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Lay Bare These Marks of Mine

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Things had been going so well.

Which, really, made Billy nervous. It’s almost a relief to have something to throw a fit about. Not that he did. Throw a fit.

Steve isn’t the most observant person Billy’s ever met, but even he isn’t oblivious enough to miss a jealous rage when he sees it. So Billy played it cool. Wished him luck, even. Played the part of the supportive roommate, friend, whatever. Platonic companion. Person who’s never thought about your dick while touching himself. 

Point is, he watched Steve walk out that door all dressed up in his nice slacks and stupid soft sweater and looking like every one of Billy’s guilty fantasies come to life, and acted like he was okay with that all being for someone else. A stranger. A random girl Steve met at the fucking dog park of all places, like he’s the lead in some shitty rom com. He doesn’t even have a dog.

And Billy could waste his time being angry. Jealous. Miserable. Sulking alone in their apartment waiting for Steve to come back. Or worse, for him to call and tell Billy not to wait up. He could. He’s got an unopened bottle of cheap tequila waiting for just such an occasion. 

But he doesn’t.

He does four shots and then puts on his tightest jeans. Dabs a little cologne on his neck. Styles his hair.

And he goes out. 

The tequila starts working its magic on the walk over. It’s freezing, Chicago’s a shithole and February does it no favours. But tipsy it’s a little more bearable. 

Being tipsy makes several things a little more bearable. The cold. The anger. The longing. The crushing self-hatred growing like nettles ‘round his heart. He always has to get a little drunk before he comes here. Can’t make himself walk through the door when he’s sober. 

It’s been a while. They got a new bartender. Some brunette with cropped hair and more tattoos than shirt. 

There aren’t many people here tonight. A blessing and a curse. He can’t stand crowds anymore, the noise, the press of bodies all around him. But less people to choose from means either settling or spending more time in this dump than he’d like. 

He lounges against the bar, leaning back on his elbows. The buttons across his chest feel tight, restrictive, chafing against the puckered skin underneath. The first couple times he came here, he left his shirt unbuttoned, scars out for the world to see, but all the guys that approached him treated him like he was made of fucking glass. 

He survived being skewered through the chest by a tentacle the size of his arm and these dudes wanna act like their little pencil dicks are gonna break him.

Ridiculous.

There are a couple dudes eyeing him. There usually are, in places like this. But one of them, under the grimy fluorescents, looks enough like his father that it turns his stomach. The other he blew six months ago, and you could not pay him for a repeat performance. He tasted like the underside of a public toilet seat, and couldn’t even get Billy hard. 

So, slim pickings. 

He orders a couple shots.

And after ten minutes of trying to shake off Toilet Seat Dick, he orders more.

The room isn’t spinning yet, just wobbling a little. He undoes a couple buttons on his shirt. It’s not enough. He wants to crawl out of his skin. It itches, it’s three sizes too small. He’s too warm, too sweaty, too restless.

“Hey.” A voice to his left. It’s a nice voice, low and smooth, like cool water washing over his overheated skin. The guy it belongs to isn’t bad either. He must’ve just gotten here, because Billy’s pretty sure he would’ve noticed this dude. A couple inches taller than him, dark hair combed back but just dishevelled enough to look stylish. Nice shoulders. Nicer mouth.

Billy plasters on a grin. The one he practices in the mirror. He could do it in his sleep. “Hi.” He tilts his head. Bats his eyelashes. Sparks some interest. 

It’s too fucking easy.

Ten minutes later his back is pressed to cool brick, the frigid air needling a blush onto his cheeks, lips attached to his neck and a hand fisted in his hair. 

It’s good enough to make his jeans tent, but he wants more. 

He presses his leg between the guy’s legs, rubbing his hardening bulge with his knee. “So, you’re married?” 

