The crazy thing is that Steve didn't even want to go to California.
He fought it every step of the way. Well, mostly. It's hard to argue with people who don't hear you, or don't care what you say. And like, it's not like the vacation itself is a hardship - Steve loves the vacation house in Santa Barbara, loves that he can wake up and walk out the back door, and the beach is right there.
It's just that the last time they were on vacation was when he was ten, right before his dad's affairs, multiple, came out. His parents have been taking trips ever since, but hardly ever together - his mom goes and hosts wellness retreats out in the wilderness, and his dad goes on business trips or stays in his apartment in Indianapolis, where his job and his current mistress are.
The point is, they're not exactly present in Steve's life.
He just... the last time he was in Santa Barbara with them, things were good. That trip is a good memory for him, and to be honest, he doesn't have a lot of good memories of his parents anymore. He doesn't have a lot of memories of his parents anymore, period. And this is the trip that's supposed to "save their marriage," or whatever, because his mom heard from some "expert" at one of her retreats that vacations can just fix things, or something. Steve didn't actually listen. He knows it won't work - the Santa Barbara vacation house is a band-aid for a gunshot wound.
So, like, he didn't even want to go. Didn't want to witness his parents in the same room as each other, sniping and snapping over breakfast at the kitchen table. He doesn't want them to ruin the memory that he's got, doesn't want to deal with them. It doesn't help that it's on the heels of Nancy cheating on him with Jonathan Byers, doesn't help that he misses her. It's strange, missing all the plans he had half-formed for them, while witnessing the dichotomy of what could have been his future in the way that his parents interact with each other.
All the same, Steve feels a rush of something that first morning when he steps outside and sees the beach. It's like he's exhaling on a sigh, like his whole body just releases all the tension he's built up over the past... lifetime. It's early, much earlier than he would have woken up at home if he had the opportunity to sleep in. In fact, he thinks it's like five in the morning at home, which makes it eight in the morning in California. Too early, either way, but Steve's strangely awake, can probably blame the jet lag or the long nap he took on the plane or a million other things.
It's... he doesn't know. Freeing, maybe, to stand on the beach in bare feet and his sleep shorts, and let the ocean wind tousle his hair. Relieving in a way, to close his eyes and just listen to the sound of the waves on the shore, to feel the sun on his face and just breathe.
Steve doesn't know how long he stands there like that. It's the humming that breaks him out of his state of just existing for a while, a voice that mixes with snippets of songs that he doesn't recognize, getting closer, the slip-crunch sound of footsteps on the sand. He opens his eyes and turns, confused and annoyed at being disturbed.
He doesn't stay annoyed though. He can't, when someone looks like that - golden and perfect, dirty blond hair in a low ponytail, ragged tank top that shows off the muscles of his arm and swim shorts. There's a surfboard under one of his arms, a towel over his shoulder, and the guy's only got eyes for the ocean. At least, until he notices Steve.
"Hey," he says, stopping just a few feet away from Steve. He drops the towel onto the ground, stands the surfboard up and holds it with one hand as he regards Steve with something like interest. The half-smile on his face is guarded but attentive. "Haven't seen you here before. Haven't seen pretty much anybody here before, how'd you find this place?"
Steve is caught. It takes him a beat too long to find his voice, and the half-smile on the guy's face stretches out a little farther, crinkles up by his eyes. There's something deep in Steve's gut that's curling, fluttering with excitement or anticipation or a million other emotions that Steve can't name.
"Cat got your tongue?" the guy asks. Steve's never found that kind of cocky smirk attractive before now.
Steve clears his throat. "I, um." He waves in the general direction of the beach house. "That's my parents' vacation home? I mean, I guess it's mine too by, like, proxy. I thought this was a private beach?" He regrets that last part as soon as he says it, doesn't want the surfer to think that Steve wants him to leave. Steve really, really doesn't want him to leave.
"No such thing as private beaches in Cali." The surfer's still grinning, doesn't make a move to pick up his towel or head back the way he came. Steve's relieved about that. "I probably trespassed a little to get to the beach though. Sorry about that, I guess. I'm pretty sure I can come up with a way to make it up to you."
Steve's never really been attracted to guys. Or, at least, Steve's never acknowledged the attraction. How can he in Hawkins? Besides, he likes girls. He can't like guys, too, can he?
But he's not in Hawkins. He's in Santa Barbara. "Yeah," he says, and then smiles, ducks his eyes down at the sand, catches his gaze on the bright colors of the shorts the surfer is wearing and the board next to him. "Yeah, I think you probably can."
The guy laughs, and then holds out his hand. "I'm Billy."
"Steve," he manages in reply, and Billy's hand grips his a little too long, a little too tight. It's an electric sensation, like sparks shooting up his arm where they touch. "Steve Harrington."
"Well, Steve Harrington." And like, Steve's heard people trying to use a bedroom voice before, trying to flirt in that irresistible way. None of them have ever come close to the pure confidence that Billy offers in the way he says Steve's name. Steve's a goner. "I'm glad to meet you."
Steve has a crisis about it for three days.
He avoids the beach, avoids Billy and the way that want simmers low in his belly. It doesn't really work - he spends the time thinking about Billy instead, spends his nights with his hand wrapped around his cock and imagining that smirking mouth and those blue eyes, looking up at him. He's distracted, doesn't hear half of what his parents say to him when they bother to speak to him as they "rediscover their relationship" or whatever his mother's itinerary says they're doing.
