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The shadows are long on the wall when Billy blinks awake, his room cast in the blue light of just after sunrise. For a second, he doesn’t remember how he got there, back into his own bed in his tiny bare room. For a second, Harrington’s breath ghosts against the back of Billy’s neck and Billy feels warm from it, but then his eyes focus on the room around him and Billy feels cold and scared and empty in the way he always feels cold and scared and empty in this house.

His knee aches. Billy pushes back the covers enough to frown down at the scabbed skin. He’d scraped it climbing in through the window that morning, after he’d slipped out of Harrington’s bed and driven through a still dark, still sleeping Hawkins. The blood had dried. Billy hopes there’s none on his sheets. Hopes there’s none on the windowsill.

He sits up slowly, running a hand through his hair. In this light, his room looks especially stark, just a poster and some stacks of crates, the clutter of his cologne and hair products don’t do much to add to the personality of the space. Harrington’s room had been hideous, but lived in, too. A room that has been built over the years around the person inside of it. A room in a house that’s cared about.

Billy thinks of the tearing in the hallway carpet that he trips over every morning. Even their house in California had been better than this, and Billy’s friends used to say it was a real shitthole when they snuck over, when Neil was out and Billy was stupid and brave and feeling full and warm from his mom’s cooking.

All that was before shit got bad, before Susan and Max, but not before Billy had been a disappointment. Before his dad had figured him out, had named it there in the kitchen in California. Billy hangs his head between his shoulders and fists his hands around his blankets and knows that he left Steve Harrington’s bed this morning because he’s a coward.

Because Dustin knows about his dad. Because Dustin knows Max. Because that’s a death sentence and Billy’s not sure how literally he means that, yet, but it spells the end of whatever he’s been doing at the edge of the world with Harrington.

Billy hates how fucking attached he becomes to safe spaces. It always makes it hard to sever that tie. It’s only a matter of time, though, he knows. It won’t take Neil to ruin it. Billy can feel the soft threads of worry gnawing at his stomach. Because Dustin knows and he’ll say something and Billy will ruin everything before it can be ruined by someone else.

That, Billy knows, is how this is going to go. Still, he closes his eyes and remembers how it had felt to have Harrington curled up around him. He savors that until he hears the sound of his father getting up for work, the thump of his steps in the house. Billy has to hustle if he wants to shower, and he does, because a quick glance in his mirror confirms how fucking bad his hair looks.

Billy showers. His face looks worse in the light of the bathroom here than it had at Harrington’s. It’s probably got something to do with the quality of the lightbulbs, with the dingy quality of the beat up old tiles. Billy runs his fingers along the counter and thinks of smooth, fashionable marble, thinks of Harrington’s smile, the brightest thing in all that white in the second floor bathroom.

Billy thinks of Dustin, of the way he’d looked back and forth between them, run out of the room. Billy had been willing to believe, last night, that he was just an upset kid. For Harrington’s sake, maybe, or maybe even for his own, so that he could say it was all right to go upstairs and curl up in Harrington’s bed to wait for him to come home. Like Billy had any right to be there.

Billy stares at himself in the mirror and pokes the cut above his eyebrow and hisses at the pain. He wraps a towel around his waist and walks quickly down the hall, back to his bedroom where he can put a door between him and the rest of the house. He pulls on his jeans, his shirt, his leather jacket, and then he pulls himself together, tries to cast aside the jitters burning hot under his skin, the old embers of habit. He has something good to lose, he thinks. It’s all just a matter of time.

Billy’s scared.

He fucking hates it.

He’d felt want running deep in the marrow of his bones when he’d woken up in Harrington’s bed this morning and that isn’t fucking fair. Billy barely remembers what it feels like to want something anymore, but his body remembers, the thread that starts in his heart and burrows through the rest of him remembers.

It’s the warmth he resents, especially in this room and this house where everything is always cold. It’s the kind of warmth that comes from a washcloth in soft hands, soothing over bruised and bloody skin in the bright white of a fancy bathroom. The kind that comes from fingers tangled together in the car on the way back from dinner. The kind of warmth that spells out good, that Billy’s no good at keeping.

Especially, he thinks, staring at his reflection, when he’d beat the source of that warmth half to death barely long enough ago for the bruises to fade.

His eyebrow throbs. Billy grabs his school shit and walks out to the kitchen to wait for Max. She takes for fucking ever. Long enough that Billy’s dad walks through to leave, looks surprised to see him there, then irritated. Billy sips his mug of coffee and tries not to do anything to get himself in trouble. He hopes, suddenly, that he wasn’t too loud sneaking back in last night.

His dad’s gaze lingers on him for a long minute, but then he leaves. Billy exhales at the sound of his truck pulling away, does his best not to fall face first against the table. When Max finally appears, Billy’s jitters have settled in the absence of any real threat, but he’s annoyed he had to wait.

“Took you fucking long enough,” Billy says when she walks in.

Max barely pauses in the doorway long enough to look at him. Her eyes flick over the bruising on his face and her mouth pinches in a frown. She grabs her backpack and sticks her middle finger up at the same time, storming out the front door.