That gets his attention. He stills, pulls back and stares at Billy, his reddened lips parted. “What? How did—”

“Tanline, dipshit.” The grip he’s got on Billy’s hair tightens, and Billy smirks. Keeps talking. Relishes the flinty glare boring into him. “So, what,” he presses his thigh up a little harder, and the guy bites his lip, eyes going glassy. “Wifey doesn’t put out enough, that it? Gotta find some back alley whore who’ll bend over for you like she won’t?”

“That what you are? I’m not payin’ you.” He makes no move to pull away.

Billy rolls his eyes, “Figure of speech.” He’s getting bored. His head lolls back against the wall, jostling the hand in his curls. “She not get wet for you? Or do you not get hard for her.”

“What the fuck, man.” A loose fist collides with Billy’s sternum, knocking the wind out of him, pressing him further into the bricks at his back. He shivers. Grins. Now they’re getting somewhere. “What the hell is wrong with you.”

A laugh bursts out of him, ripped right out of his belly, a violent thing. Bitter, humourless. He shrugs. “A lot. But at least I can get it up.” He thrusts his hips forward, grinding against the guy’s hip. 

“Would you shut your mouth?” he groans, half-annoyance, half-ohgodpleasedon’tstop. 

Billy grins, a sharp-toothed thing, a challenge. “Make me.”

“Oh,” surprise colours his tone, “Is that—”

Billy surges forward, kisses with teeth and tongue and anger. He can’t say it, they’re not allowed to say it. Ruins the game.

“Just shut the fuck up and fuck me,” Billy growls, harsh gulps of cold air burning the back of his throat. He’s leaking in his jeans, trapped by the cold zipper against his skin. Should’ve done this in the bathroom. Damn place smells like they’ve been cleaning it with air freshener and nothing else, but at least it’s warm. 

It’s dark in that alley. The building they’re leaning against has a broken fixture, and the streetlight barely makes it past the dumpster they’re behind. But there’s enough light to see the guy’s expression change. To see something in his eyes, the lust-blown pupils trained on Billy’s mouth. 

He might’ve finally picked one who has what it takes. 

Fingers slide around Billy’s throat, loosely, pressed under his jaw enough to force his head up. He, faintly, hears the sound of a belt buckle being undone. A zipper. The cold air is unbearable against the sensitive skin of his cock, and he bites his lip to swallow a whine. 

“Turn around,” the guy grunts. 

Billy lifts his chin. Clenches his jaw.

Hands grip his shoulders, rough, careless fingers digging into the meat of his arm as he’s dragged forward, spun around, shoved. A gasp rushes out of him, empties his lungs as he collides with the crumbling brick, scraping his cheek.

He’s unsteady, palms pressed to the wall to keep upright, alcohol making his head fuzzy. He tries to push himself away from the frozen wall but a fist between his shoulder-blades pins him in place, the weight of a body pressed to his back and the hard line of a cock rubbing his ass. 

Billy’s jeans get shucked down, bunching up around his thighs. Somewhere behind him there’s rustling, a zipper being undone, the crinkle of a foil wrapper being ripped. 

When he feels the blunt head of a cock, the cold slide of freshly unwrapped latex, he turns his head as best he can, musters up a teasing tone, “What, is that it? Thought you were packin’ heat, man, where’s—”

“Shut up,” growled in his ear, fingers gripping the back of his head and shoving him back around. His cheek throbs, stings, scraping against the wall, but it’s nothing compared to the shooting pains up his back, in his stomach, as the man behind him thrusts inside. 

His vision whites out, and he bites his lip so hard he tastes blood. Back rigid, he skins the tips of his fingers scratching the wall, scrabbling for something to hold on to. 

The pressure disappears, for a second, one empty, quiet second, before he’s split open again. 

He curls his fingers, knuckles going white, nails digging into his palms. 

Another thrust. The slap of skin against skin is deafening. The man’s quiet groan. There’s no traffic this time of night, in this part of the city. There’s just the muffled sound of voices from inside the bar, and Billy’s bitten-off whimpering. 

With the next he hits the spot inside Billy that makes him see stars. It’s a shock to his system, the blinding pleasure of it.

