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when the bones are good

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The first time Steve fucks Billy Hargrove, it happens like this: Nancy dumps him. He leaves her in the bathroom. Billy Hargrove blocks his path on the porch, cigarette in one hand, beer in the other. He’s got no shirt on, body shiny with sweat and a lazy, shit eating grin on his face. Steve kinda wants to deck him, but mostly he wants to leave. 

‘Leaving already?’ Billy asks him, brings the cigarette to his lips and then blows the smoke in Steve’s face.

Steve blood boils. Or something. ‘Move.’

‘See, I don’t think I will. And I don’t think you’re gonna make me.’

And Steve’s got no idea what this kid’s fucking problem is, why he’s chosen to make it Steve’s problem too, but Steve’s a little raw and a lot angry and doesn’t want to deal with this shit, so he takes one step forward until his chest is an inch from Hargrove’s and says ‘Move.’

Which only makes him grin, this wide, sharp-edged thing that’s got Steve’s fists curling at his sides.

Not the worst way to end this night, really. Fight could do him good. 

Then, though, Hargrove’s hand is on his chest, laid out flat, thumb on one collarbone and fingers on the other, not pushing, not doing anything but burning a hole through his shirt and straight down through his sternum. He takes another pull of his cigarette, and Steve can’t move, for some reason. 

‘Come on,’ he says, gives Steve’s chest a hard slap, and walks past him into the house. 

Steve could leave. The stairs are clear. He can see his car.

He follows Billy back inside. Follows him to the bathroom Nancy just dumped him in. Lets Billy lock the door, lets him back him into the wall, doesn’t ask him what the hell he’s doing. It’s not really a mystery. Steve’s not that drunk.

It’s just, Billy feels good. Billy’s hot and cocky and kind of a dick, nothing like Nancy, not like any of the girls Steve’s been with, completely different and new and it’s exhilarating and he wants it and he doesn’t think about what that means, drunk enough to not give a shit what it means, drunk enough to think it doesn’t have to mean anything.

So he gets a hand in Billy’s hair when Billy presses up against him and slots their mouths together, tasting like shitty beer and stale smoke, lets Billy undo his jeans, lets his head smack back against the door when Billy slides his hand down them and wraps calloused fingers around his dick. Gets hard for it. Humps up into it. 

There’s a room full of people he knows on the other side of the door behind him, and he’s letting this asshole kid with a chip on his shoulder and an ugly fucking mullet jerk him off not twenty minutes out of his relationship with Nancy. 

He snatches Billy’s beer off the counter and drains the last of it, lets the bottle clatter to the floor while he gets his hand back in Billy’s hair and kisses the shitty smirk off his face. Billy leans in a little, plasters himself to Steve’s front and traps his hand between them, rolls his hips and groans into Steve’s mouth.

It’s hotter than it’s got any fucking right to be, honestly. Steve feels his body go hot, feels a fresh spark of want deep in his gut. Huh. 

Billy pulls out of the kiss with a grin, looks at Steve’s mouth, then at his eyes, grin getting wider. ‘Well, well, well. King Steve.’

Steve tightens his fingers in Billy’s hair, pulls until Billy’s head tips back just a touch and he runs his tongue over his bottom lip. ‘What the fuck is your problem?’

Billy ducks forward, licks a wet line up the side of Steve’s neck. ‘You want me to suck your dick?’

Christ. ‘How fucking drunk are you, Hargrove?’

Billy bites his jaw. He’s having fun, having way too much fun, smirking, eyes all lit up, amused and shameless and. Hot. ‘Not too drunk to do you right, baby, promise.’

Steve’s gonna pay for this, probably. There are almost definitely gonna be consequences. He pulls Billy in and bites his lip and drinks in the gasp it gets him and then pushes down on Billy’s shoulder and pulls down on his hair until he slides down, gets on his knees. 

King Steve,’ Billy says, licking his lips, looking up at him all shitty. It’s infuriating. And it makes his dick throb. 

‘Only agreed to let you suck my dick so I wouldn’t have to listen to you fucking talk, Hargrove.’

Billy laughs, and it almost makes Steve smile. 

Billy sucks Steve’s dick like he fucking loves it. He moans around it. He works it with his tongue, with his fingers, gets a little sloppy. He drags his lips up the length of it like a tease, fucking makes out with the head of it. Steve’s never felt anything like it. Cocksure and confident, Billy sucks dick like he knows exactly what he’s doing, like he knows exactly what he’s making Steve feel, like he’s winning, somehow, like this is another fucking competition Steve didn’t know he was in and is losing anyway. 

And honestly, Steve doesn’t give a shit. Not with a mouth like that making fucking magic happen to his dick.

Billy pulls back and looks up at him, licks his lips. ‘Come in my mouth.’

‘Christ,’ Steve says, sinks his fingers deeper into Billy’s hair, shuts his eyes, nods, swallows. ‘Yeah, alright.’

And then Billy’s mouth is back, and yeah. Not gonna be an issue. 

It’s the best blowjob Steve’s ever had. Like, no contest. Billy Hargrove is all fucking arrogance and enthusiasm; there’s nothing tentative or indifferent or ambivalent about it. Billy knows just how to get him, rolls his balls in his hand, slides one finger back and presses the pad of it to Steve’s asshole and that’s that. 

He gives Billy what he wants. Comes in his mouth. Billy moans all slutty and loud about it, tongues at the head of his cock until he’s done shooting. 

Then he gets up and puts his hands on Steve’s face and thumbs at his bottom lip and coaxes his mouth open and kisses him with most of Steve’s load still in his mouth and it’s fucking disgusting but it works for Steve, somehow. He gets Billy’s jeans undone and shoves his hand down them and jerks him off until he’s spilling over Steve’s fingers, whimpering into his mouth, breaking the kiss and swearing, lips shiny with spit and Steve’s come. 

So that’s the first time. Steve wakes up the next morning with a slight hangover and a healthy but not unreasonable amount of confusion about the whole thing, significantly less panic than he was expecting. Like, there’s panic, but it’s not as crippling as he was kind of expecting it might be. Nothing a strong cup of coffee and several cigarettes on the way to school can’t, like, bury deep enough that he can focus on anything else. 

And then there’s fucking Nancy. Who he’s very not over, thanks. Nancy is sweet and kind and gives a shit about him, like, genuinely, which is more than he can say for pretty much anyone else in his pointless stupid life, honestly, and is actually a total badass, fierce and fearless and smart as hell and Steve’s a fucking idiot, a real fucking idiot if he’s gonna let her go.

He’s not ready to let her go. He may be bullshit and everything may be bullshit and he’s hurt and a little pissed and pretty surprised about the shit with Hargrove but if he knows one thing for sure it’s that he’s not ready to be done with Nancy Wheeler. 

-

He has no clue what happens in any of his classes. Just knows that Hargrove is there at practice, talking shit, riding his ass, licking his lips, tripping Steve up and sending him sprawling and stealing points like an asshole and Steve doesn’t have it in him, not when Nancy interrupts them and reminds him of how fucking much it hurt to hear everything she had to say. She was drunk. Doesn’t mean she didn’t mean it. 

Hargrove’s there the next day too, talking more shit, shoving him to the floor. It doesn’t track, really, except for that it kind of does. This isn’t the same boy who got on his knees in Tina’s bathroom and told Steve to come in his mouth except it is, and it’s fucked up how much Steve likes it. Then he’s there in the showers after practice, fucking smiling at Steve all lazy, head tipped back, water running down his chest from the end of his curls. 

Calling him pretty boy. 

So that’s the second time. Billy says ‘plenty of other bitches in the sea, am I right?’ and turns off Steve’s fucking shower while he’s in the middle of rinsing his hair and it could go one of two ways, this tension Billy’s been cultivating between them for the last couple days, but Nancy’s apparently running around with Jonathan and Billy’s mouth is pink and obnoxious and right fucking there, so Steve takes the one step that separates them and snatches the towel out of Billy’s hand and backs him into the wall. 

And Billy smiles like the cat who got the cream, lets Steve cage him in. 

‘Guess so,’ Steve says, and puts his hand on Billy’s chest, looks at his mouth for maybe a second too long before he kisses it.

Billy’s got his hands in Steve’s hair then, slipping a little in the soap until he gets his fists tight in it, kisses Steve real deep and dirty with no preamble at all, just shoves his tongue in Steve’s mouth until Steve meets him, moans a little when Steve gets his hands on his waist, slots their hips together and moves. It’s not perfect and the angle’s a little weird but it’s slick and Billy’s all bare skin, hard and sharp and awesome and his body feels incredible against Steve’s and Billy’s tongue in his mouth and noises echoing around in his skull are enough that Steve’s for sure gonna get off just like this, right here in the locker room with Billy fucking Hargrove.

He’ll be damned if he’s coming first, though. He gives Billy’s mouth up just a little reluctantly, mouths along his jaw until he gets to his neck, kisses real sweet and then sucks just a little, gets Billy gasping before he sinks his teeth in, pulls a cry out of him that kicks Steve right in the gut. 

‘Shut the fuck up,’ Steve says into Billy’s neck, because he has just enough presence of mind left to remember that Tommy only left them a couple minutes ago and the showers are far from private.

‘Harrington, you fu-’

Steve claps his hand over Billy’s mouth, and Billy moans, eyes slipping shut. Interesting. Steve puts his teeth back into Billy’s neck, slides his hand between them and jerks him off exactly the way he jerks himself off when he’s on a schedule, feels Billy’s whimper in his palm as much as he hears it. 

It doesn’t take long. Billy’s very fucking pretty when he comes, eyebrows knitted together, body wound tight, head tipped back. One of his hands has slipped out of Steve’s hair and is kind of cupped around the back of his neck, and it’s almost uncomfortably intimate. There’s a real dissonance between the tenderness of the gesture and what Steve thinks this thing is, and Steve doesn’t quite know what to make of it. 

Billy opens his eyes after he comes, and Steve uncovers his mouth, skimming his thumb along Billy’s bottom lip on the way. He doesn’t even think about doing it, just gets caught up. Billy is objectively good looking, real cut, hot, and he’s got this kind of wide eyed look on his face, none of the usual bravado and bullshit and his hand is still on the back of Steve’s neck and Steve just. He just gets caught up. Gets distracted looking at Billy’s mouth and his eyelashes and he notices Billy’s eyes are blue and that makes his cheeks heat just a little because what the fuck, that’s not what this is, and-

Billy blows out a little breath. ‘Christ, Harrington,’ he says, not quite a whisper, like Steve’s a dumbass, but like maybe he doesn’t mind.

Steve doesn’t know what to make of that either. 

Billy tugs him in and kisses him and gets his hand between them and bats Steve’s out of the way and jerks him off, jerks him off real good, with a little bit more care and a little bit more patience than Steve had given him and it’s good, it’s really fucking good, makes him whimper just a little and Billy slows down, puts his finger to Steve’s lips and looks at him all amused.

‘Ah ah ah. Gotta be quiet, remember? Can you do that?’

And the thing is, it’s not even shitty, the way he says it. He’s not talking shit, not really, just. Flirting. Fucking Steve real good. ‘Fuck.’

Harrington,’ he says, snapping a little, fucking bossy, and it makes Steve’s dick kick in his hand, which makes Billy grin, which makes Steve blush, makes his dick leak a drop of precome. Steve nods. Billy starts up again and Steve’s not gonna last, drops his forehead to Billy’s shoulder and doesn’t think too much about how fucking good it feels having Billy’s hand in his hair while he does it, just kind of holding him while he gets him off, how not like a dirty handjob in the school showers this feels. 

Doesn’t know what to make of any of it. Doesn’t think about a fucking thing when Billy twists his wrist and squeezes his neck and says ‘come on, baby,’ and that’s that. Again. 

Steve pants into Billy’s shoulder for a second after he covers his fist in come, until Billy tugs him up and looks at him like he’s trying to figure something out. 

The kiss, when it comes, is sweeter than any they’ve had before. Gentler. It knocks Steve’s world a little sideways. 

Then, as quick as it started, it’s over. Billy pushes Steve back a step, then another, reaches past him and turns Steve’s shower back on. 

So that’s the second time. Steve makes the ten minute drive from the high school to his house take an hour, burns through a few smokes, lets his mind race. He doesn’t sleep a lot that night, can’t get the feeling of Billy’s body on his out of his head. Can’t get the taste of him out of his mouth. 

He thinks next time maybe he wants to suck Billy’s dick, and the thought kind of fucks him up. He’s thinking about next time, and there’s not gonna be a next time because he’s gonna get Nancy back. He misses her, he misses her, and with everything that he knows about the world and what hides in it’s dark corners he really, really doesn’t want to be alone, doesn’t wanna have to face that without her. Not after everything. 

Billy Hargrove is an asshole. Billy Hargrove seems like he’s constantly about ten seconds away from picking a fight, radiates a kind of condescending smugness that makes Steve want to let him take it there, makes him wanna pop him one, just cause he’s pretty sure Billy doesn’t think he would. Billy doesn’t play nice, isn’t nice, fights dirty and talks shit and clearly has one hell of a chip on his shoulder and Steve doesn’t like it, exactly, but he can’t seem to turn away from it.

None of it makes any fucking sense. 

The next day, he buys Nancy flowers. Then everything goes utterly to shit, and Steve’s pretty sure he’s gonna die on several occasions, pretty sure he’s gonna watch a bunch of kids die while he’s too busy dying to do anything about it, and then, well. 

Then Billy. Billy, with his shirt undone down to his belly, flashy earring in his ear, cigarette hanging from his lips, saying all kinds of shit. And Steve is so fucking exhausted, just weary down to his bones and frayed as hell, just a second away from unraveling and has been for days and that chaotic, psychotic, aggressive energy is just pouring off Billy, so thick Steve can practically taste it and he kinda can’t keep up, loses the thread a little, isn’t ready for whatever this is to interrupt the fucking nightmare of the last couple days. He can’t think about Billy right now, doesn’t have time to dwell on the hot spark Billy lights in his belly, doesn’t have time to let the burn build until one of them ends up backed against the nearest surface. He can’t tell which direction Billy wants to take this, but it doesn’t surprise him at all when Billy shoves him to the ground, doesn’t surprise him at all when he shakes off the weariness and pushes himself up and follows him inside to find Billy with Lucas shoved against the wall. 

It surprises him a little bit when he grabs Billy’s shoulder and decks him. Doesn’t surprise him at all when it makes Billy laugh. Surprises him a little bit when he manages to hit Billy again, when he somehow has Billy backed against the counter. 

He keeps waiting for it to end. For one of them to stop it before it goes too far. Then Billy breaks a plate over his head, and very quickly Steve realizes he’s gonna get his ass thoroughly handed to him. 

He doesn’t really fight back much after that. Doesn’t have it in him. Billy’s too much, and the last 24 hours have been too much, the last week has been absolutely too much, and Steve slips into the dark and that’s that. 

When the sun comes up the next morning he carries Billy’s unconscious body out of the Byers and puts him in the back seat of Billy’s car, then he slides into the driver’s seat and has himself a good cry in driveway. The tears sting the cuts on his face and he barely feels it over the aching weariness in his bones, the exhausted weight of his limbs, the throb in his skull from the ass kicking and the lack of adrenaline after a full 24 hours where it was the only thing keeping him on his feet. 

He’s not coping. Doesn’t have any idea what coping even looks like. Doesn’t know if he’s ever actually been alright or if he was just. Bullshitting. 

He doesn’t remember the last time he cried like this. Big, ugly, wracking sobs in Billy Hargrove’s fucking Camaro, covered in blood and grime and so fucking tired and empty and done that he thinks he could sleep forever. 

Billy groans a little in the back seat, and Steve puts the key in the ignition and takes one of Billy’s cigarettes from the pack in the cupholder, lights it. Takes a deep breath. Doesn’t bother with the tears on his cheeks. 

‘What-?’ Billy says, a few minutes out from Steve’s house, and Steve takes another drag of his cigarette. There’s no one out this early. Hasn’t seen another car on the road. 

‘You’re gonna wanna take it easy.’

‘Harrington? What the fuck?’

‘You were drugged.’ Steve’s voice doesn’t sound nearly as steady as he’d like it to.

‘No shit. What the fuck.

‘Max was pretty sure you were gonna kill me. Turns out the prospect of watching your brother kill someone is more terrifying than whatever she thinks the consequences of dosing you with that shit are gonna be.’

‘Wouldn’t have killed you,’ Billy says, and Steve takes a deep pull on his smoke, lets it burn his lungs. He could use an aspirin. A handful of aspirin. Maybe a bottle of tequila to wash it down. 

‘You sure about that?’

Billy doesn’t say anything, and Steve doesn’t need him to. His driveway’s just around the corner. Empty. Like his big empty house. Joyce’ll drop his car off once she’s had a couple hours of sleep.

He pulls into the driveway, turns off the car. Tosses the keys in the backseat. ‘This is me. Try not to crash this car on your way home, it’s better looking than you are. Might wanna sleep it off a little before you try to drive.’

Steve’s halfway out the door when he feels Billy’s hand on his shoulder. ‘Hey, man. You okay?’

Steve laughs. Hysterical and fucked up and laced with panic and exhaustion and a weird kind of grief, and Billy doesn’t move his hand. ‘No. See you around, Hargrove.’

Billy lets him go, then. Steve doesn’t look back as he drags himself to his front door. He toes his shoes off and leaves them in front of the door like his mom hates and pulls his dad’s bottle of Cuervo out of the freezer and sinks down right there on the kitchen floor. 

He should clean himself up. He should change his clothes and wash the blood and grime off his body. He should take some aspirin. 

Instead, he uncaps the tequila and waits for the Camaro to start up. 

It doesn’t. Steve tips the bottle up and lets the smooth burn warm his chest, lets the liquor ease the aches in his bones.