He trails after her, those early embers of panic stoked back to life by her silence, her anger. “What crawled up your ass and died?” he asks over the roof of the Camaro, finally unlocking it and dropping inside.

She climbs in, too, holds her backpack tight to her chest and looks out the window. Her jaw is tight, her eyes narrowed. Billy’s seen Max angry enough to know what it looks like. He drums his fingers on the steering wheel. “The silent treatment, huh?” he asks, pulling away from the house. “What’d I do to get so fucking lucky, Maxine?”

She doesn’t rise to the bait, but he watches her jaw tick in irritation out of the corner of her eye. She clutches her backpack to her chest. When he finally pulls up outside the school, she’s out of the car before he’s even stopped it.

“Max!” he shouts. “Be fucking careful!”

She throws her middle finger up in his face again, but whips around. “You be fucking careful!” she says. “I told you to leave my friends alone!”

Billy’s whole body goes cold, then hot. He feels the flush start in his cheeks, prickle down his neck and chest, to his fingertips and cold. Panic. Fear. She whirls on her heel and stomps away before he can ask her what she’s talking about.

Billy tries to draw in a few deep breaths, but he has to struggle through it. He can’t really think around the panic chewing a hole in his brain, not when he can’t be sure what Max knows, what Max means.

He hears music, another car pulling up. It’s early for the middle school and he recognized the sound, he still turns his head to confirm it’s the BMW. A second later, Dustin’s climbing out of it, waving a cheerful goodbye and walking across the parking lot to catch up with Max.

He knows. She knows. Billy’s fucked.

He’s out of the car, running across the parking lot, before he really makes the decision to find out more. If they know--if they all know--Billy needs to know what they know.

“Hey!” he snarls, grabbing Dustin by the shoulder and spinning him around. Dustin stumbles a little with the force of it.

“What the fuck?” Dustin says, eyes wide, hat askew. He adjusts his backpack and eyes Billy’s hand on his shoulder.

“What did you say to her?” Billy growls, leaning in close to Dustin’s face. “What did you tell her?”

Little kids and their fucking gossip. What do they know about secrets? The kind that could fucking ruin shit?

“I didn’t say anything,” Dustin says. He pushes at Billy’s wrist. “Calm down, man. Christ.”

Billy heart is stuttering in his chest. He feels his bones rattling around under his skin. He shakes Dustin a bit. “What did you--”

“Nothing, Billy. I already said that!” Dustin says.

He’s not even afraid. Billy can see it on his face. He’s nervous, sure, but he’s not afraid of Billy, and Billy thinks that Dustin should be. Thinks that he’s got all this desperation burning hot under his skin. “Listen,” Dustin starts..

Billy can’t listen. He can’t listen because he’s fucking doomed because they’re all gonna know. They’re going to tell everyone. Panic flashes again through Billy, chased by humiliation. He needs to know how bad this is. “What did you tell her?”

“Billy!” Max shouts. “What the fuck!” and when he looks up she running back toward them.

“I just need to know what you told her,” Billy says, shaking Dustin again.

Billy feels a hand land on his shoulder. He stumbles with the force of the shove that comes next, his hand dropping off Dustin. Harrington’s face is set and angry. He steps neatly between Billy and Dustin. Max appears then, her cheeks red as her hair, she grabs Dustin’s hand and pulls him back.

Dustin still doesn’t look afraid. He looks worried. Billy bares his teeth. “I’m going to fucking--” find out what you did, he’s going to say, but Harrington shoves him again and Billy stumbles backwards, surprised.

“Get your fucking hands away from that kid,” Harrington says. His hands are curled into fists at his sides and his eyes are narrowed. The expression on his face is startling in its raw anger. Billy almost takes a step back.

That’s at him, the anger. Harrington thinks he’s going to hurt that kid. Billy supposes he deserves that.

I’m out here looking for monsters, Harrington had said to him, once. I might be one, Billy had warned him. I don’t think you are, Harrington had whispered, soft and to the air between them.

Harrington’s a fucking liar.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Hargrove?”

A few hours ago, Harrington had whispered Billy into his ear, sweet with sleep, their fingers tangled over Billy’s stomach.

Hargrove.

“We’re just having a little conversation, Harrington,” Billy says. Harrington’s a fucking liar and Billy can lean into that for now. Humiliation and panic are a powerful cocktail burning away under Billy’s skin like this. He smirks, pulls out a cigarette and lights it, lets it hang between his lips as he sneers, “Didn’t realize I’d upset the babysitter.”

“Billy!” Max says, her eyes wide. “What the fuck.”

“God, do you ever shut up?” Billy snaps at her.

“Max,” Harrington says. “Dustin. Go to school. Now.”

He really is their fucking babysitter. They scurry away.

Billy wants to tell Harrington that the slimy little fucking kid is a snitch. Harrington’s eyes are hard, though. Unyielding. Last night he had picked Billy up from where he’d been breaking apart in the woods and his eyes had been soft.

“You don’t touch him,” Harrington says, his voice so low Billy takes a step forward to hear him better.

“Harrington--”

“No,” Harrington says, holding a hand up. “You do not. Touch. Him.”

