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Crushes and Cuts

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Steve rolls his shoulders as he comes out of the gym. It was the end of school, meaning he pretty much had the place to himself. At least that’s what he thought until he hears a noise.

He follows it around only to find Eli doing something in his locker. From the looks of things cleaning it up. Something flashes from under Eli’s sleeve shirt and it’s enough to catch Steve’s interest.

“What you doing you little perv?” He asks.

Eli yelps and jumps a few feet in the air.

“What come to watch? Sorry, but the shows over, you're too late” Eli mutters turning to look at Steve as he pulls more stuff from his locker.

Steve sees what it is. Trash. Someone had taken a trash can from the cafeteria and dumped it through Eli’s locker.

“This wasn’t my idea”

“No, it was Seamus’s don’t worry he didn’t let you take credit. You’re gonna have to wait if you want to throw me in here there’s not much room at the moment” Eli grumbles pulling out one of his textbooks and peeling a banana peel off it into the bin he had dragged over.

Steve moves closer and Eli steps back. Out of instinct, a look of fear on his face. Steve ignores him and starts grabbing some more textbooks, Wiping them down and setting them with the others.

“What are you doing?” Eli asks. Looking at him like he's grown another head.

“Don’t tell anybody” Steve says simply.

“Oh okay. Cool. This is a trick right” Eli says and Steve sighs.

“No this isn’t a trick. Now you gonna help me or do I have to do this on my own?” Steve asks.

Eli visibly gulps, looking disbelieving before finally nodding and moving over. They get it sorted out quickly enough. Eli jumping and freaking out every time Steve so much as brushes against him or touches him.

They’re finally done and Eli doesn’t see some of the rubbish on the floor that they had missed. He slips on it and Steve on instinct reaches out grabbing Eli by the wrist. Stopping him from hitting the floor.

Eli lets out a cry of pain and once his standing his pulling his arm from Steve’s grip. Backing up as quickly as possible but this time Steve doesn’t miss what's on his arm. Bandages.

Alien theme bandages but that’s not to the point. Steve is quicker then Eli. Using his body to jam Eli up against the lockers as he grabs his arm.

“What are you doing! Hey no. Don’t!” Eli says squirming against Steve and struggling to get his arm out of Steve’s grip.

Steve is stronger though and shoves back Eli’s sleeve. He almost feels sick with what he sees. Where there aren’t band-aids there are scars. Thin, branching scars. Scars that normally came from self-harm.

Steve doesn’t expect the little nerd to bite him but he recoils with a short yell. Letting go of Eli as he steps back. Eli takes his confusion and hightails it out of the hallway.

“Pepperjack!” Steve yells but Eli is gone.

The nerd gets very good at avoiding him after that. Even when Steve sets out Logan and Seamus to hunt him down. Not telling his new intentions. Though he's not even sure what he’s gonna do about it.

That’s when he remembers that Pepperjack lives across the street. So when it gets dark outside, Steve scales the tree out front of the Pepperack house and somehow his lucky enough that the first room he checks in is king dorks.

The dork is sitting at his desk, his back to the window and so Steve knocks.

He hears a yelp and then a curse as Eli turns around, hand held to his forearm. Steve can see the blood dripping between his fingers. Something about the sight makes Steve feel a pang of sadness and in a slightly crazy move. Steve slides open the window.

“What the hell are you doing?” He asks. Eli scrambling to grab a wet cloth and press it against his arm.

“I should ask you the same thing. Sorry, Steve but I don’t have any lockers in my room” Eli snaps back. Seeming to completely ignore the fact that his currently bleeding.

“Why are you doing this to yourself Pepperjack?” Steve asks quieter, moving forwards to grabs Eli’s arm and moving away the wet cloth.

“Well normally I don’t do it that deep but someone surprised me!” Eli hisses before sucking in a breath through his teeth when Steve reapplies the wet cloth.

“I mean why in general”

“Why do you give a shit.” Eli snaps back looking the most pissed off Steve has ever seen him. Snatching his arm out Steve’s grasp. That cut wasn’t the only new addition to Eli’s skin either. There were already more shallow ones, traces of blood still on his arms.

Steve catches sight of the thing Eli was using to torture himself. A simple razor blade. Dropped in his surprise.

“Is this the only thing you use?” He asks picking it up.

“Yeah, why...what are you doing?” Eli asks as Steve pockets it.

“Taking it with me”

“What gonna frame it?” Eli bites back sarcastically.

“Eli you never answered my first question. Why are you doing this to yourself” Steve presses.

“And I’ll repeat. Why do you give a shit!?” Eli snaps back.

Steve knew there was no getting through to Eli right now. Not with him so on the defence. So instead Steve grabs the box of band-aids and grabs the first one. Pulling off the backing and grabbing Eli’s arm again.

He sets about patching up Eli. Both of them silent and Eli willingly giving over his other arm once Steve is done with the first one.

“Give it back” Eli murmurs once they’re done.

“No,” Steve says sternly.

“You realise I’ll just get another one right”

“No, you won’t cause I won’t let you,” Steve says, voice softer. Opening the first aid kit and grabbing a bigger patch of bandage and pressing it to Eli’s deeper cut. Once that’s done he rolls down Eli’s sleeve gently.

“Why not? I thought you’d get a kick out of this.” He sounds so bitter when he says it. Tired to. Defeated.

“There’s a difference between me putting you in a locker and giving you a few bruises. To you carving apart your own skin” Steve mutters.

Steve and Eli are left staring at each other in solemn and awkward silence.

“So you got a saviour kink or something?” Is what Eli finally comes up with, fiddling with a pen on his desk.

“No. Look I might be a colossal dick a lot of the time but this is too far even for me.” Steve says.

“Well if your worried about me killing myself. I’m not that stupid. I’m not suicidal. I just...it makes everything stop for five seconds. Five blissful seconds of peace and quiet” Eli ends up mumbling.

“There are more ways to achieve that”

“We can’t all have an IQ of five,” Eli says but for once it’s not scathing. It’s almost a joke. Something Steve didn’t know the dork could make.

“Uh, I’ll have you know. My IQ is a solid like 8.3. I know. My first-grade teacher told me” Steve retorts.

Steve is taken aback when count dorkcula actually smiles, a small wheezy laugh falling from him as his nose crinkles a little.

“You have ADHD right?” Steve asks.

Eli looks surprised but nods.

“Uh, one of my cousins has it. He takes this medication for it, have you ever been you know offered that sorta stuff?” Steve tries to say as politely as possible.

“I’m allergic to a lot of what they prescribe and what doesn’t try to kill me. Makes me an insomniac. Music helps a little but not much”

“Do your parents know? I mean about the cutting?”

“No. Mum would send me back to therapy. Not that ever works and Dad hasn’t spoken to me in four years.” Eli says giving a grim smile.

“Well. If you wanted to talk about it, or you know anything at all. I wouldn’t mind listening” Steve murmurs.

“It’s ok Steve. You don’t have to use me as a pity project. I...I’ll figure out something else. You shouldn’t be wasting your time on me” Eli says softly.

Steve feels his gut pang then. In sadness. He knew Eli didn’t have any friends, not unless you counted Toby and Jim but Steve had a feeling they would just put up with Eli until he went away.

“I...”

“You should probably leave. My mum will be back soon and if she finds you here. I’ll get in trouble for it” Eli says standing, grabbing the rubbish from the band-aids and the first aid kit. Before just walking out of the room.

Steve sighs and stands before he can make his escape though. Eli appears in the doorway. Looking way more fidgety.

“I don’t want to talk but if you ever wanted to watch a movie or something that would be nice. I like horror movies” Eli says before he’s just gone again.

Steve leaves back the way he came. Out the window and by the time he’s crawling into bed later that night. He might have three horror movies getting delivered on Monday. Unsure what has gotten into him.

He doesn’t get to find out though cause his week is busy and he doesn’t even have time to steal away the nerd and check-in. It’s Friday afternoon when he manages to find Pepperjack. Hidden away under the bleachers.

“You know it’s like mega dangerous to sit under here right?” Steve asks making Eli yelp. Jumping high enough that he hits his head on the underside of one of the bleacher. Hands wrapping around the spot as Steve winces.

“Sorry” He mumbles.

“What do you want?” Eli snaps.

“I was actually wondering if I could take you up on that movie thing. I ordered that new Chucky movie. You know the one with the killer doll?”

“Yes, I know what Chucky is,” Eli says standing as best as he can. Steve allowing him space to move out from under the bleachers.

“So would you? I mean want to watch it with me?” Steve asks, feeling a little awkward about it.

“Are you going to be one those annoying assholes who ask stupid questions?”

“Dude I think you just described my entire personality but I promise to keep my mouth shut,” Steve says.

Eli’s hard mask cracks for a second into a small smile.

“Alright then. I guess we can watch it together. You know where I live” Eli says.

Steve nods.

