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Sweet Dream (Saccharine)

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You can't hide a knot in the school showers.

Steve doesn't stare, or even try to catch a glimpse, but, ostensibly, every boy in his class does. Inevitably, the whole school knows by first period the next day. That's back in October.

Look. Steve's not completely unobservant. It doesn't take a fucking genius to figure out Billy Hargrove's an Alpha, either. Steve's got functional senses, and Hargrove's not exactly subtle. The hairs on the back of Steve's neck and the quiver running down the length of his spine each time his back is turned to Hargrove can attest to that.

What's harder to figure out is what's it got to do with Steve. In fact, Steve doesn't even question that it's got nothing whatsoever to do with him, because he's determined to stay as far away from Hargrove as humanly possible.

In hindsight, it really shouldn't have taken Steve that fucking long to figure out, Jesus Christ.

Like, Steve Harrington really is a fucking idiot.

*

Babysitting is, all things considered, a pretty sweet gig.

Steve's face is healing up all right, consequently parents are more willing to leave their prepubescent offspring in his care. And it's not as if Steve has any plans, after everything's said and done with Nancy.

Tommy and Carol pretty much avoid him at school, and Steve doesn't bother reigniting whatever trashcan fire of a friendship that could turn into again. He has a standing movie night with Dustin that the other kids always seem to crash, so it's whatever.

Out of the corner of his eye and in glimpses is the only way he looks at Hargrove these days. After That Night, basketball turns tame, at least for their standards. They hardly share any classes. When Steve sees him across the school, he walks on and tells himself he doesn't care about Billy Hargrove.

It's the first week of school back after winter break that really fucks everything up.

It's shaping up to be a harsher January than they've had for a while in Hawkins, so it's no surprise even California-bred asshole Billy Hargrove has decided denim on denim just won't cut it anymore. What is surprising is that he seems to be lingering by Steve's locker. For no apparent reason. First thing on a Tuesday morning.

"May I help you?" Steve says by way of a greeting. Hargrove's now effectively blocking access to his locker. It makes it harder to actively ignore him.

He's got a woolly scarf on, Steve notices. It fluffs around his curly blond hair, which gives him the impression of having a halo around his head. It's off-putting, to say the least.

"Well, if it isn't my old buddy Steve." After months of little to no contact, his smirk reminds Steve of a shark's grin.

This all bodes as badly as getting a plate to the skull. Steve should know.

"Doesn't answer my question," Steve points out. He's got class in five minutes and very little patience.

He watches Hargrove's nostrils flare, but no other reaction is forthcoming, so Steve wearily steps closer, hands jammed in his coat pockets, and vaguely wonders what he ever did to have Billy Hargrove as a nemesis. Probably breathe too loudly in his general direction.

Truth be told, the guy's been more prone towards actively ignoring Steve since That Night, if no less pushy on the basketball court. Steve wishes he could return the favour, but Hargrove certainly doesn't make it easy sometimes.

Case in point: Instead of, you know, making an effort not to waste Steve's time, he decides to plant his feet.

Steve sighs long-sufferingly. "Don't get me wrong," he says. "This is fun and all, but I've got a late bell to beat, buddy."

Either Hargrove's really bad at taking a hint, or Steve's kind of awful at giving them out. Probably both.

"Funny, Harrington," he says, tonguing at his upper lip obnoxiously. "You're real funny, pal."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Steve seriously doesn't have time for this shit.

"Right," he says. He doesn't really need his copy of Hamlet, right? "Well, this has been... whatever the opposite of fun is, turns out. Be seeing you, Hargrove," and he swivels on his feet and walks away down the hallway, definitely late now.

Hargrove grabs at the crook of an elbow just as the late bell finally rings, and turns him right around. For a moment there, Steve's reminded of That Night, fingers itching to throw a punch. It fizzles when he takes a good look at Hargrove, because whatever's up is making the guy flush as if he's feverish and in desperate need of sitting down.

"What's up?" If it sounds cautious, then that's because Steve wouldn't put it past Hargrove to throw a punch in school.

He's expecting more straightforward bullshit, but Hargrove stares somewhere over his left shoulder and, for once, shuts the fuck up. He looks at Steve's eyes then, shifts his sight from one eye to another, either looking for something Steve cannot for the life of him parse, or stalling, which is equally confusing.

"Sorry for smashing in your face and whatever," he finally says.

Steve bites the inside of his right cheek before a bray of laughter can escape, but the impulse is definitely there.

"Excuse you?" Because it's fucked up. Steve can't be the only one aware of this.

A flash of anger briefly crosses Hargrove's face before it fizzles out. "You heard me."

"I'm not sure I did," Steve gets out. "I can only assume you've been abducted by aliens and replaced with a pod person."

"Real funny, Harrington. You're on a roll this morning." For an instant, it looks as if the anger's back, but it turns out to be just annoyance, which Steve can handle just fine, especially.when he's had enough of Hargrove.

"I'm really not. Just very late and very confused." He doesn't know why he hasn't tried to walk off again. He should leave Hargrove hanging, consequences be damned. The distinct lack of kitchen plates on hand is encouraging, though.

"Just. Can you. Just take the fucking apology, all right?" Hargrove huffs, as if Steve's being intentionally obtuse here.

"Oh, all right then," he mocks. He can't help it when Hargrove's being a pain.

This whole thing is so goddamn weird, mainly because Steve can't quite explain to himself why precisely he's arguing this so vehemently. Except for the fact that he's one hundred percent sure Hargrove has never apologised to someone and meant it in his life. It's so out of character that Steve has to expect a trap, can't be sure there's no hole in the ground for him to fall through, and he suddenly finds himself keenly grateful the halls are empty and they're doing this completely out of earshot.

"All right, all right" he says at Hargrove's furious expression. He raises his arms, palms upwards in a placating gesture. "Apology accepted, I guess." If he sounds sceptical, then good; this shit is weird.

"Is it?" Hargrove throws right back. It's mocking on the surface, but there's this undercurrent Steve can't quite figure out. If he didn't know any better, he'd think Hargrove was nervous. It's laughable to consider.

Steve blinks slowly, then says, "Absolutely." He sounds vaguely relieved to his own ears.

However, he does notice the metaphorical cloud of heavy, dark rain always hovering above Hargrove's head seems to have lifted momentarily. His body loosens, as if he's just as relieved about it all. As if it matters that Steve's accepted his apology.

From Steve's experience, things in life have the tendency to either go all bright, rosy pink or dark, ominous black. Things with Billy Hargrove never even remotely tended towards the former, but rather a dishevelled grey, if even that. Maybe on a neutral day. Currently, a smear of colour seems to be rearing its curious head, and that just makes it all even more confusing for Steve, who'd prefer not to believe the punk who punched his face in has layers or some shit.

Next thing Steve knows, his mouth is uttering the words, "You could, uh. My parents are out of town, and. Big house. We could... hang," he finishes lamely. And is promptly horrified with himself. He makes an admirable recovery by waiting out Hargrove for a reaction instead of setting himself on fire or running away like he initially intended.

Hargrove blinks slowly. Says, "It's a Tuesday." Steve doesn't see the relevance, and says so.

For ten very long seconds Hargrove stares him down. Steve plants his feet and says nothing, waits him out some more. It's a nifty trick.

"House at the end of Maple, right? Dead end street?" Hargrove finally says, all the while looking him up and down consideringly. Almost impressed. Maybe amused. Maybe something else, too.

Steve swallows compulsively a few times, suddenly parched. "You got it." Doesn't correct him that it's called a cul-de-sac. The punch this time would be justifiable.

So they hang that first night by Steve's heated pool for the first hour, then head inside when it gets way too cold to stay outdoors anymore.

To be perfectly honest, Steve's vaguely in shock for the first half hour or so that Hargrove even fucking showed up. Even more shocked with himself that he's not that tempted to bring up Billy's apology when everything gets mellow and alcohol-fuelled. He'd been itching to corner Hargrove in school throughout the day and demand... something. An explanation. An excuse.

They go through two six-packs in just under four hours and share Billy's pack of cigs between them. Steve might lose track of time at some point, but Billy's tape of Love at First Sting plays in the background all the while, Steve counting out how many times they switch the sides, keeping track beyond the clock's hands. Billy takes it out altogether after another side A ends. The silence in its wake is a cacophonous sound almost, sudden and dissonant in the space between them. Billy grabbing his jacket is weirdly startling.

The whole evening's really fucking weird, but Steve's too buzzed by the time Billy leaves to actually care. He's seen weirder, after all.

Thinking it over later, heavy head snuggled into his pillow, Steve's surprised by how much it wasn't a boring time. Like, if they're not barking out insults, it should be boring, right? Smoking cigarette after cigarette without saying much of anything, silently looking out into the trees and out onto the pool's water. The low-level buzz of the booze and the floaty feeling of inhaling and exhaling cigarette smoke for hours. It was a good burn. He feels it still when he finally drifts off.

At one point, Steve's pretty sure, Billy laughed at Steve's taste in records. It was too genuine of a sound to happen in the Harrington house, sudden and short, like a sharp crack in an empty forest, echoing from wall to wall. Like an unexpected guest. Steve is thinking about how he hates the sound of it, just a little, but then he's nodding off fast, sure to wake up with a hangover on a Wednesday, so it doesn't really matter.

And that's that, it seems, as cold as fuck January turns into a weirdly mild February.

And it's not like they're friends, Jesus Christ. Just because Billy isn't lashing out every time Steve's in his general vicinity isn't, like. Just. It's whatever. Nothing to do with Steve. The guy's less obviously an asshole to him. So fucking what.