That darkness that Billy can sometimes see, way out there in the woods, hangs heavy on Harrington’s face. Billy grins at him, blows smoke in his face. “You going to stop me?” he asks. “If I try it again?

Harrington laughs, but not like he’s heard something funny. “Oh my god,” he says. “Oh my god, what was I even thinking?” He looks amused, maybe. Rueful. Like he’s just figured out the sad end to a sort of funny joke.

It’s not the reaction Billy was expecting.

“C’mon, Harrington,” Billy says, a little taunting because he doesn’t remember how to be anything else. “What’re you gonna do about it?”

“Yeah, no.” Harrington says, quiet. “Jesus. What was I thinking? Have a nice life or whatever, Billy,” he says. “Hope shit works out for you.”

Harrington turns to walk away, then. Billy opens his mouth. He’s not totally clear on what the fuck is going on right now, or why Harrington is walking away. Billy had done his hair for him. Had woken up with the ghost of his breath on the back of his neck. “What--”

Harrington looks at him over his shoulder. “I’m not fucking kidding,” he says. “You touch him again and I’ll make what you did to me look like a scraped knee.”

And then he walks away. Dustin and Max are gone. Billy’s left standing in the parking lot holding his cigarette alone and looking like an asshole. He doesn’t understand what the fuck just happened.

They can talk about it later, he figures. No big deal.

~

Once the sun sets, once his dad is settled in front of the tv with a beer and Susan is doing something in the bedroom and Max is at the arcade, Billy slips slowly and carefully out his bedroom window and peels away from the house before his dad can find something helpful for him to do.

He keeps the music down low as he drives through Hawkins. His car draws enough attention and Billy’s going for invisible tonight. It shouldn’t be hard. Harrington hadn’t so much as looked at him during school that day. Maybe Billy is fucking invisible.

Either way, Billy is driving around Hawkins with his music down low and he isn’t looking for Harrington.

He’s not looking for Harrington as he bangs his palm against the steering wheel and sweeps his gaze over parking lots and driveways, as he makes careful, calculated passes that start in the center of town.

He’s not looking for Harrington when he drives past the diner, where he sees Tommy’s car and a few other kids from school, but doesn’t stop. He’s not looking for Harrington when he drives past the library, sees Jonathan’s car there, but it’s alone. He’s not looking for Harrington when he drives past the police station, when he misses the turn back to his own house, when he misses the U-turn to head back to town. He’s not looking for Harrington once he’s pushed himself out to the edges of Hawkins, where it’s all forest and trees.

Out here, it seems impossible that the Earth continues, like Hawkins is where everything just--stops. Billy knows that isn’t true, remembers waves and sand and sun, but as he drives down these lonely Hawkins roads, not even a few kids on bikes for company, he can’t shake the feeling that might come at the end of the world, once everything else around him died. It’s fucking lonely this far out from town, on these small winding roads that begin and end in darkness.

Billy had barely seen Harrington that day. Enough for him to get the cold shoulder, but not enough for him to needle and press and push until Harrington took the bait. He doesn’t know how Harrington had managed it. Hawkins high isn’t that big. There couldn’t be that many places to hide.

Harrington can’t hide from this, though. Not that Billy is looking for him. Not that Billy’s checked three farms with his headlights off and his engine growling low as he can get it. He’s not looking for Harrington.

Maybe he just likes farms. Maybe he likes the wilderness, these endless stretches of sprawling darkness with the bare trees clawing at the sky. Maybe he fucking likes the shadows.

He keeps driving.

The last farm on this side of town is the one that pushes farthest out to the edges of the Hawkins line. Billy has to drive down a gravelly, twisting road edged with darkness and trees to even get to the turn up the farm’s driveway. Finally, he can see the farmer’s house from where he pulls up at the side of the road. “Shit,” he says, under his breath. The Camaro’s too loud to risk trying to slip by when the house is that close to the driveway.

Billy’s not looking to get arrested. He leans forward in his seat, rests his forehead against the steering wheel, knows he’s going to get out of the car and walk up that driveway, past that house, out into the fields and toward the forest. Wishes he weren’t going to do that.

Billy sighs, checks his pockets for his keys, gets out of the car.

If someone had told Billy a few months ago that he’d be trudging through frozen grass and mud on the side of the road, trespassing on some weird ass farm in Hawkins, Indiana, he would have broken their nose.

But here he is.

Looking for Harrington.

The house is further back from the road than Billy had thought it was. He spares a few minutes to regret not trying to get closer in his car as he walks, feet crunching over half frozen grass, leaves scuttling, some sort of insect or animal calling out from the trees. It’s fucking creepy out here in all this wilderness. Billy misses the life that comes with California, the people, the music. Hawkins is mostly silence and trees and cow shit, or what the fuck ever.

Ten minutes into the walk and Billy could turn around, but he wants to see Harrington like he’d want to scratch an itch, can’t shake the feeling that this is the right place. That tonight, after avoiding him all fucking day, Harrington had gone out to the farthest possible place to be alone in the forest, like that’s a normal thing to do.

