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Three weeks since Billy gave Steve the tape. One since their awkward-turned-romantic card ride. Steve is … floating, almost. That’s how happy he’s been. He can’t help himself, but he notices himself walking around Hawkins with a goofy smile erupting on his face every few minutes. He thinks -- knows -- he must look psychotic to anyone passing by, but since Barbara, he supposes that’s nothing new. 

 

Billy is just so much. Steve should’ve known, seeing as they’d practically already been dating in those weeks leading up to their confessions. Not so much in public, but in private? Billy’s hands are on Steve nonstop. In the back of his mind, Steve remembers Nancy talking about love languages. Steve has no doubt that Billy’s is touch. What he can’t, or refuses to, say with words, he says with his hands. An arm over Steve’s shoulder at the diner, his fingers intertwined with Steve’s while they watch a movie at Steve’s place, a soft hug, a subtle squeeze in the grocery line. A kiss in the park, lots of kisses in Steve’s bed.

 

Steve is over the goddamn moon , and Billy’s right there with him -- 238,900 miles. Steve looked that up at the library.

 

Anyways, the thing is, Billy can’t come over tonight. His dad’s home and being an ass. So, Steve is a little lonely, and a lot bored, and the mixtape with Billy’s dorky handwriting on it is just sitting on Steve’s desk, begging to be listened to. He recalls what Billy said that day in the car: “ These… hangouts? The mixtape? This isn’t just buddies , Steve. ” It makes Steve snort now, but he’s been aching with curiosity to listen to the tape ever since. Billy seemed a bit miffed the last time he asked if Steve had listened to it and Steve had said no, but Billy also absolutely refused to be around Steve when Steve played the tape. That in and of itself was a problem, since they were literally always together nowadays. Except, now.

 

Steve grabs the mixtape from where it’s been collecting dust on his dresser, toes on his sneakers, and makes his way downstairs and out the front door. He thinks he’s going to drive down past the old farm, just east of the quarry. 

 

He thinks about waiting until he gets there to slide in the mixtape, but he doesn’t think he can wait any longer. He doesn’t know how he’s lasted three weeks, when the only thing holding him back was a mountain of nerves. Well, actually. That’s probably also why it took three weeks. 

 

He coasts through Loch Nora, and finally fumbles with the tape, sliding it into the player. He waits.

 

If you leave me now you'll take away the biggest part of me, no baby please don't go…

 

Steve snorts. Chicago? Is Billy … cheesy? He finds himself grinning so wide his cheeks hurt. He’s blushing, too. How could he not be, with Billy including songs that say stuff like “a love like ours is a love that’s hard to find ”?

 

He’s at the quarry when the track changes. Leo Sayer, Steve knows this one too. His cheeks must be firetruck red, two rosy tomatoes. He feels his nostrils burn a little, like they do when he’s tearing up. When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you . God, his boyfriend is a sap. So is Steve, so he supposes it’s not like he can talk. He wants to turn the goddamn car around and drive as fast as he can to Billy. To hold him, kiss him, wrap him up in his arms and never let him go. 

 

The next track begins, and the next one, and the next one, and Steve’s been sitting on a dirt road behind the abandoned farm for thirty minutes, listening to Billy pour his feelings out through cheesy ballads with happy tears rolling over his flushed cheeks. Steve -- god, how could Steve deserve this? He deserves sleepless nights, getting pulled over by Hopper in his cruiser, eyebags and weird looks from strangers. It’s what he knows best. But Billy showers him with all this love even when he’s not around. 

 

He drives home with David Gates crooning baby, you know that dreams are for those who sleep, life is for us to keep in his ear. 

 

“I’d like to make it with you,” Steve hums along softly, a tiny smile etched onto his face.

 

-

 

Neil has a thing Saturday. That basically just means he’s going to the pub to get plastered. What it also means is that Billy can spend all day with Steve. 

 

They started the day with a late brunch at the diner. You can’t go wrong with pancakes. The only reason they were late was because, after Billy picked up Steve, they spent fifteen minutes still parked in Steve’s driveway making out. 

 

To say that Billy’s a bit of a tease is an understatement. He kissed Steve silly, his hand tracing the outline of Steve’s erection over the thick fabric of his jeans, his lips trailing kisses along his jaw, his mouth whispering sexy things into Steve’s ear, making the hair on the back of his neck stand up in anticipation. Only to lean back, throw the car into reverse, and take Steve to a diner that is very much public and off-limits to two guys making out. They sat there for half an hour, playing footsie, Steve getting more and more distracted by the purposeful and thorough way Billy licked maple syrup from his knife. 

