The floor under Billy is solid, cool to the touch but not cold. Everything had been cold for so long, ice in his veins and weighing down his limbs. He couldn’t remember the last warm thing he’d touched except-
The girl. With the dark eyes. She’d touched him. In that place, that dark empty place where he went whenever that thing took over. She’d taken his hand and asked him something, what was it?
More crying, harder now, sobs of pain and loss. Mom?
Had his mom been there?
”Oh, Oh Jesus.”
No, the girl, the girl had touched him again, had cupped his face in her warm hand and talked about that last trip to the beach, before mom left, before she had left him behind. Why was he left behind?
”He saved us. He saved all of us.”
He did? But why was someone crying?
”I’m...Max, I’m so sorry.”
Wait, Max? Was Max crying? Over him? But why?
He tried to move his eyes, to open them but it was too heavy, too hard to get them to work. He wanted to get up. He wanted to find someplace warmer than this cool, hard floor but everything was so heavy.
More noise, loud and harsh.
”This is the United States Military! Hands up! Get your hands up!”
The military? What was going on? He focused, poured everything he had into cracking open an eye.
All around him were pants and shoes. Wait, no. Legs. People were standing around him except for Max. Max and the girl with the warm touch. They were sitting and crying.
Why was Max crying? Was she hurt? He vaguely remembered her standing in a hallway, remembered her saying something that came from far away, something he couldn’t hear over the noise in his head. But why was she crying?
More noises. Booted feet on tile floor. Were they at the mall? Why the hell was he laying on the floor of the mall?
He peered around as best he could, finally able to turn his head the tiniest bit. God, everything hurt. Had he crashed his car? He thought he crashed his car. His dad was gonna kill him.
Everyone was facing away from him, hands raised, looking towards a set of bright lights, the source of the noise. Straining, he raised his head to look.
Soldiers flooded the space, soldiers with boots and lights and guns.
With a groan barely audible over the noise of what he was pretty sure were choppers, he moved his left arm, inching it across the blood streaked tile. Fuck, as soon as he got warm he was gonna sleep for a week.
But first he was gonna punch the lights out of whoever made Max cry like that. Only he got to make Max cry.
With a sudden burst of fading energy, Billy stretched out his hand and grabbed Max’s ankle.
She screamed. And then the other girl screamed and why the hell was everyone screaming?
“...shut-“ He coughed, something wet in the back of his throat. “shut up, fuck...”
“Billy?!” Hands landed on his chest and ow.
“Holy shit, Billy! Billy, are you-are you okay?!” He looked up, into Max’s tear filled eyes and tried to squeeze the ankle still wrapped in his weak grip.
She laughed, a broken tiny sound and that was good. Max had a good laugh. She was pretty when she laughed. Had he ever told her that?
“Doctor! We need a doctor!” Was that Harrington? What the hell was going on?
“We need a medic!” Sinclair. Had he made Max cry? He was dead. Just as soon as he could move his legs.
“It’s okay now.” That was the girl with the warm touch. She was touching him now, small hand resting on his forehead, brushing his hair back and warming up his still foggy brain. “It’s okay. He’s gone.”
More hands, more warmth, carefully patting him anywhere they could reach. Max and the girl and those kids who Max pal’d around with, and Byers and Wheeler and one of the band geeks and Harrington. What in God’s holy name had happened?
“Who’s gone? Who’s...he?” Max and the girl exchanged glances.
“Billy. What’s the last thing you remember?” Harrington asked softly, hesitantly. Remember? He remembered a beach, his mom in her favorite dress. He remembered the pool, the sun too hot on his face. His car, he’d crashed his car.
“...crash.” He croaked out. “I crashed. Near a...factory.” He swallowed, voice horse like he’d been screaming for days.
Everyone looked at each other, meaningful looks that Billy was too tired to get angry over not understanding. He had bigger problems.
“Cold.” He croaked out and suddenly there was fear in the air, in Max’s face and he tightened his grip on her leg instinctively. He frowned, and caught her eyes.
“It’s...fucking cold.” He shivered and a boy with a bowl haircut choked out a laugh, covering his mouth with his hand to hold it back. Why was that funny? He tried to frown but he wasn’t sure he pulled it off. He shivered again and again and then he was shaking violently, damn near thrashing and no one was laughing anymore. That cough was back, that thick wet cough and Billy turned over onto his side as best he could, heaving and puking as everyone save Max and the girl scrambled back. He shoved his arm under him, the one not holding Max, clutching her like a lifeline, but it gave out and he nearly face planted onto the floor.
Strong hands caught him by the shoulders, smell of Calvin Kline and chocolate sauce. Harrington.
“Whoa easy, easy Hargrove.”
Billy retched, rough and painful, his whole body trying to expel something. He felt something tear in his chest, something give way like a clog and he retched again.
Thick black goo poured out of his mouth, like half melted tar.
“That’s it.” Harrington propped him up with an arm around his chest, one hand holding his hair back as best he could. “Just get it all out.”
Billy retched again, harder, everything in him clenching and tensing, working to get rid of whatever that shit was. A solid lump of...something came up, the size of his fist and faintly pulsing, making a weak squeal as it hit the floor.
Billy collapsed back against Harrington’s chest, all his feeble energy exhausted. The thing on the floor spasmed, and then with a final whine, it was still.
“What...the hell was that?”
Billy looked from face to face, finally settling on Harrington because he was closest. Harrington sighed, and laughed-a tired, ‘how the hell is this my life’ laugh and huh. Harrington was pretty when he laughed too.
“That’s a really, really long story.”
Billy sank back into the arms around him. Harrington was warm, really warm, and Max was holding his wrist where he was gripping her leg and the girl with the warm touch had taken his other hand, smiling at him. Billy smiled back and it felt good, felt easy.
“Not going anywhere.”