“Billy, your dad says dinner's ready,” said Teddy standing in the doorway to Billy's room.
“Start without me,” Billy replied without looking up. “I'll have some later.”
“If you keep skipping meals, your mom's going to give you another lecture on eating disorders.”
“I don't have an eating disorder.”
“Then come eat something.”
“Not right now, Teddy. I'm not hungry.”
“Fine. I'll save you some then, okay?”
Teddy returned to the kitchen, where Billy's dad was dishing up homemade pizza and salad. With Rebecca out at a meeting and Billy ensconced in his room, it was just the four of them to eat. Billy's two little brothers were already sat at the table and each had a spoon laid out along with their knife and fork – a definite sign that, with Mrs Kaplan out, there would be ice-cream for dessert.
“Is he joining us?” asked Jeff. Teddy shook his head. “Did you threaten him with his mother's eating disorder speech?”
“Yep. Is it okay if a take him a plate after we've finished?”
“You know it is. He might eat with you even if he won't eat with us.”
Teddy carried the boys' plates to the table. He didn't talk much as they ate; he didn't have to as the two boys filled all the available conversation with their stories of school, cartoons, their friends, and the ongoing Kaplan family debate over who would win in a fight, Bert or Ernie.
When they had finished eating – including the contraband ice-cream – the boys disappeared off to do their homework. Teddy stayed to help Jeff load the dishwasher.
“Rebecca wants Billy to see one of her colleagues,” Jeff confessed, scraping discarded pizza crusts in to the trash. “She's worried about him – we both are. He's always – when things are bothering him – always kept things to himself, worked through them on his own, but...”
“This time he's not?” Teddy finished for him. Jeff nodded.
“I'd rather he didn't need help at all but – the people Rebecca works with – they're very good at their jobs and...” Jeff broke off, sighing sadly. He looked at Teddy and seemed to choose his words carefully.“His mom's... concerned he might do something stupid.”
Teddy laughed halfheartedly. “If there's one thing you can count on, it's Billy doing something stupid.”
Then, he saw Jeff's face and, realizing what he'd meant, backtracked quickly. “No, no, he wouldn't. I wouldn't let him. I know he's not himself but... I don't want to be rude, I don't doubt that they're very good at helping with normal stuff but this just isn't. I can't see how there's a therapist on the planet qualified to help Billy. He'll get there, I know he will.”
Jeff regarded him with concern for a long moment. “Okay. Alright. Say, why don't you see if he won't eat something now?”
“Sure.” Teddy picked up the plate full of food and headed to Billy's room.
He set the plate on the coffee table next to Billy without comment, knowing he'd eat it if he wanted, then dropped down beside him on the loveseat. Billy didn't look up from where his character was shooting a dragon in the face with a fire spell.
Teddy placed a kiss on the top of his head and said, “Wanna play Portal 2?”
Billy smiled at him, weakly. “Yeah, okay.”
* * *
Several testing rooms later, the pocket of Teddy's jeans started vibrating. Still playing one handed, he dug his phone out and checked the caller ID.
“Hello?” he said, tucking the handset on his shoulder.
“Blue portal, top left,” instructed Billy. “Bit higher. Who is it?”
“Hey, Teddy,” said the voice on the phone. “You busy?”
“Just playing Portal with Billy,” he replied. Then to Billy mouthed, “It's Kate.”
“Awesome. I need your help.”
He sat up a little straighter, ready to fly in to action if she needed an immediate rescue. There was a small part of him that hoped she was in trouble, that she needed some superheroing; he was trying to ignore that part.
“What do you need?” he asked. Billy gave him a questioning look.
“So, tomorrow night I have to go to this society event thing. My dad was supposed to go but he's had to drop out. Normally, he'd send my sister in his place – to, you know, uphold the Bishop family name or whatever – but, as she was last spotted somewhere in the Caribbean, it falls to me. I told him to get lost and he threatened to stop my allowance.”
