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And At The Same Time Something Makes You Whole

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Billy hates funerals, always has. He wasn’t allowed to go to Mam’s so he hated that one most of all. He feels awkward and too tall in his suit, which hasn’t fit right since Year Eight.

“Coming back to the house?” Tony asks him afterwards, bumping Billy’s forearm with a light punch.

Billy looks down at the overturned ground and shrugs. “In a minute,” he says. Tony doesn’t leave so Billy has to actually look up at him. “I’ll meet you back there, all right?”

“All right,” Tony agrees, looking like he wants to say something more. He doesn’t, just clears his throat and moves off, putting a hand on Dad’s back and guiding him between the gravestones.

Grandma’s buried next to Mam, like their own private corner where they can hang out and talk about Fred Astaire films forever. Billy sniffs and rubs his nose. He should have come back more often, he thinks, taken her out to dance as many times as she wanted him to.

“Sorry,” he tells her, toeing the edge of the graveside. There’s no tombstone yet, but he can close his eyes and pretend that there is.

He spent enough of his childhood in this fucking graveyard that he can find his way home from here with his eyes shut. He doesn’t go home though, just keeps on walking past the front door and down the hill.

Michael’s house looks the same from the outside, washing blowing in the breeze and a baby screaming inside but Billy doesn’t recognise the harried looking woman who opens the door.

“Yes?” she asks, looking him up and down and frowning. Billy supposes he looks like a fucking insurance salesman, knocking on people’s doors in his suit.

“Um, I’m looking for Michael?” he says. “Michael Caffrey?”

She shakes her head, already starting to close the door again. “He’s not here. He doesn’t live here anymore.”

“Wait, what?” Billy tries to ask but she’s already shutting the door on him.

“He left,” says a voice behind him and Billy turns around, finds Debbie waiting for him at the end of Michael’s garden path. At least, he reckons it’s Debbie. It’s Debbie grown six inches and plus a couple more around the chest.

She looks like a stranger.

“Hello,” Billy says, shoving his hands in his pockets and shuffling up the path toward her.

She arches her eyebrows at him. “Hi,” she agrees like she’s doing him a favour talking to him. Billy isn’t fooled; she followed him here, after all. “Thought I’d find you here. Not like you’d ever come to mine, is it?”

Billy rolls his eyes and scuffs his shoes against the pavement. “Where’d they move to?” he asks rather than asking how she is or admitting he might have missed her or any stupid shit like that.

Debbie shrugs. “Don’t know. That lady in there is his dad’s new wife. His mam left his dad right after GCSEs, took Michael and Mandy with her.”

“Oh,” Billy says. He can’t imagine that. Michael’s mam was never home when Billy went round but he hadn’t known there were any problems. He wonders if she caught Michael’s dad in one of her dresses. “Where’d they go?”

Debbie kicks his ankle. “I just told you I don’t know.”

Billy feels kind of exhausted suddenly. He was okay with being out of touch with Michael because that kind of thing happened when you lived three hundred miles apart. But the idea of not being able to get back in touch with him? That’s weird.

“Look at you,” Debbie says. “Are you gonna cry?”

“Fuck off,” Billy says, trying to kick her back but missing. He starts walking down the road, not really knowing where he’s going and not surprised when Debbie follows him.

“How is it, then?” Debbie asks, skipping along beside him like she’s trying to tap.

“How’s what?” Billy asks.

Dancing,” Debbie says, “Idiot.”

“Dancing’s great?” Billy tries. There’s no quick and easy way of explaining what the Royal Ballet School’s like – at least, not without like, using a lot of feeling words that he’s not going to go waving around in front of Debbie.

Debbie huffs. “Fine,” she says. She drops her school bag onto the floor and unzips it. She pulls out a big bottle of vodka. “Want a drink?”

“Fuck yes,” Billy says and sits down against the wall, taking the bottle when she holds it out to him.

“You know,” Debbie says, half a bottle later. She has her head on Billy’s shoulder, hair scratching his neck in a really uncomfortable way. “I had sex with him once.”

“Who?” Billy asks, wondering why the hell she thinks he needs to know who she has sex with. He’s never needed to know that ever in his life.

“Michael,” Debbie tells him, sitting up when Billy chokes on a big mouthful of vodka. He thinks he might die. He thinks he might already be dead and hallucinating.

“With Michael?” he coughs.

Debbie smirks at him, taking the vodka away. “Yeah. He wanted to see my fanny.”

Michael,” Billy repeats. Apparently this is what happens when you introduce your friends to each other. You fuck off to London and they fuck each other. Gross.

Debbie laughs, smacking him on the knee. “Don’t look so shocked. It was only once; I know he’s queer.”

Billy blinks at her. “… how was it?” he asks without meaning to, completely unable to help himself.

Debbie purses her lips, like she’s thinking. “Not bad. I mean, considering we both wished it was you instead.”

“What?” Billy asks, frowning at her.

She smacks his other knee, harder this time. He gets the feeling she means it. “Don’t be a dickhead, Billy,” she tells him and he sighs, resting his head on his knees.