Not everything is about you something that sounds like his dad’s voice reminds him. Billy shakes it off. He tips his head back to look up at the sky. There’s no clouds. He’s never seen so many fucking stars. A hundred million tiny, bright pinpricks that break up all the dark. It’s the kind of beautiful that would take Billy’s breath away if he had the time for shit like that. He might’ve really liked those stars, once, might have loved lying on his back and staring up at them. Billy rolls his shoulders, looks back down at the road he’s walking on, listens to the sound of gravel under his feet and thinks not anymore.

There’s nothing around him but the sound of dead leaves blowing around, not even traffic. The world had stopped somewhere behind him. Billy’s just--here. In the middle of all this nowhere.

He’s grateful at least, for the moon. It means he doesn’t trip once on his fifteen minute walk from his car out to the edge of the forest. It means he can see the BMW once he finally gets there, pulled up at the treeline like Harrington doesn’t give two shits about driving his outrageously expensive car through the middle of some farmer’s backyard.

Billy looks at it for a few seconds, but he knows it’s empty. He tries the door anyway--locked.

Billy glances back up at the stars. He looks at the treeline. He wishes he had a cigarette, but doesn’t want to risk lighting it, doesn’t want to chance being so easily seen out here. He isn’t sure what he’s so scared of being seen by. He tells himself it’s the farmer. He’s pretty sure that’s a lie. There’s something creepy and weird about the forests out here in Hawkins, like something is waiting for him in the shadows.

Billy rolls his shoulders and hopes the thing waiting for him turns out to be Harrington.

In the moonlight, Billy can see his breath fog out in front of his face. It hovers there, staring back at him. He shivers.

Billy walks in a straight line through the trees, out from the BMW. The moonlight is fainter, here. The forest is darker than the field. He has to be careful of rocks and old logs. When he finally sees Harrington, Billy’s a few hundred feet deep in the forest and Harrington’s standing with his back to Billy, with his hands loose and easy at his side, staring out into the trees.

“You come out here to meditate, pretty boy?” Billy asks, tries to sound disinterested, a little mean. It falls flat, probably because the only reason he’d be out here in the trees is if he’s looking for Harrington and they both know Billy’s not chasing him down to be an asshole.

Harrington doesn’t turn around. Billy can hear him sigh. “What do you want, Billy?”

Billy again. Better than Hargrove.

Billy wants to hold Harrington’s hand, no. Billy wants to talk to Harrington--no. At this point, Billy’s going to settle for Harrington just fucking looking at him. “I want to know if you’re meditating,” he says.

“I don’t think that’s any of your business.”

“Make it my business,” Billy answers. He takes a few steps toward Harrington, but Harrington doesn’t move or turn around, so Billy closes the distance between them. He comes up behind Harrington, puts his hands on his hips, presses an open-mouthed kiss to the side of Harrington’s neck.

“What the fuck, Billy,” Harrington snaps. He finally turns around, but it’s to shove Billy away. Billy takes a few stumbling steps back, startled.

“What the fuck?” he echoes.

“What part of have a nice life did you not understand?”

“I--” Billy blinks. “--thought you were just being dramatic.”

“You thought I was--” Harrington says, laughing a little. Billy gets the feeling he’s being laughed at. “God, do you think about anyone other than yourself?”

It’s not always about you, Billy’s dad’s voice reminds him.

“The kids were watching,” Billy says. “I figured you were just acting like a little bitch for their benefit.”

“I don’t fuck around with that,” Harrington says. “You put hands on Dustin. I wasn’t being dramatic.”

“Oh come on, Harrington,” Billy scoffs. “It’s not like I was going to do any real damage.”

“Because you have such a great track record with that.”

“Don’t be a dick,” Billy says.

“That’s rich, coming from you.”

“Are you actually pissed with me?”

“I’m actually done with you.”

Something that had gone loose in Billy’s chest over the last few days curls up in a ball and dies there, calcifies, becomes a hard, leaden weight someplace near his ribs. Oh, he thinks, looking at the set of Harrington’s jaw, the corners of his mouth. “Right,” Billy says. “Well. This has been--”

The thought dies in his throat. He doesn’t want whatever the fuck has been going on to be over. He wants to fall asleep in Harrington’s bed again, surrounded by his ugly plaid wallpaper, with Harrington plastered to his back. That’s why he’s been driving all over Hawkins for the last hour. He wants--he wants that again. Billy feels that same, breathtaking combination of humiliation and panic that he’d felt in the parking lot that morning, but all that comes out of his mouth is: “I wasn’t going to hurt him.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what it looked like you weren’t going to do.”

“I wasn’t. Max was--she was weird this morning. I thought he’d told her--”

“He wouldn’t tell her.”

“He’s a kid, Harrington. They’re all best friends. He’d tell her anything.”

“You know a lot about friends?” Harrington asks him. “Have a lot of those? Heart to hearts with Tommy, with Jason?”

Billy had known a lot about friends once, he thinks. In California. Still, that stings. Billy thinks it’s supposed to. “Nevermind,” Billy says.

“Billy Hargrove,” Harrington says, his voice mocking. “Backing down from a fight.”

