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each breath’s a breakthrough

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“I am asking for some help,” Billy says.

“Hold up, hold up,” Danny says, tapping on the screen of the phone running the video call. “I’m gonna need you to repeat that, I wasn’t screen recording this.”

Billy rolls his eyes. “You done yet?”

Jamie shrugs. “As soon as you repeat the statement, sure.”

Billy sighs, “I am asking for some help.”

“Perfect,” Danny says, “What do you need?”

“Don’t laugh.”

 

Billy took government his senior year of high school. Or, Billy was supposed to take government his senior year of high school but accidentally summoned an interdimensional parasite and had to flee New York.

Mistakes were made.

Billy still graduated. He did fine.

 Now, he could use some help.

“We’re going you a great act of service,” Jamie says seriously, “We expect to be appropriately compensated.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m getting you out of class,” Billy says, “I think that might make us even.”

“Debatable.”

Billy sighs and regrets his actions.

It’s surreal, walking through the walls of the high school that once felt like a prison. Billy used to be so anxious, stepping through the glass doors. It feels so much smaller now, quieter. There’s the buzz of loud voices and the thump of quick feet running to class, but it doesn’t feel crushing. He doesn’t know if it’s because he’s spent all of his years since high school heroing or if it just means he’s getting older.

Jamie and Danny have the same government teacher Billy did. Mr. Green has been teaching civics at Eastview for almost twenty years. He even has the same classroom that he did when Billy attended class. They get to class before Green; Billy tries to look less out of place by leaning against the classroom’s back wall. This doesn’t work, but he feels better having tried. 

Mr. Green enters the room a beat after the bell, which prompts some heckling from the students in desks. He sits down at his desk, straightening up a stack of printed papers in front of him. Even though the nearly two dozen students have all noticed Billy standing in the back of the room, Green has not yet.

Danny shoots his hand in the air. “Mr. Green!”

“Dan,” Green says,

“Mr. Green, remember when Jamie and I asked if we could bring in a real-life example of why paying attention to how government runs is important? And you said if the example was accurate and the class could all talk about it we’d all get five points of extra credit?”

“Yes,” Mr. Green says, looking up from his desk towards Danny, “What have you brought?” 

Billy flinches as twenty-one teenagers turn to point at him.

“Hi,” Billy says, waving, “I’m Jem and Dan’s older brother and I’m here because I didn’t go to my government classes.”

 

“Do the thing,” Jamie says, “Come on, do it.”

“You have to do it,” Danny says, “Come on Billy.”

Jamie starts a drumroll on the top of his desk, which is quickly picked up by the rest of the room.

“I have come to the conclusion that you are getting more out of this than I am,” Billy mutters before clapping his hands. “I never wear civies anymore.”

At the sound of the clap, everyone in the room blinks. When they open their eyes Billy waves. He’s sitting cross-legged in midair, suit covered in stars with layered green and red cloaks wrapped around his shoulders.

Billy spots no less than twelve cell phones sneak out of pockets.

“Hypothetically,” He says, “How would you start to build a government for a society born out of two cultures who tried to tear each other apart for thousands of years?”

“Hypothetically,” Mr. Green says wryly.

“Well,” Billy says, pressing the first speed dial on his phone. “Maybe not so hypothetically.”

“Hey B,” Teddy says, “Hello Eastside High Government Class? I feel like I need to apologize for also skipping government. In my defense, we were a little busy. Sometimes we were also in jail, which makes school hard.”

The remaining phones come out of pockets.

“Alright,” Mr. Green says, “Let’s start with the basics. Who here can define a government?”

 

“Does anybody know what Princess Anelle’s handmaiden’s name was?” Teddy asks.

There’s a pause, followed by hesitant whispers.

“This isn’t a test,” he says, “She raised me, molded me into the person I am today. I would not be Dorrek if I was not hers if she had not loved me or my mother Anelle as she did. I just want to know her name.”

It makes the more conservative factions of Teddy’s court angry when he refers to Mary Jo as his mother, but she was just as much his mom as the Princess Anelle. She kissed his scraped knees and taught him how to write his name in the clumsy hand of a kindergartener. She told him about a father that was brave and strong and loved him so very much and said that she was proud of him for as many small things as she was big.

