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Suffer, You Inconsiderate Swine

Chapter Text

"Fuck," Billy muttered as he noticed the blood coating his pants leg. The light blue denim was nearly soaked in some spots; he was surprised that he hadn’t felt it before. He had assumed that his sleeve would get the worst of it, but apparently he was wrong.

The older woman sitting next him, who appeared to have nothing wrong with her, shot him an angry glare and shifted in her seat. As if his cursing had suddenly made those chairs even more uncomfortable than they already were. The old bat even clutched her bulky purse closer to her annoyingly pink dress.

He ignored her and just lifted his hand a bit higher, his other hand on his elbow. The gash was throbbing.

He had fallen only an hour earlier, although it felt like he had been waiting at the ER for twice that long. He huffed and settled more firmly into his seat.

As he waited, Billy inspected the gauze that the front desk nurse had barely taken two seconds to wrap around his hand. It also was soaked in his blood, shining ruby in the overly-bright lights of the waiting room. The gash in his hand throbbed underneath it. He was tempted to unwrap it and look at the gaping cut in his palm, but he also didn’t want to get anymore blood on his pants.

The nurse had taken his name and told him to sit down, barely even looking up at him.

It wasn't even that crowded in the room anyway, triage should have been like twenty minutes, yet here he was, still waiting for medical treatment with his profusely bleeding hand. It was about 2 in the morning, so the waiting room was more empty than usual. Not that Hawkins, -- the definition of Nowhere -- Indiana, ever had a crowded ER. The size of the town barely warranted having an emergency room.

He was so busy mentally complaining, that he barely noticed someone sit down on the other side of him. He glanced up sharply to see the person smiling at him. It was a guy, some random kid that Billy didn't recognize, but damn, was he beautiful. Maybe barely recognize was better, his smile rung a bell, and gave him sudden flashes of doing a keg stand and scenes from Risky Business. It was more than likely he was damn near drunk the first time he saw the guy and dumbly tried to befriend him or some stupid move like that. Of course, Billy was usually an aggressive drunk, but hey, anything could happen.

His hair was crazy voluminous, but it looked like it had barely any product in it. He was wearing an easy smile that he looked like he put on a hundred times a day, yet somehow it still felt unique to Billy. But he was skinny, too skinny. Even his large robe and pajamas couldn't hide his slight frame.

The boy held out his hand.  "Hi, I'm Steve."

Billy couldn't help but watch his mouth move as he spoke.

"Billy", he said, taking the other teen's hand only long enough for a single squeeze before yanking it back. Then he turned back towards the old lady, who was valiantly failing to mind her own business. He noticed Steve out of the corner of his eye, grimacing at his now blood-stained hand, and wiping it on his hopefully hospital-issued robe.

Billy considered sticking his tongue out at her before the kid next to him spoke again.

"What happened to your hand?"

Billy took only a moment to come up with his lie.

"I tripped and fell, cut it on a rock."

Only a half-truth. Technically, he was pushed.

Steve sucked in a sharp breath between his teeth, shaking his head.  "Sorry, man, that sounds painful."

Billy just awkwardly nodded to his comment. "I've had worse."

Usually, Billy would have done the stitches himself; they weren't that hard to do if you had a bottle of something sharp and a needle that was slightly sharper. But this time it was on his dominant hand, his left, and stitching with the right always left the scar jagged and the stitching uneven. Not that he really even cared about that, of course he didn't. Chicks dig scars. 

Steve let loose a small laugh at that. Then fell silent. They stayed that way for a few moments, giving Billy the chance to really inspect him.

He couldn't be older than 19, he was tall and of course lanky. Steve was wearing a pair of ratty slippers, an off-white fade and several holes in the fabric. Then Billy noticed the hospital bracelet barely hidden by the equally-worn robe sleeve.

"Why are you here, Harrington?"

Steve looked confused for a moment and opened his mouth to say something before glancing down at his wrist with dawning realization. He chuckled and put his hands in his robe pockets.

"I got bored," he explained simply, shrugging.

He put his elbows on the armrests, bringing his hands together through the robe pockets. In the same motion, he extended his legs and leaned his head back onto the chair.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow. Billy had been told more than once that he had very expressive eyebrows.

But Steve never got the chance the answer, as at that moment, 'Billy Hargrove' was practically screamed by the nurse at the front desk. So he stood up and barely spared a glance for the kid as he said, "Later, Harrington."

Steve chuckled and stood up too, to Billy's surprise, all the while muttering what sounded like “I just got comfortable.”

"I hope not," he said. "That would mean you have to come back to the hospital for some reason."

As Billy reached the front desk, a doctor came around to collect him

"Steve!" The doctor said jovially. "Aren't you supposed to be asleep?"

Steve laughed again ( Jesus, is that all he did? ) and nodded.  "Unfortunately."

The doctor made a 'follow me' gesture to both of them and said "I'll let you back in."

He swiped his ID card near the double doors next to the front desk and held the door open for Steve, who was beaten through by Billy. The doctor frowned at him but gestured Steve through after the usurper.

"Dr. Hinely will kill me if he knows I saw you without ordering you back go bed, now get going."

Steve saluted the doctor, the easy grin still on his face, and walked backwards for a few paces.

"Bye, Hargrove," he said as he turned around and walked down the hall, his shuffling gait echoing in the bare halls.

Billy was ushered into a side room before he could say anything back. Not that he would, that is.

"Who the fuck is that kid?" Billy asked the doctor as he sat on the examination table and held his hand out.

The man frowned at his invective, but answered anyway.

"Steve, he's a long-term patient. Everyone here knows him, he's been here forever. Real nice guy, despite everything." The doctor snapped the latex gloves over his wrists and took Billy’s hand in his.

"What's wrong with him?" Billy asked, watching the doctor's hands as he removed the temporary bandage. His heart started racing for some reason, as if he hasn't had or given stitches before.

"It's not my business, I'm not his doctor." He cleared his throat. "What happened here?" He asked, clearly done with talking about Steve.

"I tripped," Billy said without even thinking about it this time.

The doctor glanced up at him with a disbelieving glance and set to work picking out the gravel and bits of dirt. Billy only had to hiss at him a few times when he was too indelicate with the tweezers. The room was completely silent, otherwise.

The doctor put down the tweezers with a sharp clack against the metal tray and picked up the needle to thread it. He took way too long to put the one thread through and Billy was too restless to be able to keep it in much longer. His was going to vibrate out of his skin before this guy actually did anything useful.

“What’s your name, doc?” The silence was deafening at this point, and the clanking of the delicate tools was the wrong kind of sound. He had to say something to fill the silence before he did something he’d regret.

“Perkins.”

Dr. Perkins set down the needle and picked up a brown bottle.

He was still watching the doctor, but jumped nearly off the table when he poured whatever was in the bottle over the cut.

"Jesus Christ, doc! Warn a guy next time!" Billy held his wrist with his other hand, trying not to hit Perkins.

The burn ravaged his skin, stinging like fuck all. But it did help, the energy bouncing around inside him lessened with the increase in pain. Only a little, though.

He's trying to help , he had to keep reminding himself.

The doctor sewed him up without further incident. Billy watched the whole time as the crescent needle pulled at the skin along his palm. It was mesmerizing, to watch it lift and scrape against the thread as it was pulled taut across the wound.

Perkins cleaned the blood from round the stitches and wrapped it in higher-quality gauze, better wrapped than that slacker nurse.

"Keep it clean, but don't get it wet. Be back here in about a week to get them taken out." The doctor stripped off his gloves and tossed them in the trash. "The front desk will take your insurance."

Billy hopped off the table and opened the door, throwing it open hard enough to hit the opposite wall. Not enough to damage it, though, he had become an expert at slamming doors without damaging anything. He went back out to the front desk and gave his dad's insurance information, to no response from her.

“Did you even get any of that?”

Still fucking nothing.

“Bi-”

The nurse didn't even look at him, again, as he spoke.

"You can go now," she said, typing away, after he'd been standing there for like a minute.

“Hey, what's wrong with that Harrington kid?” It didn't hurt to ask?

She just kept typing on her computer.  

He scoffed at her and stalked out of the ER, kicking over the umbrella stand as he stormed out. That random old lady was still sitting there, still looking like nothing was wrong with her. The only other person in the waiting room, besides the nurse, was a mother and a small child, who was running around the room tapping the chairs in his own little pattern. His mother was sitting still, her hands over her eyes. 

Then all of them went out of his view and he didn't bother to look back at those poor unfortunate souls. 

He sucked in the cool night air, happy to be rid of the reek of disinfectants.

Billy pulled out a cigarette with his uninjured hand and stuffed it in between his lips before pulling out his lighter. Using one hand for a few days was definitely going to get irritating.

He leaned against the wall and took a drag.

Trading one chemical for another , he thought. This one was a lot better, however. The drag of the heavy smoke into his lungs was sluggish and familiar. The burn in his throat for this was the same way, low heat and almost comforting. That hospital smell...all it gave to him was the sharp, acrid taste of the dead and the dying at the back of his throat.

He'd been standing there for a few minutes, puffing away, when he heard shuffling footsteps coming from his right. He glanced over to see Steve, his hands still in his robe pockets, walking over.

"Well, well, well, shouldn't we be in bed?" Billy asked, showing off his canines with a wide grin.

Steve didn’t answer, instead he kept walking until he was leaning on the walk next to Billy. His face was colored with what seemed like exhaustion.

"Can I bum one?" he asked.

Billy glances sidelong at him as he takes another drag. He didn't hand him the pack and didn't pass him the one he was already sucking on.

“One condition.”

“Shoot.”

“Tell me why you're here” he glanced back at Steve, who was facing the parking lot now.

“I told you, I got bored.”

Billy grasps the cigarette between his fingers, trying not to crush it but wanting to feel the burn against his fingers oh so badly.

“Gives me the heebie-jeebies, Harrington. A random guy walking around a hospital after dark with no clear reason as to why he's there, then lying about it.” Billy was half joking but also half not. His patience had been tested plenty tonight and he had just decided virtue was no longer important.

“Were you dropped on your head as a child, Hargrove? I told you, I got bored. That's why I'm walking around now.” Billy could hear the dastardly smile in his voice, so different from the perfect grin before. “If you want specific answers, ask specific questions.” Steve sighed and Billy saw him turn back towards the parking lot out of the corner of his eye. “I have lung cancer.”

"I thought lung cancer meant no smoking,” Billy said, nodding moderately.

Steve was silent for a moment. "Aww, are you worried about me?" But when Billy didn't answer, he sighed. “Look man, I just want one cigarette, alright?”

Billy declined to grace that with a response either and instead snubbed out the cigarette against his blood-soaked jeans, which he would have to throw away anyway, and stuffed it behind his ear. As his fingers brushed by his hair, he tried not to worry about what it looked like.

He walked away from the hospital and into the night, having left the Camaro at home. As he reached the bank of grass opposite the hospital, "bye!" rang out from where he was just standing.

Billy swiveled his head slightly to see Steve's back as he shuffled into the hospital.

It was only about an hour before Billy reached his house, but his shoes were soaked by the dew once he got back to Old Cherry.

Luckily, his his dad was already asleep as he slipped open the door as quietly as possible and tiptoed into his room. He shed his pants, jacket, shoes, and shirt, and lay down in the bed, drawing the thin blankets up to his chin. Billy stared at his ceiling for the better part of an hour before drifting off to sleep. For some reason, he dreamt about a pair of big, brown eyes and the great poof of hair above them.

Chapter Text

Lunch was always a simple affair for Billy, buying maybe a sandwich or two from the line and then stealing food from the plates of the people around him. Today was different though, today he was on a quest.

“So, uh, Tommy-boy,” Billy said as he crunched into an apple, “a little bird told me that you used to be best friends with the absent king. What do you know about Steve Harrington?” He gestured at the freckled teen with the apple clenched in his fist.

The sycophant laughed sadistically and scrambled the meatloaf-looking lump on his plate.

“That bitch? Yeah, I knew him.”

“And?” Billy gestured with his apple.

“And?”

“I asked you what you know about him, so speak the fuck up.” He bit into his apple again.

Tommy’s face went bright red, his freckles disappearing in the blush. “He’s supposed to be a senior, but he took a buncha classes over the summer and graduated early,” he said boldly, pretending he hadn’t just been embarrassed in front of his girlfriend.

“Why?”

“He had been getting sicker and they suspected that he would fall out of remission, so he wanted to finish high school before chemo started again.” He shoveled a bite of the mystery meat into his mouth. “Wait, who told you I knew him?”

“Doesn’t matter, keep talking.” He took another bite out of the apple. “And it’s rude to talk with your mouth full.”

Tommy swallowed his loaf of meat as quickly as possible, unfortunately without choking, and did as he was commanded. “He used to be King Steve, but that was only cause Mommy and Daddy Harrington own an international wine business and are rich as fuck. When he started dating that bitch Wheeler, though, even his money wasn’t enough to keep him around.”

“Beer is good,” Carol shot in, looking at them both as if it was the most serious matter that beer tasted good, “but its not that good.”

Tommy nodded along with another laugh. “Like I was saying,” he nudged Carol playfully, “once he started dating the Princess, he lost the title. But the kicker was on Halloween, you were there.” He stopped talking then. As if it were obvious what he was talking about.

“Tommy,” Billy said, leaning forwards dangerously, “do you honestly think I remember that? I was hardly looking at anything except for the bitch I was dancing with.” He smiled greedily at the memory of her curves, like he was supposed to. “Who was she again?”

“My sister, Lottie,” Carol said.

Billy really hoped for her sake that that wasn’t sass in her tone.

“Speak, Tommy.”

“Okay, well, Wheeler got punch drunk and they sort of broke up. Nobody really knows what happened, but it was exciting. They made a whole scene in the kitchen before going to some other room. It was only like a week after the official diagnosis, can’t help but feel bad for the guy. Lost his girlfriend and his life within a few days.”

Billy put down the core of his apple, wiping his hand on one of Carol’s napkins.

“You missed the best parts, Tommy.” She rolled her eyes then looked back at Billy, who was now trying not to look as interested as he was. “Apparently, Steve tried to apologize to her for whatever he did and they sort of got back together. But then, Wheeler and the Freak skipped school two days in a row. When they bothered to show back up, they were holding hands and being all lovey dovey and shit.” Carol was looking smugly across the table, as if she had just spilled something that Billy should have an opinion on.

“Tell me more about Wheeler and the Freak.” Billy leaned back in his chair, stealing an applesauce from Tommy’s tray.

“Why do you want to know so bad?

“Does it seem like it’s any of your business?” he sighed. “I’ve gotta know what’s going on before I can become an effective king to you small-town chumps.”

Tommy shifted in his seat before answering. “Wheeler is top of the junior class, taking all advanced and AP classes. She’s a perfect little girl next door. The Freak, though,” Tommy laughed and shook his head, “absolutely no idea how they got together. He’s just plain creepy, all he does is sit in the corner and take pictures of people.”

“If I’m being honest, pretty sure she’s dating him out of pity. She’s the only person who talks to him besides his queer little brother,” Carol laughed.

Billy set down the applesauce and stood up. He walked out of the cafeteria without a glance at his cronies.

**********************

By Wednesday, Billy was wandering around the forest with nothing to do. Well, he had things to do of course, but it’s not like he was actually gonna do his homework as soon as he got home from school. So, here he was: wandering.

His stitches had only been in for three days but they were already starting to irritate the fuck out of him. His hand was itchy constantly and using a pencil in class was a nightmare. Of course, his AP Lit teacher had allowed him to just chill the day before.

“Due to your unfortunate circumstances,” she had said.

Billy wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so he had taken her pity with all of the false gratitude he could muster, blushing and bringing fake tears into his eyes. He had nodded solemnly, keeping his head down. Damn, was he a good actor.

He glanced around the seemingly endless forest, all the trees looked like the same craggy, unhealthy sticks. He walked with no purpose in a random direction.

Billy had set off from school right after second block, too on edge to stay there any longer. Max would be going home with her friend El, Neil had already given his permission. He drove randomly with Mötley Crüe blasting about as loud as the radio would go without blowing out. Then dropped the Camaro at home set out on foot. Neil would ask him where he'd been if the Camaro was gone when he got home and Billy did not feel like explaining the scratching beneath his skin.

That Wheeler bitch was in his AP Lit class. He had only noticed her after talking to Tommy and Carol about the brown-haired beauty. Although, he’s honestly kind of clueless how he didn’t notice her before; all she does in that class is make smart ass comments and answer every question the teacher, Mrs. Grehn, asked. She’s in at least three more of his classes, but luckily she’s less of a know-it-all in AP Biology and Advanced History and the other one that he can’t bother remembering.

Saint Wheeler, pretending like she’s the Princess of the school.

The king was deposed and the Freak was her new boy-toy, yet still she waltzed down the halls like the most important person there.

He always saw her with the Freak and their brothers, Mick and Dill were probably their names. Unfortunately, Maxine insisted on being in the A/V club, so everyday he waited around school until 4:30 when she came trudging out with all her little friends. Basketball was every other day until from the beginning of fourth block until 4:15, so he was always forced to wait for the bitch. Even when she didn’t realize it, she was the ultimate authority on how he spent his time. Wherever Maxine was, that’s where he had to be, or risk getting beat.

He was stomping through the underbrush when it suddenly ended. He tipped forwards dangerously but managed to catch himself before face-planting...into concrete?

He looked up in confusion to find himself at Hawkins Hospital.

“Oh goddamn it,” he muttered.

He walked across the parking lot into the hospital. He was definitely there because he was wondering as to why his stitches would be itching this much and if he could take them out, right fucking now.

Billy glanced at the directory and clicked the fifth floor on the elevator. He inspected his hair while he waited. It was nice and bouncy today, and he had hardly put any product in it that morning. The doors finally opened and he stalked out into the lobby of the long term patient ward. He swaggered over to the nurse’s station and leaned over the counter.

“Good afternoon,” he said, presenting his award-winning smirk to the 50 year old woman behind the desk.

“Hi,” she said distractedly. She cleared her throat and sat up straighter in her chair. “How can I help you today?” She gave him her own smile, trying her best to be charming.

“I was just wondering if you could show me to Steve Harrington’s room?”

Her smile faltered. “I’m sorry, but-”

“You see, I’m a friend of his from out west. My family just moved up here and I wanted to surprise him with a visit. We haven’t seen each other for years.” She frowned at him. “Please? All I want is to say hi, then I’ll be out of your hair.” He tilted his head to the side and put his hands up in mock surrender.

She was eating it up.

Her smile returned full-force, just sincere as before. “Of course.” She typed something into the large monitor in front of her and turned back to him. “He’s actually a floor up, in pediatrics. Room 634, just turn left from the elevator bay and its at the end of the hall on the right.”

Billy tapped his hand on the desk and winked at her. “Thank you.”

“Make sure you knock before you enter!” she called after him.

He waved at her and made sure to take forceful steps on the way out, making his ass shake a little bit. He had been told more than once it was his best feature. He made some final checks on his outfit on the way up to the sixth floor, then stepped out and followed the nurse’s directions.

“Hello?” he said, not bothering to knock on the door. “Harrington, you here?”

There was no one in the room as far as he could tell. He glanced around but there was no one in the bed. Then he heard it.

“Harrington?”

Billy made his way into the bathroom to see Harrington bent over the toilet, vomiting his guts out.

He sighed and stepped over the mess on the floor to grab some of Harrington’s hair. It was limp and sweaty, hanging into his face. It would be a shame to let it get any uglier by covering it in vomit.

Harrington flinched at the sudden contact and tried to turn around, but he got sick again before he could see Billy behind him. Harrington continued to get sick until it seemed there should be absolutely nothing left inside of him. He finished up by spitting into the toilet and flushing it. Billy let go of his hair and sat back on his haunches as Harrington turned around and leaned against the wall, letting his head drop back onto the tiles.

“Hargrove,” Steve panted, “what are you doing here?” He wiped his mouth.

“Shouldn’t you be thanking me?” Billy said, standing up.

“Thanks. What are you doing here?”

“Do you want me to call a nurse?” Billy said, offering a hand up.

Steve sighed, resigning himself to never having his question answered, and took Billy’s outstretched hand.

“No, I just need to get into bed.” Steve leaned heavily against the wall, making his way out of the bathroom and towards his bed.

Billy watched him go, itching to do something with his hands: light a cigarette, punch him, help him, or whatever else. But he just stood there, waiting for the fragile teen to make it back to his bed. He followed him out of the restroom and stood in the middle of the suite as Steve laid down on is side and pulled the blankets around his shoulders.

“How did you find my room?” he said, glancing over his shoulder at Billy.

“I listened for the sound of big hair and followed it.”

“Oh, yeah, like you’re one to talk about hairstyle.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about Harrington, I have great hair’” BIlly said as he threw his golden locks over his shoulder.

Steve didn’t respond. His breathing had slowed considerably, so Billy walked around to the other side of the bed. Steve was just staring out the window at the lovely view of a brick wall. Billy sighed and crossed Harrington’s field of vision to sit down in the chair next to the bed. It was just as comfortable as the chairs in the ER waiting room. But at least he didn’t have to stand on his aching legs anymore. It was too cold in Hawkins, and denim didn’t shit for icy breezes. Plus, some of the bruises on his calves were starting to throb.

He looked up as he sat down to see Steve looking at him.

“Why are you here?”

Billy shrugged rather than answer. “Why are you here?”

Steve shrugged as well and Billy’s fingers tightened on the armrest.

“I’ve come down with the cancer,” Steve whispers. “Caught the cancer.”

They fall silent. Billy tapped his fingers against the arm rest.

“How long have you had it?”

Steve sighed and turned more onto his back, sort of twisted around with his hips and legs still to the side. He ran his hand over his face and stared up at the ceiling.

“I was first diagnosed when I was ten. My entire right side was covered bruises that had no business being there. I went into remission when I was thirteen, and stayed there until last year.” He turned back on his side to face Billy. “How’s your hand?”

Billy cocks an eyebrow at him. “My hand?” He looked down to see the bandages and remembered what happened. “Oh.”

His dad’s voice rung in his ears, harsh and loud. He was drunk, again, and Billy had done fuck knows what to make him upset this time. Probably left some food on a plate or forgot to wash his towel or something.

“Fucking useless piece of shit. Get out of my house, I don’t want to see you until you come home from school tomorrow.”

Then the first punch. Then the second. Both on his torso; nowhere anyone can see. Then a slap or two and suddenly they were on the porch, with the front door gaping open and Billy having no memory of making it that way.

“Get the fuck out, you useless bitch, no son of mine-” real creative with the insults, wasn’t he?

Then Billy was being pushed down the wooden stairs to the sidewalk below. He managed to catch himself before his head crashed against the concrete, but his sacrifice was splitting his hand nearly in half on a stray stone. He stared at the blood as it spread out over the concrete, likely staining it.

“Clean that up,” Neil said as he slammed the door behind him.

The new scrapes and forming bruises on his legs stung as he stood carefully.

“Hello? Earth to Hargrove?”

“It’s fine,” Billy snaped.

They fall silent. They stay that way until a nurse opens the door, startling them both.

“Good afternoon, Steve.” She was carrying a tray of bland looking food. “How are we feeling today? Hungry?”

Steve smiled shakily at her and sat up. “I’m fine.”

She pulled the standing tray to his bed and set down the food.

She held out her hand and Steve plopped his forearm down in it. She rolled up his sleeve and revealed a small tube taped to the inside of his elbow. She brought over a tube from the IV that Billy just noticed and attached it. She messed with the drip, then stepped into the bathroom.

All without saying anything to Billy. How rude.

She came back out, already speaking it. "I'll call clean-up in a second, for ya, hun, but- who are you?" She was staring at Billy. 

Finally, this bitch noticed him. 

Steve deigned not to answer the nurse, looking between the nurse and Billy with his mouth hanging half open. 

"Billy," he said, leaning over Steve to extend his hand towards the nurse. "Billy Hargrove, I'm a friend of Steve's. From school."

The nurse stepped forwards and grasped his hand delicately, blushing. Billy withdrew his hand as soon as she let go, resting it on the bed.

She crossed her arms over her chest, stepping back, and smiled somewhat shyly at him. "Fine, you can stay, but only for a little while. Patients up here are usually only allowed to have family visitors, but I'll make an exception for you."

She turned towards the door and started to go out, but not before swiveling her head to smile once again at Billy. By the time the door was closed, Billy was already sitting back down.

"Quite the charmer, aren't you?" Steve asked.

Billy shrugged in response. "It's not my fault the ladies love me."

Steve shot him a doubtful look. "Sounds fake."

Billy put up his hands in mock surrender. "What can I say, it's a gift."

Steve turned and stared at the hospital food, still in its glass covering. He took it off and stared some more. He picked up a fork with a sigh and tentatively poked at what appeared to be spaghetti but could honestly just as realistically be a pile of organs. He managed to pick up a singular noodle with his fork, which shouldn’t be possible, and placed it on is tongue. Steve chewed it with a hideous expression on his face, and swallowed reluctantly. He set down his fork and pushed away the standing tray.

“Lunch?” Steve asked, gesturing weakly at the tray.

“Not after watching that, no thank you.”

“Oh, come on it's not as bad as it looks. I just feel too sick to eat.”

“It better taste like gold if it looks as shitty as that.”

“It doesn’t look like shit,” Steve muttered as he looked down at the plate. He winced as his eyes swept over the nearly inedible items. “Yeah, nevermind, it looks like shit.” He poked through it with his fork again. “The spaghetti looks like a small intestine.”

“That’s what I thought!” Billy said, smiling a little and slouching into his seat.

Steve laughed at the revelation, smiling. Not all the way, though, his eyes were still hidden behind a haze of pain, and bruised around the edges at that.

“Are you sure you don’t want it? It shouldn’t go to waste.”

“Thanks, Harrington, but no thanks. I only eat a certain standard of food.” Billy crossed his legs as he spoke.

“Hawkins High cafeteria food? Oh yeah, it’s 5 star.”

Billy simply hummed in response.

They sat in silence, again. He stared up at the ceiling. He could hear Steve shuffling the food around on his plate, before giving up on it and picking up something else. He tore of the lid with a metallic crunch, the food squished as he shoved a spoon into it. 

Why the fuck am I still here?

Instead of answering his own question, Billy just stood up and left. He walked out of the room without closing the door.

“Bye!” Steve shouted as Billy rounded the corner.

Then Billy left the hospital and nearly ran out of the parking lot without asking about his stitches.

Chapter Text

Only two days later, Billy was back at the hospital. He skipped out on school again to show up.

This time he actually had a reason; it was time to get his stitches out. He would have done it himself but the hospital would have called the house if he hadn’t come back for a check up, and Neil hated surprise callers.

The Camaro growled loudly as he pulled into a spot near the front of the hospital. The door squealed as he stood and got out. The noise was a blessing as the parking lot finally fell silent, the sound of the wind was the only one left.

He greeted Dr. Perkins with as much faux excitement as he could muster and sat down on the observation table.

“G’day, doc.”

“You seem chipper today, Mr. Hargrove,” Perkins said, seeming not too chipper that day.

“I’m just ready to have these fucking stitches out.”

Perkins frowned at the invective, again. He snapped his gloves on and started pulling out the stitches, wiping away the blood that trickled from each little hole. He wrapped Billy’s hand in a smaller bandage than before and gave him his hand back.

“You can take that off in a few hours, if your hand is still hurting by then, come back here.”

Billy waved on his way out the door, rather than answer him.

He was swaggering through the hospital, on his way out after getting his hand freed of those stitches, when he heard shouting in a courtyard. Billy went through the hallway towards the sound, opening a glass door and hiding out in a corner to eavesdrop. He glanced quickly around the wall before drawing back.

The courtyard was overly green, with no other flowers in it; just bushes and grass. There was a small pebble path leading through it, with benches off to the side every few feet.

Steve was standing there, arguing with Wheeler. At least he thought it was Wheeler; she was brown-haired and much too skinny, standing next another lanky teen.

“I don’t care, plan whatever you want! I’m not going!”

“Steve, you’re being stupid! It’s your own birthday party, you have to come.” It was definitely her, Billy had heard that shrill voice enough to last him two lifetimes.

A heavy sigh. “You know what, Nancy? No, I’m not going. You know why? Because I am so tired of you criticizing everything I do, I can’t take a fucking step without you telling me I’m doing it wrong.”

Billy can imagine him getting in her face, looming over her. Although, that’s more likely what he would do.

“Hey, she’s trying her best, Steve! She’s just trying to do what’s best for you!” the Freak shouted at him.

Billy had never heard the Freak speak, but he was the only other one there. His voice was more annoying than Nancy’s, if that was even possible.

“Trying her best? Trying her fucking best? Fuck you, Jonathan, you’re so blinded by your creepy obsession, you don’t know anything!” a pause. He can hear Steve breathing heavily, trying to gather the words from his mess of a mind. “Trying her best would have been telling me the truth instead of cheating on me! With you! She can’t abandon me and then expect me to forgive her by doing things I specifically ask her not to do, that’s not how it works.”

How could anyone cheat on Steve? Billy had only just met him, and he already knew that that would never be an option. Not that he thought that he could ever actually have any semblance of even a friendship with Steve, that is. 

He peaked around the corner to see what was happening. This was too juicy not to watch.

Steve was standing further back than Billy thought he would be, his hands on his hips. Nancy was holding herself, her frail arms wrapped around her trembling body. Jonathan was standing beside her, but then he wasn’t. He moved forwards suddenly, crossing the space between them to push Steve. He almost fell but managed to catch himself on the bench behind him.

Billy almost intervened in that moment, but managed to stay where he was.

“Apologize! She made a mistake, Steve, it’s not her fault!”

“As far as I’m aware, she chose to have sex with you and not break up with me first.”

He pushed him again, this time hard enough to make him fall back into the bench. Steve sat down hard, letting out a pained whine.

Billy's foot began to move past the corner of its own volition. 

“Jonathan, stop!” Nancy shouted, her voice cracking.

Steve stood up, pushing himself bodily up off the seat.

“Oh are we beating up cancer patients now, Jonathan? What a good samaritan you are. Are we going to forget about the fact that you stalked Nancy? That you took pictures of her getting undressed, then developed the film, then enlarged those pictures, and developed them?”

There was a series of breaths and what sounded like attempts to speak.

“That-that’s dif- that’s different. That has no- that has nothing to do with this!”

“How? You are a creep and a liar, Jonathan. I feel bad for you, because you only seemed to figure out what you did was wrong after I broke your camera. I’m sorry for that, I really am, but you are sick.”

“I-” He stuttered, even on that one syllable

“What excuse could you possibly give for that? I am actually curious.” His voice was dripping with venom.

Silence from both Nancy and Jonathan.

“Well?”

Still nothing.

“What about what you did, Steve? Nancy 'the Slut’ Wheeler? Hmm?” She was getting in his face, almost standing on her tip toes.

“I'm sorry about that, Nancy, okay? I apologized before and I went back to the theater and erased it myself and I didn't even put it up there.”

She had started to back away a bit at this point.

“I'm sorry for letting Tommy bully you like that, I thought that you were cheating on me, with him,” he gestured to Jonathan, standing behind her. “I guess I was right. If you can give me the same sort of apology and actually mean it, then I’ll go to the goddamn party. But I've gotten used to listening to your lies so don't even try one of those.”

Surprisingly, Wheeler just backed up into Jonathan's arms and refused to open her mouth.

Steve broke away, shaking his head, and started walking away; towards Billy.

He hurriedly hid behind the wall, his heart pounding. Then the footsteps stop and there’s more shuffling.

“No, I'm not done yet, it wasn’t just one mistake,” his voice got smaller as he seemed to walk back towards them, having remembered Jonathan’s earlier comment. “It was series of mistakes that both of you could have stopped at any point in time. So, no, I’m not going to apologize for mistakes, plural, that someone else made, and I’m not going to a party that my ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend planned, fuck you. I’m dying, but I’m not that desperate.”

Then the footsteps started up again.

Billy hurried back towards the glass door, making it seem like he had only just walked into the courtyard, and had definitely not been listening in on their argument the entire time.

“Hey, Harrington,” Billy greeted him, trying not to act guilty as Steve rounded the corner.

He stopped in his tracks to stare at him for a moment, before continuing on. As he neared, Billy could see tears streaming down his face.

“Hi, Billy,” he said sarcastically as Steve passed him.

But he didn’t turn or pause.

“Harrington,” Billy shouted sternly, frowning. He took a few steps towards Steve’s retreating form.

No answer.

Billy ran to catch up with him, grabbing him by his arm. He was shaking.

“Hey, Harrington, I’m talking to you. What’s your problem?” He wanted to take the words back as soon as they left his tongue.

Steve didn’t even turn around to answer, at first. “You wanna know what my problem is, Billy?”

Then, he whipped around to face Billy, the one inch difference between their heights suddenly feeling more like a mile. Billy couldn't tell was emotion was putting the distance between them, but it was powerful. Steve’s face was beet red, but it wasn’t humorous or embarrassing, it was startling. The wicked smirk on his face dropped  when he actually saw him, the retort on his tongue ice cold. The tears were thick and abundant from his eyes; the chest of his robe was already dotted with numerous wet spots. Billy looked back up into his eyes, noting the mouth twisted in...an indefinable combination of anger and sadness and fear and many others.

“My cheating ex and her new boy toy are planning a birthday party for me, when they know damn well that I don’t want one.” He turned back around and started to walk away with wide, sloping steps. “And I probably won’t even live to see the day!” He yanked the glass door open and quickly disappeared from view.