He’s exhausted. It’s too quiet. He thinks about getting up, opening the front door. He thinks about Billy in his house, Billy’s heat on him, hands on him.

He’s fucked up. His face hurts. His knuckles are bruised from Billy’s bones.

He thinks he must be fucking losing it. Must have fucking lost it. 

He closes his eyes, smacks his head back against the cupboards behind him. Takes another swig of the tequila.

The last thing he expects is the knock on his front door. He knows it’s Billy, gotta be, still never heard the car start. He considers ignoring it. Then he hauls himself up, steadies himself against the wall as the liquor hits him, and stumbles to the door.

‘What,’ he asks, swaying a little. 

Billy looks him up and down, thumbs hooked in his pockets, shoulders drawn up to his ears. ‘Jesus, Harrington.’

Steve glares, brings the bottle up to his lips. ‘Asked you a fuckin’ question, Hargrove. What?

Billy rolls his eyes, huffs out a little breath. ‘God, you’re a fucking asshole. You seemed real fucked up is all. Wanna make sure you’re not gonna, like, die or whatever.’

Steve narrows his eyes. ‘I’m not gonna die. You can fuck off.’

And that’s apparently the wrong thing to say, because Billy glares a little. ‘You know, you fucking asked for that ass kicking. I’m not gonna apologize for it.’

Steve does not have the patience for this. It’s absurd. ‘Why are you still here?’

Billy sets his jaw, glares, shifts his eyes so he’s not looking at Steve, but past him. His hands are curled into fists by his sides. Then he takes a deep breath and looks Steve in the eye. ‘Are you okay?’

And oh, it’s fucking infuriating. And absurd. He’s so clearly, clearly not okay, 6 in the morning on a school day and Steve is drinking tequila with dried blood crusted on his face and an eye so swollen he can barely see out of it and Billy did that shit, at least some of it, and now he’s standing here in his fucking doorway asking if he’s okay like he gives a shit. If Steve weren’t so tired he’d fucking hit him. 

‘Oh, you’re a fucking piece of work, Hargrove.’ He waves the bottle of tequila in between them, gestures at his fucked up face with it. ‘Yeah, I’m clearly fucking peachy. Thanks for asking. Christ, you’re an asshole. Just. Go home, Billy.’

Billy hesitates, then bites his lip and nods. ‘Sure thing. Make sure to ice that,’ he says, reaches up and thumbs Steve’s cheekbone, edge of his black eye, a little too intentionally careless about it. Steve smacks his hand away, and Billy smirks at him, nothing left of whatever genuine fucking emotion it was that Steve thought he saw a minute ago. 

Steve takes another long pull of the tequila, turns and kicks the door shut behind him. Leaves Billy on his porch.

He’s halfway up the stairs when the Camaro starts up. He bypasses the bathroom, falls into his bed with his clothes still on, takes one last swig of the liquor and doesn’t think about anything else, gives himself over to the exhaustion weighing down his limbs. 

-

In retrospect, it was maybe a fucking stupid idea to show Billy where he lives. He wasn’t thinking totally clearly, admittedly, dead tired and terrified and maybe a little concussed, but when the knock comes on his door two days later after Steve’s blown off school and drank more of his father’s alcohol than he’ll ever be able to hide and only left his house to buy more cigarettes and another bag of weed and he hauls himself up off the couch and peeks through the peep hole and sees Hargrove’s fucking mullet he realizes that it was stupid, really stupid, and he should have fucking parked around the corner and walked back, or something.

But also, he’s not as mad to see him standing there looking like he’s kind of annoyed as he thought he would be. 

He opens the door. 

‘We gotta stop meeting like this, Hargrove, people are gonna talk.’

Billy fixes him with a glare that just makes Steve feel a little bubbly on the inside, makes him want to laugh.

Then Billy shoves past him, and Steve closes the door. ‘Sure, yeah, come on in.’

‘Where the fuck have you been?’

Steve raises his eyebrows. It’s funny that Billy thinks it’s any of his fucking business. ‘What do you care?’

The look Billy throws him gets Steve’s adrenaline kicking. Then Billy shoves him, hard, and his shoulders hit the door and his stupid fucked up traitor dick wakes up for the first time in a week. Billy’s hand is on his chin, tipping his face, looking at the bruises he left there, and Steve’s getting hard about it, licking his lips. 

Whatever. He knew he wasn’t coping. 

‘We fucking or fighting this time, Hargrove?’

Billy pulls him out from the wall a little by his collar just so he can slam him back into it. ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’

Everything. Nancy’s gone. He almost died, and if he had his parents wouldn’t even know yet. Haven’t called. Billy fucking Hargrove is the closest Steve’s felt to okay in weeks, and it’s fucked up. He’s fucked up. 

He doesn’t want to talk. ‘You’re not here to talk about my feelings,’ he grabs Billy’s wrist, squeezes, pulls his hand down and puts it on his dick. ‘We fucking or fighting?’

So that’s the third time. Billy looks at him for a long, long moment, looks at him like he’s trying to decide. Then he moves, quick as lightning, takes Steve’s scabbed bottom lip between his teeth and busts it back open, licks the blood off it and works Steve through his jeans while Steve fucks his hips up and thinks about how he wants more. 

He really thought there wouldn’t be a third time. He should have known better. Billy looks at him, licking his lips, pupils all blown, and Steve remembers that he kinda wants to see what his dick tastes like. 

It’s weird. He never really wanted to taste a dick before Billy, never even thought about it, too busy putting his face between girls legs, getting their slick all down his chin, making them shake. 

He thinks he should feel more about it, about all this. About Billy’s stubble scraping his cheeks, his lips, about Billy’s hard dick pressed against his hip. Maybe about how Billy just beat the shit out of him like three days ago, really fucking handed his ass to him, put him out cold on Jonathan’s living room floor. 

He doesn’t. Doesn’t feel a single twinge of panic about it, doesn’t feel like his whole view of himself is shifting. Isn’t surprised at all, somehow, that he followed Billy into that bathroom instead of continuing down the steps to his car. Isn’t surprised that he’s here, now, caged in against his front door with a hard on letting Billy suck on his tongue, thinking about sucking on his dick.

He wonders if he could make Billy shake. 

He hooks his fingers in Billy’s pockets and spins them around, spurred on by the way it makes Billy grin. Billy pats his cheek, not quite a slap, real condescending. ‘So you are in there. Was beginning to wonder.’

Steve grabs at Billy through his jeans, kneads his cock a little and makes him bite back a gasp. ‘What, you miss me?’

Billy gets a hand in his hair and yanks his head back and it’s fucking spectacular, sends a hot zing through him, makes his knees a little weak. ‘You’re such an asshole,’ Billy says, breath hot on Steve’s neck, says it like he’s into it, like it turns him on or something. Steve can relate, apparently.

He swallows, looks down his nose and watches Billy watch it, watches the way it makes his eyes go darker, feels the way it makes his fingers go tighter. 

Everything goes very still and very silent when Billy’s eyes find his. It happens again, one of those moments that just kind of hangs there, like the two of them are standing on the edge of something, waiting to see if the other is gonna step back or fall too. 

Steve licks his lips. 

‘Fuck, Harrington,’ Billy breathes, voice cracking a little. Then, he pulls a little harder on Steve’s hair, puts his other hand on his shoulder and pushes, brief, a suggestion. 

Steve goes. He knew he would. He feels shaky and a little dizzy and his mouth is watering, which is wild, and Billy doesn’t really ease up on his hair, drags Steve in until his open mouth is right there on the bulge of Billy’s dick in his jeans and he just kinda breathes on it, can smell Billy’s fucking cologne, christ. 

He feels fucking crazy. Out of his goddamn mind. 

Nothing in his life has ever turned him on the way that being on his knees with Billy’s fist in his hair does. He’ll have to unpack that later, maybe. Or maybe not. 

‘Jesus,’ Billy says, and Steve feels his dick kick through his jeans, which just makes him want to put his mouth on it.

He does it. Presses his lips to the denim, makes Billy hiss and his hips twitch a little. There’s something intoxicating about Billy like this; not desperate, really, just keyed up in a different way than he usually is, less volatile, less smug, less. Aloof. 

He looks up at Billy and slides both palms down his thighs, back up. Billy’s fit as hell, could probably crush Steve’s head between his thighs, and that does shit to Steve that he doesn’t really understand, makes him want

He undoes Billy’s jeans. Watches as Billy’s belly rises and falls with quick little breaths. Tugs them down his legs, underwear too, until Billy’s dick is like, right there. The smell is the first thing that hits him, hits him hard, honestly, makes his mouth water, which is a little crazy because Billy is clearly a douchebag and colognes up down there and that’s just annoying, really. Steve wants to roll his eyes about it but it’s working for him, making him sway in a little, get a little closer. He’s had Billy’s dick in his hand, but this is different. It’s different from down here. Bigger. Thicker. He can see all the details of it, the veins and ridges and the little curve of it. 

It tastes like skin, basically. Just tastes like skin. It’s smooth, soft, feels real good on his tongue if he’s being honest with himself. Feels even better when Billy curses, tugs on his hair, smacks his head back into the door behind him. Steve licks at the head of it, takes his time, wraps his hand around it and lets it sit on his tongue, seals his lips around it and sucks at it a little. Getting his bearings. 

He likes it. Likes it a whole lot. 

‘Oh christ, Harrington,’ Billy says, and Steve hums around it. ‘Fuck, fuck, you done this before? Shit.’

Steve pulls off, holds Billy’s dick in his hand and glares up at him a little. ‘I seem like I’ve done this before?’

Billy grins down at him, thumbs at his bottom lip. ‘Kinda, yeah.’

Steve doesn’t know what to do with that. His gut reaction is to be annoyed, a little insulted, but mostly the implied approval just fucking lights him up on the inside, makes his cheeks and his neck and his ears and his belly heat up. He gives Billy’s dick a squeeze, cheeky quick little lick. ‘You know it’s incredibly douchey that you cologne your dick, right? You do that shit just for me or do you just walk around like that all the time?’

Billy smacks him upside the head, not hard, and somehow, despite the fact that Billy like really did some damage, knocked him out cold like three fucking days ago, it makes him smile. He doesn’t think about it too much. ‘No one asked you for your opinion, Harrington. Suck it or don’t.’

Steve does roll his eyes at that. Then he gets Billy back in his mouth, tries some different shit, tries to remember all the things he likes about getting his dick sucked and tries to do those things, see which ones Billy likes too. 

It’s not that hard. Billy seems pretty easy to satisfy, and he’s like, surprisingly chatty, real generous with the praise. Steve kinda hates how much he likes that, how fucking, like, fulfilling it is. 

He shoves that down, way down, with all the other shit he should probably figure out someday, and really puts in work. Wants Billy to come. Wants to make him come. 

It kind of surprises him, when it happens. Billy clutches at his hair and says ‘fuck, I’m gonna-’ and then Steve bobs his head one more time and Billy’s coming, and Steve doesn’t really know what to do other than let him. And then he’s got a mouth full of come and he pulls off Billy’s dick and isn’t sure what the etiquette is here, if him and Billy are still doing etiquette or if they ever were, but he doesn’t have anything in his immediate vicinity to spit into so he just. Swallows it. It leaves a salty bitter taste in his mouth but it’s not bad, really, just weird. Different. New.

So that's the third time. The fourth time happens immediately after the third time but Steve decides that it counts because it happens in his bedroom, on his bed, with all his clothes and most of Billy’s kind of all over his floor, and also by the time Steve comes he’s got two of Billy’s fingers in his ass and he’s chanting Billy’s name and Billy’s kissing on his neck and leaving new marks and Steve feels less like he wants to go to sleep and never have to wake up again than he has in probably weeks. Fourth time. It counts. 

Billy doesn’t stick around long, after, long enough to smoke a cigarette and steal a couple swigs of vodka out of the bottle by Steve’s bed. 

‘Why’d you come here?’ Steve asks, not sure if it’s a good idea or not but too fucked out and satisfied to really think about it too much. He’s got a nice little buzz and his body is relaxed and fuzzy. Billy’s alright. 

‘Said you weren’t gonna die. No one’s heard from you in days.’

Billy’s sitting on the edge of the bed, not looking at him. Pulling his jeans on. 

Steve shoves the ball of his foot into Billy’s hip, pushes him a little. Billy throws a glare over his shoulder. Steve smiles. ‘You were worried about me.’

‘Oh fuck off, Harrington. This isn’t some... thing. Just get your shit together and get your ass back to school.’

‘See, you say shit like that sometimes and I’m still not clear on why you think it’s any of your fucking business what I do.’

Billy grabs his ankle, real quick, squeezes until it hurts a little. The only reason Steve’s dick doesn’t perk up about it is the spectacular fucking orgasm Billy just gave him like five minutes ago. He doesn’t say anything for a long, long moment, and Steve’s heart thuds in his chest, in his throat. 

Then he runs his hand up Steve’s calf, gives him a little slap. ‘I’ll see you at school tomorrow, Harrington.’

Steve takes a shower that night. Puts in a load of laundry. Puts the vodka back in the liquor cabinet. In the morning, he goes to school.

-

He floats through school on autopilot, considers skipping the rest of the day after every period, wants nothing more than to crawl back into his bed and finish off that bottle of vodka and sleep until everything stops being so shitty. 

He doesn’t know what keeps him here, why he’s going through the motions, sitting through his classes. He barely hears his teachers. Doesn’t take a single note. 

Then, at lunch, he sees Tommy and Carol and Billy laughing about something over where Steve used to sit, and Billy’s sitting in the seat that used to be Steve’s, and he figures it out. He doesn’t try to find Billy in the sea of people, doesn’t search him out, doesn’t scan through the throng with his eyes until he catches sight of Billy’s curls. He just can’t see anything else. 

Nancy waves him over and his chest tightens up, sudden crushing ache. He misses her. Misses her soft hands in his, misses the way her body fit in his arms, misses the way she’d roll her eyes at him when he got dumb and sentimental, the way he could always make her smile in spite of herself. Misses the sound of her voice. Her laugh. Misses her smacking him in the arm and tucking herself into his side and falling asleep on his chest while they watched movies on his couch. 

Jonathan gives him a small, tentative little smile, and Steve has to take a deep breath to keep the shaking under control. He looks back at Nancy, forces his mouth into a smile, then goes and sits in his car until the bell rings.

He never bothered making other friends, went straight from Carol and Tommy to Nancy and pretty much only Nancy. He realizes, sitting in his car, smoking a cigarette and thinking about how he should have put a flask in his glovebox this morning, that he doesn’t really have anyone, anymore. Dustin. He’s got Dustin, kind of. But Dustin is fourteen and has about five times as many friends as Steve does and it’s fucking pathetic. It’s just pathetic. He’s pathetic, and bullshit, and Nancy always was the smart one out of the two of them. He can’t even hate her for it. Isn’t even angry. 

He’s not sure why he goes back inside, why he doesn’t just drive himself back home to his big empty house where no one will bother him, but he does. Sits through the rest of the day. Even goes to practice.

Tommy gives him shit, there, about the bruises all over his face, about the black eye, the fat, split lip, and Billy gets this dark look on his face and passes Tommy the ball so aggressively that it makes him grunt.

Huh.

‘What the fuck, Hargrove?’ Tommy spits, and Billy raises his eyebrows, holds his hands out from his sides like he’d be more than happy to fight about it. 

‘Maybe if you spent less time staring at Harrington and more looking at the fucking ball you’d be able to put some points on the board.’

It’s all very bizarre. Steve’s got no fucking clue what to make of it, but it makes him feel... something. Like, other than hollow despair and crushing insecurity. 

Tommy throws the ball back at Billy and coach blows the whistle and benches him, lets Billy get away with his shit because that’s just how it goes. Billy gets away with shit. 

Billy dribbles the ball, idle, watches Tommy storm off to the bench like a chastised kid, then looks at Steve. Passes him the ball. 

‘He’s got a crush on you, you know,’ Billy says a little later, between scrimmages. Steve finishes off his gatorade. 

‘Fuck off,’ he says, cause he’s not sure what else to say to that. Tommy’s been with Carol forever. They’re perfect for each other. Steve’s pretty sure as soon as they’re both eighteen they’re gonna get married and drive off into the sunset to like, rob banks and fuck in churches or whatever. 

Billy grins at him, big and amused and a little smug, like usual. ‘Come on, Harrington. You really never noticed? He’s pulling your pigtails.’

Billy’s got a bead of sweat running down his neck. He’s like, glistening. His lips are pink as fuck.

‘That why you’re always talking shit, Hargrove? You pulling my pigtails?’

Billy looks at him for a long, long moment, and for the life of him Steve can’t get a fucking read on what he’s thinking. 

Then his grin widens and his eyes kinda light up and crinkle at the sides and he leans in close and says, ‘I don’t need to pull your pigtails. I’ve already got your attention.’

It’s obnoxious how true it is. Billy’s smug shit just gets under his skin and somewhere between Nancy and now his wires got all crossed, his dumb dick like, into that. Into Billy and his smug shit. His cocky fucking posturing and how goddamn fun it is to knock him out of it, make him swear and lose control a little, tear that mask off and see how he looks, like, affected.

Makes him feel something. Solid. A little powerful, maybe. He’s not the only one in this shit; Billy spends every fucking second they’re in a room together being in Steve’s business. Making himself known. He’s got Steve’s attention because he makes sure Steve can’t not see him.

It started the first time they laid eyes on each other, Billy staring him down at that party, right before everything started to fall apart. Billy was shitty, but kinda interesting. 

On that count, at least, not much has changed.

‘Right. Anyway, Tommy’s just a dick. Always has been. He’s not pulling my pigtails.’

Billy snorts. ‘Yeah, you don’t hear how he talks about you, Harrington.’

