“Why did I agree to this?” Teddy groans, tugging at the hem of his shirt in discomfort. It’s not uncomfortable, of course; it’s one of his favorites, soft from how often he’s worn it, but he needs to do something with his hands and the last time he had pulled out his phone to fiddle with it Kate had smacked him on the arm. And yeah, in hindsight, maybe doing it every minute or so had been a little excessive, but he doesn’t know what Kate expects from him. He’s really not a party... person.
“You’ve been here for a year,” Kate replies, unnervingly aware of her surroundings despite the fact she's focused entirely on her own phone. In complete contrast to him, she’s wearing something he’s never seen before, shiny and draped, because in Kate Bishop’s world, ‘it’s no big deal, just dress casual’ is something that only happens to other people. “And your social life remains nonexistent. You agreed to this because I’m your friend and I love you and I’m worried, and possibly also because I bribed you.” She looks up long enough to give him a bit of a smirk. “It’s not going to be that bad. Maybe you’ll meet a nice guy.”
“If you haven’t started dating them all,” Teddy mutters to himself, sulky and unfair, and Kate gives him a significantly longer, cooler look.
“I am going to interpret that as an expression of frustrated jealousy as opposed to you passing judgment on my lifestyle,” she says, after a moment. Teddy huffs, and reaches up to rub his forehead.
“Yeah,” he says, “Sorry, Kate. You know I would never -”
"I know. And that is why you are allowed to be in my company with all your limbs intact," Kate says, breezily, and Teddy has seen firsthand that she's not exaggerating. Daniel DuBois made the mistake of calling her a whore, once, and she responded by putting him in a shoulder lock until he cried while she lectured him on the concept of slut shaming.
It hadn’t been an entirely accurate assessment of Kate, anyhow, but Daniel DuBois has never been logic’s most diehard fan, even when he isn’t acting out of petty jealousy that Kate would dare date not one but two guys that aren’t him. Teddy actually only knows one of them - he and Kate had been silently suffering through their first Drawing II with an extremely enthusiastic but utterly clueless TA when Tommy Shepherd plopped down in the next seat over and started flirting, obviously and outrageously, with both of them. He and Kate had a date by the end of the week, but all Teddy could do was stammer, because he knew Tommy wasn’t his type, but there was still something about him, something familiar, that made Teddy desperately wish that wasn’t true. Kate met Eli Bradley around the same time, and Teddy might not have been in class with them, but he still knew the exact trajectory of their courtship: for a solid month, every Tuesday and Thursday, Kate would have stories about the utter cock in her philosophy course who had his head so far up his own ass she was amazed he- (That was usually the point Teddy tuned her out and wondered when they were going to start fucking. The answer, apparently, was at the end of Spring Break.)
They’re both aware of the other, and Kate somehow makes it work - which doesn’t surprise Teddy in that he’s naturally inclined to think polyamory isn’t a legitimate lifestyle as much as from what he’s heard, Eli and Tommy hate each other. Kate has a pet theory their animosity is based on mutual unrequited attraction, but she did confess that her judgment might be impaired by how much she wants to see them make out.
Kate’s kind of ridiculously happy with them, however cool she plays it and however much Teddy teases her about it. She gets this look on her face sometimes - a “how am I possibly this lucky” look, a combination of wonder and terror, because Teddy knows deep down inside, sometimes she thinks she doesn’t deserve it. But he had been depressed and silently terrified when Kate sat next to him on his first day of an interminable Design I class and became the best friend he ever had so fast he thought she could sense how badly he needed it, so as far as Teddy’s concerned, she deserves all the happiness in the world.
Which isn't to imply there aren’t times when he utterly hates her, such as when she’s made the big eyes and said a lot of things about social lives and being worried and didn’t bribe him nearly enough in order to drag him to a party. Which is, holy shit, apparently hosted in the giant old colonial house that he’s been obsessed with for the past few months, ever since he first passed it on the way to the photography lab.
“Holy shit,” he says, because this bears repeating. “It’s - how - you know people who have access to this place?”
