Billy is offered an amazing chance for the summer and it, along with a few other events bring both Steve and Billy's insecurities and anxieties to the surface. Will the two be able to help each other?
"Yeah, I might come," Billy said.
"You have to come," Hudson replied, pushing his glasses further up his nose. "Everyone is coming." He pushed his glasses again. "Fuck, I need to get them tightened again."
Billy chuckled. "I'll try and come."
"And bring that friend of yours if you want," Hudson said. "Steve?"
"He has an assignment due tomorrow," Billy said automatically.
"Hopefully, we'll see you there?"
Billy nodded and was about to step away when a group of guys walked towards them. Hudson's whole demeanour changed and Billy frowned.
"Hey, Hudson," one of them said.
Billy looked at the group and sighed, he had been one of these fuckheads not long ago and he could see exactly what they wanted.
"Lucas," Hudson said, voice exasperated.
"Heard you nerds were all going to party tonight."
"Yeah, we are," Billy said, looking at Lucas.
Lucas looked at him, from his hair down his leather jacket, and to the boots on his feet. Billy knew exactly what Lucas was seeing and it was not an easy target like he saw when he looked at Hudson. Billy knew because he had also learned how to spot the people who wouldn't fight back and who would make him feel some power and control when he had none.
"You got a problem with our brains?" Billy asked.
Lucas looked from Billy to Hudson and then to his friends. None of them seemed as inclined to keep pushing as they had before.
"Nah," one of the other guys said. "Lucas hasn't got a problem with anything."
"Good," Billy said.
The group moved on and Billy turned to Hudson.
Hudson blew out a breath. "Honestly, you'd think they'd never left high school."
"Guys like that are always going to be dickheads. Trust me, I used to be one and I'm still an arsehole."
"Are you?" Hudson asked.
"I am," Billy said. "Ask anyone."
"Even Steve because that guy is your best friend and he doesn't seem to think you're an arsehole."
"There's something deeply wrong with Steve," Billy said with a laugh. "Do those guys give you much trouble?"
"Not really, I've never really been much of a target for bullies but enough to know that I want to avoid them where possible."
"Let me know if they give you any trouble," Billy said, then to change the subject. "What are you doing this summer?"
Hudson shrugged. "Going home, I've got two brothers and a sister and they are going to make me take them everywhere for the holidays but I don't care, this course is a killer and we're not even done yet. Chauffeuring my siblings is going to be a welcome break."
Billy laughed. "Fuck yeah, I need some sleep."
"What about you?"
"Steve and I will drive back to Hawkins – my sister lives there and he's got a lot of family there too." Billy said, thinking of the nerds.
"I still can't believe you managed to get roomed with someone you know. My roommate is mostly somewhere else but when he's there I want to gag him and tie him to a bed."
Billy laughed, assuming that Hudson had no idea that he'd threatened Steve with that once and they'd ended up having sex on the floor. Really fucking good sex.
"I might see you tonight," Billy said. "If not, see you in class."
Billy headed back to his room then stopped and side-tracked to the closest store. He bought some lollies and chips and looked to see if there was anything else that Steve might like before he grabbed a bottle of coke and paid. He needed to call the pool in Hawkins to see if they would take him back for the summer. He'd been careful about money all year and he didn't argue too hard with Steve when the other guy bought them stuff but he was going to need to do something this summer. He would never have had the opportunity to see Steve at all if he'd completed his course load and had a job. He didn't mind having no money as much as he would have minded missing Steve. If he could find more than one job over the summer, he could probably save enough to get him through part of next year. He walked into their room to find Steve biting on a pencil and grinning down at his paper as he wrote frantically with the pen in his hand. Steve looked up while Billy was putting down his bag.
"How's it going, babe?"
"Good, just working on my conclusion."
"Excellent. Here," Billy handed Steve the lollies and the brunette yanked him into a kiss of thanks. Billy kicked off his shoes and grabbed a book to settle on Steve's bed and read while the other man kept working.
"You know my favourite thing about the upcoming summer?" Steve asked, surprising Billy as he settled on the bed. Steve's head landed on his stomach.
"A bed made for two, we're going to have more space than we know what to do with."
Billy scratched his fingernails into Steve's scalp.
"I've been asked to meet with the Dean of Maths again." Billy told him.
"I'm sure it's nothing bad," Billy said. "I'm doing well in everything."
Steve wriggled up the bed and looked down at the blond. "You want me to come with you?"
Billy lunged up and kissed him. "You done?"
"Want to go to a 55er party?"
"Tonight, it's apparently a big deal."
"Okay, I'll proof my assignment and then we can go whenever."
"Not yet," Billy said, kissing him again.
Steve stayed in Billy's arms and kissed him back happily. When they finally pulled apart, he still had time to work through his proofing and then start on a final copy before they left for the party.
Billy walked into the dorm room, one shared by three of the other people in the 55 class. Steve wasn't sure what he was expecting when he followed Billy through the door – he'd met a few of the other students. He wasn't that surprised to find most of the decoration was mathematical.
