Twelve

Teddy had never felt so helpless all his life—not even when he’d first been turned into a werewolf and he had to question everything he knew about his life and the lives of his loved ones. At least that had happened to him; he had some control of how he reacted to that, what it would mean for his future and whether he was willing to go along with it or not.

But this? This was different.

Julian’s hand was trembling in his as they waited for the doctor to join them in the office they had immediately been escorted to when they’d arrived. He hadn’t said a word since they’d entered Teddy’s car, staring almost listlessly out the window and chewing on his nails as if biting them down to the nub could stop this from being a reality; as if it could wake him up from the nightmare he was drowning in. Teddy had taken his hand once they’d gotten inside—partly to reassure him and partly to ensure that Julian still had fingers by the end of the day. After all, the piano wouldn’t play itself and Jules had always been an incredibly gifted pianist. It was one of Julian’s many artistic skills, in addition to being an amazing vocalist and actor.

He wanted to ask him if he was okay, but of course he wasn’t. Whatever the doctor had seen, it had been bad enough that he wanted Julian to come in immediately. In Teddy’s experience that only meant a few things and none of them was good.

“Do you remember when we first met?” Teddy asked Julian suddenly.

Julian shifted, as if coming alive for the first time since he’d gotten the phone call. “Of course I do. What about it?”

“I just want you to remember it with me. Do you remember how big those boys were?”

“They were brothers,” Julian said. “I remember that. Their beady little eyes still haunt my nightmares.”

“And you were tiny,” Teddy continued. “Like, miniscule tiny.”

“Hey!” Julian protested. “That was a look, bitch. I’ve been trying to get back to that look ever since.”

Teddy chuckled. It was good to see some of the light come back on in his friend’s dark eyes. “Still, you were dwarfed in that huge ass sweater. But you didn’t give a shit.”

“Why would I?” Julian asked, though Teddy could tell he was glowing in the compliment.

“The point is, those boys were easily twice your size. And there were two of them. You knew that if you walked over and confronted them, they would kick your ass. But you did it anyway. What’s more, though, you didn’t know me. You had no reason to get involved. You could have just let me get the beating that was coming to me and it would have been perfectly acceptable,” Teddy continued.

“I hate bullies,” Julian said, as if that explained away his bravery. And Teddy couldn’t help but love that about his best friend even more; he’d paid no heed to the danger, just charged right in, and he’d never for a second questioned that decision. Teddy constantly wondered what would have become of them if Jules hadn’t stepped in when he did; would they still have become best friends?

Teddy liked to think they were soulmates and they would have found each other no matter what; that their friendship was destined to be. Most people would laugh at him for thinking that, but Teddy didn’t care what most people thought.

“You’re a fighter,” Teddy said. “Even when the odds are stacked against you, even when it seems impossible, you still come out swinging.”

Julian laughed lightly, leaning his head against Teddy’s shoulder. “I think you’re forgetting one part,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“The part where I got my ass kicked in the end.”

Before Teddy could say anything to that rather fatalistic interpretation of that story, the door swung open. Julian retreated from Teddy a bit, turning his full attention to Dr. Kim, who closed the door softly behind him.

He looked pinched and drawn, pulling his seat over so that he was facing them. “I’m sorry to have called you here so suddenly,” Dr. Kim began, “But you understand that I can’t stress the importance of dealing with this in a timely manner.”

“What’s going on?” Julian asked. “You said it was probably just the flu and gave me some medicine. I feel better.”

“It’s important that you not panic,” Dr. Kim said, which, in Teddy’s mind, was the first thing one wanted to do when they heard those words. “It could still be just the flu. But I had some suspicions that it was something altogether more serious, and so I sent your blood in for testing, just to be sure.”

“And?” Julian asked, and Teddy could tell he was getting impatient. He squeezed Julian’s hand, reminding him that he wasn’t here alone.

