“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.”
Billy’s gone by the time they get downstairs, and Tommy and Eli are arguing over the Wii in a way that Teddy would categorize as “flirting” and “blatant denial”, respectively. Teddy almost feels bad interrupting them, but Tommy extends the invitation and he’s really not one to pass up a chance to school people in Mario Kart. He has another couple of beers, and ultimately ends up crashing on the couch, waking up somewhere around 3 A.M. long enough to register someone has left him with an afghan and hope Kate’s somewhere upstairs in a puppy pile of boyfriend before he passes out again.
School’s still a few weeks away after that, so he ends up kind of forgetting about the whole thing, except for the part where that’s a complete lie. It just hangs out in the back of his mind, waiting for an inopportune moment to remind him that, oh yes, Billy Kaplan is here, going to the same school as him, and apparently he thinks Teddy’s still the douche that hung around the guys that made his life a living hell in high school. And that’s usually when he goes crawling to Kate for bar hopping or shitty movies or something else to take his mind off things.
“Some people learn from their mistakes instead of dwelling on them until they have a panic attack,” Kate informs him, on the archery range, while Teddy watches her do vaguely terrifying things with a bow and arrow. Granted, Kate operates on a level of personal badass that’s pretty unnerving on the best of days, and he thinks she would have majored in World Domination if it’d been offered, but get a bow in her hands and she really takes it to a whole new level. And of course she uses that time to discuss his personal life, because apparently she thinks the knowledge of how easily she could murder him will make him come to some revelation.
“I’m not having a panic attack about my mistakes,” he tells her. “I learned from my mistakes! Like, a lot!” Then he pauses, and has to add, because she is giving him a look and holding a loaded bow, “… I am having a panic attack about something related to, but completely different from, my mistakes.”
“I suppose that’s a start,” she says, turning her attention back to her target and firing. Teddy gives an appreciative whistle, and she smirks, pulling out a new shaft.
“Hey, Green Arrow, when you start fighting crime, can I be your sassy gay sidekick?” he asks, and Kate rolls her eyes.
“Green Arrow, really? Please, Theodore.” She nocks her arrow, smirking. “I’m the goddamn Batman.”
“You look pathetic,” Kate tells him a week later, over unreasonably good sushi right off campus. “Seriously. I’m having flashbacks to that first day in Design I, when you just kept staring at everyone in fear.”
“That wasn’t fear,” he argues, pointing his chopsticks at her. “That was horror. Very reasonable horror. They made us buy popsicle sticks, Kate.
“Living in this much denial has to be unhealthy,” she replies. “I worry about you boys, I really do,” she adds, and Teddy does something incredibly manly that doesn’t involve sticking his tongue out at her.
“It’s a big school,” he mutters, a week before classes start up again, slouched down on the futon he and Kate had scrounged off the curb and cleaned up for his apartment at the beginning of summer. Beside him, Kate is making a lot of judgmental noises under her breath about This Means War. “I’ll probably never see him.”
He can’t really tell, but he thinks the smirk Kate gives him in the dark is the kind where she’s trying to decide which of her available options would provide her the most amusement. Teddy hates that look. That is a bad look.
“What?” he says, immediately defensive, and she sing-songs, “Nothing.”
And the week after that, Teddy’s got the course catalogue open on his laptop at lunch when someone says, “Dude, you aren’t” about two inches from his ear.
“Jesus Christ,” he hisses, turning to glare at Tommy, who reacts much the same as he usually does after scaring someone into a minor heart attack: with an utterly unapologetic grin.
“Sorry,” he chirps, as if he doesn’t take some sort of special delight in popping out of nowhere and scaring the hell out of people. He nimbly shuts Teddy’s computer and slides into the uncomfortable plastic seat across the table like he was invited, digging into a bag of Chick-fil-A. “Let’s try that again: dude, you aren’t letting my little brother scare you into completely rearranging your schedule.”
“You’re twins,” Teddy points out, rubbing his forehead.
“And I have it on good authority that I am like a minute older.” Tommy waves a waffle fry. “Also, hey: not the point!”
“Yeah,” Teddy murmurs, dropping his head into his hand. “Right. I’m just. Uh. Fuck, it’s… pretty obvious I’m making things… uncomfortable? For him? And I really don’t wanna do that.” It’s the truth, really, but such a small part of the actual reason he’s thinking about juggling around his entire schedule that it sounds lame even to him. It obviously sounds lame to Tommy, because he’s giving Teddy the most eloquent ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ look he’s ever received. “Seriously! I mean, after everything that happened in –”
“If you say ‘everything that happened in high school’, I might have to hit you,” Tommy says, suddenly incredibly serious, and Teddy flinches a little. He may have kind of been avoiding Tommy for… well, exactly this reason.
“I guess that means he told you?”
“Not everything,” Tommy says. “And he didn’t mention you, obviously. But he told me enough, and I mean, I don’t know if anyone told you this, dude, but you’re kind of built like a brick shithouse. It’s not really that hard to figure out which side of the ‘jocks vs. nerds’ thing you were on in high school.”
Teddy hunches his shoulders, staring down at his laptop. It’s covered with stickers, the kind of geeky shit he would never have tried to pull off in high school, and he rubs his thumb over the edge of the Alliance lion sticker Kate gave him as a joke as part of his last birthday present. “I don’t want to remind him of that,” he murmurs. “If that’s what I’m doing, I mean. I got the chance to put all that shit behind me, I just – I don’t wanna fuck up his chance.” He cringes, and presses his lips shut before he can say anything more, anything worse, and sneaks a glance up to Tommy.
