Soundtrack: We Are All Made of Stars – Moby
No One Can Stop Us
America couldn’t focus on Buffy.
Tonight was destined to be one of those nights, where frustration bubbled too close to the surface and all she wanted to do was hit something over and over and over until the buzzing in her veins waned to exhaustion. Instead, she pulled her knees up against her chest and took a long pull from her beer.
On the couch, Teddy focused his attention on the TV, but his eyes drooped. It wasn’t fair, but she was frustrated with him too. After everything, after all the chickening out he’d done over Billy, he somehow beat her to the punch in feelings-confessions.
And now Teddy had a boyfriend. A boyfriend passed out on top of him. A boyfriend Teddy clearly got up to something with, because you could always tell when someone had, in how they touched one another around other people. Casual – but knowing. Teddy knew Billy from Hot Topic biblically. What a trip.
America assumed she’d muster up the wherewithal to ask Kate on a date before Teddy got his. Teddy might have been big and blonde and an objectively attractive human being, but he didn’t have the same sense of self that she did. He was still building it and America was proud of him, even if that pride was tinted with jealousy because how? How had he managed to fortify enough to fess up to Billy?
This shitshow would be less complicated if Kate were a stranger, but somewhere along the way, they’d become friends. Asking a stranger out presented far less risk than asking a friend. Being rejected by a stranger was disappointing, but a friend? Devastating. And hell, it came with connotations.
The friendly rivalry between America’s softball team – the Multipasses – and Kate and Cassie’s – the Avengers – would turn sour. America couldn’t walk into the Dick’s Sporting Goods (so ironic, that name) for new kickboxing gloves (America wore through hers at an embarrassing rate) or strength equipment for the apartment without having someone to avoid. There’d be no more daytrips in Kate’s ridiculous car to escape the suburbs they were all trapped in to see the sights hours away.
Okay. Maybe that was fatalistic.
But best case scenario? America might get to keep all those things with Kate, but they’d be awkward and shitty.
America finished her beer. She considered another one, but because God was dead, her manager scheduled her for a clopen and America had to be at Kick It – her favorite shoe store, at least until she worked in it – at seven in the morning. She unfolded her body to toss the beer bottle in the recycling and drink a glass of water like A Responsible Adult.
When she backtracked with a bowl of cereal in her arms, Billy had woken up. He rubbed sleep out of his eyes, and his hair stuck up funny on one side, and behind him, Teddy looked at him like he hung the moon.
“Oh, hey,” Billy greeted, when America flopped back onto the armchair. “America, right?”
“That’s me,” she said around her spoon, and added, just to make them turn red, “I see you deflowered Theodore this evening.”
“America,” Teddy said, exasperated. He raked his fingers through the mussed side of Billy’s hair, and his voice softened to ask his friggin’ boyfriend, “It’s getting pretty late. You wanna stay the night?”
Billy chewed his lip. “I really wish I could,” he said, “but I don’t have my night meds with me and I really shouldn’t skip ‘em.”
Teddy, being himself, replied, “Don’t worry about it. We can plan for another night.”
America didn’t ask about the meds, even if she kinda wanted to. That shit wasn’t her business. But, after Teddy slipped out to walk Billy to his car and toed back in, she leered at him.
“Make sure you keep it down when your boyfriend stays the night.”
Making Teddy blush was like shooting fish in a barrel. Red crept over his ears and into the collar of his t-shirt. He rubbed the back of his neck and started, “I wouldn’t –”
America held up a hand. “I’m giving you shit, dumbass.”
He glared, but his heart wasn’t in it. His head was in the fucking clouds.
While America finished her cereal and Teddy shuffled around, switching off the television and folding away the blanket he draped over Billy, they were quiet. Some evenings were like that, and America liked that about living with Teddy. People always expected her to be loud, for a number of reasons, and sometimes she was, but this was nice too – being with another person that knew you well enough to be quiet with you.
And Teddy had that pensive look on his face he got when he was thinking about his mom, which always made America think about her moms, and then they’d be sad and quiet together. Having someone else to mourn with took a whole load off America didn’t know she’d been carrying, not until she and Teddy got to talking at one of Kate’s parties and he asked her if she still lived at home and she had to do that thing, that terrible awkward thing, where you have to explain to somebody that your parents are dead.
Instead of going sheet white and stammering like a lot of people did – it wasn’t their fault, she knew that, she did, but sometimes it made her so fucking angry that people had the luxury of not understanding. No, Teddy’s lips turned up in a melancholy little smile and he held out his fist for her to bump.
“Dead parents club,” he’d said, and America laughed.
She’d bumped her fist against his and agreed, “Shittiest club in the universe.”
Being with a person who got it meant she didn’t have to shoulder that shit alone.
Even if Teddy did have his boyfriend now, and America was staring down this yawning pit of feeling that swallowed her right up whenever she was with Kate Bishop. Crushes were stupid. Girls were amazing. But crushes on girls were still stupid and it sucked.
“Wanna talk about it?” Teddy asked, when he flicked off the kitchen light.
“Nah, I’ll figure it out,” America said.