The world starts to go hazy. Like he’s floating. The man grabs his wrists, pins them to the wall, bracketing his head. Harsh, unyielding brick draws blood where Billy’s pressed to it, but he doesn’t feel it. Doesn’t feel the cold. The pain.

The sensations blur together. Hot sparks dancing up his spine, the sharp twinge of blood being drawn as his cheek scrapes against cold brick, again and again, shuddering with every thrust of the man’s hips. 

He doesn’t know how long he’s pinned there, only that suddenly it stops. The sensations are gone. And he’s alone.

Alone in the cold.

There might’ve been words exchanged, after Billy went limp, forehead pressed to the wall, trying to ground himself without the help of another body next to his. But he can’t be sure, not when everything is so foggy. 

He kneels on the damp pavement, falling without grace, like a puppet whose strings were cut. 

When he emerges from the haze, he doesn’t remember deciding to sit. Doesn’t remember being left. There’s the beginnings of a headache, exhaustion a throbbing dryness behind his eyes.

His pants are still halfway off, and his cock has gone limp. And he’s shivering. Hard enough to hurt. 

Everything hurts.

He shuffles his jeans back up, fingers clumsy from the cold, fumbling with his zipper. 

Standing is an ordeal. The pain that lances through him when he tries is enough for him to fold back in on himself, stay in a shuddering, sniveling ball on the ground for a few moments while he gathers his strength.

The second try goes better, now that he’s expecting it. He grits his teeth and manages.

And still has to walk home.

It took him five minutes to walk to the bar. It takes him twenty to get back.

Thank fuck their building has a functioning elevator.

He hobbles back to their apartment without encountering any nosy neighbours, and he’s just starting to think he’s in the clear when he sticks his key into the door, jiggles it, and—

The door flies open, revealing a pale, dishevelled Steve. “Where the fuckBilly oh my god!” he cries, half reaching out in an aborted motion that swings his arm awkwardly. His Bambi eyes are somehow even bigger than usual, and they’re flitting all over Billy. He runs a shaky hand through already unkempt hair. 

Billy grimaces. He’d really hoped to be home first. Which, now that he thinks about it was stupid and never going to happen, but it’s not like he really planned his evening with forethought and care. 

He feels dirtier standing here than he did in that alley. Used and discarded, at least he was among peers behind that dumpster. Here, under clean yellow light, he’s exposed. Out of place. Back in a world where what he did would get him ostracized, at best.

“Harrington, move,” Billy says flatly, voice breaking, rough and quiet. It hurts to speak too, great.

He’s still shivering, muddy and bruised. The intimidation card probably isn’t worth anything right now.

Steve doesn’t budge, still clutching the door, stuck halfway between Billy and their apartment, clear confusion written all over him. And concern. “What—”

“I said, move,” he cuts in, and to his horror, it comes out even more pathetic, broken. Something in him crumbles. His eyes fill with tears. His shoulders shake.

“Holy shit.” Steve does touch him this time, lays a hand on his bicep, briefly, fleetingly. But Billy flinches. Instinctively, he recoils, jolts away and then freezes. “Billy…” Steve breathes his name like a desperate prayer. 

“Don’t. Don’t do that,” Billy snaps, breath catching on a half-swallowed sob. 

“I’m—I’m sorry—Jesus, get in here.” He finally steps aside, beckoning. Like Billy was the one who was keeping them in the doorway. 

He wipes his nose on his sleeve, glaring, and tromps inside. There’s no hiding his limp, but he’s banking on Steve not recognizing it for what it is. He might’ve been a big slutty deal in the backwater town he came from, but he’s still a morally upstanding straight boy from Indiana. 

The door clicks shut behind him, and Steve starts to stammer, “What—what happened? Are you—are you okay? Do you need, I dunno, a hospital, or, or—” 

“Christ, no.” He shucks off his jacket and tosses it on to the nearest chair. There are still tears threatening to fall, a constant, burning reminder. He needs to get away from Steve and his hand-wringing. Somewhere he can get this shit under control. 