Tommy’s watching him with narrowed eyes, and then he finally twitches up a shoulder in a shrug. “I wasn’t lying, y’know, when I called him my long-lost twin brother,” he says.
Teddy blinks. “Uhm,” he says, because what.
“We were adopted out to two different families when we were kids,” Tommy continues, because that’s how he operates. “After that shit with Norris or whatever his name was went down and Billy started home school, I guess he had some time on his hands? So he went looking for our birth mom and found me in juvie instead. My situation at home – it wasn’t great, which is probably kind of fucking obvious, considering, but the Kaplans, they took me in without a second thought. And I mean, I gave them plenty of fucking reason to give it a second thought, at least for a while.” He rubbed his arm. “I guess what I’m trying to say is: we do some stupid shit when we’re teenagers, for a lot of different reasons. Whatever you did or didn’t do in high school, I don’t think you’re that guy anymore. And I’m sure as fuck not gonna hold it against you, because I sorta like you, and also that would kind of make me a gigantic fucking hypocrite. Billy’ll figure that out too, man; fuck, he needs to. Just give him time, okay? And don’t run away. That’ll just mean that whatever picture he has of you in high school is the one he’ll be holding on to, and that’s not fair to either of you.”
Teddy blinks at him again, for an entirely different reason. “Oh,” he says, and then he tries again. “Okay? That’s… kind of what Kate said, too.”
Tommy squints at him. “What, and you needed a second opinion, or something? Fuck, I’m nowhere near as smart as her, Altman.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna kind of have to call bullshit on that,” Teddy says, smiling a little, and Tommy makes a face at him.
“Yeah, whatever. As long as you got it through your thick skull this time,” he says, pulling out another waffle fry. “They shoulda told you to wear a helmet when you were being star quarterback in school or whatever.”
“I went out for hockey, actually,” Teddy offers. “I was a goalie.”
“Oh, shit. So, even worse?”
“Well, I suppose that’s what you’ve got Kate and me for,” Tommy says. “Also, to remind you you’re about to be late for your painting class with my dear baby brother – which I am fucking devastated I didn’t sign up for, by the way.”
“What?” Teddy jerks around to look at the clock on the wall, curses, and sweeps his laptop off the table into his bag as he gets to his feet. And then, well, he kind of hovers. “Uh –”
“Dude, you are excused, get going,” Tommy says, making shooing motions. “I can’t promise you didn’t get the ONE painting TA that gives a shit about people coming in late.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Teddy says, halfway out of the union’s sitting area before he realizes he should probably add, “I mean, for everything!”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever! Now go, asshole! I’ve seen what you consider hurrying, and man, that is nothing to write home about…”
The fact he’s laughing as he tries to make it to the art building on time really doesn’t help, in that area, but screw it. His TA can deal.
Their Art History class is so big it’s located in one of the cavernous lecture halls in the Student Services building, and Teddy actually might not even have realized that yes, this is yet another class he shares with Billy (okay, that’s a lie: he’s pretty sure he would have noticed no matter what), but Tommy is in the same section, and Tommy has ridiculously white-blond hair that has a tendency to make him stand out in any crowd. Teddy had spotted him sitting next to his brother the first day, waving for him to come over and sit with them, but Teddy had taken one look at Billy’s expression and slunk off to the opposite side of the room.
And that’s pretty much how it went for the last week and a half. Today, however, when Tommy comes in, he takes a moment to look around and then makes a beeline for Teddy’s little corner of isolation.
“Hi?” he offers, when Tommy plops down in the seat next to him.
“Hi!” Tommy says, giving him a winning grin, and then he looks back towards the doors at the front of the lecture hall.
“You really think this is gonna work?” Teddy asks, automatically slouching down in his seat a little when he spots Billy come in, because it doesn’t really take a rocket scientist to figure out what Tommy’s doing.
“You know, one of these days, you’re gonna have to learn to accept the fact I am absolutely brilliant and also have the best plans,” Tommy tells him, waving to Billy.
“On your first date with Kate you broke into the Dean’s office,” Teddy points out, watching the play of emotions over Billy’s face as he spots them and apparently tries to decide if sitting with Tommy is worth sitting with Teddy, too. (Tommy’s that expressive, too, actually, and Teddy finds that a little more adorable than he’s completely willing to admit, at the moment.)
“And here I am, six months later, still dating her,” Tommy replies. “So apparently I did something right. And besides, even if it doesn’t work, we live together. If he doesn’t wanna man up and be sociable, I’ll see him at home.”
Teddy laughs. “Right, see, I kind of forgot you’re a total dick for a second there.”
“Hey! That hurt! This is my hurt face!” Tommy’s hurt face looks a lot like his amused face, so Teddy just grins at him. “Anyhow, I don’t have a lot of practice at it, but I am of the opinion that being a good brother occasionally means being willing to metaphorically smack some sense into your siblings,” Tommy adds, grinning back. “And I’m tired of you two moping around. This ain’t middle school. I’m not putting up with this ‘pick a side’ bullshit when the sides are both stupid as hell.”