It's been building up into a real stalemate for months, as far as school and basketball goes, and Steve feels himself gradually loosening up all through his body. It's a process. Billy drops off Max without much fuss, picks her up without a word, just a rush of cigarette smoke mingling with the Camaro's exhaust each and every time. It's whatever.

When it first comes up, it's the day before Valentine's Day. It's a Wednesday. Nothing good ever happens on a Wednesday.

Generally speaking, he's not particularly keen to unpack anymore of the bullshit with Nancy, but Dustin had gushed about her and the Snow Ball for weeks afterwards, and Steve has too much of a soft spot for those dipshits to not at least try being civil outside of impending mortal danger. He joins her and Jonathan for lunch most weekdays now, as if that's just another thing Steve Harrington does. Nancy is a decent person, and the only bullshit here is how much Steve's really not. He always gives Jonathan his pudding as a compromise, or maybe a peace offering.

It's a Wednesday, and Steve hasn't seen Billy floating around school all week. He's been excused from gym and practice, and Tommy had been saying something about detention around a proud smirk. As if Billy's bad boy persona was his own doing. Steve had spent ten minutes with his head under the water and exited the showers to an empty locker room.

Jonathan is pushing his sandwich wrapper to the side and grabbing a spoon when the seat next to Steve gets taken over by Billy with the biggest shit-eating grin he's ever seen. The denim seems to be joyfully back and the crisp, fresh smell of late winter lingers around him.

"Wheeler. Harrington," Billy says, looking at Jonathan pointedly. "Byers, I need to borrow your English notes "

Jonathan has that confused deer caught in the headlights who's also a broody teenager look on his face. "Um."

"Pretty please?" Billy says, blue eyes all big, grin still firmly in place. Like this, he makes it seems as if it's one great, big joke, and maybe it still is, Steve muses.

That throws Jonathan off enough for him to say, "Sure?"

Billy smirks obnoxiously and says, "Knew I could count on you, Byers."

"What happened?" Steve hears himself ask. "I mean, Tommy was saying you got detention and all."

Billy finally half-turns to glance in his direction. Says, "I was a naughty boy. You know how it is, Harrington." There's an odd lack of inflection in his words Steve's not sure he either gets or likes.

Steve blinks. "Detention sucks," he says lamely.

A little absently he says, "Sure does, buddy. Byers?"

"All right, I guess." And reaches for his bag, reluctantly forks over a couple of crumpled papers.

Billy snatches them gleefully. "I'll drop them off by your locker by first bell tomorrow."

"Sure. Whatever," Jonathan says, already picking up his spoon again, Billy half out of the chair.

"What sort of detention takes place during school?" Nancy asks sceptically.

"Mine does," Billy says, tongue between the edges of his teeth, expression mocking. His eyes are hard again.

Then he's gone. Steve stares after his retreating back. He doesn't quite know what to do with his hands and plays with his own empty sandwich wrapper. First time in months he wishes he had his pudding in front of him.

He expects that to be that, but. "He's always so obvious about it," Nancy tsks, apropos of nothing.

"I don't know... At least it's honest," Jonathan mutters consideringly into his pudding.

"Hmm. Yes, perhaps. That's... acceptable. Right now, I mean. Not that I'm a Purist, obviously, but he's toned it down some, at least."

"Still a lot to... handle," Jonathan adds. And stares pointedly at Steve, who's honestly very much lost.

"Uh, you lost me?" It's good to verbalise the confusion, he's learnt.

Nancy gives him a faint, troubled glance. She and Jonathan make eye contact for a long moment, and when she looks back at Steve it's merely with slight confusion.

"Hargrove," she starts, but stops abruptly. Steve blinks. Something in his chest is thrumming.

"What about him?" All of a sudden, he's focused on looking anywhere but at either Nancy or Jonathan.

"Uh, Steve?" He looks up at her, but she's quiet for a few seconds which feel more like hours.

His temples start pounding, on the verge of a headache, but he waits her out. He's good at that.

Then she says, "You know Hargrove's all." Stops. "I mean, I know you wouldn't be able to tell, but he's putting out a lot of... signals?"

She ends it on a question, but Steve's not quite sure what she's asking. He swallows and glances away. It hangs in the air between them, joining all the other unspoken truths in an awkward little dance only Steve can see. Because they obviously don't talk about it after that, because Steve doesn't want to hear it.

It's none of his business, after all. Nothing about Billy Hargrove is his business.

It's the worst kind of silence, though, because there's nothing to say which wouldn't spiral into Steve making Hargrove his business when they're not even friends, and the rest of his day is kind of a blur of repetitive thoughts which go nowhere fast.

Next morning, he gets up much too early for school, speeds the Beamer to get there well before the bell rings. He's clearly not thinking things through.

He stumbles awkwardly down the empty school halls just as Billy's approaching Jonathan's locker. Watches him spit out a curse and fumble with Jonathan's notes.

All things being equal, Steve might just be lacking in the self-preservation department as a whole. Like, people should innately veto poking a tiger with a stick, right? Steve, meanwhile, is looking for a bigger stick more often than not. That would certainly explain quite a lot of the utter bullshit of the last couple of years. Billy Hargrove is certainly the biggest fucking tiger Steve could hope to find.

Having pushed Jonathan's notes into his locker, Billy turns just as Steve's gearing up to either say something fucking stupid or run the fuck away. His mouth hangs awkwardly half-open, and he settles on an ungainly, "Hargrove." And then walks up to him. Stops right on the cusp of too close.

He's never seen Hargrove truly confused before. Never seen him recover so quickly into sarcasm and aggression, either. "Am I dreaming?" he snarks back.

Steve might be hallucinating. "Not so much, no."

Billy cocks a hip, plays with the edge of the book he's holding. Just fingers the spine absently while looking Steve up and down. "Bit early for you, isn't it?"

Which is fair. Steve's been known to speed the Beamer into the parking lot in full view of the whole school just as the late bell's about to ring. He's stopped giving a shit about that sort of thing after thwacking a bunch of rampaging Hell creatures coming straight at him with a spiked baseball bat. But that's neither here nor there.

Thing is, Steve would have had a comeback at the ready if only he had thought things through. Which he clearly hasn't.

Things is, he used to be fairly good at that, back when he was smooth and snarky and kind of a bigger asshole than every other person he knew. But that was back when he was in control, or seemingly so, of the situations he was walking into. This was back when he understood what the fuck he was even doing. Now it just seems to be one wrong step in front of another, for the most part, and everything spiralling down into more bullshit he's not sure he can handle, and Billy Hargrove being a dick because he can.

Maybe he really is hallucinating. Like, for one wild moment, he seriously considers he might be the one who's dreaming, has been dreaming up something that just isn't there. He thinks back to watching Billy's hands changing the sides on a tape. Feels the ghostly buzz of beer and cigarettes on a chilly January evening.

Steve doesn't want to look at him. "Yeah, thought I'd catch up with you," he says, glancing around nervously and curling his lip as if it's all the same to him. He's making absolutely no sense.

Billy gives him a long, unreadable look.

Dizzily, Steve watches him and watches for a reaction he knows must be coming, eyes wide open and maybe like they'll be sore later if he doesn't blink soon. Billy swallows heavily. Shakes his head and says, "What are you doing, Harrington?"

"Nothing." Billy stares him down, and Steve winces. "I don't know, OK?" His gaze flits around. It's too early for anyone else to casually walk by, but he has that prickling underneath the skin like he has too many pairs of eyes on him all at once.

"Damn right you don't." Billy moves to the side, and maybe like he's going to walk away in a moment, which Steve absolutely does not want.

"Look, I think it's been established we're capable of not killing each other. So, like, let's just—"

Billy snorts. "What? Be buddy-buddy all of a sudden?" It starts out mocking, but turns into a growl, Billy pushing into his space, lashing out. He gets right into Steve's face with the speed of a rolling thunderstorm in summer. Steve doesn't stand a chance.

To his complete surprise, violence doesn't swiftly follow. His cheeks itch with the lack of impact. Billy sort of just... deflates.

The little anger which had crawled to the surface fizzles out visibly, leaving Steve staring into Billy's tired eyes. Like it wasn't so much anger caught between them as exhaustion and whatever comes with it. Frustration maybe. Jarringly, Billy backs off a moment later, steps back to a more socially-acceptable distance.

For the longest seconds of Steve's life, Billy stares right through him. Then he's standing straighter, eyes back into focus once more. He scoffs, dismissive. All like, "See you later, pal." Struts right past Steve, too casual.

Which, if Steve were not in the business of poking tigers with sticks, would be that.

But since he's just that fucking stupid, he reaches out for the crook of Hargrove's elbow, turns him seemingly through sheer force of will and, like, inertia or whatever. To his surprise, Hargrove lets himself be manoeuvred around, turns it into a skidding halt so they're facing each other again with Hargrove looming over him.

Only Hargrove's back isn't to the lockers anymore. Steve's the one who could be cornered now. Is cornered, back to the wall. He pushes himself up into Hargrove under the guise of keeping his voice down. Being inconspicuous.

It's not fooling anyone. Billy sneers meanly. "You playing tough today, princess?"

"I'm not playing... anything," Steve huffs in frustration.

Billy steps towards him, right into his space. "Shit, you must really like trouble, huh, Harrington?" he says, hot breath drifting over Steve's face. It's spearmint and tobacco. Steve hates it, makes him flush all over, red burning across the bridge of his nose. Like an August grassfire at sundown. He jerks back, bumping into the row of lockers behind him.

Steve's pulse is racing. Hargrove laughs sharply, a sound like a flailing whip. But the moment's brief. Right after his expression shifts back to that not-quite anger from before, only with even less of an edge. Not mean anymore, just sort of lost.

As if the only reason he's lashing out is because Steve is pushing and pushing and pushing.

