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I Didn’t Expect This From You (But It’s Nice In A Way I Don’t Want To Comprehend)

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Paul knew Ted wasn’t well. Physically, that is. His coworker-slash-maybe-a-friend had been sluggish, and hadn’t even tried to flirt with Charlotte. If Paul was honest, he was concerned. So, with his own lunch and a bought one under his arm, he made his way to Ted’s office. The man found him in his black office chair, using his hands as a pillow, fast asleep. Paul shifted both lunches to his other arm and gently shook Ted. He remained sleeping, but Paul saw discomfort cross his face as he shifted in his seat.

“Ted?”

“Go ‘way, Bill. I’m OK.” He whined, half-asleep. Paul couldn’t help the smile on his face as he replied.

“Paul, actually. Bill went to see his daughter this weekend, remember? He told you.” Immediately, Ted shot up and looked straight at him. Paul noticed he looked weary.

“Jesus, Paul! What are you doing in my office?” Paul set both lunches on the table and pushed Ted’s lunch towards him.

“You didn’t eat.” He answered, as if it were obvious. Ted blinked and pulled his lunch close to him, maintaining eye contact.

“And?”

“You didn’t try to hit on anyone.” He answered honestly.

“Is that what I am? A horny bastard who hits on random people?” He didn’t sound offended, and Paul noticed he had trouble keeping his voice steady.

“Ted, you tried to hit on Mr. Davidson during a meeting.”

“What! He flirted back!”

“He tried to give you that week’s papers, Ted. Besides, he has a wife.” Though he knew that wouldn’t dissuade him.

“Well, so does…!” He stopped, blush creeping up his neck. Ted looked at the unfinished paperwork on his desk and scoffed. Paul knew exactly who he was talking about, having tried to comfort Charlotte many times about her cheating on Sam. He let the topic go and opened the lunchbox.

“Ted, I really think you should eat something. I haven’t seen you during lunch break in three days.”

“Maybe I have food in my office.” He countered, chin resting on his palm. Paul looked at him incredulously and Ted sighed. “Fine. I don’t. But, you don’t have to-“ Paul tuned out his speech and focused on his coworker’s posture and voice. His voice sounded tired and raspy. His posture wasn’t as straight as it should have been, and the bags under his eyes were visible, even in the little light streaming in from the window.

“Ted, you’re sick.” Paul deduced.

“-I don’t want your- what?” He stared at him blankly, but Paul was patient.

“You’re sick.”

“…I know.” He made no effort to hide it, which didn’t sound like Ted at all. Paul got closer and cautiously rested a hand on Ted’s forehead, though the heat radiating off of him was enough. Ted quickly pushed himself away and shakily stood.

“What the hell, man? Ever heard of personal space?” He just sounded winded, like standing up was difficult. Paul took a step back.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. Why are you here?” Ted sat back down. Paul didn’t fail to notice he moved his swivel chair further away from him.

“Mr. Davidson has a tight schedule. Besides, I needed to print something today. But the stupid printer’s too slow.” He whined, then looked at the food on his desk and wrinkled his nose. He looked up at Paul. “I’m not eating that.”

“It was all I could find.” Paul shrugged, moving to lean against the wall.

“Why’d you bring me lunch? And check my temperature?” Though it could have been from the fever, his face glowed red.

“I told you, something seemed off about you today. I wanted to make sure you were OK. I think if I talked to Mr. Davidson, I could convince him to let you take today off. I can drop you off at your place.” Ted considered the option, blinking slowly.

“I feel like crap, so why not?” Paul helped him stand up and walk to the vending machine. Ted slumped onto a seat and sighed. He watched as Paul left, then tried to stand on his own. He instantly felt woozy, so he quickly sat back down. His head hurt, and he couldn’t do any paperwork if he tried. Paul noticed he had a fever, which would make it even harder to convince him that he was fine. Ted stared at the sandwich Paul had bought for him. It smelled of Mayo and chicken. Ted was hungry, but he wasn’t ready to risk it. His stomach had felt off that morning. Instead, he pushed the sandwich away and started tapping his fingers on the side of the table, getting more and more tired.

