Teddy realized something was wrong when he awoke collapsed on a stone floor, debris jutting into the small of his back at uncomfortable angles, and the heavy taste of dust in his mouth. He pried his eyes open, a seemingly impossible feat in his current condition, and scanned the room. The first thing that hit him was how dark it was. There was no light in the room, natural or otherwise, as though the sun had been stolen from the sky. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he realized he was alone, the sound of his shallow breaths filling the otherwise empty room. The room was more like a cell, damp and crumbling, cracks running across the ceiling in wild formations. Teddy propped himself up on his elbows, ignoring the jolt of pain that the movement sent through his back. He stood shakily, legs giving out before he could even reach his full height. He caught himself on the wall to the left of him, moving along it slowly. A dim light flickered on in the dark, and then another, and another, lighting the whole room in a fluorescent glow. Teddy flinched at the sudden light, raising a hand to shield his eyes.
“Hello?” His voice was rough from disuse, echoing through the vacant chamber. No response came and Teddy felt what little hope he had of rescue, or at the very least companionship, shrivel up in his chest. A soft click rang through the cell, Teddy’s head whipping around to find the source of the noise. A door had appeared, leading down a dark hall with only a single pinpoint of light to lead the way. Teddy took in a deep breath of air, steadying himself, and pushed off of the wall. He stumbled over to the door and stepped through. He gave the cell one more glance, a single once over before turning his back on it. He steeled himself for the worst and forced himself to move towards the light. It grew larger and larger until it towered above him, a twenty-foot entrance to an arena, lights flashing and the cheers of a crowd overwhelming Teddy’s senses. A booming voice drew Teddy’s attention to the center of the arena, where a large hologram hovered above the ground, form flickering as it spoke.
“Welcome, welcome, everybody our first contestant, fresh from Terra and ready to fight, HULKLING!” Teddy froze as the being gestured towards him. A deafening roar filled his ears as the crowd turned their eyes to him, all of them clambering to get a look of him. “Look at those muscles, folks, isn’t he a brute?”
The door across the arena slid open, kicking up the dirt covering the floor. “And here we have his opponent, another Terran newcomer, WICCAN!” Teddy felt his stomach drop to his feet as he connected the dots. The arena was to pit him and his boyfriend, his ‘opponent’, against each other in battle. “Now, isn’t he a looker? And with power to boot! But enough talk, let’s R-R-R-R-RUMBLE!”
Billy locked eyes with Teddy, expression clear even from a distance. He looked as panicked as Teddy felt, cape in shreds and tears littered across his costume. Teddy assumed he was in a similar state, he hadn’t taken the time to check himself over.
“Billy!” He sprinted to his boyfriend, colliding with him in the center, wrapping his arms around the smaller boy. A small disc was implanted on the side of his neck, silver and blue. Billy didn’t seem bothered by it, but Teddy had to make sure. “Did they hurt you?”
“No, no, I’m okay. Did they hurt you?” Billy placed his hands on Teddy’s cheeks.
“Who cares?” Teddy couldn’t help the grin that grew on his face at the reunion of him and his boyfriend.
“I do!” The two embraced once more, Billy’s face in the crook of Teddy’s shoulder, and Teddy’s in Billy’s unruly hair. They stayed like that for a moment that passed like a century, letting the rest of the arena fall away in that single second. When they separated, hands still woven together and bodies a millimeter apart, a murmur ran through the crowd. A flurry of whispers flew through the stadium, outrage erupting throughout the crowd. Somewhere in the mass of people, a boo started. It swept over the arena like a wave until the entire stadium was engulfed by the sound.
A voice boomed above the booing, the same that had introduced the two. “What are you waiting for? Fight!” Teddy felt his body shift, growing larger as he pulled Billy even closer, as if that could keep him safe.
Teddy leaned into his boyfriend’s ear, voice low as he spoke. “Can you get us out of here?” Billy had transported them between worlds before, he could surely do it again. Except… Teddy had felt odd ever since waking up in his cell, and he wasn’t sure how that would affect Billy’s powers.
