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A Fever You Can't Sweat Out

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It’d been real stupid, to come into work strung out on cough medicine, nose red and irritated and stuffed-up on one side, sporting a low-grade fever of 100.4. His voice was a full octave lower than usual and it fucking hurt to breathe , but he’d needed the money. 

He’d told himself that it was just a couple’a hours. He didn’t even have any swimming lessons scheduled that day. In and out, no big deal. If he was real lucky, the most exciting thing that’d happen was one of the little tykes’d throw a tantrum over having to get out of the pool for adult swim. Nothing he couldn’t handle. Billy was real good about calming down the shitty little parasites, making ‘em feel safe in the water. 

He’d absolutely not been anticipating Max, and her little gaggle of shitstains, locking him in the goddamned sauna.

“Max, let me outta here!” He’s been in the sauna for twenty-no more than thirty-seconds, and he’s already hot. Uncomfortably so. “Let me out…” sweat drips into his bloodshot eyes, along the back of his neck, down his back…

“...You think this… is funny? You kids think this is some kinda sick prank, huh?” He spits, reveling a bit in the way the kids flinch, their blurry faces contorting in a mixture of fear and disgust. The world outside is melting into waves of achingly bright color, and everything hurts. “You little shits think this is funny?!”

The kids share a look, but none of them move toward the door. Billy might be starting to feel a bit desperate.

“What is it?” He breathes deep, hears his own goddamn lungs rattling in the resounding silence. “Open. The. Door.” Nothing. He kicks the door, sees them jump, “Open the door! Open the door! Open the goddamn door !” His throat aches from the screaming-it’s too fucking hot and he’s struggling to breathe and-

And none of the little shits seem to care. Not one bit.

And then, suddenly, he’s on the ground. He’s not sure whether he slipped on the unforgiving tile floor or his legs simply refused to hold him up any longer, but he’s down on the fucking searing hot ground, aching where his ribs had collided with one of the benches. His chest is heaving, rattling with congestion, but no matter how hard he tries to suck in air, his shitty lungs seem to burn for the lack of it. 

One of the little shits-baby Byers, he thinks, but he doesn’t know, doesn’t really have the energy to care -says that the temperature has capped out at 220 and somewhere, in the deep recesses of his mind, he registers that that’s bad . The sauna isn’t supposed to go higher than 175, and you’re definitely not supposed to fucking lock people inside . If he were feeling better, he could probably force the lock, but…

Shit, he knows that Max hates him. Didn’t think she had it in her to actually try her hand at killing him, though. 

He’s pretty sure he’s crying, which is stupid. Dangerous. He’s well on his way to dehydration, he doesn’t need to go and hasten the process by acting like a fucking baby. But everything hurts and, just to add insult to fucking injury, his stomach is about thirty seconds away from staging a full-scale rebellion and-

He’d never really given much thought to how he would die. Burning alive, locked inside of a fucking sauna at the public pool, too sick to put up anything close to a real fight, was decidedly anti-climactic. 

He’d never had the chance to tell Steve that he loved him.

No, that… that wasn’t quite true. There’d been one-thousand chances. But the timing’d never been right, he hadn’t been ready . And now here he was, on the fucking floor , with bright splotches of color obscuring his vision and a motherfucking elephant on his chest as he struggled to breathe, about to die knowing that he fucking loved Steve with all his goddamn heart (and all that ungodly sappy shit ) and he’d never fucking told him.

“Billy, it’s gonna be okay-,” that’s Max’s voice. She’s near the door, has to be. But she’s not opening it, doesn’t seem to understand that he fucking needs her to let him out . “You just have to talk to us, okay? You have to talk to us.” 

She sounds upset, like she’s crying. He knows it has to be a hallucination, ‘cause there’s no way in hell his little sister is crying over him. He would’ve doubted before, but now that she helped her little friends lock him in here? No. No fucking way. He squeezes his eyes shut against the rolling pain in his stomach, forces himself to roll over just enough to avoid most of the splash-back as he retches all over the tiles-

The unforgiving heat makes the stench of vomit damn near unbearable. He’s never been squeamish, but he has to squeeze his eyes closed against the sight to keep from vomiting all over again. He doesn’t think there’s anything left in his stomach to come back up, but with the way he’s cramping , he’s no longer sure.

“Something’s wrong. I can’t-He’s not here.” There’s baby Byers again. He sounds panicked, scared. Time for him to join the fucking club

“What do you mean he’s not-?”

“What the hell is going on here?” And that’s… Steve. But that’s not right, Steve should still be at work. He’s supposed to be… supposed to be picking Steve up from Scoops after he closed up the pool. It’s date night, which meant vegging out in front of the television with a pizza-

Just the thought of food has him sick, again. He’s not fast enough to avoid getting it all over his jeans this time. 

