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this endless summer

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The world was a storm of garish lights and distorted voices, of desperate hands grasping and pulling Billy to their will. He wanted to move - to struggle. To make all of it stop.

Yet, trying to move was like wading through thick mud - his legs and arms as heavy as lead. Too heavy: too heavy for him to bear.

For a moment, he didn't care that he was going to slip away. To sink deeper. It almost felt right. Why hold on?

He was jerked upright suddenly and hoisted flat. He let out a sharp, cry of panic.


"Billy." A hand touched his face and cupped his cheek. The lid of his right eye lifted and a light blanched his vision pure-white.

"Can you hear me, son?" The voice said.

Her hand was warm. Her voice soft. He wanted to reach for it. He needed to be reminded that someone was there, that he wasn't going to sink any further.

That she wouldn't leave him.


"We've got you." The voice answered.

Circles of white flew over his head, faster and faster in a row of headlights. Too fast.

Shadows ate at the corners of his vision, like the rolling paper of a lit cigarette. They spread further and further over his vision. Until, even the brightest lights became small and dim.




Billy woke in a small, unfamiliar room. He came to slowly, then all at once. Like breaking the surface of the water after diving too deep into the depths, he took in a sharp intake of breath. Exhale.

The bulk of his torso was swollen and tender. It hurt to move, to breathe, even.

A stale taste of old blood coated his tongue, like he had sucked on an old, rusty penny.

The air was bitter - chemical. It brought him somewhere. Reminded him of something terrible. He choked on it, coughing suddenly. Pushing the thought from his mind before it could take root.

There was a small fan by his bedside but it was still painfully humid. He felt grimy with sweat, trapped beneath the cocoon of bed-sheets.

Outside, there was the hum of traffic. Day-light pierced through the gaps in the blinds and a small, merciful breeze blew through the open window and the blinds swayed. Heat pooled on his right side: he was bleeding again. He peered down at his own body, tucked beneath fabrics of powder-blue and garish white.

His eyes lingered on his hand, where the IV protruded from his skin. He lifted it, palm facing up. Flexed and curled all five of his fingers and spanned them out wide. A thought took hold of him with a sudden vengeance as he looked at his fingers. No, not a thought.

A girl thrashed in his grip as his solid grip closed around her throat.

Nausea lurched through him.

No. No more. He couldn't throw up anymore. The muscles of his stomach was sore, like he had been kicked repeatedly. He dry-heaved and groaned.

Bringing his misty eyes to the bed-side table, he focused on the small photograph there. It was his employee photograph. Glue onto the front of a small folded white card, covered in scrawled, chicken-scratch signatures.

A red-inked heading read Get Well Soon! - from the guys at Hawkins Pool.

It felt like months then, since Freddie had stopped him at the pool-side and taken it - not a little under three weeks. Three of them had all started the same week at the community-pool.

"This seat taken?" He'd asked, when he’d stopped by Heather's table. At first, she'd glared up at him for the disturbance, her mouth pursed and lids low. Then, slowly, her features relaxed, eyes going wide as she sat a little more upright in place.

"No, go ahead," She'd said.

He'd caught the flutter of her lashes, when she'd looked up at him from her application, pinching the fleshy lobe of her ear. When he'd caught her out, she'd lowered her head and wet her lips with her tongue, nervous.

Billy had chewed on the tip of the pen to stop himself from laughing. In her ears, she had two white, pearl earrings. Probably some expensive birthday gift from Mommy and Daddy, he'd thought. Or, were they silver hoops?

When Billy tried to recall that day, or any day before, it felt steeped with heaviness. The more he thought of her, the more the vision of her face started to change. Morph. The whites of her eyes dripped down her cheeks and her skin bubbled into red froth and sank like candle-wax.

"Don't you look away." the melted girl said. "Look at me."

"I'm sorry," he wanted to tell her, over and over.

"So what." She spat, words bubbling like she was drowning in boiling water.

"You did this to me."

The heart monitor picked up as Billy thrashed. He tried to will away the thoughts. What does it matter what I say now?  She's gone. It's done.

And, here he was - alive and breathing. My fault. A sharp hot sting pricked his eyes. Pressure weighed heavy on his chest, curled tight in his throat like a fist. What good would crying do? Fucking useless.

He pressed the heels of his palms hard into his eyes, breath tight and heaving. There was a small click from the other side of the room. The door edged open and a red-head peered through the gap. He felt the weight on his chest ease.

      "Billy?" Max said, her eyes going wide. She didn't move past the door-frame. For a few beats, she kept her blue eyes on him, still wary.

"Max." The sound of his own voice startled him. It was alone - belonged to him again. Him, only.

Max slid through the door and brought it to a close behind her, her back flat against it.

"Is it really you?" She questioned. Her mouth scrunched up, in an attempt to keep it from drooping at the corners. She did that often, just before she was about to cry: he'd known it well.

"Are you back?" It wasn't a question that he knew the answer to. How would he ever know? He wasn't sure of anything anymore: not in a world where shit like that could exist. That shadow.

And, yet…There was pain.

That overwhelming cold. The shadow that had hung over him and draped its sharp, heavy head over his shoulder. Clung to him, seeped through him. Filled his veins with an ice that turned his skin cold and taut like dead flesh.

All of it was gone. In its place, was just the pain and the ache.

His body was broken but it was his own. Warm and sticky in the July humid heat. Human.

"It's gone." He said finally. "I can't feel it anymore." As soon as he said the words, Max pushed herself off the door. She pulled out the white chair from the corner of the room and brought it closer to sit by his bed-side.

Billy didn't move. She was still afraid of him: he saw that. He stayed still. In the quiet room, his breath came out all too loudly. In small, short slivers of air. It was a weak, frail sound: he hated that he couldn't help it.

Max braced her balled hands on her knees, shoulders to her ears and head low. The length of her red hair curtained the side of her face. He saw the light catch in her eyes as they pooled with tears.

"I'm sorry, Max."

She squeezed her eyes closed tight, breathed in carefully as she listened. Billy's eyes lowered to the grey bruise on her cheekbone. The sight of it filled him with dread.

"I'm sorry for everything."

"Stop it." She cut him off. She brought a hand to her freckled cheek and wiped away the runaway tear like it was a pest, like she was mad at it for letting it spill.

"Just, get better first." She lifted her head firmly, defiantly. He took a small, quiet comfort in the constant. Of her. Not everything had changed. The world still held some comforting familiarity.

Don't call me that. It's Max or nothing. The same as the little girl he had met years ago. Mad Max.

"Just. Get better first. Then, we'll talk, okay?"

He held her gaze, like they were stupid little kids again, making a vow. "Alright." He said, resisting a strange urge to laugh. She accepted it with a nod, before her eyes pulled away, their focus and intensity lost – their pact sealed.

For a while, Max chewed on the inside of her cheek, a small wrinkle deepening between her brows.

"What is it?" He asked, knowing.

"I called them." She grasped at one side of her wispy hair, pulling the curls straight. "They're...on their way home. It'll be a day or two."

Susan had bugged Neil for a vacation. For just a single month away. It had taken a lot of convincing, on her part. Ever since School finished, Neil was on them constantly. If it wasn't him - which it mostly was - then it was occasionally Max.

Susan made sure they wouldn’t spend all Summer stuck under one roof: seemed she wasn't as stupid as she looked.

"El was here too."

He tensed at the name. The sound of it flooding him with an instant panic.

Find her, find her, find her. The shadow loomed over a memory of a small, blood-streaked face, behind a veil of shimmering red. And, it hated. Billy winced as a sharp pain shot through his torso, radiating off him with the heavy throb of his heart.

The medication was starting to wear off, bringing on a burgeoning constant ache. The other side of his body still itched like Hell. He grit his teeth together hard and bunched up the bed-sheets in his fists, resisting the urge to just go to fucking town and start scratching his skin raw.

"Billy-?" Max said. At the sound of her voice, his grip relaxed on the covers. 

The tips of her fingers found his other hand. She lightly settled her palm over his bruised knuckles. Her touch was warm, soft. "I'm...glad you're okay."

It was so quiet that he almost missed it - she was trying not to cry.

She didn't look at him as she touched him, and Billy was okay with that. It would only make it harder for them both.

He swallowed the lump in his throat and curled his fingers around hers, returning the gesture with a careful squeeze.


-


For the next two days, Max stopped by. It was a good distraction. Being that it had saved him for hours of being trapped in bed, watching shitty, day-time T.V.

They had talked as they ate whatever shit the hospital churned out for him. Lunch was the best meal of the day - placed on the middle of the scale between God-fucking-awful to just about edible.

Today was decent enough. An old wrinkled baked potato with a single square of unsalted butter, a cup of warm orange jello and a brown-spotted banana.

They split the banana. Billy ate the fluffy, buttered part of the potato and Max got to finishing the rest, leaving the skin like always.

"How'd you get here?" Billy asked through a large mouthful, scooping at the side of the jello-pot.

"I got a ride from Steve."

Billy almost choked. Harrington? He coughed and beat once at his chest, eyes watering a little.

"He didn't stay for long." Max continued with a shrug.

Why, Steve, of all people? What did he care? He wouldn't be surprised if he'd wished him dead at some point. Probably hoping that he would just slip away quietly. He knew he hated him.

Max must've forced him, cajoled him into it somehow. 

Max prodded at the mushy innards of the potato and let out a sudden, private laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Billy pushed.

"I think you traumatized him." Max smirked. "You full-on projectiled, like the Exorcist girl. It was pretty gross."

Billy dropped the remainder of the jello onto his tray. Well, chunky, orange jello was a lost cause now. "Thanks for that."

The last time he’d seen Steve was just before the start of Summer. At the Arcade on a rainy day in May, he had caught a brief glimpse through a window through the mist of the glass. He’d been laughing, leaning up against the basket-game as the curly-kid made a shitty shot for the basket.

How long had he sat there, with him looking like this? In an ass-less gown, incoherent and spilling his guts every hour. Billy cringed at the thought.

"Don't act like you finished that movie." He reminded her.

Max's eyes wide like he’d spat in her face. "Neither did you." The two of them had stopped long before the end. At the weird and literal exorcism scene with the two old Priests.

"Only cos you started fuckin' crying," He snorted.

"That is so untrue." It was. "You almost puked." Partially true. Though, she would have to pry the confession from his cold, dead hands.

A lot of girls had dragged Billy to horror movies as some half-baked excuse to initiate touch without fear of judgement - not that he cared enough to judge. Why would he? He was there to get laid, anyways.

Max, on the other hand, actually liked them. She’d seen all of the Living Dead movies, the late 70s slashers and teen murder sprees.

Once, it intrigued and pissed him off. Who was this puny little shit to act so tough and unbothered?

A needle to his neck and a swinging rusty nail-bat landing inches from his balls had made him re-evaluate that stance.

"Max-?" A small voice made them both turn.

There, in the doorway, stood El.

She had slipped in like a ghost: none of them had even heard the door.

"El?" Max got onto her feet. "I didn't think you'd come back." She took hold of the other girl's hands. "You don't have to be here."

"No." The strange girl told her with a smile. "I do." She caught eyes with Billy.

"I want to talk to him for a second." She said the words strangely, like she were testing the sound of them on her tongue. "Is that...okay?"

Talk? What did she want to talk about? It should've been fucking ridiculous: for him to be afraid. Pathetic. She was a little girl. Just some kid.

Yet, he knew better now. Even that shadow had feared her. A residual flash of survival-panic clutched him for a moment and his eyes lowered to her hands, watched them carefully.

"Then, I guess...I’ll leave you guys to talk." She nervously turned, but not before she shot Billy a warning, wide-eyed look - as if making sure he wouldn't start something.

Stupid. With this girl? He would've had to be out of his mind.

El took the seat by his bed-side before Billy could say a word. They sat in silence for a few moments: the only sound the flutter of the fan's blades as they spun in circles.

"I saw you." She said. Without having to ask, he knew what she meant.

"I know." He said quietly, in surrender.

To be known and seen so completely: there was a shame in it. It was weakness.

People could smell weakness like blood in the water. They'd use it against you, without hesitation. Pain would always follow. A sharp clip around the ear or the lash of a belt on his shoulders.

He'd learned to brace for the reaction. Even if it never came, he tensed up on instinct. He could never let his guard down, not for a second.

And, yet. He couldn't hide - not from her.

With shame also came a strange sense of relief. Of stillness.

"I'd never done that before. Not like that." She whispered, bewildered. "I've never been able to see like that."

She brought her eyes to the wound on his right side is: the worst of the two. It hurt like a bitch when the meds wore off. As she lingered on it, her face hardened.

"Why did you do that?" She asked, voice barely above a whisper.

On the fourth of July, Billy had - for the first time in his life - spent the whole day in his room. Dormant and caged.

In wait.

Rattling the bars of the cage. He was unable to even end it all like he'd wanted. To hang himself in his bedroom closet or slit his wrists in the bathtub. Just, to take back some measure of control - to spite the fucking thing.

Billy. Can you hear me? There had been a voice. In that cold, dark he had felt the touch of her small hand and warmth had flooded back to his fingers. I want to see what happened, she’d said.

"I needed-" He stopped to search for the right words. "I needed a reminder."

t was what she had given him. In startling clarity, he had felt it. The feeling of home. The hush of the waves and the cheer of a voice.

He saw and heard her again. A twirling figure in white, like a feather in the breeze. It had anchored him, given him what he needed to push back. To fight.

"You brought me back." He said.

It was the truth. As he considered his choices and thought back to that day.

To that moment. Staring up at the creature made of flesh and bone. He knew he would do it again.

El lowered her eyes and wrung her hands, still troubled. "It said, it built everything...for me."

The words drifted over him slowly like a dark cloud, his mouth twitched at the sound of the words and formed them on his lips. He remembered them.

"Everything that's happened, all the pain and-"

"It's not your fault." He was quick to stop the thought. When she lifted her head back up, he made sure to hold her gaze, like she had held his. "It's not your fault, alright?" He said sharply.

She nodded once, seemingly accepting the words. Yet, tears still gathered in her eyes.

The tips of her finger and thumb found a small, blue woven bracelet on her wrist and she curled her fingers around it like a life-line. A small comfort: a reminder.

Billy had never taken his off either. He felt the weight of it against his chest, soft against his skin.

"I'm...sorry about your...dad." Billy told her in a quiet voice. As soon as he said it, her face crumpled. A sudden sob broke free from her, like she'd been holding in a large breath. She started to cry loudly.

Shit. Why the fuck did I say that?

It was loud enough that Max, or anyone passing, would misunderstand. He could already picture her face, marching in from the hall. A picture of outrage.

Billy twisted to turn himself and reached for the bed-side table. He grasped at the box of tissues and tried to pull one out.

Another one clung on, and another and another until he ripped the last one free with a desperate tug. In the end, he held a messy clump of five.

When he turned, he noticed that she had stopped crying. Only a small sniffle escaped her as he handed her the sheets.

"Here." He said hurriedly.

She merely blinked at him, face blotchy and red.

"Just, take them," He insisted.

She reached out her hand with uncertainty, palm facing upright. She peered down as he dropped them, like he had dumped a bug or toad in her palm. El folded the mess as best as she could and blew her nose until it was Rudolph-red.

She stopped before she spoke again, eyes thoughtful and sad as she looked over his face.

"I'm sorry about yours too." She said softly, eyes searching.

Billy felt a lump swell in his throat. "You and me both, kid."


-

Two days passed before Neil arrived at the hospital.

Billy heard him before he saw him. Outside his room, the tone of his voice sent a sudden ice-cold panic through him. He turned his head on the pillow and fell lax, eyes closed like he's sleeping. At rest. Quiet as the dead.

The door opened and the slow, heavy footsteps stopped by his bed-side. Billy felt all too aware of his own breath as it escaped through his nose. Of the rise and fall of his chest as Neil were eyes are on him, watching and discerning.

"Billy."

He almost flinched - gave away that he could hear his voice. The pain made it easier to stay still. It had gone on long enough that he had ceased needless movement, to avoid further hurt.

Neil didn't touch him. But, behind his lids, Billy could his shadow. He felt its presence over him and his heart sat in his throat, like it was going to burst from his chest and out him. Reveal his cowardice.

"William." He said, low and careful." Get up, son."

There was once a time when he would have been fooled by the softness. A stupid, naive kid who had wanted to hear it - just the once. That kid was lost. Billy had put his hands around his throat, smothered his voice. He had to - that kid wasn't going to survive otherwise.

Billy felt a slight tug on his IV, pulling at the skin. It dawned on Billy slowly that the tubes were in Neil's fists. "I know you can hear me." He said, as he squeezed them. 

"Sir." A voice broke into the room and relief flooded Billy like a wave. "Visiting hours are almost over."

"I'm his father."

"I'm sorry." She repeated. "He'll still be here tomorrow," No, Billy panicked. He couldn't play-dead forever.

"Don't you worry." The Nurse said, joyfully. She stood by his bed, at Neil's side. "He's a strong kid."

"When?" Was all Neil said, sharp and to the point.

"Excuse me?"

"When will he be ready to leave?"

There was a long moment of silence before the woman replied. "Well, assuming he continues this way. He should be okay to move in just over a week, or so." She continued. "Then, he'll need to return for his physio-"


"I'll come by in ten days to collect him." He cut her off and turned to leave without another word.

Billy listened for the retreating footsteps of his shoes, straining his ears to hear until the door closed and the sound faded.

He didn't open his eyes for a few minutes - to be safe and certain. When he did, the older Nurse greeted him with a smile, eyes crinkling at the corners.

She leaned down, a little too close for his comfort as she asked. "How's your pain?"

"Been worse." He murmured.

The woman nodded, half-listening as she worked. She frowned as she checked him and then adjusted the tubes of his IV.

“Get some rest." She told him him. He felt a familiar heaviness bleed through him. Any panic he felt at fading slowly dispersed. The fearful voice soon grew quiet and still. Within moments, he slipped away into unconsciousness.

 



Steve ran a hand through his hair, still tacky with product and sweat. He was strangely nervous as he took in the sight of the hospital building through his wind-shield. "Does he even know we're coming?" Steve asked.

In the back-seat Max's eyes went wide. "I told him." She said, although it wasn't as clear an answer than he would have liked.

He'd wanted to know if he knew he was coming, not if he'd been told.

It was busier than usual as he pulled into the car-park of Hawkins Hospital. An asshole driver behind him revved as he slowed to turn. The heat made everyone crazier. Here was no exception.

"He should be waiting outside." Max said. Under her breath, she grumbled. "Probably, smoking a whole packet of Reds. God knows, he wouldn't shut up about it."

"Great." Steve sighed, unenthused. He couldn't help but question his shitty luck. Especially, after being saddled with this task. Clearly, someone up there had a great sense of humor.

"Anything you need me to do. Just, let me know." A week ago, that was what he had told a distressed Joyce.

They had spent all day talking about Hopper. Talked over Chinese-takeout and a few drinks and tried to keep things positive in his memory.

Yet, of course, there were tears. Once they'd started, they hadn't stopped. Steve had watched it all, helpless.

“There's one thing.” She'd said, tired, teary eyes finding his.

Dr. Owens had returned to Hawkins with a small-team and re-stationed themselves at Hawkins Lab.

Steve didn't like the look of it - none of them did. Nancy, especially.

Normally, Hopper dealt with all of this stuff. He'd dealt with all the "paper-work" and the weird cover-ups to the Upside-Down. He'd kept their secrets in exchange of his own, to protect El. With him gone, Joyce had to step in. Yet, work, moving and the kids had kept her busy.

Dr. Owens still needed answers. He'd claimed they needed to make sure it was gone, for good. Which meant they would have to ask none than the Mindflayer's recent host and resident douche-bag: Billy Hargrove.

Apparently, that's where he came in. Steve Harrintgon: taxi-service.

"There!" Max threw her arm out beside his head to point out of the window.

Billy stood against the wall by the glass-doors, hands tucked deep inside the pockets of an oversized grey hoodie. Black sweats and white sneakers. Not his usual style.

The guy looked like a poor man's Rocky. He faced down the street, letting his head fall back against the wall so he could bask in in the sun.

Sure enough, he was smoking - like Max had predicted. In a state of unawares and stripped of the usual rough edges of his own tough-guy clothes - he almost seemed normal. Almost.

"Would you get back-" Steve sighed, as Max hung over his shoulder. "Are you even wearing your seat-belt?"

She sat back and rolled her eyes. He caught her pretend to fasten it and hold it in place, while they settled in the spot. As soon as the car stopped, she leapt forward and pressed hard on the car-horn.

"Carefu-"

"Billy!" She hollered through the crack in the window, blowing out Steve's ear-drum.

Billy lifted his head, squinting in the sunlight. He took one more lingering toke before he ground it under his sneaker.

Steve braced himself as he walked over, hands sticky with sweat on the wheel. When Billy reached them, his eyes narrowed. He stopped short of Steve's door.

"Harrington." He said, the sound trailing off a little at the end. Just as Steve had thought - Max hadn't told him who was coming to collect.

Billy's sharp eyes darted by Steve to glare at Max in the back seat.

"He's just dropping us off." She explained. "He knows where this place is."

Billy pressed his tongue against his cheek, his eyes darting to Steve to appraise him briefly then back to Max. "Don't need him to chauffeur me anywhere."

"Then, how will you get there, numb-nuts?” Steve cut in. "You gonna walk?”

Billy's eyes snapped back to his. The look hadn't changed. The look Steve learned to stay clear of. Only, what could he do to him now, looking like this?

"It's not like you can drive there yourself." Max told him.

Billy almost looked ready to argue the point. Too bad his car was a wreck. It had been picked up and sent for repairs by his Dad. Till it was fixed, the guy was car-less and stranded.

For a few beats, Billy just stared. Steve gave in on his stupid staring contest, pulling his eyes away from his glare. "Are you getting in, or what?!" 

The passenger door opened and Billy got inside, ducked his head low and landed on the seat with a small heave of breath.

As they left the lot, there was not a single sound or word. That is, until Billy moved forward and turned on the radio. The tape inside burst to life.

Reach the stars, Fly a fantasy-

Steve slammed his hand on the eject button. The tape leapt out, clattered against the gear-stick and fell into the floor of the passenger seat.

Where - of course, Billy retrieved it. He read the front of the tape with evident disgust, nostrils flaring.

"That...that was Dustin's." Heat rushed to Steve’s cheeks. Billy said nothing. But, Steve could feel his judgement and and his glare, boring into the side of his head.

In the back seat, Max cleared her throat. Steve caught her eyes in the mirror as she turned to face the window, lips pressing together to hide a smile.

It had started out as a joke, when he’d picked up Dustin a few days ago. He’d pulled up to his house, blasting it through the car window. The boy had got in and chewed him out. Yet, on the drive, they’d actually started to sing the stupid thing in earnest.

It was annoyingly catchy.

After another minute of painful silence, Steve finally caved. "So. Are you feeling more like...you, again?"

Maybe, it was a dumb question. It wasn’t like he’d ever been the poster-boy for the well-adjusted. The guy had always been a loose fucking canon. Sure, he calmed down a bit in the last year. But, those base qualities remained the same. Aggressive, impulsive, pig-headed and violent. Definitely had a screw-loose.

"More or less." Billy shrugged and slumped in the passenger seat. Other than the scab on his cheek and his paler coloring, Steve couldn't see much of the damage.

Especially not when he was covered head-to-toe, for the first time in his life.

Steve knew that it was pretty bad, however. That day, he'd seen it for himself from the edge of the balcony on second floor of the Mall. He had just thrown the last of their fireworks. The heat of them still tingled and singed the skin of his fingers. Then, he'd seen him.

Billy had thrown his hands out and caught the blow. Stood in the way of the creature and El. He'd been brought to his knees, pierced on either side of his body.

Helpless to do anything, Steve was sure he'd be killed right there. When the creature let out a sudden screech, squirmed and thrashed. Billy dropped to the floor, shirt soaked red. And, the creature had curled up like a dead-spider. It had been a close call after that, to get him to the ambulance.

According to Max, they had almost lost him on the way to the hospital.

Steve had followed Max and Lucas into his room, for moral support. At the time, Billy had been incoherent and in and out of consciousness. He'd ripped out his IV twice: thrashing and screaming. It was hard to watch.

Even harder for Max.

In the passenger seat of his car, Billy huffed like a child.

He moved position into a new more awkward-looking one. Pulling the sleeves of the oversized hoodie up, only to pull them back down again moments later with a wince. Steve adjusted the air-con so it circulated better.

He rubbed at the base of his neck as he muttered, "You know, I hit you." He admitted. "With the car."

"I know."

"You remember?"

"Bits and pieces." Billy's lids were heavy and eyes unfocused, weirdly unfazed.

Steve had wanted to stop the momentum. To redirect it off-course. In the moment, it was the only thing he could think to do.

It only occurred to him after that he might've killed him - he wasn't sure how to feel about something like that being on his conscience.

"I didn't know what else to do."

Billy gave a long, tired sigh. "It worked, didn't it?"

Well. That was not what he expected to hear - not after he T-boned the guy. "Still, it’s not like I-"

Billy grumbled something under his breath. He sat upright and started rooting through Steve's box of tapes, flicking them against one another with little click-clacks.

Steve thought he should say more. Ask him about what had happened with El, what had happened with the Mindflayer.

How had he gotten into all this mess in the first place? When Billy pushed one of the tapes into the radio and cranked up the volume: an old The Cars tape. It whirled back into place:


-And wasting all my time


Billy turned his head back to look out of the window. Well, if that was the case. Not talking suited him just fine.

They passed through the town center and it still felt heavy and grim. Everyone was in mourning. The streets busier than they had been in months.

With Starcourt gone, people returned to the smaller businesses. Those who had managed to stay open were hard at work again.

Although, it was a disquiet, nervous busyness.

Hawkins was changed.

Steve had known that for a year. Now, it had reached a point where everyone else realized it too. Everywhere he went, there were posters for a missing child, sister, parent. Photographs of faces were plastered on shop windows, outside schools, stores and offices.

In a heap on the streets, they scattered across the sidewalk like fallen leaves. Steve thought about their families. How they would wait for some kind of answer, resolution or for someone to blame.

It was an terrible thing to consider. No bodies would be found amidst the charred rubble of Starcourt.

"Every time I think life can't get any crazier." Steve muttered. “This place just keeps proving me wrong.”

"Always knew it was a Grade-A shit-hole." Billy mumbled.

"Well. Guess you weren't wrong. It's clearly cursed or something."

"Or something," Billy repeated.

They passed by a wreath and a large gathering of flowers and Billy's head turned to look. A girl a few years younger than Dustin leaned down by a boy's photograph, wrapped a small pink ribbon around the bouquet left on the floor before it.

Steve caught the change in Billy's profile as he turned back. The way his throat worked to swallow, his lips pressing together.

Steve pulled them away from the scene.

When they passed by the woodlands, Billy broke their very brief moment of peace.

"Your face is fucked, Harrington." He said. "Who'd you piss off this time?"

"Billy, come on." Max warned.

 "I'm just asking him a question." Billy replied, tone sharp.

Steve sighed as he turned. "I was interrogated by Russians and drugged with truth serum." He stated. It was the truth. Of course, it doesn't convince him. The immediate bemusement on his face made that clear.

"You?" He snorted. "Interrogated for what?"

"Don't ask me, man. It was insane," Steve ran a hand through his hair in exasperation. "This month's been a crazy shit-show."

Crazy wasn't the half of it. In the space of a few short days, everything changed.

In one Summer.

Hell, it wasn't ever over yet. He had a mind to wonder where Billy would have been - if all of it had never happened. Steve had often found himself wondering that for himself, too. If he had not come to Johnathan's house, would he have ever known what was going on in Hawkins? Right beneath their feet?

Or, worse. Would he have been one of those black and white faces on the posters?

"That day, at the Byers house." Billy's voice broke him from the grim thought.

"If I'd have known about all this...shit." Billy was still turned away, facing the flurry of trees outside the window. "And...what was really going on with Max."

Wait a second, Steve stopped. "You....what?"

Billy turned his head, lids heavy and eyes on a fixed-point - at the collar of Steve’s shirt. "I'm saying, I misunderstood the situation."

The understatement of the century. Steve blinked at him, his mind carefully piecing together the events of that day.

He spluttered as he tried to find the words. Any words, at all. He'd threatened Max. Tried to hurt Lucas. He could've killed him. If it weren't for Max, he might’ve.

"And?" Steve pressed. There was nothing to lose now. It was not like he could swing at him, like this. Well, he guessed he could try, but Steve would have the advantage.

"And, I over-reacted." Billy said finally.

There was another long pause as Steve waited for more, for some kind of follow up. When that didn't happen, he laughed. "Wow. You think?"

“Harrington.” It almost sounded almost like a warning, in the way he said it. In the dead, yet pointed tone in his voice.

Steve was beyond caring now. The guy was unbelievable. He could warn all he wanted. Steve was going to tell him.

"You know what? For a moment, it almost sounded like that was you were going to actually apologize." He scoffed. "Guess you're incapable of being a fucking normal person."

He doubted that Billy Hargrove had ever apologized in his life. It must be a new, startling concept, like a caveman discovering fire.

Max got between the two of their seats. "Guys, would you stop?"

"Would you put your seat-belt on?" Steve snapped back at her.

With another sigh, she threw herself back into her seat and grumbled, fixing it back with a click.

 

Hawkins Lab dwarfed the car in shadow and blocked out the sun. It made Steve's skin crawl. Talk about cursed. A place that housed such death and unimaginable torture would forever be tainted.

The car crawled to a slow stop and Billy was the first to get out, without another word. Steve watched him go and shook his head, letting out an incredulous breath.

Of course, the guy wouldn't say thank you.

"Steve." Max said as she gathered her ruck-sack. "So, you'll be back to pick me up, right? At fi-"

"At five, yeah." He waved her off. Steve Harrington: chauffeur, baby-sitter and glutton for punishment. Chump.

Max rested up against the back of his seat. "Steve." She murmured. At her voice, he turned, still irritable. "Thank you." She said earnestly, soft and sweet. He gave her a small nod and a reluctant smile. It was not her fault - he knew that.

It was just their shitty situation. And, all of the shit that kept happening to them. He wished they could've gone just one year without losing someone, or without feeling like the world was going to end. Was that even possible in Hawkins anymore?

Maybe it really was cursed.

There was a sudden wrap on the window.

On the other side of the glass, stood Billy. Steve's eyes were drawn to a sudden flash of gold on the other side of the glass, like the glimmer of a penny in a water fountain.

It swung from Billy's neck, catching the sunlight like a star. He rolled down the window half-way and peered over.

"Harrington." Billy spouted, like he was taking registration in homeroom.

"What?" Steve frowned. Billy rested his arm on the roof of the car and looked around, like he was expecting someone to listen in. Only, no one was around.

"...yes?" Steve pressed. He didn't have all day.

Billy huffed and ground his teeth, jaw tight. His voice got quieter when he finally spoke.

"Words don't mean much but, for the record," He sighed before he set his eyes on him firmly. "I'm sorry."

It was clearly painful for him. Excruciating, even. Steve wanted to hate him for that fact alone. Yet, it still caught him off-guard. The longer he waited, the more he realized that he was actually trying.

He waited for the ball to drop. For a loud, obnoxious "Psyche!" to follow and a high-five to his forehead. When none of that happened, he found that he wasn't as angry as he thought.

"Did you…hit your head at some point?" He asked.

Billy rolled his eyes and stood upright as Steve chased him with another question, "Did it get knocked harder than I thought?"

Billy pressed his tongue against the inside of his cheek and smiled, irritably.

"Later, Harrington." He clapped his hand hard down twice on the roof and turned to leave. Steve watched the two of them go, eyes narrowing as they walk up the parking-lot.

Max attempted to lift Billy's arm over his shoulder as he walked but - of course - he stubbornly resisted her.

He continued to walk with a slight limp, trying to match her pace. Typical. As soon as they entered the building, Steve drove away, leaving the shadow of the lab behind him.


-


After he dropped Max off at home, Steve drove around for an hour, lost in his thoughts. Robin had spent some time back at home, so Steve had spent a lot of his week with the kids and Joyce.

A few days prior, he'd helped Mike and Dustin to unpack Hopper’s cabin. El had walked around, looking around at the bare walls and floor, eyes misty and lost.

She had picked up every record, his old coffee-mugs and ran her hands over the plaid shirts in a pile on the couch. Steve had no idea what to say to her.

What could he? It had been the only real home she had ever known. For a brief period of time, she had finally found one. It sucked.

In their new home, maybe she could find peace. It was the least he could hope for. In getting the Hell away from Hawkins and from all the bad memories.

Steve exhaled a deep breath, in an attempt to lighten the heavy ache that had twisted up into a tight knot. He peered up at his rear-view mirror, at the dark shadowy hollows under his eyes.

He pulled up at his house and got out, juggling his keys between his hands. When he opened the door, he was greeted with darkness. He kicked off his shoes, letting them bounce messily across the carpet.

It didn't matter. It was just him, after all.

He turned on all the main lights and went to the fridge. There, he pulled out two pieces of left-over pizza from a few nights ago. He rested his back against the door as he ate it cold.

After he had washed up, he went to the phone. There was a small note which read: Call if you need anything in cursive writing.

Steve lifted the receiver and input each of the digits with slow deliberation, his chest filling with dread. She'd had asked him for an update. Even if she hadn’t really meant it, she couldn’t go back on the words.

It wasn't like he was bugging them, if she'd asked. He finished the last digit and waited.

“Hello!?” Mom's voice was tinny as she shouted, clearly struggling to hear over music playing in the background.

“Mom. It’s Steve.”

"Oh, honey, how are you?” She said brightly. “We were worried sick." In the background, he heard more voices. Laughter. Steve chewed hard on the inside of his cheek.

"Uh-huh." He sighed as he leaned against the wall. He flicked the pool-light on, illuminating the yard in a cool blue light. Without fail, it always gave him pause: he hated the look of it in the dark.

“You asked me to call.” He reminded her.

“Oh, yes. Right.” So, she had needed the reminder. There was a long pause before she replied. It was long enough for Steve to question if she had left. "Have they discovered what caused that terrible fire yet?" She asked finally.

"Not yet." He turned in a different position and let the phone-cord wrap around his body. From her end, he heard the rustle of movement, and the melodic clink of glasses. A few excitable hushed words as she spoke to someone else. She laughed. Irritation pricked at the roots of his scalp like tiny needles.

"When will you guys be home?" He was sharper at the ‘when’ - he couldn't help himself.

"Honey, we told you when." She sighed. It was like being a child again: being spoken to like he's stupid for asking why they're not around. Why they had missed his seventh birthday. Mom, I miss you. When are you coming home?

Steve pressed his forehead against the wall-paper and tucked himself beside the phone, nestling his face against the tacky-surface. He swallowed his pride and surrendered. "It's been a pretty bad month." He sighed. "I kinda...need you guys."

"I'm right here, sweetheart." She said. "Talk to me." Steve's throat filled with a solid lump. He relaxed his grip on the phone, just a little. Indulged in the thought of dropping it and leaving her hanging. He wondered if she'd even notice, or care.

Before he could clear his throat, she spoke, "Honey," She said, letting out an affected little sigh. "I know you wanted to prove something with this little job and I'm sorry how it all ended. But maybe this is a sign-"

"Prove something?"

“You've always had options.” She added. “Your father still could find you work with the company, should you accept it. You could put some more effort into applying for college, next fall." She continued. "But, it just seems to me like you're hell-bent on making your life harder. And, I just can't understand why."

"Mom." He stopped her and ran a hand through his hair. Dad had already beaten that conversation to death and he wasn't in the mood for a re-run. "I'll call you tomorrow, okay? I'm kind of tired. And, I've gotta get up early."

"Oh, okay, honey." She said, a little too quick to accept- not that Steve had ever expected her to dwell. It was not a shock, but it still stung. He heard the smile in her voice: the fake pleasantry as she continued: "I'll talk to you soon, okay? Try and get some rest." She blew three kisses down the phone. "I love you."

"Love yo-" The call cut off. Steve waited for a few seconds, listening to the flat-line dial. Then, he uncurled himself from the wire and put down the receiver.

He cupped his face in his hands. It was still sore - especially the skin under his eye. He couldn't bring himself to look at it in the mirror right now -not with all the swelling.

He made his way to the fridge and pulled out a packet of frozen-vegetables. He spent the rest of his evening watching some of his recording of Live-Aid, with a bowl of chips and a cold compress.

The recording had come out pretty well. He left the TV on downstairs before he went to bed, some re-run of a soap-opera. Then, in his room, he put on the radio.

The gathering of voices and sound soothed him. It was much easier to sleep with when it felt like the house was full of voices, life and noise. Like, he wasn't all alone.

 

Chapter Text


Earlier that morning, Billy had been dropped off at home by one of Dr. Owen’s staff - just a few blocks away from the place Neil had once called their ‘home.’ In total, he'd spent four days at Hawkins Lab. They’d reopened the infirmary to treat, observe him and monitor him for any strange activity.

They'd taken his blood for tests, attached him to a machine that measured his brain-waves and put him through rigorous a rigorous line of questions. After day one, he’d grown irritable at their poking and prodding. The way they’d looked through him when they put their hands on him, ignoring his voice.

Or, they way they had moved him without any explanation, like he was some rag-doll.

On the third day, he’d lost it with one of the male-nurses. A twitchy, bug-eyed guy who had manhandled him a little too firmly into the chair in front of Dr. Owen’s desk.

He’d acted without thought and snatched the man’s collar, pulling him down to his level. They were quick to wrestle him free and force him back into the seat.

Thereafter, two of them were always stationed behind either of his shoulders. Dr. Owens had watched the scene unfold with a resigned look. It wasn’t until Billy had stopped struggling that he had spoken. "Seems it chose well." He’d said.

"What?"

Dr. Owens had opened the manila folder on his desk, flipping through the sleeves. "I've taken the liberty of looking through a few of our files. A few school reports, one or two police records,” He'd lifted his brows up, wrinkling the skin of his forehead, “Numerous speeding tickets,”

By its side, had been another manila folder, with a small photograph pinned to the corner of a familiar pale-faced young boy. "It may have even observed you before the event." He'd mumbled to himself.

"Speak up." Billy had said, causing the man to look up from his folder with mild interest. “It’s an intelligent creature." He'd explained, like saying that made any more sense than before. "Maybe, even socially.”

Billy’s mouth had curled upwards: it sounded like he almost admired that thing. "Get to the damn point." He’d spat.

Finally, Dr. Owens had snapped the folder close, folded his arms on the desk and lifted his eyes on Billy’s face, like he had been preparing to give him bad news. What was new?

"In you. It saw someone in good psychical health, with a history of violence and aggression. With very few personal connections or relationships." He'd paused. "A perfect host."

The last words were like a punch to the gut. The perfect host, for a monster. Right then, he'd felt hopeless. The idea that he had somehow invited this, that he had brought it upon himself was hard to swallow.

"Listen.” Dr. Owen’s voice lowered. “Records and reports only tell me so much." He leaned forward, speculatively. "Why do you think it chose you?"

Billy's hands had gripped tight onto around the arms of the leather of the chair. What else could he say? So, what if he was right? It had been right at home in him. It didn’t change the fact that he would have never have done any of those things.

Not to Heather. Not to any one of them.

"I fought it...with everything I had." He’d said. Yet, there was no absolution in it, no real sense of pride. It was just the only thing he could hold on to.

Dr. Owen’s brows had drawn together in thought before he’d lifted his head to the two men behind Billy. “Leave us.” He waited until the other had left before he turned back, voice a little quieter.

"I think I can help you, kid,” He’d said. “But, you have to meet me halfway. Most importantly, you have to want to." He’d bent his head down, trying to catch his eyes. “Do you want things to change?”

A year. That was what he'd once promised himself. Just, one more year in this shit-hole. Regardless of all the set-backs, that was his plan.

Neil would never let him leave on his own. So, he knew he had to be ready. He’d fixed up his car and saved his money. He’d know that when the time was right - he would disappear. Never have to look at any of their faces again.

He'd up and leave, without another word.

“Or, do you want things to stay as they are?” Dr. Owens had continued. “Go back to the way they’ve always been?”

No, he’d thought.

He couldn't go back.

Unable to speak, he’d set his eyes on Dr Owen’s face and shook his head. The other man seemed to take that for an answer. “A week from now,” He’d said, standing up from his chair. “We’ll see each other again."

That evening, he’d gotten a call from Max. On the other end, Max’s voice had been soft, almost a whisper. It had been late - Neil had likely been watching his shows.

“They dropped off your car yesterday.” She’d told him.

“How is it?”

“It runs. But, not the same as it did before.”

Yeah, no shit. Honestly, he was surprised it had survived enough to run. That, at least, was good news. If it could run, then it was still an option.

It was still an out.

Max stopped before she added, a little uncertainly. “Neil’s been working on it, a little."

“What? Why??” He'd snapped.

“Don’t ask me, I don’t know!"

Fuck. That wasn’t good. Billy had ground his forehead against the tiled wall. “I’ll come pick it up."

“I’ll be here."

“No.” Billy had told her sharply, going tense. “Stay out. Or, go to Sinclair’s."

“But-,”

“What did I just say?” He’d cursed through his teeth. He'd taken a pause, inhaled a breath before he'd added, a little softer. “You keep clear of that house, got it? Don’t come back until just before curfew.”

“What are you going to do?”

He only needed the car. If he could help it, he wouldn’t have to do anything. “I’ll drop you a line.” He'd told her, pulling the receiver away from his ear.

“Billy-” She stopped him, just before he was about to end the call. “Promise me, you’ll be careful.” She'd said.

Billy had felt a lump form in his throat. Turning over his shoulder, he’d shot a glare at the staff who’d been standing there to watch him. When the guard lowered his eyes, he’d turned back to the receiver and muttered a small reply.

“Promise."


Now, Billy stood outside the house, looking up at his window and the dark gloom of his bedroom. On the side of the road outside the house, the Camaro was parked. The passenger door had been replaced but the replacement was a different color. A murky, dull grey that lacked the same lustre as the blue.

The whole car would need to be repainted, at some point. As it stood, Billy would drive the thing around in fucking shame. Once it had been his pride and joy. Now, it looked as beaten and busted as he felt.

The one difference was the windshield: it had been repaired right after Dr Owen’s team had taken their sample from the spider-web fracture on the glass.

Billy walked over to the driver seat and pulled on the handle. No luck. Of course, it was locked. Neil would still have the keys.

He liked all of them to be kept on the island in the kitchen, in a small mustard-colored porcelain bowl. Every night, they'd all return their house and car keys there, even Susan.

Neil would wait by the counter and watch her do it, like she was a fucking child. He was a man of a rigid routine - Billy knew they would still be there.

Billy walked up the crumbling stone steps towards the house, stopping by the scarlet quince that Susan took such pride in pruning. He’d always known that.

Sometimes, he’d crush some of the flowers in his palm before he left for school. Sometimes, it would bite back and break the skin of his palm with its thorns.

This time, he walked by and left it alone. He approached the porch door and opened it wide. Then, with great care, he bent the metal handle of the front-door, so it wouldn’t make a noise.

Inside, the house was quiet. No sign of life. Quickly, Billy headed straight down the hall and into the kitchen, as light on his feet as he could. Sure enough, there in the little yellow bowl, was his keys.

"Where have you been?"

Billy's heart kicked in his chest. He turned on his heels, body going ice-cold.

In the doorway, stood Neil. With an all too familiar expression on his face. An eerily calm sort of look with a still, dead glare in his eyes. The calm before the storm.

"I went to the hospital to find you,” He took another step forward. “And, I was told you’d been picked up....by a friend."

Billy made a slight move for his right and Neil raised his hand, blocking his path. "I said, where have you been?"

"I'm going." Billy stated. It came out small, cowardly. He hated the sound of it: the frailty.

"Going?” Neil folded his arms and let his head fall back, chin jutting out. “Going where?"

"I'm moving out." Billy kept his voice steady as he stood upright. "I'm not staying here anymore."

"That so?" Neil crossed his arms and took another step forward. Billy knew he could make it for the door, if he was quick enough. Neil was a slower on his left. An old injury from Nam gave him trouble - made him slower and weaker on that side.

“No. You’re not leaving.” Neil said, voice hissing a little - betraying his previous facade of calm. "You're going to stay here. And, explain to me why and how you got involved in all this mess.”

The front of his chest heaved with breath, with building rage. Billy’s heart quickened as he got closer.

“Explain to me what you were doing there, at that Mall." He began to list, voice cutting. "Why I have had to pay for the damages to your car. Answer countless calls from that shit-hole that you work at because you stopped showing up for work." His mouth was thin, hidden beneath his wiry mustache.

"I will have an explanation from you, Billy." He hissed. "Now."

Billy snatched the keys from the bowl. Yet, Neil was quicker.

He swung his arm, his wedding ring catching the hollow of his eye-socket. There was a red-hot burst of pain, flashing like a flare behind his eyelid.

Billy stumbled back on his feet, still gripping the keys tight in his palm. Neil lurched forward to grab his collar but Billy dodged his grasp and shoved past him, shooting down the hall-way.

“Billy!” Neil stalked after him, hot on his trail. "You will look at me when I’m talking to you!”

"We're done talking." Billy pushed the front door open.

"I say when we’re done." Neil hauled him back by his sweater and the neck-line wrapped tight around his throat. He was thrown against the wall beside the door.

Neil’s body barged into him and punched his breath from his lungs, his forearm hitched under his chin.

You're leaving?" He laughed. "You really think you could make it anywhere on your own? A fucking useless piece of shit like you." He pressed into his windpipe.

Billy’s head swelled under the pressure, eyes watering. He still had one hand on the door-frame, a few of his fingers still curled around it, struggling to pull himself closer to freedom.

"I know you. Don't you ever forget that.” Neil spat against his face, his voice an awful, hoarse curse. “You're weak. A no-good loser,” Billy pushed back against his strength, struggled against it.

He brought his foot forward and kicked Neil’s shin hard. He grunted in pain, backing up a step. Billy shoved him further and knocked him onto the carpet. Then, he was out through the front door like he was shot from a sling, almost stumbling over the porch doorstep.

“Billy!” Neil hollered. He pulled at his back of his sleeve. The thread crackled and snapped and Billy ripped it from him - sleeve be damned. Across the street, one of their neighbors stood by their mailbox, looking up from their letters.

It didn’t matter - they’d heard it all before.

"You're going to up and leave the one person who raised you? The only person who put up with you?” Billy kept moving, head down.

"Just like your whore mother.” Billy almost stopped. He squared his jaw and yanked open his driver-seat door.

"You're not leaving! You can’t-"

Billy slammed the door shut and locked it. A series of thuds beat against the car as Neil kicked repeatedly at the door. Billy steadied himself, taking in a jittery breath. The breath wheezed from his lungs and his flanks were on fire. Sweat ran down the sides of his face and stung his eyes. On the steering-wheel, his hands shook.

Finally, he looked at Neil through the window. For a moment, he wondered if this was how she had felt, leaving him. Had she ever looked back, at all? She must have once felt something for him, to choose him in the first place.

Once, he might have been different.

For the briefest second, something flashed over the man his father's face. “Billy.” He said abruptly. “Open the door.” He asked. It looked almost like fear. Fear of what?

Billy stopped himself.

He’d spent years asking why he hated him so much. There was no point in dwelling on it anymore. He was glad he hadn't, when Neil’s face soon turned cold and cruel again.

"You don't have the guts." He said, voice muffled through the glass.

Without another word, Billy started the car and pulled away.

 




The storm had caught them both off-guard. A rough, lash of rain-water pelted down from the skies. Dustin and Steve had driven to Sam’s Diner for refuge. They’d found a booth and settled in their soaked clothes on the red-and white leather seats.

The tinny voice of Pat Benatar's Love is a Battlefield echoed around them. The place was mostly empty - save a cute older couple two booths down.

Steve had used his gilet to cover Cerebro and Dustin had wrapped it up tight, settling it on the booth-seat opposite. Steve ordered them both burgers and fries with a milkshake.

“Signal was bad, man.” Steve told him as he chewed on his last fry. “What can you do?”

“It’s not just the signal, okay?” Dustin shot up, emphasizing with his hands. “It’s her parents - I know it.” He ripped off his hat, pushed back the curls clinging to his damp forehead. “You don’t know what these people are like.”

Steve couldn’t say that he did. He’d never actually met a Mormon. Earlier that day, Steve had parked at a high-point and they’d set up Cerebro. Suzie had picked up but even Steve had noticed that she sounded distant.

Or, at least, not as happy as he would’ve expected from someone who had lovingly referred to him as Dusty-bun only a week prior.

A lot of fights like this always seemed worse than they were - especially at Dustin’s age. Then again, the kid knew some shit. He was smart. Not that smarts made you immune to heart-break.

That was a rite of passage - for most people. Didn’t mean that it wasn’t hard to watch the kid go through it. “Just give a day or two. Let things settle."

“I’ve given it a day.” Dustin whined. “I’d given it almost a week, before today.” He sighed, peering down at his full plate of fries and double cheeseburger. “I can’t even eat.” He bemoaned, like it was the worst thing in the world.

He began to poke at the fries, turning them on the plate until he made a letter S. When he got to the U, Steve’s face fell. He couldn’t watch another second.

“Dustin.” Steve grasped hold of his shoulder and the boy looked up. “Look. This girl likes you, a lot.”

Dustin blinked up at him, struggling to swallow.

“Are you really giving up on her already?”

“What? No.” He sniffed, before he added. “Never.”

“Have a little more faith,” He said. “No one ever said this shit was easy.” Dustin’s eyes got glassy before he clasped Steve’s hand on his shoulder, hand wet and clammy.

Steve went to pull away his hand yet, Dustin held on for a little longer, fingers clasping around his. “Our love saved the world.”

Steve couldn’t hide the change in his expression, or the full-body cringe that seized him. He slid his hand free, reaching for the napkin in the holster.