“Careful, Altman, you’re drooling,” Kate says. Whatever had been holding her attention to her phone has apparently been resolved, because she stows it in her bag and whisks a finger over the side of his chin as if there’s actually something there (which there’s not; he just happens to have a very platonic infatuation with this house, okay). “You make it sound like there are people I don’t know. In this case, we’re on Eli’s invite. I can see if I could get you in sometime?”
“Oh God,” Teddy says, hovering outside of the slightly dilapidated wrought-iron fence, and Kate grins as she pulls him through the gate.
“Come on. You’ll be the belle of Black & White I.”
He takes back all of the mean things he’s ever said to Kate, and most of the mean things he’s ever thought about her, but even a party in his favorite house is still a party, much like every other party he’s attended. There’s music and alcohol and a lot of people, and so he half-heartedly takes a beer and sticks close to Kate as she moves toward the back of the house with an unconscious familiarity that suggests she’s been here before and never told him.
He thinks new mean thoughts to replace the ones he’s just taken back until Kate finds what she’s looking for, which is apparently a black guy with incredible bone structure that’s just a little taller than Teddy. He seems to be a: hiding in the kitchen, and b: the sort of person that, if asked, would swear up and down that he wasn’t hiding in the kitchen, but had staged some sort of tactical retreat. He does look unmistakably relieved as he greets Kate with a kiss, though.
“Eli, Teddy Altman,” Kate says, after she’s stepped away. She motions from the stranger to Teddy with a wineglass that’s mysteriously appeared in one hand, and then back, adding, “Teddy, Eli Bradley.”
“It’s nice to finally put a face to the name,” Eli says, a little stiffly. Teddy is beginning to get the idea that Eli might not be much of a party person either. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Likewise,” Teddy replies, a sympathetic grin tugging at the edge of his mouth. “And... some of it was even good. Maybe like... 25%?” Eli rolls his eyes, but at least he seems to relax a little, so Teddy counts it as a victory. Kate is giving him a vaguely approving smirk, at the very least, so there’s that.
“That’s actually pretty generous of her,” Eli says, dryly. “I was figuring it as something like 10%, at most.”
“You’re good with your hands. It gets you bonus points,” Kate says, patting his arm, and Eli flushes in a way that Teddy would be hard pressed to describe as anything other than adorable. He bites back a smile and takes pity.
“So this is... your party?” he asks, arching a brow and motioning around, and Eli’s face goes through a complicated series of expressions before settling on something of a grimace.
“No. Kind of? My grandmother owns the house -” Teddy makes a noise that can only be described as a whimper (totally against his will and which he is fully planning on being mortified about later) and Eli stops to stare at him.
“Ignore him,” Kate advises. “He has an intimate relationship with this place.”
“What we have is pure, Kate,” Teddy says, scandalized, but at least Eli stops looking at him like he’s crazy.
“I get that a lot,” he confesses, smirking a little. “Actually, a dude asked to use this place for a photography shoot, but it kind of ended up being... this.” He copied Teddy, motioning around the kitchen to indicate the party at large. “I’m here to make sure they don’t destroy anything.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m surprised Kate didn’t warn you,” Teddy says. “You gotta watch out for us photography majors - we’re practically a public menace. They used to post advisories about us on the Art Building doors.”
“Yeah, I’ve kind of caught that,” Eli says, and his smirk turns into a bit of a grin. “But no, actually, it’s pretty reasonable crowd. I think we’re good so long as -”
“Hiya, gorgeous,” a voice right next to Teddy says, and he has a moment to mentally fumble at whether or not he’s the ‘gorgeous’ before a familiar white-haired figure materializes next to him and winds an arm around Kate.
“- Tommy Shepherd doesn’t show up,” Eli finishes, looking like he bit into a lemon. Tommy perks at the sound of his name, looking away from Kate like he’s only just noticed the rest of them are there.
“Talking about me behind my back?” he asks, affecting a wide-eyed look of hurt. “I’m shocked. Wait, no, wrong word. I meant: not surprised in the least.”