Billy apparently decides to put up with proximity to Teddy as opposed to sitting alone. Teddy slouches a little more.
“Dude, if you’re trying to pull your head inside your shell, I feel like I should point out that only works for turtles,” Tommy says, patting him companionably on a shoulder.
“How did I forget you’re a total dick, again?” Teddy mumbles, because he’s abruptly aware that he has no idea how to operate in this situation. He’s trying to settle on an expression somewhere between terrified and overeager when Billy drops down into the seat on the other side of Tommy.
“No idea,” Tommy drawls. “But hey, something to bond over, because Billy also happens to think I’m a total dick.” Billy looks over, sharply – his eyes flick momentarily to Teddy, and then back to his brother, and Tommy gives him a lazy grin. “Especially right now, I’m guessing.”
“Thinking you’re an ass is like thinking the Earth revolves around the Sun,” Billy says, after a second. “It’s less an opinion than a scientifically proven fact.”
“It’s so obvious that being ignorant of it is practically medieval,” Teddy suggests, and he does not hold his breath in the hopes that he hasn’t overstepped his bounds, because that would be the stupidest thing ever.
“If it didn’t happen, it would probably be a sign of the Apocalypse,” Billy says. Tommy tilts his head, giving Teddy a smirk that screams, ‘see, I told you, look how smart and awesome I am, I have the best plans’.
“Hell will freeze over, and Tommy will be humble and selfless,” Teddy agrees, and Tommy grins brilliantly.
Man I am so sorry this one took so long! I'll try to be better about the next part. And I'd like to give a shout-out to eisencorgi for helping me through the SECTION THAT WOULD NOT BE WRITTEN.
So Billy stops glaring at him in the three classes they share together and Teddy starts sitting with him and Tommy in their Art History survey, but he still wouldn’t consider them friends, or even really friendly. They’re really just two people who happen to float on the edges of the same circle of friends, or at least that’s what Teddy thinks until he decides to tag along to the coffee shop Billy heads to wait for his brother after Painting, and kind of accidentally ends up in a debate about how badly George Lucas sucks.
“Look, all I’m saying,” Teddy argues, because they’ve been at it for a while and he’s managed to completely forget he’s in a public place where other people can see them, “is the prequels may have been shitty, at but at least they were on tone. In Crystal Skull you go from religious iconography and Nazis to aliens and Cate Blanchett’s inability to decide on an accent.”
“Oh, please.” Billy rolls his eyes, motioning extravagantly (because he never seemed to care that other people could see them in the first place). “’Come for the badass space monks with laser swords, stay for the galactic politics!’? How is that on tone?”
“I really feel like you’re repressing how bad Crystal Skull was,” Teddy says. “Which, don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame you, but CGI gophers and the nuclear fridge escape?”
“And I really don’t think you’ve got a lot of room to stand on if you’re citing unrealistic escapes in a series that had the main characters parachute out of a plane using a life raft in one of the good movies.”
“Calling Temple of Doom good might be kind of a stretch.”
“It beat Phantom Menace to the ‘annoying child sidekick’ thing, yeah,” Billy says. “Oh fuck, now I’m remembering pod racing, I hate you.”
“Shia LaBeouf,” Teddy argues. “Just in general, and also swinging on vines with monkeys.”
“Jar-Jar Binks,” Billy says, tone final, and Teddy flinches back.
“Oh God, no, I was absolutely repressing that,” he says, haunted.
“So hey, you nerds done, or should I come back in an hour?” Tommy says, out of nowhere, and Teddy nearly jumps out of his skin.
“Oh my God,” he says, rounding on Tommy, who looks as unreasonably pleased with himself as he usually does. “Stop doing that, you ass.”
“Hello to you too, big guy,” Tommy says, grinning at him, and then his eyes flick to his brother (who doesn’t look surprised at all, probably because he has to live with this shit). “So? Ready to go? I can seriously come back. Really looked like there was a conversation to be had, there.” Billy rolls his eyes and grabs his bag, and that’s about the time Teddy really realizes he and Billy were talking for something like two hours, straight through Tommy’s last period. He hadn’t even noticed.
He waves and watches them leave and wonders how exactly he should feel about that. Apparently what he eventually decides on is kind of stupidly pleased, which… doesn’t actually surprise him in the least.
Stupidly pleased seems to be the right choice, considering that’s apparently the end of Billy’s unspoken vow to avoid him at almost any costs. He even sets up at an easel fairly close to Teddy’s in their next painting class – not that it actually matters, of course, because Teddy is terrible at painting, and he spent most of their studio time trying to silently glower his canvas into submission while making everything steadily worse. The first chance they actually have to talk is when the bulk of the class has filed out and they’re cleaning up at the sinks afterward, and Teddy groans, “Oh my God, I am terrible at this.”
“Tell me about it,” Billy mutters, darkly, and wow, that might be the first time Teddy’s heard him mad at something that isn’t him in… well, ever. It’s strangely, depressingly heartening. “This is why I didn't take a class with Tommy: if he knew how shitty I am at painting, he would never let me hear the end of it. Not that he has any room to talk - I've seen his font choices. There is no excuse.”
Teddy huffs out a laugh, looking over at him. “Got some strong feelings about font selection there, huh?”
“I’m a Comm Design major!” Billy replies. “It’s a requirement. I’m surprised the entry portfolio wasn’t just an essay on why Helvetica is simply empirically superior.”