Billy stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do exactly. He turned around, starting to walk into the courtyard, when he stopped again. Then kept going. He made it to the edge of the courtyard before he stopped again.

Nancy had her hands over her face, her frame shaking with loud, racking sobs. Jonathan was holding her, speaking quietly. Billy almost couldn’t make it out, but living in the same house as his dad had required him to improve his hearing.

“It’s okay, Nance, he’ll come around.” He lay his head on hers. “He’s just being an asshole, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Yes, I did, I’m a horrible person,” she sobbed into her hands.

Jonathan squeezed her bit tighter for a moment, rocking her. Then he was looking hatefully at where Steve had just left from and Billy was now currently standing.

“What the fuck do you want, Hargrove?”

Nancy turned around suddenly, wiping her eyes.

Billy leaned against the wall, crossing his arms.

“I’m just here to watch the show, Freak.”

“Don’t call him that! His name is Jonathan!” Nancy called, holding onto the Freak’s shirt.

Billy just laughed. “Thanks for that, Princess, I never actually knew his name until now.”

“Fuck off, Hargrove!”

BIlly’s face grew serious and his voice razor sharp. “You wanna say that again, Freak? I didn’t quite hear you.”

“We’re not afraid of you, Billy.” Nancy shouted back.

Billy considered walking towards them, so he wouldn’t have to yell so much.

“I didn’t ask you to be afraid of me, Princess. I asked if you wanted to say that again, to my face,” Billy said as he slowly stalked closer. He raised his arm to point at both of them in turn.

The Freak visibly paled. He grabbed Nancy’s hand and pulled her towards Billy. She resisted at first, before Jonathan began a wide berth around him.

“Let’s go, Nance.”

He pulled her out of the courtyard and into the hallway.

Billy followed after a few moments, walking slower than them. Despite Nancy’s words, he could practically smell the fear rolling off of them. He reveled in it, the wolfish smirk returning to his face.

“Scamper away, Freak. Run off to your little hidey-hole to creep on someone else, you cockroach.”

They sped up as they heard him following, almost running out the door. Billy followed them out the door, then turned right when they turned left. He huffed out a laugh at their retreating forms.

He continued on towards the elevator bay and up to the sixth floor, his feet overpowering his mind.

Billy walked into room 634 and just stood in the doorway.

Steve was sitting on his bed, feet barely brushing the floor. Tears were still streaming down his face.

“You good, Harrington?”

No answer, just more sobbing.

Rather than leave him alone to cry in peace, like anyone with any common sense would do, Billy stepped carefully into the room and leaned on the edge of the bed. Steve didn’t say anything and didn’t even look over at him, so Billy didn’t do those things either. He just sat there, listening to Steve cry and wondering why the fuck he had come up there in the first place, much less why he was still sitting there.

But he stayed.

After a moment of just sitting next to each other, Steve’s body calmed its shaking, but the crying didn’t actually stop.

“It’s sad, really,” Steve sniffed.

“What?”

“That my only friends are my ex and a few 13 year olds. She’s the only one who is planning a birthday party for me. She’s the only one who would probably be willing to go to a party me.” He laughed sadly, wiping his nose.

Billy would probably go to his birthday party, but he wasn’t actually going to say that.

“God, that’s sad.” He wiped his eyes and nose again, breathing deeply before turning to look at Billy. “I’m sorry for yelling at you, Billy. I-”

But he stopped speaking when he saw Billy shaking his head.

“It’s fine,” he said waving his hand dismissively. “So, uh,” Billy said scratching his chin. He had forgotten to shave that morning. “What did you mean by saying that you won’t live to see your next birthday?”

Steve sighed. He reached over to the table beside his bed and plucked up a tissue. He blew his nose, wiping his eyes with the same tissue -- much to Billy’s disgust. He tossed it towards the trashcan on the other side of the room and missed.

“Damn it,” he muttered. Steve was starting to push himself off the bed before Billy beat him to it.

He picked up the balled tissue and threw it into the trash, then he picked up the trashcan and brought it over to Steve’s bedside. Billy sat down next to Steve, actually scooting all the way up this time, so his toes barely brushed the ground.

“Thanks.”

Billy just nodded.

“Jonathan gave me some serious bruises,” he laughed, shifting a little in his seat. He winced as he said, “not going to be able to sit right for a week.”

Billy almost shivered at his proclamation, but managed to keep his body in check out of sheer force of will. He couldn’t tell if it was anger or… something else. Either way, he didn’t like it. He’s known Steve barely a week and can already tell that he is going to be the death of him.

“Gonna answer my question?”

“Yeah, uh, they're not really sure if the chemo is working." He rubbed the back of his neck as he spoke. "And I don’t just have lung cancer.” He paused, pinching the bridge of his nose. “There’s something else.”

Chapter Text

“Something else?” Billy tensed.

“Well, besides the tail end of an ear infection, there’s more cancer. I’ve got chronic myeloid leukemia,” he said it with practiced ease, as if he had already said those words in that order ten times today. He looked up at Billy, then back at his hands resting in his lap. “At least I think that’s what they called it. It’s in ‘blast phase’, already, so they know it’s bad. And it's a rare form anyway, so treatment is aggressive and often.” Steve shifted so that he was holding up his torso against the bed, shoulders high. “It wasn’t this bad when I was ten.”

Billy was staring at him, wide-eyed. “What are they doing about it?”

“Chemo mainly, some radiation. I’ve already had half a dozen surgeries, and about half a lung removed. The main tumor is in my right thigh, they’re trying to get it small enough to do a transplant. But I’d need a donor for that, and the transplant list is a mile long. Even if they find a match for me, I’d have to wait until I got to the top cause there is probably someone else who is also a match, unless its donated directly to me.” He shifted again, fingers fidgety as he crossed his arms over his chest.

“You said your parents were fucking millionaires, right? Can’t they get you to the top faster?”

Steve huffed out a laugh, “It doesn’t really work that way. There are people who have been waiting for longer than me, and even if I get to the top, if , the next fifty donors who come in might not match me, so they go to other people and I still wait. The transplant list is kinda fucked up.” Steve tended to talk with his hands, Billy noticed. He was waving them about in circular motions as he spoke, gesturing to himself and the door. It was quite mesmerizing.

Billy shook his head.

“Is there any reason that you got it? Like do they know how? Genetic predisposition?” Billy shrugged, itching his nose and tucking his arms back into a crossed position.

Steve huffed out a laugh, “Breaking out the big boy words, are we?”

“Shut the fuck up, Harrington,” he said, narrowing his eyes.

“Alright, no need to get touchy, dickhead.” Steve put his hand out as if to push Billy back. “No, there is no ‘genetic predisposition’. They think I used to play a bit too close to Hawkins Lab. Maybe splashed around in a river I shouldn't have.” Steve shrugged.

“Hawkins Lab? Sounds like some kind of fucking government conspiracy. And wouldn’t there be more cases if that were true?”

“Nah, my parents got it shut down. Everyone in the town was certain that they were doing some kind of trippy experiments, mind powers and all that shit. A few of them apparently still think so, say they hear weird noises and see flashing lights at night.” Steve wiggled his fingers in Billy’s face, making an OOoooOOOooo sound.

“Cut the shit, Harrington,” Billy said sternly, smacking his hands away.

Steve laughed and pretended to be hurt by the hit, rubbing his fingers dramatically. “Fine, it was probably just chemical weapons developer, some of the chemicals leaked into the river and suddenly little Stevie has bone cancer.”

“That’s quite the theory. You might have been in what could possibly be the wrong place at what they think was the exact wrong time to make contact with something that may or may not exist? I don’t know, Harrington, I’d believe that lab was making portals to other dimensions or giving kids mind powers or whatever before I believe in random chance like that,” Billy huffed.

“Whatever, Hargrove. That’s pretty ballsy, though, 'random chance'," Steve did quotation marks in the air as he spoke. "You saying that you believe in fate?” Steve said it with a smile, hinting at mischief.

Billy gestured at himself. “Do I look like I’m on LSD?” Steve opened his mouth, taking a breath, before Billy pointed at him and said “Don’t answer that.” Billy glanced down at his acid-wash jeans and jacket and psychedelic t-shirt, of course he looked like he was on LSD. Anyone with that t-shirt always did.

Say what you will about the Grateful Dead , they were a great band.

Steve closed his mouth, chuckling.

“No. I don’t believe in fate or destiny or God or whatever you want to call it. Fuck fate. That shit is for superstitious housewives who want an excuse for their shitty lives and shittier husbands.” Billy crossed his arms over his chest.

“Sounds like you’ve got a little bit of bitterness towards fate. Or God. Take your pick.”

God really is a sick fucker if he’s real , Billy thought. Putting a kid like me in house with Neil was the recipe for a perfect fucking hurricane.

“Can’t hate something that doesn’t exist,” Billy said tilting his head and raising an eyebrows.

“Touché.”

“What? Did I upset your small town sensibilities?” Billy asked, starting to go a little baby-talk. He rubbed his hand by his eye in mock crying, pushing out his bottom lip.

Steve laughed a bit. “No, asshole, you didn’t. God never did anything for me, besides give me cancer, which certainly isn’t a fucking a God-given miracle. No matter how much my parents will me to believe, I can only fake-pray for so long.”

“Sounds like you’re the bitter one here, Harrington.”

Steve just nodded a bit and stared at the ground. Lost in thought.

“God is a piece of work if he is real, and I’m not willing to spend the little time I have left on my knees begging for help from someone who won’t even answer,” Steve ground out.

“I can think of better things for you to do on your knees.”

Steve glanced at him sharply, his eyebrow raised. "Excuse me?"

Fuck, it just slipped out. Billy definitely did not intend to say that. His eyes went wide and his tongue flapped uselessly as his piece of shit brain tried and failed to go on damage control. He was lucky that he had whispered it. Maybe Steve hadn't heard him. He cleared his throat.

“Uh, how old are you, again?” Billy mirrored his earlier, position, with his arms on the mattress forcing his shoulders up. “And when’s your birthday?”

“I’m 18, turn 19 in October.”

“Why is Wheeler planning shit so early? It’s May.”

“She knows it doesn’t look good for me, so she wants to get all the good stuff out the way so I’m not celebrating when I can hardly stay awake for more than hour or so they’re not celebrating once I’m dead,” Steve said nonchalantly.

It was chilling to hear an 18 year old talk about his own death so matter-of-factly. Billy had known pessimistic and depressed people in California, of course, but all of them had been dying of their own doing; drugs, AIDs, other assorted criminal activities. None of them had had cancer and were expected to die so early. Each of them had a few years, at least, but Steve made it seem like he had only a few months left. Each of them had time. Except for Caleb.

Caleb was particularly down-trodden, if you could even call it that. There were times when he wouldn’t get out of bed for a week, someone would have to force feed him and take him to the bathroom or else he’d starve and shit himself to death. Then other days, he was purposefully swimming into riptides and laughing like a maniac as they pulled him out to sea. But he was a strong swimmer, and always managed to swim back, still laughing, before he went too far.

They met at a club Billy was being thrown out of. Caleb had talked him down from trying to fight the 6’5” bouncer and let him sleep on his couch, then let him couch surf every once in awhile when Neil was drunk.

Billy remembered the last time he walked into Caleb’s apartment, he hadn’t heard anything from him in a few days and his girlfriend Laura was worried but she had to be at work all day and Billy, could you please go check on him? , only to find him swinging from the rafters.

His face was blue, tongue swollen and lolling out of a pair of purple lips. The last thing he remembered from that day was dialing 911 on the rotary phone in the corner, then walking out the door without closing it.

Caleb didn’t even have a funeral. His family had abandoned him when he came out and his friends barely had ten bucks between them, so having their own wasn’t an option. He remembered, because he had just blown all of his money on the Camaro. It had seemed so important at the time, getting something to get him away from Neil, even if only for a few hours. But the blue car seemed to pale in comparison to the blue of Caleb’s face.

Billy had called the Tinnersons, but they hung up as soon as he told them he was friends with Caleb. He called again and told them Caleb was dead before they could hang up.

“Dead?”

“Yeah.” He was trying not to sound like he had been crying less than five minutes ago. And failing, he suspected.

“How?”

“He hung himself.”

“Coward. I suppose you’re her faggot boyfriend?”

“No, ma’am, I’m just his friend.” Billy sighed as he said it, pinching the bridge of his nose.

He wasn’t sure if he was trying to break it or not.

He paused, trying not to scream at her, to tell her, ‘Your son is fucking dead, you asshole, have some fucking humanity.’. “Listen, the county wouldn’t release his body, but we are still hoping to have some sort of funeral, if-”

“I’m not sending any money.”

“We’re not asking for any money, we’re having a wake on tuesday, if you wanted to come.”

“If Kayla wanted her family at her funeral, then she would have stayed at home instead of running off to that land of sin to embrace a false identity of herself. My daughter died a long time ago.”

Billy sighed and decided that civility wasn’t required anymore. “Listen here, you fucker, his name was Caleb and he was a guy, and he was your son, if you’re not going to mourn him and love him like a fucking parent is supposed to do, then the very least you can do is respect his fucking choices and call him by his proper fucking name.”

A dial tone answered him.

“Hello?” He was huffing out breath, his brows furrowed. His lips were shaking as he shouted back into the receiver. “Hello?!”

Billy called back, mashing down the buttons. They were going to fucking hear what he had to say, they were going to listen. They were going to respect Caleb and he was going to fucking make them.

There was no answer.

“Fuck you!” he shouted directly into the receiver.

He hung the phone back up on its cradle, hard enough to make it crack and slam his fingers into the otherside of the phone box. They throbbed as he dragged his hands down his face, rubbing the skin until he was sure it would tear off. He dug his nails into his forehead for good measure.

“Goddamnit!” He kicked the pole with as much force as he could muster. He felt his toe crack. Then he did it again. And again.

He walked a few paces away, before falling to the ground screaming.

“FUCK!”

The people on the sidewalk all crossed to the other side before they would have to pass him.

At least Steve seemed happier than Caleb was. At least he didn’t want to die, even if he was ready for it.

“On Valentines’ Day, they each gave me two boxes of chocolates. I gained like ten pounds.” Steve smiled fondly down at his lap. “The nurses were happy about that.”

Billy didn’t want to ask who “they” were.

“You?” Steve asked, turning his head to look at Billy again.

“Me?” he responded, looking back at him. They were sitting much closer than Billy first realized.

“How old are you?”

“17.”

“And?” Steve asked, leaning forwards.

“And what?” Billy asked, shrugging. It was his turn to cross his arms over his chest.

“When’s your birthday?” He could hear the smile in Steve’s voice.

“Yesterday.”

“Are you fucking serious?” Steve asked incredulously.

“Yeah, why?” Billy glanced over at him; his mouth was agape and Billy had to turn back quickly.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me, I yelled at you on your birthday,” he sniffed, laughing.

“I’m used to it at this point, Harrington,” Billy said before his mind caught up with his tongue.

Fuck.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Steve asked, his smile somewhat fading.

Billy cleared his throat, “ So, uh, why aren’t you at school?”

Steve raised an eyebrow, but conceded. “I took summer courses to accelerate my graduation. Why aren’t you at school, considering it is Friday and almost three in the afternoon? You too cool for school, Hargrove?”

"You know it, Harrington. Those losers at Hawkins High ain’t got nothing on me." He pretended to brush something off his shoulder, smiling.

“Hope you don’t mean me,” Steve said, nudging Billy with his shoulder.

Rather than answer him, Billy said, “You said you’re on chemo, right?”

“Mhm, why?”

“So, on a scale of one to ten, how upset are you going to be when you lose your hair?”

Steve stared at him for a moment before he burst out laughing. “Oh my god, oh my god, an 11, I’m- I’m going to fucking bawl. It takes me at least two hours in the morning to get it to look like this.” He laughed through the whole thing, barely stuttering out the words before managing to gather himself to speak.

“Wait, isn’t hairspray contraband to someone who only has half a lung?” Billy asked, also laughing.

“Excuse me, its one and half lungs,” Steve said sarcastically, a smirk pulling at his open lips.

“Oh, pardon me.” Billy said, putting a hand to his chest and mirroring Steve’s smile.

Steve laughed and smoothed his hair back.

“There’s this kid, Dustin, who comes to the ward every few days for check ups and things, he’s got cleidocranial dysplasia, or something like that. He brings it to me, got a stash under my bed. Don’t tell the nurses, though.” Steve pointed at him accusingly as he ended his sentence.

Billy jumped off the bed, walking around to the other side. “I’m not a snitch, Harrington, wouldn’t dream of it.”

He stopped in front of a wall of pictures, which in combination with the contraband stash of hairspray, probably meant that Harrington was a long term patient. Plus, the fact that everytime that Billy visited, which was definitely not too often fuck you, he was in the same room.

The pictures were mostly of children that looked like the nerd crew that Maxine hung out with, but he never payed attention to them for too long, so he couldn’t be sure. Some were of Nancy and Jonathan, unfortunately, and a few of random adults that Billy didn’t recognize. He heard Steve jump off the bed as well and walk around it.  

A hand suddenly came into Billy’s view, pointing at one of the pictures.

“That’s Dustin, the kid who sneaks in my hairspray stash,” he snickered.

Steve had unexpectedly delicate fingers. They were thin and bony, like the rest of him, but oddly graceful. Those types of fingers that were just barely on this side of too long and thin.

“And that’s Mike, Nancy’s little brother.”

Billy ran his gaze up Steve’s arm, also very fine and thin. Like the bones of a bird. But here, his veins were harsh, bright blue. And he was covered in bruises; some of them from IVs and others in random spots. They were almost black in intensity, some of them just beginning to go green around the edges. They were stark against his pale skin.

“There’s Will, Jonathan’s little brother, and Lucas. They’re all really great friends, nearly inseparable. I used to babysit them when I was in remission.”

Billy looked even farther until he got to the edge of the t-shirt Steve was wearing. A little bit of armpit hair was peaking out of the sleeve, only a little darker than the hair on top of his head. Then farther up to his collarbone, just barely poking out from the collar of his loose t-shirt. Billy thought for a moment that the bruises in his elbows should be there instead. Up his neck and too-angular jaw to his sharp nose. His eyelashes were so long and full…

“They visit me a lot after school.”

“Huh?” Billy was shocked out of his reverie by Steve turning to look at him.

His brown-eyed gaze was startling.

“Oh yeah, I know them. They hang out with my bitch of a step-sister all the time.”

“You have a sister?”
Step -sister, and yeah, I do. She’s a little ginger bitch.”

Billy glanced over to see Steve frowning at him.

“Anyway, this is Jim, chief of police, and Joyce, Will’s mom. They sorta have an unofficial secret thing going on that everyone knows about.”

“You’re friends with these assholees?” Billy asked pointing at a picture of Tommy and Carol.

“No, not really. I mean, I used to be, but when I got the diagnosis, they stopped visiting me.” Steve dragged a finger along the edge of the picture, as if thinking about tearing it off the wall. “We sort of had a falling out when I started dating Nancy, but we would still talk sometimes.” He dug his finger underneath it, bending the edge.

But he left it and shifted his finger to point at a picture of a heavy-set man.

“That’s Joyce’s ex, Bob. He and Joyce had a really friendly break-up and he’s funny so he still hangs around with the brothers sometimes.”

“Brothers?” Billy asked turning to face him a bit more.

“Yeah, Will and Jonathan.”

“Ah, the Freak that your bitch of an ex cheated on you with.” Billy said, tapping Steve’s shoulder with the back of his hand as he spoke.

“Don’t call her that.”

Billy just shrugged. Nancy was a bitch, and BIlly would call her whatever the fuck he wanted.  

“But yeah, that’s her.” Steve turned back to the wall before pausing and turning back to Billy. “Wait a second, were you eavesdropping the other day?”

“Maybe,” Billy said after only a moment’s hesitation. “Who’s this?”

Steve sighed and turned back to the wall as well.

“That’s Dr. Higel, my primary physician, and nurse Kate, and…”

Billy only just realized how close they were. Steve was standing almost directly behind him, with his hand reaching what felt like what too near to Billy’s shoulder. He could feel the heat radiating off of his stomach.

“...just random doctors and nurses who have worked in the ward.”

“Who are these people? They also have gigantic hair so I’m assuming that they are your parents or something.”

“Ha-ha, Hargrove,” he said sarcastically, “and yes they are.”

Billy could feel his breath glancing off his cheek.

“Why don’t I ever see them?” Billy asked bluntly. It seemed curiosity and everything else outweighed his own input when it came to the shit that rolled off his tongue that day.

“How do you know that they don’t visit?” Steve asked, his face turning red. “Maybe they’re just not here when you’re here.”

“Caught ya, Harrington, I never said anything about them not visiting.”

Steve sighed, again, and said, “Fine, they don’t visit. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

Billy stayed silent and refused to blush from embarrassment. He had always taken teasing a bit too far.

Caleb had slapped him one time for taking it too far.

He walked around Billy to sit on the bed, the side facing the window “My dad owns an international wine business, and my mom doesn’t trust him, so wherever he goes, she goes. Right now they’re in Vienna, I think.”

“Chemo is only every once in a while, why aren’t you at home?”

“Because they aren’t.”

Billy cocked an eyebrow at that. He leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. He was careful to avoid the pictures, so his leather jacket crackled against the corner. It was tough stuffing the bandaged hand beneath his elbow, but the sudden ache helped him remember that it was there.

“The hospital has a cancer center, but it’s not big enough for home caregivers. I stay here whenever they are gone, so whenever I fall over like a fucking geriatric, it won’t take a month for someone to check on me.”

It would take less time than that, considering that Billy was basically stalking him at this point. Why was he still there?

"Your parents are dicks"

Steve snorted, “Don’t I know it. What about yours?”

“Were they around more when you were younger? Like, when you were sick?” Billy asked.

He found that he had a damn good talent for avoiding questions. Or maybe the pretty boy was just easy to redirect.

Steve moved his head in a so-so motion. “Sort of, I was younger so I still had some potential,” Steve laughed and scratched his cheek at that, “wow, that got dark fast. Anyway,” he said, coughing once and quickly changing the subject, “yes, they were. My mom trusted my dad a bit more back then, so he was still in and out the door, but she was around a bit more. But then Tracy, my babysitter, ‘seduced’ him, according to my mom, so she goes with him so no other ladies will try to steal him. According to her.” He scratched the back of his head. “That was when I was eleven. When I got the news about remission at thirteen, they were both in New Zealand.”

“I amend my earlier statement; your parents are fucking asshats.”

He let out a short laugh. “Enough of my sob story, tell me about your parents, Billy. No avoiding it this time,” he said, pointing at him.

Chapter Text

God, Billy really hated the smell of hospitals. It was even more potent when there wasn’t some story being told to distract him from it. It was too strong, too clean, too clinical and seperated. It reminded him too much of fragility, of shuddering breaths and shaking hands. When it came to that sort of thing, he prefered the smell of blood. At least that smell meant that someone was fighting whatever was taking them down, or at least that whatever it was they were fighting could be fought.

To be honest, it scared him. Hospitals meant helplessness, it meant there was nowhere else to go, nowhere else that could offer help. Hospitals were a last ditch effort.

Billy wouldn’t have gone to get the stitches, but it just kept bleeding. He wrapped several towels around it, but it just wouldn’t stop bleeding and it was such a huge fucking cut. The ER was a desperate answer, but it was answer.

Not that Billy regrets it too much; his scar looks good and he met Steve.

Or the smell of cum. That was also a good smell when it came to the context of shuddering breaths and shaking hands.

Let’s just baseline it at the stench of sweat and leave it there.

Perhaps Billy had been thinking just a bit too long on those aspects since he had been there.

Back to the question at hand. There was absolutely no way that he was going to answer it in its entirety, not the way Steve was probably expecting. There was way too much baggage to carry on that trip, no way it would be unloaded in a casual day conversation. Better to just not start at all.

“There’s not much to tell. My dad works at the textile factory, up near Lafayette. My step-mom is a housewife.” He looked back over at the wall. “I don’t see a bird up here, Harrington, you got a girl?”

Steve laughed from where he was slumped over on the bed.

“No, not since Nancy. You don’t meet many dateable people when you live in a hospital.”

“I don’t know, pretty boy, you met me.”

FUCK.

He was on a roll today when it came to failing to control his tongue. Goddamn.

Billy took in a breath to go on damage control, but Steve started speaking before he could get the words out.

“You’re dateable?” he made a sound like pfft “I’d need to see that to believe it.”

“Local cows can’t keep their paws off me, thank you very much.” Billy said, smirking.

Steve nearly snorted, shoving a hand over his mouth. “Cows don’t have paws.”

“You know what I mean, Harrington. I’m completely dateable. If anything, I’m too dateable.”

Steve hummed in response, the residual smile still gracing his face. “You?”

Billy blinked. He tried not to hope that Steve was referring to what he might be referring to. The word was a little too playful to be accusatory in that way, but still. He was glancing at him through his eyelashes and Billy had to take a moment to rewire his brain. 

“What?” He wasn’t sure what his face looked like in that moment, and was afraid to start thinking about it.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

He held his sigh of relief inside.

“No, I don’t go for small town cows.”

Steve laughed, leaning back on the bed and setting his legs swinging. “Oh, come on, they’re not that bad.”

“They’re not my type.” No, Billy’s type was tall, dark, and handsome.

“What is your type, then?”

Billy shrugged, his mind and heart racing. He had absolutely no idea how he had dug himself into this hole and he had no idea how he was going to dig himself out. He had already implied his...persuasion too many times, it was a damn deep hole so leaping out was going to be a near impossibility. Being tongue-tied was a new low for him, as if he was some middle school girl with a crush.

He took a breath, about to either make an impossible leap out of this hole, or dig himself even deeper.

When the door burst open several small bodies charged in.

Steve turned around quickly, a smile already on his face.

“Heey!” he shouted, leaping off the bed to charge around to the other side.

The kids, the ones from the pictures, crowded Steve, hugging him and patting his back lightly.

Billy could tell that he was trying not to let them know about the bruises. His face was a wan mask, but he was trying to smile.

“How are you guys? It’s been a few days.”

Their voices all overlapped in a nonsensical mess, before the loudest won out and the rest gradually silenced themselves.

“Steve,” said the kid with curly hair, Dustin, maybe, “oh my god, there’s this girl, she beat me on DigDug, we want you to meet her!”

“Woah, she beat you on DigDug? I didn’t think that was possible!” Steve said, speaking only a little quieter than the kid.

“I know, right! But, no she got over 700,000 points! She just moved to town with her big brother, who we’ve heard is a total dick.”

Oh fuck. Billy rolled his eyes and looked back in time to see Steve glance at him out of the corner of his eye. Guess damage control didn’t matter anymore now that Max was going to burst in a ruin it.

“Max, get in here!” Dustin shouted, pushing back his fellow nerds to make room for the feisty bitch.

Billy was getting ready to hide behind the fucking bed when Maxine walked in. She was smiling proudly, beaming practically, until she saw Billy.

“What are you doing here?” Her gaze instantly turned cold and hateful.

“Leaving,” he said simply as he walked around the bed and shoved past Max, who was still blocking the doorway.

“Bye!” Steve called after him, sounding slightly offended.

Which was fair, Billy had just walked out without saying anything to him.

“You’re friends with him ?”

Goddamnit, Max.

Billy exited the room as quickly as possible, already tired of the high pitched voices of the kids. He was ready to storm out of the hospital and drive way too fast back to Old Cherry with some sort of hair band blasting loud enough to burst the speakers, ( Max just has to ruin everything doesn’t she? ) but then he noticed the Princess and the Freak sitting in chairs in the hallway.

He smiled lewdly at the Princess, winking, before stopping right in front of them.

“Well, well, what do we have here? Back already, Princess?”

She rolled her eyes and didn’t answer.

“Gonna be difficult? Alright.” Billy shrugged. “Guess you’re just like the rest of the cows in this town, Wheeler.” He sniffed for effect, leaning closer so that he was looming over her. “Smell the same too. Like shit.”
She visibly swallowed and turns her face towards Jonathan, but she was more looking past him than at him.

The Freak stood up, presumably to defend his girlfriend, but Billy attacked before he could get a word out.

“You’ve been spending too much time with her, Freak, you smell like shit too.”

Then he lunged at him, so Billy punched him in the face.

He stumbled back. The Freak screamed in frustration, taking a moment to hold his face, and lunged once more. His hands were outstretched for Billy’s throat.

Billy hit him again, straight to the eye. This time, Jonathan, fell onto his side, part of his face bleeding. So Billy leaned over top of him, grabbing the collar of his shirt, and brought his fist back again. He hit him, once, twice. Until his lip was also bleeding and his head was lollling slightly. He brought his fist up for another hit.

But he felt a strong grip on his wrist, not strong enough to stop him should he decide to bring his fist down on Jonathan’s face again, but strong enough to intend to. So he glanced up at the delicate fingers of Wheeler wrapped around his wrist. He shook her off and stood up sharply, causing her to back up in fear. Her back hit the wall as Billy drew closer, then she was darting around him and going to Jonathan’s side. She kneeled next to him and pulled on his arm, trying to hurry the dazed boy into a standing position. But Jonathan fell over as soon as he got his shoulders up off the ground.

“Billy, stop it!”

Just then, the hallway is filled with little voices.

“Billy? What are you doing?”

He glanced back at Steve, standing in front of the kids with his arms out, as if Billy would try to hurt them too.

Well that hurt. Billy supposed he did deserve it, though.

He looked back at Nancy, crouched next to her boyfriend with a defiant scowl on.

“You don’t scare me, Princess."

He spat at her feet, then walked away. As he made his way down the hall, he turned around and caught Harrington’s eye. He saluted him, breathing somewhat heavily and flushed with the rush of a fight, before rounding the corner and losing sight of them.

“How the fuck do you know that asshole, Steve?”

But Billy walked out of earshot before he could hear his reply.

Billy stormed out of the hospital and into the Camaro. He drove home, going at least 20 over. Bon Jovi accompanied him. He fishtailed around at least one corner, but it was completely possible there were more than that.

He slammed the car into park once he reached Old Cherry and stomped up the steps to the door, passing the spot on the sidewalk that was the reason for all this. He had cleaned it up like Neil asked, using one of the napkins he had left in his car and the hose. It was still a little stained, but not noticeable unless Neil were looking directly at it.

He went into the house, closing the door carefully. He knew that Neil wasn’t home, his truck wasn’t outside, but if he came home slamming doors, Susan would definitely tell him. He stalked towards his room, trying to avoid Susan, who was in the living room.

He made it there, right before she walked up. He saw her jump up off the couch out of the corner of his eye, but he kept going. Not fast enough.

“Billy, do you know where Max is?”

But he pretended not to hear her as he closed the door. He shed his jacket, sighing, and sat on the bed.

He glanced down at his knuckles. They were red and throbbing, covered in blood. He wasn’t sure if it was his or Jonathan’s.

He breathed in and out, at least trying to calm down. But it were as if he were still at the hospital. All he could see was red. Not the red of Max’s hair, something much more stark and violent. Jonathan’s broken face swam in his vision, Steve’s confused stare.

He didn’t deserve to look like that.

If someone asked him why he did it, he wouldn’t be able to say. Being antagonistic was his nature, and seeing those two brought out the worst in him.

Steve’s confused and accusatory expression swam to the surface of his mind again. His arms out, protecting the kids, as if he would charge them like some kind of mad dog. Granted, he was never sure who would get hurt when he was in one of those moods.

He clenched and unclenched his hands, feeling the knuckles crackle and pop, and the skin around them do the same, tearing. Blood was running down his fingers by the time he got his shaking hands and shuddering breaths under control.

Billy glanced over at his bedside table. Maybe he’d bring the book he had there to Steve the next time he saw him. Maybe as an apology, maybe just because. It had to get boring in that place. The book was his favorite as well, which was obvious from just a single glance at it. The cover was ratty and torn in some places, all the pages were creased and folded over in at least one place. He had even marked in, circling and underlining certain passages.

My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber. His mother had started his love of reading when he was young, every night without fail, she would read to him. Even if he was too tired or told her that he didn’t like the book. She bought this book for him right before.

Some parts of it were quite funny, especially ‘An Airedale Terrier That Had a Penchant for Biting Certain People, Including the Author’.

Steve seemed like he would appreciate some humor.

He toed off his boots and laid down. Billy stared at his ceiling.

He didn’t understand it. Why did Max get to be happy?

He closed his eyes, simmering.

She had friends that she actually seemed to like, she had a guy who was a prospective boyfriend, she had loving parents. All he asked for at least one of those things, but it seemed he was destined to always be hated and alone.

Nothing was fucking fair. Caleb’s death wasn’t fair, Steve’s sickness wasn’t fair. So Billy was just going to have to suck it up. No one was going to fucking fawn over him because he felt bad for himself. The only person who was ever going to do something for him, was himself.

He must have fallen asleep because the next thing he remembered was a heavy pounding on his door.

Chapter Text

Billy bolted out of his bed, heart and head pounding in time with the door. He wiped the crusty blood off his knuckles onto his bed sheets, making sure to fold it over so the blood wasn’t visible. He hissed as the skin tore again and stung him. His cut ached, he had forgotten about while giving the Freak a beating and hoped desperately that he hadn’t opened it again.

He glanced around his room to make sure it wasn’t too messy or anything that his dad wouldn’t like was out and went to the door. He opened it quickly, best not to keep him waiting.

