Teddy gets a text from Billy halfway through his first intro biology class in the first week of his first semester of college. This is not totally surprising as Billy had developed a fixation with his cellphone in the last year of high school which bordered on OCD, and so Teddy has had plenty of time to get used to receiving odd, mostly incomprehensible garbage at all hours of the day, including those hours when they are actually in the same room together. Still, it's unexpected so when his phone starts vibrating against his thigh, Teddy has to grip onto the arm of his chair to keep from jumping.
The text reads: "Oh my god. INSANITY. Why am I doing this? Why did you let me do this? I have to change my major." And Teddy has to bite down on the inside of his lip to keep from smiling too obviously. He keeps his cellphone out of sight below the little crescent of desktop that's attached to the arm of his chair as he types back, slow and one-thumbed: "B. Calm down. It's just school. I'll talk to you later, okay?"
He keeps holding onto his phone after the message is gone, but he also does try to pay attention to what's going on in class as well. His professor looks more like the guy on the street corner with the unwashed hair who wants to talk to you for an hour about how Jesus will return than someone who has devoted an entire two class cycle to the regulation of carbohydrate metabolism, but he's also talking about his expectations for the final exam, which makes it a lot easier to take him seriously.
Until his cellphone buzzes in his hand, that is, and he glances down almost without thinking.
"Yeah. Your support in this time of personal crisis has been documented, Theodore," reads Billy's reply, and then the phone buzzes again, and Teddy opens the new message to see the added line, "6PM. Be there."
This time, Teddy does smile.
The whole college thing took him by surprise in ways that, in retrospect, it probably really shouldn't have. When he thinks back now - and there isn't much else to do but think when you're making the same ten minute trek from the residences to the science buildings at least once a day - he can't quite pinpoint when Kate started carrying around the folder of brochures for Harvard and Berkeley and the other paragons of educational prowess that are so hugely out of the reach of Teddy's funds and grades that they still seem more like places that sometimes show up in movies than places people actually go to to learn stuff.
Pinpointing the exact moment that Mrs. Kaplan started panicking about Billy's future is a little easier, if only because he has a fuzzy recollection of how, last October, the phrase "Want to come over and help me with my chemistry homework?" stopped meaning that they would spend five minutes trying to figure out Hess's Law before Billy would end up straddling his lap with his hands up Teddy's shirt and started meaning that they would actually be doing chemistry homework.
He thinks maybe there was a secret team meeting he wasn't invited to or something because he really didn't figure it out until it was all Kate or Billy or Eli could talk about. And Teddy's choices at that point were basically 1) give in or 2) spend his free-time with Tommy - who is fine as long as he does not speak ever - or Cassie - whose fixation on becoming Carol Danvers Junior has only got increasingly spooky as time goes by - and Vision - who is fixated on anything Cassie chooses to be fixated on - so Teddy had given up pretty quickly, filled out some applications, and then gone with the first place willing to take him.
It had been an easy choice, made easier by the fact that Billy's mom had gone to Brown and Billy's dad had gone to Brown - actually, Billy's mom and dad had met at Brown - which had left little question in anyone's mind where Billy was going, despite average grades or the number of times Billy swore that they could pick up together and go to some financially unsound state college where he could major in drawing Crayola pictures of fish if Teddy wanted.
And maybe Teddy did want that, if this college thing was going to be a mandatory team project. Maybe he wanted it a lot, actually, but he also wasn't going to be the guy who screws over his boyfriend's academic prospects just to keep him nearby, so he'd said no and it's okay, Billy and we'll manage, even if the words, as they were coming out of his mouth, didn't make a lot of sense in his head.
Which is how Teddy ends up in Santa Barbara in September; two weeks in, and it still doesn't make a lot of sense to him.
At 6PM exactly, Teddy's computer goes off with a surprisingly loud rendition of the Skype ringtone. Teddy yelps and drops his chemistry textbook on his foot, and his next door neighbour - an amazingly anal guy named Brian who will probably turn out to be an engineer in three years' time - pounds on the wall like he's been blasting hip-hop all night long or something, like the other twenty-five people on their floor. Just to be as annoying as possible, Teddy gets to his feet leisurely, picks up his textbook, places it carefully on his bed, walks slowly over to his computer, and-
And by this time, Brian is pounding on the wall again, so Teddy just grins to himself, plugs in his earphones, and clicks the green circle on the dialogue box. There's a crackle of static in his ear and the sound of keys clattering on the other end, and just that sound is enough to make Teddy picture Billy, curled up on his bed in some sliver of a dorm room in New England, typing one-handed and mainlining Coke with his free hand like Teddy's seen him do on too many occasions to count. It makes him grin a little wider at a spot on his window frame.