“Oh no, didn’t they tell you? That’s the mid-point review. In fact, I heard some guy jokingly argued on behalf of Comic Sans, and they expelled him.”
“I find that entirely reasonable,” Billy replies, solemn, and Teddy grins at him.
“I wondered, you know,” he says, continuing when Billy arches a brow at him curiously. “Why you weren’t Drawing and Painting like Tommy.”
“Because we’re… twins?” Billy says, slowly, with Tommy’s narrow-eyed look of suspicion, like he’s not sure whether or not to be offended.
“No, I mean – Tommy’s more painting, anyhow, right? But I would have figured you’d’ve gone out for drawing.” Billy’s still staring at him, so Teddy drops his eyes and mumbles, “You were so into it in high school, is all,” and does his best not to wince, because that’s the first time he’s broken the unspoken silence about their shared past since they’ve actually started talking.
Billy is silent for so long Teddy finally has to sneak a glance, and he finds Billy still staring at him, but now it’s kind of got a dazed edge to it. Once Teddy meets his eyes, he blinks once and then shakes his head. “Not… everyone goes to college to do the same thing they wanted to do in high school,” he mutters, looking down.
“Yeah, I know, but you were – good. Like incredibly good,” Teddy says, brows furrowing, because this is something different – this is not the conversation he’d expect to have in a mostly empty painting studio with a guy that had spent a solid two weeks trying to set him on fire with the force of his glaring. But, fuck, he probably should have expected this when he brought it up, because in high school Billy drew like he would die if he didn’t do it, all the time, on anything; the margins of his notebooks were less doodled on than illustrated when Teddy had picked them up off the floor after Greg Norris had knocked them out of Billy’s hands. Obviously something serious would have had to happen to completely make that disappear, and Teddy has a brief, terrifying moment where he thinks that shit with Norris might be the reason Billy gave it up. But – no, if that was the reason, he would probably be way angrier with Teddy for bringing it up.
This was something else, and it kind of hangs there, awkwardly, while they put their supplies away in their cubbies and collect the rest of their things. It’s not until they’re on their way out the door that Billy finally says, “I did, actually.”
“What?” Teddy asks, thrown momentarily off-balance. Billy rolls his eyes, but he looks more uncomfortable than exasperated.
“I majored in Sequential Art at – somewhere else,” he explains, as they head for the stairs. “I had some problems, though. Not with the program, exactly, but.” He twitches his shoulders in the most awkward shrug Teddy’s ever seen. “After that I kind of wanted to go somewhere more familiar and closer to home, and Tommy was already going here and the art program is great – but their Drawing and Painting major really isn’t anything close to Sequential Art, and I do have some pretty strong feelings on font choice, so. I came here and went for Comm Design.”
“Oh,” Teddy says. There are hundreds of things he wants to ask – starting pretty obviously with ‘what happened at your other school that you had to completely abandon your major, which you fucking loved’ – but it’s pretty obvious Billy couldn’t possibly want to continue this conversation less. So Teddy just kind of nudges at his shoulder, instead.
“At least we have pretty good sushi,” he points out, when Billy blinks up at him. “I mean, that’s gotta make up for the fact you have to live with Tommy again, at least a little.”
Billy laughs, and Teddy feels something in his chest unwind a little. “You know, I haven’t actually had sushi around here yet.”
“Oh, shut up. You’re joking.” Billy grins, shaking his head, and Teddy nudges him again. “I am clearly gonna need to have a word with your brother about properly introducing you to college-town life. I bet he hasn’t even shown you the comic shop.” Teddy makes a little outraged noise when Billy shakes his head again, still grinning. “Oh my God, We’re rectifying this situation immediately, come on.”
Billy sends a text to his brother at the end of dinner, to let him know where they are, and Tommy shows up thirty minutes later than usual at the comic shop with some lame excuse about having to stop by the advising office and a grin that’s entirely too smug, but Billy’s obviously not thinking about his old college and whatever made him leave anymore, and that’s all that really matters.
And then it’s just habit for Teddy to hang out with Billy when he goes for coffee or comics or sushi, after painting and before he can carpool home with Tommy. They split their time between talking about underrated Batman villains and hilariously terrible Syfy movies, palette selection and film grain, and Teddy ignores the urge to take stock of all the ways Billy’s changed.
Except no one informs his brain of that, and so he knows Billy’s still got the same glower – obviously Teddy was intimately familiar with that glower at this point, thank you, but Billy’s also still bitingly smart and snarky and ready to argue about absolutely anything with honest delight. He smiles more; Teddy’s actually still trying to get used to the fact Billy smiles at him at all, let alone a lot, with this crooked little half-grin of pleasure. That’s… kind of a problem, because the thing is, Billy is also fucking gorgeous.
And the thing is: Teddy thought Billy Kaplan was gorgeous when he was a freshman in high school, and Billy hadn’t been an exceptionally attractive 14-year-old. He had been sort of awkward and gangly, with a sense of fashion that lent itself to some pretty unfortunate outfits and an attitude that lent itself to unfortunate bruising, but Teddy had still thought he was amazing.
