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It's About Time

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Rufus stared at the Triumphant Councyl, glad he was now officially honored with sunglasses. He’d been summoned while he was taking a mid-party nap, and the glare was a lot for his eyes. “Seriously? Again?”

“History is fraying,” reported the Voice of Excellence, as the two Silent Membyrs nodded gravely. “They are not following the True Path.”

“I didn’t get to finish the victory party.” Rufus sighed, thinking of the assortment of nubile individuals of all genders he’d left back at his pad. “But I guess if our world is at stake. Duty calls, all that. When is the anomaly this time?”

“June 19th, 1988,” intoned the Voice.

They hadn’t even made it a full month. Fucking bogus, dude.

***

The summer was destined to be excellent. It stretched out before Ted, bright and brilliant and beautiful. No schoolwork – not even summer school, for the first time since sixth grade! (Okay, technically Bill hadn’t had to go in eighth grade, but he’d signed up anyway.) New guitars! Actual guitar lessons! The princesses! Pretty soon they’d stop saying, “Look! Swatches!” and “Have you heard of this thing called ‘bookstores’?” and then there’d be – whatever. Probably kissing? Ted wasn’t sure, but it would be great. He went to bed the first night of summer feeling like he’d just shaken the hand of Eddie Van Halen.

That lasted exactly 14 hours. The next day, Ted wandered over to Bill’s house for practice and breakfast cereal that was actually edible – his dad only bought store-brand Twig Bricks – and discovered that, overnight, Bill had become … Weird.

“Hello, Ted. How are you doing?” Bill said as Ted walked into his bedroom, and already the weirdness was fully apparent, because who said that when a simple “hey” covered everything? Also, Bill wasn’t looking at Ted. He was sitting awkwardly on the edge of his bed, looking at the little bobbles on the new teal and purple chenille bedspread Missy had gotten for him.

“Hey,” Ted said, showing him how it was done, because everyone forgot how to make words from time to time.

“I was thinking — yeah,” Bill said, so apparently the weird was going to continue. “Uh. Or. Practice?”

“Practice!” Ted said enthusiastically. “Do you got the video camera?” Because they couldn’t do real practice without the princesses, but no time was a bad time for making a music video.

Everything went more or less normally for the rest of the morning, unless you counted Bill’s blushing thing, which Ted didn’t. Blushing just happened sometimes and it probably didn’t mean anything.

But the weird kept happening. Ted would look up, and Bill would be staring into space, or at his hands, or at Ted, and he wouldn’t even have registered anything Ted said. And that sucked, because Bill was the only person who ever paid attention when Ted said things. Deacon rolled his eyes, Dad shouted over him, and everyone else acted like Ted was like a math teacher: you had to have one around, because laws and stuff, but you didn’t have to listen to him.

So Ted kept trying to get Bill’s attention back. He tried everything: food, movies, heavy metal, music videos, even babes (or, okay, princesses, but those were the only babes who would talk to them).

“Dude,” Ted said to Bill. “You feeling okay?”

Bill sat down on his amp. “I’m just thinking. Do you ever just … think?”

“Of course I do,” Ted said, sitting next to him. Bill looked at him quickly, then looked away. “I think about music! And Cabbage Patch Kids, dude, remember those? SO creepy. I think about those a lot.”

“But, like. The future,” Bill said.

Ted stared at him. “The future is set, dude. We’re gonna have a famous band, and we’re gonna … found a society. Uh. Somehow.” He stared at the guitar in his hands, which he still barely knew how to play, and for a minute he tried to imagine how to get from here, in Bill’s dad’s garage, to there, in Rufus’s far-off great future. It made his head tingle like he’d just snorted Pixy Stix. “Whoa, dude. That’s – that’s major.”

Bill nodded. “Totally major,” he agreed. “And I just – I think about stuff, and I think, what if I’m not That Bill, you know? What if I … what if I’m someone different?”

Ted thought about that. “But you are That Bill,” he said. “Because Rufus came back to save us from our history report.”

Bill looked like he’d eaten some of Missy’s infamous meatloaf. “But then it’s just a circle, dude. We start Rufus’s world because he saved us, and he saves us because we start his world. What if I want something else?”

Ted shrugged. “Then we’ll do something else, dude.” Pretty simple. Obviously they didn’t have to start Rufus’s world, because he’d had to come back to save them to make sure they did. So if Bill didn’t want to, they’d just change the timeline. No big, as far as Ted was concerned.

