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But Don't Count on Me (to Stay)

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Lovers are patient and know that the moon needs time to become full.” — Rumi"

 


 

“Fucking shit, just hand me the, the lighter, yeah. I got you, pussy.”

“I got a burn on my thumb, sue me, asshole.”

Had anyone told Steve Harrington he would befriend Billy Hargrove, the same kid that busted his face open and gifted him a concussion his senior year, he wouldn’t have believed them. After their fight, he’d nearly got his nose broken, was bruised for a good two weeks after the altercation, and still has a small white scar from a broken plate running up the right side of his forehead, half hidden by his hair.

“It’s too wet out here,” Billy gripes, “can’t we just smoke in your room where it’s not cold as shit?”

But now they’ve just hit the two year mark since that fight, and Billy’s sitting out on the back patio with him while the damp November air bites at any skin they’ve left exposed and extinguishes the flame on Billy’s shitty BIC lighter every time it sparks. Their fingers are ashy, charcoal black from moving the bud around in the pipe, shifting it in the bowl after they’ve managed to steal a few hits off each side.

“I told Tyler if he keeps smoking in the house it’s gonna get the landlord on our asses again because it will and I’m not gonna be a hypocrite just because you’re a little cold.”

As if Steve’s not freezing his ass off, despite being Indiana born and raised.

But he’s not complaining too much when he feels feather-light off the weed and cloudy-headed from drinking, still slightly tipsy off a mixer he’d had at Nancy’s an hour earlier — lemonade and Sprite with a heavy handed amount of raspberry vodka. He’d spent most of his time there pinned between Nancy and Jonathan on her roommate’s beat up futon, all their shoulders and thighs pressed together snug while they threw back copious amounts of the makeshift cocktail.

It had been cloyingly sweet, all fizzy from the Sprite and tangy with Minute Maid lemonade. The vodka was something Nancy’s roommate Amanda had bargained her older boyfriend into buying, boasted being organically flavored and came in this big moonshine bottle, was thick and crimson like fake blood. Even the floral tartness of raspberry couldn’t mask the chemical burn the alcohol left.

Billy can’t seem to get the spark wheel to hit the flint right and ends up burning the end of his own thumb along with the edge of Steve’s index finger, causing both of them hiss in pain and swear.

He snatches the lighter back from Billy, scowling, and leans away from the wind hitting the slight alcove the patio sits in. Eventually the bud catches and he takes a heavy drag, thumb over the carb, and holds it in until it feels like his lungs are sparking, then slowly lets the thick, wet smoke flood out from his mouth in a lazy pour.

Billy steals the pipe back from him while he’s still letting out his exhale and sucks any dregs of the smoke up before he fiddles with the lighter again. “If I stayed at that party instead of coming to your place, I wouldn’t have to worry about your stupid roommate shit. I could light up in the middle of the goddamn living room and it’d be just fine.”

He’s still sour about that, pissy like a toddler that didn’t get their way.

Billy had decided to go to this house party alone since Steve had no real interest in going. His fondness for party culture had slowly died out after living in a small town his whole life, where the only thing to really do was throw or get into some kind of drunken, stoned get-together with people he spent seven hours a day, five days a week with. He’d rather be considered a loser than watch the same couples dry-hump in darkened corners, the same morons play beer pong and throw up in decorative planters, and the same strung out business majors snort coke off each other’s collarbones, every goddamn weekend.

Same people, same bullshit, lather-rinse-repeat.

Steve’s had his fair share of repetition; Hawkins was beyond rich with it.

On top of that, this girl from his geology lab last year - Anna, with a gold septum ring and an at-home-tan - wouldn’t stop bugging him about going so they could hook up. Like, she’s plenty sweet, definitely pretty, but he’s good.

The sexual equivalent of a dine and dash isn’t something he gets up to all that often anymore, nor does he round the bases and hit a home run every time either. Sure, Steve’s under twenty and horny as fuck, but he’s become a romantic of sorts, will only hook up if he’s really in the mood or there’s a decent connection. Otherwise he’s got a Pornhub premium account and an unopened bottle of lube that promises tingles and a cooling sensation — he’s set.

Ultimately, Billy had attended the aforementioned party alone - “It’s gonna be a fucking rager, Harrington, but go be a fucking lame ass if that’s what you want,” he’d grumbled over the phone - for approximately ten minutes before decidedly leaving and driving to Steve’s apartment complex to bitch and moan outside his front door. Yowling like a cat, let me in. Cementing himself onto the dusty concrete until permitted entry.

Apparently the whole scene had been a ‘major fucking letdown’ and Billy hadn’t been in the mood for sipping on straight Goldschlager or violent green Midori while Cardi B remixes blared in the background.  

Why Billy had grabbed all his shit before coming to wait outside the apartment, especially when he knew  where Steve was, Steve doesn’t know. But, he does know all his internal complaining about being bothered had been immediately put to rest when he’d been flashed a certain unmarked canister tucked in Billy’s backpack.

And he cares even less now with the airy static of a good high starting to cloud his senses. His nerves tingle with THC and there’s still some residual burning in his chest and the insides of his arms, his veins having caught fire from taking too heavy a hit when they’d started.

“Then you should’ve stayed instead of coming over here to harass me, man.”

“Nah, s’more fun being a shut-in here. Better food an’ shit. And it would’ve been a fucking fail anyway, even if you had come instead of playing study buddy with the princess and Byers.”

Steve scowls at Billy and puts his hand out, palm up, for the pipe again.

He’d already made plans with them for that weekend anyway, like fuck him for trying to build a better connection with his ex and her boyfriend of the past year, trying and at least partially able to patch the cracks in a weak foundation after his tumultuous beginning and end with Nancy and his rocky past with Jonathan.

And Steve’s plenty aware that not everyone wants to reconcile and befriend the ex that planted a fucking acre of insecurities in him through lying about love and kind of cheating on him at the tail end of their relationship. Or the guy he got cheated on with, that he’d fought with in a dirty alley - and lost to, admittedly - and not gotten along with because of the high school laws of societal hierarchy and his own pettiness, his own jealousy taking the helm of his moral compass.

But he’s trying. He can actually talk to Nancy without feeling his chest cave in and watch her slim fingers slide over Jonathan’s bony knuckles without a wave of nausea and envy crashing over him. Can look at Jonathan and sling a friendly arm around his shoulders without feeling like he’s been robbed.

Like, they have a group chat now. They go watch old movies at the vintage theatre together and rotate nights in, talking bullshit about life and school in each other’s rooms, whispering about government protected secrets in hushed tones when the doors are locked and the lights are low.

Not to mention that Steve had offered to bring Nancy and Jonathan to the party when Billy had text him how boring it was when he was by his lonesome, but he’d flippantly told Steve not to bother in dragging company with him. Billy’s probably got a stick up his ass about all of them hanging out because he doesn’t like Nancy’s ‘straight-edge’ attitude, even if he is decently conversational and his own brand of pleasant with Jonathan.

If anything, Steve had thought Billy would’ve been won over with the knowledge and sick satisfaction of dragging Nancy and Jonathan to the party and watching them writhe with discomfort and act above everything until they were loosened with alcohol or secondhand smoke enough to have a good time.

Plus, Jonathan always gets hit on by artsy white girls with beaded, colorful dreadlocks and sexually liberated theater majors when he does go out. Even at ragers that attract sloppy frat guys or the mass dropping of E, he’s a magnet for them. Steve thinks it maybe has to do his printed button-downs and black skinny jeans, that shaggy dark hair and those tired eyes, sad boy one-oh-one beckoning these girls like the call of an angel’s choir, but Jonathan isn’t really his type so he doesn’t really get it.

Well, Steve’s thought about that a few times if he’s honest with himself, but if he’s going to go for someone of Jonathan’s branding, whether Jonathan was with Nancy or not, he doesn’t know if he’d go for Jonathan, right off the bat at least.

At least Billy would’ve gotten a real kick out of witnessing Jonathan squirm at the lustful attention he never received in high school, along with the aftermath that was usually Nancy baring her teeth to anyone that would try something with her boyfriend even as she sat pressed to his side, their fingers twined together like vines locking over a tree trunk.

But no, fuck it all because Billy wanted to be a pissbaby about having to go alone in the first place, because Billy’s kind of whiny, all woe is me and guilt-trippy when things don’t go his way. Steve still puts up with him, though. The bounds of friendship or whatever, he figures, or whatever this civil thing between them even is.

Now he’s here, sitting in an old folding chair next to Steve on his cramped concrete patio overlooking the darkened visitor’s parking lot, and the most complacent and low maintenance Steve’s seen him since being being told he’d be going out by himself.

And despite his initial pissy-ness, Steve doesn’t know if it’s the lazy mix of good weed and the dregs of the cocktail talking, Billy looks good next to him. Billy always looks good when Steve’s a little high though. He’s got eyes anyway and he can see that Billy’s an attractive guy, even though he dresses like those guys on Instagram — the ones that look like flamboyant bank robbers at Coachella and wink while sticking their tongues out in all their shirtless selfies. All ocean eyes and freshly chopped honey curls, fanned lashes and carefully carved edges.

He dresses like a fuck boy, which is maybe an improvement on his high school wardrobe when, but still. It gives him this nauseatingly attractive vibe that makes Steve’s stomach churn, sour and acidic with a mix of jealousy, mild arousal and definite irritation.

Billy would fit his Insta-boy role even better now if they had rolling papers to use as opposed to Steve’s old pipe, but they’re both fresh out and Steve didn’t want to steal his roommate’s bong, not with it sitting on their coffee table all bright blue glass and clean for once, a somewhat fitting centerpiece amongst the eucalyptus candles and marble coasters Steve’s mother had bought them from Pottery Barn.

But yeah, even half bathed in the sickly yellow glow of the overhead patio light, Billy looks good as he always does. He’s wearing these low cut camo joggers, loose on top but fitted from the knee down, has his white Nikes resting on the railing and his zip hoodie half undone with his bare, toned chest and twinkling gold St. Mary peeking out past the faded grey of his jacket. He’d even changed before he came over, which is just extra and totally Billy at the same time.

“I told you,” Steve says, regarding him with a smirk, “we could’ve   ll gone together, because we were just drinking and watching ‘Arrested Development’ reruns in Nance’s dorm, but you told me you were fine on your own, so.”

Billy just shrugs and takes the pipe, again. Most of the bud is done now, all ashy and matte black, charred like the aftermath of a forest fire, but they can probably light it up one more time and get a good inhale that won’t taste completely of smoke and burnt greens.

After Billy lights up, Steve does manage to get one more hit off the bowl before he taps the burnt bud onto an old dish sitting on this rickety glass table parked between their two chairs. It’s got a gum wrapper and some old burnt hash on it already, the cracked porcelain streaked black with old ashes.

Billy fiddles with his necklace, gripes, “Let me live my life, Harrington, god, move on. I left the party, didn’t I? And now I’m here, with you, getting stoned off my ass and having a hell of a good time.”

“You’re lucky I even came home tonight, I was gonna crash at Nance’s place so we could all go get brunch at that one diner, tomorrow,” because that was the drafted plan, “but then Tyler told me you were loitering so I figured you were drunk and needed to be babysat.”

Tyler had only text him in the first place because  he  didn’t want to deal with a potentially drunk Billy, and abandoned them the second Billy came inside.

He’s playing a new game - Steve thinks it must be Smash - on their new Switch in the living room, ignoring him and Billy. The blasts and light effects on the T.V. create violent stripes of white and blue to shine through the parted blinds and glass back door, long flashing shapes hitting the stucco patio walls and ceiling in lightning strikes.

Billy rolls his eyes. “I had half a beer at that shitty party — I’m not even fucking buzzed. You’re worse off than me. Tyler’s a fucking idiot and just didn’t want to let me in because of that time I was drunk and fell asleep in his bed.”

Steve snorts back a laugh at the memory.

“To be fair, you also almost puked on him and literally stepped on his dick, so I think he’s right to be cautious.”

Billy smirks and takes out his Marlboros from his pants pocket. He fiddles with a cig and lights it up with more ease than he had the bowl, and sighs as the nicotine floods his system. “Still a fucking idiot.”

A genuine half truth, but Steve doesn’t feel like arguing in Tyler’s favor, guy can fight his own battles. Steve complacently hums in semi-agreement and closes his eyes. The cocktail is starting to work its way out of his system while the weed keeps him feeling floaty and light, barely tethered to the ground in homeopathic bliss. He’s still a little cold but the wind has minutely died down.

“I’m gonna go to bed soon, but you can head out whenever though,” he hums sleepily.

Billy flicks him in the temple, hard and unexpected, ow. “Great hosting abilities, Harrington,” he snarks, “hope you don’t do that when you have company over.”

Steve opens his eyes and stares up the ceiling. It’s sticky with wisps of old spiderwebs and the oil slick spotting of snail trails, and he focuses on that for a second before he makes the decision as to whether he really wants to invite this kind of conversation right now, or let it die where it’s birthed.

He decides to be playful — he’ll blame it on the smoking and tipsy fatigue later.

“What kind of company are you implying here, man?” he asks, still staring up at the textured, gunky ceiling, because Billy’s always insinuating this kind of thing, nitpicking and asking without really asking about his sex life, like he really cares, and it stretches past the boundaries of friendliness more often than not.

When Billy brings up these topics, it’s all euphemisms and colorful wordplay that everyone uses, but there’s always an edge to the way he does it, a little wink wink, nudge nudge on the side so Steve permanently feels like he’s misreading something. Like Billy’s given him the framework for an idea but he’s left an important blank in and Steve never knows how to fill it, or if he wants to. Constantly second guessing himself.

It’s always a guessing game with Billy and his weird invasive questioning, all his figurative shoulder nudges and tongue waggles, all predatory and sexualized. Steve would feel better if Billy would just ask him straight out when the last time he got laid was and how good it was, instead of implying that Steve may or may not be having relations, and then he’ll have to confirm or deny instead of ignoring him flat-out. Tricky fucker.

But for once, Billy doesn’t mince words, says, “I mean when was the last time you got your dick wet, obviously.”

Obviously . It throws him for a loop, the bluntness of the comment, and it’s still bizarre, discomforting how often Billy asks, seemingly so much more out of genuine interest tan healthy concern that he’s getting enough cock and pussy to fulfill his needs, but at least he didn’t hint and dance it around like he always does, always bordering flirtatious .

And maybe Billy’s like just that, because he has been as long as Steve’s known him, but now it’s just gotten bad; with Steve, at least. And he usually finds a way to not answer Billy’s questions directly.

“A bit, I guess,” Steve offers, but he’s not looking at Billy even as he feels the heat of his gaze on his face. “Summer, I think.”

“Not since summer?”

Like that’s a long time.

Billy kind of scoffs and widens his eyes in disbelief, all exasperated, as he sucks down more smoke and releases it through parted lips and his nostrils, dragon-like.

Yeah, I’m not screwing with you. I haven’t like, really fucked anyone since, y’know.” The insinuation of his past relationship with Nancy is there, and Billy regards it with a suck of his teeth. “Nick Mullins, uh, that guy from the basketball team who got a scholarship at MSU, he blew me in my car after we saw a movie at The Hawk in… July I think.”

Billy knows he’s bisexual, has known since fucking Tommy Hill had unceremoniously dropped that bit of information in the locker room back when they were still at Hawkins High together; when they were still either snapping at each other’s throats, bloodthirsty and hankering for a round two. Circling each other or flat-out ignoring the other’s existence.

Tommy had spilled Steve’s secret with spite, cackling and jeering and ending any possibility of reconciliation between the two of them. He’d been seemingly fine and fucking dandy when Steve had shakily revealed his secret two summers previous. Tommy liked to hit below the belt when his ego was bruised though, and had only gotten a last minute punishment — laps in P.E. and an after school detention.

While Coach had laid into Tommy, Steve remembers Billy had been staring at him, all long-haired and wet from his shower, doing little more than giving him a slightly wide-eyed, surprised look. They still didn’t talk about it now that they did get along, but the information was out there and didn’t invite any pressing explanations or further digging.

“Mullins sucked your dick? Christ,” Billy jeers, and it sounds meaner than it does proud or surprised for some reason, but then he swallows and taps ash out of the cherry on his cig and adds, calmer, “anyone else?”

Something warm and molten pools in the pit of Steve’s stomach, the pinpricks of arousal stabbing his fingertips and the base of his spine. “Mina Wu, when she was back in town, too. We hooked up at some party thing Alyssa, uh, Alyssa Cruz threw before everyone left for school again.”

“And how was it?”

Steve swallows. “Why do you care so much, huh?”

Billy waves his hand, the cigarette glowing as it sways between his fingers. “Just humor me. ‘m bored and tired of listening to Danny talk about making love with his girlfriend, s’fucking nasty.”

Something in the air has definitely shifted. Steve’s gotta stop watching romantic comedies with Nancy when they’re hanging out because this definitely feels like it could be the moment before Billy inevitably reaches over and kisses him, or tells him to keep talking, but be quiet as he slips a hand down the front of Steve’s jeans and down his own joggers, and gets off on the hushed retellings of sticky summer escapades.

Steve doesn’t know how he really feels about that.

At the same time though, if Billy is the kind of guy to go for guys, Steve has the feeling that he’d do this kind of thing with the porch light off, and without Tyler parked on the living room sofa feet away, divided only by an unlocked glass door.

Alright,” Steve swallows, voice dropping off. He feels his cheeks and the tips of his ears start to heat in embarrassment. It could be from the memories of the pleasure that came from Nick’s mouth and Mina’s hands, or from the way Billy’s pressing him to share and staring at him with those sparkling, hooded eyes, pinned in place. But he always gets a little horny when he’s smoked Billy’s shit too, so, “like, what exactly do you wanna know?”

“Eh, doesn’t matter,” Billy grunts, flicking the last of his cigarette into the same cracked dish their burnt up bud sits in.

His blasé response feels forced, trying to blanket his previously insistent curiosity. Steve decides to not comment on it.

It’s not even surprising that Billy so seems like the brand of guy that gets off on sex stories; it’s plenty believable and it wouldn’t shock Steve at any capacity. All the flirty commentary he gets copiously on the side only supports the concept.

Billy turns his attention to him properly now, shifting in the creaky chair and leaning on an elbow with his hand cradling his stubbled chin, obviously interested and posing himself all gossip-starved like a teenage girl at a sleepover. The patio light makes the loose, chopped curls hanging in his face burn gold like a halo and washes his face out in purple-grey shadows, adding to the illusion.

“Okay uh, Nick pushed me into the back of his car and blew me, when we were parked down one of the side streets. Someone could’ve seen us but he didn’t care, and he’s totally sucked dick before, or he just doesn’t have a gag reflex, so that was... good,” and Steve bites his lip, hard, trying to shove away the memory of Nick’s teeth scraping up the underside of his cock and how hungry he was lapping away at the mess of sticky pre Steve couldn’t stop from dribbling out of his slit, how blissed out he looked when he’d swallowed down Steve’s load. How he jerked Nick off with a quick hand and let his come splatter over his tongue. “Uh, yeah.”

“And what about Mina?” Billy presses, his own fat bottom lip tucked under his sparkling teeth.

This time, he tries to keep the timbre of his voice steady, tries to sound almost bored.

“We got bored and made out for like, twenty minutes in Alyssa’s parents’ laundry room, she jacked me off, then I fingered her.”

He leaves out how he laved over Mina’s tan nipples with his tongue and teeth the entire time he had his fingers crooked inside her, and how she sucked a mean hickie onto his left pec, being barely five feet tall and too short to reach his neck.

And really, these rushed summer trysts were so off-handed and so unlike him, post-Nancy at least. He’d been kissing girls since seventh grade and clumsily lost his virginity his sophomore year, but he wasn’t stir crazy about getting his dick wet anymore, didn’t get off on people whispering shocked, curious gossip about his careful fingers and rumored monster cock behind his back anymore.

Steve had only hooked up with Nick because the guy had gotten goddamn hot since graduation and they’d gotten baked before the movie, frenched lazily in the theatre just because, why the hell not. And then with Mina — just because, again. He’d secretly found her gorgeous his freshman year of high school, but she’d been in a relationship with one his baseball teammates nearly all four years. That was just a captured opportunity.

It didn’t mean he hadn’t felt good in the moment, but it didn’t alter his view on not going out of his way to get off. He knew himself too well — a goddamn romantic, a softie with a bandaged heart and marshmallow center.

Billy’s pupils are blown out, drowning his ocean eyes, and he’s grinning all wolf-like and predatory. The cat that got the canary. Then he punches Steve in the arm, friendly by Billy’s standards but fucking painful by Steve’s, and the area starts to numb out as it throbs from the impact.

Situating himself back into his gossiping position, Billy’s sinful pink tongue makes another appearance, lapping over his cherry red lips. “Damn, I didn’t know you had a thing for fooling around in public. Aren’t you the little voyeur, Stevie boy,” he teases.

Steve’s cheeks burst crimson with heat. “Okay, it happened like twice, that hardly counts as me being a voyeur,” he argues, “and I’m not making a habit out of hooking up either, dude. It just happened, doesn’t mean I’m gonna start acting like -”

“A slut?” Billy grins.

Hey, I think you mean like you, but yeah, like that. I mean, it’s fun or whatever, but I don’t need to get off with someone every weekend. Rather fuck someone I actually know and like on the regular - oh don’t make that face, asshole,” he scowls at Billy’s exaggerated choking noises, “‘sides, why’d you wanna know so bad; can’t be because no one else is talking about fucking, because we both know with the people you hang out with, that’s totally not the case.”

And Billy just shrugs where Steve would expect him to get defensive. It’s weird.

“Dude, I’m stoned and kinda horny. It’s not a big deal.”

Billy’s looking at him like he’s the weird one here, like asking for insider information on your friend’s sex lives is normal, just casual fucking conversation to be had. This is a Billy thing — this isn’t routine, at least not to Steve, not a part of his daily update with any other people he talks to regularly. He really doesn’t ask any of other his friends about the horny shit they get up to, and they don’t push him for it either.

If anyone talks about their sex life, it’s the most chaste tidbit thrown in during moments of quiet just to keep silence from falling over them completely. Just a two second update.

It’s not conversational.

Steve makes a face, brows pinched together. “I gotta ask, do you like, do this shit with everyone you hang out with?”

“Yeah?”

“Man, no one else does that,” Steve says, frowning, “that’s definitely just you.”

It’s just you with me, he wants to say, but it wouldn’t be smart of him. Steve doesn’t pride himself on booksmarts, but he’s got more than two ounces of common sense and he knows when to keep his lips buttoned, especially around Billy.

Billy clicks his tongue, muses, “Maybe you’re just a prude.”

There’s still an air of tension between them, the weight of something sexual hanging heavy like thunder clouds overhead, but then Steve breaks the spell by scowling, reaching over to shove Billy hard enough his chair rocks precariously and he almost spills out the other side. Then they’re both laughing Billy going cherry in the face from stoned cackling or the previous conversation, and tries to shove Steve back, but Steve just scoots his chair out of Billy’s calloused reach.

“Oh fuck off, Hargrove.”

“Aw, little Steven said a swear-

Steve gives Billy a weak kick in the leg, childish, and that just gets Billy howling maniacally, dropping his cigarette as he reaches over the small glass table between them once again to try and grab at Steve. Steve’s practically pressed into the grimy wall, melding into it, to escape Billy’s wriggling, grabby fingers, cackling and trying to fight him off by taking off one of his Toms and —

The back door slides open and white light from the kitchen and the television floods out onto the yellow-backlit porch, creates a ghoulish glow around Tyler’s darkened silhouette. He’s got his glasses off and is wearing a faded hoodie he probably got during freshman orientation, and old basketball shorts, curly hair pulled away from his face in a black Nef beanie.

“What the hell are you guys doing? Are you on something?”

Billy just grins wolfishly at him and sits back in his seat, but Steve doesn’t trust that for a good reason, because the second all the legs of his own creaky chair are back on the dusty floor, Billy flicks him in the ear.

“He called me a prude?” Steve offers, then kicks the arm of Billy’s chair and immediately retracts his leg so Billy can’t snatch his ankle in a vice grip. Good, fucking bastard.

Tyler just gives them an incredulous look over the rim of his glasses and shakes his head, disbelieving, says something like fucking idiots under his breath and closes the door to presumably return to his spot nestled into the couch yelling at like, Mewtwo or Bowser or something. Steve’s only watched him play for like, three minutes because Tyler won’t let them battle until he’s good enough, which is beyond annoying since Steve can never get on the damn thing.

“Good save Steve-o,” Billy chuckles, and Steve lets him snatch the shoe he’s still got in hand, and hit him in the arm with it before delicately placing it back in Steve’s lap, making them even now, or whatever.

The wind picks up again and this little pot sitting on the railing - Steve thinks it used to have peppermint growing in it but is now just this brown skeleton of a hibernating plant - nearly gets knocked over by the force of it, meaning they should probably move inside before Billy and his half exposed chest, his nipples catch hypothermia.

