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undertow

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It would really be a shame if, after everything, Will died here in the Wheeler basement, sprawled out on a pile of blankets and mismatched pillows. He’s survived a week in a literal hellhole, fought off being possessed by an actual demon monster, and he’s going to be taken out by his own mortification. He can see the headlines now: Local Zombie Boy dies of Embarrassment, but For Real This Time.

“Not anyone? Like, at all?”

Will's face has probably never been redder than in this very moment, which is a significant feat for someone who’s spent most his life in perpetual humiliation. He grabs the nearest pillow, one that Mike pulled off of his living room couch, and buries his face in it. “Mike.” He tries to make it sound stern, but it just comes out muffled and whiny.

“Okay, but I'm just saying. No one? At all? What about Hannah? After the Snow Ball?”

No,” Will groans from beneath his pillow cocoon. Maybe if he stays under long enough, he could suffocate and pass out instead of continuing this conversation. It's something to consider.

“Are you kidding? She didn't even try to kiss you? That's rude.” Mike, who apparently could not take a hint to save his life (or Will's life, at this point), trudges forward with his train of thought. How they had even gotten to this topic of conversation was beyond him, but Will had made the unfortunate mistake of admitting that he'd never had his first kiss, and Mike seemed to have taken personal offense to it.

“Yeah,” he says, trying to make his voice sound uninterested instead of mortified. It seems to work, because a discomforting silence falls over them instead. Will tentatively removes the pillow from his face.

They lie there, side by side, until Mike asks in a quieter, more thoughtful voice, “You didn't try to kiss her?”

Will huffs. “No, Mike, I didn't try to kiss her.”

“Oh.” Another silence. “How come?”

The gate’s closed, he knows it is, but it doesn’t stop Will from wondering for a moment if the Mind Flayer might still be able to reach him. He could flit into the Upside Down real quick, maybe call him up – Hey, Mr. Almighty Demon Guy, can you come possess me and try to destroy my town again? I know it’s inconvenient for you, you’ve probably got plans, but I’m having the most mortifying conversation of my life, so if you could do me a solid here, I’d really appreciate it.

Eternal destruction of the entirety of Hawkins or embarrass himself in front of Mike? It’s a tough call.

It's worse, though, because Mike is usually so good at reading him, and so rarely pushes him into talking about things he was uncomfortable with. On any normal day, he'd pat Will on the shoulder and tell him he'd be here if he ever wanted to talk about it. Will’s never actually had to tell Mike no before. He’s not sure he knows how.

“I don't know,” Will answers after a long moment, which is a blatant lie, and he doesn't make a habit of lying to Mike very often. The truth is that there are too many reasons, that he had barely spoken to Hannah before that night, that she'd called him Zombie Boy and it was probably supposed to be cute but it just stung, that she was taller than him and he wasn't sure how to even approach that, that he'd never kissed anyone before and didn't want to try in front of his entire class on a sweaty gym floor, that Hannah had probably only asked him to dance out of pity and not because she wanted him to kiss her. That he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to be kissing girls, anyway.

He doesn't let that thought go any further.

“You don't have to worry about it,” Mike says, shifting beside him. “I know Dustin and Lucas can be assholes sometimes, but I won't tell them, okay?” Will smiles, a genuine little thing despite how strung out he felt, because that was the Mike he knew. Lucas and Dustin were never really mean, and he knows they wouldn't make fun of him if it really upset him, but Mike going out of his way to protect him anyway makes his chest burn in a familiar happiness.

“Thanks,” Will says, hugging the pillow to his chest. “It's just...she's taller than me, you know?” 

Mike bursts out laughing, and Will can't help grinning back. “So what?”

“So, it's weird, right? I don't know. I didn't want my first kiss to be with a girl I barely know and not even be able to reach her. I'm sure it'd be terrible.”

“My first kiss was kinda terrible,” Mike admits, and Will can feel him shrug.

“Yeah?” He's never talked about it, not really. Will knew it happened while he was missing. He wasn't sure he wanted to know much else.

“Yeah,” Mike says with a short chuckle. “I was trying to ask El to the Snow Ball while also asking her to move in with us. But El didn't know what a dance was, and Dustin kept yelling about chocolate pudding, and then I just...went for it. I almost missed and it lasted for two seconds.” Will, because he's a good friend, tries very hard not to burst out laughing. He does not succeed. Mike turns his head to scowl at him. “Oh, I'm so glad my traumatic first time story is amusing to you!” he says, shoving Will's shoulder with a half-quashed grin.