"Billy!" the other people yelled. Steve looked around, mostly guys but a couple of girls – one or two of which were obviously girlfriends, but the others were students who were also in the class. He recognised them and lifted a hand in a wave. He hadn't really thought about the fact that most of the attendees would be people from the class. There was a knock on the door so Steve and Billy moved out of the way as the door opened and Billy's groupies, Alex and the rest of the group, walked in.
Steve found a place to sit and a drink from one of the people he knew and sat down on one of the spare chairs. Billy sat near him and was pulled into a conversation that went over Steve's head. He was happy enough to sit and know that Billy was liked by these people, that they didn't have any negative experiences with him and he had found friends.
"Do you understand what they're talking about?" A voice asked from above him.
Steve looked up to see someone who'd been introduced to him as Sally standing over him. "No, you?"
Sally shook her head and sat down next to him. "I'm Hudson's girlfriend – I think they forget sometimes that not everyone in the room is a genius who thinks in numbers."
"Billy mostly needs to be reminded that he is one."
Sally laughed, like she didn't realise he was serious. "I hear he got the highest score for entry into 55 in the last decade."
Steve smirked and shook his head. "Of course he did."
"You didn't know?" Sally asked.
"Of course not, Billy is allergic to bragging."
Sally looked over at the blond and then back at Steve. "You two been friends long?"
"He moved to Hawkins, where I was born, about a year before we left to come here. How long have you known Hudson?"
"We met at orientation, he kind of flirted with me but he never did anything. I finally asked him out." Sally looked around the room. "Can you believe they have groupies?"
Steve shrugged. "No."
"Well, I suppose it's not different to following the Grateful Dead around the country in a van."
"Geoff did that, he's a pretty awesome guy."
"Yeah, I have a couple of classes with his girlfriend. She went too. It would be a nice way to spend the summer I suppose, free to just go anywhere and do anything."
Steve nodded. "What are you doing this summer?"
"Going home, I'm only about an hour from Hudson so we're going to be able to keep in touch without missing out on family which is nice. You?"
"You cannot use that justification for the Four Colour Theorem," one of the 55ers said, standing up and glaring down at another.
"Why not? Appel and Hakan worked it out with the help of a computer so…"
Billy laughed, looking over at Steve and rolling his eyes. Steve shrugged.
"Billy," Hudson said. "Talk some sense into him."
Billy held up his hands. "Who cares if they used a computer, John?"
The first one, John, swore. "Come on, man, pure mathematics should be done by our brains…it should be pure."
"If the maths is good then we can use lots of different methods." Billy said and Hudson nodded along, agreeing.
"Unbelievable," John all but yelled, "you just don't understand, Billy."
Billy frowned and looked away, Steve felt his shoulders tense a little and watched.
"He understands more than you," Amy said, throwing a chip at John's head.
Steve breathed out and looked back to Sally. "See, that was basically Greek…in fact I'd probably have more luck with Greek."
"Are you a languages student?"
"Ancient History – I've been learning a little Greek as a result."
"It is, you?"
"Journalism, hopefully, who knows."
They chatted on while the conversations around mathematics continued around them and they both ignored it. Sally eventually floated back to Hudson's side and Steve sat back just listening.
"Steve," Alex said, a long while later. "What's your favourite mathematical principle?"
Steve made a face. "Pythagoras?"
"And oldie but a goodie," Amy said.
"The only one I know," Steve corrected.
A couple of them laughed and then realised Steve wasn't joking.
"What?" Alex asked. "Why are you even here?"
"Alex!" Sam, another of the groupies that Steve had talked to earlier, said, voice reprimanding.
"This is a maths party," Alex defended.
"Steve's here with me," Billy said firmly.
"What do you even have to talk about?" Alex asked. "He's-"
"Think very carefully about what you're going to say," Billy said, voice low and reminiscent of when he first moved to Hawkins.
Alex blinked and sat back. "Nothing."
"The arsehole," Hudson whispered into the sudden silence.
Billy turned to look at him and his features eased. "Yeah."
"He's not," Steve said. "And no, I don't know much of anything about maths but hey, do you know the geopolitical motivations that lead to the dissolution of the Rome Consulship and the evolution of the term Dictator?"
Alex shook her head.
Steve nodded his head and sat back. "I'm sticking with Pythagoras, who doesn't like a triangle?"
Billy laughed and after a beat looked away from Steve and started chatting with Luke again.
An hour later, the party started breaking up and Billy stood, nodding his head towards the door and looking at Steve. Steve nodded and they both said their goodbyes and then left.
"Sorry," Billy muttered as they were walking under the night sky.
"That whole maths thing."
"You don't need to apologise; you were happy tonight, except for that, and I had a good time."
"Yeah, really. Come on, I think I might use this second wind to get my assignment finished."
Steve followed Billy into their dorm building and up to the room. Billy walked into the room and yawned.
