Billy after Starcourt is like… Steve doesn’t know how to explain. He’s in there, the man Steve fell in love with all those months ago. All the small, beautiful idiosyncrasies that make up the contrary, tenacious, stunning asshole he is. But it’s like Billy’s been disassembled and then given to someone who spent fifteen minutes looking at him from a distance, then mashed him back together to the best of their ability. Everything is still there, but not how it used to be, and so Steve has to get to know him all over again. Which is fine. Everyone’s always in perpetual motion, or so he’s been told.
And for Billy Steve does it gladly. Will fall in love with each version of this guy that graces his doorstep, will poke and prod and get him out of his shell, and he’ll do it happily. The first time they kissed, lifetimes ago now, Steve knew his life would never be the same. Billy is a forever kinda guy and Steve isn’t letting him go, not without a fight. The past few months are a testament to it. People in Hawkins think Steve is unused to hard work, and that might have been true once, but now he knows what it takes to keep the lights on. It’s a bittersweet discovery, that he can manage for two, that he can take care of someone, that someone can depend on him. Because the one person he wants to share his victories with, is the exact one lying motionless on their bed.
There’s nothing glamorous about keeping a life going. It’s backbreaking work, caring. Love to the barest of its bones means fighting with Billy so he’ll stand motionless under the spray of their shitty shower and let Steve untangle his hair. Means getting Billy to eat something, and while he stares vacantly at the wall, change their sheets and put a load of laundry on. It’s feeling helpless and useless at home, then going to work and feeling guilty that Billy has to stay in their tiny apartment with only Max and a rotating cast of teenagers for company. It means always thinking he should be doing more, that he’s failing monumentally. And then, at 4am when they’re both awake dealing with their own demons, it’s feeling Billy’s fingertips graze his, until Steve opens his hand and Billy’s slides right in, fitting like the perfect puzzle piece.
One thing about Billy remains true though. He was made for the sun, his skin always meant to be sunkissed, dotted with little freckles, small reminders of where he belongs. Billy is happier under the open blue skies. Steve will always think fondly of the Summer before. How Billy looked unaffected by the unforgiving Indiana heat. How invincible, untouchable, he looked in tiny red shorts and tanned skin stretching for miles. How he’d drive them through backroads until they found a lake where they could swim naked. When life was full of infinite possibilities.
Steve wants that for Billy again. That carefree smile, the one that made something glint in his eye. His loud laugh, the real one that would always come out unbridled, always seeming to take him by surprise. Like he was unused to feeling so happy. How he’d whoop and drag Steve under the water and act like he had to hold on to every bit of good days, like they might get taken away.
Steve can’t make the world feel safe again. Not for himself and not for Billy. But he can bring the sunshine in and hope it reminds Billy that there are still things for him out there. That there will always be a place for him beside Steve, but also in the world where there’s heat, music and laughter. And that it’s all his for the taking. Just waiting for him to rediscover the mundane glories of being alive. How there’s still joy to be felt, how Steve still wants to share it all with him.
Their unit is a shithole, but one lucky enough to be bathed in sun all day, so Steve takes advantage of it. Opens the curtains in the morning and waits for the sun to reach their bed. He doesn’t say anything about his hopes; he wants Billy to come to himself at his pace, if and when he wants to. Steve isn’t here to try and fix anyone. He only ever wants to help. He’s rewarded, though, when Billy turns his face to the window as soon as the first rays reach his skin. He smiles as Billy takes a deep breath, one that sounds like hope is blooming in his lungs for once, and turns so his entire body can be encased in light.
“This feels good,” Billy says, voice gravely with the remains of sleep. It’s the first time he has spoken unprompted in months. Steve can only hum in response, or else his voice would betray how close to tears he actually is.
After that, Steve takes to parking Billy under sunspots in their apartment. Billy is onto him, obviously, but still revels in it, like a large grumpy cat. He didn’t think he’d ever be glad to hear Billy’s endless bitching again, but it’s like a revelation to know that layer of absolute unpleasantness and general bad attitude is still there, waiting for him. It makes him roll his eyes and look at Billy fondly.
