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Werewolf Gimmick

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 “We need a name.”     

“…What?”

“A name. You know. Like a team name.”

“No, man, we really don’t.”

“’Course we do. A badass name so that everyone knows that we’re the badasses in this neighborhood and that this territory belongs to us…”

“That’s not… okay, well… since we’re not telling anyone what we are, there really isn’t any reason to have a badass name, is there?”

“But WE’D know! Man, you’re missing the whole point of having a cool name! It could be an acronym and we could reference it all the time and nobody'd know what we were talking about.”

“I already don’t know what we’re talking about. How about this… we DON’T have a cool name and we don’t talk about what we are, ever, and then people won’t find out about us. Because, you see, if nobody knows about us then we won’t both be shot at by an angry mob… or taken by the government for experiments… or have to fight Dracula in some great big monster mash-up…”

“Oh man, that would be so cool though… wait, do vampires exist?”

“Why are you asking me?”

Pause.

“I hope they do exist.”

“Yeah, that’s all I need. Watch your fingers. And try not to get blood on your shoes.”

For a moment Steve and Dustin fall silent and the stillness of Hawkins Woods is broken only by the rustle of leaves, the snapping of twigs, and the grunts of effort the two boys make as they drag the remains of a half-eaten deer through the underbrush and heft it in to the hole they dug themselves an hour earlier.

Once free of their burden they both take a moment to catch their breath. Dustin looks down to see that he has, in fact, gotten something that looks suspiciously like deer guts on his sneakers. He groans loudly and snaps his yellow kitchen gloves off in annoyance.

“I still don’t see why this is necessary.”

“Well excuse me if I don’t want the evidence of my latest kill splattered all over the damn woods.”

“C’mon Steve! Nobody was going to find it, and even if they did they’ll think it was a bear or something that killed the deer. Why would anyone think we did that?”

Steve is forced to admit that Dustin has a point.

In truth, his desire to hide the deer’s remains is perhaps as much guilt and denial on his part as it is caution.

Neither boy is really comfortable with this new way of living, but Steve still feels the need to try to actively hide this particular aspect of himself. Though younger, Dustin has been dealing with their 'condition' for longer, and due to his age is still inclined to see it as something to be celebrated rather than feared.

Still, Steve doggedly lists his reasons for wanting to hide the animal whose flesh he had devoured the night before, ticking them off on his fingers as he goes.

“There are hunters all over the woods. Chances are still pretty good that someone would find it, and when they do, even if they do think it’s a bear or a… a wolf, they’d still probably report it. If not to the cops, then to Animal Protection Services or the Forest Rangers… the fucking Mounties, I don’t know! And even if they didn’t find it, do you want a bloody carcass to start attracting real bears and wolves around here? Isn’t it hard enough to…”

“Okay, okay, I got it!” Dustin exclaims. “Shit, Steve… relax!”

“Sorry. Sorry, buddy.” Steve looks contrite. “Look, you got the shovel?”

Dustin nods, young faced scrunched up with worry, and Steve feels a new pang of guilt completely unrelated to the deer.

He needs to remind himself that none of this is Dustin’s fault.

He ducks his head and busies himself with the deer while his young friend fetches their tools.

“You were pretty badass last night, though.” Dustin grins as he sorts through their stuff, bouncing back from Steve’s scolding with admirable grace. “Gotta admit it.”

“I wasn’t badass. I completely freaked out. I destroyed my new jeans. I killed Bambi.”

“Nah, this isn’t a baby. More like Bambi’s mom.”

Not for the first time today, Steve needs to fight back the urge to vomit.

“…Thanks, Dustin. That makes me feel loads better.”

Steve motions for the shovel, takes it, and finishes burying the deer carcass. Dustin retrieves his backpack from where he had stowed it earlier, removes a banana, and continues their earlier conversation while munching away at his snack and watching Steve dump dirt into the hole.

“Hmm… still think we need a name. Team name. Or, I guess it would be a pack. A pack name.”

“Pack name?”

“Yeah. A wolf pack. That’s us.”

It’s all Steve can do not to sigh.

None of this is Dustin’s fault.

That has been Steve’s mantra these past few weeks.

He repeats it again and again whenever he finds himself losing patience with Dustin, with the world, with himself. He never used to get pissed at Dustin, but he seems to have a really, really short fuse these days.

Dustin is a kid. He’s only twelve, and Steve has known him for a long time, has looked after him for a long time. Dustin is like his little brother.

Most importantly, this current predicament isn’t something that Dustin can fix.

This… this feeling, this weird thing chewing at Steve’s soul...

(GRINDING BLOODY GRISTLE SHINING BLACK AS NIGHT BETWEEN GLEAMING SHARP TEETH WHITE SO SHARP SO WHITE IN THE BRIGHT BLOODY MOONLIGHT )

...is not Dustin’s fault.

But technically it is Dustin’s fault that Steve is a werewolf now.

Dustin and Steve are werewolves now.

Oh, fuck…

It’s a bitch, but it’s also the new reality.

Dustin wasn’t turned by choice, and he didn’t mean to bite Steve, and he’s not the reason they’re out in the woods right now burying a dead deer.

The new reality.

Steve needs to put things into perspective.

It's not Dustin's fault. There's no point blaming Dustin.

It wouldn't help.

Also, Dustin is with Steve in the woods right now because Steve asked for his help burying the deer he’d killed in his moon-drunk blood-lust. Steve had woken up naked and horrified and scared, unable to ignore the truth any longer and desperate to hide what he had done… what the Wolf had done.

He, Steve Harrington, didn’t do it, didn't change, didn't run into the dark night, didn't kill a deer… did he?

He remembers it very clearly, but there is something still so strange about the memories from last night... he'd been aware of it at the time, too, that the images he was seeing (that he sees now in his mind's eye, hazy but still inescapable, still there) are somehow supersaturated with color, with light, with emotions, like they belong to him but also to another.

To the other.

This is so far beyond him.

He'd woken up and freaked out… and then when he’d asked for help Dustin hadn’t even hesitated.

Dustin is shoveling dirt over a deer carcass because they’re friends.

Because they’re pack.

“Okay,” Steve sighs, finally, with something almost like acceptance. “Okay. Fine. What did you have in mind?”

“The Thunderwolves?”

“No. God, that’s terrible.”

“The Wargs?”

“The…. the what?”

“Oh my God, you need to read ‘Lord of the Rings’, how have you managed to survive for this long…?”

“Ugh, for the love of… I thought you wanted it to be an acronym.”

“Okay… the… the Warrior Werewolves Alliance of Hawkins?”

“Jesus…”

Chapter Text

 

One Month Ago – 9:25 pm, Night of the Full Moon

Steve Harrington has known Dustin Henderson for almost his whole life.

Their fathers worked together in the same law firm for years before Mr. Henderson died in a car crash. Dustin had been five years old at the time of Frank Henderson’s death. Mrs. Henderson and Steve’s mom stayed close afterwards, and as the distance grew between Steve and his parents, who were always busy, always working, always travelling, Steve became more and more attached to the Henderson family and their gentle, welcoming kindness.

He started babysitting for the Henderson family when Dustin was 7 years old, and in all the years from the day the Hendersons moved to Hawkins to tonight, Steve had never known Dustin to lock himself in his room and voluntarily refuse dinner before.

“Dustin… amigo? What’s going on in there? You okay?”

There’s a noise from behind the closed bedroom door.

ThumpThump.

“Dustin?” Steve tries to turn the door knob, but the door is locked. “Dustin, buddy?! Open up!”

Thump.

Thump.

Thump.

“Dustin, if you’ve got another squirrel hidden in there... you know what your mom said about having wild animals as pets…!”

Silence.

“Dustin?”

There’s a wild animal cry, loud and deep and terrible and wholly unexpected.

Panic rips through Steve.

“DUSTIN?!”

He braces himself and hurls his body against the door, busting it open in one determined show of force, desperate to get at whatever is hurting Dustin.

He’s not prepared for the streak of fur hurdling towards him, its mouth wide open and full of sharp teeth.

 

 

Two days ago – 11:32 AM, Day of the Full Moon

Steve swore he could taste blood in his mouth, but he knew for a fact that he wasn’t bleeding. He'd checked every inch of his gums in the school bathroom and there was nothing, no cuts, no sores. He could still taste blood, though. It was everywhere, and he felt like he was drowning in it, like it might start pouring out of his mouth, his ears, his eyes...

The light was drilling into his skull and every muscle in his body ached. He could hear everything happening inside the building… everything… but the noise was so loud and chaotic that he couldn't distinguish anything in the din, couldn't find anything to anchor himself to reality.

This was a mistake, coming to school today.

Trying to pretend everything was normal.

Trying to pretend anything would ever be normal again.

“Steve? Steve!”

Steve opens his eyes. He hadn’t realized he’d closed them. He is sitting in the school library with Nancy and Jonathan, sharing free period.

“Yeah… yeah.” Steve’s throat was on fire. Goddamn… he knew… he knew what was happening (did he know? He had doubted… he hadn’t wanted to listen to what Dustin told him, hadn’t wanted to believe this…), but fuck, it felt like he was dying.

“Yeah,” he tries again. “I’m here, Nance. I’m okay.”

“You look awful.”

“You look beautiful,” he slurs.

Nancy huffs, unmoved. Jonathan shifts and gives Steve one of his crooked smiles. He seconds Nancy’s concerns, however.

“You really don’t look good, Steve. Maybe you should go home. Is it the flu?”

“Hmm,” Steve grunts noncommittally.

“I can drive you if you want?” Jonathan offers, his grin dropping into something a bit more anxious.

Steve shakes his head and immediately regrets the unnecessary movement when it sends a pounding ache through his skull.

“Nah. Thanks man. I’m going to go, but I can drive. I’ll call later, get the homework assignment.”

When Steve reaches his Beemer he sees that Dustin has let himself in and is curled up in the backseat, his arms wrapped around his head, soft grunts of pain escaping his small body. He takes them both to his house and they spend the rest of the afternoon curled up under blankets on the sofa.

 

 

One Month Ago – 7:37 am, Day after the Full Moon

"This is crazy. This... this is crazy. This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy..."

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Dustin is crying.

Steve doesn’t understand.

Dustin is telling him impossible things.

Everything is upside-down, and he doesn’t understand.

“It started a year ago. When I turned eleven.”

Steve tries to process this.

Dustin is telling him that he’s a… and that he’s been one for…

He doesn’t understand, but he believes.

He saw it…saw Dustin.

Saw what Dustin was.

Is.

Saw him run and roar and howl. Saw him change back.

He knows.

He's seen movies. He's read horror comics.

He knows.

But he still doesn’t understand.

“Where…” Steve swallows down the lump of granite in his throat. “Who did it? Who bit you?”

Steve has seen enough movies to know how this works. He knows that evil isn't born in a vacuum, that monstrosity never comes from nothing.

He’ll kill them. Whoever they are... he’ll find them, and he’ll kill them.

“Nobody,” Dustin sniffs, and another wave of tears pour out. “It’s because of my dad. You can inherit it, I guess. It can be genetic. And Dad was a…before the car crash.”

This is so far above Steve’s pay-grade. Steve is an idiot. He knows this, everyone knows this. He’s failing English for christsakes, and he needs Dustin to check over his Chemistry homework before he turns it in. He doesn’t understand, this doesn’t make any sense…

He doesn’t understand.

“Does your mom know?”

Dustin shakes his head. “I only figured it out when I called my dad’s cousins in Minnesota. We don’t talk to because they don’t get along with mom. I guess they don’t talk to us because they’re werewolves. They didn’t think I had it in me… usually it comes out earlier than this… but now…”

They both glance down at Steve’s forearm.

It’s still bleeding sluggishly from where Dustin had, in his werewolf form, sunk his teeth into Steve’s skin.

With a steadily building horror, Steve feels his insides start to burn.

 

 

Two days ago – 7:48 pm, Night of the Full Moon

Once the sun goes down it’s like a switch goes off in Steve’s brain.

The pain eases, the headache fades, and it no longer feels like his skeleton is rattling around his skin and trying to tear him apart from the inside-out. Dustin feels better too, and Steve forces him to drink some water and eat a sandwich in preparation for what's coming.

He has no idea if that will help, or if their bodies will reject the food, or what will happen. It just feels like something he should do. It feels like a way to hold on, however foolishly, to what remains of his control.

Dustin tells him that he always feels sick and horrible the day before the full moon, and that he doesn’t remember much about actually turning into… into a wolf.

For a whole year he’s been doing this on his own and hiding it. His mom doesn’t know. Nobody knows but Steve.

Steve finds himself begrudgingly impressed by Dustin’s capacity for subterfuge.

Steve called Mrs. Henderson and lied, told her that Dustin wanted to stay the night with his friends. Steve’s own parents are at a business conference and won’t be back all week. He’s done everything he can do.

Steve doesn’t expect the change to hurt as badly as it does.

Yeah, he'd felt that first burning, that pain when Dustin first bit him.

And... sure, okay… he’d snuck in to the local movie theater and seen “American Werewolf in London” when it came out just like everybody else. That’s the movies, though. There was a cool transformation scene, loads of gruesome special effects. The film had given him nightmares afterwards, but still… it’s just a movie…

Steve isn’t prepared for the way his skin feels like it's on fire.

He isn’t prepared for the way his muscles are shredded to pieces and stitched back together again.

He isn’t prepared for the way every bone in his body snaps into new shapes.

He isn’t prepared to be unmade.

It’s agony, blinding agony, the unmaking and remaking of Steve Harrington.

His transformation into something profoundly other.

The pain takes away all thought but one – I’m going to die – before that too is lost in an unexpected and altogether extraordinary sensation.

And then suddenly it all drains away.

THING inside of him is awake now, a strange consciousness that had always been there, comatose, a being that is him but not.

The Wolf.

He looks at the world with new eyes, still golden brown like they always were but now capable of seeing beyond the veil into a whole other universe.

The very first thing he sees is moonlight, a siren seductress peeking through the blinds of his living-room window.

He feels his soul swell to meet it.

Pure.

Bright.

Warm.

Home.

It’s like seeing the face of God.

 

The next thing he sees is a pup, a fuzzy chocolate-brown ball curled up on the floor, its wide eyes blinking away the remnants of pain and confusion before focusing warily on Steve.

Another piece slots into place, different from a bone or a muscle but no less profound.

DustinPup.

He studies the little creature, memorizing it, sniffing the air and recognizing the scent without even needing to think about it. He paws across the floor and nuzzles Dustin, who licks his face happily in welcome.

Dustin.

Pup.

My Pup.

Brother.

Pack.

My Pack.

They curl around each other for a moment, nuzzling and comforting. In his last lingering threads of human awareness, pushed to the background, Steve shudders at the thought of Dustin suffering through an entire year of changes like this alone.

The Wolf feels the pack bond click into place and knows that neither of them will ever be alone again. He will protect his Pup from all things, will burn down the world to keep the Pack safe.

 

Emotions wash over him like a wave, feelings that are his but not.

The want... no, want isn't the right word... the need...

But it's more than that, even deeper than need... it's an instinct, a fundamental jolt right to his hind-brain.

It is a hunger, a relentless drive.

An urge to consume.

I could swallow the world, gobble it up, tear it to pieces and laugh while I do it...

The moon, the moon, themoonthemoonmoonmoonmoon...

Run.

Dustin finally gives Steve a gentle nudge and the two of them race out of the propped-open backdoor towards the electric blackness of Hawkins Woods.

 

 

Present day – 7:58 am, Two Days after the Full Moon

“Nancy, I need… I need to tell you something.”

Nancy’s face scrunches up in that adorable way Steve loves. He’s accepted that she doesn’t love him the way he loves her, and he’s even come to appreciate Jonathan in his own way, come to love him, too, for his strangeness and his loyalty.

Even though his and Nancy’s relationship ended over a year ago, she is still his best friend and the smartest person he knows.

He needs to tell her, to ask her, to…

Silence descends in Steve’s car. They are sitting in the school parking lot. Nancy is very kindly looking over Steve’s English essay before school starts, but in truth that’s not the real reason Steve asked to drive her in today. Now that they’re here, however, he can’t seem to find the words.

He glares at his steering wheel in frustration.

Nancy, I’m a werewolf.

Nancy, Dustin Henderson is a werewolf. Did you know? Apparently you can be born a werewolf. Anyway, he accidentally bit me when I was babysitting him and now I’m a werewolf, too.

Nancy, two nights ago I hunted and killed a deer with my bare hands (paws) and fed it to Dustin Henderson and the two of us spent yesterday morning burying the remains in the woods. 

That's... that's a thing we do, now.

Maybe if I just sit here long enough, the ground will open up and swallow me whole... that'd be nice.

“What’s that?” Nancy asks, distracted.

Steve snaps out of his thoughts. He can hear it, too… something. Something outside, out there. A low rumble. His hearing is much improved since ‘the biting incident about which we shall not speak’, but he’s also sensing more than just the noise.

The noise is a car engine, growling in time to bass-heavy music blasting through amped-up speakers.

But there’s also something else… a warning (a growl, a rumble, a siren call).

“Don’t know…”

Nancy and Steve climb out of the car and turn to face the source of the noise.

A Camaro pulls into the parking lot at speed and parks catty-corner in an empty space.

Steve feels a low thrum in his soul and the Wolf stirs inside of him.

Here I am…

The passenger door opens and suddenly the Wolf is at full attention. It can smell something in the air, something spicy-dangerous, like a forest fire, another predator, the moon itself…

Rock you like a hurricane…

A denim-clad legs steps out of the car and trouble immediately follows.

Oh hell, Steve thinks, although he doesn’t fully understand why.

Billy Hargrove has arrived.

 

 

Present day, 8:09 pm, Hawkins Laboratory

“Sir.”

“Talk to me.”

“Dr. Brenner… the… the asset. She escaped, sir. I don’t know…”

“How?!”

“We think she might have gotten out of a duct somewhere…”

“Baker! Peters! Get in here.”

“There’s something else, sir...”

“What is it? Tell me now.”

“The… the gate, sir. Something’s coming through.”

 

Chapter Text

Billy wants to tear out of his skin.

This town is too small, too close. There are streets and houses, forests and fields, but they are strange, without meaning or memories… they don’t belong to him and he hates it.

He doesn’t want to be here.

He doesn’t want to be himself.

He stands in the school parking lot and waits for Max, who is dragging her ass as usual. Billy wants to go, go, go… even though there is nowhere in this stupid little town he wants to be. The restlessness is driving him around the bend and with each passing moment his rage grows hotter.

What’s the point of having fangs and claws if he can’t use them to escape this hell-hole? What's the point of being the fastest predator in the woods if you can't leave?

It’s only been a week and a day since they moved here.

One hand holds a lit cigarette and the other worries his lighter as he watches short, pudgy, hideous children pour out of Hawkins Middle School. Their bland, middle-class innocence makes him want to puke. He sees some fluffy-haired boy drive up in a stupid expensive car, a Beemer, and wave to a group of boys. One of them, the one in a baseball cap, says something to him and waves back before the asshole drives off again.

Billy feels a twitch, something peculiar in his nose. It’s been bothering him since he moved here and he can’t quite put his finger on what it is.

Just another fucking irritation, a mosquito buzzing in his ear... buzz, buzz, buzz until the moment he snaps and...

The boys collect their bikes and head out.

One of them, all lanky limbs and emphatic facial expressions, falls behind. Billy sees that he is in a heated discussion with his step-sister. Their conversation drags on, further delaying Max and, by extension, Billy.

His anger burns.

Max can see it on his face when she skates towards him, registers the mood in the air and ducks her head in a practiced, if not wholly sincere, act of submission. She climbs into the car and the two take off out of the parking lot and down the road.

The conversation, such as it is, quickly deteriorates.

They are both on edge anyway, but today in particular Max seems strangely, and perhaps foolishly unwilling to go along with Billy's criticism of the Hawkins and all the rednecks living in it. Her usual begrudging compliance is gone, and it grates on Billy.

Of course, what would Max care? She's got her skateboard and she's making friends (boys. humanstrouble.) and she'd found the arcade... it's easy for her, Billy thinks. And he's just the asshole who gets to cater to her every whim, gets to tip-toe around his father and Susan, gets to be the responsible man he's supposed to be. 

Billy feels his hackles rise when Max defends their shitty new home.

“So, what? You like it here now?” he snaps out, voice dripping with venom.

“No… I just. No."

Max should probably stop there. She knows she should stop, but she can’t help it. Billy riles her up just as much as she riles him. She absolutely hates this, hates the negativity, hates feeling like she’s always walking under a cloud. Those nerds she met at school… she liked them. She liked that they liked her, that they wanted to know more about her, that they're interested in her just because.

She doesn’t want that to be tainted by Billy and all that he represents.

“It’s just we’re stuck here, so…” she tosses her hair and her hands flutter slightly, trying to fill in the blanks with gestures.

“Hmm, you’re right,” Billy allows a loaded pause to stretch out between them. “We’re stuck here. And whose fault is that?”

A brief silence, thick with tension.

“Yours,” Max murmurs, barely audible. It’s only because Billy is what he is that he hears the word at all.

Even so, it’s enough to send a cold chill down his spine.

It hurts because it’s true.

It was Billy’s claws and fangs.

He was the unstoppable force that set this wheel in motion.

A circle of people, their forms straddling the divide between man and beast, snarling and howling in unabashed glee as he fought, as he bled, as he wrecked his opponent... someone who was almost a friend, almost pack. Feeling the laser glare on his back... Neil Hargrove watching as his son, his second in command, tore another (boy) wolf apart.

And then, later, the family, that stupid, ignorant human family. Billy had taken care of that, too. Taken care of it because that's his job.

Billy has blood on his teeth and that is something that he will have to carry for the rest of his life. But he’ll be damned if he takes the full burden of responsibility for what happened.

His fangs… her fault.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing.”

“You think it’s my fault?”

“No.”

“You know whose fault it is.” Maxine, if you had just done as you were told… “Say it.”

“Nuh... no.”

“Maaax… say it... SAY IT!” Billy screams.

Max flinches violently back in her seat and Billy doesn’t give her (or himself) a chance to process his spiraling rage. He slams his foot down on the gas pedal and blasts the music on the radio at an ear-bleeding level. He lets out a howl, a roar that is meant to sound thrilled, unashamed… but which is also pulsing with a seething undercurrent of something darker.

“Billy, no! Billy, stop…!”

Oh shit. He can see them now. That fucking nerd brigade walking down the side of the road, and that one little shit who made Max late, who accidentally held Billy back, who represents all the ridiculous ways Billy is forced to restrain himself, to contain animal raging inside of him...

...And all so these ignorant fuckers in this pathetic little town don't see the monster that lives among them, behind them, inside of them...

The engine roars as he presses down on the accelerator. They don’t hear him coming, they’re (weak, human, pathetic) oblivious to their surroundings.

Only one, the one in the baseball cap, seems to sense something is wrong and perk up…

“Billy…” the terror in Max’s voice is both inescapably real and immensely gratifying for Billy.

See what happens, Maxine? See what happens?

He swerves, screaming to let the anger out, as the boys throw themselves out of his way.

The rest of the road is clear, and Billy wants to take it, take it all the way out of this town, all the way to somewhere, anywhere else.

He doesn’t look over to the passenger’s seat, but he can hear Maxine’s labored breathing, and he can smell her tears.

 

 

Steve didn’t mean to tell Nancy this way.

It’s just…

He doesn’t exactly get around to telling her the way he wants to... doesn't get to sit down with her and explain.

He’s not lying, exactly.

He just doesn't get the opportunity to process his situation before the next problem hits him.

Yeah, yeah...

He’s a rotten friend, a terrible babysitter, a neurotic mess of a werewolf. He's only turned the once and it was a nightmare - all the human pain and then a blur of experiences that he has no real context for.

And if he thought he could limit his needs to the nights of the full moon he was mistaken.

At night he dreams of moonlight, of the thrill of hunting, of the warm musk of flesh and fur, and in the morning he wakes up panting with need and tasting blood in his mouth. His days are a countdown, an endless countdown to the night when this thing is forced on him again and he becomes something that is him but not. 

And to make things worse there’s been something in his nose all week, some weird itch he can’t scratch. It’s driving him up the wall.

"We're kind of lucky in a way, you know," Dustin says one day when Steve is driving him back from school. "We could be in a city. We could be living in an apartment building with ten other families. Could be worse."

Yeah, it could, but that thought doesn't really comfort Steve.

With each day that ticks by he gets closer to the night when this all happens again and it thrills and terrifies him more than he can say. With each day he feels more and more guilty for not telling Nancy, for not fully reconciling himself with this new turn of events, for not coming up with a solution. And Steve feels like there should be a solution, a fix, and way to reset the board... he's seen enough movies to believe that.

A silver bullet, a magic flower, a witch's curse... but he doesn't know, he can't see a way out, and with every day that passes the new reality grows more inescapably solid in his head.

It is with this thought in mind... the idea that there has to be something he's missing, that even though he knows better this still can't be real... that he goes to find Dustin after school.

Dustin is not in any of his usual haunts, which is strange. He can usually rely on The Party (though Dustin has never quite managed to get Steve to be a full-fledged member of that group, mostly because Steve has little serious interest in Dungeons and Dragons, and because he once made the egregious error of mispronouncing Greedo's name in a casual debate with Mike Wheeler about Han Solo's character flaws) remaining safely ensconced in one familiar place or another.

He belatedly remembers Dustin saying something about the woods, about smelling something 'weird' when he had been biking through there at some point and about Lucas finding an unusual animal trail out there a week or so ago.

"It's not... us, or anything, is it?" Steve had asked, half-frantic.

Dustin had assured him that it wasn't, but either way the boys were determine to investigate. Steve curses mildly to himself as he crosses the field behind Hawkins Middle School, heading back to his car. He spots Jonathan and Nancy in the parking lot, chatting, and Jonathan's brother Will. Will had a dentist appointment and Jonathan was going to drive him... Steve remembers that now. Steve doesn't know that much about Will, always kind of thought he was a little shy and strange, and his presence is enough of an excuse (like he needs one) to not sit his friends down and have a long talk with them about mythological creatures and moonlight.

I should tell them, though. I need to tell them.

How the hell did Dustin keep this a secret?

I can't keep hiding this or I'll go nuts.

He is almost at Jonathan's car when he announces himself.

"Hey, guys!"

He sees Nancy turn and smile at him and in that moment all his best intentions, his determination to admit what he was and ask for her help, evaporates.

He can't even admit to himself that his soul is now shaped by a strange pulsing wave of vibrant, visceral... lusts. Lust is the only word for it, even though sex is only part of it. It's more a drive to consume, to devour that drives Steve now, even when he isn't the Wolf. He's a thing that he never even believed existed before a few days ago. He's only turned the once, only gone through one full moon, and already everything in his world has changed. How can he dump this on people he's supposed to care about?

Flustered, he turns his attention to Will.

“Hey, buddy…”

Will’s face goes rigid with shock and he pulls away from Steve’s outstretched arm.

“Hey…”

“Sorry,” Will shakes his head, blinking furiously. His eyes seem suddenly glazed, fevered almost, and he is trembling all over.

Steve is startled in turn, feels strangely exposed. Will continues to blink and gasp sightly, working to breath.

“Will,” Jonathan reaches out.

Nancy throws Steve a glance, confused.

“There’s a lot of blood,” Will gasps, his voice shockingly deep and strange, and he looks up at Steve’s face. “Teeth.”

Steve feels his insides grow cold.

The words are out before he can stop them.

“You can see it?”

Everyone freezes. Steve can hear Jonathan’s sharp intake of breath and feel Nancy’s unnatural stillness, but his gaze stays fixed on Will… Will, who is looking up at him with wide, searching, frightened eyes.

After a moment, without really thinking, he nods.

“It’s…” there is so much for Steve to say, and at the same time nothing at all, and Steve doesn’t know what… “it’s not… I haven’t killed anyone. It’s not anyone’s blood. I… I may have killed a deer. That’s all.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Steve?” Nancy asks, snorting like this is all a big joke.

I wish, Nance.

“You…” Will starts, then stops, glances up at Jonathan nervously, then back at Steve. “Dustin?”

“You know about Dustin?”

“He… he has the same kind of face. He… he started having it a year ago. There wasn’t any… any blood, though…”

Oh hell

“I didn’t… I didn’t want to say anything,” Will continues, shaky. “I don’t always see things clearly. I’m sorry, it’s just there was blood… it was surprising… I didn't meant to blurt it out...”

“You can… can see things?” Steve asks.

“Yeah. Things that are hidden. Who people really are.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Nancy asks, smile dropping, suddenly more insistent.

Jonathan doesn’t say anything. He’s watching Will. He looks worried but not surprised, and this in turn throws Steve for a whole new loop.

“Jonathan knows,” Will says, answering Steve’s silent question. “He can’t see things, but he knows about me. He makes sure I’m okay. That I don't get too scared, and that I'm not in any danger.”

“What…?” Nancy starts again.

“Can you see what I am?” Steve asks.

"Steve..." Nancy is shaking her head. The joke is wearing thin, clearly, and it isn't being explained very well, so it's time to stop. "Okay... enough now."

Will doesn't look at her. He keeps his eyes fixed on Steve and nods.

“You can say it.”

Will inhales shakily and answers. “Wolf. Werewolf.”

Silence descends over the group. Steve's glances sheepishly at Nancy and Jonathan before dropping his gaze to the ground.

Nancy laughs. It's a kind of nervous barking sound, but it's a laugh all the same.

Steve looks up at her. He feels something in his chest break a little at the look on her face.

"Okay... this is that game, right? Dungeons and Dragons? You're role-playing now? Jeesh, you two had me so..."

"No, Nancy," Steve forces out. "Um... so... Dustin. Dustin Henderson and I... we..."

Most of the story tumbles out too quickly for Nancy to interrupt. He fumbles it, of course, but he gets most of the important stuff out, and once it starts it's like a flood-gate opening. It's a relief, but only a very temporary one. Soon enough Nancy is shaking her head and talking over Steve anyway, smile still plastered on her face. 

"Yeah, okay, whatever... really funny..."

"Nancy, stop."

Jonathan reaches out and takes her by the hand and for some reason that's the thing that pulls her up short. She looks at him, then back to Steve (who is looking sad and sick) and Will (who is looking very solemn and serious) and then back to her boyfriend.

After a long pause Nancy lets out an indignant, incredulous squeak and Jonathan is forced to drag her off before she can interrupt further. Will and Steve both watch as they move away, further and further across the parking lot, Jonathan muttering urgently to Nancy, Nancy shaking her head and waving her arms about. She makes a noise between a laugh and a yelp. Steve hears Jonathan say something like 'proof' and then he realizes that he doesn't want to hear anymore. He turns back to Will, who is watching him anxiously, and smiles.

"You don't seem very shocked," he says, finally.

Will gives him a small nod and toes the pavement with his sneakers.

“It’s okay, kiddo," Steve gives him a comforting, if tentative, shoulder pat. "I promise, the blood isn’t… whatever you’re seeing, I haven’t hurt anyone. I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s a stupid thing to say I guess… I don’t know what I would or wouldn’t do, now… but I promise I’d never hurt anyone intentionally. And Dustin…”

“It’s okay,” Will interrupts. He isn’t freaking out anymore. He actually looks relatively calm. “I know. The blood’s gone now, it was just that first look. That happens sometimes.”

“It… it does?”

“Sometimes I get flashes on top of what I already see. They’re like predictions… or sometimes they’re like… like metaphors.”

“Well… that’s not totally comforting, but I’ll take it. And you know about Dustin?”

“Yeah,” Will says shyly. “And, I mean… he always misses school the same days of the month. But he didn’t say anything, and he’s still my best friend. I didn’t want to tell everybody his secret before he was ready to talk about it.”

“You’re a good kid," Steve gives him a little smile. "What else do you see?”

“All kinds of things. I’ve always been able to."

"Must be hard, sorting it all out."

"It's not always so... distracting. It's more like I'm seeing the world through dirty glasses, sometimes... I see things in the 'real' world but also another layer on top of it. A lot of it is... it isn't good. Mr. Sheppard at the drugstore... he's always got blood on his hands. I think... I think he hurt someone... or is going to hurt someone, I don't know. And sometimes Chief Hopper has a shadow that follows him... sometimes a big one and sometimes one that's, like, a little smaller than me. It's not all bad, though. I saw my grandma after she was dead...she gave me a hug and said goodbye. And I saw Mr. Davis, too, after he died, doing some last things in his garden and taking out the trash for Mrs. Davis. Sometimes there are spots in town or in the woods that kind of glow. And there’s something about Mike that’s, um… almost there? Like a mist? I don’t know about that one.”

In the distance, Nancy is yelling something indistinguishable at Jonathan as Jonathan frantically tries to hush her.

“Maybe don’t mention that one to the Wheelers right now,” Steve advises.

“She doesn’t believe him,” Will says sadly, looking at Jonathan’s slumped form.

“To be fair, kid, I wouldn’t either if I hadn’t turned into a wild animal and eaten a deer a couple of nights ago... and even then I probably would have just thought I was going crazy if it wasn't for Dustin. It's all pretty unbelievable.” And now... now that Steve knows that there are other things in Hawkins, other people a like him... like Will... he actually does feel a little better about it all. He's not planning on seeing Mr. Sheppard anytime soon, though.

“It’s not Jonathan’s fault,” Will insists.

“Steve…” Nancy has come storming back. “Steve, this is a joke. Very funny, but it’s a joke. You can stop now.”

Steve doesn’t say anything. He can’t say anything. He just looks at her. He’s known her for forever, since they were both little and Frankie Thompson pushed him down in the playground and Nancy whacked Frankie in the head with a book in retaliation. She knows when Steve is scared and when he's lying and when he’s telling the truth.

He doesn’t have to say anything.

"Oh, fuck you," she snaps, before turning on her heels and breaking into a run.

 

 

“Dusty?”

“Yeah, Mom?”

“Have you seen Mews?”

Dustin has not seen Mews, and in the subsequent search he forgets to check his radio, so he misses Mike's repeated attempts to reach him.

He's not expecting Mike to need him, anyway. Their earlier trip into the woods that afternoon had been a bust... Lucas and Mike had wanted to linger, but Dustin, bored, hungry, and unsettled, eventually begged off and headed home early when it became clear that they weren't going to find anything. He had only just walked in when his mother had presented him with the current Mews Conundrum. 

The Hendersons have been searching for Mews for an hour when Will shows up.

“She doesn’t go outside at all, does she?” Will asks, moving a couch cushion on the off-chance that the cat had somehow fallen in the crevices like so much loose change.

“She roots around the garbage cans sometimes, but she never usually leaves the yard.”

In truth, they are both just making useless gestures towards finding the cat. Mrs. Henderson is driving around the neighborhood looking. Dustin opens a box of cereal and Will halfheartedly checks the inside of a rain-boot.

"So it was like a trail?" Will asks, prompting Dustin to continue his earlier status report.

"Yeah, like something big had stomped through the woods. At first I thought Lucas might be taking his Ranger duties a little too seriously, but it actually did look like something had gone through the patch he showed us." 

And it smelled funny, Dustin doesn't say, but it's the reason why he was perfectly willing to believe Lucas when he insisted that there's something going on in the woods. He had smelled it. A sickly mix of things that Dustin cannot place but which are unmistakable and which he has now come to associate as the 'it' that lives out there among the trees. Even when Mike had voiced his skepticism Dustin had been unable to shake the feeling that something was out there, that they were being watched.

Weird to think he might not be the strangest thing in Hawkins.

Steve was going to totally freak out either way.

"They were going back out later, maybe."

"Yeah, they radioed, but I wanted to come over here and..." Will trails off, unsure how to broach the subject he wishes to discuss.

"Where is that dumb cat?" Dustin huffs. 

Mews isn’t in the house, and she isn’t in the yard, and Dustin has gone a bit green around the edges as a new, unpleasant possibility presents itself in his mind.

Will thinks maybe he knows what Dustin is thinking.

He also knows that he needs to speak up now, or he might never get it out.

“Dustin?”

“Yeah?” Dustin munches on a handful of cereal.

“I…um…was talking to Steve earlier.”

“Uh huh.”

“He, um…he thinks it would be good if I, um…tell you. Yeah. Tell you…”

“Son of a bitch, Will, spit it out...”

Iknowyou’reawerewolf!”

Silence descends. Will gulps. Dustin hand remains in the cereal box.

“What?”

“I know… I know you’re a werewolf…”

Dustin lowers the box. His mouth opens and closes, and no sound comes out.

After a long moment he half-whispers a reply.

“Did… did Steve tell you?”

“No,” Will shakes his head furiously. “No, not exactly. I… I’ve known for a while.”

“You knew?!” Dustin’s voice is suddenly high-pitched and loud, too loud.

“I… I’m like you. Not a wolf. But… I’m different. I can see. I see you.”

"See me!? What do you mean, what do you see?"

Will swallows. He looks at Dustin unhappily. "Just... your face. Your teeth. You have a wolf face sometimes. Usually it's not noticeable - it's almost like I'm seeing it in the back of my head instead of in front of me. But... um... it's worse around a full moon. More... more there." 

Dustin stares at him. It's the first time Will has ever seen him speechless. Will takes a deep breath.

"I'm like... a seer, Dustin. I have been since I can remember. I didn't want to say anything because I thought you wouldn't believe me. But I know what you are. And... and I know you aren't the only magical thing in Hawkins."

Dustin’s breath hitches. He opens his mouth to speak but he is interrupted by the crackle of the radio.

Mike’s voice tears through the heavy atmosphere of the Henderson’s kitchen.

“Code red! Code red!”

 

 

There is something about the strange girl that is terribly, wonderfully striking.

She stands in silence in the Wheeler's basement, wet from the pouring rain outside and shaking from the cold, but even with that there is a dignity to her quiet self-possession that both unnerves Dustin and draws him nearer. If he was older, he might think she was beautiful... as it is, she reminds him of descriptions of the elves from Tolkien. He is put in mind of the distant stars, the glittering diamonds set in the inky blackness of the sky.

There is a sadness that hovers around her that makes him want to stay close, to help her and protect her from whatever sorrows follow her.

His friends, too, are in trouble.

“What was it?”

“I don’t know,” Mike’s breaths are wet, almost sobs. It was too much, too terrifying, even for him… and that thought alone terrifies the hell out of Dustin.

Dustin and Will had answered the call - all panic and fear had been temporarily suspended in their quest to aid their friends. Party members were in danger, and that had to come before Will's unexpected revelation.

They had gotten to the edge of Hawkins Woods before the radio had gone completely dead, nothing on the other end to indicate where Mike and Lucas were. It had started to rain, a thundering, crashing mess of a storm, but still Will had turned to Dustin expectantly and Dustin had known what to do. His friend's scents were fading fast, but he managed to sniff out where they had left their bikes before the rain washed away all trace of their whereabouts.

Just as the two boys were discussing what to do next, a loud crash had interrupted them and Mike, Lucas, and the strange girl had come tumbling out of the forest, yelping and running. Dustin and Will hadn't asked questions. They had done as they were told and taken off on their bikes into the night, tearing down the street and not stopping until they reached the Wheelers' house. 

Even in the rain, though... even with the storm... Dustin had smelled something looming behind them. It smelled of sweetly-rotting leaves, and the sour metal of dried blood, and of thick, acrid smoke. 

And Dustin had heard a roar... a roar like a thousand voice screaming up from the bottom of a deep, cold hole. His friends hadn't turned around... he didn't know if they had heard it and were ignoring it or if the monster was far enough away that only his wolf ears had managed to pick up the sound. He hoped it was the latter. He wished he had not heard the roar at all, and he wanted very, very much to never hear it again.

He looks at Mike now, at his friend's tears, mixed with rivulets of rainwater, and shudders.

“She…” Mike looks over at the girl with the shaved head and the torn t-shirt and the wide eyes. “She saved us.”

If Dustin and Will look skeptical it is only because Dustin, at 12 years old, is still twice the strange child's size. 

"How?" Will asks.

"She... she pushed it," Mike says, searching for words.

“Yeah,” Lucas nods. "Without touching it. Like, with her mind."

"I felt it, sort of," Mike adds. 'Like... like a force field."

"Like Star Wars?" Dustin brightens hopefully. Finally, a silver lining to this terrible day.

"Kinda."

“What’s your name, anyway?” Lucas asks.

The girl blinks, and for the first time tonight looks frightened.

“It’s okay,” Mike says. “You can tell us. Are you from around here?”

The girl looks to the ground.

“What’s your name?”

The girl shakes her head.

The boys are unsure of what to do. Lucas huffs in frustration and Dustin can't help but roll his eyes slightly. However, he does notice Will staring at Eleven quite intensely, studying her face before his eyes drift down to her bare arm. Will catches the strange girl's gaze and then nods slightly... if Dustin hadn't been watching him he would never have seen it. Then he gives the girl his best Will-smile, the smile that always eases the tension inside of Dustin (and, he suspects, inside of everyone else) whenever he sees it.

After a moment, the girl lifts up her arm and they can see, tattooed on her arm, a number.

“One-One. Eleven?” Will asks. His eyes are darting from the girl to Mike, and in spite of Will's deliberately non-aggressive tone and manner, it’s making Dustin nervous.

If Will can see what Dustin is, then why does he keep looking at this girl and Mike like…

“Eleven?” Mike repeats, his eyes fixed on the girl, his voice gentle and kind in a way Dustin knows is reserved only for people Mike cares about very much. After a moment, she nods. “Okay. Eleven. We can call you El for short, if you like?”

A flicker of something in Eleven’s dark eyes, something warm. “Mike.”

“Yeah. Mike. Lucas,” Mike points to Lucas. “Will. And Dustin.”

“Guys… what was it? What did you see?” Dustin asks quietly, unable to hold back anymore. His stomach is churning with nerves… and he suddenly can’t quite look Will in the eye.

“It was everywhere," Mike says. "Everywhere at once. I don’t know… it was like an octopus or something. All these tentacles… but it was just the one thing, the one monster, I think. In the dark, it just kept grabbing us and everywhere we turned there was another... another part of it.”

"We hid," Lucas admits. "I hit it in different places with the Wrist-Rocket and it got distracted and then..."

"And then Eleven found us," Mike says. "It was... it was a monster. Like..."

"We couldn't get away," Lucas whispers. The shock seems to have finally gotten to him and Mike both, and Dustin and Will can't do much else besides watch as Mike sits down heavily on the couch and Lucas wraps his arms around himself.

"It was like..."

Mike trails off and looks at Eleven. For a moment Dustin thinks he is staring off into space, not really seeing her. Then he realizes that Eleven is all that Mike is seeing... her and the monster, as yet unnamed, un-categorized, waiting in the shadows and in the trees...

Eleven looks back at Mike and glances down at the basement floor where all Mike's cherished toys are scattered. She leans over after a long moment and picks up something small off the ground. Dustin recognizes it from their Dungeons and Dragons board... they'd had a campaign just a few days ago, before Dustin's secret had come so dangerously close to being exposed, before this monster came out of the woods, before this girl ever walked into their lives. Eleven hands the figurine to Mike, whose eyes widen as he sees what he’s been given.

“The Thessalhydra,” he says.

"Shit!" Dustin yells.

Chapter Text

Steve doesn’t want to go to Tina’s Halloween party.

No… that’s not true. He does want to go to Tina’s party. He wants to go, he wants to get drunk, he wants to dance, he wants to talk to people his own age about school and basketball and who’s dating who. He wants that so much.

But he wants to go to Tina’s party as someone else, as someone who can do all those things. He doesn’t want to go to Tina’s party as himself.

He wants to go, he doesn't want to go... but he needs to go. He needs to go because Nancy has been blowing him off. She's not answering his calls and she's been avoiding him at school for the last two days. He knows she was planning on going to the party tonight, and although he isn't sure she'll still turn up he feels the need to find her and corner her and explain...

But what is there to explain?

Werewolves are real and Steve is one. Other things, too, the weird and the wonderful... all the things your parents told you were make-believe. They all exist in Hawkins. 

Nancy wasn't talking to Jonathan either, which was no comfort - Steve had watched the sleepy-eyed boy try and fail to get her attention in the hallways, during class, after school. He'd told Steve, afterwards, as they both shared a demoralized smoke by their cars, that she had called him a liar.

Steve's mind whirls with a constant mid-level panic. 

What if Nancy tells? What if she doesn't? What if she tells Mike? What if she never speaks to me again?

He was so wracked with anxiety and just a little bit of guilt that he's been blowing Dustin off as well... not really deliberately, or in a mean way. He can't look Dustin in the eye and tell him that this is going to be okay. Not until he talks to Nancy.

He had always thought he could predict Nancy, that he'd always know exactly how she'd react because they'd been friends for so long, because they'd dated once upon a time, because they cared for each other...

But the look on her face...

Disbelief.

Fear.

Coldness.

It was not what he thought would happen. Even his worst case scenarios were just that... the worst case. Like a tornado spontaneously wiping out Hawkins. The thing that would never happen.

I am the worst case scenario. I'm a fucking werewolf.

Fuck it, he’s going to Tina's Party. He takes his black suit-jacket out of mothballs and sticks a pair of sunglasses in his pocket.

 

 

 

Dustin hasn’t spoken to Will in two days.

Or maybe Will hasn’t spoken to Dustin.

Either way, they’ve managed not to discuss what they know about each other. It hasn’t been that hard – Eleven has been a wonderful distraction.

“So, is she from the loony bin or…?”

The girl has settled with surprising ease into the boy’s friend group. She has fresh clothes now, and she’s been fed big plates of Eggos that Mike managed to sneak down to her after school, and Mike has set up a place for her to sleep in his basement. The basement has always been off-limits for adults, so she is relatively secure down there.

Still, they're hiding a small human being with extraordinary powers in a child's playroom, so that is a bit insane.

“This is mental,” Dustin says.

“At least she can talk!” 

“She says no and yes,” Lucas rolls his eyes.

“How long do you think she was out there in the woods?” Will asks, looking nothing short of horrified at the thought of being stranded in the middle of nowhere like that for an extended period of time.

“Don’t know. She can’t have been out there for that long.”

"But she can move things with her mind," Mike interjects, even though Dustin and Will both want to point out that they only have his word for it... Eleven has been understandably reluctant to perform tricks like a trained poodle. "And she knew about the Thesselhydra.”

“Yeah, about that…” Dustin starts.

“It’s real, Dustin!”

“Okay, I accept that there is something out there in the woods,” Dustin can’t quite bring himself to say how he knows this is true, or to admit that he and Steve are themselves part of a dark secret partially shielded by the forest surrounding Hawkins. “But a Thesselhydra?”

“It’s the closest we can explain it,” Lucas clips out. “We don’t know…”

“We know,” Mike continues doggedly. “We saw it.”

“We saw part of it,” Lucas returns. “And either way I’m still more concerned with the more immediate threat of the girl. In. Your. Basement.

As if on cue, Eleven emerges from the basement's small bathroom and the boys all fall silent, guilty and nervous. Eleven is looking at them with doe-eyed blankness, and Will finds himself wondering how much she knows about what’s going on.

Everything, the secret voice in his head whispers. She knows about everything except Mike. About everything except what she and Mike are together.

Mike. Will throws a glance in his friend’s direction. To be honest, even he isn’t sure what to make of the change he’s seeing. All he knows is that the thin mist that sometimes used to wrap itself around Mike Wheeler has solidified into something else, into something more. He’s glowing now, a muted beacon, and he has been ever since he walked in with Eleven in tow.

And Will sees, too, that Eleven is shining with the same strange color.

Whatever they are, they are together.

Will can feel Dustin watching him watching Mike, and when he looks up Dustin’s gaze skitters away, embarrassed. Lucas throws his hands up in the air, seemingly unable to make heads or tails out of everything that’s happened.

What a mess.

Dustin also hasn’t talked to Steve in a few days. He’s pissed at Steve, and Steve, conveniently enough, seems to be avoiding him. It’s irrational, he knows that, but Dustin still can’t help blaming Steve a little for exposing their secret. Plus, Steve’s been busy… some school stuff, and some party… oh, who cares?

The point is that everything is fractured now, and that Dustin’s wolf, usually content to have Steve and the Party as it’s surrogate pack (even though he’s lying to them, even though they don’t know the truth and would never accept him if they did, even though they don’t understand…), is anxious and upset and clawing at the surface in a way it hasn’t since the very first days he'd turned.

All of a sudden, he can't take it anymore.

He feels like he might scream, or turn into a rage monster like the Incredible Hulk. It almost feels like it does on the nights of the full moon, even though that's more than a week away.

Thankfully, when he opens his mouth again, his voice is almost steady, and his motion to adjourn is well received. It's late. The Party agrees to suspend battle planning for the time being, but as Dustin bikes home, peeling away from a silent Will without a word as he turns down his street, a terrible restlessness settles in his bones.

 

 

 

There.

This isn't right. Something is...

Billy is no longer hanging upside-down over a keg, he's back on his feet, but he's... he's not reorienting himself… this isn’t right.

It should be alright. He’s fine doing keg-stands, and he always has been. He's a tough bastard, and with his supernaturally quick healing he always recovers almost instantly. It’s not that werewolves can’t get drunk, exactly, but they do tend to recover from the icky side effects much faster than humans.

It isn’t cheating, technically.

And if it is cheating, who cares? He's at some crappy Halloween party in the middle of Shitsville, USA, surrounded by hicks who don't know their elbows from their assholes. Shawna or Sherry or whoever the fuck this house belongs to is some hysterical cow whom Billy has no sexual interest in whatsoever. Billy doesn't care what happens to her parents' carpets. Billy doesn't care if the whole place and everyone inside of it were to burn to the ground.

Who cares that the sweating, screaming boys around him are yelling wildly about beating some asshole's keg-stand record?

It's dark outside, and the music is loud, and the night smells spicy and rich with possibilities.

But still there's something...

Billy spews the last mouthful of beer out in a long spray, and a bunch of girls squeal when the warm wetness hits them.

"That's how you do it, Hawkins!" he bellows, trying to get a grip. He lets out a howl and brings his still-lit cigarette up for a drag while that asshole Tommy pounds his back with his open palm. It should be great, should be a heady kind of perfection... this feeling of utter superiority.

But he’s not… right… he’s not right, he still feels loopy and dizzy and drunk and…

What the fuck is wrong with him all of a sudden?

Except it's not all of a sudden... he's been off all week and now, at the party, that scent... what is that? That thread of something just underneath the heady mix of stale beer and teen lust and the nighttime air...

What is that?

There.

Suddenly he’s being dragged along by a force stronger than Tommy or beer or a crowd chanting his name. This pull feels familiar, feels like the way the moon tugs at his wolf, but he isn’t in his wolf form right now. He isn’t, right? No… but his wolf is there, right below the surface, vibrating, responding to the force pulling at them…

He crosses the crowded room. All the noise and the people and the energy slips to the background.

He walks towards the boy.

It’s him, he thinks, and it is. It’s the boy who’s been dancing on the edge of his vision for almost a week now, the boy, the scent, the feeling. He didn't know it was a person, another person he was looking for... he hadn't even known he was looking for something this whole time, but now that he realizes... now that he sees... everything slides into place. He’s not thinking right now... he’s only feeling, feeling his way through the crowd like a blind man until he’s standing there in front of…

Billy feels a shudder go through him, feels the bottom of the world drop out.

The boy is tall and broad. His pale skin is spotted with dark moles that beg to be licked and nibbled. His hair is a masterpiece, long and soft-looking and a gorgeous brown, and Billy wants to grab it, pull at it. He’s wearing a dark shirt and suit, and he’s poured into a pair of tight jeans. When he removes his sunglasses – part of his Halloween costume, Billy assumes – Billy finds himself drowning in deep, chocolate-colored eyes.

Billy's wolf howls.

Wolf. Wolf! Another wolf! Packpackfriendwolfwolf...

Mine.

Wait, what?

Mate.

Oh shit.

Mate!

“This is him,” Tommy crows much, much too loudly. “Harrington! Fucking ‘King Steve’! Or he used to be. Guess it’s King Billy now! You hear that, Steve?!” Tommy leans in close to Steve, drunk and red-faced, spit flying from his mouth. “Beat your record, Steve! It’s King Billy now!”

Billy fights down an almost overwhelming urge to rip Tommy’s throat out and drag him away from his ma… from Steve. Away from Steve, who is looking at them both with a wary, weary nonchalance.

Steve doesn't look like he's enjoying the party.

The girl he was hovering next to (Friend? Girlfriend? Random bystander? Billy sniffs the air but it’s too close and crowded in here, he can’t tell…) rolls her eyes and turns away, makes her way back to the punch bowl. Steve’s gaze follows her, his head turning, his neck exposed.

No, no, don’t do that, baby… rule number one - show no one your throat.

The offshoot of Steve's unwitting moment of self-exposure is, of course, that Billy gets an unadulterated whiff of Steve’s scent. It’s enough to make him dizzy, to make him want to drown in it, to confirm, once and for all, that this is the only thing he ever wants to smell again. It’s sweet but not cloying, clean like lavender and pine and cut grass, like moonlight in winter, all wrapped up in layers of denim and new books and car polish and cherry cola…

Steve doesn’t seem nearly as affected. Rather, his eyes dart back towards Billy’s as though he’s struck by a kind of déjà vu and is too polite to say anything. He meets Billy's aggressive glare and holds it, unflinching, mouth set in a firm line that pleases Billy even as it frustrates the hell out of him.

Something in Billy rises, ready to fight for dominance, ready to fuck.

The beautiful boy is not reacting, though, not giving Billy any sign of recognition.

Is he even a wolf?

Wolf, Billy's own monster insists. wolfwolfwolfmineminemine...

What are the chances of finding another wolf in Hawkins? What are the chances of finding his mate?

Mate, Billy's wolf crows happily. He is, he is... smell it, that scent... my mate, good mate...

Billy risks another sniff (they’re all going to think he’s a coke-head before the night is over), and confirms that Steve is, indeed, one of them. If Steve isn’t reacting the same way then that means… what does that mean? That means Steve's senses aren't as good as Billy's.

Right?

It couldn’t be that the mating bond only goes one way. Billy’s life is a shitstorm, but God or Nature or Fate wouldn’t be so cruel, surely…

Steve seems to have had enough of Billy’s silent glowering and Tommy’s taunts. Without a word he turns and follows that girl from before, takes a cup of punch away from her and urgently tries to talk her out of another drink.

Billy can't do anything but watch him go. 

 

 

 

Steve is half-relieved, half-terrified when Nancy shows up to the party, alone and defiant like she's got something to prove but there. That was what he wanted, right, even though he was dreading this confrontation? 

In spite of technically achieving his goal, however, Steve has not managed to talk to Nancy properly. He should have known. It's too loud and too crowded at the party, and Nancy is too good at avoiding the subject. He watches helplessly as Nancy slams back drink after drink and dances in the most hard-to-reach part of the room. He goes to her and she doesn't push him away - she is tap-dancing around this, too - but he still can't get close enough to talk to her. While Steve isn't completely sure what he hopes to achieve here, he still wants to try to get Nancy to...

What? Forgive him? Trust him? Help him?

Yes.

He tries to herd her towards the kitchen, but they only manage to stall in a quiet place for a brief moment before Tommy rolls up with some hanger-on in tow, yelling about keg-stand records like Steve gives a shit at that moment. Oh, his wolf rises to meet the challenge, but only for a second. Red rage, sharp and cold, slices through him, and Steve buries it quickly. He can't lose control, not here. Steve and the wolf are for once in complete agreement - Nancy is the priority. His nose twitches, that persistent itch that's been bothering him so much recently, but he ignores it.

He turns away and goes to Nancy, feeling uneasy yet determined, but she's at the punch bowl again. When he tries to take that last drink away from her - if she has anymore she'll be in a world of hurt and he'll have missed his chance to talk - the cup slips, and suddenly red is staining her white dress.

Startled, Steve gets a flash of something across his vision (in his soul)... the deer in the woods, the pale light of the moon illuminating all his sins, all his sins remembered, the blood black as night but red on his hands, red red all over his naked body in the cruel morning's light, the deer's blood or is it Nancy's or is it Dustin's or is it his or is itisitisit...?

It's not, it's not... 

It's punch. 

It's only punch.

Steve laughs it off. He knows it looks to Nancy like he's having a joke at her expense, but he's not, honest to God he's not. He's just so shook up and so confused and so miserable and so desperate and so frightened...

He can't blame her when she turns and walks away from him. All he can do is follow like a trained...

Don't say it!

...like a trained puppy as she makes her way to the bathroom.

He slumps against the door, suddenly exhausted and feeling every drop of alcohol he's consumed tonight (or is it more than that? Is it the exhaustion of weeks of worry...?), as she wets a towel and starts dragging the cloth over the red stain on her dress.

"Stop, Nancy," Steve says after a moment. "It's not going to come out."

"Mh... is..." she mumbles through the haze of booze.

"Nancy..." Steve realizes that this is his chance, maybe his only chance to talk to her, to explain. He tugs gentle at her arm but she pushes him away.

"Your fault!" she barks at him before going back to the stain.

"I'm sorry about... about the drink..."

"No..." Nancy shakes her head. "Can't fix it."

"Look, Nance... it's..."

“It’s all bullshit!" she snaps at him suddenly. He can see misery and anger in her face. "Bull... bullshit! Bullshit! Everything! Everything is a lie! You’re a fucking WEREWOLF! Will can see DEAD PEOPLE! BULLSHIT!”

“Nancy,” Steve tries, but he finds himself at a loss.

"Everyone lies and pretends!" she slurs. "School, college, job... doesn't matter... there are... there are MONSTERS! Everyone just wants to pretend! Nobody told me that... about... that... how am I supposed to... what...?"

She trails off, but the damage is done. Her words hurt more than they should.           

He understands. Truly he does.

He will never tell Dustin this... he never plans to tell another living soul, in fact, but when he had realized what he was... really realized it (it was just after they had buried the deer... he had gone home to a cold and empty house and stood at the kitchen sink and tried to scrub the blood out of his jeans), he had wept, and raged, and been furious with Dustin, with his parents, with the world, with himself... because he hadn't known.

This thing had just happened to him, had just been forced onto him violently and without his consent, this life-altering event that had remade him on a fucking molecular level... and he was so fucking angry because werewolves don't fucking exist! Everybody KNOWS that. He was trying to live with something that was impossible

He was trying to live his life as a monster.

He didn't want to be a monster.

He had fallen through the ice and was drowning in a freezing abyss and he hadn't even known he was standing near water in the first place.

Why on earth did it have to be him?

So yeah, he'd maybe expected it. He had thought Nancy might… but it still hurts. It hurts like it hurt before.

Rejection.

Only this time it’s worse. She’s not just rejecting Steve as a boyfriend, a lover, a partner.

Now she’s rejecting him, what he is, what he can’t change.

His impossible life.

Monster.

“Nancy,” he says quietly. He can barely hear himself over the pounding of his heart, and he’s almost sure Nancy couldn’t hear him. But he knows now... he knows what he wanted to say to Nancy, what he wanted to ask her. All this back and forth and suddenly Steve knows exactly what he needs to hear.

“Nancy," he says. "Do you love me?”

Nancy snorts and opens her mouth, and Steve cuts her off before she can misunderstand him. “I don’t… I don’t mean it like that. I know you’re with Jonathan. You are…” he insists when she starts vigorously shaking her head. “You are, you had a fight, it’s not the end of the world.”

“We had a fight… a fight about… about…”

“About all this, yeah, I know. That’s why I’m…” Steve shakes his head, frustrated. “Please, Nancy. You’re my best friend. I’m sorry, I just… I need you to be here. With me, with us. I can’t do this on my own. I can’t figure this out on my own. Please…”

Nancy doesn’t say anything. She stares at her reflection in the mirror like it’s going to give her some sort of answer, keeps rubbing at her dress like the stain is going to come out.

She’s too drunk, Steve realizes. And he’s too tired.

This party was a mistake. Nancy is right, in her way.

Stupid to pretend.

Bullshit.

 

 

 

He leaves her there without another word. She’ll be fine, she won’t pass out or anything. An ugly part of Steve doesn’t care if she does or not. She’s upset because the world isn’t what she thought it was? Welcome to the club.

He makes for the door. He sees a girl from their class, one who’s on speaking terms with Nancy, and asks her to check on her when she goes up. He ignores Tommy’s jeering and Trish from Math class trying to get his attention, and a number of other interruptions that don’t matter and which barely register as he passes them by.

He knows he’ll pay for it later at school. He’s giving everyone material – what were you doing with Nancy, Steve? Blue-balled again, Steve? She break-up with you again, Steve? Better look out for Weirdo Byers, Steve! King Steve, going home early?

Bullshit.

What, Nancy? Steve wonders as he walks out the front door and the crisp night air hits his face. What’s bullshit? Them or me? Then or now?

“Leaving, Harrington?”

The voice makes it through the haze, breaks through and shatters his dark thoughts. He’s finally alone except for that voice…

Steve turns just enough to see that guy from before, Tommy's new buddy, the one who made Steve’s insides itch, leaning against the wall next to a drain-pipe and smoking.

Steve is surprised to see him out here alone, like a predator lurking in the dark, waiting (for him?). A guy like that should always be surrounded by people, and would always stand out alone in a crowd. Eyes glittering, body dripping with sweat and beer, black leather on golden skin, looking like an open wound, or an angel.

The sight sends a weird pang through his chest. His wolf rolls over and comes to attention, but Steve ignores it, chalks it up to unwanted teen lust and anger and plain old irritation.

“Yes,” he croaks out, turning away. He’s too raw to come up with anything better, and he doesn’t want to care, doesn’t want more fighting and bullshit, dammit.

He’s a fucking teenage werewolf, he’s got bigger problems than… 

“That little doll-face kick you to the curb? Not surprised. Or you just got a headache?”

Steve feels a stirring of something in his chest… it’s almost like the old him, but not.

It’s something new, and it's waking up, and it wants to meet…

“Bobby, right?”

Billy’s eyes narrow and he blows out a stream smoke right in Steve’s direction, pushing himself off the wall and taking a casual step forward. Steve lets a slow, small grin lift the corners of his mouth, and plows ahead with his social suicide.

“Look, man… I don’t know what happened in there to make you think we’re friends, or enemies, or even acquaintances… but let’s just get this straight. You don’t know me. You don’t know her. You don’t really know anyone in that house there, not in any way that matters. So, you can keep all your bullshit to yourself until you have something worth saying.”

Billy tosses down the cigarette and takes two, three very deliberate steps towards Steve. Steve’s wolf feels something, rolls over in Steve’s gut, but human-Steve is too afraid of what might happen if he lets it off the mental leash he has it on. He can't shift into a wolf form or anything - Dustin had assured him that that was a full-moon-only thing - but he still feels such a wave of rage that it almost takes his breath away. It almost feels like turning. He pushes down the wolf and draws himself up physically. Vulnerable, soft, human Steve is going to have to be enough, because the alternative is too terrifying to contemplate.

“It’s Billy Hargrove… Harrington,” Billy’s tongue curls around both their names. “You’ll want to remember it.”

His eyes flick up and down and Steve feels a sudden pang of sympathy for girls in general, mentally resolves to never give anyone the ‘once-over’ glance again.

“You’re a funny little rabbit, aren’t you? Be interesting to see who comes out on top.”

If it was anyone else Steve would swear that was a come on, but as it is he’s pretty sure it’s just a threat. A pretty unoriginal one at that, and one which at any other time in his life would…

This isn’t where he needs to be right now. He could (ripshredfuckkill) dance with this asshole all night long or he could go home and call Dustin and make sure that the kid is okay.

“Not interesting to me, man.” Steve tilts his head up to where Tommy and Carol have emerged on the front steps and are waiting, waiting for a fight, a capitulation, something… vultures, Steve thinks suddenly. “I got no dog in this fight. I came out to get drunk and hang out, and now I’m done. You want all this, you’re welcome to them.”

He turns and walks away. He means it, he thinks. His world is rearranging itself again, and Tommy and Carol and Billy Hargrove don’t factor into it. He’s half-expecting Billy to charge after him, though, and his shoulders stay tense and his ears stay pricked. Thankfully right on cue Jonathan pulls up in his ratty old car and pops out of the driver’s side like he’s on springs.

“Where is she?”

“Hi Jonathan.”

“Where is she?”

Steve feels a pang of guilt and grief. He shouldn’t have left Nancy inside alone…

“She’s okay, man. She’s had too much, though. You probably need to take her home. Amy was going to check on her. Upstairs bathroom. We, um...” Steve huffs unhappily. “We talked a little, I guess."

“Did she tell you about…?”

“Just... just that you fought. It’ll be okay, man. She’s just going to need some time.” Steve doesn't necessarily believe that, but if it makes Jonathan feel better than he's willing to lie.

“Yeah,” says Jonathan, shuffling from one foot to the next. He looks so lost, and Steve can’t resist patting him reassuringly on the shoulder. “Yeah, I guess.”

The two of them stand there for a moment. Steve swears he hears an annoyed huff behind him, but he doesn’t bother turning around – if Billy or Tommy or Carol are still there, he doesn’t want to give them the satisfaction.

“I don’t know what to do,” Jonathan says, quietly. “I can’t help Will. Nancy wants to break up, thinks I lied…”

“She’ll come around. You love each other.” Steve says it simply, like it’s not a truth that eats him up sometimes. He loves them both, he does, but he’ll always be on the outside. This isn’t something he needs to be in the middle of.

But still… “Nancy’s a good person. You’re a good person, too. You know what’s important.”

Jonathan nods. “Will. Nancy.”

“Will. And you’ve got each other.”

“Yes.”

Steve squeezes Jonathan’s shoulder and then releases him. His hands slip into his pockets and fumble around for his smokes, but he can’t find them. 

Nancy was right, it is all bullshit and lies, and he's the biggest liar of them all, spewing out garbage about the power of true love that he doesn't believe...

“You…you’ve got us, too,” Jonathan says.

Steve blinks up at Jonathan, who is still shyly shuffling his feet. He suddenly feels suffused with warmth… Jonathan doesn’t say stuff like that to just anybody, and he definitely doesn’t say it to Nancy’s ex-boyfriend. Sure, they’ve come to be friends over time, but it still means a lot to hear him say it out loud.

“Thanks, man.”

“Sure. You need a ride?” Jonathan coughs and looks up, peers over Steve’s shoulder. He’s just noticed Billy, Steve’s guessing, though he’s still too proud or too ornery to check behind him and see if the psychotic Adonis is still there.

“Nah, man. I’m three streets over, I’ll walk.”

“You sure… what if…?”

“You tell me there are monsters in the woods, Byers, and I’ll strangle you.”

Jonathan huffs a laugh and heads in to the party, leaving Steve to chuckle at his own joke and start making his way back home.

He’s a block or so away before he feels safe risking a glance back towards the brightly lit house and the nighttime black surrounding it. He can’t see much, but he swears he can spot a glowing dot, like a lone firefly, or the end of a cigarette, floating in the darkness.

 

 

 

Billy waits fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes after his strange half-conversation with Steve Harrington. Fifteen minutes after openly eavesdropping on Harrington and Byers’ little circle-jerk. Enough time to shake off Tommy, enough time for Steve to get home… three streets over.

Fifteen minutes, and then Billy takes a walk.

He follows his nose. It’s a good nose. He’s been honing his tracking skills since he was a pup – it’s a skill you need when you’re a wolf.

And Billy is a wolf.

The fucking prince of wolves.

He’s a wolf, but Harrington doesn’t seem to know that. Billy’s insides are burning, aching, his every instinct telling him to seek out and claim his mate. Billy is on fire and Harrington had just looked at him, had looked at Billy on his throne and had scoffed and walked away. Oh, he’d been interested, sure, and there had been a tell-tale thrum of lust in the air between them, but nothing like what Billy was feeling.

Steve hadn’t even scented the other wolf.

Billy follows his nose. The night is clear and cool, and it’s nice to be out after all that noise at the party. Billy spots a rabbit and then later a possum as he walks, but that’s not the kind of prey he’s interested in tonight.

One street, two streets, three streets over. A big house with just one car in the driveway, a familiar Beemer... Billy recognizes it now from around town. Billy inches his way up the driveway. One light is on in the kitchen. A young man walks in front of the window, getting a drink of water, standing by the sink.

Billy sniffs the air. He’s outside, so it isn’t really clear, but he only smells Steve and, very faintly, two human scents…

Wait… there’s another. Another wolf. This scent is clearer – a born wolf.

Billy considers this.

Steve Harrington is most likely a bitten wolf. Human parents, but Steve’s a wolf. Bitten by the born wolf… yes, there are some overlapping scents, signs of a pack. Who is this stranger? Not the girl from the party… someone else. A friend? Another girlfriend? Boyfriend? Billy inhales deeply, memorizes the scent so he can track down this interloper later.

If the unfamiliar wolf thinks they’ve got some kind of claim on Billy’s mate, they’re mistaken.

Steve is his.

Steve is his, and Billy doesn’t share.

Steve is his, even if Steve doesn’t know it yet. That happens sometimes with bitten wolves. It takes them a while to learn to control the wolf or to develop certain skills, to pick up on scents and instincts that are obvious to those born with powers. Some never learn to shift properly.

Back in California bitten wolves were always outsiders, anomalies, rigorously controlled by pack law and easily disposed of when they became too inconvenient to manage.

More than once he’d watched his father…

Billy swallows loudly as the light in the kitchen clicks off. Steve is going to bed. He has no idea Billy is standing outside of his house, watching him.

Steve is a young wolf, a new wolf, and Billy’s mate.

His mate.

Mates are serious things. Not everyone finds their mate, and not everyone ends up with their intended even if they do find them, but all the same the bond, the biological impulse coupled with a profound, mystical pull is considered sacred by many werewolves. Billy’s grandfather had told him that the Moon herself wove the link between compatible partners. 

And Steve is his mate. His chosen one, the one creature in all the world for him. The feeling is unmistakable. Even now the wolf is demanding that Billy break into that big house somehow, find Steve, and make him his in every conceivable way.

Steve, a newly bitten werewolf.

More than once he’d watched his father rip the throat out of a terrified bitten wolf who had failed the pack in some way.

Billy walks back to Stacy or Sheryl or Shirley or whoever the fuck’s party, turning things over in his head. When he arrives he finds Tommy, loud as ever, sprawled out on the couch.

He lights a cigarette, lets a slow grin spread across his face, and leans in over the unsuspecting human. If his eyes flash with an otherworldly glint, nobody is sober enough to notice.

“Tell me everything you know about Steve Harrington.”

 

Chapter Text

 “So, Harrington... I heard you used to run this school.”

The wolf inside of Steve rises up to the surface and it’s all Steve can do to push it back down again. Holy shit, he mentally hisses at the beast vibrating under his skin. Are you going to do this EVERY time? 

A rhetorical question, but still he swore he could hear, as clear as day, an answering growl in the affirmative.

Steve is on edge, tired, still reeling from last night’s Halloween party. Nancy’s rejection was bad enough, but there had also been an urgent, nearly incoherent message on his answering machine from Dustin last night talking about monsters and superpowers. The only clear thing that had broken through the chatter was that the Party urgently needed to borrow him and his car... if not tonight, then tomorrow at the latest. It was too late to call back when Steve got home, and he had spent the whole night in a knot of anxiety.

And then today as he walked on the court for basketball practice, who should materialize but the psycho himself, Billy Hargrove, already shirtless and grinning at Steve like he couldn’t wait to take a bite out of him.

Steve is stuck in this loud and smelly gym until practice is over, and he is learning the hard way that werewolves and conflict situations, even relatively benign ones like a high school basketball practice, apparently don’t mix. Steve shudders to think what will happen when they get into an actual game with actual taunting by an actual opposing team.

The urge to really hurt someone is frighteningly strong.

Ugh.

Steve doesn’t respond to the other boy and instead spins away and dribbles, regaining control. Still, Billy Hargrove is not far behind. He comes up behind him and presses against him. He's a brick wall, all sweat and adrenaline and a whiff of something that seems important, something that makes Steve want to…

Will you STOP SMELLING EVERYTHING!? Steve rages at the wolf.

Billy’s breath tickles his ear.

“‘King Steve’ they used to call you… then you turned bitch.”

The wolf inside Steve growls at the challenge, at the proximity of this threat.

CALM DOWN.

“Maybe you should just shut up and play the game,” Steve snarks through gritted teeth. Hardly his best comeback, but it’s a response, and the wolf approves (though it would approve more if Steve were to sink his teeth in and…).

He isn’t expecting the hip-check, just a little too sly to be an illegal cheap shot. Either way he’s on the ground and Billy is running, he’s got the ball, he’s made the lay-up shot. Damn it.

I’ve been had, Steve thinks wryly. Thought being a B-movie monster was supposed to make me better at sports.

Billy walks over, face momentarily unreadable, and reaches down to help Steve back on his feet. Wincing, Steve reaches up and grasps Billy’s hand. The touch sends a shock-wave through him, a weird, not at all unpleasant current of electricity that makes his wolf do a back-flip inside of him.

However, he doesn’t have any time to process this feeling before Billy is in his face again.

“You're moving all over the place... it leaves you open and unsteady. Vulnerable..." The blonde is speaking in something between a purr and a growl, voice laced with an unsettling mix of casual taunting and what sounds like genuine anger. That's weird... "Plant your feet next time… draw a charge.”

Billy practically throws Steve back on the ground and Steve narrowly misses hitting his head against the hardwood floor. He blinks stupidly for a moment before catching his breath. Jesus, what an asshole... making a living nightmare out of high school basketball practice. Still, Steve can't help but feel wrong-footed, like he's made some mistake without realizing it.

Bad wolf.

More demoralized than he probably should be, he climbs slowly to his feet again.

He’s still trying to control his breathing and bring his heart-rate down when someone new enters the gym. The scent of ink and roses cuts through the wall of sweat and bodies – it's Nancy. He sees her, and she motions for him to follow her outside. He considers ignoring her but...

Who is he kidding? He nods to the coach and follows her in silence, ignoring the wave of jeers and yells that follow him. All the background noise is quickly swallowed up as the heavy gym doors swing shut behind him.

As he walks around the corner of the big brick building, he braces himself for another verbal and emotional smack-down. Hopefully she...

“I’m sorry,” Nancy blurts out once they’ve walked in silence to the alley next to the gym.

Steve startles, blinks at her.

“Steve, I’m so sorry.”

He is surprised and more than a little confused.

“Um. Sure." Steve pauses, wants to make sure they are on the same page. "Um. For…?”

“For what I said…last night at the party. I don’t remember all of it…”

“Yeah, I’m surprised you remember any of it. You were pretty far gone.”

“Yeah, well,” Nancy frowns, her eyes fixed on Steve’s shoes. “In Vino Veritas, I guess.”

“What's that, French?”

“No, it’s… never mind. I… I got into another fight with Jonathan when he picked me up. He’s not speaking to me… so I can only imagine what I said. To him and to you.”

Steve resists the urge to roll his eyes, both at Jonathan’s short-lived patience and Nancy’s relentless emotional tap-dancing. The wolf huffs in agreement.

“Well,” Steve says when she doesn’t continue. “Say it now.”

“Say what?”

“Say what you really think, Nancy. Tell me the truth.”

Nancy blinks and doesn’t meet Steve’s gaze. It’s frustrating. Nancy was always the honest one… the truth-teller. Steve was always the one lying, lying to himself most of all and not even realizing it. If Nancy is at a loss for words then they really are all screwed.

“Nancy. Look at me. Please?”

After a long moment Nancy looks up.

Steve gives her a trademark Harrington grin.

“It’s okay, Nance.”

Nancy opens her mouth, but Steve cuts her off with a wave.

"Hey," Steve says, then stops, shaking his head.

How can he explain...? He can't really. Just... You're my best friend, Nancy. I love you.

"It's okay," is what he says.

The gym doors bang open and the two of them jump. Danny Belushi turns the corner a second later.

“Harrington!" Danny throws up his arms and gives Steve an offended glare. "Get back in there! That asshole is killing us!”

“Yeah, alright,” Steve hollers. His gaze slides back to Nancy, sharp and searching, but she doesn’t say anything.

The wolf inside him turns over restlessly. It doesn’t like this… feeling isolated. It feels like an important bond has been fractured, like there is an important piece missing from a carefully and delicately structured world. The wolf howls at Steve to fix this, somehow, to bring Nancy back, but he can’t. He can’t change what he is, and nothing he says, apparently, will make Nancy accept it.

He’s on his own.

He turns and starts back towards the gym.

“Hey!”

Steve turns back to Nancy, who finally, finally, looks over at him, meets his gaze.

She has a little grin on her face.

“You’re a werewolf, Steve Harrington.”

Steve is happy for the rest of practice, and his wolf is so satisfied with the acceptance of a friend that it doesn’t even mind getting pummeled by Hargrove.

 

 

 

Billy watches. 

He spends the whole day watching, and by the end he is both enlightened and confused by what he has seen. 

Steve Harrington is a mystery.

He really shouldn't be. Steve is honest, obvious, open about every little thing he thinks and feels.

Billy doesn't have to work hard at all to see his weariness as he parks his car and walks into school, his self-directed irritation when he gets his math test back with a big C- scrawled across the top, the little smile on his face when he opens his locker and idly taps a finger on the photographs taped inside the locker door.

He looks on as Steve pushes his pudding cup across the lunchroom table to one of his friends when they point to it, even though he had just seen Steve eyeing up the pudding with pleased anticipation, and even though today is meatloaf day in the cafeteria and Steve apparently doesn't like meatloaf. He stares in growing bemusement as Steve manages to only eat a small portion of his lunch, dissatisfied with most of the food and overgenerous with the rest.

Billy watches from a distance and feels the almost overwhelming urge to stride across the cafeteria, rip the pudding from Steve's friend's hands, stand over Steve and make his mate eat his fill.

Steve was right last night... they don't know each other at all, not really, not in any of the ways that matter. However, that doesn't stop Billy from wanting to feed him pudding or maybe a nice rabbit (caught and killed by Billy, of course) and tuck him away in a cozy little den for two, and maybe help him with his Algebra homework while he's at it. Maybe that's the wolf inside of him talking, the animal that always sees the world in terms of predator and prey, that always wants to pounce or protect or provide. 

Maybe it's the wolf, but it's definitely Billy's human heart that warms when he sees Steve give his friend an honest-to-god happy smile.

None of this is what Billy expected.

It's all very troubling

He watches Steve push himself in basketball, trying so hard even though he is clearly distracted by something. You can learn a lot about a person by watching how they conduct themselves on the court. Steve is good but not a show-off, not like Billy who knows how great he is and likes to make sure everyone else does too. Steve is generous with the ball, and is a solid player and a decent strategist who is aware of where everyone is on the floor, who knows the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on his team.

He's not so clear about his own weaknesses, though. He doesn't plant his feet, he moves around when he should be firm and aggressive, he leaves himself open to cheap shots and tricky maneuvers.

That's not so good. 

In fact, it's downright worrying.

He doesn't take advantage when one of Billy's teammates slips up. He plays fair and clean, and it frays Billy's already strained nerves very, very quickly.

He doesn't rise to the bait when Billy needles him. Not in the way Billy wants.

Control is good, but Billy wants to see Steve lose his grip. He can see that Steve is hanging on by a thread, repressing or straight up ignoring certain parts himself, the aggressive, animal bits. He wants to dirty up that goodness he sees in Steve, wants to shake him off his comfortable perch and slap him awake.

Because he isn't awake... Steve is in a dream, walking around like there are such things as right and wrong, like he's on the side of the angels. Like all of his accidental honesty and all his little kindnesses don't leave him devastatingly open to abuse, to danger, to grief.

Like Billy or anyone else couldn't use all of these weak spots and break him like a twig in an instant.

That's why Billy baits him. He didn't mean to do it like that, wanted to play it cool for a little while longer, but he can't help himself. For one thing, the wolf is practically chewing Billy up from the inside out, desperate to declare Steve his mate, desperate to fuck and claim and hold. He wants, he wants... and he's doing everything but putting up a giant neon sign for Steve's wolf to see.

And when Steve doesn't see...

It makes him angry. That's the other part of this. Steve doesn't see... and not only does he not see Billy, he also doesn't see how vulnerable he is. It fills Billy with rage that Steve could be so blind to his own safety, so careless, so innocent... showing the whole world his soft underbelly and then trying to take care of everyone else like it's his job.

Billy never expected to have a mate like this. In his head, Billy's mate was always going to be like Billy himself - tough, mean, strong, a fully-realized wolf who embraced the power and rage within. Someone who knew the world, who understood the difficult realities of survival, who could match Billy cut for cut and blow for blow.

It would be Billy and his mate against the world, and everyone else could burn.  

Billy pushes Steve to the ground. It's easy, so easy, too easy. Steve was barely paying attention, was making rookie mistakes on his stance. Billy could see all his weaknesses from a mile away.

He yanks him close and his skin vibrates with want and the irritation inside of him slips into an icy anger. He hears his father's voice in his head spewing all the hateful things he'd always believed about bitten wolves, and he rails at the world and at Steve for putting him in this position, for making him desire a pathetic, gentle, foolish...

You're gonna have to do better than that, sweetheart, if you want to run with wolves. You think I won't hurt you, Steve? You think I'll protect you just because I want you? You really think I'm as weak as you, that I'd let your mediocrity bring me down?

Steve looks up at him with those big brown eyes as Billy bitterly spits abuse and advice at him, and as he looks down Billy realizes that, actually, he is that weak... that he wants very much to curl up under that gaze and let Steve mold him into whatever the hell he wants.

He makes himself react, makes himself push Steve away with more force than he means to (but not as much as he could use if he really wanted, not enough to really, really hurt...). And then, the icing on the cake, when the Wheeler girl comes in Billy almost shifts into his wolf form right there on the court. He only stops himself with the thought that such an act would be true weakness... to lose control through envy. To allow himself to view these humans, these stupid children, his own mate as a threat.

He doesn't jeer or yell as Steve exits the gym, but he also doesn't look away from him as he goes. His eyes track and catalog every movement, every gesture, every expression. 

His mate is a mystery.

He watches and waits.

  

Chapter Text

“So, this thistle-hydrant…”

“Thessalhydra!”

“Yeah, whatever man… it’s got a bunch of heads?”

“Yeah. And you can’t just attack or decapitate the heads. That won’t kill it. In Greek mythology cutting off one head just means that two more grow back in its place.”

Steve closes his eyes like he’s in physical pain and ducks his head out of the way of a low-hanging tree branch.

“Okay… so… you saw this out here, in the woods," he tries. "Where exactly?”

"Well... we don't know," Mike admits.

“And we didn't actually see it," Dustin says. "Me and Will. Not exactly.”

“Me and Lucas saw part of it,” Mike chimes in.

“Kind of,” Lucas adds.

"And Eleven got it with her superpowers, obviously," says Will.

"Obviously."

“It’s the only thing it could be, Steve!”

“Dustin,” Steve groans. He looks at his young friend but finds no help there.

He regrets everything, every choice he has ever made in his life.

Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh, but he's definitely regretting falling into a fit of optimistic euphoria after his conversation with Nancy and agreeing, without really considering the consequences, to shepherd the Party around to Hawkins Woods in the middle of the damn night.

In spite of Dustin's frantic phone message on the night of Stacy's party, their group trek into the woods had been delayed by three full days for various reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason was that Steve was still not convinced that there was anything strange in the woods.

He was also not at all sure, if there was a mystery monster out there, that it was a good idea for the Party go out and search for it. 

Maybe if Steve had gotten Dustin alone he could have talked him out of it, but between one thing and other (including some lingering guilt on his part) he hadn't managed to find the time to talk to him.

He wished desperately that he had at least managed to apologize to the kid properly for accidentally outing him to Will and for blowing him off the last few days.

Dustin is mad at him. That much is obvious. He is also clearly on edge, nervous and upset, and while Steve does not consider himself the sharpest tool in the shed it doesn't take him more than a few glances at both Dustin and Will's tight mouths and darting eyes to realize that nothing has been resolved.

Mike and Lucas still don't know anything as far as Steve can figure, which means that, whatever else she might have thought or said, Nancy hasn't said anything. In a way Steve almost wishes she had blown everything up and out of hiding. At least then maybe Dustin wouldn't look like he's ready to pop.

He understands the feeling.

Steve is not good with lies, and he doesn't need to be a wolf to smell the underlying tension within the Party. He cares for Dustin, and for Dustin's friends, and both he and, weirdly, his wolf are anxious about the lurking promise of upheaval, the shifting group dynamics they can both sense in the air.

Besides, they are all now that much closer to the full moon, to that looming, ever-present deadline, and all that that means for him and Dustin.

The wolf paces inside of Steve, and Steve feels the phantom burning under his skin.

And he still has no idea what to make of Eleven.

"Who is this random girl?" he mutters to Will as the merry band prepares to leave the Wheeler house, the group waiting outside as Mike maneuvers his way around his mother. The girl in question, clad in over-sized boys clothes, her head shaved, her eyes wide, studies Steve's car with nervous fascination.

Will's explanation, such as it is, leaves something to be desired. 'She just sort of showed up in the woods' is hardly a comprehensive backstory, and all the girl herself apparently said was that she belonged there... in the woods, somehow... and that she had been trapped in a 'bad place' for a long time before that.

It's truly bizarre, but as Will goes along with his tale Steve does, shockingly, find himself accepting the possibility of mysterious fairy children popping up in the middle of the woods.

That's just as credible as, say, a many-headed thistle-hydrant. 

"Thesselhydra!" Mike corrects again as they tumble along in the gray twilight of Hawkins Woods.

"Just call it a 'hydra, Steve," Will says helpfully. "It's the same thing, really."

Steve regrets everything.

“I can’t… believe…you guys… brought me out here…,” Steve stumbles slightly over some underbrush, adjusting his baseball bat (which Dustin had insisted he bring "for protection") and his flashlight in his grip.

“Yeah, why did we bring him again?” Mike asks.

“He has a car,” Lucas supplies.

“And he’s got a bat,” Dustin adds, although that’s not the real reason he wants Steve nearby.

“Whoop-de-do, a bat,” Mike snarks.

“Shush,” Eleven glares at the darkness as if she can see something in the black. The Party falls silent, goes still. After a moment, when nothing happens, they keep walking, but much, much quieter than before.

It's well past time they should have been out of these damn woods, and in spite of Steve's multiple attempts to get the group to turn back, tapping on his watch and using his best 'mom' voice, the kids are determined to find the monster again, if only to prove that it really is out there. Steve only remains because he figures that the kids are marginally safer with him there than they are alone. 

He catches up to Dustin and gives him a small tug on his jacket. Dustin sees his expression and immediately understands. He slows his pace and falls behind the main group, though he and Steve make sure to keep the others in sight.

Once they are relatively isolated, however, Steve finds himself momentarily at a loss. Silence floats between them, more awkward than it should be for two people who have know each other for so long, for two wolves who are packmates.

"I'm sorry," Steve says finally, his voice low to avoid attracting the attention of the others. 

Dustin looks over at him, face deliberately blank.

"For, you know..." Steve nods to Will. "I didn't mean for him to... to see me. I didn't know he could do that."

Dustin shrugs.

"S'okay. He didn't tell anyone he could do that." Not even me, his so-called friend. "Not your fault."

"Has... Will...?"

Silence again. The answer to the unspoken question is: No, they haven't talked about it.

Of course.

Steve falls silent again and Dustin feels his patience snap.

"Well, thanks for checking in," Dustin finally says, not bothering to curb the sarcasm in his voice.

"I..."

"Why are you even out here, Steve?" Dustin finally respond in earnest, his voice a hissed whisper. Steve startles at Dustin's sudden vehemence, unsure how to respond. They haven't talked for a few days and... yeah, that's on Steve, he kind of left Dustin hanging, but... 

Dustin, for his part, feels suddenly angry at himself for having wanted Steve to come with them on this expedition.

He had been so insistent, even when the other Party members rolled their eyes, because he had really wanted Steve to be there with them. With him. He did (does) want Steve there, wants him around, wants to be with him in this dangerous, strange new world.

Wants to be part of a pack.

Dustin wants it and he hates that he wants it. He regrets it now, resent Steve's sighs and eye-rolling and skepticism. All the bubbling unease brought on by Steve's absence these last few days has reached the surface and curdled into frustration and anger. Dustin hates that he feels like he needs Steve to be close, like he needs Steve in order to feel safe. He knows becoming a werewolf is an adjustment, but at the same time Dustin can't just turn off his own anxieties and make do on his own just because Steve is having a hard time.

Not after finally having someone understand and support him for the first time in ages. Not after finally having a friend to share the most important secret of his life with, to help him and run with him and keep him safe.

Steve was supposed to be on his side.

It's not easy to function when the only other werewolf in town is basically ignoring you, and when your wolf-voice is constantly urging you to seek out and stay with your pack.

You don't have a pack, you half-breed runt.  Your father burned his bridges with this family a long time ago...

Steve is ogling him like a guppy right now and it's all Dustin can do to control the disappointment and self-doubt he feels.

"You don't want to be a wolf," Dustin says flatly. "You think the Thesselhydra is fake, and you'd rather hang out with your other friends. I get it. Just go home, Steve."

"That's not fair..." Steve snaps. "Dustin, it's only five days until the full moon, I just..."

"You don't care about the pack. Whatever."

"It's two of us, Dustin, it's not a..." 

Steve cuts himself off but it's too late. The damage is done, the unspoken word hanging in the air between them. Dustin sucks in a deep breath to stop himself from choking up. He feels so stupid, just a dumb kid, but he's not going to let himself start crying, not out here in the dark woods.

The worst part is that Steve is right, and Dustin knows it. They're not a pack. Dustin doesn't have a pack.

He doesn't have anyone.

He is as alone as he's ever been, as alone as he was that first terrible night he turned, when he was eleven years old and his skin caught fire and his bones broke one by one and he thought he was going to die without ever seeing his mom again.

He has Steve, who has only changed the once and who looks now like he wants to swallow his own tongue, and he has Will, who has his own lies and who isn't talking to him, and he has his mom and his other friends, none of whom know his secret. 

He's all alone.

You don't have a pack, runt.

His footsteps suddenly seem very loud as they crunch the dry leaves underfoot.

 

 

In the haze of his despair, Dustin hears something.

Something ahead of them, beyond them.

His nose twitches.

"Dustin, listen..." Steve starts. He didn't mean it, never wanted to hurt Dustin. He wants to take it all back, and he bitterly wishes he'd never come out to the woods in the first place.

"Just..." Dustin shakes his head.

"I didn't mean..."

"Wait..."

"No, I..."

"No, Steve, wait..."

Something in Dustin's voice makes Steve go still. 

"Do you...?" Dustin asks, and then goes quiet again, trailing off.

It's fear. That's what Steve is hearing. Dustin is afraid.

"Do you... smell that?"

Steve sucks his breath in sharply and (oh God) he does smell it... he does...

It smells like rotting leaves. It smells like stagnant water and black rot. It smells like tangy-sour dried blood. It smells like... like anger.

Like... hate.

It smells like... 

Oh God.

There’s a sound, a rumble.

Everyone freezes.

Everything goes still.

But Steve can feel it. It isn't stillness out there in the woods, in the inky darkness, not really. It's like the stillness after an intake of breath and just before the exhale, the stillness that is all potential and no peace. The pause before the strike. The moment of floating before the inevitable crash.

"Wait..." 

The word escapes Steve before he realizes he was even thinking it, but he means it, oh, how he means it... he needs them all to...

Wait.

Too late.

The word is barely out before the forest is alive, shaking, vibrating, roaring. A thousand branches move in a thousand different places, all around them, so that Steve can't identify anything, any one area to face. And the kids...

The kids run.

The kids start to run.

Steve jolts suddenly forward like he's been electrocuted.

Nononononono...

The roar comes out unexpectedly. It takes Steve a minute to realize that it was him, that he's the one who roared (is that right? No, it can't be, Steve's not a wolf right now, he can't howl, can't roar...but he did, that sound came from him), but he also understands immediately that the impossibility of his roar doesn't really matter right now.

All he knows is that they all need to stay together, that the kids can't go running off in different directions... they need to stay (as a pack) in a group so he can (protect them) keep track of them.

And, to his great surprise, the kids stop running. The noise, whatever it was and wherever it came from, breaks through the crippling madness of fear.

They hear the roar and they stop running.

They are still scared, still yelling, but they aren't taking off in a panic, and they aren't getting lost in their confusion. They are focused on each other, they are coming back to him, and they are moving as a unit through the woods now.

Eleven stumbles and Steve wraps an arm around her and pulls her towards him. Lucas trips and Will yanks him back up. Dustin sniffs the air, tracking the monster, and Mike does something similar with his flashlight, scanning the trees for movement. They move as one, clinging to each other.

"We need to get back to the car," Steve says, voice urgent but also strangely hushed.

"Eleven?" Mike asks, twisting around. Eleven raises a hand and closes her eyes, leaning back on Steve and letting him steady her as she searches the darkness. Steve doesn't know how she's doing whatever it is she's doing, and he decides he doesn't need to know. Mike's hand snakes over and grasps her free one, and Steve can see their fingers squeeze together.

"Dustin?" Steve asks. "Will?"

"It's everywhere," Dustin says.

"Yeah," Will whimpers, suddenly very pale and panting like he's in pain, like he's physically feeling the monster's proximity. "Everywhere..."

"It's okay," Lucas presses himself to Will's side and lifts up his Wrist Rocket. "It's okay," he says again, quietly, as much to himself as to the the others.

Eleven's eyes snap open and suddenly something long and thick snaps out of the forest and knocks them all off their feet. They scramble back up but Steve struggles, slightly winded from having landed at the bottom of the pile of bodies.

It takes him a minute longer to move, so he is the one who looks up and sees...

The Thesselhydra.

He can't see what the grasping, curling tentacle is made of, but he can see that it shines in the moonlight, greasy-looking and rippling. It loops around and back and up, quick as lightning but also with the discomforting elegance of a snake or a spider, the kind of motion that is uncanny in its unpredictability. The source of the tentacle, its body or whatever it is attached to, is obscured by the darkness, but whatever it is has to be sizable if it can support that tentacle and others.

And there are others. He knows that. He knows there is more out there. That there are things in the woods he can't see.

Not seeing is worse. Steve has just enough time to imagine the grotesque appendage stretching back into nothing, disappearing into a black hole of destruction and dragging them all along with it.

But it's the thing at the end, at the very tip of the tentacle, that terrifies Steve the most.

There's a face at the end.

It almost looks human... but no, it doesn't. It looks human like a rubber mask maybe looks human, an uncanny facsimile of the living. But, like a mask, there are none of the attributes that make a face familiar, that make it recognizable. There is no warmth, no emotion, no... no soul.

It has eyes, dark eyes glazed over with milky cataracts, but not unseeing. Oh no... they are all seeing, piercing through all things and pulling them down into an opaque abyss, and when they latch onto Steve it's all he can do to swallow a scream. The flesh of the face is pale and wrinkled, pulled back in a howling sneer to reveal a wide mouth filled with rows of jagged teeth, jaws unhinging to open as wide as a snake's mouth and leaking drool and gunk.

The teeth gleam in the moonlight and the thin beams of fallen flashlights - they shine, sharp and gray like iron nails.

Steve very much wants to throw up, but he's also too petrified to do so. Besides, everyone is moving again, and it helps to get caught up in the mad scramble. It distracts Steve from the eldritch horror threatening to swallow him whole.

Eleven screams and throws her arm out and Steve can feel the pulse, the echo of power in the air as the tentacle is flung backwards. It snaps back at them mere moments later, followed by more movements in the trees, more tentacles. Lucas lifts up his Wrist Rocket and fires again and again. Mike yells and yanks Will out of the way.

Dustin darts forward...

No!

Steve might be howling again... he isn't sure. Either way he flings himself forward and knocks Dustin down, wrapping his own body around him before the razor sharp teeth that had been flying towards the young wolf can grab him. Dustin kicks and lashes out in panic, but Steve holds on, rolls them away.

Puppuppuppuppup...

Steve swears he can feel the wolf pushing at his bones as if it was trying to break him apart from the inside out.

I've got him, I've got him, I've...

They are only safe for a moment before the face turns down towards them again and...