"You going to bed?" Steve asked.
Billy changed while Steve got himself setup at his desk. Billy crawled into Steve's bed and wrapped himself around Steve's pillow.
"Night, babe," Billy said.
"Night," Steve said.
Billy fell asleep a few minutes later and Steve opened the packet of lollies the blond had purchased for him. He ate and wrote, occasionally pausing to work out a better phrase or to double check his references. He finished the packet of lollies a few minutes before he finished his assignment. Steve double-checked his word count, having to do it more than once, and then completed his cover page. Slipped it into a sleeve and sighed. That was it, the last assignment of his first year. Now he just needed to get through the exams and he might actually believe he deserved to be here. Steve stood, stretched, and then changed. He looked at Billy who was taking up most of the space in the bed. He thought about sleeping in Billy's bed but the last time he'd done that Billy had had an expression on his face that Steve hated for the whole of the next day. Steve double-checked the door lock and then turned the lights off and slotted himself into the small amount of space left on the bed. He wouldn't give this up for anything but he was definitely looking forward to having lots of space to spread out into while also having Billy to hold at night when they were back in Hawkins.
"What we would like to discuss with you, Billy," the Dean of Maths said, "are your plans for the summer. As you know your workload is different from most of our first-year students and given the work that you have been doing so far and the holes in your first year we would like to recommend that you close those gaps over the summer break."
Billy sat back, he immediately thought about Steve. Steve being in Hawkins and Billy being here in Cambridge.
"Dr Spencer has offered to personally run you through the gaps in an intensive one-on-one course. It's highly unusual but your skills and work ethic have resulted in us being sure you would be able to handle the massive work load this would entail."
"Is there housing for summer study?" Billy asked, because he couldn't get past the knowledge that he'd be without Steve for months.
"Yes, there is always a break of at least a week between the official end of semester and the beginning of summer study so your housing will be the same as your housing for the remainder of your time at Harvard. I believe you have already been assigned your ongoing roommate and your housing location?"
"We haven't heard anything yet."
The Dean pressed down on a button on his phone. "Nadine, can you please find the housing information for William Hargrove for next year."
There was an affirmative from the other end of the phone.
"The terms of your scholarship cover additional study so everything will be covered except for your food as the cafeteria doesn't run in the summer."
"When do I need to decide?"
"If you can please let me know by next week, we can start the paperwork."
"What will this mean for my course load next year?"
The Dean motioned him forward and took out a printed sheet of paper. "These are the two courses that Dr Spencer will go over with you and that will prepare you for this work load next year which will result in your degree completing at the end of next year, assuming you still wish to complete the advanced course."
"I do," Billy said. "Can I take this?"
There was a knock on the door, and the Dean called whoever it was in. A woman walked in – probably Nadine, and handed the Dean another sheet of paper.
"You will be housed with Steve Harrington next year, you have been assigned to a double room, that should make your course load easier to manage. It's interesting that you haven't chosen someone from the 55ers, so often your peers do."
Billy lifted one shoulder. "Steve and I work well as roommates."
"Take this as well," the Dean handed both sheets over. "Do you have any questions?"
"I don't think so."
"Please come by if you do."
"Thank you," Billy immediately stood. He took a step towards the door.
"You're doing very well, Billy, I hope you are contemplating some postgraduate study with us as well."
Billy took a step back. "Maybe, I don't know yet."
The Dean smiled. "Of course, just think about the summer options."
Billy walked out of the building and stopped, looking down at the sheet with the options for his summer and second year.
Billy looked up, startled to find Steve standing in front of him.
"What's this?" Steve looked over the paper.
"It's a schedule," Billy said.
"Next year if I take summer courses to fill in the holes from this year."
"Summer courses?" Steve asked.
"I'm not sure I'm going to do it," Billy rushed out.
Billy nodded towards a bench under a tree that was empty and secluded.
"Why not?" Steve asked again when they were sitting.
"Being away from you for months would-"
"Not happen," Steve said, smiling and resting his knee against Billy. "Surely you remember what I said to you – I'm with you and I'll be here if you are."
"I can't ask you to do that."
"You don't need to, that's the point. If I was here, where would you be?"
"Here," Billy said, sighing. "Yeah, okay, yeah, so I don't have to do that."
Steve took the sheet of paper and looked. "This sounds hard."
"I'm not going to do it unless you want to be here; it's not as good as being in Hawkins."
"Is it the whole summer?"
Billy shook his head. "There's a week's break and then…I don't know actually when it finishes, I didn't ask. I can stay here on campus – and we're rooming together again next year."
Steve let out a breath. "Good."
"Yeah, that fed has certainly kept his promise – the scholarship is even covering this."
"Good, so what else do you know?"
"Can you wait here for a minute?"
"Yeah," Steve said.
Billy left him and went back into the building to the Dean's office.
"I didn't ask…when will the summer courses end."