“What?” Dustin said. “It’s true.”

“Sure,” Steve said.

After that, Dustin started to eat.

When he’d finished, he looked a little brighter as he reached tenderly for Cerebro. Steve sat his cap back on his head, tapping the lip of it down over his puffy, red eyes.

Steve dropped Dustin home just before it got dark. He watched as his mom greeted him at the door, Mews 2 cradled in her other arm. Her hands lifted up to cup his cheeks and she pinched at his wet shirt with a look of concern.

Steve lingered for a just a moment, smile falling a little as he watched the scene.



The storm had gathered quickly over-head and quickly erupted into a down-pour on his drive back. So, Steve drove slow. The rain heavy as it slapped against his windshield, bouncing off the hard surface of the glass.

He kept a careful watch on the road, when  his eyes latched on to a familiar sight.

Before the bar-ditch, parked on a dead, dried patch of grass just before the wood-clearing, was Billy’s car.

The Camaro had seen better days. But, he was sure of it. There was no mistaking the model, or the Cali number-plate. What was it doing out here?

Max had called his house after she’d heard no word, asking if she'd seen him. She'd been with El, Steve had heard her in the background, mumbling.

Both of them had searched his usual haunts, yet found nothing. It had been two days since then. Had Billy been out here the whole time?

Why?


Steve frowned as he pulled over. The light of his head-lights illuminated the rear of the other car, his wind-shield wipers swiping to and fro.

He felt his gut twist with an unshakable feeling of dread. What if…something had come back? If it had come back? The Mind-flayer was gone, he convinced himself. He'd seen it die. Still, he had to be careful.

Steve braced himself as he pushed open his car-door and got out, leaving his lights on to guide his way. Carefully, he approached the car and peered through the back-window.

There, curled up in the back seat, was a shadow. A body. The light shone on a mess of blonde curls and the side of Billy’s face. He was asleep. Turned on his side, he’d brought his arms up and crossed them at his chest. Was he breathing?

Lightly, Steve knocked on the glass window.

Billy’s head twitched, but he didn’t wake. At that, he let out a sigh of relief: he was alive, at least. He knocked again, harder this time. Then, Billy shot up, eyes wide.

“Oh, hey woah,” Steve said, raising his hands up. “It’s just me,”

The way he looked at him gave him pause. It looked like he’d been expecting someone else, or something else. He'd shot to the other car-door, eyes wide and jaw clenched tight.

“It’s Steve." He clarified, lowering his head so he could get a clearer picture. "Harrington."

The look on Billy's face hardened. He ducked as he moved towards the door, unlocked it and pushed it open hard.

Steve moved aside as Billy got out and slammed the door behind him. He didn’t advance on him like he expected. Instead, he rested his back on the door, crossing his arms as he mumbled low.

“What do you want, Harrington?” Lowering his head to the ground, he averted his eyes, shoulders tense.

"Nothing.” Steve frowned as he looked him over. "I just wondered, what you were doing out here."

Billy gave no answer, he just dug his hands deep into his sweater-pockets, pulling it down hard.

“You know, there’s been a little search party for you these past two days.” Steve used the term lightly - it had been just Max and the kids, mainly.

But, Billy’s head turned like a frightened hare. It seemed like he didn't want to be found. The streetlight caught a strange outline around his other eye: it was swollen.

"Was there...some trouble?” Steve asked carefully.

"No." Billy’s hands tucked stiffly into that same grey hoodie: it was the same one he’d worn at the hospital. He recognized the small logo on the right side.

Billy shivered, a little, even though it wasn’t cold. His lids fell heavy over his eyes, like he were seconds from falling asleep and wiping out onto the floor. What was he doing sleeping out here, anyways?

"You need me to drive you, or?" Steve asked.

“You can’t.” Billy snapped. “There's a fuckin' fuel leak.” So, that's why he'd stopped out here. Still, it didn't explain what he was still doing here in the first place. Or why he was acting so strange.

Slowly, Steve circled him so he could see the other side of his face. On his right eye, there was a huge swollen, plum-colored welt. Old blood dried to the hairs of his brow. Billy was slow to react: real slow.

When Billy eyes met his, his pupils went small with panic.

Steve's face fell as it slowly dawned on him. He tilted his head to get a better look. How had he come home from the hospital looking worse than before?

Billy shoved him, pushing him back a step. "Beat it, Harrington." He cursed, turning around to pull open the car door.

There had been a few rumors around school about Billy's dad. Apparently, a girl who Billy had hooked up with once had said she'd once heard them fighting in the house, that it had got psychical.

Steve had always assumed he was a typical run of the mill shit-head. Negligent and neglectful Dads were a dime a dozen - he was familiar. His own father could be a real asshole. As a kid, he'd spanked him once or twice.

But, he'd never beat him hard enough to bleed, and he'd never once hit him in the face. That was something else. Billy got back into the car, adjusting himself inside the back-seat. He shot him a glare as he reached out to bring his door back to a close.

Steve knew that he could let him go: let him walk out into the night and never hear from him again.

It would be easy, less work to convince Billy Hargrove to let someone help him. Only, he couldn't shake the memory of that night. He was at the curtains of his bedroom window again, butterflies in his stomach. Nancy a few feet from him, shivering and wet in his bed.

Outside the window, Barb was sat by the pool, kicking her feet in the water. Alone. He'd seen her there. And, he'd drawn his curtains to a close.

Steve caught Billy’s door and pulled it wide.

“Harrington.” Billy hissed. "Let go of the fucking door."

"Look, man.” Steve sighed. “If you need a place to sleep. Just, say." He told him. Billy mulled over his words.

For a moment, he looked oddly...confused by the offer. Before his face quickly grew hard again “I don’t need your fucking charity.” He said, trying to yank the door from his grip.

“Gotta be better than hiding out here."

"I'm not hiding." He spat, eyes sharp and glinting. "Let go of the door." He yanked it closer, almost ripping it from Steve's grip. Stubborn fuck.

Steve jammed the side of his body against it. It wasn’t hard. Like this, the guy’s grip was much weaker. He was practically one slight push from wiping out.

"No one else has to know where you are." Steve blurted out. "Just, Max." Steve said.

At that, Billy softened a little. "She's been worried sick about you, man." Steve could see that got to him, even if it was only a little. The sudden lower in his shoulders, the way they dropped a little at the mention of her name.

Slowly, he came out of the car, standing on his feet. He was inches from Steve's face, jaw tight and nostrils flaring. "Why are you doing this?"

The guy could be a real piece of work. He had been a real piece a work. Yet, after everything that had happened. After what he'd done for El...He couldn't leave him. Not like this.

"I can't turn a blind eye now," He told him truthfully.

"A lot of people do." He said, voice low. Steve stopped, looking him over for a second. There was something sad about how he sad it, even if he glared at him when he spoke.

"Maybe," Steve's fingers curled around the door, wet with rainfall.

"So, are you coming, or what?"

Head low, Billy moved aside and let Steve bring the door to a close.


-


When they'd arrived at the house, Steve went straight to the kitchen to find some aspirin and water, to bring down Billy's fever. For an hour, the two of them sat in the living room, T.V. providing the much-needed background noise.

There were no words between them and Billy barely looked up from the floor. He only huffed and shuddered, perched on the edge of the couch. He went through two liters of water before the shakes ceased.

Afterwards, he just looked weary, the curls of his hair were dark as they clung to his damp forehead and the side of his cheeks.

Steve lead him to the spare room and went to retrieve a few spare sets of clothes from his room. He'd probably had a few which would fit him. When he returned, Billy was holding the baseball ornament which had been propped on the bedside table, weighting it in his hand.


"Here." Steve left the pile of clothes on the end of the bed. "You can borrow these." He told him. Billy returned the baseball to its place. He walked over to the clothes like he was stalking them. Then, unpeeled the shirt from the top of the pile like it was crawling with spiders.

"What?" Steve questioned, irritably.

"I expected some dorky polo." Billy drawled as he unfolded the plain white shirt. He lifted his eyes, mouth curving up into a lazy, irritating smirk. Steve frowned and crossed his arms.

“Well, sorry to let you down.” Besides, he didn't own that many polos. Billy turned and pulled off his shirt, a small grunt escaping him as it slipped over his shoulders. Steve started to re-dress the pillow-cases.

It had been a while since anyone had used the room. The last person he’d let stay was Tommy and Carol. A few nights, when they got high together, they'd joked about fucking in his parent’s bed – said they’d be the first to get use of it in years.

He'd forced them to take the spare.

Billy held the shirt out in front of him and measured it up against his body. Steve's eyes fell to his back, down the shadowy line of his spine. The wounds on his flanks had almost all healed closed, the remaining stitches looked like barbed wire weaved through his swollen, red skin.

They would scar. Bad.

The kind of scars that would leave people with questions. For a guy that was allergic to wearing shirts, that would pose a problem. Though, Billy was the type of person who wouldn't give a shit. At least, not on the surface.

It was not like anyone would actually say anything to his face - not without immediately regretting it anyway.

Still. With their mark, came the reminder.

"Where are your folks?" Billy pulled down on the shirt, bringing it over his torso before he pulled the end of his hair from the back of the collar.

It was a little tight around his arms and shoulders and came up a little bit higher, lifting to flash his stomach when he raised his arms up high.

"They won’t be back till the end of August," Steve turned back to the bed as he threw down one of the pillows.

“They just let you stay here solo?”

Steve stopped. Then, raised his head with a forced smile. “They've left the house to me for the Summer." It was what his mother had said the same on the phone in the airport - like it was a luxury that he would spend the Summer after his graduation all alone.Like he was some bachelor in his bachelor-pad.

Billy raised his eyebrows and scoffed, like he'd expected nothing else. "And, no raves to speak of." Billy tsked. "I couldn't be more underwhelmed by former Hawkins royalty.”

"I'm over all that shit." As soon as he stopped throwing parties – he’d lost a large group of friends. Or, people he had once called friends.

He couldn't remember the last time he was actually invited to one either - but that wasn’t something he was going to admit to someone like Billy, or anyone for that matter.

His ego had suffered enough spending the Summer dressed as a sailor.

When Steve had finally finished, he walked over the door. Billy perched on the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees, his long dark lashes low over his eyes as he cast them down.

He looked exhausted, shoulders dropping and heavy.

“So. I'm in the next room over." He wanted to say, if you need anything. If it were anyone else, he would have. Yet, he quickly stopped himself as Billy looked up from his lap, brows creasing.

“What you waitin’ for, a goodnight kiss?” He grumbled.

Steve merely blinked at him. Or, some decency. Gratitude. Again, they were apparently foreign concepts. Steve brought the door to a close and headed straight to his room.

-

The next morning, Steve got up early. As he walked around the house, he briefly stopped at the guest-room. Quietly, he opened the door and found that Billy was still fast asleep.

Both his head and his arms tucked under his pillow: it was a wonder he could breathe. That would be the last thing he needed, a dead guy in his guest-room. Yet, he could see his back raising and falling with breath. So, he went downstairs to give Max a call:

“Hey, it’s Steve.” He told her, thankful that she had picked up first before anyone else.

"What is it?" She asked, voice fraught and sharp.

“So, the other day." He said, trying to explain. "You'll never guess what I found-”

“Oh, the red one?” She suddenly chirped. “Should I come and pick it up?” Pick it up? Steve frowned. What, red one? Slowly, it dawned on him. Was…someone listening to the call? “Uh, yeah." He struggled. "The uh, red one. And, no. I can uh, bring it to you, in a few days – maybe.” He played along, nervously.

“I thought they were all sold out.” She said a little louder. “Thanks for the heads up.” She said, the line crackled slightly. “It’s just Stacey, she found the board I want. No, the one I'm saving for. Yeah, I know..”

Steve’s eyes went wide: would he have to mimic a preteen girl’s voice? If so, then they were screwed.

“Thank, Stace. I’ll call you later, okay?” Steve's eyes went wide. He settled on a small, higher-pitched affirmative sound. As soon as the line cut, he breathed a huge sigh of relief. That could've gone much worse.

Afterwards, Steve got ready to go out. He stopped and checked his hair in the mirror, ruffling it into place. The swelling had finally gone down but the bruises on his face were suspect. There was nothing he could do for the cut below on his lip but he set his Ray-ban glasses on his face to hide the black eye and headed out.

Even though Robin had said she would meet him outside the library, he noticed her in the window of Sandra’s next-door. Steve smirked to himself when he spotted her, deciding to surprise her. He crept inside the perfumed store and snuck through the aisles. When he caught up to her, he stopped abruptly. She was already talking to someone.

The two of them had stopped in the middle road of the store. She was real pretty: thick brown hair with curled bangs, tanned with large brown eyes, wearing an over the shoulder blue tee and jeans.

“You should call me sometime. We need to catch up, you know?” The girl said as she reached to touch Robin's elbow, holding it there for a beat.

“Yeah,” Robin’s voice was quieter than usual. “It has been a long time, huh.”

“Well, you kinda went radio-silence on me.” The girl said, a little quiet. She smiled and she seemed sad. But, Robin didn’t reply. For a moment, a long silence drew on between them. The air felt heavy and expectant, like both of them were waiting for the other to speak first.

"Oh." The other girl broke the silence, as she lifted her wrist and checked her watch. “Shit.” She peered out of the shop-window. “I gotta go." She added, disappointed.

Before she left, she turned over her shoulder. “Don’t forget.” She said, holding Robin in her gaze. Like she intended to keep her glued to the spot, transfixed. "You've know you've promised me now." She smirked, eyes glinting.

“Sure.” Robin let out a nervous laugh.

The girl waved before she turned to leave and Robin's eyes were fixed in the place she had stood, long before she had gone.

Quietly, Steve crept up alongside her, as light as he could on his feet. He stopped to lean on the sun-glasses rack by Robin’s side.

"She was cute."

Robin jumped out of her skin. When she turned, she exhaled and shot him a sharp glare. "When did you-" A rosy flush was still visible on her cheeks.

“You know her?” Steve smirked and waggled his brows.

"Lay off. dingus." She passed him by and weaved down another isle. "Just, stop it, okay?"

"What?" Steve laughed. "I’m just saying, you guys looked like you got along." He said, trying to get her to lift her head and look at him.

A frown tugged at the corners of her lips as she pulled at one of the long skirts hanging on a rail of reduced items. Steve followed her, eyeing her curiously.

She looked sad as she fiddled with a few of the necklaces dangling on a weird, severed mannequin hand. Steve grabbed at one of the gold earrings on the grate beside it, hung it by his ear and posed.

“Thoughts?” When she didn’t crack a smile, he frowned. “What’s wrong?”

"You realize how small this town is, right?"

"I’ve only lived here my whole life.”

"Right.” She sighed, like he had already missed the point. “So, what do you think is the probability of finding someone whose like me? Here, of all places?" Steve narrowed his eyes at her. Probability? What was this, Math?

“It’s real low, Steve.” She answered as she plucked the earring from his fingers and hung it back up. She moved onto the next aisle and he followed after her. "Well, when you talk like that it sounds like you've already given up.” He rested his arm on a mannequin’s shoulder.

“Carpe day-um." He said, just as the mannequin began to tip.

"It's Diem.” She sighed as she caught the unfortunate tumbling woman. “And, I haven't given up, Steve. I just know better,” She said, frustrated.

After that, she was quick to leave the store. Both them headed out back onto the street and into the bright sun-light. Steve chased after her, tripping over his feet.

“I've gotta save up for college.” She started. “Move out of this…place and into the city." She let out a long breath and adjusted her bag higher on her shoulder, eyes fixed on the side-walk. "Then...maybe I can think about dating."

Steve puffed his cheeks out with air. Man, she had it pretty much all figured out. Steve wasn't even sure what he would was doing at the end of the week, let alone the year. "That's a long time to wait."

"Yeah, well." She sighed. "Not everyone gets to live like you, Steve. Not here, at least."

Sure, it wasn’t like Hawkins was a liberal town. Neither were its inhabitants. When Steve was ten years old, he’d head about the tragic joint-suicide of two teenagers.

Both bodies had been found in the water at Sattler Quarry after they’d leapt from the cliff. The report hadn't even finished before his father had muttered about how the two were well-known queers.

Before Robin, Steve had only heard mention of one other lesbian: an old friend of his mom’s. After her divorce, she had moved to Canada with another woman. Back then, his mother had been up-in-arms about it.

Being that he was still young, he had not yet understood - many women lived with one another. However, it was in the frequency and tone in his mother’s voice, that he knew she had found something obscene about it, something wrong.

In a few years, some of their high-school friends would get married. It was on the horizon. Hell, his own mother had mentioned it to him only a year ago: she herself had married at twenty. He was ashamed to realize that he hadn’t considered how hard it was – and would continue to be - for her. Not, until now.


The two of them tried numerous stores down the high-street. When he’d pulled out his resume from his jean pocket, Robin's eyes had fallen closed with despair.

It was little dramatic – it didn’t look that bad. Sure, it was a little old and crinkled, after being folded it into a quarter and tucked it his pocket. But, he’d figured it wasn’t worth carrying it in a nerdy-folder all day.

Robin, on the other hand, had tucked hers in a clear plastic sleeve in her hand-bag. It was a good resume, not that Steve really knew what made one good exactly.

But, she had volunteer work, extracurricular activities, languages and musical-instruments. After reading hers, Steve was half-tempted to hurl his in the trash.

After no success on the high-street, they stopped for lunch at a small, sleepy coffee-shop. Steve pushed his chair back, leaning on its back legs.


"So. What's your excuse, dingus?" Robin asked, as she squinted in the late-Summer sun and rattled the sugar packet in her hand.

"My what, now?" Steve dropped down on the chair.

"Are you putting yourself out there?” She leaned forward on the table and raised her eyebrows. “Making any connections?"

"Well, no, but-" Touche. Steve was at a loss for words, mouth opening and closing shut like a fish. I mean, he'd been looking around, at least. Keeping his options open.

He'd recently thought it would be alright to date a little older, by three years or so. Maybe, even someone out of college. "Well, it's still Summer.” Robin cut off his trail of thought. “And, you have options and time.”

She flicked the empty, paper sugar-packet and it bounced off his hair. “Carpe Diem."


-


The house was dark when he returned, like always. As he soon as he entered the house, he headed straight upstairs to check the spare-room. It was empty. The bed was made and the sheets tucked tight beneath the mattress without a slight wrinkle.

Steve rested up against the door-frame, chewed on his cheek. Where would he have gone? He would have to call Max again, to let her know.

On the way to the phone, he flicked on the pool-light. There, a shadow at the edge made his heart start.

"Oh, God." He almost yelled.

There, was Billy. He was sat on the edge of the sun-deck, cigarette between his lips. Pale-blue smoke billowed around him like a winter mist, the warm kindling light of his cigarette caught the light gold of his hair and the coin around his neck. Blue and gold.

Steve pulled open the glass-door.

“The prodigal son returns.” Billy smiled.

"I thought you left." Steve said, heart still racing.

He frowned and breathed out another plume of mist. "I can go-"

"No, that’s not-” Steve huffed. “It’s fine." He fiddled with his keys in his hands, throwing them from one hand to the other. He went to turn then whirled back around on his feet, sticking his head through the gap in the sliding door. "You hungry?"



Steve kept getting the feeling that he was in some weird alternate universe. Although, judging by the month he’d already had, maybe this was just his new normal. Sitting at the edge of his dad's favorite armchair was Billy Hargrove.

Chewing loudly on the last crust of pizza, getting greasy prints all over the fabric. Not that Steve cared - he'd always hated the chair and the way his Dad had sat in it, for their 'family meetings'.

Steve sat slumped back on the couch cushions. He pulled his eyes away from The Tonight show, to the source of a distracting noise.

Billy sucked the grease from the tips of his thumbs and fingers. Posture bent and far-forward on the edge of the seat. He reached for his fourth beer on the coffee table, gulped it down to the froth at the bottom of the amber glass.


Steve could hear Mom's voice in his head, ranting about their lack of coasters or dinner-ware. She'd likely keel over if she walked in on them now, seeing someone like Billy sprawled out on the furniture.

Habitually, propping his feet up on the coffee table. Steve’s third beer still half-rested on his knee, tipped a little precariously at an angle. Warm beer was the worst. No more keg-stands in his future.

“Harrington,” Billy said, abruptly.

"Hargrove,"

Billy narrowed his eyes as he rubbed his hands on one of the napkins, jerking his head to the table. "How much do I owe you?"

"Just, forget it." Steve sighed, drowsy and slack.

"I'm not about to be indebted to Steve Harrington."

"Too bad you kinda already are," He told him, voice heavy. Billy mulled that over for a beat, eyes distant and jaw tight. It was a dumb thing to be concerned about. Steve wasn’t going to chase him up over a pizza, a few beers and a spare change of clothes. Who would?

Billy reached for a new beer, popped the lid off with his teeth and spat it onto his open palm. He tilted his head towards the glass-doors, to the backyard. “Take it you don’t use the pool often.”

“What makes you say that?”

Billy turned him like he’d said something dumb. “It’s dirty as fuck. You can’t swim in that bog-water.”

“I hadn’t really noticed,” He lied. Dad had left the task of cleaning it to him, told him that it would have to be done before they got home. He’d put it off – he didn’t want to be near it.

“It brings back some pretty shitty memories,” At that, Billy pulled back, red lips hovering over the mouth of the bottle for a second.

“What, from your old man?” The nature of the assumption wasn’t lost on him. It was an admission - as good as Steve was probably going to get.

“No, uh…There was this girl,” Steve brought his hand to the base of his neck, rubbed at the skin. “One of Nancy’s old friends,”

“Barbara Holland?”

Steve's head raised with surprise. “How’d you know?”

Billy gave a shrug, eyes lazy on the T.V screen. “I heard some horse-shit urban legend from some bitch at a party."

Oh, those. Steve had heard all about the stories. A few kids in town had turned her death into some stupid ghost story. The news report had spread her name around the State.

Now, her image was married to ghost stories and bull-shit conspiracies. Steve eyes lifted inevitably the glass doors and finding the edge of the pool, like he was unwillingly acknowledging its shadow. Over the years, the whole area had almost become a presence itself: a living being. As he spoke, it listened.

“She died here.” Steve said, forcing himself to hold its gaze. “It took her.”

Billy’s head jerked as he pulled his mouth away from his drink, mid-sip. The tendons of his neck strained and his eyes went wide. It was all Steve needed to say, to get him to understand. 

He'd avoided the subject with Nancy. It had been too close to home for them to talk about. He'd wanted to talk about it with someone, at least. Now, Billy could understand, it was nice to get it off his chest.

“Nancy never came back here, after that night," He didn't blame her. Being that she was her best friend, he knew it was hard for her. Yet, he would have to live with the reminder. "But, I can’t look at it without seeing her face,” He said, mouth dry. “Or, thinking about it how things could've gone differently. What I could have done.”

“You didn’t know.” Billy said. Steve’s face fell slack as he turned to look at him. "Beating yourself up about it won't bring her back." Billy had turned back to the screen, eyes lost in its light, jaw still tight with tension. It was a surprise to hear from him – comforting.

“What was the girl like anyways?” Billy asked, after a longer pause. Steve let his eyes fall shut. It was fucked up that her death had solidified her image so distinctly in his mind: the dead girl by the pool. The pale-blue ghost in his home, dripping water on the kitchen tiles.

Before that, he hadn’t really known her.

The truth was, he hadn’t cared to. Even after the fact, it felt wrong to inquire, to even talk about her.

“I knew her cos she and Nancy were attached to the hip.” Steve sighed. “I invited her that night, so Nancy would come over-” He remembered his talk with Tommy about getting past second-base, how crude Tommy had been about it. Their stupid fucking plan for the party. He downed the rest of his beer, down the last soapy suds.

“I was a real asshole.” He sighed, parroting Robin's words.

For a moment, neither of them said anything. Until, Billy made a short tsk sound with his tongue. “Makes sense now." He said, as he lounged himself back onto the arm-chair, arms out wide.

Steve frowned. "What does?"

A slow, grin lit up his face. "King Steve's fall from grace." Steve couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “Or, maybe I should say abdication.”

“Abdi-what?” The guy wouldn’t drop that stupid nickname.

"Hey, it’s not like I never even met the guy, so what do I care?" Billy shrugged. "Or knew him.”

"Well, I knew that guy.” Steve sat upright. “And, trust me, he wasn't worth shit." As firm as he tried to be, the world wasn't. He must have not eaten enough. That, or, the imported beers - or ales - from their cellar were stronger than he thought.

Billy definitely seemed to appreciate them: he'd drank more than enough. Steve was not in agreement, however. He tipped back and forth, deeply regretting downing the rest.

Talk about fucking bog-water.

The air felt dense with the silence that followed. Steve waited for a few moments before turning back to the pretty blonde actress being interviewed on the screen, before his eyes fell back to Billy.He wanted to know.

"Are we ever gonna talk about why you were out in that car?" He finally asked.

His eyes drew over the bruises that had formed on Billy's face. A darkening purple bruise under his eye, crossing almost over to his nose. A sense of unease gnawed at Steve – one that even the fog of intoxication couldn’t obscure.

"After all that shit went down, I just couldn’t go back." The T.V. glare glazed over the blue of Billy's eyes, making them appear a marbled white. “To where all that shit had happened. That place...it-" He stopped, wetting his lips. "It feels like that time.” He said. "So, I left."

That time. Steve knew that he was likely talking about his encounter with Hawkins, with the evil that haunted it. But, Steve suspected there was more to it than that.

Although, he'd made no mention of the welt on his eye, or how he got it. Steve could put two and two together.

"Seems you figured that out sooner than I did." After coming to face-to-face with a monster amidst flashing Christmas lights, he’d wanted to go back.

"I'd wanted to pretend we could go back to the way things were." He let his head fall back on the cushions. "Me and Nance." He sighed. "I thought if we just kept going. Life would return to the way it was before. Everything would just be a bad memory."

It’s all bullshit.

He had thought it had cost him Nancy. Of course, the truth was a little worse- he'd never really had her in the first place. He’d closed his eyes to that – to uphold a fantasy. A hollow ache strummed in his chest.

"Turns out, you can't bury that shit. You have to face it, sooner or later."

They sat in silence for a few moments and the laugh of the audience on T.V. felt like a jeer. Until, Billy let out a small grunt of pain that caught Steve’s attention. He rested his hand flat against his side on Steve’s borrowed shirt, mouth tight.

“You need something for it?” Steve leaned forward when Billy tried to adjust his seating - to no avail.

Billy raised his eyebrow in question, slow smile lifting his mouth. “Why, you got something heavy-duty?” He drawled, voice low. “You’re a bad influence, Stevie.”

Steve's brows drew together. “Why would I be a bad influence?” He asked, a little amused.

“Rich-boys always are,” Billy shrugged. “They can afford to get away with it,” 

Steve scoffed. They weren't that rich. “My Dad wouldn’t let something heavy like that slide."

“Oh.” Billy’s eyebrows raised with interest. “So, Papa Harrington does set some ground rules”

Steve grimaced at the name but Billy just grinned, clearly enjoying his discomfort. “Don’t call him that.”

“Daddy Harringt-?”

“Man, would you shut up?” Steve cringed but Billy just laughed - of course.

“My Dad cares when it makes him look bad.” Steve made it clear. Their reputation was important. The most important thing he'd ever cared about, anyway.

Billy chewed on the reply, eyes narrowing. Steve pushed back some hair that had fallen into his face. “Anyway, I meant something for the pain.” He said, returning to the original subject. “I could go pick you up some more Advil tomorrow, if you need it."

At that, the other man froze, mouth parted and eyes going wide. Had he said something weird, without realizing?

“What?” Steve asked.

Billy pressed his lips together, his eyes lingering. “Fuck,” He breathed, turning away. “Forget it.” His lips wrapped around the head of his beer as he finished the rest. The smile was gone as soon as it came.

He returned to form with his default scowl.


An hour later, Steve headed upstairs to bed. Tumbling onto his bed-sheets, he let out a pleased groan. The sheets were pleasantly cool against his skin. As the buzz of alcohol thrummed through him, he sank deep into the mattress, loose and heavy.

Billy followed him a few minutes later. He could hear his footsteps as he moved up the stairs. Then, the rustling in the guest room one room over. The sound of another presence put him at ease. It didn’t really matter that it was Billy Hargrove.

For the first time in a long time, Steve slept without a sound.

 

Chapter Text

 

A series of sudden, thundering pounds made Billy shoot upright, heart racing in his chest. A sweat broke out over his body at the thought of Neil bursting through his door.

He gripped tight around his upper arms.

He'd been late to get up. He'd forgotten to do something. What was it? What had he missed?

That was, until he heard the voice.

"Steeeve-!" They shouted. A young voice. Another set of knocks set off, knuckles against glass. On the window, this time. "I have an update!"

That's right. He was still at Steve's house. Neil wasn’t around. He couldn’t find him, not here. Billy felt his heart-rate slow to a steady, measured bump. Another loud sound erupted from downstairs, followed by another four rings of the doorbell. Billy groaned into his hands, head pounding. The inside of his mouth was as dry as sandpaper. "Steeeeve!"

Billy's teeth set on edge. He ripped off the bed-sheets, got out bed and bolted from the room. He marched by Harrington's room and knocked on the door hard. “Harrington.” He grumbled, head falling against the cool wood of the door. No answer. He pushed it wide, to find the bed empty and un-made.

"I know you're there, dude!" They shouted. "And, you know I'm gonna keep ringing till you answer!" Billy squared his jaw and headed down the stairs, shooting down like a bolt.

He swung the door open wide. "God, finally-" The boy on the other side stopped, peering up at him from his curly bangs. The color drained from his face like sand through an hourglass.

"Dustin?" Steve's voice rang out from behind them.

"Answer your own damn door, Harrington." Billy grumbled, voice thick with sleep.

"I was in the bathroom," Steve replied defensively, flushed and wet from the shower. He hurried down the stairs, towel around his neck and hair dripping. When he passed him by, Billy caught the scent of some fancy body-wash and stopped for a beat.

"Dustin," Steve said, when he came to the door. "What's wrong?"

"When were you going to tell me about your new...alliance?" The kid attempted to whisper - even though Billy heard every single syllable.

He went straight to the kitchen and stuck his head in the sink. He turned on the tap, mouth propped beneath the faucet as he drank the cold stream of cold-water, gulping it down. He splashed his face and wiped around the base of his neck. Afterwards, he slumped on the armchair in the open living room.

It was still a mess from the night before. Two empty pizza box and bottles left on the coffee table before the couches, the throw-cushions thrown onto the floor. He wondered if Steve's parents would even sweat over shit like that. Then, again, it's not like they were around to notice.

What the fuck did his old man do anyway? And, what kind of parents let their teenager have the house to himself for the whole Summer? No wonder he'd been King Steve: those parties must've really been something. Bet the police hadn't even broken that shit up, with how much space the Harrington's had around their house. With hardly any neighbors around to whine and bitch about it.

The coffee machine in the kitchen frothed and hummed, filling the air with a bitter and smoky scent. Last night, he'd stayed ahead of Harrington on beers, by a fair mile. King Steve couldn't hold it for shit, but of course he'd always known it.

They'd shared some fancy, rich-boy beer brand - one he hadn't even known existed. At the time, it felt like a dire need to stay ahead. Now, not so much. Billy slumped in the big armchair and let out a groan. The hop scent of beer hung in the air and a bubbling nausea sat unpleasantly in his throat.

"You told me to fight for her." Dustin's voice was like nails on a chalkboard. They stood on the other side of the island, which separated the living room from the kitchen.

"Relax," Steve said, as he routed through the cabinets. "Look, I'll help you come up with what to say, alright?" He pulled out a bottle of water and downed half, his brown wet hair swept back over his head like some 50's greaser. "Trust me, all parents love me.” He said, with an air of self-assured confidence. "We'll go through it. Step by step,"

Ha! Billy with-held a small chuckle. The kid was doomed.

"Something funny over there?" Seemed his laugh was a little louder than he thought. Steve's brows raised expectantly, as he waited on an answer.

"A little rusty aren't you, Harrington?" Billy said. "Last I heard, your last was Wheeler.” He lifted his brows, tongue pressing against his cheek as he smirked. “And, I think we've all met their parents."

Steve's brows furrowed, squinting. Probably trying to work out what to address first. He went to turn to back to Dustin before he stopped and turned back, unable to drop the subject. "And, you seriously think you've got better advice?"

"Yep." Billy popped the p and then turned to Dustin. "Give up. No girl is worth all this shit."

Dustin's mouth curled upward. "Suzie. Is not just any girl," He snapped, holding his gaze with a surprising intensity. Brave, but stupid. Billy let it go, giving an nonchalant shrug. "Suit yourself, kid."

There was another chime of the doorbell and Steve went to answer it. "Max-?" His voice sounded from the hall just moments before she appeared in the doorway. At her side, was El.

-

"Just, stay still-" Max grumbled, pinched one of his stitches with the tweezers.

"I am." Billy barked, irritated. Billy had straddled the chair at the breakfast table, so Max could work. A few days ago, he'd tried pulling a few of the stitches out himself. But, without the tools, or the reach, it had been a lost cause. Max's hand was light. Only the slight tug at his skin, like thread through a needle.

She'd spent the last hour, giving him him Hell. About him not letting her know what had happened, where he'd gone. Even El, had joined in - albeit a little less annoying. She mostly repeated a lot of what Max was saying, in a far softer tone. One that he hadn't associated with a rant.

In the end, they'd tag-teamed and cornered him and he'd begrudgingly let them chew him out.

"Okay, alright." Max said, like she was psyching herself up. Dropping one more stitch on the tin lid of the Steve's First-Aid kit.

Max leaned down again. This time, there was an irritating sharp, singing sting. "Sonuv-ffff-" He shot up and squeezed the wood of the chair until it creaked.

Max flinched. "Uh, I don't think that's ready to come out yet." She said.

Billy turned eyes lowering. He allowed himself to relax, breathe. "It's fine-" He stopped himself, eased back on the biting tone. "Just, keep going."

"Shouldn't you go back to the hospital?"

"I got other shit to pay for right now."

She pulled out another one and it landed against the tin with a small clink. "Like what?"

"Fixing my car," He winced, sweat breaking out on hairline. "Renting a place."

Max stopped. "In...Hawkins?" She asked. He mulled over the question for a moment, flicking his eyes to hers. "For now." He told her.

He was still seeing Dr. Owens and had little to no money to get anywhere decent. That, and his car was still fucked. She lowered her eyes, nodding softly. He turned to peer down at his flank, to the sheen of puffy red scarring on his skin. He could finally look at it - at least.

The sight of it before had made his stomach turn. The thought of that thing, piercing him,getting inside him. He hated it. The sooner they faded and sealed-shut, the better.

"I could help," Max said quietly.

"How?" He scoffed, darkly. "You're twelve."

Max rolled her eyes before she spoke again. "I could...ask around,"

"And, I can't do that?" 

"Man, she's trying to help you out," Steve butt his head in, leaning on the kitchen counter. "Do you have to be such a stubborn ass about everything?"

Billy tongue pressed against his cheek, tilting his head to shoot him a glare.

He guessed that was pay-back for his input earlier. Of course, Max loved his interference. She raised her head higher, preened at Super-Steve's heroism.

"Too bad stubborn-ass is his default state of being." She sighed.

Billy's tongue dragged across his teeth. He ground his foot against the wooden floor, rough against the skin on the balls of his feet.

"I'm just giving you shit, Max," He murmured low. For her ears, only. "Don't mean anything by it,"

"Yeah," She sighed. "What's new?" Their eyes met and the corner of her mouth lifted with a a small smile.

Only one set of stitches remained on his right side, the wound was large and the skin was still hard to the touch.

He brought his shirt down over it, feeling better about it under his shirt now that he knew it was clean. When he turned to face head-on, she gave a small flinch. "Your eye,"

"...What?"

"It's...bad," She settled on the very obvious statement.

You don't fuckin' say.

He knew it made him look like Hell. He smiled tightly, before he lifted his thumb and finger to it. "This one?" He tugged on the lid and folded it over, to the fleshy pink side.

Max fake-wretched and stood, affronted.

Gathering the kit, she walked off. "Told you he was gross." She said to El, as she loudly dropped the kit on the counter.

El smiled to herself at the other end of the breakfast table. Billy turned to her, sensing some conspiracy. "She been talkin' shit about me?"

El frowned at the words. "Talking...shit?"

"Behind my back," He specified, eyeing Max carefully. "Saying bad stuff when I'm not around,"

"El, ignore him. I do." Max rolled her eyes.

El looked thoughtful for a moment, before she raised her eyes again like she'd remembered. "She only really told me about the happy screams."

Billy narrowed his eyes at her. "The…what?"

"Uh, Steve!" Max's screech broke the sound barrier. "You recorded the concert, right?"

From the over the counter, Steve re-appeared, hair dry and styled as he ran his fingers through the strands. He jerked his head to the large T.V. "Should still be in the VCR."

Max grabbed El's hand. "Come on-"

The two of them ran over to the T.V., El settling on the rug just below as Max went to mess around with Harrington's belongings.

"Remember to wind it back when you're done!" Steve yelled.

 

Billy had sat through Madonna, with his eyes rolling back into his head. They'd almost fast-forwarded through Zeppelin before Billy had stopped them. Yet, after their train wreck, he'd sat with his head in his hands.

He'd been in a pretty shitty mood, after that. Although, he guessed it wasn't a complete shit-show. Some of the acts had were a surprise.

You've had your time, you've had the power. You've yet to have, your finest hour. Radio.

"So many people," The voice made Billy turn from the screen, to look at El.

She watched in awe at the sea of hands clapping in time, eyes twinkling. A small smile warmed his cheeks as he watched her reaction - honest, without shame. It was weirdly admirable.

"We should go to one." Max said, in the fast, wired way like she usually did when she got excited about something. "A big one like that,"

El turned to her, listening intently. "Okay," She agreed, smile lighting up her face.

Billy only tore his eyes away from the screen when Steve came over to sit on the couch.

On the coffee table in front of them, he dropped a large plate of wonder-bread sandwiches, cut real-cute into uneven little triangles. Almost immediately, Dustin sat down between them and reached for three pieces. Billy grabbed two.

"Real domestic of you, Harrington." He smirked, taking an obnoxiously large bite. PB and J. Pretty evenly balanced.

“Not bad.” He said, through a mouthful of bread.

"Sure," Steve scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Julia Child better watch out." Leaning back in his chair, he pulled on the bottom of his shirt to let in some air, periodically flashing his bare stomach. Billy's eyes lowered, catching the brief flash of skin.

Max brought El to stand up for A Crazy Little Thing Called Love. She led El by the hands, twirling and pulling her around to the swing-steps.

The two of them moved to the beat, they started to laugh, hair wild and faces flushed. Max hummed along to the song as she turned her, spinning El around.

Since their view was blocked, Billy turned back to Steve. He lifted the red floppy paper-plate the sandwiches had sat on: an old, gaudy-looking Happy Birthday pack for eight-year old’s.

He squished it in his hand till it bent under the pressure, folding it in half. "We not good enough to break out the fine China?"

"'Fraid not." Steve smirked as he met his eyes. "Maybe, you should learn to eat with your mouth closed first."

Between them, Dustin leant far back in the seat, concerned as he waited for Billy's reaction. He looked like he was at the top of a roller-coaster, waiting for the drop. Or, maybe in his case, swing. Only, Billy just scoffed.

Dustin just looked oddly pensive between them, computing. Like he'd been surprised that Billy could take a joke.

He shot him a brief glare, before his eyes found their way back to the T.V. To where Max was dropping El in a hold, struggling to hold her upright as she let out a unencumbered laugh.

-

A little after two, the car arrived, wheeled to the back of the pick-up truck. Steve dropped a tool-kit for him on the side-walk outside the house, so Billy could get to work. A fancy, new set, without a sign of rust or wear.

Billy was a little dumbstruck as he opened it. Never been used: what a waste. Billy did a check of all the other components, lifting the hood to get a look inside first.

It was hot-as-hell, so he tucked he pulled off Harrington's shirt and tucked it into the back of his jeans.

"How's it going?" Steve asked, at around three. In the bright, sun he could barely make him out, wincing at his advancing silhouette. He could hear his steps as he drew closer.

"It's not, at the moment." As he stood upright, he caught his head on the side of the car-hood. "Motherfu-"

He whipped around, finger jabbing in his direction. "Better not hear the slightest chuckle."

"I'm not laughing." Steve cleared his throat, yet he'd caught him squeeze his lips pressed together, suppressing a smile. Fucker.

"Here." Steve passed him a cold-beer, dewy with condensation. Billy accepted it and ground the lid between his molars, breaking it off before spitting it off onto the ground.

Steve scoffed, settled the rejected bottle-opener on top of the tool-kit.

Billy expected him to leave, to go back inside of the house. To the music and laughter. He could hear the shuffle of his feet on the sidewalk, like he was considering it too. Yet, he lingered, watchful.

"You checkin' me out over there?" Billy grinned, turning over his shoulder.

"You wish." Steve scoffed, before he spoke again. "Y'know, I could help pay...for some actual repairs." He said. "I mean, I kinda was involv-"

"No." Billy sharply cut him off.

"Would you relax? I meant, temporarily." He continued. "Just, make it an IOU."

Billy turned on him, dead-serious. "You heard what I said."

He couldn't fight him on this: he had some fucking pride left. Steve held his glare for a moment, big-brown eyes darting over his features.

"Suit yourself, man." He rolled his eyes, turning his head down the street.

Billy went to turn back to the car, when Steve followed, standing at his side. "So, what exactly am I looking at right now?" He asked, frowning at the inside of the hood. "Talk me through it.”

"What, you want me to teach you?" Billy stood upright again, to stand face-to-face with him.

For the briefest second, Billy could've sworn that Steve's eyes dropped. He narrowed his eyes, curious.

"Yeah, you know about this shit, right?" He said, brushing his finger against his nose. "Max told me you fixed it up in the first place."

Well, him and Neil. He'd liked that Billy was into cars - for a while. It was a good hobby to have, a masculine one. Better than the artsy shit that some other kids his age had got up to. It was a good way to channel some life-lessons, whilst also knocking him around when he made a mistake.

Responsibility and self-discipline, he'd kept saying. 'Course, all of it backfired when he'd realized that it meant Billy had a way to come and go.

Steve and Billy raised the car up on a car-jack, so Billy could get underneath. Billy secured the epoxy resin to the small, drill-sized hole in the gas tank. He sanded down the area before he slathered on the resin, filling the gap.

When they’d finished, Billy crawled out from beneath the car as they let it dry. It would likely take all night before it was secure.

When Billy closed the trunk, his eyes fell to the red, flush on Steve’s neck, where the skin was scorched red. Billy moved forward, tongue in his cheek as he pressed the side of his bottle on the burn.

"Ouch-" Steve turned, squinting at him in the sunlight.

"You're a red-neck."

Steve went to go check the burn in the wing-mirror. "Oh, shit-" He laughed, eyes crinkling into little crescents. The sound did something to Billy, made his stomach sweep like he'd missed a step.

Billy wiped at the sweat of his brow, with his shirt and sat on the edge of the bonnet. He let his head head fall back, soaking in the sun on his face.

Steve sat by his side. He felt the weight of him, lowering the car: the space by his side filled with his presence.

Billy peered through his lashes at Steve. The sides of his hair tacked on his skin, damp with sweat. He threw back his drink, the length of his throat bobbing as he swallowed. Silence buzzed between them, heavy.

All Billy could think about was Steve's knee against his, skin on skin. Thighs splayed wide underneath his shorts, brushing up against his bare knee: the place where they touched.

He couldn't get the thought out of his fucking head.

At once, he stood up. He needed to check the trunk. It was the one place he hadn't looked at - not since they'd dropped it back home.

When he lifted it up, he stopped.

Billy's eyes were drawn to the right corner where two plastic bottles sat.

Bleach.

Drain-cleaner. 

That was right. He'd gathered them from the pool utility room.

A whispering dread crept up on him. A cloudy image of a body curled up body in the trunk formed in his mind. Beside the bottles of bleach he had collected.

A mottled bruise around her slender throat. 

Build what you see.

Heather stood in the middle of the tiled teal kitchen floor - like she was performing for him. It liked that: her obedience.

She’d bared her throat as she guzzled down the drain-cleaner. Mouth pursed as her hands shook. It had spilled down her chin and onto her white blouse.

She’d lurched, like she might throw herself forward onto the floor: the body still resisted. It wanted to reject it.

In the other room, her parents still lay unconscious, the record skipping on the same note. A rhythmic thud.

When it was done, she'd thrown the bottle aside. It wasn't enough. So, she'd unscrewed the next. Both of her eyes had fixed on his as the body shuddered and swayed. Unwilling.

No.

Billy snatched the bottles and tossed them out of the car.

It was all wrong. He had to get rid of it. Get rid of all of it.

He started to tear at the lining of the trunk, ripping the upholstery. The under skin of his nails burned and throbbed, snapped and creaked under his pull. He had to rip it out. Rip all trace of it.

Suddenly, he was grabbed.

"Billy-" A pair of arms locked around the front of his chest, pulled him backwards. Uselessly, his feet kicked beneath him as he thrashed. "Woah, relax-" Steve's voice. Steve.

Billy's heart hammered in his chest: it felt like it could burst.

He seized the struggle, legs giving out from underneath him. The two of them slumped onto the concrete.

"What...what happened?" Steve said.

Billy felt oddly weightless. He leaned back into the weight of Steve's body, anchoring him to the Earth. "God, your hands."

They were bleeding: he knew that. Now, he could feel them. Burning hot and throbbing with his heart-beat, one of his nails was hanging off.

"Those bottles." Billy choked out, voice tight.

They had spilled: he could smell it in the air. The scent made his head spin and his stomach clench up tight.

Steve gave him a wide-eyed look like he was crazy. Maybe he was. The air felt dense with weight. The sunlight seared him, garishly white.

Billy held his breath, closing his eyes shut tight. What the fuck was wrong with him?  Why couldn't he pull it together? Why was he so weak?

He gasped on nothing, throat going tight.

"Hey, it's alright." Steve told him, hand on his shoulder, breath brushing his forehead. "I'll get rid of them, okay?" He said. "Just, stay here." 

Billy nodded, letting Steve ease away, leaving him on the concrete. Again, his breath caught, drawing up tight.

Billy ground his fists together in irritation at the feeling, pushing his knuckles hard into the gravel. Fucking get a grip, he told himself.

"Billy?!" Max's voice cut through the dense air. "What happened?" Max landed on her knees by him, hands going to his shoulders. She helped him up and he stumbled. Then, Steve was there, hooking his other arm over his shoulder.

 


 

Steve winced as he applied more cream to the back of his neck. The inside of his head felt like it was filled with water, swilling around heavy as he turned it.

He'd overdone it in the sun, kneeling down Billy's side by the car.

Max, Dustin and El had all left a little before seven, to get Max home before curfew. Dustin had left afterwards, after they'd set out the plan for the letter for Suzie's dad.

Now, it was only him and Billy again.

After his attack, they'd set him down upstairs in the spare room and wrapped his hands. He'd been quiet. Completely out of it, drained of energy.

It was hard to watch.

He'd barely spoken a word before he settled down on the bed. Yet, he'd fallen asleep quickly. Welcomed the dark.

For the last few minutes, he’d been having a nightmare: he could hear him in the other room, mumbling.

Carefully, he peered through the gap in the door.

He was still shaking, lashes fluttering wildly like his dreams were flashing on a projector reel. He let out another panicked grunt, brows flinching and muscles clenching.

Steve crept inside and walked over to his bedside. Spending the day in the sun had tanned his skin a little more, only reddening the tips of his shoulders.

Steve's eyes fell to the red marks on his sides, stopping just before his ribs. The uneven, slashes that were formed permanently on his skin. His body jolted, like he’d been shocked, as he let out a sharp hum again, almost a whimper.

Billy's face twitched and flinched, lashes fluttering rapidly.

Steve was no stranger to nightmares. In the last year they'd been pretty frequent.

The kind of nightmares that stuck with you long after you woke, coated you like dust and lingered even when you tried to shake them off.

Ones that fooled your whole body into thinking you were really in danger. That you were back there again. In that dark place. Alone.

For Steve, it had always been the tunnels. The deep-blue tunnels underground, air dancing with silver webs, filling his throat as he screamed.

The ladder of light from the ground above would heal over, trapping him with the snarling dogs in the dark.

Steve chewed on his bottom lip. If he woke him up, he might freak out.

He might lash out.

Instead, he moved closer, leaning forward by the edge of the bed. One of Billy's hand was outstretched across the mattress, fingers twitching with each jump.

Carefully, he reached for his hand. As soon as he did, Billy's fingers latched around his, squeezing tight. Desperate. Like, he was holding on for dear life. Steve adjusted his grip, into a more comfortable one.

"It's Steve." He spoke, low and soft.

The seizes stopped for a moment, although he still gripped on tightly and his breath was still heaving. "You're kinda killin' my hand over here." He laughed. No response.

No sharp bite of Grow a fuckin' pair, Harrington.

Steve knew he couldn't stand here all night. Carefully, he perched on the edge of the bed and moved to lay down on his side. Giving him a decent amount of space, as their hands rested between them.

"Hey. Can you hear me?" Steve asked, searching his face for a reaction. It was a stupid question, maybe. Of course, there was no answer.

Yet, the sound of his voice had made Billy's breath slow, steadying. Steve ushered a little closer, head resting on the pillow.

The material soft against his heated cheek, cool to the touch. This close, he could see a notch of a scar in Billy's eyebrow, the slight dusting of freckles across his nose and the small white scar above his lip.

"You're not there anymore." He told him.

Once, that was what he'd needed to hear -  it was what he had needed to tell himself.

The nightmare was just a smoke-screen. No matter how real and painful it seemed, he would always wake in the morning. The world would be as it was before. He would be safe.