He stands up, cracks his neck and his back, popping his vertebrae like bubble wrap, pop pop pop, and Billy looks mildly horrified when he mimics the action but makes no noise other than a grunt as he rubs his lower back over his hoodie. Steve watches as Billy grabs his backpack and stuffs the little canister back into its lofty home in the outside pocket, then Steve opens the door for them and keeps it open expectantly until Billy’s trails after him into the warmth of the living room.

When the warmth hits them, the flirtatious looks on the patio feel a thousand years away.

Tyler’s completely sucked into his game and isn’t going to be a hell of a conversationalist in that state, so Steve motions for Billy to follow him down the darkened hallway to his bedroom, inevitably not prepared for any kind of company.

When he flicks the lights on, he realizes that if he’d brought someone home to this, they’d take their leave after one peek past the doorway. If they had any standards, at least. But they’d probably stay quiet because there’s nothing that needs to be said about the state of his bedroom right now — he’s plenty aware of how bad it is.

Billy, however, lacks any fucking tact, goes, “Christ, did you become a fucking hoarder? What the hell happened in here?”

“Running out of Xanax during midterms and staying up til four a.m. studying, that’s what,” Steve says, exasperated and surveying out a path before them.

It’s been a stressful semester so far, especially with midterms the past week. He’s got books strewn across the floor; laundry separated in piles in various spots around the room that needs to be taken to be washed downstairs; there’s a few crinkled brown bags full of fast food wrappers littered across his desk and bedside table; and there’s papers just, everywhere, spilling out of a binder and sticking out of notebooks, etcetera.

Billy toes his way around a pile of whites and kicks his shoes off before he situates himself on the edge of the bed - which Steve doesn’t remember making but whatever - pulling his feet up onto the mattress so he can drape his arms, outstretched, over his knees. The position is slightly gargoyle-esque, reminds Steve of this fucking anime character Dustin showed him one time, something about a note and dying or some shit, he doesn’t remember the details. The guy did have a weird name, something like Link.

“What’s the plan, man?” Billy asks. He keeps peering around the room, eyeing the posters from old concerts and paper cutouts Steve’s got tacked to his walls with interest, searching for something like a clue, like he hasn’t been here before, or at least hasn’t ever paid attention.

“I told you I was tired,” Steve yawns for good measure, completely on accident, “so I’m gonna crash soon but if you like, wanna kick Tyler off the couch and sleep there, or try to get him to do a two player thing with you before you head out, go ahead.”

Billy gripes, “Ugh, you’re boring,” and lays back on Steve’s bed with his arms spread-eagled, backpack dropped next to him. “C’mon Harrington, it’s a Saturday. Don’t you wanna like, I dunno, burn cruise for Taco Bell and go night hiking or bring some Fireball to the waterfront? Maybe we can go back to that party and liven things up, huh, King Steve?”

Steve scrunches his nose up as he joins Billy on the bed and shoves him in the ribs to get him to move over. It makes Billy grunt but it wasn’t that hard. What a fucking drama queen.

“If I drink right now, I’m gonna pass out after like, one beer. Your shit has me on my ass tonight, Hargrove.”

Steve leans into the pillows tucked up against the off-white wall and rests his head against the cool stucco. He closes his eyes and feels the bed dip, some shuffling, then Billy’s sitting next to him. There’s an inch between their legs, purposeful because when he looks, Billy widens the gap between them.

Billy stares at the few inches separating their thighs. “It’s primarily Indica, and you’re sleep deprived, dude.”

That he is.

“Mm, yeah,” he replies dopily.

Nudging his shoulder, Billy scoots over an inch. His skin is boiling through the jacket when their arms temporarily brush. Just the proximity warms Steve’s side, toasting him through his hoodie and the old flannel he has on underneath. Billy sighs and Steve turns to him, eyes hooded with fatigue. The THC sitting in his system makes his limbs feel anchored to the mattress.

“Harrington, Steve, if you’re like, that exhausted, I can go home.”

“Nah s’fine,” Steve slurs, “Just like, chill here, I’ll just nap for a sec and I’ll, I’ll be fine.”

Steve forces himself to smile, knows how unconvincing he must look because he will pass out for twelve hours if he’s left alone, but Billy just fucking humors him and takes his phone out of his pocket, gives Steve space to lay down on the made bed with a roll of his eyes.

And Steve’s out in less than a minute, the lights still on and Billy a warm presence at his feet.

Chapter Text

 

I’m in the mood for solitude, but for you,

I’ll make room. - Bruce Adler


 

Steve is roused from a restful sleep by someone stumbling in the hallway around three a.m. He jolts awake with a gasp, wrenched from a blissful cycle of R.E.M. Christ, he thinks, scowling in the direction of the door and whatever that was, before moving to shuffle under the blankets properly, having fallen asleep on the made-up bed and...

And he briefly realizes that he just intended to nap and Billy never woke him up.

A wave of embarrassment washes over him, warm and sudden, realizing how completely ill-mannered, how shitty it is to crash with company still in your house, left to their own devices for entertainment, but seeing how the weed knocked him on his ass so good, he thinks maybe it’s kind of okay. Billy might be understanding.

Like, given his poor track record for academics, Billy should be proud he studied to the point of being sleep deprived considering Billy was the one who put together that cheat sheet guide to help him finish this stupid rhetorical essay for his Writing 121 class. The guy should give him a goddamn medal considering the sheer amount he’d done on his own as well, especially seeing as how younger Steve only did figurative studying until he started dating Nancy.

Then he had to crack down to keep up, and even then, she was still correcting his papers and letting him read her study guides, despite being a year ahead of her in school.

It’s not all his fault though, because sure, he didn’t study for years because it was cool for some reason, to not do your fucking homework and barely pass your academic requirements year after year, but stack that on top of having a mild attention deficit disorder - especially when it’s been confirmed numerous times - and your parents refuse to acknowledge the fact and get you real help for it and, well.

You end up getting the short end of the fucking stick, despite your (eventual) best efforts.

The gaggle of kids he watches back home insist he’s just a strategist, better at planning and thinking on the fly than he is book smart, cataloging facts and making game plans and the like, so by their kind standards he’s not stupid, he’s just a different branding of intelligent.

He still has to study ten times harder for midterms than everyone else he knows, doesn’t really fucking sleep when his workload starts to get heavy - and he has the fucking attention span of a goldfish already so it takes a millennia to get through just the reading - but at least he’s still in school.

Honestly had it not been due to those fucking children throwing flashcards at him while they dined on greasy arcade pizza and riding their bikes out to Loch Nora to stuff his mailbox full of essay prep printouts and Summer Fun! educational workbooks the second half of senior year, he’d probably be stuck spending his days in a stuffy dress shirt and striped tie filing and answering phone calls at his dad’s office. He’d be stuck doing busy work until he was deemed decently intelligent enough by the higher-ups to sit through board meetings and do… whatever it is his dad’s been doing for twenty five years; he just doesn’t know what that entails.

His dad’s an asshole — Steve could care a hell of a lot less what he does do, especially considering college means he doesn’t have to be doing whatever that is in the first place.

Steve’s making himself feel sleep deprived again just thinking about the what-if’s and how much fucking studying he’s been doing lately to prevent those what-if’s, when his bedroom door swings open without preamble.

He does an inverse scream, sucking in air so hard he squeaks as his heart launches itself into his throat, and he rams his head into the wall behind him in surprise. The sound of his skull colliding with it is dull and loud and he groans in pain.

“Shit, man — sorry.”

Steve rubs the back of his head and squints. That can’t be who he thinks it is, but even with his wavering consciousness, with static blackness filling the room, Steve automatically recognizes the throaty, velvety timbre of Billy’s voice. It’s unmistakable. It’s also a fucking unsettling thing to wake up to at two fifty-six in the morning when he thought Billy had gone home - like, why is he still here - but at least the disembodied voice coming from his doorway is a familiar, recognizable one.

Then he hears Billy trip over a stack of books and stumble to the edge of the bed with a swear, grunting as some bony part of him hits the solid wood of the bed frame and causes it to reverberate throughout.

“Dude, why’re you still here? I thought you went home,” Steve mumbles groggily. “‘s like, fuckin’ three in the morning.”

“I fell asleep. Tyler and I were watching uh, ‘Hill House’ and I fuckin’ passed out.”

Steve blinks stupidly in the darkness, sitting back on his elbows. With his eyes adjusting, he can make out the black outline of Billy’s form, all arms crossed and eyes half open, a few stripes of pale blue light slipping in through crooked blinds, lighting him up from behind. His hoodie is almost completely unzipped and there’s a flash of a bare pectoral from where his sleeve is slipping off his shoulder. It’s kind of endearing, considering how uncharacteristically soft and sleepy Billy looks. Out of his element, vulnerable even.

“Why’re you up now then?”

“Well your house is cold as shit and I couldn’t find any extra blankets,” Billy half-whispers, and shudders for good measure. “You got any in here?”

He does but it is definitely chilly, a wet kind of cold like the bathroom window has been left open again, and Steve really does not want to escape the warm cocoon of blankets he’d built himself - and his jeans are off as well, probably removed at some point because he was uncomfortable - to go dig through his closet to find the extra sheets he has hidden somewhere in there, so he rolls onto the cool side of the bed, back almost pressed to the wall, and peels the blankets away.

“Just get in man, I don’t wanna get up right now.”

He can make out Billy squinting. “What?”

Steve pats the mattress with his opposite hand, does it enthusiastically like he’s trying to get a stubborn house cat to share the bed with him. And Billy does look kind of like a pissed off tabby when he makes that squinty, bitchy face he always does when he’s ticked off about something stupid.

“Just get in the bed if you’re cold, Billy. I don’t really feel like digging around for extra blankets at ass o’clock in the morning, so get in or go freeze your ass off for a little longer.”

After a few moments of hesitation, Billy takes the invitation. When he settles in cold air gets trapped under the covers. Luckily he radiates heat in thick waves at all times, running hot like a fever, like arid summers out west.

There’s some brief shuffling between them for a beat and then when Billy finally situates himself, he’s right at the edge of the mattress with his back turned to Steve; god forbid they touch while sharing the queen size. Despite the brief distance, Steve can still smell the spicy dregs of Billy’s cologne and chemically fruity sweetness of his hair pomade saturating the space between them.

“You know you didn’t have to crash here,” Steve says quietly, and shuffles an inch closer to Billy’s warmth. The phrasing doesn’t sound kind to his ears and Billy’s definitely going to take it wrong, but he wants to know why he stayed, especially because he can’t imagine anyone dropping into a sugar sweet, peaceful sleep after the first few episodes of ‘Hill House’.

“You telling me I should go home?”

And Billy’s voice sounds hurt, lilting downhill with his disappointment masked poorly, and he squirms uncomfortably between the layers of blankets. Steve scrambles for words to try and save the sour moment.

“No no, s’not that, I’m just telling you like, don’t feel obligated to stay next time, especially because I just crashed like an asshole, and you didn’t wake me up. I wouldn’t be pissed if you just went home if it happened again.”

Billy doesn’t say anything for a beat and Steve holds his breath in anticipation. Then, Billy flips over, really just kinda throws himself around, so they’re facing each other. The darkness few inches between them leave Billy’s features and fuzzy around the edges.

“I didn’t mean to,” Billy insists, almost arguing.

Steve nudges Billy’s knee with his under the blankets and cracks a sleepy smile, says, “Dude, I’m not mad. I’m just letting you know.”

Billy looks like he’s pouting but Steve can’t quite tell if it’s him being dramatic or showing genuine human emotion. That’s always a fifty/fifty — Billy’s got iron reinforced walls surrounding his soft spots at all times but he’s also a lot less closed off than he thinks. Actions and body language speaking louder than words.

“Thanks,” he replies lowly.

Steve shrugs one shoulder and says nothing. He just cups the cool underside of his pillow to cradle his neck a little more, snuffles into the fabric as he shifts onto his stomach. Billy actually inches away.

God, as if he wasn’t being extra enough two minutes ago by bordering the edge of the mattress. At this distance, maybe their feet or knees would touch— scandalous. Like Billy wasn’t prying Steve open and dissecting the details of his last two hookups out of him earlier.

That’s plenty okay with him, but unsexy, knobby parts accidentally knocking in their sleep, that’s a little too homoerotic.

Steve scoots forward just enough and snorts. “We’ve shared a bed before.”

“Please, we were both fucked up and just happened to black out in the same room. It was coincidental, not like we were having a fucking sleepover.”

“What d’you call this then?”

Billy kicks him in the shin softly in response. When he speaks again, there’s a definitive playful lilt to his tone, like he’s fighting a smile, and Steve knows what’s coming next.

“Me crashing on your couch and then taking over your bed,” Billy snarks, then proceeds to starfish out.

One arm and one leg flop over Steve’s back and he grunts, scowling in Billy’s direction. He’s tired ; he does not want to deal with Billy acting like an attention starved four year old right now. He’s just awake enough to talk but his eyes are still heavy and can only half-focus.

Steve rolls out from under his heavy limbs and shoves at him, causing Billy to bat at his grabby hands and fight back weakly, chuckling.

“You can sleep on the floor if you’re gonna be a pain in the ass,” Steve gripes, pushing at Billy’s shoulder, “use my fuckin’ laundry as a mattress or whatever. I’m tired and I wanna go back to bed.”

“Fine, fine, sorry, fuckin’ primadonna.”

Billy finally stops squirming around and gets in position, which Steve can make out is somewhere between laying on his side and being on his stomach, which looks really uncomfortable and like he’s ready to spring up at any moment. Like his arm will go dead in a matter of minutes. Steve says nothing though, which is usually best when it comes to Billy, and lays flat on his stomach, turned toward his bedmate.

Neither say anything for a moment as it’s a little odd to fall asleep turned to each other completely sober, but neither look away. Steve’s the first to slip back into unconsciousness as the silence settles between them, the softness of the sheets and the additional body heat quickly lulling him to sleep. His eyelids go lead heavy and he feels somewhat grounded by Billy’s presence so close, even with the obvious weight of Billy’s unwavering gaze warming his cheeks.

Just before he drops off, Steve swears he feels Bill scoot closer towards him.


Outside of school, Steve doesn’t have a lot of hobbies.

He games occasionally, will zone out and watch movies. He’s not super into any TV shows right now, doesn’t really read or write outside of classwork, and he’s never been an artistic type. In the spring he took an art class to knock out one of his gen ed requirements, but he’s not a painter or an artist in any regard. His ‘art’ is really just composed of scribbles and half-assed pencil replications of random shit lying around the house.

And he takes pictures for Instagram, but they’re mediocre at best. He’s not a photographer. He can’t do anything eye-grabbing like cool bokeh lighting effects and soft focus shit insta-groupies just eat up, like Jonathan does. Really he only has followers because almost everyone he knew in high school follows him, and all these cute girls in his classes ask for his handle and post rainbow assortments of emojis in the comment section of his selfies.

He can kind of play guitar and kind of sing but that’s really just filler time, and not something he advertises. He doesn’t even think Nancy or Jonathan, let alone the kids know he’s been fucking around with this acoustic guitar his Uncle Rob gave him since he was twelve. He can read sheet music okay from being forced into piano lessons as a kid, and he can at least tell what guitar tabs are instructing him to do.

That’s more than most of the douchebag skater guys walking around campus with guitar cases can say for themselves.

But yeah, no real hobbies.

So — Steve got this part time gig at a coffee shop close to campus.

It’s a relatively popular spot considering it’s an indie joint sitting stranded in a sea of coffee chains; there’s a Starbucks or Dunkin’ perched on practically every street corner within a three mile radius of campus.

To be honest though, Steve doesn’t even really need a job. It sounds so dickish when he phrases it that way to himself, but it’s the truth, a luxury few can afford and one he does feel a little guilty over, but he’s not going to try and be chivalrous by refusing it. That’d be fucking stupid of him; he won't have that privilege forever. His parents wouldn’t listen if he openly argued against it anyway.

They’ll just keep padding his bank account like it’s going to make up for the years that he spent home alone with a note tacked onto the refrigerator listing dates they’d be gone each month, most of the calendar on the opposite wall blacked out, until he forces them not to anymore.

Money as repayment for gradual abandonment. That’s just how it is with them.

And really, Steve likes having something to do, likes the trade off he gets in return — some wadded up bills and a miscellaneous collection coins in his apron pocket, the mint colored checks wrapped up in a little white envelope every other Friday. Likes that he feels like he’s doing something other than being yet another new-age trust fund baby. Likes that he can offer some bullshit introspection on different flavor notes based on a bean’s growth region and a latte without the foam is just a cafe au lait, you fucking hipster dickwad, that kinda shit.

Plus he gets free coffee, which is just an added upside considering how much time he blows on classes and school work. He doesn’t think he’ll get sick of it anytime either, not like with his last job; he couldn’t stand the smell of artificial vanilla or look at a pint of ice cream for months after he quit Scoops Ahoy!.

And because the shop is close to campus too, friends drop by on the regular. Usually it’s Jonathan and Nancy, occasionally Tyler - he was a rabid caffeine addict freshman year and knows he can only have it in limited doses now, lest they have a repeat of the infamous spring finals ER trip - and a few other people from his classes that he gets along with decently.

He’ll hook the former three up with free drinks now and then too, or give them extra shit he walks out with because of a fucked up order or because a bunch of food is going bad — but only because everyone else does it. He’s happy doing it for those three in particular because they’re his actual friends and they don’t get greedy with expecting it every time.

With anyone else, he tells them sorry, can’t, store policy because yeah, technically it is, but everyone offers occasional perks to good company.

And he means to exclude Billy from the ‘good friends that don’t demand perks’ list because Billy abuses the privilege of Steve’s barista-ing skills often, has manipulated it to the point he’s got it bent over his knee and spanked, because every fucking time Steve goes to chill with Billy after a shift, Billy always wants him to bring him something milky with lots of syrup that he’s got too much of a trademark Man complex to order on his own time.

He’s also got Steve figuratively over his knee too, because like clockwork, Steve will see Billy’s text and hop back behind the counter to make the stupid drink himself because he doesn’t want his coworkers to stage his murder just because Billy’s iced latte order demands both whole milk and nonfat, instead of two percent.

Steve did that one time, gave him two percent instead of this very careful mix of the other two, and Billy, the goddamn brat, took one sip before he nudged the cup across the table with a single finger, an ungrateful cat pawing its food away. Not good enough.

There’s this picture Dustin sent him one time, of this cat smirking while all these knives are pointed at it and like, that was one hundred percent Billy’s fucking look when he snapped at him for being a picky shit.

It’s Billy’s contact pic in his phone now.

Today though, he’s got a few hours before he has class again, so he’s meeting up with Billy since he hasn’t seen him since their impromptu sleepover over the weekend, not since Billy ate half a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and left with a peace sign as he slammed the door behind him.

Steve’s only got this one night class, just an elective course he needs for credits more than personal interest, but each session nearly puts him to sleep. He did purposely arrange his fall term like this though, with morning classes and then one evening class, so that he could take that sweet spot in the afternoon to make some bank and fuel up on caffeine before hauling ass back to campus to sit through tediously long classic cinema and lectures on film analysis.

Most of the time he just does other homework during the lectures so he can fuck around when he gets home, and asks Jonathan about all the film analysis bullshit later, just because he’s better to consult than the creepy and entitled cinephiles Steve has found on Reddit film forums.

And Billy knows Steve’s got this carefully crafted schedule, so he’s already waiting in the library by himself, killing time until his own evening class - Steve doesn’t know why Billy’s taking astronomy, but okay - and proceeds to demand his stupid prissy coffee over text.

Steve probably shouldn’t be catering to him because Billy never pays him back, let alone places his request with a please or a thank you, but it’s become so common at this point there’s no use fighting it. He’s Billy’s little coffee bitch and there’s nothing he can do about it.

So once he’s got his own drink in tow, he heads out of the coffee shop looking a little disheveled. He drove down to the store that morning but he doesn’t have time to shower and free the scent of espresso and steamed milk from his nasal cavity and his clothes, so he’s going to have to meet up with Billy with the smell of espresso beans and caramel syrup clinging to all his belongings.

After a shift, his hair’s always a little floppy, hanging down in his face so he looks more mopey, more Jonathan than himself, and he’s always a little smokey with perspiration under his work tee, usually has the cotton sticking between his shoulder blades and the dip of his lower back.

He cleaned up the best he can in the little cafe bathroom before heading out the door, but if Billy complains, he can just suffer. He didn’t seem to care so much about personal smells when they were sharing Steve’s bed and were mere inches apart, so why should he now?

“Fucking — Christ,” Steve hisses.

He’s got both his and Billy’s drinks raining condensation down his arms as he makes his way from south parking lot to the library. It’s muggy out, the air thick with humidity and feeling less cold than it actually is. Coming into the library makes no difference — it’s just mustier and the air is stiller like the big glass doors welcoming and bidding adieus to students all day long does nothing to give the atmosphere some life, only pushes dust and the smell of old bound books around more.

Awkwardly speed walking past the help desk with cool water soaking his sleeves, he spots Billy parked at a table in the west corner of the proclaimed ‘quiet area’. It’s really just a big area at one end of the library where people can go to shoot the shit at a reasonably quiet level and get shushed by the few idiots that wander into that section to actually study. It’s a boring clutter of aged wood tables and short bookshelves filled with periodicals and old newspapers bound in plastic sheeting and these tall, thick windows letting light in on one side. All it does is turn that side of the library into an oven when it starts getting warm out.

When he comes up behind him, Billy’s got Spotify open on his laptop and he’s blasting Consume by Chase Atlantic, this chill, lo-fi pop rock group through his headphones. A group Steve told Billy about a few months back, that Billy had teased him for liking, because so many of their fans were straight girls that liked douchey bro music.

Like, rude.

Steve can easily pick up Mitchel Cave crooning out and you can take my flesh if you want, girl, but baby don't abuse it and Steve’s not a music major or at all philosophical with the shit he listens to like everyone else he knows is, but the guy’s voice is fucking sexy in this whiny, pleading kind of way.

And the group’s got this vibe kinda like The Weekend but a little more emo. Just the perfect level of fuckboy and alternative that he can jam to, but it’s weird to see Billy listening to them by his own free will.

It’s all drugs and money and ego trips and bad relationships and it’s catchy shit, just not what he imagines is Billy’s shit. Not the way they present it, at least, always up and down with digging or loathing their slightly fictionalized consumption of pills and sex and drinking.

Like, they’re gonna cut early next Tuesday and go see them live in Chicago with Nancy and Jonathan. Billy’s so into it that he can’t make fun of anyone at this point.

Steve presses Billy’s drink to the back of his neck and almost gets socked in the jaw for it, the guy letting out a “shit!” loud enough that a girl a few tables over nearly chucks her iPad in surprise.

“You’re welcome,” Steve chuckles, offering Billy his drink, “for like the thousandth time.”

Billy flips him the bird but snatches it from his hands anyway. “Aw, aren’t you goddamn sweet.”

He takes a sip of it, tongue extending before his mouth is even on the straw, and smacks his lips, pleased enough. There’s no way they’d move passed talking about fucking coffee if Steve brought him an imperfect version of his beloved drink. Steve knows that drink order better than any of the other regulars’ though, including the uptight yuppies and khaki-wearing business majors with their polos tucked into their slacks and punch cards at the ready before they even come inside.

And Billy’s order is fucking long — large iced latte with four shots affogato, half whole milk, half nonfat, two pumps sugar free toffee and one sugar free hazelnut syrup, with caramel ribboned on top and inside of the cup.

At least the goddamn business majors, fucking pricks they are, get plain hot lattes with extra foam.

“Sweet like fuckin’ sugar,” Steve quips, “or like that diabetes bomb I keeping bringing you, for whatever reason. Jesus, you know ‘sugar free’ doesn’t mean better for you, right?”

“It’s less calories.”

“You’re still poisoning yourself. Like, there’s some old professor that comes in and wants at least three Sweet n’ Low in her decaf mochas every other night. Doesn’t make it any less of a fucking mocha. It’s probably worse with that artificial shit.”

Billy scrunches his nose up and lets go of his straw, goes, “That’s fucking gross.”

It is. But Billy’s drink is probably still worse.

Steve takes a sip of his black and white mocha and watches Billy swirl his drink around, collect some caramel at the end of his straw. When he goes to suck it off, he dribbles on the table.

“You gonna pay me back for all these eventually, or?”

“Hey, this is you paying me back, Harrington,” Billy clicks his tongue, “I let you smoke my hash, slip you fuckin’ Bacardi, give you all this free fuckin’ help with your essays and shit, waste my own time reading the bullshit you spout. Besides, you’re not even paying for the fucking drinks.”

Yeah, alright, Steve hasn’t bought weed since high school and he’s too lazy to find someone to sell decent shit to him now because Billy’s always got some on him. He knows Billy’s can be a fucking leech, probably thinks it’s funny more than anything else, but he can deal with playing coffee bitch.

“Fuck you,” he grunts, no heat.

And Billy just grins all cheshire-like; all pearly whites and hooded eyes set with dark lashes. He’s really kind of evil and he’s pretty — deadly fucking combo. It doesn’t help that he knows it either. The awareness gives him too much power.

