Billy woke in the darkness. Pure dark, stretching out in endless perfect nothing all around him. He took a step forward, then another, bare feet making the faintest of ripples on the ground beneath him.
There was something there, just ahead. A figure huddled on the ground. Tan legs and dark hair. Flash of red when it moved.
The figure jerked, turned towards him. There was something dark around her mouth, like she’d been eating chocolate. Or dirt. Her eyes were fever bright, skin damp and sweaty. She bared her teeth in a grimacing smile and they were tinged pink and red.
Billy took a step back and she tilted her head too far to the side, like her neck was broken. He took another step and she jerked again, moving forward in uncoordinated movements, her mouth opening wider and wider as she scuttled forward, teeth growing sharp and fang-like as raw limbs extended from her sides to help move her along.
Billy turned and ran, feet slapping against the cold ground, hearing Heather coming closer and closer behind him. He ran faster, pushed himself harder, but there was nowhere to go. Just the endless dark, dark, dark, everywhere he turned. Every glance over his shoulder showed Heather gaining ground, her hands reaching for him, fingers twisted to grasping claws.
He screamed as she caught one leg, sending him tumbling to the ground. He turned over on his back, scrambling to get away, yanking fruitlessly on his leg held tight in her grip. There were more hands now, all different from each other, appearing out of the dark to grab him and drag him towards Heather’s waiting mouth.
He struggled, twisted and pulled and struck out, but they held him fast as Heather crawled over to straddle him, black blood dripping down from where the extra limbs emerged. He felt a searing pain in his chest and looked down to see the scar pulsing red, the flesh melting away like wax as a claw of his own began to form.
You are ours. You are part of us.
The voices came from everywhere, echoing in the cavernous space. Billy thrashed harder.
“I’m not, I’m not like that! You’re dead!”
The voices laughed. Heather leaned down over him, rotten breath on his face as she whispered in his ear.
“Try not to move. It’ll be over soon.”
Billy let out another sobbing scream as the pressure in his chest increased and he felt something crack and break inside.
“Isn’t that what you promised them, Billy?” Heather’s voice shifted, grew deeper and harsher, and when she pulled back it wasn’t Heather anymore but Billy himself, leaning over him and grinning a smile with too many too sharp teeth in it. “But you lied. This will never be over.”
The claw worked its way out of his chest and wrapped around Billy’s throat, choking off his screams as the other him watched. He could feel them all watching, all those people, those poor people. He’d killed them, killed all of them. He wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t good enough-
Suddenly there was a flash of pain against his leg, like something had hit him. All at once the figures vanished, the claw disappeared, and Billy was left gasping in a different sort of darkness.
It was nighttime, and Billy could just make out the shapes of furniture around him. Harrington’s den. Somewhere a light came on and Harrinton himself came running in, out of breath with his hair sticking up and a bat full of nails in his hands.
“What-where-you?” Steve scanned the room quickly before looking down at Billy and oh. He was on the floor. Well, sort of. He was mostly on the floor, like he’d rolled off the couch, except one leg was currently laying in the remains of a lamp and sported a faint scratch running down the side.
“Nightmare.” He croaked out. Steve’s shoulders dropped, regret in every line of him.
“Fuck, I forgot about the pills.” He carefully skirted around the broken ceramic shards and peered at Billy’s leg. “You think you can get up?”
Billy took quick stock of himself. He was covered in sweat, shaking, tangled up in the blanket. He felt like he’d been run over. He felt like death. He shook his head no.
“Okay. Okay, don’t move.” Steve headed into the kitchen, turning on every light he passed along the way. Billy was overwhelmingly grateful and took the moment to wipe at his face, where tears were drying in salty tracks on his cheeks. Steve came back with a broom and hastily swept the bits of lamp away from them both before extending his hands to Billy.
He grasped them tightly, tried his best to help as Steve levied him to his unsteady feet but Billy knew he contributed little if anything to the effort. Standing there, supported once again by Steve’s hands on his elbows, Billy was suddenly so very, very tired. It had been only a few days since the mall. Hell, only a week since he’d gotten possessed at all, but he felt decades older.