“Eli has somehow gotten this insane idea you’re good at causing trouble,” Kate explains, sounding amused, and Tommy hums a little, eyes flicking to Eli.
“Aww, Bradley. I can behave. For you,” he says, dropping his lashes and smirking, and wow, yeah, Teddy’s seeing where Kate is getting her ‘mutual unresolved attraction’ theory from.
“Why are you here?” Eli asks instead of dignifying that comment with anything other than an obvious flush and kind of an odd choking noise he has to swallow down.
“You told Kate you needed moral support,” Tommy says, blinking innocently. “What made you think she wouldn’t invite me?”
“Hope springing eternal,” Eli mutters, darkly.
“Actually, I told him so he could bring his brother,” Kate interjects, and Teddy blinks.
“Brother?” he asks Tommy, something niggling uncomfortably in the back of his mind, something about familiarity and how badly he wished Tommy was his type, once upon a time.
“Oh, yeah!” Tommy bounces away from Kate, still talking even as he ducks out of the kitchen. “He’s just transferred in for the next year - I thought it would do him some good to meet some people before classes-” The door swings shut behind him, cutting off the rest of that sentence, and Eli looks at Kate with a scowl, which she completely ignores in favor of turning to Teddy and arching her eyebrows expectantly.
“Wow,” Teddy agrees, nodding.
“I know, right?” she replies, smirking, and Eli’s scowl deepens, turning a little confused.
“What are you -” he starts, but then the door to the kitchen swings open again and Tommy reappears.
“Right!” he says, stepping aside for the person following him. “So this is my long-lost twin brother -”
“Billy Kaplan,” Teddy breaths, in a rush, as he finds himself staring into surprised - and then furious - familiar brown eyes.
Kate finds him almost an hour later, laying on the third-floor balcony after making what could only be considered the least graceful exit in history.
“So hey, you gonna explain what the hell that was all about?” she says, nudging his empty beer bottle away with her foot and pressing a fresh one into his hand before she takes a seat on the ground next to him, gorgeous outfit and all.
Teddy stares up at the stars. “Yeah,” he says, after a moment. “Okay.”
When he was in high school, Teddy was in love with Billy Kaplan.
(“And I mean,” Teddy says, “we’re talking ‘contemplating-ill-advised-romantic-stunts, belting-out-Taylor-Swift-songs-alone-in-my-room’ levels of infatuation, here.”
“I can’t believe there was a single second I didn’t realize you were gay,” Kate replies, patting him somewhat reverently on the shoulder.)
But when he was in middle school, Teddy was criminally nerdy, overweight, and struggling with his sexuality before he entirely knew what that even was. He came home every day after school and curled up in bed and hated himself with such intensity that it left him breathless. And all that really had nothing to do with Billy Kaplan, except that it meant when he and his mother moved the summer before freshman year all Teddy saw was a single, desperate opportunity. He took the Batman sheets off his bed and stowed his comics and posters and action figures in the cramped attic of their new apartment, and spent every day running, lifting weights in the gym a few blocks away, making himself sick and making his mother worry, until he was someone new. Someone who went into high school that fall and found out he was good at wrestling and even better at hockey; good enough to fall in with Greg Norris and the jocks at the top of the school hierarchy. And who really cared if he spent more weekends than he really cared to going to shitty parties he hated, or if his life felt a little emptier without all the dorky things he never mentioned because of how Greg rolled his eyes and snorted about “geek shit”. He was happy, he told himself. At least he wasn’t miserable, he told himself when he was feeling a little more honest about the whole thing.
And then came sophomore year and Billy Kaplan, and everything went to shit, because Teddy fell absolutely stupid in love with him about two seconds after they met. Billy was gay and geeky and Jewish, and unapologetic about any of it, snarking things about Greg’s manhood even when he was getting shoved into lockers. And, fuck, Teddy pulled Greg away if he caught him, made sure Greg didn’t notice even notice Billy if Teddy saw him first, but he couldn’t always be there, and Billy glared at him through black eyes and split lips in English as a voice chanted in the back of his head: Coward, coward, coward.