And now it’s five years later and Billy is kind of incredibly hot. Teddy knows part of it is that he’s more comfortable in his own skin, but a lot of it is his hips and hands and his mouth, which just makes those crooked little half-grins pretty utterly fucking devastating. But Teddy can deal with that – he is like the Patron Saint of Dealing at this point, except.
There’s a period of two weeks at the end of September and the beginning of October where there’s talk of downsizing the Drawing and Painting program, and one day that they’re all kicked out onto the Art Building lawn while some people from maintenance make a lot of measurements in their studio and discuss how to best utilize the space for as many different classes as possible. And Teddy and Billy may both hate painting, but they’re still art students, and when people from Administration swan in to try and tell them how to run things, they stick the fuck together, which is – he assumes – how Billy ends up standing on the base of one of the sculptures outside.
“You all got in this class for different reasons,” he’s shouting, to the lingering members of their class, though Teddy is sure that this conversation had just been between the two of them all of five seconds ago, “But you all come to the same studio, mostly because they made us. So now I’m asking more of you than I have before, which is not much, because I haven’t talked to most of you.” Billy’s warming up to the speech, all movement and gesturing and a wild grin. “Sure as I know anything I know this: they will try again. Maybe in another college, maybe in this very department swept clean. A year from now, ten, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make programs… better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running! I aim to misbehave.”
He throws his arms out wide and takes a deep bow to the round of applause he receives, and jumps down in front of Teddy with a bright grin.
“‘If you can’t do something smart, do something right’?”Teddy quotes, his heart in his throat, and Billy’s grin turns brilliant.
And that’s about the time that Teddy realizes he is absolutely fucked.
“I have a problem,” Teddy says, sliding into a seat across from Kate at the bubble tea place across the street from the Art Building. She looks up from her phone to arch her brows at him in an expression that’s half ‘yes, I was totally aware that you have problems, multiple’ and half ‘okay, what’s up?’, all without actually disengaging from her straw.
Teddy takes that as encouragement for him to elaborate.
“I have, uh.” Don’t say crush, crush sounds stupid as hell. “Feelings? for Billy,” he says. Kate just keeps looking at him expectantly, so he adds, “… that’s it. That’s my problem.”
She lifts her head, flicking her hair smoothly over a shoulder. “Oh, see, I thought you had a problem that hadn’t been stupidly obvious for like a month now.”
“Thanks for your support, as always, Kate,” he snaps, and she arches a brow.
“Well. Aren’t we in a mood.”
“Fuck,” he hisses, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “I’m… sorry, this is just kind of fucking with my shit.”
She makes a face at him. “Don’t get all snippy, but – seriously, Teddy, weren’t you crushing on this dude in high school? How is this something you’re just now figuring out?”
“Yeah, but that was in high school,” he says, throwing up his hands. “I got over it! Kind of! It’s not like I saw him in that kitchen and went, ‘at last, my hopeless infatuation can continue!’”
“But?” she prompted.
“But…” He scrabbled a hand through his hair, scowling. “Your fucking boyfriend made it his apparent mission in life for us to get along? And – and I can’t tell if this’s something he picked up from you, or what attracted you to him in the first place, but he’s some sort of conniving evil genius, so it worked. So now I don’t just have a residual infatuation left over from high school, now it’s worse than it ever was because Billy is… amazing, oh, and, actually talks to me and smiles at me and – oh God, look what you did. This is all your fault.”
“You are adorable,” Kate says, and yes, he most definitely hates her, sometimes. “Perhaps that’s distracted you from the fact you are both basically adults and you could, I don’t know, ask him out?”
“Yeah, no, that is not going to happen,” Teddy says, immediately. “Because he would say no, and then things would get weird, and – no.”
Kate rolls her eyes. “How do you know that? Has he told you that? I’m guessing he hasn’t, because this really doesn’t sound like a conversation you two have had. In fact, I’m pretty sure that of the people involved in this situation, the one that knows the most about what Billy wants is his brother – which is depressing, Teddy, I really can’t tell you how depressed I am that ‘just talking about this shit’ is so low on your list of viable options, but anyway, apparently Tommy’s made it pretty screamingly obvious he ships that shit.”
“Oh my God he’s discussed this with you!” Teddy says, pointing at her, which warrants another eye roll.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to lock the two of you in a small room together before midterms,” she informs him.
“Jesus.” Teddy drops his head into his hands, feeling vaguely horrified. Kate reaches over to run her fingers through his hair, which makes him feel a little better. Maybe a 5% improvement, max.
“Teddy,” she says, softly.
“I am not fucking this up, Kate,” he breathes.
“Teddy,” she repeats, and then pauses. “Honey, why are you so sure he’d say no?”
Teddy lifts his head to look at her. “Why wouldn’t he?”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Teddy doesn’t actually have time to really, thoroughly freak out about his thing with Billy before he’s busy being really, thoroughly freaked out about finishing his midterm projects. He spends an entire Saturday in the mostly-empty darkroom, squinting for subtle differences in tone with his face way too close to a tray full of developer and sneaking the occasional IM from the corner furthest away from anything photosensitive, until he’s interrupted by someone saying, “Oh my God how do you work in here?” and looks up to find Billy staring blindly through the dim orange light.
“Give it a second, your eyes will adjust,” Teddy says. “Good job on not flipping the light switch when you came in – I would’ve been obligated to at least try and murder you if you ruined my exposure.”
