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This Yard is Full of Shards

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This Yard is Full of Shards

 

Billy’s body was beautiful. That wasn’t any sort of surprise, or any sort of secret. At least, Steve had always thought that was just something everybody already knew. Granted, Steve knew that Billy had a lot of secrets; that there were a lot of things that people didn’t know about “Bad Boy” Billy Hargrove, their latest reigning king. Other people didn’t know that Billy’s breath hitched, small but audible, every time Steve kissed him first. It didn’t matter if it was the first time that day, or the third time that hour. Billy would deny it, but he did it every time. They didn’t know that Billy loved horses, had even owned one as a child, one given to him by his mother who had grown up inland in California on a farm—that he had felt free when he rode it, full speed into the wind. And people didn’t know that Billy kept every note anyone has ever given him—good, bad, even neutral—in a shoe box in his car. But that his body was gorgeous: hard, and curved, and smooth all over, was the one thing Steve assumed everyone did know— that they had to know, because who wouldn’t take one look at Billy’s body and not want to get on their knees beside it? But that was another thing that most people didn’t know about Billy, and that was that there was someone who didn’t see it, didn’t “get’ it. And that person was Billy Hargrove himself.

Billy showed a lot of skin, but he didn’t show all of it. And he only revealed those selective pieces of himself at even more select of times. The only time Billy would fully bare larger fragments of his body was when he was moving, the blurred motion of the court, or the soap in the shower, further obscuring the view. He gave everyone something to look at, confidence in momentum. But when Billy was standing still (another thing that Steve knew that others usually didn’t, that Billy could be still), Billy’s wild confidence became something else, something inverted, embarrassed, and shy. When he was still, Billy was even more selective in what other’s saw. Even in his more private, personal life away from the prying eyes of the school, Billy would continue to show his skin in slivers and patches that would tease and torment, but he’d never show it all at once.

Steve had been surprised to learn that Billy wasn’t as brazen and open about his body as he seemed. But he had learned it all the same after the frost had thawed and That Day had happened, on the precipice of spring, when Billy had seen him coming out of the arcade. They had collided in the alley; Billy had pushed and Steve had pushed back. Billy’s hands found Steve’s collar, and Steve’s had found the waist of Billy’s jeans. Billy’s fingers twisted in the cotton blend of his shirt, Steve’s curled into the loops of his denim. And then something altered: they hadn’t pushed, but pulled. Billy had kissed him, his lips as cool and as rough as the brick wall behind him, and just like that, Steve’s world had changed.

Steve spent the first month after That Day in perplexed confusion, still teased and tormented by Billy’s body, which always seemed just out of reach. At first the selective reveals and concealment of Billy’s skin seemed circumstantial. Billy would always insist that they meet in the dark shade of the woods; he kept the lights off in Steve’s room; and he only climbed into the backseat of either of their cars at night. They were all places where Billy’s body remained shadowed and occluded, with only small glimpses afforded by the weak filter of the moon, or what little light streamed through Steve’s window from the lamps out by the pool. Steve had figured Billy was being carefully paranoid about being seen by others, of being seen with Steve. It took Steve longer than he’s proud of to realize that Billy didn’t want to be seen by *him.*

That “minor” revelation was even more confusing, but Steve remained patient with Billy, more so than he could ever remember being with anyone before. He continued to meet with Billy in the dark, tracing the planes and contours of the body beneath his fingers as the shadows kept it from his sight. He would quietly follow Billy back into the alley behind the arcade while the kids played their games, and didn’t say a thing when Billy wouldn’t unbutton his shirt any further than his signature ‘V,’ or when he brushed Steve’s hands away if they began to wander under the barrier of his clothes.

Steve kind of got that whatever the problem was, it wasn’t about *him* exactly. But it still felt like a kind of rejection, another wall for him to climb until it crumbled. Even more than that, it was kind of heartbreaking, to know that even though he pretended to, Billy couldn’t actually see it. He couldn’t really understand why everyone looked at him with wide hungry eyes every time he sauntered by. The constant anxious movement that surrounded Billy in everything he did, indicated that although Billy liked to draw attention, he didn’t like to keep it fixed on himself for long. That was fine for the general public, but Billy also didn’t want Steve to see him, or at least his body. Steve didn’t know why, but he did know that. Steve had tried to bring the subject up before, using approaches both subtle and direct. He had even point-blank asked Billy once or twice for what he wanted. But Billy’s walls remained invisible and firm.

 

Steve still tries again anyway one lazy afternoon. It had been a good day, and Steve had taken Billy home. The house was all theirs, as was his mother’s designer sofa, a custom job of leather and cream. Billy had started it in the car, teasingly rubbing his palm over the hard length in Steve’s jeans as he drove, looking straight out the windshield the whole way like it wasn’t even happening. By the time they had pulled into the driveway, Steve was ready to destroy him in more ways than one.

The moment the front door of the house slammed shut behind them, Billy let Steve push him onto the couch; he pushes hard and Billy goes down harder, landing on his back in a sprawl. Billy seizes the moment, draping himself across the bench seat, legs falling open in a casual part and smirking up at Steve, like he knows exactly what Steve wants. He isn’t wrong. The phantom feeling of Billy’s teasing fingers from the car still linger in the nerves of his thighs as Billy scrolls his gaze up Steve’s body. Their eyes lock and Billy licks his bottom lip, shows Steve his tongue. Steve dives in immediately, slotting all the angles of his own body against Billy’s, letting the gravity and slightly lighter weight of himself pin Billy down. His mouth latches onto Billy’s throat, the exact spot that Steve knows will make him buck on reflex, which he does. Billy curses and digs his fingers into Steve’s hips, pulling Steve tighter in against him as he ruts his body upwards.