There was no one on the other side so he glanced around in confusion, expecting to see Neil leaning against the wall. 

Except Max was on the other side, her hair shining in the light from his room. He had to glance down to see her. 

She shoved past him, into his own room, and crossed her arms. She stood there tapping her foot, until Billy closed the door.

“What do you want?” His face twisted into a hideous mask, eyes shining angrily at the young girl. At the bitch.

“Why the fuck were you at the hospital and why did you hit Jonathan? How do you know Steve?” She moved her hands to her hips and revealed herself to be a firebrand. Not that she had ever hidden that about herself.

Max looked so much like Susan but acted too much like Neil for comfort.

“Watch your fucking language, Maxine, if Neil or your mom heard you, we’d both be dead.”

“I’m not a dumbass, Billy, I wouldn’t be saying it if I thought that they could hear me. Answer the question.” She took up tapping her foot again.

Questions ,” he corrected, “and anyway, why were you there?”

“I went with my friends, to visit Steve. They wanted me to meet him, and you weren’t at the school to pick me up. Answer. The question.” She leaned forwards as she spoke, as if it would intimidate him.

“Fine, the Freak deserved a good pop to the face.”

Why was she even still in his room?

She ground her teeth at his response, but moved on. “Why were you insulting Nancy? I heard you do it!”

“I don’t have to explain myself to you, Max, get the fuck out of my room.” He opened the door.

“How do you know Steve? He told us that you were a friend, but you shouldn’t even know each other!”

Billy tried not to dwell on her words.

Friend? Billy would have been glowing if he weren’t so angry.

“Out, Max.”

She huffed at him and stomped out, her head high.

Billy shut his door and lay down again, sighing heavily.

Friend. He was Steve’s friend.

Oh for fuck’s sake. He rubbed his face and let his hands settle on his stomach. Billy was not a twelve year old with a crush. But, he was a teenage boy with raging hormones. He was contemplating getting up to block the door with a chair, his usual ritual.

A moment later, there’s more knocking. He stood up angrily and yanked open the door.

“Max, I swear to God-,” he stopped dead as he look up at who was behind the door.

“I heard you skipped school today, wanna tell me why?” Neil asked, his voice poisonous.

Neil stepped into the room and slammed the door behind him.

“I was at the hospital, sir, getting my stitches out.” He held up his still bandaged hand as proof.

He walked backwards as Neil pressed forwards, until his back was flush against the cool window.

“Stitches?” he asked dangerously.

“Yessir, I slipped the other day and cut my hand on a rock.”

Neil suddenly rushed forward, taking Billy by the collar and pushing him against the window. Billy prayed that it didn’t break. He had put his hands up instinctively, but dropped them before they could brush Neil’s arms.

“I remember you fell down the stairs. You spent my money, because you got clumsy?” He was almost whispering, but sometimes that was scarier than the shouting.

Billy glanced to the side, his mouth barely open and struggling to speak. Hell, his mind was struggling to formulate any words that could count as an excuse.

Neil slammed him against the window and he could hear the pane groan.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you, boy!” His voice was deafening so close. “Now, what did we talk about?”

“Respect and responsibility.”

Neil laughed as he slapped him across the face.

He barely even felt it as his head jerked to the side. It was only once he looked back into Neil’s fiery gaze that his cheek began to sting.

“Respect and responsibility, sir,” Billy amended.

“Good, now, you’re going to earn back every fucking cent you stole from me to pay back the bill.”

His breath was hot on Billy’s cheek.

“Yessir.”

Neil set him down, none too gently, and turned to walk out. As he reached the door, he said, “Next time you decide to go bitch, be back at school in time to pick up Maxine.”

He yanked open the door and stepped across the threshold. The wood in the hallway groaned under Neil’s heavy boots.

“Useless faggot,” he whispered loud enough for Billy to hear.

Then walked out without closing the door.

At least he doesn’t know I was visiting a guy.

“Dinner!” Susan called down the hallway

He sighed and stepped out of his room, grabbing a pair of socks off the ground as he went. He preferred being barefoot, but he’d settle for socks while Neil was in the house. Billy went into the bathroom and washed his hands, inspecting his face in the mirror. He hoped that the slap wouldn’t bruise, but he’d always bruised easily. Life was unfortunate that way. Billy slipped his socks on while standing, teetering on his toes.

He dried off his hands and went out to dinner. He sat down just as Susan was putting out the last dish, slices of chicken.

“Dear Lord,” she said as she sat down and extended her hands for Max and Neil to take.

Neil and Max did likewise for Billy, albeit reluctantly. He could see their hands start to pull away as his approached but Neil would be upset if he didn’t comply. So he swallowed the embarrassment and wrapped his fingers around theirs, might as well  make them as uncomfortable as humanly possible.

“Please bless this meal and make it as nourishment to our bodies so that we may do your work. Amen.”

“Amen,” they echoed.

They all withdrew their hands and dug in.

“So, Billy,” Max said, looking over at him with a dangerous gleam to her eye, “how do you know Steve?” She smirked, as if she had just managed to get in a lucky strike, a singular slash at Billy’s armor, rather than dropped an atomic bomb on their kitchen table and blew him into the next fucking century.

I’m going to fucking kill her.

“Steve?” Neil asked, putting down his fork with a clack .

“Just some guy I met at the hospital.” Billy swallowed loudly.

“Some faggot?” Neil asked.

Susan gasped at the word; she had always taken offense at his cursing, but Neil never seemed to notice her opposition. She folded into herself a little, also setting down her fork, although much quieter than Neil had. Billy was only looking at Neil, so he couldn’t see Max, but he relished in imagining her pale drastically at the realization of what she just did. This was the first time Neil had confronted Billy in such a way in front of her. Now she’d be sorry for opening her damned mouth.  

Then he remembered that he had to answer, and he did it quickly, the words nearly tripping over each other in the mad dash to leave his mouth and reach Neil’s ears.

“No, sir, he,” Billy tried not to pause but he did. His mind was running around in circles looking for a nonexistent excuse that would keep him from getting a beating. “He’s a patient. He was hanging around the waiting room and told me that the doctor would be a while. He asked if I wanted to hang out in his room while I waited. That’s it, sir. We just talked.” Billy was sitting up straight at this point, his food and silverware forgotten in front of him.

That was the weakest excuse he had ever given and everyone damn well knew it.

“You know, Billy, the fact that you have to say that makes me think that you did more than just talk.” He held out his hand.

Billy’s mouth fell open. He could tolerate a talking to, being slapped around a bit, but that was in private. Being brought down with such an accusation in front of his family was a bit too far. He was going to defend himself if it fucking killed him. Not that he really had anything to defend, since the principle of Neil’s statements were true.

“Dad, we didn’t do anything, I swear! I’m sorry for racking up a hospital bill, but I didn’t do anything wrong! We just talked!”

Billy liked to talk with his hands, unfortunately.

Neil’s eyes darkened at the expressiveness of Billy’s anger. “Keys, Billy.”

“It’s my car, dad, I drive Max around everywhere, like you ask, I-”

“KEYS!”

Both Susan and Max jumped at the sound of his voice, making the sudden slam of his fist on the table completely unnecessary. Utensils jumped from their places and clattered back down loudly, one of Max’s landing on the floor.

Billy immediately stood and went into his room, his body on autopilot. He fished his keys out of the jacket randomly discarded on his floor and went back to the kitchen table. He stood up straight while he did it. Billy handed his keys to Neil and sat back down, who shoved them into his own pocket.

“You’ll get them back to drive Maxine to school on Monday. Then you will come straight home. I will know if you go anywhere else.” He was pointing straight at Billy, almost wagging his finger in his face. “I can’t believe we are having to do this in front of Susan and Maxine, they don’t deserve to witness how much of a disappointment you are.”

Billy wanted to fucking fight him. He bought that car himself, he paid for the battery when it started to fail, he always paid for the gas and state inspection. Every repair that has ever happened to his baby was paid for by him. Neil had absolutely no right to take it, because it wasn’t his in the first place. Caleb fucking died for that car. But rather than say any of that, Billy just went to the usual response.

“Yessir. I’m sorry, sir.”

“Now, apologize to Susan and your sister.”

“She’s not my sister,” he replied without thought.

Just like Susan would never be his mother.

“If you ever want to have your own car again, you’ll apologize to Susan and your sister. Immediately.”

“I’m sorry, Susan. I’m sorry, Max.” He stared at Neil as he spoke, daring him to say something else. Just enough to make Billy crack and send shards of himself flying everywhere.

He looked back down at the soggy bread and luke-warm green beans on his plate and ate it. ‘It’ being every retort and argument on his tongue, every bit of anger encouraging his fists to make contact with someone else’s bones.

“It’s okay, Neil, he-”

“No, Susan, it’s not okay. He’s being disruptive and disobedient, and he needs to learn his lesson.” Neil leaned forwards so that his chest was almost touching his plate and he was even more in Billy’s face. “You’re never going to go there again, whether it’s to see that faggot or have those pansies fuss over a little scratch you gave yourself. No son of mine is going to be like that . Right?”

Rather answer, Billy thrust a piece of chicken into his mouth.

“RIGHT?” Neil asked again, this time standing up and leaning over him.

Billy jolted back in his chair, staring straight up at the ungodly anger lording over him.

“Yes. Sir.”

No one else said anything for the rest of the meal.

Except for when Susan timidly asked Neil how his day was and his only answer was the louder and faster clank of a fork against his plate as he shoved green beans into his mouth. From then on, the only sound was metal scraping against porcelain and loud chewing.

Max sat quaking in her chair, this was the first time she had ever seen Neil act out in that way. Usually he kept it behind closed doors and quiet, leaving bruises where only the suspicious would check.

Billy remembered the first time Susan had witnessed Neil’s anger towards Billy. It was never towards Susan or Max, Neil's family of choice, no, it was always directed at the unfortunate problem child that he didn't even want.

Billy had been 13 at the time, his father had just started day-drinking on the regular and was bringing home women every now and again. Except he had been bringing home the same woman for more than a month, and Billy saw the way she looked at him. Love, once given, could never be varnished.

Billy had had his music a bit too loud while Neil and Susan were watching TV in the living room. The apartment they shared was ridiculously small and had thin walls, so barely audible for Billy was too loud for Neil. He had walked into Billy’s room and threw the radio against the wall, shattering it.

Billy, who was now a year into his father’s abusive treatment, immediately fell to the ground, trembling, and apologized. His arms were already crossed above his face, so only Neil’s red cheeks were visible. He had yet to learn his father’s trademarked phrase; respect and responsibility.

“I'm sorry, dad, I didn't mean to, it won't happen again!”

He knew that none of that would help but it was worth a try.

“You spineless faggot, don't grovel at me! Stand up, boy!”

That was the first time Billy had heard that word from his father directed at him. Usually he'd hear him say it in the direction of scantily-clad boys hanging out on street corners or in alleyways (“ Stay away from those fags, Billy” ), or at the pop-stars dancing around their fuzzy TV screen (“ If I ever catch you listening to that faggot’s music…” ).

Susan had come running in as soon as she heard the noise.

“Neil? Is everything all right?” She rounded the corner to find her boyfriend holding his son by the upper arm, dragging him up as he struggled to get to his feet.

He smacked him in the face, once, twice, three times, then threw him back on the ground. Neil delivered a swift kick to the boy’s abdomen, then leaned over him.

“Next time you're playing your music too loud, it'll be more than just the radio that gets broken. Clean up this mess.”

He stalked out of Billy's demure room and back into the living room.

At first, Susan had tried to help Billy up, she was crying a little. Two or three tears were dripping down her cheeks. She timidly touched his hand and lifted them to her eyes, quaking. She helped him to sit up against the bookshelf and touched his face lightly. He hissed as her fingers brushed the tender skin.

“Susan! Leave him alone, the boy needs to learn responsibility.”

So she let go of him as if he were a viper and went back into the living room, without a single glance at the boy on the floor.

That was the first and last time Susan had ever tried to help him after his dad went to town on him. And yet, she married the bastard and brought her own daughter into his home. His blood started boiling the moment Neil introduced her as his “new sister” , and it had yet to simmer down.

Neil made true on his promise to break more than the radio, after Billy had saved up enough to buy a new radio, it only took about a month before it was smashed against the wall. The next moment, Billy was crying out in agony as three of his fingers were snapped in his father's grip.

“Grow up, I hardly touched you!” Neil shouted as he twisted Billy’s fingers around.

He could feel the bones grinding together, leaving needles and fire radiating up his hand and arm. He tossed Billy to the ground and stalked away, taking another swig of the beer in his other hand. He had managed to not spill a drop as he smacked Billy around.

Billy had lain on the floor for the better part of an hour, staring through clouded eyes at his crooked and purpling fingers. He had stood up and knocked them back into place on the bedpost, too much of a coward to do it with his other hand. It was obvious that was what he had to do, even a 13 year old knew that fingers shouldn’t be at a right angle. He had immediately fallen to his knees, stuffing his other hand in his mouth to stifle the scream pouring out of his throat. He wrapped it in some bandages he had found in the bathroom and managed to keep Neil from touching them for nearly two weeks. By the time a month had passed, it was easier to move them. They were forever overlapping and off-angle after that.

He hadn’t dared to ask Neil to take him to the hospital. And anyway, he was proud of his fingers; they looked nice at a specific angle and he wore them like scars, like badges of honor. I fucking survived, what have you done?

The moment of pride fled quickly.

Those crooked fingers now tightly gripped the silverware in his palm. Two on the other hand had been broken as time went on and the other three had been broken an assorted number of times, leaving for Billy’s hands to seem patchwork and nearly grotesque. His fingers seemed to ache constantly.

Poor Max. Now the burden of knowledge was on her, even if she didn't know that some of it went on because of her, she knew it went on. Billy could only hope that she used her knowledge wisely; to stay out of trouble herself.

Billy finished his meal as quickly as possible and stood up.

“Thank you, Susan, it was delicious.”

He wished that he could hit her or scream at her sometimes. But it wasn't really her fault either; she was just as afraid as Billy was.

He brought his plate over to the sink and rinsed it off. He scrubbed it with a bit of soap in his hand, then placed it in the drying rack. He walked quietly down the hallway towards his room. As he placed his hand on the knob he heard;

“I don’t want to see or hear you for the rest of the night, Billy.”

“Yessir,” he called back.

He opened and closed the door behind him, taking a moment to lean against it and just breathe.

“Dammit!” he whispered harshly, kicking the post of his bed and holding in a groan as his pinky toe connected with it too hard.

The bed gave a violent shudder and groaned in sympathy.

He rarely wore just socks on his feet around the house, but this was one of those unlucky times. It was somewhat beneficial, as Neil now couldn’t hear him walking around. But Neil seemed to prefer Billy to wear shoes; perhaps it was because he could hear him, or perhaps he could step on Billy’s toes without causing too much damage.

Fuck him.

Neil didn’t want to see or hear him? Then he wasn’t going to be there to be seen or heard.

He grabbed his boots and jacket and opened his window as quietly as possible. He glanced back at the door when it squeaked, but no one came barging in to throw him to the ground. He dropped his boots through the window and tossed his jacket through before sliding through himself and closing it carefully behind him. He slipped on his boots and jacket and stomped off into the forest. There was a party going on right about then at some bitch’s house, and Billy would be damned if he didn’t show up to get shitfaced.

That was what he needed, something to calm the roaring waves of anger and hatred that were making his hands shake and his muscles pull and push against each other. There wasn’t even anyone to glare at and he was already baring his canines.

“FUCK!” he screamed into the darkness.

Neil had no fucking right. He had no fucking right to take anything from Billy, that fucking asshole had no right to be a fucking father or a husband. He was too everything except good, and Billy could feel that creeping into his own personality. Maybe ‘creeping’ was the wrong word, the waves of hatred inside him were not only made by Neil, but they were Neil. Billy almost was Neil. He was becoming his greatest fear and he could feel it crawling beneath his skin and invading every pore, infecting his mind until they were twins. Sometimes he swore he could hear it chattering and scratching as it planted its roots deeper. He could feel Neil’s anger inhabiting his very soul and Billy wanted to tear at his skin until the spirit was out and his soul could float away, away from him . No matter what he wore, or where he was, he could feel Neil looking through his eyes and fanning the flames of his anger.

Flames, waves, who gave a fuck what his anger looked like? It was an insurmountable and ever-expanding peak, a monstrous flame, a tsunami, a perfect storm that consumed everything in its path and didn’t believe in mercy or favoritism.

When he wasn’t angry, he felt indescribable disgust with himself. But he had started to become numb to all of it; feeling nothing was better than feeling so much at once. Billy lived for the days when he felt nothing, thrived on those rare occasions that he was at least a little happy, and died a little every other day of the year.

His hands shook violently as he pulled out a cigarette from his jacket and lit it up. The smoke usually calmed it, at least a little. 

He was desperate to get out of that fucking house, always, and Neil had just taken the chance to run, if only for a few hours. Run to...anywhere but there. Steve, a guy he barely knew and wasn’t sure how he felt about yet -- even if he was supposedly his friend-- , was even a place to run. Maybe even Tommy’s house, if he was in the right mood. Actually, never mind, being alone in the woods was better than willingly subjecting himself to Tommy’s company.

For fucks sake, Billy would jump into some fucking death dimension if it meant he could get away from Neil. Not to say that Billy would die to get away from Neil, not literally, he wasn’t some fucking depressed person. He wasn’t like Caleb.

No, he would accept the punishment of being Neil’s son, no matter how vile it seemed. He would live, no matter how bad it got. At his core, Billy was a survivor, he would live.

It was almost cathartic to realize, but the feeling edging on peace disappeared quickly.

Neil sentenced him to a lifetime of being his father. The realization was crushing. His knees almost buckled at it, but the lure of alcohol to forget that feeling, for even just a few hours, was strong enough to keep him walking.

He wiped the tear off of his cheek as he heard the bass pounding through the forest. He took a moment to wait for his eyes to clear and his nose to let him breathe again, then stomped forwards. He crushed his cigarette, smoked nearly to the filter, under his boot.

Multicolored lights danced through the trees, greeting Billy as he stumbled into the yard.

Chapter Text

Billy shoved his way through the open door into the crowded house. Everywhere he looked was skin-to-skin contact, with barely enough space to move around. They were packed in like sardines.

He grabbed the first single bitch he saw and started dancing with her. She tried to shove him away at first, but once she realized that King Billy was grinding on her, she settled down and started to move with him.

The music permeated his mind and made him forget about Neil faster than even a few good Irish Car Bombs could, but not for longer. Soon enough, he felt his humiliation and bruises returning, throbbing. They were all screaming at him louder than the music, filling his skull with their constant barrage.

REMEMBER?

So he shoved the bitch he was dancing with away, much to her chagrin and to the people she was pushed onto. Billy bulldozed past the crowd, making a beeline for the kitchen. At least four other cows saw him coming and tried to snatch him up; one of them saw the anger on his face and shrunk away instantly. Two tried to grab his arm to pull him back to the dance floor -- only to be thrust away by a quick forearm to the chest. Then another actually stepped directly in front of him and tried to thrust her arms around his neck, only to be -- yep, you guessed it -- shoved backwards and into the crowd behind her as he plowed past. He had changed his course only a little to avoid running straight into her. She spilled her drink all over her blouse and the girls around her, instantly forgetting about Billy and cowering under their drill sergeant quality stares.

Finally, Billy made it to the kitchen and picked a random cup off the counter, draining it with one gulp. It was good but it wasn’t not enough.

He tossed the cup in his hand away and grabbed a clean one. He scooped up some of the mystery punch and downed that, too. It burned on the way down, but he ignored it, not even grimacing at the sting. If Billy could name one thing he was good at, it was his aptitude for drinking.

And sex, maybe, but that wasn't the issue at the moment.

He refilled his cup twice and tilted his head back with that classic red Solo cup pressed desperately to his lips, stretching the skin to get that last drop in the bottom. It was fucking teasing him by staying there, and it fucking knew it.

He growled as the bead of whatever the fuck was in the punch bowl stubbornly stayed latched to the bottom and slammed his cup down on the counter. It wasn't fucking enough.

He filled his cup again and went out back into the crowd, letting the music try to tug him away from Earth. And, goddammit, was Bon Jovi trying, he could feel the beat tugging at the tenuous strings that connected his awareness to his body. The strings snapped one by one until only a singular line was present.

Billy thrust his arms in the air, waving them about wildly in some semblance of drunken dancing. He twisted his wrists and wiggled his finger and shook his entire body, trying to snap that line. Trying to dispel all the energy that was inside of him. 

He threw his cup into the crowd, ignoring the annoyed looks from everyone in the drink’s splash path.

Goddammit.

It wasn’t enough, yet everything was too much. The music wasn’t loud enough, he wasn’t drunk enough. But he could feel too much, there were too many people. He could feel the denim of his jeans rubbing against his legs and his toes rub against the inside of his boots. His knuckles throbbed as a reminder of the events from earlier that day.

He dropped his arms abruptly and stalked back into the kitchen. He reached under the sink and grabbed a random bottle of something. Amateurs. Everyone kept the bottles under the sink.

Billy considered grabbing another one, for the road, but shrugged and stalked out the patio doors, which were luckily just off the side of the kitchen. He threw the plastic wrapping from around the lid onto the ground and leaned against the wall. It was a new, full bottle; he could cry from joy.

Outside, the music wasn’t nearly as persuasive, but there were less warm bodies to press in on him and the cool night air distracted from the constant rubbing of denim against his skin. 

He untwist the top from the bottle and took a swig. Whiskey, a favorite of his. He grimaced as it burned a path down his throat and settled warmly in his stomach.

Better.

At least it is until a bitch or two noticed he was out there.

“Hey, Billy. How have you been? I didn’t know you were gonna be at this party!”

She leaned forwards, letting out a shrill giggle. Her shirt was just low enough that anyone taller than her could glance down into her cleavage. Billy tried not to roll his eyes as she drew a hand down his bicep.

“What’s your name again?” Billy asked, glancing at her face.

She seemed somewhat familiar, but definitely knew he hadn't fucked her before. And she didn't look like the type of gal to take the classes Billy was in. But then again, Billy didn't look like the type of guy to take the glasses Billy was in, so who's to say.

He pretended to ogle her cleavage as she spoke, glancing up every once in a while to see her grinning happily and pursing her lips. She had some of the better breasts he had ever seen, but certainly not the best. Hers were too big. If he had to pretend to like a girl, he preferred smaller breasts.

The best he had ever seen were on a girl in Cali. She had gone for a swim and her top came off, but she didn’t realize until she was all the way out of the water. She ran back in, shrieking with horror, but not before everyone looking her way out at the surf, so nearly everyone on the beach, had gotten an eye full. She had been nearly completely flat-chested. She was old enough, though Billy wasn’t some pedophile who ogled 12 year olds, no matter what those ridiculous “informational” videos said. She had looked to be almost twenty, but her friend said she was eighteen. Billy would know because he chatted both of them up, taking their numbers and giving a false promise to call them.

“Tiffany,” the girl in front of him with too-large boobs said. She leaned even further forwards, so that she was practically pressing herself against Billy’s arm. “Are you enjoying the party?” She bat her eyelashes.

“It’s alright, could be better.” He shrugged and trailed a finger down her arm.

“Really? Well, if you’re not enjoying yourself, why don’t we get out of here and enjoy ourselves somewhere else?” She pressed herself further into him, smiling widely.

“You’re right,” Billy said.

Her smiled widened, impossibly, and a hand moved to his chest.

Billy smirked at her and leaned forwards, leering.

“Later, Tiffany,” he said as he pushed her off of him and walked back into the woods.

He turned as he reached the edge and shouted, “I’ll go enjoy myself somewhere else!”

Her mouth open in an O and her eyebrows were so close together they looked more like an eyebrow.  Billy swung back around the face the trees and kept walking. He heard her indignant sigh, but why should he give a fuck?

His arms swung sloppily as he took heavy steps down the small hill. At this point, he was more stumbling than walking into the trees, but he’s still traveling so what does it matter. He took another swig, this time leaning against a tree, before continuing on.

It wasn’t fucking fair. Billy did everything that Neil had ever fucking told him to do, to the fucking letter, yet still he got punished. Billy was obedient, yet he got the fucking bruises.

“useless”

Billy was not fucking useless. He did a his chores and all of his homework and he was in mainly AP classes, for Christ sakes, so there was a good bit of fucking homework. It wasn’t always on time, of course, but he still fucking did it. And he kept mostly As and Bs, which was admirable within its fucking self.

He worked for his own money, paid for the Camaro himself. Billy paid for all the fucking repairs and the oil changes and the gas. He even drove it out to Hawkins all by his fucking self because Neil refused pick it up. Mind you, Susan, Max, and Neil, all flew into Indiana.

Who gave Neil the fucking right to take his car? It felt like he was violating Caleb’s memory. Billy didn’t really know how, but that was what it fucking felt like. As if, Caleb were the Camaro or some weird shit like that.

Max got to do anything she fucking wanted, but if Billy did one thing wrong he got slapped around and the only thing that made life in that fucking hellhole of a house tolerable taken away. Maxine was the golden child. The child that Neil always wanted. Billy guessed that the only condition that he didn’t fill is that he was a fag, but by God, was that apparently an important condition.

At least Max wasn’t a faggot, she wasn’t unnatural. For her own sake and for Neil’s. The old bastard would have a fucking aneurysm if that happened. She talked about that kid Lucas way too fucking much to be a dyke, but then again anything could happen. Billy had talked about Princess Leia a lot, before he had moved onto Han Solo. But who in their right mind didn’t like Harrison Ford?

At that point, Billy had emptied about half the bottle and was barely keeping himself upright.

He belched loudly, then proceeded to vomit into the bushes. He wiped his mouth and took another swig, swishing it around to get the taste of bile mixed with alcohol out of his mouth.

Billy nearly tripped over a root, but managed to scrape his hand against the tree’s bark in time to keep from falling flat on his face.

He was shuffling in a random direction, as he usually did in the woods, when a profound sense of déjà vu came over him. The forest seemed unnaturally bright in that area.

He looked up sharply to see the lights of the parking lot of Hawkins Hospital staring back at him.

“Oh, goddammit.” Billy sighed. He stood there staring at it for a moment before walking forwards. “All roads lead to Hawkins General Hospital, I guess,” he muttered to himself.

The hospital was like a beacon of phosphorescence, he had no clue how he hadn't noticed it before when it was so inky black outside. It was mainly exposed brick, but parts of it where painted with this annoyingly bright blue that turned into bird-shit as the walls got higher. 

He approached the entrance but didn’t try to go in, rather he sat at the curb.

Literally everyone liked Harrison Ford. Only four years ago, Billy had admired him from the back row of the movie theater when he was Indiana Jones. Damn, he had looked wonderful wandering around the desert. But the kicker had been the year before Hawkins -- or B.H. as Billy fondly referred to it in his head -- 1984. Stumbling, sweaty, around the jungles of India, Harrison Ford looked as good as ever. Hot damn, he got shivers just from the memory of him shirtless before the cult of Kali. And holy fuck, not to mention the part on the bridge where his shirt sleeve had been ripped off. Biceps for fucking miles. Billy would be nearly unashamed to say that he had a cut out from one of Susan’s magazines tucked into his side drawer. Nearly.

He remembered her talking about how she wanted to go see the movie so bad, and Billy, you better not go see it without me , she said with a laugh. Of course, he went to go see it and then never talked to her about it, ever.

Susan never did anything to help. She never said anything to make him stop, she never tried to intervene or protect him. She never fucking did anything to help him. Susan never tried to patch him up or anything. Most of the time she would react to Neil’s invective. She just sat there and watched, sometimes she would flinch or whimper when a pop would resound.

He was a child and no one was willing to help, not even the woman who was supposed to be his new mother. Neil could do whatever he wanted, it seemed, as long as he wasn’t too vulgar while doing it.

Footsteps interrupted his thoughts.

Hospital security , he thought. 

“Yeah, yeah, I’m leaving.”

Billy sighed and went to push himself up, falling backwards a bit. Although who the fuck in that tiny-ass town works the night shift for security at a hospital? It wasn't like there were some crazy bo-

“Billy?”

He turned around to see Steve standing behind him.

“We have to stop meeting like this. What are you doing here, Harrington?” He smiled saucily. Or at least he thought it looked saucy, who’s to say?

Billy took another swig.

“Couldn’t sleep. Again.” He sat down next to the drunk teen as he spoke. “What are you doing here, Hargrove?”

He sounded much too suspicious for Billy’s liking.

“Oh, it’s ‘Hargrove’ now, is it?” He shrugged. “Alright. I got bored.” He smiled a wolf’s smile.

“Are you okay?”

Billy glanced over at him. His eyebrows were furrowed and his mouth was twisted in...worry? So Billy offered him the bottle.

Steve shook his head, but he took the bottle anyway. Billy tightened his grip and tried to yank it back. No way was anyone taking this away from him.

“Billy, I think you’ve had enough.”

Billy managed to pry the bottle from Steve’s grip as he stood up, stumbling of course, and nearly fell over again but managed to keep his balance without grabbing onto Steve.

“Fuck you, Harrington.” He took another swig and started to go back to the woods through the parking lot.

Steve grabbed Billy's arm before he managed to get too far.

“What the fuck, Billy? What’s wrong with you today?”

Billy yanked his arm away, stumbling.

“Are you fucking deaf, pretty boy? Fuck. You.” Billy got in his face, pointing at him and splashing a little out the bottle.

This close, Billy could smell him. By some fucking miracle, he didn't smell like the inside of a hospital

Steve was staring at him with wide eyes.

“With your fucking hair and your fucking hands and your fucking skin." His words went a bit wonky in the end, drawing out the f to be more like fffuck. "Fuck you, Harrington.” Billy had been staggering away while saying this.

Even his drunk brain hoped that Steve hadn’t heard any of it.

“Billy!”

The boy in question threw the bottle, still with some blessed whiskey in it, to the ground a few yards away, He cackled as the bottle shattered.

“Billy!” Harrington was silent for a moment, huffing echoing through the parking lot. “Well, fuck you, too!”

“In your fucking dreams, Harrington!”

Harrington seemed unwilling to leave the sidewalk, so Billy kept walking until he made it into the woods. He had walked home from the hospital before, so that shouldn’t have been too difficult.

Billy had no fucking clue what he had hoped to achieve by sitting in the hospital parking lot, but it certainly wasn’t that. It seemed Billy was an expert at drinking, fucking, and fucking things up between him and the only person who had shown prospects of friendship. Lovely. 

****

He had been sobering up a little since he threw up God knows how long ago, but his surroundings were looking familiar so he kept walking.

He regretted throwing the bottle, as it was bumfuck degrees outside and his jacket wasn’t doing anything for him. At least the whiskey had kept him warm.

God, he missed California. It never got that cold there. It was blistering hot, most of the time, with just enough humidity to make it bearable. Everyone could walk around shirtless and bask in the sun, none of this ‘freeze your face off’ shit. It was always sunny, no matter what season it was. It was even sunny when it was raining.

California was a paradise and Billy missed it with all of his heart and soul. There were beautiful boys and men everywhere, and no one cared if two people were making out on the beach, as long as they kept it PG-13. Didn’t matter who they were. The cops certainly didn’t give a shit. They gave everyone a warning for anything before even thinking about arresting them.

Billy remembered one time he had snorting something off a key in an alleyway and a passing beat cop had only banged his baton on the wall and told him to get lost. Cali was a fucking paradise.

His griping about the cold ended when he reached his house. He climbed carefully through the window and sat down on the bed. He made sure not to knock anything over and listened out for a moment.

The TV wasn't on, but that didn't mean Neil wasn't out there. Waiting. Billy's door was closed, which Neil never made sure of when leaving Billy's room, so it was a good sign that his absence had gone unnoticed. Or if someone had noticed, they didn't care. Which was absolutely fine by him.

He toed off his boots, careful not to fling them against anything, and fell back onto his bed.

It seemed he fell asleep as soon as his head made contact with the pillow.

Chapter Text

“Billy…”, his voice was dripping with desperation, sultry.

Whoever was speaking was absolutely begging Billy to touch him.

Oh fuck that was hot.

Billy could feel a hand, no, hands trailing down his hips. He tugged his shirt out from his waistband, the fabric jerking as it finally pulled free, and the hands moved slowly up his abdomen. His skin burned at the places where the pads of the fingers just barely brushed him. Billy could feel that the hands were fairly large and calloused, wrapping around his upper ribs. The texture made him tense up with anticipation. A thumb strayed upwards to glide over his nipple and he gasped quietly.

He could feel his back pressed into a wall and someone’s leg was between his. The leg drew attention to the tightness in his jeans, moving back and forth slowly along the hard ridge of his cock. The denim dragged heavily along the skin and Billy could sweat he was about to start shaking from want. 

“Billy, please.”

He felt his skin tighten at the words. The hands moved to stroke his back so that they were basically hugging.

Billy finally gained control of the rest of his body and drew his hands upwards, burying them in a head of some fucking HAIR. Billy knew whose head it was just by touching the goddamn hair.

It was Steve.

At the brush of his fingers on Steve’s scalp, he began to kneel. He dragged his hands down’ Billy’s chest as he went.

“Fuck, Steve.”

Billy twisted his fingers in Steve’s thick locks as he unzipped his pants. He pulled Billy's cock out, brushing it against the zipper.

“Fuck,” Billy murmured as he tightened his fingers, pulling Steve’s hair.

