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may you bloom and grow

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Bill is good at a lot of things. He’s a fairly decent artist, and his cooking isn't too heinous. He can skateboard pretty well, too. 

Bill is not, however, good at camping.

He’s glad that the Prestons at least have a camper for this spontaneous weekend outing, dreading the idea of having to sleep in a tent out in the wilderness. 

(Okay, maybe it’s not the wilderness. But the shady campground Mr. Preston and Missy had decided on is pretty close, Bill thinks. There’s still wild animals out there, after all.)

Missy flutters around, pulling campfire-cookable food out of the cabinets in the RV. Why they need to cook over a fire when the camper has a stove is beyond Bill, but Missy seems happy enough to do it, so he doesn’t complain. 

Bill follows her outside to their modest campsite. Mr. Preston already has a fairly decent fire going, and Missy makes a happy noise when she notices. She struts over and gives Mr. Preston a congratulatory kiss, which turns into a full makeout in a matter of seconds. Bill groans and rolls his eyes. 

Mr. Preston pulls away from his wife and says, “Bill, dinner is gonna take a little while to cook. Why don't you go take a nature walk for a little bit?” which is really code for he and Missy wanna bone in the RV and Bill should hit the road. 

“Sure thing, dader,” Bill replies unenthusiastically. He kicks against the parking spot gravel and sends some pebbles flying through the air before turning and walking up the path to the campground entrance. Not for the first time, he wishes Ted was there.

It’s not that Bill doesn't like the outdoors or anything, but there’s only so many trees and rocks you can look at before it turns into a heinously boring experience. He knows if Ted was there he’d make it better somehow, more fun, more interesting, just like he always does. 

“Stupid Captain Logan,” Bill mutters quietly, kicking at some small rocks on the path. 

The trail forks after a few moments, and Bill stops to consider his options. He could just make the loop around the campground, but that would only take 10 minutes tops, and he wants to make extra sure to give the couple any time they need lest he walks into something he doesn't need to see. The other path is a hiking trail that goes for three miles round trip, so Bill sets off on that one. 

He takes a break after about 10 minutes, slumping down on a fallen log next to the trail. While he’s gotta admit that the nature walk had been most peaceful, the reason he’d needed a nature walk in the first place sours any relaxation he may have obtained otherwise. Stupid Dad , he thinks, crossing his arms and slouching into himself. Stupid Missy, too, while he was at it. Bill doesn't even know why they made him come on this trip if they were just gonna be boning the whole time. 

Bill wishes Ted was there. Stupid Ted , he thinks, annoyed. He sighs and puts his hands down on the log, leaning back on them. That wasn't fair to Ted, to be annoyed at him. It’s not like it was his fault Captain Logan was a total dickweed and wouldn't let him come. Bill thinks of the kicked-puppy expression the other boy wore as he sent the Prestons off on their trip. 

He’s not sure how long he sits there, so when he finally stands again he decides to finish the hike. Just in case. He goes to scratch at his nose when he starts sneezing, only now noticing the fuzzy gunk covering his palm. With a noise of disgust, he frantically wipes his hand off on his jeans, sneezing a few more times along the way.

Yeah, Bill thinks, he’s kind of a heinous camper.

——————————

“Noah’s wife?”

The classroom bursts into laughter. Bill tips his head back to look at Ted and gives him a reassuring smile. He reaches his hand over his shoulder and Ted smacks his hand down on Bill’s for a quick high five. 

Ted’s face is red, embarrassed at having obviously been wrong, but the smile he gives Bill is dazzling. Bill feels his chest constrict for a moment, but the bell rings, and then they're being called up to talk to Mr. Ryan about their final, so he doesn’t linger on the thought.

——————————

“Bogus… Heinous… Most non-triumphant…” Bill drops to his knees in front of the still suit on the floor. He feels like he’s about to start crying. He frantically searches for any sign of movement as he says, “Aw, Ted, don't be dead, dude.”

Ted doesn't answer. Bill’s heart clenches violently and he feels like he’s gonna be sick. Bill opens his mouth to say something else when a noise alerts him to a guard entering the room. A white-hot rage builds up inside his chest, and angry tears well up in his eyes. He blinks them back and yells, “You killed Ted, you medieval dickweed!”