“O-kay...” said Teddy unsure where this was going. “You need to be going faster – yeah, like that.”
“What? Teddy, what are you doing?”
“Gaming. Was talking to Billy. Sorry, go on, I am listening.”
“This is the part where I beg a favor of you: will you come with me?”
He glanced at Billy. “Tomorrow, we're supposed to-”
“Not the two of you,” she interrupted. “Just you. Please?”
“Who do you need me to be?” he sighed.
“What? No. No-one, just Teddy. I only have the one plus one and I can't go on my own. I need... it's kind of embarrassing to admit but there's this guy who's going to be there. Son of some family friends. We've known each other since we were kids. He takes that to mean it's okay to hit on me all night - like we were betrothed or something and all he has to do is keep trying until I'm convinced – but he'll leave me alone if I turn up with a date. So what do you say Mr Altman, will you be fake-date for the night?”
“I don't know Kate. Billy and me are meant to be babysitting tomorrow. I don't really want to leave him alone with them.”
“It's fine, Tommy's already said he'd hang out with Billy.”
“If Tommy's free, why don't you take him instead?”
“Did you really just ask me that? It's Tommy. I can't take Tommy as my fake-date. Things are complicated enough with Eli without having Tommy think he still has a shot. Also, he might try and blow the creep up. Please, Teddy, I'm begging you?”
“...Fine, I guess.”
“Sweet! I'll pick you up at eight. You're my hero, see you tomorrow.”
Teddy hung up and frowned at his phone. He had the distinct impression that, from the moment he'd answered, this had been the only possible outcome.
“Looks like Tommy's going to be helping you babysit your brothers tomorrow night instead of me.”
“Why, what did Kate want?” Billy asked.
“A big green knight to protect her from scumbags. I'm going to some posh event with her.”
“Does this mean you have to wear a suit?”
“Yeah, I guess it does.”
Billy smirked. “I'm okay with that.”
It only lasted for a moment and maybe it was a little forced but, in that smirk, Teddy saw Billy again. Not this Billy but the sweet, funny, fanboy whose flirting would start out with that small smirk and steadily get more outrageous until Teddy blushed beetroot. Then he was gone and it was just Teddy and Billy, alone, playing Portal 2 in Billy's room.
* * *
Kate arrived a little before eight the following night. When Teddy opened the door to her, she managed to look both glamorous in a purple velvet cocktail dress and thunderous.
“This building has no elevator,” she huffed. “I have just climbed four flights of stairs in heels.”
“Hi, Kate,” he deadpanned. “Nice to see you too. Me? Oh I'm fine, just wearing a tux so I can do my friend a huge favor.”
“Sorry, you're right, that was rude.” She hugged him with one arm and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “You look lovely. Does it fit okay?”
A courier had arrived mid-morning with a tuxedo in Teddy's size. It was accompanied by a note which read, Suit-up Hulkling. KB.
“Well, if Dad's gunna make me go to this, I'm gunna say thank you by spending as much of his money as possible.” She sighed, then confessed, “I felt really bad about it, though, so I gave the same amount to charity. Where're Billy and Tommy?”
“Billy's in his room but Tommy's not here yet.”
“He's not?” She pulled her cell out of her little black clutch and dialed. “Where are you?... What the hell are you doing in Vermont?... No, you're helping Billy babysit... Yes, we talked about this. Get your ass down here, Shepherd, or so help me, I will-”
The air whooshed around them as it was displaced by Tommy's arrival.
“AlrightI'mhereaspromised... Wow.” Tommy was staring at Kate. “You look... you, uh, look really nice.”
“...Thanks.” Kate shifted her weight uncomfortably. “Teddy, shall we get going?”
Before they left, they went to say their goodbyes to Billy. He was back in his usual spot, staring out his bedroom window, watching the world go by. His hair looked like it hadn't seen a comb in days and he wore sweats with a ratty t-shirt. Teddy, dressed in his tux, crouched down in from of him.
