Chapter 1: Posing the question
Beverly looked nervous as she approached him. The expression wasn't something Stan was used to from Beverly, nor was the hushed the request that he meet her alone to discuss something.
"It's about Bill" Beverly started and Stan felt somewhat proud to be seen as a distributer of Bill-related advice. But then Beverly continued with "do you think we're a good fit?" and Stan felt immediately trapped.
"Why ask me?" he quickly demanded, hoping not to sound overly defensive.
"Because if I ask Richie then Eddie'll know before I'm done talking and neither of them will have any advice that isn't crass" Beverly began, clearly expecting the question "and I think Mike might be too nice to give me any hard truths about all this"
"Oh but I'm enough of a dick am I.." Stan retorted, undoubtedly relieved by the explanations and observant enough to add "what about Ben, too nice again?"
Beverly shifted at this, eyes flicking away from Stan's face and back again as she began to frown. "This is about Ben too, I guess" she clarified, eyes now watching intently for Stan's reaction as he tried to keep his face neutral. "He wrote that poem" Bev continues "not Bill"
Stan doesn't actually know what poem she's referring to but it's clearly very important to her. "Bill lied about writing a poem?" Stan asks. It doesn't sound like something Bill would do, he's always been very proud and careful with his writing, but Stan is often at a loss when it comes to Bill's actions around Beverly.
"No! No.. he never lied, I'd just assumed I suppose" Bev clarifies, and Stan's relieved but it doesn't last long as she continues "but I think that'd been part of why I thought I liked him so much, it was such a sweet thing. A real old fashioned gesture"
"And it was Ben" Stan reiterates, thinking he understands now where Beverly is going.
"It's not that I suddenly fancy Ben or anything it's just.. I'm.. I'm gonna call off whatever's going on with Bill"
"So why do you need my help"
"I guess I just wanted to talk to someone about it, so you could tell me if I'm being ridiculous"
Stan pauses at that, wondering if he should try and talk her out of it. He knows that Bill's very fond of Bev, that he was very pleased to have kissed her last week, but Stan also knows that Bev's uncertainty would hurt Bill more in the long run if they were to continue on their path towards eachother. So Stan answers Beverly honestly with a "No you're right, its the right thing to do"
The idea that he might be hurting Bill indirectly stabs lightly at his conscience, as does the traitorous thought that this might actually just be in Stan's own best interest and not Bill's at all.
Bill was excited when Beverly appeared on his doorstep, it had been 8 days since they had kissed in the barrens and Bill had been looking forward to seeing her since. One look at the expression on her face, however, made his stomach fill with dread.
"What is it?" he said, as they entered his room.
Breathing deeply before she spoke Bev answered "I think we're better as friends, Bill" seeing hurt fill into Bill's face she continued "I really do care about you so much, you're one of my best friends and I just dont think I can risk ruining that"
Beverly was expecting Bill to be angry, she felt like she was always expecting people to be angry, but he just sighed somewhat sadly. Getting stuck slightly in the middle of the word, Bill muttered out an "Okay" and Bev felt relieved. She reached for his hand, squeezing it in a way she hoped was apologetic and not patronising, feeling relieved once more when he made no move to pull away.
His next statement did suprise her however, as he met her eyes with genuine curiousity "Am I a b-bad kisser?"
"What? No!" a surpised laugh escaped Bev alongside her reply and she hastened to add "why would you even ask that?"
Bill was red now, he'd been slowly gaining colour since he had asked the question and he replied to Bev's with an awkward shrug "It's just, this has happened before is all, I kiss someone and I think we like eachother and they come back deciding we're better off as friends after all actually"
"It's not your kissing Bill I swear, not for me at least I promise" Bev insists, sympathy and amusement playing an odd duet in her tone. The beginning of a laugh in Bill's voice when he counters that "You probably feel like you have to say that" reassures Bev that they'll make it through this easily. And they do, because Bill isn't half as hurt as he could've been by Bev's rejection, allowing himself the private acknowledgment that it may actually be for the best.
The concern he'd raised however does worm its way further towards the front of Bill's mind despite Bev's protestations.
Bill meets with Stan a few days later, the other boy greeting him with a concerned "How are you?". It isn't that Stan isn't always concerned about something, and always especially kind with Bill's feelings, but theres something in his expression that makes Bill realise oh.
"D-does everyone know?" is Bill's only reply.
"Just me" is honestly not the answer Bill's expecting and he's even more confused when Stan continues "Beverly actually came to me to talk about it beforehand"
As the implications of this begin to form in Bill's mind he starts to realise he might actually not be as okay as he thought he was, with hurt that he must have been ignoring before now hitting him with full force.
"Did you tell her that she shouldn't go out with me?"
"Why would I do that?" comes Stan's reply, sounding more panicked than Bill was expecting. The worry that he's scaring Stanley somewhat dims the slowly building anger in his chest but he's still frustrated enough to snap out "It's just b-both times, now, that someone's decided to kiss me and then t-tell me to forget all about it, the idea seems to have come from you!"
And Stan's panic seems in full force now as his head whips round, ensuring nobody could have possibly heard. Bill knows they couldn't, sure that his house was empty before even thinking the words, but guilt crashes into him anyway for breaking an agreement they'd muttered between themselves two years before. That they do not mention the kiss.
Stanley's angry now too, done surveying the room he raises his voice at Bill "Beverly wanted a friend to listen to her, to reassure her, that's all I was doing"
Bill knows that that's true, knows that his response was an overreaction. He also realises that Stan had come here to do the same for him that he'd done for Beverly. To be a friend.
Immediately deflating Bill meets Stan's eyes, his "Sorry" is genuine and Stan seems to understand that much to Bill's relief. Bill isn't completely finished with the conversation though, hoping he doesn't sound too pitiable when he asks if Bev gave a reason why. Stan's hesitance is enough to set Bill's fears off again, as does his avoidant "it's not really my place to say" And Bill knows he can't really argue with that so his anxious mouth speaks its next words before he even really thinks about them
"D-do you think I'm a bad kisser?"