It’s not much of a fight, fist against sword, but Bill tries his hardest. He thinks it would be kinda bogus to just give up without even attempting to avenge his most excellent friend. But when the tip of the guard’s sword is pointed directly at his neck, he figures there’s not much else to do but lay there and accept it. He’s not sure he wants to continue living without Ted by his side, anyway.

But then, there appears Ted himself, alive. The guard drops to the floor unconscious and Ted throws aside what looks like a huge turkey leg. He throws his arms over his head with a grin as he looks at Bill, and Bill feels like crying all over again but this time from joy. He tamps down that impulse as Ted pulls him onto his feet and into a quick hug.

He does not think about how nice Ted’s arms feel around him, or the way he leans down a few inches to rest his head on Bill’s shoulder. They part quickly with their customary response when one of them acts a little too fruity, and Bill wonders why it makes his chest ache all of the sudden.

——————————

They pass their history report with an A+. Ted isn't getting shipped off to military school in Alaska.

Bill’s not sure he's ever been this happy in his life.

He looks at Ted that night, busy drinking his slushie, lit up by the fluorescent glow of the Circle K overhead lights, and thinks about what would happen if he leaned over and planted a kiss on Ted’s cheek. 

He swallows his own slushie wrong, and he coughs the red liquid back out of his windpipe as Ted frantically thumps him on the back a few times. His throat is clear, but suddenly he feels like he can't breathe. He shoots up and tries to breathe through his diaphragm as much as he can. He coughs a few more times before he finally feels able to breathe and takes deep gulps of air for a moment. 

Ted is hovering over his shoulder, worry scrunching his features. Bill waves him off, assuring the taller boy that he’s okay now but wonders if he might be coming down with something.

——————————

Bill’s definitely coming down with something. His throat has been heinously scratchy despite how much water he drank and how many cough drops he’s eaten over the past few days. 

He tells Ted and the girls at band practice that he doesn't wanna go back to learning to sing for a while since he’s worried he might have a cold. Ted looks at him with big, sad, concerned eyes and Bill feels a now familiar clench in his chest. Ted starts to say something, but it’s drowned out when Bill has to turn and cough into his arm.

“It sounds like a most severe cold, duder,” Ted says softly, worry lacing his voice and covering his face. 

“I'm sure it’ll pass soon!” he replies easily. His throat feels extra scratchy after his coughing, but he smiles through it and goes over to help Joanna with some lyrics she’d been stuck on.

——————————

It doesn't pass soon. In fact, it only seems to get worse with time. Bill doesn't want to worry Ted and the princesses, and he’s really not sure Missy or his dad would take him to the doctor for something as minor as a bad cold as wrapped up in each other as they are, so he doesn’t tell anyone. He holds in his coughing when he can and ducks into bathrooms when he can't.

It’s not so bad, Bill thinks.  A little cough now and then doesn't deter him from doing too much, and he's careful to only cough into his elbow so he doesn't spread germs everywhere. 

He’s almost grateful for being sick sometimes, really. Sometimes he’ll have some absolutely odious thoughts, things a dude should never think about another dude, about Ted , and he’ll feel that tickle in the base of his throat. He’s glad for the coughing fits, honestly. They distract him from something he doesn't even wanna begin to think about.

——————————

Bill and Ted sit on Bill’s bed as they read comics and listen to a new mixtape Ted had thrown together over the last week. ‘Is This Love?’ by Whitesnake comes on and Bill freezes for a moment and glances over his book to look at Ted hanging over the side of the bed. Ted is intensely focused on his X-men issue, his brow creased as he mouths along with the dialogue. 

Bill lets himself look for a moment. It’s not weird to observe your friend, he tells himself, not weird at all. He must zone out for a short while because he’s startled when Ted finally flips to the next page. The cassette player quietly croons out “ Is this love or am I dreaming? This must be love cause it’s really got a hold on me .” 

Bill gasps and drops his comic in his lap. He’s in love with Ted. Of course he is, hasn’t he always been?