It’s weird being home. And it’s weirder still to think that home went on without him while he was gone.

“Hey,” Debbie says eventually. “You should come see me mam. She’d like that. She misses you.”

Billy shakes his head. “No, give over. She’s got to have someone new to fuss over by now.” It’s been six years, she’s probably forgotten all about him.

“Nope.” Debbie rolls over onto her knees, chucking the bottle in the vague direction of the bin on the corner and only missing by five metres or so. “Only me and I don’t count. Coming?”

What the hell, Billy thinks, scrambling up after her. He’s got time to kill before Grandma’s wake and there’s got to be worse ways to fill it than rolling up half-cut to see Mrs Wilkinson.

***

“So how was it?” Harry asks, letting himself into Billy’s room without knocking. Sometimes Billy thinks he was right to punch him the first time he met him. The rest of the time, he’s sure he was.

“Brilliant,” Billy tells him, chucking his football up toward the ceiling again. “Best time ever. Love a good funeral, me.”

Harry drops down next to him onto the bed and knocks the football at Billy’s face. Because he’s a bastard who Billy should have punched harder, apparently.

“You always come back from Durham so much more Northern,” Harry tells him seriously like he’s telling Billy he’s got salad between his teeth – another social disaster in Harry’s world.

Billy ignores him and throws the ball harder at the ceiling.

“Uh oh,” Harry says, “you’re moping. Tell you what, why don’t we go out at the weekend? A nice little fuck would do you the world of good.”

Billy side eyes him. “For you or for me?” he asks. Ever since they turned eighteen, Harry’s been dragging Billy out every weekend.

Billy doesn’t really mind – he’s also not looking for a nice little fuck. Especially since –

“So, are you in the mood to get laid, then?”

“Not really?”

“Oh good, mind if we make it a gay bar instead then?”

– happens every time.

“Nah,” Billy says, shrugging. He doesn’t give a shit. As long as he gets a drink and a dance, he’s happy enough. He doesn’t know what the problem with him is, but ever since he’s been back in London, he’s felt kind of… off. Like he left half his brain in Durham and he can’t work out a way to get it back.

The bar Harry picks is a buzzing place in Soho with a bouncer on the door who gives them the kind of look that says they don’t meet the dress code but he doesn’t give a shit.

It’s much better than some of the stuck-up, snotty places Harry loves where they look at Billy like they expect him to be toting Harry’s bags for him.

Some boy Billy doesn’t recognise leaps on Harry as soon as they get inside, dragging him off to dance so Billy heads for the bar, slotting in between a guy in tatty jeans and someone in a tiny black skirt.

“Newcastle Brown,” he asks the barman because his accent might be slipping away bit by bit but he still has some home pride.

“Really?” asks a deep voice next to him and he looks to the right to find that the guy in the skirt beside him is laughing at him.

Billy gets a glimpse of dark hair and red lips, the beginnings of stubble and a prominent adam’s apple and thinks Michael before shaking his head at himself. Not Michael; why would Billy expect to see Michael here of all places?

“Why not?” Billy asks, swapping a bunch of pound coins for his glass of beer.

He looks Billy up and down. “Straight boys tend to drink frilly pink drinks here like they need them to fit in.”

“Who says I’m straight?” Billy asks, because he’s never been able to back down from a challenge before thinking wait, what, where did that come from?

The man smiles, licking his lips slowly and leaving his lipstick perfect. Billy never managed that the times Michael used to make him up, used to leave lip prints everywhere and then have to go around the house wiping them off before Dad or Tony got home.

“That’s true,” he agrees. He nods his head toward the dance floor. “Want to dance?”

That is what Billy came here for, he thinks with a mental shrug, so he drains the last of his pint and says, “Yes,” raising his eyebrows at the surprised look he earns.

Surprise melts away into a wider smile and the offer of a hand. “Come on, then.”

Billy studied classical ballet, character and contemporary dancing, gymnastics, and Irish, Morris and Scottish dancing in the lower school, but there’s still something about disco that makes his fingers tingle and his blood start to pound and it only gets better when this guy he’s accidentally picked up grinds right up against him, catching Billy’s hands and guiding them to his hips.

Out of the corner of his eye, Billy catches sight of Harry, staring at him like he’s never seen him before but then there are hands on Billy’s chest, opening the collar of his shirt and he just closes his eyes and loses himself to the dancing.

***

“Well,” Harry says when Billy drags himself home the next morning. “Billy fucking Elliot.”

Billy is exhausted and hungover and well-shagged so he can’t manage more than a grunt, leaning all his weight against the doorframe because he can’t remember how to stand up.

Harry pushes his glasses up his nose and looks up from the living room sofa where he seems to be doing actual homework. That never happens. “If you’d told me that’s what you like, I could have stopped wasting my time setting you up with real women.”

“He was wearing a skirt, not trying to be a woman, fuck off,” Billy says, because he didn’t catch the guy’s name but he kissed him like he meant it and kept his bra on while he rode Billy on his lush four-poster bed, so Billy’s not going to let Harry talk shit about him now.

