Steve brought his hands, dripping with cold water, to his splotchy face. He desperately hoped his eyes would stop looking so... puffy. He heaved a sigh, maintaining eye contact with his reflection.
“I don’t want to be here,” he muttered. He grabbed the hand towel off of the rack and dried himself off. Steve took one last look in the mirror. “You look fine,” he told himself. “You can’t even tell you’ve been crying.” He plastered a smile on his face and rejoined the party.
He milled around for a bit, trying to avoid human interaction as much as possible. He gave himself a generous amount of spiked punch, but couldn’t bring himself to drink more than a few sips. He glared at Tommy and Carol making out on the couch; he hated them for convincing him to attend. He took a deep breath and tried to find a secluded area. ‘One more hour,’ he thought. ‘One more hour, and you can go home.’ He leaned against a wall, trying to melt into it.
“Didn’t expect to see you here, princess.” Steve inwardly groaned. He turned to face the last person he wanted to see that night. Billy stood uncomfortably close, a dark purple shirt barely hanging on to his torso, blue eyes trained on Steve.
“Where else would I be?” Steve asked, tone sharper than he intended. He met Billy’s gaze, hoping to convey exactly how much he hated the situation. Billy shrugged, his smirk disappearing. He kept his eyes locked with Steve’s as he took a drink from the beer can in his hand.
“Have you been crying, pretty boy?” he asked, wiping the foam off his upper lip.
“Oh for fucks sake!” Steve let his head hit the wall behind him. He tried to will away the tears threatening to spill. “I’ve had a shit day, Hargrove,” he muttered. “It would make me feel a hell of a lot better if you’d fuck off.”
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch,” Billy snarled before pushing off the wall. “Asshole,” he mumbled as he sauntered off.
Steve woke with a start. Sweat clung to his heaving chest; visions dancing in his eyes. Dustin’s screams still rang in his mind.
“I couldn’t save him,” Steve breathed, eyes wide, heart pounding in his ears. Burying his face in shaky hands, silent sobs racked his body. He kept reliving the dream: the tunnels, the demodog dragging Dustin into the shadows, and worst of all, the screams. Dustin was pleading for Steve to save him, but he couldn’t move.
His alarm went off, snapping him back into reality. Steve wiped his wet hands on the covers, and headed to the bathroom. He went through his morning routine with the utmost care, forcing himself to forget the dream. Slapping on his best ‘I’m fine’ face, he stepped into his car, slamming the door shut behind him. He turned on the radio, cranking the volume up as high as it would go, and sped off towards the high school.
Billy was waiting for him by his locker. Steve mentally cursed himself for pissing off the Californian. He ignored Billy as best he could as he opened his locker and tucked the necessary books under his arm.
“I don’t even get a ‘hello,’ Harrington?” Billy taunted, voice dangerously smooth. Steve could feel the heat radiating off the other boy.
“Hello,” the Steve grumbled , trying to walk away. Billy grabbed his shoulder and forced the brunette to face him. Any taunt he was planning on throwing at the older boy died in his throat once he got a good look at Steve’s tired eyes. Bunching the fabric of Steve’s sweater in his fist, he shoved the smaller boy into the bathroom. Never releasing his grip, he gave Steve a once over.
“You look like shit, Harrington,” he stated. Steve rolled his eyes.
“Gee, thanks,” he responded. “Can I go now?” Billy shoved him against the wall.
“Cut the bullshit, princess,” he spat. “What’s wrong?” Steve stared at him, confusion and frustration in his eyes.
“What the hell, man? I’m fine!”
Billy chuckled darkly. “I know I’m right,” he muttered. “You’ve been crying again. Now are you going to tell me what’s wrong or do I have to beat it out of you?”
Steve huffed. “I just,” he started. His eyes darted around nervously. “Why the hell do you care?”
Billy’s gaze went ice cold, and he released the sweater. “I. Don’t.” he spat. He wiped his hand on his jeans before exiting the bathroom.
Steve breathed out a shaky sigh. He could still feel Billy’s breath on his neck. His face flushed, realizing how close they had been. He ran a hand over his face. What did Hargrove care if he’d been crying? And how did he always know? Steve left the bathroom feeling confused and vulnerable.
Glass bottles littered the ground. Steve checked his watch; he had an hour before the kids showed up. Plenty of time to blow off some steam. He clutched the bat in his hands, swinging as hard as he could. The sound of shattering glass filled the air. The neighbors could probably hear him, but Steve couldn’t care less. He smashed another bottle, letting out a shout.
“You call me about my grades!” Another bottle turned to shards. “You’re never home!” He swung the bat like a golf club, sending a bottle flying across the yard. “You don’t care about me!” Another bottle down. “And yet you bring yourself to care about my D in Geometry!?” He threw the bat, and it hit the ground with an unsatisfactory ‘thunk.’ He could feel the tears streaming down his face, but couldn’t bring himself to care. He kicked at the glass before retrieving his bat and storming inside.