Ted looks up at him with his big eyes, and Bill feels a familiar tickle in his throat. “Excuse me for a moment, dude,” he rushes out. Practically leaping out of bed, he fast walks into the hallway, not wanting to seem too suspicious, before practically bolting to the bathroom. 

The coughing racks through his body, making him shake and turning his face red. He can't make himself stop, he feels like he can hardly breathe. He tries to turn on the tap and collect some water in his hand to drink, but he’s shaking so hard that he can't even manage step one. 

Bill falls to his knees and clutches at his chest, heaving with the effort it’s taking to keep breathing. Suddenly, he feels something caught in his throat. He doesn't remember eating anything that would be blocking off his airways recently, but he forces himself to cough harder, hacking up the foreign object. Blood spatters out onto the bathroom tile, but he doesn't pay it any mind, too focused on dislodging the object.

Bill gives himself a few solid whacks on the chest, he can feel the object about to come out. A few more coughs and a slightly bigger blood spatter and— 

It’s a flower.

Or a flower petal at any rate. Bill reaches a trembling hand out to touch it. It’s soft and delicate, and it’s covered in blood. He’s not entirely sure what the original color was. A flower petal. From his throat. He’s sure he hadn't eaten any flowers since he was at least 7, and even if he had, he’d expect to be ralphing it up, not coughing it up. 

Cradling the small petal in his shaking hand, he whispers out a quiet, “What the fuck ?”

——————————

This is weird. It’s weird beyond belief. If it was a one time thing, Bill might even be convinced that it hadn't happened at all. But it kept happening. His chest kept clenching and he kept coughing and sometimes he coughed so hard that he bled and sometimes he coughed so hard that he bled and a delicate flower petal would fall from his lips. 

And maybe Bill wasn't exactly the sharpest saw in the shed, but after a few weeks of this cycle, it wasn't hard to notice some correlation between his coughing fits and his thoughts. His thoughts of Ted, specifically. 

Being around Ted was getting harder. He felt like Ted was taking his breath away with everything he did, both metaphorically and literally. Ted would smile at him or air guitar with him or do that thing where he concentrates really hard and his tongue pokes out just a little bit, and Bill would struggle to keep breathing for a moment.

Even thinking about Ted makes him lose his breath for a moment, though it usually isn't as bad as actually being in his presence. Unless he thinks about him too hard, then he’ll wind up in another coughing fit.

He wonders if he should tell his dad. He thinks about when he told Mr. Preston about his and Ted’s adventure through time and all he got for his troubles was a “That’s nice, son” in a tone that indicated the elder Preston hadn't been listening for a minute. He decides he’s not going to tell his dad. He thinks about Missy next, but she's so attached at the hip with his dad these days, he’s not sure she could be convinced to hear him out.

——————————

Bill, in what he considers the smartest idea he’s had since this whole debacle began, goes to the library. He’s not entirely sure what it is that he’s looking for. The librarian looks at him warily as he approaches the desk, and he's sure he's not the usual patron.

“Do you have any books on…” He fumbles for a moment, not entirely sure what he should be asking for. The librarian looks at him expectantly. “…flowers?” he finishes lamely. “And sickness?”

“You want to look for books on flowers and books on sickness or books that have both?” the librarian asks.

“Uh,” Bill says smartly. “Both?”

The librarian gives him an amused look and Bill flushes. She types something into the library catalog and excuses herself for a moment. Bill shoves his hands in his pockets and tries not to look like he’s loitering. 

The librarian returns a few minutes later with a stack of about 7 books, all seeming to be high school textbook thickness. Bill groans mentally but takes the stack with a polite smile and thank you.

Bill makes it to an empty table without spilling any of the books, but it’s a near thing. He takes the top one off the stack and gets a few pages deep before he realizes that this is likely the most boring piece of text he's ever read in his life. There’s pictures at least, and Bill wonders if he could skim through and find pictures of the petals he’s been coughing up for the past few weeks.

The first book is a bust, and the second one doesn't have any pictures at all, so Bill throws it in the unhelpful stack. The third book is back to having pictures and he leafs through the pages until he finds it. There in the corner is a picture of a daffodil in bloom. It isn't covered in blood, but Bill can still recognize the petals as the same ones he’s been flushing down the toilet in order to hide the evidence. 