“Do you want me to bring anything else over? Snacks or something?”

“No, I have it covered. You’re not allergic to anything right?”

Steve can only shake his head and Eli is walking off.

Steve actually feels weirdly excited and jittery by the time he’s knocking on Eli’s front door. All three movies under his arm, just in case Eli didn’t want to watch Child’s Play.

Something called Hell House and another that was about a collector or something. Steve wasn’t really sure but it apparently was supposed to be ok.

The door opens a few seconds later and Steve is greeted with a truly beautiful woman even with the soft wrinkles already forming around her eyes. Smile lines. Dark hair and green eyes, there is no way she’s not Eli’s mother. They look almost identical minus the few obvious details.

She actually looks dressed up, putting in earring as she talks.

“Oh hi. You must be Steve. I’m April, Eli’s mother. You’re here to watch movies right. ELIJAH. Sweetheart your friend is here!” April says turning to yell up the stairs.

Steve hears some muffled reply before April smiles.

“He’ll be down in a second. I hope you two have fun and try not to get too scared. There’s money for pizza and Eli went kinda crazy on the snacks...” Suddenly the smile drops off April’s face. “...He can get a little much sometimes. He doesn’t mean to.”

“That’s ok. I can as well. A-are you going on a date?” Steve asks just trying to be polite and create a conversation.

“Dinner meeting actually. I’m a lawyer. I should be home late so you boys will have the house to yourselves. Don’t let Eli near the stove, or I won’t be coming home to a house. I’ll be coming home to a fireball”

“I heard that”

“You were supposed to. I’m leaving now. Be good ok. Enjoy your night. Don’t eat to much sugar” April calls back up the stairs. Eli appearing at the top of them.

He was wearing a hoodie despite the fact that it’s hot out but he’s mother doesn’t say anything about it. Moving past Steve and Steve steps further into the house.

Then it’s just Eli and Steve. The front door closing behind them. Eli chewing his bottom lip as he comes down the stairs.

“Uh. Hey.” He murmurs.

“Hey. I brought a few other movies as well if Chucky wasn’t your thing” Steve says holding up the three cases.

“Cool. I don’t mind. Uh well, obviously this is the lounge room. Uh, bathroom is at the end of the hallway. Would you like a drink? We have soda or energy drinks or...” Eli seems to shut himself up, fiddling with the holes in his sleeves.

“You don’t have to stay. It was a nice thought but...” Eli murmurs suddenly, looking at his feet.

“Are you trying to kick me out? You got a party planned or something?” Steve says trying to make light of the awkwardness.

“No, no. Definitely not. I just meant so, I heard Mum tell you I was a pain to deal with. I’m sure you have like three million other things that would be way more interesting.”

“Probably but this is about all I want to do right now so. You’re stuck with me. Come on, pick one. I’m not good at this horror movie stuff.” Steve says pushing the cases into Eli’s hands.
Eli seems to steel his back before nodding and Steve follows him into the lounge room. The coffee table laden with chips and candy.

“I kinda went a little crazy but I wasn’t sure what you liked so, yeah,” Eli says scratching the back of his head before wincing when he must brush across the bump from today.

“Well, I eat everything so you're fine,” Steve says before taking a spot on one end of the couch. Eli nodding and Steve looks around the small quaint living room.

Eli walks out of the room only to return with sodas. Going to throw a can at Steve before thinking better of it.

They decide on Hell House first and soon enough Eli actually relaxes. Sitting on his own end of the couch. A pillow curled in his arms.

Before they can get the movie started though, Steve has to ask the question that’s been niggling at his brain.

“Have you, you know since we talked last?” Steve asks softly.

Eli shakes his head and pushes up his left sleeve. No fresh band-aids or cuts. That was good.

“Can I be paranoid and ask to see your other arm?”

Eli lets him and again nothing new. Steve just gives him a reassuring smile.

“That’s good. So you seen this one before?” Steve asks turning back to the screen.

“No. You’ve managed to pick like the only three movies I haven’t seen,” Eli says. Pulling his sleeves back into place.

Steve watches Eli just as much as he watches the movie. Eli halfway between weirdly enraptured and scared out of his mind. Using his pillow as a shield when the jump scares happen. Eli giving a shrill scream when one of the main characters plays the worst version of Peek-a-boo ever.

Steve giving a weird strangled scream of his own and nearly choking on his popcorn.

It’s a good movie Steve it turns out is just a ginormous wimp but he refuses a pillow shield trying to tough it out.

“Peps your going to chew a hole through the pillow” Steve points out softly at one stage. Eli goes a little red as he glares at Steve. Instead of snagging a packet of Twizzlers off the coffee table and chewing on those instead.

Handing one over when Steve holds out his hand. Steve surprised he hasn’t gotten his hand ripped off instead, finding Eli weirdly defensive of his snacks.

“It’s official I hate clowns. I give in. I hate them” Eli squeaks out when one of those stupid mannequins freaking turns its head.

Steve wants to laugh but he’s way too on edge too.

They watch Child’s Play next and Steve finds it a nice break. It still makes him jump a little but he finds the small doll nowhere near as terrifying.

Steve looking down when Eli brushes against him by accident. They had both ended up moving into the middle of the couch without meaning to.

“Sorry” Eli mumbles going to move away but Steve finds himself moving quicker. An arm wrapped around Eli’s waist, squeezing his hip gently.

“Y-your fine” Steve murmurs. They share a weird look for a second before Eli nods and relaxes back against Steve.

Steve almost feels like Eli should be able to hear his heartbeat. They order the pizza once Child’s Play is over and they wait for that before they start the next one.

They talk as they wait and Eli seems to finally realise that Steve isn’t going anywhere. They talk mostly about the movies. Steve hitting the roof when there’s a knock on the door. Eli laughing at him.

“It’s just the pizza guy.” Eli snickers, heading down the hallway. Cash in hand.

Steve half follows him. Lingering around the foyer as Eli ruffles his hair and opens the door.

Steve is surprised when the pizza guy smiles. Familiarity in his eyes.

“Hey, Eli. Let me guess. Horror movie marathon?” The guy says.

“Yeah, how’d you guess?” Eli chirps.

“It’s the only time you ever order chicken and olives.”

“Oh yeah. I guess I do. I don’t know olives just make horror movies you know.” Eli says way to happy. Pulling at the sleeves of his hoodie some more. Steve has a feeling someone has a little crush.

“I guess I’ll have to try it sometime. Though I was surprised by the half and half. Thought Ms P didn’t like horror movies”

“She doesn’t...”

“But I do,” Steve says stepping into view. Feeling irritated about something but he’s not sure quite what it is.

The guy's eyes widen.

“Sorry. I didn’t realise you had company. Hey, I’m Rodney, I used to take a few community college classes with Eli. ” The guy says, giving Steve a staged smile. Of course, Eli was already doing college grade work that didn't surprise Steve in the slightest.

“It’s ok. Steve is just a uh...friend.” Eli says flashing Steve a look. Steve just holds his hand out for the pizza box.

“A hungry one. Come on, we have The Collector next” He says turning and walking away the minute the box is in his hands.

“He seems charming, wasn’t he the guy you were having trouble with” The pizza guy mutters.

Steve just keeps walking for the kitchen. Not wanting to hear Eli’s response.

He just hears Eli’s laughter and Renald’s or Richa...who cares laughter as well. He sets the box on the bench and opens it. Taking a sip of his drink as he waits for Eli to stop flirting with the stupid moron.

Eli finally returns, a giant grin on his face as he grabs a slice of his pizzabomination.

“So the pizza guy seems nice” Steve mumbles around a mouthful of normal pepperoni.

Eli’s cheeks go a little red.

“Rodney’s cool. He’s been trying to give me his number for like three months at this point” Eli says way to casually.

“And you keep denying him why?” Steve asks. Hating the fact he’s relieved.

“Cause he’s in college and so not my type but either way. Come on. Let's watch the movie. I’ve heard it’s like Saw” Eli murmurs, grabbing the box and the drink to the lounge room.

Eli curling cross-legged on the couch, the box between them as Steve changes out the discs.

It was very much like Saw. Eli choking at one stage on his pizza. Steve clapping him on the back.

“That poor cat” Eli squeaks out after his downed a considerable amount of Coke. Clearing up the pizza blockage.

Eventually, the pizza is gone and Eli puts the box on the coffee table. Nether noticing the slowly disappearing space between them.

Steve feels Eli bury his face in Steve’s chest, screaming when some poor girl ends up on wall of nails. Steve’s heart racing out of his chest as he swallows his scream.

“Sorry” Eli mumbles seeming to realise just what he's doing. Pulling back and adjusting his glasses, a small red hue on his face.

“It’s ok. I just thought you were the horror movie buff” Steve teases as Eli turns to look back at the TV. Not quite leaving Steve’s side.