There’s that same hardness on Harrington’s face that Billy had seen this morning in the school parking lot. Billy can see it clear as fucking day in the moonlight. Billy had chased the stories about King Steve, but he doesn’t think that this hard-edged look in Harrington’s eyes is what all the fawning Hawkins kids had been talking about. This isn’t some high school king, this is something much stronger. Billy doesn’t understand it at all, except to know that the hardness is directed at him, that the dark strength that sometimes seems to be coming off Harrington in waves is because of something Billy did.

Billy doesn’t feel sorry often. He doesn’t really consider most shit he does to be a mistake. He doesn’t consider most of the people he does it to worth the effort of an apology.

“I’m sorry,” Billy says. It’s the second time he’s apologized to Harrington and meant it. The first time was on a Tuesday in a hallway at school, when Harrington still had some fading bruising from what Billy had done to his face.

At least, Billy thinks, he catches Harrington and that dark, unyielding look on his face by fucking surprise. Harrington doesn’t say anything back, though. So Billy figures that’s that. Conversation over. Another good thing that he fucked up.

Billy shuts his eyes for a second and lets that failure hit him in waves. Then he turns around and walks away. Harrington doesn’t call after him, doesn’t say anything at all. Billy walks away from him and he watches his breath fog in front of his face in the moonlight. He listens to the leaves, the insects. He glances over his shoulder, once, but Harrington’s already turned around. His back is to Billy. He’s staring out at the fucking trees again.

Billy stops walking and stares. Harrington looks small in the moonlight, the trees dwarfing him, but he doesn’t look afraid. There’s something about him, that strength, that darkness. He looks a little brittle, but not like he’s afraid of it.

Billy can’t do anything but look, for a second. He wants this--one more good look to keep for himself. Billy had come out here looking for Harrington and he’d found him, the one good thing Billy’s held in his hands lately. Maybe Billy had been chasing that goodness out here in the trees tonight, but it doesn’t fucking matter anymore.

He thinks of Harrington holding his hand that night after the hospital and he waits, lingers. Thinks maybe he could find that good thing out here if he just--if he just waits.

But Harrington doesn’t turn around.

Billy gives up when the cold creeps under his jacket and goosebumps rise on his skin. He walks back to the Camaro with his hands shoved deep in his pockets and his head bowed. He drives away with music blasting, slamming his hand on the steering wheel, throwing his head back to scream along, the faint taste of salt in the back of his throat.

Whatever. Fuck Hawkins. Shit.

The house, when he gets back to it, is quiet, but Max is waiting by his bedroom door. Her arms are crossed again, her face angry. “You’re an asshole,” she says, but she keeps her voice low.

“Thanks,” Billy says, because why not? He is an asshole. Everyone’s been fucking telling him that today.

“You didn’t have to go after Dustin like that,” she says. “Did you fight Steve again? Is that what happened to your face?”

“What? No.”

She stares at him. “I know you were with him last night and then this morning your face is all fucked up.”

“I didn’t fight him.”

“You’re an asshole,” Max says. “And a liar. And I hate you.”

“Right,” Billy says. “Sure. Great.”

“Leave my fucking friends alone,” Max says, her voice gone hard as steel. Billy wonders when she got so strong, so fucking unafraid. She turns around, walks into her bedroom, and slams her door. Billy hears his father grumble somewhere else in the house, but he doesn’t make an appearance to blame the door on Billy.

Billy stands there in the hallway for a long time. He thinks about all the different types of doors that’ve been slammed shut in his face tonight.

He walks into his bedroom, closes the door quietly, and sinks down to the floor, his back pressed against it. He fists his hands in his hair, presses his face into his knees, and does his best to fall apart without making any sounds at all.

An asshole.

Maybe that is all he fucking is. Shit.

~

Billy skips last period the next day and drives to a liquor store two towns over, pays some guy he doesn’t know and who doesn’t know him to get him a bottle of bourbon. He wants to get drunk.

He’s thinking about how fucking stupid Indiana is as he sits there, shivering in the cold two blocks down from the liquor store, just hoping this guy is going to come back with his money or his booze. In California, he’d have driven or walked or taken a bus to the other side of a city. Here, he drives forty fucking minutes because he needs to go two towns over, just in case someone is a friend of a friend who saw that Hargrove kid buying liquor in town.

He closes his eyes and slumps against the Camaro, cigarette hanging out of his mouth. It’s one in the afternoon and the sun is out and it’s freezing. He shivers and thinks about school. Harrington hadn’t avoided Billy today. Billy had seen him plenty, in the hallway when they were transitioning to classes, by his locker, in the library, in the math class they have together. Billy had seen him plenty and had thought a lot about the way Harrington’s hands felt when they dragged over Billy’s skin.

Harrington hadn’t been thinking of the same shit, apparently, because Billy might as well have been fucking invisible. It was like Harrington suddenly forgot he existed.

Billy had spent most of the day wanting to slam Harrington up against a locker and make him remember, make him look at Billy, make him acknowledge him, but he hadn’t fucking done that, because he’s a coward and he thinks that Harrington is a lot fucking stronger than him in the ways that really matter. He thinks that maybe Harrington would have looked past him, even with Billy’s hands on his shoulders. He thinks that Harrington might not have even bothered to call him by his last name.