Steve's hands clench at his sides. Remember when you used to be smooth, Harrington?

But it's true that he keeps inexpertly pushing, and he doesn't quite know why. It's as if their roles have switched. Hargrove first came on as strong as a hurricane, pushing into every aspect of Steve's life without concern. Now they're at some sort of standstill, have been for months before Billy fucking apologised, and it's all turned into Steve pushing for something he can't quite name. Nancy's words swim around his head, but it's all a series of nonsense thoughts which can't go anywhere without Steve getting his face punched in again.

"Yeah, didn't think so," Hargrove sneers, and Steve lets him walk off this time.

Something like embarrassment stings the bridge of Steve's nose and the corners of his eyes. Hargrove can be such an asshole. It's a good thing Steve doesn't really care. It's none of his business. It's whatever. Fuck.

"Fuck," he mutters.

Thursdays definitely fucking suck. And he's still got class for the day. Fuck.

Needless to say, he doesn't hear a word any of his teachers utter. No one calls on him. He doesn't see Hargrove around school either, but he does bump into Jonathan several times, though that's because he detours past his locker like a dumbass. He's late to every single class that day.

Basketball isn't working for him today, it seems. After practice, Hargrove comes out of the showers in a cloud of steam, wearing the nastiest smirk on his face and a towel barely hanging off his hips, and flicks water at Steve's head, who's still in his gym clothes rifling through his locker for a clean shirt to change into, if he ever manages to leave the locker room. It's been one thing after another, and he's definitely running late again, what with Tommy being an especially large pain in the ass and Coach chewing him out for missing three passes in a row. Worst luck. And, worst of all, Hargrove's smirk makes him feel mocked and out of place.

They don't sit together for lunch, because why would they, but he thinks he sees shiny blond hair and the glint of too much jewellery somewhere to the left of Nancy's head.

Yeah, Thursdays definitely suck, too.

After lunch he jerks his locker open and finds himself instantly angry, mostly with himself. That clench of embarrassment in his gut he seldom used to feel before he became an utter loser burns uncomfortably. He dumps his books in unceremoniously before heading out.

The expanse of parking lot is an endless sea. Steve's never seen the ocean, but he imagines it's not very different looking out into a nothingness of pure water as into the nothingness of Hawkins, Indiana. The Beamer sits there, a bit lonely-looking by itself. Steve shakes his head at himself and makes his way over, gets in and drives himself home in silence. Another weekend to look forward to where his parents are away, and it cannot come soon enough.

Friday's just as boring as ever. Steve barely pays any attention to anything anyone says to him, with the exception of Nancy and Jonathan, and that's only after Nancy says his name about a dozen times from across the lunch table.

The new John Hughes is playing at the Hawk that weekend, he finds out. Steve must be giving off the worst loser vibes in the history of Hawkins if Nancy and Jonathan feel compelled to ask him to join them. They don't let him excuse himself to get to homeroom early until he confirms he's gonna meet them at the Hawk on Saturday. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

It's habit now to take the long way to his locker, after only a couple of days. A gaggle of girls is trailing Hargrove down the corridor coming from the opposite direction, and a few of them stick around while he dumps his books in his locker and grabs some notes for the following class. Something in Steve's chest is clenching and unclenching at he stares shamelessly. No one pays him any mind.

He thinks about the fringe of Hargrove's eyelashes against his cheeks when he was downing Steve's beer by Steve's pool, on Steve's couch, watching the trees and the water, the same songs playing over and over again. The thought makes Steve's skin grow hot, his heart run a little faster. He stares straight ahead and walks right on past.

Homeroom doesn't turn out to be the distraction Steve assumed it would be, but he's got a whole damn weekend looming ahead, Billy Hargrove-free.

In hindsight, it's a wonder how wrong Steve can be sometimes. Like, how can someone be so fucking wrong all the time?

*

Predictably, come Saturday, he's the very obvious third wheel on Nancy and Jonathan's date. But he finds he doesn't care as much as he thought he would. He spends the previews flinging popcorn at Jonathan's ear over Nancy's head and Jonathan shares his cherry slushie anyway, so it's objectively not all bad.

The movie's pretty packed, and they linger before exiting the cinema to avoid the crowd at the door, which is why there's basically no one around when they bump into Billy Hargrove out onto the sidewalk.

Steve either has the shittiest timing, or the universe is out to ruin his life. Jury's out on that one, unless it's both. It's probably both, though.

"Alpha Steve and his two omegas. What a surprise," Hargrove smirks, wagging his tongue obnoxiously between his teeth in that infuriating way he has.

Or maybe just the one asshole ruining Steve's life. He's staring, all zeroed in on Steve, letting his gaze linger over Steve's face, even though both Nancy and Jonathan are flanking him.

"Watch it, Hargrove," he says curtly.

"Or what, King Steve?"

"Hargrove, can you not?"

His eyes don't shift from Steve's. "Wasn't talking to you, Wheeler," he snaps.

"Obviously not." And Nancy rolls her eyes all whatever, grabs Jonathan's arm at the elbow, and is like, "See you later, Steve," before walking off in the direction of Tiffany's Kitchen, dragging Jonathan behind her, who waves cautiously over his shoulder in Steve's general direction.

So much for friendship. Nancy is clearly a traitor.

What happens next doesn't really make sense. As in, one moment Steve is standing in the street in front of the Hawk with Billy Hargrove of all people, all on a Saturday afternoon. And next thing he knows he's leaning against the driver's side door of the Camaro, his own car parked two blocks up in the opposite direction, Hargrove lingering in his space.

Steve knows-knows how he got there, as in he scoffed in the general direction of Hargrove's face, called out a goodbye for Nancy and Jonathan, and started walking off in self-defence against the bullshit coming out of Billy's mouth. It's a natural sequence of events, all things considered.

"Didn't think I'd find you here," Hargrove muses. "You seemed busy," he adds. Utter nonsense, confirmed by his accompanying shit-eating grin.

"None of your business, Hargrove." Steve feels like this needs to be pointed out at any available opportunity.

"Isn't it?" It sounds like a genuine question, which throws Steve off, serves only to confuse him further. Has him hesitating, and it's a little hesitation, a too long beat between one action and the next, but it's enough to unsettle him.

He tries to turn towards the direction of his own car, but doesn't actually start walking away, too thrown-off. As in, he's leaning against Camaro's front bumper when he says, "Thought we weren't buddies. What happened?"

"Thought it through," Billy says, looking him up and down, expression hard to read.

"Hope you didn't strain yourself, Hargrove." It doesn't quite land, as insults go.

Hargrove smirks unpleasantly. "You're funny, King Steve."

"Can you just not call me that?" It's more of a rhetorical question at this stage, but it's good to make a point of it, if only for Steve's own benefit. Like, he wants it on the record, which is ridiculous.

"I'll think about it," which sounds like a no. But then Billy's like, "Pity to hog such prime real estate." Pause. "Big house, shit taste in music. Real pity," he drags out.

Which is about when Steve realises he's backed into the door of the Camaro again, snug against the metal and glass, with Hargrove's right arm casually leaning above Steve's shoulder. The car's side view mirror is digging into Steve's right hip.

"Is that right?" he says. His breath rasps in his throat, mouth too dry. Hargrove's left eyebrow cocks obnoxiously as he stares him up and down, up and down, gaze drifting lower with each pass.

Steve's lips are chapped. He's instantly and startlingly aware of his. He swipes his tongue over his bottom lip instinctively and watches as Billy's eyes track the movement. Watches as Billy's eyes go wide and he steps away from Steve, backs off clearing his throat, right arm dropping at his side. Steve flushes, breath catching, and he tries to come up with something to say, but all the words going through his head are dangerous.

"You got anything going on?" Hargrove finally says after an awkward beat, words scraping together harshly, expression not giving anything away.

"What makes you think I'm about to waste my time with you, Hargrove?" It's a bluff. Steve's startlingly bad at it.

"Real pity," Billy echoes his earlier words. Doesn't really answer Steve's question. "You look like you've got time to waste." Yeah, the asshole knows damn well it's a bluff. "I've got some time to waste, too," he counters.

"Do you now?"

It's a Saturday afternoon. Yeah, Steve's got some time to waste, too.

"Yeah," Billy says thickly, "I do." He's drifted back into Steve's space. It's the opposite of cautious, Steve thinks wildly. "You smoke?" This close, Steve can see Billy's pupils are almost completely black, lashes fanning obscenely against his cheeks when he blinks. A lot of people would find it hard not to stare.

Steve's parents are gone for the weekend. Hell, they're gone through most of next week. February is always a busy month. It somehow always comes down to Steve barely catching even a glimpse of them all month long. He used to have people over to drink his beer and swim in his pool first chance he got. Now he's got Billy Hargrove inviting himself over to get high.

"Smoking up with you is, like, the worst idea anyone's ever had ever, and, believe you me, there's been plenty of awful ones lately," he gets out. Only lately everything's been pretty quiet on the supernatural front. But the sentiment still stands.

"Come on, Harrington," he says, leaning further in. Practically whispers, "Waste some time with me."

Steve opens his mouth and closes it back up. Something warm and brittle settles in his belly, like a firecracker about to go off. His face feels like it's burning up. A side-eye to the front of the Hawk confirms they're pretty much alone now, the street the kind of deserted small towns tend to get. The Beamer is one of a handful of cars parked up and across the street from them. Without another word Billy steps back to leave most of the sidewalk between him. It's a little bit like whiplash. Steve still can't quite read him as he reaches into his back pocket for his cigarettes, pulls one out casually.

Several moments pass, during which Steve thinks that it's all over once again, they're both gonna walk away. But no. Billy stands his ground, unlit cigarette clamped between his lips, just waiting. Waiting Steve out.