The page talks about the medicinal qualities of the flower. Things like rubbing the oil on your skin and using the oil to treat tumors. There’s nothing on the page about coughing up its petals, and Bill feels any hope he’d gained disappear in a flash. 

He goes through the whole stack of books looking for any more mentions of daffodils but none of them mention the condition he’s dealing with. Maybe he’s been too broad, he thinks. He takes all of the books and sets them on the cart with the big RETURNS label taped to the front and goes back up to the desk.

The librarian raises an eyebrow at him but before she can say anything, he asks, “Do you have books just about daffodils?” 

They do, Bill finds out, and he wastes another half hour before realizing they aren't very helpful at all. The only information that had managed to stand out to him came from a brief informational booklet on the flower. It spoke of the many meanings of the daffodil, such as new life and hope, but the last meaning left Bill feeling more hopeless than he had all day.

Unrequited love.

——————————

Almost every time Bill is with Ted now, at some point he ends up excusing himself to have another coughing fit in private. The amount of bloodsoaked petals keeps increasing, and Bill is freaking out a little bit. 

He doesn't want to stop hanging out with Ted, doesn't want to have to stop thinking about him. He’s not sure he really could even if he tried. 

Bill thinks about Missy that morning at breakfast, telling him and Mr. Preston some about some article she’d read about spirituality or spirits or something along those lines. A lightbulb goes off over Bill’s head. Missy’s got all kinds of weird magazines and books about life and odd medical conditions, maybe he can look through her stuff to see if he can find any information. 

He waits until both his dad and Missy are out of the house before sneaking into their bedroom. Bill feels gross just being in here, honestly, but he knows he has to be if he’s gonna get any answers. He finds Missy’s not-so-hidden stack of junk and goes with his tried and true method of skimming through, hoping for the best. 

He’s gone through a handful of magazines and is partially into a book when he briefly wishes Ted were there to help him read through all this spiritual mumbo jumbo. The thought is enough to make his throat clog and he coughs helplessly as he desperately tries to get his lungs working correctly.

He’s used to the clogging of his throat with petals and does his best to get it over with as quickly as possible so he can go back to research. Blood drips from his lip and onto the carpet, and in the back of Bill’s mind, he frantically wonders how he's gonna get that out. Finally, finally, the petals dislodge themselves and come tumbling out of his mouth. He coughs a few more times for good measure, but he feels like he’s settled for now. 

He tries to catch his breath for a moment before he hears a quiet, “ Oh my god…

His head whips around to the bedroom door where Missy is covering her mouth in shock. Even from the other side of the room, he can see that she looks like she might cry. “Mis—Mom, I can explain!”

She looks at him, and he realizes it’d been the petals she’d been staring at in such horror. “Bill—” She comes to his side quickly, and kneels next to him. He tries to cover the petals with his hands, but she’s already seen them, so it doesn’t matter anyway. “Bill, how long has this been going on?” She sounds positively devastated. 

Bill takes a moment to gather the petals in his hand and says, “A month or so.”

“A month ?!” she repeats in horror. “Bill, this is dangerous, why didn't you tell anyone?!” 

Bill gives her a shocked look. “You— You know what this is?”

Missy nods solemnly. “Here,” she says, picking up a magazine Bill hadn't gotten to yet. She flips through the pages quickly before finally landing on one and turning it to show Bill. ‘HANAHAKI: THE DISEASE OF A ONE-SIDED LOVE’ is printed across the top of the page. Bill blushes furiously, but he takes the magazine out of Missy’s hands to read over the article. 

The term ‘hanahaki’ comes from the Japanese words hana ( ), meaning flower, and hakimasu ( 吐きます ), meaning to throw up. Hanahaki is a fungal infection that is activated once incredibly specific activators are signalled. What are those activators? It’s the exact dopamine and serotonin concoction that your brain cooks up when you’ve fallen hard for someone, but know they don't return your feelings.

“Hanahaki disease has proven to be fatal if left untreated. The victim may at first feel a shortness of breath, then begin to suffer coughing fits. Eventually, the victim begins coughing up petals of the fungus, and soon after, entire blooms. Without the proper removal of the fungus OR the disconnect of those activators, the fungus spreads throughout the lungs and eventually chokes the victim to death.”