"Hey," he says after a moment, when his smile is more under control.
There's a soft bang and then some scratching noises and then Billy's voice is in his ear, made thin by distance and panic and a moderate to crappy internet connection. "Okay. History or political science?"
"Um," says Teddy and blinks. The feeling that he's coming into a conversation that is already in progress is not new; it's how Billy always functions. But even after a few years of practice, Teddy still has to pause to adjust. Eventually, he asks, "What happened to Contemporary Studies in Globalization or whatever?"
Billy huffs, a sudden exhale of breath that makes Teddy's headphones crackle again. "Did you miss the bit about I need to change my major?" he says in that mix of strained faux-patience and amusement meant to cover actual nerves that Teddy knows well enough to pick up on, even over a lousy internet connection.
"Billy," Teddy tries to sound reasonable, which is another thing that still doesn't come easily despite practice, "you have been in college for, like, thirty six hours. What the hell."
And that's enough to get a laugh out of Billy. Not just any laugh, either, but Teddy's favourite Billy-laugh. The one that sounds relaxed and self-conscious all at once, like Billy is actually pleased that Teddy's calling him on his stupidity, like Billy's pleased he's got Teddy around. Even though Billy can't see him, Teddy ducks his head and smiles a little bashfully.
"Okay," Billy says, and his voice still has laughter caught in it. "The thing is I think my Econ prof wants to eat my liver, and I don't even know why I am doing this. Why am I doing this, T?"
Teddy picks up his laptop in one hand, careful not to break it, and pushes out of his chair. He takes a few backwards steps until he can tumble gently back onto his bed and then settles in, curling around his laptop and letting his chin rest on his left hand. "That's what I've been asking all along," he says finally.
They'd had the talk two days before Teddy left for California with Billy perched anxiously on the foot of his bed, hands twisting into complicated knots in his lap, carefully avoiding the phrase "breaking up." Kate and Eli had already decreed that the team would have a once-a-semester NYC meeting, just to make sure that the world didn't need saving before finals and that Tommy had not managed to get arrested in the interim. But the question of what all this would mean for Billy and Teddy, emphasis on the and, had lingered and lingered, to the point where Teddy had started to wonder if Billy even realized it was an issue at all.
"So, we don't have to... We're not. This isn't" was how Billy had chosen to start the conversation. The dip of his eyebrows, the furrow in the middle, all suggested that this was more statement of fact than request for confirmation, but Teddy could hear the question in his voice, so he pulled up a little straighter and tried to look certain in return.
"Nah," he said. "No way. We've survived worse, right?"
A war, an invasion, twenty-four individual attempts on Teddy's life, Billy's seemingly endless stint in jail, nearly being erased from the time stream. Teddy could see the calculations passing over Billy's face and wondered what it was about college that made it seem so huge that calculations were even necessary. But then Billy's shoulders eased, and he smiled.
"Yeah," he replied. "This'll be cake."
By the middle of September, it doesn't feel like cake, though. By the middle of September, it feels like every minute he's away from the keyboard is a minute that's being wasted, and every thing that happens to him is recorded in his brain only so that he can recount it to Billy later, in the evenings, when he finally gets out of his three hour night class on Global Security After the Cold War.
It's a feeling that follows him around much longer than he'd like, like a faint itch just under his skin, a creeping, vague dissatisfaction that his life has been reduced to a series of anecdotes, and even the ever-mounting piles of readings and lab reports and flyers for social events don't really displace it.