Definitely not a hospital, they’d figure him out in a goddamn heartbeat.

He heads towards the bathroom, intending to take a shower, but Steve follows him, easily keeping up with his awkward, shuffling gait. 

“If you’re not gonna get a doctor to check you out, at least let me.” He hovers close by, hugging his elbows, lips pursed, his gaze wandering from the damp denim sticking to Billy’s shins to the missing button on his shirt. Billy’s not sure when it popped off, but dry humping a brick wall is probably what did it. 

“No.”

“Hargrove, I swear to god,” Steve grits out, visibly frustrated. Good. Maybe he’ll give up if Billy pisses him off enough. 

He tries to shut the bathroom door in Steve’s face but he isn’t fast enough. Steve’s hand shoots up, hits the wood with a dull thunk. The collision jars Billy more than it should, and he winces. 

That, at least, gives Steve pause. But before Billy can use the moment to close the door while he’s caught off-guard, Steve’s wide-eyed gaze falls to Billy’s wrist. His palm is still pressed to the door and his shirt-sleeve has fallen halfway down his forearm, leaving the purpling fingermarks and reddened skin on full display. 

He drops his hand, shaking his sleeve back down, but Steve is still staring.

“Billy, what the hell happened?” he asks, voice soft. Too soft. He wouldn’t be looking at Billy like that, talking to him like that—like he cares—if he knew. 

Telling him what happened would probably get him to back off. And move out. And never talk to Billy again. Which would probably be better for both of them in the long run, but he can’t bring himself to want it. Want anything but Steve staying in his life as long as possible.

So he bites his tongue. Clenches his jaw until it’s painful, and tries to keep the tears in. “None of your business, Harrington,” he mutters. “Why are you even here?”

“...I live here?” Steve blinks at him, perplexed.

“I meant what happened to your date, dumbass.”

“Oh, right.” 

“That good, huh.”

Steve’s cheeks turn pink, and for the first time since Billy got home, he looks away. “It was...fine. Nothing happened. Just, uh, decided to call it a night, um, early.” His gaze shifts, eyebrows tilting with concern, mouth pinched into a frown, “And then you weren’t here when I got home.”

Billy stomps down on the part of him that crows with glee at the idea of Steve’s date being that boring. “Sucks to be you,” he says flatly, and gives the door another push.

It’s half-hearted at best, and does nothing.

“Wow, thanks,” Steve scoffs. “I was really worried about you, you know. I still am, Jesus Christ, Billy. You could’ve left a note, or—or something, I’ve been going out of my goddamn mind.”

“I’m not one of your kids, Harrington, I don’t need looking after.” Standing around for this long after walking home is starting to take a toll, and he sways, hanging onto the door to stay upright. It doesn’t really help his case, but he puts on a brave face and hopes Steve doesn’t notice.

“I know that,” Steve snaps, his cheeks ruddy now, darkening. “You’re a goddamn adult, okay, good for you, but—” he waves a hand in Billy’s general direction, “Look at you right now! Apparently I was right to be worried.”

“I’m fine.”

“You aren’t! You look like hell, and it’s scaring the shit out of me!”

Billy recoils, his heart clenching. “This is nothing, alright. It’s nothing. Just leave it alone.”

“Billy, I’ve been waiting around for an hour losing my shit, I can’t—”

“I didn’t ask you to do that!” 

“I know you didn’t. You wouldn’t.”

“You’re right, I wouldn’t, because I don’t need this, just—”

“Well, sorry for giving a shit, but I can’t fucking help that I love you!”

They both freeze. Steve blinks, his mouth opening and closing soundlessly, whole body taut with silent panic, and Billy…

He’s lightheaded, struggling for air. The tears he’s been fighting off finally spill over. His heart is beating so fast he feels a little sick. 

“...What?” he breathes. 