He wants to talk to someone about it, but he doesn't have anyone, not anymore. Calling Nancy would be his first choice. He craves her soothing voice, the way she could always comfort him on the rare occasions that he had a (one-sided, angry) "conversation" with his father or when he worked so hard just to get Ds and Fs on his homework. Tommy and Carol aren't options either. Tommy's his oldest friend, sure, but Steve doesn't think that he's the kind of friend that he can call up and say, "Hey, I want to suck this hot guy's dick, what should I do?"
There's a reason that Steve's never given this a lot of thought, even if he felt the pull. He's never let his gaze linger on guys in the locker room after gym or basketball, but he's thought about it. He's never taken the time to wonder what it would be like, because that's a door that he didn't think he could open in Hawkins.
Steve's not in Hawkins, though.
He's in Santa Barbara.
Steve's in Santa Barbara, in a big beachfront house, and his parents are still sleeping in separate rooms and having forced conversations from across the living room and making small talk like they're strangers. He's in Santa Barbara, and his mother is still trying to find a way to save an unsalvageable relationship while his father pretends he's not long-distance calling his mistress from his room every night. They're playing house in a strange, unrealistic way that won't last and won't make a difference.
There's no one here that can stop him. No one to tell him not to, no one to carry it back with them to Hawkins and alert the world that Steve Harrington may not be completely straight.
So Steve stays away for three days, and then on the fourth morning he goes to the beach.
The beach is empty when Steve comes out and watches the sunrise.
Steve's brought a towel this time. He's got it spread out under him, knees drawn up to his chest and arms around them so that his hands don't shake. He's nervous, he's not even sure Billy will show up. Billy said that he surfs here most days of the week, when he doesn't work, but Steve doesn't actually know when Billy works. He's not sure that his courage will hold long enough for him to try again if Billy doesn't come today.
He hasn't slept enough. He's chewed his lip so much that it kind of hurts. It's a little chilly, but he's wearing swim shorts anyway. Just in case.
"I didn't think I'd see you again, pretty boy."
Steve's heart gives a butterfly flutter and a relieved grin blooms on his face. He looks over, and there's Billy, spreading his towel and putting a bag down, shifting his surfboard. Billy looks just as good as he did four days ago, golden skin and a halo of wavy hair, loose around his face today instead of pulled back into that loose ponytail. It looks windswept, like it would catch on Steve's fingers if he ran his hands through it. He wants to run his hands through it. He thinks Billy might let him.
Right now, Billy's doing... something with a cloth, glancing over at Steve in intervals with an increasingly amused expression every time. Waiting for a response. Because Steve hasn't said anything.
Usually Steve can't shut up. "I had... parents," he says, and kind of throws his hand over his own shoulder to indicate the beach house. "I mean, I still have parents. They just wanted to pretend to be a family for a couple of days." It's not completely a lie. That was his mother's goal in making them go on this trip. That's not a road of thought he wants to go down, though. "What are you doing?"
Billy grins. The grin is for Steve, even if he's looking down at his surfboard. "You've never surfed, huh?" It should feel like a dig, maybe, but Billy doesn't say it in a way that makes Steve feel like the butt of a joke he doesn't get. It's more like a roundabout way of asking for more information about Steve, a clever way of getting to know him.
"No, never," Steve admits. "It's been, like... God, nine years or something? We haven't actually taken a vacation here in awhile. I think my mom's come out here a couple of times, maybe my dad, but I haven't seen the Pacific Ocean since."
"Yeah, I figured it was something like that." Billy's wiping the surfboard with a cloth, and Steve finds himself drawn to the motions of his hand. There's a faint smell that he barely recognizes but can't place, an oil of some kind. Billy's hands are strong and sure, and now that Steve's opened the door, he wonders what those hands would feel like on him. "I can read you like a book, Stevie."
Stevie. Not Steve. Dragging his eyes up from Billy's hands to meet Billy's eyes is an Olympic feat. They're so blue, the kind of blue that people write cheesy poems about just to compare them to the sky or, more fittingly, the ocean. They're also trained on Steve's face, dancing, crinkled at the corners with Billy's smile.
"You can, huh?" Steve asks, trying for nonchalant and a little flirty, even as his hands tighten where he's got them gripped together around his legs. "What do you get from me, then?"
The laugh that Billy gives is light. "Well," he says, drags out the vowels and the letters like he's tasting them. "There's a lot I could tell you about yourself that you probably already know, so how about I teach you something you don't?"
"Something I don't know about myself?" Steve licks his lower lip, drags it between his teeth to worry it for a second. Maybe it's the lack of sleep that has him feeling bold. Maybe it's the warming sun of the early California morning. Maybe it's the fact that he's too far from Hawkins to care about what anyone he knows might think. "Yeah, okay. Teach me."
The surfboard gets laid gentle on the towel in front of Billy, and then he's turning. "Alright, Stevie, for this to work, you have to face me."
"Okay," Steve says, knows that the confusion leaks into his tone a little.
Billy doesn't seem discouraged. He just pats Steve's arm impatiently, tugs at him like they've known each other for years instead of for twenty minutes spread out over four days. Finally, Steve gets into a position that satisfies Billy, a mirror of Billy's own - legs crossed, facing the other. Where Billy's arms are loose and open, resting on his knees so he can lean forward a little, Steve's unsure what to do with his. They end up kind of folded again, but even that feels awkward.