Billy’s face screwed up in an adorable manner, his thinking face, Teddy recognized, concentration clear on his face. “I haven’t tried yet, but it’s probably worth a shot.” He bit at his lip before preparing himself. “Iwantustogohomeiwantustogohomeiwantustogohome,” Teddy waited for a beat. And another. And nothing happened. Billy’s face was downcast, confusion easy to read. “Something’s wrong. I know my magic is there. I can feel it. It’s like there’s a block or something.”
Teddy’s eyebrows knitted together, concern for his boyfriend growing. “Can you cast anything? Or is it all just,” He paused, searching for the right word. “Inaccessible?”
“Lemme check,” He thought for a moment. “Iwanttofixmycapeiwanttofixmycapeiwanttofixmycape.” Billy’s cape began to mend itself, at once untampered where it had been in shreds, and the confusion on his face grew. “Maybe it’s just that spell? Just spells that can take us out of here?”
The voice came again. “Hey! What part of ‘fight’ don’t you two understand?”
Billy shouted from his place in his boyfriend’s arms, “We won’t fight each other! You can’t make us!” He pulled away readying himself for a fight against whoever tried to keep the two of them apart.
The voice chuckled, cocky and self-assured. “Yes, I can.” And with that, a jolt of electricity ran through Teddy’s body, a scream ripping through his throat involuntarily. Beside him, Billy was on his knees, clearly suffering the same treatment.
“NO!” Teddy clawed at the dirt floor, pain coursing through his body with each movement. “BILLY!”
“You see, either you fight each other, and the winner gains his freedom,” He paused, another chuckle sounding across the arena before he spoke once more. “Or you both die.” Horror pooled in Teddy’s stomach. The voltage stopped and the two collapsed to the ground.
Teddy forced himself to meet Billy’s eyes, the pain sharp in his eyes, piercing Teddy’s heart. He reached out, intertwining their fingers and forcing out a grim smile.
“Teddy,” Billy’s voice was raw. Not the kind that Teddy knew, the kind that came from singing for hours on end, keeping in perfect time with the recording of Sound of Music, laughing and dancing around Billy’s apartment when it was just him and Teddy and the rest of the world had fallen away. This was a painful noise, and Teddy could practically feel it physically, deep in his gut. “Teddy, I’m not letting you die.”
“What, so I’m supposed to stand here and let you kill yourself?” Teddy shook his head furiously. “That’s not happening,” He pushed himself off of the ground, muscles protesting, and offered a hand to his boyfriend.
“Well, you heard him. Either one of us makes it out,” Billy grunted as he pulled himself off the ground with the help of Teddy. “Or neither of us do. And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather go with choice A.”
“Of course, I want one of us to live. I just think it should be you.” Billy scowled at that, opening his mouth to retort, when the voice spoke again.
“Less talking, more fighting, please!” Another wave of electricity shot down Teddy’s spine, shorter this time, less painful, but still distinctly there. A ubiquitous threat, an invisible cattle prod if Teddy stepped even a toe out of line.
“Billy, just let me lose. Please.” Teddy enveloped his boyfriend’s hands in his own. “I’ll be fine, I promise.”
Billy wouldn’t look him in the eye, posture slumped and frown set into his face like it was carved of stone. “I know you will be.” He took a step back from Teddy and raised his hands. “I’m sorry.” Billy began his spell before Teddy even had the chance to process what was happening. “Youhavetowinthisfightyouhavetowinthisfightyouhavetowinthisfight.”
Teddy felt Billy’s magic encompass his mind in a thick fog, pulling control away from Teddy and transferring it to Billy. His fist pulled back of its own accord and came smashing directly into Billy’s face. He drew another punch, and Billy just stood there, taking it. Distantly, he could hear the crowd, cheers filling the arena as Teddy landed each punch, each kick, every choice his body made that he wished he could stop. Billy had fallen to the ground, unmoving, whether by choice or because the beating was too severe, Teddy couldn’t tell. His foot rammed into Billy’s stomach and Teddy felt as though he were the one on the ground, wished for it even.
