It starts like this:
Billy’s in the Harrington’s driveway, pacing, his hands fisted in his hair as he explains to Steve why, exactly, everything he owns is all packed in the back of his camaro.
He can’t deal with it, not anymore. Not his dad, not the small town, not anything. He cares about Steve but he doesn’t think it’s enough to keep him here.
“I’m sorry baby, really, I am, but I just can’t stay.”
Steve listens, despite feeling like he’s going to throw up for the second time that morning, pulling the sleeves of his oversized sweater down over his hands despite the June heat. Billy stares at him when he finishes his big speech that Steve doesn’t listen to past being told he’s not enough, like he’s waiting for Steve to say something.
“You’re an asshole and I can’t believe I ever loved you.”
Billy looks heartbroken when he says it, and Steve hates that he looks like he’s the one getting fucked over. He clenches his jaw and marches back into the house, trying his best not to cry. Not in front of him, not when he doesn’t deserve his tears.
Steve leans back against the door and holds his breath. He listens to the car peel away, listens to the ugly ass grandfather clock his mom paid too much money for tick in his empty house. Holds it until his lungs burn and his body forces him to breathe in deep, thinking only of air instead of the three pregnancy tests he buried in the trash outside this morning so his family’s housekeeper won’t see them when she comes in on Friday, and the one he kept on his bathroom vanity to show Billy.
He cups his stomach, thinking of the tiny little thing inside him, its father on his way to wherever, never to know it. Steve hadn’t been sure what he wanted to do, had assumed Billy would want some say. He had intended to take a year off before he looked at school; they’d be able to figure something out, if they decided they wanted to be parents. Him leaving just makes it obvious he wants this baby, even if he’ll be on his own, in his parent’s big empty house.
“Okay. We’ll be okay.”
Billy only makes it to Chicago.
Granted, Chicago is a million times better than fucking Indiana, but still. The midwest has gotten under his skin, and he finds that California has lost some of its appeal. He was a little fucker on the West Coast anyway, doesn’t really have any friends left but plenty of enemies, and he figures the new start can only help.
He finds a job easily enough at a bar in Lake View, and gets into UIC with minimal effort. His grades were always scary good, his ACT better, and he’s allowed to start after the fall semester ends after some sweet talking. Engineering turns out to be pretty interesting, especially applied mechanics. And he’s always been good at math.
He doesn’t think about Steve. He doesn’t think about those big eyes welling up with tears and how badly he wanted to take back everything he said the minute he said it. Billy’s a dick, he knows this, and he speaks without thinking. Then Steve had called him an asshole and acted like he was a waste of time, like Billy didn’t give a shit about him and this wasn’t hard for him, and fuck that. He didn’t need Harrington.
(It doesn’t stop him from seeking out his body in the middle of the night, when he’s half asleep and he wants to press his cold feet to his calves just to hear him squeak. It doesn’t stop the way his steps falter every time he’s down on Michigan to buy jeans and he sees a flash of floppy hair and brown eyes.)
Billy’s doing okay.
Dustin stumbles in, rubbing his eyes.
“Call Hopper or Joyce or - goddammit - your mom, anyone, please. I- Fuck that hurts-”
“...Did you wet the bed?”
“What do you think, dumbass?”
“Oh. Oh! Shit!”
The first time Billy has sex with someone besides Steve he throws up in the bushes outside and goes home and cries and cries and cries at the feeling he’s betrayed Steve afterwards. He’ll blame it on the booze mixing with the pills he took if anyone that attended that particular frat party or his roommates bring it up.
Evan is the easiest baby Jim has ever met. He sleeps through the night and smiles at everyone and the only time he’s seen him cry outright was when they were at the fourth of July parade and one of the firetrucks went off, making everyone in the vicinity jump. Joyce has babysat overnight a few times, when Steve was out with the kids or needed a break, and he had been so content to just lie in her arms or play with his toys on a blanket on the floor that she gushes about it afterwards. Even with El, who clearly hasn’t had the same exposure to babies most kids her age have and can sometimes treat him too roughly, he just smiles and babbles, occasionally reaching for her nose or hair or ears.