He’s not sure why they’re talking about Tommy. ‘Him and Carol are gonna fucking die together.’

‘Yeah, definitely. He still thinks about sucking your dick, though.’

‘Why are we talking about Tommy?’

Billy lays his hand on his shoulder, and Steve’s spine tingles. He leans in close. ‘Would you let him?’

The bottom of his stomach drops out unexpectedly, hot twist in his gut. He’d never thought about it.

Looking back, he can kinda see it. There were times, really drunk times, or times when Steve was so stoned he could barely move, when Tommy would get this look on his face, would get a little closer than was strictly friendly, would lick his lips and Steve would get a twisty kind of uncertainty in his gut, feel a little swoop of something in his spine, would shove that down down down and not think about it at all. Tommy was his best friend. That’s all there was to it. He never thought about him that way. 

Billy’s got him all fucked up. 

‘No.’

Billy’s grin comes back, and it makes Steve’s skin prickle. Steve has the distinct feeling that Billy has the upper hand here, and Steve doesn’t even have any idea what game they’re playing. 

Then coach blows the whistle, and Billy claps him on the shoulder before jogging back onto the court. 

They don’t talk again. Billy doesn’t stick around to shower and Steve doesn’t either, doesn’t want to deal with the way Tommy’s looking at him and all the bullshit Billy’s put in his head about why. The Camaro is rumbling out of the parking lot as Steve steps out into the cold. It’s already almost completely dark outside, and Steve doesn’t fuck around on his way to his car, locks the doors and checks the back seats and tries to shake the irrational paranoia that something is right on his heels, at his back. 

He didn’t love the dark before, not since Barb, but he knows tonight is gonna be one of those nights where he leaves most of the lights on. His house is just so fucking empty. He’ll sleep with the radio on, with the lamp on, check and double check all the doors and windows like they’ll do anything to keep him safe.

Before, he would have called Nancy. Would have driven over and crawled in her window and curled into her side and tucked his face into her neck and let her play with his hair until he fell asleep, would have snuck out as the sun came up, jogged down the street to his car and gone home to change before school. 

The vodka takes the edge off. He’s still got an exhausted sort of anxiety simmering in his chest, making his skin crawl, making him hypervigilant, making him way too aware of every single noise around his house, but the vodka at least makes him feel like he could sleep, maybe. 

He rolls a joint. The combination is usually enough to knock him out. Or get him too fucked up to be scared, anyway. Fucked up enough to forget about how shitty he feels. 

In the meantime, he misses Nancy so much that his chest fucking aches, feels like someone is squeezing his heart, his lungs, maybe. He waits for the drugs to kick in and take it away, take that feeling away. He wonders if she’s with Jonathan. Wonders if he’s sleeping in her bed. 

He tries to think about something else. Anything else. 

He can’t say he’s particularly surprised when it’s Billy. He takes another hit off his joint. Wonders what Billy’s like stoned. He doesn’t know that Billy smokes weed, but he hangs out with Tommy and does keg stands and smokes more cigarettes than Steve does, so it seems like a pretty safe bet. 

He thinks that could be fun. Getting stoned with Billy. 

He smacks his head back into the wall behind him, does it again. Him and Billy are not friends. They don’t get stoned together. They don’t hang out. 

Billy’s body is warm and solid and pretty damn good at making Steve’s feel pretty damn good. That’s it. All there is to it. He’s convenient and enthusiastic and enough of an asshole that Steve can also be an asshole and not feel bad about it. He doesn’t have to watch his shit around Billy. Doesn’t have to talk. Gets to put all the other bullshit in his life aside for a few minutes and let himself be overwhelmed by the crackling intensity between the two of them. 

He gets the feeling that he’s missing something, sometimes, like Billy’s laughing at him or manipulating him or just like there’s something Billy knows that he doesn’t and it makes him burn, makes a little spark of shame and doubt make his ears ring and his stomach twist. It’s not enough to deter him, not when all Billy’s chaotic, magnetic energy is focused on him. Can’t say no. Aches for it. 

Other times, he feels like maybe Billy could give a shit about him someday. Billy will look at him a certain way, hesitate a split second too long, smile just a little bit too genuine, and Steve will wonder if maybe there’s a small part of him that thinks maybe this could be more than convenient orgasms. 

He finishes off his joint, dumbly fumbles with the window, tries to pull it closed. He’s gonna feel like shit in the morning. He makes it halfway to his feet before he decides there is no use trying to walk when he could just crawl, his bed’s not that far away. Safer this way.

He dreams of demodogs, of shadows and tunnels and filth. Watches one eat Billy’s heart out of his chest, tear at Dustin’s leg while he watches, horrified, not paralyzed but unable to act. His bat slips from his fingers, disappears into the vines. Billy’s body disappears into the vines. Dustin, screaming, is overtaken by them. Then Steve’s alone, and everything is so, so quiet.

-

He skips school. Spends his morning puking, eating aspirin, making himself drink water that he vomits right back up.

He’s got the weekend to get his shit together, at least. 

Nancy stops by in the afternoon. She’s got her eyebrows knitted together and her lips pursed when Steve looks through the peephole. Looks concerned. 

He’s torn between wanting to open the door and fall into her arms and cling to her forever and wanting to ignore her and crawl back to his room after a quick stop in the kitchen to see if he can find any more alcohol.

Doesn’t know which is gonna hurt more. 

He opens the door. Makes it about twenty seconds before he bursts into tears. 

It’s not a good look, he knows. Nancy says ‘oh, Steve,’ and puts her arms around him and leads him to the couch. She sits and pulls him down with her and he wraps his arms around her waist and buries his face in her shoulder and tries to pull his shit together while she pets his hair and tells him it’s okay over and over and over again.

And it’s not okay, is the thing. He’s not okay. This, Nancy on his couch, comforting him, being there for him, it’s not real, it’s not his to have anymore. It’s gonna hurt twice as much when she leaves, he’s pretty sure, when he crawls into his cold empty bed tonight, alone again. And she’s not even all of it. He sees the fucking tunnels every time he closes his eyes, feels that shocky kick of adrenaline every time his house makes a noise or he thinks he sees something out of the corner of his eye. He has a bone deep certainty that it’s only a matter of time until the shadows spread and the dark comes back and he doesn’t know if he’ll get lucky a third time, if he’ll live through the nightmare again. Every time he thinks about his future, about getting up and going to school and studying for tests and applying for college he gets bogged down by the crushing, crippling idea that if the pattern continues, he’ll probably be dead before he can buy his own tequila. 

Makes it hard to see the point. 

He’s not doing well. 

Nancy – sweet, kind, beautiful Nancy – assures him that she’s there, that she still cares, and it doesn’t make him feel any better. Somehow makes him feel worse. For the first time since the demodogs, he gets a little angry with her again. Remembers the shit she said that night. 

He pulls himself together. Thanks her. Assures her he’ll be fine, that he’s doing fine. Just wasn’t feeling well. 

She sees through it, but she lets him make her leave, eventually. 

He grabs his keys and puts on his coat. It’s too fucking quiet in his house. 

-

On Saturday Billy shows up on his doorstep again. Bangs on the door like Steve owes him something. Stands there looking pissed while Steve decides whether he’s doing this shit tonight or not.

Like there’s any chance he’s not doing this shit tonight.

Billy looks him up and down when he gets the door open. He looks fucking hot. Not like he did at the Byers before everything went sideways, not like, dressed up, just. Hot. Usual Billy shit, but a little extra. 

‘Well, it looks like you’ve showered in the last 72 hours, so that’s something.’

Steve showered this morning, thanks. Even put a little effort into his hair. Brushed his teeth. Got fucking dressed. Mostly.

‘Hello to you too.’ 

Billy raises his eyebrows. ‘Invite me in.’

‘Oh, you’re waiting for invitations now?’ Billy rolls his eyes. Steve steps back, opens the door a little wider, gestures in his best approximation of welcoming.

Billy walks past him, looks around his entryway. ‘Your house looks like a magazine.’

‘Yeah,’ Steve says, closing the door, crossing his arms over his chest. He doesn’t really know what this looks like, how this plays out. Normally one of them would be shoved into the door by now. 

Billy looks at him, looks at him like he’s figuring something out. Like he’s learning something. It makes Steve uncomfortable. ‘Where are your parents?’

Steve genuinely has to think about it. He thinks Seattle, but it could be San Francisco. San Antonio? It starts with an s, he’s pretty sure. It’s also none of Billy’s business. ‘Business trip.’

‘Must be nice,’ Billy says, something a little dark and a little sad about it that Steve can’t quite put his finger on, can’t quite wrap his head around.

It’s not, not really. He’s fucking sick of being alone. Would rather have his mom here bitching about his shoes in the hallway and his dad bitching about his grades, would rather have the noise of them, the infuriating overbearing presence of them, the smell of his moms cooking, the uncomfortable silence as they all sit around the table and pretend like they know each other. 

‘Not that I’m not always thrilled to see you, Hargrove, but-’

Billy clears his throat, looks away and then looks back. ‘Right. Get dressed.’

That. Is absolutely not anything that Steve ever expected to hear from Billy. ‘Don’t, uh. Don’t we usually start this shit by taking our clothes off?’

Billy gives him a wry little smile, and a hot kick of gratification zips right down his spine. It’s addictive. ‘We’re not gonna fuck. Not yet, anyway. We’re going to hang out with Tommy and Carol.’

It sends a little bolt of anxiety through him, but also maybe like. Hope. He kinda misses them. They’re terrible people, but they’re like. His terrible people. Or they were, anyway, before he became bullshit and started pretending he wasn’t also a terrible person. 

But also, that would be hanging out with Billy. And apparently planning their fucking in advance. Both of those seem like big steps.

‘Tommy and Carol don’t want to hang out with me,’ Steve says, mostly buying time. Stalling, or something. Like he’s not gonna do exactly what Billy says. Like he’s not gonna go along with whatever shit Billy ropes him into.

Billy rolls his eyes. ‘Jesus christ, Harrington, we talked about this.’

They did not. Steve raises his eyebrows. 

Billy huffs, puts his hand in the middle of Steve’s back and pushes him towards the stairs. ‘Tommy’s just sore that you ditched him for some broad. I told you, he-’

‘Don’t,’ Steve says as they reach the top of the stairs, swing left toward his bedroom, ‘we’re not talking about your asinine theory about Tommy and his imaginary crush on me.’

Billy smacks his ass, and it makes him feel things. Things that make him want to spin around and shove Billy into the wall and rub off on him. ‘It’s not asinine, and it’s not imaginary. It doesn’t matter, he’d never act on it, but he’ll take you back if you show up. You don’t even have to work for it.’

Billy shoves him down on the edge of his bed, and Steve lets him. Sits there while Billy goes and rummages through his closet. ‘Why are you doing this? What’s in it for you?’

‘I haven’t decided yet. Thought it might be fun for you to owe me one.’

‘I don’t owe you shit.’

Billy throws a black tshirt and a pair of jeans at him, careless. ‘Get dressed.’

Steve gets up and shoves his sweats down, watches the way Billy looks him over as he pulls the jeans on, the way his eyes linger. The way his tongue pokes out, licks at his lips. It makes him feel fucking great, honestly. Billy wants him. He feels the least desirable he’s ever felt in his life, fucked up and kinda worthless, but Billy wants him.

He does the jeans up, and Billy’s eyes flick up to his. Steve can see the want there; Billy’s fucking shameless about it. 

‘You sure you wanna go hang out with Tommy and Carol?’

Billy comes over to him, puts his hand on Steve’s belly, slides it up his chest like he’s allowed to just do that shit, just touch him whenever he wants, however he wants. Steve’s nipples prickle a little, pull tight. Billy sees, smiles. 

He grabs the left one between his thumb and forefinger and pinches

Steve’s heart slams in his chest, and his stomach flips over. Billy leans in, lips a breath from Steve’s. ‘Get. Dressed.’

Then, he’s gone. Like, stops touching him, steps back, fucking leaves the room. Leaves Steve to catch his breath and pull on the shirt Billy picked out for him and follow him down the stairs. 

Which Steve will do, because of course he will. But Billy getting out of his face also gives him the opportunity to collect his wits a little, and he decides that Billy can fucking wait. So he stops off at the bathroom, brushes his teeth, washes his face. Gives his hair a little attention. Lets Billy sit downstairs and simmer. He doesn’t hear the door open, doesn’t hear the Camaro start up. He goes back to his room and lights the half-smoked joint in the ashtray on his windowsill while he tries to decide which jacket to wear. 

‘Jesus christ, Harrington, you fucking jerkin’ off up there or what?’

Steve hits the joint, lets it get him a little buzzy. He’s not going for stoned, just a little high. ‘Just getting dressed,’ he calls back, and then hears Billy’s boots on the stairs. 

He doesn’t acknowledge Billy when he shows up in the doorway, glaring. Pretends like he’s really putting some consideration into whether he should wear the black jacket or the grey one when the grey is the obvious choice.

Billy doesn’t move or say anything for a long moment, long enough that Steve finally glances at him. 

The look on Billy’s face makes him feel real good. Giddy and happy and kinda weirdly full. Billy looks like he’s having a hard time not coming across the room and undoing all Steve’s work. Just kinda staring. Like he wasn’t expecting Steve like this. Like he wants to be annoyed, but isn’t. 

He grins. Holds the joint out. Billy blows out a breath, shakes his head a little, then comes over and takes it. Hits it. ‘What’s the holdup, asshole?’

‘Black jacket or grey?’

Billy throws him a look, real cutting, which just makes Steve grin more. ‘Are you fucking serious?’

Steve just raises his eyebrows. Billy hits the joint again, rolls his eyes. 

‘The grey. Obviously. Christ, you’re hopeless.’

And Steve’s a little high, and Billy’s got his head real fucked up, so he smiles real sweet and leans in and kisses Billy’s cheek and says ‘thanks, babe,’ and absolutely expects it when Billy shoves him, hard, laughs about it while he stumbles a step. What he doesn’t expect is the tiny hint of pink on Billy’s cheeks. The glare, yes. The blush is a surprise. 

‘I should kick your ass again,’ Billy says, but it lacks heat. Steve’s never been more sure that Billy wasn’t gonna kick his ass. 

He plucks the joint out of Billy’s fingers, takes one last tiny hit off it before stamping it out in the ashtray. ‘Maybe you should.’

Billy huffs, snatches the grey jacket off the hanger and throws it at him. ‘Come on, asshole. Let’s go.’

-

Billy’s right. 

Tommy takes one suspicious look at him, holds onto it for maybe fifteen seconds, then rolls his eyes and huffs and holds a beer out to him. 

Steve takes it. Tommy grabs one too, wags his pocketknife, raises his eyebrows. 

This is good. This is familiar. Steve feels lighter already.

He takes the knife, pops a hole in the bottom of the can, and somehow catches Billy’s eyes as he brings it to his lips. He’s smiling. Makes Steve feel warm like he’s already finished the beer. He pops the tab, closes his eyes, swallows it all down. 

Tommy claps him on the back and Carol smiles, snapping her gum, smoke from her cigarette curling up to join the haze around the light. 

They fall right back into it, but the dynamic is a little different now. Now, there’s Billy. Billy, who cocks an eyebrow at Steve and shifts over on the couch, leaving a respectable half-cushion between himself and where he obviously wants Steve to sit. Where Steve sits. 

‘Never thought I’d see this,’ Tommy says around a lungful of weed smoke, coughs it out and passes the pipe to Carol, ‘was pretty sure you two’d kill each other before you ever became friends.’

They’re not friends. 

‘Could still go either way,’ Steve says, and Billy tips his head back and chuckles.

‘We’re not gonna kill each other,’ Billy says, takes the pipe from Carol and hits it, holds it out to Steve. 

Which seems to imply that they’re going to be friends. Steve doesn’t know how he feels about that. Billy’s a real dick. 

Billy’s also shown up to his house twice in the last week to check on him. Steve’s felt the least shitty he’s felt in a long time when Billy’s in his space, being shitty. Being there

Plus, like. There’s a pattern emerging. A handjob in a bathroom at a party is one thing, but Billy’s been in his bed. And Steve wouldn’t mind getting him there again. 

He doesn’t want to think about it.

He hits the pipe. Billy almost killed him once before, and Steve’s got monsters. Real ones. ‘Not on purpose, anyway.’

Then Billy’s hand is on the back of his neck, dragging him in. Billy pulls him in until their faces are an inch apart, amused little grin on his face. ‘You,’ he says, and Steve can smell the beer on his breath, ‘are a dramatic little bitch, Harrington.’

Steve spins out a little. Billy’s hand is on him, strong and solid and unshakable, and Billy’s mouth is a breath away from his, and Billy’s eyes are a kinda crinkled up at the corners cause he’s grinning and Steve’s kinda stoned, a little buzzy like he always seems to be these days. He doesn’t know what to do here, warm little ember behind his belly button. Billy glances down at his mouth, makes Steve’s cheeks heat, and then his face goes a little soft when he looks back up, grin easing out into a little smile as he sucks his bottom lip into his mouth and bites it and looks him in the eye again.

Steve’s head spins.

Then, abruptly, it’s over. Billy laughs and rolls his eyes and shoves him away and Steve grabs his beer and chugs the rest of it and tries not to seem too desperate, too fucked up, too shaken. Tries not to give away how very fucking unsteady he is, how Billy just ripped the rug out from under him.

He has no fucking clue what’s going on. He has no idea who the boy sitting next to him is or what he wants or what the fuck he’s supposed to do.

He’s fucked. Knows that for sure. He’s fucking captivated, in this moment, watching Billy smiling all easy with his arm across the back of the couch, legs kicked out and crossed at the ankles. Ignoring Steve. Acting like he didn’t just do... whatever that was. Steve can’t think about anything else.