“Billy.”

“Sorry,” he muttered, loosening his grip with a supreme amount of effort.

“Billy. Billy. Billy!”

“Jesus, what do you want, Harrington?”

Billy opened his eyes to glare down at Steve.

He was bleeding from a cut above his eye. Bruises and scrapes littered his face. His hair was limp, stained a bit red in some places, and clutched in Billy’s fist. He could see the skin of Steve's scalp stretching. Strands of his hair had already come loose in his grip. 

“Billy! Please, stop!”

Tears streamed past the purpling bruises. Steve threw his hands up in front of his face.

Billy glanced back in confusion to see his fist raised, already streaming blood at the knuckles.

Billy let go of Steve’s hair and the boy dropped back to the ground, groaning. Billy was shaking. He fell to his knees as Steve screamed in front of him.

When Billy woke up, his head was pounding. Like a motherfucker.

But it wasn’t a quick realization. He didn’t wake up immediately like one would expect after one of those dreams; it was slow. It took him time to remember where he was and that Steve wasn’t actually there. Fortunately. He only realized his brain was trying to fucking kill him after he had been staring at the wall for a few moments and suddenly realized he could hear his blood pumping behind his ears. His skull was vibrating in time. Billy’s head almost felt hollow, if that made any sense. Like it was a bell and the emptiness was the reason it was ringing.

Whatever, he knew what he meant.

“Sweet Jesus,” he muttered, holding his head.

Billy was the lucky sort when it came to hangovers, he didn’t get them all that often and when he did get one, it was usually just a headache.

“Fuck,” he muttered. He closed his eyes, but opened them immediately as the image of Steve, beaten and bleeding, flashed before him.

It was still early, as he could see from the pale light leaking through his window.

He sighed and stood up, already starting to forget about the dream. Luckily.

He shed his stiff clothing, groaning as he shifted his aching joints, and gathered up more jeans, a shirt, and another jacket. He glanced outside his door for a moment before rushing into the bathroom. Billy showered as quickly as possible, not even waiting for the water to warm up all the way.

He had jumped forward, hissing, when the ice cold water touched his back, but eventually got used to it and finished up quickly. He toweled off his body, but didn’t bother doing the same to his hair, rather he shook it out like a dog. He glanced at the wet mess in the mirror and couldn’t help but let out a short laugh. He dressed quickly, setting the towels back up on the rack. The blow dryer would be too loud, so he would have to wait for his hair to dry outside. That would probably be very uncomfortable but he would rather leave before Neil woke up, much less be the cause of Neil waking up before 10 on a Saturday.

He brushed his teeth slowly, hoping that would save him at least a little discomfort, but it was still dripping by the time he finished. He inspected his cheek in the mirror, frowning at it. The bruise wasn’t as dark as he thought it would be but it was still too noticeable for his liking.

Billy made sure everything in the bathroom was in proper working order before heading out into the kitchen. He grabbed two Advil from the medicine cabinet above the sink, and swallowed them dry. Then, he headed outside to the Camaro, only to remember Neil still had the keys.

The cold stung against his neck, forcing the still wet hair to cling.

He sighed, rubbing his eyes and started walking. He was about five minutes down the road when he remembered the book he was planning on giving Steve.

“Fuck.”

He sighed again, already done with that day, and jogged back to the house, praying that no one was awake yet. He made it back quickly and stepped quietly back to his room to get the book. He tucked it into his jacket and glanced around the hall before rushing back out the door.

Billy was planning on starting to earn back some of Neil’s money that day. There was an open shift at the local diner that he had claimed last week, and the tips usually paid pretty well. Especially if the customer was a woman over 40 and Billy unbuttoned the first two buttons on his shirt. They were usually pretty susceptible to his charm, as was any person with sense, eyes, and ears, but especially those women. Their superstition and husbands had failed them, so they turned to pretty young men who looked like they belonged on the covers of some new Johanna fucking Lindsey book. He only knew who she was, because no matter what beach he went to in Cali, there were always at least five women reading one of her books. They’d would only ever lower them to ogle at Billy through their sunglasses.

He understood loving books and loving to read, but those books? There was no plot, just some half-baked romance. It was the same story with the same characters in every book, just different names. The only reason he knew that, is because his mother used to complain about them. She preferred actual literature over harlequin (who wouldn’t?). Books were an escape, but some routes were better than others.

But books costed money to buy and getting them from local library was never an option. Once, Billy had written all over a book, then only realized it wasn’t his when he got to the back cover and saw the San Francisco City Library stamp. The librarians had had a field day with fines and Billy was practically banned from ever going in that library again.

He smirked at the memory, the librarian’s shrill shrieking reverberating around his head.

Music was cheaper. It was free if you had a radio, but he couldn’t spend all his time in the Camaro, no matter how hard he tried.

Billy had been saving up to get some new cassettes, but that was out of the window now.

Music had always been a release, a small one but a release nonetheless. There was something about the beat that made his heart pump in time and something about the lyrics that changed the dialogue in his brain. He could lose himself in it, throw himself mind, body, and soul into the tune and never look back. It was a great 4 minute high.

His mother had loved music.

Billy purposefully stopped that line of thought before it went anywhere else. He stepped out onto the asphalt and sighed.

His mind was blank as he took a now worryingly familiar route up to Steve’s room. Billy had been trying to work out how he was going to go on damage control since he had woken up, but the process had been relegated to the back of his mind so had he really been working on it? Not really.

Steve was already hooked up to chemo.

“Jesus, Harrington, it’s seven in the morning.” Billy said, strutting into the room.

Billy smirked at him.

Steve reluctantly smiled back and shrugged from where he was leaning against the bed. “Aggressive and often,” he said simply.

Billy stepped forwards hesitantly and handed Steve the battered book.

“It must get boring in here,” he said. Billy cleared his throat.

Steve stared down at the book for a moment before taking it. “Thanks.”

Steve put the book aside and they lapsed into silence. Billy was preparing to leave awkwardly, when suddenly Steve sat up on the bed, crossing his legs underneath him. He looked intently at Billy, who was even more prepared to leave now if only to escape from the scrutinizing glare.

“What happened last night?”

“What do you mean?”

It was a lame attempt to get out of explaining an unexplainable event, but at least he was trying. Billy knew full well what happened last night, he wasn'y not some lightweight who blacks out after a few drinks. Even if Billy knew how to explain it, he didn’t want to say something completely idiotic to make the situation worse.

Steve narrowed his eyes, probably suspecting that Billy knew more than he let on.

“Okay, fine. Then what happened before that? Why did you hit Jonathan? And spit at Nancy?” Steve was leaning forwards now and tilting his head, as if he could hear the guilt rattling around inside of Billy.

That Billy could probably explain, but his mouth decided to move before his brain could.

“Because they deserved it.”

“They may be dicks, but it doesn’t mean they deserved that.”

Billy scoffed and turned his head away. Anything not to look into those expressive eyes, no matter how much they enchanted him, they also scared him. How deep could they see into Billy?

“Jesus, Harrington, you’re a bleeding heart.”

There was a sudden gasp and Billy whipped his head back around. Steve was standing quickly and grabbing at Billy’s chin, turning his head again. He held his arm with the IV in it back, trying to keep the needle from ripping out of his arm, but Billy could see the line pulled taut and the tape over the needle pull threateningly. Billy felt him carefully drag his finger down his cheek and he jerked away before his face could turn too red or he did anything else he would regret like echo Steve's movements. Steve was way too close. 

“Are you okay? Did Jonathan do that?” Steve reached out for his face again but his hand cowed under Billy’s gaze. 

He backed up towards the IV back, relaxing the line. Billy could see his features twitch as the needle settled back into place.

“That fairy couldn’t lay a finger on me if he tried, amigo.”

Steve frowned lightly and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Then who did that? Was it some guy at school or something?”

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it, Harrington.” Billy stepped back until he could lean against the wall.

“Fine, don’t tell me. But you still need to apologize to Jonathan and Nancy.”

Billy chuckled darkly. “Now why would I do that? They deserved it for treating you the way they did.”

Steve seemed taken aback by that. “I appreciate your chivalry, but I don’t need it. And while you’re at it, why don’t you also apologize to your sister-”

“Step-sister-”

“She told me about what you did the other day.”

Billy’s smile had long faded, but his expression became dangerous at that.

Max had been her usual sassy self in the car and Billy had been well and truly fed up with her that day. She wasn’t doing as he asked, still hanging out with that kid Lucas, and her wrist had come into view. His fingers were around it before he had time to think otherwise.

“You think this is a fucking game, Max?”

He squeezed her wrist and she whimpered sharply.

“I got a bad feeling about that kid, Max. He’s bad news.”

" What do you care,” she said bravely, sinking back into her seat immediately after.

“Like it or not, we’re family now. I told you to stay away from that kid and I expect you to fucking do as I say.”

He threw her wrist back at her and she sunk into the corner of the car.

“That’s none of your business. That’s between me and Max.”

Steve scoffed at him. “Not when she has bruises on her wrist and a broken skateboard.”

It seemed like small change to what she had done to him.

“Oh, she’ll fucking live.”

Billy . Apologize to her!”

“No!”

“Billy, why do you insist on being such an asshole!? Just leave Max alone!”

Steve coughed at the end of his sentence, but the anger in his eyes didn’t decrease at all.

“You don’t understand, Harrington! She deserves everything that’s coming to her.” Billy was standing tall now, chest and chin puffed out. He was nearing up on Steve, who was angrily holding his ground.

“Even if she does, why do you have to be the one to give it to her?”

“Because that’s just how it works.”

“Billy, I-”

Steve stepped forwards as he was talking, pointing accusingly at Billy, and crumpled to the ground in a sudden gasp and a fit of coughs.

Billy stood dumbfounded for a moment before stooping down. He knelt next to Steve and placed a hand on his shoulder. He massaged him and pat his back until the fit faded. Steve sat there, chest heaving.

“Steve? Are you alright?”

He looked up at Billy with blood dripping from his nose.

Billy had a flashback to his dream and suddenly he was frozen. Steve’s face, bruised and battered, flashed before him. He had the sudden realization that he had done this. Billy was the one who was hurting Steve. He almost left right then, but he could help him this time.

Billy negotiated the edge of his jacket into this hand and shoved the sleeve under his nose and pressed lightly upwards. He grasped under Steve’s arm and started to pull.

“Come on, up you get.”

He helped Steve get back into his bed and to lie back. Steve wiped his hand on the sheets, leaving a red stain behind. He chest was still heaving and a horrible wheezing sound was coming from his throat.

“Should I call a nurse?”

Steve shook his head tiredly and put a hand on Billy’s wrist, his fingers pressing at him lightly through the denim.

“Sorry.” Billy removed the sleeve under Steve’s nose and rushed into the bathroom for a wad of toilet paper. “Here.”

Steve nodded and managed a ‘thank you’. He held the paper to his nose, allowing it to turn red in no time, and lay back even further into the bed. His breathing began to calm after a few moments.

“Can… you get… me a trash...can?” His speech sounded wet.

Billy waited patiently for the end of his sentence before picking up the wire basket next to the bed and placing it next to the gasping boy.

“How long do you have left?”

Steve glanced quickly at him. He took away the tissue, glaring at its blood-covered surface, and folded it over before putting it back up to his face.

“Seven, maybe eight months. At the most.”

Steve sat up a little on the bed, sighing. He stuffed his feet under the sheets and lay his head back on the pillow.

They fell into a short silence, in which Billy had time to regret going there. Not only had he triggered a coughing fit and put Steve in a lot of pain, but he had also called him by his first name. It was completely unprecedented to him, it changed everything it seemed. He wasn’t sure if he could really call him Harrington anymore. Billy hoped beyond reason, technically for the second time that day if he recalled the drunken incident, that Steve hadn’t heard him say anything.

“I’m sorry you have to go through this,” Billy said from where he was still awkwardly standing next to the bed.

He felt a million miles away.

“That apology should be for Max.”

So at that, Billy turned around and walked out of the room. There were no arguments or dismissals as he walked out.

Not that he cared.

Steve didn’t fucking understand the pain that Max caused him. She was the reason for every single bruise on his body, every scrape and scratch. She was the reason for every broken thing in him and every scar on him from the past three years.

Billy admitted that perhaps he was a bit rude to her sometimes, but he was not going to let her walk all over him like Neil let her walk all over him. Like Billy let Neil walk all over him. She was going to respect him, or she was going to learn to respect him. After everything he did for her, it was the least she could do.

Steve just didn’t fucking understand.

Billy stomped out of the hospital and down the road towards town.

Chapter Text

Billy walked to the only diner in town and took up a shift for the morning. They were usually short-stocked on Sundays so they always offered him the shift for the lunch and dinner rushes. But he had to get through Saturday before that could happen.

Saturday was working at the diner in the morning, then taking up a shift at the grocery store until 7.

He had been rubbing at his blood-soaked sleeve the entire time he walked, picking at the worst of it. The blood had turned crusty, cooling quickly in the chill.

How was he going to explain that to Neil?

Billy wore that jacket almost everyday and a spot of blood the size of his fist would probably not go unnoticed. It was too late to wash it out completely; Billy was too familiar with trying to wash red stains out of all sorts of materials to know that it stained usually within the first hour. Lemon juice and salt wouldn’t solve this, it had been at least an hour and a half since he had pressed his sleeve to Steve’s face in an, again, much too familiar motion. The windchill certainly didn’t help anybody.

Trying to explain it as a fight would be too simple; no other scrapes on his body and a singular bloody spot weren’t good indicators of a fair fight, much less a fight at all. Even if Neil did believe it was from a fight, he would probably beat the shit out of Billy for starting trouble.

He’d have to scrap it somehow, leave it it the dinner maybe or just toss it in a public trashcan. But there was always the chance Neil could find it. And Billy couldn’t just leave it, not after everything. He couldn’t identify the feeling, but the jacket had somehow become even more important.

He sighed, scratching his head. It was a lost cause. He’d have to find a way to sneak the jacket past Neil without him noticing the spot, then keep it out of sight for...ever?

What fucking ever. Billy would cross that bridge when he fucking got to it.

He worked the slow morning at the diner until it was time to get to the store, which opened late on Saturdays. He shoved the ten dollars he got as pay into his pocket and walked across town.

He shoved his way past the door into the shop, only to be stopped dead in his tracks by none other than Joyce Byers.

Fuck.

He walked past her, pretending he didn’t know why she was glaring at him, and slipped into the back. He quickly took off his jacket, shoving it behind one of the shelves, and tied on an apron. Why did every place he worked want its employees to look like weak fucking housewives?

He finished off the know angrily and went back outside. It was somewhat a slow day, as most people did their shopping during the week, which was good because Billy didn’t really want to work, but also bad because that meant there was nothing to keep Joyce away from him.

He mostly hid in the stacks for most of the day, adjusting the products on the shelves until he was just walking laps around the store.

He could see her glaring at him every time he walked past, but that didn’t really mean anything. Did it? She may have just heard that Billy was the local bully, it didn’t necessarily mean she knew that he had pounded her son’s face into a pulp.

It wasn’t until closing, that she spoke to him for the first time.

"Are you Billy Hargrove?"

He didn’t want her more angry at him than she already was, so he replied with a quick “Yes, ma’am.” But not too quick. He wasn’t a pussy.

He also remembered that Steve spoke highly of her.

“The same Billy Hargrove that beat up my boy?”

He grimaced. “Yes, ma’am.”

He folded his healing knuckles behind his back. 

She handed him his check for the day, a grand total of seven dollars, but wouldn’t let him take it. Just as his fingers closed around it, she yanked it back towards herself.

“If you lay a finger on either of my boys ever again, I’ll make sure you never work at this store again.”

It was a weak threat, they both knew it, but he still nodded sheepishly. She couldn’t really do anything to him, but Billy vaguely remembered Steve saying that she and the Sheriff were having a not-so-secret, secret affair.

She let go of his check and watched as he walked to the back of the store again.

He took off his apron, glad to be rid of it, and picked up his jacket. He walked out the back of the store and didn’t look back.

He walked quickly back home, grateful that it was still a bit light outside. He folded his jacket over his arm before he stepped inside, making sure the sleeve was buried beneath the folds of the rest of the denim. 

He handed his dad the seventeen dollars he made, his mouth making a promise to bring Neil the rest on Sunday, and fled to his room.

“Billy.” Neil's voice stopped him before he even had the chance to reach for the doorknob. 

“That’s all I have right now, sir.”

“That’s a lie and we both know it. You don't want me to have to stand up, Billy.”

Billy didn’t say anything as he went into his room and pulled out the ten dollars he had been desperately hoping Neil would never find out about. He handed the money to Neil, adding it to the stack already in his outstretched hand, and stood, waiting to be dismissed.

“Thank you.”

Billy stepped carefully back into his room and shut the door. He shoved the stained jacket under his bed, and sat down. Billy sighed and flung himself backwards, laying on his back with his arms outstretched. 

There was a party that night that he had been planning on going to, but he was too tired. Despite the fact that he barely worked that day, standing around waiting to work was tiring.

He was silent during dinner, except for thanking Susan for the dinner when he finished, then washed his dishes and went into his room.

Billy removed his clothing and covered himself with the sheets. He fell gratefully asleep.

*********

Sunday morning, he dressed quickly and made the short walk back to the diner. Neil, Susan, and Max usually didn’t wake up for church until the last minute, so he was safe when he woke up around 8:30.

“Morning, Earl,” he shouted as he stepped into the dinner. He quickly removed his jacket, allowing the sleeve to fold until the spot was covered.

He still had yet to get another jacket, or to try and wash it out. It was too cold to walk around town without a jacket, so he still had to wear it.

“Hey, Billy! You working today?” The fat man peered from behind the counter, leaning forwards on his elbows.

“Unfortunately.” Billy sauntered behind the counter and picked up and apron, dropping his jacket next to the pile.

He tied it around his waist, folding it so that it didn’t cover his shirt and his chest was out to draw in the tips.

“You know this is my diner, right?”

“All too well, bud.”

Earl just shook his head. He knew too well at this point to keep from rising to Billy’s bait. He was the only server who came in at that time on Sundays; Earl needed him to keep from serving and cooking himself.

Usually, Billy would go to church with Neil and Susan and Max then slip away when the singing started -- so usually after the first ten minutes -- to get to the diner and help set up. Neil only really wanted him there for the communion, anyway. But he skipped today. It would be fine; Neil didn’t seem to really care for Billy being in church. He would glare at him the whole time and sit on the opposite side of the bench. As if Billy would burst into flames at any given moment. Whatever.

Luckily, Neil hated burgers; the only un-American thing about him, so he would never take his family to a burger joint.

He slipped into the backroom and pulled out the squirt bottles for condiments. He went into autopilot and placed each on a table, making sure they were filled. Oh how he longed to fill the ketchup bottle with mustard. Just to mix things up, just to get a few people going. But no matter how Christian they were, angry churchgoers were a nightmare.

Then, he rolled napkins for two hours until church let out.

The entire time he wished he hadn’t left the hospital. Apologizing to Max and a little blood on his sleeve seemed like minor inconveniences now, if only he wouldn’t have to spend the next two to three hours being yelled at and ogled. Compared spending two to three hours with someone he could tolerate.

It was ridiculous, he realized. He had only met the bastard four or so days ago, and yet here he was, thinking about him on the daily. Probably hourly, if he was being completely honest.

He wished his mother were there, so he could talk to her about it. He was starting to forget her face, so trying to imagine what she would have said was a complete no-go. He paused in folding napkins to try and remember what she looked like. He glared at his reflection in the window and decided that she probably looked like him.

No, green eyes instead of blue, but the hair was the same. Blonde and beautiful.

He got back to the napkins before he became another Narcissus, but obsessed with remembering rather than himself.

They never would have gone to Hawkins if she hadn’t gone away, but the principle still stood; she probably would have known exactly what to say.

Maybe her eyes were brown?

Neil had destroyed every picture of her, burned them all up, along with everything she had seemingly ever touched. The oven mitts disappeared, and so did the dish towel after a few days. He burned pictures of them as a family, of her and Billy the day he was born. Anything with her face in it.

No, they were grey-ish, almost blue but not quite.

She would have been able to tell him what to do, how to deal with everything. Maybe he wouldn’t have been the same person. Definitely not as angry all the damn time, but what about the other thing?

Y’know, that .

The whole “dick sucking is a good pastime” thing.

That one.

Who’s to say? Billy couldn’t imagine himself otherwise, but she was gone anyway, so there was no use getting into all those crazy hypotheticals. There was no changing the past, there was no going back to the hospital that day.

So why should he have to apologize to Max? The little bitch purposefully defied him, defied Neil, and faced zero consequences. Every night for Max was homework, supper, TV, then bed. For Billy, it was tiptoeing around the house, doing his homework, eating barely anything before Neil got annoyed with his presence and told him to leave, then getting the shit beaten out of him, then bed. The same house, the same family, yet completely different in every way.

That bitch didn’t have anything to worry about besides who was going to ask her to the Spring Fling.

He abruptly stopped thinking as he realized that he had been sitting still for about ten minutes, having run out of napkins and utensils to fold.

Billy sighed and stood up, and walked around the small diner, dropping four rolls on each table. This was Middle America, everyone had at least two kids. Everyone had a four person family; Hawkins was too vanilla for anything else.

The Wheelers probably had one of the biggest families in town at five.

Did Steve have a sibling? A little brother or sister to annoy him but also to keep him company when Billy wasn’t there? Or when no one was there, it didn’t have to just be Billy.

Or maybe an older sibling? Someone to hold him and stay strong for him when his parents weren’t and when he couldn’t anymore.

If that’s what an older sibling was supposed to be, of course. Billy wouldn’t know.

Maybe he should apologize to Max. He could still become the older sibling that was his ideal version. But then again, he and Max weren’t actually siblings so did he have to? Did he have to be a good older brother? Did he have to apologize to her?

He supposed not.

What would he even apologize to her for? He was going through shit every damn day; he had a right to let some steam out.

He dropped one of the utensil bundles on the ground as realization crashed into him like a semi.

Maybe that’s what Neil was doing.

He was still going through shit, still angry about Billy’s mom and about Billy being a fuck up, so he let out some steam. Only to scald Billy.

He would not become his father. Billy would, well he wouldn’t die before that happened, but he certainly would try to keep it from happening.

He picked up the napkin and placed it on the table anyway, no one had seen him drop it.

Then he swept it back into the basket and replaced it.

He would think on it. Lord knows that bitch didn’t deserve it, but if only to save himself, Billy would consider it.

He gratefully returned to his previous line of thought, about sixteen fucking degrees back. Jesus, he needed to manage his stream of consciousness better.

Billy didn’t remember the wall of pictures well enough to give a definitive answer on Steve’s sibling status, but he thought that Steve probably would have talked about them before. If they were little, he definitely would have spent ten minutes gushing. God, he really loved kids. He was so protective of them.

Billy couldn’t understand it, but he didn’t really have to. They were annoying and bothersome, but if Steve liked them, then...well then they must be alright. 

If they were older… well Billy didn’t have an answer for that one. He hadn’t talked to Steve enough to know what he did and didn’t think about or talk about on the regular.

Billy tried to keep that thought in his mind; he didn’t know anything about Steve. He didn’t know if Steve even liked boys, and again, this was Middle America, so it was more than likely he was just as straight as everyone else in this town.

Billy should have stopped hanging around him days ago. His feet shouldn’t automatically take him to that damned hospital when he’s looking for a place to go. But alas, they do. A boy can dream. Maybe he could corrupt Steve’s innocent Midwest exterior, get inside him -- both mentally and physically -- and rearrange some things -- both mentally and physically.

That would be exciting.

Billy’s thoughts died as soon as he heard the screaming of small children. The lunch rush was about to begin.

************

He spent the next two and half hours waiting.

If he could have chosen, he would have been behind the bar the entire time, where the cute waitstaff always belonged, but most people chose to sit at booths. So most of that time was spent carrying trays laden with baked potatoes and roast beef back and forth around the small space.

Most of the middle aged mothers were too busy trying to corral their offspring to notice Billy and his smooth chest, but they usually caught a good glimpse of him. Then, as they left, they urged their apoplectic husband’s to leave a good tip. For the good waitering, of course.

The steady stream of customers petered out around 1:30, then Billy was left waiting around behind the counter, finally, for stragglers and everyone else who got bored on a Sunday.

He was lucky that none of his schoolmates showed up to the lunch rush, they wouldn’t have dared to tease him, but it still would have been embarrassing and his reputation as an impatient dickhead forever tarnished. Impatient dickheads didn’t get jobs as waiters, much less have tips springing out their pockets.

On Sundays, they usually spent their time half asleep at church, then fucked off to God knows where to eat lunch with each other, rather than spend more time than they needed to with their families.

The younger crowd usually showed up closer to midnight and Billy would be long gone by then.

Until he could leave though, he served coffee and pie. Pie and coffee.

Was it bad that he could name all the pies on the menu off the top of his head?

He filled his own cup of coffee about three times before they ran out of clean mugs and he had to divide his time between washing those and checking up on the customers at the counter. Most of them just grunted in reply and went back to reading their newspapers.

A few would smile at him and tell him “I’m fine, thank you, though.”.

Billy would never say it out loud but sometimes he enjoyed working at the diner.

He could talk to people without his rough exterior, he could take his mind away from everything else, he could pretend to not be afraid for a few hours. It wasn’t fun, but it was good.

He liked observing the people around him, when he didn’t have anything to do and could just people-watch.

There was a young-ish man who came by every Sunday. He had a two cups of black coffee, no pie. The first cup he always drank down quickly, probably burning his tongue, but the second always remained untouched. And it wasn’t that Billy was just automatically supplying customers with more cups than they asked for, he always made sure he asked for two cups. He asked for them both when he sat down, then reminded Billy to get him a second one when the first was nearly finished.

He was one of the customers who always smiled at Billy when he asked if he needed anything else. He was sweet. Billy had considered propositioning him, but the guy was buff and Billy didn’t fancy being beat up more than it already happened.

Further down the bar, there the old men. They always sat a seat apart but, by the end of their pies, were sitting next to each other laughing. One of them was foreign, either British or Irish, and the other was American. Whenever Billy walked past, they were swapping war stories, seemingly the same ones each time, but still laughing their asses off as if it were the first time they had heard it. They were the ones who usually grunted at him over their newspapers. They would just bang on the counter whenever they wanted something and Billy wasn’t over there. It grated on his nerves, but they already had one foot in the grave so he let it slide.

At the other end of the diner, there always sat two women. Sometimes they were in a booth and sometimes they were at the bar, but they always sat close together, their heads nearly touching as they whispered and giggled. From his vantage point, Billy could see them holding hands under the table whenever they sat at a booth.

Okay, so maybe not everyone in that town was straight; but two lesbians didn’t make the smallest fucking town in Indiana a gay hub.

They usually had one cup each and shared a piece of apple pie with a piece of cheddar. That had always seemed like a weird combination to him, but you can’t really be picky with your food if you eat pussy on the regular, he supposed.

They usually stayed until about ten, when Billy himself was ready to leave, and drove away in the same car, despite the fact they had arrived separately.

Earl never said anything about any of his customers, except for telling Billy their usual orders and which ones could get grumpy. But he never gossiped about any of them, so Billy didn’t ask.

There were others of course, but they usually only stayed for one cup then left. Even then, they didn’t come in every Sunday.

There wasn’t usually a dinner rush on Sundays, but a few people did come in so Billy got a few more dollars in tips before Earl told him that he could handle it, to go on home. He thanked Billy for his work, then sent him on his way with all his tips and the usual pay. He was walking out with about thirty-five dollars in his pockets.

Billy paused by the front of the building for a moment, lighting up a cigarette. He leaned his head against the window and let the smoke billow from his lips and nose.

He glanced back into the diner to see the youngish guy, still with his second cup of cold, untouched coffee, glancing back at him. He turned away, visibly blushing when he caught Billy’s eye. Billy smiled wolfishly and let out a short bark of laughter.

He stood there watching him for a moment, daring him to turn back around.

He had the sudden thought that the guy would walk out of the diner and look at Billy for moment, the same way Billy was looking at him, then walk around the back of the building. Billy would follow him, of course, and he would round the corner to find him leaning up against the wall.

From there his thoughts took two different courses.

The guy would try to kiss him, maybe Billy would let him, maybe he wouldn’t. Then Billy would press him against the wall and things would get hot and heavy pretty quickly. Maybe Billy would moan someone’s name, maybe he wouldn’t, all he knew is that it wouldn’t be some strangers name.

Billy could imagine a jacket being pushed halfway down someone’s body only to be stopped by his elbows. Pants would be hastily unzipped, maybe getting caught on someone’s underwear, then hands would be shoved down into that tiny space and wrap around something thick and warm. Billy would grasp the man’s biceps, squeezing the bulging muscle he found there and leave a few scratches and crescent indents in the skin. The man would yank on Billy’s blonde locks, flip their bodies around so Billy’s front was pressed into the wall and grind against him. Shove him back around and manage to get a leg between his. He'd try to keep quiet, but the feeling of denim against him would be too much.

Then suddenly there would be a pair of hands under his ass and Billy's legs would be around someone else's waist. A hot, wet mouth would appear at his neck, licking and biting and drawing even more sounds from him. 

Billy would reach up for dark, thick hair, and wouldn’t find any.

They’d get each other’s rocks off then go their separate ways with dark stains at the crotch. Then the next Sunday, they’d wink at each other, the stranger would blush a little bit at the site of nearly-invisible bruises on Billy's neck, and there would probably be a repeat act.

That was the first option.

The second option entailed the same beginning, but as soon as Billy would step forwards to grasp any part of him, he’d be on the ground within a few seconds with a pounding headache and the taste of blood in his mouth. The stranger’s brown eyes would flash blue and Billy would get up and sprint away like a little bitch. Choice words would be screamed in his ear as he was dragged back down to the ground and swallowed up by blackness. After that, it was more than likely that he would wake up in a jail cell with an accusation of indecency on his head.

The guy glanced back once and was getting ready to pay his bill, when Billy crushed his cig beneath his boot and walked away into the darkness. He heard the door to the diner open behind him, but he didn’t dare to turn around. The possibility of disappointment in both scenarios kept his legs moving. It didn't feel right. 

"Hey! You forgot your tip!" 

Billy glanced behind him once to see the guy smiling cockily and holding up a wad of bills. Oh so it was like that was it? 

Billy was keen on getting laid, but he wasn't a whore. 

"Keep it."

He didn’t slow down until he reached the door on Old Cherry.

Chapter Text

The journey home was a blur, same as Billy’s thoughts. They was a constant thread of ‘Should I have stayed?’, then the questions of where and why.

Stay at the hospital? With Steve? Oh, yeah Billy definitely wanted to stay there. But why? Not for any reason that he was gonna think about for too long. Let’s just say, Steve was an excellent conversationalist and leave it there.

Stay at the diner? Why? Money, a blow job? Maybe he should have stayed, everyone was constantly in need of more money and a good blow job. But it didn’t feel right, Billy did not know why but… it did not feel right. That guy didn’t have the lips for a good bj anyway, his top lip was too big. It would fold over and fuck shit up, then everyone would be upset. No, Billy was not upset he had not stayed, but he wasn’t exactly happy either.

Billy cleared his mind of another man’s lips as he walked up the steps of his father’s house.

When he got inside, Billy slapped twenty-five of the thirty he had made that day in his father’s palm and sat down to the already waiting dinner. He was late.

Max and Susan sat down around the table and Neil lagged by the TV for a moment before turning it off and sitting down at the head of the table.

They prayed, palm in sweaty palm, then ate in silence.

Billy had barely finished half of his meal before Susan spoke up timidly.

“Billy…”

He glanced up at her before looking back down at his plate.

“Yes?”

“Have respect for your mother, Billy.”

Susan was not his mother and would never fucking be. The bitch did not even adopt him when she married Neil, so she was not even his mother in the eyes of law. Billy would be rotting in his grave before he even considered calling her mom.

“Yes, Susan?”

She cleared her throat softly then said, “Max told me that the boy at the hospital had some sort of cancer, I prayed for him today. Hopefully the Lord will heal him and he can get back to school.”

Why the fuck was she telling him? She was not supposed to know that he had any stake in Steve’s recovery, so why the fuck would she be interested in telling him. Jesus points? The more people she told about her good samaritan qualities, the more likely she would be to get into heaven?

God, she sounded like a child telling their parent about something completely irrelevant, like seeing a fucking bird on the walk home. Billy really pitied her sometimes.

But...he still supposed he was grateful. She was doing everything she thought she could in order to help somebody.

He had to stop himself from telling her ‘thank you’.

“That’s good of you, Susan. I’m sure he’ll get better.”

Then Neil cleared his throat.

Billy had set his fork down when Susan started talking, but now his hand froze reaching for it.

“Speaking of praying, why weren’t you at church today, Billy?”

His mouth flapped open and closed, like a fish, while trying to scrabble together an answer.

“I’m sorry, sir, I forgot.”

At least he was honest, even if it was not going to sway Neil’s heavy-handed treatment.

He sighed, setting down his fork. Neil leaned back in his chair, then sat up again.

“Goddammit, Billy. It’s once a week and it’s one of the few things I ask you to do. I thought we talked about these things; respect and responsibility. Now you’ve refused to do both of those things. Why can’t you be a good son?” He shook his head, as if disappointed in a dog peeing on the carpet. “Go to your room and put the food back into the containers, boys who don’t follow directions don’t get dinner.”