He hoped it would help: it was all he had.

He gave his hand a squeeze. “You’re safe here...you know?"

Billy gave no reply. And yet, it seemed like he was listening.

Steve waited for a few minutes. Until, Billy's breath came out softly, his face lax and at ease.

-

Chapter Text

"Harrington?" Billy said.

Steve had a real dorky sleeping face, mouth slack and his hair disheveled.

He seemed like the kind of person who looked like they could sleep anywhere. That was probably how he'd ended up there in the first place - curled up by his side, and inches from Billy's face.

It had to be an accident. The weight of his hand rested on top of his, fingers warm and hand heavy.

"Steve." Billy tried again, louder.

"Hmn-" Steve hummed, nesting deeper into the pillows. Billy sat upright, slipping his hand from beneath the weight of his. Steve's nose twitched and his legs curled up, kicking outwards. His fingers spanned out across the bed-sheets, almost he was reaching for him. Billy shook the thought away: it was a fucking stupid one. He leaned over him a little, suddenly irritated. He was half-tempted to flick his nose hard. That ought to wake you up, you little shit.

Steve's cheeks were tinged red from the sun, dotted with little moles. The loose strands of his hair dropped over his forehead like a curtain, hanging over his eyes. Billy brought his hand up, sweeping his ruffled hair back from his face.

The strands were feather light, sliding between the spaces of his wrapped fingers, rustling against the band-aids around the tips of them. Steve let out a sleepy, pleasured moan and the sound barreled through him. Billy pulled his hand away like he'd been burned.

Steve just stirred, turned his head upward slightly from where he'd rested on his side.

The seam of the pillow had printed on the side of his cheek. Overnight, his lips had swelled a little, parted and rosy. Billy's eyes were drawn to them, lids going heavy. They looked soft. For a beat, he let himself wonder what they would feel like. All too quickly his thoughts escalated when he pictured him responding, arching and moving underneath him, groaning into his mouth.

A sinking sense of shame fell over him. He felt like a real creep, watching him like this. It would disgust Steve, if he knew.

He reminded himself of that, as he sat up and readjusted himself in his shorts. With slow, careful movement, Billy lifted himself so as not to wake him. He didn't want to face him, before he left. Not now. Quietly, Billy grabbed the spare clothes and headed straight for the shower, to douse himself in a cold-water.

When he was clean and dressed, he gathered his few belongings and went downstairs. He noticed the stationary set pinned onto the fridge, with a little note plastered on the corner-edge:

Call us if you need anything.

- Mom.

Billy tore away one of the pages and scrawled a brief, scratchy note.

 

King Steve, 

You'll have your stuff back within the week.

I.O.U.

- B. Hargrove

 

When he'd finished, he lingered for a moment, debating with himself to add a bit more. A thanks you, maybe. Although, he wasn't sure how to word it. Or, where he would start.

Upstairs, he heard movement. Quickly, he capped the lid onto the pen and left, before Harrington could catch him. It was better, that way anyways. Especially, after this morning.

-

 

      "Billy. Back from the dead."

Sam had barely looking up from his college-boy textbook, before he flung the envelope and his locker-key across the desk. Apparently, he'd been expecting him. Billy had caught them, just before they could land on the wet floor. A few loud kids had sprinted by, inflatable floaties strapped around their waists.

"Thanks for the heads up, by the way." Sam had said, as he slumped back in his chair, flipping the page aggressively. "The shittiest month of the year. Now we've all gotta work over-time to cover two people,"

Heat had rushed to the back of Billy's neck, red hot to his head. He'd shot him a searing glare. "Heather's dead."

That had made Sam look up. "You think I don't know that? We're all grieving here."

Billy had resisted the urge to heave him over the desk by his red-whistle and fucking choke him with it.

Choosing, instead, to head straight for the locker-room. Inside his locker, Billy had found his sun-glasses, white shirt and jeans, his Everlast crop-top and a pack of smokes. He changed from Steve's clothes and folded them up, tucking them away in the bag. Quick to collect his stuff, he didn't lift his head. Or, look around on anywhere but the task before him. He didn't want to linger. Not in this place.

 

At around ten, he finished up at the library, pockets-stuffed with vacancies from their notice-board. It had given him a few leads: bars, clubs and stores. One that stood out to him was a local bar and restaurant called, Harvey's. The owner was also renting the studio apartment, above the bar where he looking to hire new staff.

He'd quickly realized how much of a dive the place was, at the far edge of town. It was probably why he'd never heard of it. He'd thought he'd been to all the bars that Hawkins had to offer.

This place wasn't somewhere that anyone would even bother using their fake-IDs for.

Billy pushed open the door to find it dark with gloom. The air was musty and coated, translucent with cigarette smoke. On the counter, the radio mumbled about some sports game, fizzling with static.

He would have thought it was closed, if it weren't for the two truckers sat tucked into the bar-stools and one other solitary customer in a booth, surrounded in a cloud.

   "Can I help you, kid?" An older, large man on the other side of the counter said, tucking a greasy napkin into his belt under his swollen belly.

"Heard you were hiring," He said, picking a scrawled advertisement he'd seen taped to the window. The other truckers watched on, eyes judging as they looked him up and down. "And, that you're renting the place upstairs."

The man squinted at him, lifting up the side-plank to leave the bar-area. "How old are you, son?"

"Eighteen." Before he could finish, the man took his resume from his grip. The beady pupils of his grey eyes dragged over his resume, thumb going to rub at his wiry peppering beard. He mumbled as he read it through to himself. Of course, Billy had bullshitted half of it. Volunteer programs at school, tutoring: he'd figured there was no way they could ever check up on all that shit. The only thing he'd had was his involvement in basketball and he'd milked the hell out of it. Teamwork, co-operation and sportsmanship - all that shit.

"Spanish," The man said, raising his head dubiously.

Fuck.

"Yeah." Billy said, tilting his head back confidently. Shit, he'd bombed Spanish 2.

"Yeah, we don't get many Spanish speakers round here." He scoffed, like it was some joke he'd missed and tucked a grease-ridden rag into the back of his jeans. "You have the down payment for the room?" A little reluctantly, Billy pulled the wad of notes from his pocket, flashing them.

-

"It's not the cleanest." John said, pushing open the door to the studio-apartment. "There's a lotta work to be done." The air carried a moist, earthy scent that Billy knew to be mold. An old orange wallpaper had been half-stripped off the walls to the drywall beneath. On the floor was an old mattress, covered in a plastic sheet. The kitchen was right in front of him, as they opened the door, tucked away behind a small break-fast bar. The tiles on the floor had started to peel around the counter edges, coated thick with a grainy dirt.

"Needs a new paint-job." John said, wiping at his sweaty forehead.

"It's good." Billy lied through his teeth. He didn't have the time to be picky, nor the means. If he could fix the place up, it might be decent. Once, it was cleaned out, it wouldn't be so bad. Billy walked up to the window to push it open. It cracked under his pressure, jammed shut with a shitty-paint job. It was hot as Hell - he would have to find a way to get it open.

"Can't say I'm too broken up about that Mall, but it's got me thinking," Billy stopped, turning. John merely scratched back the of his head as he peered up at the ceiling, the cracks through the paint. "I ought to make the place more family-friendly." He said, a little irritably. "The kind of place moms will wanna bring their kids to, you know?"

"I know exactly what you mean." Billy obliged, smiling tightly.

"S'what my wife always used to go on about." He sighed, clearly loathe to admit the woman was right. "For some extra cash, I could use some help with the renovations. If you're interested."

"I can do that." As he handed over his hard-earned cash, he watched it in the other man's hands. The money he had saved since the beginning of the Summer, to get out of this place. He'd meant to save at least $800. Now, he was barely looking at $500. He was back to square one.

John lifted them high, checking the notes in the sun. Then, he stopped short. “You're not in some kind of trouble, are you?"

Billy paused, mouth opening. The large man took another step forward, holding his gaze as he spoke low.

"You bring any trouble back here." He uttered. "Any at all. And you're out on your ass. You understand?"

Billy nodded, before he confirmed it with his voice. "I understand." The older man's eyes narrowed, before he nodded once. The floor-boards creaked as he headed to the door, stopping just before he reached the handle. "I can help move a few things, nothing too heavy, though."

Billy paused. "It's just me." He said flatly.

The man stopped in the doorway, face falling. The grasp of his hand loose on the handle as his brown eyes lingered on his face for a beat.

He cleared his throat, dropping his head and rubbing at the back of his neck. "Well. I guess, that makes things easier." He said, as he brought the door to a close.

-

For the next few days, Billy allowed himself to settle. On the third day, he'd driven to the session with Dr. Owens.

He'd been stupid enough to expect it to be over, to expect some praise from the man. A fucking jubilant You’re cured!. So, he wouldn't have to attend any more sessions. After all, he'd uprooted himself completely. Yet, he'd left his old man's, got a job, found a new place. At the very least, he’d thought he’d be pleased with his progress.

Again. Fuckin’ stupid of him, he guessed.

“I'm not convinced you're addressing your…more pressing concerns.” Dr Owen's had sighed, rubbing at his forehead.

Billy had tapped the edge of his cigarette onto the armchair, the ash gathering in a small pile. "Tough crowd,"

"I'm sorry but, I need the full picture. Honesty. Without that, I can't help you.” He’d sighed. “We have limited time here, so permit me to be direct with you. Your case is irregular. And, it goes beyond treating just you."

He’d fixed him with his stare, the dark shadows of his eyes deepening. "I need to know if you've seen it again,"

Billy had always known that was the source of his interest. It was why he was even here, getting free psychobabble sessions and medical care. Still, he disliked the way they spoke of it, the weird level of awe in their voices. The interest.

"No," He'd swallowed, his mouth had gone bone dry. "Just-" He’d paused, his thoughts stuttering. He’d felt his breath catch as he thought about what he’d seen in the trunk, what had happened thereafter. "Just, bad memories."

When he came home that day, he'd tipped the traffic light cylinders onto his open palm. Pinched the little pills between his fingers, before he took them with water, willing them down. After, he slumped back on the bed, the end of his fingers found a messy pile of clothes on his left, slumped beneath the window. Steve's shirt.

Billy picked it up, feeling it between his fingers. He held it to his face, breathing it in. Only, it just smelled like him now. A small spot of blood had tainted the fabric. On the inside of the neck, he'd noticed the capitalized S.H., written in marker.

He had no idea people actually did that shit in real life. He ran his thumb over it, smiling in spite of himself. As soon as he realized, he threw it away from his face, sighing irritably. He needed to stay on top of all that shit.

"Thoughts like that are unnatural. They are a gateway to sin, put in your mind to test your faith." Was what his church-leader had said to him, once. The day he'd confided in him at ten years old, about his neighbor, Eddie.

If all that were true, then he’d been an early sinner. It seemed like a pretty fucked-up thing for a benevolent God to do - to set some people up for failure, while others went Scot-free. Especially when he'd already dealt him a shitty hand, as it was.

Unnatural?  Sure, he’d felt almost sick around Eddie, sometimes. It felt a little scary. Made his stomach flutter and bubble with nerves. But, never unnatural. It had felt right. As natural as breathing.

The week before he'd left, the two of them had sat together under the dock at low-tide. Billy had acted on that restless, urge and kissed him. He'd felt his heart clench up like a ball in his throat. Until, the other boy had pushed him back, eyes wide.

“Why’d you do that?” He’d said, flushed beet-red.

“What?” Billy had grinned, playing it off as a dumb joke."You shoulda seen your face."

The next week he'd moved away. Billy had choked up as he watched the car disappear from view.

“What are you crying for?!” Neil's hand had whipped around the back of his head. When Billy had lifted his head to look at him, his face had curled up. He'd seen it, then. His old man had known it, somehow. Long before he could even fully understand what it meant.

In Cali, he'd met Warren: one of his old basket-ball team-mates. A tall, stocky guy with messy dark hair and a crooked protruded canine teeth that made his grin look feral.

With him, it was an itch he couldn’t help but scratch. Even if the guy was fucking annoying, most of the time. In the lunch-hall, Warren would eyeball him, hand worming around in his girlfriend's lap, waiting until Billy looked over. Often, he'd let him wait. It was always better when he did.

Warren would stand, rolled cigarette tucked behind his ear as he'd leaned by his girlfriend, Sarah. "Going for a smoke." He’d say, brushing his lips against her ear, like the words were meant for him.

The routine of it never failed to make Billy hard, like he had some weird switch. They were always quick, panicked. Pressed up against the bathroom-door, sweaty and desperate as they jerked each other off.

Until one day, Billy had looked at him afterwards, met his eyes in the afterglow. He’d never liked that: to be seen.

Warren's hands had locked around his throat, shoving the back of Billy's head into the stall door until his vision flashed white.

"You run your mouth, and I'll kill you."  Warren had spat.

He was all fuckin' talk: he always had been. That day, Billy had grown tired of it. So, he'd pushed the head of his live cigarette against his Levi's, burning through to the skin. They'd fought and he'd knocked out two of Warren's teeth, his knuckle was still scarred by the ridge of his tooth.

 

The first time he’d seen Steve Harrington, he’d drawn his attention from across the room. After hearing the rumors, the doe-eyed pretty boy, glowering at him at Tina's Halloween party had come as a surprise. The move to Hawkins had fucking sucked, yet he'd held his attention.

Golden-boy Steve: King of Hawkins High. He'd fed off the stories Tommy parroted, intrigued.

How he'd once had it all, before he'd thrown it all away for some stuck-up, bitch. Real pathetic, considering since she'd chewed him up and spat him out: Tommy had had a lot to say about the whole affair.

Billy had shoved and goaded him at practice, irritated. Wanting to rile him up. To see the rare, brief flash of his eyes as he pushed back against him, finally losing it. He'd wanted him to snap. For the old Steve to come through and give him some fucking challenge. Some distraction. He'd needed it.

Of course, even back then. There were other ways he'd played on his mind. Frantic, toe-curling desperate thoughts that made him dizzy and sick with want. Nothing the real Harrington needed to be made aware of.

The filthy version of him in his mind was as good as he ever was going to get. Billy lit a cigarette and gave a long sigh, watching the smoke disperse through the air.

Absentmindedly, he rubbed at the swell of his dick through his shorts. His other hand reached out, the tips of his fingers finding the edges of the shirt once again.

-

 

A week passed before Billy showed up at Steve's place again. He'd stopped off at the local laundromat to wash his clothes and put them through the longest wash cycle, to wash out any evidence of him borrowing - or wearing it.

Steve had opened the front door with a wide-eyed look. "Oh." He said. "Hey."

He pushed his fingers back through his hair. He looked a little sweaty, like he’d been working out. Wearing a thin white shirt and blue basketball shorts, a grey towel wrapped around his neck. "I wondered where you went."

"Miss me already?"

"Sure," He rolled his eyes and scoffed. Then, turned on his heels, leaving the door wide for him to follow. The radio in the kitchen was real loud, mumbling some weather update about the humidity.

As Steve passed it by, he turned the dial low. Billy eyed a heap of empty ice-cream pots in the trash-can, heaped up almost to the top.

“Comfort eating?” Billy asked.

"Wasn’t all me," Steve held one in his hands. He scooped at the side, filling his cheek and letting it melt there. The air filled with a sweet-pulp cherry-scent when he spoke.

"They're from Scoops last shipment, the one we actually ordered. El, Max and Dustin have been helping me chip away at their excess stock. Slowly."

Max had been here again, he couldn't say he was surprised to hear that. Everyone came and went at the Harrington's, like it was a fucking half-way house. Although, Steve didn't seem to mind all that much.

Steve twirled the spoon around his fingers, brows raising. "You want in?"

Billy made a face at it.

"Suit yourself," Steve shrugged.

Billy was trying to avoid sugar. He'd already lost too much muscle in recovery, grown small and weaker in the few weeks. Steve looked like the type to keep weight off easily. He dropped the bag of clothes on top of the counter. "These are yours."

For a moment, Steve looked a little confused, like he'd forgotten."Oh." He reached inside, rustling the plastic as he pulled the shirts and jeans free. "So, where'd you run off to?"

"Went to find work, and a new place."

"Yeah?” He returned to the tub, stirring the ice-cream. “How'd that go?"

"Successfully." Billy shrugged.

At that, Steve's head shot up. "What?" Steve said, mouth full. "Already?"

Billy's eyes narrowed. "Why, the surprise?" He asked, slow.

"No, not surprised, just-" He prodded at the inside of the tub, thoughtful. "I've got a job now, too." He said. "At the video store."

"Congratulations." Billy scoffed, narrowing his eyes at the weird way he'd said it. He walked over towards the open glass door. "You started on the pool.” He stated, noting the pool-net on the edge, filled with wet green and brown leaves.

"Getting one chore out of the way, before my parents come back," Steve sighed.

"Plus, Dustin and the kids keep wanting to use it, since Hawkins pool is so grody, so-" He stopped, catching his eyes. "No offense."

"None taken." He'd seen numerous kids piss in there. He knew what they were doing when they gone into the shallow part, treading water. He'd blown the whistle at them so hard that if it weren't attached to his neck, it would have taken flight.

Billy slipped through the gap in the door. At side of the pool, his eyes fell to the basketball, sat by the side of one of the deck-chairs. Steve stopped in the door-way, ice-cream in hand. He watched as Billy turned the basketball on his finger, spinning it in circles.

"How about it, Harrington?" He grinned.

Steve's eyes flashed with interest, a look he'd seen often in practice: an all too rare sight. He liked to win. It made for a good game with him.

"You trying to break a rib?" Steve said, cocky. "You're still fucked up."

“Even fucked up, I can still thrash you."

Steve rolled his eyes. “Sure,” He scoffed.

Billy started to dribble it, shooting for the hoop mounted on the wall of the house. It slipped through with a whoosh.

"Sounds to me like you're chicken-shit." Billy pushed when he retrieved it, dribbling it on the patio. "Too much of a bitch to go one on one?"

Steve's eyebrows shot up. He put down the tub by the door, before he walked out into the sun. Smirking, he stalked towards him slowly.

"Best out of five." Steve shot forward. Billy ducked and dodged his grasp as he dribbled the ball, head ducked to his.

 

The game ended as a 3:2 - in Harrington’s favor.

Painstakingly, they’d duked it out for the last win. Steve had whooped as he reached the final number, flipped back his sweaty bangs out from his face.

Billy had fallen in a slump on the floor, his side splitting with pain.

“What was that, something about...thrashing me?” Steve gasped, bouncing the ball near his head as he dribbled it. Billy pushed his tongue hard against the side of his cheek, resisting the urge not to Powerslam him into the pool.

“You all worn out, Hargrove?” Steve asked, looming over him, cocky. Then, his smile fell as he looked over him, head tilting to one side. "Wait…are you really bleeding?"

 

 Steve hauled him up and they'd returned to the kitchen, leaving the basket-ball to roll into the pool.

"Quit bitching," Billy grumbled. "It's only a little." It had left a mark on his shirt, a wine-stain. One of his wounds had taken longer to heal, had grown puffy and gross-looking. From time to time, it still bled.

Steve pushed him back, so his back hit the kitchen counter. When he returned, he held a small first-aid kit. He stopped expectantly, lifting his eyebrows.

"Take it off."

For a beat, Billy couldn't talk, throat closing. "Told you it's fine," He scoffed, tried to move past him. Steve's hand pressed at the center of his chest, easing him back in place.

"Would you just do it?" He held his gaze, firm.

Billy dropped his eyes as he peeled off his shirt. A tenseness falling over him as it fell to the floor, his chest bare. He'd been shirtless in front of him plenty of times but, this felt very different.

Cornered up against the counter, with Steve's hands pressed his skin, maneuvering him where he wanted him. Steve tapped at the side of his bicep. "Lift your arm,"

He said as he bent forward, down by his flank to clean away dribble of blood from his skin. Billy hated how fucking nervous he felt. It was real pathetic.

The heat of Steve's breath fanned hot over his skin. "Quit mouth-breathin'," He grumbled, turning his head. Steve gave his skin a slight pinch.

"You know you're at my mercy, right now." He warned, voice steady with focus. The words made Billy's cock twitch with interest. He instantly flushed with shame, throwing his head back to stare at the ceiling incredulously. Of all the times to get a chub.

Quickly, he cast his eyes to the wholesome family portrait on the mantelpiece.

It was some Stepford shit at Casa Harrington. There were tons of pictures of all of them all together. Seemingly, a happy family. At events, graduations, competitions. Yet, they were never around to be seen.

Robots. Or, Aliens. In Hawkins - nothing was impossible.

On the walls, they had mounted Steve's sports medals and trophies with pride.

Billy had gone through almost every sport in school: soccer, baseball, wrestling. Neil had come to his basketball games, for a while. In the stands, he would stand up and clap loudly when Billy scored.

It was never a smile but, for a while, it was enough. Great, even. Billy had played his heart out, just to see that. Looking back, he wanted to scream at that stupid fucking kid.

As soon as their team lost a game, it had all changed.

"You shouldn't have passed."  Neil had told him on their way home, his hands clenched tight onto the steering-wheel.

"It was your shot. You should have taken it. Drawn a charge." Through his nose, he exhaled sharply like he had more to say, more to curse: Billy hated the sound. It was often coupled with the biting snap of the belt.

Billy had let it go, curled up in the passenger seat and apologized. He didn't want to bring it home to Mom. She would defend him. Then, they would fight. It was a routine that he had learned, and tried to avoid. Next time, I'll do better, he'd think.

Stupid.

Often, it didn't even matter what he did.

Steve applied some anti-septic to the wound, distracting him from his thoughts. It stung as it made contact.

"There." Steve turned his head, squinting. Billy just watched him. Letting out a small scoff, when he noticed the idiot still had ice cream smeared on the right side of his cheek. He reached up, thumb slowly dragging over it, inches from his lip.

Steve eyes lifted, warm-brown eyes going wide.

If he were a girl, it would be all too easy. To keep hold of their gaze as he brought his thumb in his mouth. To get them flustered, until they would lean in closer.

But, Steve was no girl. And, Steve wasn't like him.

"You're a fucking toddler, Harrington." Was all he said, as he smeared it down the front of Steve's shirt.

"Ugh-" Steve took a step back. "You're welcome, by the way." Steve's voice followed him down the hall, as he went to put the kit away.

That should have been the end of it. Billy knew that it was time to leave. Instead, Billy slowed his steps by a pile of cassettes, heaped up on the chest of drawers, his fingers dragged along the spines. He grabbed one from the middle, carefully easing it out of the pile.

"Steve," He called. "Think fast," He threw the cassette and Steve caught it, inspecting the cover of First Blood with a frown.

"You watched that one yet?" 

 


 

Steve rooted in the glass display cabinets, fingers reaching inside the porcelain bowls and dishes. He knew he'd stashed it somewhere in the cabinet.

Sure, it had been a long time since then. But, all of the ornaments were decorative, barely ever touched by his parents. It wouldn't have been moved.

“All this fucking homework,” Billy said from the couch, peering at the covers of the cassettes that Robin brought over.

"Yeah. Turns out, I need to know more movies by name to work for $3 an hour."

"Less to memorize with ice-cream,"

 "Actually, not really.” The names of the specials were pretty long, always some nautical pun thrown in there for an extra sprinkle more humiliation. “The outfit was a trip."

Billy let out a bark of laughter. "Oh, I know."

Steve turned over his shoulder, horrified. "You saw?"

Billy met his eyes, brows raised. "Tragically, no." He sighed as he picked up a cassette, turned it in hand. "'I only heard rumors of Sailor-Steve."

Thank you God. Now, I know you're up there, Steve thought.

Billy lifted his head, smirking darkly. "Maybe you could reprise it, for me?"

"Uh, yeah, no," Steve laughed. "You can bet your ass I incinerated that uniform." Except for the hat - for sentimental purposes. It's not like he'd ever wear the thing again.

"Shame." Billy sighed.  

Steve returned to his search. Finally, he found it: wrapped in some ornamental, dusty teapot they'd picked up on a trip to Scotland. He pulled out the little saran-wrap bag from the spout, still wrapped tight.

They’d rolled the joint while the ads played and Steve grabbed some chips from his cabinets and a few beers, dropping them onto the table. The movie was okay. It wasn't really Steve's thing, per se.

The protagonist's threatening, strong-man speeches rolled over him and the fight-scenes didn't grab his attention. The loud, explosions in the movie functioned as an mildly interesting background noise as Steve nestled into the cushions.

The high bled through his body like he was sinking into hot-water, easing all of his muscles.

Steve noted that Billy was lighter on the beer than usual. He wet his lips as he dumped his hand onto the bowl in Billy's lap, crunching loudly on the chips.

"Never got the appeal of these movies," He huffed.

"What's not to like?" Billy said, just a huge explosion erupted on the T.V.

"I dunno, man." Steve said, slumping deep shoulder to shoulder by Billy. "It's just shirtless, sweaty dudes shooting at shit for an hour." He laughed, giddy. Honestly, that was most action movies, in his eyes.

"Body like that takes work and discipline." Billy replied, a little defensively. "Why not show it off?" He rested the heels of feet on the coffee table. "Stalone's a tank,"

"I guess." Steve said. Billy would notice something like that, he knew that the guy was pretty built himself. "You care more about that shit than I do."

Billy rubbed his hands together, dusting them off of crumbs. "So, you noticed."

"Half the girls at school noticed." Steve laughed. "Wouldn't shut up about those stupid jeans you had."

Billy smiled like a wolf, tongue pressed against his canine. "Half?"

"Okay, fine. All." Steve rolled his eyes. He got that he was popular but the fact that he knew that was a little nauseating.

Steve had seen him Billy out in passing, an arm around a girl's shoulder, hand brazenly beneath her shirt. Making out in the open at the Halloween party when they'd first met. He was pretty prolific. Each time, a different girl.

Yet - to Steve - he'd always seemed off, somehow. Almost...bored.

Maybe Hawkins girls were just too tame. Maybe, he'd had a real specific type or some weird, kinky out-there fetish. Or, maybe it was because he'd never had any real feelings for any of them.

With great focus, Steve tried to perch his empty can on the edge of the coffee table. Billy adjusted it for him, mumbling a mocking: "Keg King, my ass."

Steve grabbed another beer and snapped it open, blowing at the top where the bubbles had gathered as he took another loud slurp.

"Well, it's not like your heart's really in it." He said, vocalizing his thoughts.

"What?"

"All those girls. It's just a game to you," Steve shrugged. He'd been the same, for a while. Until, Nancy. "You like moving the pieces around more than you like winning," For a moment, Steve paused, worried. Maybe, he’d crossed a line.

Only, Billy's mouth just curved upwards into a sharp, smile. "I like winning just fine. It's the best part,"

"Is it really winning when you hurt people in the process?" Steve asked, curiously.

Billy's mouth just curled upwards, like he'd hocked a loogie at his feet. "Not all girls want you to put a ring on it, Harrington."

Steve remembered hearing about Amy Laughlan. Apparently, he'd promised they'd talked non-stop about sunny California.

He'd promised he'd drive them there for the Summer, to spend the weekend. Only to brutally dump her a day after she gave him her V-card. It all sounded pretty shitty but Steve wasn't sure how true it all was, though.

"You'd be surprised what people are willing to put up with, if they like someone enough." Steve shrugged. "I've heard some pretty brutal rumors."

Billy turned and held his gaze. "Thought you were above all that shit." He said, slow. "King Steve,"

Touché.

"Anyways, it's not like I held a gun to their head," Billy continued, suddenly seeming a bit irritated by the topic. "They know what they're getting when they get with me,"

"Oh, yeah?" Steve scoffed. "And, what's that?"

Billy chewed, eyes lazy as he turned to him. "A guilt-free fuck."

The sharpness of the word, and the way he said it, made Steve pause. He felt his tongue swell in his dry-mouth before he turned back to the screen. Something was one fire and there was more shooting.

"I don't know. I've always thought that stuffs a little better when you at least, care about the person, you know?" Steve said.

Billy gave a long dramatic groan. "I am not gonna listen to you bitch about Nancy fuckin' Wheeler,"

"What? I wasn't talking about her," Well, not completely anyway. She was his example, but he wasn't going to complain about her. He was pretty much over all that - mostly.

"Although, she was the first person who made me realize what all that shit was really about, you know?"

Steve wondered if Billy had even cared about any of those girls that much to know what that was like. He doubted it.

Billy just shot him a strange look. A twitchy, flighty expression flashing over his face. "You hard up or something?" He said. "Lonely?”

At this point, he'd be stupid to deny that. Ever since he'd lost Nancy: his confidence had been shot. Dates were a pretty rare occurrence nowadays. It seemed his silence was enough of an answer.

"You're not even denying it," Billy's laugh was cruel. "That's fuckin' pathetic,"

Steve swallowed a lump in his throat. Never mind. Man, he'd forgotten what an ass he could be sometimes. He should've known better than to talk about something like that, with someone like him.

The two of them sat in silence for a while, whilst the thunder and explosions blew out the colors on the screen.

"I take it, she wasn't your first." Billy cut the silence, stuffing more chips into his mouth.

"No, that was freshman year of high-school." Steve sighed, rubbing at his eyes again. It had been an awkward, forgettable fumble with Jackie that he'd sooner forget.

"Got you beat." Billy grinned. "Eighth grade."

"...Congrats." Steve rolled his eyes. It wasn't a contest. "Guess the girls do move a little faster in Cali,"

Billy stopped, brows raising. "Like you hicks have any room to judge,"

"Fuck off." Steve scoffed and nudged him with his knee.

By the time they reached the end of the movie, Steve was stoned. He smacked his dry tongue to the roof of his mouth, as the movie-credits rolled down the T.V. screen. At his side, Billy stretched, chest heaving before he fell back on the cushions. The low-light caught the glint of his necklace.

Steve's eyes trailed along his profile, the side of his lashes and the swell of his lips. He'd always looked a little out of place in Hawkins. They way he’d looked and dressed, like he should be in some movie.

Of course, the fact that he knew that was a little irritating. Maybe, a lot irritating. Steve's eyes fell to that same flash of gold, resting against the middle of his chest.

"Can I ask you something?" Steve mumbled, smacking his tongue to the roof of his mouth as he moved a little closer.

Billy looked worried: like he'd been caught red-handed in a lie. "What?"

His lashes were long - pretty, even. It was an odd combination for someone like him. Yet, it was hard not to notice - especially not this close. Steve reached forward to lift the small medallion between his thumb and finger, the chain sliding against the skin of Billy's neck with a quiet hiss.

"Do you always wear this?" He knew the answer, but he'd wanted to know why. A Catholic Saint necklace, pressed close to his heart. He'd always wondered if it meant he was religious, or something. It had always seemed so unlikely.

"Was a gift," Billy told him. "From my mom. It's the patron saint of travelers,"

Steve's thumb ran over the coin-face, feeling the difference in texture. He brought his head up and Billy looked him over. Mouth parted, the blue of his eyes swallowed by black. Something in that look made Steve feel dazed, his breath catching.

The weed had really fucked him up: he felt slow, sluggish, eyes going heavy. He snapped his head down to the coin again. The air felt thick between them. He didn't want to lift his head again. He was afraid of what might happen.

"So, uh. Where is she now?"

Billy grasped the coin from Steve's fingers, breaking the spell. "Fuck if I know," He said, he tucked it away under his shirt out of sight. "She left a long time ago," He shuffled on the couch, turning his body away from him.

"Sorry." Steve mumbled.

"What're you sorry for?" He spat. "You're not the guy she ran off with."

Shit. Steve chewed at his bottom lip. He wondered if he should apologize again, for even bringing it up in the first place. However, Billy stood up at once, adjusting his jacket. "I should head off," He said, turning away.

Oh.

Steve sat upright. "Okay, yeah. Sure,"

Billy moved around the room as he collected his stuff. Steve watched him with a strange deflated, sinking feeling. Oddly dissatisfied. He rubbed at the back of his neck, pinching the skin.

"Hey, uh. Maybe I'll drop by, at some point." He blurted out. "At your new place, I mean."

"Why?" Billy adjusted his shirt to tuck it back into his jeans, broad chest puffing out. "To see how the other-other half live?" He asked.

"No, that's-"

"I'm just fuckin' with you," Billy said, mouth curving up into a grin as he tugged on his shoes.

It was a good look, Steve thought. It was a pretty rare to see him smile like that. In his hands, Billy's keys clicked against the rings on his fingers as he mulled over something, eyes lingering on Steve's face.

"You know it's a fuckin' dive, right?" He said. "Not like the palace you've got up here."

Steve frowned. "I don't care about that," He said.

"If you say so," Billy huffed a small laugh, looking back down at his hands, fiddling with his keys again. Before he finally lifted his head and spoke.

"14 Elm Street."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Steve had been a no-show.

It had been a week since he'd last see him at his house. The guy had gotten wasted and nuzzled up to him on the couch, looking up at him like the beginning of some twisted fantasy he'd once had.

Only, he'd had him bound by his throat, fingers curled around the chain of his necklace. Holding him in the dark gaze of his eyes.

At night, his mind had conjured up the image when he'd jerked himself off, a sordid reworking of that day that left him gasping. Once the dust had settled and his pulse had slowed, the same wave of shame had weighed heavy on him. It was getting bad. Steve Harrington was trouble - the worst fucking kind.

Every time the door to his apartment had rung, he'd rushed to it - only, to find John or Max standing there.

"Were you expecting someone else?" Max had said once - much to his annoyance. She never missed a fucking beat.

"The Hell are you talking about?" He'd grumbled, when he let her in.

For the past two weeks, he'd survived on plain oatmeal with water and bowls of brown rice. Anything cheap enough to fill his stomach and to eat with his dinner before bed. It sucked. But, it would have to do. Till his next pay-check, at least.

He'd pocketed a few packets of beef-jerky and bar-nuts from the stock-room, when John's back was turned. Even picked at a few leftover fries off someone's plate. Some days, he was just too hungry to care.

The pills had made him sluggish, slower to react than usual. But, it had kept a lot of the nightmares and thoughts at bay.

The attacks no longer felt inevitable, like the slow crawl of a lit line of gunpowder. He could stop it, before it reached the keg.

Sometimes, he still winced at an unexpected sound or the acrid, sharp scent of a cleaning agent. Only, now he'd found it easier to control. To steady himself. It didn't come as such as shock anymore like it once had. And, he'd begun to understand what to avoid.

You're not there anymore, he'd tell himself.

Mid-way through the week, Billy scrounged some money and headed out for a much-needed change of pace from the bland, mush he'd been eating.

He pulled up alongside a neon-red food-truck and ordered a large burger and fries. The rain was heavy, pelting the ground and flicking back up onto jeans.

Billy waited beneath the shelter. The sizzle of the fat-fryer and the crisped scent of the fries made his mouth water, his stomach erupted loudly. He'd never been so hungry. Impatiently, he drummed on the side, stomach clenching in on itself.

An all too familiar face caught his eye and he stopped, abruptly. Walking down the street in a green bomber-jacket and jeans, soaked from head-to-toe, was none other than Steve Harrington.

"Harrington," Billy announced, surprised. The sound rose at the end, hopefully, and Billy wanted to kick himself.

"Oh, hey," Harrington didn't seem to notice, though.

He shot him a smile that made his breath catch, brushing back the wet strands of hair from his face. For a beat, he just stood there, hands tucked in his bomber, rain-water dripping off his nose.

"What are you doing here, amigo?"

"I was..." He looked down the road. "Just, going for a walk,"

Billy frowned at him. A walk? In this shitty weather?

"Suit yourself," He scoffed.

Steve looked up at the skies, like he had just realized how inconvenient the downpour was. Or, like he'd just noticed it.

He crossed over to stand by his side, beneath the shelter. There was an ease to the way he approached him now, a casual closeness that Billy wasn't accustomed to.

Leaning at his side, his eyes dragged over him form before he spoke, grinning. "You look like you're undercover,"

"Kinda am," Billy shrugged.

Steve flushed, opened his mouth wordlessly, like he'd just realized what he'd said. There was a bar around here that Neil frequented and he didn't want to be seen, if he could avoid it.

Before he'd left, he'd put on his sunglasses and the trucker hat he'd found in his locker, lifted the collar of his jacket up to his ears.

"Well, looks good on you," He settled on, before lifted his eyes to the menu-board.

Beads of rain-water dripped down the sides of his cheek, trailing down his neck. He really was soaked all the way through. Billy eyes lowered, to the white shirt he was wearing, tacked flat onto the skin of his chest.

The vendor dropped the take-out bag and his soda loudly on the till. Billy jumped like he'd been caught stealing, heart kicking in his chest. He shot the vendor a glare and snatched it up in hand, turning to leave.

Billy turned on his heels. Steve still stood under the shelter's garish lights, wiping down the drenched sleeves of his jacket.

"You need a ride?" Billy asked.

"Uh," Steve peered down the street, sucked on his bottom lip in thought. The rain had partially flooded the street, streaming down past the curb in a current. "You don't have to-"

"Can't look away now, Harrington," Billy said. Steve turned back to him, in recognition.

"I still owe you, right?" Billy smirked.

Steve's mouth curved up into a smile. "Sure, alright," He said. "But, I get choice of music,"

"Real brazen of you, Harrington," Billy smirked as he walked by his side. "Better not put on any whiny, yuppie shit."

 

 

Billy chewed loudly on his fries, the quiet murmur of Toto playing from the radio: Steve's choice from his tattered shoe-box on the passenger floor - where he'd kept a lot of his cassettes. The two of them had parked behind two cars down the street.

The rain had finally stopped. Now, it only fell in small, inconsistent drops. From the outside, Steve's home looked a little like a dollhouse. The windows lit-up in every room. A soft, jazzy music emanating from inside.

"They swingers or something?"

Steve grimaced. "No. God. They're having dinner with my Aunt and Uncle," The paper crinkled as his hands fell onto it, looking down sadly at his half of the double cheese burger. "Why'd you have to say that when I'm eating?"

"I like fuckin' with you," Billy grinned at him, digging his tongue against his lip before he dove his hand back into the fries. "Take it, you weren't invited,"

"I was," Steve sighed. "But I didn't want to be there,"

"Why the fuck not?" Sounded like a dumb reason to skip a free meal. "Too dull?" He pressed. "Too fuckin' fancy?"

"No, they're just assholes, is all." Steve grumbled. "A bunch of stuck-up assholes." He sighed, like he was mad at himself for letting something slip.

Billy raised his eyebrows, suddenly curious. He dug his hand into the fries bag, routing around for another handful. "Can't put up with them for one night?"

"You don't think I've tried?" He let out a weak, tired laugh. "It's just...the same old shit,"

"Like what?"

"You don't-" He sighed, irritated. "I don't need to get into it,"

Billy glared at him. "I asked, didn't I?"

"Fine," Steve took in a long, breath.

"First, they'll talk about my cousin Seth - whose in college now, by the way. Accepted by an Ivy League to study fucking Law," He did a small jerk-off sign and Billy let out a laugh.

"They'll bring this again as an excuse, of course. To compare him to me," Steve theatrically gestured to himself, "The family failure."

It was a very specific example - too specific to not be somewhat grounded in truth or experience. A little irritating to hear, though.

If Harrington was already considered a failure, then what hope was there for the rest of the world? For someone like him?

"Then, they'll talk about my job at the video-store and how nice it is that I have something to occupy my time," He said, mimicking a patronizing tone. "My mom will make a few passive-aggressive comments and then down a whole bottle of wine. Then, my Dad will make me announce in front of the whole family that I intend to try again next year."

"That, this time, I won't fail him," He exhaled shakily, brows creasing. Billy's stomach dropped as he watched.

For a moment, he looked like he might tear up. He froze up at the thought: he wasn't sure how he'd handle something like that.

"Guess I won't have to put up with it, for much longer," Steve shrugged, defeated.

"Soon, he'll be back on some business trip. And, she'll probably tag along with him, to make sure he's not screwing his twenty-something year-old assistant again," He lifted his eyes up to the dollhouse. "Then, I'll have the house all to myself again,"

Well...That was more than he'd thought he'd ever learn about the Harrington's. Mr Harrington, especially. Not that it didn't make sense.

"Tell them to shove it," Billy shrugged.

Steve turned to him, brows creasing, before he let out a small, disbelieving scoff. "I mean," He laughed, exasperated. "That may work for you, but..."

"For me?" He scoffed. "Why not for you? It's not like you like these fuckers, anyway,"

"They're...still my family," He mumbled - like that meant he was helpless in caring for them. In that sense, they were different. There was a point where blood didn't matter anymore. When blood didn't mean shit.

Sullen, Steve dropped his eyes to the dash. "Worst part is...they're kinda right,"" He let out a bleak laugh. "I am a fuck-up,"

Billy glowered at him, going tense. It wasn't at the words he spoke. People said all kinds of shit when they were angry or irritated. He knew all about that. It was that it seemed like he actually believed them.

He could hear it in the way he'd said it. Seemed like Mr and Mrs Harrington had really had done a number on him.

The strange thing was, from the looks of things, they barely even knew their own kid. If they did, they would have known better. Maybe, they'd feel different if they'd have known what he had done in the last year. The things he'd seen and done.

Maybe, they would never know about that.

But, Billy did.

"Steve." He said sharply. "Cut that shit out."

Steve blinked his big brown eyes at him, confused. "Cut..what?"

"You're not a fucking failure," He said, holding him in his gaze.

A strange look flickered over Steve's face. For a second, Billy wondered if he'd laugh in his face. Some part of him pictured him scoffing, laughing at him. Thinking about how stupid it all sounded - coming from someone like him.

From the bottom wrung, at ground zero. From down there, everyone looked good.

Yet, he didn't scoff, or laugh. Only, stared. His eyes wide and searching.

A jovial laugh echoed down the street, breaking the silence between them.

The four of them left the house. They were the preppy nightmare Billy had always imagined. Khakis, leather golf-shoes, knitted sweaters. A sea of beige and nude colors, primped and dry-cleaned. Truly, a nightmare.

"Finally, they're leaving," Steve sighed, relieved.

"Wanna have some fun?" He smiled, revving the Camaro from a soft purr into a growl.

"Wait, what-?" Steve sat upright. "Wait, wait, wait-" Steve clenched tight onto the doors, arms going out like a cat in a bath-tub. " What are you gonna do, run them over?"

Billy shot him a stupefied look before he scoffed. He pulled out from behind the parked Jeep. "I said fun, Harrington,"

"Billy, wait-"

He put out his arm, crossing Steve's chest. "Get low,"

In the car, he approached the four of them as they stood by the edge of the street, frowning as they peered off at some giant flower-bush in the garden.

Billy hit the gas and sped up the road, straight through the large gathered puddle. The wave rose high, a white surge of rain-water that flattened the four of them. It was a shame he couldn't see their faces. But, their noises of complaint were a good consolation.

A series of disgruntled groans and affected gasps echoing down the street after them. Steve burst into laughter and they sped far down the road and out of sight. Finally, Billy came to a sudden stop as he pulled up on the side of the road, a few blocks down.

"Okay, now I feel bad." He was still laughing though, eyes crinkling into little crescents.

"Relax, they won't know you it was you,"

"Fuck," Steve rubbed his face, still grinning. "They're gonna be pissed,"

"They'll get over it," Billy grinned, resting his hands on the wheel. "Admit it, Harrington: that felt good,"

Still fighting to hold back a smirk, Steve uttered. "Fine," He gave in.

When he opened the door to leave, Billy felt a sinking feeling.

"Thanks," Steve said ducked his head low through the door-way, smiling. "Thanks for...this," He laughed, like he didn't quite know what this was.

"Welcome," Billy shrugged, like it was nothing. He turned back to the windshield, without saying another word. The passenger door slammed close as Steve left.

Billy's eyes lifted to the rear-view mirror. He watched him go, eyes lingering on his figure as he grew smaller. When he was finally out of sight, he left his head fell into his hands, sighing.

Fuck. He was so fucked.

 


 

"Wow, it's uh..."

Steve looked around Billy's apartment. From the peeling wallpaper, to the exposed pipes and cracks on the ceiling. There was a single mattress on the floor, and a tiny T.V. propped up on a cardboard box opposite.

There was only one light in the center of the room, a bulb without a lamp. The kitchen was a meter and a half-away. With all the cupboards and lack of light, it was dark and crowded.

He cleared his throat when he met Billy's stare.

Billy's lashes blinked, before he said flatly. "Tell me how you really feel, Harrington."

"I was going to say nice," He clarified, cheeks going hot.

"Sure, you were."

The beat of skin against canvas made Billy's eyes go wide. Quickly, he turned on his feet, leaving the door wide for Steve to come inside.

"Max-" He barked.

Both El and Max were stood by an old, beat-up punching bag wrapped with duck-tape, strapped to the horizontal beam across the ceiling. Max gave it another punch and it swung in place.

"Quit it, shit-bird." Billy warned as he steadied it. "I swear, I turn my head for one second-"

"We were just fooling around." She said, rubbing the back of her knuckles.

"Way to fuck up your wrists, punching like that,"

"Can you show us?" El asked, voice cutting between their bickering. Billy observed her for a second. Then, ushered her closer.

"What is this?" Max said. "You literally just yelled at me,"

"You didn't ask me nice,"

"Whatever," She rolled her eyes.

"She should know how to throw a decent punch," El stepped forward and allowed him to position her arms to practice on the air. "The swing is important," He explained. "But, you can't start with the bag. Not right away, and definitely not without decent form," His eyes cut sharply to Max. "You listening, shit-head?"

"I know how to throw a punch," She scoffed.

"Maybe you could give Steve some pointers." Billy's grin caught the light as he met Steve's eyes.

Steve frowned. "Funny."

 

After the impromptu lesson, the four of them watched Miami Vice as they sat on the mattress on Billy's floor. It was a favorite of El's: she'd clung to the little things that reminded her of Hopper. The boys had taken a few hours out to play D&D for the day, playing a large campaign that was put together by Dustin. It would be Will's last, before he moved away.

They'd almost ended up not watching anything after Billy's old T.V. had blinked out. Billy had fiddled with the aerial of a second-hand T.V. Cursing blindly, when the picture quality fizzled.

In the end, Max got up to adjust it with a lighter touch: saving them from Billy snapping it clean-off.

It was small and used T.V. but the picture was decent. The four of them ate together some take-out that Max had brought over. It had gone a little cold on her bike-ride over - but that didn't seem to bother Billy. Who'd wolfed the noodles down in record-time.

Max had grumbled and called him a pig. Yet, it had earned him a laugh from El, who'd tried to do the same with her share. It was nice to see her laugh - even if it was only for a brief moment.

Max had spent a lot of her time trying to distract her recently, whilst Joyce arranged the move. It hadn't been easy on any of them.

At the end of the night, Steve had felt a little reluctant to head home. He'd been happy to have his parents home, at first. Overwhelmed with relief, to have someone else in the house again. Only, the novelty didn't last all that long.

They'd soon sat him down at dinner for another lecture, regarding his plans and his preparation for the next date for admissions.

At this point, college had seemed out of his reach. He'd come to terms with the idea of never going. Of, never even getting in. He didn't want to be dragged back in that humiliating mind-set again. To try and fail, only to try again and fail.

"I'm not as willing to accept your failure," His Dad had said, whilst Steve had started to get the table ready for their Aunt and Uncle. "Even if you have resigned yourself to a life of mediocrity. I still care about your future,"

After that argument, he'd skipped the dinner. Walked through the rain until Billy had found him, miles away from home.

Failure.

His father's words had stuck with him, weighed heavy on his thoughts. He'd always had suspicions, worried about how his father viewed him. A let-down. A failure. He'd known it, in the discerning way he'd always looked at him. When Steve had struggled with his grades as a kid, he'd given him that same look. Steve had put in the time, the effort but it had never worked out.

Yet, hearing the word failure from his mouth, had somehow still taken him by surprise.

Then, there was Billy.

That day, he'd comforted him. He wasn't sure why he'd said it. He'd barely believed it when it came out of his mouth. The way he'd looked at him with such conviction, like he'd wanted him to hear it. To know.

It had lifted that weight, for a while. He wanted to believe him. To believe that he was right.

For the next week, he'd kept busy. Between his job at the video-store with Robin and hanging out around Billy's house with the others, Steve had dodged any more of his parents talk about college like a pro. It was still Summer and he had many reasons to be pretty busy.

 

When he rang the door to Billy's apartment, Billy swung it open wide. Looking like he'd just walked out of a music-video. Gold curls with a silver blade earring dangling from his ear, a smoking cigarette propped between his lips.

A raucous guitar-riff played from the T.V. behind him.

Steve's eyes dropped to the shirt he was wearing: a cropped Everlast shirt that shopped at his ribs.

"We started already," Billy said, puffing on his cigarette. He exhaled a cloud and gave him a brief once over. "You wearin' that?"

"Uh, yeah," He looked down at his jeans and plain white shirt. Steve looked at his grey basket-ball shorts and that shirt and scoffed. "And, what about what you're wearing?"

Billy exhaled another plume of smoke, face unresponsive. "What about it?"

Steve cleared his throat. "Nothing,"

 

Billy had dressed the floor with newspaper and torn magazines to prevent it from staining. Their steps were loud as they moved, crinkling beneath their feet. Steve started on the wall opposite Billy's bed, slathering on the white paint over the dry-wall. He'd made the mistake at looking over at the wall Max had done, flat and even with a blank color.

Where Steve had painted, already looked streaky and uneven. Where the fuck had he gone wrong? Billy soon approached him, stopping to stand by his side as he glanced at the wall.

Steve turned to him, sheepish. "Sorry, man. I fucked it up," He sighed, "Guess, I'm not good at this,"

Billy leaned over his shoulder, pressing close to him behind him. "Just, keep it going in one direction," Steve felt the heat of his body, the weight of his presence, warm and heavy against him. Steve's eyes fell to his muscle of his arm, flexing and working beneath his paint-strokes.

The weight of him was gone as soon as it came when Billy moved away.