"What?" He hears himself say, completely thrown by the question.
He tries to study Bill's face for an explanation but can read only the obvious embarassment Bill's bright cheeks betray. Stan knows a similar heat is spreading across his own face, but he meets Bill's eyes, hoping for more information.
"Well it's like I said" Bill manages "I kiss someone once and they never want to kiss me again d-doesn't that mean I'm p-probably bad"
"I think it's more complicated than that" Stan counters, hoping for neutrality in his tone.
He honestly can't remember if he had any real thoughts about Bill's level of talent when they'd kissed as thirteen year olds. Stan spends a lot of time deciding not to remember anything about kissing Bill. He's definitely not remembering it now and he's definitely not snapped out of that by Bill's following declaration "This year. This year Stan I'm going to kiss someone and they're going to want to kiss me again"
Bill's voice is resolute, its the tone Stan is used to following into pretty much anything but he's not sure that extends to this level of teenage crisis. Despite this, it only takes one meeting of Bill's bright eyes to his before Stan caves with "Okay, sure.. I guess that's everyone's priority in the tenth grade"
Bill nods once, self conscious enough to reassure Stan that he knows this is a somewhat ridiculous goal, and moves on to ask how much of the summer homework Stan has already completed.
Chapter 2: Research
Feelings re-emerge as Bill's quest brings him and Stan closer together.
As ridiculous as the goal is, Bill brings it up again two weeks into term. They're hanging out at Bill's house, while his parents are out with Georgie, when the other boy asks "do you think the library has any books on it"
"Of Mice and Men?" Stan replies, assuming Bill was equally focussed on the essay they'd told his parents they were working on.
"No er. Kissing."
"Ben's probably the one to ask" Stan's brain supplies, hoping to brush off this turn in the conversation.
"I d-don't really want to go to Ben about this" Bill begins to explain. Stan's mind rushes to fill in the gaps, considering if Bill had made any link between the gentle looks Ben and Bev have begun to share and Bev's retreat from Bill just weeks earlier. His heart follows a different track, clinging to the small thrill of Bill trusting him with this over the others. Not that Stan had ever felt much competition amongst their group, Bill loved them all constantly and impartially, but his summer drifting towards Bev had brought out a shade of fear in Stan that he wasn't used to.
This seemed to have passed now, though, and in his hurry to keep Bill's confidence Stan relents. He finds himself nodding along to Bill's concerned explanation that this would get back to Beverly. Or worse Richie, from who Bill would never hear the end of it. "I don't think it's the sort of thing people write instruction manuals on" Stan cuts across Bill, who's beginning to ramble, "but you might as well go and look".
Stan had tried to keep straight faced in his reply but he doesn't manage to control his expression when Bill pouts out "you wouldn't come with me". Stan, in that second, cannot think of anything he'd rather do less but then he notices the playful brightness of Bill's eyes and realises that the other boy is only teasing.
"I'd rather tell my parents I was getting baptised" Stan mutters back as Bill begins to laugh.
"I really might go and look though" Bill continues in a smaller voice, an embarrassed shrug accompanying his words.
Stan has always found Bill's relationship with the written word endearing, the other boy always reading and writing or nervously watching Stan when asks him to comment on his most recent work, but Stan can't help but think it isn't the most effective way to tackle his current problem. Stan, always the more scientific of the two, thinks Bill's best bet would simply be a process of practical trial and error but he understands quite keenly the real world constraints of this method. He holds off on suggesting it, focussing on the impracticality over his stomach's fearful lurching.
In the following two weeks Bill does make one trip to the library to further this aim, timing it to achieve almost total solitude amongst the rows of books. He knows that Stan is right, and no instruction manual does appear, but he still leafs through a couple of romance novels hoping for inspiration. He's about to reach for a third, the curly haired individual on the cover catching his eye, when two more people enter the library. Bill hears Beverly and Ben before he sees them and hurriedly returns his books to the shelf. He's already quietly made it to another row when they finally see him and he makes an effort to seem somewhat surprised. His act quickly morphs into a genuine shock when he notices their clasped palms before they think to pull them apart.
"Bill!" comes Beverly's shocked greeting. Ben has taken the route of stunned staring.
Bill tries to smile at them both, getting out a quick "hi" before turning towards the shelf instead, finding that he's found himself at Wildlife.
Ben recovers, asking Bill what it is he's looking for. He sounds slightly hesitant and it's the last way Bill would ever want his friends to feel around him so he tries again for a smile when he replies "oh its a bird book I thought Stan might like"
He's thinking on his feet, the small shelf of wildlife books leading him immediately to Stan's interest in ornithology, and he's not sure it's his most convincing lie but the other two accept it without question. Bill attributes this to the slight awkwardness of the situation and still feeling that tension he focusses once again on the shelves. Because of this he misses the glances exchanged between Ben and Bev but he does hear when Ben moves away, he looks at Beverly then out of the corner of his eye.
"I'm not sure how this looks to you" she begins, arms wrapping themselves around her "but.."
"It's okay, Bev" Bill insists finally turning to face her properly. He had known Ben also liked Beverly even when he'd kissed her in the summer, now a month later Bill knows it wouldn't be fair to be mad at either of them for this choice. Especially when his own feelings for Beverly had faded away almost as quickly as they'd come. Having been startled into acknowledging the growing closeness between his two friends he could accept that theirs was a coupling that made sense. Bill wasn't sure that he could express that all within one look though, and he feared how clumsily he might articulate it, but a growing smile on Bev's face told him she understood.
Ben has come back now, and Bill realised he hadn't gone far at all. Always ready to be next to Bev the second she needs him. Bill's pleased at this, and for both of them, truly and he knows Ben can tell as they share a grin. Bill's already fighting an urge to tease them, and he wonders idly if they've kissed yet. He knows better than to ask but the thought jolts him into remembering his lie about the bird book. Turning back to the shelf he grabs one of the few books he sees on the subject, its only small and is the shade of sky blue that Stan had once told him was his favourite colour. Bill then makes to leave, taking on a teasing tone he tells the two of them to have fun with whatever it is they're doing in the library and grins once more at their dual blush.