There's a scream.

A scream from across the way, from the other side of the trees.

No, not a scream... a yell.

A young girl, is standing in the clearing, illuminated by the moon. Mike twists his wrist up and his flashlight falls on the mystery child. Steve can see that she is about Dustin's age, with pale skin and red hair. Her hands fall from where they were cupped around her mouth... she had been trying to distract the monster, trying to help them. Steve feels a rush of relief, and then panic as the tentacles turn and speed towards the girl. She shrieks again, in fear this time, and dives for cover under a nearby bush.

Steve can hear Lucas yells something that sounds like 'Mac' or 'Max', but he can't be sure.

Before the tentacle’s teeth can clamp down fully on the redheaded girl, however, there is a loud howl from the trees.

Something tears out of the underbrush…

Big, fast.

Fur. Golden fur.

Running on two legs… no, four legs. No…

It's got clothes on. It's wearing pants.

It's wearing fucking pants! 

What the fuck?

Whatever it is, it launches itself at the tentacle and wraps its wide jaws around it.

It’s a wolf, Steve thinks, feeling a sense of horrible recognition. A wolf, a man…it’s a wolf-man.

It's not a werewolf, it can't be... it looks human, strong and furry and with a face shaped so much like a wolf's, but still, it can't be a...

The tentacle monster lets out a screeching sound and another horrible appendage sweeps up and comes down at the staring, waiting children.

“Dustin!”

Steve rolls to his feet and scoops up his baseball bat from where it had fallen. Dustin is right behind him, running towards the Party, herding them backwards. Steve strikes out  and catches the monstrous appendage on the upswing, spins his bat and then lands another hit right against the tentacle's teeth. He feels a terrible jolt run up his arm as the weapon connects, but he ignores the feeling. He isn’t going to take any chances… he swings again and again until he is sure the thing is well and truly broken.

He spares a glance up, just long enough to see that the wolf-man is tearing into the other tentacle with claws and fangs and fury. Both damaged faces let out a noise like a scream echoing at the bottom of a dark well, and start to shudder in surrender.

The thing trembles and retracts, and Steve breaths a small sigh of relief. It's not over, not by a long shot, and he knows it. He doesn't protest, however, when the trees go quiet and the broken tentacles slither on back into the woods.

Fuck that thing, seriously.

However, when he looks up again he sees, to his horror, that the wolf-man has stopped shredding its prey and is looking at the kids, his eyes glaring and fixed on the smaller targets. Those eyes flash and glow in the darkness, and the creature takes a menacing step forward.

The trees start to shake behind him again.

Steve doesn't hesitate.

“Run!” he yells, turning to the Party, arms waving. “Run!”

The kids look at him for one long, shocked moment but then do finally move, tearing away from the monster(s) and back towards the road. The wolf-man turns towards Steve and locks eyes on him.

Steve meets the creature's gaze and finds himself strangely frozen in place, an unshakable sense of recognition overpowering him… a sense of…

Go, his wolf whispers in his ear.

Yeah, yeah, go, run away… Steve thinks, even though his legs don’t seem to want to work.

The trees... they're moving again, time to go, gotta go...

Noooo, his wolf whines, its voice dripping with an aching need.

Nooo. Go forward. Towards. Towards HIM.

Me-Him-Us-Us-Ours…

WantneedwantneedminemineMINE.

Claim.

Protect.

Need.

Love.

Holy Shit!

Steve gasps, unable to catch his breath.

“Steve!” Dustin yells. "Abort!"

The redhead barrels into him out of nowhere, nearly knocking him to the ground in her haste to get away from the terror in the forest.

“Holy shit!” he yelps.

Okay, his brain is kicking back into gear... that one was out loud.

Time to go.

Without thinking, Steve's hand finds the girl's and he pulls her up and after him and they run together... away, away from the Thesselhydra, away from the wolf-man, and towards safety.

 

Chapter Text

Earlier... 

"Try again."

"Billy... I don't..."

"Try. Again."

"I can't do it. Can't we just go home? Please, it's freezing out here..."

"Jesus, I don't care. I'm not the reason we're stuck out here. You want to go home, try again."

As if to emphasize his point, Billy lights up yet another cigarette (at this rate he'll finish the pack before the night is over) and leans against a nearby tree. His glare is unblinking and unforgiving, fixed on his step-sister as she shuffles miserably, her face a mask of barely repressed frustration.

In spite of what he says to Max, he is tempted to call it a night. Oh, how he is tempted. He's almost eighteen years old and he wants to prowl, wants to run, wants to shed his responsibilities and howl. He does not want to be out here alone in a dark corner of Hawkins Woods in the middle of the night, a recalcitrant twelve year old whining and shivering next to him. He nudges the electric lantern at his feet, the artificial light illuminating the small clearing which the step-siblings have claimed as their own, and sighs inwardly.

Maybe if he hurries he can drop Max off at home and still get in a decent night of boozing, fighting, and fucking.

That Tina chick seemed up for it, he could give her a call...

Who are you kidding, dumb-ass? You're not going to call Tina.

You're going to park your car outside of Harrington's house and pine like a love-sick puppy, just like you've been doing all week.

Don't make me laugh.

Billy feels his jaw clench, a now all-too-familiar sensation. He wonders, idly, if fucking someone else would help him. Purely casual, of course. Just something to take the edge off. If he could find some girl or a boy with soft brown hair and pale skin and pretend for just a little while... maybe then he wouldn't be so half-wild with need all the fucking time.

He could approach Steve more calmly then, and maybe try talking to him like a rational human being instead of hounding him like an increasingly obnoxious animal. He's not been his most charming self since Steve's tacit rejection of Billy's admittedly double-edged attentions. After a week's worth of basketball practices Billy is fairly certain that he has only succeeded in ensuring that Steve considers him the biggest, most unpredictable bully in the state.

Having to stand next to his mate in the shower, so close yet so far away, has been a particularly excruciating experience. He is allowed an occasional rough pat on the back and a childish taunt - anything more and Billy would have been unable to keep himself from throwing Steve down, wrapping himself around him, and trying to forcibly absorb the other boy via osmosis. 

He knows that frustration is making him an even bigger asshole than he usually is, but his options are limited, bordering on nonexistent.

Because he really is stuck now. It is one of the few times in his life when Billy honestly does not know what to do.

He does not want to fuck Tina, or any other random partner - the mere thought of doing so twists his stomach into knots and sends his wolf up the walls. 

He doesn't want to be with anyone except Steve fucking Harrington, and Steve fucking Harrington does not know that Billy is his werewolf mate. 

And of course Billy can't tell him, can't explain something that is fundamentally a feeling, an instinct, an emotional truth. Hell, he's still waiting for some proof that Steve is even a wolf, for some evidence besides his own sense of smell.

If Steve is a werewolf, he's playing it very close to the chest, and is possibly in denial about the whole thing. He doesn't respond to challenges on the basketball court the same way Billy does, and he doesn't lash out. In the shower he washes himself silently, throwing only the occasional glance at Billy's impressive body before going a little pink in the cheeks (or is that just the hot water making him flush?) and rolling his eyes at Tommy's latest idiocy.  

Frustration bubbles, and Billy shivers in the cold night air, trying to push Steve from his mind. He can't call it a night, no matter how much he wants to dig up his mate and stalk him a little more. It pisses him off, but he can't do it.

He has orders from his Alpha and those supersede everything else.

"What if I can't do it?" Max says, suddenly.

Billy shakes himself out of his thoughts and makes himself focus on his sister.

"What are you talking about?"

Max meets his gaze and holds it.

"What if I never manage to shift into my wolf form? What if I'm not a werewolf?"

"Don't be stupid," Billy says. "Your bloodline goes back even further than ours. You're a wolf from a long line of wolves. Everyone in your family is a born wolf."

Just ask Neil, he thinks bitterly. He won't shut up about itHasn't for years.

"Not everyone. Mom said that I had some aunts and a great-uncle who..."

"What is this?" Billy interrupts, narrowing his eyes. "What brought this on?"

Max glances down at her sneakers, then over, squinting into the rapidly falling darkness obscuring the trees around them. 

"Most born wolves have had their first turning by the time they're eleven," she mutters. "I haven't..."

"Not always," Billy says. "It's not... there aren't set rules for this thing..."

"But that's why Neil keeps sending us out here, isn't it? Because I haven't shifted yet and he thinks if you just train me enough, if you keep making me try... like that will make it happen, make my wolf come out..."

"Sometimes born wolves are taught how to shift," Billy says firmly. "Sometimes you need to be talked through the process of releasing the animal inside of you. A lot has happened these past few months, Max. There could be plenty of reasons why your wolf hasn't come out before now... because of the trouble back home or the move or... because you haven't felt comfortable enough yet. Either way, the techniques you're learning now will help you when you shift later. And you will shift, Max. Sooner or later it's gonna happen. You were born to be a wolf."

The words fall awkwardly as he says them, a jarringly off-key note. They come straight from Neil... Neil with his ugly obsessions and his elitism and his constant undercurrent of nastiness. They don't belong to Billy, not really, but he finds himself reciting them by rote at times like this, hating them but saying them anyway.

Neil will not be pleased when Billy tells him about Steve. Steve has nothing, is nothing... nothing that Neil values, nothing that Neil wants in his pack. Neil will probably allow this relationship to happen (maybe... hopefully...) but he'll want Steve brought to heel immediately, and he'll want Billy to make sure that Steve knows his place.

His place at the bottom... as a bitten wolf, as a newcomer to the Hargrove pack, and as a male mate incapable of bearing children for Billy, Neil's only son and heir. 

And Billy and Steve are barely on speaking terms as it is.

Don't think about it. Don't think about it.

Billy clears his throat.

"Try again. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and go under, inside, to the deepest part of yourself."

Billy watches Max's eyes drift closed and hears her shaky inhale.

That's as far as they manage to get before a howl breaks through the night air...

A howl...

HOWL!

Billy immediately recognizes the sound, which is ridiculous because he's never heard that sound before... not from that particular wolf. But it is a howl he knows, a howl that sparks a profound reaction deep in his gut...

It's the call of his mate. 

 

 

 

Now...

They go to the Byers' house. It's the closest to where they were in the woods, and Steve is desperate to talk to Jonathan. The whole car ride is a rush of yelling, chaotic voices all trying to talk at once. It’s hard to make sense of it.

Neither Jonathan nor Mrs. Byers are home, unfortunately, but Will has his keys and he lets them in anyway. They are barely through the door before the kids are spreading out in the Byers' living room, chattering, collapsing on the floor and the furniture. 

The random redhead, Max, finds a place on the couch. She’s the only one being even a little bit quiet besides Eleven, sitting on the couch with her eyes on her shoes. Only a few snappish comments escape her, and Steve can see that she is trembling slightly.

The boys, for the most part, are too wired to be still. Even now, Will still looks dangerously pale. Steve wants to get him a glass of water but it doesn't feel like the right time to leave the conversation.

Eleven is bleeding from her nose and Mike presses a tissue to her face without missing a beat of whatever argument is going on.

Eventually, of course, the question pops out. Steve isn't even entirely sure who says it but once it's spoken it's all anyone can hear.

“What the hell were you doing out there?"

The room falls silent and suddenly all eyes are on Max. She inhales sharply, then exhales, and her eyes drop to the floor. Steve considers her. She ran out of the woods and helped them. And then the other thing, the wolf-man, showed up. Chasing her? They're connected somehow, the mystery-creature and Max, though whether that is a good or bad thing... only time will tell.

Steve can feel a strange twist in his stomach as a few important pieces slide into place. Not just about the girl... about himself as well.

He throws a glance over at Dustin, whose gaze flicks over to him and then flicks away.

Skittish, frustrated, disappointed.

Why are you even out here, Steve?

Dustin's voice echoes in Steve's brain, a dark shadow. 

An accusation.

Why are you even here? 

It's a good question. It's a good question, and when he was out there in the woods tonight, watching the kids scatter and then calling them back with an unearthly sound reverberating with power and conviction, he found his answer.

And now, in the Byers' house, Steve suddenly understands what he needs to do to start making it right.

Be better.

Don't run.

“Did it have anything to do with the werewolf in the woods?” Steve asks, his calm voice cutting through the heavy silence.

Max’s mouth drops open and her eyes widen.

The room goes deathly still as shock descends.

Mike and Lucas looks at Steve like he's grown a second head - it's one thing for kids to say something like that, but Steve is practically a grown-up. His go-to explanation would never in a million years be werewolves.

Will is holding his breath, and Eleven is watching Steve with a newfound interest.

Dustin gives Steve an inscrutable, evaluating look. Steve doesn't look at him... he won't go spreading secrets that don't belong to him, but he's not going to run away from this anymore either. Dustin can choose not to say anything, can leave Steve to twist in the wind on his own if he wants. Steve can take this all on himself.

An apology.

Acceptance. 

I'm not going anywhere, Dustin. I'm part of this.

I'm right here.

Idiot, Dustin thinks, fondly.

Then he takes a deep breath, and speaks.

“It’s okay,” Dustin tells Max. “Steve and I are werewolves, too.”

“Dustin!” Steve's breath leaves him in a long whooshing sound. He's not exactly surprised, and he knows he's not quite forgiven, but it still feels like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

Still... "Dustin, there are easier ways to break that news... blurting it out like that... dial it back a notch."

"What?" Dustin gives him an over-exaggerated shrug, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“You’re a werewolf?” Mike repeats in shock.

"Yeah, very funny," Lucas grins.

"Yes," Steve says, voice firm. "We're werewolves. Dustin has been one for a year, and I've been one for a month and a half."

“Uh…”

“It’s okay,” Will pipes up. All eyes snap towards the frail, pale boy standing nervously by the coffee table. Steve's heart aches as the kid winces slightly under the scrutiny, but he feels a wave of pleased warmth when Dustin shift a little towards his friend.

Dustin gently touches Will's shoulder and Will turns and smiles a little at him, his face going slack with relief.

“I’m something, too," Will continues gamely, dragging his eyes away from Dustin and turning to the others after a long moment. "I can see things other people can’t see.”

“Huh?” Lucas and Mike both say simultaneously.

"A seer," Will tries. "I guess that's the best way to describe it. Like a psychic, only I can't tell the future."

“And Eleven is a weirdo, too,” Dustin says, pointing to the wide-eyed girl. Max's eyes dart around the room and Steve suddenly finds himself hoping that she is a little in the know, that she is, in fact, something. Otherwise this was going to be a rather overwhelming series of revelations.  

“Weirdo?” Eleven echoes. She doesn't seem unhappy about the new name.

“She’s not a weirdo!” Mike snaps.

“She can move stuff with her mind, Mike,” Dustin says. “It’s not a bad thing.”

Will looks like he’s about to add something but then thinks better of it and closes his mouth again.

The rushing chatter of voices rises and threatens to overwhelm them all again, but the conversation ends abruptly as the roar of the engine tears through night outside. Max stands and bolts towards the window. Steve swears he can smell the tension rolling off her in waves.

"What's that?" Lucas asks.

“It’s my brother,” she says, her voice small and tight.

Steve's gaze flicks towards the window and he sees a familiar Camaro pull up outside. 

"Hargrove," he murmurs before turning to Max. "Your brother is Billy Hargrove?"

She nods, and Steve immediately understands her fear. Hargrove is an unsettling character, and has been pulling at Steve's metaphorical pigtails all week. Basketball practice had become increasingly rough and tumble these last few days and what started as minor irritation at Billy's aggressive nature has morphed into profound unease within Steve.

“How did he know you were here?” Lucas asks, looking equally worried.

Max doesn’t answer directly. She bites her lip and shakes her head, taking in a shaky breath. After a moment, she turns and fixes her gaze on Lucas, then on the others, and then looks up at Steve.

“He can’t know I’m here. Please, I'll go home later but he can't know I'm here with you. He’ll kill me… he'll kill us…”

Steve looks at her, then looks up towards the car looming like a monster outside of the Byers' house. They've seen real monsters tonight, and whatever is out there in the yard is nothing like the Thesselhydra in the woods.

But Steve is also not an idiot, no matter what anyone else thinks. He knows that human beings can be dangerous, too... as dangerous as monsters, sometimes. And while he doesn't think Billy Hargrove is a killer out for blood like a psycho in a slasher film, he understands that Max is being deadly serious.

Plus there's a thought, an idea, underdeveloped yet persistent, niggling at the edges of his mind. A feeling Steve can't quite shake.

It makes him want to turn and face the strange.

Steve's wolf stirs and nudges him, but he doesn't really need much urging. He feels something solidify inside of him, a kind of steely determination. A kind of knowing, a newly recognized sense of self. He steps back and walks across the living room.

"Steve?" Dustin murmurs quietly.

"Stay," Steve says, and opens the front door.  

 

 

 

“Am I dreamin’ or is that you, Harrington?” Billy asks, a warm feeling curling in his belly. It's the same warm feeling that he always gets whenever he sees his pretty boy, but right now that warmth is curling and twisting into something sharper, more bitter.

Oh, his boy is in shit-soup right now, and as much fun as all of this is (not), Steve is starting to piss Billy off just a little bit.

A mysterious altercation with a monster in the woods. A pack of bratty children scooping up his step-sister and whisking her away, adding a whole new set of complications to Billy's night. And now this charming crack den out in the middle of nowhere, with Steve fucking Harrington standing front and center.

The monster... the monster had been a surprise. Billy had to admit that he had not seen that one coming. When he heard his mate's howl echoing through the trees he hadn't been entirely sure what to expect. Whatever he’d thought, he was shocked when Max took off into the dark forest without him, and he had not planned on needing to shift into his beta form in order to save her from a forest-octopus. 

That being said, it wasn't an entirely unpleasant way to spend an evening. Billy did love a good brawl.

And then he’d looked up and seen Steve, standing there with leaves in his hair and a baseball bat in his grip, beating back his own tentacle like a man possessed. He hadn't shifted, either fully or partially - not a surprise, he's a bitten wolf, he probably couldn't shift outside of the full moon yet - but Billy had heard his howl and felt his own wolf scramble to meet its mate.

And when Steve looked up... when Steve took a tentative step forward towards Billy...

That hope, that recognition, that look...

But all that is gone now.

Now Steve Harrington standing on the front porch with his hands on his hips, glaring at Billy like he’s the biggest goddamn inconvenience in the world.

Billy doesn’t have a handle on this, and he doesn’t like it.

And now…

“Yeah, it’s me. Don’t cream your pants.”

Snappy, dry, disinterested.

Oh. Right. So his fucking mate has a death wish.

Billy pops his cigarette between his lips and whips off his leather jacket, tossing it in the back of the Camaro. Steve’s gaze is lowered slightly… he seems to be shuffling, pondering as he makes his way down the drive towards Billy. When he reaches the car, however, his eyes snap up and he glares, defiant, at the apex predator in front of him.

“What’re you doing here, amigo?” Billy asks. It's a genuine question because for the life of him Billy can’t imagine why Steve was out in the woods tonight, why Steve is running around with a bunch of twelve year olds, why Steve is here jerking him around like they're in the middle of a high-noon showdown in a John Wayne movie.

“I could ask you the same thing… amigo,” Steve’s voice is perfectly steady, but his arms jerk up in a protective motion that Billy can't help but track with his gaze.

“Looking for my stepsister. Little birdie told me she was here.”

That’s a lie, of course. Billy followed his nose. Tracked them all down through the woods like prey. Wasn’t hard.

Steve's glare doesn't waver, although his eyes are shuttered again so that Billy can't get a bead on what he's really thinking.

“Huh. That’s weird. I don’t know her,” Steve lies right back, easy as anything.

“Small? Redhead?” Billy keeps his gaze on his prize and doesn’t blink. “Bit of a bitch?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell. Sorry, buddy.”

Billy takes a long drag of his cigarette and huffs. This is awful, frustrating, agonizing. He should be fucking Steve into the ground out there in the moonlight right now, Neil and Max and forest-monsters a distant concern, and instead Steve’s looking at him like he’s a stranger and Max, that idiot child, is staring at him wide-eyed from the window with all the rest of her pathetic human friends.

He sighs.

“What are you doing, Harrington?” he shakes his head. He means it, too. His mate is posturing for no fucking reason, and he seems to have no idea the danger he's in. Wake up, Harrington, he thinks, that now-familiar fear and frustration cutting through him like a knife. Wake up before I have to make you wake up.

Before I have to show you how this filthy goddamn horror-show of a world really works.

“This whole situation, Harrington…" Billy's voice is ice and treacle. "It's giving me the heebie-jeebies. My sister goes missing in the middle of the night... and I find her with you… in a stranger's house… and you lie to me about it.”

Billy watches Steve for any weakness, any doubt, silently begging him to collapse and submit and at the same time silently daring him not to.

Steve lets out a huff, shakes his head and looks away, and for a moment Billy thinks that he's won.

Then...

“Man, were you dropped on your head as a child or what?"

Red, red fog, hot rage barely translated into a slowly spreading grin that is all teeth and tongue. Billy feels the full force of it in his chest and knows that there is nothing he can do now to stop it.

"I don’t know what you don’t understand about what I just said,” Steve continues, his voice dripping with casual disdain like Billy isn’t even worth the effort of true anger. “She’s not here.”

Billy takes a deep breath and blinks once.

Billy is young. Too young.

He's young, but his dad doesn't think so. His dad is teaching him a lesson. A lesson that you are apparently never too young to learn.

His dad is teaching him how to be an Alpha wolf.

Billy stands five feet away from the horror before him and forces himself to stay still, resists the powerful urge to blink, to cry, to turn away.

He has learned the hard way that those acts can be fatal.

He keeps his gaze fixed on the scene in front of him, the living nightmare in all its technicolor glory.

"You need to make it clear who’s in charge, son,” Neil says, wiping his bloody hands on his jeans. “An Alpha who can’t control his pack is worthless… you need to teach them.”

Teach him…

Teach… break…

Billy blows out a thin line of smoke on the exhale, his tongue darting over his bottom lip.

He lifts his cigarette up and points to the window.

He never takes his eyes off his foolish, wayward mate.

“Then who," he asks, "is that?”

His eyes track the movement as Steve turns his head to look at the kids in the window, as he exposes his long, lovely neck, as he offers up the sweetness of his tantalizing scent... all without understanding or appreciating what Billy is, who Billy is, what Billy can do to him.

Without realizing that Billy is his mate, that he belongs to him, that his fate is sealed, that his life is in Billy Hargrove's hands.

That his jugular vein is still intact only because Billy wills it.

It burns Billy up inside to see it... he could have sworn that back in the woods that Steve's eyes had glowed with recognition, that Steve had taken a step forward, towards him.

That Steve had finally understood, finally seen, was willing to come to him and...

No.

He's going to have to teach him.

He doesn’t give Steve a chance to lie again.

“Shit. Listen…”

Steve is on the ground in an instant, sprawled out on the dirt beneath Billy. Billy thinks idly that it’s a good place for him, lying prone at Billy’s feet, before the anger at Steve’s idiocy, his weakness, his defiance flares up again.

“I told you to plant your feet,” Billy grinds out before delivering a devastating kick to Steve’s ribs. Steve lets out a grunt of pain and, unsatisfied, Billy kicks him again.

And again. And again.

“Billy, stop!”

Max is on the front porch, frantic and upset. Billy can see the little shits cowering behind her, including that one ‘friend’ he’d warned her about. The one she liked too much... Billy could sense it, could smell the longing and the guilt on her. He's here, of course, a fragile human, a little nobody who could never even begin to comprehend what they are, the sheer power and potential of Billy's monstrosity... of Max's monstrosity.

“I thought I told you to stay away from him, Max,” he growls, eyes locking on to Lucas Sinclair.

Max doesn’t answer. She staggers down the steps and towards the car. Steve, still on the ground, lets out a weak noise of protest and lashes out, trying to slow Billy down. Billy dodges his arms easily and kicks him again, in the face this time. He takes a step back to protect himself when Steve flails and manages to land a glancing blow on Billy's shin.

Max makes a sharp noise of distress and holds her hands out.

“I’m coming! I’m coming. Please, let’s just go, I want to go, please…”

Steve makes a choked-out, almost surprised sound, like he can’t quite believe what’s happening right now, before dragging himself back and struggling up to his knees. Max races down the driveway and opens the passenger door of the Camaro.

“Please, Billy…" she whimpers, almost like a chant or a prayer. "Please.”

Billy doesn't say a word, and he doesn't need to... he just looks at Max as she effortlessly falls in line, watches as she desperately tries to placate him. He could shred every person in this house and she knows it, and what’s more she believes he would do it with very little provocation.

It’s a heady feeling, that rush of power, and it makes the wolf inside of him snarl. He likes it. It's satisfying, having everything where it should be. Max obedient, Steve subdued, the humans watching helplessly from the porch. He can't force Steve to see him, can't force Steve's wolf to recognize his mate, but he can do this.

He can make people afraid.

He flicks his cigarette away, leans over Steve, and grabs him roughly by the collar. Steve manages to lash out again and land a last hit, but he’s not in a good position to do anything other than flail uselessly and look up at Billy with wide eyes. Billy is reminded sharply of that first basketball practice, when he pushed his mate to the ground and stood over him, torn between kissing Steve and tearing him apart in frustration. 

He hates. In that moment, he hates. He hates Steve. He hates Max. He hates himself.

Billy tastes blood in his mouth. He forces his fangs back down and gives Steve the nastiest smile he can muster.

“You look good on your knees, Harrington,” Billy growls before delivering one last knock-out punch that sends the other boy sprawling backwards. There are shouts and cries from the porch and at least two of the boys seems to be holding a third one back with limited success…

Billy can smell him now… the baby wolf. The pup. The one in the baseball cap, the one who’s scent echoes Steve’s.

That's the other wolf? The one hanging around his mate? A fucking child?

That tears it. Somehow, knowing that the only other competitor for Steve's attention is sixth grader is the absolute end, the thing that makes Billy want to break down with laughter or maybe something else. Billy is so done with this, done with his mate, done with tonight. Max is whining at him from the car and he doesn’t care to maul a bunch of middle-schoolers.

Desire and disappointment war within him as he steps away from Steve and makes his way back to his car.

 

 

 

Dustin decides that explanations are easier when treated like a band-aid. He rips off the thin masks that were hiding him and Steve and tells his friends the truth. Maybe he should have asked if it was okay with Steve first, but either way Steve is in no real position to object.

Steve sits on the couch and holds a pack of ice against his face and watches in silence as Dustin explains. Will digs out some brightly-colored band-aids and applies them haphazardly to Steve's face, and Steve doesn't bother to protest. He drifts in and out, hurt and befuddled, all out of words and protests.

Then, when Dustin is done, it's Will’s turn.

Mike and Lucas are upset with him and Will, but not for the reasons Dustin expected. They are upset that they weren’t told immediately, that they weren’t given a chance to help.

“You aren’t… you aren’t mad about the…” Dustin finds himself, for once, at a loss for words.

“Are you kidding?” Lucas asks. “It’s so awesome.”

“You’re a real werewolf. Like… an honest to God werewolf,” Mike says, a smile stretching across his face. “And Will is a real mage!”

"Can you change into that thing in the woods?"

"No... just... just during the full moon. I don't know what that was out there tonight..."

"Max knows."

"Maybe. If it was chasing her through the woods there has to be a reason..."

"Monday at school we can..."

In the end Steve is the one who decides to call it a night. He’s the one who's been dragged out into the woods, chased by not one but two I-don’t-know-whats, and then kicked to the ground and humiliated by a mullet-headed psycho. He thinks he’s earned the right to be snippy, and none of the kids seem overly inclined to argue. They’re all pretty tired, too.

He packs everyone in the car and drives them to their homes. The kids have finally worn themselves out and are almost eerily silent during the ride. Eleven goes into the Wheeler house with Mike, sneaking in through the back door, and Steve chooses not to ask. He doesn’t want to know.

Dustin is last, sitting in the front seat. They drive in silence for only a few moments before Dustin can’t take it anymore.

“Are you okay?” he asks Steve, voice high with worry.

“Fine, Dustin.” Mostly fine. Nothing broken except his ego and his brain.

Fucking Hargrove. He’s had rough treatment from that asshole before in basketball, but nothing like this. His chest aches, and his wolf is half-wild, upset and confused.

That idea from earlier is still buzzing around in his brain, but to be honest it seems like a much less likely explanation now, given recent events. 

He had felt in that one brilliant, decision-time moment like he was walking out of the Byers' house with a purpose, like he was meeting some profound fate, like this interaction was going to bring the clarity and purpose Steve had been searching for.

He had felt it. His wolf had felt it, had sat up and waited for Billy Hargrove - Billy fucking Hargrove! - to give him the answer to the question he didn't know how to ask.

Of course he'd landed on his ass. He's such a fucking moron. What was he expecting? For Billy to be nice, to be understanding? Why in a million years would he have expected anything good, least of all a revelation, from Hargrove?

And then he hadn't fought back! All that fucking fury coming to the surface in basketball practice and now, when the biggest bully in school was all up in his face, violent and threatening…

Of all the times for my wolfy instincts to check out.

Except that they hadn't checked out. The wolf was there in his decision to protect a kid he hardly knew, to stand up to Hargrove, to keep fighting even while he was on the ground struggling for breath.

For all the good it did me.

"Is Max gonna be okay?" Dustin asks.

Who cares if she is? Steve thinks with an irritated sigh, then immediately feels guilty and ashamed.

"I'm sure she'll be fine," he says with a confidence he doesn't feel. "If she isn't in school tomorrow, just let me know. I'll go with my bat and finish kicking her brother's ass."

That gets a snort out of Dustin, and Steve feels the wolf calm somewhat.

"What? Don't think I can? I had him on the ropes tonight."

"Hey, hey," Dustin smiles a little. "You put up a good fight. He kicked your ass but you put up a good fight."

"He got a cheap shot in. I'll be ready next time."

"Next time," Dustin echoes, and for the life of him Steve can't imagine why the idea of a 'next time' makes Dustin's voice go warm and happy, or indeed why it makes his own wolf preen a little in satisfaction. He decides to table the thought for now and move on to the big issue at hand.

“So, we’ve got a monster in the woods. Two monsters. Great.”

“Well, really just the one we need to worry about, I guess,” Dustin says hopefully. He has a point, the Thessel-whatever is clearly the more obvious threat than the wolf-thing, but still Steve is, surprisingly, more uneasy about this mysterious new figure.

Probably because he had been struck by an almost overwhelming impulse to wrap himself around it and never let go.

“If it was a werewolf…”

“If?!”

“If it was a werewolf,” Steve persists, “it wasn’t like us.”

“Nah, you’re right. That was more of a Lon Chaney 'Wolf Man' werewolf. We’re more like ‘American Werewolf in London’ werewolves.”

“Ah. Sure.”

“Really what we want to be are the wolves from ‘The Howling’. They can stand up, and they're really smart. They're the really scary ones.”

“I’m a hundred percent sure you are too young to have watched these movies.”

“Well, I needed some guide to what being a werewolf was like! My uncle and my cousins were no help at all.” 

“Yeah, why is that? I mean, it’s not like it’s hard to say, ‘oh, by the way, you’re going to get massive headaches the day before a full moon, silver can't kill you, and also you’re definitely going to be more John Landis than Lon Chaney when you turn’.”

“Well, they've got this code thing. My cousin Lucy told me that. Apparently, if you’re a werewolf you don’t marry non-werewolves, and you don't tell anyone human what you are. It’s like the law for werewolves, so that nobody finds out about us. Family and other wolf-packs only... no outsiders allowed.”

“Makes sense, I guess. But you are family, so how come…?” 

Dustin shrugs, looks down. “My dad… I guess he kind of upset everyone in the pack on his way out. Marrying Mom and everything. They don't like that she's human, and that... that Mom and Dad had me. They didn't want to... to talk to me, when I called. My cousins were okay, but my uncle... I can't asked them for help again.”

"You can't call? Like, to ask about the other wolf...?"

You don't have a pack, you half-breed runt... you turn when the moon is full, but that doesn't make you one of us. 

Don't call my house again.

"No," Dustin says. "No. I can't call again."

Steve watches as Dustin, suddenly fascinated by the blurring scenery outside the car window, leans his head against the glass. His breathing is steady, almost unnaturally so, an obviously deliberate attempt to hold onto himself, to keep himself in check. To push the pain of rejection down and pretend that it doesn't matter.

Steve stares out the front window and watches the trees and houses roll past, illuminated by dim streetlamps.

It's late, very late at night. Too late. Or too early, or right on time.

A profound sadness, shaded by guilt and love and anger and determination, lodges in his chest.

“Your dad must have really loved your mom, man,” Steve offers gently.

“Yeah.” A little, reluctant smile spreads across Dustin’s face before fading again. “Gone now, though.”

“Nobody plans on dying, Dustin.”

“I know.”

Dustin looks up suddenly, his gaze intense. He opens his mouth, then closes it again, his eyes raking over Steve, worry scrunching up his face. 

“What?”

Dustin chews on his lip, then shakes his head. “Do you think that thing in the woods will be out on the full moon?”

“What? The wolf-man? Or the Thessel-whatever?”

“Either. Both.”

Steve considers the question. He probably ought to say no. “I don’t know,” he admits. “I guess the wolf guy… if he's some sort of werewolf then yeah, probably. I don’t know what the other thing was, though. I don't know where it came from.”

"You won't go out there again without me," Dustin says. It's almost a demand, but it's just a little too fearful, too desperate. "Don't go out there alone. If something happens..."

"We aren't going anywhere near the west side of the woods," Steve interrupts, voice firm. "I don't know how or where or what those things out there are, but neither of us are going to go looking for trouble, okay? Dustin... I mean it. No more monster-hunting. Night of the full moon... if I need to drive us over to the state park by Beaverdale, I'll do it. Okay?"

Dustin doesn't say anything. He's chewing his lower lip and making that concerned-determined face Steve knows so well. For just a moment Steve wishes he could read minds.

"Dustin!"

Dustin finally looks up.

"I'm sorry about what I said in the woods," Steve says, trying to pour as much of his truth into his words as he can. "About us not being a pack. I was frustrated, and I didn't mean it. I'm not going to let anything bad happen you. You know that, right? I'd never let anything bad happen to you."

Dustin looks at Steve for a long moment before something in Steve's voice - his desperation, his remorse, his resolve - makes his face soften.

"I know that," Dustin says, and Steve is so relieved that he almost misses, a moment later, the younger wolf's quiet, determined: "...me too."

 

 

 

A different car tears down the road in the opposite direction, and a different conversation takes place.

“Please don’t tell him about this.”

“About what?”

Silence fills the car. Billy still needs an answer, though.

Still needs Max to say it.

“About what, Maxine?" he asks when she doesn't answer him immediately. "About you not being able to shift... again? About the fucking octopus in the woods? About your little dweeb friends… your human friends? What exactly do you think Neil might take the most issue with?”

“All of it,” Max croaks. “Please. Billy, please.”

"Did you tell your little buddies about us?"

"What?"

"Did... you... tell... them...?" Billy repeats, enunciating every word.

"No," Max snaps. "No, I didn't tell the others about us." She looks like she's about to say something else, but then she snaps her mouth shut, chews on her lower lip and follows up with a weak shrug. "They were a little bit more worried about the nightmare-monster in the woods."

Good. That's good. Secrecy is everything, and if those loud-mouthed children haven't figured out about the Hargrove family curse than Billy can maybe salvage this situation.

Of course, Billy wouldn’t exactly be free and clear either if Neil knew about tonight's clusterfuck. He was supposed to show Max how to change, teach her how to unleash her wolf… he was supposed to mentor with her. Brother-sister time. Instead, he shows his beta form to a bunch of scared infants, beats up his new-turned mate, and nearly gets wiped out by a Lovecraftian nightmare in the process.

Still, he can avoid the lion’s share of punishment and pain if he throws Max under the bus. She’s the one with the most to lose here – she’s made friends with humans, and she's also failed yet again to become the wolf her purebred background is supposed to make her.

All the trouble she’s caused and the bitch still can’t shift, Billy thinks grimly. Would be a kicker if all her fears came true and she really was just... human.

Billy's mind turns to Steve. Steve, Steve, ordinary Steve, the boy he can't shake, the guy he can't get out of his head (heart).

Fragile yet determined, stupid and naive and walking tall and straight like some kind of white knight, standing like a wall between Billy and his prey.

Looking up at Billy with a bloodied lip and a terrible question in his eyes.

Billy suddenly feels very, very tired.

“Okay," he says, finally. "Here’s what happened. I took you out to practice shifting, but there was a boy scout troop in the woods. We couldn’t get a good space to shift without being seen. You were so fucking disappointed that we couldn’t play werewolves...,” the sarcasm in Billy’s voice oozes like a slime clinging horribly to Max’s skin, “... that I let you play at the arcade for a few hours and then took you for pizza. Because I’m just that nice.”

Max clearly wants to say something but she wisely thinks better of it, and in the silence that last word, still dripping with sarcastic anger, hangs heavy and ugly between them.

Billy watches the night sky stretching out ahead of them, but all he sees are wide, brown eyes drifting shut, and all he can hear in his head is a pained moan echoing in harmony with his own bitter joke - I'm just that nice...

It hits him then, all the horror of the night.

All that has happened. 

And Steve.

Steve.

What the fuck have I done?

Chapter Text

Steve shudders under his blankets, his arms wrapped around the Dustin-burrito on the couch next to him. 

It's noon on the day of the full moon, and Steve wants to die.

He'd had the best of intentions. He’d pretty much decided that he was going to drive Dustin to the next town over. They could go to the state park there and shift in peace, without worrying about running into any monsters in the woods.

But this morning, waking up in an empty house (his parents were away again, thank goodness, on a week-long holiday) with what felt like a swarm of live bees in his brain, he'd realized he wasn’t going anywhere. 

He’d almost crashed the car driving to pick up Dustin, who apparently had a similar idea but who had only made it about a quarter of the way from his home to Steve’s house before he’d decided to steer his bike into a ditch and stay there, crying and in pain. 

The desperate impulse to be together was overwhelming, as was the gnawing ache in their bodies.

“Why...?” Steve had moaned as he carefully maneuvered his car back into his driveway.

“Don’t know,” Dustin said from where he'd curled up in the passengers seat. “It’s always been like this, every time.”

Two down, Steve thought blearily. Only the rest of your life to go...

At least Steve's bruises from his altercation with Billy had faded quickly, thank God. The day after the fight they'd looked about a week old, and Steve's breathing, painful and ragged after the kicks to his chest, had grown less labored. Two days later he'd seemed almost completely better.

"It makes sense, actually," Nancy said when he showed her his wounds in the library the next day. 

"I'm a teenage werewolf, Nance. Nothing about this makes sense."

"Sure it does." She gently turned his chin with careful fingers so she could see better. "You're a supernatural creature now. Accelerated healing isn't the weirdest thing that could happen. And there are two of you... you and the wolf. Twice the healing power. Which is not an invitation to get into fights, by the way."

Nancy had given him a very severe look then. If Hargrove had run into her instead of Steve that night, the whole incident probably would have ended very differently, and not in Billy's favor.

Steve had been forced to tell her what had happened. When he’d walked into school the next day Hargrove had glared at him like he was the most fascinating thing on the planet, and Nancy had obviously noticed.

The upshot was, mercifully, that she and Jonathan had stuck with Steve like glue for the rest of the week and had thus forced Billy to keep his distance. Steve avoided him, too, nervously sweating bullets the whole time. If Hargrove got close enough to see how quickly Steve had healed, he'd really be in the shit. He had no plausible alternative explanation for werewolf healing magic, and he didn't feel like having to defend his new freak status to the boy who'd just beaten his ass into the ground.

It hadn't come to that. Steve had powered through school and basketball practice and Billy had kept his ribbing to a minimum, seeming almost distracted now, like his heart wasn't in it anymore.

He'd given Steve a long, inscrutable look that had almost carried shades of... satisfaction. Could that be right? Either way, that was as far as it went.

In spite of this relatively pleasant turn of events, the few days following the Party's nocturnal excursion had not been illuminating.

Max Hargrove had avoided the boys and, when she was cornered by Lucas in the arcade, insisted that she knew nothing about the werewolf in the woods. She'd apparently been exploring her new home, gotten lost in the forest, and stumbled upon the Party and the Thesselhydra by accident.

"I won't tell... about... you know..."

Standing in the backroom at the arcade, with thin light streaming through dirty windows and the sounds of mechanical beeps and whistles echoing through the door behind them, Max had waved her hands in a way that Lucas had taken to mean 'everything'.

"But I want you to stay away from me from now on," she added. "I mean it. I don't want to be involved in... whatever."

"Did you believe her?" Mike had asked afterwards. Lucas shrugged.

"She seemed pretty freaked out. I don't know if it's because she thinks we're crazy or because she thinks we're serious."

"This is becoming the worst kept secret in Hawkins," Steve groaned when Dustin relayed Lucas's report to him later. "We might as well post it on the movie marquee."

"Given the unexpectedly high number of monsters in Hawkins that might not be such a bad idea," Dustin responded wryly. 

Whatever.

The point was, they had no new information on either the Thesselhydra or the wolf-man. The Party was on the case, having checked out the maximum limit of both books from the library and VHS tapes from the video rental store, but for now there was nothing that could help the two werewolves. Steve and Dustin would just have to wing it tonight, go into a far corner of the woods and try to avoid any trouble. 

Steve could spit in impotent rage at his own inadequacy, his pathetic inability to help himself and Dustin... but there was nothing he could do. 

Not to mention he still felt generally rotten.

God, this miserable, fucking wolfy flu…

“This is so much better,” Dustin says quietly from where he's bundled up in blankets, his glazed eyes fixed on the TV.

“What?”

“This is so much better than doing this alone.”

Steve is confused. Nothing about this feels better. His skin, his muscles, his bones all ache, and the wolf inside of him is rolling around, desperate to get out.

He's wrapped Dustin in blankets and fed him and is holding him now as they watch movies, but really that isn't so much in the grand scheme of  things. He can't fix this. He still feels horrible and he knows Dustin does too. Another wave of self-directed frustration hits him and he grunts noncommittally.

“Hmm.”

“It’s not…” Dustin stutters suddenly, trying to explain. “It’s not like a ‘I’m happy because you’re miserable’ thing. I’m still really sorry about… everything.”

“Hey… hey, none of that.” Steve wonders if Dustin will ever forgive himself for this. "I wasn't thinking that at all. And that wasn't your fault. I'm sorry... I should have been looking out for you more. Before and after. We're okay, buddy. Don't worry about that."

Dustin deflates after a moment and Steve tugs him closer, trying to push his own forgiveness into him through the blankets. 

“But, I mean...,” Dustin continues, “I genuinely feel better. Before, I could barely move or talk for almost two days before a full moon. It was all I could do to crawl to the bathroom. Now I can talk, and eat, and watch TV. I almost feel like I could sit through school.”

“Ugh, don’t say that. We’re not going to school.”

“No, I know. But before I felt so… like when you’ve got a stomach bug and can’t stop throwing up and you feel sick, but also out of control. Like, the out of control bit is worse… you can’t stop being sick, you can’t breathe. Now it feels like I’m tied down…”

“Tied down?”

“Not… not in a bad way. Like, anchored, I guess. You know? Or like I’m standing on solid ground. Just... you're here. It helps.”

Steve thinks about it.

He remembers the first night.

There was the pain.

Excruciating, unimaginable, beyond any kind of conception.

Then the moon.

Clear, cold… a focal point. The face of God.

Then Dustin.

His pup, his pack.

He loosens his mental death-grip and lets the wolf within creep forward, pushing on the boundaries of his consciousness.

He closes his eyes. He feels the tug. In his mind's eye it looks like a golden thread.

A bond between him and Dustin.

Subtle, but profound. Inescapably there.

And with it, stability.

“Yeah, buddy," Steve says. "I know what you mean. I’m glad.”

And he is. Maybe it's not much, but if he can give that to Dustin, he's glad.

But there’s something else that’s been bothering Steve.

“I’m sorry you had to go through that stuff alone, though. I wish you could have told me.”

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t…”

“No, I know, man. I didn’t mean it like that, I don’t mean you were wrong. I understand. You were trying to protect everyone. I just wish I could have helped you sooner. I wish you didn’t have to be brave.”

The teenager on the TV is getting shredded by Freddy Kruger, and for a little while screams drown out conversation. If Steve hears a little sniffle and feels a tremor, like maybe the child in his arms is crying, he just hugs him closer and doesn’t say anything about it.

They sit and wait all day. They don't talk much... they just exist, riding out wave after wave of rawness and pain and anxiety.

Then, at 3:47 in the afternoon, the doorbell rings. Steve isn't expecting any visitors but he goes to open the door anyway.

The Party is outside, a silent pack of children carrying backpacks and sleeping bags. They stand there and look up at Steve with wide eyes and determined faces. 

Steve lets them in, mostly because he doesn't know what else to do with them, and the kids troop into the living room to find Dustin is still curled up on the couch. 

They look at him for a moment, and he looks back. It's a little awkward, like the kids aren't really sure if they should go to him or not, like they don't know if he'd be okay with that. It's the kind of stand-off that you see sometimes when people go to visit family members in the hospital.

"Hi guys," Dustin finally croaks. That seems to break the spell.

Steve stands and watches as Will puts a plate of homemade cookies from Joyce on the coffee table and sits next to Dustin. Lucas takes out a pile of rented VHS tapes from his bag and starts stacking them, verbally running through the list of titles so that Dustin knows what they brought. Mike and Eleven sit on the floor by Dustin's legs, and Mike unrolls and arranges the sleeping bags while Eleven reaches up and pats Dustin's knee. One of Dustin's hands snakes out from under the blanket, catches her fingers, and gives them a gentle squeeze.

After a moment, when the kids have settled and their attention is more or less fixed on the bloody viscera on the TV, Steve moves back to the sofa. They've left a space for him at the end. Eleven watches him, and she gives him one of her small smiles when he takes his assigned place.

He reaches over and touches Dustin's shoulder gently, an anchoring gesture. Dustin seems to have melted into the couch, soothed by the thrumming feeling of safety and peace and friends.

Pack, Steve's wolf purrs, and as Steve sits there he starts to feel his own nausea and pain fade a little.

"So much better," he murmurs to himself, and closes his eyes.

 

 

 

The Hargrove family gathers in the woods.

Billy can feel the lingering echoes of his usual pre-shift headache fade away as he walks towards the clearing, to the spot Neil had selected for their monthly pack-bonding bullshit. It's not very bad, the pain, but then again Billy has always had reasonably strong pack bonds to support him. Less so now since they've left California... all his friends, all the wolves he'd grown up with are so far away. They've probably forgotten about him, just as he is trying (and failing) to forget about them.

Now there is just Neil and Susan and Max, and Max has never yet been able to shift into her werewolf form.

Neil was reasonably certain that tonight would be the night of Max's first shift. Billy had to reluctantly admire the blind faith with which Neil made these assumptions, and the unabashed confidence with which he announced them. As if, as Max suggested, merely wanting it badly enough would make it so.

What if I'm not a werewolf?

That possibility had honestly not occurred to Billy before Max suggested it, but now it niggles at him, a persistent itch. It could happen. It's not usual, but it's also not unheard of for the curse to skip a generation.

It doesn't matter, Billy thinks, careful to keep his face passive as the Hargrove family prepares for the full moon. He tugs off his shirt and kicks off his shoes, and glances up at the rapidly falling darkness, at the light breeze rustling the leaves. 

I just need to stay smart and quiet... and be ready to snatch up Steve in a hurry and run if trouble comes. 

Priorities. Me and mine. Everything else can burn.

The Hargrove clan stands in a circle - Neil's idea - and all eyes shift to the Alpha. Neil gives some speech, recites the same drivel he says every time. Empty words about the moon and the importance of pack... referring obliquely, but unmistakably, to his own authority and the loyalty of his family. To the power he leeches off of them and their shared bond. The lopsided exchange. 

Billy doesn't pay much attention. He is wondering where his mate is tonight, and if he will be able to feel, when he shifts, a golden thread of light tethering him to the lovely, bruised brunette. 

He's going to find him tonight. Steve. If he ends up running halfway across the state, Billy is going to find him.

He's going to reveal himself to Steve, and he's going to take the first steps towards making him his.

The night falls, and the moon starts to rise.

Billy feels the old familiar tug. He controls the wolf every other day of the lunar cycle, but on the nights of the full moon the wolf takes the wheel and the rest is out of his hands. In a weird way, he likes it. There's a freedom in the loss of control.

It is still painful, the shift, but Billy has learned over the years to ride the pain like a wave, to let it bring things into focus instead of sending him into a panic. It is over quickly enough, and then it's time to go.

He is the wolf now. The driving impulse to find Steve is there, but Billy allows himself a moment to glance over at Max.

She stands there still, her body very much human, her face an unreadable mask.

Neil wants him to stick around so they can run together as a pack, but this is a perfect distraction and Billy is happy to take full advantage. Neil and Susan sniff around Max and Billy knows that her failure to shift will occupy them for a little while. 

Long enough for him to slip away into the night. 

 

 

 

By mutual agreement, and to prevent any unwanted accidents, the Party marches upstairs and locks themselves in Steve's bedroom once it starts to get dark. They prop open the back door, just like last time, and leave the two boys to it. 

Steve is very grateful. He can’t handle any more baby wolves and accidental bites. He also doesn't want the kids to see this, and he'd rather not do this in front of anyone else.

He thinks maybe shifting hurts a little less this time, but that's probably just wishful thinking. He doubts very much that he'll ever get fully used to it - to hearing, seeing, and feeling his bones break and his skin rip.

Regardless, soon enough he is out in the woods, lovely, dark, and deep, with Dustin a few feet ahead sniffing eagerly at the underbrush.

Steve feels a bit more aware than he was last time. His human mind is still very much in the background, but it also absorbs and processes what the wolf is seeing and feeling, and he has more control than he did before. His old anxieties are still there and he knows to sniff the air... he recognizes the faintest threads of the Thesselhydra's dried blood smell.

Dustin notices it too and throws Steve a look. Steve reads it easily, even though Dustin's face is now covered in fur. It is still a very 'Dustin' kind of look.

What would normally come through in Steve's head as 'We're not going to go looking for trouble'  is translated through Steve's wolf mind as 'enemy enemy fight no protect yes pack safe pup protect fight no protect'.

Steve gives Dustin a look and a low growl that apparently translates all those words in a way that Dustin can understand, and Dustin makes a head motion that Steve takes as an agreement.

Somewhere in the smoky blur of his subconscious, Steve appreciates his newfound abilities and feels a wry fascination regarding the nuances of wolf-speak.

The two wolves take off at a quick pace in the woods, stretching their legs and their snouts as they skirt away from any direction where the Thesselhydra scent is stronger. Soon they are deep enough in the woods that it is nearly completely gone. 

It is very difficult for human beings to fully appreciate the sublime pleasure of running through the woods as a werewolf under a full moon. Perhaps the best way to experience an equivalent sensation is to spend a month wearing a blindfold and sitting in a very small box, and then, for one glorious night, take off the blindfold and step out of the box and tumble head first into the velvet darkness, into a landscape that almost vibrates with the sheer magnitude of all its unique sights and sounds and smells.

Even born wolves and those capable of changing between human and wolf forms at will feel this sense of perfect release on nights of the full moon.

Hawkins Woods teams with life, with animals and bugs and birds. Raccoons scurry up trees and an owl hoots in the distance. Steve swears he can even hear the trees groaning and growing, can feel the mushrooms consume rotting wood, turning death into new life. 

There is a rustling and Dustin and Steve both snap to attention. A fox darts out, looks at them, and then takes off in the opposite direction. 

Dustin looks at Steve.

Can I should I play please???

Steve huffs and sticks his nose against Dustin's neck, inhaling his scent and letting Dustin do the same.

Go run have fun I'll find you you'll find me we'll sniff each other out my pup my pack go learn go grow have fun go run.

Dustin yips in excitement and takes off after the fox, and, if anyone in the woods could have seen and recognized a smile at that moment, they might have seen something like one spreading across Steve's wolf-face.

It's nice, too, because now Steve gets to set out on his own. He lets out a happy bark and races into the darkness. He runs in random directions, letting his unspoken instincts guide him to trees, to puddles, to clearings, to other animals. He snaps playfully at a possum as it crosses his path, but he doesn't bother slowing down to catch it. He's having to much fun running to hunt anything seriously.

He is enjoying the sensation of the leaves beneath his feet, of the cool soft light of the moon in his eyes, of the spicy richness of the night air...

And something else now... a particular scent riding on the wind.

Familiar, yet nothing Steve had smelled before when in his wolf form.

He pauses in his movements, slowing his running strides into a slow trot, and sniffs the air. 

Enemy?

Stranger.

Not stranger. 

Not pack.

Maybe pack?

The caution that human-Steve might normally show does not exist to nearly the same extent in Steve-the-wolf. He follows the scent along the woodland paths and, as he does so, he has the strangest feeling that the source of the scent is following him, too... that two threads are being pulled together by something much larger than them both. He pursues it, no sense of doubt or fear in his mind.

When he enters the clearing, his breath leaves him.

A wolf stands on the far side. It looks at him calmly, as if it had been waiting for him all this time.

Steve is not nearly so tranquil.

Enemy no stranger no pack no...

Strange thing wild thing beautiful beautiful beautiful...

He takes a few cautious steps forward, canters a little to the side, but mostly just watches the other wolf in fascination. Yeah, that's it... fascination. Steve is trapped, drawn in by the other wolf and trapped in its gaze. He can't tear his eyes away from the thing in front of him, standing tall and proud and... there.

Steve watches the wolf. It is a familiar-strange thing, this creature. It is sleek and broad, with light blonde fur on its back and white fur on its belly. It seems strong, powerful... Steve can sense all these wonderful, attractive qualities. Its eyes, bright blue threaded with gold and shining and flashing in the moonlight, latch onto Steve's and match his own stare.

The other wolf takes a step to the side... two steps, three steps... 

Steve does not feel threatened... the wolf is not aggressive so much as it is evaluating, and Steve imagines the expression on his own face is similar.

There are no words, suddenly, no overwhelming thoughts. No doubts, and no actions that need to be taken. The sensation overwhelming Steve now is rather like tipping backwards into a pool. Steve just goes with it, just falls and lets the steady rush of his emotions take over.

He pads forward, unafraid, pausing only for a moment when he gets about a foot and a half away from the strange wolf. When the blonde doesn't growl or lash out at him, Steve leans forward and sniffs. Then he takes another step forward and allows the tip of his nose to brush against the other wolf's cheek.

The hint of a scent turns into a gushing waterfall. 

It should be a surprise, but it isn't. The smell ignites a spark, like a match being struck, that spreads through Steve and electrifies him instantly. 

No shock, no fear, no pain.

Just home. Just the smell... the feeling of home.

A profound recognition. An instant trust.

It isn't until Steve feels a little nip on his shoulder that he realizes he has buried his face in the fur of the other creature's neck and is inhaling deeply, drinking him in. He lets out a soft whine when the strange wolf pulls away a little.

Mate...

The word drift lazily across his brain, so right... so right that it would never even occur to Steve to question it. A simple word, a simple concept... primal, primitive, profound. It sinks into his bones and remakes him, gives him a new identity. 

Mate.

The wolf shifts away again and Steve makes a quiet noise. The other wolf huffs and roughly nuzzles Steve's nose for just a second - a small gesture of reassurance - before pacing slowly around him, looking him up and down. Steve lets him, watches as the wolf looks his fill. He takes the opportunity to soak up the tantalizing scent, rich and complex and constantly changing, like a living thing. 

The other wolf seems satisfied. Steve can read it in his face. Steve yips happily and nuzzles the wolf again, and the wolf lets out a playful growl and tackles him to the ground. They roll in the leaves, stand and sniff each other, nip and jump and tackle each other again. A playful process of developing familiarity. 

There is a howl in the distance.

Steve tenses immediately. He listens as the howl repeats itself. It is not Dustin... it's some stranger. Some stranger in his territory.

He growls lowly, but the other wolf doesn't seem concerned. He laps and nuzzles Steve's nose soothingly, and then darts across the clearing. He turns and waits for Steve to follow.

Steve hesitates. That howl... he should check it out.

Stranger. Intruder. Threat. 

He should find Dustin, too. What if... 

He feels light nip at his ear and turns to see that the wolf is back and pressing up against him again. He meets the wolf's eyes, bright blue in the moonlight, and he could almost swear that the other animal is laughing at him.

In that moment, he feels something... something much, much deeper than attraction or affection. He feels a thrum, like another heartbeat, a steady rhythm that is solid, separate, its own entity, but is still a part of you. A second self under your skin. 

Mate.

Steve melts a little, forgets about the strange howling in the woods, and nuzzles the other wolf back. He swears he can hear a low hum, like a purring sound, emanating from his new friend.

This time, when the blonde wolf turns, Steve follows. Together they run off into the night.

 

 

 

Steve wakes up shivering in a pile of leaves.

Birds chirp loudly as the pale gray light of the morning starts creeping through the woods. The night is over and Steve Harrington has survived his second full moon as a werewolf.

This is fine.

Waking up like this is disconcerting, but not wholly unexpected. 

As Steve drifts back into consciousness he forces himself to go slowly.

He remembers who he is. He remembers what he is.

He is a werewolf, he is in the woods, and he's okay.

'Okay' is a relative term.

He is mostly okay.

That's all well and good, but as he comes back to himself Steve is suddenly aware that he is laying on his side and that only his front is cold. His back is strangely warm. Warm, and pressed against something solid.

Something... very solid. 

Something that is breathing on his neck and that might be poking him in the back a little.

Despite his initial impulse to stand and shout and run, to react in all the ways he believes he is supposed to, Steve forces himself to remain still and to remember. He is trying to work on his knee-jerk reactions... or more specifically on not letting those reactions govern his choices. This is no easy thing to do... his feelings of anxiety are very strong, and the pictures in his memory are blurred as though he's trying to read through someone else's glasses.

He breathes in and out, and after a moment sees what he needs to see.

The wolf. The other wolf.

A werewolf. The only thing it could be.

The wolf with whom Steve had felt an instant connection.

It's a guy, we're both sleeping together naked, and his morning wood is pressed against my back.

An alarming thought, but to his credit Steve does not bolt. Instead, he shifts slightly and notices, suddenly, that a long arm is draped over his middle, holding him in an embrace.

He very nearly throws it off, but...

He finds, to his great surprise, that he doesn't mind the arm. He doesn't mind the heat on his back. He doesn't even mind the penis resting against the top of his buttocks. 

So what? You're gay now?

Guess I am, Steve thinks. Maybe it's not logical, but this feels... right. Comfortable. Weirdly non-threatening. He's willing to put his usual neurosis aside if it means he can keep this warm, safe feeling for a little longer. 

They ran for so long last night. So long and so far. Steve had seen things and felt things as a wolf... things beyond his wildest dreams. The night lived and breathed for him, and loved him for being a creature of the night.

The beauty of the wolf who went with him into the darkness was a part of that magic.

A piece of his soul that had been missing.

He presses back against the body behind him and lets his eyes drift closed.

His movements have caused the strange werewolf to stir. A small smile tugs at the corners of Steve's mouth as he feels the arm around him tighten and a pair soft lips press against the spot of tender skin just under his ear.

"Morning, sweetheart."

Steve's eyes snap open, and just like that the bottom falls out of his beautiful fantasy.

That voice...

He knows that voice...

Oh FUCK!

Steve moves now, not bothering to curb his first impulse, his instinctual reaction. He scrambles away, away... up and away.

Billy Hargrove stretches lazily on the ground next to him.

“Why so eager to go, sunshine?” he smirks.

“Hargrove, Jesus!”

“Just Hargrove, actually. But for you, baby, it’s Billy.”

Steve glances down and takes in the rapidly healing but still noticeable scratches running up and down his arms and across his shoulders, souvenirs from play-fighting and running and what could only be described as... as...

Foreplay.

Steve feels wretchedly off-balance. The wolf in him, under the surface but still terrifyingly present, still pacing and alert, thrums with tension, with nerves and excitement and pleasure.

Pleasure? 

Mine, the wolf purrs.

Oh, Steve is gonna have to lock that shit down right fucking now.

But everything is connecting now, too fast for Steve to easily process.

“You’re a… a… you were out last night...”

Everything slots into perfect, horrific place. Things that Steve suspected but didn't want to admit, didn't want to know.

“Fuck," he whispers. "You’re it…you’re him. The wolf-man. The one who... in the woods, that night.”

“I’m a werewolf, baby," Billy says. His arrogant smirk slips just a little, so quickly that Steve barely has time to register it. "Just like you.”

Steve is having a heart attack.

Oh hell.

“Stay away from me, asshole,” he croaks out, finally. “You hear me? Stay away.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry, babe," the smirk is completely gone now. "Can’t do that. What do you know about werewolf mates, Steve?”

“Go fuck yourself, psycho!” Steve yells. It’s the only possible response he can come up with, but what it lacks in tact it more than makes up for in emphasis.

“Don’t be coy. Last night…”

“Nothing happened last night!” Steve is edging towards the hysterical now. “I remember it. I remember it all, asshole! We didn’t do anything!”

Billy, that shithead, widens his eyes and drops his mouth in a mockery of shock.

“Are you talking about fucking, Steven?” he purrs. “Are you suggesting that your virtue is at risk, princess?”

Steve doesn’t dignify that with a response. Instead, he turns and tries to hide his nakedness, tries to figure out where they are in relation to his house, to his clothes, to his bed. Fuck, he’s miles away from home…

Billy watches Steve stumble around in a panic. Steve’s nakedness is nothing Billy hasn’t seen before in the gym showers after basketball practice, but it’s different now that the other boy’s body is in the open air, covered with leaves and mud and the scent of Billy.

It’s different now that they’ve shared a shift, have run together, gotten lost in the woods together.

It annoys Billy that Steve is now trying to deny him, is fumbling and trying to cover himself and trying to hide. He doesn't like it. Steve’s right, they haven’t actually fucked, but what they shared was no less profound. They’ve shared the night, and the shift, and they’ve connected as wolf-mates.

It means something. It means everything.

Billy plasters the lusty-confident grin back on his face but his heart isn't quite in it. Something about Steve's stress, his vulnerability, is unnerving.

He's torn between wanting to stretch Steve under him so he can look his fill and wanting to wrap Steve in a blanket so that he's safe.

Anything... anything as long as that scent of anxiety and shame goes away.

“We did plenty last night, baby," Billy keeps his voice deliberately casual and as non-threatening as he can manage. He pulls himself up into a sitting position. "We ran, we hunted, we howled... we curled up together under the stars. It was beautiful. You loved it. So what gives, princess? Where’s the fire?” 

“Shut up.”

“Seriously, it’s Saturday. You've got nowhere you need to be. Just relax. Let’s talk…”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” Steve throws him a derisive glare. “I need to find my friends, I need to get out of these woods, and I would very much like to get away from you!”

“I thought last night was pretty nice.”

“You’re a lunatic who beat me up,” Steve snaps back. “I don’t want to spend any more time…”

“You’re still bitching about that?”

“YES!”

Billy grits his teeth. He wishes he could go back... he'd thought he was playing it cool all week, but now he wishes they'd hashed this out earlier, before the full moon. Stupid. The fact that Steve has a legitimate grievance is a not insignificant roadblock here.

It's very annoying for Billy. It's one thing to know that you're wrong, but it's quite another thing to be told by someone else that you're wrong... and it is certainly something else entirely to need to fix a situation that you have personally, profoundly fucked up.

Billy deals with it in his usual way. He stretches, shrugs, and climbs to his feet.

“Shouldn’t have lied to me, then,” he says. "That night was on you."

Steve’s mouth opens and closes, then opens again. All he can muster is a dry, high-pitched noise of barely contained outrage.

Also, Billy is standing up now and Steve is having to work very hard not to look at him. And... there's a lot to look at. Or to avoid looking at, as it were.

Billy is more than willing to take advantage of Steve's temporary uncertainty.

“Law of the jungle, Steve,” Billy cracks a joint in his shoulder and runs his fingers through his hair, yawning (faking casual, but in truth every muscle in his body is screaming at him to fucking control and claim that defiant little shit…). “You don’t piss off a predator. Not one that’s faster and stronger than you.”

“Jesus, you really never do shut up, do you?” Steve glances over Billy's shoulder, his jaw ticking. "You're not a lion, man, and this isn't the jungle. You're a psychopath who started kicking the shit out of me for no reason. And... you know what? You're even more of a douche-bag now. You of all people should have understood how it was that night... that I..."

"What I understood was that you were keeping my stepsister in that shack in the woods."

"I wasn't..."

"It was a challenge, sweetheart. Wolf to wolf. You've been challenging me ever since I moved here, ever since the Halloween party..."

"I have not..."

"...And I've answered the challenge. Just like a true wolf should. You wouldn't like me half as much... hell, you wouldn't even have noticed me if I hadn't."

Steve is forced to acknowledge that this is probably true... however, the thought does not comfort him. He looks like he is going to try to edge his way around Billy and flee. Billy can see it in his face and honestly, he’s not sure why Steve is being so difficult.

“What about last night, sweetheart?” Billy asks, taking a step to the right and cutting off Steve’s escape route.

“Nothing happened last night.”

“Don’t lie to me again," he says sharply. "You’re my mate, Harrington. I know you felt it.”

“What?!”

“That rush, that feeling of euphoria? That’s a bond, babe. You and me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Steve lies.

"What did I just say?" Billy snarls. "Stop pretending like you didn't feel it, like you haven't felt it all along. You didn't understand it at first... fair enough, that's fine. When we first met, and later at basketball practice... I get it. But you need to accept this now. We're werewolves, and we have a bond. We're... we're together now. It's you and me."

Steve sucks in a breath. "I..." he trails off.

He had felt it, is the thing. A bond. A sense of belonging. He'd felt the breathtaking clarity of it last night. He thinks about that feeling he'd had when he walked out to meet Billy outside the Byers' house a week ago. That wave of expectation. Of... want. He recognizes it now as want. Maybe even as need. The promise and potential of Billy Hargrove.

And then Billy had knocked him to the ground.

His wolf scratches anxiously at his rib cage, but it doesn't object when Steve wraps his arms around himself and takes a step back from Billy.

Billy might have been trying to get Steve's attention all this time, and sure, maybe Steve felt some... some attraction. Hell, maybe they even had a bond, a kindred spirit type-thing. Steve could feel that... rather strongly in fact. His connection with Billy is, remarkably, worryingly, as strong as his link with Dustin. Steve might be a piss-poor excuse for a werewolf, but even he can sense that. So, that’s something.

But Billy had still hurt Steve.

Billy is still frightening in so many ways.

The wolf inside of him is watchful, wary. It wants Billy, but it doesn't push. 

It recognizes that Steve... just... can't.

"I don't want a bond with you," Steve says finally, his voice soft and quiet like a wayward child's, his insides aching like a raw wound.

That tears it.

It's all Billy can do not to snarl.

As if this is some kind of choice.

As if anything in Billy's life is about choice.

"Well, princess," Billy snaps, clearly enunciating each word. "It doesn't really matter what you want. I appreciate you playing hard to get, but what you want isn't a factor."

Billy takes a step forward and crowds Steve, feels Steve shudder and cringe at his own vulnerability.

He curses the stupidity of bitten wolves... curses his own luck at having a beautiful, sweet, brave mate who just doesn't fucking understand.

“You’ll bend for me, sweetheart. You’re mine,” Billy growls. He doesn't know how many different ways he can say it, so he gives up trying to say it nicely. “You're mine. Mine to fuck, mine to hurt, mine to protect, mine to breed. Mine and only mine. My mate.”

Steve shoves him away and throws a punch. It lands on Billy’s jaw, but Billy knows how to take a hit. He bounces back almost instantly, and when he does he’s laughing, gleeful. He's finally, finally gotten Steve's attention, and Steve isn't disappointing him.

He's deeply pleased that his mate is strong, is fierce, is flirting with him.

Oh, how he loves a good chase…

“No, Billy, no!” Steve cries as Billy tackles him to the dirt. “Argh!”

Billy nips at his throat, buries his face in his neck and scents him aggressively. The whole forest, the whole town will know and understand that Steve belongs to him.

He gives in to temptation and licks Steve’s neck, drags his tongue up in a long, deliberate line from his Adam’s apple to his ear.

He tastes him with his human tongue. His mate.

“Get OFF me! Get off!”

Billy presses down against Steve’s exposed cock, willing it to harden, to match his own desire.

The truth is out now. The truth will set Billy free.

The truth.

Steve belongs to him. That fire and beauty and courage is his, all his, only his. Nobody, not Neil, not Nancy Wheeler (oh yes, he's talked to Tommy, he knows all about Wheeler)… nobody will take Steve away.

He’ll burn the entire world to the ground if it means keeping Steve.

He's seen Steve's wolf and heard his howl and grown drunk on his scent... he's seen what they can be together, now.

Together they’ll run through the moonlit night. Together they’ll reach new heights of raw ecstasy in each other’s arms. Together they’ll make a pack, a beautiful, strong pack, feared and respected throughout the territory.

Billy presses himself against pale, cold, lovely skin.

And then Steve’s arms are up.

Steve's arms are up, and he’s pushing Billy away.

“Stop! Billy, stop, get off…”

Billy huffs, pulls back a bit, and glares down.

His wolf is irritated, doesn’t understand.

This is playing, surely? Steve can’t be serious right now? Honestly, there’s flirting and then there’s overkill…

But there are tears threatening to spill over in Steve’s eyes and his breaths are coming in short panicked bursts and he’s still struggling, still pushing, still fighting.

This isn’t right…

Billy lets the wolf reach out and probe their fledgling bond.

Steve isn’t happy. Steve is distressed.

His mate is distressed.

Angry.

Terrified.

That isn’t right, that can’t be…

“Steve!”

Billy hears a noise and pulls back further, growling, ready to fight. He can feel Steve’s fear spiking and it does something to him on a primal level.

That kid with the hat, the baby-wolf, Steve’s shadow... he’s running through the forest looking for them, barging through the woods like an elephant. Others follow him at a slightly slower pace… other children. Wheeler’s brother, and Maxine’s little buddy, and the youngest Byers boy, and a kid with a shaved head whose strange scent he can’t place.

Steve’s panic is dialed up to eleven. Billy can sense it. He looks down and sees Steve’s mouth drop open, and then sees him pause.

Steve can’t decide whether to call out for his friends or not… he wants help, he wants his sad excuse for a pack to come and save him, but he doesn’t want to put his pups in danger.

Billy can see the thoughts playing across his mate’s face.

Steve wants help… he doesn’t want this, he wants to get away, he doesn’t want you, he doesn’t want this…

Steve is afraid… he’s afraid you’ll hurt the pups, he’s willing to sacrifice himself for the pups, he thinks you’re a threat, he thinks they’ll be in danger if…

This is wrong.

This is so wrong.

Billy is everything a werewolf should be. He’s fierce, he’s strong, he’s clever, he’s powerful. He’ll be the Alpha of the pack once he digs himself out from under his father's shadow. Any wolf would kill to be mated to him, to be chosen by a leader, a provider, a hunter… by the most dangerous predator around.

He's everything he should be. All this… and Steve doesn’t want any of it.

Steve doesn’t want him near children.

Steve doesn’t want him.

“Steve?!” The kids are further away now. They haven’t seen Billy and Steve in the underbrush. They’re going to go right past them unless Steve calls out…

Steve sucks in a long breath and clamps his mouth shut, silent tears finally spilling down his cheeks, his decision made.

Sacrifice.

His eyes flick up to Billy’s and Billy knows what Steve sees.

Monster.

Both boys are frozen place. Billy on top, looking down, arms braced on either side of Steve’s head, dominating. Steve beneath him, looking up, hands clenched protectively against his own chest, submitting… but not willingly.

In the quiet, Steve’s breaths even out, sync up with Billy’s. They look at each other, predator and prey… but suddenly Billy isn’t quite sure which is which.

He leans back, throws a sideways glance towards the direction where the kids were headed, and then looks back down at Steve.

Steve is watchful, wary, waiting.

What a strange wolf he is.

In one fluid movement, Billy is back on his feet. He takes one step back, away from Steve, and then another.

He wants to shove his hands in his pockets and pull out his smokes, but he's still naked. His pants and his Marlboros are far away.

He's naked and for the first time in a long time he feels like he has been found wanting... not in his body, but in his soul.

Steve stays on the ground. Billy doesn’t try to help him up.

Instead he turns back towards the road and his clothes and his car and starts walking.

He has a few things to think about.

Chapter Text

“What do I do now?” 

“Okay... put your hand on it… right there. Great. Now, you’re going to pull it gently… don’t yank it!”

“Sorry! Sorry.”

“It’s okay, just… you may need to give it a little wiggle."

"Like this?"

"Yeah, that’s…that’s good. Good. Okay now, just slide it into…”

There’s a sudden knocking sound, and then a voice.

“What are you two doing?” Mike asks.

Nancy’s head turns quickly, her ponytail snapping to the side. She sees her brother’s bemused face and gives him a quick grin.

“Jonathan is teaching me how to drive,” she tells Mike, rolling down the driver’s side window of Jonathan’s rusty old clunker so he can hear her better, her right hand still resting on the gear shift.

“Damn thing keeps sticking,” Jonathan grumbles from the passenger's seat. “Nance… Nancy… we’re moving. We’re in neutral… Nancy, put it in park!”

Mike takes a step back from where he was leaning forward to talk to his sister and watches with mild interest as the car drifts lazily a few feet across the empty school parking lot. After a moment Nancy manages to force the gear back into place. The car makes a weird grinding noise in protest but does finally come to a stop.

"Going well?" he asks.

"I'm getting there," Nancy says brightly.

The look on Jonathan's face suggests otherwise, but Mike decides not to question it.

"Can I get a ride? I need to get some stuff from home and then we're all going to Steve's."

Immediately a shadow falls across the faces of the two older kids. Steve had told them not to go out last night, that it was too dangerous, and after much protesting they had finally agreed. They had been worried sick all night, had stayed together but been unable to sleep. The night dragged on and on until dawn. Nancy, fraught with nerves, had finally had enough and demanded that Jonathan teach her how to drive, if only as a distraction. It was about 8 or 9 in the morning, now. 

"How is he?" asks Nancy, and Jonathan looks similarly concerned. “How’s Dustin?”

”Dustin's fine... he came home on his own this morning. We had to go out and find Steve. He got lost.”

”And how is he? Steve.”

"He's quiet,” Mike says after a long moment. “Real quiet."

 

 

 

If you were to ask Neil Hargrove... if you were interested in him as a person and wanted to know why he is the way he is... Neil would have to say that he does not in any way consider himself a sadistic person.

There are a few reasons for this.

First off, Neil Hargrove would not consider himself a sadist because, if asked, Neil Hargrove would not be 100% sure what the word ‘sadist’ meant.

Neil had completed the minimum educational requirements for the state of California in his youth and had always felt, from the moment he entered first grade to the moment he graduated from high school, that the whole exercise was an unnecessary waste of time. He was brutally unforgiving when it came to his own children's school attendance, of course, but this was because school was a means of monitoring and controlling their whereabouts and not because Neil personally valued traditional education.

He'd allowed his first wife to read her fancy poetry and had tolerated it (barely) when she’d tried to teach his son to love books as much as she did. After her death, however, Neil had destroyed or given away her most of her books and belongings before Billy could get his hands on any of it, and had done his best to curb his son's excessive interest in what he always considered a decidedly feminine pursuit.

The nuances of the works of the Marquis de Sade would forever and always be a mystery to him, so Neil could not really call himself a ‘sadist’ with any true understanding of what the word itself meant.

Neil Hargrove would also not consider himself a sadist because he did not enjoy hurting others. If you asked him, he would say that he only hurt others when required to, and that he never derived any actual pleasure from forcing his unsheathed claws into another being’s belly. He was not a pervert or a fag or a weirdo who got off on pain. 

In a way, Neil Hargrove would not be wrong in this assessment. Pleasure was not the endgame for him.

When he hurt someone, he merely was merely correcting something that was wrong.

And there was so much... wrong... in Neil's life.

There was no reason, no earthly reason at all, in Neil’s mind, for the world to be what it was.

Neil’s house was relatively small, his car was relatively old, and his career prospects were inescapably dead-end. He was an Alpha wolf with only the skeleton of a pack, his former power snatched away when a simple misunderstanding had spun out of control and forced him and his immediate family into exile. The family unit he had stitched together was constantly threatening to collapse under its own weight.

Everywhere, in all things, the world failed to treat Neil Hargrove with the respect he knew he deserved.

It was a constant source of frustration for him, the itch in the place you just can’t scratch, that he could not somehow rend everything and everyone to pieces and reshape it all into a more fitting and pleasing form.

It was a source of near volcanic rage, the fact that Neil could not show all the world how mistaken it was in denying him his due.

As it was, Neil had to make do with correcting what he could.

That was why he had married Susan Mayfield, after all. The purity of her bloodline was unquestioned and her pedigree as a born wolf from an extensive line of born wolves was impeccable. Neil and the Hargrove family deserved no less.

That was why Maxine was such an enviable asset, one that needed to be kept protected and secured at all times. When she finally experienced her first shift (and she would soon... she’s just a late bloomer, Neil knows this in his gut) she'd be a beautiful bargaining chip for any purebred pack seeking to preserve its genetic purity.

Neil would arrange both her and Billy’s matings and secure the future the Hargrove bloodline. He would also finally solidify his own power, his Alpha status, through the resulting alliances.

He had almost managed to capitalize on Maxine's status in California. A brilliant match, a real coup. If circumstances had allowed it, Neil’s position as the respected patriarch of a great pack would have been assured. He would have been the joint Alpha of a prestigious band of pure-blooded werewolves. He could have had his pick of mates for Billy.

Maybe (though he'd obviously not given voice to this thought before, he's not a fool...) he himself could have even taken a second wife. Mated another and bred her and Susan as the wolf inside of him naturally demanded. Produced more offspring, more alliances, more power...

If circumstances had allowed it...

If only Maxine and Billy had been… better. 

The thought rankles.

It makes Neil want to hurt something… or someone.

It makes him want to correct things.

So, no... Neil Hargrove, if asked, would never admit to being a sadist. He would only admit to being owed.

Neil may or may not be a sadistic bastard. However, he would have been lying if he ever denied feeling a profound sense of satisfaction when correcting something (someone) that was, in his opinion, wrong.

He sits at the bar in one of Hawkins' dull, dimly-lit watering holes and eyes up his fellow drinkers with distaste. While he enjoys burning off the post-full moon weariness with glass after glass of cheap scotch, the stench of human mediocrity tends to float like noxious fumes in places such as this. It always puts him off. Usually he would be drinking at home.

He's on a mission today, though. Last night's shift brought a few things into focus. Max had failed to shift... again... and Billy had run off to God-knows-where just as soon as Neil's back was turned. It was just him and Susan running last night, and never before had Neil felt the tell-tale loss of his Alpha strength so acutely.

And when he had picked up the scents of strange things... alien beings... in the woods, Neil had almost... almost... felt nervous.

It's alright.

It is not a completely unexpected turn of events.

And it's something he knows how to fix... an easy solution, simple, brutal, and efficient.

Max isn't quite there yet, isn't quite where Neil needs her to be. She's still upset about what happened in California. It's understandable, but it doesn't change things. She will shift in the end, and then Neil can sell her to the highest bidder.

And Billy is young. Wild. Feeling his oats. Neil still has control over him (and has no trouble exerting that control when Billy steps out of line) but he is no fool... he knows how young wolves itch to challenge their elders. He knows how much they need a firm, guiding hand. 

A strong Alpha.

His children need a larger pack. He needs a larger pack. He needs the power, and Billy and Max need the stability of an unshakable, unforgiving hierarchy.

That's why he is here.

There is no better place than this to find men with just enough viciousness and desperation to bend the knee and serve the Alpha.

Despite his profound distaste for bitten wolves, Neil Hargrove is forced to admit that even they have their place… and if he is ever going to get everything back on track, he needs a pack.

He needs soldiers. Canon fodder. Slaves.

Dark eyes bleary with booze and frustration and just enough curiosity to fall into his trap blink up at him. They are sheep waiting to be chosen, waiting to be torn apart and remade into something new.

Neil Hargrove considers himself quite the talent scout.

When he has made his first moves in this delicate courting dance - their names are Earl and Wyatt and they are pathetic and violent and cowardly, made brutal by the everyday brutality of their miserable, dead-end little lives - he exits the bar and makes for his truck.

He walks out onto the sidewalk in time to see his son's Camaro drive up. He flags him down and waits as Billy pulls up in an empty parking space next to him and climbs out of the car.

"You disappeared last night," Neil says as Billy nods in greeting. His voice deceptively calm. He is trying to decide just how much of an issue he wants to make out of this.

"I got distracted," Billy shifts uneasily against his car. To his credit, he seems unhappy about it. "I thought I smelled deer. I got lost. I don't know these woods yet..." he adds quickly when Neil's eyes narrow at his excuse. "It won't happen again."

Neil raises an eyebrow.

He has his son very well trained, and Billy flinches minutely and tilts his head to bare his throat, a placating gesture.

"It won't happen again, Alpha," Billy amends, quietly.   

Neil gives him a single nod.

"Your sister didn't shift last night."

Billy doesn't say anything. 

"You've been working with her? Practicing?"

"Yes, sir." The affirmation comes out crisper and more easily than usual.

Billy isn't pulling at the leash like he usually is... he seems a bit vague today. He doesn't even ask why Neil is at the bar, even though on any other day he'd probably be curious as hell. He'll find out soon enough, of course, and when Neil introduces him to his new pack members he'll be able to milk Billy's insecurities and competitiveness and lock him down even more. The thought pleases the older wolf.

Neil hums. "It needs to happen soon. There are two packs on the Ohio border who might be interested in taking her, but they'll want proof of pedigree first. We'll be in a better place to negotiate if she's already had her first shift."

Billy doesn't say anything. He just stands there and stares at Neil, a strange look on his face.

Almost like he is seeing Neil for the first time.

"We may need to consider handing her over early if she doesn't," Neil continues. "Just as an incentive. They might still be able to breed her. And then we can start discussing your own prospects, son. How about that?"

Billy doesn't answer. He drags his eyes away from Neil's face and glares at a nearby brick wall.

If Neil didn't know any better, he'd say Billy looked a little bit sick.

A little bit... disgusted. 

Good thing Neil knows better. Billy is likely just feeling the residual effects of the full moon. A little weariness, a little nausea.

That's what it must be.

That's what it better be.

Because if Neil thought that Billy was actually considering having his own opinions about this...

Well then. He'd need to correct that, wouldn't he?

Neil sniffs the air a little. He can pick up the myriad smells of Main Street and the familiar scent of his first-born.

Billy has been home already, has already showered and changed. His father can smell soap and that godawful French whore cologne he wears. He’s drenched in it today.

It might be nothing, but if Billy's gotten all dolled up for a date with some little low-life, that’s a problem. He's a young man and Neil understands his need to sow his wild oats, but there are rules. Billy has responsibilities, and he knows better than to carelessly fall into bed with someone.

Neil has flatly told him that if he impregnates a human, Billy himself will need to rip the baby out with his claws. Neil will not tolerate any dilution of the bloodline.

Because of this, Billy is usually very defensive about his 'dates', but there's something off about Billy today. He isn't his typical snappish self. 

Neil decides that it doesn't really matter. If it becomes an issue later, he will remedy the situation. In the meantime he has two potential wolves-in-waiting sitting in the bar behind him and a recalcitrant twelve year old back home that he needs to coax into shifting.

Most importantly, he has intruders in his territory who need to be taught a lesson. He needs to give his second-in-command his orders.

"What did you see out there?" Neil asks, finally.

Billy startles. "What?"

"In the woods," Neil clarifies, his gaze never wavering. "I smelled a few things out there. There are some questions that need answering."

"The... that sour smell? Like rotten blood?"

Neil nods.

Yes, that had been an unsettling scent. A disturbing discovery in their new territory.

"I think... I think there's something out there, Dad," Billy says after a brief pause. Neil can sense the underlying fear there, and it makes him sneer in disdain just a little, a knee-jerk reaction to anything he perceives as weakness. "Something like us, maybe. It's definitely not human, but... I don't know what..."

"I'm not interested in what you think, Billy. You're my second. It's your job to know. Figure it out. Find it. Kill it."

Billy swallows and nods. He waits. He looks like he wants to flee, but Neil finds himself reluctant to let him go.

There's something...

"I smell something on you," Neil murmurs, half to himself.

He doesn't recognize it... it's not even really a separate smell. It's almost as if Billy's own scent has changed, somehow. But that's next to impossible. Only the most extraordinary circumstances would cause a person's scent to change, and Neil would surely know if anything like that had happened to his son.

But still, there's something...

Something you're trying to hide.

"There are others wolves in the woods. That might be it," Billy prompts after a moment. "Not weres. Just a regular pack of wolves. I tussled with one and it got a few good scratches in. I don't think it'll be a problem, though. They were on the edge of the woods, no need to chase 'em off."

The answer sounds a bit practiced, but it's plausible. Neil thinks that maybe Billy's deliberately blasé tone has something to do with the boy's inherent laziness... he's downplaying the threat so Neil won't make him go and smoke the other wolves out. Billy is in charge of keeping their woods clear, but the little shit would rather stay at home and work out and read and drink than take his responsibilities seriously.

He figures he'll give the boy enough rope to hang himself. Neil settles for narrowing his eyes and watching his son squirm under his gaze.

"Alright," he says. "It's on you if you're wrong."

Billy gives him a short nod.

"Yes, Alpha."

Much too deferential. Something is up. 

Neil makes the decision then and there to keep a closer eye on his pup.

 

 

 

"I'm fine, Dustin. Really."

It's got to be the tenth time Steve's said it.

He doesn't know what everyone wants from him. He's said he's fine and he's fine.

That's not true, though.

He does know what everyone wants.

Everyone wants answers, a story, an explanation.

And Steve is not fine.

Steve can't really give anyone answers right now, though - not when he doesn't have a firm grasp on them himself - so instead he settles for going after what he wants. And what he wants is for everyone to leave him alone so he can sleep. 

Dustin had found him mere minutes after Billy left, still sprawled out on the ground and shivering from the cold. He'd gotten a thorough scolding from the younger boy for scaring him, and he’d submitted to the verbal barrage without complaint as the party trooped back to his house. Lucas, bless his heart, brought him pants and a sweatshirt to wear as they walked, although the clothes didn't do much to alleviate the chill that had settled in his bones.

"Was it the Thesselhydra?" Dustin demanded half an hour later, as soon as Steve stepped out of his bathroom half-dressed and still relaxed from a very long and blessedly hot shower.

"Was what the Thesselhydra?"

"You're acting weird. Did you..."

"I didn't see the Thesselhydra. I'm not acting weird."

"You didn't complain once the whole time we were walking home."

"That's acting weird?"

"For you? Yes. What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Steve shook his head and tugged on his warmest sweater. He was still cold, what the fuck? "It was... it was a rough shift. I'm exhausted. And..."

Dustin waited. "And what?"

"And I..." Steve felt like he might cry.

This was stupid. Nothing happened.

Why does he feel hurt and betrayed and lonely and like a part of him is missing? Why does he want to weep, and sleep, and run out into the street and look for Billy? Why does he want to scratch and claw Billy's face up and at the same time hold and be held by the other boy?

He lets the Party camp out in his living room for the rest of the day, but after five minutes he can't bear it any longer. It's a comfort to know that they're all safe and sound downstairs, but his head and his heart can't take the innocent chatter. Dustin's gaze follows him as he climbs the stairs and heads for his room.

He knows he's worrying everyone but he can't... he can't...

He doesn't know how long he lays there, on his bed, watching the light from his window move across the floor. In his head, he goes through everything that happened last night, catalogs and labels it.

Then he goes back further, further, all the way back to Tina's party, to the night he first met Billy Hargrove.

No... further than that. To the night he was bitten.

No... further than that.

To the first time he had looked up at the night sky and wished for a friend. For his other half. For the sacred mystery and magic of loving another and being loved in return.

There's a knock on the door. He hums, and it opens, and he smells roses again.

Nancy doesn't say anything. She walks over to the bed and lays down beside him and curls her body around his, offering him warmth, comfort, safety. It is so like that moment in the woods, that blissful moment right after Steve had decided to accept this strange new love and right before Hargrove had opened his stupid mouth.

So similar, and so different... precious, but not the same.

Even when he and Nancy had been together it hadn't been anything like how it was last night... how it was during those few moments in Billy's arms.

Steve lets himself soak up the affection his best friend gives him, and then, when he feels strong enough, he shifts and sits up in bed. Nancy follows him, sits next to him as they both lean against the headboard. She doesn't say anything. She waits. She can be so impatient sometimes, but now she waits. 

Finally, Steve speaks.

"There was another wolf out there," he says quietly.

There is a brief pause while Nancy thinks.

"Another... like, a wolf-wolf?"

Steve hesitates, then shakes his head. 

"Is... is it that wolf-man from before? Mike said something..." she trails off.

Steve nods shortly.

"Are you... did it hurt you?"

Steve considers this for a moment, then shrugs.

"I felt..." he says, then stops. 

Nancy takes one of his hands and holds it, and Steve feels a flutter of warmth, the first he's felt since this morning. It breaks through the layer of ice that seems to have settled around his heart.

"We ran together," he continues. "And played and hunted together. It felt... right. My wolf wanted him. So much. And me... I felt like I'd known him my whole life. I just turned around and there he was."

"Him?" Nancy asks, brow furrowing. 

Steve stills, glaces over at her warily. Nancy takes a minute to process this, and that minute feels like a lifetime for Steve. When she speaks, however, it is without judgement.

"Anyone we know?"

Steve feels like he should tell the truth, but something, some instinct holds him back. He can't quite bring himself to lie, either, so he says nothing. She accepts this and tilts her head towards him.

"Does he feel the same way?"

"We didn't... like, do anything..."

"That's not what I meant."

Steve pauses.

"My wolf feels one way about it, and I feel... I've got this sense..." he sighs in frustration. "You know that book? That kids book? The one with the boy who runs away from home and goes to that island with the monsters?"

It takes Nancy a moment, but then she realizes what he's talking about and nods.

"'Where The Wild Things Are'. Maurice Sendak."

"My mom used to read that to me. She used to do all the monster voices. There was one line where she'd roll me around in the bed and pretend to eat me. It's when the kid tries to leave the island and the monsters want him to stay. 'Oh,'" Steve says in a gravelly voice that wobbles dangerously between a growl and a sob. "'Please don't go - we'll eat you up - we love you so!'"

Steve chokes a little on the last word. Nancy doesn't say anything. He takes a deep breath, and nods.

"He feels the same way. He wants me. He looked at me a little bit like that. Like he wanted to..." Steve trails off, can't quite say it. "Because he loves me so. He doesn't even know me, but he loves me so." 

Nancy doesn't know what to say.

"He did at first," Steve amends after a moment. "Look like that, I mean. And he...," one of his hands goes up to his shoulder, and Nancy's eyes narrow dangerously as she fills in the blanks. "Nothing really happened but I was scared and then... he was surprised. Upset. I don't know. He seemed more upset than I was, somehow. And then he just left and I don't know what..."

The silence that fills the room feels very heavy.

"Do you..." Nancy bites her lip. "Do you think you'll see him again?"

"Yes," Steve says flatly. He doesn't elaborate. Nancy has never seen him like this before, not even after their breakup, and she's somewhat at a loss. She feels he's not quite ready to have a real conversation about this yet, though... it's still too raw. 

She goes for gentle humor.

"Well," she says, finally. "I'd rather you weren't eaten. Just as a personal preference."

Steve barks out a humorless laugh.

"Yeah." 

They don't say much after that. Jonathan is downstairs entertaining the kids, and after a while Nancy coaxes Steve into the living room so he can eat some pizza and be with his pack. Nancy, bless her heart, has been reading up on wolf pack dynamics, you see. She watches with some satisfaction as Steve curls up on the couch and lets the Party take care of him a little. It's good for Steve and, Nancy knows now, good for group bonding. Things are a little more relaxed when it's finally time to pack the kids into Jonathan's car and drive them all home.

Steve walks them out. He tugs on her sleeve and motions for her to stay back a little and, when words fail him, gives her a quick hug.

She returns it without hesitation, and tries to push as much affection as she can into it.

"It's going to be okay, Steve. Whatever it is, we'll figure it out."

Steve pulls back and shakes his head. He holds one of her hands and looks off into the autumn dusk. 

"The worst thing is..." Steve whispers, his eyes sliding back to hers, wide and worried and eerie in their intensity. "The worst thing is...I felt it too. I could've...just... eaten him up."

Nancy shivers all the way back to the car.

 

 

 

Billy stews.

He has all of Saturday and all of Sunday to think. He has else nothing to do but look at his life and his choices and his flaws, to see himself in a mirror, darkly.

The things he sees are both familiar and alien.

He doesn't like it.

He rotates between anger at Steve and anger at himself.

At Steve for blowing things out of proportion, for not understanding him and what he was trying to say, for being... himself.

At himself for...for so many things. For being what he never wanted to be - a bully, a coward, and a fool.

Sometimes, just for a change, he gets angry at them both, and at the world in general. By the time night falls on Sunday evening, he has sunk into a deep funk. He picks at his dinner in silence and then retreats to his room, stretching out on his bed and staring up at the ceiling.

He is alone with an inescapable conclusion, the sum total of all of his musings.

He thinks...

He thinks that if his mother was still alive she would be ashamed of him.

He thinks she'd be right, too.

He feel sick.

On Monday morning he drops Maxine off at school. They don't talk about it, any of it, but he knows that she had a rough time this weekend. The disappointment of failing to shift hangs on her like a dead weight. He doesn't say anything, but he also doesn't blast his music quite as loud as usual. It's a half-compromise.

Both of them are uncharacteristically subdued, isolated and drowning.

He parks in the high school lot and sits on the hood of his car and smokes cigarette after cigarette until it's time to go inside. 

Ten minutes before school starts, he sees Steve pull up in his Beemer and get out.

He's alone. He isn't flanked by Wheeler or Byers today. That's a surprise.

Steve meets Billy's gaze across the parking lot and in an instant Billy understands that his mate is being deliberately defiant, is sending him a giant middle finger. Steve stands tall and straight, and even though Billy can see the tension in his face from here, Steve doesn't flinch or stumble. He doesn't blink, and he only looks away when it is appropriate to do so.

Billy watches him the entire time as he marches into school, one hand in his pocket, book bag slung carelessly over one shoulder. He has dark circles under his eyes from long, sleepless nights, but otherwise not a perfect strand of hair is out of place.

I'm not afraid of the big bad wolf.

When he'd wanted a mate who was a fighter, he hadn't thought it would be like this.

He hadn’t thought his mate would be fighting him.

He hadn't thought his mate would need to.

When Billy got back to his car Saturday morning he'd been shaking, and not just from the cold. He'd gone home and gotten into the shower and stood there until all the hot water was gone, and only when he climbed out again and toweled off did he realize that he had been crying the whole time. 

He keeps thinking of his mother, with her books and her bright pink nail polish and her sweet coffee and cinnamon smell. He had asked her about mates once, and how you know when you find the one, and whether she and Neil were written in the stars. She'd tried to answer as best she could but in the end all she could do was tell him that he'd know.

That's it. You'll just... know.

But he didn't know. He didn't know then and he doesn't know now. 

She'd given him her books of poetry before she'd died. He'd managed to keep most of them safe and hidden, rescued them from Neil's purges. Sometimes he would take them out and read them and wonder... 

Love was just a word. Just a vague idea. The earth is round and the ocean is deep and love is out there... somewhere. 

And then there was Steve.

Billy wants Steve more now then he ever did before.

The bell for class rings but Billy ignores it and goes to the library. He remembers the name of the poet, but he can't remember the actual poem. He needs it. His own words didn't work, so he needs to borrow another's.

He spends most of first period hunting it down. When he does finally find it, he copies it onto a slip of notebook paper, along with a few other words. He folds the paper carefully and sticks it in his pocket, too chickenshit to drop it off right away.