The Dean frowned. "I thought I gave…no, sorry, Billy, here is the suggested study outline which has information on dates, times, and the course books you will need."
"Thanks," Billy was about to walk away and then paused and looked at the Dean. "This is kind of an odd question."
Billy was about the open his mouth and then changed his mind. "Never mind, thanks, I'll be in touch soon."
The Dean nodded and Billy left again. He went back out to Steve but didn't sit.
"Let's go and talk in the room."
Steve nodded and they headed that way.
"Why were you here?" Billy asked.
"I…I just wanted to be there in case we needed to run off somewhere to celebrate."
Billy laughed and so desperately wanted to tell the other man he loved him that he had to bite his lip to stop it from coming out.
Or in case something went wrong and I needed you, Billy thought. Because, Steve knew as well as Billy did that Billy was much more likely to have been in trouble at this meeting as he was to have been praised for something. And this news certainly wasn't even good news, this was…this was…what the fuck even was this news.
They walked into their room and Billy threw his books down on the bed.
"Why can't it just be easy?"
Steve sat down on his bed and looked up at Billy. "Explain it to me."
"For fuck's sake," Billy swore. "You're a fucking dickhead for thinking this would be easy, you complete idiot," Billy slammed his hands into his forehead.
Steve had seen this once before. He stood and walked over to Billy catching his hands.
"I'm a fucking idiot," Billy said, looking directly into Steve's eyes.
Steve shook his head and squeezed Billy's hands.
"Talk to me."
"I didn't do anything right; I wasn't enrolled in the right classes and I haven't caught up and now everything is all mixed up and some poor guy is having to work his summer to catch me up and I've ruined your summer and-"
Steve covered Billy's mouth with his hand. "Stop."
Billy nodded but Steve could see he was still listing fuck-ups, or at least perceived ones, in his head.
Steve could feel the rush of air over his hand as Billy breathed out and then back in.
"Right," Steve pulled his hand away. "Let's start with that last one…do you honestly think you're ruining my summer?"
Billy nodded. "Of course I am, you're going to miss out on being home with the Party if you stay with me and you're going to miss me if you stay there."
Steve looked at him.
"Okay, so you miss out on the Party and you miss out on the break you need, the time you need away from this place and how fucking hard you've been working."
"Okay, so I have a break here instead. So long as you're around it isn't ruined – just different." Steve was determined not to think about the plans he'd been making for their summer, it could wait until the next year. "Then this professor – what did the Dean actually say?"
"That Dr Spencer would be going through that course load with me," Billy said, nodding at the piece of paper that was on the floor.
"And did he say if Dr Spencer had volunteered?"
Billy threw his hands up in question. "Fucked if I know."
"I'm so fucking-"
Steve kissed the other man to stop whatever he had been about to say. Billy sunk into Steve and clutched at him tightly.
"You didn't do anything wrong and you aren't a fuck-up, sweetheart."
"I am though."
"I promise you that you haven't ruined anything for anyone because I'm happy to be here and you're going to have a wonderful time learning more things because you love it."
"What am I going to do?"
Steve shrugged. "You're going to do whatever you think is best."
"Tell me what to do," Billy half demanded, half pleaded.
"I can't, you have to make this decision yourself, you know you do."
Billy pulled away and grabbed the papers, he looked down at them and then rubbed his fingers over his forehead. He sighed and nodded. "Okay, let's look at this."
"Yes, so, what's the timeline?"
Billy read. "I'd be off for the first week of the summer break and then I'd need to be back the following Monday. Depending on how our exams work out we might have a few more days. Then I'd be in with Dr Spencer every weekday for the next ten weeks. We should be done a week and a half before the beginning of semester."
Steve smiled; he might just get to put his plan into action after all. He'd wait and see.
"They said I'd have accommodation but no access to food and these courses would still be covered by my scholarship. We're still going to be living together and I'd be able to move into that dorm room after that week. I…I'm not sure if they would notice or care that you were here too but I don't want you to get in trouble."
"I can be sneaky," Steve said. "And it's not a problem – it's worth it. So, we have a couple of weeks and can still visit Hawkins if we want to."
"And I can cover food with the money Mum keeps sending me."
"I can and I want to." Steve said, voice firm.
Steve stood up. "No, you need to listen to me…let me finish, okay?"
Billy didn't say anything so Steve took that as a good sign that the blond might listen.
"I know you don't want to rely on anyone."
"It's not about that."
"Yes, it is, it's exactly about that but we are in this together, aren't we?" Steve paused and waited for the other man to nod. "What would you do if the roles were reversed?"
Billy looked like he wanted to argue but Steve knew that Billy would do the same.
"Exactly, so I can do this for you, can't I?"
"It's not just the summer though, I was going to get a job in Hawkins over the summer so I could cover a least some of next year. This will put me behind for the summer and next year and I have a huge workload next year and I can't do this. So, it's better for me to not take this offer and work so I can support myself."
"I can't rely on you, Steve."