Bill feels like he’s gonna be sick. He drops the magazine and instinctively reaches up to touch his neck. 

Missy’s hand catches his, and she holds it tightly. “Bill, you should’ve told someone as soon as this started.”

“I didn't think anyone would believe me,” he replied quietly. “I even — I tried to go to the library.” He can feel tears welling up in his eyes, and he tries to blink them away. “I didn't know what to look for so I couldn't find anything. I thought I was going crazy.” A tear slips down his cheek and Missy throws an arm around him and pulls him in to bury his head in her neck.

“You're not crazy, Bill.” She squeezes him gently. 

He pulls back after a moment and wipes his face. “So. What do I do then? The article says that you can either get the fungus removed or disconnected the activators, but I don't know what that means.”

“Well,” Missy starts, “getting the fungus removed should be as easy as going to the doctor’s and getting some surgery.” Bill visibly pales, but doesn't say anything so she continues. “I’m guessing the other option means to end your one-sided love?”

“How do you just end one-sided love?” Bill questions.

Missy thinks for a moment and says, “Well, I supposed it can only either turn no-sided or two-sided.” Bill stays quiet for a moment to take in her words. After a beat of silence, she says, “So I guess it’s just up to what you want to do, Bill. You can either go to the doctor and get the surgery, or you can tell him you love him.”

Bill shoots backward out of Missy’s half embrace. “Him?”

Missy blinks at him in surprise. “Well. Yes.” She shifts and seems embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Bill, I’d assumed you meant all of this was about Ted.”

Now it’s Bill’s turn to blink at her in surprise. Had he really been so obvious about his love for the other boy? A cough trembles out of him and Missy grips his arm worriedly. “You knew?”

“Well, you aren't exactly shy about it,” she replies sheepishly. “You're always with him, and you look at him like he put the moon in the sky just for you.”

Bill feels like he's blushing all the way from the tip of his ears to his toes. “I’m not telling him,” he says firmly. 

“Are you sure?” Missy asks. “I think you might be surprised at what he says.”

“I think he’ll call me a homo and never hang out with me again, actually,” he snaps. The thought of Ted hating him makes his chest clench all over again, and he braces himself against Missy as he falls into another fit. 

Missy just holds him as he shakes through it and grabs some napkins out of her abandoned purse to wipe the blood from Bill’s face once it’s over with.

“Okay,” she says quietly. “If you're really sure, I’ll take you to the hospital tomorrow.”

“Thanks, mom.”

——————————

When Ted knocks on the door of the Preston residence, it’s Mr. Preston that opens the door. Before he can even greet the man, Mr. Preston holds a hand out to stop him. “Sorry, Ted, Bill’s not home right now.”

“Oh,” Ted replies. He’s sure that it’s Saturday, which means he and Bill would normally meet up and walk down to the Circle K. “Where is he?”

“Missy took him to the hospital this morning—”

“The hospital?!” Ted yells. “Is— Is he okay?” The idea of Bill getting hurt sends a wave of panic through him, especially since it seemed he was the last to know about it. “What happened?”

“I'm sure he's fine,” Mr. Preston says easily. “It’s probably just a check-up.”

The word ‘probably’ doesn't inspire much hope in Ted for his friend’s wellbeing. On the other hand, although Mr. Preston isn't exactly the best dad out there, Ted’s sure he’d notice if Bill was really hurt or in trouble.

After a moment of deliberation, he finally says, “Could you ask him to call me when he gets home, please?”

“Sure thing,” the older man says, sounding bored. “Have a nice day, Ted.”

“You, too, Mr. Preston,” Ted replies to the door closing in his face.

Ted turns and stares out into the street for a moment. He wonders if it would be too dramatic to go sit on the curb until Missy’s car pulled up. Just in case. 

——————————

The phone never rings. Ted goes over to Bill’s house again the next day. It’s Missy that answers the door this time.

“Oh, hello, Ted!” she greets brightly.