He goes to class late. He shares second period with Harrington, and spends the whole time staring at the back of his head. Steve doesn't acknowledge him beyond the bare minimum. 

His defiance doesn't anger Billy like it used to. Now it just breaks his heart.

When they get to basketball practice they find Tommy in fine form. He starts taunting Steve immediately, while they're still getting changed in the locker room, and he doesn't stop showing off and talking shit all practice. Most of it is clearly for Billy's benefit, the court jester working overtime to please the king. Billy isn't interested, though, and the more he ignores Tommy the harder Tommy tries to impress him.

Billy has much bigger issues than Tommy at the moment. He plays hard and fast, running to beat the devil and using panting and shouts and all different kinds of distractions to drown out the voices in his head. He manages to unbalance Steve and steal the ball, goes for a layup shot and scores.

His team cheers but his focus is all on Steve, who has both hands on his knees and is panting in annoyance.

"Get your head in the game, Harrington," Coach yells from across the gym. "Jesus!"

"Fucking lame, King Steve," Tommy throws Billy a look that Billy deliberately refuses to acknowledge.  

"Just plant your feet," Billy snaps at Steve, his barely contained frustration rippling through him. "It's not that hard. Plant your feet. Keep yourself protected so they don't bowl you over."

Harrington's eyes narrow and he lets out a noise like a growl.

Of course that's the wrong thing to say. Of course.

Billy makes eye contact with him and for a moment he wants to scream.

His mate is so beautiful, standing there all offended and fierce. Full of righteousness and determination.

I hate you, Billy thinks. You're the kind of person who makes perfectly sane men want to march off and die in some fucking lost crusade. You're the light they march towards and kill themselves for.

You're the kind of person who thinks the shit-show world doesn't need to be a shit-show. You think you can make things right and fair, and you don't even see what it costs you and everyone who loves you, everyone who has to stand by and watch you get trampled...

You're dangerous. 

He can't breath right. He knows his mask of aggressive indifference is crumbling, that he's going to pieces right out here in the open where everyone can see. He finds, to his growing horror, that he doesn't care. Let them look. Let them see.

He locks eyes with Steve and he silently begs - begs - his mate to listen and understand.

I love you. I'm drowning and it's all your fault. Please protect yourself. From everything. From me. Please.

Steve can't hear him, Billy knows he can't... but his face softens slightly anyway.

He opens his mouth to speak...

And suddenly he's gone, on the ground, knocked over... but not by Billy.

"Walk much, Stevie?" Tommy howls, dancing away from where he's tripped Steve up.

Coach blows his whistle and a few laughs and groans echo in the gym.

"Aren't we gonna fucking play?" someone moans quietly. "So dumb..."

Billy doesn't hear any of it.

It happens so fast that even Billy himself is surprised. All of a sudden he is on Tommy, bending him over backwards, his hands fisted in his shirt and a hideous noise - something building up into a pained, primal roar - in his throat.

"Touch him again and I'll kill you," he hisses.

He means it. Oh God, he means it. He thinks his eyes might be flashing, revealing the wolf clawing at him to get out, but he can't be sure - there is no line between him and the wolf right now. They are a seamless being, and every particle of them is pure rage.

Tommy's eyes widen and he whimpers.

Hands are on him, pulling him away, and Billy nearly lashes out against the fool who dares get between him and his prey. He nearly snaps, but then he smells that smell... lavendercherriesmate... and he almost instantly steadies himself. 

"Walk away, Hargrove... walk away! Billy..."

Steve's hand is on his chest, burning him like a brand. Centering him. Soothing him and shredding him to pieces. His voice is there, and his scent, and the steady pitter-pat of his heartbeat, and the warmth of his touch. Billy looks over and meets Steve's gaze, hears the other boy repeat his name softly, gently.

Billy...

It feels wonderful, and it hurts so badly.

Everything he was holding on to suddenly drains out of him and in that moment Billy feels so lost. 

"Billy," Steve says.

All of a sudden, Billy can't bear it anymore.

He can stand Neil's questions and Tommy's taunts and even the cold sting of rejection... but he can't survive Steve being kind.

He thinks he might die from Steve's gentle touch. From dark brown eyes full of... understanding.

Billy turns and walks out of the gym.

 

 

  

They don't have much longer in the gym... the almost-fight takes the wind out of everyone's sails. When practice is over Steve walks to his locker. He's in a fog. This weekend had been a long stretch of coming to terms, of drawing lines in the sand.

He'd thought he was there, that he'd made his choice. He was independent and proud and defiant, and he was going to walk into school today and show that son of a bitch that he wasn't going to roll over for anyone. And he did that, he was that, he had been strong all day.

But then...

It had hurt when Billy taunted him.

It had hurt until Steve looked at him, really looked at him, and seen the other wolf's jaw clench, seen his eyes go bright with unshed tears.

It had hurt until Steve realized that the taunt wasn't a taunt. That Billy was asking him... begging him... 

Please.

Steve wasn't sure what Billy wanted from him, and he wasn't sure if he could have given Billy what he wanted even if he had known what it was.

But in that moment, Steve had felt something inside of him reach out and try to touch the other boy. He hadn't been afraid, either of himself or Billy. He had understood, and had wanted to connect with his...

With his...

He hadn't been upset when Billy lashed out at Tommy. He should have been, but... 

He'd felt something like joy. Like satisfaction. Like relief.

And then when he realized what was happening, what Billy was doing, his only thought had been that Billy couldn't reveal his secret... that he needed to keep Billy from hurting himself by hurting Tommy.

He had put his hands on Billy and had total and complete faith that Billy was not going to hurt him. That he could speak comfort to Billy and that Billy would understand.

Steve dreams of Billy Hargrove. He's dreamed of him all weekend long. Even when he is awake, he dreams.

He opens his locker and a piece of paper falls out. He unfolds it carefully and reads. 

  

  

 

 

Steve -   

  

 

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

 

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

 

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

 (W.B.Y.)

  

 

 

You've already changed me and unmade me. Meet me after school in the woods by the quarry.

 

Please.

 

- B

 

Chapter Text

Steve goes to the quarry.

Of course he does. He doesn't even need to think about it. 

Billy is waiting for him when he arrives.

He seems to have calmed down a bit, which is a good thing. He stands by his car, leaning against the hood and smoking. He's toweled off the sweat from practice and put a relatively clean shirt and jacket on, but he hasn't showered and Steve swears he can smell him from ten feet away... the wolf picks up the scent and rolls over inside of him, pushes against his rib cage. It's not an unpleasant odor... it's just one that's very, very Billy.

Steve likes it, he's drawn to it, and he's smart enough to know how dangerous that is.

Steve climbs out of his car and Billy stares at him like he can't quite believe he's here. He looks surprised but glad, and it warms Steve's heart to see his face soften a little around the edges. There's always a desperate edge in Billy's eyes, but it eases away now and something gentler takes its place.

Steve has to wonder if he put that desperation there, and if he's responsible for the way it fades away now. 

Whatever else he may want or believe, he doesn't like the thought that Billy is hurting because of him.

When Billy takes a step forward, though, Steve shifts, rocks back on his heels a bit.

Billy stops.

Steve is suddenly aware how isolated they are.

He isn't sure if he is frightened or not.

He isn't sure at all.

"Got your note," Steve says to break the heavy silence, and then immediately rolls his eyes at his own stupidity. Of course he got the note.

Billy huffs in amusement and straightens like he's going to move forward again.

"...Just..." Steve holds out his hand. "Just stay there, please."

His voice is steady, almost casual, but the truth is he's still nervous. He's as much afraid of himself as Billy if he's being honest, but really it doesn't matter. The request remains the same - stay away until I get my balance.

A shadow crosses Billy's face and he swallows as if he's in pain, but after a moment he nods and leans back against his car. He keeps his stance casual while deliberately telegraphing his movements. It makes Steve feel a little bit like a child being placated, or an animal being soothed, but right now he'll take it.

Okay. It's all good. His request is being honored, and he has his space.

The birds chitter from the forest and he can hear the rush of water from the quarry, but otherwise everything is quiet.

"Who's W.B.Y.?" Steve asks, finally.

Billy blinks at him and then gives him a small smile. 

"Yeats. William Butler Yeats."

"William," Steve echoes.

Billy nods. "One of my mom's favorites."

"She name you after him? Or Shakespeare?"

"My grandfather."

"That's cool. I'm not named after anybody. Just Steven."

"I'm sorry," Billy says abruptly.

Steve looks at him, momentarily confused. After a beat, though, he realizes what Billy is actually apologizing for.

Steve had been in a bit of a haze before... a kind of floaty confusion where is wolf's desire had gotten tangled up with his own curiosity. Now, however, the events of Saturday morning come crashing back with breathtaking clarity.

He lifts his arms and wraps them around himself. Billy is starting to recognize that as a familiar gesture for Steve. 

"I get... possessive," he continues, his voice halting and unsteady. "After a full moon. And before. I was angry. And..." Billy chews his lip so hard Steve thinks he might bite through it, and he anxiously rolls his half-smoked cigarette between his forefinger and his thumb. "...Scared. I was scared. The night of the fight. The... the monster..."

The words are being forced out of him, painfully.

It's enough to make Steve believe them.

"The Thesselhydra," Steve prompts.

Billy startles.

"What?"

"It's what the kids call it. Thesselhydra."

Billy raises an eyebrow and gapes at him. 

"From Greek mythology, apparently. You can just call it a 'Hydra if it's easier... you know what, forget it. Sorry. Continue."

"I don't..." Billy pauses, shakes his head. "There's nothing else to say. There's no excuse for what I did. Only... I thought you'd understand. That we're mates. Because you're a wolf. I thought you'd know like I knew. But you being a wolf isn't an excuse for me to hurt you, or to push you when you're unsure. I scared you and I never wanted to do that. Not... not really. I should have..." 

He trails off. The birds suddenly seem very loud to him. 

"You should have used your words," Steve says, steadily.

Billy's fists clench and unclench, and then he looks down, nodding.

"Sorry," he mumbles, one last time. It should sound resentful, insincere. It's a shitty apology. But Billy looks so miserable right now, his shoulders slumped and his eyes down. Steve can't bring himself to be as furious as he could be.

He is, however, still very confused.

"I still don't understand," Steve huffs. "One minute we're fighting, the next you're talking about being 'mates' and rubbing your erection all over me."

"We are mates," Billy says doggedly. "We... we are."

"I know," Steve says simply.

Those two words light a fire inside Billy's chest and it's all he can do not to cross that silly, impossible space between him and the other boy. He doesn't, though... he doesn't cross the space. He does something much harder. For his mate. He stays put. He gives Steve his space, so that Steve will feel comfortable. Safe.

"'I don't know what that means, though," Steve continues. "I don't know what being mates means. I only just became a werewolf. This is too much. I don't know what you want... I don't even know you! Not really!"

What I want?

I want everything, Billy thinks. I want everything from you, and I want to give you everything

But that would be way too much to say right now. Billy needs to start smaller. 

I don't even know you.

That's... that's okay.

Billy can work with that.

The werewolf coughs once, stands up straight, and flicks his cigarette away.

"In that case," he says. "Steve Harrington, werewolf of Hawkins... uh, does your pack have a name?"

Steve blinks at him, lets out a strangled sound between a laugh and a cough (thought for the life of him Billy can't imagine what could possibly be funny about that question), and then shakes his head.

"We haven't... um... decided on one."

No matter.

"Steve Harrington," Billy repeats, his tone formal, "of the Harrington Pack, werewolf of Hawkins, proposed bond-mate of William Hargrove... by the grace of the moon, will you allow me to court you?"'

Steve's brain short-circuits. Billy can see it from ten feet away. 

"What?"

"Will you...will you let me court you?"

"Court me!?"

"That's... that's what it's called, man. In wolf circles. It's called courting. If you let me... let me, like... date... you." Billy is stammering and blushing now, as flushed as a tomato, and holy shit Steve never thought he'd see the biggest bully in Hawkins go pink in the cheeks.

He kind of likes it. 

"Why?" Steve is incredulous. "You don't even... why are you doing this? I know we have... chemistry or whatever, but you don't know me."

"I know enough," Billy regains a little bit of his composure. "I'd like to know more."

"What... what do you know?"

A smile curves across Billy's face... a genuine smile. Steve likes it.

"I know you're terrible at math, and that you have a group of kids who follow you around like ducklings, and that you never plant your feet in basketball but you do when you're swinging a baseball bat at a forest monster."

Now it's Steve's turn to blush.

"And that's enough for you, is it? To decide you want to court me."

"Oh, there's more. But you're right, there are a few things I haven't figured out yet." 

"Only a few?"

"I said 'yet'. You need to give me a little longer than a few weeks, babe."

Steve swallows. The implication is clear - the ball is in your court, Harrington.

Two paths diverge in a wood, Billy thinks.

"I..." Steve starts, then stops. "I don't..."

Billy's heart plummets to his stomach. He is suddenly grateful that he is so far away from Harrington and that the other boy can't hear his sharp, pained intake of breath.

Please don't... please don't.

This can't end before it's begun.

My fault, my responsibility.

Please don't...

"Can you ask me again?" 

Billy's heart stutters. He's so overwhelmed by panic and self-doubt and desire that he can't quite understand what he's heard.

"Huh?" he stammers.

"Can you...," Steve bites his lip, his gaze fixed on Billy. "Can you ask me again later?"

Can you ask me again later?

Ask me to court you again. Later.

Billy needs a moment to process this but when he does he feels a dangerous flicker of hope. 

"Yeah," Billy murmurs, alarmed at how breathless he sounds. "Yeah, I can ask you again later."

He takes in the other boy, who nods and rocks on his heels a little, his arms still wrapped around his middle. Billy's usual need to take control rises a bit, but this time he is purely concerned with Steve's comfort.

Relax... how do I get you to relax? I love it when you laugh, when you eat, when you dribble a basketball, when you take a test, when you have that beautiful little half-smile on your face.

How do I get that?

"Questions," Billy says, suddenly inspired. 

Steve glances up at him and frowns in confusion. Billy grins.

"We can ask questions. Twenty questions until you're ready... I mean, until you decide... no pressure..." Billy trails off, weirdly nervous and embarrassed, ridiculously shy under Steve's gaze. 

Steve stares at him for a moment, and then his arms drop from his shoulders. He props himself up on the hood of his car, making himself comfortable, mimicking Billy's stance.

"Okay," he says, and - glory hallelujah! - he gives Billy a little half-smile.

Two points, Billy thinks. Beautiful.

"You go first," he croaks out. "Only fair."

"Okay," Steve says again, minds whirling. The sounds of the woods and the quarry echo while Billy waits patiently for Steve's question.

"You've known that we were mates since Stacy's party?"

"Yeah. Is that your question?"

"No, idiot. You've know we were mates since Stacy's party. Okay. How? How did you know?"

And just like that Billy is drawn up short. That's a hard one, difficult to explain. Guess he shouldn't have assumed Steve would ask him about his favorite color or food or album.

Oh... how to explain...?

"I was outside," Billy starts, calling up the memory in his head. "I was outside and I couldn't catch my breath. There was a room full of people and suddenly all I could see was you. And your scent..."

"My scent?" Steve's nose wrinkles up and Billy has to work very hard not to find it adorable.

"My wolf knew. Right away. It could smell you and feel you and it knew. Your..." Billy hesitates. He's not sure he wants to know the answer to the follow-up query in his head, the question that's been dogging him all month, so he decides to rephrase his question as a statement. "Your wolf didn't know right away, I guess."

Steve frowns, but he doesn't seem annoyed at Billy's question.

"No. I mean... maybe. We aren't exactly on speaking terms...me and... it. The wolf. I felt... something. I just thought it was..." Steve waves his hands in the air in a gesture Billy doesn't quite understand. "I dunno... temporary. Or not what I thought it was. Like it might just be attraction or irritation or something. I don't always make the best decisions when it comes to... feelings."

Something in Billy ticks a little at that. He's not quite sure if it's annoyance or empathy or protectiveness.

It puts him on edge, regardless.

"I'm sorry, too."

Billy's eyes snap up.

"You're still King Asshole," Steve says, gaze and voice steady. "But ever since Saturday I've been walking around with a lump in my chest and the damn wolf clawing at my skin. I thought it was because I hated you but actually I think it was more because I was missing you. If you've felt even half this... stressed... for a whole month... then I'm sorry that it took me so long to realize what you were."

Billy can't do much besides stare and blink stupidly, his insides awash with emotion.

That was... Steve said he was sorry. Said sorry for something that was not his fault, said sorry just because Billy was hurting. Steve said he missed Billy. Admitted it. Admitted to a dangerous vulnerability, a personal, emotional truth. 

Nobody gives those kinds of things to Billy. Not since his mom died. Nobody lets Billy in. Nobody, it seems, except Steve. Steve gave him that. Gave him that precious gift for free, asking for nothing in return, expecting nothing but Billy's continued respectful care.

It is a shock to Billy, but Steve doesn't seem to notice. His voice brings the troubled, awestruck boy back down to earth.

"What do you want to know?" Steve asks his question without any guile, with all the honest naivete that Billy has come to expect from him. 

Billy thinks for a moment and grins. He knows exactly what he wants to ask.

“‘King Steve’…” Billy's voice is a drawl, teasing, playful, not wholly unkind.

He echoes his earlier taunts, but they sound so different now. Now both boys are out in the open, exposed in every way except the only way that matters. Circling each other. Waiting to see the soft underbelly. Waiting to see what the other will do. Gently exploring, with care and curiosity.

This time when he asks his question, Billy really wants to know.

“Steve Harrington… you used to run this town. A real Alpha dog. And then you turned bitch. Why?”

Steve watches Billy watch him.

"You've done your homework," he says, stalling. 

Billy shrugs. Steve knows he's been talking to Tommy... the question is a dead giveaway. But still, Tommy isn't really a part of this. It feels like there’s more at stake here than Steve is aware of, like Billy is testing boundaries.

He thinks about his answer very carefully.

Billy, for his part, waits patiently.

“It wasn’t just one thing," he says, finally. "And you know what they say,” Steve give him a wry grin that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Every dog has his day.”

“As much as I appreciate some good canine humor…”

“You started it, man.”

Billy shakes his head with exaggerated patience. “It’s not an answer, Stevie,” he sing-songs.

“Nancy Wheeler broke up with me,” Steve says. The answer feels abrupt, even though it is said calmly and quietly. This isn't something that Steve talks about often.

Billy’s mouth twists into something unpleasant, but the other boy cuts him off.

“I know… I know what you’re going to say. It’s pathetic. I know what it sounds like.”

“Sounds like you turned bitch for a girl, Harrington,” Billy says with dry derision, refusing to let any stubborn threads of jealousy into his voice.

“It wasn’t turning bitch. Nancy was…is…different. For me she was different. I couldn’t figure her out. And when I did… I wanted to be like her. Her loving me made me feel like I deserved to be loved. Like if someone like her loved someone like me, then I must have been worth something. And when she left I was nothing.”

Billy looks annoyed, and for a moment Steve thinks he’s going to dismiss his answer again.

Actually, no… Billy doesn’t look annoyed…he looks unhappy. Almost like Steve had insulted him, hurt his feelings. Steve had only been talking about himself, calling himself nothing, so why does Billy look so unhappy with his answer?

Steve clears his throat and continues. “I was in a rut. I was a classic depressed teenager. My grades went down, I stopped going out, stopped hanging out with my friends. I had… anger issues. I hurt myself, and other people. I pushed it too far.”

Billy studies him, and as he does so he can almost see it. The thrumming anger just under the surface, threatening to burst out.

The wolf, waiting.

“I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to hurt everyone around me. My… my priorities shifted. I had to relearn people. And while I was doing that a lot of my friends… maybe they were right, I know I hurt some of them… anyway, a lot of people decided I wasn’t worth the effort. Some things… when they’re gone, they’re gone. And the ones who didn’t go, who helped me get back on track, showed me that some things are more important than being at the top of an imaginary food chain.”

Billy considers this, then chuckles lowly. “That’s good. ‘Imaginary food chain’. That’s right on.”

He closes his eyes for a moment and when he opens them again they’re glowing, golden.

“Because you’re at the top of the chain now, aren’t you?” 

Steve feels a stirring in his gut, a force rising to meet Billy, the wolf waking up and saying hello.

“Different kind of food chain,” he croaks, trying to keep the awe out of his voice.

“Brave new world.”

“Yeah.”

“Well… if they could see you now…” Billy gives him a sly smirk, but Steve shakes his head.

“Not really… I still have no idea what I’m doing,” Steve snorts. “Like… holy shit. I’m a werewolf. The universe picked the wrong loser for this. Totally above my pay-grade.”

Billy is across the clearing and in Steve’s face alarmingly fast, and it’s all Steve can do not to flinch – out of surprise, though, more than fear. He feels strangely certain that Billy wouldn’t hurt him.

“Don’t do that,” Billy growls. His eyes are still glowing with a supernatural power, and maybe one or two of his teeth have elongated slightly, but he still seems very human. How in the world has he managed to control his wolf like that?

Steve shakes himself out of his contemplation of Billy’s gorgeous face.

“Do what?”

“Don’t…” Billy huffs, frustrated. “Don’t play dumb.”

Steve blinks at him. “Umm… you have met me, right? I don’t really need to ‘play’ that.”

“I said don’t…” his words are an insistent growl and Steve’s mouth snaps shut. Billy seems quite determined about this. “I mean don’t bring yourself down. You shouldn’t talk about yourself like that. You… you’re not dumb.”

Billy’s wolf resents and detests insults to its mate… it’s enough to make it squirm and howl with ridiculous protectiveness and wounded pride.

But also… it’s not just the wolf. Billy himself doesn’t like it. It grinds against some human part of him that is completely separate. For someone who is constantly being told that bitten wolves are stupid, weak, and powerless Billy is strangely reticent about assigning those traits to Steve.

Steve isn’t any of those things.

Sure, he knows less about the wolf than Billy, but how would he have learned? He has good instincts. He has good control. He’s managed to develop his skills more quickly than most wolves in his position.

He’s not less than Billy. Billy understands that now. He wants Steve as a partner, not as a problem that needs solving or as a possession that needs to be contained. Steve isn't stupid, or small, or lesser.

He’s just Steve.

Steve.

He moves without thinking and he knows he's probably breaking every one of the unspoken rules in place between them right now. But Steve is looking at him... and he doesn't look scared. A little confused maybe, a little wary... a little hopeful. Those wide brown eyes are sparkling with just a little bit of wonder and want.

Billy brings up one hand to cup Steve's cheek, but stops himself before he actually touches him. Steve doesn't flinch away.

Please, Billy's wolf whines.

Protect him, Billy tells it. Make him feel safe.

The wolf may not fully understand the logic, may still want to touch and claim, but it understands the sentiment behind the thought and it calms quickly.  For it's mate it will do anything, even if that means holding itself back. 

"Let me court you," Billy whispers. "I won't do anything you don't want. I swear it. I just... I just want to get to know you. I want you to know me. I want to make up for what I did... for fucking it up. That... that wasn't me. That's not what I want to be. Not with you. Never with you. Please."

Water rushes, leaves rustle, Billy's heart pounds with hope and longing. 

I'm everywhere, I'm everything. It's all connected.

Is this what being in love feels like? 

"You want... you want to make it up to me?" Steve asks.

Billy nods.

"Anything you want," he says, and he means it.

Steve hesitates, eyes wide and watchful. After a long, long moment, he leans his cheek in slightly to Billy's hovering palm, giving Billy a careful, gentle touch. It's only a brief and soft touch, quite simple really, but it electrifies them both. 

"Lessons," Steve says after a heady, heavy stretch of silence.

Billy blinks.

"Lessons?"

"Yep. Werewolf lessons."  

Chapter Text

Jody Peterson and Ernie Monroe had been friends ever since they first met in high school, and hunting buddies ever since senior year when Ernie’s older brother Sam bought himself a new T-bird and gave Ernie his old, beat-up truck to drive.

Buying guns and ammo and boots and knives and all the other hunting equipment that hunting buddies usually carry around was almost incidental after that. The trips to Hawkins Woods started out as an excuse to spend long nights away from their cares and their troubles, to hike and drink and smoke and munch on fire-roasted weenies and chew the fat and sit in comfortable silence.

It used to be that if they never saw a deer or a rabbit or anything at all then that was just fine with them. Used to be that just enjoying each other’s company was enough.

Used to be Jody and Ernie considered it a successful hunting trip whether they shot anything or not.

Yeah, it used to be like that.

It’s ‘Nam, Jody thinks grimly as he watches his friend pace around in the darkness at the edge of their campfire, a gun in his hand and a wild glint in his eye.

Jody knows better than to try to talk to Ernie when he’s like this.

He knows better like he knew not to question it when Ernie shot at and clipped that obviously pregnant doe earlier today. Like he knew to stay behind at the camp while Ernie tracked the wounded deer through the woods, seeking out and finding a damning trail of blood and following it all the way to its source. Like he knew that he, Jody, would absolutely not want to see what Ernie, his best friend, his wing-man, his hunting buddy, was going to do when he found the doe.

He knows. Ernie’s soon-to-be-ex-wife certainly knows. Half the town probably knows what Ernie is like... how he came back changed. How it's all gotten worse and worse since then.

Jody knows, and he sympathizes. He was in ‘Nam, too.

But he didn’t come back wild-eyed and broken like Ernie.

Ernie’s perimeter sweep goes wider and wider until Jody can’t see him at all in the darkness. Ernie’s stomping and huffing is the only way Jody knows he’s still out there.

Jody sits and stares at the fire and drinks his beer and contemplates bailing out, cutting and running, maybe even taking the truck (the same truck, Sam’s old truck, still the ‘the hunting truck’ even after all these years) right now and leaving Ernie out here in the woods by himself.

At least Ernie is happier out in the woods… or if he’s not happy, at least he seems to understand the woods more than he does the town.

Jody contemplates leaving. He contemplates going home and stretching out in his Lay-Z-Boy recliner with his wife and his T.V. and his newspaper and never, ever coming back out into the woods. He contemplates never spending quality hunting time with his old friend Ernie Monroe again.

Because these trips have changed now... they are no longer pleasant bonding experiences.

There is no more small talk, no more laughter, no more careless pleasure on these trips.

They have become more than uncomfortable, more than tedious.

They are starting to become frightening.

Jody listens as Ernie prowls through the woods with his loaded gun. He sits by the fire and slurps his beer, calm and relaxed on the surface but a ball of anxiety and tension underneath.

When Ernie acts like this Jody can't help but be dragged back into memories of hot, dark jungles full of danger, where a false step could send you hurling away from an explosion or falling into a pit full of spikes. Jody hated patrols, and he hated night patrols worst of all. The darkness has teeth, his old Sarge used to say, and boy was he right about that. Was he ever.

That world is distant now, a fading memory, more sensations and echos than anything else. Hawkins Woods is nothing like Vietnam.

But bad things can still find you in familiar places. Bad things can wear familiar faces and sit in your home with you... can sit right across from you at your own kitchen table.

Ernie has started... reacting to things. Little things. Things that never used to bother him before.

And he's starting to react... violently.

Ernie is really starting to scare him.

And yet, as awful, as miserable as these hunting trips have become, Jody knows damn well that he won’t stop going on them. Call it camaraderie or sentimentality or just good old-fashioned morality. Jody can’t leave a fellow soldier, and a friend at that, behind.

Jody is so engrossed in his thoughts that he almost doesn’t hear it when Ernie goes quiet. It’s a long moment, but soon enough Jody becomes aware of an absence of sound and movement.

The fire suddenly seems very small, and the darkness suddenly seems very oppressive, and the woods are suddenly very quiet.

The word empty flashes through Jody’s head, quickly followed by the word void. That’s not really a word that comes up a lot for Jody... but he remembers listening to his son, Teddy, talking about a book he was reading and mentioning the words void and abyss as he tried to explain it. Teddy is in college getting the kind of education Jody could have only dreamed of at his age, and the entire conversation had pretty much gone over Jody’s head.

But the words are there now. They are fitting descriptions for the very real, very silent, very... sentient... darkness surrounding him.

Jody stands up cautiously and moves towards the edge of the firelight, looking out into the woods. He avoids making sudden noises or movements… he doesn’t want to accidentally get a belly full of buckshot, courtesy of the now mysteriously-absent Ernie. He does, however, want Ernie to come back out of the woods and sit by the fire.

Sometimes even a disturbed friend is better than no friend at all, especially on a night like this.

“Ernie?” Jody asks the night, cautiously. “Ernie, I’m gonna turn the radio on, see if we can’t catch the end of the game. Okay?”

Silence answers. Jody shivers and wraps his arms around himself, although his discomfort has nothing to do with the autumn chill.

“Ernie?”

I’m gonna have to go out there, Jody thinks bitterly. I’m going to have to get my goddamn gun and go out there because that fucking idiot has gotten himself caught in a bear-trap or in an imaginary fire fight with the Vietcong…

There’s a snap to Jody’s left and he spins. He could swear he sees a flash of movement, something going behind a bush, but it’s too quick for him to make out if it’s Ernie or something else.

Goddamn, don’t be a chickenshit… it’s Ernie, of course it is, there’s nothing else out here but deer and deer don’t move like that…

Long and glistening like a giant (...what? like a giant fucking what??) snake...

Monsters, a voice whispers in his mind, the same voice that echoed abyss in Jody’s head.

It is the voice in his hindbrain, the voice of a long-forgotten animal instinct.

It sounds a little like Teddy.

Fight flight fight flight...

Monstermonstermonstermonstermonster…

Void.

“Goddamnit, Ernie, I will leave your sorry ass out here to fucking freeze!” Jody screams.

Silence.

Darkness, broken only by the flickering firelight.

There is a flash in Jody’s peripheral vision, on his right side.

“Ernie?” Jody chokes out weakly.

Another flash, this time just out of the corner of his left eye.

Gray glinting metal teeth...

There’s nothing there.

Jody clutches at his chest and listens. His blood is pounding and he thinks he might be having a heart attack, but he stops and he listens and he stands so still… like a frightened deer.

Silence.

Dead silence.

Not even the insects are making a noise.

And then he hears Ernie.

“Jody…”

He sounds far away.

Too far away.

The woods...the trees can absorb sound. He remembers reading that somewhere. 

The darkness has teeth…

“Jody…Jo –,” Ernie’s voice is cut off suddenly by a terrible screaming.

For a moment Jody thinks it’s a fox making the noise, or a child.

It can’t be Ernie.

It's too high-pitched, too desperate, too much like a baby wailing or a soldier dying or the squeal of a pig being slaughtered.

Jody used to work at an abattoir, a long time ago when he was young and willing to work at any job if it meant making the rent. Back when he was willing to watch poor, helpless animals that had never breathed free air or seen the sun without bars blocking their vision march themselves up a steel ramp to be killed...

One after another after another…

Another flash, and then a hitch in Jody’s breath, like he’s gotten the wind knocked out of him.

What?

Jody looks down to see that something has torn through his shirt.

Fuck, he thinks dumbly. His brain flashes to images of laundry and clothes shopping and... damn, Debbie is going to be pissed that he ruined his…

As he watches, red wells up, coloring the slash in his shirt. It doesn’t stop… and once it starts it pours, gushing out and...

Oh… Jody can feel the pain now.

Jody looks up, still not processing what is happening.

All he sees are trees, trees and darkness.

The darkness… it has teeth.

In the end all that remain of Jody Peterson and Ernie Monroe are their screams, the echoes burning onto the trees themselves, an imprinted final moment of horror that stays, and watches, and lives on.

Chapter Text

They meet in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town.

Billy suggests the locale - it's safer than the woods, what with all the monsters and cub scout troops roaming around, and just as isolated. They meet after school, arrive separately and park behind the building. Steve appreciates Billy's interest in secrecy even if he doesn't quite understand why the other boy is so borderline obsessive about it.

Must be a werewolf thing... or maybe Billy has just spent more of his life in the shadows, keeping secrets.

On the surface nothing changes. Both boys still go to school, still hang out with their respective friends. Steve walks down the old familiar hallways the day after their talk with a blank mask plastered on his face. He's calm on the surface but he's also so sure that everyone around him can see the change in him, the strange possibilities waking up inside.

He'd felt much the same when Dustin had first bitten him, but it's different now.

He's different now.

Billy's eyes still follow Steve everywhere he goes, but instead of making Steve tense it makes him feel... weirdly safe. Wanted. If there is a little extra spring to his step, it's only natural - he has an audience now.

Billy still needles Steve during practice, but suddenly Steve can read the secret meaning behind the words.

Plant your feet! Billy shouts. Steve hears: Protect yourself.

Eye on the ball, Harrington - watch this move, baby, watch me preen and show off a little.

Look alive, pretty boy - come on beautiful, let's play.

One day at lunch he finds an extra pudding cup on his tray. He has no idea how it got there, but he turns just in time to see curly blonde hair and a familiar form walking away from him with a smooth, confident stride.

Steve doesn't tell Nancy or Dustin what he's done, what he's agreed to. He hasn't agreed to anything, really - at least that's what he tells himself. He didn't say yes to the courting. He said yes to questions, and to werewolf lessons. That's not, like, an engagement ring or anything. He decides to wait and see what Billy delivers.

Billy delivers.

Steve finds a battered book of poems in his locker two days after they make their truce.

Steve never really liked poetry before, but he finds himself enchanted by the strange, curling words typed on creamy, well-worn pages, by the penciled annotations, little notes written in two hands - one that is clearly Billy's and another neat script that Steve doesn't recognize.

He studies the book all through his classes that day, and he doesn't even care that he misses most of what his teachers say. He loves the interwoven emotions of the poems and feels a thrill of satisfaction spotting the phrases that Billy thought important enough to underline.

On the front title page, written in pencil in Billy's now-familiar scrawl, is the new address for their lessons, and when Steve shows up after school Billy turns and gives him a bright smile that goes all the way up to his eyes. 

 

 

 

For the first lesson, Steve doesn't get to ask any questions. All he does is sit across from Billy while they share cigarettes and the two six-packs of warm beer Billy had stowed in the trunk of his car.

Billy does the talking.

He tells Steve the stories his grandfather told him long ago. Stories of warriors and magic and nightmares and love and betrayal.

He tells Steve of the first werewolves.

The late afternoon light cuts softly through the broken glass windows of the deserted warehouse, creating shadows and rainbow reflections on every surface it reaches. On the ground there is dirt and litter, and also weeds breaking through cracks in concrete, reaching up, up. Nature reclaiming the world, slowly but surely, with a quiet whispering loveliness. 

It is just the two of them, but Steve feels like there are more, more beings sitting next to him, listening. As he sits there he swears he can almost see shadows behind Billy, murmuring, telling their stories, their voices echoing through the words of the young werewolf as they fall in an effortless rhythm from his mouth.

In the old days, Billy tells him, human tribes worshiped the Wolf God.

The Wolf God was an ancient god, a beast of blood and tears, who demanded the sacrifice of flesh each full moon. When the sacrifice was accepted, the tribe would prosper, and the tribal leaders would gain wealth and power. When the sacrifice was rejected, the tribe would suffer.

When the sacrifice was rejected, the wolves would come to the village at night and take the children.

Most of them were never seen again. Those unlucky souls became food for the wolves of the woods.

Sometimes, however, a few children would return on cold, lonely nights. Though still human, they had lost their language and their minds. They would come walking on all fours, feral and violent, scratching at the doors of their former homes. Their desperate, hungry, inhuman howling would shatter the villagers' hearts and drive many a sound mind mad.

Those parents foolish enough to open their homes to their lost children were found torn to pieces in the morning.

When the Christian men came, they resisted the lure of the Wolf God. Outraged by the missionaries' attempts to convert them, the sons of the Wolf God abused the Christians and tried to kill them. They became like their god - cruel and bloodthirsty, wily and wild.

The suffering Christians called on their own god to enact a most fitting revenge and curse all those who followed the old rites of blood. The Christian god turned their attackers into wolves and doomed them to always walk in the shadows and in the night - neither fully man nor fully wolf, and always at the mercy of their most animalistic impulses.

Thus the old tribes were destroyed, and remade into the first werewolf packs.

Billy falls silent.

Steve realizes suddenly that he is shivering, even though he is wearing a jacket and the day is warm. He takes a swig of beer to cover his nerves. The liquid tastes sour in his mouth and he grimaces.

"That's one story," Billy says, a half-smile on his lips and a distant look in his eye, almost as if Steve isn't there. "Some wolves... some really like that story."

"Do you?" Steve asks.

Billy shrugs. "Nobody really knows for sure where we come from. If you think this life is a curse, it's as good a story as any. And it explains why we can sometimes get a little... feral."

"So it's an excuse," Steve says flatly. "An excuse for being out of control. Because you're just built that way, right? Cursed?"

Billy fixes him with a very careful look, then nods slightly.

A heavy silence settles between them.

"They took the kids away," Steve murmurs after a moment. He's frowning and his eyes are fixed on some spot on the brick wall just over Billy's left shoulder.

Billy just looks at him, not denying or confirming anything. Simply watching and evaluating. He realizes that he doesn't necessarily need to ask questions to learn important things about his mate.

That story had always been a rainy day story. It was the story his grandfather often told to groups of young wolves, a glass of whiskey in his hand. It was a fable repeated with wry enjoyment, with the kind of amusement you feel when you tell an obviously-untrue ghost story to frightened children.

When he got older Billy would catch the elder William's eye and see the tell-tale glint and know that this was all a performance. A parlor trick. A cautionary tale.

"You don't believe it," Steve says. It's not a question.

Billy closes his eyes.

Billy is fourteen.

It is the night of the full moon.

His mother has been dead a year and even if she wasn't Billy is old enough now to hate spending time with his family on general principle. He doesn't want to be here. The Hargrove pack, big and powerful but strangely diminished in Billy's mind by the loss of that one special someone who was always his favorite person, marches out into the woods for their shift. 

Billy  is trying to avoid Neil and Neil's new girlfriend, Susan, so he drifts towards the back of the group to where the older wolves walk slowly, talking among themselves, remembering past hunts and past moons.

He finds himself drawn to Grandpa William, his namesake, who is walking a little apart from the group and not chattering like he usually does. Instead, he is staring off into the trees, his eyes a little vague, as though he is looking for something that isn't out there.

"Hi Grandpa," Billy says, nudging William gently. 

"Hello, my pup," the older wolf answers.

"Not a pup anymore, Grandpa."

"Oh no, you're the big bad wolf, coming to blow the little pig's house down," William grins. It's a very old joke. Billy chuckles in spite of the gnawing grief in his chest, that heavy, immovable sadness that is always with him these days.

"What is it?" Billy asks. His grandfather is different today. Billy looks over to try to see what the older man is looking at, but he doesn't notice anything interesting. Just the woods and the falling dusk. 

"I'm just thinking about your mother," William says.

All of a sudden all the air leaves Billy's lungs.

They don't talk about Billy's mother anymore. Neil... hasn't forbidden it, exactly. But they don't... they don't talk about her anymore.

His grandfather doesn't seem to notice that Billy has stopped breathing, that his grandson is watching him with eyes full of longing and hope and sorrow.

"She was so beautiful, your mother," Williams says, distractedly. "She looked just like my Lucy. You never knew your grandmother, Billy... but son, when I saw her, that was it. Standing on someone's front lawn, wearing a blue dress. When was it...? Rodney White's Christmas party. Golden hair and blue eyes. Every man there would have killed to be with her, but she turned around and looked at me and I knew, and she knew..."

Billy waits.

"Knew what?" he asks, finally.

"She was my mate, Billy. Me... six feet tall and gangly as hell, with all of ten bucks to my name, and that goddess was my mate. My soul."

Billy shifts a little, intrigued but uncomfortable and a little shy. He has so many questions, so many things he wants to know... too many. And he knows that no answer will give him the one thing he wants the most - a warm embrace, a familiar scent, the feeling of home. His mother.

"Did I ever tell you the story of the first werewolves, Billy?" William asks, looking up at the fading sunlight.

"Sure, Grandpa. Loads of times."

"No... not that story," the older wolf says, smiling a little. "The other one." 

Billy opens his eyes and looks at his mate, who is waiting patiently for Billy to speak. A strand of dark brown hair falls across Steve's face and he is biting plump red lips shiny with saliva and beer. 

Billy smiles, and tells Steve the story that his grandfather told him once, just the once, years ago in a forest in California.

Billy tells Steve that, once upon a time, there were all kinds of creatures in the world.

There were children of the forest, and children of the sea, and children of fire, and children of the air... old tribes living and loving and fighting across all the lands of the earth. The world changes, but people don't. Our basic needs are always the same, as are the ways we shape our days and spend our lives.

Billy tells him that a woman, a child of the forest, went walking one night... a long walk that took eleven years. Eleven years in darkness, with only the stars to guide her.

One night, she stumbles upon the Moon, a beautiful celestial light standing next to a vast ocean... the Moon, the Great Mother who watched from the sky as the woman walked on her long and lonely path. The Moon had watched the woman and the world and had become full and round with joy at what She saw.

And now, the Moon said, she would give the woman a gift.

The woman saw the full Moon happy and shining and pregnant with love, and asked the Moon for a lover to walk with her through the dark places. The Moon blessed the woman and called the wolf, a creature of the night, to her side. She gave the wolf to the woman and the woman to the wolf. The woman and the wolf had a girl-child, and that child was the mother of the first werewolves. 

Steve blinks at him as Billy falls silent. After a long moment, he smiles a little, brown eyes softening and brightening.

He likes that story better, and Billy is glad, so very glad, that he has pleased his mate with his tale.

 

 

 

The next lesson is less fun for Steve, although it is a source of some amusement for Billy. Steve is pretty sure Billy is howling with laughter underneath that ostensibly calm exterior.

Bastard.

Lesson #2 is not a storytelling lesson. Lesson #2 is: "Things You Can Do As A Human As A Werewolf". 

Apparently life as a werewolf included increased strength, speed, and stamina, even while in human form.

“The three S's," Billy joked. "And healing, of course, but you know that one already."

That quip had not amused Steve.

Billy was going to make Steve stretch his muscles as a human before introducing him to his wolf form, was going to show him his new strengths by making him perform a series of tasks.

Easy peasy.

What Billy had failed to take into account, however, was that Steve is terrible at being a werewolf.

Billy finds the perfect target... an old car that had been burned out and abandoned in the warehouse. He stands off to the side and tells Steve to go bananas. He remembers his father and his grandfather doing something similar with him, and it fills Billy with a bit of pride to think he can do this with Steve. Displays of strength to prove your power.

But this isn't basketball. Steve makes one attempt to use his powers and he chokes.

And then he fails again.

And again.

"You're overthinking this, I think."

"Oh, you think?" Steve glares up at him.

"You can do it," Billy says, ignoring Steve's bitchiness. "You have the ability. Just move the car."

"Move the car, he says," Steve grumbles. "Move the car. From here to there," he makes an enraged gesture. "With my bare hands."

"It's easy, Steve," Billy feels a ping of annoyance. "It's the first thing you learn how to do. I tore through an entire wall by accident when I was twelve."

"Oh, well, good for you."

Steve eyes the rusty old clunker. Looking at it now he estimates that it must weigh a ton if it weighs an ounce. After a moment, he screws up his face and grinds his feet into the ground. He braces his hands against the rusty metal and gives the car another push.

He throws all his weight against it, every human muscle.

It doesn't budge.

Of course it doesn't budge, because this is ridiculous...

Steve's breath leaves him entirely in one exhausted whoosh and he sags against the car. An impassive voice breaks through the roaring sound of his own heart pounding desperately in his ears.

“Try again.”

"You try again," Steve snaps, panting. "I'm doing everything you're telling me to do. I'm pushing the fucking thing, it's not going anywhere!" He stands and scowls at Billy, wiping a streak of sweat from his temple. "Why don't you do it if you're so good at this?"

The other boy rolls his eyes. "What are you, five?"

"Go on," Steve makes a head motion towards the car. "Let's see it."

Billy holds his gaze and huffs.

Then, he leans down and, with one strong push, shoves the car about ten feet away from them.

The shocked noise Steve makes is adorable. Billy deliberately does not break out grinning, even though it is very difficult. Such an expression would not go down well at the moment.

"Is this how you keep beating me in basketball?" Steve asks, a significant amount of sheer outrage in his voice.

Billy shrugs and leans away from the car, shoving his hands back in his jacket pockets.

"Maybe you just suck."

"Asshole."

"Whatever. You gonna do this? Sometime before we're both 60, maybe?"

"Billy, I just..." Steve sighs and trails off, one hand rubbing his eyes.

Billy knows he's frustrated. They've been at it for half an hour with no results, and Billy can appreciate that this situation is not designed to make Steve any more pliant and affectionate where he is concerned.

They'd be better off going to Chick's Pizza and getting a milkshake, going on a proper date... but at the same time Billy wants to do this for Steve. It's what Steve asked for, and it's important that Steve knows how to protect himself. It's not romantic, it's not even very pleasant, but...

He sighs, pulls out his smokes and lights a cigarette. He doesn't offer one to Steve, who is looking at some space between the car and Billy, his brow furrowed. 

"What is it, princess?" Billy asks, forcing himself to take a step back and think and see. "What's on your mind?"

Steve looks at Billy for a long time. Billy looks back.

"Sometimes..." Steve starts and then stops suddenly and pushes his hair out of his eyes.

"Sometimes?" 

Steve huffs and shakes his head. 

Sometimes I'm standing in an abandoned warehouse, with monsters in the woods and all these ridiculous feelings in my chest and a werewolf standing next to me telling me to push a three-ton car twenty feet across the floor like so much crumbled newspaper.

"Steve?" 

"I keep waiting to wake up," Steve says finally. He says it so quietly that Billy almost doesn't hear him.

But he does hear him.

He hears him and feels a little ache in his chest. Steve sounds a little lost, a little hurt, a little ashamed.

"Steve," Billy says after a moment. "You trust me, don't you?"

Steve snorts. It stings a little, but it's also kind of like a laugh and Billy likes it when Steve laughs so he decides he'll take what he can get.

"Look. I know. But, listen... I'm not bullshitting you. You can at least trust me not to lie to you, yeah?"

Billy takes a step closer to Steve and Steve doesn't pull away. He just waits to see what Billy is going to do. Billy takes another step forward until he is close to Steve. He reaches up and gently puts his hand on Steve's jaw, a soft, anchoring touch.

"Close your eyes," he says, and Steve does so instantly, leaning into the touch. His immediate obedience and, despite his words, his obvious trust, send a thrill through Billy. He knows that they've still got a long ways to go, but all the same...

"Take a deep breath," Billy murmurs, and Steve inhales and exhales quietly. "Listen to your heart beating. Count the beats. Slow it down. Steady it."

Billy watches as Steve stills under his hand, eyes still closed, hair a gorgeous mess, red mouth slightly open as he calms and focuses. 

He's so beautiful. 

"Let yourself even out. Find your balance. Just like in basketball, before you make a free-throw. Find your center. Good..." Billy takes a step forward and places a soft kiss on Steve's forehead before leaning into his right ear and whispering in a voice soft yet steady. "I wouldn't tell you you could do it if you couldn't do it. You can do this. Believe me, you can. Trust me. You can do this."

When he pulls back Steve's eyes are open and he is looking at him with wide-eyes and a raw expression on his face.

You idiot, Billy thinks. You do everything, you are everything. Why doubt yourself now? How can you not see what you are?

Steve's takes a deep breath in and out and steps away.

Billy lets his hand drop and takes a few steps back as Steve approaches the car again.

He places both hands on the car and lets out a soft grunt.

For a moment nothing happens.

And then...

The car...moves.

Not very fast and not very far, but it absolutely and unmistakably moves.

For it takes a minute for both boys to believe it, and they stand in shocked awe for a stupid length of time. Then...

"I did it," Steve whispers. "Holy shit."

"Yes!" Billy whoops and slaps a shell-shocked Steve on the back. 

"Holy shit."

"Good, real good, man."

"Holy shit."

"Okay..."

The next two hours are some of the most exhausting Steve has ever experienced. Billy makes him run and lift and wreck their little warehouse, and Steve finds himself doing things that he never thought possible.

"You're tapping into the wolf without letting it out," Billy explains as Steve knocks over a crumbling brick wall. "The strength is always in there, it's just a question of finding it and unleashing it at the right level."

"This is amazing," Steve practically glows. "I can feel it... like..."

"Yeah," Billy agrees, looking on as Steve takes another lap around the warehouse at about ten times the speed he could manage as a human. 

Steve is thrilled that he has finally, as he puts it, managed to find an upside to the whole 'werewolf thing'. He flags pretty quickly, though, once Billy has put him through some basic exercises for beginner wolves.

"It's not you strongest form, your human one," Billy tells him as he starts slowing down. "It's good to know what you can do, though." 

Before too long Steve collapses on the ground and groans. He sprawls out on the dirt floor, seemingly unconcerned about the mess. 

"Everything hurts!"

Billy chuckles and lowers himself down on the ground next to him, maintaining a respectful distance even though one of his hands is just itching to crawl over and catch one of Steve's. He stretches out next to his mate, using his arm to pillow his head.

"Probably best not to quit your day job."

Steve harrumphs.

They lay there quietly, listening to each other breathing. Both are busy with their own musings.

I'm never going to be able to bring him to Dad, a horrible, scared part of Billy thinks. He's my mate. He's wonderful. I can't let Neil anywhere near him. What am I going to do?

The white noise of the empty warehouse - the birds and animals in the nearby forest, the breeze whistling through broken windows, the sound of the exhausted boy panting next to him - doesn't offer him a clear answer. It only tells him to keep doing what he's been doing... keep trying to stay one step ahead of every trap and trick.

It's enough to wear a person out. Right down to the bone until there's nothing left...

“This… this mate thing,” Steve says suddenly, his voice steady but tentative.

Billy is jolted out of his dark downward spiral by the interruption. He doesn’t say anything, just tilts his head slightly in acknowledgement, his eyes never leaving Steve’s wary face.

“What does it mean, exactly?”

“It means we belong together,” Billy says without hesitation. Something inside him snaps back into place, a kind of unshakable certainty. That much is true… it’s everything else that’s complicated. “Our wolves… react to each other. It’s biological but it’s also something fundamental, spiritual.”

“Just our wolves?”

Billy smiles. “Our wolves aren’t separate from us, sweetheart. They are us. More primal, maybe, but your wolf wouldn’t like me if you didn’t like me.”

“I don’t like you,” Steve responds immediately. “You’re annoying as fuck. You’re an asshole at school. You scared the shit out of me in the woods.”

Steve expects Billy to snap at that, but he doesn’t.

In fact, he almost looks contrite.

“I didn’t mean to do that… in the woods. I didn’t mean to scare you or make you feel trapped or threatened or whatever. I misread the signals. I’m not…” he huffs, takes a drag of his cigarette. “I’m not used to hanging out with bitten wolves.”

“You weren’t bitten? You’re…” Steve gapes at him. “You’re like Dustin? Born this way?”

“Dustin?”

“Dustin’s a kid I babysit for. He’s…” Steve stumbles over his words. How does he explain what Dustin is?

“So, you don’t like me,” Billy interrupts Steve’s thoughts, grinning. “That’s a lie, but okay.” He ignores Steve’s answering squawk. “What about Dustin? What does your wolf think about him? Does it see him as a threat?”

“No. No, of course not.”

“Why not? He bit you, I'm guessing?"

"Yeah, but it was an accident."

"He’s another wolf in your territory. Dangerous.”

“He’s just a kid!”

“Does the wolf know that?”

“I…” Yeah. Steve knows what the wolf thinks. The wolf looks at Dustin and thinks – brother. pup. pack. mine. protect.

Steve doesn’t finish his sentence, but he’s an open book and Billy can see all the emotions playing across his face.

“Do you think the wolf would feel that way if you didn’t already feel like that?”

Steve shakes his head. It’s a fair point. As annoying as it is having the raw force of the wolf in his head all the time, he has to admit that there have been very few instances when he and the wolf have actually disagreed with each other. Almost none, come to think of it.

The problem has always been more that the wolf was too much Steve, the more extreme version of himself. Maybe that’s why his self-control always seems to be teetering on the knife’s edge.

“So…” Steve chews his lip thoughtfully. “So bitten wolves are different from born wolves?”

Billy seems a bit surprised at that question. “Of course. Don’t you know this from Dustin?”

“Dustin’s alone. He’s not alone, I mean, he has a family, a mom, he’s not an orphan or anything… but he’s the only werewolf in his family. He doesn’t act any different from me. He’s been a werewolf for longer, but only a year.”

Billy stares at Steve in growing disbelief. “Do… do his parents know?”

“His dad died. His mom doesn’t know, no.”

Billy shakes his head. “Then how the fuck have you guys been keeping this a secret all this time?”

“We haven’t, really,” Steve admits sheepishly. “Dustin has. But Dustin reads a lot and he’s seen a lot of movies. He’s pretty smart. He figured enough of it out, and then got some information from his extended family. He… he bit me two months ago.”

Silence stretches out between them as Billy takes this in. He can’t quite decide whether his mate is the luckiest or unluckiest bastard on the planet.

“So, you really don’t know anything.”

“Well, I know that once a month I get the worst headache in the world and then when the full moon comes up I turn into a wolf. And I do know that you’re different from us.” Steve goes on when Billy throws him a questioning look. “I don’t know if it’s a bitten or not bitten thing… but you can change when it’s not the full moon. You were out there in the woods… and you weren’t a wolf, either. You were something else. Dustin and I can’t do that.”

“You can,” Billy says, and he has to keep himself from smiling when Steve gives him a google-eyed expression. “It takes practice. Control. But you can do that. Or, at least, Dustin can. Should be able to. It’s harder for bitten wolves to keep control.”

“But I could, in theory? Dustin could?”

“With practice.”

“Is that… is that why you don’t hang out with bitten wolves? Because they don’t have as much control?”

Oh Stevie, let’s not go there.

Billy swallows his dread, shrugs and settles on a half-truth. “There just aren’t as many bitten. There are rules about who you can turn, and packs try to regulate their members as much as possible. My old pack in California didn’t have many.”

“I have pretty good control,” Steve insists.

Billy snorts. “Oh yeah, pretty boy?”

“Sure. I keep myself from tearing your throat out when you’re an asshole during basketball practice.”

Billy hums, the corners of his mouth quirking upwards. “Are you sure you want to tear my throat out during practice? You sure it isn’t something else?” Because Billy feels something similar during basketball practice, when he’s pressed up close behind Steve, his scent in Billy’s nose, his immortal beloved so close he can almost taste him.

It’s amazing how easily violence and lust blend together… especially for the wolf.

Steve doesn’t respond to Billy’s question… at least not directly. His gaze drops to some spot in the middle-distance and he chews on his lower lip, thinking. Billy feels something in his hand, suddenly, and looks down to see that Steve's fingers have wrapped themselves around his. His heart flip-flops, but he doesn't say anything, afraid of breaking the spell.

After a moment…

“You didn’t really answer my question.”

Billy tries to remember everything he and Steve had talked about. “Yes, I did.”

“Well, you gave me some romantic bullshit about us belonging together, but you didn’t tell me what that means. What being mates means.”

Billy looks down at his cigarette and shrugs. “I guess… I guess it’s like being married.”

Steve snorts. “Oh fuck, don’t say that. Married people are the worst. Just ask my parents.”

Billy huffs a laugh and nods in agreement. “Yeah, fair enough. Like soulmates, then. You, um… you can sort of connect with the other person. You’re on the same wavelength. It’s like a bond.”

“What, like telekinesis?”

“That’s moving things with your mind, dipshit. Bending spoons or whatever. Telepathy is what you’re thinking of… mind-reading.”

“Okay, so like telepathy?”

“Maybe a bit. More like you can sense where the other person is sometimes… sense what they’re feeling. I don’t know, it’s different for everyone. More or less intense depending on the couple.”

“Is there a ceremony, like a wedding?”

“Sometimes. The bond develops over time, but there’s usually a moment when you make a commitment to each other. You can have a formal ceremony in larger packs, or if two packs are joining together there’s usually a thing but it tends to be more private. The two wolves bite each other to show that they’re claimed. Mark each other in some way. I hear it kind of feels like a lock opening, or something slotting into place. Other wolves can recognize it, then. They can sense it.”

Steve mulls that over.

“You can force a bond, too.” Billy adds. “If you can make the other wolf submit to you and then mark them, then you can claim that wolf for your pack and yourself.”

“Sounds psychotic,” Steve murmurs, a thread of anxiety in his voice.

“It’s wrong,” Billy says decisively. He thinks of Max, of what almost happened in California, and feels a low thrum of protective anger. “The bond is supposed to grow naturally, organically. When you force a bond, you short-circuit that process. It twists the connection between the wolves… in time it has to be worked out or it destroys them.”

A silence stretches between the two boys and Billy coughs. “We don’t have to worry about that.”

After a terse moment during which Billy (and, he is sure, Steve) remembers the incident in the woods, Steve huffs with wry humor. “You know, the fact that you’re a boy should really be freaking me out, but to be honest me being queer isn’t even the weirdest thing to come out of all of this.”

Billy smiles. “I’ve had both. You?”

Steve swallows and Billy can pick up the nervousness and embarrassment in his scent.

“No, just… just girls. Just two girls, actually.”

“Whoa, King Steve, what a gentleman… so your big bad reputation is just talk, huh?”

“Fuck off,” Steve growls. “I didn’t start any rumors. I just didn’t correct them.” The embarrassed scent deepens. “And I had plenty of girlfriends, just none that I…”

I pushed it too far. I didn’t want to be that guy.

“I just wanted it to mean something.”

Remorse bubbles up in Billy at the notes of shame and longing and vulnerability in Steve’s voice. 

He doesn’t overthink it. In one fluid movement he rolls over on top of Steve, who lets out a surprised little squeak.

That’s okay… bemusement and lust are erasing the shame and self-doubt, and that’s what Billy wants. He leans down and kisses Steve’s mouth, softly, leaving Steve plenty of space to push him away.

Their first real kiss... here on the broken ground, warmed by the weak afternoon sunlight, the smell of dust and rust and vegetation and each other in their noses, the tender press of flesh against flesh.

Billy will go away if that’s what Steve wants…

Steve’s doesn’t want. His lips are soon on Billy’s and are pressing forward, demanding a response, his tongue dancing forward, a soft groan escaping. Billy runs his hands across Steve’s shoulders, down his sides, up his arms.

“I want that too, Steve,” Billy murmurs against his mouth, a gentle, raw confession. “I want it to mean something. It does mean something. It’s the only thing in this shitty world that does. You’re my mate. My wolf. My other half. It means something to me.”

Billy glances up to where his own fingers are wrapped around Steve’s wrists. He feels a pang of doubt – he remembers forcing Steve to the ground in the woods, his lust and stupidity and ego nearly undoing everything good and real between them.

He can’t do that again, can’t misread this, can’t let playfulness slip into aggression – he doesn’t want to do that.

They’re both better than that kind of carelessness.

However, Steve isn’t frightened or upset now. There’s nothing in his scent or in the pull of their fragile bond signaling distress.

He makes eye contact with Steve and quirks his eyebrow up, a silent question. Steve lets out a groan and presses up against Billy, resisting just enough to make Billy tighten his grip. Billy can feel Steve’s growing hardness against his own... there's no demand, no rush, but the interest is there. The desire.

Billy allows himself to grin a bit.

“You want me to hold you, baby?”

Steve’s cheeks flush, but he nods and holds his gaze.

“You want me to hold you down? Hold you so you can’t run away from me? You want me to keep you?”

Steve pants out, “Yes… I… Billy...”

“That’s good, Steve,” Billy keeps his voice low and steady, tries to hide how much this is affecting him. Because it is affecting him… quite a bit, in fact. The wolf is purring with the thrill of the chase, the hunt, the capture, the pleasure. He wants it like this, too, and he’s in very real danger of being unraveled by Harrington.

“I want that, too. I can do that. You’re so pretty. Pretty little mate. Pretty, sweet, good little mate. So beautiful under me, under my claws, between my teeth.”

Steve’s breath hitches and his eyes widen a bit… excitement and just a little fear. That’s healthy, Billy thinks. He is a predator, after all. But he isn’t going to hurt Steve. Not in that way.

“I want to keep you. Keep you with me. Hold you close, never let you escape. You’re so good, baby. So beautiful. So fast, so strong, so sweet, so pretty… so mine. I’ve got you now,” Billy dips down to nuzzle at Steve’s jaw and plant a tender kiss at the corner of his mouth.

“I’ve got you, and I’m never letting you go.”

Steve tilts his head back and groans.

Billy grins broadly at the sight.

“Been meaning to talk to you about that, sweetheart.”

“Nghh, what?” He sounds annoyed, frustrated… it’s delicious.

“You know you’ve got the most gorgeous neck of anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Steve snorts. “Thanks, Billy… you only sound mostly like a serial killer with that line…”

“Ha ha,” Billy snarks. “But here’s the thing, darling. Lesson one about being a wolf… you don’t show anyone your throat.”

Steve’s gaze is a shade more serious now… Billy can almost see the wheels turning in his head.

“Why?”

Billy huffs, grins, and leans in to bury his nose at the junction where jaw meets ear.

“Reason one… because that’s where your scent is strongest… any wolf with half a nose can read everything they want to know about you right here.”

Steve turns his head and leans in towards Billy’s neck. He has no leverage, Billy is still holding his wrists, but he manages to get in nice and close anyway. “What do I smell like?”

Like home. Like mate. Like mine.

“Crushed lavender and grass on blue jeans. New books. Summer rain. Sweet cream and cherries. Other things…”

“You smell like the ocean,” Steve gasps in surprise and pleasure at the discovery. “Salt and warm sand. And wood smoke. Brown sugar. And… lightning?” Steve scrunches his nose. “Does lightning have a smell?”

Billy can’t help it. He presses his lips to the ridiculous boy’s cheek, then his nose, then his lips. He loves that Steve is like a curious, eager puppy. He loves that Steve gives everything without fearing the consequences. All the things that should drive him crazy, and he loves them. Wants them from Steve. Always.

Steve wiggles and sniffs at Billy's throat and looks up at him with mischief in his eyes. His mate is flirting, high on adrenaline and his new powers and their growing bond. Daring Billy to come and see.

“Reason number two to protect your neck…” Billy murmurs as his mouth drifts lower and lower.

His lips brush Steve’s chin, press against his jugular.

“…Is because an enemy could just…”

He presses his teeth to Steve’s skin.

He can feel Steve’s pulse pick up, can smell the adrenaline in his bloodstream.

“…Rip out your throat.”

Billy gives Steve a little nip and then pulls back.

Steve is looking up at him with those big doe eyes. A part of Billy, a deep, dark, weirdly moral part wants to scream at him – you get it, Steve? You can’t trust me! I’m the big bad wolf! I don’t deserve your trust and I sure as hell don’t deserve your love!

Run, run, little rabbit…

Billy has no idea what’s going on in Steve’s head, but it soon becomes clear that he either doesn’t know Billy at all, or knows him way better than anyone thinks… because instead of pushing Billy off and running away…

He tilts his head back further, exposes the whole of his throat to Billy, his gaze never wavering, a small smile on his lips.

Billy swallows once and, not for the first time, wonders who the real predator is in this relationship.

And then Steve's lips are on his, full and greedy and possessive, and suddenly all the doubt is swept away.

 

Chapter Text

It's winter in Hawkins. It is unusually dry this year... they should have had their first snow fall by now.

Steve wonders what Billy will make of it when it finally does come. If he's seen snow before, in sunny California. 

It's cold out, but Steve doesn't feel it at all.

 

He has floated through life more or less content, and recently, thanks to his new furry alter ego, he's cycled through intense moments of shock and alarm and terror and joy. But he's also a middle-class kid from a small town in the middle of nowhere. Up until a few months ago nothing particularly interesting ever really happened to him.

He didn't have a whole lot of reasons to feel this hot, expanding thing in his chest, this strange uplifting sensation. It's strange, but he's felt it often these past few days. It keeps the chill out.

He'd felt warmth while he was stretched out on the ground in the old Aberdeen Silver Warehouse a few days ago.

He'd looked up at piercing blue eyes softened around the edges with an unshakable tenderness, at golden hair framing tanned skin and strong cheekbones, at a predatory smile grinning down at him. He'd felt that immovable pressure on his wrists and against his hips.

He'd been shocked by his own boldness... it had never occurred to him that he might react that way to being held by another. To being surrounded by the smell of ocean waves and wood smoke and maple syrup. To being a small, vulnerable thing underneath a dangerous (and Billy is dangerous, Steve hasn't forgotten, he's got no illusions about that), strong, loving creature who only has eyes for him.

They'd kissed for ages, rutting gently against each other, undemanding and willing to drift lazily in their shared pleasure.

Steve had tasted Billy's mouth and Billy had tasted Steve's skin with a strange, unhurried, almost academic interest, until the afternoon almost completely passed them by. 

 

At some point Steve pulls back a little, suddenly unsure, and Billy lets him. He wants to say something then, to explain that he maybe isn't ready to go further just yet, but Billy shushes him before he can open his mouth, and rolls them both over on their sides. 

Billy strokes Steve's face and just looks at him. They lay there, quiet and content, while their wolves revel in the closeness, in the complex beauty of studying and cherishing another.

Impulsively, Steve scoops up Billy's free hand and presses the palm against his mouth, kissing the calloused skin. Billy lets out a soft, almost wounded noise, and then tugs Steve into a tight embrace.

They hadn't done anything more that night.

 

The next afternoon was basketball practice, and the day after that both boys had needed to escort their young charges around town. They couldn't meet up on those days, but they shared looks and a few words here and there at school.

They finally get another afternoon together and practice running and jumping in the warehouse. Steve is shocked, on some level, at how effortless it is to be with Billy, how quickly they move towards friendship and intimacy. It feels like they've lived a lifetime in the past weeks. It's so easy to roll with it, and any attempt at training quickly ends the first time Steve casually puts his hand on Billy's shoulder.

 

Maybe it's the wolves in them - the wolves want, and they are always so damn hungry for everything, and they don't understand or care about all the silly human things that might keep them from their goal - or maybe it's just that Steve and Billy are lustful teenagers whose chemicals all mix in the most perfect ways.

Either way that afternoon the touching and tasting was much more urgent, more desperate. It barreled inescapably towards climax.

Billy's hands are running electric lines up and down the rippling muscles of Steve's back, and Steve is pressing his palms against Billy's perfect pecs, plucking and teasing the nipples. Steve shivers and Billy hisses, and Steve's mouth is claimed again.

After an intense moment Billy pulls away from the urgent kissing and stroking in order to fumble Steve's pants open, letting out a small groan of pleasure at the sight of his rapidly plumping cock. Steve lets out a quiet grunt as sensitive skin hits the cold air and leans closer to Billy, who always runs hot like a furnace. 

Steve, now a little more in tune with his senses, can smell the tell-tale scent of arousal on Billy as well, and sets to work freeing Billy's erection from its own confinement.

It is there in his hand suddenly, thick and hard and strangely lovely, and it occurs to Steve just a moment too late that this is the first time he has ever handled another boy's...erm...package.

He hesitates for just a moment, and then a strong hand cups his cheek and forces him to meet watchful blue eyes.

Billy kisses him gently and then pulls back. He spits in his free hand, never taking his eyes off Steve, and reaches down to grasp Steve by the root. Steve gasps and his eyes roll back and though he isn't looking at him anymore he swears he can feel the fucking grin on the other boy's face.

It takes him a moment but he comes back to himself, soothed as Billy's hand starts a steady motion up and down.

He follows Billy's lead, wetting his hand as best he can before reaching down and touching him. Billy lets out a soft cry, high-pitched and more vulnerable-sounding than he probably intends, and Steve feels a thrill in his chest at the power he holds.

Billy pulls him closer and tucks his face in Steve's neck, inhaling deeply and grunting in pleasure. Steve does the same, burying his face in golden curls made sticky with sweat.

Soon he can hear nothing but his own labored breathing and Billy panting and moaning in his ear. Soon there is nothing but Billy's hands on him, and his hands on Billy. They move in tandem, a strange beast with two backs, rocking gently and making soft pleasure sounds.

Steve touches him the way he himself liked to be touched, tries different speeds and moves, and finds what works best. Billy, for his part, is very good at this... he seems to know what Steve wants before he wants it.

Steve, slightly overwrought, finishes first, but even as he comes down he remembers to keep stroking Billy. Billy follows soon after with a loud cry, and if Steve didn't know any better he'd swear he could feel tears mixed in with the sweat on Billy's cheek.

As they both come back to earth, their faces still buried in each other's hair, a thought occurs to Steve.

He lets out a little giggle.

"Hmm?" Billy's hand drifts lazily down Steve's side.

"Creamed your pants," Steve murmurs, slightly hysterical and very pleased.

Billy snorts in amusement and bites Steve's shoulder gently in retaliation.

 

 

"Yeah, sure, pretty boy... I believe you."

 "I swear to God! Nearly froze to death doing it, but it totally happened."

"Shit, Harrington..."

Steve doesn't feel awe very often, but he feels it now. 

He thinks that this might be his favorite version of Billy.

It's a close call. He's seen Billy cum, so it's definitely a close call.

Billy is relaxed, golden in the sunlight, wearing a red shirt with the top buttons opened to reveal his necklace and a hint of his chest. He is sprawled out in a casual stance on his side of the booth, and his eyes are hazy with pleasure. 

Billy's strong hands are wrapped around a thick, juicy burger ("How do you want it?" the waitress had asked. "Still mooing," Billy smirked, and sure enough that's what he got), and an almost unconscious moan escapes from his mouth as he chews beef and bacon and cheese.

Just a little bit of blood and grease catch on the corner of his mouth, and it does something unexpectedly visceral to Steve when he sees it.

Steve's wolf rolls over in smug satisfaction.

Yeah, yeah, he thinks, wryly. You were right. This was a good idea. 

It may not be Billy cumming, but it's still a sight to behold.

Feed him, the wolf moans. Feed him all the food until he's warm and fat and full. My mate... hungry, happy, delicious, insatiable mate. Feed him until he's sated and floating in bliss... feed him juicy meats and juicy...

Calm down, Steve tells himself, shifting in his seat and trying to refocus his attention on his own sandwich.

"I haven't had anything this good since Cali," Billy sighs before taking another huge bite. 

"Welcome to the great Midwest."

"Best burgers back home were at Diego's Deli. They put this special cheese right inside the patty. This, though... this is good. Real good. What's in this sauce?"

"No one knows." Steve munches on a french fry. "Benny makes it. He keeps it a closely guarded secret."

"Hmmmm..."

"We country hicks do a couple of things right."

Billy smirks and nudges Steve's foot under the table where no one else an see.

"You do."

Billy's mood has improved significantly now that he's being fed. When Steve had first proposed this little outing he'd been pretty reluctant, bordering on downright rude. 

It was anxiety. Steve didn't even need to look hard to see the nerves underneath the same old aggressive nastiness that is always Billy's first line of defense. But Steve was quite determined not to take no for an answer on this, and not to cave to any Hargrove-level bullshit.

Ever since they'd started werewolf training, the one-sided nature of Billy's courtship had bothered Steve. Steve was used to being the one to buy the flowers and plan the dates and, while the two of them were hardly a conventional couple (did they even count as a 'couple'... a shared orgasm not withstanding?), it didn't feel right.

The more Steve learns about Billy, the more he wants to know and understand and care for him.

He wants to nurture the Billy who gave him poems and lessons, who left pudding on his lunch tray and little doodles on his notebooks.

He wants to watch the proud, strong youth strut like some kind of brat prince, beautiful and unbowed in the morning sunlight.

He wants to know what makes Billy Hargrove tick. 

Even if he is still on the fence about his long-term future with the volatile werewolf, the urge to take care of him, to be close to him, and to protect him is still very strong. 

Besides, his wolf has no such restraint or reservations. It wants Steve to prove that he could provide and protect, too, and to establish its claim on Billy.

Of course, the plan the wolf had originally come up with - and which it kindly shared with Steve - was to catch a deer and feed Billy its beautiful, bloody, still-beating heart before fucking the other wolf stupid on the carcass.

That's one fantasy that he can honestly say never occurred to him before.

He is distracted from his thoughts and his fries by a tug on his free hand. Steve looks up and sees that his left hand is tangled up with Billy's fingers on the far side of the table, safely out of view behind the cups and plates. Billy rubs his thumb in soothing circles over his skin and Steve feels a low thrill of affection.

"I mean it," Billy says, meeting Steve's gaze. "This is... nice. Thank you."

It's hardly a ringing endorsement, but something about how Billy says it... like he's a little bit shocked, a little bit afraid... like it really is a beautiful fragile thing that might be snatched from him if he acknowledges it...

Steve hasn't done anything, not really. Nothing besides believe that Billy deserved to be treated to lunch, to be treated like a human being and a friend. Nothing besides want to be with Billy, to spend time with him and learn about him and just exist together, easy and free. Not so much, really, and yet...

It's so normal, sitting here like this, talking about cars and sports and burgers and school. Steve has learned that Billy loves English class, that he'd done all the work on his Camaro himself, that they both hate the same Bon Jovi songs. He'd learned that the other notes in the book of poems Billy had given him were written by Billy's mother.

A cold north wind blew dead leaves and gray clouds across the sky outside and the warm diner felt like a cozy den, a safe place.

Steve watched Billy's jaw unclench and his shoulders drop more and more with each passing moment, and as that happened Steve felt better, too.

Steve studies the other boy.

Relaxed, he thinks. The first time I've seen him really relaxed.

ContentPeaceful.

"No problem," he chokes out, his voice a little hoarse. "You've been so..." good  "cool about the lessons and... everything. I just..."

Steve blushes.

Jeesh, what is this?

You're so...

"I can't remember the last time..." Billy trails off and his lower lip disappears between his teeth.

The wolf in Steve howls and Steve's heart aches in his chest from the bitter-sweetness of that unfinished thought. 

Steve's gaze flicks over to the side and makes an instant decision. There's no one else in the diner at this time of day, and their waitress is in deep conversation with the short-order cook and isn't looking at them at all.

The wolf wants it. Steve wants it.

He lifts Billy's hand where it's entwined with his own. He presses a kiss against the thin skin of his wrist.

Oh shit, Steve realizes as his lips brush Billy's skin. 

I like this asshole

He feels rather than hears Billy's sharp intake of breath, and just for a moment everything seems to click into place.

He doesn't have a chance to interrogate that thought further.

Something hits the window next to them like an oversized fly, and Steve, startled, turns to see Dustin Henderson plastered against the glass, his eyes wide. He is flanked by Will and Max on either side.

Will looks surprised but strangely curious, and Max...

Steve turns to Billy.

The other boy has gone ashen. His eyes are locked onto his stepsister's, and Steve forces himself to look again at the anger and... disgust on Max's face.

She turns and runs, jumping on her skateboard and racing out of the parking lot. In an instant Billy has jerked his hand out of Steve's gentle grip and is tearing out of the diner like a man on fire.

He goes straight for his car, barely pausing to unlock it before throwing himself behind the wheel and gunning the engine.

Steve is slowed by the shock. He has just enough foresight to throw some money on the table before making for the parking lot, but the delay has cost him valuable time. Billy's car roars as he takes off after Max.

"Billy," Steve yells over the din. "Billy, don't..."

The Camaro tears out of the parking lot and Billy is gone without a backward glance.

"...do anything stupid," Steve finishes weakly. "Shit."

"What the hell, Steve?" Dustin asks. It jars horribly against Steve's brain. He is still processing what has happened and what it means... he can't shake the feeling that something horrible and dangerous has happened, though he can't quite figure out why he feels that way.

"What are you doing here, Dustin?" he finally forces out, deflecting.

"Looking for you, moron! That was Billy Hargrove!"

"Ye... yeah..."

"Why were you eating burgers with that asshole?"

"He's not a..." Steve is suddenly painfully aware that he is standing in the middle of an empty parking lot, all the things he was choosing not to poke and prod suddenly exposed for the careful consideration of two young boys.

"It's not like that. He's..." he huffs and shakes his head. He can't believe he's about to say this. "He's the wolf-man, Dustin. From the woods."

"He's WHAT?!"

Steve moves quickly, shuffling both boys to his car and practically shoving them inside. Dustin barely slows down, and he certainly doesn't lower his voice. 

"What the hell does he want? He's the wolf-man?" Dustin's voice goes louder with every question. "Is he a werewolf, too? Is MAX...?"

Once they've gotten into the car Steve decides to start with the easy questions first.

"Yes, he's the wolf-man, yes, he's a werewolf, and I'm not sure about Max. She hasn't had her first shift yet. It's all kind of confusing." That information, at least, had come out of their training session, though Billy had been reluctant enough to talk about his family and Steve hadn't pushed.

"Where is Max?" asks Will. "She just took off..."

"Were you guys... holding hands?" Dustin demands.

Steve can feel a headache coming on.

But he also suddenly realizes he doesn't care who knows about him and Billy. He's so, so very tired of... caring. Of caring about things that don't matter. 

He only wants to care about people. His people. 

"He's..." He can't explain it. He'll go for a half-truth. "He's been giving me lessons. Werewolf lessons. I was... I was going to learn so I could be better. Maybe help you."

A range of emotions cross Dustin's face... too many for Steve to fully catalog.

Fondness is in there, and also concern. Annoyance.

"You were holding hands?" Will asks. Coming from him it sounds less like an accusation, but it's still weird to hear out loud. "And...?"

They saw the kiss. Shit. 

"We..." Steve sighs and shakes his head. "He just wants to help me. We're... friends."

"He beat you up, Steve!"

"And now he's making it up to me, Dustin! Look, if we can control our wolf selves better, that's a good thing. Right? You're the one who's always talking about going in your curiosity canoe..."

"A curiosity voyage, Steve..."

"...And you're trying to take my paddles away!"

Dustin finds himself stymied by his own logic. Still...

"Whatever. But he can't come with us on patrol."

"Patrol?"

Steve's headache doesn't lessen as Dustin explains.

  

 

 

Max doesn't go home. She ducks down a side street just long enough to see Billy tearing past in his Camaro, and then backtracks and makes for the spot in the woods Lucas had showed her once before. She has to carry her skateboard most of the way down the old train tracks and through the forest.

She isn't intruding, Lucas and Dustin had invited her to join the Party on their little 'patrol duty' thing or whatever, but she still feels like little girl lost when she reaches the clearing and the old junk yard.

Mike and the weirdo with the shaved head, Eleven, are sitting on the ground next to a dilapidated bus, and she can see that Lucas has perched himself on the bus's roof. Lucas doesn't see her but Mike makes a little head jerking movement and Eleven gives Max a shy wave. 

She wishes Dustin and Will had come with her to draw away some of the attention, but she rolls her shoulders and marches forward anyway.

Show no fear - that was always Billy's rule.

Billy.

Billy, who had looked at Steve Harrington with such... Max didn't have words for it. It was like Billy had turned into a completely different person. And then he'd turned and seen her and jerked his hand back, and suddenly the old fears, the old memories had all come crashing back.

Billy was angry at her... angry that she had caught a glimpse of him like that, all gentle and vulnerable and in love.  

Even the awkwardness of a band of weirdos she barely knew was better than going home to face her step-brother.

"Hello," Eleven says as Max approaches. She has a way of making every word out of her mouth sound like she's needed to practice it just a few times in front of a mirror.

"Hey."

"Where's Dustin and Will?" Mike asks, a little accusatory.

"With Steve," Max mumbles. "I wanted to come..." 

A number of unnecessary lies threaten to roll off her tongue, but Eleven gives her an evaluating look and then taps Mike's arm casually.

"Lucas is on the roof looking for the Thesselhydra," she says in her quiet, matter-of-fact way, and Max nods, trying not to look as grateful as she feels.

She goes into the bus and climbs the ladder they've set up to the roof. Lucas is staring intently at the woods through his dad's army issue binoculars, and he's so focused that he doesn't notice her until she taps him on the shoulder. He lets out a very manly squeak and nearly falls, but Max is kind enough to not point that out.

"Hey," he says, a bright smile spreading across his face, and Max immediately knows that she came to the right place. 

"Any tentacle monsters?"

"Nah," Lucas pushes his army bandanna out of his face and shrugs. "Probably won't come out in the daytime, but I thought I might be able to see where it hides during the day. Plus we need to keep Eleven hidden... she can only stay at Mike's house so long without his mom noticing."

Max nods slightly. One of the many questions that have been plaguing her finally pops out.

"Is she... what is she?"

Lucas doesn't answer right away. He looks away, over, then back to Max. 

"She... um... she says she from the woods."

Max raises an eyebrow and Lucas makes a face. "We don't know, exactly. She's not..." he trails off.

Max knows though. She's not a wolf, but she can still sense it. 

She's not human. She's something more.

Lucas decides to change the subject. He offers her the binoculars so she can take a peek, and she accepts.

"Look over here," he points and guides the binoculars, and then she can see it - a break in the treeline and a nondescript square building rising out of the landscape.

"What is that?"

"I saw it yesterday when I was out here. I asked my dad and he said it's some government building."

"What, like offices?"

"Well, Mike's dad says it's a weapons factory. So we can fight the Russians and stuff."

"And that's why it's out here in the middle of nowhere?" Max asks, skeptically. 

"Makes as much sense as anything else."

"You think the monster is hiding out there?"

"I mean, I think if the government had found a monster in the woods they would have already sent the National Guard in. That's what they do in the movies, anyway."

"Or maybe it came from there?" Max offers.

"You think they made a Thesselhydra in a government building?" Lucas sounds unconvinced.

"It would be a pretty scary weapon."

"Yeah, yeah, maybe."

Max hands the binoculars back to Lucas and he goes back to scanning the horizon.

"You guys find Steve?" he asks after a beat.

Max hesitates.

"He was at the diner," she says finally, voice pinched and strained.

Lucas hums.

"He was at the diner with Billy," Max says, her tone a little more steady but no less emotive.

It takes Lucas a moment to catch on, but when he does his head jerks up.

"Billy, your brother?" Lucas doesn't list the other appellations the group has given Billy Hargrove - psycho mullet-headed asshole being the most popular - but he might as well have. It's clear from his tone what he thinks. "Were they fighting?"

"No, no, they were... friendly," Max can't come up with a better word than that.

Lucas doesn't know what to make of that, and he raises an eyebrow.

"They were... I think they're..."

Max knows what mates are. She's grown up around wolves all her life, and even if she hasn't turned yet she has been raised on stories of true love in the moonlight.

She knows what she saw, and she knows what it means. Nothing less than a soul bond could possibly make Billy look that dopey. 

"...Together," she murmurs softly, turning her eyes towards the forest and away from Lucas's confused face.

"Together," he repeats blankly. Then he lets out a soft 'oh' sound. "Together. But. They're both guys...?"

"They're werewolf mates," Max says, voice firm. "Billy was the one... the werewolf that night you found me in the woods."

Lucas's brain seems to crash and burn, then. Max can almost hear the gears grinding.

"Then... then you're...?"

"No," Max interrupts. "I haven't changed yet. I don't want to change. And Steve shouldn't be with Billy, either. It doesn't matter that him and Dustin are wolves, that won't make any difference to Billy. He's awful. He's always been a dick, but ever since California he's been..."

"California?" This is so much to take in, but Lucas zeros in on that. "Max, why wouldn't you tell us about this?! What...?"

Something about the look on Max's face makes Lucas fall silent.

She looks suddenly much older and much sadder.

He feels a thrill of fear but can't for the life of him understand why.

"What happened in California, Max?" he asks, settling on that question. For a moment, he doesn't think she's going to answer. However, after a beat, she takes a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh.

"Dustin really doesn't know about how... how packs usually work, does he?"

Lucas shakes his head.

"That's good," Max says, her voice suddenly fierce. "He's better off."

"California, Max," Lucas prompts after a moment when she pauses, brooding.

Max blinks and gives him a short nod.

“When my mom left my dad," she says in a flat voice, "she joined the neighboring pack. Neil and Billy were part of it. She and Neil started… they got together. But the price of her being in the pack was… that she had to give them something. You can’t just enter a pack. You need to bring something to it. Like a membership pledge.”

Max falls silent as Lucas processes this.

"What did she give them?"

Max looks at him. It only takes him a moment to reach the obvious conclusion.

“You?”

Maxine blinks and nods. “I come from a long line of wolves. I… I haven’t shifted yet but when I do I’ll be… valuable. For, um... for if someone wants to get married. I'll be useful... important to packs that want to keep their bloodlines pure.”

Lucas doesn't think. He reaches out and grabs Max's hand.

He doesn’t even care that she’s a girl. He just wants to erase all of this for her. He just wants her to never ever be hurt.

She accepts the comfort of his touch, twists her fingers around his.

“I’m contracted to the Heller pack. To the eldest son, Bobby. Or I was… when I turned sixteen we were supposed to…” Her fingers tighten, and she shakes her head. “I didn’t really get it at the time, what being... being contracted meant. It seemed like such a long way off, and everyone was just so happy about it. They didn't even ask me what I wanted. I wanted to go back and live with my dad. I didn’t want to get married or mated, and I didn't care about the pack. But... I also had a friend at school. A… a boy. Not a boyfriend. Not really. Just a friend. Best friend. Human.”

Cold dread settles in Lucas's stomach, but he doesn't let it show.

He won't allow her to see the fear and anger and disgust he feels. He looks at her and sees a brave person. She doesn't deserve to see that horror written across his face.

“Billy told me… and mom told me, and Neil… they warned me not to hang out with him. I didn’t listen, I didn’t… I just wanted to have a friend. I just wanted to be normal, for a little while. I was…” she trails off.

The words she is looking for echo loudly in her head – stupid. Selfish. Wrong. Neil's words. She can’t quite bring herself to day them out loud.

“One night we were hanging out and Neil walks in with the Alpha of the Heller pack. They’d been drinking, and it was almost the full moon. It… it all got ugly. They shifted in front of Liam. He ran. Heller turned on Neil and Billy had to…” Maxine is crying.

“There is a way to… to challenge…to challenge a claim or to fight it out if someone’s honor or place in the pack is questioned. It’s called the Blood Circle. You shift into the beta wolf form - the one you saw that night in the woods, where you’re both wolf and human - and it's... the last man standing wins. Like a cage match, or something. Billy had to fight Bobby Heller. He... he had to... he didn't have a choice, but... Billy almost killed him. He was so angry. He… he broke his spine.

"We were kicked out of the pack because of it. Because of me. And… and then Billy went after Liam’s family… I don’t know what he did, exactly. We had to leave California the next day because the police were around asking questions and we didn’t have the Heller’s to protect us anymore.”

The noise of the forest around them suddenly seems very hushed. 

“He killed them?” Lucas asks, his voice almost a whisper.

“I…” the tears spill down, finally. “I don’t know. I know there was a fire. They wouldn't tell me anything else.”

She takes a deep, ragged breath.

"Billy is angry. All the time. And he can't take it out on anyone else, so..."

"He takes it out on you," Lucas supplies.

"And he's... he's right." Shame, guilt, fear all creep into Max's words. "It's my fault."

"Stop," Lucas says, sharply. "Stop. You're not... it's not your fault."

Silence falls between them. 

Lucas feels stunned, entranced by Max's story. He shakes himself and searches for something to say, something that is true. For a lack of anything better to do, he leans slightly over the edge of the bus and looks down. Mike and Eleven are napping, sitting upright next to each other with their heads propped up on each other's shoulders.

He envies them their peace of mind. 

"Is Steve in trouble?" he asks quietly, his gaze sliding back over to Max.

Max is silent for a long moment, so long that Lucas very nearly repeats his question.

She shakes her head.

"I don't... think... Billy would ever hurt him. Not intentionally," she chews on her lower lip and suddenly her expression becomes almost unbearably sad. "But people do get hurt... when they are around us. We're... I think we're cursed. Or something. I don't know why I'm even telling you this... but I get angry like him sometimes. I know it. When I shift... when I become a wolf for the first time, I'll be just like him. And I don't... I don't want to be."

Lucas studies her with a particular kind of intensity that he only reserves for science and math problems.

Because that's what this is, really.

Nothing more or less than an equation.

Lucas doesn't believe in curses. He doesn't believe in fate. Oh, he believes that his best friends are werewolves and telepaths and whatever the hell Eleven is, but Lucas is first an foremost a practical person.

The world, for him, is a ticking watch.

His dad told him stories about serving in the Vietnam War sometimes, secret stories that he had promised not to tell his mother about.

He knew from his father, like he knew from science class, that the only way out was through.

You have to work a problem. You can't work a problem if you are afraid of ghosts and curses and an unseen force shaping your destiny.

He squeezes Max's hand, and suddenly he knows what the truth is.

"Hey," he says. "You're nothing like your brother, okay? You're cool and different. You're super smart. You don't need to give us anything to join our pack. We want you anyway."

Max swallows the lump in her throat.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You're pretty cool, Mad Max. And you're, like, totally tubular..."

That gets a weak laugh, and both children smile.

 

 

 

Eleven wakes up. She doesn't jolt or startle or snap upright, but she is instantly awake and instantly calm.

She rolls over and sits up.

She slips out of the shoes Mike gave her. They are comfortable enough but just a bit too big, and they separate her from the earth. She feels all things, all the connections, and sometimes there is no better way to figure things out than to remove all the barriers between yourself and the roots that hold the world together.

She pushes both bare feet into the ground and closes her eyes. 

She can feel Mike next to her. They'd drifted off in the late afternoon sun, leaning up against the bus and napping. She feels anchored with Mike in a way she doesn't with anyone else, and it's nice to be able to rest at last.

She knows what he is. In another world, he would be the Knight. The warrior. Order out of chaos.

She is the Chaos.

She can feel Lucas and Max in their perch, still talking quietly. She doesn't need to listen in on their conversation now. She already knows what she needs to about the Hargrove family, and she can see how they may fit, with their beautiful jagged edges, into the ever changing landscape. 

She is happy that Max found their strange little group, even though Max herself is not comfortable around Eleven yet. She is the Hummingbird, the secret, hidden nectar, the fallen and reborn spirit. She needs a safe place. The Ranger and the others can give her that.

Her brother, too, is a bright light, shimmering. The middle of three Williams... older than Will the Truesight, younger than the storytelling ghost that hovers next to him.

He has a long way to go, but he has found and loves the Pack Mother. Even though violence lays like a frightening fog in his soul, and even though the Pack Mother struggles with his own issues, that counts for a lot.

Eleven will need to watch and see.

She is aware that Billy stands on the knife's edge.

The father will be a problem.

Fathers usually are, in Eleven's experience.

Eleven doesn't remember her parents very well, though she knows they exist still, somewhere, in that place where the earth meets the sky. They were there with her when she was little, and she felt them guiding and loving her. She knows that once she was an essence, elemental.

She remembers flying through the air, then coming down and becoming earth, becoming a single body, a living thing.

Then she'd been taken.

Taken... captured and imprisoned by the man who called himself 'Papa'... as though that word meant anything to Eleven. 

her parents had given her a name. Her name meant blessing... the gods are gracious. She remembers her name, although it has been a long time since she has spoken it out loud.

It may be that she will never go by that name again.

She was supposed to be a gift. A bright protector. The light in the dark woods. The stranger who sees hidden things.

When she manifested in the forest, in that place she was supposed to live in and care for, something had happened. Men with machines had ripped her away from home and forced her into small, cramped space where she couldn't feel the air or the earth, where she couldn't tap into the source of herself. 

Papa took her and kept her locked away, but even then she had remained close to home. Cut off from the land and the light, but never too far away from where she was supposed to be.

Eleven wondered if Papa ever knew how little he controlled his destiny and hers. He had built her cage right on top of the land from which she had come. He could not drag her too far away from the source of her power, and he never understood how all of his choices were shaped by forces larger than himself. 

And she was powerful. 

Papa was cruel. If he was all she had to judge humans by, then she could very easily have gone to the darkness. 

The sun is setting. Eleven glances over to Mike. They should be getting home soon... home to Nancy, and Mike's mother and father, and the little one. Eleven has not met them formally yet, but she hears them. She listens to them while she waits in her shelter in the basement. She walks through their dreams when they sleep.

She knows who they are.

She presses her hand against the dirt and feels the monster sleeping somewhere in the woods. The thought of it fills her with dread. They are the same in many ways, although they come from different places... her and the creature that the others have named the Thesselhydra.

She smiles a little at the thought of humans and their ridiculous love for naming things... but then again, she's fallen victim to the name problem as well.

She has had many names.

So has the Thesselhydra. Many names.

But only one self.

It is the Beast.

And she is the one who will stop it.

She weaves all things together. She is part of a PartyFamilyPack now, but at times like these she does wonder just how tenuous her relationships with these humans are. If she transgressed, would they turn on her? If she left, would they forget her?

Is she the hero or is she the weapon?

Is the world Papa or is it Mike?

She doesn't know. How could she know?

Time will tell.

She shakes Mike awake. He blinks vaguely at her but when he realizes the time he snaps to and yells up to the bus's roof and the other two children come down. 

There will be no more monster hunting tonight.

It is time to go home.

Chapter Text

Billy thinks that he might be losing his mind.

He hopes that this is not the case - he hopes desperately, with the kind of agonizing dread that only a person who has been mad, who has well and truly lost control of their mind and their self at some point, can feel.

He has lost his mind before. Once. Maybe twice, if you count that momentary blur that occurred when Neil rested a heavy hand on Billy's frail young shoulders and told him that his mother was dead.

That was the first time. The other one happened later, when he he tore through a burning red mist and broke Bobby Heller's back. 

Coming from the brink had been horrible both times.

This time it's different, but no less terrifying. It feels like he's sliding inescapably backwards and scrambling for a foothold that is just out of reach.

He can't find Max.

He can't fucking find Max.

She saw them, she saw him... saw a kiss, two hands intertwined, Billy looking at Steve like he hung the moon... the worst, most damning thing...

He is so overwrought that it takes him way longer then it should to realize that she's doubled back around, that he is tearing down the road going forty-five miles per hour in the wrong direction. By the time he's figured it out she's long gone, and with her goes Billy's last chance of keeping his relationship with Steve Harrington a secret from his father.

All he can do is make a horrifically tedious, agonizing attempt to trace her movements and suss out her likely hiding places. He knows he's reaching, postponing the inevitable, but he still makes a painstaking loop around the school, the arcade, the convenience store. 

Nothing.

Eventually he reconciles himself to the worst case scenario.

She's gone home. Max has seen them and Max has gone home, and Neil and Susan are at home, and she has told them that Billy is in love with Steve. Worse than fighting, worse than fucking... Billy is in love with Steve.

Steve.

A boy.

A boy from a rival pack.

An untrained, bitten boy.

Telling his father that Steve is a werewolf won't help. It only means that Neil will drag the torture out over weeks and months instead of breaking his neck quickly.

Steve's neck, that is. Never Billy's neck... no matter how much Billy sometimes wishes...

Warm brown eyes, soft skin, lips gone plump and red and shiny with kisses...

He bought me a burger. He asked me about my car and my math homework and my mom.

He needs to protect Steve. He's pretty sure he knows how.

He needs to introduce Steve to this explosive mix carefully, slowly. He needs to go back and forth between Neil and Steve and subtly manipulate them both into reconciling before they ever meet. It's complicated. He needs Neil to not murder Steve, yes, but he also needs Steve to submit to Neil's authority, to understand how dangerous it is to antagonize him. 

Convince Neil to accept it. Convince Steve to bend.

Make Neil forgive him. Make Steve love him.

Make it so neither of them can leave him, no matter how bad it gets.

He can protect Steve as long as he is in control. 

Go along, get along. 

Max blurting it out will ruin everything. He'll shut her up somehow... even if he has to...

No... he can't think like that...

The wolf rolls around uneasily in his chest.

The drive to his house is short. Too short. Miles fly past him, time slips through his fingers like water. He thinks he has never gotten home so quickly as he has this trip, right when it is the last place on earth he wants to be.

He parks his car in the Hargrove family's cracked and overgrown driveway.

He sits.

He looks at the house, lit up inside and out as the dusk settles in. Dad is home. 

What's going on, son? How was your Little League game? When are you going to bring your nice young beau home for dinner?

Is Max home? Did she tell?

