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they've branded us enough (outlaws of love)

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The first time Billy notices it, he’s standing outside the arcade with Steve, having a smoke. He turns his head towards the arcade window and sees Will Byers watching him intently, with this kind of, gleam in his eye. 

Billy knows that look, he himself has given that look to many people, boys , when he was Will’s age. Knows the meaning behind it, knows the feelings that coil in your gut while you look at someone you know you shouldn’t be looking at. 

Will’s eyes go wide when he realises he’s been caught and he frantically turns the other way and hides behind one of his friends. 

“Earth to Shirley Temple? Hello?” Steve pokes at Billy’s shin with one of his feet, “Were you even listening to me?” 

Billy forces his attention back on Steve and frowns, “Did you just call me Shirley Temple?” 

Steve smiles and raises his brows, before flicking his cigarette and reaching up to tug on one of his loose curls, “Sure did, Bright Eyes.” 

He reaches an arm out and pinches Steve’s side, making the boy laugh and fall back against the Camaro. He keeps poking at him until Steve surrenders and pushes his hand against Billy’s face, puts a good few feet in between them. They’re both laughing when he glances over his shoulder and spots baby Byers admiring them again. 

Billy hopes Will understands. Understands what he and Steve are, understands that it’s okay

---

The second time, he’s walking out of the gas station, a pack of smokes in hand and flicking away at his lighter. He spots Ms Byer’s car next to the gas pump, she’s too busy daydreaming to even notice him, but Will isn’t. He’s sitting in the front seat of the car, his forehead resting against the window and gazing at Billy as he walks towards the Camaro. 

He looks good, he knows he does because he paid extra good attention to himself while getting ready for his and Steve’s date tonight. Well, it’s not really a date, it’s more like Steve, him, Robin, and Heather are going to the diner the next town over for a double date that isn’t really a date because if people ask, Steve is there with Robin and Billy is there with Heather. 

But the point is, he looks good

He waves at Will and the boy visibly jumps and knocks his head against the window it was resting on. Will tentatively waves back and Billy smiles and gives him a wink that turns Will’s pale cheeks a patchy crimson. 

Billy remembers what it was like, being 13 and fighting with these feelings you were taught were wrong . He still fights with them sometimes. 

He remembers being 13 and sitting at the pier, watching 17-year-old, Mateo Ramirez, gliding across the waves and not being able to take his eyes off him. Recalls watching the sun glimmer against his russet-brown skin and tracking the droplets of water that rolled down his stomach. Could recite the first words he ever spoke to Billy. “ Hey, ese, you good? ” Remembers his stuttering as he tried to respond, only for Mateo to laugh, pat him on the head as he passed by and say “ Chill, rubio. It’s a beautiful day, yeah? ” and Billy felt this kick in his stomach as Mateo turned around and walked backwards to look at him - and winked.

Billy gives one more final look at Will before he hops in his car to go pick up his boyfriend for their date.  

---

“Will Byers has been, like, staring at me,” Billy says against the sweaty skin on Steve’s chest, they’re laying there naked, Steve’s sheets pooling around them. Steve’s chest is still heaving a little where Billy’s face is pressed against it. He presses a kiss to the middle of his chest, and rests his chin on the same spot, Steve wipes some sweat that’s resting on Billy’s brow and moves to push his hair back, scratching along his scalp. 

“What do you mean?” He asks, his honey eyes counting the freckles on Billy’s nose.

Billy subconsciously pushes his head against Steve’s hand, “I think he has a crush on me?” 

Steve laughs and Billy thinks it’s his favourite sound. “You think Will is… Like us?” He finishes. 

Billy likes that, like us. Likes how it sounds, how it feels floating around his head and fluttering its way down to his chest. He nods and brings both his hands up to rest under his chin. 

“Well, do you think you should talk to him? That’s gotta be scary for someone so young. Don’t know what I would have done if I went through all this at his age. Being 18 was hard enough.” 