 

They practically sped back to Steve’s, only slowing down when they saw Hopper parked on the side of the road leading to Loch Nora. He waved them along, and Steve couldn’t be more grateful. He thinks Hopper might notice the fact that he was using his bunched up jacket to hide his arousal, and he’d rather not deal with that horrific embarrassment at the moment. 

 

Upon re-entry to Steve’s, they beelined it for Steve’s bedroom, eager and flushed.

 

Billy is on top of Steve now, and they’re both shirtless; rutting against one another, hard in their pants. Steve can feel sweat at the nape of his neck, knows he’s flushed. Billy’s chain is dangling from where he’s leaning over Steve, the cool metal tickling Steve’s chest. Billy kisses like he does everything else - intensely. His lips are soft and his hands are steady, and the clash of feelings has Steve almost dizzy with want. Billy is panting into his mouth, sucking on his tongue, hands cupping Steve’s jaw. Steve has his hands resting on Billy’s waist, squeezing and rubbing at his sides, too nervous to drop his hands any lower to touch Billy’s ass. Steve leans back a little to take a breather, and Billy reattaches his mouth to Steve’s neck, lips hot as it ghosts over Steve’s skin, tongue flicking at his moles as he presses kisses beneath Steve’s ear. His mouth is sloppy, his teeth a pleasant bite against Steve’s skin, making him squirm.

 

“Don’t leave a hickey,” Steve breathes, surprised at just how ragged his voice sounds. 

 

“Don’t want people to know you’re mine?” Billy punctuates the question with a nip on Steve’s earlobe. Steve shakes his head.

 

“No, that’s not it,” he argues, cut off by Billy’s mouth returning to his to capture his lips in another searing kiss. He pushes back on Billy’s chest and Billy backs off a little, but doesn’t move his hands from Steve’s face. 

 

“What?”

 

“Just…” Steve falters, entranced by how hot Billy looks. “Just not up so high. I don’t want it to-- look, I like this, me and you. I don’t want people to start asking questions about where it came from and get you in trouble with your-- just, do it… lower.”

 

Lower , huh?” Billy smirks, already leaning his body back over Steve’s. The heat pouring off of both of them is overwhelming , and Steve knows he’s flushed from the apples of his cheeks down to his chest. 

 

“You heard me,” Steve says, raising a challenging brow. Billy smiles down at him before he shimmies down the bed, mouth tracing down over the contours of Steve’s neck, down down down until his lips tease at Steve’s left pec, just inches away from his nipple, directly above his heart. Steve can feel his blood pumping at a heavy thud - he’s gonna have goddamn palpitations. 

 

“Tell me,” says Billy, voice husky, “where you want my mouth.”

 

Steve swallows, feeling his throat bob under Billy’s fingers. “On me?”

 

Billy laughs softly. “Yeah, baby. Where ?”

 

Steve can think of at least seven places where he’s dreamt about having Billy’s mouth. He doesn’t know if he can say any of them out loud. His hesitance must show on his face, because Billy shifts until they’re faces are level again and says, “Anything. You name it, I’m your man.”

 

“My man,” Steve echoes, a silly smile tugging at his lips. Billy’s grin reflects Steve’s, lighting up his face. Steve lo-- likes it a lot when Billy’s eyes crinkle like that. 

 

“Hell yeah. All yours, Harrington.” 

 

Steve can’t really help the laugh that bubbles in his chest. “‘Hell yeah’? Really romantic, Billy.”

 

“I’m all about romance,” Billy replies, deadpan. He’s being sarcastic, Steve knows, but it’s also true. Billy is one soft-hearted guy. He likes cuddles, and kisses, and calling Steve to say goodnight, even when Neil is home and he’s nervous about being caught. He insists on treating Steve to milkshakes, and he’s always treating Steve’s comfort as his number one priority. 

 

“Yeah,” Steve whispers. “I know.” 

 

-

 

Steve wakes up a few hours later, his face tucked into Billy’s neck, their bare skin sticking together. “Hmm,” Steve mumbles drowsily, still not really awake, burrowing deeper into Billy’s neck.