“Me and Katie are off. Tommy's here but I won't be back too late.”
Billy finally seemed to notice him.
“You look like James Bond,” he said.
That made Teddy smile sadly.
“Doesn't he just?” said Kate. “We'll see you later Billy.”
Tommy then took to herding them out the door.
“Have fun, kids,” he said. “Don't do anything I wouldn't do.”
“That doesn't limit us at all,” shot back Kate.
“Then you'll definitely have a good night!”
“I'm not sure this is such a-” Teddy started, glancing back towards Billy.
“Teddy. Go,” said Tommy, seriously. “I got this. We'll be fine.”
He shut the apartment door behind them. From inside, Katie and Teddy heard him say, “Alright pipsqueaks, who wants to watch horror movies!”
* * *
On the ride over, Katie explained that the party was to celebrate the engagement of the daughter of one of her father's business partners. All she had to do was turn-up, make sure she appeared in a few pictures and schmooze the bride-to-be's parents. Then, they could enjoy the free booze – no one was going to be checking IDs at a party like this – and do as they pleased for the rest of the night.
Their car pulled up to one of the classiest hotels Teddy had ever seen. It was the kind of expensive that fueled his occasional 'when I'm rich' fantasies. There were a handful of photographers loitering outside, obviously hoping to grab some shots of New York's wealthy elite. They thanked their driver and climbed out of the car to face the waiting paparazzi.
Reminding himself that he was meant to be pretending to be Kate's date, Teddy offered her his arm. She took it and led him past the snapping photographers, in to the hotel. Although she was smiling broadly, no one who didn't know her well would have been able to see how diamond hard it was. It was a battle face of sorts, Teddy thought, but opposite in almost every way to the one she wore when they had been superheroes.
Teddy leaned down and whispered in her ear, “You know, sometimes I forget just how rich you are.”
“Fine by me,” she murmured back. “So long as you remember it you ever need me to come bail you out.”
The party itself was located in the hotel's ballroom. It was as grand as Teddy imagined it would be from the outside. No, actually, it was grander. From the floor to ceiling drapes and the gold-leaf on the ceiling's molding, the entire room reminded him of a palace.
“Where else would I bring a prince on a date?” Kate teased him when he told her. He shot her a despairing look. “Come on, let's get the formalities out the way.”
It wasn't until they had finished sweet-talking the party's hosts that Kate's smile began in soften. When the jazz band in the corner of the ballroom started playing, it became wickedly warm. Teddy had seen that smile before; it usually preceded explosions. That made him nervous.
“What's a girl got to do to get a dance?” She extended a hand towards him.
“I- I can't dance,” he began to panic, staring at it.
“You say 'can't' but all I hear is 'no-one's ever taught me'. Thankfully, you're friends with Kate Bishop who, along with being a great teacher, learned to dance back when she thought all boys had cooties.”
“Did you just refer to yourself in the third person?”
“Yup. That's how great I am.” She grabbed his jacket sleeve and dragged him towards the dance-floor.
“This is a really bad idea,” Teddy protested.
“We're dancing.” It sounded like an order.
Kate stood in front of him, close enough that, under normal circumstances, he would have assumed she was going in for a hug. Instead of wrapping her arms around his neck though, she took his right hand and positioned it in the middle of her back. He could feel the soft velvet of her dress underneath his palm. She rested her left arm on his upper bicep and clutched his left hand in her right. They stood just far enough apart that, when Teddy looked down at her, he could see their feet.
“Wherever I step, you step,” Kate informed him. “I go back, you go forward.”
He saw her right foot step backwards, black stiletto clicking on the floor, and Teddy's left hurried to catch up to it. Then, her left did the same so his right did too. She lifted her right foot again and Teddy, assuming she was going to go back again, stepped forwards. His foot wound up between her splayed legs and was promptly collided with by Kate's left, sliding across to meet her right. He looked at her guiltily but she just grinned and reset her feet.