“Hey! So, good news, we can go. Bad news, we have to work extra hours on Monday.” Paul appeared in front of him and Ted jumped, startled. He had been close to unconsciousness.

“Paul, don’t sneak up on me like that.”

“Sorry,” He apologized, “So, do you want to go in my car or yours?”

“Doesn’t matter.” He sniffled, “Ugh, stupid fucking flu season.” He muttered, letting Paul help him to his car.

“Ted, it’s September.” He waved Paul off when he tried to help him into the passenger seat.

“Doesn’t matter. Still hurts.” Paul got into the driver’s seat and started his car. He fixed the older man with a concerned look as he backed the car out.

“What hurts?” Ted wanted to answer, but the sound of the motor rumbling and the small vibrations caused him to mumble out something unintelligible as his eyes grew heavy. He wanted to stay awake, but now Paul was humming a tune from some TV show quietly. God, please don’t let him fall asleep in a coworker’s car.

“Ted.” Paul shook his companion awake after he had parked. He had slept through most of the ride, so Paul hadn’t been able to ask where he lived. It must have been near him, as Hatchetfield was so small, but he didn’t want to spend time looking. Ted’s eyes fluttered open and he quietly sat up straighter. He looked at the windshield for a minute, then grimaced.

“Fuck.” He said. Paul blinked, nodded slowly and gave Ted some space, moving towards his front door. He fished out his keys and unlocked the door, then waited. He watched Ted get out of the car and stumble over. His coworker looked up at the two-story home. “Where are we?” His voice was muddled with sleep and sickness.

“At my house. You couldn’t tell me where yours was.” At that, Ted looked almost sheepish.

“Didn’t mean to fall asleep in your car.” He muttered, not looking the man in the eye. Paul smiled.

“It’s no problem.” He led them inside. “Take off your shoes, please.” Ted did as told. “You can lay down on the couch if you want. When was the last time you ate?” If Ted didn’t know any better, he’d say Paul seemed almost excited to take care of him, in a totally not creepy way, that is. Ted didn’t dwell on that thought for too long (he missed being cared about) and curled up on the couch, pulling his knees to his chest.

“Does the sandwich you gave me count?” He asked, a bit timidly. He never liked talking about how much he ate.

“Considering that you didn’t even eat it, no, it does not.” Paul, you are not going to like my answer.

“M’kay. Thursday?” The shuffling from the kitchen stopped, and Ted could sense that he had said something wrong.

“Ted, it’s Saturday.”

“Mhm.” He shrunk into the cushions.

“What do you mean “mhm”? You’ve been running on empty for three days.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me.” Paul replied, and why did Ted get such a fuzzy feeling in his stomach at those words?

“Why don’t you just drop me off at home? I can tell you where it is.” He suggested. The shuffling in the kitchen continued.

“And then who will help you? Remember when I found you in the snow, drunk and feverish? You threw up on me?” Paul really didn’t want to pry, but anything to make Ted see that staying there was the best option right now. His prodding worked, and Ted blushed a deep red.

“That was two years ago.” He muttered. Paul stirred the pasta he had been boiling. “Paul?”

“Yes?”

“You’ve been really nice to me these past few weeks. Why? I mean, when you started working at CCRP, you just avoided me like everyone else.” Paul focused on his pasta and not the admittedly-attractive man sitting on his couch. If he was honest, he had only started finding Ted interesting two weeks ago, after he spilled his guts out to him in a drunken sob fest at the bar. It had made Paul see Ted past just a “horny bastard” and made him want to see that brutal honesty again. Also, he might have started caring about his well-being.

“I like helping people.” It was a simple answer, and Paul wished everything were as simple as the words that came out of his mouth.