The thermal and flannel Billy still has on is soft beneath Steve’s fingers, but the layers of fabric between them creates a burning friction wherever they rub against each other that’s rough and distracting. Steve manages to pull his own shirt over his head before he reaches for Billy’s. But before Steve even knows what’s happening, Billy shoves Steve off of him. His body tips backwards, crashing hard against the armrest of the couch, but any protest against the sudden movement dries in Steve’s throat as he watches Billy sit up onto his knees and rotate to drape himself over the back of the couch, the backrest of the sofa pressing against his chest, his hips pressing back into the air. Billy’s fingers fly frantically to his waist, tearing at the buttons of his fly until he gets his jeans down over the swell of his ass. Steve curses at the sight of him, the shirt forgotten for the moment as Steve scrambles back up onto his own knees to touch him.

Billy was shy with his body, but not about sex. Billy makes so much noise when he wants something, and that’s something that Steve has always liked about him, even before That Day. It only takes a few fingers stretching him just this side of too slow before Billy’s panting and moaning between his teeth from where he’s bent over the couch, cursing at Steve to go faster than he is: to get his pants off and ‘that fucking monster’ inside him. Billy twists and wriggles to get his own jeans pulled down further to his knees and keeps them there, his tight shirt still wrapped around his torso, which only bunches a little bit up his hips as Billy bends further into the cushions, presenting his ass to Steve like that’s all Steve could possibly need. And yeah, usually the image of Billy so desperate for it he can’t even get all his clothes off before he’s begging for Steve to fuck him would be incredible. And Billy saying things that mere months ago Steve would never have believed Billy Hargrove would ever say in his life, things like: “Fuck, *please*, Harrington, stop fucking around and fuck me already” and “I *need* you inside me, fill me up, *come on*,” would be unbelievably incredible, and it still is. But Steve is also obsessed now, with seeing Billy’s skin, and he doesn’t see why he can’t.

So Steve goes to help Billy peel his shirt off first, but the second his fingers grasp the base and pull, Billy freezes, halting the thrusting of his hips where he had just been wantonly writhing and grinding against the leather of the cushions. Billy doesn’t even turn his head to him, just asks low and dangerous, “What are you doing?”

Steve can tell Billy’s trying to sound carefully casual, even bored, so he shrugs, even though Billy can’t see it with his face still planted in the couch, “I want to see.”

Steve doesn’t understand why they are even having this conversation. Sure, certain girls had resisted Steve stripping them down before. Not everyone has always been receptive right away to Steve trying to get a hand up and under their shirt to get it off or feel below it. But that was only ever when that was a line that hadn’t yet been crossed. Steve has never been refused something so simple after sex was already on the table; he’s never had someone begging for his dick, but that still won’t let him see their tits. But Billy still deflects even as he pointedly pushes his ass higher, angling his elbows to block Steve’s progress. “Come on, Harrington. There’s nothing to see.”

Steve disagrees with that. There’s Billy to see: Billy’s hard sculpted body, the tight stretch of his flesh as it flexes and bends. “I want to see *you*.”

Billy finally pulls his head away from the couch cushions and looks at him. His face flushed and pupils blown wide, and yet Billy’s still able to roll his eyes, “You’re such a fucking woman. What do you need to see me for? My ass is *right there*. You gonna stick your dick in it or not? Because it’s not going to fuck itself, Harrington. But then again, I could probably find someone else who will if you’re going to be a bitch about it...”

And yeah, of course even when heady with arousal, Billy would still resort back to pushing whenever Steve pulls too close. Billy can guess at Steve’s insecurities too, of being replaced and upgraded. Steve glowers at him, “You’re such a fucking asshole.”

The distance floods back in between them, and Billy smiles to cover it, so charming and beautiful that the sting of the words fade quickly enough, “I heard two of the words you just said.”

“God, Shut up,” Steve manages to grit out, wrapping a palm around Billy’s mouth to cover the bottom half of his face in order to really drill in the words. Billy moans from beneath Steve’s hand, just as suddenly back in the game, zero to desperation in under sixty seconds, as he jerks his body forward. Billy keeps whining behind Steve’s hand, mouthing and licking at the makeshift gag of his palm until Steve twists to feed Billy his fingers, lets him suck them down: hungry, wet, and like he’s just that desperate to get anything of Steve’s inside of him as deep as the hole will go. And yeah, Billy knew how to kill any semblance of an emotional moment, but not how to dispel the mood entirely. Because Steve, like always, relented—the hypnotic wet suck of Billy’s mouth singing through Steve’s limbs making him forget why he cared in the first place. And because Billy had a point: his ass was *right there*—hard and round, and so lush to sink into that Steve couldn’t say ‘no’ to that if he tried. And if Billy winced when Steve pressed his chest up against his back, or jerked and cried out harder than he should have when Steve clutched into Billy’s side to guide and pull him back, Billy was good at diverting any attention away from that too: gagging, taunting, and twisting his body around Steve’s until Steve was swallowing stars.

*
Billy was good at distraction, diversion, and deflection—great at it even—but he wasn’t perfect, no one was. Steve began to notice little things at first. Just quick slipped glances of skin marred with marks, bruises, and scars. Like the time that he had Billy up against the back wall of the old movie theater, alone in the last row of a Wednesday matinee. Years of the accumulated melt of candy and soda corroded the floor, and Steve had ruined a two hundred dollar pair of chinos getting on his knees. He hadn’t cared about his pants in the slightest when Billy’s head had tipped back, eyes rolled to the black-painted ceiling for long enough that Steve could smooth his palm along Billy’s hip, push the flap of his shirt back just enough to see some skin—and the knotted silver scar that curled around it, highlighted by the flickering lights in celluloid from the screen.