Steve rolls his eyes. Something about the situation shifts in an instant, starts to read just like when Steve used to talk himself in and out of anything he damn well pleased. Like he could go either way right now, and still strut to his car confident he made the right choice.

And it's just what he needs, right? A relaxing afternoon of power games and potential property damage, all within the comfort of his own house. Hears himself say, "Yeah, all right," anyway.

Steve drives home behind the Camaro. It's the most conspicuous he could be, if only anyone were actually out and about. Small towns, man.

It's only a little overcast for mid-February. They get out of their respective cars at the same time, then share a look over Hargrove's shoulder. Steve thinks there's something unsure there, but he ignores the shiver in his belly to walk right on past the Camaro, up to his front door. He doesn't wait for Hargrove to fall in step behind him. Instinctively, he knows he will. Maybe he is King Steve after all, but that's a stupid fucking thought to have when his footing's all shaken up with each step he takes.

Hargrove is definitely right behind him while he's unlocking his front door, but he stops once Steve's pocketing his keys and pushing on the handle. Footsteps slowly move away from him, and it shouldn't be as unsettling as it suddenly is. Then total silence for too long. Steve swallows shallowly. He glances down his own front hallway illuminated by the weak winter sun, listens to the footsteps hesitantly moving up to him, and Billy Hargrove is back in his space. Crowding him on his own front stoop. Then Billy's turning him by the crook of his elbow.

"Wait up," he says before Steve can speak or protest or ask any questions.

"What?" They're toe to toe.

"Wait for me, pretty boy," he says, expression inscrutable.

Then Billy jogs to the Camaro and back while Steve stands there, waiting and watching him. When he makes it back he holds out a tape, which Steve makes out once they're shoulder to shoulder. Lovedrive. Steve is one hundred percent not surprised at all.

"No shit?" Steve says, all sardonic, drawing out the vowels.

"No shit," Hargrove replies, showing his canines. Steve wonders.

Animals do that in the wild, right? They show their teeth to assert dominance or some crap like that. Alpha Billy Hargrove trying to get Steve to show his belly, because that's what they're supposed to do. Right? Only Hargrove chases the gesture with a slow glance down Steve's torso and back. Steve doesn't know what that is, or whether Hargrove knows he's doing it at all.

He leads the way inside, with a detour for a six-pack, because dealing with Billy Hargrove requires a cold one at the very least. Vaguely, Steve considers hanging by the pool again. It is, after all, a sought-after attraction at House Harrington.

They end up smoking up perched on Steve's bed instead, Steve right at the edge and facing the window, Billy leaning against the headboard and already making himself comfortably at home. A slow roll of smoke drifts from the cherry and engulfs them more and more each time they pass it from one to the other. Sweet, pungent smoke surrounds them after just a few tokes.

Billy's tape is playing on Steve's cassette deck. Steve's not sure if he likes this one more than Love at First Sting yet. They're on the end chords of the third song on side A, which he's pretty sure he's never heard on the radio before, not even once, when he impulsively reaches over to rewind it. He does it twice more before Billy flicks Steve's right shoulder with the back of the hand holding the blunt. It's a quick movement, and then he's back to leaning against Steve's headboard.

"Jesus, Harrington! You're gonna wear out the tape," he snaps. He looks out Steve's window, then, frowning. Chews on his plump lower lip distractedly.

"Take a chill pill, Hargrove," Steve replies. Is all like, "They're meant to be played over and over, you know," at Billy's pissy look. Which is also, like, factual.

Billy huffs, probably because he knows Steve's right, which is... not what Steve was expecting. Like, he doesn't lash out, which Steve privately believes is definite progress. Progress towards what? Maybe being, like, a human being. Steve doesn't quite know, can never be sure where anything with Billy Hargrove is headed, but something like awe or wonder is crawling underneath Steve's skin at the prospect.

Steve is not the brightest tool in the shed, though. Or the sharpest crayon in the box. Whatever. Point is, he's been knocked off his feet before, the storm hitting out of nowhere. The pot dulls the jittery feeling of anticipation until he can finally believe it's not headed towards anything other than them hanging on Steve's bed, passing a blunt between them.

Then it's just Steve watching as tension palpably leaves Billy's frame as he inhales slowly and then breathes out, so there's that. Steve glances his way each time he's exhaling his own plume of smoke to watch Billy inhale deeply and hold it. It all feels like hours, but it's probably been minutes, half an hour at the most. The light hasn't changed outside. Billy flicks the cherry out after another toke, then pulls out a second blunt. They haven't touched their beers yet, both cracked open and forgotten on the floor by the bed.

He loses track of how many times he rewinds to "Always Somewhere".

He lets the rest of the tape play out eventually, switches sides appropriately, before Billy flicks out the second blunt and says, "Fries and milkshakes."

"What?" His head feels as if it's filled with television static. Hard to focus on the meaning of Billy's words, as if they both make sense and don't.

"You heard me, Harrington. Fries and milkshakes." He gives Steve a look as he's sitting up. He takes his car keys out of his pocket and throws them up in the air, catching them easily. "I'm driving," he adds, all matter-of-fact. Then he's out the door as Steve's getting up front the bed.

For another ten seconds Steve stands dumbly in the middle of his bedroom. Then he follows Billy down the stairs and out the door. Like, what else is he supposed to do? He chooses to consciously ignore the voice in his head screaming out his options in this, because he's that fucking stupid and they're way past that point by now.

They really shouldn't drive off in Billy's Camaro, which is a car which definitely stands out in Hawkins, Indiana, but Billy's like, "I could give a shit," putting the car into reverse, tyres squealing, so Steve doesn't either. He says it without looking at Steve, and maybe Steve's the only one who gets why they shouldn't, but he doesn't think so.

They drive by Tiffany's Kitchen, but don't head into the parking lot. To Steve's surprise, they park by the Palace and grab a booth in the crappy diner part of the arcade that's maybe its own thing if you squint.

The high starts to wear off, not unpleasantly, just as they finish their first basket of fries. They order two more by the time they leave, by which time Steve is undoubtedly completely sober. Billy pointedly pays for the fries and his own milkshake and Steve's Coke, but then says,"It's your treat next time, pretty boy."

And Steve watches him sit straighter, Billy locking eyes with him in that aggressive way he has. Watches his spine arch, shoulders shifting back. Steve wants to bear his own neck. Instead, he agrees it's his treat next time.

*

Steve spends all of Sunday watching reruns, mostly Scooby-Doo. He's still got Billy's tape. Billy's right; he's probably gonna wear it out.

Monday is Presidents' Day. He crashes on the couch and watches Dynasty and infomercials for most of the day. Seeing as Steve totally counts as parental supervision now, the boys drop by after six to watch Nightmare on Elm Street on VHS, Max conspicuously absent.

"Weird family shit," Lucas explains between bites of popcorn. He doesn't seem worried, so Steve doesn't worry. Not as much as he would otherwise.

Then it's Tuesday morning. Time to get up. Time for breakfast. Time for school. Steve checks the mail out of habit. The sameness of another day in Hawkins, Indiana, never used to bother him, his parents unsurprisingly not at home, big house all to himself.

He and Billy don't cross paths at school, Steve earning himself laps during the first half of gym class and Billy getting called to the office for the rest, and the Camaro's gone by the time Steve makes it to the parking lot. For the longest second of his life Steve seriously considers driving around Hawkins in the hopes of spotting Billy and the Camaro.

Like he's lovesick.

Like Billy's an omega whose scent Steve's caught, and he's got it bad.

Like he's pathetic.

What's the shelf life on desperate loser?

The moment passes. Steve is playing babysitter again anyway. He picks up Dustin, Mike and Lucas after school, Will being out with a cold, and drives them to the arcades. It's not as if they made plans, he and Billy. It's only Tuesday.

The Camaro is already in front of the Palace. Figures. Billy's dropping off Max just as Steve's Beamer pulls into the parking lot, but the Camaro doesn't speed off right away, as Steve expects it to. The engine seems to idle before the car stops completely and Billy gets out to loiter by the front bumper. Steve parks and the kids spill out in a cacophony of voices and laughter, not even waiting for Steve to ask if they're all right with him getting them in a couple of hours. Dragon's Lair waits for no man, Steve's found.

If Steve's The Party's babysitter, then what does that make Billy? He seemingly dutifully drives Max to and from the arcade as many afternoons per week as the kids decide to meet up. He doesn't know how things stand between Billy and Max, but if Dustin and the boys aren't concerned, then it's none of Steve's business, and Max can take care of herself against her older step-brother. Steve's heard what went down after he got knocked out in November from multiple sources. And it's not as if it's even Steve's place to interfere, all as long as Billy is keeping it civil. Steve now knows he has a line.

Steve stares straight ahead out his windshield, Beamer idling. Billy's looking his way, but he can't read his expression, though maybe it's something approaching anticipation. Billy waiting for him again. It's hard to tell with the physical distance, but maybe that's why Billy's showing anything at all. Steve takes a deep breath and gets out of the car.

Billy's fiddling with an unlit cigarette when Steve reaches him.

"What's up?"

"You hungry, pretty boy?" Billy says. It sounds casual; it's somehow not. They were here three days ago, though, but then they'd been passing grass and the kids weren't inside.

"Sure," Steve says. Billy leads the way. Steve tries not to think, Steve Harrington and Billy Hargrove are being civil to each other for all of Hawkins to see.

They have to pass through the part of the Palace which houses the actual arcades to get to the small diner portion. As if they could be any less inconspicuous.

Billy's not looking his way when he asks, "Your treat, pretty boy?"

Steve eyes him for a moment. "Yeah, my treat."

So it turns out Steve's buying. If he squints and suspends his disbelief it sounds like a date. It's a dangerous thought to have.

