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Better Strangers

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The bass throbs hard and out of time with the beating of Steve's heart, which at the moment feels as though it’s lodged somewhere in his throat. He's staring across to the other side of the VIP booth, past the table lit by glowing fuchsia LEDs and cluttered with a collection of open bottles of champagne and Hennessy, to where Billy's sinking against the plush leather couch. Legs splayed wide, with his shirt buttoned all the way down, he looks as lavish as a fucking king. It’s nothing new — Steve's used to seeing him wear designer clothes that cost more than what he makes in a month, and Billy’s been popping open bottles worth five figures every other weekend shortly after they first started their... whatever this is.

Anyway, it’s not Billy’s heavy spending that has Steve seething with jealousy. 

Billy's invited his friends, if they can even be called that; half of the people crammed into the booth look like groupies, and Steve's pretty sure the other half are just there because Billy buys pills and powder off them. It's obvious they all want something, whether it’s Billy’s money or his attention. 

Steve's just jonesing for the latter. 

It would have been bad enough if all Billy did was ignore him in favor of paying attention to his so-called friends. But it’s worse than that, because as Billy lounges there — arms thrown over the back of the sofa, white teeth glinting in the dim lighting as he laughs at something Steve can’t hear over the pounding music — Steve can’t stop staring at the hand on Billy’s knee. It’s been creeping slowly higher over the past ten minutes; one of the pretty brunette groupies is smiling as she slides her palm unsubtly up the inseam of his leather Valentino’s, leaning in close to say something against his ear. Steve can tell that she’s drunk, but so is Billy. His eyes are half-lidded, the baby blues swallowed up by his pupils, and he’s running his tongue along the seam of his lips like she’s telling him something he likes the sound of.

It's crowded in the VIP booth, but even the proximity isn't enough to have a conversation without shouting. He's already decided it isn't worth the effort; Steve isn't really interested in chatting with any of Billy's so-called friends. 

He's not drunk enough for this. He doesn't think he can get drunk enough for this. 

This isn't new, is the thing. It's not like it's the first time Steve's been out, blending in as part of Billy's posse, and seen the lascivious portrait Billy is painting for him: one of excess and opulence, filthy as it all is. 

This isn't new, and Steve thinks maybe that's what makes it worse. Because Billy knows it bothers him. That this feeling — being ignored, being set aside, being some kind of dirty little secret — burrows under his skin and sits with him for days after. It's just that Billy doesn't seem to care

When Steve sees him grin, all pearly teeth and shark-like, and lean in to say something into the girl's ear that makes her cover her mouth and laugh as she squeezes at his thigh, Steve thinks: this is enough. He thinks: I've had enough. 

If Billy wants to put on his playboy douchebag act in public, Steve's not gonna stop him. But he's sure as hell not going to sit around and watch. 

He doesn't think anyone but the VIP bouncer notices him slip out, lifting a velvet rope for him to duck under with a little nod, and that's fine with Steve. He can't hear shit in this place, anyway. 

He edges around the dance floor toward the bar. His eyes are on the back shelf, where bottles of liquor line the walls. He's got a stamp on his hand that'll let him get anything — even if one glass costs more than what he's got in his wallet. The bartender is quick to serve him; a glass of 12 year old scotch-whiskey he can't even pronounce the name of is placed in front of him, neat, because he kinda wants to be drunk. Like, yesterday. 

It's not a drink you're supposed to pound back. That doesn't stop Steve. That doesn't stop him from ordering another one, either. 

"Wow," someone says, voice low and lilted with amusement, and Steve blinks over at some guy wearing a button-up that’s one size too small and fitted slacks. He’s clean-shaven with a chiseled jaw — it's really not fair, how pretty everyone in California is. "Someone's having a rough night."

Steve barks out a laugh. "You could say that." 

It’s one of those nights where Steve feels alone in a crowd of strangers, so, yeah , maybe he leans into the conversation a little, lets himself enjoy the company. Maybe it helps when he throws back his second glass and feels the warmth of it spread across his skin and leave a pleasant buzz in his head. Maybe it helps that the guy brushing up beside him is easy on the eyes.

Whoever he is, he’s not trying to hide that he’s interested; it’s obvious in the way his eyes rake over Steve, in the way he won’t stop smiling and staring. The attention is flattering, especially after how little Steve has gotten tonight.

It kind of distracts him from the pang of jealousy he’s nursing, too.

"So, are you here with someone?" the guy’s asking, stirring his martini with the olive skewer and giving Steve a look like he’s thirsty for something other than gin. He’s got a stamp on the back of his hand, too; Steve thinks he might be a celebrity, or in the party of one, but he doesn’t recognize his face. Not that it matters.

"Nope," Steve says, leaning against the bar, grin tight. "Or — at least, not anymore." 

"Oh?" the guy arches a brow; he thinks he's smooth, Steve can tell, and any other night, it might've worked on him. 

Hell, tonight it might work on him. 

Before the guy can ask, Steve reaches over and plucks the skewer from his drink, sliding the olive off with his teeth. It's a trick he'd learned young, from watching his mom at the country club when his dad got too busy schmoozing, and it works like a charm even now.

The guy huffs, grins a little brighter, and leans in. "You planning on leaving with someone?"

"Maybe," Steve shrugs. "Guess that depends on how the night goes."

What he's doing isn't fair. He knows it's not fair. 

He's not going to leave with this guy. He’s not going to stumble into the bathroom or some hotel room with him. He’s not going to share any heated touches or kisses or anything outside of this bar, right here, right now. But the attention feels good. 

So, Steve goes with it. Rolls with the flow. Starts to actually vibe with the music by his third glass — or maybe it’s his fourth? He’s losing track, falling into the easy rhythm of conversation and flirtatious back-and-forth with the handsome stranger beside him. Steve thinks he gets a name at some point — it’s hard to hear it over all the noise. He thinks he hears the guy mention something about a movie shoot, too, but it's swallowed up by the floor-shaking bass. Steve just smiles and nods between sips of his scotch.

"Bit too loud in here, don’t you think?" Steve does hear that, at least, and doesn’t miss the implication. It’s impossible not to; pretty guy’s gotten real close, crowded up in Steve’s space, until Steve can smell his cologne and feel the ghost of his breath against his jaw. "Do you want to maybe go somewhere quieter?"

It feels good, the heat of him, even in a crowded club. Steve thought it would be overwhelming, too much. 

Instead, it's tempting. It makes him sway a little and tilt his head over toward the handsome stranger. He bares his throat, just a bit, like it’s an invitation. 

"What, you don't wanna dance, first?" Steve asks. 

He feels the hot huff of breath against his neck. It might be a laugh. It might be a sigh. It doesn't matter much because the guy pulls back, downs his drink, then holds out a hand. 

Steve thinks, briefly, of Billy. Billy, with his white smile and his open shirt and with strangers' hands all over him. 

Then, he thinks of this stranger's hands all over him , and thinks maybe it's fair. 

Steve smiles, takes the proffered hand, and lets himself be led out onto the dance floor to the mad press of bodies and sweat and heat. His head is pounding in time to the beat as hands find his hips in the dark. If he closes his eyes, he can even pretend it's who he wants it to be. 

Everything feels good, at least. So long as Steve keeps ignoring the lump that’s still sitting in his throat.

The alcohol has done a good job of unwinding him — maybe a little too good of one, because Steve doesn’t try to shove away the stranger’s hands when they start to inch lower. He thinks he must have had too much to drink. That might explain why he imagines it’s Billy growling words against his ear when he feels fingers brush his ass.

Not Billy’s fingers.

But definitely Billy’s voice.

"What the fuck are you doing?" He’s behind Steve, not-quite flush against his back, but it’s closer than Billy reasonably has to get to make himself heard over the music. How he’d even found Steve among the crowd is anyone’s guess; maybe Billy had just stumbled into him by accident while he was on his way to dance with someone else. 

Steve feels a hand tighten over his hip. Feels fingers flex over his ass and tug him forward. 

He stumbles. There's a sudden and intense cold sweat on his skin. Guilt unfurls in his belly, followed quickly on the heels by anger. 

He frowns over his shoulder, sees Billy's blue eyes, bright even in the strobe lights. 

"I'm dancing,"  he says. "What's it look like?"

The guy holding him, the stranger with a hand on his ass, shouts over the music. "You got a problem, pal?"

The look that flashes across Billy’s face is one that Steve has seen a hundred times before; anger darkens his expression like a thundercloud, and there’s a spark of tension in the air so palpable that Steve swears he can feel his skin prickle with electricity — like a storm forming on the horizon. 

Billy is about to punch this guy. Or, he’s thinking very intensely about it, anyway, like he’s trying to come up with a good enough excuse. 

"No problems here," Billy fires back, and if he’s trying to come off as icy, it ends up melted by the heat of his temper. He’s never been good at hiding it when he’s sober, let alone drunk.

Case in point: Steve can feel Billy’s fingers digging meanly into his hip, the pressure hard enough to bruise.

"Just figured my friend would want to come join me for another drink."

Diffuse. That's the only thing Steve can think of: diffuse the situation before it becomes a brawl — not Billy's first — and ends up on the front page of every rag from here to New York for weeks

Offering up a crooked, apologetic smile, Steve steps away from his dance partner with a decent amount of reluctance. It was nice while it lasted, but Steve can feel the heat of Billy — far more tempting than anything else, a supernova waiting to swallow everything up — and he knows it's stupid, but at least Billy's looking at him. Touching him. Not anyone else

"Sorry!" Steve calls over the bass, then: "Maybe next time!"

He feels Billy pull. Feels his fingers grip him tighter. 

He revels in it. 

Billy's dragging him away through the gyrating crowd, still holding Steve by the hip. That's new. Usually, whenever they’re out in public together, Billy makes a point of keeping his hands off. He can't have the paparazzi snapping any suggestive photos. The media will undoubtedly sink their teeth into that, like they do with everything else — the fucking vampires.

And Billy’s got an image to curate, like any good rock-n-roll star. He has to seem available, but unattainable. He has to give all the girls someone to drop their panties for, and all the guys a sleazy alpha male role model to aspire to. That doesn't work if Billy's got someone else on his arm. It doesn't work if he and Steve come out.

So, it's weird that Billy hasn’t taken his hand away. That he’s moved it instead to Steve’s nape, roughly grabbing at the back of his collar like he’s scruffing a disobedient dog. People are going to notice. Steve’s can feel them watching as he’s shoved from the dance floor, past the bar, and toward the nightclub's back exit.

"What the fuck was that?" Billy's echoing the same question as before, but he sounds even more pissed off, like he's been simmering over it these past few silent seconds. Steve can smell liquor on his breath when he gets in close, but, even drunk, Billy has never gotten this careless before. He’s not even bothering to keep his voice down. "You trying to fuck movie stars now?"

Steve blinks. He thinks maybe he was supposed to have recognized the guy chatting him up, now that he thinks about it. But Steve can't even remember his name

The confusion doesn't last long, though, because Billy's grip is relentless. As relentless as his momentum, pushing Steve toward the door and out into the alley between this building and the next. It's as if the threshold itself acts as a as a before and after, a first and then, between confusion and anger. 

Because the second they're outside, away from the crowds, Steve's shrugging his shoulders and smacking Billy's hand away with a sneer, jerking from the touch he's been dying for all night. There's enough liquor in him that his blood is burning hot. 

"I was dancing with him, you prick." Steve says. "Not dropping to my knees and sucking him off."

"But you were thinking about it," Billy snarls in accusation, grabbing at the front of Steve’s shirt before he can get another half-step away. He looks like he still wants to punch something. Maybe that’s his reason for dragging Steve out here, where there are fewer prying eyes — fewer witnesses.  

"I wasn't thinking about anything," Steve says, hand coming up to clutch at Billy's wrist, a helpless, bitter, and vicious laugh welling up in his throat. "But I'm starting to think you were. What, got all mad when you caught someone feeling me up? Now you know how it feels." 

For a fleeting second, Steve’s sure he sees something behind Billy’s expression shift; it’s too brief to decipher, too quickly consumed by another flash of fury.

And then Billy’s bodily shoving him up against the nearest wall. 

Steve’s back meets brick so hard that he can feel his breath as it’s knocked from his lungs, a bruise blooming where his spine meets cement. Billy’s one hand is twisting up tighter in the fistful he’s got of Steve’s shirt, the other’s out of sight, and if Billy’s going to punch him, now feels like the time. 

Steve braces himself, ready for it. 

It takes him a second to realize that Billy’s talking instead of cracking knuckles against his jaw.

"You were trying to make me jealous." 

It’s not a question; Billy’s glaring at him, and without that glint of smugness in his eyes, there’s something almost unnerving about the look Steve’s being leveled with. 

"You little bitch," Billy hisses. Steve’s powerless to do anything about the way he’s yanked forward and rammed against the wall again, like a ragdoll that Billy doesn’t care about getting too rough with. "Is this what you wanted?"

Steve prickles instantly, like a cat being rubbed the wrong way. He feels heat rush to his face — rage, hurt, probably a little shame, too — and his nose scrunches up as he dislodges Billy's grip and shoves him back with two hands on his chest. 

"Fuck you," Steve snarls right back. He wants to flee, to go home and lick his metaphorical wounds in private; he also wants to smack that stupid, nasty look off Billy's face. "You're drunk and acting like an asshole. I should've gone home with that guy when he asked."

That seems to strike a nerve.

Billy’s hold loosens but doesn’t release. Steve has a split-second to tense up as he watches Billy wind his other hand back in slow motion, preparing to hit him across the face with a fist or the back of his palm.

Steve makes the mistake of squeezing his eyes shut, then.

So, he literally doesn’t see it coming when Billy’s mouth crashes against his like a tidal wave, almost thinks he really has been punched until he feels Billy’s teeth on his lips and both of his fists curling up in the front of his shirt. It knocks him back into the wall again, brick biting at his shoulders. 

Still, his hands find Billy. Seeking and pulling, yanking Billy closer by the hips when his fingers find purchase there. He groans, biting back, and hates himself. 

This is what he wanted. All night, this is what he's wanted: Billy, focused totally and completely on him

Now that he has it, he hates it. Hates what wanting Billy does to him. Hates that he tangles his fingers in Billy's hair and pulls hard enough to earn a hiss, and grunts as Billy leans in harder. He hates that Billy's only doing this out of some sick, envious twist of possession

Most of all, he hates that he loves it. 

The taste of cognac is heavy on Billy’s tongue when he pushes it past Steve’s lips, bullish as always, but it also feels like Billy’s being rougher on purpose. Like he can’t decide whether to suck on Steve’s tongue or bite it. Like he wants to keep ramming him into the wall just to keep Steve breathless. It feels punishing.

At the same time, Billy’s making a noise like he’s trying to sound pissed off and not turned on by Steve’s hand yanking on his hair. Steve knows he gets off on this — the aggression of it, the way it gets the blood pumping with adrenaline. It’s a high all of its own, and Billy’s never shied away from his vices.

Steve likes to think that he has more self-control than Billy. Even now.

But Billy’s not the only one who’s into it.

Steve would like to blame the scotch. He’d like to, but he knows that, even dead sober, Billy kissing him like he's trying to crawl into his skin would get him thrumming with the same electricity that's vibrating down his spine right now. 

Still, he's mad. Rightfully so. 

So, he drags blunt nails over Billy's scalp and wrenches his mouth away, head turning as he gasps out. Teeth, sharp and white, find his throat, instead. 

"God—" Steve hisses, feels Billy bite, feels the sharp ache of it, feels the jolt of heat that tugs below his navel. He shoves at Billy's shoulders. "You don't — you don't get to do this."

There’s another sting in his neck as Billy vengefully sinks his canines down against the juncture of Steve’s shoulder so hard that his breath catches. He reflexively tries to flinch away, but Billy’s like another brick wall pressed against him, hard and unbudging. 

Steve’s skin is still smarting when Billy tilts his head back and stares at him again, looking just as spitting furious and slightly unhinged as before. But now there’s also a hint of a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth.

"I can do whatever the hell I want." 

Billy says it like it’s a sure thing. Like Steve isn’t still futilely trying to shove him away. He’s got to know how much his stupid fucking smugness gets under Steve’s skin. 

That must be why Billy says it: "And you’re gonna let me."

Steve's stomach swoops. Sensation, like fire, licks at his insides. He wants. 

He seethes. 

"Like hell I am," Steve scoffs, straining to leverage some space between them just to get his head to stop swimming. The edges of his eyes are burning, frustration and an echoing hurt tightening in his throat and choking him. "I'm not one of your fucking groupies. You want an easy fuck? Go ask one of them."

But Billy is relentless. He's unyielding. He’s built like the fucking brick wall he's got Steve pinned to. 

He snakes his arm around Steve's waist and tugs him flush to his chest, jerking him forward so that Steve has to brace his hands at Billy's shoulders to keep balance. Then he leans in, like he might try to kiss Steve's denial away. 

Steve presses his entire palm to Billy's face and pushes. 

He almost expects Billy to set his teeth on his fingers in retaliation. Billy’s always doing shit like that. Biting the hands that feed. Underneath that thin veneer of charm he’s like a fucking pit viper — mean, quick to turn, always raring to fight about something .

Maybe Steve’s just giving him what he wants.

Billy lets out a mean laugh. Steve feels it whoosh past his cheek, another blow to his pride to add to the rest, because at the same time, Billy’s catching his wrist and twisting it down to Steve’s side like it’s the easiest thing to do.

Steve’s not weak; Billy’s just stronger.

"I don’t want to take any of them home," he’s saying, voice pitched low and words a little slurred. "Think I’ll take you instead."

Steve laughs in his face. He takes a sick pleasure out of the way Billy's expression twists up. 

He's still got one hand free. He uses it to push at Billy's chest, fingers on the hot, tanned skin bared for everyone to see and covet. Steve arches back, trying to writhe away, no matter how useless it is. 

As much as he wants it, he's not going to give Billy the satisfaction. Because it's not fair — what he's doing isn't fair. He doesn't get to pretend Steve doesn't exist until someone else takes notice. 

"Should've thought of that earlier," Steve snaps at him. "I'm not going home with you." 

And maybe that's not fair of Steve, either — the emphasis and the implication. But he wants Billy to hurt just as bad as him, wants him to know what it feels like. 

"Then take me to your place, " Billy counters, demanding, because of course he is; he’s never been known to ask for anything he wants. He always just tells it like it is.

Especially when he’s been drinking, or snorting, or whatever the hell has him all up in Steve’s face despite that anyone could walk by and see them right now. One bad photo is all it would take to ruin him. Even Billy doesn’t play so fast and loose that he forgets that.

"I’ll make it worth your while," he says, like it’s an afterthought. 

It might have sounded sweet or flirty if Billy hadn’t uttered it like a threat, if he wasn’t gripping at Steve's shirt and pressing, unrelenting, into his space. Even still, Billy’s as inviting as a black hole — one way or another, he’s going to pull Steve in. 

It's all part of the game Billy plays these days, this constant back-and-forth between them. Billy pushes him away one minute, then pulls him close the next. Like he can't decide which way he wants his gravity to work. Like he can't make up his fucking mind.

Steve grunts. He's so tired of this shit. Of the tug of war. 

"I'm going home by myself,"  Steve insists. "I don't wanna be around you."

Billy doesn’t relent. Doesn’t back down. But Steve thinks he feels him tense up, and catches the beginnings of an ugly sneer pulling at his lip. 

"You do," Billy tells him. As if he knows.

How does he know?

Billy's suddenly stepping back. It’s not because Steve's shoving at him, and doubtfully because he's taken any hints. Maybe it’s because he hears someone — Steve watches him cast a furtive glance over his shoulder — but Billy doesn’t move far enough away to give the impression that he didn’t just have Steve up against the wall.

Steve misses it. He knows he shouldn't, but he does.

"I usually do," Steve admits, because it would be useless to deny it. "But not when you talk me into coming out and then ignore me all night."

At least Billy looks like he's listening. Or, he does a good job of pretending he is, staring Steve down over the scant distance between them that feels like a chasm. He’s still wild-eyed and twitchy, clenching and unclenching his hands by his sides like he’s still got fight in him. He probably does. 

Which is why it comes as a surprise when Billy says: "I’ll make it up to you."

It isn’t an apology — Billy doesn’t ever apologize — and the implication behind it is too obvious to miss.

Still, Steve can't help but tilt his chin up. Can't help but straighten out; he's taller than Billy, but Billy is usually bigger than life. He seems to tower over Steve when he wants to. 

"Prove it," Steve says, unyielding in the same way Billy's grip was unyielding; he's not going to make this easy. 

"I will," Billy promises; it doesn't sound like he's lying, but then, it never does. He's got a talent for it, knows how to lure people in. Steve wishes he could say that he's canny enough to be unaffected by Billy's shallow charms.

He knows he isn’t.

"Take me home with you," Billy demands a second time. He’s so fucking persistent — no wonder he always seems to get his way. 

If Billy's like an unstoppable force, though, then Steve's an immovable object. It's when they clash in the middle that everything inevitably goes to shit. So, something's got to give. 

And Steve knows it's gonna have to be him. 

"Fine," he says, spitting the word, his lips twisting into a grimace as he shoves off the wall to head down toward the mouth of the alley. Billy follows him like a shadow, hot on Steve's heels like he doesn't want Steve to forget he's there. As if Steve even could

Even though Billy’s not touching him, Steve can still feel the heat of him smoldering close by. The tension hasn’t gone away — if anything, it’s wound up tighter, almost unbearable. 

There's a whole cordoned-off area in the back parking lot of the nightclub where the paparazzi don't have access. Steve still catches a few flashes of cell phone cameras going off while they wait for the driver to come around. 

The anticipation might kill him. That, or Billy's will. Steve can feel him staring for the full three minutes they spend stewing in uncomfortable silence, the intensity of it making the back of his neck itch.

When the black SUV finally pulls up, Steve jerks the backdoor open before anyone can try and do it for him — not that Billy would, but his driver, Tommy, isn't half bad at playing foot servant for whoever ends up in Billy's ride at the end of the night. Steve slides across the back seat, settling in on the far side of the car, leaving as much distance as he can between him and the open door.

When Billy slides in after him, he eats up that space until their thighs are flush and their hips press together. Heat is bleeding off of Billy and into Steve, like a drug of its own, making his head spin. 

Steve crosses his arms, shifts for some breathing room, and presses to the door as Billy tells Tommy to take them to Steve's apartment. He closes his eyes as the partition slides up after Tommy nods. Usually, Steve would be happy for the privacy. 

Tonight, he almost dreads it. 

It comes as a surprise that Billy doesn't put his hands on Steve the moment they're alone, but it isn’t long after. They've gotten as far as rolling out of the parking lot before Billy leans in, uninvited. He slides a hand onto Steve's thigh, squeezes him just above the knee, crowds close until his mouth nearly presses to the shell of Steve’s ear. He can feel every humid puff of Billy’s breath, and tries not to shiver at the feeling.

"Can't fucking believe you" Billy’s saying, but he doesn't sound as pissed off as he had in the alley, like he's too distracted crawling his hand up Steve's thigh to summon every ounce of his vitriol. "You that desperate for my attention, baby?"

The pet name should sound sweet; on Billy’s tongue, it sounds mocking.

Steve rolls his eyes open and stares straight ahead, refusing to grace Billy with the attention he's trying to get. One of his hands finds Billy's wrist, curling around it. He doesn't pull the groping fingers away, just stops their ascent. 

Billy squeezes at the meat of his thigh, but doesn't attempt to sneak higher. Yet. 

"Real big fucking surprise," Steve mutters, dry and more than a little bitter. "I want my boyfriend to not be a dick when he insists I go out to a club with him. Are you even, like, aware of yourself? Or does your brain just stop functioning like a normal, decent human's the second you're in the public eye?"

He can feel Billy tense up, the fingers on his thigh clenching hard, and Steve wonders what part of what he'd said set Billy off. He thinks it might have been because he dropped the B word. Billy's reaction to it is never consistent. Sometimes he acts like it makes him uncomfortable, gets this furrow between his eyebrows like he’s annoyed or bemused. Other times, he doesn’t bat a goddamn eye

Right now, Steve can’t get a good read on him — Billy’s just kind of staring, watching Steve’s face intensely enough that it’s hard to maintain eye contact.

Thankfully, it’s Billy who breaks it first.

"Gonna make it up to you," he mumbles, repeating that same promise from before, only now Billy’s saying it to the side of Steve’s throat, pushing the words out between open-mouthed kisses. The palm on Steve’s thigh is pressing against the seat of his pants, and the weight and heat of it makes Steve’s head spin.

He knows better than to mistake what Billy’s doing for an apology; he’s not contrite , he’s just acting the same way he always does when he’s been drinking.

He's half tempted to squeeze his legs shut. To yank at Billy's hand until he releases him. To jerk away from the wet heat of his mouth. 

But it feels good. The way Billy's palm grinds down. The way he trails sloppy kisses, half teeth and half tongue, over his throat. It feels good and it feels dirty, and Steve's starting to think he'll never get one without the other when it comes to Billy Hargrove. 

It brings a twist, some sharp and awful thing, to his chest. The thought that this is all he'll get — that this is the Billy that will show up, over and over. That the Billy he met back in the Music House — Billy the Music Nerd, who was impressed by the way Steve repaired his busted Fender, charming and sweet and even a little shy — will be forever overshadowed by Billy the Rock Star. 

And he thinks — well, Steve thinks that if this is all he gets, he'll give the same back. 

If all Billy wants is a warm body, Steve can deal with that. He just won't put his heart out there, anymore. 

So, as Billy presses down with his hand, as heat licks up his spine, Steve moans and rocks up into his touch and tries to lock away the ache still gnawing at his chest.

At least Billy offers him a good distraction. He always does. It’s like he can’t stand it when he doesn’t have Steve’s full attention, and will go to great lengths to make sure he does. Like right now: Billy’s popping open the the button of Steve’s pants and sliding down the zipper, slipping his hand inside so he can grope at Steve’s cock through the fabric of his briefs. He’s biting at Steve’s earlobe just hard enough that Steve wants to move away but can’t, because Billy has taken over his space.

"Could've asked,"  Billy’s saying, his voice rumbling where his lips brush Steve's jaw. Sultry though he sounds, Steve thinks he can hear an undercurrent of something else, there — something approaching resentment. "Could've asked me to touch you, if that's what you wanted."

Steve grunts. His hips buck. He clutches at the edge of the seat, at Billy's wrist. He bares his teeth. 

"Oh, yeah, that would've gone over well," Steve breathes, voice pitching to a saccharine, sweet high. "Oh, Billy, please won't you pull yourself away from all your adoring fans and grope me on the dance floor?"

"Might've," Billy lies with a smile that lights up his eyes, and god, it's not fair that he looks like that. He's handsomer than the Devil and just as wicked. No wonder Steve feels helpless when he watches Billy slide off the seat to get between his legs. "But only if you'd said please."

Steve's breath catches and then stalls. He lets Billy spread his knees and find an easy place between them, like he belongs there. He lets Billy ruck up his shirt and kiss at his stomach, muscles jumping under his skin. 

"I could've begged and you wouldn't have even noticed," Steve says, clutching at the edges of the seat underneath him to keep from burying his fingers into Billy's hair. 

Billy huffs out a snide-sounding laugh. "Then maybe you need to learn how to beg better." 

Both of Billy's hands are on his thighs, now, his thumbs digging into the creases. Steve’s pulse jumps when Billy leans in and presses his lips against the outline of his cock. The heat of it is dulled, but it’s still so frustratingly hot when Billy opens his mouth and sucks a messy kiss against the fabric.

His head falls back as he squeezes his eyes shut, throat working to swallow down a groan. "I thought you were going to make it up to me. Not tease me to death."

He feels Billy's thumbs press in deeper and tries to squirm away from the discomfort of it, only to realize that his ass is pinned against the seat. 

Billy takes a second to smirk up at him. 

"Oh, I’m gonna give you exactly what you deserve, baby."

He buries another kiss between Steve's legs. Sucks behind a wet spot. Lets the heat of his breath seep into the material. When he trails his fingers higher and hooks them in the waistband of Steve's pants to start roughly tugging them down, it feels like some kind of small mercy.

Steve knows he's already breathing heavy. He cants his hips up so that Billy can peel his jeans down to tangle up between his thighs. He's more than half hard, straining in his underwear already, the dark patch from Billy's mouth making him shudder when he finally looks down. 

There's something mean and hungry in Billy's eyes that makes Steve hold on tighter to the seat. There's a lie in his words and his promises to make it up to him, to give him what he deserves. Steve knows, suddenly and painfully, that this isn't just desire and alcohol and an attempt to meet Steve at some middle ground. 

It's punishment. 

"You don't get to be jealous," Steve says, breathily, before he can stop himself. "I didn't do anything more or less than you did."

Billy’s levelling him with a stare, now, and Steve’s not sure how someone on their knees can look so dangerous, but Billy manages to. His hands are bracketing Steve’s hips, keeping him pinned in place so that, when he gets his teeth on the sensitive inside of Steve’s left thigh and bites down — hard — Steve can’t get away. 

Steve jerks, gasping out something like a cry. 

His hands finally fall to Billy, then. To his shoulder, bunching up the fabric of his shirt. To his hair, fingers tangling in the curls so he can give a sharp tug

It's not something you'd do to a lover. Not the polite, warning pull of someone about to find release. Not the sensual, just-the-right side of pain when someone's playing rough.

It's the harsh and hard yank of someone trying to get away. 

Billy just gives a mirthless laugh that sounds like it’s been punched out of his lungs as his chin is forcibly tilted back. He’s peering up at Steve with an imperious gleam in his eyes, digging his blunt nails into Steve’s hips like he’s trying to get back at him for the hair pulling.

"I didn’t fucking dance with her," Billy spits back in accusation, sinking his claws in a little deeper, until Steve can’t bite back a hiss. "I wasn’t gonna take her home."

Steve winces, but he's still hard, tenting his briefs and breathing heavy. "I wasn't gonna take him home. And I can dance with whoever the fuck I want — especially considering you won't bother."

Billy has the fucking nerve to roll his eyes at that.

"That’s what got your panties in a twist?" He’s still leering up at Steve, not breaking eye contact even as he gets a hand between Steve’s legs and starts groping at his cock again. He’s as mean about it as he’s being with everything else, but the friction still has Steve choking back a gasp. "I can think of better places to be grinding on you than the dance floor."

Steve pulls at his hair again, squirming now that he has a little wiggle room, trying to back away even though he's already pinned flush to the seat. "Then why even ask me out?" 

Either Billy doesn’t have an answer to that, or he just doesn’t care enough to give one, because he’s yanking down Steve’s briefs, instead. Steve’s cock springs free, bobbing against his stomach, and Billy’s pulling against the hold Steve has on his hair to get at it.

The question hangs in the air. It dies there, eventually, when Billy laves his tongue up the entire length like he’s been starving for this. 

So much about this isn’t fair — that Billy keeps dragging him to all his after-parties only to forget about him, that Billy’s so fucking good at giving head.