But Bill still looked off. Weird.

***

So it seemed like the summer’s theme would be weird, not excellent. Ted’s dad decided to have Family Dinners, which seriously cut into Ted’s Bill time and left everyone on edge and Deacon threatening actual mutiny, with, like, a complete plan and everything. And the princesses, when they showed up for band practice, were weird, too. Mostly because they wanted to know why everything was different, and they thought Bill and Ted could tell them.

“But what is ‘women’s liberation’?” Joanna asked, hitting the drum carefully, biting her lip to keep in time.

“It means, like. Women are free and stuff,” Bill tried.

Ted nodded. “And they can vote!” He shoved his hair out of his face for the ninetieth time. Like, his dad was definitely wrong about no man’s hair needing to be more than an inch long, but maybe a … barrette or something. He needed to figure out how Axl Rose handled this.

“What is ‘vote’?” Elizabeth asked. She was looking between her hands and some pieces of paper she’d brought with her, positioning them on the keyboard.

“Uh,” Ted said, casting a desperate look at Bill. “It’s when you go to the polls, and you check off which person you want to be in charge, and then whoever gets the most checks is in charge.”

“Kind of,” Bill said.

Elizabeth looked up, frowning. “Bill, Ted,” she said. “I believe you have something called ‘textbooks’ that we would like to borrow.”

“Sorry, babes,” Bill said. “We had to give them back at the end of the year. No summer school!” he added, and Ted and he did air guitar to celebrate.

Then Ted said, “But I forgot to give mine back, so you can borrow them. I think my dad had to pay for them, actually, so you can keep them.”

“Excellent!” Joanna said. “But for now, I believe we should practice. I believe I am very close to mastering the thing they call 4/4 time.”

And since Ted wasn’t even sure what that was, he definitely needed to practice. He put his hands on the guitar strings, focused, and played.

***

After practice, Ted tagged along with the princesses as they headed back to the apartment Rufus had found for them. Ted was honestly pretty envious. No one was making them eat microwaved green beans and macaroni and cheese with hamburger in it at 6:30 sharp, and no one was checking to see if they went out at night, either. On the other hand, no one was picking up after them or reminding them to do it, and apparently princesses didn’t do that themselves, so there were definitely minuses to the situation. Ted waded through the shopping bags covering the living room part of the apartment and flopped down on the couch. It felt weird to be here without Bill. It felt weird to be anywhere without Bill. But Bill had “needed time to think about stuff,” so Ted was alone. He didn’t like it.

He stared around at the amazing heap of bags, many of them from stores he didn’t even recognize. The princesses had found more stuff to buy than Ted had ever even seen, he was pretty sure. “What is all this, princess babes?” Except he probably just should have said ‘babe,’ because Joanna had gone off to tend to her drumsticks-induced blisters. She tended to rock out beyond a safe level after an hour or so of practice.

Elizabeth sighed softly. “I have asked you to call me Elizabeth, Ted, and I ask it again.”

“Sorry,” Ted said. “I just look at you and I think – whoa, babe.” He smiled, hoping that was a solid compliment. Elizabeth also smiled, but she didn’t look exactly like she thought he was peanut butter and she was chocolate. He continued, “So, like I was saying. What is all this, Elizabeth?”

“More garments, which seemed most reasonably priced, albeit made from shockingly inferior fabric,” Elizabeth said, wading toward the other couch, although she made it look easy. “In addition, we have finally located a source of embroidery materials, so we can begin work on our tapestry chronicling our journey to San Dimas.”

“Excellent!” Ted was only 90% sure what a tapestry was, but he was definitely looking forward to seeing his embroider-me doing time traveling hijinks with embroider-Bill.

Elizabeth picked up one of the bags and began sorting through it. “I have also made a purchase for you, Ted.” She pulled out a book and handed it to him.

“Whoa! Easy Guitar in Eight Lessons!” Ted said. “Sweet.” It was, after all, time for them to start learning to play. It was a crime against music to play badly on those savory guitars Rufus gave them. He flipped it open and looked at the table of contents. Whoa, chords.

“We are finding that many things are available at bookstores,” she said, and sat down in the space she’d cleared from one of the couches. “The variety and scope is entrancing.”