Steve did as he instructed, watching as the wall steadily started to look a little better.

"You worry too much, Harrington." He said with a smile, eyes lingering on the side of his face. Steve got lost in the look, for a moment. Until, he felt something wet press against his thigh.

Billy smeared the paintbrush down his jeans, leaving a long white mark. "That's for the comment earlier," He said. "About my fucking shirt,"

Steve retaliated without thought, shoving the paintbrush flat against his nose. Billy blinked, going stiff before he slapped the wet surface across Steve's cheek.

He was about to wage a full-on war when a flash of light lit the entire world white.

The low, whirring sound of a camera shutter followed. Max grinned as she pulled the camera away from her face, the polaroid emerging like cash from an ATM.

"Got you,"

Steve blinked the blobs and white stars from his eyes whilst Billy chased her around the room. Finally, he snatched it off her, peering at the photo with a smirk.

"It's mine!" Max complained, reaching for it.

"I'm in it,"

"So?"

She leapt and jumped for it, fighting for it wildly. Until, Billy tucked it in the front hem of his short, grinning triumphantly as it sat there, peeking out the top. "S'mine now," He concluded.

"You're disgusting," She seemed to agree.

 

 

After they'd finished painting, Steve and Billy split the cost for two large pizzas. Finally, Billy's apartment was finally starting to resemble a decent living space. More importantly, it had started to feel a little bit more like him.

Posters of rock-stars with insane manes of hair on the wall, ripped messily from magazines. A small makeshift vanity sat on the window sill, Aqua-net, Old-spice and a small free sample cologne vial. Slowly but surely, it was coming along.

While they were eating, a whistle-call from outside the window caught Steve's attention. Max instantly got up to peer outside.

"Be right down!" She shouted, sticking her arm through the narrow gap the window offered to wave. Quickly, she grabbed her back-pack, taking one last bite of her the veggie-pizza.

"Tell him to come up and grab some," Steve said, from his seat on the bed.

Only, Max stopped, eyes darting once over to Billy. "No, uh. That's okay,"

Billy stilled in thought, eyes on her. Then, he shoved the box forward. "Take it with you, then." He said. Billy had got on her case about vegetarianism, but had still ordered it in the end. "I ain't eating it,"

Max grinned, reaching for in an underhand, sneaky way, like he'd discreetly handed her a briefcase of money.

"Later!" She shouted through a mouthful, the crust clenched between her teeth.

After she left, Billy put on the T.V. whilst the two of smoked a joint and shared a four-pack of beers. At some point, they'd ended up sitting on the floor, using the edge of that was now sat in the middle of the room as a pillow.

The high seeped through him. Hitting him later but making him sleepy and heavier than usual.

The windows were as open as they could get, but the breeze was scarce. The inside of the apartment still carried the scent of paint-fumes. Steve had scrubbed the dried paint from his hand and cheek, grinding it off slowly into tiny pebbles.

Steve sighed, letting himself fully relax into position. If he had a few more pillows, he could probably sleep: painting was more of a workout than he would have ever thought.

Next to him, Billy stretched his arms up high, lifting his cropped shirt even higher. Steve's eyes darted over, mouth missing the opening of his beer can. He wiped his wet cheek on the back of his hand.

"They still hurt?" He asked, gesturing to the scars on his flanks.

"Sometimes," Billy twisted his torso to peer at one side, where the scars were still an angry red.

He scoffed at something before he continued. "Max dropped me over some stretch-mark shit girls use," He shrugged. "Haven't used it yet,"

Steve smiled. "She's a good kid,"

"Mhm," Billy grumbled: though, it didn't sound like he disagreed. Steve wondered if it would literally kill him to say something nice about her, when Billy added. "She's got grit."

"She'd have to, around you,"

He chewed on his cheek, eyes low before he spoke. "Was rough on her...when we moved here,"

"On everyone," Steve said.

"Yeah," He downed another large gulp of his beer. "Well, I fucking hated it here," He said, eyes losing focus. "Was always fuckin' angry."

"Why?"

Fidgety, he rubbed at his eyes before his hand dropped back to his side. "He wanted to move out here to start a new life. For all of us to be a real family." He sighed. "And, I didn't want any part in that charade. "

Steve assumed the he was Neil. Billy had rarely referred to him as his Dad.

"I tried to head out on my own. Drove out to find somewhere to crash." He said. "'Neil found me at a gas station and dragged my ass back. Not cause I was family, or because he cared but, because I'd disobeyed." He inhaled sharp, rubbing at the space between his eyebrows.

"He'd always beat my ass for the smallest shit, but that time was-" He stopped, when his eyes had lifted, pupils going small. Like he'd been caught. Cornered in a lie.

Only, it wasn't a lie. Just an uncomfortable truth.

The town had always whispered about it, how rough and short-tempered his Dad was. How rough he was with him. He'd heard about the rumors of arguments from their house, screams in the night. 

It's discipline, a lot of people said. Billy was a bad kid, after all. Always getting in trouble.

Discipline. That definitely wasn't what Steve would call it.

It was the first time Billy had ever talked about it, so upfront. By now he'd known about it, heard about it from Max - even El. But, it had never come from Billy's mouth. He almost seemed ashamed of it. Or, maybe he was ashamed of admitting something like that had happened to him.

"It doesn't really matter now," Billy said.

Steve watched him, the tight severeness in his expression. It did matter. But, he didn't want to force it - not if it was going to upset him.

"I didn't know how bad it was," Steve told him. "Before, I mean."

"How could you?" He said, giving a shrug. "It's not like I let on," He raised his beer to his mouth. "Blood in the water," Coach McGinley's favorite weird phrase. A stupid saying, but he'd taken to spouting it on occasion when they'd had matches.

Billy wasn't someone who should've taken the words to heart. Or, anyone for that matter. It seemed like a dumb way to view other people, like they were always waiting for you to show the first sign of weakness.

"Coach was an asshole," Steve said.

"Coach liked me," Billy said, a small smile playing on his lips.

"I know," In his own weird way, he did. Billy was a good player and Coach liked to win. Their team had pretty much all flocked to Billy when he'd arrived. As if losing his friends and Nancy wasn't enough. He'd also lost his spot. Coach liked playing them off one another. Thought it would somehow improve Steve's game.

It didn't.

"You sound jealous," Billy grinned like a cat. "Bitter that I benched you?"

"You lost our one-on-one," Steve reminded him.

Billy's smirk faded. "Yeah. When was I still fucked up,"

"Sure." Steve narrowed his eyes, shot him a smug smirk.

Billy's tongue run across the cut of his teeth. Childishly, he nudged his bare knee to his but Steve pushed back against his strength.

"Anyway, I'm just glad all that shit's over," Steve sighed. "Now, we can talk like normal people."

"Why?" Billy quirked his eyebrows, lids heavy. A small smirk lifted his mouth. "Cos you're sweet on me now?"

There was that look again. The one he'd found it hard to look away from.

"Can you be serious, for one second?" He said, finally.

"Who says I'm joking?"

Steve scoffed, heat flushing to his cheeks. "You're annoying,"

Billy grinned, teeth catching the light. Again, he nudged him with his knee. "You like it,"

Steve let out huff, brushing it off. He fiddled with the trigger of the can, heart thrumming in his chest.

It was late. He needed to leave.

"I'm beat." He said, feet wobbling as he stood. He went to find his shoes, somewhere heaped up by the door. Which ones were they again?

"Harrington." Billy's voice stopped him, and he turned. Billy laid out flat and stared up at the ceiling, peered down at him through his lashes. "Max wants to go on a beach trip before the Summer is over," He said. "You know any decent places near here?"

"Sure," Steve said. "We used to go to Delaware for the weekend when I was a kid. To Bethany or Dewey,"

The whole family had gone on a trip there. Steve remembered looking up from the sand castle he had made, calling them over to take a look. Only, they'd kept their backs to them, sat up at the table, laughing.

"It's nice there," Steve told him. "You guys'll have fun."

Billy smiled, eyes lifting to the ceiling again. "Since you know the place so well," He shrugged. "Maybe you should come with,"

Before the Summer was over, he'd said.

It had been the longest Summer of his life. Maybe, it would be a good idea to get away. To have one normal, weekend at the beach. To feel normal - for once.

"Sure," Steve agreed.

"Good," Billy smiled. He ground the stub of his cigarette on the pizza plate on the floor. Then, got up and turned off the T.V, filling the room with darkness. There was only the gold light from the street-light outside, lighting the side of his profile.

"You can crash," He said, as he pulled his shirt over his shoulders. "There's enough room,"

Steve's eyes lowered to the muscles in his stomach, gold pendant catching on his top before it fell back on his bare chest with a clink. He'd seen him do it a thousand times. Only, this time, it felt different.

Billy laid down on the far side of the bed and began beating the pillows into a comfortable position. Normally, it would have been fine for him to stay over at a friends when he was wasted.

They had even slept together before, once. Not that Steve remembered falling asleep there. Or, intended to.

That morning, he'd woken up confused and dehydrated, with a splitting headache. The skin of his neck and nose on-fire with sunburn. Billy had already gone by the time he woke up and he had avoided having to explain himself.

"You just gonna stand there all night?" Billy asked, frowning. He slumped down hard onto the bed, turning to face the opposite wall. "Suit yourself," 

Quietly, Steve peeled off his jeans and tugged them off his legs, leaving him in just his shorts and shirt. Settling down, he laid down beside him on the bed, turning his back to him.

In the reflection of the T.V., he could make out some of his own features, the tousled mess of his hair. The profile of Billy's body, of his head and the slope of his shoulders. Steve could feel the heat off him, a few feet away. It played on his mind, gnawed at him.

He shifted a little, legs passing by one each other beneath the thin bed-sheet. It was warm. The whole of August had been humid, but he'd never felt it so keenly. The air was full and dense. Crushing. A nervous feeling fluttered in his chest, a strange sense of anticipation.

"Too quiet," Billy's voice almost made him jump.

"What?"

"This town," He continued, voice low and heavy. "It's fuckin' eerie. I don't know how you can stand it,"

Steve had only ever known the sound of Hawkins at night, the crickets in the Summer or the patter of falling rain on his roof. A city would be louder. Passing cars, warm bodies, the neon lights of all night stores. 

"Was it different? Where you lived before?"

"In Cali? Yeah," He could hear the smile creeping in Billy's tone. It was kinda nice to hear. He almost wished he could see his face, see his face light up when he smiled.

"Don't get me wrong, sometimes the noise was fuckin' annoying. But, other times, it was alright,"

Steve rolled over on the bed, facing his broad shoulders. He watched the muscles work beneath the skin as Billy breathed, let his eyes fall down the line of his spine. He wanted to reach out and lay his hand on his back. He felt the urge of it crawling up from his chest, desperate to be felt. To be listened to.

"I understand," He replied, his voice weak.

"You do?"

"Yeah," Steve said. "Makes you...feel less alone,"

"Yeah?" Billy's reply was a low rumble that vibrated through him. Steve didn't flinch or move away when Billy turned over, facing him. They were close enough so he could feel his breath, see the freckles on the ridge of his nose.

He locked eyes with him, blue eyes heavy and dark. The streetlight from the window outside lit up the side of his hair like a halo.

"You lonely, Stevie?" He murmured low. It was a cruel, biting jeer, but it didn't hit like one.

A small coy smile played over Billy's lips as he looked him over. Eyes heavy and hungry. His tongue came out to wet his lips, like he was giving an invitation.

Steve surged forward and took it.

Billy's mouth pursed, for a second. Yet, before he could pull away and apologize for his fuck-up. Say that he didn't meant it. Say that he'd fucked up. He was kissing him back.

Sucking on Steve's bottom lip as his hands went to grasp on his jaw. He pulled him against him with a starved, sudden feverishness that made him see stars.

His fingers weaved through his hair and tugged hard at the roots of his scalp at the base of his head. An electric shiver erupted down Steve's spine. For a beat, Billy pulled his head back in his grip, parting their mouths.

He let them hover over one another, an inch away. Their breaths heavy between them. A moment where he just looked at him through his lashes, waiting for something.

Steve peered at him, at the half-lidded stare of Billy's eyes. He pressed forward and found his mouth again, urgent and biting. The covers got caught around his arm, around their bodies until Billy ripped them free. He sat up a little to lean over him, trying to to roll him backward.

Steve sat up and pushed him down first, pinned him down as he straddled his thighs. Underneath him, Billy let out a small almost nervous, hum of surprise. Steve's hands went to his shoulders as his tongue dived into his mouth, meeting his with a labored moan.

He rocked his hips as he kissed him, letting his hands run down his chest. The edge of his fingers caught on the chain around his neck and he pulled at it slightly. Billy's hands gripped hard around Steve's hips.

Rolling his hips like he was trying to buck him off, even though his hands pulled him in closer and closer. He arched upwards and let out a groan into his mouth. Grinding him against the growing swell of his cock in his shorts.

Steve pulled back suddenly.

Blinking the daze from his eyes, he glanced down at him, flushed and panting. Billy looked just as dazed than he felt - maybe even more so. The fan of his lashes low over his heavy eyes. He looked good like this, dazed beneath him. The realization was a little unsettling.

"Sorry." Steve found himself saying. The apology tumbled out automatically, like he'd stepped on his toe or something.

"S'fine, Harrington." He said, breathlessly.

His eyes were heavy with his lashes, mouth bitten-red and lit with moisture. Steve's eyes fell there again, finding them like a magnet. Want bled through him, as he lowered his head again.

Until, he heard a scream.

The come-to moment hit him like a ton of bricks when he heard the sound through the window. Just below, on the street, a loud group of drunk teenagers walked by, laughing and talking.

Steve rolled off of him. Falling on his back on his side of the pillows. The group cawed and laughed, one of the girls screeching before she burst into a loud, howl of laughter.

The sound of her laugh lingered, long after they had gone.

The streets soon fell quiet again.

The room filled with only the sound of their breath. Steve didn't look at him, or turn to face him. He kept his eyes up at the ceiling, willing his heart to slow.

If he turned, he knew what would happen. He would get carried away again. He wasn't sure how to deal with that. With the realization of the urge that burned through him. And, with what something like that would mean.

"Sorry." He said finally, blinking up at the ceiling. "I'm really wasted,"

He could hear Billy breathing beside him. He was all too aware of the sound of it. The cadence in his sigh and the steady rise and fall of his chest.

"Yeah," Billy said, voice dull. On the mattress, he moved and turned away from him again. "Just, go to sleep, Harrington."

They didn't speak another word to each other for the rest of the night.

At the first sign of daylight, Steve got out of bed. Quiet, so as to not wake him. He pulled on his jeans and gathered his things, leaving before Billy could stir.

Chapter Text

 

Max stretched her leg on the edge of the tub. Wincing, she brought the soaked cotton swab to her knee. She'd attempted a run of the mill heel flip but had missed the board, flinging it backward and scuffing up her knees raw.

Thankfully, no one had been around to see her eat shit. She wasn't a beginner anymore, but that didn't stop the guys at the park acting like she was. Watching and waiting for her to fall, so she'd prove their stupid assumptions right.

From the other room, she heard a sudden, thump.

Neil was home.

That meant he was probably in Billy's room. Again. She rolled down her jeans to hide her knee. He'd always hated her skateboarding. In his view, it wasn't a suitable hobby for a young lady. Boys her age would get "bad ideas" about her.

It was stupid.

It seemed everything always circled back to what boys thought about her.

He’d never met Lucas - thankfully. Or, even knew that she had a boyfriend. She hadn’t even been able to tell her own mom. She couldn't - not when she'd spoken to Neil about everything.

When they were having problems, she'd mention it to him. Giving him yet another reason to pick her apart over dinner. He'd jump on the smallest thing and blow it out of proportion. Like he'd been waiting for a reason to begin listing all her other problems.

Her mom seemed to regret it, then. When it devolved into an argument, as it often did. Yet, still, she kept confiding in him for his terrible advice - like, any advice from him would ever be good.

It was clear to anyone with eyes that he knew nothing about raising children. That he should have never been trusted with a role like that.

They'd come close to meeting Lucas - only once.

Her mom and Neil had come home earlier than anticipated from visiting her Grandma. Neil had made a bee-line for the door, whilst her mom had gone to tend to the weeds at the side of the house, right below her window.

That day, Billy had been lifting weights downstairs all day, music blaring.

For a while, he'd stood in her doorway as they'd rushed to find Lucas someplace to hide. Billy had watched with a tense, irritable look on his face.

Idiot. She'd thought he'd say. You deserve this.

She'd been surprised to hear him grumble through his teeth. "Jesus, just use my window,"

The two of them said nothing for a moment before he barked. "Move it, shit-head,"

The three of them had moved through the house to Billy’s room. When she’d heard Neil jamming his key through the door, Billy had brought his bedroom door to a close, leaving them inside.

Max had hauled open the window, allowing Lucas to sneak through. From the edge of the sill, Lucas met her eyes, nervous.

She’d hated this. Wished that he didn’t have to go through this for her.

It was almost like he'd known, when he smiled at her. In a way that made her chest ache. "Later, Mad-Max,” He said, kissing her lightly.

“What’s the problem?” Outside the door she heard Billy ask, tone steady with practiced composure.

"What did I tell you about that racket?!" There was a sharp, slapping sound.

Lucas pulled his bike from its usual hiding place in the rosebush, glancing up at her window once last time.

"Tomorrow," She'd mouthed to him, before he’d sped off down the street out of sight.

It had been a close call.

From the edge of the door-way, Max peered into Billy's old room.

Every now and again, the rustle of the trash-bag would pelt the air as he threw something inside. He marched over to the records. One by one, he broke each of them, using both hands to snap them in half.

Then, he moved to Billy's vanity table. Hauling all of his cologne, hair products and jewelry into the trash bag. Then, he ripped a small photograph from the edge of the mirror.

A picture of his Mom.

"Are you...throwing all his stuff away?" Max interrupted, coming out from the edge of the door-frame.

"It's not his stuff." Neil turned on her. The sides of his hair were wet with sweat, vein protruding on the side of his temple. "It's under my roof. It belongs to me."

"But...this house isn't just yours." The words came out before she could stop them. With a slow, unsettling turn, he met her eyes.

"I earn the money in this house,” He spat. "I will not be spoken to that way. Not by my own children. Not in my own house."

“Here,” With a sudden viciousness, he whipped the packet of trash-bags at her face. She clumsily caught it, before it could catch her in the eye.

"Make yourself useful,"

Max flushed red hot, rubbing at the space on her cheek, below her eye. "I'm not your child." There was a sudden change in the air. Before she lifted her head to meet his eyes, she’d felt it. Neil shifted his weight from foot to foot before he went still, eyes fixed and jaw tight.

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” She mumbled, flushing hot.

Maxine,” He repeated, warning.

Max bolted from the room. As soon as she was down the hall, she felt the weight of him loom behind her. "Get back here-" He pulled her backwards by her wrist. Max's eyes went wide - he'd never grabbed her before.

"Look at me, Maxine." He hissed. "You will drop that attitude. And, you will show me some respect. For all the things I do for this family," He yanked her closer. "Do you even know what I go through every day to keep all of you? To clothe you and house you?! The least you could do is-"

"Stop-" She cringed in pain, trying to pry his thick fingers off. Only, he only held tighter.

"Look at me," He spat, nostrils flaring. He jerked her closer. "I said, respect,"

"Let me go!" Max screamed at the top of her lungs.

It happened quick. Sharp and sudden, his hand struck her cheekbone and knocked her head to one side. Her vision cut out for a moment, flashing white. It started to throb, red-hot and thudding with her heartbeat.

Then, Neil let out a strange sigh. The grip on her hand suddenly released. "Susan,"

Max toppled against the wall, hand going straight to her cheek.

At the head of the hall, was her Mom.

"Susan, I-"

"Max." She said abruptly, voice cracking.

"Max, come here," She reached out her hand to her and Max took it. "Come on,” She told her, ushering her away.

"Susan, we can talk about this," Neil's voice followed after them.

She could hear her mom shake off his grip, the whip of her coat cutting through the air as she slipped through his clutches. They both rushed to her car, leaving Neil on the porch.

In the doorway, he stood. Watching them both leave with a stony, tight expression.

 

They didn’t speak a word until they were on the edge of town, pulling up to a flashy Diner. Her mom’s hands shook on the steering wheel, her thin fingers gripping tight.

"Mom," Max's murmured, before she reached for her hand - in an attempt to steady her shaking. Her mom unbuckled her seat-belt and brought Max in for a desperate hug.

“I’m sorry,” She whispered, hand brushing down the back of her hair. “I’m so sorry,” Max’s eyes welled up with tears. She hadn’t hugged her like this - not for a long time. Max eased into it, taking in the comforting scent of her perfume and hairspray.

 


 

1, 2, 3, 4

Billy swung his fists, knuckles slapping against the skin of the punching bag. He swung until he was coated with sweat, falling against it as he gasped for breath. Until, his whole body was aching, skin thrumming with his racing heart-beat.

The daily workout had once helped to lift his mood. A suggestion from the Doc.

Now, he used it to keep his mind off things.

For the past few days, it was all he could do to keep his mind off Steve. When he wasn’t working, sleeping or eating, his mind went there. To the way he'd looked that night. The way he'd felt against him. Steve Harrington was trouble. He'd known it. And yet, he'd let himself do that again.

Stupid.

He couldn't give himself a quiet moment to think. To dwell on any of that shit. He stripped down and went for a shower, scrubbing his skin raw. Thankful that there was no one around to bang on the door or shout at him for taking so long. He was free to jerk off whenever he wanted to, to think about whatever he wanted. Take his sweet-ass time, if he wanted.

At home, he'd had to be creative and secretive. At fifteen, he’d stolen an old sports magazine from the store, for one wrestler on the cover.

It wasn't weird, he'd told himself - at the time. It was a cool cover, after all. Although, he couldn't completely lie to himself when it got him hard. He’d figured it was a decent cover, being that it was a sports mag. 

But, to be safe, he’d hidden in the yard, when Neil did his irregular room inspections. Back then, it didn’t take much to get him heated. Just the shirtless, muscular brunette on the cover, covered in a thin sheen of sweat, smirking.

He let himself picture it again as he wrapped a hand around himself. The thrill he'd gotten the first time he'd pulled it out at night. Only, the face kept changing, until it was his again, smirking. Laughing at him.

Get out of my fucking head.

 

At around eleven the door rang.

Max stood on the other side, pouting. Arms full with a shoe-box and a few clothes.

"What's this?"

She stormed past by him, hair hanging flat down the sides of her face. "Brought you these from the house,"

Billy picked it up from the counter, where she'd left it. "Neil cleared out your room,"  She was acting off, weirder than her usual weird self. Probably had some dumb fight with her boyfriend.

"Took him that long to throw away my shit," He said as he started to look through them.

She'd brought his red-shirt, jean-jacket, pair of old jeans. He lifted the lid of the shoe box and started to look through. There was one of his old Crue tapes, a few of his rings and earrings. Sea-shells he'd kept from Cali, an old scarf which was soaked in his Mom's perfume - only it had lost the scent years ago. Billy lifted it carefully, his throat swelling up.

Lastly an old worn photograph that he'd kept on his mirror, he unfolded the picture with care. The sun-damage on the photograph had long blocked out her face, white and gold.

For a while, he'd almost forgotten what she'd looked like, her smile, the color of her eyes. El had shown him again - in perfect clarity. Max had done the rest, retrieving the only possessions he’d kept in her memory - ones he had given up trying to get back. Looking at it now, he could piece together her face, her smile.

With difficulty, he tried to swallow. He put the box down on the counter slowly and turned to face Max.

"I got what I could," She said, like she was already apologizing for something. Pulling at the edges of her sleeves before she folded her arms. "There wasn't enough time,"

Billy curled one arm around her shoulder and brought her into his chest. He felt his chest swell, surge and span outwards before he spoke a quick, quiet. "Thanks," against her hair.

For a beat, she didn't move.

At her sides, her arms hung loose. Slowly, she brought her own arms up, resting on his sides, where his scars were. He felt his eyes prickle and sting with heat. He lingered there for a beat longer, then pulled away. Clearing his throat.

Max lifted her eyes up to the ceiling - trying not to cry. Displaying the side of her face, where a strange bumpy, grey mark caught his eye. A mark covered in powder.

An ice, cold fell over him. His eyes went wide, scoping in on the marks.

When she rose her hand to prop her finger beneath her lash line, he noticed another. Circling the skin of her wrist.

"What?" She noticed his stare.

Billy’s teeth set on edge. It built in his chest, swelling. He was getting hot, his head boiling and prickling. “What...is that?"

She pulled on the end of her sleeve, hiding the finger marks on her wrist. Her face paled.

“It…It’s from skateboarding,” The words tumbled out. A clear fucking lie.

He didn't need to hear another word.

Billy shot past her and snatched his keys from the counter.

"Billy-!"

He ripped open the door. Max went to grab his arm, but she missed, his arm slipped like an eel through her touch.

"Billy, wait-!"

 


 

When Steve had gotten the call from Max, it had been hard to get any sense out of her. Words choked and caught between gasps of breath.

As soon as he'd ended the call, he'd grabbed his keys and set off for their house. He’d get there before she could, before anything could happen. He had to.

As he pulled up to the house, he felt panic swell in his chest when he saw two figures on the lawn. Billy sat atop his father's chest. He pinned his father down so the punches could connect, the whip sound of his fists filling the air.

He swung again, jerking his Dad's head to one side. Steve got out of his car and sprinted up the lawn. When he reached them, he hooked Billy by his underarms, heaving him backwards.

"Billy, stop-!"

He was stiff and heavy. Dead-weight. Even as he dragged him back, his legs kicked and swung wildly, trying to make contact with his heels on his Dad's body.

Steve jostled him upright, fighting against his strength. "That's enough-" He said, his hands turning his head to face him. "Billy, look at me."

“It's enough,” He told him again.

Billy started to soften, pupils dilating. Like he was slowly listening. Hearing him. The heave of his chest began to slow.

Neil rolled onto his side on the grass, spluttering and coughing. Still moving, at least. He spat on the ground, his mouth and face a bloody mess. Then, he let out a choked, wet laugh.

"My son,” He wheezed. “Rescued by his fuckin' fag boyfriend,"

Billy went tense before he lurched forward to his defense. Steve held him firm, arms locking around the solid, heat of his body. He was rigid in his arms.

"He's not worth it," He told him, mouth against his ear. "Come back with me,” He said, arms locked tight around him. "Please, Billy. Come back with me,"

Slowly, the tension in his grip relaxed. Steve pulled back to meet his face, eyes locked onto his. "You with me?" He asked. Billy's face grew softer, breaths heaving with exhaustion. He gave a short, sombre nod in reply.

Steve held him firmly, arm going around his shoulder to lead him to the car and away.

 

 

Steve wrung out the cloth and brought it to the cut on his forehead. Billy didn't wince when he touched it. He was silent as he let him clean it, eyes low and unblinking.

Billy was quiet when he'd brought him home to the dark, dim light of his apartment. He didn't say a word in the car. Or, when Steve sat him down on the wooden chair by the breakfast counter, after removing the pile of laundry that had been heaped on there.

"Tell me if it hurts," He cleared away the blood on his philtrum, thumb running over the top of his lip through the cloth.

He rinsed the cloth again and moved to his forehead. To the cut leading from his forehead into his hair-line. He pressed a little harder on it, to scrape away some of the mud. The heat of Billy's breath fanned over his wrist. Steve lingered on his downcast expression, eyes distant and heavy.

“Billy?” He asked. “You still with me?”

"I lost it." He mumbled.

"What?"

"I lost it." Finally, he lifted his eyes, filling with clarity. "I couldn't stop myself,"

“Don’t be hard on yourself,” Steve frowned. "An assbeat was the least that guy deser-"

Billy shot up from the chair suddenly. 

He paced to the other side of the room. He ran his hands down his face, face caged behind his bloody hands, the skin of his knuckles still printed red.

"I know what I'm capable of when I lose it like that," He said. "I wanted to do more than kick his ass. I wanted to-" He grit his teeth, hissing through them sharply. “Even after everything that happened this Summer," He said, eyes falling closed. "I still fucking lost it,”

“What are you talking about?” Steve frowned at the connection. “None of that was your fault,”

Billy lifted his eyes a little, not quite meeting his face. He gave a tired shrug. “Maybe,”

“No, not maybe." Steve cut him off. “You didn't do that to those people,” He wished he would look at him, but his eyes were still low, trained on the floor. Billy turned away from him again. Rested his hands flat on the kitchen counter, broad shoulders heaving with another sigh.

Steve’s eyes fell down his back. The material of his white shirt was covered in mud and grass. The sides of his bare arms flushed and red from being scraped on the floor. Bruised and grazed. He wondered how long they had fought, before he arrived.

Steve’s hand came up to touch his shoulder. "Come on, man," He said. "Let's just get you patched up,"

When his hand made contact with his shoulder, Billy flinched. Slowly, he turned over his shoulder, eyes filling with a strange reluctance. Then, irritation.

"Why?" He sounded the word, suspicious and sharp.

Steve froze. "Why, what?"

"Why are you doing this, Harrington?" He asked. 

"What, helping you?"

"Is that what all this is?" Billy advanced on him. He snatched the cloth from his hand and threw it across the room. "We just helpin' each other out?"

The words were lost in Steve's throat, tongue swelling in his mouth. When he didn’t answer, Billy shoved at his shoulder. "Next to me, you must feel fuckin' great, huh." He spat, bitter and sharp. "Is that why you hang around here? Because I make you feel better about your own shitty life?"

"What? No!"

"Then, why are you here?"

"Because, you're my..." He struggled. Friend, he wanted to say. Tried to force the words out. Yet, the words dried up in his throat. They didn't fit. Friends weren’t supposed to do what they’d done. Weren't supposed to think about each other the way he'd thought about him.

Steve knew that. But, what was the alternative?

Billy's jaw clenched as he looked him over, like he had more to add. More to spit at him. For a moment, he thought Billy might mention the kiss. That he would throw it back in his face. It hung over them, crushing, pinning them down.

Only, he just marched past him.

He dropped back down into the chair with a thump. Shaking his head, he turned his gaze away before he spoke. "You really don't know what's good for you…”

Steve retrieved the cloth. He gave it a quick rinse under the faucet before he returned to his side. "Yeah, well. Neither do you," He grumbled, as he dabbed at the cut at the top of his forehead.

"You're right," Billy said, quiet. "I don't."

A few moments passed, and Billy’s head fell forward, a little, head resting at his stomach.

"Billy?" Steve asked. For a moment, he panicked. Wondering if he'd fallen unconscious. Then, he felt a hand at the small of his back, pulling him closer.

Steve stumbled slightly on his feet, his hands going to Billy's broad shoulders to steady himself.

"What..what is it?"

Billy sighed against his lower-belly, as his other hand came up to rest on his flank. The top of his head nestled at the space below his navel. His fingers grasped at his hips, with a sudden need.

Steve's cock stirred in his jeans. He gripped tighter on Billy's shoulders, suddenly nervous. He was going to notice. He was going to feel it. "Billy-"

It was until Billy's fingers squeezed tighter that Steve figured out that he knew. He felt his breath hitch. A small moan escaped him, as his fingers curled in the fabric of his shirt, pulling them from where they were tucked in his jeans. "Tell me to stop." He said.

Finally, he lifted his head, eyes meeting his. One of Billy's hands dragged across his skin and around his hipbone, to rest on the button of his jeans. Holding him in his gaze as he moved, like he was waiting for him to flinch, to move or speak.

"Say it, Steve."

Steve said nothing. He didn’t want to.

Between his thighs, his cock throbbed, straining uncomfortably against the fabric his jeans. All of his thoughts had lifted from him as he kept his gaze. He moved one of his hands from Billy's shoulders to his hair, curling around the strands.

Billy finally lowered his hand to rub hard against him and Steve let out a thick groan, knees buckling. Arching his hip upwards to find relief in the weight of his hand.

Then, Billy's fingers were moving, frantically starting to undo his button and fly.

There was a sudden loud bang on the door. "Billy!" Max's voice shouted from the other side.

Billy's hands whipped from his body and Steve leapt backwards, stumbling a little on his feet.

"Fuck," Billy cursed before he shot up from the chair and went to answer it.

"What were you trying to do?!” Max's voice pierced the air before the door slammed loudly.

"I wasn't trying anything-"

When Billy returned down the hall, Max marched in after, her face red and blotchy with tears. 

"You were," She followed, close on Billy's tail. “My mom finally left him. It was all over and-” She gasped when she took note of Steve, stood awkwardly on the other side of the room.

With shame, she lowered her head in an attempt to hide her tear-streaked face. She looked like she might cry again, still fighting the wobble and curl of her bottom lip.

Steve suddenly felt very wrong. He knew he shouldn't be here for this. It wasn't right.

He peered down briefly at the front of his jeans, flushing when he notice that the top button was undone: he worked quick.

"I oughta head home," He said. Grabbing his coat from the chair to hold in front of him, feeling painfully awkward as he moved. Thankfully, Max's eyes were still on Billy - waiting for him to answer.

Billy, on the other hand, lifted his eyes from the floor. He gave him a brief nod of his head - Steve figured that was his queue.

"Give me a call, if you need anything," He said, talking to the both of them.

When he brought the door to the apartment to a close, he sighed with relief, cheeks flushed hot. Immediately, he set the button right on his jeans.

 

 

Rainfall pattered on the window of the video-store like little stones. Steve lost focus in the glare of the window reflection. On the hazy blur of red tail-lights of passing-cars through the glass.

"Dingus," Robin's voice pulled him from his thoughts. She piled four cassettes on top of one another, thumped them loudly. "Am I alone here? It's Friday night. Rental night. And, you’re leaving me to deal with the swarm?"

Steve rolled his eyes. "Swarm's a little dramatic, Robin."

She put her hand on her hip, eyes squinting. "Was it because I mentioned date night?"

"It wasn't a date," He snapped, before he could stop himself.

Robin shot him a strange look, eyes narrowing smaller.

"I'll take these back." He collected the tapes and shot by her. Ducking his head low to avoid the question in her eyes. He'd almost finished re-stocking when Robin had reappeared, beside the small Terminator poster on the wall.

"Look,” She sighed. “I get that you're moody and having a dry-spell. But there is, in fact, more to life than dating,"

Steve lifted his head, lingering on the word. "A dry spell…" He considered, slow and thoughful.

"...Yeah," She said, eyes going wide like he was going crazy.

“Right,” He pondered on the word. Maybe that's all it was. It had been a pretty long time.

Maybe.

"You know what, I'll take the register. You can finish up here,” He rushed back to the cashier desk, with a newfound jump in his step, almost tripping over a cut-out for Teen-Wolf.

Okay. So, it had been a pretty long dry spell.

He’d had only one hook-up after Nancy. A drunken night at a party with Jenny Sanders. Even that, he could barely remember. And, it's not like the job at Scoops was doing wonders for his self-esteem. Or, his game.

Before Billy, he'd never thought about guys. Other than the occasional, random dream about the odd male celebrity. And, they didn't really count in his mind. Celebrities were all at peak attractiveness - guy or girl. Plus, some of them blurred the lines, a little. Dressing the way they did. Hollywood was a little out there sometimes.

But, in real life?

It had never really happened to him before. It was all new and a little unnerving. Okay, very unnerving. The other night, he’d gotten hard just at the memory when he was brushing his teeth. Remembering the way Billy had looked up at him, tugging open the front of his jeans.

"Hey!" Robin shouted suddenly.

Steve froze. Thinking for one strange, paranoid moment that she’d suddenly developed the ability to read his thoughts.

She marched over to the Candy Isle. "You know you have to pay for those,"

"Relax."

That voice. 

Instinctively, Steve ducked behind the desk. He peered over the edge to find Billy. He'd opened a packet of Red-Vines, passing one to El before he snapped off the end of one with a sharp bite. "I intend to pay for 'em,"

"How uncharacteristically nice of you."

"I can be real nice...when it's called for." He told her, candy caught between his teeth.

Fuck. Why? Why now?

A sudden noise made him jump. Max had dumped three tapes on the counter, fingering through the popcorn bags on the rack. El stood by her side, brows furrowing as she looked Steve over.

"Why are you hiding?" She asked. Loudly. For all to hear.

Steve stood up suddenly. Tried to look casual as he pawed at the covers of the tapes: a few gruesome and tacky horror flicks from the 70s.

"You guys really want to watch a scary movie, of all things?"

"They’re good." Max shrugged, before she threw a packet of M&M's on the side.

“Max says they’re classics,” El added.

"I guess," He shrugged. They were plenty of classic rom-coms or dramas or comedies, too. Anything, really.

"She's watched them all before," Billy’s voice made him go tense. The metal zip of his jacket clacked against the surface as he leaned on it. "By-pass the rating, Harrington. They can handle it."

"That's not how they work," Steve kept his head low, his breath going thin. He input the prices on the register loudly, like it would drown them all out. Him, specifically.

"Billy says you're coming on the trip with us next week," Max said. The beach-trip. He remembered Billy mentioning it in his room, laid out on the floor.

"No, I didn't." Billy snapped.

"Uh. Yeah, you did," Max continued. "You said he agreed,"

Steve lifted his head to catch his reaction, but Billy didn’t notice. Instead, he was far too preoccupied glaring daggers at Max's head. If looks could kill.

"I heard about it," Steve told her, finally.

"Well, maybe Robin could come too?" Max offered.

Billy’s eyes finally met his, lingering with knowing. They darted between him and Robin, as he moved the Red-Vine around in his cheek.

"That'll be 6.20." He said, keen to get them to move on.  Billy passed a folded ten over and Steve quickly took it from him, avoiding his gaze.

"Well, if you wanna come. We're heading out from the Byers house at 8:00am on Friday," Max said, passing around the bags of candy and popcorn to El.

"Get a move on," Billy budged Max away from the counter.

"What is your problem?" She snapped, ripping the M&Ms from his hand.

"You're my problem, shit-head-" Billy grumbled.

"What, why?"

Their voices trailed out as the glass doors closed behind them. Steve watched them go through the rain beaded-glass, still arguing as they both got in the Camaro.

"Billy the Bully Hargrove," Robin drawled as she stopped by him. Outside, the Camaro revved before they pulled out of the lot. "You’ve hung out with him a lot recently, right?”

Steve’s head shot up. “What? Why?”

“It was just a question,” She laughed, before she returned to her task. Continued to unwrap the box of new stock. “Seems he’s mellowed out a little,”

Steve's eyes fell to the counter in thought.

"Robin," He said, suddenly. She whirled on her heels, brows raising.

"So, how about that trip?"

 

 

That next week, the two of them rolled up in Steve’s car to find all of them waiting on the front lawn of the Byers. Will, Lucas and Dustin parked outside on the lawn with D&D. Next to a gathering of furniture that Joyce was clearing out/selling before the move.

Mike and El were standing on the lawn and holding hands, with their foreheads pressed together. Muttering something low to one another. Steve caught a flash of red as Max ducked behind the back of the Camaro, pink water-gun in hand.

Then, there was Billy. Shirtless and tanned, he’d propped his arms on the driver door, glance obscured by his dark sunglasses. Steve’s breath caught when Billy’s head turned to find him, his tongue pressed against his cheek. A slow grin lifting his mouth.

The look made him flush hot, made him shift a little in his seat. Maybe, this wasn't such a good idea, after all.

“Hey!” Mike's shout cut through his air as Max took her shot, soaking the side of his cheek and his hair. He took the water-gun from El’s back pocket and bolted after her, chasing Max around the car.

Billy reared after them. “Either of you scratch my car and your ass is grass,” He snapped, slamming the driver door to a close.

“Steve,” Steve turned to find Robin looking at him expectantly. She raised an eyebrow, curiously. “What are you waiting for?”

“Nothing,” Steve replied, innocently. He pushed the car door open. “We’re good,”

 

 

Chapter Text

They arrived at Dewey Beach in the late evening. To the salty tang of the cool sea-air, crisp and clean. From the window of his shared room with Robin at the hotel, Steve could see the shoreline, the black waves crashing on the rocks. He breathed in the clear air and let it wash through him.

Billy was up early with Max and El the next morning. By the time Steve and Robin had walked down, all three of them were at the edge of the blue shore.

The heat of Summer had clung onto early September, still warm enough for them to swim when the sun was at its peak. With the occasional cooler light breeze drifting over the waves.

He caught sight of Billy and Max in the sea. Billy was walking Max out on her board, the water up to his ribs. They had yet to talk yet, alone. Not properly, anyway. Not beyond the occasional brief, words at the rest-stops when he’d handed him a bottle of water.

When they found a nice spot on the sand to settle, Robin set up her tanning station. Laying out, she flicked open to the first page of some, crime-novel she’d brought from the gas-station.

El spotted the two them and ran up the beach to greet them, beaming from ear-to-ear.

“Did you go for a swim?” Steve asked.

She nodded before she made a sour face. “The water is salty,” She collapsed flat onto the towel he’d laid out beside their chairs, blinking up at the blue skies with her arms outstretched at her sides.

Max managed to stand up twice on the board, if only for a few seconds. Each time she did, Steve noticed the small fist-pump Billy did and how he watched her with baited breath when she steadied herself on the board. Steve smiled, in spite of himself.

Max stumbled over to them two hours later and flopped down onto the sand beside El with a groan.

She pulled up her red curls up with the blue scrunchie around her wrist. "Man, he's such a drill-sergeant,"

“Max,” Billy's voice cut through the air as he approached them. Steve felt his heart pick up in pace, suddenly nervous.

Billy rested his arm on her board, glowering at her through his shades. “You giving up already?”

“I'm gonna get some salt-water taffee with El," She shot El a wide-eyed look, hoping for her interference. To give her an out.

"Taffee?" El just sounded the word on her tongue, brows creasing

It was good-enough.

"Oh, you'll like it, trust me," Max hauled her up from the sand, smiling.

"Hey, shit-head." Billy interrupted. "We've rented your board by the hour,"

Max turned to Steve, before she jerked her head in his direction. "Then, let Steve or Robin try," The two of them sped off before he could interject, kicking up sand as they ran hand in hand.

Robin didn't look up from her book as she nudged him with her foot. "All yours," 

Steve lifted his head. Unable to see the expression in Billy's eyes through his sun-glasses, where his were bare under his scrutiny. Billy broke the silence, grinning.

“Looks like you’re up, Harrington,”

 

 

"These are offshore waves," Billy explained over the hush of the waves, pointing the roll and curl of them across the water. Blue water lapped around Billy's hips, the light of it reflecting on his golden skin and the pendant on his chest. Blue and gold.

Steve couldn't help but notice how good he looked out here. Really good. Beneath the sun, in the waves. In his element. Like, he was meant to be in a place like this, near the sea and the sun. There was a lightness to his every move or action. He seemed lighter, carefree.

Billy bent his head to catch Steve's eyes. "You listening, Harrington?"

Steve's head shot up. "Uh, yeah."

Billy narrowed his eyes at him before he continued. "I said, these waves should make it easier for you starting out,"

"Cool," Steve pushed himself up from stomach, straddling the board instead. "Or, should I say tubular?"

Billy’s tongue pushed against his canine, fighting a grudging grin. "Only if you wanna get dunked," 

"Okay, I got it.” Steve laughed. “It's all about the onshore waves,"

"Off-shore." Billy snapped. 

"Isn't that what I said?" He frowned. "Look, I get it alright?"

Billy's wet curls clung to the side of his face. Steve could see his own reflection in his glasses, looking back at him, mouth slack. He sat up a little straighter.

"You know what," Billy said abruptly. "Forget all the text-book definition shit."

He steadied the back of the board then dropped his hand onto Steve's knee. "Since you're so confident, why don't you just give it a try?"

He grinned, white teeth catching the light. "Impress me,"

Steve's eyes fell to the hand on his knee. The graze of his thumb across his bare skin. He knew he shouldn't push - whatever this was - any further. He could shake off a drunken kiss. He could try to bury the memory of the night in his apartment...his hand hot and heavy on the front of his jeans.

But, before he could stop himself, he was returning his playful smirk.

"And, if I'm a natural?" He teased, raising his eyebrows cockily. "What'll you do if I impress you?"

Billy's mouth curved up into a slow smile.

"Whatever you want."

 

Turned out, it was much harder than it looked. Steve wiped out before he could even gain footing.  Sending it flinging out from beneath his feet.

Water shot up his nose as he fell into the water. Salty. He coughed and spluttered, his nose and eyes burning.

He soon found his board. Sighing, as he rested his elbows on it, bobbing with the waves.

Billy looked all-too-pleased with himself when he swam over. "You ate shit, Harrington," 

"Thought life-guards were supposed to help drowning men." Steve said. "Not mock them,"

"Who says they can't do both?" He grinned.

"So." Steve smirked and pushed back his wet-hair, fluttered his lashes a few times theatrically. "Did that impress you?"

“I think that was a world-record wipe-out,” Billy grinned, his eyes falling low. Heavy. He pressed his tongue into the side of his cheek and smirked.

"It’s too bad," He said. "Was curious about what you'd ask me to do,"

Steve felt his face go hot, something curling deep in his gut. He rubbed at the back of his neck. "Was gonna make you streak the length of the beach," He said, trying to keep his tone playful.

"That's it?" Billy scoffed. "Fucking weak, Harrington,"

"You put me on the spot," He laughed.

"If you wanna see my dick so bad, just ask."

It was a joke. The sly, teasing tone wasn't there in Billy's tone - one that he'd always used when he was trying to annoy or tease him. And, yet, Steve couldn't help but go there in his mind.

His thoughts froze over. Stuttering and pausing like a skipped record.

He tore his eyes away and hauled himself up onto his board. "I'm gonna take five,"

On the beach, he could see El and Max had returned, sitting by Robin’s feet on the sand.  When he reached the shore, he dragged the board along-side him.

Stopping in place to peer out across the beach. The beach was busier now with people laid out on their towels and under rainbow umbrellas.

As he was looking, something hard knocked him upside the head and his vision flashed white for a second. He winced and rubbed his head.

Looking down at the offending object: a yellow frizbee.

"Shit," It was a girl's voice. "God, I'm so sorry-"

She was pretty. Tanned and athletic-looking. The curls of her bleached hair tied up into two thick, braided pigtails that stopped by her collarbone. Wearing a red bikini and a pair of jean shorts.

"It's okay," He returned her frizbee to her with a smile. "Trust me, I've had worse,"

"Thanks," She looked him over, curiously, tilting her head. "Not from around here?"

"Is it that obvious?" Steve asked. A breeze blew by and the dried sand on his legs stung his skin like little needles.

"A little," She laughed. "So, you're here for surfing?" She asked, a little hopeful sounding.

He laughed at the idea. Surely, she saw him flailing a minute ago. He was sure everyone got a kick out of that. "No, I'm here for...a friend,"

"Oh." She looked past him, smile falling. "I take it, this is him?"

"What-?" Before Steve could turn around, he felt a warm weight on his shoulder as Billy's arm wrapped around him. "Who's your friend, Stevie?"

The girl met Billy's wolfish grin with a bright smile. “It's Rachel,”

She was exactly the type of girl Steve would’ve imagined would spend most of her time around the sea and sand. A student at a nearby University, majoring in Education, living in an nearby apartment with a group of other girls.

Steve had discovered this through Billy's line of questioning. He laid it on thick, holding all of her attention. At his side, Steve might as well have been a lamp.

He would’ve politely slipped away, if it weren’t for Billy’s arm still wrapped heavy around his shoulders, holding him there. When she ran back to her friend, she turned to wave, shooting him a lingering glance over her shoulder.

"How 'bout it, Harrington?" Billy said, once she'd left.

"How about what?" Steve grumbled, and pushed his arm off.

"She's cute, ain't she?" He said, insistently. "Don't you think?"

Steve's brows knitted together. "I guess," He frowned at his tone. He had eyes, himself. He didn't need to be told when a girl was pretty.

"You should go for it, if we see her again," Billy told him, patting his shoulder. Or, rather, giving it a shove, before walking ahead of him.

"Girls like that are hard to come by in Hawkins,"

Steve's eyes fell to his broad shoulders as he walked towards the others. He worried on his bottom lip, a little confused.

Max was holding a large brown-bear that El had won for her at a bottle-stand. When Billy approached, she left it sitting upright with her sunglasses before she returned to surf-class.

Steve returned to his chair by Robin's side, leaning back to watch them head out on their boards. The sunset reflected on the waves like a thousand diamonds as their shadows moved through the waves.

Steve soaked in the image, committing it to his memory.

 

All four of them walked down to the board-walk when the sun had set. The temperature dropping with a cool, crisp breeze. They all got changed into warmer clothes at their hotels. All, except Billy. Who sported a sleeveless white shirt over a pair of jeans.

They headed for the fair, first. Robin and Billy got competitive over the glass-bottle stands, both vying to win the largest prize for one of the girls. After they'd dragged them away, El Max and Billy queued up for the roller-coaster.

Steve tapped out after the second turn, even though Billy ragged on him for it. He joined Robin in search for a table at a nearby restaurant.

When they finally found them again, Max was grey. Grumbling, she let her head fall on the table. Billy and El were still live-wires, loud and flushed with adrenaline.

Still fully able to stuff their faces with pizza, whilst Max watched the stringed web of mozzarella with a green-faced grimace.

"Steve?" A voice caught Steve's attention mid-way through dessert.

Rachel stopped by their table, her gold hair loose and curled around her shoulders. She was wearing a waitress uniform, a little name tag pinned to her chest.

"I thought it was you," She smiled.

It was poor timing. Since, he'd just taken a large scoop of strawberry ice cream in his mouth. Wincing at the brain-freeze, he tried to greet her but his words were warbled through the thick, clog of cream. 

"I think, that's him trying to say hi," Robin cut in, saving him. "I'm Robin, by the way,"

"Nice to meet you," She laughed, eyes falling back to him. He swallowed the large, ice cold chunk of cream before he managed to wheeze out. "Hey, Rachel,"

“Hey,” She laughed. She re-adjusted her bag on her shoulder, the edge of her teeth catching on her bottom lip. "So. Will you guys be around tomorrow?"