But then he'll come back to his room at the end of the day, shut the door against a very loud, probably drunken, rendition of "My Humps" being sung down the hall, and log on to Gmail to find a single line e-mail from Billy, saying something totally inane like I am moving to Newfoundland and going into cod fishing. They still have cod, right? Want to come? or IF HOBBES AND LOCKE HAD JUST MADE-OUT THE WESTERN WORLD WOULD HAVE BEEN SPARED A LOT OF GRIEF, and everything will feel mostly all right again.
rawr_smash: why cod fishing?
itsabird08: Look. Do I mock your life's ambitions?
itsabird08: No, I don't!
rawr_smash: okay no. but my life's ambitions are basically a) be a superhero and b) make-out with you so if you did, you'd pretty much be the biggest hypocrite ever. in the history of time. FYI.
itsabird08: So just add being a cod-fisher to the list, don't mock, and we're cool.
rawr_smash: cod fishing
rawr_smash: COD FISHING
rawr_smash: COD FISHING.
rawr_smash: d'you see where i might be getting confused here?
rawr_smash: i'll give you a hint: cod fishing
itsabird08: Oh, shut up.
It's September 28th, and Teddy's in his 8:30AM chem lab from hell when he officially starts missing Billy. It starts slowly, just a heavy feeling in his stomach like the eggs and toast he'd shoved down his throat while he ran from the caf out to the north end of campus have finally hit the bottom and somehow tripled in mass on the way down. At first, it's hard to identify what the feeling is period, except that it leaves him worried and uncomfortable. He shuffles around on his stool a bit while the TA is passing out the assignments until Emmy, his lab partner, gives him a strange look, so he stops.
He's been pipetting for half an hour when he finally thinks, God, I wish Billy was here, and once the thought is out in the open, he can't make it go away; it just stays there and loops pathetically. Teddy tries to concentrate on the task at hand but between jotting down concentrations into his notebook, he keeps feeling Billy and here catch in his chest, so clear and tangible and real, like something he could hold in his hands, that he half-believes that this is what it must feel like for Billy when he iwants and if he just wishes a little harder, it might actually happen.
He holds on until 9:07 when he finally looks down at his watch, realizes how much time he has until he can crawl away and find Billy online, and actually chokes up a bit. His eyes blur for a moment, and he has to wedge a thumb up under the rubber of his goggles to rub at them. The pad of his thumb comes away a little wet.
"You okay, Teddy?" Emmy asks from across the bench, looking tentatively concerned.
With an almost inaudible breath, Teddy summons the smile that got him through four years of high school and nods back at her. "Yeah. Totally. Don't worry about me."
He makes it through chem lab. He does not, thank god, cry in chem lab. Or in any of his other classes that day, for that matter. But when he gets back to the rez, logs into AIM, and sees Billy's first "Hey!" pop up on in the bottom right of his computer screen, it doesn't bring him the same feeling of relief that it has for the past few weeks. All it does is remind him that they're as far apart as they can be while still being in the same country, and the immediacy of that loneliness is so great that Teddy just kind of wants to turn over and curl up on top of his covers.
He manages to type back "hi" anyway and only cries a little when he turns the light off a few hours later and tries to go to sleep.
At night, the campus stays pretty lit up, for student safety, so Teddy spends a lot of sleepless hours watching the shadows cast against his ceiling sway like they're being pushed around by the wind. They're a webbing of tree branches and power lines and telephone lines and internet lines that criss-cross and melt into each other. And Teddy curls his fingers on his stomach and thinks about how those wires run over hundreds and thousands of miles to wherever Billy is sleeping right now.
It's not that Teddy mistrust Billy's feelings for him really so after three days of moping, he decides that he really must just be lonely and homesick and that this is what happens when your life for three years has been all about a set of people who have suddenly started to grow up a little and find things to be about that aren't you.
The solution seems to be clear: Teddy needs to get a life too. Maybe not a big one, not something totally new since he isn't looking for a replacement for the team or anything. Just something to fill in the smaller day-to-day holes he has in his life now.
As decisions go, it's actually a bit daunting. To firm up his resolve, Teddy shells out $1.60 to buy a pack of post-it notes from the student store, and he writes "GET A LIFE" on one in big, thick, blue Sharpie letters and sticks it to the cover of his laptop. But even with that constant reminder, it takes him a little while to get up the courage to actually do something about it.
Which is strange when he thinks about it. Teddy's known since Grade 10 exactly what it takes to be popular - bright smile, ready laugh, a total lack of self-respect - but it's not until he invites Emmy over to do their problem sets together and gets a bright, white, distinctly Cassie-like smile as a reward that Teddy decides that the whole issue is that he doesn't want to be popular this time around. He just doesn't want to be alone. And as he's discovered over the years, there's a marked difference between those two things.