Ted hastily shifted some bags onto the floor, where they joined other bags, and sat down opposite her. “So,” he said. “The thing is. Bill.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Yes?”

“Did you notice him being weird? Like, did he seem strange to you?”

Elizabeth considered. “He seemed very much as usual to me, albeit somewhat more tired.”

“Well, trust me. He’s strange.”

“I do trust you, Ted. You have been a reliable guide to the world of San Dimas thus far.”

Ted waited, but that seemed to be all she had to say on the topic. He was forced to elaborate. “So, like, what do I do?” And then he added, in case it hadn’t been clear, “About Bill?”

Princess Elizabeth considered, her head inclined at an angle. “When I was in the presence of gentlemen who became, as you say, weird, I often feigned illness, or asked one of my ladies-in-waiting to summon me. This generally worked as at least a temporary escape.”

“The thing is, though, I don’t want to get away from him. I want to hang out with him more, but make him stop being weird.” Ted kind of thought that should have gone without saying, but the princesses were still adapting to modern life. They missed stuff sometimes, and it was important to be patient with them.

“I have no experience,” Princess Elizabeth said, “with wanting to spend additional time with a man.” Ted sat up, hurt, and she added quickly, “Although you are of course a pleasant companion.”

Ted was willing to take that as a compliment, but it was clear the princesses were not going to be much help.

***

Ted decided he needed to give it a day, so he could think about it, but hanging around the house was totally bogus. Deacon microwaved a baseball and set it on fire, and then Dad came home early.

“Hello, Ted!” he said heartily, as soon as he walked in. He’d been trying that a lot lately, and Ted sort of thought he was trying to be one of those black and white fathers from old TV.

“Hi, Dad,” Ted said, already cursing his decision to stay home.

“I thought I’d take off the afternoon and we could head out back. Play some catch,” Dad said.

“Uh, actually – I need to go to Bill’s house. Emergency band meeting,” Ted said, and basically dove out of the house and ran, grabbing his backpack by reflex as he went.

But then there really wasn’t anywhere to go except actually to Bill’s house. Missy let him in and said, “He’s upstairs. I’m glad you’re here.” She actually looked sort of … worried? Pretty much the same way she’d looked back in freshman year, when the quarterback got hurt during the big Azusa High game. “I’ll leave you boys alone, but give a holler if you need anything!” She patted Ted on the shoulder and went off to do something in the kitchen.

Bill was, in fact, upstairs. He was lying on his bed with all the blinds closed, staring up at his ceiling like there was a poster of Ozzy Osbourne up there. Ted walked in and sat down on the edge of the bed. He looked up, but nope. Still no poster.

“I went to see the princesses,” he said, trying to make a little conversation.

“Oh,” Bill said. “Uh. How are they?”

“Dude, I think they’ve bought everything in San Dimas. Princess Elizabeth gave me a book, look!” And he handed it over.

“Whoa,” Bill said. “There’s books about this stuff?”

“That’s what I said! And my question is: why don’t they ever make us read books like that?”

“I guess because we never signed up for band class, Ted,” Bill said.

He was looking through the book instead of looking at Ted, and it didn’t feel exactly weird, but it also wasn’t exactly what Ted wanted, somehow, so he looked around the room for inspiration. “Dude! Your dad got you a new TV?”

“Yeah!” Bill said, sitting up on his bed and looking enthusiastic for the first time all day. “As a reward for our righteously excellent history report. It has a built-in VCR and everything.”

“Dude,” Ted said, suddenly realizing why Bill looked so exhausted. “You got a VCR. In your room.”

“I know, dude!” Bill seemed enthusiastic, although not exactly as enthusiastic as Ted would be in the same situation.

Ted got up and closed and locked Bill’s door. “What are we watching?”

Bill swallowed audibly. Then he reached under his bed and pulled out two videotapes. “Choose your poison, dude. We have Mr. Stricter’s Reform School or Needy Housewife Next Door.”

“Reform School,” Ted said, and he shifted back so he was leaning against the wall, getting as comfortable as he could, considering that his jeans were already getting tighter.

Bill put in the videotape, grabbed the remote, and settled down on the bed, sitting next to Ted. “Ready, dude?”