“Contrary to what you may have heard from my brother, I’m not an idiot. Also, I’d like to point out that’s totally the pot calling the kettle black if he ever has.”
“Even he couldn’t claim otherwise with a straight face,” Teddy agrees, with a grin. He flicks a glance toward the clock on the wall and pulls his photo out of the developer, letting the excess drip off before he moves it to the next tray. “And I didn’t think you were, but – I mean, not a lot of people that aren’t photo students come in here, so… why are you?”
“Kate sent me to fetch you,” Billy replies, grinning. “She says when you start talking about getting tattoos you should be removed from art projects immediately.”
“That was one time!” Teddy interjects. “And Behind Saint-Lazare Station would be an awesome tattoo.”
“Also I talked to the lab attendant and he says he’s pretty sure you’ve been here longer than him and you haven’t left, therefore you haven’t eaten.”
“Peter Parker exaggerates! Just ask the building manager – I mean, he usually goes with the term ‘lies’, but…”
“Was he the angry dude with the Hitler ‘stache that I caught glaring at me when I came in?” Billy asks, arching a brow. “Because if so, more power to him for trying to bring that shit back, but I think I’m gonna agree with the friendly neighborhood lab attendant in absence of any other evidence. Which means I get to threaten to switch on the overhead light to get you to come out and eat with me before you die an ignoble death via hunger and chemistry fumes.”
“You have been talking to Kate.” Teddy moves his picture to the fixer, and then rubs a hand through his hair, looking up at the clock – he’s been thinking in developing times, seconds and minutes, utterly ignoring the hour hand, but now that Billy’s called his attention to how long he’s been working without a break, he realizes he’s absolutely starving.
“I have. And since she can’t be here, it is my responsibility to coax, threaten, and possibly bribe you out of this lab,” Billy says, with another grin. Apparently his eyes have adjusted to the light a bit more, because this one is actually directed at Teddy. “And in addition to threatening to turn on the lights, I have also been authorized to offer you one meal, on us in exchange for – and I quote – ‘maybe going home and sleeping on the decision to get famous works of art indelibly inked onto the canvas of your skin’.”
Teddy opens his mouth to pretend like he isn’t calculating the absolute minimum amount of time he’ll need before he can leave, only to snap it closed again when his stomach growls audibly. Teddy’s fairly sure he’s blushing hard enough to be obvious even in the dim darkroom light.
“Sushi?” Billy suggests, biting his lip and smiling in sympathy.
“Yeah,” Teddy mutters, helplessly.
The lab’s closing by the time Teddy finally finishes up, and they give Peter a wave when he appears to start cleaning up as they head out of the building. The sushi place is within walking distance, and they skirt the main drag off campus, which is as crowded with barhopping students as can be expected on a Saturday evening.
The oppressive summer heat has finally faded, and Teddy burrows a little deeper in his coat, tucking his hands in his pockets and shooting a look over at Billy. “So why are you even up here this late?” he asks, as they make their way down the street.
“You don’t think I’d brave highway traffic just to save you from yourself?” Billy responds, flashing him a grin. “We’ve really gotta work on that self-esteem of yours.”
Teddy barks out a laugh, hastily lifting a hand to cover his mouth because wow that was a little louder than was entirely called for and Billy really has no idea. He is kind of giving Teddy a weird look now, though, so Teddy swallows the rest of his slightly hysterical laughter and shoves his hands in his pockets again instead. “Uh, no, I just – know Kate, and she wouldn’t call you all the way up here just for that. She’d’ve, I don’t know, bribed Peter to kick me out early, because terrifying efficiency is her middle name. It’s probably one of the reasons she’s double majoring. … and maybe why she’s got two boyfriends. That or she’s actually Two-Face and has to do everything in twos.”
There’s a moment of silence as they contemplate that.
“He did have those two women in Batman Forever,” Billy muses, thoughtfully.
“Oh my God their colorations are even the exact opposite,” Teddy breathes, vaguely horrified.
“Does this make you the Riddler? Because I don’t really know if a bedazzled leotard would work for you,” Billy says, giving Teddy a once-over as they stop at a light.
“Hold that thought until you see my Halloween costume,” Teddy mutters, rubbing the back of his neck. “And you… never actually answered my question.”
“What?” Billy blinks. “Oh! Right. I might also be my brother’s designated driver. For someone that pretends not to care about his major as much as he does, he’s not exactly subtle about how relieved he is the university has backed off the department. I’m betting he’ll just end up crashing at Kate’s anyhow. When I dropped him off he was giving her nothing but ridiculously over-the-top innuendo about paying her back, which is pretty obviously just covering how happy he is about it.”
“Oh yeah?” Teddy arches a brow as the light changes and they start across the street – he had ended up telling Kate about the Drawing and Painting department’s budget problems so she would stop making the big worried eyes at him over bubble tea. Predictably, her expression had gone utterly, ominously blank instead, and then she had gathered up her purse and her phone and excused herself, texting furiously, to go make life terrifying for someone else. (Now that he thinks about it, none of this is really doing a lot for the case against Kate being a supervillain.)
“Yeah. By the way, can I just say I, for one, am kind of vaguely terrified we have a friend that has the clout to arrange a meeting between the dean of the art college and the president of the university? Because that is scary. No woman should have that power. But from what Tommy tells me, Dean Rogers and President Danvers go back a ways, so he just kind of made sad eyes at her until she backed down.”