"Sure," Billy replied, leaning forward on the table. "Bring your board. Maybe you could give Stevie here a few tips,"

He played with the cherry stalk resting on his bottom lip before he quirked his brows. "Or, me,"

"Ugh. I think I'm gonna hurl," Max commented. Billy gave her a not very discreet nudge under the table with his foot.

"It's your choice," He grinned, eyes flicking over to Steve briefly. Deliberately. 

Steve glowered at him from over the edge of his glass. He could feel the knot in the pit in his stomach again, balling up tight like a fist.

“Maybe I will,” Rachel preened, before she turned back to Steve. Smiling, she gave him a once over before she scanned all of their faces. “You guys have a nice night,”

 

 

The next day, Rachel found them again. When Steve left to join Robin and the others for some frozen smoothies, Billy and her were already out in the sea together.

She waved at him giddily, smiling. Billy stood, at her side, jerking his head - as if to signal him to join them.

Steve didn’t.

He sat with the others as they looked through the souvenirs they'd bought for the guys at home. He dug the end of his straw into his raspberry-freeze, stirring it until it broke down into fruity mulch.

Robin finished applying sunblock to El and Max's shoulders before the two of them set off again for the boardwalk. Then, continued basking in the sunlight in her swimsuit and cat-shaped sunglasses.

Next to each other, Billy and Rachel looked like models out on a beach shoot. Golden and toned in the sun. A regular Barbie and Ken. She threw her head back and laughed loudly at something he said, hand going to touch his forearm.

Steve chewed on the flesh of his cheek.

"Those two seem to be getting along," Robin said.

"Sure,"

Robin laughed before she added. "You don't care?"

"About what?" He scoffed. "About him and surfer-girl?"

“Rachel,” She sighed and pulled off her sunglasses to meet his eyes. "And, I didn't say it was about her."

Steve's face fell. "...What?"

"Steve, I'm not blind," She said, softer. "Don't you think I've noticed how you've been acting lately?" She turned to them in the distance, where Billy was still sat on his board, pushing his wet curls back from his face with his hands.

"It seems mutual, if that's what you're worried about. He watches you constantly, when he thinks you're not looking,"

He did? The thought got under his skin in a way that he couldn’t shake. How did he look at him? When? He almost wanted to ask, but that would mean looking like he agreed with her.

When he turned back to her, she was already looking at him. Her knowing eyes were searching and firmly set upon his. "It's okay to be scared." She said, soft.

Her hand sat on top of his on the arm of his chair, squeezing his softly. "But, be honest. Talk it out. And, don't play stupid games. You'll only get burned."

"I don't know what you're talking about," He peeled his hand out from underneath hers. Reaching down between them, he lifted the magazine off the floor and started flicking through it, wiping through the pages loudly.

Trying to ignore her lingering gaze, even though he could feel it searing the side of his face.

"You remember that girl from the store that day?"

"What about her?"

"Me and her were..." She trailed off, voice going quiet. "We were sort of a-"

Steve brought the magazine to a close. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I felt like I couldn't," Robin had dropped her gaze to her book, eyes low and heavy when she replied. "What we had, was...secret."

Steve didn't follow. "Secret, how?"

The strands of her hair fell over one side of her face as she turned her head to the other page. "We had to sneak around, all the time," She sighed as she began. "Lie to our parents about study-groups or after-school band rehearsal."

She shuffled a little uneasily in her seat. "We'd fool around in her car when her boyfriend was out of town, or at football-practice," She trailed off, a little in a quiet, subdued tone. Like she was ashamed of her part in that.

"I liked her, a lot." She said. "And, for a while, that was enough."

"And then?" Steve pressed, knowing that there was more to how it ended between them.

"There came a point when I realized, that it wasn't." She said, resolute. At that, she lifted her head, meeting his gaze. "I deserved someone who was honest with themselves," She continued. "And, I wanted something more than being someone else's dirty little secret,"

Steve's mind worked to catch up, to figure out what she was trying to tell him. He sat up, a little, frowning. "You think that's what I'm doing?"

"If you are," She said seriously. "You should stop."

He raised to stand suddenly, chest twisting into knots. "You're way off-base," 

She gave him a look, curious and sceptical. "Really."

"Yeah. Really."

"How so?"

"It's just-" He spluttered, wanting to rebut her. "It's not like that,”

“What is it like, then?" She sighed, sitting up. "Tell me,"

It was frustrating. He wanted to prove her wrong, only that would mean admitting that she was partly right. That there was something going on. That there had been something, for a while now.

When he'd been trying to convince himself otherwise.

"You know what, I'm going for a walk," He decided. A long one, preferably, he thought. Away from Robin, away from the kids and far away from Barbie and Ken.

"Don't get burned, dingus." Robin's voice trailed after him.

 

Steve walked a long stretch of the shoreline, before stopping off at a nearby café for another iced-smoothie and some fries. He sat out on the sand to watch the sun-set.

Hues of orange and pink painted the skies. Fading to a dim, murky blue as evening fell.

He'd bought a pack of cigarettes from the store. Finding a strange nostalgic calm from the scent. Under the nose of his parents, he'd smoked a random packet he'd selected at around fourteen.

They were nothing like the thick, smog of his father's cigars, or his mom's skinny, flavored brands with baby-pink and blue packaging. They were all his.

They weren't as great as he remembered. They weren't all that great, at all, actually. But, they were calming nonetheless. Comforting in an odd sort of way. He'd almost finished one when he noticed a figure walking towards him.

Even in the dim evening light, it didn't take him long to work out who it was. He felt his heart quicken.

Billy worked his way up to him on the sand. He tried to appear unbothered when he addressed him. "Hargrove,"

"What brings you out here, amigo?"

“Could say the same for you,” He said.

"Went for one last swim," Billy said simply. "We leave tomorrow," He reminded him. It would be the last he'd see of the sea, for a while. Steve could see that he'd missed it.

He felt right out here. He had no idea how he could manage to swim after sun-set, without the warmth of the sun overhead to dry and warm his skin. Billy was only wearing his red-trunks, his chest bare and flushed with the cold.

Billy stopped in front of him and Steve exhaled smoke into the air, words escaping before he could taste them in his mouth.

“So. Where’s Rachel?”

There was bitterness in his tone that didn’t belong there. That he had no right to. Nevertheless, it slipped from his lips.

Billy just smiled, like he was enjoying himself. Like he noticed, but somehow found it amusing. Maybe, because it fed his ego. She'd made a bee-line for him, like many girls did. Must be nice, he thought. To be wanted by everyone.

Looming over him, Billy shook out the end of his wet hair out like a dog, flickering Steve's face with sea-water.

"Come on," Steve complained, rubbing the drops away on the back of his hand. Billy smirked flopped down beside him on the sand, leaning back on his elbows.

"Thought you quit,"

"It's a stress habit," He sighed.

"What's got you stressed, pretty boy?" Billy turned onto his side, wet curls dark around his face. Sea-water ran in rivulets down his toned stomach, and lower. Steve’s mouth went dry, lips pursed around his cigarette.

"Rachel is sweet on you," He told him.

Steve's mind skipped like a record. She was sweet on him? Was he crazy?

"There any reason you’re giving her the cold shoulder?” Billy pressed.

“I’m not,”

“She thinks you are,” He shrugged.

Steve frowned at him. Why did he care about this so much? “Well, I’m not,” He insisted. 

"She not your type?"

"No, she's-" Steve shrugged. "She's pretty."

"Then, what are you waiting for?" He brought his hand to his shoulder. “You’re in, Harrington.” He told him, hand rubbing the muscle back and forth. "You got nothing to worry about,"

Steve lingered on his touch, on the warm weight of his hand on his skin, before Billy dropped it, leaving him cold. Irritably, he busied his mouth with the cigarette, mouth pursing to a whistle as he chuffed out smoke. “How'd you know this anyway?”

"Because she wouldn't stop asking me about you,” He said, voice dull as he stared out at the horizon. “Or, eyeballin’ you."

"You sound jealous,”

The words came out before he could stop himself. And, he almost regretted them when Billy's head turned sharply. For a beat, he said nothing, eyes boring into Steve's.

Until he gave a unbothered shrug, concluding. “She must like the dorky, yuppie-types,”

Oh. That was right. This was supposed to be about her. Or, at least, Billy was still pretending it was. Still. Steve knew what this feeling in the pit of his gut was. The cold, twisting fist every time he'd seen them together.

All day, when he'd watched them. He'd spent enough time doing just that, watching, to know. That it wasn't about her, at all.

Steve scoffed, tapping the ash off the end of his cigarette. “As opposed to the chain smoking, hair-metal types,”

Billy barked a laugh. He turned to him, grin cutting and sharp. He noticed the weight of his gaze, as he leaned forward. He let his lips part, eyes flicking up to Steve.

Steve got the message and turned his palm and let him take a long, slow drag from the end of his cigarette. Eyes falling heavy when Billy took it between his lips, the cherry of it flaring in the low light.

He held him there in a trance. Steve succumbed, eyes falling heavy and hazy.

All of his thoughts were focused on the sensation of his lips against his fingers, the rough stubble above his upper lip, the soft edges of his cupids bow. It shot from his arm and down to his gut as his cock began to fill out between his legs.

Then, Billy pulled away.

Exhaling the plume of smoke into the air, he smacked his lips together and grimaced a little at the minty taste. Steve tore his own eyes away, still reeling. "They're an acquired taste," He said, voice low and uneven. He stubbed out his cigarette in the sand between them. 

"No kiddin'," Billy laughed softly.

Lowering his gaze, his eyes fell to Steve's neck. It dawned on Steve that they were alone out here. A corner of the beach all their own. With no one around for miles. He felt his heart pick up, anticipation crawling under his skin.

Billy reached up to press his fingers to his skin of his shoulder, where his loose white shirt hung a little loose on one side. Steve winced at the sting.

"You got burned again," He told him.

"Yeah," Steve felt his breath get thin as he allowed himself to stare, let his eyes to drop to Billy's mouth, red and parted.

Billy touched the stinging skin again, watching the blood flush back to his fingerprints. "You oughta be more careful, Stevie-"

Steve moved suddenly. Billy kissed him back like he'd been waiting for it, like he'd been expecting it. The soft and sure touch of his hand grasped around the side of his face, hand warm and rough, fingers curling around his neck.

He sucked at the swell of his bottom lip and Steve could taste the salt from the sea on his lips. He chased it. Billy let out a moan that rushed straight to Steve’s head, buzzing through him.

Then suddenly, Billy pulled back.

Wary, he frowned at him, his breath heavy. "...Why'd you do that?" His voice was almost a whisper, almost afraid sounding.

"Sorry, I-" Steve panicked. Had he misread that? "I just felt like it,"

Billy's eyes narrowed. "You just felt like it?" He repeated, jaw clenching. "On a fuckin' whim?"

Steve didn't want to tip-toe around this anymore. He made sure to hold his eyes when he said, earnestly. "I wanted to,"

This time, Billy kissed him first. Roughly taking his mouth as his tongue slipped into his mouth, fingers wrapping around the base of his neck, pulling him to his will. Steve gave as good as he got, hands finding the skin of his chest, his arms.

He could feel the heat radiating off him, from all day of soaking in the sun, could smell the balmy scent of Copper-tone on his skin.

Billy began tugging at the end of his shirt. Rolling it up his body until Steve got the message, pulling away for a moment to yank it over his head.

As soon as his head was clear, Billy was on him. Rolling him backwards onto the sand beneath him. Bringing his mouth to the side of his throat, to suck on the thin skin of his throat, to trail his hands over his body.

A part of him had wondered if there would come a point, when he would feel that this was wrong. When he would want to stop. The roughness of his touch, the thick, sturdy feel of his body against him. The sandpaper stubble that dragged across the skin of his throat, sending a chill over his skin.

But, he didn't.

He wanted all of him.

Billy rolled his hips and ground them together and he lifted his to meet his movement, cock rubbing against his through the material of their swim-shorts. Steve's hands went to his flanks, lingering over the ridged, roughness of his scars as he pulled him in closer.

He wanted to feel more of him flush against him, skin on skin. It wasn't enough.

Billy’s warm breath fanned against his ear. "Want me to touch you, Steve?" He asked, as his hand trailed down his stomach before it stopped at the waistband.

The tip of his thumb trailed in teasing motions on the skin of his navel. Steve’s teeth set on edge, aching to be touched. "Do you want my mouth?"

Steve let out a choked groan and canted his hips up. Reaching down to roll down his own shorts - when Billy's hand stopped him short. 

He fixed him with an icy, blue stare. "Need an answer,"

Steve wet his lips with his tongue, throat swelling. A plea caught in his throat. He was rock-hard and throbbing, it was bordering on painful.

"Yes, just-" Steve sighed, surrendering all of his pride. "Please," 

Billy's hand ever so slowly tugged down his shorts past his balls, freeing his dick to the air. He shot him a hungry look before he spat onto his hand, reaching between them to wrap his hand firmly around Steve's cock.

Steve groaned with relief at his touch. At the feel of his fingers curling around him. Rolling his thumb across the wet, sensitive head before his thumb dug into the slit.

The night at his apartment had haunted him, been the beginning of many uneasy but irresistible thoughts. Billy’s dark, heavy gaze peering up at him from his lashes. The sight was far better than he could have ever imagined.

The red heat of his tongue gliding up the length of him from the base his cock, lashes dark and hooded as they kept his gaze. Curling around the wet head before he slipped past his flushed lips.

"Oh, fuck-" Steve's hands went to his hair, fingers tightening around his curls. He dug his heels into the sand and rocked lightly into his mouth. Lost in the feel of him, in the heat of his mouth wrapped around him.

Billy's eyes glanced up at him from dark wet lashes, cheeks flushed red. His lips and chin wet with spit. He took more of him, going even deeper into his throat. He took all of him. The grip of his throat fluttered around him, squeezing tight. Steve chased the feeling greedily and bucked upwards.

Billy pulled back for a beat and coughed, his eyes watering.

"Sorry-," Steve murmured.

"Warn a guy first," He smirked, pinching the skin of his thigh.

"Sorry," Steve said, chewing hard on his bottom lip. Billy's lips lifted into a smirk. His hand went to stroke him instead, thumb pressing hard just under the head.

Billy's eyes were almost black in the dim-light, his mouth wet and glistening. "Feel good?" He asked, his voice low.

When Steve didn't answer, he released his hand on his cock, leaving it to rear up on nothing. Steve bucked upwards, breath catching.

"I wanna hear you," Billy said. "Say it, Steve."

"It feels good," He moaned. "Fuck, please," When Billy's hand wrapped around him again, he let go of his pride, arching his hips into his hand.

The muscles of Billy's arm flexed as he rubbed at the front of his shorts. Grinding against his own hand. The sight made Steve felt his balls draw in tight.

Billy took him inside the dizzying heat of his mouth again, tongue gliding over the head, as his hand quickened faster around the base.

Steve chased the building pleasure as it curled tight. "Ffuck-" The hot, sharp spike of pleasure reaching it's peak. "I'm gonna come," He moaned.

He seized up and it shot through him violently, washing his mind blank. His fingers gripped tight around the damp roots of Billy's hair as he came, toes curling.

The pull of Billy's hand and mouth drained it from him, milking him dry. Steve bucked and rolled his hips, riding out the cresting waves.

Until he was spent and cringing with over-sensitivity, falling boneless on the sand. Panting, Billy moved up his body.

He pressed his forehead against his, nuzzling it a little. Steve couldn't help but think how good he looked, mouth parting as he shuddered. "Fuck," His breath was warm against Steve’s face. "I'm close,"

Steve tilted his chin up to kiss him and Billy let out a sudden, pained sound against his mouth. He shuddered as he came, finishing in wet streaks on Steve's stomach.

Steve blinked the color-bleed from his eyes as he lifted his eyes to peer up at the twilight-blue skies. He let out a sigh and his muscles went with it, falling heavy and lethargic.

Billy used Steve's discarded shirt to wipe him down, before he tucked him back in his shorts and threw his shirt aside. Steve was too high to care, or complain.

"You okay there, Harrington?" Billy asked, when they were face to face. A soft-looking, lazy smile on his face.

Steve brought a hand through the messy strands of his hair, trying to gather his thoughts. "I can't think, right now."

"You look so fucked," He laughed, lazily. "It's a good look on you," There was an awed, dreamy tone in his voice that made his chest ache. Steve allowed himself to get lost in it. Baring his neck, as Billy kissed the side of his neck just below his jaw, lazily rolling his hips between thighs.

Above him, the clear starry skies stretched out for miles. A crash of waves gasped against the nearby shore, hissing when they descended. A shout of voices sounded from somewhere on the beach and his hands shot up to Billy's shoulders.

"Wait."

Instantly, Billy rose his head, heavy-lidded and mouth flushed.

Ice cold, rational clarity seeped through him as his eyes darted over his face. Something, like this...he couldn't pretend this hadn't happened. He couldn't blame this on weed or alcohol. Or, some fucking dry spell. How could he have been such an idiot? Who had he been kidding?

He'd wanted this. He'd wanted him. And, that meant something.

And, yet, wasn't...that.

Was he?

He remembered every time he'd spat those words in the hallways at school, on the court. At Johnathan Byers. Now, all of his thoughts circled back to the same, knee-jerk reaction. Scathing and cowardly:

He wasn't a queer.

Billy frowned as he looked him over, still waiting on an explanation. "What's wrong?" 

"I can't..." Steve felt felt his chest seize up with panic, with unease. "I can't do this,"

He saw the moment that Billy's face changed. First, flickering with confusion before his features darkened, like a dark-cloud over the sun.

All the softness from moments before turning hard and rigid. He rolled off him and laid out by his side on the sand.

A painfully long silence spread between them, with only the sound of the rushing waves to fill the air.

Steve wanted to say something. He wanted Billy to say something. Anything. Anything would be better than the silence. The unrest in the center of Steve's chest bunched up tight as he searched his face.

Billy didn't look at him. Instead, he kept his eyes up high at the skies overhead, chest falling and rising with his breath. Unnervingly still and stiff by his side.

Even as he looked at him, he felt it. The urge to reach out and touch him. He wanted to kiss him again. He still wanted to. The strength of his own want shook him to the core.

The sharp, spit of his father’s words rang in his ears. About the two dead boys.

Billy sat upright, avoiding his eyes. "I'm heading to the boardwalk," He said.

Steve raised to stand up from the sand as he followed him. Reaching out to grasp hold of his wrist. "Billy, I'm sorry. I just-"

Billy turned on him quickly. "What're you sorry for?" He said, eyes dull and cold. "Nothing happened here," He sounded the words, slow and sharp. "Did it?"

Steve wasn't going to pretend otherwise. Not anymore. "I just need...to think about all this,"

Billy's eyes found the lights of the board-walk, avoiding his gaze.

"Think all you want," He ripped his hand away from Steve's grip. "Just, keep me fucking out of it,"

"Billy-" When he reached for his wrist again, Billy whipped around. He shoved him backwards, knocking his feet out from under him. Steve landed on the sand with a huff. "I said, keep me out of it." Billy snapped, mouth curled up with disdain.

Steve's chest ached as he watched him go. He let his head fall in his hands and cursed loudly.

 

As Steve packed his suitcase, his vision blurred and swam, his eyes stinging hotly. He was throwing another t-shirt into his suit-case when the door creaked. At the corner of his vision, he could see the door open slowly.

The main-light flicked off suddenly overhead. Leaving him in darkness.

"Who's there?" Steve lifted his head, squinting in the shadow. He could hear someone's low breathing, see a shape of a shadow. What was he doing here, trying to scare him?  Steve marched to the lamp at the bedside table. "You're not funny."

The light flicked on to reveal Rachel. "It's just me," She smiled, raising her hands in surrender.

"Oh." Steve said, deflating. "Sorry, I thought you wer-" He rubbed at his eyes, sighing. "How'd you find my room?"

She closed the door behind her, the lock clicking closed. "Billy told me where you two were staying,"

Steve's head shot up. "He did, huh."

"I think, he went to go eat on the boardwalk, with those other girls you came with." She tucked her hands into the back pockets of her jean shorts, as she walked towards him. "I'm sure you could catch up with them if you-"

"No, that's uh-" Steve sighed, before he zipped his suitcase closed loudly. "I'm staying here. I think I’m all vacationed-out,"

"Already?" Before he knew it, she was at his side. Smiling and gazing up at him.

He knew the look. A lot of girls had approached him this way, once. Before Nancy. She wanted him to kiss her.

Billy had been right.

It was a confidence boost. That she wanted him. That she liked him. For a while, he’d began to doubt all of his other girlfriends. Maybe all of them had only wanted to date him for some intangible, shallow reason. Popularity. Money.

And, all of them were laughing at him behind his back now. Laughing at what a loser he'd turned out to be.

Maybe, Nancy was the only one who'd ever truly liked him.

Until, she didn't.

Some part of him had needed the reassurance. And, yet, he was rigid when she kissed him. Taking his stunned silence for an answer. He was slow and mechanical when he kissed her back, thoughts slow and cloudy.

Her mouth was sticky with some kind of plastic saccharine gloss. Malleable and squishy. She was lean. The length of her hair stopped at the base of her spine, tangled with salt sea-air and sand.

He let her move him, push him back onto the sheets. He went through the all of the motions, the feel and touch of her familiar. It happened quickly. When, she took him inside her and began to move, he cast his eyes to the ceiling. Her voice was grating so he let his eyes fall heavy.

Willing himself to get lost in sensation. In the low light, he could mostly make out her light hair, the golden-brown of her skin. The dull brass shell pendant around her throat clicking against her chest as she moved.

He lingered on those details, as they helped him along. He pulled her down, turning his face into the curls of her hair.

When it was over, Steve felt like his stomach was filled with stones.

"Are you...always this quiet?" Rachel faced towards him, curled on her side on the pillows.

"No," He felt wrong. An unshakable feeling of shame settled deeply in his gut.

"Did I do something wrong?" She asked by his side, voice thin with nerves. He couldn't feel more terrible, hearing her sound like that.

"No." Steve could barely swallow. He couldn't bring himself to look her way. "I'm sorry. It's not you."

She scoffed and raised to stand up. "Whatever," She sat up and began to get dressed, gathering her shirt and skirt from the floor. He couldn't spare her a look even when she closed the door behind her, head low.

He was the worst.

When she was gone, Steve wandered out onto the beach. Night had fallen and the skies were pitch-black. In the distance, he could see the flashing lights, where the board-walk was.

He thought about Billy.

Wondered where he was was right now and what he was doing, who he was with. Whether or not he was still angry. If he hated him now. He couldn't get the look he'd shot him out of his head.

He slumped down on the sand and started to heap it up in a line. A wall before him and the sea, like he used to do when he was a kid.

When he and his parents would visit Dewey, he'd walk out on the beach for hours. Seeing how far he could get before his parents noticed, before they worried.

Only, to give up the game when darkness fell. And, trudge his way back to where he'd left them. The dark waves rolled closer, crashing loudly. Steve pushed at the edge of the sand-wall and it came crumbling down over his toes. He dug them deep where the sand was ice cold. 

"Steve!"

He heard Robin's voice but he didn't turn. "There you are," She laughed when she almost toppled over at his side. "Where'd you go? I looked for you at the hotel,"

Robin took a seat next to him, slapping her hands together to rid them off the grains.

"Dingus? Anyone home?" Slowly, her smile fell as she looked over his face. "What's wrong?" Steve could barely swallow the lump in his throat to talk. He could feel it in his throat again, welling up.

"Steve," Robin's hand found his as she squeezed it lightly. "Talk to me."

Chapter Text

"There he is!" Tommy patted him on the shoulder as soon as he’d stumbled up the grassy drive of Tina’s house. "It's been too long," He grinned, eyes falling over him. "Everything alright?" He asked as he scanned his face, a little oddly - like he was expecting a particular answer.

"Why wouldn't it be?" He replied dull, tucking his hands into the pockets of his jacket. He was tired. The last few days, he had barely slept for more than a few hours a night.

Carol popped gum in her cheek. Looking him over with what almost seemed like disappointment "I heard you got third-degree burns,"

Billy’s jaw clenched like a vice. "You believe every stupid fuckin' rumor you hear, don't you?"

Tommy's arm curled around her shoulders protectively. Real cute, he thought irritably.

"She was actually worried about you, man," He said. "No need to be an ass about it,"

Billy shot him a sharp look. He blew past them both and headed straight for the house. Passing through into the wide, sprawling hall-way: beige and brown colonial decor and the occasional exotic religious ornament. Tina was the only daughter of an older couple: artsy-types who traveled a lot.

As such, they weren't around much to cramp up the place.

He'd run into Freddie at the convenience store earlier that day, and he'd invited him out. It seemed like a better way to spend his night than drinking alone in his apartment, staring at the wall and getting lost in his thoughts.

It had only been a few months since his last party, in the early Summer. But, it felt much longer since then. A lifetime ago. He looked around at the laughing, youthful faces and felt adrift. He couldn’t shake the feeling of distance. Most of them had started college or new jobs, all looking forward to their bright futures.

Billy was just getting by.

Most of his day was a routine, set out by him and Dr. Owens on some dumb little chart he'd given him. A daily routine set out by day.

Workout, shower, pills with breakfast, work, home. Rinse and repeat.

Over the past few days, he'd slipped up a little....Or, a lot.

In another world, he’d be out of Hawkins by now. Far away from his Dad. Free from little pills, from the scars and memories of death.  The glares were becoming increasingly hard to ignore the more people he ran into.

Turning over their shoulders to watch him. Smirking mouths, looks of disdain, or muttered whispers.

What's so funny, he wanted to ask. To scream. What are you looking at? He thought about grabbing one of them. Roughing one of them up, to remind them who the fuck he was. It was a plan he was halfheartedly considering, when a tall, guy with a thick mop of brown, curly hair stepped into his path.

"Billy Hargrove, right?" He asked, chewing a wad of white gum.

"Who's askin?"

"Have a cousin in So-Cal," An annoying smile played on his lips as he titled his head up. "Said she knew you once."

"That so?" Billy side-stepped to move, when he got in his way again.

“She had a lot to say about you, actually," He said with a grin, eyebrows lifting. "You wanna clarify a few things for me?"

Rage surged through him, quickening through him faster than he'd felt in a while. Who the fuck did this guy think he was? Billy was close to throttling him.

His teeth were bared when spoke, sounding each word sharply. “I don’t fucking care,” Billy checked his shoulder hard, knocking him to the side as he passed him.

Only, the guy just laughed.

"So. I take it, Sarah Myers doesn’t ring a bell?"

The name made Billy go stop in place, a sudden cold falling over him. He remembered a girl at a lunch-table, by Warren's side, catching Billy's eyes from across the lunch-hall as he whispered in her ear.

Before Billy could find him again, grab him and make him repeat the fucking name. He was gone. Lost in the sea of laughing faces.

 

He found Freddie in the living room, already tipsy and more upbeat than usual. The two of them did a few shots together, and Freddie tastelessly raised one to Heather.

Billy winced at the burn of it. When Freddie reached around his arm around him, Billy winced the smell the chlorine on his skin, from Hawkins pool.

A paranoid fear crept into his thoughts. He’d given it to him to drink. And, he’d drank it all. The burning in his throat seemed to intensify the longer he thought about it, burning him on the inside.

An image of Heather seared in his brain. Of her lurching forward and retching.

When Freddie jostled him closer, fear grasped him. Billy grabbed him by the throat and pushed him back. Hard. Sending him tumbling backwards and onto the carpet.

"The fuck is wrong with you, man?" Freddie blinked up at him, wide-eyed and exasperated.

He didn't know.

He could feel panic rising in him again. It was hard to breathe. He needed air. He needed out of the crowd.

They were all looking at him again, glaring. They parted like the red-sea as he passed by and powered down the hall.

He found a quiet place to calm down in the hallway and tried to catch his breath. The urgent whispers of two girls sitting at the bottom of the stair-well made him flinch.

...Because he started the fire.

How'd you know that?

Think about it. Why else was he there? The other girl hissed, insistent. You know, where they found his car?

Where?

Billy strode towards the kitchen and made a beeline for the alcohol. He pushed through a few drunk girls who were sitting up on the counters, drunkenly singing Gloria like feral cats in heat.

He dug his hand into the ice-bucket, reaching for another can of beer.

I mean, it, kid.” Dr. Owens had said, teeth set on edge. “You don't overdo when you're on these. Not if you want to feel better. It won’t help,"

Get fucked, he thought, waving away the words like a cloud of smoke.

Good thing he'd laid off the pills for a few days. He could drink as much as he wanted. Be like everyone else getting wasted at a party, for the first time in a long while.

Be normal.

He needed to not think anymore. To drown his thoughts, the painful, aching ones that kept eating at him.

When his skin met the ice, an unpleasant, but familiar, jolt shot through his veins. It liked it cold.

He yanked his hand out suddenly, sending ice-cubes all over the floor. He swore loudly. A few of the girls screeched with surprise.

Billy shook his hand dry, pawing for the cloth on the side to warm his fingers. The girls shot him a glare over their shoulder, before they ushered out of the kitchen.

All except one.

"Here," One of the girls pressed a can into his hand, smiling. All he cared to notice was her frayed, blonde hair and smiling mouth. He snatched it from her, cracking open the top.

"You're the hot topic of the night,"

Billy didn't answer. Just downed another gulp, willing his hands to stop shaking. Weak. Get it together, you fucking wimp. He told himself, fists clenching tight.

He remembered the steps he’d been given - some stupid breathing exercises he’d been told to rehearse, over and over.

It all sounded like bullshit, at the time. Like something that would only make things worse. But, he’d take anything right now. Anything to stop him freaking out like that again.

"A lot of people here are scared of you," She said, tilting her head.

"And, you're not?"

"No," She shook her head, lips pressed together, cheeks dimpling.

Maybe you should be, he thought grimly. Heather should be here. She should be going to college. She’d got in, but he couldn’t remember where. She'd told him, but he’d been hungover at the time. Not really listening, eyes closed behind his glasses, head hung back on the wall of the break-room.

He wished he’d listened. He wished he'd tried.

When his hands had stopped shaking, he finished the rest of the beer before crushing it in his grip. The girl watched him, eyes going to his chest, shirt unbuttoned to his stomach.

The girl leapt down from the counter, gold triangle earrings bouncing from her lobes.

"Maybe, I don't mind a little danger,"

Billy resisted the urge to laugh at the line.

"Stephanie," She introduced herself, smiling.

 

The two of them took the couch next to Tommy and Carol. They were laughing at her shiny, cosmetology school ID and at how shiny her forehead was in the camera flash.

When she snatched it off him with a pout, he brought her close and brushed a kiss to her temple, trying to win her back with soft whispers to her ear. Promising her he'd come and visit in another week. Ohio might have been a different country, from the way they were talking. They were sickening. Billy wanted to barf.

"Jesus," Tommy scoffed. He gave Billy a nudge with his shoulder, then pointed across the room.

Billy almost choked on his drink.

Steve.

Tommy laugh was biting and harsh. "Look who it is," He scoffed. "Child predator-Harrington."

Billy's hand shot out before he could stop himself, grabbing roughly at his collar. "Shut your fuckin' mouth," He spat, sharply.

Tommy’s face scrunched up small, confused. Eyes darting between his, wide with shock. Billy let him go immediately, felt his cheeks flush hot with shame.

"Oh my God, he’s coming over,” Carol said.

Steve’s hands were dug into the pockets of his navy bomber. He looked like he hadn’t slept, judging by the shadows under his eyes. The usual sweep of his hair came loose, strands of it falling over his forehead.

He stopped in front of them, swallowed hard. “Can we talk?”

“Long time no see, Harrington,” Tommy cut in. “Must be hard. When your only friends have curfew,”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Shut up, Tommy,”

“Don’t tell him to shut-up,” Carol piped up, sitting up higher on the couch.

"I’m not here for you," Steve said, louder over her voice. He turned back to Billy, eyes settling on him like he was the only person in the room. The only one who mattered. Billy's breath caught.

“I'll still be here later on," He said eyes firm. "When you're ready,"

Billy didn’t answer. Although, his eyes followed his figure as he left, fading into the crowd.

Carol let out a laugh, nuzzling under Tommy's arm. “God. He’s so weird now,” 

 

 

Billy downed another hazy, can of beer. Absentmindedly, running his fingers down the line of Stephanie's spine through her back-less top. She was handsy.

It seemed she decided to step up her game when she noticed that he wasn’t having any reaction downstairs. Nestling into his chest, mouth going to his ear, her hand squeezing his thigh.

Billy spotted Steve talking to a guy from their old basket-ball team.  He noticed his eyes drifting over, lingering.

A spiteful urge set his jaw tight. “C’mere,” He turned to her, smiled at her softly - the way he knew that girls liked. Brushing her cheek with his thumb softly, he leaned forward. She kissed him back, letting out a moan against his lips.

Billy’s eyes found Steve again. He pulled away from his cup mid-sip. Jaw going tight, eyes dark. He swallowed a visible lump in his throat then looked away, lowering his eyes. Billy pulled away when he felt his gut ball up like a fist. It didn't feel as good as he thought it would: seeing him look like that.

Stephanie began fiddling with his hand, circling the rings on his fingers.

She smiled at him, lashes fluttering before she reached around his neck, leaned into the kiss him again.

"Steph?" A voice blurted out.

Immediately, she pulled away.

A broad, stocky guy stood in front of them, baseball jersey, white shirt and jeans, blonde hair buzzed short to the scalp.

   "What the fuck is this?" He snarled.

Stephanie frowned. "It's none of your business," She turned back to Billy before she clarified, red-face and nervous. "I'm sorry. We broke up. It's not-" She clarified to him, eyes fearful. “It was a month ago.”

He blinked at her, confused. What was she apologizing to him for? Before he could reply, the guy had reached over and grabbed her by the arm. Hauling her up from the couch and to his side.

"It is my fuckin' business when you're running out on me in the middle of the night.” He spat. “Not answering my calls. Acting like I don’t exist,”

Billy blinked at the empty space where she was, before he lifted his head slowly. Everyone else around them had turned. They watched on, looking concerned - but staying silent.

"Let go," Stephanie hissed. "Sam, you're embarrassing me,"

"You embarrass yourself," Sam said, low and sharp. "Whoring around this psycho fuck,"

"Get off her," Billy stood suddenly.

He turned to look at him like he was a bug on the bottom of his squeaky-clean sneakers. "Or, what?"

"Or, I'll make you." Billy threatened sharply.

A sharp laugh from their right cut through the air.

"I have a question," It was the guy from earlier, still brandishing the same, smug smirk on his face. When Billy's eyes fixed on him, his smile got wider, amused. "What exactly is a fag like you doing sniffing around someone else’s girlfriend in the first place?"

The words hit him like a wall of ice, cold water.

Everyone was looking at him.

The longer he went without saying anything, the longer they looked. They longer they saw him. It was like a nightmare. One that had made him shoot up from bed, sweating and cold with panic. Only, it was real. He wasn't waking up.

"You're hurting me," Stephanie’s voice pierced through the air, stirring him from his stillness. She pulled against Sam's grip. The long sweep of her blonde hair blocked her face as she grappled with him. Billy's eyes found the side of her head, his thoughts remembering another face. A different woman.

"We're leaving," He said, grabbing hold of her upper arm, twisting the skin.

"Get away from me-!"

The words struck him like he'd been hit. Billy's hand shot forward, fingers clutching tight around his shoulder. He turned him around to face him and brought his fist forward. Hard. Catching the side of his jaw with his ring finger.

A series of exclaims sounded all around them.

Sam shot him a wide-eyed bulging glare before he charged forward, his thick, large fist knocking him off kilter. Billy was thrown backwards onto the couch. Sam was on him before he could move, fists swinging hard and fast into his stomach and chest.

The room erupted with screams and shouts, bodies scrambling out of the way. Sam's punches landed all over his chest and stomach, knuckles pummeling into his flesh.

Normally, he knew when to move. To dodge. To brace his jaw for impact, clench up tight before a swing. Tonight, he was sluggish, foggy and slow. Weak.

"Hey-!" A voice shouted.

Billy's chest seized, heart leaping to his throat. Fond and fearful. Steve.

He watched him grab Sam's shoulder, trying to pull him back. In slow motion, he saw Sam turn on him, fist whipping across the side of his face.

Billy locked up. Without thought, he surged forward and tackled the taller man off his feet. Throwing them both forward onto the coffee table. It broke on impact, legs breaking and splintering. More screams broke out around them.

Billy had barely gathered himself before he was rolled back on to the floor. Pinned beneath the man’s heavier, broader body.

One swing made his vision black-out. Another, and another, and another. Red-hot heat bled down his neck, prickling hot. Burning. Billy's ears were ringing. He was sweating. He could feel something running wet down the side of his face, gathering in his hairline.

"Get the-!" Steve's voice again. "off him!" Warbled through the roar of blood in his ears. The fist swung again and his vision swam, bleeding black at the corners.

Everything faded to black.

 

 

He'd heard once that a broken bone grows back stronger. The more you break it, the thicker and less likely it is again. It had been a weird comfort, at the time. Nothing could ever really break you, as long as you were still breathing. What didn’t kill you, made you stronger.

Billy didn’t feel strong when he woke.

He was back at his apartment, propped up awkwardly on his pillows. His head was pounding. Throbbed when daylight pierced through his pupils like a needle. He smacked his tongue to the roof of his mouth and tasted copper.

The T.V. was on. The static and shitty signal causing grains all over Sam Malone’s face. At the side of his mattress was Steve, curled up front of the T.V., knees to his chest.

“Harrington,” Billy announced, voice cracking.

Steve’s head turned like a startled deer. "You're awake," He said, wide-eyed. Then, he smiled. Let out a sigh of what sounded like relief.

When he rushed to his side, Billy advanced back into the pillows. If he didn't know better, he'd think Steve almost looked a little stung by the action.

He kept a safe distance, sitting at the side of his bed on the floor. He looked pale. Grey shadows beneath his eyes and brown hair falling flat around his face. Even still, Billy had felt his heart pick up at the sight of him. At the sight of him here, in his apartment again. He felt pathetic.

"What are you doing here?" He asked, voice thick.

"I brought you home." Steve told him. "Tommy helped, actually," He added, scratching at the cut on his brow, the dark shadow of a bruise darkening his skin. "He also helped me get that asshole guy off you,”

Billy slightly recalled the guy. Although, the details of his face melded in his mind, dispersing like water on ink. The whole night was hazy.

The inside of his mouth was tangy and stale with old blood. He peeled back his covers, flashing his bare hipbone and the trail of hair above his dick. Steve lifted his eyes to the ceiling, clearing his throat.

“Where are my clothes?” Billy asked sluggishly.

“Uh, your clothes were covered in blood and puke, so I-,” He stopped, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I cleaned you up. Dropped off your clothes at the dry-cleaners,”

Blood and puke. Must've have been a fucking sight.

Where did Steve find time to sleep during all of that? It was almost annoying, seeing him look so tired and worried - after doing things he’d never asked him to do. Normal people didn’t do that kind of shit, not without wanting something from them.

Billy had nothing he wanted.

"The dry cleaners," Billy repeated, dumbly.

"Yeah," Steve blinked at him. "Was that wrong…?"

Typical. Of course, Harrington would think it's normal to ship laundry off to the dry-cleaners. Billy lifted himself up on the pillows, wincing at his sore skin. He felt like raw, tenderized steak.

"None of that explains what you’re still doing here,”

Steve had the nerve to shoot him a pathetic, wounded look. "Wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I'm breathin', aren't I?" Billy dug his tongue into the sharp sting of his lip. "Anything less than that isn't your concern."

"It is my concern." Steve replied, with a strange surety.

Billy scoffed darkly. "How?"

Steve’s expression softened, eyes imploring him - drawing him in. "Because I care about you." He said. Simply. As if it were as easy as breathing.

Billy's throat filled with a lump. He almost hated him for it - hated how a single look like that could choke him up.

"We're back-" Another voice sounded from the hall, followed by the jingling rattle of keys.

The distance from the door to his bed on the floor was small. And, before he knew it Max was there next to the breakfast bar, a few meters from his bed. Red at the corner of his eye like a flame.

She dropped a white plastic bag from the drug-store and marched over him, crossing her arms.

"I have to ask," She frowned, hair wispy with static. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

Billy grumbled and slumped back in bed, turning away. The last thing he needed was another rant. Not when he felt like his head might split open and his brain might spill out of his ears. The pressure on his chest didn't feel too hot either. Max and Steve were well on to sending him to an early grave.

"Thank you, Steve," She said loudly, deliberately, behind his back. Billy hunched up under the sheets, tried to phase them out.

 

After he’d washed, dressed and brushed his teeth. He sat up on his breakfast counter, rooting through the bag of pain-killers and band-aids Max had bought with cash from his wallet.

He’d have to explain to John again why he was fucked up again. Hope that it wouldn’t get him fired. Before, he'd kept him in the back pot-washing, cleaning out nasty soggy lumps of food from the clogged sink.

Again, his eye was busted, the skin underneath his eyes and across his nose were blue, like someone had streaked blue and purple war-paint across his skin with their thumb. The right side of his bottom lip split into a molten-red crescent.

He could hear Max clattering around in his shower, humming a tune while she was washing her hair. Probably getting more of it stuck in the drain, gooping up the floor with her hair masques, he thought irritably. From inside, the portable radio echoed and droned. nowhere to run when i'm in trouble, you know I’d do anything for you. stay the night, but keep it undercover

Steve had left and returned with a bag of groceries. Billy glowered at him as he packed the stuff in the cabinets. He'd probably looked inside when he was asleep and seen how empty it was - pitied him for it. The thought made Billy tense up.

"Hey." Billy turned to Lucas, who'd been sitting on the edge of the breakfast bar. Reaching for the pack of Nu-Cola that Steve had bought.

"You like this shit, right?"

"How'd you know that?" He said, wide-eyed - like he had stalked him for the information.

"Max used to leave cans of it around the house when you were over," He shrugged. "Figured it was yours," He handed it over. "You want it, or not?"

Lucas didn't say a word, simply taking it off his hand, snapping off the trigger with a crack.

“You can take it all, if you want,” Billy told him as he pushed him the entire multi-pack, eyes flicking to Steve. “M’not looking for charity,”

Steve’s shoulders dropped as he met his glance. He rolled his eyes before he turned back to the cabinets; continued unpacking the rest of the groceries. Billy glared at his back. He was half-tempted to sweep all of it off the counter and into the trash. His eyes found Lucas again, slurping from the can.

When he met his glance, Lucas froze.

"You two going out?” Billy asked, trying to thaw the icy silence.

"Yeah,” Lucas went tense as he put down the drink, fingers tensing around the can. He lifted his head as he shot him a pointed glare. “Why?"

"Just tryna make conversation, kid."

"No,” He uttered low. “No, you're not." Lucas said, jaw tight.

"What?"

He lifted his eyes from the counter, fixing him with a glare. "I know how you feel about me," He said sternly. "And, about me and Max."

Billy flushed. "Listen, I-"

"No. You listen." Lucas stood suddenly. "You don't get a say in how Max lives her life. And, whether you like it or not, I'm with her. And, I don't give a shit if that bothers you," He lifted his head. "I care about her enough to put up with you. And nothing you can say is going to stop me from being there for her when she needs me. Got it?"

Billy blinked at him, letting the words filter over him. It seemed like he'd been holding all of them in, for a while now. He'd practically said them all in one breath.

"Yeah." Billy agreed, with a curt nod.

Lucas’s brows knitted together. "...Yeah?" He repeated, confused.

"Yeah, I said,"

Lucas sat back in his seat with a thump, letting out a small sigh of breath. Eyebrows furrowing, as he mumbled an uneasy. "Alright," He reached for the can again clumsily, fingers pulling it closer towards him on the counter.

Billy remembered the day he'd seen him through the eyes of the Shadow. That day in sauna room. He remembered his arm spanning out, in front of Max. Protecting her from the person who would have hurt her.

From him.

In that moment, he saw exactly who he was - who he'd always been. It was right there all along. He had just been too blind to see it. Every day before that, when he was ignorant of it all, of Hawkins’s secrets. Of its evil.

He’d kept her safe.

Steve had kept her safe.

That night at the Byers he'd been wound tight. Seething with rage, he’d swallowed the very same poison that had hurt him - that had beat him into submission.

He’d taken it inside himself, and become the one person he'd hated the most. He'd become Neil.

He’d seen Lucas at Max’s side. Felt that rage at her disobedience, at her lack of respect for ignoring his words. For not doing what he'd told her.

People like that. Seeing them together, made some weak, part of him unsettled. He'd hurt her, in the end. They were like that. He'd justified it, without knowing him, without caring to.

Neil held always vicious views for all people who were different than him. It didn't matter who they were. If they were his wife.

Or, his child.

He'd remembered feeling the sting of that hate. To hear the sharp, clipped tone of queer or fag on his lips. To see the slow, hateful dawn of it in his eyes as he saw it in him.

Respect and responsibility, He'd always known that those words were branded in his mind. Remembered the cutting, sharp hiss of them before each swing of a belt.

But he'd let others in too.

Deeper than he’d ever thought they’d get. Deeper than he should have ever let them get.

That, he regretted, more than anything. Becoming the one person who he'd hated the most.

"Don't meant shit coming from me,” Billy said low, for Lucas's ears. "Not after everything that went down with you,"

Lucas glared at him, jaw tight. Wary, of him still. Resistant but waiting - some part of him willing to listen.

Billy found his face again, held his glance. "I was wrong about you." He said.

It was the very least he could say. He couldn’t take any of it back, no matter how much he may have wanted to. The poison had already been spat.

"I'm sorry," He added, keeping eye-contact with the younger boy.

Lucas looked at him like he'd grown another head. Or, like he'd expected it to be some joke. His brows furrowed together, eyes narrowing.

"We gotta go," Max’s voice made them both straighten up in their seats. She’d put on a little makeup, her usually fair lashes were dark and her mouth pink with some, shiny gloss. The ends of her hair falling at her collar into little waves.

"We're gonna be late," She said, lifting her head from her shoulder-bag.

Stopping suddenly, she frowned. Like she'd sensed the atmosphere in the room. "What happened?"

"Nothing," Lucas said suddenly before he slid off the bar-stool. He smiled when he reached her. "You look great,"

"The fuck are you so dressed up for?" Billy grumbled. “You’re only going to the movies,”

So?” She shot him a trademark scowl. Looking a little bit more like the brat he'd come to know.

The two of them rationed out their share of movie-theater contraband in silence, like soldiers equipping themselves before battle. Tucking Reese’s into the sleeves of their shirts or in the pouches of their hoodies.

Billy scoffed at how dumb they looked, smirking in spite of himself.  When he turned, he caught Steve watching him, sitting on the window-sill.

With a slow, dawning understanding, he realized: when they left, they'd be alone again. Steve had still wanted to talk.

"You're leaving now?" Billy jumped off the bar-stool.

The two of them looked up at him with wide-eyes, stopped in the doorway. "Uhh, yeah," Max said, shocked at his sudden objection. "Lucas doesn't wanna miss the previews."

Billy's eyes darted between them and Steve, struggling to find some excuse to keep them here longer.

"I'll come by tomorrow,” She told him. “Don't do anything stupid in the mean-time."

Before he knew it, their voices faded down the hall. The door closing after them, leaving them in silence. Alone.

Billy turned back to the break-fast bar, hands braced flat on the edge. He spoke first, breaking the long, weighted silence. "You still here?"

He could hear Steve move, get up from his seat on the sill as he walked closer. "You gonna kick me out?"

"Maybe."

He felt the heat of him close in from behind him. Just, before a hand came to rest on his arm. "Can we talk now?"

"Don't got anything to say to you," Billy rolled his shoulders to shake him off.

"Billy," Steve murmured, soft.

Billy turned slow, bracing his hands on the counter. He pushed his hips forward, eyes cold but mouth smirking. "You hard up again?" He asked, raising his eyebrows. "Is that it?"

Steve eyes fell down briefly. He swallowed hard, before he lifted them. "It's not like that," He said, suddenly stern. “We need to talk about that night,”

We’re talking, aren't we?” He said, sharp and irritated. He felt like there was a fist in his chest, clenching tighter and tighter. "Spit it the fuck out, Harrington,"

Billy was prepared for the "I'm not a queer," routine. Warren reflexively prefaced or ended their smoke-breaks each time with one. It didn’t stop him from dropping to his knees for him in the stalls a few days later. Or reaching his hand out first to rub at the crotch of his jeans.

Maybe, this was Steve's way of leading up to rejection. A cruel, fucked-up long way of drawing this out as long as possible.

"Look, I know I was an asshole before," Steve began. "And, I'm sorry I freaked out on you,"

Billy had seen and heard worse. "You don't owe me an apology, Harrington,"

Steve frowned at him like he was crazy. "Yeah, I do." He said, eyes settling on his face. "I know, I messed up,” His eyebrows knitted together, going softer as he added. “And, I know I hurt you,"

Billy shifted his weight on either foot, crossed his arms over his chest. He wanted to deny that. Deny that he could ever hurt him, that anyone could.

But, some part of him had gotten in too deep with Harrington. Stupidly, he’d let himself forget how life was. That anything more just wasn't in the cards, not for someone like him.

Steve had reeled him back that evening on the beach. Made him think that, just for a moment...

He should've known better.

"I should've been honest with you," Steve said "And, with myself."

"M'not a fucking chick, Harrington."

Steve narrowed his eyes. "I know that,"

"So, quit talking to me like one," He said, defensively, hand falling to his side again.

“Christ,” Steve let out a disbelieving laugh followed by a long, irritable sigh. "I'm trying to tell you that I like you,"

Maybe, it should’ve been stupid. Childish. Something some dumb kid would blurt out on a playground. Yet, it hit him like a punch to his chest, stealing the breath from his lungs.