Or the time that Billy had been on his knees in the back of the Beemer facing the door, his palms clutched against the curve of the partially opened window, fingers curling over the top. Billy had stretched his torso out long, bracing his palms against the slant of the glass to push back against Steve’s fingers as he worked them inside him, worked him open slow. The night had been unseasonably warm, humid and sticky for the spring. Billy hitched his sleeves high up past his elbows to relieve the heat when Steve curled his chest around his back to push himself inside. Billy’s fingers flexed and gripped against the curve of the window as Steve breached him, and Steve had automatically reached out to tangle his own hands with Billy’s on the glass. The angles were intimate, almost tender in a way Steve wasn’t used to. On instinct, he had hooked his chin over Billy’s shoulder, felt the stubble on Billy’s jaw press into his own. It was when Steve looked down that he saw them: Billy’s forearms, the shine of his skin and the deep contours of muscles in the moonlight darkened where they shouldn’t be by the bruising aftermath of a hard-gripped hand. And below that, a bright fresh burn that Steve was pretty sure came from a cigarette, lit and then ground to ash on his skin.

It continued like that—little flashes of small angry gashes, odd bruising, faded scars, and the occasional small blood stain on Billy’s clothes that Billy himself had apparently overlooked, but that snuck into Steve’s view at unexpected times and places. At first, Steve had been able to write the first few glimpses of marred skin off as byproducts of the basic hazards of living. But only shortly thereafter, after the days turned into months, which always seemed to bring glances of something fresh—some new small horror splashed across the slipped patches of Billy’s skin— Steve started to wonder if Billy was doing things to himself. Steve had known a girl sophomore year that had liked to carve words into her body, who had told Steve about the pain being a release from a far worse pain from somewhere internal. Steve had also known a guy from the nearby college he had met a year after, who liked to burn for pleasure. He told Steve it made his skin light up like all the nerves were on fire when he came. There was also that one kid, back in the eighth grade, that had liked to scar up his skin with swirls of his own designs and called it art. There were a range of options as to why someone might hurt themselves and purposely damage their skin. But that Billy was so ashamed of it, and didn’t want to share more of himself because of it—just the feeling that there was something Steve was missing—it bothered Steve.

Steve payed closer attention after that: to the small pieces that Billy would let him see, and the ones he didn’t mean to—to the skin that slipped into view whenever Billy had become too distracted to remember not to let him. Most of the damage that had been mapped upon his skin looked like it had healed as best it could with time and sheer resilience. But Steve could tell, from the way that Billy flinched whenever one of the raised silver slices on his skin shone in the light—and how quickly he’d pull away to twist his body back into the shadow—that even though only the hints of them remained upon the surface, Billy’s scars ran deeper than Steve could ever know.

The night that Steve began to finally, really get a clue, was just a night, at first like any other. Steve had gone to peel off Billy’s shirt in the dark of his room, the deep kind of dark in which Billy usually allowed the removal of his clothes. But this time Billy stopped him with a quick sudden jerk that tore the fabric from Steve’s fingers. It wasn’t quick enough for Steve not to see it though: Billy’s back, revealed half-way, and the deep, violent contusions there in angry criss-crossed lines. The sudden torsion of Billy’s movement made Billy seize up and then wince with a choked, pained moan that he quickly swallowed in the dark.

The look on Billy’s face in the shadows—that pure raw moment of unfiltered panic and pain—wasn’t something Steve ever wanted to see again. He wasn’t sure he could handle it if he did. Steve knew then that whatever Billy was hiding, he wasn’t doing it for pleasure, and he wasn’t doing it to himself. Before Steve had been able to say anything further—to reach out and draw him in and offer him, well, anything—Billy had muttered something about being tired and needing to get home, and had vanished into the night.

Steve wasn’t actually stupid. There were only so many men that could have left those marks, repeatedly and against his will. “It’s Neil, isn’t it,” Steve says to him the next day at the end of classes, the parking lot empty and as private as anything else can be around a small town. Steve doesn’t make it a question. He doesn’t say “father” or “dad” because, now that he thinks about it, neither does Billy.

Billy’s emotions flicker quickly through him: surprise, fear, embarrassment, wariness, sadness, and then he shutters off. He doesn’t say anything though, just turns and walks away. Steve doesn’t see Billy again for five full days. Time they would have easily spent apart in the past, but not now; not since Billy first and finally kissed him. There are a range of ways to say ‘no,’ or even to give an ambiguous answer, to that kind of question. That isn’t one of them.

Billy comes back on the sixth day. He doesn’t say a thing about their last conversation and neither does Steve. But Steve can’t help but notice that Billy’s favoring his left shoulder. They go back to Steve’s place, to his ever-empty home. Steve turns the lights out without Billy first asking, and they work together for it to just seem like the most natural option that Billy ends up on top with his legs spread around him: Steve taking the weight of them with his back against the mattress, Billy looking down from above him so his back can face the wall.