After Emmy, it's not long before Brian-from-Next-Door's stopping by too, now and then. Somehow, between keeping to himself and keeping his door closed most of the time, Brian's formed the impression that Teddy is studious or something, and this makes them kindred souls. So one night, when the frat pledges down the hall are being particularly unbearable, Brian knocks on his door and hands over a fresh, sealed package of ear plugs with such an intense, serious expression on his face that Teddy's a little afraid that they'll be engaged to be married or something if he accepts.
But he says "Thanks, Brian" after a moment, and Brian nods, seriously and silently, before walking back to his room. And it's going to be the least functional friendship ever, Teddy fears, but he also thinks that maybe, possibly, it's exactly what he needs.
So it's really not like Teddy mistrusts Billy's feelings for him, except that he wakes up on a Tuesday in October and finds that he sort of does. By this point in time, New York would be starting to get chilly, probably, but Santa Barbara's weather is still so mild, occasionally verging on humid, that Teddy has to sleep on top of his sheets. So it's with a certain amount of surprise that he wakes up that morning to find himself sweating and twisted up in them and certain that Billy is going to break up with him.
Chances are he had a bad dream, even if he can't remember it, and that's all the feeling is. But it lingers, just like the bad feeling before it lingered, and only gets worse when Billy has to ditch out of their lunch-time Skype session to meet his Econ TA about an assignment.
"Is it serious?" Teddy asks, licking the spot of mustard off his thumb and trying to modulate his voice so it doesn't sound insanely jealous or clingy.
Billy's answering snort of laughter is smudged by something, and there's rustling, but then he says, "No. Nothing big. He just said he'd walk me through some stuff because as if I know how to calculate a derivative."
And after that Teddy spends the rest of the afternoon systematically trying to chew through his pen - which, thanks to Skrull/Kree physiology, he finds out he actually can do - and dreaming up all the ways that smart, attractive Economics TAs could go about seducing their much more attractive, and yet idiotically oblivious, students.
Because obviously that's what's happening here, Teddy thinks. Because obviously any Economics TA in his right mind is out to seduce Billy Kaplan. It is entirely logical.
After class, when he's gotten most of the blue ink off his chin, Emmy finds him and puts her hand on his arm like Cassie used to do before she became a Serious, Real Avenger, and she asks, "Is everything okay with you?"
Teddy sticks his hands in his pockets and grumbles, "I think my boyfriend is being seduced by his evil Economics TA. Probably with promises of caffeine."
And Emmy's mouth makes a little "oh" shape, but she very politely doesn't say anything else. She does photocopy all her class notes, though, and slips them into Teddy's desk the next time she is over, and Teddy mentally names her his favourite person in the world for the week after that.
It takes two phone calls, a cumulative 20 minutes, to convince Kate to meet him for coffee on Saturday, and Teddy takes that as a sign that he, despite all his best efforts, is sounding really pathetic these days. It's a long way to go just for coffee, but Teddy hasn't flown in a while, so it's kind of nice too: just him and warm California air and too much wind rushing past his ears to really think about much else.
Kate looks exactly the same as she did the last time he saw her, which shouldn't be surprising since it was a month and a half ago, but Teddy feels sort of surprised anyway. She's stopped wearing lipstick, which is a shocking change, and it actually makes her look more like a young woman and less like a little girl, not the other way around. She's apparently taken to painting her nails red, though, and she clicks them against the side of her coffee mug while she thinks it over.
"You realize this sort of sounds like the plot of Legally Blonde?" she says finally, raising one perfect eyebrow in a way that would be three times more devastating if Teddy was heterosexual but is pretty devastating nonetheless. "I think you should probably swoop in there, Teddy Altman, and win back his love before he ends up engaged."
Teddy stops sucking despondently on his straw and blinks at her and even though he knows the answer, he can't help but say, "Wait. Seriously?"
In reply to which, Kate only rolls her eyes. "No, Teddy. Not seriously," she says, picking up her cup and cradling it in her palm before taking a sip. "I think you should tell Billy you miss him."