“You go... forward.” They took a step. “Forward.” Another one. “Side.” They stepped to his left. “Close.” Then, they brought their far feet across to join the others before repeating the sequence. “Forward, forward, side, close. Forward, forward, side, close – that's it, keep going – forward, forward, side, close.”
Kate stopped issuing instructions – “You're doing great, Teddy!” – but, concentrating hard, he kept repeating the steps under his breath. He even risked - “'I can't dance', you said.” - looking up from their feet. In his arms, Kate was grinning up at him and he found himself beginning to - “Ow!” - relax.
Realizing he'd trodden on Kate's foot, he froze. She squeezed his shoulder reassuringly and her eyes, which had been temporarily crinkled in pain, sparkled with amusement.
“There's more?” he groaned jokingly.
“-if you can do it without breaking my toes, then yes. You step to the left with your left foot.” He stepped to the side, the same as he'd been doing before. “Not quite. Like this.” When Kate stepped, her toes pointed towards their clasped hands. Teddy mirrored her. She then brought her rear foot over and in front of her other one until it too was pointing towards their hands. “That was across. Then it's just side, close like before. Ready?”
“Only if you promise,” Teddy grinned. “Not to shoot me if I do break your toes.”
“Just dance with me Altman. And go! Forward, forward, side, close. Forward, forward, side, close. Front, across, side, close – again – front, across, side, close – that's it – forward, forward, side, close.”
As they worked their way around the dance floor, never doing more than their two part routine but enjoying themselves anyway, Teddy's confidence in his own ability to dance grew. At some point, he decided that if he looked as suave as Bond then he should maybe act as suave as Bond. He slipped his right hand down to the small of Kate's back and leaned forward, expecting her lean backwards in to the dip. Instead, as she felt her balance shift, Kate grabbed tighter on to his bicep for support, pulling him down. She overbalanced, trying to support their combined weight, and Teddy felt his stomach lurch as they fell, hitting the floor hard enough to wind them both.
Kate grunted underneath him, air returning to her lungs. Then, she started laughing. Teddy rolled off her. He could feel the judgmental stares of the other dancers but, as Kate's laughter infected him, he didn't care. Lying on the floor of the poshest hotel he had ever been in, wearing a borrowed tuxedo, being judged by adults and laughing with one of his best friends so hard it made his ribs ache, Teddy felt free in a way he hadn't in a long time.
They laughed until they had to gasp for air, even more winded by laughing than they had been by their fall. Only then did either of them sit up.
“Bar?” Kate asked, still fighting the urge to laugh.
“Bar,” agreed Teddy.
They left the dance floor, shoulders bumping, ignoring the dirty looks that followed them, pausing only briefly to grab Kate's clutch from where she'd left it on a table. She grinned at him and looked like she was ready to loose control of her laughter again but, when the bartender took their order, she was all easy sophistication while Teddy struggled to keep his composure.
The drink Kate handed him was clear, with ice and a slice of lime. It wasn't until he raised it towards his mouth and caught the sharp tang of alcohol in his nostrils that Teddy realized it wasn't water. He took a cautious sip then blanched at the bitter taste. There was something about the flavor that reminded him of grapefruits but it was only on his tongue briefly before being overpowered by the strength of the liquor.
“Kate, what is this?” he whispered, not wanting to seem uninformed and thus underage.
“That,” she informed him with relish. “Is a Gin and Tonic.”
“Really?” He looked at the glass in his hand disbelievingly.
“Not what you were expecting?”
“Not really, no. I guess I thought something so famous would taste, I don’t know, better.”
Kate laughed and took a sip of her own drink. She was lent casually against the bar, facing him, so didn't see the young man who walked up behind her. By Teddy's estimation, he was probably only a little bit older than them. He had short, meticulously messy blond hair atop a tall, lithe frame, making him a head taller than Teddy and nearly two taller than Kate. Had he not seen him for himself, Teddy would have sworn men that handsome existed only in magazines.
And every single one of Teddy's well-honed survival instincts screamed trouble.