"I like you a lot," He continued, before he took another dangerous step closer. “And, I…wanna try this out,”

His hand reached up to where Billy's arms were crossed at his chest. Finding the skin of his elbow, his fingers grazing it lightly, like he was trying to get him to unfold them.

"I don’t…want anyone else,” He lifted his head, eyes starry and capturing.

Billy was finding it hard to speak, or to breathe properly. He stood there staring at him, mouth tight. Trying to catch his breath. To say something.

At the long breadth of silence, Steve began to look concerned. "I mean, if-" He rubbed at the back of his neck. Suddenly, uncertain. Insecure. "If...that's what you want-"

Billy hauled him in by his shirt.

Their teeth clicked together when he kissed him. As he pulled him flush against him, rough and filled with want.

Steve brought his face in his hands as he returned it, lips soft and full. He'd missed them. Had spent more time than he'd ever admit thinking about them. Billy's fingers found the back of his shirt. Desperate, as he un-tucked it from his jeans.

Steve helped him along, pulling it up and over his shoulders before he pushed him against the counter again, kissing him fiercely. He sucked the swell of his bottom lip into his mouth. It hurt a little, but he didn’t care.

The rough seam of his jeans rubbed raw against him through his thin boxers as they grinded together. Steve still trapped in his jeans. "Fuck," Steve inhaled sharply, as he pulled him up from the counter.

He turned to maneuver him, kissing him as he walked him back to the mattress. When Billy fell back on the bed, he waited for him to follow, heart racing in his chest.

If he had any doubts about Steve wanting this before, they disappeared at the way he looked down at him. Pupils blown and red, flushed mouth parted. Eyes low on Billy's body as he ran his hand down over the bulge in his jeans.

He was on him before he knew it, clambering over him and kissing him. Reaching between them to pull his boxers down, getting his hand around his cock without hesitation.

“Fuck,” Billy let his head fell back, bucking upwards into his touch. Steve let his other hand run over Billy’s chest down his abdomen, eyes dark with awe and want. From the look alone, Billy's dick throbbed, kicking hard in Steve's hand.

Steve's touch dragged over his chest where the skin was pebbled with knuckle marks. He brought his mouth down where he could reach, pressed his mouth to a mottled one on his chest, breath fanning hot over his skin.

The gesture made Billy's eyes sting, his throat swelling thick.

Irritated, Billy reached down to Steve's jeans, tugging on them. "Get these fucking things off," 

Steve did as he told, pulling them off his long legs with a clumsy eagerness. As soon as they were off, he was on him again, hands all over his body.

Mouth at his throat, kissing his way up his neck, hand tight and warm on his cock. Steve was stroking him faster now. Hand quick and urgent, tight enough that his leg muscles kicked and clenched.

He was fucking close - it was embarrassing. "Fuck, Harrington," He moaned. "Wait-,"

"Sorry-" Steve pulled back. "Did I hurt you?"

Billy frowned. "Uh, no I-"

"We don't have to do this, right now," Steve said.

“Would you relax?” He chided, leaning back in to kiss him.

Steve sighed. “We shouldn’t...if you're in pain,"

Billy looked at him for a while, processing the words while Steve's hand was still on his dick. "Blue-balls are painful,"

Steve's eyes narrowed. “Okay..,” He scoffed.

"You tryna make me suffer, Harrington?" He smirked darkly. He took Steve's stunned silence as a chance to pull down the front of his shorts past the length of him, bobbing heavy between his thighs. Billy sought the feel of his it, thick and warm in his hand.

Smiling, he watched Steve's eyes flutter when he touched him, his full lips parting. He remembered that night at the beach. Of him deep in his throat, hands curled tight in his hair. The thought alone made him ache. Steve had really fucked him up.

"C'mere," Billy told him, other hand pawing his shoulder to pull him down. He arched his hips up. "Move." He demonstrated, as their cocks dragged across one another, warm and heavy.

Billy felt him twitch against him as they grinded together. "Fuck me, come on," The words tumbled from his lips, without thought. Steve took in a sharp intake of breath.

He hunkered down as his hand wrapped around both of them, guiding their heads through the tight ring of his fingers.

They leaked onto his skin, clear pre-come easing the slide. Rolling his hips forward, his hand squeezed tight around the head as he pushed them through.

Steve bucked his hips as he jerked them together. The moan Steve let out made Billy shiver, pleasure tingling down his spine. Billy took in every part of him. At the sweat above his furrowed brow and the strands of unkempt hair clinging to damp skin. It was almost like he was fucking him.

"Fuck, just like that," Billy moaned loud as he began to peak, hot and sudden. Drawing up tight, he arched upwards with a wounded moan, spilling over Steve's fingers.

He jerked upwards as his hips lifting off the bed. Steve stroked him through it, stripping the head of him, flicking white up his chest and stomach.

It was too much. "Fuck-" Billy kicked and winced when he kept going, wringing it out of him until the head of his cock twinged with hypersensitivity. "Steve-," He hissed sharply, weakly pushing at his hand.

Steve leaned back as his hand quickened around himself, tugging with long, quick stokes. Billy held Steve's hazy, heavy-lidded gaze, hand flattening on Steve's stomach. Fingers running down the trail of dark hair leading lower.

"On me," He told him hurriedly, not caring how he sounded when his mind was so full of Steve. "I want it,"

Steve flinched like he'd been shocked, mouth falling open. "Oh, fuck," He let out a long moan as he rocked forward, shooting off onto Billy's stomach and up his chest.

He twitched and trembled through it, dragging the head against Billy's abs, leaking onto his skin. He rolled his hips, grinding out the shocks and waves.

When it finally passed over him, a warm, giddy smile lit up his face. He heaved a sigh, chest flushed red and full, brown hair damp with sweat. Billy soaked in the image of him. Trying to keep a mental picture of how he looked in the moment.

Steve reached for Billy's shirt and began wiping down his stomach and chest.

"The fuck…?" Billy scoffed. He'd literally just put that one on this morning.

"It's payback," Steve shrugged. "For mine, at the beach," He threw it aside and laid out on the other side of the pillows.

Billy let his head fall back, muscles warm and sluggish in the afterglow. The aches and pains of them easier to ignore when he felt so spent. "Guess you did take my shit to the dry-cleaners,"

Steve rested on his side, head on his hand. "What is wrong with that exactly?"

"You're a rich yuppie fuck,” Billy scoffed. “That's what's wrong,"

Steve just grinned as he leaned closer, mouth against his ear. "I think you like that," He said, sending a chill through him. He felt his dick twitch with valiant interest and wanted to laugh. Guess he did.

Steve’s hand rested on his chest, fingers pulling on the chain of his necklace before he kissed him breathless again.

"Can I stay?" He asked, when they parted, eyes finding his.

Billy held his gaze as he murmured low, a little uneasy. "Do you have to ask?"

“Yeah. I do,” Steve replied, brown eyes uncertain as they held his. "I need to know,"

He wasn't used to it. To saying everything he was feeling, or thinking. But, the look in Steve's warm brown eyes gave him pause.

He put his hand where Steve’s rested on his chest, holding it there. “Stay,”

 

 

Steve spent the next two weeks in and out of his apartment. When Steve finished early, Billy would find him outside his block, waiting for him. Billy would rattle his keys impatiently, fighting a grin.

They would act like they were merely neighbors, greeting each other with a slight head nod.

As soon as they were past the door to his apartment, he was on him. Pressing him against his front-door, desperate and feverish.

Steve brought over a few cassettes from the store and a VCR. One that his parents had never used in the study. A lot of the cassettes came to the store a day or two before their official release. A perk of the job. Although, they had yet to get through a whole movie without fooling around and missing half of the plot.

Billy knew his apartment was a dump. Cramped, cold and dark. But, Steve didn’t seem to mind, judging on how much time he’d spent the night there - not that Billy was complaining. Although, the guy was a serial blanket-hogger.

More times than not, he'd wake up to his face, his legs curled around him, mouth slack and swollen. Other times, the warmth of him was wrapped around him, arms around his shoulders, the heat of his breath warming the back of his neck.

Fall had officially started. The weather cooling almost overnight.

Occasionally, their work schedules clashed. With Billy having the late-shifts on the bar that went on past midnight, and Steve having the early morning at the store. Where they could, they worked around it.

It had been three days before Billy got the chance to finish early. Driving up to pick him Steve up on his closing-shift. Billy wolf-whistled over the top of the window, grinning when Steve turned. When his mouth curved upwards into a secret smile before he returned to double-check the door.

Impatient, Billy drummed on the steering wheel as he watched him lock up for the night, already adjusting his cock in his jeans. It was like fucking clock-work - every time.

Steve's brown hair was tousled and messy from him pushing his hands through it. Hands tucked his hands into his jeans as he walked through the wet parking-lot, smiling at Billy in an eager way.

Billy hadn't even parked in dimly-lit lot outside his apartment, before Steve moved over the dashboard.

Billy fingers swam through his hair as he kissed him, grasping at the airy texture of his gilet. "Can’t do this out here," He told him, even though he kept kissing going. Urged on by the way Steve wouldn't let go.

He smiled, like it was part of the thrill. By the time Billy pulled away for breath, the glass window of the Camaro was a little misty.

They left the car and headed upstairs quickly. Billy scanning the area outside. When they climbed the stairs and reached his door, Billy got him against the wall outside, catching Steve off-guard. Big brown eyes darkening almost black. "Someone's impatient today," He told him.

"Missed you," Steve replied, breathing hard.

Billy stopped at the comment. Before he reached between them, grabbing his cock through his jeans. Under his hand, he felt it kick. "This for me, pretty boy?" He smirked, watching Steve lose focus, mouth falling open.

"Fuck," Steve sighed dizzily. He surged forward to kiss him. Their bodies flush against one another as Billy rolled his hips, grinding him hard into the wall.

He felt Steve freeze against his mouth. Lips going strangely stiff and still. "Billy-" He pawed at his sleeves. "Billy, stop-"

Billy pulled away. Steve was looking past him, eyes going wide. He followed his eye line and found Max.

She was sanding at the top of the stairs in her yellow raincoat, eyes wider than he'd ever seen.

Before he could call out her name, she turned her head and ran down the stairs, her hair flickering after her like a candle.

 

Both of them were soaked to the skin after Billy had run after Max on the street.

He and Max had found shelter from the rain under the bus-stop. The rain pattering on the side-walk like tiny stones, burbling as it streamed down into the storm-drains.

Billy was the first to move out of the two of them. The first to make a sound. He was itching for a cigarette, his nerves rattled by the night.

He dug into his leather-jacket pocket pulling out his lighter with shaky hands.

"Billy," Max spoke finally, voice low in the small contained shelter. Just the two of them. "You know, it's not..." She struggled. "I don't care if you're-"

"A queer." Billy finished her sentence, teeth grit around his cigarette.

Max went red. "Don't say it like that," She murmured, almost a whisper.

"I can say it, if I am one,"

His hands trembled as he tried to light his end, wet finger grinding against the ignition wheel. "Fuck-!" He cursed, grinding his thumb raw before he got it lit.

Another silence spread between them and Billy felt his stomach twist with shame. Of Max knowing. He couldn't help wonder what she thought of him now. How she saw him.

That week at work, he'd overheard the conversation of two kitchen porters. Two interesting guys he'd come to know, laugh and share jokes with.

He’d gone rigid when he collected the hot plates for Table 4, when they mentioned Rock Hudson. He wanted to recoil at the sound of disgust in their voices. The venom.

The memory made his teeth set on edge. 

"You grossed out?" He asked. Max hadn't spoke for a while. He was waiting to feel that way again. Bracing himself for it. “Just, say it, Max.”

“Billy..." She said, in the softest tone he’d ever heard from her. "I meant it, when I said I don’t care about any of that,"

The tone made him nervous. What else was there?  "Then, why are you upset?"

"I'm not upset," She insisted.

Billy narrowed his eyes, tongue coming out to wet his dry lips. "You are. You're doing that thing with your mouth,"

She pressed her lips together, like she could straighten it out like a wrinkled shirt. "I'm just...worried, that's all."

"About what?"

When she turned to him, she let out a sigh. "Steve's...a really good guy,"

Billy's brows knitted together. "...Yeah?" He said slowly, trying to gather where she was going with this.

"And, he seems to really like you," She added, nodding to herself.

"Okay…?"

"I just, don't want you messing around on him," She said finally, lifting her head.

Oh.

Was that all?

Billy couldn't help but smirk. At his reaction, her eyes got wider. "I'm serious," She frowned. "You can't treat him like you've treated all those others,"

Billy half-shrugged, grinding the bottom of his boot across the floor. "They were different," He said.

They were girls - first off. That sure as Hell made a difference. He was never really in it with any of them. None of it had made him feel the way he'd felt with men.

"I know he's different," She explained. "That's why I'm saying it,"

Steve was different. The kind of guy who a lot of girls would want. And, Steve could want them, too.

Billy could picture that future. Steve Harrington living with some respectable, beautiful girl. Married, with three little kids who looked like the two of them spliced together. A real picturesque American family. It was a bitter, cold truth that weighed on him, sometimes.

With him, Steve could never be normal.

"And, if he screws me over?" Billy asked her. "You gonna kick his ass for me?"

Max laughed, eyes crinkling into little crescents. She tilted her head for a second, like she was considering the image. "I think I could take him,"

Billy barked a short laugh. "Mad-Max,"

Billy finished his cigarette, stubbing the rest of it under his foot. "Any other concerns for your big brother?"

He noticed the wide-eyed look on Max's face and realized what he’d said.

She's not my sister. When she was the rope Neil had used to hang him with, to trap him with, it was easy to say. To wish. She was wrapped up in responsibility. His duty.

A kind, respecting big brother, Neil had made him vow. With a hand at his throat and a raised fist. A real family was what Neil had always wanted. And, Billy would do anything to rail against his wishes, even to spite himself.

Then, there were other times, when he looked at her.

When the two of them sat in his car, avoiding the racket of their parents fighting inside. He'd smoked and she put on a Heart song, a medium between their music tastes.

Watching scary-movies with her, expecting her to cower, to cry. Only to find that usual, brave-faced defiance. That grit he’d always admired, a little.

Teaching her to surf, watching her get the hang of it. Feeling proud of her when she did, when she'd cut through the crest of the wave.

Those times, he’d felt...different.  

"You two seem...happy," Max said, a fond smile lifting her lips. She turned away to the other side of the street, before she added softly. "I'm glad,"

A comfortable silence spread out between them, the rain overhead falling heavy on the roof of the bus shelter. The cars passing through the puddles like the hush of waves on the shore.

"I'll call in advance, next time," Max said after a few moments.

Billy let out a laugh. "Damn right." He said. "You perv."

Max shot him a wide-eyed look at the insinuation. "You were in the hallway," She spluttered. "If anything, you're the weirdo exhibitionist,"

“Big word,” He raised his eyebrows.

Max rolled her eyes. “I’m not an idiot,”

“No. You're not,” He grinned. “You are a peeping-Tom, though.” He tugged the lip of her hood down lower over her eyes.

 

Chapter Text

Billy was up early almost every morning. First thing, he'd work out. He'd go for a run while Steve stirred in bed. When he’d return, he’d lift weights with an almost frenetic, tight-lipped concentration. After he'd shower. Then, fry some bacon or eggs for breakfast.

At that point, Steve usually got up, stumbled over the counter to pick at the scrambled egg he’d left him. Billy would wolf down food - always turning away when he took two little pills on the counter, throwing them back with a glass of water.

He'd end on a cigarette, sitting up on breakfast counter, smoke dancing from the end of his fingertips.

It was a chaotic sort-of structure.

On his days off, that routine didn't change. Only, sometimes he'd get back into bed after a shower. Lay down at Steve's side for an hour or so, skin warm and flushed with heat.

Today was one of those days.

Steve had always liked sleeping in with Nancy, holding her close to his chest and feeling the slow rise and fall of her breathing. Billy wasn't as susceptible to being held. When he caught him off-guard, he’d often flinch or go rigid. But, in the mornings he came easier, soft and pliable to his touch. Steve pulled him closer, finding the warmth of him with a sigh.

Billy had thrown one of his bed-sheets over the curtain rail to block out the daylight. One side had fallen, allowing pale-gold sunlight to spill into the room and onto the messy mane of his hair on the sides of his face and on the pillows.

Steve's fingers trailed thoughtfully over the red raised, scars on his flanks. Billy had been impatient with his stitches, especially on one side. There, the red scar was jagged like forked lightning.

Steve continued his trail across his bare back, up the ladder of his ribs and up the line of his spine. "When did you figure it out?"

"Figure out what?"

"That you liked guys,"

The muscles of his shoulder-blades moved under Steve's fingers as he stirred. "Always known," He said, voice muffled as his cheek pressed into the pillow.

Steve sat upright. "Always?"

"Pretty much."

"What about girls?"

Billy stirred and rolled over onto his back. Eyes heavy with sleep as he pawed for the pocket of his jeans. "What about 'em?"

"You still...like them, though." Steve said, brows creasing.

Billy propped the cigarette between his lips. The salt-shaker grind of the lighter ignition ground against his thumb as he lit it.

"It was easier," He said when he exhaled mist. "That's all,"

"You like moving the pieces around more than you like winning,", Steve had said to him once. He'd been off-base in thinking that it was just because Billy had never truly known what it was like to truly fall for any of the girls he'd seen him with. He'd been like that once, too. Enjoying the thrill and chase of someone new. Before Nancy came along.

Billy had always loved the attention, that was clear. Yet, as dazzling and faultless as his charisma seemed, it had always seemed rehearsed. He never was nervous or flustered around girls. Never invested enough to look anything other than amused, at most. And, at worst, tired.

Occasionally, that mask would fall. A crack in the armor he'd perfected. Now, all of those moments he'd seen were tinted differently.

Steve's situation was a little more confusing. Feelings for girls had come naturally, to him. It was encouraged, even. His parents had laughed and cooed when, at five years old, he'd planted one of their friend’s young daughter, Lana, in their annual Christmas photo.

Liking girls was never something he'd had to hold back, or hide. There were no men in Steve's past. But, he couldn't help but wonder about Billy.

Had there been someone in Hawkins?

Or, before that. Was there someone back in California? He remembered what Billy had told him about the night he'd tried to run from Neil - to get out of moving to Hawkins. Had there been someone, then? Maybe, someone that he'd been trying to get back to. Someone that he missed. When he thought about that, he felt like he'd swallowed a large dry-pill.

"So...I'm not the only guy you've fooled around with,"

Billy's tongue pressed up against his front teeth beneath his lips before he spoke. "No."

"Who else?"

Billy turned, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "What the fuck does it matter?"

"I was just curious," He busied his fingers with the edge of the pillow under Billy's head. "You know, I uh... kissed Tommy once."

Billy snorted a laugh. "Makes a lot of sense."

"What, why?"

"Cos, he's got a huge hard-on for you," Billy smirked like he was enjoying some private joke. "Bet you blue-balled the poor fuck."

"It was just a kiss," They'd brushed it off and never brought up again. Only, when Carol wasn't glued to his side or when they'd drunk a little too much around one another.

Only then, did he remember it. Other than that kiss, Billy was the first guy he'd really been with. The first one who'd made him feel this way.

Steve's fingers traced the seam of the pillow as he spoke. "Before you, I've never seriously considered doing anything with another guy."

At the comment, he noticed Billy's expression darken, a little solemn with thought. He chewed on the inside of his cheek, mouth twisting.

"Thought you had a thing for that guy in that movie,"

Steve frowned. "What movie?"

Billy took another toke of his cigarette, squinting a little before he blew the smoke into the air. "The one you made me watch the other night,"

A few days prior, Steve had slid across the floor in Billy's favorite leather jacket and sunglasses, sounding the opening to Old Time Rock & Roll. After such a flawless delivery, he'd deflated when Billy just stared at him, clueless.

Steve had brought the movie home from the store the next day. Billy must've seen a total of ten minutes before his hands wandered. As soon as he'd got in-between his legs and took him deep in his mouth, Steve found that he didn't care much to explain the plot anymore.

"You mean, Tom Cruise?" Steve said.

Billy scoffed, his laugh shaking his shoulders. “You answered my question if you know his name..."

"Shut up," Steve laughed.

 

 

Steve had dropped by the house every few days for a night or two. It had been almost week before he ran into his Mom again, just before he was about to head out for work.

"Steve,"

He almost leapt out his skin at the sound of her voice. She was sitting in the living room on the armchair. The top of her brown, permed hair just visible from behind one of thick, leather-bound books from the office. She lowered it a little to acknowledge him. "So," She smiled, sly. "What's her name?"

"What?"

She peered up at him from her notes. "The girl," She said. "You're gone for days at a time. Did you think we didn't notice?"

Well...yeah. He did.

"Uh, her name?" Betty, Brandy, Becky. He decided to avoid a feminine variant of Billy - afraid that his name would just burst out of him in the attempt.

"It's uh, Robin," Steve tried not to wince when he said it. In his mind, he could picture Robin out there in the world somewhere, retching.

"Well, it's nice to hear you've found someone to spend time with," She said. "Ever since that Naomi girl,"

"Nancy,"

"Nancy. That's right," She said, the flip of the page cut through the air as she turned it. "Will you be gone another night?"

If he could help it. The nights he'd spent wrapped up in Billy, in the smoky, run-down apartment, had felt more like home than his own room had felt in years. It was a little daunting to realize.

"Uh, probably," He tucked his hands in his jeans, impatiently. "Why?" They rarely asked unless they wanted something. For him to attend some dinner with them or to house-sit.

"Well, now that the Summer break is over. We'd just like to discuss your plans for next year,"

Summer-break - what a "break" it was. Even if she didn't know the full truth what he'd been through - getting caught up in a fire that killed over forty people, should've been enough for a foot-note.

As for their plans, they were evergreen. College was his Dad's priority. When it became clear he wasn't going to get in, his father had decided the rest of the year would be spent building his character with a real job.

Steve had done what they asked. But, college was not in his plans.

 

The change Steve had witnessed in Billy had spread to Max with Neil's absence. From the way she dressed, to the way she acted. No more curfews, fashion alterations or makeup-checks. No more having to hide Lucas from Neil's discerning eyes.

She came and went like usual to Billy's apartment. Although, accidentally catching Steve with his pants down had made her more cautious. She’d promised to keep their secret, at both of their requests, for the time being. Only, she didn’t have to for long.

Will was the first to figure it out.

Steve asked as he returned to Will’s almost bare bedroom. They'd made good progress with clearing it out. Steve rolled his shoulders when they bled with heat - he may have overdone it with the last box. "That all of them?" 

"No," Will shook his head. "There's...still more," He said, pointing to the others lined up behind the door, stacked with books and game-manuals.

"Oh," Steve put his hands on his hips, huffing out a breath. Well, shit. "You really like to read, huh,"

Will flushed. "Sorry,"

"Oh, no it’s good,” He bent down and heaved the box high, jerked his head confidently. "I got it," He was turning to leave when Will spoke up suddenly.

"You and Max's brother..."

Steve went cold. He turned over his shoulder, where Will was looking up at him curiously. "I saw him drop you off earlier," He said. "You didn't look like friends," Steve cast his mind back, trying to recall what would've given that impression when Billy was so careful with that. Only, then he remembered.

Billy had gone tense in the car when Steve had leaned across the dashboard, without thinking. "Not out here," 

"No one's around," Steve had insisted. "The Byers live in the middle of nowhere,"

Billy shot him a humorless look through his shades. "Everyone in this dump lives in the middle of nowhere,"

Oh. Steve winced. That was his fault.

"Don't you..like girls?" Will asked.

Steve lowered the box down onto the floor, sighing as he faced him. "Yeah, I do,"

Will looked confused. Again, he would have to explain something that he didn't really fully understand himself. Robin had lent him a few books on the subject.

She'd highlighted passages of books on human sexuality with little rainbow tags for him to read. Although, he appreciated her efforts, the whole thing had started to feel a little bit too much like an exam-prep.

Now, it was a kid who'd asked him to explain something he'd barely begun to get his head around. Steve worried on his bottom lip before he spoke, mulling over the right words. "I know, it may seem a little weird to you-"

"No," Will cut in suddenly.

Steve raised his head. Finding that Will was already looking at him, mouth parting as he struggled with some reply. Before he could question it, he quickly looked away. The tips of his ears a bright flaming red. 

"I don't think it's...weird," He mumbled nervously as he traced his fingers along the front of one of his sketch-books, decorated with stars and galaxies.

"You're right," Steve added. The look in his eyes had made him regret how he'd worded it. Noting the curious, almost fearful, way he'd asked it.

"It's not weird," He smiled, trying to smooth things over. "It isn't really any different. We like each other. The same as anyone else, you know?"

"Yeah," Will nodded, to himself. He continued running his fingers down the edges of the book, cheeks flushed. "Okay,"

 

Steve figured he'd tell Dustin himself. Being that he was the only one he felt guilty keeping a secret from. The two of them were at the arcade, as Steve debated with how he could tell him. The flashing rainbow of a nearby, Pot o' Gold arcade-game felt like some kind of tasteless joke from the universe.

He chewed on the words as Dustin was talking. "Did you know, Max got Daphne?" He bent down to retrieve a three musketeers bar from the vending machine. "Now, she and Lucas won't let me live it down. I'm the only one who hasn't beat that stupid dragon," He took a large bite of the bar, stopping mid-chew when he noticed Steve staring. "What?"

"I'm dating someone," Steve blurted out, finally.

Dustin blinked at him, chewing once, twice. "I know," He said. "Billy,"

For a second, Steve felt like his soul had left his body.

"Finally," Dustin bolted past him, making his shot for Dragon's Lair when the group that had gathered around it moved along.

"Real nice, guys. At least wipe it down first," He lifted the end of his hoodie to clean the joystick, always tacky with sweat or some type of candy.

"Dustin, wait." Steve fought to find the words. "What do you mean, you know?"

Dustin looked at him like it was obvious. "I can read between the lines, Steve,"

Steve's mouth fell open. "What...lines? What are you talking about?"

"I got suspicious the day we watched Live-Aid,"

"W-wait," Steve frowned, crossing his arms in thought. "No. Back then, we weren't-"

"It's okay, Steve," Dustin cut him off, jamming the joystick to one side to turn the character. "Honestly, I’m glad you followed my advice,"

Steve scoffed. "Your advice?"

"That you should date someone you like spending time with,"

That advice had also got him to try asking out Robin, since they'd got along as friends. Looking back now, it had been a hasty decision motivated by wanting a girlfriend, not wanting Robin specifically.

"I’ve barely been able to reach you for the past few months, while you guys were spending so much time together. So. It was pretty clear to me that- Damn, rapids!" He cursed as the knight's row-boat crumbled to pieces on the rocks, falling into the Pepto-Bismal colored river.

"I uh-" Steve rubbed at the back of his neck. He guessed it had been a while since they hung out. "Sorry, man," He told him. "I didn't mean to freeze you out,"

"You're forgiven," Dustin cracked his knuckles and stretched out his fingers, warming up for his next try. “S'long as you cover the next few games,”

“Sure,” Steve said.

His eyes set on flashing screen as he was restored with a new life. "Alright, Daphne. Here I come,"

 

For Halloween, the store was decorated, in part due to Robin. Weaved across the ceiling were a series of milky, colored skull-lights. A skeleton sat in the window, with 3D-glasses, bony fingers stuffed into a hollowed-out pumpkin overflowing with stale popcorn.

An automated wiry-black cat for Halloween night perched on the outside, yellow eyes flashing bright as it screeched at every passer-by. The front desk streamed with spider-webs, various mini-posters for upcoming releases caught in the frayed cotton.

Robin had dressed in white shirt and pants, a black bowler hat and had thickly lined her eyelashes on one side of her face. Steve had forgotten the name of the character she was – he guessed one of the artsy movies she kept posters of in her room. She was the expert on that sort of thing.

Steve lingered in the stock-room a little longer than necessary for a ten-minute break. Peering through the new shipments of rentals, reading their titles and summaries.

Then, the lights flicked off. Leaving him in sudden darkness.

He planted his hands on the wall and started to move, lining up the wall as he pawed for the switch. He knew it was around here somewhere. He kept his eyes on the line of golden light emanating from underneath the door, leading to the store outside.

A a sudden clatter sounded from the other side of the room. A pile of empty cassette cases cascading to the floor. Steve peered into the dark, waited for his eyes to adjust to the shadows. "Robin?” He said. “…Keith?”

In the darkness, he heard a metallic, rhythmic clunk, clunk, clunk. A slow, hissing sound of breath that made Steve's blood run cold. A shadow moved.

Steve bolted for the door.

Something caught him, turning him on his feet. A sudden grip tightened around his waist, pulling him backwards and pressing him into the shelves. Steve cried out as he struggled and fought.

Until, he heard the sound of someone laughing. He turned over his shoulder just as the person released him.

Billy pulled off an egg-shell hockey-mask, laughing.

"You asshole-!" Steve shoved him.

"You scream like a bitch, Harrington," Billy was wearing a ripped, set of navy-overalls unbuttoned down to his navel, the sleeves torn off at his shoulders. Typical of him to dress as a serial killer and still find a way to show off.

"Yeah? And, you're not fucking funny." Steve's heart was racing.

"Ooh, ouch-" Billy scoffed, eyes dragging over him in a way that made him run hot. He backed him into the cassette shelves, grabbing hold of his hips as he pulled them flush together. "All work and no play-"

"You trying to give me a heart attack?" Steve's eyes dropped to Billy's bottom lip, flushed and wet as his tongue dragged across it.

"Think I gave you something else," He grasped him through his slacks, thumb finding the head of his cock. Steve made a choked sound in the back of his throat.

"You like being scared?" Billy asked. "Or is it being in here that's getting you hot?"

Steve wanted to deny both, but he couldn't. Not when his cock twitched under his touch. Billy kissed him, grinding against him through their clothes. Steve melted into it, hands gripping around his waist. When they parted, his breath was heavy.

"Nice outfit," Billy smiled. He pulled at the rope tucked into his belt, smirking. "You're that...explorer guy,"

"Close enough," Steve's fingers played with the frayed sleeves cut by his shoulder, before he ran his hands down his bare arms. "Am I... still coming over later?" He asked, low. "It'll be late,"

Billy checked the thick, black watch around his wrist. "I'm on the ladies-night shift at the bar,"

"Of course, you are," Steve scoffed. The numerous middle-aged Moms of Hawkins often gathered at John's diner to be waited on by Billy. 

"After that, I'm yours," Billy grinned wolfishly, bringing his lips to his pulse-point. Steve bared his throat, arching up into his touch.

"You know...we first met like this," Steve said, a little breathless.

"We did?" Billy scoffed against his skin.

"On Halloween," He specified. That night, he’d made a beeline across the room with Tommy in tow, stormed over to him like the picture of macho aggression. "You...you looked like you wanted to fucking lay me out,"

Billy laughed against his skin. "Lay you out, huh." He repeated, hand rubbing him hard through his slacks.

Suddenly, the room was flooded with a garish light. A loud shrill, screech made them both freeze up. "Are you kidding?" Robin winced from the doorway, eyes screwed shut.

"Steve, come on!" She scolded. "What if I'd been Keith?"

"Relax, Martina,"

Robin glared at him. "At least change up the nick-names, Rambo,"

Billy frowned, like he was considering it, before he replied. "They're all fuckin' tennis players,"

Robin shot him a mildly irritated look. But didn't fire back, like usual. She had been as supportive as she could for Steve, but the two of them still bickered non-stop.

For a while, Billy had it in his head that they'd been hooking up. Until, Robin told him the truth. He knew what it meant a lot to her to give her secret away like that, and Steve had felt thankful for who she was in that moment.

"Steve, could you wrap it up?" Robin said, looking pointedly at him.

Billy shot him a grin, tongue coming out to press on the inside of his cheek. "I'll see you later,"

Steve watched him go. He slowed a bit as he passed by Robin and she rolled her eyes. When she turned her glare on him, Steve cleared his throat and adjusted himself, face flushing hot with a embarrassment.

Later couldn't come soon enough.

 

When Steve finally knocked, Billy had taken a little longer than usual to get to the door. When he did, he opened the apartment door with a sly smile, a loose towel wrapped around his waist. Steve barely got a word out before he pulled him over the threshold and shut the door behind him.

He kissed him fiercely, fingers pulling tight on his hair, sending a violent shiver down Steve's spine. Steve worked at the buttons of his own shirt, stripping it off his own shoulders. Wanting to be closer to him. He yanked his towel free to get a hand on his cock, bowed up towards his belly, already hard and wet in his hand.

They moved onto the mattress and Billy straddled his lap. Rocking against him bare, grinding against his cock through his boxers. Steve ached to get him in the right position, leaking against the material of his shorts.

 Billy was a tease, like always. Stopping suddenly to watch him squirm, smirking when Steve huffed with impatience. "Fuck," Steve grappled with him, grinding upwards in an attempt to chase the friction. "Billy, come on,"

Billy just laughed before he finally started to move his hips, dragging himself over Steve's need. Billy's mouth found the side of his ear, voice low as he moved. "Steve," He said, low and breathless.  "Do you want to fuck me?"

Steve's cock gave a hard kick. Desperation clawed its way up Steve's throat, choking him. He leaned back to look at him, heart pounding in his chest. "If that's...if you're sure,"

Billy studied him for a moment, eyes like blue-flame. He wet his lips with his tongue then grinned. "On your back," He pushed him, sending him backwards bouncing up a little on the mattress.

Billy left the room for a moment as Steve settled back on the pillows at the head of the bed, laid out on the sheets. He returned with a condom and some lube and Steve sat up on his elbows, heart picking up its pace.

Billy pulled down Steve's boxers down past his dick and down his legs, smirking when he noticed how hard he was. Somehow, that made it worse. Billy gave his cock a few strokes, before he rolled the condom down his length: the touch making Steve arch upwards with relief.

When he straddled him again, Steve's hands went to reach for his hips before Billy stopped them in their tracks.

"Keep your hands at your sides," He pinned down his hands with ease. Billy had always been stronger. It was easy for him to take control, to pin him down. The thought had never turned him on so much, definitely not before they'd started hooking up. "No touching, unless I say,"

Steve nodded. He wet his lips and tilted his head up to kiss him. Billy let him, tongue wet and slow in his mouth. He chased his lips when he pulled away, chest tying in knots.

Billy spread out over his lap. He rubbed the head of Steve's cock against the taut, wet skin of his hole. "Wanna hear it,"

"Please-" Steve choked on a breath, arching upwards. "I want it. Want you-,"

Billy's eyes fell heavy at the words, the controlled confidence slipping from his expression for a moment. When he positioned himself, Steve held his breath. The head of him pushed into gripping heat past the tight ring of muscle. Slow and steady, he bottomed out, drawing him in deep.

Steve throbbed and twitched inside him. He was so tight. He withheld the urge to start moving, to start fucking him. If he did, it would be over too soon. He balled the sheets in his fists, lifting his eyes up to Billy.

The moon-light from outside the window lit Billy's skin, casting shadows on his muscular torso and the workings of his throat as he let his head fall back, moaning into the air. Beautiful, Steve couldn't help but think.

Billy lifted himself up slowly to grind down, dick heavy and full between his legs. It looked painful. Steve wanted to touch him, but he held off – remembering what Billy had said. He waited.

When Billy gave a small wince, Steve spoke. "You okay?"

"I'm good," He laughed, tongue dragging over his bottom lip, wetting it. "You're just... fuckin' huge."

Steve snorted a laugh. "Keep talking,"

Billy responded, in kind, laughing breathlessly. "You want me to talk about your huge dick?" Billy asked, amused.

"You brought it up," Steve laughed, breath hastening when he grinded down just right. He groaned when he did it again, hips kicking upwards.

The straight, white edge of Billy’s teeth caught on his flushed bottom lip when Steve rolled his hips, curling into that point of pressure. "Does that feel good?" He asked, bucking upwards.

Billy's breath caught at the question, throat working hard to swallow. "Steve-"

"You thought about this before," Steve let his hands wander hands up Billy's muscular thighs, the hair bleached light from Summer.

This time, Billy didn't stop his hands. He watched Billy's face darken with flush and his eyes flood black. It was a rare look. He was listening intently while his hips still moved a little faster, knees-spread as he took him. He'd planned this: he could tell by how wet he was. He'd likely stretched his fingers inside himself so he could take him. The image made Steve feverish with want.

"You wanted me to fuck you like this," Steve stated as he sunk in deep, thrusting up hard.

A surprised groan leapt from Billy's chest, his dick leaking at the tip. "Fuck-" He almost whined. It was as close to an admission as he was going to get. Steve felt his blood quicken when he started riding him in earnest. Using him to grind against that point that made him clench up tight.

Billy braced his hand on Steve's stomach. A rosy flush spread over his chest, his muscular abdomen flexing taut. Finally, took hold of his cock, red and hard in his hand. "I'm gonna come," The tone of his voice was drunk with heat.

Steve slowed his own movements to ease him through it. To watch him let go - just for him.

Billy came with a heavy moan, tugging quick on the flushed head of his cock as he spilled hotly over his hand and stomach. "Oh fuck-" He groaned as he curled inward. He rocked his hips, eyes blown black and half-obscured by heavy dark lashes.

Steve ran his hands up the muscles of Billy's toned abdomen, feeling them clench and shudder under his fingertips. He couldn't help but buck upwards slightly, toes curling when he clenched tight around him.

"You can move," Billy sighed, muscles relaxing. A sultry smile lifting his red lips. "I can take it, Steve,"

Steve didn't need to be told twice. He was so hard it hurt. "Can I move you?" He asked, urgently.

Billy gave a brief, breathless nod.

With a sudden urgency, he rolled Billy onto his back, switching their position. He spread him, dragging the head of his cock against his wet rim before he drove himself back inside his tight, gripping heat.

A sharp moan was punched out of Billy's chest as he fucked him. "Fuck, give it to me," He slurred, breath coming out in uneven little gasps. Heat radiated at the base of Steve's spine, boiling low in his gut. He wasn't going to last long. He hunkered down as it built. Balling tight in his core, sparks of pleasure surging to the head of his dick.

It hit in a sudden wave that he felt all the way down to his toes. Steve let out a moan into the air as he fucked in deep. Pumping his hips as he released, bucking every shuddering wave inside him. His mouth fell slack as he kissed him, gasping into his mouth. Warmth bled through his whole body before he went loose on top him, skin tacky with sweat and thrumming with his heartbeat.

 

It was 1:20am when the two of them found their way into the shower. Kissing until the water went from tepid, to luke-warm to finally, blissfully, hot. Steve was a little loose and hazy in the afterglow. The mist of the hot-shower making him feel like he was in a dream.

Billy brought the razor light across Steve's jaw, the grind of stubble like sandpaper against the blade. "You ever grown it out?"

"You think I should?" He asked, rubbing at his chin. "Or, do you want me to?"

Billy didn't answer. Just, smirked and raised an eyebrow, dragging the blade across his skin. When he'd finished his face and turned towards the stream, Steve's eyes lingered on the back of him fondly, trailing over his familiar broad shoulders and neck. Finally, asking the question that had been playing on his mind.

"Have you...done that before?"

Billy turned over his shoulder, a little guardedly. Wet curls clung to the side of his face, heavy with water. "M'not a virgin,"

"You know what I mean,"

"No," He said, a little short. "You think I do this often?"

"Well, uh." Steve flushed. The longer he hesitated, the more Billy looked irritated. "I guess not,"

Billy went a little quiet. Rubbing his hands together as he lathered them up with shampoo, before his fingers started scratching roughly at his scalp.

Steve reached for his hands. "Turn around," He told him.

Billy shot him a brief look of suspicion before he turned, allowing Steve to take over. "I wouldn't know," He continued, going softer through his scalp. "You've never really talked about it. Or anything before you came to Hawkins,"

"...Does it matter?" He asked. "I sure as fuck don't wanna hear about Wheeler, or Jackie-whatever her name was,"

At that, Steve fought a small smirk. "It sounds like you know her name," He guessed Tommy must've told him - or maybe Billy had pried. There was a breadth of silence before Billy spoke again. The stream of foamy water falling over his shoulders and his neck as he bowed his head a little.

"What do you wanna know?" He conceded, voice low and warm in the shower's echo.

"What about where you used to live?"

"…You spoke to that guy at Tina’s?"

He didn't have to speak to that asshole. Everyone had been talking at Tina's. Talk had non-stop spread about how "nutjob-Billy Hargrove" had been let off easy with civil-service - after his involvement in the fire at Hawkins Mall.

The rumors about Star Court had spiraled further the more conspiracies around the event grew. The more people wanted to look for something, or someone, to blame.

Steve had watched Billy stumbling around at the party with an overwhelming feeling of tight-chested anxiousness. Helplessness.

It wasn't long before Steve was approached by at Tina's. By people who all thought that he'd love to hear the dirt on Billy Hargrove. They'd wanted him to laugh, eyes expectantly waiting for his reaction after they'd let the word slip from their mouths. Did you hear he's a...?

He'd heard some distorted, version of his time in California. A time when Billy had been with someone else, with another guy. One that he still didn't want to talk about.

"I... heard something about a guy back in California," Steve continued, his chest balling up tight.

"You worried?" There was an edge to Billy's voice, a sudden tightness.

Steve throat went tight. "About what?"

"People knowing," He said curtly. "In Hawkins,"

Steve paused. He would be lying if he said it didn't play on his mind...sometimes. The thought of people whispering behind his back. Of their gazes and their judgement. The idea that someone you barely knew, or didn't know at all, had an image of you that was out of your hands. An image that you had no control over.

But, it was nothing new to him.

After falling out with Tommy and Carol he'd heard numerous scathing rumors about himself. It fucking sucked. But, when every passing year since had threatened his life in some way: those rumors had felt pretty insignificant in comparison.

"All that high school bullshit is over with," Steve told him.

In reply, Billy just made a short, hum sound. That, at least, was a comfort. They didn't have to see any of those people ever again. What did it matter what they thought?

Steve maneuvered Billy a little further back into the stream of water, bouncing off the skin of his shoulders as Steve rubbed the rest of the soapy suds out of his hair.

When the water finally ran clear down his tanned back, Billy shut the shower off.

After, he finally turned to face him again, settling on him with his cool, blue gaze. "I met him in freshman year, in basketball," He started. "The two of us used to hang around with a group of older kids. We'd all hang out on the beach and drink or sit in his room and smoke,"

Steve tried to picture what he would've been like back then. He would've been nearer to Max's or Dustin's age - at the time. He would still be living with Neil, under his thumb, in his choke hold. A scowling, wild kid rallying against the whole world and anyone who looked at him in a way he didn't like.

"We'd fool around in the bathroom at school. He'd freak out afterwards and make me swear not to tell anyone,” He stopped, eyes lowering. "Used to fuckin' piss me off," He scoffed, "It's not like I was planning on saying anything," The edge of his thumb scratched at the tile on the wall, nail-bed going white.

"Then, he got me by the throat once and I lost it," Billy's jaw clenched, lips set into a grim line. "Threatened to kill me if I ratted him out. Said that...no one would even bother looking for me. Or, care if I were gone."

Steve could tell that the last part bothered him the most, by the way his throat bobbed, working hard to swallow a lump. Steve lowered his voice when he pressed him for more, pressing tentatively. "Then, what?"

"I lost it," Billy said. "I...went too far,"

Steve was speechless. He didn't think it was like that. He'd conjured up an image of someone who knew Billy, in and out - who wanted him. Someone who he’d kept safe and secret; too precious for Steve to know about.

A part of him had feared that someone like that would only have to reach out. Then, Billy would go back to them. He'd leave him, without second thought. Like, Nancy had.

"I'm sorry..." Steve felt stupid. "I didn't-"

"What're you sorry for?" Billy moved a little closer.

Steve ran his hands back through his hair, chewing on his words. "I had this thought that...he might've been someone important to you. And, that's why you didn't want to talk about it,"

Billy considered him with an attentive gaze that softened the longer he looked. "Whatever I had before it-" He stopped for a breath, jaw clenching. "It wasn't like...this. It wasn't like what we have,"

Steve's chest swelled, full and warm. A sense of relief washed over him. He moved forward first and kissed him, framing his face in his hands.

In comparison to the insular, warmth of the shower, Billy's bedroom was chilled. The first of November looming outside through the glass window. The two of them wrapped themselves tight in the comforter. Billy pulled him close to his chest, breathing warm and soft by his ear. The steady unfaltering, sound lulling him to sleep.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Billy had held back his smile when he walked over the table by the window, pulling out his note-pad from where he'd tucked it behind his apron. The morning light streamed in from outside, casting a sunset colored silhouette around the head that peeked up from behind the coffee stained menu.

Billy stopped abruptly by the table and tapped on the scratched, wooden surface with the edge of his pen.

"What can I get you?" He said tightly, in a mockery of his customer-service voice.

Steve pulled down the drink menu, face lighting up with a playful smile when their eyes met. "I'm just looking,"

"No kiddin'," Billy leaned forward on the table, eyes and voice dropping low. "You just here to look...Or, are you gonna order something?"

Steve's eyes lowered to Billy’ mouth for a beat, breath catching. He leaned a little forward on the table. "I...hadn't seen you since Wednesday, so." He said, voice lower as he seemed to lose focus. "I..figured I'd drop by, so I could see you,"

It had been two days since Wednesday, when Steve had left a pretty lasting impression, to say the least. Steve had come through the door to find Billy in the shower. Clumsily, pulled off his shoes, jeans and shirt before he'd joined him. Billy had kneeled down to get his mouth around him. Like always, he'd pull off every time he got close, grinning when Steve hissed with impatience. Until, Steve had handled him a little roughly, to face the wall, steadying himself behind him.

"Ain't got all day, Harrington," He'd said, trying not to sound as desperate as he was.

Steve had eased inside, mouth hot on his ear when he replied. "How about you shut up and plant your feet,"

He'd hate to admit just how much he liked to push him to that point - when the veneer of doe-eyed good boy charm snapped and he just took what he wanted. Steve had fucked him rough, like he'd wanted, the side of his cheek pressed against the cool bathroom tiles. After he'd come down, when his limbs trembled like jello and sweat bled hot through his scalp, Billy had felt that familiar small, twinge of lingering shame. Only, now, it was often soothed by Steve's touch. By the warmth of his skin against his back, pulling him up against him, kissing him breathless.

Billy reminded himself where he was and pressed his lips together to fight back a smile. "I'll see you tonight," He reminded him. He sat up a little straighter, pretending to write down his order.

"I'll be at the Arcade till nine," 

Billy snorted a laugh, ripping off the page he'd written on. "Fine. Then, I'll pick you up from your fuckin' play-date," He passed over the paper with: NERD, scrawled in big letters.

"Shut up," Steve laughed when he read it, but still tucked it in his jean pocket. When he got up to leave, he stopped in the doorway. Overhead, the bell rang as he pushed the door open. He turned over his shoulder, lingered over the threshold for a moment to look at him.

"Get goin'," Billy laughed. He turned away first and heard the door closed behind him with a hush. For the rest of the morning, Billy was out of sorts, thoughts wandering. He rubbed at his philtrum, as if he could rub the dumb smile off his face.

"I take it, he's a friend of yours?"

John stopped by him - while he was polishing the glasses on the bar, arranging the ones he'd cleaned back onto the shelves. "Why's he here so often?" He pressed.

Billy paused, struggling for a beat when he met the man's harsh, glare. "He's having a hard time," He said. "I'm just...trying to help him out,”

"I don't like liars," John cut him off, sharply.

Billy froze. He felt his heart pick up it's pace, ice flushing through his veins. “I uh, I'm not-,”

"You think I don't know what goes on in my own apartment?" He turned suddenly, lips drawing thin as he spoke. "I recall telling you that I didn't want any trouble," He jabbed out his finger in a way that made Billy flinch on instinct - an old habit.

Billy bristled, finally gathering himself. He stood up a little straighter, jaw tight. "There won't be any trouble,"

"As long as you're quiet, there won't be," He said, eyes set and stern. "Look. I can keep my mouth shut. Keep your..." He paused, mouth twisting. "...secret,"

Billy cringed. He wished he'd just say worse. Wished he'd just curse at him, spit at him. It would make hating him easier. He could tell what he thought - playing nice about it didn’t make it any better.

"From now on, you'll have to take on different jobs around here,"

“...Different jobs?" Billy wasn't sure what he was getting at.

John just sighed - like this was difficult for him, like it was a real hassle to have a queer like him around. "I don't want you on bar, " He said. "Or in the kitchens, near the food. We got kids that come in here. Families."

So, what if there were families, or kids? Billy thought. Slowly, it dawned on him what he meant by that, and he felt his jaw clench like a vice. In his eyes, he was a threat to them.

"I'm sure you can still be of use around what with all the work I still gotta do..." John trailed off. When he lifted his eyes again, he sighed, troubled. Voice going low as he added. "And, I know...you got nowhere else,"

Billy wasn't sure if it was a thinly veiled threat to buy his silence, or some clumsy attempt at actual concern. Either way, he held back his retort. If he did, he knew it wouldn't stop. He would lose it. He needed this job. He needed the money. He steadied his breath, holding in the raging storm. Swallowing the urge to snap, as he balled up his fists tight around the counter-top.

When he was gone, Billy watched the space where he left for a solid minute, his chest expanding with that uncomfortable, burgeoning pressure. He needed to get out. He weaved through the kitchen and through the door out on the street where they picked up deliveries. He let out a shaky, breath as he was met with the cool, crisp wintry air.

For a while, he walked back and forth, trying to count. Trying to remember the fucking dumb steps Dr. Owen had given him, breathing like a fucking idiot. He'd been so wrong. John had brought him the T.V., the two of them had tried to get it working together. When the seasons had turned, he'd knocked on his door with a new comforter: he'd said he'd worried, because the heating was temperamental - that he'd be colder when the winds turned. For a while, Billy had let himself think...