"Okay," Steve said, reaching out and wrapping his hand around the blond's forearm. "It's okay, sweetheart. Whatever you decide it's okay but don't for a second forget that I want to help you with this, okay?"
Billy just looked at him.
"Yeah, okay, sure."
Steve let out a huff of breath. "Are you sure about not taking the offer?"
"Yes," Billy said firmly.
"When do they need to know?" Steve asked.
"Can you do me a favour and just wait a few days before you tell the Dean?"
"Fine, yeah, fine." He walked over and put the papers down on his desk and then went back to his bed to collect his books. He calmly put them down on his desk and started tidying the desk. Steve sat back on his bed and watched Billy. When the table was clean, Billy walked over to the dirty clothes basket and collected it up, grabbing their towels and Steve's pyjamas. He yanked the sheets of his bed and then looked at Steve who put his hands up and stood. Billy yanked his sheets off the bed as well, looking around for anything else he could take. Steve wondered if the other man would make him change out of his clothes.
"I'm going to the laundry room," Billy told him.
Steve nodded, watching him and waiting until Billy was out of the room before he walked over and grabbed the sheets of paper again. He read it; didn't really understand the level of mathematics this was but he could see that it was impressive. He put it back in the same spot and then looked at their room and rubbed at his scalp. He shook his head and grabbed a book, settling down to start studying for his exams – there wasn't anything he could do at the moment.
Later, Billy walked in with clean clothes and looked calmer.
"Hey, babe," Billy said.
"Should we go and grab an early dinner?"
Steve shook his head. "Let's remake the beds and put everything away."
"I'm sorry," Billy said, around an armful of sheets.
"Don't, sweetheart, it's okay."
"I'm not angry at you."
"I'm angry because I just want to be normal for once and not the guy who's messing shit up. And I get that this isn't really messing shit up but it's causing problems for the people around me and they need to work harder and do more or miss out on things to help me find the rhythm that everyone else has."
"Then don't do the summer courses but it's okay to take people's help."
"Is it help or is it-"
"Do you have any idea how much…how smart…how, fuck, I don't know how to say this – I never know how to say the right thing." Steve paused to think. "Do you see how the other people in your classes talk about you? See how they look at you? You're really fucking smart, Billy, and they want to do what they can to make you succeed because one day you're going to win Nobel prize or something and-"
"There's no Nobel prize for maths…people win the Field's medal instead, or the Abel medal."
"Then everyone wants to help you get to the place where you can win the Field's medal. It's not pity, or…or them thinking you can't cope or need more help than anyone else, it's them wanting you to shine and knowing you can."
"You think so much better of me than you should, I'm not…I'm not anything special."
"Oh, sweetheart, you are so special."
"To you maybe."
"Definitely," Steve corrected, deciding to stop pushing, he smiled and walked over to Billy. He slipped his arms through Billy's so he could hold him close and kissed him. "You are so very special to me. Can I take you out to dinner?"
"Then I suppose I will let you treat me."
Steve smiled and kissed Billy again.
"Let's make the beds so we can mess them up when we get back," Steve said, tomorrow, tonight, in a day or so, he would try again to prove to Billy that it was okay to want to be here in the summer because Steve could tell the other man wanted it. This reminded him of the way Billy had argued that he didn't want to come to university but Steve had seen through it then and he saw through it now. He just needed to find the right way to show Billy that he deserved this, and could have this, if he wanted it.
Steve thought about it too much over the next few days; he thought about it in bed as he was sleeping and in the morning when he woke up, he thought about it in the shower and when he was brushing his teeth, he thought about it at work and he thought about it when he should be studying. He was no closer to working it out but the week was almost up and he needed to deal with it now. He had just finished his class and he was going to do it – he was positive, he was going to win Billy over and if the other man still didn't want to study over the summer then Steve would forget it.
Steve smiled as he walked through the sunshine on his way to Billy's class. He planned to convince the other man to go out to dinner and then they could talk more about Billy's offer. He opened the door and then took a step to the side as someone else was coming out. He walked in and near the end of the hallway heard Billy's voice – from the sound of it, talking with someone else, he slowed down not wanting to interrupt whatever maths discussion was in place when he heard his name.
"…just like I don't understand why you hang out with that Harrington guy."
"Because he's my friend," Billy said, sounding angry.
"Why," John asked. "Why on earth would you want him to be your friend?"
"What?" Billy asked, angry.
"What's he going to be able to do for you?"
"He doesn't need to be able to do anything for me."
"He's a moron," John said. "He can't hold a candle to your brains…your genius."
"So what?" Billy asked.
Steve stepped away from the corner and turned, rushing down the hallway.
Billy took a step towards John. "So what if he's not able to solve fucking theoretical mathematics problems? So what if an arsehole like you thinks he's a moron? Why the fuck should I care what you think? Steve is a great friend and you're an arsehole."