Better than thinking about Nancy and demodogs and how tired he is, anyway. 

Dramatic little bitch. He slides off the couch, sits back on his heels, grabs Tommy’s bag of weed off the table and sets about rolling a joint. 

‘The fuck, Steve?’ Tommy says, and Steve doesn’t bother to look at him.

‘You owe me. I’ll take it outta your tab.’

He hears Billy laugh from behind him and ignores it with gusto. Ignores the warmth on his neck. Ignores how happy making Billy happy makes him. Ignores it. Grinds the weed. 

‘You’re a dick,’ Tommy says.

‘Yeah, yeah. You missed me anyway. Don’t worry, I’ll share.’

‘Good to have you back, Steve,’ Carol says, and Steve glances up.

She seems like she means it, for what it’s worth. He smiles at her. She grins at him. 

‘He missed me,’ Steve says, just to rile Tommy a little. Just for fun.

‘Oh my god, like you wouldn’t believe. It’s been a little pathetic, to be honest.’

Billy cackles. Tommy’s cheeks go a little pink as he glares. Steve grins and goes back to rolling his joint. 

‘Fuck you both,’ Tommy says.

Steve licks the paper, looks at Tommy while he does it. Tommy’s still glaring, but he’s also watching Steve’s mouth. 

Maybe Billy was onto something after all. 

‘You’d like that, wouldn’t you?’ Doesn’t know why he says it, just knows it’s out of his mouth. Tommy fucking gapes at him and Carol laughs, sharp and abrupt like she wasn’t expecting it, laughs until there are tears in her eyes. Billy just shifts a little closer to him on the couch, which is strange. Steve puts the joint in his mouth and hears the snick of a lighter next to his ear, gets a look at Billy when he turns his head to get the thing lit in the flame Billy’s holding out for him. 

He looks pleased. Steve fucking hates that he likes it, how great the approval makes him feel. 

He hits the joint, hits it hard, pulls deep and closes his eyes and lets his head drop back onto the cushion behind him. ‘’m just fuckin’ with you, Tommy.’ He’s not trying to humiliate him. Steve’s fucking Billy; he’s in no position to judge. Thinks he’s a terrible choice if Tommy’s gonna be carrying a torch for someone, but whatever. Not like any of them have a choice about it. 

‘Welcome back, dickhead,’ Tommy says, but he doesn’t sound too mad about it. Steve cracks his eyes open, gives him a little grin, closes them again. Hits the joint. 

-

Steve’s not really that stoned anymore by the time Billy gets him back to his house. Definitely not drunk. Steve closes his eyes and tips his head back and Billy’s got Pink Floyd playing low on the tape deck and it’s not bad. Kinda nice. 

‘Think maybe you’re onto something about Tommy,’ he says into the quiet.

‘No shit,’ Billy says.

‘I had no idea.’

‘Yeah, well. You’re straight. Straight boys are fucking stupid.’

There’s like. A lot to unpack there. He opens his eyes, rolls his head to the side and looks at Billy. He’s pretty. Steve wants him, wants him in a way he’s never wanted a girl. ‘Billy,’ he says, like Billy’s being the stupid one. Because he kinda is.

Steve thinks it’s pretty clear at this point that whatever he is, it’s not straight. 

Billy clears his throat softly. ‘We doing first names now, then?’

He doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing. 

‘I don’t know what we’re doing.’

Billy pulls up in front of his dark house, and Steve doesn’t really want to go in. He turns off the car, but doesn’t move to open the door. 

Then Billy’s got his fists in the front of Steve’s shirt and his face is just a breath away and he does that thing again, looks down at his mouth and back up at his eyes and Steve’s heart slams in his chest and his skin prickles and he can’t think, can’t think at all, caught, suspended, fucking drowning. 

When Billy kisses him it’s soft, and gentle, and nothing like Steve ever expected. 

Billy never gives him the chance to get his bearings before he rips the fucking rug out from under him again. He’s addicted.

Billy kisses him like a promise. Like a confession. He says so much shit with it, with this tender, slow meeting of their lips and Steve can’t get his head around any of it, pulled under and swept up in it and really just totally out of his depth, center of gravity all knocked sideways, so fucked up by it that when Billy finally, finally takes it just a hint deeper, opens his mouth a little wider, tiny little touch of his tongue, Steve moans. He melts. He clutches at Billy’s shirt, at his hair. 

And then Billy’s gone again. Pulled back, smoothing out Steve’s shirt, smiling in a way that’s not a smirk, not like Steve was half expecting. He feels dazed, feels insane, feels again like Billy’s got them locked in this slow dance game they’re playing, like he’s winning and Steve’s still trying to learn the rules. 

Billy pats his cheek, thumb brushing over his bottom lip. ‘You gonna invite me up or you planning on sitting there all night looking like the last of your brain just evaporated out of your skull?’

Steve flushes hot, licks the taste of Billy off his lips and musters what he hopes is a passable glare. 

Billy laughs.

‘Dick,’ Steve says, and gets out of the car. ‘Come on, then.’

Billy wraps himself around Steve from behind as he fumbles with the keys at the door, breathes on his neck and slides his hands up his shirt and Steve gets the door unlocked and gets them inside and shakes Billy off enough to get it locked again behind them, to lead Billy up the stairs. 

So that’s the fifth time. 

Billy strips his shirt off and backs him up until his calves hit the bed, shoves him back and crawls on after him and strips his pants off, gets out of his own clothes and Steve’s heart beats rabbit quick in his chest because it feels different. This time feels different. And Billy kisses his lips, his cheek, his chin and asks him if he’s got lube and makes Steve’s body hot with nerves and fear and want.

This moment scares the hell out of him. It feels. Big.

‘Billy, I-’

‘If you tell me to stop I will. If you want to stop, we stop.’

Steve takes a shaky breath. He’s more nervous than he’s ever been like this, but it’s not enough to make him want to stop. He’s got an idea what Billy’s got planned, and he. He needs to find out for sure. Wants.

‘In the drawer. The lube. Bedside table.’

The idea of Billy fucking him makes him feel a lot of things. A lot of things. Like, really good and confusing and scary and amazing things and it feels dangerous, feels stupid and reckless and like asking for trouble but it also makes him feel alive.

Billy kisses him, quick peck on the lips, and reaches to dig the lube outta the drawer.

He’s not expecting Billy to shift until his knees are on either side of his hips, not expecting Billy’s weight on his thighs, Billy’s slick hand on his dick. 

‘You thought I was gonna fuck you,’ Billy says. Steve swallows, licks his lips. Billy’s grip tightens on his dick, strokes a little harder. ‘You were gonna let me?’

‘You surprised?’

Billy lets go of his dick and reaches around behind himself, and Steve’s world tips sideways, goes all bright and colorful and crazy as he realizes exactly what Billy’s got planned. 

‘You ever fuck a boy before me?’

‘You know the answer to that. What are you-’

‘I think you know,’ Billy says, plants his free hand on the bed next to Steve’s shoulder and bites his lip. ‘You were really gonna let me?’

Billy looks, like, stunning. Steve’s well and truly fucked, he’s pretty sure, like really in too goddamn deep, because Billy’s hair is falling down around his face and he looks really turned on and, like, present, not pretending to be anything or anyone, not trying to hide anything or project anything or make Steve feel any type of specific way at all, and it’s all a little overwhelming. 

Stunning.

‘Yeah,’ Steve says, puts one hand on Billy’s thigh and brushes his hair back with the other, loses his fucking head a little when Billy’s eyes flutter shut and he tips his head into it. ‘I was. I would.’

‘You’re an idiot.’

Steve knows that. Billy’s hands are back in front of him, getting the lube open and dumping some more on Steve’s dick, and then he’s shifting up, holding it steady, lifting himself up.

It’s tighter than anything Steve’s ever felt before in his life. He sucks in a breath, clutches at Billy’s thighs.

Billy looks like a fucking dream. He’s got his lips parted, eyebrows all knitted up, chin tipped down a little. He’s taking these deep, shaky breaths, and the head of Steve’s dick is just barely inside him and it’s all he can feel, all he can think about, only real thing left in the world.

Billy just kind of hovers there for a minute, lifts up a little and then sinks back down a little further, and Steve can barely breathe. Captivated. 

‘You’re big,’ Billy says.

Steve flushes. ‘Sorry,’ he says, like an idiot. Last of his brain evaporated out of his skull. 

Billy opens his eyes, gives him a wry little smile. ‘That’s not a bad thing, Harrington.’

It steadies him a little, stuffs him back in his skin, gets his head back in order a little. He runs his hands up Billy’s thighs, soft hair under his palms. Billy sinks down a little further. 

Then he takes a deep breath, lets it out, and takes the rest of Steve’s dick in one go. He groans when he bottoms out, lets go of Steve’s dick and puts his hand on his chest instead, digs his fingers in as he rolls his hips, picks himself up and sinks back down again. 

It’s hot. It’s maybe the hottest thing Steve’s ever seen, ever felt, Billy so fucking hot and tight and slick around him, the weight of him, the strength of him. He pulls his feet up a little, bends his knees and holds Billy’s hips and throbs when Billy gasps at the little shift in angle. Billy’s moving slow, getting a rhythm going, sink down, circle his hips, lift up a few inches, and again. His nails are bright spots of pain where they’re digging into Steve’s chest. 

It's wild, the way he can feel Billy relaxing around him, the way it gets easier and easier with every time Billy picks himself up and sinks back down. 

‘God, fuck,’ Billy says, starting to move a little faster, sweating a little, chest all shiny with it. Steve wants to move, wants to fuck Billy stupid, make him feel as out of his head as Steve does pretty much constantly when Billy’s anywhere near him, always knocking him off balance. 

He tightens his grip on Billy’s hips, watches Billy’s eyes fly open right before he snaps his hips up, sees the whole thing. Sees the way his mouth goes slack and his eyes go dark and hot and feels the way Billy squeezes around him, the way his fingertips dig into his chest, hears him moan, feels it.

It makes him a little crazy. Spurs him on. Has him doing it again, planting his feet and fucking up into Billy and just drowning in it, in the way Billy just lets him, lets him do it, puts both hands on Steve’s chest and tips forward and looks him at him a little dazed, dick leaking streaks of slick on Steve’s belly as it drags back and forth with each snap of his hips.

‘Oh, fuck, Harrington,’ Billy breathes, licks his lips and moves one hand to the bed next to Steve’s head, and Steve gets the stupid idea in his head that he wants to hear Billy call him by his name. He moves his hands up, lets his fingernails drag up Billy’s back as he cranes his head up and sucks one of Billy’s nipples into his mouth. 

Billy whimpers, gets his free hand into Steve’s hair and holds on so tight it stings, and it’s hot, it’s really fucking hot, but it’s not what Steve wants. 

He tries harder. Fucks him good. Sucks on his nipple, licks at it, gives it an experimental little bite, doubles down when it gets a gasp out of him. 

‘Oh, oh my god,’ Billy says, lets go of Steve’s hair and slides his hand down between them to touch himself, and Steve doesn’t like that for some reason. He lets Billy’s nipple go, gets his fist in Billy’s hair and tugs until Billy looks at him, looks as fucked up and gone as Steve feels.

‘No,’ Steve says, and knocks Billy’s hand away, gets his own fingers around Billy’s dick. It’s hard, real fucking hard and slick and Steve tugs on it in time with his thrusts, mostly, anyway, feels a little clumsy-crazy, but Billy doesn’t seem to give a shit.

‘Fuck, fuck, I’m,’ Billy drops down on his elbows, hands in Steve’s hair, smears his mouth against Steve’s in the hottest, messiest approximation of a kiss Steve’s ever experienced, ‘Steve, I’m gonna-’

And that’s just about all Steve needs, honestly. He jerks Billy off quick and rough and fucks him good, drinks in the little ah, ah, ah’s Billy pants out into his mouth, gets higher and higher right along with the pitch of them until Billy comes, clamps down around him and comes on his chest and whimpers into his mouth and it doesn’t take much after that, couple more thrusts into the blinding heat and pressure of him and Steve’s done, sinks deep and comes and lets his thrusts slow as it gets real slick and Billy kinda collapses on him, pins him down with the sweat-sticky weight of him.

‘Oh my fucking god,’ Billy says, face tucked into Steve’s neck. ‘Holy shit, Steve.’

Steve wraps his arms around Billy, holds onto him. Kisses what he can get to, Billy’s shoulder, the hair by his ear. 

He’s fucked.

‘Yeah,’ he says, little aftershock kicking him in the gut as Billy pulls off, shifts off to the side a little. Just a little, though. Still has one leg over Steve’s hips, still has an arm over his chest, hand in his hair. ‘That was. Uh.’

Billy laughs in a way Steve hasn’t heard before, easy and soft and genuine and Steve’s chest feels fucking full. Billy kisses his shoulder. ‘Yeah. It was. Need a fucking smoke.’

‘Christ, yeah,’ Steve says. Neither of them moves. Billy buries his fingers a little deeper in his hair, makes goosebumps rise on his cooling skin. He kisses Steve’s shoulder again, presses his forehead there, and Steve feels shaky and great and nervous all over again. He brings his hand up, curls his fingers around Billy’s forearm where it’s still resting across his chest. Rubs little circles with his thumb. Billy blows out a little breath against his arm, runs his fingers back through Steve’s hair.

Steve closes his eyes. Lets himself have this. Doesn’t think about it.

‘I should probably…’ Billy says a while later, breaks the silence like he’s trying to be gentle with it, and Steve squeezes his arm.

‘Don’t- you don’t have to. You can. You could stay. For a while.’

Billy picks his head up enough to look at him, eyebrows stitched together like he doesn’t quite understand, and yeah. Steve gets that. He doesn’t breathe.

‘Gonna need that smoke,’ Billy says, finally, and Steve reaches blindly for the pack he knows is on the bedside table, somehow gets it and the lighter in his hand, presses them to Billy’s chest without ever breaking eye contact. 

Billy grins, ducks down and kisses him, quick as lightning. ‘You’re alright, Harrington.’

‘Fucked you stupid. We’re back to last names, now?’

‘Still smarter than you, asshole.’ Billy lights a smoke, reaches over Steve and grabs the ashtray off the table, plops it down on Steve’s chest like he’s got every right to. ‘You regret asking me to stay yet?’

‘Nope,’ Steve says, ‘I’m an idiot, remember?’

‘God, you really are. I am a terrible idea.’

‘Not the worst one I’ve ever had, believe it or not.’

‘You don’t know shit, Harrington. You don’t know a goddamn thing about me.’

Steve thinks that’s bullshit, but he doesn’t think it’s worth arguing about. Billy’s still all easy and relaxed, curled around him, tapping the ash of his smoke into the ashtray on his chest, and Steve’s got a hand in his hair now, can feel how damp it is, how soft. Billy doesn’t know shit about him either but here, like this, it also feels like Billy knows him in a way no one else has. Feels like maybe Steve wouldn’t mind letting him know the rest. 

He wants to know Billy, he realizes. Wants to know why he is the way he is. Wants to be able to figure out what the fuck he’s thinking when he looks at Steve like that, when he touches him like it doesn’t mean shit and like it means everything all at once. Wants to know why he talks so much shit, why he needs to fight, where all that fire comes from. Why he’s so volatile, why he’s such an asshole, how he can be so fucking mean and so fucking sweet in the span of seconds, at the same time, even.

He tugs Billy down, kisses him. Keeps kissing him until he’s said his piece, breaks away and smiles up at Billy and plucks the cigarette out of his fingers, takes a drag. 

Billy blows out a breath. ‘Idiot.’

-

Steve isn’t totally sure what he was expecting on Monday, but it wasn’t this. Billy’s Camaro is in the parking lot and Steve gets a hot little kick of excitement in his gut when he sees it, but Billy himself is nowhere to be found. He doesn’t see him in the halls, doesn’t see him in passing periods, catches a glimpse of blonde curls passing by the cafeteria doors at lunch but Billy never shows.

It’s weird. And it has anxiety and doubt and dread and that sick self-loathing that churns his stomach and clogs up his throat building up in him. 

He’d fallen asleep like that on Saturday night. Fallen asleep with Billy curled around him, touching him, soft sound of his breathing the only thing Steve could hear. He’d fallen asleep and he’d stayed that way, and his dreams weren’t the cold, terrible, sickening things they usually were. When he’d woken up to the grey light of the morning slotting through his blinds, Billy was gone. He spent all day Sunday trying to do some homework, gain back some of the ground he’d lost in the last week. That and obsess about the feel of Billy on him, the way he looked, the ghost of Billy’s fingers in his hair and on his chest. He’d spent too long in the mirror looking at the faint marks on his chest from Billy’s fingernails. 

He’s fucked. Utterly and completely. And Billy’s nowhere to be found.

‘You seen Hargrove?’ he asks Tommy and Carol at lunch, picking at his food and not eating any of it, trying not to be obvious about the way he can’t help watching the door.

‘Nah,’ Tommy says around a mouthful of mashed potatoes, ‘probably fucking Sherry Thompson behind the gym or something. She’s been making eyes at him for days.’

Steve’s pretty sure that’s not true, but it does add a nice new angle to the doubt and dread. He hadn’t thought about Billy fucking other people. Certainly never considered that he might mind if he did. ‘Huh,’ Steve says.

‘What’s the deal between you two, anyway?’ Carol asks, looking at Steve like she’s trying to see through his bullshit. He forgot about this part with her. 

‘No deal,’ Steve says, sips his juice in his best approximation of nonchalant, ‘he’s just usually in my face being a dickhead by now. Haven’t seen him all day.’

Tommy grins at him. ‘You worried about him, Harrington?’

He’s not sure when this turned into an interrogation, but he’s not thrilled about it. ‘Just asking a question. Maybe you’re projecting.’

Carol tsks, looks at Tommy. ‘Defensive.’