If that bothers Billy, he doesn't let on. He just says, "Don't worry, this is my superpower. I'm, like, fuckin' psychic. But for it to work, you have to close your eyes and keep them closed. Got it?"
It feels silly. Flirty. The same kind of feeling Steve gets when he's playing some stupid game at a party, like they're about to disappear into a closet for seven minutes while everyone else listens outside. He's never liked that part, but he likes the build-up, even the giggly, ridiculous feeling during those seven minutes in the dark of a closet, shoving coats out of his face to playfully kiss a girl.
Always a girl.
There's no one here but Steve, Billy, and the ocean. So he closes his eyes.
Billy gives a long, thoughtful hum, and then Steve can hear the sound of him shifting, towel on the sand. "Keep your eyes closed, I'm not done," Billy says, soft. There are hands, warm on Steve's arms, gently pulling them from where they're crossed in front of him. "Alright, I've got it. You ready?"
It's a fight to keep his eyes closed, but Steve manages, nods instead of speaking. It's nerve-wracking in the best way.
More shifting. Suddenly, some primal instinct lets Steve know that there's a body directly in front of him, heavy and solid weight just hovering over him. Not quite touching. It's an electric awareness, an innate knowledge that Steve could move just a hair's breadth and feel skin against his.
Steve's breath catches. He doesn't open his eyes.
There's a beat. "You, Steve Harrington, have never, ever kissed another guy." Billy's words are soft and knowing, amused but not accusing. "But you really, really want to."
Steve opens his eyes, blinks in the sun. He was right - Billy's close but not touching, braced on his hands with them on either side of Steve's legs. He looks like he would crawl into Steve's lap if given half a chance, and his gaze when he meets Steve's eyes is... cautious. Hopeful. For this moment, he looks just as nervous as Steve feels.
Turns out that when it comes to making a move given the opportunity, it's not that different with guys than it is with girls. Steve can see the opening, loud and clear. "You're really good at that," he says, easy like his heart isn't about to beat out of his chest, and waits for exactly half a second before he closes the little distance between them.
Flirting may not be that different, but kissing Billy is quite possibly a defining moment in Steve's life. It's only tentative for a second, and then it becomes blindingly obvious that Billy's done this before, has no qualms whatsoever about kissing another guy. It doesn't even last that long, deepens to something that could lead to more, maybe, and then Billy's pulling back, dropping back onto his own towel.
He looks pleased. Maybe also a little cocky, if not for the bloom of color across his cheeks, sneaking down his neck to disappear past the neckline of his shirt. Steve feels a little high, like he just smoked the kind of shit Tommy can get from his uncle in Illinois.
"So that's what it's like," Billy says, eyes bright. "Curiosity sated, Stevie?"
Steve wouldn't say that, no. He'd say that, instead of sated, it's worse. Now he knows what it's like, kissing Billy, and he wants more. So much more. Even if he's not altogether sure what that 'more' is. "No," he admits. "I wanna know what else you can teach me about myself."
"Pretty boy," Billy replies, grins wild like his hair in the ocean breeze. "It would be my pleasure."
The days bleed into each other, sun-soaked and hot. Steve doesn't spend every single day with Billy - he can't, not when Billy works shifts at a surf shop on one of the actual public beaches. He wants to, craves Billy's presence. Maybe it's something to do with the time limit on this whole thing, as the days of June tick away one by one.
Steve doesn't count the days though. He doesn't want to feel the pressure. That second day, when they're laying on towels after he's watched Billy surf, trading kisses while hidden from his parent by their own apathy, he tells Billy that he's leaving at the end of the summer, back to his flyover state. Billy doesn't look bothered, just shrugs and says, "My family's moving to the middle of fucking nowhere sometime this year," before he leans in and kisses Steve again.
It's not commitment. It's not serious. It's fun, plain and simple, carefree in a way that Steve has always wanted and never been able to have. Billy seems just as eager to soak up every moment that he can get as Steve is, even if the most they've done in two weeks is the kind of heavy making out that has them panting and rocking against each other. Every single time, before it gets a little too far, Billy gentles him back with easy kisses and careful hands.
Steve appreciates it, even if he feels like a virgin all over again. He kind of likes the way that Billy treats him like he's something worth being gentle with. He's not used to it, that's for sure.
Even when Billy can't see him during the day because of work, he has a tendency to appear in the evening. The first time he comes to get Steve, he knocks on the front door to the beach house, armed with a charming smile for Steve's mom and a firm handshake for Steve's dad. While Steve is standing, a little dumbstruck because he wasn't expecting Billy at all, Billy introduces himself as a friend that Steve met on the beach.
It would be nice that Steve's mom is happy he "made a friend, all the way out here," if it didn't mean that she's really just happy he'll have something to do that isn't at the beach house, and therefore, in her way. Steve can't even really bring himself to care about being the so-called obstacle in his parents' relationship, the thing that ruined it as soon as he came into the world, not when Billy's standing there grinning and looking like that.
He feels like a kid going on his first date when they're walking down the drive, too close to really be acceptable, to the blue Camaro parked on the street. Billy looks even better when he gets to the car and says, "Alright, now I can look like myself again," his fingers finding the buttons of the dark blue shirt. He leaves the buttons near the bottom, but there's suddenly so much skin on display.