Ted was so ready he was sort of jittery, already feeling a little flushed. The video started abruptly, with Mr. Stricter interrupting two of the reform school girls kissing, and Ted was not complaining. He shifted to give himself more room in his jeans. He felt Bill next to him doing the same, and for some reason that was – like, even hotter? Weird, Ted thought. And then he was distracted by Mr. Stricter and the girls again, and the next thing he knew, he was pressing his hand down on his dick over his jeans, just trying to get some relief.

Bill cleared his throat, but didn’t say anything. Ted wasn’t sure of the deal, here. Was he supposed to pretend Bill wasn’t there? Ted followed his usual impulse when he was confused, and looked at Bill.

Bill was staring back at him with eyes that had gone surprisingly dark and even larger than usual. Okay, Ted thought, I guess it’s cool to look at each other, then. But he couldn’t remember exactly why he was looking. He just stared at Bill, watching as a deep red flush spread across his face, as he squeezed his eyes shut for a second and then opened them again like he was trying not to.

Bill licked his lips, which was distracting, and Ted watched helplessly, somehow getting Bill’s lips mixed up in his head with the noises the girls were making on the screen. Ted’s dick jerked, and he groaned. He needed – he needed to get off, right now. “Bill,” Ted said, and couldn’t figure out how to finish the sentence.

“Fuck it,” Bill said quietly, and he reached over and undid Ted’s jeans, his eyes darting between Ted’s face and his own hands, working on unfastening Ted’s jeans. Ted watched, too, riveted by the sight of Bill’s hands on his fly. They were shaking, Ted noticed, causing slight increases in pressure that Ted felt through his whole body.

It was too good. It felt too good, Bill’s fingers working over Ted’s dick, and then his hand was on Ted’s dick, and that felt even better. Ted watched, overwhelmed, as Bill stroked him, and he came before he even knew it was going to happen.

It was a minute before Ted could focus on anything, and when he could, the first thing he saw was his own come on Bill’s hand. “Whoa,” he said. “Dude.

They had figured out something new and awesome and excellent, and this was already better than any idea they’d ever had before. He reached out for Bill without any real idea of what he was doing; he just wanted to get his hands on him, and whatever happened after that would be golden. Also hot as hell.

But then Bill said, “I gotta – uh.” And he wiped his hand off on the sheets, got up, and left.

Ted’s brain was ultra hazy, so it took him like ten minutes to realize that Bill had for real run away from his own room. He cleaned up, and then he looked around the house for Bill. After ten minutes or so, he tracked down Missy, who was swaying in the kitchen to something on her Walkman, burning something that was probably dinner. She sang, “You will never never never know me, never never --” and then she did a twirl and caught sight of Ted.

“Hi, Ted!” she said, pushing one of the earpieces off so she could hear him, and somehow managing not to disturb the careful arrangement of her golden hair in the process.

“Uh, do you know where Bill went?”

She shook her head. “No, sorry. He said he had to go check on something. I guess it must have been important. He was in a hurry. Do you want to wait for him? You could have dinner with us. I’m sure he’ll be back by then.”

Ted shook his head. “I’m good!” Dinners with Dad were uncomfortable and awkward. Dinners with Missy tended to be the kind of bad that left you unable to face mac and cheese ever again, and that was – that was just wrong, a crime against nature. No one should be able to ruin mac and cheese.

Instead, Ted went back to his own room, to think. But first he went back up to Bill’s room and tried to figure out how to leave a note about this. In the end, he wrote WYLD STALLYNS RULE on a piece of notebook paper and left it on Bill’s bed, figuring Bill would call him whenever he got back from his – whatever. Handjob-related vacation, maybe?

***

But he didn’t call. And he didn’t show up at any of the usual places that Ted checked.

Ted spent the first day bewildered and the second day indignant, but by the third day he was genuinely worried. He needed a plan. Which, again, was a problem, because Bill was kind of the Plan Guy on their team. Ted thought about it, and thought about it some more, and then decided to call the princesses and see if they wanted to go to the mall.

They did.

Ted followed them around while they looked at art supplies and then lured them to a table in the food court with Orange Juliuses. “You got to try these,” he said. The princesses still looked unsure. “The foods of an era are often one of the keys to understanding the culture of the period,” he said, quoting sophomore year’s history textbook.

The princesses nodded, accepted their cups, and sat down with him at one of the plastic food court tables. “This is quite interesting,” Joanna said. “I like it.”

Ted slurped his Orange Julius and considered his approach. “I kind of – things are weird with Bill,” he said. He tried to figure out how to say ‘handjob’ in 15th century, but it was a tough call.