“And unfortunately, the findings seem to support my initial fears. Now, you have to understand that blood tests are not the be-all, end-all for diagnosis. They can be misleading, especially when the body is fighting off an infection. And even if it is what I fear it is, it’s not the end. There are treatments available and since you’re young, I have high hopes that you’ll be fine…”

“Dr. Kim, please,” Julian cut in. “Get to the point. What are you saying? What do you think I’ve got?”

Teddy could feel Julian’s pulse in his hand, thready and panicked. He was like a small animal facing down a predator and the werewolf couldn’t help but tie into that feeling as well, his own pulse quickening to match Julian’s. What was going on? Was Julian okay? He couldn’t believe there was anything more than just a flu wrong with him…he was fine, wasn’t he?

“That is…I…uh, there’s no easy way to say this,” Dr. Kim began, then cleared his throat. “But I fear you may have cancer.”

Julian went perfectly still. Teddy hadn’t ever seen Julian so still—he was always moving, either messing with his hair or tapping his foot or doing his own little ballet with his hands. None of that was happening now.

And then, all at once, Julian stood. “You’re wrong,” he said. “It’s the flu. Just the flu. I’m…I’m going to need a second opinion.”

“Mr. Thorne…”

“It’s fine. Thank you for your concern, but I think I’d know if I had cancer.”

“Julian, it’s not a done thing. There are countless more tests, a biopsy at the very least. If it is cancer, early diagnosis is key in combatting it. Please, just consider it.”

“I’ll think it over.” Julian turned to Teddy. “Come on. It’s time to go.”

“But Jules…”

“I really just want to go home. Please?”

It was the please that did it for Teddy. He nodded, then Julian immediately left the office. Dr. Kim caught Teddy before he could follow. “Please, talk to him. I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m not, he needs to know as soon as possible. Take this—it’s a list of hospitals and doctors that I trust to handle Julian’s case with care, respect, and efficiency.”

Teddy gave him a tight smile and accepted the papers. “I’ll do my best. But I really hope you’re wrong, too.”

Julian was leaning with his back against the car when Teddy got there and immediately, the blonde knew he was crying. He could tell by the way he covered his eyes, the way his thin shoulders quaked. His heart thumped painfully in his chest at the sight and he swiftly covered the parking lot in quick, wide strides.

He pulled Julian into his arms and held him tightly against his chest, as if he could squeeze the potential sickness inside of his body right out of him. Julian’s arms snaked up his back, sobbing into his shoulder.

Teddy murmured softly to him. He didn’t know what words he said, didn’t even know if he used words at all, but none of that mattered. All that mattered in that moment was Julian.

All this time, Teddy had been trying to protect Julian from his world—a world he equated with danger, while normal life was safety. Suddenly, it seemed that everything was backwards. At least in Teddy’s world, you could fight against the dangers. You could punch, kick, and bite your enemies there. But how did you deal with something like this? How could you fight back when the enemy was literally yourself?

Eventually, Julian’s crying stopped and Teddy stepped back, brushing the tears from his best friend’s face. He opened the passenger door for him and the smaller boy climbed into it.

As Teddy started the engine, he glanced at his best friend. “You know it’s going to be okay, right? You’ll be fine.”

Julian nodded wordlessly and Teddy drove the car back towards their apartment.

Neither of them spoke as Teddy drove; he didn’t even turn on music, which was his go-to when there were no words being spoken. Somehow, it didn’t seem appropriate right now.

As they walked into the dark apartment, the delicious smell of Grey’s soup still bubbling in the slow cooker met them. Julian paused, as if considering it, then he tried on a pained smile. “Hey, at least we know one thing,” he said.

“What is it?”

“Whatever sickness you got, you probably didn’t get it from me. Cancer isn’t contagious.” And then Julian hurried to his bedroom, leaving Teddy alone.

Once he was sure that Julian wasn’t coming back out, he pulled out his phone. “Grey?” he asked when she answered. “We need you.”

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