Billy shirked his green beans into the dish, and his chicken onto another plate, almost dropping it on the table, and went to the sink. He washed his dish and utensils carefully then put them in the drying rack and went to his room. He thought about fighting, about defending himself, but he was tired. He had been on his feet for most of the day and had to deal with too many annoying and entitled people. For once, Billy took his punishment almost gratefully. 

No one else made a peep the entire time.

Susan was trying to melt into her chair, her face redder than Max's hair. Max, meanwhile, was completely frozen. Her eyes weren't leaving her plate and you could only see the hand holding her fork shaking slightly if you looked real close. 

Billy could feel his face burning red the entire journey, whether from embarrassment or anger or both, he did not know.

He heard faint whispering from the table and pressed his ear against the door.

“...have to be so hard on him, Neil. He was working today, you know how pressed life as a teenager can be. I don’t think he meant anything by it.”

Her voice grew quieter as she spoke, but Billy could still barely make out the words.

He could feel the entire house fall silent.

“I’ll punish my son how I see fit,” he spat.

Susan squeaked out something else and the clattering of silverware restarted. 

Billy had begun to think of the sound as...comforting. It was like when an orchestra was tuning, it was a randomized cacophony but somehow beautiful. Billy remembered hearing the orchestra at his old high school in Cali tuning every day while he was in English. The classrooms were right next to each other. 

Billy laid down on his bed and waited for the performance piece to end.

When it did, he stood immediately and pressed his ear to the door. He heard Susan arrive at her station at the sink and Max stomp down the hallway. The sound of her footsteps nearly obscured the unmistakable sound of the TV humming to life. Everyone was settled in and Billy doubted anyone would hear him move about.

He turned back to his room and shook out his hands. He gathered the ten dollars he had managed to hide from Neil over the two days he had worked and went back to his door. He made sure it did not open past a certain angle, where he knew for certain that it would start to creak, then stepped carefully past the creaky board to the right of his door.

It was now or never.

He glanced down the hall, towards the front of the house. Susan was still washing dishes, and he could hear Neil start coughing from the couch. God, he could do that for the whole night once he started. It set Billy on edge and if he did not value his face, he would have told Neil to just shut the fuck up already.

There was still a bit of food on the table, Susan was going to put it in the fridge for lunch tomorrow. He could just tiptoe down the hall and grab a bit, no one would notice. At least it would keep his stomach quiet.

But that was not why he was out there. He sighed carefully and turned back around.

He made a break for it, taking lopping steps up the hall to land in front of Max’s room.

Knock. Knock.

She opened the door a few seconds later. Her annoyed scowl deepend into an angry one.

“What do you want, Billy?”

He shoved the money in her face.

She stared at it confusedly before taking it, inspecting it carefully as if he had counterfeited it or something.

He rubbed the bridge of his nose before managing to gather his words.

“I know I’m a shit step-brother.” He gestured to the wad still held suspiciously by the tips of her fingers. “Compensation. Use it for whatever the fuck you want.”

Then he turned and went back to his room.

There. Could Billy call himself a better person now? He did not want to be a bad person, no one did. But he had his reasons for acting the way he did. If he was being completely honest with himself, he was only doing it to make himself look better. This was not for Max, it was for Billy. And maybe Steve, if he was being generous. But it was mainly for Billy.

Knock. Knock.

Billy opened the door with a huff.

“Was that supposed to be an apology?” Her hands were balled up into fists at her sides.

He could just barely see the green peeking out from her fist.

“I’m not in the mood, Max," he said through his teeth. 

The fight had left him as soon as Neil had started speaking during dinner. He was tired and just wanted to sleep.

“That’s not an answer.”

“I don’t care to give you one.”

He stared down at her. She crossed her arms and her face twisted with annoyance. He had never noticed how expressive her face was. The bitch really could not keep any secrets, huh? She could not even hide what she was feeling in the moment, much less anything that anyone else happened to show her they felt. 

She shoved her fist into his chest and he stumbled back a bit. He was surprised, that was all. Plus, he still had some aches in his chest.

She did not pull her hand away. He looked down to see it was not a fist, but her palm was flat against his chest. He put his hand out as she pulled away and the money dropped back into his palm.

“If you’re going to try to apologize to me, do it for real. Actually try.”

She went to walk away, but he was too quick. He grabbed her arm and pulled her into his room.

“Ow! Billy, what the fu-”

He shut the door before her mother could hear anything profane.

“Max? What’s going on down there?”

She stood staring at him for a moment before answering.

“Everything is fine, mom.”

“Alright, you kids keep it down, alright? Your father is trying to enjoy his evening.”

Billy waited for everything to fall silent before he began whispering furiously.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? I did try, alright? I may be a shit step-brother, but I’m just trying to protect you.”

“Protect me? From who?!” Of course, she wasn’t bothering to keep her voice down. “You’ve down nothing but hurt me since the moment I got here.”

“You’ve been a pain in my ass since the moment you got here.” Billy was pointing at her, towering over her, but she didn’t even lean back to get him out of her space.

“Because your an asshole! That’s all you are! You’re a psychopath and you enjoy hurting people, you’re not trying to protect me!” 

Max always seemed to be talking with her mouth wide open, letting out the worst things as loud as possible. Billy was getting tired of having to listen to it.

“You know that’s not true, Max. You’re my responsibility and you never do as I ask you to. Would you rather that he know about everything you do? Hanging out with those weird friends, running around town with them doing God knows what! You can only be his favorite kid for so long when you disobey him.” He leaned down and got in her face, pointing out of his room. “I’m protecting you from him. You’ve no idea how many hits I’ve taken for you.”

She narrowed her eyes.

“That doesn’t give you the right to terrorize me. That doesn’t give you the right to do what he does to you, even if it is on a smaller scale.”

He rubbed his face, laughing. It came out a bit hysterical.

“You know what? Fine.” He picked up her hand and put the money back into it. “I’m sorry, Max. Is that what you want to fucking hear?”

“Yes.” Then she made for the door.

“Wait a second. You knew?” Billy had his hands by his temples, trying to ward off an impending headache. But it battered against his defenses and flooded his brain with a throbbing beat. 

She turned back confusedly.

“You knew about everything?”

“My mom told me on the day they got married. She also told me that whatever happened, I shouldn’t interfere, to just leave it to her,” she said, speaking quietly for once in her goddamn life. 

She at least had the grace to look a bit guilty.

“Get out.”

She left without argument.

The walls were closing in on him. He was hyperventilating.

Billy stooped to the ground, his head between his knees.

Everyone knew. There was not one person in that house who did not know about the bruises on his body.

He shoved on a pair of boots and a jacket and fell out of the window.

He started walking when he heard a window open behind him, but he did not even slow down to heed their warning.

“Billy!”

“Nope,” he said more to himself. 

And then he disappeared into the trees.

Everyone knew. They had known all along. There had been no reason for him to hide his bruises or the breaks. They all already knew. One of them caused it, one witnessed it, and the other heard about it. They were all probably laughing at him, knowing he was ashamed of himself and everything that happened to him.

They all knew.

He collapsed against a tree, sliding down the bark. He had his arms folded out in front of him, shaking violently. He clasped his hands together but they would not stop trembling.

The rough outside of the tree was almost definitely scratching up his jacket but he could not bring himself to care.

He let out a short yell and slammed his elbow against the trunk. His arm vibrated painfully, right on the funny bone. Billy dragged his hands along his head and through his hair, fucking it up. His nails scratched up his scalp and he could feel a few strands stick between his fingers. His heart was pounding in time with his headache, but he just could not drag in breath fast enough to keep the rhythm. 

Then he remembered his saving grace. 

He dug around in his jacket pocket frantically and pulled out his cigarettes. He stood back up and leaned against the tree, legs wobbly. He lit the cig and drew in a grateful breath. Billy could feel his hands immediately calm in their shaking. His breath stopped rattling around his rib cage and his legs fortified themselves.

He used them to walk forwards again. This time, he had a destination in mind, but he did not even have to think about how to get there.

He felt himself calm even more as he walked.

Did it really matter that they knew? They were not doing anything about anything. They did not care. It was fine, it really was. It did not actually change anything. He would go back home eventually and face the wrong side of his dad’s fist. Susan and Max might as well watch Billy get his ass handed to him, then applaud the performance. The only difference is that now he knew he had an audience.

He smiled as the phosphorescent lights engulfed his field of vision.

Billy did not see anyone walking around, so he just sat down. Right there in the middle of the parking lot. The asphalt was a cold, radiating through his jeans.

He sat and he waited.

Eventually, he heard shuffling footsteps and did not even bother to turn around as a voice called out to him.

“Are you never not here? I thought I was the one who lives here?” Steve laughed as he sat down next to Billy.

He looked tired, dark bruises dragging down his eyelids.

“Jesus, Harrington, do you ever sleep?”

Steve smiled and sort solemnly nodded. “Only sometimes.”

“Why?”

“I have a lot of nightmares.” Steve said hesitantly. 

They either scared him so much that he did not want to talk about them, or they were super embarrassing. 

“About?” Billy asked.

“I’m not telling you, you’ll laugh at me.” He knocked against Billy’s shoulder.

“No, I won’t.” Billy glanced over at him to see he was sitting with his knees tucked up against his chest.

Steve glared at him suspiciously.

“I’m feeling generous tonight, Harrington.”

Steve just shook his head and put his chin on his knees.

“Fine,” Billy sighed dramatically. “I’ll give you a cigarette if you tell me.” Billy dug his cigarette packet out of his pocket for proof, waving the crinkled cigs in Steve’s face.

He scratched his head before blowing a sharp breath out of his lips.

“It’s kind of hard to explain. There’s like this alternate dimension that looks exactly like Hawkins, except its dark and cold and suffocating. There are never any people there except me, but I always see something out of the corner of my eye. Like a shadow, but its tall and gangly. There are these weird creatures with no faces.” He paused. “Well they have faces, its just that their mouth takes up most of it.” Steve was staring out at the dark trees the entire time, as if he was trying to banish the darkness with his mind.

Billy stared at him, wide eyed.

“That’s kinda fucked up.” He took a pull of his cigarette, laughing.

“Didn’t I say no laughing?” Steve slapped his arm.

“I’m not laughing” he replied, pulling away and pretending to be hurt by the slaps. “I’m actually worried about you, pretty boy. You good?”

Billy was pretty sure he only half meant it. He did not want to tell Steve that he was actually worried about him, that would reveal too much. He passed him his cigarette to try and diffuse the awkwardness.

Steve let out a short laugh and took the cig.

“Oh yeah, real worried, I’m sure.” He took a drag and held it in his lungs.

Steve held the cigarette carefully between his fingers, knocking off some of the ash. He rested his elbow against his knee, his movements were fluid. He did not seem sick when he moved. 

He blew it out slowly, his face angled upwards. His skin looked almost waxy in the artificial light.

“My therapist says it’s my way of guessing what death will be like, but that sounds like horseshit to me.” He shrugged and took another drag before passing it back to Billy.

“You crazy or something?” Billy asked, taking the cigarette back. 

Steve laughed and blew his smoke into the sky. He coughed once before speaking.

“Not more than anyone else. They give people who are expected to die shrinks.” Steve paused, screwing up his face in confusion. “That was weird phasing let me try that again. They, meaning the hospital staff, give shrinks and that sort of shit to people who are expected to die.” He looked up for a moment, rubbing his palms against his legs. “Yes, that’s what I meant,” he laughed.

Billy passed the cigarette back, smiling slightly.

“If that’s bullshit, ‘scuse me, horseshit, then what do you think death is like.”

Harrington pulled his robe tighter about himself and took the cig.

Steve just shrugged and took another drag. He closed his eyes as the smoke ran from his nose into the sky.

“I don’t know. It isn’t like anything, I guess. Y’know?” He glanced over at Billy, who had been staring at him the entire time.

He could not help it. Billy quickly looked back at the forest.

“It’s death, it’s the end. It’s...nothing.”

Billy took back the cigarette and stubbed it against the ground. He let the sizzle fade from his ears before he spoke.

“Are you afraid?” he asked.

Steve held out his hand, smiling a little.

Billy just sighed and took out a cig from the pack. He lit it, puffing on it, then forked it over.

“No, I’ve known I was going to die since I was ten. I made my peace with it a long time ago.”

Billy just didn’t understand how someone could give up so easily. Sure, Steve was fighting for it, but he didn’t seem to care. Billy’s entire life was survival, simply allowing death was never an option.

“What about when you were in remission? You didn’t gain hope back or anything like that?”

Steve looked over at him incredulously.

“What has you waxing so philosophically?”

Billy’s frame shook slightly with a small laugh. “It’s wax poetic, dumbass, not philosophically.”

“Same difference,” Steve said, leaning back to lay on the asphalt.

He brought the cig back to his lips, sucking on it. He pursed his lips as he let go of the smoke.

Billy looked up at the stars. Despite the parking lot lights, there were so many stars. They were sitting just outside the forest, the lights did not have as big of an effect on their eyesight.

“That’s one of the few things I like about this town.”

He saw Steve move his own head out the corner of his eye.

“What?” Steve asked softly. 

“The stars. You can see them here. In Cali, there are so many lights in the city you wouldn’t even know the stars were there. But here...here there are so many you can’t even count ‘em.”

He heard Steve hum in agreement.

Chapter Text

“Is that where you’re from? California?” Steve asked from where he was laying next to Billy on the asphalt.

“Yeah, used to live in San Francisco.” He took a drag. “I was born in Los Angeles, though. Moved up to San Fran when Susan and Neil got married.”

“Neil is your dad, right?”

“Right, but we don’t call him that,” Billy said with a chuckle.

“What do you mean?” Steve asked carefully.

“Nothing.” Billy waved his hand dismissively to add effect.

“Why’d you move here?” Steve asked, seemingly unbothered. “I know that you hate it and Max wasn’t too happy to be here at first.”

Billy gave him the standard reply. “Susan didn’t like it there. The climate wasn’t right for her.”

Steve let out a short laugh, “Yeah, Hawkins is a bit colder than San Francisco.”

“Just a bit.”

Steve laughed again and closed his eyes. Billy looked back at him from where he was sitting up. He almost could have been asleep, in all honesty he should have been asleep. Scratch that last part; he almost could have been dead.

His chest barely moving, Billy had to stare at him for awhile just to make sure it was actually rising and falling with breath. He was pale enough to be dead, stark white against the dark asphalt and even more washed out by the lights in the parking lot.

It was startling.

His lips were starting to look blue and his eyelids were no longer fluttering. He had beautiful eyelashes, not too long, they fanned his face perfectly.

Billy could almost imagine what he’d look like in his coffin, just a bit more blue as they lowered him into the ground.

He immediately banished that image from his mind with a shiver.

Billy poked his side, just to make sure.

“Ow, what was that for?” Steve rubbed his side, glaring accusingly.

Billy just shrugged and declined from answering. He had felt a very sharp rib pressing back against his finger.

Billy lay back next to Steve, taking a drag of the cigarette. He handed it over to him, then sat back up.

He was uncomfortable, he needed to move around. His limbs were buzzing with energy all of the sudden, urging him to get it out some way. He stood suddenly and walked to the edge of the forest.

“Bye.”

“You can’t get rid of me that easily, pretty boy.”

Billy walked back to where he was sitting, then around Steve so he was on the other side.

“You want to know the real reason we moved here?”

Billy didn’t hear an answer. He glanced down to see Steve nodding apprehensively.

He got up on his elbows, eyebrows raised. The robe was so thin, he was probably uncomfortable with the asphalt digging into his skin. Now that Billy thought about it, how was Steve not shivering wildly at the moment? It was fairly chilly outside, and Billy was one to say that with a bit of meat on his bones. Steve was all skin and bones; a single layer of cloth making up the robe was definitely not enough to keep him warm.

He had the urge to shrug off his jacket and drop it on his chest.

Billy turned away. He couldn’t look at him while saying this out loud. He looked up at the sky instead, fixing eyes on the brightest star he could find.

“Max. She’s why we moved here. She doesn’t know how to keep her damned mouth shut. She also doesn’t know how to knock, but that’s sort of beside the point.” Billy paused. At this point he was just stalling. “She barged into my room and caught me making out with a guy.”

He almost changed the pronoun, but his tongue slipped in the correct word before his brain could intervene.

“She immediately ran out and told her mom. Then Neil got home and she told him as well. He moved us out here so there wouldn’t be any scantily clad men to tempt me into further sin,” Billy said almost fondly.

Neil was fucked up that way. He sort of pretended to be religious, probably to justify his bigotry. He cursed like a sailor, beat his son, then claimed God would punish them all because of Billy’s transgressions. Listening to him talk often resulted in at least one person getting whiplash.

Billy had met Charlie on the street.

He was standing there, sipping a beer. It was too hot to function that day, so everyone in the neighborhood was outside, half-naked.

Charlie was lithe and lean, with just enough muscle for it to show. He had soft, light brown hair and a haughty smile that seemed permanently affixed upon his face. Billy got a chub just from looking at him.

They had been neighbors for a barely a year, and hardly talked in that time. Charlie was nearly 20 years old and had been at college when his family first moved in, so Billy hadn’t met him until nearly three months later.

“Haven’t seen you around before,” Charlie shouted at him.

Billy had been out washing his car when he noticed him sitting in a lawn chair, admiring Billy’s ass. Even at only 16 years old, anyone could admit Billy had a great ass.

So, Billy took off his shirt, which was already soaked from the hose, and gave him something else to admire. He saw him shift in his seat from the corner of his eye.

He smirked.

“Then you haven’t been looking in the right places, amigo,” Billy shouted back, cocky grin still on his face.

He leaned against his car. His erection could clearly be seen in the swim shorts he was wearing. He had purposefully bought them just a bit too small. It was a huge risk, but he was confident in his evaluation.

Charlie stood from his chair and swaggered across the street until he was standing too close to Billy to be straight.

He introduced himself, leaning forwards. Billy could see that his nipples were peaking.

“I know. Your parents talk about you too much.” Billy looked him up and down, whistling appreciatively. “Their stories don’t seem to capture you though, you’re a bit...bigger than I imagined.”

Then he turned, throwing the rag he was kneading into a bucket, and walked into his house. He left the door wide open.

He heard Charlie scoff a bit and whisper to himself behind him, but he waited just beyond the doorway. Eventually, he heard the steps creak and Charlie stepped across the doorway, shutting the door behind him.

“How old are you, kid?”

“Does it matter?” Billy asked, lifting an eyebrow.

They were very close now, Billy was forced to look up into his eyes. They were green, like summer’s leaves. Deep and sharp.

He grabbed Charlie by the belt loops and pulled him forwards.

“I suppose not,” he shrugged. “Anyone home?”

Max was at a friend’s house, Susan was running errands, and Neil was at work.

“Nope.”

Billy continued pulling him until they were in his room, then slammed the door with his foot.

“Perfect,” Charlie said right before he kissed Billy.

It was hungry and passionate. Charlie bit his  lip more than once, tugging them open. Billy struggled for breath as he fucked his mouth with his tongue.

Charlie was only a bit taller than him, but the difference still made Billy tense up slightly. Charlie kneaded his arm and suddenly they were lying down. Charlie had his elbows next to Billy’s head, using his thighs to encourage Billy to wrap his legs around his waist.

Charlie ground him down into the bed, making him groan. Billy moved a hand down his ass, grasping the taut flesh in his palm.

Then Charlie started moving, back and forth. He kissed down Billy’s neck, nipping and sucking bruises into the delicate skin.

“Fuck,” Billy groaned.

Charlie huffed a laugh into his neck. Then he moved just right, causing both of them to moan loudly. Charlie stroked the pulse point on his wrist, feeling how fast his heart was beating. Billy thought it would nearly burst out of his chest. This wasn’t his first time doing this with a man, but goddamn it felt good.

Just as Charlie was reaching down in between Billy’s legs, already sitting up to help him get his pants off, the door burst open.

“Billy, I-” she stopped dead.

Her eyes widened as she saw the position her step-brother was in. With another guy. Even she knew, at the tender age of 13, that something was off about that.

Max immediately ran out of the room, shouting for Susan.

Billy’s erection had already died, so he pulled his pants up, shoving Charlie off of him.

He pulled him off the bed and down the hall. He pushed him out of the back door.

“I-”

“You don’t say anything, I won’t either.” Then Billy slammed the door in his face.

Luckily, Max hadn’t recognized Charlie, so Billy never saw him again. They moved within a week and Charlie seemed to content to hideout in his house until they left.

Billy had noticed movement from his house when he was packing stuff into the Camaro, getting ready to leave, but he didn’t wait for anyone to come out.

The other good part about Max not recognizing him is that he was spared from Neil’s wrath.

Neil definitely would have killed him if he had found the fag that had reportedly corrupted his son. Unfortunately, that also meant that Billy had to take the brunt of the attack by himself.

It was the second time he had broken one of his ribs and for the first time in a long time, Neil had punched him, right in the face.

Neil may have been an asshole, but he wasn’t dumb. He knew to leave the bruises somewhere hidden. But after the encounter that day, Billy’s face was all different shades of purple and swollen to hell. It looked he went a round with rush hour traffic and been decimated.

He didn’t go to school for that week, until they moved. Only two friends came by to check on him, and both of them were threatened out of the neighborhood. They had moved there less than three years ago to live in the first suburban neighborhood Billy had ever been in. It was even starting to grow on him before he wasn’t allowed to see it anymore.

Neil locked him in his room, only letting him out when someone else was home and to help pack. But Neil didn’t just punish him with a beating and discontinuation of bathroom privileges; he wasn’t allowed to eat with them until a week after they had gotten to Hawkins and he was often made to stand. Just to stand. No sitting while he ate, watched TV -- when he was allowed to that -- and no sitting while doing homework.

It was a bizarre form of punishment but it was functional. His legs were often aching by the end of the day. This made walking too far a difficulty, and it made working an impossibility. Billy had no secret savings until October, almost two months since they had made it to Hawkins, Indiana.

Neil eventually calmed into a simmer, though, and Billy was allowed to eat with them and to sit. But the situation remained between all of them. They all knew about it, and now he knew that they all knew about something else.

Really, he had the inkling of a wish that Neil would lock him in his room again so he wouldn’t have to look at any of their faces.

And still, Max blamed him for their move to Hawkins. Billy hated her so much sometimes he wanted to kill her.

Whenever that happened, he just yelled at her instead.

His relationship with Max was complicated. It would always be complicated.

Yes, even he knew that he shouldn’t be such an asshole to her, but...she was just so goddamn frustrating. Everything that she did seemed to set him on edge or get him in trouble. He wished they had never met, that Susan and Neil had never met.

Even if she got over herself enough to apologize to him one day, for ruining his life and nearly getting him killed, he still probably wouldn’t be able to forgive her. But it was whatever.

At least he had Steve.

Billy finally sat down, laughing.

“That’s right, Harrington. Big, bad Billy Hargrove is a faggot.”

“Oh.”

Billy huffed out a laugh at his lackluster response. Perhaps it was surprise or some other debilitating emotion.

“You can leave if you want to. No one is stopping you.” Billy puffed the cig a final time before stubbing it out next to him.

Billy heard him sit up and he held his breath as he waited for him to stand and leave Billy sitting alone in the cold. But no movement came.
Billy could see Steve looking at him out of the corner of his eye.

“Susan is your step mom, right? What happened to your real mother?”

Billy sighed. “You’re really trying to empty this can of worms, aren’t you?”

Billy saw him blanch.

“Sorry, I-”

“No, it’s fine.” He sighed, his fingers itching to pull out another cigarette. “She’s dead. Lung cancer. She bit the dust when I was twelve.”

“I’m sorry,” and he really sounded like it.

Billy just shrugged in response. He barely remembered her, anyway. Plus, Neil hadn’t allowed him to visit her all that often, so it wasn’t like he had been scarred by her death or anything. He had witnessed his mother’s deterioration from behind a glass window, rather than being able to smell her rot.

Whenever Billy managed to convince Neil to drive him 45 minutes from their apartment to the hospital in the L.A. traffic, he only got to spend about an hour with her before Neil was dragging him out of the room. They were always shouting at each other, too.

She was always telling him that Billy needed to be brought over more often, they needed to see each other more than once or twice a month. Then he would fire back that she was being a jealous bitch, she wasn’t thinking about Neil’s needs, something about how he could take care of his own fucking son, or some variation of those.

Billy wasn’t even told until a few days after that she had died. Neil’s sharp increase in drinking had been the warning sign, but it was only a guess until Neil started shouting at him.

“It’s all your fault, Billy! She’s dead because of you, fucking bitch!”

Billy knew better than to question his father’s odd conclusions.

“It was a long time ago.” He snorted suddenly. “She’s actually why I smoke, now. She always used to smell like cigarettes. This was her brand.” He pulled the crushed carton out of his pocket, handing it to Steve without looking at him.

“Are you telling me that you think of cigarette smoke as a comforting smell because your mother died of lung cancer?” he asked, almost sarcastically.

“Uh, yeah, that’s exactly what I’m telling you.”

“That’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever heard,” he said, laughing.

“You’re welcome,” Billy intoned, smiling.

They lapsed into a small silence. Steve tapped Billy’s shoulder with the carton, handing it back to him.

“What was her name?” he asked quietly.

He faced the sky and breathed in. He hoped to smell smoke, but instead smelled dirt and trees.

“Laura. She was 29 years old.”

Billy stared at the few cigarettes left for a moment, tempted to take out another one, but he put it back in his pocket instead.

They both tried to break the silence at once.

“Who-”

“I-”

They both stopped, laughing.

“You first,” Billy said.

“Who gave you that bruise?”

Billy sighed, turning to look back at Steve. He held his eyes for a moment before speaking.

“Aren’t you satisfied with the truths I’ve already given you?”

Steve looked like a deer in the headlights, his eyes wide and shining. His mouth flapped like a fish’s.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.” His voice sounded almost as pale as his skin.

Billy finally turned back around, crossing his legs, and dug out his cigarettes. One was lit and in his mouth before he could truly think about it. He took a long drag before opening up.

“My dad. I forgot to tack a ‘sir’ onto the end of a sentence when I was talking to him.”

Steve shifted behind him.

“Neglect and abuse, what a pair of parental fuck ups we two are.” He sounded amused.

“Tell me about it, pretty boy.”

Billy took a drag.

“So. How have you been?” He let the smoke billow out of his mouth and nose. “I haven’t seen you for a few days, Harrington, any cancer updates?”

Silence.

Billy didn’t hear anything behind him. Maybe he had left while Billy was talking, his chance to slip away without being rude. Or he had just fucking died or something.

“Steve?”

Billy turned to confirm his suspicions.

He was confronted with a hand on his cheek and lips on his.

Steve was...kissing him?

Billy was startled into stillness for a moment, before he managed to drop his cig onto the asphalt and brought his own hand to the nape of Steve’s neck.

Their lips were sliding against each other. Steve’s were nice and soft, gentle against his, yet the kiss itself was just this side of needy.

Billy ran his hand through Steve’s hair, conscious of how easy it would be to pull out. He heard his breathing increase as Billy’s hand settled in the crook of his neck and shoulder. His fingers tickled at the short hairs on his nape.

“Billy,” he said breathily, as he pulled away to switch positions.

Billy scooted a bit closer to him, feeling the heat radiating from him. Usually it seemed that Steve was an ice box, but he was heating things up in more ways than one. He brushed his tongue against his lips, tasting him.

It was soft and beautiful and nothing like Billy had imagined it would be. He thought it would be hungry and passionate, but here he was, locked in a delicate kiss and still he was worrying about damaging him.

Even the light of the lot seemed to soften.

When they finally pulled away to look at each other, Billy’s hand was on his waist and Steve’s were on his shoulders.

“Didn’t know you were queer, Harrington,” he whispered.

“‘M not,” he muttered, his eyes going back and forth.

It seemed like he was trying to look Billy in both of his eyes at once. But he wasn’t just staying there. They were roving around his face, trying to swallow the image of him.

“Then why did you just kiss me, pretty boy? I thought Princess Nancy was more your type.”

Even in the most delicate moments, it seemed like Billy just had to be brash and shatter it.

Reminding him of his cheating ex was a great move when he just kissed you, Billy, excellent , he thought, chastising himself.

“Well now it’s King Billy.” He hesitated for a moment then his eyes finally settled on Billy’s lips, just before flicking up to his eyes and actually staying there. “Both.”

“Both?” Billy asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Both is good,” he whispered.

Billy laughed and nodded. “Still makes you queer, Harrington.”

“Shut up.” He leaned in for another kiss before pausing. “And call me Steve.”

This one was a bit more animated, including a bit of teeth and Billy edging his tongue into Steve’s mouth.

“You had another fit today,” he said, pulling away.

Steve cocked an eyebrow, a curious look in his eyes.

“You taste like blood.”

Steve stroked his hand across the back of Billy’s head, twirling the strands between his fingers.

“Sorry, I thought I had brushed enough.”

“It’s alright, I’m used to it,” he muttered before locking lips with him again.

Every kiss seemed like a new one, like a first time. They were gentle and beautiful and Billy couldn’t comprehend that someone wanted to kiss him like that, much less that they actually followed through with it.

In the same way that he was careful with Steve’s hair, Steve was careful with Billy’s bruised cheek. His fingers barely brushed it at all, preferring to stay around Billy’s jaw and tickle at his shoulders. Occasionally, one would sneak up into his hair and tug his head backwards.

“You should leave.” Steve managed to get out in between kisses. “You have school tomorrow.”

“Fuck school,” he said, capturing his lips again.

The taste of them was addictive, and their softness was just the icing on the cake.

Steve laughed against him and pulled away, standing up.

Billy circled his arms around his legs, holding him in place. He leaned his head against his knees and groaned.

Steve laughed softly and put a hand on Billy’s head, threading his fingers through his hair. He teased his nails across his scalp.

“You need sleep.”

“So do you,” Billy said against his leg.

But Billy did as he was told and stood up, looking him in the eye.

“What grade are you in?” Steve asked suddenly.

“I’m a junior. You just made out with a high school boy.” Billy gasped for effect. “What will the neighbors think?”

“I’m a cradle-robber,” he laughed.

Steve kissed him quickly then started to walk back towards the hospital.

“Are you going to come back?”

Billy’s entire body tensed at the question. Commitment wasn’t really his thing, he was more of a shoot now, think later kinda guy. He hadn’t really thought about a relationship, or at least a continued friendship when they were lip-locked.

“Don’t get too attached,” he said simply.

He was glad he couldn’t see Steve’s face. The brown-haired beauty seemed to pick up the pace towards his halfway home.

It would be superfluous at this point for Billy to reprimand himself for saying the wrong thing, again.

“My dad is monitoring my gas usage.”

Steve paused in his walking.

“He already knows who you are, thanks to Max, and he doesn’t want me coming here anymore. I don’t know if I can visit as much, but I’ll come as often as I can.”

He could feel his cheeks heat up and his reputation implode with each word. Billy Hargrove? Being sweet? Impossible.

“Oh and Steve,” Billy said, walking forwards a bit, his hand outstretched. “If she stops by, ask her about what she knows.” His mouth twisted bitterly. “She isn’t completely innocent.”

He didn’t give any indication of having heard Billy, besides continuing his walk to the hospital.

Billy had to say something. He knew things about about her that Steve didn’t, he couldn’t just let him believe that she was a simple child.

Billy put his hands behind his head, twining his fingers together.

He made his way back to Old Cherry, barely registering the cold of the Indiana night. He climbed back through his window, glad to see that Max’s light was off.

He sighed, stripped, and sat down. A smile forced its way onto his face as he thought about him. About Steve.

He lay down, still smiling and tried to sleep but it still wouldn’t come to him. He was too giddy, an emotion he never before would have used to describe himself. The anger had Max had faded during his walk as he brain was processing the events of the more recent part of the evening.

As he fondly remembered the taste and feel of Steve’s lips, he tried not to think of the fact that it couldn’t last. Whether or not Billy was an asshole to him, they couldn’t last, because Steve was going to die.

Chapter Text

Billy watched the yard he could see from his window gradually get brighter, the light gleaming off the dewy grass.

He threw the thin blankets off him, stretching. He had been sitting in the same position for almost four hours, just thinking. Thinking about everything; Steve, the future, school. Everything but his family, he made sure to steer clear of them, lest he suddenly get too angry to keep laying there. He didn’t actually sleep, at least he didn’t think he did. He remembered closing his eyes at one point and opening them a few minutes later, with the sky a little brighter than he remembered it being.

He was in a surprisingly good mood for having slept so little. He even considered going out on a run, and only took a moment to decide to do it. He slid on a pair of basketball shorts and quickly headed out. It was much too early for anyone to be awake but he still made sure to avoid the creaky boards.

For once, the cool Indiana air felt good on his skin. It woke him up even more, if that was possible. He stood, breathing it in for a moment, before he set off down the road.

It was like his insides matches his outsides all of the sudden, his body was as busy as his mind and it felt wonderful.

His feet hit the pavement strongly, jarring his body with every step. He could feel his skin prickle into gooseflesh as he raced past the wind. Billy didn’t often jog. In fact, this was probably the first time in a while, and probably the first time he had enjoyed it.

He breathed in the biting air deeply, then out, stinging his throat. His breath billowed out in front him in a thick fog.

His mind was racing with memories, still processing and replaying everything that happened the night before. The smell of Steve; diluted hospital smell, not bad. Maybe it was even comforting at this point. The feel of him, God, he was soft everywhere. His hair was smooth and lucious, albeit a bit thin. His lips were like silk but they were as soft as cotton, they were enigmatic and perfect.