“Anyway,” Billy clicks his tongue, “there’s another party this weekend. Jack Myers, y’know, Danny’s cousin? The senior in Phi? He invited me, said I could bring someone.” And then Billy raises his eyebrows, takes another sip off his latte, “So I told ‘im you would be coming with me.”

Steve’s chest clenches up for a total of two seconds and he removes the straw from his mouth, swallows down the glob of mocha sauce he’d sucked up. He kind of wants to tell Billy no, tell him he doesn’t really want to watch Billy get tits shoved into his face as he rubs his half-hard dick against some stranger he’s found in the middle of a crowded living room, but he doesn’t. Would rather sit on his sofa with a few people he actually likes, sucking down beers and slipping rum or vodka into orange juice.

He tries to come up with something quippy and clever to say no to Billy basically forcing him into this party and just goes, “why ?” with the most distressed look on his face.

“Because why not,” Billy reasons, mimicking his expression, “besides, you bailed on me last time. You gotta make it up to me.”

“He probably meant you could bring a date, like some hot girl you’re gonna try and take back to yours, that he’s just going to try and steal from you so you end up going home and jacking off alone.”

Billy rolls his eyes and takes another long sip. “No offense, but Jack Myers is not going to be committing a robbery on anyone, let alone me, even if I did bring some hot chick with me. Guy’s gotta learn that at this point; being in a frat does not automatically guarantee you pussy.”

Steve clicks his tongue and tries not to smirk. Billy’s not lying. Jack’s a three on Steve’s personal scale, first off because he’s a poli-sci major - a frat guy poli-sci major, no less, and straight - and second because he dresses like every male side character from mid-2000’s teen comedies.

The guy legit stole his wardrobe from the twin brother in ‘She’s The Man’. His confidence is so misplaced.

“Alright, fair enough,” Steve says, “but I still don’t get why you picked me though; you could ask any girl and she’d say yes in a heartbeat.”

Billy waves his hand flippantly. He puts his latte down and zips his hoodie up a little bit. Today he’s wearing these tight pale jeans with holes cut in the knees, a white tee with a black zip-up over it, and these old black high-tops, always finished off with that pendant he never takes off. He always dresses lazier for classes but whenever they go out somewhere or make plans for anything, Billy’s got to dress up like the conniving Instagram fuckboy he is —

all nips out and jeans tight enough to show the outline of his dick, cig in his mouth and rings glimmering on his fingers.

“But I didn’t wanna bring a chick with me,” Billy reasons. “There’s gonna be tons of ‘em there anyway. Just like, come with me, seriously, girls or not. I’m the Willy fuckin’ Wonka of good times, Harrington, and this is your golden ticket. You need to get out and do something, I dunno, not fucking boring for once.”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Fine, fine. I’ll go.”

“Dude, why’re you acting so weird ? It’s just a party. It’s something to fucking do.”

“I said I’d go, didn’t I?”

Billy leans back farther in his chair and looks wholly unimpressed, goes, “Yeah, but you’re being like, reluctant. If you really don’t wanna go, then don’t. Jesus.”

And then Billy’s doing his bitchy little pout, where he purses his lips together and scowls a little bit, refuses to make eye contact. He starts fiddling with a loose string on the cuff of his hoodie as well and is purposefully avoiding looking at Steve.

He’s like this bratty chick - Brianna? Alyssa? - Steve took out on two shitty dates pre-Nancy, who did the same thing when he told her he wasn’t going to buy her a pair of fucking sixty dollar boots on their first date. She spent the whole car ride to the restaurant with her arms crossed, scowling with her gloss-covered bottom lip stuck out as far as it would go, leaning into the passenger side door to put as much space between them as she could.

So Steve, being the soft idiot he is, just completely caves so Billy will stop this little poor me, I didn’t get my way charade, because it gets so old so fast. He’d rather go spineless and give up then try to fight it, if it means it’ll just stop.

“Listen, I’ll go, alright? I just don’t want you trying to nail someone all night and then ditch me to get your dick sucked in some closet.”

Billy immediately drops his little act and grins all toothy, tongues his pink bottom lip once. “Oh, you want me to help you then, huh? You haven’t had your dick sucked since like, what, August?”

“That is not what I said. And like, maybe I don’t need to get my dick sucked, you ever consider that?”

Looking at him like he’s absolutely stupid, Billy settles back into a normal seated position, leaning in close, serious shit style like a mafia boss, like he’s about to tell him he’s going to cut something off and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

Everyone needs to get their dick sucked, man,” Billy says lowly, “like, I don’t care what you’ve got down there, your identity, whatever, everyone needs to get head.”

“Okay one, we get it, you’re taking a human sexuality class, and two -”

Billy actually clasps a hand over his mouth.

“Oh my god shut up, you’re missing the point; this party? Everyone’s gonna be DTF, so you can finally get off,” and then he grins, canines gleaming, “without your own hand, for once.”

He doesn’t know why Billy thinks it’s his personal mission to get Steve’s dick down someone’s throat or elsewhere, but it’s weird. Sure, Steve’s had other friends that do this shit, has had those types of friends for years but Billy is just so over the top with this.

Like, it takes every bone in his body not to deeply reflect back on that weekend, Billy turned toward him in the low light with deep shades of purple cast over his body, his eyes alight in the darkness and rimmed pink from the hash while his breathing grew gradually heavier with each word Steve had uttered, seemingly so ready to stick his hand in the fire and risk the burn, to get his hand around Steve’s dick.

“If something happens, it happens. That good enough for you?”

No, it’s not actually. I’m trying to be a good friend here, like I got you on the fucking list for a Phi rager and I’m trying to get you laid in some capacity, and you’re not giving me jack shit in return.”

Steve straight up glares at him. Forget analyzing Billy’s weird obsession with his mediocre sex life, he kind of just wants to smack him for being so bitchy now. Steve’s slightly tempted to dump his drink over Billy’s head and just leave — that good enough for you, Hargrove?

“Listen man,” he starts, exasperated, “I appreciate this whole thing with you trying to get me laid on the regular but I honest to god don’t feel the need to stick my dick in five different people every weekend. I’m not good at that one night stand shit ninety percent of the time anyway — it just fucks me down the road.”

Which is true. Yeah he’s under twenty and still horny as shit, possesses the sex drive of a goddamn rabbit, but he doesn’t have that gut-deep need to just fuck everything in sight.

He doesn’t want to sound fake deep by waxing poetic regarding to romance and human connection, but if he’s going to be nailing anyone, he’d rather be nailing someone he actually likes, who he wants to wake up next to the next morning and pull in closer, as opposed to rolling over and promising he’ll text later, hoping they’ll just get out already.

Pump and dump master King Steve a la sophomore year would be disgusted with him now, but even after the collateral damage suffered at the hands of Nancy Wheeler before and after their breakup - and really, thinking back on it, the majority of their relationship - he’d take the highest of highs and lowest of lows that come with committing yourself to someone than the constant mediocrity he experiences while hand picking someone different every night.

Maybe he just wants to be wanted, prefers to be truly desired and cherished or whatever, but despite the melodrama that holds over him, he still prefers it. Billy just doesn’t get that.

If anything, he’ll take a singular person he can fuck on the regular without getting worried about the rom-com mess of eventual feelings.

“Funny, that’s not how it used to be, from what I’ve heard,” Billy muses, quirking up an eyebrow.

Steve groans aloud. “That was before I even knew you, Billy.”

“You’ve still got a reputation back in Hawkins though, buddy; Max said there’re still tags in that abandoned locker in the girls’ room detailing your excellent oral skills. Says she needed to bleach her eyes afterwards.”

And that’s frankly odd for Billy to mention, even if it’s building his case for who he believes Steve could still be, because he still just barely puts up with his stepsister, so Steve can’t imagine them texting cordially or Facetiming. He still calls her shitbird and Maxine more than her preferred nickname, any familiarity purposefully ignored for the sake of spite.

Steve manages to laugh dryly, all haha with a deadpan look. He might need to send Max an apology letter before he goes home for Thanksgiving break so she won’t kick him in the shin the first time she sees him.

“You know, I was a sophomore when Laurie Berkner tagged that locker,” he says, brows up, “Max and the rest of that rat pack are sophomores too.”

Billy looks at him a little disgusted, even though he’s the one scooping caramel remnants out of his half-full cup with his fingers and getting milky espresso all over his knuckles.

“Yeah but Max isn’t a whore like you were, and if Sinclair is stupid enough to try anything on her, she’s gonna break his wrist or give him a bloody nose before he even asks. Plus, the rest of those nerds aren’t going to be seeing any action anytime soon either — we both know that.”

Steve tries not to laugh then, even though it’s true. It’s mildly horrific as well, looking back on it, that he was casually lending his services out to a decent handful of fifteen and sixteen year old girls back before he could even drive, and that it was seen as cool  Like, it’s really not. It’s probably what’s made him so weirdly picky about picking relationships over hookups in contrast to everyone else his age now, but that’s a brand of personal trauma he’ll analyze another time.

Now he just worries that he’ll have a stroke if Dustin or Mike or any of the other kids proudly mention that they got clumsily fondled during a game of seven minutes in heaven, or under the gym bleachers at winter formal.

“I’m not a whore anymore though,” he points out.

“But you used to be, always dicking down hot cheerleaders and eating pussy like a fucking champ,” Billy smirks. “Lemme see your tongue, Stevie, there some secret to it I’m missing out on?”

He then makes a ‘v’ with his fingers and flicks his tongue in the space between them, leaning across the table and threatening to lick Steve’s cheek. Steve physically recoils and snorts as he leans back in his chair, kicking at Billy’s knee under the table. Internally, his stomach starts to flip and knot itself up with Billy so close, his cologne so thick and lashes so long.

What the actual fuck.

“You’re fucking nasty, you know that?” he says, cheeks starting to heat.

Billy just grins and sits back. “Yeah, but that’s just how I like to be.”

Steve eyes him for a moment, watches how his eyes get hooded as he takes a long, noisy sip of his drink. If he hadn’t cut his hair off during the summer, he’d probably be coiling the long curly strands around his fingers for good measure as well, schoolgirl style.

Billy just keeps push push pushing his buttons with all this bullshit to get him back in his game, talking about his past conquests and aiming to weasel any juicy details out of him and it’s not really fair that Billy does this to him almost constantly, but Steve never does anything back in retaliation. Sometimes Billy’s wording will hit him a little too hard as well and he’ll have to swallow around a lump in his throat when the guy’s voice drops two octaves and goes smooth like caramel.

He could argue that he’s young and single and acutely aware to the effects Billy’s smooth talking have on people. It’s a knee jerk reaction as well; whisper filthy shit in his ear and rub his thigh enough when he’s soft and disinterested and he’ll be leaky and straining in his jeans in no time. It’s just human nature.

He just doesn’t like how it’s getting harder and harder to breathe lately around Billy lately. His eye rolls and fuck off s are being exchanged for embarrassingly pink cheeks and Steve doesn’t know what that fucking means but he doesn’t like it.

Still — Billy deserves to have the tables turned on him for being such an intrusively horny little fuck and making Steve double take his intentions every time he asks if Tinder is going well and then subtly eyes his crotch.

“What about you then, huh? You’re always bugging me about fucking around, when was the last time you actually got some?”

Billy side eyes him and rolls his straw between his fingers, comes off it with a wet pop. “That’s kind of personal, Harrington.”

But there’s no heat to his voice. ‘Harrington’ has an overtly playful lilt to it.

“Eye for an eye, don’t you think?” Steve presses, hoping Billy will take the bait.

Luckily he does.

When he talks, Billy’s staring down into his drink and stirring the remnants of ice watering down his latte. The tips of his ears are tinged red as if he’s been freshly sunburnt.

“Been a hot minute,” he murmurs, a little unsure, “but uh, that blonde chick Julie from my creative writing class sucked me off after her anatomy final like, right before Halloween and I made out with a few Gamma girls on Halloween. Slow few months. Summer was better.”

Steve just eggs him on. “I thought you nailed whatsername, Crystal, weekend before last too?”

“Forgot about that,” Billy replies with a roll of his eyes.

“How do you forget sticking your dick in someone?”

Then Billy’s looking up from his lackadaisy drink stirring to look him straight in the eye. “When it’s not all that memorable, or good,” he deadpans.

And that’s odd, because Steve remembers him going on about it - like, definitely a little too in depth - while they were at the apartment chowing down on burrito supremes and triple layer nachos just the night after the supposed hook up with Crystal, or whatever her name actually is, had occurred. Unless she’d done something to piss him off afterwards, Steve had never had a previous inkling that it hadn’t gone down well to begin with.

“Ah.”

“Trust me, Harrington, if anything was going on that was worth mentioning, I’d bring it up. I’ve been nagging you because you never fess shit up like everyone else does and it’s fucking annoying, acting like you’re better for not kissing and telling.”

Oh that is, that’s bullshit.

“Alright, whatever you say, because that’s totally why I don’t send you a report every time I jack off,” Steve gripes, and Billy wrinkles his nose at that, “but anyway, so we can move on, I said I’d go with you Saturday, and I will. I’ll drink, I’ll smoke, whatever, and if I’m in the mood and I find someone hot that wants to fuck around, I’ll go through with it. Is that finally good enough for you?”

Steve sticks his hand out, ready to shake on it even if Billy’s rarely a man of his word. Billy eyes him carefully for a minute, cautious like he’s making a deal with the devil, then grasps his palm tight.

Grinning, his voice drops and he says, “Sounds perfect.”


 “Wait, he did what?”

“Yeah, crashed at my place, woke me up at three a.m. and then got in bed with me,” and then Steve hastily adds, “I invited him, okay, because he wanted a blanket and I didn’t wanna get up and didn’t wanna deal with him bitching about being cold.”

Nancy and Jonathan are both staring at him with wide eyes and creased brows, openly scandalized at the reality of last weekend.

The three of them are sharing a booth at this Thai restaurant close to campus. It used to be a sports bar or some family restaurant with dark floors and big open windows, a full bar at the far end of the space and a spread of open tables and red vinyl-clad booths on the opposite side. There’s a balanced mix of new and old decor, the skeleton of the old establishment still there but decorated to fit the current cuisine and atmosphere.

It’s homey, is always warm and low lit and smells faintly of lemongrass and chili oil.

Steve also makes it imperative that he gets Thai Iced Tea in his system as often as he can and living so close by enables him dangerously.

Nancy stops staring at him for a beat to suck down some of her mint soda but then she goes right back to giving him that pouty concerned look she’s got completely nailed.

“And why did you do that?” she asks, voice a little uneven.

Jonathan even pitches forward on his elbows for dramatic effect and Steve fights to roll his eyes.

Stirring his tea, he watches as the milk morphs into galactic swirls before dyeing the tea bright orange. Nancy and Jonathan are still watching with expectant glances as he wrinkles his nose and blatantly doesn’t answer the question.

Instead, Steve takes a sip of his glass and goes, “I don’t know why you guys are freaking out about this. This ‘no homo’ shit is really off-brand for both of you.”

Then Jonathan actually pipes up instead of communicating through scowls and squints and generally puzzled expressions; Steve doesn’t like the edge of insinuation in his voice, the way he actually holds eye contact instead of looking at the polished table or his hands. Jonathan does that a lot when he’s got an argument with shaky evidence, so he all of this makes Steve feel a little off-kilter —

Because Jonathan looks him right in the eye and tells him, “Steve, you know why.”

It’s genuinely a more than a little off-putting to hear in any tone when you’re not expecting it, you know why, like being verbally assaulted by law enforcement about a body found stuffed in a drainage pipe, so Steve sputters, “No, I fucking don’t,” because he doesn’t. “And I don’t get why both of you are acting weird. We shared a bed, big fucking deal.”

Nancy gently taps his shin with one Ugg-covered foot under the table and frowns.

“It’s just, we thought you maybe would’ve figured it out already, but apparently not,” she murmurs.

Steve scowls at her, something acidic burning in his chest, something nasty and familiar he shouldn’t be mad about anymore. That he really isn’t. But for just a moment, it feels like that instant when everyone was telling him that Byers and Wheeler are totally hooking up, how did you not know the freak took your girl, Harrington? two years ago and he’s suddenly back on the outskirts of some public secret, some dirty inside joke everyone but him is in on.

“Explain it to me, then,” he says thinly, and there’s a beat of silence before he realizes that their waitress is suddenly standing at the edge of their table looking a little uncomfortable, two steaming plates in hand.

They all lean away from the table, shaking away their tense confrontational poses to allow the poor waitress room to put down Nancy’s drunken noodles and Jonathan’s duck fried rice, then thank her quietly while she awkwardly excuses herself to get Steve’s plate.

Neither Nancy or Jonathan say anything for a good minute, even after the waitress returns with Steve’s food. Steve just stares down bitterly at his glass noodles, twirls some of the vermicelli around his fork and stabs at a glossy fried carrot and a piece of fried egg, chews it with vindication. The only sounds between them are metal forks scraping plate bottoms and gnashing teeth breaking down seasoned vegetables in muted snaps.

And when Nancy finally pipes up and from his downcast view of the table, he can see her short baby pink nails tap against the tabletop as they enter his frame of vision, trying to draw his attention back up.

“Steve, we really thought you already knew and were just, I don’t know, ignoring it maybe, or -”

“Jesus, what is this thing you’re talking about -”

“Dude,” Jonathan sighs then, putting his fork down with a little too much force so it clangs against the edge of his plate, “this thing is, that Billy’s into you.”

Steve chokes on a piece of chicken.

“I - what ?” he manages, coughing into his shirt sleeve.

He doesn’t really know what to say to that. There’s no safe way to defend Billy in this kind of situation - it’s not a heinous kind of accusation, but still - without somehow incriminating himself as well. Of what though, Steve’s not exactly sure.

Maybe he just doesn’t want to believe that it could be a potential reality, could say that Billy’s just horny for everyone’s attention and he overcompensates with Steve because of their turbulent past, feels more secure in their friendship getting brownie points for being extra good or something.

Steve really doesn’t know what to make of this now. There is plausibility in Billy giving him all those longing looks and demanding in-depth reports on just who would dare trying something with Steve with him around, because he wanted or wants him, but it feels more like a conspiracy theory than anything. It’s not that deep, Steve thinks.

Like sure, Billy does give off a certain degree of chaotic gay energy but he’s also this super aggro fuckboy type and always makes such a show out of checking out and hitting on girls. He’s watched Billy stick his hand up shirts to fondle breasts and lead girls into closets, bathrooms, foolishly unlocked bedrooms; Steve just doesn’t think Billy would care that much about making a show out of his sexual escapades if it was all to keep people convinced, wouldn’t waste his energy.

If Billy was actually handling dick his every waking moment, he’d be so nonchalant about it, unless he got to nail someone he was really pining for.

“I mean, we don’t know for sure but it always felt that way,” Nancy reasons, speaking quickly, “I mean, I always thought it was kind of obvious. He’s always looking at you, giving you this look.”

Steve steals a sip off of her drink for good measure, sparkling lime and the tingle of mint on his tongue. “Well, he’s got eyes, Nance.”

Jonathan sputters behind his hand, carefully turning away from Nancy, who’s immediately glaring at him. She smacks him in the shoulder too, but all it does it make him bite back his laughter with a grin.

“I’m not saying he’s not allowed to look - Steve, don’t you start too - but there’s a certain look you give someone when you want them and he’s been giving you that look for months. Besides, Jonathan, I thought you were with me on this?”

Jonathan shrugs. “I just don’t think it’s as big a deal, s’all.”

You acted weird when I brought up the whole sleeping over thing too, don’t backtrack here,” Steve says, accusatory.

“Well I thought you knew the guy has a thing for you, but regardless I didn’t think you’d let him just crawl into bed with you out of nowhere.”

And alright, Jonathan’s got him there. Steve’s been on friendlier terms with him, Tyler, hell, even Tommy Hill back home longer than he’s been plainly civil with Billy, and even when the opportunity of bed sharing has presented itself, it still hasn’t been taken advantage of. Steve hasn’t properly shared a bed with any of his male friends since the sixth grade.

Being drunk at house parties doesn't count either — this bed sharing thing with Billy was born out of both invitation and convenient opportunity, not desire and want.

Steve explains, “I just, I didn’t care, it was three in the morning,” like that makes it all okay and nonetheless suspicious, because Nancy keeps eyeing him with that squinty little look she always does when she’s suspicious or in disbelief, glossed lips pressed into a minute frown and her brows pinched together. “Oh Jesus, do you guys honestly think I’ve got a boner for Billy too?”

Nancy’s judgmental investigative look immediately morphs into one of pinked cheeks and purse lips while Jonathan shrugs like yeah, pretty much.

“Hence the initial shock?” Nancy offers. Her smile looks painful.

That is what’s tough to swallow. They thought something mutual was going on between him and Billy and were ignoring it or maybe egging each other on - and Nancy’s always been the chaotic ‘just kiss already!’ type when the three of them indulge in any movie or show with a romantic subplot - when that really isn’t the case.

Which means Steve’s been noticeably, albeit accidentally, putting out his own vibes, which would explain the growth in Billy’s lack of boundaries. If that’s true, not by way of just Nancy and Jonathan’s perspectives, then he’s in trouble. He’s never devoted time to really considering that, that he might be slightly physically attracted to Billy, other than using the excuse of being aware that Billy really is a good looking and charming guy, when he catches himself staring a little too long or getting a little lightheaded when he catches a whiff of Billy’s cologne.

And then Steve realizes that maybe, just maybe —

“Oh my god, what if I like him.”

Nancy and Jonathan exchange a glance, doing that telepathic couples thing where muscle twitches and the length of certain blinks translate into a personalized love language - Steve was, admittedly, never very good at it - and then they’re staring at him incredulously.

“Don’t you think you’d be a little more aware of everything if you actually liked him?” Jonathan presses, voice thin.

Plaintively speaking, well. “Dude, do you not know me?”

“Well, he can be a little… oblivious when it comes to matters like this,” Nancy murmurs, stirring at her noodles, and Steve chucks a piece of green onion at her.

Like, fucking rude.

Jonathan sighs then, staring down intently at his rice. Steve watches him jab at a shriveled up little pea with conviction before he takes another deep breath and sits up straighter, ready to make a proclamation.

“Okay, okay, let’s analyze this for a second before Steve has a panic attack or we all start getting even farther ahead of ourselves,” Jonathan says smoothly. “Steve, do you actually have feelings for Billy, or are you just freaking out because we thought you did?”

Steve takes a moment to consider that. Considering sucking someone’s dick one or twice in the heated privacy of jerking off in your bedroom doesn’t count as you wanting to wine and dine. He doesn’t see Billy as the dating type, nor does he think he really would want to date someone like Billy, either. In some ways they’re so alike, but in others, complete opposites, and they’re both too stubborn to compromise, so.

“Just thinking that I was giving off vibes when I didn’t mean to freaks me out, I mean, I don’t wanna lead anyone on, but I’m not gonna deny that Billy isn’t hot, because I’d be lying.”

Nancy nods minutely, like she’s considered it too, and Jonathan briefly side eyes her.

“Alright, problem solved there. What about Billy then? Do you think he actually likes you, or do you think you didn’t consider it until Nance and I said something, or do you think he just thinks you’re hot?”

It feels a little bit like he’s being counseled, like he should maybe be strewn across a sofa in an office while Jonathan scribbles down what he says on a little clipboard, while Nancy sits close-by and observes.

“I think he acts differently around me than other guys,” Steve says, hand over his heart honest, “like I don’t think he’s subtle about it at all, but until you guys said something, I didn’t really think about it, because I thought if I did, I’d get the wrong idea and fuck it up.”

Because his speculations have really only been half right in the past, often lead by feelings of inadequacy and assuming the worst, he’s tried his best to stay neutral on things. It means he’s maybe done some ignoring when he maybe shouldn’t have, often tuning out gut feelings out of fear he’ll be horribly wrong again, but it keeps him safe for the most part.

Assuming anything of Billy can be dangerous; he’s unexpected and can flip like a switch, wild like a natural disaster, which is why Steve's pushed down any mild speculation and made excuses on both of their ends.

Nancy looks at him with a kind of sorrow in her eyes, kind of like she pities him or even feels guilty, but she doesn’t say anything. She’s uncharacteristically quiet now.

Jonathan’s on the opposite end, the chatty one for once. He might just be trying to get this over with, as he’s never been a guy for much drama or theatrics, but Steve also knows he does care, has a soft, gooey center.

“So I guess that begs the question: do you want to take a risk on speculation and do something about it or not?”

The latter would be safer, really, would keep Steve out of trouble. He’s curious though, doesn’t know if he’d do something even if Jonathan and Nancy were right in their suspicions about Billy having some secret homoerotic affliction, but still — he doesn’t want to risk it and either be a. wrong and feel like a moron for even buying into it, or b. wrong and have to suffer the consequences for doubting Billy’s character.

And he doesn’t want to assume the worse there, but he could do without getting his nose busted again.