He shrugs slightly, “Dunno. I think if someone tried to talk to me about it at 13 I woulda’ punched em’.” 

“I think you and Will are slightly different people,” Steve teases, pinching at Billy’s cheek. Billy scrunches his nose and leans down to nip at Steve’s pale skin. “Stop biting me! People are going to think I’m dating some weird BDSM chick.” Steve yelps. 

“You are dating some weird BDSM chick.” 

Steve grabs at Billy’s shoulders and rolls him over, shimmying down to lay on top of him. Steve starts tickling at his sides and Billy squirms and laughs, trying to push Steve off him, “Oh my god, stop . Harrington! I’m gonna piss the fucking bed.”

--- 

The third time, Billy is at the Byers’s house with Steve. 

Steve is sitting on the floor in front of the couch, with El behind him twisting his hair and attempting to braid it with Max’s terrible instructions. No, you gotta go under and then, yeah, wait no, hold up I’m confused. 

He sneaks outside for a smoke. Before Joyce left for her date with Hopper she said she’s trying to quit smoking inside the house, read a story that it causes cancer or something. Billy wasn’t really listening, just grasped the part where he had to go outside to smoke. 

He walks down the porch steps and towards the Camaro to sit on the hood. He cuffs his hand over the light as he flicks it in front of the cigarette, watching the cherry come to life. As he exhales the smoke he sees Will peeking behind the curtain and watching him. Before the boy has a chance to hide after he’s spotted, Billy waves him to come outside. 

Will tentatively opens the front door and shuffles down the steps. His hands are balling at his sides, bunching up the fabric of his khakis. Billy pats the space next to him on the hood, holding his smoke in between his thumb and pointer finger, taking a drag. 

“Take a seat, baby Byers.” He breathes out and catches Will watch the smoke trickle out of his lips. The boy looks down at the ground as he takes a seat, his hands rest in his lap and pick at the skin around his nails. 

“You listen to Queen?” 

Will’s head turns and his chestnut hair sways with him, “Uh, sometimes, yeah?” 

Billy nods and takes another drag of his cigarette, “Freddie Mercury is a queer, don’t you think?” He can see the way Will’s body tenses at that word. Feels the anxiety radiate off him, “I think so, he dresses like one. Heard some of his lyrics? I wanna make a supersonic man outta you , that’s some queer shit.”

He flicks his floundering smoke on the ground and grinds it with the toe of his boot. Turning his head slightly, he looks down at Will and takes in the big eyes staring up at him. He can see the fear in them, see the pure panic. Understands what that feels like, has felt it too many times in his life - The feeling when your stomach just drops out from beneath you. The anxiety that scratches at your heart, tearing its way through your arteries. How it makes its way up your throat and hangs in the back of your mouth, ready to spew out on the surface below you. 

“I like em’,” Billy says, “Freddie and I, we’re the same.” He finishes, making sure he keeps eye contact with Will. 

The younger boy frowns and swallows the spit or bile that is in his throat, “What?” 

Billy rests a hand on Will’s knee and he noticeably startles, “I think you know what I mean, Will.” He gives one final pat on the boy’s knee before he stands up and makes his way to the house, he turns around and sees Will is still sitting on the hood of his car, “You coming?”

---

Steve is laying on the sunbed, watching the kids jump around in the water of the public pool. It’s hot today, around 95 degrees. Dustin and Mike arrived at his house at 9am, banging on the front door, already in their swim trunks when he pried the door open. They both put on big smiles and begged Steve to drive them and the rest of the party to Hawkins Public Pool. 

So, Steve is now at the pool, babysitting all the kids, and trying really fucking hard not to stare at his boyfriend sitting half-naked in the lifeguard tower. It doesn’t help when Billy catches his eye every five minutes and winks at him over the top of his aviators. 

The kids all hop out of the pool, gathering around Steve and grabbing at the snacks Steve bought at the gas station on the way here. He looks around and notices Will is missing from the group, “Where’s Will?” He asks. 