“I—I—” Steve’s voice cracks, and he wipes his mouth on the back of his trembling hand. There’s a beat of silence before it all comes spilling out. “I had to leave early because she wasn’t you. She was—I dunno, polite, and, and knew which forks to use, and she was everything my goddamn parents would’ve chosen for me, and I didn’t want any of it, because—because she didn’t make me laugh, or call me on my shit, or know what I meant when I made a joke about that one show you like that I can never remember the name of—”

“Unsolved Mysteries.” Billy says faintly.

Steve’s eyes shine, suddenly, like he’s glowing from the inside, and all that soft warmth is aimed at Billy. His vision blurs, a fresh wave of tears trickling down his cheeks.

“Yeah,” Steve says quietly, “Yeah, that. I—Billy, I spent the whole date thinking about you, and how much it sucked when you didn’t seem to care that I was going out, and—” He stutters to a halt, curling in on himself, his tongue darting out to wet his bottom lip. 

“I did.”

“You—what?” Steve blinks at him, lips parted.

“I...cared, alright?”

An understatement, but still. 

“As in...?”

Billy crosses his arms. “As in, I didn’t want you to go on your stupid date. Because. I was jealous. Yeah.” 

“...Just...to be clear—”

“For fuck’s sake,” Billy snaps, and lurches forward, pressing his mouth to Steve’s. 

It’s brief. Barely a kiss. He doesn’t give himself time to savour it. Doesn’t touch Steve anywhere else. 

But his head’s still spinning, swimming, drunk on that one small point of contact. The little surprised noise Steve made when their lips touched is going to haunt his goddamn dreams, he just knows it. 

He pulls away, and it’s over as quickly as it started. 

Steve’s eyelashes flutter a little. It takes him a second to open his eyes properly. He hasn’t moved. Doesn’t seem to be able to. He looks hazy, eyes unfocused, jaw slack. “Oh,” he says softly.

“Clear enough?” He tries for cocky and misses by a mile. Too breathless, too quiet, too embarrassingly affected by a chaste peck on the mouth. 

“Uh,” Steve licks his lips. “Might—might need another one just to be sure, actually.”

Billy snorts, butterflies erupting in his stomach. He scratches his unbruised cheek, hiding a small smile. “Careful, wouldn’t wanna bite off more than you can chew.” 

“Billy…” He fiddles with the doorjamb, index finger tracing down the wood grain. Billy waits for the inevitable backpedalling. The just kidding. The actually, I can’t do this. “Let me draw you a bath.”

What.

“Is...that some kind of Indiana pick-up line?”

Steve huffs, half a laugh. “No. It’s me trying to care about you again. I know you’re...all strong and capable and shit, but just. Let me. Please. You shouldn’t have to do everything on your own.”

He’s right. Billy knows he’s right. But he still rankles. Still cringes internally at the thought of being taken care of. Or maybe just at the desperate longing that tugs at him when he thinks of it. Because if he’s being honest with himself, he wants, so badly, to take Steve up on his offer. He’s exhausted. He’s in pain. In shock. 

But he’s also Billy Hargrove, stubborn asshole.

He rubs his forearm, the tenderest spot just above his wrist. “Soaking in warm water will make the bruising worse, you know,” he mutters. 

Steve sighs. Stares at the ceiling for a second, before he runs a hand through his hair and his gaze falls back on Billy. “Okay, and we can deal with that later. Right now, you’re a mess and you can barely stand. So, unless you want me to hold you up while you shower—” he cuts himself off, flushing. Clears his throat and toys with his bangs again. “Uh. I just mean...you know what I mean.”

As much as he would love to be wet and naked in Steve’s arms, standing for any prolonged period of time does sound like torture right now. 

Billy sways again. Exhales a heavy breath and leans against the door. The wood digs into his shoulder. “...Fine.”

He’s not sure sitting will be any more comfortable, actually, but he’s gonna find out. 

And Steve smiles, grins at him all soft and gentle and...loving. He’s looked at Billy like that before but putting a name to it now, it’s so much more. More everything. Overwhelming. Billy can’t look away.