It’s no wonder why they keep running in circles.

"Fuck," Steve breathes, cock jumping, head swimming at the wet heat of Billy's tongue. His fingers loosen their hold in Billy's hair. If Billy really wants to blow him that bad, Steve's not exactly gonna stop him. Besides, at least he’s got Billy’s undivided attention — for now. 

Thing is, Billy's undivided attention is as exhilarating as it is overwhelming. It feels like he's trying to do more than just swallow down Steve's cock when he gets his lips around it, like maybe he's trying to consume every other part of him, too.

Steve's never experienced what he could call a possessive blowjob before, but somehow, some way, that's what Billy is turning this into.

There's a fist wrapped around the base of his cock and a hand still clutching his hip, both squeezing him almost too roughly, and when Billy starts bobbing his head — quick and dirty — Steve can’t help but tilt his chin toward the ceiling and press his eyes shut. 

It's intense and fast and absolutely filthy. His mouth falls open, lips parting on a groan. His fingers flex over Billy's shoulder and in his hair, pleasure shorting out sense, leaving him with nothing but Billy's mouth on him. 

It's a perfect kind of agony — the way Billy holds him steady, grip tight enough to keep him from moving, but pace fast enough that he barely wants to. There's a part of Steve that wants to squirm away, to escape the heat of his mouth and pull his hair and demand answers for his behavior, but the stronger part of him just wants to let it happen. 

And Steve's always been weak to the bliss Billy Hargrove offers. 

It feels like it's building up to something — between the wet smacks of Billy’s mouth and the rapid jerks of his fist that move in counterpoint — and Steve begins to think that maybe, maybe, Billy’s trying to indulge him, after all. That this isn’t all some ridiculous effort to teach him a lesson. That Billy’s going to get him off, and then maybe they can argue some more after Steve’s come down his throat. 

It’s like Billy was waiting for that thought to cross his mind; or, maybe he can just tell that Steve’s riding close to the edge by the hand in his hair and the way his hips are lifting off the seat.

The tight heat of his mouth is gone in a moment, leaving Steve to arch up into nothing, and the loss of it wouldn’t have been so terrible if Billy’s hand wasn’t clutching the base of his cock like a vise. The sound that escapes him is embarrassing — needy and keening as his hips shudder back down against the seat. 

He pulls at Billy's hair, but his arms feel like jelly. He hadn't realized how close he was until it was ripped from him. He shifts, breath coming sharp in his chest, and he fists Billy's shirt in his other hand and tugs.

"What the fuck," he breathes, irritation welling back up as Billy laughs."Billy, c'mon."

Billy's mouth is close but nowhere near close enough — it's bordering on cruel the way he sticks out his tongue, gives Steve’s cock only a teasing little flick just to make him flinch vainly toward it.

"C’mon and do what?" Billy says, and when Steve blinks his eyes open to look down at him, he catches sight of that unbearable smirk of his. "Better ask me nicely."

Some amount of strength returns to his limbs. He pulls at Billy's hair, hard enough to make him hiss.

"Finish what you started, " Steve says — because Billy did start this. Steve would've happily and miserably gone home without any of this. 

Billy snorts; even the heat of his breath feels good, makes Steve’s neglected dick twitch.

"Or what?" His eyes narrow, either in challenge or in anger or some deadly mix of the two. "You’ll go find someone else to?"

Steve very nearly rolls his eyes, but there's heat licking up his spine and he's tired of Billy's pointless jealousy. 

So, he bares his teeth and pulls at Billy's hair and says:"Yes."

Billy's lip curls back into a snarl that should be ugly, but isn't, because he has this infuriating tendency to make just about everything look good. It’s obvious by the way his jaw is tensing that Steve’s gotten under his skin. Serves him right, after the shit he’s pulled tonight. 

Still, Billy’s looking especially pissed off, and the tightness of his grip is starting to hurt.

"That your idea of asking nicely?" Billy asks, voice pitched low and angry.

Steve winces, shifting again, finding Billy's thigh with the heel of his shoe and digging in enough that Billy relaxes his fingers, just a bit. Steve lets out a short breath. 

"Please," Steve says, practically spitting the word, anger and desire balling up and twisting in his chest. He doesn’t want to play this game, anymore — he just wants Billy to give him what he wants, for once. 

Of course, that’s asking for too much. 

"Gonna have to do better than that," Billy sneers, not budging so much as an inch as he holds Steve captive with both hands. He’s probably not going to settle for anything less than Steve doing something to embarrass himself, at this point, because he’s set Billy off and he knows from experience just how petty Billy can be.

Steve grunts. He wants to shove Billy away, to send him sprawling back on the expensive floor of his stupid private car. He wants to tell him enough, that he's sick of this, that he wants what they had before — tentative, yes, but sweet and impassioned and so much more than what they have now. He just wants to get off and go home. 

Jaw tightening, Steve swallows down the anger and the pride that threatens to consume him, and pulls at Billy's hair again. 

"Please, Billy," he says, voice shaking with how badly he needs — needs Billy to finish this, needs to get away, needs to clear his head — and his face burns with a touch of shame that he's letting Billy wind him up like this. "Please, I need you."

There’s a shift in Billy’s expression — his snarl smooths away, the tension in his jaw relaxes — but Steve knows better than to assume this means Billy’s satisfied. He never is.

He does, at least, stop choking Steve’s cock in his fist, but that’s all the relief Billy offers. The intensity of his gaze makes it feel like Steve’s staring into the sun with how badly he wants to look away. 

He doesn’t. Maybe it’s his stubbornness or pride; maybe it’s the vague suspicion that this moment will end badly if Steve breaks eye contact. Either way, he watches Billy watching him. At some kind of standstill. Until— 

"Prove it."

Steve feels his heart do something painful in his chest — a sudden, nauseating lurch — that sends all of the blood rushing to his face and his ears. His body shakes. He feels like vibrating right out of his skin. 

Because Steve knows what Billy wants. He knows what the vicious, wicked look in his eyes means. He knows that he's going to walk away from this sore and ashamed and feeling filthier than ever. He knows that Billy wants him to debase himself for this slight he feels Steve's made. 

And, for an instant, Steve hates Billy for it. 

It wells up in his chest, to his throat, and chokes him. It makes him forget about everything from before — every good moment, every minute of sweetness, every instant of love he's felt that has kept him willing to put up with Billy now, like this, and all the other ways his rapid stardom has twisted and changed him — and tears burn at the edges of his eyes before he comes to a decision. 

With jerky, stilted movements — with barely controlled rage and hurt — Steve shoves Billy away with all the force he can muster. It's enough, because Billy releases him and goes sprawling back against the floor of his car. It's not a stretch limo, but there's enough space for Billy to lay there, and for Steve to follow him down. 

"Prove it?" Steve asks, voice sounding choked. He’s kicking off his shoes and pushing down his pants, then tugging his shirt up and over his head as Billy watches with wide, hungry eyes. "You want me to prove it, huh? So sure I'm such a slut that I'll just hop on your dick? Beg for it? Fine." 

He slides from his seat and meets Billy as he tries to lurch up from the ground. Steve straddles his hips, shoves him back with both hands on his chest, and rips open the few buttons actually done up on Billy's stupid silk shirt in order to curve over and lay his teeth into his pec, into the tight lines of his stomach. 

Billy makes a sound like he's trying to speak, but his hands find Steve's hips and tug until Steve's rocking for him in his lap. Rutting and grinding down, his hands go for Billy's belt. 

"Want you so bad, baby," Steve breathes against his chest, fingers prying his buckle open. He wonders if Billy can hear the lie as his face burns with shame and twisted, terrible desire — wonders if Billy can see how bad he's shaking, or if he notices the wetness clinging to his lashes. "Been dying for your cock all night. It's all I can fucking think about."

Either his act is convincing enough or Billy doesn’t care that it’s all put on; he’s gripping instead at Steve’s ass, now, spreading him, kneading his fingers harshly into the muscle and flesh, and shamelessly groaning as Steve works open the front of his leather pants to tease out his cock.

"Been thinking about you, too," Billy murmurs, breathing already gone ragged. He’s lying, of course. Steve knows he is, because if Billy had really, truly been thinking about him, then he wouldn't have left Steve forgotten in a corner for the entirety of their night out together. Still, something tightens in Steve’s chest when Billy adds: "Couldn’t stop thinking ‘bout this tight little hole of yours."

Steve huffs, getting his fingers around Billy's cock and stroking — it's dry, probably a little uncomfortable, but Billy bucks up and moans. Steve thinks he could be anyone right now and Billy wouldn't care, as long as he gets his dick wet. 

Usually, he'd kick up a fuss about Billy's mouth. About the shit he says. He’d tell him off for being nasty. 

But Billy wants a slut. Wants a tight hole and a good fuck. And Steve's tired.

"Want you in me," Steve tells him, and on some level it's true."Wanna feel you in me, baby, c'mon."

Steve can feel Billy's fingers slide between his cheeks, the blunt tip of one of them pressing against the puckered rim of his hole without quite pushing inside. The pressure of it still makes his breath skip, and Billy must take this as a sign of eagerness, because Steve can hear the smugness in his voice as he attaches his mouth to Steve's bared collar. 

"See? Was that so hard?" The question makes him want to laugh, but Steve knows if he does this whole act is going to come crumbling down and Billy's going to see just how fucked up he is over tonight. 

That’s the last thing Steve wants right now: for Billy to know just how much he's upset him.

"I'll give you what you need, now, baby boy,"  Billy purrs, and he doesn't sound so mocking, now — not that it matters anymore. He kisses at Steve's pulse point, grinds up against him from the floor, and tilts his head back so he can peer up at Steve through his long lashes. "I'll make you forget all about tonight. You want that?" 

"Yes,"  Steve confesses on a breath, taking Billy's jaw in one hand as he kisses the words to his lips and squeezes at his cock with the other, rocking back into his touch. Because that, at least, is totally and completely honest; he wants to forget everything about this night. "Yes, please, make me forget about everything but you inside of me."

That seems to be all it takes, the final push Billy needs. Because it's all a blur, from there.

Billy's teeth scrape his skin and suck more bruises down his chest. There’s a finger pressing into him, dry at first, then slippery with the packet of lube Billy’s somehow managed to fish out from somewhere in the backseat. It doesn’t matter; none of this does. Steve tries to just focus on the moment, on the way his body feels when Billy touches him.

Billy’s so fucking good at it, lately. He was good at it from the start, but now he knows exactly what Steve likes, knows how to play his body like an instrument. He’s got the fingers for it, too — callused from strumming, deft from plucking strings. He’s as talented at guitar as he is at finding that spot inside Steve that makes him sing, which is exactly what Billy’s doing now, curling his fingers inside him, angling them just-so. 

Steve can tell by the way the music on the other side of the partition turns up louder that Tommy must have overheard him, but he can’t bring himself to care. Not when Billy’s already shoving a third finger inside of him — not slow, not gentle, just rough, like Billy’s as desperate for this as Steve is.

"Think you’re ready for it." Billy’s not asking.

He fucks his hand into Steve a few more times, stretches him out on his thick fingers, lets him feel the burn of it. And it’s good, fuck, it’s good, in the way that it overwhelms him, keeps Steve’s thoughts dulled and hazy. He doesn’t even bother hiding the way it makes him shiver when Billy’s hand slides away, when he hears crinkling and the wet sound of Billy slathering the rest of the lube on his cock. 

"Go ahead," Billy says, leaning back onto his elbow, looking up at Steve with that same smirk from before and a glazed look in his eyes. He’s still drunk. Probably stoned on something, too. 

It doesn’t matter.

Steve wants this. He tells himself that, over and over, in his head. He wants this. He's burning up for it. The rough heat, the urgency of it, feeds into the need boiling in his belly. 

He knows Billy's fingering was perfunctory. It was just enough to get him loose enough to not hurt so much that he slows, to get him wet enough that the slide will be easy and unencumbered. He knows that the feeling of Billy filling him up will hurt anyway — and he wants that. 

After all, if it all felt good, Steve wouldn't be able to play this game anymore. 

So, he reaches for Billy's dick. Strokes over the slick, warm skin and savors the weight in his palm before he shifts onto his knees. He uses a hand to balance himself on Billy's chest, then guides Billy to him, until he feels the blunt pressure. Until he feels the head of his cock ease inside. Until he's gasping and sinking down, thighs trembling at the burn and stretch. 

Both hands find Billy's abdomen, fingers splaying out over the flex of muscle as he gives himself a second to settle — but that's all he gives himself. 

As soon as he's seated, as soon as Billy is palming possessively over his hips and his thighs, Steve's rising up and then sinking back down. He squeezes his eyes shut at how full he is, at how good Billy feels in him, like a fucking circuit completing. Electric

"Fuck,"  Steve breathes. 

Beneath him, Billy’s head is thrown back, his eyes lazily half-lidded as he peers up at Steve, watches him bounce on his dick while he does little more than lie there and pinch Steve’s hips. He looks so fucking gorgeous like that, like some kind of young god with golden skin and pink lips and irises so bright and blue where Steve can see the rim of them around his dilated pupils. It’s not fair that someone so pretty can be so nasty, but looking at Billy now, Steve can almost forget.

"Mm, that’s it." Billy lets his eyelids flutter shut and runs his tongue along his lips with an appreciative hum, the very picture of self-indulgence. It takes Steve off-guard when Billy suddenly brings one of his hands against his ass, the slap sharp and resounding. "Yeah, shit. I love—"

Billy lets out a shuddering exhale, keeping his eyes squeezed shut. Steve hopes he doesn’t notice the way his entire body goes taut. 

"—love the way you feel around me, baby. So tight and perfect." 

Steve doesn't think Billy even knows it's him riding his dick anymore. He doesn’t think Billy's picturing him when he squeezes his eyes shut like that. 

His throat goes tight and he swallows down something broken, some sound he's sure Billy would think is bliss, but doesn't want to risk letting out anyway. 

His hips pick up the pace. His thighs are burning, pleasure hazy and overwhelming, and he feels Billy palm his ass and then bring his hand down again, harder this time. Steve gasps out and spasms tight, the pain sharp and making him flinch. 

"Billy—"  he says, voice rough and worn, low like a warning that Billy doesn't hear because he's doing it again; spanking him, hard, and making Steve jerk and grunt, the tears he'd managed to keep at bay earlier making an unwanted comeback and stinging at the corners of his eyes. "Billy, don't—"

Billy's hand comes down on him again — but it's softer, this time. It doesn't land with a sharp crack, but smooths along the stinging skin of Steve's ass, scraping it with his nails, instead. He's not sure if Billy stopped because he'd asked, if Billy's just strung out and doing whatever the fuck he wants, or if maybe he's just getting close and is more focused on getting off than making Steve whimper. 

"Shh, baby," Billy coos, hooking a hand around Steve’s nape, hauling him down so he can mouth sloppily at his jaw. "You feel so good right now. Better than any pussy. Fuck—"

Billy lets out a shallow groan, snapping his hips up to meet the back of Steve’s thighs. It’s not quite the right angle to make Steve see stars, but the ache is pleasant, making his eyes swim and his toe curl.

"Steve—"  The sound of his name, gasped and reedy, takes Steve off-guard. "Steve, baby. Gonna make me come."

Billy fucks up into him again. Hits that spot. Finally

He does it again and Steve nearly goes cross-eyed as he cries out. The lines of his thighs draw together, his abdomen winds tight, and his fingers curl into claws as he digs his nails in over Billy's chest. Billy cradles him close and holds him still while he starts fucking into him proper. 

Billy's relentless now that he's chasing his own pleasure, now that he's tired of letting Steve give it to him and insists on taking it, instead. His arm is slung around Steve waist, hand splayed over the warm, pinkened skin of his ass, holding him still as he slams up into him. Steve grunts, half choking on a wail each time, the angle perfect and the motion unforgiving. 

As Billy mouths at his jaw, panting baby and Steve between gasps of breath, the grip at Steve's nape shifts. It curls around until Billy's got him by the throat, and Steve struggles for half a second before those fingers tighten, and all that's left is this:

Billy, fucking him deep and hard. Billy, holding him close and hissing his name. Billy, choking him as Steve's voice pitches higher, as his head pounds, as tears burn his eyes and then fall sluggishly down his cheeks. 

There’s no more anger. No more hurt. Just Billy filling him up and holding him tight. 

It's exactly what he wanted. 

The fever under his skin burns higher. His toes curl as Billy bucks up sharply. His eyes roll back as the edges seem to blur. His lungs burn. He's in agony. He's enraptured. 

Then, just as he thinks Billy might actually fuck him unconscious, Billy eases the pressure off and snaps his hips up just right, and Steve breaks

He comes between them in messy spurts, spunk splattering over Billy's stomach as Billy fucks him through it, fucks more mess out of him as he sobs . Billy groans and reels him in for a sloppy kiss as his own hips stutter and Steve feels the flood of heat inside of him. 

Billy kisses him through it. He holds Steve steady as the pleasure bleeds out of them until there's nothing but the cool, sticky remnants of their coupling. Until the rest of the night floats back to the surface of Steve's endorphin-filled skull. 

Steve pulls back, then. He wrenches his mouth away to gasp in breath after shaky breath. He lets himself rest, for just a second, on top of Billy, his body aching and trembling. 

When he feels Billy's fingers card gently through his hair, and feels lips press to his temple, Steve finally pushes up on trembling arms. 

Billy blinks up at him, smile dopey and crooked, only faltering when Steve carefully extracts himself from Billy's lap and off of his cock. He frowns, propping up onto his elbows as Steve kneels and starts gathering up his clothes. 

"Baby—"

"Don't,"  Steve snaps, a knot in his throat so big he's surprised he can get the word out — or maybe it's just the phantom of Billy's fingers still coiled tightly around his neck.

He doesn't bother with his underwear, just tugs his pants up and winces at the slick sensation of come and too much lube slipping down between his thighs, at the sting of his ass as denim slides over sensitive skin. Billy reaches for him as he tugs his shirt on over his head, and Steve slaps his hands away. 

"Hey,"  Billy's jaw is tight again, his eyes flashing, and Steve doesn't care. "Baby, just — slow the fuck down—"

"No," Steve says, refusing to meet his eyes as he starts fumbling his shoes back on, sitting up on the edge of the seat Billy had him pinned to not too long ago. 

He can't see the expression on Billy's face. He refuses to. Shame and anger are welling back up in his chest like bile, and he feels like he might be sick. Maybe he will — he's certainly had enough to drink.

Billy's not trying to stop him from redressing, but from his periphery, Steve can tell he's tucked himself away, too. That he's moving closer, crawling back onto the seat like he thinks he can just fill the empty space between them and claim it as his own again.

His sense of entitlement is so fucking infuriating.

"I thought that's what you wanted." Billy almost sounds sincere. Almost. Steve can hear the frustration leaking into his voice, can feel those eyes boring holes into the side of his skull as he continues refusing Billy any eye contact. "Steve , would you fucking look at me? What’s your problem now?" 

Steve barks out a laugh, bitter and sharp and ringing in his own ears, but he shakes his head and still doesn't look at Billy. He doesn't think he can stand to, right now. 

"It was what you wanted," Steve says, and he winces at how rough his voice is and how it wavers. "So I gave it to you. Now, I'm gonna go shower and crawl into bed."

They're around the corner from Steve's apartment by now; Steve couldn't be more thankful for the timing, for the familiar sight of his street through the black tinted windows as the car stalls for a red light. 

It's a relief, because Billy is moving closer, grabbing at one of Steve's wrists, and staring so intensely that Steve’s sure he’s trying to will him into looking.

"The fuck do you know about what I want?" Billy says. His voice has gone quiet. Steve can’t tell, without seeing his face, if he’s still pissed off or— 

He’s not sure what else Billy can be, anymore. He’s always just angry, or horny, or some vicious combination of the two, at least since his rise to stardom. Fame has turned Billy into a monster. It's stripped him of his boyish charm. It's hollowed him out and crawled inside the empty space like some kind of parasite. Now Billy's nothing but shallow charisma and an incessant hunger for everything gold-plated and shiny, for brand names and designer drugs. He wants the best, the flashiest — anything to elevate his image, to make him look and feel untouchable.

Steve doesn't fit into the picture. He knows that, now. He feels like a fool for not realizing it sooner.

"Apparently not enough," Steve huffs, twisting his wrist from Billy's grip as the SUV rolls around a corner and pulls to a stop. 

He goes for the door handle, jaw wound so tight that his temples are aching, and he just wants to get inside and scrub himself raw. He feels so fucking dirty. 

Billy doesn't reach for him again, but Steve can sense his intention in the air, can feel him lean forward like he wants to.

But he doesn't. He just sits there, unmoving, as Steve wrenches the door open.

"Steve." 

It sounds like a plea. Either Steve imagines it, or he's hearing what he wants to hear; either way, it's just so fucking unfair.

Steve squeezes his eyes shut. His fingers curl tight over the door handle. He takes one breath and then another. 

He feels like he's going to come apart. Split into tiny, sharp pieces. 

He hangs his head, scrubbing a hand over his face, and gives. Because he always gives. Because Billy always finds a way to make him cave. 

Blinking over at Billy, Steve sighs. "What? Did you want more?"

There's a beat of strained silence. Billy's expression is inscrutable, for once. Steve isn't sure what that means, can't pick apart if it's a good sign or a bad omen; he tenses up either way, half-expecting Billy to say something cutting.

Instead, he just says: "I thought you were taking me home."

Steve's fingers curl — around the door handle, in his lap. His throat feels tight. 

"You got what you wanted,"  Steve says, voice cracking. "You already got what you wanted, Billy." 

Billy doesn't say anything. Not a word. The silence hangs over them, smothering. Steve's not sure what he was holding out hope for. Why he's sitting there, waiting on Billy, like an idiot.

It's a pointless exercise. When Steve swings the door open, Billy doesn't try to stop him — he just stares, watching him, like maybe he thinks this is when Steve invites him inside.

Steve doesn't. 

He climbs out and shuts the door in his face before he can be tempted. Beats a quick retreat past the old, creaking gate of his apartment complex before he can change his mind. Fumbles to take his keys out of his pocket and jams them into the lock before his fingers can start shaking. 

Then Steve slips inside and shuts the door behind him before he can let the tears — hot and angry and so full of hurt — finally slide down his cheeks. 

He crumples to the floor, knees drawn to his chest, and buries his face in his hands. 

Chapter Text

Los Angeles is expensive — that much Steve knew before he moved out to the Golden Coast. He'd used up most of his personal savings in the first year he'd lived here, until he found a halfway decent gig fixing up instruments and teaching lessons at the Music House downtown. Until he'd made a halfway decent name for himself in some of the downtown bars and coffee shops, playing a beat-up guitar and crooning covers into a mic.

All things considered, he's pretty lucky that he's never had to go crawling back to Indiana and his dad. But it's really only because he works all the time, even when he’s hungover and bruised to shit.

Steve’s back is still aching and his throat is still sore and he's got six missed calls from Billy by the time he finishes up his last piano lesson the following afternoon. He's ignored every one and muted his texts because, in the sober light of day, he knows he's made the right decision. 

He looks like shit. He feels like shit. He's tired of it. 

He's putting up the sheet music when the bell over the main door chimes. 

"Be right with you," he calls, half buried in the back; usually, Robin is there to deal with customers when Steve's teaching lessons, but she left for her lunch break ten minutes ago, and Steve's alone in the shop. 

The sound of heavy footsteps echoes loudly on the linoleum of the empty shop; Steve hastens his way out of the back room to greet them. Then freezes, halfway through the door, when he spots a familiar face behind the front counter, standing not three feet away.

It's another moment before that shock is replaced by something else.

Billy's standing behind the register, apparently studying one of the shiny red Stratocasters that's mounted on the back wall. He's wearing a pair of Ray-Bans, and judging by the way he's dressed — denim jacket, his hair tied back and hidden under a ball cap, his shirt actually fully buttoned, for once — it's obvious he's been trying to avoid the paparazzi.

Steve feels something quake in him. Some chord in his chest strings tight, like deft fingers strumming across a bass. As much as Billy looks every inch the rock star he's become, when he’s dressed like this, like he’s attempting to go incognito, he looks an awful lot like the Billy that used to find excuses to come in once a week for tune ups and repairs. 

Steve blames the late afternoon light coming in through the windows up front. 

"Customers can't be behind the register," Steve says in lieu of a greeting, instead of anything else, folding his arms across his chest. 

Billy turns his head towards him, sliding his sunglasses off as he does, and Steve realizes he's not just wearing them to keep a low profile in public. 

Billy's eyes are all rimmed red and bloodshot, with dark circles underneath that speak to a night of little sleep and a whole lot of drugs. He doesn't quite manage to hide his wince as he squints beneath the harsh fluorescent lights, and within seconds Billy is pushing his sunglasses back onto the bridge of his nose. 

"Steve," he says, voice rough and gravelly, the same way it gets after one of his shows from all his singing and screaming into the mic. "I— Uh, I was fucked up last night."

At first, Steve's ears play a trick on him. Or, rather, his stupid, treacherous, hopeful heart does. 

‘I fucked up last night' rings between his ears before his head catches up to what Billy actually said. 

He bites down on the inside of his cheek. Hard. 

"And?" Steve asks. "Is this supposed to be some kind of revelation? Or do you just need help jogging your memory?"

Steve thinks maybe he's being a little mean — but it's true. Steve's had to tell Billy about who he's punched or who he's kissed a few times before. 

His folded arms wind a little tighter across his chest. He’s sure he looks as defensive he feels.

Billy's got a pinched look on his face. It's not anger, or at least, it doesn't quite look like anger, more like Billy's fighting off a headache. He's running his tongue along his lower lip and shifting his weight from one foot to the other — not as fidgety as last night, but either Billy's on-edge or he's still strung out on something. Possibly both.

Hell, who is Steve kidding? Probably both. 

"Look, I don’t remember exactly what happened, but—" Billy’s mouth pulls into a thin line, his eyebrows scrunching up as he watches Steve watching him, no doubt picking up on Steve’s mood, because for a half-second he seems to falter. "You’re pissed at me."

Steve snorts before he can stop himself. He tilts his head down in order to pinch at the bridge of his nose; he's had a bit of a headache all day, from the scotch and probably also from the crying, but it's starting to ramp up to a steady, incessant throbbing at the back of his skull. 

Shaking his head, he holds out his hands and offers a tight smile. "Not pissed. Now, if you're not here for any other reason, I need to get back to work." 

He's lying. He knows that Billy knows he's lying. He just doesn't want to argue. He wants to get back to finishing up his daily tasks so he can close up on time for the night. 

There’s a momentary stretch of silence. 

It's strange, seeing Billy standing there, not-quite calm, but not buzzing with that perpetual air of violent energy he carries with him these days. It strikes Steve, then, just how unfamiliar Billy has become, like he's a stranger in the same skin. It's hard to stomach.

Harder still is seeing Billy shuffling his feet like he's actually feeling guilty over something. Because Steve knows that's just his wishful thinking; he knows he's got to stop giving Billy the benefit of the doubt.

It shouldn't be so difficult.

"When's your shift end?" Billy's asking him. It looks like he might take a step closer, like he's seriously considering it, but then he shoves his hands into his jacket pockets and keeps firmly rooted in place.

Steve's lips thin. He feels like they're at a standstill. Like Billy's got him pinned to the brick wall, again, bruising his back with careless hands. 

He edges around him, around the counter, and out onto the main floor. It's a Thursday, so other than students arriving for lessons, the store is generally pretty empty. He heads for the vinyls that line the far wall anyway, like he hasn't organized them three times already today. 

"Six," Steve eventually says, even though he knows he shouldn't. It sounds too much like an invitation for the rest of his night. 

"But I have a show tonight," he adds. "Coffee shop shit. Nothing you'd be into." 

It's not bitter; it's matter-of-fact. Billy never comes to his shows anymore, anyway, but back when he did, he always avoided the coffee venues. ‘Not my scene,' he used to say. 

So, Steve's not sure why Billy hasn't dropped it.

"Where?" 

Billy's spun around, now, elbows on the counter as he leans forward across the register and watches Steve through his mirrored lenses. Steve can't get a good read on him, and it's starting to make him uneasy.

"The Hyperion," Steve says, nose scrunching up a little as he looks at Billy and then glances away. "Nothing new."

Billy falls quiet again, like he's contemplating something. Steve can't figure out what that is. Why that is. Why Billy's even still here, entertaining this conversation. He doesn't seem to be looking for a fight, for once, but Steve isn't about to let his guard down.

He’s learned that lesson the hard way one too many times before.

"I fly out to New York tomorrow morning," Billy says at length. 

It’s the first Steve’s heard about it, but that hardly means anything; Billy’s always getting whisked off last-minute for interviews and photoshoots when he’s not on tour. It’s why they have so little time to spend together, nowadays.

Why they had so little time to spend together.

"Okay," Steve nods his head, focusing on the rows of worn vinyl covers, like they're not already in alphabetical order. "Have fun."

He doesn't tack on his usual ‘I'll see you when you get back’. He thinks Billy notices because his shoulders hunch up. Steve sees it, plain as day, from the corner of his eye. 

Steve thinks maybe he's not being fair. That he should just come out and say it — that whatever they were is over — because Billy doesn't seem to get the message. Which is funny, because Steve thinks they've probably been over for a while. 

He's considering maybe saying something to that effect when the door chimes and Robin steps into the shop, a plastic drink cup held in either hand. Billy tenses and then straightens up, and the thread of anticipatory tension between them seems to snap. ‘Saved by the bell,’ Steve thinks, but the relief he feels is fleeting at best.

"Hey, dingus, I got you a bubble tea." Robin pauses when she catches sight of Billy behind the counter. One eyebrow shoots up, and her expression reads equal parts surprised and deeply unimpressed. 

"Oh, it’s you."

Billy leers back at her. They’ve met before, once or twice, but most of what Robin knows about Billy has been filtered second-hand through Steve when he’s venting, or through social media when Billy’s making headlines.

Needless to say, there isn’t a whole lot of love between them.

"What, you want an autograph, or something?" Billy deadpans, when Robin won’t stop staring at him.

Steve can’t help but appreciate the way she doesn’t miss a beat. The way Robin just keeps staring at Billy as she walks across the shop floor to hand Steve his drink, then tells him, nonchalant and utterly dismissive: 

"No, thanks. I’m not a fan."

Steve can barely hide his grin, turning away from them both as he sips from a thick, neon green straw. If there's one person he can always count on to cheer him up, it's Robin Buckley. 

It helps that, before Steve turns away completely, Billy must have caught sight of the look on his face, because Steve certainly notices the way Billy bristles. He's never got on with Robin, even with how little they've interacted, but Steve knows he hates that perfunctory, disdainful attitude. It used to earn him sympathy points, back when Billy was still struggling and he'd complain about someone disparaging what he considered his art, his self-expression — but now it's just sad. Billy's got thousands upon thousands of adoring fans, but one person doesn't like his music and he gets in a tizzy over it. 