Bird book in hand, Bill decides he might as well head straight to Stanley's house, eager for his opinion on this new information. Its only three paces from Stan's front door that Bill realises he'd barely even looked at the book. He has no idea if Stan has read 'Seasonal Migration in Maine', he's not even sure Stan would like the book. This gives Bill pause as his stomach twists anxiously, its the same feeling he gets each time Stan reads something he's written. But Stan is unfailingly kind in his feedback to Bill's work, he had been even to the clumsy ramblings of Bill at twelve, and Bill knows the worst he can expect in response to the book is Stan's familiar confused frown or a somewhat sarcastic thanks. Both of these are responses Bill can work with, what he isn't expecting, however, is the startled redness in Stan's cheeks when Bill greets him with a "I g-got this from the library for you", pushing the book into his hands.
Stan's surprised by Bill's sudden presence and the book that had appeared with him, a "Why?" is out of his mouth before he thinks any better of it and now him and Bill are both stuck. Holding one end of the book each.
"I bumped into Bev and Ben" is Bill's somewhat confusing reply, but Stan catches the way Bill pushes the two names together bevandben and thinks he understands now the other boy's nervous behaviour.
"Oh?" Stan ventures for neutrality but upon locking eyes with Bill he abandons it "are you okay?"
There's barely a pause before Bill's reply but through it Stan contemplates what any of his possible answers would mean. A "No" is expected, and Stan braces himself for the hurt of seeing Bill upset. It's a slow process, he knows that Bill keeps straight-faced until he can't bear to any longer, a falter that Stan has only witnessed twice and never wants to see again. But he sees none of the telltale signs he has memorised, no hurt in Bill's bright eyes.
"Yes. I am. Really you don't have to w-worry" comes Bill's soft but sure reply.
In his relief, Stan allows himself the private acknowledgement of his own personal investment in Bill's feelings for Beverly. The truth that he would've been hurt by more than just seeing a friend upset.
"I'm glad" he hears himself say, and he means it.
Bill smiles then "they were holding hands" he confides and Stan feels himself smile too. Having wanted to avoid the subject around Bill the past few weeks it's a small thrill of camaraderie to be able to gasp at the information, adding "and the way Ben stares". Bill laughs at that, but then a briefly guilty look passes across his face "I shouldn't have tried to get in the way really, he's liked her forever". Stan should have seen this coming, knowing that guilt clings to Bill, knowing that he's always ready to blame himself. Stan also knows it isn't warranted, reminding Bill that "Beverly had some part to play in all this too, y'know". Bill's response is a sheepish grin that Stan focusses on, pride or something like it building in his chest at being successful in averting Bill's self-berating cycle.
"I haven't read this one before" Stan moves on, finally bringing the book towards himself. Bill realises he's still holding on to it and suddenly snaps his hands away, the grin twisting into a nervous purse of lips. Stan forces his eyes towards the book, now that his mind can link its acquisition to Bill's sudden awkwardness regarding Beverly and Ben he finds the gesture easier to slot away. Regardless of how the book found itself in Stanley's hands it looks genuinely interesting to him, skimming the chapter list he feels a grin spread across his face and he looks back at Bill with a "Thanks".
Bill still looks nervous and Stan braces himself for another revelation about Beverly and Ben, especially when there's an odd wistfulness to Bill's eyes. But nothing comes of it and Bill is suddenly grinning back an "Of course!"
"I'm going to assume you didn't actually do any studying while you were there?" Stan asks then, knowing that Bill has always preferred to tell him things in his own time.
The group of seven hang out plently in the following three weeks, and the playful banter surrounding Bev and Ben is yet to grow old, but Stan finds himself alone with Bill more than usual. He doesn't blame Ben and Beverly for choosing their own company on some evenings, and he sees a somewhat similar drifting in Richie and Eddie who have been a duo of richieandeddie for as long as Stan can remember. He does however feel somewhat irrationally abandoned by Mike, who's necessary farmwork often requires an absence from group hangouts.
Stan is often alone with Bill, studying or talking, but it is almost always in the comforting privacy of their own homes. Getting food with Bill, or going to the cinema together, instead creates an uncomfortable knot in Stan's stomach.
Bill's eagerness for these increased cinema visits, he explains to Stan, is all part of his learning to be a better kisser. But that they are going to watch the sort of films in which people kiss does nothing but tighten the knot. He always has fun though, Bill will meet his eyes and pull faces at anything that veers too far towards romance, and only when the actors kiss does Bill's focus ever seem to move away from him, watching the screen intently. Stan always teases him then, suggesting Bill ought to bring a pen and paper or some other more outlandish recorder, commenting that he's never in his life seen him this focussed at school. Bill always blushes, Stan can tell even in the dark of the cinema, and its that same dark that gives him the courage to stare.
After one such film on a saturday afternoon they are back in Bill's room, his parents are out in town shopping with Georgie and the idea that they are alone suddenly feels like it matters to Stan. There's a tense expression on Bill's face and Stan hopes his teasing probe of "did you learn anything from that one then?" will be enough to pull Bill away from whatever's bothering him. Bill's expression is set though, even as he replies with a reflective "..I think so".
"Oh yeah?" Stan's at a loss, as Bill swallows sharply, he decides that he just needs to wait for Bill to explain. This is much more easily said than done, Stan realises, as the few moments Bill seems to need to collect himself feel like years.
"I think. I think I've learned all I'm g-going to from movies" Bill declares then, and Stan is just very briefly quite hurt. He knew he enjoyed their cinema trips but the sudden loss of them stings more than he was expecting. Some of that must show on his face because concern dawns on Bill. "I do still want to go! No of course! I just, actually now we can go see movies you actually want to watch as well". Bill is placating now and Stan feels a flash of anger at thinking he's being pitied. It only takes actually looking at Bill for that anger to subside, there's a nervous wringing to his hands and Stan could hear his stutter picking up on each g, he waits then for Bill to continue.