“Uh, probably would rather not. Honestly I’d rather pretend this whole thing like, didn’t happen, because I know I’m gonna freak out about it later and it’s gonna fuck with my head.”

It’s safer this way, Steve thinks. He can’t believe this conversation even happened to begin with, has made him think about things he never properly considered before, but Billy’s his friend before anything else, warts and all, and he doesn’t want to mess things up because there seems to be something more from an outside perspective.

Nancy looks a little disappointed, sighs a little and pokes at a sauce-drenched piece of broccoli, stabs at the mint leaves at the bottom of her drink. Seems like if they had their own thing going on, it’d provide some kind of relief or entertainment for her, or she’s just dismayed that Steve’s continuing to put any potential love interests on the shelf.

She’s a romantic at heart, he knows, under her skeptical, analytical worldview. In or out of relationships, Nancy is the girl that had romance novels tucked between conspiracy theory collections and historical autobiographies on her bookshelf and romcom posters tacked to her bedroom walls.

“If that’s what you think is best,” she says, leaning on her hand. “I really do think he’s into you though, Steve.”

“He’s my friend before anything else, Nance. And we don’t even know if he really is, like I hadn’t really thought about it until you guys said something and I’m not gonna make an ass out myself because you two think Billy could be a little gay and into me.”

Nancy still looks less than pleased with the outcome but Jonathan seems satisfied enough with his answer and reaches over for a taste of Steve’s glass noodles. He steals a bean sprout and piece of carrot as well.

“S’just speculation anyway, not worth risking anything over. We just said something because the whole Saturday thing seemed so… not like something Billy would do. Felt evidentiary or whatever,” Jonathan muses, now back to properly eating off his own again. “We’ve been wrong though, so don’t worry about it too much, man.”

Steve nods, “Speculation, yeah.”

His noodles have started to get cold but that’s his own fault, could’ve said ‘okay’ when they brought this whole thing up and moved on, but now it’s a seed that’s been planted inside him. With a healthy dose of overthinking and anxiety, it’s just going to grow and grow.

So Saturday night is going to be fun.

 

Chapter Text

“The flower doesn’t dream of the bee.

It blossoms and the bee comes.”

— Mark Nepo


 

Steve’s usual pre-rager routine was a joint, maybe a straight shot or two of something that burned on the way down. Blasting some music, fixating too much on his hair — really any form of mild distraction to get him pumped and ready for crowded living rooms and binge drinking.

Tonight though, he’s a ball of nervous energy, heart in his throat. He’s got a chat on Discord open, talking to all the kids back home, to try and divert his attention elsewhere. They’ve got their webcams on but are still talking over each other, even those that’re physically in the same room.

There’s Mike, Dustin and Will at the Wheeler house, all piled up together on a dusty old futon in the basement; Lucas alone watching Erica, who will occasionally look up from her 3DS to tell him to talk quieter or make some snide remark; and then Max with El - or Jane, but Steve’s pretty taken to her nickname  - in what’s obviously El’s bedroom at Hopper’s place.

Right now Dustin’s going on about this girl in his chemistry class, Mila, a foreign exchange student from Germany, while the rest of them argue with him about how she’s not into him, but rather his lab partner Connor.

Steve’s rooting for him, though. Dustin’s a good kid, smart and funny — he deserves a win in the romance department.

“Oh, where are you going, Steve?” El cuts in out of nowhere, leaning forward on her hands and making Max’s laptop dip on what must be her bed. “Your shirt looks nice,” she adds, beaming, and Max smirks next to her, nodding in agreement.

“To a party,” he answers, smiling as he fiddles with the cuffs on his flannel, “with Billy. And thanks, El.”

Three of the boys let out a collective groan, the loudest coming from Dustin, who slumps back against the sofa cushions and rolls his eyes. Will though, who has openly admitted to thinking Billy’s kind of dreamy - much to the chagrin of most everyone - just rests his chin on his hand and bites back what must be a grin, mouths an oh.

And then there’s El, completely unbothered, as she’s the only one of the kids besides Will that actually likes Billy, sees some potential hidden there. Max is just making a displeased face, glaring in what must be the general direction of the boys’ window on her screen, but then her judgmental gaze flickers to Steve, and her eyes are bright and wild even through the technicolor grain of the webcam feed.

“You guys are still hanging out?” she asks incredulously, voice slightly crackly due to the shoddy Wi-Fi connection at Hopper’s.

“Yes?” One of Steve’s eyebrows quirks involuntarily.

“I thought you would’ve dumped it by this point, because he was too annoying, or got you arrested, or given you alcohol poisoning, or -”

“Or killed you!” Dustin exclaims.

Will flicks him in the arm with a little scowl and he hisses, rubs the spot but doesn’t look like he’s any less deterred. Max shoots him the finger and El laughs behind her hand.

“Man, you gotta let that shit go,” Lucas sighs, and briefly eyes Erica so she won’t tell on him; she probably will, unless bribed accordingly, Steve’s learned. “He even apologized to me, remember? And would cover for me and Max around his dad? Like, Billy’s not my favorite guy but he’s not that bad. At least, not as bad as he used to be.”

“Yeah, and he’s my brother, Dustin, so I’m the only one actually allowed to shit-talk him.”

Dustin mutters something under his breath Steve doesn’t quite catch, but he can tell it’s obvious mockery when Mike openly snickers and reaches over Will to playfully shove his shoulder and Will bites back a grin. Lucas and Max ignore the snark with pointed looks, but then Max rounds the conversation back to Steve’s plans.

“Anyway,” she drawls, “please don’t let him get super drunk; last time he got really wasted he left me a really weird voicemail about some girl with big dumb Bambi eyes and blowjob lips and then started bitching about how hard it is to find good E?”

Steve doesn’t know if he was even with Billy when he left the aforementioned voicemail, because he doesn’t go out with Billy every time and when he does, he usually has to play semi-responsible adult and halt any recreational activities he might be doing when Billy starts standing at a seventy degree angle and his shirt becomes completely unbuttoned, nips out all Girls Gone Wild. Even if he’s half fucked himself, syrups and hard liquor making his blood sweet and slow, he’s super cautious about Billy’s drunk technology usage.

And when he’s not there playing chaperone, babysitting a five-foot-ten drunk toddler, what Billy does with his phone is his own fault, potential ass shots and oversaturated, motion-blurred Snapchat selfies be damned.

“I won’t,” Steve assures her. “I’ll steal his phone if he’s going too hard.”

It seems good enough for Max, but god only knows how in control he’ll be later. Billy either drinks like it’s the end of the world and he’s about to get ass fucked by Satan’s own fiery cock, no lube, or nurses the same solo cup of beer all night like some kid trying not to get sick off jungle juice at a party they’re socially under-qualified to attend.

Steve knows it’s Billy’s nature to take the extreme route with anything, so swinging back forth between opposite ends of the drunkenness spectrum makes sense. Back in high school he’d get wrecked as often as he could, belly sloshing with Bud or Pabst after working himself up to a fifty second keg stand and capping the night off with tequila or straight whiskey. Now though, Steve figures getting wasted and puking his dinner up every time he goes out gets a little old - god only knows it did for him, too - so Billy doesn’t always need a guardian angel.

Tonight though, Steve doesn’t know what kind of mood he’s in.

He stays online for a little while longer, even when the light starts to really shift so it’s pitch outside instead of the slowly darkening lavender-pink wash it’s been for a few hours, and he has to turn on his desk lamp to be seen. Lucas signed off after getting roped into watching some old Disney Channel flick with his sister - much to his obvious chagrin - and Max and El were pulled away by the promise of ice cream at Scoops.

Hopper appeared in the upper left corner of the webcam for fifteen seconds - only the side of his nose and part of his beard in view - to give Steve a falsely stern reminder to do his homework as well as stay out of trouble, lest he come down and arrest him himself. Steve promises, scout’s honor as he rolls his eyes, Hopper chuckling at him while El pushes for an answer to you’ll let me get a waffle cone, right Jim?

When it’s just him left with Dustin, Will and Mike, he sees he’s got a half hour until Billy will be there to pick him up, and fuck. He can’t focus on the three of them chattering about their next D&D campaign with the reminder of Nancy and Jonathan’s words suddenly echoing in his ears, the threat of his source of paranoia nearing and all the unwarranted suggestions of ‘what could be’ flooding back.

He’s spent the last few days trying not to think about it, even if Nancy’s been pestering him to just forget about it, it doesn’t mean anything, but then immediately contradicting herself by constantly bringing it up. Like she’s trying to turn his life into something cinematically romanticized, shot through some sunny yellow filter and viewed only through rose colored glasses.

Honestly, he’s kind of starting to hate that he brought the whole ‘sleepover’ fiasco up in the first place.

And it’s really just fucking weird that the ever so casual topic of Billy being ridiculous - as per usual - by invading his space had brought about all these suggestions about sexuality and feelings and messy shit that’s definitely like, terrifyingly semi-possible, in the first place. There’s too much evidence that supports the claim - Billy’s totally gay for you, Steve - but just enough to disprove it as well.

He feels stupid and fucked up; he should know better than to care this much, but he can’t help it. Give him an inch and he’ll go a mile.

It’s not the prospect that Billy could be into him that bothers him, but the possibility that if it is true, he was too stupid to see it and his obliviousness could ruin everything. That he’s been stealing glances and hasn’t been caught, but Billy gets an eyeful once in front of Nancy and he’s on the stand?

“Steve, oh my god, are you even listening?” Dustin snaps at him.

Steve jams his knee into the side of his desk in surprise. “Fuck, ow, sorry.”

“You can go, y’know,” Mike drawls then, looking down at his phone, “we’re not gonna do a campaign with you until Christmas break. You’re useless over the phone or on Discord.”

Steve scowls at the kid. It’s no wonder Nancy not-so-jokingly calls him ‘Wednesday Addams’ all the time. He’d think by this point Mike would’ve taken up skating with Max and started dealing shitty weed, maybe joined a bad grunge band with the brand of attitude he cops, but he’s still running around playing D&D every other weekend and watching cartoons with Holly and can only do two hits off the bong he hides under his bed before he’s reaching for his inhaler.

Straight edge, fucking sure.

“Don’t be an ass to Steve, it’s not his fault he needs coaching,” Dustin hisses. “Besides, at least he has fun.”

That part’s a little debatable — being yelled at by a bunch of teenagers because he didn’t use the right elemental strike against a Balor is not what he would call fun.

“We’ve been trying to teach him the gameplay for almost two years,” Mike deadpans, not looking up from his phone. “It’s not my fault he still doesn’t get it.”

Steve watches them quarrel for another minute, feeling rather offended and that maybe he should kick Mike’s ass, but at least he’s got Dustin playing his knight in shining armor and defending him valiantly while Mike jabs back like he’s bored. Poor Will, always stuck in the middle of an argument, sits smushed between the two of them looking annoyed as all shit, even mouths an ‘oh my god’ to Steve when Dustin nearly crawls over him to smack Mike in the back of the head.

“Guys, chill,” Steve groans. “I gotta go anyway. Don’t kill each other or Will in the meantime, please?”

“Thank you, Steve,” Will mumbles. He shoves Dustin off him with an uncharacteristic  scowl and flicks Mike in the nose for good measure, ignores Mike’s petulant ow, Will and the offended hand Dustin has dramatically pressed to his chest.

But Dustin immediately drops the act, smoothing out his hoodie. It’s grey with bold white print, advertising the college — one Steve brought back home as a gift last Christmas. He doesn’t even think Dustin’s going to go here but the kid’s too supportive of him to refuse any gifts.

Dustin grins at the webcam then, goes, “Have fun, dude.”

Mike snorts and throws out a peace sign as a semblance of a goodbye while Will waves, gets cut off by Dustin ending the call.

It helps a little, the normalcy the kids can provide him, but he’s still got close to a thirty minutes to kill before he’s tossed back into the pit of despair, probably about to fuck things up between him and Billy on accident and ruin a friendship he won’t value as much until Billy’s gone.

Fuck is Steve good at depressing himself.

Before Billy inevitably texts him from the parking lot that he’s arrived, Steve gets grilled about his jittering and shivering by Tyler. Tyler, who’s parked on the sofa with a notebook in his lap and his laptop on the coffee table, chugging a Rockstar he threw in a tumbler with six dollar raspberry syrup they bought from the grocery store. Steve figures he’s doing work stuff.

Guy’s a fucking tech whiz, is already getting paid for building websites and doing fancy coding. They got stoned one time back when they still shared a dorm room and Steve listened to Tyler ramble on about safely downloading torrents from pirating websites for a good hour and felt himself thrust into the blackjack scene from The Hangover. Tyler always talks to him about teaching him some stuff too, but Steve doesn’t have the grip or desire to indulge him.

The most Steve knows is that — i’s, b’s and u’s can be put between opposing angle brackets when the italics or bold or underline isn’t working, or use the control-slash-command key with ‘f’ on a web page when he’s too lazy to search for shit. The basics, really, stuff eleven year olds know. It has to drive Tyler fucking nuts.

“You sure you should be carpooling with Billy?” Tyler asks him, glasses sitting low on his nose. He glares at his screen and hits a key staccato fast four times, then seems placated. “Every time I go out with you guys, he drinks like a fucking animal. I’d rather you didn’t die flying through a windshield because he got blitzed off too many shots of tequila.”

Steve bites at a hangnail on his thumb and snorts. When he tugs it between his teeth to yank it off, it starts bleeding. The blood is thin and bright where it pools in the crevice of his nail bed.

“I’m not stupid enough to let him drive after a party, Ty. And I’m gonna steal his keys and phone the second he hops on the keg. Moron left his sister a weird voicemail last time and I think she’s traumatized.”

Tyler drags his gaze away from his computer and wrinkles his nose. Then he shoves his notebook onto a sofa cushion and then he’s in front of Steve, close like he’s missed something important. His glasses have smears across the lenses and his sweatshirt smells like clean laundry.

“Can I help you?” Steve questions, leaning back a little bit.

“Dude, something’s up with you. Like, ever since you went out with Nancy and Jonathan the other night, you’ve been all weird about shit.”

Steve thinks now he’s at least acting normal. He had a few minutes to walk laps around his room after Dustin, Mike and Will hung up on Discord in a semblance to calm down. It’s not like he’s going to get in Billy’s car and he’s immediately going to know about all these accusatory gay thoughts Nancy’s been intermittently spoon feeding him, but that’s what he’s been feeling in waves, low tides.

“It’s nothing,” Steve reasons, shrugging.

Tyler is too perceptive for his own good because he’s just looking at Steve like he’s a liar, which he kind of is given the context.

“You sure, man?” he asks, clapping an unsure hand on Steve’s shoulder. “You’ve just been really on the edge the last few days and I just wanna, y’know, make sure you’re actually doin’ okay.”

Steve thinks Tyler is definitely one of the best people he knows, always checking up on him and maybe babying him more than he deserves. Sees through lies and cuts the bullshit but knows when he shouldn’t be sticking his nose into things that aren’t any of his business. He’s two months younger than Steve but he’s really got this older brother thing down.

And it’s a good older brother thing, like Jonathan with Will — his reassuring glances and hugs with both arms and handpicked advice extends to everyone. Maybe it’s why they clicked so well off the bat; because other than Nancy and Jonathan and the kids Steve was an aching, deep down kind of lonely and Tyler immediately sensed that.

Steve nods at him. “Really, it’s nothing.”

He feels a little better when Tyler seems to take it in stride, or at leasts decides it’s best to drop it, and gives him a hug anyway, a goodbye worthy of a long journey rather than a few drunken hours out of the house.

Then Steve gets permission to eat the last of Tyler’s leftover Chipotle bowl and scarfs down the peppers and beans and wilted lettuce down with the greasy plastic fork that was still left in the container, like, he’d rather not be drinking on an empty stomach all night and he doesn’t know if he actually trusts a spread at a frat house. He’s picking corn kernels from his teeth with floss he found in the cutlery drawer when Billy texts him — ‘yo i’m outside’.

Steve might die before the night’s over but like, that’s fucking life, and does his best to push his worries into the backseat.

Throat tight, he’s lacing up his high tops and shrugging on a jacket - because nothing screams frat like faded sherpa denim, Jesus Christ - and throws a lazy wave over his shoulder as he closes the door.

It’s cold out, wet with the sharp bite of impending frost, but still a few degrees short of any snow sticking to the roads. Steve almost slips on the slick concrete steps as he jogs down to the tenant parking just outside the apartment, where Billy’s Camaro is parked crookedly in their neighbor’s empty spot. Even through the closed doors and rolled up windows, Steve can clearly hear Bruce Dickinson belting out the chorus to ‘2 Minutes To Midnight’.

Knowing Billy, he would’ve expected Kendrick or A$AP before getting blitzed but like, he’s obviously been proven otherwise.

It’s toasty inside the car at least, seemingly a good thirty degrees warmer than the brisk November air - more akin the warmth of a SoCal winter, maybe - as Steve slides into the passenger seat. Billy’s really blasting the heat and it nearly has Steve sweating as he clumsily shrugs his jacket off and buckles in. Billy regards him with a smirk and Steve meets him with what feels like a grimace — but he’s trying.

He sizes up Billy’s outfit, hardly weather appropriate. His penchant for indecency is as endearing as it is off-putting at times. Like, Steve’s already making eye contact with his nipples, dark and peaked and pressing against the thin fabric of his white button down, navel nearly visible as well, if not for the height of his jeans.

And then Billy’s hand is on his fucking thigh, hand warm over the denim, and he grins and squeezes, goes, “Fuckin’ ready, man?”

Forget about it, it's all bullshit; get wasted and fucking rage.

“Hell yeah,” Steve manages, trying to morph the weak look on his face into something more convincing.

Billy seems to believe it and that’s enough.

 


 

They make decent small talk in the car and Billy keeps glancing over him. Probably spends more of the short ride over looking at Steve than at the road. It’s not helping.

He tells himself it’s nothing, still avidly trying to push everything away. He kind of wishes Tyler was here, too, his own saving grace protecting him from Billy’s predatory blue eyes and sharp tongue, to keep him distracted.

“Harrington, you okay?” Billy asks once they’re parked. He has the interior light flicked on so he can see himself in the little mirror built into the sun visor, artfully scrunching up his curls and pulling that perfect singular ringlet into his eyes. He reaches into the side of the door and rubs something on his lips, smacks them like he’s just applied the most seductive shade of red he can find.

Steve watches him primp dumbly, swallowing hard.

Steve.”

“What, what?”

“Dude, seriously, are you okay? You’re spacey as fuck,” Billy says, turning to him just slightly as he rubs a thumb over his brows, “shit, did you take something before I got you? If you’ve got DMT or molly on you and didn’t bring me any I’m gonna be pissed.”

The moment splinters and Steve’s rolling his eyes, and everything is — it's fine? The imagined shift in the air has evaporated. There’s no asthmatic tightness in his chest, or ache in his knees like he’s standing cliffside. Billy is just Billy, brash and pushy and even flamboyant, and sometimes he looks a little too long. Sometimes Steve does it back but that’s just, that’s just how they are.

Steve loves how realization always hits him after he's been acting like a total fucking moron. It keeps shit real interesting.

“No, I didn’t take anything, Jesus. I’m just like, tired or whatever. And if you drunk-call Max again she’s going to kill me for not taking your phone.”

Billy stops his fussing and scowls at his reflection, then immediately goes all wide eyed.

“What the fuck did I say?”

“I dunno, something about some chick with big pretty eyes and getting mad that there’s never good E or something. But it was enough to weird her out and she’s probably gonna kick you in the dick for it when we go back for Thanksgiving.”

Billy grunts. “Don’t fuckin’ remind me.”

Steve knows Billy hates long breaks. Remembers that night when they met again, Spring Break that April, Billy freshly eighteen and his stomach sloshing with a cocktail of hard liquors, slurring in Steve’s ear that ‘anywhere’s fuckin’ better than back home’. He’s tried to push sober Billy for more information on that but is usually faced with being stonewalled or gets a flash of Billy snatching that kitchen plate up in slow motion, as he gets ordered to drop it, Harrington.

“Just warning you, I’m not responsible if she kicks your balls up into your stomach,” Steve says lightly, trying to lift the dark look off of Billy’s face. He smiles for good measure, knows it somehow softens Billy’s sharp edges.

So Billy snorts and shuts the sun visor, flicks off the interior light. “I think the real issue is — should I be worried that a goddamn Casanova like you is talking to my fifteen year old sister?”

And then Billy’s grinning at him again, wolfish and wide, pushes at his shoulder roughly.

Steve takes a moment to feel stupid, to realize how the icy grip of anxiety and suspicion clinging to him was his own fault. It’s partially Nancy’s fault as well, planting her speculations in his head and watering them, giving them room to grow. Had him stupidly on edge, distrustful, tying strings together on a conspiracy board to make mismatched point connect. Finding shapes in the clouds. Staring at a fuzzy image and then at a blank wall and swearing you can make Jesus’ face out in the stucco.

Absolutely batshit.

“Fuck, shit better be fuckin’ poppin’ off in there,” Billy says then, ducking down to look out the passenger side window.

They parked up the street and around the corner from the house, off the main strip of frats and sorority houses that slowly tapered off from group housing into a residential block probably filled with long suffering middle aged couples. There’s a few other cars with uni passes parked there as well, assuming other people were smart like them and put space between their vehicles and the house to avoid people breaking in and getting hot and heavy or puking in the backseats.

Or, y’know, getting the cops called on them.

“Shit started at seven, right? It’s probably in full swing now.”

Billy shrugs and unbuckles himself, gets out and stretches, immediately shivers. Steve follows suit but quickly shrugs his jacket back on while Billy’s remains abandoned in the car, slung over the driver’s seat.

The locks click and Billy’s circling round the front of the Camaro, burying his keys in his back pocket. Steve can say without a doubt that he looks good, even if he’s still making eye contact with Billy’s pert nipples and golden pendant and most of his bare stomach. Being appreciative, knowing full well why everything about Billy demands attention.

He really is such a slutty fuckboy; but he rocks it with such an admirable and unshakeable air of confidence. Meanwhile, Steve’s out here looking like a country club boy in borrowed clothes, giving civilian life a sample, or some shit — red flannel and black tee and faded skinnies, the canvas on his Converse fading, black going on green.

The white button down Billy’s sporting is stupidly short sleeved and hugging his biceps, is tucked into his jeans, the fabric thin enough that part of his godawful skull tattoo is visible when his muscles bulge. His jeans are tight and faded, belt thick and cinched around his waist, bringing attention right to his dick, which is cupped sinfully by the washed denim. Steve’s stomach gives a little flip when his gaze temporarily stops there.

His jeans are cuffed too, like Steve’s, except he’s got fucking Reebok Clubs on, white ones, and Steve really wishes he was more surprised that he is that he knows that. Billy’s got too much weird knowledge about streetwear - as does Tyler and it’s the one thing they can actually bond over - and he’s starting to infect Steve with it too.

Then Billy squints at him, goes, “Hold on.”

He’s real close all of a sudden, inspecting Steve carefully, and then his fingers are carding through Steve’s hair, kind of petting him all doglike, but then Billy licks a few of his fingers and ew Steve’s pushing him away, like, “Dude.”

Billy doesn’t care at all, just blocks his flapping hands with one arm. “Calm down Alfalfa, you’ve got a really bad cowlick,” he grunts.

Steve knows this and still makes an irritated noise in the back of his throat as he lets Billy finish, knowing his protests are futile. Huffs like a little kid when Billy’s smoothing down his collar and yanking his belt loops up with the ferocity of a power wedgie.

“Man, you are not my mom, let’s just go,” Steve argues, trying to get away from Billy’s fussing and fidgeting. It’s cold and wet out and Steve would rather not be caught by some stranger with Billy French-tucking his tee into his pants and telling him he looks schlumpfy when he lets his jeans fall a little because he doesn’t do his belt tight enough.

When Billy’s done, he’s grinning, unabashedly admiring his work as one hand goes to his lone shirt pocket and digs around for his Marlboros.

“There, now you’re gonna get even more bitches than before. You’re fucking welcome.”

Steve’s not sure if he’s that grateful after nearly being accosted in front of a house lined with innocent ceramic rabbits and toads and porcelain garden gnomes, but at least Billy’s done. He might have to redact his convincing it’s just Billy thoughts from a handful of minutes ago, though.

They share a cig during the course of the short walk to the house, passing it between each other haphazardly until Billy crushes it under heel at the edge of the house lawn and Steve was right, shit’s in full fucking gear now.

All the spotlights spread out across the front lawn are at full brightness, can probably be seen from space. There’s an active game of beer pong going on at the far edge of the lawn with teams of five on either end of the rickety old table and a group surrounding it, jeering and shouting and drunkenly leaning into one another.

There’s some girls, all unnaturally tan for how gray it’s been outside for the past month, standing on the walkway nursing red solo cups and gabbing away, showing each other something on one girl’s phone and acting scandalized about it. Billy winks at them as he passes and Steve catches all the girls watching him with hungry eyes.