To be fair, this has crossed Teddy's mind a couple of times. And then been swiftly rejected each of those times for the exact same reason. He starts shaking his head this time too, just as swiftly.
"Unh unh," he says. "No. I can't. I'm not going to be the clingy guy who can't deal with the fact that his boyfriend has friends and a life and stuff. No way." Kate purses her lips and frowns disapprovingly at him. Teddy can see the thought process hidden behind that look as clear as day, so he points a finger at her and adds on, "And you can't tell him either, Katie."
Kate makes a non-committal noise in the back of her throat but after a few seconds of Teddy giving her his most desperate face, she relents and sighs, "Fine. Fine. Just quit it with the eyes," and leans heavily on the table, elbows on either side of her saucer and her chin couched in her palms. "So what are you going to do?"
Teddy shrugs and stirs the ice around in his cup. The remains of his cappuccino is a bit too watered-down to be appetizing now - or maybe its just that he's feeling a bit too sulky to really find anything appetizing. Eventually Kate seems to realize that this is about as far in the planning process as Teddy's gotten because she makes another back-of-the-throat noise and sits back in her chair in silent consideration.
"You're still, like," she says after a few moments where the only sound between them is rattling ice.
"Still like?" Teddy prompts without looking up, but he does glance up a moment later when Kate sighs heavily, makes a fist, and then jerks it back and forth a couple of times in a distinctly lewd gesture.
Which makes Teddy actually look up in open horror, big eyes and loose jaw and entirely certain that he has misinterpreted that. "Holy crap, what," he says.
Kate holds up her hands like she's an innocent bystander in all this, like she's saying don't blame me. "I don't want to talk about it either."
"So why are we?" Teddy demands, still aghast.
But Kate just smiles the angelic smile that always, always makes Eli give in to her every whim, even when he is being his most stubborn, and shrugs. "Because I am not helping you if this is all just about how you haven't been getting any in a while, Theodore," she says, somehow managing to sound prim.
Teddy hunches over his iced capp and tries to psychically project just how much her feminine wiles do not work on him. But the signal probably gets mixed up somewhere along the way because Kate's smile twists a little and ends up more genuinely fond than before. She leans over the table and puts her hand over his, and Teddy can't help but smile back, even if it's only a little.
"C'mon," she says, "I'll buy you a biscotti for the road."
The biscotti, thanks to some careful rationing, actually lasts two days and after that, Teddy springs for a tub of ice cream which he consumes in about an hour, even though the crappy plastic spoon he swiped from the caf keeps threatening to break the whole time. It's around this point that Teddy realizes he's probably depressed. Not just homesick or missing Billy but flat-out, stomach-twisting sad, a sad made all the worse by the fact that Teddy can't see a way of making it end any time soon.
The awful truth of it all is, and has always been, this: Teddy just needs Billy a lot more than Billy has ever needed Teddy. Billy is certain, and he is steady. He's the fixed point in the sky which everything else turns around, and Teddy, whose life has been marked - if not defined - by change, knows he's held onto that like he'll come loose and be swept away with everything else if he doesn't. And now he's come loose. Maybe not by his own choosing, but loose all the same.
It hurts. It really fucking hurts. He can feel it like a sting in the back of his throat and a headache behind his eyes all the time and every time Billy pops up online and asks "How are you?" like he always does, perfect capitalization and proper punctuation and totally indecipherable without his voice to go with it, Teddy gets closer and closer to telling him the truth. His fingers are slow when he types back "fine," but he always manages.
Emmy tries to help once she realizes that Teddy's actually sort of serious and upset about the "I think my boyfriend is being seduced by his TA" thing. This mostly involves sitting with Teddy during lunch and trying to distract him with campus gossip, which sometimes helps a little but never very much. He smiles at her anyway, though, because the gesture is appreciated.
Brian also makes a couple of attempts at something that is probably help, though it mostly involves slipping copies of the Department of Agriculture's food guide under Teddy's door while he's at class and then making comments about how chocolate should be eaten in moderation. Which Teddy chooses to interpret as Brian showing concern over his well-being, and that's theoretically sort of nice of him.
But it doesn't change anything really and by the end of the week, Teddy buys a bag of two-bite brownies, eats them all defiantly in one bite, and plays internet flash games until 2AM, wondering what the scientific procedure for determining whether you've been dumped is.