And then the door flies open, causing the heat to begin to dissipate. The kids are-yelling, he thinks-it’s difficult to tell, everything sounds like he’s underwater. Someone is touching him, their big hands searing his skin and he whines, tries to squirm away, but he’s too weak. A gentle hand is smoothing his drenched curls away from his face, and he starts crying harder , except there aren’t any tears. He’s too dehydrated. 

The Steve hallucination is speaking to him, telling him to keep his eyes open, and he wants to tell him that they are open, but his mouth feels like it’s stuffed with cotton and refuses to cooperate. Hands are on him, drawing him up to stand on long, wobbly legs, but they can’t bear his weight and he’s stumbling, falling-

“He’s possessed by the Mind Flayer!” The princess is pulling him up again, staggering a bit under his dead weight, and Billy’s just trying to make the goddamn room stop spinning. 

“He has a fucking sinus infection ! He’s been running a fever all week! You-You little dipshits could’ve killed him.” The fifty or so feet to the showers feels like a fucking mile , and the Steve hallucination yells the whole damn time-

And then he’s being lowered onto cold, unforgiving tile, tucked away underneath a spray of ice-cold water. “N-No. Stevie, no. Hurts .” The Steve hallucination shakes his head, tells him that the water is warm , he’s just too hot . But that doesn’t make sense. The cold water is hurting him, can’t Steve see that? 

Or, does he want him gone, just like the kids?

“Billy, baby, you gotta stay put. Just a little while longer. I know… I know it hurts, but we hafta cool you down.” It’s not hard to force Billy to stay put, even as he protests, staring up at Steve with big, heartbroken blue eyes. He reaches into his pocket, grabbing a wad of mostly dry bills, and stuffs them into Max’s hand.

“Buy him something from the vending machine. Water, Gatorade, if they have it. Stick to the light colors, the dark ones-,” 

“Make him throw up. I know.” 

It takes something like twenty minutes to cool Billy down to the point of semi-coherency. Steve is furious, and terrified, when Billy finally slumps up against him and asks what the hell he’s doing at the pool when his shift doesn’t end for another half-hour. And every part of Billy hurts , but he’s starting to feel less like death and more hungover . He leans heavily on Steve and breathes, slow and deep.

And the kids are fucking staring at him like he suddenly sprouted a second head. He sticks his tongue out at them and lets Steve pet his sopping wet curls, ‘cause it feels nice, and he still feels like shit , and he’s starting to think he might need to go to the hospital and hospitals are bad and-

“So are you two like… dating, now?” Steve looks positively murderous, and that would be hot , if he didn’t also need him to stay very still so that the world stopped spinning. 

“Is that a problem?” He presses the Gatorade bottle to Billy’s lips, whispers for him to drink, nice and slow. 

“He tried to kill you-,”

“And you damn-near killed him. So I think that makes you even.” Steve sneers, “Seriously, we’re gonna have a long fucking talk about this after I make sure that Billy’s okay in the wake of this stupid fucking stunt you all pulled. And if any of you even think about trying this shit again, so help me-,”

Once Billy’s skin is no longer blistering, he turns off the shower and lifts him up, instructing the kids to grab towels to lay out on the passenger side of the Beemer. “Stevie… I don’t feel so hot…”

“I know, baby. I know. It’s gonna be okay.” Steve whispers softly, “We’re gonna go home, ‘n cuddle, ‘n you’re probably gonna throw up all over me, and it’ll be fabulous.” He says.

“...wan’ my cigs…” he bats his eyelashes at Steve, doing his very best to channel his inner-pretty boy. The effect is a bit… dampened by the fact that he can taste bile in the back of his throat. Holy fuck, he needs something to rinse his mouth out with. Yesterday

“...maybe when your fever comes back down under 100. Maybe .” 

Billy actually full-on pouts , “Fucker.”

“You love me.”

“...maybe.” Billy slurs, resting his head on Steve’s broad shoulder. His pretty boy starts petting his hair again, and it’s nice. Relaxing. He kinda wants to go to sleep, but something tells him that that’s a bad idea.

The corner of Steve’s mouth twitches, “Just maybe?”

“Guess you’ll have to wait until my fever comes back down under 100.” 

So it may’ve been really stupid to come to work, half-dead from a fucking sinus infection and hopped up on cough syrup. And he seriously hadn’t anticipated his step-sister and her little band of misfits trying to cook him because he was… possessed? The hell? He’d have to talk to Steve about that later. 

But if their relationship can survive the use of a fucking rectal thermometer … well… suddenly those three little words don’t sound quite so big.