Harry salutes him sarcastically. “You know what I mean.” He props his chin up on one hand. It’s his I’m Listening pose, which is normally followed a couple of days later by his, Oops Sorry I Told All Your Secrets To My Friends Down The Pub pose. “You could have told me that’s what you like.”

Billy shrugs. “It’s not what I like. It’s just - ” just that he really misses his childhood best friend and he wonders if Michael still dresses like that, if he goes to bars like that these days. He doesn’t wonder if he meets boys who look like Billy and takes them home because Billy might be tired, but he’s not stupid. “Anyway, shut up. I’m going to bed.”

“Was it magical?” Harry shouts down the corridor after him. “A boy’s first time should be all he dreams of, Elliot.”

Billy flashes him the finger and keeps walking.

***

Now that Billy’s eighteen, he’s moved into the Upper School, which means moving out of White Lodge and into self-contained flats at Baron's Court. It’s sort of like being at university, he supposes, except he’s still sharing with Harry so nothing’s really changed since he first moved to London.

GCSEs were over last year so now there’s even more focus on dancing than there was before. Billy’s in his room, practicing grand rond de jambes when the internal phone buzzes, meaning there’s someone downstairs to see them.

Considering Billy has one real friend and he’s already here, he doesn’t rush to answer.

“Get it, will you?” he calls to Harry when it buzzes again.

“Oh, of course, Your Majesty,” Harry simpers and pirouettes down the corridor toward the phone. Because he’s a knob.

Billy tunes him out, concentrating on what he’s doing. There are auditions soon and he really wants a more interesting part that ‘chorus dancer number three’ in the next school production.

“Billy,” Harry calls and it’s unusual enough for Harry not to call him ‘Elliot’ that Billy drops his leg, stretching it out as he leans around the doorframe.

“What?”

Harry has a funny look on his face. “Dawkins says there’s a boy downstairs to see you. Michael someone? Since when do you have friends who aren’t - ? Hey, where are you going?”

Billy takes the stairs down to the common room three at a time, not giving a fuck about what a disaster it could be if he twisted an ankle or some shit.

Michael’s standing in front of the fireplace, dripping wet from the rain that’s pelting down outside, chewing on a split lip and blinking from under his soggy fringe at the curious boys staring at him. He’s grown tall and he’s skinnier than he used to be, but he’s still clearly Michael, even with the angry red bruise blooming on his right cheekbone.

“What the fuck happened to you?” Billy asks, skidding to a halt in the doorway and raising his eyebrows.

Michael tosses his hair out of his eyes and tips his chin up. “Well that’s some fucking welcome, isn’t it?”

Billy grins, ignoring the weird looks they’re getting and clasps Michael’s shoulder, shaking him gently. “Welcome,” he says, then uses his other hand to tilt Michael’s face toward the light to get a better look at the bruise.

“Fucking hell, that’s nasty,” he whistles.

Michael shrugs. “You don’t think it’s sexy?” he asks innocently.

Billy laughs, shoving him lightly. “C’mon, you’re soaking. I probably shouldn’t let you die of pneumonia, should I?”

“No,” Michael agrees. He’s shivering, arms sliding around to hug himself, so Billy just drags him along, back up the stairs, taking them much slower than Billy did coming down.

“No bags?” Billy asks, when what he wants to ask is Are you okay? Tell me who hit you and I’ll knock his fucking block off.

“No,” Michael says again, softer this time. “I didn’t stop to pack any.”

Harry’s waiting for them at the top of the stairs, door open behind him and a really overly interested expression on his face. It’s not that unusual for Billy to have visitors; he doesn’t know why Harry’s making such a massive deal out of it.

“Harry Cannon-Smyth,” he says, shoving his hand in Michael’s face. “You must be Michael.”

“I must,” Michael agrees, politely shaking Harry’s hand and making a really? expression over his shoulder at Billy.

I know, right? Billy mouths back.

Harry ignores them, peering closely at Michael. He’s shorter than Michael but that somehow doesn’t stop him getting right up in Michael’s face. “Oh I say, are you wearing mascara?”

He shoots a meaningful look at Billy, which Billy blandly pretends not to see, steering Michael into the flat and toward the bathroom.

“Can’t stop,” he tells Harry. “Interrogate him later, okay?”

“Okay,” Harry agrees readily enough but he’s still fucking looking at Billy, like he’s just worked out something important.

“Ignore him,” Billy says, loud enough for Harry to hear before shutting the bathroom door behind them. He selects a mostly clean towel from the rack and shoves it at Michael. “Here.”

“Thanks,” Michael says, taking the towel and just sort of hugging it like that’ll soak all the water straight out of him. “I’m.” He looks down. “Sorry about just turning up like this.”

Billy shakes his head even though Michael isn’t looking at him. “No, don’t, it’s. It’s fine. Are you okay?”

Michael nods jerkily. “I’m always okay,” he says lightly. He glances over Billy’s shoulder toward the shower. “Can I… ? I’d like to shower but you’re… ?”