So, by the time junior year rolled around: Teddy was in love with Billy Kaplan, Billy hated him, and Teddy didn’t blame him.
Billy had taken to skirting around Greg when he could, because Billy was an unapologetic smartass but he wasn’t stupid, nor was he a particular fan of black eyes. Teddy ran interference when he could, hauled Greg off of whatever unlucky freshman had caught his eye instead, and always broke first when Billy caught his eye, tongue-tied and hating everything. It couldn’t last, he told himself, and it didn’t, because one day he shoved his way through a crowd of people to find some terrified geek cringing against the lockers, Billy standing in front of him, blank with shock, and Greg out cold on the floor.
Teddy got the story second hand, way after the fact: Billy had apparently decided to fuck his tried and true policy of avoidance if it meant someone else would get hurt, and he had gotten lucky – or unlucky – or something, clocking Greg with the first punch he ever threw. Greg was suspended and so was Billy, but when it was over and Greg came back, Billy didn’t. Amongst the rumors he had been shipped off to reform school or that obscenely expensive private school across the city, “his mom yanked him out of the system for home schooling” was the one that seemed to be the truth. In the end, it all meant one thing Teddy could latch onto: that day in the hall, with Billy pale and wide-eyed as he stared down at Greg, was the last time Teddy saw him.
Teddy wasn’t surprised that his circle of friends dwindled when he started telling Greg to fuck off instead of gently nudging him away from whatever freshman he was tormenting that day. It disappeared entirely when Teddy interrupted John Kesler’s attack on one of the more effeminate sophomores by saying he was right there, if Kesler needed to attack a “fag” to make himself feel like more of a man. By the time he started senior year, Greg and Kesler and all their meathead friends knew if they wanted to pick on someone for any fucking reason, they would have six feet of solid muscle to get through first.
Teddy would’ve liked to think he made things better, but all he could ever think, instead, was: Too little, too late.
“And then I came here and didn’t really know what the fuck I was going to do, and then I met you, and, uhm. Thank God for that?” Teddy says. The party has wound down: the photography major and his friends who were taking pictures of a hipster trash version of the Last Supper in the upstairs bathroom when Teddy passed had trickled out across the lawn a while ago, and Kate's still sitting next to him. She hasn’t even touched her phone the entire time; she just listened to the whole thing without judgment, and Teddy is struck – not for the first time – by how incredibly lucky he is to have her. “… So that’s how I know Billy Kaplan, and why I basically ran away and hid on a roof,” he finishes, lamely, after a second.
“You aren’t a coward, Teddy,” Kate says, and he grins a little.
“Did you miss the part where I ran away and hid on the roof?”
“This is a balcony,” she argues. “That is a very important distinction. A sign of bravery.” She pats his leg. “Also, I don’t hate you now, so stop twitching.”
Teddy twitches. “I wasn’t!”
“Yeah, right.” Another pat, and then she gets to her feet, brushing off her skirt and offering him a hand. “Seriously, Ted. You did stupid shit in high school? So did I. So did everyone. It’s just like one big clusterfuck of hormones and bad decisions.” He takes her hand to pull himself to his feet, but she doesn’t immediately let go, looking at him seriously. “The shitty people are the ones that don’t figure that out, Teddy. You –” She presses a finger to his chest, right over his heart. “You did. That makes you one of the good ones. I mean, in case it wasn’t obvious from me being friends with you, since I have excellent taste and I wouldn’t be friends with a shitty person.”
“You do have excellent taste,” Teddy admits, smiling despite himself, and Kate squeezes his hand in response.
“Exactly,” she says. “And you know, if Billy holds that stupid shit against you? He’s probably kind of an ass anyhow, Teddy.” She doesn’t wait for an answer that time; probably because she knows she isn’t getting one, and gives him a smile instead. “Now come on. They’ve probably hit the Wii now that everyone’s gone, and oh my God, do you want to see Eli and Tommy competing.”
“Yeah,” he says, and okay, yeah, now he’s grinning, blatant subject change or no. “You know, I really think I do.”