“C’mon. I’ll clean this shit in the morning.” Steve sounded as tired as Billy, and the late night shadows did the bruises on his face no favors. Standing there in a pair of old pajama bottoms, Billy could see the marks extended down his torso, purple smudges on his sides and belly.
“It’s not that bad.” Steve muttered, and Billy wrenched his gaze up to his face. He let out a weak chuckle as Steve draped his arm around Billy and began walking them towards the stairs.
“We’re a fucking pair, huh?”
“Pair of what?” Steve quipped back as they reached the top step. Billy looked around curiously. An open door to the right was clearly Steve’s room, clothes and shoes and shit in a slight jumble on the floor, lamp on, but Steve was guiding them past the doorway, towards the other end of the house. The dark wood door swung open to what had to have been the master suite.
“Uh...where’s your folks?” Billy let Steve help him sit on the edge of the bed but he tried to touch as little of the blue patterned duvet as he could, very aware of his own sweat tacky skin. Steve crossed to a closet and dug around in a box on the floor for a few seconds, something he’d done recently if the discarded sweaters on the ground were any indication.
“Out of town. My dad travels a lot for business and my mom goes with him.” One pale shoulder rose and fell. “It’s cool, means I don’t have to deal with crap, you know?”
Billy did know. But he also knew what it was like to come home to a dark house and an empty fridge. Neil had always had good days and bad when it came to Billy and more than one night eating bologna sandwiches in front of the TV had made Billy question which one was really which. A little piece of Steve clicked into place in his head.
“Here, try this.” Steve held out an old Yale sweatshirt and a pair of red flannel sleep pants. Billy took them carefully. “They were my dad’s so they should fit ok, I think. I’m gonna grab some stuff.” He ducked out and Billy began the slow process of twisting the t-shirt and trunks he’d passed out in off. He felt sore all over. The dream may not have been real-and please god, let it not have been real-but the tension and thrashing had left a toll.
Right as he managed to tug the soft pants over his hips, Steve came back, an extra blanket under one arm and the nail-studded bat in hand.
“Seems like a waste to change clothes if you’re just gonna whack me.” Steve faked a laugh but one hand came up to rub at his neck.
“I uh, I can’t sleep without it right now. I will, in like, a month? But yeah. Not-not right now.” Billy nodded slowly, trying to inject as much understanding into his voice as he could.
That earned him a smile and Steve threw something in his direction. The pill bottle. Steve waited till he caught it and then took a deep breath. Glanced from Billy to the head of the bed and back.
“Listen. Neither of us needs to sleep on a floor tonight and this thing is a king sized and I’m fucking exhausted so you must be-” He stopped short and Billy could tell he’d been about to say the word ‘dead’. “You must be twice as bad so…” He gestured at the bed helplessly and Billy swallowed hard.
He didn’t mean it like that, Billy knew he didn’t mean it like that. No one ever meant it like that and it was Billy whose thoughts were pulling him in forbidden directions, into hazy half-thought out wonderings from when he was younger, dumber.
“Yeah.” He cleared his throat, tried again. “Yeah, that makes sense.”
Steve visibly relaxed. Billy avoided his gaze as they both started to get into bed, pulling back the covers and drawing his legs underneath them, dry swallowing more of the pills. The sheets were fancier than any he’d ever felt, the pillow plump and soft under his head. Billy blinked up at the ceiling as Steve moved around on the far side, propping the bat up against the night table before slipping in himself.
Steve hadn’t lied, the bed was more than big enough for the two of them, a good foot and a half of space between their bodies but it was still shockingly intimate. Billy tried to remember the last time he slept in a bed with another person and couldn’t.
The girls he had over sometimes, when Neil and Susan were out, they didn’t stay after he got them off. Didn’t roll onto their stomachs like Steve was doing, didn’t kick one foot out from under the covers.