“Just cause I like watching them doesn’t mean they don’t scare me” Eli pouts.

“If you say so. We got any more Twizzlers or did you stress eat all of them?”

Eli just grumbles but hands over the packet. Smacking Steve in the face with one of them. Laughing when Steve just takes a chunk out of it in reply.

“I’ll have to hunt down the sequels” Eli murmurs, stretching when the movie is over. Credits rolling on the screen. Steve’s right side feeling cold now that Eli has moved away.

“Yeah. That’d be good and maybe you can show me some of your favourites”

“Sounds good,” Eli says turning on the light and burning Steve’s retinas. Eli scratches at his arm and Steve is already moving to stop him.

“You’ll hurt yourself worse” He murmurs, catching Eli’s hand.

Eli gives him a soft sorta smile.

“Thank you for coming over. It was actually pretty nice. Turns out your not always a dick” Eli mumbles.

“I have my moments. Do you want me to stay until your mum gets home? We can watch something else. Something that won’t give me nightmares?” Steve suggests. Realising his doesn’t actually want to leave.

“You don’t have to but if you wanted, we could watch Rock Of Ages?” Eli suggests. Giving him that nervous smile that he had at the start of this night.

“Sure. I’ve never seen it. What’s it about?”

“Uh it’s a jukebox musical with Tom Cruise or we could watch something else if musicals aren’t your thing” Eli mumbles.

“Nah I’m down. I don’t mind the occasional musical as long as it has some decent music.” Steve says with a shrug and Eli’s eyes light up like Steve just told him he won the lottery.

“Awesome. It’s like my all-time favourite. I have the original soundtrack from the actual stage play and everything” Eli says pulling their still connected hands back towards the couch.

It’s not a bad movie but the best part is watching Eli practically whisper every word before they even happen. Practically on the edge of the couch.

“Just how many times have you watched this?” Steve asks, grinning. Leaning back against the couch and fixing his hair.
“Uh? I don’t know. Too many to count. I did tell you it was my favourite” Eli says giving him another smile before turning back to the screen.

Steve doesn’t mean to. The movie is interesting enough but tiredness just gets the best of him and he passes out. Eli doesn’t seem to mind though considering Steve doesn’t get woken up until Ms Pepperjack gets home.

He jolts awake when the light turns on. Eli jumping backwards off his chest like he’s been electrocuted. Looking around confused and half asleep. He must have passed out as well, fixing his glasses. A pink line on his cheek from where they had been digging in.

“Hey boys. Enjoy your night?” Ms Pepperjack asks. A weird tilt to her smile. Like she knows something they don’t.

“Uh yeah. How was yours?” Eli asks, moving completely off Steve. Steve sitting up as Eli starts compiling the rubbish up in the empty pizza box.

“Good. Did Eli make you watch Rock Of Ages with him?” April asks, looking at the TV. The movie still playing.

“I didn’t make him” Eli mumbles, a little pouty as he grabs the box and leaves the room.

“I should probably head before Mum sends out a search party,” Steve says standing, collecting his phone and keys. Seeing he has four missed messages and calls. Mostly from Logan.

“Ok. Thank you. Eli your friend is leaving” April calls.

Eli appears back into the lounge room a few seconds later and April leaves. Muttering something about space.

“Thanks for coming. I had fun” Eli murmurs.

“Yeah of course. I had fun as well. It was...fun” Steve says and Eli laughs softly.

Eli walks him to the door. Steve stopping when he’s on the doorstep.

“UH, also I was thinking If you ever have the urge to you know. Call me. I’ll come and distract you or something” Steve says running his hand through his hair. Looking out for April but she doesn’t seem to be in any hearing range.

“Thanks”

Steve finally gets his body to move and he hears Eli’s front door close.

Steve slides into his own house and nearly hits the roof when Coach speaks.

“Where have you been?” It wasn’t an accusation or mean. Just generally curious.

Steve was generally allowed to come and go as he pleased, just as long as he checked in on occasion.

 

“At a friends” He says quickly.

“Oh, well Logan and Seamus stopped by for some party but you weren’t here. They said they’d called you...were you at a girls house?” Coach asks giving him that stupid, all-knowing fatherly smile.

“What no. Definitely not?”

“You sure. You have that look on your face like when I caught you macking on Kathy Henders at spring fling”

“Macking, you are like fifty. Don’t say that. It’s gross” Steve groans.

Coach just chuckles.

“Keep your secrets then,” Coach says and Steve just ignores him. Heading down the hallway for his room. He makes it to his bedroom door when Coach speaks up again.

“At least you used protection right?!”

“Dad!” Steve yells back, face burning as he slams his door closed.

Steve falls face-first onto his bed as he feels his face melt into that stupid smile again. He reasons with himself that it wasn’t even that fun of a night but his smile betrays him and he groans as he hides his face in his pillow.

A few days pass and Steve’s just about asleep on his textbooks when there’s a knock at the front door.

“Uh, Pepperjack? What can I help you with?” Coach asks. Steve is already pushing himself up to his feet. Textbook peeling from his page as he tries hard not to run out of the room.

“Oh. I uh...” Eli stammers and he looks almost frantic and on edge. Hoodie from the last time Steve had hung out with him in place and rumpled. Like he had been bunching the fabric up under his hands over and over again.

Steve didn’t know how he wasn’t overheated considering it was boiling tonight. Steve himself wearing the least amount of clothes possible. Basketball shorts and the first singlet he had set his hands on.

“He’s here to help me study. You know Strickler said I had to get my GPA up unless I wanted to be benched” Steve says quickly.

“Really? That’s great. Well, I’ll leave you to it” Coach says before walking back to the lounge room. A giant grin on his face.

Steve nods his head back towards his room and Eli scampers after him.

Steve closes the door and Eli stares around the room looking unsure.

“Show me,” Steve says stepping in front of him.

Eli is pushing up his sleeves and Steve grabs his wrists gently. Turning Eli’s arms over. Nothing thankfully.

“You ok?” He asks catching the still frazzled look on Eli’s face.

“Yeah. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have just shown up. I didn’t have your number though” Eli murmurs, not looking him in the eye.

‘It’s ok. I’ll make sure to give it to you before you leave. So what do you need me to do?” Steve asks.

“I don’t know. Distract me or something. I...do you actually need help studying?” Eli asks nodding to the stack of books on Steve’s bed.

“Oh probably. Would that be ok?” Steve says a little awkwardly.

“Of course. What are you having the most trouble with?” Eli says heading for the stack. Looking over it, a vague look of terror on his face when he sees Steve’s handwriting.

They dig in but Steve quickly notices that Eli is sweating a little. Hot and bothered, constantly pushing his glasses up his nose.

“You don’t have to wear it. I’m not gonna judge” Steve says quietly as Eli scribbles out the correct way for him to do the algebra question.

“I’m fine. I’m used to it” Eli says before dragging Steve’s attention back to his school work.

Steve wants to push but also doesn’t want Eli to lock up on him again so he nods. Moving instead to open his window to let some fresh air into his room.

“This is all pretty good, You just seem to get confused around this section here,” Eli says circling the problem.

“Yeah, that’s generally where my brain turns into an error code,” Steve says sitting back on his bed.

So Eli runs him through it and Steve has to stop him twice from scratching at his arms. Eli burning a little red when Steve does so.

Steve finally starts to get way too concerned when Eli’s face is permanently red from overheating.

“Alright come on, I won’t look or anything but you need to take your hoodie off before you end up with heatstroke,” Steve says.

“I’m fine”

“No your not. Please. For my sake” Steve says gently.

Eli glares at him before taking off his glasses and then starting the most awkward way to take off a jumper Steve has ever seen. Finally, Eli is free of the fabric cage, dumping it on the bed beside him and fixing his shirt before pushing his glasses back into place.

“Happy now?” He grumbles even if he seems partially relived.

Steve just grins at him before nodding and turning back to his schoolwork like he promised. Not looking.

Steve doesn’t know when it happens but he looks over at one stage and Eli is passed out. Glasses smooshed against his cheek as he drools on Steve’s Spanish textbook. Hair falling in his face. Steve’s eyes dropping down to Eli’s right arm.

He sighs softly and a little sadly as he takes in the small scars. Patterns really. They weren’t as haphazard as they seemed. Some deeper than the others like he had recut over the spot a few times. The thicker one on his wrist still pink and healing.

Steve door opens then and Coach pokes his head in. Face softening when he realises that Eli is asleep.

“I was just coming to ask if he’s staying. Is he ok? He seemed a little...” Coach makes a weird sorta noise.

Steve nods.

“Eli’s fine. Just was a little frazzled that’s all but I think he’s fine now” Steve murmurs softly, trying not to wake Eli up as he stands. Grabbing the books off the bed. He’ll just take the couch or something.

Knowing by the dark circles under Eli’s eyes that sleep was probably a rare thing for him.

He steps out of his room for a minute, closing his door quietly.