"He's not even supposed to be here," John said. "I work in the Dean's office and I looked up his record, he didn't even apply here and his file only talks about his scholarship. He's not just a fucking moron, he's-"
Billy threw the punch, John went down and Billy leaned down to grab John's shirt to pull him up and punch him again but suddenly there was a hand on his wrist, another around his upper arm and he was pulled back. He fought them, struggling against the hold and then froze when he recognised the voice in his ear.
"Billy, stop," Hudson said.
Billy nodded and yanked himself free, breathing heavily.
"If you ever talk about Steve like that again, I won't back off," Billy hissed at John.
"And if you report Billy, I will tell them what you're doing with your time in the Dean's office," Hudson added.
Billy's chest tightened – he had forgotten the feeling of dread that followed punching someone. At first it had felt good, felt like he was the one in control of pain instead of always being the one who received the pain. Then there was always the fear, the fear of his father finding out, the fear of what his father would do when he thought Billy had sullied their good name, when Neil thought Billy's behaviour might shine a light on Neil. But, it was different now…now, if…he could, fuck, he could have been kicked out, he…fuck, he needed to talk to Steve, fuck, he could feel his breath disappearing.
John stood up, and while Billy was distracted, and Hudson was looking at Billy with growing confusion, the other man punched Billy. Billy's head turned and he went still, prepared for another hit…prepared for the hissed out words.
"Steve is a fucking moron and so are you for not seeing it," John spat at him and walked away.
"Billy?" Hudson said, looking at the blond.
Billy shook his head and looked at his friend. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
Billy touched his cheek, hissed as he pressed against the tender skin. "Yeah, nothing broken."
Hudson squinted at him a minute and then nodded. "You should probably go and find Steve."
Billy ignored the worry that maybe Hudson knew and asked. "Why?"
Hudson looked down the hallway and gestured with his thumb. "He was walking down the hall looking pissed off and ignored me when I spoke to him, he didn't hear John's shit?"
Billy's face fell and he started down the hallway, rushing out of the building, and to their dorm building. When he got into their room, Steve was nowhere to be seen. Steve had no more classes that day. He could only have been in the hallway because he was coming to find Billy after his class. Billy scribbled a message onto a piece of paper and dropped it on Steve's bed and then left again. He went to the ice cream parlour even though he knew Steve didn't have a shift. He tried to think of where else Steve might go when he was upset. Normally, he'd come back to their room – to Billy. It was different this time though and Billy didn't know why but he also knew how sensitive the other man would be over the word moron and the idea that he didn't belong here. Billy knew it was wrong, Steve wasn't a moron and he did deserve to be here so he could realise that he was smarter than he realised. But Billy also knew that Steve thought that Billy was bias because he loved the other man.
Billy couldn't find the brunette – he'd gone everywhere he could think of, back to their room three times, and he couldn't find Steve anywhere. He went back to their room a final time and sat down on Steve's bed. He looked down at his note and balled it up, threw it across the room.
"Fuck!" Billy screamed.
A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. Billy stood straight up and rushed to the door, opening it and trying to hide his expression when he saw Lorelai on the other side.
"Hi," Billy said.
"Hey, ummm, are you okay?"
"So, I heard about your fight with that guy and I heard you screaming and I thought…are you okay?"
"Yeah, thanks, yeah."
"Okay, umm, if you need anything, you can come by."
"Thanks," he was about to close the door and then stopped. "Have you seen Steve?"
"He's not here?" Lorelai looked surprised.
"I saw him earlier," she shrugged. "Was walking into your room as I was coming back from class."
Billy forced himself to shrug. "Missed him then, I'll see him later. Thanks, Lorelai."
She smiled and walked away.
"Fuck," Billy swore again but quietly this time. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."
Billy sunk down onto the floor and thumped his head repeatedly against the bed behind him. He didn't move, having no idea where to go or where else to look for Steve but knowing the other man would have to come back here eventually. He sat there for hours, watching as the clock ticked by and he wondered if Steve really would come back, if seeing Billy punch that guy might have been too much for the other man. If maybe Steve had finally realised that no matter how hard Billy fought, he was still the arsehole who would react with his fists.
Billy woke to a loud noise, looked around the room, hoping, but finding it still empty. He looked out the window and saw that it was dark, just a hint of light meaning it was almost sunrise.
"Fuck," Billy looked around to see if Steve had come back in while he was asleep.
Moments later the door opened and Billy looked up at Steve who was stepping quietly into the room.
"Steve," Billy said, climbing to his feet and rushing to the other man. He threw his arms around the brunette and then stopped when he felt Steve freeze. Billy took a step back and nodded.
"I thought you'd be asleep," Steve mumbled.
Billy nodded and took a step back. "I can go."
Steve shook his head. "How could you?"
Billy's stomach fell away.
"I just came to get a change of clothes."
"I'm sorry," Billy mumbled, his fingers trembling.
"I don't care, you…of all people you should know…I thought I could trust you not to."