They don’t talk about it, and they don’t talk about it. Billy starts spending more and more time at Steve’s, which makes it all the more visible whenever Billy disappears for days: When he comes back limping, or hunched, or hurting in ways that he can’t quite hide. They don’t talk about it. They never talk about it. And it’s slowly driving Steve insane. Because whether they talk about it or not, Steve knows now, not the details precisely, but he knows the general kinds of secrets Billy won’t let him see. Billy’s always had walls: thick armor and thicker skin. Steve gets why he’d have to, but it still hurts that he won’t let Steve in. It hurts because Billy hurts, is hurting all the time, and Steve can’t do anything about it. And as helpless as that makes Steve feel, he knows that Billy must feel like that too, but so much worse, because he can’t help himself; he doesn’t have that kind of power, to be safe in his own house.

Billy still wears his clothes tight and low cut whenever he has the chance. That confuses Steve too at first, because it never failed to get people to look—Steve included—at the select pieces of his body. And the thing is, Steve can’t just turn off how attracted he is to Billy. His body is amazing, and always right there: warm and solid, over and on him, sometimes even in him, and yet it still remains just out of reach. Steve’s pretty sure he’s seen every piece of Billy naked, but never all at once. And god he wants to. He knows it will be beautiful, because that’s what Billy is. What he always has been. Billy just can’t see it. His body is too much of a faulty shield, something Steve now knows Billy hates because it’s the first part of him to absorb the damage, and the hardest thing for him to hide. Steve doesn’t blame him for disassociating. And yet, it still isn’t until one night, after Steve notices Billy wearing his chest on display to Meghan Keen’s party after a week of high collars, that it finally dawns on Steve that Billy shows his skin when he *can*. Like he’s proving something. That Billy’s proving to the world that he’s not as damaged as he is. That he’s OK.

Steve wants so badly to prove to Billy that that’s true. The revelation unlocks some deep need in Steve, a kind of compulsion that kills him not to act on. He wants to worship every inch of him until Billy sees it, or at least believes Steve when Steve says he can see it: how sexy and beautiful his body is, because it’s his—Billy’s—and underneath all his walls, Billy is the most beautiful person that Steve has ever known.

*
Steve tries it on a Wednesday. There’s no real reason for the date other than Billy had been a little more open with his body in practice, spreading out beneath the layers of soap and water of the shower like Steve’s seen him do before, on the days he wants to preen and bare his throat so that everyone can see that he’s doing just fine. To Steve it means an open window, that Billy’s torso has had a rare reprieve, that Steve should be able to have Billy lay back for him and not experience too much pain.

He gets Billy back to his bedroom. They don’t always do it there. It’s a big house—all theirs when they want it, and there are so many rooms. But Steve wants Billy to feel as comfortable as he can, to feel as safe as he can. And even though Billy has never—would never—tell Steve that the place to achieve that is in Steve’s space, Steve has been studying Billy’s body for months, every little twitch and turn that he can. Steve knows the lines of Billy, even when he’s clothed. He knows the only place he ever sometimes sees his constant tension falter is when Billy’s right here: in Steve’s house, in his room, and on his bed. And the bed is also comfortable on its own merits. Steve has only ever known the luxury of a high-quality thread count and the mattress is larger than he can fill by himself. He gets Billy roughly into the center, chasing him with lips and tongue, languid and loose like he doesn’t have an ulterior agenda. Steve keeps the lamp by the bed on. It’s a softer light than the overhead, a warmer bulb that contrasts with the deep blue of the sheets: A combination of color temperatures that Steve just knows will make Billy glow.

Steve noses at the crook of Billy’s neck, tonguing at his pulse point. Steve keeps up the gentle pressure of his mouth on Billy’s throat. He waits until the coiled muscles under his begin to soften as Billy relaxes further into the bed. Billy’s entire body has always been sensitive, but Steve knows the exact spot right below his ear that makes his body sing. He sucks his lips around the spot in a consistent soft and steady rhythm and waits. He waits until Billy’s fingers dig into the sheets, until his pulse and then his breath quickens into something dizzy and frenetic. He waits until Billy whimpers from the stimulation and begins to push his hips upwards to blindly seek out more; He waits until Billy’s desperate.

“I want to see you,” Steve says it soft this time, a little pleading. And maybe it’s the soft edges, that he’s let himself be vulnerable and sound it, that has Billy responding differently. He still shakes his head, but his words are softer too.

Steve...” Billy stops there a moment, caught up on the name. It’s not entirely unheard of, but still not commonplace, to vocalize that level of intimacy between them. And it’s amusing, and ironic, and a little bit sad—if not entirely devastating—that somehow Billy is so utterly comfortable with having everything of Steve’s in his mouth except his first name.

Steve savors the sound of it for a moment. He likes it, he really likes it: the way Billy’s teeth come to rest on the swell of his lip at the ‘ve.’ Steve lets it drive him. He pulls back so that he can see Billy’s face before he takes a deep breath and asks it: the question they had once silently agreed never to breech, “Why don’t you want me to see you?”

There’s a range of ways Billy can answer, and Steve has prepared himself for those options. And yet, the answer still surprises him. As does Billy’s tone, which comes out matter-of-fact, like that’s just the way it is, and he’s accepted that. Steve’s so surprised, he has to ask Billy to repeat it. And Billy sighs, looks him in the eye and says again, “You shouldn’t have to.”

“What? I mean, I heard you, but what does that mean?” Steve keeps his voice gentle. This thing between them, whatever is happening, feels so fragile. One wrong breath and it could shatter and break.

There’s something about Billy today. Maybe it’s that he’s been able to stand straight this whole week, seven days of clear inhales and clean skin. Maybe it’s one of those rare moments that he isn't as distracted by the containment of his discomfort, so that he can more fully focus on something external, has more patience for it. But Billy actually answers, not looking at Steve exactly, but he also isn’t turning away. “It isn’t pretty, Steve. It’s…. It just isn’t pretty, okay? You don’t want to see it.”

