenely. "Katherine, my love for you is pure and true."
She smiled back with patient amusement. "Still dating Eli," she said.
Billy ignored them both and hugged the pictures to his chest.
He had anticipated some mild awkwardness between him and Teddy over the sort of moment they had had on Friday night. He didn't usually have sort of moments with co-workers but maybe Teddy did. Maybe Teddy had lots. It wasn't something they'd ever talked about in the short time they'd known each other.
But, in the end, Saturday afternoon saw Teddy rolling into the office in weekend casual jeans, saying hi to Billy with a sheepish, uncertain expression on his face which lasted only long enough for Billy to shove the pictures in front of him and then it was all forgotten.
"Damn," said Teddy, clutching the pictures so hard that his fingertips were going white, "we're going to win, aren't we?"
"If we get through Monday," Billy said, trying to look like a sombre, experienced senior associate for once and mostly failing, "yeah, we completely are."
Sundays were hard because no one in the firm bothered to go in on Sunday, so it was nearly impossible for Billy to justify going in by himself. Sundays before important courtroom dates were even worse because Billy was keyed up all day with nothing to expend his energy on, and he ended up drinking successive soothing cups of coffee in very ill-advised attempts to calm down.
By two, he was pacing his apartment and impulsively holding down the button on his phone to speed-dial Teddy – while not thinking about how he had a button on his phone to speed-dial Teddy with.
"Do you want to come over and talk about our cross-exams for tomorrow?" he asked as soon as Teddy picked up, before anyone had a chance to say hello.
Teddy laughed in a perplexed way and said, "What?"
There was nothing judgmental about the way he said it, but Billy's frequently AWOL better judgment caught up at about the same time, and he winced at his reflection in his TV screen.
"Crap, sorry," he said. "It's Sunday. You're probably doing, like, life things."
"No, no, I can come over," Teddy said.
And forty-five minutes of weekend traffic later, he was there with his box of files under one arm. It occurred to Billy that he, maybe, should've taken a shower in the intervening period but then showers seemed like the sort of thing that people would take if they were hoping to impress their hopelessly good-looking junior associates with their own good looks. If Teddy was interested in him – and mildly metaphorical conversations about estate litigation aside, that was still only a hypothesis – Billy thought it was probably nothing to do with his looks, since Teddy knew what he looked like with couch hair.
"I figured we could start with Martinez and move up the chain of command," Teddy said.
"Yes," said Billy. "Your thoughts are good thoughts."
They spread their things out in the living room, which given the amount of paperwork a case this big generated meant that one chair, Billy's coffee table and a good portion of the floor ended up being taken up by papers. They ran through the variable lines of attack – ask B if he says Y but ask C if he says X instead – and laid out their information goals on unlined paper which Teddy colour-coded in highlighter because he was a visual learner. They formulated introductory questions and discussed what question might be the question too far, the one that would give them an answer that undid everything that came before it.
By evening, Billy's living room was tinted slightly orange, and they were eating a dinner of barbecue chips and beer because Billy chose to stock his fridge like he was still in college.
"You know," said Teddy, casually, "I think you think I have more of a life than I actually do."
Billy had never considered this at all, maybe because Teddy, charming and sociable, seemed like someone who would have a life and because people were generally not supposed to be awkward misanthropes like Billy.
"I talk to my goldfish," said Billy, squinting at him in suspicion.
Teddy gave him a smile that seemed sad. "I don't even have goldfish," he said.
Billy sucked on his teeth and then reached over and patted Teddy on his knee. "You could have mine, but I warn you: he has some DSM-IV grade issues going on. I think he watches me when I sleep."
Teddy snorted and then he laughed, the sadness disappearing. Billy sat back, victorious.
There was an email waiting in his inbox from Cassie when he stopped into the office briefly on Monday to get his trial tie.
You owe me dinner, it said. Tell your brother it's dropped, but I'm prosecuting the next illegal search just for fun. Say hi to Jonas. – C.
You're a better person than all of us, Billy wrote back in enough of a flurry that he didn't even wrinkle his nose at the hyperbole.
Teddy met him in the elevator, flashed him a thumbs up, and then reached out with one hand to flatten the back of Billy's hair. It made the skin along Billy's neck prickle, and Teddy stared at his ear just a little too long. They were coming to a point, Billy thought, where it would be hard to pretend like there wasn't a pattern to the things that were happening here. But it was a court day, and you didn't think about things like that on the morning of a court day, so Billy didn't.
The cross-exams were smooth and uneventful. Von Doom kept smiling across the floor at them, fully aware of what an annoyance it was to try to rebut a case which essentially began and ended with "Your honour, the plaintiff has not met his burden."
After the last defence witness was excused, Judge Rogers looked at the clock and then called a short recess to deliberate. They filed out into the hall, and Teddy leaned against the beige stone wall while Billy paced back and forth in front of the water fountain.
"Is there anything worse than losing a certification when you know you can win the actual lawsuit?" he asked.
Teddy raised his eyebrows, thought about it, and then said, "World hunger. World hunger is probably worse."
Billy stopped pacing so that he could elbow Teddy in the ribs, which, given how Teddy smiled at him after, was probably what he was hoping to accomplish.
They won, in the end. Judge Rogers ruled that the defence's proposed definition would unduly narrow the class by excluding individuals who would otherwise benefit from the resolution of the common issue, ie. whether the fire had been caused by the MTA's negligence.
Billy felt his heart rate slow as schedules were checked and initial trial dates set. Teddy grinned at him as they packed up their things, and Billy grinned back.