“Maera,” The Skrull who offers the name is older than Teddy, but not by much. They have a narrow face with tall reaching ears and a scar that slices a pale green across their cheekbone, “She was my mother’s sister,” They explain, “Her service to the Princess was a great source of pride to our family. The Princess was good to us, we grieved her.”  

“What’s your name?” Teddy asks. His voice does not waver, as that is a sign of weakness that would not be approved of by the small gathering around him, but he feels raw.

“Elith, your majesty,” They say.

Teddy can trust Elith. He knows that if he told Lauri-Ell that he trusted Elith based on their knowledge of his mother she’d freak out. That’s alright. It’s Lauri-Ell’s job to be watchful, to be cautious. It’s Teddy’s job to love these people, his people.

“Come with me,” He says, “I would like to speak with you, if you have the time.”

 

 

Teddy knows that most of his advisors want him dead.

They’re loyal to R’Kill or think that his Terran upbringing makes him weak or that he’s too busy being puppeted by his human consort to make decisions for the good of the Alliance.

It’s getting better but it’s not great. Life would be easier if he had more people he could trust around him. Teddy knows that Billy is watching his back. He hands Teddy his silverware with fingers glowing blue, like charming spoons and forks to absorb poison is something they’ve been doing their whole lives and his hand ghosts at the base of Teddy’s spine when they’re networking, making him feel safe in a million ways. He’s always felt stronger on Billy’s team, by his side. Billy’s his best council, his closest friend, the only person he truly trusts to watch his back at night on this ship that moves farther and farther away from the only home they’ve ever known.

Billy is doing everything he can to ensure that they stay safe, but he’s tired. It’s a big job for one guy. Teddy’s working on it. Mur-G’nn has proved herself a level head and Lauri-Ell is trustworthy, which makes sense. She’s Carol’s little sister after all. He gives Elith a wild promotion, from infantry to council member. Teddy makes sure that they want it, that they know the job is going to be difficult and exhausting. Teddy doesn’t offer them the job because they also knew Maera (Mary Jo, Mom, that’s what she’ll always be to him). It helps but what really helps Teddy decide if he can trust Elith or not is the way that speak of Anelle.

Teddy knows that his mother’s reputation was damaged by the idea of him, of a child born with a Kree lover. Elith speaks of Anelle with affection, with grief, and Teddy knows that they will be a strength to him.

“I want to know where the Light Brigade is,” Teddy says, as they move farther and farther into the black. He wonders what the stars will look like when they reach their destination. “They have somebody I need.”

 

The Skrull Empire has wronged the Majesdanians. They induced the destruction of their homeworld and killed millions. Teddy can’t fix that.

“I’m recalling my people from the planets surrounding the ruins of Majesdane,” Teddy says, in an incredibly tense meeting with the Light Brigade. “I’ll take the first thousand on my flagship, and the rest will either make plans to follow or file to stay here with the permission of your government. Those who remain unauthorized will forfit their status as part of the new empire, my Alliance. They’ll lose my protection then. We’ll also pay reparations, for the pain and suffering you have been dealt by my forefathers.”

“What do you want in return?” The Majesdanian spokesperson asks, wary.

“For that, nothing,” Teddy says, “I do want to negotiate the release of one of your prisoners into my care, the intended of one of my generals. Karolina Dean is one of my citizens, and she has committed no crimes against the Majesdanians other than having terrible parents. I have technology to trade for her safe return, a separate arrangement from the recall of Skrull citizens from your space. My husband has bottled the sun, and he’ll show you how to do it yourself.”

 

Xavin’s in rough shape.

Teddy’s not surprised, they’ve been masquerading as their fiancée for nearly six years on a planet where UV radiation is considered more effective nutrition than any food. They’re not holding Karo’s shape well anymore, the luster required to emulate Karolina taking too much energy. They walk towards Teddy, Billy, and their guard with shaking legs. When they stumble, Billy catches them.

“Hold this shape for five more minutes,” Billy breathes, “Just until we get on the ship.”

“What?”

“Shhh, trust me.”

It takes another half hour to diplomatically extract themselves from the Majesdanians, but Xavin makes it through.

