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Byers slept like a god damned train wreck.

That, more than anything, was what he noticed first.

He didn't sleep at all like he lived. Quiet and hunchbacked into whatever grudging shape provided the least notice. Absent from people and their conversations by choice and reputation. Given that, you'd think the weirdo would at least keep with the same theme when it came to everything else. Right?


Nah, Byers slept like everything he probably felt but wasn't saying. Like what those damn pictures of his stood for or whatever. He'd never been good at metaphors. At finding the meaning in things that weren't obvious, but he wasn't an idiot. And this moment - in the same bed, breathing the same air and sharing the same mingling scent between the three of them - had given the guy layers he wasn't sure what to do with.

Honestly, he'd liked it better when he thought he'd had the guy figured. Which, admittedly, had been back in that alley just before Byers had shown him his back. Like after everything he didn't think he was even worth it. Making something inside him snap in a way he didn't know he was even capable of. In a way he didn't want to be capable of, to be honest.

Byers was a god damned mess.

He looked down, swallowing the snort of amused frustration that rose thick in his throat as the muscles in Byer's back rose and fell through the thin of his shirt. Highlighting every knob of his spine until it might as well have been see-through. Somehow distracting him from the obvious as the hitch of Byer's left leg remained unashamedly where it was - draped across his lap, inches from his dick. Head face-planted in the crease between the pillows, growing the type of bed-head he knew from experience would need a wash to sort out.

Not that Byers seemed to care about that sort of stuff.

All in all, it was the kind of thing you couldn't look away from if you tried.

Byers slept hard and fast like he didn't get enough of it, ever, and every second was precious. He slept with absolutely no regard for any and all innocent bystanders. Mainly him and perhaps Nancy who'd somehow managed to migrate between them sometime during the night. Knowing damn well she hadn't started out that way. That was something she'd done herself. Her way of saying what they were now, he supposed.

His nose twitched as he held back a sneeze. Watching the dust modes twirl idly above his head as he looked around the room. Realizing he hadn't gotten a chance to do it before- well, everything. Still able to smell the smell of gasoline and burning carpet tart and chemical-dry in the air.

Wondering if it was even worth untangling himself from the mess of limbs and bed-warm skin and putting some distance between him and Byers for appearances sake. Knowing it wouldn't be long until the others woke up and then everything would be confused expressions, hopeful glances and hot flushes of embarrassment.

Surprisingly though, he didn't mind all that much. Deciding to just lay back and let the moment ride. Watching Byers' chest rise and fall on the other side of the bed as Nancy made up the neutral ground between them.

That probably shoulda' been his first clue everything was about to slip sideways on him.

But hey-

Hindsight, right?

He wished he could say he didn't know how they'd ended up like that. Sleeping together on Byers' too small bed. But since it also coincided with the first time he'd started believing in monsters since he was about eight years old and still afraid of the dark, he decided to give himself a pass on that one.

Only thing was, for better or worse, things changed after that.

He figured out that Carol and Tommy weren't really that good of friends after all and ditched them like his dad did with his empties. Out of sight, out of mind. Instead, the three of them started to be the new common dominator at school. It took some doing. Positive reinforcement, Nancy called it, but eventually Byers started joining them on his own. Seeking them out and slowly gravitating into their orbit so smoothly it made him wonder why it'd taken so long in the first place.

At first it was weird keeping a guy around who had a thing for his girl.

But since it made Nancy happy he figured he couldn't be a square about it, either.

And what, look jealous? Of Byers?

No god damn way.

Only problem was, he wasn't counting on how much he started liking it. How Byers started feeling more like a friend then a rival or just a flat out enemy. And how it all seemed to happen so damn fast. Just like everything else. He felt like he was barely treading water most days. Meanwhile Byers' kid brother had damn near eaten a nightmare for breakfast or something. He still wasn't clear on the wheres, whens, or more importantly- hows of all that. But he was convinced it'd give him nightmares if he tried.

Well, new ones anyway.

The truth was, Jonathan Byers was actually kind of cool, in a weird way. He had sweet music on more mix tapes than he'd ever seen in his life. Half of which seemed to gravitate into his car without him knowing how they'd gotten there. He started to associate the crisp click and grind of a camera shutter with the sound of the guy's footsteps. Forced to remind himself that dudes didn't do the things he kept thinking about doing. Especially when it came to Byers stupid hair always being in his stupid fucking face. Damn near making his fingers itch wanting to brush it away.

But it wasn't until one day, when Nancy was sick with some flu that'd been going around since the week before, that things really started to angle into dangerous waters.

He was sitting at a corner table in the cafeteria during his free period. Text books splayed around him like good intentions, but with a sketch book slap in the middle. So focused on the section of shading he was smudging that he didn't realize Byers was standing behind him till the guy actually said something.


He jumped about half a mile, give or take some change. Chair creaking dangerously as he wobbled on place. Hand slapping down on the page with a guilty slam, like he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't. Pencil skittering off over the table, probably never to be seen again, as close to half the cafeteria turned to look. Whispering.

"Jesus! Some warning next time, Byers!?" he gasped, trying to salvage the situation as he smoothed his hair and settled back into the chair with a careless slouch. More irritated with himself than anything when he realized the imprint of his watch had cut a shallow crease into the paper. Right damn in the center of the-

Jonathan's eyes just narrowed. Crinkling in the corners like the precursor to a grudging laugh before one of those walls of his came down and smoothed the expression away.