“Katherine Bishop,” he purred.
Teddy saw every muscle in Kate's body tense and the diamond smile reattach itself to her face. She turned, putting her back against the bar for safety, before looking up at the young man.
“Andrew. How nice to see you.” Her words were so insincere Teddy nearly burst out laughing again.
“Has anyone told you you look beautiful tonight?” he said, leaning in to her personal space.
“Yes, actually. I remember someone saying almost exactly that when I came to pick you up, Teddy.”
Andrew glanced in Teddy's direction but barely acknowledged his presence. Instead, he draped one arm around Kate's stiff shoulders and pressed himself along her side. Teddy stepped forward, ready to intervene, but Kate just shook her head.
“Come dance with me,” Andrew murmured in her ear.
“Andrew, I'm going to say this only once: Get. Off. Me.”
He didn't move. Instead he breathed in to Kate's ear, “Maybe later, we can go upstairs and have some fun.”
“Teddy,” she offered him her clutch and her mostly empty glass. “Hold these.”
He took them, feeling a little redundant for just standing there, holding her things, watching this guy creep all over her, instead of helping. Then, her smile went wicked again. Teddy took a step back, bracing himself for what would happen next.
“Great,” Andrew smiled. “Let's ditch this guy and then-”
Kate's fist slamming in to his crotch cut him off abruptly. He grunted in pain, doubling over. As he did so, her elbow collided with his nose. Blood dripped from it on to his expensive white shirt. Kate pushed him to the floor. Then, very calmly, she placed her foot in the middle of his chest, the spike of her heel preventing him from moving.
“The next time a girl says 'Get off me', you'll do it. Understand me?” Kate growled.
He groaned in pain rather than assent.
“I said,” Kate twisted her foot, pushing the stiletto harder in to him. “Do you understand?” She twisted it again.
“Y-yes,” he gasped.
“Kate,” Teddy said. She looked up, finally aware of that most of the ballroom was looking at them. Teddy couldn't see a single face that wasn't fixing them with a disapproving glare. “Time to get out before they throw us out.”
She straightened up then took her things from Teddy. When she downed the remainder of her drink in one gulp, Teddy did the same, ignoring the way it made his eyes water. They'd only gone a few paces when they heard Andrew's voice.
Kate whirled, furious, ready for another fight but Teddy grabbed her arm, holding it firmly. She took a deep breath and strode towards the door. When they got to the foyer, instead of walking straight outside, Kate headed for the grand staircase.
“Kate,” Teddy tried to stop her. “Kate, where are you going?”
Still livid, Kate didn't respond. It wasn't until they were climbing a set of service stairs that Teddy realized where she was taking him. When he thought about it, it was obvious. When things in their real lives got too much, when they needed to let off some steam or when they simply wanted to hangout together, they would go out on patrol. More often than not, patrol meant rooftops.
Except they didn't do that any more. There was no more going on patrol with their friends but, as they stepped out on to the hotel's roof and the bitter wind whipped around them, Teddy understood why Kate had brought him up here. On a rooftop, they were heroes; heroes who could take on anything.
She walked to the edge of the roof and sat down, legs hanging off the edge, staring at the city below. Only then did she seem to let go of the tension in her body. Teddy sat down next to her, knowing that, if either of them slipped, he could catch them. Rummaging in her clutch, Kate pulled out a small packet of cigarettes and lighter. She put one to her lips and attempted to light it. At this height, the wind moved quickly and she had to cup her hands tightly around the flame to keep it alive. She inhaled deeply but, lungs clearly unused to the smoke, coughed on the exhale. Teddy could feel how just how high his eyebrows were raised.
“What?” she snapped defensively.
“You're smoking now?” He knew he sounded incredulous.
“What if I am?”
“Nothing. Just... Cass would've torn you a new one.”
“Yeah, well Cassie isn't here, is she?”