Date: Wed, Oct 28 at 9:07 AM
Subject: Checking in
Hey? You kinda disappeared suddenly last night, so I just wanted to check in and make sure everything's okay.
Everything's okay, right?
Date: Wed, Oct 28 at 11:41 AM
Subject: Re: Checking in
yeah sorry about that. my lab partner was having a last minute freak-out about how our results were "too accurate" or something so i had to go help her re-run some stuff. but it turned out okay, i think.
sorry again. didn't mean to run away like that.
Date: Wed, Oct 28 at 11:54 AM
Subject: Re: Checking in
Don't worry about it. I'm glad things worked out.
Look, I'm supposed to go to this dumb group study thing after class? Which I think is actually code for "let's all sit around and get drunk." STIMULATING, ISN'T IT? But I've got to put in an appearance or something, I guess.
Will you be around later?
Teddy stares at Billy's last message for a full fifteen minutes, trying to think of a way to answer it, but each time he tries to think about it directly - trying to think in words rather than tight, unpleasant feelings - his stomach seems to roll so badly that he actually thinks he's going to throw up once or twice. Eventually he just swears under his breath, shuts his browser down, and goes to call Kate.
He must sound pretty tragic this time because Kate only lets him get out a just shy of watery "Hi" and "So, Katie" before she cuts in with "Theodore, either get your ass up here, or I am coming down to find you."
Just a little under two hours later, he ends up curled up on her couch in her neat, Emeryville apartment. Her living room has windows so big and clear that he can almost see the coastline from where he's sitting and even though it's t-shirt weather outside, she throws a blanket over his lap when she comes to perch on the armrest.
Her elbow comes to rest on her knee and her chin in her hand, and she asks, "Now can I tell him?"
Teddy shakes his head resolutely and draws his feet up onto the couch, trying to dig into the fabric with his toes. Kate purses her lips, and the corners turn down a bit in a thoughtful almost-frown.
"So what," she says, "you're just going to be unhappy forever?"
And Teddy thinks he should explain that this has never been up to him. He's been doomed to liking Billy and missing Billy and needing him and wanting him since they met. The boundaries on that, the limitations, have always been for Billy to define. Because if it was Teddy's choice, if it was all in Teddy's hands, there wouldn't be any. Ever.
But at the moment, Teddy can't find the words to say that, can't do much more than pick at the threads in the blanket on his lap and shrug heavily. After a while, Kate sighs and slips down off the armrest to sit next to him. She reaches up and puts her hand in his hair, stroking it sort of like his mom used to when he was a kid, and eventually it's like he just can't maintain his centre of gravity anymore, and he tips over until his head is on her shoulder.
"Boys," Kate says.
At 9PM that night, when Teddy's been back at the rez for a while, sitting on his bed and alternating between moping at his work and moping at the internet, he gets an IM from Billy. It sits patiently on the start menu, flashing, while Teddy tries to fight down weariness and nausea for long enough to actually read it. He's not very successful but eventually, he clicks on it anyway.
"Are you there?" Billy's asking, which is sort of strange because Teddy's not the sort to just sit online unless he's around to answer. But then he realizes that he's got an unanswered email from Billy in his inbox, and he feels a quick stab of guilt and decides that maybe Billy's tentativeness is not quite so unwarranted. "i'm here," he types back. "how was your study thing or whatever?"
There's a pause and then Billy's answer is even more confusing than the first question: "Good. Just a sec. I'm coming over."
Teddy's brain gets the words, of course, but their arrangement and their presence here, in this conversation, do not make any sense. There's a 3AM bus that leaves from Providence - Teddy knows because he's had the Providence-Santa Barbara bus schedule open in a tab for, like, a month - but it's a three day trip, so Teddy figures that's probably not what Billy means.
And then there's a flood of blue light in his room, shocking and achingly familiar at the same time. Teddy has just enough time to think Oh, right. Of course. before the light fades, and Billy's standing on the other side of the room, with his hip pressed up against Teddy's desk.