Nothing for it, now. No way to prepare. No way to predict the outcome. No lie that will work.

He can't make himself get out of the car.

A part of Billy that is still a small child who never really got a chance to grow up selfishly wishes that Steve was here, running his long, clever fingers through Billy's curls and murmuring comforting nothings in his ear. He wants that now-familiar scent and source of strength and warmth with him now.

He feels so alone. He doesn't want to go in to that house alone.

He's scared.

The larger part of him is grateful that Steve is safe somewhere else.

Anywhere but here.

Steve is safe as long as he's with me. As long as I'm looking out for him.

You idiot.

Who are you trying to fool?

He climbs out of the car and takes all of two steps forward before grinding to a complete halt when he hears his father's voice.

"Here, son!"

Neil is calling him from the back porch, a space which has never been used in Billy's memory. There's nothing for it. Reluctantly, Billy circumvents the house, cutting down the side yard towards the back.

He listens and sniffs the air cautiously, but he can't sense Max.

Maybe she's not here. Maybe she's not home yet. Her skateboard isn't on the stoop where she keeps it. 

Billy finds his father stretched out in a plastic lawn chair, drinking a beer and apparently shooting the shit and watching the sun set. He is flanked by two men Billy doesn't know... and that is more strange and disturbing than anything else, even stranger than Neil's weird, friendly attitude.

Neil doesn't have friends, and the Hargroves never have visitors.

Neil gives him a smile. It does not put Billy at ease, and it is not intended to.

"The fuck?" Billy says in a surprisingly mild voice, taking in the unexpected sight in front of him... the strangers, the intruders. He is almost weak-kneed with relief that Max isn't here, that Neil doesn't know about Steve yet.

However, that feeling is quickly being replaced by a new kind of unease.

"Billy," Neil nods to the two men. "This is Earl... and Wyatt. They've just received the bite and agreed to join the Hargrove pack."

Everything screeches to a halt with this new information.

New... 

New wolves.

New pack.

Fuck.

One one level, Billy is not surprised. He wishes he was, but he isn't. All his father ever wanted was power, and you only get power in a pack by expanding it. 

The men might as well be cookie-cutter images of Neil. One is very tall and thickly-built and the other is smaller, more wiry muscle than anything, but they both have the same air of affronted rage, as though they believe that the world has been unfair to them in a way it hasn't for any other living soul. 

They have the twitchy look of miserable half-monsters who would gladly burn everything to the ground rather than allow someone else to be happy when they are not.

The smaller one huffs out a greeting but the tall one (Earl or Wyatt... Billy doesn't know which is which. The way Neil introduced them - with a vague wave of his hand, as if they were interchangeable - tells him that it doesn't really matter.) leans forward and gives Billy the once over.

The big guy can't hide the shimmer of a leer, the flicker of something dark and hungry.

Billy understands immediately. 

Billy, my boy, chirps a cheery, half-hysterical voice in his head that sounds suspiciously like his grandfather. I do believe that right this very minute that fine gentleman over there is imagining bashing your face in and violently fucking your semi-conscious body into the cold, hard pavement.

Unfortunate.

Billy's wolf is the first to really process this. It easily recognizes and understands unforgivably aggressive impulses. It has always been a little bit unhinged, however, so it is relatively unconcerned with this development. It is confident it can maim or kill anyone who tries to violently mount or break it, including this smelly, closeted sociopath with the twitchy fingers, the weakened liver, and the vulnerable, exposed left side. 

It can smell weakness, and this fucker is perfectly primed for a take-down. When the time comes Billy's wolf will assert its dominance and rip out the miserable little upstart's throat with its teeth. 

Billy himself is less sanguine. While he's not surprised, exactly, that he now needs to juggle these two new problems, one of which he absolutely can not be alone in a room with, this is still an unfortunate complication.

He doesn't like those. They tend to end with bloodshed, and he's got more to lose now than he ever did before.

The smaller one shifts and Billy can see the bite mark on his forearm, bleeding sluggishly through a haphazardly-applied bandage.

Go along...

Billy swallows his unease, gives the two new wolves a cheerless nod (it's the best greeting he can muster) and turns his attention back to Neil, who is talking to Earl and Whats-his-face like Billy isn't there.

"A boy needs strong male influences in his life. It will be good for him to have you two around. Structure is key to developing a sense of respect and responsibility in young men."

Billy works very hard to hold back a snort.

He manages it, though, because in truth it isn't that funny. These men weren't picked for their reliability... the short one has at least seven empty beer cans at his feet, and that's definitely a prison tattoo on his new admirer's arm.

He also knows how his father feels about bitten wolves. There will be no mentoring here. Neil will police the new pack members to death (probably literally), and if anyone steps out of line they will be at the bottom of the quarry before they can blink.

He feels rather like he's watching a cat play with some very bruised and stupid mice who can't see the shadow hovering over them.

He also isn't quite sure if he isn't secretly a mouse himself.

Billy Hargrove is not stupid. He knows this song and dance. He's heard it before. It's a number one hit on the Neil Hargrove chart.

Manipulation. Competitiveness. Love is a zero-sum game, a constant test of loyalty, and if you don't have it all, you've got nothing. He used to encourage Billy's friendships only to make him turn around and destroy them later.

Thou shalt have no gods before ME.

Just because Billy knows he is being tested, is being forced to compete with these newcomers for Neil's approval, doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.  

"You'll need to work with each other to improve our pack's strength... Billy, where is your sister?"

The non-sequitur happens so quickly that Billy almost misses it.

His heart stops.

Oh shit. He'd almost forgotten. How had he almost forgotten?

In his alarm and surprise he doesn't think. He just mouths-off... stupid, defiant...

"I don't know," he snaps, trying for petulant bluster but unable to keep the frustration from today's events (most of which connect to Steve... Steve feeding and kissing him, and needing to leave Steve, and being afraid for Steve...) from leaking into his voice.

"She's probably... I don't know, at the arcade or something. I'm not her damn babysitter..."

He doesn't have time to process it, doesn't even have time to be afraid.

His up against the side of the house in an instant, the paneling digging into his back.

His father's hand is on his throat.

Two sets of piggy eyes light up behind his dad's back and watch the show.

Stupid, stupid...

"We talked about this, Billy," Neil says calmly, quietly. "Try again."

Try again.

Jump higher, run faster, be better, Billy...

The words echo... how many times has he said them to wolves he's helped train? To Max. To Steve. Try again. And now, here, they're thrown back at him, a sign of his inadequacy. Of his role in all of this.

He knows what this is.

Goddamnit, he knows what this is and it hurts. It still hurts that Neil can't just be his father, that Billy can't just be his son, that they can't have a conversation, that there's nothing real here at all.

It's all a fucking performance, a show of dominance, a way of putting Billy in his place so Neil can be top-dog. Humiliating him, hurting him...

He hates it, he hates it... he knows what he needs to do and he hates...

"Alpha," he chokes out, baring his throat as best he can.

Brown eyes, red lips, don't cream your pants and by the way I'm sorry too for the way I acted so let's go get a burger and let me kiss you... so sweet so gentle so kind to me I don't deserve it but I want it and I'll keep it and I'll do whatever it takes...

He loves...

He hates it but he needs to do it...

Be weak, be small, be second best... submit...

Eyes down, neck exposed, scrambling for the words that will placate the Alpha...

He swears he can hear that big fucking sociopath behind Neil purring.

Suddenly, there is a banging noise in the front yard, the sound of a skateboard knocking against the ground.

"I'm home!"

Max.

Relief and panic surge forward in a heady mixture that almost cuts him off at the knees. He can hear Max make her way inside, greeting Susan as she slinks through the kitchen. Whether she senses the situation outside on her own or Susan tells her, Billy doesn't know. Either way she is leaning out the back door in a moment. 

"There you are," Neil says in a steady, cheerful voice. You'd never guess he'd nearly torn his son's head off a mere thirty seconds earlier, or that he still has Billy trapped between his claws. "We were getting worried about you, honey."

Max doesn't respond. She takes in the scene with a blank expression, eyes flicking over the two strangers briefly before settling on Billy. He feels a chill at the sight of her superficial calm. He hates that this is their life, that this is what they need to do to survive.

He knows she hates it too, even though she's learned not to let it show.

"Where were you?" Neil asks.

Billy forces himself to keep his breathing even, to not show the very real terror coursing within him now. His eyes flick over to Max and he tries to telepathically communicate his distress to her without letting any of it play across his face.

PleasePlease. I'll drive you to the arcade as much as you want, I'll leave your stupid little friends alone, I'll do anything...

I'm sorry, just please don't tell him about me and Steve, please, please, you know, you know what he'll do, he'll eat him

EAT HIM

eat him alive. These fuckers sitting dumb and blind in our back yard like rats on a sinking ship are already trapped here with us

TRAPPED HERE WITH HIM

but

Steve STEVE stevestevesteve he won't survive it, he's not like us, he doesn't deserve this hell, please please please...

Her face is a stone mask and she gives nothing away.

"Well?" Neil asks.

"I was getting the homework from Mary-Ann," she responds after a beat. "She wanted to go to the library and I went with her. I couldn't find Billy so I didn't tell him where I was going."

Billy waits. He doesn't let out a sigh of relief, or a moan of despair, or any of the sounds he wants to make. Any sign of weakness would damn him right now, not just with Neil, but also with the two men watching this exchange with morbid fascination.

After a moment, Neil's grip on Billy's throat loosens.

"You should have said something, sweetie," Neil says calmly. "You know it's against the rules for you to go out unsupervised."

"I'm sorry," Max says, her voice still devoid of feeling.

"Mary-Ann, huh?"

"She's just a girl from math class," Max shrugs. "She's kind of a bitch."

Earl or Wyatt (Billy supposes he will have to learn which is which at some point) roars with laughter at that, and it's enough to break the tension, at least between Neil and Billy. Neil gives Billy's throat one last warning squeeze and then releases him completely. 

The slight slump of Max's shoulders, the barely there relief, goes unremarked by all but Billy, who perhaps only spots it because he's made the same gesture himself so often. 

Neil is patting his shoulder and talking nonsense. This isn't over - Billy never escapes punishment, just delays it for a little while. It all just keeps building up and simmering hot and oily until the next unexpected explosion.

"...Not again, son. You know how important..."

I'll never get Steve to understand...

Inside the house, the phone rings and Susan answers it. The distraction cuts off whatever Neil is saying.

It doesn't matter, anyway. Billy's heard it all before.

"Billy?" she calls. "It's for you."

Billy waits a beat - he wants to run, he wants to answer the phone, he desperately wants to get away from here, but he knows better than to show his feelings to anyone on that porch - and then casually slouches inside.

"Who is it?" he asks Susan.

"Someone named Pete? About homework?"

Billy doesn't know anyone named Pete, but he's so happy to be inside the house that he doesn't argue. He picks up the phone.

"Yeah?"

"Billy!"

It's Steve. And, bless his heart, he's used an alias. Billy really can't take any more heart attacks tonight.

"Hey, Pete," Billy ducks his head to see Susan moving around the kitchen. He's pretty sure nobody can hear him, even with werewolf senses, but he can't risk it. "Sorry I missed study group. I had to pick up my sister."

"Is she okay?" Steve asks in a voice that definitely means that Billy is getting an earful and about ten thousand questions later.

"Fine, man. Great. Tomorrow? Same place?"

There is a long pause but Billy doesn't even have the strength to feel scared anymore. He reaches a shaky hand up and grasps the trim of the doorway leading to the kitchen, his fingers tangled up in the phone cord. His knuckles are almost white. He forces himself to relax his grip, but that doesn’t help the shaking.

Finally, Steve sighs.

"Yeah. Yeah. Tomorrow is fine."

 

 

 

Steve drops Dustin and Will home after their talk. Given their failed mission the two boys decide to forgo patrol duties in order to harangue Steve some more about his poor choice in... friends? Is Billy a friend? His explanations leave something to be desired, but in the end he manages to extract a promise from Dustin that he will come to one of his and Hargrove's training sessions.

"Please," Steve says, voice strangely pitched. "He's... it's important."

It is Dustin's curiosity as much as the look in Steve's eyes that forces him to agree.

But still, there is something bothering him about this whole thing. Something he doesn't feel comfortable asking Steve about.

Claudia Henderson has made Hamburger Helper for dinner, and it's ready for Dustin as soon as he walks in to the house.

As ever, she is gently affectionate. It has been a difficult year for her - Dustin has pulled away from her quite a bit in recent months, is moodier and less willing to spend time with her than he used to be. It's natural for boys his age, but still, it hurts when Dusty locks himself in his room, when he shies away from her hugs and attention.

She tries to be a good mom. She tries to be respectful of his space.

Dustin, in the way of children who love their parents yet lack the necessary context to understand the inner lives of adults, a context only time and age can give them, believes his mother to be the kindest, loveliest, most oblivious person he has ever met.

That night, he curls up on the couch next to her while they watch T.V., snuggling up next to her in a way he hasn't for nearly a year.

His mind is not on the T.V. show.

"Mom?"

"Hmm?"

"I... um... can I ask you something?"

"Of course, Dusty."

"So, there's this... friend... I have. He's a guy. A boy. And... he used to have a girlfriend but I saw him today with a... with another guy. And they were, um... holding hands and..."

Mrs. Henderson has gone very still.

"A friend, huh?"

"Um. Yeah. Good friend. Best friend, I guess. Anyway they kind of. Um..." Dustin can't quite make himself put it into words. It's so far outside of his experience. Steve, with a boy, with Billy Hargrove, with the guy who beat him up.

He'd kissed his hand. Like a knight in an old movie. Dustin's seen some crazy stuff, but he hasn't seen anything like that before. And he knows, he's connecting the dots now between that and what people sometimes say... what they sometimes call Will...

The T.V. clicks off. Dustin looks up in confusion.

"Sit up, Dusty. I need you to listen to me," Claudia puts down the remote and shifts her position on the couch so she can look Dustin in the eye.

"Yeah...?"

"Okay. Here it is, baby. Most boys in the world, when they fall in love, fall in love with girls, and most girls fall in love with boys. But sometimes, certain boys fall in love with other boys, and certain girls fall in love with other girls. They're called gay. Or queer. Or some other words that aren't very nice and that you should never say to people."

And Dustin... knows that. Sort of. He's heard slurs and insults but never really...

But what he's really asking is...

"This is the important part, sweetie. You listening?"

Dustin looks up and fixes his gaze on his mother, on her eyes, soft brown like his, and on her generous, open face.

"It's wrong to be mean to people like that. It's wrong to call them names. There is nothing bad about what they are and who they love. It's different from most people, but it is not wrong. Do you understand me, Dusty?"

"They..." Dustin starts and then stops, glancing down. "They call Will those things, sometimes."

"Will Byers?" Claudia's face drops. "Is Will the one who...?"

"What? No!" Dustin scrambles. "I mean, it's..."

"Wait," Claudia holds up her hand. "Dustin, another thing. If you see something like what you saw today, don't ever tell other people. Not without the permission of... of the person you saw."

"Why?"

"Well... those kids who call Will those names? There are adults like that, too. People can be very cruel when they get it in their minds to be. And even if you don't think they'd be mean, it's not your secret to tell, okay?"

Dustin nods.

"There's nothing wrong with people like that, Dusty. Nothing at all." Claudia's face is suddenly a storm cloud. "When I think of all the people out there in the world who do mean, nasty things and get away with it! Perfectly lovely people get hurt for no reason while awful people don't get hurt or bullied or called names... it's not fair. It's wrong, and it's not fair."

Dustin looks at his mom with no small amount of surprise and, perhaps, a new kind of respect.

You know," Claudia smiles a little, shaking off her outburst. "You know, when I met your father for the first time, his family didn't like me at all!"

Dustin's heart stops for a moment.

"Ah...oh?" he tries, doing his best 'surprised' expression.

"No... they were very religious types, you see, and I came from a different place then they did, and they just got a bug-bear about it all." Claudia Henderson shrugs. "But that didn't bother your father at all, at the end of the day...

"You know, your dad used to say to me 'Claudie, it's never wrong to love someone'. It's like that old Beatles song he used to sing - only a fool makes the world colder. You don't make the world better by not letting people love each other. And you know, he was right. Because if we hadn't gotten married even though his family didn't approve of me, we would never of had each other, or you. And you're my sweetie-pie."

She looks at Dustin for a moment and runs her hand through his hair.

"You're a good boy, baby. More importantly, you're a kind boy. I know it's been tough, with the dysplacia and with losing your dad, but you never let any of it make you into someone you're not. It's just made you kinder. I'm so very proud of you."

Dustin leans into the comforting touch and for a moment, a long moment, he contemplates telling his mother what he is.

He doesn't tell her, in the end.

It's not because he thinks his mother wouldn't understand. She would. Dustin knows that, and the thought fills his chest with a warm, expanding feeling. If anything, she'd probably start an I *Heart* Werewolves club right here in the living room. That's not the thing that keeps him quiet.

No, he doesn't say anything because he doesn't ever, ever want his mother to know that her husband lied to her. 

They go back to watching T.V.

 

 

 

Police Chief Jim Hopper is no longer the big-city cop he once was.

This fact comes up with alarming frequency in and around the Hawkins Police Station. It is discussed often and with some wry humor by the deputies and secretaries and concerned citizens and time-wasters who have occasion to interact with him on a regular basis.

Usually the jibes are good-natured jokes, and only rarely do they come out as insults meant to hurt.

Hopper doesn't take it personally either way. His ego and his insecurities are not tied up in his job.

However, just because he is no longer a hotshot cop with the promising career does not mean that he is stupid, careless, or inattentive.

He moved back to Hawkins because it was the place he was born and raised, and because his daughter died and wife divorced him. For a broken man with nowhere else to go and nothing but time on his hands, Hawkins had seemed like an uncomplicated place to grow old and die in now that his life was practically over anyway.

Because Jim Hopper is bound and determined to slowly fade away into nothing here, quietly and without any fuss, he takes his job very seriously. He has long since abandoned his professional ambitions, but he is no less invested in this town.

This place is quiet, bordering on dead. It is a perfect black hole. Hopper is determined to keep it that way.

He stays for about an hour outside of the Hargrove family's house, watching. He's borrowed his friend Ed's car because his official truck is too conspicuous and he has parked some distance away on the curb.

In the early days of his career stake-outs tended to last whole days and nights, but this is Hawkins. It doesn't pay to draw attention to yourself by outstaying your welcome.

He spots Wyatt King and Earl Straub walking towards the house. He clocks Neil Hargrove, a newcomer to town, an unknown quantity. He doesn't like the man's looks, or his arrogant swagger, but that doesn't necessarily mean much.

Hopper doesn't like a lot of people... but that doesn't make them all criminals.

Not usually, anyway.

He sees Billy Hargrove arrive and then when the girl, Max, shows up, he decides to call it a night.

Earl is a follower, a dumbass, only as dangerous as the people he associates with. Hopper doesn't know what Hargrove's deal is yet, but if it's shady he'll figure it out.

Wyatt King is the one he really wants. He's the ex-con, a nasty piece of work. He hurts people, hurts them badly and in unsettling, unpredictable ways.

He isn't going to hurt anyone in Hawkins. Not if Jim has anything to say about it.

Diane always said he was like a bulldog when he got an idea in his head. Sarah used to giggle and call him 'bear' and 'doggy'. Neither of them were wrong in their view of his aggressively stubborn tenacity.

No, Chief Hopper is no longer the big-city cop he used to be. But he still takes note of all the relevant license plate numbers, of Wyatt's twitchiness, of Neil's strut, of Earl's hee-hawing laughter, and of the slump in Billy's shoulders. He logs it all, carefully and methodically, before he turns on the ignition of his borrowed car and heads for home. 

Chapter Text

It smells like snow, apparently, when Billy waits in the warehouse for Steve the following afternoon. 

Billy has little memory of snow, having only seen it once, so he's not actually sure what it is he's smelling. However, the man behind the counter at the convenience store where he buys his smokes said it was snow. "Smells like snow," he'd quipped with completely unwarranted cheer, although all Billy could pick up was gasoline, sugary slushees, overcooked hot dogs, and B.O. 

It's true, there is something in the air that seems sharper and cleaner than usual. A crackle of potential, of clarity. He can smell it now that he is in the woods - his natural habitat. Billy shivers and tries to reconcile himself with spending some of his limited funds on a warmer coat.

It might be snow, or it might be a crack-up, the end of his careful balancing act. It might be a cold front... or it might be Neil uncovering all Billy's darkest secrets, might be Steve getting wise and trying to cut and run, might be Max getting sold off as a breeder to a pack in Ohio, might be Billy and his new worst friend Wyatt sharing patrol duty for the foreseeable future.

He's had a night and a day to think about it, and he has pretty much decided that he is more screwed now than he ever was.

He feels a phantom noose tightening around his throat.

He hears Steve before he sees him, hears the rumble of his car and then the tenor of his voice. Someone else responds and Billy knows he hasn't come alone. His little shadow, the pup who smells of peanut butter and apples and bike oil and soft cotton and graphite pencils, trails after him with an air of curiosity barely curbed by aggressive mistrust.

"Hey," Steve smiles at him, that wide grin trying and failing to conceal his nervousness. "You alright?"

Steve's face, so gentle as he claimed Billy's hand and pressed a soft kiss to his skin. Marking him as his and then Max and Neil and all the rest had spoiled it...

Billy feels suddenly and unaccountably irritated by the smile on Steve's face, by his relative ease.

He doesn't smile back. He nods abruptly, focusing on the pup.

"I brought Dustin," Steve says erroneously when he realizes that Billy is not going to talk to him about yesterday. Billy can see that he wants to touch him, wants to kiss him, but doesn't feel comfortable doing it in front of the kid. He is both relieved and disappointed by this. "I wanted you two to meet. He's my pack... one of my best friends. Maybe you could teach him like you've been teaching me?"

Billy raises an eyebrow. He can practically feel Steve mentally begging him to play nice.

The pup interrupts and saves them both the trouble.

"So you're a werewolf, huh?" Dustin huffs skeptically.

He crosses his arms in front of him. The dweeb is Max all over... what is it with children giving him grief these days?

Just for that Billy doesn't verbally respond. Instead, he lets his fangs elongate, lets his eyes glow. His claws slide out with a *snick* sound and he grins at the surprise and consternation on the kid's face.

"Sure am," he smirks around a mouthful of teeth.

"Yeah, okay, we can't do that," Dustin swallows loudly, his eyes darting towards Steve.

"Show-off, Hargrove," Steve rolls his eyes, grin widening. The warmth in his voice fills Billy with satisfaction and pleasure and helps mute some of the annoyance he feels at the little shit cutting in on his one-on-one time with his mate. 

He's not exactly sorry that they're going to be postponing an ugly future conversation for a little while. Billy is by no means out of hot water yet. He still needs to... explain things to Steve. Explain Max and Neil. Lay down some boundaries so that what happened yesterday does not happen again.

Not before Billy is ready to integrate Steve into the Hargrove family dynamic.

Of course, Dustin's presence does raise an important question. What to do with Steve's current pack? If you could call it that. The little boy standing in front of Billy and glaring a hole in his chest doesn't look like much of a threat.

However, Billy knows a little bit about his mate now. Steve's big fucking heart means that Dustin Henderson could be the make or break factor in this three-dimensional chess match Billy is playing with himself, with Neil, with everyone and everything. 

Steve was willing to let Billy do anything he wanted to him in the woods if it meant protecting the kid he considers his pup, his pack. Those other ones, too... his little gang of asthmatic losers. 

Billy needs to be ready to use them if he has to. Neil won't hesitate, and neither can Billy.

Maybe he can only save Steve by breaking him.

"So you're the wolf-man?" Dustin interrupts his musings.

Billy blinks at him.

“And you’ve been helping Steve... do what, exactly?”

”He’s been helping me figure out what I can do as a werewolf,” Steve’s gaze flicks over to Billy, open and trusting. Billy meets that soft look and melts inside a little bit.  “We've got super-strength and speed. It's amazing. He knows his stuff, Dustin.”

"What about silver bullets?"

"What?" Billy's attention flicks back, reluctantly, to Dustin.

"Can we be killed with a silver bullet?"

"Most things can be killed if you shoot them," Billy deadpans. "We heal faster, but we're not immortal. Silver doesn't do shit."

"What about wolfsbane?"

"What about it?"

"What does it do?"

"I'm not even sure I know what wolfsbane is," Steve admits.

The conversation continues like that for a good while. Steve has to admit that he is impressed by Billy's patience... it's clearly strained, but it doesn't break, not even when Dustin makes a dog pun that Billy clearly finds offensive.

The information pretty much boils down to the basics - what they can and can't do and what can hurt them. There are, unsurprisingly, few bits of werewolf lore with any practical applications, much to Dustin's disappointment. However, the kid is suitably impressed when Steve moves the old burnt-out car around with his bare hands, and manages to perform his own amazing feats after a little prompting. 

He picks everything up quickly, though he is not as strong as Steve and soon tires.

Billy says that's to be expected.

"Your strength is still proportional to you. When you get bigger and older you'll be able to do more. You're a born wolf?"

"Yeah."

"You'll be better at this, then."

"Why?"

"What?"

"Why would I be better?"

"Because. Born wolves are better at this than bitten wolves."

"Why?" Dustin asks, his brow furrowing as he glances over to where Steve is sitting a little ways away and watching them work. Even from here Billy can see that Steve's eyes are bright with pride and concern. "Steve and I are both werewolves. Why would I be better at it than Steve?"

Billy is brought up short.

He opens his mouth, then closes it again.

Nobody has ever asked him that.

He shakes his head.

"You just are."

"But there's nothing in our physiological make-up that's any different, right?" Dustin furrows his brow. "It's basic biology. We're the same. And he's a lot stronger and bigger than me. From a purely scientific perspective, there is no objective reason why I should be better at this." 

Billy stares blankly.

A wide array of answers to this question pop into his head, but they are all... vague, somehow, and unsatisfactory, and tainted by Neil's voice. 

Bitten wolves are weaker, Billy... weak and slow and stupid. They aren't bred correctly, they aren't pure. They are too human, too volatile, too emotion-driven. They lack control. They can't help it... they need a firm hand. The bloodline needs to be protected.

Billy does't even believe that crap. Not... not really. He only half-listens when Neil has his rants.

It goes in one ear and out they other... or so he thought.

It's only now, with this kid glaring at him, ready to parrot anything he says back to Steve, that Billy realizes that he doesn't know the answer. Or, rather, that there is no answer he can give that won't leave them all upset and hurt.

His father rises like an impossible mountain in front of him and he can't find a way past it.

Henderson's eyes glitter. Billy can smell the set-up. The kid isn't half-stupid, and he's daring Billy to says something that will expose his true intentions, that the boy can use to take Steve away. Smart pup.

Steve watches eagerly from his perch on a pile of disused boards, glad the others are hard at work.

He practices his own skills while he waits. He can hear Billy and Dustin's conversation even though they are a ways off. He isn't too concerned with what is being said. Rather, he is enjoying the wonderful novelty of being completely attuned to his surroundings.

It's amazing. Peaceful.

He feels an undercurrent of strange pleasure, a peculiar contentment watching his pup and his mate bond and play.

If he focuses he can pick up on the sounds and smells of the warehouse and the woods. He focuses until he can hear Billy's heartbeat. He scents blood and knows that Dustin has cut his hand on a bit of metal he was lifting.

He gets up quietly and goes to the car to fetch some antiseptic and a band-aid. 

He thinks this lesson is going wonderfully. Dustin picks things up very quickly, and Steve reckons that's because he's a born wolf and a smart kid. Billy said that born wolves pick things up faster. That's good... Steve's glad that Dustin won't struggle like he did.

He was rather proud when Dustin earned a very begrudging nod of approval from Billy. His clever pup. He's also proud of his mate, who despite the irritation rolling off him when they first arrived has managed to smooth out the sneer on his face and focus on Dustin.

Steve will make it up to him later.

Maybe. The thought of what that might entail makes him a little nervous.

Maybe they could do what they did before... touching each other. Steve knows how to touch like that. He's had some practice.

It's the other stuff that's new and strange and... potentially worrisome. Mouths and holes and bits and bobs put in places where such things don't usually go... Steve blushes, then feels his stomach flip-flop uneasily. He's no virgin, but in this area he is rather innocent.

It's not even the logistics that are really worrying him. 

What if he doesn't do it right? What if... what if it hurts?

What if Billy gets upset?

FuckMateWarmThrustFuckfuckfuckHeatTightThrustFuck, the wolf grinds against his bones with unabashed longing.

Not helpful.

Back inside the warehouse, Billy and Dustin have a frank discussion.

"So what is it, then? Are they weaker than us?" Dustin taunts, his arms folded and his eyes glued on Billy's face, absolutely refusing to let this go. "Is that why you beat the shit out of him? Because he's bitten?"

That hits too close to home for comfort.

Billy lets out a frustrated huff that is dangerously close to a growl, and Dustin is suddenly back on his heels like an angry cat, a small hiss escaping him.

Both of their wolves scream THREAT!  and are immediately on high alert, ready to do whatever it takes to protect their...

The car door slams outside.

It's like a douse of cold water. The noise snaps them both back into the present situation.

As much as they both want to scrap, want the other one to just go away forever right now, neither wants to be the one to disappoint Steve by not playing nice.   

"Alright... listen," Billy grinds out after a beat, removing his pack of cigarettes from his jacket with more force than necessary and lighting up. “I get it. You don’t like me and I don’t like you. Just give me the shovel talk and let’s get it over with.”

Dustin wasn't expecting that, so he blinks at Billy for a moment before pulling himself together.

"You two are together, right?” he clips out. “Like, boyfriends?”

"He said that?”

"No, he didn’t say anything. But I’m not stupid. I saw you guys yesterday. And Steve only gets this dumb and dopey when he’s in love.”

"In love a lot, is he?” Billy taps his foot irritability, huffing out a stream of cigarette smoke. 

“No,” Dustin replies in a tone so solemn and serious that it gives Billy pause. “But when he does fall in love it’s everything to him. Everything. You got that?"

Billy swallows and tries to ignore the warm feeling growing in his chest and the voice that tells him that yes, that sounds like Steve, that’s true.

It’s true and it’s dangerous.

”If you hurt him, I’ll kill you,” Dustin says flatly. 

The statement comes out so blunt and sudden that even the outside world seems to go quiet in the wake of it.

Of course, Billy's first inclination is laugh this off as a childish threat. Dustin may be a born wolf, but he is small and young.

He is no match for Billy.

However, Billy can see that he very much means it. There is no... no doubt, in his voice.

That's a rare thing.

“I know you’re bigger than me," Dustin continues, his gaze unwavering, his voice utterly steady, "but if you hurt him or make him sad or anything like that, I’ll kill you. Me and the rest of the pack. You'll never see us coming."

Billy levels an evaluating stare at Dustin. "Thought there were only two of you? You and Steve.”

"We're the only two werewolves.”

Something about the way he says that sends a chill down Billy's spine.

Something about the way he says 'werewolves'... like there might be something else out there.

Steve hasn't mentioned any other supernatural beings. Billy was never completely convinced that other supernatural beings existed besides werewolves. He's never seen one, at any rate... not before the Thesselhydra in the woods.

But this kid is looking at him now...

Confidence, Billy thinks suddenly. The kid is very confident. All the doubts and fears that plague Steve... this kid doesn't have them. A completely different set of issues, maybe, but not... not that.

It is clear that Dustin feels no doubt that he could go toe-to-toe with Billy Hargrove and triumph.

Steve walks back into the warehouse and makes a beeline for Dustin.

"Hand," he says when he reaches him, and it's like a magical spell has been broken.

All the barely-contained aggression drains out of the other two werewolves. Steve doesn't seem to notice.

Dustin rolls his eyes and holds out the hand with the cut.

"Can werewolves get infections?" he asks as Steve applies the antiseptic ointment and the band-aid.

Billy says nothing, just watches and shakes his head.

"I don't care," says Steve. "Hold still."

"Yes, mom," Dustin snarks.

Billy studies their hands as Steve works, his mate's long fingers moving with deft, practiced motions over the cut on Dustin's pudgy fist. He can smell the iron tang of the blood on the wind.

"Steve said you changed a year ago,” Billy says abruptly, taking a deep drag off his cigarette. "That you had your first shift a year ago."

"Yeah?”

Dustin and Steve both look over at him with wary expressions.

They almost match, could almost be brothers.  

Billy studies Dustin for a moment and then nods.

“You’ll do just fine."

And unless Steve is more mistaken than he's ever been, he could swear he hears a note of satisfaction and pride in Billy's voice.

 

 

 

There are clearly a few things on Billy's mind the next time they meet.

Steve doesn't know what they are. He doesn't know Billy well enough to read his mind. Not yet. It's frustrating.

It's just him today - Dustin has apparently decided that Steve is not in immediate danger from Hargrove and has begged off to go play D&D with the Party - and for once he wishes he had a buffer between himself and Billy.

Billy decides to unleash his pent-up tension by being a dick.

Taunts and insults fly like they're back in basketball practice. More than once Steve rears back at the unexpected cruelty of Billy's words as if he's been struck. He'd thought they were past this, but apparently not. Billy is a ball of tension and he seems to be doing his best to stoke Steve's resentment.

In fairness, the topic of today's lesson is not designed to encourage fondness between teacher and pupil.

Billy is trying to get Steve to shift into his beta wolf form. It is not going well.

”Am I doing it?”

”No, Steve. You’ll know. Right now it just looks like you’re taking a shit.”

Steve screws up his face and tries to focus on growing claws and fangs.

”Jesus,” Billy shakes his head at the look of strained effort on Steve's face. “You’re not pushing them out, moron. You’re just unleashing what’s already there.“

And my eyes will start glowing.”

”Yeah.”

”Why?” 

“Jesus, you sound like Dustin. It’s a werewolf thing, I don’t know! Magic. They’ll glow gold. It’s part of the transformation.”

“This is pointless, Billy.” Steve huffs and shakes his head. “I’m going to pass out, give myself an aneurysm…”

“You’re not going to pass out, princess. Don't get precious. You’re just not focusing.”

"I am focusing!"

Billy huffs and shakes his head. They've been here for hours and the derision in his eyes is grating on Steve's last nerve.

Shifting from human to wolf is not the same thing as moving a car around or hearing a whispered conversation from fifty feet away. It requires concentration and control, two things that Steve apparently does not have in abundance. It's about, to quote Billy, 'tapping into your innermost self' or some other Zen bullshit that flies right over Steve's head the minute he says it.

He needs to learn this, though.

His little romantic interludes have not blinded Steve to the fact that he and his pack are vulnerable these days. As these last few weeks since their tussle with the Thesselhydra have drifted past, a sense of urgency has gripped the Party by the throat. The fact that they haven't seen the creature again and that Eleven, with all her strange powers, hasn't been able to locate it only adds to the tension driving the group slowly towards a breakdown.

Steve gets around... he's heard the gossip.

He knows that hunters have disappeared in the woods, that family pets have gone missing. Dustin's cat Mews is still MIA, and while he can't bring himself to suggest this to Dustin, Steve is pretty sure the little fur ball is monster-munch. 

Dustin is convinced that their little gang are the only ones who can stop the horror in Hawkins Woods. Steve isn't convinced - his vote is for calling in the National Guard. Hell, Chief Hopper is terrifying enough on a good day, maybe he'd like to take a swing at it. 

All these things are shadowy anxieties, but one thing is inescapably certain - when he faces the monster again, he wants more than a baseball bat as a weapon. He wants fangs and claws and speed and agility and all the things Billy assured him he would have if he could only convince his body to shift. To become something neither fully human nor fully wolf, but stronger than both... the perfect predator.

Of course, it would help if Billy gave him some clue how exactly he was supposed to manage that.

"I'm serious, Billy! I am trying, I just..."

"I know you are," Billy's voice softens ever so slightly before going rough and dismissive again. "But there's something in the way, and I need you to get around it." 

“Well what am I supposed to focus on, exactly?" Steve snarks, motioning to the surrounding warehouse with heavy, tired arms. "The dry rot?”

The way the sunlight makes your hair go a thousand different shades of gold? The way you smell like leather and lovemaking and the ocean? The sound of your sexy-ass voice curling like cigarette smoke inside of me?

“Try focusing on my voice," Billy says. "I’ll talk you through it, okay?”   

Hmmm...                           

Steve huffs but nods anyway.

"Yeah. Yeah, okay."

Silence fills the space between them for a moment.

"Deep breath in," Billy murmurs. "Slow breath out."

Steve obeys.

"What's your wolf saying?"

It seems like a non-sequitur. Steve blinks and shrugs.

"My wolf? What does it have to do with anything? You said this was stuff I could do as a human. Human to wolf transformation."

"Your wolf is part of you, Steve. Like it or not. What is it doing right now?"

Steve tries to process this. He thinks for a moment and then shakes his head.

"I don't know," Steve says.

"Ask it."

"I don't know how," Steve insists stubbornly.

"Figure it out."

Billy's gaze is unreadable, and Steve knows he's going to get no sympathy from that quarter.

If he's being honest, he knows exactly what he needs to do.

He sighs and closes his eyes.

A thin darkness, a bit of light filtering through his eyelids.

It's distracting. He tries to ignore it.

Tries to ignore it.

Tries.

To.

Just.

Ignore it.

Tries to ignore the world around him.

Tries to ignore the smell of Billy, the sound of his heartbeat.

The voice - the wolf - is always present, always interrupting, always sitting like a tumor on his chest.

Now, however, it's strangely quiet, like a barely-there whisper. 

Steve tries to grasp at that whisper, tries to pull himself closer, tries to make the wolf come up...

There's a wall. 

A barrier.

Distance, dense and profound.

Like he's a million miles away from his goal.

But then, in the background, a voice that is him but not him... growing...

Growling...

I'llEatYouUp...

I'llEatYouUp...

I'llEatYouUpI'llEatYouUpI'llEatYouUpILOVEYouSOOOOOO

It crashes over Steve like a cold, dark wave and he yanks himself back from the edge.

His air all leaves him in a rush and he opens his eyes, gaze frantically latching on to the light, the warehouse's interior, and Billy.

Billy.

Billy watches him, his face unreadable.

"Well?" 

"It's there," Steve replies. His voice is mostly steady.

"...And?"

Steve hesitates, struggling to put his feelings into words, and then shrugs.

"It's just... it's there. It's always fucking there. Right where I don't want it to be."

Billy tilts his head, curious.

"It's like a wall," Steve continues after a moment's thought. "Every time I think I'm... I used to be able to do everything easily. Move easily, think easily. Now it's like there's another... thing... inside... and I keep tripping over it when I'm not expecting to. I think something is one way and then I've got this nagging voice in my head telling me it's something else. I make a move in basketball and suddenly the wolf is telling me to rip someone's throat out. Even..." Steve gestures at the wrecked car in the corner. "Even when I use my super powers I have to drag it out of myself." 

"Sounds like you've got a mental block," Billy says with a sagacity that makes Steve want to throttle him.

"Wonderful," he snaps. "How do I get rid of it?"

Billy shrugs.

Steve doesn't know how he can be so casual, so dismissive about all of this.

"It sounds like you're afraid to let the wolf out because you're afraid you'll lose control. It happens. You're emotional..."

"I'm not emotional."

"You sure about that?" Billy quirks up an eyebrow. "A bit oversensitive, maybe? A bit over-affectionate?"

Steve sucks in an outraged breath.

"If this is about the diner..." he starts, trying to keep a lid on his temper.

"All I'm saying," Billy cuts him off, "is that you need to control it. Channel it. Don't just..."

"...We never talked about it," Steve says abruptly.

Billy pauses, lets out a heavy sigh.

Alright then. Guess they were going to do this now.

"What is there to talk about?" he asks, keeping his voice deliberately and painfully blank.

"About... well..."

Steve flounders. He doesn't know. He can't put it into words.

It had been going so well up until then.

They'd shared poems and werewolf lessons and make-out sessions and frantic hand-jobs. But it was more than that... Steve had finally started to see past the guy who beat him up in front of the Byers house and scared him in the woods.

That version of Billy didn't think that Steve mattered as a person. That Billy was only out for whatever he could beat out of someone.

This other Billy... the one Steve hoped to God was the real one...

Steve hadn't been thinking in the diner. Maybe it was exactly the wrong thing to do, but he hadn't stopped to consider the consequences. That was the beauty of it. For once he hadn't been thinking and he'd just taken his hand in a public place and... 

He cares for Billy. He doesn't want Billy to be sad or angry or hurt. He likes Billy, likes spending time with him and just likes him as a person. He thinks Billy is strong and interesting and funny and handsome.

So it's killing him that they haven't touched at all since that day.

It hurts that Billy is standing so far away from him right now, flicking his lighter in one hand and not quite meeting his gaze. Steve is left shaky and confused as Billy dismisses his feelings, makes them seem pathetic and unimportant.

There's a wall between them that wasn't there before and Steve doesn't know where it came from or how to get past it.

You're overthinking it. 

Steve's wolf of course chooses now to reemerge and let its opinion be know, though it's not shifting or training it's interested in.

Okay, then.

Okay.

Steve lurches forward and plants a kiss on Billy's mouth.

He misses slightly and catches the corner, and it's more of a clashing of teeth than a proper kiss, but the wolf still howls in approval at his cunning and initiative.

He takes Billy by surprise (and startles himself a little, truth be told) and for a moment the other boy doesn't respond. Steve doesn't stop, though... he's learned to trust his instincts about the other boy.

Where Steve overthinks things, Billy plunges head first into sensations. Physicality works in a way that words simply cannot.  

Sure enough, after a moment Billy's shoulders slump and he kisses Steve back. Steve lets out a low sigh and opens his lips, lets Billy's tongue lap in and claim his mouth. He tastes of soda and cigarettes on the surface, and underneath is his ocean-water, brown sugar, wood-smoke smell, and beyond that, subtle but inescapably there, is something indescribable, something purely Billy.

He presses up against him, suddenly desperate to be closer. Billy lets out a little moan of need and those walls he's put up to keep Steve at arms length start to crumble. Steve can feel them give and collapse.

I'm going to sleep with him, he thinks.

The knowledge is like a lightning bolt. He can see the future, suddenly... he knows it like he knows his own name. A decision made.

I want to. I'm going to.

Billy ducks his head down and presses a kiss against Steve's skin, just above his Adam's apple.

Steve's breath hitches and he buries his face in Billy's shoulder.

"Billy," he murmurs. "Can we...?"

There is no immediate response. Steve isn't even completely sure what he's asking, but Billy seems to know, and when he catches on it's like a bucket of cold water has been dumped on him. He goes rigid against Steve, and the gentle lover vanishes immediately and is replaced by a hurt and cornered animal.

"What are you?" Billy hisses suddenly, his teeth against Steve's throat. "Why are you really here?"

There's venom in Billy's voice, and longing, and a high-note of desperate fear... and Steve doesn't know where any of it is coming from. Billy's grip is suddenly like iron, and Steve thinks he might be shaking a little.

"I... I want it," Steve insists, voice not as steady as he'd like. "I want... to do it."

There is a beat, a terrible silence, before Billy lets out a humorless laugh.

"You don't even know what 'it' is, Steve," Billy huffs, pulling back and taking Steve's heart with him.

"I don't care," Steve snaps, reaching out for Billy and missing him by about a mile. "You said... before, when you said what I wanted didn't matter..."

"I didn't mean it," Billy flinches at how ugly the words sound parroted back to him. "I would never force you. I'm sorry about before, in the woods... I would never force you. What you want matters. You matter."

"You..."

"I only meant the bond... the bond is there, whether we want it or not. It's not a choice, not something you can help, and I'm sorry about that. If you want me to go..."

"I don't want you to go, that's my point!" Steve almost yells in frustration. "And I don't... I've never had sex with a guy before, but I know I want it. I want you. I trust you!"

The words are out and they echo so loudly in the empty building.

Once they're out, Steve knows he means it.

Once they're out, Billy freezes.

He looks at Steve for a long, pregnant moment before he shakes his head. 

"You're scared," he says, slowly, thoughtfully. "You're trying to take back control. This is a... you're trying to make a point."

"Oh my God, you just... never... shut up!" Steve shoves Billy back in frustration. They both stumble a bit but stay close, inescapably trapped in each other's orbit. "Can't I just... can't I just want something? Why overthink it? I thought the whole point of this was that I was overthinking everything!"

"Then why...?"

"Because I dream about you, okay? Happy now? I think about you all the time and I have these dreams and I wake up..."

Steve's mouth snaps shut before he can say anything else but apparently it is too late. 

"Jesus Christ, Steve," Billy closes his eyes like he's in pain and Steve's heart plummets in his chest. "You can't... you can't fucking say things like that, okay?"

"Why not? You're... you're my mate. Aren't you?"

"You just," Billy bites his lip and tries to breath through his frustration. "You're so fucking vulnerable, Steve! You keep giving all this ammo to people who can use against you. All these fucking feelings and shit, and you just blurt it out! What if someone besides me heard that? Huh? What if you said something like that in front of... in front of Dustin or Max? In front of my dad?"

"Please, give me some credit," Steve glares at him. "I've done 'meet the parents' before. I wouldn't... I wouldn't embarrass you or whatever. I promise. But, you know, even if I did, your dad is a werewolf. He must know about mates, about how this feels. He must have said something when you told him."

Steve watches Billy go still, like he's been stunned. It's surprise and then, slowly creeping in...

Shame.

The look on the other boy's face is damning, and Steve quickly realizes...  

"You haven't told your dad? I thought..."

"What did you think?" Billy shakes his head and pulls his cigarettes out of his pocket, but the pack is empty. He throws it away from himself in annoyance.

"I guess... I mean..." Steve flounders. "Max saw, and you two tore out of the diner so fast, and then you never really... you said everything was okay!"

"It is," Billy replies flatly. "Nobody knows about us."

"I thought you meant okay with your folks, man! Not that it was still a secret! I never thought... Why? Is it because I'm a guy? You were so okay with me being a guy when... when all this started. That never seemed to bother you. I thought maybe werewolves don't... don't care about that stuff."

"And you?" Billy asks, nastiness rising. "Did you blab all about me to your parents? Am I invited to Sunday dinner with the Harringtons?"

"My parents are in Bali for work," Steve says, a cold edge to his voice. "They don't give a fuck what I do."

"And your little cub scout troop?"

Steve does go a little bit red at that and starts stuttering awkwardly. 

"That's... I told Dustin we were friends. I didn't... know how to explain..."

"Right. So I guess we're both dirty little secrets."

Just to be an asshole Billy puts extra emphasis on the word 'dirty', making Steve flinch a little. God, Steve can be so precious about things, and it turns the screws of Billy's irritation that much tighter. He's already upset, postponing the difficult conversation with Steve about his family... this was not how he wanted to introduce the subject, not here and now, not right after an extended demonstration of Steve's lackluster shifting abilities, not after going so long without touching his mate.

Steve doesn't understand. 

"I just... your dad is a wolf, right? So he understands about mates and everything. You can't tell him...?"

Billy is quiet for a long moment. When he speaks, his voice is soft, almost resigned.

"He is the pack Alpha. You know what that is Steve? No. You don't. You and Dustin don't really have... He's the Alpha. The leader. He decides what happens to us. Everything we do, everything we are comes back to him. He has... he has plans for me. His eldest son. His only son."

It clicks for Steve, then.

"And those plans don't include you having a mate?"

"They don't include me having a bitten wolf with no pack affiliation as a mate."

It takes Steve a moment to process this.

"What does me being bitten have to do with it?" he asks, finally.

"Dad doesn't like bitten wolves."

"Why?"

Billy glances pointedly over at Steve. "He seems to think that they are less powerful than born wolves. Less capable."

Oh.

Oh.

Okay, that... that stings a bit.

He was really proud of Dustin for catching on so fast... and it never occurred to him that Billy might be looking at the two of them and seeing Steve as the weak one, the lesser light. Never thought that he might be regretting having Steve as a partner because of his weaknesses as a werewolf.

"Besides," Billy continues, merciless and seemingly oblivious to the way Steve's heart has plummeted to his stomach. "An Alpha needs a large pack in order to build his strength and maintain the bloodline. We can't have kids."

Steve feels like his brain needs a complete overhaul just to understand all of this. 

"Is that...," he stops, tries again. "Is that something you want? Kids?"

"Steve," Billy sighs, and, yep, there it is again. A defeated look. "That's the point. It doesn't matter what I want."

Steve takes a step back. His gaze goes up, up to the ceiling of the warehouse. He can see crumbling, long-abandoned bird nests in the corners of criss-crossing metal beams. He makes himself take a deep breath in and let it out again.

Okay...

Okay.

Steve can... he can work with this.

He's King Steve. Steve Harrington. Werewolf. He can...

He can make this right.

Right?

"Alright," he says, each word sounding like it's being dragged out of him. "I know... I know we aren't much of a pack. Me and Dustin. But... but you're working with me. Teaching me and training me to be better. I can be better. A better werewolf. I promise, Billy, I can. I just need to work on it and I can be whatever... whatever you need me to be. Dustin, um... he's basically like the pack leader. He can... I can..." 

Even as he speaks, Steve can feel himself slipping into a place he doesn't want to be. A place that is made up half of echoes - of Nancy, of his parents - and half of dead, suffocating, disappointed silence. A very familiar place where nothing he says or does is enough.

A place where he fails, again and again, to be the one who is wanted.

To be worthy of love and affection.

Billy is looking at him with an unreadable expression... or maybe Steve just doesn't want to read it. Maybe he fears that if he looks closely there might be a little too much disappoint there. A little too much pity.

He's going to leave me, Steve thinks, and suddenly it is no longer an idle thought but rather a terrible certainty. It's not enough... and he's going to leave me.

A yawning gulf opens up at his feet. 

His wolf yowls and his eyes blur and fuck...

He's wrapped up in strong, familiar arms before he knows what is happening. He doesn't think... he just buries his face in Billy's neck and gasps, trying to hold on to any last shreds of dignity he has. He does not cry... he will not...

Billy is shushing him, trying to calm him down, trying to get him to breathe.

"I'm sorry," Steve chokes out. 

What is this? Why does this hurt so much?

Oh, fuck... no...

You are kind of sort of absolutely in love him, you moron, the wolf huffs dryly, its strange, chiaroscuro worldview suddenly clarifying everything and bringing all shadows into sharp relief. 

That's why it hurts.

"Okay, honey... okay," Billy is holding him, still, and shushing him gently, but now the affection seems cold. Now, suddenly, Steve doesn't want it.

He doesn't want pity. Pity is worse.

It's like rejection but it holds you close while it slices you open.

"No," he says suddenly, pulling away. "No."

He takes a deep breath and Billy can see the walls going up, the claws coming out. He sees the Steve Harrington who fought monsters in the woods.

Steve fixes Billy with a defiant gaze and shakes his head.

"I brought Dustin to meet you," Steve growls. "Dustin is my pack. I may be a shitty werewolf but I'm a pretty damn good babysitter, and I wouldn't have brought him to meet you if I wasn't serious about this. If you're not serious, you tell me right fucking now. I'll walk right fucking now, I swear to God."

Billy doesn't say anything. For lack of anything else to work with, Steve chooses to take that as an affirmation, a commitment.

"I want it," he repeats, latching on and holding on to that one solid thread. "I want it."

For a moment, a strange perversity takes hold of Billy and he very nearly says no, very nearly denies Steve.

And then, moved by the same self-destructive impulse, he very nearly says yes, very nearly agrees to give Steve all the hellish horror and let the chips fall where they may.

Protect? 

His wolf, in an unprecedented show of circumspection, nudges gently at his heart.  

Mate. Protect.

Even when it's hard.

Steve watches him and waits.

Fuck it, he thinks.

"Okay, pretty boy," Billy says, finally. "But we do this my way, okay? I'll give you something. You'll take it. Yeah?" Steve nods eagerly and takes a tentative step closer. Billy takes a deep breath and forces himself to be calm, to finish his ultimatum. "And if you want me to stop, or slow down, or wait, or anything, you say so. Alright, pretty boy? I won't get pissed off either way." 

Something in Steve's gaze flickers, softens. 

"Yes," he says quietly.

Billy nods. He takes Steve's hand and tugs him over to the back where the cars are parked.

"Where are we going?"

"I'm not doing this on the ground, sweetheart. 'S too cold."

The use Steve's car because the backseat is bigger. Billy opens the back door, pushes Steve in so that he's laying down, and crawls over him. His lips find Steve's again, and he can hear the rapid beat of the other boy's heart, all lust and anxiety. 

He wonders, in his heart and soul, at Steve's tears, at that strange and sudden breakdown before, the unnerving display of grief. He had pushed and pushed and pushed, and this simple moment was the thing that finally set Steve off.

The wolf is quietly resentful, seething at the idea that anyone could have hurt his mate so badly that he would go to pieces like that over nothing at all. It revels in the opportunity to comfort and pleasure him, but in the back of its mind it still ponders how such a thing could have happened.

Billy is starting to piece some things together.

Nancy... she made me feel like I was worth something...

I didn't want to be that guy...

They're in Bali for work...

It's hard to be Neil Hargrove's son and feel anything besides envy for other kids' families. Billy has seen Steve's car and his house and his clothes, and had always assumed that those things were coded symbols of parental affection. He'd heard all the stories, from Steve and from others, of his mate's fall from grace at Hawkins High and had dismissed it all as trite teenage posturing.

He wonders now if all his previous assumptions had been wrong.

He thought I was going to abandon him.

The thought comes to Billy out of nowhere, but the moment he thinks it he knows that it's true, just as sure as he knows his own name.

He takes Steve's hands in his own and pushes them back, presses them against the seat on either side of Steve's head.

Brown eyes look up at him with bittersweet trust - trust - and it's too much, too much. He buries his face against Steve's neck and takes in a shaky inhale, breathes in that now-familiar scent. He presses his lips softly against Steve's long pale throat, moving down slowly towards the other boy's chest.

He takes a second to unzip Steve's jacket and hike up his shirt. He laps roughly at whatever skin he can reach, tugging Steve's clothes out of the way, pressing wet kisses against nipples and moles and small scars.

There's very little finesse to his movements, and Billy is almost shockingly aware of every sound he makes. In the stillness, in the weird abruptness of this coupling, it is almost as if they are complete strangers again. It feels loud and cold inside the car, and Billy's movements seem more utilitarian than anything.

Steve is panting, but his breathing is slowing down now, and when Billy glances up he can see that Steve is staring up, not looking at him. 

Like he's trying not to react. Like he's afraid to move. 

"Steve?"

Steve blinks once and looks down. His face is unreadable. Billy runs his hand, still cold from the bitter wind outside, down Steve's side slowly, grazing his soft skin, counting his ribs with his fingers. He watches the other boy shiver.

After a beat he crawls up and cups Steve's face in his hand. Steve watches him with wide eyes. Billy kisses him, gentle and chaste on the lips. He hovers for a moment, just feeling Steve breathe under him. 

"You trust me," he says. 

Steve makes a soft, almost wounded sound.

He neither confirms or denies Billy's assertion, but then again, Billy isn't really asking him a question.

Billy kisses him again, and again, not aggressive, just calmly relentless. After a few moments Steve starts to relax, his neck and in his shoulders and his chest unwinding in increments. He lets out a small, breathy sigh, and Billy can't help but smile a little bit. He nuzzles him, lets his fingers soothe Steve's skin until Steve is curling up against him, seeking warmth and touch.

Better. That's better.

The barriers are still there but they're shrinking now.

Billy knows what he wants to do. He scoots down and unbuttons Steve's jeans while Steve watches hazily from above him.  Once Steve's cock is freed he takes it between his lips and sucks gently. Steve moans loudly and hiccups a bit, and Billy massages his hips soothingly.

He teases Steve for a bit, playing with his cock with his tongue and lips in slow, unhurried movements. Every time Steve tries to buck up Billy exerts a gentle pressure on his hips - you'll take what I give you.

Steve has given himself over to his enjoyment, however, so the message doesn't rankle. He lets himself ride a slowly cresting wave up and down, up and down, until he loses all track of time and space and himself.

"Billy..." he moans, only half-aware. "Billy, I want..."

Billy pulls off his cock.

"What, sweetheart?"

The question pulls Steve up short.

How can he explain? He feels an ache, a deep need, and he can't articulate what he wants. 

"Want more, baby?" Billy asks, his voice as sweet as his teasing is cruel. 

Yes, that's it... more... more of what ever this is. More, and for it to never stop.

Steve pants and nods and Billy leans back. He pushes Steve's jeans and boxers down further until his legs are thoroughly tangled in them, and then starts coaxing Steve over onto his stomach. He is still very gentle, murmuring soft assurances, but the press of his hands is insistent, irresistible.

Steve goes to his hands and knees. Suddenly he is brutally aware of the position he is in.

He is quivering and exposed, pale ass up in the air and pants pulled down to his knees. Even from here Billy can see the flush on his cheeks and neck, the way Steve squeezes his eyes shut and surrenders to the heady-warm feeling of tender humiliation, and he feels a small thrill that he managed to put Steve Harrington on his knees, on his back. 

Claim him. Mount him, Billy's wolf urges, but Billy can do one better. 

He bends down and runs his tongue in a long swipe over Steve's hole.

"Jesus fuck!" 

Steve jolts forward so hard and so suddenly that it's a miracle he doesn't ram his head into the car door. He is saved at the last minute by Billy's strong grip around his waist, holding him up and pulling him back.

Billy grins and lowers his head again and presses it into Steve's crack. His mouth finds that tender hole and starts suckling and lapping at it in earnest, drawing whimpers and cries from Steve. It is not an act he has performed often, but it is one that unleashes a particular primal urge within him.

Something about this feels like consumption... and isn't that what a wolf wants, after all?

To feed?

Billy eats Steve out, tastes him fully and deeply, going further inside than Steve could have imagined possible. He thrusts in and out with his tongue and tugs and teases the rim, working that tight furl until it relaxes under his ministrations. He pulls back a little and lets his tongue circle the edges, then licks inside with increased fervor.

Steve barely holds himself up on his shaky arms, and it isn't long before he can't anymore and needs to lower himself down so he can lay his head on the smooth leather of the car's interior. His ass goes up higher in this position and Billy grunts in approval. The minute vibration sends a new sensation through Steve's body and his freed erection lets out a little squirt of pre-cum.

The seat is cool against his flushed face, and it helps ground him temporarily. There are only two points in his body that exist now... his cheek against the leather, and the wonderful pleasure emanating from his aching cock and ass.

Billy commits himself fully to his task, so much so that he nearly misses Steve's increasingly frantic whimpers. Steve clenches, riding a wave of untainted pleasure, and Billy forces himself to pull back, finally, and continue his quest to thoroughly work Steve over. 

"No lube, sweetheart, sorry," Billy murmurs, giving Steve's ass one last nip with his teeth. "Gotta loosen you up, get you wet."

"You gonna fuck me?" Steve moans, head pressed against the leather of the back seat.

"No, baby. Want a bed for that. For now..." Billy pushes two fingers into his mouth and sucks lewdly. Steve watches him over his shoulder and shudders, reaching down to touch his leaking cock.

"Nuh uh... none of that," Billy pushes Steve's hand away from his erection. Steve whines in frustration. "Not yet. Do what I say."

Billy grips the base of Steve's cock.

"You trust me," Billy says again, and again it is not a question.

For just a moment a thought breaks through Steve's haze, and he thinks that maybe he understands some of Billy's bemused frustration with him. It's rough having people know intimate things that they can then use against you. It's annoying when Billy knows he's right.

He should be more careful about what he admits to from now on.

Billy slowly pushes one spit-slicked finger into Steve's wet, loosened hole. He does it before Steve can think to tense up, though Steve immediately clenches down and moans at the sensation.

Billy's fingers aren't like Steve's long, thin ones. Billy's mom, who loved art and books and music, might have called Steve's hands 'musician's hands', pale and clever and strangely delicate-looking.

Billy's are thicker, stronger, and when they touch Steve they demand his full attention. Steve swears he can feel every callous, every knuckle as that thick digit penetrates his body, touches and claims his innermost self without apology.

Steve feels something inside of him break at the intrusion. 

Miiiinneee... his wolf wails, and Steve grunts loudly, torn between pushing back on Billy's finger and humping empty air in a desperate bid for some kind of friction.

It feels so strange, but he wants more. He wants Billy to fuck him, he wants to flip them both over and fuck Billy, and even though he isn't quite sure what that will entail he knows he wants it now, desperately, without reservation.

Billy watches with pleasure and relief as Steve finally lets go, lets himself fully trust him, lets himself feel what Billy is doing to him without any accompanying doubt or fear. It's easier for Steve than it is for him, and that fact breaks Billy's heart... for all that Steve has been hurt in the past (and Billy is only now realizing how great and deep those hidden hurts might be), when he gives himself, he gives fully, without reservation.

He gives everything.

Billy adds another finger and continues to thrust into and stretch that perfect hole. He can't wait to fuck Steve properly, can't wait to sink his cock into that tight heat, can't wait to reverse their positions and sit on the pretty cock dangling heavy between Steve's legs and take it inside himself.

For now, though, this is a beautiful torture for them both. They are Connie and Mellors in the the last pages of D.H. Lawrence's novel, reaching the height of love by delaying the consummation.

He realizes that as much as he would love to be buried in Steve's tight heat right now, he would not rush this for all the world. In a love-drunk haze Billy understands that every moment with Steve is a gift.

He crooks his fingers and Steve lets out a shocked gasp as they brush his prostate. His free hand touches Steve's cock and starts moving, a quick, steady rhythm that matches the twist of his fingers inside Steve's ass.

Steve looks so beautiful like this. 

His two fingers pump in and out of that impossibly tight hole as Steve writhes against him, hampered in his movements by Billy's embrace but still so desperate.

So unrestrained.

So free.

"Billy..."

Billy would not have Steve be anything other than what he is.

And isn't that just the living end?

"I'm here, sweetheart," Billy murmurs in Steve's ear. "I'm not going anywhere. I've got you."

Steve lets out a loud cry from deep within him and that assurance, more than anything, is what tips him over the edge. His fingers drift down and wrap around Billy's grip on his cock, tangle and tap-dance against Billy's hand. Billy nips him lightly on the ear and Steve cums hard with a half-sob, coating Billy's hand with spend and dribbling it all over the backseat of his car.

Billy holds Steve, rocks him as he floats back down to earth, presses feather-light kisses to his neck and cheek. They settle so that Billy is on top of Steve, holding him tightly. The wolf likes this position very much and privately decides to never let Steve go more than two inches away from it in future.

"There you are, baby," Billy murmurs, nuzzling him as he blinks himself back into existence. "There you are."

"Billy..."

"Shhh... was it good?"

"Yes," Steve smiles and Billy's insides warm.

His boy is content, and that is good.

Of course, Steve being Steve, it only lasts for a moment before he grows restless.

"What about you?" Steve turns back around to face him and scoots up as best he can, eyes fixed on the erection straining against Billy's pants. Billy pushes himself up to give them both a little wiggle room, even though his wolf protests.

Billy looks down, considering, then looks back up at Steve.

He feels... guilty.

No, no, that's not it.

He feels... responsible. 

His mate thought he was going to abandon him.

That should never have happened. 

Billy knew he could be an asshole sometimes. He can't seem to help it. But somewhere between that and the minefield of Steve's insecurities, he lost his footing.

What's more, he's starting to come to the ugly realization, inescapable, that he does not want to do what he needs to do to placate Neil and keep Steve. He's beginning to understand what such a betrayal would, in turn, do to the boy he loves.

What a horror show this is.

But he can do this. He can say this, and he can mean it.

"What you want matters to me," Billy says, quietly. "I meant that. What would you like to do?"

Steve blinks up at him, his face softening and brightening as he sees what Billy is trying to say. His gaze drifts down again and he licks his lips. He moves up and back until he is kneeling on the back seat, then goes down on his hands and knees and looks up again.

"Can I...?" he trails off.

Billy sucks in a breath and nods. He goes to his knees - it's a tight fit in the car, but he manages - and lets Steve unzip his pants and pull him out. 

He keeps a good, firm grasp on Billy's cock, right at the base like he should, but seems momentarily unsure how to start. It is only a brief hesitation before he gives Billy a tentative lick across the slit at the head. Billy shivers and Steve licks him again, this time in a long glide up the underside of his shaft. He lets his tongue play over the foreskin, tease the thick vein underneath, his brow furrowed in thoughtful consideration.

Then, he wraps his lips around Billy's cock and sucks hard.

The sight of Steve falling apart earlier had already pushed Billy towards the edge, but now, like this, with Steve making a conscious effort to play with his cock, to pleasure him utterly, Billy knows he's not going to last long. He runs his fingers through Steve's hair and grips hard.

"Wait," Billy hisses, and Steve stops and looks up in confusion and not a little consternation. 

"Can I...?" Billy swallows. "I want to pull out of your mouth before I finish and cum on your face. I want to mark you. Is that...?" He is going to ask it that would be okay... he doesn't want to do anything Steve doesn't want to do. His wolf wants it so badly, has wanted it forever, but...

What Steve wants matters. It matters so goddamn much.

He doesn't get a chance to finish that thought because Steve's mouth is back on his cock, sucking eagerly on the head and trying to take him further and further in without gagging. He works the shaft, back and forth, and manages to take more and more as he does so. 

"Fuck," Billy's voice cracks. "Steve... beautiful..."

Steve finds the taste of Billy strange but not unpleasant, and the sounds Billy makes are delightful. He can't go past a certain point without gagging, it seems, but he works the base of the shaft with his hand and submits to Billy's unconscious thrusting movements. Billy's fingers thread themselves through his long hair and tug gently, then more insistently. He relaxes and just lets himself feel it, and as he does his throat opens a bit more.

Soon they are working in a kind of unspoken rhythm... Billy's minute thrusts and tugs on his hair match Steve's ambitious attempts to get creative with his tongue. He can see that Billy is holding back and trying to give Steve most of the control, but when the other boy's pleasure takes over and his movements grow less careful, Steve feels a strange sense of his own power.

He can make Billy look like that.

Him. Steve. He did that.

"Steve..."

Thick fingers are pulling Steve's head back and his mouth off Billy's cock. Steve gasps at the sudden rush of free air in his lungs, and his mouth is open when the first spurts of Billy's cum hit it. 

He sputters in surprise for only a second... he has never tasted cum before, and it is momentarily overwhelming. For just a moment he is in danger of overthinking it again, of coming out of himself or back into himself. He teeters on the edge.

Almost immediately, however, something inside of him goes lax and still, before something in him takes it... takes it like it's his due, like he owns it, like he's being owned. The wolf howls and whines and its pleasure matches Steve, awakens something primal in both of them. He takes it all, all across his face, his mouth, down his chin and chest.

He suppose that's the right way to look at it. He owns, and is owned. Loves and is loved.

Billy cums hard, harder than he ever thought possible from an amateur blow-job, and splatters his spend all over Steve's face. 

It's good, they both think. In their own separate ways, they feel something fundamental slide into place inside of them.

It's good. 

Steve's eyes are closed, but if they were open, Billy might have seen them flash with a golden supernatural glow. 

Chapter Text

Billy remembers the bad early days. Life is hard those first few months right after you become a werewolf. There is sometimes a wild rush of power that sweeps over everything, and it used to frighten him a little when it happened. He was a child then, of course, but he still remembers what it felt like to always tap-dance on the knife's edge of control.

He understands it, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch a grown man tip over that edge and into a kind of terrible soulless rage.

"I used to fuck boys like you in prison," Wyatt hisses, a nasty grin on his face, his breath coming out as hot steam in the freezing evening air.

Wyatt's eyes are half rolling in his head, and his mouth is twisted in a snarl accentuated by a wolfish snout. He cannot hold the shift for more then a few seconds at a time and it is grotesquely fascinating to watch his face morph and melt from wolf to human and back again in a nightmarish, undulating rhythm.

He is absolutely too close to Billy. Billy can smell his every emotion festering under cheap cologne and sweat.

It makes him slightly nauseous.

They have been practicing. Training. Neil wants his new foot soldiers ready before the next full moon, which is speeding towards them like a freight train, looming on the horizon. He wants them ready and he wants Billy to have a hand in making sure that happens.

Pack bonding.

Earl is fairly useless. He watches from the sidelines and gapes during Billy and Neil's explanations, and when it is his turn he hems and haws for far too long before stepping up. He can only just get his teeth to drop down. He prefers shuffling nervously in his corner, drinking can after can of cheap beer, and trying to stay out of the way. 

Wyatt is more volatile. He grasps the basics of shifting easily but can't hold on to his beta form consistently. The initial power is there at his fingertips, but he lacks focus. There is another monster inside vying for dominance, and more often than not his all-too-human psychotic rage pushes the wolf to the background.

He is very easy to needle. 

"Fascinating," Billy says, rolling his shoulders. He watches as the other wolf paces in front of him and tries to hold the shift steady, his eyes roving over Billy's body with a proprietary lust and loathing. If it unnerves him (and it does) he makes a point of not letting it show. "Having a dry spell, are we?"

Predictably, the rage makes Wyatt's wolf-form solidify, and the older man launches himself forward. Billy ducks, but Wyatt catches his side and manages to get him on the ground.

By the time he has rolled them both over, looming over Billy while Billy presses his back flat against the hard dirt of the forest floor, his hand is on Billy's throat and his face is human again.

Billy could spit. Wyatt is posturing, making cheap and obvious moves that will get him killed. Moreover, his focus on scrapping and fighting is a distraction, and a costly one. If Wyatt doesn't learn to hold the beta form, Neil is going to take it out of Billy's hide. He needs this dumbass redneck to focus on the shift and not on one-upping him.

"You need to learn some manners, boy... need someone to straighten you out," Wyatt's hand tightens around his throat and his eyes go strange, almost unfocused. Billy watches with a kind of horrified fascination.

"I bet I could make you beg," he whispers so only Billy can hear.

Billy's claws are out and in Wyatt's belly, and before the older man can react he is being tossed across the clearing. Wyatt slides across the ground and crumbles, but is up almost instantly, shifting into his beta form.

At least his fangs are out, the younger man thinks with wry weariness. He sighs inwardly. These are his good jeans and he's gotten Wyatt's blood on them now.

At least Neil can't say Billy isn't doing his job. At least they're sort of shifting.

Surely, surely Neil can't ask for more...

"Well?"

Billy startles. Neil has entered the clearing behind him, is watching the training exercises. How long has he been there? Billy shivers but knows better than to drop his stance and turn towards his father. Letting your guard down is the easiest way to get stabbed in the back. That was one of the first lessons he learned.

He's not going to give Neil a chance to make an example out of him, and besides that the new werewolves make him too uncomfortable to risk relaxing.

"We're working on maintaining the shift," Billy supplies flatly, and wishes, not for the first time today, that he was with his other pack in their safe place. 

He glances at Earl, who is curling up into himself, shrinking under the Alpha's gaze. He almost feels sorry for these assholes. Neil was clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel here.

We wouldn't need to force this so much if you would just slow down and stop pushing, let them adjust to the change, but no...

"And how are we doing?" Neil asks.

Silence fills the clearing. Wyatt is breathing heavily and clutching his stomach from where Billy clawed at him. His fangs drop, but when he shakes his head as if to clear it they vanish again.

The sight fills Billy with irritation and not a little concern. A wave of anxiety hits him again and again until he is almost dizzy with it. He hates this so much, especially now that he knows what the alternative is...

He doesn't say anything, and neither do the other two.

Neil nods, half to himself, and his eyes narrow.

"Pain," Neil says, finally. "Right, Wyatt?"

Wyatt looks up at him and blinks.

"You managed to shift when you felt pain. Brought everything into focus, didn't it?"

It takes him a moment to understand, but when he does Wyatt's eyes widen with fear.

"Billy," Neil says quietly, and that's all the prompting Billy needs.

He is across the clearing in an instant, and just as quickly Wyatt is pinned under him. He digs sharp claws into Wyatt's chest and feels skin and muscle tear. He turns his wrist ever so slightly and his claws scrape bone. Wyatt lets out a hurt, outraged noise but can't move. His face bleeds from human to wolf and back again. 

Hold the shift... hold it, damn you! Billy roars in his head, though his teeth stay clenched shut. Don't make me do this, you piece of shit...

Wyatt's body is spasming, stuck on the boundary between human and wolf, wrecked by the agony Billy is inflicting.

"The only way to grow," Neil says, "is through pain."

Billy does not shiver and he does not blink. He kneels like a statue, like he has been trained to do, and he waits for his Alpha's orders. Wyatt pants beneath him, his all-too-human hands reaching up and digging into Billy's forearms, bruising and brutal but unable to transform into anything other than what they are, unable to be all the things Neil demands.

Earl makes a soft noise that Billy barely registers, but he recognizes the feeling behind it as dread.

Neil's voice cuts through the cold air.

"Try again."

 

 

 

"Let's see it, buddy."

Dustin slowly opens his eyes to see Billy and Steve standing in front of him like expectant parents.

He blinks at them and Steve lets out a loud whoop.

"Yeah! Dustin, they're glowing! You did it!"

Dustin grins, touches his face hesitantly. Glowing. He's a werewolf and his eyes are glowing.

So cool.

Now that Dustin has an experienced teacher he's picking up werewolf skills relatively quickly. This is much better than trying to piece together bits of information and never really knowing if he's going in the right direction. It's especially helpful to know about all the things he can do now.

Today, he and Steve are learning how to transform into their beta wolf forms... well, Dustin is. Steve is still having trouble, keeps working himself into these half-panic attacks whenever he tries to let the wolf out and change his outward appearance. But Dustin has managed to change his eyes to the glowing wolf-vision, and can make his claws pop out with some consistency.

His gaze slides over to the psycho mullet-wearing asshole, who is giving him a muted but unmistakable look of proud approval. Dustin feels his insides warm in spite of himself.

"Good job, kid," Billy smirks, slipping his hands in his pockets. "And you're holding it steady... very good."

The asshole is actually not too much of an asshole. If Steve wasn't around maybe things would be different, but Dustin finds himself pleasantly surprised by the enigma that is Billy Hargrove. 

Billy is patient. He keeps any irritation or annoyance out of his voice and off his face, even when Dustin and Steve mess up... what's more, Dustin gets the impression that he isn't actually truly upset when it takes them a little longer to get things right.

Since that awkward first day, Billy has relaxed a lot more, and now almost seems to enjoy the process of teaching them.

It's weird. Dustin wouldn't have thought he'd had it in him.

Billy cracks jokes that make Steve's face go red, grins mischievously behind his customary shield of cigarette smoke, and never, ever lashes out at them physically. He is not always kind, but he also never hurts them. 

He's clever, too. He helped both Steve and Dustin with their homework one day instead of showing them how to use their wolf claws. 

"It's cool, Harrington," he'd laughed when Steve protested. "'S too cold for wolfing out, anyway. Buy me a hot chocolate." 

Steve had made them both hot chocolates in his kitchen while Billy and Dustin sat at the coffee-table and proofread his English paper, grumbling while the other two laughed at his many spelling mistakes.

Dustin finds it easy to listen to Billy as he explains things in his low, calm tone, finds it easy to fall into the near-hypnotic rhythm of the words.

His wolf, in spite of its original hesitance, is comforted by the ease with which Billy inhabits his werewolf role. It fills him with something - maybe hope - to see how well Billy seems to balance his 'normal' life with that of the supernatural world. He listens with awe when Billy tells him stories. It pleases both him and his wolf that Billy is willing to share all this with them.

Both Dustin and his wolf are the same, after all, and prize knowledge highly.

Besides, it's worth it to see Steve so happy.

None of this is what Dustin expected after that night Billy beat Steve up. He'd thought, when Steve had described these lessons to him, that this would be a lot more like Army boot camp and not like... well, it's like being with friends. 

He wishes it was easier for Steve, all the shifting and the werewolf stuff.

He thinks maybe Steve is scared of any kind of physical change, like he secretly believes that if he shifts into his beta form his face might freeze like that and he won't be able to go back to being plain old Steve. He does the same thing he sometimes does when faced with difficult math problems, and his attempts to shift usually end when he works himself up into a frightened and frustrated panic.

But for all of that, his affection for Billy Hargrove doesn't seem to have dampened at all. He gives Billy the puppy dog look and Billy just rolls his eyes, or grins, or teases, and doesn't bully Steve into anything. When Steve looks at him with doubt and fear, Billy smiles at him and tells him, calmly, to give it another go.

It would be nice, Dustin supposes, if it wasn't so mushy. 

 

 

 

School has ended for the day. Steve has been in his house for all of five minutes and is standing by the sink getting a drink of water when he hears a soft breath and turns.

"Oh Jesus!"

The glass in his hand slips but he manages to catch it before it hits the floor, losing most of the water in the process. It is a small mercy as Steve fights to control the rush of adrenaline.

Eleven blinks up at Steve in calm bemusement while the older boy desperately tries to stave off the heart attack. He rubs his chest with his damp hand and shakes his head.

"Can't..." Steve wheezes. "Can't just... sneak up on people... sweetheart..."

"Hello," she pipes up, as if the greeting can smooth over her sudden entrance.

It sort of does.

Steve catches his breath and grins, chuckling weakly.

"Hi," he says. "What are you doing in here? I thought you stayed at Wheeler's while the others are in school?"

"Hi Steve!" Will barges through his backdoor... and Steve really does need to remember to shut and lock that in the future... closely followed by another girl who makes his heart leap in nervousness, and any protests he might make die in his throat.

"The others needed to stay for an after school project and Jonathan has photography club."

"Dustin said to come," Eleven fills in.

"He said we could wait here and then go out on patrol."

This does nothing to steady Steve's heartbeat. "Patrol, huh? You guys still doing that?"

"Seems like the best way to find out where the Thesselhydra is hiding out.” Will shrugs, drops his backpack in a corner, and glances back to where Maxine Hargrove is still standing silently by the door. "If we know where it is during the day, maybe we can tell someone."

"Or go find it yourselves," Steve offers, unable to keep the chagrin out of his voice. "Dustin told me there wouldn't be any more monster hunting."

Will winces and shrugs. Eleven looks impassive, and Max rolls her eyes but doesn't change position guarding the door.

"It's not monster hunting, exactly...," Will tries. "It's..."

"It's an excuse to sit in that gross old bus in the junkyard and eat Dustin's snacks until it's dark," Max interrupts.

Steve knows that Max and Billy are technically not related, but the snarkiness is clearly a shared trait. Weirdly, her casually insulting dismissal does relax him a little bit.

He and Dustin had promised each other that they would not go looking for trouble, but, like it or not, their current situation was inherently dangerous. Sitting on a bus in the junkyard was not the worst thing the kids could get up to.

Still...

Better if they're here. Better if he can keep an eye on them. 

Steve doesn't really know how it happens, but before he can process it he's sitting at his kitchen table and playing a board game with three recalcitrant preteens.

Eleven is quite taken with the Oreos and milk he gives her. Steve hasn't spent much time with her before this, but he finds himself enchanted by her innocent joy and surprising quickness. She handles him a little like Dustin does, with gentle patience. Max, meanwhile, is surly and quiet, studying Steve with an unsettling intensity. He has no doubt that that's Billy's fault for not having a grown-up conversation with his sister about their relationship, and he fully intends to take it out of his mate's ass later. Figuratively speaking.

Will tries his best to break some of the tension by explaining the rules of the game to Eleven in fumbling detail.

"Have they tried to get you into Dungeons and Dragons yet?" Steve smiles nervously at Max.

"Isn't that the nerd game with the wizards?" Her brow furrows.

"Well, mages, and..." Will interrupts, distracted, but then pauses and blushes when Max throws a skeptical glance his way. "There's lots of things you can be."

"They made me a rogue," Steve supplies. "But I didn't get invited back after the land shark incident."

"A bulette, Steve," Will rolls his eyes.

"Bless you."

"It's called a bulette! And it almost ate us all because of you!”

"Hey, man... you guys told me to check out the creepy cave. How was I supposed to know there were blue-lets inside?"

That gets a laugh from Will and a small grin from Eleven.

Even Max looks reluctantly charmed. She shakes her head after a moment. 

"We haven't... um. Played yet. Can we, Will? I'd like to, if that's... if you want. I could be something. I could be a... a zoomer?"

"What's a zoomer?" Eleven asks, eagerly. "What's a bulette?"

"You should be something that's already part of the game," Will says to Max. "So, like, I'm a cleric, Mike's a paladin, Dustin is a bard, and Lucas is a ranger."

"You should try to be a mage," Steve interjects. "Mages can do all the cool stuff. I don't know anything about D&D, in spite of Dustin's best efforts, and even I know mages are the way to go."

"Eleven's our mage," Will says, and when that pops out he ducks his head, suddenly a little shy.

Just like that the elephant in the room is front and center. Something heavy and still falls over those sitting the table. It's not an unpleasant feeling, exactly, but it is also not the gentle friendliness from before. It is an awareness, a sense of mystery, the instinctual acknowledgement of something beyond the veil.

There is something wonderful about that strange stirring sensation... it's a little bit like watching the sun go down on Halloween night.

In this delicate suspension of reality, Steve feels brave enough to ask the question that’s been bothering him for a while now.

"What are you, exactly?" he asks, suddenly, eyes on the shaved-headed girl with the unblinking glare and the thin hands. "Where are your parents?"

Eleven looks up at Steve with wide eyes.

She has such a surprised expression that he has to wonder whether she has ever been asked such a question directly.

"They are gone," Eleven says, finally, after a long moment during which the other three people at the table all unconsciously hold their breath.

Steve swallows.

"Dead?" 

Eleven shakes her head. "Just gone."

Steve can understand what that is like.

"There was a man named 'Papa' in the place where I was kept," she continues in a soft voice. "But he wasn't a father."

"Where were you kept?" Steve asks.

"A building in the woods. Cold. There was a haze around it."

"A maze...?" Will murmurs. His eyes go a little unfocused, like he is trying to see at a distance but can't quite bring the picture into focus. He sways slightly in his chair and Steve's hand twitches up to steady him. He worry is unwarranted, as it turns out.

Will blinks twice, steadying. He looks over at Eleven and Eleven looks back. 

Haze... Maze.

Why does Steve suddenly picture a wall, a barrier of some sort, warping and cracking under some unseen yet powerful force...?

He decides not to say anything. He waits.

Soon enough, Will and Eleven end their silent conversation and the girl's gaze drops to the table again. She scratches at the finished wood a little bit, thoughtful, searching for the words.

Steve can hear his mom's big clock ticking in the living room and tries to match his heartbeat to it.

"I'm... I'm from the woods. From the trees." Eleven's gaze flicks up and down and back again, and she sounds like she isn't quite sure how Steve will react. "I'm a gift. To protect you. To protect everyone." 

She looks at the board with a sudden intense focus.

Steve feels something... he's felt it before, that night they fought the Thesselhydra.

A low pulse of something, a whispered push, a secret momentum.

One of the game pieces moves without anyone physically touching it, skitters right across the table and lands on the floor. Everyone's gaze follows its journey and then darts back to the tiny girl who made that impossible thing happen.

Steve swallows. 

"You're a kid," he says, quietly.

Eleven looks confused. She blinks at him and shakes her head.

“I don’t..." her brow furrows. "I don't have an age.”

“Bullshit,” Steve grinds out. “You’re just a kid. You shouldn’t need to protect anyone. You shouldn't have been locked up and you shouldn't need to fight monsters just because...”

The teen huffs angrily and shakes his head. 

”It’s... it’s what I am." Eleven's fingers twitch on the table, but otherwise she is perfectly still. She doesn't know how else to say it. "It’s why I am.”

"You don’t need a ‘why’. You can just... you can just be a kid," Steve is upset, more upset than he probably should be. Not at the child, of course. "You can be a kid. Have a normal... a sort of normal life. You should have that.”

Eleven processes this.

"I want to. But I don't belong,” she says quietly after a moment. "I can't stay. It's not... I can't."

"Bullshit," Steve snaps again. "Bullshit. You can stay. You can..."

Steve's mind is already going to impossible places. Being constantly surrounded by impossible things will do that to a person.

He's already half-planning on moving the strange girl in with him, on taking a job at his dad's company and moving out and adopting the kid... and why doesn't he just marry Billy and become an astronaut while he's at it?

It's all ridiculous... but for the life of him in this moment Steve can't think of a single good reason why he shouldn't be able to do the impossible, especially if that means that a little girl gets to have a goddamn life... 

“My brother says all the best people are weirdos,” Will says, voice crackling with emotion and snapping Steve out of his musings. Eleven looks over at him, her eyes wet. “If you don’t belong than neither do I.”

"Or me,” says Steve. He's proud of himself for keeping his voice firm. “Or Dustin.”

"I..." Max starts and then trails off.

Steve glances over at her in surprise but nods after a moment, small smile on his face.

"Yeah, I mean Max is a werewolf, for god's sakes," he says, deliberately cheerful. "We're all weirdos here, sweetie."

""I'm... I'm not," Max whispers.

The table falls silent. All eyes are suddenly on the redhead. Max ducks her head and works her mouth... she's having trouble getting the words out. She glances over, trying to look away, to escape from the table and from herself.

Her eyes lock on to Eleven's. Eleven looks at her calmly, a bit of sadness in her eyes, but no judgement or pity. It's enough, in the end, for Max to find her voice.

"They all want me to be one. Billy keeps trying to help me shift. Neil keeps saying it's only a matter of time. But it's not that. I know. I know it in here," Max taps her chest. "I'm not a werewolf. I'm never going to shift. My whole family... but not me. I don't... belong."

Will gapes at her. 

Eleven frowns sadly, keeps her eyes on the redhead.

Steve draws in a deep, pained breath, and holds it. When he lets it out, it comes as a startled, startling, bemused laugh.

Max huffs angrily.

"It's not a..." 

“I’m not laughing at you, Max,” Steve chuckles. “I’m really not. It’s me. I’m laughing at me.”

Will considers the possibility that Steve might have snapped somehow, might have gone off his rocker. His eyes are bright and his cheeks flushed but he looks like a guy who's had a dramatic realization. It's kind of crazy, sure, but he looks like he's had a breakthrough.

"You guys," Steve groans and shakes his head. Another laugh bursts out, breathy and slightly hysterical. "Guys, everything sucks. Yeah... it does. I wish I could say it gets better when you get older but it doesn't. It's all the same old shit. What I wouldn’t give...”

Steve shakes his head and looks at each kid, one at a time, his eyes bright with unvarnished affection.

"You guys have each other, you know? We're not alone. None of us are alone. We are all weirdos here.” 

Steve grins, and the cloud over the table dissipates. Each child, each with their own individual fears and horrors breathing down their respective necks, feels their burden lifted slightly. 

“Anyone says anything to you, Max," Steve nods to her, "you tell me. And you, Will. Any of you little shits get hurt, that's on me. You come to me. Got it? And you...”

Steve grows suddenly serious, leans forward so he is looking Eleven square in the eye. 

“That asshole who locked you up is never getting near you again. You understand me?”

Eleven stares at him, eyes wide. 

”You’re serious?” Max asks, incredulous. “Are you stoned?”

”I wish.”

“You don’t know what they’re like...” and Max really, really doesn’t want to describe it to him.

She's right, of course. He doesn't know. Couldn't know. In these last few weeks, even with everything that's happened, Steve has only gotten the briefest glimpse of what's out there. He's only had a taste of all the ways these kids - these kids in particular - can be hurt, of all the ways in which their individual monsters brutalize and terrorize and keep them locked away from the light.

And yet...

”Bullies,” Steve says slowly, deliberately, “are always the same. Believe me... I know what they’re like. I...”

Steve stops, swallows. He doesn’t finish that thought.

He doesn’t say - I’ve seen them, they’ve hurt me, I was them, I’ve done things, I’ve been on both sides of the mirror.

He doesn’t say that. 

“If you’re in trouble, you come to me,” Steve says instead, in his best babysitter voice.

Max surveys the idiot before her. She was there last time he did this, of course. She knows Steve has a tendency to get his ass handed to him by bullies, violently and comprehensively. She knows that he knows, or at least has a small inkling, how outmatched he is.

She also remembers that he walked out there anyway, that night at the Byers’, to face down Billy because she asked him to. 

And he believes her about the werewolf thing, about not being one... he believes her when half the time she doesn't even believe herself. He didn't try to talk her out of her conviction, like Billy does, or talk over her, like Neil does, or just ignore her, like her mother does. He believed her when she said what she felt... and it doesn’t make any difference to him.

She understands in a completely new way why Billy is so desperate to keep Steve a secret from Neil.

Max looks at Steve for a long moment and then blurts out: "Why are you with him? He's an asshole. You're too..."

It takes Steve a moment to realize that she is talking about Billy.

Once he does realize that, his traitorous brain fills in the words Max is struggling to find.

You're too weak, human, sappy, slow...

"Nice," she finishes, finally, her shoulders slumping in a kind of defeat. "You're too nice for him. He doesn't deserve it."

Boy, there's a lot to unpack there. Steve seriously considers grilling Max for information, asking about Billy's past, about his history. Also, when was the last time anyone ever accused Steve Harrington of being 'nice'?

But really, there is only one question that matters.

"Max, has Billy hurt you?"

Max blinks at him, draws in a deep breath, and lets it out again.

She shakes her head.

"No," she says. "But he's protected me. He protects me. Sometimes that's worse."

Steve doesn't understand this, but the other two children seem to.

Will's eyes drop to the table, his pale face twisting with a frown, and Eleven nods slowly. 

 

 

 

"I'm telling you, Dustin, the guy is bad news!" 

"Why, though?" Mike interjects, zipping up his coat and frowning at Lucas. "Besides the obvious fact that he is a psycho mullet-wearing asshole."

"What did he do?" Dustin asks.

The three remaining Party members are only now leaving school, much to Mike's annoyance. While usually an after school project would have interested him, he, Dustin, and Lucas had volunteered to help Mrs. Hudson with the English displays weeks ago, before they ever met Eleven, before they had a pressing reason to get home as quickly as possible.

They were finally free, thank god, but Lucas was unfortunately choosing now of all moments to disclose some very important information about Billy Hargrove.

Mike had reluctantly accepted Max Hargrove into their group dynamic at Lucas and Eleven's insistence, but he hadn't forgotten that awful night at the Byers' house. He knows Billy is trouble, and Dustin's news that both he and Steve had gone to him for what Dustin helpfully called 'werewolf lessons' had been a surprise. Still, neither he nor Dustin had been prepared for Lucas's instant, terrified reaction.

"He..." Lucas starts, then stops. "I can't really tell you."

"Why not?" demands Dustin. "If he's done something, then..."

"It's not my secret. Max told me. It's... he might have killed somebody. He's definitely hurt people."

"Who?"

"Max's friends back in California. And... other people."

Dustin makes a face, confused and worried.

"Are you sure about this?" Mike asks. 

"I'm..."

"Hey! Hey, freaks!"

Troy Jones is and always has been as timely as the angel of death. He and his sidekick, James, are just out of serving detention, and they latch on to Lucas, Dustin, and Mike like heat-seeking missiles.

The boys didn't bring their bikes today or they would already be on them and gone. Now, escape is futile. As one, they bunch together, a united front, and set their faces in grim masks. It's funny how bullies never go away, no matter what other wonders and changes are going on around you.

"Step right up, ladies and gentlemen," Troy gives them a wide, unpleasant sneer. "Step right up and get your tickets to the freak show! Where's that little fag Byers? Is he home sick with mommy?"

"No," Mike growls. "Fuck off, Troy."

"Who asked you, Frogface?"

"Seriously, Troy," Dustin is taking deep breaths and glaring at Troy with an unusual level of intensity. Lucas is slightly startled by this, and reaches over to gently brush Dustin's arm. Dustin relaxes minutely with the touch, but he remains tense. Lucas feels a sudden rush of worry that Dustin's werewolf lessons might have some unfortunate consequences for his friends temper.

"You want me to cut you up, Toothless? I'll fucking..."

"Henderson."

All of the boys freeze for a moment before turning and looking up at the teenager standing a few feet away.

Billy Hargrove is leaning against a nearby brick wall, stance casual, hands in his pockets, looking particularly murderous. He takes in the three members of the Party, and then Troy and James, seizing up the situation. He seems to catch on quickly enough, because his gaze soon settles on the bullies and his eyes narrow dangerously. 

Billy stares at Troy, his mouth a thin line.

He doesn't speak, doesn't blink. 

Nobody says anything.

Whatever snappy retort Troy was going to spit out dies in his mouth. James shuffles warily next to him.

Billy cocks his head slightly but maintains his gaze. 

It's like a crushing force field, the intensity of Billy's glare.

It would be really impressive if it wasn't so terrifying. Dustin swallows loudly as visions of wrecked cars ripped apart by clawed hands flash before his eyes. He's not entirely sure he wants to prevent something similar from happening right now.

It doesn't seem to be in his decision, however. He'd forgotten how dangerous Billy could be. Looking at him now, all pent-up, endless anger and unbound strength, is a startling wake-up call.

"Anything wrong?" Billy drawls after a long, agonizing moment of silence. A small, insincere grin tugs at the corners of his mouth.

Troy lets out a weak snort, glancing around but finding no quarter. He finds himself in a strange situation with a predator even more horrifying than him, and, deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, elects to beat a hasty retreat.  

Unfortunately for him, his path of escape takes him dangerously close to Hargrove.

A hand shoot out, faster than lightning, and snags Troy by the arm. Troy lets out a low cry and meets Billy's glare as the older boy stares him down, barely repressed rage seeping out of him, his grip tightening painfully.

He still doesn't say a word to Troy, but the message is heard and received.

Never again.

Billy releases Troy, finally, and the younger boy scuttles away to James, his breaths coming fast and tight. Billy snorts dismissively and slips his hands back in his pockets. His gaze falls on the three Party members and the snort turns into a gentle chuckle at the awe and fear on their faces.

"Come on," he huffs. "I'll give you a ride to Harrington's."

He turns on his heel and makes for the Camaro without bothering to look behind him and see if they are following. After a moment, however, he hears the crunch of gravel under their feet as the walk towards him. 

The ride is suitably awkward. Dustin takes shotgun only because he is the only one willing to sit next to Billy. Billy blasts his Ratt cassette and ignores the whispers in the back seat and Dustin's furtive glances. He focuses instead on pleasant things, like the remembered feeling of his fingers running through Steve's hair, the brain-melting volume of the music, and the pleasure he got from terrorizing that little shit earlier. 

Giving Henderson grief... who does that pimply little fucker think he is?

Billy makes a mental note to follow-up on that little situation if necessary.

The kids are out of the car almost before Billy has pulled into Steve's driveway and turned the engine off, running up to the house like tumbling puppies. Billy mentally rolls his eyes and follows the heard of children into Harrington's stupidly big house, where he finds his mate and his step-sister and a couple of others playing a board game at kitchen table. Billy almost wants to laugh at the sight and how seriously they are taking the game, but he catches himself just in time.

"Getting your ass kicked by a twelve year old, Harrington?" 

Steve looks up at him and, like always, Billy falls head over heels into those warm brown eyes, happily drowning in them.

He tears his gaze away just long enough to make eye contact with Max. He holds up two fingers and she nods in reluctant acquiescence. He feels a tick of irritation at the morose expression on her face, but there's nothing for it. Neil wants them home tonight, so they'll be leaving soon. He's glad she's here. It saves him the trouble of having to sniff her out.

The rest of the children chatter loudly with each other, and Billy tunes in just long enough to catch that they are preparing for another trek out into the woods. Billy can see the flash of anxiety on Steve's face, though the other boy buries it quickly.

"You'll be back before dark, though," Steve says. "Right?"

Wheeler rolls his eyes and Dustin huffs. 

"Yes, mom." 

"Good," Billy interjects in a low tone that nevertheless cuts through the noise like a knife. "I'd hate to have to drag you little shits out of the woods myself."

Billy had meant it as a half-joke, but it doesn't come off like that. Lucas swallows loudly and Dustin rolls his eyes, and that strange girl - El, Max had called her once - gives him a once over that is a slightly unsettling. 

Regardless, the look of mixed anxiety and gratitude and relief on his mate's face as he finally turns back to Billy makes any awkwardness worth it.