“I know you will,” Teddy told her, and side-hugged her goodnight.
America did not figure it out.
Suddenly fucking everybody was in a relationship. Teddy had Billy, and Billy started staying the night at their apartment more nights than he didn’t. Tommy had that kid David that worked at the puzzle store and was also in a couple of America’s classes, and they looked just as happy in their own weird way.
Okay, maybe that was it, but that was four people. Four people she saw regularly. Two she saw regularly enough to know how Billy liked his coffee in the morning now, which was a weirdly specific piece of information to have on a kid that wore space pants eighty-five percent of the time. Maybe more like eighty-nine.
She and Kate functioned like they always did. They played games Sunday afternoons – sometimes against one another, other times not, but no matter what, America always went to watch the Avengers play and Kate always came to watch the Multipasses. X’Andria poked fun at America when Kate came to watch instead of play, because America played harder that way.
Kate heckled her, lovingly, and joined the team for pizza after like she always did. Every weekend. Like clockwork.
“So what’s stopping you?” asked Teddy.
Today, the limited gear they had at the apartment didn’t work out, so they’d rolled out to the gym in the stripmall a couple blocks away from their apartment. They were only a couple weight classes apart, which made boxing together fun – America was six feet tall and thick with muscle, Teddy was six-two and built thicker around the shoulders and waist.
“I don’t know,” America said through gritted teeth. She threw her fist forward, but Teddy blocked her. “I told you. She’s from a whole different world.”
“America. Dude. She hangs out with Tommy.”
This time, America landed a hit. Teddy fell back on the mats with an oof.
“And Tommy’s not trying to get into her pants.”
“Yeah, ‘cause he already did it,” Teddy replied. At America’s pointed glower, he held up his gloved hands and said, “And they didn’t work out! But she gave him a chance. I don’t think she gives a shit about the whole money thing. I really, really don’t.”
America didn’t either, but –
This stupid little piece of her wanted to know how she was supposed to share her sordid history with somebody who had everything. What did she have to offer a princess that could have whatever she wanted with the ring of a bell?
Teddy unrolled back to his full height and cracked his neck. “Here’s my hot take,” he said.
“Better be piping fucking hot.”
“Maybe you’re so worried about Kate not giving you chance that you’re not giving her a chance,” Teddy said. “Next time she throws a thing, and you know she’s gonna throw a thing, give her a shot. I’m not even saying shoot yours. I’m saying let her shoot hers.”
America could feel her brows drawing tight. “That’s – hm.”
“I’m not saying I’m right,” Teddy went on, “but I could be.”
“When did you get all wise?” she asked. “You’re usually an idiot.”
Teddy laughed. “We can take turns being the idiot.”
“Your turn with the brain cell,” she agreed.
Somebody tracked out of the locker room as America went in for another hit. At her hesitation, Teddy took advantage, and knocked her onto the floor. David from her women’s studies and indigenous peoples classes gaped at them both in the workout gear of a beginner. Up close, he was taller than she was, broad in the shoulder but otherwise slim.
“David!” Teddy exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
David sucked his lower lip in between his teeth. “Working out?” he said, like a question, then repeated more firmly, “Working out. I’ve been thinking lately that I need to work out more.”
“C’mon and join us,” America said.
“Are you planning on beating me up and stealing my lunch money?” snarked David.
You know? The more America learned about David, the more she liked him.
“Only a little,” she replied. “You’ll catch on. I promise.”
Kate threw a thing. She always threw a thing. And America always went to the thing, because even though being in the weird, frigid museum of a house Kate lived in set her teeth on edge, she wanted to be around Kate. Kate was a fucking lamp and America was the dumbass moth ready to fly right into her.
“What’s the occasion?” America asked, when Kate told her they were throwing a party on a Wednesday night, because, as retail flunkies, they all worked the weekend.
Kate shrugged a shoulder, nose crinkling up with that knowing grin of hers, and she said, “For fun, Chavez. That’s a thing you can have. Did you know that?”
America socked her on the shoulder and grumbled that she’d be there, and now she was here with Teddy’s eerily sage advice ringing in her ears.
Kate knew everyone, and so everyone was here. That Loki kid that liked green and dramatic gold jewelry lurked in the corner. Eli kicked his feet up, arguing with one of those guys that worked at the Best Buy (Nate? Maybe?) about something that sounded arbitrary. Billy never came to these things, but he’d put in an appearance, hands wrapped around a root beer because he’d never tried drinking on whatever meds he took and didn’t want to test it. Tommy moved through the crowd like he had wings on his fucking feet, chatting with everyone and dancing and laughing, and David hovered a step behind him – sharing the same drink, maybe to curb whatever kinda shit got Tommy totally wrecked at Kate’s birthday party.
And in the throng of people, Kate stood tall, her small frame wrapped up in a cropped purple hoodie and black shorts that left an entire pale midriff for America’s eyes to glue to.
She caught America looking. And she looked – tired? Almost?
America inclined her head toward the hall. Having done too much exploration of Kate’s dad’s house, she knew full well the back door led to an obscene pool, and maybe it was a little cold to go out that direction, but if Kate needed the quiet, that’s where they’d find it.