You order and pay at the counter in this place, despite the retro aesthetic indicating a waitress on roller skates might be coming from around a corner any minute now to take your order. It's, like, nostalgia or some shit. Steve kinda digs it.

"Root beer float," Billy says.

"Are you turning into a character from Archie Comics or something?" Steve asks sceptically.

Billy only smirks obnoxiously, showing his teeth right at the end.

Steve's the most confused he's ever been in his life, but buys it for him after all, and a chocolate and vanilla milkshake on top of that. He's tempted to get a burger with everything for himself, but settles on fries again as a less messy option. He tries not to linger on that thought for too long.

They sit across from each other while Billy sips loudly from his straw. They're the only patrons, the music down low, a generic Motown sort of beat to every song. Steve sits there munching on fries and watching Billy Hargrove chug melted milkshake. Tries not to stare with wide, eager eyes. He's unclear what they talk about after the fact, but is left with the vague impression of Billy trying to run his mouth, as always, like every nonsense thought is worth arguing with Steve over.

"You might just be the lamest person in this town," Billy decrees, then follows it up with a loudly nasty last few pulls from his straw to drink down the dregs of his milkshake. Steve could argue this point, but Billy's eyes aren't hard like they usually are, so it's whatever. Steve's maybe learning to leave shit alone, especially when it comes to Billy Hargrove. And, anyway, he'd rather go check on these losers he's supposedly babysitting, make sure they're not digging holes in the ground looking for trouble.

"I'm gonna check if Dustin's ready to go," he says while rising from his seat. Billy gives him a look, but he seems more interested in stealing what's left of Steve's fries. Steve balls up his napkin and throws it on the table, then follows the sounds of the machines back to the kids.

He's barely left the table when Billy says from behind him, "Gonna take a leak."

It's Lucas at the controls with an agitated Max and Mike flanking him, Dustin pacing a hole into the ground just behind them. When he spots Steve he looks less like he's about to fret out of his skin, waves enthusiastically for a moment or two, but then he spins around wildly at the sound of Lucas and Max yelling behind them and Mike jumping up and down. Steve watches Dustin push his way to look at the screen before he too is jumping and yelling and being a general nuisance.

With a resigned head shake Steve starts walking over. By the time he reaches them, the excitement's nearly over and it seems they've won. Or maybe not. Steve's unsure how this thing works, actually. Looks like they got second on the board, or, at least, Lucas did. Max's name is clearly at the top, which is not at all surprising given how much Steve's heard about her prowess with Dragon's Lair.

"You guys doing OK?" he asks.

Dustin stops jumping around for long enough to speak, though he's still sort of yelling his words. "Steve! You missed it! We got to kiss Princess Daphne again! You're always missing it, Steve."

Lucas smacks him in the arm. "You missed it, too, Dumbo."

"I was right here!" Dustin yells, red in the face.

Steve says, "That's all right, buddy. Hey, are you guys almost ready to go?"

From prior experience he's fully aware that if he lets Dustin and Lucas get into it, he'll never see an end, and he's itching to get going all of a sudden. They can argue in the car and Steve can find Billy before he leaves with Max and. Something.

From where he's standing, he has a clear view of Billy exiting the diner to the parking lot, obviously back from the bathroom. He's only a shape in Steve's peripheral vision before long. The weight of disappointment settles briefly in his stomach. It is what it is.

"Sure thing, buddy," Dustin says. Steve leads the way outside.

The evening breeze is crisp on his face after the stifling air among the arcade machines. Max, Lucas and Mike follow behind them, Dustin loudly recounting how he single-handedly won his own place on the scoreboard among Lucas's shouts that he wrecked his score not two minutes before. Steve can't keep from smiling at these idiots.

The Camaro's driver's side door is open and Billy is leaning against it, cigarette already lit.

"'Bout time," he says, tone bored. He flicks nonexistent lint off his jacket's lapel with the fingers of his non-smoking hand.

"Whatever," Max says right back. Turns to the boys and says, "I'll see you tomorrow. Don't forget it's my turn to kick your asses after school."

Lucas blushes and Mike scoffs, but Dustin's hanging behind, too quiet after all the yelling from before. Billy's watching them with an odd expression, though Steve doesn't think he's about to do or say anything actively awful.

Billy tsks at Max. "I can't drive you tomorrow. Got plans."

Max doesn't turn around to say, "I can get by on my own."

"Yeah, whatever," Billy says on an exhale. Smoke shivers around his head. "Don't count on pretty boy over here driving you back, either," he says, pointing in Steve's general direction with his lit cigarette.

Before Steve can do more than roll his eyes and get the kids inside the Beamer already, Dustin steps forward and around his friends, pushes himself closer to the Camaro, though still stands a cautious distance away from Billy near the Camaro's front bumper. "Steve's with us, jerk." He glares so hard he looks like he's a minute away from giving himself a headache.

It would be flattering if it weren't so stupid. Steve has to drag Dustin back by his shoulder. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. No need for this, buddy. OK? I can handle Billy," he adds.

Dustin squints at him, not meanly, and says, not unkindly, "He totally kicked your ass last time. But don't you worry, buddy, we're totally not gonna let him do that again." Steve gapes.

"I can take care of myself, as previously mentioned," Steve gets out. He can see both Max and Billy rolling their eyes in a disturbingly similar way.

But then Billy says, "Don't be jealous he prefers me to you losers," all shit-eating grin, and Steve. Yeah, Steve is officially going to die of embarrassment.

Max must like him the best, though, because she rolls her eyes skywards and then manages to bully The Party into Steve's car before he expires where he stands. The Party's arguing in the backseat about Steve's fighting prowess, or lack thereof, which is a little bit insulting.

"Can you shitheads settle down already?" he mutters. Unsurprisingly, the boys ignore him to argue further. He sighs and rubs his palms together absently before the horn on the Camaro startles him.

The passenger's side window is down and Billy's leaning over the console, Max gawking at him from the back.

"I'll drop by yours tomorrow after school, pretty boy. Don't stand me up," he says before leaning back in his seat and driving off. Steve stifles the urge to raise his arm to wave awkwardly. His pulse is skipping around wildly.

Predictably, the backseat is complete pandemonium in two seconds flat. Dustin makes a sound right by Steve's ear that he's pretty sure must be ultrasonic.

"Jesus Fucking Christ!" Steve has to yell to be heard over the uproar. "Can you dipshits settle down? Or I swear I am not driving you anywhere ever, I don't care how much your parents fork over, Jesus." They settle down in that pissed off, righteous way they have.

The fact that Steve catches glimpses of himself smiling softly in his rear-view mirror throughout the entire drive home probably won't help with the wild speculation happening. Steve is finding he doesn't much care.

The next day Billy's true to his word on that, even though they don't exchange more than a few stock insults during practice, as far as talking goes, and basically ignore each other down the halls. But Billy drops by about half an hour after Steve drops himself off at home.

Steve is in the middle of ordering pizza, casually, as if he's not debating whether he should be ordering for two starving teenage boys instead of one the entire time he's giving out his order. The person on the other end of the line is asking him about extra toppings when an aggressive pounding on the front door startles him. He mumbles something vaguely incomprehensible about extra meat before he gets hung up on.

When he opens the door Billy's leaning against the door jamb, an unlit cigarette behind his left ear. Steve tries not to look too eager when he's ushering him inside.

"I ordered pizza," he says by way of a greeting.

"I brought tunes," Billy replies, holding up some early AC/DC. The guy's nothing if not predictable.

They crack two beers and end up watching Dynasty on the floor, leaning against the side of the couch. They move to sit on the actual furniture when the pizza gets there. Steve's pretty sure he over-tips by a lot, head too dazed that this has yet to turn into a genuine disaster, but he could care less. This is... nice. Even though Billy apparently eats the crusts like a big fucking weirdo.

Once they're done with the pizza and the daytime soap-watching, they put on Billy's music and Steve cracks another beer for each of them. They go back to sitting on the floor.

It might be the buzz he's currently working towards, or maybe Bon Scott's excellent vocals, but Steve's can't help but to ask, "So what happened last week?" Billy's head turns sharply to his left to glare at him. "I don't want to hear any bull about detention. I'd rather you didn't tell me about it if you're just gonna give me bull." His shoulders hunch up around his ears. Waits for a reaction.

And it's none of his business, but it felt like he could ask in that moment. Because once he realises it's been eating at him, a gnawing at the back of his mind, he has to ask. Billy's the kind of mystery he wants to solve even though he knows he's gonna be the worse for wear for it.

There's a pause. "Had my birthday, that's what happened," Billy finally says. He's not glaring at Steve anymore. Just looking out the window at nothing.

And Steve says, "Oh." As if he gets it. But he obviously doesn't, hasn't a clue what that means, which Billy picks up on instantly.

He rolls his eyes and takes another swing of Steve's beer. Steve finds it hard to look at him for a moment, and he doesn't know why.

"Got into it with my old man, princess. Got a thrashing for it, too. Not the worst I've gotten, mind you," he adds.

His tone is half-mocking the entire time, and Steve doesn't know why but he feels like he might cry, fucking cry in front of Billy Hargrove for no reason. For all the reasons. The feeling washes over him, and he exhales heavily once Billy's quietly draining his beer.

"Just a regular day at the Hargrove house, amigo," Billy mutters, setting his empty beer can on the coffee table.

He gets out a sudden burst of laughter, brief and sharp, but it's not funny. He goes on like he knows it's not funny, it only is. "Can't wait to fucking get out of this town." His tone is a kind of wistful Steve's rarely heard. Billy's eyes don't stray from the window. "Probably gonna move out first chance I get. Out of that fucking house and out of this fucking town. Can't wait to get the fuck out." He spits the words. Swallows heavily after, looking like he's got a bad taste in his mouth. "I'll probably need to get a summer job, set aside some money while I still can."

