Hand resting on the wheel in a facade of calm so thin it was practically transparent, Billy clenched his jaw, ignoring the dull ache that still remained after Saturday night. Don Dokken sang out from the radio as loudly as Billy had previously learned was acceptable while idling outside the Hargrove house. Couldn’t risk aggravating Neil. Not again so soon and definitely not today. Not when he already felt stretched so thin he might break at any moment.
With an aggressive slam of the front door and a flash of red, Max threw open the Camaro door and dropped down into the seat. Time was, she’d show some damn respect and treat the car more carefully but that time was long gone. With another slam, the passenger door was sealed and Billy shifted into drive.
As Don finished his song, radio host Eddie Mayer chatted obnoxiously about some semi-related anecdote; all innuendo and smugness. Tutting to himself, Billy turned off the radio. It was too much today. Silence enveloped the car as Billy rounded the next corner. Sensing the red-head’s eyes on him, Billy stared straight ahead; he couldn’t do this today.
“Are you seriously not going to say anything?” Max finally broke, her voice more emotional than Billy had been expecting. Forcing a casual shrug, he kept his focus on the road.
“What do you want me to say?” he asked, hoping the feeling of the corners of his mouth dropping wasn’t visible. Christ. Even talking was tough today.
“Something? Anything!” Max replied and Billy could see in his periphery that her arms were waving. “You were there too, Billy! How can you just go to school like nothing happened! Like we didn’t see-!”
It was melodramatic; screeching to a halt at the side of the road. Billy knew it but he did it anyway. Anything to shut her up. His satisfaction at silencing the twerp was, sadly, overshadowed by the horrible feeling of his seat belt crashing against his chest. Billy choked at the feeling, desperately hoping that the shitty bandage that he had wrapped around his ribs would be enough to stop his wounds from bleeding through. Max, for her part, gripped the seat and let out a yelp as if Billy didn’t do shit like that all the time anyway back when they first came to this God-forsaken place. Before all the shit from that last few weeks. Before that night at the Byers' place. Before.
“What the hell, Billy?!” she shouted, giving his arm a hard shove. Another thing that she wouldn’t have dared do before. Everything felt so foreign; so wrong. Knuckles whitening, he gripped the steering wheel with more focus, still not looking in his step-sister's direction.
Just, I don’t know, count to ten or something... The voice echoed in his mind and all the fight died inside him. Once again, he felt like he was coming apart at the seams. It was all too much. Body slumping in his seat, he shifted gears and turned back into the road.
Max stayed blessedly silent for the rest of their journey, sinking into her seat and out of Billy's field of vision. The rumble and roar of his Camaro seemed more hollow than before. The old feeling of freedom that it used to inspire was gone. Like everything else since Saturday night, it had turned to ash; nothing had the spark from before.
“Why are we..?” Max half-asked as they pulled up outside the address that the Billy of a few months ago would have had no business knowing. The question stalled in her mouth and Billy knew she’d clocked on.
“Just... go get him,” he breathed. It was strange; his voice didn’t sound right. It felt like someone else was speaking through him. Forcing this normalcy that felt so fucking inappropriate right now.
The door opened with less force than before and Max was walking up the path. Billy closed his eyes and slumped his head forward. He hadn’t slept; not on Saturday after everything and not last night when the silence just echoed with screams. Sniffing, he rubbed below his nose. Realistically, he wasn’t likely to sleep ever again after what he saw. Flashes of darkness, blackness and so much red danced behind his eyelids. Clenching his jaw tight enough to break teeth, he opened his eyes once again.
The passenger side door opened and two bodies piled into the back seats. Waiting for the tell-tale click of seat belts, Billy took off without a word to their new companion. Amazingly, given their new passenger's usual proclivity for filling lulls in conversation with inane observations and ‘interesting facts', the silence from before stayed with them. Billy glanced at the back in the rear view mirror and saw the change that had already taken hold of the teen. The laughter was gone from his eyes; he wore Saturday night on him in a way that Billy envied. With even the briefest of glances, you could see the agony of what had happened. Turning his attention back to the road, Billy controlled his expression. He couldn’t break now. Not yet.