Will only manages to laugh harder. “You asked her to move in with you before you kissed?” he teases. “Moving pretty fast there, huh, Wheeler?”

“She needed a place to live! She practically already did live with us! I was being chivalrous,” Mike huffs in the way he does when they're playing D&D and completely ignoring the plot line he created to do their own thing, when he's trying to act madder than he actually is. It's so familiar that it's almost endearing. 

“You mean desperate?” Will asks, blinking innocently, his mouth mashed together so that he doesn't smile. 

Mike stares at him, open mouthed. Will lasts a whopping four seconds before he breaks and bursts into giggles. “Wow. Wow.” Mike shakes his head. “Here I am, inviting you into my home, telling you an embarrassing story to make you feel better, and this is how you treat me. Unbelievable.”

Will rolls his eyes exaggeratedly, because he knows Mike isn’t mad. He and El broke up amicably, and even though it was a sore spot for a short time, they both quickly slipped back into being good friends. Besides, it's nice that they're joking like this again. It's taken all of them awhile, after everything they’ve been through, but every now and then they manage to flit back into moments of normalcy, where they can laugh and hang out and make fun of each other without worrying about a shadow looming over them. Sometimes, Will even feels like a regular teenager. It's almost comforting.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I'm sure my first kiss is gonna be worse. I'll be too nervous and mess it up, somehow.” He pauses for a moment, considering, his hands fidgeting with nothing. “I'll probably be so nervous that I just puke on them. That's romantic, right?”

Mike chuckles, but he's staring intently at Will, propped up on an elbow. “You don't need to be nervous. There's nothing...scary or anything. It's not hard.”

It's meant to be encouraging, he knows it is, and he tries his best to take it in the spirit it was given. Still, it doesn't stop Will from muttering, “Easy for someone that's already been kissed to say.”

“It's not! It's really not bad at all, I promise.” Mike's still looking at him, earnest and intense and focused, and Will feels transparent under his gaze. “I bet you'll be good at it, even.”

Will scoffs. “Yeah, who wouldn't want to be covered in vomit while they make out with Zombie Boy?”

“Don't—” Mike starts, but he pauses, frowning. “Don't make out with people that call you Zombie Boy, then,” he finishes in a quieter voice. 

Will decides not to point out that Mike had been insinuating that he should have made out with Hannah less than ten minutes ago. “No problem, that narrows down my options from zero to negative forty.”

“Hey,” Mike says, soft, in the voice he usually reserves just for Will. “You gotta relax. It's just a kiss. Don't make it into something it's not. I'm sure there's plenty of people that want to kiss you.” Will shrugs, noncommittal, so he doesn't have to answer. Mike is still staring at him, and Will shifts a little under his gaze, choosing to stare back at the ceiling. He briefly considers hiding under the pillow again. 

Another moment passes, a bit too long to be natural, and Mike inhales sharply, as though he's worked himself up to this. “Here, I can help you,” he says, his tongue stumbling over the words a bit. 

“What?” Will says, whipping his head back to face him. 

“I'll, uh—I can.” Will stares blankly at him as he searches for the words. “I can show you how to kiss.” There's a long beat, during which Mike seems to find his footing, and he pushes on. “I'll kiss you, so you know how to do it. Then you won't be nervous the next time you kiss someone.”

Will blinks once, twice, trying to figure out if Mike had said what he thought he said or if this was some elaborate fever dream that would end with the Demogorgon having a tea party with Steve and Jonathan, like his last one had. It seemed more likely than Mike asking to kiss him, at any rate. “I, um. What?”

“O-only of you want to!” Mike says quickly, backtracking. “I was just thinking, you wouldn't have to be nervous if you were kissing me, right? Because who cares, right? Then when you actually wanna kiss someone, you'll know what you're doing, and you won't be nervous anymore. Right?”

“Oh,” Will says, voice small, desperately forcing himself not to think about who he would actually wanna kiss. “Yeah, that...that makes sense.” It did, sort of, as long as you didn't consider that kissing Mike was probably more nerve wracking than kissing a thousand girls. But Will wasn't about to bring that up. 

“Yeah?” Mike asks, a little breathless. “You'll let me?”

Will takes a moment before nodding, slowly and deliberately. He can't think too hard about this, he can't, so he doesn't. “Yeah,” he says instead. He doesn't know when his throat got so dry.

“Okay.” Mike's nodding too, though his is absentminded, like he just needs to fidget. “C'mere,” he says, his voice low, and Will's gut twists in a way that terrifies him. But it's Mike, and he can't say no to Mike, so he wiggles closer and blinks up at him, waiting. “Okay, it’s good to start out slow. Just like, hold her hand or touch her face or something.” Mike leans forward and places a hand on his jaw, running his thumb gently across his cheekbone. “Just so she knows you're coming in, right?”