Tommy just kinda looks at him, considering. ‘You alright, man?’

He’s not, really. Seems like the littlest shit is enough to trigger a spiral these days. He’s irritated and his skin feels prickly and too small and suddenly the noise in the cafeteria is making him want to tear his hair out, making him clench his teeth and his knee bounce under the table. 

Billy’s avoiding him.

‘I’m fine,’ he says, puts his juice and his napkin on his tray and stands up. ‘I’ll see you at practice.’

‘Steve-’ Carol says, ‘hey, we were just giving you shit.’

He forces a smile. ‘Just got a lot going on right now, don’t worry about it. I’ll see you guys later.’

He stops at his locker and pulls his jacket on and makes it out of the building, lights a cigarette in the parking lot and starts off toward his car, shoulders up to his ears against the chilly November wind.

His eyes find the Camaro. He can’t help it. He doesn’t want to look, doesn’t want it to be the first thing he does, but it is, and he can’t stop it.

There’s smoke curling up out of the driver’s window. 

He doesn’t decide to walk over any more than he decided to look in the first place. 

Billy looks rough as hell, and Steve’s stomach twists. There’s a big bruise on his cheek, and his bottom lip is swollen. He’s got his head tipped back and his eyes closed, but he doesn’t look relaxed, not at all.

‘Hey, asshole,’ he says, kind as he can manage. Billy cracks his eyes open, glares up at him.

‘Fuck off.’

Steve takes a drag of his cigarette, doesn’t dwell on the way his hands are shaking. ‘See, I don’t think I will. And I don’t think you’re gonna make me.’

The corner of Billy’s lips twitch, just the slightest little lift, and then he shuts it down, closes his eyes again and taps the ash off his cigarette before bringing it to his lips. ‘I mean it, Harrington. Get the fuck outta here.’

‘What happened?’ Steve asks, undeterred. Billy’s full of shit, Steve’s pretty sure.

‘None of your goddamn business, now go away.’

‘Billy-’ Steve starts, and Billy huffs, throws the door open, hits Steve with it, is out and on his feet before Steve really processes it.

He gets his fists in Steve’s shirt, drags him in close only to shove him away again. Steve stumbles a little but keeps his feet. ‘Fuck. Off. Don’t make me kick your ass again, Harrington.’

Billy’s knuckles aren’t bruised, not like they were after Jonathan’s. Whatever happened, Billy didn’t fight back. It fills Steve with a cold sort of fear or confusion or fury, maybe. He wants to know. He wants Billy to tell him. He wants to return the favor. He doesn’t expect that, doesn’t expect the defensive, protective rage on Billy’s behalf. 

It makes him brave. Or stupid. Both, maybe. He gets right up in Billy’s space, doesn’t expect Billy to back up, doesn’t expect him to back down, but a couple steps later Billy’s back hits the Camaro and Steve is a breath away and Billy’s eyes are wide and a little freaked out and Steve puts his hand on his chest, can feel his heart slamming under it. 

‘Don’t,’ Billy says, sounding rawer and rougher than Steve’s ever heard him. Steve touches his cheek, gentle, skirts the edge of the purple bruise there. Billy closes his eyes, turns his face away, takes shaky, quick little breaths and clutches fistfuls of Steve’s jacket. 

Billy,’ Steve says, thumb skating the lighter bruise on his jaw.

Billy’s eyebrows furrow and his jaw tightens and his body tenses and then he shoves Steve, shoves him hard, heels of his hands sending sharp little zips of pain through his body as he scrambles to stay upright. 

‘I said don’t, asshole,’ Billy spits, takes an aggressive pull on his smoke and flicks it out into the parking lot. ‘What part of that didn’t make it past your thick fucking skull?’

Steve feels the heat starting, that crazy anger that’s just this side of exhilaration that only Billy’s ever managed to stoke in him. Less than forty-eight hours ago Billy was in his bed, curled around him, smoking cigarettes and laughing his way through an argument about which Led Zeppelin album is the best. Steve doesn’t really have an opinion, but getting Billy all fired up about it had been fun. Weirdly endearing. 

‘You know you don’t scare me, right?’

‘Christ, Harrington, I’m not trying to scare you, I’m trying to get you to leave me the hell alone.’

‘And when have you ever left me the hell alone, Billy? Huh?’

‘Yeah, well, I’m just trying to have a fucking smoke in peace, dickhead, not drink myself to death at seventeen years old like your dumb ass.’

‘I’m eighteen,’ Steve says reflexively, and Billy’s eyebrows go up.

‘That’s the part you’re gonna call me on? Jesus fucking Christ, Harrington, you are fucked up.’

And Billy’s not wrong, but he’s also got no fucking place to talk as far as Steve’s concerned. He doesn’t get to give a shit and then get prickly when Steve does. It’s not like Steve showed up at his house and invited himself in and turned Billy’s whole fucking world upside down.

‘You started this shit, Billy, or did you forget that part?’

‘And now I’m fucking ending it! Go. Away.’

It fucking hurts. Like, way more than Steve would have ever expected. It feels like a blade in his chest. Crippling. He feels his eyes sting, cold wash of aching loneliness and sharp rejection and crushing self-loathing leaving him stunned, stupid. 

It doesn’t hurt worse than Nancy, but it’s like feeling all the months that they were falling apart and he refused to really think about it all at once, all in one moment.

He doesn’t know how to not let Billy do this, so he tucks his chin into his chest and curls his shoulders in and shoves his hands in his pockets and takes a breath, nods. Okay.

He doesn’t say anything as he walks away, makes his legs take him to his car. Doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what happened to the cigarette he was smoking, but he pulls another one out of the pack in his pocket and brings it to his lips and lights it with shaking hands, hears Billy’s door slam and the Camaro roar to life and peel out of the parking lot behind him and doesn’t watch it go. He fumbles with his keys, gets the door open and slides into the seat.

Then he goes home and gets drunk.

-

He goes to school for the next few days mostly because he doesn’t want to have to deal with getting called to the principal’s office about it. He smokes weed on his lunch breaks, once with Tommy and Carol in the dugout by the baseball fields but mostly alone, mostly just by himself back behind the gym, looking into the woods and thinking about what would happen if a monster came out of the trees in that moment. 

It worries him how little the idea scares him.

His parents come home on Wednesday, and they figure out pretty quickly that several hundred dollars-worth of liquor are gone. His dad screams at him about it until Steve wants to crawl into cave and die, until the stupid tears start to slip down his cheeks, and his mom doesn’t say anything at all, which is somehow worse. There’s not a lot of recourse, not when they’ve got another trip planned in two weeks, but the next day when he gets home from practice there are locks on the cupboards. It makes him feel stupid and small and useless and he spends the rest of the night in his room, hanging half out his window so his parents won’t smell it, smoking the rest of his weed.

He sleeps a little better with them in the house, though. His mom makes small talk, insists that they eat dinner as a family, asks about Steve’s classes and his girlfriend and basketball and Steve tells them how just fine everything is, how perfectly okay everything is going, and they smile, and he smiles, and then he goes upstairs and thinks about Billy and monsters and wishes he could drink.

Billy doesn’t show up at his house and Steve doesn’t want to be hurt by it, but he is anyway. He’s been showing up to school, putting on as brave a face as he can, not giving Billy any reason to think he’s drowning himself in a bottle, and anyway, his parents are home. Even if he wanted to, Steve’s pretty sure Billy wouldn’t knock on the door with their car in the driveway.

And that’s how it goes. He oscillates between hurting because he lost Billy before he ever even had a chance to have him and stupidly bending over backwards to convince himself that Billy’s pining for him the same way he’s pining for Billy, and all of it makes him feel fucking pathetic. 

Billy doesn’t talk to him. Doesn’t hip-check him at practice. Doesn’t waggle his tongue around, doesn’t make shitty little comments, doesn’t goad him or try to rile him. What he does is look, sometimes. Steve catches him at it, feels it on his skin, and their eyes connect for a split second before Billy looks away and pretends he wasn’t looking at all. 

-

Tommy takes him out on Friday, hauls him out to the diner and makes Steve buy him a burger as payback for the weed. 

‘So,’ Tommy says around a mouthful of fries, ‘what the fuck is the deal with you and Hargrove?’

And that’s really the goddamn question, isn’t it? Because they fucked once (five times) and now Steve’s pining, fucking daydreaming, thinking about what he’s gotta do to get Billy’s attention back, how far he’d be willing to take it. Thinking about how even Billy from before would be better than this. That he’d take an asskicking, if that’s all Billy will give him, if it means getting a few fucking minutes of contact, of connection, of whatever it is about Billy that Steve can’t turn away from. 

‘There is no deal,’ Steve says, because right now, it’s true. There isn’t.

‘Oh, bullshit, Harrington. He brings you around for the first time in months, acts all protective and like, shittier than usual whenever anyone so much as looks in your direction, and now the two of you aren’t even speaking and you’ve been moping for days. I’m not fucking blind.’

Steve pinches the bridge of his nose, scrubs his hand back through his hair. It makes the cracking ache in his chest get worse, hearing about Billy like this. Hearing how he was when Steve wasn’t looking, or wasn’t paying attention, makes him even more fucking confused about what the hell happened to bring it all crashing down. 

He doesn’t want to do this. Doesn’t want to deal with whatever the consequences are gonna be. Doesn’t want Tommy to look at him different, doesn’t want him to put that shit up on walls in red spray paint the next time they get into it. Doesn’t necessarily think he would but can’t know for sure. 

‘Billy says you have a crush on me,’ Steve says, very fucking quietly, just barely not a whisper. It’s a dick move either way, isn’t really sure he wants to deal with the consequences of this, either. ‘Is it true?’

Tommy’s glass hits the table with a loud clink, and his cheeks go red under his freckles. ‘What the fuck?’ he hisses, looking around like maybe anyone heard. No one did. Steve wouldn’t have said it if there was any chance. ‘I’m gonna kick his ass.’

Steve smiles. It hurts like hell, the fondness it makes him feel for Billy and how totally he would wreck Tommy for so much as thinking he had a chance. Steve gestures at the healing cut above his eyebrow with one finger. ‘I wouldn’t recommend that.’

Tommy’s eyebrows go up. ‘He’s the one who roughed you up? Thought maybe it was Jonathan again, since. You know.’

Steve lets him get away with skating past the question. It doesn’t really matter what the answer is, anyway, doesn’t change anything. Now they’re talking about Billy and Nancy at the same time and it’s a goddamn minefield, so tangled up and confusing and shitty that Steve’s barely even begun to sort it out, doesn’t have the energy to try, most of the time.

‘Nope, not Byers this time. I’m…’ he sighs, spins his water glass on the table, looks at the way it drags the pool of water around. ‘It was her choice. I’m not gonna pick a fight with him about it.’

‘Well that doesn’t sound like you at all,’ Tommy says, shifting back in his seat, relaxing a little.

Steve smiles, a wry little thing. It doesn’t, not the Steve Tommy knows, anyway. So much shit has changed since the last time they were really friends. ‘I guess not. A lot of shit’s changed, Tommy.’

Tommy pops another handful of fries into his mouth, looks at Steve, considering. ‘Man, what did that girl do to you, Harrington?’

It pulls a hysterical little laugh out of him. What didn’t she do? He’d never know about the fucking monsters if it wasn’t for her, wouldn’t have a dead girl’s ghost in his back yard, wouldn’t have this crushing, terrible fear constantly simmering in the marrow of his bones. He also wouldn’t know what it’s like to feel genuine, selfless affection from another human being. He would still be as terrible and toxic and shitty and mean as he was before, wouldn’t have ever had the experience of allowing himself to be kind and devoted and vulnerable without fear of it being turned around and used against him. He would never have truly trusted another person. Before Nancy, he’d never met anyone patient and genuine enough to want that from him, to be willing to stick it out while he tried.

God, it hurts. He takes a sip of his soda to try to swallow down the lump in his throat.

‘I don’t know,’ he says, shakes his head. ‘I don’t fucking know.’

-

They get drunk on cheap beer and drive out to the quarry, sit there and smoke cigarettes and drink some more and rehash all the shit they used to get up to back before, laugh until there are tears in their eyes while the full moon lights up the trees and reflects off the water. They listen to the same tapes they used to listen to when they’d do this shit, lean the front seats back so they can curl their legs up, sprawl out a little. They smoke a joint, get hazy enough that Steve forgets he doesn’t like to be this close to the woods at night.

‘I kinda fucking hated you, you know,’ Tommy says at one point, after they’ve relived most of the highlight reel and polished off most of the beer. They’ve known each other a long time, were practically fucking inseparable before Carol. Before Nancy.

‘Yeah,’ Steve says, tips his head back against the headrest, ‘I noticed.’

He didn’t give a shit when he had Nancy. Nancy was. When he was with Nancy, he felt like nothing could touch him. He felt like maybe he could make something of himself, like he didn’t have to be just some dumb Indiana jock with decent hair and not much else. Then shit went sideways, and she became… security. And, like, peace. When he was with her, he could forget about all the other stupid, fucked up, terrifying bullshit in their lives. He could try to make her happy, try to make her laugh, try to make her feel good, even if it was only for a few minutes. He didn’t need Tommy and his particular brand of abrasive shittiness, didn’t need to pretend like he didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought of him or what he decided to do, didn’t need to live like he didn’t have anything to try for, because he did. The dichotomy of it was too much, the conflicting worlds too hard to navigate. He couldn’t be Tommy’s friend and Nancy’s boyfriend at the same time, those weren’t the same two people. The person with Nancy was the better person. He’s the one Steve chose.

‘You were just. You turned into such a bitch,’ Tommy says, and it makes Steve smile a little. ‘And all of a sudden you were too fucking good for me, running around with Nancy fucking Wheeler.’

Nancy made him a better person. Nancy was there for him in ways that no one else ever has been. Nancy made him want to try. Nancy… Nancy cared about him in a way that almost convinced him he was worth caring about. Nancy made him give enough of a shit about himself to think that maybe he could be more. He doesn’t regret a second of it. Misses the hell out of it. 

He doesn’t have Nancy to escape to anymore. Gotta fucking be in it. Try not to drown.

‘She was good to me,’ Steve says. Tommy scoffs, huffs out a derisive little laugh, shakes his head.

‘Real good when she ran off with fuckin’ Byers all the time, yeah. So fuckin’ good to you.’

Tommy takes a long swig of his beer, drains it, smashes the can in his fist and throws it out the window. The way he says it, the way he spits it like he’s angry, like it tastes bad, like it offends the hell out of him kind of knocks Steve a little sideways.

He doesn’t know what to say. ‘Tommy.’

Tommy shakes his head again, lights a smoke. Takes an angry little drag. 

‘What the fuck ever, man. She was a bitch and you’re a bitch and it makes sense, I guess.’

It’s tense as hell. The air in the car is thick and muggy, something more than the beer smell and cigarette smoke making it hard to fill his lungs, making it feel like something’s on his chest. Steve’s pretty sure Billy’s not wrong, pretty sure he had it pegged all right. 

What Steve can’t really figure out is why Billy told him.

‘Are you fucking him?’ Tommy asks. It knocks the breath out of Steve’s lungs. Tommy’s got his head tipped back against the window and his eyes closed, cherry of his cigarette making his face glow a little as he drags it. 

‘No,’ Steve says, automatic. Tommy scoffs out another laugh. Steve’s blood feels cold, pulsing against his skull, making his heart pound. It’s adrenaline, and terror. Little bit of fucked up grief. 

He reaches for the pack of cigarettes in the console between them, brings one to his lips with shaking hands. 

‘Are you fucking lying?’ Tommy asks, voice sounding all scraped raw and fucked like Steve’s never heard it.

Steve swallows. ‘Tommy, why the fuck do you care?’

Tommy looks at him, then. Glares, glares in a way that cuts him. In a way that Steve can fucking feel in his chest. 

Then Tommy kisses him. He does it like he fucking hates Steve for it. Like he hates himself for it. 

He’s still glaring when he pulls away. ‘Are you?’

Steve nods. Tommy nods back. Takes another drag of his cigarette and leans back against the window. 

‘Okay then.’

Kissing Tommy didn’t make him feel anything. Didn’t make him feel like it makes him feel when Billy kisses him. All it did was make him ache. Make him want Billy’s big rough hands on him, make him want Billy’s teeth scraping his throat, Billy’s tongue too aggressive in his mouth. 

As Tommy looks at him, Steve wonders if maybe this was why. Maybe this is why Billy told him.

‘You’re still a bitch,’ Tommy says, and all the tension drains out of the car, curls up and out the cracked open windows like the smoke from their cigarettes. ‘Don’t get any fuckin’ ideas.’

-

The sixth time doesn’t count because Billy’s not there. Steve shoves two fingers in himself, ass-up on his bed, hand around his dick, jerks it all uncoordinated and sloppy while he focuses instead on getting his fingers as deep in as he can. He thinks about it being Billy. Thinks about how Billy would do it to him. Thinks about Billy’s dick in him. It hurts a little, the stretch of it, he’s not exactly gentle with himself. He thinks about how much more it would be if it was Billy. If it was Billy’s cock. He turns his face down into the bed, smashes his face there and has to really try to suck any air out of the sheets. Thinks about Billy’s hand at the back of his neck, holding him like that. What it would be like. 

He thinks about what it would feel like when Billy came inside him. 

Then he comes. 

-

At school on Monday, it’s like Friday night never happened. Tommy keeps his arm around Carol and kisses her hair and talks to Steve like he used to before, before Nancy, before Billy, before all of it. 

Carol doesn’t look at him or talk to him like she knows any of it.