“Oh my God,” Teddy says. “I’m shocked we aren’t getting a new building out of the deal. I don’t know if you’ve actually seen Dean Rogers yet? Because I’m pretty sure his face should be outlawed. I can’t even imagine sad eyes.”
“Oh no, I’ve met him,” Billy offers. “At my orientation. He shook my hand and I’m pretty sure I giggled. They really shouldn’t even let him come to those things – the art program really has to suffer for all of the potential students he makes expire from lust or sheer embarrassment.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Teddy sighs, though admittedly he’s not actually thinking about their all-American Greek god of a dean at the moment, and more about the way Billy looks under the streetlights. “Even Kate isn’t immune, and it’s Kate.”
“Who has a mind that leans towards terrifying efficiency on par with some of the better supervillains,” Billy hums, and then he tips his head and grins. “By the way, what’s Behind Saint-Lazare Station?”
“Oh, uh.” Teddy flushes, a little, but he fishes out his phone to do a quick image search. He shows Billy the results, offering, “By Henri Cartier-Bresson. It’s sort of exemplary of this concept called the decisive moment – that there are moments that entirely, perfectly express an event. Like this one, or… that picture of the sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day. They’re classic photographs because they’re those single perfect moments, and that’s what makes a great photographer, the ability to recognize and capture them. Or at least –” He waves his hands a little, tucking his phone away and hunching his shoulders a little in embarrassment, “– that’s what it means to me.”
Billy blinks at him, looking startled. “That… would be a pretty awesome tattoo,” he agrees, quietly, and then he breaks out into a little smile. “Still probably not the kind of decision you’d want to make after spending a day in the darkroom on no food.”
“No,” Teddy admits, rubbing the back of his neck. “… and last year I kind of got fucked up during finals and told Kate I was getting an Inception quote done. She caught me halfway from my dorm to that skeezy parlor across the street from the language building.”
Billy bursts out laughing. “Oh my God. What quote?”
“’You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling’,” Teddy recites, dutifully affecting the accent and sending Billy off into a new round of giggles. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad she stopped me – I mean I hadn’t slept in like two days and I’m pretty sure I’d catch something just looking at the needles in that place, but quote or no, I still think it’s a pretty good motto to live by.”
“You’ve certainly applied that to your potential ill-advised tattoos,” Billy says, when he manages to stop laughing. “Eames, I am impressed,” he adds, obviously trying to affect some semblance of normalcy as they come to the restaurant and then duck inside.
“Your condescension – as always – is much appreciated, Arthur, thank you!” Teddy hums, and he grins at their confused hostess like it’s the most normal thing in the world for Billy to slump against him in a desperate attempt to muffle a new round of giggling against his shoulder.
Teddy finishes his midterm projects between cramming for his two actual midterm exams; by the time he drags himself home on Friday, he’s not surprised that he’s incredibly, impossibly tired. And there’s a cold snap over the weekend, so he’s really not worried by the number of blankets he finds it necessary to pile onto his bed on Sunday. And really, he just deserves Monday off; it has nothing to do with how much effort it takes to even shuffle to the kitchen.
By Wednesday, he wanders through hallways that never end, talking to his father, and starts to get a little worried.
Teddy puts that out of his mind, because he’s not altogether sure he could navigate the stairs down to the door right now even if he was capable of movement, and then he must fall asleep again, because the next thing he knows he’s coming awake to the sound of someone knocking on his bedroom door, and then Billy pokes his head in.
“Teddy?” he says, cautiously, and Teddy stares.
“How did you get in my apartment?” he asks, after a long moment of trying to decide if this was another dream or not.
“Kate gave me her key,” Billy offers, slipping inside. He’s got a plastic bag dangling from one hand, and disappears almost immediately into the bathroom (which really doesn’t spell good things for the ‘not a hallucination’ thing), but Teddy is focusing on other things.
“Kate has a key?”
Billy puts his head out of the bathroom to squint at him. “I can’t tell if that’s the fever talking, or just Kate being terrifying.”
“Kate’s always terrifying,” Teddy advises. “The question is moot.”
Billy comes out of the kitchen with a tiny cup of water that looks like it came off some sort of medication and his hand curled around something – pills, apparently, because he gives them to Teddy, along with the cup, and then fetches the desk chair to sit next to the bed.
“You apparently saw your dead father,” Billy points out, as Teddy takes the pills. “I think the question is incredibly relevant.”
“It’s okay, we actually had a pretty nice talk,” Teddy says. “He died before I was born so I never met him but he told me he was proud of me,” he adds, and Billy's staring at him with an expression he's never seen before. It makes Teddy want to apologize and he doesn't know why, but he's done a lot of stuff worth apologizing to Billy for over the years, so he does it anyhow.
“Don’t – don’t say you’re sorry,” Billy says, voice catching a little. “Just… go to sleep, Mr. Eames.” Teddy opens his mouth to argue, or... something, he is pretty sure he has something planned when he does that, but then Billy starts running his fingers through his hair and yeah. He can sleep. He thinks he could do anything, right now, so long as it meant that would keep happening.