Steve tries not to react to that, because seeing Billy’s body is exactly what he *does* want, and the slowly forming full image of how Billy must see himself—as something not worthy of being seen—guts Steve to his core. “I didn’t say I wanted to see *it*, I want to see *you*—all of you.” Steve knows he has to be careful here, so very very careful.

“Why?” Billy doesn’t seem like he believes him, but he does at least sound curious, even if it’s a little confrontational.

Steve smiles, something small, soft, and genuine, “There are so many answers to that question.”

Billy looks like he doubts that, “Pick one.”

Steve never used to wear his emotions open for all to see. He too had grown up callous and behind plenty of his own walls, only of ivory, and wealth, and all the privileges of beauty that meant Steve never had to want for anything. He had always just taken and not cared what it cost him or the others around him. And then he had felt something for someone once and told them, only to have those feelings and words ripped apart. Steve hadn’t wanted to ever share himself like that again, to say what he was feeling and what he wanted, not knowing if it would, or even could, ever be returned. But he was asking for something huge from Billy, and he knew he had to give something in exchange for that. Overcoming his own smaller scars for the sake of Billy’s seemed like a start, so Steve didn’t just pick one. He tells Billy everything, what he feels and what he wants. Steve looks at Billy while he says it, everything he’s been wanting to tell him, even though he’s terrified of what Billy will do with it.

“First of all, you’re unbelievably hot, like seriously, you’re so fucking beautiful that it kind of hurts. Every single part of you that I’ve seen is, and I’m positive I’m not going to change my mind on that. Because I want to touch you and I want you to touch me. I want to feel your body on mine, like really against me. I want to be closer to you--like physically, and also, well, I also just want more of you. I want to really know you. And I’m not sure that can really happen completely without you letting me in. And I want you to let me in. I want to be here with you. Whatever you’re hiding, whatever you’re so afraid for me to see, it’s a part of you,” Steve takes an inhale, a shaky fortification before he admits, “And I want all of you, I really do.”

Billy looks almost betrayed by Steve’s words, like he’s convinced that Steve’s joking, mocking or pranking him. The mixture of confusion and disbelief on Billy’s face suggests that no one has ever said anything remotely like that to him before. And yeah, Steve has never said anything like that to anyone before either; it feels too heavy and saccharine, and a little surreal. It has to be real though, because he feels raw and over-exposed. But he pushes through it, goes in for Billy’s lips, parted slightly out of shock, and kisses him. His lips are soft. And unlike the rest of Billy, they open easily to let Steve in. Steve flutters his fingers down the slight inward curve of Billy’s side, going slow, like Billy’s body is something that needs to be tamed and domesticated before it flees. Steve makes it to the waist of Billy’s jeans and stops, curving his palm around the hard swell of his hip.

“Please, Billy.” Steve says as he touches his fingers to the bottom of Billy’s shirt, “Can I see you? Will you show me?” Once again, Steve waits. He knows this is the moment that Billy either lets him in or kicks him out, and that if Billy chooses the later, that he won’t ever let Steve back in. But it’s Steve that’s pushed, that’s brought them here, so he’ll have to live with whatever Billy decides. Steve can see the conflict flicker through him, how truly hard it is for Billy to give him this. That he really does seem raw and afraid of everything around him, that he might be just as afraid to go back home alone.

Steve waits, thumb stroking the inch of skin at Billy’s hip where his T-shirt has ridden up, tracing what he can see of the scar there, shining pale and silver in the light. Billy watches the movement of Steve’s thumb, looking panicked and ill, and Steve follows the first compulsion that washes over him. He slowly bends forward and places his lips on the scar, kisses it just once, soft, deliberate, before he goes back to waiting. Steve rests the bridge of his nose against the curve of Billy’s hip. His forehead lands pressed right against the raised ridge of skin, and he waits. It feels like something reverent, something sacred and holy, to prostrate his body at the wicked alter that is Billy’s broken and beautiful flesh. Steve can feel the hot heat of it on his face, right where their skin touches; it burns.

Billy breathes, three deep breaths, then swallows, then nods, “ok.”

“You sure?” Steve doesn’t want to give Billy even a moment to change his mind, but he offers it anyway.

Billy doesn’t say it again. He’s always been better with the physical things than with talking anyway, so it’s fitting that he takes his hand instead and puts it by Steve’s head. It takes a moment for Steve to work out what Billy’s doing, but then Billy’s fingers are curling into his shirt and pulling the fabric up. Steve waits frozen in awe and anticipation as Billy bares the rest of his hip, and keeps going: past his stomach, his chest, his neck, until the shirt is fully off and over his head and Billy’s skin from the waist up is stretched out and completely naked before him.

Steve has seen Billy’s torso before: in motion on the court, in the wet of the shower, in the moonlight of the car, and in shadowed contours on his bed. But this is the first time he gets to see the whole thing up close, spread out right in front of his face, inches from his tongue. And god, yeah. Billy’s just as gorgeous up close as Steve knew he would be, more so even. Sculpted lines of muscle cut deep into his skin, tan, and long, and thick. The ridges of his abdominals alone is enough to make Steve ache.

Steve makes a sound he knows he’s never made before. It’s reverent and desperate and feels like it was ripped from some deep part of his soul. “God, Billy—Baby—, Thank You.” Steve can’t help it, he touches his lips to skin. It’s beautiful—Billy’s beautiful—and Steve tells him that over and over again as he breathes in deep, inhales the smell of him.