“Oh.” They both said nothing as Paul drained the pasta and emptied the pesto sauce into the pot. He looked to his temporary roommate, who was sitting on the couch, staring straight ahead. If Ted was honest, he felt like he would be violating some sacred law if he touched anything. Being around Paul’s kindness was already too weird, he didn’t need to look through his Netflix “Continue watching” history.

“You know, I’m not keeping you hostage. You can turn on the TV, if you want.” He gestured to the remote on the coffee table. Ted looked at him.

“I don’t think I feel well enough for that.” Paul nodded and stirred the pasta.

“Well, the food’s going to be done in a while, and it’s already six o’ clock.” He informed him. Ted nodded and slowly uncurled himself. He shifted his position to one slightly less closed off and fiddled with his fingers. Paul served both of them a plate and brought them to the living room, as he was sure Ted didn’t want to move.

“Thanks.”

“It’s no problem.” Paul answered, and Ted was actually starting to believe that. They ate in silence.

“Peter’s doing good.” 

Paul looked up, fork in his mouth. “Hm?” He swallowed. “Your brother?”

“Yeah. He’s been interested in the coffee selling business for a while now. He goes to Beanies every week, just like you, so…” He trailed off and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Eh. Every week, every day of every week. Same difference.” He shrugged. Ted smiled.

“Alright. Geez, coffee addict.”

“Oh, their coffee’s shit. The barista said so.” At the very mention of this barista, Paul's face grew a deep shade of red. Ted narrowed his eyes and tried to see what he was blushing about. He smirked, making Paul blush even deeper.

“Hold on…”

“Ted, please-“ His coworker didn’t listen. He pointed an accusing finger at his chest, grinning.

“You like him, don’t you?”

“It’s a mutual respect! Besides, it’s a girl this time.” Paul protested. Ted nodded slyly.

“A girl? We can work with that. A little Latte Hotte, right?” He honestly came up with the nickname on the spot. She was pretty in Paul’s eyes and she sold coffee. What better nickname could you want?

“‘Latte Hotte’? What does that even mean?”

“Well, she sells lattes-“

“And she’s hot, got it.” Ted shot some finger guns and a smirk his way. Paul chuckled, rolling his eyes, and finished the rest of his pasta. He offered to pick up Ted’s plate, but he had been too busy talking to eat any of it. “I can microwave that so that it’s warm.” He offered. Ted seemed to remember he actually had food and passed it to him.

“Sure. Thank you.” Paul brought the plate back and picked up the remote. It was getting late, so they could watch something and then go to bed.

“Any show recommendations?” He asked, clicking on the Netflix icon. Ted looked up from his plate, mouth full of pasta. He tried to smile, but it just looked weird. Paul grinned at the sort of silliness he never saw from his coworker.

“The Office?” He swallowed a bit of pasta. Paul looked a bit uncomfortable, never really having gotten into The Office.

“Anything else?”

“Hey, just be glad there are no musicals on Netflix, or I might’ve just picked Brigadoon.” He joked, making Paul grimace.

“Ugh, musicals. Don’t like ‘em.” Ted looked personally offended by that, and snatched away his show-picking privileges. He held it above his head.

“What’s not to love? The songs are catchy, the plot is good, and the choreography can just be memorized.”

“I don’t know! I saw one once, it was too loud and I got anxious. Half the time the lyrics are all jumbled and too far away to hear clearly.” They were both passionate about the matter. Ted raised the remote higher, determined not to let this musical-hating person pick a show. At Paul’s pleading look, he sighed and gave it back. His coworker practically snatched it back.

“Thank you.” He picked The Office anyway. Ted’s laughter- an odd, wheezy sound- filled the house, and he just looked so happy that Paul grinned at the look on his face. Ted turned to see him staring.

“What are you looking at?” He didn’t stop grinning.

“It’s just…I’ve never seen you so-” Unguarded, without walls, “Happy.” His smile fell and he looked down.

“If it bothers you, I can stop.” Paul blinked.