Slamming doors only feels good when there’s someone there to hear it. Steve flopped on his bed, wishing he wasn’t alone all the time. He let himself cry until he was physically unable to cry anymore. He lay in the fetal position feeling utterly alone.
‘No one gives a shit about me,’ he thought. ‘No one fucking cares enough to stay.’ He sniffled and pulled his blankets around himself, pretending he was being held. ‘Billy cares about you.’ The thought made his face flush and his eyes grow wide. ‘Billy notices when you cry. Billy sees you.’
The doorbell rang, bringing him back into reality. “Shit!” He exclaimed, scrambling to get out of bed. He wiped his tear-stained face on the bedspread and rushed down the stairs. He opened the door to five smiling faces.
“Hey, guys,” he greeted. “Who’s ready for game night!?” The kids all whooped in excitement, pushing past Steve into the living room. He turned to Mike and El, who were holding hands. “Two inches between you too,” he gestured at them. “Or Hopper will kill me.” They groaned and rolled their eyes, but did as he asked. Steve was about to shut the door, but the loudest fucking engine he had ever heard revved as the Camaro pulled into his driveway. His heart sped up and he immediately grew self conscious. “Please just drop Max off and leave,” he muttered. “Don’t get out of the car.” Of course, Billy got out of the car. Steve cursed under his breath.
Max ran right past Steve, a bright smile across her face. Billy sauntered up to Steve, eyes glued to his face. Steve’s mouth went dry, his breathing shallow.
“Can I talk to you, Harrington?” Billy asked, gesturing towards the still open door. “Alone?”
“Um-yeah, sure.” Steve closed the door behind him as he stepped out onto the porch. “What’s up?”
Billy snorted. “I should be asking you that, pretty boy. You’ve been crying again, haven’t you?”
Steve nodded, unable to meet the blonde’s gaze. “I just-I haven’t been sleeping well lately,” he sputtered. “I get pretty emotional when I’m tired.” He let out a nervous laugh.
“Is that all?” He could hear the doubt in Billy’s voice. He nodded.
“Why do you care so much?” He asked, tone soft.
Billy sighed and stayed silent for a while. “Because,” he finally stated. “When you’re upset, Maxine gets upset. And when Maxine gets upset, I get my ass kicked.” His voice was soft, but biting. Somehow, Steve didn’t believe him. At least, didn’t believe he was telling the whole truth.
“Oh,” was all he said before Billy started off towards his car.
“Catch you later, Harrington,” he called without looking back.
“What is it this time, Harrington?” The brunette sighed and took a long drag on his cigarette before passing it to Billy. He exhaled the smoke through his nose and shook his head. “Don’t give me that ‘I’m tired’ bullshit, either.” Billy held the cigarette to his lips, eyes on Steve, waiting.
“Nancy,” Steve said simply. He leaned against the hood of his Beemer, trying to will the kids to leave the arcade early. Then he wouldn’t have to have this conversation. He took the cigarette from Billy’s extended hand, and just held it.
“You’re still into that bitch?” Billy raised an eyebrow, laughing in disbelief.
Steve took one last drag on the cigarette before dropping it to the pavement and stepping on it. “Don’t call her that,” he snapped. “And, no, I’m not ‘into her’ anymore. I saw her and Jonathan today. They both looked so... happy.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “When I was with her, I wasn’t happy. I thought I was, but I was pretending. I was pretending everything was okay, but nothing was. I was always trying to make her happy, but it was all just bullshit.” Steve paused, his face flushing. He hadn’t meant to spill his guts. He glanced at Billy, unable to read his expression. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said all that. I told you I get emotional when I’m tired.” He tried to laugh it off, but it sounded empty.
“It’s about time, pretty boy,” the other boy chuckled. “I’ve been trying to get you to talk to me for weeks. Finally, you give me a straight answer!” He playfully nudged Steve’s shoulder, coaxing a laugh out of the brunette. Steve met Billy's gaze and felt seen. Butterflies churned in his stomach. Billy opened his mouth to say something, but the door to the arcade flung open, the kids flooding out, chattering excitedly.
Billy dug his keys out of his pocket, and patted Steve’s shoulder as he pushed off of the Beemer. “See ya around, princess.”
Steve was sitting alone at lunch. He yawned into his sandwich, and considered finding an empty classroom to sleep in. Screams echoed in his mind, and he quickly dismissed that thought. Someone set their lunch down across from him. He looked up, meeting bright blue eyes.
“Why the hell is King Steve sitting all alone?” Billy asked, sitting down.
Steve rolled his eyes. “I’m not alone anymore, now am I?” Billy looked him dead in the eye, concern etching itself onto his face.