She shivered and Teddy realized just how little she was wearing. He shrugged off his jacket then draped it around her shoulders. It was too large on her; the bottom of it fanned out behind her on the dirty rooftop like a cloak.
“Thanks.” She took another deep drag, managing not to cough this time. “You're right, she'd be furious. She'd tell me how stupid I was being. That it'd stop me from being at the top of my game, mess with my stamina. But we're not superheroes anymore, are we?”
“Doesn't mean you have to wreck your body.”
“I know. I guess I just... we stopped for a reason and it was a good one and that's not us any more but... Do ever you miss it?”
“Honsestly? Kate, we're sat on a hotel roof in the middle of New York. What do you think?”
“Yeah, me too.” She smiled up at him sadly.
They sat together, just listening to the sounds of the city. Kate finished her cigarette and threw the butt off the roof.
“I keep wondering,” said Teddy finally. “If you're going to tell me the truth about tonight.”
Kate raised an eyebrow at him.
“The bit about that Andrew guy was obviously true. But me being there didn't make a difference. You didn't actually need me, did you, so why am I here?”
She regarded him for a moment before replying. “I'm almost offended that you bought I needed protecting. Really, Teddy? Me? From one spoiled rich boy who thinks his over-privilege extends all the way in to my pants?”
“That was the only actual lie,” she said, deflating slightly. “The rest was true, I did have to come tonight, and I thought, 'Hey, why don't you see if Teddy wants to come with you, you've not been out with him in forever'.”
“You couldn't just ask?”
“You would've said no.”
“You don't know that!” He could feel himself growing annoyed.
“Yes, I do. When was that last time we hung out together?” He started to answer but Kate cut across him. “Somewhere other than at Billy's.”
Teddy was silent. Other than when she came over, he had barely seen her. He and Billy would go out sometimes but it was mostly to pick up comic books or see a movie – things Billy couldn't do from inside the apartment – and he'd want to go home straight after. The last time they'd really spent any time out together had been before... before Cassie and Jonas. Before he'd started to loose Billy too.
“I thought it would be something different,” Kate confessed, taking his silence as an answer. “I'm sorry I lied to you. I didn't know how else to get you to leave Billy's side.”
“I should be really mad at you right now. But – and this is not a reason to do it again – tonight was a lot of fun. Even if we did nearly get kicked out of a party in a swanky hotel.”
“That was the best part!” Kate grinned.
“Watching you beat that asshole up was better.”
“I can take that,” Kate companionably bumped her shoulder against his. “So, other than being on twenty four hour Billy watch, how've you been?”
“Good. Fine. Great,” he replied, airily.
“You wanna try that one again?”
“Tired,” he confessed. “I'm sleeping alright but it's...”
“Exhausting, right?” she finished for him when he trailed off.. He nodded, glad that she understood. “You spend all this time looking after Billy but, I have to ask, who's looking after you?”
“I don't need-” he started but, on seeing the look of concern on Kate's face, changed track. “Jeff and Rebecca, I guess. They're... they're great.” He shrugged awkwardly.
“But?” Kate prompted.
“They've got the boys and Billy to worry about. Don't get me wrong, they've done their best – I'll never be able to thank them enough, for everything – just sometimes I get a little... forgotten, I suppose.”
Teddy hated how pathetic that sounded. He was so grateful to the Kaplans, they'd been so good to him, yet here he was complaining over them looking after their own sons instead of him.
Kate took his hand in hers, squeezing it gently. “If it helps any, I didn't forget about you.”
“Thanks Kate.” The way she smiled was so genuinely filled with care for him, it did help a little.
“Unless you've started transforming in to pieces of furniture or something,” she deadpanned. “Then it's your own fault if you get forgotten.”
He burst out laughing. The thought that that was exactly the sort of thing Billy would tease him about, however, made him stop abruptly. Billy didn't tease him like that, not anymore. He was, Teddy knew, sat at home staring sadly out the window, just like almost every other day. Nothing changed.
There was something about Kate – reliable, snarky, unflappable Kate – that made him want to confide in her.