“I didn’t even know you two were friends,” Coach says crossing his arms, giving Steve that annoying Dad look.

“We kinda bonded over horror movies. He’s actually kinda cool to hang out with when he’s not being such a nerd” Steve says surprising even himself.

“That’s where you went the other day right? Eli’s house?” Coach says catching on.

Steve just nods.

“Well I’m glad you two are getting along so well. I’ll see you in the morning. Get some sleep, you have double practise tomorrow”

“Don’t remind me” Steve grumbles.

Coach claps him on the shoulder before heading back down the hallway and Steve enters back into his room.

He goes to take a step towards the bed only to kick a book that must have fallen off the bed. Sending it thunking into his bed. Eli bolts upright mumbling something about being late for something.

Wiping his mouth with the corner of his hand.

“What’s going on?” He asks softly, slightly squinty-eyed and Steve is struck with the word cute.

He quickly moves on though and shrugs.

“I w...would you like to stay the night? Coach already thinks you are” Steve mumbles.

“Oh, are you sure? Also, I didn’t know Coach was your step-dad” Eli says.

“Yes, I’m sure. I’ll take the couch or the floor or something” Steve says, completely avoiding the step-dad thing.

“No. I would feel bad. Let me take the floor” Eli says, kneeling up on Steve’s bed.

“Not gonna happen Pepperbuddy. You’re the guest here”

Eli sighs before he’s eyes light up with a thought.

“If it wouldn’t put you out too much we could both share the bed. It’s big enough” Eli says doing his normal finger fiddling thing, like every time he suggests something. Like he’s waiting for Steve to laugh at him or hit him.

“Sure. Sounds fine by me. Just as long as you don’t drool on me” Steve says hitting the light switch.

“I don’t drool” Eli mumbles pouting before he pulls out his phone. Texting someone. April maybe. Steve doesn’t really care.

“My Spanish textbook says otherwise,” Steve says teasingly. Throwing it and Eli’s hoodie on the desk chair.

It takes them a few minutes to figure it out but finally their both laying down comfortably with space to spare. Eli’s glasses on Steve’s bedside table.

Steve is just about asleep when he hears Eli mumble something.

“What?” He asks softly.
“Thank you. For your help tonight.” Eli repeats.

“I didn’t really do anything if anything I should be thanking you for the tutoring help”

Eli shrugs.

“Even...you helped more then you know” Eli gets out.

Steve doesn’t hear if Eli adds anything else cause he falls asleep.

They don’t talk about the fact that Eli wakes up in Steve’s arms. Curled together, Eli’s head on his arm. Instead, they move on with their days and Steve makes sure Eli has his number. Even offering to drive Eli to school.

Eli just shakes his head and runs off into his house.

Steve decides to wait around anyway and he doesn’t really give Eli a choice. Pressing his spare helmet into Eli’s hands when Eli steps out. Thankfully it wasn’t so hot today considering Eli was wearing a long sleeve shirt under an X-files shirt.

“Come on. What don’t you want to be seen with me?” Steve says grinning at him.

“More the other way around...” Eli says under his breathe before taking the helmet and pulling it into place. Steve doesn’t know what to say to that.

Eli asks him to pull over a few streets away and Steve considers ignoring him but he concedes and pulls over. Eli sliding off his scooter and pressing Steve’s helmet into his hands.

“If you want, if you’re not busy tonight we could do more studying?” Eli says.

“Sounds good to me”

Eli nods and just starts walking away.

Steve drives the rest of the way to school and meets up with Logan and Seamus at his locker.

“Hey were you dodging our calls last night?” Logan asks sounding more like an annoyed girlfriend. Which Seamus makes sure to point out.

“No, I was just studying. Coach is being a pain my ass” Steve grumbles. Spotting Eli a few minutes later. Slinking over to his locker and making quick of grabbing his books before near running off.

“I’m so glad he’s your step-dad and not ours,” Seamus says and Steve scoffs out a laugh.

Steve keeps an eye on Eli throughout the day.

“Careful you stare at him anymore and you might catch nerd,” Logan says at lunch.

“What?” Steve asks turning to his friend.

“You’ve been staring at Pepperdork for like the past fifteen minutes.”

“I just zoned out. Does he seem more skitterish today or am I crazy”

“Yeah, you just zoned out sure. I don’t know. Seems like regular old weirdo to me” Seamus says sparing Eli a glance before turning back to his food.

Eli looks up and then just as quickly away but Steve doesn’t miss the soft smile on his face as he pours over his work.

Steve gets a text a few seconds later. He makes sure no teachers are around as he checks his phone. Not that they were ever so strict at lunch but still. If Janeth was in a bad mood. Steve would lose his phone for the rest of the week.

You stare a lot you know that?

Don’t lie you like it. He texts back.

Steve watches Eli shake his head out of the corner of his eye before he grins wider.

Steve just hides his own grin behind his cardboard pizza.

Weirdly enough they fall into a routine over the next few weeks. Every second day Eli would come over and help Steve study then they’d watch some movie or another. Steve would drop Eli a few streets away from school, no matter how many times he protested and then they would text through lunch. Eli off at his little table, behind a pile of books and Steve, would steal glances just to see Eli smile.

Something about it always made Steve smile in return. No matter what mood he was in.

“Alright seriously who are you texting all the time. Do you have a girlfriend or something?” Seamus groans a month later.

“What no? I’m not texting all the time” Steve protests quickly, putting his phone down on the table.

“Alright, then what was I just telling you?” Logan asks.

“I don’t know. Wasn’t listening” He says honestly and Logan rolls his eyes.

“Yeah cause you were to busy texting,” Seamus says and the math genius moves way too quickly for Steve to counter. Snatching Steve’s phone and standing on the table.

Seamus really was a mountain goat of a human being and it annoyed everybody else to no end. Steve standing and trying to get it back.

“We should watch You’re Next the next time I’m ove...Wait where did it go?” Seamus says quizzically, tapping at Steve’s phone.

Steve looks over at where Eli is. Looking more like a deer in headlights, his phone in his hands. He sees Steve looking and just as quickly gathers up his stuff before leaving the cafeteria.

“What?” Logan asks confused.

“The entire thing just disappeared,” Seamus says turning the empty chatbox to them both. Moving to sit on the table between them, still tapping away at it.

Steve snatches his phone back and sure enough, their entire conversation is gone. Steve never more thankful for Eli’s nerd brain then that moment. Or the fact that he just has a picture of an alien as his contact photo.

“Who's Leslie?” Seamus asks trying too hard to be casual.

“Nobody” Steve snaps.

“Please tell me she’s at least cute. Then I would at least understand why you’ve been ditching us so much recently to hang out with your lady love” Logan says.

Steve decides to bite the bullet and just go with it if it gets the two morons off Steve’s back.

“Sure I guess.”

“You guess? Dude, why didn’t you tell us?” Seamus asks.

“Cause you two gossip just as bad as Mary does,” Steve says standing. The bell not long until it rings.

“Oh come on. At least tell us what she looks like” Logan pouts.

“Uh, No I was wrong. You’re worse than Mary.”

They slowly pester and wear Steve down by the end of the day. Steve pulling on his jersey. Getting ready for practice.

“Fine ok...” He says rolling his eyes.

Logan and Seamus and Ryan who that had dragged into their pestering waiting eagerly. God, he needed friends that weren’t major girls.

Steve thinks for a second before just going with the first things that pop into his head.

“She’s shortish but not like to short you know. Uh, brown hair that’s really soft, brown eyes that are insanely smart and like she just gets everything you know. She’s probably like eight times smarter than me too but doesn’t flaunt it...you know just your average, normal girl” Steve says. Realising he’s been rambling.

The guys look amused though.

“Oh yeah, sounds totally average and normal. I think someone has a crush” Logan snickers.

“No way. Leslie is just a friend whose been helping me study” and she was actually a dude and was Pepperjack but not the point.

“She just gets everything you know” Ryan mimics, putting on a dreamy voice. Laughing when Steve punches him.

Thankfully by the time they’re on the field they’ve partially let it go and Steve just tries to focus on Coach’s orders and the plays they were doing.

At least that’s his plan until he spots Eli up on the bleachers. Laying on one of them and writing out something in one of his workbooks. Head bobbing to what Steve can only presume is music. Steve is distracted enough that he ends up tackled hard and he groans as he hits the ground.

“Palchuk concentrate. I swear I could replace you all with monkey’s and they would do a better job!” Coach grumbles as Steve picks himself up off the floor.

Shaking himself out and trying to focus back on practice. They all get back into position and Steve finally gets his head back in the game. Ignoring the Pepperjack up on the bleachers.

Steve doesn’t get a chance to ask what Eli was doing up on the bleachers instead he’s dragged out to some party or another. Drinking heavily since Seamus was driving and getting a little more than trashed.