Teddy didn’t know how long their one-sided fight went on. It could have been anywhere from just a few minutes to a few millennia for all he could tell. By the end, Billy’s eyes had slid shut, his face bloodied, with reddened areas where bruises were sure to form by the week’s end. If he even lasted that long. Teddy’s knuckles were split and tenderized. The sight of them made him sick.
The voice came to life again. “Our winner, everybody, give it up for HULKLING!” At those words, the distinct rumbling of another door opening behind Teddy sounded and the fog across Teddy’s brain lifted. He regained control of his body just seconds after his fist met Billy’s face with a sickening crunch. Bile rose in Teddy’s throat at the sight of his boyfriend, curled into himself on the ground, imprints of Teddy’s fists still visible across his face. Teddy distantly registered that the small disc had fallen from his neck, no longer active.
“Oh, God…” Teddy collapsed beside his boyfriend, stomach turning over at the sight of the damage he had caused. “Billy,” He reached out a hand, fingers barely brushing over Billy’s cheek for fear of breaking him. His nose was bent at an odd angle, the result of Teddy’s last punch, and gushing blood. His lips were stained by the blood, a brilliant scarlet, reminiscent of his cape’s color. He placed one hand between Billy’s shoulder blades and the other behind his knees, picking the smaller boy off of the ground with whatever strength he could muster. “I’m so, so sorry.” He whispered his apologies into Billy’s hair, matted with blood after their fight, words flowing from his mouth, falling onto deaf ears.
He sprinted towards the newly opened door with Billy in his arms, getting about halfway to his goal before the voice, one that Teddy had grown to loathe in his short time in the arena, spoke. “Hey, hey, hey! What do you think you’re doing? Put him down!” Teddy ran on, ignoring the protests. He stepped through the door, flinching when electricity ran through Billy’s body, eliciting grunts of pain. He dashed down the dark hall, careful as he could manage not to jostle Billy. Heavy footsteps echoed behind Teddy, gaining on him as he ran.
A gunshot sounded behind him and Teddy felt his shoulders tighten. He turned, met with a soldier clad in heavy armor that obscured their face. His body warped, larger than before, ripping his already tattered costume even more, into his best imitation of his namesake. His rippling muscles grew and grew, an intimidating sight, if the slump in the soldier’s posture was anything to go by. The soldier cocked their rifle, taking aim at Teddy and the boy in his arms, when Teddy’s arm shot out, skin turning to scales and fingers turning to elongated claws. He snatched the gun from the soldier, claws raking across their chest as he did so, piercing through the heavy-duty armor.
The soldier collapsed, and Teddy took the opportunity to run. He raced through the labyrinth of halls, every twist and turn feeding the hopelessness that sat heavy in his gut, every moment he held Billy close another moment closer to him never holding Billy again. More soldiers came. Teddy fought them off. A seemingly endless cycle, finally, finally broken by an exit from the maze. A small door opened into a busy street, lively and bustling with the post-battle crowd. Teddy let his body shift into a new form, something a bit more inconspicuous to blend into the streets. Teddy wormed his way through the mass of people, anxiety curled in the pit of his stomach as he searched for some way off of the godforsaken planet.
His ticket home was found in a discreet alley, hidden away in the shadows. It was a beat-up ship, clearly functioning, but still marred by the scratches that came from years of travel. Teddy crept closer, eyes darting around the alleyway for any signs of the owner. When he saw none, he took another step. He ran his fingers along the side of the ship, searching for the entrance to no avail. Behind him, the all-too familiar cocking of a gun sounded. He turned on his heel, ready to fight. He was greeted by the sight of an imposing green woman, a blade in either hand, a tattooed man with a similar choice of weapon, a human man, two pistols pointed at Teddy. Beside him stood what looked to be a raccoon, hoisting a machine gun, and a sentient tree.