His eyes were probably the only bit that wasn’t entirely soft. They were bright and open and beautiful, but they were gentle. They were grateful and loving, if it wasn’t too early to say that. They were perfect. All of him was seemingly perfect.

Woah.

He stopped dead in his tracks.

Perfect?

Billy had met him...what? A week ago?

He wasn’t perfect already.

Was he?

He was fantastic, that was for certain. He was amazing and beautiful and somehow optimistic, despite everything he had been through. Best of all, he didn’t take any of Billy’s shit. He stood up to him and forced him to see how he was wrong, all without being an asshole.

Billy started running again.

He stood up to him without stooping as low as Billy did.

Billy increased his speed until his ribs were aching from their badly healed breaks and a stitch was forming in his side. He ran until he could barely feel his legs and his thoughts weren’t running so fast.

He was still...wonderful. The fact that he wasn’t as much of an asshole as Billy was probably a good thing. But what if it lasted for a bit? Steve was going to die at some point, that much was obvious, but what if he lived for another year and they lasted for a month?

They. Good god , Billy thought. 

Steve was amazing, Billy didn’t want him to go, but what if he got tired of Billy? He was an asshole, he’d known that for a while, it wasn’t like it was a secret.

Billy didn’t want to hurt him, while he was still alive.

He could imagine what it would be like to go to his funeral. Not that he would be allowed at his funeral, but Billy was allowed to humor himself.

Steve would look probably the same; just as pale, just as blue. Maybe a little more plastic, with his lip poking out in that way that all embalmed bodies seemed to do. Billy almost couldn’t imagine him in a suit, he couldn’t imagine him in anything besides his robe and pyjamas.

Would Billy even cry? Did he have the emotional intelligence for that sort of thing?

He had cried for a few days when his mom died, but he was a child then. It was different. He was older, harder now. It was a different relationship.

His mother’s funeral had been on a sunny day. It hadn’t even really been a funeral.

Neil couldn’t afford to have a funeral and her family was dead so there was no one to help him pay for a funeral. And by “couldn’t afford”, it meant that Neil wasn’t willing to spend the money on her. He had already spent money on her treatment and now that she was dead, why should she fuck up their lives anymore.

So, Neil brought Billy to the Medical Examiner’s Office and let him touch her hand for a second before smacking it away and dragging him outside.

He wiped Billy’s tears none-too-gently, and told him that “Only fags cry, and you’re not a fag are you, Billy?”

Little Billy, who unfortunately looked too much like his mother for his father to ever even like him, nodded slowly. The sun beat down on him mercilessly as he stood outside, waiting for Neil.

He had to finish sorting things out with the medical examiner, donating her body or whatever they were gonna do with it.

He was sweating heavily by the time Neil came back out and walked into the parking lot without a word to his son.

Billy didn’t even get to see her face one last time.

They got in Neil’s pick-up and drove the 45 minutes back to the apartment in silence.

Billy shut himself in his room and cried there, making sure to keep it quiet.

They didn’t even hold a wake or a memorial service. It were as if even the memory of her died.

Laura Hargrove didn’t exist anymore and Neil wasn’t going to do anything reverse that.

His mother hadn’t had a funeral, Caleb hadn’t had a funeral. Billy had never been to the funeral of someone he knew and loved.

The first and only funeral he had ever been to was with Caleb. It was before he had met his girlfriend so he asked Billy to go with him.

One of the Caleb’s friends had lost the battle to some weird disease that the doctor’s couldn’t identify, but they had deemed his body non-contagious.

The guy’s friends and family and partner were there, much to Billy’s surprise. The friends were all obviously in the lower echelons of society. Their suits and dresses were ratty and too tight in some places and baggy in others, but they made them work. They were all also obviously part of the community. That community.

There were drag queens, dykes, other gay men, and a few people who looked like they could be trans, but no one was dumb enough to ask.

The family cried like they actually cared about their gay son and Billy was almost inclined to believe them. Of course, then the guy’s mother got in a fight with his partner, who was just as skinny and sickly looking as the man in the coffin.

He could still hear their screaming if he concentrated hard enough.

“This is your fault! God punished him because of what you did to him!”

“He killed me, okay? He’s the reason this is happening!”

Billy couldn’t remember if he had been talking about God or the corpse.

She had been ready to smack him before Caleb stepped in and dragged her away. She actually fell into his chest, not realizing that he was part of the same community she blamed for her son’s death. Or maybe she was just grateful that she had someone to hold her, no matter who they were. Her husband wasn’t there, whether he was dead or just disappointed, Billy didn’t know.

Billy remembered walking over to the coffin as the woman sobbed into Caleb’s chest.

The guy, Henry, maybe, was only 26 years old, but he looked much, much older than that. He looked weary, even in death, as if just holding his body together was exhausting.

He was wearing a simple black suit with a little rainbow pin. It looked like a secret, just barely peeking out from under the lapel. The colors were almost garrish compared to the monochrome suit and pale, pale skin.

Billy reached the end of the road, leading off into the woods, and turned around. He jogged back home, only going a little slower. His legs refused to pump as fast as before.

Caleb had held the woman for nearly an hour before she calmed down enough to accompany her daughter to the car, and then her son to the bone yard.

Caleb told Billy in the car that he and the guy had been in a youth’s shelter together, that’s how they knew each other. Henry had eventually been “accepted” by his family and moved back home. He and Caleb had kept in touch through the years, then Caleb had been told of his death the day before.

At first, the family didn’t want anyone associated with that side of Henry’s life at the funeral, but they broke down and told his partner -- Jack! That was his name -- , who then told Caleb, when and where the funeral was. No one knew what caused them to suddenly gain a conscience. Maybe one of them had a shred of human decency and helped the others to form one, or maybe they had realized that was who Henry was and there was no denying it. Evidence of that part of his life would always exist, no matter how hard they told themselves it didn’t.

Billy had stood next to Caleb, who had stood next to Jack, at the front of the group. The only sound was sniffling as they lowered him into the ground.

Jack had thanked them for coming, seemingly unaware that he didn’t know Billy, then wandered away.

Billy made it home in record time, managing to dispel the thoughts of dead Steve and dead Caleb and dead anybody and instead focus on his feet. On the feel of the basketball shorts swishing past his legs for the last dregs of his journey.

It had only been an hour since the sun rose so it was still unlikely that anyone was awake yet.

He slipped inside and tiptoed towards the shower as quickly as possible.

He got in and out quickly, his body still used to the cold of the air so the cold water barely registered.

His mind wandered back to that day as he scrubbed his body.

He, Caleb, and Jack had all met up for lunch the next day. Caleb had told Billy that he wanted him to know more people in the community and he wanted him to be aware of the shit that had been going on, the plague.

Neither Caleb nor Billy dared to broach conversation until Jack started talking about Henry in his final days.

“He was so sad, all the time. He just knew that he was gonna die soon.” Jack looked sadly down at his uneaten burger. “Henry was so kind and funny, even as he was shitting on himself and his body was shutting itself down, he was making jokes and asking me if I was okay. God, I miss him so much. It hurts.”

Jack lapsed into quiet crying. Billy almost felt bad about continuing to eat his burger.

“You know it wasn’t that thing that killed him. It sapped his immune system, fucking…destroyed it. His own personal Little Boy. No, in the end it was the flu. The fucking flu. When was the last time you heard someone in his twenties die from the fucking flu.” He laughed tiredly. “That asshole. He took my heart and my immune system with him. Now I have to go through this all by myself, I’d kill him if he were still alive.”

Caleb reach over carefully and rubbed his shoulder.

He looked like he would shatter under the gentle touch.

Billy had taken the bus back home and didn’t see Caleb for another two days. Jack was dead, he said. Went swimming and had never planned on seeing the shore again, apparently. There wasn’t going to be a funeral for him, just a wake.

Billy hadn’t gone.

He tied the towel around his waist and stood in front of the foggy mirror for a few moments. He pulled out Susan’s blow dryer and plugged it up. It only took a few moments to get his hair almost dry. It curled better if it dried naturally.

He put a bit of product in it, carefully hidden at the back of the cabinet under the sink, and put his earring back in. He had left it in his room when he worked, he was more liable to be fired if he looked the part of a hooligan. His necklace had stayed on, as it always would.

He dried himself off and went back to his room, sighing.

He could only not think about Steve for so long. It seemed like his mind tended to go to the darkest places of his memories if he tried to avoid the topic for too long.

Lucky for Billy though, he was stubborn.

He got dressed and sat there for a moment.

Was he forgetting any homework?

The English essay wasn’t due until Friday, the Math problems weren’t due until third block so he had time to do them during lunch. Gym didn’t have homework. The Bio notes...shit those were due that day, first block. Oh well, he hadn’t missed a bio assignment in a while so Mrs. Greenburn wouldn’t be that upset. Plus, he had gotten the highest score on the latest test so she could just excuse him for it.

He got dressed and walked out of his room just as Max was going down the hall to sit down for breakfast. She glared at him as she passed, but neither said anything.

Billy followed her down the hall, shrugging on his jacket as he went, and went to the counter.

Neil handed him his keys as he walked past.

He roughly grabbed Billy’s wrist, preventing him from putting the keys in his pocket.

“I’ll be checking your gauge when I get home, and don’t think that you can try and trick me. I know that car’s gas mileage, Billy,” Neill said sternly.

He yanked on Billy’s wrist, prompting him to look Neil in the eyes.

“Yessir.”

He squooze Billy’s wrist once before letting him go.

Billy went to the counter and grabbed an apple out of the basket sitting there. Susan was the one who filled it with fruit, but she was usually the only one to ever eat it.

Max sat down next to Neil, waiting for Susan to hand her a bowl of cereal.

He put the apple in his pocket the snatched two pieces of bacon from the still sizzling pan. Susan frowned at him, chasing his hand away with the spatula. He shoved them in his mouth quickly, ignoring the burns on the inside of his mouth.

He fetched a glass of water, still leaning against the counter as Susan finally sat down after making everyone’s breakfast. He washed down his bacon and went back down the hall to brush his teeth.

What did Steve eat for breakfast? Probably hospital food, but maybe the breakfast was better than the lunch and dinner and snacks. Hopefully. If he could keep the food down, that is. 

By the time he was done, Max was almost finished with her cereal.

“I’ll be in the car,” he announced to everyone, but mainly Max.

He stepped out of the house and down the stairs. He checked that his backpack was in the backseat before climbing in the driver’s seat. He closed his eyes and leaned against the headrest, sighing.

He sat for more than a few minutes, waiting. He was always at her beck and call, it seemed.

“Come on, Max,” he mumbled to himself.

They had to be at school by 7:30 and it was already nearly 7:20.  

She came running out of the house a few short moments later and dipped into the passenger seat.

Billy was pulling out of the driveway before her door was even all the way closed and was going 40 by the time she got her seat belt on.

She tucked her backpack into the footwell and fell still.

“What?” Billy said tersely.

He could feel her staring at him.

“Why did you say sorry to me?”

Why did you never try to stop him? , he asked her in his mind.

“Do you want me to take the ten bucks back?” he asked, turning his head to glance at her.

Her arms were crossed over her chest and didn’t need to see her to know that she rolled her eyes.

Rather than answer him, she turned back towards the front. She sighed heavily.

“Are you gay?”

Billy slammed on the brakes, the Camaro screeching to a sudden halt.

He sat breathing heavily for a moment, his fingers gripping the steering wheel tightly before turning on her.

She was already freaked out, he could tell, but she jerked back violently when he got in her face.

He prised one of his hands off the steering wheel and pointed at her.

“You tell anyone about that your ass is grass, Max, got it?”

She stared at him, looking like she was about to burst into tears, before nodding rapidly.

He backed away from her and grabbed the steering wheel again.

Billy thrust his foot into the gas and resumed their journey.

He glanced over at her every once in a while. Her shoulders were shaking slightly and she had pressed herself against the door.

He didn’t have to say sorry to her. She fucking deserved it. She had done nothing but hurt him.

He sighed. Yelling made things worse.

“Max. Look, I’m sorry for yelling, but just don’t tell anyone.”

She just nodded and pressed her head against the window.

Billy sighed and turned up the radio until Jay and the Americans were the only sound in the car. They even drowned out the engine.

What sort of music did Steve like?

They reached the school and as soon as Billy is stopped, not even in park yet, Max opened the door and skated away towards the middle school.

He hadn’t even noticed that she had her skateboard. He didn’t know why, she took the damn thing with her everywhere. But at least it meant she had used the money Billy had given her for its intended purpose.

He went through the day in a trance. He barely paid attention in AP Lit or Calculus, giving just enough effort to make it seem like he was mentally present. He fazed out completely during Advanced Bio, falling asleep in his chair at the back of the classroom.

Perhaps staying up all night thinking about Steve had been a bad decision. But how could he not? Even thinking about him then woke him up considerably.

Unfortunately, Billy had third lunch everyday, so his apple had come in handy during History.

Even more unfortunate, was that Nancy and Jonathan also had third lunch. So, Billy had to go over to their table, where they were sitting by themselves, and say hi.

Both of them tensed up when they saw who was heading for their table, and then start shaking when he sat down. They jumped when he picked up the chair, turned it around, and slammed it back down on the ground. He sat straddling the chair .

Jonathan’s eye was still black, though a little less swollen. He smoothed his bangs further down his forehead, his hand trembling slightly. Billy couldn't help but feel a little proud of that.

“What do you want, Hargrove?”

Billy settled his elbows on the table.

“I saw your mom the other day, Johnny boy. Real nice lady. She told me about your report of our little tussle at the hospital.”

Jonathan visibly paled. He shrunk even further into himself, almost completely folded up.

Billy laughed at his fear and stole a fry from his plate.

“While it was fun, I admit, hitting you was probably not the best move. I apologize for that.”

Both the Freak and the Princess let their jaws drop in surprise. They sat staring at him for a moment before Jonathan, clever boy that he was, regained his senses and took advantage of the situation.

“Apologize to Nancy.”

Billy smiled calmly and looked between them. She had her chin forward, seemingly trying to look haughty, but she wasn’t looking at Billy, much less looking him in the eye.

“No,” he said, taking another fry.

Jonathan went to pull the tray away but Billy grabbed and put it in front of himself before the Freak could even wrap his fingers around it.

“You’re creepy as fuck, anyone can see that.” He glanced over at Nancy, “except for her, it seems. But that’s not really a reason to punch someone, is it? But her? She’s a cheater, she’s a worse person than I am.” He laughed heartily and looked over at Nancy.

She had sunk further into her seat.

Billy banged his fist on the table and she looked up at him timidly.

Half the cateria went quiet before realizing it was just Billy being Billy and resumed their conversations.

“Because you not only cheated on someone,” he said addressing her directly now. Her eyes were wide and watery. “You cheated on someone with cancer. Cancer! He’s going through one of the worst things imaginable and you go and fuck someone else while you’re still in a relationship with him. When he needed support the most, he got smacked in the face and abandoned. Even better,” Billy leaned further forward, “he loved you and told you he loved you.”

Billy was only guessing at the last part, but it seemed he had struck gold when the tears started rolling down her face. Steve seemed like the kind of guy to fall hard and fast, and to be pretty open about it with the object of his affections.

He had an inkling of an emotion that he should feel bad about this, but he pushed that away immediately.

“You destroyed his self-confidence and trust in other people while he was going through something an 18 year old should never have to go through. And judging by what I know of you, Princess, you haven’t actually apologized to him yet." Billy paused with a french fry half-way to his mouth. "Have you?”

She wiped her face, sniffing. But she didn’t deny it.

“Oh my god, you haven’t!”

He smacked his hand on the table again, making the two across from him jump, and let out a hearty laugh.

He picked up another fry and shoved the tray back at Jonathan.

“Well, I've done my job and apologized to the only person at this table who deserves it. So until you apologize to Steve, you’re not getting one from me.”

He rested his chin on his hand as he chewed the fry slowly. It was a little cold, but still pretty good for cafeteria food.

She looked up at him sharply, loathing evident.

“What do you know about anything?”

“Only, what I’ve heard. Heard from Steve and Tommy and Carol and all the other busy bodies who go to this school. People notice a lot more than you think, Princess.”

She stared at him for a moment, her jaw moving as if she were trying to chew her words.

“You’re an asshole, Billy Hargrove.”

Then she stood from the table and practically ran out of the lunch room.

Jonathan looked after her before turning back to Billy.

“Why do you even care?”

“Let’s just say I can be a bleeding heart when I want to be. I know good people when I see them, and you and the Princess? Not good people,” Billy said with a small shake of his head.

Oh, how he thrived on confrontation.

Jonathan glared at him then stood up to go after his girlfriend, but he stopped dead in his tracks when Billy grabbed his wrist and yanked him back down into his seat.

“I’d be careful if I were you, Johnny boy, once a cheater, always a cheater.”

Then Billy squooze his wrist once and let him go.

Jonathan glared at him for a moment before exiting the cafeteria with a stern gait.

Chapter Text

Billy giggled maniacally as the Freak ran after his girlfriend, then proceeded to eat everything that was left on his tray. Applesauce, french fries, and part of some kind of meat. Billy wasn’t too keen on poisoning himself, so he stopped eating it and left the tray where it was. Then, he got up and walked to gym, where he beat everyone’s ass at basketball, of course.

The coach yelled at him to let up on the other team the whole time, but there was no way he was just gonna let them off. If they wanted a chance to win, then they had to fight for it. Tommy was unfortunately on his team and felt it was his responsibility to pat Billy’s back every time he made a basket. That was the only reason Billy actually considered slowing down.

He picked up Max from the middle school, making sure the Camaro was obnoxiously loud as Jonathan drove by to pick up his brother and some of his friends. He revved the engine when the Freak was passing in front of him.

He even smirked at the Freak as he drove past.

There was no A/V club or basketball practice that day, so they just went home.

Billy kept the radio loud to avoid talking to her. Surprisingly, it worked. She didn’t even try to talk over it. She had stared at him though, trying to figure what he was so cheery about. Billy was beating the steering wheel along to the beat, bobbing his head in time and mouthing the lyrics. Blue Öyster Cult went hard.

She jumped out of the car as soon as they were in the driveway and ran up the stairs, closing the door behind her.

Billy didn’t see her by the time he got inside.

Susan walked down the hall after a moment with gloves and a spray bottle in her grasp.

“What was that all about?”

He decline to answer.

“I’m going to a friends house to work on a project for school. If dad gets home before I do, the keys are right here.”

He set the car keys down on the table then turned and made for the door. He was eager to get going, into the woods and out of the woods and into the hospital and someone’s arms.

“Why don’t you take your car, Billy? It’s cold outside and I’m sure your dad won’t mind if its for school.”

She smelled like bleach from cleaning the bathroom.

“No thanks, Susan,” he said as he walked out the door and slammed it behind him.

He actually felt giddy as he walked into the parking lot, probably a feeling carried over from getting to tell off the Freak and the Princess and further bolstered by his basketball victories.

As soon as he reached Steve’s room, he was accosted.

“Billy, I’m so sorry for kissing you like that, I should have asked. I didn’t mean to invade your space like that. I-”

He kept babbling until Billy took hold of his shoulders.

“Steve, it’s fine. You’re fine. I didn’t mind.”

Steve just smiled at him and took Billy’s hand off his shoulder, bringing the knuckles to his lips.

“Thank you,” he said.

Fuck.

Billy almost started blushing at the action but managed to keep his cool.

“I finished that book you brought me, it was really good,” he said walking past Billy.

BIlly pulled Fahrenheit 451 from under his jacket.

“Good thing I brought you another one, then. This is also one of my favorites. It’s not mine though, so be careful with it.”

Billy looked down at the cover fondly. Ray Bradbury was one of his favorite authors, he was eager to share.

“Where’d you get it, then?”

Billy heard a sharp click from behind him and a grin made its way onto his lips.

“Hawkins High Library,” he said simply, turning to face the door.

Once he was all the way around, he saw Steve leaning against the door with his hand on the lock. He was biting his lip in a small smile.

Billy smiled wolfishly at the implication and dropped the book on the ground as Steve approached and their lips crashed together.

He brought his hands up to Steve’s neck, holding the back of it. They walked backwards, their feet tangling, to the bed until Billy’s thighs hit it.

He turned, simultaneously picking Steve up easily and plopping him on the bed. Billy stood between his thighs and kissed him.

“I don’t remember you having this,” Steve said, lightly gripping his earlobe.

Steve ran his fingers down the silver spike, tugging on it.

“Then pay attention, pretty boy,” Billy said, surging forwards again.

That became a ritual.

Everyday, Billy would pick up Max from school, drop her off at home, and then walk to the hospital. There, he and Steve would make out with the door locked.

All the while, Billy was blowing off his homework. Mrs. Greenburn quickly became disappointed him, as well as Mr. Y and Mrs. Kingsley.

He had tried to bring his homework at one point, fully intending to do it, but Steve’s lips were just too interesting. Both to kiss and in conversation.

They’d also talk, of course. About anything, really. Music, school, the town, Steve’s treatment. Steve had tried to help Billy with his homework, but he didn’t remember anything from high school.

They both thought it was quite humorous that Steve was helping him with his homework.

Cradle-robber, indeed , Billy thought, stifling a laugh.

The nurses definitely noticed Billy coming by everyday, but they never said anything. They didn’t even check up on Steve unless Billy came out and said that he needed something. Even if their lack of intrusion was from neglect, he was glad of it. It meant less explaining why the door was locked.

But everything changed on Friday.

Louisa Jenkinson, another junior, was having a party that night, so Billy told Neil that he was going to it.

Neil had never stood in the way of Billy’s night life before, he thought that Billy going out and having fun would make him more obedient. See all the fun things Neil let him do? It was the least Billy could do to obey him.

Plus, he had stopped checking the fuel gauge two days ago, so Billy could actually drive to the hospital.

And the best part about there being a party? It meant he could stay out as late as he wanted and Neil wouldn’t ask him anything. He would just automatically assume his son was getting pussy and had a good enough time to fall asleep with the bitch.

The unlimited time frame meant that Billy and Steve had fallen asleep in the hospital room. Steve had gotten more chemo that day, so he was tired. The only making out that happened was the greeting kiss Billy had given him when he walked in.

Steve was already asleep by the time Billy sat down in the chair beside the bed. He picked up Steve’s hand in his and looked at him.

He was beautiful, starved but still beautiful. And, he hesitated to compare them, but so like Henry, minus the AIDs. Still so kind. Whenever Billy walked in, the first topic of conversation was Billy’s day. Not because Billy brought it up, but because Steve always managed to get that out before anything else. And he always had the grace to look like he cared. Billy didn’t know if he actually did, but he was grateful either way.

Of course, he cared about how Steve’s day was. As soon as Billy had finished with his two sentence minimum, he was wondering about Steve. He was happy when Steve was happy, sad or angry when Steve was sad or angry. It felt good to emotionally connect with someone that way.

But it also terrified him. Billy was rendered shaky and sweat by the thought of emotional vulnerability, and here he was being emotionally vulnerable with someone.

It was crazy.

Billy’s eyes slowly shut, tiredness being contagious and all.

Maybe that was yawning?

When he next opened his eyes, there were two other people in the room.

The sound of someone clearing their throat had woken him up.

Billy yanked his hand out of Steve’s lax grip, causing him to wake up. Billy sat up quickly, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.

“Billy? What is it?”

He followed Billy’s gaze to the man and woman standing impatiently by the open door.

Damn, Billy had forgotten to lock it. It was pure luck that nothing else was going on inside the room.

Steve sighed heavily and sat up.

“Mom. Dad.”

“Steven,” his mother said in response, equally as terse.

“Didn’t know you guys would be back so soon,” Steve said exhaustedly.

He shifted around his pillow and leaned back on it. He turned back to Billy and gestured at the bed remote, which was just out of his reach.

Billy gladly took it up, grateful to have something to do, and sat the bed up.

He had been staring at Mr. and Mrs. Harrington since the had walked in, trying to equate those faces with the smiling faces on the wall. They looked more tired in person, less happy in general.

“We called the hospital when we landed and told them that we’d be coming for a visit,” Mrs. Harrington sniffed, “clearly the neglected to tell you.”

“Clearly,” he said sarcastically.

“You’re coming back to the house with us tonight, Steven, so we can be together as a family.”

Steve sat a bit more to attention.

“Mom, I can’t go home tonight, I have a biopsy tomorrow.” Steve was talking with his hands now, it was getting serious.

“A what?”

“A biopsy? You’ve been to at least two of them. They stick a needle into my bone marrow to check up on my progress.”

She put a hand to her chest in surprise.

“I’m sure I never approved such a procedure.”

Steve threw his head back onto the pillow, groaning.

“Yes, you did. Both the doctor and I called you, and I’m 18 now. I only need your permission because this is a pediatrics ward,” Steve said, frustrated.

Billy could tell that he was about to start coughing if the cause of his frustration said anything else dumb. He wanted to give them their privacy, but there was no way in hell he was leaving Steve alone with those people.

His mother huffed and put a hand on her hip. Only then did Billy notice the the three-inch long, hot pink nails with a pearl bracelet. Jesus, how rich were these people?

“I guess we’ll just have to take the time out of our schedule to come see you here."

Billy wanted to walk across the room and slap her. 

Then she set her eyes on Billy. She walked around the bed to chair.

“Well?” she asked condescendingly.

Mr. Harrington just stood behind her, scratching his chin.

Billy raised an eyebrow and looked over at Steve.

“She wants you to move so she can get there, because standing for more than a few minutes is bad for her constitution.” He said it as if it were a direct quote from her.

Billy just said and stood up, pushing past the Harringtons until he was standing on the other side of the bed. His fingers itched desperately to reach out and take Steve’s hand. It was so close.

But he managed to refrain.

Mrs. Harrington sat down primly as soon as Billy was out of the way.

Her next blunder was gesturing to him with her head.

“What is he still doing here, Steven?”

Billy swallowed whatever he was about to say and turned on the charm.

“Hi, I’m Billy Hargrove. I’ve been keeping Steve company while you were away.”

He stuck out his hand, but only Mr. Harrington reached for it. He gave Billy a quick, sweaty handshake.

Mrs. Harrington rolled her eyes at her husband, then rearranged her hands in her lap. They held tightly to her handbag, as if Billy was going to snatch it and run out of the hospital.

“Thank you, but your services are no longer required.”

Billy didn't budge from where he was standing, besides to cock his eyebrow. Again.

She sighed heavily at him.

“I said that you can go. Don’t you have other patients to take care of?”

Billy smiled at her, but his charm didn’t work against demons so her expression didn’t shift at all.

“No, ma’am, I don’t work for the hospital. I’m a friend of Steve’s.”

All the while Steve had been looking back and forth between them. He nearly bust out laughing when Billy said “friend”.

Billy slapped his arm affectionately to get him to shut up.

She sniffed, again -- what the fuck was this lady about? -- and, without apologizing, opened her mouth again. She looked Billy up and down as she spoke, scrutinizing every loose thread in his denim jacket and the worn out Metallica t-shirt he was wearing. She stared at his earring for a good few moments.

“I didn’t think you kept the company of such types, Steven.”

Even Mr. Harrington seemed to grow still at her words.

Chapter Text

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Steve asked angrily.

He seemed to be used that sort of behavior, by the tired edge to his voice.

Billy, meanwhile, was too shocked that they said that to his face to do anything. He was glad that Steve had the response locked and loaded. He almost smiled fondly, if not for the situation.

“Watch your language, Steven,” she said in a shocked voice, staring at him with wide eyes before rolling them, again, and glancing back at Billy.

He just barely held in a laugh at her shock. If she thought was bad, she should stick around for a few minutes and Billy would show her what vulgarity actually sounded like.

“Simply put,” she continued, now satisfied she had told off her son well and good, “we expect our son to keep more… refined society than hanging around with a trailer park hoodlum.”

She actually gestured to Billy at the last part. He almost punched her, almost. It was wrong to punch a lady, everyone knew that, but this one was asking for it. He felt his fist twitch before shoving it into his pocket.

“Billy is a trailer park hoodlum?” he seemed to smile when he said it.

Billy couldn’t decide if Steve found it funny or agreed with it. Probably both.

“Steven. Look at him.” She leaned forward, seemingly trying to whisper to him.

Of course, Billy could still hear everything she was saying.

“He has an earring, and look at his clothes, they are all ratty and holey. Darling, he’s all dirty and probably has some sort of disease. Do you really want to spend time with that sort?” Mrs. Harrington said, clicking her tongue at the end of her sentence.

She seemed hesitant to even gesture at Billy, as if his filth would jump onto her for acknowledging him.

“He’s not dirty, mom. He’s a person. He’s better than anyone else I’ve ever hung out with.”

Steve sounded almost proud of him.

Billy could have kissed him right there, but managed to hold himself back. Damn, that whole controlling yourself thing was difficult.

“What about those kids Timmy and Carolyn? They were nice.” She smiled politely, waving her hand towards the door.

“Tommy and Carol, mom? Yeah, they stopped hanging out with me as soon as I started dating Nancy, then stopped talking to me as soon as I got the diagnosis.” He sighed, rubbing his arm. “They’ve never even visited me in the hospital.”

“That’s a shame, you should really make more of an effort, dear.” She tried to put a hand on his, jingling as she moved, but he moved away before she even got close.

The entire encounter felt almost artificial. Everyone in the room could tell that Mrs. Harrington was utterly convinced that she had control of the conversation. She wanted to plan where it went and who said what. Steve probably knew that was how she was, but it felt as though he was trying his best to adhere to her plan. Hopefully to satisfy her enough to get her to go away. Billy could tell, however, that Steve was on the cliff’s edge. He was completely prepared and seriously considering abandoning her script that the entire family seemed to already know and ad libbing it. Billy was excited for the show, Mrs. Harrington just needed to introduce the next line that would set Steve off, which was completely inevitable.

“Whatever, mom,” Steve said, rolling his eyes.

Suddenly, the resemblance was very clear to Billy. BIg hair, rolling brown eyes, etc.

Silence fell for a moment and as Steve took a breath to begin speaking, his mother beat him to it.

“Did you say that you are dating Nancy? Nancy Wheeler?” Mrs. Harrington was smiling proudly, at least her son was keeping somewhat respectable company.

He sighed. He really wished he hadn’t said her name. For everyone’s sake.

“Yes, I-”

“Oh, Steven, that’s wonderful!” She stood up slightly to lightly place herself on Steve’s chest, her hands just barely touching his shoulders.

It almost looked like she was hugging him, although she had probably never done that in her life.

“We broke up a few months ago.”

She pulled back abruptly.

“What? Why? Why didn’t you tell us?” She sat down heavily in her chair, her manicured brows furrowed. .

“I called the hotel but they said that you had checked out three days ago.” Steve sounded exhausted at this point, having to explain stuff to them.

To her.

“She is a great person, Steven! Nancy Wheeler was your chance, to have the life your father and I have! A beautiful wife and a happy home and you threw it all away!”

Steve was just staring at her, occasionally glancing back at his father, begging for support. The look in his eyes said that he knew it was futile.

“You don’t even know what happened and you’re blaming me?”

She dropped her hands back into her lap, frowning.

“It must be something you did, no girl as intelligent as Nancy would dump a boy like you.”

And there she went rolling her eyes again.

Billy almost rolled his eyes at her before he caught himself.

He was tempted to slip his hand under the blanket and take something of Steve in it. His hand, his leg, whatever. Anything to let him remember that Billy was there with him, that he wouldn’t have to talk about her around him anymore, or that he wouldn’t have to deal with such stupidity and blatant, self-determined ignorance if it were just the two of them.

If it were just the two of them, Billy probably would have grabbed something different, comfort would be out the fucking window.

He held himself back however, as Mr. Harrington was the one looking him up and down now. If Billy didn’t know better, he would have said that he had received that sort of gaze in a much darker place, with many more people, and much louder music.

He almost winked at him, thinking for a moment about conquesting father and son before he caught himself at that, too.

His goal was to control impulses.

Stick to it, Billy.

At least he could appreciate that Steve would look good when he was older. Not that he was going to reach that age, with the whole cancer thing. Plus, Mr. Harrington looked like he had a few plastic surgeries under his belt. Or rather, under his brow.

At least Steve would always enjoy youth.

“Look, I don’t want to talk about it and it’s getting kinda late,” he said, glancing to the wall, where there was not a clock, “can you guys leave so I can sleep?” He rubbed his eyes for effect.

“Nonsense, you were sleeping when we came in, you seem well-rested to me. And I want to hear about this whole affair with Ms. Wheeler, since you’re proposing that it wasn’t your fault.”

Mrs. Harrington sat back in her chair, her lips pursed and arms crossed.

“She cheated on me, alright? She fucked some other dude, can you please leave now?” He was talking with his hands again.

“Language, Steven!” his mother said, appalled.

Her mouth hung wide, the lip slightly curled in from horror.

“And for the last time, no, we will not leave. We just got in and we are going to visit our son. You need to make time for your parents when we request it. She sighed. “Who did she cheat on you with?”

Steve nearly shouted, but managed to keep his volume at a respectable level. He showed his anger in his tone.

“This isn’t some bar, mom! I’m not telling you about the bad things that have happened to me so that you can gossip with your girl friends about it when you’re drunk off martinis!” He pointed at his father. “Especially not with him in the room! He’ll just use it to get pity points from his business partners and investors!”