Steve rolls his own as he follows Billy inside, where there’s people fucking everywhere.

It’s mostly dark in the open living area but there’s dim glow shifting from red and pink to purple and blue lighting up the edges of the room. Some Kodak Black remix is blasting through the room, bouncing off the walls and making everything feel stuffy, but the words are still magically discernible over the crowd littered over and around and on the provided furniture, a million conversations going off at once. There’s already abandoned cups sitting around the room as well, even more people sitting on the staircase leading up the bedrooms and littering the hallways, vulture-like in the dark.

Steve now highly doubts there was a list to get in in the first place and Billy must’ve made that shit up to make him feel special for getting fake invited. Dick.

“Yo, I’m gettin’ a drink, what d’you want?” Billy asks then, right up in his ear. His breath is warm and tickles the edge of Steve’s jaw.

“Beer I guess, or whatever. Don’t mix me anything though, I’ll need to get my stomach pumped.”

Billy elbows him in the ribs, tongue out. “Dick.”

He watches Billy shimmy past a few guys standing in the hallway leading to what must be the kitchen - Steve doesn’t know, he’d only been here one time previously when he had come with Billy and his roommate to pick something up - and stands there awkwardly in the middle of the entryway.

Shedding his jacket, he holds it awkwardly over one arm as he rolls his sleeves up, already too warm. Even with the front door open behind him, the interior is warmed by the sheer amount of body heat and smells overwhelmingly like freshly smoked hash and spilled beer.

Steve tries to pick out someone he knows from the crowd in front of him in the meantime, spots some girls he sits close to in his film lecture — Abbey, Chai, Pavneet. They’re standing in a huddle by the semi circle of sofas and Abbey, all purple hair and piercings, is leaning against the arm of one. They seem safe enough, looking bored rather than drunk, and Chai keep gesturing annoyedly over her shoulder to someone sitting behind them.

How did he used to do this? Charm his way into every group and individual in a crowded living room and play nice, be a total bro that would fucking fist bump or act like a gentle flirt that cupped girls’ cheeks when he kissed them? Being happily drunk the whole time made it easy so maybe he should do that — should track Billy down and stick by his side, throw a few back until he can’t feel his fingers and everything is tilt shifted fucking hysterical

Worming his way down the winding hallway where Billy disappeared, there’s a tug on his arm in an especially dark alcove right before the turn off into the gargatuan kitchen, the golden glow of it spilling out onto the waxes floor. Steve squawks loudly, is ready to fight if he has to, but when he sees who’s just taken years off his life in fight he’s ready to fight in a different way, because it’s fucking Jonathan.

“Calm down, it’s me!” Jonathan actually laughs, drink in hand.

Nancy’s not with him, but there’s a girl Steve vaguely recognizes from high school there, Samantha, looking nearly identical how she did pre-graduation. The only thing is her hair’s noticeably less teased and her makeup isn’t as dramatic, but now she’s got these heavy glass hoops hanging from her stretched lobes and a something spiked sticking out above her top lip.

A little less Siouxsie and the Banshees, a little more Pale Waves.

She manages a half-hearted wave - although Steve doesn’t even think she really knows or cares about his presence - and looks down at her phone, filled plastic cup in hand.

“What are you doing here?” Steve whisper-shouts, sidling up against the wall next to him. He nearly knocks a plaque off, only to find the whole hallway is covered with wooden plaques and hanging glass cases and portraits, group photographs pressed onto glossy slabs and hung in cherry frames.

Jonathan looks close to offended at him and crosses his arms over his chest. “Nice to see you too, man. Apparently you forgot I know Danny too, because he also got me invited.”

Invited, fucking sure.

“I know you know Danny too,” Steve grouses, kind of annoyed, “I meant ‘what are you doing here’ as in ‘you never come out, why are you at this party, I know you hate frats’?”

“I’m on a covert mission to keep you from doing anything stupid tonight.”

Alright, maybe Steve needs some better friends, because rude.

“What exactly do you think I’m going to do?”

Jonathan flatly says, “I think you know.”

And Steve, he doesn’t like that, elitist guessing game. Reminds him too much of his dad and the evenings he’d call him into his home office, ask him why he was called into attendance. Because you fucking asked me to come here? was always the truthful answer as much as it was the wrong answer. Jonathan’s not going to talk to him like done something wrong and too stupid to know what, but the tone still leaves a bitter taste in Steve’s mouth.

“Jon, I came out to have a good time, I don’t wanna play guessing games with you.”

Jonathan rolls his eyes, sips off his cup. “I know you’ve been freaking out about what Nance and I were talking to you about and I know you’ve been way too in your head about it and might do something you’re gonna regret later because of it.”

Steve snorts. “I kind of realized it was - and no offense - absolute bullshit? Like yeah, at first I was freaked thinking something was going on, like both of you actually knew something was going on and was gonna happen, I’m not gonna lie, but then I really thought about it for a sec and, y’know, bullshit.”

Still, Steve hates the word - No, you, you’re bullshit; you’re pretending like everything is okay, like it’s great, like we’re in love - but there’s nothing that drives the point home better than utilizing it. Bending it to his will.

Taking what makes you weak and using it as a weapon.

Jonathan’s looking at him a little embarrassed, maybe a little guilty, knowing what they said would do but figuring it’d be smart to bring it up anyway. If it had been anything outside the realm of feelings, Steve would’ve brushed it off from the get-go, but anything in that department sets his teeth on edge, makes his gut swoop with unease.

Let someone have you fully and they’ll fucking ruin you, I opened myself to love, I was hurt badly, so I closed up again —

“Nancy only brought it up because she thought you knew, though,” Jonathan reasons, unmistakably shy sounding, “I mean, not know, but at least noticed shit, and were maybe ignoring something that could be, like, good for you? I mean, to be totally honest, I’m not with Nance on everything she said. I don’t think she should’ve brought it up at all.”

Then why pretend in the first place? Quit while you’re ahead? Steve kind of hates this high school bullshit, this he said she said because so and so saw x and y doing blank on Friday night. It’s too goddamn messy and leads to nowhere but confusion and unnecessary theatrics.

Like this.

“Why’d you play along then, if you didn’t even believe her?”

Jonathan shrugs like he’s unsure and flattens himself up against the wall a little more so a hollering group of the brothers can scurry past them to the kitchen. They’re obviously drunk and one of them nearly bowls Steve over when he trips, cackling as he does so.

And like, is Billy still in the kitchen? Steve kind of wants his beer now. It would make this a little more palatable, easier to swallow and keep down. Give him an escape if anything. He wants to get wasted now.

“You know how she is,” and Steve does, has been the target of her persuasiveness and stubbornness numerous times, “she sticks to her guns. She’d been so sure and wouldn’t stop bringing it up so I kinda dared her to say something if she was so stuck on the idea of something going on between you two. I just didn’t thinks she’d do it.”

Steve does a double take at that. “Wait, does that mean Nance thinks I have the hots for Billy too?”

Jonathan doesn’t seem all that scandalized at the proclamation but he’s always been good at being a true neutral, maybe lawful neutral more than that. The chaotic only slips out when worst comes to worst.

“Man, unless something’s actually going on, I really don’t think you need to worry about what Nancy thinks about either of you,” Jonathan tells him, appearing menacingly unbothered again, “it’s not her business either way, but because I know you trust Nance’s word a lot, just because she thinks something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s just her opinion, right?”

“Right?” Steve responds, a little weakly.

“Then you have nothing to worry about. You guys have a weird past too, like yeah, you and I didn’t always get along, we were dicks, we fought, but it’s nothing like what went on with you two. You’ve got a different relationship than most people so like, whatever works, I guess.”

Steve’s fingers inadvertently find the scar hiding along his hairline. “I was a bigger dick to you, though, and we fought because I was being an asshole. I deserved that shiner.”

Jonathan’s eyes find the thin white ripple just visible behind his bangs and he shrugs one shoulder. Sucks on his teeth.

“Still, I just wanna drive the point home. When it comes to you and Billy, don’t listen to everything Nancy says. Unless something bad happens or like, you think something’s up, don’t worry about her. She’s gonna be on this kick for awhile and it’s not gonna do you any good, freaking over shit that’s not even happening.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get you,” Steve says, feeling somewhat better. Not like he’s standing on the outside anymore, the last to know some obvious secret. “I just get too in my head sometimes, drives me fuckin’ nuts.”

Jonathan nods and bumps their elbows together. “Me too, man. But fuck, at least Nance doesn’t thinks something’s going on between us.”

The idea is kind of horrific, Steve thinks, at least at this point in their lives. He can get the high tension thing they used to have, has seen Nancy swoon over heated looks and innuendo-filled banter while they marathoned ‘Teen Wolf’ and ‘Supernatural’ reruns ages ago.

Steve snickers, “Christ, can you imagine?”

“I’d rather not, to be honest,” Jonathan smirks, and then they’re both bursting out in laugher, leaning into each other sides and Jonathan almost spills the remainder of his beer on the floor.

“Come with me to get a beer?” Steve asks then, a little breathless. “I think Billy got distracted.”

Jonathan nods and gestures towards the kitchen, stays close behind him as they round the corner.

Steve feels a thousand times lighter then, kind of wants to text Nancy that Jonathan’s on his side and she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, that, this is flip side to an old conversation that they once had and she’s imagining things here, neener neener.

Him and Billy, they’re just different. Steve hasn’t known anyone like him before now. He’s probably the most real person Steve’s met, all brash and unapologetic, bottled up chaotic energy, but also sincerely honest, always walking on glass in the brief moments of vulnerability Steve’s witnessed firsthand. Really, Steve can’t imagine being friends with anyone else that smashed a plate over his head and gave him a black eye so bad he couldn’t open it for two days after; their off-beat dynamic just works.

Maybe he’s a sadist like that — seeing Billy’s backhanded comments and elbow jabs akin to good company. Any offered kindness a kiss with a fist.

He doesn’t know how he’s meant to act around Billy anyway. Nancy can take the way Billy will throw his legs over his lap when they’re sharing the sofa and the way Billy will eat off his plate and the way he climbs into Steve’s bed when he’s cold in the living room as something more, as subtle intimacies or romantic gestures or fucking whatever, but at this point, as long as Steve’s concerned, it’s just how they are.

Feeling unwound, loose in his shoulders and spine, they make their way into the kitchen, where everything has devolved - evolved? - into a shit show.

Like, it’s fucking Jumanji in here.

It’s much more packed than Steve would’ve thought and miraculously quieter just because of the spread laid out on the island countertop set in the center of the room, which everyone is taking turns grazing on, rhinos and gazelles and hippos leaning over the watering hole. There’s boxes upon greasy boxes of pizza stacked at one end of the island, while miscellaneous chip bags lay torn open and littered in mixed veggie trays and spilled cups and napkins are dumped amongst a rainbow assortment of booze bottles. 

There’s more junk food spread out along the counters, smashed cupcakes and crumbled brownies and broken Tollhouse cookies with the frosting smeared, whipped icy blue and topped with snowflake sprinkles. A myriad of dips sit with their lids tilted off, some with broken chips lodged inside and others with the insides politely scooped out.

It’s a hazardous waste zone. Looks like you might catch something if you steal even a corner of a chip. Steve would rather not spend the next forty eight hours puking up old Chipotle and beer and whatever he gets his hands on here if he’s given the chance.

Luckily though, Billy’s actually here still. He’s stuck between Danny and Danny’s cousin Jack by the back door. Danny, Steve likes enough; he’s got a girlfriend in Chicago and shared his Steam library with Steve when Dustin wanted to co-op with him on Portal and he didn’t have the game. 

Jack though, Steve has a reasonable distaste for. Tonight the fucker’s wearing a crisp white polo with the collar popped and khaki pants and Steve kind of wants to throw some Doritos at him — what a fucking douche. He’s even got his diamond earrings in.

Fuck Doritos, he should dump a beer over his head.

The reason why Steve dislikes the guy? He makes it his business to attend every party and ‘gathering’ on and off-campus and goads Billy and their friends to do the stupidest shit, then will leave them puking in the street when he’s been the one siphoning Fireball down their throats all night. Will hit on the girls they’ve spent all night wooing and shit-talk his supposed ‘buddies’ if it’ll get his dick wet. 

Billy’s a particularly good target with his competitive bro nature and resilience, I ain’t no fuckin’ pussy. Sure, he’ll get blitzed enough without a guiding hand pouring shots down his throat and sprinkling lime and salt on a girl’s stomach for him to lick up, but Jack is nothing if not a grade-A asshole. He’ll get Billy wasted until he’s blackout and should have his stomach pumped, constantly offer him blow and a rainbow assortment of tablets he keeps in a seven day pill planner, no matter how many ‘no’s’ he gets.

That's why Steve hates him; he's a manipulative douche with no concern for anyone else's wellbeing - like how is Danny alive? They grew up together - and Billy just, Billy probably put-off by the imaginary competition between the two of them, not the actual problem at hand.

Jonathan audibly grumbles behind him upon witnessing Jack as well - probably not in the mood to get talked into cheating on Nancy tonight - and squeezes past some guys trying to carefully pick some soggy tortilla chips out of a veggie tray to get to the keg - one of many, Steve assumes, knowing there has to be at least one in the basement and one in the backyard as well - and get Steve his much deserved drink.

Steve stays tucked into the corner out of harm’s way, ready to get loose with something fruit flavored and too sweet, to start. He’s feeling good enough know that he might upload his end of the bargain he set up with Billy in the library and find someone that he can lead upstairs for a quick, hot roll in someone else’s sheets.

While trying to concoct his battle plan - and watching Jonathan get trapped at one end of the kitchen, looking hopeless with two preoccupied hands - there’s a quiet “excuse me,” from behind him then and a short girl shimmies past him, hand grazing his back gently, to sidle up next to Billy. She barely comes up to his shoulder and she’s cute, dark skin and bright red eyeshadow to match the cut up top she’s wearing, braids tight and long where they fall over her shoulders, cleavage perfectly visible from where Billy’s standing.

Billy doesn’t verbally acknowledge her though. He hasn’t acknowledged Steve either, despite the fact that they’re in the same room and they came to this kick back together, but he does physically show the girl he’s aware of her. He drops a hand down her back, fingers visible over her ribs and close to her tits. His fingers stroke a little, subtle and not like he’s avidly trying to cop a feel — just a friendly presence.

It makes Steve feel nauseous, car sick, when she leans into his chest and rests her perfectly manicured fingers over the area exposed by the lack of done-up buttons on his shirt. Steve clutches the denim of his jacket, still draped over one arm. He doesn’t like the way his gut twists out of fucking nowhere but luckily Jonathan’s suddenly right there with his beer.

Especially because that feeling? It’s not new. Before it was just a wave of ugh, gross, knowing what was going to happen next, but now it’s definitely a sharp feeling of sticky revulsion, acidic in his throat and hard to miss.

“Let’s chill somewhere else,” Steve decides then, taking the cup without looking and almost knocking it out of Jonathan’s hand, “it’s too crowded in here.”

 


 

Steve doesn’t know how much time has passed since he got here but he feels fucking great.

His veins are warm with a nips of whiskey and his head is still swimming from being up on the keg stand but he feels good, feels electric and dizzy and loose. The girl leaning back against his chest, Hannah, smells something gourmand, cinnamon in her hair and candied liquor on her breath when she tips her head back to kiss him. Her ass is moving sinfully against his hips and he can only hold her close as she rocks back against him, aching for more pressure.

The music hits his ears through a cotton filter, too high off sensation to really concentrate on the lyrics. He vaguely thinks it’s something by Tyga but he doesn’t know for sure; he’s too busy sampling the remnants of cotton candy vodka on Hannah’s tongue and chubbing up against her like some fucking sixteen year old.

There’s a hand on his shoulder then and Steve halts Hannah’s hips to a subtle roll, opens his eyes to see Jonathan there looking a little pink cheeked, not quite looking him in the eye.

“Wha’s up?” Steve nearly shouts, leaning in close and grinning. Jonathan smells like spruce candles and some clean water cologne.

“Sam and I are gonna go smoke and then Nancy’s gonna come pick us up, you gonna stay?”

Steve nods but it’s more of a roll of his head. “You go ahead man, I’ll like, call you or something if Billy’s too wasted.”

Jonathan gives his shoulder a curt rub and then Steve’s watching him wade through the sea of gyrating bodies behind Samantha, who raises her arms above her head as she parts the masses.

Hannah’s turning around then, her red hair gleaming purple and pink and indigo under the rotating disco lamp and violet lighting overhead. Her arms wrap around his neck and she’s laughing. Nosing up the crook of his neck and shoulder. Steve grasps at her waist hungrily as one hand snakes down into the back pocket of her jeans.

“This okay?” he says, maybe too loud.

Hannah nods and then she’s leaning in close, lips pressed to his ear, goes, “Wanna find somewhere more quiet?”

He’s kind of comfortable if he’s honest, could move this to a couch before he decides if he actually wants to follow through all the way. Feels a little too lazy to find an actual bed and could, really, if he was that gross, get his cock out down here like some sick voyeur, but he won’t.

Like, from where they are now, he can make out a couple avidly fucking against the far wall, partially tucked in the dark, the guy with his fly likely undone and the girl with her plaid skirt noticeably tucked up and panties probably pulled to the slide by his greedy fingers.  There’s two girls there as well, next to a closet door, one with her hand up the other’s shirt, giving her tit a good grope as she kisses her neck.

Some bros catch them getting hot and heavy and start whistling, which just causes the girl getting sweetly serviced to throw up a middle finger and drag her nails through the other girl’s short hair.

Steve nods anyway though, leads Hannah by the hand to an unoccupied armchair moved to the wall behind them, littered with old photographs and framed by most of the room’s furniture. No one’s really loitering there but there are two boys sitting a few feet off from the chair. They’re frenching on the floor next to a used bong.

Sidling into the chair, Steve pats his lap, practiced and kind of gross, all come to daddy, baby, but Hannah doesn’t seem to mind as she settles down, jeans high-waisted and tight over her thighs. Her fingers tangle in his hair and she’s immediately on his mouth, licking into it, her septum ring brushing just under his nose.

Steve closes his eyes and just lets it happen - one hand on her ass, the other holding her waist - as she hums greedily against his lips. She moves a little, trying to tease him by grinding down against his crotch with the slightest pressure, and bites into his bottom lip.

He’s greedy and fucks his hips up, trying to find more, fingers traveling north until they’re sitting on her ribcage, daring to slip under the mesh top she’s wearing and fiddle with her bra, when he feels like they’re being focused on, and is compelled to open his eyes.

The music is quieter where they’re sitting, quiet enough that he can hear a familiar excuse me from his left side. The girl Billy was with earlier is suddenly storming past them, really fuming, muttering what Steve thinks is Billy’s name and followed by fucking nerve or something.

Hannah must sense he’s distracted because she pulls back, brows wrinkled, and smooths some of her hair out of her face.

“What’s up?”

“Oh uh,” Steve swallows, “nothing. Some girl was with my friend earlier and I think he blew her off. Just walked by.”

Hannah turns in his lap, peering out over the huddle of people just in front of them. “Oh, Cammie? She’s in my hall, been trying to get laid for a few weeks so she’s been dragging me with her to every party and social on campus. Her boyfriend broke up with her right before Halloween and she’s like, close to begging for dick.”

Steve grimaces. “Yikes.” And then, "I mean, that's shitty; I hope she gets some, at least?"

“Eric was a total twat. Was definitely cheating on her. He’s out in Philly doing sniff off sorority girls every night. She deserves better.”

Steve nods, distracted. What is she doing down here? He almost never catches Billy leaving without arm candy unless they come together like this, but they’ve been separated for an hour - or two? Steve doesn’t know what time it is and he’s not about to check his phone - and that usually means Billy makes an exception and carts both them and his girl home.

Hannah’s smoothing his bangs out of his face then, seemingly concerned. “Something wrong?”

“Billy usually doesn’t ditch girls like that, like, ever.”

“You think something’s wrong? I mean he must’ve done something really wrong if Cammie just ditched him,” Hannah giggles.

Steve doesn’t really like the insinuation there but he wouldn’t be surprised if Billy like, said something obviously insensitive and let her storm off; that’s probably what happened.

“I dunno, it’s just weird. He’s got a reputation for being a dick but he never does anything like, y’know bad with girls he’s hooked up with.”

He’ll love ‘em and leave ‘em, says he’ll text them but never saves their number, has definitely got slapped once or twice for ditching girls for their friends or for kicking them out once he’s satisfied, but he’s not some dominating, misogynist asshole with all the grotesque insinuations implied.

Hannah frowns down at him and drops her hands to his shoulders, pouts, “You gonna go check up on him?”

Like Hannah’s here for it and that’s, that’s stellar, but something has him feeling off and it’s not characteristic of Billy not to, well, pull at a party like this. Even when there’s just a group of them in someone’s dorm, Billy will get lead off to a closet or a co-ed bathroom by a girl at some point.  Steve’s got his spider senses tingling and can’t in good company get his any bit of himself in Hannah’s pussy or mouth if Billy’s off his game for the first time in his life.

Maybe that’s sad.

It’s dumb and is definitely going to sound like an excuse to Hannah that he’s too much of a pansy to fuck her but he does worry about Billy a lot more than he’s willing to admit, and this is going to be the one time where he’s not, because he thinks Hannah’s nice enough to let him go without posting on Instagram that this guy Steve she tried to hook up with has a small dick, out of revenge.

If anything, it turns out to be nothing and he gets mad for ten seconds before he tracks down Hannah again, apologizes and gets an Uber for them and takes her back to his or sneaks into her dorm room after petting over her panties in the backseat of their ride.

But then, peering around Hannah’s tattooed shoulder, he sees Cammie talking to this guy and she’s grabbing his arm, dragging him straight through the crowd to cut back upstairs, and sees that she’s nabbed Jack as if that isn’t Billy’s worst fucking nightmare come to life.

Like holy shit that’s gotta sting, a solid right kick to the fucking balls.

(To be fair, Jack was this chick’s second choice, but now he’s got a scapegoat — gotta tell my bro that he fucked up this pull and some douche he kinda hates is going to fuck his girl.)

Steve mutters an excuse to Hannah, tells her he’ll come back and find her because it’s probably no big deal while he’s kissing her one last time, slowly sliding her out of his lap. She gives his cock, at half attention, a decently kind grope as he sets off, stumbling over himself a little and willing his dick to calm down before he finds Billy.

 


 

Eventually he finds himself - and Billy - in the backyard, and his short journey there was fucking rough.

He’d wandered around the living room a little aimlessly, stood up on an ottoman to try and scope out Billy’s unmistakable trademark curls to no avail. And when he got frustrated, he headed down the alumni hall, opened all the hall closets and meeting rooms and even the laundry room to find everything but Billy, including who he’d assumed to be two house members making out against the washing machine, their lips glistening with spit when they’d spotted him with wild, blown out eyes.

Then Steve wormed his way up the staircase to the second floor, to the technical off-limits area, and tossed all his country club cotillion manners to the back of his mind, opened any unlocked doors and got an eyeful or two — a group of white girls with dreadlocks doing blow off another white girl’s tits on the carpeted floor while two guys in Baja jackets sat on the bed and cut up the next hit with a razor, a trio of androgynous individuals shotgunning off each other while half undressed in someone else’s bed, then, worst of all, fucking Jack nailing that Cammie girl doggystyle in what was assumedly his own bedroom. 

When Steve had opened the door, Jack had said his name so excitedly, like he was fucking welcome to watch or join in or something. He was unrelenting his jackhammer pace, one hand cupping Cammie’s bare tits while he dragged her back against him by one hip. Their clothes were sitting in a pile at the end of the bed - Steve very clearly can still make out the neon pink of her bra sitting on the top - and it had definitely already scarred for life but at least they were facing the door.

Steve didn’t think he was strong enough to get an eyeful of anyone’s taint and balls outside of a situation he was involved in himself, or maybe during porn.

And like, despite everything, good for Cammie, seeing as how she was gripping the duvet for dear life and had one of her hands pressed back between her legs, jerking rapidly, as she openly moaned into her bent forearm.

After taking in that scene for half a second though, Steve had tried to look everywhere but directly at them, tempted to just slam the door and hunt down some bleach first to cleanse that image from his memory.

“Hey man, uh, sorry, but d’you know where Billy went?”

Fuck uh, I saw him for like, mm, t-two seconds before we came up here, was getting another beer, shit.” Jack’s pacing had stuttered a second and Cammie grunted in frustration under him.

Before Jack tried to add anything else to that though, Steve was offering a wave for a thanks and was closing the door behind him, locking it from the inside out of courtesy for whatever other poor bystander witnesses that scene while searching for a friend or an empty room of their own to exploit.

“Fucking, Jesus,” he had swore, rubbing hard at his eyes until he was seeing green mandalas and swirls of purple smoke. At that point if he had found Billy, he would’ve asked him to pour some Grey Goose directly into his corneas.

He really didn’t feel like doing another lap to find out he’d been left behind, and because it was too hot in the house, overcooking his slightly booze-addled brain, he slipped into the backyard through the door in the trashed kitchen, nearly stepping in a box of half eaten pizza on the ground in the process, to get some fresh air.