The flagship lifts into the air. As soon as Teddy is sure that they’ve made it out, he wraps Xavin in the biggest hug.

 

 


Billy’s favorite part of the new normal, of being the Demiurge Prince Consort to the King of Space, is quiet observance. He’d been nervous about pushing forward, about going further into space to bring peace to the rest of the Kree and Skrull. Knowing that they were moving towards more people who wanted Teddy dead was unpleasant. Part of Billy, the part that doesn’t usually get to win in regard to superhero life, wanted to take Teddy far away and hide out until the Skrull forgot he existed.

As expected, that didn’t happen. It’s okay though, Billy’s grown to really love the new normal.

Currently, Teddy’s sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of his throne, his sword balanced on his lap. Billy’s place is at Teddy’s right hand, listening not to Teddy, but the world around them, ensuring that everything goes smoothly. Teddy’s talking to a Kree girl about Dani Cage-Jones’ age. She’s blue, with black hair pulled back in braids and curled on the top of her head. She’s plopped herself on the ground beside Teddy and has been introducing him to his people, even to people she hasn’t met before. Billy can see her mother, a tired woman whose partner died in the Kree-Skrull war, fast asleep on a mat beside Teddy’s chair. There’s a lull as people filter through the room, away from the throne and towards the door. The girl squeals as Teddy snaps rhythmically, his hands changing color with every sound. The next person who comes to talk to Teddy sits on the floor beside him, legs neatly crossed, and introduces themselves to Teddy’s new friend.

Teddy’s smile is bright.

 

The longest ten months of Billy’s life are the months before the flagship docks in Citamal.

They’re moving away from Earth and towards the mess that is Alliance space. The Kree and Skrull homeworlds have both been destroyed and countless other planets have been razed by the conflict. The Kree have a planet they consider their capital, Hala. The Skrull have a new capital as well, on Tarnax II.

They are not going to either of these planets, can’t choose sides in a way as blatant as making their home on a planet that has been designated Kree or Skrull.

Citamal is their solution.

It’s a habitable rocky planet with a nitrogen-based atmosphere, about eight times the size of Earth with a forever black sky. When light passes through the clouds, they glow like auroras. Nearly three thousand years ago, the planet was uninhabited. The Skrulls terraformed it and Citamal has been passed back and forth between the Skrull and Kree ever since.  

It’s also roughly equidistant from the centers of the Kree and Skrull regions, with a decent mix of Kree and Skrull citizens.

Citamal will never replace Hala or the Throneworld but it’s not supposed to. Citamal is a new beginning for the fledgling empire.

Stepping off of the flagship, the first thing that Billy notices is that it smells clean, like grass and sunshine even though they’re in the middle of Citamal’s largest city. Citamal is huge, nearly six times the size of Earth, and highly populated. Billy had expected it to smell like a city, like exhaust or smoke.

Teddy places a hand at the base of Billy’s spine, hand warm through the thin fabric of his suit.

It feels like a beginning.  

 

 

Teddy carefully traces the photographs spread out over his desk. They’re not personal, taken from newspapers and tabloids and television stills, but they’re his mother.

He doesn’t know why he assumed that Anelle had died when he was a baby.

He was sent away because his grandfather, the Doreek before him, slaughtered hundreds to try to find him. When people told him about his mother, the summery was always quick.

The princess fell in love with the Kree Captian Mar-Vell and had you, the child of prophecy. She fell with the capital in the war.

Nobody ever told him about her as a person, the woman made into a martyr. 

Teddy thinks that Anelle could have changed things, after R’Kill passed. She cared about these people, about this alliance. She fell in love with a Kree soldier and loved the people under her care like breathing and loved him, her only baby, enough to send him across the universe.

Revolutions are built on love like Anelle’s.

Teddy thinks he takes after Mar’Vell more, but he can still see a bit of Anelle in his face when he looks in the mirror. It’s not just the green, but the shape of his lips and way he holds his shoulders.

Teddy knows that she kept a log. He does it too, there are too many things to remember when you’re undertaking as monumental a task as intergalactic governance. He has access to it, but he’s been too nervous to open up what is essentially her journal.

It’s the closest he’ll ever get to meeting her, and he wants to make sure he does it right.