As soon as the doors close and Steve's in the passenger seat, he's grabbing Billy with a hand around the back of his neck, dragging him in for a quick and dirty kiss. He wants to lick his way into Billy's mouth, wants to drag his teeth and his tongue down Billy's throat to his chest. He wants, desperately, to go even lower, to pull Billy's zipper down and get his mouth on the erection that he's felt a few times now, pressed up against his thigh before Billy pulls them both back from the edge.
It's a good thing that the driveway of the beach house doesn't face a window. For once, it's a good thing that Steve's parents won't care enough to even try to watch him leave. They stay like that, hot and heavy, and for a while Steve thinks that they're about to start steaming up the windows of the Camaro, right here in the drive.
When Billy pulls back this time, Steve whines, a little bereft sound that he'll never admit to if asked about it. He gets a little exasperated groan in response, and then Billy's back, crowding into Steve's space and tangling a hand in Steve's hair. "I'm trying," he says, and pauses to angle Steve's head back, takes a moment to bite at Steve's jaw and the tender skin of his neck just underneath. "Fuck, I'm trying to take you on a date."
Steve is the one to pull away this time. It might be the first time he's ever broken the kiss first. "A date?" he asks, surprised and so pleased he doesn't know what to do with himself. "Like with food?"
The smile that Billy gives him is that mix of soft and arrogant that Steve's only ever seen him able to pull off. "Yeah, pretty boy. A date. Like with food. You haven't been to the Wharf, yet, right?" He shrugs, and suddenly looks self-conscious in the fading light of the sunset, glances away from Steve just for a moment. "It's full of fuckin' tourists - no offense - but it's got good food. We can't, like, hold hands or anything, though, so if you want to just go to the beach, I get it."
"I haven't been to the Wharf." Steve knows he's probably smiling like Billy just proposed or something, but he's so charmed. "I also haven't had dinner. The beach will still be there tomorrow. Or we can make out in the car later, if you want."
"You have the best plans," Billy says, completely seriously. Or he would be, if his eyes didn't give his smile away. "You're a genius, Stevie, don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
They end up at the Wharf until late, walking the boardwalks and the piers. Steve eats a frankly fantastic taco, which is hard to find in Hawkins, and then some handmade ice cream. He knows he looks like the country mouse, slightly blown away by the throng of people and the lights of the restaurants and shops. Billy doesn't seem to mind that he's wildly out of place, seems to enjoy the way that Steve goes wide-eyed and thrilled at every little thing. The only time Steve can really return the favor is when they see a guy selling jewelry in a booth, and Billy's fingers glance over a pendant with the Virgin Mary on the front. Steve buys it in a heartbeat, hands it over and watches as Billy puts it on.
"There's nothing like this where I'm from," he confesses as they leisurely walk the pier. The crowds have died down. Billy's watch says that it's going on ten at night. His hair is shot from the wind, mussed from Billy's hand in it earlier, and he doesn't care. There's no one here to see him trying to be King, after all. Heavy is the head, and whatever his English teacher said last year when they were talking about that play. "I mean, there's a mall and stuff, but it's never, like, packed. And no ocean, obviously."
"What, you don't live by the Great Midwestern Ocean?" Billy teases. He doesn't know exactly where Steve lives, because Steve hasn't told him. It's like a weird understanding they have - they don't talk about where Billy's moving to, and they don't talk about where Steve's from. He has gathered that Steve lives somewhere in the Midwest, says he figured it out from how pale Steve is, just how much sunscreen and shade he needs to make it through a day on the beach.
Steve glances down. He feels like he's been smiling nonstop for days now. The other shoe will probably drop anytime, honestly, but it hasn't yet. "I know I probably look a little starstruck. In my defense, we don't have a Mexican restaurant in Ha- in my hometown. There's, like, a Taco Bell at the mall, but I've been informed that Taco Bell doesn't count as Mexican food." He's been informed a few times of that, actually, by Tommy and the rest of his family.
"It doesn't," Billy agrees. "I think you're really fuckin' cute. I like making you smile."
It's said so casually, like it's not the nicest thing that anyone's ever said to Steve with sincerity. Billy's matching his pace step for step, hands shoved in the pockets of the jeans he's wearing - jeans that are a little tight, cup the curve of his ass, or so Steve notices when Billy walks in front of him. This is the first time that Steve's seen Billy out of his swim shorts, with his hair done. His heart's gonna beat out of his chest.
"It's getting late." Billy stops, gives him a look that's loaded with something that Steve recognizes as desire. "You wanna head back to the car, pretty boy? You got a curfew?"
The little laugh, completely disbelieving, escapes him before he can stop it. "No, my parents don't care what I do." It comes out maybe a little out of sync with the rest of the night - bitter, resigned. He clears his throat. "What about you? You have a curfew?"
A weird look crosses Billy's face, and then it's gone as soon as it's there. "Nah," he drawls. "I'm yours for as long as you want me tonight."
That's an easy opening if Steve's ever seen one. "In that case, you should have brought pajamas."
Steve has sex with Billy for the first time a few weeks after their date at the Wharf.