“Right,” Will says, nodding again, but he's pretty sure Mike could've said punch her in the gut, Will, that's a huge turn on, girls love it and he would have agreed.

Mike's other hand shoots out, grabbing at his waist and pulling him in even closer, but just short of being flush up against each other. He leans in, a few inches from touching foreheads, and moves his thumb across Will's mouth. “Part your lips,” he says, his voice dropping, and Will is absolutely certain he's going to explode right there.

Mike must see the tension, because he smiles just a little. “Relax. Close your eyes,” he murmurs, breath ghosting against Will's mouth. His eyes flutter shut without any input on Will's part, because he's not in control of this anymore. He never was.

He has to stop this. He knows he has to stop this, because his heart is going to burst right out of his chest if Mike gets any closer. He has to stop this because he can feel Mike's thumb burning a hole into the corner of his mouth, and it's going to catch a blaze if it's there any longer. He has to stop this because he desperately does not want to stop it.

He doesn't stop it.

Mike's voice is just barely a whisper, throaty and raw and so close. “Then you just lean in.” And his eyes are closed but he follows Mike's guiding hand, ignores his thundering heart, and kisses Mike.

It's a slow, steady flame that starts in his chest, spreading throughout his body, warming him to his toes. Mike's lips are burning, a little chapped, slightly off center from the angle they're at, and Will can feel himself melting into them. He flings his hands out, desperate for something to hold onto, and buries them in Mike's shirt.

Mike is soft and solid, strong but not insistent against his lips. He shifts them slightly, just enough to fix their alignment, and it makes Will's every nerve alight. He's so far gone. It'd be laughable if it wasn't terrifying.

Mike pulls away, slowly, just a little, and Will opens his eyes to see him leaning back in, and he resolves to be ready. When their lips meet, he closes his eyes again, and he tightens his grip on Mike's shirt, pulling him in, pulling himself up into the kiss. He feels Mike's hand on his waist twitch, like he was about to hold on tighter before stopping himself.

All too soon, Mike pulls away again, and does not attempt to lean back in. Will blinks at him, not daring to move, choosing instead to focus on the labored rise and fall of Mike's chest underneath his fists. The hand on Will's waist twitches again, too forceful to be accidental, brushing roughly over his skin.

“See?” Mike says after they've laid there for an entire lifetime. “Just like that. It's easy.” His voice sounds stretched, thin and breathless and unbearably attractive. Will, to put it simply, is screwed. How is he supposed to go back to being friends with Mike when he knows what his lips feel like against his own, what his eyes look like that close and wide, what his breaths sound like after just a short little kiss? Mike pulls his hands back, turning his body just the slightest, and Will slowly lets his fists unravel from his shirt.

“That's it?” he asks, because it was so easy, so short and soft and simple. He was expecting something...more. Maybe something more frightening or more intimidating or more complicated.

Or maybe he just wanted to kiss Mike more.

“I-I mean, yeah, that's kissing.” Mike scrambles for the right words. “Did you...I mean.” He clears his throat, and Will catches the way his eyes glance off. “Did you, uh, not...like it?”

“No!” Will is quick to correct. “No, it's just that, um...I don't know. It's just so much more...I don't know.” He sighs, feeling frustrated with himself, and takes a moment before trying again. “I think I just thought it'd be harder. You were right. It was too easy.”

Mike laughs, and Will is suddenly so fiercely grateful they're friends.  He grins back, all at once comfortable, the awkwardness of the moment dissipating. “I told you! I knew you'd be good at it. I mean, there's, like, other kissing too, like with tongue and everything, but, uh...yeah.” He falters off at the end, but he's still smiling down at Will, soft and kind and comforting. Will's heart feels like it's going to burst.

There's a voice somewhere in Will's head screaming at him to let it end, to roll over and go to sleep and never ever mention it again. He very deliberately ignores that voice. “Yeah?” he asks, blinking up at him. It's a safe choice. It could be interpreted plenty of different ways. If Mike isn't thinking the same thing he is, well—

“Yeah,” Mike says, swallowing thickly. He's looking so carefully at Will, so laser-focused and intense. “I could...I could keep going. Show you that, too.” There's a long, heavy pause. “If you wanted me to.”

Perhaps he's so desperate to hear it that he doesn't actually expect Mike to agree, to actually want to keep kissing him. It takes him a few moments to remember that he has to answer; as though years of longing wasn't enough of a response. “I—” he nods. “Okay.” His voice is so low, barely a whisper. 