Steve still remembers a pretty brutal night after a bad review in Rolling Stone, pulling Billy's hair back while he puked his guts out, too high and drunk to string a coherent sentence together. Steve remembers holding him through the comedown and the shakes Billy had all through the following day. 

"Inventory done yet?" Robin asks, slurping up a bunch of boba and pointedly ignoring Billy, watching Steve as she leans against the shelving next to him. 

"Almost," Steve gestures with his head over toward where Billy's still standing. "Got interrupted."

Robin hums, her eyes not straying from Steve, but skirting down to his throat. Steve knows that there are bruises there, the ones that Robin kindly covered up for him this morning. 

He knows what she's asking without saying a word. Steve shrugs and makes a face. 

"I'm fine, Rob." Steve says, quiet, but he knows Billy could hear him even if he whispered. "Not a hair out of place."

"Keep it that way," Robin huffs. "That hair sells."

Steve laughs as she brushes by with a parting squeeze to his shoulder before she leaves him for the back of the store. Steve watches her stop just long enough to say, to Billy:

"Customers can't be behind the register."

Steve chews at the inside of his cheek as Billy stiffly makes his way around the counter. Robin's smile is a mean, squinty thing — a mockery of gratitude — and then she disappears into the backroom. 

"The fuck is her problem?" Billy mutters, half to himself, half like he's hoping Steve will mindlessly join in — as if he's one of his groupies, willing to hang off and agree with every one of Billy's words. 

Steve only offers him a dismissive shrug as he turns his back to Billy. 

"She doesn't like you," he says. 

He can feel Billy’s glare centered on him. "Yeah. I think I got that." 

Steve's shoulders stiffen at the tone. It's too familiar. Too vicious. Too reminiscent of last night. 

Steve moves one record from the Classic Rock section to the New Wave . His jaw clenches tight as he hears Billy draw closer, boots heavy on the tile floor, until Steve can feel the heat of him right at his side. 

He doesn't look up. 

"She mad we partied too hard last night?" Billy asks, low and rough, and Steve tries not to shudder. He feels Billy giving him a once-over, like he’s trying to figure something out. "You hungover, or something?"

"Or something," Steve says, and knows it comes out too clipped to sound casual. "Did you actually need anything, Billy?"

Billy doesn’t answer. He just hovers there like a shadow — like he thinks showing up is enough, that Steve will extend him another olive branch for it, or give him a fucking gold star for dragging his hungover ass out of bed and trudging all the way here just to stand around broodily until Steve caves.

The silence drags on while Steve resolutely continues sorting vinyls he knows don’t need sorting. He can sense the tension in the air grow by the second; Billy’s waiting for him to say something. Waiting for Steve to fold. Again.

There’s something cathartic about disappointing him, this time — about making Billy do the waiting, for once.

Steve hears an exaggerated sigh beside him as Billy’s thin patience finally snaps. There’s a shuffling, then, as Billy shoves his hands in his pocket and walks away from him with a curt: "I’ll see you tonight."

Steve nearly chokes. "I have a show." 

The sound of Billy’s heavy footsteps pause somewhere by the door and Steve can hear him snort, not-quite amused but not-quite disparaging, either.

"I know," he says; there’s an air of finality about it, about the way the bell chimes as the door swings open again, and before Steve can muster up a response, Billy is gone.

 --

"Bad idea, dingus."

Steve scrubs his hands through his hair, patting his cheeks, and trying to look less like a zombie in the mirror. 

"Not my idea, Rob." Steve says. "He probably won't even show. I don't want him to show.

Robin clicks her tongue at him, nose scrunching. "Untuck, you dweeb. You look like an 80s dropout."

Steve snorts and pulls the hem of his shirt from the waistband of his jeans. 

"Better?" he asks. 

"Better," Robin agrees. "Much less Patrick Swayze."

"I'm heading out," Steve says. "You got lock-up?"

"I got lock-up."

"Catch you later." Steve tosses her a grin, and she returns it, pushing up from the front register to follow him to the door. 

"Don't fall into any beds I wouldn't."

She's worried. Steve knows she's worried. He wishes he could reassure her, but he also knows he's been an idiot about Billy before. He’s been an idiot about a lot of things, really. 

Luckily, when he steps out onto the sidewalk, Billy isn't there waiting for him. Steve knows he shouldn't be disappointed — he knows that he didn't want Billy to be there — but his stomach drops to his soles anyway. 

He glances over at Robin, smile thin. "I won't."

The walk to the Hyperion is a short one. Steve's played there so many times that he thinks he’s considered a regular. They even have a coffee waiting for him by the stool on stage, made exactly the way he likes it. 

It's a sparse crowd — not unusual for a Thursday night. He knows that, later, at least two groups of women will come in for the half-off drinks after eight. Ladies’ Night is a pretty decent pull for customers on the evenings that they don't have a bigger headliner. 

Steve's not exactly a headliner. 

He does draw in a few fans, though — if they can even be called that. It’s more that they’re people who make a point of coming by the café whenever Steve has a show booked; a few will even wait around until the end of his set to shoot the shit with him while he’s packing up. It’s nice. Casual. Easy. Nothing like the complicated ritual that is navigating interactions with Billy, these days.

It’s seriously starting to grate on Steve just how often his thoughts keep turning back to Billy. Like they’re stuck there, lodged in his brain, as stubborn and relentless as the man himself.

But it does get easier to keep his mind off things, at least, once he has his hands on a guitar. Steve tweaks the tuning pegs and plucks out some chords until they sound right, then gives it a few experimental strums into the microphone as he warms himself up — mentally, more than anything. He could probably sound half-decent playing in his sleep.

Music’s never the difficult part. It’s always been one of the few things that just made sense to Steve. Even back when he was a kid, taking the lessons his mom made him go to, it came easy. Putting his fingers to the chords, to the keys, came mindlessly. There’s something second-nature about it, something instinctual , and maybe it’s because he doesn’t have to think that Steve feels his head begin to clear.

He clears his throat into the mic, making his usual introductions. Someone at one of the back tables tells him to play Wonderwall while laughing, and Steve cracks a grin. 

"In your dreams," he replies, as the small audience gathered for him laughs. 

It's always a bit of a thrill, being up here in front of everyone. Even the smallest crowd has his heart leaping into his throat, has color flooding to his face. He leans into the mic again, wetting his lips. The first of the lyrics come quietly. 

"Cuttin' the page; things are looking up," he croons, fingers quickly following in a steady rhythm. 

One song bleeds into the next, interspersed only briefly with sips of water and the coffee he's got by the chair next to him. Steve loses himself for a while, until it’s only him and the guitar resting against his thigh. 

So, halfway through his set, when he finally steps down to take a break, he's surprised at how full the café has become. There's hardly an empty seat in the place as he makes his way over to the counter to get another water, smiling his thanks to the barista who hardly gives him more than a nod in return, her gaze drifting furtively over Steve's shoulder while she gets him his drink. 

Judging by the blush on her cheeks, there's probably someone attractive that's caught her eye. Steve's almost curious, but before he can even turn to look, there's a body settling next to him at the counter. 

"You changed your sound."

Steve freezes, fingers locking around the glass that's pressed into his hand. It's wishful thinking, he knows, and he almost doesn't want to look and see how wrong he is.

"Don't think I've heard any of those songs," a hand decked in silver and platinum rings settles near his on the bench top, their fingers brushing, and Steve blinks over at Billy goddamn Hargrove, in his leather pants and everything. "You've been holding out on me, Harrington."

Steve straightens, nearly sways back, and stares. "What the fuck are you doing here?" 

It's out before he can stop it. There’s no hiding the shock in his voice.

Billy frowns. 

He's in his full regalia. Well, almost. It's not his stage look — shirt ditched and eyes highlighted in well placed makeup — but it's close. His red dress shirt is left unbuttoned, his leather jacket is hanging open, and those pants are tighter than sin. Especially given the outfit Steve saw him wearing just a few hours ago, it’s obvious that Billy is dressed up. 

He's dressed up at a coffee shop. 

He's also saying something that Steve totally and completely misses because Billy's dressed up at a coffee shop . To see S teve. 

Steve blinks again. "What—? I mean— what?" 

"I said—" Billy’s enunciating each word slowly as he leans in closer, like he thinks Steve can’t hear him over the ambient noise in the coffee shop. "I figured you could use a bigger audience tonight. Isn’t that’s how you make money at these gigs?"

The smell of his cologne is warm and familiar as Billy brushes up against his side. Steve wishes it didn't make his head spin, but he's already reeling over the fact that Billy is here. At his show. Billy hasn't made it out to any of his shows since before his big break. It feels like forever ago, but it's been— What? Not quite a year?

Long enough, Steve thinks, trying to compose himself as he stares into the ice clinking around in his glass. He feels like hunching in on himself, like curling up and shying away. 

Billy doesn't— he doesn't do this. He doesn't show up at Steve's gigs to watch him, let alone to bring in a crowd. Steve remembers telling him not to, in fact, once he started making headlines. 

Steve's always wanted to make it work on his own. 

"What are you doing here, Billy?" Steve asks, and he knows he sounds strained and all wrong. 

When he glances over at Billy — because he needs to, because he can't stand the ambiguity of the silence that follows his question — Steve sees something in Billy's expression shift. He's not sure if it's irritation or insult, but the infinitesimal clench of Billy's jaw, the way his fingers are tapping out a restless rhythm on the counter, the way he stares even as the moment passes and that gleam of something fades from his eyes — it's too tightly controlled for Billy. Usually, he's all chaotic energy. Volatility without restraint. But it looks like he's restraining himself, for once. 

"I wanted to see you." Billy says it like it's a confession. His voice is tight. "Before I fly out to New York. I won't be back for a few days, so…"

Steve sucks in a sharp breath. He would’ve given anything — anything — to hear Billy say something like that not twenty-four hours ago. 

Now, it’s like Billy’s trying to break his heart all over again. 

"So you came to my show?" Steve asks, laughing a little, a wobbling and warbling thing, disbelief heavy in his chest. "You never come to my shows." 

It’s too much, he knows. That confession of sorts. Saying that Billy is never there, and that Steve noticed. He doesn’t want Billy to know how much it matters to him. 

"Haven't had time," Billy says with a dismissive shrug, abruptly looking away like he's reading the menu. He mutters something that Steve almost doesn't catch. "Haven't made time."

Steve stalls. He squeezes his eyes shut. 

It’s not fair. He can’t do this. Billy can’t do this. 

"And now you miraculously do?" Steve asks, trying to ignore the pounding between his back molars and the rest of Billy’s comment.

He sees Billy's shoulders hunch toward his ears; the tap-tap of his fingers stops as he curls them into a fist. Across the other side of the shop, a few girls are pulling out their phones and snapping photos of Billy in profile like they think they're being discreet. Maybe that's why Billy sighs. Why he unclenches his hand, unwinds the tension between his shoulder blades, and sinks a little against the counter. 

It could also be that he’s still tired from last night. The shadows under his eyes haven't faded much from earlier that same day. Steve has a feeling Billy's wearing something to hide them — like how Steve's still got make-up on his throat to cover the bruises.

"I fucked up." Billy doesn't look at him, saying it so quietly that Steve almost doesn't hear him. And he doesn't, not at first, because he's sure he's just hearing what he wants to hear again. 

"Yeah. You told me," Steve says, trying to keep his voice level — but he knows it's obvious, that his tone is too clipped. 

Billy's eyes snap to him, then.

"No. I said I fucked up, Steve." Billy sounds frustrated, but Steve gets the impression it's not directed at him this time. 

Steve doesn’t— 

He doesn’t even know what to do with that. 

He stares at Billy, his glass of water sweating in his palm. His brows furrow, pinching, as he takes in the way Billy is standing. The hunch of his shoulders, the slouch in his spine. The way he’s staring at Steve like he’s trying to say something without having to say it. 

Steve wets his lips, blinking a few times, and he can’t help but frown. "Are you talking about last night?" 

"Not just last night," Billy says dismissively, like he's hoping to shrug off a conversation he doesn't want to have, or like he thinks that's all there is to say. They both know better, but Billy presses his lips tight and closes himself off, sinking into a bout of silence that suggests he won't be forthcoming about whatever words he's still chewing on.

He'd been the one to broach the subject, though. And maybe that counts for something. 

Steve’s mouth is dry. He takes a long pull from the glass and then sets it down again. Debates, quietly and with himself, while he watches the ice swirling in the water. Then he twists to face Billy, perhaps for the first time since closing the car door in his face. 

"Okay," Steve nods and clears his throat, chin tilting up a bit when Billy finally looks at him again. "You fucked up. What’re you gonna do about it?" 

Something in Billy's expression shifts. Steve can't put his finger on it, but the way Billy stares at him is intense, searching. 

"What do you want me to do?" Billy volleys the question back. 

Steve can't get a good read on him, can't tell if he genuinely wants to know or is issuing some kind of challenge. It frustrates him when Billy gets like this, all shuttered and distant. When he leaves words unspoken and leaves conversations ambiguous, so that Steve has to fill in the empty spaces with what he thinks Billy means — what he hopes Billy means.

It's not fair, because it doesn’t feel real. And Steve needs something real, right now. He needs Billy to solidify on something, because he’s sick of trying to hold onto smoke.

But Billy doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t. The silence between them just drags on.

Disappointment settles in the spaces between Steve’s ribcage. He blows out a breath, head bowing, and can feel himself withdrawing. He knows that he should just withdraw completely. Billy hasn’t given him any reason not to. 

"Whatever you want, Billy," Steve sighs. "I need to get back on stage." 

Billy hums vaguely in agreement, watching Steve's throat bob as he swallows his ice water. He looks contemplative, which is new for him; Billy doesn’t ever seem to think about anything, he just does. 

Steve’s still not sure what he expects, or why he even bothers to wait with bated breath as Billy runs his tongue across his teeth and shuffles in closer until their knees bump. He knows he shouldn’t keep giving Billy the benefit of the doubt. He knows that Robin was right about him.

So, he shouldn’t be surprised when Billy’s lips quirk into a sly smirk that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

"Yeah. Go kill it," he says, then drops his voice to a whisper and moves in a little closer. "Gonna give me a backstage pass when you're all done here, baby?" 

Steve shivers and feels himself reflexively lurch away. 

Expression twisted, he steps back and away from the inviting heat of Billy's body. 

"Calling it an early night, actually," Steve says, every single one of his defenses slotting right back into place; he was stupid to let them waver in the first place. "Had too much fun last night."

The last is said with every bit of venom Steve swallowed, again and again, the night before. 

He doesn't wait for Billy's response, but some part of him finds an ounce of satisfaction in seeing the way Billy visibly recoils, as though the rejection hits him like a slap in the face. It's petty, Steve realizes. But, honestly? Billy deserves it.

Before Billy can say anything, or try to stop him (he won't, he never does), Steve walks away, leaving him for the bustling crowd and the pull of the stage. 

He tries not to think about it. He knows that he will later tonight, but Steve just wants to ride the rush of telling Billy Hargrove 'no' for a while longer, like maybe if he stays angry about it he can stave off the inevitable comedown. He goes through the motions of slinging on his acoustic guitar and adjusting the mic, cards his fingers through his hair, and puts on a charismatic façade that he hopes is more convincing than it feels. 

There are twice as many faces in the crowd looking up at him now than there had been at the start of the evening — mostly women here for ladies' night, but it's still a much bigger turn-out than Steve's ever had at this joint. 

These people aren't all here for him, he thinks, but it doesn't matter. Steve wants to play for himself, now. He wants to lose himself in it. He wants to pretend like Billy's not staring at him from one of the stools toward the back, dark and brooding, like he's sucking up all the light around him. 

Steve makes eye contact with him, for one brief moment, as he clears his throat and leans in toward the mic. 

 --

Steve gets four days of peace. 

Billy had left before the end of Steve's gig, and Steve knows he's off to New York for at least a little while. The bruise in the shape of teeth on the inside of his thigh, the ones like fingers on his throat, and the large purplish one on his back have all almost faded. He's boxed up all of Billy's shit — the shirts and jewelry and Versace underwear he's left at his apartment — and is half-tempted to sell it all on Ebay. 

Robin, wine drunk and fully on board, emphatically encourages it. 

Steve, inevitably, ends up putting the box in the back of his linen closet, instead.

"I'm so happy you dumped his ass," Robin tells him. 

Steve snorts, half sprawled on the floor in front of his couch as she runs her fingers through his hair. He doesn’t have the heart to tell her that he hadn’t exactly gone through all the motions of a break-up — that all he’d done was sent Billy a drunk text at two in the morning the day after his gig with a curt ‘we’re done’, and then promptly blocked his number. It was cowardly, he realizes. But he needed to get it out there, get it over with, because Billy’s as addictive as all the shit he and his ‘friends’ snorts at his parties, and just as hazardous to Steve’s health.

He sighs, staring up at the popcorn ceiling as his mind traitorously wanders to Billy. Has he moved on already? Steve figures he has. He’s probably ten times more fucked up on expensive booze and cocaine and busy forgetting Steve one strung-out groupie at a time.

Steve makes a face and takes another swig from the bottle of wine he’s nursing.

"I guess it was a long time coming. He'll have somebody new on his arm by the end of the week." He knows he sounds bitter. He’s too drunk to care.

Robin clicks her tongue. "You could, too."

Steve considers it for all of a moment before he arrives at a firm decision.

"Nah," Steve says, into the bottom of his bottle. "Nah, I'm good."

 --

Steve wakes with a pounding headache and a note from Robin on his bedside table. There's a glass of water and some painkillers next to it. He gratefully downs them both, sitting up in bed and groaning. 

It takes him longer than it should to realize that the pounding isn't just in his head. 

He's curled up, forehead pressed to his knees, eyes half shut, when the doorbell joins in with the racket echoing from his front door. He groans again, throwing the sheets aside, and clamors to his feet like a newborn foal. It's too bright in California, Steve quickly decides as he squints through the blinding light pouring in through the thin curtains, and pads toward his living room. He's pretty sure he needs to move to someplace constantly overcast, like Seattle. 

He thinks maybe he'll do better there. At least it would be a fresh start.

The doorbell rings again and Steve grits his teeth, working the chain loose on the door and wrenching the lock open. He's barely got the door open before he's shouting out a gruff: " What?" 

He's not exactly sure who he expected to be pounding on his door at ten in the morning on a Monday — his only goddamn day off — but Billy Hargrove certainly isn't it. 

And yet.

"Oh, my god," Steve breathes, moving to shut the door in his face. "Go away."

The toe of a boot wedges against the jamb and a hand slaps against the wood, prying the door back open enough for Billy to press in. Steve wants to slam his forehead against the door until he blacks out, if only so he doesn’t have to deal with this right now.

When Billy freezes in the doorway, though, Steve freezes, too. He realizes, rather belatedly, that he's only in his boxer briefs and nothing else. He realizes that all his faded bruises are on display. 

He realizes that Billy is staring at his throat. 

Steve swallows. 

"What do you want, Billy?" Steve asks, with probably too much force, because he's been trying to figure it out for so long. "Why are you here?" 

Billy’s eyes snap to his, locking on, unblinking. He doesn’t look high, but he’s twitchy like he might be, and Steve feels an upwelling of anger at the thought that Billy might have showed up at his doorstep, stoned stupid and ready to start a scene — because that would be so typical of him.

But Billy’s voice is level when he speaks — albeit a little thin, a little too controlled — and the look he’s giving Steve is almost— nervous?

"You haven’t been answering your phone," Billy says by way of explanation, and it’s so obviously a cop-out, bullshit answer that Steve isn’t sure whether he wants to laugh or slam the door in Billy’s face. He thinks both would be satisfying, right about now.

"And?" Steve asks, leaning a bit of his weight against the edge of the door, just to watch Billy's arm strain to keep it open, to watch the way his mouth thins out like he's realizing something he doesn't want to. "I've been busy."

He knows Billy is smart enough to read between the lines. He's dropped enough hints already. Hell, he outright said they were done. Steve thinks it should be obvious. 

They aren't together anymore. They haven't been for a while, not in anything more than name. Steve's just finally acting like it. 

"Of course you have," Billy says, raking his eyes — pointedly — down Steve's bare chest. 

He feels uncomfortably naked , right then, and thinks maybe he should have thrown on a housecoat, or something. Then again, the only one Steve has is some stupid, expensive, cashmere thing that Billy had wordlessly gifted him one night he was over, and that would have probably been worse. 

Steve redoubles his efforts to close the door. He knows he won't win, because Billy's demonstrably stronger, but maybe he'll get the message this time. 

"Steve ," Billy hisses, and he sounds a little mad and a little frantic, too, as his grip on the door tightens until his knuckles blanch. It's not enough to give Steve pause, or to make him stop trying to shut Billy out — but then Billy just has to go and say something that does.

"Please. I want to talk."

He shouldn’t. Steve knows that he shouldn’t. Letting Billy in to talk is the worst idea he’s ever had, second only to letting Billy into his heart.

He’s a goddamn gunshot wound that won’t stop bleeding, and Steve can’t stop picking at the stitches. 

Steve grunts as he relents. He steps back from the door and finds some sick satisfaction in the way Billy stumbles forward, like he wasn’t expecting Steve to give in. Billy blinks at him as Steve stands aside, and then steps carefully inside. Like he’s walking on eggshells — or maybe broken glass. 

Steve snaps the door shut behind him the second he’s beyond the threshold, then quickly makes his way over to his living room and grabs the sweater draped over the back of the couch, pulling it on over his head with his back to Billy. He feels Billy’s eyes on him and knows he’s staring, though Steve can’t say for sure what he’s staring at.  

Turning around, arms crossed and bare feet planted firm on his shitty secondhand rug, Steve stares right back. 

"Talk, then," he says. 

For once, Steve doesn't get his hopes up — doesn’t even entertain the possibility that this will go any differently from how it always does — and he thinks that Robin would be proud of him for that, that she’d say he’s making progress. Even if Steve shouldn’t have let Billy back into his apartment in the first place. 

It’s easier to look at Billy when he doesn’t have any expectations, though. To really look at him, and see that right now he’s faltering, opening and closing his mouth with a few false starts like he can’t figure out how to say whatever it is he’s trying to say. He’s still fidgeting, too, as though restless, and Steve doesn’t think he’s ever seen Billy look this unsure of himself.

Another tense moment of silence passes between them before Billy finally speaks.

"I figured it out," he says, each word careful and measured. "What I’m gonna do about it."

For an instant, Steve’s not sure what Billy’s talking about. He thinks maybe this is one of those times where Billy’s so high he thinks they’re finishing a conversation that they haven’t even had, or in the middle of a fight that hasn’t even begun. 

But then he remembers Billy, dressed up and leaning against a café counter, asking Steve what he wants Billy to do in order to fix things. To fix what he’s so terribly and single-handedly fucked up. 

Steve blinks. "O- kay ," he says, a little slow, feeling like whatever Billy has in mind will be far too little, too late. "What, exactly, are you gonna do, then?" 

There’s no pause, this time. No beat of silence. Billy seems to have the words ready, like he’s practiced.

"The AMAs are this Sunday," he says. "I want you to go with me."

Steve squints at him. "I’ve been to the AMAs before, Billy." 

Billy had gotten him tickets, the first time he was invited. Steve remembers having to watch, from the guest seats, as Billy kissed a model on the cheek before jogging up the stage to accept an award for being last year’s Breakout Artist. 

Steve also remembers having to watch Billy snort coke off of some girl’s stomach later that same night. 

"I know," Billy’s saying, a little too curt, a little too sharp, but Steve doesn't even get a chance to bristle at his tone before Billy keeps going: "I want you to go with me. On the red carpet."

Steve frowns. "What?" 

He had to have heard him wrong; Billy’s been in the closet for as long as Steve’s known him. He sincerely doubts he means what Steve thinks he means. 

Billy’s jaw clenches. There’s a furrow between his eyebrows. For a moment, Steve thinks he’s set off that hair-trigger temper of his. But there’s no anger in Billy’s eyes; if anything, he looks guarded, and Steve thinks — realizes — the reason why Billy’s been looking so uncharacteristically nervous.

"All these arguments we’ve been having, they always start because I don’t want anyone to find out about you," he says, slowly; it may sound a little rehearsed, but Steve doesn’t get the impression Billy’s being insincere. "And because I’m an asshole. Can’t really change that."

Billy snorts wryly, glancing away at the opposite wall like there’s something more interesting to look at, there. 

"But I could— I could stop hiding you."

Steve stalls, opening his mouth and then shutting it again. He blinks and actually, physically steps back. 

"What?" Steve asks again, a little breathless, and he knows the disbelief is written all over his face, because when Billy looks at him, he winces. "I mean— You— What ?" 

His face goes red as he fumbles over his words, embarrassed and shocked and ashamed about how utterly pleased the flutter in his stomach is. 

That’s not how Billy seems to be reading it, though, judging by the way his shoulders curl in on himself, by the hard set of his jaw, by how he cautiously glances at Steve with this look on his face, all prickly and defensive — like a kicked stray.

"I said " Billy doesn’t sound annoyed, more like he’s trying to pretend he is. He’s watching Steve intently now, hypervigilant and still a little stung. "I’m willing to come out with you. At the AMAs."

Steve’s throat works. He stands there, a little stupid and a lot stunned, his eyes locked with Billy’s. 

He can’t name the expression he sees there. Can’t place it. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Billy look at him this way — like he’s one second or one wrong move away from never seeing him again. 

Steve feels suddenly too large for his own skin. He’s dreamed of this — hoped for it — for what seems like so long . He doesn’t know what to do with it, now that it’s here. He doesn’t know what to do with it, now that he’s got it in his head that they’re over and done with. He thought he was pretty clear about that in his text. 

Shuffling on his feet, Steve keeps his careful gaze on Billy’s face, hunting over his features a little desperately. Because he knows, if he lets him, Billy will crawl right back into the place where Steve carved him out. 

"You’re willing?" Steve asks, tentative. "Or you want to?" 

Billy’s taking a step forward, reclaiming that scant bit of added space Steve had put between them when he backed away. He doesn’t move any closer, though, doesn’t reach out to touch like Steve half-expects him to. He just stands there, hovering, like he’s hesitant.

"When have I ever done anything I didn’t want to?" Billy scoffs; he still sounds defensive. "Yeah, I want to, Steve. Do you?"

Steve feels his arms wind tighter over his own chest. He breathes out, sharp, and brings a hand up to cover his face and hide the way he squeezes his eyes shut tight. 

"Billy," he breathes; sighs, really, feeling suddenly and terribly exhausted. "You can't— you can't do this. I can't do this."

And it's true. Steve can't do this. He can't keep hanging his hopes on the possibility that Billy might stop treating him like a thing instead of a person. He just decided to call it quits. He can't do it all again. 

Screw pretending to be okay. Screw saving face and trying to hide how much Billy has hurt him. 

"Do you have any idea —?" Steve cuts himself off, voice breaking. "I don't want to do this anymore."

Billy recoils, takes the same step back he'd just made toward Steve, and for a split-second there's an unmistakable gleam of hurt in his wide eyes.

In a blink, it's gone again. Left in its wake is an expression Steve's more familiar with: cold, unbridled fury.

"Fine," Billy spits the word like it’s venom, and Steve thinks he might lunge; Billy certainly looks like he wants to. "I knew this was a mistake. Nothing was ever gonna be good enough for you, was it? Bet if I’d shown up groveling you’d just rub my fucking face in it."

Steve stiffens. He feels the rigidity climb right up his spine, suffusing through his limbs, and tightening across his face. His fingers curl, fisting into the sleeves of his sweater over his biceps. 

Anger wells up quickly in his chest. It burns, twines in scorching red lines around his ribs and up into his throat. His face flushes from the heat of it. 

"No," he snaps, and any give, any kindness he'd usually offer in the face of Billy's fucking insecurities shrivels up as he remembers all the times Billy's made him grovel. "No, that's you, isn't it? Laughing in my face, calling me names, making me get on my knees anytime you get your fucking panties in a twist. And I did it. I let you treat me like a warm fucking body." 

Billy blinks at him, face still twisted up in fury, like a caricature of himself. His mouth opens, as though he intends to snarl something right back, but Steve's done giving him the last word. 

"You know what would've been good enough, Billy?" Steve shuffles forward a step, eyes narrowed, body practically vibrating. "You acting like I actually mattered to you. But you couldn't do that, could you? I gave you time, I gave you affection, I gave you all the fucking understanding I could muster, and you— you fucking took and took and didn't give anything back." 

"That's not—" Billy’s trying to speak, but Steve doesn’t let him interrupt, for once.

"Between the booze and the drugs and the fame, you didn't have any space left for me, did you?" Steve tosses his hands out, because the agitation is all too much, and he can’t contain it, can’t wall it all in like he’s been doing for months. “But I kept waiting.”

He's crying, he realizes. He can feel it, the prickle of tears at the edges of his eyes and burning, the  hot trails down his flushed cheeks. 

"I kept waiting ," Steve says again, breath catching, words a heated and broken whisper. "I kept waiting for that stupid guy that walked into my shop the first time, the one that was charming and sweet and looked at me like I mattered, the one I would've done anything for, the one that I— that I fucking stupidly fell for— but he's not coming back , is he? And now? Now, you're mad that one of your toys is sick of getting tossed around and used." 

Steve feels a sob choke him. He swallows it down. He almost wants Billy to hit him. To lay him out. It would make this easier. 

But all Billy does is stare at him, eyes wide, his hands fisted at his sides. He never gives Steve what he needs, even now.

Steve breathes in shakily and steels himself.

"I tried to make it work, Billy. I begged and I placated and I let you hide me— and I would've kept letting you if you'd just— if you'd just fucking—" 

"Now it's too little, too fucking late," he spits, letting the anger dull the hurt — as if it even can. " Fuck you. Not good enough? I loved you, you self-centered prick. You're the one that fucked this up. Not me. So sorry if I'm tired of all your bullshit." 

There’s a pause; Billy doesn’t look like he’s breathing. He doesn’t look like he’s going to say anything at all. Maybe it would have been better if he hadn’t, if he’d just silently stormed out of Steve’s apartment and slammed the door and let that be the end of things.

But of course he needs to get the last word in. Of course.

"Seriously? You’re gonna cry about it?" Billy says, in that sing-song voice that reminds Steve of a playground bully with a nasty sneer on his face to match. He steps closer, gets right up in the same air Steve’s breathing so that they’re nose-to-nose, and from this distance, Steve can see that the angry twist of his expression doesn’t reach his eyes. "You never mattered, alright? None of this did, so save your fucking tears."

"Yeah, you made that pretty clear." Steve snaps, holding his ground, so goddamn proud that he doesn't break to pieces hearing Billy put words to what he's feared this whole time. 

But he's barely holding it together. His chest aches, raw and open, because he knew that Billy didn't care. He knew, but he'd always hoped. 

He can't stop the tears, though, angry and hurt and utterly silent as he stares Billy down. 

"Get the fuck out of my apartment, Billy." Steve breathes. 

That's it, he thinks — the moment that anger will swell behind Billy's eyes, that he'll break something out of spite. Steve expects it. Waits for it.