“Bathroom,” Dustin says with a mouthful of cheez-balls. “He’s been gone forever. Probably taking a massive shit.” Dustin laughs. Max gags and slaps at his shoulder. 

Steve frowns and gets up from the sunbed to investigate. As he walks past Billy, he blows his whistle at him, “No running, Harrington. I’ll have to punish you.” 

“I’m literally walking.” He replies, staring up at him. 

Billy smirks and leans down slightly, lowering his voice, “And who’s gonna believe you? I’m the lifeguard here, and if I think you deserve a punishment, you’re gonna get one.” Steve can feel the blush rising to his cheeks and rolls his eyes at Billy before, very slowly , walking towards the bathroom. 

He enters the men’s room and can hear voices echoing off the tiles. 

“Queers aren’t allowed in here, Byers! Don’t want to catch aids from you.” 

“Yeah, no fairies allowed!” 

“Fucking faggot!” 

Steve stalks around the corner and sees five kids, probably around 15, crowding around Will and shoving and yelling at him. Will looks tiny and helpless against the older boys. 

The pure rage that runs through Steve’s veins makes him feel hot, makes his fists clench and his chest heave . He stomps forward, grabbing at Will and standing in front of him. He stares down at the five boys. 

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” He shouts, all the boys flinch at his words. He takes a step forward, his eyes moving across all five of them, “Get the fuck out now, leave the goddamn pool or I’ll throw you out myself.” 

One kid speaks up, his voice cracking slightly as he does. “You can’t kick us out!” He challenges. 

Steve laughs; a bitter and scary sound. He bends his knees a bit, to get down to eye level, “Want a fucking bet?” 

One of the other boy’s grabs at the kid, pulling him along and mumbling for them to go. They all shuffle out quickly, glancing over their shoulder as they do. 

“And if I ever see any of you near Will again, your ass is grass. You hear me?” He yells after them. They all stare at him, nodding frantically before continuing their exit from the bathroom. 

Steve turns around and sees Will desperately running off to a shower stall to hide. Steve runs after him, pulling the curtain open. Will is sitting on the floor with his knees pulled to his chest, back against the wall and crying with his head tucked towards his heart. 

He quietly steps into the stall, sitting down in front of the younger boy. 

“Will?” He whispers. 

He lifts his head up slightly, holding down a sob, “Leave me alone, please.” 

Steve shakes his head. “Can’t do that, buddy.” 

Will laughs and its a choked sound. He harshly rubs at his eyes before looking back at Steve. “Didn’t you hear? I’m a queer! Be careful, or you might catch the gay plague.” He cries. 

“Jesus, Will-” 

“What is wrong with me?” He whispers, his eyes dropping to the scabs on his knees, “Wh-why am I like this? What did I do?” 

And Steve’s heart breaks hearing those words, seeing Will huddled in a shower stall, hiding from bullies, and thinking that there is something wrong with him. 

“There’s nothing-” He pauses to gather his thoughts, “There isn’t anything wrong with you, Will. Your feelings, your-just, fuck , Will there is nothing wrong with you, okay ?” 

Will is staring at him again, his eyes red-rimmed and bottom lip quivering. He nods and takes a breath before falling forward against Steve, hiding his face against the cotton of his shirt, and quietly crying. Steve faults for a second, staring down at the mop of brown hair, at the trembling young boy, the boy that is terrified of himself, terrified that he’s bad , that he’s fundamentally wrong, that he isn’t worthy of love

He wraps his arms around him, resting his chin on the top of his head. He holds him for a while. Let’s him cry until he has no tears left. Wonders how many times he’s cried about this before, alone - Hopes he never has to do that again, hopes he knows he can come to Steve with his doubts, worries, and Steve would never judge him. 

Steve prays he understands that. 

--- 

Neil and Susan are out of town for the weekend, so Max invited the whole party to come over and watch the exorcist. 