He held up one arm in surrender, using the other to support Billy. His mind raced. One against five weren’t great odds, but he’d been dealt worse hands. He could find a way out of it. The green woman broke the silence that had befallen the group.
“What is a skrull doing on Siccar? Shouldn’t you be off conquering planets somewhere?” Siccar. So that’s where he was. He took in a shuddering breath.
“I just want to help my friend. Please.” The group turned their attention to Billy, confusion marring their faces at his obvious injuries, blood still slick and wounds still fresh. “This is your ship, right? Can you please just give us a ride to earth? Or terra? Or whatever you call it?”
The human man shot Teddy a suspicious look, eyebrow raised in disbelief. “You’re friends with a terran?”
Teddy felt anger boil up inside of him, red hot and searing in his chest. “You’re friends with a raccoon. Or is it your pet?”
“Hey, hey, hey! I am nobody’s pet!” The raccoon spoke, jabbing his finger at Teddy. “And I ain’t a raccoon, either!” Teddy stepped back instinctively, cradling Billy to his chest.
The humans face softened in understanding. “So, you need a ride to terra? Fine. C’mon.” He jerked his head towards the ship, ignoring the protests from the rest of his group.
“Aww, come on, Quill!”
“I am Groot.”
The man, Quill, gestured Teddy into the newly opened ship. “We’ll be there in no time. You can… rest, I guess.” The words were barely out of his mouth before Teddy collapsed on the nearest flat surface, world fading to black as exhaustion took over.
Teddy’s dreams were haunted with the coliseum on Siccar, the endless crowd, the echoing voice, and Billy’s broken, bloodied face.
When he woke, it was to the voice of Blue Swede drifting through the ship, a shockingly earthen tune for a team composed almost entirely of aliens. He raised himself up from the ground, blinking the sleep out of his eyes as he did so. Billy sat beside him, hood pulled over his face, and knees brought up to his chest, but clearly awake, breathing, alive.
“Billy?” His reaction was instantaneous, head snapping up to meet Teddy’s eyes.
“Teddy!” He reached out to Teddy, pulling back at the last second, as if by a greater force. He looked afraid. Of course he did, after what Teddy did to him. “How do you feel?”
“I’m fine,” His fingers twitched, aching to reach out to his boyfriend, envelope him in his arms and hold him until he could be sure he was okay. “What about you? You’re the one who took a beating.” He flinched at his own words. There was a beat, an awkward silence that Teddy wasn’t familiar with in all the time he’d known Billy. Something in the air between them that needed clearing. “I’m sorry.” It came out a whisper, broken and filled with despair, every ounce of grief he held, all the guilt poured into those two words.
Billy’s lips parted in confusion, brow drawing together. “What do you have to be sorry for?”
“I- I hurt you,” He averted his eyes.
“No!” His eyes snapped back to Billy at the outburst. “It was my fault! I’m the one who cast the spell. I controlled you,” His voice began to crack. “You couldn’t help it.” His eyes watered, and Teddy felt his heart break. He had beaten Billy to the point of unconsciousness and Billy thought it was his fault.
“But I should’ve been able to!” He should’ve. There shouldn't've been any power in the world that could make him do that to somebody he loved.
Their argument was disrupted by a noise from the doorway. “Hey! We’re at terra! Get off now, before we decide to eat you!” That was the raccoon.
Quill’s voice followed. “We’re not gonna eat you!” And then, in a hushed tone, “Stop telling people we’re gonna eat them.”
Tears streaked down Billy’s cheeks, both dried tracks and fresh ones. It was Teddy’s fault. Not only did he beat his boyfriend within an inch of his life, he made him cry. Talk about insult to injury.
“I don’t blame you.” Billy reached out a hand, cradled Teddy’s face. “I could never.” He let his hand fall to join Teddy’s, tangles his fingers with his, and tugs. “Let’s go home. Please.”
And for the first time since waking up in that cold, dark cell, Teddy let a smile overtake his face. He stepped out of the ship, into the warm light of the sun, a sight he’d never been so glad to see. “Yeah. Let’s.”