Ted smiles back nervously and shifts his weight around before he greets her back. “Hey, Missy, is Bill here? Is he okay? I heard you took him to the hospital yesterday and I asked Mr. Preston to tell Bil to call me, but I think he might’ve forgot because Bill didn't call and—”

Missy puts a gentle hand on his arm and he realizes he's rambling. His mouth snaps shut and she smiles at him. “Bill’s feeling a little under the weather I’m afraid. He’s—” she cuts herself off to think for a moment before she says, “He’s got a bad cough so it’s a little difficult for him to talk right now.”

“He’ll be okay, though, right?” Ted asks, barely restraining himself from biting at his nails from anxiety.

Missy nods with a sad smile. “He’ll be fine. But he’s resting right now. Why don't you come back in a few days and we can see if he’s feeling better?”

“Oh!” Ted hadn't expected that he wasn't going to be allowed to see Bill at all. “Um, yeah, sure thing.” 

“See you later, Ted,” she says with a wave. 

Ted gives her a wave back and waits until she's closed the door completely before turning and walking back toward the sidewalk. He gives the house a glance over his shoulder, something about this situation feeling strange, but he ignores it and keeps going.

——————————

Ted shows up at the Preston residence two days later. There are no cars in the driveway, so Ted doesn't bother to knock. He toes off his shoes in the entryway and makes his way up the stairs. Ted’s almost at the top when he hears a most horrendous coughing spell. His socked feet almost slip on the carpeted stairs in his rush to get to Bill. 

The bathroom door is wide open and Ted stops in front of it. A gasp leaves him unwillingly at the sight of Bill trembling through a coughing fit, blood dripping all over the floor. He hovers in the door for a second, not sure what he can do to actually help here, before kneeling next to Bill and placing a hand on his back. Bill startles so hard he almost falls over, but Ted’s hand slides around to grip at his waist and keeps him upright.

Bill shakes out a few more coughs before he can finally look up at Ted. There’s blood staining his lips and teeth, and Ted moves on autopilot to grab and wet a washcloth. He runs it gently over his friend’s face before Bill starts coughing again, worse this time, and pushes him away.

“You shouldn't be here, Ted,” he chokes out.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, hands hovering awkwardly over Bill’s shaking form, not sure what he’s allowed here. “Missy said you’d be better, I didn't— I’m sorry.” He thinks that he might be crying, but he’s so focused on Bill that he's not really sure. 

There’s more blood dripping from Bill’s mouth, and Ted moves the washcloth in front of his friend’s face to at least keep him from getting more on the floor. Bill clutches at Ted’s wrist with trembling fingers as the fit wracks through him. 

Ted doesn't think he's ever been so scared in his life. The coughing doesn't let up and he frantically watches Bill’s small form shake. “Bill,” he whispers, “dude, what— How do I help? What do I do? I don't know what to do here.”

Bill only shakes his head and coughs weakly. His hand comes up and taps the base of his throat a few times before returning to Ted’s wrist. Ted has no clue what that was supposed to mean, so all he can do is sit and watch. 

After what feels like an eternity, something big falls out of Bill’s mouth. He leans back and gasps for air, and Ted props the smaller boy against him to make sure he wouldn’t fall over. “Dude, I didn't realize you were choking, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” he says remorsefully into Bill’s curls. Bill shakes his head and turns his face up toward Ted’s. 

Bill’s always been pretty, Ted’s accepted that fact a long time ago. He gets caught up in staring into his eyes for a moment before his gaze drops to his lips. The blood covering them is enough to push any indecent thought out of his mind, and he shifts Bill enough that he can lean over to grab the washcloth without moving him too much. 

Bill must see what he’s intending to do, because he shifts and says, “No, dude, wait—”

Ted’s already got a hand hovering over the washcloth. Or, more accurately, over what's on the washcloth. “That's— that's a flower, Bill.”

Bill’s trembling in his arms when he turns to press his face into Ted’s neck. “Ted, don't, please.”

“I don't— I don't understand, did you try to eat a flower, dude?” Ted asks quietly. “Because, like, that looks a lot like a daffodil, and daffodils are most poisonous when ingested.” Bill doesn't move his head out of the crook of Ted’s neck, and Ted can suddenly feel how wet his shirt is there. He’s not sure if that's just blood or if Bill’s started crying. He’s honestly not sure which option is worse. “Bill, please, talk to me, tell me what’s wrong,” he begs softly. 