 

“You awake?” Billy whispers. Steve can feel Billy’s chest move when he speaks. “Steve?”

 

Steve snuffles, his eyes still shut, crusted together with sleep. He feels Billy’s hand brush over his lower back, gentle. “I think someone’s sleepy,” Billy sing-songs, dropping a kiss to the crown of Steve’s head.

 

“Nuh uh,” Steve mumbles, shifting even closer to Billy. 

 

“Yeah you are, sweetheart,” Billy says gently. “Go back to sleep.”



-

 

Billy’s been off, this week. A little distant, a little jumpy, a little less touchy. Normally, he’s all over Steve. His hands, his lips, tracing paths over Steve’s skin, gentle but solid, always there. It grounds Steve, makes him feel calm and cared for. Billy still touches him, but he seems far away, somehow. Steve tries to coax it out of him, but Billy insists that nothing is wrong. It feels intrusive to pry more, so Steve mostly drops it. He’s still nervous, worried, scared, about what might be going on. He holds Billy a little tighter, kisses him more fervently, hugs him closely. Billy smiles at him when he does, strained but pleased. He kisses Steve’s eyelids, holds the back of Steve’s head when he gathers him in his arms. But Steve can see in Billy’s eyes that something is troubling him.

 

It comes to a head on an otherwise quiet Wednesday night, with Billy’s camaro screeching loudly into Steve’s driveway. Steve practically launches himself over the stairs at the sound, throwing open the front door just in time for Billy to fall into his arms, eyes teary and shoulders shaking.

 

“Billy,” Steve says, shocked. “Billy, what’s wrong?” He holds Billy close while he backs up, taking Billy into the cover of the house, closing the front door behind them. He knows Billy wouldn’t want to chance being seen out in public in any other state but his usual confident one. 

 

Through his laboured breathing Steve barely hears Billy’s muffled, “My dad.”

 

Steve’s heart breaks, but it’s just about what he’s been expecting this whole time. Neil is a piece of work, a real asshole with a penchant for roughing Billy up whenever he’s in the mood. Billy’s mentioned in passing how hard the man is to please, how tough he is on Billy about everything -- his grades, the people he hangs out with, what he wears, how he talks. Anything he can find to be displeased about, he’ll let Billy know. Whether that’s with his words or with his fists. 

 

Steve hates this. He loves Billy - all he wants is for Billy to be happy, for him to be safe, for his dreams to come true. He wants to be a part of Billy’s dreams, part of Billy’s future. So seeing Billy like this, vulnerable and hurting, sad and upset enough that he’s openly sobbing in front of Steve, turns Steve’s veins to ice and his fury to fire. He’s mad - so, so mad at Billy’s father, and the fact that he can’t do anything about it makes him want to scream.

 

“Okay,” Steve murmurs, rubbing his hand up and down Billy’s back. “Okay,” he says again. “Let’s get you upstairs, okay? You’ll be more comfortable,” Steve can feel his heart in his throat, but he needs to stay calm. He feels Billy nod, and carefully he guides him up the stairs and into Steve’s bedroom.

 

Steve sits on the edge of his bed, feet on the ground as Billy’s entire body curls around his side, his hands grasping desperately at Steve’s back as he trembles. 

 

All he can do is sit there, letting Billy bury his face in Steve’s stomach and cry. “ Shh ,” Steve murmurs, hand cradling Billy’s head gently, his fingers rubbing Billy’s scalp in soothing circles. “I’m here, Billy.” He tilts his own head to the ceiling, forcing back his own tears. He needs to be strong now. Stoic. He can be upset later. In private. Whenever that may be, because he’s getting the feeling that Billy won’t be leaving anytime soon.

 

When he turns his gaze back to Billy, he can’t help but lower his neck and press a kiss to the crown of Billy’s head. Billy’s still crying, soft whimpers muffled by the fabric of Steve’s pajama shirt. He can feel Billy’s tears seeping through to his skin, but he doesn’t dare move to grab Billy a tissue. Billy’s shoulders shake as he sobs, big ugly breaths racking his body. “ Baby ,” Steve says, heart in his throat. “Hey, you’re alright. I got you.” At that, Billy lets out a hiccup, like he’s trying to hold himself together and calm down. Steve runs a gentling hand over the curve of Billy’s spine, hoping it soothes him.  