It’s about 7 at night, all the kids are bunched in the living room, yelling and throwing popcorn at each other. Max begged Billy to make them all pizza, says Billy is the best at making homemade pizza’s. Which is true, he is a connoisseur of homemade pizza - Even makes his own dough. 

So, now he and Steve are cramped in the small kitchen, rolling out dough. 

“You’re not doing it properly,” Billy says, watching Steve incorrectly working out the dough. 

“How can I be rolling dough wrong, that’s not possible.” 

Billy shoulders Steve out of the way, “Lemme do it.” He says. 

Steve shoulders him back. “Fuck off, I can roll dough, asshole.” 

They shove at each other, attempting to use their rolling pin to work out the dough. They’re laughing and grabbing at each other’s arms. Billy scoops up a handful of flour and slaps it against Steve’s cheek. 

They both stop as his hand hits his cheek. Watching the flour explode between them, dancing through the air and sticking to Steves’s face and hair. 

Steve tries to hide a smile as he looks down at Billy, “You’re dead, Hargrove.” 

He grabs at the younger teen, pushing him against the counter and reaching behind him to grab at some more flour. He scopes some up, while miraculously holding a squirming Billy, and dumps it on his head. 

They’re both laughing so hard, Steve’s arms snake around Billy’s waist. He leans forward and blows some air into his face, watching more flour float around them. 

“I hate you.” Billy mumbles. 

Steve smiles, and leans in even closer, “Uh-huh, sure you do.” He seals his lips over Billy’s, tasting the sweetness of the flour stuck to both of them. 

Someone to their right clears their throat, they both break the kiss and Steve takes a step back. They turn and see Will in the entryway of the kitchen, holding an empty glass. 

“Sorry. I just wanted some water.” He mumbles avoiding eye contact with both of them. He quickly shuffles past them to the sink and pours himself some water. Glancing at them quickly, he runs to the living room, his cheeks glowing red as he goes.  

---

“Have you fed the cat?” 

Billy looks up from the newspaper he’s reading at the kitchen table and then down at the orange tabby cat, Ozzy, and back up at Steve, “No.” 

Steve puts both hands on his hips, cocks his head and slits his eyes, “Are you lying to me so he gets more food?” He asks, “The vet said he’s overweight, Billy.”

“He’s just fluffy.” Billy reasons, bending down to scratch at Ozzy’s head. “Vet doesn’t no shit, does he Oz? Growing boys gotta eat.” 

“He’s like 5 years old. He’s not growing anymore.”

Billy goes back to reading the newspaper as Steve takes a seat next to him, grabbing at his coffee and taking a sip. Steve’s slender fingers hook over the top of the paper and pull it down so he can see Billy’s face. 

“We’re meeting Will in an hour, remember?” Steve reminds him. Billy hums in response, straightening the newspaper out to continue reading. Steve pulls it down again, “You need to be nice.” 

Billy folds the paper closed and clasps his fingers together, resting it on top, “I’m always nice.” He gives a winning smile, sharp teeth coming into view. “Gotta stop stressin’, pretty boy.” 

“I’m serious, B. Will really likes this one.” 

Billy rolls his eyes and sighs, “You said that last time. And look how that turned out? Will has rose coloured glasses on when it comes to dating - I gotta make sure whoever he dates is good enough for him.” He reasons. 

“He’s 21 years old, he can make his own decisions.” Steve retorts. “Just, don’t interrogate him, okay? Will said he’s shy.” 

Billy stands up but not before scooping up Ozzy. “Fine, whatever. I’m having a shower.” He walks out of the kitchen, carrying the cat with him and leaving Steve to do the dishes. “But if this boy ends up breaking baby Byers heart, I get to have a chat with the dirtbag, alone .” He yells from their bedroom. 

Steve hangs his head between his shoulders and huffs. Queer big brother Billy has never trusted any of Will’s boyfriends. Hasn’t since Will got his first boyfriend at 16, doesn’t think Billy’ll ever trust any of them - Knows Billy thinks no one is good enough for Will. Steve might think that too.