“I didn't try to eat it, Ted,” Bill says quietly after a beat. His voice is crackly and muffled where he’s pressed into Ted’s neck. “It was inside me.”

“Inside you?” Ted’s not sure why they're whispering, but it feels wrong to raise his voice any louder now.

“In my lungs,” Bill clarifies. “It’s growing inside me.”

Bill’s hands clench in Ted’s shirt when he tries to pull back, and Ted carefully dislodges him so he can see the smaller boy’s face. The blood is smeared all over the bottom half of his face, and Ted’s sure it’s all over his neck and shirt collar as well. Ted brushes the flower aside and picks up the rag. He shifts Bill to lean against the wall before standing and rinsing out the washcloth in the sink. When the water starts running clear, Ted wrings it out and turns to kneel in front of Bill.

Ted wipes at Bill’s cheeks softly, and he can see now that Bill is crying. His heart feels like it’s breaking a little. “What do you mean, growing inside you?” he asks. 

“It’s a fungal infection,” comes the reply. “It’s already in the blooming stage.”

Ted waits until he's finished to start wiping the rag over Bill’s lips. “Is that why you went to the hospital the other day?” Bill nods. “What is it?”

When Ted pulls the rag away and stands to rerinse it, he says, “It’s called hanahaki disease. The spores of the fungus sit inside your lungs until your brain chemistry makes them grow.”

“That's bogus,” Ted mutters, returning to his place in front of Bill. “You just start thinking and it grows?”

Bill wraps his fingers around Ted’s wrist, halting him from wiping at his face. “It’s… more than that.” He takes in a shaky breath and avoids Ted’s gaze when he says, “It starts growing when you're in one-sided love. To kill it, you either have to have your feelings reciprocated or remove the fungus through surgery.”

Ted’s almost glad Bill’s already holding his wrist because he knows he would've frozen up if he had been wiping at Bill’s face. “Oh.” He wishes for and he doesn't want Bill to look at him all at once. Ted’s heart cracks a little bit in his chest. He forces himself to tamp down on any egregious feelings he may have for himself and asks, “Well, who is she, dude?”

Bill’s eyes lock onto his. “What?”

“The girl you love,” Ted explains. “Is it—” his voice catches and he has to force himself to finish the sentence. “It’s Jo, right?” Bill just stares at him so Ted continues. “Here dude, why don't I go call her and ask her to come over, okay? I'm sure if you tell her how you feel, she’d feel the same. Then you’d get better!”

He starts to stand up, but Bill yanks on the wrist he’s still got trapped. “No, dude, it’s, it’s not Jo.”

Ted blinks at him smartly. “Oh. So. Is it Liz then? I don't think we talk to any other girls.”

Bill shakes his head frantically. “No, it’s not Liz, you don't have to call anyone, Ted. I’m just gonna go to the ER tomorrow and request the procedure. And then I won't have to worry about the flowers or the feelings anymore.”

“The feelings?” Ted echoes. “What do you mean? The procedure takes your feelings away?”

Bill nods solemnly. “They do something to your brain that lowers your, uh. Your dop-ah-mine and ser-oo-too-nin. So you don't feel like you're in love anymore.”

“That's bogus!” Ted cringes at how loud his voice sounds after only whispers. “You shouldn't have to give up on your love, dude! Love is…” He thinks for a moment before settling on: “Love is like a butterfly, dude, it is a rare and gentle thing.”

Bill groans. “Dolly Parton? Really?” 

Ted shrugs. “While I agree that country music is most definitely not our style, you cannot deny that Dolly has a point.” Bill gives him a blank look and he sighs. “Bill, you are my most resplendent friend. I don't want you to have to give up on love! Let me help you.”

“Ted—”

“It’s not the princesses, and we don't really hang out with any other girls. Is… Is it a dude, dude?” Ted asks, not daring to hope for the answer. Bill freezes up and his grip on Ted’s wrist tightens for a fraction of a second. “It is, right?”