For a few moments after Billy chews on lower lip, lost in his own thoughts. Goes on to say, "Then for sure I'm dumping all the shit I own in my car, and fuck senior year, man." That almost causes Billy to smile. He rakes the fingers of one hand through the hair at the back of his head. Out of the blue it occurs to Steve he's expecting Billy's hands to be trembling, but they're the steadiest he's ever seen them.

"Yeah?" Steve mumbles. Doesn't mean to. Doesn't mean to interrupt.

"Fuck yeah. Gonna drive off to Cali first chance I get."

Steve knows this warrants a reaction that's thoughtful or encouraging or cautionary. But what he gets out is, "I don't have any plans for next year." Which he hadn't meant to say two seconds ago, but now it's out there.

And Billy looks. He looks shocked, and beneath that vaguely like something hopeful, as if Steve didn't just put his foot in it and ruin everything. Everything that's been building between them.

It gives him the guts to go on, says, "Like, I'm gonna graduate, and then what? I didn't make early admission, and I barely sent out anything decent out for the regular deadline. And I honestly don't give a shit about college."

It's out now, he said it, and he's promptly horrified with himself, because what is he even saying. What are the words coming out of his mouth. Billy never asked.

Steve gaze shifts to the side, only to return pretty much straight away. There's nothing in his living room he's interested in looking at other than Billy Hargrove, who's currently aggressively staring him down. If Steve had to describe Billy's expression, he'd have to go with genuinely dumbstruck. He doesn't say a single thing.

Then the next moment he tugs Steve off the floor by his shirt-sleeve and out the door and across Steve's driveway to the Camaro. Steve's nonplussed, but sits quietly in the passenger's seat, Scorpions song after song he doesn't recognise playing. Billy shouldn't be driving, neither of them should, but they're alone on the road and well below the speed limit.

Even though they just ate, he drags Steve out to get fries to split while sitting across from each other. It's not a hardship. The fries are too dry, but Steve enjoys the quiet between them.

Afterwards, Billy drives them past the town limits, stops just outside Hawkins, the words come again soon ringing hollow when Steve says them in his own head. They park by the side of a deserted road.

It's kind of inevitable at this point. Under the meagre glow of a February sunset he lets Billy Hargrove kiss him, tinny metal ballads spilling from the car stereo.

Billy turns off the ignition, then turns and crushes his mouth to Steve's. Pulls right back. Blink and you miss it. Shock is among the many things Steve is feeling, though definitely not surprise, but he doesn't quite get to the rest before Billy groans and moves back in, even harder this time. Steve makes a pathetic whimpering noise and does his best to kiss back, curling tentative fingers into the folds of Billy's jacket. Beneath Steve's hands the muscles in Billy's shoulders shift fluidly. Billy licks across the seam of his mouth, and Steve has to pull away. Billy's eyes widen and his breath catches, something vulnerable in the large irises. Then Steve dives back in, clutches harder at denim.

He finds himself focusing on weird things, such as the shape of Billy's lips, the texture of his tongue, the sharpness of his teeth. He might be at risk of getting eaten up whole.

They make out for an hour in the front seat, the gear shift digging into their sides, and all Steve can think is, Alpha.

*

Thursday and Friday that week they leave the high school parking lot at the same time after classes end.

They drive the kids to the arcade and leave them to their own devices for a couple of hours to get some fries to share. It would be natural to feel guilty for becoming the sort of babysitter to abandon his charges to go make out with their whatever, but Steve's having difficulty dwelling on it much when he knows the kids can basically take care of themselves, barring any supernatural shenanigans.

They should probably switch between the Camaro and the Beamer, but Billy doesn't want to leave his car unattended and Steve is still technically getting paid for his time, but it doesn't seem to matter much once they leave the main streets of Hawkins, driving even further on Friday, even though they've already left the town limits in their wake. That gives them less time to actually make out, but it feels better somehow, to be further away. They get the food at a diner on the way into town and eat in the car during the drive back, Billy absently snagging the fries Steve offers him, eating them absently, lips red and sore, Steve not far behind in that regard.

They don't get to see each other that weekend. Billy says it's because he wants to be on his best behaviour. He says it while Steve's lips are against the hollow of his throat. It's dangerous to think, Screw your dad! Waste all of your time with me, so Steve takes the time to phone Jonathan to ask if he and Nancy want to come watch a movie Saturday. And Jonathan says he'll have to ask Nancy, but probably yes.

For the hundredth time Steve considers how weird his life has gotten. Nevertheless, he makes too much popcorn and they watch the The Thing with the blinds drawn on the living room windows.

They're about half an hour into the movie when Steve says, "It's kind of a thing with me and Hargrove." In hindsight, he could have phrased it better.

Nancy reaches for the remote control on the VCR and pauses the movie so fast to turn to Steve that he doesn't know what's happening for a second there. By the look in her eyes, she's probably worried for him.

"Steve..." she starts cautiously.

"I know!" he says. Doesn't know where to look. Nancy has a gift when it comes to making him feel like he's on uneven footing.

She sighs, Jonathan placing a hand on her shoulder. She continues with, "I'm not entirely surprised. We've been talking about it, especially after the whole cinema thing the other day. Not behind your back, like in a bad way," she adds. Steve waits for the other shoe to drop.

Nancy sighs again and places her palm over the back of his briefly to say, "Be careful, Steve Harrington."

And that's that, it seems. Nancy unpauses the movie and leaves the remote between them. After a minute Steve grabs it to lower the volume a little, because it seems like he's taking this time to get everything off his chest.

Casually, still seemingly watching the screen, he says, "I know that, like, you guys don't have to worry about it yet, but. Do you know? What you're doing after graduation, I mean." He glances over for their reactions. He then swallows such a big gulp of Coke he almost chokes.

Jonathan turns to him and looks him dead in the eye over Nancy's head to ask, "What brought this on?"

It's the sort of eye contact Steve can't hold for very long anymore. "Been thinking. About how college and working for my dad aren't, like, the only two options. For me," he gets out. The words taste bitter, but a weight he hadn't known he was carrying in his gut is suddenly not there anymore.

And Nancy says, "You're one of the best people I know, Steve Harrington."

And. Like. Steve doesn't get it, OK? But he thinks it sounds encouraging anyway. They watch the rest of the movie without further interruptions.

*

It's the Monday of the last week of February, the first weekend in March just coming up, when Billy corners him on his way to lunch to invite himself over.

"You busy Saturday?" he asks. Like it's a serious question. An enquiry into Steve's availability. As if Steve won't drop any hypothetical plans he might have in favour of Billy dropping by to waste some time together. Jesus Christ.

They don't really see much of each other during the rest of the week. Steve's parents got back in town on Sunday and most of The Party is grounded for being late from their Sunday movie night at Steve's. Finding the right excuse to speed out of town together isn't worth it. But they did settle on Billy coming by late on Saturday, since Billy claims Neil and Susan have long-standing dinner plans and won't be missing him by the time they get back, so it's whatever, anticipation, the sizzle of frustration beneath Steve's skin, which fuels the kernel of doubt until Saturday night gets there.

He showers with his back to his teammates, too uninteresting to bother with these days. Thoughts run rampant in the privacy of his own mind, and all he wants is to rail Hargrove. Just. Wants to fuck him into the floor. And what would that accomplish? He'd make Billy Hargrove come, make him feel it, which Steve is very into, it seems. So, yeah, worth considering. Worth asking for. Worth waiting for. The danger should be a turn-off; instead, it's a feedback loop straight to his cock. He's the last to leave the showers all week.

He knows Max is having a heavily-supervised sleepover with Nancy, El and The Party that same Saturday. His parents are gone all weekend. It's almost too easy.

*
Watching Double Trouble on a Saturday night after only half a beer with dinner is bizarre, but Steve doesn't really wanna be drinking. He feels sober and jittery, kind of wants to laugh out loud, even if it is by himself, just to calm himself down, but fears it would come out sounding nervous.

The doorbell rings just as one of the twins is trying to help out the rich girl who wants to be a stand-up comedian. Steve turns it off before going for the front door. Finds Billy leaning against the door jamb when he swings the door open, a soft-looking shirt mostly unbuttoned underneath his trademark denim jacket, his jeans sinfully tight as usual. Steve's wearing his most boring clothes. Can't help but to mirror Billy's grin, though.

"Miss me?" Billy says, looking Steve up and down. If he thinks Steve's clothes are boring, he doesn't mention it.

Convincing himself to close the door before kissing Billy isn't as easy as Steve would have previously thought. He does it anyway. Once they're safely hidden from anyone casually walking by in the street, Steve sort of falls into him.

Licking into Billy Hargrove's mouth always seems to start out sweet only for it to become a scorching kind of rough in under a minute if they both let it. It goes from mouthing at Billy's upper lip, scrapping a lone tooth against the corner of Billy's mouth, to Steve sucking on his tongue. Billy's big palms end up cupping Steve's ass cheeks in the Harringtons' front hallway, Steve hands scrambling at his broad shoulders to keep his footing. When Billy lets him go, Steve just mutters, "Maybe," as if his dick isn't digging into Billy's denim-covered thigh. He deserves the smug grin billy gives him.

"Gonna show me around?" Billy asks, but his eyes are fixed over Steve's shoulder on the stairs leading up to his bedroom.

Steve swallows around a dry mouth. "Sure."

Smoking in Steve's room isn't always the best idea. His parents are home so seldom, you'd think it wouldn't really matter, and it doesn't in and of itself, but everything will still smell like stale smoke for days if he doesn't air that shit out pronto. First thing once he enters his room is to crack a window open. To his surprise, Billy doesn't bring out his pack of smokes and lighter.