Steve unzips the clasp of his jeans, just to find some relief, before pressing himself against Billy’s thigh, lets him feel it, how hard he is just from the sight alone. “Fuck, I knew you were hot babe, but fuck, you’re gorgeous. Can you feel me? Can you feel how hard I am right now? I haven’t even touched you yet. Just the sight of you.” Steve groans low, deep, needing something, everything, “You’re cut like a fucking god.”

At the feel of the length of Steve against his thigh, Billy moans. Because that’s what Billy always does whenever Steve’s dick touches him, and Steve loves that about him. That even on the verge of panic and collapse, Steve can still make Billy go slack with need at the mere implication that Steve wants to get his cock into him. And god, yeah, does Steve ever want to get his cock into the sinfully hard body spread out in front of him. But Steve is also not about to rush through the first time he finally gets to see Billy. He’s determined to take this slow, to make it about Billy and the long-awaited luxury of taking him all in.

Steve kisses him slow, starting right where he already is at the silver-white crescent of a scar on his hip, tracing and tracking the cruel and curious line of it all the way up his side. When the scar reaches its final end, Steve maps his way through the rest of Billy’s torso with his tongue, chasing the wet trail with his fingers and eyes. There are three more scars on his chest that match the first in the way the knots of them shine, but they vary in length, placement, and age. Old wounds that had stretched and strained themselves as far as they could to close back together wherever the skin had hit and split too far open, perhaps in a fall, catching corners on the way down, or just from a wrong-angled force.

From up this close, other softer marks are visible that Steve has never noticed before. Including all the individual thinner faint pink slashes that spread randomly in haphazard patterns over the planes of Billy’s chest and the the dips of his sides in smaller fading lines, places where amature sutures had closed up his skin, but hadn’t fully healed. Steve knows how much Billy hates hospitals, which means he must do his own stitches when he needs them. He does pretty clean work, all things considered; Billy has a fairly practiced hand. But the places that would be harder for him to reach, such as the one up close to the base of his armpit on the right-hand side, carry the evidence of their more difficult angles by their more jagged, less surgical appearance. It makes Steve’s own chest ache, somewhere deep inside him, to think of Billy alone in his room: sitting carefully on the carpet in front of his mirror behind the door, or maybe under the harsh artificial light of the bathroom, trying to twist his tenderized torso enough to stick the sharp bite of a needle and thread over and over again into another fresh round of pain.

Steve searches out all the fresh, faded, and ghostly imprints of each one he can find and kisses every single one of them. He pays particular attention to one of the oldest suture scars that slants, thin but long, across his left pectoral muscle, lavishing his tongue over Billy’s chest with deliberate swirls around the peak of Billy’s nipple located right above the scar. It's an area that Steve already knows is another sensitive one for Billy—in theory. Billy had always responded to Steve touching him there in the past, be it directly with deft fingers, or by in-directly brushing against Billy’s chest with his own. But that had always been while Billy had still been armored in layers of clothes. The electric jolt of Steve’s tongue on Billy’s bare skin is galvanizing. When Steve latches his lips over the nerves, dormant but alive beneath the scar tissue, Billy seizes upwards into Steve’s mouth, his torso curling around Steve’s head as he shouts, something frantic and pure with pleasure. The sound of it vibrates through the room, takes root in Steve’s own body as something whole and holy.

From the look on his face, Billy seems just as shocked by it. And it dawns on Steve that Billy has maybe never actually been touched like this before. Not this intimately and up close. If Billy has always been this protective and shy about his body, it’s possible, even likely, that Billy has maybe never let another person see him this completely stripped down. And Steve is suddenly so overwhelmingly grateful that Billy has given him this, has let him in. “Fuck, Billy,” Steve breathes against him, feels—and sees—the shiver that runs through Billy as he feels the warmth of Steve’s breath brush over the wet trail Steve had left with his lips. “Billy,” Steve repeats, absolutely awed by the sensitivity, and that Billy was letting Steve see it, is letting Steve be there with him as Billy experiences the raw, bare touch of another person. That Steve gets to be that person. “God, Billy.”

Billy’s breath audibly catches at the sounds of his name, like he’s trying to reign in the volume of his own heavy breathing so that he doesn’t miss the soft syllables on Steve’s tongue. Now that he thinks about it, Steve probably hasn’t used Billy’s first name in front of him any more than Billy’s used his. Steve gives it to him now. It slips off his tongue, rolling over and through the muscle like a mantra, a prayer.

Steve slides himself up against Billy’s side, nudges him with his palms and his lips until Billy is coaxed to lay propped on his other side so that Steve can slot in behind him. Steve mouths over the skin there too, whispers Billy’s name to him over and over as the fading but recent lashes of what looks like the remains of a belt that drew blood scratch against the top of his tongue. Steve tells him he’s beautiful, and then he tells him again. Billy arches back against him and Steve presses back harder, lines their hips up so that Billy can feel the weight of him pressed against the curve of his ass, how painfully hard Steve still is, how much he wants him, how utterly and completely true his words are.

Billy feels it, all of it, Steve can tell by the way Billy chokes out Steve’s name as he bends and twists his spine, trying to find an angle that will press Steve’s cock harder against him without sacrificing the touch of his bare back to Steve’s chest. Steve helps him find it, curling his body around Billy’s, maintaining the contact of his skin all the way down. Billy's fingers remain where they’ve been the whole time, twisted in Steve’s sheets, in a determined attempt to keep himself open for Steve to explore. Steve places a kiss to the spinal ridges on Billy’s neck as he walks his fingers down the front of his chest, deftly unzips Billy’s jeans and helps him get them down.