“You want this or what, kid?”

Billy eyes open. “Yeah,” he says, takes the bag from the man he doesn’t know. “Thanks.”

“Whatever,” the guy says, and he’s already walking away, cracking open a beer as he goes. Billy gets back into his car and turns up the music, lets the engine growl as he gets on a back road to get to Hawkins.

Max hadn’t driven to school with him that morning. His dad hadn’t loved that, had asked where she was when they both waited for her in the kitchen and she didn’t appear. Billy had lied, eventually, pretended he’d forgotten she’d gone to school early with a friend.

“You don’t think,” his dad had said from where he was sitting with his coffee at the table. “You never think, Billy. How could you be so--” It’s not the only thing he’d said, but Billy’s pushing the rest of the words and sentiment out of his mind. Max hadn’t driven to school with him that morning and there’s only one other person who would pick her up. Harrington had been outside his house that morning to pick up his sister, but he hadn’t acknowledged that Billy was alive all fucking day.

Billy doesn’t know where he wants to go to get drunk. He doesn’t really want to go home, even though his dad won’t be back for a few hours, and he doesn’t really want to go to the quarry because he doesn’t want to have to fucking share. He ends up back at home, though, shuts his bedroom door and lies on his bed and doesn’t even get to really drink before he fucking rolls over on his side and just goes to sleep, like some sad sack of shit, because that’s what he fucking is.

~

Billy wakes up after dinner, which means Susan is working late. Billy’s dad doesn’t much care if Billy eats when Susan isn’t around to play house. He drops the bourbon out the window, grabs his car keys, and then follows it down. He’s not really sure where he wants to go, but he’d squandered any hope of alone time with his stupid fucking nap and he definitely doesn’t want to be in the house anymore.

His dad will be mad if he catches him gone, but if Susan isn’t around and his dad doesn’t want to go back out, it’s pretty unlikely he’ll be looking for Billy at all.

He ends up at the diner because he’s fucking hungry, convinces Tommy--who is there with Carol, who is always somewhere public waiting for someone else to show up--to buy him dinner. It doesn’t take a lot of work. Tommy’s pretty eager to please. Billy laughs at a few of his jokes and pretends he’s listening to his stories and he gets a half-decent sandwich and some really good fries out of the deal.

They see a movie after, sneak in and sit in the back. Tommy and Carol are all over each other, but Billy doesn’t mind. He throws his feet up at the seat in front of him and enjoys the fact that it annoys people sitting around him. He’ll tolerate Tommy and Carol and their weird attachment to one another tonight if it means he doesn’t have to spend another fucking second feeling like he doesn’t exist.

After the movie, Carol says it’s getting late with a look so pointed at Tommy that Billy wants to tell her she might as well just say she wants to suck his dick. He doesn't tell her that, though. He says goodbye and wanders back toward the diner parking lot, thinking about the last time he got his dick sucked. That would be Harrington, actually. It’s been a while.

Billy wants to see Harrington, then. It washes over him the same way it had the night before. He wants to see Harrington and it feels like his heartbeat won’t settle until he does.

He gets into his car and drives. He thinks about the fact that his dad hadn’t really said anything to him today except the “Where’s your sister” conversation and Billy hadn’t really said anything to him except “She’s not my sister” and then the lie about a friend picking her up early for a project. And then he’d listened as his father droned on and on, mean, reminding Billy of exactly how fucking useless he is.

Max and Harrington, the two people at the root of that conversation and the storm of emotions battering Billy’s chest, hadn’t spoken to him once. No one is fucking talking to him, today.

Tommy and Carol don’t fucking count. Billy feels like he’s going crazy. He feels a little invisible, but only to the people who matter to him. How fucking sad is that? The people who matter to him: his dad, Max, and Steve fucking Harrington. Amazing.

Still, Billy wants to see Harrington. So he drives out away from the center of town to look.

Billy checks the farm from last night, first, but there’s no sign of the BMW at the treeline. Billy wastes thirty minutes roundtrip on the walk from the side of the road out to the forest and back to check. He drives all over town, thinking about how much it fucking sucks to feel invisible, to be an asshole, thinking that maybe he should just fucking give up and go home, when he passes a long driveway and--

--He nearly misses it, the faint flash of metal caught in his headlights. He throws the Camaro in reverse, parks, and gets out to investigate. It’s the BMW, but now that Billy’s found it, he’s not sure what he wants to do.

Well, he is sure. He wants to see Harrington. Billy frowns at the empty BMW, at the Camaro sitting parked on the road behind him, at the trees and the darkness and the stupid fucking moon. Billy frowns and he leans against the BMW and thinks he’ll just wait Harrington out.

I’m done with you. That’s what Harrington had said. Maybe Billy should just go home.

“What the hell are you doing on my property?”

Billy looks up and squares his shoulders, but there’s no one there looking at him. It’s the darkness, maybe, that has him so jumpy. If he’d been paying attention and not replaying Harrington’s words in his mind, maybe he would’ve recognized how faint the voice sounded before he’d gotten ready for a fight. The voice is mean and definitely angry, but it’s also not talking to him.

