Chapter 1: Chapter One
As usual, when Steve found himself in situations involving the kids, he wasn’t sure how he let himself get talked into this. It had been four months since the battle at Starcourt. Four months since he watched Billy Hargrove get shish-kabobed by a giant monster made out of recycled human beings. Four months, and El and Max had refused to stop looking for Billy, convinced that he was still alive somehow.
It’s not like Steve wanted to believe that Billy was dead either. They weren’t exactly friends but there was a sense of cordiality and mutual understanding between the two of them in the six or so months that followed the night El closed the gate. Before all hell broke loose in July. Back when they saw each other in passing when Billy dropped off Max or Steve brought the kids to the pool.
Not to mention what happened between them the night of Tommy’s graduation party. Something they’d both decided to never talk about ever again. Something he wasn’t even sure Billy remembered since they’d both been drunk. Something Steve had thought about every damn day since it happened because even if Billy didn’t remember, he sure as hell did.
So, yeah, Steve wasn’t eager to wish Billy dead or anything. But he’d been trying to move on. To quietly mourn on his own and try to get on with his life.
But the girls weren’t having any of it.
“He’s alive, Steve. He’s alive and El found him,” Max said, pacing back and forth in Steve’s living room.
El nodded from where she was perched on the arm of the loveseat.
“It’s true. He’s been...in the dark for a long time. But he’s moving. Or being moved,” she explained.
Steve shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Look, I know it’s hard to accept that Billy is gone but--
“He’s not gone,” Max snapped, glaring at Steve. “El found him. He’s being moved, Steve. This might be our only chance to get to him, so please, please. We have to try.”
Steve stared at the girl in front of him. Her eyes were glassy and her chin trembled. She looked young and suddenly Steve was reminded that although the kids had grown up fast with all the shit from the Upside Down happening, they were just that; kids. Max was a kid who wanted her brother back and Steve knew that if he didn’t help, she and El would just go after him themselves.
He sighed, running a hand through his hair.
“Okay, fine. Where is he?”
So now Steve was sitting in his car, parked on the side of the road in fucking Maine, with Max and Eleven in the backseat. Hopper of course wasn’t going to let them go alone and was parked about half a mile behind them, waiting for the signal from El.
Billy was apparently being moved to a “secure location” via an “inconspicuous” vehicle so as not to draw suspicion. Steve was a little hazy on the details. It was all happening so fast and El wasn’t always great at explaining everything that was going on. He figured they’d all have to sit down and have a real talk about it later. But it was clear the plan was save Billy first, answer questions later.
“They’re coming,” El said, wiping a small trail of blood from beneath her nose. “ Two minutes. Blue car. Out of state plates.”
Steve nodded snagging the walkie to alert Hopper.
“Hop, El says they’re coming. Blue car, out of state plates. They’re two minutes out. Over.”
Hopper sent back an affirmative and Steve started his engine, turning to look at the girls in the backseat.
“Remember. You only get out of the car if things go south. Hopper’s gonna try to handle it first,” he reminded them.
The girls nodded and a second later they heard Hopper’s siren go off as his jeep went flying past them, chasing after a blue car, just like El had said. Steve pulled onto the road, following after Hopper, making sure to keep his distance. He watched as Hopper climbed out of his car, knew he was feeding the driver some bullshit about speeding, asking for his license and registration.
“Guns,” El said suddenly.
“What?” Steve asked.
“They have guns!”
Steve stepped on it, closing the rest of the distance between his car and Hoppers, almost driving off the road in his haste to park. El was out of the car almost before Steve had stopped.
“Shit!” Steve cursed, throwing his door open. “Stay in the car!” he called over his shoulder to Max, chasing after the girl.
It was all kind of a blur after that. Like it always was when El used her powers. The men were thrown from the car, Hopper knocked one of them out while El took car of the other. Steve threw open the doors of the backseat. Empty.
“Trunk,” El said and yeah, that made a hell of a lot more sense than the backseat.