"What I meant is I d-don't think there's anything more I can learn from watching other people kiss" Stan thinks he knows where this is going and there's a not entirely quiet voice in his head wishing for Bill to stop. "I need to actually kiss someone" Bill finishes anyway.
Stan is very carefully making his expression blank, its a skill he's been working on for years now and he hopes desperately that Bill isn't close enough to see through it. He works on doing the same to his voice before he asks of there was anyone Bill had in mind.
There is a girl in their year called Jessica Miller who shares a form room with Mike, during a recent one of these forms rooms she had delicately enquired as to whether Bill was dating anyone now that it was clear he wasn't dating Beverly Marsh. This had been relayed by Mike to the group at lunchtime just a few days ago and Stan was convinced it was playing through Bill's mind now.
Stanley steels himself in anticipation of Bill's reply, and is grateful to have clenched his hands into the fabric of the bed when Bill's barely audible "you" nearly winds him.
"What" comes his immediate reply, too loud and too frantic in the quiet that had descended. This sends Bill reeling back and regret explodes through Stan as the other boy hurries into a nervous ramble.
"It's just we've kissed before haven't we and you said then that it . it was only p-practice so I thought we could do that again couldn't we. And you could be honest with me about whether I'm actually any good, I mean it's fine if n-not obviously I just thought cause we're friends it can't ruin anything if you have to tell me I'm awful"
Stan believed that kissing your friends was actually a perfect way to ruin things, he had decided that roughly two years earlier. But Bill was right, that time it had been Stan's nervous request to practice a kiss with the other; and kind Bill, always so intent on pleasing people, had agreed. Surely Stan owed it to him now to return the favour, this is evidently what they had decided friends were for, and so he looked at Bill's flushed and open expression and nodded.
The pleased sounding "really" seemed to stumble out of Bill quite unintentionally and he ducked his head slightly in embarrassment. Stan's heart skipped slightly at that, it had been picking up pace ever since Bill had declared his plan. He felt it might stop all together when Bill raised his head again, intent clear in his bright eyes.
Things seemed to be happening slowly to Stan then, he could feel the pad of each of Bill's fingers settle one by one as he raised his left hand to cradle Stan's face. The two boys were facing eachother on Bill's bed, legs crossed, and it only took a slight lean from them both before their lips met.
Stan decided very quickly that Bill's scholarly interest was paying off, he was gentle in the kiss at first moving his lips slowly against Stan's before he seemed to gain courage, his mouth opening slightly, finding a better fit between them. Bill's hands had moved too, his right shifted to rest just above Stanley's knee and his left has slid quickly from his jaw up into his curls. Playing with Stan's curls was a habit Bill had dropped as they'd gotten older and Stanley felt himself missing if frequently, its return in this context filled Stan with warmth. This heat only grew, flaring in the moments when Bill's tongue would meet his own. Bill was leaning further forward, now, and Stan moved his own hands to rest around Bill's neck. Relishing in the pleased hum Bill gave to this Stan let his own fingers snake into Bill's soft hair. Bill shifted his head slightly then to place soft kisses along Stan's jaw. "Oh" was all Stan could get out, eyes half closed and fixed on the wall above Bill. Stan can hear the breathy sighs he makes as Bill's mouth travels lower but he's suddenly startled by a thud coming from downstairs. The door, he thinks, and suddenly the contented heat within him is gone. "Bill" he gets out, but its high and gasping and Bill only hums in response moving back up to kiss him properly. Stan almost lets him, almost lets himself melt into the kiss and let the world be just them for even longer. But he cant let himself. "Bill" he says again, more forcefully this time, moving his hands down to Bill's shoulders and nudging him away.
Bill's eyes open properly then and the darkness in their usual sky blue creates another stab of heat within Stan, he ignores it though as he holds a finger to his lips trying desperately to convey the need for silence. He knows Bill hears it the next time, shuffling downstairs and the murmur of conversation between the houses other three residents. Bill has always had an excellent read on Stanley and so when he reassures him that nobody could have possibly heard Stan doesn't even bother to pretend he wasn't afraid.
They both take a few moments to breathe heavily in the silence, Stanley then shuffles away from Bill needing at least some space to contemplate what he feels has changed between them. It's Stanley's movement away that seems to jolt something in Bill, who's suddenly looking everywhere except him as he asks "so how was that?"
And right Stanley reminds himself harshly. Practice.
"Good" Stanley manages, hoping to not sound stricken in any way. Bill won't look at him and Stan wants desperately to leave but he can't with Bill's family downstairs. He instead falls back on objectivity, trying to be the frank assessor Bill had requested "maybe, er maybe you don't have to be so fast with your tongue" Stanley poses, grasping for some aura of levelheadedness "but the rest was, really good" he rushes out.
"Especially your hand in my hair" he chooses to add, deciding there's probably no salvaging dignity now.
Bill finally meets his eyes again though, so he thinks it worth it.
"You were really g-good to" Bill replies with a small smile. And Stan's small burst of pride is just this once enough to drown out the voice telling him Bill probably feels like he has to say that.
"I don't think you'll have any trouble finding someone who wants to kiss you again" Stan says then, trying not to dwell on who that might be.
The wistful expression that Stan associates with Beverly is back on Bill's face and Stan is suddenly terrified that he's not as over her as everyone had assumed. The idea that this could ruin the group spurs Stan into suggesting "what about Jessica Miller?" hoping that no bitterness can be made out in his tone.
Bill just looks confused now but Stan doesn't waver, his carefully controlled expression must convince Bill of something though because he nods jerkily. The other boy looks away from Stan for a second before his face transforms into a smile "yeah.." Bill shrugs as he speaks and Stan feels a stab "yeah maybe"
Chapter 3: Recalibrating
Bill and Stan reorient themselves after the kiss as fears begin to flare.
Six days after the kiss it still occupies the majority of Bill's thoughts, his heart beating rapidly at just the memory of it. He's thinking about it now, during the peaceful quiet he's sharing with Mike as they both read.