Mike moves so suddenly that Will almost misses it happening, and he finds him half hovering over him, one hand on either side of his head. He looks a little frenzied, like he's afraid he might lose his nerve, or that Will might change his mind. Still, he stops and looks down at Will for a long moment. “Ready?”

Will has never been less ready for anything in his life. He nods.

Mike leans in without any more preamble, placing his lips on Will's as chastely as before. They stay together for a moment, silent and still, until Mike finally runs a tentative tongue along Will's bottom lip. Will opens his mouth and Mike surges forward, slotting a knee between his legs and lowering himself down over top of him.

Will doesn't really know what he's doing, because Mike isn't explicitly telling him, but he's surprised to find that he's not really nervous. He lets Mike lead, lets him gently push him further, lets him nip at his lower lip, lets him fist his hands in his hair, lets him break him.

That's what this is, isn't it? A slow form of torture, one that's all the more painful because of how pleasurable it is. It's one thing to have a crush on your straight best friend, to pine from a distance and maybe think about it on dark nights, alone in your room where no one can find you. It's another to know exactly what his body feels like on top of yours, what his hands feel like in your hair, what his tongue feels like against your own, and to know you’ll never feel it again.

Because kissing Mike is the first breath he took coming back from the Upside Down. Kissing Mike is the sun on his face during summer bike rides, it's hearing his favorite song on the radio, it's beating the high score on Galaga in the arcade after weeks of trying, it's rolling a fourteen and killing the Thessalhydra at the end of a campaign. It's kissing Mike. It's coming home.

This will break him.

He's never going to be able to be his friend after this, he will never be able to go back, to pretend to be normal again. Will reaches up, wrapping his hands around the back of Mike's neck. Mike takes it as the invitation it is and lays his body weight on Will, their chests finally touching. Will heaves a short, gasping breath and makes the mistake of looking into Mike's eyes.

Will's not blind; he's seen the way Mike looks at him, a mixture of pity and adoration, the same way he looks at Mrs. Upton's puppy when he trips over his own feet. It's the way he probably looks at Holly, too. Like a little sibling. Like a friend.

Not like the way he's looking at Will now.

Mike's eyes are wide, dark and blown and staring at Will with a kind of intensity he's never seen in them. He looks hungry, insatiable. He looks like he wants. He looks like he wants Will.

His stomach swoops in the strangest way, and in a rush of confidence, it's Will who surges up to meet his lips, suddenly eager. If this was all going to end soon, fine. He would make the most of it while he could. He runs his hands along the back of Mike's neck, just lightly skimming through his hair, and he can feel the shudder that storms through his body.

They're so caught up in each other that they almost don't hear the footsteps coming towards the basement. It's just as the doorknob is turning that Mike shoots up, quickly rolling off of Will and wrapping himself back in his blanket. There's nearly three feet between them when Mike's mom opens the door and the light from the kitchen floods in.

“Boys, are you still awake?” she says, her voice a carrying whisper.

There's a long pause, broken only by their muffled breaths, before Mike responds. “Yeah, Mom?”

“I just got off the phone with your mother, Will. She says Jonathan's gonna come pick you up tomorrow at ten. Okay?”

“Okay!” Will replies, trying his best to keep his voice even. “Thanks, Mrs. Wheeler.”

“I'm going to bed. You boys need anything else?”

“No, Mom, we're good. Good night.” Mike says, sounding a little more snappish than he probably meant.

“Good night,” Will chimed. 

“Good night, boys. Sleep tight.” The light returns to the sliver underneath the door, and Will is left with a heaving chest and too many thoughts to handle.

They both lay side by side, staring at the ceiling. He waits for Mike to say something, desperate for him to. He started all of this, and Will pleads that he finds it in him to make a joke, to make it easy. Anything to break the tension, anything to calm his nerves, anything to reassure him that this hasn’t ruined their entire friendship.

Mike says nothing. Will's hands burn where he touched him. He does not make the mistake of looking into Mike’s eyes again.

A few minutes pass, enough that the silence becomes unnatural. Will stifles a sigh and rolls onto his side, suddenly exhausted. He feels Mike shift beside him, and can feel his eyes on his back.

He contemplates for a moment before finally speaking. “Well, good night, Mike.” It comes out smaller than he meant it to.

It's just a kiss.

“'Night, Will.” His voice is strained. Will refuses to think about why.

Don't make it into something it's not.

Sleep takes him quietly, and he doesn't protest.