“Sometimes it's like Billy's forgetting me,” he told her. Kate didn't say anything, just listened and held his hand a little tighter. “I... I miss him. How stupid is that? He's right there in front of me and I miss him. I miss my mom and I miss Cassie and Jonas but... they're different, they're gone. Every morning, I wake up and hope today today is the day he's back.
“But it never is. All I want is my boyfriend back.”
He took a deep shuddering breath to get the Pandora's box of emotions closed again.
“You know what it sounds like to me?” Kate mused. “It sounds like someone's kidnapped Billy. Last I checked, kidnappings mean rescue missions and rescue missions require two things.”
“What are they?” Teddy asked, dutifully becoming Kate's foil.
“First of all you need some dashing heroes, then you need a plan. We've got the heroes -” she gestured between them “now we have to work out the plan.”
“Kate, our plans usually involved hoping for the best and winging it,” Teddy sighed.
“Only when Eli came up with them,” Kate muttered defensively.
“Alright master-plan-maker-person, what do you suggest?”
“It's a kidnapping so we need a simple extraction. Get in, get the target, get out. Also willing to throw a little beat-up-the-kidnapper in to the middle of it.”
“We can't exactly extract Billy from his own head, Kate. Don't get that look, we don't know any telepaths.”
“Maybe we don't but we can still get him away from his kidnappers.”
“How?” Teddy sounded skeptical.
She looked thoughtful, considering her strategy. “Right now,” she began slowly. “His enemy is invisible. It's this thing that he can't see or hear but it's there, all the time. How can you escape from something if you don't know what or where it is? We have to make his kidnapper visible – to Billy at least. That is our rescue plan.”
Teddy thought she looked triumphant, like she'd made a Robin Hood shot in front of a skeptic. However, he was not convinced.
“That's not a plan, Kate. That's the conclusion. We can't make this thing materialize by clicking our fingers.”
“But Billy can.”
“No, Kate.” Teddy protested. “He's not using his magic any more. Especially not when he's like this.”
“Not what I meant. It's his monster-”
“-so he has to be the one to make it appear.” Teddy rubbed his eyes with his free hand. “Kate, I appreciate the metaphor, I really do, but I think you're oversimplifying it. What Billy's going through, we can't beat it up and nor can he.”
Kate looked sad but squeezed his hand again. “Away from the metaphor a bit – has he talked to anyone? Like a therapist or someone?”
“He doesn't even talk to me. What makes you think he'd talk to a stranger who knows nothing about superheroes?”
“It might help him to see the invisible monster.” She shrugged awkwardly. “Take it from someone who knows.”
“I'd rather he talked to me.”
“I know. But he loves you, he might be too busy trying to protect you from his kidnapper to see it. With a stranger, he doesn't have to watch their back in the fight.”
“Hawkeye,” Teddy grinned at her. “I do believe we just planned Billy's rescue.”
“Hulkling,” Kate grinned back. “I think you might be right.”
* * *
When she dropped him home, Teddy leant over and wrapped his arms around Kate in a tight hug.
“Thank you for tonight – for everything – I had fun,” he said.
“My pleasure,” she replied. “Go on, you better go rescue Tommy from the mini-Kaplans.”
“Will do.” He turned to leave but then stopped himself. “Hey Kate?”
“Ditch the cigarettes and get back on the range. Arrows are better for you than tobacco.”
“Really? Because I could've sworn one can shred your lungs and the other is a cigarette,” she smirked. “I'll start in the morning, I promise.”
* * *
It took Teddy most of the following day to work out how to broach the subject of therapy with Billy. He came up with multiple opening lines – all of which he dismissed – and ran the middle of his intended conversation over and over in his head. By the time the evening rolled around he was restless; the sooner they had the talk the better.
Billy was in his same spot in the window, a little stubbly and wrapped up in his favorite gray hoodie. The room was dark so Teddy flicked on the lights.
“Billy, it's been months...”