Billy didn’t fuck girls, made a point of it actually. Wasn’t getting honey trapped with some bitch’s baby he’d sneered in the locker room more than once. Because he was old enough now to know how to play the game. How to kiss their necks and ignore their perfume, how to slide his hand under their skirts and talk them along until they tipped right over the edge. And he knew how to let them pet at his jeans, how to keep his cigarette lit so they wouldn’t try and kiss him, and finally how to ease them back with whispers of next time and not here, not with his sister in the house. They’d giggle and coo and let him drive them home too fast, never bothering to realize that next time would never come.
If more guys had spent ten minutes with a copy of Cosmo, his entire reputation would have come crashing down but they didn’t and that left Billy a wide-open sea of girls just waiting for someone to give them the tiniest scrap of pleasure.
There was a part of Billy that liked making them feel good, liked giving them things they all too often had never gotten before. It was what had him making eyes at the moms at the pool, what made it so easy to lean in close and whisper dirty things to Mrs. Wheeler. They all thought they wanted it-the bad boy, the hot guy, the thrill of the illicit. But at the finish line, chips down...they’d bail. All he’d been expecting the night the monster took him was awkward flirting, maybe a kiss, and then a free motel room without Neil’s five a.m. wake up call. And then the next day, he’d bat his lashes and tell Karen he got it, talk shit about how he’d see her around, how there was no harm in looking. She’d giggle and blush and he’d move on.
When Billy dumped a girl, she loved him more than she did before. All his comments about cows made them feel special, made them want to be one of the lucky few who got even a couple hours of his time. And the rumors of his love ‘em and leave ‘em habits kept Neil’s off-hand remarks about his hair and his clothes and his tendency to take his time getting ready to just that: off-hand remarks. One more set of insults that he tossed at Billy, never dreaming how close his words were to the truth.
Because it was true.
Billy had known it from as early as he could remember. Had told his mom about the way the shy boy next to him in music class made his heart race and his palms sweat. Had asked her why, what it meant. She had cried, he remembered. She’d smiled and cried and told him it was their little secret.
And then she’d left him and the secret was his alone, so he’d buried it in drinking and smoking and punching the lights out of any boy who dared make his heart race and his palms sweat.
He’d punched Steve, too. At the time, it hadn’t been because of that but maybe...maybe part of it had.
And now that he was here, feeling decades older, laying in bed with Steve, all alone in the empty house, exhausted and hovering on the edge of a dreamless sleep, Billy let himself admit it, just to himself, just for right now.
There were far more dangerous things he wanted to do to Steve Harrington’s face.
Next to him, Steve turned his head, eyes open and searching for Billy’s in the dark. He’d left the hall light on, left the bedroom door open, so Billy could see emotions warring in him, could practically see the words he was trying to get out.
“You wanna…” Steve tucked his hand under his cheek, making it easier to look at him with his full gaze. “You wanna talk about it?”
He didn’t have to explain what ‘it’ meant. The nightmare, the flashbacks, the entire experience. Billy did and he didn’t. It was hard to explain, even to himself.
“You ever go to church?” He asked abruptly and Steve blinked twice, thrown, before answering.
“Kinda. Mom makes us, every Christmas, but that’s about it.” He sounded confused. Billy’s hand came up to touch his pendent, metal warm from his body heat, raised design a familiar feeling under his fingers.
“My mom…” Billy paused, swallowed hard and tried again. “We went to Mass all the time. Sat in the back. Sang the hymns. Sometimes we’d stay after and she’d give me a quarter, tell me to count all the angels in the windows and if I found ‘em all, I’d get a candy bar on the way home.” Santa Maria dug into his palm where he gripped the medal.
“I’d sit there and count while she went to confession. You ever go to confession?”
He was talking softly, not whispering but barely, and if they hadn’t been in the same bed, hadn’t somehow shifted a bit closer, only a foot of expensive sheets separating them, Steve never would have heard him.
“No. That’s with a priest right?”
Billy nodded, eyes locked to the ceiling, recalling the scent of incense and the feeling of the half-empty church looming over him as he counted angels on his fingers.
“Yeah. You tell the priest all your sins and then they tell you to do Hail Marys and Our Fathers and then they absolve you of your sins. Clean slate.” Steve made an impressed noise.