"Billy," Steve murmurs, and like he's got a rope tied around his neck Billy is instantly right there beside him, in his orbit, trapped in his gravitational pull. If he was anyone else in the world the power Steve holds would absolutely kill Billy, but because Steve is his mate he instead feels every kind of joy.

Steve's fingers trail up his arm and his spares a glance over at the preoccupied children before stepping close and placing a gentle kiss on his cheek.

"You okay?" Billy asks quietly. His mate seems strange today... too thoughtful. A little sad.

"I'm okay," Steve murmurs. "Be... be nice to Max, okay? She's had a rough day."

Billy is about to snap out something clever and cruel, but he stops himself just in time and pulls back, studying Steve's face.

After a beat, he gives a short nod.

"Sure."

Neither of them see Dustin watch them from the corner of his eye, chewing his lip and pondering.

 

 

 

In his dreams, Martin Brenner is running down a long hallway and locking himself in his office.

No.

No, that's not right.

In his dreams, Martin Brenner is running down a long hallway towards a writhing black shadow with thousands of steely gray teeth.

No.

No, that's not right either...

Is it the direction he's running that's wrong?

Is it where he ends up?

Is it this choice that isn't quite... or is it that choice?

No. 

No, it is wrong because it is not a dream.

It is not a dream.

It is a thing that happened.

Happens.

Will happen again. 

Martin Brenner is running.

Martin Brenner is hiding.

Martin Brenner is trying to fix this problem.

Martin Brenner is looking at the face of a monster.

Martin Brenner is dying.

Martin Brenner is...

Martin Brenner isn't.

Doctor Martin Brenner of the Hawkins Laboratory Research Project died weeks ago.

In life he was not a particularly good man, or even a particularly evil one, though he was most definitely not on the side of any angel. He was a deeply flawed man, and one who did not care if innocents were hurt in his quest for power. In this way he was perhaps no better or worse than most people.

Perhaps the most damning thing about Doctor Martin Brenner was, in fact, how pathetically ordinary his arrogance and ambitions were. How symptomatic of the limited scope of human beings. How predictable.

This fact became especially clear at the end.

He died as all men do - alone. A few co-workers, people he didn't really know, were present, but most were too panicked and frightened to mourn him, or even really register the fact that a terrifying eldritch creature had snapped his neck and ripped his chest open. He didn't even get a chance to unleash the scream of horror building in his throat before all his air was suddenly gone.

All the others are gone, but Brenner is still there.

Perhaps it was too much of a shock. Perhaps it was the sudden violence of that particular death. Perhaps Martin Brenner's sheer will was just too much to snuff out immediately.

There are so many possible reasons why Brenner remains like a stain on the wall, running up and down the halls of Hawkins Lab, looking for...

Looking for her.

That's it. That's why he stays.

He needs to find her.

When the monster returned to the Lab, it found Brenner. Those milky eyes, hundreds of them on a hundred different heads, seemed like they must be blind... but they weren't. Aren't. They see clearly, all things on all planes of existence. They possess the secret knowledge which in life Brenner had long coveted and could only dream of obtaining.

Of course, that is all beyond him now.

Those eyes saw him, and they snapped him out of his endless cycle of running and seeing and searching. They dragged him back to the NOW, looked at him and through him and saw what they wanted to see.

They demanded a location.

Brenner didn't know. He didn't know. She left, she escaped, and so soon after that happened a doorway had opened... a crack in the universe. Hell was on the other side, and a monster had walked through. 

Were those two events related? Even now he tries to understand. He knows what she is supposed to be.

She is supposed to keep the gate closed. 

He had been hurting her, that night when she ran. He didn't think, couldn't remember... had it been worse than usual? Was that why she...?

If Brenner was still alive such a thought might have caused a twinge of guilt or shame. Maybe.

But Brenner is not alive.

Brenner is not even something that could be considered human.

Not even that.

Not any more.

 

 

 

The Beast sleeps.

It does not sleep often, and It never sleeps fully. Rather, It goes still, and most of the external feeling shuts down. The innermost part dips under the surface and sees the whole universe though a mirror, a glass surface darkly shimmering like water in the moonlight. It sits quietly and watches chiaroscuro visions of all the many different worlds. Its stillness is almost like sleep.

The Beast sleeps.

It dreams of the one It wishes to devour.

The girl.

The fae.

Kore.

Aura.

Jane.

Eleven. 

The dead man who waits by the Gate rattled off all these names in his desperation to escape the horrible probing of its flayed and split remains... but the names mean nothing to the Beast.

Hearing them only makes It angry.

There have been many names, and all of them have changed and faded with time, just as the Beast Itself has taken many forms over the millennium. 

So many forms. That might be where the rage comes from. It has long since lost any true sense of self, and a being that has no sense of what It truly is becomes a lost and lonely and wrecked thing in time.

It only knows hate, now.

The Beast wants the girl, wants to use her and consume her. However, It senses other things moving, too. Its enemy is finding allies, is joining her essence with others and growing stronger. And some of those allies... some are unusual things. Not like normal men at all... men, those tin soldiers, those easily corruptible, easily frightened playthings.

No, these aren't normal men.

She has found them, and she grows strong.

Too strong.

The Beast cannot allow that to continue. 

From Its innermost self It finds something dark and oily and creeping, a secret weapon that It always keeps close. To use this weapon is to risk weakening the Beast Itself, but it is a risk worth taking. It needs to slow down the fae-child's progress, even reverse some of it if possible. This will slowly drain her until she is nothing, and then the Beast will feed.

It will weaken the Beast, but that is an acceptable risk. The Beast is still strong. 

Besides, the Beast does not know Itself. How can It be hurt if there is nothing true or real or cogent within or of It?

Such thoughts disturb the Beast. It puts them aside for now.

(The Beast, in its arrogance, has no fear of the children of men. Because It is old, because It cannot remember a time before Its conception, It assumes that nothing is beyond It. It remembers all the victories, all the times when men failed to resist It, all the times when men not only succumbed to It but also nourished It, also took It and shaped It and lodged It deep within them.

It remembers the victories and forgets all the moments when Its many grasping tentacles tried and failed to take root in men's hearts, when It was pushed back and pushed out, when It could find no quarter among those whose love burns just as strongly as their hate.

And because It believes in Its own immortal monstrosity, It does not and cannot see all things. It cannot understand Its own loneliness, or appreciate the way a single flame flickering in the wind can still cast light into shadowy places.)

It sends out the dark, creeping feeling. It thrums, a low pulse that goes out in waves.

Its enemy will not feel anything until it is too late...

 

 

 

“What the hell happened?”

Steve had allowed himself to be lulled by the newly emerging patterns of his days.

The last weeks of school before winter break, afternoons with Dustin, afternoons with Billy. Mom and Dad come home, Mom and Dad leave. The back of his car. The warehouse. Coaxing Billy further and further in their shared sexual exploration. Learning.

It's nice, these scraps of normalcy stitched together into a safety net he'd thought he'd ever find again... but he should have known something would blow up at some point.

He'd thought it might be the full moon, coming up soon, just a week or so now - his first shift with Billy. Well, his first while actually knowing who and what Billy was. 

Now it seems that something else might be throwing a wrench in things.

First of all, Billy is even later than he'd said he'd be for their meeting in the warehouse today. He'd told Steve he had a family thing and the look on his face made Steve reluctant to press him for details, but either way he's still about an hour late. It'll be getting dark soon. 

Secondly, Dustin begged off hanging out today. He’s been acting weird these last few days, usually when the topic of Billy comes up, and he’s been spending more time at the library than usual. It’s probably nothing - the phrase ‘must be a full moon' comes to mind - but it still.

Steve hears the familiar roar of the Camaro and almost races out from his perch to greet his mate, but before he can get two steps, Billy is there and Steve is screeching to a halt, stunned. Billy's got a massive shiner and a split lip, and he's moving kind of funny like he's hurt but trying to hide it. 

"Billy!" Steve is by his side in an instant.

The other boy flinches back in an involuntary movement which he desperately tries to hide - Steve sees it anyway. His hands hover over Billy's body, which is clad only in a thin jacket, and he doesn't touch him for fear of doing further damage and causing more pain.

"I'm okay... I'm sorry I'm late, I couldn't..."

"What happened?" Steve repeats, voice pitched higher than he wants.

“Some assholes from school," Billy grits out. "It’s nothing.”

Steve is about to accept and push past that explanation when he feels a tug, a weird niggle…

“No…” he says slowly, dropping his hand and blinking, confused. “That’s… you’re not telling me the truth. Why do I know you’re not telling me the truth?”

Billy stares at Steve for a long moment in silence, brow furrowed, face unreadable. He shifts uncomfortably, burying a hiss of pain.

Then, defeated, as he always is, by his own affection and his need to share all things with his mate, he shrugs.

“It can be a side effect of the mating bond,” he murmurs.

“We haven’t mated… and you said we couldn’t read minds!”

“It’s not like reading minds, it’s just a gut feeling. And we don’t have to formally bond to start feeling the effects. We’ve been spending a lot of time together…”

Again, Steve gets a feeling like Billy isn’t telling him everything, but he suspends his worries for a moment to focus on the other boy’s face.

Steve is alarmed by the damage, his brain already going a million miles an hour, already flying to the first aid kit in his car. His fingers dance delicately on Billy’s cheek… Billy is clearly waiting, holding himself still, stiff and hurt. After a moment, however, he slumps, relaxes, and lets Steve touch him.

Steve is relieved but still anxious and concerned.

Steve’s wolf is upset, too, for a different reason.

My mate, my skin, mine to mark, mine to keep.

Jesus, Steve groans internally. No. We don’t want to beat up Billy, holy shit.

No, not beat, the wolf supplies helpfully. Finger marks on hips, shallow scratches on back, bruises on neck where we used our mouths to suck…

Popping a boner at this particular moment would probably send completely the wrong message, so Steve cuts off that train of thought as fast as possible and swallows down his burgeoning arousal.

“Ice…” he croaks. “We need…”

“It’s fine, Steve,” Billy sighs wearily. “It’s just some bruises.”

“Just some…!”

“I’ll heal faster than I would if I was human.”

“That’s no reason to…!”

“It’s fine. Stop.”

Stymied in his attempt to care for his mate (a feeling that perhaps frustrates him more than it should), Steve feels a bubbling irritation rising in him. He shakes his head and drags Billy across the warehouse floor to a corner office he has found and cleared out. In a fit of homemaking, Steve had packed some blankets in his car and had taken them and arranged them in the office so they formed a rather cozy nest half under an overturned desk.

Billy huffs at the sight when Steve unceremoniously shoves him inside and closes the door behind him.

"What?" Steve snaps.

"Nothing, Harrington," Billy deadpans, dropping to the ground and sitting cross-legged on the blankets. "It's just so romantic. I'm overwhelmed."

"Shut the fuck up."

Thin winter light streams through filthy windows and Steve digs out and turns on a small, battery-operated space heater.

"Really?" Billy rolls his eyes.

"You want to freeze, be my guest," the heater glows orange and tints both boys with a strange color. "I'll be sure to bring candles next time and burn the whole place down. I wasn't going to get pneumonia waiting for you to get here."

"Could just go to your place," Billy waggles his tongue a little and something in Steve's face softens.

"Yeah, we could, but my parents are back for a few days before they leave again. Berlin this time. Wasn't sure you'd want to, erm... moderate your volume with them in the house."

Billy opens his mouth to snark back, but then he closes it again. Steve's right, he doesn't want to play house with the elder Harrington's right now. They don't interest him, really - he only notices them insofar as they neglect their son. And he's hurting and irritable and hardly his most charming self, and thus in no way ready for 'meet the parents'. 

This setup is nice. 

This is their den. 

If only the peace and quiet would last more than 30 seconds at a time.

“Okay, then." Done fussing, Steve drops onto the blankets next to Billy and looks at him. "Why are you lying to me?”

Billy blinks at him, his heart sinking in his chest.

"Lying," he echoes.

"Yeah. Lying. Not telling the truth," Steve fills in dryly. He reaches out and brushes a hand gently over Billy's swollen eye. 

"Right," Billy murmurs. "It's..."

It's Neil. It's Wyatt. Even Earl got a shot in today. It's all a blur and Billy doesn't want to bring it in here, wants to keep it all separate... and how much longer can he really keep doing this, huh? He's no further along in his great, grand plan for Billy and Steve's Fantasy Wedding than he was a week ago. He can't think of breaking this fragile bubble of contentment and joy when he only just managed to get a grip on it.

He's not strong enough for this.

Everything hurts, inside and out.

Billy feels something inside him crack.

"I... I can't. Steve... I..."

Steve's mouth is on his before he can finish that sentence, before he can come up with any excuses and obfuscations. Before he can lie to himself.

It's good. It's good that he does that, that he stops him with sweet, soft kisses. Maybe he makes Billy better by doing that.

"Billy," Steve murmurs, kissing him gently. "Please."

"Please what, Steve?" Billy licks into Steve's mouth, nips at his lower lip.

"Please... just... thank you, and I want you, and don't shut me out, please. If you want me to..."

"Shhhh," Billy kisses Steve back. He feels like he's being shredded. He doesn't want Steve to talk or think. He doesn't want to talk or think, either. He's in pain all the time and he just wants it to go away for a little while, just a little while.

Can't I have this, why does it need to be so hard...?

He knows what he wants to do, now. He knows what he needs.

He hopes Steve will let him.

Billy pulls back and meets Steve's gaze for a moment. He pulls out the packet of lube he keeps in his jacket pocket (ever the optimist) before shrugging it off and starting on his pants zipper. Steve swallows a little nervously and looks at him with wide eyes, but Billy doesn't do what he thinks he's going to do. It's almost like Steve isn't there. Billy is concentrating that hard on his task.

He refuses to look up, refuses to acknowledge even the remote possibility that this could all end...

Billy pushes down his pants, tears open the lube packet with his teeth, and coats his fingers with it. It's still cold even though it's been in his jacket, but Billy doesn't care.

He's past thinking about his own comfort now.

He... he tries to pretend. He has always been a multi-faceted thing, not quite man or wolf, but both, and also neither. These days he lives his two lives, more split now than he has ever been. The things he wants and the things he is and the things he could be tear him to pieces from the inside out.

He is drowning. He needs to anchor himself.

He reaches back and slides his hand between his cheeks, presses one finger past the tight ring of muscle. It's tight, but he quickly adds another finger. He can't hold back a hiss at the painful burn of the too-fast stretch, and suddenly Steve's hands are on him, on his hips, on his sides. 

"Billy...," there are questions in the way Steve says his name, and there are warnings. Fears. Concerns.

Billy shakes his head. He doesn't want that now.

He wants quiet. He wants the bittersweet ache of peace.

He reaches down with his free hand and clasps one of Steve's. He brings it up and guides those gentle fingers over his ribs, his belly, up, under his thin shirt. The space heater is working overtime but the only point of heat Billy cares about now is the one pressed against him, the one rooted in Steve.

Steve draws in a deep breath and leans back, lays down and lets Billy straddle him, lets him control their movements, lets him take the lead. Billy continues to open himself up, though in deference to his mate, who is watching him with sharp eyes for any discomfort, he goes more slowly and gently than he had done before. 

Steve's fingers continue to rove, and Billy lets his hand go so he can focus on getting them both free of their pants. Steve is half-hard, and, after unzipping his pants, Billy spits in his free hand and touches him, massaging the silky skin as Steve writhes and gasps.

"Billy..." he groans, reaching up and grasping the other boy's cock. 

Billy bats him away and shakes his head. He grasps Steve's wrist and presses it against the floor.

"No," he croaks. 

He's stretched enough. It'll sting, but Billy wants it that way, and he needs to move now before Steve does something or says something that will break the spell, that will knock Billy awake. He smooths away the lines in his face and takes a deep breath, then lifts himself up on his knees and lowers himself with aching slowness onto Steve's cock.

Steve shudders, throwing back his head and sucking in a sharp breath at the feeling of Billy's tight hole on his erection. He's had sex with girls, he's had sex with Billy, sort of... but it's never been like this. He's never been inside like this before and it's raw and wonderful and brutal and Steve thinks he might go mad from it.

Billy does most of the work to start with, lifting himself up and down on Steve's member, riding him. He starts slowly, letting Steve's cock stretch and spread him further, letting the lube and precum work to ease the movement. 

It's too simple. Billy should have known. With Steve Harrington it is never simple.

It starts as a murmur Billy can barely hear, and the light making those deep brown eyes sparkle and glint. Steve's hands are still moving, now tracing the bruises, the scars, the old hurts, as if they might open for him and all Billy's secrets - all the things he won't say because saying them will make them real - might come pouring out.

Billy moves faster, comes down harder, but he can't stop it.

"You're beautiful." Steve, damn him, is talking... he's talking, and each word flays Billy open more and more. "You're so beautiful it hurts. I look at you and you're so strong. It's amazing how strong you are, so beautiful... all golden..."

Billy should kill him. He should lean down right fucking now and kill this pretty fool and stop the cruel words flowing from his mouth.

"You're beautiful. I'm sorry.... I'm so sorry you're hurt. You're perfect. You should never be hurt. Never... baby..."

Billy's head lolls forward and his eyes drift shut. He doesn't stop moving, tries to focus on the terrible, wonderful aching pleasure inside as he rides Steve, but it doesn't stop him from feeling a trickle of wet rolling down his cheek.

"I.... I know it's wrong. But I can't... I want to hurt them. I want to hurt the people who hurt you. Who touched you. I don't care who they are, I just want to. I want it for every bad, selfish reason."

Billy doesn't stop rocking. He can't. It's almost unconscious now, but perhaps also part of him is aware that he'll shatter if he stops.

Steve thrusts upward into Billy's tight, aching hole... short, quick movements that gradually grow more fierce, almost wild. Billy doesn't open his eyes. He doesn't need to. He just lets himself get swept away by that voice, that sweet voice which now has a darker edge to it, and by the rough, jarring rhythm of their tandem movements.

"I'm the only one who can touch you," Steve growls. "Me. Your bruises are mine. When you're happy, when you cum... that's mine. When you cry. When you... nnugh... smile. Mine. No one else gets to do this. No one else gets to touch you. You're mine."

"Yours," Billy whisper, voice cracking, chest heaving.

He can feel Steve propping himself up, can feel the steadying arm wrap itself around his waist and Steve's breath against  his skin.

"Take a deep breath, baby," the other boy commands.

Billy obeys without thinking, draws in a deep inhale, and on the release, Steve reaches up and flips them over so that Billy is beneath him. Billy feels a disorienting loss of equilibrium but it is strangely liberating... perhaps because he is not afraid. He gasps and Steve orders him to breathe again.

"I've got you," Steve says, pushing Billy's knees up and taking control of the thrusts. He moves at a relentlessly steady pace, hitching up Billy's hips. He nails his prostate and Billy lets out a sound between a sob and a moan. His eyes flutter open. The tears keep flowing, even though the pain has long since been erased by a pleasure that is somehow even more raw. 

Steve's lips are on his again, and Billy lets him in, no longer fighting for dominance. He lets Steve take complete control of his tongue, his mouth, his body, his pain, his pleasure.

"I'm gonna cum inside you, Billy," Steve whispers against his cheek. "Gonna fill you up."

Please, Bill thinks. Please, Steve. There's a dark hole inside me and I need you...

There's a hand around his cock, then, damp and hot and merciless, and Billy's orgasm is ripped from him in a few rough strokes. He wails loudly in a way he hasn't since God only knows when, and then he feels a warm rush in his ass as Steve follows, filling him.

The sun is setting outside, sending rays of warm orange light through the windows. It catches in Billy's hair and Steve smiles at the sight of his sweat soaked curls and swollen lips. As he works to catch his breath he reaches down and brushes his hand against Billy's cheek. The bruise is still there, but nothing could truly mar his features. 

He leans down and kisses him, gently, chastely, and slowly pulls out. Billy lets out a little moan as he feels Steve's spend trickle out, feels that sudden, inevitable emptiness. 

He blinks up at dark brown eyes and wants to sink into them. 

It's no good. 

No, it's not. It was perfect. Perfect... but nothing has changed.

And sooner or later something's got to give.

Billy blinks slowly and wipes his eyes. He pushes himself up, sucking in a breath.

"I should..." he trails off. 

I should what?

I want to stay. I need to go.

Let me know...

Billy shivers.

"Are you cold?" Steve's brow furrows and he wiggles his winter coat out from under them. “Here. It's warm."

He reaches out and wraps the coat around Billy's shaking shoulders and pulls them both down so that he is half on top of Billy. He's a firm line of lovely heat enveloping Billy in warmth.

Billy's whole being aches, but the good aches are washing the bad ones away so he doesn't mind.

He is wrapped up in Steve's thick winter coat, smelling the other boy's cherry and lavender scent all around him, his bottom half still exposed but protected, pushed against Steve's waist, and the rest of him pressed tight and safe in his mate's embrace.

"Can..." Billy closes his eyes. "Can I keep it?"

He's talking about the coat.

He is definitely talking about the coat. 

"Well, what do you think?" Billy can hear the smile in Steve's voice.

He buries himself deeper in that dark warmth and, for just a moment, lets himself forget everything else.

Chapter Text

It takes a lot to keep so many faces fed.

It takes meat and bones and blood oozing hot and black and smoking in the cold night air.

And it takes more than that besides. 

It takes rage and fear and pain. It takes a powerful, particular kind of agony to rip apart space and time and let monsters cross the great divide between worlds. It takes that same emotion again and again, the exquisite despair made manifest, to help the Thesselhydra connect to the wellspring of its essence, without which it cannot survive.

It eats and it eats, it tears at flesh and it soaks up heartbreak, and it moves swiftly through the forest down metal tracks and then past the old tree and through the old broken wire fence until it sees the structure looming large...

Its is going to the Gateway, to its resting place, and... 

This kind of thing is old hat for Jonathan Byers. From the moment his parents brought Will home from the hospital Jonathan has made it his mission to protect and care for the strange, tiny, precious person his baby brother is. And for as long as Will has been alive, he has had dreams. There are good dreams and bad dreams and dreams that threaten to overwhelm the shaky structures Will creates to keep himself grounded and sane. Whatever kind they are, they usually wake Will up in the middle of the night.

Jonathan has learned to sense a disturbance in the house when these things happen. He has semi-consciously trained himself to know, and he knows right now that something isn't right. He is halfway down the hall before Will cries out, and he sprints the rest of the way when he hears the sound.

Within seconds he is perched on the edge of Will's bed, murmuring quiet comfort but not touching the boy - he knows better than to try and shake his brother awake - and snapping the light on to illuminate a sweating, shaking, thrashing child.

"Will?" he murmurs, voice low but urgent.

Will gasps and sits up in bed, eyes open and blurred with tears. Jonathan can hear Joyce shuffling down the hall and knows he needs to ground Will quickly before she gets here.

"Will, you're okay," he says. He reaches out, offering the option of touch but not imposing it. Will grasps one of his hands and squeezes. That's good. "It's a dream. You're at home, in bed. You're okay."

"Okay," Will chokes out, and Joyce races into the room.

"Sweetie?" Joyce Byers looks worried, tired, not surprised. This is hardly a nightly occurrence, but it's also not the strangest thing to ever happen in the Byers' house. 

"I'm okay, mom," Will manages. He forces the practiced half-smile onto his face and shakes his head, tearing his eyes away from Jonathan and meeting his mother's gaze. "Nightmare."

"Oh, honey," Joyce is there, pulling Will into a tight hug, and Jonathan feels a small, familiar ache at the sight of the young boy burying his face in his mom's shoulder. Joyce doesn't know, not everything, anyway, but that doesn't stop her from being a parent.

A good parent, Jonathan thinks.

Joyce glances back at Jonathan, then releases Will from her grip, still stroking his back comfortingly.

"What was it about?"

"I don't know. I can't remember. I was being chased, maybe."

Joyce nods and tugs her son back to her.

"Can I get you anything? You want me to stay?"

"Water?" Will says, finally.

"Okay, be right back."

Jonathan waits as his mother goes past him to the kitchen, squeezing his shoulder as she walks by. He is comforted slightly by the touch, although his focus remains on his brother. Will would have sent Joyce on her errand for a reason, likely because he has something he needs to say to Jonathan.

Sure enough, after a long, thoughtful pause, Will takes a deep breath and looks up at the older boy.

"I think I might have some idea where the Thesselhydra is."

 

 

 

The room feels very quiet.

Perhaps it is because it is such an unusual time of day to be in a bedroom. There is a kind of stillness particular in the late afternoon, with the sunlight streaming through the window blinds and catching the dust in the air.

Maybe it’s because the two boys in the room are so focused on each other.

They are both making noise, but it is the soft, breathy kind. No loud screams or moans... not today.

Just quiet huffs dragged out of each other, heavy breathing, little whimpers.

They are not hiding, not keeping their voices down for any real reason – they are alone in the house. It is just that neither of them seems to want to break the spell, the bubble surrounding them. They keep the barrier between themselves and the rest of the world in place.

Steve looks up at Billy with big eyes wide with lust and trust, pain and pleasure, blinking away tears but also oh-so-focused on the powerful predator hovering above him. Staring up like he cannot bear to look away.

Billy is reminded, sharply, of their first basketball practice together, when Steve was sprawled out under him on the hardwood floor after he pushed him, his fingers wrapped around Billy’s as Billy loomed and growled at him. He is reminded of their perfect, imperfect first touch, when they were so close and yet so far away from each other.

Now their foreheads are nearly touching, and Steve is bent nearly double beneath Billy, his legs hitched up over Billy’s waist, speared on his cock.

Billy thrusts in and out of Steve’s ass in short, rhythmic movements. He knows he’s hurting Steve just a little bit, can see the pleasure tipping over the knife’s edge of pain… he’s prepped him but not too much, and he’s deliberately denying him any respite.

They have been going for a while now.

Yeah, it’s a lot like the first time they ever touched, that day at basketball practice.

He wants Steve to feel it, to be too sore to move later. Steve likes it like that as well.

This is a new thing. A new old thing... a variation of their familiar pas de deux.

Steve gives Billy a look, or Billy gives Steve a look, and not a word is ever spoken. Maybe it’s a wolf thing or a mate thing or some kind of sex-driven ESP. They get in the car (either car, or both, doesn’t matter) and drive to the warehouse or, if it's too cold, to Steve’s house (it doesn't matter which, as long as they can take their time without interruption).

They never say a word. They undress and climb into their nest (Steve's childhood bed, or the pile of blankets on the floor of an abandoned building... again, it doesn't matter so long as they're together) and watch each other come apart, look on unflinchingly as they both are stripped away to their barest, basest, rawest selves.

Sometimes they do it like this. When they both seem to need it.

Steve's first time hurt a little. The wolf in him had howled, and it felt like Steve swallowed up a bright, full moon. He'd liked it, and when he'd cried a little bit afterwards, happy but overwhelmed, Billy had held him and been kind. He'd been kind all the way through. It was nice, and Steve felt something new and delicate and perfect blooming inside his chest afterwards.

Now, Steve bites those gorgeous lips until they’re red and puffy, eyes fixed on Billy as he bears the discomfort, the hot tension, the agonizing pleasure. He looks so vulnerable, and he takes Billy without complaint.

He breathes and stares up and and goes red-faced and chokes out wounded pleasure-sounds like he’s got something to prove. Like he’s showing his dedication, his submission, his willingness to carve out his heart and offer it on the altar of some nameless, faceless god (but the god has a name, and a face, and he’s propped up over him…).

Why does he always look like prey? Billy wonders. Like a felled deer… but not afraid. Why does he look at me like he trusts me?

Billy, for his part, tries to offer Steve the same sort of message – he shows Steve his satisfaction and his control, his willingness to pour all of himself in. His steadiness, his commitment. He will take that carved-out heart and swallow it, keep it safe within himself.

He pounds away relentlessly at Steve’s sore little hole, stretched obscenely around his thick cock, and forces him to bend. He holds Steve’s gaze, watching for any change, studying the boy as he gasps out his sensations beneath him. He accepts it all and he gives it back tenfold, and he refuses to let up.

He was Steve's first. There might have been others before, but never like this. He was the first to take and to give it all. To be everything.

It was so beautiful... is so beautiful... and Billy swears that he will be Steve's last.

His only. Forever.

In so many ways, Steve was Billy's first as well. In every way that mattered.

They will go on like this for hours.

Forever. Forever. Until the moon falls from the sky.

The dust dances in the late afternoon light as Billy slows his movements.

He pauses, stopping completely, buried to the root inside of his mate.

He holds the position, brings the universe to a stand-still.

Steve trembles, still and waiting beneath him. Billy trembles, too.

He breathes in as Steve exhales, the shared air blessed because it was inside of the other boy (and in. and out. and in. and out. and in.) for a moment. He then drops his face down, nuzzling his mate’s damp cheek, his upturned nose, those swollen lips.

Steve huffs in something like amusement and his mouth quirks up at the edges. Billy can see it, and his mouth moves too, and then they are both grinning the same grin. They share in the great cosmic joke together like they are the only two beings left of earth.

It is very quiet in the room.

Billy kisses Steve, or Steve kisses Billy. The kiss is quiet like the room, and gentle, and tender, and unhurried.

Without breaking eye-contact, Billy slowly picks up speed again.

 

 

 

“Your parents aren’t around for Christmas?”

Yes, the Harringtons have gone away again. It was a nice three days, but now it's over. They'll be back in January. 

Steve doesn't mind - the winter break is coming, and the full moon in two days so they'll miss that whole shit-show, and he already knows what he's going to get for his mom and for Dustin so there's no stress there. Plus with his parents away he has the run of the house, and can bring Billy over any time he likes.

Post-coitus, the boys curl up together in bed, letting their sweat dry and their skin cool. Billy smokes. Steve allows it with only mild complaining because he made Billy get him a drink of water and bring it to him in bed like a princess.

That's what Billy called him - princess - but Steve knows for a fact that in spite of Billy's unmitigated offence at being likened to a dog the other boy is actually very fond of fetching things and bringing them to Steve. He glows with secret satisfaction whenever he gives Steve something and brightens when Steve in turn expresses pleasure or gratitude.

No, Steve doesn't mind this at all... this set up is just fine with him.

Billy minds, though. He minds very much.

Billy’s voice is superficially calm, gently teasing, and Steve doesn’t buy this nonchalant act for a moment. The blonde’s eyes keep flicking over and latching on to Steve’s throat, and his mouth is a little too thin, his fingers a little too twitchy around his cigarette. The fact that he asks the question at all is rather telling, since their respective family situations are potential minefields of angst and arguments. 

Steve shrugs, runs a soothing hand across Billy's naked chest and rubs his face in the other boy's shoulder.

“Dad was never really big on Christmas, even when I was a kid, so it's not really a big deal. Mom’s Jewish, so he always used that as an excuse. Funnily enough, Mom was always the one who did all the big holiday traditions when I was young. Like, she insisted on having a tree and presents and a big party for Dad's work friends. Mom’s parents would come over and stay for Hanukkah and then we’d have Christmas for Dad’s family.”

“You never told me you were Jewish.”

“I’m not really. Although, I guess… I mean, religion is passed down through mothers in the Jewish faith, so I guess I am. Dad would never go for that, though. If any of his golf buddies ask, we’re Episcopalian. He's kind of a jackass about it to be honest."

"Lovely," Billy snarks, but then again his own family is hardly less bigoted, and it's not like that's the only reason he has to dislike Steve's father.

"Yeah. I didn’t have a Bris or a Bar Mitzvah, but Nana was always teaching me bits of Hebrew when she and Grandpa came to visit. And Mom used to do all this stuff… she'd cook and we'd light the candles. But then she got her new research job and started travelling all the time. And Dad travels. Since Grandpa died and Nana went to the nursing home, Mom hasn’t felt up to it. It’s not… we don’t have holidays that much anymore.”

"When was...? I don't even know when Hanukkah is."

"We had it already. Mom went to see Nana when she was in town."

Billy rolls his cigarette between his fingers, thoughtful. Too thoughtful.

“I’m not upset with them, you know?” Steve looks at Billy, raises a hand gently to Billy's cheek and makes him meet his eyes. “I used to be really pissed when they’d forget things or not be home for basketball games and Christmas, but I’m not anymore. I’m proud of them. They do important stuff. A humanitarian lawyer and a biochemical engineer… that’s important.”

“More important than you?” It comes out dry and harsh, but Billy can't help it. 

Steve shrugs. “It’s not worth getting angry about it. We don’t have that much in common, anyways. They're crazy overachievers and I’m not really a… well, you’ve read my essays.”

“You have trouble with words,” Billy snaps. “Like… that thing… dyslexic. I've read about it. It’s medical.”

“Trouble with words,” Steve nods, mouth twisting in a wry grin that doesn’t quite do what it’s supposed to. “And math, and science…”

“You’re not stupid,” Billy insists, glaring. “You get anxious. You don't test well. That’s all it is.”

"And shifting, now, too. Trouble with shifting. All around useless werewolf."

"You'll get there, sweetheart."

Steve doesn’t know why Billy is always so insistent about this, or why it’s easier to try to laugh off his stupidity than listen to the other boy defend him like this. He doesn’t know why this hurts to hear. Maybe it's because he wants to believe it so badly, and because somehow having Billy say it makes it almost feel true.

I can be worthy. I can be wanted.

He feels his face getting hot.

“What about werewolves?” he asks, trying to change the subject. “Do you guys have Christmas? Or is it some weird wolf-god, human sacrifice thing in the woods?”

"I should have never told you that story."

"It was not crazy romantic or reassuring, no."

Billy shakes his head, takes a drag on his cigarette, and huffs with wry humor.

“We’re not religious, if that’s what you’re asking. We get a tree and we give each other presents. Good old American consumerism.”

Billy wonders idly if he’s expected to buy gifts for Wyatt and Earl. Do they sell six-packs with Christmas bows on them?

“I haven’t gotten you anything yet,” Steve shifts in Billy’s arms and Billy can feel the low thrum of Steve’s brain catching hold of something, the tell-tale hum he gets in his chest now when his mate has something on his mind. “What would you like?”

“You don’t need to get me anything, baby,” Billy says, truthfully, nuzzling the top of Steve's head lightly. “You’ve already given me enough.”

“I haven’t given you anything!”

“I still have your coat.”

“That’s not… it’s fine, I’ve got a spare. And you need it anyway, your dumb California ass would freeze to death in just that stupid jacket you have. And… that’s not new, it’s not yours… it's not a real gift. You should have something new.”

Oh, Steve's wolf likes that idea. It's the burgers all over again.

Presents, providing, feeding, protecting...

“I don’t want anything new.” Billy puts out his cigarette and tugs Steve closer, twisting his fingers through that gorgeous mop of thick hair. “I want your coat. Your coat… the one that smells like cream and lavender and grass and cherries. I want to smell you when I wear it.”

Steve presses his face against Billy’s neck, and Billy can feel a small smile creeping across the other boy’s face.

He grins a little.

“If I really concentrate,” he murmurs, voice husky, “I can still smell our cum from the last time we…”

“Billy!”

Steve tries to act outraged, to pull away, and Billy retaliates by running his fingers up Steve’s sides, tickling him, pulling his writhing body flush against him.

“Why would I want anything else, hm?” Billy rolls over a little so Steve is partially pinned, pushes his hand slowly down Steve’s chest, down his belly, down until his fingers thread through sweaty, wiry hairs and reach Steve’s plumping cock. “I’ve got you. I’ve got you, and you’re perfect.”

He wraps his fingers around Steve’s cock and strokes him, pulls him impossibly close so he can breathe sweet words in his ear. He watches with vicious delight as Steve’s eyes go hazy with pleasure. 

“Such a good boy,” he whispers, voice gravelly with affection. “Ready to go again. Always so good for me.”

He slides his hand up and down Steve’s shaft, slowly, steadily, watching as his mate melts under his hands. He caresses that gorgeous face, rubbing strands of soft hair through his fingers.

“You have no idea, do you?” Billy coos softly. “Huh, pretty boy? How perfect you are? How strong… how adaptable… and so smart. Smart in all the ways that really matter. Taking care of everyone. King Steve…”

He plants a teasing, chaste kiss on the corner of his mouth… then another, then gives Steve’s lips a few playful, kittenish licks. Steve leans forward, trying to get more, trying to capture Billy’s kiss, but he’s too relaxed, to wrapped up under Billy’s body to do anything but moan in gleeful frustration.  

"You have no idea, sweetheart," the blonde continues. "Nobody does, not really. That's fine... more for me, then. All for me."

Billy greedily observes every twitch, every sigh, every micro-expression… every bit of Steve’s pleasure. He's right, it is all for him, and Steve's parents and friends and ex-lovers can all fuck off to Timbuktu if they can't appreciate it. 

Billy's more than happy to claim it all.

“Christ, you’re beautiful.”

A bead of precum emerges from the tip of Steve’s cock, and Billy runs his thumb over the slit. He feels like maybe his hands are too big, too rough to touch something so perfect and pretty, but Steve just makes a choked noise and thrusts his hips forward in a desperate quest for more sensation.

“Billy…”

“Good, Steve. My pretty boy. My pretty baby.”

Billy is loathe to pull away from Steve, to stop looking at his face, but there’s all this skin there, and Billy might have a little bit of an oral fixation. All those cigarettes. He nips at Steve’s chin, at the place where his jaw meets his neck, at his throat, his vulnerable Adams apple. He gently bites down there, then sucks hard to make sure that Steve is marked there, that there'll be a bruise.

It'll heal quickly, but that's okay... Billy can always make more.

Steve shifts and Billy glances down at pecs that are just begging for his attention. He lets out a breathy moan at the sight and goes to work.

He sucks and laps at the nipples, first one and then the other. Steve hiccups with pleasure as Billy tugs the small nub between his teeth and gently nips it. He laves his tongue over it to soothe the hurt, and never lets the rhythm of his hand on Steve's cock falter. Steve is slippery with pre-cum, and Billy strokes him with relentless, devastating skill.

He has a sudden vision of Steve pregnant, fat with Billy’s pups, breasts round and full and leaking milk, cock heavy and red between his legs as he waddles forward. Is that something Billy wants? He’s never thought of it before (he very, very much likes Steve as a guy and not a chick), but the image is strangely pleasing. Impossible, and maybe not something he’ll ever admit to Steve, but the wolf howls with pleasure at the thought of breeding his mate.

"Billy!" 

Billy bites at Steve's chest, sucking hard, hard enough to leave another good bruise. Marking and claiming, declaring ownership. 

That does it for Steve, and he spills all over Billy's hand. Billy looks up and watches Steve's red face and wide open mouth as he cums, and continues to milk him, massaging Steve's aching member until Steve has to reach down and still his movements. Brown eyes are bright and glittering with tears of pleasure, and his breath comes and goes in ragged pants.

"Beautiful," Billy says, grinning.

Steve shakes his head as the word sinks in and tugs Billy up towards him so he can kiss him. The kiss is sloppy because Steve is wrecked, but Billy just uses that to his advantage and laps in with as much demanding, filthy greed as he can. He can feel Steve bend and submit and take and surrender under him, and thinks he might drown in the warmth in his chest. He finally needs to pull away... it's that, or die happily of suffocation.

Steve grunts in annoyance but allows Billy to ease off of him and rest on his side, nuzzling him and peppering his face and lips with soft kisses. He gasps weakly, head clearing somewhat, and glares at the ceiling.

“You know…” he says after a minute, and Billy pauses, waiting for his mate to speak. “For Christmas Eve I usually stay with the Hendersons, and then Christmas day I go to see Nana at the old folks home. Besides that, though… um, I’m around if you… if you want to… hang out, or whatever.”

When Steve looks over at Billy again, the blonde's face is stretched into a wide smile.

"Yes?" he asks when Billy doesn't speak.

Billy blinks slowly, languidly at him, then tilts his head slightly.

"Say something in Jewish," he drawls, smirking.

"You mean Hebrew, meyn balibte," Steve rolls his eyes. "Or Yiddish."

"What's that mean? 'Balibte'?" 

"Look it up."

"Okay..." Billy shakes his head, looks at Steve with unmistakable fondness. "Yeah, Harrington."

"Okay?" Steve feels a corresponding bubble of relief and pleasure inside of him.

Billy nods, and the two of them lay back down next to each other, smiling goofy grins.

"Okay."

 

 

 

Billy runs into Jonathan Byers on his way out of Steve's house. That rusty old bucket that looks like it should be in a junkyard pulls up and Billy's hackles are immediately raised. Byers parks the car and climbs out like he belongs here, like he's got any business being around or near Steve, but surely that can't be the case. 

Maim him, Billy's wolf suggests casually, and Billy needs to make a show of zipping up his jacket to keep his eyes from flashing at the interloper.

"Steve!" the sleepy-eyed boy calls as he strides up the front lawn.

"Hey, man," Steve replies from next to Billy. Billy is suddenly brutally aware that they are out in the open... of course they are, right when he feels the overwhelming urge to wrap Steve up in his arms, push him to the ground, and hover over him until Byers goes away.

"What does he want?" Billy murmurs as the other boy approaches.

"He's just a friend, Billy, jeesh," Steve's voice is almost amused, although his eyes flicker between Jonathan and Billy with some doubt. "Relax, please?"

They're friends, you know they're friends, you've seen them together often enough...

Close friends. Best friends...

Billy lets out a low growl in response and then clamps his mouth shut.

"What's up?" Steve asks as Jonathan reaches his front door, deliberately addressing the new arrival and ignoring Billy's glower.

"Hey... um... I need your help with something," Jonathan shuffles anxiously, jams his hands in his pockets. "It's about Will?"

Steve straightens and Billy has to fight to keep himself from rolling his eyes. Steve and his kids. Dustin's okay and the younger of the Byers Boys is quiet at least, but the rest of them get on Billy's nerves. Steve seems to like them though, and if keeping track of them keeps him out of trouble that's something.

Steve heavy with pups... Steve protecting them, caring for them, building a pack, helping the pups grow... Wolf-Steve running through the forest with the little ones on his heels.

Maim him, Billy's wolf urges insistently, eyeing Jonathan with building annoyance. Maim him and then take MATE back to bed.

It is the definite possibility of provoking his mate's wrath, as well as no small amount of consternation at his sudden procreative impulses (Jesus, what is wrong with me? ), that keeps Billy in check.

"What's up?" Steve asks, the corners of his mouth twitching up... almost as if he can read Billy's mind and is amused by it.

Jonathan, for his part, throws a worried glance at Billy as if he's not entirely sure how to proceed in the other boy's presence, and Billy, seeing this, rolls his eyes and tugs Steve into a possessive half-embrace.

"I'll let you guys get on with it," he murmurs, leaning in close to Steve until his lips are brushing his ear. His eyes never leave Jonathan, though, and he does his best to telepathically communicate his disdain.

Steve's brow furrows in mild annoyance at the tension and he shrugs Billy off. 

"Sure. I'll talk to you later."

Billy separates from him, unsatisfied, and with the niggling feeling that he has left something undone or unsaid (Mate. Pups? The future spreading out, all these wonderful  possibilities...), and heads for his car while the other boys speak quickly and in low voices on Steve's doorstep.

"Will?" Steve prompts once he is reasonably certain that Billy is out of earshot.

"He had this dream... a nightmare. I was going to tell Nancy but she's been busy researching all this stuff and... I kind of want some backup for this. I think he might have seen where the Thesselhydra is staying during the day."

Only a few minutes later they are in the car and heading towards one of the more central roads through Hawkins Woods.

Steve takes out a road map and finds where they are, digging out a pen from under his seat and making small marks as they go. It's probably a futile gesture, but it helps him steady his nerves. He is new to reconnaissance work and the possibility that Will's dream might lead them somewhere dangerous - like the jaws of an eldritch monster, for example - is no small concern.

"He said the train tracks?"

"Yeah, and then off the track."

"Right or left?"

"Right."

"There's nothing on the map."

"Might not be a main road."

"Wait, there's a sort of side road. Is that a road? Look."

"Could be."

"Take Maple Drive and then turn..."

There is a road, surprisingly, though it is not one that Steve remembers seeing before on his journeys around town or even in his forays into the relative unknown of Hawkins Woods. He tries to orient himself according to local landmarks, consulting the map when he gets too far off track.

The boys travel in comfortable semi-silence as they go.

“So how is it?" Jonathan asks abruptly after a long moment of stillness. "With you two?”

Steve looks up and stares at Jonathan, who doesn't look back.

He processes the question, and then realizes that Byers is talking about Billy.

Which is a little strange, but... 

Steve feels a little bubble of mirth swell in his chest.

“How is it?” he murmurs, managing to keep a straight face.

“Yeah, I mean…” Jonathan taps his fingers against the steering wheel, twitching. “He’s good to you, and everything? I don’t need to kick his ass in some macho-male fight for your honor?”

Steve tries.

He really does.

Oh shit.

No, he can’t...

His face splits in a wide grin and he tilts back his head and howls with laughter... wild, unrestrained laughter. He can't stop and he doesn't stop until his sides are aching and Jonathan is looking rather like he wishes he could throw himself right out of the moving car.

Steve realizes that this the best he's felt in a long time. That Billy, and Dustin, and Jonathan and Nancy... and everything, really... even with the monsters, everything is the best it's been in almost forever.

Fuck... he's happy, and it feels good.

“Hah, yeah, Jonathan," he wheezes, finally. "We’re fine. Thanks for asking. Jesus.”

“Right,” Jonathan says, sounding both relieved and horrified. “That’s… that’s great.”

They continue driving. Eventually Steve’s chortling dies down, though a chuckle and a wry shake of the head still escape every now and then.

“There is one thing, though,” Steve adds after a moment, his voice suddenly serious.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah… it’s probably nothing…”

“What is it?”

“It’s just…," Steve almost cracks again, but doesn't. "It's just that I’m a lot more into the kinky weird shit than I thought I was.”

“You know what?" Jonathan straightens, face a mask of horror. "I actually don’t need to hear this, Steve. I was just making conversation.”

“He wants to tie me up.”

“Okay.”

“Maybe experiment with some…”

“Jesus, please stop!”

"Stop..."

"Yes, please, I don't..."

"No, I mean stop. Stop the car!"

Jonathan slams on the breaks and waits while Steve yanks open the car door and steps out. 

"You see that?" Jonathan gets out and looks towards where Steve is pointing, wondering at how he could have missed it.

The road directly in front of them is torn up, cracked and open. Jagged edges of solid blacktop pavement jut out in a twisted version of Stonehenge, moved by some powerful unknown force. There's no way they're getting past it without some serious off-roading. There's no indication of what caused that wreckage, and little clue as to what lies beneath and beyond.

"Can you see past it?"

Jonathan squints and then shakes his head.

"I think I might see the edge of a building but I can't see past the trees. You want to go look?"

It's a dumb question and Steve doesn't dignify it with an answer. Instead, he spreads the map out on the hood of the car and studies it. Jonathan joins him and they look at the map in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

"The junkyard is that way?" Steve says after a moment. "Right?"

"What are you thinking?"

"You know that energy plant?"

"Energy plant?"

"Yeah, the Department of Energy building that's supposed to be in the woods somewhere."

"The one that Mr. Heyers is always saying is a nuclear silo?"

"Yeah... building weapons to fight the Commies or whatever."

"What about it?"

"You can see it from the junkyard if you sit on top of the bus. And if the junkyard is over there... and this road goes..."

Jonathan sees. He sees and understands. And the parts of this that he doesn't understand, that neither of them understand, they can at least appreciate in some fundamental, instinctual way.

The road is wrecked, destroyed, either intentionally or not.

Alright. Fair enough.

But this road leads somewhere. At the end of the road is a building.

The witch's gingerbread house, waiting for them to come on in.

Silence fills the space between them, and Steve is suddenly painfully aware that he can't even hear the birds singing.

"It might be a water main break," he tries, refusing to look at the horrific cracks in the concrete behind him. "Pipes or something under the road. Or a tree fell down."

But neither boy really believes that.

 

 

 

To run, to be free, to howl wildly and live without fear.

That’s all Billy wants.

No…not all.

Billy wants the moon.

His moon.

Steve is the moon. Pale and beautiful, the pure light, the strange power that draws out the best parts, the most noble and protective and strong pieces of himself. The beautiful promise that brings out the Wolf. Billy feels him in his blood, the pull of him, the warmth filling in all the empty spaces, the soft brightness illuminating all the dark corners.

His moon. His mate.

Far away from him, like a distant planet.

In the end, it is Earl who blows the whistle.

It is Earl who rummages through Billy's unlocked car looking for stray cigarette packets and loose change to put towards a fresh pack of beer. It is Earl who finds Steve's coat in the backseat. He does this purely by accident, or by a stupid twist of fate. 

It's Earl who figures it out... Earl, who has never yet managed to shift on his own, who has only just managed to elongate his nails slightly in a parody of wolf claws, but who has the keenest nose of any werewolf of his generation. The man is a natural talent, and he follows the strange, alluring scent on the jacket all the way to Steve's front door, where he arrives just in time to see Billy's lingering touch before he walks off to his car.

It's Earl... weak, drunk, pathetic Earl, Earl who is never noticed, never listened to, who figures he might as well tell Neil.

It is dark when Billy gets home, and when he walks through his front door he can smell the change in the air.

It's too late.

The first punch cracks one of Billy's ribs. He can feel it go inside of him, can hear the wolf howl and cry. 

That hit is meant to take the air out of him, to shock him into compliance.

The next move is to twist his left arm up and back. Billy can feel the muscles holding the ball of his shoulder joint in place strain... just another ounce of pressure and Neil will dislocate his shoulder. 

It all happens just that quickly. It all ends just that fast.

He's trapped.

"Explain," Neil says, voice calm, eyes cruel.

He doesn't need to clarify what he means. Billy can read all he needs to know in his father's face.

Billy tries.

"I didn't realize it at first, but I found my mate, Dad. He's..."

It's not what Billy wants, but he can't help it. He can't help it. Suddenly he is ten years old again, the words tumbling out without any of the caution or finesse Billy has learned to apply to them over the years. They sound naive, childish, nothing like a well-reasoned argument, and he's blowing this, it doesn't sound right... but he hurts, his ribs and shoulder hurt and he can't stop the flood now.

He needs to convince his dad, but there's nothing...

He hears a soft noise and his words trail off. He is suddenly horribly conscious of Susan standing horrified and mute in the kitchen, watching. He's aware of Earl sitting in an armchair a few feet away, staring at the beer can in his hands, of Wyatt glaring at him with a stormy rage bordering on the homicidal. He hears a soft noise down the hallway and knows that Max is standing in the doorway of her bedroom, listening, silently panicking.

He has never felt more exposed in his life. 

There is a beat, a long, agonizing silence. Neil must be a little bit conscious of their audience, too, because he finally eases some of the pressure off Billy's arm, enough to let Billy lower it. Billy's wounds throb, but the physical hurts are nothing compared to the agony in his mind.

Neil still looms, still paces around Billy, never more than a foot or two away. He has no space to breathe, and his lungs ache from the effort as if an unseen pile of rocks is pressing down on his chest. That might be the rib, but Billy is pretty sure it's a panic attack. 

"The friend's name? The other werewolf?"

"He...Henderson. Dustin Henderson," Billy chokes out. He hadn't had time to obfuscate, and now he is kicking himself wildly for putting Dustin in the crossfire. But maybe, maybe he can use him to soften this blow.

“I remember the Henderson family. Respectable pack… but they’re out in Minnesota.”

“Frank Henderson was pushed out of the pack for forbidden relations with a human," Billy tries desperately to steady his voice. "He’s dead now… Dustin Henderson is his son. He had his first turn a year ago.”

Of course it sounds awful when he says it like that, and although he's got bigger concerns right now Billy can't help but feel a ping of guilt and frustration at how all of his 'research' boils down to these pathetic bare bones that say everything and nothing.

Yes, he'd listened carefully to Steve and Dustin and anyone else who offered any useful information, had charmed the gossips and flipped through microfilm and even made a call or two to establish Dustin's werewolf pedigree. All this because it's his job as the Alpha's second in command to know everything he can, and so he'd have plenty of ammo to defend himself with when the time came to tell Neil.

But nothing he says could quite explain how quick Dustin is picking up new skills, how eager and clever he can be. It doesn't help illustrate the warm glow Billy gets in his chest when he watches Steve and Dustin laughing and lifting cars. It doesn't explain a bond so deep that even Billy can feel it secondhand - the feelings of brotherhood between Steve and Dustin.

Billy sees Steve wrapping up the cut on Dustin's hand, insisting on disinfectant while the younger boy rolled his eyes, as clearly as he sees his father right now. They stand there before him, perfect and completely unaware of what's coming.

Reduced to a few words, the full scope of Billy's knowledge alternates between insignificant and utterly damning.

Neil sniffs, and Billy can tell what he’s thinking. He knows Neil takes a very dim view of forbidden marriages between wolves and humans. That was why they left California in the first place, after all. Well, one of the reasons.

“And the other one? Your mate?”

“He’s bitten.” No point trying to hide it.

“Bitten,” Neil’s lips curl up in a sneer and he takes a step away from Billy as though his son might infect him with some nasty flu germ. “A half-breed mutt and a bitten wolf barely past his first moon. And a male, too. Christ, Billy. How do you expect to continue the line with a mate like that? And why would you want to? A bitten…you can’t breed him! He’ll never have pups.”

He already does, dad. The thought comes to Billy unbidden, but it is the truth nevertheless. He already has at least one, and probably has more. He’s that kind of person, the kind that rescues strays. He's the kind of wolf who would do anything to protect them. He’s nothing like you.

He’s even rescued Max. You take a look in her eyes and see... she's leaving us, running wild with a pack of misfits, and you don't even know it.

Maybe he’ll rescue me.

“Well,” Neil continues, “that settles it. There can’t be two packs in the territory. Or even a pack and a half.”

His derisiveness sends shudders through Billy… the wolf inside him growls lowly at the insult to its mate, torn between protective fury and obedience to the Alpha. Earl is still refusing to look up, but Wyatt is grinning now, eyes unsettling bright. He paces a little behind Neil, an untamed tornado, while Neil stands stock-still, studying his son's reactions.

“What are you going to do?”

The words are out before Billy can moderate their content or tone, and he flinches inwardly.

He’s very sure he doesn’t want to know the answer, whatever it is.

Sure enough, Neil smiles at him, and it’s a thousand times more terrifying to see than a snarl or a raised fist.

“I’m not going to do anything. You’re my second. You’re going to go make them fall in line.”

Neil nods once, the final command of an Alpha. “They’ll submit to their roles within the Hargrove Pack. They’ll do this, or they’ll be killed, and their remains will be buried where the Moon will never shine on them again.”

Billy’s eyes drop, his insides cold, and he tilts his head in acceptance.

“Don’t disappoint me, son.”

 

 

 

“Harrington.”

Steve turns and sees Billy, leaning against his car, a sour expression on his face. His insides warm and his lips quirk up in a smile in spite of himself. It's the last day of school before two full weeks of break, and the full moon is tomorrow. He's so excited, and seeing Billy makes it all even better.

“Hi," he grins. "You weren’t in class today. Got our math tests back.”

“Yeah, I need to talk to you.”

"Oh, good. I need to talk to you, too. Might have a lead on the Thesselhyrda," Steve pauses, his grin dropping. "Hey, are you okay? You look a little..."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll... I'll meet you at the warehouse."

"Not my place?"

"No." 

I can't do this at your place. 

Steve shrugs and acquiesces, and all too soon they are standing in front of the warehouse. Billy gets there first and immediately regrets his decision choice of locale.

Not here. Not our place. Not where we fought and fucked and fell in love.

He won't go into the building... if he sees their nest in the back office, if he smells the familiar mixed scent of BillySteve layered with notes of Dustin... that smell that is so much like PACK , he'll break. Instead, he shuffles, unsure, as Steve climbs out of his car and walks into the lot and towards the building.

Billy is facing the metaphorical wall, now. He is at the place he never wanted to be, facing the thing he never wanted to face. 

He ends up blurting it out while Steve is still several yards away from him.

"I need to bring you to meet my father."

Steve comes to a stop where he is, taken aback. He narrows his eyes and gives Billy a small nod.

"Okay," Steve says. "That's... fine?"

It's not fine, not by a long shot, and Billy knows it. Steve does, too, on some level, because he looks like he's waiting for the other shoe to drop. He doesn't try to move past Billy or go into the warehouse, and Billy takes this pause as an invitation to continue. To... to try to explain.

"It's not... it's a formal meeting. He'll be there as pack Alpha."

"Okay," Steve still looks confused as to why Billy is so jumpy. "Do you... um, why?"

"It's tradition for wolves. If there are wolves from more than one pack in the area there needs to be a formal discussion of how the territory is controlled."

"Okay," Steve repeats. He blinks, and then brightens slightly. "That's... that's good, right? I can meet your dad and your step-mom. I mean, that's going to be nuts and all but I can do that. Should I bring Dustin?"

"No," Billy snaps, panicking suddenly at the idea of Dustin attempting to grill Neil on werewolf politics. "No, you shouldn't. Not... not yet. This is just about you. About us."

Steve nods and then a slow smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. "Is this a 'meet the parents' thing? Am I gonna get the shovel talk? Because you should know, I've already had a conversation with Max and I got to say, she's a tough cookie..."

"It's not about that. I told you, it's a formal meeting about the territory and how the... the pack is structured. How we're all going to fit together and how things are going to go in the future."

Steve looks lost again.

"Um. I probably should bring Dustin, then. I'm not exactly up on my negotiating skills, and Dustin can talk the ears off anybody..."

"No, Steve. Just... Just you."

The brunette narrows his eyes and chews on his lower lip, thinking. He looks unhappy and is clearly growing frustrated.

Billy needs to move more quickly now, needs to get this out. He takes a deep breath and feels his silver tongue turning to lead.

"It'll...," he forces out. "It'll be better for you if you let me bite you first."

Steve blinks.

"Bite me," he repeats, voice flat.

"Yes. If. If we had a bond in place."

"You..." Steve blinks again. "Are you asking me to, like... do that bonding thing you told me about? Like a werewolf wedding?"

"No, not... I mean, yeah. I guess. Like I told you..."

"Yeah, I remember... marking each other to form a permanent connection between us," Steve furrows his brow and shifts uneasily. "Billy don't... don't take this the wrong way, but if this is a marriage proposal it fucking sucks and I'm not... not super into it. I'm not... not really ready for that... what you were telling me about."

"It's not a proposal," Billy snaps (telling himself that he has no reason to feel the least bit hurt by Steve's reaction). "It's just..."

"But you said so. You said it was a commitment, like with a ceremony and everything. I just, I'm not ready to be a married man or... or whatever the werewolf equivalent is. I mean, I'm with you, I am, but I thought we were just going to let it grow on its own. Aren't we just dating or... courting, you said? We're courting each other."

"We are. It will. But... my dad will want to see a bond mark. Just to prove that you're willing to be part of our pack."

Steve rears back slightly, eyes widening. "I'm... I'm not part of the pack. I'm not trying to be part of it... Billy. I'm sorry if you thought that but we've never talked about how that would work and... I've got Dustin, and... what are you saying?"

Billy should have known he'd hit some resistance. He did on some level, but he'd let himself dream and pretend. Now it's throwing him off his game because he really doesn't have any good answers for all these questions.

He tries anyway.

"I'm saying that if I take you as my mate, officially, you'll join my pack. If you do that, you'll be subject to our codes and rules, and also under our protection. It's not anything crazy, Steve. It's just making sure everything is clear and that everyone knows their place. This way you'll be on my side, always, and I'll be on yours. You'd be part of our family. One of us."

It should be exactly what he wants - Billy knows this, this is his main selling point, they were just talking about how Steve is a functional orphan - but for some reason Steve's gaze goes dark and his lips thin.

"Codes and rules?" he repeats, quietly.

"Protection, Steve. We make it official and then nobody can say anything. You'll be part of the pack."

Steve rocks back gently on his heels, nodding half to himself. He turns slightly and toes the ground, deep in thought, and Billy forces himself to be patient and quiet. God, he's been so patient, surely he can wait a little longer.

"Right," Steve says finally. "Right. Okay. I want to think about this. I need to think."

"Sure, Steve." That's... that's fine. That's not a 'no'. Billy can do this. "Take a few minutes and just..."

"I'll need a few days, Billy, jeesh. You're talking about forever, and I'm... for God's sakes I've only known you, like, two months!"

"I need my answer sooner than that, sweetheart," Billy grits out. "I need it today, okay? I need to take you to my dad today."

Actually, I needed to take you to him weeks ago, weeks and weeks ago, but it's too late now... but maybe I can still fix this, maybe, maybe...

"No! Billy... no."

"Steve," Billy growls. "Please don't do this. I need you to bond with me. I need you to let me bite you and I need you to come with me and show my dad."

"You said if you forced a bond than the connection would go wrong, okay? That's what you said!"

"That won't happen to us."

"Why not?" Steve's as tense as a spring, ready to pop.

"We won't let it," Billy replies, lightly.

That niggle, that little feeling in Steve's gut tells him that this is not the truth... not the whole truth, at least. He scowls and shakes his head.

"You're lying. You can't know that. You can't know if it would go bad or not because we're not ready for this yet. We're not, are we? Billy, I don't want this. Okay? I don't want this. This is me telling you 'no'."

"Steve..."

"No! I don't... I don't want this, I don't get this at all!"

Billy drags in a loud, frustrated breath, and runs his hands through his long locks. He squeezes his eyes shut and Steve feels a pang in his chest at the sight. But he can't or won't go to him, not right now, not when he is so unsure about where they both stands.

Finally, Billy seems to come to a decision. He opens his eyes and looks up. 

"Okay. Okay. I'm going to tell you something, Steve. Listen to me and... just listen to me. I'm going to try to make you understand."

Steve lets out a long sigh and folds his arms. A gust of cold winter air blows past them, but that isn't what makes his have to hold back a shiver.

Billy rocks slightly on his heels - plant your feet, Steve wants to say - and then speaks. His voice is cool and distant but something about it, some vibration only Steve can sense, puts the other boy on edge.

"In California, we were part of a pack. The Heller Pack. It was huge, big enough that Dad could be a lower-level Alpha under Clyde Heller's leadership. Remember what I told you, Steve... Alphas make the rules, and the head Alpha is like a king in the pack. Dad wanted to move up the ladder, wanted... all the things he wants. Power, security, whatever. So he came up with a way to make that happen. After my mom died he married Susan Mayfield, a werewolf from a long line of wolves, and he promised Maxine Mayfield as a wolf mate to Heller's son, Bobby."

Steve blinks stupidly at Billy for a moment before letting out a confused, outraged noise.

"What?!"

"Steve..."

"How old was this guy, this Bobby guy?"

"My age," Billy says, face grim. "We were friends, sort of."

"Your..."

"It wasn't going to happen right away, Steve. The mating wouldn't have taken place until Max was sixteen."

"Sixteen?!"

"Shut up, Steve! Okay? It's an arranged marriage, nothing that doesn't happen in loads of places all over the world. Max understood... she's been raised by wolves all her life. It's just the way it is."

"Is it the way it is for you?!"

"No, but our situation is..."

"Don't," Steve shakes his head angrily. "I don't want to hear it."

"There was a contract in place," Billy continues, relentless, his voice going cold. "It would have guaranteed security, a place in the pack for all of us. All Max had to do was bond with Bobby when she was sixteen."

"But... they weren't mates," Steve insists. It sounds weak, almost pleading the way he says it.  

The other boy shrugs, doesn't meet his eyes. "A lot of wolves never find their mates. It's politics, Steve. And Bobby could be an ass, but he wasn't that much older than Max. Not that it ended up mattering anyway."

Steve grinds his teeth together and forces himself to shelve his revulsion for now. "What happened?"

"Max made a friend. A human friend. It wasn't even a big deal, but Clyde Heller found out and decided that the pack was at risk. Like you, he also wasn't too keen on Max and Bobby mating. He'd found a different pack he wanted an alliance with and this was the perfect excuse to get out of a deal he'd made. He and Neil both went at it, and before anyone knows what's going on, old Clyde is accusing Max of fraternizing with humans and breaking the mating contract. He wants her punished and immediately forced to mate with the wolf of his choosing, or else we are all banished from the pack.

"Once Max's position as a wolf mate was questioned," Billy continues, "everything was up in the air. There's no other way to fix a broken contract except a challenge…a challenge to the original claim. You need to fight it out to determine the offender's place in the pack. If we lost, the Hellers could do what they wanted to us. To Max. Max most of all... since she was technically the one who broke the pact. Nobody was on our side after this - you aren't supposed to violate a mating pact; it's like a formal agreement - but Neil insisted that we have the chance to earn our place back. It was never gonna happen but... I guess we had to try."

Billy takes in a deep breath and furrows his brow, trying to come up with a way to contextualize what he is about to say next. After a beat, he makes a slight head movement, like he is trying to shoo away a gnat buzzing in his ear, and forces the next bit of his story out.

"It’s called the Blood Circle," he says, the words like rocks in his mouth. 

"What's the Blood Circle?" Steve is a hundred percent sure he doesn't want to know but the question is out before he can stop it.

"It's a sacred spot in the woods. The whole pack gathers around the stone edge, and in the center the two opposing parties meet."

Steve inhales and exhales, and his gaze slips away from Billy and falls on the surrounding trees, on the looming warehouse, on the dirt parking area... on the clearing where he stands across from his mate. Billy is a tense wire, eyes glazed with pain and memory, and while everything in Steve screams to go to him and comfort him he finds he can't move. He's afraid. God help him, he is in a clearing in the woods and he is afraid of what Billy might do. He is afraid most of all of what Billy might say.

"And what happens in the Blood Circle?" Steve forces out when Billy doesn't immediately continue.

“It’s a cage match,” the other boy says flatly. "That’s all it is. Dressed up in ceremony and ritual, but at the end of the day it’s just an excuse to watch two wolves tear each other apart. For everyone outside of the circle, that's what it is. But to the two wolves inside... to me, it was everything. That's the worst part.”

Billy shakes his head and gives Steve a small smile, but there's no joy in it. 

"I was so... angry. Steve, it was all I could see. It was all I was. There was this monster on the other side of the Circle and part of me was furious that he was trying to hurt Max. But then... then I didn't even think about Max. I wasn't even thinking about her. It was just... him. And me. Him OR me. And I became this rage, this thing that needed to be let loose. I was so insane and I couldn't stop. I was angry and then... then I was just trying to stay alive.

"You don't understand how it is, Steve. That's not a... I'm glad you don't. I'm really fucking glad you don't. You're like this pure bit of moonlight that I get to hold, and there's no good reason why you're mine. Nobody should be allowed to leave the Circle and go on to be happy and normal, or have anything as good as you in their life. It's not a boxing match, it's not a fistfight. It's a death match. You don't stop until you're both broken. You don't stop until there's nothing left. I lost about three pints of blood, my guts were half hanging out, and I only just got feeling back in my left leg when we came to Hawkins. The day we moved in was the first day I could wiggle my toes again."

Billy shakes his head, something like horrified awe in his voice. "...And that's just my outsides. That's just my skin and my bones. I can't take back what I saw or what I did... Neil watching, and Bobby's eyes going wild and scared when I went for him. Mrs. Heller crying afterwards. Passing out on the ground, alone. If I wasn't a wolf I'd be dead. And I'm the one who won. I won the fight, but I never left the fucking Circle. How could I? I... I burned away everything else that night. Everything that I was."

Billy's mouth snaps shut. He is looking at Steve, but also not... he's looking past him. Through him.

Steve hadn't realized he was shaking until Billy stopped talking. The horror of it... and the flat, emotionless way Bill described the arcane ritual. Steve's whole body vibrates with tension. His heart aches, and it's all he can do to drag in a long inhale and force his lungs to work.

“Billy. Are you…” he swallows. “Are you alright?”

Silence, and then Billy let out a low, humourless chuckle and Steve’s heart drops.

No, he’s not alright, of course he’s not alright, it’s all fucked…

“You know, you’re the first person to ask me that,” Billy says. Whatever false mirth is on his face before drops suddenly. “The funny thing... none of it mattered in the end. We were banished anyway. Max was safe, but we couldn't stay with the Hellers after that. Bobby... Bobby’ll never walk again. I broke his back. That’s… that’s my fault. I’ve never… I didn’t kill anyone, Steve. Please believe me. I’ve never killed anyone. But… it almost doesn’t matter, does it? Because it’s not like Bobby Heller's life isn't over. It's not like I’m not still a monster.”

Billy draws in a deep breath, forces the air into his lungs.

“You shouldn’t be with me, Steve. But if you are then you should at least know who I am.” 

Steve doesn't say anything to that.

There's nothing to say.

Steve wonders if that fact means that he's weak, or bad, or something. Because leaving Billy, rejecting him because of this, it doesn't even feel like an option. And yet, somehow, Steve also doesn't know how he's supposed to get past this, to reconcile what he's hearing with what he believes Billy to be.

So, no, there's nothing he can say to that.

Billy seems to know that, too, because he takes a step back and suddenly a switch is flicked. That was tough, telling his mate his horror story, but at least Billy knows that Steve will understand enough to let Billy have his way.

If he can't reason with him, he can scare him into compliance. 

"You get it now, right?" Billy forces the croak out of his voice and brushes his hand over his face. "I need to bite and bond with you. There can't be any doubt about our relationship or your position in the pack. We can sort it out with Dustin later, but right now you need to let me bite you and take you to my dad so I can show him that there's no threat and no confusion. You submit to him as pack Alpha, and then we're good."

Steve doesn't say anything for a moment and Billy takes that as tacit acceptance. When he takes a step towards him, however, Steve shakes his head and hops backwards.

"What? No! Billy... you just told me... you just said you were willing to die in order to keep Max from being forced into a relationship with someone. You were willing to fight to protect her from exactly the thing you're telling me you want to do to me."

"No... Steve, I had to fight because when you don't integrate packs correctly there's conflict. Everyone needs to be in their place, nice and formal and official. If you don't let me do this then there'll be a fight. You won't be my mate... you'll be nobody, an enemy wolf, and you'll be hurt. Just let me..."

“You try it," Steve says, tone going hard as he takes another step back and digs his heels in, "and it’ll be the last thing you do to me.”

I know that, Billy thinks, desperately. Fuck, don’t you think I know that? I might as well stab myself in the chest…unforgivable. It would be unforgivable. And it’s just the start…

“You said you wouldn’t force a bond,” Steve continues. “You said you couldn’t!”

“It’s not about that… there are hierarchies, Steve. Rules. Things you don’t understand, and I don’t have time to explain them to you. You just need to… to do this…”

“No!” Steve shakes his head. “No… explain it to me. You want me to do this thing, you explain it to me!”

“I…” Billy growls in frustration, runs his hands through his hair, shrugs. “I’m the second. Above me is my dad. Everyone else submits to one or the other of us. You bare your throat to the Alpha and agree to follow the rules. Once… once you’re in the pack, you obey the Alpha. You obey, or you’re punished.”

“I’m not in your pack, though…” there’s an unmistakable note of desperation in Steve’s voice. “Billy, this has nothing to do with us.”

“You will be. You’re a wolf in the same territory, unaffiliated, and if I… if I claim you, you’ll be pack.”

Claim me?”

“Steve…”

“Look, I know you think I’m everybody’s bitch, Hargrove, but you’ve got the wrong end of the stick here.”

“Steve, it’s not a choice!”

Billy takes several steps forward, leans in and places a hand on the back of Steve’s neck before the other boy can react. Steve tenses but doesn’t pull away, and Billy sees that as an act of trust. He has to take it as such… this needs to work.

He softens his gaze and his tone – he desperately doesn’t want to be cruel to Steve. He doesn’t want to hurt him any more than necessary.

And any way you look at it, this is going to hurt.

“Listen, baby… you’re my mate. That’s not like a prom date… it’s the real fucking thing. You and me, forever. And…” Billy risks another step forward, gets closer. “And we have fun, don’t we? We make the sparks fly? You feel that, I know you do. That’s the bond, a bond we already have. Meant to be. I’m in your blood, sweetheart. And you’re in mine.”

“We…” Steve’s eyes have gone a bit unfocused – he wants Billy, the wolf is howling at him to get closer, to bare his throat – but to his credit he’s still arguing, still knows in his heart that this isn’t right. “We have that now, anyway… without you marking your territory. I've already given you... fuck... pretty much everything. And you've given that to me, too... we're equals, we're partners. Aren't we? Why do you need me to do this, to submit, to make this happen?”

Billy shakes his head. “Steve… you don’t get it…”

“Because it wouldn’t just be you, would it?” Steve says, his voice stronger now. “It would be your dad… your dad would be claiming me, too. It's not about the bond between us, it's about you and him claiming me, putting me me in some role where you and he get to tell me what to do and how to live. And not just me. Dustin. This isn’t about you and me at all.”

“Yes, yes, it is, Steve…” Billy is losing him, he needs to salvage this, he can feel him pulling away.

“Your dad... I’ve seen what he’s like. You don't talk about him a lot, but I see it. He doesn't like bitten wolves. I’ve seen the bruises on you.” Steve’s eyes narrow. “Dustin’s family, his own family, they won’t talk to him at all because his dad broke some stupid rule and married who he wanted. Dustin was all alone for a whole fucking year just because of some damn code, some political bullshit that happened before he was even born. And you and Max... everyone was willing to watch you die and watch Max get married off to someone... for what? What the fuck is your dad going to do to me… to Dustin… when we piss him off? And we will! You’ve met us, you know we will. We’ll absolutely piss him off! Sooner or later…”

“Steve…”

“And what about you?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you… with your Alpha-male bullshit. What happens when I’m under you in some werewolf hierarchy and you decide I’m doing something you don’t like? What do you do to me then, huh? You're so into rules and power and who claims who... what are you gonna do? Put me in my place?”

“You’re under me all the time, Steve,” Billy rolls his eyes. “That’s kind of what we do. I haven’t ripped your throat out yet.”

“That’s different, asshole! That’s sex! Just because I like you holding me down when we’re fucking doesn’t mean…”

“You really are under me,” Billy snaps, his patience at an end, his voice frustrated, taunting. “You’re a child, Steven, and you don’t have a fucking clue what you’re doing. You’re using monster movies to try to keep Dustin and all the other little shits alive, for fuck's sake. You’re stupid and weak. You need this, baby… you really, really do.”

“Fuck you,” Steve snarls, rage and real hurt flashing across his face.

“You need us, mutt,” Billy growls, his grip on Steve’s neck tightening. “You need a strong hand, an Alpha leader to show you how the world really works. You need to be taught how to be a wolf because, let’s face it, you’re not nearly strong enough to keep this bullshit up on your own. Right now, you and your sad excuse for a boy scout troop are less than nothing.”

Steve jerks away from him then, smacks his hand away.

Billy is startled by the reaction, and he zeros in on Steve’s expression. The other boy is livid with cold fury.

“I don’t want you. I don’t want you to teach me anything. I’d rather be dead than have me or Dustin turn into anything like you and your old man!”

Steve shoves Billy, hard, and he is forced to take a few steps back. Billy allows it, mostly because he’s too surprised by himself and Steve to do otherwise. He’s surprised, he’s unsettled, he’s secretly quite horrified… because Steve means it, he can see he means it. Steve means every word he just said, and that’s awful.

And also… also because those words Billy had used, and that voice… that wasn’t him.

That was his father.

It’s all unraveling.

“Listen to me. Baby, listen,” now it’s Billy’s turn to be desperate. “You submit. You get Dustin to submit. Dad isn’t interested in the others. It’s just for a little while, and then… it’ll be alright. I’m the second, in a few years I’ll be able to challenge him…”

“A few YEARS?”

“…I’ll be able to challenge him. I’ll be Alpha, then.”

“And then what? Then what?” Steve is getting hysterical. “I’ll still be the little bitch in a werewolf death cult! I want to go to college, man, I don’t…”

“We’re not a cult, we’re a pack, and you wouldn’t be anyone’s bitch! You’d be mine…”

Steve lets out a strangled cry of frustration.

“You’d be mine. My mate. The Alpha mate.”

Steve pushes him away, like he knew he would. He can’t stop talking, though, can’t stop trying.

“You’re my mate, Steve, and one day, when my father’s gone, we can be together without all of this shit…”

Steve has turned away from him. He can see his arms wrapping around his middle, can see him trying to comfort himself. Billy longs to reach out and touch him, to offer him the gentleness and sweetness that Steve, and only Steve, inspires in him. But he can’t. There’s a brick wall between them, and the words keep tumbling out, damning him.

“You need to do this, Steve. You and Dustin. You need to submit… otherwise my dad…”

“What? What is your dad gonna do? Hurt a kid?”

“No. He won't. He’ll make me do it. And I won’t have a choice, Steve. I’ll break you," Billy grits his teeth and buries his pain and forces out the horrible fucking truth. "I’ll hurt you until you break, or you die."

Steve is shaking his head, walking away...

And the words slip out of Billy's mouth...

"...And then I’ll do it to Dustin…”

Too far. It’s a step too far.

Steve turns and lunges at Billy. A blink of an eye and he is knocking him to the ground.

For a horrible moment Billy is grateful, happy… happy because Steve is close to him, because Steve is touching him, because Steve is reacting to him. The circumstances don’t matter… Steve is his mate and he’s here.

Steve’s face twists and Billy looks up in something like wonder as the other boy roars in fury, a pure animal cry.

It's hate, it's rage, it's fierce, protective blood-lust.

Steve's eyes go golden, glowing.

Billy looks up in wonder.

He’s shifting… he’s doing it!

Claws pierce Billy’s shirt, his shoulders, and the pain brings him out of his haze and back to himself.

Steve is shifting…oh, fuck, he’s shifting… and Billy responds with his own howl.

His wolf, as it always does, sees every challenge to its power as a matter life or death. To be fair, it often is life or death in Billy's world. The wolf tears out of him to meet Steve with shocking speed, and it's all Billy can do to hold on for the ride.

Don’t hurt him, Billy begs as the animal takes over.

It's a nice thought, while it lasts.

The wolf, however, doesn’t really see the world in terms of hurt and consequences.

Billy’s wolf has long had a sad, twisted instinct, born of grief and self-doubt and brutal treatment. Its past has warped and shaped its responses in horrible ways.

Steve shifts, claws out, fangs dropping, eyes glowing. He is responding to an unforgivable threat to his pup, but the part of Billy that knows this can only look on helplessly as the rage takes over.

The wolf just sees defiance.

It’s the Blood Circle all over again.

Steve...

MATE.

MINE.

MATE. MINE!

MINE!

MAKE HIM! MAKE HIM!!

MAKEHIMMAKEHIMEMAKEHIM…!!!

BREAK HIM.

...

Please

Chapter Text

I’m "It was definitely not anyone from Max's family?"

"No," Will shakes his head. "It was two guys from town. I've seen them around that bar on Main Street. They were in the woods together and they are definitely werewolves. They aren't any good at shifting yet, but I could see it in them. I think they were practicing."

"That's just great. Fantastic! Were they bitten by accident, or what?" Lucas asks.

"No," Dustin says sharply. "I think we'd remember running in to two assholes in the woods and biting them. It's not like the movies where we don't know what happens when we shift."

"Oh yeah? What happened to Steve, then?"

"That... that was different." That incident was maybe, possibly, not entirely an accident, though Dustin will never admit that, not even to himself.

"The Hargroves are the only other wolves in town," Will says. "The guys in the woods must be part of their group, their pack or whatever..."

“What about the Thesselhydra?” Mike interjects. “We should be more worried about that thing then the other werewolves. At least the werewolves are human most of the time, and they don’t kill just to kill.”

“Maybe they can help us,” Will pipes up. "Maybe the other werewolves know something we don't about how to stop it. Maybe they want to be on our side."

“I doubt it,” Lucas said. “Did they seem particularly friendly to you?”

"Well... not really, no."

Actually they seemed like they were one wrong word away from ripping each other throats out right there in Hawkins Woods. Will doesn't know much about werewolf shifting besides what Dustin has described, but he could feel the pulse of a rotting, furious frustration rolling off the two men with nearly enough force to knock him backwards. He had only been playing by Castle Byers, and he hadn't expected to stumble upon such a curious, unsettling sight.

No, the two men - Will heard the names Wyatt and Earl - had not seemed particularly approachable.

Eleven winces, silently watching the rapid-fire exchange between the boys as one might watch a tennis match. Though she doesn't say anything now, and hasn't said much all night, she seems anxious and exhausted. It is putting everyone on edge. 

“Billy is friendly,” Dustin offers. “He’s been helping me and Steve learn about being wolves.”

“Billy also tried to drive us off the road, and he’s a dick to Max. And a murderer, maybe.”

"Yeah, 'maybe' being the operative word! You said that Max said she didn't know what happened in California, and Steve says he's cool."

"Oh, 'Steve says'! We only have Billy Hargrove's word that any of the stuff he says is real!"

Eleven isn't sure what's wrong with her. She just knows that she feels wrong and that the argument taking place over her head is confusing, and that something is happening elsewhere that she can't quite see.

She feels tired for no reason... tired and irritable, cut off from loamy flesh of the earth and the fractured light of the sky, even though nothing is truly keeping her from those things. Her limbs are heavy, like she's walking through sludge, and the light that lives inside of her is dim and difficult to hold on to. 

This isn't right...

"What about that story we found in the library?" asks Lucas. "Or that part in 'Bloody Werewolf Babysitters IV'? Maybe if we find the head werewolf and kill it before the full moon, all the other werewolves will change back."

"That's vampires, Lucas," Mike corrects. "You're thinking of 'Fright Night'. 'Bloody Werewolf Babysitters IV' used silver bullets, and those don't do anything in real life."

"Says Billy," Lucas snaps.

"Besides," Dustin adds, voice wavering slightly, "I'd technically be a head werewolf for our pack. I bit Steve."

"I'm confused," Eleven pipes up.

"Join the club," Mike grouses.

There's a knock on the basement door, soft and tentative but loud enough to startle the kids and draw a high-pitched squeak from Lucas. Mike hesitates... it's dark out, and there's all sort of monsters out there now...

"Open it," Will says, suddenly on high alert.

Eleven senses it too, and nods.

"It's Steve," Dustin adds.

And it is. 

The older boy is shaking, framed in the doorway, his face obscured by the darkness of the night outside. For a long moment they can't make him out, like his edges have been erased somehow, and as one they all hold their breath and wait. Then he takes a step forward into the light and each child jolts in alarm.

Steve is battered and bruised and torn to hell. His face is swollen with cuts and bruises, his clothes torn, and he is cradling his chest and arms like they might fall off of him if he lets go. He stumbles at the doorway - he doesn't fall, but it's a close thing, and he looks at the group with brown eyes wet and bloodshot and full of pain.

He looks a wreck, and his outer form is a fitting reflection of his insides, of the turmoil in his heart and mind.

“Shit!”

“What?!”

“Steve!”

Everyone is shouting at once, running over and grabbing on to the swaying, bleeding teenager. Steve lets out a low groan when they do so, and they immediately release him and scramble to nudge him as gently as possible towards the ratty old couch in the corner. Lucas tears off to get a first aid kit while Eleven looks on with wide eyes, twisting her hands together in front of her.

"What happened?!" Dustin demands in a dangerously high voice. "What happened?!"

“Well… I’ve got the… I know what…I...” Words, jumbled and nonsensical, tumble out of Steve. He shakes his head, tries to piece something together.

He only barely remembers driving here, knew by instinct where the kids would be even though none of them had told him that there was a Party meeting tonight. He remembers bits and pieces... all the rest is like trying to hold on to smoke.

He remembers shifting. He remembers that. He'd felt a rush, an almost euphoric dance with an inner electric power, like touching a live wire with your still-beating heart.

He could do anything, and he was going to do anything... he was going to...

He was going to...

Kill your mate.  Protect your pup.

Kill your mate.

Protect your pup.

Kill.

Protect.

Kill.

And then Billy...

Billy...

Stop. He doesn't want to remember. He can’t go on like this.

He can’t go on.

Fuck.

Steve collapses on the couch and buries his face in his hands. Tears are leaking out and his whole body is shaking violently, exacerbating every raw ache and open wound. It hurts so much… all the cuts and bruises, marks that mean so much more than just pain.

Pain is easy. Pain is flesh, muscles, nerve endings, the brain firing off chemical warning shots.

Physical pain is nothing.

All of this is nothing compared to the betrayal and rejection Steve feels. 

And it hurts more because his wolf is still inside of him... that simple, emotional creature that only wants to Run and Feed and Protect, Protect and Feed and Run. It is bruised and confused and lashing out at what it can. Lashing out at Steve, Steve who has done something terrible and wrong, who has violated every sacred instinct, who has somehow failed mate, and pup, and pack

It doesn't understand how Billy could... why Billy would...

It must be Steve's fault, somehow. Must be. All of this. Steve needs to fix it.

But how? 

I need to protect them, him, me, them.

Them. Him. Me. Them. Him. Me. Us.

Not us. Not us...

Steve is tearing himself apart from the inside out.

“Steve.”

Steve pulls himself away from the yawning abyss, takes a small but crucial step backwards. He looks up to see a pair of soft eyes gazing at him. Eleven crouches in front of him, watching, studying in her own careful way. Her thin fingers wrap around his, and he feels himself letting out a shaky breath.

“I’m okay." The words come out almost unconsciously, a knee-jerk need to reassure and comfort. "It’s not bad.”

He's talking about the physical stuff again. Blood and bone. There are no words for the rest.

Eleven studies him in silence for a moment, then reaches out and gently touches his bruised and bleeding left temple.

“Bad,” she replies.

A single, simple word. It is not framed as a question, and she’s not exactly arguing with or contradicting him. It’s more like she is acknowledging that there are many different kinds of ‘bad’ in the world, all sorts of 'bad' that could trouble and damage and even define a person.

Steve is feeling a number of them at the moment, no matter what he says.

There is comfort in that gentle touch. Maybe it is selfish to take it when it comes from a vulnerable child and when Steve doesn't believe he deserves any kind of soft touch right now, but he can't find it in himself to pull away.

He lets her hand anchor him as a few more tears fall.

“Steve?” Dustin asks. His voice is quiet and sounds remarkably fragile.

Breathe.

The wolf inside digs a single, unforgiving claw into Steve's heart.

Breathe.

Steve coughs and straightens a bit.

Eleven’s hand falls away.

“It’s okay," he grinds out, something in his chest and throat easing slightly as he pushes though. "I just, uh, got caught up in a fact-finding mission.”

“Who did this?” Mike asks. His brow is furrowed in a glare Steve recognizes from Nancy as a Wheeler Family Pout™, and he seems furious on Steve’s behalf.

“It’s not important," Steve says, desperate to control this line of questioning before it takes on a new dimension. "I can deal with that later and it doesn’t really… it’s the other werewolves. The, uh, the Hargroves. They… um… they’re after us. Me and Dustin.”

The Party falls silent. Lucas stumbles back down the basement stairs with a box of Sesame Street-themed band-aids and immediately comes up short at the wall of tension in the room.

“What?" he asks, face falling. "What is it?”

“It’s…” Steve pauses, trying to come up with a way to explain. “The others wolves. They want us to join them. Their group.”

Another wave of quiet as everyone tries to process this. 

“That’s… that’s a good thing, right?” Mike asks after a moment, somewhat stymied by his lack of insider knowledge. “They can help you with the werewolf stuff and help us with the Thesselhydra.”

“It’s not…” Steve huffs in frustration. “It’s not like a Little League club, okay? It’s a pack. They’re like the Party... like a psychotic version of The Party. Once we join we can’t leave, and… it’s not… they’re not good. They’re not good.”

Dustin is looking at Steve with an uncharacteristic intensity. Steve gets the feeling that he’s trying to read his mind.

Steve isn’t a fool. He knows what Dustin is silently asking. Dustin, who has been ostracized and alone, cut off from any kind of pack from the moment he first turned. Who was told by his own extended family that he was an anomaly, a half-breed, an outcast.

The Hargrove Pack wants Steve and Dustin to join them. At the end of the day that's what this is all about. What happens to Steve and Dustin, the lost boys, the patchwork werewolves, the scrappy half-pack? How long can they keep going the way they are going, scrambling and guessing and hiding together in the shadows?

What are they, really, when the wolfsbane blooms?

Joining the Hargrove Pack might mean acceptance at long last, might mean protection, stability, a new family. Might mean they don’t have to be scared anymore, always watching their backs and waiting for the next surprise. Might mean they can learn and know and belong, finally.

Maybe, maybe, maybe…

Steve wants the Hargroves to be all those things, too, maybe even more than Dustin does. He doesn’t want to be the adult, doesn't want to be responsible for a bunch of kids, for a confused wolf pup, for holding the line against the all the horrors in the dark. He wants this burden lifted from his shoulders.

Billy was right, he was right, he was right… Steve is stupid and weak, and he isn’t up to this.

The wolf inside lets out a furious whine, all sorrow and rage, dangerously close to drowning in its confusion and pain.

He'd lasted five minutes, give or take. Five minutes against Billy Hargrove, fighting, yowling, clawing, and biting, before his strength had failed him. He'd slipped on the wet gravel, felt the raw agony of his flesh slicing open, and stumbled. 

Then: Billy... Billy, mate, mine, no...

Doubt. He'd felt doubt. 

How could he? How could he fight Billy?

BillyPrincessCheeseburgersFightingBasketballYeatsBalibteCoatSweatCumWoodSmokeBrownSugarLeatherBeerStoriesLighteningTouchFuckKissMouthCockBabyBilly...

MineMineMateBillyBillyBilly...

I love him.

That moment of hesitation had been his undoing. The other boy apparently had no such belated compunctions, and took full advantage of the opening.  

He was an idiot, a foolish, love-sick idiot, an utter moron to believe that he could have Billy without any sort of payment, without any kind of catch. That there wouldn't be something, something that Billy would want from him, something more than just Steve.

He was an idiot to think that anyone could just want him for himself in that way, without any hidden agenda, without a monster lurking underneath all the sweet words and loving touches. 

Steve had been shredded by Billy and had run away (been allowed to walk away, to act as a message, and warning – you’re next), carrying with him the heavy mantel of his inadequacy, of the shattered bond he'd thought he'd shared with his mate. He had crawled away to seek comfort and protection from his ragtag bunch of children.

From his pack.

Pack...

From his pack.

A pack looking at him expectantly, waiting to chew on this new problem. Waiting and willing and eager to help, to work it out and solve it, to do what’s best for each other.

Lucas has edged his way forward and is sitting next to Steve with his box of band-aids. He pulls out one with Big Bird stamped across it, and another one with a rainbow pattern. Without a word, he pulls them apart and applies them to a cut over Steve's left eye.

He moves carefully, almost tentatively, determined not to cause any more hurt. 

No.

No, the Hargrove Pack isn’t anything Steve wants, isn’t family.

The Hargrove Pack isn’t for them.

Steve and Dustin  already have a pack of their own.

Steve meets Dustin’s eyes and shakes his head a little, and that micro-expression seems to make up his mind.

“Fuck ‘em,” Dustin says, flatly. “We’re members of the Party. They want us, they’ll have to find us first.”

“And come through us,” Mike adds, vibrating with determination. “All of us.”

The Party nods as one.

Something like conviction, or maybe like faith, settles like a blanket over them all, tying them together in ways they cannot see and may never completely understand.

Eleven's hand finds Mike's.

“So, what do we do?” asks Lucas, taking another bandage out of the box. “How do we make them go away?”

"I'm not sure it's that easy," Steve sighs in frustration. “They're a family that lives here. We can't just tell them to move."

That is an unfortunate fact. The others shuffle uneasily and wrack their brains for a way around it. 

But... actually, that's not a fact. That's Steve's opinion.

The wolf has a different one, and when it suggests it, Steve doesn't reject it out of hand. He buries his knee-jerk reaction, his fumbling human morality, and lets himself turn it over in his head a few times before verbalizing it.

"We…uh… we may have to kill the head werewolf,” he says, and strangely, he is not as repulsed by the thought of Neil Hargrove's head on a spike as he perhaps should be. 

Lucas looks at Steve for a long moment and then whoops.

“I knew it!”

“Yeah…” Mike chews out, sighing deeply.

“‘Oh, no Lucas… that only happens in movies, Lucas… werewolves aren’t vampires, Lucas’. I KNEW it, I TOLD you!”

“Yes, alright, you were right. The point is…”

“I KNEW it!”

“YES," Steve barks. "So, as I was saying…the head werewolf...”

“Right, yes. Okay."

"The wolves in the pack follow the head werewolf," Steve continues. "The Alpha."

"They do that in regular wolf packs, too," Dustin nods. "Wait, so werewolves have Alphas?"

Steve shrugs wearily. "I guess. And the rest of the wolves do what the Alpha tells them. The Alpha is the need we need to worry about - he's our best shot of getting them off our backs. So, if we want the wolves to go away... I guess we..." Steve can't finish that sentence. It's too awful. He hedges. "...Or at least make life bad enough for him that he has to leave us alone."

The room falls silent as the daunting impossibility of their task rises up before them.

This could be a war. A war on two fronts, because let's not forget the other monster waiting out their in the woods... and it's not a game, not D&D in Mike's basement.

What if they fail?

What if they win?

FuckSteve thinks.

Inside, his wolf paces and envisions blood running black in the pale moonlight.

"Full moon's tomorrow," Will says, quietly.

 

 

 

The Camaro screeches up in front of the Hargrove house, nearly knocking over the mailbox as it grinds to a halt. Billy stumbles out, carrying his own colorful display of war wounds and running on an otherworldly amount of adrenaline.

Slow down, pupWhere's the fire?

Billy ignores his grandfather's voice in his head urging caution and the ripping raw pain in his heart that tells him he has ruined everything. Instead he rides the echoes of his earlier furious violence. He tears up the front lawn and nearly rips the front door off its hinges getting it open.

Susan lets out a startled noise between a gasp and a shriek. She is standing in the doorway of the kitchen and one of her hands flutters worriedly over her chest.

"Billy, what on earth..."

"Dad?" Billy snaps out. "Where is he?"

"Out with his... friends. He said you were bringing someone back. Billy, you're bleeding..."

"Nobody's coming, Susan," Billy grinds out, turning before he can see the way her face falls. He knows it does, anyway, can sense her disappointment and dread. They're dim shadows of his own emotions. There will be no homecoming, no celebration, no bonding, no Steve. Not tonight.

Billy has failed. In every possible way, he has failed.

Now it's time for damage control.

"Where's Max?" 

"Is in her room... why...?"

Billy doesn't answer. He heads to Max's room, heart pounding in his ears and drowning out any rational thought, effectively silencing all of his better, more sensible angels. If Neil was here he would give him a smack for being disrespectful, on top of all the other punishments Billy has no doubt earned.

Neil isn't here, however.

Nobody is home...

Nobody is coming.

"Billy!"

He doesn't knock. He bursts through the closed door to find Max with one leg out of the window. Probably going to her friends, maybe just trying to get away from Billy and Susan and Neil and all that they represent.

He yanks her back inside roughly, one hand ripping the skateboard from her grip as he does so.

"No," he growls lowly.

Max, without any sense of self-preservation, tries to jerk her arm out of his grasp. Half-wild with fear and anger, she gasps out a jumble of words at him.

"You have to... you need to let me... they're my friends... they don't care that I'm not a wolf..."

"Stop." Fear now, creeping in at the edges of the rage. "Stop talking."

"Billy, please! I'm not a wolf! Just let me..."

"No."

He swings around and tosses Max on her bed, then drops the skateboard on the floor at an angle. She can see what he means to do a brief second before he does it, but there's nothing she can do to stop him.

Billy brings his foot down hard. Max lets out a cry as his heavy boots connect with wood and the skateboard splinters in two, and she throws herself at him, arms flailing. She lands some punches, and with the hurts he's already sustained Billy does indeed feel them, but they're nothing to him now.

Nothing is anything to him now.

He wraps his arms around her, tugs her against his chest. She continues to fight, lashing out, her body growing limp and weary even though her fury continues unabated. The siblings twist together in an fractured embrace.

He's trying to protect her.

She's trying to hurt him.

It's for her own good. Everything, all of it. He does all these terrible things to her and for her because he cares about her.

He loves her, and his father, and Steve.

He loves, and love is pain. 