Oh. Oh right, that’s why he’s clutching the towel. “Right, yes, ‘course,” Billy says, overcome with awkwardness for some reason. “I’ll be, uh.” He jerks a thumb toward the door. “I’ll see you in a minute?”

“Yeah,” Michael says, giving Billy a soft, wobbly sort of smile. Billy knows he hasn’t seen him for a while, but this uncertain side to Michael just isn’t right. It makes Billy’s skin itch with the need to fix something, the way he used to feel when Mam was ill or when Dad and Tony fought about the strike.

Harry’s waiting just outside the bathroom but Billy holds up a hand to him and thank god he actually shuts up until they’ve moved away into Billy’s bedroom.

“Well,” Harry says, the sound exploding out of him like he just can’t hold it back any longer. “So that’s Michael?”

“Shut up,” Billy says, going to his wardrobe and trying to find something for Michael to change into. “Yes, that’s Michael. What of it?” He does his best to sound menacing but he must have gone soft or something because Harry just laughs and holds up his hands.

“All right, suit yourself. I’ll talk to him myself and get all the juicy gossip out of him tomorrow.” A long, meaningful pause. “I’m assuming he is staying.”

“Yes,” Billy snaps. “And we’ll be fucking on every flat surface so put some earplugs in.”

There’s a startled cough from the doorway and, when he looks up, Michael is staring back at him, eyebrows raised. There are smudges of something black around his eyes – mascara, apparently, if Harry was right. He must not have found the stuff they keep around to take their stage makeup off.

“I didn’t mean that,” Billy says quickly, “Harry’s just being a knob.”

Michael smiles, sliding around Harry and taking the sweatshirt that Billy’s holding out of his hands. “For me?” he asks, rolling his towel down to his waist and slipping it on when Billy nods.

“Right,” Harry says brightly. “Lovely to meet you, Michael. See you in the morning.” He actually leaves, which is like some kind of fucking miracle. Billy didn’t know he had that much tact.

“Sorry,” Billy says, still embarrassed. “He just likes to tease me and – ”

“It’s okay,” Michael says, “I’m not bothered.” He fiddles with the places where his towel is tied around his waist. “Do you have any trousers?”

“Yes!” Billy says, maybe a bit too eagerly. He digs through the drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe, triumphantly pulling out a pair of pyjama bottoms and waving them at Michael. “Here.”

“Thanks,” Michael says taking them and turning around. He glances back over his shoulder. “Close your eyes.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Billy grumbles because he goes to fucking ballet school, he’s seen naked arses before, but he does close his eyes, humming under his breath until Michael says, “Okay.”

Michael’s sitting on the bed when Billy opens his eyes, pickings at his toenails which are painted a bright, shiny red. The sleeve of Billy’s jumper slides loose around Michael’s wrist and Billy can see a red ring of a bruise, like someone grabbed him and held him still.

“Who hit you?” Billy asks, not looking at Michael, because they always used to tell each other everything, but eye contact is harder now than it was then.

“No one,” Michael says automatically then, “no one, honestly. Just some arsehole.” He smiles suddenly. “I punched him back,” he adds, sounding proud, “but I couldn’t go home like this, Mam would go mad, get all protective or something stupid.”

Billy forcibly suppresses how protective he’s feeling. “Yeah, well, you can stay here tonight. That’s fine.”

“Thank you,” Michael says, then yawns hugely. “Fuck me, I’m knackered.”

“You can sleep in here,” Billy says, “I’ll sleep on the settee.”

Michael looks over at him from under his eyelashes. “If you like,” he says easily. Billy knows what that means, he can share the bed with Michael if he wants but something about that makes Billy feel awkward, too hot and itchy so he won’t.

Instead, he swings around, resting his feet on the bed right next to Michael’s legs. “What are you doing in London?” he asks.

“Stalking you,” Michael says then laughs at whatever expression is on Billy’s face. “Don’t be soft, come on, I’m not that creepy. Mam moved us to somewhere in like, Essex last year ‘cause she got a new boyfriend. I called you but you’ve changed your number?”

He sounded like he was trying not to sound hurt. Billy tried not to feel too guilty.

“Yeah, I moved too,” he says, waving a hand around his bedroom like Michael had ever been to the Lower School and so would be able to tell the difference.

Michael shrugs. “S’nice,” he says, but he’s not really looking. Billy wonders if he’s mad at him. “Thanks for letting me stay. I’ll be out of your hair in the morning.”

“No rush,” Billy says even though there is, kind of. They’re not supposed to have friends sleeping over, especially not in their beds.

Michael smiles at him, eyes sliding closed sleepily. He rubs his face and frowns at himself like he doesn’t want to be that tired. It’s still early but Billy doesn’t tell him that, just kicks Michael’s leg crossly.

“Go to sleep, you idiot,” he scolds, “you look like a fucking zombie.”

Michael laughs. “In a sexy way?”