Everything is kind of a blur and he wakes up early in the morning with like eight missed calls. Panic shooting through him when he sees they’re from Eli.

He staggers out of bed, ignoring the massive hangover and he grabs his keys and phone. Trying to call Eli but not getting anything in return. Starting to really panic.

“Where are you going?” His mother asks.

“Uh, friends house. Be back soon” He mumbles before leaving his house and practically running across the road.

He pounds on Eli’s front door and a disgruntled April opens it a minutes later.

“Yes, Steve what can I help you with?” She asks rubbing her eyes.

“Is Eli home?”

“He’s up in his room why?’

“I uh...He called me last night and I didn’t notice till this morning.” Steve says quickly.

“Oh ok. Well I think he might be still asleep but you're free to go and face his wrath” She says stepping out of his way.

Steve thanks her and takes the stairs by two. Knocking gently on Eli’s door before just outright opening it. Eli is asleep and Steve sighs in relief. He knows as much as Eli might tell him he’s not suicidal if he made a mistake. Cut too deep then...Steve can’t even think of it. Unable to stomach the thought.

There’s fresh band-aids on Eli’s arms and Steve feels terrible inside. He should have checked his phone. He should have been there, stopped it from happening.

“Eli...” He murmurs, nearing the bed semi-silently. Repeating Eli’s name louder when he gets closer. Touching Eli’s shoulder gently.

Eli groans and rolls over, batting away Steve’s hand. Pulling up his blanket around him and sighing.

So Steve repeats his name, rocking Eli’s shoulder a little harder.

“Go away” Eli rumbles.

“No, we need to talk”

“No, you need a shower. You reek like a keg” Eli says, slightly grumpy. Which Steve kinda deserves.

“I’m sorry. I had my phone off, I should have checked it” Steve says sitting on Eli’s bed.

“It’s ok. Not your fault you have a life” Eli mutters, still not looking at him.

“You didn’t hurt yourself too badly right?”

Eli just shakes his head and Steve sighs.

“Good. That’s good, anywhere else?” Steve asks looking down towards Eli’s legs. He had done his research, knew what people in Eli’s position would do if it came down to it.

Another shake of Eli’s head. Steve chooses to trust him and he lays back on the bed. Half over Eli himself.

“Did you have fun?” Eli asks a minute or so later.

Steve shrugs. From here he can see Eli’s face. He looks tired and sad but ok.

“It wasn’t any different to any other party. I don’t remember much of it to be honest”

“Did Seamus read much of our texts?”

“No. You deleted them before he could even finish the first sentence. I wouldn’t have cared if he did though.”

“I know that. He just might have pieced it together. Who you were actually talking to” Eli murmurs. Steve being gentle as he reaches out a hand and runs his fingers down Eli’s arm. Being careful not to press too hard to the band-aids.

“You really love aliens don’t you,” Steve says smiling at the fact that Eli’s band-aids have little UFOs on them.

“They’re real you know. I’ve seen them” Eli says not quiet looking at anything.

“I know you told me and I shoved you in a locker”

“And then Jim punched you and knocked out your tooth. That was a good day” Eli says laughing a little.

“See if anything. Jim’s totally an alien. He’s freaky enough to be” Steve points out. Tongue poking at the fake tooth in his mouth as he talks.

Eli snickers and Steve can’t help but smile.

“Alright, dude. You really need to have a shower. Did you actually fall into a keg?” Eli asks.

“Maybe. I’m sure Seamus will tell me on Monday or show me the recording” Steve says sitting up.

“I better see that recording,” Eli says sitting up as well. Smacking his hand around his bedside table.

Steve picks up his glasses off the floor and hands them over.

“Thanks” Eli murmurs pressing them into place.

He ducks home to have a shower and to grab some fresh clothes. He also grabs his school stuff before heading back over. Not even thinking to knock, pausing in the hallway when he hears April and Eli talking.

“Are you sure it’s such a good idea. I don’t want you to end up hurt”

“I’m not falling for the guy Mum. He’s just some idiot I’m helping with homework, don’t worry I’m not completely stupid.” That hurt a little but Steve shoves that hurt down.

“I didn’t say you were” April murmurs. “I just worry you know that but if you trust him then I do as well. Can I ask why he looked like he had seen a ghost earlier?”

“I don’t know. He’s probably just hungover” Eli murmurs.

Steve closes the front door a little harder than necessary.

“You didn’t tell me he was coming back”

“We’re just going to do some studying”

“I can’t wait to the day I actually have to tell you to study and not use up the stash of condoms I know you have”

“MUM!” Eli yells, voice shrieking.

April laughs and Steve sees her disappear into another room.

“Hey, you look less hungover. Come on I’m making breakfast” Eli says appearing at the end of the hallway. Cheeks still slightly red.

Steve follows Eli into the kitchen and watches as Eli cooks. Constantly moving to pull his sleeves down as he cooks up the greasiest breakfast Steve has ever seen.

Steve just enjoys the silence and enjoys watching Eli act all domestic. It is actually kinda cute and Steve keeps that thought to himself. They end up on the couch, half studying, half watching The Office once Steve has stuffed his face with bacon and eggs.

Steve gives up eventually and flops back on Eli’s lap. Book over his face as Eli laughs softly. Steve feels a hand settle in his hair and he tries not to actively purr when nails scratch at his scalp.

He adjusts himself a little and curls further into Eli’s lap.

“This isn’t studying” Eli mutters.

“I don’t hear you complaining,” Steve says.

“What do you think I just did”

Steve’s phone rings then and he pulls it out of his pocket to see Logan face-timing. Steve answers it without thinking and Eli all but dives out of the way of the camera. Steve laughing a little.

“Hey dude how’s the head?” Logan asks.

“Fine. Nothing a little grease can’t fix.” Steve says sitting up.

“Where are you...Wait are you at Leslie’s house?” Logan says.

Eli glares at Steve from behind the phone and Steve just smirks back at him.

“Oh my god, you totally are. Holy shit. Hey, Leslie, my boy has a total crush on you, You should have heard him in the locker room yesterda...”

Steve hangs up and sits up.

“Locker yesterday and Leslie?” Eli asks, eyebrow moving up his face in a question. Not sure whether to look pissed, confused or amused.

“Well, I...” Couldn’t tell them that I was texting you but Steve can’t say that. He scrambles for something.

“It’s ok. I get it” Eli says simply and Steve feels himself cringe inside. He didn’t like the look on Eli’s face one bit but before Steve can try and fix it. Somehow. Tell Eli he didn’t mean it as a bad thing, that he meant it like that way he could keep Eli to himself...that was such a shitty lie.

“Come on we should do a little more studying,” Eli says sitting down on the spot on the other side of the coffee table and grabbing his laptop.

Steve sighs but nods and grabs his workbook up again.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be Eli’s friend. It was just he was a coward. He was a giant colossal coward who was terrified of ruining his reputation if anyone figured out that they were in fact friends.

He was scared that the school would snub him as well, turn him into a loser like Eli and he couldn’t risk that for one little nerd. He didn’t have the balls to. Eli was out and proud and just generally himself at school and Steve didn’t know how the hell he did it.

“That’s not studying” Eli chirps pulling him from his thoughts. He’s free hand scratching at his wrist.

Steve uses the end of his pencil to tap on Eli’s hand gently and Eli retreats his hand. Eli moving to tap it against the table, the space between his eyebrows pinched together as he tries to force himself to concentrate.

“I’m sorry”

“It’s ok”

“No, I meant abo...”

“I know what you mean Steve. It’s fine.” Eli says not even looking at him. Eyes focused instead on his work.

It wasn’t, He could see that in the way Eli kept moving to scratch but he doesn’t bring it up again and he hates himself a little inside cause of just how much of a shitty person this made him. He just keeps pushing Eli’s hand away and ignoring the black hole where his heart should be.

The rest of the week is quiet. Steve’s phone stays empty of texts even when he tries to start conversations and he’s just generally in a sour mood. Eli doesn’t even eat in the cafeteria. The only way Steve knows he’s at school is that he still drops him a few streets away and he sees Eli scamper from classroom to classroom.

“I’m sorry if I ruined your chances with Leslie. I was only joking. If you want I can talk to her, explain everything” Logan says on Wednesday.

Speaking up after Steve acts like a moron and practically dives for his phone when he gets a text. But it’s just Mary talking about another party this weekend. A college party on Saturday.

“You didn’t ruin anything,” Steve says before stabbing his fries a little too hard. Logan might not have ruined it but Steve sure did.

Eli could barely look at him and Steve recalls the conversation he had overheard.

He was just some idiot that Eli was helping after all.

Steve growls and stands, done with being so in his head. He needed to do something. Hit something, someone. He dumps his tray in the bin and heads out of the cafeteria.

He gets his wish soon enough, taking it out one of the basketball players and getting into a fight that gets his blood boiling and dripping down his face.