“What? No. No, it doesn’t bother me. Ted, seeing you happy makes me happy, you know. You’re barely ever like, well…” He made a gesture with his hand, sort of spinning it in a circle. “I like seeing my friends happy.” Ted looked up slowly, eyes gleaming.

“I’m your friend?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.” Was all Ted could say. There was no space to appreciate the words. It was just like Charlotte: in a relationship until they weren’t. Something more until they went back to work, then they avoided each other, save for Ted’s flirty comments.

“Hey, Ted?”

“Hm?”

“This isn’t going to break when we go back to work. You know that?” Even though the only reason he was saying that was so that he was sure Ted knew. Ted pondered the words. Unlike Charlotte’s “this is the last time” over and over again, Paul sounded genuine. He felt tears in his eyes and quickly stood up.

“Bathroom.” He muttered, walking towards the stairs.

“First door to the right.”

Ted rinsed his face and tried not to cry in Paul's bathroom. He failed miserably and curled up on the floor, crying for the first time in months. This was more kindness than he had been shown by anyone, and this was just a coworker! He cleaned his face, but it was still very obvious that he had been crying. Eh, whatever, Paul had seen him cry before. He walked back downstairs to see Paul washing the dishes. Already guilty about being there, Ted offered to help.

“I can do that.” Paul looked up and smiled.

“No, it’s fine. You’re a guest here, you know?” He went back to doing dishes and humming the The Office theme song. Ted walked back to the couch and sat down. The sound of the water running and Paul’s gentle humming almost made him fall asleep again.

“Oh! Ted?” He looked up to see Paul drying his hands on a dish towel.

“Hm?”

“You wouldn’t mind taking some medicine, would you? For your fever?” Ted whined at the prospect.

“But it’s comfortable~! Paul~.”

“Sorry, rules are rules. I just follow them. Besides, you’ll rest easier.” He went upstairs and came down with a thermometer and a pill bottle. After checking his temperature- 101 degrees Fahrenheit- Paul gave him two pills and a glass of water. He denied his request to replace the water for whiskey- “Do you want to feel the pain of throwing up?”- and made sure he actually took the pills before packaging the leftover pasta. Ted mindlessly watched a few more episodes of The Office while Paul did whatever he was doing.

“You can take the bed.” Paul said, leaning on the armrest of the couch. Ted checked the time. It was pretty late. He would have gladly taken the bed in any other situation (maybe even agreed to be on top of the bed), but apparently being sick humbled him.

“This is your house.” He tried to argue. It felt weird to leave Paul on an uncomfortable couch in his house while Ted slept comfortably.

“I want you to be as comfortable as possible.” Paul answered simply, taking off his suit jacket and hanging it on his arm. “If it leaves me with less of an asshole in the morning, I’ll take the opportunity.” He paused, and Ted was sure he was blushing. “I can see how that sounds wrong. You know what I mean.” Ted simply nodded and stifled a yawn.

“I’m not taking your bed. It’s your house.”

“I’ve slept on the floor and woken up fine.”

“Paul. This is already-” He ran his thumb against his fingertips, not finding the right word. “- with you bringing me here. Please just take the bed.” He didn’t deserve such kindness, his parents always said so.

“You’re sure? Ted, I honestly want-“

“Take the bed, you self-sacrificing bastard!” Ted’s voice was muffled, as he had stuck it into the couch cushions out of frustration. Paul laughed and started walking up the stairs.

“OK, fine. I’ll take the bed. Let me just bring you a blanket and some pajamas first,” Ted started to speak and Paul shut him down quickly. “ At least let me do that for you.” He gave Ted a heavy blanket and a pillow from his own bed, along with a t-shirt and shorts. Ted went into the bathroom to change and found his coworker reading in the kitchen, seemingly waiting for him. Ted got comfortable under the covers.

“…Goodnight, Paul.” He mumbled, already falling asleep.

“Goodnight, Ted.”

Paul woke up to a loud thud from downstairs. It was still dark outside, and he mentally cursed Ted for causing such a ruckus so late at night. He got out of bed and sped walked down the stairs. He couldn’t see anything.