Now outside, Steve shivers. It’s beyond frigid out, definitely cold enough for any snow to fall now. There’s a prickly film of frost on the lawn, stretching out ahead of him in full darkness, some abandoned cups and bottles sitting on the ground near the covered pool. Luckily there’s heated lamps tucked under the veranda hooked over a good stretch of the patio and a few empty folding chairs.

And in the only occupied seat, to Steve’s relief, is Billy.

He’s got his legs out long in front of him, slouching, too lazy to pop the foot rest out, has his eyes fixated on his phone and a beer bottle resting haphazardly in his hand. The two lamps he’s tucked between are on full blast and the patio light flicked on behind him is too reminiscent of the previous weekend. They’re the only ones out here now and it makes everything louder, even if the music inside is audible through the walls.

Steve approaches him cautiously, timid, as if Billy will spook deer-like if he moves in too fast. Didn’t really rehearse what to say either. Asking him if he’s okay because he bailed on some hot chick sounds a little too gay for Billy’s tastes.

“Hey man,” Billy says instead, beating him out. He’s still looking down at his phone though.

Steve gives him a nod and settles into the chair next to him. He watches for a moment, cautious, before settling on what he thinks is the right thing to say. “Y’know, Jack got your girl,” seems fitting enough.

Billy snorts and sets his phone face-down onto his leg. His shirt’s completely open and untucked now and Steve thinks about how cold he would be, even if it’s sweltering under the lamp. The warmth traps them in a bubble and puts an invisible barrier between them and the frigidness of thirty degrees Fahrenheit and dropping.

“That was exactly what you said wouldn’t happen, right?” Steve adds, smirking coyly.

“It’s,” Billy makes a flippant hand motion, “fuckin’ whatever. Wasn’t feeling her after awhile anyway. I was gonna take her back with me if she wasn’t trying so goddamn hard to jump on my dick.”

That kind of sounds like bullshit but Steve’s not going to say that. He nods along in agreement and rests his hands on his stomach and slinks down in his seat. Lets the warmth from the lamp keep him good and cozy, reaches between them for one of two uncapped beer bottles Billy had probably drug out with him. The bottles are cold but not icy damp - he probably snatched them from the fridge simply because he could, because he doesn’t care that that’s not what you’re supposed to do.

Steve pops one of the metal caps on the arm rest of the chair, tips it back. He takes a few hearty gulps, watery and light, before he wets his lips, turns to Billy.

It could be the remaining booze tickling his curiosity or the unmistakable dip in his stomach that came from the state of Billy’s undress - and maybe the booze as well, okay - but he feels a little adventurous.

“Is that really why you weren’t feeling her?” he asks suddenly, testy and teasing.

Billy regards him then. He’s squinting a little but he doesn’t seem mad; rather he seems intrigued. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Steve shrugs and presses his lips to the bottle again.

“You might wanna drink some water, Harrington, I think all that shit is goin’ to your pretty little head.”

I think you’re deflecting, Hargrove.”

Billy’s a stone wall. “I just wasn’t as into her as I thought, that a fuckin’ crime?”

“All I’m saying is, it’s not like you. Always got some fuckin’ hottie with a nice rack or thick ass with you and you just blow this chick off?”

It’s awfully vulgar of him to say - Nancy would smack his arm and call him a ‘gross misogynist’ but he’s just playing to Billy’s own choice words - and he might be begging to get smacked or something now but it’s fun, seeing Billy concerned and not just buying into it or bantering with him as per usual.

Steve waits for a reply and realizes, maybe, it’s not the alcohol piloting him.

Billy bends himself in half, hands touching the cool ground, and scowls, peers up at Steve’s face with this dumb squinty look on his face. “Man, what is up with you tonight? Are you on something? Did you get roofied? Swear to god, you’re acting super fucking weird.”

He’s deflecting. Steve’s undeterred. He’s going to poke the fucking bear here, he’s going to fucking spear him just for kicks and he’s going to get what’s coming to him, teeth and claws tearing him to ribbons —

“I’ve had a weird couple of days, dude.”

“You don’t fucking say,” Billy says, as if he wants him to expand on that.

Steve eyes him for a moment, just watches Billy raise his brows and gesture towards him with bottle, well, go on then.

“Just some dumb shit Nancy said to me, y’know, got to my head. Made me freak out over nothing.”

Billy scowls at the mentions of Nancy; as much as he protests and says he doesn’t have a real problem with her, he won’t back down from the challenge of talking about her in the third person with his voice hard and laugh cruel, any mention of her as the subject met with obvious backhanded compliments. Steve will sometimes insist it’s because Billy’s still pissed about what she did back on that Halloween and he’s secretly very spiteful when it comes to love lost, but he’d been like that even before they’d become friends. It’s something else about her that makes his toothy grins twist into something truly unpleasant — predatory and less Cheshire.

Princess Wheeler, high school Billy would sigh and snark, her cunt as uptight as her morals? and then make some lewd comment on how both were loose, seeing as how easily she skipped from King Steve to social reject Byers.

Now he’s kinder, will play nice to her face, but anything Steve says about her when she’s not there, it earns a Cheshire smile and nit-picky comments on everything from what color she’s painted her nails to her major.

Billy saves his smart ass remarks for later though, as he stays quiet and reaches over to the opposite side of his chair and is suddenly pressing a water bottle to Steve’s chest, wet with melted ice. “It sounds like you need a doctor or something, amigo, that shit can’t be healthy.”

“Why do you think I’m on pills, huh?” Steve jokes, but also not really. He uncaps the water bottle and downs what he can, half of it frozen solid and warping the plastic. “‘Sides, she thought it was gonna do be some good but, nope.” Steve pops that last ‘p’ like bubblegum.

Billy hums in seeming agreement and sits up straighter. He’s looking at Steve then, partially twisted in his chair with a far-off glaze to his eyes. It should maybe bother Steve, the quiet between them, as someone who’s spent most of his life filling in the moments of silence that come with a traveling businessman father and distrustful, wine-tipsy mother. He’ll take a comfortable silence over empty, foreboding silence any day.

The wind whistles overhead and Steve briefly shivers, crossing his arms as he looks back, half-smiling comfortably, to find Billy’s still staring at him.

Billy is always looking, but it’s this particular time that Steve’s at unease trying to decode what it is he’s looking for. Sometimes he’ll stare back in the form of a challenge and Billy will punch him all friendly and ask him what the fuck he wants, but other times he’ll turn fast enough to get whiplash and act like he’s never seen Steve in his life.

It’s been a weird couple of days, so —

“What?” Steve asks, maybe a little too loud for the silence of the backyard.

“Y’know, you’re like,” and Billy rolls his eyes, shrugs all noncommittal, “hot and shit.”

Steve blinks at him a little stupidly in the low light. So yeah, okay, that just happened. He’s more than used to the commentary on how he dresses and does his hair, what jacket he pairs with what shoes and why his hair smells like piña colada some days, but it’s always capped off with some comment on how it relates to getting bitches.

So Billy dropping that so blatantly? Fuck.

He’s blunt in his insults and nasty with his punches but his compliments come as gently and as subtly as the start of snowfall. They’re always just partially there, shared in passing and blanketed with a kind of or whatever, to soften the blow and make you wonder if he actually means it.

And using the word ‘hot’ as well, instead of teasing him with the ever common ‘pretty boy’ or anything with a more feminine connotation — Steve doesn’t know what to do with that except feel something bubbling up in the pit of his stomach, sparkling like Coke.

Voice high and tight, Steve again asks, “What?”

Billy doesn’t seem put off by his shock in the slightest. “What? I’m just saying.”

“Yeah I get that, I mean like, what the fuck, and uh, since when?”

Billy squints at him and opens his own water bottle. Condensation trickles down his fingertips. “Look in the mirror at all recently? Or for the last nineteen years of your life?”

Steve’s more than off-put by this newfound nonchalance over something Billy would have called really gay maybe like, ten minutes ago? He doesn’t know where to go from here.

“Are you fucking with me right now or did you seriously just tell me you think I’m hot?”

“I’ve got eyes, Harrington,” Billy replies, not quite answering the question.
But isn’t that fucking peachy and a little terrifying — Steve’s own argument to Nancy the other night being boomeranged right back at him. At least it means he wasn’t wrong.

Taking a good swig off his water, Steve swallows thickly and presses, “Is this a no homo ‘you’re hot’ that you’re gonna deny later, or a ‘you’re my friend but btw you’re hot’, because…”

“Because what, Harrington?”

“Because there’s a difference between the two?” Steve grumbles, like Billy’s dumb. “And I don’t think you’ve ever said something like that to me before, so I kinda want to make sure I’m getting the right message here.”

And Billy’s rolling his eyes stonewalling him again, says, “It is what it is — I’ve got eyes and you’re hot. It’s simple. Two plus two makes four, you get it?”

Steve’s not sure he does. This all coming from left field and he’s just been knocked upside the head because he was picking clovers instead of manning the bases. Is Billy dying? Like when would he ever be genuine with affection or compliments, even in this form?

“Are you dying or something? Did someone drug you? I just wanna know why you thought you’d tell me this now.”

Billy kicks the side of his chair hard enough that it threatens to topple over but Steve’s smart, plant your feet, and drops his weight down, then grips onto the arm of Billy’s chair so if he does go down, Billy’s coming with him.

“Because I felt like it?” Billy snarks, trying to pry Steve’s fingers off his arm rest one by one. “It would’ve been really gay to be like, ‘oh thanks for letting me crash in your bed, also did you know you’re hot’? So, ta-fuckin’-dah, I’m doing it here instead.”

Steve’s still shooting him this disbelieving look. He must’ve passed out at some point and now he’s having some fever dream birthed by hypothermia or alcohol poisoning or something because there is no way in hell that Billy Hargrove is completely chill with letting him know he’s hot after some girl was groping his tits one or two hours ago - Steve really has no concept of time, like he should maybe check his watch or phone now - in front of god and the biggest, douchiest enabler Steve’s met next to ex-best friend Tommy Hall.

“You’re not having some secret gay crisis, are you?” Steve asks lowly. He leans away for good measure as well, just to save himself some time before Billy’s knuckles collide with his right cheek for even insinuating such a thing.

It’s a genuinely smart question; Billy’s hyper-masculinity would’ve made the declaration impossible before tonight, sober or blitzed off his mind, so hearing it from a mostly sober Billy Hargrove? Has him feeling stuck in the Twilight Zone.

Billy kicks his chair again and this time Steve goes down but he manages to catch himself before he pancakes out onto the ground. His palm scuffs on cold, chalky concrete as he pushes himself upright. He scoots his chair a few inches away for the sake of safety as well.

“I’m not having a gay crisis, Jesus Christ,” Billy groans, head tipped back because he’s all theatrics, “I’m just saying, is that a crime? You’re my friend, dude. You’re like, bang-ably fuckin’ hot and you’ve been all mopey lately and I thought maybe you needed an ego boost, or something.”

Billy’s tripping over himself in the end, cherry cheeked and eyes downcast, but Steve will do him the favor of not reading into that all that much now. It’s obviously some kind of excuse, not his real intention here, but if Billy was going to be flat-out and practically call him fuckable from the get-go and not consider all of Steve’s possible reactions,  well, it’s pretty fucking stupid of him to not have some semblance of an excuse for ‘what’ and ‘why’.

Like, could Billy not have thought it out better? If Steve was going to do something ballsy like that, he’d at least make an ass out of himself by being unabashedly honest; because it’s the truth and I’d think so even if I wasn’t bi, because you should know everyone including me thinks so, because I wanna suck your dick

“Alright,” Steve says, because that’s the safest option here.

In the house, the music in the living room has been switched to some blaring EDM, is a bass-heavy, muted buzz behind them. The wind rushes the trees guarding the edges of the yard and the heat lamps crackle overhead. It’s a misplaced sort of peaceful.

“You wanna get out of here?” Billy asks then. He stretches out catlike and his neck audibly cracks. “We should get shitty diner food for breakfast tomorrow, fuck, I’d fuckin’ kill for a Denny's grand slam right now.”

And like that, Billy’s put everything back where it belongs and is trying to make everything abnormally normal again.

Steve says, “Sure, man,” because it’s the most fitting thing to say, even though the realization of what’s just transpired is sinking down into his bones and making his marrow burn hot in cognizance.

Billy thinks he’s hot? Billy thinks he’s hot and he’s not, at least to Steve, embarrassed about it. Maybe embarrassed about the why’s of it, maybe a little uncomfortable with Steve knowing about it, but definitely not embarrassed for thinking of it in the first place.

There’s a weird grey area between accepting a compliment from a straight guy and making male affection more normalized - Steve’s heard Nancy spiel about this before - and making guys that are actually into guys feel more openly comfortable with being affectionate and intimate with one another, and Steve’s not quite sure which end of the spectrum Billy’s on here, because Steve’s here for both ends of it, but with Billy, he can’t say he knows where this mess falls for sure, but

Billy, for once in his fucking life, was unable to keep his eyes on him, fidgeting and caught red handed, and that makes it just clear enough to Steve where he might fall and.

Fuck.

 


 

 

They’re back in Billy’s car when the vibe does a complete one-eighty.

When they finally exit the house, arms void of additional company and sober enough to get behind the while, Steve texts Jonathan that he won’t be needing a ride home, assuming Nancy’s already picked him and Samantha up.

Billy immediately cranks up the heater when they get back into the Camaro. They’re both shivering, no longer warmed by the heat lamps and Billy’s teeth were chattering so bad - no matter how much he denied it - that Steve’s given him his jacket.

There’s a layer of ice coating the windshield, paper thin, and Billy’s got the heater up to eighty degrees. Excessive, really, but he’s all hot blooded, meant to be sun baked, has to get it artificially because the Indiana sun won’t really shine past October. He’s still in Steve’s jacket as well.

“I can’t even remember the last time I actually drove home after a party,” Billy says as he plucks a cig out of the carton in his pocket, “I mean, other than when you ditched me for Byers and Princess Wheeler the other night.”

Steve rolls his eyes. He’s not even going to try and bring that up right now. He still stands by what he’d said before: that was on Billy for not meeting up with them instead.

Billy opens the window just a crack and lights up. Most of the smoke is exhaled inside of the car, but some of it remains — thick, gray and curling into the empty spaces between them, dragon smoke pouring from Billy’s plush lips.

Even when the ice starts to melt and skates down the glass in broken sheets and Billy’s done with this cig, tossed out to dissolve on wet asphalt, they stay parked in front of the gaudily decorated house. Billy’s got his phone hooked up, is playing Chase Atlantic quietly, ‘Tidal Wave’ just audible through the surround sound.

I know it's hard when you know you know better, just open up, let your body talk for ya like —

It’s then that Steve gets an idea, gets lightning struck by an epiphany to just, just fuck everything; he came out to get fucked up and now he’s pleasantly sobered up and his dick’s soft again and Billy is wearing his fucking jacket.

The idea makes his stomach swoop like it’s done so many times when he looks at Billy with his long lashes and pink mouth and sun-kissed curls. It’s fucking stupid, it probably won’t even work, it’s dumb and it’s impulsive but it’ll give him some clarity to explain the ass-fucked few days he’s had.

That and he just might get hit for real this time. At least he’ll deserve it.

Billy tucks a the cig between his teeth but inhale, no, he just keeps it there for a second, looking out on the road ahead, the moon casting a zigzag of white light across the grimy asphalt as he revs the engine and pulls out into the street.

Then it’s quiet, Billy driving with one hand on the wheel as the other sits on the edge of his rolled down window. He’s still wearing Steve’s jacket and Steve can’t stop staring.

It’s when they’re turning right onto the main strip, flying down sorority row, that the silence ruptures. Billy’s got the music up seriously now, blasting some classic Sabbath to fill in the spaces the quiet leaves while they’re stuck at a red light just before they hit the main campus.

The light flickers to green and Billy hits the gas with his usual ferocity, only slowing to the speed limit when he sees some campus security officers parked on the side of the lot, the lights on their SVU’s blinking red-white-blue as the night shift officers talk down to some kids sitting on the sidewalk.

Steve turns the music to mute once, well, really smacks the volume control with his index finger, once they’re heading into suburban territory again, and feels Billy’s eyes instantly on him, quick like a hairpin trigger.

“Y’know, you’re hot too,” Steve says suddenly, stupidly, feeling wound up and tense and like his lungs have been pressed of all air, “I mean like, seriously, fuckable level hot.”

Billy hits the breaks immediately, causing them to lurch. They’re still on the main strip about to shift into a suburban street, Steve’s apartment two left turns away. A car behind them honks once, just a little chirp, before skirting around them.

Steve thinks he might have to open the door and free himself before Billy reacts, has his fingers ghosting the lock in case Billy threatens to kick him out or fucking breaks his nose for even insinuating that level of gay shit, never mind what he’d said earlier. Instead though, Billy’s staring right at him, wind knocked out of him, fish out of water. Like Steve just punched him in the gut or actually leaned over the console and fucking planted one on him.

“Are you serious?” Billy asks. It’s not accusatory or acidic like Steve was expecting, or even nonchalant like he was on the patio back at the house. There’s no disbelieving laugh or callous comment to shift the mood. No eye for an eye here. Something about Steve saying it has the gears in Billy's had spinning backwards, short-circuiting.

And Steve’s just, just staring at him like a huge fucking loser, caught in Billy’s stare like he’s been found in an unlocked bathroom after Thanksgiving dinner, beating off to an underwear catalogue over the bathroom sink.

“Would you do it,” Billy breathes, his cheeks burning scarlet under the faint blue light of the midnight sky, “I mean, would you actually have sex with me? Or are you just talking shit?”

Sex sounds so much dirtier than Billy’s usual preferences - fucking, banging, bumping uglies, getting your dick wet - but it rolls off his tongue shyly; a little kid uttering a swear for the first time.

It makes Steve’s stomach physically hurt. Worst than a flu or heart burn or when he drinks black coffee without breakfast when he’s running late to class —

He finds himself lead heavy, feeling drunker than he had when he was licking spiced rum and god knows what else out of Hannah’s wet mouth. Those messy kisses feel like they happened a hundred years ago and now he hates that he can still taste the remaining dregs of Hannah’s strawberry glitter gloss on his philtrum.

In the privacy of his shower, under his sheets while Tyler was snoring next door, and even the living room on very rare occasions, Steve has considered it. When he’s fifteen pages deep into Pornhub, both on the ‘straight’ and ‘gay’ versions of the site, and still isn’t any closer to finding his release, he’s considered it.

With his eyes closed, lost in the dark of his bedroom with his first wrapped tight around his aching cock, carding through old slideshow memories of hands down his pants, teeth on his skin, he’s considered it, letting imagined, fantastical imagery take over every past tryst and fill him with a newfound ache and hunger.

The desire — it’s been there longer than he’ll ever admit.

So, fingers crossed and braced for a fight, Steve does the stupidest thing he’s done in a long time. It’s stupider than spray painting ‘slut’ on The Hawk’s showings board or secretly letting Tommy watch him eat Laurie out in sophomore year or believing Nancy ever loved him, or not seeing how it was probably, inevitably, always going to come to this —

“Yeah,” he huffs as he leans over the center console, feeling as brave as he’s ever felt in his life and close enough to see the flecks of emerald in Billy’s wide, terrified eyes. “I fucking would.”

Chapter Text

I wanted to take him home and rough him up and get my hands inside him, drive my body into his like a crash test car. I wanted to be wanted and he was very beautiful, kissed with his eyes closed, and only felt good while moving. — excerpt from ‘Crush’ by Robert Siken)

 


 

Knowing Billy like he does, Steve would’ve expected nothing to come of this — all talk and insinuation, no actual follow through.

After the way things had been left after the party, it seemed done, finite. Billy had left him hanging, standing there in the cold like a fucking tool - like are you seriously gonna blue ball me now? - one hand on the door, too afraid to slam it shut or lean back in and break the tension. The second he’d pulled up outside of Steve’s apartment, Billy’s cool demeanor had come rushing back seventy miles per hour and that panicked look of realization had been immediately replaced by that trademark smarmy smirk and a wink.

“Glad we’re on the same page, pretty boy.”

First he’d pulled back from Steve’s almost-kiss, then that? Steve would’ve almost rather been kicked in the junk or slapped in the face. It was beyond anticlimactic — the rapid incline of suspense of will he-won’t he building building and then belly-flopping to a climax. Like a scene from one of those cartoons where the character comes running around the corner and immediately gets smacked in the face with a frying pan or run over by a speeding train - wham!

Un-fucking-expected.

Steve had managed a dazed, pathetic sort of wave and Billy sped off. And Steve just watched him go.

He was actually, maybe a little angry when he’d managed to get his knees to unlock and get himself out of the wet frost. He was definitely angry when he got back inside, kicked his shoes off, tossed his keys into the bowl by the door, and when he tugged his clothes off and aggressively glared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, toothbrush tucked into his cheek, brushing hard enough to split the bristles.

And fucking angry, still, when he pulled the covers over himself in the semblance of going to sleep, and spends an hour stewing under the blankets wanting to scream.

Really he’s straight fucking pissed. Pissed like his prom date hadn’t put out like she promised. Like he’d leaned in for a kiss goodnight and gotten a hug instead. A real juvenile kind of frustration.

That night he’d fever dreamt of maybe’s and could-be’s - the way Billy would chuckle against his mouth, tasting like ash and hops, as he slipped his hand into Steve’s jeans - and woke up in a mood so sour that Tyler avoided eye contact with him as he put the coffee pot on.

He’d also taken a filler shift to distract himself for a few hours, finished a paper he had due at the end of the week - the actual quality of the paper was definitely questionable, but given the fact he’d willingly spent four hours on it on a Sunday, that at least stood for something - and attempted to Julia Childs himself an omelet for dinner.

It was overstuffed and hadn’t been folded correctly so the shredded cheddar was spilling out the sides, haphazardly chopped bell pepper and sliced ham and old spinach flooding out with it, but it made him feel a little better for all of five minutes. He was allowed the temporary gluttony.

You’re not yourself when you’re hungry— or when you’re stupidly confused and, admittedly, kind of newly horny for your friend? Best friend?

Tyler could probably sense the irritation still radiating off him like static electricity and luckily continued to keep his distance. Didn’t play up his normal brotherly schtick for once, other than a careful and quick, “work okay?” when he’d come home that afternoon.

Steve, now mulling over the previous night with a joint and his music blasting, needs to find some resolve. He’s tired of being mad. 

Feet up on the wall, head on the edge of the mattress, he gets thinking. Like was shit literally just now happening because someone said something? He scowled at the ceiling — probably

Had all this bullshit never been brought to his attention, everything would be rainbows and fucking sunshine. He’s considering telling Nancy to mind her goddamn business next time but like hell that’d accomplish anything; the damage had been done. 

Jonathan’s words had only offered him so much solace, too. After the stunt Billy pulled in the car, any confidence and comfort he’d had in the situation was gone, blitzed, obliterated. 

That’s just how his life works, apparently. Don’t speak shit into existence unless you really want it. A fucked up three wishes type situation where everything he says or someone says about him gets taken literally, immediately happens. 

The only person that can help him now, is Robin.  

Being at school with Nancy and Jonathan has brought them closer together, sure, but Robin’s still his number one next to Dustin. Although he can’t exactly go to a very straight, very inexperienced fifteen year old boy for advice on a very complex gay situation, especially because it involves someone Dustin definitely wouldn’t approve of Steve doing anything with. 

Robin will give him flack regardless, but if she thinks he’s got a shot she’ll still be supportive. 

He really wishes Robin was here to bear witness to everything but she’s busy riding a full scholarship at MIT, so now he doesn’t get to see her outside of the occasional long weekend, vacation periods and FaceTime calls.

Steve shoots her a sloppy paragraph and waits. 

It would have been easier to just call her and talk through everything step by step, get real two a.m. level deep with it, but he knows she’s inviting this cute architectural major to her dorm for a movie tonight and he’s not blowing that for her, otherwise she probably would’ve readily agreed to hop on a call with him and whip out her whiteboard, start ticking off where he’s been failing and where he’s getting wins. 

But he’s decided to be a good friend instead of a total cockblock; he hopes it goes well. With luck they’ll get to making out or someone will get a hand up their shirt. Robin’s had enough of a dry spell.

When she replies, it’s contextless and cryptic. Not out of character for her. 

You need to open your gay third eye more, Mr. Harrington

1 Ok and how's that supposed to help me 

2 Mr. Harrington is my father

Another minute passes, then his phone lights up again. 

Lmao for one, stop trying to do what Nancy and Jonathan want you to do — if you think there’s something there, follow your own instincts, like don’t try to find something that isn’t there just because *they think* there is… they’re not the ones that have to deal with Billy unless they wanna fuck him and wanna live vicariously through you but I highly doubt that

She caps that with a ‘yikes’ face emoji but then the grey ellipsis pops up again before Steve can start to reply and —

I think the most important part of this is what you actually feel for Billy and that should determine what you do next, like how do *you* actually feel? Are you just trying to see if Billy likes you because they told you he does, like you just want to *know*, or did you secretly have a hard on for him already and someone saying something made you have an Oh Shit moment?