The infirmary door opens as he’s sitting back in his chair, trying to quell the bleeding in his nose. Nurse Jennifer occasionally looking over at him and shaking her head.

Steve looks up and nearly chokes on his own blood. Eli was standing there.

“Yes, Mr Pepperjack are you ok?” Nurse Jenny asks, turning to look at him.

“I uh...” Eli ends up turning his head and there’s blood dripping down his cheek.

Steve immediately going on panic mode.

“Oh dear, what happened,” Nurse Jenny asks coming over to him and pressing a wad of paper towel against the cut. Eli wincing a little.

“I slipped and cut my head on my locker. It was so stupid of me. I didn’t see the piece of paper” Eli says and Steve wants to curse him out. He can’t tell if he’s lying or not and Eli refuses to look at him.

“Poor thing. Come on. Sit here let me look” Nurse Jenny says pushing him into the chair beside Steve. Steve moving a little to make room as Nurse Jenny looks it over.

She grabs a mini flashlight and checks Eli’s reaction time.

“You don’t seem to have a concussion but I would be careful ok. If you start feeling nauseated or anything else you should go to the hospital. Head injuries aren’t something we joke about”

Eli nods and Nurse Jenny sighs returning with a gauze. Steve tries to catch Eli’s attention by grabbing his hand but Eli just pulls his hand away like he’s been burned.

“You’re free to go. Just be careful and watch out for loose pieces of paper, you might take out someone else next time”

Eli nods and she lets him go.

Steve finally manages to catch Eli before school is out. Catching his wrist and dragging him into an empty classroom.

“What are you doing?” Eli asks.

“I...did you do it to yourself?” Steve gets out.

That just seems to piss Eli off. His eyes narrowing.

“Did I smash my own head against my locker? For what shits and giggles? No cause I’m not a mental case!” Eli hisses.

“I just, I did some research and...”

“And what?! Now you a fucking professional on the subject!”

“I just worry about you” Steve says softly.

“Oh god shove it, Steve. You don’t give a single fuck about me. Never have.” Eli says crossing his arms.

“Now that’s a lie. I may be shitty at it but you are my friend and I do care about you. What actually happened?” Steve asks.

Eli continues to glare him before he seems to just break.

“Kenny Delaware got a little shovey that’s all” Eli mumbles. Kenny was a senior and Steve despised him with a passion. Let's just say if Steve is was a dickhead, Kenny was four times worse.

“He pushed you into your locker?”

“Not quite. I just hit my head on the ground, the locker story was easier then Nurse Jenny going all vigilante and trying to drag Kenny into Strickler's office.”

“Has he given you problems before?” Steve asks trying hard to contain his anger.

“Yeah but so what. He’s not normally that much of a problem” Eli shrugs.

Steve goes to protest but the bell rings signalling the end of the day and Eli runs off. Steve sighs and was heading to practise when he finds Kenny and his little rat face.

“You should have seen his face, I thought he was going to cry. God, I don’t even know who can stand the little weasel. I can’t wait till he slits his wrists and puts us all out of our misery” Kenny snickers to some of his idiot friends.

Steve sees absolute red and slams Kenny into a locker before wailing on him hard enough the Kenny's the one who ends up crying.

Coach is livid when Steve gets benched for the next two weeks by Strickler but Steve can’t really give a fuck. Even if he’s jaw hurt from where Kenny had hit him.

“Dude, what the hell?” Logan asks when they’re caught up on the story.

“Why the hell did you pick a fight with Delaware,” Seamus asks grumpily. Since Steve had been benched, Fletcher Hawkins had been playing Quarterback and he wasn’t the nicest person on the field that was for sure.

“He was talking shit. Simple” Steve explains.

“Yeah about Pepperjack. So what?” Logan says pulling off his pads.

“So nothing. I just, if anybody is gonna pick on the little nerd it's me. Nobody else and he’s “joke” was too far” Steve murmurs throwing his stuff in his locker and slamming it closed.

Ryan just raises an eyebrow but says nothing until their walking out of the locker room.

“Eli’s Leslie isn’t he. I was in the office the other day, working off that community service that Strickler was making me do. I saw Eli’s file and curiosity got the better of me” Ryan whispers low, looking around for eavesdroppers.

Steve can only nod.

“Why don’t you just tell Logan and Seamus that you have a crush on the dork. I mean they really wouldn’t care. They’d make a little fun of you sure but...”

“But nothing. I don’t have a crush. He’s just been helping me study so Strickler doesn’t bench me permanently” Steve says cutting off the idiot.

“I don’t know dude. I don’t know many people who’d go toe to toe with Kenny for their study buddy”

“Do you wanna be the third?” Steve grumbles.

“You love my face too much but if you say so,” Ryan says holding up his hands in defeat.

Steve gets grounded with the exception of Eli coming over for studying but from how pissy Eli was. He’s not even surprised when Eli doesn’t answer his calls or come over.

He almost actually starts looking forward to the party on Saturday if only to try and get Pepperjack out of his head. Eli coming over on Friday and quietly helping him study.

Acting more like Steve was paying him to be there then like he wanted to be there and Steve tries to figure out a way to fix it. Tries to figure out how to get Eli to look him in the eye.

Before he can figure it out though, Eli is packing up his stuff and leaving. Before Steve can even ask him to stay and watch a movie or something.

So Steve does the only thing he can think to. He goes to Coach for answers.

He knocks on Coach’s door and hears the gruff but warm come in. Such a change compared to the man that used to live behind the door but that was another thought for another time.

“Yes, Steve. What can I help you with?” Coach asks giving Steve his full attention.

“Uh I need help with something but I need you to be cool about it.”

“So you need Dad or Coach?” Coach asks and Steve almost feels better form that alone.

“Lawrence actually. I made a huge mistake and now I don’t even know how to fix it but I really want to” Steve says sitting down on the other chair in the room.

“Is this about Eli?” Coach asks leaning back in his chair.

Steve nods.

“Is this about the fact that you're scared to be his friend at school?”

Steve can only nod again.

“Seamus and Logan aren’t the problem. If they are your true friends which I’m pretty sure at this point they are. Then at much as they might give you a little grief about it, they’ll adapt easily enough but it’s up to you to take that step and to tell them what having Eli in your life means”

“But I don’t even know what having Eli around means” Steve groans.

“I’m pretty sure you do, you're just not ready to face the answer yet. You have a choice you need to make before you end up hurting both of you. Either you give up on Eli all together and go back to the way things were or you let him in.”

“What do you think I should do?” Steve asks.

“I can’t tell you that. It’s your relationship. Think of it this way then. How would you feel if Eli never talked to you again?”

Steve shrugs.

“Well, when you figure that out. That’ll be your answer” Coach says all knowingly.

It helps but it doesn’t. Steve sighs and runs his hands over his face.

Stupid parents and the crypticness.

Steve thanks Coach before he leaves the room and he finds he has a message from Eli on his phone.

I’m sorry I’ve been in such a terrible mood lately. It’s not you, I’m trying this new medication and it’s apparently turned me into a girl. I never thanked you for kicking Kenny’s ass for me.

Steve feels relieved as he rolls onto his bed.

It’s ok. Why didn’t you tell me?

Cause it’s probably not gonna work. I can already feel the insomnia from here and I didn’t want to get your hopes up. How’s your nose? Eli replies a few minutes later.

Steve feels way, way better just by having Eli back in his corner. Sort of.

Well, I’m sure I’ll still get a date to homecoming. So I think I’m good.

A date? It’s you, the possibilities are endless.

Aww, thanks Cheese Slice.

No, I meant for rejections.

Steve scoffs out a laugh and he can’t stop the smile.

You wanna come over tomorrow. I got the Collection finally. We could watch it if you wanted or we could play games...

Steve groans.

I have a party tomorrow. Maybe on Sunday? He types out.

Oh yeah, that college party thing. I hope you have fun. He can practically feel the disappointment through the phone.

Steve types out the offer three times before he’s stupid cowardice gets the better of him and he deletes it.

Seamus distracts him with a text and that results in Steve ending up texting the wrong person.

So this Sunday will be all me and you Pepperbuddy.

Pepperbuddy? Wait are you friends with Pepperjack? Steve gets back a few seconds later.

 

It’s a study thing. I told you Coach is trying to get my grades up so I don’t get benched. Steve replies quickly.

Pepperbuddy?

I’m just trying to keep on his good side.Steve shoots back and he should just stop. Should just tell Seamus the truth but he can’t get his stupid traitorous fingers to send the stupid text.

Steve groans and buries his face in his pillow. Hating himself.

He double-checks who his texting for the rest of the night and it makes him feel even shittier.

Coach’s words running through his head.

“How would you feel if Eli never talked to you again?”

Before he can give himself a stress headache about it. Logan is picking him up and he glances over at Eli’s house. An unfamiliar car in the driveway.

He shoots Eli a text before he leaves.