Instead, he plops down on Steve's bed, makes the mattress bounce a little, enticingly. With the movement that damn shirt gets unbuttoned down to the navel now. He's the only person Steve knows who relishes showing skin so casually.

Steve doesn't know what his own face is doing, but Billy's grinning hard like Steve's the funniest thing he's ever seen. Steve walks up to the bed, knees hitting the edge, and can't stop himself from reaching into that damn open shirt just to touch. Billy's skin is warm and like the best place Steve's palm has ever felt. He hovers over him on the bed to cup his right pec, skims his fingers underneath it before holding on tight.

Billy's back arches and he smirks all like, "Are you gonna make out with me, Harrington?"

Steve swallows, looks him up and down. "Don't you wanna?" Because his words make it seem like he doesn't want to, while Steve's thinking he'd like to suck Billy's dick until he's coming dry.

"I don't know," he says, completely unfazed, oh so casual. Steve's still palming his pec, hasn't yet found the courage to tweak a nipple. "House this big, this empty, so much to do while your folks are away."

"What? Am I not entertaining enough for you?" Goes for casual. Comes off like he's choking on his own breath.

"You're a handful is what you are, Harrington." Teasing. A little soft around the edges of each word.

"Ha! As if. You're free to go whenever, you know." Takes his hand off Billy. His palm feels cold.

"Hmm. I like it here." But he reaches to drag Steve onto the bed by the shoulders. They settle with Steve on top, lips touching like an afterthought.

Steve's mouth feels clumsy with Billy underneath him on an actual bed. He parts his lips and tilts his head, and feels his hands tremble either side of Billy's head. Then it sparks into something else entirely. When he touches his tongue to Billy's his entire mouth tingles. A shiver goes through Steve's body.

It's too much sensation. Billy's mouth still tastes smokey, like kissing Steve in his front hallway has barely dulled the taste, and the inside of his cheek is soft and plush, and the muffled sounds of his gasping breaths echo Steve's own little moans.

They make out for what feels like hours. It's easy for Steve to move a hand down and fondle at the front of Billy's pants when he's also sucking on his bottom lip and worrying at it. Billy grunts like he's been punched in the gut. Steve swallows the sound and fingers his cockhead through his jeans. The fabric gets wet under his touch, which drives Steve a little out of his mind, makes him bite down harder on Billy's lip. Billy keens and buries his hands in Steve's hair. Steve misses their touch on his shoulders. After an instant, one hand shifts to the front of Steve's own jeans. Steve's never touched someone else's dick before, haven't gone past sucking on each other's tongue on their drives, and he doesn't have the guts to ask Billy if he has.

Steve can't help noticing they're touching each other in quite different ways. While he's dragging his fingers up and down and around the head of Billy's dick and right beneath it, he doesn't go low enough to feel his knot, like that's going too far, but Billy has no such qualms. He's going low on Steve's cock, massages Steve's knot and pants in his mouth between kisses, and Steve's definitely losing his mind now.

This is probably a bad idea. This is definitely a bad idea. If they do this, it'll mean something different to each of them, but Steve's not sure anymore in what ways. Having Billy Hargrove under him is not what he had imagined when he'd let himself imagine it, that's clear to him now. He pulls away panting just a little and looks into Billy's eyes, at his lips, at his throat, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down when he swallows. He has to say it.

"I... cling." He swallows around a suddenly dry mouth. "I knot and I cling. So if this isn't what you're after, you might as well keep walking, Hargrove," he finishes in a croaky whisper.

Steve can't even try to explain to himself where the feeling came from and how it arrived. Or, more accurately, how it became what it currently is. Consequently, he doesn't expect Hargrove to get it, because Steve doesn't quite get what he means. Hell, he doesn't even know if he can go through with it. Steve Harrington: talking the talk, not so great on the walking the walk part anymore.

But Billy just looks him straight in the eye and says not unkindly, "You're not a goddamn mystery, Harrington."

And then promptly tackles Steve to the bed, flips their positions and gets right on top. He rocks down and bites his lip, and Steve moans watching his eyelashes flutter down, feels his own chest heaving. Billy's tongue licks across his bottom lip back and forth and Steve groans, has trouble catching his breath.

When he frames his waist, it's too gentle. Billy Hargrove would expect it to be all rough and tumble; or maybe that's just Steve projecting his own image of who Billy Hargrove is onto the real thing. His hands move down to his hips to palm at sharp hip bones, at the skin above the waistband of his jeans, and it might be too gentle when he squeezes down on hot skin and bone and muscle, but it's also how Steve wants to do it. He looks into eyes which are dark with an inner heat and leans in to lick inside Billy's red mouth, and he doesn't care anymore if it's not what it's supposed to be as long as Billy keeps letting him have it all.

He was right to tell him, before. Steve already wants to cling and never let go.

He tries to focus, yanks Billy's belt out of the buckle a little too hard. The leather hisses. Something tight and hot fizzles inside Steve. Billy lets out a low, throaty sound, pressing his face to Steve's neck, exhaling hard against his jaw. Makes Steve quiver and pant.

Steve gets his hands on Billy's knot and his ass in quick succession, one hand going to the front of his pants, the other groping at his back and down to grab at an ass cheek, while Billy's face buries itself further into Steve's neck. Steve's skin is vibrating. He tips them sideways, has them laying face to face on the bed. Doesn't quite relinquish his hold on Billy, though. Has Billy moaning and panting when he squeezes over his jeans at the place between his ass cheeks. Rubs his trembling fingers in the crack and listens for Billy's reactions.

Steve thinks how he wants to fuck Billy into the floor, the thoughts swirling around in his head all week suddenly intrusive and unignorable. He tentatively sniffs him as well, even though this is superficial shit, never gonna get the full spectrum of what's happening with Billy's scent, but it's enough to smell his skin, to lick his neck and nose at his hair and behind his ear.

Turns Billy around in three quick movements to smell him some more, right at the back of his neck where the hairs are fine, and hump his ass from behind and start undressing him properly now. Makes him feel the heat of his cock pressed tight against his ass cheek when he's unbuttoning what buttons there are.

It's easy to get him out if that damn shirt first. He doesn't know where it goes once it's off, but Steve could give a shit. All of his synapses seem to be firing uncontrollably, his mind too focused.

"Tip your head back," Steve says, too hoarsely, giving too much away.

Billy does.

Then he grounds out, "Do I even have a scent?" Scoffs, voice rough. The to you is implied.

Beneath a confusing whirlwind of need and smells so good, Steve manages to get his bearings enough to say, "Yeah, no, you do. You smell. Yeah. So fucking good," and feels Billy melt all against his front. It's heady.

Then Billy reaches behind their heads with his right arm to snarl his fingers into Steve's hair and pull. His scalp feels like it's on fire, feels the pulse of it at the base of his dick and his knot fully pops. Hysterical laughter threatens to bubble up. The trembling potential of it all stretches before him into a long moment before it burst into movement.

He presses a quick kiss below Billy's jaw. Then leans forward over his torso for his bedside table. It's surprisingly overwhelming just taking out the tube of KY from the drawer, contemplating what he's about to use it for. A flicker of something like fear sparks in his midsection thinking about how he's going to put fingers inside of Billy. Pulsing heat replaces the fear when he thinks about how Billy's going to let him.

"Can I?" he asks, because he has to, showing Billy the tube and rubbing his knot, unmistakable, against him. Billy moans and Steve's scalp is on fine when his fingers pull even harder at the strands.

He has to stretch him out. Alphas aren't meant to take a knot. So much could go wrong. All he knows is he wants to make this good, wants to make Billy feel good, and he's got a chance to do just that.

Surprisingly, his hands don't even tremble. Not when he unzips Billy out of his jeans from behind. Not when he gropes at his cock through his briefs before helping him get out of them. Not even when he looks down Billy's red chest, past the flush of his cock and balls, to the dark place between his thighs, even though his middle goes tight and hot just looking at Billy like this.

Not even when he pops the cap on the little tube and squeezes some lubricant out onto his fingers, snaps the cap back down hard. Because Billy doesn't deserve afraid or tentative, not if he's trusting Steve with this. It's almost too much to think about, so instead he reaches down, grazes hot skin with his wet fingers on his way, a light touch to Billy's dick and knot and balls, before reaching between those rough, meaty thighs of his to smear lube on his taint, and then lower still until he's touching his little hole. It clenches underneath his fingers, and Billy puffs out a breath. His neck stretches and he turns enough to look Steve in the eyes without a word, then gasps wetly and buries his face in Steve's pillow.

It should be awkward, or too much, but Steve feels quieted down by Billy's look, circles the little hole with gentle fingers, massages into it as if coaxing it to let him in. The skin is fever-hot, made slick with Steve's touches. It flutters so sweetly when he circles the rim Steve thinks he might come all over himself and Billy both from the feel of it. He swallows compulsively a couple of times and pushes in with the tip of one finger followed by the whole digit when he encounters no real resistance. Billy makes a sound as if he's been punched in the gut, like Steve got a real hit in, and Steve watches Billy's cockhead leaking a few healthy spurts all over his stomach.

With as much delicacy as humanly possible, he takes his finger out to flip Billy onto his back. Staring down at him, getting to look his fill while he does this, is one hundred percent better in every way that matters.

Billy's eyes roam across Steve's face. Whatever he sees there has him panting and licking his lips absently, the tip of his tongue peeking out with every swipe.

"Fuck," Steve mutters, running a hand over his face as he leans on the other, which must be funny somehow, because Billy barks out a laugh which shakes him all down his body.