“Alright, good.” Steve puts a hand on the door, hesitant, shuffling forward. “Lemme in.”

Once he’s in the bathroom he makes a beeline for the vanity, and starts pulling out more things than Billy would’ve thought necessary for a goddamn bath.

“You better not make me smell like fuckin’, old lady potpourri or some shit,” he grunts, unbuttoning his shirt.

Steve rolls his eyes, a half-smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “It’d be an improvement.” He sobers almost immediately, gaze flickering over Billy’s bare chest. 

Normally he would’ve preened at that. Basked in it. But the way Steve purses his lips is more concerned than anything else. Billy has his back turned to the mirror, purposefully. He doesn’t want to know what the damage is. But Steve drawing attention to it makes him curious, and he glances down as he sheds his shirt entirely.

Ah. 

He was already a mess of scars, twisting ropes of puckered flesh spanning his chest, pale and stiff, purpling around the edges in the cold. It’s not pretty. It makes the fresh scrapes look like nothing in comparison, but still. There are twin scabs on hipbones, red patches up his ribs, skin rubbed raw in places that tell a story he doesn’t want told. 

His fingers hover over his belt buckle, hesitant. The rest of him is...probably just as bad if not worse. 

Steve is busying himself testing water temperature, pouring a little bag of salt into the tub, swirling it all around, anything to keep his hands busy. There’s a tension in his shoulders that worries Billy. 

He’s still standing there in nothing but his jeans when Steve straightens, turns. The tub is full. 

“Since when are you shy?” Steve says softly, a sad twist to his mouth. 

Billy fiddles with his belt, heart in his mouth. “I…”

“Billy.” Steve steps towards him, stops just shy of touching, hand hovering inches from Billy’s own. “What happened?” He’s so quiet. Gentle. Billy aches. 

His eyes fall shut, breath escaping him in a rush. “It’s not what you think.”

A huff, Steve sighs, short and frustrated. “Please—”

“I’m getting there, just shut up a sec.” Steve’s mouth snaps closed, but his big dumb Bambi eyes are still pleading, impatient. At least he’s being quiet. Billy squares his shoulders, tilts his chin, does everything he can to look sure of himself. And he rips the bandaid off. “I went to a bar, after you left. To find a guy to rough me up a little. I wanted it, Steve. All this,” he gestures to himself, leaning back on his heels, “Was on purpose, alright?”

Steve’s brow furrows, “You’re telling me you got like this, in a bar fight—”

A slightly hysterical laugh rips out of Billy. He steps back, crosses his arms. “No. No, Steve, I’m telling you I let a stranger fuck me behind a dumpster and I baited him until he did it hard enough that I blacked out.”

And there it is. The shock. The realization. Plastered all over Steve’s pretty face. Billy waits for the inevitable disgust. Judgement. Waits for Steve to look at him like he’s the dirt under his stupid pristine sneakers. 

He grits his teeth. The bruising on his cheek twinges. There’s a tension headache brewing and the added pressure to his temples doesn’t help, but he doesn’t stop. Clenches his jaw harder, tears springing to his eyes. 

Steve opens and closes his mouth soundlessly. His eyes start to look suspiciously wet. “Billy, can I—” he croaks, and clears his throat, “Can I touch you? Please.”

Billy blinks. Searches Steve’s face for anything that makes sense, and doesn’t succeed. Slowly, he nods, bracing himself for whatever’s coming. 

He wasn’t prepared enough. Steve’s arms wrap around his waist, and before he has time to process what’s happening he’s engulfed in warmth. Palms pressed to his back, his crossed arms trapped between their chests, Steve’s face nestled against his neck. 

“...What...are you doing?” Billy rasps, cautiously eyeing the top of Steve’s head. 

“Hugging you, dumbass,” he mutters, nuzzling closer, hair tickling under Billy’s ear. Billy lets out an involuntary whine, a punched-out, broken sound in the back of his throat. Steve tightens his grip. 