When he wakes up again, his bedroom is mostly dark, a sliver of yellow light leaking from his cracked bathroom door. His desk chair is by the bed and there are more pills and a glass of water next to his phone on the nightstand, and he also feels more human than he has in days, so apparently Billy coming by and giving him Tylenol hadn’t been a dream. Most of the things he wants to feel about that are really too exhausting to even contemplate, so he just takes a few more pills, wraps himself up in a blanket, and goes downstairs.
He notices the TV is on in the living room on the second step, so he’s not incredibly surprised when he finds Billy on his futon.
“Hi,” Billy says, and when Teddy just stares, he kind of cringes. “Uh… sorry about just making myself at home? You were kind of… not incredibly friendly with reality.”
“Yeah, no, it’s fine!” Teddy says, shaking himself out of his daze. “Sorry, just…” He waves a hand, vaguely, but Billy seems to get it, because he relaxes. And, well, since hovering on the stairs is getting kind of awkward, Teddy decides the only logical option is to finish what he was doing and shuffle into the living room.
“Are you okay to be up and around?” Billy asks, scooting over to make room on the futon, and Teddy’s not gonna argue with that. It takes him a second after settling in to realize Billy’s watching Stargate and doing his astronomy homework, and he gets stuck halfway between thinking that’s hilarious and thinking it’s adorable, so he completely forgets to answer for a second or – thirty.
“Oh, right!” he says, when he realizes why Billy’s still looking at him. “Apparently I probably shouldn’t… operate heavy machinery right now, but I feel a lot better. And I just spent like two straight days in bed, so that’s kind of the last place I want to be right now.”
“If you say so,” Billy says, arching a dubious brow. “You were kind of out of it when I got here. You, uh. Mentioned your dad.”
Teddy winces, a little. “Oh, God, that’s right.”
“Sorry,” Billy offers, and Teddy distinctly remembers him making that same face the first time this came up. It still makes him want to apologize, but it also kind of makes Teddy want to kiss him, so he looks away and focuses on the TV with a bit more intensity than Richard Dean Anderson really deserves.
“No, I’m sorry. For, uh, dropping that on you?” Billy makes a little noise, and nudges at his shoulder a little.
“Dude, you don’t have to apologize for your fever dreams,” he says, and when Teddy sneaks a glance, he’s fiddling with his pencil. “And I get it, I think. I mean – I mean, I know Tommy told you, that I never knew my birth mom.”
“Yeah,” Teddy breathes, looking back at the TV. And he really means to let it drop there, but – maybe it’s coming off two days of fever, or maybe it’s just the entire semester, but he ends up just talking. He tells Billy everything – about the cancer that killed Walter Altman less than a month before he was born, the ultrasound photo that his father had been cremated with, since he hadn’t lived to see his son; about his mother sitting him on her knee and telling him about the strange man in the pictures, tall and blond and perfect in Marine dress blues, that was his father; about her folding his hands around the last Polaroid camera his father had ever owned and helping him take his first picture. Teddy tells him about how absolutely fucking terrified he is now that he’s in school for it, what he loves and what his father loved, even if his mother squeezes him with tears in her eyes and tells him how proud his dad would be if he could see him now – and that’s the one thing he doesn’t mention, the thing that probably has a lot more to do with fever dreams than anything else: the crawling, clawing fear that seizes him sometimes, that if his father could see him now he wouldn’t be proud at all; that he would actually be disappointed, disgusted.
Teddy is absolutely blaming the fever for this, later, but Billy just listens until he finally runs out of words and ends up staring blankly at the TV. And then Billy nudges up against his shoulder, and stays there, until Teddy looks at him again.
“You’re a great guy, Teddy,” he says, with a little smile. “And a fantastic photographer. You’re like two months into your first actual semester of photography classes and it’s already stupidly obvious, and I’m not just saying that because you’re sick and I have to be nice to you. And hell, if you don’t believe me: you’re questioning your mom? Come on.” His smile widens into a grin, and Teddy feels the edge of his mouth tug up in response.
“She’d never let me hear the end of it if she knew,” he agrees, and Billy nudges his shoulder again in response.
“Exactly. And just think about what Kate would do.”
“She would shoot me.”
“She would absolutely shoot you. And she has a key to your house,” Billy points out. “Dude, clearly the only thing to do is rock that shit like you own it. For your personal safety.” He widens his eyes, utterly serious, and Teddy finally loses it, leaning against him and laughing.
“I gotta say, not enough people go for the ‘be more confident or else’ pep talk,” Teddy giggles helplessly.
“I’m a visionary,” Billy agrees, solemnly. “I should write a book.”
Two straight days in bed or not, after a soup, and a shower, and an abortive attempt to offer Billy a ride home that nets him nothing but the driest look he’s ever received in return, Teddy drifts off in the middle of a relentlessly awful Syfy movie. He doesn’t know how long it is before Billy nudges him awake again, but the Daily Show is on with the volume down low, and Billy’s smiling at him in a way Teddy doubts he’d be altogether prepared to deal with even if he was totally lucid.
“I’m pretty sure spending the night propped up on a futon wouldn’t be the smartest option for getting you healthy again, Eames,” he murmurs.
“You’d be surprised, darling,” Teddy sighs, and completely forgets to hope Billy doesn’t take that the wrong way, as he shuffles back upstairs and falls into bed.
One of my professors did actually have a tattoo of it, and it was awesome, but he probably did not come by it after spending a day in the darkroom without food.
And the name Walter Altman is based on Captain Marvel's alias (Walter Lawson).