“There’s no sexy way to look like a zombie,” Billy tells him, rolling his eyes. “Shut up and go the fuck to sleep.”

Michael’s expression is soft which is probably just because he’s dead tired not because he enjoys Billy fussing over him. Not that Billy’s fussing; that’s not what Billy does.

“Okay,” he agrees, lying down and stretching out across Billy’s bed. He pats the mattress questioningly but Billy shakes his head, hating the sad smile Michael gives him but not changing his mind.

“Good night,” Billy says awkwardly, standing up and pushing his chair away from the side of the bed.

His pyjamas are sticking out under the pillow that Michael’s using, a inch or so from Michael’s chin. Billy grabs them, pulling his hand back straight away, but Michael still blinks his eyes open, staring at him.

“Sorry,” Billy whispers then wonders why he’s whispering. Michael’s hair is flopping into his eyes and Billy has to clutch his pyjamas tightly because his fingers are itching like they want to touch.

“Billy?” Michael asks but Billy just smiles, backing out of the room.

“Good night,” he says again, more firmly this time and runs out of the room.

***

Now that he knows Michael’s living just outside London, they see each other lots more. Not fifteen times a day like they used to when they lived a couple of doors down from each other, but more than they have in years.

It’s great. Billy had forgotten what it was like to have a friend who wasn’t a dancer and it’s strange to talk about things that aren’t auditions and who’s shagging who in the changing rooms.

“We should go out,” Michael tells him, sitting on the back of a park bench and swinging his legs while Billy practices adage exercises. There’s something about Michael being around that makes Billy dance in strange places again. Dad wouldn’t approve.

“When?” Billy asks, focusing on his leg extension.

“A week next blue moon,” Michael tells him sarcastically, taking a drink from his coffee cup, which used to be Billy’s coffee cup, and shivering dramatically. “C’mon, it’d be good for you. I bet you never go out with your posh school friends, do you?”

“Fuck off, of course I do,” Billy says, “but okay. When do you want to go? Tonight?”

When he looks back at Michael, Michael looks surprised. Billy isn’t sure why. “Yes,” Michael says, “tonight. Definitely tonight!” He jumps down and catches Billy’s hand, spinning him around. “I’ll pick you up at nine. Wear something pretty.”

“Are you going to?” Billy asks before he can stop himself. At Michael’s raised eyebrows he adds stubbornly, “Going to wear something pretty?”

Michael looks at Billy for a long time. Whatever he sees makes him nod once, firmly. “Yes,” he says, squeezing Billy’s hand before dropping it. “Wait and see.”

***

“Oh,” Billy says when he opens the door to Michael that night. “You look nice.”

He does. Michael’s always pulled off dresses better than a lot of girls Billy’s seen and the short, black, high-necked one he’s wearing tonight definitely looks good.

Not that Billy’s looking. Well, he’s looking. He’s not blind and it’s kind of hard not to look at Michael’s long legs or plumped-up pink lips and dark, smudgy eye makeup.

“Do I?” Michael asks, blushing for some reason.

“Isn’t that the point of a dress like that?” Billy asks, grabbing his coat and ushering Michael out of the flat before Harry can see him and get all embarrassing again. “To look nice?”

“Yeah, but – ” Michael trails off. He still looks flustered; Billy doesn't understand him at all.

***

The place Michael takes him is another Soho club, hotter and louder than the places Harry likes. He keeps glancing back at Billy, clearly expecting him to be shocked by all the skin and booze and grinding on display.

Harry’s taken Billy to more shocking places than this on a Sunday afternoon so he just smiles at Michael and takes his hand, leading him to the bar.

“Drink?” he asks blandly.

Michael stares at him for a minute more then laughs, slinging his arm around Billy’s shoulders. “Billy Elliot, I have fucking missed you,” he yells in Billy’s ear.

Billy tries to shake him off because it’s too hot in here for Michael to be all… touching him, but Michael props his chin on Billy’s shoulder and holds on. There’s nothing different about his voice, but somehow it feels different to hear, “Rum and coke for me,” from lipstick-smeared lips and an inch from Billy’s ear.

Billy orders their drinks and tries hard to think about anything other than how warm Michael is. Billy’s known for a while that he likes boys and that he likes boys in dresses but he’s not supposed to like Michael. Michael’s his friend, not someone to get all worked up over. It’s rude is what it is, getting one up for your best friend.

“Billy?” Michael asks softly. “You okay?”

Billy shakes himself, taking his drink and handing Michael’s over. “Yep,” he says, downing it and signalling for another. “Want to dance?”

***

Billy loses track of Michael eventually but it’s okay, he’s had a bit to drink and there’s loads of friendly people here who want to dance with him instead.

He’s having his throat sucked by a really enthusiastic girl in fishnet tights when someone slides their arms around him from behind.

“There you are, darling,” Michael trills, laying a sloppy kiss on Billy’s cheek, “I missed you.” He winks at the girl who’s standing back now, looking confused. “Thanks for keeping at eye on him for me.”

“Whatever,” she mutters and walks off, leaving Michael to lean into Billy’s side and laugh in his ear.