Despite Billy’s self-conscious hesitancy to let Steve explore, Billy is solid and hard under his jeans. Once free, his cock strains upwards into Steve’s hand as Steve wraps it around him, fisting and stroking the fat length of his gorgeous fucking cock as Billy’s body bucks and melts against him. Steve keeps his body molded to Billy’s, rocking against him, building friction, until Billy’s moans turn heady, until the pressure building in his own body turns bright. When Steve links his chin over the crook of Billy’s neck to see, it reminds him of the night in the car, how little he knew then, but how close they still felt. He feels even closer now, curled skin-to-skin around him, Billy’s neck expanded up and back to give Steve access—to have Billy both open and vulnerable and yet still be able to feel Billy’s urgent need for Steve to be right there, his cock leaking down Steve’s fingers and over his wrist.

Steve finds that he wants to give Billy what he needs, anything and everything that might be. So he keeps his right hand where it is with steady strokes as Billy rocks against his palm. The other he keeps moving, flitting over Billy’s chest, across his thighs. Billy’s body is covered in remnants of his past. Maybe one day he can ask Billy to tell him all their stories, how long which ones have been with him. Steve catalogues and memorizes everything, because this is Billy’s body, and he wants it, wants to know it, every surface part and then below that, straight to the very core. He finds and traces over them all in reverent, gentle strokes, just enough pressure so that Billy can feel the touch: The silver slices that run down his sides, the cigarette burns on his arm. The nicks and scratches on his shoulder from shattered glass, the way his elbow clicks from a bad reset; the jagged cut above his knee in the angry circular shape of a bottle, and the triangular gleam of a hot iron just left of his spine.

Billy has stitches, and breaks, contusions, and patches that have been exposed to too much heat until they burned, but it’s the smallest scar that fills Steve with fear, an overwhelming spike of adrenaline that washes through him until he’s clutching at Billy tighter than he should. It’s such a small faint line, slightly concave at the base of his throat, that gets caught just right between Steve’s angle and the light. Such a small innocuous seeming mark, but Steve had seen Will in the hospital the year before, so fragile and pale, and barely responsive. Steve knows too well the remnant imprint of a tracheotomy scar. Steve wraps his hand around Billy’s throat, his thumb pressed over the mark to feel it. The mark that tells Steve that Billy had been trached once or twice before, his throat slit and punctured open to give him an alternative means to breathe.

The thought is a hard one for Steve to swallow. It pulls achingly at Steve’s chest, but not enough to cover up the need pulsating through the rest of him. If anything it fuels it, makes Billy even more beautiful and precious because he’s here. Despite all the forces that have tried to take him under and down, Billy Hargrove has always been a fighter, a survivor. And Steve is so grateful for that. He needs for him to be, because at some point, some unknown line was crossed and Steve just needs him, and he needs Billy alive and strong for that to happen; he needs him to keep on fighting.

The whole thing pulls at Steve so acutely that all his thoughts begin to pour out of him. He’s speaking before he knows it as he thrusts harder against the curve of Billy’s body, slips his own wet-slick cock between the warm, smooth press of Billy’s thighs to chase the friction, “I see you. I see all of you. and fuck, Billy. You’re so fucking beautiful. I thought it the first time I saw you, and I still think it now. Even more than I did before. You’re strong and you survived. I already knew you were built, that you had all these insane muscles and that you were strong, but those aren’t what makes you as strong as you are after all…. these are. And, yeah, that’s fucking sexy. Everything about you is, Billy, everything.”

Billy chokes on a moan, eyelashes fluttering as he pushes up to meet him, angles his ass so that Steve’s cock slots just right to catch and rub against the base of it as Steve thrusts between and through his legs. They’ve never done this either. There's something dirty, and wet, and beautiful in being so close but not quite. About the way Billy chases it, is forced to keep the sensations focused on the surface. Making Billy feel all the ways they could find pleasure from his whole body now that he’s offered it.

Steve goes back in for the spot on Billy’s throat, delighting in the way it makes the body pressed against him quiver. The response emboldens Steve, feeling high with the endorphins, the unfiltered pleasure of it taking over, “I’m so lucky, Billy. This body of yours, it’s mine too, yeah? I want it to be. It is right? Tell me I can have it. That I can keep you. Tell me that you’re mine,” Steve pleads, unsure if it’s a demand or if he’s begging.

Billy groans, hands twisting in the sheet until the knuckles turn white, “Yes, Yeah Steve. I am. Fuck, You know that I am.”

“Tell me that your beautiful.”

Steve.

It comes out as a whine, but it’s not a refusal, so Steve pushes him, encouraging, “You said I deserve only beautiful, pretty things. If you’re mine then say it. Tell me your beautiful and mine.”

“Steve,” Billy repeats, but his voice keeps getting stuck, caught tight in his throat.

If there’s one thing that will always get Billy to get out of his head and into the moment, it’s sex, and Steve knows that, uses it, “Tell me, Billy. Say it and I’ll fuck you faster,” he promises with a whisper, “Make me believe it and I’ll let you come.”

Fuck, I …,” Billy tries and Steve waits, slowing all his movements to an excruciating pace, letting his fingers dance and skim over the head of Billy’s cock on the precipice of the next down stroke. Billy hisses, tries to jerk his hips forward into the evasive friction without loosing the wet slow drag of Steve’s cock from between his inner thighs, “I’m yours and…”

“And what, sweetheart, come on, you can tell me.”