This silence is broken by Georgie who comes racing into the room in search of pencils and Bill is relieved to have eyes on him even though he knows his brother is always only across the hall. It had been more than two years now since the summer when Georgie had gone missing one weekend but it still made Bill sick to his stomach to think about it. It had been his fault. He had made the boat with which Georgie had gone out to play, and he knew deep down that his parents had yet to completely forgive him. Bill had been inconsolable until Georgie had returned, the brave face he attempted infront of his parents breaking down into tears on both days as the Losers banded around him.
Out loud Bill had blamed his own poor kissing but there was a cruel nagging in his head that insisted Stan had withdrawn from him because of that weekend. It had all happened over seven days: a nervous thursday in which the two boys huddled together in Stan's room, a gentle kiss, practice Stan had suggested, passing between them, then a friday of shy glances and private smiles before the saturday in which Georgie did not come home, Bill's entire world had been monumentally shifted until his return late sunday evening and Stan had been there for Bill throughout, his care never wavering, but the following wednesday he had confided in Bill that he thought the kiss might have been a mistake. Stan had suggested that they were better as friends and Bill couldn't find it in himself to argue. There had been a blatant sadness in Stan's expression and Bill knew he had dissapointed him, just like he had his parents. This guilt convinced Bill to do what he could to make the conversation easier on Stan, suggesting they forget the whole thing ever happened.
Bill was absolutely terrified that this would happen again, that his now obsessive vigilance over Georgie's whereabouts, and the wellbeing of all the people he cared about, would not be enough for anyone to give him a second chance. Especially Stan, who walked through the world with such care and was so gentle with that which required it. Stan was far too good for him. And so Bill had spent the last two years on a quiet journey of self improvement, taking extra care with Georgie and with any of his parent's demands, focussing on his schoolwork and bettering his ungainly hold on both writing and speaking.
At thirteen Bill had made a pact with himself that he would try to regain Stan's tender affection once he believed he deserved it, but he had largely given up on the goal, acknowledging that Stan's friendship would always be enough to keep him content. It was in his attempting to move on from this that his brief feelings for Beverly has flourished, but that had quickly ended too after she had raised her hesitance to Stan. If Bill could be honest with himself he knew his focus on the kissing had been part of his quest for improvement, one final excuse he could make before he started convincing himself Stan would only love him if he had all the countries in the world memorised or a keen skill in whistling. The kissing did seem to have helped though, providing a reason for Bill and Stan to circle eachother more closely, and Bill is infinitely grateful for it.
He's thinking about the kiss again now that Georgie has settled into his drawing in the other room and its from this reverie that Mike's question snaps him
"Are you okay, Bill?"
Bill doesn't know exactly what's caused the genuine concern he hears in Mike's voice but when he turns to face him he can see that the other boy's eyes are focussed on Bill's hands. He's unsure how long he'd been tapping his pen against leg and upon noticing it he finds he's not fully able to stop the inconsistent rhythm.
"I'm fine, Mike, sorry. Just thinking"
Mike nods, accepting this but continues in concern anyway, "You look upset"
Bill raises his hand toward his face and can feel the warm redness of it, he doesn't know exactly how to explain that its not sadness causing the colour because when he begins to try he realises it might be. His insecure spiral has tightened his throat and this shades his next words with an unexpected melancholy "I kissed Stan"
Bill tells Mike because he trusts him, because he knows Mike would take this secret to the grave and also that Mike is willing to be completely honest with Bill if he believes Bill needs to hear it. He's not fearful to tell Mike that he kissed a boy, Bill knows that there has never been any room for prejudice in Mike's heart, he is however concerned to admit that it was Stan who is so close to them both. He waits carefully then for Mike's reply which comes as "And what did Stan do?"
"He kissed me back" there's none of the sadness then, but Bill's voice is still tight, the insecurity returns as he continues "he even said it was good! and then he t-told me he thinks I should ask out Jessica Miller"
"Oh" Mike sounds confused then and Bill feels slightly vindicated. This doesn't help Bill's mood though as he can be sure now that kissing was never the problem. It had been a good kiss and Bill still wasn't worth Stan's affections.
"Have you told him how you feel?" Is Mike's next query and Bill is afraid of what his face might be betraying as he shakes his head
Mike's hands close over his then, the tapping finally stopping, and moves his head so that Bill is forced to meet his eyes "I think you should try"
This seems to be Mike's final verdict as he moves again to pick up his book. Bill hears it though, the unspoken promise that Mike will be there for him whatever happens next.
Two days after Bill finds himself sitting in Stan's room. They had not been together in Bill's since the kiss and he was not willing to think about why. He's alone now with Stan for the first time since that Saturday and there's tension in every slight movement Bill can feel himself make.
Stan appears equally hyperaware but it's a trait more familiar to him, working in tandem with his constant worrying, Bill just isn't used to having it focussed so closely on him. It makes the back of his neck itch and when he raises his hand to scratch it Stan tenses completely. Bill follows the action through and Stan relaxes. He won't meet Bill's eyes.
Bill needs to say something but he doesn't know what, he doesn't know how to fix what he's clearly broken and he's beginning to feel afraid. There's shame building too, at the idea he's failing at something despite not being able to articulate what it is. Mike's kindness and quiet company had managed to quash this feeling when it had reared on Friday, but Bill feels now as if it's his parent's dissaproving eyes on his in the silent room and not Stan's.
Clinging onto the comfort of Mike, Bill tries to remind himself of his advice. Try echoes in Bill's mind and he opens his mouth
Stan's laserlike focus centres on Bill's face, his "yeah?" is quiet but it's enough to push Bill forward.
Bill doesn't know how to word the insistency of his feelings for Stan, having attempted to abandon them over the course of the past two years he was surprised at how intensely the kiss had brought them to the front of his mind. "Can I kiss you again?" Bill tries instead, thinking actions may offer clarity in a way he can't make his words.
The question doesn't make any sense to Stan, not when he knows that Bill has never been properly capable of being cruel.
