Neil’s car is missing when Billy pulls up with Max at ten-fifteen on a Friday night, which is odd, considering Billy’s father has never been one for going out in the evenings. Well, whatever, he thinks as he follows Max up the narrow path to the front door.
The door is unlocked, but the house is dark, which is unusual. Even if Neil isn’t here, Susan should be home, and she’s usually pretty careful about things like this.
“Mom?” Max calls as Billy flicks on the lights and closes the door behind him. “We’re home!”
The living room and kitchen are empty, which again, weird, but Billy shrugs it off and decides he needs to go take a piss. Ambling down the hallway, he flicks on the bathroom light and freezes.
There’s blood on the wall. Actually, there’s blood everywhere, sticky-dry where it’s pooled on the bathroom floor and seeped into the bath rug.
“Oh, fuck,” he whispers as his eyes land on Susan, bloody and staring at him with glassy green eyes. “Oh, fuck, oh fuck, oh, fuck!” His knees buckle, and he crawls towards Susan, because this looks bad, and she’s lost a lot of blood, and she’s going to need a hospital—
His hand finds her knee and the skin is cold. He swallows the urge to vomit and reaches for her neck for a pulse he can’t find.
Max’s voice sounds from behind him, and he whirls, eyes wild and frightened.
“Don’t look, Max,” he says, pushing himself to his feet to block her mother from view. “Max, don’t look—”
“Mom?” she squeaks. “Mom, are you okay? Mom—”
She rushes forward, hands reaching out towards Susan, but Billy catches her, holding her tightly to his chest as she tries to force her way out of his grip.
“Don’t look, Max, don’t look!” He’s squeezing too tightly, pushing her back out of the bathroom and into the hall. “Max—”
“Let me— Mom! Mom!” she screams, desperate.
“She can’t hear you, Max!” Billy shouts. “She’s dead!”
“She’s not, she’s not—”
Her face is wet where its pressed against his shirt, her tears seeping into the thin fabric as he bodily lifts her up and out of the way, heedless of the way she flails and claws at his shoulders. He needs to get out of the house. He needs to get her out of the house.
He doesn’t bother to shut the door behind him as he runs— runs— out of the house, Max in his arms as she cries and fights. He manages to open the passenger door to the Camaro, kicking it wide open as he practically throws her into the seat and slams it shut. She freezes up once he isn’t holding her, thank God, long enough for him to circle the car and collapse into the driver’s seat, turning his key and hitting the gas at record speeds.
Motley Crue blares out of his radio, and he slams the button so damn hard he might have broken it in an effort to turn it off. He doesn’t care, though. His heart’s pounding and his head’s foggy and his hands are white under the blood with how hard he grips the steering wheel. He can’t think, can’t do anything but remember how cold Susan felt under his hands.
Max is crying quietly beside him, breath hitching and head bowed so he can’t see her face. He needs to find a phone, call the cops, do something, but he, he— he doesn’t know where to go. He can’t make a call like that from the diner, can he?
“Where do we go?” he whispers. “Fuck, fuck!”
“The Byers,” Max croaks suddenly, wiping angrily at her eyes. “We— the Byers. Mrs. Byers is friends with the Chief, she can— she can—” Max goes quiet, swallowing hard.
Billy leaves it, making a u-turn to drive back towards the Byers. He’s never met Mrs. Byers, never cared too, but he can’t think of anything better and fuck, at least it’s a plan. At the very least, he can leave Max there— all her little nerd friends do sleep overs all the time, right? He can’t imagine anyone would tell her no, not— not now.
The Byers house comes into view, and Billy swings the Camaro into the driveway too quickly, slamming on the brakes when he catches sight of Jonathan Byers’ car sitting in the driveway. Fuck, he doesn’t want to— he should have expected the guy to be around, it’s his fucking house, after all.
Swallowing his own discomfort, he pushes himself out of the car, circling around and pulling open Max’s door for her. She doesn’t move, and after a second, Billy stoops down, gathering her into his arms like she’s much younger than she is and shutting the door behind him.
He knocks on the door with his foot, kicking three times before straightening. A moment later, the door opens and Will Byers is staring up at him like he’s never seen him before.
“Where’s your mom?” Billy asks, stepping inside.
“She’s at work,” Will says, shutting the door behind them. “What happened? Is Max okay?”
“Billy? What are you doing here?”
Jonathan stands in the doorway of the hallways dressed in his pajamas, one hand against the doorframe as he stares at Billy. Good question.
“I need to borrow your phone,” Billy says, moving to put Max down and wincing when her grip tightens. “I— I need to call the cops. Chief Hopper.”
Jonathan’s eyes widen slightly.
“What happened?” he asks. “Your dad…?”
Billy flinches. Max has got a big mouth, it seems. Well, he’s not wrong, technically.
“Gone,” Billy says. Max lets out a loud sob, muffled only slightly by his shoulder. He rubs her back reflexively, trying to soothe her like it’s a bad dream instead of fucking reality. “I need to report— I. We need cops, back at my place.”
Jonathan stares a moment longer, than nods.
“I’ll call the chief,” he says, already moving towards the kitchen. “Sit down, okay? Everything’s fine.”
Everything is decidedly not fine, but Billy ignores that for now, making a beeline for the squat couch in the corner of the living room and collapsing onto it, Max’s added weight doing nothing for his grace.
Max won’t stop crying, won’t stop clinging to him like he’s the only thing keeping her from drowning. A part of him recoils from it, the part that his father made such a point of creating, but he swallows it down, squeezing her tightly and petting her long red hair instead.
Will watches them uncertainly, eyes wide and worried and somehow older than the rest of him. Billy ignores him, turning his face into Max’s hair.
He doesn’t try to talk, doesn’t say that she’s okay and that everything’s fine, because he’d be lying, and Billy can’t stand lying. So he just holds her, rocking her as best he can as he listens to Jonathan talk quietly into the phone in the other room.
“I don’t know what happened, Chief, but it’s bad,” Jonathan says softly. “Something at their house, I don’t know. I don’t know, Chief. Max won’t let go of her brother, and Billy’s— Billy’s letting her.”
The incredulousness in his voice would make Billy laugh any other time, but right now all he feels is tired. Tired, and scared, and all kinds of messed up. Maybe if he’d been home, it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe if he’d been home, it would have been him instead of Susan, and Max would still have her mom. Maybe it would have been both of them, and Max just wouldn’t have gotten picked up from the Wheelers tonight and seen her mother’s body on the floor in the bathroom.
Jonathan wanders back into the living room, looking uncomfortable and awkward.
“Chief Hopper’s going to your house now,” he says. “He says for you guys to stay here until he comes.”
Billy swallows, giving him a jerky nod.
“My mom’s gonna be home soon,” Jonathan adds. “Do you— can you tell me what happened? Or do you, I don’t know, do you want to wait for her and Chief?”
Billy pauses, looking down at Max. She’s still crying, but it isn’t as forceful, now, just the exhausted, sniffling tears of a kid who’s tired and scared.
He looks back to Jonathan.
“My dad killed her mom.”