And that breaks him. Breaks whatever flimsy barriers he’d been trying to hide behind since he got home. Walls come crumbling down. His knees go weak. His shoulders shake, a shiver running down his spine that doesn’t seem to want to stop. Tears drip down his cheeks, his chin, again, flowing freely from his raw, aching eyes. 

He’s exhausted, and freezing, and in pain, and he can’t ignore it anymore. 

He slumps against Steve, burying his face in soft brown hair, and his hands slip out from between them to rest, tentatively, on Steve’s hips. 

“Water’s getting cold,” Steve says quietly. Billy, reflexively, clutches at Steve’s shirt, unwilling to let go just yet. Steve huffs a laugh, his breath warming Billy’s skin. “I’ll get in with you if you want.” 

“Mm,” Billy hums, nodding, his cheek mussing Steve’s hair.

“Okay.” Steve presses a kiss to Billy’s shoulder before he pulls back. His hands slide to Billy’s waist, fingers toying with the belt loops on his jeans. He’s staring. Billy watches with rapt fascination as a pink flush spreads across his face. “Um. Let me?” His gaze flickers up to meet Billy’s. “No funny business, I promise,” he adds, a sheepish smile playing at his mouth. 

Billy snickers, a half-delirious sounding thing, shaky and nervous. His tongue darts out to wet his bottom lip. He wipes his cheek on his shoulder and sniffs, like composing himself just that little bit will make this less weird for anybody.

He feels like a goddamn virgin on prom night.

“Yeah. Go ahead.” 

Steve nods, like he’s psyching himself up or something, biting his lip, before he removes Billy’s belt. It falls to the tiled floor with an echoing clatter. Billy’s chest feels tight, his pulse racing as Steve’s hands return to unbutton his jeans, knuckles brush the skin under his belly button. He shivers. 

The sound his zipper makes his deafening. Agonizingly loud in the tiny bathroom.

Billy sucks in a sharp breath when Steve brushes his fingers through the thatch of dusky blonde hair peeking out of his jeans. 

“Uh, sorry—sorry, I’ll…” Steve flushes a spotty red. His hands return to the belt loops, purposeful, tugging down. 

His jeans bunch up around his thighs. 

And Steve drops to his knees. 

A strangled noise catches in Billy’s throat, and he averts his eyes, staring at the ceiling while Steve peels his jeans the rest of the way down. He steps out of each leg when prodded, face in his hands, shallow, humid breaths making his palms sweat. 

He doesn’t look until Steve touches his elbow, tugging his hands away gently. 

He doesn’t want to look. He’s a mess and he knows it, and now Steve knows it, and he’s not sure how Steve’s gonna look at him now that he’s seen it. It’s too much. Too much all at once. His body used to be the only thing about him he was okay with showing. It didn’t feel like exposing himself, it was just something to draw people’s attention with. But now. Now that there are stories etched into his skin...Like when people would catch sight of the belt-marks on his back, but worse. Because it’s Steve.

Because he loves Steve. 

And Steve…

Is looking at him with the same gentle warmth he always does. 

“Y’know, you’re cute when you’re nervous.” Steve squeezes his hand, a small smile on his face.

Billy’s ears heat. “Shut up.”

Getting into the tub turns out to be a challenge. Billy tries, while Steve is taking his own pants off, he tries to step over the side, but when he lifts his leg pain lances up his back. 

“Fuck,” he hisses through gritted teeth, supporting his weight with a palm flat to the wall. He’s only there a second, breathing harshly through his nose, before Steve is at his side.

“Billy, let me help you.”

He expects to feel pitied. For his hackles to raise, and have to fight the urge to snap and bite. But he’s just tired. And he nods. 

It’s easier with Steve doing most of the work. Holding him up when he winces and falters. But then he’s standing knee-deep in the water, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. 

Steve climbs in behind him, hands cupping his elbows. “Here,” he says softly, guiding Billy down, til they’re entwined in the steaming water, Billy leaning back against Steve’s chest. 