Steve held his breath, jumping when he felt a smaller hand squeeze his own. Max had gotten out of the car and was standing next to him, staring hard at the trunk. Steve squeezed her hand back, knowing that if the trunk was empty she was going to be heart broken. She wouldn’t be the only one.
El cocked her head to the side, popping the lock and letting the trunk door open.
There, curled up in a ball and shaking, was Billy Hargrove.
He had a blindfold around his eyes, and a gag across his mouth. His hands were cuffed behind his back and his ankles were tied together.
Steve was the first person to snap out of it and move. He leaned into the trunk, reaching around to undo the gag over Billy’s mouth, unprepared for the full body flinch as the other boy shied away from him.
“Please, don’t hurt me,” Billy begged, making himself as small as he could and pressing back into the trunk as much as the small space allowed for. “Please. Please. Don’t hurt me anymore. Please!”
“Whoa, whoa, Billy, it’s okay. It’s okay. It’s Steve. It’s Steve Harrington,” Steve said, struggling to get the blindfold off with the way Billy seemed intent on scrambling away from him.
Billy’s eyes were wide and scared when the landed on Steve. Recognition was slow to come, but Steve watched as it dawned on Billy’s face.
“Harrington,” he breathed, his eyes scanning Steve’s face before they landed on something behind him. “Max.”
Steve turned to see that Max had come forward, tears in her eyes as she scooched down to Billy’s level. Billy flinched when her hand touched his cheek, his eyelashes fluttering and an audible breath escaping his lips, like it was punched out of him.
“I’m sorry,” Max said, voice strained. “I’m sorry it took us so long to get to you. I’m so sorry.”
Billy shook his head, trying to push himself forward but not making much progress what with his hands and feet still tied. Steve helped him into an upright position, frowning when he felt that Billy’s muscles were still firm and toned under his fingers. He’d been who the hell knows where for four months now. Shouldn’t he be malnourished or something?
Hopper came into view, key in his hand. He quickly undid the cuffs, freeing Billy’s hands while Steve took care of the ties around his ankles.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Billy said, trying to stand up and immediately falling on his ass on the concrete.
“Okay. Let’s get you out of here. You guys can talk later,” Steve said, helping Billy to his feet, surprised when Billy accepted his help. He was leaning heavily against him, head lolling against Steve’s shoulder as he helped him to the car.
“Thanks for coming to get me,” Billy said, his voice a little slurred and then he was collapsing fully against Steve, yelping in surprise when his legs gave out.
“Oh, shit! Hop, a little help!”
With Hopper’s help, they managed to get Billy into the backseat of Steve’s car, seated on the edge with his head between his knees. He was taking long slow breaths in and out. Steve wondered how long it had been since he’d been able to breathe fresh air.
“I-is he gonna be okay?” Max asked quietly.
Steve didn’t want to lie to her. The truth was he didn’t know. It was obvious that Billy had been through hell. His adrenaline was high when they found him in the trunk, but it had clearly worn off.
“I don’t know, kid” Hopper said, saving Steve from having to answer. “But he’s alive. We know he’s alive. That’s more than we had yesterday.”
“Where is he gonna stay?” Max asked. “His dad thinks he dead. He...he won’t want to see Billy. He won’t be happy that he’s alive.”
“My place,” Steve said without thinking. “He can stay at my place. My parents won’t care. They’re never home anyway.”
“I’m coming too,” Max said seriously, her eyes still trained on Billy and yeah, Steve got that. She’d only just gotten him back. She wasn’t eager to let him out of her sight. Max had spoken loud enough to get Billy’s attention. Steve watched as Billy’s eyes flickered to Max for a moment, discomfort clear on his face before he stared back down at the ground.
“I think you better go home with El. Just for tonight,” Steve said, aware that Billy’s eyes were now trained on him, even with his own attention on Max. “I’m sure he’s tired. Just gonna go right to sleep. Right, Billy?” he asked.
Billy stared at him for a long moment before giving a short affirmative nod.
Max looked a little hesitant, like she wanted to argue, but El came up next to her and took her hand.
“We can see him tomorrow,” she told Max, giving Steve a look that he knew meant he wasn’t allowed to argue. Not that he was planning on it. Max had been waiting months for this.