“Ted?” There was no answer. He flipped the switch up, turning on the kitchen light. Ted wasn’t on the couch, but on the floor. Paul panicked when he realized he was twitching. He ran to him and tried to get close, only to stay a distance away in fear of hurting him. Ted’s eyes were slightly open and blank. “Shit! Ted?” Paul was no doctor, but he was pretty sure that Ted was having a seizure. It made no logical sense, Ted had never informed his coworkers of any pre-existing conditions, but Paul was the only one around to help. He reassured Ted that he would be right back and ran upstairs. He grabbed his phone off the nightstand and dialed 911.

911, what’s your emergency? ” A female voice rang through the phone, and Paul tried to keep his voice steady.

“My- my- my friend. I think he’s- he’s having a seizure and I don’t know what to do. I- I just woke up and found him like this. Please, help.” Tears fell anyway, and he didn’t care enough to stop them. 

Alright. Sir, I need you to calm down. What’s your name? ” She asked.

“Paul. Matthews.”

And your friend?

“Ted Spankoffski.”

Thank you. Paul, does your friend have any conditions? ” He shook his head, but remembered that Ted mentioned something about autism back when he first started working, though he wasn’t sure if he had been referring to himself or his brother.

“I think- think he has mild autism, but I can’t be sure. Does that help?”

Any information can help. Is he shaking hard? ” Paul listened. It was only slight twitching, though not less worrying.

“No. I don’t think so. What should I do?”

Are there any sharp objects near him? ” That didn’t really answer his question, still, Paul looked around the couch and table. There was nothing on the ground, save for the blanket strew across the floor.

“No. No, it’s safe.” He answered quickly.

Take away anything from the vicinity that can harm him, such as tables or books. ” Paul pushed the table further away and moved the couch a bit.

“Yeah.” He was panicking. This was the most vulnerable he had seen Ted, with his eyes glassy and his body twitching uncontrollably. He was exuding small, repetitive sounds, like he was trying to say something.

Sir? Did you hear me?

“What?”

I asked you to put something soft under your friend’s head so that he doesn’t get hurt. Can you do that, please? ” Paul yanked the pillow from the bed and tried to put it under Ted’s head. It was hard, and his own hands were shaking, but he succeeded.

“I did that.”

OK. I need you to stay on the line, put your phone on speaker, and inform me if his condition worsens.

“C-can do.” He set the phone on the table and watched helplessly as his friend continued shaking. “Excuse me? Ma’am, he won’t stop shaking.”

Would you like me to call paramedics? ” Her voice was soft and slightly comforting.

“Um. I-I think so. B-but he’s shaking less now, so maybe not.” It was true. Ted’s twitching and broken-record sounds were stopping. It kept Paul sane enough. “Should I stay on the line?”

Yes. Even if he’s getting better, I’ll need to talk to him.” Paul looked at his friend's face. It was slack and he looked more peaceful. Ted muttered something, shifted, then went quiet.

“Ted? Ted? ” He put two fingers on his neck and checked for a pulse. It was beating rapidly, but it was there. “He’s sleeping now.” He informed the operator. “I don’t think we’ll need help.”

You’ll call if anything else arises?” She asked.

“Yes.” He gently lifted Ted’s sleeping form and laid him on the couch.

Have a good night, sir.” She hung up.

Have a good night sir, she says, as his friend just had an epileptic episode for- Paul checked the call time. A minute and forty seconds. It had been possibly the most nerve-wracking and scariest 100 seconds of his life. He tucked the blanket around Ted, grabbed a spare blanket and the pillow from his bed, and made a bed downstairs next to the couch.

He didn’t leave Ted’s side that night, not even when he started puking his guts up at two in the morning and Paul had to stay up for the next two hours to make sure he didn’t choke. It was going to be a long day come Monday.

Ted woke up to the smell of eggs, which rarely ever happened. He shifted a bit to get feeling into his limbs, which felt heavier than the night before, and cleared his throat to get any phlegm out. A familiar voice hummed along to quiet jazz.