"I'll see you at trial," Von Doom said as they all walked out together.
"Yeah," agreed Teddy, "and you should probably know we have the inspection reports." He smiled perfectly, but his eyes were gleefully vicious. "See you then."
Billy did not go back to his office. He let Teddy steer them back to their office building but once in the door of the firm, he took a straight line past the copier and around the paralegals to Kate's office where he shut the door, collapsed on the couch, and fell asleep.
It was the blissful, catatonic sleep of victory.
He only woke up much later, when the sky outside was dark, because something soft dropped on his head. He groped at it blindly and only then realized that he hadn't even bothered to fetch his pillow from his office and that was what was now sitting on his head.
He pushed it off and looked up at Teddy who was leaning against Kate's desk watching him with a speculative expression on his face and a glass in his hand.
"What is your face," Billy said articulately.
"You fell asleep before the celebration booze happened," Teddy told him, raising the glass to demonstrate. "I saved you some."
Billy rubbed his face with his hand. Teddy, sensing that Billy was not yet at the stage where he could do words, crossed the floor and sat on the edge of the couch near Billy's knees, offering the glass. It smelled like the Spanish brandy that Eli broke out when people actually did good jobs and he wasn't just being polite.
"Billy," said Teddy, and there was something anxious in the way he said it and in the set of his mouth, "can you tell me if I'm misreading this? Because I really don't know if I can handle misreading this."
They were lawyers. There were Professional Codes of Conduct. HR probably had all sorts of policy manuals on how things like this were supposed to be handled. HR would probably want him to take some kind of personality test to make sure he wasn't skeezy and taking advantage of innocent, beautiful junior associates.
But when you spent Saturdays coming into work and Sundays wishing you could come into work, when you went home to your sociopathic goldfish and your DVD collection, when two equity partners at your firm were already dating, and you were well on your way to winning the biggest class action your firm had had in a decade, none of that seemed so important.
Teddy's tie was blue, and Billy made an uncoordinated grab at it and reeled him in until their mouths were pressed against each other. Teddy tasted like Eli's good Spanish brandy, and Billy thought inanely that this was the best way to have your celebration booze, but he wasn't going to tell anyone so that he could keep it all to himself.
When he pulled back, Teddy looked pink and alarmed. Crap, Billy thought, wondering if he'd misread things, trying frantically to think back to that one lecture on sexual harassment in the workplace he'd attended to make up his professional development hours.
But then Teddy's tongue flicked out over his lower lip, and the corner of his mouth curled up.
"I need to stand up," he said, "and put this drink on the desk because Kate will kill me if I spill it. But I will be right back."
"Right," said Billy.
He watched as Teddy did, indeed, get up and put the drink safely on a coaster and then he watched as Teddy came back and pushed him up against the arm of the couch and bit at Billy's throat until Billy put both his hands in Teddy's hair and pulled him up and licked into his mouth.
Tommy called later, somewhere during the cab ride back to Billy's apartment. Billy was busy slipping his fingers between the buttons of Teddy's shirt, catching a brief, warm whisper of skin, and generally scandalizing their cab driver. He let it go to voicemail.
Eli called when they were taking their shoes off in the front hall, and Billy agonized about answering that one until Teddy plucked the phone out of his hands and backed him up against the wall. Billy grabbed at Teddy's belt to pull him forward and sucked on Teddy's tongue and didn't much care where his cellphone ended up after that.
Billy was pushy. He knew that. It was a flaw. But pushing Teddy around was great because Teddy was big enough that it shouldn't have worked, but he let Billy and so it did. When the back of Teddy's calves hit the bed, he sat down and wrapped his hands around Billy's hips and then ran them up Billy's back, making his shirt bunch.
"We need to get undressed," Billy said.
"You make a convincing argument, counsellor," Teddy replied, raising an eyebrow and then brushing his nose against the exposed rise of Billy's hip.
Billy snorted and sank into Teddy's lap and kissed him quiet, all along his lower lip and his jaw, over his collarbones and fingertips, because if he were the kind of person to do this more often, he would have rules about making lawyer jokes in bed.
Kate called somewhere around midnight, but Billy's forehead was pressed to the crook of Teddy's neck, and Teddy was sucking on two of his fingers, spreading them apart with the point of his tongue, and Billy didn't even hear the phone ring.
"You missed the celebration booze," Eli noted the next morning, leaning in the doorway and politely not mentioning how the left side of Billy's throat made him look like he'd spent the night necking like a teenager. Which was accurate, but Eli was always classier than that, and Billy had never been more grateful.
"Next time," he promised, and Eli raised his eyebrows in a way that elegantly implied that Billy's grin was verging on the demented before nodding and heading back to his office.
Billy spun in his chair and bit at his thumb and when he'd made a full circle back to looking at the door to his office, Teddy was standing there, smiling, in the shirt they had only barely managed to unwrinkle between coffee and raisin bran that morning.
"I had couch hair all last night, and you never said anything," Billy said.
Teddy tipped his head to one side in acknowledgement of this point and smiled wider. "I've grown weirdly attached to it," he said.
"Okay," said Billy, thinking about HR policy manuals and how there were still so many hours in the day before he could take Teddy home and peel that shirt off him again.
"Got an email from Von Doom's office." Teddy pulled out his Blackberry and pretended to scroll through it. "They're admitting liability."
"Hah," said Billy.
And then: "Okay."
And then: "We better draft some remedy submissions."
"Yup," Teddy said and came in and took his seat.