If you need me. I’ll have my phone on. Call me.

He tries to loosen up but Seamus keeps looking at him and the first thing Steve does the second they get there is down three shots. Steve finally gets Eli off his mind for just an hour, Dancing with some pretty girl that was way too far out of his league.

She was blond and foreign and so pretty. Steve thinks they shared Science...or was it English? Something or other. The guy who must be her brother is glaring daggers at him but he doesn’t care.

She’s the best distraction he’s got so he doesn’t keep checking his phone like a mental case. Steve is dragged off by Logan and Seamus eventually to play some stupid game or another. Steve using it just to get even drunker, not that it seems to be doing much of that tonight.

“So Steve. How goes the studying?” Seamus asks.

“Studying?” Logan asks confused. Setting the empty beer can on the table, slowly making a precarious stack.

“Yeah turns out he's been having to deal with Pepperjack. I’d tear out my hair having to deal with such a nerd but whatever helps I guess” Seamus murmurs.

“He’s not that bad, he’s actually been a great help” Steve says softly before distracting himself with his beer.

“Come on dude seriously? He’s neurotic and what the hell is his weird obsession with long shirts?” Fletcher says.

“He can get a little neurotic but he has his reasons” Steve mumbles.

“A little. The idiot literally has his locker organised alphabetically. Who does that?” Fletcher grumbles. Ryan shoots Steve and look and Steve just looks down at his drink.

Steve keeps his mouth shut as best as he can. Trying hard to keep in the middle. Trying hard not to get too angry about it.

“Come on Steve. You must have some dirt on the little nerd.” Fletcher says before taking a sip of his drink. He was the only one pushing. Seamus and Logan had their fun, they were done. Fletcher just didn't know how to let go.

“Not really, he kinda keeps to himself”

“Seriously nothing?” Logan asks.

“Uh he likes horror movies,” Steve says going with the most innocent thing he can think of.

“God I bet he gets off on them or something else freaky. Be careful you don’t end up as some fucked up science experiment” Seamus snickers, mostly joking which is the only reason Steve doesn’t go him then and there.

“I mean he does have a weird obsession with aliens. I’m starting to think he is one.” Steve says, chuckling a little.

“Well, you have heard his voice right. That’s about as alien as you can get. I don’t know how you can stand listening to it” Logan says grinning.

“I zone out a lot, it's easier to deal with him that way,” Steve says.

Only to watch the guy’s eyes widen. Ryan pointing behind him. Steve turns and it’s the worst thing Steve could see. Eli standing there, fiddling with his sleeves. Looking absolutely betrayed.

He turns and walks away without a word and Steve tries not to freak out. He stands and tries to hunt down Eli. Try to apologise or let Eli run him over or something.

Steve finds him in the kitchen, sipping at a drink that was probably way too strong for him.

“Eli...” He starts.

“It’s fine. I’m not stupid Steve. I know you never actually saw me as a friend.” Eli says harshly. Completely cold.

“I did, I do. Of course, I do. I just...” Steve stammers.

“I’m not cool enough for your friends. Like I said. I get it” Eli says.

“But you came out here.”

Eli laughs then, cold and bitter. Looking amused like Steve just told him the funniest joke in the world.

“You think I came here because of you? Sorry to say but just cause Arcadia Oaks High doesn’t like me. Doesn’t mean I don’t have other friends. I was invited” Eli bites.

“Who?” Steve asks.

That who walks his stupid pizza guy butt into the kitchen, Eli smiling at him.

“Hey, your Steve right. One of Eli’s friends” The guy says smiling at him and Steve wants to tear him apart.

“I wouldn’t say friend” Eli mutters before pouring himself another drink. Way too heavy-handed with the jack but he doesn’t even flinch or cough. Staring Steve down as he drinks it all.

“Eli please,” Steve says.

“I’m bored. You wanna go have some fun? I wanna have fun” Eli says completely ignoring him. Smiling up at R what’s his face who seems way to fucking on bored with it.

“Uh yeah sure. You wanna go dance?” Pizza moron asks, grinning like he won the lottery.

“I was thinking something else, something a little more private,” Eli says, A small demur smile on his face.

Steve snarls as Ratface grins wider, Seamus, Logan, Fletcher and Ryan all watching from the doorway. Fletcher looking like he’s watching the best show in the world and Seamus looking like he’s ready to hit Fletcher on principal.

“Oh, no way in hell are you going with him. He just wants to use you”

“Really I thought we were gonna play scrabble. I heard that’s what all the cool kids are doing” Eli retorts.

“Is that what this is? Fuck some college guy to become cool?” Steve growls. Glad there’s a counter between them cause otherwise, he’d have the pizza rat on the floor in seconds.

“Oh my god. Not everything is about you, Steve! Just leave me the hell alone. If anything you’re the one whose been using me, so don’t start fucking preaching about right and wrong” Eli yells back.

Something in Steve snaps.

“You’re mine. Not some stoner pizza guy who only got to know you to get in your pants”

“I’m sorry I didn’t realise we were still in the Neolithic age!” Eli snarls.

“That’s cavemen, right?” Pizza guy asks, confused.

“Yes Rodney, shut up. Walk me home” Eli growls before moving to storm past Steve’s friends.

“We’re still fucking right?” Rodney asks and Steve sees red. Slamming his fist into Rodney’s stupid weasley face. Putting him on the floor as Steve is sure he harnesses the rage of a bull.

“Touch him and I’ll break you” He seethes as Rodney cups his cheek. Looking surprised but unhurt and Steve wants to curb stomp the rat bastard.

Eli doesn’t look concerned for his ‘date’ in the slightest. Pushing his glasses up his nose as he takes a deep breath before speaking scarily calm.

“So what? You don’t want me but nobody else can have me. Make up your fucking mind Steve cause I’m sick of it. I’m sick of you playing with me. You can’t just put me away when you're bored! I might be a loser but I still have feelings. So why can’t you just leave me alone!”

That calm lasts two seconds before Eli is raging at him. Even going so far to try and push him. Steve not budging an inch and it just makes Eli angrier.

“Because I’m in love with you, you stupid nerd!” Steve yells back, his own chest heaving. Heart trying to beat out of his chest.

He feels his own throat close up as Eli stares at him. Everybody else’s jaw-dropping. Eli just turns and walks away. Seamus and Fletcher letting him out.

“Wait...Leslie, was Eli this entire time?” Fletcher says once he can close he’s god damn mouth.

“Oh shove it up your ass Fletcher” Logan grumbles.

Steve leaves the kitchen as well but Eli is long gone and Steve feels like such a moron. Worse then. He feels like the shittiest person in the world.

“Alright come on. We’re walking home” Seamus says catching his arm and pulling him out of the party.

Steve sighs but follows anyway.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Logan asks when they’re down the street.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t...I ruined everything didn’t I?”

“Maybe. We’ll see. You know we don’t care right. I mean we’ll rag on you for it but you're our best friend. We’re happy for you, no matter which nerd you fall for.” Seamus says and Steve is surprised.

“He probably never wants to talk to me again” Steve mumbles.

“Can you blame him?” Logan shrugs.

Seamus levels a glare at Logan as if to shut him up.

“Look, dude. You’re allowed to be happy, you shouldn’t have to hide it. Least of all from your friends and if Pepperdork is the one who does that. Then we’ll deal and anyway who else is gonna put up with your cranky ass if Eli isn’t. Cause no girl would put up with your shit. I can tell you that much” Seamus says.

“As much as we ribbed you about it. Watching you get all smiley and gooey over every text he sent you was kinda nice. I’m still confused about the Leslie thing though” Logan says, scratching the side of his face.

“It’s his middle name” Steve murmurs.

“So were guys actually studying or..” Seamus waggles his eyebrows and Steve hits him.

“Studying, watching movies, playing games. I don’t know, the normal” Steve shrugs.

“Well, we need to figure out to fix your stupid mistakes. So we don’t have to deal with your mopey ass. What does he like, maybe you could get him flowers. Or is that too girly?” Logan brainstorms.

Steve just watches his two friends conspire and he feels like the biggest idiot in the freaking world. He had been terrified for nothing, Coach, as usual, had been right. Logan and Seamus were with him, no matter if he was in love with some stupidly smart, cute dork with bug eyes and soft hair and the cutest laugh in the world.

“Urg, great now we’re gonna have to deal with that every time you think of your stupid boyfriend. Kill me now” Logan says, grinning.

“Boy-boyfriend?” Steve stammers.

“Well, that’s the goal right?”

“I don’t think he’ll ever want to talk to me again, let alone date me after what I’ve done,” Steve says, fiddling with his hair nervously.

“He knows your a reckless moron right?” Seamus asks, glancing up at him out of the corner of his eye.

Steve can only nod.

“Then you’ll be just fine. Come on, at least help us here. What else does he like. Oh, you could get him one of those alien head balloons, float it up to his window. No, he might not see it in time” Seamus says.