 

“He--” Billy wheezes, voice barely audible. Steve waits patiently, ready to listen to whatever Billy wants to say. “I don’t get it,” he whines, throat thick with tears, voice rough from crying.

 

“What don’t you get?” Steve asks softly, carding his fingers through Billy’s hair slowly, making sure to keep his pressure light enough that Billy doesn’t feel trapped. 

 

“He hates me,” Billy whispers. “He really, really fuckin’ hates me.”

 

“Oh, Billy.” Steve sighs, heart shattering to pieces at how devastated Billy sounds, a stark contrast to his usual rough bravado. 

 

“I want to hate him so bad,” Billy continues, arms tightening around Steve’s waist. “But I don’t . Why don’t I? He-- I’m afraid of him, and he doesn’t give a fuck about me.” His voice cracks on every word, as though his throat is seconds away from splintering open. 

 

“He’s your dad,” Steve murmurs, keeping his voice quiet like Billy’s. “It’s okay that you don’t hate him.”

 

“I want to hate him,” Billy presses harder into Steve’s chest, tears still seeping out. “It’s not fair.”

 

“No,” Steve breathes, focusing on keeping calm for Billy’s sake. He’s so mad that he can feel his muscles clench and shake, but Billy doesn’t need Steve mouthing off his dad or ranting about shitty parenting. So, Steve does what he does best. He holds Billy and lets him hide his tear-covered face from Steve’s eyes. “It’s not. Hey, you’re alright, okay? When you think you can, try to take a deep breath. Whenever you’re ready. And I’ll get you a nice cold washcloth.” His eyes must be bloodshot and puffy by now, Steve’s sure of it. 

 

Billy hums, not moving. Steve can still feel the minute shake of his shoulders as he tries to hold himself together. He circles his palm over Billy’s back, trying to drain as much tension as he can. 

 

“Take your time,” he says again. “I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

 

After a few minutes, Billy shifts, removing a hand from it’s hold on Steve’s sweatshirt to bring it to his face. He rubs over his cheeks and breathes noisily into his palm. 

 

“Usually I’m the one saying this shit to you,” Billy mumbles hoarsely, still resolutely not making eye contact with Steve. Steve hums. Billy’s not wrong , is the thing. Steve’s got a hairpin trigger for waterworks these days, and Billy’s been there to experience it on a few more occasions than Steve would have liked. He’d always felt embarrassed being so vulnerable like that in front of Billy - at the quarry, in bed - because he was afraid that it would make Billy think lesser of him. That showing emotions and being upset made him crazy, unstable, damaged. Now, he knows that’s not true. Because while he’s devastated that Billy is upset, all he can think of is of what he can do to help him feel better. If that means cuddling in bed for hours while Billy cries, he’ll do it. If it means being silly and trying to distract him, he’ll do it. If it means holding Billy’s face in his hands and kissing away his tears, he’ll do it. 

 

“I needed that then,” Steve says slowly. “And-- and you need it now. It’s alright to be upset.”

 

“It’s stupid .”

 

Hey. It is not stupid,” Steve says, ducking his head and trying to catch Billy’s eye. When Billy shifts away uncomfortably, Steve lets him. 

 

“Did you think I was being stupid that time at the quarry?”

 

“No. You were having a panic attack,” Billy says, sounding offended. His voice is still thick with tears, but he finally sits up on the bed. His face is red and blotchy, and Steve tries not to wince when he notices the freshly blooming bruise under his left eye. He soldiers on, keeping his hand moving in circles over Billy’s back.

 

“Or what about when I freaked out on Hopper? Or when I cried that first time when the blinds were open?” Steve’s face burns just thinking about it, but he’s trying to make a point. 

 

No. Jesus, no. Of course not, Steve.”

 

Steve breathes a little easier at that. He knows Billy didn’t think so, but it’s nice to hear it. “See. Being upset isn’t stupid. It’s, it’s like, important . You can’t bottle all this shit up or else you’re going to explode.”

 

“Feels like I already have,” Billy mutters, rubbing at his eyes. His eyelashes stick together like spider legs, dark and even more pronounced against his watery irises. 

 

“I’m really glad you came over,” Steve whispers, reaching across to cup Billy’s face in his palm. Billy’s skin is scalding to the touch, and he leans into the cool press of Steve’s hand, letting his eyes flutter closed. 