Max nodded, reaching out and putting a soft hand on Billy’s shoulder. Steve let out a breath with the other boy didn’t flinch. Although he still wasn’t looking at her.
“I’m...I’m glad you’re back,” she said before turning to follow El when the other girl tugged her by the hand, leading her back to Hopper’s car.
“I’ll get the girls home. You gonna be okay with him?” Hopper asked.
Steve smiled what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
“Yeah. Yeah. I’ll be fine.”
Billy had fallen asleep less than ten minutes into the drive. Steve was kind of glad honestly. What did you even talk about with someone who was held prisoner in a lab for four months? Steve still didn’t really have the whole story. All he knew was that some asshole lab dudes showed up at the mall and took Billy which is why there had been no body to bury at the funeral. Wherever they were keeping him, El couldn’t see it, but then he was being moved somewhere knew and she finally caught a glimpse.
Thinking too hard about all of it made Steve’s brain hurt. Maybe he could ask Billy about it when he’d had a chance to recover. When he wasn’t so...zombie like.
No, a zombie wasn’t the right thing to compare him to. It’s like he was still himself but also...not? The Billy that Steve knew was tough and strong. Shoot first and ask questions later. This Billy was different. He was quiet. Reserved. Like he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Steve would sooner believe that hell had frozen over than that Billy had stopped wanting everyone’s attention on him.
Getting Billy into his house and situated on the couch was an ordeal. Steve had managed to wake him up, but he could barely walk which meant Steve had to carry most of his weight. Considering Steve was exhausted from the long ass drive and he had stopped even caring what ungodly hour it was, he was impressed he managed it at all.
“M’sorry,” Billy grunted, wincing in pain as Steve set him on the couch.
“For what?” Steve asked.
Steve didn’t know what to say. He coughed once, giving Billy a curt nod before he headed to the bathroom to snag the first aid kit, belatedly wondering if he should have taken Billy to the hospital.
When he came back to the living room Billy hadn’t moved. He was rubbing at his wrists, red and irritated from the cuffs. Steve reached out to take Billy’s hand so he could examine the wounds himself, but the other boy yanked his hand back. Steve remember how he had reacted when they’d first found him in the trunk. Even the simple touch of Max’s hand made him flinch.
“I just want to look at your wrists, okay?” Steve said, holding his hands up to show Billy the first aid kit in one and the washcloth in the other. “I figured you don’t want to go to the hospital--
“No hospital,” Billy confirmed, eyes wide.
“I know. I won’t take you there, I swear,” he promised. “But you’re hurt and I...I can help. Okay? I just want to help.”
Steve waited for Billy to nod before he reached for his wrists again. He turned them over in his hands. They were irritated, probably hurt like a bitch. Luckily, dealing with Upside Down crap meant that Steve had a very extensive, heavily stocked first aid kit. He pulled out a jar of salve and uncrewed the cap, smearing some on his fingers before rubbing it into Billy’s wrists.
He wasn’t prepared for the actual moan that left Billy’s mouth.
Steve blinked up at the other boy. His face was bruised and there was sweat on his brow, but even under the injuries his cheeks were bright red with shame.
“It’s not, it doesn’t mean...No one’s...” Billy trailed off, avoiding Steve’s eye.
Steve got it. He didn’t need Billy to explain. Four months of hell. Four months without a kind touch. Maybe longer. From what Steve understood, Billy’s dad wasn’t exactly a peach to be around. He put a hesitant hand on Billy’s knee, counting it as a victory when Billy didn’t jerk away this time.
“It’s okay, man. I get it,” Steve said, offering Billy a small smile and gentle squeeze to his knee.
Billy didn’t smile back, but he nodded and let Steve get back to fixing him up, so Steve figured they were okay.
“Are you hurt anywhere else?” Steve asked. The bruising on Billy’s face looked pretty fresh, but it wasn’t too bad. Mostly concentrated on the left side of his face. Steve wasn’t sure what was going on underneath the ugly green hospital scrubs Billy was wearing.