 

 

 

“There’s... um," Steve starts, pauses, tries again. "There’s something else.”

The words come out quiet... they are for Dustin's ears only as they sit in a corner of the Wheeler's basement, a little away from the others.

The Party is on the verge of breaking up for the night. They have come up with a plan, a stupid, brilliant, plan that should at least get them through the next 48 hours, fingers crossed, and now sleep beckons.

Steve feels hazy, lulled by the warmth of the basement and the low chatter of well-known voices, the soft light and familiar smells. He has every intention of sleeping down here tonight, sprawled out on the couch while Eleven curls up in her sleeping bag in her little tent a few feet away. Besides the fact that it is probably wildly unsafe to go back to his empty house tonight, he has no idea how he's supposed to get there in his condition. Better to stay here.

Nancy will be home soon, too. He wants to talk to her.

He tries to focus on his aches and pains but even they are easing now, scaling back into a familiar dull throb. He latches on instead to the wound in his heart and the doubt in his soul, and that brings him back to the present.

“What is it?”

Dustin looks up at Steve with worried eyes and not for the first time Steve nearly falters in telling him. It’s probably nothing, and he probably shouldn’t say it… but Dustin should know. He has the right to know.

“I kind of… shifted.”

Dustin blinks at him. “Shifted…? Shifted! You shifted!? You can shift now?”

Steve shakes his head. “I didn’t mean to do it. When I was fighting with Billy he said some things... I was angry and it just sort of happened. I only managed to hold it for a few minutes, and then it sort of flickered in and out.”

He stretches out an arm and tries to focus. Do something, he demands, but nothing happens. No fur sprouts out of his pores and his fingernails resolutely do not lengthen into claws. He does try to force a change, to replicate that earlier feeling, but all he can see is the dried blood and dirt caked on his skin.

He's unable to hold his hand steady and quickly drops it to hide the fact that he is still shaking.

He's going to need to wash up better before he sleeps tonight.

Dustin kindly does not call attention to the shaking. Instead, he frowns, puzzled by Steve's story. “I thought it was supposed to be about control?”

“I don’t have it under control,” Steve admits, tugging his arm closer to his chest and ignore the ripple of pain that movement causes. “I don’t… I don’t know what happened. It… it started out with me being angry and then it turned into a kind of defense thing. I just reacted. Badly, I guess. It wasn't a choice.”

Dustin mulls this over. Steve tunes in to the conversation happening across the room just in time for Lucas to mention the name 'Max' in a fervent tone of voice. He feels another dagger-sting of pain in his chest, and wonders how on earth he still has anything left inside of himself for that.

“I’m sorry, Dustin," he says.

Dustin shakes his head in bemusement. “What? Why?”

“I’m not…” Steve growls lowly at himself. “I wish I was better at this. I should be better at this. I don’t know why I can’t control it. We’re going out to do literally the stupidest thing ever tomorrow and I can’t get my head in the game.”

“It’s not basketball, Steve,” Dustin rolls his eyes. “Maybe you’re trying too hard. Maybe you’re overthinking it.”

Jeesh, Steve winces internally as the words trigger memories of Billy, change the record already.

“Does that seem like me? Overthinking something?”

To Steve’s surprise Dustin doesn’t take the bait and make the obvious jibe. Instead, he considers his question seriously. He pushes his baseball cap back on his head, then forward again, and furrows his brow thoughtfully.

“Maybe. Sometimes you don’t think things through at all, but sometimes when you’re doing chemistry problems you get it right the first time and then go back and change your answer because you think you’re wrong. What do you do in basketball?” Dustin asks.

“I thought this wasn’t a game.”

“I’m serious.”

“I don’t know man. I think about it, I guess. I know who’s open or whatever… when to pass and when to shoot.”

“Okay, but you’re not sitting down and thinking about it. And you’re also not not thinking…”

“You know what, forget I asked, this is too…”

“Instinct!” Dustin proclaims suddenly. “You act on instinct.”

Steve mulls this over. “Isn’t that the same as not thinking?”

“Not exactly. It's something you've trained yourself to do or do because part of you has always really understood it. It’s doing something you already know is right.”

Something I already know is right.

But I don’t know what’s right anymore. Billy was right, everything about Billy felt right…but then he let me down. Let me down like others did. And I couldn't fix it, I couldn't change it. I’m not good enough, and I don’t know what’s right.

“I trust you, Steve,” Dustin says when Steve doesn't immediately answer.

Steve knows he does.

Tonight, for better or worse, they've made their decision about what their pack is going to be. No Alpha, no hierarchy, no ancient laws and secret codes of behavior. Just a group of friends, a family. A... a party. 

And they are making a potentially life or death choice, all based on Steve's 'instinct'.

Dustin trusts him. They all do.

Well, Steve thinks with no humor at all. That's your first mistake.

 

Chapter Text

The looming full moon, that promised gift ripe with potential, has taken on new dimensions now.

Steve strips down to his boxers, carefully folds his clothes and stows them under a seat in the junkyard's broken down old school bus - now the Party's unofficial clubhouse. He goes outside of the dilapidated vehicle to wait for the sun to set. He hears the low murmurs of young voices talking behind and above him, but ignores them in favor of his own thoughts.

He sits on the dirt outside, leaning his back against the bus, and stares at the darkness creeping into the woods. His breaths come in tight and fast as he sucks in the cold air, but he forces himself to work through it, past it.

He remembers going to the quarry with Tommy once in the late autumn and swimming in the freezing black water there. So stupid. The water had been so cold it effectively killed all emotion, all thought. Steve had jumped in and immediately his entire self had been suspended, wiped away. He hadn't even had the presence of mind to be scared.

The shock can kill you if the water is cold enough. Can stop your heart. That hadn't stopped Steve, though. 

One of the poems in Billy's poetry book described it: first - chill - then stupor - then letting go. A great pain, and afterwards a formal feeling. 

This can't kill me, Steve thinks, studying the granite cliff face of his soul. It won't. I'll keep going. Why not? No choice, anyway. Air goes in, air go out, and I am, I am, I am still fucking here even though I should have disappeared like smoke the moment he turned on me.

Steve is worried, in a distant sort of way, because he doesn't feel much of anything now. The fervor of last night had flamed out into a numbing stupor, a kind of cynical nothingness.

This is not how he thought grief would be. He isn't even sure why he is grieving for someone who is still alive to reject him. Maybe he grieves for who he was, and who he will never be again. 

When Nancy broke up with him, he was a mess. He was emotional, he lashed out, he hurt himself and others. It was a storm, and then it was over.

This is different.

Steve blinks and tries to focus his mind on the matter at hand. 

There are two threats now, both of which are potential game-changers - the Thesselhydra and the Hargrove pack. Steve isn't quite sure which one he'd rather face down, but he'd been hoping that he'd at least have Billy by his side tonight. Obviously that was not going to happen.

The shady intel they had collected had, at best, painted a spotty picture. Mike counted it out that afternoon as they prepared to set out for the junkyard: "So it's Billy's dad, Max's mom, Billy..."

"Not Max. She can't shift, and even if she could, she wouldn't hurt us... would she?"

"Where is she?"

"I haven't seen her. She wasn't at the arcade."

"She's home. We biked past and saw her sitting on the front stoop..."

"Hey, hey, you did what?! I don't want you guys going anywhere near..."

"They didn't see us, it's okay..."

"There were also those other men, the ones I saw in the woods. They were all chummy with Mr. Hargrove."

"Wait... other men? What other men?!"

"Were they big?"

"Doesn't matter, man...if they're part of the Hargrove pack, they'll be wolves."

"Big wolves, though?"

"One of them was. They looked sick and gross, too, like you guys get before a full moon."

"Gee, thanks..."

More worries, more wild cards. Billy hadn't mentioned other pack members in any of their earlier conversations... come to think of it, Billy had barely mentioned his family and his home life at all. 

Gee, wonder why that was, Steve thinks with no amusement and no small amount of shame at his own lack of perception. Well, as of yesterday he could no longer live in blissful ignorance, like it or not.

He'd made some guesses and assumptions based on what Billy had said and done, and what the boys saw only confirmed them.

Alpha-asshole Hargrove is recruiting for his pack, but he seems to have a select kind of demographic in mind regarding who gets to join.

Steve shivers in the cold, glances down at his pale skin and smooth hands and thinks that he really is the opposite of Billy in every way. Pale and soft and naive and fragile and ordinary... and Billy has been strong and powerful all his life. Neil, too, only seems to want grown-ups of a certain type. In hindsight, the only shocking thing was that Billy stuck around as long as he did with a second-rate mate like Steve.

No wonder... no wonder... 

"It was all bullshit, Nancy," Steve had told her last night, curled up in the corner of the Wheeler's basement, voices quiet to avoid alerting her parents to his and Eleven's presence. She'd brought him ice packs and some weird crystal thing ("I read about it when I was researching werewolves, it's supposed to provide healing energy") when Mike told her what had happened. 

"What is, Steve?"

"All of it. Everything he said to me. About mates, about destiny, that he was in lo..."

He hadn't finished the sentence, but it hadn't mattered. 

In love, Steve. And you were, are, in love with him. 

"You don't believe that. Steve, you don't."

"Do me a favor, okay? Don't tell me what I believe. I believed him and I was wrong. I believed every bullshit fairy-tale he told me... but that's all it was. Made-up lies, a con game. I've got the picture now."

"Do you? Because it sounds to me like Billy cares about you enough to not want you hurt."

"He did hurt me... and since when are you Team Billy?"

"Since you became love's young dream when you got together with him. You both changed, Steve... you and Billy. I mean, I don't know him that well but he was like a different guy in school the whole time you were together. No, hold the crystal there and stop fidgeting..."

"Ouch! Alright! But that's the point, Nancy, he wasn't doing any of this for me, for us... he was doing this so I'd submit to his dad, so I'd be a better werewolf, so he wouldn't be ashamed to take me home like a trained poodle and make me the pack bitch in some werewolf cult... Ow! Hey!"

"Hold still, jeesh! Look, I'm not Team Billy. I want to kill him for hurting you... in fact, I've been looking up ways to do that for weeks now. But maybe it isn't as simple as all that. Maybe he really can't say no to his dad, either as a werewolf or as his son. I mean, you haven't even met his dad and you still want nothing to do with him. If that's what you feel, what must it be like for Billy?"

Steve's brain had stalled, then, and a thousand memories, blurred and half-forgotten, of bruises on Billy's skin, of casual comments, of missed or delayed meetings all come rushing back. Steve remembered the wistful, almost-lost look Billy got in the warehouse at the end of their dates as he lingered half a step behind as if to soak up every second of... of time. Of the peace that settled in their bones when they were together.

Steve had only been guessing - an educated guess, it's true, but still a guess - when he'd laid Billy's bruises at Neil's feet during their fight. Billy hadn't denied it. And Steve's been letting him go home all these weeks...

And he still chose that over you, a very nasty part of Steve hisses. He'd still rather be with his dad who beats him up than with you.

Why not? You can't protect him. He was right - you're nothing. 

You're a bad mate. A bad wolf. 

"Maybe he was trying to protect you, and himself, all this time. You've just been so happy, Steve. Even with everything that's been going on, Billy made you happy."

Steve swallowed and shook his head. He tried to keep his voice steady but the bitterness and guilt and looming horror crept in anyway.

"So what?" he croaked out. "I was happy with you and look how that turned out. Maybe we can all face up to the fact that none of this is about me being happy. And maybe that's not something I deserve, anyway."

"Steve..."

The truth hurts. Always. Steve has never known it to do otherwise.

Maybe that's why he's lied to himself for so long.

So there's that. Billy, and Billy's secret pain, and what Steve does or does not deserve. These things turn and twist in Steve's brain, and he chews on them until he can't bear it anymore. Unanswered questions, unresolved issues. Him and me.

It's more than just that, though. 

Steve's world had started changing before he ever met Billy Hargrove. 

And now... now Steve doesn't want to submit.

He's past that, beyond that. He's hurt and scared, but that doesn't mean he's just going to lay down and take it.

Maybe 'King Harrington' would have been that guy, the one to run away, to take the easy way out.

Steve Harrington, however, is not that guy.

There's anger now, a deep, righteous anger burning in his gut, and his wolf feels a profound disgust at the idea of submission. He's not going to kowtow to a bully. He's not going to bend like that to anybody.

There is a fatalism born of grief and rejection that has settled in his bones, and, as awful as it is, there is something profoundly freeing about suddenly, perhaps for the first time in his life, having absolutely nothing to prove to anyone.

You want me, you'll have to get me first.

His wolf is itching to get out. It's felt like it was dying these last twenty-four hours...

The Party had decided that staying as a group near the junkyard would be their best strategic position. Will left half and hour ago for his secret mission with Jonathan and Nancy, chosen for this particular task because Mike needs to stay with Eleven and because Lucas needs to to take point with his Wrist Rocket. Steve never wanted to use Eleven or any of the kids as weapons, but just for tonight he is very, very glad that their eclectic talents are on his side.

It's good to have an ace in the hole, even if, as Mike mentioned with a note of concern in his voice, Eleven's been sleeping a lot more lately.

Getting nosebleeds, too.

Well, she can't be any more unreliable than Steve is at this point. 

Steve sighs and squeezes his eyes shut, and he's so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he doesn't hear Dustin come out and sit beside him. That extrasensory part of him, the part that always seems to know where Dustin is, still lets him know that his pack-mate is close.

"Doesn't hurt so bad this time," Dustin murmurs in a low voice, dropping down next to Steve.

"No."

It's true, the pre-shift aches in his head and body weren't as bad today. Of course, Steve is already in pain, so it's hardly like more agony can fully register. He'd healed up from Billy's beat-down relatively quickly, but the marks and bruises are still there. He can feel Dustin glance at them, but the younger boy doesn't say anything about it and Steve is grateful.

"All set?" he asks, gaze flicking up to the roof of the bus where he knows the kids are digging in, setting up a miniature fortress made of scrap metal.

Dustin nods and turns to look at the quiet woods. "Think they'll come?"

"Yeah, I do. Or else it's all bullshit, I've completely misunderstood everything, broken up with my boyfriend and wrecked my life for nothing."

"You haven't, Steve," Dustin says. "What about your wolf? What does it say?"

"Man, I wish I had the direct line to this thing like everyone else seems to. It doesn't talk to me like it does to you, Dustin... it's..."

"Does it think you're wrong?"

To that, Steve has no answer. The wolf paces inside, hurting, watching, waiting for its moment. Yesterday it was ready to join the Hargrove pack, and then it was ready to tear out Billy's throat, and then it felt like it was going to try to eat Steve up from the inside out.

If he had to put it into words, he'd say the wolf is hungry... but he can't say for what, exactly.

I'llEatYouUpI'llEatYouUpI'llEatYouUpI'llEatYouUp... 

I love you so, Steve fills in himself, wearily.

The wolf paces and paces. It waits. It is quiet but it is not still.

Never still.

"What's it going to do tonight when it sees Billy?" Dustin presses as darkness falls over the junkyard.

Steve doesn't have an answer for that one, either.

 

 

 

The full moon rises, and Neil Hargrove is in a rage. 

Max has failed to shift. Again.

In his wolf form he pants and stares her down as she remains stubbornly human, standing at the edge of the woods with her arms crossed. Only when Susan nips lightly at his foot does he realize he is baring his teeth at her and making a low, threatening noise in the back of his throat.

He bats Susan away, a bit rougher than necessary, and turns his back on the girl before he really loses control. 

If that wasn't enough, Billy has failed to bring the rogue wolves to heel. Worse still, he was bested in a fight with that damned bitten wolf, that mate of his.  

His son isn't there for the shift. He's barely been home at all since last night. Neil sent him out almost immediately after returning from his shameful scuffle with his tail between his legs. He'd given him a clear directive to find his mate and force him to submit.

In spite of this, Billy slinks into the woods in his wolf form a few minutes after the moon rises, alone, his head lowered. Billy doesn't need words to convey the fact that his mission was a failure.

Neil doesn't need words to make his displeasure clear.

Disappointment abounds. It runs fast and ragged through each and every member of the pack and twists into something darker and more dangerous inside.

The other two, Wyatt and Earl, pace anxiously. They can sense Neil's anger, cold and powerful, but it has not yet been directed at them. Both men suffered terribly with their first change - it's not at all like doing partial shifts on your own - and are in no way eager for more pain to come their way.

Fortunately, Neil always has a plan. 

As Billy lies curled up on the ground, shaking and bleeding while Wyatt sniffs at him (a little too close, a little too intimately, and Neil will need to watch that... or use it to his advantage somehow), Neil drags out Harrington's coat from where he had stowed it earlier and prepares his pack for the hunt. 

Susan is standing by a still terribly human Max, herding her back to the house, and Neil would rip them both to shreds in a heartbeat if he thought it would do him any good. He needs to be patient... she'll shift, she will shift, he just...

Susan isn't going to come with them, so Neil rounds up the others, pushing a staggering, slowly healing Billy to his feet, and uses the coat to start off the tracking process. Earl is the first to pick up the scent and soon they are running through the forest in hot pursuit of Billy's mate.  

They find a few dead ends - a warehouse, a few spots in the woods - but soon enough they find an unmistakable live trail. Earl leads and Wyatt takes point while Neil keeps Billy close, no more than two steps away at all times.

The moon rises quickly and lights their way to the edge of a abandoned and isolated junkyard.

 

 

 

Will walks quietly to the edge of the Hargrove's front yard and pauses there. He takes in the house, dark except for one or two lights, and the cars parked in the drive way. The whole street feels like it's asleep. In the distance, Will hears the McEwan's dog barking.

He is on his secret mission. He is searching for something, trying to see anything that might give him an idea of what is waiting inside. He wishes, not for the first time, that they had thought to give Max a walkie-talkie before her stepdad put her on lock-down and made it impossible for them to get to her.

That would have made a jail-break so much easier.

"Anything?" Nancy whispers a few feet behind him. She clutches something close to her chest and peers into the darkness, trying to discern shapes in the shadows.

"Something, maybe..." Will closes his eyes and reaches out with his Sight. "In the woods. Close." He throws a glance at the jar in her hands. "Maybe start there first? Backyard?"

Nancy swallows and nods. She glances over her shoulder to where Jonathan is waiting in the car a few houses down. Will can feel his brother's anxiety from here. Nancy, on the other hand, seems strangely calm.

"We'll go together," Will says, quietly. "Max's room is on the side of the house."

He wraps a hand around the cuff of her coat sleeve and together the two of them tip-toe around the house. Will needs to force himself to breathe and not jump at distant noises and rustling. He's glad Nancy and Jonathan are here.

The light is on in Max's room and Will releases Nancy's coat and nods silently to her. She swallows again and moves carefully towards the backyard, unscrewing the top of her jar and scooping out something that makes Will want to sneeze. He watches for a moment as she sprinkles some on the ground, working methodically. 

All of Nancy's research on what could help and harm werewolves, and what she'd come up with was something that seemed to be mostly Cayenne pepper. Still, if it messed with the Hargrove pack's noses like it was supposed to Will wasn't going to question it.

He climbs up on a loose brick and knocks quietly on Max's window. He can see part of her room through the glass and within a moment she is there, throwing up the sash and staring at him with no small amount of shock.

"What the hell?! Will!"

"Hey!" Will grins up at her. 

"What the hell are you doing here? Are you nuts?!"

Will shrugs. "Are you alone?"

"Sort of. Mom's shifted, she's in the woods. There's no one else in the house. What the fuck, Will...?"

"I'm here to get you out. Rescue mission."

"Rescue mission," she repeats, shifting quickly from surprise back to her usual skepticism.

"Well, I mean..." Will flounders slightly. Really, Lucas should be here, or Mike. They're better at coming up with stories and explanations. "Your dad..."

"Stepdad."

"Right, your stepdad kind of wants to take Steve and Dustin away, and also Billy beat Steve up... so we're not going to be joining your pack, and we're going to try to make it so that they don't come after us." Will bites his lower lip and considers what he is going to say next very carefully. "We're probably going to need to hurt them both to make them leave us alone."

Max stands and stares at him. After a moment she folds her arms over her chest and gives him a miserable half-shrug.

"What do you want, then?" she asks, voice flat and just a little sad.

"Well... we were talking it over and we just thought that we'd never really heard from you about who's side you want to be on. I mean, probably you want to be with your family but we didn't want to assume... it's your choice. It should be your choice... you should be able to do what you want to do. So I came over here to ask. Because, like, you've done Thesselhydra patrol with us, and you beat Dustin in Dig Dug, and you even stayed with us through Lucas's cheesy jokes so... we kind of all think of you as a member of the Party. And when a Party member requires assistance, we... I mean..."

Will is painfully aware of the time constraints they are under, but looking at Max now he feels like he is holding something incredibly fragile in his hands. Maybe it is because he cannot read her expression. Her face is blank, but her eyes are wide and staring at him with a strange intensity.

"Do you want to come?" he asks, finally. "Lucas said he thought you might not be safe here. You can stay with me or Mike until all of this is over. You're our friend, whatever happens."

For a long moment Max doesn't do anything. She doesn't move and she doesn't speak, and Will wonders if maybe he's gotten it all wrong, if she's about to punch him or call for her mother or...

She takes a quick step forward and throws her arms around him. It's awkward through the window, and it's almost as though she is trying to pull him through the opening and into her room, but once Will reorients himself he realizes that this is unmistakably a hug.

It's over quickly and Max steps back again, freckled skin going bright red as a bewildered Will slides awkwardly back out of the window. He coughs, silently promises never to mention this to Lucas, and nods with a confidence he doesn't feel.

"Okay, right. Do you need to bring anything? Shoes? We should hurry..."

Max's face lights up and she moves towards her desk, her closet, her book bag, but then the joy vanishes as reality comes crashing back. She stops suddenly in place. 

"What? What is it?"

"I..." Max rocks forward and back on her bare feet, uncertain. "I don't..."

I don't. I shouldn't. I can't. 

Max knows this feeling very well. It has governed so much of her life and been part of every decision, every mistake she has ever made. And she's not a fool. She knows what her mistakes have cost in the past - Neil and Billy have both made sure of that.

It will be very dangerous for her if she leaves.

It may be just as dangerous for her if she stays.

Tonight Neil had almost... and Max had felt a bit of pretense, a bit of pretend between the two of them strain and threaten to snap. That little bit of make-believe had been the only thing keeping her safe from the full force of Neil's naked ambition, and now it was evaporating away rapidly. If Neil doesn't think she's useful he will hurt her. On the other hand, if he thinks he can capitalize on her value he could still hurt her. After all, her supposed usefulness hadn't protected her in California.

And her mom just stood by and let it happen.

Mom.

Mom is still out there, she thinks, and it shouldn't matter, it shouldn't make any difference when it all comes down to it, but it does. It does matter. Stay or go...? And what happens to Mom if you make the wrong choice?

"Max..."

"Will!" 

A third voice breaks through the darkness, and Will instantly jumps down from the window, fear racing through him. Jonathan was the look-out, he wasn't supposed to leave the car, and if he's out here that means...

Suddenly Jonathan is tearing around the side of the house, Nancy two steps behind him.

And, behind her, a howling, snarling thing is coming at them at full speed.

"Will, run!"

The three take off as Susan Mayfair follows in hot pursuit. They are forced to go in the wrong direction, away from the car, and the wolf cuts them off before they can loop around house on the other side or go back the way the came. Will can distantly hear Max yelling something but it doesn't slow her mother down.

They have no choice, no way out.

They take off for the woods in a panic.

 

 

 

For a moment each wolf in the Hargrove pack thinks they have made a mistake. They creep into the junkyard and they can feel an artificial stillness in the air, a tension. It sets off plenty of alarm bells... but they don't see their prey right away.

There are numerous conflicting scents - it's an area full of garbage, after all - and too many noises from the surrounding area to pin anything down. They pause, trying to get their bearings, and Wyatt and Earl, still reeling from their first transformation and restrained only by the iron grip of their Alpha, share a vibrating feeling of unease.

Billy is only barely holding on to himself, still wrecked in both body and heart. He hardly recognizes himself, and feels rather like he is hovering a few feet above everything, utterly divorced from it. He has never felt like this as a shifted wolf, and if he were more together he'd probably be truly afraid.

Only Neil seems relatively calm. His anger has a target now, and he is going to go a-hunting.

As it turns out, they don't need to look too hard for their prize.

The other wolves are not trying to hide.

A low huffing noise and a soft crunch of leaves, and then an unmistakable shape steps around the edge of an old school bus, followed by a miniature version of the same creature. They pad slowly into the bright, cold moonlight and turn to face the intruders.

The Hargrove pack meets Steve Harrington and Dustin Henderson at last. 

The larger wolf with the chocolate-brown coat stands still, watchful, and Neil knows immediately who it is. The smell he had picked up from Billy's coat hits him, heady and sweet, as Billy's mate stares him down, looking at the assembled pack with polite disinterest, as if they are guests who have just about overstayed their welcome. 

The small, dark ball of fluff behind him paces, jittery and anxious, and Steve turns for just a moment to nudge the pup with his nose, quieting him gently. In doing so, he shows everyone his throat, but it is not a submissive gesture, not an attempt to placate the Alpha.

No... it is so casually done, as if for all the world Steve Harrington does not care who is standing in front of him. As if the Hargrove pack is not even there, not even a threat. 

Billy cannot hold back a whimper, and everyone there understands why.

The wolf stands tall, calm, alone except for the sweet, energetic pup weaving between his legs. He looks proud and powerful, framed there against the pale moonlight, yet his power is unmarred by rage and violence. There is a kind of tranquility in him, but no docility. This is no tamed pet, but rather a wild spirit. The beginning of things.

Even those members of the Hargrove pack who have been wolves all their lives must pause at the sight of something that seems to so fully embody what it means to run in the woods in the dark sacred night, to have the crackle-smell of pine and blood in your nose, to feel the thrill of the hunt racing like lightning through your soul. 

The wolf looks free.

He is beautiful.

Neil understands why Billy wants him so badly.

The thought does not quiet his anger. It only makes it worse.

There are whispers, soft sounds that draw his attention away, and Neil looks up to see several sets of eyes staring down at him from the roof of a dilapidated school bus.

Witnesses. There are humans here, human children, watching...

Neil snarls. He feels that unfortunate kind of upset... the kind that tells him that he needs to correct things. To take these things he sees and bend them, break them, shape them to fit into his mold, to bury them beneath his weight.

Starting with Billy's unfortunate mate.

The snarl shifts into an unmistakable demand, a command, and all the wolves in the clearing shuffle in place, sensing the change in the air. 

Steve digs his paws into the ground, ready to draw a charge.

Billy would laugh if he could, if his heart wasn't shattering in his chest.

Neil takes a step forward, but a movement he sees out of the corner of his eye stops him.

From the top of the bus a boy wearing an Army-issue bandanna stands quickly, lifts his arms, and pulls back what looks like an elaborate slingshot. Something hard and sharp hits Neil in the nose before he can process what is happening... and it hurts. Neil is momentarily stunned, stumbles, looks down to see a jagged stone at his feet.

He hears Wyatt yelp and turns to see a trickle of blood coming from his left eye where the little shit from the roof had hit him. 

He snarls, alarmed. His attention snaps back to the bus and he moves towards it, ready to climb up and get the child.

He is distracted, however, when a dark streak of fur tears past him and latches itself to Billy's leg, biting hard and tipping over the already-shaken wolf. Billy flails, but the pup just digs his teeth in deeper and refuses to let go. 

Neil is about to move somewhere - anywhere - when he feels it. They all do, all the wolves - they feel it in their gut before it touches them anywhere else. And then suddenly a force, invisible, is lifting Neil up and tossing him into the side of a rusty old car.

Earl, who is skittering around and trying to get out of the way of the stones which are still falling, sees another child - a boy, he thinks, with close shaved hair - wave its arm and send Neil flying. His sharp nose picks up a smell like ozone and burning pine and some other thing he could never in a million years describe.

He doesn't have time to think about it before the invisible force is lifting him, too, and throwing him across the clearing like a child's toy. Wyatt follows soon after, bleeding and enraged, landing in a furry lump next to Earl.

Neil is up almost immediately and moving straight for Steve.

Billy, unwilling to use his claws on the pup, finally manages to dislodge Dustin and throw him a few feet away. Dustin bounces back instantly, but before he can attack again Steve is growling and moving between him and the others, shielding him with his body.

That means that he takes the full brunt of Neil's attack in his side. Teeth and claws break the skin and sink in.

Neil feels another tug from the invisible force and another rock hits him, this time in the ear, but the force only moves him a few feet back and he is too angry now to worry about the projectile. He tackles Steve again, searching for flesh, but the younger wolf rolls and twists and manages to wriggle free. 

Earl and Wyatt climb to their feet and move back towards the fighting, and Billy staggers and watches for an opening. Earl turns and looks like he's going to climb the side of the bus, and Steve feels a thrill of fear when he sees this.

He lets out a howl and slashes across Neil face with his claws. He hits his mark and sends Neil reeling away.

Steve distantly hears a low groan and recognizes it as Eleven. He glances up and sees her half hanging from her perch on the bus's roof, pale and drawn and bleeding from both nostrils.

She's clearly at the end of her strength, and much sooner than any of them had anticipated.

Steve's rush of protectiveness and concern is abruptly cut short as the pause leaves him open to a last swipe from Neil and then a desperate snap of the jaw from Wyatt. Steve ducks, manages to catch only a bit of Wyatt's teeth as Billy dives towards him, finally knocking him down. Dustin pounces again, but Wyatt grabs him easily and sinks his teeth into his side.

Fuck!

"Dustin," Mike screams from somewhere over Steve's head. "Abort! Abort!"

Eleven lets out one more weak push which sends Billy and Wyatt tumbling out of the way, and then Lucas takes up the slack with his Wrist Rocket and manages to nail Neil right in the ribs.

Dustin stumbles for a moment, stunned with pain, before he gets the message. Eleven is tapped out and the situation is unraveling rapidly. He nips Steve's leg lightly and takes off for the woods with the older wolf close behind. 

The distraction of Eleven's last push and Lucas's continuing barrage is enough to give them a sizable head start, and Steve can only pray that the Hargroves come for him and Dustin and not the others. He gets his wish, unfortunately, and soon enough the pack is on their tails again. Wyatt is limping and half-blind, but the others are energized and crazed with frustration and anger, Neil in particular.

Dustin isn't afraid.

He knows these woods. He's gone camping here in the summer, walked the train tracks as far as he could go, built forts and played endless games in the narrow spaces between these very trees. He knows this place.

And this place recognizes him, too. 

He runs, runs fast, faster... runs until his lungs feel like they are going to explode. He darts through leaves, through puddles, past burrowing animals. The moon sends cold breaths of strength into his lungs and he keeps going and going.

He loses his pursuers.

The trees see the young wolf run.

They watch and shake their branches and then they hide Dustin Henderson away. He curls up and waits, safely burrowed in a nook, until the dawn comes.

Steve runs. 

The pain in his heart has crystallized into something... Dustin showed him a geode once, back when the kid was going through his geology phase. That's the image that springs to mind, a collection of sharp, unforgiving points glittering dangerously inside of an innocuous stone. 

It doesn't help that his wolf side is so torn, so confused. If Steve thought he might have appealed to Billy's good graces, he was obviously mistaken, but that doesn't make the wolf's perception of his mate's betrayal any easier to deal with. The desire to submit (to Billy, to Neil... yes, even to Neil, the wolf recognizes hierarchy and Alphas by instinct if not by sentiment) wars with the animal's desire to dominate, and the desire for mate complicates both inclinations even more. 

Fortunately, the need for freedom is the one which both Steve and his wolf can agree on, and his decision-making process is quickly subsumed by this overwhelming drive to run. Whatever else happens, Steve will keep himself and his pack out of the Hargroves' clutches tonight.

As he runs he grows aware of the stillness of the woods around him and of his own pounding heartbeat. He follows the train tracks and then veers off towards a dense patch of forest, nose tuned to pick up both the Hargroves and the curiously absent Thesselhydra.

He picks up some conflicting scents, and moves as best he can downwind from where the rival pack is searching. 

He reaches a familiar ridge, one that dips down before dropping sharply towards a creek bed. Steve races along the edge of the drop, calculating his chances and pondering the safest route. He doesn't want to go too far into the woods, but perhaps some creative navigation would help him lose his pursuers.

Best to keep moving... but also he doesn't want to spend all his strength right away... 

He slows slightly, just to catch his breath...

Out of nowhere, Billy roars and slams into him, coming at him hard from the side. Steve doesn't have a hope in hell of keeping his balance, and they both tumble over the edge of the ridge and down the steep incline, firmly wrapped around each other.

They are close - too close - and Steve can smell the smoky sweetness of Billy's scent. He digs his claws in as they roll and Billy lets out a yelp and responds in kind. Their shared embrace is brutal, fed by the sheer pain and anger in both of them. 

Neither of them sees the thick tree waiting at the bottom of the hill, and when they do it is too late.

They crash into the unforgiving solidity of wood and the force of the hit rips them apart. They both go flying, landing hard on the cold ground.

Steve loses consciousness for a moment.

 

The world goes still.

 

The moon watches from far away. Its light is reflected back on the ice of the frozen creek bed.

 

Everything comes back in pieces, in broken glass shards.

 

Steve slowly opens his eyes.

The gray-blackness recedes.

He blinks once, twice, a third time. He see dirt and leaves and bark. He rolls over slowly - it feels like his whole body is a giant bruise - and looks up at the moon. 

She looks down on him, cold and distant. Waiting to answer a question he doesn't know how to ask.

He forces himself up, though he doesn't know how he does it. He has no idea where his legs are, but somehow they managed to straighten under him and in more or less the correct way for standing upright. He feels dizzy and sick but it doesn't matter.

He wants Billy. He wants him so much it hurts, and he doesn't care if it's wrong. None of the other stuff matters at all.

He scrambles desperately as his vision clears, trying to pinpoint where the other wolf is. 

A lump of sand-colored fur lays stretched out a few feet away, and Steve's heart stops and at the same times feels something like an electric jolt zap it awake again. He drags himself over to his mate and presses his body against him.

He's here. He's here.

He's alive. He's out cold.

Steve calms slightly, sniffs him, checks him over. He's hurt, but not seriously. There are layers of hurt, remnants of wounds inflicted by Steve and by something else. Steve's wolf feels a kind of possessive madness at the sight.

It's not good, but it's not bad.

It can be fixed.

Bite him. The wolf's teeth itch horribly. End it.

How would that help?

It wouldn't.

Who cares? Burn it down.

Claim him.

If you bite him he's yours. He belongs to you if you bite him and claim him. He said so.

 

If you bite him now you can break him and keep him forever and ever and ever and ever and...

 

Who thinks that horrible thought?

Who wants that horrible thing?

Is it Steve... or the wolf... or both... or neither...? 

Is Steve really that monstrous?

He feels a revulsion so profound that it staggers him for a moment, and all of him - Steve and the wolf and whatever wretched Jiminy Cricket is in his heart pulling the strings - threatens to shake apart until he shatters.

The horrible revelation hits him that Billy did not bite him, and that he, Steve, cannot and will not bite Billy now.

Steve feels himself bend like a reed in the wind under the sheer impossibility of his and Billy's terrible love story. The thought of laying down on the ground next to his mate and never moving again suddenly has a nightmarish appeal.

I won't, I won't, I'm not that person. I would never take that away from him.

Broken and trapped.

I love him.

I don't want him like that.

And he doesn't want me.

Steve presses his nose against Billy's exposed throat, burying his face in familiar fur and shutting out the world for just a moment. Pretending, maybe... or maybe dreaming of another world, another life. He will allow himself this moment before he leaves this clearing, a battered, foolish creature carrying his own still-bleeding heart in his chest because he refuses to rip it out and leave it behind.

Always, always, he will carry his broken heart and Billy. There will never be anyone else for Steve Harrington. No matter what.

There's a long scratch on Billy's shoulder, oozing blood. Steve laps at it, cleaning the wound gently. Billy huffs quietly, still knocked out but soothed even in sleep by the presence of his love. 

A howl breaks through the cold air, and Steve looks up.

He should go. He's going. He'll loop around and see if he can find anyone, and if any of the kids are still trapped on the bus he'll lead the wolves away. They want him and Dustin more than the rest of the Party - when they ran the Hargrove pack had followed. They hadn't even hesitated. 

Billy lets out a noise somewhere between a huff and a growl and twitches at Steve's feet. Steve can't help but feel a quiet warmth in his chest at the sight. Even unconscious he's a combative asshole.

Steve looks down at him, memorizing his face, and then takes off into the dark woods.

 

 

 

Dawn comes soon enough. For Earl Straub's money, it would have been better if the previous night never happened, if he had never met Neil Hargrove in that bar, if he never accepted the bite, if he had never been born at all.

The day before was all pain and misery, dulled slightly by Earl's habitual haze of inebriation and underscored by Wyatt's constant complaints and Neil's cold admonishments.

The shift had been... well, Earl didn't really have the vocabulary for it. Or for the confusing mess that happened after.

He pulls himself out of the pile of leaves he had crashed in last night, idly scratching away what mud and blood he could and shivering violently in the cold. Being a werewolf is not as fun or glamorous as he thought it would be, and he wishes more than anything that he hadn't told Neil about Billy and the Harrington boy. Steve Harrington was a good kid, even if he was a rich brat, and Earl doesn't like the fact that he has spent a whole night as a furry woodland creature fighting someone young enough to be his child.

He wants to go home, even if home is just a dinky apartment in town, and forget that any of this ever happened.

If only he could find his way out of these damn woods.

His thoughts, such as they are, are cut off by the sound of something stumbling and cursing not far off. Earl sniffs the air cautiously and follows the scent to his friend, who is sitting with his back against a fallen log and glaring at the surrounding trees like they have personally offended him.

Earl plops down gracelessly next to Wyatt and wraps his thin arms around his naked body. He's cold and he desperately wants a couple (dozen) shots of whiskey and to sleep for about two years, but in lieu of that finding a familiar face out here is some kind of comfort.

"How's the eye?" he asks, conversationally.

"Eye's fine," Wyatt snarls. It doesn't look fine - it's heavily bruised and oozing blood and gunk - but Earl knows better than to say that. "When I get my hands on those little shit stains I'm going to rip out their spines through their throats."

Earl doesn't doubt it. He shrugs and says, casually, "Wonder what Neil'll do now."

"Who gives a shit?" Wyatt scratches at his leg, hard enough to draw blood. Earl's horribly sensitive wolf nose picks up on the iron tang. It makes him feel slightly queasy.

God, he wants a drink. He'd cut off his own hand for a drink.

"It was a clusterfuck last night," Wyatt says. "It should never have fucking gone down that way. Those fuckers should be at the bottom of the quarry this morning... and maybe Neil with 'em."

Because it's Wyatt, and because Earl is a new wolf with very little sense of pack loyalty, he doesn't verbally question the other man's openly rebellious attitude. It is not unexpected, and Earl knows that he doesn't need to say anything either way. He will go with the strongest force, as always. If only his wolf wasn't so worryingly unconcerned with self-preservation, wasn't so preoccupied with what it had seen last night.

His wolf... it had wanted the brown wolf. Steve Harrington. Billy's mate. It had seen the wolf and stopped dead and felt the world suddenly shift into focus.

It wanted... to follow. To protect, maybe. He just looked so... he looked like... why was it so hard to explain?

He looked like before, says a voice which is not quite Earl's wolf. Actually, it sounds a little like his mother. He'd looked like a time before now, before everything, before you became what you are. He looked like before... and beyond. Like something new, and something ancient.

Like that sense of peace you get sometimes when you're all alone in the woods, just you and the earth and the sky. Like a secret truth.

He looked like a wolf.

Earl knows what Wyatt wants. Wyatt wants to kill Steve. Kill Steve, take Billy. Wyatt has never said it out loud, but despite appearances Earl isn't stupid. Every morning when he wakes up (or rather pulls himself out of the boozy fog he slides into every night) and sees that both Wyatt and Billy are still there, he breathes a quiet sigh of relief.

He has enough bad dreams, enough bloody visions behind his eyes without adding that to the list. But he also knows that it's only a matter of time. 

He hopes Billy doesn't try to fight. Wyatt has described other things to Earl, other moments from his past, and Earl gets the impression that it will go worse for Billy if he tries to fight. Messier for everyone.

"Will? Will, where are you?!"

Something else, something new, is stumbling through the woods. His pants are muddy and there are leaves in his mousy-brown hair, and his scent is unmistakably human. He is far enough away that he doesn't see the two men sitting on the ground by the fallen log, and anyway he seems too frantic, too preoccupied with his search to look for them. 

Earl recognizes him right away.

He glances over at Wyatt, who is studying the boy with some interest. He has that gleam in his eye that always makes Earl shudder. For lack of anything else to say, Earl nods at the boy.

"That's Lonnie Byers' kid. Jonathan. He's friends with him... Billy's mate. I saw them together."

He had. Teenagers are so careless, and they had never suspected that they were being watched.

Why would they? Earl is used to being invisible. He does it so very well.

He experiences mingling feelings of relief and regret when Wyatt's eyes narrow and his mouth twists and shifts into what Earl recognizes as the other man's 'idea' face.

Clearly, the information is pleasing to Wyatt. That's good. Earl knows that it is always important to make yourself useful, especially when you have very little to offer in the first place.

However, Earl really hates some of Wyatt's ideas. 

 

Chapter Text

They leave the forest one at a time, tired and cold and just a bit broken.

They go to Steve's house. It's probably not their smartest move... Billy knows where Steve lives. The Hargroves may come looking for them there.

However, they have a script and they need to stick to it. Their parents all got the same story - everyone is going to a sleepover at Steve's house, the whole Party together and safe.

Sure, Steve's parents aren't home, but everyone trusts Steve. He's a responsible babysitter. What's the worst that could happen?

Hilarious.

Lucas and Mike make it back first, carrying a semi-conscious Eleven between them. Lucas snags the spare key from under a flower pot and unlocks the door so that Mike can drag Eleven the rest of the way. They make it to the couch before passing out, exhausted. It is three or four in the morning. They fall into a troubled half-doze punctuated by nightmarish visions that jerk each one awake in turn.

Will comes next a few hours later, knocking softly on the back door. Lucas lets him in. He's alone, no Max in tow, and Lucas feels his stomach drop. The sight confirms what he already feared... the mission was a failure. 

He tugs Will into an awkward hug when he sees that the smaller boy has been crying.

"I tried, her mom was there, I think she wanted to come..."

"Where are the others?"

"We got separated in the woods. They're not back yet?"

"They're coming. Probably looking for you."

There is the crackling noise of twigs snapping as someone else stumbles out of the forest towards the house, and both boys look up quickly. The breaking dawn illuminates Dustin, naked, covered from head to toe in mud and bleeding from a few scratches on his chest and shoulders.

He's alive, though. He's alive and that's all that matters.

Mike is next to them almost instantly with one of Steve's mom's ugly throw blankets in his hands, and together the boys wrap up their filthy and shivering friend in a tangle of worn wool and gangly arms. They hold each other tightly until Will's tears fade away to soft hiccups and Dustin stops shaking quite so violently from the cold.

Lucas sags as the group drifts inside, closing the door behind them. He can't remember ever feeling this tired.

A long night trudging through the woods in the dark, dragging El, and then dragging Mike, and then being dragged by Mike and El when he couldn't walk any more. They had been desperate to find their way home and jumped in terror at every small sound.

They are all too beat to do much besides go back to dozing lightly on the couch and floor, sharing a few words here and there about what happened the night before. Will is curious about the other wolves and Mike is curious about Nancy's spell work. Lucas finds that he can't stop asking about Max, and for once nobody teases him about being so concerned about a girl.

The conversation ebbs and fades. It's hard to muster up any enthusiasm or conviction after a night like that.

They do get some rest, brief snatches of sleep until Dustin finally gives up. He stands, stretches, and makes for the kitchen.

"What are you doing?" Lucas asks.

"Food," he yawns. "I'm going to get chocolate pudding."

"Pudding," Mike echoes. "It's 8 in the morning."

"I'm hungry. And Eleven will need energy food when she wakes up."

Mike throws a glance at Lucas and Will but they seems just as nonplussed as he is. The boys shrug and follow Dustin into the kitchen for a lack of anything better to do.

Dustin starts pulling all the food he can out of the fridge. He knows there's pudding in here and he's determined to find it. He can practically taste it already, cool and sweet and wonderful.

Sugar to get their energy up and scare away the chill in their bones. Power food. Something that tastes nothing like the lingering bits of mauled flesh on his tongue. There's lunch meat in there but after last night the smell of it makes Dustin's stomach churn, and he ignores it in favor of containers of jelly and peanut butter, cans and jars of processed goodies. 

Mike takes out the bread, peeping anxiously around the corner every few seconds to make sure that Eleven is still there and asleep. 

Lucas takes out a packet of powdered juice mix, pours it into large, fancy looking pitcher, and starts filling the container with water. Will slumps down at the counter, too tired to do much of anything. 

Dustin finally breaks the silence by voicing one of the many questions on everyone's mind. 

"Why do you think Eleven flagged so quick last night?" he asks. 

For a moment Mike looks like he's going to snap at his friend, but Dustin's voice holds no criticism and they are all too exhausted for a fight. He just pauses and shakes his head.

"I don't know. She barely did anything before she got a nosebleed. She seemed just as confused by it as we did, though. I don't think she knew what was happening."

"It's not an exact science," Will points out. "We don't even know what she is."

"Nancy thinks she might be a fairy," Mike says.

Lucas rolls his eyes. "What, like Tinkerbell?"

"I don't know."

"She's gonna be alright though, right?" Will asks.

"We just need to feed her," says Dustin through a mouthful of bread. "Her battery is draining faster than usual for some reason. We just gotta get her battery up."

Mike can't help but smile a little at this. The weight of the last twelve hours is easing off a little. When he'd seen Eleven collapse in exhaustion on top of the bus after her final push against the wolves, he'd had a horrible thought that she might be dead. That would be...

Mike doesn't want to think about it. Silence falls again, briefly.

"It's funny, you know," Lucas mutters wearily. "No Thesselhydra last night."

"Hmm?" Dustin pulls himself out of his horrified contemplation of cold cuts of ham and turkey and the remembered taste of blood and fur in his mouth and forces himself to scour the freezer for waffles.

"All that craziness and the Thesselhydra wasn't anywhere near us."

"Why would it bother?" Mike sighs. "Eleven's got the fairy flu and the rest of us were too busy beating each other up. It doesn't need to do anything but sit back and watch."

The boys putter in silence for a long moment, focused on their tasks.

Mike catches on first.

He grinds to a halt and blinks, mind racing, heart pounding.

Will next, and then Lucas. Dustin stares at them blankly, then inhales sharply.

Their brains all turn at once to the girl curled up asleep on the floor in the other room, and to a monster with too many faces and an unknown cache of power lurking in the woods.

Mike opens his mouth to put the possibility into words, but is interrupted when sharp bang on the backdoor snaps them all out of their reverie. Lucas may let out a high-pitched shriek, although he'd never admit to that if questioned.

They race out into the living room just as Steve stumbles in, bloodied and bruised to hell and still stark naked from his transformation. 

"I'm going to figure out this clothing situation," Steve spits out, teeth chattering as he pulls up every spare blanket he can find and wraps them around himself. "Before I die of hypothermia I am going to find a way to stow clothes out in those goddamn woods in a place where I can fucking find them."

The rest of his rant is cut off, transformed into a pained moan when he twists the wrong way and pulls at the bruise on his side, a massive, ugly lump of purple that makes Dustin feel slightly sick when he sees it.

The front door swings open, sending everyone's hearts to their throats again.

"Steve? Mike? Jonathan?" Nancy calls from the front hallway.

"Nancy!"

"Will!"

"It's Nancy!"

Steve is too tired and sad and overwhelmed to focus on the whirlwind of movement that suddenly picks up around him. The kids run out from his kitchen and Nancy runs in from the hall... and he feels himself half-collapse into someone's arms before leaning heavily on a stray bit of furniture and blinking wearily at the people around him.

He reaches up to Dustin and pulls him close, checking him all over for injuries. Once satisfied that none of the bites and claw marks are too serious and that everything is healing as it should, he tucks him into a hug and buries his face in that mop of curly hair, trying to ease his concern for his pup.

Through the din and the insanity Steve gets the important things. He feels connections to the individual members of his pack slide into place, each sight and sound and touch an affirmation that this special person, this particular family member is safe in his den. Max is missing, though, and Jonathan. Eleven is passed out on the couch. 

The wolf, though also weary, is not quite subdued, not like it usually is after a shift. It wants very much to scent everyone, but Steve manages to sate it with a combination of gentle touches and subtle sniffs, just to keep it from getting too weird.

It's not quite enough. Steve wishes it was, wishes it would stop thinking... 

I want, I want, I want...

Perimeter check, boundary check, check pups, gather pups, safety in numbers, safer together, pile them together so they're easier to defend, run tongue over wounds so wounds will heal, clean and soothe and comfort pups, keep pups safe, curl myself around the pups, Nancy curls around the pups, Jonathan curls around the pups, Billy...

Billy.

Find mate, save mate, claim mate, kill mate, protect mate, mate mate mate...

Pups...

There is an itch the wolf won't be able to scratch until the whole pack is safe, and the whole pack is not safe yet.

It waits and listens. 

"I'm sure he's fine, Will," Nancy is saying. Jonathan, Steve thinks. She's talking about Jonathan. Where's Jonathan? "He's probably on his way here now."

"Yeah," Steve joins in, finally, giving Will a weak grin. "Give us fifteen minutes and then we'll go out and look for him, okay? Dustin and I can try to sniff him out."

Dustin huffs a little at being volunteered without his consent, but doesn't argue.

Steve leans further back against an armchair before giving up and simply sliding into it gracelessly.

"Max?" he asks.

"Couldn't get her. Mrs. Hargrove was there."

"What about the other stuff?" Mike asks his sister. "Your spell?"

"The Canus Naso spell..." Nancy nods. "Well, I had to swap out the chrism for olive oil - not sure where I'd even start to look for that - but yeah, I managed to coat pretty much the whole place with that goop. Any wolf who walks through the Hargrove's backyard and gets even a whiff of Canus Naso is going to lose their ability to smell with their wolf noses... and by extension lose their tracking abilities."

"And that'll work?" Steve asks.

He'd been skeptical when Nancy had mentioned it yesterday, but he also knows better than to doubt her research skills. Apparently she hadn't been sitting on her hands all these weeks, and had instead developed a solid theoretical and practical knowledge of witchcraft and the dark arts during her time looking up werewolves at the library.

Steve's wolf, vengeful little shit that it is, feels an uneasy satisfaction at the thought of the Hargroves getting their noses taken away. After all that talk about scents and throats and destiny with Billy this seems like an oddly fitting punishment for his traitorous lover.

Steve briefly considers that his life has gotten very strange of late.

"It's working already," Nancy says. "They've picked up all of our scents last night. If they aren't knocking on our doors already it's because the spell worked. They can't follow our trail. They're smelling everything wrong and will be for at least a few days."

"Or they're coming here right now," Lucas points out. "It's not like they don't know where Steve lives."

"But they know he's not alone now," Will says, thoughtful. "If it was just him and Dustin it'd be different... they could just look them up in the phone book. But there are more of us then there are of them."

"We hit them on two fronts last night," Mike says. "Like we did during the Ravenloft campaign. They don't know what we're capable of or even how many of us there really are."

"And Eleven's really thrown them off. I wonder if they know what she is?"

"Either way," Steve adds, nodding, "they can't just make us disappear."

"Yeah, they'd need to get all of us, and if they don't then one of us is bound to go to Chief Hopper or our parents and tell them what happened. Maybe they wouldn't believe us, but it would still call attention to them that they definitely don't want."

"Could Jonathan have gone home?" Steve side-whispers to Nancy. "Should we try calling?"

She gives him an anxious look and shakes her head, but slips over to the phone anyway and quietly dials the Byers' house.

"They need us to agree," Dustin continues, glancing at Steve and Nancy but keeping up with the flow of the conversation. "They need to find us and they need us all to agree to join them and keep it secret."

"How's Eleven?" Steve asks. She'd looked so unwell last night. He'd gotten used to thinking of her as some all-powerful being, but last night her pale face, eyes wide with panic and blood dripping from her nose, had looked so young and so... vulnerable.

As if summoned, Eleven's eyes fly open and she shuffles in her place on the couch. Everyone looks over, suddenly shy around the strange girl as Steve forces himself to his feet, walks over, and kneels before her.

"How you doing, sweetie?" he asks, pasting a gentle, confident smile on his face.

"We forgot the pudding," Dustin gasps suddenly. He races back into Steve's kitchen and Steve can hear the clatter of dishes and containers. Lucas goes to help him carry what seems to be a disproportionately large amount of food.

Mike and Will move over to Eleven as she fixes Steve with a bleary gaze.

"Steve?" She reaches out and taps the scratch on his chest from a stray wolf claw - Neil's handiwork. 

"I'm okay," Steve assures her. "Dustin, too. We're all okay, except Max. We couldn't get her out, but we will. I mean, she's safe for now, it's not like they're gonna hurt her. We'll figure something out."

Eleven does not look comforted. She shifts and drops her gaze.

"Look, I wanted to say thank you," Steve says, pushing through the uncertainty. "Thank you for last night. We couldn't have done it without you."

"I didn't..." Eleven starts, then stops. "That's never happened before. I thought I could do more. I'm sorry I couldn't..."

"Last night..." Mike starts.

"I don't know what happened," Eleven interrupts. There is an unmistakable note of panic in her voice. "I can do better. I don't..."

"Something's wrong with you?"

Mike doesn't mean to make that sound accusatory, but Eleven flinches anyway. Will moves around Steve to curl up next to her on the sofa, tucking a blanket around her and watching her carefully. Steve would guess from the look on the young boy's face that Will can see something on the girl that the rest of them can't.

"No," Eleven shakes her head. "I don't... no..."

"Eleven..."

"I'm sorry, Mike," she whispers, looking up at him. "I'm sorry."

"Hey, stop," Mike puts his hands on Eleven's forearms, shaking his head. "It's not your fault. Don't be sorry."

"There's like a... a mist..." Will murmurs half to himself. "Something's doing this to you."

"You still did so great, though, sweetie," Steve insists. "Even Superman needs to take breaks occasionally."

If he's being honest, Steve is maybe a bit relieved. He's not sure what shape he'd be in now if Eleven had snapped Billy's neck last night in an over-enthusiastic attempt to protect them all.

Don't know why you still care about that asshole, a not-very-nice part of Steve hisses. He clearly doesn't give a shit about you.

Not the point.

The point is that Eleven is unwell... the kid is weakening and tired and... 

"I was supposed to help," she says.

"You did help. You were so awesome. We couldn't have done it without you. We'd probably all be werewolf chow by now if it wasn't for you."

Eleven shakes her head, miserable.

"I'm supposed to fix everything. I'm supposed to defeat the monster and protect everyone..." her brow furrows in frustration. "What's the point of me if...?"

"No," Will says sharply.

Steve feels all the air leave his lungs and Mike looks like he's been kicked in the stomach. He can hear a soft, wounded noise escape Nancy as she puts down the phone and he knows she heard that, too.

Those horrible words, that dreadful thought, from such a little girl.

What's the point of me? 

"Got it!" Dustin and Lucas tumble back into the room. Steve sees his life flash before his eyes as a glass of bright red fruit punch tips precariously on a tray, wobbling over his mother's pristine carpet only to right itself the second before any liquid actually goes flying. The two boys plop down enough food to feed a small army and Dustin unceremoniously rips the cover off a pudding cup and sticks a spoon in it.

"Yeah, yeah," Steve murmurs. "Help yourself."

"This is good," Dustin ignores the older boy's grumbling and focuses on Eleven and the pudding. "You've never had pudding before, but it's good, you'll like it. We've got all sorts of stuff here and you can try it all."

"What is it?" Eleven asks.

"It's this chocolate goo you eat with a spoon," Mike says, and smiles when Eleven makes a face. "Dustin's right, it's better than it sounds."

"You can have anything you want, sweetheart," Nancy says, coming up behind Steve and putting a hand on his shoulder.

Steve is grateful for the touch. It brings him back down to earth a little. 

"She's right," he says. "Not because we want your help, though. Because you're you."

Steve can't quite find the words to say what he thinks. The others help pick up the slack.

"If you didn't do anything cool or amazing ever again," Will adds, "you'd still be our friend."

"Of course you'd be our friend," Lucas scoffs. "You're our mage, no matter what. We kicked ass last night."

Words are not enough. That's always been the difficult truth of it. Words... they're never enough... not even close. All the things that rattle around in Steve's head, all the jumbled sentences written out on loose-leaf paper, they don't come close to  expressing what he feels. They can't hold a candle to what he experienced last night, to what he's going through right now. 

Words must be taken with actions. With time.

With a thousand different moments.

With a thousand different choices.

Dustin hands Eleven the pudding cup and gives her that wide, toothy grin Steve loves.

"Try it," he says.

She does. She scoops up a spoonful of chocolate goo and places it gingerly in her mouth. She works it a little with her jaw, unsure of whether or not to chew. After a long moment, she looks up, meets Dustin's gaze, and smiles back.

Steve surveys the plates of food, the sandwiches, the snacks, the drinks, the copious amounts of toasted Eggos.

"Waffles?" he murmurs in bemusement.

"She likes waffles," Lucas whispers back, and shrugs. 

 

 

 

It takes Billy a while to make his way back home in the morning.

Hell, it takes him a while just to get up from where he'd fallen the night before.

He wakes up in the woods feeling even more dizzy and disoriented than usual, and with the strangest feeling that he has missed something important. 

Finding his legs and forcing them to move into place under him becomes a herculean task. He pushes himself up to his hands and knees, then just his knees, and then his feet, not moving until he is quite sure he can do so without being sick or falling down.

When he does manage to stand, he takes in his surroundings and catalogs his hurts.

He sees the giant Ash responsible for bringing last night's hunt to an end. Another inch to the left and he'd probably have broken his back on that fucking mother of a tree. Wouldn't that have been a kick in the ass?

Knock some sense into you, maybe. Silly pup.

Shut up, Grandpa.

You're your own worst enemy. You always were, always...

He feels so peculiar. The world has most certainly turned upside down. It's so weird to be proud of someone else for beating your ass in a fight. It's so strange to feel angry at the one you love just because he is everything you ever wanted and more. 

How do you solve a problem like Steve Harrington?

Billy whistles a few bars from 'The Sound of Music' as he slowly climbs back up the ridge. He might be cracking up just a little. 

He very much wants his mother, wants to know what she'd say to him, what advice she'd give. He knows he can't have her, can't talk to her. For some reason that knowledge tears at his insides more than usual this morning.

He pushes all those ugly, unhelpful feelings away (those good feelings, the best of Billy's soul) and focuses instead on the bruises on his body, the whole middle section of himself that's black and blue from where he hit the tree, and the long scratch on his shoulder from... whenever.

Had Steve done that? He touches the scratch gingerly.

It's healing faster than it normally would, even for him, and he feels a sudden sensory memory, of fur and heat close to him, sheltering him from the cold, and something deliciously hot and wet running over the wound and soothing the pain.

It's probably nothing, but Billy can't stop himself from idly running his hand over the healing cut as he makes his way through the woods, back the way he came, down the invisible paths and to his carefully concealed car. 

For lack of anything better to do, he drives home. 

The moment he steps out of the car and onto his front lawn he feels his nose go. It is sudden and horrible, like the whole world has suddenly gone dark on him, and he lets out a small cry which brings Susan to the front door.

He can see his father standing behind her and knows that they're feeling what he's feeling - the sudden and complete loss of a sense they had long taken for granted. Billy can't smell the oil and metal of his car, or the bursting life of the woods, the coldness of winter, or the familiar and unique scents of his family. It's all gone.

It's awful.

"I see it's the same for you as it is for the rest of us," Neil greets him as he walks inside the house. He nods to Earl and Wyatt, both of whom are bouncing uneasily in the living room. "It happened to all of us the moment we stepped back on Hargrove property."

"It was that girl," Susan scowls. "The one from last night."

"What girl?" Billy asks, befuddled.

"A girl and two boys tried to break into the house last night," Neil answers. "They tried to take your sister." 

"Max?!"

"They failed, thank goodness. Maxine is safe."

Something in Billy traitorously wonders if Max wouldn't be more safe with whoever tried to take her, but he wisely keeps that thought to himself. 

"But one of them, the girl, spread something all over the yard before Susan chased her away."

Wyatt lets out a snappish growl and paces in frustration. Billy can see now that there's a thick bandage over one of the man's eyes, and he rather uncharitably prays that the douche-bag never regains the use of it.

Billy throws a half-concerned, half-curious glance at Earl, but the man actually seems somewhat relieved to have his senses dulled. Figures... using his nose was the one thing he was good at and now he's all too glad to be rid of it. Earl takes a swig of beer from sweating can and grins up apologetically at Billy. 

"Do you know who these intruders were, Billy?" Neil asks with silky smugness.

Billy shrugs. "No. How would I know?"

"No?" Neil parrots back.

His son knows that tone, knows damn well it means nothing good.

In truth, Billy doesn't know, can't imagine who would even have the ability to screw them over in this way. Not Steve, certainly. And all the rest of that little pack were at the junkyard last night.

Weren't they?

And why is Neil giving Billy that look Billy hates, the one that means that this is all a test, that he should know the answer and will be punished when he inevitably fails?

Oh, that ugly, gleefully disappointed look.

"Susan," Neil says, "go sit with Maxine. I'll be with you both in a minute. Wyatt, go fetch our guest."

Both Susan and Wyatt do as they are bid, and Billy watches them go, stands stock still as silence fills the space between him and the rest of the world, and frantically tries to find something solid to hold on to, some weapon, some shield.

What guest? What intruders?

What do I smell like, Billy?

Not now, Steve. I need to figure this out. What's Neil doing, what's going on...?

Why do I need to protect my throat?

Because it's where your scent is strongest, baby, and I can smell every beautiful thing when I press my nose to your throat, except I can't do that anymore and now if I get anywhere near your throat my dad is going to want me to rip it out with my teeth and I don't know if I can do that to you, my love, but I also don't know if I can disobey him...

I've been outplayed, little rabbit. All this scheming and I don't know what I'm going to do...

There's a noise, a muffled grunt and then a yelp of pain as Wyatt emerges from a back room half dragging and half carrying something Billy never wanted to see.

Wyatt dumps it... him... at Neil's feet, and the boy... and it is a boy, a bound and gagged and beaten boy... falls to the floor.

Nobody speaks for a moment and tension in the room is dialed up to a near unspeakable level.

"What is this?" Billy forces out, finally.

"Don't you know, son?" Neil reaches down and wraps his hand around Jonathan's forearm, shakes the limp, barely conscious teen violently. It's a theatrical move, but effective. The young man lets out a low moan before Neil drops him to the floor again. "This little human stinks of your mate. If I had to say what this is, I'd say that this was a pretty good sign of your failure to control our territory."

Billy stares at Jonathan.

He hears Steve's voice in his head - Jesus, we're friends, relax - and can't make any words come out.

"I'm disappointed in you, Billy," Neil continues. "Not only have you failed to remove the threats in the woods, you've also let a group of half-breeds and mongrels run free all over the town, getting their sticky fingers in our business. Children, Billy, and humans. You can't even bring your own mate to heel. You aren't capable of holding the mantel of the second in command."

Billy could give a fuck about his position as second. Right now he's just scrambling to get a grasp on this situation.

"I need more time." He manages to keep his voice mostly steady. Sheer survival instinct is the only thing keeping him together right now. "I can bring Harrington and the kid to us, into the pack... I just need..."

"Time?" Neil interrupts. 

"I can fix it better," Wyatt pipes up, rocking with barely repressed energy. "We cut off this fucker's thumb and send it to them."

"Jesus Christ," Billy hisses. 

"You got something to say to me, boy?" Wyatt is on his feet and in the younger man's face instantly.

"Yeah, this isn't the state pen, and this isn't a big California city," Billy snaps, brushing Wyatt off and turning to his father. He makes himself ignore the way Wyatt's good eye immediately drops to his exposed side like he wants to take a bite out of Billy. "It's a small town where the cops are called when people don't show up for dinner. It's a town where a few missing kids might be noticed. There's a big group of them, Dad, and Maxine is friends with them... and you can't burn all their houses to the ground."

 When the words are out dead silence falls. Wyatt has effectively been forgotten, his bullshit erased by Neil's sudden looming menace.

Billy has never said that out loud. He's taken the blame, from Max, from others, for the fire in California. For months he has done this, and Neil has let him.

Neil, who walked out with a can a kerosene and a box of matches and tried to kill a whole family because they threatened his ambitions. Because they got to close to something he considered his property.

Funny, Billy thinks now. He'd given Steve all the clues. Of course he couldn't have done anything after the fight at the Blood Circle... he couldn't even walk. How could he commit arson? If Max had thought about it, she'd have been able to see, too... but Billy hadn't let her see. That had been a choice.

That family had survived the fire, barely, but it didn't really matter. His fight in the Blood Circle had been... but that didn't really matter either.

Instead, he'd postured and snarled and played the villain. He'd taken the weight of it upon himself.

That was always the way. Billy's way. If you're the villain, you're not the victim.

And why not play the role? What did he have to lose? When they drove from California to Indiana Billy's life was already over. Why should he care what anyone thought of him?

Besides, he's not blameless. In the dark of the night when he's all alone he stares up at the ceiling and knows he's not blameless. He knew. Hew knew and he didn't try to stop it. That was Billy's sin, and he will have to carry that, now, for the rest of his life. 

He'd made his peace with it, with Bobby Heller, with the fire, with his own dark heart.

And then he'd met Steve.

Steve who fucking ruins everything, who changes everything just by existing.

I'm going to be punished for this, he thinks, and the idea does have an air of inevitability about it.

This is just another moment, more proof that Billy couldn't have anything - anything - that was good and real and his alone. Neil would come, always, like a force of nature, like a fucking act of God, and burn it all down rather than let Billy keep it. 

And now...

"Besides," Earl says quietly, breaking the wall of tension, "we can't sniff them out. How will we find them all before they go to the police if we can't sniff them out?"

"They'll come to us," Neil responds. He looks down at Jonathan with no small amount of disdain, while Wyatt lets out a low grumble of irritation. "The mistake was giving them an opportunity to prepare, to set up traps. When they come to rescue this one we'll be on our own turf, and we'll be able to have a nice chat."

"Chat?" Billy and Wyatt both echo incredulously, though they have different reasons for doing so.

"I understand Harrington very well," Neil intones, every inch of him oozing calm arrogance. "I've seen him fight. I've seen the kind of ragtags that make up his so-called pack. When the chips are down, when it's his friends on the line, he'll cave. He's a spoiled child, from what Earl tells me, and he's got nothing but himself to fall back on. He'll submit in the end, take the easy road. It's that or watch us butcher his friends. Yes, I understand this kid pretty well."

Wyatt huffs and turns away in tacit acceptance, but Billy doesn't move. He watches his father, hanging on his every word, waiting, thinking, calculating. Neil coolly meets his gaze and gives him a small smile. 

"You can have him, Billy," Neil says. "I'll allow it. But I still expect you to mate with a proper wolf when the time comes."

Billy feels his inside turn to ice, is shaken suddenly and violently out of himself.

Wait...

No.

That... that can't mean what he thinks it means.

Punishment.

"Dad..." he murmurs. "What?"

"He's your mate. I understand, son. But you will not bond with him. He can be your... little friend. You can fuck him, if you want, and if you need to bite him to keep him under control then you can. It doesn't matter. But when the time comes to make a pack alliance, you will take a proper mate. You will bond with a purebred female who can bear children."

"No," Billy whispers. "I can't... I..."

It would kill Steve and Billy both. A mate was a piece of your soul, the one person in all the world that was yours, that you belonged to. Predestined by the Moon herself, if you believed Billy's granddad.

And Steve was his. His mate.

To cheat on Steve, to keep him as some... concubine, as a shameful secret, as a sex toy. To placate him with bare scraps of affection and then make him his whore when it was time to marry another. To mate with a proper wolf and destroy the love of his life in the process.

Steve would never... and Billy's wolf is whining and yowling in rage at the idea, the very idea that...

"Look at the little queer puppy, Earl," snarks Wyatt. "All upset over his bitch."

Earl guffaws weakly and plays along. "Lucky bastard. He gets two!"

"One's a dude," Wyatt shrugs and turns away, some strange twitch playing around his mouth. "He can have him."

Neil looks calmly murderous.

Nothing good can come of this.

"It will be your responsibility to make sure that he understands his place, son. You'll keep him there. He needs to understand that he has no rights to you and no power in this pack. That's the condition. Otherwise..."

You burn it down, Billy supplies in his own mind.

An image of Steve, bloodied and half-dead, crawling broken from the flames, sends his wolf howling with agony inside.

And there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Nothing. 

Nothing.

I'm nothing.

Nothing good can come of this.

I can keep nothing good. 

Nothing.

But...

Wait.

But...

Billy looks at Jonathan, then at Wyatt, then back at Neil.

But what if I made a different choice?

"Well, son?" 

Billy takes a deep breath, looks up at his father, and blinks in silent acquiescence.

Burn it all down

 

 

  

When the phone rings Steve doesn't think twice about picking it up. He thinks maybe it's Jonathan, or his mom calling from some far off country, or a thousand different other possibilities.

He's in his home, it's the middle of the day, and after all he's been through why would he think anything bad could possibly happen over the telephone?

"Hello?" he says.

"Is this Steven?"

Steve has never heard this voice before, but something inside of him recognizes a sub-vocal strain... an echo of a wolf's howl. All the air leaves his lungs, and while he doesn't know exactly what his face is doing it is enough for everyone else in the room to come to a complete stop and stare at him.

Dustin moves forward quickly and grabs hold of his arm. Steve is glad... it's the only thing keeping him from drifting away.

"Mr. Hargrove," he acknowledges quietly.

The hum on the other end of the line almost sounds pleased.

 We don't want him pleased, the wolf hisses. 

No satisfaction. No submission.

"Can I help you?" Steve asks when Neil doesn't verbally respond, falling back on the polite nothings learned from childhood.

"Such a respectful young man," Mr. Hargrove murmurs. "I've got your friend, Steven."

Steve's heart stops.

He doesn't need to ask, doesn't need clarification.

He knows Neil Hargrove is telling the truth... he knows it in his gut.

Neil keeps talking anyway.

"You know which one. The Byers boy. The one you sent to my house. That was very badly done. A man's home is his castle, Steven, and you and your little gang thought you could march right in to mine."

"Is he alright?" Steve blurts out before he can stop himself.

"Of course, the little spell you came up with was clever. Yes, I know it's a spell. You've got a witch on your side, I suppose. Not permanent, but very clever. I think you'll regret it in the long run, though, son. You're forcing me to take action. You don't want me to take action. You will not like the consequences."

There is a shuffling sound on the other end of the line, a violent jostling, and then...

"Steve?"

Jonathan's voice sounds strange and pained but it is unmistakably him. Steve opens his mouth but can force no sound out, which is maybe for the best. He's not sure what despairing noise might be released if he let himself go to pieces right now.

Jonathan is allowed only that one word before the phone is handed back to Neil.

"So you see, Steven, you're really not in a good position here," the older man continues steadily, congenially, as if he is discussing trivial practicalities and not holding a young man hostage in order to force Steve to kneel to him. "It will be in your best interest to meet with us and avoid any more... consequences."

Steve decides then and there that he doesn't like this man and does not want to talk to him anymore.

He drags in a deep breath and lets it out again.

"Put Billy on the line," he says, trying his best to keep his tone firm.

"That sounds dangerously like an order, son."

"I'm not your son," Steve snaps without thinking, and the line goes deadly quiet.

"No," Neil says finally. "You're not."

Steve swallows the storm raging in his throat and repeats his request. "Please put Billy on the line."

Neil doesn't answer, and as the silence stretches Steve thinks wearily that he's upset his wolf and bruised his ego for nothing. However, after a long moment, there is a shuffle on the other end of the phone.

Billy doesn't speak but Steve knows it's him. Suddenly he doesn't know what to say. He stares over the kids' heads and his gaze lands on the far wall of his living room. There's a painting hanging there, some combination of colors and shapes meant to represent a soul in torment, according to his mother.

The shapes blur and blend and as Steve stands there he finds he can't see the lines between them anymore.

"You have Jonathan," he says, finally. It feels like the words are being forcibly dragged out with pliers. "He's okay?"

"For now," Billy croaks roughly.

Steve hears distress in the other boy's voice but refuses to feel the least bit concerned or sorry for him.

He thinks, actually, that he might hate Billy Hargrove... really, truly, and with everything in him.

Yeah, he might.

"Did you do this?" Steve is so angry he feels like he might shatter. "Did you take him... did you do this?"

"Does it matter, Steve? We got him now."

Steve tears his gaze away from his mother's painting. He looks at Nancy, at Lucas, at Will, at Mike, at Dustin. He looks at Eleven, watches as her unblinking eyes narrow slightly. Satisfied that the silent consensus is there, he refocuses.  

"Where and when?" he asks, speaking for his whole pack.

"Tonight. You and Dustin only."

"You don't get to tell me who comes, asshole," he snarls, fists clenching. "This is my pack, not yours."

"Don't be an idiot, Steve."

"Just tell me where."

There's a hesitation on the other end of the line, and then the phone changes hands again.

"Find us yourself," Neil Hargrove says. There's a clear taunt in his voice. "Prove you're the werewolf you think you are."

"If you hurt him," Steve says, "I'll kill you myself."

It's stupid, such a stupid and ineffectual thing to say. The tell-tale click on the line tells Steve that Neil has hung up without bothering to respond, that the threat has fallen flat, that there's nothing Steve can do.

It hardly registers. In his rage and fear Steve doesn't put the phone down.

He grips it tightly and stares at his mother's ludicrous painting and it is only when Nancy gently yet firmly wraps her hand around his arm that he remembers to breathe.

 

Chapter Text

That whole afternoon is one of the longest, most tense stretches of Billy's life, but eventually things die down somewhat and he is able to slip away to the tiny junk room in the back of the house and visit Jonathan. He takes a bottle of water and a granola bar, and an old dish towel to help clean the other boy up a little. 

Jonathan sits on the ground, propped up between some old boxes of stuff the Hargroves haven't gotten around to unpacking yet. His hands are bound behind him and he's got a makeshift gag in his mouth, and he looks even paler than usual, the small trickle of blood on his face a sharp contrast against his skin.

Fortunately, he still has his thumbs, although Billy is half convinced that this is only because nobody wanted to clean up the splatter from an amateur torture session. 

Billy kneels down and gets to work. He leaves the tape in place around the other boy's wrists but removes the gag. Jonathan, to his credit, doesn't bother screaming. He accepts the water gratefully and allows Billy to break the granola bar into pieces and feed it to him.

"I'll bet this is a great 'I told you so' moment for you, huh?" Billy asks after a stretch of heavy silence punctuated by soft grunts and chewing.

Jonathan looks confused. He tilts his head slightly, an almost-invitation to continue talking, as if Billy needs it.

"I'm sure you had my number from the get-go. I know a little bit about you, Byers... I know you get it. Get me. Poor white trash. You told Steve all about me, right? I'm violent, a nobody going nowhere, I'm not good enough, he could do so much better. Henderson already gave me the shovel talk... I bet you and Nancy Wheeler already sat Steve down and told him all about bad boys like me."

Jonathan doesn't say anything. He just chews thoughtfully on his granola and looks at Billy like he's trying to figure him out.

His reticence annoys the blonde, and he huffs in irritation as the silence drags on.

"Well?" he barks finally. "Go on, let it out. Now's your chance to let me have it... right between the eyes."

To emphasize his point, Billy makes a rather aggressive hand motion in front of his forehead.

Jonathan's eyes narrow.

"You are violent," he says flatly. "You're a hot-headed, insecure, angry, spiteful shit-bird. You're a selfish, narcissistic bully. Given the chance you'd probably stay in the same town and have the same life and hold the same small-minded views forever because you're too chickenshit to do anything about it. And you are pretty much trash." 

Well... Billy never expected the Byers kid to actually say it out loud.

That's a surprise.

Weirdly, hearing it doesn't make Billy feel better. He never thought Jonathan would say it but the part of him that did, the part accuses him of all these horrible things already, had wondered if maybe hearing this stuff out loud would be a cathartic experience.

You know, like an exorcism.

It's not like that at all, or if it is then it isn't something that feels right and good. 

Billy lets out a long breath that bubbles up into a chuckle or a sob (he can't quite figure out which) and rocks back until he is sitting splayed-legged on the thin carpet. He shakes his head and closes his eyes and wonders when this became his life. 

Jonathan studies him for a moment, and then shrugs.

"Everything I said is the truth," he continues. "But I never said you weren't good enough for Steve. I never told Steve anything like that, never tried to convince him to break up with you. I think Steve underestimates what he's worth, but he cares about you. I think he makes you better. He sees something in you worth loving, and it damn near killed him when you threw it all away. If he cares about you then I guess his feelings should be respected."

Billy snorts incredulously.

Something in Jonathan's gaze flickers and Billy sees a shadow of wry shame on his face. He shifts awkwardly and nearly unbalances himself, and Billy needs to reach out to steady him again.

"I used to really hate my mom for staying with my dad before they finally got divorced," Jonathan says after a moment. "We'd get into fights because I couldn't understand why she couldn't see what he was. It took me a long time to understand that everyone wants and needs different things. Besides, all my bitching didn't help. Instead of fixing her relationship with my dad our fights were only hurting my own relationship with my mom."

Jonathan studies Billy, who is hunched over and twitching with an electric combination of anxiety, guilt, anger, misery and frustration.

"I don't think you're a shitty person, though," he says, finally. "Not really. Those things I said... they're not everything. I think you're in over your head. And you're right, I do get it. I know what it's like to have a monster for a parent."

Billy feels an almost overwhelming urge to slash Jonathan's face for his impudence.

It's that or breakdown and cry, and Billy will die before he goes to pieces in front of this scrawny little shit.

"Is that what this is?" he sneers instead. "Bad parenting?"

"Isn't it?"

Jonathan seems almost unconcerned with how this conversation is going. You'd think he'd be trying to convince Billy to help him, but he isn't. Instead, he is watching Billy with eyes that see too much, and Billy doesn't like it.

He regrets coming back here now. All this is doing is driving home how confident Jonathan is that his friends are coming to rescue him. Billy envies Jonathan's faith in the future. He wishes the other boy would tell him what to do, show him some way out.

He's so fucked. 

"It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter."

The words come out too soft, too croaky, not at all like the kind of response Billy wants. It's like he's chewing up chalk instead of words and coughing the dust out weakly because there's nothing else to do with it.

"It doesn't matter. It's all over now. Steve and me and dad and Dustin... it's all over."

"Tonight...?"

Billy shakes his head like that will get the cobwebs out of his eyes. "Yeah, tonight, but it's already too late. It's already set in stone and there's no way I can fix it. I can only help destroy it. I want... but even if I could... you're right. I threw it away. I was trying to hold on to it, to him, and all I did was fuck it up instead. Steve will never take me back. He couldn't. Not after everything."

"Are you sure about that?"

"What do you mean?"

"What would Steve say if he saw you right now?"

The words feel like a slap in the face.

"What would Steve say?" Billy tries to chuckle but it comes out more like a choked sob. "What would Steve Harrington, the middle-class golden boy, mother of the year, patron saint of strays have to say? Well, go on. Enlighten me."

Jonathan sighs. His gaze goes from Billy to the empty water bottle and crumpled granola wrapper, to the door, to the ceiling, and then back to Billy. He closes his eyes briefly and sighs again before fixing the blonde with an utterly unimpressed stare.

"You're his soulmate, Hargrove. You'd know that better than me."

There's nothing Billy can say to that, and suddenly there is no barrier between himself and the overwhelming wave of grief and loss that has been waiting to crash for ages now. He wraps his arms around his knees and tries to control his breathing as tears sting his eyes. 

Because he knows, or he thinks he knows. He knows what Steve would say.

He thinks back to those first days, watching Steve on the basketball court and being so damn frustrated at his mate's relentless vulnerability. At his inherent goodness. That wide-eyed honesty, that quiet courage.

He remembers hating Steve a little for the way he seemed to be constantly forgiving this shitty, awful, ugly world for being shitty and awful and ugly... and he hates himself now for being the kind of person who needs that forgiveness. 

Yeah, he knows what Steve would say.

But does he believe in Steve?

And do I deserve it?

And even if I did... how? 

"I never meant to hurt him," he says quietly. He is not defending himself, but he still needs to say it. "I really was trying to protect him. I thought I could make it work. I don't know how it all got so out of hand... except I do. I guess I don't know why I thought it wouldn't."

Jonathan nods slightly.

"Steve is a good guy," he says, a wry smile curling his mouth up. "You know that. But he's never had to live..."

Jonathan trails off and looks at the door behind Billy. He doesn't need to say anything. Billy can fill in the blanks.

Steve has never had to live like this. Jonathan does get it. Steve has never been afraid like Jonathan and Billy have been afraid... that special, relentless, everyday fear. That constant threat hanging over your head, the ice beneath your feet cracking and dangerous and ready to break and send you careening into cold darkness. Steve has suffered in his own way, but Billy's fear, the constant stress of being under the thumb of a man like Neil...

Billy manages to steady himself, barely, after a short silence. Then, deciding that there is nothing to be gained from further conversation, he collects the empty wrappers and stands.

"I'm not going to gag you," he says shortly. "You can yell if it makes you feel better but nobody is gonna hear you and Wyatt really will cut off your thumbs if you do."

Jonathan nods. "Wyatt's the eye-patch guy, right?"

Billy suppresses a smirk. Wyatt had managed to jerry-rig an eye-patch for his wounded face using some of Susan's old sewing materials. The results did him no favors in the looks department.

"Yeah."

"I'll be quiet."

"Okay."

"You can still fix this, Billy. It's gonna take some trust, though."

"Fix it?" Billy gives Jonathan a small smile. "How? There's no cure for life, Byers."

"You've got choices, Hargrove," Jonathan says, and something, some niggling feeling, tells Billy that he may be right.

"Yeah," he replies. "Guess I do."

Jonathan doesn't get a chance to say more. The door to the junk room opens and Wyatt walks in... the last person either boy wants to see right now. He seems surprised but not displeased to find Billy there.

"Well, well... a little pow-wow, is it? Braiding each other's hair and talking about boys?" he sneers.

"What are you doing back here, Wyatt?" Billy growls. "For the last time, we're not mutilating him. Fuck off."

"A couple of slaps never hurt anyone," Wyatt shrugs, eyeing up Jonathan like he's a piece of meat at the market. "He looks like he could take it like a man. Almost a man, anyway. You forgot his gag."

"I didn't forget anything."

"Take it easy, kid. You know, you need to learn to relax a little. Loosen up."

Billy stares at the older man. His good eye, the one without a rock embedded in it from Lucas's sling-shot, is glassy, the pupil blown... Billy wouldn't be surprised if Wyatt wasn't on something, or maybe just dazed with pain. He doesn't really care - if Wyatt keeled over right now it wouldn't make much difference to him - except that the guy is standing between him and the door, and Jonathan's still here, sprawled out on the ground and vulnerable.

Billy doesn't like Wyatt, and he doesn't like thinking about Wyatt. There's something there that he doesn't want to see. 

He wants the older man to go away. He doesn't know how to make him go away.

He resolutely doesn't look at Jonathan as Wyatt clamps a meaty hand on Billy's shoulder.

"When this is over," he says, leaning in close so that Billy can smell the sharp tang of alcohol on his breath, "you and I should have a long talk."

Wyatt's grip loosens slightly and after a beat his hands slides slowly, almost gently down the length of his arm, coming to rest on Billy's wrist. His thumb rubs a little circle on the underside of Billy's wrist before the nail digs in to the thin, vulnerable skin there.

Billy very much wants to jerk his hand away, but he knows from experience and by instinct that a reaction like that will just make the grip tighten, will just snap the trap shut. He manages to keep his reaction to a subtle flinch.

When he doesn't answer, Wyatt's good eye narrows and the thumbnail digs in deeper until it breaks the skin.

Billy feels it go, the small, sharp hurt, and wonders how much more of this he can take.

 

 

 

Eleven usually likes watching. She is an observer. That has always been one of her strengths.

Observe. Absorb. See with your eyes and mind and heart. When she was just a tiny slip of a thing, little more than a wisp of golden pollen on the wind, she used to chase her mother through paths and passageways glowing with light. 

Her mother. The one who birthed her. Sleeping now in some other world, walking through dark paths alone.

Her mother used to call her Jane.

She used to say - Look. See. Become.

Eleven usually likes watching those around her say and do and be, but today she is distracted. They feed her, these people, this pack, and they keep her warm and care for her, and the fact that they do this fills her with such raw and aching love that it almost kills her to think that she cannot give them anything of value in return.

Just herself, and they keep saying that that's enough, and they even believe it... but Eleven knows she can do more, and she doesn't know why she can't...

Last night was terrible. An aching, raw gulf had opened up before her and the blood had dripped heavily from her nose and she had felt all her strength, all the things that made her her draining out of her like so much water.

Will the Truesight was right, it was like a mist, and Eleven can feel it now, thickening and cloying and taking everything away. It is subtle and slow, and terrible, and familiar. Eleven recognizes it now.

The mist belongs to It. The Other. The Beast.

She is Chaos, and all the vibrant life born in Chaos. The spark, the light, the forest, the earth, the sky.

The Beast is nothing but Death.

She tries to explain this to Mike, and he listens, but her orderly knight only hears what his mind can arrange in neat little categories. He hears that she is weakening and she can see him resolve to keep her out of the fight ahead.

The Thesselhydra has made an error - it likely did not expect Eleven to fully realize that it was psychically draining her strength until it had a chance to attack her, but their fight with the werewolves had brought the issue to a head.

An error, yes... but not one that would seriously damage it. Eleven doesn't know how to shake the feeling of thick, black dread dragging her down through the floor.

Her friends weave around her, in and out of her line of sight, catching up on sleep, planning, arguing, eating, sitting. The Pack Mother, Steve, is in grave danger, and so is that fierce fire-child, Billy. Eleven can see it on Steve, and when she looks over at Will she knows he can see it too.

Fathers and shadowy threats and inner turmoil. It is not good. But time tumbles forward and Eleven does not know how to change it.

She resolves to wait.

She makes herself watch... but this time she is not watching people. Instead she is watching time, and events, the cycle of choices and actions that most humans can't comprehend.

She sees everything moving towards some larger purpose.

She is watching for a crack she can slip through.

When the time comes to leave for the rendezvous, they all pile in to Steve's car - they can't find the keys to Jonathan's rust bucket - and drive to the edge of Hawkins Woods. It is reasonable to assume that the Hargroves would take Jonathan there, to a place where they, without the benefit of their noses, can even up the playing field.

It's not really a plan, but as far as Eleven can tell it's all they've got.

"I'd feel better with a plan."

"We can't plan, not really... we don't know what they're going to do, and we can't surprise them."

"We could hide, or..."

"Even if they still can't smell us, they can hear us. Werewolf senses. Give me those, put them in here... where are the...?"

"Here, take these. They call them Wolf Packs... how about that? Super loud, and they come in a string of twenty..."

"Where did you get those?"

"My cousin in Florida. They have everything down there."

"If this doesn't work..."

Eleven listens but she knows that it's all guesswork at this point. It basically comes down to asking for the Monster Father to give Jonathan back, and seeing what they need to do or give up to make that happen.

She is reminded sharply of her interactions with Papa.

"We may have to lie," Dustin says to Steve. "We may need to promise them things. It doesn't matter as long as we get Jonathan back... or even just far enough away from them that we can maybe create a diversion. We do that and they don't have a bargaining chip."

"We can't let them bite us," Steve says. "That's the line in the sand. Dustin, if they bite us they can make us do things... we won't be able to..."

"They aren't getting anywhere near you guys," Mike says. He is confident and angry, and something in Eleven warms when she hears him. The larger part of her, however, is seeing past this, through this, to something darker and more worrisome just behind.

"Do you think they've hurt Jonathan?" Will asks, voice weak with anxiety.

"Not," Steve growls, "if they know what's good for them."

"They're grown-ups, though. We can't..."

Will trails off and silence fills the car.

"It'll be okay," Steve says eventually. "It'll be fine. We'll figure something out."

All too soon they arrive at the woods, and when they do everyone piles out of the car except Nancy and Eleven.

When Eleven moves to clamber out of her seat, Mike stops her. It is not surprising, but it is disappointing. 

"You're gonna stay here, okay?" he says.

"You know," Nancy is saying. "I don't actually have my license..."

"It'll be fine, Nance," Steve soothes. "Just do the loop through the woods like we talked about. Keep on the main road and if you hit the signs for Elm Street or the Energy Department then turn around and come back. We'll radio and keep you updated. Me and Dustin should be able to sniff you out anyway. We may need you to come quickly, though, so..."

"You're the getaway driver," Mike interrupts, ducking away from Eleven and leaning further through the window to snag his sister's attention. "If we get into trouble. Are you sure you can do this?"

"I should go, too," Eleven says from the front passengers seat. 

Mike shakes his head. "You need to rest. If the Thesselhydra really is attacking you, you shouldn't be in the woods until you're all healed up. We'll be fine."

"Mike..."

"You can help Nancy find us, right? You can use your powers?"

"Maybe, but..."

"I think I've got something, Steve," Dustin yells, sniffing anxiously, his eyes glowing. He hitches his backpack up on his shoulders and moves forward through the underbrush.

"We gotta go," Lucas pipes up, and Will nods worriedly.

Mike gives Eleven one last, almost apologetic look, and then he and he rest of the pack are off before she can say anything else. She is left alone in the car with Nancy. 

Nancy grumbles softly for a moment then gamely turns on the car and starts driving.

"Don't worry," she says. "There's a box full of hunting equipment in the trunk. If we need to beat up every werewolf in those woods and get Jonathan back ourselves then we're going to do it."

Eleven wonders who Nancy is trying to convince.

She stares out the window and watches as rows of trees, dimly lit by moonlight and headlights, zip past.

Eleven thinks, and then she doesn't bother thinking anymore. 

She remembers the man who called himself Papa, and she remembers the small room he kept her in, and she remembers that once when she wasn't feeling well he brought her a plant in a ceramic pot... a gift, but it had come with cold eyes and a high price and when it had died from a lack of sun and air and water in that horrible little room she had not gotten another.

She sees the trees, the earth, and the sky. She feels the great wheel of creation turn in its unending cycle.

The black mist swirls. She will submit to it no longer.

She is Jane and she wants to go home.

It is not Nancy's fault. She only looks away for a moment, and then Eleven is opening the door, tumbling out of the car as Nancy slams on the brakes, and running off into the dark woods.

 

 

 

Max draws in a deep breath and pictures the day her dad took her down to the Santa Monica Pier for the last time.

She does this when she needs to, when she is scared.

She doesn't close her eyes, but she doesn't have to. She can remember just fine without help.

She makes herself picture every part of that day, remember every sound and smell and feeling. The sunlight and the children screaming and the colors and the food.

She makes herself reconstruct her dad's face in painstaking detail - the wavy hair catching the light of the sunset, the bright eyes, the crooked smile, the scratchy brush of his facial hair on her cheek when he swept her up in his arms. She tries to breathe in the smell of his aftershave.

She wishes he was here. She wants to call him on the phone, but Neil would never allow it. He and Susan invoked an old pack rule when they got married and in doing so shut Mitch Mayfair out of his daughter's life for good. She belongs to Neil now, and her dad can't intervene.

So instead Max forces air in and out through her nose and dreams of one special day in California.

She does this when she needs to.

It is an old trick, and she needs it now.

Susan, for her part, started off horrified and upset when Neil marched into her room and started laying out his glorious plan for Max's future. That's something, at any rate... Max should probably be comforted that Susan's first instinct is to object when her husband threatens to sell her daughter off to another pack.

She is quiet now, sitting in a far corner of Max's room, wringing her hands and watching Neil with wide eyes. Max doesn't pay much attention to her.

In front of her, Neil is still talking. The yelling has stopped, for now. Now it's all painted pictures of future alliances, of mating and marriage, of Max being what she is supposed to be or facing the consequences.

it doesn't matter if she is not, and never was, and never will be a werewolf. It doesn't matter if her genetics mean that a werewolf bite might kill her, might mutate her into something crooked and wrong... not wolf or human but a monster permanently stuck in between. It doesn't matter that she doesn't want to be sent to Ohio to become a... what had Neil called it?

A breeder.

Neil goes on and on. He looms over Max as she sits on the edge of her bed, her eyes locked on her shoes, her mind far away at the Santa Monica Pier.

She can sense Billy. She's not a werewolf but she has always had a little bit of a sixth sense, an instinctual awareness of where Billy was at any given time.

He is standing outside of her room. She pictures him leaning against the wall by her door, arms crossed, ears cocked, listening... but she finds she can't imagine what his face is doing right now.

Is he interested in the news of Max's impending departure? Is he pleased? Upset? 

In the past he's called her a piece of shit, a permanent pain in his ass.

She also remembers another day and another pier, and a younger Billy who was tan and laughing and sweating in the heat. He gives her an ice-cream cone before taking her free hand in his. When she looks up at him, he winks and smiles at her and leads her to the bright lights of the arcade.

Neil straightens up. Whatever he is saying now is spoken in the authoritative kind of tone that signals the end of a conversation.

Max hears Billy slip away from the door and move down the hall to his own room. 

Neil leaves soon after and Susan follows without a word. Max resolutely refuses to meet her eyes.

When she is alone again, Max stands and walks to her closet. She pulls out one of her wire clothes hangers and goes back to sitting on her bed. With a steady flame of determination sparking somewhere in her gut, she starts to untwist the wire, leaving the curled end alone but straightening and then folding the rest until she has the shape she wants.

She barely notices the scratches on her hands from when the wire slips. Once she is satisfied with her work, she holds the hanger on her lap and waits.

She isn't sure how long she sits there, but by the time she moves again the sun is starting to set outside.

She waits until she hears movement down the hall, until she hear's Neil voice and Earl's nervous guffaw and Jonathan's unbalanced shuffle.

Time to hustle.

She reckons she has at least half on hour before her mother checks on her again, and five minutes before it becomes a moot point. It would take too long to pack anything, and she finds she doesn't care about any of her stuff now anyway. She slips into her shoes and jacket and then climbs out of her bedroom window.

The loose brick Will had stood on only last night is still there as she makes her descent. She races around the house swiftly yet silently, heading for the driveway.

Billy will probably kill her for potentially damaging his car, but she needs the Camaro's trunk space so his vehicle is the one she makes a beeline for. After a cursory glance at the house, checking for signs of movement, she quickly and efficiently jams the end of the hanger into the trunk's lock. She jimmies it the way she saw Billy do once when he accidentally locked his keys inside, twisting and tugging until she feels the mechanism give.

The trunk pops just in time, as the front door cracks open and the Hargrove men start moving out.

Max doesn't hesitate... she can't afford to. She slips smoothly into the Camaro's trunk and pulls the hatch just too, hooking one end of hanger to the inside so that she can hold it still. She tucks herself into a neat ball and grips the hanger tightly, careful not to move at all and give herself away.

She hears the sound of men shuffling around, of doors slamming, of Jonathan grunting and Wyatt swearing.

For a horrible moment she is certain this isn't going to work.

What if they decide to dump Jonathan Byers into Billy's trunk and find her hiding there?

What if they decide to take Neil's truck and leave the Camaro here?

There is some conversation going on outside, just above her head.

Max holds her breath. 

 

 

 

The trail leads them on a hour-long trek through the woods, but crushingly fast Steve recognizes where they are going.

They head towards the old warehouse, to the place Steve has not returned to since his and Billy's last confrontation.

He doesn't want to believe it... but he knows these woods, and he knows this path. 

He tells the kids.

As Lucas radios Nancy to let her know their location Steve feels a swelling fury rush over him.

That fucker, he thinks.