Two years ago Stan had offered Bill an out. He had witnessed a cruelty he had never understood in Bill's parents, their blame and their anger, and he had realised that his affections would only deepen the fissure. Bill would do anything to please his parents, and Stan couldn't fight that no matter how contented Bill's kiss had made him. He had known that at thirteen, realised it after a heartbreaking near-loss, and he knew it was still true now.
It was for Bill's own best interest that he repeated what he had said back then. "No"
Hurt began building in Bill's eyes and Stanley, in that moment, hates himself "I know we're better off as friends, Bill"
Bill turns his face away from Stanley then and after a long pause he meets his eyes again. The hurt is gone, it's replaced with embarrassment clear on Bill's face and resignation in his eyes. "Okay" comes out of Bill's mouth slightly unsteadily but he's recovered by the time he's adding "you're pr-probably right".
Bill leaves not long after, abandoning the maths homework they'd been doing after remembering a suddenly urgent chore.
They barely speak for two weeks.
It's the last two weeks before winter break and they have easily been two of the worst weeks of Stan's life. When asked about his sudden drop in mood by his concerned parents Stan blames it on the exams they have, all squashed together in the final week of the term. This is also the excuse Bill is using to avoid him. While it's true that he's seen all of the Losers less than usual, in their varying attempts to study, the sudden absence of Bill when he had been constantly close before stings so much more.
Stan focusses intently on his studies, going to Richie's for distraction when regret drowns almost everything else out. He is almost never alone with Richie but Eddie's presence is equally as welcome, the familiarity and warmth of their bickering is a genuine comfort. If they're bothered by Stan's tagging along to their hangouts they're too kind to say it and he's aware that this might be because the others know more about the situation than he had hoped.
Richie certainly does, he raises the subject on one of the rare hangouts Eddie is not present at "What happened with you and Bill?"
"Who says anything happened" Stan tries but Richie just blinks in response.
Another attempt "Have you all been talking about it?" Stan genuinely wants to know. Richie can tell and his response is sincere "No. I can't tell you whether or not they know too, but this is just me asking"
Stan's "why do you care" is deflective and pointless. He knows Richie cares because he's his friend but Richie answers anyway "Because I careeeee about YOU Stan! and about Bill! and I think I know exactly wh-" Richie's pause is sudden, as though he'd already said too much and he's embarrassed just slightly by it.
This jolts Stan out of his focus on himself. Richie cares because he's a good friend. Richie might also care because he sees himself in Stan's predicament: his ancient pining for his best friend.
Stan softens now "We kissed" he begins to explain. Richie's face grins reflexively but his wary apprehension turns it into a grimace, the sight makes Stan laugh in spite of himself. He continues though "he asked if we could again, but I had to tell him no". Richie just looks confused now and Stan hears himself repeat "I had to" in a far more defensive tone.
"Why?!" Richie doesn't bother coating his question in anything but blatant disbelief.
"Because I won't make him CHOOSE, Richie, I won't make him choose between me and his parents"
Richie won't accept this either "His parents can be ASSHOLES, everyone knows that! Even Bill deep down! Why shouldn't he choose you?". It seems personal to Richie then, and Stan is reminded that Bill is not the only Loser with parents who can be cruel, he knows the image of Eddie's overbearing mother is at the front of Richie's mind.
"Because I won't make his consider the possibility of losing Georgie"
Richie understands now. Bill might be nearing sixteen, he might have six friends he could turn to in a heartbeat if his parent's cruelty reared up once more, but leaving his parents would mean leaving Georgie and Bill could never do it.
Richie still tries though, his voice is soft when he suggests "His parents might never find out"
Stan knows that this is true but fear is already working its way through him "I just can't be the one who makes him risk that"
"So you broke his heart instead?" Richie isn't saying it to be cruel, Stan knows, but he flinches anyway.
"This happened before" He feels the need to explain himself "Two years ago, the same thing, I said then we should just be friends and it was fine"
The extra information seems as though it's a genuine shock to Richie and Stan feels reassured that his sacrifice for Bill had worked. Nobody had known.
"He moved on from whatever he thought he felt! he was happy. He was going to go out with Bev! or Jessica Miller! and I was going to be okay with that, I was going to figure out a way to be okay with that and we'd still be friends. I'd still have him." Stan knows he's just rambling now and he can feel himself getting genuinely upset. The roughness in his voice almost stops it getting out but Richie definitely hears the plaintive "and now I've ruined that"
"You haven't" Richie sounds so, so, sure. The kindness in his voice helps Stan overcome the embarrassment of his outburst and he looks towards his friend "yeah?"
"You really should go talk to him though" Richie moves to shove him "..like NOW!"
"We're in the middle of exams" Stan hesitates in response, dodging Richie's arms.
"Christmas then, promise me Uris, our own little miracle"
"..If you'll talk to Eddie too"
Richie's back to being embarrassed then, red flowing across his face, but he holds Stanley's eyes. "Deal"
A few days later, it's the actions of Bill's family that gets the two speaking again.
Stan's at the store when a weight comes slamming into him, lost in thought he hadn't heard the warning "Stanley!" yell that Georgie had given. The eight year old is now wrapped around Stan who reminds the kid, once he's recovered his breath, that he's not as little as he used to be. A scolding call of "Georgie" follows him and the boy quickly lets go, Stan turns to see Bill's mother smiling apologetically at him.
"How have you been, Stanley" she ventures "it's been a little while since we've seen you"
"I've been so busy with exams" Stan explains, knowing that schoolwork, at least, is something Bill's parents approve of him and his friends doing.
"Of course" Mrs Denbrough nods to that "We'll see you over the break then?"
Stan's halfway through a nod he doesn't really mean when she adds "'Eve Eve'? Surely" This causes Stan to falter. 'Eve Eve' was somewhat of a Denbrough tradition, spawning from the busy schedules of both parents the household was not decorated until the 23rd of December. Both sons were allowed one friend to join them in helping and to stay up with that night, eating sweets and watching Christmas movies. Most of the Losers had spent at least one Eve Eve with Bill, except for Eddie who's mother wouldn't allow him, and Beverly for who it would be improper. But in the last three years it had always been Stan. He was always happy to spend any time possible with Bill but as Stan had gotten older he'd more clearly understood the pointed comments of Bill's parents who were so shocked that a nice boy like Stan wasn't allowed to celebrate Christmas. They had always been busy, as a family, anytime Stan had offered for Bill to join his family in their celebrations, even though sometimes it was the first Bill was hearing about it. Stan knew that Bill was always genuinely sad to be stopped from attending, especially important events like Stan's bar mitzvah, but he never disobeyed his parents.