It didn't matter anymore. He'd been wrong. Stupid.

Rage boiled under his skin, his hair standing up on end like little hot needles, prickling over his scalp. He couldn't hold it. Without a second thought, he brought his fist forward into the wall. One, two, three...

The skin of his knuckles and fingers mashed against the hard, crumbling brick. When he stopped, his heart was pounding. The pain made him tremble. All of his thoughts gathered to the swelling, hot ache of his hand. Finally, he could breathe.

He could focus on something else - the pain was a distraction from the swelling discomfort crushing his chest. Blood ran cold and slick between his fingertips, tapping on the alley floor.

 

Later that night, he drove to pick up Steve from the Arcade. Rain pattered on his windshield. Billy's eyes stared into the neon glare, lost in his thoughts. He was pulled from his daze when the passenger door opened. Steve got inside and sat in the passenger seat, the collar of his jacket high by his ears, cheeks speckled with beads of rain.

"You could've come inside, you know. Max is th-," He stopped when he'd settled in the passenger seat. The usual, smile falling the longer he looked at him. "What's wrong?"

"Nothin'" Billy sniffed sharply. He turned the key and the engine burst to life with a growl. "You good, or what?"

"Did...something happen?" Steve asked. When he turned, Steve was frowning, brows drawn together. "What is it?" He asked, smiling nervously.

Billy turned away without an answer. He turned up the radio again, cranking up the wail of the Stranglehold guitar solo. Loud enough for the car to thump with the base-line.

Steve turned it off with a click.

Billy was about to snap at him when Steve grabbed his hand. The one he'd bandaged and wrapped: it was tender and sore to the touch.

"What the Hell happened to your hand?"

"Mind your own fucking business," Billy spat, ripping his hand free. "And, don't touch my radio," He turned it up again, the shrill of the guitar splitting the air.

"What's wrong with you?!" Steve shouted over the blaring music. "You're being an asshole,"

"Then, why don't you get the fuck out of my car!?" Billy snapped.

Steve just looked at him: mouth parting, brows knitting together sadly. The look alone made him feel like he was sinking, like the cold, flushing panic of a sudden fall. He tore his eyes away, guilt heavy and weighted in his stomach. He chewed hard on the inside of his cheek, grinding it between his canines as he pulled out of the lot. 

 

The apartment was dim and cold when they entered. Billy threw his keys across the counter. Rain dripped from their clothes and skin onto the wooden floor. Damp clothes clung to him as Billy peeled off his jacket.

"Billy,"

At the sound of his voice, he turned. All hard-edges and tension, turned to face a small spot on the wall. Steve took a step closer. "Hey, look at me," He said as he cupped his cheek, turning him to face him.

Billy crumbled. When Steve leaned forward to kiss him, it was soft and chaste. Tender. Billy pushed back. Kissing him with a pent-up, ferocity. Tongue slipping into Steve's mouth, one hand coming to rest around his throat.

He backed Steve hard against the wall, ran his hands all over him, rough and insistent. The other rubbing against the hardening length of his cock, trapped within the confines of his jeans.

"Billy-" Steve bucked upwards and Billy pinned him again, holding him there. He debated getting him off like that, making him finish inside his jeans. He sucked hard on the soft skin of his neck, catching it in-between his teeth.

"Ah, fuck-" Steve hissed. "Billy, wait-" Steve said against his mouth. "I want to do something for you,"

Billy pulled away, willing to hear whatever it was out. Under his sharp gaze, Steve flushed, a little nervous. He lowered his hands to Billy's belt. Undid both his belt and jeans, loosening them around his his hips.

"Let me," He said, as he lifted his big brown eyes.

Billy hadn't forced it. He'd never expected him to do anything. To initiate touch or sex. It wasn't exactly what he was used to. Yet, to his surprise, Steve had. And, Billy had let him. It was new to him, relinquishing his control of the act.

But, with Steve, it didn't feel un-nerving. He didn't feel insecure or uneasy. It was Steve.

So, he allowed him lay him out on his back on the bed, back against the corner wall as he freed himself from his jeans. Billy stroked himself, slow and deliberate over his length.

Under Steve's desirous gaze, he shuddered, throbbing in his own grip. "You wanna suck me off?" He smirked, teeth catching on his bottom lip.

Steve throat worked to swallow, eyes low on his hand. "Yeah," He said, nestling between his legs. Billy's quipped reply got caught in his throat: the sincerity and shamelessness in Steve knocking him off kilter.

Only a year ago, this would've been one of the fantasies that he hated himself for. One that would slip into his thoughts without invitation, set him alight from the inside, blood rushing South so fast that his head would spin. Steve Harrington between his legs. Big brown eyes black with want, full, pink lips parting inches from his cock, breath looming over the tip.

Billy rested the tip of his cock against his bottom lip, dragging the wet head against soft, pillowy flesh. Steve opened his mouth wider, tongue coming out to drag over the head, undulate over the tip.

Billy moaned, eyes falling heavy. The wet slide of his tongue along the length of him made him shiver, made his thigh muscles flex. Steve ran his hands over them as they trembled, up and down over his skin.

When he finally sank down and took him deep, Billy went soft through his damp hair to get it out of his face, weaving back through his parting before he curled it around his fingers. Wanting to look at him in the eyes as he took him.

Steve steadied his hands flat on his thighs and let his mouth go slack, drool bleeding from the corners of his lips. Billy bucked up into his mouth, balls resting against Steve's chin as he took him deep. He started to move, thrusting upwards, guiding himself into the warmth. "So fuckin' good," He laughed with dizzy disbelief.

The tunnel of his throat clenched around his tip and Steve started. Pulling back off him with a wet cough, lips swollen and wet with saliva. Steve went right back in, wrapping his hand around the base.

"You're doing good," Billy told him, petting through his hair. Steve nodded dazedly and flushed a little, eyes a little wet and red. Determined, he held his gaze and sank back down again.

Billy grunted as Steve bobbed down over the head, suction pulling tight and taut around the sensitive head. The grip of his hand squeezed around the base of his cock and Billy chased the tingling feeling building through him.

"Fuck, that's it-" Billy bucked up into his mouth, pushing deep. He came with a long moan, finishing messily on Steve’s tongue and across his lips. Hips jerking upwards as Steve worked it from him, gripping his length.

Billy rolled him over quickly. Pushing him onto his back as he pinned him down. Deftly reaching to undo and pull down his jeans and boxers. He trapped them around his thighs and spat on his palm before he got a rough, firm hand around him. Tugging on his hard length with fast, furious strokes.

"Fuck-" Steve huffed, dazed. He soaked in the look on his face, his swollen, flushed mouth and dark, hooded gaze. The grip of his hand went quicker around him. Steve panted, brows knitting together, mouth falling half-open.

Billy kissed him roughly, sucking the swell of his bottom lip into his mouth until it turned blood-red. Steve made a series of short, gasping sounds against his lips, hands gripping onto his sleeves for dear life.

Billy swallowed the pained sound that burst from him as Steve arched upward. He shot over his fingers and up his rucked-up shirt, shuddering underneath him.

The heat passed through Billy like a heavy sigh, as he sobered to the sight before him: Steve gasping beneath him, hair and clothes askew. Billy leaned forward and kissed him, softer - this time. Apologetically. Moving his head, to brush kisses over the red, flushed love-bites on his skin.

The two of them showered together. Leaving their rain-soaked clothes heaped in the wash-basket for Billy's next trip the laundromat. Steve borrowed one of his black, Metallica tees. One of his favorites, always fell little loose on his leaner frame. He'd curled up against Billy - like usual. The T.V. blaring low in the other side of the room, playing some late-night talk show. Billy's eyes had glazed over, lost in his thoughts as the T.V. flickered on the walls.

John's words lingered in his mind. He'd always known what he was. In this little room, wrapped in Steve - it was easy to forget how the rest of the world saw that. Even though, he thought he'd been so careful - it wasn't enough in this place.

Billy's eyes fell the little freckles on his cheek and on his neck, over his skin to the soft strands of hair, falling flat over his forehead. Billy reached down to lightly to run his bruised fingers through it.

Steve stirred, with a small humming sound. When he lifted his head, he peered up at him, eyes clear and bright. "Can't sleep?"

"I woke you..."

"No," Steve said. "I was awake," From earlier, the marks on his throat had started to darken, red sunbursts marring his soft, skin.

"...I'm sorry," Billy said, eyes lingering on one with a sinking feeling.

"About what?"

"Today." He said. "M'sorry."

"If I did something wrong..." Steve lifted his head, eyes searching his face. "You'd tell me, right?"

He'd done nothing wrong. But, it was like him to blame himself. He always seemed to think he was in the wrong first. Sometimes, it was almost infuriating how quick he was to accept blame. "Steve," Billy let out a sad sigh, voice soft. "You haven't done anything.."

Billy wet his dry lips with his tongue before he spoke again. "John knows about us,"

Steve sat upright suddenly. "What?"

Billy pressed his tongue against his teeth under his lips, mulling over what he should include, how he should say it.

"Did he say something to you?" Steve added, a little angrier when Billy didn't answer.

"Well, he didn't fucking celebrate," Billy sighed.

"Billy. What did he say?" Steve pressed. "Tell me,"

"I can't stay here, Steve," Billy blurted out. It felt like hauling a weight off his chest. It was the first time he'd brought it up - even though it had sat heavy for a long time. It was there every time he watched Steve and Robin walk out of the Family-Video with one another, laughing.

When he hung out with Dustin at the Arcade, or at the Diner they frequented for milk-shakes. This place was home - to him.

But, not for Billy.

It had brought him to Steve. But, it had also brought him a lot of pain. It had almost killed him. It seemed hell-bent on making him feel unwelcome. Or wrong, in some way.

Steve paused for a long time, throat bobbing. "You...want to leave Hawkins," He stated, his tone both thoughtful and sad.

Come with me, A plea crawled up Billy's chest and swelled in his throat, desperate to be heard. "Don't you?" He said, instead. Trying to appear undaunted, even as he waited with baited breath on his answer.

For a long time, Steve didn't speak. He chewed on his bottom lip thoughtfully, brows furrowing. "I don't..." He paused. "I don't know,"

Billy's heart sank low. He lifted his eyes to the flickering ceiling, tongue jabbing on the inside of his cheek. "You...ought to think about what you want," He murmured. He didn't want to say more than that - to push him into making a choice.

Steve's hand cupped his cheek, turning his face to his. "I know what I want," He said, gaze soft and warm. Billy couldn't help but be pulled in. When Steve kissed him, he was lost. For now, those words were enough.

 

Steve had been trying to find a reason to get him out of the apartment since the incident with John. So, one of Robin's friend's birthday parties seemed like the right occasion. It was out of Hawkins, for once. They'd cruised out to find all the cars parked near up near the clearing of Black-wood Forest. The sky overhead a twilight blue after sunset, the stars visible on the clear, cloudless night. The warm glow, tangy scent of burnt firewood and the resounding, thump of music guided their way.

Steve had been a weird with Robin on the drive, especially whenever she brought up the birthday girl: a girl named Allison. As the night went on, Billy started to piece together why Steve had been weird about this Allison girl.

Billy had sat by the warmth of the fire. Snapping pieces of twigs and wood at his feet to throw into the flames. Robin sat a few seats down, talking with a blonde girl with glasses. Allison would make an appearance, would stand and wait until Robin's eyes found her. Face flickering with fire-light, beckoning her with a glance. Billy watched the two, back and forth.

Robin shuffled in her seat, hands tucked deep in her duffel-coat, sighing with tight, hesitant breath. Before, she'd stand and meet her. The two were fighting - at one point. However, that soon changed. They barely concealed it when their fingers met, curling around each other as she led Robin away.

The rest of Robin's friends were a bunch of band-geeks and preps, for the most part. None of them he'd recognized from Hawkins, even though they all graduated together. He wasn't that great at remembering faces, especially non-memorable ones. Drunk and high - they weren't all that bad company.

Both Billy and Steve stuck out amongst them. A few of them looked at Steve almost reverently when he spoke with them, laughed with them. A pale, skinny kid with head of red, hair had actually flushed when Steve taught him how to shotgun his beer - awed by the former King of Hawkins High. Billy scoffed at that, rolling his eyes a little.

With Billy, most of them seemed afraid. Eventually, he'd sparked up a conversation with a tall, thin Asian gear-head named Alex. Long black hair to his shoulders, tucked behind pierced ears, a sleeve of tattoos peeking out from the end of his sleeves. They two of them got talking about tattoos and music over a few beers. Even if the guy was high out of his mind and mumbling every word.

It wasn't until Allison's boyfriend showed up Billy stopped their chat. The guy had crept up behind her and Robin, arms wrapping around her suddenly. She turned like she was surprised to see him, herself. Then, he’d pulled him in for a kiss, leaving Robin a few feet, face visibly falling.

A few minutes later, Robin blew past the bonfire. Past Steve, who was laughing with the girl with glasses from earlier, past Billy and Alex. Her head low and hidden by her sandy blonde, hair. Billy let out a sigh. He dusted himself off and stood, following her into the forest.

Sure enough, she was crying when he found her. Head tucked away against the bark of a large, gnarled tree.

"Buckley,"

The girl immediately whirled around, almost toppling on an uneven patch of earth. She cleared her throat, wiping at the back of her face with her sleeve. "What do you want?" She sniffed. "I got smoke in my eyes,"

Billy leaned by her side on the tree bark. A small silence came over them, the baseline of the music from the party thumping through the trees like a heart-beat. He heard her sniffle again, trying to swallow a small, whimper with difficulty.

"She's not worth your time," Billy murmured. When she looked up, she shot him a red-eyed glare.

"You don't even know her," She said, a little viciously. She sniffed again, hands scrubbing roughly at the tracks of tears. Looking like that, she reminded him a little of Max. The way she'd pout, scrunch up her lips, make every other facial twitch before she'd let herself cry.

The tears would well up high. When they'd fall, she'd scrub them away roughly, like she was angry at herself for not managing to hold back the tide.

From the party, a raucous laughter erupted from around the bonfire, jovial and light as it bounced off the trees. Robin whimpered again, breath uneven.

"Do you want me to fuck off?" Billy finally asked her when the silence spread on between them.

"I just-" She started suddenly, voice tight. "I can't believe I fell for it again," Robin blurted out. "I can't believe that I actually thought she'd leave that guy. And, be fucking honest for onc-," She stopped, choking on the words, voice shredded and tight.

Billy brought his eyes to the floor. Kicked at a rock with his foot, dragging it back and forth over a mossy root of the tree. "She's a coward, Buck," He said. "That's not on you,"

He jerked his arm out, handing her the rest of his beer. She took it from him carefully. The bottle came down with a frothing splash, as she swallowed the beer with a disgruntled wince.

Hawkins wasn't kind to people like them. And, he was sure she knew that by now - being that she'd actually grown up in this Hell-hole. Billy had looked to California fondly - it was a way out, something to keep on the horizon. There, it would be easier, he'd told himself. There, you could start over.

"I know it fuckin' blows," Billy said. "But...you shouldn't settle for shit, just because there's nothin' else," 

Robin sniffed again. When she lifted her eyes, she narrowed them suspiciously. “...Is this you trying to mimic human emotion?"

Billy scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Take it or leave it, princess,”

The last of the beer swirled around at the bottom as she passed it back to him. "Keep it," He told her. She didn't need to be told twice, and she took it back quickly. Finishing the whole thing in one.

After, she let out a long, tired sigh. She hid her face behind her hand, her voice muffled through skin. "I do not want to have to make nice with her potato-face boyfriend now,"

Billy barked a laugh. He kicked off the tree, walking back towards the fire-light. "Don't make nice, at all," He said, turning back over his shoulder. 

Robin rubbed at her flushed cheeks before she let out an exhausted sigh. "Easy for you to say,"

Billy tucked his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket. "Ditch her," He said. "We'll go someplace else,"

Robin held his glance, expression thoughtful and torn.

 "Shit-" A familiar voice made them both turn. Steve stumbled over to them, foot catching on a rock. He peered into the darkness, finding their figures. "Everything okay?"

"We're heading out, dingus," Robin said, blowing past the two of them. "I'm hungry," Steve watched her go with a look of concern. Billy walked up to him and threw his arm over Steve's shoulder, smiling. "Looks like it's your treat,"

 

Robin had eaten her sundae and finished another two beers on the driver over. Now, she stood by the juke-box, swaying back and forth. Clicking through numerous songs from the selection. A few mopey ones that gave Billy some for concern.

Finally, she picked one. Started swaying a little in front of the jukebox, head falling back. The echo of the pop song bounced around the walls of empty dinner. A few feet over, Steve stood up like a tight-rope walker, planting his feet behind one another on the black and white linoleum squares.

The edge of his shoes teetered over the edge of the lined perimeter before he even began, legs wobbling like a new-born deer. When he started to walk - he quickly went off course.  

"Told you," Billy slammed his hand on the table. "You owe me ten bucks,"

Steve frowned. "I was in the line," He argued, trying to demonstrate.

"Pay up," Billy replied, unconvinced.

"It was...a straight line,"

"Ain't nothing straight about it," He laughed, picking at the left over fries on Robin's plate.

When Steve joined him back in the red booth, Steve nudged closer to him. Turning inward and getting close, until Billy could smell the cloying scent of vanilla ice cream on his breath. For a moment, Billy almost forgot they were in public. Quickly, he turned his head back to their table.

Steve's fingers curled around his other hand, resting lax. "Your hands are freezing," He said.

"It's cold as fuck," Billy replied bluntly. November was cold-as Hell as usual in Indiana- colder than he could get used to, anyway.

Steve brought his hand underneath the two layers of his burgundy knitted sweater, smiling like he was real proud of himself. Until, Billy spanned his icy-fingers flat, dragging up the skin of his stomach. Billy grinned when he shuddered beneath his fingers.

"God, would it kill you to wear some gloves?" He laughed, letting out a small shiver.

"Sure would," He grinned. He was opposed to the whole knitted, grandma gloves that Steve liked to sport - he didn't care how warm they were.

On the front counter, a man in a brown, downy suit caught his eye, looking at him and Steve from over his shoulder.

"Billy,"

Steve's voice brought him back. The warm brown of his eyes were lit golden amber from the glow of the light outside. He smiled when their eyes met; it drew him in like a rip-current, reeling him in. "Did you have fun tonight?"

Billy resisted the urge to take his bottom lip, to suck at the swell of them until he made those little sounds he'd come to love. "Sure, pretty boy," He pushed back some of the fallen hair from his face. "I had fun,"

Steve leaned in again with a yearning look that Billy felt in his gut.

Fuck it, Billy thought. He brought him closer and pressed their lips together, chaste and soft. Afterwards, he pulled him close, arm wrapped around his shoulders. The scent of fire-wood clung to Steve's hair, warm and comforting.

The man at the counter looked at them, again. This time, Billy locked eyes with him, glaring. Say something, he thought, eyes fixed and sharp. I fucking dare you. Only, he didn't. The man was the first to pull his eyes away, lowering back to his coffee cup.

 

The drive back to Steve's house had been a trip. Billy was driving. But, Robin and Steve had finished the last of the beers in the car. Cawing and laughing in the passenger seats, fiddling with his radio and cassettes - like two fully grown toddlers.

"I...an walk," Robin grumbled at his ear as Billy adjusted her on his back. "Steve....tell your Neanderthal boyfriend I can walk-"

"She can walk," Steve laughed at the door, fiddling with his keys. "Usually."

Steve's parents were out at a conference in another state, which left the house and spare room free for them to crash.

"I don't feel..," Robin made a hiccuping, gurgle sound by his ear. "...all that good,"

"You better not vom on my jacket,"

Thankfully, Steve finally got the door open. It had been a while since Billy had been inside.  It was dark when they entered, eerie with quiet and as clean as usual, being that it was barely lived in.

Billy dropped her on the bed in the spare room and Steve turned her on her side, pulled off her shoes and tucked her in. All the while, she grumbled and whined about him moving the floor.

Steve, by comparison, was almost sober. Almost. He sat on the end of his own bed, long legs stretched out, eyes closing like he was about to wipe-out, even though he was sat upright. Billy slotted a chilled glass of water in his limp hand, until Steve’s fingers curled around it and he lifted it to his mouth. Billy fiddled with a box of Advil he'd pilfered from the bathroom, pulling out two pills. "Open your mouth,"

Steve smirked up at him, eyes low and dark. He stuck his tongue out, languid and lax.

"Don't be dirty," Billy chuckled, giving his cheek a light tap.

Steve took the pill and gave him the glass. Smiling, like a brat, before he fell out on his back, arms spread out wide on the comforter.

Billy tugged off both of Steve's sneakers and threw them in a lump on the carpet.

"Billy," Steve said suddenly, panicked. "Don't go,"

Billy sat on the other side of the bed. He turned over his shoulder, laughing. "I'm right here," He said, finally tugging off his boots, flinging them across the squeaky-clean carpet.

When he settled, he heaved the layered sheets over them both, unrolling them one by one. The fresh, floral scent of pressed, barely-slept in linen tickled his nose. Dry cleaned sheets, he mused. Or was it some fabric softener? It seemed like a waste of money. Then again, the Harrington's had money to waste.

When Billy laid down by his side, and had began to settle. Steve made another small, sound of panic that gave him pause. Slowly, Billy started to move his hand up and down the side of his arm. He'd witnessed this a few times now, that he'd spent the night.

Billy was no stranger to those kinds of nightmares. And, now he knew what kind of things Steve might dream about, with the shadow that had lurked over Hawkins. With Steve, it seemed to help when he ran his hand across his back and shoulders. Murmuring low that he was with him, that he wouldn't let anything happen. After a while, those sounds would quieten and his breath would rise and fall steady again.

"Billy," Steve mumbled, voice half muffled in the pillows. 

"What is it?" Billy asked.

For a moment, Steve didn't talk. So, he just listened to the steady rise and fall of his chest, the sound of the skin of his hand rustling against the material of Steve's shirt. The little clicks of the clock on his bed-room wall.

"Don't...leave," Steve murmured.

Billy let out a laugh. "I'm right here,"

"No," Steve argued, voice trailing off. "Don't leave..."

 

 

Chapter Text

The skies were a garish, overcast white. Overnight, the snow had set an inch or two on the ground, heaped in little mounds of grey slush where tires ground it flat. Billy's head was turned to the dark shadow of Hawkins Lab. He sat in the passenger seat of Steve's car, leg bouncing under the dashboard. "...Guy's always fuckin' late,"

"Well, you are always early," Steve noted.

Billy turned, frowning. "What’s your point?”

"I'm just saying-,"

Billy started to move again in his seat. He dug his hands into his pockets for his lighter before propping another cigarette between his lips. "You didn't have to drive me,"

"I wanted you not to have to worry about anything else,"

"M'not worried," Billy argued, grinding his thumb against the lighter-wheel, missing a few times. He was: even if he didn't want to admit it. He'd been dreading the scans for a week now. Worried that something might turn up. Steve had watched him grind his teeth all morning, probably given himself another headache with tense he was.

“Well, if its any consolation," Steve sighed. "Driving you here also helps me avoid brunch with my parents, so."

That gave Billy a laugh – at least, white smoke billowing out from his grin. "Brunch," He scoffed.

"Well, it's more like, a rant session over brunch," Steve explained.

Billy pursed his lips around his cigarette, eyes narrowing. "They still on that shit?"

"…Of course," Steve rolled his eyes. He’d been trying not to think about it too much. Or, at all, really. The whole thing drained him. "Talking about my future with them is like talking to a brick wall. It only matters that I do exactly what they want,"

"And, what do you want?" Billy asked, considering him with a singular focus.

“I-,” Steve paused. He somehow felt a little cornered by the question: it wasn't something people had asked him that often. Especially, not recently.

"Do you want to go to college?" Billy followed up.

"I didn't get in," Steve said.

Billy frowned. "That's not what I asked, Steve,"

Steve stumbled for a beat, thoughts stuttering. "I mean, I kinda missed my chance,"

"Says who?"  Billy scoffed. "You can go whenever, right?"

Well, sure. He guessed so. Only, it had never felt possible in his mind. He'd been caught up in the idea of failing, of being left behind. Punishing himself for it. Learning to be okay with it, by telling himself it was something he'd never wanted in the first place. But, was it?

A great deal of his parents conversations with him over the years had been about these milestones. The next steps, they'd said. Following onto the next, and so on. He hadn't really considered the possibility of a path other than the one the rigid, narrow one they'd set out for him.

"Guess you got a lot to think about," Billy mused, turning his head back to the Lab. Steve's eyes found the side of his profile, the side of his lips and lashes turned away from him. Fear always weighed heavy on his chest when he thought about making such a big decision. Now, that he had more to lose.

"Fuck,” Billy sighed. “Here he is...Dr. Frankenstein himself," By the look of things, Dr. Owens knew he was running late, cursing as he almost tripped over a heap of grey, icy slush on the stone steps.

"Steve," Billy's voice was suddenly hurried and anxious. He yanked and pulled at his fingers in an attempt to get off his rings. "Can't wear them in the scan,"

"Billy," Steve waited until he looked at him, held onto his gaze. "It's gonna be okay," He told him, soft and sure. "It's just a precaution,"

"Sure," Billy mumbled, not sounding totally convinced. He turned the two rings in his palm, clinking them together before he passed them over.

Without thinking, Steve put them on. Pushing one of them down onto the finger where it sat most comfortably, one settling nicely on his ring-finger. He caught Billy's attentive glance. And, the small smile that lifted the corner of his mouth.

Next, was the gold pendant around his neck: the one he never took off.

Billy had told him once that he did believe in an afterlife, in a God - even though he wasn't strict about his beliefs. Not in the slightest. However, he found comfort in religious tokens - or had a fondness for them. Steve suspected it had more to do with his Mom, though.

Steve put on the pendant, lifting it to catch the daylight. "Have you...ever tried looking for her?"

For a while, Billy mulled over the question. He ran his tongue under his lips before he replied. "She's with her…dollar-store Warren Beatty,"

Steve's brows raised. "You saw him?"

"Once, when I was nine," Billy sighed. "One day, she took me out to the park to help me practice my baseball pitch. And this… fuck pulls up in car-park in his Chevy," He sighed, a little irritated. "So, she told me to keep practicing and ran to tell him to fuck off, so I wouldn’t see,"

Steve leaned forward in his seat, listening. "Then, what?"

Billy gave a shrug, eyes lowering for a beat. "I pitched at his windshield,"

A laugh came out of Steve before he could help it. picturing some wild-haired, little Billy hurtling a baseball at full-speed.

Steve pressed his lips together, flushing. "Sorry, I uh...shouldn't laugh,"

Billy's mouth curved upwards into a grin. "Real insensitive of you, Stevie," He teased.

"Well, maybe I'll make it up to you," He put his hand on his knee and gave it a small squeeze. "When you get back,"

Billy’s eyes fell low on his touch, lids falling heavy. He let out a frustrated, sigh. "...You really trying to give me a hard-on before I see the Doc?"

"Not on purpose," Steve laughed.

"Sure," Billy's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "I'll hold you to that promise, by the way," A wry, grin lifted his mouth.

When Billy got out of the car, Steve watched him go with an uneasy flutter in his chest. Truth be told, he was a little nervous for him, too. He'd tried not to show it. He'd wanted to keep strong and positive for him.

Billy lent his arm up on the roof, smiling. "Don't miss me too much," He smiled, knowingly. Then, patted three times on the roof before he turned to leave, walking towards the dark shadow of the Hawkins Lab.

 

 

Steve spent the next week at work in the day, taking any extra Christmas-rush shifts they had to offer. In the afternoon, he'd hang out late with Robin at the Diner, or the arcade with Dustin. He tried to keep his mind of things, dreading going back home to sleep - left in the quiet with his thoughts and worries.

For five days, he'd heard no word about Billy.

It's wasn't until the sixth day, that Steve received a call.

Steve brimmed with nerves as he sat in the lot, checking his hair in the rear-view mirror for the third time, ruffling the strands as he switched his parting.

That's when he saw him.

Billy wore dull grey sweats, a white shirt under his blue jean jacket with a fur trim. He shot him a secret smile when their eyes met, pressing his lips to hold it back.

Steve felt his heart flutter when he got inside, smiling at the sight of him. It always a risk to lean in first. He was wary to spring anything on Billy - not when he spent a lot of time on edge. The urge still brimmed high in his chest.

"How'd it go?" He asked. "Are you feeling okay?"

Billy lifted his head, a small smile playing on his lips. "I got the all-clear,"

"That's great," Steve beamed.

From under his jacket, Billy pulled out a folded, manila folder, peering down at it. "He's given me some contacts of a few...specialists," He mumbled, a little grudgingly. "Gotta keep attending sessions once a month. For at least a year,"

"What are those?" Steve asked, gesturing to the folder in his hand.

"Some notes I swiped from his desk," He grinned, mischievously. "Wanted to know what the guy had been writing in his little diary," Billy scoffed. The thrill of the theft seemed to fade the longer he looked down, smile falling. Like, he didn't know what to do now that he had it.

Steve reached across the dash. "Can I look..?" He asked tentatively.

Billy’s face flickered with slight hesitation. Then, he passed over the folder a little jerkily, jaw straining. The bold CONFIDENTIAL on the folder made him feel all the more like a thief. Steve flicked it open, heart thumping in his chest.

William Hargrove:

Psychical and Behavioral Observation: Patient was resistant and aggressive during first evaluation. He had to be restrained when he attempted to assault an employee. After addressing their outburst, patient expresses remorse and guilt…No sign of any abnormal brain activity....Patient reports sleep disturbance, intrusive thoughts and auditory hallucinations…Patient has been administered medication to ease symptoms...Patient reports incident of violence with father, who is currently being investigated for alleged abuse…Patient expresses agitation over incident...

Before the event of July 4th 1985, patient appears to have struggled with prior underlying mental health condition. Likely a result of violence in early developmental years which subsequently altered brain development: vicarious/secondary trauma, direct exposure to violence....

The rest of the report went into detail about his test results. The bold, frank print of the words somehow made the account worse. Billy had largely kept the in-and-outs of those sessions a secret. A part of him still seemed ashamed by the admission that he’d needed the help, at all. It was always a struggle to get an verbal admission out of him - especially one that he thought made him seem weak.

With a sudden lurch, Billy leapt over the dash and slammed is hand on the horn. The sudden, curt sound made Steve jump.

Dr. Owens was a few cars down, and had jumped out of his skin from the sound. One hand braced on the bonnet of his car, papers falling around him like fall-leaves.

"Very funny, kid!" He shouted, voice muffled through the glass window and distance. He grumbled to himself like Muttley as he bent down to pick them up, striding back towards the Lab with the new messy, mismatched pile of papers.

"You could've given the poor guy a heart-attack," Steve said.

Billy turned to him with a playful grin. "He probably misses me already,"

Steve laughed. "I missed you," He heard himself murmur fondly.

It was an understatement. Steve had kept one of his shirts at the house. The scent of an earthy cologne and cigarette smoke had become a strange comfort. He'd gotten him off the last few days when he'd held it to his face, thinking about him wrapped around him, voice rasping in his ear.

More than that, it was hard to sleep now. Even though he had the spare key to his apartment, it didn't feel right without him. It was dark, small and cold. Somehow, smaller in his absence.

Billy's dark lashes fell heavy over his eyes. "Yeah?" He grinned, white teeth catching the light. "What'd you miss?"

Steve took him in before he spoke, quiet and sincere. "Everything,"

Billy's smirk fell slowly, like he’d fallen into trance. With a sudden lurch, he moved over the dash. Steve's heart picked up when he kissed him. Heat balling tight in his stomach. Billy ran his fingers through his hair and a shiver wracked down his spine. Deepening their kiss as his tongue slipped into his mouth. He'd missed him so much. The need for him overcame him in a wave.

Eagerly, Steve reached between Billy's legs to rub at his dick through his sweats. Billy's mouth fell slack. He reciprocated and kneaded Steve through his jeans - the material irritatingly thick. "Fuck," Steve bucked up into his touch. It wasn't enough. "Dammit-"

"Wanna drive somewhere?" Billy asked against his lips, breath heavy. Billy had become hesitant about going to his apartment even since John's talk with him. Ever since he'd followed him with his eyes, wary and eyes searing.

Steve didn't want to fool around in a parked car. He wanted to spend time with him. The whole day - not just a few, desperate moments before they parted ways.

"Come back with me," Steve gasped. "To the house."

Billy groaned when he moved his hand, thumb finding the head through the thin material of his sweatpants. "What...what about your folks?"

They were at a manufacturing conference in Indianapolis. It wasn't a long drive. And, they had yet to let him know if they'd be home. Or, if they'd be staying at a hotel. They stayed at hotels there most of the time. Sometimes, they didn't call at all. And, he was left to wonder the whole night before he went to bed. Sometimes, they'd be there in the morning. Other times, he was alone.

Steve weighed the possibilities in his mind.

Fuck it. Steve didn't care enough to rationalize it - not when he was so pent up. Not when he wanted him so bad.

"They're not around." He told him before he surged forward again.

 

Billy was on him as soon as he got through the door to his house, pressing him up against the wall. Almost knocking down the photo-frames hanging there. His lips went to his throat, his hand reaching down past Steve's undone jeans to jerk him off.

Steve let his head fall back against the wall, bucking up into his touch. Billy whispered against his ear, stubble scratching the side of his cheek. "Want you in my mouth," He huffed against his skin, the words made his knees buckle. Billy was about to get on his knees when Steve stopped him.

"Wait-" He gasped.

Billy lifted his head with a frown, suddenly alert. "What?"

Steve felt weirdly nervous, even though he'd prepared himself for this. "I want you to..." He paused, struggling for a second. "I want you to do it,"

Billy's brows knitted together. "Do what?" He smiled with interest, open to hearing whatever it was. When he caught on, his eyes widened. "You sure?"

Steve's mouth was dry. "Yeah," He wet his lips, stomach fluttering with nerves. "I've uh...thought about it. A lot,"

Billy's eyes flooded black, lids falling heavy. He surged forward to kiss him again, whispering against his lips. "I'll make it so good for you," Billy pressed him up against the wall, hand grinding against his erection. Steve was feverish as he pulled him against him, wanting to be as close as possible.

When they reached Steve's room, Billy pushed him down onto bed first. He'd taken off Steve's clothes, first. Dragging his jeans down his legs and leaving him bare on his bed in his boxers.

He cupped him through them, rubbing him raw until the material was wet. "You look so hot," He murmured against his ear before he pulled on the waistband, letting his cock bob in the open-air.

Billy looked down at Steve's body when he touched himself, bare-chested and jeans loose around his waist. Steve shuddered at the heat in his gaze. He'd never had anyone look at him with such want: it curled deep in his gut. He felt a little lightheaded from how fast his blood rushed to his dick.

Billy's hands ran over his thighs, nails scratching a little over the hair on his skin. He brought his mouth the inner part of his knee. Slowly, he worked his mouth up his thigh to his hipbone, sucking and running his tongue over his skin. Everywhere except where he needed. Steve arched up a little – giving him a pretty bold hint.

Billy scoffed, at that. He chuckled before he spanked the side of his thigh. Steve flushed before he let out a laugh. Holding his gaze, Billy brought his mouth inches over the head. Steve's cock instantly kicked upwards, like it recognized the view.

Billy just grinned. He pursed his lips and blew out a curt, puff of cold air onto the red tip.

"Come on," Steve laughed, a little hopeless. "Thought you said you'd be good to me,"

"I am being good," Billy grinned, peering up at him devilishly as his mouth worked over his body, leaving small flushed bites over his skin.

He left him for a moment to retrieve the lube from Steve's bed-side drawer, smirking when he realized it was already open. He propped a pillow under Steve's ass, setting his hips a bit higher. He warmed the lube on his fingers before he brought them down between them, pushing bluntly against Steve's hole.

Steve tensed a little at the touch - he'd only ever touched there himself before. Billy fell apart so quickly when he was inside him. At first, the sight had stunned him. All the walls and bravado Billy had held crumbling before his eyes as he fell apart around him. There was nothing like it.

When he'd started fucking Billy, he'd got curious. He'd experimented. Got off on the idea of being handled, pinned down beneath his body as he drove in deep. It had been on his mind for a while now. Yet, now he was here, his stomach fluttered with nerves.

Billy maintained a lot of control during sex, even when Steve was the one driving deep inside him. He'd taken him enough times to know what this felt like. He'd know what felt good, and what didn't - Steve trusted him to guide him through.

Billy's fingers circled his rim before he applied some more pressure. The small, spike of hesitation was dispersed when he met Billy's glance, watchful and attentive. "You freaking out?"

"A little," Steve said, earnestly. "But...I still want this,"

"Just, try to relax," Billy told him. He eased his finger inside to the knuckle, sopping wet with lube as he widened and spread him. Lowering his head, he dragged his tongue over his skin. He trailed it hot between the skin of his balls, before he took one in his mouth, pulling it tight with suction.

Steve let out a surprised moan, not knowing what to do with himself. He let his head fall back onto the pillows, hands gripping onto Billy's hair, fingers curling around his curls.

Billy's fingers curled inside him. The pad of his finger pushed up against the point of pressure and Steve let out a choked gasp. Pleasure resounding from his core and throbbing through his length.

"You good?" Billy asked, voice low. Smiling, like he already knew the answer.

"Yeah..." Steve's voice cracked, like he was going through puberty again. He cleared his throat. "It's uh, all good,"

Billy chuckled. He spat loud and lewd on the head of his dick, before he took the head into his mouth. Pulling him inside the tight heat of his mouth. He curled his fingers into that bundle of nerves and Steve tensed, cock rearing up inside Billy's mouth.

Billy sucked harder on the head of him, mouth bobbing over his length while his fingers twisted inside him. Easing the sting and ache with the tight, grip of his mouth. Steve's toes curled as the pleasure built. He wasn't going to last long like this. "Billy-" He gasped. He was so close. "Please, just-"

Billy slipped off his cock, lips wet and red. Steve could see how eager he was. The way his eyes were heavy and hazy, his cock flushed red and bowed up between his legs as he tugged on it.

Before, Steve had never really thought about another guy's cock. He'd never really lingered to look at them, or anything. With Billy, it was different. The sight of it turned him on, because it was Billy. Somehow, that made all the difference. It was a thought that may have once made him uneasy - before he'd realized that there was no shame in it.

"You want it?" He rubbed his cock-head against the skin above his hole, moving back and forth. "I wanna hear it," His other hand cupped the side of his face, thumb tugging down his bottom lip. "Say it, Steve."

Steve's face burned hot. "....yeah," He mumbled.

Billy laughed again. His grin was sharp and wolfish. "Didn't catch that,"

"God, you're such a dick," Steve laughed, a little hopelessly.

"You like it," Billy laughed, voice thick. He rubbed the head of his cock over his hole again, sending a shiver through him. "Tell me what you want,"

Steve's dick gave another traitorous kick at Billy's tone. Steve swallowed the last bit of his pride, cheeks blazing hot. "I want you to fuck me," He told him. "Please,"

"Look at me,"

Steve met Billy's eyes, cool and clear. He felt the tip of him breach him, stretching him with a slight, stinging burn. He felt thicker than he expected.

"Relax, a little," Billy grunted. "Breathe,"

Steve exhaled and he pushed in deeper, settling inside him thick and full. It ached a little. Billy didn't move for a few moments. Just, ran his hands across his thighs, soothing and warm. "Fuck, that's good," Billy murmured. "God, you're so good,"

Steve choked on the swelling in his throat, his cheeks hot at the praise. The heat was stinging his eyes. Billy started to move, shallow at first. The muscles of his abdomen flexing and tensing as he worked his hips, cock deep inside him.

The buck and roll of his hips alternated in depth, rolling into the point that made his legs tense and his toes curl. Billy leaned back a little on his haunches, supporting Steve's lower back. He rocked up into him.

The angle was better a little better. With each nudge against that point, heat built in his center, pressure building and gathering from within his groin. Steve's mouth fell open silently when it peaked sharply. Billy held back, stopping for a moment.

"Keep going, please-" Steve moaned as he arched his hips, lowering back down to meet Billy's thrusts. "Just right there-" He told him, insistently. Trying to grind against that spot, his cock heavy and taut as it throbbed between them. When he met it hard, Steve cried out, balls drawing up tight.

"You gonna come for me?" Billy asked, voice tight and unsteady through his movements.

"Yeah, so close-" Steve took him in deep. He wanted to last longer. But, he was so close already. If he touched himself, he knew it would be over too soon.

"Touch yourself, Steve," Billy told him urgently. "I wanna see you come..Wanna feel you,"

"Fuck-" Steve sighed desperately. He reached to tug on his throbbing length three times before it struck him like a bolt. A white-hot surge of pleasure wracked through him.

It washed his mind blank. He pulsed as he came in a white spurt over his hand and up his chest. Billy fucking out more and more from him with each slow, grind of pressure.

Steve twitched and tensed through the after-shocks. He'd never come so for long before. When he crested the peak, he moaned into the air, breath catching when his voice came back to him.

He let himself fall limp, sensitive and tender. He heard Billy curse hurriedly through his haze, rolling his hips slower to ease him through. He stopped for a moment to run his hands over Steve's legs, before he brought them up a little higher around his waist.

They were closer when Billy leaned down, hands braced flat by either side of Steve's head. The sharp, uneven movements of his thrusts made Steve's breath stutter. 

Billy fucked him with a renewed eager pace. His red mouth slack and eyes half-lidded, face etched with pleasure. "You feel so good," He murmured, voice low and breathless. "Fuck. Gonna fuckin' come,”

"Inside," Steve told him, words catching on a gasp. "Stay in me," As soon as the last word was punched from him, Billy locked up suddenly.

He titled forward with a wounded moan. Steve could feel the flex of his muscles as he came, hips jerking as he filled him. "Steve," Billy sighed his name like a prayer.

A red flush darkened the skin of his tanned chest. He breathed heavy into their kiss when their lips met, slow and languid. Grinding through the last waves, his skin tacky and warm against his chest.

The air between them was dense with heat. When his heart had slowed, and his breath fell steady, Billy eased out of him. Steve winced with slight discomfort, before Billy wiped him down with a towel.

Steve let out a heavy, sigh of content. A smile played on Billy's lips as he looked him over, flushed with the afterglow. "You good?"

"Yeah..." Steve laughed, breathless. He felt like he could fall asleep for the next few hours. Or the rest of the day. The heat of Billy's mouth on his throat stirred him from his reverie, warm and wet as it dragged down his neck to his collarbone. The slight rough stubble on his chin ground against his skin and made him shiver.

"You were so good...So perfect," Billy spoke into his ear, words soft and constant. Steve's heart kicked in his chest. A feeling swept over him in a wave, warm and all-encompassing.

It hadn't crept up on him: this feeling.

Recently, he'd felt it a lot. With a sudden keen ache that stole his breath. In quiet, moments in the early morning when Billy was lax and warm, arms wrapped around him. Or, when he made him laugh or smile till his eyes crinkled at the corners.

He'd said it before. Only, the once.

Back then, he'd put it out there without fear or hesitation. He'd wanted so badly to hear it from Nancy. And, she had said the words. But, they were built on sand, on crumbling foundations.

Billy wasn't the best at using words. Even though, words were important to Steve - they didn't mean anything if they weren't real. If he had to wait to hear it said with honesty, he could.

As he glanced up at Billy, gold curls around his face, eyes cool and bright. He felt his chest span out warmer and larger than before - a space that Billy occupied wholly.

An impish grin lit up Billy's face as he looked him over. "You're out of it.." He laughed, pleased with himself.

Steve scoffed. "Don't let it go to your head," He played along. He curled his fingers around Billy's necklace, hanging between them like a pendulum. He pulling on the chain a little. Billy took the hint and leaned down, kissing him softly.

 

The large white, bath-tub in his parents bathroom was big enough for the two of them. It was hardly ever used by his parents, no matter how long his Mom had spent re-modelling it.

It looked exactly the same as the picture in the catalogues. Steve felt a small spiteful enjoyment at messing up the place, spilling water and soap suds onto the floor.

Billy sat behind him, rooting through the various shower-stock they'd received for Christmas. Stacked high by the tub and assorted into little pockets of a wicker-container by his Mom.

Steve's sat in front of him, feet near the faucet, the stream of water blanching his skin white. Billy used the shampoo liberally, washing what he'd called "lab-smell" out of his hair.

The woody, masculine scent of the shampoo he was using tickled Steve's nose. The heat of the air made him sluggish as he leaned back into Billy's chest, sighing against the weight off him shielding his shoulders.

"Didn't use this set-up the last time I was here," Billy said as he kneaded the tension out of muscles, thumbs pressing deep.

"You barely showered at all," Steve smirked, words loose from relaxation. "It was kinda hard not to notice," Billy gave a deep punishing, kneed into a knot around his shoulder blade, making Steve gasp.

“Cos I felt weird using all of your stuff," Billy said, laughing a little at Steve's reaction before he rubbed tenderly over the same spot.

"Why?"

"I was already putting you out," He mumbled. "And, I hated that," Didn't he know it. Steve remembered the little I.O.U. he’d written on his Mom's stationery. The way he'd counted up the cost of the pizza and beers they’d shared.

"I wasn't gonna to hold something like that against you," Steve told him. "I wanted to help,"

Billy didn't speak for a moment before he let out a small, deriding scoff. "Mm, you and your bleeding heart,"

"Gee, thanks," Steve sat up a little, moving out of his grip when Billy pulled him back down. The water tipping around them in the tub like a tilted glass. "I'm just fucking with you," Billy said by his ear, smiling against his skin.

"You like doing that a little too much," He always did, even when they'd first met. He'd always wanted a reaction out of him. The way he'd watched him, expectant and waiting. Looking back, those glances held new meaning.

"You liked it an hour ago," Billy murmured, lips hot at his temple. "Pretty sure I heard you beg, pretty boy,"

The close proximity of the words made his dick twitch with renewed interest. Steve pressed back against him, tilting a little in the water to kiss him. Billy kissed him soft and slow, tugging on his lips until Steve could feel them swell.

Billy nuzzled the side of his head, mouth soft against his temple, when he murmured. "I know I never said before..but I am grateful," He told him. "That day, when you found me in my car. You didn't have to do shit for me. But, you did.”

“Anyone else would have-"

"No, Steve," Billy argued, voice stern. "You're....not like most people," Steve didn't know how to take that. He supposed Billy's experience of basic human decency had been pretty limited.

"It's not a big deal,"

"It is," Billy replied, as he pulled him closer, his skin radiating heat. "You've got to quit thinking that what you do means nothing." The sound of voice was a low murmur, like he was telling him a secret.

"Even with...what you for those kids. For Max. If it weren't for you," He stopped abruptly. "You're good at this stuff, Steve. It comes natural to you,”

Steve felt himself blush, for a different reason than usual when Billy was around. "What does?"

"Stepping up when you’re needed," Billy noted. "To help where you can,"

"Stepping up, huh." Steve repeated. It reminded him of something his Dad had said to him once. "Tell that to my Dad," He heard himself say, before he could stop it.

Billy's arms tightened around him, mouth low at his ear. "Your old man doesn't know shit about you - if he thinks that,"

Steve's eyes prickled. When he turned to find Billy's lips again, he kissed him fiercely.

Billy got him off a second time when the water had drained from the tub, the water from the shower-head running over Billy's tanned shoulders as he took him in his mouth.

The two of them were chilled from the cool air of his bedroom. Steve got dressed and lent Billy a loose-fitting, white shirt and grey draw-string shorts. The both of them riding up a little higher on his broader body. They got warm again curled up in the comforter. Steve turned inwards to face him, nestling his head to rest Billy's outstretched arm.

That night, Steve woke every few hours.

There was something wrong that he couldn't place. A passing shadow. Something was wrong. It wasn't until, in the early hours of the morning, that he knew what.

It was still early when his bed-room door opened, slow and careful.

Through the crack in the door, his mother stood. Billy was in a deep sleep. On his back with his resting under Steve's neck, lips parted, long dark lashes flickering through a dream.

Steve got up slowly, so he wouldn't wake him, and crept from his room. He blocked her eye-line when he brought the door to a close, hiding Billy from her sharp, cutting glare.

She waited, eyes still and fixed. "Get dressed quietly." She said. "And, all three of will talk downstairs."

 

On the wall, the clock ticked on and on: deafening in the tense silence. Steve crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back on the kitchen counter. The two of them had brewed coffee which now sat untouched in the machine, the smokey, burnt scent thickening the air.

Steve could feel his Dad's eyes on his face, searing and harsh through his thick, brow-line glasses. Yet, it was his Mom that broke the silence.

"Steve, I don't know what's going on with you anymore," She rubbed at her temples, the skin around and under her eyes was muddy with last night's makeup.

Steve wrapped his arms around himself. "This has nothing to do with either of you,"

"It's your life, Steve," She says, horrified - like that statement proved some point of theirs, instead of his. "Is this really how you're spending it?"

"Whatever it is, I don't expect it to continue for much longer," His Dad cut across them. “You’ll be in college next year. And, you don't want this mistake following you there,"

Steve wanted to laugh. He would have, if he weren't so frustrated. "Jesuz, when are you gonna drop it-"

"Your mother and I have made an effort to meet with the right people. To get all of this arranged," He interrupted him, tone sharp and stern. "You will go through the application, but this time, you can be sure of your acceptance,"

Steve furrowed his brows, eyes flicking to his mother, whose head was hiding behind her manicured hands. Then, back to his Dad, who was looking more irate by the second. If he was saying what he thought he was, then he wanted no part in it.

"I'm not doing that," He scoffed. "That's bullshit,"

"Honey, what else do you intend to do?" His Mom cut in. "Are you going to work that video-land job forever?"