 

“Me too,” Billy whispers hoarsely, eyes still closed. He looks peaceful like this, if Steve ignores the black eye that’s quickly forming. 

 

“Let’s get you a washcloth,” Steve says, hating the way Billy refuses to meet his eyes as he stands up from the bed. 

 

Billy stands stiffly in the bathroom, feet planted on the white tile as he waits for Steve to hand him the cloth. Steve makes sure it’s nice and cold before he wrings out the excess water and turns to give Billy the cloth. He hesitates before handing it over, eyes flicking over Billy’s defeated posture. 

 

“Can I…” he starts, waiting for Billy to respond. When Billy’s eyebrows simply furrow in confusion, he continues, “Let me help you.” He waits for Billy to nod before he steps into his space, careful careful careful . Billy leans back against the counter as Steve shuffles between his legs, gently urging him up until Billy gets the memo and lifts himself onto the counter. Steve raises the damp cloth to gently wipe away the tears staining Billy’s rosy cheeks.

 

“That feels good,” Billy murmurs after a moment. Steve presses the cool cloth against Billy’s eyes, soothing the itch that was left in the wake of his burning tears. “Thank you,” he says, even quieter.

 

“Of course,” Steve says, voice pitched low. “Always. I always want to be here for you.” He pulls the cloth away from Billy’s face and places it back on the counter. Billy blinks down at Steve sluggishly, big blue eyes watching him with intent. Just as slowly, he leans in and presses his lips against Steve’s, almost chaste. Then, he drops his head to Steve’s chest and takes in a shaky breath.

 

“I know,” he says. Simple. Steve doesn’t so much as hear him say it as he does feel him say it, the way Billy’s lips move against his collarbone, the way his voice reverberates through Steve’s chest. 

 

God , Steve thinks. This is what it feels like when someone loves you. 

 

-

 

Things feel a little different after that night. Not in a bad way, just … different. Billy doesn’t clam up as much when Steve notices a new bruise. He doesn’t change the topic when Steve asks him how he’s feeling. They’ve seen each other at their most vulnerable, and only trust each other more because of it. 

 

They have a routine, they have favourite places and inside jokes. Billy knows how to make Steve’s favourite foods, and Steve’s learned how to find a radio station that doesn’t make Billy’s ears “bleed”. Billy lets Steve fall asleep on his chest, and Steve kisses Billy’s neck in all of his most sensitive spots while he’s drifting off. 

 

A few times a week, they’ll go for a long drive. Coasting down Hawkins’ back roads, playing the mixtape Billy made for Steve at just the right volume, so that they can hear it over the wind rushing past the Camaro’s open windows. 

 

-

 

Months go by, and before Steve knows it, senior year is over. He feels such a weight lifted off of his chest, like he’s been underwater for so long, and finally, finally, he’s breached the surface. He treasures every breath, every moment. The way green grass, covered in morning dew, feels between his toes. The sweet taste of strawberry icecream from the diner on his tongue. The sound of Billy snoring softly in his ear. The smell of Billy’s shampoo. 

 

Visiting Dr. Owens doesn’t feel anywhere near as daunting as it used to, and Hopper’s checkups now serve to remind Steve that people have his back. That people care. 

 

He passed senior year -- and not even barely, he actually managed to earn some decent grades. Billy’s a pretty good tutor, once you get past all of the distracting kisses. 

 

It’s summer now, and they’re taking full advantage of the sunny weather.

 

With the sun blazing down on his back, Steve can only hope that the layers of sunblock Billy had helped slather all over his body will be able to withstand the scorching heat. It’s a lazy mid-summer Sunday, and Hawkins truly has no business being this hot. He’s standing on the wooden raft that floats permanently near the middle of the swimming hole, blue water lapping gently at the edges around him, giving the impression that the raft is drifting. The pond is mostly calm and quiet now, as the afternoon draws to an end. It’s nearing supper time, and the families still hanging around are sticking to the edges of the water, leaving Steve and Billy with the freedom and privacy to say and do as they please.



Billy is on his back, feet kicking lazily and sunglasses perched on his pink nose. His hair is curling on his forehead as it partially dries from the sun, and his natural golden highlights shimmer as he moves. Steve can see the distorted pattern of his bright red swim trunks through the rippling water.