“You had already mentioned that,” Elizabeth said. She opened her handbag and started taking stuff out of it – a weird-looking comb, a wallet, four lipsticks.

“Well, they’re weirder now.”

“Oh?” Joanna said, her eyebrows creased with concern. Elizabeth was still stacking stuff from her purse on the table.

Ted nodded, running his hands through his hair. “Like, I thought I figured it out. I thought he was just – you know.” He tried to figure out how to say ‘beating off a lot,’ but that was another tough one. “Uh, needing some alone time. But then we did some stuff, and then he left, and now he’s not even calling.”

“Ted,” Joanna said, “perhaps, if you wish to speak to him, you will need to call him.” Elizabeth started making a pile of all the receipts from her handbag.

“I tried that already. Like, two days ago I tried that. Missy said he was out taking a walk. Who does that?”

The princesses exchanged glances. Joanna cleared her throat. “We have been reading many interesting works on subjects related to this,” she said.

“You must learn that you are your own person,” Elizabeth said, balling up her receipts. “You do not need another person to make you whole.” She threw her receipts and her empty Orange Julius cup in the trash.

Ted sighed. “I don’t need another person,” he said. “I just need Bill.”

The princesses did the glance-exchange thing again, except this time it took a lot longer and involved some eyebrow action. “Ted,” Elizabeth said eventually, and her voice was a lot softer than usual, “we will go purchase some reading material that will assist you in your learning process.” She swept all the things from the table back into her handbag, and both princesses got up with determined looks on their faces.

Ted went home that night with no plan and a copy of Ms and something called The Women’s Room, which sounded terrifying, although the princesses assured him it was very compelling.

That night, he lay in his bed, trying to sleep, his brain running over and over the Thing That Happened, as he’d started to think of it, and then he heard it: the faint but unmistakeable sound of a time machine.

Yes, Ted thought immediately. This is how I solve the Bill Problem. With time travel. It had worked for history, after all.

***

“Rufus!” Ted yelled enthusiastically. Rufus wished he wouldn’t. Time travel was hell on hangovers, which even enlightened modern medicine couldn’t entirely cure.

“Ted,” Rufus started, but Ted interrupted him.

“Dude. Is – is Bill going to join the French Foreign Legion? Is that how we get separated?” His face wrinkled with worry.

Rufus sighed. “Ted,” he said again. “Why don’t we go somewhere nice and talk about it?”

Ted stared at him blankly. “It’s one in the morning and we’re in San Dimas, dude.”

“We have a time machine, dude,” Rufus said, gesturing pointedly at his machine’s open door. Ted followed him in, and he dialed up Classical Greece, 475 BCE, which seemed a suitable place for discussing Ted’s latest life crisis. Rufus, after all, had the advantage of having read both A Wyld Life and Bill YES Preston, Esquire, so he knew where this was going. Ted didn’t, poor guy, and he deserved a nice setting and some gentle anesthesia to wrap his head around it, so Rufus led Ted to the Councyl Safe House in Athens and poured them both a cup of wine, watering Ted’s a little and his own a lot.

“Dude, I love history,” Ted said, drinking half the glass. “Nowhere cards you.”

Rufus raised his glass and said, “To history!” History was, after all, pretty great, if somewhat challenging to keep on track. The amount of time Rufus had spent on December 19, 2273 alone … well. Good thing Chronological Rectifiers existed.

Ted said, slightly confused, “To history!” and knocked back the other half of his drink.

“Things haven’t been great, Rufus,” he said sadly. “I thought this summer was going to be so triumphant, but it’s just been … it’s just been bogus, dude.”

Rufus nodded and refilled Ted’s glass.

“Bill’s been weird, and the princesses are weird, and everything’s just … weird.” Ted drank some more.

“Whoa, dude,” Rufus said.

“And I know I need a plan, but making a plan without Bill is hard. And the princesses say I need to be my own person who doesn’t need anyone else, but I do. I need Ted.”

“Totally,” Rufus said. He didn’t point out to Ted that Bill also needed him, because he knew that in a couple of days Bill was going to say that, and using your knowledge of the future to one-up a contemp was against the Guidelines for Excellence in Time Travel.

“Like,” Ted said. “He – do they have handjobs in the future?”