"Oh, you don't know? That's what he wants," His Dad said to her, like Steve wasn't even in the room. "No college degree, with no skills or credible references. If you were anyone else’s son, you'd be a lost cause. My father would never have tolerated this when I was your age,"

Grandpa was a bigger ass than you are, Steve thought, chewing on the inside of his cheek. He knew that for a fact. It was no wonder he was allergic to a hug, or any sort of kind word. His Dad did nothing but praise him. In his office, he'd kept his photograph behind his desk, high up on the wall. Watching over his every move, criticizing him even in death.

"And, now you give us this joke, on top of everything," His Dad scoffed.

"It's no joke," Steve said, firm.

That darkened his Dad's expression again. The color of his face darkened, filling with blood.

"Steve," His Mom's voice was imploring and soft when she spoke again. 

He tore his eyes away to find her face, her eyes pleading - almost a mirror of his own, down to the color and shape. "We just want what’s best for you in the long-term. You understand that, don't you?"

Steve's eyes prickled. Did she? Hurt welled up inside him, like a damn breaking. All those times when he'd wanted to her a word of comfort from her. From the only person, out of the two of them, who'd bothered to spare him one. Where were you before when I needed to hear your voice?

"You..don't know what's best for me," He began. "You barely know anything about my life-"

"I know one damn thing is sure," His Dad's voice cut him off sharply. "What's best isn't that faggot upstairs-"

Steve flushed white-hot with anger. "Don't call him that."

"It's what he is!" His Dad matched his rage when stood up suddenly from his chair, the vase in the center of the table rattling before it tipped over.

"And, what does that make me?" Steve pressed, heart thudding loud in his ears.

His Dad crossed over the room, face flushed bright red. "You're childish. Irresponsible." He hissed. "You're acting up, like you always do when you're not getting attention. Hanging around with some queer who'd love nothing more than to drag you down with him,"

"You don't know him," Steve's breath caught in the pressure in his chest.

"I don't need to," His Dad spat. "I know his type. No one you should be concerning yourself with, that's for damn sure,"

The sound of the front-door slamming to a close made them all turn.

Slowly, it dawned on Steve what the sound was and panic flared up through him like a lit fuse.

He bolted for the door, yanking it open to chase Billy up the driveway. The icy slush was cold and biting on his bare feet. Billy was pulling on his jacket by the time he reached him, arms up high as he weaved his arms through the sleeves.

"Billy-" Steve grabbed his wrist in an attempt to stop his strides. Yet, Billy whirled around on his feet, expression tight.

"Thought you'd said they wouldn't be here, Steve."

Steve's heaving breath came out in a white cloud, the bitter chill stinging his nose. "I...I didn't think they'd be back so soon,"

"Why'd you lie to me?"

"I wasn't...lying," Well, not exactly. He just wanted to be with him, that was all.

Billy lifted his eyes to the skies, tongue pointing hard on the inside of his cheek. "You kept me in the dark - just so you could stick it to your fucking parents,"

"No, that's not it!" Steve said quickly. "I didn't do this on purpose. I wasn't sure if they'd be here, alright?-,"

"And, you didn't care if they were," Billy met his eyes again, blue eyes piercing in the early-daylight. "Did you?"

He was right: he didn't care. Because it didn't matter, because he was tired of hiding. Because, fuck them.

When Steve didn't answer, Billy let out a incredulous scoff. "It's all just a big joke to you. You always treat this shit way too lightly,"

"It's not a joke," Steve took another step closer. "I don't want to have to hide you, or pretend we're not together-,"

"Not the way things work," Billy said, teeth set on edge. He shook his head, eyes falling to the ground again. "You sure showed them. Hope it makes you feel like a fucking rebel," 

Steve felt awash with cold, with guilt. Maybe, some small part of him had wanted to spite them. Only, a smart part. But, he'd never intended to hurt Billy. It was then that he wondered just how much Billy had over-heard.

"I'm sorry," He took another tentative step. "Anything you heard in there was-"

"They're right, Steve," He shrugged, kicking his boot against a frozen clump of snow.

Steve could hardly believe what he was hearing.

"No, they're n-"

"You won't get anywhere with me," Billy was quick to rebuff him, grinding his foot across the ground.

"Why not?" Steve took a step closer and reached for him. He brought his hands to Billy's face, where he was rigid as stone, refusing to turn to face him.

"You said wanted to leave, right?" Steve pleaded. "Let's just go,"

With a slow raised of his head, Billy finally looked at him: a wide, eyed look that he'd never seen on his face before. Steve took the chance to advance as he leaned in close, pressing their foreheads together.

"I wanna go with you," He told him.

Billy's hand found his wrist, squeezing lightly. Their breaths mingled together in the chilled air. Steve was freezing, yet it was Billy who shook when he pressed against him, voice almost a whisper. "You...should care more about what's good for you."

Steve was getting tired of being told that: he would be the judge of what was good for him. "I do, I already told you." Steve told him insistently.

When he met his eyes again, Billy was looking past him, eyes fixed at the house.

Steve frowned. "Billy..?"

As soon as he spoke, his blue eyes flicked to his. He pulled his face away, moving away from Steve's touch.

"And, what about what I want?" He spoke, voice dull. "Did you ever think about that?"

Steve frowned. He and searched his face, finding an unnaturally still, heavy there. "So. Now, you're saying you don't want me?" Steve asked.

Billy's jaw clenched tight, eyes heavy. "I was stuck in this shit-hole with no options," He replied curtly. "Anyone would have been enough," He scoffed, before he looked him up and down. "You were right there. And, you were real fuckin' easy,"

An old, familiar ache strummed in Steve's chest. Nancy's face flashed in his mind - glaring up at him with red, resentful eyes.

Like, we're in love?

It's bullshit.

Back then, it was the lie he'd spun that had hurt him more. He'd hidden away from that gnawing suspicion, convinced himself it wasn't true. He'd wanted that gut feeling to be wrong.

Now, there were no signs or warnings - no deep, gut suspicion he'd spent all this time being lied to. Billy's words felt like the earth had fallen out from underneath him. Panic flushing cold over him before the fall.

Steve searched his face again, with renewed focus. The ache in his chest was making it hard for him to breathe. "Is that how it is?" He asked, keeping his voice steady.

Under Steve's gaze, Billy's face paled. He distributed his weight from either foot before he lifted his chin. "Yeah. That's all this is,"

He took a step closer to him, chest out and chin jutted high. "You were a desperate, pathetic fuck. Willing to fuckin' take it from a queer, if it meant someone would put up with you,"

Steve fought off a flinch. He felt sick to his stomach, aching and hollow. He needed to get away. He felt like he might throw up.

Steve turned on his heels as he walked down the drive, bare feet numb and tender from the icy snow. From the window, he caught the slight flicker of a white curtain, where his mother was peering through the glass. Steve kept walking. He wasn't going back inside now - he'd sooner sit outside and freeze.

"Steve-?" Billy's voice perked up from behind him but Steve didn't turn. "You running away now?"

Steve pulled open the door of his car, parked up on the outside on the street. "I'm giving you what you seem to want," Steve said, as he hauled open the driver door. "I'm leaving you alone,"

 

 

Robin's house was only two doors down from the corner of Maple Street. An assortment, of colored Christmas lights already hanging from the deck, stringing down the front window and porch, twinkling in the dark.

Steve stood on the porch for a minute before he rang the door-bell, thoughts hazy with fog. He'd driven around for hours before he got to this point. It had gotten dark again, and he'd left the house without any shoes, or a jacket. Only, his pajama bottoms and a short sleeved, white shirt.

The skin of his hands and feet were stippled an angry, red. The shudders that trembled through him came from deep in his stomach.

Robin's eyes were wide when she opened the front door, looking almost comically overdressed in a silly reindeer Christmas sweater.

"Hey," He said, breaking the stunned silence.

Robin crept over the threshold, brows furrowing as she looked him over. "Steve...what happened?"

Steve's throat swelled with a lump, eyes flooding hot with a stinging heat. "Would it be okay if I..stayed with you, for a while?" The words came out through a shudder, tumbling over his breath. In reply, Robin nodded carefully. She let him through the door wide, the warmth flooding back to his cheeks as she ushered him through and closed the door.

 

 

Chapter Text

Billy pulled up to Hoppers old cabin and parked in the shadows of the trees, away from the windows emanating golden light. He’d left the cabin to El and they’d fixed up the place after the events of the Summer. A home-base, should they any of them need to use it.

Now, Christmas lights hung low over the doorways and above the windows, wrapped around the wooden railing on the porch. Music softly pulsing from inside. Billy ducked his head low, peering through the windows.

"What are you looking at?" Max’s voice stole his focus.

"Hm?" He grunted in reply.

A slow smile lifted her mouth, painted red with lipstick. "Are you by chance...looking for someone?"

Billy ran his tongue over his teeth under his lips, irritated. "There's a box in the back with your name on it,"

The smile on her face dropped and her brows knitted together. "Uh, is that..a threat?"

Billy pointed to the wrapped present in the back-seat. She heaved it over to the passenger seat with Billy's help, pulling it across her lap. "... I’m guessing you didn't wrap this," She flicked the red bow on the box.

Billy shot her a deadpan look. "You think I got time for that shit?"

"Gift-wrapped, then,"

"Will you just open the damn box?"

Max peeled off the garish, wrapping paper, tearing right through the middle. She stopped short when she saw what it was, opening it carefully. The lid of the box obscuring half of her face as she peered inside.

In the end, the skateboard he’d chosen was mostly black, save the design on the underside pink with blue lightning, a black-panther design bursting through the design the underside. He rubbed at the back of his neck, turning out of the window.

"There wasn't much to choose from in the store I found in Indianapolis. Nothing like in Cali, but-"

She brought the lid all the way down, peering down at the board. 

"You hate it," Billy said.

"No-!" Max blurted out suddenly. She shrank back after her outburst, adding a little quieter. “Thank you, Billy,” She said with a small smile.

Billy turned away, clearing his throat loudly. "And, the other one,"

The other box was a little smaller. She pulled out the helmet with a quirked brow. On the front, was the sticker he’d flattened on it with: SAFETY FIRST, written in bold writing.

Max lifted her eyes from the helmet, blinking at him. "...You can't be serious," She said, lifting it high. "You want me to wear this?"

"You won’t wear the gift that I bought you?" Billy replied.

Max puffed out her cheeks, frowning when she looked back down at it a little hopelessly. "At the park…. where they already treat me like crap?"

Billy's eyebrows shot up. "Who does?" He asked, suddenly annoyed.

"Just, some idiots," She waved it off, shaking her head. Then, found his eyes with laser-focus. "And, no you can't beat them up. Lucas already argued with some asshole there,"

“Smart kid," Billy smiled.

"I can handle it myself," She rolled her eyes, setting the helmet back into the bag like it was covered in slime. Billy reached for the other bag at his feet, slim and narrow. He passed it to her. "Speaking of. This is for him,"

Max eyed it suspiciously. "What is it?"

"It's just a record, Max,” The two of them had got talking once while Max was preening in the bathroom. They'd listened to the radio and shot the shit about musicians, Billy had snuck him a beer while he waited. Lucas had put forward the solo in Purple Haze.

Max turned it in hand, softening a little. "Why don't you give it to him?" She asked.

Billy's eyes found the cabin again "I'm not goin' inside,"

Max’s expression softened, her eyes falling. "Steve's...not going to make you leave,"

So, he was inside. The thought made his pulse quicken. He began searching for Steve without realizing, trying to make his shape out of the shadows moving on the other side of the window.

He could just picture it: killing the room as soon as he walked in. Steve's smile falling when he saw him. Billy sat up a little, turning back towards the steering-wheel. "Beat it, Max,” He said. “The engine's running,"

Max let out a sigh and turned to leave, pushing the car door open with a heave. It was still busted on that side, the new replacement door creaky and stiff. She leaned down before she brought it to a close, red hair billowing in the chilled breeze. "I'll be there on Monday to see you off-"

"I don't need you to-"

"Too bad,” She replied curtly. “And, you better call me when you get there,"

Billy scoffed at her sounding more and more like an old Nanny by the day. "Yeah, yeah, I'll call you," He told her, revving the engine.

"And, if I call you?" She shouted over the noise, tilting her head back into the car. "You'll answer, right?"

Billy went still. He knew this place, he knew what it was capable of. If she needed him, he'd be here. He wasn't about to abandon her to anything or anyone.

"I'll answer, Max," He told her firmly, before he jerked his head towards the cabin, smiling slightly. "Now, get goin',"

 

 

 

In the snow, and so close to Christmas, the streets in the town centre were empty. Billy went for a walk through them. Finally, stopping by the memorial for the victims of the "Hawkins Mall Fire".

For months, he'd avoided the scene. The rumors going around town had painted him in a certain light. To most in Hawkins, stopping by to pay his respects would look like returning to the scene of the crime.

The thought of seeing all those faces, all those people, riddled him with guilt. And, yet he couldn’t shake the curl of disgust at himself at how cowardly it made him feel. Of the idea of turning his head away, as if it none of it had happened.

It was a heavy burden to bear. But, he was living and they weren't. Even the rumors and guilt, felt like a small price to pay in return.

A few of the candles below the wall of photographs, cards and flowers had gone out. So, he pulled out his Zippo-lighter and re-lit them. Then, he let his eyes fall over each and every one of the faces.

It wasn’t long before he found two photographs of Heather.

One picture taken at graduation, smiling brightly in front of powder-blue sky backdrop. The other a photograph of her, pressed cheek to cheek with a friend. In that photograph, she did not look much older than Max. He felt his chest draw up tight as he lingered on the image, murmuring a pained apology to the girl who’d never hear it.  Only, he hoped, somehow, she would.

 

Billy bought a packet of smokes and blew through them with record speed. He sat outside the drug-store on the bench, the hood of his dark, grey sweater pulled high up over his ears, small flakes of snow falling overhead like little feathers.

"Well, well,” He knew Robin’s voice straight away.

She walked over, swamped by a large oversized duffel coat. Billy's eyes narrowed at the red and white on her ankles, making out the weird candy-cane tights she was wearing.

"I thought I saw you out here lurking," She said, a strange jingle coming off of her as she walked. She was all decked out in some costume underneath her coat, wearing possibly the most hideous Christmas sweater he'd ever seen.

"What the fuck are you supposed to be?"

Robin frowned as she folded her arms. "It's for my part-time job,"

"That right...?" He scoffed, catching the painted red circles on her cheeks. "What are you, an Elf-gram?"

"I’m…” She mumbled the rest. “Santa's little Helper," Like a death sentence – not that he could blame her.

Still, Billy couldn't help but smirk. "My condolences,"

"Sure,” She narrowed her eyes. “You seem real sorry,"

When she took a seat on the bench at his side, the bells on her outfit jingled. Billy huffed out into the air, smoke dispersing into the chilled, night. He ground his foot on the floor, dragging it through an icy clump of snow.

"He's been staying with you?" He asked, after a moment of comfortable silence.

"My parents were...weirdly happy," She mused. "Guess they think we're going steady, or something,"

Billy let out a small laugh, at that. Even though his stomach twisted at the thought. He knew nothing would ever go on between them. And, yet. He still felt the cold, twist in his gut at the idea of it. In another world, something like that would be so much easier for Steve.

"So," Robin tapped her hands onto her knees. "Are you going to tell me what happened?"

Billy turned to her, surprised. "He didn't tell you?"

"Just that you guys had a fight," She shrugged before she flicked her eyes at him, stern an irritable. "Probably because he knew if he told me the details, that I'd get pissed at you,"

Billy chest ached every time he thought of Steve’s face that day outside his house. "I said some things that...I didn't mean. Things...I knew would hurt him,"

"Why?" She asked, voice incredulous.

"Because I'm not...," In his memory, that whole morning was summed up in a collection of moments, of faces. Catching the eye of Steve’s mother through the window, as she watched the two of them fight. Steve distraught and red-eyed as he held his face, pleaded with him. With crystal clear clarity, he remembered the sound of them arguing downstairs as he pulled on his jeans, face heated with shame when he’d heard his father curse him.

"You’re not…what?” Robin pressed, irritably. 

"I'm not good for him," He murmured low.

In reply, Robin just let out an incredulous scoff, her chuff of breath coming out in a small puff of smoke. "God, you're an idiot,"

She met his glare when he turned to her, bristling. "Do you really think he appreciates being told by everyone in his life what he wants out of it? He can make his own choices,”

Billy’s mouth pressed into a tight like: he hadn’t considered it that way. As much as he hated the fact, she was right. It wasn't his choice to make.

“Steve made his choice: he chose you. And, he didn't give up on you,” She shook her head, tucking her arms together for warmth. “You’d think you’d extend the same courtesy,”

“I haven’t-,” Billy stopped, his chest going tight. “I didn’t want to give up on him,”

“He doesn’t think that,” She replied. “You didn’t see what he was like all week,”

Fuck. Billy didn't want to imagine it: he couldn’t feel more shitty. Back then, he'd been hurt, angry, ashamed, but he'd blinded himself to the fact that Steve had been in his corner, and pushed him away.

“I wish I…,” Billy started, his voice coming out thin and threaded. If I could go back, he almost said. Billy paused the thought. No matter how much he wanted it, there was no way of taking anything he’d done. There was only the now.

 “...Billy,” Robin’s voice was soft as she said his name. "You once told me that I shouldn't settle for nothing in this town,” She let out a hard sigh. “That I shouldn’t…put up with someone who didn’t care for me. But, you and Steve…aren’t nothing. And, you shouldn’t give up on something like that without a fight,”

A renewed urgency buzzed through him as he sat upright and turned to her. "He still stayin' with you?"

"No," Robin lowered her head. "A few days ago, his Mom showed up at my door," The revelation made his stomach drop. Billy felt seized with regret, chest awash with an icy flush. What would he think of him now, if he'd gone back with them?

Even if it was too late for them, Billy wanted him to know. He needed him to know that he’d lied. Steve wasn't some pathetic, fuck that he'd settled for, like he'd made him believe. He needed to know the truth of what he meant to him - that he'd mattered to him more than anyone.

Billy extinguished his cigarette in the snow. “Not without a fight,” He repeated, grinding the last embers out with his boot.

Robin’s eyes went wide and nervous, hand going to his shoulder, as if to steady him. “Just so you know, I didn’t mean literally. I know his Dad’s an asshole, but-,”

Billy narrowed his eyes, fighting the urge to smirk. “Pretty sure you suggested that I floor him, Buckley,”

A small, nervous smile quirked one corner of her lips. “I…can’t tell if that’s a joke with you,”

Billy laughed in reply, nudging her lightly with his arm. “Just keeping you on your toes,”

 

 

The next afternoon, Billy made his way to Steve's house, stating up at the doll-house windows. At first, he’d considered climbing around the back, to sneak around and up into Steve's room. Only, he wasn't sure if he'd even be in there. Or, who else might hear him trying to climb up to his window. Knowing what his parents already thought of him, breaking and entering would've only confirmed their beliefs.

Billy made a straight beeline for the door. He rang it with a firm push. Billy wiped his chilled, clammy hands on his jeans, stomach turning with nerves. Maybe, they wouldn't even answer when they caught sight of him through the window. Or, they would and would turn him away. Steve would turn him away.

Billy shook away the thought and stood firm. For Steve, he would do this. If this was the "right way" of doing things, he would try.

The door opened to reveal none other than Steve's Dad. Mr. Harrington, wrapped in an ugly green sweater-vest and white shirt. He appraised him briefly, a little surprised. "Billy, is it?"

Charm wasn't going to work with him - not now he knew who he was, what he was. He'd made his stance pretty clear - on that front. Billy was beyond putting on any pretense for him.

"Is Steve home?" He got straight to the point, trying to look past his head.

Mr. Harrington ignored the question, as he stuck his head out of the doorway, peering up at the skies. "It's cold out," He stated.

Billy dug his hands into his jeans and shrugged. "Is he home, or not?"

"Why don't you come in for a moment?"

Billy hesitated, for a moment, before he let the door fall open. He took a step over the threshold, searching for any sign that Steve was around. Mr. Harrington lead him into his office. It had the clean, furnished appearance that he'd come to expect from their home. On the shelves and mantle were a few photographs of Steve and the family, as well as a few medals a trophies from freshman year when Steve was still team captain.

Billy was a little taken aback at just how many he’d displayed. The outward show felt a little empty knowing how little they actually knew about their son. Or, how little they seemed to care. To anyone who knew that, all of those photographs of Steve presented him as nothing more than just another decorative piece on the shelf.

"You smoke, don't you?" He asked as he walked around his desk, taking his side across from Billy. He produced a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, offering them. Billy took one but lit it with his own lighter.

Mr Harrington took a seat on the chair on the desk, appraising Billy coldly. "We didn't exactly get a chance to talk face to face the last time you were here,"

Billy scoffed. "Guess that's one way to put it,"

"Allow me to be honest with you in saying that anything I do, it's for the well-being of my son," He began, voice curt and to the point.

“That so?” Billy lifted his head.

“Of course,” Mr Harrington replied half-through his teeth, his glance sharp and cutting through his glasses.

Neil emotions often read like an open book - no matter how much he tried to appear restrained. Over the years, Billy had learned how to decipher the meaning of every twitch, of the rigid purse of his mouth. Of how long it would take from one expression to the next before he lunged for him.

Steve's Dad was different. Collected, but discerning. It simmered beneath the surface. Bottled up, but betrayed by the red color of his face and the sweat at the corner of his hair-line.

"I don't my son wrapped up in any activity that might hurt him. Or, worse," He narrowed his eyes, giving him a brief once-over. "Surely, you must read the papers. See the news,"

Billy knew where this was going. It had loomed over him the past few years, but especially in the last few months, his ears catching talk of it everywhere he went. Billy seethed, but tried to mask it with a light shrug. "Sure, I-"

"Then, you understand just a few of our concerns," He said simply, cutting over him before he tapping the ash of the end of his cigarette into the ashtray on his desk.

"As a parent, my concerns are genuine," He spoke with a disinterred confidence of someone who wasn't really listening to a word, didn't take anything you said seriously. In the end, it didn’t matter what you thought, at all. Billy was starting to understand why Steve had been so frustrated.

"And, I can't be sure of his future safety around someone like you: I doubt you have his best interests at heart,"

Billy steeled himself, waiting for him to glance up from his desk. When he did, he held his eyes firmly. "I care about your son. A lot,"

None of these words were his to hear. All he'd wanted was to talk to Steve, to tell him just how much he cared, how much he'd missed him. He owed him those words.

A small, smug smirk played on Mr. Harrington's lips. "And, do you think caring is enough from someone like you?"

Billy flushed red-hot in the space of a few seconds. "Someone like me…," He repeated the phrase, smiling irately. He'd heard it one too many times now for his liking. "You wanna clear up what you mean by that?"

He sat up, leaning his elbows forward on his desk. "Someone who'll ruin his future, his reputation. Strip away any chance he has of a normal, life. A real family,"

"A real family," Billy wanted to laugh. "And, you think that's what you got here?"

Mr Harrington's tanned, weather-worn face flushed a little darker. "I don't expect you to understand the concept," He said. "But, your sad little life isn't my son's problem. Nor, mine,"

Billy flushed and set his jaw tight. He knew he hated him. The act of “making nice” was tenuous from the start. It took all he had not to push this further, to lunge across the desk.

Only, where would that land him? He wasn't going to get any closer to Steve by spending the night locked up in Hawkins County, adding yet another black mark to his name.

"However," Mr Harrington spoke up suddenly. None the wiser to Billy’s thoughts, as routed through the papers on his desk and pulled out his check-book. "I'm not above giving an incentive,"

Billy's eyes went wide as he started writing one out. If it weren't all kinds of fucked up - and if he wasn't so angry - he might've laughed. What planet was this guy living on? Did he think he'd just drop everything and do what he said, simply because he paid him?

He ripped it free casually and slid it over across the desk, fingers still flat on one end. "I know how long it would take you to earn this, non-withstanding rent and other bills you have to pay. But, it's a small price to pay for my son,"

Billy leaned forward on the desk. Turning the stem of the cigarette faced down, he pressed the head into the check hard, pushing it through onto the wooden table. Like he was an annoying gnat, he batted Billy's away, hurriedly blowing onto the check and the black burn on the chestnut colored wood.

When he lifted his eyes, his glare was dark and searing.

"Are we done here?” Billy said. “Cos I came here to talk to Steve, not you,"

Mr Harrington's face flushed beet-red, his mouth pursing like he'd sucked on a bitter lemon. "And, you think I'd let low-life scum like you within an inch of my son?" 

Finally, Billy thought. He’d dropped the stupid act. Billy found that he couldn’t resist stoking the flame, his mouth curving up into a grin. "Me and your son have been a lot closer than that," 

Mr. Harrington stood up suddenly from his chair, almost knocking the lamp onto the floor. He marched around his desk and grasped hold of Billy’s arm tight. "Get out of my house. Now,"

"I'll wait outside," Billy pulled away from his touch and turned on his heels. If he touched him again, he might lose it. Already, it was getting difficult to hold back.

“You will not,” He spat. Suddenly, he grasped him by the back of the neck, pushing him forward. Billy went stiff as he forcibly pushed him from the room and up the hall.

"Come back here again and I'll call the authorities," He hauled him over the threshold, his foot catching on the raised step. Billy stood out onto the drive, back into the chilled air of the evening. A few feet away from two familiar figures in the driveway.

"Dad...?"

Billy knew the voice without lifting his head.

There, by his Mom was Steve, getting out of his Mom’s care. Billy's heart leapt at the sight of him, voice failing. He froze as he stared for a beat.

Then, he was shoved forward hard, almost knocked off his feet. "I said, get out!"

Steve was there before he could fully react. Catching his hand before he could stumble forward. He clasped his hand, fingers wrapping tight and turned back down the driveway.

"Steve-?" Billy heard his mother call after him.

Yet, his eyes were only on Steve, on his determined figure as he walked them both towards his car. Billy's heart beat hard in his chest as he led him. He opened the passenger door and Billy shared a brief look with him, before getting in the passenger seat. 

 

 

The whole drive back to Billy's apartment was silent, save for the hum of Steve's car and the local radio station on a low volume, the low hum of some Christmas carol. Snow fell outside and melted on the windshield.

Billy and John had decorated the bar outside with Christmas lights. They flashed red, green, blue intermittently, coloring the fresh white snow that had set on the ground outside. When Steve pulled up behind Billy's apartment, the radio went dead. Steve finally let out a sigh, hands braced on the wheel.

Billy couldn't help but soak Steve in, linger on every part of him longing. God, he'd missed him. He wanted to reach out for him, more than he'd ever wanted anything.

He was a little more dressed-up that usual, hair styled in that effortless, half-pushed back style that Billy had always loved, soft-looking to run his hands through. Wrapped up in a dark blue scarf, tucked in the front of his winter, coat.

Billy wet his dry lips before he spoke. He tried to play off the discomfort in his chest with a smile. "You look good, Stevie," He said, voice low. “Real good,”

Steve took in an audible intake of breath, fidgeting under Billy's heavy gaze, the tips of his ears flushed. He kept his eyes forward, hands gripping knuckle-white on the wheel. "And, you look like Hell,"

Billy couldn’t argue with that. He'd hardly slept or eaten for the past week; his eyes were dark with shadow and he’d definitely dropped a few pounds.

"So, are you gonna talk, or are we just gonna freeze out here in the car?"

"I went to your house to talk to you, Steve,” Billy started. “I thought you'd be there-"

"Well, I wasn't," Steve said. "I haven't spoken to my Dad since that day. My Mom tried to separate us for a while. We spent a few days out of town," Steve lowered his head, scratching at the rubber on the steering wheel.

“I didn’t know…” Billy murmured in reply, watching the stray curl of hair around his ear, resisting the urge to reach out and brush it flat like the rest.

"He offered you money...didn't he?" Steve asked abruptly, like he’d held in a long breath.

"Yeah," Billy replied.

He lifted his head but didn't look at him directly when he asked. "...Did you take it?"

Billy flushed hot. "...Are you serious?"

"Oh, right. I forgot," Steve scoffed. "You don't like hand-outs, or charity or whatever,"

"That's not why," Billy sat forward irritably. "Your asshole Dad can't buy me off. Or, order me to stay away from you,"

"Funny," Steve scoffed. "Cos I thought you wanted to stay away from me,"

"I don't-" Billy stopped himself. He took a breath, trying to quell the storm in his chest. Then, spoke again. "…I don’t want that, Steve,"

Steve's head turned slightly in his direction, peering up at him warily. "...You don't?"

Now, he could see how tired Steve was, eyes similarly red and duller than usual. Billy wondered if he’d been the same: if he’d been able to stomach food or get any sleep without him. Billy had got only four hours at night, at most.

"I want you to know that I didn't mean a word. That day, outside the house," He began, his heart quickening with panic when Steve brought his eyes low on the wheel, jaw tensing. "But, I did mean it, when I told you that there's never been anyone else like you...Not for me," And, never will be, he thought grimly. There was no like Steve for him.

"And, that's because..." Billy's tongue swelled up thick in his mouth, like it was stuffed with cotton.

Steve's eyes narrowed as he listened, expression still guarded and wary. Billy's mouth opened and closed, words catching in his throat. "Fuck-," He hissed sharply. God, he wanted to kick himself. Why was this so hard?

"Because what?" Steve cut through his thoughts, voice irritated.

Billy forced himself to hold his eyes again. An irrepressible fondness spanning through him each time he held him in his sight, full and warm.

"I love you," He uttered, letting the words spill free with a sigh.

The silence that followed was crushing, the ache in his chest hardening like a fist. The longer Steve looked at him without a word, without a reply.

When Steve finally unfroze, he let out a sigh, torn and shaky.  "Look. You can't just lie to my face so I'll-"

"It's not a lie," Billy was quick to pin down the thought. "I love you,” He repeated emphatically. “I wouldn't say it, if I didn't mean it. I've never felt this way about anyone before,"

A small, cowardly part of him still wanted to cringe away: it felt like a surrender, a weakness. Yet, it was the truth.

Steve still didn’t speak for a while. Both of his eyes went a little wider, mouth parting with his breath as his chest rose and fell.

Billy let out a sigh through the ache in his chest. "It hurts like Hell when I think about never seeing you again. Or, not getting to be around you like before...Not being able to touch you again," Billy trailed off, trying to swallow the lump in his throat.

"But, you don't have to do anything - let alone forgive me. I just needed you to know the real truth. No more lies or bullshit," When it was over, there was a measure of relief.

Billy reluctantly lifted his head again, afraid of what he might find. He found Steve's head was low, eyes downcast and still not saying a word. He forced down the hurt in his throat before he spoke again. "Thanks for the ride, Steve," He turned and reached to open the car door when Steve finally replied. 

"I... drove around your apartment so many times this past week," He began in a low voice. "Thinking about just...knocking on your door and-" He stopped to rub at the space between his eyes.

"You did?" Billy said, unable to hide the hopeful tone in his voice as he let go of his hold on the door-handle.

"Well, yeah," Steve said, like it was a given. "I know we had a fight but I kept telling myself...we just both needed space, you know?" He swallowed with difficulty. "But, then, I saw you drop off Max at Hopper's cabin. And, you just...left,"

Billy watched Steve shrink in the driver seat, shoulders going up a little higher as he let out a shaky breath. "And, that was when I started to think...That you might've meant what you said-"

Billy was moving across the dash before he knew it, hand reaching out the back of his head to pull him close. He rested his face by the crook of Steve's neck. The feeling of holding him so close overcame him, flooding him with just how much he'd missed him, just how much he'd thought about him.

"I'm sorry," Billy whispered. "I'm so sorry,"

Steve made a small, sad sigh against him. He tilted his head, nuzzling his cheek, soft and warm. Unsure, he lifted his brown eyes and shot him a longing yet hesitant look, like he was waiting for permission. He didn't need any. Billy leaned forward closed the space between them. The touch of his soft lips filled him with ease, like a sigh of relief.

Steve pulled away for a beat and took his face firmly in his hands, caging him in until Billy couldn't look anywhere else but into the deep shine of them, warm as they held him still.

"I want to hear you say it," He told him.

"I love you," Billy just got the last word out before Steve surged forward and kissed him again. Hands reaching around Billy's neck to pull him in for a bruising kiss. "Again," He said against his mouth.

"Love you," Billy kept saying it, brushing his mouth over his skin as he worked his way down. Steve arched up into it when he reached his neck, letting out a moan that barrelled through him, filling him with heat. Want travelled through him like a line of lit gunpowder, fast and feverish.

Steve let out a hiss when he finally reached under his shirt, to run his hand over his lower belly and down the line of hair leading to his crotch. "Fuck," He laughed. "Your hands are cold-"

"Mm, you're warming them up for me...," He grinned against his skin.

"You asshole-" Steve chuckled, voice cut off by a gasp when Billy kneaded him through the crotch of his jeans.

The sound shot through him like a high. Billy chuffed against his cheek, heat curling in the pit of his stomach. "...God, wanna touch you," He sighed. "You wanna come inside?"

"Do you have to ask?" Steve let out a breathy laugh, his smile lighting his face like the sun.

The apartment was only a fraction warmer than outside. The floor still covered in papers and cardboard boxes.

Billy couldn't get close enough as he pulled Steve over the threshold, mouth and hands warming every inch of his skin. Grumbling when he pulled off half the layers of Steve's clothes, only to find a new layer underneath.

Billy's mind swam with all the things he'd wanted to do to him. Only, he'd barely got him undressed completely, before Steve was grasping at him. "I want you to fuck me," He murmured against his lips, his hand moving down his torso before he squeezed Billy's cock through his jeans.

"Can't stop thinking about it," He huffed, heatedly. "About that day in my room,"

Billy felt winded by the words, aching and trapped inside his jeans. A little roughly, he turned Steve around, pressing his back against his chest. He wrapped one arm around the front of his to pull him back against him so he could grind against his ass.

"You thought about it...?" He mused, his other hand roamed between his legs and gripped Steve's cock through his jeans. "Did you touch yourself?"

Steve pressed back against him. "Fuck, yeah, I-" Steve's voice was syrup-thick, voice a low mumble. "I felt...bad afterwards because we had a fight but I-" He reigned in his words when he found Billy's gaze, soaking up every detail. Then, flushed a little redder.

Billy's grin lit up his face. "I thought about you too, Stevie," He told him before he kissed him. Walked him towards the wall until Steve braced his hands on it. He brought Steve's jeans and boxers down to his ankles, running his hands over his thighs and ass.

Billy prepped him slow with lube, crooking his fingers deep until he found the spot that made Steve's breath quicken. He pushed his thermal under-shirt up his back as he mouthed his way up the line of his spine, counting the freckles and moles over his shoulders.

As he stretched him on his fingers, Steve's back bowed and arched, muscles flexing beneath his fair skin. 

He let his head fall forward, displaying the nape of his neck. Billy's eyes found it with affection. A place he'd once found himself lingering on in class, on the basketball court. Back then, Steve was always turned away, unaware. When Billy had walked through the world braced for hurt, holding himself like a balled fist.

Now, it was bared to him. He let himself lean forward, kissing the vulnerable flash of skin.

When he finally eased himself inside, he let out a sigh, stopping to allow Steve to adjust. His hands smoothing down his sides and down his torso, holding back the aching urge to drive in hard and fast.

Steve huffed beneath him. "You can move,"

Billy wrapped his hand around Steve's cock, thick and long in his grip. He squeezed the base lightly before moving up to circle the head, firm and warm in his hand. Steve bucked suddenly, crying out.

"Show me how you want it, Stevie," Billy told him, mouth against his ear. "Move against me. Take what you want,"

Steve let out a small shiver. The sides of his cheeks and ears aflame. He started to push his hips back against him to find a rhythm. Billy leaned back and palmed at his cheeks, watching the slide of his cock into the tight heat. His eyes fluttering when Steve took him deep, balls flush with his ass.

He knew Steve had found the right pace when his hand quickened between his thighs, little helpless gasps of breath escaping him. "Oh, fuck-" A small bubble of surprised laughter escaping his chest when he was thrust into him just right.

Billy kept his pace slow, easing the tightness building up behind his balls. He wanted him to feel good, so he steeled himself. "You doing okay?"

"Fuck, please-" Steve's voice was barely a murmur. The muscles of his shoulder flexing as he stroked himself faster. Billy's cock throbbed hard inside him. "Speak up," Billy said as he leaned forward, gripping a little tighter on his hips. "Wanna hear you,"

Steve shivered again. He turned his head a little, looking over his shoulder, eyes dark and wanting. "I want it harder," He murmured, a pinched-flush high on his cheeks. "Please, just-"

Billy picked up his pace. That had Steve moaning loud. Billy was drunk on the sound as he hauled him upright. He drove into him hard, hips snapping until Steve let out another broken cry that resounded deep in Billy's chest.

Pressure built at the base of his cock, balling up tight. Steve was no better, head thrown back and cursing as he stroked himself. "Steve-" Billy huffed against Steve's shoulders. "Wanna look at you,"

Billy slowed to ease out of him carefully. Steve let out a slight sound of discontent and he stood upright. Billy quickly threw aside the comforter, still strewn messily across the bed from the morning. Then, he sat back on the mattress, pulling his jeans and boxers off his ankles hurriedly.

Steve did the same. With a similarly clumsy desperation, until he was completely bare and flushed, cock thick and hard between his legs. When Billy got up to reach for his hips, Steve pushed him flat with a shove.

Billy laughed and reclined back on his elbows, soaking him in as he tugged slow over his cock. "You gonna ride my dick?"

Steve scoffed. "You really love the sound of your own voice," He teased, bracing his hands on his chest and knees either side of Billy's hips.

Billy grinned sharply, tongue coming out to wet his lips. He reached around to grip the flesh of his ass, arching his hips up to grind between his cheeks. "And, yours,"

They both groaned when Billy sunk in deep. Steve found Billy's heated gaze, full blood-flushed lips parting as he started to ride him, squeezing and tugging around his length.

Steve's hair looked tousled and messy, fallen loose from its well-kept style as the strands clung to his forehead. An hour or two with him and Steve had gone from looking like a straight-laced rich-boy to a dishevelled and needy mess: he felt a strange mixture of pride and awe at the image.

Billy rubbed his hands over Steve's thighs. "Riding me so fucking good," He bucked upwards with a little more force, watching himself sink deep inside between them as he met his movement.

Steve went helpless as he stopped abruptly. He titled forward, hand quickening around his cock, ruddy and weeping over his hand. "I'm so close-" He whispered, voice tight.

It was then that Billy sat up. He rolled them slow, lifting Steve up as he turned them around, pinning Steve beneath him. In the new position, Billy could truly look at him. Gaze falling over his every feature, the flush on his cheeks and lips and the dark swallowed black of his eyes.

Billy brushed away some of the hair that clung to his sweaty forehead. "This okay?" He asked. "I wanna be closer,"

"Yeah, this is good," Steve nodded, eyes starry as he looked up at him. He murmured, bringing his bottom lip into his mouth. Billy picked up his pace again, rolling his hips.

"Fuck-," Steve cried out and wrapped his legs higher around Billy's waist, pulling him in deeper. Billy got lost in the closeness of him as he drove into him, their skin meeting with a lewd rhythmic slap.

"I'm gonna come," Steve gasped suddenly. Billy was close himself, pressure building through his length as he throbbed hard inside him. Holding Steve's dark, fevered glance as he stroked himself, stripping the red head of his cock.

Steve groaned loud as he came, painting his flushed chest and stomach. He tugged on his length as his orgasm washed over him in sharp, little shudders. Billy rested his head at the crook of his neck as he rocked his hips fast and hard. Steve’s breath stuttered with each thrust. "You’re so good-" Billy groaned, chasing the mounting pleasure as it intensified to its peak.

Black flooded Billy's vision, his mouth falling open as he came and pulsed hard inside him. He ground it out, rolling his hips deep as he milked it from him. Pumping through his core as he rocked his hips, gradually slowing as the heat bled through him.

He came back down with his forehead pressed against Steve's, finding Steve's parted mouth with his own, wet and soft as they caught their breath.

He disposed of the condom and rolled boneless onto the bed by Steve's side. Dazed and a little lethargic, he pulled Steve in, brushing his mouth against Steve's temple.

Steve was still catching his breath, heat pulsing through his skin with his heartbeat. But, he wrapped around him like he always, mouth parting when Billy kissed him. Billy's chest spanned out full and warm, after the nights he'd gone without. He'd almost feared coveting the feeling - if it meant he might have to accept the loss of it. Once, he'd thought that inevitable - it was only a matter of time. He'd let that fear had control him, for a while. But, never again.

Billy unpacked a few of his shirts from one of the boxes near the counter. He handed Steve a black shirt and a pair of sweatpants. The two of them wrapped up in the comforter, legs tangled around one another. Outside, the Christmas lights from below flashed consistently, lighting up the walls in a faint hue of color.

Steve massaged the red scars on his flank, an oddly pleasant sting as Steve circled his fingers and cupped them warm under his palm. "You know, I'm coming with you, right?" He murmured in the dim-light.

Billy's heart picked up in his chest. "You sure?"

"When you talked about leaving Hawkins, I know I hesitated," Steve admitted. "These past few years just kept knocking me on my ass. And, I guess...I was scared of things changing again. Just when I started to feel like things were going great, you know?"

Billy hummed in reply, running his fingers up and down Steve's shoulders in thought.

"But, things weren't better because of Hawkins," Steve lifted his head and reached up to Billy's face, cupping his cheek to hold him still. "It's was you,"

Billy flushed. Overcome with the way he was looking at him, hand light and tender on his cheek.

"I feel more at home with you than I've felt...in a long time," Steve told him, brown eyes glassy and all-consuming.

Billy's throat swelled. He brought his hand over Steve's, squeezing it lightly. "You and me both,"

Steve's big brown eyes got dewy as he took in the words, a smile lighting up his face brightly. "Even here in this...old-ass, freezing apartment," Steve laughed.

Billy laughed and grabbed the comforter. Lifting it high, he rolled over him, covering him with his body before he wrapped it around them, bunching at the nape of his neck.

Steve laughed underneath him. "And, now you're crushing me-" He teased, pinned against the pillows.

"You said you were cold," Billy said, brushing his nose against his. "S'not so bad like this,"

"No... This isn't so bad," Steve said, flushing warming to his cheeks. Steve’s smile fell as he gazed up at him. "I love you," He tilted upwards, bringing their lips together. Billy sighed into the kiss - sinking into the quiet sense of peace that washed over him as he held him close - a serene feeling that only Steve granted him.

 


 

Steve's father had refused to talk since that day at the house. Christmas had been difficult. In the end, they'd sat at the table for a single shared meal - without a shared word. Then, he'd left to spend the rest of the day with Billy. The Camaro had been on its last legs for a few months and was no longer capable of long distance drives.

So, Billy had decided on selling it. The night before the big day, they'd spent the night sprawled out on the hood of the car, looking up at the stars as they shared a joint. Eulogizing the old girl, Billy had said, patting the Camaro tenderly. He'd recalled the times he and Max had sat inside when their parents were fighting, listening to the radio in anxious silence, Billy's accident near the warehouse and the unfortunate T-bone incident that Steve would sooner forget.

The better times where they'd hooked up, clambering over the dashboard to make out. Or, the time Billy claimed to have first realized just "how deep he was" with Steve, mumbling about the day he'd dropped him off at his house after Steve had walked out in the rain. The clumsy, mumbling confession had made Steve smile, sent warmth blooming in the center of his chest. He'd pressed him back into the hood of the car as he'd kissed him, working his way down his torso and between his thighs.

Steve had picked him up from the chop-shop the next evening. Billy was pensive as he'd counted through the notes. For the next few months, Steve had more than enough to get by. The two of them had spoken about finding work in California. Again, Billy had brought the topic of college and told him that he should still consider it, if that was what he wanted. That they would make it work.

They’d spent New Year's night together with Robin, Max, Lucas and Dustin. All of them had gathered once more at Hopper’s old cabin. Roasted marshmallows on the bonfire and eaten hamburgers cooked over the grill – which Billy manned with an iron fist. Dustin had fixed the old T.V. for the annual countdown, keeping Suzie on the radio when the clock struck midnight.

Steve had held Billy close when it struck twelve. Noticing the small little flinches he’d fought off each time the inevitable sound of fireworks burst in the distance. He’d pulled him in tighter, kissing at his temple as he hummed the tune Auld Lang Syne, as everyone sang along to the tune as it emanated from the T.V.

Just after New Year, Steve returned to the house to pack more of his belongings. His Dad had haunted the doorway of his room, watching without a word. Other times, he'd only caught him for a moment before he was gone.

"He thinks you'll be back in a month or two, when the money runs out," His mother had said, as she joined him to get his things in order. She'd given him some money she'd saved for Steve in a separate account, much to his Dad's chagrin.

Steve had scoffed, flushing a little with irritation. "Of course, he does," He grumbled.

She'd moved closer as she packed away his things. "You know...in his own way your father does c-"

"Mom, don't," He didn't want her to apologize for him – not that he expected him to genuinely apologize anyway. He was set in his way, convinced he was right. Hell would probably freeze over before he admitted he’d done wrong.

His mother ironed out the leg of one of his old jeans, worrying over the frayed worn fabric. "You know, I've always got the sense that there was something going on that you weren't telling us," She'd said. Steve slowly lifted his head to look at her, careful and suspicious.

"I just never thought it would be something like this, I suppose," She searched his face - like she was trying to read the last two years etched on his face. Where even would he begin to explain? "I know it's...been a difficult year for you,"

"Yeah," Steve simply said. "It has,"

She let out a small sigh, giving up the attempt. "But, you're an adult now. I remember you'd just turned eight when I started working again,"

Steve remembered that year. The same year she'd discovered his father's first affair - not that Steve understood what it meant at the time. Or who the pretty, red-haired twenty-three year old who'd showed up at the door one day was.

"Ever since, the time just.... flew by. I blinked and missed it," She smiled, a little bit regretfully, giving him pause. She had never been the type to cry. Even after all his Dad's cheating, Steve had felt like he'd carried all of her hurt, the betrayals of it, of what he'd done to their family. Looking back, it had been the first realization as a child - that they weren't like other, loving families.

"Well,” She’d soon sighed, eyes falling back to his shirts. “Maybe one day, your Dad will come to respect that you're charting your own course," 

Steve had scoffed at the idea. "Unlikely," That was when she’d stopped him short, hand going to his cheek.

"Steve,” She held his gaze. “I do want you to be happy."

 

On the day of the move, Robin and Max had waited out on the street to bid them a final farewell. The January overcast light making way to a small peak of sun, even though the chill was still bitter in the air. Robin turned up a little later than the rest, during her lunch-break at Family Video, name-tag still attached to her sweater.

"Heard that L.A. girls are really something," Steve said finally, when she leaned back against his car at his side. "I'll be your wing-man when you visit,"

Robin gave him a look like she thought that absurd, before she lifted her eyes to the skies. "Hmm, dating advice from Steve-the Hair-Harrington," She mused.

"You're welcome," He said, puffing out his chest. "Didn't get all those nicknames for nothing, y'know," Robin elbowed him playfully and he laughed.

Steve's eyes found Billy's figure on the other side of the street - saying his farewell to Max. For a moment, it looked they might almost hug, before Billy tugged the hood of her yellow raincoat over her eyes, grinning when she groaned with annoyance.

"You know, I'll kinda miss you," Robin murmured by his side.

"Kinda?" He laughed.

"Fine," She turned to face him, tucking her hands into her pockets and shrugging like she couldn't deny. "I'll miss you, dingus,"

Steve reached out and pulled her in for a hug. "Don't do anything stupid," She told him, patting the back of his shoulder. When they pulled away, Billy was walking over and Robin turned back to Steve smile. "Maybe a bit too late for that advice, though,"

"Come on," Steve laughed.

"You say something, Buckley?" Billy pressed his tongue into his cheek and grinned, eyes watching her like a hawk. She beamed and turned on her heels.

"Drive safe," She said brightly, before she walked over to join Max on the side of the street.

Billy's eyes found Steve's as he moved closer, hands still tucked in his jean jacket. "You all set, pretty boy?" He asked, blue gaze lifting to Steve's face as he lifted his hand to brush the side of Steve's cheek with his thumb. The sun light catching on his gold curls.

"Ready when you are," Steve leaned forward and was pleasantly surprised when Billy leaned met his kiss without hesitation. He'd worked his way up slowly in the last month, from holding his hand as they walked to the store. Billy's hand cupped the side of his face, titling his head as he deepened the kiss, humming into it softly.

“We’re still here, you know!" Robin's voice shouted across the street.

Billy chuckled against Steve's lips, before he shot her the bird.

 

Max rode her bike alongside the car as they pulled out of the street. Her legs driving hard on the pedals as they picked up speed, hood falling back over her red hair with the wind. Steve caught Billy's movement from the passenger’s seat, turning his head over to look at her through the back-window. Until, she was out of sight. Billy cleared his throat, sniffing as he turned to face the window. 

"You'll miss her," Steve stated. He didn’t need to pose it as a question: he knew him well enough by now.

He let out a chuff of air before he replied, soft and fond. "Of course..,"

The two of them pulled out of the town, Billy started tapping his hands on the dash to the drum-beat on the radio. The sun streamed through a break in the clouds, light catching on his golden profile. Steve laughed and turned it up louder.

Billy whistled when they sped by the sign at the side of the road, marking their departure: LEAVING HAWKINS: COME BACK SOON

Briefly, Steve caught Billy at the corner of his eye, watchful for Steve's response. For a sign of hesitation, regret or maybe even fear at leaving the place his hometown behind. Steve felt none of those things. For the first time in a long time, the future didn’t seem out of his control, spiraling further while he stayed trapped in its cycle.

Instead, it felt renewed with promise. Of a warm and noisy home with music, voices and laughter. Of someone he loved, who loved him in return, to come home to.

Steve smiled at him. He found Billy's hand and squeezed it softly, the silver bands on both of their fingers catching the sunlight like twin stars.