“How cold is it?” Steve calls out to him, his own toes barely tickling the sparkly surface from where he’s sitting on the edge of the dock. He feels … okay . But nervous. Barbara is there, like always, in the back of his mind. Forever floating. Water-logged. Dead.



“Come figure out for yourself, lazy,” Billy teases, stopping his backwards movements in favour of turning upright, treading water as he flashes Steve his most persuasive smile. “C’mon, really,” he says. “Jump to me.”



“No,” Steve laughs easily, flicking a foot so Billy is splashed in the face. Sputtering, Billy removes his sunglasses to give Steve an unimpressed look, wiping water away from his nose. 

 

“My sunscreen isn’t dry yet,” Steve reasons. The deep blue water looks inviting. Looks endless. Looks dangerous.



So ? Mine isn’t either,” Billy tells him, and he’s right. More and more white streaks are sliding down Billy’s body the longer he floats in the water, creating a cloudy little puddle around him.



“But you don’t burn like I do,” Steve says pointedly, pinching at his pale skin, which looks like snow compared to Billy’s. Steve doesn’t even know how Billy stays so tan, with the depressing lack of sunshine they get. This is the first week all summer that Steve hasn’t had to wear a sweater or pants. It’s the first time swimming has even come up as a possibility, since that night on Steve’s couch when Billy suggested they take a dip in the pool. 

 

Billy still doesn’t know about Barbara. At least, he hasn’t heard about her from Steve. There was one night, a Tuesday in May, when Billy got a ride back to Steve’s after his shift at the pool from Hopper. He’d entered the house, more quiet than usual, and while they were curled up watching a dumb movie, Billy has casually brought up Steve’s aversion. 

 

“Hey, baby?” Billy had said. “Ever think about coming to the pool with me? After hours, y’know, I can help you, teach you how to--”

 

“I know how to swim,” Steve had interrupted, face hot. Billy’s palm continued rubbing his side comfortingly.

 

“Oh. Just, Hopper said--”

 

Steve had frozen in fear, but Billy went on to talk about how Hopper had mentioned Steve’s dislike for water. Nothing about Barbara specifically, but Steve isn’t stupid. He knows that Billy might suspect something. Besides, Tommy has the biggest mouth.



Steve looks out across the pond, at Billy beaming, his golden hair glistening in the sunshine. “Oh, I know, you’re like a lobster,” Billy replies, then he gets a mischievous look on his face. “Okay, Harrington. I got an idea.”



Steve groans, but plays along, buying time. “Shoot, smartass. What’re you thinking now?”



“I’m thinking,” Billy says. “That you have thirty seconds to jump off that raft and into my arms, or no sex tonight.”



Steve huffs. “As if. You wouldn’t refuse sex just because I don’t want to turn into a lobster .”

 

“Okay, whatever. Well, no pancakes tomorrow morning instead.”

 

“You wouldn’t ,” Steve narrows his eyes, trying to figure out if Billy is bluffing. He knows that Steve would die for his homemade pancakes. They’ve claimed this weekend to themselves - oddly enough, Steve’s parents are in town, but Billy’s aren’t, so Steve’s been sleeping at Billy’s place since Wednesday night. Neil, Susan and Max get back from their family vacation late Monday afternoon, so tomorrow morning is his last chance to wake up in Billy’s arms and stuff his face with Billy’s fluffy pancakes for who knows how long.



“Try me,” Billy counters, all dimply and twinkly eyed. “You’ve only got twenty seconds left.”



Rolling his eyes, Steve assesses his sunscreen situation. Safety first, after all. He pokes around, determines that it’s dried quicker than expected and that swimming now wouldn’t put his pale skin in too much jeopardy. Besides, jumping into Billy’s wet, strong arms always sounds like a good idea.



“Fifteen,” Billy sing songs, opening his arms wide. Steve squirms as far to the edge as he can, shifting so only part of his ass and his hands are resting on the firm wood. He takes a deep breath. He’s okay. He’s talked with Doc Owens about this. He’s suffered through a year of nightmares about this. He’s scared , of course he is, but Billy’s here. Waiting for him with a smile on his face and open arms. If anything happens, the dock is right there. The sun is out. There’s a lifeguard on the shore.



“I’m ready, hold on,” he says, sending a nervous grin Billy’s way. Billy gives him a nod, his smile never faltering. “If I’m doing this, you gotta agree that if I burn, you’re putting the aloe on me,” Steve warns, still second guessing his decision to enter the water.