Billy thought about each time Steve had cared for him after a fight with his father. His fingers lifted to his eye automatically and nodded. He wracked his brain trying to think what he could say to make this better.
Steve stepped forward and gripped Billy's chin, turning his eye up. "What happened, are you okay?"
"I won't fight again, I promise," Billy said, leaning into Steve's touch.
"You know, Hudson said you were there, I'm sorry, Steve, I know I shouldn't have hit him but I…he was…it wasn't okay but he shouldn't have said that."
"John, he's an arsehole but I still know I shouldn't have hit him even if he said that shit about you. I know I'm not supposed to fig-"
"You hit him because of what he said about me?"
"Of course, I did."
"But you agreed with him."
"What? No, I didn't, I would never. What are you talking about?"
"I heard you," Steve said, letting go of Billy's chin and stepping back, rubbing his fingers through his hair and the pulling at the ends. "I was coming to collect you from class and he was there and he said…" Steve swallowed. "He called me a moron and you said so what…so what? So what!" Steve had been thinking about those two words for hours.
"So what if you can't do theoretical maths," Billy explained, suddenly realising. "That's what I said to him, I punched him because he called you a moron, because he is an arsehole who had no right to say that about you and who deserved it. I'm sorry I hit him."
"You thought I was made because you were fighting?" Steve asked.
"Yeah, and you…you thought I would agree with a that dickhead."
Steve looked at Billy and then turned and walked to the door, he thumped his head into the wood and then turned and came back.
"I know you're not a moron, Billy said, quietly, gently.
"I…I…" Steve sat down on his bed and dropped his head into his hands.
Billy knelt down on the floor in front of him and rested his hands on the brunette's knees.
"I love you," Billy said. "You are not a moron and I will never put up with someone saying it, or you believing it."
Steve looked at Billy with sad eyes.
"You are doing so well here," Billy said, meaning university. "You have to see that, people who don't belong here, wouldn't be doing as well as you are."
Steve put his hands on top of Billy's. "I…"
"Are you mad I punched him for it?" Billy asked.
Steve shook his head.
Billy squeezed his hands around Steve's knees. He shuffled forward on his knees and pulled his hands free to wrap them around either side of Steve's jaw and hold his face.
"You don't think I'm a moron," Steve said quietly.
"I'm sorry," Steve mumbled, trying to drop his head. Billy held him tight and looked him in the eye.
"Don't, you didn't do anything wrong, you are safe with me, babe, always."
"I heard it and left," Steve explained.
"I understand, I am never going to think you're a moron, I promise. I know you're smart, remember you've fought off the upside down three times."
Steve laughed. "That was more about the bat."
Billy shook his head. He leaned forward and pecked Steve on the lips, just a soft and grounding touch.
"I should have remembered," Steve said, leaning his head down and onto Billy's shoulder.
Billy shook his head.
"He punched you back?"
Billy shrugged. "I hit him for what he said. Hudson stopped me before I beat him…well until I could hit him again. When I was distracted John hit me."
"Are you okay?" Steve pulled back and brushed his thumb over the skin under the bruise. "Did you use an ice pack?"
Billy looked down.
Steve tsked and started to stand.
"Don't," Billy said. "It's okay, it's too late for the ice to work and it's not very bad – he's not someone who knows how to throw a punch."
"So, I should see the other guy."
"If he comes near you, I'll kill him."
"No," Steve said. "No, sweetheart, it's not worth it. I just, I shouldn't have thought you'd…I should have remembered how often you'd told me not to think that about myself."
"But you heard me agree and it set you off?"
"I know," Steve said.
"Where have you been?" Billy asked, resting back down on his ankles.
"Library, I've been staring at my textbook for hours."
"I looked for you there."
"I hid in one of those spots people use to make out."
"Babe," Billy said, rubbing along Steve's thighs.
"Why were you on the floor?"
"I couldn't find you and I thought you'd come back so I was waiting."
"On the floor?"
Billy rolled his shoulders.
"Come here," Steve said, shuffling back on the bed and pulling Billy along. He tugged until they were both on the bed, lying on their sides, and facing one another.
"I was so worried you were done with me," Billy told him.
"Never," Steve said. "I mean, I was so hurt when I thought you thought I was…you thought the same thing my dad does. But, why would you think that if you didn't agree with John?"
"I punched him."
Steve still looked confused.
"Maybe you realised that I'm still an arsehole who punches things."
Steve shook his head. "I know you, and I know your background and I know why and how you use your fists."
Billy ran his fingers down the line of Steve's eyebrow and over his cheekbone, finishing next to the brunette's lips and the little scar there. It wasn't as a result of Billy and the blond knew he shouldn't love it but he did kiss it more than he should. Steve smiled at him and turned his head to kiss Billy's fingers.
"Unless you hit me, you don't need to worry about this."
"I wouldn't," Billy said, mouth tight.
"Do you? How? I've done it before."
Steve shook his head. "That was a different situation, you know it was."
"But I did it."