He takes the favorite of the photographs, an action shot of Anelle dancing. It was published in a magazine that seems similar enough to Vogue. She looks like an angel, surrounded by the gauze-like cloth of a cloud-colored gown.

Teddy places this photograph in the top drawer of his desk and files the others away to bring home with him.

 

 

Billy hadn’t planned on anything like college.

He had thought about it before his mutant gene activated, thought about maybe becoming a doctor like his parents or getting an English degree so he could write Avengers Comics.

Before Billy could dedicate himself to studying he was a Young Avenger, quickly followed by being a full-fledged Avenger, and being a super hero is a full-time job.

He’s busier now than he was then, with obligations as the Prince Consort to the Kree-Skrull Alliance and wizard things to do on the daily.

Jumping straight from high school to a physics doctorate program is probably stupid, but it’s very Wiccan so he’s good with it. In a similar vein, Teddy is working on LSAT prep.

They’re well-matched, the two of them.

They don’t have any real amount of free time. During the day they’re busy combatting the ills done by the Kree and Skrull armies and rebuilding in equal parts. They wake early and retire to their quarters late.

They study in bed, their legs tangled together as they read their separate texts. Billy highlights a passage about how to calculate gravity in relation to the mass of a planet and Teddy mumbles over the structure of a constitution.

“I love you,” Billy says, reaching to squeeze Teddy’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” Teddy hums, leaning to press an absentminded kiss to the side of Billy’s face, “I love you too.”

 

 

Teddy supposes he should feel lucky knowing that he’s made it more than a year into his reign without an assassination attempt.

He’s bleeding, blood running hot across his hand where he’s holding the knife steady in his belly. Teddy wants to pull it out, to get over it, but he knows that would do more harm than good. Elith has their hands pressed over the sickly-looking gash that sits two inches below Teddy’s jugular and the pressure makes him nauseous.

Xavin is furious, their boot twisting into the would-be assassin’s spine. The assassin, an unassuming-looking Kree boy, winces as they press down between his shoulder blades, the heel of Xavin’s boot obviously causing some distress.

“Don’t kill him,” Teddy says.

“Dorrek,” Xavin says, and Teddy is so glad that they don’t call him My Liege or something pretentious like that, “You wound me. We are working to stem the death toll, not add to it. I am simply going to knock him out.”

Xavin kicks with their off foot and Teddy winces as he sees it connect with the boy’s forehead.

“How bad does it look?” Teddy asks. He blinks unfocused eyes and Xavin is in front of him, their hands replacing Teddy’s on his stomach.

“You will live,” Xavin says simply, “Can you walk?”

“Only if you want me to fall.”

 

 

It’s hard waking up somewhere new.

Billy’s always struggled with feeling grounded. He’s not supposed to exist, not really. He is the product of broken rules and wishes and magic and luck. The Scarlet Witch bent reality until it broke into the pieces she wanted it to, a few short years of happiness before her whole life shattered in front of her.

Sometimes, Billy thinks he remembers that old him, the him that was but isn’t now.

Wanda doesn’t drink coffee, she doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like that it’s bitter. She chased around two magic little boys for five years smelling like black tea and orange peels and home.

Billy’s only had tea with Wanda half a dozen times. He was seventeen the first time, the child Wanda chased around a ghost between them.

He doesn’t even know what woke him up.

It was bad enough when he was seventeen, trying to smooth the rough edges of grief responsibility into a functional being. The existential crisis he had been trying to avoid knocked him on his ass as Billy tried to claw his way through the loss of Cassie and he made a few mistakes. Billy became a whole ass Avenger. He got older, his friends came back from the dead in a very sci-fi sort of way, and he married Prince Charming.

It’s a life that feels too good to be true. Sometimes Billy thinks he’s still dead and none of this is real.

“Billy,” Teddy breathes, a hand on the bare skin of his waist, “How long have you been up?”

“Is this real?”

Teddy gently tugs Billy back down into the sheets. He sighs, tired but not mad.

“Who am I?” Teddy asks,

“My best friend,” Billy says, the answer more a part of himself than anything else.

“And who are you?”

The question feels like a flick to the forehead, disorienting in theory, in the context of the great unknown, but centering because Billy knows the answer when it’s Teddy asking.

“Yours.”