Stan doesn't know what to say but at Georgie's insistence that he has to, because if Georgie's very good he might be allowed to watch Gremlins with them, Stan can feel himself caving.
His "Yeah, I'll be there" is directed entirely at the young boy's hopeful face.
"Be where?" comes Bill's voice from behind him.
Stan whips around, he's seen Bill in the two weeks since they were in Stan's bedroom but always at school. Always with desks between them and the other Losers there to fill in any awkward pauses.
It's Georgie, always an honourary Loser, who fills in this role now "Stan's coming to 'Eve Eve' again!"
Georgie sounds thrilled, he always does, but it only takes one look at Bill to know that he isn't.
"Oh" comes Bill's completely empty reply.
Stan feels embarrassment and guilt begin to grow within him then. He hadn't been thinking about Bill at all as he'd assessed the offer, and he realises now that Bill might not want him in his home. The thought hurts Stan physically and he tries to back out of the situation "If I don't have some family thing to go to" Stan tries to reassure "I might not be able to make it"
"You'll really try though?" It's Georgie speaking now and Stan can't really be mad at him but he has no idea what to say.
"Don't p-pester him Georgie" Bill says now. It's not scolding, he never is with Georgie, but the boy listens to his brother, flashing Stan an apologetic grin just like Bill's.
"I've got to go" Stan says now, a lie but he doesn't think anyone notices, "I'll see you all soon". He selfishly hopes this isn't the case.
He's about thirty seconds out of the shop when someone jogs up behind him. He knows it's Bill before the other boy speaks and he braces himself
He stops and Bill catches up, they're stood closer now than they have been in days. It's the only thing Stan's thinking about and he can't make himself look at him.
"You really don't have to come if you don't want to" Bill says then, the words sound as though he'd been practising them as he'd hurried over and Stan doesn't like the idea that he's become someone Bill tries to hide his stutter from "Georgie'll get over it"
That settles it then. Bill doesn't want him there.
But then Stan decides to look. And Bill looks sad. Stan thinks it might break his heart and the fear, for once, makes him brave "Do you want me to be there?"
The sadness of Bill's face is nudged out of place by shock, his "Of c-course" is almost immediate and its enough to stop the shattering in Stan's chest.
Bill keeps speaking "I just. I don't want you to think you have to just cause you got cornered b-by my mom in the grocery store. I mean" he shoots him a look then that aims to articulate just how embarrassing he finds the concept and Stan can feel himself grin. Glancing down to it Bill looks suddenly so relieved.
His guard raises once more as he looks back to Stan's eyes "Do you want to come?"
Stan won't let himself hesitate this time, he needs Bill to know that he means it when he says "I'd love to"
Bill looks thrilled but still cautious at that and Stan knows he owes Bill more than this abrupt 180 turn "It'll be a really good chance to talk" he continues.
Bill's cautious expression stays but there's something like hope in the brightness of his eyes. He nods to Stan "I'll see you there" a small smile growing larger before he turns back towards the store.
Stan waves even though Bill can't see and begins planning immediately what he wants to say to Bill in three days time.
Chapter 4: Conclusion
Stan and Bill talk
It's two days before Christmas and Bill is nervous. Not for the Holidays, which he has always loved, but about seeing Stan again.
Bill decides, roughly 30 seconds after the other boy arrives, that he needn't have been. They fall easily back into their well worn conversation and Bill considers for a moment that Stan may have been right. If changing this dynamic leads to the risk of losing it then Bill might want to stay like this for as long as Stan will let him. The presence of Georgie and his friend Luke helps, and Bill is able to hold off on 'what ifs' long enough to enjoy every moment he has with Stan.
Although, Georgie, being eight, sometimes lacks tact. Stan has taken the lights out of Bill's hands, each brush of his fingertips endlessly distracting to Bill, and is now reaching up to position them on a high shelf. The task has lifted his shirt slightly and Bill knows he's staring at the notch of Stan's hip it reveals. Stan, however, had not known Bill's eyes were on him until Georgie loudly pointed it out. Bill can feel how red his face must be and prays it dies down at least somewhat before Stan turns away from the lights he is now so intently fixing. "I'm j-just making sure he's hanging the lights right, Georgie" he manages to mutter out and his brother, thankfully, drops it. When Stanley finally does turn around there's a slight colour to his cheeks too, Bill is terrified that his slip up will end the rhythm they'd gotten back into, but when Bill risks meeting his eyes he almost looks pleased.
Unfortunately, the relieved joy Stan's presence provides does not last all day. The conflict comes just before lunch, before Bill leaves the room his parent's are discussing what exactly they'll be making for Christmas dinner but by the time he returns he can he his mother's voice questioning "So you won't do anything at all on the day? Oh Stanley that's just not right. If I'd have known earlier you could've come to our house, there's no good reason any child in America shouldn't celebrate Christmas".
Bill has heard his mother say things like this before and he's seen Stan brush it off but this time Stan hasn't seen Bill come back into the room and with his face not in view of the adults he's letting himself look upset.
Bill is suddenly intensely angry, his parents have no right to think they know better than Stan's, especially not when Stan's parents have only ever been kind when his own parents weren't. Bill also feels incredible guilty for having brought Stan into his house, having not realised how upset it might have made him. The guilt spurs Bill into action and he can hear the harshness of his voice as he calls "Mom!" Three faces turn towards him "There's nothing not right about not celebrating f-fucking Christmas" This is going against every snide comment he's ever heard his parents make but he knows he's telling the absolute truth as he continues "Stan's Jewish, and he's my best friend and there's never been anything goddamn wrong with that!"