"And I've forgiven you, and you have never been violent with me since. You told me yourself that you wanted me and hated me and yourself because you wanted me and your father is…he's a horrid man and you have stopped, you've changed, you've even made up with Max."
"And her band of dweebs."
Steve shook his head. "I know you love them."
"I put up with them for you and her. Mostly for you."
Steve smiled. "Thank you."
Billy leaned closer and tucked himself into Steve. "I hate that you were hurt."
"I know, I do, I'm better now, I'm better and I'm here with you."
Billy reached down and pulled Steve's hand up between them. He twisted the ring on Steve's finger, smiling down at the pale skin under the band.
"You know," Billy said. "Your skin's lost its colour under the ring."
"Good," Steve told him, kissing he top of Billy's head. "Means even if I had to take the ring off people would still know I'm yours."
"Mine?" Billy asked, blinking slowly. "Can I be yours too?" Billy smiled, yawning into Steve's skin.
Steve nodded. "And I love you, Billy, and that you defended me."
"You deserve to be protected," Billy mumbled.
"And you protect me."
"I know, sweetheart," Steve told him, running his fingers gently though Billy's hair until the other man fell asleep, breathing heavily against the brunette's skin. "I'm sorry I didn't have more faith in you," Steve whispered to the sleeping man. "I'm sorry I didn't know you wouldn't think that about me."
Billy shifted in his sleep and Steve kissed his hair again, letting his body go heavy. He didn't fall asleep straight away, just stayed curled up with Billy and let his mind float along. He woke first in the morning though, Billy still tucked into him and Steve revelled in it. Billy woke later, rubbing his nose into Steve's chest, snuffling and pressing a kiss to the brunette's chest before pulling back and blinking himself awake.
"Hey," Steve said, leaning forward and kissing Billy.
Steve looked over Billy and caught sight of the clock. "If we go now, we can catch breakfast."
Billy shrugged. "I don't want to move."
Steve smiled and nodded. "Me either."
Billy lifted his hand and traced the side of Steve's face. Steve pressed into the touch.
"I want you to do the summer classes," Steve whispered into the space between them.
"What?" Billy pulled back but Steve followed him.
"I want you to do them because I know you want to."
"Because I want you to have good things."
"I have you."
Steve chuckled. "Babe."
"That's my name."
"I want you to pay attention."
Billy rolled his eyes.
"I mean it."
"Okay," Billy let out a breath. "I'm paying attention."
"I have a confession."
Billy frowned and nodded, not sure what this had to do with the summer study offer.
"I took the job at the ice cream parlour for a reason. I wanted to make some money because I wanted to do something this summer. I wanted to take you away somewhere, somewhere other than Hawkins, somewhere we could just be us and I thought maybe San Francisco – I've been doing a little research and it seems like a place that wouldn't mind us doing whatever. So, I thought maybe we could go there for a while after Hawkins or before or whatever. And I know it's a ridiculous car ride and I know it would take too long but I thought maybe you'd like the idea of a break where we could be us."
"So, here's the thing, you and I are going to have more summers but you only have this opportunity to study with someone like Dr Spencer now, this specific summer."
"How do you know about Dr Spencer?"
Steve shrugged. "I asked Hayden about it; I've been trying to work out how to convince you to really think about this offer since it came up."
"Because you want to be here doing it and next year we can go to San Francisco or wherever, anywhere."
"I thought you wanted to spend the summer in Hawkins."
"Now that I know about your plans for a job, I would have been happy to stay instead. I hadn't thought and I should have but…I just didn't want you to be in Hawkins for 3 months where Neil is."
"I was going to…"
"For me," Steve finished. "Because you want to do things for me even if you don't really want to do them because you love me and I have to tell you that I feel the same way and, with the exception of the fact I'm actually really happy to be here, you're time studying is everything I wanted from San Francisco except maybe the being maybe…kinda…you know, open with the world."
"You could have told me."
"Then you'd have wanted to get a job as well but I didn't want to put that pressure on you and this was supposed to be one of those nice things you're going to let me do for you."
Steve nodded. "I like doing nice things for you."
"But…I will basically never see you if I get a job."
Steve shrugged. "You know, if I'm not studying over the summer and you're studying and working then we will be able to see each other. But I mean it – you don't have to go and get a job because I meant it when I said I was willing and very happy to cover food. It's not a debt or a favour or something I would ever hold over your head or anything. It would be me sharing something with you because I love you."
Billy dropped his head.
"No, I mean, yes, I'll go this summer but I'll find a job. There must be at least a few around the place with everyone going home for the summer."
Steve nodded. "I've spoken to the owner of the ice cream place and she's happy for me to take the time off at the beginning and end and work through the summer. She normally has to do most of the hours herself so she's happy for me to work as much as I want to."
"You're really serious about me doing this?"
"I'll tell the Dean today."
Steve smiled and pulled Billy closer, kissing him, licking into his mouth and smiling when the blond wrapped himself around Steve and devoured him back.