The wolf inside is having an almost visceral response to the familiar territory, and to even the vague memory of Billy. Flashes of memories, brilliant images, smells, and sensations all whip through his soul and threaten to bowl him over.

If Billy had wanted to provoke Steve he couldn't have picked a better spot for a meeting.

If he even chose the spot.

If that wasn't his plan all along.

Steve shouldn't care, really, but he does. He wonders what the hell is going through Billy's mind right now. He wonders if Billy even knows. He wants to see him and also wants to never see him again. He wants to bury his face in his mate's fur and also let Billy dig his claws into his vulnerable belly and end it all.

My beating heart, the wolf sighs. My tender flesh. My strength. My bones. My love.

Not helpful, Steve thinks as he trudges forward towards that old familiar building, his missing friend, and his troubled lover. Why don't you give me some tips for dealing with psychotic Alphas instead?

The now-familiar voice in Steve's head doesn't respond immediately, of course.

A few feet in front of him, Dustin trips on a tree root and curses in a low voice.

Steve tilts his head up and looks at the moon. It is no longer full but it looks almost like it could be.

The night is cold and clear and beautiful.

It is all going to be alright, the wolf murmurs, finally. Wait for an opening. Trust. Don't be afraid.

It is not really and answer to Steve's question, but it fills him with peace nevertheless.

The radio crackles and Lucas lets out a loud, weirdly pitched "She did what?" before he manages to get the volume of the conversation under control again. Mike snatches the radio and whispers into it.

"You seeing anything, Will?" Steve asks warily in the meantime.

Will shakes his head. "Nothing out of the ordinary. The usual stuff. But I feel... like something might be out there. Like the woods are restless."

"Yeah," Dustin agrees. "You sense it, Steve?"

Steve opens his mouth to say that he doesn't feel anything like that, and then shuts it again.

Now that they mention it...

He doesn't have time to process that thought, because before he knows it they are standing in the clearing in front of the old warehouse, the woods behind them, the building ahead, and Nancy and Eleven and the car a good few miles away by a twisting dirt road.

The Hargrove pack is waiting for them. 

The Party has agreed to let Steve take the lead on this. It's not like any of them have a background in hostage negotiation, but Steve's seen 'Beverly Hills Cop' like six times so he has some idea what a confident authority figure sounds like.

Besides, Neil seemed to think that Steve was the boss, and he was the closest thing their pack had to an adult, God help them. Privately, Steve is scared shitless at the thought of stepping up, even though he is happy to take Neil's focus away from the kids.

As they step forward the various members of the Hargrove pack shift their stances, suitably menacing and mysterious in the moonlight, spread out in front of the shadow of the warehouse.

Without quite meaning to, the Party does the same. Dustin says close at Steve's elbow, but the others take up unspoken positions in a line. Will unobtrusively takes Dustin's backpack, steps a few feet away, and drops it in front of him, keeping it safe yet accessible.

Steve can feel Billy watching him. He is standing at Neil's left hand, a bound and gagged Jonathan at his feet. The sight sends a low thrill of joy and horror through him. The other two men, one of whom Steve recognizes as an old rummy from town, stand on Neil's right side, a few steps behind. 

Jonathan's head lolls up when they walk forward, his eyes wide. Steve can see a trickle of blood on his forehead and a bruise starting to bloom on his face, but otherwise he seems intact. Something in him unclenches ever so slightly.

Steve can feel his mate's eyes on him, and he can feel that big guy with the eye-patch glaring a hole through his chest. His instincts are screaming at him, however, and he makes the unconscious decision to focus on where the main source of power is.

He only has eyes for Neil right now, and he knows that if ever there was a time when he needed to be King Harrington, or even just an adequate impression of a confident douche-bag, this was it.

I'm a babysitter. The thought floats through his mind like a brightly colored banner, and it's all he can do to hold down a hysterical, but surprisingly reassuring giggle.

Eat him up, the wolf inside growls.

Steve can't help it when the corner of his mouth twitches up.

He takes two steps forward and juts his chin out.

"We'll take Byers back now," he says, pitching his voice so they can hear him clearly across the unseen divide. The words come out strong and crisp, thank God.

"I'm glad you decided to come, son," Hargrove says, ignoring his demand and instead adopting a falsely conversational tone. "And I'm glad you were able to find us! That's a good sign. Tracking abilities are an important skill for a wolf."

"Yeah, 'cuz your nose isn't working so good, is it?" Dustin snarks. His voice is quiet but it carries across the clearing and with werewolf hearing it is impossible to miss.

Neil's jaw clenches at the interruption and Lucas lets out a small snicker. The big-ass werewolf pirate to Neil's right growls lowly, however, and Will remains as tense as a spring, his eyes fixed on Jonathan.

So much for diffusing the tension.

"I'm glad you were able to do this," Neil continues, voice a bit sharper. "This way we can put our case to you as adults should. And you're an adult, aren't you, Steven? You're the one who protects and cares for all these kids?" Neil smirks... a twisted, nasty thing. "Of course, you're not doing such a good job of that, are you? Bringing them out here at night. Getting them hurt. At this rate, you're lucky no one has been killed."

"From what I understand," Steve says, coolly, "that's just a regular Tuesday night in the Hargrove house."

Neil's mouth thins, his eyes flicking briefly towards Billy, who flinches.

"I suppose you know why I asked you here," the older man says, voice cold.

"Give us Jonathan and then we'll talk," Steve responds. That protective need pushes itself to the forefront of his brain.

Jonathan Jonathan Jonathan...

"I think we'll talk first. After all, you consider this little human part of your pack... don't you? And this is all about pack, isn't it? Why would I let him go?"

Steve doesn't have anything to say to that. The older man is not wrong, per say, but he'll be damned if he admits that out loud.

"It's a bad habit, son... having non-wolves in your pack. They can't really be true, useful pack members. You see that, don't you? It would be best for everyone if you sent these poor kids home. They don't belong out here."

One of the boys, Mike or Lucas, makes a sharp noise which Neil ignores.

"You and Dustin, though... you could have a future here, with us. Even this boy..." Neil motions to Jonathan. "He's held up pretty well. What if I were to bite him right now...?"

Will jerks violently and Neil immediately catches it. His smirk widens.

"No? Well... we'll just have to make do with you two then. Steve Harrington and Dustin Henderson. New members."

Steve can't help it. His eyes flick quickly over to Billy, trying to gauge what he thinks about all this.

This is what he wanted, right? This is what he was willing to chew Steve to pieces for, anyway.

But right now he doesn't look happy with the prospect of a pack alliance. He looks drawn, tired... strangely diminished. Not like himself at all. He meets Steve's gaze for a too-brief moment and Steve could almost swear that he gives a small shake of his head.

Steve's inner wolf makes a contemplative noise.

"Oh yeah?" he asks, stalling. Mike shoots him a look.

"Of course. There is always room in our pack for new blood, bitten or otherwise... especially ones with your resourcefulness. You'd need to step up, of course, and prove that you aren't the pathetic and weak excuses for wolves you've been so far... relying on witches and humans, my God. It's a disgrace, son. Abominations. Prey, at best.

"But if you did, if you did prove yourselves, you could be with Billy, just like you both wanted... yes, he's told me all about it. You can do that, and Mr Henderson here can learn about his heritage from real wolves, and we can stop all this nonsense."

Neil lets out the sigh of a long-suffering man. His hand drifts over and lands on Jonathan's shoulder, and even in the moonlight, even from here, Steve can see his claws elongate. They pierce Jonathan's skin and muscle, the meaty part of his shoulder, dangerously close to his neck. Jonathan lets out a sharp sound of pain, muffled through the gag. 

 "This is how it is, Steven," Neil says calmly, his claws still embedded in Jonathan's body, blood oozing black in the moonlight from the open wounds. "This is what it means to be a wolf. There is power, and there are those who follow it. Only the strongest survive, and the inferior members rightly serve the strong until their usefulness is at an end. You only drag yourself down by being sentimental, son. Love, or whatever this faggot hand-holding nonsense is you're clinging to, this kumbaya shit... it isn't for hunters, and it isn't for werewolves. This isn't a daycare. This is the darkness. Out here you are either the predator or you are the prey."

Steve's eyes flick over to the right this time, to where the pirate werewolf is glaring at Lucas and baring his teeth. Steve remembers now... the Wrist Rocket to the face. Shit. And WhatHisName... Mr. Straub, that's it... has his eyes on Jonathan and is looking vaguely sick.

He understands the feeling.

"You did okay last night, kid," Neil says. "But that ends now."

The claws tighten in Jonathan's shoulder and a fresh groan escapes the teen.

Steve's wolf claws at his rib cage.

"Submit," the Alpha demands in a voice which brooks no argument.

Steve feels that core strength, that reserve of courage inside himself... falter.

The kids standing next to Steve waver dangerously, like light in the water. Steve can feel their fear and anger and frustration almost as if it's his own, an overwhelming push of emotion that threatens to break them apart for a moment...

They all teeter on the edge.

Steve remembers the night they first saw the Thesselhydra, and now, as then, he can feel them all, all the members of his pack, spiraling off in their own directions, running scared and blind with panic instead of staying together. He can feel  them start to turn away.

Now, as then, he does something completely unexpected.

Without stopping to think, Steve gasps loudly, throws back his head, and howls.

He howls.

It's not a wolf howl, or even a very good impression of one. If it's like anything, it's probably like the kind of yell Steve used to belt out when he was still the Keg King, something solely for teenage parties, something human, youthful, playful...

It's utterly ridiculous.

And yet...

The wolf inside him smiles, a wide smile that shows all its teeth, and gives off its own howl in return, solidifying the sound, giving it strength and purpose.

The wave of emotion threatening to overwhelm the pack ebbs.

And then... then it solidifies into resolve.

He feels something in the air, some terrible tension, shatter.

As the howl trails off into the cold night, Steve lowers his head and looks at Neil, who is looking at Steve with shocked distaste, as if the boy had just pulled down his pants at a fancy dinner party. The sight makes Steve want to laugh.

Lucas lets out an approving snicker, and Dustin looks over at him and grins.

Some dark, primal part of Steve, not man or wolf but something else, something deeper, even more profound, clings to the falling strands of moonlight and prays to the night for strength.

The teen makes a quick calculation.

The wolf growls.

Here's goes nothing.

"Bullshit, sir," Steve says, finally, a smile tugging at his mouth. "That's all bullshit. And I think you've got nothing to trade with. Not really. Not unless you're ready to shred us all to pieces... and frankly, I like our chances. Bitten wolves, humans, kids... I'd still take my pack over yours any day."

"I could rip your throat out, Steve Harrington," the Alpha snaps.

"You could try," Steve snarls back, teeth bared.

"This is not how this works!" Neil roars, his face shifting into his wolf form, his patience at an end and his control slipping. 

“Fuck you!" Dustin springs forward, apparently seven kinds of done with this. "We’re the Warrior Werewolves Alliance of Hawkins and you can go to hell!”

“Jesus Christ,” Steve sighs, letting out a soft, shocked laugh and closing his eyes as if he is in physical pain.

“I thought we were going with Thunderwolves?” Mike whispers to Lucas, who shrugs.

“Forget it, he’s on a roll.”

“You’re dead, boy,” Neil Hargrove growls, taking a step forward, his eyes on Steve. “There is no room for weakness in the woods, and that’s what you are…All of you!" The older werewolf glares at each of the boys in turn, snarling. “You are all terrified children alone in the woods! If you don’t submit…”

“Ugh, shut UP!” Mike snaps.

“Yeah,” Lucas joins in, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “You heard the man! Eat SHIT!”

For a split second everyone jerks forward, drawn into the inescapable whirlpool of conflict.

Just as quickly, everything stops. 

Something else is out here, moving around.

There is a crackle sound and then movement… and Max walks around the corner of the abandoned building behind the Hargrove pack, past Neil and Billy, and straight towards the Party.

She's got a small cut on her hand from wire she'd used to hold the trunk of Billy's car shut. The Hargroves had parked on the opposite end of the building and she'd had to wait until it was safe to come out. If any of the Hargrove pack's noses had been working she'd have gotten caught, but they weren't, and she hadn't.

She'd waited just long enough to hear what was going on. She's done waiting now.

To say she surprises them with her presence is an understatement.

“Maxine,” Neil croaks in shock. He retracts his claws from Jonathan and returns fully to his human form. He takes a step forward, suddenly utterly unsure of what to do, of whether he should hold the line or grab his step-daughter.  

Max can read the panic on his face, the utter inability to react to something happening outside of his control.

It's funny how this man used to scare her. 

She spares him one long, evaluating glance, and then keeps walking in purposeful, determined strides towards her friends.

“Maxine,” Neil repeats, voice low and dangerous, “what are you…?”

Max doesn’t say anything.

She doesn’t even look back.

She just throws up her hand and flips Neil off.

Mike barks out a laugh, wild and loud. 

Max reaches Lucas and stands next to him, folding her arms and glaring daggers at her stepfather.

Neil’s eyes are glowing and he’s opening his mouth to roar, but he is cut off by a movement on his left-hand side.

This whole time while Max is moving, Steve, while aware of the young girl and her outrageous act of defiance, is really watching Billy… how Billy's face is a bruised mask of despair.

And now, how Billy’s eyes follow his step-sister’s movements, his gaze intense, almost wondering. 

How he blinks, suddenly. How he straightens. How he almost seems to ... wake up.

Steve sees, so he isn't exactly surprised when Billy goes for Jonathan.

He is not surprised, but his heart does jump to his throat in an almost debilitating panic.  

Steve can see that he has fucked this up, pushed too far, not allowed for extenuating circumstances... that he has most likely cost Jonathan his life. Max has defied her father and Steve has failed to placate him, and now they will retaliate and Jonathan...

Billy moves towards Jonathan, and before Will can articulate the cry of terror and panic on his lips, Billy's nails lengthen into sharp claws and he slices through the tape binding the other boy's hands. He retracts his claws instantly and drags Jonathan to his feet, holds him steady for a moment while Jonathan tugs at his gag and reorients himself, and starts pulling him towards the Party.

Wyatt growls, and Neil's face settles into a vindictively self-satisfied mask, and suddenly Steve understands what's going to happen.

The still-standing bits of himself threaten to collapse completely.

Steve can see the scene play out and knows there's nothing he can do to stop it.

Billy will rip out Jonathan's throat now, make an example of the pathetic human hostage, show the whole world that he's a monster, a werewolf, a killer. He will destroy another person's life, and the lives of everyone in that clearing, and he will drop Jonathan's body on the ground in a heap, and he will tilt back his head and howl.

A real howl.

He'll do it for Neil, and to ruin Steve.

And why not? Billy is strong, strong like Neil said, and Steve is weak and frightened and tied down by all those threads of care and love that slow him down, occupy all his thoughts, muddle his instincts and make him vulnerable to hurt.

What can Steve offer that Neil can't? Why would Billy be part of the Thunderwolves when he could be what he is now... a prince, a predator, a person who takes, who owns, who rules.

Steve can see it but he can't stop it. Even his wolf is paralyzed.

Billy strides forward, face as smooth and placid as a lake, and as he walks his shoulders slide back and his chin lifts. He is no longer hunched and shifty, refusing to meet anyone's gaze. 

Instead, he...

Steve remembers, suddenly, that term that Dustin or Nancy used once - skinwalker. Another word for a werewolf, they said, and Steve had been troubled by that word... and by how strangely fitting it was.

There was something he'd noticed as a wolf and even before, that sometimes people have an unsettled relationship with their own skin. To put a skin on or take it off... and maybe to have one that doesn't always fit quite right. You don't even need to be a supernatural creature for that.

Steve, who did sometimes feel like several different people occupying one body, one skin, thought that 'skinwalker' was a good term.

He sees it now, sees Billy shed something indescribable, something Steve and maybe even Billy would never be able to categorize completely.

An old skin.

His eyes clear, his back straightens, and his face shines with confidence and realization.

The skin he puts on... it's powerful. It's glorious.

Steve can see it all, can see Billy walking up to him and snarling at him with a mouth full of fangs and ripping out his heart with his claws. In this moment he'd probably let him. Why not?

Billy is a prince and Steve... Steve is nothing but the de facto single parent of a rag-tag bunch of kids, a patchwork werewolf, a lonely boy.

Billy has figured out something important. Steve can tell. But he has no idea what that something might be.

He walks across the clearing with that swagger, the old Billy swagger that Steve loves. The two boys cross the clearing to dead silence, Billy tall and straight, Jonathan clearly dizzy and in pain.

Not even Neil, it seems, can articulate his emotions properly, and everyone is holding their breath, waiting to see what Billy is going to do.

Billy does not go straight for Steve. Instead, walks over to where Will is standing and almost drops Jonathan at the younger boy’s feet.

For a moment Steve thinks that that’s exactly what happened, that Billy has hurt Jonathan somehow and is dumping the body, that any minute now he'll see an arc of blood spurting from Jonathan's neck. Then, however, Jonathan moves on his own, rips the gag off and willingly goes to his knees, wrapping his arms around his baby brother, pulling him into a tight hug.

Will lets out a sob and buries his face in the older boy’s neck. 

Jonathan is fine. He's alive. He's okay.

Fuck.

He looks over at Steve with wide eyes and Steve feels something in his chest give.

He's okay.

It's okay.

Steve feels his mouth drop open slightly and needs to remind himself to take in air. Dustin tenses up next to him.

The blonde barely acknowledges this happy reunion.

He turns and walks towards Steve.

Steve watches. His stomach churns with nerves, with panic and fear, but also with pride and affection, however misplaced, however ridiculous that is.

The fucking prince of wolves, he thinks wryly, and in spite of the fact that he is 90% sure he’s about to be murdered right now, Steve has to work hard to hold back a proud, giddy smile.

Billy stops in front of his mate and stares at him for a long moment.

Steve stares back.

He feels a heady mix of ProudWorriedConfusedHappyAfraid, and his wolf is howling inside.

He doesn’t give an inch and neither does Billy, and he can feel Dustin shift anxiously next to him, certain Billy is going to rip Steve’s throat out.

And then...

“I’m sorry.”

The words break the silence and Steve is so stunned that for a moment he isn’t even sure it was Billy who spoke.

But Billy did speak… and spoke the words steady and clear. Spoke them so every person in this clearing could hear him, hear this.

“I’m sorry,” he says again.

His face has softened, the mask crumbling, and his voice is rich with too many emotions for Steve to sort through.

He doesn't look proud or confident anymore.

He looks like he's in terrible pain.

Steve still can’t make himself move.

Steve… Steve can’t do anything.

Mate, his wolf whispers.

You can’t trust him, another voice inside him screams. He doesn’t love you, he’s going to hurt you, you’re stupid and pathetic and why would he ever…?

Billy moves and it’s all Steve can do not to jump… but Billy doesn’t hit him, and he doesn’t shift into his beta form. He doesn't grab Steve or hurt him.

Instead, he kneels in front of Steve.

He kneels.

Steve sucks in a surprised breath.

He can hear Neil saying something, yelling something, but he can’t make it out over the rushing of blood in his ears and his own pounding heartbeat.

He watches in awe as Billy tilts his head, exposing his vulnerable neck. Watches as he waits for judgment right there at Steve's feet.

He does the thing, that thing, the one thing he always told Steve never to do... because your throat is everything, your basic self, your weakest spot. The symbol and reality of submission.

You show your throat to no one. Not unless you're willing to die for them, to put your life in their hands.

If Steve wanted to kill Billy in this moment, he could.

He could.

Unthinking, Steve stretches out one trembling hand and rests it, gently, on Billy's shirt collar, on the juncture where his neck meets his shoulder. He leaves it there, a solid weight. The wolf inside presses its claws against Steve's fingertips, ready to let them out.

He could.

Billy knows this, and so does Steve. He sees the offering, the promise in Billy’s face as he stretches his neck under Steve's hand. A loose curl of golden hair falls on the line, fluttering with a steady-fast beat, of his exposed jugular vein. Steve swipes his thumb over soft skin.

Billy's eyes never leave Steve’s as he gives Steve the perfect opening to exact a terrible, righteous revenge.

“I’m sorry, Steve,” Billy croaks out, and that… that breaks through.

Steve hears that through the fog in his brain.

“I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

Billy’s voice then - so soft, so strange, so uncharacteristically vulnerable - is enough to snap Steve awake. He shakes his head, suddenly aware of how exposed they both are, suddenly desperate to protect his mate’s neck.

He reaches down and starts pulling Billy up by the shoulders and arms.

“I lost control.”

Now that he's started, Billy can't seem to make himself stop talking. It all tumbles out in a rush.

“I lost control, and then everything just kept going like a train jumping the tracks, and I've been trying to hold on and keep it all under control and secret for so long, for so long, Steve... even before I met you, I think, I was trying so hard to hold on because... and then I couldn't and I wasn't in control of anything anymore. I’m so sorry, I never wanted… I don't want to be like this, I don't want to be like him, and I should have been better, you deserve better, you should…”

“It’s okay, Billy,” Steve murmurs, trying to soothe him and shut him up even though another part of him never wants the other boy to stop talking. “It’s okay, just…”

“It’s not okay!" Billy barks, loud and veering dangerously towards hysterical. "I hurt you, you should hurt me!! You should open up my throat and…!”

“No,” Steve says sharply and quite firmly, still running his hands up and down Billy’s arms as if confirming that the boy in front of him is really there. “No. We don’t hurt each other anymore. Not anymore, you understand? You want to be part of this pack… that’s not how we do things. We don’t hurt each other. I’d never hurt you. Not like that…never… never like that.”

Billy drags in a breath and when he releases it it comes out more like a sob.

"You... um... do you want to... to... be...?"

Just like that, the words dry up in Steve's mouth.

It's too much. He can't say it. 

Be with me, be with us, be part of this, be part of this pack...?

"Please," Billy whimpers.

He squeezes his eyes shut and then opens them again, and when he does Steve can see it all. All the moments from before, those fond memories, those warm touches, those niggling doubts, those confusing ticks, those unspoken arguments... they all make sense.

The world, usually a mess of jarring and jagged pieces, suddenly fits together, clicks into place.

He sees fear and pain and desperation, and underneath and through and beyond all that he sees a breathtaking devotion, an unwavering love.

Strength without an anchor, power with no purpose... the damaged and beautiful soul of Billy Hargrove, locking on like a guided missile aimed at the one and only thing that ever made sense.

The only person who ever mattered.

"Please, Steve," Billy whispers. "Please don't leave me behind."

All the previously unbroken parts of Steve are shattered in that moment. But the funny thing is that the broken pieces didn't cut and maim from the inside out like they so often tend to do. Instead they reform into something else, something strange... a new shape, a new kind of person.

Something fierce and hot rises up in Steve, and as he tugs Billy close and holds him there, protecting his neck and staring into his eyes and drinking in the sight of him like he could never in a million years have enough of his mate, he feels it engulf them both. 

His eyes light up with golden fire, and every part of himself, wolf, man, and otherwise, answers.

"Never," he growls.

Billy sucks in an awed breath that, when it is released again, comes out as a harsh sob.

Steve comes back to himself almost immediately.

He is still himself, after all. He lets out the breath he didn't realize he was holding in and squeezes Billy's shoulders, nodding fiercely. He starts thinking and wondering and connecting the dots, feels wave after wave of protectiveness, of a burgeoning kind of trust, and sees the first steps on the path to reconciliation.

"Okay," he says. "It's okay."

“I love you,” Billy, finally on his feet, shaking but still with a clear, certain voice. “I’m sorry. I'm so sorry.”

“I love you, too." 

Steve hears himself say it, and he smiles because he knows he means it. He can distantly hear Neil still yelling and he can almost feel Dustin rolling his eyes next to him. Lucas murmurs a question to Max, who is holding his hand, and Max answers.

None of that is important, though, because Billy is looking at him now like Steve hung the moon just for him.

Everything he's ever wanted, and it's here, right now.

Billy reaches out tentatively and takes his hand. When Steve doesn’t pull away, he places a kiss on the smooth, thin skin under the wrist and then holds it against his chest.

“Mates,” he says, and although that fact is pretty much set in stone, Steve can still hear the underlying question in the word.

The shaky doubt.

He presses the hand against Billy’s chest and feels the pit-pit-pat of his heartbeat.

“Mates,” he affirms.

Billy smiles… a real smile, still nervous but full of genuine joy.

He leans forward for a kiss, sweet and wanted and full of promise, and Dustin lets out a little huff of annoyance.

Billy’s lips never reach Steve’s.

 

Chapter Text

More fantastic fanart by the wonderful werecadet!

 

From Chapter 21: The Monster Squad

“Please," Billy whimpers.

He squeezes his eyes shut and then opens them again, and when he does Steve can see it all. All the moments from before, those fond memories, those warm  touches, those niggling doubts, those confusing ticks, those unspoken arguments... they all make sense.

The world, usually a mess of jarring and jagged pieces, suddenly fits together, clicks into place.

"Please, Steve," Billy whispers. "Please don't leave me behind."

 

                                         

Chapter Text

Billy sees the look on Steve's face the same moment he feel the burning pain on his back.

It is a horrible sight. It's worse than the feeling of his flesh tearing open. Those sweet, upturned lips twist and spread and those beautiful eyes widen, and the affection that had been so clear and so lovely just a moment before is erased in an instant, replaced by shock and horror and panic.

And he had just sworn to himself that he would never see that look on Steve's face again. That he would never be the one to put it there.

These thoughts are all swallowed in a moment by the sharp agony in his body, and as he snarls and spins and sees his father bearing down on him with his claws extended and bloody, he feels the inescapable sting of betrayal as well.

He isn't really surprised.

That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt all the same.

He'd just forgotten that this is the way it is.

He'd forgotten as he walked across the clearing, out of the shadow of the dilapidated warehouse where he and Steve had stolen so much precious time together, away from his dad and the unwilling dog soldiers standing in a wavering line in front of crumbling brick.

Across the clearing, into the sharp, clear moonlight, towards the trees, towards him

Watching in silence while Steve negotiated with his father was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do, standing there in a line with people he hated, acting out a role he had never wanted to play.

And then suddenly, there it was. A clear path. An easy choice. A choice he had never had before. Or maybe he had, but he hadn't been able to make himself do it, hadn't been able to make himself follow through. 

You can say no.

And not only could he say no... he could also say yes.

He could say yes to something... to the boy who howled and the kids who stood up for each other and the sister he always secretly wanted to be a big brother to. He could say yes to all the wild, strange, wonderful people who had somehow shocked him out of the walking death he'd been stuck in. He could say yes to a new pack, better and more real than anything he'd ever had before.

He thought of his grandfather and his stories, his tales of great wolves and great men. Leaders. Heroes. The ones who made the hard choice. The right choice.

And it's not just his flair for the dramatic that drove him to do this now, here, in front of everyone. It was also the knowledge that this should be public, his shame and his sacrifice and his decision... that in this moment he needed to be loud and clear.

He had wronged his mate - his mate - and threatened a group that had never done him any harm, that he'd come to see as maybe a...

Steve deserved Billy's throat, bared and exposed beneath his claws. He deserved that after Billy's betrayal... and it was a betrayal, not only of Steve but also of Billy, and of what the two boys had shared, and of the trust the Party had put in him. The whole world should see that Billy Hargrove was willing to take death at the hands of his mate over staying with this amoral sham of an Alpha.

He had walked across that clearing and seen, finally, where he was going. For the first time in ages he knew exactly what he was doing.

Steve. 

And in the back of his mind he'd had to laugh at Neil's stunned outrage as he faced the impossible reality of his children's rebelliousness.

And Steve...

Steve, who was warm and soft and who smelled like heaven and who was surrounded by friends, by a real pack, by the kinds of smart, strong, loving weirdos Billy desperately wanted in his life.

It had been no sacrifice at all to put aside all the pride and arrogance that made up Billy Hargrove's most frequently-used mask, to kneel at Steve's feet and bask in the soothing moonlight in his mate's eyes.   

To ask... to beg...

And Steve had given it to him. He hadn't even asked for anything in return, hadn't asked for Billy to prove or change or destroy himself... and he could have. 

He could have.

But he hadn't.

Instead, Steve gave him everything, handed it to him freely without punishing him, without hurting him. 

And now his father was trying to take it away...

Trying to hurt...

Neil stands in his beta form, more wolf than human, pure savagery and bitter cunning. As Billy turns he sees him clearly. His fangs are down and his claws are out, and thick fur is sprouting from odd places. His face is a twisted hybrid monstrosity. Rage fuels him, and he looms tall, taller than Billy can ever remember him being, broad and tall and terrible.

His eyes burn with hate, with cold fires that consume and destroy.

The wound on Billy's back comes from four claws raked across his skin. He can feel the sticky heat, feels a rush of pain and nausea at the sudden blood loss, stumbles back and feels Steve behind him.

Steve tries to hold him up and wrap his arms around him, but Billy can't let him do that, he can't fall, not now...

He needs to deal with his father first.

The red is bleeding into his vision again but this time it is not like it was in the Blood Circle. Not at all.

He doesn't hate. He feels something wilder and purer and stronger than rage.

This time the monster is being turned against the man who made it.

Billy roars in protective outrage, in violent, desperate love.

Neil roars back and then Steve is yelling and the younger Byers boy, Will, is fumbling with a backpack.

He could swear one of the kids yells "Fuck him up!" as he charges. He takes the suggestion under advisement and then focuses his full attention on the enemy in front of him.

Once he is committed to the fight - plant your feet, draw a charge - Billy pays no mind to what is going on around him. He flings himself at Neil and drags him down, shifting into his beta form as he goes. He tries to pour everything he has into the shift, and thankfully the wolf quickly takes control. His fears are overridden by cold calculations, battle plans created and driven by pure animal instinct. Neil attacks and Billy fights back.

Steve, meanwhile, is forced to step back as Billy throws himself at his dad, and in the confusion he can see the other two men across the clearing making their move. The thin one hesitates and for a moment looks like he is going to run away. The larger of the two locks his eyes on the struggle between the Hargroves and then turns towards the vulnerable children scuttling a few feet away.

Steve watches helplessly as the big man's mouth elongates into a wolf snout, as he runs, fast and deadly, for Lucas.

Dustin is closest. He shifts to his beta form almost instantly and leaps in front of Lucas as Wyatt charges. He is small but he is also angry, and he learned to fight from the best, if Billy does say so himself. Lucas drops his flashlight in the scuffle and dives for Will's backpack.

Before Wyatt can land a blow on the vulnerable human child, Dustin is there. He scratches at the older man and then kicks out and strikes him very hard in the balls. It slows him down but the force of the kick also throws Dustin off balance, and they both tumble down to the ground without seeming to lose any speed.

Wyatt keeps tearing towards the boys like a runaway train.

There is a terrible cry of pain as Neil pushes Billy into the dirt, grinding his torn back into the hard ground, and Steve is forced to make a split-second decision.

Billy, on the ground, is struggling to get up and out from under his father when Steve plows into them, knocking Neil back. Despite the pain Billy doesn't linger where he is and climbs to his knees as quickly as possible.

He looks over just in time to see Wyatt reach over with a big paw of a hand and break Dustin's arm.

There's a deep intake of breath as the snap of bone sounds loud and terrible across the clearing. 

Billy struggles through the haze of pain and tries to move forward, torn between the endangered pup in front of him and his embattled mate and father behind, but something else is running into the fray before he needs to make up his mind.

Earl throws himself against Wyatt, a small and pathetically weak figure against the roaring rage of the other man, but Wyatt is not expecting an attack from that side and the force of it knocks him over. 

It works, buys the Party a few precious moments. Mike drags Dustin away to a nearby tree and Jonathan starts examining him, pointing towards the sticks and rocks on the ground and yelling something to Mike as he does so.

Lucas and Will finally manage to dump out the contents of the backpack.

Earl is drowning in a sea of regret in this moment - regret for doing nothing earlier (nothing, nothing his whole life long, and for what?) and regret for doing something stupid now (but he couldn't let him hurt those kids... he's a piece of shit but in the end he couldn't do that) - and he doesn't do much to fight back against Wyatt.

He can't fight, or at least he doesn't believe he can, so he puts up only a cursory defense as Wyatt rains down sharp blows and bites on his fragile body.

He wonders if it might not be better if Wyatt kills him now.

His thoughts are wiped away by a tremendous bang and a dazzling array of bright and beautiful sparks lighting up dangerously close to their heads.

Bill, Steve, and Neil fall backwards, shocked by the sudden loud noise and bright flash.

"Again! Again! Give me another one," Lucas yelps as Will fumbles around his backpack for another strip of Wolf Pack Firecrackers, courtesy of Lucas's Florida cousins.

He grabs the strip and tosses it quickly to Lucas, who lights it and throws it at Wyatt before the older man can do anything more harm to his former friend.

The firecrackers are not outrageous, nothing a professional would use, but the outer packaging claimed that they were the loudest commercial fireworks allowed under law, and upon hearing them everyone in the clearing is inclined to agree.

They make a tremendous racket and shoot out sparks and fire and are dangerous enough to send the fighting wolves scuttling away from the lit strip that bounces off Wyatt's back and lands right next to them.

Earl takes the opportunity to push himself back, and from his vulnerable spot he looks up in time to see Neil snarl at him, those blood-stained teeth promising no end of punishments.

Steve scrambles on the ground where he had fallen, and his eyes catch on to Earl's.

Earl throws one brief, apologetic glance in Steve's direction, pulls himself to his feet, and high-tails it for the cars. Steve can't really blame him, and his wolf makes a mental note.

One down. Two to go.

Wyatt looks for a brief moment like he may follow, not to flee but rather to kill Earl for his treachery, but he is distracted by the kids again as another firecracker lands dangerously close to his waist. Thrown by this turn of events, he doesn't notice Max coming at him with a very large tree branch until she brains him with it. Mike follows up by throwing a few carefully aimed stones at Wyatt's face.

Despite his terror for the pups, Steve can't focus on them right now. He is slammed down into the dirt, the back of his head jarring horribly against the hard ground. Neil is laughing, a horrible grating laugh somewhere above Steve's head, and Billy is yelling and fighting still, still trying to protect him, still putting himself in danger.

Steve tries to focus. Don't overthink it, just...

Shift! Claws! Teeth! FUCKING ANYTHING!

A booted foot flies out - one of Neil's - and catches him in the ribs. Steve swears he can hear the bone crack and feels his lungs squeeze shut.

This is insane... he needs to...

Billy yowls and falls to the ground a few feet away, knocked back again by Neil... Neil who is fueled by hate and who isn't slowing down, isn't stopping.

Another bang in the distance, another roar, another child's yell...

He can't make himself hold his beta form. He is too tied up in his fear for his kids and his overwhelming panic and confusion to focus, to hold it, to drag the wolf up and make it hold on to the reigns. 

The wolf howls and rages inside, clawing to get out, but Steve can't make it work, can't make it...

Please, he thinks, but it's no good. 

"I can't believe this is what my son turned his back on us for."

Neil blocks out the light of the moon as he stands over Steve. Steve kicks out and catches the older man in the shin but his chest hurts and he's tired and drained and he only manages to make man take a step back.

"I always told him bitten wolves lack discipline, and as you can see, I was..."

Billy is in front of Steve, suddenly, pushing Neil away, sinking his teeth into his father's shoulder.

Across the way, Wyatt picks Lucas up by his throat, lifts him off the ground.

Go!

Steve isn't sure if it's his voice or his wolf's or Billy's that yells this, but he doesn't hesitate either way.

He forces himself into a sprinter's starting position and pushes off the ground, running, ignoring the pain and charging at Wyatt.

With enough speed, he doesn't need to be a wolf to knock Wyatt down.

Neil rips his son off of himself easily. Billy's face is streaked with dirt and red, and he is struggling to identify the parts of his body that don't hurt. Neil still looks huge... more wolf than man now, slipping past his beta form into something primal in its fury.

"Pathetic, Billy," Neil snarls. His voice is guttural, the voice of the animal. A long arm shoots out and catches Billy in the side, sinks sharp claws in and twists. It is a terrible anchor dragging him down into swirling dark depths of agony.

Billy thinks... no, he knows... suddenly and clearly, that he is going to die here. His gaze flicks across the clearing to Steve and Max, both of whom are holding thick tree branches and are whacking Wyatt as hard as they can with them. Steve isn't looking his way.

He's going to die alone, after all.

Something in Billy, sad and desperately tired, snaps at his father's wretched inability to understand.

"He's better, Dad," the boy gasps, blood in his mouth. "He's better than you. Better... better parent, better Alpha. He doesn't even... neh...need to try. I chose him, I chose..."

Pain and rage and something that might be fear in Neil's eyes, and the sharp tearing feeling in Billy's side grows.

Like a drowning man trying to get to shore, Billy can feel his strength waning and his desperation building. He makes one last push, knowing it won't be enough, knowing that it is never enough.

But he needs to try. He needs...

Billy pushes and pushes, and the claws leave his side, and Neil is flying backwards, bowled over by the sheer force of his son's desperation.

The young wolf isn't thinking of anything except getting his father away... away from his pups and away from his mate and away from himself.

It all needs to stop.

All the man does is bring pain and Billy just wants him to go away.

Neil swipes his claws across Billy's chest and the pain lights up like a spark and Billy throws his father away from himself as hard and as fast as he can. There is an explosion of firecrackers and Neil jumps and stumbles back... Billy tries to see where he's going, where he's moving...

And suddenly Neil isn't moving anywhere. He stands, jerking and twitching but not falling down because...

Because something is holding him up.

They're in the woods. When did they get so close to the woods? Where did all these trees come from, tall and looming and silver in the darkness?

Billy doesn't remember.

The tree branch is sticking out, is jutting out of his father... his father's stomach... and it's glistening with blood that looks black in the moonlight. Billy sees it and suddenly everything slows down, goes wonky around the edges.

Nonononononono...

His wolf lets out an anguished cry of grief that escapes in a bastardized form out of his human mouth, and he is by his father's side instantly, hands clutching the air uselessly, unable to be still and terrified to touch. He doesn't know what to do, if he should pull his father off the tree or what, but his mind is made up for him when the branch breaks under the older wolf's weight a second later.

He catches his father before he falls and holds him gently against himself as he lowers him to the ground. 

"Dad... Dad... I'm sorry, please..."

The cries and yelps and scuffling noises seem very far away now. 

"Not enough, Billy," Neil wheezes out. A bubble of blood oozes out of his mouth. 

"Dad?" Billy whimpers.

The adrenaline is draining out of him fast and reality is taking on brutally sharp edges. He feels frightened and alone.

"Alpha?"

Neil is looking through him. Beyond him.

"Never enough." 

 

 

 

When Billy looks back later it will seem like time warped and collapsed upon itself in that moment. Everything goes at a strange pace, a slanting, shifting pattern of movement.

Neil dies.

It is not a dramatic moment, not to Billy. It just happens. Billy watches it happen. He is the only one there to notice it... all the others are busy elsewhere. It's like watching a bus go past him. He can't miss it and he can't stop it.

His father dies, and then everything else falls into place like gears in a machine.

The world turns and he can't stop it. 

He looks up from the hot gore of his father's body to see Wyatt, that perverted monster, crouched over Steve, who is stretched out on the ground. Max lies dazed and bleeding a few feet away and Lucas and Will are yelling, unable to throw any more firecrackers without hurting their friend, unable to get any closer without antagonizing Wyatt. Dustin is screaming Steve's name and Jonathan is trying desperately to hold him still.

Steve is bleeding heavily from his nose and his leg, and even from here Billy can see him laboring for breath, fighting to get off the ground when every movement sends a fresh look of agony across his face. His fist is up in Wyatt's chest, his claws embedded in his skin, but he can't seem to summon the strength to push him the rest of the way off. 

Wyatt looks over at Billy and grins. His mouth stretches wide and ugly, and his good eye gleams in the light of a fallen flashlight. His makeshift patch has fallen off his ruined eye in the struggle, exposing a mass of half-healed flesh.

In that moment Billy knows that Wyatt is speaking directly to him, is reaching out and wrapping his filthy hands around Billy's face and showing him the dark side of the moon.

You see, Billy? Keep watching... this one is all for you.

Wyatt raises his huge paw and snarls.

Billy feels a scream rip out of his mouth. He can't move, it's too late, he's too slow... 

Steve is too slow. He can't hold the shift, can't maintain his wolf form, but he has managed to get Wyatt away from the kids. He rolls him away but the other man is too fast, and then Steve is on the ground and then Wyatt is looking at him with pure hatred.

"You're mine, boy," Wyatt growls through a mouthful of fangs, and then he glances over to where Steve knows Billy is.

Steve desperately wants to look, wants to see Billy and Dustin one last time, but he knows that if he loses his tenuous grip on Wyatt for even a moment then it's all over, and as tired as he is he can't quite let himself do that. He knows that if he looks over he'll crack...

Steve's claws are in the older wolf's chest but he can't concentrate, he can't hold them there, he trying, he's trying, but he can't hold him off... 

He can hear Billy and Dustin yelling.

Steve sees his end above him. It's bloody and brutal and ugly.

There's a noise like something between a screech and a squeal and for all Steve knows the sound is the battle cry of the Angel of Death.

It's right there. Wyatt is right there, claws raised and then there is that terrible noise and a shocking tremor moving up Steve's arm...

Wyatt's right there and then...

He's not.

He's... not.

Why...?

Why is Steve looking at the underside of a car?

He blinks one, twice, then shifts and props himself up, and after a moment's thought crawls out from under his Beemer. It is his Beemer, he can see that now that he really looks at it, except the front is a broken mess of metal and... 

Oh, that's blood. Blood and fur. Wonderful.

The driver's door opens and a familiar voice cries out in shock. The car drifts forward lazily and Steve needs to roll out of the way before it stops again with a jerky movement.

"Put it in park, Nancy," Jonathan groans from somewhere to Steve's right.

Stunned and unexpectedly free, Steve glances over to where the voice comes from and sees that the teen is at the bottom of the pile of kids, all of whom dove out of the way of the veering car as it tore around the side of the warehouse. As he watches, he sees Mike struggle out of the pile and run towards the car.

"Nancy!"

Max squirms out as well and looks beyond the clearing. Steve can't follow her line of sight but he knows she's looking at Billy and Neil.

"Mike! Steve! Are you okay?! Oh my God, Jonathan!" 

Nancy does, thank God, put the car in the right gear before jumping out, although it hardly makes any difference. Wyatt has been thrown across the clearing and is a crumbled shell at the base of a large tree. Steve doesn't know if he is still alive or not, but either way he's not going anywhere in a hurry. He seems to have taken a chunk of the Beemer with him.

"Totaled my car, Nance," Steve huffs. He forces air in and out of his chest and tries to concentrate on pulling himself together. That's definitely a cracked rib... oh well. Werewolf healing, do your worst.

"Was he a bad guy? Please tell me he..."

"Yeah, Nancy. It's great. Good job."

"I've been driving around for ages trying to find you. Finally found the sign for the warehouse, which had completely fallen down, by the way! Jonathan...?!"

"I'm here, Nancy," Jonathan pulls himself up and Nancy is on top of him before he can get another word out. The kids shuffle off but are singularly unimpressed by what rapidly devolves into a rather romantic reunion.

"Can't believe she hit him," Dustin says, bewilderment cutting through the hazy pain of his broken arm. He pulls himself up into a sitting position and eyes the car with no small amount of awe.

"There goes our getaway ride," Mike huffs. 

"Billy," Steve murmurs. "Billy."

He says the name and then there he is, his golden mate soaked in blood standing over him suddenly and tugging him up off the ground. It's only the pain in his chest that makes Steve breathless - probably. He wraps his arms around his lover and buries his face in his neck, breathing as deeply as possible and soaking up that delicious scent that had been denied to him for so long.

Just a few days, really.

Except you thought you'd never have it again, so...

"Sweetheart," Billy sighs, a sound that comes out wet and shaky. He pulls Steve close. "You're okay."

"Are you okay?"

Billy doesn't trust his voice right now so he just nods into Steve's neck.

"Your dad..."

"Shut up." The words come out in a kind of hiss, but there's no nastiness in them. Only a kind of desperate sorrow, the bone-deep knowledge that Billy will break if Steve pushes him right now. "Please, shut up."

Steve shuts up. He is not offended. He presses himself gently to Billy and then, after a long moment that is not nearly long enough, pulls away.

"It's okay," Steve says softly, pressing his forehead against Billy's when a wounded noise escapes the other boy. "Just need to check on Dustin. And then I think we should all get out of here."

Shit, yeah. Dustin. 

The kid is curled up on the far end of the clearing.

"Dustin!"

"I'm okay, Steve! Are you? That was seriously cool with the car, but I think my arm is broken. Are you okay? Is it okay?"

"Yeah."

Steve's not okay and he knows it, but he only has eyes for his pup right now. He forces himself to walk forward. The fight has spread everyone all over the clearing, scattered bodies and debris cluttering up the space like so much litter. In the center is the car, and Steve makes a mental note to help Nancy practice her driving at the earliest opportunity. 

They have propped Dustin up against a stump... he is not the only one hurt but with his arm broken he is the one with the most serious injuries by far. Lucas is curled around the curly-haired boy and Will and Jonathan have limped over to help.

Nancy and Mike are in some sort of conference by the car, and when he sees this Steve slows, coming to a sudden realization.

"Where's Eleven?" he asks.

"That's what I was saying on the radio," Nancy says, voice fraught. "She just jumped out of the car and ran off and I couldn't find her in the woods..."

"She could be anywhere, we have to..."

A soft voice breaks through the commotion.

"Mike?"

Mike perks up suddenly. All eyes turn towards the sound.

"Eleven?"

Sure enough, the small voice does belong to the girl. She is standing at the edge of the clearing, barely visible in the darkness but unmistakable all the same. Her clothes are dirty and torn and there are streaks of dark mud on her skin. She has a small smile is on her face, in spite of everything. She should look like a disheveled mess, but that isn't what anyone sees.

There's something about her... something wild.

Steve thinks her eyes might be glowing. There's something silvery-dark in them.

He feels like maybe he is seeing something he shouldn't. Something beyond the veil.

He doesn't have much time to mull that idea over, because Eleven is forced to quickly jump away from a lurching figure. Mike lets out a cry of disbelief.

"Oh, come on!" he yells, and Steve lets out a similar huff of shock.

Wyatt has managed to lift himself up. He is a mangled mess clearly running on rage and adrenaline. His face and chest look like raw hamburger meat and his leg clearly broken.

He sees nothing but Billy and Steve in front of him, too far apart to protect each other, too battered and bruised to run. Together, they are everything he hates, and that hate drives him up and forward.

He makes another grab at Eleven and Lucas shrieks, but she is too close to Wyatt and the others are in the way and although Will is holding another firecracker and the lighter he can't throw it without hurting someone else.

"Blood..." Will whispers, his eyes darting towards the woods behind Wyatt.

Steve is closest, halfway between Billy and the group. He stumbles towards Eleven, desperate to put himself between her and the half-dead monster lunging towards her. As he moves, however, he hears something... feels something. He can't stop, but he feels it and he knows...

There is a rumble.

It is low and terrible and it is there before Wyatt can turn and see the end.

The smell of rotting leaves and dried blood.

One head, a gaping maw at the end of a long, shining tentacle, snaps out of the darkness of the trees and breaks Wyatt's collar bone. He yelps and spins but he can't get away.

Another face, another mouth shoots out, fast as a viper, and takes a chunk out of his side.

Another and another follows, emerging from the woods until it's not just separate heads any more, but rather a great looming mass, a ball of snake-like appendages.

The Thesselhydra is big, so big, bigger than Billy imagined it would be up close. He has never seen anything but a few of its extensions, and while he's not seeing all of it right now he is seeing enough.

Sharp teeth glint gray in the moonlight. Black, slime-soaked flesh writhes.

Wyatt's final scream is cut off in its infancy, and no one else can move for a long, long moment. No one speaks or screams. Nobody even breathes. They all watch in silent horror as Wyatt is ripped apart by mouth after mouth after mouth.

Billy thinks that time had warped itself before, and it's true, it had.

Everything goes very quickly now.

Billy isn't sure who moves first.

Steve, probably. Always Steve. He moves towards Eleven. He is still human, still devastatingly vulnerable. Making himself less so most likely never even occurs to him. He doesn't think. He just moves.

Eleven moves. Eleven turns and lifts her hands up.

Everyone waits for the push of her powers, the unstoppable force that will save them, but it never comes.

Nothing happens. 

Eleven's eyes widen.

Mike steps forward.

Dustin yelps.

The faces, the faces that look so much like blind, drowned men with metal sewn into their mouths, give out a shriek, a loud, high-pitched harmony from hell. To Billy's ears it sounds like a terrible victory cry.

The Thesselhydra scoops up the two people closest to it, both fragile bodies held tightly by separate writhing tentacles, and with a triumphant roar the creature disappears back into the woods just as quickly as it emerged. 

It is all over in an instant.

Billy doesn't even get a chance to open his mouth and scream his mate's name.

Steve and Eleven are gone.

 

 

 

Billy plows through the woods in hot pursuit... but the thing is too fast, and he doesn't make it more than fifty feet before he's lost all trace of it. He swears he can hear it out there, vague echoes bouncing off the trees, but he can't get more than teasing hints that might very easily be dead ends.

His fear comes out in a low groan that is more of a frustrated whimper. He sniffs wildly at the air but...

Of course. Nancy's spell. His nose is still gone.

He tugs at his hair and represses a howl of anger, turns quickly and races back to the clearing. Everyone there is in an uproar, but Billy ignores it all and goes straight for the witch.

"Undo it," he hisses, getting right up in the girl's space.

Nancy stares at him, shaking her head.

"Undo it!" Billy roars in frustration. Jonathan tugs him away but Billy angrily shrugs the other boy's hand off his shoulder. "I can't find him without a scent! Take the spell off so I can track him!"

"It doesn't work like that," she screams back, at the end of her rope. "The spell is supposed to wear off in a few days. I can't just turn it off and on!"

Billy's gaze shifts restlessly to Dustin, who is pale and rocking, holding his broken arm tight against his body. The boy looks like he's on the verge of passing out and Billy cannot, in good conscious, force march him through the woods like a half-dead bloodhound.

A part of him, a dark, ugly part, wants to do it anyway.

"I know where to go."

Billy is so tightly-wound that it takes him a moment to register the words, and another to acknowledge their unlikely source.

He turns and fixes his gaze on Will Byers.

"What?" 

"Will," Jonathan murmur, tense as a wire. "Don't..."

"You're going to get them back?" Will asks. Billy nods. "I can help. I think I know where they are."

"No," Jonathan says, shaking his head.

"It wouldn't..." Lucas tries to articulate the words and stumbles. "They're still okay, right? It wouldn't...."

"It would have just killed them here if it wanted them dead," Mike forces out, voicing the thought that very nearly brings Billy to his knees. "Besides, it needs Eleven alive. It wants her for some reason. She said it wanted to absorb her power somehow."

"They're at the Energy building," Jonathan interrupts, gaze snapping over to Billy. "You can take the car, you don't need Will..."

"You said the road was in pieces when you went to check it out," Will reminds his brother, half turning to him but never taking his attention off Billy. "We can't go that way. We'd need to find a back road or something, and it'd take too long. It'll be faster going through the woods. I'll follow the path like I did in my dream."

"Your dream?" Billy repeats, skeptically. "The fuck, kid?"

"Don't be a dick, Billy," Max says. She looks utterly exhausted. 

"Will, you're not going," Jonathan repeats, sounding increasingly desperate.

"I need to, it's Steve and Eleven... I need to..."

"If you're going then we're all going," Dustin growls.

"We can't all go," Bill snaps. "Max, what is this? What is he talking about?"

"I see things sometimes," Will fills in quickly. "In my dreams, and the rest of the time. I saw where the... the Thesselhydra is staying. Sleeping or whatever."

"In a dream?"

"Billy," Nancy pipes up. "You're a werewolf. You just saw a creature straight out of Greek mythology kidnap your soulmate and a girl who can move things with her mind."

That's... true.

Good enough.

"Alright," Billy turns to Will. He strides over and crouches down. Will takes a small step back and the sight of the boy's distrust and fear is enough to put knots in Billy's chest, but he doesn't have time for regret right now.

He pointedly refuses to look over at his father's corpse, refuses to imagine the lifeless body of Steve Harrington.

He glances over at Max instead. She looks back at him, eyes wide. He opens his mouth to say something, anything, to her. Anything that would make this better, that would make this make sense. He closes his mouth again after a moment's hesitation. She keeps her gaze fixed on him as he turns his focus back to Will.

"You get on my back, okay kid? Like a piggy-back. It'll be faster if I can run. You can't come," Billy cuts Mike off as he opens his mouth to protest. "I need to shift to my beta wolf and run to catch up. You aren't fast enough to keep up with me."

"Fuck you!" This is another unexpected interjection from an unexpected corner. 

Dustin pushes himself to his feet, his eyes glowing and his fangs dropped down and filling his mouth. The spiky itch of guilt scrapes at Billy's soul and although he tries to he can't quite meet the younger boy's eye.

"You can't come, Dustin," Billy insists with a confidence he doesn't feel. "I'll find them, I'll bring them back, I..."

"I don't believe you, you piece of shit! You beat up Steve and you wanted to make him and me your slaves!"

"I didn't, I..."

"So what?" Dustin waves his unhurt arm towards the rest of the Party. "We're just supposed to trust him now? What if he finds Steve and forces him to bond with him like he wanted?!"

"Steve is my mate," Billy insists, although it kills him that the words sounds so weak. He's the target of an impressive array of judgmental glares right now, and each one is accusing him of horrors. "I'd never hurt him."

"You did hurt him, asshole!" Dustin shouts, going even paler from the effort, tears streaming down his face. "I hate you! You're a goddamn monster!"

Billy is lucky that he's crouching down, that he's pretty much on his knees already. The air is too thick for him to breathe properly, and he knows now, in this moment, that he cannot make this better.

He does not... he will not... look over at his father's body.

He hears his dad's loud, taunting laughter all the same.

"Dustin," Nancy says, quietly, carefully. "We need to..."

"I don't accept your apology, or whatever that was earlier," Dustin interrupts, snarling at Billy. "This isn't over. Not by a long shot!"

"Alright!" Billy shouts finally, his patience at an end. "I get it! When this is over I'll leave, I'll drive off a fucking bridge, I'll do whatever you want, but right now we need to GO!!"

He turns to Will and shifts. His limbs extend, his fangs drop, his claws elongate. The wolf slides into place within him, sharpening his senses and giving him a new wave of strength.

He hopes that it's enough.

"Climb up now," he growls through his fangs. Will swallows and obeys.

Jonathan shouts out one last thing after them, but it is lost in the night as Billy takes off at a sprint through the forest, the young boy clinging tightly to his back.

 

Chapter Text

"Keys... keys, Max!"

"Try the sun thingy," Max shouts. She is limping around the corner of the warehouse towards the parked cars and Lucas is holding her up. "Are we all gonna fit?"

"It's not there," Nancy flips down the sun visor in the front seat of Billy's Camaro but no keys fall out. "Max, they're not there!"

"Did he take them with him?" Dustin asks, leaning heavily on Mike. Jonathan follows, arms outstretched to catch any one of the kids if they fall. They are not in any immediate danger, but cold waves of shock are crashing over the Party and the older two kids in particular feel the need to leave the area quite quickly. The hour is growing late and the ruined warehouse looms over them like a watchful, malevolent mountain.

Dustin suddenly can't believe he used to practice shifting with Billy and Steve in that place. He feels achy and raw, and his arm is on fire, and he desperately wants Steve back.

"What about the truck?" Nancy suggests, not quite managing to keep the worry out of her voice. "Whose truck is it?"

"Wyatt's... the guy with the eye-patch," Jonathan croaks, struggling with dizziness and pain. "At least I think so."

"Did he have keys?" Mike asks.

"I don't know."

"You want to check one of the mangled corpses and find out?" Lucas snarks.

"Watch it..." Dustin hisses, stumbling. "Ow, ow..."

"What are we gonna do?"

"We can try hot-wiring it."

"You know how to hot-wire a car?"

"...No. Do you?"

"Let me try," Jonathan says as the kids ease Dustin into the back seat of the Camaro. Max is next, then Lucas. Mike watches as Nancy scoots over to the passengers seat and gives Jonathan room to work.

"You know how?"

"Had to do something like this last time I lost my keys," Jonathan reaches up under the dashboard and pulls down a tangled mess of wires.

"Maybe we should take the truck instead," Max pipes up, worried. "Billy will kill us if we hurt the car."

"I think we've got bigger issues at the moment," Mike notes. The thought is not comforting, and it's not meant to be. Mike feels sick at the thought of Eleven in the hands of the Thesselhydra. She'd told him... she'd tried to warn him.

It wants me, it's doing this, it's like a mist dragging me down...

"It will be It and me in the end," she'd said. And now her flagging powers were clearly gone completely. She'd tried to fight it in the woods with her telekinesis and nothing happened. It took her, her and Steve, and now Billy and Will were in the wind. She couldn't protect herself, she needed him, he should be there with her...

The car roars to life as Jonathan frantically twists the wires together. The kids let out a yelp of joy and Mike climbs into the front seat next to Nancy. Jonathan sits up and slides behind the wheel. Without hesitation he slams it into gear and tears out of the abandoned parking lot. After his time tied up in the Hargrove's junk room it is a kind of blessed relief to be free and behind a fast engine, even if he is exhausted and woozy.

"Okay..." he starts. "We need to go..."

"To the Energy place!" Mike yells. "We need to help Eleven!"

"No!" Nancy's eyes widen. "To the hospital! Dustin, your arm..."

"We can't go there... what will they do if they see Dustin's werewolf healing?"

"We should go to Steve's house..."

"My house..."

"No, we..."

"No, we need to help Steve and Eleven!" 

"Jonathan, go..."

"Everybody, just shut...!"

The argument is cut off abruptly as Jonathan is forced to make a sharp turn. Another car, a big, lumbering brown truck with a row of flashing headlights on top comes to a screeching halt in front of them.

Someone screams and Jonathan slams on the brakes.

 

 

 

They run for what feels like an impossibly long length of time.

Will's job is relatively simple, though it fills him with terrible anxiety. He is aware that any delay could cost his friends their lives, so he is careful to watch where they are going and be as clear in his instructions as possible. It should be hard to see where they are headed in the dark, but he follows the path in the woods as he followed it in his dream, with a dazed sort of knowing.

More disconcertingly, he can see with his second sight a faint, luminescent trail of sludge marking the Thesselhydra's path. It is not very hard to figure out which way the creature went.

He gives the occasional tug on Billy's pointed, furry ear (he would find their presence on the otherwise humanoid boy hilarious if this whole situation wasn't so terrifying) to let him know where to turn, and yells directions as loudly as possible when he can catch his breath. Tree branches whip dangerously past his head as Billy races and leaps through the underbrush.

The ride is rather like what Will imagines being on the back of a running lion feels like. It's been years since he was small enough to ride on Jonathan's back, and Billy is much, much faster than Jonathan could ever be. He holds on for dear life.

Billy, meanwhile, feels a constant, bubbling panic, the ticking clock in his brain growing more insistent with each passing moment. Like Will, his job is relatively simple... too simple to distract him from horrifying visions of his mate suffering the same fate as Wyatt.

All he can do is run, and run, but not so fast that he is in danger of knocking the pup off his back or missing any instructions about where he is going. 

He has no idea where he is going.

His thoughts tumble up and down and every which way like water over stones.

Stevestevestevesteve...

Monster. Kill the monster.

How? Weak spots, no weak spots. Too many heads. Too many teeth.

It's big. So big.

Monstermonstermonster.

Fight or flight. How?

Gotta run. Gotta get him and run. Gotta get...

Stevestevestevesteve...

Kill the monster.

Get him back. Get him back and then...

He lives. Mate lives. There is no life, no world if Steve isn't in it. 

Get him back. Steve lives.

Gotta save him, gotta get him back and then...

And then leave.

Leave.

The wolf, so dangerously close to the surface, shuddering with agony at the loss of both its mate and its Alpha in such a short space of time, is very nearly broken by a despairing kind of confusion at this thought.

It tears itself away from its assessment of the monster and stumbles headlong into the wall of Billy's sudden determination.

It rages, demands an explanation.

Leave?

Yes. Leave. That solution seems quite obvious to Billy.

Sure. Why not? Leave. Save Steve and then get in the Camaro and go. Who cares where, just as long as it's far away from here. Just as long as he's too far away to hurt anyone else he cares about. 

There is no place for him here. Jonathan was wrong and Dustin was right. 

Billy is all spite and sharp edges and weakness and betrayal. He survived this long only because those things were useful to Neil, but now that his father is dead he is nothing, and there can be no forgiveness, and even if there could be he doesn't deserve it.

He sees his father's body almost sliced in half by the tree branch. Images of Steve under Wyatt's claws... and under his own. The look in Steve's eyes when he rejected him, when he called him a weak and stupid child.

Dustin's voice, all righteous, miserable pain.

"I hate you! You're a monster!" 

It'll be better if he leaves. Better if he never came to Hawkins in the first place.

He's done enough damage.

The wolf rages.

This idea, this plan... it runs contrary to every instinct, to every natural law, to the only basic truths the wolf ever chooses to acknowledge. The wolf loves Steve, and wants Steve to be happy, and is willing to do things that are hard if it is what is best for Steve...

But this...

This is pathetic human morality, sniveling and stupid and unworthy of them.

Besides which, it is nonsensical. Steve is their mate... doesn't Billy understand that?

The memory of Steve as a wolf, dark fur shining in the moonlight, standing tall and proud and defiant. Sweet imaginings of Steve pregnant with pups, fat and happy, running his clever fingers over pert nipples and a swollen belly, all the way down to his pretty cock. 

Familiar brown eyes peaking out of their nest, a warm smile curling full lips up. Steve eating red meat. Steve laughing. Steve crying. Steve moaning and sweaty and beautiful.

Steve. Steve. Steve.

The wolf roars.

IT IS HIM AND US. THERE IS NOTHING ELSE. 

The boy ignores the voice and keeps running.

The wolf wonders if it could get away with killing Billy, somehow. If it can get into his brain or his heart maybe it can murder him from the inside out. Maybe it can stay with Steve as an animal... would Steve still love it as a half-thing? It might be willing to risk it.

Will, oblivious to the war raging inside the werewolf carrying him, tugs sharply on his right ear.

Billy gets the hint and turns, tears away from the old railroad tracks he was following, races past a few ancient looking trees, and nearly runs smack into a chain link fence. Only his supernatural reflexes keep him from hitting it full on, and the two boys come to a sudden stop.

"The hell?" Billy growls through a mouthful of fangs, both hands up and grasping the wire. He clenches them and tries to center himself, catch his breath.

Will scrambles on his shoulders, stunned by the sudden loss of momentum and gasping for air. The older boy reaches up and grabs Will's hand, squeezing it gently.

"You're alright, kid," Billy murmurs, panting and weary. "Is this it?"

The two boys look over. Billy takes a few steps to the left and between Will's flashlight, held up with one shaky hand, and the dim light of the moon they can see a gaping hole in the metal barrier, almost as if a tornado had unceremoniously ripped through the wire.

"Guess so," Will replies quietly.

Once they pass through the hole in the fence it is a very short distance to their destination. They climb up a small hill and suddenly there it is.

The sign in front of the building says "U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY" in big block letters.

Perhaps in the daylight it wouldn't look so scary, so tall and eerie and foreboding.

Perhaps.

Will thinks that it does basically look like an office building from the outside, like the big buildings in cities like Indianapolis. There isn't anything terribly distinctive about it... it's got that blank, beige quality on the surface, the neat rows of windows, the clean edges and lines. The part of Will that is a tried and true D&D fan is a little disappointed that this place isn't more like a crypt or a castle or a cave... that it isn't obviously evil.

It would be so much better if this was just a cliche.

No, there's nothing immediately terrifying about this place. Not at first glance. 

But the lights in the building are flickering on and off. They aren't like regular lights, either... they are the dull reds and whites of emergency lighting, dimmed by long use and flickering in erratic patterns, like a fearful heartbeat. And... Will can't really see it from here, but it looks like some of the windows in that tall building are busted and broken. The windows illuminated by flashing light are no less frightening than the ones inescapably darkened.

There's something about the surrounding area, too. No one has been landscaping, obviously, and the grass and vines have an overgrown look... but at the same time the wildlife that has grown up here seems... wrong, somehow. Will flicks his flashlight over the surrounding area and notes that the plants look sick, grotesque, thick and shaded with unnatural colors.

He realizes that he can't hear the animals in the woods anymore. Not even the wind seems to want to disturb the oppressive stillness.

This place is dead... but at the same time it's not. It seethes with something dark and dangerous, otherworldly and wild. It is a place where bad things live, things that aren't quite dead or alive. Things that aren't quite reality... things that are more like nightmares.

"What is this place?" Billy asks.

To Will's ears the older boy sounds slightly unnerved, and underneath that Will can also pick up a tell-tale ripple of anguish threatening to overwhelm him. He doesn't blame him.

The younger boy clears his throat and shrugs, sliding down off Billy's shoulders and landing on the ground with a thump.

"Mike's dad says all buildings that say 'Department of Energy' are used by the government to build weapons."

"What?"

"Weapons... you know, to fight the communists."

"Well, the Feds aren't here now."

"No."

"What kind of weapons?"

"Hmm?"

"What... what kind of stuff would they be making way out here? Not... not bombs?"

There is a flurry of moment in the woods behind them, a squirrel or a bird chittering wildly and scurrying through the underbrush. Both boys jump, but catch themselves before they completely lose their grip. The noise repeats and it almost sounds like cruel laughter.

"No," Will says finally, turning back towards the building. "It doesn't look like they make bombs."

The two boys pick their way towards the building. As they approach and the details of the structure come into focus, Will considers the possibility that it is not the lights or the darkness or the windows or the wildlife unsettling him.

He can see shadows moving in the windows. Shadows walking past. He can see them lurking around the base of the building.

They slide and melt against the glass. Will watches one flutter in front of one window, shimmer out of sight, and then reappear in the next room over.

He has a feeling that the government workers didn't just up and move away one day.

Will and Billy go forward in uneasy silence, down the hill, across the parking lot and up to the front doors.

"Think it came in this way?" Will asks.

"I doubt that thing can open doors. There's probably some other way in... a tunnel or a hole in the wall... I can't look for it right now. We'll go in this way. Hopefully it's hiding somewhere obvious in here and we'll be able to find it."

"It's a big building," Will protests, tugging at Billy's sleeve to get him to slow down and think. "Wait. What about your nose?"

Billy grits his teeth and says nothing. 

"How will we find it if you can't sniff it out?" Will presses.

"I have a feeling it won't be that hard," he snaps, pulling away from the younger boy. That disconcerting thought effectively silences Will for the time being, but the feeling that they are walking into a trap remains.

They cross a parking lot still full of cars, now abandoned and useless to their owners. There are a few steps up to the entrance, and then when they get to the front door Billy stops abruptly. He hesitates and then, after a moment's indecision, tries it. It is unlocked. He lets out a breath, nods to himself, and then turns decisively towards Will. 

"Alright kid," Billy looks at the pup. He resists the urge to crouch down and get on the youngster's level... he has a feeling that the effort would not be appreciated.

"Okay," he says. "Can you find your way back to the others?"

Will looks at him blankly.

"Can I what?"

"I need to go in there, so... can you find your way back to the others? Or you can wait here...?"

"No, no, I'm going in with you. We're getting Steve and Eleven back."

Billy grits his teeth and forces his breath out of his nose.

"No, you're not. I need to move fast, maybe get a little rough. That's pretty much a guarantee. You'll just slow me down. I don't have the time or energy to babysit you while we're in there."

"Fuck you!" Will snaps, drawing himself up into a small but potent ball of fury.

Billy is incredulous.

"Oh," he smirks humorlessly. "Fuck me?"

"Yeah!" Will very nearly snarls at the older boy, wiping the grin from his face. "Steve may be your mate, but he's also my friend, the one who takes care of us. Eleven, too! She's in danger from a monster who is attacking her psychically, I'm not just going to sit out here while you go in there alone! You don't know what you're up against! I can help!"

"Jesus," Billy shakes his head. "What is it with the Byers family busting my balls today?"

"Do you even know what's in there? Can you see things like I see things? Do you see," Will violently jabs a finger towards the building, "those fucking shadows walking around in there?"

Billy... doesn't. He turns slightly but he doesn't see any shadows walking around. The dimly lit corridor just visible beyond the big glass doors at the building's entrance appears decidedly, devastatingly... empty.

At any other time, in any other place, he'd trust his own eyes and dismiss the kid as crazy.

Something about the way Will says it, though - with a vicious conviction - sends a ripple of terror up Billy's spine.

More than that, too... he can feel something needling him, prickling on the edge of consciousness, somewhere along the boundary where he ends and his wolf begins.

Do you see those shadows?

What is it dear, dead Mama used to say? his wolf taunts, bitter and upset and petrified. 'More things in Heaven and Earth...' 

Maybe she's in there, haunting the place.

Maybe dear, dead Papa is.

Scared, Billy? You should be.

Will continues, undaunted.

"We're facing down monsters and who knows what else! Things that I can see and that I can try to protect us from. You need me, asshole!"

"Alright!" Billy snaps. "Jesus Christ!"

He forces his hands to stop shaking through sheer, anger-driven willpower. He turns and yanks open the door without any sort of flourish and holds it, glaring at the young boy.

"Well?"

Will sees his chance and scrambles inside before Billy can change his mind, which he does almost the same moment the boy walks past him. Sudden visions of a hurt or dead child tear through the older boy's mind, scrambled with images of Dustin's tear-stained accusatory glare and Steve's mournful, concerned face.

He moves quickly, turns to say something, to get the boy to leave again... but the words die in his throat.

The hallways of the building are still illuminated by flickering emergency lights but for a wild, horrible moment Billy wishes they weren't.

Fuck it, he doesn't need his nose, he doesn't need the lights, he can make out enough in the dark and he has his ears to listen with.

Seeing is highly overrated.

Will comes to a sudden halt and his face turns sallow and almost green.

The hall is empty, empty... no shadows here that Billy can see. But he can see blood. He can see lots of blood. Blood on the walls, blood on the floor, blood on the ceiling... some of it old and dried and rotting and some of it fresh... too fresh.

Intermixed with the streaks of every possible shade of red is something else, green-black and thick, that could only belong to the Thesselhydra. It glistens and oozes, and seems to be slowly dissolving the drywall, eating away at the building itself like a slow-working acid.

And Billy can't see the shadows, he can't see anything like that... but something deep within him knows they're there. His wolf is scratching and whining and panicking in a way it never has before. He sees something dancing on the edges of his vision and he knows in his heart that if he turns and looks there will be nothing there. Nothing... and everything.

This does nothing to help Billy's calm.

"Oh," Will says softly, and then he doesn't say anything else.

They walk down the hall in silence, afraid to speak. Billy knows he should send the pup away, drag him out of the building if that's what it takes, but every time he almost makes up his mind to do that he catches another glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye and a shiver runs through him like someone is walking over his grave.

After a little while the older boy realizes that they can't keep walking walking aimlessly, so Billy places a gentle hand on Will's shoulder, bringing them both to a halt.

"Stop," he says quietly. "Do you see anything?"

Will's gaze darts up and down the hall in a way that is more than mildly disconcerting for Billy before he finally shrugs slightly. 

"Nothing that can hurt us."

Billy decides not to question it.

Instead, he closes his eyes for a moment and centers himself.

They can't just wander in circles... Billy needs to track down his mate. If he had his nose still... well, even then it might be difficult. If he tries, he can still pick up faint scents, but everything is marred by the overwhelming stench of viscera and decay, and underneath that... a strange absence of anything familiar, anything real.

Billy closes his eyes and pricks up his ears and draws in a deep breath and tries with his whole self to pin down where his mate is.

I'm coming, sweetheart.

Will assumes the role of look-out. He does so quietly, without any fuss. He barely blinks, his eyes darting fast to keep track of the shadows that are running, sliding down the walls, melting through the floor, moving everywhere in flickers. 

They can't hurt them... probably. He's seen something similar before, but never this many in one place, and never with this kind of constant looming presence. They are only broken moments in time, echoes of sound and feeling. They aren't even really ghosts, having so little to distinguish them as former people. They are rather lingering scraps of horror, silent stories of past trauma.

He doesn't need to explain that to Billy. It wouldn't help.

Will sees a man walking down the hallway.

He knows it’s a ghost.

He knows because the image skips around a little, like the very first second of video on a VHS tape. This ghost isn’t like his grandma, who had only come to say goodbye before moving on. No, this one is stuck in a never-ending loop, haunting the halls as a fragmented thing forced to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Will keeps one eye on the ghost as Billy tries to sniff out Steve and Eleven. The revenant walks ramrod straight, with jerky movements. He is wearing a crisp suit splattered with blood and has an immaculate head of white hair.

“I am going to fix this,” he whispers, an echo that sounds tinny and distant and strange. That’s the problem with ghosts – they can only echo things already said and felt.

Will thinks for a moment that the man might be trying to talk to him, but as he approaches, skittering forward like a slow-moving spider, Will notices that the spirit’s gaze is staring blankly over his head, seeing nothing.

Seeing inward only.

Will can't help but notice that the blood is dripping from the strange ghost’s hands as well.

“I am going to fix this,” he echoes again. “I will have… order. We will… contain this… terrible infection. We must… bring her back.”

“It’s all over the place,” Billy mutters, his eyes popping open. There's nothing, nothing for him to hear, nothing for him to hold onto. This place is just awful silence and death. He is oblivious to the ghost, completely focused on finding Steve’s scent. “I can’t hear him and I can't… I can’t pin it down…”

“Bring her back…” the man whispers. “Bring her back…”

“There’s too much…” Billy stops suddenly, and Will looks up and over to him.

He can see that the older boy’s face has gone pale and that his breathing is uneven, labored.

He is afraid. For the first time since this endless night began Will looks at Billy and sees fear written on his face. He didn’t see it before, not really, not when they were fighting Mr. Hargrove or even when the Thesselhydra first took Steve and El. Not at any time when they were in the raw red heat of a fight, when it might make sense for Billy to be afraid.

When there is something in front of him to fight, Billy never lets that part of himself show.

There is nothing in front of him now. Only emptiness. Only a terrible absence.

They are here now, they have followed the monster to its home, but there is too much blood, blood, blood and slime, and this place is too big. 

Will sees the fear in Billy's eyes.

He sees it and feels a chill run down his spine, shaking him at his core. Desperate for an anchor, he reaches out and takes Billy’s hand, ignoring the sharp claws that have popped out of Billy’s fingers without his knowledge.

“Billy… it’s okay… please…”

“Bring her back, bring her back…” the ghost repeats, a broken record.

“I’ve lost him,” Billy whispers. His face has gone strangely slack and his eyes are vacant with despair. “There’s too much… too much fucking blood in here.”

“I will have order… order… order…” the ghost hisses at walls dripping with blood, at the shattered shadows of the dead and the twisting trails of slime, at the evil he unleashed and could never ever hope to contain. “I will repair the…damage…damage… bring… bring her back.”

“I’ve lost the scent… I’ve lost him…”

Will blinks and feels a horrible ache inside of him, a horrible sympathy. Billy, who had always seemed so sure, looks so very alone right now. Like the ghost, seeing nothing, staring down the endless black hole of his loss.

“Billy,” Will says, trying to be gentle but feeling the urgency of their situation, the tension within him made worse by the constant murmurings of the dead man standing behind him. “Billy, we should move…”

“I can’t…” Billy says, a creeping horror in his voice. “I’ve lost him… I’ve lost…”

“Bring her back…”

Will shudders violently.

Alright, that does it.

Will has had enough of this tall, white-haired man. He has decided that he is a pompous fool and that he doesn’t like him at all. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath and then turns and unleashes the entirety of his fear and frustration upon the ghoulish old creep.

“GO AWAY!” He screams at the specter. “GO AWAY!”

Billy gasps, shocked out of his atrophy, and takes a step backwards.

Brenner’s dead eyes snap down and lock on to Will.

“She’s back.”  

Will and Billy are thrown backwards suddenly, knocked off their feet by an invisible force as they tumble down, down the corridor. The roughshod power, a furious wild, runs though Will like horrible, mucky swamp water, a thick sludge of impotent fury. It is the final, bitter cry of a dead thing.

And then it’s gone, gone completely.

The two boys stay on the ground for a minute, dazed and wary, as if afraid that a sudden movement might trigger another attack.

Billy is the first to recover.

He pulls himself up to his hands and knees and shakes his head. Kind of like a dog, Will thinks. Billy blinks and his face clears a little… there are still lines of fear there, but they are shaded by his old determination. His eyes lose that glazed-over look and he rubs his hand against his chest like he's checking that he's still here.

"Will," he murmurs.

"Yeah?"

Startled, Billy looks over at the younger boy.

"Did I..." he starts, and then shakes his head. "Never mind. You okay? What was that?"

Will nods.

"I'm okay. It's okay... it was... just something that got left behind. It can't really hurt us... we just got in its way."

Billy is too weary to argue the point, so he just shakes his head again and takes a deep breath, rocking a little on his knees.

Will props himself up on his elbows and looks over to find that Brenner is back where he originally started, at the far end of the long hallway he is doomed to walk over and over and over again... until the end of time, for all Will knows. His mouth is still moving, and his movements are still stilted, but the distance between him and them is somewhat reassuring.

He looks back at Billy, and then over the older boy's shoulder.

“Billy…?”

“Yeah, kid?”

“Is that a staircase?”

Billy turns slightly and sure enough… it’s a staircase.

He lifts his head and pricks up his ears, listening cautiously with his heightened hearing. After a long moment, his gaze narrows. He gives a short nod and bares his teeth.

“Guess we’re going down.”

 

 

 

Steve had no idea what Hawkins Lab might have looked like in its prime, but even now it is an imposing structure. The sign outside said the 'U.S. Department of Energy' - Steve caught sight of it as they slid past - but Steve is having a hard time imagining that, if this building did belong to the government, they wouldn’t have sent someone to reclaim it by now.

On the other hand, maybe the G-men had come, taken one look around, and wisely decided to call it a day.

Maybe some things are just better left alone.

The building is not in its prime now.

Steve sees glimpses of it as he is dragged, fading in and out of consciousness and wrapped up in a thick, slimy tentacle, into the ruin. Through blurry eyes he can see the emergency lights blinking on and off in an endless repetition, the flashing red illuminating the destruction that had ripped the place apart. It looks like a regular office building from the outside, but the inside is a mess of broken stone and steel, human remains and filth. 

The Thesselhydra takes them in through a crumbling bit of wall towards what Steve assumes is the back of the building. Their route leads straight into a much-abused hallway, and Steve finds himself dragged across a filthy floor covered in broken tiles.

He doesn't want to look but he makes himself do it anyway. He blinks his eyes open and they immediately catch on streaks of dark matter on the walls. 

He can't help himself. He sniffs the air warily and immediately detects blood and tissue, fecal matter and something else, dank and alien and monstrous. The tell-tale scent of rotting leaves and stagnant water, of dried blood and decay.

He turns his head slightly and sees half a mummified corpse laying not a foot away from him.

A part of Steve rears back, rebels at what his senses are telling him.  

He turns and wriggles in place and tries to slow down, to get away even though his conscious mind knows that there is no chance of that happening.

The moment he tries to stretch the horrible face at the end of the tentacle wrapped around him abruptly snaps at him, hissing at him. The pale, bloated, corpse-like visage is so close, too close to him, its metal-like teeth inescapable, its milky eyes staring right through his skin, right down to his bones.

Steve bites back a scream and forces himself to be still, to let himself be dragged away. He makes himself to take in shallow breaths and, after an eternal, mind-shattering moment, the face blinks and slinks away, hissing lightly as it goes.

Steve holds himself impossibly still for a moment longer, too terrified to do anything but allow himself to be carted onward like a log. Only his eyes move, darting around and searching for any clues in the darkness.

As the lights continue to flicker, Steve can see another body tangled up in the Thesselhydra's clutches… Eleven. Her eyes are closed and her mouth is slightly open. She must be unconscious.

He wants to call out to her, but he can’t with the pressure on his chest and the terror coursing through him, so he closes his eyes and tries to concentrate on his body and the space around him.

Breathe, baby, Billy’s sultry voice whispers, and Steve has never been so happy to hear him, even if it is just in his head. He’s pretty much decided that he forgives him for everything, and he’ll tell him so as soon as he gets out of this mess.

But first he needs to get out of this mess.

And he's not here now, is he? Billy? Is he coming for you, do you think...? Or have they all already given you up for dead? 

Stop.

The tentacle wrapped around him tightens, exerts ever more pressure, ounce by wretched ounce, until his bones start straining and cracking and all hope is being forcibly squeezed out of him.  

You can't get out of this mess, moron. You know that. Billy knows that. You think he's going to risk his neck to save a useless asshole like you? A rumble in the woods is one thing, all very romantic, but this is monsters and mayhem and certain death. He's probably half-way to California right now. Small wonder.

Right. Okay.

He needs to get out of this mess. Focus... and get out.

He's going to leave you behind. He was always going to leave you.

No.

Focus.

Okay.

Well...

He can't do this in his human form. That much he knows. He needs the strength and power of his wolf form. So, following that thought to its logical conclusion... he needs to shift. 

He needs to shift. Shift. Shift into his werewolf form.

Shit.

Oh yeah. He's a real expert in that. No sweat.

He tries to replicate Billy's voice in his head. 

Breathe, Steve. Go inside. Go to the center and work your way out.

Steve tries. It's not his fault that the fake-voice urging him on sounds wrong, off-key, hollow. 

Don't... don't play dumb, Not-Billy snaps, sounding a bit more like himself.

Steve closes his eyes and inhales raggedly, drawing in a breath despite the pain, and visualizes the center of himself.

The smells, the sounds, the horror around him... he tries to ignore it.

Tries.

Tries to ignore.

Just.

Ignore it.

He pictures a himself, a version of him, sitting somewhere in his chest. 

That's fine. That's great.

Then he steps back, pulls back a little to find the wolf and…

The wall is there. That fucking wall. Always fucking standing there between him and what he needs.

Sounds like you've got a mental block ...

Fuck!

And in the background, all around, close yet far away...

I'llEatYouUpI'llEatYouUpII'llEatYouUp...

He stands on the edge of darkness, waiting to fall in... and he is afraid, desperately afraid of what falling in will mean. He fears being consumed, and also being turned into something that will consume everything without morals or discrimination.

Deep down, in that secret, sacred part of himself, he fears being erased and remade into a monster.

No. Oh God, please...

Please, Steve almost weeps. Please, I don't want to be eaten, please, please...

He hits a bump in the ground from where he’s being dragged and is shaken back into reality again. The looming mass of the Thesselhydra is pulling him and Eleven down a corridor that quickly dissolves into something like a dark tunnel, moving at a relentless pace. 

The many heads hiss and spit out hate and hunger.

Steve's eyes shoot open and he's back out of himself and trapped, still, in the oppressive gloom of the make-shift tunnel. It is dark and he can't see everything but he can see enough, can see the gory flesh of the Thesselyhydra's past kills streaked on the walls and...

Nononononononono… go back… go back inside!

Dammit.

Steve huffs in frustrated terror and apparently that’s enough to upset his tentacle, which goes back to squeezing him punishingly until he is gasping for air. His cracked rib screams at him, probably puncturing something inside, but there's nothing he can do. He's trapped and there's nothing he can do.

Nothing, nothing, nothing...

Blew that one, pretty boy.

The Not-Billy voice is not helping.

Pleasepleaseplease…

The pressure eases off again after a moment that feels like forever.

For a while - a minute, an hour, who knows - there is just breathing, just the air going in and out of his battered chest. He needs to force every inhale and it almost doesn't seem like he's going to be able to take anything in. The pain is too much. Catastrophic.

You know what you need to do.

You're afraid, Billy murmurs. You're afraid to lose control.

You know what you need to do.

Yes. Yes he does.

But right now you might as well ask him to climb Mount Everest. He's trapped, he's trapped, he's being dragged down to hell and so is Eleven, and he can't breath, and he doesn't know where the kids are, he doesn't know where anyone is...

Billy isn't coming. 

You're a child, Steven, Not-Billy echoes, and you don't have a fucking clue what you're doing. You're stupid and weak. You need me, baby... you really do...

But Billy isn't here. He isn't coming.

You're all alone.

He can feel his body trying to adjust, to work its way around the pain in his head and his cracked ribs, but each moment just heightens the pressure on his chest until Steve feels like he is being ground to dust. He can't even blame the Thesselhydra for that... he can feel himself giving up, giving in. Weak, as always... that's all on him.

He's going to be torn to bits and the breathing is going to just stop and then he isn't going to be in pain anymore.

That doesn't sound so bad right now.

Can’t do this, gonna die here, gonna die here…

Maybe you’re overthinking it

Dustin’s voice, now, interrupting the chant of panicky fear and self-doubt, the cold blanket of despair.

Dustin, who Steve really hopes is safe. Broken arm, broken arm, that big mother werewolf reaching over and snapping it in two like a twig. And Steve couldn't stop it.

Couldn't stop it.

Easier said than done, buddy, Steve thinks grimly. I’m gonna die…

Gonna die.

Nobody plans on dying, Dustin.

Nobody plans on dying.

Don't want to die.

He breathes. Air goes in and out of Steve's lungs. It hurts but it keeps happening for some dumb reason. In spite of himself, he is still breathing. 

Force of habit, maybe. It couldn't be anything else, could it?

Could it?

He keeps living.

He's still alive.

Just want to go home…

Home…

Home…

Try focusing on my voice, Billy says in his head.

He comes unbidden now, without Steve trying to conjure him. He sounds different. Real. His voice curls like cigarette smoke inside of Steve, sharp and warm.

Air comes in and goes out of his lungs.

I'll talk you through it, okay? Deep breath in, slow breath out.

Steve obeys... out of habit, or something else.

What was it Billy had said he smelled like?

Crushed lavender and grass on blue jeans, says Billy’s voice in Steve's head. New books. Summer rain. Sweet cream and cherries. Other things…

I didn’t tell you then, Billy continues, giving Steve new words instead of memories.

He is not there but he's there... he's not real but he's true.

I didn't tell you then. I wish I had, but I didn’t... I was such a fool… you smell like home to me, Steve. Like home. Like everything I needed, everything I never knew I wanted, and better than anything I ever dreamed.

You are home to me... and, God, Steve can feel him now, warm and solid next to him, can smell his smoky-sweet scent, is drowning in eyes bluer than the sky. 

Come back to me, baby. Come back to me.

You’re my brother, Steve, says Dustin, and Steve sucks in another long breath, wet and harsh and almost a sob. Family always goes away, always leaves me behind, but you stay. I thought I was always going to be alone, forever... no Dad, no cousins... but you stayed with me.

You’re the one who keeps me safe. You’re my brother. Please don’t leave. You’re more than family…

You’re a werewolf, Steve Harrington, says Nancy.

You're too nice, says Max, her voice frustrated and fond.

You’re a weirdo, like me, says Will. Jonathan says all the best people are weirdos.

Keep you safe, says Jonathan. Keep fighting.

Pack, says Mike.

We’re a pack, says Lucas.

Steve feels a small hand brush against his face, even though he knows there is no one there – Eleven reaching out to him. Gentle, careful, affectionate. Wanting him here, wanting him grounded. Trusting him. Protecting him. Seeing him for what he is and all the things he can be.

You know what you have to do.

Yes.

Steve goes inside, to the deepest part of himself. He closes his eyes and drifts...

Sinks...

Ebbs out.

He goes down deep. Down into the black. Down to that place he always feared... but it isn't scary anymore.

His friends are there. His family.

He breathes.

He sees a glint of silver, a strange-familiar thing. It is a shard of something like glass, like a mirror, embedded deep within him... something that is his and his alone. He doesn't need to imagine it... it's there, real and tangible. He holds onto it with both hands, safely cradled, and watches it glow.

The thing that makes him Steve. The thing that makes him loved, and capable of loving.

He closes his hands around it and takes a steps back in his mind.

He smells lavender and rain and cherries and blue jeans. He smells distant, secondary scents - the ocean, roses, peanut butter, apples, ink, whiskey, brown sugar, coffee, bike oil, leather, cotton, metal, rubber, bread, stones, leaves - all the things that mean life.

He pulls back further.

Show me the whole picture

I'llEatYouUpI'llEatYouUpII'llEatYouUp...

And yeah... this time, Steve doesn't fear the voice. He doesn't fear the chanting promise. For the first time he truly understands the desire behind it, the soul-deep appreciation of all the things that life is, the need to drink it all down, gobble it all up, take it inside yourself and then give it all back again.

He recognizes that, behind the drive to consume, there is one emotion governing it all...

ILoveYouSoILoveYouSo ILoveYouSo...

He feels his wolf, a primal, powerful creature shocked and shaken and battered but still very much alive.

The wolf that was waiting patiently for him to find it.

I’m here. We’re here.

We're ready. 

Protect. Feed. Fight. Run.

Love.

Yes, Steve thinks, and he feels connected with the wolf in a way he never has before.

Now, here, at the end of all things, in this place that is like hell on earth, at the mercy of this lonely monster that means to destroy him... now, he feels it.

Their hearts and souls move as one, in harmony, the same loves, the same hates, the same, the same…

He feels his human skin. He feels his wolf skin. 

Skin, that thing you're always feeling both sides of - the inside and the outside, without even noticing. 

Steve, Skinwalker, feels it all.

The Thesselhydra has arrived at its destination. They are no longer moving, though Steve has not yet been released. He keeps his eyes closed, but he has never been more focused.

He feels everywhere the tentacle is touching, feels all the weak points, all the awkward twists, all the parts of his own body that could easily break and all the parts of the tentacle that are vulnerable to a well-directed claw.

He knows every inch of himself and it.

Then, he makes himself open his eyes and see where they are.

He sees a high ceiling covered in sludge. He sees filthy, broken tiles spreading out across a vast room, opening out into an underground tunnel. He sees blood and bones in piles around them, the remnants of past lives, of past meals.

He sees, on the far wall, something that almost looks like a giant gash in reality... a pulsing, glowing doorway into something, some place, some world Steve can't quite make out.

He sees the Thesselhydra, its body a dark mass of tendrils and fur, its many snaking appendages waving with uncanny grace.

He can feel the ugly intentions of the monster above him, the constant, desperate hunger. As a fellow predator, he can appreciate the sentiment. 

Steve also hungers.

The wolf also wants to be fed.

He sees Eleven on the ground. The tentacles have let her go, but she is still unconscious and unmoving.

He sees the horrible, drowned faces with their horrible metal teeth at the ends of twenty horrible tentacles hovering over the child, watching, hissing, ready to eat…

What is your wolf saying?

He doesn’t need to go deep for this. He doesn't need to try. His surface emotions are very clear, and they are ones that the wolf fully agrees with.

His wolf is speaking very clearly to him now.

PUP!

He roars and shifts and shreds and just like that the tentacle that had held him down is in pieces around him, the screeching head giving out a last weak cry before its eyes glaze over and it rolls away, a sickly purple tongue lolling out of its mouth.

Steve's claws come out and his fangs drop and his ears shoot up and his face changes. Every muscle in him spasms and grows, adding inches to his height and width. The pain and the hurt is swallowed up by an endless ocean of feeling. He has never felt more like himself.

He doesn't even need to think.

He is on his feet in an instant, the wolf compensating for the dizziness and nausea and blood loss. He sprints over to Eleven.

The faces turn and scream with rage, but Steve barely slows down. He baseball slides under them and towards the little girl, popping up and placing himself squarely between her and the creature. He is up on his hind-legs and matching the Thesselhydra’s shriek with one of his own. He stands over Eleven, protective, and faces down the many-headed monster.

He tilts back his head and howls.

 

Chapter Text

"What the fuck is this place?" Billy whispers. 

The impromptu tour of the abandoned government facility had, perhaps not unexpectedly, done nothing to soothe either boy's nerves.

They took the staircase down, down further than either of them particularly wanted to go, before finally stopping a few floors from the bottom. They had no choice - the stairs were more or less gone on the lower levels, and even Billy's wolf eyes had trouble seeing any further into the dark.

"Anything?" Billy asks as Will shines his flashlight down the stairwell.

"I don't see anything... it's almost like there isn't a ground floor... or it would be a basement floor, I guess. The concrete's been ripped away. It's just a hole."

Billy lets out a whoosh of air and leans heavily on the metal railing. He's silent for a moment before answering.

"What do you think, kid?" 

Will is surprised by the older boy's deference, but then again these are unusual circumstances. He chews on his lower lip for a moment and shrugs.

"Sorry. It's like you said upstairs. There's too... too much of everything. Everything is covered in Thesselhydra slime and I can't pick out anything solid..."

He trails off, upset, but Billy only nods slightly.

"It's okay. That's not on you, kid. You're right, it is a lot. Are you okay?"

'No' is the answer. Will is certainly not okay. He feels sick and overwhelmed and terribly frightened. Instead of responding, however, he climbs back up the four or five stairs he'd ventured down and flicks the the beam of his flashlight to a door behind Billy.

"What's in there?"

Innocent enough question.

Will regrets asking it now.

Now they are standing in a hallway full of rooms, each with a number on the door. This wouldn't disturb Billy or Will half as much if they hadn't just seen the area one hallway over... the room with the ghastly medical equipment. The room with the giant water tank. The room with the hospital gurneys and electroshock machine.

"What the fuck?" Billy murmurs again. "Will..."

They study the door in front of them and stare at the familiar number, the only thing marking this room as somehow unique from the other numbered doors in the hallway. Such an innocuous looking place on the surface, yet housing a horror that, funnily enough, had nothing to do with a rogue Thesselhydra.

"Weapons?" Billy echoes Will's earlier words. "You said weapons..."

"Yeah," Will swallows and his dry throat makes a clicking sound when he does. "That's what Mike's dad says."

"Oh."

They stare at the door.

"Will..." Billy's voice is remarkably steady but there is a note of urgency that belies his assumed calm. His fingers twitch like they want to reach out to the boy standing a foot away, but in the end he's just too shaken to move. "Will... it won't be."

Something in Will says it will be... it is.

"What did Steve tell you?" he asks the older boy.

Billy isn't half-stupid... in fact he's pretty smart. The pieces all fit together even when he doesn't want them to.

"Only that she's... she's special," he responds, quietly. "I saw what she could do that night in the junkyard, and I guess I always knew there was something weird about her. Different. But I didn't think... I thought what you called her was just a nickname, like something out of 'Star Wars'. Not... not this. I know she's something else. But it won't be her. This won't be anything to do with her."

"We found her in the woods. She had the number tattooed on her arm. She said she'd been kept somewhere... somewhere really bad. That she'd been hurt."

"For fuck's sake, kid, that was an isolation tank in there! That one room had a fucking cattle prod on the table! That's not..."

Billy cuts himself off, sucks in a loud breath, and shakes his head. The air comes out again in an equally aggressive rush and he runs both hands through his sweat and blood-matted curls, tugging at them roughly.

"Fuck," he hisses. 

Will hesitates for a moment, and then opens the door and steps into the room labelled '011'. 

It is empty. He lifts his flashlight and points it into the room, illuminating its contents. There is only a small bed in the corner and a single child's drawing on the wall. A teddy bear had fallen face-first on the floor and been left there, unclaimed.

The space is otherwise empty of any soft or colorful thing, of anything that might comfort a vulnerable, isolated little girl.

"We should torch this place on our way out," Billy says finally, his voice remarkably, forcibly steady. "The whole building. Burn it."

Will nods his head vigorously in agreement.

Billy looks like he is about to say something else when a new noise breaks through the eerie silence of this dead and abandoned place. At first Will fears it's the Thesselhydra, but the sound isn't right - it's not high-pitched and ugly and terrifying.

It's familiar. 

It's the sound of a wolf howling. 

And not just any wolf.

Both boys feel something in their chests soar. To call it relief or joy would be inadequate.

Billy is almost gone before Will can get a word out, shifting smoothly into his beta form and tearing down the hall.

"Billy, wait!"