“Can a future be truly excellent without handjobs?” You wanted this honor, he reminded himself. Thousands of our most gifted people vied for it. You have a job to do and do well. Even if it does mean discussing your idols’ teenaged sex lives.

“Good point, dude,” Ted said, and did half-hearted solo air guitar. “But, like, Bill was weird, and then we were watching porn, and he did that, and then he just … left. Even though we were in his room! I didn’t even get my hand on his, uh, you know. And now he won’t talk to me. It’s heinous.”

Rufus refilled Ted’s cup again and reminded himself that he was a trained Chronological Rectifier First Class, a person with responsibilities to time and the future, and one of those responsibilities was getting Bill and Ted back on track, even if this whole conversation was more painful than going down two time tubes at the same time. “What did you do?”

Ted blinked at him in confusion. “Do? Uh. Nothing?”

Rufus waited for the magic to happen in Ted’s skull.

He waited some more.

He gave up. “What were you feeling?” he asked, feeling like a therapist from a 21st century movie.

“Totally excellent,” Ted said. “It was – like – it was excellent,” he repeated. “Better than Waterloo.” His brow wrinkled. “Do you think he thought it was bogus? What do you think he’s, like, thinking about?”

Rufus rubbed his temples and sighed. Obviously, his degree should have included more courses in relationship counseling and fewer ones in relativistic calculus. He poured more wine. “I think the question, Ted, is what are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking,” Ted said, and then he stopped, staring into his cup, and Rufus sat up straighter, because he could see from Ted’s expression that he was actually thinking. Or, at least, the expression was a lot like the one his hologram in the Councyl forechambers wore. “I’m thinking that this is bogus, and it could be excellent, and I need to find Bill and make him get that. Because the real problem in all of this has been: no Bill.” He looked up. “Rufus, we need to get back to San Dimas.”

“It’s three in the morning there,” Rufus pointed out.

Ted smiled. “That’s a good thing. He has to sleep sometime, dude.”

***

The time machine took them to Bill’s backyard, and Ted left it, full of determination. Fortunately, he knew exactly how to get into Bill’s room. There was the tree, and then the rope swing, and then the porch roof, and then in through the window, and it was all a lot easier now than when they’d first set it up, seven years ago.

Bill was sleeping, and Ted was actually sort of … like, it was nice to see him again, after three whole days without seeing his face. It felt like the universe was snapping into place again, like things were going right again. It felt like what Mr. Ryan called a Moment of Insight. Ted was definitely having insights, right now.

And then Ted shook himself. “Whoa, dude. You’re kind of like Norman Bates right now, except not the girl clothes part,” he said, very quietly, and he went to nudge Bill’s shoulder.

Bill blinked at Ted, only half awake. “Ted,” he said, and his face split into a happy grin before his eyes even focused all the way, though it went back to a more cautious, guarded, talking-to-a-teacher-who-might-be-disappointed expression a second later.

“Yeah!” Ted whispered. Bill’s dad slept like the dead lately, but Missy was a really light sleeper.

“Dude, what happened?” Bill whispered, sitting up.

“Rufus came back, and we went to Greece, and --” Ted broke off. “Dude, can we go somewhere else?”

Bill nodded, climbed out of bed, and shoved on his socks and sneakers to go with his threadbare sleep sweatpants and his old Van Halen t-shirt with the cutoff collar and sleeves. Ted had seen them a hundred times before, but this time he was definitely noticing very different things. Mostly Bill’s biceps, but also his collarbones. Ted wanted to bite them, he realized.

Ted led the way back out of Bill’s window, and they headed to Lone Hill Park, pretty much the most boring park in the history of California. But it had swings, which had been pretty fun to use at night way back in middle school, and they both turned toward them without hesitation.

Ted walked along next to Bill feeling – momentous. Like some major Thing was about to happen, like the world was about to change. Each step felt big and important and it was – it wasn’t excellent, it wasn’t bogus; it was something else. Something new, that Ted didn’t have any name for.

Ted decided not to worry about it. Instead, he focused on Bill, who was watching him carefully as they got to the swings and sat down in their usual spots.

“I’ve been having a lot of thoughts,” Bill said, drawing a line through the sand with the toe of his shoe.

“Dude, me too,” Ted said. “It’s so much thinking all the time.”

Bill said, “I went to talk to the princesses.”

He sounded kind of unsure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, and Ted could totally relate. “They read a lot,” he said sympathetically.