He sighed heavily, letting out a throaty yell.

He put the heels of his hands in his eyes and held them there for a moment before turning to Billy.

“Can you go get a nurse, please?” he turned back to his parents, glaring at them with narrowed eyes, “The doctor said I should remove all stressors.”

His mother huffed and just stared back.

Billy nodded at Steve and turned in a trance-like state to walk out the door, which the Harringtons had conveniently left open. He was more than willing to do whatever it took to get those people to leave.

“At least he’s leaving,” he heard Mrs. Harrington whisper as he crossed the threshold.

Billy walked the short distance to the nurse’s station and told the tired-looking woman on call there that Steve needed help with something. She perked up immediately and Billy couldn’t really blame her.

Billy could hear Mrs. Harrington still running her mouth as the walked up.

“-trying harder to get better, dear. Hospital bills aren’t cheap and we want to spend more time with you as a family.”

“Alright, that’s it. Billy stepped aggressively into the room, already walking around the bed to the Harringtons. “He’s dying of cancer, your own fucking son is dying of cancer and you want him to get better so he can be less of a burden? So you can take more trips around the world? Uh-uh, you don’t get to do that. You bad-mouth his friends and blame him for things that aren’t even his fault, yet you still have the audacity to call him family. That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard and I’m a trailer park hoodlum. Get the fuck out of this room so that your son can spend time with people he actually wants to be with!”

“That’s enough, Mr. Hargrove,-”

“How dare you speak to us like this! Nurse, get this child out of here!” Mrs. Harrington was visibly shaking, but she managed to remain seated through her rage.

“Mr. and Mrs. Harrington, Steve needs to rest for his procedure tomorrow, I’m gonna need to ask you to leave,” the nurse said from the door.

She seemed to grow tired again, probably used to having to deal with the Harringtons.

“We will not be bullied to leave our son’s side!”

“Should I call security?” the nurse asked them, putting a hand on her hip.

“That won’t be necessary,’ Mr. Harrington answered immediately.

His wife was sitting open-mouthed on the chair, looking as offended as ever.

He grabbed her arm and hauled her up, stepping past Billy. He had to basically drag her out the door.

The nurse sighed and followed them out, closing the door behind herself.

“2 o’clock, right?”

Steve let out a small laugh, sighing.

“Yeah. Thank you for doing that, Billy. I really appreciate it.”

Billy watched the door for a moment before going forward and kissing Steve on the forehead.

Steve grabbed his hand as he was about to walk out of the room.

“Two things,” he said, “first, I’m sorry about my parents. I didn’t expect them to show up today.”

Billy just grunted in response. He wanted to say something but it refused to leave his throat.

“Second, I want you to go and get an electric razor.”

“I’m sorry, a what?”

Billy managed to pull his hand out of Steve’s grip. He couldn’t even try to imagine Steve bald, he refused to think about it. Steve’s hair was a part of a him, a huge part of him.

“I’m tired of finding more and more hair on my pillow every morning. I’m tired of looking in the mirror and seeing more and more bald spots.”
“So your solution is to make your entire head one big bald spot? Yeah that makes sense.”

“Billy, please just go along with this. It’s something I need to do,” Steve said almost desperately.

Billy sighed, rubbing his chin.

“Fine. I have one at home.” He headed towards the door. “I’ll get it and be back in a bit.”

He walked out, closing the door none-too-lightly.

It was maddening. He wanted to freeze time, let Steve remain as he was, maybe not with the cancer, but still preserved. Not dead, not suffering, not bald. Just perfect.

But Billy would be psychotic to refuse him comfort.

He kept walking, but was stopped when he got to the nurse’s station.

“Thank you for coming to get me. About those two, they’re both a real piece of work,” she was smiling gratefully as she spoke.

Billy just nodded at her thanks and began to walk away, but his feet stopped themselves.

“What if...what if you found someone who was a match for Steve and wanted to donate to him specifically? Would that work?”

She sat down behind her desk.

“Well we would have to test the donor, of course, but yeah, it could probably work,” she said with a small nod and a smaller smile.

“Do you guys have any openings for that sort of testing?” Billy leaned forwards against the desk as he spoke, propping himself on his elbows.

“Well,” she started tapping away on her computer, “Steve is having a biopsy tomorrow, so the doctor can test you then.”

“Great, thanks,” Billy said, he started to walk away. “Just don’t tell Steve about this, please.”

“Of course,” she said, smiling.”It’s great that you’re his friend, he needs someone to lean on times like these.”

He tapped the desk once before walking away, and actually managing to do it that time, and heading downstairs towards the parking lot.

Unfortunately, two of Billy’s least favorite people were still standing there.

“I thought you told him to park here, darling.”

“I did,” Mr. Harrington said tersely, unsurprisingly.

“We’ll just have to wait for him to pull around, then,” she said, as though it were his fault.

Mrs. Harrington had a real talent for blaming people.

They certainly heard Billy as he pulls out his lighter and starts puffing on a cigarette, but they don’t acknowledge him.

He stood there smoking for a few moments before Mrs. Harrington whipped around to face him.

“I will not have my son associating with hoodlums and junkies while he is ill, I want you to stay away from him,” she said sternly.

“What, like you do?” Billy said, smiling easily. 

Mrs. Harrington paled drastically, her powdered face twitching. Mr. Harrington, meanwhile, looked only mildly distraught.

“How dare you speak to me like that, boy, apologize immediately!”

“Hmm,” Billy said, “How about I don’t do that and you can go fuck yourself?”

Billy started walking away from them as he was speaking, reaching the asphalt.

Her face, impossibly, grew even paler. Billy laughed as he turned and swaggered towards the Camaro.

“I have more to say to you, get back here!” She was growing shrill. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer!’

Billy flipped her off as he opened his car door. He dropped into the driver’s seat, and Mötley Crüe loudly greeted him.

Billy pulled out of the parking spot. Mrs. Harrington’s shouting was drowned out by the engine, by itself.

As he drove past them, still standing on the sidewalk, he absentmindedly flicked his cigarette out of the window. It landed on Mrs. Harrington as Billy hear a nearly supersonic shriek emit from somewhere near her. For a moment, her shrill shouting could be heard over the car, but then Billy revved the engine and drove away laughing. She faded into the background and Billy felt accomplished.

He drove home, turning down his music once he got to Old Cherry. He parked in the driveway and went in through his window. He shuffled around in the darkness until he reached the door. Billy tiptoed into the bathroom and rustled around underneath the sink for the clippers. He found them, almost nipping his finger in the blade, and stood up, preparing to leave, only to find someone in the doorway.

“I didn’t think you were home yet, Billy, what happened to chasing tail?” Neil slurred.

He was either very drunk or very tired. Probably a bit of both, it was, after all, a Friday night. Neil always got drunk off his ass on the weekends.

BIlly managed to laugh hesitantly.

“Those bitches were too drunk to do anything well, so I left.”

“Smart,” Neil mumbled, before continuing down the hallway and stumbling into his room.

Billy let out the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding and went to go back out into the hall. He only realized then that the TV was still on. Neil had been sitting in the living room watching television and drinking until Billy pulled up. Then Billy had just appeared in the house without going through the front door. He could tell that was going to be a problem in the morning, but he didn’t have time to think about it at the moment.

So Billy quickly left through the front door and drove back to the hospital. Fortunately, the Harringtons were gone by the time he got there.

As soon as he gets up to Steve’s ward, the nurse hands him a towel.

“For his shoulders,” she said knowingly. “The janitors will be in first thing tomorrow morning to clean up.”

“Thanks,” he said, staring down at his hands.

He couldn’t believe that they were actually going to do it.

Steve was already sitting up in bed when Billy walked in.

“Ready?” he asked.

Steve nodded and walked to the bathroom, disappearing through the doorway.

“If this is something to get back at your parents, then there are other ways to make them angry,” Billy said as he walked into the bathroom. Steve had already set up a chair and was sitting in front of the mirror.

He knew plenty of ways to get back at parents, small and large.

“This isn’t that and you know it. Hair grows back, Billy, it won’t be gone forever.”

Bily set the razor down heavily on the sink.

“Yes it will, Steve, you’ve said a million times already that you are going to die.”

“Then I fucking die, my hair has nothing to do with any of that!” Steve was almost standing now.

“I don’t want you to look like one of those people in your coffin, Steve! That’s what I’m concerned about!” Billy regretted it as soon as he said it, but he also kinda sorta meant it.

“‘One of those people’? A cancer patient? That’s what I am, that can’t be changed! If it really bothers you, I’ll wear a wig.”

Billy suddenly softened.

“That’s not what fucking I want. I just don’t want you to have to go through this, I want you to be healthy and have a full head of hair and be a high school senior.” Billy fell silent as Steve lowered himself back into the chair carefully.

“That’s not an option,” Steve said quietly.

“We’d still meet that way. We could make out in bathrooms, glare at each other in the hallway. You know, typical high school stuff. We could go to parties together and get drunk. I don’t know, I just want this to not be reality.” Billy sighed and leaned against the wall.

“I know, Billy. I know.” He paused, taking Billy’s hand and drawing him close. “We can still make out in bathrooms,” he said, right before he kissed him.

Billy kissed him back with all the energy he could muster, which was not much.

It wasn’t fair. Steve didn’t deserve any of that. Fucking none of it. Not the awful parents or the shitty girlfriend and friends and especially not the cancer. He deserved to live and to spend time babysitting neighborhood kids, to grow and learn and get a job in childcare. He deserved to be happy.

Billy was determined to give that to him for as long as he could.

“Alright,” he said, pulling away, “let’s get this over with.”

He plugged in the razor and draped the towel over Steve’s shoulders. He took in the sight of him in the mirror for a moment. They both looked tired. 

“Attaboy,” he whispered before Billy filled the room with electric humming.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Billy served a shift at the diner, again. It was as boring as ever.

Luckily, that guy from his last shift didn’t show up so he didn’t have to deal with that debacle.

When he got home, Neil was already shouting. What about, Billy had no idea, but he walked into the door at the wrong time.

“Goddamnit!” He whipped around as the door closed. “You." He paused, breathing hard and hoarse as men tend to do.

Billy was waiting for him to explode, each breath like the tick of a timer. And then the ticking stopped.

"Goddamnit, Billy!” he shouted. 

Oh, that was it. He was drunk. Being drunk before noon was never a big surprise, but it hadn’t been happening recently. Billy knew he was being foolish when he started to believe that it was going to stop.

He was backed up against the door, then Neil’s fist to his face pressed it even further to the wood. He turned his head in his only effort to get away. Another punch and Billy fell to the ground, his head spinning.

Neil’s shoes were oddly dirty, covered in black dirt to the laces. Or maybe it was shoe polish that Neil had caked on them during his drunken stupor. His shoes were work boots, anyway, he didn’t even need to polish them. But he had a penchant for pretending he was more important than he actually was.

“Why can’t you be a good son?! Faggot! You’re no son of mine, you’re a fucking disgrace!”

Neil leaned heavily against the door as he kicked once, twice, three times.

Billy blacked out further with each kick until his vision was completely gone. He lay there until it cleared, blinking rapidly.

He didn’t realize that Neil had already stumbled to the couch until he couldn’t see his feet in front of him anymore.

Neil hadn’t done anything like that since California. Since the incident with Charlie. But, unfortunately for Billy, he hadn’t lost his touch.

He didn’t hear or feel anything crack, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything.

“Get out of my sight.”

Billy tried not to groan as he stood, holding his lips shut, but a sound escaped. His ribs were screaming at him to lay the fuck back down. He managed to open the door and stumble out onto the porch before Neil could gather his wits enough to stand up.

He sat down on the last stair. The last time that had happened he laid in bed for more than a while before feeling well enough to stand, much less walk, and even then it was a struggle. It didn’t seem as horrible this time, so he took a few moments before standing up and making his way over to his Camaro. He stepped carefully into the driver’s seat, making sure not to bend too much, and slid the key into the ignition.

It was only 12:30. Too early to go to the hospital.  

Actually, it was not too early. Steve would need the support and Billy was willing to give it.

He turned on the car, letting it roar to life, and pulled out of the driveway. Neil ran out of the house, screaming at him as he drove away. But Billy didn’t stop.

He’d be getting shit for it later.

He punched on the radio as he drove. He fiddled with the stations until he got tired of what was on and pushed in his cassette, sighing.

His face was starting to throb and his ribs definitely weren’t faring any better. He could feel the blood rushing past his injuries, probably not a great thing.  

Oh well. He would be at a hospital soon enough, if anything happened while he was there, there would at least be someone ready to put him on something.

An I.V., a monitor, a doctor’s call sheet, etc.

He reached the hospital in the next few minutes and switched off the Camaro.

He almost got out of the car before remembering how much pain he was in and pulling down the sun visor.

Damn.

His left eye was starting to swell up and there was a trail of blood coming out of his nose. Both nostrils. He wiped it quickly on his sleeve. He turned his head slowly, wary to see his dad’s dominant side. Bruises were starting to spread along his temple.

Yep, Steve was definitely going to notice that.

He sighed and closed the visor. He shoved his keys into his pockets and got out the car, holding back a groan. At least no one could see that stuff.

Billy made his way into the hospital, trying not to limp. He waved at the stuff at the front desk, smilingly haltingly, and stepped into the elevator. There was hardly ever a wait for it anyway.

The staff had all waved hesitantly, not a smile between them.

He had thought before that it was a little weird that he could recognize the hospital staff and probably name them. But at least it wasn’t the staff at some gas station or something.

He took a hot second in the elevator to fix his hair, lamenting the state of his face, then stepped out and waved to the nurse at the station.

“He’s just in there, dear. I think he’s waiting for you,” she said with a faint smile.

She seemed to want to ask about his face, but managed to keep it inside.

He gave a quick “thank you” wave, for more than one thing, before heading into Steve’s room.

The boy himself was sitting on his bed, facing the window with his arms crossed. His shoulders were high and tense, near his ears, so Billy crawled onto the bed behind him. His legs went around Steve’s hips so his perfect ass was nestled right in Billy’s crotch. He tried his hardest not to pop a boner.

Steve let out a huff of a laugh at the feel of Billy around him.

He leaned his head back on Billy’s shoulder as the latter brought his hands around his waist.

Billy laid a kiss on his smooth head.

“Hey, pretty boy, how have you been?” Billy asked.

He pushed Steve upwards until he could massage his shoulders.

“Since last night? Well my ass is starting to hurt,” he laughed, his shoulders finally starting to relax.

“Well that’s a phrase I hope to hear a lot.”

Steve smiled at that.

“Honestly?” His smiled faded quickly. 

Billy nodded from behind him.

“I’m terrified. Being bald is an entirely new experience. I’m still not sure if I like it yet.”

“I do,” Billy said, allowing Steve to lay back on him again.

“Thanks,” Steve said dryly. “But I am also scared for the biopsy. I’ve had dozens of them, but they are so fucking painful.”

“You’ve gotten through those and you can get through this one.”

“I know,” he said, his voice dipping. “I know. I just don’t know how much longer I can take this. Any day could be the day that I give up.”

Billy’s hands were around his chest now, settling in the frame.

“I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

Billy didn't really know what to say to that. He knew that it must have been hard, your body working day in and day out against itself, and then outside forces working against your body, as well. It had to be completely exhausting.

“You shouldn't have to. But you do. Imagine how upset Dustin is going to be at your funeral. The poor kid is gonna get snot all over his tuxedo,” Billy said with a sad attempt at a smile.

It was more a frown. No, it was smile, but the corners were just a bit turned down. He was smiling in his eyes at least. 

Dustin would go Steve's funeral even if his parents didn't have one for him.

Steve laughed, wiping away tears that Billy hadn't realized were there.

“That's true. He swung by this morning to admire your handiwork,” Steve said, tapping a finger to the side of his head.

“And?”

“Can't say he appreciated it.”

“Rude.”

Steve laughed again, sniffling between chuckles.

“Mike is gonna miss you, Lucas. Hell, Max will probably even miss you. You have to keep at it. For them.” Billy would have punched himself if he could.

Listening to such sappy words in his own voice...he could feel his reputation disintegrating by the syllable.

“I don't know you liked the kids so much. Or even knew their names,” Steve said, looking up at Billy through the corner of his eye.

“I don't. But you do.”

Steve didn't have a response to that.

He sat up, his hands resting on Billy's thighs. He shifted with some difficulty until they were facing. He gasped as he turned around.

Damn, Billy had almost forgotten about that.

“What the hell happened to your face?” he nearly shouted.

Steve grabbed Billy's chin, turning his head to inspect the bruise on his cheek.

“Holy shit! Who did this to you?” He pulled Billy’s face back to face him.

“Who do you think?” Billy said with a sarcastic lilt.

Steve froze.

“Your dad? Why did I even fucking ask?” He sighed, looking closer at the swelling eye. “You need to get out of that house, Billy.”

“Don't you think I know that?” he replied aggressively.

Billy climbed off the bed in frustration, standing in front of Steve. He worked everyday of his goddamn life, waiting for the opportunity to get out of that house. But he couldn't just leave, he needed money and a plan for that. Neither of which he had.

Billy paced.

“Alright, hot head, just come here.”

Billy glared at him.

“Your nose is bleeding again,” Steve said with a small smile.

Billy sighed and took a step forward until he was standing between Steve's thighs. Steve already had a tissue in hand, wiping away the blood adorning Billy’s face.

“Come on,” he said, “bathroom.”

Steve withdrew his legs and crawled around to the other side of the bed. He leapt off and stepped into the bathroom, picking up a hand towel as he passed the rack.

Billy followed him reluctantly.

“How did you know it had been bleeding before?”

“You have blood all over your mouth and cheek,” he said simply, smiling.

"Why the fuck are you smiling?"

"Your a distraction from what is about to happen," he said. 

"That's fucked up."

Steve dipped the towel under the faucet and squeezed out the excess. He brought it to Billy’s face, slowly wiping away the blood. Billy would say he did it almost lovingly if he didn’t know better.

“Why do you let him do this to you?”

Billy closed his eyes so he didn’t have to look at Steve’s face. He looked...disappointed. Billy really didn’t want to know what he was disappointed in. Probably Billy, judging by his question.

He looked like he was in the process of deciding whether or not to pity him. Billy didn’t want his pity.

“I don’t let him do anything,” he said, catching Steve’s wrist in his hand. He pushed it away from his face. “I’d kill him if I could but, unfortunately, the sheriff seems to be more than law abiding.”

Steve brought the rag back to Billy’s face, wiping at something near his eye.

“Hopper is a good person, Billy. If you told him what was going on, he may be able to help you.”

Billy finally opened his eyes. There it was; the pity. The look given to him by so many others when he had shown up to school or a party with bruises on his sternum and a limp in his gait. But like always, Steve had to be different. There was determination in his eyes, and genuine concern.

Everyone else who had at least the latter had been through the same things before. They had been resigned to their fates and to Billy’s. To them, it was a rite of passage. Billy got beat up by his dad? So did half the kids on the block, no one was special, least of all him.

Steve himself had been through abuse, only it was emotional. He didn’t seem to realize that part yet, although he was painfully aware of the neglect. Anyone with two ears and brain between knew about it.

But he seemed to want to help Billy, he actually wanted him to be relieved of the pressure that Neil put at him. Steve wanted to help him out from Neil’s shadow.

No one had ever wanted to do that before.

“Don’t you think I’ve told police?” He grabbed Steve’s shoulders.

His concern was admirable, but he needed to realize that there was no solving this problem in the immediate future.

“I’ve told doctors, teachers, neighbors, police officers.” He shook him. He didn’t really mean to, but Steve didn’t seem to be getting it. “Even when I showed them the bruises, they did nothing. They did nothing to help me.” He gripped his shoulders even tighter, Steve needed to understand. It was no use.

“I’ll help you.”

Good god, he was soft. He said it so quietly, yet it was so forceful. His words had power behind them.

“How?” Billy tried to say it quieter, but he failed at that, too.

“I don’t know yet.” Then Steve pulled him into his arms.

Billy was too shocked at first to do anything, but soon enough he wrapped his arms around Steve.

It was warm in there and soft, yet also sharp. His arms were bony and Billy could feel his ribs and spine against his own arms. His robe was worn and tattered, but it was his. It smelled like him and Billy was grateful, only for a moment that Steve was slightly taller than him and Billy could bury his face in Steve’s shoulder.

Not that he did that, of course.

And for once, Billy didn’t mind being surrounded in that way. Being so close with somebody that you really couldn’t get any closer. He felt comfortable there, maybe even safe. He didn’t have to be in control right then and there, he could let somebody else do it for once. It was a strange feeling, completely foreign to be comfortable with.

If Billy was being completely honest with himself, he could trust Steve. The last time he had trusted someone completely, they left him with a monster. She left him with a monster.

He was a quick learner, even at such a young age.

Billy closed his eyes.

He didn’t know how long they stood there for.

“Knock knock!” came a saccharine voice from beyond the door to the room. “Steve, sweetie, we’re here for your biopsy. Are you awake, dear?”

Steve let go of Billy and he opened his eyes.

Steve handed Billy the rag and left the bathroom, so Billy finished up cleaning by himself.

There was shoe polish above his eye and on his temple. He wiped that off as best as he could, glancing at the doctor and three nurses as they passed the bathroom.

As soon as Billy walked out of the bathroom, the doctor gasped.

“Good God, boy. What happened to you?” He stepped forward and Billy stepped back. “I’ll check you out after the procedure.”

Billy just nodded and stepped around him.

He hated doctors.

He walked to the bed, where Steve was already laying with his pants drawn down to his legs and his robe rucked up around his waist. Billy had never seen his bare ass before. He stared for a moment before remembering that there were other people around. And that there was a certain gravity to the situation, Steve was about to get a goddamn needle stuck into his bone.

He walked forwards until he was standing next to the bed. Steve glanced up at him with wide eyes. Billy could see that his hands were shaking violently.

Nobody would care if he took one of them. Staring at his ass was crossing a line in the presence of 'polite' company, but holding hands in times of great distress like that was allowed. Right?

He took Steve’s hand in his own two, rubbing his thumb over the back. The skin was extraordinarily soft.
When Billy’s skin was still like that, his mother used to say that he had the softest hands in the world, baby’s skin. So delicate and beautiful that it seemed brand new.

Steve clapped his other hand onto the pile of hands next to him and squoze with both. Billy almost regretted taking it in the first place; the procedure hadn’t even started yet and his hands were already aching.

But it was about to. Start, that was.

The doctor was moving things around on a cart, attaching a needle, putting on gloves. The clanking could be heard by everyone in the room but Steve refused to turn around, to look at the instrument about to be put deep into his body. And not in a sexy way.

He closed his eyes tight when it stopped.

Billy, on the other hand, couldn’t help but look. The needle was so long, he couldn’t believe that anyone would be willing to go near it, much less use it on another person.

“Holy shit,” Billy whispered.

“Shut up,” Steve growled through tight lips.

The doc wiped something over his hip, rubbing it in circles.

Billy almost gagged, it stank so badly of the hospital.

“Alright, Steve, are you ready?” the doctor asked, gripping Steve’s hip and turning his body slightly.

The nurses took up positions next to Steve’s body. They were digging their fingers into his legs and abdomen, holding him still. The third nurse was still waiting by the cart, as if it would jump out the window by itself.

Steve just nodded in response.

“On three. One. Two. Three.”

Steve failed to hold in a small scream when the needle went in. His hands jerked in Billy’s grip, but he managed to keep his body still. He was holding onto Billy’s hands like they were a lifeline.

“We’re almost done.”

The doctor gave the needle a little forward push and stopped dead. He drew on the suction and out came Steve’s marrow.

Steve whimpered, but managed to keep most of it in. He was choking on it. 

Then the doctor drew out the needle and it was over.

“Done!” he said cheerfully. “There, that wasn’t so bad, now was it?”

“Pleasant as ever, doc,” Steve said with a small smile.

He was still holding tightly to Billy’s hands.

The doc set the needle on the tray and tossed his gloves into the trashcan next to the bed. The nurses wheeled out Steve’s marrow, leaving the doc in the room.

“As soon as he let’s go, Billy, I want you to go out into the hall and tell the nurse that you’re ready for me,” he said, doing that condescending thing that all adults did where they made sure someone younger than looked them in the eye to make sure they heard.

As if Billy were fucking deaf.

He glanced up at the asshole once, nodding, then looked back at Steve. Then he left.

“You alright?”

Steve let out a forced laugh.

“Yes. No.” He shrugged. “It’s not my first biopsy. I’ll never get used to them.”

Billy managed to prise one of his hands out of Steve’s and walked around the bed. He dragged the chair to the side Steve was facing and sat down. He put his hand out and Steve immediately grabbed onto it, squeezing mercilessly.

“Jesus! Are you trying give me your pain?” Billy asked, laughing.

“That’s the point,” Steve said with an echoing laugh.

“Gee, thanks,” Billy said as he lifted the blanket and allowed it to settle over Steve’s waist.

The doctor had taped a cotton swab to it, but that didn’t mean that Billy had to look at it.

They sat there for over an hour, mostly in silence. They occasionally made idle prater about nothing, but speech wasn’t required. Neither to communicate the simple things, nor to fill the silence. It was like being silent by yourself, there was nothing weird or awkward about it. 

It was nice, just sitting there, even if Billy’s hands were aching.

Steve was beginning to drift off to sleep, which meant the pain was fading.

It was nice.

And then his parents walked in.

This time, Billy didn’t yank his hands away. He jostled Steve to wakefulness by squeezing his hand as Mr. and Mrs. Harrington made their presence known. The only thing they were missing were the processional trumpets.

Billy could feel a hole being burnt in the back of his neck by Mrs. Harrington’s glare. He was glad that he could irritate them in such a way.

“We’re here for your procedure, Steven,” she said, smiling as if she had done something good, proved to someone that she was a good parent.

“Are you kidding me right now?” He sat up a little in his bed, leaning on his elbow.

He winced as his hip was jostled.

“No, dear, why on Earth would you ask that?” Mrs. Harrington said, coming to stand next to the chair.

Absolutely no fucking way Billy was standing up for her this time.

She still hadn’t noticed the state of his face and he wanted to give the bitch the surprise of her life.

“The biopsy was an hour ago. You missed it.” He laid back down, but quickly sat back up. “By a pretty wide margin of error, might I add.”

“Well, why didn’t you tell the doctor to wait for us?” She somehow had the audacity to sound offended.

“You expect the doctor to hold up other patients who desperately need his help to wait for your unplanned and completely unexpected arrival?”

“Well-”

“When you’ve never come to biopsy before?” Steve asked angrily.

“Yes!” his mother shouted. “We are your parents and we want to be here for you, Steven, but you make it very hard for us.”

“You’ve got to  be kidding me.”

“Billy, are you ready?” The doctor, asked, poking his head in.

Billy stood, trying to pull his hands from Steve’s, but he held on.

“Can’t you check him in here?” Steve asked desperately.

“I’m afraid not, Steve,” he said, giving a completely obvious fake shrug.

“Sorry,” Billy whispered

He extricated his hands and went out into the hospital hallway.

Chapter Text

Billy went out carefully into the hallway, anxious to get back to Steve's bedside and back talk the Harringtons.

For God's sake, you haven't even left the room yet. 

Now that he was reminded of his injuries, they began to ache once more. His attempt at allowing his feet to land as carefully as possible to avoid sending shock waves up his body did not work at all. Wearing combat boots kind of defeated the purpose of walking carefully.

He glanced back as he stepped into the hallway. Steve was glancing listlessly after him, his eyes already glazing as Mrs. Harrington began to speak.  Poor kid. 

Fortunately for Billy, her voice was cut off by the click of the door before she could get out anything intelligible.

The doctor was waiting for him just outside, rifling through the pocket of his white coat for something.

They stood there for a moment before he abandoned his search with a disgruntled groan and a wave of his hand.

“C’mon,” he eventually said, turning.

Damn, this guy was quite the charmer with people who weren't his patients.

Billy followed him down the hall and around the corner to an empty hospital room.

Not only was anxious to get back to Steve, but also for the events that would occur in that room. The man would check his injuries, meaning he would look at them and see the full extent of all the damage Billy had ever taken. Well, basically all of it. Neil was fairly efficient at leaving scars. 

Then he would probably have a needle stuck into his bone. How would he explain it to Steve when he came back to the room an hour later, limping?

He wanted the tests to be a surprise, just in case they didn't work out. They being the test, not him and Steve. Steve would probably be dead before they had the chance to fight enough to warrant a breakup. 

“Through here, and sit on the bed, please,” the doctor said, opening the door.

Billy sat down gratefully, although he managed to keep the relief off his face. It was masked by the worry that was easy to present. It was always simple to play the ignorant victim around adults, they ate that shit right up. Billy barely had to work at it. 

He was reluctant to show anyone his injuries, much less a doctor. An adult. Someone who could call the police and probably wouldn’t hesitate or take Billy into account when doing it.

“Shirt off.”

Billy almost made a joke about having to woo him first before they got to the good stuff, but then he realized that he was the only faggot in the room and held his tongue.

He started to take off his jacket, pulling on the lapel, but groaned when it got down to his elbows. He managed to tug it off and reached down for his shirt, but the doctor sighed impatiently and took it off for him. He barely even gave Billy time to put his arms up. The fabric scratched at the underside of his arms, leaving burning trails up the skin.

The doctor just dropped the shirt next to him.

The next ten minutes was him poking and prodding at his chest and roughly turning Billy’s head from side to side.

Should this guy really be working with children and cancer patients if he was this rough with a grown, healthy person?

But Billy kept his complaints to himself, semi-thankful for the hopefully free examination.

The only time the doc spoke between the beginning and the end of the diagnosis was when he asked Billy to,

“Breathe in,” holding a cold stethoscope to his chest, “and out. In,” and to his back, “out.” He looped the stethoscope back around his neck and sat down on the rollie chair that seemed to be in every hospital room. “Nothing is broken, and I don’t think that there is any internal bleeding, but you are severely bruised down to the bone. Who did this?”

Billy kept his mouth firmly shut, busying himself with putting his shirt back on and managing not to grunt or groan. Nothing escaped his lips. He was an anxiety ridden teen who mistrusted doctors, according to the expression on his face, why would he tell him anything?

The doctor stood impatiently in front of him, his arms crossed, like Billy was a troublesome child.

He sighed when Billy kept his mouth shut, even after getting his shirt and jacket back on.

“Fine,” he said, throwing his hands in the air, “you’re not gonna tell me.”

The doctor sighed again and rubbed his forehead.

“Y’know, if someone is continuously doing this to you, I can help you. I can stop it. If this is bullying or abuse Billy, you need to tell me. Now.” He looked between Billy’s eyes for a moment, “whatever,” he said, much to quickly to make it seem like he actually cared about Billy's wellbeing.

Neither that man nor anyone else had any right or business knowing what was going on. He didn’t owe anyone anything. Much less did he deserve knowledge. He wasn’t giving anyone the power to change his life, that power belonged to him and him alone.

He stood and went to the cart that Billy had just noticed sitting in the corner of the room, grabbing a instrument off the surface.

“It’s time for your matching test, I just need you to open your mouth.”

Oh thank God.

His pulse had started to speed up at the introduction of the test, fearful that he would have to get a needle in his bone as well. He had started to regret offering to do the test when that thought crept into his brain. Only started, though. If Steve could do multiple biopsies when he was only ten years old, then Billy could do one period.

The doc held out a long q-tip, prompting Billy to open his mouth. He roughly shoved it into his mouth -- and there went Billy's mind thinking about another joke about going to dinner before desert. 

When it was over, Billy leapt off the bed and made it to the door in less than two steps. He was slamming it behind him before the doctor could even screw the cap on the test tube. 

Fuck that guy. the only reason he agreed to the observation, or rather didn't object, is because Steve seemed concerned with the black around his eye. 

His steps became aggressive and heavy, loudly announcing his arrival around the corner. 

He went back to Steve’s room, opening the door quietly. It may or may not have been to eavesdrop on the Harringtons, but no voices slipped out into the hallway.

They had already left, thank God.

Although, for people who claimed that they wanted to spend more time with their son, they seemed fairly willing to abandon him at the slightest sign of resistance. Bitches.  At least that meant more Steve for Billy.

To talk to.

Then Billy listened closer through the crack.

“What did they say this time?” he asked, barging into the room and closing the door loudly.

Steve’s sniffling paused immediately.

“The usual,” he said, shaking his head and looking down to his hands in his lap. “Something about me trying harder to get better, cause since I’m still sick I’m obviously not concentrating hard enough on my health.”

Even from where he was standing, clear across the room, Billy could see a fresh batch of tears flow from his eyes. His cheeks were already wet where they had stung the skin earlier.

“Maybe it would be better for everyone if I just,” he paused, sniffling, “stopped chemo.”

Billy stepped forwards aggressively, holding his hand up, but Steve stopped him with a few words. His thoughts were already a mile ahead of his mouth, although it would have been quick to catch up if there weren't a STOP sign in the road. 

“Just hear me out, before you explode,” he said, bringing his hands also out in a pause gesture. “It’s not working anyway, and all it’s doing is making me sick.”

He stopped again, but Billy couldn’t tell if he was going to say more before he launched into his angry criticisms. He stepped forwards and took Steve’s outstretched hand.

“Can’t I die in peace?”

He looked back down at his lap in defeat.

Billy’s mind was racing with the possibilities of what he could say, ranging from absolute anger to absolute dismay. His tongue could barely keep up.