His father has stood now from where he was sat, towering over the table, his expression is scaring Bill. His voice is too as he snaps out "Bill, you'll watch your tone right now, I don't know what the hell has gotten into you but you'll apologise to your mother this instant"
Bill cringes inwards almost immediately before remembering why he did this in the first place and looking towards Stan. His face is shocked and as soon as Bill meets his eyes he starts to shake his head. Bill knows the look he's being given now, Stan is telling him to apologise, to not cause anymore trouble. It's usually the expression Stan gives the other Losers when he talking them out of antagonising any bullies and Bill realises suddenly that that's what his parents can be in their worst moments. He's never backed down from bullies before "Not until she apologises first"
As much as Stan had definitely not wanted Bill to get into an argument with his parents, there is still an undeniable flare of pride in his chest at Bill's words. That Bill is sticking up for Stan, as well as refusing to let his parents control him, adds further warmth. He tries to convey that in the look he gives Bill but the other boy is only looking at his parents, his chest heaving at he stares them down.
Stan turns to look at them too and almost wants to laugh at their obvious shock. Stan can see the jaw of Bill's mother working before she turns to him, sickly sweet "I didn't mean any offense Stan, I'm sure you know that! Everybody knows I have a lot of respect for your family and I'd never want them to hear otherwise just because Bill's gotten all worked up here".
Stan's not sure he has been apologised to at all.
Bill's about to say something again, Stan can sense it and so he rushes to reply "Of course, Mrs Denbrough, I think you just worded what you said a little ..unfortunately". It's as antagonistic as he thinks he can be while trying to calm the situation. He knows Bill's mother will hate to be condescended to by a teenager but also that she can't refuse his acceptance of her 'apology'.
"Why don't you two boys go play upstairs" comes her reply, and that's the end of it.
"You shouldn't have done that" he hears himself saying as soon as they are in Bill's room. Even he hears that it doesn't sound entirely genuine.
"Yes I should" comes Bill's immediate reply "I should've d-done that ages ago. I'm sorry" Bill looks genuinely remorseful and Stan takes his hand in acceptance of that.
"They're wrong about other things too y'know" Stan starts after a few seconds deciding whether it's the right thing to do. Bill doesn't seem to know where he's going but he looks ready to believe whatever Stan might say "It was never your fault, when Georgie went missing"
Bill's hand is leaving Stan's grasp now, his arms moving to wrap around himself, and he shakes his head "No, I built that boat, I wouldn't play outside with him, I shoud've been watching him"
"No your parents should've been watching, they were both home! They're the adults, they were the one's responsible for him, not another child!"
Stan doesn't think he's really convinced Bill but the other boy does give him a slight shrug, nodding through a frown.
"I'm not sure they're still gonna let us watch Die Hard" is all Bill says after a pause and Stan starts to laugh. Bill joins him and suddenly neither of them can seem to stop. Stan's laughter is beginning to hurt his chest and he reaches to grasp Bill's shoulder for support. The other boy leans into the touch and Stan is acting completely on impulse when he moves his hand from shoulder to neck and brings Bill's forehead to rest against his own.
The laughter has subsided but Bill's eyes are so bright as they look into his. Stan is frozen in the moment and confusion begins to cloud Bill's expression, he begins to pull away and Stan is finally able to blurt out "I was scared".
Bill leans back in, and his whispering "Of my parents?" stabs at Stan.
"No, well kind of, not then, I mean when we kissed" he tries to explain.
"I'm sorry" Bill says then, and Stan is too.
"It's not your fault. I'm scared of you getting hurt, Bill, if we mess this up. Or if your parents found out"
Bill does pull back this time, but it's so he can scan Stan's face more easily. Stan doesn't know what he's looking for but he must find it as he sighs.
"I don't think we'll mess up" Bill sounds surer than Stan thinks he has any right to and he continues "But honestly I think it might be worth it even if we do mess up every once in a while"
Stan has sometimes, secretly, allowed himself to think that too. He's still worried though "What about your parents? If they found out they might do something terrible"
Bill's next words are quietly dejected "They b-barely look at me sometimes, Stan, they don't acknowledge the things they don't want to, I c-can't see this being any different"
It breaks Stanley's heart.
"They don't know what they're missing" He needs Bill to know "I swear, Bill, there is nothing about you that deserves that. There isn't anything about you that's difficult to love"
A small smile is growing on Bill's face now, the gravity of his sadness lifting just slightly.
"Y-you too" comes his reply, he brushes some of the curls out of Stan's face, smile growing. Stan can feel his face heat at the words, a quick skipping of his heart.
Bill continues now, sounding lighter but somewhat self-deprecating he adds "I'm not sure there isn't anything, I'm three for three now,, on people telling me not to kiss them again"
Stan feels a sudden flare of jealousy when he wonders who else Bill might of kissed outside of him and Beverly when he realises that he'd turned Bill away twice now. He thinks his regret is audible when he tries to counter the statement "...Yeah. About that".
Bill is beginning to grin now.
"Kiss me again" Stan's slightly worried it sounds like he's begging "Kiss me again and I won't"
Bill's smiling too much to kiss Stan properly. He thinks it may actually be his worst attempt at kissing someone yet but the second it's over Stan blurts out "Go out with me?" and Bill isn't thinking about technique anymore as he kisses him again to answer.
They're wrapped around eachother until there's a knock on the door. The voice of Bill's mum flowing through telling them food is ready. Sitting around the dinner table isn't as awkward as Bill had feared it might be. Georgie and his friend take up a lot of the conversation and any time a pointed comment is made towards the older boys Bill feels Stan's foot coming to rest against his. It's Stan's way of supporting Bill, not always blatant but unfailingly caring, and also necessary in a way Bill is just starting to understand. He sees it in Stan's expression too, his kind eyes watching.
Bill know's they're going to be okay.
He knows they both do.
Bill has always secretly preferred Eve Eve to Christmas. He thinks this one, which ends with him holding Stan close in his single bed whispering about films they'll go and see in between soft kisses and quiet giggles, has been the best one yet.