Of course, Billy’s one of two people trespassing tonight, which means that voice is talking to the owner of the BMW Billy’s leaning against. “Shit,” he says, pushing off it.

The driveway crests up to a hill. Billy walks quickly toward the sound of voices. He hears Harrington next. “Do any more of your trees look like this?” he’s asking, oblivious to or ignoring the irritation in that other voice.

“Are you dumb or something, kid?” the owner of the voice--the farmer, Billy assumes, says. “What the hell are you doing on my farm?”

Billy reaches the top of the hill and looks down the rest of the driveway. He can see them, then. Harrington and the farmer, about halfway down the hill. The moon is doing Billy all sorts of favors this week. He can see Harrington’s jittering fingers, first, the bounce in his knee. Billy would look at Harrington longer, but it’s the farmer’s stance that seems pressing.

He’s tall, taller than Harrington. Bigger too. He’s standing with his arms crossed, glowering down at Harrington. Billy doesn’t like the way he’s looming over Harrington at fucking all.

“Do any more of your trees look like this?” Harrington demands again. “Do any of them look like that one?” He’s pointing to a tree to the farmer’s left, but the farmer doesn’t turn.

“Get the fuck off my property,” the farmer says. Then he raises his hand and knocks Harrington’s arm down. He knocks it down hard. Billy watches Harrington stumble, watches surprise cross his face.

Billy reaches the bottom of the hill, nearly to the two of them, just as Harrington snaps, ““Answer my fucking question! Do any more of your trees look like that one? It’s important!”

Billy’s almost there. He’s almost there. He just needs a few more feet--

The farmer pulls back his fist and punches Harrington right across the face. Like he had when Billy hit him, Harrington goes down hard.

Billy moves mostly on instinct after that. “Back up,” he snarls, half diving between the farmer and Harrington, who is slowly pulling himself back to his feet. “Back the fuck up. Get away from him,” Billy says again. There’s an edge of fear to his words, of desperation, but he hides it well. He grins, mean. Billy licks his lips. He’s fucking ready.

That motherfucker put hands on Harrington and Billy is going to rip his fucking face off.

“What are you, the boyfriend? You little freaks out here on my land to meet up and suck each other’s dicks?”

Probably not, Billy thinks, a little rueful. He’d fucked that chance right up. He grins wider anyway. “Yeah,” he says, real slow, lets his voice go low and mean. “I’m the fucking boyfriend,” and then he slams his fist into the farmer’s face. Maybe the farmer isn’t expecting it from the boyfriend. Maybe he’s big enough people don’t usually throw a punch. Either way, he goes down hard on his ass.

He’s getting ready to scramble to his feet when Billy plants a foot right in the middle of his chest, leans down over him. “You try and get up,” Billy says to him, “And I’ll fuck you up. Do you understand me? We’ll leave. You stay down until we’re gone.”

He waits until the farmer nods. “I didn’t fucking hear you,” Billy says, hates himself as he says it, as the words and their origin bounce around his brain.

“Yeah,” the farmer says, looking at Billy’s foot on his chest. “I hear you.”

Billy nods, “Pleasure doing business with you,” he says, patting his cheek. Then he turns around.

Harrington is standing behind him, eyes wide, one hand pressed against his cheek. “The tree--”

“Shut the fuck up,” Billy hisses, doesn’t use Harrington’s name even though he wants to, doesn’t think it’s a good idea for the farmer to know when Billy just declared himself Harrington’s fucking boyfriend. That was stupid. He doesn’t really regret it, though. Billy catches Harrington by the wrist and yanks him away, not running though. He stays calm, doesn’t want the farmer to smell blood in the water. Billy’s fucking angry and wired. He’s embarrassed. He’s such a fucking coward.

Maybe he should act scared. Maybe the farmer will sit up and give Billy a good fucking reason to work out some of his emotions.

They make it back over the hill, down to Harrington’s car. Billy doesn’t let him go, not even as they slow to a stop. He stands so he can see over the hill just in case the farmer decides to give chase.

Billy crowds Harrington against the side of the car, catches his jaw in one hand and tilts his head, trying to check his face in the faint light of the moon. “Are you okay?” Billy demands.

“I’m not your fucking boyfriend. Get the fuck off me,” Harrington hisses, shoving at Billy’s shoulders.

Billy steps back, palms raised. “Are you okay?” he says again.

Harrington’s rubbing at his cheek. “I’m fucking fine, Billy. I didn’t need you to rescue me.”

Billy feels like he’s on fire, burning up from rage as he says, “He fucking hit you. I should fucking kill him.”

Harrington’s gaze is still a little hard, a little cold. “It wasn’t too long ago you were hitting me.”

Billy glances away, up the hill. “That was different.”

“I don’t know if it was, Billy.”

“I didn’t--I wasn’t trying to hurt you. I didn’t want to hurt you. I just couldn’t stop.”

“You wanted to hurt him. You stopped.”

Billy smacks his hand against the top of the BMW, still won’t look at Harrington. “I wanted to get you out of there more,” he says through clenched teeth.

“I’m not your boyfriend.”

“I’m not the boyfriend type.”