“Fuck you,” was the only thing coherent enough to slip out. “No, you can’t fucking die in peace, I’m not gonna let you.” He sighed, stepped away from Steve to rub his face. “I know it hurts, but you’ve got to keep fighting for your life and everything trying to steal it from you. You’ve got to rage against the dying of the light. You’re so close to remission, I can feel it.”

Steve smiled gently, his face struggling to hold it back.

“Did you just quote a poem from tenth grade?” he laughed.

“Shut the fuck up.” He stepped back towards the bed. “I do what I want.” He sighed. “Seriously, just hold on for a bit longer. Just a little bit.”

Steve shook his head, taking Billy’s hand back in his.

“It just hurts so much, I don’t think it’s worth it anymore. Maybe I should go ahead and die.”

The hopelessness in his voice broke Billy into pieces. It shattered him. They'd have to sweep him away, scatter the piece of Billy Hargrove with the ashes of Steve Harrington. 

Seemingly unconsciously, Billy rubbed his thumb along the top of Steve’s hand.

“That’s not gonna happen, I’m not gonna let it happen. If I have to go into that fucked upside-down death dimension you dream about, I’d do it a thousand times before I let you just give up. Just,” he sighed. “Just wait, alright? Look at me.” He paused until Steve finally looked up at him, intent that he would completely understand what Billy was saying. “Just wait a week. A week is all I ask, and then we can revisit,” he said it with distaste, spitting out the word as soon as it landed on his tongue, “the decision to stop the chemo.”

Steve nodded forlornly.

A week passed and at the end of it, the doctor whose name Billy couldn’t bother to remember entered the room with a grave expression.

Billy almost managed to hold himself back from walking closer to the bed and slipping his hands under the blanket to grab Steve’s hand. Almost.

“The results are in and, I’m afraid it doesn’t look good.” He glanced at Billy, seemingly considering asking him to leave, but wisely reconsidered it -- Billy was excellent at facial expressions -- and continued. “But, it doesn’t look horrible either. The chemo has managed to keep both tumors from growing any larger, so their growth has been stagnated, but they are still too large for surgery and the could start growing again at any point in time.” He sat down in the chair beside the bed, his expression shifting to be unreadable. “This is a critical point for you right now, and that’s why I’m authorizing you to go home.”

The doctor finally let loose a small smile, glancing between the boys as their own smiles began to grow.

“How long?”

“Only a day or two. As far as I am aware, your parents are still home, so you’ll have someone to take care of you. This is for you to relax, so I don’t want any strenuous activity, don’t even walk around if you can help it,” he sighed, “Now I am a realistic man, and seeing as you are a teenage boy, I’m not gonna say that you can’t have intercourse, maybe with that pretty brunette girl who is here so often,” he winked, leaning in. “But don’t get too into it, you could have a coughing fit and we wouldn't want that.” He stood and smiled, putting a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Congrats, Steve. I’ll get one of the nurses to bring up a wheelchair for you.” And then he left.

Billy was leaning down to kiss his forehead before the door had even completely closed. His mind was blank, except for one phrase that he never thought would exist between them.

"You can go home."

Steve nodded. Billy didn't want to say that Steve was crying, but he was totally crying. 

Steve’s face could barely contain the smile stretching the corners of his mouth so wide it seemed his face would split in half.

They simply stared at each other until the nurse came in with the wheelchair, smiles leaking from their mouths. It only took a moment to look, but neither could tear their gaze away. It was a...what was it called...in pregnancy? Billy had learned it bio, why couldn't he remember? Why was he thinking about it now?

Positive feedback loop! They were each gaining happiness and sheer, unbelievable euphoria off the other. Steve was gaining it off him, Billy was gaining it off Steve, and so on and so on, until it seemed that his body couldn't contain it. He would explode if it went any further and light would spill out of his veins. 

The nurse managed to interrupt them and she loaded Steve into the chair, assuring him that they would keep his room for him. Billy didn’t even let her roll him out of the room. He took that responsibility gladly, rolling him all the way out to the Camaro. Steve wheelchair was much easier to push than it should have been, but at least there was a wheelchair under his fingers with someone he lov-liked sitting in it and beaming. 

Good god, he couldn’t believe. It was going to be odd seeing Steve outside of the hospital, doing normal things. He was positively euphoric, they both were. Steve could go home. They could spend time together without constantly worrying about discovery. Granted he wasn't healthy, but that barely seemed to matter at the moment. They would have unrestricted access to each other. 

Because Billy knew something that the doctor didn’t know; Mr and Mrs. Harrington had left for Tahiti three days ago, on another 'business trip'.

They would have the Harrington mansion all to themselves. Of course, Billy didn't necessarily expect them to have sex, Steve was very fragile, but there were other ways to get someone off.

He shoved that into the back of his mind. Really not the time for that sort of thing. 

Billy slipped Steve into the passenger seat and folded up the wheelchair to put it in the trunk. Steve seemed more than fine with Billy picking him up, and Billy, in turn, was more than happy to oblige him.

He stepped into the driver’s seat, his hands already sweaty and antsy around the steering wheel. His knuckles easily flashed white. 

“Where to first?” he asked simply, another smile playing at his lips.

He couldn’t seem to stop smiling ever since he rolled Steve out of the hospital doors. Neither of them could. Teeth had been showing from him since their feet/ wheels had left the pavement, and Steve was trying his damnedest to keep the corners of his mouth down.

“I don’t know,” he said, laughing. “A diner? I’m sick of hospital food.”

The Camaro roared to life, making the both laugh at the complete un-suddenness of it. The Scorpions blasted from the speaker, but neither of the moved to turn it down, so Rock Me Like A Hurricane serenaded them all the way to the diner.

Billy beat his palms against the steering wheel to the beat and Steve mimed playing the guitar with his eyes closed. They both laughed harder than they had seemingly in months.

It was magic.

At a stop sign Steve opened his eyes, his smile leaking sparkle into them, and looked over at Billy.

“Headbang!” he shouted over the music.

So, Billy did it, just barely avoiding banging his head on the steering wheel. He could feel his hair whip past his face. He had the sudden regret of shaving Steve’s head. Headbanging with and without hair are two very different things, with the former usually being preferred. He would have loved to see Steve's shining. brown hair whip around his face.

But it was no matter now, as the final notes spluttered through the radio and the song faded out.

Then Mötley Crüe started up and they both started shouting.

“I fucking love this song!”

“Oh my God, Mötley Crüe!”

The diner was only a turn away, but both refused to get out of the car until it was over.

Steve was out of the hospital, they could do whatever the fuck they wanted. If that meant listening to the entire song, then goddammit, they were going to listen to the entire motherfucking song.

Now that they no longer had the doctor and nurses to peer over Steve’s shoulder 24/7, they immediately disregarded their instructions. Steve got excited, he got into what he was doing. He was free. 

Billy got out first and opened Steve’s door for him, aware that the staff for the diner and at least three customers were inside that time of day.

He laid his hand in a friendly manner on Steve’s shoulder, with the other hand under his elbow. Billy guided him into the restaurant, sitting him at one of the booths facing the parking lots.

“Hey, Billy! Knew I recognized that engine, thought you were off today!” Earl called from the kitchen.

“I am, but my friend here wanted something good to eat, so I brought him here.”

“Flattery will get you a raise, and two meals on the house!” Earl finally popped up in the window, waving to Steve. “This one’s a great worker, he is.”

Steve just laughed and nodded in response, his pale cheeks flushing.

“Carla, go on and take these boys orders!” Then he disappeared back into the bowels of the kitchen.

Carla, who had been leaning up against the counter trying ignore all the customers stalked up to the table.

“What’ll you have?” She was staring at Steve when she said it, looking him up and down. 

Billy couldn't tell if it was out of curiosity or lust, but whatever it was, he didn't like it. 

He handed the menu to Steve, anxious to draw her gaze away from him.

“I’ll have a burger with the works and a side of fries,” he said.

Billy, unfortunately for his sanity, knew the menu inside and out.

Steve glanced at the menu, then closed it.

“I’ll have what he’s having, except no onions.”

"Alright, sugar," she said with a wink.

A fucking wink. Billy was gonna murder that bitch. 

Carla scribbled it all down and walked away with a pop of her gum.

“You work here?” Steve asked.

Billy could hear the smile. He relaxed back into the seat, thankful that Carla was gone and Steve didn't seem to notice her approving stare. 

“Yeah, but don’t go spreading it around town. All the kids go to the other diner, so none of them know that I work here,” Billy grumbled.

“You say that as if you aren’t one of them.”  

“I’m not really.” He shrugged, letting out a short laugh. “A Californian faggot, in the straightest city in the Midwest.” He shook his head. “No, I’ll never be one of them, nor do I ever want to be.”

“From what I had heard, you seemed quick to accept the title of ‘King Billy’ and didn’t hesitate to let everyone know who was in charge,” Steve said with a knowing gaze.

“I had to distinguish my rule from the former king, some skinny guy,” he said with a smile. “And just because I’m not one of them doesn’t mean that they know that. According to Tommy, I’m the perfect representation of manliness. I remember his mom saying that I reminded of her Reagan at one point.”

“Holy shit, she didn’t.” Steve said, his jaw dropping.

“She did,” he answered immediately, leaning forward against the table. It pushed a laugh out of him. “She actually said that out fucking loud. Me, the exact opposite of Ronnie fucking Reagan.” He mock shivered, “gives me the heebie jeebies thinking about that guy.”

Steve laughed, barely getting out the next sentence coherently. And quietly.

“Gives me the heebie jeebies to think I'm making out with him every other day.”

Billy leaned further into the table, this time to quiet the laughing, push it back in.

At that moment, Carla came back. She plopped the plates and cups down on the table and turned back around without a word. Not a word, but she did wink at Steve again. 

No tip for that bitch. That came off the table the second she looked at Steve for too long. 

Billy switched the plates around, hoping she was still within earshot.

“She always gets it wrong,” he said, probably a little too loudly.

“Fuck you, Billy!” She shouted from behind the counter.

“Language, Carla!” Earl shouted in return.

Steve giggled at their interaction and turned to his burger, staring at it for a moment.

Billy stared at him in turn, confusion lifting his eyebrow.

“What?”

“I haven't had like real meat on a non-soggy burger in so long.” He stared at the burger like God himself had made it. 

“Well eat up,” he responded after a short pause. “There’s something I think you would like happening soon.”

So they ate, finishing their meals in less than five minutes. Throughout it, one or the other of them would occasionally kick a foot in the other’s direction, hoping not to hit the metal rod holding up the table. When Billy finished, he even dared to put his feet up on the bench next to Steve and continuously nudge with him it. He sort of felt like he had. He had to initiate some physical contact to prove to himself that he was actually there. That both of them were actually there. Steve was out of the hospital, not necessarily healthy but still out, and that Billy was there with him. It was mind blowing to think about.

He was soft.

Billy almost couldn’t believe it hadn’t been happening right in front of him.

Seeing him in some place other than at the hospital with the too-bright lights and the horrible smell of antiseptic was a dream. His nose kept sniffing needlessly, searching for the smells he usually associated Steve with. He got a hint from the beautiful boy across from him every once in a while, but most of it was lemon-scented cleaning spray and the smell of a well-used grill. To top it all off, there was even the faint stench of cigarette smoke. Smells that were familiar and evoked good memories, not traumatic ones.

His ears tuned themselves constantly, listening out for quick footsteps, a crackling PA system used only by a voice that sounded somehow more bored than Billy was, and a heart monitor. The constant sound of a heart monitor. The sound was always near deafening in his dreams. And somehow almost triggering, he supposed, like hear your alarm clock out in the daily world of real people. That sudden fight or flight response to make it stop, to turn it off, good god, can someone turn that goddamn thing off?

Or the small steady drip of an IV, or the squeak of hospital bed wheels. There was so much to hear at a hospital, but also not enough. Every noise was too quiet to amount to anything much. But there, there at the dinner, there was the sound of coffee brewing -- even though it was only about one in the afternoon --, the idle chatter of patrons, the sizzle of something delicious on that well-used grill. It was a beautiful cacophony of comforting sounds. But best of all, was the sound crunching and clattering across from him. Steve, eating something on an actual plate, rather than a plastic tray. Sipping something out of a real cup, rather than a dixie cup or one of those dumbass sippy cups.

His eyes scrambled around, trying to determine if the image before him was some sort of hallucination. No, there were dirty red booths as opposed to stark white sheets and walls. There were patrons in regular clothes rather than nurses in blue scrubs and, you guessed it, doctors in yet more white. But no matter, where they moved, they always went back to him. Looking at him was grounding, even if the vision around him was false, and he had been having a vivid dream or an acid trip the entire time, at least Steve was there. He would stay there forever if it were his choice.

Every single one of his senses told him that he was there, that Steve was there. But he still couldn’t believe it. So he marveled at Steve while they ate, constantly having to assure himself that he was real, and really there.

Steve had eaten his a bit faster than anticipated, although Billy still finished before him. As usual, the burgers were satisfactory. They weren’t the best burgers Billy had ever had, but needless to say they were delicious.

The best ones were at a sea-side shack. It was famous for its seafood, but Caleb hated seafood so they got burgers. That restaurant did everything right. 

“Thanks, Earl!” Billy shouted as they left, his hands on Steve's back and shoulder.

He didn't really need that much help walking, but no one else needed to know that.

He helped Steve into the car and they drove off, back into Hawkins center.

Chapter Text

“Won’t you at least give me a hint?”

“Not a chance, amigo,” he said, smiling. “You know this town pretty well, why don’t you tell me where we are going?”

Steve hummed, leaning his head back against the seat.

He looked very natural there, in Billy’s opinion, like he belonged. Relaxing in Billy’s passenger seat. The muted colors of the inside of the Camaro were almost complementary on him. It wasn’t the harsh tones and bright, bright whites of the hospital, which made him look even paler than he already was.

He seemed to be glowing there in the passenger seat.

Billy was so busy staring at him, he didn’t hear any of what he was saying, nor did he hear the sirens getting louder behind them.

“-fuck, Billy, slow down.”

Billy snapped out of the Steve-induced trance at his tense voice. He pumped the brakes, pulling over slowly.

“You said you know the sheriff, right?” Billy asked, glancing in the rearview at the gruff figure stepping out of the patrol car.

Steve just snorted in response.

Billy put on his best smile and rolled down his window.

He was well versed with the sheriff’s office. He had been arrested for drunken disorderly twice so far, staying overnight in the drunk tank. Everytime any one of Hawkins PD were walking down the street, Billy could feel their eyes on the back of his neck, expecting him to start a fight with the women walking with her baby in front of him.

“How can I help you today, Sheriff?”

Hopper leaned on the car, his hand on the roof.

“Why in the hell were you driving this blue monstrosity nearly 40 miles over?” He asked sharply.

It wasn’t like there was anyone outside. The streets were nearly empty in that part of town and wouldn’t be filled until the evening. But he couldn’t very well tell the cops that.

Luckily, Steve butt in before Billy spent too long trying to think of an excuse.

“Sorry, Hopper, I got out today and we were just a bit excited to catch a movie.”

Clever bastard.

Hopper looked startled, as if he hadn’t noticed Steve sitting there.

“Hey, Steve. Uhm, Billy would mind stepping out of the car? I have some questions I’d like to ask Steve here.” Hopper settled his hat more firmly on his head and thankfully removed his face from the window.

“Actually, I would mind.” He said, sticking his own head slightly out of the window.

Billy didn’t want that asshole telling Steve about his somewhat extensive arrest record. First, of course. Billy was going to tell him at some point. Maybe.

In all honesty, Steve had probably already figured it out.

Steve chuckled as Hopper leaned back down sharply.

“What do you need to talk to me about, Sheriff?”

He sighed and started his interrogation.

“What do you mean you’re out?”

“They decided to send me home for the weekend.” Steve shifted, leaning forward to find a more comfortable position.

He was in Billy’s space, and he didn’t mind at all.

“So why are you spending your few hours of freedom with this delinquent?” He said, poking hard into Billy’s shoulder.

The only reason he didn’t raise his voice at that is because he didn’t want to get another ticket. He had at least three under his belt so far.

“I thought you’d be proud,” he said, poking Billy’s other shoulder, “I’ve finally made a friend my own age.”

Hopper’s eyes twitched behind his sunglasses. “Well, yeah, but he’s not exactly what I meant when I said that,” he said rubbing his scruff.

“I’m sitting right here.”

His protests went unnoticed.

“You’ve heard about him from Nancy, RIght? And I don’t doubt that Dustin has run his mouth about him more than once.” He sighed. “Look, Steve, all I’m saying is be careful. This guy is a bully and a womanizer.”

Steve let out a small laugh. “Well I no longer have a girlfriend for him to steal and I used to be a bully too. People can change, Hopper.”

“Look, all I’m saying is-”

“And,” Steve interrupted, pointing at Hopper and angling his head, “and, he’s the only person my age who I don’t hate who came to visit me.”

“You hate Nancy and Jonathan?” He asked, as if it should be surprising.

“It’s edging out of loathing into despising.”

Hopper’s eyebrows lifted and fell with exasperation.

“Fine,” he said, standing up, “fine, do whatever you want. Enjoy the movie,” he shouted, walking back to his patrol car.

Billy immediately pulled away, keeping to 30 until Hopper was out of sight. He kept checking the rear view for a good few minutes, making sure Hopper wasn't going to change his mind.

“Thanks.” Billy said after a while. “Hopper obviously doesn’t have a great opinion of me, but...uh thanks.”

He kept his eyes on the road as he spoke, not daring to turn and look Steve in the eyes.

“You’re welcome,” he said softly. “You’re good to me, of course I’d help get you out of a speeding ticket.”

Billy nearly crashed the fucking car.

You’re good to me? His brain was short circuiting. Steve was going to be the death of him.

“That’s not really what I mean, but thanks for that too.” He took a risk and glanced over.

Steve was sitting facing Billy, his shoulder leaning against the seat and his arms crossed. Billy had apparently caught him at a bad time, because he was smiling at Billy softly. He quickly turned back around before the Camaro ran into a tree.

“I meant thanks for defending me, no one has ever really done that before. Not when it mattered.”

“You’re welcome. I would kiss you but you’re driving.”

Billy smiled, the corner of his mouth lifting.

“Go for it.”

Steve leaned forward and laid a smooch on Billy’s cheek, making both of them laugh. Billy left the wet spot on his cheek, barely even considering wiping it off.

They arrived at the local theater, and Billy turned to Steve as he turned off the car.

“How’d you guess it?”

“There are only like three things to do in this town and we already went out to eat, so I figured that the next date-like activity would be the movie theater. Shopping doesn’t really seem like your venue.”

Billy just shrugged, muttering, “Fair enough,” as he got out of the car. He suddenly stopped half way out. “Wait,” he said, turning to face Steve, “this is a date?”

“Well yeah. This is a date, isn’t it?”He bit the corner of his lip.

“I guess so, I hadn’t really thought that far. I just wanted to show you a good time.”

Steve suddenly burst out laughing.

“You realize how that sounds, right?”

“Completely,” Billy said, slipping a sly smile as he finally stood and went around to passenger side.

He helped Steve out and they went up to the ticket booth. There wasn’t really anyone in line, so they stepped right up to it.

“What are we going to see?” Steve asked, leaning heavily on Billy’s arm.

“I don’t know, what are we going to see?”

Steve glanced up at the marquee, not seeming to want to look at it for too long.

“What about Police Academy 3? The first one was pretty funny.”

So they got two tickets for the one o’clock showing of Police Academy 3 and a small popcorn.

Billy helped Steve up the stairs into the seats in the very back. There were only three other people in the theater, all sitting near the front and middle. None of them would notice them in the back and the guy in the projector booth was probably already asleep.

The movie had started just as they walked in, fucking police stop made them late. Somewhat ironic, really. They had missed all the trailers for other movies, so Billy asked his question as the beginning credits were rolling.

“Hey, Steve,” he whispered, leaning in.

He had been thinking about this for a while but this was really the first time that they could talk without anyone or anything stopping them.

“Yeah?”

“Why did you kiss me that day at the hospital?”

It had been weighing on his mind, creeping into his dreams. Steve only kissed him to fill the time before he died, someone to help him get his rocks off. Someone to disappoint daddy. Or maybe he was sadistic. It sounded crazy, but maybe Steve knew how handsome he was and how amazing he was and wanted to break a heart or two before he left for good.

Billy was fucking paranoid. Plus, it was probably something he would do.

“Because I had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he said, laying his head on Billy’s shoulder.

“What do you mean?”

He felt so warm on his shoulder, a comforting weight. Steve grabbed his hand under the armrest, interlocking their fingers.

“If you didn’t want me, then I would just go back to the hospital and I would never see you again. That probably would have hurt a bit,” he laughed, “but I’m going to die soon anyway, so that really didn’t matter.” He sighed. “If you kissed me back, I’d gain a friend and someone I could actually depend on. Plus, I just really wanted to kiss you,” he shrugged.

“Friends? Is that all we are?” he asked with a lilting laugh.

“You know we’re not,” Steve said, turning his head off Billy’s shoulder. He leaned up to kiss him.

Lips sliding together, Billy nearly moaned. He was so soft, yet completely unyielding. God, he was amazing. They tasted each other gently, tongues sliding past each other. It was only slightly uncomfortable leaning across the arm rest, but he didn’t notice it soon enough.

Billy’s hand ran past the smooth skin on Steve’s head, stroking his jaw. Billy could feel Steve’s hand somewhere in the vicinity of his waist, squeezing at the skin and pressing his fingers into the bone of his hip. 

It almost felt like Steve was claiming him, not possessively, but just stating it. I like this one, this one is my favoriteI want him, don't take him away.

The kiss did more the reassure Billy than Steve's words did. 

It wasn’t until the movie was halfway over that they broke apart for more than a second.

Billy looked back and forth between Steve’s eyes, cherishing the glow the projector provided from just above them. The deep brown turned into gold and green and blue, constantly shifting in the light. He would never stop looking if he could. If he looked close enough, he could almost watch the movie from Steve's eyes.

“We should probably watch the movie,” he whispered, panting.

“Yeah, probably,” Steve responded.

He glanced down at Billy’s lips once before settling back into his seat. Billy could see his chest heaving. They probably should have stopped before it got to that. And before Billy was so uncomfortable in his seat. He shifted around a bit before giving up.

He stared at the screen, thinking of the locker room scene in Carrie. His pants grew a little more spacious.

Billy took Steve’s hand, kissing the back of it before setting their clasped fingers on the armrest. It was something that he never would have done if he could see anyone around him, but he needed to still touch him, so he pushed back his reservations about being affectionate and grasped his hand tightly.

He leaned down and picked up the bag of popcorn, but it was cold. Waste of money, he should have known that they probably wouldn’t get to it.

“Popcorn?” he said tilting the bag at Steve.

He just shook his head.

So he put the bag back on the ground settled back into his seat.

The rest of the movie they laughed their asses off, not understanding much of the references to the plot, but that never really mattered in sucky comedy movies.

Steve had a coughing fit he was laughing so hard, but it wasn’t enough to bring up any blood, fortunately.

The people in the front of the theater kept glancing back as he was coughing, grumbling among themselves. Billy almost stood up and told them to fuck off. But the movie was ending soon anyway and he didn't want to be kicked out before the credits.

They were leaving just as the three other people in the theater stood up, making it to the car in record time.

“Where to next?” Billy asked as turned the car on.

He didn’t really have anything planned after the movie, which didn’t seem so bad as he had planned the day the very moment he had heard that they were letting Steve out.

Good god, it was like the hospital was a prison or some shit.

It was barely even three o’clock and there was really nothing else to do.

“My house or the quarry.”

“I don’t have any weed,” Billy said regretfully.

They could always go to make out at the quarry, but there wasn’t much space in the back of the Camaro for rigorous activity. Billy had tried that before, it didn’t work very well.

Not that Billy was only planning to fuck Steve for the next day and a half, although that did sound amazing. They would do other stuff. Maybe.

“My house, then.”

Perfect.

“Okay, how do I get there?” Billy asked, already pulling out of the spot.

“I’m assuming you know where the rich neighborhood is?”

“Yeah,” Billy said, instantly regretting having pulled out of the spot.

Loch Nora was in the other direction.

He did a U-turn in the only intersection in town, hoping that Hopper was nowhere near by and that no cops were standing outside the police station across the street.

“It’s at the back of there.”

Billy made it to the entrance of Loch Nora before he got completely lost. He had been to a party or two there before, but he had gone into the neighborhood drunk and left even drunker.

Steve was no help, though, as the only thing he was doing was stroking pieces of Billy’s hair, tugging on it. Which was quite distracting.

“You know what I want to do right now?” He said breathily, rather than give Billy directions.

“Tell me which road to take?”

“Sort of. Thank you for being such a big help to me since I met you and for carrying me in those huge fucking arms,” he giggled, moving one of his hands to squeeze Billy’s biceps.

“You need to take a nap,” Billy said, laughing.

Steve seemed to take a moment to get his words out. His hand had already fallen against Billy's shoulder as he spoke.

“No, I don’t,” Steve said, smiling. “Pull in here,” he said, pointing to the biggest house on the block.

“Jesus Christ, Harrington, I knew you were rich, but this is obscene,” Billy said, looking up out of the windshield at the monstrosity he called a house.

He turned off the Camaro and they sat staring up at the mansion.

Steve just laughed in response. “When I move out,” he said, staring up at the house, “I wanna move into the tiniest fucking apartment in the big city. One room, thin walls, creepy landlord, the works, y’know?” A soft smile appeared on his face. "Anything to get away from this place."

Billy just hummed.

He got out of the car, pulling the wheelchair from the trunk, and went to the passenger side. There was no way that he was gonna get Steve up the stairs in the chair, so he went ahead and put the chair next to the door.

He went back and helped Steve out of the car, holding his waist.

“I used to live in one of those places,” Billy said softly.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” he answered after a moment. He took a moment to visit the past, his fingers throbbing. “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Of course, we had more than one room, but the thin walls only made sure no one was watching you. Anyone in the apartment could hear everything.”

Steve was silent as Billy talked, walking carefully to the steps.

“It was the last place I lived with my mom, before she died and we moved to San Francisco.”

They made it up the steps and Billy set Steve carefully against the wall as he opened the door and put the wheelchair inside, still talking as he did it.

“I could hear them arguing every night, shouting about bills and money and me. She’s the only person who ever stood up to him.” He let out a small laugh. “The only good part of the thin walls was that I could hear her singing every morning when I woke up. She wasn’t very good at it, but she enjoyed it. So I enjoyed it.”

He helped Steve inside, walking him into the living room and setting him down on the couch. He went back and closed the door, continuing to talk.

He honestly couldn’t say why he was saying this. He needed to get it off his chest, that the opposite of something you hate isn’t always better. Billy was almost angry, Steve shouldn’t want that, not at all. He shouldn’t want to live in poverty in a shitty apartment to remind you everyday that you were poor. Barely affording groceries every week because it was so expensive to live in your shitty, cramped apartment.

He wanted to shout at him to be grateful for what he had. Steve had so much that Billy didn’t, but then again, the opposite of what you hate isn’t always better.

Living in a big house with people who hate you was comparable to living in a small apartment with people who hated what you represented.

He went on.

“But I also heard the first time she passed out. I was ten, I didn’t know what to do, so I sat with her until she woke up. She was so confused.” Billy sat down next to him, his entire being out of focus.

Coughing and spluttering, trying to sit up. She broke into a coughing fit every time she managed it though, and fell back to a laying position.

“What happened, sweetheart, are you okay?” she asked, laying her hand on Billy's cheek.

“You fell, I didn’t know what to do.” Little Billy said, wiping tears from his eyes. "You wouldn't wake up."

She finally managed to set up against the counter, breathing hard. He noticed a spot of blood on the collar of her dress, but barely glanced at it before he was looking back at her. He was desperate to see some sign of the smiling angel he’d known all his life.

“It’s alright, mommy’s alright.”

Of course, he trusted her, why would she lie to him?

The next day, she took him to the hospital, had him sit in the waiting room, all alone when she went back.

He waited there for what seemed like an eternity, having looked at all the pictures in the magazines.

She eventually came back to him, her eyes wet and a bandage on her arm.

She refused to tell him what was wrong and less than a week later she fell again and broke her wrist. They moved her permanently into the hospital after that and Little Billy was left all alone with his dad.

“That was one of the first times he ever hit me, when she died. It wasn’t long after that he met Susan and broke a few of my fingers. I knew the name of the game after that.”

“I’m so sorry, Billy, I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he said, kissing Steve on the forehead. “You can live wherever the fuck you want when you move out.”
Billy stood and looked around the house he could see.

“This place looks even bigger on the inside.”

“Yeah,” Steve said.

He stood warily, taking a moment to balance himself on the coffee table, and went to the TV, turning it on.

“Sit with me,” he said, tapping the couch as he made it back there.

Ghostbusters was just coming on, and Billy had never seen it all the way through. He sat on the end of the couch, toeing off his boots. They were muddy and would probably stain the carpet but he couldn't bring himself to care. 

Steve lay with his head on Billy’s lap and they settled in to watch it.

“You know what I was just thinking?” Steve asked as Venkman inspected Dana’s apartment.

“Hmm?” Billy asked, looking down at him.

He was laying on his back, his eyes still on the TV. 

“We don’t know that much about each other.” Steve turned his head, looking up at Billy. “Tell me about yourself, stranger.”

“Of course, we know stuff about each other,” Billy said dismissively, looking back at the TV.

They knew each other pretty well. Right?

Although now that he was thinking about, he didn’t really know much about Steve. They had met each other only...three weeks ago? That probably wasn’t much time to get to know someone well, but it seemed like enough to Billy. He felt like had known Steve forever, like they had been friends since they were little.

“Alright, then what is my favorite color?” Steve asked, crossing his arms.

“Yellow,” Billy said with as much confidence as he could muster.

Steve touched his hair too much for it to be anything else.

“Good guess,” he said after a moment, seemingly impressed.

Billy tried, and failed, not to smile smugly.

“What’s my favorite subject?”

“People.”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Yes it does, think about it.”

Steve was silent for a moment before he sighed and Billy failed again not to smile smugly.

Don't know each other, my ass.

“Fine, what am I like? Personality wise.”

It’s like he was determined to find fault with Billy. Trying to find a reason that they wouldn’t work.

“Why does this even matter? We have time to get to know each other,” Billy snapped.

“I just want you to remember me when I’m gone, alright?” He huffed, sitting up. “I don’t want to be forgotten, to fade away from your memory.”

“Neither of those things are gonna happen, Steve.” Billy turned and grasped Steve’s face. “You’re not gonna fade away ‘cause you’re not going to die.”

He leaned into Billy’s scarred and twisted hands.

“Look at me,” he said.

Steve opened his eyes.

“I’ll make you a deal, don’t let me fade from your memory and I won’t let you fade from mine.” He said it with as much authority as he could muster, which wasn’t much.

He always became weak when Steve talked about his death as if it were imminent.

“Meaning I’m not allowed to die?”

“Meaning you’re not allowed to die,” Billy confirmed, nodding. “My favorite color is blue, my favorite subject is English, I’d like to work as a writer someday. I’ve broken over fifteen bones and I’d murder my father if it were legal. I love dogs, but I’m honestly more of a cat person. Snow is my worst enemy and I miss the Californian beaches with all my heart. My favorite movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark because Harrison Ford is one of the sexiest men I’ve ever seen and I’ve had a crush on you since the first time I met you. Is that enough for you?”

Steve nodded, tears in his eyes. He leaned forward, wrapping Billy in a hug. Billy squeezed him tightly, careful not to break him.

Steve broke away and faced Billy again.

“I’d like to be a pediatrician or a nurse someday. Surprisingly, I haven’t broken any bones but my entire leg was covered in bruises one time. I’d help you hide the body if you decided to go along with killing him and I love cats too, but I'm really more of dog person. I love the snow, but the beaches sound amazing. I don’t have a favorite movie and you’re one of the sexiest men I’ve ever seen.”

He leaned forward, after saying all that in one long breath, and kissed Billy deeply. Tears were streaming down his face but Billy didn’t mind so much. It was still one of the best kisses he had ever received, despite the wetness, which was saying something.

The movie was completely forgotten as Steve moved to straddle Billy, pulling on his blond locks and running his fingers through them. Billy settled his hands on Steve’s lower back, pushing him closer into his chest.

Then Steve started moving his hips. Billy gasped into their kiss as he pressed his hips into Billy’s. Billy could feel the hardness in Steve’s pants, shoving into him.

He was rendered daring and thoughtless by the feel of Steve pressed up against him. God, he was perfect. 

Billy didn't even care if the neighbors looked into the windows and saw them, or the Freak happened to be in the woods again and could see them making out, practically fucking, right there on the couch.

He had heard about Jonathan's stalker-ish tendencies when he first arrived, but even that fucker couldn't ruin that moment. He could take as many pictures as he fucking wanted and Billy wouldn't regret any of it. 

“We’re never going to be able to finish a movie if you keep doing this,” Billy told him as they broke for breath.

Steve responded by diving back in, biting down on Billy's lip. He pulled on it as he breathed heavily, staring Billy in the eyes. He grunted at the sudden feeling, the sensation going straight to his crotch like electricity.

Steve's brown eyes were impossibly dark, blown wide with lust.

That was the only show that the Freak was going to get.

He put his hands under Steve’s butt, taking a moment to squeeze it a bit, before picking him up and carrying him up the stairs.