Billy turns on his heels, and with a flurry of movement and a resounding slam of the door on its frame, he’s gone.

Steve lets out a sharp breath, flinching away from the sound. The apartment seems suddenly and painfully empty, the silence of it deafening. And Steve feels wrung out. Numb. 

He pads over to the door and slides the locks back into place. 

It feels like a metaphor.

Chapter Text

Three weeks. 

It takes exactly three weeks before Steve hears anything from Billy. And even then, it isn't Billy that calls him. 

In the three weeks since Billy told him that he never mattered and then walked out his door, Steve hadn't given him much thought. Which, frankly, was a blatant lie, but that's what he told Robin every time she brought it up. 

Either way, he found ways to keep busy. He didn’t make the time to look for any of Billy's headlines or social media updates, but Robin certainly was happy to comment on them — frequently and derisively.

He thinks she was trying to make him feel better. Steve didn’t have the heart to tell her that the reminders were more painful than soothing — especially when she brought up the AMAs. She mentioned  that Billy won two of three nominations but wasn’t up on stage for any of them because he’d gotten too fucked up, according to the gossip. It was a running theme of all of her Billy updates: he partied harder than usual, like maybe without Steve around he had no reason to hold back and can have all the fun he wants.

Steve knew, rationally, he made the right call. He just wished his heart would hurry and catch up with his head.

In those three weeks, Steve threw himself back into work: teaching lessons, playing gigs, fixing the broken shit people kept bringing in. It's sad to say that, really, other than the lack of sex and late nights, not a whole lot changes. It speaks to the total lack of time he actually spent with Billy since his overnight rise to fame. 

Still, it's three weeks of no Billy. Of relative peace. Of an echoing ache in his chest, sure, but with none of the stress — none of the constant frustration and heartbreak. 

So, when Steve gets a call from an unknown number in the middle of the night, he very nearly ignores it and lets it go straight to voicemail. 

He doesn't, but he considers it a while, wonders if maybe Billy’s changed out his number to one that Steve doesn’t have blacklisted just so he can talk to him.

But, then, he doubts Billy would bother, so he figures he might as well pick up.

"Hello?" he greets, cautious, because if it really is Billy on the other end, Steve’s pretty sure he’s going to just hang up.

"Is this Steve Harrington?"

Steve frowns, sitting up from where he'd been sprawled out on his couch. "Yes. Can I ask who's calling?"

"I'm calling from the Hills Addiction Treatment Center," the voice on the other line says, and Steve feels realization seeping in like cold dread. "We have you listed as an emergency contact for Mr. William Hargrove."

Steve closes his eyes, like a final ditch effort to brace for an impact that's already hit. He rests his forehead against an open palm and clutches his phone to his ear. 

"What, uh… what can I do for you?" Steve asks, and his voice shakes as he thinks about all the reasons an addiction treatment center might call him, but the biggest one — the biggest fear Steve's carried with him since he caught Billy snorting coke for the first time — is the very real possibility that Billy had or would OD. "Is— Is everything okay?"

"Mr. Hargrove was taken in for medical attention while under our care," the voice explains, and it sounds far away, now, like Steve's hearing it while underwater. He's not sure if he asks the question or if the voice just keeps speaking — but he listens, tries to let the words sink in, and feels uncomfortably numb. "He was stable when he left our facility, but I'm afraid I can't provide any further details on his condition. You would need to reach out to the hospital directly."

"What, um. What hospital was he transferred to?" Steve asks. "How long was he at your facility?" 

Who committed him ? He almost asks it. Because there’s no way in hell that Billy committed himself. 

"The Westfield Hospital, sir," the voice on the line says. "Mr. Hargrove was checked in with us on Tuesday afternoon."

Two days. Billy's been checked in for two days, and he's already— 

Steve mumbles something in confirmation, looking down at his phone as he writes out the name of the hospital. He's trying to figure out how long it's going to take him to reach North Hollywood from his apartment, which is stupid, because he shouldn't go — has no business going, frankly. Why would Billy even list him as an emergency contact? He should have put down— It should have been— Well.

Aside from Max, there really isn’t anyone else.

It's how Steve justifies it to himself when he thanks the woman on the phone, hangs up, and rushes to find his keys.

--

Traffic in Los Angeles is enough to make anyone consider moving. Traffic at night on the 5 is even worse. 

As a general rule, Steve doesn't drive often. It was useful, having a car in Indiana before he matriculated, but L.A. has plenty of public transportation, and Steve prefers it to wasting gas sitting in bumper-to-bumper stand stills during rush hours. Still, it's the fastest way for him to get to the hospital.

By the time he gets to the there, he's already received a call informing him that Billy was at their tender mercies. That he had a private room. That they had him on a saline drip to help with dehydration. That they'd practically had to force the charcoal down his throat on the ambulance ride over.

So, when he checks in at the front desk, when he makes his way up in the slower than sin elevator, when he pads down the hall toward Billy's room, he's prepared himself for what he'll see: Billy, pale and hooked up to an IV, with black all down the front of his shirt and at the corners of his mouth, like he'd vomited up the tar and muck Steve's certain replaced his heart. 

Billy's eyes are closed when Steve steps in. He's not asleep, because he grunts and waves an imperious fucking hand when the door clicks shut behind Steve.

"Go the fuck away," he says, voice sounding halfway to shit, and Steve thinks any more of this and he'll have to stop singing. 

Steve leans back against the door, keeps the buffer of space between them, and sighs. "So, what'd you take?" 

It's immediate — the way the air in the room shifts, the way Billy’s eyes snap open wide and he struggles up to his elbows, the IV line in his hand pulling taut. Maybe it speaks to his exhaustion or whatever drugs are still in his system that he looks so openly shocked.

Billy doesn't say anything at first, and the silence that stretches between them is heavy to the point of smothering.

"Steve?" 

He says it quietly enough that Steve might have missed it if he hadn't been paying attention. He watches as Billy wets his chapped lips with his charcoal-stained tongue, and when he speaks again, he doesn't sound like himself. At least, he doesn’t sound like the person he's been these past several months, always so unapologetic and uncompromising, because for once Billy is acting like he’s sheepish

"Why'd you come?" 

"I'm your emergency contact," Steve says, words a little barbed like it’s an accusation, but he softens it with a shrug. "They called. I came."

It's not much of an answer. It's not really an answer at all. 

It's because Steve honestly doesn't have one. He doesn't really know why he's here — he could've just called Max and let her know Billy is in the hospital, because he knows she's the only person that would've come. But he didn't

"Maybe I just wanted to make sure you hadn't accidentally killed yourself," Steve says, and repeats his previous question for good measure. "What'd you take?"

Billy's gaze drops down to the floor between Steve's feet, like he can't quite look him in the eye.

"Just a bottle of Patrón," he says, before adding, a little quieter: "And some pills."

Some is probably an understatement, but Steve doesn’t need to know the gritty details. Seeing the aftermath is bad enough.

"Managed all that self-destruction — in rehab, no less." Steve leans heavily back against the door, arms crossing, expression kept as neutral as he can make it. "Impressive. Who committed you?"

Billy's eyes dart to his. He looks like he might sneer and protest, but his mouth snaps shut and his gaze strays again. 

"I'm not stupid. I know you didn't check yourself in," Steve points out the obvious, when the quiet starts to stretch. "Because you don't think you have a problem. So, who checked you in? Your manager?"

Through the uncomfortable and uncharacteristically guilty look Billy is casting at his shoes, Steve sees his expression sour.

"Yeah. Along with Heather and the rest of them," Billy grumbles as he reluctantly drags his gaze back to Steve’s face. 

It's clear from his tone that Billy thinks they're traitors for this. And maybe they are; Steve knows for a fact that Billy isn't the only member of Mindflayer snorting lines and popping pills at the end of every show. 

There's another pause. Billy draws in a deep breath, closes his eyes for a moment, and says: "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have given them your number." 

"No," Steve agrees softly. "You shouldn't have."

When Billy opens his eyes again, Steve can see it — the hurt. Steve's half tempted to twist the knife a little deeper. Billy had done it to him. It would only be fair. 

Instead, Steve blows out a breath and looks away. 

"Dumbass," he says, not without some fondness mixed in with his feelings of annoyance and concern. "You're a dick, but I don't want you dead, Billy. I'd rather be called in as your emergency contact than read about it on some clickbait article tomorrow morning."

There's another pause. Billy is staring at the ceiling, now, chewing at his lip like he's still too ashamed to look at Steve directly.

"I am a dick," he agrees with a quiet, shaky sigh. "I'm— Fuck, Steve. I'm sorry."

And Steve's too tired to kick up a fuss; he’s too tired to let the anger, the harsh spike of it slip between his ribs as easy as a sharp blade, consume him. 

"Two apologies in a row," Steve remarks, keeping his tone soft but not without accusation, letting a small smile greet Billy when he looks. "What did you take?" 

"Don't think it's what I took," Billy says with a wry smirk, peering at Steve from the corner of his eye. "More like what they took out of me."

He scrubs at his face, flakes away some of the dried black sputum from his chin.

"I mean it, though," he says, quiet again. 

For a moment, Steve looks at him, dwelling in the quiet exhaustion that seems to have wrung them both dry. 

Then, he sighs and pushes off the door, padding over and pulling up an uncomfortable looking plastic chair before plopping himself into it at Billy's side. 

"I don't forgive you," Steve says. "But I appreciate the thought."

"Yeah, good. You shouldn't," Billy mutters, sinking back into the hospital bed with his face turned so he can keep his eyes on Steve. He looks like shit relative to how perfect he presents himself before his shows and nights out, but he's somehow more familiar without all the glamor. If not for the circumstances, Steve might even say he prefers Billy this way. 

Then again, he's probably biased.

Steve fell for him before the glitz and the fame, after all. He fell for the way Billy’s eyes wrinkled at the edges when he laughed. The way his fingers strummed over guitar strings. The way he crooned and winced when he couldn’t get the words quite right. The way he was a nightmare without coffee in the morning. 

Not like this Billy, who’s just a nightmare all the time. Like some creature slipped through, in the middle of the night, crawled its way inside of Billy, and was playing him like a puppet. 

Billy was angry before, sure. But he wasn’t all rage. It wasn’t all the time

"You look tired," Steve says, after a second, a minute, a moment that feels much too long. He should go home now that he knows Billy isn’t dead or dying, but he finds he’s reluctant to. "You should sleep." 

Billy looks like he's considering it as he watches Steve, eyes a little unfocused, like he’s stubbornly resisting the temptation to let them close.

"You gonna leave when I do?" Billy asks, tentatively, like he's trying to pretend that the possibility doesn't faze him. His act isn't very convincing. 

Steve's mouth presses into a thin line. He leans forward, elbows on his knees, and holds Billy's gaze. 

"Probably," he admits, without trepidation. Billy knows he's messed up, Steve will give him that. But it’s hard to stay angry about it, in that moment; Billy looks so much smaller in a hospital bed. "Unless you want me to stay."

Steve expects some kind of deflection, some cop-out answer so Billy can avoid telling him what he really wants. He’s ready for it — ready to leave if that’s the game Billy wants to keep playing, even after everything.

He’s surprised when Billy says, instead: "Stay."

It doesn’t sound like a demand, for once, not when Billy’s looking at him like he might even throw in a please if Steve decides to push him.

Letting out a shaky breath, Steve shrugs out of his coat and drapes it over his lap. In the past, he might've taken Billy's hand. 

He doesn't, now. 

"I'll stay, then." 

--

"—because you’re so great at making adult decisions."

Steve’s not really sure when he dozed off, but he must have after Billy did, because he comes to with his chin on his chest and groggily registers the sound of two familiar voices bickering quietly nearby.

"I used to babysit you," he hears Billy hiss, obviously agitated but trying to keep his voice down. "So, shut up . I didn’t ask you for your goddamn opinion."

When Steve cracks open his eyes, he can see Max standing at the foot of Billy’s bed, arms folded across her chest and her face screwed up in an expression of frustration that’s so reminiscent of Billy it’s hard to believe they aren’t related by blood. She’s hardly Billy’s kid sister anymore — Steve’s pretty sure she’s finishing up college, or something — but Billy always talked about her like she was. He still does, apparently.

"It’s not my opinion, it’s the truth, " Max is saying; neither she nor Billy have taken any notice of Steve’s stirring. "If you don’t get help for this, it’s going to get worse. You could lose your job."

Billy sneers. 

"What, you think someone’s gonna fire a rock star for a drug habit? You realize how ridiculous you sound, right?"

Max’s freckled face is flushing red with anger, and this time she raises her voice, like she’s stopped caring about keeping Steve from waking up.

"You could die , Billy," she snaps, and though it’s sharp and accusatory, Steve hears the slight tremble in her voice.

There’s a moment of silence.

Steve wishes it would stay that way, that Billy would know better than to open his mouth and say something thoughtless.

But he’s muttering, voice dripping sarcasm: "Cool. Maybe I’ll last long enough to make it into the 27 Club."

Max makes a sound, a bit like a bird going down, and throws her hands out. She twists on her heel and storms out the door. 

Steve doesn't imagine she'll be gone very long. She just needs a breather before she can deal with Billy again. Steve can relate. 

"That bullshit is why we're not dating anymore," he says, sleep clinging to his voice, and he winces as he moves, back and neck protesting a night in a plastic chair. 

Billy rolls his head over to him, bristling like he’s about to go on the offense, and Steve’s ready for it. Ready for any excuse to storm out of here and put Billy behind him. Again .

Either Billy isn’t willing to let him go just yet, or with the drugs out of his system he can act a little bit more like a human being. He sighs, shrugs one shoulder, and tilts back against his pillow.

"Yeah." It sounds like Billy’s agreeing with him, which is the most self-aware he’s acted in— possibly ever? "Least you never tried to have that talk with me."

Billy snorts mirthlessly and watches a spot on the ceiling.

"Everyone keeps acting like it’s the drugs’ fault. Like that’s some kind of excuse. You always knew better, though, huh?"

Steve makes a noncommittal sound. He stretches in his seat. Watches Billy watch the ceiling. 

"I don't think they help," Steve says, and shrugs when Billy looks at him. "I think they're bad for you. They make you act like even more of an asshole, and I can't count how many times I've had to work you through a bad comedown." 

Steve sighs, glancing away. He feels Billy's eyes on him. 

"But I was your boyfriend— or… fuck buddy. Whatever we ended up as. It wasn’t my job to tell you what you could and couldn’t do. It was my job to decide how much of it I could take."

"Took a lot," Billy coolly remarks, but he doesn’t sound nearly as casual about it as he probably meant to, especially not with the uncomfortable stretch of silence that follows. 

And especially not with the way Billy eventually breaks it, blurting the words like he’s been itching to say them this whole time.

"I’ve missed you."

Steve flinches. He doesn't mean to, but he does. 

"Yeah," he mutters. "I've missed you for a while, too."

"For a while," Billy echoes, like he's savoring the confession — or maybe he's trying to make sense of it. There's something about the guarded way he looks at Steve, then, the way he's perked up like a stray at the sight of scraps. "You still miss me?" 

"Yes," Steve admits. "I miss parts of you. But I've been missing parts of you. Letting the rest go… hasn't hurt as much as watching those parts disappear." 

He finally meets Billy's eyes again and sees the pinch of his brow, the thin shape of his mouth. Steve sighs.

"You were so… bright, at the start. Larger than life." he says, slumping back in his seat. "Like the sun. I wish— I wished , so hard, all the time, that I'd— that I'd get you back. That I'd wake up one morning and you'd… you'd smile at me like you meant it.

"I wanted to make it work so bad ," Steve breathes, burying his face in his hands, too tired to cry. "I tried so hard to pretend it was all okay. That the way you— the way you treated me and everyone around you was okay. But it wasn't. And I couldn't.

Billy doesn't say anything — what could he say, anyway? He seems to have gained enough sense not to make any snide comments, but even before the fame, Billy wasn't really one for heart-to-hearts. Maybe it comes from a lack of empathy, like Robin theorized. Maybe Billy is just bad at it because he lacks practice. Steve’s not sure what to think, anymore.

He’s just about to resolve that the conversation — if it could ever even be called one — is over when Billy decides to speak.

"I was so intimidated by you," he says, voice hushed like he's telling Steve a secret. "Least, I thought that's what it was. Why I wanted to impress you so fucking badly. Figured if I didn’t, it was only a matter of time before you took off."

Billy shrugs, like the confession means nothing, like this is nothing more than a casual conversation, like maybe if he acts like that’s the truth, Steve won’t notice that Billy’s eyes are a little red. It’s not the fault of any drugs, for once — which is surreal , because Steve doesn’t think he’s ever seen Billy look anything even resembling sadness.

"Then, I figured, you were going to take off anyway," he throws Steve a strained smirk. "I have that effect on people."

Steve sighs again. He feels like all he does is sigh these days. 

Carefully, Steve pushes up and takes those final steps toward Billy's bed. He slides a hip up onto the edge, half sitting, and he leans down to press a kiss to the scar on Billy's brow. 

"I wouldn't have," Steve says, fingers cautious at Billy's jaw. "I wouldn't have ever left— even if you'd just been playing rundown bars the rest of your life." 

He feels Billy tense up under his touch — but he’s leaning closer, too, pressing the side of his face into Steve’s hand, shuffling closer on the narrow cot. Billy doesn’t touch him back, but he’s chasing the bit of offered contact like he’s starving for it.

"Guess that doesn’t matter now, huh?" Billy poses the question as though he’s only mostly sure what the answer will be. "Think I already burned all my bridges."

"Nothing's ever set in stone, Billy." Steve tells him, pulling back, and he shouldn't — he knows he shouldn't— but Billy looks so fucking resigned. "You changed once. Maybe you can change again."

Billy lets out a shaky breath that it sounds like he’s been holding in this entire conversation, and just as Steve shifts to move off the bed, Billy grabs his wrist with the hand still hooked up to the IV. 

" Yeah ?" Billy asks, and he’s intently drinking in Steve’s expression, as though searching for some hint of truth or dishonesty. "You actually believe that?"

Steve lets himself look at Billy for a moment. Really look. No anger or hurt to cloud his thoughts. 

And for the first time in months, he sees Billy. Not the lead singer of Mindflayer. Not the rock star too lost in his own fame. Just Billy. 

He reaches up again, fingers just touching to the high line of Billy's cheekbone. 

"Yeah. I actually do." Steve says, and then smiles. "You just gotta want it hard enough. You've always been too stubborn to know when to quit."

Billy lets out a laugh. It's a little raspy, a little forced, but his smile reaches his eyes and pierces through that detached exhaustion, this time. 

"Damn right I am." He loosens his grip on Steve's wrist but doesn't let go entirely — doesn't seem to want to, if Steve isn't going to make him. 

Steve doesn't make him. 

"Just promise me something," he says. "Don't make me come find you in a hospital bed again, okay?"

"Wasn't exactly planning on it." Billy mutters, but when Steve catches his eye, he seems to wise up to the gravity of the question — and actually relents, for once. "Yeah. Alright. I'll try to keep my nose clean."

Whether Billy means that literally or figuratively, Steve can't be sure, but it's a relief either way. 

"Thanks," Steve says, and means it. "I should go."

He starts to move away, but the hand on his wrist doesn’t let go. It clamps tighter and feels beseeching, somehow, even before Billy says: "Wait. One other thing."

Steve doesn't get a chance to ask why; Billy's already hurrying to explain, like he’s trying not to miss his last chance to.

"I didn't mean it. What I said before, about none of it mattering," Billy confesses, in what must be his third apology in the past twenty-four hours. Steve thinks this has to set some kind of record. "I just— I thought if I said it, it’d make things easier." 

Steve stares down at Billy. Something warm and thick and painfully like hope balls up in his stomach. Clenches in his chest. Chokes him. 

Steve stares down at Billy. Billy's fingers are so warm around his wrist. 

"Did it?" he asks. 

"Did it make things easier?" Billy snorts and shakes his head before he reluctantly lets go of Steve's wrist. "Not at all. Maybe it would've, if I'd believed it."

Steve nods, pulling his hand to himself, rubbing over his wrist where the warmth lingers, like an echo. "Didn't make it easier for me, either. Kinda made me feel like shit, if I'm being totally honest."

"Yeah," Billy mutters, gone quiet for a moment. Steve doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to seeing that hangdog look on his face. "Wish I hadn't said it."

"I do, too." Steve says, lips a thin mockery of a smile. "It kinda fucking sucked."

There's another pause. Shorter, this time. 

"Well, I kinda fucking suck, so." Billy flashes him a wry smile. It's not like him to act self-deprecating like this, but maybe all the apologies have given him a taste of humility. 

Maybe sobriety helps, too.

"Yeah," Steve laughs. "You kinda fucking do." 

He hesitates for a second, lingering there, stuck between wanting to stay firm in his decision to end everything between them and wanting to kiss the stupid smile off of Billy's face. 

He compromises. 

Leaning down again, he presses a kiss to Billy's cheek. It feels an awful lot like a goodbye. 

"Bye, Billy," he says. "Get some rest."

"I'll try," Billy promises, drawn forward as Steve pulls away, like he's trying to chase the brush of his lips. It could be a trick of the lighting, or Steve imagining what he wants to see again, but he swears there's something resembling tenderness in Billy's expression.

But, god, he wants it to be real this time. Maybe a little too desperately. 

"Call you when I wake up?" Billy asks him, tentative.

It's foolish, Steve realizes, pretending like he can toe the edge of whatever this truce between them is; Billy's like a collapsing star and he's going to wind up getting pulled into his orbit if he gets too close. Possibly for good, this time.

He thinks — hopes — that he isn't making the same mistake twice when he says: "Yeah. Sure."

--

Getting out of rehab today.

Drinks to celebrate??

Steve stares at his phone screen at the two messages, sent within thirty seconds of one another — watches, as the ellipsis in the corner animates, vanishes, then reappears again. It's always hard to tell with texts, but Billy's stop-starting suggests he's going back and forth on something.

Jk.

Wanna see u tho.

That's a dangerous thing to say, Steve thinks. It's an even more dangerous thing to want . But, then, he and Billy have been texting on and off for the past two weeks since their hospital conversation, and it's been... nice . Uncomplicated. Steve's not sure if either of those words have ever applied to their relationship since Mindflayer made it big, so maybe he's too eager to focus on the good.

Like how Billy seems to actually be making an effort, for starters. And how he'd agreed to try rehab, and hasn't had a single relapse since their last meeting.

Steve realizes Billy might just be doing it for the PR buzz. Try as he might to ignore the tabloids, it’s impossible not to notice how many stories the media’s been drumming up about Billy Hargrove and his drug habit, like it’s somehow a shocking revelation that another famous musician has a crippling love of cocaine and liquor. So, yeah, Billy’s wise to lay low for a while, to at least pretend like he's cleaning up his act.

Blowing up Steve's phone every morning, though? That doesn't seem to serve any particular purpose. Unless rehab's just that boring.

Steve's thumb hovers over the keyboard for way too long. He stares at the screen, at the message, and wonders if it's true. If Billy really wants to see him or— 

Well. 

It wouldn't be the first time Billy booty called him. 

Lunch? Steve inevitably types back. I’m sure you're hungry for something other than hospital food. That deli with the potato soup?

Billy's response is immediate.

Yea.

Pick me up? Dickhead judge suspended my license.

Steve doesn't remember hearing anything about that, but then, there's those three weeks of radio silence between them that are unaccounted for.

Steve rolls his eyes and catches himself smiling. He shakes his head, even as he pushes up to pad toward his room and change out of his pajama pants, and types back:

You're filthy rich? Take an uber? 

Billy's definitely not doing anything but watching his phone like a hawk, because his replies roll in rapid-fire the moment Steve finishes texting him.

Wow.

Great idea Steve.

I'm sure uber driver won't take pics of me fresh out of rehab for Insta.

Billy makes a good point.

Still, Steve clicks his tongue at the blatant sarcasm and throws his phone at his bed, as if he plans to ignore it while he gets dressed.

When it buzzes again not a minute later, Steve can't bring himself to wait until he's finished stepping into the other leg of his pants before he stumbles over to check it.

Worth it if I buy u lunch?

Steve's breath leaves him in a heady rush. 

If he's not careful, this will turn into a date. He's treading dangerous waters and he knows it. 

So, he steps away and finishes pulling his pants up, throwing a shirt on, and he even runs his hands through his hair before he replies. 

It's fine. I'll pick you up. 

--

Steve isn't sure how the paparazzi found them — how they ever do, really. It was one thing when Billy dragged him out to high-profile parties that anyone who’s anyone knows about. But the other times? When they got baked together and stumbled off to a 7-11 during the late evening hours and still had a photographer chase them down? Or like right now, when Billy’s dressed up in shades and sunglasses and there’s still a swarm of cameras crowding outside like vultures? 

Steve doesn’t get it.

He thinks someone must have tipped them off. It wouldn’t surprise him, since pretty well everyone in the restaurant was discreetly tapping away on their phones the moment he and Billy strolled in and hid themselves in a corner by the windows. The thought pisses him off, because as much as Billy loves the attention fame brings him, not all of it is positive. 

And Steve has a feeling this isn’t positive considering the headlines lately and the way Billy’s cupping a hand to the side of his face like he’s trying to shield his identity from the paps standing a few feet from the pane of glass. Like he's some kind of animal in a zoo to be gawked at. He’s not even eating his soup, stirring at it a little miserably as cameras flash.

"Won’t hold it against you if you wanna get out of here by yourself," Billy tells him. Steve can’t quite see where he’s looking through the reflective tint of Billy’s sunglasses, but he’s pretty sure Billy’s staring at his face. They both know how this goes, and just because the crowds don’t give a shit about Steve doesn’t mean he won’t be subjected to the rabid masses. It’s frankly overwhelming. Steve doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to it.

Hell, it doesn’t seem like Billy has.

The constant sound of the cameras, the shouting is enough to make Steve's palms sweat. And he's not even at the center of it all. He doesn't think he could take being at the center of it. 

He offers a tight smile from across the table, ripping at the fresh bread they gave them with their soup. "I dunno. You kicked up a fuss about catching a ride here — you think it's gonna be any easier to catch a ride home?" 

Billy sighs and sets down his spoon. 

"No," he says, tilting his cheek into his hand and watching, with a contemplative furrow of his brow, as Steve stuffs his face with bread. "Wanna escape out the back door with me?"

Steve pauses, mid-chew, and then gives a little nod. "Lead the way."

In a blink, Billy’s hopping to his feet and slapping down a crumpled hundred dollar bill. Steve doesn’t even get a chance to complain about it — about the fact that Billy wasn’t supposed to cover his meal — because Billy’s weaving through the tightly-packed tables for the back of the restaurant. Steve has no choice but to hurry after him.

"C’mon, think I saw an exit out of the kitchen," Billy urges him, only glancing back to make sure Steve’s still following before he abruptly ducks through a swinging door that’s clearly marked ‘ STAFF ONLY’.

Steve falters as the door swings between them. Unlike Billy, Steve could and probably would get banned for going places he's obviously not allowed. But the hesitation lasts only a second before a little thrill zips up his spine and he chases after Billy, heading for the back door. 

He wonders, briefly, how they'll get to his car without being spotted. Wonders if Billy's even thought of that. He doesn't get long to think about it, though, because someone in an apron shouts and Billy's hand is around his wrist, tugging him toward the exit.

It’s mid-afternoon in L.A., so the sun’s glaringly bright and there’s no shadows to hide in when they stumble into the loading area behind the kitchen. The coast looks clear, at least. How long that's going to last when the paparazzi probably ( definitely ) saw Billy leave his table is anyone's guess.

Still, it's probably unnecessary for Billy to keep holding his wrist.

"Think there’s any chance we can get to your car without anyone spotting us?" Billy asks, navigating his way past a few empty pallets and dragging Steve along with him. 

Steve can't help but laugh a little, stumbling to keep up with Billy's long strides. "Are you kidding? I mean, it's broad daylight."

Billy hums, considering, as they round the corner toward the front of the restaurant. It still doesn't look like anyone's gotten wise to their escape. 

"Maybe you could pull your car around the back?" Billy suggests, but Steve doesn't get a chance to consider it, much less give his answer, before he's suddenly yanked backward and around the corner again. 

His momentum jolts to a stop once his back is against Billy's chest, and Billy's peering over his shoulder to peek down the side-street. 

Steve's breath shudders out of him. Billy's body is firm and warm at his back, and an arm loops around his waist when Steve loses his balance. Fingers splay over his hip and Steve's hand finds Billy's forearm, clutching tight. 

For a second, Steve's right back at the beginning. Dodging paparazzi on late night outings, back when they could still get away with it. Hiding laughter between kisses in the shadows of alleys and dark corners. Seeing Billy's bright eyes crinkling with laughter when they escaped by the skin of their teeth yet again. 

Someone shouts as they run by the mouth of the alley, camera in hand, and Steve lets himself lean back against Billy as they hide, flush against brick, with Billy's fingers curled into the cotton of his shirt and his breath coming in hot puffs against Steve's neck. 

"I, uh…" Steve clears his throat as the sound of footsteps fades to several beats of silence. "I think the coast is clear."

Billy doesn’t let him go immediately, either because he doesn’t want to or he’s still straining to hear if anyone’s coming. It’s only after he sneaks one last furtive glance around the corner that Billy unwinds himself from Steve’s back and steps away. Steve thinks he should be relieved, but he mostly just misses the warmth.

It’s just so easy to miss Billy, is the thing. Especially when he’s turning around to face Steve, eyebrow quirked and mouth pulling into a lopsided grin. "So, you gonna drive your car around back and save me from the paps?"

"You gonna ask nicely?" Steve asks, quips, flirts right back— and he needs to stop. 

He pulls his keys out of his pocket before Billy can reply. Jingles them between his fingers and puts a little more space between them. 

"You owe me lunch, Hargrove," Steve says, pacing away and rounding the corner as Billy watches him go. 

He only breaks into a light jog when he sees the coast is clear, making his way down the block where the parking lot is. He spots one rat lingering by the ticket box, like the guy's waiting to see if Billy is stupid enough to wander into the small lot on his own. Maybe they do think he's that stupid. Or, at least, that reckless. 

His heart is still racing a bit when he climbs into his car. He can feel the phantom of Billy's hand on him, of Billy’s  chest pressed to his back, of his breath. 

Steve knew this was a bad idea. Robin told him it was. But here he fucking is anyway. 

"This is crazy," he mutters to himself, turning the key in the ignition, and the engine rumbles to life. "This is crazy." 

Still, he pulls out of the lot and down the street. He pulls to a stop by the mouth of the alley, just long enough to unlock the door and Billy darts from the alley and toward his car. The door is barely shut behind him when Steve pulls out to get lost in the flow of traffic. 

Billy leans back in the passenger seat, legs akimbo and head tilted back against the headrest. He’s a little out of breath, but he’s still grinning when he rolls his head toward Steve and peers at him over the rim of his shades.