Only then does Billy actually look at the rest of his body. The bruises blooming on his knees. The patchy redness of his thighs, his cock, chafed and sore. He shivers, adjusting to the warmth, only now realizing how thoroughly frozen he’s been this whole time. 

And Steve holds him. Hooks his ankle around Billy’s, keeps his arms wrapped securely around Billy’s waist, palms flat on his stomach. Holds him while he shudders and tears leak down his cheeks. Presses kisses to the top of his head and traces patterns in his skin and waits for Billy to calm himself, ‘til the water starts to chill and he doesn’t even know why he’s crying anymore, if he ever did. 

He takes a shaky breath. Lets his head fall back against Steve’s shoulder. His eyes feel dry, swollen, and his throat aches. Most of him aches. The hot water helps, loosens some of his tense muscles, but the salt stings in his cuts, and sitting in one position so long is making his hips sore. 

Steve starts toying with his curls, pushing them off his forehead where the steam and sweat have made them stick to his skin. “Want me to wash your hair?”

He hums, eyes slipping closed. Being cradled against Steve’s chest is comfy and he’s tired. 

“You can’t sleep in the tub,” Steve says with an amused huff, patting his cheek. 

“Mm, too late.”

“Billy,” he laughs, “C’mon, I’ll wash your hair and then you can sleep. In bed.”

“Your bed.”

“Okay, my bed.”

The water is cold by the time Steve has washed Billy’s hair and coaxed him into a standing position, bathwater swirling around their ankles while they rinse off under a spray of fresh warmth. 

Billy is feeling loose-limbed and oddly relaxed, as Steve towels him off, patting him down gently. He leans into the touch. 

He’s barely keeping his eyes open as he brushes his teeth. As he lets Steve guide him down the hall. Steve is rummaging through his dresser when Billy crawls into bed without him.

“I was...gonna get you some pj pants, but uh…”

“Nah.”

Steve coughs. 

There’s fabric rustling. The light clicks off. Footsteps pad across the room. The mattress squeaks when Steve slips under the covers beside him. 

“Can I hold you?” Steve whispers. His hand finds Billy’s shoulder in the dark, tentatively, not moving any more as he waits for an answer. 

Billy scoots closer, bumping into Steve’s chest. 

“I’ll get you some of that cream for bruises tomorrow,” Steve says as he slips an arm around Billy’s waist, shuffling around to get situated, “Ar...something. Arsenic.”

“Really hope you mean arnica.”

“Right. Yeah.” He nuzzles Billy’s shoulder. “I, um...I’d really like to kiss you again. Sometime. I…” He pauses, fidgeting, his legs rustling the sheets as he moves. “What are we doing, Billy?”

“Spooning,” Billy mumbles. Steve’s exasperated laugh warms the back of his neck, and it makes him smile. He covers one of Steve’s hands with his own. He’s not sure what he wants to say. What the right thing to say is. What comes out is, “Do you still...love me?” small and hesitant.

Steve curls tighter around him, sliding a hand up his chest to press flat over his heart. “Yes.”

He takes a shuddering breath. Closes his eyes. Not that it makes a difference in the dark. “Good.”

“Yeah?”

“Mhm. ‘Cause I love you too.”

“Oh,” Steve breathes. “Well. Good.” His voice cracks a little. 

“Yeah…”

Billy falls asleep not long after that. Sleeps easier than he has in a long time.

And when he wakes up, to sunlight streaming through the blinds and Steve drooling on his shoulder, his heart swells. He doesn’t usually lay in, but moving sounds like a terrible idea right now, so he stays. Pets Steve’s hair.

He drifts in and out of consciousness for a while, until Steve stirs, rubbing his face into Billy’s chest as he wakes. “Mm. Morning,” he sighs, a sleepy smile crinkles the corners of his eyes. And Billy kisses him. Kisses him properly this time, firm and sweet and cradling his face.

He’s stiff, and sore, and in the light of day the bruising on his arm looks even worse. But Steve kisses him back, and he’s happy.