Billy hears Harrington sigh. Billy still can’t look at him. Harrington says, “Right. Sure thing. Are you okay?”

Billy can’t fucking look at him. “Are you ever going to talk to me again?” he asks, more whisper than question, embarrassed even as he needs to know. His knuckles ache. He fucks up every good thing he’s ever touched.

“Jesus, Billy. I don’t know, all right? You just lost it on Dustin.”

“I told you. I thought--”

“I don’t care what you thought, Billy. Fuck. There’s not a good reason for it. There’s no good reason to put hands on a kid like you did and you of all people should fucking know that.”

Billy shuts his eyes, can’t look at Harrington, can’t look at the hill, can’t fucking look at anything. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles, the third time he’s apologized to Harrington and meant it. “I’m fucking sorry. I won’t--I won’t do it again.” He feels like he’s begging. He hears Harrington move. He’s surprised when he feels Harrington’s hands on his shoulders, but Billy can’t open his fucking eyes, doesn’t want to see it. “I won’t do it again,” Billy repeats. Please, he thinks. Harrington can’t be done with him. Billy’s been driving out into these woods looking for one good thing and Harrington’s it.

Billy stops breathing when he feels Harrington’s fingers at his jaw, turning his head. When Harrington’s lips press against his, Billy can’t help the sound he makes low in the back of his throat. He parts his lips for Harrington’s tongue, desperate for closeness, backs Harrington up until he’s pressed against the car. Billy slots a leg between Harrington’s thighs and cups Harrington’s cheek and wants to stay like this for fucking ever.

He feels Harrington smiling as he pulls back a little. “We can’t do this here,” Harrington murmurs. “That farmer is probably getting his gun.”

“God, what the fuck hick town am I in?” Billy asks against Harrington’s lips. He wants to go someplace and hold Harrington’s hand all night. “Don’t--” he stops. Tries to figure out what he wants to say. “Don’t be done with me.”

Harrington sighs, “I’m clearly not done with you,” he says. “But those kids? That’s my line, Billy. Don’t ever fucking cross it.”

Billy thinks that he might be a monster, but he’s a selfish one. He’ll never touch a hair on that kid’s head ever again.

There’s a sound in the distance like a screen door slamming. Billy meets Harrington’s gaze in the moonlight.

“We should go,” Billy says.

“My house?” Harrington asks.

“See you there,” Billy agrees.

It’s a long, desolate drive following Harrington to the house. Billy wishes the whole fucking way there that Harrington were holding his hand.

He’s never known relief like this. He’s never lost something only to get it back. Everything that Billy’s ever lost has left him in its dust, has left him with all the scars to prove he made in through, the edges to prove he could do it again. Tonight, looking at Harrington under the light of the moon, he’d been thinking about what it would mean to lose this for good. He’d been thinking about what it would mean for Harrington to consider Billy’s value, to be found wanting.

That isn’t what happened, though, Billy thinks, drumming his fingers on his steering wheel as he drives. Now he’s put all his cards on the table. He’d been halfway to begging and Harrington knows it. Billy doesn’t think there’s a facade left that would trick Harrington into believing Billy’s fucking weakness had been a trick of the moonlight.

And isn’t that what his dad has always said, that Billy’s weak, that he just gives in, that not everything’s about him and couldn’t he try a little harder? Billy feels heat behind his eyes, feels like a coward, feels like he’d follow Harrington through Hell if it meant he could feel this relief for the rest of his fucking life.

Harrington can never know, Billy realizes, how much this fucking means to Billy. He might already have an idea, but Billy can’t give him any more of one.

Still, they end up out back by the pool, a bottle of bourbon between them. Harrington’s staring at the water with something like suspicion and he looks tired and Billy just wants to hold his fucking hand.

“This is disgusting,” Harrington says, taking a sip from the bourbon. “This is cheap shit.”

Billy rolls his eyes. “Not everyone’s mommy and daddy own the town or whatever. I got what I could get.”

Harrington smiles at him. It’s fleeting, but there. “I can’t believe you said you were my boyfriend,” Harrington mumbles, but he’s laughing when he says it.

“Sometimes it’s easier to live down to people’s expectations.”

“Oh, you think being my boyfriend would be living down?”

Billy shrugs. “To him, maybe. To a lot of people.”

Harrington’s quiet for a long time. Finally, he grabs Billy’s hand and tangles their fingers together. “He really interrupted my meditation,” Harrington jokes.

“Do you really go out into the woods like that to meditate?”

“No,” Harrington says. “It’s more like--” he shrugs. “It’s more like keeping watch.”

“On the trees?” Billy asks. He reaches around to grab the bottle, takes a long, slow sip from it, lets the bourbon burn all the way down to his belly.

He’s still holding Harrington’s hand, so he can feel it, the way that Harrington goes tense all the way through his fingertips. “Something like that,” he says, vaguely.

Billy frowns. Harrington was fucking obsessed with whatever was up with that tree. Had gotten himself punched in the face over it. “What did you find?” he asks. “What did that tree look like?”

“Like death,” Harrington says, mostly a whisper. When Billy looks at him, Harrington is staring into the pool. “It looked like death.”