He’s amazed that the kid is half pain in the ass Hargrove, half monster fighting Harrington, yet so calm. He wonders if it’s fate’s way of giving Steve a break since Hargrove ran off and left him pregnant and alone.
He goes round sometimes after his shift, just to give Steve time to have a shower or have someone to look after Evan for awhile. Steve’s thinking about school for next year, and has shit to get done and hoops to jump through if he wants to go. Apparently his senior year was kind of shitty, even though his ACT was okay, so it'll be hard. If he can help by sitting around, shooting the shit with the kids that always seem underfoot and holding the baby he’s fine with that.
El is with him this time, and she’s holding Evan with one arm, carefully reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie out loud, when he begins fussing. Steve swoops in, checking him, and cooing.
“Go by Papa Hop while I grab a diaper, hm?”
Jim gives him a look as the baby is deposited in his arms, and Steve suddenly goes sheepish.
“Joyce likes Nana, and...” he makes an aborted gesture with his hand.
“But you’re parents-”
“They… It’s okay. I mean, my grandparents basically raised me until I was fifteen and my Nana died, so I’d like him to have something like that, even if it’s just like… you and Joyce popping in every once in a while. You two are great with him when you're around, and my parents, they’re not… they don’t really want to be grandparents, and I want him to have that. And I'll be fucking dead before I let Neil Hargrove near my kid.”
"I get Neil, but your parents have to be interested in their first grandchild."
“They haven’t even asked for pictures or seen him," Steve shrugs, "They just set up a trust fund for him and sent me the paperwork.”
Jim hisses through his teeth. Everyone knew the Harrington’s were never around, Steve’s mother popping in for a few days a every few months to check on the house before jetting off wherever while his father was living in Indianapolis for work and barely came back since his own father died. Steve was generally not a pain in the ass, so no one thought anything of it.
He didn’t think they’d be that bad.
“I guess I can deal with it. But kid… not Papa Hop. That's awful. Grandpa Jim is fine.”
Steve relaxes. “Okay, works for me.”
El grabs Steve’s wrist, drawing his attention.
“Aunt?” she asks, pointing to herself, and Steve smiles.
“Sure kiddo,” he says, pulling her to his side for a hug when she signals she’s okay with it, “we can always use an Auntie El around here.”
Carol’s at DePaul, and Billy knew that, but he wasn’t expecting her and a bunch of her friends to stumble into the bar one evening. Even less for her to throw herself at him, now that she and Tommy are no longer a thing.
“I’m gay, Carol,” he snaps, sick of her shit after an hour.
“Oh. Oh, shit,” She laughs, and then frowns, “wait, does that mean Steve’s-”
“No. It has nothing to do with Harrington.”
She looks at him like he’s stupid.
“Billy, Steve has a B-”
“Nope. I don’t give a shit.”
He stalks through the kitchen and smokes out back until she’s gone.
Evan smiles up at Steve, his three teeth visible, and Steve snaps a picture, pulling the polaroid free of the camera before setting it on the counter of his tiny apartment kitchen. Evan is covered in spaghetti sauce, the ten month old’s first time feeding himself, and he knows how their family is when it comes to missing milestones. More than likely Joyce will put it on the fridge or Hop will tuck it into the same frame he keeps a shot of El, Lucas and Max on his desk at the station, boasting about his kids when people ask.
Evan lifts his hand, offering Steve the pasta smushed in his fist, and Steve bends down and pretends to eat it before standing, watching as Evan shoves what he didn’t ‘eat’ into his mouth.
“I’m just saying… Henry’s a good guy, he’s not weirded out by you being a dad, comes from the same type of family-”
He rolls his eyes, looking at Becca. She was in his intro to american history class his first day at IU, and for some reason decided he needed someone to bully him into submission as a best friend. It had only been two months since that first class, but he couldn’t get rid of her.
“You mean our parents are rich and don’t actually give a shit about us, instead just throw money at us to solve problems?”
“Plus his name is Henry. Who names their kids Henry nowadays?”
“You’re not like… hung up on Evan’s father, are you?”