Steve closes the distance. Billy's laugh tickles in the space between their lips. It's dizzying. Messes with Steve's head. The kiss is sloppy, intentionally wet, Steve moaning low and quiet. He carries on kissing as his right hand returns to Billy's hole and he gives him his finger again. The desperate little puff of breath Billy lets out is followed by a loud keening when Steve slowly pulls out to the tip and even slower back in to the last knuckle. When Steve pulls back from the kiss Billy's lips are darkened a deep red, wet and puffy, and his pupils are huge and dark.

It's a few minutes of just the one finger before Steve carefully flirts the tip of the second right alongside the first, watchful for Billy's reactions, the hot noises he's making, as if he's into it, too. Steve's so into it he doesn't want to do anything else for the rest of his life. He wants to do it right so Billy'll let him do this again and again.

He takes his weight off his left arm to properly kneel between Billy's spread thighs. It's so damn easy to pump Billy's knot with his free hand while the other works between his legs, second finger finally breaching him. With the desperate, choking sounds Billy's letting out, it's even easier to shimmy down his body to bite at his thighs a little, drag his face around Billy's cock and scrape the little stubble he has going for him across the delicate skin. It reddens immediately, hot to the touch when Steve rubs softly with his tongue before letting up. He curls his palm around Billy's cock, tightens his grip around him, his other hand pumping fingers inside him at a steady pace. He hovers his face there to lick a few more times at the redness he left behind.

And Billy's all panting, barely there breaths, gets enough air in to ask, "What are you doing?" But not like he minds. Watches Steve like a hawk, his rasping breath catching in his throat as he stares, calculating.

And all Steve can say is, "I don't know. I just wanna—" and stops talking to lick Billy's knot once, then twice, puts his tongue out for it, for Billy to buckle his hips knot-forward into the heat of Steve's mouth. Sucks on it before he changes his mind. Smells Billy there, the musk and the heat, now certain it's the best smell he'll ever get to scent. When Billy's back arches it seems to feed his knot even deeper into Steve's mouth. Steve widens his mouth out to take it, his own cock leaking at the feel.

He only pulls off because he knows what he wants to do next with sudden clarity and awareness. He's never been so fucking aware of anything in his life.

Getting his mouth on Billy's dick proper and swallowing him down is all new for him, but he wants to make it good enough for Billy to come down his throat. Even though he's thought about it idly before, the slick, silky heat on his tongue is too novel, too much like something he's been missing out on, like a kid who's been denied a treat he didn't know he wanted. It's a heavy, fat weight pushing into the softest parts of him, hitting the roof of his mouth and scraping the inside of his cheeks. Has him choking a little.

It's too much so soon. Steve's drooling around the blood-hot length of him, but that only makes it more intense. His own belly sparks with heat at the sloppiness of it. His fingers never stop pumping inside Billy's hole, making it equally sloppy down there. With a deep breath, Steve tries to take more, but pulls almost completely off in the next second. He settles for bobbing his head slowly, tentatively. He realises his eyes are closed. Somewhere above him there's slight movement, then Billy's neat nails are scratching through Steve's hair in encouragement.

It doesn't take long. Steve's too focused and Billy's too amped up by the dual stimulation. His cock drools pre-come onto Steve's tongue that he swallows greedily. Then his hips lift up off the bed, really threaten to choke Steve that time. Which should be upsetting, but Steve can only moan desperately and groan for more. His fingers finally leave Billy's body with the sharp movement, but he uses this second hand to grip both of Billy's hip bones. After another moment Steve's tasting come, bitter and runny. He can't drink it down fast enough, squeezes his eyes even tighter to memorise the taste.

He pulls off with a sloppy pop once he's done swallowing, lets Billy's half-hard cock spatter against his stomach and watches the last few twitches. Drags in a few deep breaths of soupy air. Billy's dick is all wet from Steve's mouth, shiny with saliva, and flushed blood-red from the heat of Steve's mouth. Steve feels himself blushing at the thought that he did that. Tastes the bitterness on his tongue and swallows compulsively until he can't tell Billy's taste from his own. He wants to do this again and again, all the time from now, so that it won't matter what the inside of his own mouth tastes like anymore anyway, wants to forget he's ever tasted anything else in his life. And that makes him blush even harder with how ridiculous he sounds even in his own head.

When he glances up Billy's red chest, he finds him already staring down at Steve. Can't help crawling up Billy's torso to get at his mouth in the next instant. Billy immediately sucks Steve's tongue into his mouth once he's within reach, as if he wants to taste himself there, too.

He releases Steve's lips to roughly say, "You're still gonna get your knot in me, right?"

Steve wishes he could smile about it, match whatever tone Billy was going for with his words, but instead he backs off enough to make room and then simply flips him over. Billy bounces lightly on the bed, arms going up by his head to grip the pillow tightly. Steve takes a few moments just to stare at his thighs and ass, already feeling like he's dawdling, suddenly and starkly sure Billy will walk out if he wastes too much time looking his fill from every angle.

He doesn't know if fucking a boy while he's still soft is the done thing. Steve's never been in this situation, but Billy asked him to and Steve more than wants to himself. The tube of lube is by his knees, having rolled around on the bed while they'd been otherwise busy. He gets enough into his palm to cover the length of his dick nicely. His other hand grips at one ass cheek to show Billy's hole, slick and fluttering around nothing, rim already getting a bit puffy from Steve's fingers. It's the best sight Steve's ever seen, near enough makes him literally slaver.

Pushing in is both too much and not enough.

It's the tightest, wettest heat of Steve's life. He's pushed inside Billy as far as he can go. It's dizzying to think about.

"Fuck," Billy moans dirtily. Lets out a sharp gasp, hole clutching even tighter around Steve's cock. Steve snaps out of his thoughts instantly. He needs to make this fucking good for Billy, the best.

The drag out is torture, Billy's rim seemingly unwilling to let him go. He waits for a beat, only the head still clutched snugly inside, then he sinks down in tight. Steve can't imagine how it's so damn good, so fucking nice. He screws his hips in in in, to the fucking root each time, thrusts steady. He builds up a good rhythm in no time. It never gets less overwhelming, though.

"Is it good?" he mutters into Billy's ear. It's pathetic to ask, but Steve needs to make sure he's doing it right.

Billy is flushed all over, looking like he's choking on air, on nothing at all, when Steve noses at the side of his face to get a better look. For a moment he believes he's doing it wrong, that it needs to be something completely different than with a girl. He sneaks a look down Billy's torso, but his cock's still mostly soft, not even a half-chub to speak of. He's a second away from stopping this before it gets any worse for Billy, when he hears him grit out, "So fucking good," the consonants all rubbing together through his teeth.

It's what he needs to go that little bit harder. He knees his way closer still, the clench of Billy's body even sweeter this tightly in. The same headboard Billy leant against when they played Billy's tape in Steve's bedroom and passed a blunt around is banging against Steve's wall. His hips go faster still at the sound. He can't keep it up for long, though, so he settles for harder thrusts which have his dick barely leaving Billy's body.

He's not so much thrusting inside as grinding his knot into Billy's ass at this point. He's punching little ah ah ah sounds from Billy's throat each and every time his hips shift. He breathes deeply, then pushes himself tighter between Billy's legs, as if there's any space between them left, to shove his knot that quarter of an inch deeper inside him. When he comes he feels the ache of it in his teeth, Steve's knot swelling securely inside of Billy while they both strain through the pleasure. Billy whines, high in the back of his throat, the sound vibrating beneath Steve's lips.

He's a dead weight on top of Billy. His knot's stuck tight in there, won't go down for the next couple of minutes. It's a gorgeous ache, made even more so when Billy keens, "Steve," face buried in Steve's pillow, and thrusts his hips into Steve's bed.

Steve doesn't mean to fuck his hips forward, but it's Pavlovian almost with the way Billy's squeezing him inside. It a harsh, rough thrust before Steve tempers it. He shifts, has a good look down Billy's front now.

Billy squirms on his knot, one hand clutching at Steve's bed sheets, the other furiously squeezing at his own knot, right where the skin's the thinnest. Steve wants to cry, it looks so good. Billy's definitely hard now, and leaking all over the place. Steve clings to his back, mouths at the back of his neck, noses to the side and behind his ear, settles there to pant wetly. With his right palm he pets at the rosy stubble burn on Billy's thigh, wishes he could have marked him up better there as a reminder. When Billy shudders and comes all over his sheets, Steve swears his own knot swells up even wider.

Yeah, Steve's definitely fucked.

His knot's not down yet enough to pull out safely, but he feels Billy shift in his arms less than a minute after coming.

His voice is all wrecked when he says, "I'm thinking milkshakes." Stops. "Vanilla. Definitely vanilla."

Yeah, Steve will get him his fucking milkshake.

*

After getting cleaned up, they go for milkshakes and sit across from each other in a booth right at the back, half-hidden behind a potted plant. It's a diner a mile outside of Hawkins, towards the highway, and they take the Beamer as the less obnoxious option. Very probably they stink too much of each other to be truly discrete, and maybe they should be more circumspect about walking into a family diner in rural Indiana smelling like they do, but Steve's faced monsters in the darkest dark with only a spiked baseball bat for a weapon. As for Billy, Steve has a feeling his monsters don't reside in anonymous greasy spoons.

There's a basket of fries between them. Billy chews on his straw and practically felates it between sips, and Steve can't stop fucking looking at him, his own milkshake (strawberry, thank you very much) all but forgotten.

"So I'm thinking Cali for sure," Billy says, straw between his teeth, apropos of nothing.

Steve doesn't miss a beat. "We're not leaving the Beamer, asshole."

Billy's grin is a punch to the gut in the best way possible.

On the drive back, Steve has the feeling they're heading in the wrong direction the entire time.