“Oops,” he says, “sorry.”

Billy elbows him. “What if that was the love of my life, you wanker?”

Michael watches her walk away. “Nah, the love of your life looks far better in knee high boots than that.”

Against his will, Billy finds himself looking down at Michael’s legs, the way his black leather boots cling to his legs, moulded around his calves like a second skin.

There’s an awkward pause and then, “Aren’t you gonna dance with me, now?” Michael asks. “Show me your ballet school moves?”

“You want me to do ballet right here?” Billy asks, waving his arms around the tightly packed club and nearly smacking ten different people, which just about proves his point.

“I wouldn’t mind,” Michael says, low and more serious all of a sudden.

Because Billy can’t be thinking about what that tone means, he grabs Michael’s hand and spins him around so they’re facing. “How about we just dance like normal people?” he asks, keeping his hands on Michael’s shoulders even as Michael’s hands drop to his waist.

“Well then?” Michael asks, pressing closer. “Show me your moves.”

Billy really doesn’t have any moves. At least none that won’t make him look like a dick on the dance floor. He’s got good rhythm though so he just starts moving them both, picking up the beat and getting faster when the song does.

Michael says something but Billy can’t hear him above the bump and grind and bass.

“What?” Billy shouts, but Michael just shakes his head, wrapping his arms around Billy’s neck and gliding up against him.

Michael is warm and he feels good dancing right close to Billy like this. The dress is strange because it makes Billy expect soft curves in all the places where Michael is flat and solid, but he soon gets used to that, sliding his hands up and down Michael’s back just because he can.

They keep dancing and Michael doesn’t object when Billy’s hands get a little drunk-sloppy and wandering. He laughs breathlessly in Billy’s ear when Billy touches the top of his arse, the hem of his short dress, not quite brave enough to explore the places in between.

“Billy Elliot,” Michael murmurs, close enough that Billy can hear him and hear that he sounds teasing, wondering, that strange mixture of both that’s always been unique to Michael.

“Can I just - ?” Billy asks, not sure if Michael can hear him, and lets his fingertips sneak up under the hem of Michael’s skirt, feeling the smooth fabric of his tights stretched over his skinny thighs.

Michael shivers all over and maybe Billy’s drunk or maybe he’s just been looking for an excuse all along, but he turns his head at that, pressing their mouths together.

There’s an endless, breathless moment when Billy forgets even the dancing, nothing at all in his head but the feel of Michael’s lips against his.

Then Michael laughs, shaking his head and skipping back and the world comes crashing back into focus around them.

“That’s not us, Billy,” Michael says, loud over the music. He kisses Billy again, lingering like he’s just playing hard to get, but Billy doesn’t think he is. “That’s not what we do. I gave up wanting that a long time ago.”

Billy blinks at him, feeling woozy and drunker now, or maybe he just doesn’t want to be sober. “Why?” he asks but Michael shakes his head again, like maybe he can’t hear Billy.

Later that night, when Billy’s back in his bedroom, staring at the cracked, white ceiling and listening to Harry snore through the wall, he’s still thinking it: why? Why isn’t that what they do?

***

Billy sees less of Michael after the aborted kissing attempt, but he’s not sure if that’s because one or both of them are embarrassed or because he’s so busy rehearsing for the school’s Christmas production of Copland’s Billy The Kid that he just doesn’t have time for anything else.

They play the last weekend before the end of term and lots of families come, but not Billy’s. Billy hasn’t even told them about it, not wanting to deal with his dad explaining how tight things are now that the mines have closed.

“Come on,” Harry says afterwards, having scrubbed his own makeup off and now bouncing impatiently waiting for Billy to finish washing away the thick coats of his own foundation.

“Where are we going?” Billy asks. He’s tired. They put on two shows today and there’s a matinee tomorrow. It’s easier for Harry; he’s in the chorus but he doesn’t have to be on stage all the damn time like Billy does.

Not that Billy minds, obviously, he fucking loves ballet still and always will; he’s just feeling kind of sore because all the other principal dancers are being showered with praise and flowers by their families and Billy’s sitting here, alone except for Harry, whose own parents are waiting for him at the stage door.

“The parents are taking us out to dinner, of course,” Harry says, like Billy shouldn’t expect anything else, like Harry’s parents don’t still look at him like he’ll always be the eleven-year-old working class kid who gave their son a black eye and nearly cost them both their auditions.

“Thanks,” Billy says because he was brought up right, thanks very much, “but I’m going home to bed.”

“Really?” Harry asks, eyebrows climbing. He looks appalled and Billy laughs.

“Really,” Billy tells him. He’s finally got enough of his makeup off that he can go home on the tube without too many arseholes hassling him. “I’ll see you when you get back.”

Harry blows him a sarcastic kiss. “Don’t wait up, darling.”

Billy sticks his tongue out and turns away, letting himself out a side door and into an alleyway behind the theatre. He can see the group waiting by the stage door and it’s impressively big for a student production, but he’s never been good at all that glad-handing shit, so he pulls his coat collar up higher and attempts to slink away.