"Thanks," Billy says, and that’s almost as rare as hearing him say ‘sorry,' so Steve is understandably surprised to hear it. "I owe you one."

"Lunch," Steve reminds him, keeping his eyes on the road. Not that he has to — it’s three o’ clock, and the early rush is already starting, so they’re barely rolling along at twenty miles per hour.

Still, he catches Billy’s dismissive wave from the corner of his eye. "Yeah, sure. Lunch. Dinner. Dessert . Whatever you’re in the mood for."

Steve swallows. Just the fucking word dessert coming out of Billy's mouth like that carries weight. 

He shakes his head with a forced laugh. "Just lunch is fine. Seriously."

"Just lunch it is, then," Billy says with a shrug. Steve’s pretty sure he imagines it, but Billy sounds almost disappointed. "We might have to eat in your car, unless you’re cool with going somewhere celebrity-friendly."

Steve knows what that means; Billy’s thinking of someplace with private entrances and a menu that’s out of his price range. Because apparently there’s no such thing as an inexpensive restaurant that caters to A-listers anywhere in the Valley.

Steve winces. The last time they tried to go to some A-lister joint had been their one year and Billy had kept him at arm's length all night. It was supposed to be a date — a celebration — and they had eaten expensive food, drank even more expensive wine, and had gone through the motions of an average fucking at Steve's apartment before Billy just up and left. 

It was horrible. 

"Don Poncho's?" Steve suggests. "Can't go wrong with giant burritos and a drive through."

"Yeah, sure," Billy says with another shrug; he doesn't sound particularly put-out or dismissive about it, more like he's distracted by something — either a thought or by whatever he's rummaging into the breast pocket of his denim jacket for. 

It takes him a moment of fishing before he pulls out a sleek black vape pen, and it's California, so who knows what's in that thing. 

"You want a hit?"

Steve huffs. His fingers flex over the steering wheel. 

"I guess that depends on what's in it," Steve says. "Aren't you supposed to be staying clean or something?"

"What, you gonna tell on me?" Billy fires back, but there's no venom to it; he sounds playful, with an amused little grin and his tongue poking out between his lips to wet them with unnecessary flourish. 

Steve recognizes that look. He tries not to let his eyes wander away from the bumper of the car in front of him as traffic crawls to a momentary standstill.

Billy blows out a pale cloud of vapor and then reaches over to offer the pen to Steve. "It's just nicotine. Promise."

Steve rolls his eyes but holds his hand out anyway. They both have their vices and this is one of Steve's — he used to smoke behind the gym in high school until his then-girlfriend told him it was gross to kiss him after. 

Billy passes him then pen with a wide grin. Steve takes it, hits it, and feels his body go almost instantly lax, the muscles in his thighs and his shoulders easing as he breathes out. There’s a tingling running across his scalp as he drags again and passes it back. 

"You're ridiculous," Steve tells him.

Billy throws him a cheeky wink, and it’s so unbelievably reminiscent of before — back when Billy was only kind of mean but mostly flirty, like he couldn’t say or do anything without slathering it in suggestion. 

"Doesn’t sound like you’re complaining," he drawls, exhaling more sweet-smelling vapor from the corner of his smirking mouth.

Steve grunts but doesn't reply. Can't really reply because, well, Billy's right. 

This, right here, driving around with Billy sober and flirting and happy, is what he's craved for months. 

It just sucks that it's happening now when it's already too late .

Steve feels himself getting mad about it. He's not sure if he'll be able to stay mad about it, but it’s easier to focus on the anger than hurt. To think that Billy could have been acting like this the whole damn time, that this part of him wasn’t ever gone for good, that it was just buried in all the gold and glitter and narcotics. To think that maybe, maybe , if Billy had just wanted him badly enough — loved him enough — things wouldn’t have ended the way they had. Steve wouldn’t be stewing in silence with Billy at his side, together but definitively not .

"Lunch on Thursday good for you?" Billy cuts through the heavy silence, thumbing through his phone with his chin on his chest. 

Steve's knuckles bleach as he clutches the steering wheel. His chest aches. He breathes out slow, through his nose, and makes a quick, quiet decision. 

Instead of taking the turn that would lead them toward the beach, to the little Mexican shack they've eaten at a dozen and five times, Steve flips around, back onto the road they'd come down. He doesn't think Billy even notices until Steve's clearing his throat and saying:

"You know, actually, I think I need to raincheck."

Billy blinks up from his phone, blowing out another plume of vapor as Steve feels his eyes roving over him, slow and cautious. He feels like Billy’s sizing him up, or trying to get a read on him, and it’s all Steve can do to keep his gaze fixed straight ahead and his expression schooled.

"Why?" Billy asks, his voice a little too level, like Billy’s trying hard to keep it that way. It’s a fair question, but Steve still wishes he hadn’t asked it.

For a moment, Steve debates lying. Between the two of them, Billy’s usually the one telling lies with his quicksilver tongue about everything: from if he’s sober, to what he was doing the night before when Steve knows what he was doing thanks to those handy, annoying headlines always popping up. Steve’s lied himself, once or twice and Billy always called him out on it — or it backfired to epic proportions, like that last night they spent together, where Steve pretended to be exactly what Billy seemed to think he was. 

He decides to be honest, instead. They’re already broken-up. There’s nothing else that could ruin them any more than they already are. 

"I can’t do this," Steve confesses, not looking Billy’s way, his eyes set on the road. 

Still, he can’t help but notice the way Billy sits up a little straighter and shifts forward in his seat, neck craned like he’s trying to get a better look at Steve’s face.

Steve tries not to shrink under his stare. Tries not to make it obvious how hard he's trying to keep it together. It’s pointless, though; Billy's stare is surgical, and Steve already feels him crawling in, seeping through the cracks in his composure, as he asks another question Steve doesn’t want to answer.

"Can’t do what ?" 

Steve sighs. If he wasn’t driving, he’d have his eyes squeezed shut tight and his leg would be bouncing a mile a minute. He’s got anxiety written all over him anyway. Billy can see it; Steve knows that Billy can see it. He’s always been able to read Steve like a goddamn open book. 

Steve hates it. 

"This," Steve says, again, redundantly. "I can’t— We’re not okay , Billy. And— And pretending like we are is just—" 

Steve comes to a slow stop as the light turns yellow, then red. Like the world is pausing just long enough for him to say what he needs to say. 

"I’m still so fucking mad at you," Steve says, not looking at him, because he doesn’t think he can stand to. "I’m still— I mean, you broke my heart, Billy. You know that, right?" 

Beside him, Billy's holding his breath, motionless, as frozen as the surrounding traffic and the red light hanging above them.

"I know," he exhales eventually, the grin on his face vanishing. "And I know I probably can't do anything to fix it, but I—" 

Billy pauses a half-second. Steve envies his ability to do that, how he can keep himself sounding so cool and unfazed like he's not cut up about anything.

Maybe he isn't. It's hard to tell, with Billy. Steve's not sure that he's ever even seen him cry.

"—I still want to see you," Billy confesses at length. "Even if it's just to get fucked up and eat shitty take-out." 

Steve throws him a side-long glance, watching as Billy tucks his vape pen back into his jacket pocket while a smile creeps back onto his face. It looks more self-conscious than cocky, this time.

"Or... stay sober and eat shitty take-out? Whatever." He shrugs. "It doesn't have to be anything more than that, if you don't want it to be."

Steve lets a grimace curl over his face. Because if he’s being honest, that sounds like torture

"That’s all it can be," Steve insists, but it sounds weak, ringing between his ears. "That’s all it can be, okay?" 

"Okay."

Steve isn't sure if he imagines it or not — he isn't sure if it would be better if he did, or if it even matters at this point — but Billy sounds disappointed, looks almost deflated as he sinks back into his seat. 

"You're literally the only friend I've got in L.A., Steve," he mutters, looking out the passenger-side window as the light turns green. "Everyone else around here is so fucking fake. At least you— You don't want anything from me."

Steve takes a moment to gather his thoughts and clear his head. He drives down one block, then another.

The thing is: he does want something from Billy. Or, rather, he did. He’d wanted his attention, his affection. He’d wanted to be happy, with Billy, for as long as he could. 

It just hadn’t worked out that way. 

"Okay," Steve mutters, half to himself. "Friends, then." 

He feels Billy staring at him from where his head is leaning up against the window. The intense scrutiny makes him want to squirm, but he doesn't want to give himself away, so he white-knuckles the steering wheel instead.

"So," Billy broaches the silence, tentative, like he's poking a sleeping bear. "We still on for Thursday?"

Steve laughs, a little helplessly, and nods. "Yeah, sure. We're on for Thursday."

From the corner of his eye, he catches the way Billy's hunched shoulders relax, the way he slumps against the window as though relieved. He’s not quite sure what to make of it. Of any of it. 

But maybe it won't end as badly as Steve suspects it might; maybe Billy won't take as many liberties now that he knows Steve is willing and ready to drop him without a moment's notice. Hell, maybe Billy will make a better friend than a boyfriend.

It's a nice thought, anyway.

Chapter Text

His phone blares from somewhere across the bedroom for the third time in a row, and Steve comes to the conclusion that he made a grave mistake when he unblocked Billy's number. 

There's only one person in all of Steve's (admittedly limited) social circle who would be calling him at this ungodly hour of the night, after all. There's also only one person who has managed to steal his phone and set his personal ringtone to a screeching guitar riff. Because Billy can't be subtle about anything, apparently.

Steve considers shutting his phone off and going back to sleep — but that would involve crawling out from under the covers, and by that point he might as well just see what Billy wants.

So, bleary-eyed and still half-asleep, he reluctantly rolls out of bed and plods across the floor just as his phone starts blasting Enter Sandman for the fourth fucking time. Steve cusses, yanks it out of his jacket pocket, and has all of a split-second to glower at the clock — 2:25 in the morning — before he answers it. 

"Steve?" Billy says by way of greeting; he has the nerve to sound surprised, like he hadn’t expected Steve to pick up. 

"I’m going to actually kill you," Steve mutters, voice low and sleep rough, rubbing a hand over his face. "It’ll look like an accident. They’ll talk about it on Entertainment Tonight for a month." 

Even as he says it, he pads out of his room and toward his tiny kitchen. His mouth is dry, head fuzzy, and he wants nothing more than to chug an entire gallon of water. He’s been sleeping with his mouth open too much; allergies and too much cold, dry air. 

Billy's laugh crackles in his ear. It sounds a little forced. 

"You're welcome to come try." He pauses long enough for Steve to fetch a glass from the cupboard and fill it up from the sink faucet. "I'm parked outside."

Steve is so unsurprised and so painfully, fondly annoyed, that he makes Billy wait as he swallows half the glass down. Breathing heavy, he sets the glass on the counter and leans his hip against it. 

"It’s nearly 3 am, Billy." Steve says. "What in the world are you doing parked outside of my apartment at 3 am?" 

"I had a craving for something deep-fried." Billy sounds wryly amused about something when he adds, like an afterthought: "And your company, I guess. You down?" 

Steve huffs out a sigh, but Billy’s not here to see it, so Steve lets a smile play over his face. "Depends on the deep-fried, I guess. Are we talking Denny’s or…?"

"Popeye’s?" Billy offers, and honestly, Steve isn't exactly hungry — he's still too busy feeling half-asleep to pay much attention to his stomach — but he’s never been one to turn down fried chicken. That’s probably why Billy suggested it.

Steve laughs, softly. "Yeah, okay. Let me throw something on." 

He hangs up and goes through the motions of pulling something other than boxers on. He throws on some sweats, a ratty T-shirt, sneakers, and a sweatshirt that’s a little big in the shoulders. 

It’s only when he’s locking the door behind him, and turning down the hallway that Steve realizes the reason it feels baggy is because it isn’t his

He considers turning back to change, but Steve’s already at the elevator. And besides, he has so many random articles of Billy's clothes both pre- and post-Mindflayer that he doubts Billy even notices. The box of his old shit has been collecting dust in the back of Steve's closet for weeks now — he keeps forgetting it’s there — but Billy hasn't asked about it, so Steve figures he doesn’t miss it or doesn’t realize Steve even has it.

It's chilly by L.A. standards when Steve finally makes his way out onto the dimly-lit street in front of his apartment building. Sure enough, Billy’s there, leaning against the driver's side of one of his supercars that he has parked conspicuously along the curb. He's smoking a cigarette, and Steve notices a few discarded butts by his boots, like he's been chain-smoking through a pack while all his calls went to Steve's voicemail.

While this isn't the first time Billy's shown up to Steve's apartment well past midnight, it's the first time he’s done it in the past two months they've spent casually grabbing lunch together. Steve can't help but wonder if he's sober. He’s twitchy in that same way he gets when he’s tweaking, tapping his fingers against the door of his car, shifting his weight like he can’t keep still, and looking far too awake for how late it is.

Steve shuffles up. He feels— well, he feels cautious. He's wary, once bitten and twice shy, except it was more than one bite and Steve doesn't want to have to tell Billy to lose his number if this night goes wrong. 

"Hey," he says, stepping closer, a little slow. 

The tip of Billy's cigarette glows a vibrant red as he takes a long drag, exhaling a cloud of smoke from the corners of his mouth and his nostrils as he looks Steve up and down once, twice. He flicks the filter to the ground, stamping it out with the heel of a leather boot. 

"Nice sweater." Billy says it with a glint in his eyes — it's the kind of not-quite mean look Billy gets when he's either trying to tease Steve or flirt with him. 

Steve has a feeling it's the latter. 

He feels his cheeks flood with color. He's grateful for the darkness of his street for the first time in, well, ever. 

"Thanks," he says, keeping his tone steady and nonchalant; if Steve doesn't make it a big deal, maybe Billy won't. "You promised me fried food."

Billy gives him one last, lingering stare, then turns to his car and opens the door. It folds up like a butterfly's wing, which Steve finds both cool and excessive, but that's pretty much Billy's brand, so, whatever. 

"Hop in," Billy says as he sinks into the driver's seat, starting the ignition. The engine roars to life with a few spirited pops as Billy taps his foot on the gas, and Steve can already tell that it's going to be one of those late night joyrides. 

Rolling his eyes, he slides into the passenger seat and the door lowers itself as he buckles in. Billy wrinkles up his nose at him and Steve huffs.

"I'm not gonna go through your windshield because I'm too cool for safety."

Billy snorts but doesn't grace him with a response; he's too busy shifting out of park and driving onto the road with more acceleration than strictly necessary. He's always been a speed freak, even back before he had the kind of income to throw at brand new McLarens and Lamborghinis. Fame had just enabled Billy to spend his money on faster and faster cars. And to become a speed freak in another, entirely different sense.

Steve sincerely hopes that isn't why Billy's has a crackle of manic energy about him tonight.

"You good if we take the scenic route?" Billy asks, and Steve knows what that means — that he wants to hop on the Interstate so he can go irresponsibly fast, blow off some steam.

Steve bites down on the inside of his cheek. He wants to ask — he wants to know — if Billy is high as fuck and taking him on the trip with him. 

He also doesn't want to see that mean glint, that sneer, show up on his face. 

He shrugs, instead. "Whatever you want."    

That seems to be all the encouragement Billy needs to press on the gas and tear down the quiet suburban streets with a shriek of rubber-on-pavement and a thunderous snarl of his P1's engine. He's doing forty in a twenty-five, but the roads are empty, and once they're on the Interstate, Billy will take them out of the way enough that they aren't likely to pass any cops.

It's stupid, and irresponsible, and dangerous — but Steve would be lying if he said it doesn't give him a rush, or that he doesn't sometimes itch for the kind of thrills a night out with Billy promises. Billy's not the only adrenaline junkie in the car, after all; he just happens to need a bigger hit to catch his high.

He’s been quiet for the past few miles, letting the muffled sounds of metal music and the growl of the engine fill in the silence. It's not unusual; Billy's never been one for small-talk. Still, he's got this air around him, like he's keyed up. Like maybe he’s holding something in.

Again, Steve wants to ask. To press and prod and coax the information out of him. The part of him that constantly reminds him that they aren't dating anymore and keeps him in check has him biting his tongue as they streak down the freeway. 

But Steve's never been one to deny his own curiosity for long, and Billy's fingers keep restlessly flexing over the steering wheel. Steve shifts in his seat and lets his head lull over, to take in Billy's profile cast in shadows, the orange light from the streetlamps highlighting his cheekbones. 

"What's going on in that thick head of yours?" Steve finally asks, after reaching over and cranking the music down. 

There's a glazed-over look in Billy’s eyes when he glances over at Steve, but it disappears the moment he blinks, replaced by a familiar smirk and a cocked eyebrow.

"If anyone's got a thick head here, it's you," Billy drawls, dragging out each word for emphasis, "pretty boy."

Steve shudders. He can't help it. 

He remembers the first time Billy tipped his shoddy, knockoff Ray-Bans down his nose and grinned at him over a broken, out-of-tune, piece of shit acoustic guitar, calling him pretty boy and trying to flirt his way into a discount on the repair. 

Wetting his lips, Steve takes a steadying breath. "I've got no idea what you mean."

Billy's still grinning at him, and Steve's nearly tempted to tell him to keep his eyes on the road. He should — they're going well over the speed limit — but the words form a lump in Steve’s throat and all he can do is try and swallow them down.

"See? There you go again, playing dumb," Billy says, needling like he's trying to get Steve flustered. 

He finally looks away, at least, staring ahead at the winding stretch of road and city lights. And then he’s speaking again before Steve gets the chance to.

"Figured tonight was a good night to go out and celebrate."

"Celebrate?" Steve echoes, hands curling and uncurling in his lap. Dread wells up in his chest. "What exactly are we celebrating?"

"Eight weeks on the wagon," Billy says, taking his hand off the wheel so he can fish for something in the pocket of his leather jacket. He blindly flips a yellow-gold chip at Steve, and resumes steering as they round a corner onto the exit ramp.

Steve catches the coin and holds it to the light. It shines a little, a big number two embossed in the center of it. 

"Two months," Steve mutters. "No shit."

He's impressed. Something warm floods his chest. He realizes, pretty quickly, that it's pride. 

"Wow," Steve says, thumbing over the coin. "Yeah, okay. A celebration’s in order."

He can't help but notice the way Billy's smirk grows wider at that, until it looks more like a smile than anything else. It's a little tight, but Billy's eyes are crinkled at the corners, and Steve can't fool himself into thinking he doesn't find that at least a little charming.

It's a short trip to the nearest twenty-four hour Popeye’s, so after they've left the drive-through window, Billy takes a meandering course back to Steve's apartment. It really is scenic out this way — all winding roads and rolling hills and a breathtaking view of the valley — so Steve can't find it in himself to complain when Billy pulls over onto the gravel shoulder of Mulholland and jumps out of the car, grease-stained paper bag in hand.

"C’mon," he urges as the driver side door slowly swings itself shut. "I got us a good view."

Steve follows, climbing out of the car and rounding the hood as Billy slides himself onto it like it didn't cost more than a house. Billy waggles his brows at him as Steve rolls his eyes and leans against the nose. 

"You promised me food," Steve pesters, holding out a hand. 

Billy shoves the crumpled take-out bag at him and stares out over the nearby bluff, across to where the giant white letters of the Hollywood sign are illuminated by spotlights and the pale glow of the waning moon. 

It is a good view, Steve thinks, as he rifles through the bag for his chicken and helps himself to a mouthful of spicy fries while he's at it.

"Must be at least somewhat worth losing sleep for, huh?" Billy asks, drinking in the view a moment longer before his eyes sweep back to Steve. 

Steve snorts a little, sucking his thumb clean. "My nonna always said a way to a happy heart was a full stomach." 

He slides the bag back over to Billy, cradling the carton of fries in one palm and picking at them as he watches Billy finger around in the bag. 

"I'll keep that in mind," Billy says, with something resembling amusement in his eyes. He pulls out a wax paper wrapped sandwich from the bag, peels back the packaging, and then leaves it balanced on one knee, like he's more interested in watching Steve eat than partaking himself. 

It's quiet between them, save for the occasional sounds of distant traffic and the steady tap tap of Billy's fingers on the hood of his car. 

Steve's nearly done with his fries when he finally can't take it anymore. Curiosity killed the cat, sure, but knowledge brought it back. 

"Okay," Steve says. "Seriously, though. What's going on in that head of yours? You're fidgeting."

Billy’s fingers still, the quiet rapping abruptly silenced.

"No, I’m not." Billy doesn’t sound like he’s even trying to tell a convincing lie — he says it too quickly, for one, and cocks his head at Steve as though issuing a silent challenge. Or maybe it’s an invitation.

Steve clicks his tongue. "Yeah, actually, you are." 

He twists a little, hip against the nose of the car. He meets Billy's eyes in the dark — brows up and arms crossed. 

"You gonna tell me, or am I gonna have to guess?"

"What, you think you could guess?" Billy volleys back, setting his meal down on the hood between them and leaning back onto one arm. If there’s something arrogant about the upward tilt of his chin, it’s softened by the lazy curl of his mouth.

"You knocked a girl up," Steve guesses, a smile flitting over his face when Billy seems to choke on his own tongue. "No? Didn't think so. You like dick too much. One of your band members leaving?"

"Nah." Billy's still staring at him, head tilted, watching Steve's expression like he's considering something. 

He's completely still now, so unlike the restless spectacle he'd made of himself with his constant fidgeting up until a minute ago. Steve isn't sure what to make of it, of the intensity of his stare.

It's kind of starting to make him nervous, though. The not knowing. Because usually when Billy hides something from him, it's not good. Steve's mind supplies him with the possibilities, and he can't help it — he can't help but ask about the one that's been niggling at him since he first stepped outside and saw Billy smoking like a chimney.

"So, what? Did you break your eight-week streak tonight?"

Billy's nostrils flare. His eyes grow a little wider. Steve can't tell if it's surprise or affront, but he doesn't have time to contemplate which before Billy's expression quickly twists into a frown.

"No," he says, speaking slow and hesitant, like he's nervous. "But I wanted to."

Steve falters. He sets his fries down on the hood and stares at Billy; hunts for any hint of a lie in his expression with a mix of trepidation and hope. 

"You wanted to," Steve repeats. "But you didn't?"

"I’m clean, Steve," Billy says, placing a hand over his chest for emphasis. "Cross my heart."

Steve honestly isn’t sure if he’s lying or not, but something tells him that Billy is sincere. Maybe it’s just because Steve wants it to be true — for Billy to be honest with him, for Billy to actually be making strides in his sobriety.

He still takes a second to sit with it, though — with the persistent uncertainty, the concern . As much as Steve doesn’t want to be, as much as he hadn’t planned for it, he cares about Billy’s well-being. 

And that had ended so well, last time.

"It’s why I wanted to see you tonight." The sound of Billy’s voice snaps him out of his distracted thoughts, and it takes them a moment to sink in. "I didn’t actually want fried chicken at two in the morning. I wanted a bump of something else."

Steve exhales sharply. "So you dragged me out of bed for a fast food run because you wanted to get high?"

Billy lets the question cool in the air for a moment, like he’s making Steve wait for it.

Or, maybe, it’s because he’s trying to muster up the words.

“I figured you're just as fun as coke and a lot better for me, so..." Billy shrugs. "Spending time with you takes the edge off." 

Steve blinks at him, a little helplessly. His heart pounds in his chest. He feels his throat grow tight.

"You—" Steve blinks again and wets his lips. "You wanted to get high, but decided I was better than drugs?"

Billy lets out a quiet snort, like he's trying to play it cool. "I was trying not to sound so sentimental about it."

Steve can't really— He can't breathe. He can't reconcile the man in front of him with the man that he'd been so used to seeing these last couple of years. He can't handle the weight of it — that Billy thinks Steve’s better than the constant high he'd been in. 

"But it's true," Steve says, no question in his tone even though he's half sure this is some dream. 

Billy’s mouth moves, mutely at first. Then he lets out a sigh, one that sounds nearly relieved, and offers Steve a small nod. 

“Yeah.”

"I—" Steve's voice falters. Breaks. He blinks a few times. 

Then, he's on the hood of the McLaren, pushing food aside, and taking Billy's face between his hands as he leans down and catches Billy's mouth with his own. The reaction is immediate; Steve can feel the way Billy tenses, frozen still like he doesn't dare move, much less breathe. 

And then Billy’s lets out a quiet groan, the sound escaping him like he's been holding it in. Like he's been waiting with bated breath for this. Steve expects the kiss to turn explosive, then, for Billy to take this inch he's been given and make it a mile. Because that's what he's always been like: rough and greedy and desperate to take what he wants on his own terms.

So, he's surprised when Billy doesn't push it, when all he does is close his eyes and bring a hand to the small of Steve's back and grab at his sweatshirt. His grip is loose, tentative, and Steve gets the impression that Billy's holding back, that maybe he's afraid to take more than he's being given.

Steve's head is clouded, all fuzzy and warm, and his heart hasn't stopped racing for even a moment. He thinks his hands are shaking, but he's not sure, and he can't even really think about it because Billy is there and warm and kissing him, sober , and he told Steve that he's better than his vices and— 

Steve pulls back with a little hitch in his breath. His face heats, colors, and he clears his throat. 

"Sorry," he murmurs. "I— I, uh, shouldn't have done that—"

Billy doesn’t say anything; he leans in toward Steve’s lips like they’re magnetic, moving slowly enough that Steve has all the time he needs to tilt his head away before this can go any further.

The thing is, Steve doesn’t.

It’s stupid, and he shouldn’t be letting this happen, but it’s hard to remember why that’s the case when Billy’s kissing him again — careful, undemanding, like he’s still not sure how much he’s allowed to take, or how much Steve’s willing to give him. 

Steve groans, his eyes falling shut. He leans into it, presses forward, and slants their lips more fully together. 

He shouldn't be doing this. He knows he shouldn't. He's the one that drew the lines between them in the first place. But he's missed Billy's mouth against his for months . He’s spent so long yearning. 

Something in his chest aches as Billy's other hand curls over the nape of his neck to hold him closer. It's impossible, he thinks, to pull away now — because this feels so familiar, so right. He remembers it feeling like this too long ago: the barely-restrained want, the uncertainty of it, as they both toed closer and closer to a line neither was sure the other wanted to cross. And when they’d both finally taken that step together, it was like a switch had flipped, like two months of barely-veiled flirting and bottled up feelings burst free.

That’s what it’s like now. Billy pulls Steve closer one slow inch at a time, until Steve is flush against him, until the hand on Steve’s neck curls in his hair. His touch gets bolder every second Steve spends neither pulling away nor stopping him. When he runs his tongue along Steve’s bottom lip, it’s beseeching and tempting all at once.

And Billy Hargrove does not beg. No part of him — sweet and charming or twisted and cruel — has ever begged for Steve to give him what he wants. 

Yet, here, the plea is blatant. Profound. And Steve is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to deny it. 

With a breathy moan, his lips part, and then Billy is hauling him close and kissing him deep. Steve's hands drop from his face to clutch at the front of his shirt. He presses in, as close as he can, gasping against Billy's mouth as warmth pulls at his nerves. 

It feels like something breaks, and Steve’s pretty sure it’s the modicum of self-control they had both been holding onto. Because Billy isn’t so hesitant when his hand drops from the back of Steve’s sweatshirt to his ass. Or when he hauls Steve closer, until Steve catches the hint and gets one knee onto the hood of Billy’s car, sinks onto his lap, and twists his hands up in Billy’s shirt. 

Billy takes it as an invitation — and Steve would be lying if he said it isn’t , or that he doesn’t want Billy’s teeth against his lip and his tongue in his mouth. Billy tastes like tobacco. He might as well, because the rush in Steve’s head feels as good as any cigarette and just as addictive.

So, when Billy breaks the kiss, Steve can’t help but chase the taste of his lips and feel a surge of frustration when Billy tilts his head away, like he’s teasing .

It’s clear a half-second later when Billy starts mouthing sloppily up the side of Steve’s throat. The fingers in his hair twist up and pull — coax, really, because the move is, of all things, gentle even in its urgency — his head to the side. Steve bares his neck and moans, the sound bleeding out into the ambient noise of far-off traffic and droning cicadas.

He's a livewire and Billy is the electricity burning through his veins. Every point that Billy touches lights up. Steve forgot how fucking good it felt to be here, with Billy's teeth at his pulse, wrapped up in his arms. His head swims . His vision follows suit.

Billy bites below his jaw, works the skin between his teeth, and sucks until it's tender, until Steve is left wondering if he’s made a mark. His stomach drops, and he doesn’t know — doesn’t want to know — if it’s because the possibility worries him or turns him on. 

He feels that same, conflicting twist inside when the hand on his ass slides to his chest, instead. Billy slips his fingers up under the hem of his sweater, not as cautious with his touches as before. His palm blazes a trail from Steve’s navel, and when one callused thumb brushes across his nipple, when he Billy sinks his teeth into a spot higher up his jaw, Steve feels like he’s suspended in the moment. 

His body is like a trap. Contrasting sensations — the pool of heat low in his stomach, the sharp tug in his chest of his heart turning over, the shudder of want, the clammy rush of dread — all pulling together, knotting up, making him sick. 

He jerks back before he can second-guess himself again. Before he can get dragged down, deep and swift, into the drugging sensation of Billy touching him. He stumbles back to his feet, back a few paces, suddenly cold in the chill of a California night. His throat goes tight and Billy is staring at him and Steve wants to double over and cry for doing something so stupid. 

"Fuck," Steve spits and then buries his face in his hands. " Fuck." 

It's so silent, as if time stopped. If not for the whooshing sounds of cars driving by somewhere down the ridge, Steve might have believed it really had.

But it's silent because Billy hasn't said a word. He hasn't moved an inch. Steve can't even begin to divine what that means, but he doesn't think he wants to know — he doesn't think he wants to look up and see.

So, he keeps his face cradled in his palms, like maybe if he hides there long enough he can escape this moment. Pretend like it never happened. Because it was a mistake , because he'd forgotten himself and now— 

"You started it," Billy says. His voice is quiet. It sounds small. " You did, not me."

The sob that rips up through him, that tears out of Steve's throat, is raw. Uncontained. He swallows down the next because he doesn't want Billy to hear it. To see it. 

He chokes it back but it doesn’t stop the fresh sting of tears. 

He turns away, instead, like that might help him hide himself. Like Billy won't notice as long as Steve isn't looking at him. Like Billy doesn't already know that Steve’s trembling heart is still so firmly in his goddamn hands. 

"I know. I'm sorry." Steve gasps, rubbing at his eyes, jaw aching and stomach taut from the force with which he holds back the despair threatening to drown him. " Shit."

There's a sound of shoes on gravel, crunching closer to him. Slow, faltering. As though Billy hasn't made his mind up.

Steve feels him standing at his back, close enough to touch, but Billy doesn't lay a hand on him.

"C’mon, get in the car." It's not a question. It's not exactly a demand, either, the edges too softened by — something . Steve can’t tell what it is. He has a feeling it’s by design, that Billy doesn’t want him to know. "I'm driving you home."

This time, it's not a sob that wells up into his throat, but a laugh. He squeezes his eyes shut at the hysterical sound of it. He's a fucking mess. 