Billy shudders at the endearment, spine arching as something in him breaks, “beautiful... I’m beautiful and yours,” Billy gets out in a rush; he blushes, flushes red, embarrassed, and yeah, that’s a good look on him too.

“Yeah you are,” Steve affirms for him. “God, Billy, you really really are.”

Steve had promised, so he complies, speeding everything up until Billy is shouting his name, his own hands forgetting the sheets to reach back and grab for Steve, any part of him that he can reach. Steve’s own hips stutter as he comes first, his free hand clutching onto Billy’s chest as the prolonged sensation crests and pulses through him, riding the blinding spark of it as he pulls Billy in, tight and secure. In his haze, Steve feels Billy seize up against him, watches as Billy shakes with convulsive little jerks of his hips as Billy quickly follows him over, spilling warm and wet over Steve’s fist to the feeling of Steve’s orgasm spilling between his thighs.

With Billy still panting and shivering through the aftershocks, Steve pulls him in impossibly closer and crooks his head around, presses his forehead to Billy’s temple, doesn’t even think before he says, “I love you.” Steve didn’t mean to say it. He never has, not to Billy; there was a time, not too long ago, that he wasn’t even sure he would ever say it again. But he means it, feels it more strongly in this moment than he ever has before. Suddenly understands the difference between love and bullshit: This need he feels to know Billy completely, to take all the things Billy sees as flaws and love them too. Its overwhelming and Steve needs to say it. He needs for Billy to hear it. To believe it.

Billy shifts his face away from Steve, turning closer in towards the mattress so that Steve can no longer see it. The corner of Billy’s eyes look wet, but he stays silent.

The silence expands around them the longer Billy remains curled into the comforter and Steve feels suddenly self-conscious, as naked and raw as Billy had been moments before. “Is...Is that ok?”

Billy snorts, it’s a wet sound, a little gross, and totally Billy, and fuck if Steve doesn’t love *that* about him too. “You’re such a fucking woman, Harrington,” Billy says finally, still facing the sheets.

It’s nothing Steve hasn’t heard from Billy before, but his heart sinks a bit as he untangles himself from Billy’s back to pull away, suddenly feeling too close and exposed now that the haze and endorphins of the sex high aren’t there to give him the confidence. He moves to stand up from the bed, to give Billy space, but Billy’s sudden hand on his arm stops him and Steve stills. He looks back down at Billy, watching as Billy wipes at his face before turning back towards him, swallows, breathes in deep. That look of raw vulnerability flashes through Billy again, but it’s chased by a determined resolve, and Steve waits for Billy to find the words for whatever he wants to say. As always, there’s a range of things Billy could tell him and Steve prepares for them all, maybe that they need to forget what just happened, or that Steve is still just bullshit—that no one could ever love him.

The hand on Steve’s arm squeezes once, gently, pulling Steve’s focus to it. From there Billy slides his hand down the length of Steve’s arm to his hand, twists their fingers together. Steve stares at their tangle of skin, transfixed, watches in further surprise when Billy pulls their hands up to his lips, places a kiss to each one of Steve’s knuckles with a soft open mouth. Steve makes a softer, surprised sound and Billy’s eyes flick up, latching onto his with a look, and then a voice, that’s steady and serious, “I love you too, Steve.”

Relief crashes over him, and Steve exhales, breaks into a smile, “You’re such a fucking asshole.”

“I thought you said I was beautiful,” Billy replies slyly, the soft challenging tease in Billy’s voice slowly filtering back in—the Billy that Steve knows who likes to push coming back to him, but with a warmer, more welcoming heat.

Steve can’t seem to stop smiling as he curls back over Billy, bending in to press his lips to Billy’s as Billy pulls him in, opens and spreads his body to let Steve settle over him, “Oh believe me, you can be both.”

Billy pulls his head back just enough to catch Steve’s eyes again. “I believe you,” Billy says, softly, but it sounds true.

*
The next time Billy climbs into Steve’s window, Billy still has his scars. And that’s the thing with scars, he always will. Billy carries his whole life with him, mapped across his body. He can never let it go and become someone else, or at least, he can never become someone entirely new.

But that next time, for the first time, when Steve reaches out to shut off the warm glow of the overhead lights, Billy catches his wrist. He leads Steve’s fingers to wrap around the bottom hem of his shirt instead, eyes still a little shy, but holding Steve’s steady as he whispers, “Leave them on.” Steve’s heart soars; his grin spreading rapid and bright as he helps Billy slip out of everything but his skin. Steve quickly follows, the full flesh of them both finally coming together under the light.

Steve knows that Billy isn’t somehow suddenly cured. Billy still has his scars. He still has subconscious flashes, forgotten moments where he flinches or hides on reflex; he’s still hesitant to show Steve any of the immediate aftermaths of Neil’s more violent tempers, and he still turns his face away into the bed for any of the much rarer moments when he cries. Not all of Billy’s scars are visible—disembodied marks cut far too deeply into the soul below his skin for Steve to be able to simply kiss and soothe away. But Billy’s still warm and solid beneath Steve’s hands; beautiful and alive beneath his gaze. And Steve knows demons and monsters: how much easier they are to fight when you don’t have to do it alone. Billy isn’t alone, not anymore, and Steve is determined to ensure that he never will be again. Billy has always been a fighter, and so has Steve. Billy’s not cured, but he’s better; he’s fighting through it—surviving. Billy will always have his scars, but it’s a start, a tangible and visual proof:

There are still parts of him that can heal.