Someone steps out of the shadows just in front of Billy and he jumps, relaxing then tensing up again for a completely different reason when he realises it’s Michael.

“Don’t tell me you’re not going to thank your adoring public?” Michael asks, teasing. He falls into step beside Billy and nudges him with an elbow. “You were bloody good.”

Billy stops. “You came to see it?” he asks then realises how stupid a question that is; why else would Michael be here?

“Nah, I just lurk in dark alleyways hoping to pick up boys,” Michael tells him, obviously thinking the same thing.

Billy rolls his eyes even though the streetlights probably aren’t bright enough for Michael to notice. “Want me to sign something for you?” he asks innocently.

“Oh baby, always,” Michael says then laughs. “No, but I do want to take you out to dinner. Fancy it?”

“Oh.” Billy doesn’t know why that throws him but it kind of does. It’s not like they haven’t grabbed dinner together before – no one’s ever phrased it like take you out to dinner before though.

“Don’t get excited,” Michael tells him, “Best I can afford is Pizza Hut.”

Billy shrugs. “That’s a step up from McDonalds which is the best I can afford.”

“Good to see that London hasn’t given you too many airs and graces,” Michael says, bumping their arms together again. He’s weirdly affectionate tonight; Billy would complain about mixed signals but he doesn’t really care. He’s been dancing all evening, he’s out with his best friend, and he’s about to be treated to dinner – even if it’s not a date; he’s happy.

***

“You remember what you said?” Billy asks later, when they’re in his bedroom, lying back on his bed and stuffed full of all-you-can-eat ice cream.

“What I said when?” Michael asks. He’s dug out Billy’s Game Boy from under the bed and is making faces at Tetris rather than listening to Billy.

The fact that Michael’s not paying any attention makes it much easier to say, “About like, kissing and stuff, about that not being us?”

Michael pauses the game and rests the Game Boy on the bed. “Billy,” he sighs. “If you’re going to do this, I’m leaving.”

“Why?” Billy asks, annoyed. Why can’t they? He’s not a scared eleven-year-old with too much else on his mind now; he knows he wants to have a go at this thing between them now.

“Because!” Michael says, waving a hand jerkily. He rolls onto his side, glaring at Billy so Billy does the same, only without the glare.

Billy rolls his eyes. “That’s not a reason,” he protests.

Michael doesn’t answer, just looks down at the bed and starts tracing the red lines on Billy’s Sunderland duvet covet. “Because,” he says again then, softer, faster, “because I like my heart, okay? I’m not just going to hand it over to you stomp all over.”

Billy blinks. When did hearts get involved, he wonders. “… I wouldn’t,” he tries.

He’s always known that Michael likes him – that’s not arrogance, Michael’s never hidden it, even when he was hiding everything else – and he’d think that Michael would jump at the chance to get him into bed after all those years, but clearly not.

Billy doesn’t get it.

“Not deliberately pet, no.” Michael sounds so sad and regretful.

Oh, Billy thinks. He wants to say something apologetic and reassuring but he’s never been good at words. Instead, he reaches up and touches Michael’s mouth, smearing the pale pink glossy stuff on his lips. “I liked the red better.”

Michael smiles, looking grateful that Billy isn’t pushing the issue. He licks his lips and the tips of Billy’s fingers. “I’ll remember.”

***

Billy gets back to Everington on Christmas Eve. It’s strange being in the house without Grandma here, filling up the corners with her chatter and the songs she used to sing under her breath.

Tony’s there though, doing the washing up whilst his wife changes the baby on the kitchen table.

“For god’s sake,” Dad mutters, shuffling across the kitchen and zipping up his coat. “Can’t you do that in the bedroom?”

“Nope,” Georgia tells him cheerfully, buttoning the baby’s trousers and bouncing her back onto her feet.

Dad smiles reflexively, waving his fingers at the baby, then coughs and heads out like that didn’t happen. He’s never been sure of Georgia – she’s from all the way south in Darlington, after all – but he loves being a granddad.

“So, hey,” Tony says as soon as Dad’s gone. “You got Dad a present, yet?”

“Yeah,” Billy says, taking the biscuit tin down out of the cupboard and fishing around for a Jammy Dodger. “There’s this stall on Portobello Road, has all kinds of old boxing stuff.”

“Right,” Tony says, shrugging and dropping a cup into the washing up water. “I was going to say we could go halves on this new heater thing Dad wants for the bedroom, but never mind, it’s fine.”

“No,” Billy says quickly. “That sounds good. I can give him my stuff for his birthday. Saves me having to shop twice, right?”

He grins easily and waits for Tony’s nod. Neither of them talks about how Billy earns more money from his after school job than Tony gets from the dole office and so Tony probably needs him to come in with him on this.

Tony waits a beat then, “I’ll pick it up on the way back from town this afternoon,” he says gruffly and squirts more washing up liquid into the sink.