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.” Billy finally dared to turn his head and Steve was even closer than he thought, head nearly resting on the same pillow. There was warmth in his eyes, slack lidded and sleepy but still alert, still taking in every word Billy said.
“I can’t remember what I did.” Billy admitted. “I can see pieces sometimes, hands and faces. I tied Heather up...I gave them to that, that thing, but what else? It was in me for days, I know it was. There’s these gaps...blank spots in my mind, each one longer and longer than the last. What else did I do? Who did I hurt?” He rolled onto his side to face Steve fully, mimicking his pose with a hand under his head, the other still clutching Saint Maria.
“How do I confess when I don’t know my own sins? How do I repent?”
Steve looked at him, lips pressed tightly together, gaze searching. The quiet stretched out until Billy nearly thought Steve had fallen asleep with his eyes open. When he finally spoke, his voice was gentle but firm, and one hand found Billy’s under the covers, tangled their fingers together around the Blessed Lady, right over his scar.
“Maybe wanting to is enough. Maybe stopping it, saving us...you sent them to rest, Billy. The Mindflayer had them trapped and you set them free. That counts for something, it has to.”
Billy closed his eyes for a long moment and when he opened them, Steve had closed the distance, was barely an inch away.
“Maybe it’s not the same thing but...I forgive you.” He squeezed their hands together. “No Hail Marys needed.”
Billy squeezed back and the quiet returned, softer than before. Oddly enough he did feel better, as if simply telling someone had taken a bit of the weight off. Maybe that’s why his mom spent all that time in confession. Maybe the weight of everything had been crushing her too. He waited for sleep to come over him but something niggled at him, a single coil of tension at the base of his spine. He wanted, Billy realized, to give that lightness back to Steve.
Steve, who held him like it wasn’t anything, like it was the simplest equation ever: Billy was cold and Steve was warm and so they would share. And there was more to it, all given as simply as body heat. A place to stay, a hand to hold, a bed to sleep in and a bat to keep the nightmares away. Steve was taking on so much of Billy’s weight, he was practically carrying him. As many things as Billy wanted to do, hadn’t dared dream that he could do with Steve...more than all that, he wanted to take some weight of his own.
“Hey.” He whispered quietly and Steve made a noise, not quite a grunt but something like it. “Tell me about the guitar.”
Steve sighed and his breath flowed down under the covers into the space between them. His lips quirked up in a self-deprecating smile.
“My mom liked all this old stuff when I was a kid. She’d play the radio and sing along, try to teach me the words. I uh.” He paused, took a breath, moved like he wanted to get even closer to Billy. “I dunno, I was like twelve and I was dumb and I thought it’d be cool to learn to play ‘em for her birthday.”
“Yeah.” Steve nodded minutely. “Yeah, a few. Beatles, Everley Brothers. Old shit.” He mimicked Robin and Billy chuckled softly. Steve sobered.
“She wasn’t home that day. My dad had um. She caught him, with his secretary. So she went with him to Kansas to make sure he behaved.” There was years of bitterness in that one word, and a lifetime of pain. Steve shrugged the shoulder that was sticking out of the blankets, a pale shape moving in the dim light, and it was so familiar a movement by now that Billy thought he might know it anywhere.
“Tommy found it and gave me shit, told me I’d be a band geek if I kept it up and…” Steve let out another deep breath, forcibly lightening his tone. “...that seemed like the worst thing ever at twelve so I stopped. Forgot about it kinda, until today.”
Billy hummed under his breath, finally tipping his face closer to Steve’s, until their foreheads just barely touched.
“Play for me sometime. Tomorrow. All the old shit.”
“I’ll suck.” Steve scoffed and Billy smiled, feeling the pills and the quiet tugging at his eyelids.
“Don’t care. Wanna hear it. You. Whatever.”
Steve scoffed again, disbelieving this time, but his voice held something like happiness when he next spoke.
“Okay. I’ll play you something.”
Billy hummed his approval and it was the most natural thing in the world to drift to sleep now, slipping gently not into blackness but the deep brown of Steve’s eyes.