He raises his eyebrows at her, “Becs, I am Evan’s father.”
She gives him a look that clearly states how sick of his shit she is, “You know what I mean.”
He looks at his son, watching him as he feeds himself. Evan feels his eyes on him and looks up, smiling, looking so much like Billy in that moment it makes Steve’s chest hitch.
“Billy doesn’t know Ev exists, so he doesn’t count as a father.”
“...You never told him?”
“He left literally an hour after I found out. I never got to tell him.”
“But if he’s-”
“Becca, drop it. It doesn’t matter, okay? Wherever the fuck Billy Hargrove is right now doesn’t matter. He gave me the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but he’s gone and not coming back, and I doubt I ever even cross his mind anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”
He sounds a little harsh, but he can’t help it. There’s a reason he doesn’t even ask after him when he talks to Max to update her about her nephew, even though he knows she’d never let Billy know.
He can’t do it. Not yet.
It ends sort of like this:
Billy’s midway through his Thursday shift, the night is slow as hell. He’s shooting the shit with their bartender Amy and a few customers, flirting with this guy and his pretty Asian girlfriend when one of the chefs in the kitchen pokes his head out and says “Hargrove, you got a cigarette? I’m out.”
Billy tosses an almost empty pack at him from his chest pocket, and then complains that Joe owes him. Joe grumbles out a ‘whatever, Billy,’ and when he turns back, the Asian girl is eyeing him curiously.
“Hargrove? Billy Hargrove?”
Billy’s eyebrows raise. “Yeah?”
“And you went to high school in Indiana?”
“Yeah, Hawkins. Shithole not that far from Indianapolis.”
The Asian girl has gone white, while the guy stares at her in confusion.
“Do I know you…?”
Guy nudges her, and her eyes leave Billy to look at him.
“That’s… I mean, Steve…”
His eyes go wide.
“Steve’s Billy, holy shit.”
Billy connects the dots and feels sick.
“You know Harrington.”
Guy nods, “Yeah, he’s one of our good friends. We go to school in Bloomington together. He’s here, too, but not like… here, here, obviously. He doesn’t get out much. He’s interning at the Chicago History Museum. He’s probably got like, work in the morning, and other stuff to do too, with Evan-”
Girl’s hand clamps down on Guy’s thigh, digging her nails in. and he looks at her. They stare at each other for a beat, and Billy gets the picture: You finish that sentence and you’re dead.
Billy’s pulse quickens at the thought of Steve in his city, and running into him doing something mundane like shopping at Jewel, or in line at Portillo's; he thinks about what it would be like to see his Ex on the arm of someone else when he’s smoking on the beach at North Ave, or walking home from the brown line.
And who the fuck is Evan?
“Steve? As in the guy this one gets drunk and fucking whines about?”
“Oh fuck off,” Amy laughs, “You should see him. He gets fucking sad and mopey. It’s been what? Two years? And you’re still in love with your high school boyfriend?”
“Wait, what?” Girl looks pissed, “You broke up with him.”
Amy’s eyes go huge, “What the fuck, are you serious?”
They turn to Billy, and he scrubs his face with his hands.
“It’s a lot more complex than that-”
“I was leaving and he was staying, how would that have worked?”
“Ask him to come with you, you moron.”
“I couldn’t ask him to leave-”
“I mean, he left anyway,” Girl shrugs, “And sure he’s just in Bloomington, and IU, but still. Had to get his shit together considering he -” She stops herself, not finishing her thought “- anyway, he would’ve done it.”
“What type of shit would he need to get together?”
Girl shakes her head at him, “Not my place, man,” she says. She hesitates for a second, before stealing a napkin, and taking a pen from her purse.
When she gives it back, it’s scribbled with an address for a garden unit off Addison, right in boystown.
“I shouldn’t do this, but ask him yourself. He has afternoons off, and every Wednesday, too.”
Billy Hargrove knocks on Steve Harrington’s door three days later, and he answers with a smile on his face and a squirmy, naked toddler in a duck towel on his shoulder. They stare at each other for a few beats, enough for Billy to register the baby’s big doe eyes surrounded by blond curls and long eyelashes and Billy’s face, before the door slams.