She ends that one with the double eye emoji and Steve’s sitting there staring at his phone for a second because well, shit.

Like he wouldn’t be following these accusations if they were totally baseless, okay. He’d already been aware of the constant inkling of something regarding Billy. On his own, he never would’ve indulged himself into letting it get where it’s been headed. Would be too afraid of being wrong to give his thoughts a voice; he can’t be wrong about this kind of again

He takes another drag, letting the smoke swirl around his lungs before he exhales, lets it wander around the room and hang thick in the air before exiting through the window. 

Steve recognizes that Nancy and Jonathan just kind of, well, reaffirmed his buried suspicions. He still doesn’t know what Billy’s exact damage is - he’s been getting shoulder checks and wide-eyed looks and mixed fucking messages since day one and they actually like each other now so it’s not like he’s ever got a clear indication as to what’s going on in Billy’s head - but he’s got a slightly better idea about where he stands now.

Does he know where Billy stands? Not at all; the guy’s confusing he’s shit. But telling Billy he’d fuck him? That wasn’t drunken horniness or bating for the sake of it. He did mean it. He would fuck Billy.

He doesn’t know if he’d like, date him, if Billy would want that either even if he would agree to have sex with Steve. But, to be finally, fully honest with himself — the thought of seeing Billy without a shirt on at this point makes him press a hand into his lap.

If it’s anything to go off of, the look Billy gave him, the way his voice went tentative and soft when he asked if Steve really would, that stands for something, right? A bro would just cackle and shove him off, tell him that’s gay and they’d be having a beer three minutes later.

The look Billy gave him? Clear gay panic.

Fuck Robin

I don’t know exactly how he feels about me but I think I really wanna fuck him

Steve’s blushing like an idiot, horrifyingly embarrassed from the sudden realization that’s smacked him upside the head. Admitting it to other people makes it serious. He’s ready for Robin to call him and tell him to censor himself but then she’s replying.

Well alright then buddy

I mean it's up to you to figure out what the next step is but if anything… *please* stop asking Nancy and Jonathan for advice and trying to get them involved — this is Billy Hargrove we’re talking about. Their weird courting rituals and Deep ™️ character analysis aren’t going to work with him... If you really don’t know where to start though I think the best thing to do is just bring it up

So forget the fact that he blatantly told Billy yeah I’d have sex with you the other day, because now he’s going to have to do it all over again. This shit isn’t going to happen naturally. He’s got to force the hand a little bit more than he already has -- like he might have to actually suck Billy’s dick to show him that he means business.

Like just ask him if I can suck his dick or find a good moment and then do it...

Dude. How the hell did every girl at Hawkins want you? How did anyone think you were charming? 

Steve’s pouting, waiting for a response. His heart’s hitting ninety in his chest and he needs some help here, not to be fucking roasted.

ROBIN JUST HUMOR ME AND ANSWER THE QUESTION

Ugh okay find a moment! If you just get on your knees he’ll probably go into shock or give you a black eye because No Homo, so be subtle? And if he’s still being stupid then just tell him you wanna suck his dick or something 

K I’ll keep that in mind 

And thanks have fun feeling tits tonight

The last thing Robin sends him is the double okay-hand emoji.

Now it’s up to him.

So Steve concocts a master plan with Robin’s guidance after date night.

She did get to feel the girl up while they were making out and they’re getting dinner together on Friday, so she’s in an uncharacteristically good mood while helping him out.

And because Robin’s probably like, the smartest person he knows - in second place when Dustin’s also around, because he will take that shit personally - she writes it out in simplest terms for him so he doesn’t fill in the blanks incorrectly. She doesn’t make him feel stupid when she does so either, which he’s beyond grateful for; there’s never any truly irritated eye rolls or exasperated huffing when he just can’t connect A and B together. 

(It’s not even a real plan but it makes Steve feel better.)

It’s just stupid that it took this much outside validation for him fully realize that maybe he’s not picking up on shit out of the corner of his eye, making things out of shadows and double locking his doors at night; that he needed even more outside validation to fully realize that he’s had a half chub for Billy for awhile.

Jesus, how did he survive middle school crushes again? Where’d all that grossly misplaced overconfidence go?

Now all he does is trip himself up, constantly overanalyze and second guess when it comes to any sort of feeling. He just can’t go straight into the acceptance phase — he’s got to tumble through all five steps before he lands there.

Steve doesn’t think his biggest heartache is the source of all this change though. Doubt looks better on him than that smarmy overconfidence, Robin says.

Still, he thinks about why this is a particularly special case, why he’s so much more of an uncoordinated mess, a personified car wreck. Why he couldn’t just realize he had that butterflies in the stomach feeling for a reason and then act on it.

And well, it’s stupidly, smack-you-in-the-face obvious — because it’s Billy.

 

 

Tuesday morning rolls in and he’s got that concert with Nancy, Jonathan and Billy.

As he’s leaving the house he realizes that maybe he should have decided to implement his ‘plan’ when it was just the two of them, maybe after a road trip featuring only one car that’d take them to another city a minimum of three hours away, but Nancy and Jonathan’s presence is also the distraction he needs until he does get Billy alone. 

Whether that be tonight or in two days or three weeks from now. 

He just promised Robin he’d get it over with so he wouldn’t be stressing himself out over, well, nothing at all.

But if he overthinks and makes shit weird one more time, he might have to icepick lobotomize himself just to save everyone from his constant barrage of word vomit and anxious exaggerations, always ready for a bomb to go off and he’s only got four, three, two

When he pulls up outside Nancy’s hall, she and Jonathan are already standing curbside, things in hand and waving as the Beamer nears. A few feet off is Billy, who’s spaced out and unaware and looking really fucking good. Steve allows himself to enjoy for a second, drink down and digest what he’ll be stuck with the rest of the evening.

Billy’s got a cig pinched between his lips and a little silver hoop looped through his ear, an equally silver watch clasped around his tan wrist. There are also tight black jeans, a dark patterned shirt almost completely unbuttoned, that artful curl hanging broodily over his right brow, and very Harry Styles-esque boots he never would have accused Billy of owning.

God does Steve feel good not having to no-homo himself over it.

And luckily, the drive up is mostly quiet. 

Billy stakes claim of the aux cord almost immediately and neither Nancy or Jonathan want to fight him on it; they let him call shotgun and say they'll take the backseat. When Steve’s ready to overrule if either of them really wants to play co-captain on the first leg of their journey, Jonathan cuts him off with an abrupt head shake and Nancy pretends to not hear him. Steve quickly catches Billy shooting them a look that’s really anything but inconspicuous as he slides into the passenger side and shuts the door, seemingly daring him to try and take his place.

It’s safer for all of them with Billy up front though, even if Jonathan has to keep his legs tucked against the door and Nancy’s got her legs up on the seat because they’re sharing their nook with all the extra carbs and sodium they nabbed from a brief 7-11 run.

What does make the trip difficult, though, is not Billy’s rapid fire music skipping, how close Billy’s tan, toned chest is to Steve or how he’s nearly drowning in Billy’s cinnamon spice and sweet musk, but rather how closely Steve’s being watched by his two other roadside companions.

Nancy is continually meeting his eye in the side view mirror with that concerned crinkle between her eyes that tells him she’ll be poking and prodding him for details later - what details, he doesn’t know - and Jonathan keeps raising his brows in the rearview and mouthing okay? to Steve as if this is the safest place to answer.

He’s decided he doesn’t want them involved with this anymore. Robin, too, seemed to think that was for the best. The less people involved, the less mess to clean up. Sure, they kickstarted this whole thing, poured the gasoline and threw the match, but Steve doesn’t want them standing on the sidelines bearing witness to every tense moment and careful sideways glance like this is the only source of entertainment they have.

His love life shouldn’t be entertaining anyway. 

He ignores both of them as blatantly as he can and luckily Billy seems none the wiser. 

Because other than aggressively tapping on his phone and skipping through his playlists, Billy barely looks at Steve. He even engages in conversation with Jonathan about the Bad Suns and Glass Animals tracks on his driving playlist, keeps it oddly light hearted and metaphorical — completely atypical to his usual passiveness to Jonathan or Nancy's presence.

But if Billy can sense he’s actualized everything and is intentionally blue balling him, Steve’s much more fucked than he originally thought.

Luckily though, after hitting a bad patch of stop-and-go traffic crossing the Illinois border and cruising the interstate for an unseemly amount of time, they finally arrive in Chicago — distractions, ahoy!

There’s not as much time to kill as they originally thought they would have, but they do have a decently comfortable amount of time to eat and putz around the city for a bit before they have to move the car and start lining up.

After exploring storefronts and parading around the bustling, wind whipped streets for a half hour to stretch their legs, they settle in at a greasy spoon a few blocks up from the show for a late lunch.

The diner itself is a good forty degrees warmer than the Chicago winter blustering outside and smells like sizzling bacon and over-warmed coffee accompanied by the chemical undertone of cleaning products. Cozy, familiar. A homely contrast to the glass cityscape and wispy grey skies overhead. All polyester seating and tiled walls.

Steve takes the window seat next to Billy in a corner booth and keeps stepping on Jonathan’s toes under the table in an attempt to not have to feel the radiating heat really rolling off of Billy now. Billy, despite his occasional shivers from still being acclimated to the occasional grey and wet that are SoCal winters, is the perfect a human furnace. 

He crowds Steve into the window as he spread-eagles his thighs and throws one arm out over the top of the booth.

Steve’s not quite brave enough to press his own leg back up against Billy’s right now, so he contorts away from him as inconspicuously as he can and gets real friendly with the big glass window keeping his left side starkly colder than his right. He’s got goosebumps and hot flashes going at the same time — ice and fire.

Nancy’s trying to hunt down the show’s setlist online when an older woman approaches their table, all long red nails and fading brown hair slicked back into a curled bun. Her voice is scratchy from obvious cigarette use when she says her name is Cindy, that she’s their waitress, and when she reads out the daily specials with a bored drawl.

But as she takes their orders, she lets out this hearty, crackling laugh when she gets to Billy, who starts batting his lashes and turning on the charm over asking for a cherry Coke, pretty please.

Steve catches Nancy rolling her eyes.

“You gotta watch out for boys like these,” Cindy, says, seemingly eyeing Steve, “always up to no good.”

Steve manages a grimace, fighting the warmth in his cheeks from the subtle call out and really nails Jonathan’s toes under the table when he hides a laugh behind a poor excuse of a cough.

Billy looks so pleased with himself, cat with the canary, when Cindy calls him sugar and tails it across the main dining space, back to the kitchen. Steve was half expecting her to pinch his cheek or give his nose a gentle boop.

Cindy returns a few minutes later with their drinks - three steaming coffees and a cherry Coke - and Billy fucking takes the coffees from her serving tray and passes them around the table, then flashes her a smile.

“Thank you, Cindy,” he nearly purrs, smooth, like when he used to flirt with all the pool moms after teaching their fucking toddlers how to doggy paddle.

It’s not that sugary tone he has that can easily be detected as fake, but that silky, rumbling one he has where his voice drops an octave and the words just pour past his lips, smooth like caramel. Just as sweet. 

Whenever Billy’s voice drops to that fluid timbre, a shiver works its way up Steve’s spine, too. Pricks goosebumps up every inch of his skin. He’s had the misfortune - no, pleasure - of having Billy use it right in his ear on occasion too, makes him go rigid and melt into putty simultaneously. He gets why it has the effect it does. 

When Billy takes a sip off his coke and subtly slips the Maraschino Cindy pinned to the side of the glass into his mouth, applies a kitten lick to the red syrup of his fingers, Steve’s dangerously close to having to press a hand between his thighs, give himself an adjustment. Simmer down, cowboy.

The relief of acknowledgement might fuck him over more than his denial did.

“Wow, really?” Nancy asks then, brows raised. She follows that with a trademark lip purse and goes for a plastic pitcher of creamer, delicately peeling back the foil with freshly painted nails.

“Oh Jesus, let me live, Wheeler,” Billy snorts, “I bet getting a little side of sugar from some hot young piece of ass beats all the greasy truckers and fuckin’ drunks trying to get her to sneak off to the walk-in. I mean, we both know someone who really didn’t seem to be against the idea of getting a little side sugar of her own, if I remember correctly...”

And that is a low blow not even Steve can ignore. It’s cruel but it does shut Nancy up, teeth clacking like a shut door. 

He chokes back a hissed ouch into his palm and immediately peers out the window, pulling a oh would you lookit that as he focuses on a group of kids trying to figure out how to use the parking meter across the street.

Everyone says Billy did it - nailed Mrs. Wheeler because she’s such a total MILF - but the details are always fuzzy about when and how it happened. Half the gossiping populace said it happened the summer post his junior year, when he first started working at the public pool, and they fucked in the lifeguard office. But Billy was also a lifeguard the summer he graduated so the other half says it was then because Mrs. Wheeler probably waited on fucking Billy until he was actually legal.

Oh and Billy already had that god awful smoking skull tattoo when a supposed everyone saw them check in at the Motel 6 on Dogwood.

Steve mostly feels like the whole thing can easily be discredited, but there’s still a sliver of doubt in his mind, at least; he was personally privy to the heated looks and casual lip biting, of freshly eighteen year old Billy climbing down from his tower, joining the mere mortals of the pool, to put a warm hand on Mrs. Wheelers’ chlorine cooled skin as he personally delivered her a fresh towel. 

He doesn’t think Nancy’s mom would in the first place either, but Karen definitely deserves better than Ted so he can’t blame her for having the ache for something different, possibly better.

Steve can strongly attest to the bare bones existence that is Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler’s bland relationship firsthand after having to sit through several Wednesday night family dinners, tight lipped and straight backed, this chicken is phenomenal, Mrs. Wheeler, while dating Nancy. 

Really he hopes Ted gets his shit together fast or that Karen just takes Mike and Holly and leaves with the alimony money Ted probably tried to convince her she’d never need when they got married. Put Tinder on her phone and get some recent divorcee businessman to order her Enzo’s best red, take her back to his one bedroom and get her the fix she’s needed for twenty years.

Like, get it, Karen.

He doesn’t think Billy constitutes as the different or better Karen Wheeler needed or needs, but her desires were palpable enough that she clearly - at least - considered it.

And the whole subject is a real sore spot with Nancy even if she very vocally doesn’t believe it. Steve can't blame her for that. Not because it happened or supposedly did or didn’t at all, but because fucking Carol of all people, decided it was her civil duty to tell Nancy that your mom’s totally fucking Billy, Princess, guess that means your puny little boyfriends never did it for her in the middle of Melvald’s.

Insert Steve hearing from Dustin how Will and Lucas had to hold back a very pissed off Mike from climbing up the lifeguard tower at the public pool two days later.

Nancy manages a shocked scoff and turns to Jonathan for help, for support, because she’s always tired of Billy’s general demeanor and needs help coping with it sometimes, but Jonathan ignores it and unfurls his napkin and silverware, curling the paper napkin ring around his fingers. Pretends he didn’t hear a damn thing. Nancy shoots him a hard glare that goes totally unnoticed, all red cheeked and huffy.

She mouths a fuck you across the table that some old woman walking by catches — it earns a scowl from the grandma and a blown kiss from Billy.

When the food comes - Billy tosses Cindy a wink for bringing him two extra pieces of bacon - Billy properly, finally closes in on him, goes in for the kill strike with his thigh directly pressed into Steve’s. All Steve can do is make intense eye contact with his sugared French toast while he drowns it thickly in syrup and salted butter and tries not to think about the insistent press of Billy’s thick, fever hot leg lined up against his.

Nancy doesn’t seem to notice - still too steamed as she angrily cuts into her blueberry pancakes, murder in her eyes - but Jonathan does. He nudges Steve’s ankle with the toe of his boot and raises his eyebrows again, but Billy knocks Steve with his knee before he can signal anything to Jonathan.

Trying to keep his tag alongs out of this might be easier said than done. Luckily he’s good at playing dumb.
Another less subtle bump to the knee has Steve choking down the rest of his coffee and eggs; he lets Billy nudge him in the ribs with his elbow every time he cuts into his hash browns and takes the abuse in silence for the rest of the meal. 

 


By the time they actually get to the venue, the line is primarily unsupervised teenage girls wrapped in fleece blankets, definitely a little too underdressed for the nighttime temperature drop. Choosing a blanket over a jacket makes no sense to him, seeing as there’s no seating available for the under twenty-one crowd and they’ll be stuck holding their shit for at least two hours while getting pushed and shoved and grazed by strangers and their sweat. They’re all giggling and talking over one another, all low lighting and occasional camera flashes with the night sky spreading out above them, none the wiser of the fate that befalls them.

Meanwhile, Steve’s miserably standing in a permanent cloud of Juul smoke when two girls with brightly dyed hair shyly ask Jonathan to take their picture under the marquee. Steve watches him do so awkwardly, probably trying to silence his photographer’s brain as he fiddles with, as Jonathan’s lectured, a glorified point and shoot, then hands the girl with an electric blue pixie cut her phone back.

“Well that’s definitely going to be the best picture on her Instagram,” Nancy says as Jonathan sidles back in line.

Jonathan shrugs, hands in his pants pockets. His cheeks are clearly tinged a little from the compliment.

And Billy? Well, he doesn’t talk much over the span of the fifty minutes they have to kill before doors actually open.

Technically both Steve and Billy are third wheeling here - Nancy’s actually got her head tucked under Jonathan’s chin as he wraps his jacket around the both of them - so they should be trying to entertain each other, but Steve’s stuck standing in brooding silence next to him instead. It quickly gets old and Steve decides to sidle closer to the couple to try and get in on their shared warmth, until all three are penguined together.

Billy doesn’t seem to care and laser focuses on his phone. Steve pretends he’s not miffed by the brush off. Usually, Billy’s elbowing his way into his personal space, needling nerves and stepping on toes.

Today Billy’s mood been all over the place; the only times he’s paid Steve any attention is when there’s harassment of some kind involved, i.e. the restaurant. Now he’s been next to invisible — a loose thread on Billy’s shirt, a fly buzzing in his ear. Steve’s stumbled into a third year art history class and Billy’s the Picasso they’re dissecting.

And Steve has definitely got some feelings about it. He doesn’t think Billy’s sniffed his intentions out yet, isn’t hot on his trail and is but put off by it, but unless he just doesn’t want to be here, Steve doesn’t know why there’s a brick wall between them that only Billy can break through when he pleases.

He wants to pawn it off on Nancy’s presence because Billy’s always a little off balance when she’s around but he doesn’t think that’s it

Doing his best to push it the back of his mind, Steve instead focuses on the D&D meme Jonathan’s showing him and ignores Billy’s sullen silence. 

Eventually the line does start moving and they’re getting wanded by security, their tickets scanned as they’re ushered into the venue. The temperature difference is stark, a gust of hot air blow drying them as they crowd into the lobby, squeeze themselves into the line trailing downstairs to the ground floor.

It’s dark, too, as they weasel their way through the small crowd already hungrily pressed up against the flimsy ropes acting as a safety barricade. There’s vibrant blue light flooded out over the stage and it already smells stuffy and smoky inside; someone’s probably attempted to light up.

They find a good spot to stake claim at least. They’re just off to the side enough they can see the opposite end of the stage. Nancy’s a head shorter than the rest of them so they can’t stand in the pit and or in the back and hope she can see. 

Still idly chatting a few more minutes while Billy remains distant and seemingly unimpressed, the show kicks off.

The first opener is chill, just a guy overdressed for the heat of the stage lights in name brand sweats, a scrapbook of tattoos covering every visible surface of his body and rings shimmering under a halo of red and violet as he dreamily croons on about love in the city and doing blow in the backseats of expensive cars. Footage of LA at night flashes in black and white behind him. Steve sways to the beat, closes his eyes as the beat thrums through him.

He feels Billy’s elbow tentatively brush his arm once, twice, where he’s rolled up his sleeves, just a reminder that he’s there.

The second opener is a trio, the lead singer the most outlandishly dressed of them all. All smeared eyeliner and a mesh shirt, platform boots and vibrant blue hair. Real Nylon photoshoot shit — neon lights and glitter and chromatic aberration. Their music is more upbeat, reminiscent of  synth pop.

Steve’s really into it, dancing in place, laughing as he watches Jonathan twirl Nancy around during one song, I know you wanna be the only one sounding off from the stage. When he lets Jonathan dip him to and your body’s got the best of me, he smiles at Billy while he tips his head back, Billy gives him a half cocked smile, bobbing along to the beat, and mouths, ‘that’s gay’.

At least he’s getting into it now.

And before the main band comes out, Nancy drags Jonathan with her to the merch table and leaves Steve alone with Billy, primarily surrounded by chattering girls. There’s one close to them, blonde with pearlescent eyeshadow and thick false lashes, who’s fairly tipsy. It’s obvious she’s smuggled in booze in the mistreated plastic water bottle she’s holding - Steve can smell something distinctly candy flavored when she spills a little on the waxed floor - and she backs up into Billy more than once, giggling all bubbly as she does so, nearly smacking him in the face while she dances to no music.

Steve watches as it happens for a seventh time in three minutes and Billy rolls his eyes, steps back, then he’s fucking gone.

He doesn’t push past Steve when he does so, doesn’t elbow him or tell him to move or even tell him where he’s going. He just slides past him with an aggravated sigh and Steve immediately loses sight of him.

Nancy and Jonathan squeeze their way back in while Steve’s trying to wrap his head around what’s just happened. Nancy’s trying to find a way to hold onto the shirts they bought given the minuscule fanny pack clipped to her waist that hardly fits her cell phone and wallet and Jonathan’s looking around Steve with a concerned tilt to his mouth.

“Where’d Hargrove go?”

“I don’t,” Steve huffs, “I don’t know, he just fucking left.”

Nancy’s attempting to roll the shirts as tightly as possible and fit them into the pockets of her jacket when she offers, “Maybe he needed a smoke or something. Or some girl winked at him and he followed her into the bathroom, who knows.”

Something hot spikes in Steve’s blood at that, shoots right through his belly. “I don’t think he snuck off to get his dick sucked, Nance, he’s been acting pissy all night and he just, just stormed off.”

“Well he’d better hurry back from whatever he’s doing, the show’s about to start,” Jonathan frowns and taps his watch face.

Jesus fuck.

“I’m gonna go find Billy,” Steve says then, not waiting for a reply before he, too, is wading through the sea of giggling girls, past the occasional bored parent, through a few groups of guys their age puttering around acting disinterested, until he’s washed up on the other side of the floor, right by the bar exit.

He slips through quickly, fake ID be damned, which empties out onto a concrete patio full of people smoking and holding sweating glasses full of brown liquor. The only light streams in overhead, just a string of gold fairy lights painting halos on everyone’s heads. The shadows are long and brown on everyone’s faces, features harsher than intended.

Steve flicks his head around in a dizzying motion and luckily catches Billy rounding the corner to where equipment trailers are parked.

The side of the building is dark and quiet, but not silent. The city is still alive and buzzing with beeping horns and distant conversations, clips of laughter and car stereos. The back wall isn’t vibrating from the bass of pounding ambient music but the hum of the speakers is easily detectable. The sidewalk is grimy and so is the brick wall of the building’s exterior, dotted with old gum and runny with water stains, but Billy’s still leaning against it, staring down at his phone. 

A cigarette sits between his fingers but it’s not lit.

Steve stands a few feet from him, squared up awkwardly, fully visible in the stray traces of patio lighting. Should’ve thought this through before he went charging off, but it’s too late now. If he can get Billy to come back inside and get him to say what’s wrong without pissing him off, that’ll be enough of an accomplishment for Steve.

Billy looks up from his phone to squint at him. “What’re you doing out here?” 

“You good?” Steve asks, voice a little tight, not a real reply. “You just left so. I thought something was wrong.”

“Nah, ‘m fine. S’just crowded.”

Steve eyes him carefully and comes a foot closer. “Dude, it’s kinda gross and freezing out here and and you haven’t said a thing almost all night. You sure you’re okay?”

Billy looks bored with him, goes, “Peachy keen, pretty boy, now can I smoke in peace?” 

The blasé tone his voice has taken on leaves something to be desired — it’s a bandage, a shitty patch job. 

“No,” Steve suddenly decides.

“No?”

“No, you can’t smoke in peace,” Steve snarks, maybe shaking a little because okay, admittedly, he’s a little afraid of facing off with Billy when there’s actual concern to be had or feelings genuinely affected — he’s just kind of pissed off by this uncoordinated back and forth. Tired of being jerked around. “You’ve been acting weird as shit all day and I wanna know, what the fucking deal is.”

Billy lets him bask in his outburst as his lighter flicks to life. Steve’s rigid, heartbeat in his ears, waiting for him to strike.

Instead, Billy smacks his lips and drawls, “Christ, what’s got your panties in a twist?”

Steve throws his hands up in exasperation. “You!