Billy swings himself up onto the work surface even though he’s too big for that now and casts around for something else to talk about. Luckily, that’s not too hard. “Has Michael Caffrey been by?” he asks, aiming for casual.

Michael did say he'd be home to visit his dad for Christmas but sometimes Michael says something and then his mam gets other ideas for him.

Tony gives him a look.

“What?” Billy asks defensively but Tony just keeps on looking.

“Leave the lad alone,” Georgia says, smacking Tony on the hip. “He came by yesterday, your Michael, looking for you.”

“He’s not his Michael,” Tony mutters.

Billy kicks his heels against the cupboards, toes squeaking along the floor. “He might be,” he says, quiet like because he wants Tony to know but that doesn’t mean he has to want to tell him.

“Oh god, fine, don’t let me lie to myself,” Tony complains but he doesn’t look surprised and he still flicks bubbles at Billy’s head so Billy reckons they’re okay then.

***

That evening, Billy takes a walk down the street and finds Michael sitting on the wall outside his old house. It’s like being eleven years old again, like neither of them ever moved away or changed at all. Michael’s dressed like Billy’s dressed: jeans and a hoodie, because it might be a brand new decade but you still don’t wear dresses in Everington and expect to keep your teeth.

“Hey,” Billy says, sitting down next to him.

“Hi, yourself.” Michael pulls his feet up onto the wall, hugging his knees. It’s just starting to snow, melting when it lands in Michael’s hair and on his cheeks.

“Come on,” Billy says, reaching out his hand, “come with me.”

“Where are we going?” Michael asks suspiciously but he drops his hand into Billy’s and lets Billy tug him down the road.

The old Sports Centre’s only used by the local schools now, so it’s locked up for the Christmas holidays. It doesn’t take a lot of jiggling to get the lock open.

“Billy?” Michael asks, following him inside and making sure the door closes behind them. “Are you giving me a criminal record for Christmas?”

It’s too good an opening to miss; Billy had been planning to build up to it, but fuck that. “No,” he says thickly, “I wanted to give you this.”

Michael doesn’t protest being crowded up against the nearest wall and he only makes the softest confused sound when Billy cups his face with one hand, but he splutters when Billy tries to kiss him, not pushing Billy away but tipping his face to the side so Billy only gets his cheek.

“We talked about this,” Michael says quietly, but his hand is on Billy’s hip and not letting go.

“No we didn’t,” Billy tells him. “You talked about it. I didn’t a chance to say anything at all.” He picks up Michael’s other hand, tangling their fingers together awkwardly; he maybe doesn’t get them to line up quite right, but that’s okay. “You think I’m going to break your heart or something, right? And okay, maybe I will or maybe you’ll break mine but don’t you want to try?”

He realises that he’s actually really scared that Michael’s going to say no. Billy hasn’t exactly been pining for him for the past six years or anything but he supposes that somewhere at the back of his head, he’s always kind of assumed they’d get their shot.

“This is a stupid idea,” Michael tells him, “such a stupid idea, but I’ve wanted you to say something like that since we were nine so I’m not exactly going to turn you down now, am I?”

Billy feels his smile start to grow past casual, way into really, really fucking happy. “I don’t know,” he says, “are you?”

“You know I’m fucking not,” Michael says and this time he’s the one to kiss Billy.

It’s probably kind of creepy to be doing this in the old Sports Centre, but so many of the most important things in Billy’s life started here that he really doesn’t know where else he expected it to happen.

Michael’s hands are clinging to Billy’s shoulders and Billy’s holding on just as tightly, letting his fingers dig into Michael’s back and kissing him until his heart is pounding with want and lack of oxygen, trusting that Michael will tell him to stop if it gets too much.

Michael doesn’t tell him to stop.

***

Billy wakes up slowly on Christmas morning. He’s too warm, which confuses him for as long as it takes him realise that Michael’s here with him, back pressed to Billy’s chest.

It’s nice. Not that Billy would ever say that out loud, obviously.

Billy noses at the back of Michael’s neck, lips brushing the warm place under his hair where his t-shirt ends and his skin starts. Michael stretches, mumbling sleepily and Billy’s just thinking about maybe testing how quiet they can be when there’s a harsh inhale from the doorway.

Oh. So that’s what woke Billy up, then.

Fuck.

Dad doesn’t say a word. He’s frozen in the doorway, a mug of tea clutched in one hand. Billy manages to meet his eyes but he still feels worried, of course he does.

Dad’s just standing there, just watching them. He does look surprised, unlike Tony, but he doesn’t look mad. His eyes are trained somewhere around their hips and Billy glances down, finds his hand curled around Michael’s hip over the duvet, Michael’s fingers laced with his.

He doesn’t let go.

Dad clears his throat and nods once, briskly. “Breakfast in fifteen minutes,” he says. “Tony’s bringing the kids so the both of you put some pants on before you come down.”

Billy has to lick his dry lips. “Yes, Dad,” he says and squeezes Michael’s hand so hard that Michael wakes up, muttering something sleepily protesting.

“Sorry,” Billy says but he’s not, not about any of it.

/End