Seeing Billy has become a little bit like torture. Truth told, he was expecting… something by now. Anything. From the moment they first locked eyes at that party there’s barely been a day that’s gone by without something, an insult or a shitty grin or a fist fight or a fuck and Steve doesn’t know what to do without it, doesn’t know how to cope with this new Billy who moves through school like a storm front that never breaks, just the constant threat of it and too-calm seas. 

He misses it. Misses his shitty unpredictability and his volatility, misses how fun it was.

He’d rather get the holy hell kicked out of him again than have to do this, whatever this is. Float through school. Pretend there are no monsters. Pretend Tommy didn’t kiss him. Pretend he can think about anything other than Billy. 

It’s all bullshit.

-

On Wednesday, Nancy kind of corners him at his locker.

‘Hey,’ she says.

‘Hi,’ he says back.

‘Where have you been?’ she asks.

Steve raises his eyebrows, looks around. ‘Been right here.’

She doesn’t make his chest ache like she did before. The smell of her shampoo hits him and it stirs something in the core of him, ghost of a feeling, but his hands don’t itch to touch her. His body doesn’t crave hers like it did before. It leaves him feeling a little bereft, honestly. Leaves him with a hollow place where there used to be an ache. He's not sure which he dislikes more.

She frowns, looks at him a little confused, like she doesn’t know him anymore. ‘Are you alright?’

A locker slams down the hall, and Steve glances over her shoulder, tracks the sound. 

Billy’s looking at him. Looking at her.

Steve’s belly flips, and his mouth goes dry. It’s the first time they’ve looked at each other since then, and Billy’s not looking away. Steve’s body buzzes.

He licks his lips. Billy’s fists clench at his sides. 

‘Steve?’ Nancy asks. Breaks the spell. Snaps him out of it. He glances at her, and when he looks back up, Billy’s walking the other way. Stormy, even from behind. 

‘Sorry.’

She puts her hand on his chest, and he doesn’t want it there. ‘Are you okay? You seem… off.’

He wraps his fingers around her wrist, gentle, and removes her hand. ‘Don’t you worry about me, Nance. Got enough on your plate, huh?’

He shrugs away from her, slips away, down the hall and past Billy’s locker and he’s not following him on purpose, really, it’s just that he can’t make himself go anywhere else.

The Camaro is screaming out of the parking lot when he gets out the doors, and the sinking ache of it kind of crushes him.

He spends the evening laying in bed with the lights off replaying that afternoon in the parking lot, replaying every shitty thing Billy’s ever said to him, feeling the cut of it all over again, the blade of it in his lungs. 

Replaying Billy here, next to him, feeling the phantom weight of him across his belly, across his thighs, feeling the imaginary heat of him, memory of his breath moving the hair at his neck. It's worse than remembering the shitty stuff. Makes him feel worse.

He’s not sure how he ended up here. Somewhere along the way, somehow, Billy got his fucking hooks in him, got them deep, and the resulting damage when he ripped them out has Steve a lot more fucked up than he ever realized he would be. Not in pieces, really, just. With some new wounds. Bigger ones than he expected.

They were nothing. They weren’t friends. They shared a few orgasms. A few less kisses. Even fewer conversations. 

And yet, the empty ache where Billy should be in his chest makes his eyes sting. Makes it feel like someone’s sitting on his chest. 

He digs the heels of his hands into his eyes and doesn’t cry about it. 

-

By Thursday, he’s pissed. By Thursday he’s replayed all the bullshit Billy’s pulled in the last couple weeks, since the very beginning, really, so many times that he’s concluded that he has a right to be pissed, that Billy’s fucked up, and that he’s gonna do something about it. 

Billy doesn’t get to toss him aside and then look at Steve like he gives a shit if talks to someone else. Billy doesn’t get to fuck him and then toss him aside at all. Steve deserves an explanation. If he can’t have that, he at least deserves Billy fucking off and keeping his goddamn nose out of Steve’s business. Billy doesn’t get to ignore Steve for a week and a half and then act like he’s still got a say. Like he ever had a say. 

It’s either something or it’s not.

Billy doesn’t fucking scare him.

So he makes a beeline to the parking lot at lunch and leans his ass against the hood of the Camaro and waits. Lights a cigarette. Crosses his ankles like he’s relaxed, like he has any idea what he’s gonna do or say, like he’s got every reason and every right to be here. 

Billy spots him a way out and glares. Real cutting. All it does is make Steve’s blood a little hotter, makes him a little giddy. 

This is the shit. This is what fucking gets him about Billy. One look and the air is all electricity again, static on his skin. 

‘Move your ass, Harrington,’ Billy says when he’s within arms reach. Steve takes a drag of his smoke and does not move his ass. 

‘Nah.’

Billy’s eyes narrow. ‘That wasn’t a fucking request, dipshit. You’re on my car.’

Steve puts his free hand down on the hood next to him, curls his fingers over the edge. ‘Yeah, and I’m not moving. We need to get a couple things straight, you and I.’

Steve sees it, sees the way Billy’s shoulders tense, the way he takes a half step closer like he can’t help it, like he wants to bust Steve’s mouth open with the fists curling at his sides. His knuckles are white. His jaw is tight. ‘Don’t have anything to say to you, asshole.’

Steve takes one last drag of his smoke, drops it in the gravel and crushes it with his toe and pushes himself up off Billy’s hood, closer to him, gets in his space. ‘Then you can fucking listen, for once,’ Steve says, close enough to feel the tension coming off Billy in waves. 

‘You need to walk away, Harrington,’ Billy says through gritted teeth. 

There’s no way in hell. Steve doesn’t have it in him. ‘You,’ Steve says, jabs his finger into the middle of Billy’s chest, ‘are a fucking asshole. Like, a real piece of work. You don’t get to stomp around pretending like you’ve got any fucking right to an opinion about who I talk to or what I do. You have made it very fucking clear that whatever fun you and I were having is done, so how about you fuck off and leave me alone? I deserve an explanation for whatever the fuck happened last week but I know you aren’t gonna give me that, so just fuck off. Seriously.’

‘You done?’ Billy says, very quiet, deadly calm. 

Is he? He’s not sure. ‘No, you know what? I’m not fucking done. You need to decide. Figure your shit out, Hargrove, and until you do leave me the hell out of it.’

He does walk away, then. Billy lets him. 

He’s fucking flying.

-

It pours down rain on Friday and Steve sits with Tommy and Carol at lunch. Listens while Carol fills them in on who is rumored to be fucking who. Trades insults with Tommy. Things have been easy between them, way easier than they have been in years, honestly. It’s kinda nice.

Then Billy shows up. Kinda hovers a few steps away from the table with a tray of food in his hands, looking equal parts unsure of himself and pissed off about it. Tommy watches Steve and Carol rolls her eyes and eats her lunch and ignores them and Steve lets Billy simmer for a second, then scoots his tray over a little and inclines his head. 

He did tell him to figure his shit out. He doesn’t want to pretend to be friends with Billy, but he’s also still too fucking wrapped up in thinking about him constantly and missing him and burning to get his hands on him again, to get something, anything out of him to pass up the opportunity for proximity, no matter how much he might regret it after. Billy sits down next to him, holds his eyes a beat too long, then tucks into his food. His bottom lip is healed up, and the bruise on his jaw is almost invisible if you’re not looking for it. The one on his cheek is turning yellow.

‘This food is shit,’ Billy says around a mouthful.

‘And yet here you are, shoveling it into your face like you’re being starved. Classy.’

‘You know me,’ Billy says, swallows, ‘mister-fucking-etiquette.’

Tommy barks out a laugh, and Steve rolls his eyes, doesn’t smile.

Doesn’t wanna give Billy the satisfaction.

He’s not, like, over it. He’s not even moving on. Whatever this shit is between them, it doesn’t feel finished, doesn’t feel resolved. It’s still all jagged and tangled and messy and he was pissed, is pissed, but he’s also hurt and he also wants and he knows without a shadow of a fucking doubt that if Billy were to say the word he’d fall right back into bed with him, right now, no questions. Work out the messy bits later.

‘You two sort out your little lovers quarrel, then?’ Carol asks, not looking up from her food. Tommy cackles.

It’s strange. The whole situation is utterly bizarre. Tommy knows. Carol doesn’t. Billy doesn’t know that Tommy knows. 

No one knows about the kiss him and Tommy aren’t talking about. No one knows just how fucking bad he’s apparently got it for Billy. That he’s been about as torn up about being unceremoniously dumped by a guy he wasn’t even with as he was about being unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend of a year. No one knows about the goddamn monsters.

His life is a fucking mess.

‘I wouldn’t say that,’ Steve says.

‘You still sore, princess?’ Billy asks, says it like a jab, like it’s all back to normal, but there’s an undertone in it, a little thread that cuts him open all over again.

Steve ignores him. ‘Anything going on after the game tonight?’ he asks Tommy instead, not interested in going home if he doesn’t have to. 

‘Word is Gary’s got a keg. Bonfire at the quarry,’ Carol chimes in.

‘It’s like twenty fucking degrees outside,’ Steve says. He’s gonna go, but jesus.

‘Not if you’re drunk,’ Billy says.

‘Pretty sure that’s not how it works,’ Steve says, and Billy’s boot taps his foot under the table.

‘You’ll find a way to keep warm, I’m sure.’

Steve pulls his foot away, doesn’t feel bad about it. Just because he knows he’ll fall right back into it with Billy if that’s what Billy wants to do doesn’t mean he has to make it easy on him. Billy was a fucking prick.

‘My dad put locks on the liquor cabinets, will you have your brother buy me a bottle if I give you cash?’ 

Carol nods. ‘Sure. Why’d he put locks on the cabinets?’

‘Cause I drank all his liquor,’ Steve says.

Tommy’s eyebrows go up. ‘All of it?’

‘Well, I left the gin. Been a rough couple of weeks.’

Damn, Steve. Wheeler really fucked you up that bad?’ Carol asks, not unkindly. 

‘Not just her, listen, it doesn’t fucking matter, alright? I just need your loser brother to buy me a bottle of tequila.’

‘I can get it for you,’ Billy says, and Steve looks at him for the first time since he sat down. 

‘What.’

‘I’ll buy you your booze.’

Steve has questions. He doesn’t ask any of them, though, doesn’t even want to agree. He looks at Billy looking at him, watches the way Billy chews at a bit of skin on his lip, the way he won’t quite meet his eyes, not for any length of time, anyway, and he almost feels bad.

Almost.

‘Fine,’ Steve says, ‘whatever.’

-

They win. Billy and him, mostly. It’s thrilling and incredible and has Steve buzzing, grinning and flying and happy. He lets himself get caught up in it, lets himself grin at Billy, lets himself laugh when Billy laughs, lets Billy smack him on the ass in a way that can be passed off as camaraderie but isn’t really, not just that. Lets himself not be mad, for a while, not be hurt. He doesn’t want to forgive Billy, doesn’t think he deserves it, but he also misses him. 

So they win. And then they go out to the quarry, all of them, everyone, everyone Steve knows and some people he doesn’t. It’s cold as hell, but the fire is big and bright and Steve’s still buzzy and Billy’s leaning against the Camaro, lit up by the fire, shirt unbuttoned down his front like it’s not twenty eight degrees outside, leather jacket hanging open, swigging a bottle of tequila that Steve paid for, looking at him.

Tommy comes out of nowhere, laughing and clapping him on the back and pressing a beer into his hand and he tears his eyes away from Billy and pops the bottle open with his lighter and drains all of it, all at once, lets it settle warm and bubbly in his belly. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the shit with Tommy, easy to let him get him good and drunk, easy to dance with Carol and forget that he’s fucked up in a lot of different ways and doesn’t know how to unfuck them, easy to put his arm around Tommy’s shoulder and dance with him too and easy to laugh it off when Tommy makes fun of him for going soft and easy to smile when Carol puts her cold palms on his cheeks and kisses him on the lips and tells him he’s a good person. Maybe him and Tommy spend too much time pressed together, swaying and drinking and laughing about all of it, about how absurd it all is, about how insane they feel, but Tommy’s warm and solid and Carol grins at them and calls them her boys and plants big wet kisses on both their cheeks and tells them to be good and disappears for a while.

Tommy’s good. Fun. It’s just nice to be close to someone who kinda gives a shit about him. Tommy’s arm around his waist, big hand splayed out on his side keeping them pressed together, it’s nice. There’s no expectation in it. It’s not confusing or complicated.

He’s also pretty drunk.

They drink a lot of beers. He drinks a lot of beers. Carol comes back at some point, tucks herself in between them and bites at Tommy’s ear and shoves her cold hands up his shirt and it makes Steve smile. They’re alright. He’s alright.

He’s not totally clear on how he ends up with Gracie Smith’s arms around his waist, somehow, doesn’t remember trading Tommy for her, doesn’t remember talking to her at all but definitely notices when her hands move up from his waist to his shoulders and when her tongue ends up his mouth, somehow, and like, fuck it. He hears Tommy and Carol, vaguely, in the background, but Gracie’s hot and like, fucking eager in his arms and he’s very, very drunk. Very drunk.

He gets suddenly very dizzy, and his stomach churns a little, and then Gracie’s not there anymore and Billy fucking is. Looking all stormy and pissy and shitty and fuckable. 

‘You’re a goddamn mess, Harrington.’

Steve grins, feels it crack wide in his cheeks. ‘Oh yeah. Gimme that.’ He reaches for the bottle of tequila, his bottle, thank you very much, and Billy holds it out of his reach. Steve frowns. ‘Rude.’

Billy is rude. Billy’s very fucking rude. Fucks him and fucks him up and then fucking leaves him. Rude. 

‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Billy asks, sounds all, like, accusatory. 

‘Celebrating,’ Steve says, gets his hand on Billy’s chest, leans in close, ‘we won, remember?’

Billy’s face is very serious, and Steve thinks he should chill out. They’re all gonna die someday anyway. 

‘That what you call it? Letting some fucking hussy climb all over you?’

Oh, he’s shitty. He’s such a fucking asshole. If Steve wasn’t absolutely certain that he would miss and probably fall, he’d hit him, give Billy an excuse to kick his ass again. As it is, he just puts his other hand on Billy’s chest, curls his fingers into Billy’s shirt and gets his face even closer, looks at Billy’s pretty fucking mouth, the one that doesn’t want to kiss him anymore, apparently, doesn’t wanna be on his dick or his neck or anywhere else.

‘What. The fuck. Do you care?’ He looks at Billy’s eyes, at the little glare there. He doesn’t know why Billy’s letting him do this, why he hasn’t been shoved back onto his ass on the frozen ground yet. Billy could. Steve knows he doesn’t stand a chance even when he’s not fucking wasted. Which he is. Very. ‘Don’t want me. Think I’m bullshit, just like everyone else does. And anyway,’ he says, giving Billy a halfhearted shove, ‘don’t call Tommy a hussy. S’not nice.’ He makes himself laugh. Pretty sure that was fucking clever.

Billy’s face does a thing, and the arm with the tequila in it kinda drops to his side. Steve grabs for it, the bottle, gets it outta Billy’s fingers and tips some down his throat. It burns, but not that much. 

‘Harrington,’ Billy says, and it makes all the alcohol in his stomach swirl kind of unpleasantly, makes his chest constrict a little, how he says it. The hand that had the tequila in it is kinda hovering next to his hip, now. 

‘She was right,’ Steve says, gets more tequila in him, ‘I am bullshit. It’s all bullshit.’ He gets lost looking at Billy’s mouth again, shakes his head, uncurls his fingers from Billy’s jacket, pats him on the chest. ‘And now you know it too. Congrats, dickhead.’

‘Steve,’ Billy says, very quiet, soft, plaintive, and no. 

He doesn’t want to cry. Definitely can’t fight Billy like this. He does not have the upper hand here. Doesn’t have any hand at all.

‘No,’ Steve says, gets his finger in Billy’s face, as serious as he can manage as he sways there. ‘No.’

He takes his bottle of tequila and he goes. Weaves his way around the fire and away from Billy fucking Hargrove and all the bullshit between them. 

-

He wakes up not in his bed, and his head feels like there’s an axe in it. He tries to sit up and almost retches.

Everything is terrible. 

There’s cold grey light coming in through the windows of the car he’s curled up in the backseat of, that’s the first thing he notices. The second is Billy’s leather jacket draped over his torso like a blanket, and how much is smells like him, and how it makes him feel a tiny, tiny bit better. The third is that this is definitely the Camaro, and Billy is in the front seat, leaned against the passenger window with his eyes closed and his feet in the driver’s seat, looking very uncomfortable and very cold. 

Steve reaches up and fumbles with the door handle and pops the door open and leans himself out the door and throws up. He stays like that for a while, pukes up everything in his stomach. Billy’s hand settles on the back of his knee at one point and stays there until he spits and curls back into the car and tugs the door shut. He pulls Billy’s jacket tighter around him, squeezes his eyes shut. 

He has no idea how he ended up in Billy’s car, but it’s immediately and obviously apparent that Billy’s responsible. That Billy got him somewhere safe and gave him his fucking jacket to sleep under and didn’t go home in favor of letting Steve sleep it off in his back seat. 

Steve reaches down and takes Billy’s hand. Billy lets him.

He doesn’t go back to sleep, lays there and lets his head throb and rubs at the back of Billy’s hand with his thumb.

‘Can you drive?’ he asks a while later.

‘Yeah,’ Billy says.

‘My parents are home, but they’re probably not up yet. As long as we’re quiet, they won’t even notice us come in.’

He hears Billy shift, and then his hand is gone. The Camaro rumbles to life, and then Billy’s hand is back, brushing his hair back. ‘If you puke in my car I will absolutely leave you on the side of the road,’ he says quietly, gently.

‘Got it,’ Steve says. 

He only has to make Billy pull over once, which he thinks is pretty good, considering. He throws up again in the gutter outside his house as soon as he stands up, and Billy wraps an arm around his waist and rubs his back and it’s too fucking tender, makes Steve’s chest ache, reminds him how fucking fucked he is. 