Admittedly it’s not cunning, lacks any grace because Steve practically shouts it, but at least Billy fucking reacts, gives him something to work with. Stares at him with wide eyes, mouth pressed into a small line, well, damn, and stands up properly.

“Me?” It sounds so offended. “Me? Please share with the class, Harrington, what exactly did I do?” 

Well, shit. Steve might have to step off the curb and let the oncoming city bus mow him over. It’s too late to backpedal now, can’t implement how he was going to over so subtly ask Billy if there was anything going on, maybe have a civil back and forth in order to get an answer. 

Not hotly accuse and expect everything to get resolved.

You,” Steve starts, starting to simmer with the beginning dregs of anxiety, “you and me, last weekend. What the fuck was that?”

Billy crooks an eyebrow but holds the frown. Steve’s going to have to do all the hard work here. He takes a deep breath, squeezes his eyes shut. 

“You told me I was hot, and -”

“We’ve been over this; I’ve got eyes, Harrington,” Billy deadpans.

“Fucking, shut up,” Steve pinches the bridge of nose and he’s fucking scarlet, not that Billy can see, but all of a sudden he feels on fire, “you told me I was hot and then acted like it was nothing but when I told you you were hot and that sure! I would fuck you! You fucking freaked and took me home instead of getting food like we were going to and I just.” Steve works his jaw, swallows against his frustration, stuck low in his throat, “I don’t know what the hell’s going on right now, man, but -”

“Guys, c’mon, the show’s starting!” 

Nancy’s voice from around the corner hits them like a bucket of ice water. Breaks them out of it immediately. Steve does jump back a good two feet. Billy tosses and then proceeds to drop his smoke on the grimy sidewalk.

What?” Steve voice cracks, clutching his chest. 

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Billy scowling at his fallen cigarette. 

Nancy waves her arm from the crowded, makes a come here motion. “The band’s coming out! Hurry up!”

Steve gives her a half-hearted thumbs up, waits to look away until she’s turning back inside, then focuses on Billy. Billy, who’s got that same far-off, terrified look in his eyes, fists clenched and lips parted softly on something that could probably give Steve clarity.

“We -”

Like a switch being flicked, the softness in Billy’s face stiffens into something hard and guarded. He pushes past Steve, knocking him hard enough that Steve almost gets bowled over. 

Plant your feet. Draw a charge. 

Later,” is all Billy snaps. His voice is dangerously low — a rumble of thunder.

Steve swallows and hastily pieces himself back together before stiffly trailing after him. His mouth tastes like rust and salt. Like swallowed down words and an incomplete thought.

 

 

A few songs in to the main set and Steve’s able to temporarily kick his concerns to the sidelines. 

The beat is heavy, bass drumming along the floorboards and walls, the pluck and crescendo of the bass and guitar ringing and electric, vibrating through his veins. The singer’s wildly jumping around between the stage and the drum set, up on the speakers in white Nikes and ripped black skinnies, an open flannel hanging off his slender shoulders. He alternates between belting out to the audience about drugs and youth, then sidling up to the guitarist, sweaty foreheads pressed together, and holds the microphone for him when it’s his turn to sing instead. 

Billy’s hot against Steve’s side finally getting into it, mouthing along to the words and cat-calling whenever the singer takes a break to chug some water and talk to the audience while catching his breath. Licks at his lips and bares his teeth, shirt undone, wild and free under flashing lights.

Steve's got whiplash all over again. Maybe Billy’s on or even off something.

They get to a slow song towards the supposed end of the setlist and Billy pulls out his lighter, Steve fumbling to do the same while Nancy and Jonathan pull out their phones. Everyone’s swaying together, some people falling a little off beat and knocking into one another, clearly tipsy or high, but Billy’s moving slow and steady. His hip early bumps Steve’s as they fall back and forth, steady like a metronome.

I’ve got something I wanna say, I’m tryna keep this thing moving and I don’t wanna do it all day —

Steve steals a second to watch Billy. There’s sweat beaded on his hairline, skin glistening and his chest heaving from the close quarters and body heat. The song ends and the cheers and clapping snap Steve out of his trance. Not fast enough to look away from Billy, though.

Billy catches his gaze under hooded eyes and pulls his teeth over his bottom lip, just barely grazing the plush skin, panting. Steve, caught in the headlights, swallows and prepares for the next track. 

He’s hyper aware of Billy watching him after that. Each sweep of Billy’s eyes over his face has him prickling with anticipation, even when they’re screaming with the singer about getting fucked up and jumping into each other, getting sprayed with water bottles from the guys on stage. 

On his other side, each subtle press of Jonathan’s elbow or Nancy’s arm against his is sobering. It yanks him out of his element, makes him hyper aware that it’s not just him and Billy and a room full of strangers. That they’ve got witnesses.

After the show, partially deaf and sweating through his shirt, Steve’s pushed his way to the merch table. Nancy’s in the bathroom and Jonathan’s waiting outside; Billy handed him two twenties to get him whatever and went off to have a smoke alone. The band’s working the table and Steve politely introduces himself despite looking haggard and being out of breath, shakes hands with the guys and exchanges brief small talk, thanks them for coming out, before he makes a proper decision.

He picks up a shirt for himself and another for Billy, grabs them both a poster. If Billy doesn’t want it, Jonathan will definitely take it.

Just outside the venue, Jonathan’s leaned up against a streetlamp with his jacket off, taking in as much cool air as he can before he cools back down and immediately regrets exiting the venue without all his layers on. 

“You alone?” Steve asks, maybe a bit too loud. It’s disorienting, going from being puzzle pieced between sweating strangers and engulfed in fog and pounding bass to the occasional loiterers and the far-off stutter of late night traffic.

Jonathan nods. “Nancy’s still inside and I don’t know where Billy is. I think he went around the back end of the venue but he was already gone by the time I got out here.”

Steve nods. “Hey, I’m gonna take a leak, then I’ll go grab Billy. Can you hold my stuff for a sec?”

Jonathan wordlessly open his arms and carefully takes the shirts and rolled up posters, careful not to let them crinkle beneath his fingers. His palms are a little clammy with sweat.

“You guys doing okay?” he asks.

Steve’s already started back and throws him a look over his shoulder, says, “You could call it that.”

Then Steve briefly flashes his armband to the bouncer and jogs back up the stairs, worms his way past the line still crowding the merch table. The hall is now filled with chatter and giggling and the occasional girlish screech as some other teenager leans across the fold up table to hug their favorite band member. It still smells faintly of burnt hash and something ashy from the fog machine.

The bathroom’s empty though. Steve grimaces as he walks around a precarious pile of crumpled paper towels spilling over the top of the trash can as he enters. There’re stickers peeling from the waxy walls and unintelligible lettering etched into the mirror stretched across the sinks, permanent marker scribbles across the speckled stall doors.

It gives off the air of being overused and under loved. 

He quickly goes about his business and washes his hands, then haphazardly dabs at his hairline, lower back and pits with the damp edge of a paper towel in a semblance of trying to look less disheveled. His cheeks and neck are a red splatter of overexertion.

Billy comes in while he’s splashing cold water on his face. He shoots Steve a brief look as he’s blinking water out of his eyes. 

Fuck.

Steve quickly dries his face off and stands, frozen, in front of the sink he’s commandeered. Posed awkwardly, a semblance of a person — scarecrow-ish. He focuses on his reflection - hair floppy and in his face, collar of his t-shirt damp, cheeks pink and mouth pinker - and on leveling his breathing. 

Maybe cornering Billy in a public restroom after a concert when they’re about to spend three more hours in the car together with company isn’t the best idea, stupid like sticking his hand in a tiger cage, but they’re just going to keep delaying the inevitable until nothing comes out of it, too exhausted to actually - well, possibly - engage in anything. Decide it’s not worth it.

But with his head finally screwed on straight, like hell is Steve going to give up on this again, before it’s even started. He knows what he wants and he wants Billy to know just what that is and get him to just fucking say something.

Billy’s zipping up his jeans and giving his hands a brief wash under the water when Steve catches his gaze in the mirror.

“What?” Billy asks, defensive. Trigger response.

Steve leans forward on the edge of the sink, lowly goes, “We didn’t get to finish talking before the show.”

Billy shrugs, too nonchalant, and shakes his hands out onto the grimy tiled floor. “Do we need to?”

“I think we do.”

Billy sighs and turns so he’s leaning back against his sink, fingers curled over the edge of it. His jacket is undone and his shirt is hanging open, totally unbuttoned and loose from his jeans. At this angle, Steve can clearly see the brown, pebbled peak of his left nipple, the defined curve of his pec.

“Listen, Harrington, we’re friends,” Billy explains, like Steve’s stupid, “I’m not your girlfriend, so talking’s off the table.”

“Friends don’t talk?” Steve scrunches his nose the slightest bit.

Billy snorts. “Not about what you want to talk about.”

“What exactly do I want to talk about, Hargrove?”

Billy rolls his eyes and runs a hand through his hair. The curls have started to spring loose, no longer artfully pinned into place with the plethora of styling creams and mousses Steve’s seen on Billy’s end of his dorm vanity.

“You wanna talk about Saturday, right? About feelings and shit? I told you you’re hot because you are and then you said you’d fuck me and I bet it got all the gears in your pretty little head working and now it’s got you thinking that maybe we should actually fuck but you’re afraid I’m gonna say no because we’re tight and I’m on a strict pussy diet, right?” 

Steve doesn’t like the nervous flip his stomach does at that and it must show on his face, because Billy smirks.

He gets further up into Steve’s space, just inches from him now, and adds, “Thought so.”

Then Billy starts walking away from him, still baring that cocky grin, and Steve’s in front of the bathroom door before he can even think. Stands right up against it and plants his feet so Billy can’t push him aside.

And Billy almost seems impressed, if the way he halts and the jump in his brows is anything to go by.

“You’re acting like I’m the one being a little bitch about this, but why’re you the one that doesn’t want to talk about it?” 

“Because you’re trying to make it more than it is, that’s why,” Billy snarks. “It’s nothing. Jesus, I’m never giving you a fucking compliment again if you’re gonna convince yourself I’m in fucking love with you or something.”

That stings, harsh like a slap, and his tone has some finality to it but he doesn’t try to leave. Instead he crosses his arms, cocks out a hip, signals your move. Steve doesn’t allow himself time to cook up a witty way to counter that. Kind of just feels like mouthing off because Billy wants to piss him off by talking out of his ass. Not add anything productive to the conversation to get around and out of it.

“I think,” Steve starts, and he has to temporarily focus on anything but Billy while rushing to gather his thoughts, because he’s done now, “I think you’re scared because I can actually be honest and you can’t be that fucking honest with anyone, let alone yourself.”

Something electric charges up the air between them when Billy snorts and tongues at his bottom lip. Steve’s nearly vibrating with anticipation. Billy himself really doesn’t scare him, but just like earlier, he’s wary that Billy’s quick to switch sides, to lash out.

Getting a something big and toothy in a corner doesn’t mean it can't still bite.

“Wait, so you do think I want to fuck you? I think you’re definitely barking up the wrong tree here, amigo, because in case you haven’t noticed yet, my well of college pussy isn’t drying up any time soon and I’m not even close to desperate enough to consider wanting to get your hand on my dick,” Billy bristles. “So I think that this conversation? Is fucking over. And Saturday? That didn’t mean shit.”

He’s too loud and too tense. Clearly it’s a defense mechanism. It’s meant to put Steve off, to make him retrace his steps and reconsider the path. Normally Steve would do just that but he’s positive now that this is just some reverse psychology bullshit and instead he’s just growing more sure of himself and his presumptions.

“I don’t think this has to do with how much pussy you’re getting, though.” Steve steps forward but keeps one hand pressed up against the door, “And I don’t think what happened Saturday means shit. I think we both want the same thing but it scares you so you keep pussying out,” Billy actually moves back with that, “but I meant what I said. I do think you’re hot. I would fuck you. I’m just not going to keep catering to your bullshit, so when you get your head out of your ass? Find me.”

He turns on his heel and swings the door open, giving Billy a moment to collect himself or even time to answer. Instead, much to his dismay, Billy’s silent. Steve takes one more look at Billy, standing dumbstruck with his teeth clenched, suddenly so red and pinching the sleeves of his jacket between white-knuckled fingers.

Steve’s done what he set out to do. Maybe in a way that is far more convoluted than he originally planned, in a very drawn out, almost threatening type of way, but he’s gotten it out there nonetheless. The ball’s in Billy’s court now.

Just before he leaves, he adds, “When you’re done, we’ll be outside. We’re gonna head out soon.”

And he’s gone.

 

 

The ride back to campus is, if anything, uncomfortable. 

Which is what Steve expected, but it doesn’t make it any better.

After making a quick run to fuel up the Beamer and restock their snack stash, they’re hitting the Interstate southbound and it’s unnervingly quiet. It’s not uncomfortable because of said quiet alone, or because Billy’s turned the music down to a buzz and is no longer hand picking each song he subjects the rest of the cabin to, or even because they’re all kind of tired and sticky with sweat and riding a contact high, but because the front seat of the car is palpable with tension.

The air between Billy and Steve is thick with it. Thick enough to cut into with a knife.

Either Nancy and Jonathan haven’t noticed because they’re tired or they’re extremely aware and are being smart by not commenting on it. Minding their p’s and their q’s. Billy’s doing everything he can to not look at Steve — curled up in the corner against the passenger side window with his feet on the seat and his chin on his knees, eyes tracking the streetlights as they briefly stripe the passing cars in a sherbet orange hue. 

All sullen and emo and withdrawn. Just like before.

Eventually he unplugs his phone and stuffs his earphones in, meaning even if they do get a moment alone, Billy doesn’t want to talk to Steve.

Meanwhile, Steve’s grinding his teeth hard enough to wear down the grooves of his molars and he’s death-gripping the steering wheel to the point that his palms are sweaty and slipping on the upholstery. His fingers are white knuckled and cramping. 

He was feeling really good at standing up to Billy at first and saying what he wanted to say, even if Billy made it ten thousand times more fucking difficult than need be, but now he realizes he might have just totally blown this, either from pushing Billy to the startline when he’s not ready to race or pushing him towards something that really isn’t there, up and over a cliff face.

Either way, the tension and silence is making him nauseous. Makes him anticipate the worst and start to taste his French toast from the diner earlier in the back of his throat. The sweetness of the cream and cinnamon and sugar has curdled.

Two hours in and Steve really wishes he was back home. It might honestly take them less time to get back to Hawkins than go all the way back to the college but they’ve all got class in the morning - plus they skipped today -  and Steve knows from experience that the less time Billy spends in the general vicinity of his dad, the better. He’s not going to do that to Billy even if he’s itching with guilt to get away from the current predicament.

Steve checks the back seat and finds Nancy dozing against Jonathan’s shoulder. Her arms are crossed loosely and her legs are up on the seat, Superstars probably kicked off onto the floor. Jonathan has his own earphones in and has one arm draped across Nancy’s chest, holding her close. It’s a private, minute sort of intimacy Steve will admit he misses. He quickly turns his attention back to the road ahead and stares out at rolling asphalt and the red flashes of brake lights.

When he hears Jonathan start to snore, his throat constricts painfully and he attempts to swallow down his nerves for the eightieth time tonight and maybe right what he's seemingly wrong.

“Billy,” he softly starts, “Billy, look, can I say something?”

But Billy doesn’t twitch or turn or show any sign of recognition. He just sits there indignantly, lamenting in the corner and throwing himself a pity party over being called out on his bullshit and not taking it well. If Steve was feeling mean he’d say Billy’s acting like a little bitch and making this more difficult than it needs to be by dragging his feet and further constipating his emotions, but the weight of guilt sits heavier in Steve than being indignant; a rock buried in the pit of his stomach. 

“Listen, seriously, if I went too far or I’m wrong about this whole thing, I-”

“Not now,” is all Billy grunts. He makes the slightest jerk of his chin towards the backseat.

And it’s not because oh, right, they’ve got company, but because Billy actually wants to say something and he doesn’t want the peanut gallery to be privy to getting an earful, even if they are seemingly asleep. Doesn’t want them in on what he’s got to say. Steve’s affirmative nod in reply is a brief thing, unmistakable from a shiver.

He can wait a little bit longer.

 

 

Steve takes Nancy and Jonathan back home first.

Nancy’s hall technically shares parking with Jonathan’s, the boundaries of the lots bleeding together, so Steve pulls up halfway between their dorms. They’re mostly awake when they hit the main strip back to campus so there’s no awkward jostling about. Steve flicks off the engine and steps out of the driver’s side to give a yawning Nancy a hug, pat Jonathan’s shoulder in a way that’s as convincingly genuine as he can manage right now, because he had to wait another hour to get Billy alone and now Billy’s actually going to talk and he kind of needs them to go.

Still though, because his mother raised him to mind his manners and summers full of country club visits have made him an expert at lying between his teeth, smiling when he wants to spit, when Nancy thanks him for driving them around and promising to pay him back somehow, he smiles and nods and tells her it’s no problem at all, Nance, seriously.

He then watches the two until they disappear into the blanket of night and then he’s scrambling back into the car, immediately turning to Billy and waiting for something with bated breath.

Billy pulls a pack out from his breast pocket and rolls down the window.

“You wanna talk about this for real, Harrington?” he asks tiredly, staring out at the barely perceptible frosted lawn and bare trees in front of them.

Steve nods a little too eagerly.

“Let’s head back to my place.”

Steve, running on autopilot now, quickly obeys. Does a jerky three point turn out of the space and delivers them to Billy’s hall on the north end of the campus. 

The lights immediately outside of the building have been flicked off, making the usually warm toned brick desaturated and dissolve into the inky darkness of two-thirteen in the morning. Above them, a few of the windows lining the second story are glowing dimly.

The rumbling engine shuts off with an audible purr and it’s suddenly Saturday night again, their spots just switched. Everything’s washed out by the clouded-over moon and lack of street lamps but Steve can clearly see how vulnerable and out of place Billy looks, staring straight ahead and angled away from him. There’s nowhere to run and hide, no company to distract himself with.

He’s smoking and exhaling mostly into the car as opposed to the purposely open window but Steve can’t find it in himself to reprimand him. He’s already burnt halfway through this cigarette.

“So?” Steve starts, voice trilling up a half octave with anticipation.

Jesus, third - thousandth - time better be the fucking charm, here. If Billy gets off more on stringing him along that the prospect of them actually touching tips then Steve’s taking a vow of chastity, never to devote any time to a lustful thought again.

“So,” Billy exhales around it, dragging the ‘s’ so it slithers out from between his teeth, “let's talk about earlier.”

“I’m going to need some more clarification than that. You mean what I was talking about at the show?”

Bill snorts. “What else?”

Steve moves so he’s partially twisted facing Billy. His knee is in the gear shift while one foot hovers in front of the brake pedal and it kind of hurts his back but it’s as good as they’re going to get right now. It’s good Billy’s this close; he can’t hide. Steve can actually see him.

“I mean, I think I was pretty clear earlier.”

“Well, I wanna hear you say it again, no bullshitting.”

Steve briefly scowls at him. “Why would I,” he pauses, pinches the bridge of his nose in mild frustration, “I wasn’t bullshitting you. I wasn’t fucking around earlier and I’m not fucking around now, Billy.” 

First name basis is a definitive indicator of serious shit, is the dividing line between just taking the piss and something harshly sobering. Billy immediately recognizes this and really looks at him, gaze attentive as smoke bleeds out between his fingers.

“Is that what you actually want then, Harrington?” His voice is a low, unsteady rumble, tremors before an earthquake, “That what you actually want from me?”

“What I want,” Steve immediately pauses, wants to swallow it back down. The weight of the words dries his mouth out. He can’t u-turn out of this now — he’s eighty on the freeway about to watch himself accordion the back end of another car. “What I want is for you to look me in the eye and tell me straight if something’s going on here or not.”

The cherry of Billy’s cigarette burns a violent red before cooling into a muted orange. The smoke leaves his lips in heavy, exaggerated spirals and his eyes are trained on Steve again.

“What do you want me to say then, huh? That I meant it when I said you’re hot? Because I already told you, I fucking meant that, I don’t know -”

“Billy,” Steve sighs tiredly, “Just stop. You know what I mean.”

Billy needs another drag of his cigarette after that. “We’re talking about the whole fucking thing, then.” Steve nods. “Fuckin’, alright then. Say that’s true — that I’ve thought about doing some gay shit with you. Handies or BJs or fucking whatever. You want that too.”

As if that’s not fucking obvious, like he hasn’t fucking said that a thousand times. Steve nods out of courtesy though, then dryly adds, “Yeah.”

“Tell me exactly what you want then. Exactly what you want me to do. Then I’ll tell you.”

Steve’s cheeks burn. “C’mon, you already know,” he mumbles.

Billy’s a sadist and nudges him with a sharp elbow, but his voice still sounds unsteady. “But I wanna hear you say it again. I wanna hear how bad you want it.”

It sends a shiver up his spine and Steve feels tingly, lightweight, untethered. If he doesn’t spit out his two cents now, he’ll float away and never touch the ground again.

“I’d fuck you,” Steve nearly whispers it, is suddenly breathless and shy, “I dunno about other specifics but, I just wanna like, touch you? Like, get on top of you and know what it feels like when you get hard. Make you feel me when I’m hard, but like.”

You’re straight. It sits on the end of his tongue.

“But what?” Billy sounds like he’s holding his breath. Steve thinks if he touched him right now, he’d shake like leaves catching the wind.

“You’ve never been with a guy, right? Dated or anything?”

“Uh yeah, no shit,” Billy snorts. If his voice wasn’t so stretched thin and strained, it would almost sound snobby. He’s sitting on the edge of something but he just won’t commit to it. “I hadn’t even really thought about it before — fucking around with guys, because I never really talked toor liked being around a guy that was actually into me. And for the record, I don’t date anyone.

Steve might as well throw his hat in the ring with this one. It’s probably going to come off as desperate, trying to find a loophole or an excuse — makes him think of Shana Baxter trying to worm her way into his bed when he was still dating Nancy, but she doesn’t have to know, I won’t tell anyoneIt’ll be our little secret, Steve.

“Alright fair, but like, we don’t have to date,” he suggests, “we just, y’know, do what we do. And sometimes we fuck around, if we want to.”

“Like fuckbuddies?” Billy almost sounds scandalized. He’s clearly itching for another smoke but his hand’s hesitating on the Marlboro box sitting haphazardly on one thigh. “You sure you can do that Harrington?”

Steve can hear his heart beating in his ears as he’s leaning over the center console with his mouth pressed into a straight line, and boldly says, “I think with you, there's a lot of things I could do, if you’re up for them.”

Billy looks pleased with him despite the rigidity in his posture, the uneasiness clinging to the way he’s got one hand clawing into his side and his muscles are almost vibrating with tension, hold hold —

But then Billy leaning over and he’s fucking kissing him.

Fair to say, Steve wasn’t expecting that. He expected this to be some fucking no homo type shit where Billy will touch his dick but won’t kiss him, will have to be looking at some girl getting her pussy ate at the same time, like that’ll make it more heteronormative.

But no, they're actually fucking kissing. It’s just a prolonged press of mouth on mouth, very PG, and Steve can’t even react he’s so fucking stunned, but when Billy pulls back and stares at him with wide, terrified eyes, inching away like he’s ready to bolt because Steve didn’t do anything back, Steve steals the two seconds of hesitation to gather himself and pull Billy back in.

This time he feels it, the rush of endorphins coursing through him, flooding out like a wave, as the short hairs above Billy’s top lip tickle his own stubble. Something hot fizzles and sparks deep in his belly, has him curling his toes the slightest bit.

Steve parts his lips the slightest amount and lets the tip of Billy’s tongue in. He tastes like ash and the fizzy liquid sugar of cherry lemonade Bang sitting half drunk in one of the cup holders between them. Sharp teeth then graze over Steve’s bottom lip, barely scratching the surface, and Billy tugs almost shyly.

Wanting to see what Billy’s really got, to get the feel for the intensity, Steve cups the back of his head. The buzzed hairs under his palm tickle the cracks between his fingertips and he works his nails in the slightest bit. Billy must like that because he raggedly gasps and grows slightly more ferocious. His thumb is suddenly hooked under Steve’s jaw, anchoring him there as he tilts his head to the side and more aggressively tries to work his way into Steve’s mouth.

Steve can only stay open for him, suddenly overwhelmed by Billy’s taste and sounds and the way his body crackles with sensation in response to everything. It almost feels like he’s dreaming. His mind’s comfortably void and hazy as he slowly drags his own teeth back over Billy’s bottom lip and earns a throaty growl in response. Clearly Billy’s more receptive to the hint of teeth and threat of a bite than he is moving their tongues and lips together, so he’s going to keep doing that —

Then Billy’s pulling away just an inch out of reach and panting against his mouth. His breath is hot and wet and Steve’s having trouble leveling his own inhalation and exhalation. The thumb hooked into the curve of his jaw is still there.

“I think,” Billy grins suddenly, breathless, “I’m up for whatever you got, pretty boy.”