“They told me that I needed to accept who I am. And also that I needed to be freed of my” – Bill scrunched up his face, trying to remember – “outmoded attachment to gender roles and hetero … something.”

“I don’t understand half the stuff they say anymore,” Ted said, though that was maybe lowballing it.

“Yeah.”

Ted tilted his head, trying to imagine Joanna and Elizabeth in the kind of formal dresses he saw at the mall, sitting next to Bill and Ted in a limo. The picture had never been super clear, but now it fuzzed out completely, replaced with Elizabeth’s voice saying, ‘Women are no longer chattel, Ted.’ Ted didn’t even know what chattel was. “I don’t think they’re going to prom with us, dude.”

“Yeah,” Bill said, and then he took a deep breath and said, “I kind of don’t want to.”

For a second, it was a weird thought. They’d spent so long talking about prom, and dates, and the stuff they wanted to do in high school, and the princesses were, like, all of that wrapped up in gorgeous soft pink wrappers.

And then Ted blinked, and it wasn’t weird anymore. “Yeah, me neither,” he said. The princesses – they were cool, but they were doing their own thing, and it wasn’t prom. And Bill and Ted, they had their own thing to do too, right?

Bill looked over at him directly, for the first time in what felt like forever. “Yeah?” he said.

“Totally,” Ted said. “We’ve got music to learn and songs to write and prom’s a whole year away. By then maybe we’ll be doing gigs and --” but he broke off, because that wasn’t what he was actually thinking. “And I’d rather, like. Hang with you, dude. Like we did the last three proms, but – kind of better.”

Bill nodded. “I keep thinking,” he said. “There’s this whole excellent future that we have to make, but what if. What if we’re not those guys?”

Ted didn’t think that was a very hard problem. “We are, dude. And if we’re not, that’s the future’s problem.”

Bill was silent for a while, moving around aimlessly in the swing, making patterns in the sand. Ted just watched. “I thought you were dead,” Bill finally said. “In the castle.”

“But I wasn’t,” Ted pointed out.

“Yeah. But I thought you were,” Bill repeated, like Ted wasn’t getting it.

And the thing was, Ted wasn’t getting it. Until suddenly he was. “Oh, and then you had a Moment of Insight,” he said.

“Totally,” Bill said, sounding kind of distressed by it. “But, like, not the kind of insight they talk about in history class.”

For a second, Ted wondered if maybe they would talk about this Moment of Insight in some future history class, but he shook it off, focused on the moment. “I had one of those too,” he said.

“Yeah?” Bill said, looking over at him, a smile spreading across his whole face.

“Yeah,” Ted said, and now he was somehow the one blushing and looking away.

“Dude,” Bill said. “Maybe we should, uh. Go back to my room?”

Ted thought about it, really imagined it, and swallowed hard. “Or maybe we should go back to mine. Dad’s got an overnight, and Missy’s a light sleeper.” And Ted, well. He didn’t have a lot of plans to be quiet. He shivered in anticipation.

Bill nodded, and they got up and started walking towards Ted’s house, moving maybe a little bit faster than they usually did. But even so, Ted was thinking.

Maybe the summer wasn’t supposed to be excellent, he thought. Maybe it was supposed to be educational. Which would normally suck, but he liked the things he was learning this time around.

“Hey!” he said, way too loud, realizing something. “I kind of did go to summer school, after all!”

Bill laughed, and hit him in the shoulder, and they both broke into a run.

***

Rufus watched from his time machine, in stealth mode so Bill and Ted wouldn’t be disturbed. They were sort of like pandas: they needed perfect conditions, privacy, and a ton of luck to get together, but they made the world a better place.

Once they took off towards Ted’s house, he knew he’d fixed things. Or, really, Ted had. The old wisdom said that you should never meet your heroes, and probably it would have been even harsher about going back in time to meet your heroes as hormonal teenagers before they ever became great. But there was something to be said for watching two dudes become your heroes. Become themselves.

Although he didn’t really want to bear witness to the next scene, which both Bill and Ted had described in their autobiographies, and which he’d seen versions of in nine different sensories. They could go have their private time.

Instead, he thought, maybe he should go check in on Elizabeth and Johanna. They never needed help to get where they were going, but maybe they would want to talk some dialectical gender theory. Or maybe Rufus could get them to work on a tapestry with him.

That’d be something to show the folks at home for sure.