Once the shameful street puking is over, the rest of the journey up to his bedroom goes off without incident. He toes his shoes off and shoves his jeans down and pulls a hoodie on and crawls into his bed, curls up, shivering. 

Billy stands in the middle of his room, not doing anything.

It’s annoying.

‘Come on,’ he says. Steve’s too hungover to try to read him. Can’t even do it when he’s sober and his skull isn’t splitting apart at the seams. ‘Didn’t invite you up here to watch you stand there.’

‘Why did you?’

Steve closes his eyes, pulls the blanket up higher, tighter around himself. ‘Just get in the fucking bed, Billy.’

A minute later, Billy gets in the bed. Steve scoots until he can feel Billy’s warmth, and one of Billy’s hands tentatively lands on his hip. Steve grabs it, pulls it all the way around him, tucks himself back up against Billy’s chest. Billy’s sigh moves the hair at the back of his neck. Tickles. 

-

The next time Steve wakes up the headache is still there but he’s not cold; almost too warm, even. Billy’s wrapped around him, hand up his shirt, one ankle between Steve’s, whole front pressed to Steve’s back, breathing slow and even.

It’s nice. It’s better than nice. It seeps into the cracks in him like warm honey and soothes all the shit that’s been eating him alive for the last couple months, last couple years. Fills up the empty places and heats up the cold places and makes emotion push at his ribs, at his throat, at his eyes. 

He covers Billy’s hand with his own, hyper aware of his own body, of Billy’s, of the way they’re pressed together, tangled up in each other. Billy makes a confused little noise and holds him tighter, tucks his face into the back of Steve’s neck. 

He knew, of course. That he had feelings for Billy. That somehow, somewhere along the way, this mean mess of a boy had gotten under his skin.

It’s one thing, though, to know it in the quiet insomniac hours when he’s listening for sounds outside his house, listening to the walls creak in the wind, trying desperately to think about anything other than flower-faced horrors pushing through the wallpaper and flickering lights. It’s another to know it here, like this, Billy’s heat at his back, Billy’s arms strong around him, splitting pain in his skull but warm and safe and there because whatever happened after Steve walked away from him last night, Billy kept an eye on him. Billy gave enough of a shit to make sure he was okay. Prioritized it, even. 

‘Quit,’ Billy says, quiet, sleep-rough. He flattens his palm against Steve’s chest, rubs a little, pads of two fingers bumping over a nipple. ‘Thinkin’ way too loud about this, Harrington.’

Steve tucks his chin down, curls a little more under the blankets, a little more into Billy. Billy kisses the back of his neck. ‘You done being a fucking prick?’

‘Harrington-’

‘Look, this is your out, man. I can’t do this with you if you’re gonna flip out the next time I try to talk to you.’

Billy stiffens behind him, holds him a little tighter. ‘That wasn’t your fault.’

It’s not an apology, but it feels like the Billy Hargrove version of one, maybe. ‘Wasn’t asking if it was my fault. Was asking if you’re done being a grade-A piece of shit.’

Billy sighs. ‘Listen, last week was. I’ve got some shit going on, that’s all.’

Steve twists around in Billy’s arms, wants to look at his face. Wants to see him. ‘And what? You thought I wouldn’t understand that? We’ve both got shit going on. I was trying to-’ he cuts himself off, not sure how to proceed, here. Not sure what he was trying to do. They’re not together. They’re not even really friends. He doesn’t know what they are.

‘What? You were trying to what?’

Steve sighs, slides his hand up from Billy’s chest to his cheek. He’s too hungover. Too raw. Too fucked up to pretend. ‘You haven’t left me alone in my shit since that first night. I didn’t wanna leave you alone in yours.’

Billy clutches at his back and his breath catches. ‘God, what the fuck, Steve.’

A hot lick of shame and fear and rejection snaps through him, out of his control, but Billy’s not pulling away. Is sliding his hand back into Steve’s hair, real gentle, looking at him. 

‘I’m your rebound, baby,’ Billy says, quiet, like he’s trying to be gentle about it. ‘You’ve been all fucked up about your little bird and I’m convenient and show up when you need it. That’s all.’

Steve huffs out a hysterical little laugh and it sends a hot spike of pain through his temples. ‘You’re a fucking idiot,’ he says. ‘And an asshole, too. It’s not just her I’m fucked up about. You don’t know shit. Nancy and I… we were done long before we were done, I just didn’t want to see it. She’s kinda the least of my problems right now, anyway.’

‘What, then?’ Billy asks, not quite as delicate this time around.

He thinks he’d tell Billy, if Billy really wanted to know. Doesn’t see a way to do this with him for real without it, and knows, in this moment, that he wants to do this for real. 

He taps the yellowing bruise on Billy’s cheekbone with two fingers. ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.’

Billy grabs his wrist, holds it tight between their chests. ‘You don’t want to know.’

He could forgive the rebound thing, maybe, if it was just that, but it’s starting to rankle. He’s starting to get sick of Billy dictating to him how he feels about things. What he wants and doesn’t want.

He pulls his wrist free, rolls over and away from Billy. The shift makes his head pound. ‘I know you think I’m an idiot, Hargrove, but I don’t actually need you to tell me what I want and how I feel all the time.’

Billy sighs, and Steve feels the bed shift as Billy pulls his knees up. Then, he feels Billy’s fingers on his back. Just the tips of them, between his shoulder blades.

‘It was my dad.’

Steve’s whole body goes cold, like a bucket of ice water dumped directly into his veins. He doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Wasn’t that

A whole lot about Billy Hargrove starts to make a whole lot more sense.

He tries to turn over, and Billy presses his hand into Steve’s back to stop him. Steve lets out a breath, settles. Stares at the crack of light coming in where the curtains meet over his window. 

‘I was supposed to be home by eleven that night. Didn’t get back until the next morning.’

Steve feels sick. Billy’s fingers skate down his spine, leave goosebumps in their wake. Billy was at his place that night. With him. ‘Why’d you stay?’

‘Because I wanted to,’ Billy says, fingers drawing light patterns at the small of his back, now, ‘he would have found a reason anyway, Steve. He always does.’

Steve squeezes his eyes shut, tucks one hand behind his back, fingers loose. Billy’s slide between them, squeeze a little. Steve doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t know what to say.

‘It’s been a little worse lately. He uh. Found out. That I... you know. So when I didn’t show up all night, he was. Pretty pissed.’

Steve takes deep breaths and squeezes Billy’s hand and chokes back the rage tears burning at the backs of his eyes. He wonders what his dad would do if he walked in and found him in bed with a boy. He doesn’t think it would end in a black eye, but he can’t be certain. His dad’s a yeller. Makes him feel small and stupid and useless and disappointing. Doesn’t hit him though. Has never hit him.

‘I didn’t mean to take it out on you,’ Billy says. ‘Always seem to anyway.’

Steve tries to turn over again, and this time Billy lets him. ‘You wanna know why I’ve been drinking myself stupid every day?’

Billy licks his lips, looks a little raw, a little unsure. ‘Yeah.’

‘You sure? You can’t unknow it. It’s dangerous.’

‘We had a deal,’ Billy says, like that’s the end of it. Like maybe he’s doing Steve the favor, taking some of Steve’s shit like Steve took some of his. 

‘Monsters,’ Steve says, watches Billy’s eyebrows crease, the corners of his mouth turn down. ‘Real ones. Max can tell you, she’s seen. That’s what we were doing that night at Jonathan’s. Well. What I was. Trying to keep your idiot sister and her idiot friends from getting eaten by monsters.’

‘Harrington-’ Billy says, like he thinks Steve’s not okay, like he’s crazy or like he thinks he’s full of shit.

‘I know how batshit crazy it sounds, but I can prove it. I can show you. There’s a dead one in the freezer in Jonathan’s shed. There are miles of tunnels under us right now. One killed a girl in my swimming pool.’

Billy swallows. ‘You’re serious.’

‘You really thought I skipped a week of school over a girl?’

Billy closes his eyes for a second, takes a few breaths through his mouth. ‘It didn’t make a lot of sense. You were back in school the day after the party. Seemed fine until that night, honestly, thought… thought maybe…’

Steve feels like he’s putting pieces together, but like maybe all of them belong to different puzzles. ‘Yeah, whatever you thought, it was the monsters. It was the, like, almost dying. Several times. In a matter of hours. Also, that ass kicking took a lot out of me, to be honest.’

Billy blows out a breath, brings Steve’s knuckles to his lips, presses a kiss there. ‘He’d smacked me around that night too. I don’t always. Uh. Cope well.’

Well. That makes sense. ‘Yeah, if we’re gonna do this thing you’re gonna have to like, quit before I’m unconscious the next time you wanna fight your dad through me.’

Billy’s eyes fly open. ‘If we- Harrington. We can’t… I can’t be your fucking girlfriend. That’s not how this works.’

‘Don’t want you to be my girlfriend. Want you to fuck me and not pretend like it doesn’t mean anything after. It uh. It kinda seems like maybe it does.’

Billy blows out a breath, looks up at the headboard above them, then closes his eyes and swallows. ‘You gonna show me the monster in the freezer?’

‘If you wanna see it, yeah.’

‘I wanna see it,’ Billy says.

‘Okay.’

‘Okay,’ Billy says, slides an arm around Steve’s waist and tucks himself in close, presses his lips to Steve’s collarbone. ‘You really want me to fuck you?’

Steve belly flips. Billy’s hand skims down his side, down his thigh to the back of his knee. Pulls until Steve’s leg is hooked over his hip and Billy’s thigh is pressed against his dick. 

It’s pretty obvious what the answer is. 

‘I didn’t exactly mean right now,’ Steve says, but Billy’s hand is drifting back up his thigh, over his hip, palm pressed flat to his lower back. 

‘You got somewhere to be?’ Billy says, rumbly, fingertips dipping below the waistband of his briefs.

He does not. Even if he did, the promise of Billy’s body against his would be more than enough incentive to stay. ‘Guess not.’

Billy grins against his neck. ‘Take your shirt off.’

Steve takes his shirt off. Wiggles out of it without even really sitting up, tosses it off the bed. Then Billy’s lips are on his nipple, and his hand is sliding further down the back of his underwear, and Steve’s skin kind of tingles, heart beating a little fast.

He’s for sure gonna let Billy do this. Without a damn doubt. 

‘Tell me,’ Billy says, tip of his middle finger dipping between Steve’s cheeks.

‘God,’ Steve says, hitches his leg up a little higher, knee up by Billy’s ribs. Billy kisses his throat and it feels like approval. ‘I want you to.’

‘Want me to what?’ Billy asks, and the pad of his finger rubs over his hole, makes him twitch a little, makes his breath hitch.

‘You’re such an asshole.’

‘Tell me anyway.’

Billy presses with his finger and it makes Steve rock his hips, makes his dick rub against Billy’s thigh a little.

‘Come on, baby.’

Steve groans, gets a handful of Billy’s hair and pulls, just to remind him how annoying he thinks he’s being. ‘Want you to fuck me.’

‘Fuck,’ Billy breathes, rolls his hips a little and gets them closer and brings his thigh up a little tighter against Steve’s dick. His dry fingertip presses, rubs at him. 

Steve twists around, breaks away long enough to reach behind him and yank the bedside table drawer open. Billy squeezes his ass, makes a disapproving little noise. 

‘Not going anywhere, jesus,’ Steve says, getting his hand on the lube and settling back just how he was. He reaches back, grabs Billy’s wrist and pulls his hand out of his pants. Pops the cap on the lube with his free hand. 

Billy eyes snap up to his at the sound, all blown wide, lips parted, looking like he can’t quite believe it. ‘Oh my god.’

‘Told you,’ Steve says, squirts a little lube on Billy fingers and then tucks it up under the pillow between them, shoves his underwear down and shimmies out of them, kicks them down the bed. ‘Want you to fuck me.’

‘Christ, Steve,’ Billy says, ‘here, put your leg back where it was.’

So Steve hitches his knee back up, rests it on Billy’s side. Then Billy’s hand is back, slick fingertips between his cheeks. Billy’s just watching him, just looking at him as his middle finger finds his hole, makes a couple little circles before he presses, pushes just the tip inside. Steve meets his stare, pulls his leg up a little higher. Tips his hips back. Billy grins. 

‘Shit, you’re fun.’ He slides in a little more, pulls back out, does it again. 

Billy has fingered him before. Once. This is kinda different though; this time, Billy’s working up to his dick and they both know it. The nervous anticipation has Steve’s breath coming quicker, has him pressing his fingers into Billy’s back. It’s just one finger, it’s not even that much, but the fact that it’s Billy is kinda making him feel a little broken open, a little overwhelmed. 

‘How we doing, baby?’

The endearment feels like a warm wave, goosebumps prickling his neck, his arms, his scalp. ‘Good,’ Steve says, rocks his hips back to get Billy a little deeper. The slight change in angle jolts something in him, makes him shudder. ‘Gimme another.’

‘Give you another when I’m ready to give you another,’ Billy says, rocks his finger all the way in. It pulls a noise out of his chest, has him trying to tip his hips back even further, makes his cheeks and his neck go hot. Billy fucks him with his one finger, thrusts and twists his wrist and kisses his neck while he does it, lets Steve rock against his thigh. 

He wants more, though. Wants that second finger. ‘Billy, come on.’

‘You’re impatient.’

Steve licks his lips, rocks his hips back to meet Billy’s hand. Decides to change tactics a little. ‘Did this to myself, you know. Thought about it being you. Fucked myself on my fingers and thought about it being your dick.’

Fuck,’ Billy says, finger shoved deep, lips against Steve’s jaw. ‘Steve-’

‘I was on my knees with my face in the pillows. Two fingers in me, that’s all I managed before I came. Thinkin’ about you fucking me.’

Billy pulls his finger out, comes back with two. ‘You little shit,’ Billy says, but doesn’t sound too mad about it. The stretch of two fingers makes Steve’s breath stall out in his throat, but Billy’s relentless, doesn’t give him a lot of time to adjust, just one long slow slide until his knuckles are pressed against his ass again, fingers all the way in. ‘Manipulative little asshole.’

‘Oh god,’ Steve says, hips hitching just a little. It’s good. It’s real good. He can’t think. Billy pulls most of the way out and then presses all the way back in again. ‘Fuck.’

‘This what you wanted?’ Billy asks, gives him a particularly rough thrust, knocks the breath out of him again.

It is, though. It’s fucking exactly what he wanted. ‘Yeah,’ he breathes, scratches his nails down Billy’s back. Billy fucks him good for it, working his fingers in quick deep thrusts, making Steve’s dick rub against his thigh with the force of it. He’s starting to feel pretty buzzy. 

Then Billy bites him, teeth at the side of his neck, and lights fireworks down his spine. Makes his head spin. 

‘You want another finger?’

Steve shakes his head. ‘Want you to fuck me.’

‘Am fuckin’ you.’

‘With your dick, dickhead.’

Billy grins and presses a quick kiss to his lips and pulls his fingers out. He gets up on his elbow and pushes Steve back onto his back, climbs between his legs. Billy settles back on his heels, wraps his hands around the tops of Steve's thighs and tugs him down so his knees are pressed against Billy’s ribs, hooked over his thighs. He pushes his two fingers back in and makes Steve’s back arch, makes a little noise bubble up out of his chest. Billy can get deeper this way, put more weight into it, curl his fingers up and hit Steve right there where he wants it most.

‘Damn, baby,’ Billy says, laying his hand on Steve’s chest, dragging it down to rest on his belly. Close enough that Steve thinks he can feel the heat of it on his cock. ‘You weren’t kidding, huh?’

Steve shakes his head. ‘Don’t know how many times I’ve gotta say it.’

It makes Billy smile. ‘One more can’t hurt.’

Steve groans. ‘Billy, come on.’

‘Think I like you like this. Maybe I’m not ready to fuck you yet, shithead.’

Steve presses his knees into Billy’s sides, squeezes him as hard as he can, picks his hips up to try to take his fingers deeper. Or something. Billy presses him back down hard with the hand that’s still on his belly, holds him there. Gives him a particularly hard thrust, a vicious little twist of his wrist. Makes Steve gasp. 

‘Spread your knees,’ Billy says, so Steve lets his legs drop open, backs of his thighs resting on the the tops of Billy’s. Billy smiles, gives his belly a condescending little pat. ‘Good boy.’

Steve flushes hot, and his cock throbs. Billy’s grin gets a little wider, a little more smug. He runs his thumb up the underside of Steve’s cock, just once, nails that spot in him pretty good while he does it. Makes Steve’s brain short out a little.

‘Please,’ he gasps, ‘Billy, please.’

Then Billy’s fingers are gone, and his hand is gone, and Steve is confused and upset for a split second until Billy shoves his underwear down and off and leans up and presses a kiss to his lips and snags the lube from under the pillow next to Steve’s head.

‘Since you asked so nicely,’ Billy says, slicks up his cock and braces himself on one elbow. Steve feels himself get even hotter, thinks his cheeks must be red as hell. His heart pounds.

Billy pauses then, looks him in the eye, real serious. ‘You still wanna do this?’

Steve’s brain feels fuzzy. He’s still got that fucking hangover making his temples throb a little and this morning has been like, pretty fraught, pretty emotional. 

Billy’s in his bed though. Billy made his choice. Let Steve see him. Stuck around. 

Steve doesn’t think he’s ever wanted someone as much as he wants Billy in this moment. He hooks his ankles around the back of Billy’s thighs, puts his hands on Billy’s sides, over his ribs. 

‘I still wanna do this.’

‘God,’ Billy says, ducking his head, taking a breath. It makes Steve a little less nervous, knowing he’s not the only one, like, affected. Then Billy kisses him, quick peck on the lips, and shuffles forward. 