By the time they arrived at Hawkins Middle School, Billy had made his peace with skipping. The very thought of those halls, those kids, everything, made his stomach turn. Doubtlessly, there’d be some kind of announcement. People who didn’t know shit about what happened would cry and have a fucking opinion and all the while he'd have to stand there and pretend that he didn’t know. Pretend that he wasn’t coming undone.
“Dustin...” Max’s voice was soft and coaxing. Billy stared straight ahead; he couldn’t look at the other boy again. He couldn’t break yet.
“I can’t do it Max,” the lispy boy said, his voice hoarse in a way that only the group would be able to understand. “I can’t just go to school.”
“Hopper said a lot of things!” Henderson snapped, his voice raw with emotion. “I can’t just go to school and pretend everything's ok! Not when... when...” his voice broke into a sob that felt like a knife in Billy's gut. Eyes on the tarmac, Billy waited while Max hushed the younger boy. He heard her shifting closer and Henderson breaking down into an agonised wail.
“Billy...” Max’s voice was a plea. He could hear that she was crying too. How he hated them both in that moment. They wore their pain so easily while he had to hide. Crying and snivelling wasn’t an option for him. Definitely not here and definitely not now.
“News won't be out yet. Gotta act normal,” he forced the Cheif's words out, hating the old man more with every syllable.
“That’s bullshit!” Max argued, slamming her hand down on the seat dramatically. “It literally happened on Saturday and we've gotta go to school?”
It was bullshit. That was why he was going to skip. Billy sighed and bit his tongue. Part of him felt for the kids. It really sucked but Neil didn’t give a shit what they saw over the weekend. Billy was the responsible big brother and he most definitely needed to prove that today, of all days. Max needed to be taken to school and that was just what he'd done. Henderson... he was just an extra responsibility for now.
“Not my problem,” Billy finally huffed because, for all their shared trauma, it truly wasn’t. “Just get out and go to school.” He knew it was harsh. He knew it was bullshit. But he also knew that, if they stayed in his car crying and shit much longer, he’d fall apart. It was just too much.
“I hate you,” Max said, lashing out in a way that Billy could only sympathise with.
“Well hate me out there, not in here,” he answered back, knowing that was just what she was going to do. If being the regular, old asshole Billy was what they needed to get through the day, then he could play the part. For now at the very least.
Drying her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt, Max forcefully shoved the door open and stormed out. Billy was certain he heard her call him an asshole the moment she was out but he couldn’t bring himself to even pretend to care. He was an asshole. That was the whole point.
Despite the red-head's fury, Henderson stayed where he was in the back seat even as she raged away. Billy exhaled long and deep, like he'd been holding his breath all this time. Even so, his lungs burned. It was as if this horrid air of sadness was going to suffocate both him and the curly-haired boy together.
“You’re gunna go? You’re gunna go to school and pretend nothing happened?” Henderson’s voice was flat but Billy could hear the understanding there. He’d had his suspicions before but the way the younger boy spoke was so clear: he knew. Probably knew before Saturday but literally everything that Billy tried on Saturday would have violently confirmed it. He would have been pissed that anyone knew if he had the energy to feel anything but it just wasn't there. Unable or unwilling to lie, Billy wasn’t sure himself, he shook his head once and Henderson nodded. He shifted in his seat, moving closer to the door that Max had left hanging wide open.
“Don’t...” he started with a small sniffle. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
“What, like kill myself?” Billy snapped, his voice lacking the cruelty and harshness that he’d thought he’d wanted to show. Henderson flinched all the same, the small movement blindingly visible in the rear-view mirror that Billy had not been looking in.
“Yeah... that,” the curly-haired boy replied, his head hanging at the very thought.
“Think I’d have gotten up off the floor if I’d wanted to fucking die, man?” Billy tried to snap. Once again, his voice was so much less biting than he’d intended. Did he even believe that? Instinct had very much taken over and, in the rush and haze of screams, he’d somehow just ended up not dying. “Don’t worry about me, kid,” he added and now he almost sounded like he was comforting him. Scrunching his eyes closed as long as the red flashes would allow, Billy shook his head. He needed to get away. He needed to be alone.