“…Paul?” Ted asked, bleary. He was more tired than usual, as if he’d run a marathon and promptly passed out. The humming stopped and Ted heard footsteps. Then, he was pulled into a sudden hug. Paul’s hug was soft, caring, and breathable. Ted almost melted into it. Almost.

“What, uh, are you doing?” He asked slowly.

“Oh, God, you’re alright.” Paul murmured, hugging him tighter. Ted blinked and slowly, slowly, hugged back.

“Paul, what happened?” He didn’t view his coworker as a hugger, especially not towards him. Paul pulled away and, very tenderly, rubbed Ted’s shoulder.

“You had a seizure, Ted. I was…terrified.” He sounded like he was gulping down sobs with each word. Ted blinked, immediately feeling guilty.

“They said I was in remission.” He said quietly, sounding lied to. “I’d been fine for a year already.”

“Ted, why didn’t you say anything?” He sounded so concerned and pained that it hurt.

“I was fine.” It was a pitiful excuse, he knew. If the seizures were to ever pop up again, now would be the optimal time. With his diet and physical health at a low, it made sense. He just didn’t want to bother Paul with what seemed like unnecessary information. Paul stared at him for a long while.

“Can you at least tell Mr. Davidson?” Well, if that was all he was asking…

Ted nodded. Paul grinned at him. “Great! Do you want breakfast?” He let go of his coworker’s shoulders and walked back to the kitchen. Ted nodded, then remembered Paul was in the kitchen.

“Yes, please.” He looked out the window at the cars passing for the longest time until Paul called him over. Ted stood and walked to the dinner table. Paul had set two plates opposite from each other. An omelette sat on either plate, and Ted tried to remember the last time he’d had an omelette. He sat. Neither man said anything. Until Paul spoke, that is.

“So, you know how a new restaurant just opened up, right near Beanies?” He asked. Ted looked up and nodded. “Well, I was hoping- thinking, really- that if you didn’t have anything to do, then maybe you would want to come with me for dinner?” His tone was sheepish. Ted, eager to break the tension, grinned slyly and rested his head on his palms.

“Paulsy, are you asking me on a date?” He asked, then laughed at Paul’s reddening face and spluttered response.

“I was just-“

“Asking out your sexiest coworker?” He struck a dramatic pose. Paul laughed, and Ted soon joined in. As Paul cleaned up their plates, Ted stared at his temporary roommate, thinking back to that morning. Paul had been so concerned for him, and actually joked around with him during breakfast. Theodore Spankoffski did not have many people he referred to as friends, but Paul Matthews was special to him, and he would be damned if he ruined that.

“I’m just going to shower, then we can go out.” Paul informed him. Ted nodded and watched him go.

Well, now what?

Ted browsed through Netflix, looking for something to watch. Apparently, he took so long that Paul got out of the shower before he could pick. Ted turned the TV off and waited. After Paul got dressed (and after he gave Ted some clothes), they got out of the house and started looking for something to do until dinner. It wasn’t too hard, and they settled on a museum- “Paul, I am not looking at dead animals for two hours.”- after a lot of pleading from Paul. It was a great day for both of them.

If you were to ask Bill Woodward what happened during the weekend he was gone, he would just shrug. It wasn’t that Ted and Paul had hated each other, but they had been acquaintances at best. Now, the two seemed inseparable, eating lunch together, generally talking, and discussing that coffee place a block down. Every time Bill tried to ask Paul about it, he quickly changed the subject. Every time he tried to ask Ted about it, he would smirk and then turn back to his paperwork. The only person he had gotten an answer out of had been Charlotte, who hadn’t even been that telling. When asked, she had said, “Ted’s found a new friend. I’m proud of him.” and leave it at that. Bill eventually decided that he would never understand. Honestly, that didn’t matter right now. What mattered was getting his daughter tickets to Mamma Mia! to help her see that he could be just as supportive as Grace.