“What’s wrong?” He asked softly. “You look like you haven’t slept all week.”
“I really haven’t,” Steve sighed. “I get nightmares. Really bad ones. Sleep isn’t exactly appealing anymore.” He took another bite out of his PB&J sandwich, eyes locked with Billy’s.
“Shit, that’s awful, man. Why do you have them so often?” The look of concern only deepened on Billy’s face.
“I went through some rough shit a while back. I’m not exactly supposed to talk about it, but it seriously fucked me up.” He took another bite before continuing. “It’s always the kids. They’re in trouble, and I can’t fucking save them. They’re always screaming.” He took a deep, shuddering breath.
“Damn,” was all Billy could say. Steve didn’t blame him, he wouldn’t know how to respond either. He didn’t need a response, it was nice to have someone to talk to.
Sobs racked Steve’s body. He pulled his blankets closer to his shaking form. Hot tears slid down his face, collecting in a puddle on his pillow. His eyes hurt, but the tears kept spilling. He was disgusted with himself; he sounded like a little girl. He laughed bitterly through the tears. “I don’t even like myself,” he muttered.
The doorbell rang. “Fuck off!” He shouted. After a few moments of silence, it rang again. He flipped off the air before flopping out of his bed. He angrily stomped down the stairs and flung the door open. Billy Hargrove stood on his doorstep. He was suddenly aware of the tears still running down his cheeks, and wiped his face on his sleeve. “Can I help you?” he asked, hating the way his voice cracked. Billy immediately stepped inside, wrapping his arms around Steve. He kicked the front door shut behind him. Steve stiffened before burying his face in the blonde’s chest. He let himself cry into the embrace.
Billy tightened his grip around the older boy, nuzzling into his surprisingly soft hair. He began muttering soft words to sooth Steve. The sobs grew less violent, and he relaxed in Billy’s arms. “I’m sorry,” Steve choked out.
Billy pulled away slightly. “Why are you sorry?” He asked, tone soft. He gently tilted Steve’s tear-stained face to look at him. He gently wiped at his tears with his thumb.
“Because I’m crying on you,” Steve answered. “You don’t even like me, and I’m crying on you.”
“When did I say I didn’t like you?” Billy’s tone was still soft, but stern.
“Nobody likes me.” Steve tried to look away, but Billy’s hand held him in place. “My parents don’t care about me, Nancy thinks I’m bullshit, I’m just the babysitter to the kids: there’s no reason for you to like me.”
Billy pulled Steve back into his chest. “There are plenty of reasons for me to like you,” he muttered. “You keep Maxine safe; I know she won’t be in trouble if she’s with you. You’re kind. You’re so much nicer than all the assholes on the basketball team. Tommy told me about what you did after Byers fought you. Told me how you cleaned up the sign. He said you were going soft, but you were being more of a man than he was. You’re funny. You make me laugh more times than I want to admit. You’re so loving towards the kids. You complain about them, but we both know you would die for them.” Steve started sobbing again. “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Billy whispered. “I’m here, I’ve got you.” He rubbed circles into the other boy’s back. After a few minutes, Steve calmed down enough to pull away from the hug. He led Billy to the couch.
“What’s wrong, pretty boy?” Billy asked, blue eyes on Steve’s.
“I just want to be loved,” Steve sighed. “My parents are never home, and my dad only cares about my grades. I could be dying, but he’d only call to tell me to get my ass back in school. No one even knows me. The whole school only sees ‘King Steve’ and that’s not me. No one ever cares about me enough to get to know the real me. I can’t even be myself around the kids; I have to be strong for them. I can’t even fall in love with the right person! The only person who I can actually be myself around, and be happy with, would never see me like that.” He fell silent, burying his face in his hands.
“I’m so sorry.” Billy rested his hand on Steve’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “You deserve to be loved. I’m so so sorry you feel this way. Look, whoever you’ve fallen for, if she doesn’t love you, it’s her loss.” Steve laughed.
“It’s not a her,” he whispered. Billy froze. Steve shrugged off Billy’s hand. “I told you, you wouldn’t like the real me.”
“I love the real you.” Steve raised his gaze to Billy’s, seeing hope in his eyes. His heart hammered in his chest.
“You. You love me?” He whispered. Billy nodded, bringing a hand to Steve’s cheek, gently wiping away his tears. Steve lunged forward, smashing their lips together. He wrapped his arms around Billy’s neck, holding on for dear life. The kiss was slow, deep, and conveyed every inch of emotion the two felt for each other. It felt right.
Steve gently pulled away, eyes still closed. He rested his forehead against Billy’s, laughing softly.
“What?” Billy asked.
“When you called me pretty boy,” he started. “You actually meant it?”
Billy laughed and kissed him gently. “Every time.”