"Right," Steve says, tipping his head back, and there's a million thoughts in his head, none of them good, but the strongest of them keeps whispering to Steve that this is his fault , that he did this to himself. "Right, yeah. Of course."

He wipes at his face again with the sleeve of his sweatshirt, turns on his heel, and keeps his gaze down as he walks back over to the car. He's in the passenger seat, buckling up, before Billy slides into place next to him. 

The fucked up thing — the truly, miserably, awful thing — is that all Steve wants is to look at Billy. To turn and lean over to kiss him again. All Steve wants is to pretend it's all okay and give in because — even if Billy only wants a warm body-- Steve misses him. 

Billy pulls out onto the road and drives down the hill toward the valley; in the side mirror, Steve sees the Hollywood sign perched in the distance, a pale white spectre in a sea of black trees, and it's pretty — so pretty — but something about the sight of it is haunting. Maybe it’s because it serves as a reminder.

The ride back is quiet; Billy keeps the radio on but doesn't blast it. Steve thinks he's tapping his fingers along in time to the music, but then he realizes Billy's just tapping them, constant, quick, compulsive. Steve can’t keep his mind off the sound — he feels like it’s dictating the rabbit-quick beat of his heart.

Steve doesn't want to speak. Steve doesn't want to sit and stew in this silence. 

Steve doesn't know what the fuck he wants. 

"I'm sorry," he says, well after they're on the interstate, his palms sweating and his gaze kept forward. "I— I'm just… I'm sorry."

He doesn't want to look at Billy. 

"What're you apologizing for?" Billy doesn't sound calm so much as he does tired, withdrawn. 

Steve isn't sure why it unsettles him, or why he thinks he would prefer it if Billy was angry, instead. 

"You told me from the start we could only be friends,” Billy says as he signals a lane change. He’s not taking the scenic route back this time. "It doesn't have to mean anything if you don't want it to. So, just say it."

Steve closes his eyes. It hurts, hearing Billy say it like that. Like he could just be content, being friends, or being friends that fuck. Like it isn't killing him the way it's killing Steve. 

"The problem is," Steve breathes, eyes still shut, shoulders heavy with the weight of his want. "The problem is that it means too much." 

A hush follows Steve's words. It rings and rattles between his ears. 

"To me," he adds, just as quiet. "It means too much to me." 

Steve doesn't want to check, because that would mean looking, but he can feel Billy's eyes on him.

"So, what, you figure it means nothing to me ?" He sounds more curious than he does accusatory. Maybe even a little stung, too, but Steve could just be imagining that, or projecting, or something . Because a moment later, Billy's chuckling, the sound rough and humorless. "Shit, you really are dumb."

Steve bristles. " Yeah. Pretty sure you've said something like that before. "

And it's true. It wasn't often, but it happened. More than once. 

Some sort of dirty talk that sounded a lot more like tearing Steve to pieces for fun. Like Billy pulling Steve's hair or biting at his neck or stroking over his cock while he told him he was just a pretty, dumb slut was how he got off. 

To be fair, some small part of Steve liked it . He just didn't like how it left him feeling after. 

Steve feels the car jolt a little as Billy lets off the gas too quickly. From the corner of his eye, he sees Billy's fist clenching around the gearshift.

"Not what I meant," he's saying, grinding the words through the back of his teeth like his jaw is too tight to get them out. "Not what I fucking meant, Steve, I—"

There's something swelling in Billy's voice before he cuts himself off, lets out a slow, shaky breath, and then falls quiet, like he's given up.

Steve almost thinks he has, until Billy mutters: "It means something to me, too."

Steve's gaze snaps up. This time, it's Billy not looking at him. 

Steve almost wants to laugh. He knows the next words out of his mouth are too mean before he even says them. 

"You've got a shitty way of showing it," he snaps, blinks, and then softens it a little. "Historically speaking."

“I know.” Billy’s voice is tight. He’s still staring ahead, still tapping his fingertips against the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Steve can feel the agitation rolling off him in waves, but Billy’s expression is so carefully controlled, and every part of him is tense, pulled taut — like an elastic about to snap.

They’re driving through the residential streets when he speaks again.

“Look, I get that this is— karma , or whatever. I get that I probably deserve it, but—” Billy works his jaw for a moment, taking a left turn on a green, until they’re on Steve’s street and slowing down along the curb. He’s still staring resolutely out the front windshield, like it’s his turn to refuse eye contact. “Don’t do that again, if you want to stay just friends.”

Steve's mouth goes dry. He stares at the side of Billy's face, teeth working the inside of his cheek. 

"It means something to you," Steve says, now that the irritation has drained away, now that he's caught between a horrible decision and a stupid one — because if he steps out of this car as just friends , he doesn't think he'll see Billy again. "What, exactly , does it mean, then?"

Billy shifts the car into park in front of Steve's apartment and lets out a huff of laughter; it sounds tinged with mania, but coupled with the rest of his demeanour — the hand still tapping the wheel, the fist still clenching the gear-shift, the tension still flexing his jaw — Steve is starting to think that Billy might be anxious .

"I'm not drunk enough for this," Billy says, like he's thinking aloud. His head tilts against the seat, his eyes press shut, and for a moment it looks like he's sleeping, or meditating, or maybe just trying to muster up something.

When Billy opens his eyes again, he blurts:

"I've still got feelings for you, Steve."

"Feelings," Steve repeats, dumb, numb; another half hysteric laugh catches in his throat. 

He shouldn't. He knows he shouldn't . But he's so fucking tired of second guessing himself and of questioning every little thing Billy does and had done. 

He's tired of biting his tongue. 

"What feelings , Billy?" he asks, the words manic and swelling up in his throat. His hands gesture outward as if he could point to whatever emotions could possibly lay between them, and when Billy looks at him, as if he might protest, Steve cuts him off. "No. Seriously. What fucking feelings have you had, huh? Did you know that you never even said it ? That you never admitted it yourself that we were doing anything more than fucking? And the last time I told you I loved you, you said I didn't matter . What fucking feelings make you act like that, Billy?"

Billy's staring at him, his jaw tight and his eyes so bright and so blue. His expression is twisted, in something like pain, and Steve has to look away. 

"I know— I know you're doing better with the drugs and shit, but—" Steve's voice breaks a moment; wobbles. "Do you have any idea how it felt, watching the guy I liked so much turn into— into someone else ? Into some kind of— I don't even fucking know. But it was like I stopped being a person in your eyes. It was like I was only worth your time when you were fucking me. It was like--" Steve laughs. "It was like I really didn't matter. And you made me feel that way."

The tapping of Billy’s fingers has finally stopped. Steve can hear him inhaling and exhaling, each breath slow, measured. Like he’s trying to calm himself.

“You matter, Steve,” Billy says into the stillness. He sounds tired. “You always mattered. If you didn’t, this would’ve been so fucking easy .”

"Then why?" Steve asks, because he has to know. "Why did you treat me like I didn't?" 

"I don't know," Billy says, and that's bullshit, they both know that's bullshit — Billy sounds like he's too exhausted to even tell a convincing lie. But then he's leaning his head against the forearm he has braced on the steering wheel and muttering, against the leather: "Told you already: I figured you were gonna leave, one way or another. Made it easier if I didn't give a fuck. I tried not to."

Billy turns his head to the side, peers up at Steve through half-shielded eyes.

"Why do you even care anymore? It's over, and I'm—" He runs his tongue along his teeth, like he's unsticking the words trapped there. "—I'm fucking trying to be better, Steve. I said I’d be fine just being your friend."

Steve swallows. He turns forward, jaw winding tight. He laces his fingers together in his lap, knuckles bleaching. 

"Because breaking up with you was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do," he confesses softly. "Because no matter how many times I tell myself it's a stupid mistake to make again, I still—" 

His voice breaks again. His chin quivers, but he just clenches his jaw tighter. He's not gonna cry again. 

"Because I'm still stupidly in love with you, even if I don't want to be."

Billy stares at him with his face still half-buried against the steering wheel, quiet like he's processing, like he’s slowly mulling something over. Steve sees his tongue move in his mouth again, but it's another few painfully drawn-out seconds before he says anything.

"Guess that makes two of us."

Steve lets loose another laugh. It's a terrible, brittle thing, and he slumps in the passenger seat, head falling back, staring up at the roof of the car. 

"What are we even doing , Billy?" he asks. "Why are we doing this?"

"Wish I could tell you," Billy mutters, the corner of his mouth quirking up into a poor facsimile of a smirk. "Maybe we're both just suckers for punishment?"

He shrugs one shoulder and finally straightens up from his slouch to lean back into the driver's seat, expression falling.

Steve lets his head lull over. He looks at Billy, at the raw, openness of his face, at the slope of his shoulders. He looks defeated. 

Steve can relate. 

"Maybe we shouldn't do this anymore," Steve whispers. "Maybe we shouldn't try. Maybe we can't just be friends."

"Maybe." Billy doesn't sound like he's agreeing — or like he's disagreeing, even. But the fatigue in his expression shifts to something recognizable, something guarded and closed off. "Is that really what you want, Steve?"

"No," Steve says. "No, it's not what I want."

There's an infinitesimal release of tension in Billy's posture, like he's relieved but trying not to let it show. 

"Me neither," he mutters. "So, fuck it. Let's do what we want."

Too bad what Steve wants doesn’t necessarily equate to what will make him happy .

Steve's mouth presses thin at the thought. He knows Billy sees it because he reaches over and takes Steve's hand. Squeezes it and holds it like he won't let go. 

It's as good as a ‘please’. 

Steve sighs. "What do you want, then, Billy?"

"Stay."

It's the second time Billy's asked — pleaded with him, really, because that's what it sounds like. That's what it feels like, too, with how he keeps holding Steve's hand tight, like maybe it’s enough to keep him there.

"It's late, Billy," Steve says, voice quiet, but he makes no attempts to pull away.

"I don't mean tonight." Billy's grip tightens. "I mean— Don't go fucking off out of my life. That's all I want."

"That's really all you want?" Steve doesn't know why he asks; it's like his mouth has a mind of its own.

Billy lets out a sardonic huff of laughter and shakes his head.

"No, that's not all I want. I wanna get back together, obviously." He shakes his head, gives his shoulders another feeble shrug. Billy doesn't sound insincere. "But I'll settle for keeping you around."

Robin would be threatening to kill him, right now. She would be shouting at him to get his head on straight, to remember how Billy made him feel like he was nothing so many times. 

But Steve wants it. He wants it and he hates himself for wanting it. But he wants it more. 

"Slow," Steve says, before he can stop himself. 

Billy's eyebrows draw together. "What?"

"We take it slow," Steve replies, his heart lurching over itself in his chest at the way Billy's eyes light up. "And if you— I will dump your ass if you— if you pull any of that shit from before. I'll walk away, you'll lose my number, and that'll be the end of it."

For once, there's no heavy pause, no agonizing silence as Billy considers what to say next.

"Deal," he says, and— god , Billy looks so eager about it, that dull, empty look gone as his face floods with something warm, something like hope. Steve wishes it didn't do things to him, that it didn't make his heart thud and his stomach knot.

Billy's leaning toward him, and for a split-second Steve worries that his eagerness has translated to impulsiveness, that Billy's going to try to pick up from where they left off earlier. 

Instead, he stops midway, staring at Steve like he's suddenly unsure.

"You gotta set the pace," Billy tells him. "Because I— I'm no good at that." 

A shuddering breath leaves Steve at that confession. His gaze hunts over Billy's face, searches the blue of his eyes — and when he finds nothing but that fragile, careful hope, Steve gives in. 

Meeting him halfway, Steve presses his mouth tenderly, chastely, to Billy's own. 

He feels Billy's hand squeeze tighter. Hears the quiet sound that leaves Billy's throat — a euphonic, pleased-sounding hum. Billy leans into the kiss, but he doesn't push it. The rest of him is still, almost rigid, like he's trying to keep himself under control.

Even without Billy’s usual chaotic energy, though, the kiss leaves Steve's body feeling warm and buzzed when he eventually breaks away. It helps that Billy is staring at him with a smile plastered across his face, the kind that has his eyes crinkling at the corners and his teeth flashing. Billy's so handsome it hurts , but for once it's not the unpleasant kind.

"So, was that goodnight?" Billy asks, his head cocked to one side, and he might have looked coy if not for the way he runs his tongue along his lips like he's relishing the taste. 

There's a heady rush of arousal that floods him. Desire, sticky and sweet, coils in his belly. 

He clears his throat, blinking a few times, his cheeks flush as he leans back. He squeezes at Billy's hand. 

"Yeah," Steve nods. "That was goodnight."

Billy lets go of his hand. Steve thinks he can detect some reluctance there, a hint of lingering uncertainty. It feels like Billy's still trying to figure out what the bounds of this are, like he still isn't quite sure what to make of it.

His eagerness is undiminished, though, judging by the way he asks, as Steve unbuckles his seatbelt and reaches for the door:

"See you later this week?" 

Steve glances over at him, offers up a small smile, and nods. "Yeah. Just— try not to drag me out of bed at two in the morning again?"

"Can't make any promises there," Billy says, leaning toward the steering wheel so he can watch Steve slide out and onto the curb. "Don't think you gotta worry about losing any beauty sleep, though."

Steve rolls his eyes, but the smile on his face grows. "Good night, Billy."

He catches a glimpse of Billy and sees that he’s still smiling — and it is a smile, not a smirk, because it’s too soft at the edges. Too fond .

"'Night, Steve."

The door folds shut as Steve steps off the curb and walks across the street to his apartment. It isn't until he's punched his code into the front entrance and is stepping through the threshold that he hears Billy revving the engine. Steve glances back just in time to see his McLaren streaking off into the night.

--

U got any nice suits? 

Steve blinks down at his phone as he pauses in re-stringing the guitar on his desk. He frowns at the thought of needing a nice suit. 

Plucking up his phone, he taps out a reply : Slacks and button-ups. Why? 

Billy seems to be waiting because his reply is almost instant. Steve's frown deepens.

Wanna take u out someplace nice. 

Steve feels something turn over in his gut. He's not sure what ‘someplace nice’ means. 

He's not necessarily sure he wants to. 

How nice?

Steve stares at the screen as Billy's message flashes.

Nice enough to need a suit.

Well, that's specific. It's obvious that Billy is avoiding giving him a direct answer, but Steve doesn't get a chance to press it, because Billy's sending him an address followed by a series of messages that ping him one after the other.

Meet me here at 2.

Dinner after.

If u want??

Steve stares at the address, tries to decipher it by street name alone. He figures it’s a restaurant — at least, until curiosity gets the better of him, and he punches it into Maps, only to discover it’s out in Beverly Hills. 

Steve isn't really sure what to do with that. Or with the fact that Billy knows he'll be off work on time to make it someplace by two. 

Still, he's at least curious enough — and willing enough — to let this happen after their conversation late the other night, in the dark of Billy's car. With a little huff, he taps out a reply. 

See you at 2. Might be late.

Billy's reply is instant.

I'll wait.

 --

It's 2:10. Steve stands on the sidewalk, squinting through the bright Californian sunshine and past the swaying fronds of palm trees to where the shop's massive silver lettering glints in the light. It reads:

GUCCI.

Steve glances away, then, attention turning to the line of cars parked along the narrow street. He immediately spots Billy's vintage Camaro among them, glossy with a high polish and too flashy to miss — it's the car Billy drives when he's trying to be 'subtle'. 

Steve resists the urge to roll his eyes as he makes his way inside.

Billy isn't difficult to spot. He's dressed down today, which for Billy means ripped designer jeans and a watch that looks like it cost a small fortune. He has his aviators pushed up onto his head, and stands near the back of the store running his thumb over the sleeve of a white suit jacket. Beside him, one of the store clerks is speaking. Behind him, some of the other customers are casting furtive glances over their shoulders.

For a second, Steve thinks very hard about turning around and walking back out. 

As a general rule, he doesn't like these kinds of stores — avoids them, really — and gets most of his things second hand thrift shopping with Robin. Standing here, surrounded by things with price tags so large they cost six months of rent, makes Steve feel like a teenager trailing after his mom. His mouth even feels dry, like when he was little and was told, again and again, he was to be seen and not heard. 

So, he clears his throat out of some age-old spite, and steps forward into the shop. 

"Uh, Billy?" He calls as he steps up, and for a moment the clerk looks like she might try and beat him back with a stick, until Billy looks at him and smiles. 

"You made it." 

Steve shrugs. "Yeah. Bus took a little longer than I thought. Sorry."

"S'fine.” Billy says with a dismissive flick of his hand as Steve's halfway through his apology. 

It might have annoyed him if Billy wasn't still smiling, and if he didn't place his hand on the small of Steve's back a moment later, turning him in the direction of the change rooms. The weight of his palm is distracting.

"Got a couple things I want you to try on."

Steve knows that people are looking. He knows that Billy knows people are looking. But his hand remains, warm and steady, at the small off his back. His heart sort of flops over and melts. 

"What?" Steve frowns, nose scrunching up. "Why am I trying things on?"

"Because you can't go to dinner wearing that." Billy gives Steve a pointed once-over, his smile turning cheeky as he leans in so he can speak conspiratorially against Steve's ear. "I told you I was gonna take you somewhere nice, didn’t I?"

Steve shudders. The tips of his ears and his nose feel hot. He lets out a soft huff. 

There's a sense of dread — heavy and thick and at the back of his mouth — but also a buzz of excitement — fluttering and unfurling and low in his belly — at Billy's words. He's not sure he wants to know exactly where they're going, but he also needs to know. 

"Six thousand dollar suit nice?" Steve asks, dubious, as he eyes the two piece hanging by one of the changing room doors. "Are you crazy?"

Billy rolls his eyes and stops just shy of pushing Steve into the open change room.

"Stop looking at the price tags, Steve," he says, tone flat; they've had similar conversations to these before. Billy's of the opinion that his cash is to be spent, and while he's definitely making stacks, Steve’s pretty sure that his spending doesn't lag far behind what he’s raking in.

Several thousand, though? Steve knows that's pennies as far as Billy's budget is concerned.

Still.

"Think of it as an investment in future dinner dates.” Billy takes his hand off Steve’s back and jabs his thumb in the direction of one of the open rooms — the one with two suits already hanging neatly by the door. “Go on.”

"You're serious about this." Steve hesitates. 

"Uh, yeah." Billy folds his arms across his chest. Shifts his weight onto one hip. Watches Steve, with his scarred eyebrow cocked like he's trying to act casual about it. 

Steve has a feeling the air of impatience is a front, though. That Billy's watching him so closely because he's not sure how Steve is going to react. 

Steve glances into the changing room. At the suits hanging there. He knows it's barely a blip on the radar for Billy — it wouldn’t be for Steve, either, if he ever let himself be his father's son in every sense of the word — but it still seems like a lot. 

But Billy's still looking at him. And Billy's still trying. And apparently this is a part of that effort. 

"One," he says, holding up a finger as if to emphasize the point. "One suit. That's it."

Billy stares at him for a moment, like he's considering whether or not he feels like making a counter-offer.

Ultimately, he shrugs his shoulders and drops his arms to his sides.

"Fine. But try everything on," he says. "And don't just go for whichever is cheapest, or I’ll buy all of ‘em.”

Steve rolls his eyes. "Am I modeling for you, or am I allowed to choose for myself?"

Billy’s eyes light up.

"Model for me, huh?" That cheeky smirk returns; Steve wishes he could say it's infuriating, but the only annoyance he feels is at just how charming Billy manages to look right then. "Well, if you're gonna put it that way..."

Billy plops himself down onto the crushed velvet divan that cuts through the center of the changing area, his legs spread obnoxiously wide.

"Feel free to put on a show."

Steve doesn't often feel so blatantly objectified, but somehow Billy manages it. It's in the smoldering heat of his gaze and the sharp white of his smile. It's in the way Billy spreads out, like a fucking king waiting to be worshipped. 

Steve would be lying if he said he didn't imagine dropping to his knees. 

Slow, he reminds himself. We're taking it slow. 

Stepping into the dressing room, he flips Billy off with a saccharine kiss blown to the air, and shuts the door as Billy's eyes crease at the corners when he laughs. 

There are three suits hanging up for him, each paired with a dress shirt and tie. Steve brushes his fingers along the silky patterned blouse of the first ensemble, plucks at the jacket of the second with its bold geometric print, and thinks they're both the kind of loud that Billy likes to wear. 

Steve's not exactly complaining, but he thinks he likes the look of that third one best.

--

"I kinda liked you in floral," Billy drawls, and Steve can't tell if he's joking or not. 

He's standing outside the dressing room facing Billy, wearing the last of the three outfits that Billy (or maybe the shop clerk) picked out for him. It's a sleek black number — a black shirt and black jacket and black pants — that's much slimmer fitting than the first two. It's a little constricting, if Steve's being honest, but the way Billy keeps dragging his eyes up and down his body like he appreciates the view is starting to make him think that it might not be such a bad thing.

Still, Steve's face feels a little hot at just how much Billy's staring.

"Hm, looks good. Just needs a little something.” Billy's suddenly jumping up to his feet and crossing the distance between them. 

Standing in front of Steve, he gets his hands on his tie, works the Windsor knot loose, then slides it off his collar. Billy's hands feel hot against the hollow of his throat as he pops loose the first three buttons of Steve’s shirt — slowly, like he's taking his time.

"There," Billy says, hands lingering a second too long before he drops them away. "Better."

Steve's throat works. He remembers the last time Billy had his hands near his throat — around his throat — and remembers how terribly, devastatingly, fantastically awful that night had been. 

He also remembers exactly how hard he came. 

Face warm, Steve turns away to look at himself in the mirror again. Pulls at the sleeves and fidgets with the cuffs. He looks good. Done up, like he used to at the country club, but in a way that doesn't scream ‘my dad paid for this suit and my mom picked it out’. 

"Not bad," Steve agrees, thumbing at the buttons and meeting Billy's eyes through the mirror with a pointed look. "But I'm not you. I'm not gonna unbutton this to my navel and peacock around."

Billy clicks his tongue as though in disappointment, but Steve can see him grinning in the reflection. He also doesn’t fail to notice the way Billy's gaze conspicuously drops to his ass as he continues drinking Steve in. Billy’s eyebrows hike a little farther up his forehead, his smirk growing wider.

"Don't think you have to wear it unbuttoned to show off your assets ," he drawls, and it's the oldest move in his playbook and so ridiculously blatant , but Steve still feels warmth settle in his gut when Billy runs his tongue along his lips.

"You're an absurd caricature of a human," Steve replies, without any venom, the quip coming easy and so familiar on his tongue. 

He adjusts the suit jacket and then hums. He likes the way it looks. He likes the way Billy looks at him while he's in it. 

"This one," he says. 

"Good choice," Billy tells him with an approving little nod, reaching out to pluck what Steve is pretty sure is an imaginary piece of fluff or string off the shoulder of his suit jacket. "You need any help taking that thing off?" 

Steve's face burns. He pushes at Billy's shoulder. 

"We're in a store," Steve says, as if that means anything at all; he's pretty sure they've gotten off in a dressing room before — or maybe it was a private restroom. It was all a bit of a blur, at one point; just because Billy was always careful not to touch him under the public eye, didn't mean he wouldn't drag Steve out of sight for a quickie whenever the need and opportunity arose. Which was often .

Hell, Steve's sure that Billy would be willing and eager to do that right now. His flirting isn't entirely playful; Steve gets the impression that he's testing the waters, that Billy’s seeing how far he's allowed to run with this. Because they're supposed to be taking things slowly , and Steve is supposed to be the one setting the pace.

He wishes Billy would stop tempting him astray.

Then again, part of him likes it.

“Well, let me know if you change your mind,” Billy relents with a shrug, side-stepping past Steve and clapping a hand to his back. 

It might have seemed like a friendly gesture if not for the way Billy’s palm stays pressed there, between Steve’s shoulder blades, just a couple of seconds too long. Steve can feel the warmth of him even through two layers of fabric. He breathes in a little too sharply and hopes it isn’t obvious.

A moment later, Billy pulls away again.

“Meet me at the front cash.”

Flustered and surprisingly wound up, Steve makes quick work of changing back into his street wear in the dressing room. The second he's back in jeans and a cotton tee, he misses the expensive feel of silk. It's ludicrous. 

Gathering up his things, he makes his way up to the register, where Billy is leaning against the counter and grinning at the clerk behind it. Her face is red and any warmth Steve felt is suddenly nonexistent. 

He drapes the suit over the counter in front of Billy. "Ready?" he asks, careful to keep his tone mild. 

"Mhm," Billy hums in assent, pulling out a slim leather bifold from his back pocket. He takes out a black card with more flourish than he needs to and slots it into the chip reader. Steve doesn't fail to see the way the girl at the register zeroes in on that. Or the way she seems to intentionally brush fingers with Billy when she hands him two bags' worth of purchases from the other side of the counter. Or the way she smiles at Billy a little too sweetly, and bats her eyelashes, and acts like Steve is invisible .

He might as well be.

"Have a nice day," she says. If Billy is wise to any of it, he gives no indication. He throws her a lazy two-fingered salute and turns on his heels for the door.

Steve follows because he's always followed. Quiet and shuttered, not quite visible next to the brilliance that is Billy Hargrove. 

It's one of those things that didn't bother him until it did. That didn't really matter, all things considered, until Billy stopped being able to see him, too.

Outside, Steve stuffs his hands into his pockets, and squeezes his eyes shut for a second. 

There’s a dull thunk as the trunk of Billy’s Camaro shuts; Steve blinks his eyes open again in time to see Billy peering at him, a crease between his eyebrows.

“You good?” he asks, sounding wary, and Steve feels the way Billy’s picking him apart with his stare. 

On impulse, or perhaps reflex, Steve finds the lie on the tip of his tongue. "I'm fine."

Billy stares at him a second longer, like he doesn’t believe Steve and is searching for something in his expression that will confirm this. After a moment spent squinting in the sunlight, he seems to give up, sliding his sunglasses onto his face and walking around to the driver’s side.

“Dinner reservation’s at six,” Billy tells him, his elbow braced on the roof of his car and his other hand propping open the driver-side door, as though he’s waiting to make sure Steve gets in. “You wanna do something to kill time?”

"Depends," Steve says, stepping up and opening the passenger side door. "What did you have in mind?" 

Billy throws his shoulders up into a shrug and finally ducks into the driver's seat, waiting until Steve gets in before he shoves his keys in the ignition and turns over the engine. It sputters and then roars to life, because when Billy gutted his old Camaro he did away with a proper muffler.

'I like it loud,' he’d said, with a sly and completely unsubtle wink when he picked Steve up from his apartment for an impromptu joyride.

Steve's flushes at the memory.

"Dunno. Could go for a drive," Billy suggests, tilting his head forward so he can peer at Steve over the top of his sunglasses. "Or we could kick it at my place. Got a few new instruments you could play around with, if you want."

Steve's not sure if there's meant to be an innuendo there at not; Billy collects musical instruments, despite the fact that he only actually plays guitar. And Billy knows Steve's, like, a savant when it comes to playing almost anything. Advanced lessons from age four to eighteen helped. 

"I could get behind checking out your new inventory," Steve says as he slides into place and buckles up. 

The crooked line of Billy's mouth suggests he's entertaining wicked thoughts, but whatever they are, he doesn't voice them.

And that's new. In all the time Steve's known him, Billy has never been one to hold back on anything. Much less putting a voice to all the filth he's got kicking around in his head.

"Maybe you could play me something from your last set," Billy eventually says, instead, as he pulls away from the curb and merges into the late afternoon L.A. traffic. "Think I missed the end of it."

Steve huffs, his face coloring for an all new reason. He's not usually one for bashfulness when it comes to his music, but he's always been hesitant about sharing it with Billy. 

Their vibes are totally different. Steve's always felt like Billy was bored by his music. 

"If that's what you want," Steve shrugs. "It's nothing special."

He swears he can feel the way Billy rolls his eyes at that.

"You don't have act humble about it all the time, you know,” Billy says. “If you weren't so stubborn about it, I could've helped you land a record deal forever ago.”

They've had this discussion before, back before Billy got too wrapped up in his career and drug-fuelled social life to pay Steve any mind.

Steve doesn't like handouts. He'd been given a free pass most of his life and didn't like who he was when he got it. It's a familiar argument, Steve wanting to make his own way and Billy wanting to just give it to him, and he thinks it's because Billy doesn't know how easy Steve's life could be if he really just let it. 

He likes the hard work. He likes getting by on his own merit. The Harrington last name means almost nothing on the west coast and even less in his particular choice of profession. 

"I don't need the help," Steve says, a little slow, but he's trying to work on being more up front with Billy — instead of burying everything down — so he adds: "I know I'm good, Billy. I just never thought you liked my brand of music."

Billy shrugs. 

“It's different." 

Steve's heard that comment before; it's the sort of thing people say when they're trying to hedge around a criticism without quite giving him a compliment. 

Billy isn't the type to beat around the bush on that sort of thing. Still, Steve's surprised when he says:

"Not everyone appreciates that. They just wanna hear the same shit over and over again, because that's what's familiar to them." 

There's an undercurrent of frustration to Billy's voice; Steve gets the impression it isn't directed at him, that it's something personal.

Billy shrugs. "Anyway, it takes balls to be different. Especially in this town. I respect that."

Steve blinks at him a few times. Watches his profile as they ease along in late afternoon traffic. 

"I respect that," he echoes, a little mocking but not without a touch of fondness, brow arching when Billy glances at him, face pinched, like he's worried he's offended Steve or something. "You sound like such a bro sometimes. Like, I half expected an awkward back slap. You gonna kiss me and tell me no homo next?" 

He can see the moment Billy realizes Steve isn't just needling him, isn't just making fun, but teasing him, because that lazy, panty-dropper grin slides into place. Steve kinda wants to smack him. 

"You saying I get to kiss you sometime soon?" he asks.

Steve definitely wants to smack him. 

"I dunno," Steve replies. "I, apparently, have the balls to play indie shit in coffee shops. Do you have the balls to properly ask me for what you want?"

Billy's eyes flash behind his sunglasses. Not with anger, Steve realizes; Billy looks fucking delighted, like Steve's just told him something he's been waiting to hear.

His smirk widens. Turns wily. Steve watches him wet his lips, like he always does — like it's a compulsion to show off those pink lips of his, to remind Steve of that skilled tongue.

“Don’t you want me to take you to dinner first?” Billy asks, throwing the question back like he’s trying to trip Steve up. 

It doesn't work — Steve's heart tripping over itself and warmth bubbling up, low, just below his navel notwithstanding. 

Steve smiles back, saccharine and too sweet, patting Billy on the cheek. "I never said I'd give you what you want."

"Tease." Billy says it like it's an accusation, and Steve hopes he isn't imagining the touch of warmth to his voice, the way it makes Billy sound almost fond. "Maybe I'll think about saying please if you put on a good show for me." 