“You could go old cliche, we could find you an old boom box. I think that Krel kid has one you could borrow” Logan suggests.

“Or maybe we don’t even need to do anything,” Seamus says as they finally near Steve’s house.

“What are yo...oh,” Logan says.

Eli was sitting on Steve’s doorstep, Scratching gently at his wrist.

“Good luck” Logan murmurs, clapping Steve on the back before turning 180 and dragging Seamus with him.

Steve takes a breathe and then he takes another one before he steps into Eli’s line of sight. Eli looks up at him and Steve wants to crumple to his knees and beg for forgiveness. Making a million promises that he’d never hurt Eli again.

But he can’t make that promise, cause knowing his dumbass. He probably will, even unintentionally.

“Peps?” He starts quietly. Unsure what he can even say. Moving to sit beside Eli on the doorstep. Eli moving a little to make him room but he doesn’t run away. So Steve’s counting it.

“So am I welcoming a beating on Monday from Tweedledum and Tweedledee?” Eli asks softly, not looking at him. Scratching harder.

 

Steve reaches out a tentative hand and grabs Eli’s gently. Eli stills for a second and Steve waits for the yelling but Eli lets him curl their fingers together.

“No. They were plotting how to get me back on your good side. I’m so sorry that I let some stupid fear of losing my reputation, my friends get in the way of us.” Steve says, wishing he was articulate as Eli. That he could put it in better words.

“It’s not like you were wrong to. I mean you’ve met me right. If I was in your position. I wouldn’t want to be caught dead with someone like me either. The weird kid that self-harms and thinks aliens are real” Eli says with a shrug.

“I didn’t tell them anything like that. I might be a heartless bastard but even I’m not that cruel. I promise” Steve tries to reassure. Rubbing his thumb over the back of Eli’s hand.

“You’re not completely heartless. You have your nice moments” Eli says softly, finally moving to glance at him out of the corner of his glasses.

“Can I ask if you said yes to Ratface to try and make me jealous?” Steve asks.

Eli scoffs but Steve hears the laughter in his voice.

“Rodney did invite me but I turned him down to start with. Until you said you were going. I wasn’t so much as trying to make you jealous as try and reason with myself that I didn’t need you.”

Steve nods and they end up back in that awkward silence. Eli having more balls them him in breaking it.

“So what did Seamus and Logan have to say about it...about me and you being friends?” Eli asks.

“Well Seamus pretty much told me to get my act together and that you were the only thing going for me since nobody else would put up with me”

“I can’t tell if that’s an insult or not,” Eli says softly.

“Oh, it definitely is, aimed at me. Basically, he told me your the best thing in my life and I’m a colossal moron who needs to sort out his shit before I lose you for good.” Steve watches Eli’s mouth twitch towards a smile.

So he must be on the right track, even more so when Eli leans his head on Steve’s arm.

“You’re not the only idiot. I made some pretty stupid decisions as well. Like letting myself for this really cute guy even though my Mum warned me it was a terrible idea”

“Hmm, he’s cute huh?” Steve asks as they both look at the sky. Stars twinkling in the night. Steve kinda got what Eli found so appealing about it.

“Very but he’s smart as a bag of potatoes and so not my type.”

“If you say it’s Rodney. I’m gonna push him in front of train” Steve grumbles, only half-joking.

Eli’s laughter makes his heart clench.

“No someone else, he has this dorky face that he pulls when he’s trying to study that drives me crazy and no matter how bad I’m feeling. Seeing his smile makes me want to smile as well.” Eli continues and Steve’s heart is beating out of his chest.

He hopes Eli isn’t grossed out by his sweaty palms.

“And I’m pretty sure that this guy would punch anybody who so much as talks to me wrong. I know
I’ve seen it twice now”

“You saw the whole Kenny thing?” Steve asks, going a little red.

“Oh yeah. It was sweet in a weird, netherderalish way.”

“Wait that’s cavemen right?” Steve teases and Eli’s face breaks into a smile.

“Rodney really is a moron”

“You weren’t actually going to sleep with him were you?” Steve asks. Feeling ill at the thought of it.

“No. God no. I’m good not getting an STD” Eli says chuckling a little.

“So that whole...scrabble thing?” Steve mumbles.

“Oh, that was totally to make you jealous. Did it work?” Eli asks pulling away from Steve’s arm to look at him properly.

“Well you didn’t have to go that far but yeah it worked.” Steve shrugs and Eli flashes him a smile before it disappears again.

“Did you mean what you said?”

The question that Steve had been waiting for but doesn’t make it any easier to comprehend.

Steve just looks over Eli’s face. Taking in everything from his soft hair and his cute freckles, to his bug glasses and Steve nods with a hundred percent certainty.

The way Eli’s face lights up is all the reassurance that Steve needs to know everything he wants is right in front of him. He jolts when Eli surges forwards and kisses him.

He doesn’t even hesitate to kiss the little nerd back. His little nerd, one hand moving to settle in Eli’s hair as he lets his eyes fall shut, just for a second to see the fireworks going off in his chest. He wonders if anybody’s had a heart attack from kissing somebody before.

Eli squeezes his hand and pulls away.

“You want to watch The Collection with me?” He asks.

Steve nods and Eli stands, dragging him over the road.

Steve couldn’t tell you a single thing that happens in the movie, more invested in kissing Eli breathless. Eli’s hands in his hair, a dopey smile on his face that Steve most definitely shares with him and he’s own hands dragging soft spirals across Eli’s back.

The rest of the weekend passes in kind of a haze and Monday comes far too quickly. They had talked a lot about things neither of them really wanted to but now nothing stood between them.

Steve's dad, Eli's, Eli updating him on the new medication he was trying and how mood swings were apparently one of the major side effects, Steve's bisexuality and the fact Steve is an idiot. Steve reassuring Eli that he didn't want to hide anymore about anything. That he was Eli's a hundred percent and nothing Eli did or said was going to get rid of him.

“Babe, come on we’re gonna be late” Steve murmurs, watching Eli scramble around his room.

“I think I’m out of long sleeves and I haven't done the laundry,” Eli says turning to look at him with panic on his face.

“That’s ok,” Steve says softly, trying to reassure him.

“No it’s not, I can’t leave the house without one. I can only handle one secret being blown today and this is not the one!” Eli panics.

Steve catches him when he goes to run past.

“Calm down ok. Just give me a second and I’ll be back” Steve says before stealing a kiss. Eli calming with the motion and even sitting on his bed.

Steve heads back over to his house and riffles around his room until he finds just what he needs. Practically running back over and up the stairs.

“Here wear this.” He says holding it out.

Eli looks at him wide eyed.

“That’s your varsity jacket” Eli murmurs.

“I know. Two bullets, one bird. What ever the saying is. This way you can cover up and I can shove it in everybody else’s face that your mine” Steve says holding it out with more urgency.

“Kill two birds with one stone but thank you” Eli says wrapping his fingers around the fabric.

Steve tries not to die inside when Eli puts it on. Looking so adorable and cute and Steve has to convince himself to not just drag Eli back to bed so he can kiss him to death.

Eli hesitates at the gate and Steve turns to look at him. Flashing him a smile.

“No more hiding Peps. Come on, let me show you off” Steve whispers low. Squeezing Eli’s hand gently.

Eli takes a deep breath, adjusts his glasses and nods before stepping into Arcadia Oak’s High as Steve Palchuk’s boyfriend.

People stare because of course they do and those who sneer or whisper have to deal with Steve’s wrath. Glaring them down as he tightens his hand on Eli’s a little further.

Seamus and Logan both grin like morons when they make it to Steve’s locker. Eli’s books already tucked under his arm. Eli moving closer to Steve’s side like he’s waiting for the assault.

Jim and Toby passing by looking confused as all hell but Steve ignores them in favour for pulling Eli close and resting his head atop the tiny dorks. Only half-listening as Seamus and Logan apologise for their words and actions. Promising to try and be better, if only for Steve's sake.

Aja, the girl from the party. Giving him a giant thumbs up and a grin and Steve just sighs. Content, happy, in love. Whatever you wanted to call it. Steve was all of them and more.

He really should thank Seamus. If he hadn’t trashed Eli’s locker then none of this would have happened.

Eli starts getting fidgety as they continue to talk and Steve just presses a kiss to his wrist. Right over the deepest scar. Eli flashes him a soft smile and Steve presses a kiss to his temple next.

“God please tell me you two aren’t always going to be this disgusting, I might go jump off the canal otherwise” Logan groans, a smile on his face. Giving away the asshole act in a millisecond.

“Well just cause you asked so nicely,” Steve says before grabbing Eli and kissing him hard. Eli laughing against his lips.

“You had to ask!” Seamus says both Logan and him fake gagging.

Steve’s only reply is to flip them off and kiss his wonderful boyfriend even more.