For a few seconds, Teddy's too tongue-tied by suddenly having Billy so nearby to say anything. Which seems to work fine for Billy who grips onto the desk, looking unbalanced and disoriented like he always does right after a teleport, and says almost immediately, "I got a call from Kate." Teddy bites down on the string of swearwords that rise up his throat immediately; Billy keeps talking like he didn't notice, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "I didn't totally understand it all, but I think the general sense was 'Billy Kaplan, why are you being a big, negligent jerk? Your boyfriend needs a hug.'" He pauses and raises his eyebrows obliquely down at Teddy, adding, "Or something like that."
Teddy frowns - even though a large part of his brain protests that frowning is not the correct response to having Billy Kaplan actually here. But a smaller part of him, persistent and uncertain as always, thinks that this is going to be the other shoe, the one he's been waiting to see drop all this time. He thinks that putting an end to awful, expectant waiting should almost be a relief but instead, his stomach still feels knotted up tight, and his hands grip the sheets on his bed to keep from trying to reach out for Billy instead.
"I told her not to tell you," he says eventually.
Billy's head tilts to the side, eyebrows quirking up some more; his expression reads curious. "Yeah. Why did you tell her that? Or, for that matter, why didn't you say something?"
And Teddy shakes his head, even less certain of how to explain this to Billy than to Kate. But it doesn't seem to matter much because Billy is pushing himself away from the desk in that same moment and crossing the tiny stretch of open floor until his knees are almost bumping against Teddy's. Teddy passes his hand over his eyes, suddenly so tired again, and looks up at him and then -
And then just keeps looking up because Billy is smiling down in that way that Teddy still hasn't gotten used to seeing after all this time. It makes his heart thud and his ears ring, makes him feel like he's never going to stop being a stupid, smitten teenager where Billy is concerned, no matter how much time passes. Billy's right thumb is hooked into his belt loop when he leans over, but his left hand reaches out and brushes over one of Teddy's eyebrows. He doesn't stop smiling.
"You are such an idiot," he says gently and then leans forward the rest of the way and kisses Teddy.
Billy's mouth is never soft - not even when he's smiling - and he kisses like he goes about everything else in life: all impatience and nerves and that breathtaking, awesome certainty. And it's changed so little in what feels like such a long time that Teddy can't help but groan into it the moment Billy's mouth parts against his and his tongue slides in and along the back of Teddy's teeth, like he's been starved for it, which maybe he more or less has been. Teddy's arms wrap around Billy's waist, and he gives a tug, only to have Billy all but melt into his lap a second later, drawing in close, their chests pressed together and Billy's hands tangling in his hair.
Teddy thinks I am such an idiot and laughs shortly and sucks on Billy's tongue to keep him from pulling back and raising his stupid eyebrows again. Anything that would mean he's not kissing Billy right now is unacceptable. But Billy, contrary as always, pulls back anyways and grins, eyes bright and dark and his cheeks flushed, and Teddy thinks again, a sharp feeling in his head like the beginning of a headache, I am such an idiot as he helps Billy pull his shirt over his head.
And then, almost in the same movement, Billy is on his back on Teddy's bed, and Teddy is mouthing all his missing words against Billy's stomach. Billy's fingers are still in his hair and when Teddy mouths I missed you, Billy inhales in a gasp, the skin under Teddy's tongue shivering, almost like he knows. His fingers grip a little more tightly and pull Teddy up to kiss him on the mouth again until they have to stop to breathe. And Billy's lips are parted, panting, and the flush has spread down from his cheeks and out over his collarbones.
"I would've come sooner," he says quietly, hands working around to find the spot behind Teddy's ear that makes him want to purr or arch or both, "but I didn't want to, like, be the clingy boyfriend guy."
Teddy laughs and feels wonderfully hypocritical when he replies, "You're kind of such an idiot too, you know?"
In reply to which, Billy's mouth curves knowingly, and he cranes up to bite at Teddy's lower lip and mutter, "Yeah, well."
Then Billy's hands are on his hips, sneaking below the waist of his jeans, and Teddy lets himself get rolled over, throwing an arm tightly over Billy's waist because he doesn't want him to fall off a bed that really wasn't made for two. And then it's all rediscovery, at times too slow and at times too fast because neither Teddy nor Billy can decide which they prefer, but there's familiar topography under Teddy's fingers and Billy's mouth laughing against his neck, Billy's bangs falling all over his face, and Teddy thinks he could do too slow and too fast forever as he relearns every rise and fall, the joys of each hitch in Billy's breath, and how Billy's affection for wearing jeans two sizes too big makes it much easier to get them off his hips.