The baby wails at the bang and he hears Steve shush him through the door: “Evy, I’m sorry baby, daddy didn’t mean to scare you-”
What the fuck.
Billy shoves the door open, closing it behind him.
“What the fuck, Harrington?”
The baby in his arms - Evan - lets out a little sob at the harsh sound of Billy’s voice, and Steve continues to bounce and sway him, kissing the side of his head until he calms down. It’s only when he’s content that he spares a look at Billy.
“Since you’re not leaving at least let me diaper him before he pisses everywhere, Billy, Jesus.”
Steve turns down the hallway and Billy follows him into what’s clearly supposed to be an office, but instead has been turned into some sort of makeshift nursery. He diapers Evan with ease on the foam pad on desk, smiling and kissing his son’s kicking little feet, making him squeal and giggle. Billy’s heart flips at the sight.
“That’s my kid.”
Steve pauses where he’s attempting to get a squirming Evan into pajamas, but doesn’t look at Billy.
“I told you it could happen.”
He had. That’s the thing. Billy thought it was hot. Most guys who were born with the necessary organs would just have it removed when they were babies at their parent’s request, or they’d do it when they were in their teens. Billy had been born that way, too, and Neil had made sure his were out before he even left the hospital.
Steve didn’t, mostly because his parents were vain enough to buy into the old wives tale that the hormones made the boys who kept them prettier, with more delicate features, and then were never around to sign the consent forms for surgery. Billy had teased about fucking a baby into him, watched him squirm and moan for it. He didn't think he'd actually succeed.
“I would’ve come back if I had known-”
“You would’ve hated me for it. And I didn’t want you resenting me or him.”
“You thought I’d be like Neil?”
Steve finally looks at him, his eyes wide. He tugs down the shirt of Evan’s little dinosaur pajamas, hauling him into his arms and crowding in close. Billy can smell baby powder and and Steve’s cologne and the same fucking hairspray he used when they were teenagers and he wants so, so badly to reach out and touch him, but he keeps his hands to his sides.
“No. God no. I’d… You’d never, ever be like that. I know you Billy. I know you wouldn’t lay a hand on either of us, not now. But I also know what a fucking asshole you can be when you’re miserable. You would’ve hated me for keeping you there. I didn't... if you were going to not be there, I figured it was better for you to never be there. Then Evy wouldn't think that he did something wrong or know what he was missing.”
"I wouldn't... I would've been happy, you know? Even if I would've been stuck working shitty jobs for a few years and going to night school. I was stupid and didn't know what the fuck I was talking about when I left. We would've been happy."
Steve doesn't say anything, but reaches out, running his fingers through Billy’s hair.
“You got rid of the mullet.”
“Yeah, my boss was riding my ass like a witch on a broom because I looked like trailer trash with it, so I cut it.”
“Good. I always thought it was fucking stupid.”
Evan’s apparently deemed Billy good enough, and reaches out to pluck on one of BIlly’s curls. Mimicking his dad.
Billy has a son. Holy shit.
“Hey, Buddy,” He smiles at Evan, who smiles back bashfully. He looks at Steve for a long moment before he reaches his tiny arms out and Billy looks at Steve.
Billy nods. It’s the easiest decision he’s ever had to make.
“Okay,” is all Steve says, and tips their son into Billy's arms.
(It really ends like this:
Steve rolls out of bed when his alarm goes off, scrubbing his face with his hands in nothing but a pair of boxers and a t-shirt. The bedroom is dark like most garden units are, and he turns on the dresser lamp, the room filling with a dim purple light from the shade.
He comes back with Evan blinking tiredly at the room, yawning. Billy knows it’s the same face Steve does when he’s forced to be up early.
“Go by dad, okay? I have to get ready.”
He rests Evan on his chest, pecking Billy on the mouth before he walks out of the room.
“You okay, little man?”
Evan smiles at him, a mirror image of Billy’s own, before pressing his face to Billy’s chest and letting out a huff against his neck. Billy wraps his arms around his son, and they drift off.)