Honestly, he'd thought that they would hit that milestone much sooner. He'd thought they would maybe fool around in the backseat of Billy's Camaro the first time, had kind of mentally prepared himself for it while they were driving away from the boardwalks, back to the big beach house. To Steve's surprise though, when Billy had turned into the driveway and cut the engine, he'd just leaned over and pulled Steve into a sweet kiss, quiet and nearly chaste. And then he'd said, "Goodnight, Stevie. See you tomorrow," with a little smile, and Steve had kind of floated his way into the dark beach house.
It builds over the days. Steve watches Billy surf, and they lay around the beach under the giant umbrella Steve brings out to try and stop the sun from turning him into a lobster. He's gone a little pink around the shoulders of his tank-top, peeling from the sunburn of the first few days, smattering across his nose and cheeks. Billy makes him put sunscreen on again every couple of hours now, brings him the waterproof, high-SPF stuff from the surf shop and mumbles something about a discount he gets. They raid the fridge, now that Steve's parents know about Billy's existence, eat sandwiches on the patio and drag one of the coolers back to the beach with them.
Steve feels like he lives on the beach. The sand and the sun and the waves feel like more of a home than the beach house will ever be, now that it's settled from forced conversation into silence, a Cold War that Steve thinks could probably rival the Soviets. His mother has taken to leaving the house during the day, but he doesn't know where she goes. His father has also taken to leaving the house during the day, not coming back until late into the night, a little drunk and smelling of cheap perfume with lipstick on his collar. The beach is a respite, a warmth that doesn't exist for Steve otherwise. Billy is a respite, a breath of fresh air.
So it's fitting, Steve thinks, that the first time is on the beach. It's late June now, July creeping up on them with the kind of heat that signals the dog days of summer are just around the corner. Steve tried surfing with Billy earlier - he's tired, the good kind of tired, from muscles he hasn't used as much before, from smiling and laughing all day despite how terrible he was at it.
They've started staying later at the beach, too, letting the sun go down and the moon come up. Steve thinks he could probably sleep on the beach if left to his own devices long enough. Luckily, he isn't alone, and Billy seems dead-set on making sure that Steve stays awake, if not completely aware of their surroundings. How can he be, when Billy's rocking against him like that? When Billy's kisses are just as hot as the summer night, heady and spinning Steve higher and higher?
Billy breaks the kiss, drops his head and blows out a harsh breath. He starts to pull away completely from where he's braced over Steve, but Steve scrambles, grabs him by the hips and drags him back.
"I want..." Steve starts. Has to stop. Doesn't know exactly what it is he wants, doesn't know what's on the menu for him to order, as it were. "Please, I just..." He licks his lip, chases the taste of sun and salt and all the other things that make up Billy. Words are failing him, so he rolls his hips up, instead, tries to make his intentions clear. "If you want to, I mean."
"If I want to?" Billy says, disbelieving. "Pretty boy, baby, I could have jumped you the first day I met you."
And, like. Steve had thought that Billy was more than likely taking it slow for his benefit, but it's different to know it, to see Billy looking down at him with that fond little grin. He's learned that Billy looks... softer, at night, less like a golden Greek god when he's surrounded by gentle moonlight instead of the bright sunlight.
He looks like he's within reach, bathed in the moonlight. Like Steve's not flying too close to the sun by daring to touch him.
"Yeah," Steve says, swallows. He wonders if he looks scared or excited. Maybe a mix of both. He still doesn't know what he's asking for. "Teach me something I don't know about myself."
The kiss that he gets for that one is tender, the kind that Steve can sink into and feel safe in. He closes his eyes, and he feels Billy shift again, roll against him like the waves on the shore. He spins higher as the kiss goes slow and dirty. Billy's shifts his weight onto one elbow, he thinks, because he can feel Billy's hand slide firm down Steve's side, until his fingers are playing with the waistband of Steve's swim shorts.
It's a point of no return. Steve blinks his eyes open as Billy pulls away again, nods an answer to a question that Billy hasn't vocalized yet. There's a flutter in his stomach that's more anticipation than anxiety. Still, he knows he blushes like a virgin when Billy tugs his shorts down, lifts an eyebrow and looks back up at Steve.
"Damn, Stevie," he says, and Steve chokes out a laugh. "They grow 'em big in the Great American Midwest, huh?"
"Shut up," he groans. Billy laughs, and Steve says, rough, "Okay, your turn." He sits up and takes Billy with him, gets his hands on Billy's waist and gathers his courage.
It's not really that he's nervous or scared, it's that he's new to this, that he doesn't want to somehow screw this up even though he knows that when sex is done right, there's no actual "screwing up" to be done. He likes laughing his way through sex just as much as he likes the hot and heavy stuff, likes feeling comfortable in his skin. This is just... different. Exciting in a way that makes him afraid it won't live up to what he's built in his head.
"Stevie." Billy's voice is easy, even as he's taut, braced above Steve's legs as he is. "We don't have to, okay? We can just go as far as you want."
"I know," Steve says, swallows and looks up at Billy. His chest is tight with an emotion he's not sure he wants to name. "I want to, Billy, I really... really want to. I just don't... I don't know what..."
"Let me help, then."
The kiss is a distraction as Billy shifts and gets his own shorts off. Then he's settling into Steve's lap, sprawled over his legs and one arm around Steve's neck as he kisses him slow and deliberate. It should be ridiculous that Steve's bare-assed on the towel, just in his tank top, but it doesn't feel ridiculous. It feels charged, strung out like molasses slowly dripping down the side of a jar.