Billy seems to know too, that Steve has been missing him. He keeps roping Steve into naps under the sunbeams. If he’s having a good day, he’ll let Steve know by opening the windows and coming back to bed only to embrace Steve closer, will shush any protest Steve has about needing to get ready for work. Steve takes to showing up to work late and disheveled, sleep still clinging to his eyes. Robin starts doing a bit where every time Steve comes in like that she waves her hand around his head.
“The fuck are you doing, Buckley?” he asks, every time.
“Shooing the fucking hearts away, this is a place of business,” she answers, every time. “Have some fucking respect, Steve, Jesus.”
He hands her the disgusting coffee from across the street with a roll of his eyes, then. She salutes him with it before taking a sip and grimacing, turns around to get more sugar, as usual. They both start sorting yesterday’s returns. The sun shines across the store, making uneven shadows of all colors through all the posters for new releases hanging in the windows. Steve doesn’t even feel annoyed by the fact Family Video has shitty air conditioning that’s as old as time. Just keeps on working with a smile on his face.
Around the end of June he arrives home to Billy and Lucas having an intense discussion about where to put a hole on the wall. Max is on the sofa eating poptarts, clearly long done with all the men in her life. Steve stares for a minute and pointedly sits beside Max, reaching for the box before it’s all gone.
“Do I want to know?” he asks, conversationally.
“Hammock,” Max says, chewing around a mass of poptarts. “Billy thinks the wall can take it, Lucas keeps saying shit about taking a load.”
“I’m saying the wall needs to be load bearing,” Lucas exclaims, clearly not for the first time. “Stop making me sound fucking weird.”
“You are fucking weird,” Max shrugs.
Billy sighs, clearly not for the first time as well. “Just hand me the drill, Lucas,” he says, not annoyed, but Steve can see he’s getting there. “I’m not gonna destroy the building.”
“Say that to the drywall in your bedroom,” Lucas says, gesturing in the direction of said room, which Steve can now see through a large hole where once an intact wall stood. He raises his eyebrows.
“Hey, babe,” Steve says, getting up and finally giving Billy a kiss hello. Billy gasps a little into it, like he always does. Steve smiles before leaning back, Billy’s face cradled between his hands. “What the fuck?”
“Just wanted a goddamn napping spot,” Billy says looking up, cheeks getting a bit warmer. “You know, for the afternoons, you said you liked how your Nonna has a hammock in the house.” He looks directly at Steve then, a familiar defiant glint in his eye. One that has been missing for so long.
Steve is taken aback by how much he’s been longing to see it again. One of his favorite things about Billy is what a fucking lunatic he is sometimes, getting absurd ideas from the most innocuous comments. Loves that he’s gruff and aloof, and then one day surprises Steve by showing up to his kitchen with a recipe book of authentic Italian dishes, proceeding to cook an entire lasagna from scratch because he was within earshot at Scoops when Steve had been talking to Robin about his summers spent in Italy.
He’d let Billy destroy all of their walls beyond repair to see him looking like that, sweaty and full of resolve. To see Billy moving, a force to be reckoned with, taking up all his grievances with the world. He turns around, making Steve wrap his arms around him, and launches right back into a heated argument with Lucas about how he’s full of shit and at least one wall of their apartment has to be made of brick and mortar. Lucas doesn't bat an eye, just keeps listing reasons why they’ll die and fending off Billy’s advances for the drill he’s still cradling like a baby.
Steve turns to Max. They both share an exasperated look, and then they start laughing.
Now on the days Steve has the day off and the weather permits, he’ll load Billy into the car and they’ll find a spot to sit under the sun. He’ll put a post-it note on their door saying Gone Sunning and someone will usually join them when they come around to visit and see it.
Billy is a sight to behold out there, scars in the open, skin glistening. It’s almost decadent, the way Billy blooms, grows back into himself during these days. Steve loves every minute of it. They’ll bask under the rays, Steve reading aloud from whatever book Dustin dropped for them this time. If Robin is with them, she brings her boombox and they’ll listen to obnoxious playlists she curates especially to get Billy going on impassioned rants against Madonna and how Cindy Lauper at least has a personality. Steve will disagree on principle, only to see how far Billy will go, Robin egging him on by rewinding Lucky Star for the fifth time.
Some days the darkness will be waiting for them right around the corner, but Steve knows there’s always a way to let the light back in.