Bill shakes his head quickly. “Please, Ted, don't make me.”

Bill .”

Ted rolls his wrist a few times until Bill’s grip loosens enough to allow him to move his hand down and slip his fingers between Bill’s. Bill stares at their interlocked hands with tears brimming in his eyes. Ted leans close enough to bump their foreheads together and lets his eyes slide shut.

“Dude, Ted , wait, please,” Bill gasps out. “Please, you don't have to do this because you think it’s gonna save me. I-I can just go to the hospital tomorrow and we can forget any of this ever happened.” 

Ted squeezes Bill’s hand and asks, “Is it me you love?” Bill starts to reply, but Ted continues. “Please, dude, tell me the truth.”

Bill lets out a shaky breath and Ted can feel his eyelashes brush his cheek when Bill closes his own eyes. “Yeah.”

Ted moves back the smallest fraction of an inch so that he can take in the way Bill looks. He's shaking like a leaf and he doesn't open his eyes while Ted looks at him. He brings his free hand up to cup a rosy cheek and waits until Bill opens his eyes to gently ask, “Why would I want to forget that?”

Bill gasps when their lips meet. Ted’s not good at kissing, he's never done it before, but he figures he’s watched enough movies to have a little bit of an idea. He shifts his head a little until Bill’s bottom lip is situated between his own and does his best to move his lips like he’d heard people talk about. Bill’s free hand comes up to clutch in Ted’s hair and the fingers of his other hand flex between Ted’s as he pushes back. It’s not a great kiss, but it’s enough. It’s all that it needs to be. 

Bill leans back to catch his breath and looks like he might genuinely pass out. Ted leans back in to bump their noses together and place a delicate kiss on Bill’s cheek. “I love you, Bill,” he whispers against the flushed skin. “Like the way Van Halen and Whitesnake sing about it.” He giggles and adds, “Like the way Dolly Parton sings about it.”

Bill groans half-heartedly and knocks their foreheads together. “I love you, too, Ted.” A tear drips down his cheek and Ted gently brushes it away. Bill takes a shaky breath. “I never thought you’d want me, dude.”

“I didn't think you'd want me either.” Ted nuzzles into Bill’s neck. Bill’s hand gently pets through the hair at the base of his neck. “I've always known I loved you, but I thought you were most adamantly into babes.”

“I thought the same thing about you.” Bill tilts his head down to press a kiss to the top of Ted’s head.

When Ted pulls back, Bill gives him the most radiant smile, and Ted can't help but think that he's beautiful. Ted gives him a quick peck on the lips, then his cheeks, and his chin, covering his face until Bill’s laughing and pushing him away. Ted almost forgets they're sitting on the bloodied bathroom floor for a moment. 

Bill coughs lightly and Ted grips his hand in a panic, but the smaller boy just smiles at him. “It doesn't go away all at once, dude. But it should go away soon.” Ted lets out a sigh of relief.

It’s then that Ted realizes how absolutely exhausted Bill looks. Giving him one more small kiss, he makes Bill let go of his hand so he can worm one arm behind him and one arm under his knees. Ted’s glad he was kneeling instead of sitting normally, otherwise, his attempt at picking Bill up would've been much more difficult.

Bill squeaks out a surprised noise and grabs at Ted’s shoulders. “It’s okay, dude, I won't drop you,” Ted reassures as he shuffles the two of them into the hall. “You look egregiously tired, though, you should try to rest.”

“But the bathroom—”

“I’ll clean up, don't worry.” Ted tries not to jostle Bill too much as he leans down to kiss his forehead.

It’s not too difficult to get Bill into his room other than Bill protesting at being carried at all every other second. Ted just shushes him and places him on his bed as gently as he can. “You should sleep, Bill.” Ted gives him a kiss and starts to turn back to the door.

“Wait.” Bill grasps Ted’s arm and makes him turn back. “Stay.”

Ted breaks into a grin and sits on the edge of the bed. “Of course, dude. Always.”

Bill passes out with a smile on his face and Ted’s warm hand in his.

——————————

When he wakes up, there’s a plate on his nightside with some covered leftovers, some cough medication, and a dethorned red rose.