"Hey," Byer's said again, like he hadn't had a heard it over his heart attack the first time. Coming out as both a greeting and an apology before slipping slow into the seat across from him when he made no move to protest. The knobs of his knees skimming his with awkward intimacy before angling away again.

"Hey," he returned, determined not to make things weird. But failing miserably when he realized this was probably the first time the guy had approached him on his own - without Nancy as a buffer.


Baby's first steps.

Nance would be proud.

"What are you doing?" Jonathan asked.

"Free period, man," he shrugged, trying not to make a big deal about it when Byer tapped at the edge of the drawing. Pointed and firm like he wasn't going to leave it alone. Because, yeah, of course he wouldn't.

He shrugged again. "Just doodling...killin' time. Got all my homework done for once. So-"

Somewhere across the cafeteria, Tommy and Carol's laughter rose up. Cutting, sharp and deliberate. Not having to look up to know that he'd find them staring. Things had been kind of- strained between the three of them lately. Ever since he'd told them what he really thought of them and forced them to back off on Byers all in the same day.

The truth was, the end of that friendship had barely caused a ripple for the two of them. Finding friends had never been a problem for Tommy and Carol. Keeping them long-term was usually the issue. And of course, now they had a whole new circle that was only all too eager to agree with them when it came to him, Nancy, Byers, and well-

Not that he really cared.

Okay, that was a lie.

He did care.

And so did Nancy when it came to what they were sayin' these days.

Byers was the only one that didn't seem to notice.

Which honestly made him feel pretty low when he realized it was probably because the guy was so used to it he couldn't tell the difference.

"Hey, there's a new movie showing tonight, some sort action flick with-" he started. Cutting himself off when he realized Jonathan wasn't listening. Instead he was staring at his sketch book. Looking upside down at a gnarled forest of horror-story trees and dripping sap.

His cheeks burned. Not exactly sure why he cared that Byers was looking, other than he suddenly did. A lot. Maybe it was the way he was looking at it. Maybe it was the fact that he automatically figured Byers would find something to criticize. Or maybe it was just because they shared the same nightmares nowdays. He didn't know. All he did was that for a stuttered half second he was caught between wanting to cover it with his hands and just toss everything to the wind and ask what haunted the inside of his eyelids these days. You know, after-

His molars ground together in frustration.

He wasn't used to this.

To his life being complicated.

Upside down.

He'd been working on the drawing for over a week here and there. Starting with just one wicked looking tree before the idea had gotten wild on him. But it was the center of the thing that was the real kicker. Bringing everything together like he'd planned it from the start.

He leaned back, forcing his fingers to uncurl from around the flimsy metal rings. Trying to be casual about it when Byers took the opportunity to nudge it slowly to the side so he could see.

He hadn't understood the point of it, other than exorcising some nightmare fuel he really didn't need. Been there done that, hit it with a bat, thanks. At least until he realized what he was drawing in the center. It was the beam of a flashlight, spreading outwards - held by someone outside the frame. Lighting up the bark and branches in a halo of uneven fluorescent light.

He swallowed roughly. Not really sure why until he realized that he'd never seen that expression on Byer's face before. Somewhere between surprised, pleased and maybe a bit transported. Realizing he wanted to see it again, and soon.

"Why?" Byers asked, eyes narrowing again as he looked from him to the paper then up again. Like he hadn't meant to say it out loud and now had to run with it to save face. "What made you feel it? To be able to do this? Draw something like this?"

He wanted to be irritated at the question.

But he wasn't, just conflicted.


"I dunno, what makes you decide when to take a picture?" he shot back.

The silence was dead.


And incredibly damning.

It was kind of weird how two people could have so much in common and not know it until bam- they suddenly just did.

Byers seem to feel it too because he cleared his throat. Eyes darting up as he pointed a long finger at the sketch-book again. Waiting until he nodded shallowly like permission before he started paging through it. Mainlining the distraction like it was oxygen as he just sat there like a god damned idiot.

Something in him fluttered, like misplaced arousal only watered down whenever Byers paused on a sketch. Really looking. Really taking it in. Paying more attention to them than his parents had since he'd graduated from stick figures in first grade. Actually giving a damn and maybe even appreciating them a little bit as he took his time going through them.

It wasn't until the warning bell rang that they were able to jerk out of it. Gradually coming out of the muddled fog that'd settled low and strangely comfortable in the intervening minutes.

Byers was the first to shoot to his feet, making him wince at the scream of metal sliding back across worn linoleum. About to swing his backpack over his shoulder and make a clean get-a-way before he stopped him.

"Where are you going?" he asked automatically.

Those damn, dark eyes of his lowered again before firming up to level with him like challenge. Making something in him heat, like someone had gone and set fire on his insides for fun, before the kid shook his hair of his eyes and muttered a reply.

"The Dark Room. I've- I've got pictures to develop."

Of course he did.

His mouth was dry as his tongue slipped out. Wetting across his lower lip with an exaggerated drag he wasn't aware of until he realized Byers was watching him without blinking.

"Show me?" he asked. Not sure where the desire had come from, but deciding that anything had to be better than this. Caught up in each other in a way he didn't quite understand. Careening around like wasps in a soda-pop bottle trap. Pretty sure he hadn't even dared to breathe in the last thirty seconds, give or take.

Byers just nodded, stiff and uncertain. Like he wasn't sure why he'd even bother asking.

But it was enough for him to collect his things and follow.

As you might expect, not long after that things started to get out of hand.