 

“Obviously,” says Billy. “I’d do that anyways.”



It’s now or never, Steve thinks. He launches himself downwards, feels his hands make contact with his boyfriend’s slippery shoulders, then proceeds to feel his nostrils fill with water as he and Billy fall underwater. He has a moment of panic, afraid to open his eyes, but nearly as quickly as they submerge, they breach the surface, sun pouring over their bodies.



Coughing as they resurface, Steve feels Billy’s arms wind around his waist, pulling him close as they bob up and down together. Billy’s skin is warm from the sun, but quickly erupting in goosebumps from the refreshing underwater dip they just took.



“Weak,” Steve splutters when he catches his breath back. “You’re weak, Hargrove.”



“I’m touched, really. Thank you, sweetheart.”



“Shut up.”

 

Make me,” says Billy, licking his lips and eyeing Steve’s mouth, and god , Steve wants to.

 

“I dunno if I know how to kiss and float at the same time,” Steve replies, running a hand through his dripping hair and flicking the residue towards Billy. 

 

“We can kiss on the dock,” suggests Billy. “Get out, shake off, make out like we’re water-people who fell in love and traded our underwater lives for life on land.”

 

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Steve asks, furrowing his brow. Billy says weird shit, sometimes. It’s cute , how fucking odd he is. Steve loves it when he says kooky crap like that. “Besides, there are kids here, man,” Steve reminds him.

 

“They’re like, I dunno, a million feet away. Who cares?”

 

“We like, hate PDA, though,” Steve reminds him, but leans in and kisses his cheek anyways. Billy’s skin is warm, and soft, and oh-so lovely. Steve could kiss him forever, he thinks.

 

“Yeah, but I fuckin’ love you, Harrington.”

 

-

 

Steve lets his arm dangle out of the passenger window of Billy’s car as they speed across the countryside. Fields of barley rush past them, golden and stretching out as far as the eye can see. 

 

The wind in his hair and on his sunburnt skin is a welcome feeling, and Steve closes his eyes and breathes deep. Billy’s got his radio on an uncharacteristically calm station and his warm hand on top of Steve’s thigh. 

 

“You falling asleep on me, Harrington?” Billy asks, and Steve grins slow, letting his eyes flutter open dangerously - the way that makes Billy’s cheeks flush. 

 

“’Course not,” he says, twisting his fingers together with Billy’s and squeezing. “Just thinking.”

 

“Oh, yeah? About what?” Billy asks, his eyes leaving the road as he glances over at Steve. There’s no one around for miles, just long empty stretches of flat road, surrounded on either side by farmland. The evening sky is turning rich shades of violet and honey as the lowering rays of the sun stretch out across the fields, bright and auriferous. 

 

Steve hums, bringing Billy’s hand up to his mouth. He presses an easy kiss to Billy’s knuckles, to the back of his hand, to his palm. Soft soft soft , Steve wants to hold Billy like this forever.

 

“Nothing. Everything– just. You, really,” he says, feels the way his voice comes out scratchy in his honesty. The sun is gleaming in through Billy’s window, too, setting his hair ablaze, his curls fringed with evening sunlight. Steve thinks he looks like an angel; has to swallow his feelings so he doesn’t start crying like a real goddamn sap. 

 

“Yeah?” Billy asks, sounding hopeful, touched. His cheeks are rosy already, Steve can tell. 

 

“Mhm.” Steve shrugs. He lets their joined hands drop back to his thigh, content in the warmth it brings him. Billy’s hand twists away, though, and travels up Steve’s chest to cup the side of his neck, thumb rubbing light circles against Steve’s jaw. 

 

“Anything in particular about me?” Billy asks teasingly, and Steve’s breath hitches. Yes , he thinks. I want this forever. I want you forever. I love you forever. Will you be mine? Be mine? Be mine?

 

“I’m happy,” he says instead, and Billy grins over at him, full and gentle, and so, so beautiful. Steve’s heart does that crazy thing where it feels like it’s about to rabbit out of his chest, like Billy’s smile has a direct line to his heartbeat. 

 

“Yeah, baby,” Billy says, so quiet that Steve has to strain to hear him. “Me too.”

 

Steve watches the sun sink and fizzle against the horizon, her final rays a gentle song against his skin. 

 

He’s at peace, here with Billy by his side.