Henderson nodded grimly, his mouth pulled into a thin line. His eyes were bloodshot, and there were dark circles beneath them, but he'd stopped crying for now. Billy knew it wouldn’t last long.
“I’ll give you a lift home,” Billy forced the words out and Henderson nodded again. Responsibility. This kid was his responsibility now.
“See you around,” the younger boy spoke as if what Billy had said was a binding promise; as if they’d sealed some kind of pact. Despite everything, Billy could feel it too. Henderson nodded sadly and finally climbed out of the car.
Once the door was closed and Henderson was safely on the sidewalk, Billy shifted back into drive and pulled away from the middle school. Somewhere, Max was in a rage, hating his guts. Somewhere, the other nerds would be arriving too, all adhering to the Chief’s ruling like good kids. Somewhere, the Chief, himself, was doubtlessly meeting with whatever shady contacts he had been talking about over the phone. Billy couldn’t bring himself to care anymore. All the bullshit he’d got himself caught up in seemed meaningless now; he was so done.
Peeling away from the turning for the high school with a screech, Billy drove hard and fast. The hollow feeling from before was there but he ignored it. Driving wasn’t the escape. Not today. Probably never again. The escape was simply not being here. Driving as fast as the winding corners of Hawkins would allow, Billy fled.
Only when he’d passed the sign for the next town over -only when he was safely out of Hawkins- did he slow down, realisation hitting him right in the gut: he'd come out this way before. Goddamn, it had barely been a week and here he was again.
Hollow pain gutting him, he let the Camaro crawl along, looking for a secluded place. Once again strangely thankful that he was here and not California, he drove slowly down narrow, winding roads hedged by trees. He wasn't looking for that place again; he'd never find it and -shit- it didn't matter now. All he needed was seculsion; a place where he could go and break apart in peace.
He spotted a place to pull over and, leaving the Camaro behind, Billy trudged into the shady nowhere. Given what he knew could be lurking out here, he felt oddly calm, making his way over fallen logs, through dense branches and around the towering pines. Birds sang out in the relative gloom, totally unaware of everything that Billy had endured. He clenched his fists tight, ignoring the sting of his bruised knuckles. Only a few more steps and he could pretty much guarantee he'd be alone. Only a few more steps and he could break.
Coming up to a clearing, Billy could feel his heart hammer in his chest at the mere anticipation of release. His legs were suddenly sluggish and heavy and he had to stumble to the last, fallen tree that seemed to be made for him to sit on. Slumping onto the damp wood, he could feel the emotions building. His arms felt tense; every muscle within them coiled and ready to act. The tears, that he'd denied himself until now, finally brimmed in his eyes as his breaths quickened and became shallow. Once again the silence seemed to fill with screams; he knew he’d never forget the sound. Repeating in his mind, each scream was like a fresh agony, ripping through his whole being.
“Fuck...” he gasped, doubling over. Unspent tension burned his arms and he slammed his fists down on his thighs again and again. With each impact, more and more tears spilled over, painting his cheeks with small rivers of pain. His chest was hurting again but it didn’t matter; nothing mattered now. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!!!” he cursed again and again, his thighs aching now. His hands came up to grasp at his own face and he curled inwards, a howl of pain seeming to echo through the trees as it wrenched its way out of him.
His eyes were scrunched closed now and the flashes of red were back. With each shot, he saw more. More memories from that night: the look of terror in those beautiful, dark eyes; skin tearing and blood pouring from wounds that his mind couldn’t make sense of; the boy he knew so fucking intimately being changed so violently and permanently. Billy cried out at the memory, his body practically convulsing from the tremors that now wracked him.
The denim of his jeans was sodden from the floods of salty tears that had forced their way from him. The front of his shirt was stained with blood that had seeped through his bandages. A total wreck, Billy cowered, broken and shaking at the memory of what Steve Harrington had become.