Billy cocks his head; Steve can feel his eyes on him, watching him with an odd mix of smugness and something Steve thinks, hopes, is affection. Steve is tempted — because Billy has always been good at tempting him — to lean over and press their mouths together. To make good on the dirty, filthy promise written all over Billy's face. 

"I'll think about it," Steve says, instead. "You should keep your eyes on the road."

He laughs when Billy jerks the wheel slightly. Braces himself as the car swerves, just a little, without drifting out of the lane. 

“Maybe you should stop giving me reasons not to,” Billy mutters, but he’s obviously not complaining; Steve can still see a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. It’s bright and warm like the afternoon sunshine beaming down on them.

Steve feels warm, just witnessing it. Feels like soaking in it. 

"Is making sure we don't crash a reason to ignore me?" Steve asks. "Because I'd really like to not crash."

"Killjoy," Billy says, voice dripping playful sarcasm. 

Steve rolls his eyes but can't stop himself from smiling — can't stop himself from reaching out, either, to where Billy's hand is gripping the clutch. He lays his palm over Billy's fist, brushes his fingertips along the backs of his knuckles. Feels Billy stiffen, and then relax. 

"You'll thank me later when your baby isn't a heaping pile of scrap metal," Steve says. 

"Uh-huh," Billy drawls, his smile turning impish. "Never crashed before when you were being a hell of a lot more of a distraction."

Steve's face heats so rapidly he's surprised his head doesn't explode. He sees the way Billy's smile goes wider and knows that they're thinking about the same thing — Steve bent over the gear shift, blowing Billy while he cruises down the 101.

"Jesus christ," Steve huffs, a dull but constant throbbing settling low in his gut.

Billy clicks his tongue, but his grin hasn't faded. Neither has his smugness.

"Nah, pretty sure he had nothing to do with it."

Steve shrinks down in his seat a little, hand withdrawing from Billy's, face still pink-- he's embarrassed, sure, but when he glances over at Billy again, seeing that delighted grin, Steve says: 

"I dunno. Pretty sure I heard you praying to god more than a few times."

Billy's laughter takes him off-guard.

It sounds like it takes Billy off-guard, too, like even he wasn't anticipating the way it escapes him on a breath and has him hunching forward like he feels it in his gut. It's not manic, or mocking; it's not the controlled chuckle he gives when he's amused, not the howl he gives when he's taken a punch or snorted a line and is buzzing from adrenaline. 

No, Billy sounds like he's genuinely helpless to hold it in.

"Damn," he says, eventually, when he can stop laughing enough to speak. "Yeah, alright. You got me there.”

Steve lets a satisfied little smile curl his mouth. There's a warmth thrumming through him. Delight playing along his nerves. 

"Not your fault," Steve shrugs. "It's pure god-given talent."

"Yeah," Billy agrees, mirth still tingeing his voice and a grin still splitting his mouth wide. "That was talent, huh? You sure it wasn't all the practice I gave you?"

"Nope," Steve says with a shake of his head, even though Billy is probably right; Steve spent a lot of time with Billy's cock in his mouth, even before things went sour, and he'd be lying if he said he didn't like it. "Pure talent."

He tries very hard not to think of the night he spent on his knees, with Billy's hands in his hair, and Billy pressed deep, heavy on his tongue, to see how long he could take it like that, with Billy in his throat just holding him steady. Because he knows if he does, taking things slow will be a lost fucking cause. 

"Think anyone would be a pro with how much dick you sucked," Billy says, the words lolling off his tongue so slow and casual and sticky-sweet. He flashes his teeth at Steve as he shifts gears; they're out of traffic now, so he can speed down the highway and weave past all the other cars. 

"Yeah," Steve says. "Or maybe you've just been getting subpar head most of your life."

Billy cackles. 

Chapter Text

The drive to Billy’s estate in Bel Air is a short one, in no small part due to the fact that Billy  drives at least ten over the speed limit for the entirety of the winding trek there. Their conversation turns tame, eventually; Steve is honestly surprised that Billy didn’t push it like he always does, that he actually reins it in when Steve changes the subject. Self-restraint and Billy are usually so immiscible, and yet.

Billy's house, like everything else he owns these days, is ludicrously excessive and opulent. There are far too many rooms for one person — he doesn't even use half of them, and most of the others are either intended for storage or look unlived in, decorated sparsely and looking like they’ve been untouched since Billy first bought the place months ago. 

Steve's pretty sure he only got it to throw parties in. Hell, it's almost weird not seeing any half-naked girls passed out on any of the sofas, or piles of cocaine and liquor bottles littering any of the coffee tables. It’s a good thing, obviously, but without the remnants of last night’s party, something about the space feels kind of… empty.

They're sitting in what is perhaps one of the few cluttered rooms in the entire house; the walls are covered with gold and platinum records, framed posters from various Mindflayer tours, and other miscellaneous pieces of signed memorabilia. 

But Steve only has eyes for Billy's collection of instruments, which is, quite frankly, impressive. He's got an entire wall mounted with guitars — some of them undoubtedly worth hundreds of thousands, others valuable more for sentimental reasons than anything. Then there’s the two drum sets. The assortment of string instruments. The massive Steinway grand piano standing perfect and polished in one corner. 

Steve feels like a kid in a candy store. 

Naturally, he goes straight for the piano. 

When he was just a kid, his mom insisted on lessons, mostly to keep him from getting under foot. It had been a surprise that he'd taken to it so well. Like it was intrinsic — a natural step in the progression of his life. He was playing recitals all the way through high school. 

When Steve settles at the bench and strikes a few keys, he's pleasantly surprised it's not out of tune, despite that he's pretty sure Billy never actually plays the damn thing.

"Got that moved in a couple weeks ago," Billy says, closer behind him than Steve anticipated. He looms there a moment, peering over Steve’s back while he watches him play a few scales to get his hands warmed up. Then Billy’s sinking onto the piano bench beside him, thigh inconspicuously pressed to Steve’s. “Was hoping you’d be the one to break it in for me.”

It sounds almost like Billy got it for Steve. Steve doesn't think that’s actually true, but it's a nice sentiment. 

He throws in a quick, playful round of Chopsticks, brow up. 

"Pianos don't need to be broken in," Steve says. 

Billy just shrugs and gives a flippant, “whatever.” 

Their shoulders brush, too closely seated for there to be any space between them. It’s intimate, but in a comfortable sort of way — or maybe that’s just because playing music puts Steve at ease, settling whatever nerves he might still have whenever he and Billy are alone together.

“Play me something,” Billy says, suddenly. His eyes are on Steve’s face, watching his profile rather than his hands. 

Steve hums. "What do you want me to play?"

But his fingers are already moving across the keys. Settling into the familiar motions — Beethoven ringing between his ears — a muscle memory from years of practice. Moonlight Sonata is a beautiful piece to begin with, but it sounds incredible on the Steinway. 

It’s the sort of thing that tempts Steve — almost tempts him — to dip into the trust fund he’s pointedly left collecting dust these past years. Because the only piano Steve has in his apartment is a second-hand Yamaha, and it doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as this.

“Play something from your set,” Billy replies belatedly, after a stretch of silence spent listening to the slow, haunting melody that Steve is still tapping out against the keys. “Something you wrote.”

Steve hums again. He thinks over all of his new stuff, the material he's spent the months toiling over while he’s been stuck on the fringes of Billy's life. He runs through his most recent set in his head, thinking about notes he usually plays on a guitar or a keyboard, and then sets his fingers on the right keys. 

"You don't want me to serenade you, do you?" Steve asks, as the first notes ring in the air. 

"Sure I do," Billy says with a wide, lazy smirk, like this isn't exactly what he was after when he invited Steve back to his place. "See if you can make me swoon like you do with all those MILFs at the coffee shop."

Steve rolls his eyes, but as his fingers work through the notes playing in his head, his voice follows. He sings softly at first, voice low and buttery and unmistakably tinged with melancholy. When he played this for Robin the first time, she looked at him and said ‘gay yearning’, as if it was its own subgenre. 

Maybe she wasn’t so far off the mark.

Eyes fluttering shut as the tempo heightens, Steve leans a little into the keys, foot working the pedal. He imagines a little stage and a dark theater. Imagines the hush and lets his voice swell to fill it. He croons the words like they're a plea, and beside him he thinks he hears Billy's breath catch. Feels him press closer, until their shoulders and thighs are flush. It might have been distracting, if Steve wasn’t so focused on the music. If he wasn’t so intent on pouring his heart out into the soft, lilting lyrics that fall off his tongue with practiced ease. 

And when he’s done — when he hits those last few chords, plays those last couple quiet notes, there’s a brief lull of silence. Billy is still beside him, like he’s frozen in the moment. 

Steve lifts his hands away from the keyboard and glances over to Billy, trying to make sense of his expression. His brow is furrowed, the way it gets when he’s considering something, and he’s stiff, pulled taut like a violin string.

Steve wants to say something, but Billy beats him to the punch.

“Yeah, wow." He licks his lips. Steve's not sure, but he thinks he can feel the hand on Billy's knee flexing, like he's trying to keep it in place. "Must've dropped a lot of panties when you played that one."

Steve snorts, color flooding his cheeks as he glances away. "Wouldn't know."

"Really?" Billy's watching him intently, now. He can't make out the glint in those baby blue eyes, but there's a simmering intensity to it, like Billy's holding back and inching forward all at once. "You just trying to be humble, Stevie?"

Steve sighs when he twists to face Billy proper. He could count the freckles across his nose this close. He remembers being high and trying to, once; he'd stopped at ten, at the brush of Billy's lips against his.

The memory warms his stomach.

"Do you really need me to say it that bad?" he asks, but doesn't give Billy a chance to answer. "I haven't slept with anybody since you. So. No dropped panties."

Billy runs his tongue over his lips again, and it’s so obvious that he’s burning up with want. He’s not subtle about it. He never was. And Steve thinks he knows Billy well enough by now to recognize all his tells. Billy has no poker face when it comes to this sort of thing, no matter how hard he tries.

And he is making an effort; his hands haven’t left his knees. He’s tense like he’s still trying not to move.

“Really?” Billy says again. He sounds almost relieved, this time, like he’s letting out a breath he’s been holding in since the start of their conversation. "Must've had some lonely nights."

Steve feels Billy's fingers brush against his thigh — carefully, like he's testing the waters. Like he isn't sure where the line is or how not to cross it. Like he's so afraid he'll misstep and Steve will 'dump his ass', as he'd promised.

Steve hums again. Because he's still thrumming from playing. Because Billy is looking at him like that. Because Billy is waiting. 

He tilts his head, just a little. His eyes fall, blatantly, to Billy's mouth. Then, he drags them back up to his eyes and holds that intense stare with one of his own.

"Awful lonely," Steve agrees. 

Billy gets the message. He must, because no sooner than Steve says it, letting his stare linger in a moment of tense quiet, Billy’s palm jumps to his knee and squeezes it. 

There’s a half-second pause before Billy leans in and catches the corner of Steve’s mouth in a kiss. Steve turns into it instantly, angling his mouth so that their lips press more properly together. He reaches up and catches Billy's jaw between his hands. 

If Billy had been smoldering with want before, now he's aflame. He surges forward like Steve is kindling, consuming the kiss like he’s been waiting for this.

Steve has, too. For weeks.

So, he feels like melting when Billy runs his tongue along his lips like he’s asking for permission, and Steve thinks that maybe he’s getting too close to the fire. That maybe it’s going to swallow him up. But he can’t help himself.

Shuddering, he lets Billy lick into his mouth. Parts his lips and moans at the first slide of his tongue. Shifts closer on the bench, heart racing, pounding between his ears. Want curls tight in his belly. He wants to crawl into Billy's lap and kiss him until he can't breathe. 

Either Billy reads his mind, or he’s taking liberties, because the second Steve has that thought, Billy’s acting on it. The hand on Steve’s thigh jumps to his hip, urging him closer as Billy’s tongue slides into his mouth. As soon as it does, the kiss grows desperate.

The hand on Steve’s hip pulls again, only this time Steve can’t help but be drawn in by it. Like he’s already caught in Billy’s gravity. Like he already knows it’s hopeless to resist.

Shifting, weight moving as Billy coaxes him, Steve follows the guiding hand until he's practically sprawled in Billy's lap. The keys of the piano groan out something offkey as Billy pulls and pushes him, pinning him there with his back against the teeth of the keyboard, their tongues meeting as Steve tangles his fingers in Billy's hair. 

Billy grunts when Steve's hand gives a little tug and groans when Steve scrapes his tongue with his teeth. The kiss that started out slow and hungry is starting to turn desperate, already, like whatever restraint Billy has been nurturing is starting to crumble with every passing second.

Steve feels a hand move to his other hip, squeezing, and feels Billy's fingertips splay under the hem of his shirt to brush at his stomach. He shifts his hips reflexively and the sound Billy makes — a rough, reedy thing trapped high in his throat — makes heat coil tight in his stomach and his cock twitch.

Billy catches his lower lip between his teeth, then. Tugs. It's not quite mean, but it isn't gentle, either, and there's nothing tentative about the way one of his hands is roving up under Steve's shirt, now, blazing a burning trail from his stomach to his chest.

It leaves him quaking. Breathless. On the precipice of something that feels a lot like madness. His skin is alight with Billy's touch and he arches into it, groans as both of Billy's hands sink under his shirt, rucking the material up, fingers big and scorching along the ladder of his ribs.

Steve gasps against Billy’s lips as they press flush. As Billy finds a home between his thighs. As his back knocks jarring notes from the piano behind him when Billy lurches closer to chase more sounds from Steve's mouth. Pressure and growing arousal have Steve burning up and feverish. 

He bucks, nails dragging over Billy's scalp, and tries to remember why he waited so long to feel this again. In the depths of his head, where his thoughts are dulled by desire, he can't find a single reason. 

Hell, he doesn’t want to.

Billy is kissing him like he’s trying to steal Steve’s breath away; it’s just on the edge of overwhelming, riding that blurred and narrow line between good and too much. 

And then Billy’s grinding up into him. Sucking at his tongue. Biting his bottom lip until it feels swollen. Digging blunt fingernails into his hip and scraping them across Steve’s chest.

It's the frantic rutting that has Steve's head turning to mush. Everything narrows in on that sensation — Billy's hips moving to meet his own, in an instinctual, animal motion. Steve hisses, a hand fumbling to Billy's shoulder, to his back, his fingers digging in uselessly as the piano digs into his spine. 

Pleasure tightens in his stomach, his thighs, his groin. It licks up his spine and along his nerves until he's left rolling his hips in reply, chasing sensation. 

Pulling at Billy's hair, Steve turns his face to gasp for breath. He’s panting, open mouthed and heavy, as Billy's lips and teeth and tongue find his jaw and his throat instead. 

" Fuck," Steve spits, thighs trembling, pelvis jerking forward to meet the obscene grind of Billy's hips. 

They're both hard, he realizes. Rutting like teens, with discordant music accompanying their heavy breaths. 

"Say it," Billy's voice is muffled, nearly inaudible, as he presses his mouth to Steve's collar and sucks wet marks along the whole curving line of his throat to his jaw. His lips are at Steve's ear when he speaks again, breathing ragged, hips still rocking up in a desperate rhythm. "If you want me to stop, say it."

Steve groans, a hand curling at Billy's nape as teeth find the place below his ear that always makes his legs go weak. His hips jerk again, the friction electric. 

He knows— he knows he can stop this. Should stop it. 

"Don't stop," he breathes, and that's all it seems to take. 

Billy surges up, the hands on Steve's hips hoisting him up until he's sat on the keyboard with a resounding clang . His legs wrap around Billy's waist as Billy leans his weight into him, teeth pressing into his pulse, and Steve's gone. Lost to the heat. To the frantic press of Billy’s mouth and the hand sliding between his thighs. 

Billy’s got the heel of his palm grinding at Steve’s cock through his jeans, now. The friction of it is making his head spin. He tilts his chin back like that will help him to catch his breath, and Billy seems to take it as an invitation to suck another bruise high on his throat.

“Like that, baby?" Billy murmurs, squeezing gently at Steve's cock, then cupping him through his jeans and grinding again, movements quick and urgent. "You gonna come for me?"

A hand scrambles for some kind of anchor. For something to grasp onto outside of the heat of Billy pressing against him. Of his mouth against his throat. Of his hand on his cock through denim and cotton. Of his voice, like temptation itself, in his head. His fingers splay over ivory, clutching at the edge of the piano's keyboard, the sound joining in the crescendo. 

His hips flex mindlessly up into Billy's touch. His mouth, swollen and red, falls open as he pants. His toes curl. 

" Yes," he gasps out, fully willing to let Billy play him like the instrument he's got Steve pinned to if it means this exultation; the fingers of his free hand curl back into Billy's hair to pull him impossibly closer. "Yes— please, Billy, yes." 

"So needy," Billy says, like he’s awed. He's working Steve's cock at a constant, expert rhythm, squeezing and grinding until Steve can’t stop gasping. Until he can’t help but rock his hips up into Billy's palm, chasing the pressure and the heat that's building to a fever pitch. "Missed this, haven't you? Missed how good I can make you feel."

Steve squeezes his eyes shut. The fallboard is digging painfully into the small of his back, but he doesn’t care.

"I got you." Billy's teeth nip at his jaw. The hand up the front of his shirt scratches against Steve's stomach. He's cooing against Steve's throat, now. Coaxing him with his words and his tongue and his clever hands. "Let go, baby. That's it."

His orgasm doesn't come as a surprise. He can feel it encroaching, feel the way it crawls through him, all pressure and pleasure until everything just snaps. 

It crests through him, with Billy's continued promises whispered against his skin, a constant litany of let go, I got you, baby, let go, and pulls his spine into a divine arch as wet heat floods the place under Billy's palm. He moans, hips shuddering helplessly, thighs pulling taut at Billy's waist as the bliss of it all crashes through him and leaves him drowning in it. 

Billy's hand falters and then stills, just long enough for Steve to blink open his eyes, vision hazy and fuzzy all around the edges. Then, Billy grinds his palm down again, not quite as urgent but just as firm, and Steve keens.

"Billy," he pants, almost like a protest, and pulls at his hair. 

Billy takes it as encouragement. He keeps gyrating his hand, slow but deliberate, working it over the clothed head of Steve's cock until the friction of his wet briefs rubbing against him starts to hurt, until the pressure starts to toe over the line from pleasure into pain.

It's too much. Especially when Billy hasn't stopped sucking at his throat, his words still vibrating against Steve's pulse point.

"So good, baby." Billy sighs, the sound shuddering through him. "Told you I got you."

Steve strains a bit. Tries to shy away from that touch, from that heat, but his limbs are like jelly and his head is still swimming. 

He whines, hand snatching away from the keyboard to dive between them, clutching at Billy's wrist to try and still him. 

"Billy, please," Steve gasps into his ear as Billy's teeth find his jaw. 

Billy's hand doesn't still. He presses his fingers in, curls them against the damp seat of Steve's pants, and works the thick denim against his spent dick until Steve's squirming. It's not quite mean, but it's definitely smug; Steve can feel Billy's grin against his neck.

"Please what?"

If you want me to stop, say it. Steve thinks, the echo of Billy's voice in his head, and his throat works as a hint of shame begins to creep in, like a parasite, twining around his ribs— 

"Stop," he breathes. 

Billy stops. 

The hand on Steve’s cock finally pulls away. The palm groping on his chest slides out of his shirt. Billy’s mouth hovers at his pulsepoint, but he’s not biting, anymore. The heat of his breath sends a shiver racing down Steve’s aching back.

“You good?” Billy asks. 

If Steve listens closely enough, he thinks he can hear some uncertainty there. It might explain why Billy hasn’t pulled away completely, why he’s still hovering close, why he hasn’t stopped pinning Steve against the piano.

Steve's throat works even as he nods — a small, muted motion as he gives himself a moment to truly let the situation sink in. 

Billy had pulled Steve into his lap. Billy had kissed him silly. Billy had told him to say stop if he wanted it. Billy had stopped. 

There were no harsh words. No berating. No mocking. Just Billy, intent and desperate, getting him off over the keyboard of his expensive as fuck piano. 

Steve laughs. When Billy jerks back, just enough to meet his eyes, Steve keeps laughing. 

"Sorry, just—" Steve says, words spilling over his mirth. "Just— you wanted me to break in your new piano."

It seems to take a second for Billy to get the punchline.

And then he's grinning, wolfishly, and bringing back both his hands to splay across Steve's hips.

"Yeah," he agrees, voice hitching as he presses a wet kiss behind Steve's ear, then leans away to peer up at him with an amused glint in his eyes. "Think you did a pretty fucking good job of that."

Steve hums as his amusement dies back down. It's tinged with a sweet, soothing relief as Billy's thumbs draw circles over the jut of Steve's hip bones. 

Breath calming, Steve stares at Billy for a hushed moment. 

Then, he reaches up and cradles Billy's jaw in his hands. Guides him down. Kisses him soft. Feels Billy wilt where he's suspended between Steve's palms, and then sink into him, warm and heavy.

When they pull away again, Billy's still smirking.

"You should shower before dinner," he says, tilting the side of his face into one of Steve's palms. "Good thing I got you a new pair of pants, huh?"

Steve snorts, but watches, awestruck, as Billy kisses the palm of his hand. "Yeah. Awful convenient," he mutters. 

And then he realizes, suddenly, that Billy is still hard. Reflexively, he drops a hand between them to work at Billy's belt buckle. He’s surprised by how quickly Billy's fingers lock around his wrist, stopping his hand from moving, and at first Steve can't make sense of it. Of why Billy's tugging him away instead of pulling him closer.

"It's fine," he says; Steve hears his breath quietly hitch, like he’s trying to play it cool and struggling, if only a little. "We gotta start getting ready."

Steve frowns. There's a protest sitting on his tongue that never finds a voice when Billy squeezes at his wrist and holds his gaze. 

"Okay," he says, a little slowly, because Billy is, at heart, a total hedonist. "You sure?"

Billy cracks a grin at that, head cocked and lashes fluttering in that stupidly pretty, stupidly charming way of his. 

"Don't pout, baby," he coos. "I'll let you give me a handy on the drive back if you're that eager for it."

Steve shoves him by the shoulders, lips thinning. Billy stumbles back with a little laugh, and Steve slides carefully to his feet, back still smarting and pants increasingly uncomfortable. 

"And to think, I was gonna offer you a blow job." Steve says, brushing by. "Have fun with your blue balls. I'll be in the shower."

He hears Billy make a disappointed little cluck of his tongue but is pleased that Billy, for once, lets him get the final word when he leaves the room.

It's more of a trek than it has any right to be, padding through the sprawling mansion to the ensuite bathroom connected to the master bedroom. There are at least sixteen rooms in this place, and of the ones that Billy actually uses, he's here so infrequently that they look practically untouched when Steve peers into them. Even Billy's bedroom looks unused: the bed is made and the sheets uncrumpled, the blinds and curtains are drawn, and there are no tell-tale signs of laundry littering the floor. 

It feels kind of cold, honestly. Even Billy, with his commanding presence that's usually so much larger than life, can't seem to fill the empty space. 

There's something like loneliness settling in Steve's gut as he steps into the bathroom and hears his footsteps echo on the cool marble tile. He wonders if this was why Billy was always throwing parties here. If maybe he was trying to make his house feel a little less empty.

And then Steve thinks, as he stands under the shower spray and lathers soap across his skin, that if Billy was really that lonely maybe he should have just come and stayed at his apartment, instead.

--

If Steve is being totally and completely honest, he hadn't had high hopes for the evening. 

In the past, when Billy had taken him anywhere that they weren't blatantly sneaking around, there had always been this thin veneer of aloofness about him. A distant lack of care in Billy's eyes. A vast abyss left pointedly between the two of them, like they were business partners or distant friends and not lovers. 

It had felt like Billy was going through the motions of what was expected, rather than something that he actually wanted to do. As if Billy thought he had to take Steve out, from time to time, just to keep getting into his pants. Steve's not sure where he'd gotten the idea; he just knows it had made him feel sick and beholden after, with Billy drunk or high or both and whispering to him about how nice he'd been and didn't he deserve something nice from Steve in return?

For a while, Steve tried to tell himself that it was all just a game. Billy liked to talk shit — got off on it, even before — but he would always soften afterward to make sure the shame that sometimes accompanied the come down wouldn't worm its way into Steve's chest. Until even that softness stopped. 

So, he didn't have high hopes for anything different. He was pleasantly surprised, by the end of the night, that Billy proved him wrong. 

All evening, as they walked around the restaurant turned pop-up art gala, Billy kept close. Kept his hand on Steve's lower back, muttering into his ear each time a socialite or some other face Steve's seen plastered on a magazine approached, voice low and comments withering, as they toured around and ate five-star food.  He kept his hand on Steve's lower back, eyes bright and brilliant and wicked as they privately poked fun at some of the pieces labeled art — there was a toilet splattered with paint in one corner of the room — and watched Steve sip champagne without ever taking a flute for himself. 

Even as they step out, a valet pulling Billy's car up in front, Billy keeps his hand at Steve's lower back. Even as a camera flashes somewhere and Steve draws tight. 

"Ignore it," Billy tells him. 

Steve blinks. "Seriously?"

"Yeah," Billy says with a shrug, like it's nothing, and Steve doesn't believe that for a second. 

It's never been nothing. If there's one part of Billy's private life he's always safeguarded, it's his sexuality. Hell, sometimes he’d gotten so paranoid about their secret that he’d insisted they take separate cars to events and refused to spend time alone with Steve at any public venues. 

So, for him to be acting like it's cool when some paparazzo snaps photos of him with a hand on Steve's back? While they get into the same car? While Billy's sober?

The one-eighty is making Steve's head spin; the champagne probably doesn't help, either.

He slides into the passenger seat when the valet comes around to hold open the door for him, and watches Billy's face in profile as they roll out of the parking lot. He looks calm. Well, he looks like he's trying to look calm, but there's a certain tenseness to the way he holds his jaw that Steve picks up on.

"Billy," Steve says and watches as Billy flinches, a gentle sorrow welling up in his chest at the sight. Billy’s fingers blanch on the steering wheel, on the gear shift; Steve lays a tentative hand over his forearm. "Hey."

They had been having such a good night. It had been more than Steve had ever let himself hope for. Standing next to Billy, in their pressed suits, teasing and talking easily all night. It had felt right. It had felt so easy. 

Billy glances at him, shoulders drawn, but doesn't flinch from his touch.

"I had a really nice time tonight," Steve says, instead of anything else he might have said to try and reassure Billy that it was all okay — that it was fine to be scared, that Steve didn't expect him to jump out of the closet in order to keep him.  "Thank you for taking me out."

Billy's head turns to him, at that. He looks honest-to-god surprised, and for a drawn-out moment he doesn't say anything, like he can’t find the words.

His eyes move back to the road, and Steve sees some of the tension in his shoulders unwind. 

"It was nothing." Billy shrugs. Then says, under his breath: "Glad you enjoyed it."

Steve snorts and lets his hand slide down to curl over Billy's fingers on the gear shift, squeezing. "It wasn't nothing. It was—" 

Steve hesitates to say perfect. The night isn't over yet, after all. 

But it was everything. In its own way. Simple, even as expensive as it undoubtedly was, but everything. Steve got to spend all night laughing and joking and being near Billy in a way that didn't make him feel like an object. He'd loved it more than he could express, fancy food and art aside. 

"It was fun," Steve finally decides. "I liked just being able to be next to you."

Billy lets out a quiet breath. It sounds like he's been holding it in all night.

"Really?" Billy asks, and judging by the furrow in his brow, he’s surprised, as though Steve's confession is somehow revelatory. Steve doesn't think it should be.

He laughs a little, his own brows pinching as he tilts his head to regard Billy. "Really. That's—  I mean, that's all I wanted. To be next to you. To be with you. It could've been at a Burger King for all I care. I just wanted… you." 

Beneath his palm, Steve feels Billy's hand clench and then release. His brow smooths, and he's actually— he's smiling, now. It's a little tentative, a little stilted, as though he's still not entirely sure what to make of this.

"Well." Billy tongues at his teeth like he's trying to stop his smile from creeping any wider. "If I'd taken you to Burger King, I wouldn't have been able to make you wear a suit."

Billy throws him a sidelong glance, his blue eyes glinting with amusement. 

"And that's half the reason I took you to that stupid gallery showing, so—" Billy gives up the ghost. Actually lets himself grin. It's not smug, or snarky. It actually reaches his eyes, lighting them up with warmth. "Guess you're stuck going to another black tie event with me next week, huh?"

Steve huffs, but he's smiling too. Can feel it in the way his cheeks hurt a little. 

He's giddy.  

"Yeah, okay, if you ask nicely." Steve says. 

"Think I can handle that," Billy drawls, cocking his head and taking his eyes off the road so he can look across at Steve again, peering at him through his eyelashes. He's biting at his bottom lip with this ridiculous, coy smile on his face, and it's so obviously hammed up that Steve is struggling not to laugh. "Come to the Chateau with me next week, pretty please?"

Steve swallows down the full-on giggle that wants to bubble up into his mouth. He barely manages it, biting down on his cheek to keep from grinning like a fool. 

"I could probably fit you into my schedule," he says, voice barely steady. 

"Great." Billy sounds like he's biting back a laugh, too, and he's still grinning as his eyes shift back to the highway. "I'll have my people call up your people. See if we can't figure something out for, say— next Friday night?"

"Sounds an awful lot like a date," Steve says. 

Then, because he's so stupidly, incandescently happy — from the night, from Billy just being Billy — he leans over and presses a kiss to Billy's cheek. 

Billy just sits there beaming, not even bothering to hide it behind his usual cool façade.

"Nah,” he says, dripping sarcasm and flashing his teeth in a big, cheeky grin. "It's just two bros, hanging out at the Chateau, maybe making out. Maybe having a bit of nookie after."

Steve collapses back into the passenger seat with a cackle. He half smothers it with a hand, eyes wrinkling up at the corners as he watches Billy's cheek dimple with his smile. 

"Nookie, huh?" Steve asks. He doesn't hide his intrigue, and Billy doesn't fail to notice.

"Yeah," Billy says, and his fingers — still coiled around the gear shift — splay wide and slot themselves between Steve's. Then he's squeezing, entangling Steve's hand against the back of his palm so he can't pull it away again.

Not that Steve intended to.

"Figured you could break in a few other instruments for me," Billy glances at him, eyebrow cocked. The implication is blatant. “If you're up to it."

"Yeah," Steve says. "Yeah, that sounds great."

There's a palpable shift in the air between them, a twist of anticipation that accompanies the warmth beginning to build low in Steve's stomach.

Billy's hand squeezes his a little tighter as he shifts gears.

"Friday night," Billy says, and it isn't a question this time, just a statement of fact. His eyes dance between Steve and the road ahead. "What about tonight, you want me to drop you off at your place?" 

Steve shudders. There's a hint of heat — of hope — in Billy's gaze. Steve wets his lips, and Billy catches the movement of his tongue, tracks it with his eyes. 