He tenses a little when he feels the head of Billy’s dick rub over his hole, involuntary, and Billy looks at him, plays with his hair a little with his free hand. ‘You gotta relax,’ he says, just rubs the head back and forth, back and forth. Steve takes a deep breath and relaxes. Billy smiles, kisses him again. 

It hurts when Billy pushes in. It just does. The stretch is entirely different than his fingers, is way more, less, like, controlled. He stops once the head is in, peppers little kisses over Steve’s cheeks, his neck while Steve takes quick little breaths and tries to relax. It’s hard. He doesn’t really know how to relax a part of him that feels stretched past it’s limit already.

‘Bear down,’ Billy says.

‘What?’ 

‘Bear down. Like. Push.’

Steve gets it, does it. Billy slides a little deeper, and the stretch gets a little easier. Steve lets out a shaky breath. It’s alright. He’s getting used to it. ‘God.’

‘Alright?’

Steve nods. ‘Just. A lot.’

Billy cards his fingers through Steve’s hair, sinks in a little deeper. 

It’s kind of crazy, really. It’s overwhelming, and the sensation is intense as hell, and it’s Billy. Steve feels cracked open, naked as hell, a little out of control but not, like, in a bad way. He lets out a heavy breath, presses his fingers into Billy’s sides. ‘You can move a little.’

Billy nods, drops his forehead to Steve’s chest, hair kinda tickling his neck, his shoulder. He pulls out a little, real slow, and sinks back in. It’s easier; the stretch still hurts, but it’s also starting to feel good. In spite of. Because of. ‘Fuck, Steve.’

‘Keep going,’ Steve says, so Billy does. Pulls out a bit, sinks back in. It’s slow, and not particularly deep, and it’s getting easier and easier as Steve’s body gets used to it. 

It’s hot as fuck, really. How he’s just. Taking it. That heat starts to build in the middle of him again. 

‘You feel really fucking good, Steve,’ Billy says, voice a little rough. All at once he has a vivid recollection of how it felt when he did this to Billy, the crushing incredible heat of him, and his dick throbs, stomach flipping, clenching a little around Billy’s dick. Billy gasps, fingers tightening to a fist in his hair. ‘Fuck, fuck.’

‘Billy, you can-’ he hooks one leg up around Billy’s waist and the change in angle nails him right in the gut, gets Billy good too, if the noise he makes is anything to go by. Steve slides his hands back up behind Billy’s shoulders, digs his nails in. 

When Billy thrusts in next, he does it a little faster and doesn’t stop until his hips meet Steve’s ass. 

It feels fucking incredible. Hot stretch, spiky sharp pleasure-pain. Punches a little noise out of him, has him clawing at Billy’s back. 

‘Good?’ 

Steve nods frantically, tips his hips in a way he hopes is helpful. ‘Do it again.’

So Billy does it again, pulls most of the way out and sinks all the way back in. 

The too-much stretch of it is mostly gone, now, just heat and friction, good full and Billy hitting places in him that make his belly twist, make his dick ache. 

‘Fuck,’ he says, and Billy picks his head up and looks at him and it sparks that hot kick in his gut again, Billy looking at him the way he’s looking at him, looking at him like he’s kind of as fucked up and split open about about the whole thing as Steve is. Billy licks his lips, fucks him a little harder. ‘Oh, god.’

‘Yeah?’ 

Steve nods, hooks his ankles behind Billy’s back, tilts his hips, gasps as Billy gets a little deeper. ‘Yeah, fuck, it’s. Really good, god.’

Then Billy’s hand is on his dick, fucking his head all up, making his body burn. ‘Oh fuck, oh my god.’

Billy grins at him, flicks his thumb over the head, makes Steve’s hips buck which just drives Billy deeper. Steve gets his hand in Billy’s hair, gets his fist tight, makes Billy gasp and snap his hips, makes his hand jerk on Steve’s dick. 

‘Billy,’ Steve says, and Billy’s eyes are dark and kinda glassy and his lips are parted and his forehead is a little shiny with sweat and Steve, god, Steve wants to eat him alive, needs him everywhere. He uses his grip in Billy’s hair to pull him down, get at his mouth. Kisses him exactly how he feels, hungry and too much and a little too rough because he’s gotta put this feeling somewhere.

And Billy- Billy whimpers. Jerks Steve’s dick quick and a little rough and licks into his mouth and fucks him for real, fucks him good, snaps his hips quick and hard and bottoms out on every thrust, winds Steve tighter and tighter. He can’t focus on any one thing, all of it entirely too much, every single point of contact threatening to be the one that breaks him into a thousand pieces and he needs that, he thinks. 

It doesn’t take long after he decides to let it overwhelm him for it to do just that. Steve comes whimpering into Billy’s mouth, fist so tight in his hair that his hand kinda hurts, bucking his hips up to meet Billy’s thrusts. It’s fucking earth shattering, honestly. He comes all over both of them and Billy moans about it into his mouth, snaps his hips a few more times and then stills almost completely, mouth just kinda open against Steve’s, making tiny little circles with his hips.

So that’s the sixth time. The real sixth time, better than Steve had imagined it. Billy eventually turns his head, tucks his face in to kiss at Steve’s neck as he kinda collapses on top of him. ‘Oh my god.’

Steve runs his fingertips down Billy’s back, feels him shudder, feels his dick twitch half-heartedly in him, whole body a happy-hazy buzz. Fucked out. Sated. Worn out and content as hell. ‘Yeah. Yeah, Billy.’

Billy pulls out, shifts off to the side. Wraps his arm around his waist, uses his shoulder as a pillow, throws a leg over one of Steve’s. It’s nice. The sweat and come are cooling on his skin but Billy’s body is warm.

‘It does, you know,’ Billy says, like Steve should have any idea what he’s talking about. He traces little swirls on Billy’s shoulders with his fingertips and doesn’t say anything. ‘It means something. It. It could mean something.’

Steve’s heart thumps hard in his chest, and he turns his head, looks at him. He looks almost nervous. It’s. Very sweet. Steve’s chest aches with it. ‘Okay.’

‘Okay,’ Billy says, lets out a breath. ‘You don’t… you don’t really know me, though, babe. You might not like me once you do.’

Steve thinks that’s a load of shit, honestly. ‘You got shit worse than how you like to kick the shit out the guy you’re fucking when your dad roughs you up?’ Billy goes a little stiff in his arms. ‘Cause I mean. That’s not enough to put me off, if that tells you anything.’

Billy blows out a breath, pushes himself up on his elbow to look down at Steve. ‘You know you’re an idiot, right? Like, you have considered that I might not be the best choice for you, right?’

‘God, why are you trying to talk me out of this? Have you considered that the fact that that’s your first impulse might just mean that you’re not as bad as you think you are? You clearly give a shit, or you wouldn’t be saying any of this. Shut the fuck up about it. I know your secret now, asshole, and you’re not getting rid of me that easy.’

Billy smiles, ducks his head a little. Kisses Steve’s shoulder. 

‘Oh,’ Steve says, suddenly remembering a few pieces of the puzzle that led to him waking up in Billy’s car. Billy looks up at him again. ‘Would now be a bad time to tell you that Tommy and I kissed?’

Billy just kinda stares for a minute, and Steve cannot even begin to interpret the look on his face. 

Then he laughs. Like. Cracks up. Clutches at Steve’s waist and drops his head to Steve’s chest and laughs and laughs and it makes Steve happy, makes him feel warm and bubbly and great, hearing Billy like that. It being at his expense really doesn’t even bother him. 

Eventually Billy picks his head back up, eyes watery with mirth. ‘I fucking knew it.’

‘Yeah, you’re a goddamn genius. Told him you and I are fucking, too. So.’

‘Oh, baby,’ Billy says, looks so fucking good like this, honest and delighted, ‘god, this is gonna be so much fun. You’re so much fucking fun.’

Steve rolls his eyes even as it makes him feel a little warm. Billy’s approval, because that’s what it is, what it feels like, kind of just lights Steve up on the inside. ‘It was just once.’

‘Oh, I don’t give a shit, I’m not worried about Tommy. Make out with him as much as you want, just let me watch.’

‘We didn’t make out,’ Steve says. 

‘Why not?’

‘Oh my god, I’m too hungover for this. There’s fucking come in my chest hair.’

‘Shit, yeah, shoulda licked that up. My bad. We were talking about you and Tommy.’

‘No, we weren’t,’ Steve says, rolls out of Billy’s arms and finds his feet. His fucking head throbs. ‘Ow.’

Billy laughs, sprawls out on his back, pulls one knee up and tucks his hands behind his head. ‘Shoulda stayed down here.’

‘I need water,’ Steve says, swoops down to pick his shorts up off the floor and pull them on. Billy watches him shamelessly, content little grin on his face. Steve wishes he could take a photo, gives himself a moment to commit it to memory, study the details. The way Billy’s hair’s all mussed, spread out on the pillows. The little crinkles next to his eyes. The blond hair on his thighs, below his belly button. The rise and fall of his belly as he breathes. ‘And aspirin, and a washcloth.’

‘You’re a little bitch. Get a beer and let me clean you up.’

‘Oh my god,’ Steve says, ‘just stay here and be fucking quiet.’

‘Bossy.’

Steve unlocks his bedroom door, pokes his head out. The house is still quiet. He looks back at Billy. ‘Stay.’

‘Woof,’ Billy says, and Steve doesn’t know why he expected anything else. 

Billy’s alright. 

Halfway down the stairs he really starts to feel the come leaking out of him, making everything, like, slick

It’s disgusting. It also makes him weirdly hot. He’s barely surprised.

He puts coffee on, drinks most of a glass of water. Takes a leak in the downstairs bathroom and cleans the come off his chest, from between his legs, out of his pubes. 

When he gets back up to his room with a mug of coffee in each hand, Billy’s got his head tipped back and his eyes closed and he’s opened the curtains up, practically glowing in the soft morning light and Steve’s like. So fucked. He’s so fucked and he’s not even scared, not even nervous about it because Billy’s smiling a little, eyes still closed. ‘You brought coffee.’

‘I did,’ Steve says, throat kinda tight. Billy makes him feel a lot. Like, a lot. 

‘What the hell, Harrington,’ Billy says, and Steve can’t read him, still, has no idea what he’s thinking. What he did.

‘What?’

Billy pushes himself up on his elbows, opens his eyes. ‘Get your ass over here.’

Steve goes. Sets the coffee down on the nightstand. Billy reaches for him, tugs him down and gets a hand in his hair and kisses the hell out of him, easy and slow and sensual as fuck, makes Steve’s skin hot. 

He breaks away eventually, smiles a little. ‘I like you. How the fuck did that happen?’

And man, it just cracks his chest wide open, cheek-aching grin on his mouth. ‘Oh.’

Billy rolls his eyes. ‘Yeah, oh.’

-

Steve doesn’t like being here. There are a lot of reasons for it - this is the place where he learned about the monsters. This is the place where Billy beat him unconscious. This is the place where Nancy spends her evenings, now, with Jonathan. He’s learning to cope, slowly, able to make it through most days functioning more or less like a human being, but this place is ground zero and Steve can feel the chaotic energy of it through the soles of his shoes, seeping up from the ground, can feel the anxiety in the air like a high-pitched buzz, tinny in his skull. He has no idea how the Byers come home to this ground every day, inhabit it like it’s not utterly cursed.

He takes a deep breath as they round the side of the house, nods tersely at Jonathan as he watches from the porch. He jumps when Billy lays a hand at the small of his back once they’re around the corner, out of view, gives him a tight smile. Billy rubs little circles on his back and doesn’t tell him they don’t have to do this. They do. Steve needs it.

It looks different in the daylight. The yard seems smaller, the shed seems smaller, everything seems more real, more solid. It should be less terrifying like this, cold light of day washing out the shadows, but the hair stands up on the back of his neck anyway, tiny little structure still somehow looming dark and imposing.

The lock on the shed door sticks a little, and Steve’s hands feel clumsy and stupid as he fumbles with it. Billy’s hand is solid and warm between his shoulders. The lock clicks open, and Steve removes it, pushes the creaky door open. There’s enough light coming in from outside for him to find the little chain hanging from the ceiling and yank it down to make the single bare bulb light up. Being in the shed in the dark for those few seconds has shocky adrenaline making his limbs tingle, making his head buzz.

There’s another lock on the freezer, and Steve finds the key, slides it into the mechanism. Billy’s right next to him, watching him. Steve pauses.

‘Are you sure?’

Billy glances out the door, then puts his free hand on Steve’s cheek. He brushes his thumb across his lips, looks at them, then meets his eyes again. ‘You’re brave as hell, you know.’

That doesn’t feel true. Steve is terrified all the time. Never has any idea what he’s doing. Thinks he’s alive through luck, mostly. He lets out a shaky breath, lays his hand on the freezer where the dead monster lives. 

‘I fucking mean it, Harrington.’

The monster is dead. For now, all the monsters are dead. Steve knows they could come back, probably will come back, and that he won’t be able to ignore it. He knows, and now Billy will too. It’s not really fair, but Steve thinks Billy would have found out either way, eventually. Better like this. Give Billy as much of a fighting chance as any of them have, anyway. 

Steve closes his eyes, nods his head mostly just to let Billy know he hears him. He doesn’t agree, really. He doesn’t think he’s brave. Just. Stupid and reckless. 

Then Billy’s lips are on his, not asking anything of him, just slotting perfectly against his own, dry and chaste and familiar. 

He opens his eyes when Billy pulls away, manages a small smile. 

He thinks the two of them together could make a go of it. He thinks, with Billy watching his back, maybe they could both make it out alive. 

His hands feel steadier as he turns the key and opens the lid.

The smell is overwhelming, cloying, has Steve back in the tunnels like falling through time. He can’t look at it yet, closes his eyes and tries to breathe slow while his heart races and anxiety and fear and the fucking smell churn his stomach.

‘Oh my god,’ Billy breathes, and Steve feels the air shift next to him as Billy leans in closer. ‘Oh what the fuck, Steve.’

His hand slides down and around Steve’s waist, pulls him in close, heat of him all along Steve’s side, fighting back the cold in his blood. He’s shaking. His legs feel wobbly.

‘You weren’t kidding,’ he says, quiet, kinda awed sounding. Steve shakes his head. 

He opens his eyes. The thing is fucking grotesque, exactly how Steve remembers it. He can hear the sound of them. See the way they move. Feel the slick of them between his fingers.

‘Close it,’ Billy says, and his voice sounds a little off. His fingers press into Steve’s side. Steve can’t stop looking at the dead thing in the freezer, the teeth on its petals. ‘Steve.’

‘They get bigger,’ Steve says. ‘This one’s young, still. They get big. Get up on two legs, like maybe seven feet tall or so? That’s the biggest one I’ve seen. The first one, last year. That’s the one that killed the girl in my backyard.’

‘Steve, we don’t have to stay. I’ve seen enough.’

Steve shakes his head, can’t take his eyes off the thing. ‘They’re fast.’

Billy’s quiet for a beat. ‘They look fast.’

Steve nods, swallows. ‘There were dozens of them in the tunnels. The kids were all there. I’d gotten most of them back out by the time they swarmed Dustin and I. They weren’t interested in us, but it was. There were so many of them. The smell, Billy, it was...’

Billy wraps his other arm around Steve’s waist, tucks his face into his neck. Steve holds onto his forearm, takes a deep breath. 

For now, he’s safe. The monster is dead. They’re all dead. The tunnels are dead and empty. The body in the freezer is still and cold and stiff. Steve’s touching it before he can think better of it. It makes his stomach churn, makes bile rise in his throat. Billy holds him tight. 

It’s dead. He closes the freezer. Puts the lock back on it. Turns himself in Billy’s arms and wraps his arms around him and puts his face in Billy’s neck, tries to breathe deep enough to wash out the smell of rot and death and fear, let Billy fill in the cracks, the vacant spaces. Billy touches his hair, kisses the top of his head. 

He thinks maybe the two of them could make it. 

Back in the car Billy lights a cigarette and passes it to him, lights another for himself. Steve can’t stop shivering. Billy doesn’t say anything and Steve doesn’t say anything and Billy doesn’t start the car, just sits there in the Byers driveway and stares out the windshield blankly.

Halfway through his smoke, Billy puts his hand on the back of his neck, gives it a little squeeze. Steve sighs, closes his eyes, feels the tension begin to drain out of him. Billy lets go, twists around and fishes his jacket out of the back seat, holds it out to Steve.

It’s surreal. It’s so surreal he can barely wrap his head around it.

He’s sitting in Billy Hargrove’s Camaro and Billy’s offering him his jacket. Billy kisses him real sweet and makes fun of him and talks shit and gives Steve the best orgasms he’s ever had in his life. Billy knows about the monsters. Billy tells him secrets. 

Billy’s looking at him, holding out his jacket because Steve was shivering, and Billy felt it under his palm. 

Steve takes it, puts it on. The shivering slows. Stops.

‘I’ve got you, you know,’ Billy says, looking at Steve very seriously, breaking the silence gently. ‘I don’t know what’s gonna happen, here, with you and I, but I. I’ve got your back. If you need it. If you ever need it.’

Steve really looks at him, takes in the determined set of his jaw, the fire that’s always kind of always burning just under the surface with Billy. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen, what next week or next month or next year is gonna bring. He doesn’t know if him and Billy are gonna make it, doesn’t know if reality is gonna crack open and bleed horror into Hawkins again.

He leans across the center console, puts a hand on Billy’s cheek. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He doesn’t know anything at all except that here, in this moment - with Billy’s fingers curled up under his chin, Billy’s thumb on his bottom lip, Billy wearing that quiet, easy, fond little smile that softens his face and lights up his eyes right before he leans in and kisses him - he thinks he’ll be okay.

He’s okay.