"Here." The warmth of Billy's hand is welcome when he folds it over Steve's, tangles their fingers together. "Wasn't expecting to do this tonight. I didn't bring anything with me, so we'll have to make do."
Steve doesn't catch on to what Billy means by "anything" until Billy guides Steve's hand up to his mouth. There's a part of him that thinks he should be grossed out by the slick glide of Billy's tongue across his palm, but he isn't. It punches a groan out of him as want slams hard and heavy into his gut, unexpected. It's worse when Billy drags their hands down, curls Steve's own hand around both of their cocks in a tight, perfect squeeze.
"There we go," Billy says, sounds rough around the edges himself. "Fuck, just like that, Stevie."
And Steve has jacked off before, of course he has. He's eighteen, after all. That isn't this, though, masturbating alone isn't the slick slide of his cock against Billy's. That slow build is quickly turning into a headlong rush, as Billy curls his other hand around Steve's neck and presses their foreheads together. Maybe it would be a rougher ride if Steve didn't always get so wet, pre-come leaking from him around his own hand and Billy's. He thinks Billy's still talking, still dropping dirty little phrases mixed with Steve's name and "pretty boy" in that voice.
It's not like he can say it's better than being with a girl, in terms of sensation. He can say that it's better than being with anyone else he's been with, though, because Billy's voice and the waves is perfect. It's like a scene in a movie or a romance novel. He's in trouble, he realizes. There's a name for the emotion that Steve is feeling. Maybe it's just the sex talking.
"I'm not gonna," he tries to say, hips stuttering against Billy's. It would help if he closed his eyes, but he doesn't want to look away. Committing this moment to memory is just as important as coming for him, if not more so. "I can't last, I'm sorry."
The soothing noise that Billy makes is followed up with another kiss, his tongue swiping across Steve's parted lips. "It's alright. Come for me, pretty boy, I wanna see it."
He doesn't let up, keeps Steve's grip tight for him with his own hand, rocks them together until Steve is clutching at his waist, coming with a mangled moan over their hands and across their stomachs. It's a lot, overwhelming in the best way, like it's the first time that Steve's ever come in his life. Doesn't help that Billy's still hard against him, making punched out sounds as he rolls his hips. He's got a grip on Steve's hand still, loosens it when Steve hisses, overstimulated.
"Sorry," Billy pants. "You're okay, got a little carried away."
He lets go, shifts like he's about to climb off of Steve. Steve snatches his hand back, looping his arm firmly around Billy's waist. "Teach me something about you." It comes out a little greedy, demanding, but Billy laughs anyway, short and breathless, huffed out across Steve's lips as he wraps their hands around his cock together.
Later, when they're lying on the blanket they brought instead of the beach towels they used to give themselves a perfunctory wipe-down, Steve will think that he might be in trouble. Not like the kind of trouble he could get arrested for, but instead the kind of trouble brought on him by finding out just how soft Billy's hair actually is, while Billy's dozing on Steve's chest. It's the kind of trouble that comes with knowing that Billy's sleepy after an orgasm, the kind that has him thinking about how much the end of July is going to hurt.
He hasn't counted the days, really. He doesn't want to, but he's more aware of the time limit they have than he's ever been.
It might be that Steve's not the only one feeling the crunch of time marching on. June gives way to July, and he learns more about Billy than he has in the past few weeks. It's not even just the sex - not that they've gone much farther than blow jobs, which was a learning experience that Steve is happy to practice every spare moment that they get.
It's more like Billy seems to get comfortable enough to tell Steve things that Steve thinks he may not have told anyone else before now. Steve's in the same situation, actually. The conversation starts when he comes to the beach one morning and finds Steve bundled up in a blanket, asleep. Steve tries to play it off as just being early, but Billy eventually manages to drag the real story out of him - his mom and dad screaming at each other half the night, about another affair or maybe the same one, Steve's not sure. Does it matter, in the long run?
"I just needed some air," Steve says, shrugging and staring out at the waves. "It's not like they noticed me leaving or anything."
Somehow that turns into confessing how he's alone in his big house in the Midwest - still vague about the location, they have that unspoken agreement, after all - which then turns into admitting that he's a disappointment to his father and that his mother blames him for ruining her marriage.
That's the day that kind of opens the gates, in a manner of speaking. Billy doesn't ramble like Steve does, so instead of just dumping all of it at once, it's sprinkled through the next few days. Steve learns that Billy's mother left him alone with his father. He learns that Billy's father is the reason Billy's got a scar on his arm and another on his lower back, that Billy's been spending more time out of the house so that he spends less time in his father's sight and therefore, less time trying not to set him off. At one point, he learns that Billy's got a kid step-sister that spends her days either soaking up quality time with her father or down at the skate parks with her friends, and that on the days that Billy can't come see Steve, he's watching her.
It's little pieces of information, spread out between Billy surfing, or whispered while Steve's got his mouth full, or said offhand while they're getting some kind of greasy food through a window. Steve takes them all in, files them somewhere in his brain in a section for important information, shit he doesn't want to forget. It's in the same spot where all of the information about Nancy used to be, tucked away for a rainy day.