He wants to . He really does. He remembers the weight of Billy and of Billy pinning him in place and Billy's hands and mouth and voice. It makes him ache. Makes his thighs quiver. 

"I, uh. I don't have anything at your place," Steve says, like that's any kind of answer. 

Billy raises an eyebrow at him again, but doesn’t take his eyes off the road this time.

“So, I’ll drop you off.” He says it like it’s a statement of fact, but Steve gets the feeling Billy’s waiting to be corrected.

"Right," Steve says. "Okay."

He sees Billy's mouth twitch. Sees him try to mask a frown. 

They're taking it slow. Or, they're supposed to be taking it slow. It's not supposed to be about just the sex anymore. 

But the thing is, Steve doesn't want the night to be over. 

He knows he should probably let the evening end on this high note. He knows that it might be better for both of them. Steve also knows that, when Billy parks outside his apartment, he should keep his goodbye short and sweet.

But Steve has this stubborn tendency to think more with his heart than his head, and when Billy — reluctantly — lets go of his hand and turns to him to say ‘goodnight’, Steve just can’t help himself.

Leaning over the gear shift, Steve catches a hand in the front of Billy's shirt and pulls. Billy doesn't seem to mind meeting him in the middle, their mouths slanting together so easily. 

Steve can hear the pounding of his own heart in his ears over the purr of the engine and Billy's quiet grunt when he twists his hand tighter, pulls Billy closer.

It's not exactly short and sweet — not the little peck on the lips he probably should have parted with. But, god, he'd been burning for this all night. Ridiculous though Billy's aversion to buttons is, he looks so good in a suit — his patterned dress shirt opened to a deep V, his maroon suit jacket and matching pants nearly as tight as the ones he'd convinced Steve to wear. 

And Steve knows that he's not the only one who's been trying not to stare all night. He knows that Billy's had his eyes on his ass ever since the dressing room.

So, it doesn't come as any sort of surprise when Steve feels a palm resting there. When he feels Billy squeeze and pull, dragging him over the center console, like he's trying to get Steve into his lap. 

Steve makes a sound he didn't really know he could. Like a moan — but more breathless. More desperate. 

He fumbles, trying to steady himself with his hands on Billy's shoulders. Gasps against his mouth as teeth set on his lip. There's a voice in his head, like a manta, saying we shouldn't, we shouldn't, we shouldn't— 

But Billy palms over his ass and groans into his mouth as Steve sucks at his tongue — and Steve is trying to climb into his lap, trying to get as close as he possibly can. It's a struggle, in the cramped cabin of Billy's Camaro. And as much as Steve knows how good it looks on him, his suit is constricting.

The natural conclusion is to shrug off his jacket so he can free up movement in his arms a little. He carelessly tosses it onto the seat behind him like it didn't cost Billy thousands of dollars, and realizes, belatedly, how that might read — how it does read.

Because Billy's grabbing at him frantically, now — kneading his fingers into Steve's ass, running a hand down his chest to try and blindly fumble with the buttons of his collar, rough, like he doesn't care about ripping them off.

Steve's not sure which one of them breaks the kiss, but it doesn't offer any relief, because Billy's just lunging in again, kissing at his throat and scraping his teeth until Steve can't help but shiver. He winds up halfway onto in Billy's lap, a knee awkwardly planted between his thighs, and hunched over so his head doesn't hit the roof.

Billy bites at his throat, an arm winding around Steve's waist, and Steve can't help but cry out. He can't help but curl forward into Billy's heat, his strength, and rocks flush against him with a hand bracing above him on the roof to keep from banging his head. 

Billy's tongue follows his teeth and Steve hisses. Shudders. He wants Billy between his legs. Wants to feel him all over. Wants to drown in him. 

He gets a hand in Billy's hair and tugs. Flexes his hips as Billy bucks up. 

" God, Billy," he breathes, feeling sticky and hot and too big for his skin. 

Billy trails a sloppy line of kisses from Steve's throat to his jaw, to the corner of his mouth, like all that matters to him is getting his lips and tongue on Steve. Doesn't matter where.

Just the thought makes Steve feel too hot for his clothes. It's almost a relief when Billy starts popping open the buttons of his shirt. Almost, but he stops when he reaches Steve's collarbone, like he's suddenly hesitant.

"You gotta—" Billy's voice is strained, like it's on the verge of cracking. Like he’s barely reining himself in. "You gotta set the pace, Steve."

Then Billy’s kissing him again, short and too filthy to be sweet. It leaves them both breathless. Leave Steve a little dizzy as he tries to gain his bearings again, despite the hands all over him, despite the way Billy’s rutting up into him in counterpoint to the erratic jerking of his own hips.

"'Cause otherwise I’m gonna— shit," Billy's breaking off into a gasp, his fingers digging against Steve's ass, dragging him closer. "I'm gonna ruin you.”

Steve thinks maybe his brain, like, fully shorts out for a second. His cock throbs and something in him aches at the idea. At the rasp of Billy's confession. His promise. 

He lets himself imagine it for a moment. Of letting Billy ruin him. Of being laid out and touched and taken until there's only Billy.  It would be so easy to let him— 

But Steve might hate himself in the morning. 

"Okay," he breathes, voice shaking, and he frames Billy's face with his hands, his head craning down to rest his forehead to Billy's, their breath hot and short between them. "Okay, um." 

Eyes squeezing shut, Steve tries to swim out of the flood of endorphins. Out of the rush of heat still threatening to drag him under as Billy rubs down his thighs, then back up over his hips, fingers digging in and pulling Steve impossibly closer so that he can feel how hard they both already are. 

Steve groans, a shudder rippling up through him. 

"Okay, we should— we should stop." Steve says, voice shaking. "We should, um. We should just cool off. Fuck ." 

Billy lets out a trembling groan, and Steve feels his breath, warm and humid, caress his jaw. The heat makes something coil tightly in his gut, and the temptation — of Billy's mouth, hovering so close to his lips, to his throat — is wearing on Steve's already weakened resolve.

"Yeah?" Billy's voice is quiet and husky. His hands have stopped moving, frozen where they clutch onto Steve's hips. Need claws at Steve's skin like an itch. "How do you want us to do that?"

Steve shudders. "I should probably get out of your lap, first." 

He doesn't want to though. He thinks Billy knows that, considering Steve doesn't move. 

He feels Billy's fingers tighten. Feels him pull at Steve's hips, just a bit, just to get him to rock again. Like he just wants to feel Steve move. Like he just wants to get the hard line of Steve's cock pressed snuggly to his abdomen. Steve moans.

Steve, a bit hysterically, thinks he could get off just rutting like that. 

"You should come in," he says, eyes still shut. "For coffee or tea or whatever. If we— if we get out, the air will cool us down."

He doesn't really know if that's true or not. It's sixty degrees out, in the middle of November. Not the frigid thirty-two it would be back home where the winter breeze might freeze the hard-on away. But it sounds like something a logical person would say. 

Or, Steve thinks it probably does. As much as he can think, when all of the blood has left his brain.

"Maybe we should, like, take a walk?" Steve adds, and it's weak, even to his own ears, especially when he shifts and his toes curl from the friction alone.

“A walk,” Billy echoes, his eyebrows subtly knotting, and he’s got this look in his eyes, like he’s trying to figure out if Steve’s being serious or not. Like he’s wondering, maybe, if this is some kind of test. 

To his credit, he’s stopped trying to grind up against Steve. His hands haven’t moved, though.

“O- kay,” Billy says, drawing the syllables out slowly, exaggeratedly. And then he’s pushing open the driver’s side door and swinging both legs out onto the pavement quickly enough that Steve pitches backward. He’s stopped, thankfully, by the hand that moves between his shoulders, and Steve manages not to crack his head against the doorframe thanks to the palm now buried against his hair.

Billy’s staring at him like he half-expects that Steve is going to lose his nerve and start making out with him again.

That’s… probably a fair assumption.

Steve swallows. His fingers are fisted in the front of Billy's shirt, half to keep his balance and half to not let go. He's shaking, he realizes, not a second later. Because he wants so bad and he's so fucking scared of that desire. 

"Tell me you don't just wanna sleep with me," Steve says, face and throat and ears all warm. 

He thinks he hears Billy inhale sharply. He certainly feels the way his grip tightens, one hand gripping at the back of his shirt and the other threading through his hair. Billy’s looking up at him, his stare intense and unblinking, and Steve feels his insides squirm.

It feels like a small eternity passes before Billy interrupts the silence that settles over them.

“Are you going to believe me if I say I don’t?” He can’t quite tell, but Billy sounds leery.

"I want to," Steve breathes. "You've no idea how much I want to."

"Oh, I think I might have some idea." Billy is close again, practically saying the words against Steve's lips — so enticingly close but not close enough. Billy has to know how crazy it’s driving him. He has to.

But there’s this look in Billy’s eyes, like he’s realized something distasteful, or disappointing, and Steve’s not sure when Billy exercised more self-control than him, but he’s actually starting to pull his hands away.

“Here’s what we’re gonna do:” Billy’s tone brooks no argument, and Steve’s too stunned to interrupt him. “I’m taking you up to your apartment. You can invite me in, if you want. But—” 

Steve’s stomach sinks a little. His hand clenches where he’s still holding onto Billy’s shirt.

“If I stay, you’re putting on Netflix, and we’re not fucking around until you’re sober,” Billy says, then adds, pointedly: “If you even still want to.”

Steve's brows fly up. It sounds unreasonably reasonable. So nonsensically sensible. 

At least, coming from Billy, of all people.

"I'm not drunk," Steve says, and he's not, but— but Steve loves Billy in that instant. 

Loves him madly, terribly, stupidly. Feels his heart swell up in his chest. 

"But okay," he nods, leaning in and kissing Billy on the corner of the mouth, sweet and lingering. "Netflix and actually chill."

The apprehensive look on Billy’s face smooths away, the tension in his shoulders slackens, and then he’s letting out a chuckle and reaching to take the keys out of the ignition.

“Think you’re gonna be able to keep your hands off me?” Billy says with a smirk and a playful wink, letting Steve awkwardly disentangle himself from his lap to stumble out of the driver’s side. 

He follows Steve a moment later, car keys in one hand and Steve’s discarded suit jacket in the other. Steve watches him shut the door, heart still thrumming. 

"You're awfully feisty tonight. I mean, I can’t blame you, getting to see me all dolled up." Billy grins wolfishly as he hangs Steve’s jacket across his shoulders, and without forewarning, and much less shame, he claps a hand against Steve’s ass. “Feeling’s mutual, babe.”

Steve jumps a little, face flooding with color once more. His lips purse up, only to keep Billy from realizing that the sudden and sharp sting of the motion did absolutely nothing to cool him off. 

Rolling his eyes, he takes Billy by the wrist and pulls him toward the apartment complex. "You're gonna give me whiplash."

Billy laughs as Steve ushers him inside. As he keys in the code and walks them to the door. As he fishes out his own keys and slides them into the locks on his front door. 

Billy follows close on his heels as Steve leads the way, and he's not even doing anything — he’s not even touching him — but his proximity is still distracting. Steve can’t stop thinking about how easy it would be to push Billy against the doorframe and kiss him until they’re both too drunk on lust and stupid to put a stop to it. 

He takes a deep breath. Breathes it out through his nose.

Then, Steve toes off his shoes and tries not to watch Billy’s ass too closely as he hangs Steve’s suit jacket up by the door and saunters past him into the apartment like he’s already making himself at home. He’s beelining it for Steve’s room, and is already in the process of shrugging off his jacket and unbuttoning his shirt the rest of the way down as he goes.

Steve can’t bring himself to look away.

“I’m stealing a change of clothes,” Billy announces, not waiting for Steve’s assent before he steps into the unlit bedroom and out of Steve’s direct line of sight.

Steve bites down on the inside of his cheek. He thinks he should follow Billy — thinks maybe it's an invitation — but he's giddy with the thought of Billy wearing his clothes. Steve's taller, so his sweats are always a little longer in the leg, but Billy's broader. He's got more muscle than Steve knows what to do with; he'll stretch out any one of Steve's shirts. 

But then he remembers the box in the back of his closet. The one he labeled Billy and that Robin scratched out and labeled dickwad. 

And suddenly all that pleasant heat is gone, replaced by a flood of cool, familiar panic, and Steve's padding after him and into his room and coming to a sudden stop at the sight of Billy holding the box. 

Steve bites down hard on the inside of his cheek. "I was, uh. I was gonna give that back to you."

He can't quite discern the look on Billy's face — partly because the lights are off, but also because Steve just can't get a good read on it. His stomach does a nervous flip.

Dickwad, huh?” Billy’s glancing down at the label, his tone flat, and Steve feels himself beginning to deflate, feels the rush from before quickly drain away. 

And then Billy is staring at him, his lips quirking into a vaguely amused smirk. 

“That seriously the worst you could come up with?” Billy rolls his eyes but his grin remains as he side-steps past Steve and unceremoniously drops the box onto the carpeted floor beside the doorway. “ Weak.”

"That was, uh. That was Robin, actually," Steve mutters, palms running against his thighs. "To be fair, you were kinda acting like a dickwad."

Billy gives a noncommittal shrug, turning his back to Steve so he can continue rummaging through his closet. 

"I'm not mad about it," he says, and it doesn't sound like he's lying, but Steve can't really get a good read on him. "Figure you got at least a few free shots on me, if you ever wanna take 'em."

Steve winces. "I wouldn't."

I'm not you , goes unsaid. But Steve can tell that they both think it. Maybe that's more cruel than saying it. 

"I'm, uh." Steve clears his throat. "I'll let you change. I'm gonna make some coffee."

"What, you don't wanna watch?" Billy says, flatly, but the glance he throws Steve over one shoulder as he shrugs out of his dress shirt is playful. 

Steve can't tell if Billy really is that unbothered, or if it's a front; it's not like he's ever been the type to hide when he's pissed off, after all.

Steve shrugs, but shamelessly lets his eyes move over the broad expanse of Billy's back and imagines dragging his nails over it. "I figure if I'm trying to cool down that's not such a good idea."

Billy catches his gaze before he can look away, mouth pulling into a knowing smirk.

"Suit yourself," he says, and the amount of effort Steve expends just tearing his eyes away from Billy's backside when he starts tugging down his pants is, frankly, commendable.

Walking away is even harder. 

Still, Steve calls over his shoulder as he goes. "You want some coffee?"

"Nah," Billy says, and Steve manages to avert his eyes and step out of the room just in time to avoid watching him drop his pants. "Water's fine."

A part of Steve wonders if maybe, maybe, it wouldn't have been so bad if he'd stayed and snuck a glance. Hell, he could use a change of clothes, too — the dress pants he'd squeezed himself into are tight in more places than one, and there's no way he's going to lounge around on the couch like this.

But that would have probably tempted his resolve more than Steve could safely handle; it’s probably better that he walked away before it got to that point.

In the meantime, Steve tries to get his mind off asses and half-naked Billy, making his way to the kitchen to go through the motions of putting on a pot of coffee for one and pouring Billy a glass of water from the sink. 

It’s grounding. Or, it’s an opportunity to keep him distracted, at least; turns out the night air wasn’t nearly enough to clear the heat from Steve’s skin, and he’s still trying to compose himself, hands braced against the counter, when Billy’s voice jolts him out of his reverie.

“I can’t believe you still have this,” he’s saying, leaning up against the doorway to Steve’s cramped kitchen with an unidentifiable white shirt folded up in one hand. Steve only gives it a cursory glance before his attention shifts to Billy. He’s wearing a pair of Steve’s pajama bottoms that fit him surprisingly well, and a T-shirt that fits him less well, not-quite covering his stomach and giving a teasing glimpse of his abdomen. 

It’s almost enough to distract from the faded red letters scrawled diagonally across Billy’s chest.

Steve snorts at the utter absurdity that is Billy Hargrove wearing a goddamn D.A.R.E. T-shirt while standing in his kitchen, like he wasn't snorting coke on the daily not more than a month or two ago. 

But then Billy is unballing worn cotton in his hand and Steve is staring at a well-used, well-loved Mindflayer shirt. 

Heat rushes right back to Steve's face and ears and throat. He remembers the night he got that — Billy's first big concert, right before his record deal — buying it from one of the tables near the front of the House of Blues, and how he'd surprised Billy by wearing it and nothing else when Billy found him in bed.  Remembers telling Billy to sign it

But mostly he remembers how happy they'd both been. How Billy had laughed and pulled out a sharpie, eyes crinkled at the corners as he told Steve he could've just given him a shirt. How he'd autographed Steve's ass too, and then sealed it with a kiss. 

Steve kind of always thought that's what they'd have forever. 

He blinks up at Billy, in the here and now, and shrugs because he doesn't want Billy to know just how important it is to him. "I mean, do you know how much I could make selling that on Ebay?"

Billy clicks his tongue in mock disappointment, and then tosses the shirt at Steve's head. He only just manages to catch it.

“You should put it on," Billy says with a teasing grin. It doesn't really sound like an invitation so much as a playful command. “You know, for old time’s sake?”

Steve doesn't think it's for old time's sake at all. He thinks it's Billy, wanting to see Steve covered in him. 

And, really, Steve can't find a fault in that. Despite the obvious ring of possession it carries. 

"Yeah, okay," Steve says, as casual as he can, as if he's not remembering Billy eating him out with it on — or shoving it up so that Billy could come across his stomach and chest later. "I'll, uh. Be right back."

He moves to ease by Billy in the doorway, only to be stopped in his tracks when Billy's hands slide over his hips and spin him so that they're facing one another. He's not quite holding Steve in place, but Billy's not really letting him pass, either.

"Lemme just—" Billy's eyes run down his body, slow and purposeful. Heat rises to Steve's cheeks, unbidden. "Take a moment to appreciate the view before you take this off."

Steve's throat works. He sways a little and then rests back against the doorjamb. Stares at Billy.

"You gonna watch?" he asks, a little hushed. "Or are you gonna help?"

Billy doesn't bother with subtlety. He never has, really. His face lights up with a smarmy grin, and Steve knows that this is exactly what Billy was hoping he'd say.

"Figured you might want a helping hand," Billy murmurs, his head tilted to one side, like he's trying to look demure — and failing, of course. Nothing about Billy reads innocent. Ever. 

Especially not when he's moving both hands to Steve's chest and 'helpfully' popping free the first few buttons of his shirt. 

"Almost a shame to take this off of you, though. That ass was made for tight pants."

"Lech," Steve accuses, without any venom, a breath of laughter filling the space between them. 

He's shivering as Billy works each button open, one by one, until he's pulling the shirt from the waistband of his pants. Steve holds still for him, lets him tug it free, but his chest hitches as warm fingers ghost up his sides, his ribs, to his shoulders. He shudders as Billy pushes the soft material down his arms, the sleeves catching at his wrists, Billy's eyes hunting down over Steve's pale, mole-dotted skin. 

There's something almost careful in the way Billy undresses him; it contrasts starkly with the frantic pace they had set in the car, when Billy couldn't seem to care less about ripping buttons or tearing fabric. He’s so fastidious about it, now, watching the shuddering rise and fall of Steve’s bare chest as he reaches for Steve’s cuffs and unbuttons them, slowly, like he’s taking his time.

The dress shirt falls to the floor. A thousand something dollars, on the floor. 

Steve can’t bring himself to care; Billy’s stare is too bewitching, his touch too distracting, until nothing else seems to matter.

Billy’s hands are popping open the button of Steve’s pants before he feels some sense return, but it’s still mostly blotted out by the rush of heat and anticipation that blooms across his bare skin.

"You got any idea how badly I've wanted to rip this off you all night?" Billy asks; his voice is level, but Steve can hear a little hairline crack, like Billy’s only barely keeping his cool. 

The feeling’s mutual, but Steve thinks he can hold it together if he just keeps taking measured breaths. If he doesn’t look Billy directly in the eye.

If Billy doesn’t lean in any closer, like he is now, to whisper against Steve’s ear:

"Better be careful how many bones you throw me, baby. Any more of this and I might stop behaving myself."

Steve moves to say that Billy is the one that insisted on, at the very least, watching Steve undress — but then Billy is hooking his fingers in the waistband of his open slacks and tugging sharp, until Steve stumbles forward into him with a gasp. 

His hands brace on Billy's biceps. Curl over the muscle there as Billy palms at Steve's hips. Steve can feel his breath, short and hot, against his mouth this close. Can see the way his pupils have all but consumed the blue of his eyes. 

If Steve hadn't been with him all night, he might think he's high. 

"And what, exactly, would that look like?" Steve asks, breath hitching as Billy starts easing his pants down. "You, not behaving?"

Billy lets out a low, shuddering laugh; the sound of it rings in his ears and settles heavy and molten in Steve’s stomach. 

“Sounds like you're asking for a demonstration," Billy observes. His lips are hovering so close to Steve's throat that he's tempted to lean in, to close that scant bit of distance before it drives him insane.

Steve thinks that it may be too late for that.

"I wanna be good, Steve. Don't you want me to be good?" 

Billy's thumbs brush the outsides of Steve's thighs as he slowly slides down his pants. The gentle friction of it, the too-light touches, the purr of Billy's voice against his ear — it's all quickly verging on too much, as overwhelming as it had been in Billy's Camaro. Only worse, Steve thinks, because this is simmering just below the surface.

Lips parted, Steve's breath is coming heavy. Like they've been doing more than just standing here, talking, with Billy slowly stripping him down. 

His fingers tighten on Billy's arms. His tongue pulls his lower lip in between his teeth, worrying at it until it feels raw and red. His heart is thundering in his chest, anticipation coiling in his limbs. He sways again, shifts just a little closer, his pants pooled around his ankles. Almost completely bare, while Billy's nearly fully dressed, and he thinks Billy likes that. Likes the power of it. 

Steve would be lying if he said it doesn't make him tremble. That it doesn't make his knees weak. 

He's about to say no. He's about to tell Billy he doesn't want him to be good at all — 

Then, the timer on the percolator goes off and Steve jumps. 

The slow-build of anticipation doesn't quite snap — Steve still feels it, tingling incessantly at his skin — but the interruption does at least quell it enough that he can steady himself, that he can get his head above the surface.

It's enough, at least, that Billy's laser-focus shifts. He's throwing a glance at the coffee machine — half-accusatory, half-amused — and then glancing back at Steve with a strained little smirk.

"Go put on some PJs," he says, taking his hands off Steve for the second time that evening. Truth be told, Steve didn't actually think Billy possessed that level of restraint. "Otherwise we aren't gonna be doing much chilling during this Netflix sesh."

"Right," Steve says, taking a step back, heel catching a little in his pants. 

He stoops, picking up the suit and the Mindflayer shirt that somehow joined the pile on the floor in between Billy working him out of his clothes and threatening him with bad behavior. Once he's got it all, he beats a quick retreat into his bedroom to pull on some sweats. 

He debates not wearing the shirt, of just picking a different one, just to add another layer of distance between them. 

He pulls it on over his head anyway, padding into the bathroom and splashing some cold water on his face, just to cool off. He feels like a goddamn ticking time bomb, just waiting for the right trigger. 

When he gets back out to the living room, Billy's already got a mug of coffee on the side table waiting for him. It's got too much cream and too much sugar and it's perfect. Steve settles down on the far side of the couch, closest to the mug. 

"So, what did you want to watch?" Steve asks, plucking up the remote and gearing up Netflix on the TV.

It really shouldn't surprise him that Billy's taking up the space between them a second later, swinging his legs up onto the couch so that his sock-clad feet press against Steve's thigh.

"Anything but that David Blaine shit," Billy says, dropping his chin onto his fist. Steve catches him throwing a couple conspicuous glances his way, and he looks pleased when he catches sight of the shirt Steve's wearing. 

Steve rolls his eyes, swatting at his toes. "Just because you get frustrated when you can't figure out how they do it doesn't mean it's dumb."

It's a familiar little argument. Billy hates knowing it's a trick and not being able to solve it. 

Steve just likes the magic. 

"It is dumb," Billy fires back; Steve half-expects him to launch into a tirade, but he's glancing back at the television screen as Steve mindlessly scrolls through the menu, past the 'Crime Documentaries' section. "Put on something about serial killers."

Steve gives him a dry look. "What is your obsession with true crime? Should I be worried?"

He says it — but to be honest, he watches that shit all the time too. He's had Evil Genius on his ‘to watch’ list for ages. 

"Everyone's obsessed with true crime and murder, man," Billy says, rolling his head over toward Steve and flashing him a toothy grin that errs just a little on the side of psychotic. It's fully intentional, Steve thinks, if the mirth lighting up Billy's eyes is anything to go by. "You know how many women wanna fuck serial killers? Like, that Manson guy — he had chicks writing him letters all the time while he was in prison."

Steve snorts, and when Billy lifts a brow, Steve starts up Evil Genius and says: "Billy, you don't even like pussy."

Billy rolls his eyes. 

"Yeah, so?" he says with a shrug, wiggling a little farther down the couch so that he can plop his heels, uninvited, on Steve's lap. "I can still respect the hustle." 

Steve laughs a little, and lets a hand curl over one of Billy's ankles. "Yeah, okay. Shut up and watch your true crime."

"You're cute when you get bossy," Billy drawls; it might have come off as condescending, if not for his flirty tone of voice and the way he peers sideways at Steve with a roguish grin. 

It's all Steve can do not to blush. He thinks that Billy better keep his feet where they are, because if they shuffle any farther into his lap there is no possible way he’ll be able to hide just how flustered he is already.

Steve squeezes at Billy's ankle and tries, unsuccessfully, to give the documentary his undivided attention.

He sips idly at his coffee, eyes on the screen, the weight of Billy's feet in his lap. They're about half way through the second episode when he finally looks over at Billy again. 

Steve's heart nearly stops. 

Because Billy — rough and tough Billy Hargrove — is asleep. His head has lulled over against the couch, his mouth a little slack, features softened under the dim glow of the light from the television. He's not typically the type to fall unexpectedly like that, not unless he's drunk himself into a coma, but Steve knows that's not the case tonight.

He stops watching the television in favor of watching Billy's face, instead. It's a rare sight: Billy, looking utterly calm and unguarded. He's always wearing some kind of mask when he's awake, because as volatile as Billy's moods can be — have been — the glimpses Steve gets of the thoughts and motives behind them are fleeting at best. It's how he's always been, even before the fame and the drugs.

It's a shame, Steve thinks. He wishes that Billy could look this peaceful when his eyes are open. That he'd let his edges soften like this when he's awake.

Moments pass, and Billy doesn't stir, doesn't make a sound save for the quiet huff of his breathing. Steve returns his attention to the television, but finds himself constantly throwing Billy side glances just to see if he's still asleep and drink in that soft expression. It makes his chest flutter, and Steve realizes this is far more of a threat to his self-control than all the heavy-petting and desperate kisses.

Steve's not sure how long they spend like that. The coffee carries him through another couple episodes, but Billy's fatigue is contagious; Steve catches himself drifting off a few times, his eyelids heavy, his head pleasantly fuzzy.

He awakens some time later with a bit of a start; the show has stopped playing with the message ‘Are you still watching?’ popped up on the screen, and it takes Steve a moment spent blinking away the grogginess for him to register the gentle prodding at his thigh. 

"Steve," Billy is saying, his voice gravelly from sleep. He's sitting up now, but he looks like he's only just woken up, himself. "You should go to bed."

Steve grunts, a hand coming up to rub at his eyes, to try and urge the sleep away. He lets his head roll, blinking across the couch at Billy, his face cast in the faintly blue shadows of night. 

His breath catches. 

"You should come with me," he says, softly. 

Sleepy though Billy looks, he's perking up, now. His expression is not so relaxed and open when he's awake, but fatigue seems to have worn down those defenses a little, because Steve catches a gleam of hope in his eyes.

"You could tell me to sleep on the couch," he says, watching Steve through half-lidded eyes with the side of his head balanced in his palm. 

Steve knows that it's not what Billy wants. It's not what either of them want.

"I mean—" Billy's speaking again, breaking off mid-sentence into a wide yawn that he only barely muffles against the back of one hand. "Not saying I'd listen, but..." 

"I could," Steve nods, rubbing at the arch of Billy's foot. "I could also tell you to go home. But I won't."

He lets his gaze linger with Billy's. Feels a little thrum of the residual heat from earlier — muted, now, and softened with sleep. 

"Come to bed, Billy."

Billy stretches his arms above his head, revealing a teasing swath of abs that Steve's eyes can't help but dart to — and he thinks, maybe, Billy picked that too-small shirt on purpose. He's giving another yawn and stretches out his legs, too, his movements sluggish as though he's taking his time. 

"Well, shit, if you're gonna insist," Billy drawls at length, with a cheeky flash of teeth. His legs drop off Steve's lap onto the carpet one at a time. 

Steve stares. "To sleep , you asshole."

Billy’s got this look on his face like he’s tempted — really tempted — to say something, because his mouth twists up a little as though he’s biting his tongue. Judging by the amusement playing across his features, it’s something dirty.

To Steve’s immense surprise, Billy doesn’t voice it.

“Alright,” he mumbles instead, still evidently groggy, as he drags himself onto his feet and rubs at his eyes. “ To sleep.”

Steve pushes to his feet, equally as uneasy. Sleep clinging to him. He didn't realize just how tired he is until now, barely awake as he shuffles toward the bedroom. 

It's like his bed is a siren call he just can't ignore. Steve flops down face first with a soft groan, barely conscious of Billy's low laugh — of anything, really, because he's already beginning to drift off again.

It isn't until he feels the mattress dip beside him and one of Billy's elbows nudging into his side that Steve grudgingly lifts his head up from the pillow.

"Move over, you're hogging the whole damn bed." Billy doesn't sound all that annoyed about it, despite how insistently he's yanking at the covers. 

"Yeah, but it's my bed." Steve says, even as he flips over, kicking the covers down so he can slip under them. "I can hog it all I want."

He’s barely wiggled under the sheets before Billy’s on him, rolling onto his side to press flush to Steve’s back.

“Then you’re gonna have to deal with the consequences,” Billy mumbles, voice groggy with sleep and muffled by the back of Steve’s head where he’s got his mouth pressed.

Steve shudders as Billy's arms wind around him. His hands find Billy's wrists, squeezing for just a second, and then he's pulling those arms tighter around himself — pressing back into the radiant warmth of Billy's body. 

"Oh, no, not consequences," Steve drawls. "Whatever will I do?"

Billy huffs against his neck. It sounds more like quiet laughter than frustration.

“Shut up,” he says, though it lacks any vitriol and is barely pitched above a sleepy whisper. Steve can tell that Billy is already passing out, judging by his slowed breathing, by the way his body growing slack where it presses up against him. By the fact that Billy hasn’t tried to roll away and carve out his own space on the other side of the bed until they’re barely touching.

It’s been a long time since they tangled up like this. Steve hadn’t realized just how much he missed it.

Letting his eyes grow heavy, he lets the comfort of it drag him under. The soft huff of breath on the back of his neck. The way Billy's fingers flex and twitch a little. The warmth. It all lulls him until he's drifting off, right there, in Billy's arms.