And then later still, relearning how Billy's fingers feel when they press inside of him, stretching and burning a little at first and then sliding in and out, almost lazily, as Billy grins up teasingly from where he's kissing Teddy's inner thigh, his cock, the rise of his hip. And eventually Teddy's not so much relearning as swearing and grinding down against Billy's hand and pleading I want, I want, like just wanting something's ever actually worked for him. But when Billy groans and pushes in, slow and deep that first time, with his elbows locked and arms shaking on either side of Teddy's head, Teddy thinks that maybe his wanting hasn't done so badly after all.
He wraps one leg around Billy's hips and puts a hand on Billy's neck and swears to god he isn't going to let go this time.
Teddy wakes up the next morning with sunlight hitting his eyes and Billy's space in the bed empty and cooling. He groans, tossing an arm over his face, and tries to cling onto the last threads of sleep in the hopes that the longer he can put off waking up, the longer he'll be able to put off life going back to normal again too, and Billy not being here.
But in the sweep between his stomach and his face, his arm brushes against something. And once he notices it the first time, he can sort of make out the sensation of a square of paper stuck to his chest, a thin strip of adhesive on his bare skin. He blinks awake, going a little cross-eyed as he tilts his head and stares down at the post-it note stuck just below his collarbones, and then plucks it off carefully, holding it up between thumb and index finger so that he can read it in that single beam of sunlight coming in through the shutters.
8AM DISCUSSION GROUP, reads Billy's blocky printing. HAD TO RUN. SEE YOU (underlined three times) TONIGHT.
Teddy rubs the sleep out of his eyes and re-reads the note twelve times, his smile growing bigger with each. It stays in place while he gets dressed and when he runs his fingers through his hair, trying to get it to lie flat, and then it only gets worse when Teddy picks up his laptop to cart it off to class with him and discovers that someone has taken a blue permanent marker to the post-it on the front, scratching out the words "GET A LIFE" and noting instead "You've got one."
He has to sit down heavily on his bed and grin for a while after that and as a direct result, he's five minutes late for his bio lecture. And honestly, he's okay with that.
It's a gradual process, but there's a point after which even Teddy can't ignore the fact that Billy has basically moved in. First Billy's textbooks start taking up room on the one, admittedly underused bookshelf, and then a second pillow - liberated from Billy's dorm room - shows up on the bed. The sheets start smelling like him a little. So do Teddy's clothes. He starts keeping a toothbrush in the top drawer of Teddy's desk, right next to Teddy's own, and they bicker nightly about whose laptop is more deserving of the actual desktop real estate.
And maybe if it was laid out as a mathematical calculation, nothing would have changed. Teddy thinks that if he looked at it scientifically, quantified it and measured it, that between classes and assignments, they really spend about as much time together now as they did a month ago.
But Teddy can feel in his chest that it's different.
Billy sits around in pyjama pants and one of Teddy's old, over-sized t-shirts on the weekends and leans over Teddy's shoulder when he's trying to make Excel cough up a graph that Emmy won't make him redo. He writes a twelve page final paper on criminal justice reform and spends four hours threatening to title it "General Deterrence and the Null-Hypothesis: Why Tony Stark is a Douchebag for Putting Sixteen-Year-Olds in Jail." And then doesn't, in the end, when Teddy points out that this is probably the least subtle way of telling your professor you're secretly a mutant superhero, possibly ever. He falls asleep - in Teddy's bed - face-first in his textbooks and when Teddy gets home and wakes him, the pages sort of stick to his cheek.
When they sleep, it's with Billy's forehead pressed into Teddy's shoulder, his mouth slightly open, breathing heavily, snoring a bit. It's endearing, actually, though that doesn't keep Teddy from scrawling out a post-it one morning - "PS. YOU SNORE" - and sticking it to Billy's forehead before he goes to chem lab.
Teddy gets a text from Billy halfway through his last final of the term. Because he would rather not get kicked out and thus fail, he doesn't look at it until he's done and outside.
The text reads: "I have a 24 of pop and 6 pizza pockets, and I cannot guarantee their safety if you do not get your ass back here NOW."
This time, Teddy laughs.