After that, the days seem to go by even faster, the deadline of August 2nd looming in the distance. Before Steve knows it, he's down to two weeks left in Santa Barbara. One of those weeks sees his parents leaving for a week-long wine event of some kind in a different part of California, which really just means that Steve has the beach house to himself.
Billy shows up two days in with a bag slung over his shoulder and the words, "I told my dad I was going on some trip with the guys from the shop for a surf tournament," and smiles when Steve smiles, inordinately pleased.
That's the week that really solidifies that Steve's fallen head over heels. He's always fallen in love easily, but he's never been so catapulted into it, never felt like he could happily spend the rest of his days doing this same thing over and over again if he had half the chance. There's a part of him that wants to ask where Billy's moving to, wants to suggest something like long distance through letters and phone calls.
But there's a bigger part of him that knows he can't take this back to Hawkins with him. Knows that if Billy felt the same way, he probably would have already asked.
That's the week that Billy drops the bag onto Steve's bed that first night and pulls out a box of condoms and a bottle. "If you want to," Billy says, and Steve loves him for it. "No pressure, Stevie, I only want to do what you want to do."
They spend the days going to the beach and the nights tangled up in Steve's bed, like they're trying to pack as much as they can into the little time that they have left. They talk about nothing at all in between rounds, while the sweat is cooling and they're wrapped around each other. They talk about everything else when they're out in the sunlight, where it all seems just a little lighter against the backdrop of the ocean waves hitting the shore.
Steve learns that he likes sex pretty much every way, it turns out, or at least when it's with Billy. He likes the way Billy spends hours carefully working him open, takes his time until he's loose and ready, until there's only the hint of pain and pressure when Billy fucks him slow. He also likes the way Billy walks Steve through fucking him slow and tender in the middle of the night, likes it when Billy rolls on top of him and rides him hard and fast in the morning light. He likes taking showers together, likes laying around on the beach and chasing the idea of lazy orgasms, likes driving in the Camaro with the windows down at night just to drive until they inevitably end up parked somewhere and scrambling to get into the backseat.
It's good. It's so good.
So, of course, it has to end.
Steve's parents come back, worse than before. With them comes time, racing towards Steve, and he spends the last week of July desperately trying for every moment he can get with Billy. Billy seems to be doing something similar, spending long hours with Steve on the beach in the evenings and giving up hours at the surf shop in favor of doing the same during the day. The fun, carefree sex gets traded for the kind with hands gripped tight, faces buried in necks or foreheads pressed together while they say all the shit they're too chicken to say to each other without an excuse.
They talk about once. On August 1st, when Steve hesitantly mentions that he has to pack that night, that he's leaving early the next morning. Billy just takes a drag of his cigarette, and gazes out over the ocean for a long moment.
He doesn't look at Steve when he says, serious and quiet, "If I were staying in Cali, I'd ask you to stay with me."
Steve nods, hands folded around his knees. He wants to cry, but he doesn't want to ruin the last day that they have. "If you asked," he finally says, after a long moment. "I would."
They spend the day like they've spent every other. Billy surfs, and Steve watches, follows him with his eyes in the golden light of the summer sun. He feels the ocean crash over his ankles when he stands in the waves, tries to hold every moment of this in his mind so he can keep it forever.
Eventually, the sun starts to set. Billy's the one who picks up his towel and his bag first. He presses his forehead to Steve's one last time, pulls him into a kiss not at all unlike their first. Steve wants to say something, but he can't find the words to encompass what he's feeling at all. He's afraid he'll cry if he tries, so he settles for this - one hand on Billy's hip and the other tangled in Billy's hair, desperately gentle with each breath. He doesn't want to remember the heartbreak of this moment - what he wants is to remember every other moment before it. He wants to remember Billy in the sun, Billy out there in the waves on his board, Billy with smiling eyes and a Virgin Mary pendant to remember Steve by.
Billy seems to get it. He lets out a shaky breath as he pulls away, squeezes those blue eyes tight. "You gotta go pack, pretty boy." His voice is thick, a little strained. Like there's a lump in it to mirror Steve's. "Think of me when you're standing on the beach of that Great Midwestern Ocean, alright?"
Steve hears it for what it is. "I couldn't forget you even if I wanted to," he manages to say without choking on the words.
There's a beat where he holds on, and Billy does too. And then, reluctantly, Billy pulls back. Steve smooths his hand out of Billy's hair, careful not to catch any knots from the beach wind with his fingers. The smile that Billy gives him when he steps back is a ghost of the one he'd given him at the very beginning, and it doesn't reach his eyes.
"See you around, Stevie," he says, quiet but clear. Then he's gone, walking back up the beach and away from the beach house, away from the ocean, and away from Steve.
August passes into September just like it always does. Steve forces himself into something that resembles normalcy, throws a house party as soon as parents go their separate ways to their respective better lives again. He doesn't want to, really, but he's expected to, has a reputation to uphold, after all. Besides, it's somehow better to get drunk off of his ass and be maudlin about it all than it is to just be sober and sad.
That model of thinking works for exactly one weekend before Steve starts to regret it. He ends up spilling to Nancy about having a summer fling, even if he doesn't give any details about who it was with. The distance between them helped, he thinks, because he doesn't really feel anything bitter when he looks at her and Jonathan Byers together.
"Well, you got over me, right?" she finally says when he kind of unloads all that he can without giving too much away. "So you'll get over her. Just give it time, Steve."