“It’s heated,” Kate said, and let the French doors click together behind her. She bent at the waist and unbuckled her spunky little sandals, simple but probably more expensive than America’s car. With a long sigh, Kate lowered her legs into the water. She patted the stone next to her.
America mimicked her, and when she let her browner, thicker legs float next to Kate’s, Kate scooted closer. Their hands sat against the stone only a fraction of an inch apart. Even tired, Kate was impossibly pretty. Japanese heritage gave her a rounded face and thick, black hair that smelled like lavender shampoo. Something expensive. Something intoxicating. What America would give to bury her face in that hair.
“You okay, princess?” she finally asked.
Kate deflated, throwing herself back onto the cement with an irreverent fart noise.
“This sucks,” said Kate. “I thought having everyone around would distract me from all my bullshit but it only made my bullshit feel bullshittier. You know?”
“Yeah,” America said, and she did, actually.
The nights were warming up, now that it was May, but the air still had a gentle bite to it when the breeze skated over their skin. Goosebumps rose on America’s skin, but she didn’t want to move. She didn’t want to leave Kate. And, hey, even if they were at some capitalist-worshiping shitshow of a house, the stars were pretty and the pool felt nice and the girl America liked was smiling up at her even though she was tired.
“Worried you’re gonna get your ass beat on Sunday?” America teased.
Kate rolled her eyes. “Nah. It’s – ugh. Nevermind.”
And America recognized that expression. The expression that said I’ve seen some shit and I don’t want to be a bummer.
“You can tell me if you want,” America offered.
“It’s just that...” Kate started. She reached up to press the heels of her hands into her eyes, but then paused, remembering (unlike Billy ever did) that she’d done her eyeliner and didn’t want to smear it. “The anniversary of my mom’s death is Friday. My sister and my dad cope by pretending she never even existed and every year I hate it more and more and more because I’m the only one that really remembers her, I guess. Ugh. Fuck. Sorry. I know that’s heavy.”
“It sucks,” said America. “I didn’t know your mom died.”
“Yeah. I was little.”
“Me too,” America said.
Kate sat up, at that. “Wait, you too?” she asked.
“Yeah. Me and Teddy call our apartment the Dead Moms Club.”
“Shittiest club ever.”
“I know, right?”
America’s heart slapped out against her ribcage. She wanted to reach over and kiss Kate like she always wanted, but it didn’t seem right. Not right now. Instead, she shifted closer. Under the water, she hooked her calf through Kate’s, and she offered her hand palm-up on the stone edge of the pool. Kate stared at America’s proffered hand between them. After a breath, she put her smaller hand in America’s and laced their fingers together.
“You wanna tell me about her?” America said, because sometimes that was the best way to mourn the people you lost. Sometimes you just needed somebody to listen to what you missed the most about them.
Kate smiled, corners of her mouth lifting just barely. A sad smile. She answered, “Yeah, actually,” and let her head fall onto America’s shoulder. “I think I do.”
And with their legs twined together in the warm, chlorinated water, their palms squished tight, Kate told America about her mom, Eleanor. She told her about how she didn’t know how her dad landed her mom in the first place – how her mom took Kate and her sister to volunteer at shelters, because her mom wasn’t born rich. Her mom’s side of the family immigrated to the US before Eleanor could even walk. They worked and worked and worked and Eleanor wanted to pass that onto her daughters. Kate worried it didn’t stick enough.
Kate barely spoke any Japanese but she wished she spoke more, because it made her feel closer to her mom.
When Kate was little and Eleanor would play Barbies with her, she made Kate’s Barbies take off their shoes when they came into Kate’s dollhouse. Kate still had the dollhouse.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m just flying blind,” Kate explained, “and I know I could’ve asked her for advice. It’s not like I never fought with her or anything. It’s just that – I know she’d be here for me when I need her. And I feel like I need her all the time.”
“Shit,” America replied. “I know exactly what you mean.”
And if Kate held onto America a little too tight, and if America’s eyes were a little bit wetter than they were normally, then that was their business.
This was theirs.
On Sunday, America clapped Kate on the shoulder.
Kate in her softball uniform was a whole other brain thing that America had yet to parse out, but suffice it to say that Kate made the uniform work on a level America hadn’t thought existed until she saw the evidence before her.
“Don’t think I’m gonna go easy on you just because I know your tragic backstory,” America said.
Kate blew a raspberry at her. “Fuck off, you only know part of my tragic backstory.”
America grinned and cocked a brow. “If my team wins, promise to tell me the rest?”
“Only if you promise me that if we win – which we will – then you’ll tell me yours,” Kate shot back.
America rolled her head toward the bleachers, where Tommy reclined across three rows in ripped jeans and a green hoodie. He was always early to Kate’s games, and always stayed late. It used to drive America crazy, and she’d wonder if she should be jealous, but then she realized – Kate and Tommy were, well, Kate and Tommy. They were weird best friends, best friends in a whole different way than America and Kate were.
“It sure is,” America agreed.