Will's cry dies on his mouth as the wolf spins, yanks him up by both arms, and slings him over his back like a sack of flour. They tear out of the hallway of nightmares and down the stairwell, plunging into the darkness below.

  

 

 

Eleven walks in the Dark Place.

It is not how she imagined it would be. 

There are no paths, no doors, no walls. When the ones who made her told her about the Dark Place, the secret world between worlds, the shadow plane, she hadn't thought it would be so empty. 

She thought, at least, that her mother might be there.

It is just darkness, a big open space that seems to go on forever in every direction. There is about half an inch of standing water at her feet, but nothing else. Just an undefinable, limitless nothing with no shapes to pick out, with nothing in it but her.

She has no idea what direction to walk in. There are no landmarks. She can't see the moon or the sun. 

She closes her eyes and sucks in a breath.

She remembers. She was in the woods. She'd raced through the woods and found the Pack, hurting but alive in the aftermath of a battle. The Thesselhydra had followed her, grabbed her. Her powers weren't working. They were tied down and wrapped up in the monster's thick mist, useless. An old trick that weakened the Thesselhydra even as it weakened her - but effective. She was still so young, so new, and she didn't know how to fight back against such greedy hate.

The Thesselhydra had stared into her soul with its glazed white eyes and thrown her backwards, out of her mind and into this place.

And before that?

Does it matter?

Of course it matters.

What are you?

...

Before all of this she was the air.

A gift from the Trees for the Children of Men. A weapon against the Beast.

She walked on moonbeams through a forest as old as the world itself.

...

She opens her eyes again.

She is still nowhere, still in the darkness.

She is not alone now, though.

She sees Mike.

He is standing a few yards away. He is talking... not to her. He is facing away from her, talking to someone she can't see. He's arguing.

"We need to help her! You can't just...!"

"Mike?" she whispers, stepping forward and reaching out to touch his shoulder.

Her hand goes through him like smoke and he fades away.

She is alone again.

Maybe.

There is too much space in here - any way she turns, her back is exposed. She is alone but she can't help feeling like there's something else here, something she can't see, something just out of reach...

In the back of her head, or somewhere behind her, she hears a voice. It is not her voice, or a voice she can place, although something about it is strangely familiar.

It chants something like...

I'llEatYouUp I'llEatYouUp I'llEatYouUp

She tries to tune it out, tries to turn away, but there is no where to turn to, no safe haven. She is surrounded by nothing and she wants to cry and scream and...

Suddenly there is a shape, a shadow walking towards her out of the darkness.

It is big, it is tall, it is terrifying.

It is human.

Papa is alive and wearing his blue suit. His hair is perfectly coiffed, his clothes are neat and tidy, and his face is a relaxed mask of authoritative passivity. He walks towards her, calm and unhurried.

His feet fall in the same steady tapping pattern she's heard so many times before, echoing on the tiles as he walked down the hallway towards the rooms where she was kept and tested and tortured. Tap, tap, tap. The shoe meets the floor, that never-changing stride.

She hates it. Hates him. Feels sick. He keeps walking towards her. He comes out of the obscurity of darkness and into the cold, faint light. The water at his feet makes a small splashing sound as he steps down.

She sees him now.

He does not have his many writhing heads, or a mouth with many teeth that opens up like a flower to swallow you whole, or shadowy tentacles that burrow in your skin and your mind and drive you mad. Right now he just looks like Papa, like the Human Papa.

But as he comes closer, Eleven can see shadows and echoes there behind him, layers and layers of them. He has all those things within him.

He is all those things.

Mike and the Pack would have no end of different names to give every individual manifestation of monstrosity, different ways of understanding each one's strengths and weaknesses, different quests and stories and weapons to wield against them.

But Eleven knows. They are all the one thing, all the same thing.

Brenner is...

They are the Thing That Eats, in whatever form It takes.

It would eat the whole world if It could.

But right now It only wants her.

Not-Papa walks forward and as he does Eleven can see that his eyes are not his eyes but rather little shards of silver, clean and clear reflective surfaces looking back at her, empty of everything except her. She sees herself in the mirror of his gaze.

"You can't reach it, can you?" the monster taunts as he - It - comes towards her. It's voice is a parody of Brenner's voice, familiar yet raspy and broken. A voice rarely needed, rarely used, yet still full of hateful things. "Your essence, your powers. You can't use them, can you? Because I've blocked them. I win."

Eleven feels that this is true. Her strength is at the other end of an abyss, buried by fear and doubt, tied up in a complicated mess of confusion. When she dips deep inside to the place where her essence is she can feel the mist like thick tar trapping her. When she tries to reach it she can only grasp a handful, a drop in the ocean.

It's gone, and so, perhaps, is she. As she asked her friends not so long ago, what is the point of her if...?

"Stupid child."

The fake Brenner comes to a stop a few feet away and stares at her for a long moment. She is frozen in place and can do nothing but look up at him with wide eyes, waiting. After a minute, the mirror eyes in the monster's face flash and its human hand makes a slight motion, a secret sign.

The cloying mist eases off of her... she feels it go.

"I can take the chains away now. It does wear on me, keeping you bound. Your powers need to be free and unhindered when I consume you or else it doesn't work. Dangerous, I suppose, but it doesn't matter. I win, you can't hurt me here. They mean nothing in the darkness." 

Yes, she feels it. She can access her powers now, but it doesn't matter. She's here, in the Dark Place.

If she was Out There she could use them, but because she is in here...

The monster grins widely and she can see all of its many teeth. It shakes its head.

"I win. I win. Stupid little girl. Now that I look at you... that I should want you at all is something of a mystery to me. But then again, you do have a lot of power trapped in there, little fae. Once I eat you, I'll control the Gateway. I can tap into its power and yours. I can go back and forth... anywhere I please. I can eat them all. I'll eat them all and you can't stop me."

 Eleven feels the truth of this, sees the future stretch out in front of her with a horrible certainty. Sees chaos and destruction, the bad moon rising.

She is Kore, Jane, Eleven, Fae, and she was born to stop the evil from claiming the world. That was what she was supposed to do, but the moment she touched the earth she was taken by the Bad Men, and she knows looking at Not-Papa now that this was all the Evil One's design. It wanted to take her gift and use it and consume it, and if it needed of occupy the bodies of foolish men to do this, it would.

People... people let her down. Bad Men. She was a gift, and she was utterly misunderstood, and now it's...

Too late?

Mike said, We can call you El. Short for Eleven.

Steve said, Anyone tries to hurt you, you come to me.

They said, It doesn't matter what you can do. We'll feed you and keep you warm and love you, no matter what. You belong to us and we belong to you.

Friends. The ones who don't lie. Who don't take. Who give without expecting anything in return.

If she could leave this place she could stop it, the Thesselhydra, the Evil in its chosen form... but she can't leave. There are no windows or doors in this place, no way out, no way out.

She can't find her way out.

"They'll come for me," she murmurs, hope fading.

"No, Eleven. They can't come here. They can't save you."

No. She knows this.

They can't.

"Well, little fae," Not-Papa says, staring blankly down at her with its silver mirror eyes, meeting her gaze so that she is staring back at herself, an endless loop of watching and being watched, of being pinned in place by a look.

Of seeing and being seen without knowing what she sees, what she is. 

Never knowing who she is outside of this life, this death.

Who do you want to be? 

It smiles and its teeth are two rows of iron nails.

"Are you ready to be devoured?"

She is, she thinks. It feels right. It feels like what she is. Something to be consumed. 

Back in the other world - home - she had been fed. The Pack had fed her. She had been cared for.

But Papa, and the Thesselhydra, and everything else... they just wanted what they could get. For so long, for years and years in that big, horrible building in the woods, Eleven was nothing more than what she could offer, nothing more than a tool to be used. I'llEatYouUp... chew you up. Spit you out. 

I'm from the woods. From the Trees.

I'm a gift. To protect you. To protect everyone.

What is the nature of a gift?

A thing valued. A thing loved.

Who do you want to be?

They can't save you.

Eleven hears something.

At first it sounds like nothing... like rustling leaves, like running water. Easy to ignore, and yet this place is so empty of anything else that it is almost impossible not to notice it.

A low rumble, sweet and clear.

Life. Movement. Kinetic. Transformative.

It's like a...

A howl.

It is faint and quiet and far away.

Not-Papa flinches, and something in those mirror eyes flickers.

Eleven blinks. The gravitational pull of the mirror eyes weakens. She sucks in a sharp breath.

The howl repeats, drags out in length. A little louder now. Insistent. A question and an answer.

Eleven takes a step back, away from Not-Papa. The monster shifts uneasily but doesn't follow. Can't follow. The shadows writhing behind it, unrealized beings, lingering nightmares... they pulse and expand, letting out a tiny thrumming screech like a sharp note on a violin. It is harsh and clear but not quite enough to drown out the howling noise.

The howling... coming from... there...

Up. 

A direction.

A way out.

I can save them.

The monster doesn't move, doesn't follow her as she steps away. Its feet are stuck in place. It moves as if to bind her again but it can't, it's frozen now, trapped by the howl.

Eleven looks and sees and realizes.

It can't move... can't move forward. It never could. Never forward.

The howl repeats, even louder, and now Eleven can hear a secret note, an underlying beat beneath it, a hidden message.

It sounds like...

ILoveYouSo ILoveYouSo ILoveYouSo...

Mike?

Pack.

Little fae, the wolf calls out. It's time to play.

Come play. Come eat. Come home.

All you need to do is open your eyes.

Come home to us.

We're up here. Come up. We're up, up, up here...

"Stop!" Not-Papa hisses, its many mouths opening wide and dangerous. "Come back here!"

Come home.

When Eleven's eyes open, a monster with many heads is shrieking.

When Eleven's eyes open, Steve is standing there in a fighting stance between her and the Thesselhydra, his claws out and a roar of outrage tearing out of him.

When Eleven's eyes open, Billy leaps across her line of sight, plunging into the writhing mass of the Thesselhydra's body, fangs ready to rip it to pieces.

When Eleven's eyes open, the thick, noxious fog hovering like a wall between her and her essence is gone.

She climbs to her feet and raises her hands.

 

 

 

Billy decides, in the brief seconds of time when he hovers between the wild rush of battle and the heavy calm that follows, that he never wants to witness anything like that ever, ever again.

Oh, this whole thing had its interesting points. No doubt about that.

There were moments during this brief, chaotic period when Billy slipped into something strangely lovely in its familiarity... a kind of return to the reptile hind-brain that functions purely on instincts. He felt the thrill of the hunt, the joy of the fight, the sweet rush of mayhem.

The wolf, in particular, liked that part. He'd raced into the fray without hesitation, desperate to help his embattled mate.

Steve... who was so glorious in his beta form, holding the line and protecting the pup and fighting with every ounce of strength in him... a born warrior.

Fighting alongside him had been a privilege. 

He and Will plunged into the darkness and hadn't stopped running until they reached the cave, a vast, sepulchral space glowing with a disconcerting combination of eerie, otherworldly light and broken electrical fixtures.

Steve was there, his stupid, brave Steve being his stupid, brave self - small and vulnerable and standing up against the tide with nothing but his beautiful, stupid goodness to help him. He'd already taken off at least two of the monster's heads and was slashing and roaring, severely wounded and outmatched but fighting all the same.

"The body," Will hisses in Billy's ear before sliding off his back onto the floor. "Go for the middle!"

Billy does, though perhaps Will didn't mean for him to race across the room, leap up, and jump feet first into the monster's center of mass.

The heads writhe but can't turn in time to stop him. He falls past the many tentacles and latches onto that slimy-slick, furry body. He grips it hard and does his best to shred it to pieces with his claws and his teeth.

The core of the monster is a living, breathing lump of tar, and if he could stop and think he'd have been terrified of the pulsating mass swallowing him up like an animal stuck in quicksand.

He doesn't stop. He doesn't think. He just knows that if he can find its heart, he'll rip it out and present it to his mate on a platter.

Above and through the roar of the Thesselhydra, like a hundred shrieking, off-key violins, he hears a howl, and a growl, and his name.

He looks up and his eyes briefly latch on to a pair of brown ones glowing golden, and he feels something solid and profound slide into place - a link.

A lifeline.

It's only a moment before the violent motion and sticky black fur obscure his vision, before the heads shriek and attack again.

It's enough.

He can hear Steve's voice like an echo in his head. 

Distract!

On your left!

Strike now!

Steve bites, Billy slashes.

They don't speak with words but they know just what to do, how to distract the many heads, how to cover each other's backs. An endless, furious vexation, a constant attack. Both wolves revel at the purity of this savage violence.

Will yells, and Billy looks down from his perch on the Thesselhydra's back to see Eleven slowly, carefully, climbing to her feet.

She raises her hands up and the tide turns.

Those were the good moments. Satisfying.

There were moments during this strange thing, too, when Billy saw the veil slip between the world he always believed was the real one and the other, darker, secret world that hovered just beyond.

The Thesselhydra, in all of its terrible glory, was the kind of thing that could break your mind if you stared at it for too long. If Billy hadn't literally been raised by wolves all his life, it just might have done. If Billy wasn't fighting for his life every second, he might have stopped and wondered at the kind of world that could create something so monstrous. 

And Eleven... face pale and almost vampiric, eyes shimmering with a dark glint, blood dripping from her nose, tearing the Thesselhydra apart limb from limb with her mind. She opens her mouth and lets out a wild, terrible scream.

Her feet leave the ground and she is hovering. Floating.

The eldritch light pulses and the crack in the wall behind the monster, flickering with otherworldly fire and coated in a gelatinous membrane and covered with thick, sickly-purple tubes like vines or arteries, creaks and shatters. It closes, starts to stitch itself shut, and as it does so the Thesselhydra, huge and terrible and dying, seems to drain of life and power. Billy doesn't understand what he is seeing, exactly, but he is happy to see it.

Terrified, undone, and horrifically happy.

Strange moments, those.

And then there were moments where the bottom dropped out of everything, where Billy was back to being eight years old and helpless again.

An evil head at the end of one tentacle snaps out and catches Steve in the leg, iron teeth shredding flesh. Steve's scream is echoed by Will, who can do nothing but watch helplessly. Billy doesn't scream - at least, he doesn't think he does - but it is no less devastating that he, too, can do nothing but watch helplessly...

The Thesselhydra, furious, finally manages to shake Billy's grip and fling him off its back. He flies through the air and crashes against the wall, stunned by the impact. He comes around just in time to see a heavy tentacle fall and wipe Steve out, knocking him over and onto the ground.

Steve collapses. His chest stutters, struggling to take in air, and he doesn't get up.

Eleven screams in rage and rips the tentacle out. Limb by agonizing limb, the thing is torn apart, stumbling, writhing. As it dies, so does the door, the gateway, the crack in between. Its hate was the thing keeping it open, and Eleven will be the one to close it. 

One final head rolls towards Billy, milky eyes glazed over with impotent hate. He stares at it, mesmerized, whole body shaking, as everything else in the room seems to collapse.

The gate closes, the monster dies, and Eleven falls to the ground. 

Everything goes silent. 

 

 

 

Will moves first.

Billy watches blearily as he walks across the cave, slowly at first, and then with more speed. He goes to Eleven, slips his hands under her arms and drags her to a corner where some water from a broken pipe is trickling down the wall. Eleven is unconscious for a moment, and when Will moves her she starts to whimper and come to.

By the time he manages to get her propped up and splash some water on her face she is crying quiet, exhausted tears and he is holding her steady, rubbing her back and murmuring gentle, comforting words.

Billy pushes himself to his feet slowly, carefully. He's hurting. His side is torn up from the fight with his father and his energy is completely drained from the final battle with the monster. He's done in and he didn't even get the worst of it. That was...

Billy limps towards his mate, laying stretched out on the floor. 

As he crosses that wide  open space, he remembers knocking Steve down at basketball practice, knocking him down at the Byers' house. He remembers seeing him stretched out on the ground under his father, and then again under Wyatt. 

He remembers him stretched out on a nest of soft blankets, eyes open and warm and bright with happiness. Safe.

He is so tired.

His steps echo loudly in the quiet cavern.

As he approaches, Steve, from his position on the ground, lets out a long, pained sigh.

“Am I dreaming," he murmurs, his eye closed, his lips twitching upwards, "or is that you, Hargrove?”

Billy makes a mental note to absolutely ruin Steve Harrington at the earliest opportunity.

"Yeah," he says. "It's me. Don't cream your pants."

The brunette lets out a barking laugh that quickly devolves into a cough. Billy goes to his knees next to him.

"You always end up on your ass, idiot," he murmurs with a delirious sort of humor that has nothing to do with mirth. "You are so lucky you have me."

Not for much longer though, right?  Because you're leaving?

Later... once he's safe.

His blood-coated hand hovers over Steve's shredded leg, drifts up towards a torso he knows is battered and heaving with broken bones. He doesn't touch, but he inspects everything, evaluates every hurt, makes himself feel it.

Wishes he could take it all away, the pain. Wishes he could take it onto himself.

He deserves it.

Yes, his wolf growls. We deserve it. It's ours. The pleasure is ours, the pain is ours, it is our privilege and pride to bear it all because he is our mate. Please, please...

Billy feels like he's slowly shattering to pieces, but he refuses to leave off his inspection and his hands, miraculously, don't shake. He continues his path up until he finally reaches Steve's face, takes in that cut lip and bruised cheek. His beautiful, beautiful baby.

His eyes lock on to the fluttering movement of the jugular vein. Steve is still breathing. His heart is still beating.

"Think you'll live, Harrington," he croaks out.

Steve lets out a long breath in a not-quite-sigh, and opens his eyes.

They glow with supernatural power, warm and golden. They are depths Billy would willingly drown in, and they are so beautiful that he forgets to breathe for a moment. The wolf inside creeps up and joins seamlessly with Billy's own consciousness.

He remembers himself and blinks slowly, lets his own eyes flood with light and shine down. 

"Billy." 

The name is said in Steve's voice, but also not. There is a low vibration, a primal thrum underneath the word. Steve and Steve's wolf, both of them, not two separate things but rather one new being, look up together at their mate.

"You found us," they say in the secret chord.

"I found you," Billy and Billy's wolf answer together, singing in their own deep baritone. "I will always find you."

"Thought you weren't coming... thought you'd gone."

"No. No. Never. No matter what. There is nowhere else in the world for me to go. There is just you, keeping you safe. Always."

There is something darkly possessive in Billy’s tone, but it isn't threatening… it’s different now. A warm feeling, a sense of belonging, of being loved and protected comes with the words. Both boys feel it and both wolves understand it. 

Billy dips his head down and nuzzles Steve’s neck.

You’re mine," he says. "My mate. My moon. There's nothing without you.

The pack? Our pups?" the other wolf asks.

Are safe, love.”

Billy lowers his head and drags his tongue across a large gash on Steve's shoulder, lapping up blood, cleaning the wound. Steve hisses and then lets out a deep, almost guttural growl, his toes curling at the sensation, pain and pleasure together. He threads his trembling fingers through Billy's matted curls. 

"I should probably rip your throat out," Steve's wolf murmurs, darkly.

Billy feels a thrill of dangerous arousal and deep, unending shame.

You deserve it, the dark voice inside mutters. Your fault.

He gives Steve's wound another long lap with his tongue and then lifts his head slightly. The movement stretches his neck, exposes it in a clear offering. He will make this offering again and again, as many times as it takes, in as many different ways as Steve requires.

"You should," his wolf answers. "My throat is yours, my love."

There is a moment of silence during which Steve, Billy assumes, considers this proposal.

Billy feels compelled to speak. He blinks and pushes the wolf away, back down, and prepares to say the thing the animal inside of him is so fiercely rebelling against. His eyes fade from gold back to blue.

"I'll go away," he says, softly. "I'll leave. Anything you want. Rabid dogs should be put down, and that's what I am. I don't deserve your mercy. I don't deserve anything from you. Or from Dustin. From anyone. I love you. I'm sorry. I know it's not enough."

Not enough.

Yes, and that's what his dad had been trying to tell him, wasn't it? With his dying breath Neil had seen the truth, the awful truth about his son. About what he is.

Never enough.

So whatever happens now, Billy is ready.

It is what he deserves.

Steve blinks up at him. After a moment, the gold fades from his eyes as well, leaving behind that beautiful brown Billy's come to love. Maybe he'll reach up and kill Billy with his bare human hands. That would be fine. Fitting, even.

Steve makes no move to tear his wayward mate to shreds, however.

Instead he gives a small shake of his head.

"It's my fault, too. I didn't listen. I didn't keep you safe."

Billy freezes, his mind going blank. That's not right, that's...

"What?" he stutters out. "What... you... you couldn't..."

"You were trying to tell me, all this time. The fear was always there... in your face, in your eyes, in the way you moved. I saw it but I didn't understand. You never wanted to go home, Billy. It wasn't just you being cagey... you were scared. You never wanted to go home and I should have figured it out. You're just... you, and I couldn't believe someone so strong could ever be in danger."

"Stop," Billy whispers.

"But you were. He's your dad but he was a monster, Billy, and that other one... I should have known. I should have helped you..."

"Enough," Billy presses a soft kiss to Steve's lips, silencing him. "It wasn't like that. It was all my fault..."

"No, it wasn't," Steve says, his gaze softening, a tender light in his face. "No, it wasn't."

He says it with such conviction, the wolf peeking through again, sending threads of golden light through the brown irises, and Billy feels a low thrum of something that is almost... recognition. His wolf definitely feels it, is soothed by it.

He feels the bittersweet pain of acceptance... of healing.

"It doesn't matter," Steve continues. "I mean... it matters, of course it does, but... there is nothing to forgive. Not for me, not for you. Okay? Even if there was... we forgive each other. Don't we?"

The question comes out soft and hesitant, and Steve tries to erase the fear in his voice with the kiss he gives back to Billy.

Steve forgives him.

Steve forgives him.

But can Billy forgive himself?

No.

And maybe you never should.

But...

Maybe...

Steve wants forgiveness, too. Steve wants him, Steve needs him to...

"Billy," Steve whispers.

Fragile, impossible, beautiful... and he forgives him, he forgives him, and Billy forgives Steve, too, and there are so many things that are wrong here but maybe the most important thing is...

Rule number one, baby... show no one your throat.

It is my privilege and my pride to show that I...

I trust you.

Trust.

My throat is yours.

Billy feels Steve's closeness, takes in his scent, wonders at the impossible miracle of him. At the miracle of his trust, and of what he is asking... he is asking that Billy trust him, too. The hardest thing in the world to do - to believe that someone else could forgive you.

A hard thing. But Billy is stronger and braver than he thinks.

The last point of resistance in him breaks.

He curses himself for being a weak, selfish asshole.

His wolf purrs with satisfaction and relief.

"Yes," Billy murmurs against Steve's lips, the sweet feeling of surrender settling in his chest. "Yes, we do."

Steve smiles into the kiss and then breaks off with a little pant of pain, leans his head back on the floor. He's in bad shape and Billy knows it, but he can't tear himself away and out of this moment just yet.

"You won't leave again." There is a note of desperation there that Steve doesn't even try to hide. "You won't..."

"I couldn't. It would kill me. It almost killed me this time and if it's a choice between you killing me and me leaving, I guess I'd rather you did it." Billy nips at Steve skin, huffs out a strange kind of sigh. "My Alpha is dead."

Yes, and it has all changed now. 

Everything is different now.

Billy has nothing... nothing to offer Steve. Nothing but himself. For the first time in forever he is truly a lone wolf, without a leader, without a pack, without that ever present authority casting a long shadow over his life.

And what's left? A hot-tempered wolf without an Alpha? A rag-tag pack full of people he has wronged? A pup who hates him with every fiber of his being?

A mate he so desperately needs, and whom he betrayed so terribly?

He can't make himself leave, but he doesn't know how he could possibly stay.

Billy feels a tug on his hair and a sudden reluctance to meet Steve's eyes. He does it, though... he obeys the physical pull after a long moment where the fear and joy and resignation and doubt swirl in an inescapable whirlwind within him. 

He forces himself to meet Steve's gaze, those chocolate brown eyes still glowing in the shadows of the basement. His beautiful mate, both human and wolf, together, looking at him, evaluating. Seeing his doubts and his pain, all those things he can't hide anymore.

Steve doesn't say anything.

He doesn't say 'I'm sorry' because he isn't.

He doesn't say 'I understand' because he doesn't.  

Instead, he makes a choice... a decision. It is perhaps not the best time to do so... not here, in this place, not now, when he is tired and in pain. Not when Billy just watched his father die, not when they both thought they were going to lose everything forever.

This is not the most auspicious moment. It is not even close to being the most romantic.

And yet, he makes the choice. Everything Steve's brain and his heart and his soul slides into place and he knows exactly what to do.

He carries his bleeding, healing, beating heart and Billy with him, always.

There will never be anyone else.

There is no doubt within him.

His mouth drops open slightly, and Billy watches in awe as his canine incisors elongate slowly. Steve doesn't even blink, and his golden eyes burn with unabashed possessiveness, with desire, with love.

Steve waits, fangs ready, and Billy understands exactly what Steve wants.

He should stop this, maybe... urge caution, get Steve to stop and think before he ties himself to Billy like this, but... he wants it too. He's wanted it ever since he first laid eyes on Steve Harrington at Stacy Mitchell's Halloween party. Maybe even longer than that. 

The mating bite. The mating bond.

The bite that makes Steve his. The bite that makes him Steve's. 

The bite that means forever.

The rest of the world, its misery and its complications, all falls away.

He opens his mouth slightly and feels his own incisors drop.

He bends down and Steve, with a pained grunt, leans forward.

Billy smells lavender and cherries and sunshine.

Billy is home.

Steve's teeth sink into the junction of Billy's neck and shoulder at the same moment Billy's teeth sink into Steve's throat. Flesh breaks and blood fills their mouths, tangy and rich and warm.

They sing the body electric.

Neither of them are ready for it.

How could they be? Even Billy's grandpa with all his tale-telling capabilities couldn't come close to describing it.

And, of course, you don't know, can't know. No one ever knows until it happens. It's all just words up to a point, just stories told around a campfire. Stories you tell yourself in the dark of night when you are dreaming and hoping and alone.

There are no words for a consummation. 

The wolves never bother with words. They just bite down and swallow... swallow the whole vastness of it, from the bottom of the ocean to the moon in the sky. It's just that big, that endless, that perfect.

An orgasm tears out of both boys simultaneously, so hard and fast it almost hurts. They both cry out, somehow, their mouths still attached to each other's neck, each tasting the soul of their lover, their mate, unwilling or unable to let go.

The sound that escapes is strange, wild, primal, desperate, and it crashes down into something utterly shattering and shattered. It gives voice to wave after wave of agonizing pleasure, and with it the oneness, the perfect understanding.

Both boys see a light, a silvery moonlight, inside. It reaches out of them, their chests, their hearts... it reaches for the other, touches it, holds hands.

They become two things and one thing. Both at once. A beautiful paradox.

Like a werewolf.

The boys black out, and come to, and when they do Steve has collapsed back on the floor. He's removed his fangs first - he had to, he's exhausted, he's dying - but he lays stretched out there with such a peaceful, blissful look on his face that Billy feels himself falling in love all over again. 

Mine. 

His.

Forever.

"Guys...?" 

Billy looks up to see Will Byers, pale and wide-eyed, propping Eleven up in his arms.

"Can we go home now?" 

Chapter Text

There is a moment - who can tell how long? - when Billy loses track of who he is.

He slips away from himself without realizing it, reduced to physicality and movement, pain and effort. The past and the future are forgotten, erased, and there is only the relentlessness of forward motion.

Only the climb.

The whys and wherefores are long gone.

Billy can only think about pulling. Dragging. Up. Up.

Steve is so heavy. Will has his hands full supporting Eleven, which leaves Billy to carry Steve.

Steve. Mate. Steve.

Steve tries. He limps, and then he collapses, and he makes a weird rattling sound when he tries to breathe. It's no good.

Steve needs help, Steve needs help, Steve needs fresh air and doctors and medicine and to have his wounds cleaned by Billy's tongue and to be comforted by a soft bed and a soft mate curled around him, protecting him... and most of all he needs to be some-place-not-here, so while Billy's heart is in his throat, pounding away like a war drum, he doesn't let himself stop. 

He is so tired but he can’t stop. A kind of madness drives him on.

The bond drives him on. 

The bond. Their bond.

It’s beautiful, so beautiful... that lovely, safe feeling means that Steve is his now. His own smoky-sweet scent is irrevocably intertwined with the smell of lavender and cherries, and the result is something wonderful and precious and new.

Billy is something precious and new. They both are.

Those ever-widening cracks in his soul are filled now, soothed and healed, and he can do the same for Steve... they fill in the cracks, shore up the weak spots, glory in the strong and beautiful parts, protect and nourish each other's souls.

He can feel Steve, can feel his unwavering presence inside of him, a second self. He feels full, complete, perfected. He can feel Steve’s love and it’s a beautiful miracle, it’s like swimming in the cool ocean, it’s like life itself. An unbreakable thread, a complex tapestry of two beings.

Billy can feel Steve’s love.

He can feel Steve’s pain.

His fear.

His sorrow.

His breath.

His blood.

Draining away.

Fading away.

Steve takes another ragged breath, wheezing. The bond, and the slow ebbing feeling of his mate's life-force bleeding out, drives Billy on.

Up, up... up stairs and through the darkness, the horror behind them, the unknown ahead.

Every muscle in his body aches, and his shredded side is a white-hot point of agony. That's nothing, though... that's a dream, that's barely a blip compared to the desperate need to get Steve out, to get Steve breathing properly, to save Steve from this dark place.

Will trips and both he and Eleven tumble down half a flight of stairs. Billy turns just in time to see their faces go shocked and scared in the flicker of the emergency lighting as they tilt backwards and fall. After a horrible, suspended moment they hit the floor and lay there, stunned by the impact.

Billy roars.

He is half-blind, half-crazed, beyond exhaustion and fear and rage. If, in that moment, you had asked him the kids' names were, or what his own was, or why they were there, or why it mattered, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you. He wouldn’t have known.

He's past that now.

But he moves anyway, compelled by instincts primal and profound, fueled by a grief that is not yet grief but rather the desperate defiance that comes at the close of things.

He drags Will to his feet and scoops up Eleven, slinging her over one shoulder. With his other hand he hitches Steve up - Steve whimpers, flinches, and tries to carry more of his own weight - and tears up the endless flights of stairs.

And they do feel endless.

Billy can no longer tell if they are going up or down anymore.

He is going so hard for so long that he nearly misses the exit. It is only with a hard yank on his arm from Will that he manages to stop long enough to make the right turn on the stairwell and dart out into a familiar hallway.

When he sees the door something inside of him that had been in a kind of suspended animation snaps awake. He ignores the hallway, doesn't look around furtively for ghosts or demons, doesn't see the viscera on the walls.

He just sees the exit.

They're so close.

The doors are there.

The doors there and then they are open... and then the rag-tag group is stepping outside into the freezing darkness... and then...

Something cold and wet hits Billy's face. He's momentarily stunned, blinks awkwardly up at...

The sky?

The snow.

"The fuck..." Billy croaks out in a voice he barely recognizes as his own. "Steve... snow..."

Steve's eyes flutter open and he looks up to where Billy is staring, pressing a warm hand to Billy's chest as he tries to steady himself. Billy feels the touch like a brand against his skin, centering him.

Everything goes peaceful and quiet.

It is night still, and thick clouds have obscured the moon, but there is a strange light, the faint glow that you only see when it snows, ethereally bright. Heavy flakes fall thick from the purple-gray sky, pure and cold and lovely. They land on Billy's face and melt, mixing with tears he hadn't known were there.

He gasps out something almost like a laugh, and the sound is echoed a moment later by Will. Eleven slides down off his shoulder and stands on shakey, baby-deer legs. He glances down at the two kids and sees the same strange joy on their faces. Eleven sticks out her tongue to catch a fat snowflake on the tip.

The snow finally came to Hawkins. They escaped the Lab. They're alive.

They watch the snow fall.

"Wow." In spite of everything, Billy can't keep the awe from his voice. He's only seen snow once, a long time ago as a kid, and looking up now at the open heavens feels like coming full circle, somehow. "Wow. Snow. Steve..."

Steve smiles, sweet and bright and sad, and his eyes drift closed again. His hand slips away and he lets out another pained, agonizing breath that snaps Billy out of his revere.

The feeling of true cold kicks in, sharp and brutal, dangerous. Billy blinks rapidly, forcing his vision to clear, and calculates the road ahead.

The broken pavement on the highway. The chain-link fence. The forest. The rapidly dropping temperature.

The impossible.

I need to...

He moves. The effort is momentous, but he moves.

He makes himself move.

He shifts Steve and makes it down the three front steps of the building and a few steps into the parking lot before he feels all his strength start to go again...

You must, you need to, you can't...

Eleven's hand slips into his and he takes another step forward and...

We're not gonna make it home.

The thought no sooner crosses his mind then there is a loud crash of metal being wrenched apart somewhere in the middle distance. Billy's head jerks up, a confused growl escaping him as he tries to see what is going on ahead. The noise is coming from the security gate in the front, and now it's being replaced by a mechanical roar... 

A truck tears up, huge in the darkness, it's movements made uncanny by the strobe effect of the still-flashing lights of the Lab behind them and the jerking motion of the headlights as the car bounces over bumps and potholes. Billy can't make out all the details but the truck is big and dark-colored and coming at them fast.

Billy nearly stumbles but doesn't.

He holds himself up, holds his ground. His fangs and claws are out, his eyes flashing gold in the beam of over-bright headlights, but he doesn't care. He is responding to a threat...

He'll kill everyone. He'll kill anyone who comes near, anyone who tries to take the kids, anyone who tries to steal the unconscious boy from his arms.

Killripshreddie...

He needs to save Steve, needs to save the pups, needs to get them out, get them out, get them...

He can’t remember anything but this desperate need to keep them, to save them. In this moment it is the only reason he exists.

Protect...

Darkness swirls at the edge of his vision but he forces it back. 

The truck swerves around obstacles, hydroplanes slightly in the slickness of new snow on wet pavement, and screeches to a stop in front of them.

Billy can hear a car door slam but the figures in front of him blur as his vision fails him.

He is so cold.

"Will?!"

"Mom!"

Will is running forward before Billy can reach out and stop him.

Eleven lets out a low noise. She is swaying, clutching onto his jacket.

He wants to tell her to run, to hide. He knows what she is, what she can do.

They're coming for her. 'The Man' with a capital 'M'.

He knows what the future holds.

Run, you gotta run, run little one.

You gotta get away from men with trucks and suits and guns, men who look like they know all where all the bodies are buried, men who look at you and see a thousand different ways to break you into pieces and take what they want from you and turn it into something animal and ugly. 

Sweetheart, brave little pup, I've known men like that my whole life, I've known them, I've lived with them, they made me one of them, and if they catch you they'll see how special you are and they'll chew you up until there's nothing left and then they'll spit you out, call you a freak, call you trash, call you a whore. Don't let them find and trap you, and if they trap you don't let them get at the real you. 

Bury it, hide it, protect it. Whatever you gotta do.

Run, pup, run...

These thoughts pound furiously in his head and in his heart, but they don't make it out of his throat.

He doesn't have the strength to get the words out.

He doesn't have anything left.

Instead, Billy unleashes an animal cry, one that releases his pent-up pain and frustration and helplessness and defiant fury like a valve releasing steam - the sound is the sorrowful cry of a hurt child, of a soldier who cannot take another step, of the boy who cried wolf for the very last time.

"Joyce, we gotta go...! What the hell?!"

"Mom, we need help..."

"Who is...?"

Darkness closes in again. Eleven gives a soft hiccup and drops to her knees. Steve shifts in Billy's arms and he feels his grip weakening, literally and figuratively.

It's all going to come crashing down.

Inevitable.

Billy sways, lurches, and feels the earth tilt.

"No more," he rasps out through a mouth full of fangs, and then he falls into a soft layer of frozen white.

 

 

 

He wants to tear out of his skin.

The world is too close, it's bearing down on him, suffocating him. The world is strange... without meaning or memory... and he doesn't want to be himself.

There.

This isn't right. Something is...

The woods. The tree. His dad.

The cave. The monster. His mate.

He's dazed and walking through a crowded party towards something sacred and dangerous, something he needs, something that will be the beginning and the end of him... and he doesn't know what's going to come, what waits for him ahead... 

Rule number one...

"Take it easy, kid."

Billy wakes up.

His eyes snap open, vision blurred by tears and the sudden transition from darkness to light, and he blinks.

A voice. Someone spoke.

Awake. He's awake.

He's here.

There is light, sunlight... it is streaming through a dirty, frost-covered window and catching the dust in the air, dust that dances as it falls.

He blinks again.

The room feels very quiet. Perhaps it is because it is such an unusual time of day to be in a bedroom. There is a kind of stillness particular in the late afternoon, with the sunlight streaming through the window blinds and catching the dust in the air.

Both boys are making noise, but it is the soft, breathy kind.

He realizes belatedly that his breaths are coming in short, panicked gasps and that his fists are clenched around warm bed sheets.

Bed. He's in a bed. Not his bed, nor any other bed he recognizes.

He is in a room. Not his room.

He is not alone.

A tall, thickset man with a beard and an evaluating gaze is sitting in a chair by his bedside, watching him. He looks big... unimpressed... intimidating.

Billy grimaces without meaning to and the big man snorts.

"It's okay, kid. I know I'm not the prettiest thing to wake up to."

Billy swallows, forces his breathing to slow, forces himself to take in his surroundings.

The room is on the smallish side, unfinished wood and simple furniture. Rustic, he supposes, like a cabin in a slasher horror movie. It's bright and warm, and when Billy's eyes dart towards the window again he can see that it's still snowing outside.

The snow, a white wave falling in thick layers from a purple-gray sky... 

Except it's daytime now.

He shifts and can feel a bandage on his wounded side. He's not wearing a shirt but he has his underwear on, thank God, and he draws what confidence he can from that fact. He feels like shit but his wounds are healing... he can sense the wolf stitching them both back together again inside.

He doesn't reach up to touch it, but he knows there's a healing scar on his neck, the distinctive mark of a wolf bite. 

It throbs, and in his soul he feels an answering thrum, a gentle tug.

His throat feels like sandpaper, but he'll be damned if he's gonna ask for water or anything else.

Good to see some of his orneriness is coming back.

The guy with the beard continues to look at him, but Billy doesn't allow himself to care, to get self-conscious. He's pretty sure he knows exactly what this guy's deal is. He's just another obstacle, another blowhard, just like his dad. 

Dad's dead.

How could I forget that? Billy wonders.

Maybe because the only thing that really matters is...

"Steve?" 

His voice sounds as rough as he feels. The man huffs in bemusement and, unbidden, picks up a glass of water sitting on the beaten-up wooden nightstand next to the bed. Billy stiffens, but he's too sore to resist when the stranger gently grips his shoulder and guides the glass to his lips.

Besides, he wants the drink. He doesn't fight it.

"Steve's okay, son." The man's voice is slow and thoughtful as Billy gulps the water.

Billy half-snorts into the glass. If the man felt the way Billy did, he wouldn’t be nearly as cavalier about that fact.

"Slow down... better. There. Harrington is resting. He's in the other room. The kids are okay, too. Thanks to you, they say."

Those last words turn Billy's stomach... or maybe it's the water he's just chugged. Either way, he pulls back and away from the man and fixes his gaze on the door. The man uses a spare pillow to help Billy prop himself up into a sitting position, but the boy barely acknowledges this.

It's all coming back to him now - the ugly pieces, the many acts of self-exposure. Everything from kidnapping Jonathan Byers to Neil and Wyatt dying to fighting the Thesselhydra to glaring down the truck (oh fuck, the truck had said 'Hawkins Police' on the side... he hadn't registered that, hadn't... oh fuck...) outside of the Lab while still in his beta wolf form.

Dustin screaming at him that he hated him. That he's a monster. 

His decision to leave.

He's brutally aware, suddenly, that the big man is wearing a filthy but functional tan uniform with an official-looking insignia prominently displayed.

"Deep breaths, kid."

Billy's head is pounding and everything aches, and he chooses to believe that's why he can't keep his usual mask of angry indifference up.

He can't keep the mask up... but he knows what this is. There's been death, mayhem, and all kinds of disruption in this tiny town. So what happens?

This. This is an interrogation. The game - give and take. Get more information out of them than they get out of you.

He's done this before with the police, and with his father.

Christ, he's tired.

"Where am I?" he asks, unable to keep the wary weariness out of his voice.

"A cabin in Hawkins Woods. Used to be my grandpa's back in the day. Been using it for storage mostly, but it's pretty much habitable once you get the boiler working. We couldn't take you to a hospital because of your... condition... and we needed to get you somewhere safe in a hurry. Seem to be healing up okay, though, so..."

No hospitals. Your 'condition'. So, the man knows what he is.

Swell.

"Who are you?"

A small smile quirks up the edges of the man's mouth. "That's right, you're new around here. Chief Hopper. Jim Hopper."

Right, a cop. Hawkins Police. Just his luck he wouldn't get picked up by a park ranger or something less threatening.

Cops. Trouble. Prison, probably.

Or they could all just save a step and put the monsters down right here and now. One bullet to the melon is all it would take... or maybe a pillow to the face. In his current state Billy can't see himself putting up much of a fight.

"Your stepmom is outside," the cop says.

"Susan?" Billy's heart flip-flops, guilt and anxiety rearing their ugly heads in his chest.

"Yeah. You want to see her?"

"No." The word comes out too quick, too shaky and breathless, but once it's out he can't take it back.

Hopper just nods sagely. Point to him, and Billy needs to get his head in the game before he gives everything of himself away to this stranger with the eyes that see too much.

"You know, she tried to give me some line when I first brought this to her... tried to pretend like she didn't know the kind of company she was keeping, who she was married to, what her husband was up to. I've had a long talk with her, though, about family. About parental responsibility. Maxine got in on it, too... I think they had a good mother-daughter heart to heart. Joyce... that's Mrs. Byers to you... is out there working on her now, talking some sense into her. I think by the time this is over she'll see her way clear to doing what's best for Max."

Billy is glad that Max is okay, but beyond that he doesn't like the sound of this. He can't help but note that the possibility of Susan doing what's best for him, her stepson, is apparently a non-factor.

He raises an eyebrow at Hopper and the older man just nods to him again.

"Which just leaves you," he adds, almost like it's an afterthought.

This guy, Billy thinks, is dangerous. He's got the upper hand. He's got some endgame going and I don't know what it is.

Billy falls back into his old routine, the one he perfected with his father - deflect, submit, survive. He begins eyeing the exits, the weak spots, begins formulating strategies without realizing he's doing it. He doesn't know what this guy wants, but he wants something, and in Billy's experience people who want things from him always end up hurting him in the end.

His thoughts fly to Steve... Steve who he needs like he needs oxygen, Steve who isn't here... but it isn't safe, this man isn't safe, so he can't let himself dwell on his mate right now. Not until he's sure, not until he is back in control - was he ever in control? he needs to be in control - of this situation.

His wolf, ragged and weary, bares its teeth and waits.

"Do you want a formal statement, then? Sir?" Billy forces out each word like they're being dragged out of him. 

The cop narrows his eyes and his gaze flicks down to the bite mark on Billy's throat.

"I don't think so," he says after a beat. "I think I've got the whole story down. This is just a friendly chat, kid. Just making sure we're on the same page. I've suddenly got a few more people to look out for now, and I want to know where you stand on all this."

Billy doesn't believe that for a second. He stays resolutely silent for a long moment until he can't take it anymore.

"El..." he stops himself, then starts again. "The girl I was with..."

"Eleven?" Hopper raises an eyebrow. "She's something."

"She's..." Billy doesn't know how to say this without giving the girl away. "She's a good kid."

"A good kid who can move things with her mind. Dustin Henderson told me he thinks she's a fairy. I wasn't so sure but then Nancy Wheeler actually came up with some pretty solid research from the library. Really gave me an earful, those two."

Billy's heart sinks in his chest. On one hand, great, Eleven's a fairy princess now or whatever... but on the other hand, Hopper knows. Hoppers talked to Dustin. He opens his mouth, ready to prevaricate, to deflect and protect, and then... 

"Joyce and I," the cop continues, "were talking about finding something more permanent for her. Maybe she can stay with me, maybe stay with Joyce. I'm kind of warming to the idea of fixing up this cabin and using it as a safe-house, at least until we're sure there aren't any more government scientists looking for her. We'll have to see. She can't stay in Wheeler's basement much longer, that's for sure. And I'll be goddamned if we just leave her out there in the snow or send her back to those..."

Hopper huffs and cuts himself off, apparently too annoyed at the thought of deviant government agents to continue. Billy listens with a shocked bewilderment that, even as he slowly grasps what the older man is saying, doesn't wholly curb his lingering distrust.

"You're..." Billy swallows. "You'd do that?"

Why? What do you get out of it?  he wants to ask, but doesn't.

Hopper doesn't verbally respond, but his answering look is calm and confident and not unkind.

But... that's perfect. So perfect for Eleven. If they did that, that would be so...

No. No, he still doesn't trust him. Can't trust him.

Billy knows better. He won't be lured into thinking this guy is some sort of altruistic defender of the freaks. He won't be tricked into believing he's safe, that there isn't a price to be paid. This is a test, some test, like the tests his dad used to give to him, the tests he could never hope to pass no matter how good he was or how hard he tried.

Try again, and again. Forever.

Show no one your throat.

Billy forces a shrug, even though the movement tugs at the wound on his side. He desperately wants more water but is too afraid or too stubborn to ask for it.

"Whatever," he croaks out instead, fixing his eyes on the cop, a wary challenge.

Hopper hums and gives him a slight nod.

"Imagine my surprise," he says, voice gravelly and amused. "A bunch of kids come tearing out of the woods in the middle of the night in a hot-wired Camaro, yelling about werewolves and snake-headed monsters. If I didn't know any better I'd have said they were all crazy, but, dammit, their explanation actually kind of made sense. When I tried to ask some very simple follow-up questions, Dustin Henderson suddenly sprouted fur and claws and damn near gave me a heart attack... and then before I know it Joyce Byers is at my elbow trying to beat me senseless so I'll go with her to an abandoned building in the ass-end of nowhere and rescue her son."

The amusement in his voice fades and turns into something a bit more pressing... the tone of a man who is a detective first and foremost... a man who wants to solve things.

"Turns out, however, that I don't need to rescue anyone, because a fairy already tore the monster to pieces and some teenager managed to drag the whole gang out of a crumbling building pretty much single-handed." 

Billy swallows again, his fingers twitching towards the glass on the nightstand. Hopper sees the movement - this asshole doesn't miss a trick - and retrieves the water for him. It takes all the strength Billy can muster to hold the glass steady, but he does, and when he finishes Hopper takes it from him and puts it back.

"All that," he continues, "but the thing I really want to know about, is you. Billy Hargrove. The wildcard."

"There's nothing special about me," Billy murmurs, weakly.

"Well, you're a werewolf, so there's that. Putting the obvious aside, however... I've known these kids their whole lives, most of them. But I don't know Eleven, or you, or Max. And you're the mystery. You're a bit like your stepmom. I'm not really sure what you know or what you're gonna do... if you're like your father or if you're something else entirely. I didn't know your game. Or at least I didn't until now."

Billy could laugh at that, if he wasn't so sore and tired and close to crying.

The cop knows. Of course he does. He knows what Billy knows, and he knows what Billy is. 

Billy is dangerous... too dangerous to exist. Thou shalt not suffer a werewolf to live.

And if the local kids start sprouting fur and fangs, well... Billy isn't a local kid. He doesn't belong to anyone. Not since his dad died. No one cares what happens to him.

So, the next step is easy... the logic is clear. Billy finally sees why Hopper is sitting here, talking to him.

It hurts, of course it does, because he'd just about made up his mind to stay, just about convinced himself that he could have a bond with Steve, could have a mate and friends and a life and a future... but he gets it now, what the cop is asking.

It's a confirmation of his doubts, his insecurities and fears, an echo of his father's final words. Stupid to pretend. It's fine. In a way it is a relief to have the choice taken out of his hands. Morality is easy when you don't need to make the decision on your own.

Billy closes his eyes. He wants to sleep.

"You want me to leave," he murmurs, so softly he can barely hear himself say it. "If I leave, everything goes back the way it was. You want me to go. Take the fall for everything, for all the crazy shit, and go."

There is a beat of silence. Billy feels a dreadful kind of peace, like he's already dead.

"No, Billy."

Billy's eyes pop open again. Hopper looks at him, and in his face Billy reads something he doesn't want to see.

This, he does not appreciate - being toyed with. Being jerked around. Being pitied. There is nothing to be gained by wrapping false hope around a profound misunderstanding of what Billy Hargrove is.

He calls up the wolf and lets his eyes and fangs flash, a warning.

"Don't fuck with me, asshole."

Hopper, damn him, remains surprisingly unimpressed, though his eyes do widen slightly at the display.

"Are you telling me you don't want to stay?" he asks, incredulous. "That you'd leave Steve? Leave Max? Just like that?"

"I'm telling you that you don't want me to stay," Billy snaps. "Don't bullshit me. I'm too tired for it, but I'm not to tired to fuck you up if you piss me off. Nobody wants me here. That's what you're saying, right? Susan wants me out, and Steve's too good to be hanging out with a guy like me..."

"Is that the kids call it these days?" Hopper mutters wryly, leveling a look at the younger man that says he's got a pretty good idea how much the boys mean to each other.

"I'm too much of a liability to be around your precious kids," Billy continues doggedly. "I'm bad, I'll ruin everything. I got it. You want me to go, and I'll go."

"That's not true."

"It is true. I'm a monster and it's safer for everyone if I go."

For a moment Hopper is silent, and Billy is sure that he has won... or lost. Either way, his point is made, even if it's a point he'll fight and rail against for whatever remains of his miserable, lonely life.

Who wants a guy like Billy Hargrove in their town?

But Hopper doesn't show him the door, throw him out on his ass, drive him out to the city limits and dump him.

Instead, he leans back in his chair and chuckles.

Billy swears roundly at him, but it comes out weak and shaky and brittle and the cop doesn't take the bait. He just shakes his head at Billy and gives him a warm, crooked smile.

"Ah, kid. No, it won't work. I know you. I know who you are."

Of course he does. Everyone does. Billy wonders with wry frustration if he's ever going to get away from all these amateur psychologists telling him all about himself.

"You've got your instincts," the cop continues, "and that's good. Fight or flight, yeah?"

Billy grinds his teeth together and stares at Hopper's collar.

"You're thinking about flight right now."

Billy wonders what kind of damning evidence is spread across his face. Because it's true... now, in the cold light of day, he can see all the horror that's been driving him, the fear that's been sitting on his shoulders these past few weeks... all culminating in the nightmare of last night.

Things look different in the daylight and he is still so afraid... afraid of monsters, yes, but also of what staying in Hawkins means.

It's giving someone else a window into your soul, putting your heart in their hands and begging them not to tear it to pieces.

He wants to run. It would be so easy, now, to run away from his fears and his mistakes. He's made so many mistakes. How can he ever find a way...?

We forgive each other... right?

His bond with Steve thrums inside of him. He tries to ignore it but can't. Steve sits in his chest like a second self and Billy has never felt more whole, and it's his own stupid fault for letting him in in the first place.

Does he really want to run?

Yes. No.

Billy swallows once. His throat is still dry and it makes an odd clicking noise when he does so, so he forces himself to swallow again. 

"Yes," he admits, finally, voice not as steady as he'd like but still admirably even all the same. "I'm thinking about it. But I'm trying not to."

Hopper stares at him for a long, long moment, and then huffs.

"Good," he says. "Never thought I'd say this, but I think we may need more fighters around here. Especially if we're going to get monsters popping up all over the place."

"I'm the monster," Billy replies. "Sir."

"Are you?" Hopper raises an eyebrow and leans forward. "And Dustin? And Steve? Will Byers? That little girl?"

"I'm the monster," Billy insists, stubbornly. "Leave them out of this, we're talking about me."

"You're talking out of your ass. You're doped up on old pain meds and adrenaline. Let me tell you something about monsters, kid. Did you know your dad's pal Wyatt was fresh out of prison for violent assault? There were lot of other things, too, that we never got him for. He's what put me onto you guys... I figured out what you are when I started tailing him."

Billy shoots him a look and Hopper huffs in amusement.

"Please, kid, give me some credit. Loads of people suddenly going missing, the neighborhood kids are on patrol... and then there's you, vanishing for hours at a time and just good old Wyatt King's type? Something was up. You had me worried for a minute there, son."

"You were following me?"

"Kept an eye out."

"I didn't see you."

"This isn't my first time around the block. King was the one I was after, I stayed on him for the most part."

"He's dead."

"I went to the woods. Didn't find a body."

"There wasn't one left to find."

Hopper eyes him like he's weighing the truth of this, then nods. "Good."

"My dad's dead, too."

"How do you feel about that?"

"What are you, my head shrink?"

"No, Hargrove. But I know monsters. You may turn into Lon Chaney during the full moon, but you aren't a monster. You wanna hear about monsters, I'll tell you all about Wyatt King some day. All those missing boys we could never quite trace back to him... and then there was you, attractive and defiant... you might as well have been the perfect honey-trap. And I don't need to tell you about the other thing. You saw a real monster last night, from what I hear. All those missing people and it wasn't even the monster I was chasing that killed them."

"Lots of different kinds of monsters, man. I can hurt people. I have hurt... hurt people."

The older man hums thoughtfully.

"Monsters don't usually have little kids fighting in their corner, though," Hopper says, leaning back in his chair. "They don't have a whole posse of stubborn children bullying law officials into forming half-assed rescue parties."

"That wasn't for me. The little shits don't even like me."

"Bullshit. You protected those kids from Wyatt King and your dad, and then you walked into the jaws of certain death to pull two more of them out of danger. You may posture and pretend but don't insult my intelligence. I'm not buying it. Do monsters go headlong into danger to protect their friends?"

Billy sits in silence for a long moment, staring at Hopper.

"Why are you doing this to me?" he asks, finally. His voice breaks, betraying him.

"I want you to fight... not the way you fought before. I want you to stay here and fight for your people. I want you to fight to stay here, to do the hard thing and believe that you can stay. I know you, kid. I was you, once upon a time. You've already got one foot out the door. You want to run away... that's the worst thing in the world you could do, Billy. You start running and you'll run forever, and you'll lose everything you have here."

Billy’s mind flashes back to Steve, to his beautiful, good, vulnerable mate. To their choice, their bond... made under duress, in the aftermath of battle and terror, with Steve bleeding out on the floor.

"I don't have anything," he croaks out, his worst truths laid bare. "Only things I stole. Things... things that shouldn't belong to me."

"You're wrong, son. I wish you could see that. Your dad is dead, you don't think you matter, don't think you belong... you want to die, too. But instead of dying you turned around last night and you pulled those kids out of hell."

The cop sighs and runs his hand through his thinning hair.

"I was just like you. Something in me is pretty sure you want to stay, that you want to live here and be with the people you care about, even though you don't think you deserve to. You don't think you deserve it and even if you did, having them scares the shit out of you... because if you have them you might lose them, right? But tell me something, Billy... do monsters usually drag half-dead boys out of abandoned buildings? What exactly are you trying to convince me of, Hargrove? You think this will be easier if you pretend you don't care?"

Something about the way Hopper says that - sharp and brutal - makes Billy's breath hitch and his heart skip a beat. There's a word, too, that the older man uses, that suddenly snaps his fragile control, makes the fear catch in his chest and turn a spark into a roaring fire.

"You said he was okay," he murmurs, heart-rate spiking suddenly. The anxiety, his own and the wolf's, steadily building throughout this whole conversation, is now cresting towards a panic attack.

Hopper is startled by the interruption. He looks confused for a moment and then realizes who Billy is talking about.

"Steve? He's fine," he says, but the words sound suddenly hollow, inadequate.

They are suddenly not nearly good enough.

"'Half-dead', you said..." Billy chokes out, breath gone. "You told me before... you said he was okay!"

"He is, son." Hopper seems somewhat startled by Billy's sudden vehemence, his hysterical edge.

"Why are you doing this?"

"Kid..."

"Where is he, then? Steve? Where is everyone? If they're okay... everyone is okay? Right?!"

Hopper just looks at him, drawing in a deep, calming breath, and Billy feels tears prickle at the corners of his eyes. 

"You fucker," he hisses, fighting for control and losing. "Everyone is okay, right?! You said..."

"Everyone is okay, Billy," Hopper says, voice low, gentle. There's something on his face that is almost self-reproach, like's he's pushed too hard and regrets it now.

Billy doesn’t see this, doesn’t register it. It's too much, all this talk, and Billy's tangled relationship with his own inner monster. It's too much.

He is back in the woods, he's back in the Lab, there are monsters there and they’ve come for his pack. It’s dark, it’s so dark, and he’s too slow, it's too cold, he’s slow and weak and so, so blind.

Where are they, where are they...?

They’re going to take them away... the monsters, his dad, Hopper, the world, they've all come to take away everything thing that Billy loves, every good and beautiful thing, they're going to take them away, just like always, just like always...

And yeah, he was leaving, but only because that was the only way to save them, the only way... and Hopper is telling him something he desperately wants to believe but can't... and he needs to be strong, he needs to be the Alpha, he needs to be everything but he's not, he's never enough, he's just scared and he doesn't know what to do, he doesn't know what to say to Hopper, he doesn't know how to escape his father, he doesn't know how to find his way out of the woods...

His vision tunnels and in that moment he knows, with all the certainty in the world, that he has failed, that he has lost them all, that his mate is dead, that he has lost everything...

”Billy, son...”

"I don't believe you, asshole." Billy's volume is hitching upwards now. He squeezes his eyes shut against the horror and a damning tear falls down his cheek before he can bring himself to open them again. His hands clench and the wolf aches to get out, half-crazed and feral with need.

"Who's hurt? Where are they? What aren't you telling me?! You lying fucker, where is my...?!"

"Billy?"

The door to the small room opens slightly and a soft voice drifts through the crack, quiet and shy and tentative.

More tentative than Billy has ever heard Dustin Henderson be. 

The boy pokes his head around the edge of the door and peeks in, steps in quickly. His hair is even messier than usual, and he's wearing a t-shirt several sizes too big as sleepwear. He's got a rough splint on his arm, on the broken and healing bone, and the sight makes Billy's whole body sag. It is almost a physiological shock to his system, how quickly all the fear and doubt evaporates at the sight of the pup.

Just like that everything else is wiped away and there is only the head-spinning sense of relief.

Dustin looks exhausted, and nervous, and his eyes are darting back and forth between Billy and Hopper.

Billy doesn't care.

He's okay. He's alive. He's hurt but he's alive.

Billy's happy... he's happy... to see the little shit.

"Dustin." He can't be cool, can't keep the tumult of his emotions out of his voice. It doesn't matter, though, because the moment he says the boy's name Dustin's face crumbles and the tension he was holding in his small body drains out of him. His face cracks into a grin. He smiles at Billy, that big, toothy smile the older boy never thought he'd ever get to see again.

And then...

"Max?"

She's there, she's behind Dustin. Her walls are up, she's wary and nervous... Billy can see that, but he doesn't care.

God, he doesn't care, he just wants them all to be safe, his mate, his pups - my mate, my pups, my pack - and he wants to curl up around them and sleep for about a million years.

It's selfish and he doesn't deserve it but that's all he wants.

And...

Hopper... that big, burly man who is like his father but not, not in any way that matters, it seems... he said he could have that, maybe, if...

We forgive each other, don't we? 

Billy...

He has no idea what emotions are racing across his face, there for all the world to see. He knows he can't get anything coherent out of his mouth and that his vision is going blurry with waiting tears.

He can barely process this before the bed is suddenly much more crowded. Small bodies are crawling up and wrapping themselves around him and he's suddenly got a face full of auburn hair, and his side hurts but he's wrapping his arms around his sister and murmuring something that sounds like reassurances and apologies, and...

"Okay, guys," says the cop. "Let the boy breathe."

His wolf howls.

No, not yet. Don't take them away yet. 

"I'm sorry," he mumbles, clutching Max tighter. "I'm sorry about Neil. I'm sorry about everything. I don't deserve anything but I'm sorry, it was all my fault, I couldn't stop it. It all got out of control, Max, please, I'm so sorry..."

"Shhh..." she murmurs. "Me, too. It's okay. What did you do to him?"

It takes Billy a moment to understand that she is directing this question at Hopper, who mutters something about making sure his head was screwed on right, and also something about letting Joyce handle things from now on.

"Dust..."

"I'm sorry, Billy," Dustin huffs out, scooting up on the bed and pressing himself to Billy's undamaged side. "You saved everybody and brought Steve back and I'm sorry about what I said..."

"Shut up," Billy tugs Dustin close, runs his free hand through his tangled curls. "Not your fault. You were right, I deserved it. I'm sorry, I thought I could fix everything so we could all be together and I never should have..."

"Yeah, I know, I get it," the younger boy interrupts, the familiar chatter soothing Billy's soul. "You went all Lando but in a good way, and... don't go, please. Billy, I know you said..."

"It's okay. I won't, I'm not. Not if you don't... you're such a little shit," he huffs, dragging in a breath as the words sink in... don't go, don't go, stay, stay, stay. "I never wanted to hurt you. Not you or Steve. I wanted you to be my family. You..."

"He's supposed to be resting!" Max snaps at Hopper over Billy's head.

Billy grins into her shoulder, tugs her down and squeezes her into a hug. His brain is a mess, but the physicality of the embrace, solid and grounding, helps him.

"You're okay, right?" he asks again, not quite sure he believes it. "You're okay?"

"I'm fine, I was always fine. Billy, you almost died...," she starts.

"I'm okay."

"No, asshole! You're not, you weren't! Half your guts were hanging out when they brought you back, and I thought... don't do it again! Okay? Don't go dying on me again. Say you understand."

"Max..."

"Say you understand!"

"I understand. Don't yell at me, please."

"I'm sorry," she murmurs, relenting, burying her face in his neck. "And I'm sorry about your dad."

She's a wonder. Her capacity for forgiveness is a wonder. He thinks maybe could learn a thing or two from his crazy little sister. 

A thing or two about fighting. About surviving.

Billy's breath hitches loudly and the tears start to fall. "Max..."

The tree. The blood. The panic.

Dad.

"I know," she cuts him off. "I saw it. I know."

At that, something in Billy unclenches, and a weak cry of grief escapes his throat. He has been going too hard for too long, and Hopper, in his way, was right. He can't run anymore. At some point he was going to have to let the feelings in and let them out again, and now, with Max here, and Dustin...

There is a murmur by the door. Billy hiccups and blinks and looks up to see the rest of the group, the rest of the kids, standing by the doorway. Their eyes are wide and worried... but not afraid.

Not afraid of him.

They're worried... for him.

Eleven, still a little pale but looking much better, gives him a small wave.

Billy can almost hear the click of everything sliding into place. Of himself sliding into place, into a safe cocoon of affection he hasn't felt since his mother died. 

Into a pack.

I could fight for this.

Stay.

"Max...," Billy forces out after a long, breathless beat. "Max. Steve. Please?"

"He's okay, Billy. Really, he is. Whatever this asshole said..."

"I told him the truth!" Hopper throws his hands out. "Everyone's fine! 'S not my fault you kids don't listen."

"...Steve's okay. You got him out of that building and Mom and Mrs. Byers helped fix him up. He hurt his ribs but they're healing and he's much better now. He's asleep."

"Where?"

"Here. We're in Chief Hopper's cabin. He's in the room next door."

Billy processes this, then pushes himself up on his elbows. His side screams at him and every muscle hurts but he doesn't care. Max and Dustin slide off the bed and the other children move further into the room, murmuring various protests.

"Kid," Hopper mutters, alarmed.

"Max," Billy ignores Hopper and looks at her. He tilts his head so that his throat and his soul is bared. It's tough, and it goes against every instinct in him, everything his father ever trained into him, but he finds that he wants his pack more than he wants to be strong and alone.

"Please."

Her hazel eyes blink and her face softens. She understands. She reaches out and helps him crawl out of the bed, and before Hopper can say anything else the kids surround Billy and support him as he stands and shuffles towards the door.

He is lucky that Steve really is right in the next room because he likely wouldn't have made it much further, the state he's in. He sees the unconscious form lying prone on the bed and crawls in next to his mate without a second thought.

 

 

 

Steve wakes up warm and safe, his eyes drifting open slowly, lazily.

Birds chirp in the distance as the pale gray light of the late afternoon creeps through a dusty old window. The night is over. Steve Harrington, teenage werewolf, is still alive.

This is fine.

Disconcerting, but not wholly unexpected. 

As Steve drifts back into consciousness he forces himself to go slowly.

He remembers who he is. He remembers what he is.

He is a werewolf, he is in a bed, and he's okay.

'Okay' is a relative term.

It really is. He hurts. He can feel his bones and flesh knitting back together, and it hurts. It's almost a nice hurt, though... like stretching muscles after a long basketball game. He's healing, and that's good.

The air is coming into his lungs now, and leaving again, and it is so much easier than it was before...

Last night...

The wolf inside him rolls over, smug and happy and tangled up in the sweet, glowing wonder of the mating bond.

The bond.

Before he can follow that thought through to some sort of conclusion, Steve shivers and something shifts around him. Suddenly he realizes that there are solid, warm, breathing things surrounding him, on top of him, next to him. He turns his head slightly and sees...

Billy.

Billy, beautiful, bruised, golden, eyes closed in sleep, one strong arm stretched across Steve's middle, curled around his mate. His neck is exposed and under a few stray, blonde curls Steve can see the mark - his mark - a bite mark already miraculously healed into a crescent moon-shaped scar. For a moment Steve can do nothing but stare and feel the mark on his own throat - Billy's mark - throb gently.

"Sweetheart," he whispers.

The lump on his other side huffs a little at the noise.

He turns to look and sees Dustin there, also asleep, nestled against Steve's chest. His heart crumbles at the sight of that familiar face, that mop of brown curls burrowed against him.

"Pup," he murmurs.

His gaze flicks down and he sees them all, all the kids curled up in various poses, sleeping together on his bed. Lucas is stretched out, legs dangling off the end, Max's head propped up between his chest and Billy's legs, and Mike and Eleven lay next to each other, holding hands. Will is sprawled out on his stomach across Steve's feet. Nancy and Jonathan are in the room, too, passed out in a chair in the corner by the overcrowded bed.

Steve doesn't know where they are or how they got here. Last night is a collection of fragmentary pieces, jumbled and vivid and strange.

Horror and bloodshed. The violent beauty of the shift, of himself and the wolf becoming one. Billy riding in like a white knight right when Steve had just about despaired of ever seeing him again. Stairs. Snow. 

Biting Billy. Billy biting him. Billy staying. Billy choosing him. 

This electric wire between them now, tying them together, making them one. This unbelievable feeling of peace and stability, because Billy is here and the pups are here, and they are all together and safe.

So much to figure out, so much to sort through...

Later.

With a small smile on his face, Steve closes his eyes and drifts back to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Artwork by the amazingly talented werecadet 


Billy and Steve: Sharing the Full Moon

  

 

 

Chapter Text

         

         

          Nameless bodies
          In unremembered rooms
          Know how a man becomes a beast
          When the wolfsbane blooms

              - "Werewolf Gimmick" by The Mountain Goats

 

  

One Month Later - Day of the Full Moon

 

"But I thought alphas were the heads of wolf packs and made all the decisions for the other wolves?"

"Well," Mr. Clarke starts, his voice distant yet animated on the other end of the phone line. "That's what researchers originally thought. Rudolph Schenkel published a paper on pack behavior in the 1940s and coined the term 'alpha' wolf. However, recent studies have pointed out that our understanding of wolf packs is based on observations of wolves in captivity. In a zoo, wolves sometimes restructure the pack so that the most powerful or aggressive wolf takes the lead. This is called a dominance hierarchy... and while a head wolf, or alpha, if you will, can help protect the pack, this often leads to an uneven distribution of resources and a problematic power imbalance."

"But then... alphas aren't really a wolf thing?"

"No. Being in captivity changes the way living beings think and act. Some pretty smart people believe that alpha behavior is more a question of poor living conditions than a natural desire for violence and dominance. In wolf packs observed in the wild the structure is much more complex. Wolves do not have an inherent sense of rank or hierarchy from birth, and in fact wolf packs are usually structured like normal families."

"Families?"

"Sure. There might be older members and younger members... parents and kids. Some wolves might have particular things they're good at, and everyone works to protect and help each other. This structure is called a linking hierarchy, and it's much more democratic than what Schenkel came up with. In truth, Schenkel might have been unfairly applying human traits, and particularly male gender roles, to his experiment."

Dustin hears a woman's voice in the background saying something to Mr. Clarke. He thinks he might hear the terms "social construct" and "misogynistic bullshit", but he can't be sure.

When his teacher continues his explanation, Dustin can hear the fond smile in his voice. 

"Yes... there aren't alphas in normal wolf packs, Dustin... just as there aren't really people who are born 'better' than other people in human society. Its just posturing and bullying, assumptions made about gender and power, or reactions to specific, stressful situations."

Yeah, right, stressful situations. Dustin's seen that before.

"Most importantly, leaders... real leaders, that is... are never at the top of a hierarchy, Dustin. They're always at the center. They bring everyone together... they don't put themselves above others so they can dominate or punish. True leaders serve others. You see the difference?"

"Dusty... Dustin!" Claudia Henderson waves at her son from across the living room. "You better hurry," she stage whispers, "or you'll be late for your sleepover!"

Dustin nods and grins at her, waving her away.

"Yeah... yeah. I do see the difference, Mr. Clarke."

"Good. Well, if that's everything..."

"No, no, wait!" Dustin twists the telephone cord in his hands, eyes sparkling with interest. "I have more questions about pack dynamics... and do you know anything about wolf mating rituals?"

"Wolf mating...? Dustin, it's Saturday afternoon. Maybe this can wait until Monday? What is this even for?"

"... Fun?"

 

 

 

"'In a dark, dark room...'"

Eleven stops reading for a moment.

She lowers the book to her lap and looks up at Mike.

"Are these scary stories?"

"Well, yeah," Mike reaches over and taps on the cover of the book with one finger. "'In A Dark, Dark Room And Other Scary Stories'. They're really good, though. And they're at your reading level."

Eleven gives Mike a look that clearly communicates her skepticism at his bringing even more 'scary' stuff into their already topsy-turvy lives.

"If it helps," he grins, "you can read Steve 'The Green Ribbon' story when he gets here. That one always freaks him out."

"I like Steve," she says, fighting down a smile.

"We all like Steve. But it's also really, really funny when Steve freaks out."

Eleven grins and buries herself in her book as Mike leans back on the musty old couch that used to belong to Chief Hopper's grandfather. They'd cleared off most of the dust when they all helped clean and rearrange the cabin, but the furniture still smells a little bit like mothballs. 

Eleven doesn't mind. For her, that smell - dust, mothballs, syrup over waffles, wood smoke, flannel, and a thousand other things - has come to mean home.

It's something she never thought she'd have... but now she's here, she's warm and safe, and she and Mike are waiting for their friends to arrive to share time with them.

It's the night of the full moon, and on nights of the full moon the Party has a sleepover. So it was decreed by a unanimous decision by all Party members pretty much the very moment everyone one woke up a month ago today in this very cabin, bruised and battered but also safe and curled around the sleepy but still-alive pack mother.

It had been a strange month, all told.

For one thing, Eleven suddenly had a whole new pantheon of adults to sort through. Even better, these adults aren't like Papa at all.

There is Mrs. Byers, who called Eleven good and brave when they first met, and who gives her the most wonderful hugs in the world. Eleven eats dinner with her and Will and Jonathan on nights when Hopper needs to work late. Mrs. Byers is messy and passionate and brilliant, and Eleven always feels something like awe watching her infectious love wrap around everything.

And there is Hopper, who owns the cabin that is now home. At first, Hopper fixed her with a wary, critical gaze, but now he is the man who grins wide and happy at her over Eggo waffles piled high with whipped cream and candy. He reads her stories and is helping her learn... not just words and numbers but also how to live out in the woods and protect herself.

This is good. Eleven has been away from the woods, and her roots, for far too long.

She needs to be where she can keep an eye on things.

Max and Billy's mom kept her distance, sheepish and a little bit bewildered. Susan Hargrove wasn't up on all the facts and she didn't need to be. Max made all the decisions about what Susan did and did not need to know.

Eleven likes Max. Max helps her pick out clothes to wear and Max likes to dance. Max manages Susan, and as a result Eleven sees very little of the older woman.

That was one thing, and perhaps the most important thing to come out of that weird, horrible night. Now there were adults and a cabin.

That still left the Pack.

The wolves woke up strangely restless the morning after the fight.

There didn’t seem to be anything obviously wrong. It was just... Steve and Billy hadn't immediately fallen into each others arms after the Bad Night like everyone kind of thought they would.

That was certainly a surprise. After all, said Dustin, it's not everyday someone risks their life to rescue you from a Thesselhydra. You'd think they'd be all over each other.

Eleven didn't say anything at the time but she quietly figured, upon further consideration, that this was kind of the point. So much had happened in such a short amount of time. Now that everything wasn't madness and death, they all had to learn how to deal with the strangeness of normalcy.

Billy and Steve and Dustin healed quickly... at least physically. Dustin easily passed his broken arm off as a sprain to his mother the day after the Bad Night. Billy could get out of bed in a day and a half. Steve took three days. 

Billy stayed by Steve's bedside almost the whole time, either laying next to him or propping himself up in a chair nearby.

They would talk quietly, conversations that would taper off whenever one of the kids entered the room. When Steve needed to get up and go to the bathroom or move about in any way, Billy would be right there at his side, growling at anyone who came too close. Steve would hold on tight to the other boy's hand and then, when he got back into bed, the hand-holding would end. 

Billy and Steve didn't seem to want to be out of each other's sight, but they also weren't particularly comfortable together either. They looked at each other with shy side-glances, tentative and careful. They talked about the past, and what had happened, and what it meant to them. Careful, always careful. It was almost like they were trying and failing to read each other's minds.

The problem with new beginnings is that they are just that - beginnings. Starting over from scratch.

Billy and Steve were both very different people in the aftermath of their shared trauma, and not at all who and what they had been at the start of their story.

The more Eleven saw, the more she could sympathize.

It's hard to know and be known.

Once Steve could move about comfortably on his own without assistance, Billy withdrew. He returned to his house and spent a few days there with Max and Susan. He called frequently on the radio but otherwise limited his visits.

Hopper called it 'giving each other space'. Dustin called it 'stupid'.

Steve stayed at the cabin in the spare bedroom for those couple of days between the Bad Night and Christmas. He was still recovering and his parents weren't around to take him away. When Hopper went to the police station Steve sat with Eleven, made her food and played with her, napped and wore old sweaters borrowed from the old cop. He waited patiently for his ribs to finish stitching themselves together again, and spent no small amount of his down-time thinking about things. 

About the future, he told Eleven. A new year coming.

The tension between the pack mother and strange wolf with fire in his soul remained a fraught and almost-tangible thing until Christmas Eve.

Eleven never experienced Christmas before, but now it was her and Hopper in the cabin, and Steve. Now it was something to celebrate. 

On Christmas Eve the whole Party came by to see them. They couldn't stay all night, but each and every one of them came and shared food and presents and laughter. The Byers came first, and Joyce cooked in the small kitchen while Hopper looked at her like she hung the moon.

Lucas brought his sister. Dustin brought board games and cookies. 

Mike gave Eleven a gentle, tentative kiss on the cheek, and she felt warm and buzzy for the rest of the night.

The Hargroves were late. Everyone had felt their absence and everyone was just about ready to call it a night when Billy drove up with Max. Max was so excited, as were the rest of the kids.

Billy stood awkwardly on the edges of the party, his shoulder tense with anxiety. Dustin and Jonathan tried to draw him out and soothe his discomfort, but there was a limit to what they could do.

In the hour that followed, Steve and Billy made an art form of looking at each other and not speaking, of communicating without words.

In the end it was Steve who made the move.

Eleven watched it happen.

It was getting late. Time for everyone to go.

Joyce packed Will and Lucas and Erica in her car, hovered on the porch for a moment to share a last cigarette with Hopper, and then took the Sinclairs home.

Steve whispered something to Jonathan, and Jonathan nodded and told to the group that he'd be happy to drive the rest of the kids, Max included. 

Billy looked for a moment like he was going to protest, but something about the way Jonathan glanced over at him silenced him. He shifted from one foot to the other and didn't say anything.

The kids, sensing a turning point, said their goodbyes and left without a murmur. Even Dustin felt the heaviness of the occasion and found he had nothing serious to add.

They all trouped out, leaving Billy, Steve, and Eleven alone.

As the dust settled, Steve finally walked up to Billy, eyes wide and face a little pinched and uncertain. He was wrapped up in Hopper's over-sized sweater, the blue one with a hole in the collar, and something about that article of clothing made everything about him more exaggerated - his pale skin, his big eyes, his red mouth, his shaggy hair - and more fragile-looking.

The blonde went preternaturally still and stared at Steve, watchful and still so very shy. He ducked his head a little and waited for his mate to speak.  

"Billy," Steve said, quietly. "Take me home, please?"

After a loaded moment that felt like a lifetime, a small smile lifted the corners of Billy’s mouth, and he nodded.

Eleven doesn't know, even now, exactly where home is for Steve.

She knows his parents' house is big and empty, and that he chooses to fill it with laughter and friends when he can. She's heard Dustin talk about an abandoned warehouse in the woods, but it is surely too cold to go there on Christmas Eve. She knows Steve thinks of the cabin as a kind of home, though he has noted more than once that the walls are rather thin.

She knows that Billy sleeps in the same house as Max and Susan when he isn't sleeping on the couch in the cabin (waiting for Steve, looking at him without looking at him, wanting him to be well, wanting him to be safe, wanting him but not wanting to push him or hurt him...) or in his car. But she also knows that sleeping somewhere doesn't necessarily make that somewhere home.

As she watched Billy take Steve's hands in his own on that wet, cold, first-ever Christmas Eve, gently and without saying a word... as she watched them walk out the door together, she knew that they were going home, wherever that was. That Steve already was home because he was with Billy.

The boys didn't resurface for a few days after that. Repeated attempts to get hold of them via the radio were ignored, until finally Steve kindly but seriously told Dustin to fuck off unless it was a Code Red and then switched the device off with a rather definite click.

"About damn time," Hopper grumbled when she told him, huffing out a growl that made him sound rather like a bear.

He is a very grumpy man. She likes him very much.

Nancy comes out of the cabin's spare bedroom, a pile of things for tonight in her arms. The Party will eat, and the wolves will shift and run together, and the rest of them will remain here and talk and laugh and sleep and be ready to take care of their friends when they come out of the woods again.

The older girl is folding blankets and carefully stacking them when the three of them hear a car pull up.

"Jonathan and Will," she murmurs, smiling as she peeps out of the curtained window. 

As if on cue the radio on the nearby shelf starts beeping. Hopper.

Eleven jumps up and races over to check her Morse code chart. Mike knows immediately what the message says but looks on fondly while Eleven figures it out for herself.

"O-n-m-y-w-a-y-h-o-m-e," she spells out, grinning.

"Message back 'pizza'," Mike suggests. Nancy whacks him lightly on the back of the head.

"We've got casserole and chips and so many Eggos!"

Eleven sends the message anyway, finishing just as Will races in, followed closely by Jonathan.

 

 

 

Billy climbs out of his car and pauses to zip up his - formerly Steve's - thick winter coat. As he does so, Max practically leaps out of the passenger's side of the Camaro and races past him and towards the inviting warmth of Hopper's cabin. Her red hair flies behind her, stubbornly resistant to Susan's failed attempts to tame it, and her boots crunch in the fresh layer of wet snow on the ground.

Billy glances up as she goes and shakes his head.

"'Gee, thanks for the ride Billy'," he murmurs. "Oh, sure Max, no sweat, my pleasure..."

He grumbles and huffs, but he's not really upset. He is more amused and sympathetic than anything.

Max wants to see her friends, especially El and Lucas.

Billy gets it. He is also eager for his friends, for his pack, for his...

There is the rumble of a familiar engine and the sound of tires on snow and earth, and Billy looks over to see Steve's Beemer in the distance making the turn into the woods, towards the cabin. Billy shivers in the cold and kicks at the snow at his feet, waiting patiently for his mate to make his way down the road.

From here, Billy can see the Beemer's new front bumper, a necessary replacement after Nancy Wheeler smashed Wyatt to bits on the old one. Billy can't help but smile every time he notices it. So it goes.

The moment the car pulls up and the passenger doors crack open Billy can hear the familiar chatter of Dustin and Lucas. The two boys spill out and Steve, with a low groan of bemused fondness, follows, raising his hand in greeting when he catches Billy's eye.

"Hi Billy," Dustin calls.

"Hey."

Dustin throws Steve a look and makes some enthusiastic hand gesture which Billy can't understand. Steve rolls his eyes.

"We'll meet you inside, okay?" Steve tilts his head towards the cabin in a motion that clearly means 'scram'.

"Whatever," Lucas chimes in, grabbing Dustin by the arm and pulling him towards the house. "Weirdos. You're gonna freeze out here, you know? You'd think the novelty of snow would have worn off after a whole month."

"It hasn't," Billy grins, half to himself. Perhaps it's a sign of sentimentality on his part, but he has a sneaking suspicion snow will always be precious to him, now. He loves the way the falling flakes linger in Steve's dark hair.

He cherishes the memory of the best Christmas morning he has ever had... waking up in Steve's bed, in Steve's arms, buried under warm blankets while the snow fell outside. The morning they finally broke through that stupid, self-made wall keeping them apart. The day he had everything he ever wanted right there in one room.

The other boy walks towards him and, as if he can hear Billy's secret thoughts, smiles.

"Hey," he murmurs as he reaches him, stretching out his hand and tugging playfully at Billy's coat.

"Hey pretty. How you feeling?"

"Okay. Had a headache but it's better now."

Billy takes a moment to do what he always does when Steve is near - he looks him up and down, taking him in, evaluating.

Both he and his wolf preen at the sight of a content mate. Steve is wearing a warm coat, his cheeks are rosy, and he looks well-fed and sated and healthy. The wounds from their battle with the Thesselhydra and the Hargrove pack have long-since healed.

The only scar, the only mark that matters, peaks out from under Steve's collar, a distinctive curve of pale skin. The scar that means he belongs to Billy.

Steve is here. He's not in pain... only a headache, but Steve says it's better now, and if it wasn't it would soon be soothed by Billy's careful caresses, by Billy feeding him and keeping him warm and tucking him in close to Billy's side.

Billy's arm snakes around the other boy's waist.

Billy and his wolf ponder how different things are now. How different they are now.

It’s kind of a surprise, but... they’re happy.

Happy.

Happy with their life and their pack and their mate... and what a mate Steve is. 

Gentle and giving and sweet and beautiful. 

Ours. Our responsibility. Our privilege.

Steve looks content... happy. Cared for and loved. He is smiling his sweet 'Steve' smile, with that secret spark in his eyes that is for Billy and Billy alone. 

Billy can see Steve eyeing him up, taking in his face and what Billy is sure is the dopiest, dumbest grin of satisfaction in the world, and knows Steve is thinking the same thing.

Steve pulls Billy’s jacket closed and zips it up the rest of the way, letting out a small grunt of satisfaction when he successfully protects his lover from the chill.

Billy pulls him close and presses his lips to Steve's temple. The other boy lets out a sound that is suspiciously close to a purr.

"How are the puppies?" Billy asks, murmuring the question into Steve's hair before pulling back.

Steve snorts, rolls his eyes.

"Swell. Dustin's been scheming. He thinks we should bite each other again... renew our vows."

Billy's look is comical and it's all Steve can do not to laugh at the sight.

"The fuck, Harrington?" he sputters. "Did you explain to him that it doesn't work like that?"

"He's only twelve, Billy... I didn't want to scar the kid for life. He's more interested in it as a science experiment, I think, although he's also just kinda pissed he didn't get to see it. He wanted to be a maid of honor or something, I guess. I told him it was kind of a one-time thing."

Billy chuckles and shakes his head.

"Did he really say 'renew our vows'?"

"Yeah. Think he heard the phrase on TV. He does have a point. It's not like our bonding night was the most romantic."

"Our bonding night," Billy growls lowly, "was perfect."

"I was bleeding out on the floor of that creepy old Lab and we were both covered in Thesselhydra goo. I ruined my new jeans. I'm pretty sure we permanently traumatized Will Byers."

"Exactly."

Billy's wolf purrs at the memory... for the animal inside it's rather a good one. The thrill of battle and the heat of lust. The satisfaction of a well-earned kill. The sublime joy of having mate stretched out beneath him, his eyes blazing fire as his teeth lengthened and sunk into pretty flesh, claiming and owning, and being claimed in turn.

"I guessed it'd be better if you weren't almost dying though," Billy amends after a moment. The memory of that part... and the panic, the sheer trauma of dragging a dying Steve up all those stairs, is more than enough to curb his wolf's enthusiasm and make his palms go sweaty, even in the cold air. 

"Gee, thanks," Steve snorts. "My thoughts exactly."

Billy chuckles in spite of himself and Steve’s face softens. He reaches up and brushes some snow off Billy’s hair.

”It was amazing,” he murmurs, voice gentle and thoughtful. “It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever... it was amazing. Definitely not traditional though,” he adds with a grin. 

"So, what...?" Billy's mouth spreads into a slow, teasing smile, what Steve is coming to think of as a trademark smirk. "Flowers, candles, a classy chapel...? Hey, we could go to Vegas! Maybe we can get you into a wedding dress? Some nice lace number?" 

"Shut up," Steve pushes Billy playfully. "You're just jealous because you don't have the thighs for it."

"Thighs, waist, chest, shoulders..." Billy hooks a finger through a belt loop on Steve's jeans and tugs him closer. "You are the whole package."

Steve snorts again and pulls Billy in for a kiss, deep and long, full of tongue.

Billy feels a rippling desire to consume and knows that he'll always want more... will always want all of Steve.

But there is a doubt.

It's a small doubt, and it has nothing to do with what Billy feels for his mate. How he feels about Steve is never in question. How to be good enough for Steve, how to protect Steve, how to do right by his mate, though... that's a little trickier.

It's his father's words. His father's voice.

Maybe the doubt will always be there. Maybe it is part of who Billy is.

Sure, the aching anxiety seems to lessen a little more every day since the day he made the decision to stay in Hawkins. His dad's venom fades little more every time Steve holds him in the dark, in the warmth of their shared bed, and runs his clever fingers through his hair and whispers that he is good, that he is loved, that he is enough, that he has roots.

Maybe in time the doubt will fade completely... or not. Maybe there will always be long, dark nights when Billy looks over at the boy sleeping next to him and wonders...

"You don't... regret it, do you?" he asks. He's almost as surprised as Steve when the question comes out, but when it does he realizes he has a burning desire to know. He realizes that he’s doubted...

That night was so crazy, the night they bonded. And Dustin is right, it wasn't... wasn't exactly textbook. It took place in a building where no good thing ever happened, where life was twisted and manipulated by bad men.

It was blood and death and fear. It was desire, yes, and love, so much love... but it was also a crashing swirl of indefinable emotions that made everything a muddled mess.

He'd thought he might have dreamed it all the morning after. He'd thought he was still dreaming when he woke up for the second time that day and instead of being in his own bed or in prison or in hell he'd been safe and whole in Steve's arms, surrounded by their pups, the horror behind them.

Is it any wonder he'd needed a moment to breathe? 

Steve deserves every nice thing. More than that, Steve deserves a choice, a well-thought out decision, a life-long commitment made in earnest, because it's something he truly wants. Not some momentary spike of passion, doomed to flame out and die. 

They both deserve that.

They both deserve that and more, so much more, and Billy will never stop trying to give it to Steve, never stop trying to give him everything... but sometimes, too, he doubts, and needs to be comforted, to be told. Sometimes he's gotta know...

"Of course not," Steve says, jolting Billy out of his thoughts. The brunette's mouth twists up in a bemused smile. "Of course I don't. Besides, I started it, remember? I bit you. I chose you. I choose you."

Yes, he did...  he does...

"And you aren't sorry?"

Steve studies Billy for a long moment, his face solemn, and then shakes his head.

"When we bit each other everything slid into focus. My whole world opened up into something... no. I’m not sorry. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. You’re the only one for me and you always will be. I love you."

God, those three little words... they don't fix everything, but they do work wonders sometimes.

If the doubt comes back, Billy will ask again... and Steve will answer again.

Billy is starting to see, now, that this...this right here... this is how it works. Maybe there will always be times when he wakes up cold and doubting in the night. But on those nights Steve will be there... and Steve will tell him. Remind him. Bring him back home.

"What..." Steve shuffles slightly. "What about you? Do you regret it?"

What a question.

Billy doesn't answer yes or no. Not exactly. Instead, he tilts his head, the slow smirk creeping back, eyes shining.

"So..." he says, voice quiet and teasing but with a serious edge. "Flowers. Candles. No chapel. Us, outside in the woods, surrounded by our pack."

And they are... they are Steve and Billy's pack. Dustin and Max, Mike and Eleven, Lucas and Nancy and Jonathan and Will. Mrs. Byers and Chief Hopper. Maybe Susan, even, if they twist her arm. They care for each other, protect each other. A pack that's so strange, so different from anything Billy has ever had... and so very, very perfect.

A family.

"We'll build a small altar out of evergreen branches to honor the old gods, the Wolf and the Tree and the Moon. There'll be a roaring bonfire nearby... the light of the flames catching the flecks of gold in your eyes and your hair," Billy gently tugs on one of Steve's long locks while Steve listens, enraptured. "Everyone is there, lined up, eyes on us, ready to witness our bond. It's a clear night... the night before the full moon is traditional. That way the couple can spend their next shift as a bonded pair. We've jumped the gun there, of course, but... but every full moon is ours now. Every full moon is for us."

Steve draws in a wet, shaky breath, and the words keep tumbling out of Billy, beautiful and true like the poetry he loves so much.

"I bite you... you bite me. Together. Then we shift, and run, and maybe have a nice slow fuck in the woods. When we’re finished, we come back and we have a big party, you and me and all of our friends. We'll stay up until dawn eating and singing and laughing with our whole pack."

"You'd do that for me?" Steve whispers.

"Yeah, Steve. I'll do it tonight. And tomorrow night. Every night of our lives, if you want. I'll bite you and you'll bite me."

Billy lifts Steve's hand and gives it a gentle kiss before placing it on his neck, right where Steve's mark is. Steve's touch is so warm and it sends an electric buzz through him. He raises his own hand up and his thumb traces the silvery scar on his mate's throat.

"Again and again, sweetheart. Every night. Forever."

For a moment they just breathe and take in that scent, tantalizing and lovely, the scent they'll both chase in each other until the day they die. If Steve glances off towards the woods so he can blink his tears away, that's okay.

"Steve Harrington," Billy murmurs, "of the Thunderwolf Pack..."

Steve lets out a low, embarrassed groan and Billy chuckles lightly. 

"...Steve Harrington, by the grace of the Moon, will you allow me to court you?"

Steve doesn't hesitate. He nods and lurches forward and kisses Billy fiercely, passionate and all-encompassing.

"Get a room you two!"

Billy doesn't turn away from the kiss. He just raises one hand and flips Lucas off. He can hear scandalized giggles coming from the front porch of the cabin and Steve flushes tomato-red at the sound. Billy can feel his wolf aching to come out and gobble his mate up in all the most delightful ways.

"Yes," Steve replies, pulling back and smiling widely, meeting Billy's gaze, unable to keep the joy from his voice. "Billy Hargrove, fellow Thunderwolf, you can court me. Only if I can court you, too."

Billy grins back, happy and hungry. "Looking forward to it, pretty boy."

For a moment the two boys don't say anything, just hover in each other's orbit, not kissing or embracing... just close. Just there. 

"I suppose I should let you make an honest man out of me," Steve adds after a beat. "I took you to meet my Nana and everything."

"I do like your Nana."

"She likes you, too. You're a charmer. Bringing her cookies was a good move."

"I asked her what balibte meant while you were talking to the nurse. I remembered."

"Idiot," Steve pulls Billy close and kisses him again, and again. 

"I love you, meyn balibte," Billy whispers against Steve's mouth.

"Beloved," Steve smiles. "I love you, too."

 

 

 

 -------------------------------

 

 

 

 

In a dark, dark wood, there is a dark, dark building.

The building sits, dark and abandoned, just outside of a small town in Indiana. 

The sign outside of the building says 'U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY' in big bold letters, but the government has long since left this place to its fate, to the vines and the weeds, to the small animals that shelter in the nooks and crannies of the outer walls, and to whatever else may or may not also reside there these days.

The emergency generators failed ages ago. There are no lights in the building, no alarms or voices or sounds except for those that echo from the forest outside. No sounds that a normal human being could hear, anyway.

In a large, cavernous room on the lowest level, down flights and flights of broken stairs, in what might be called the building's basement, a many-headed monster rots.

  

 

It is a dark, dark night.

It is dark inside and outside of the abandoned building, and if you were to go down one of the many empty stairwells you would in all likelihood lose your footing. It is too dark to see the streaks of blood and slime on the walls.

In the dark, dark woods, in the dark, dark building, there is a dark, dark room.

The room is at the bottom of one of the flights of stairs, down a few twisting corridors and off to the side.

It is dark... dark inside the room.

There is nothing there but a few nondescript bits of furniture, just this and that. When the building lived, this might have been an empty office or underutilized storage space.

Now it is just another empty room. Just another chamber in a heart that has stopped beating.

In the dark, dark room there is a wall.

It is a perfectly ordinary-looking wall. Nothing but paint and plaster.

The wall stands, silent and still.

There is nothing in this dark, dark room except a wall, some furniture, and...

A ghost.

The ghost watches, and waits, and hates.

The ghost was not born here in the dark, empty room, and it didn't die here. It died in the building but not in this room. It never spent any time in this room during its life, but it lingers here now that it is dead. 

In life, the ghost had been a powerful man, though he was perhaps ultimately not as powerful as he believed himself to be. In life, he was arrogant and cruel. He never had any need for rooms like this back then.

He is quite firmly entrenched in the room now.

He stares at the wall. He stares because he knows what is going to happen.

As a ghost, he is the slave-fool of time - broken time, time that bends and dies and loops and cracks and repeats. The world moves around him in violent vibrations and then slows to an agonizing crawl. He has the gift of foresight, but it is a broken, shattered thing. He always sees some but not all. He sees things he shouldn't, things at a slant, and it is never, ever enough.

Never the whole picture. 

But he has seen this.

He knows about the wall.

His mind used to be so sharp. Now the world around him blurs and fades... he blurs and fades. The world doesn't change, but he does. Or maybe it is the other way around. Either way each echo is a little fainter, a little more fragile. 

Everything that was once Dr. Martin Brenner is leaking out of the thin membrane of what remains, a steady drip like water falling from a cracked glass. Soon nothing will be left but the faintest shadow.

Soon even that will be gone.

He must not fade away. Not yet. He must hold on and stay himself.

He must hold on to what he knows.

He knows about the wall. 

He knows he hates children and wolves.

He knows he must bring her back, back to this place, back home.

He's not even sure why he needs to do this... that idea is long gone... but he knows that all will be well once the strange girl-child with the beautiful, deadly gifts is brought back here.

To him.

To Them.

These things he knows. 

And the wall will help him get his revenge.

In a dark, dark room in a dark, dark building, there is a wall.

It is a perfectly ordinary wall... except for one thing.

The wall stands on a line between our world and another, even darker place. It stands on a border that is invisible to most, a border between life and nightmares. It stands where the boundary between these two worlds stretches thin... 

On a dark, dark night, in a dark, dark room, there is a sound like flesh tearing, wet and thick and vicious and ugly. It breaks the silence of those not-quite-empty hallways. It echoes though the building.

The wall is ripped down the middle, a long jagged line, torn apart by an unseen force.

The ghost watches and very nearly smiles as a huge, gnarled hand with six impossibly long fingers uses its razor sharp claws to push itself through the gateway.