Steve doesn't say anything. He's not sure he can say anything that would make sense to Nancy, about this feeling that he's just lost the great love of his life or something. About how being in love with Billy was much more soul-consuming than it ever was with Nancy, about how he realizes now that he didn't love Nancy like he thought he did, just loved her like he thought he was supposed to.
School starts in late August. Steve keeps himself busy as the summer really ends once and for all, gets better grades than he ever has as he buries himself in homework and studying to try and keep from thinking too much. He goes harder in basketball practice than he has before in an effort to wear himself out so he can sleep instead of closing his eyes and seeing ocean blue. In the mornings, he wakes up with a phantom whisper of "pretty boy" in his ears from his dreams.
"Damn," Tommy tells him once, in the locker room when Steve has his shirt off. "I thought you burned, but you're kind of tan. Those California beaches treated you well, huh?"
It's a struggle to say, "You're damn right they did," in a voice that doesn't sound longing or wistful. Steve holds it together long enough for everyone else to trickle out, then tries to pretend that the water on his face is from the shower.
By the time September becomes October, Steve's feeling a little more solid. He hangs out with Tommy and Carol more now, meets a junior girl named Robin and starts hanging out with her. She's the first one he actually tells about Billy, tells the whole story of the summer when he catches her looking a little too long at Heather Holloway from across the classroom. They click fast after that, and Steve feels... better. Less lonely, now that he's got someone who knows him.
Halfway through October, it starts going around that he's pining after Nancy still. He has to be, right? If he's not chasing girls like he used to? Robin laughs hard when she hears about the rumors of her being the new girlfriend, like doubled-over, clutching her stomach, tears streaming down her face kind of laughter. Steve likes to think he's a little more reserved in his reaction, which is just to very quickly say, "Oh god, no."
"Hey, fuck you, I would be a delight as a girlfriend." It loses its sting when Robin says it mid-giggle, though, so Steve doesn't take it personally.
Besides, it's not like he's about to tell the entire student body of Hawkins High that, yeah, he's pining, but it's not for who they think. He can't go around shouting from the rooftops that he fell in love with a boy in California. It wouldn't do any good, anyway. For all he knows, Billy's not actually in California anymore, gone to wherever "the middle of nowhere" was.
Steve thinks, even if he can one day, eventually, get over Billy, that he'll always be a little in love with him. He's just go to make his peace with that.
He takes to picking Robin up on his way to school so she doesn't have to ride the bus. "We should throw a Halloween party," she says one Monday morning.
"We're going to one, remember?" Steve yawns. She's way too awake for this early in the morning, now that he's back on his usual schedule of sleeping in every chance he gets. "We can't throw a party the same night, no one will come and... whoever's party we're going to will be pissed off that we didn't."
It's not actually a long drive to school from Robin's house. She talks the whole way there about Halloween and her costume and what she's thinking Heather might go as, while Steve just tries to stay on the road and awake enough to get them both to school on time and alive. His usual spot is taken when he pulls in, which irks him, so he ends up farther down the row. They've got twenty minutes until first bell, which is long enough Steve can smoke on the back bumper and Robin can drink the rest of the coffee she doesn't need.
It's there, with his ass planted on the back of his own car and blinking in the grey morning light, that he hears the rumble of a familiar engine. He looks up sharply, watches as a blue Camaro whips into the parking lot like the driver's got a bone to pick with the high school, lets the cigarette burn in his hand.
"Holy fuck," Steve says, and Robin looks up from where she's doing her math homework on the trunk of his car, follows his gaze to where the Camaro is pulling in and parking haphazardly.
She says something, but he doesn't hear. He drops the half-smoked cigarette onto the ground, stubs it with his foot as he goes. Getting his hopes up isn't smart - there's a big world out there, after all, and even though Steve would say that Hawkins is the middle of nowhere, that doesn't mean... it really can't be Billy. What are the odds it's Billy?
"Who is that?" he hears kind of off in the distance as he walks, trying not to run.
He shouldn't get his hopes up.
The Camaro has California plates. He comes to a halt behind it, stares down at them. The car door closes with a creak and a slam, and he looks up just as he hears, "Well, I'll be damned. Stevie, that is you, right? You don't have a lookalike in Indiana?"
Billy looks good in denim on denim. Steve's pretty sure he's worn that jacket of Billy's before, actually. He has to swallow before he can get out, "It's me." He shoves his pockets in his pants, tries to make himself remember that all the eyes of Hawkins High are on them right now. "I mean, I guess this is the middle of nowhere."
"Shit." Billy's smiling, ocean blue and crinkles, golden like he brought some of the California summer with him. "Pretty boy, I am so fucking happy to see you. I've been regretting not asking you where you were going back to this whole time."
Fuck, there's about to be a scandal if this keeps up. "I can relate," he says, and his eyes catch on the necklace around Billy's neck. Steve swallows, eyes darting back up to Billy's face. "I, uh. My friend Robin and I can show you around, if you want? She might talk your ear off about this girl she likes though."
"Just the school or all of Hawkins?" Billy asks. There's still a lot of space between them, but Billy's eyeing Steve like he thinks he might be closing it sooner than later.
"Whatever you want."
Billy grins again. "Yeah, alright," he says, and it sounds like waves on the beach to Steve. "Teach me what I don't know, then."