“I’m fine,” Billy said, blinking sleepily.
“Do you want a shower? Or food? Fuck, I should have asked earlier. Are you hungry? I can make you something. Or thirsty? Water. I’ve got, lots of water. I mean, it’s tap water but--
The use of his first name made Steve snap his mouth shut immediately.
“I just want to sleep,” Billy said.
“Right. Yeah. Sleep would be good. Um, can you make it to the guest room?” he asked.
Billy chewed his bottom lip for a moment, considering his options before he stuck out his arm.
“Help me?” he asked, avoiding Steve’s eye.
Steve slid his arm around Billy’s back, helping the other boy to his feet, and guiding him into the guest bedroom. It was just down the hall from the living room. There were nicer ones upstairs, but Steve didn’t think Billy could make it that far.
Billy was asleep the second his head hit the pillow.
If Steve lingered a little longer than necessary in the doorway, well, no one needed to know. Honestly, Steve didn’t care if it was weird that he couldn’t seem to pry himself away from watching the other boy sleep. Because for the first time in a long time he felt like things might turn out okay. Because now he knew for sure.
Billy Hargrove was alive.
Steve wasn’t proud of the sound that came out of his mouth when he went to check on Billy the next morning and found the bedroom empty.
Panic set in immediately. His first thought was that he dreamed the whole thing. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d dreamt about Billy being alive. But it was so vivid. So real. There was no way it had all been in his head.
The second thought to run through his head was that evil scientists had broken into his house and stolen Billy back. He was already running to grab his walkie when he heard a crashing sound come from the kitchen. Steve rounded the corner, his breath catching at the sight waiting for him.
Billy was standing by the counter, the cupboard next to the sink open. He was staring at the shattered remains of a coffee mug on the floor. The floor creaked when Steve took a step forward, alerting Billy to his presence. The younger boy’s head flew up, his eyes landing on Steve, wide and scared.
“Sorry. I’m sorry. I-I didn’t mean to break it. I was getting water and it just slipped out of my hand. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Steve moved toward the panicking boy, mindful of the broken shards of his mother’s favorite coffee mug (blue with sunflowers on it). With a gentle hand at Billy’s elbow, he steered him away from the mess, eager to put a little distance between the sharp pieces considering they were both barefoot.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry about the mug, just breathe okay? I’m gonna need you to breathe,” Steve said. He wasn’t sure if touching Billy was helping or making it worse, but as he watched Billy’s chest rising and falling steadily, he decided it wasn’t doing any harm. He didn’t let go until Billy’s breathing evened out and even then he kept a hand on his shoulder until he’d gotten him seated at the kitchen table.
It was strange. Having Billy be so...pliant, under his hands. He remembered when the touch of his fingers to Billy’s chest had sent him into a rage. Four months without touch, at least touch without a harmful intent, had left Billy different.
“Are you hungry?” Steve asked, eager for something to do.
As if on cue, Billy’s stomach growled. He looked embarrassed, but Steve laughed, getting to his feet and pulling a box of eggos out of the freezer.
“Do you like waffles?” he asked.
Billy nodded, but his eyes were still on the broken mug.
“I’ll clean it up later. Don’t worry about it,” Steve assured him, popping a couple of waffles in the toaster. “Are waffles enough? How hungry are you? I can make you something to go with them if you want.”
The look of surprise on Billy’s face broke Steve’s heart. He wasn’t used to being asked what he wanted to eat. Had probably eaten whatever was put in front of him his whole life, let alone the last four months. Even now he looked hesitant. Like he didn’t want to bother Steve.
“It’s okay, really. I don’t mind. Max will kill me if she thinks I’m not feeding you, so really I’m just trying to save my own ass,” Steve said.
Billy didn't smile, but the corner of his lips twitched. Steve was gonna go ahead and count that one as a personal victory.
“Scrambled eggs,” Billy said after a long moment. “I...I like scrambled eggs.”
“Me too,” Steve said, smiling as he grabbed the eggs out of the fridge.
They ate mostly in silence, Billy focusing his attention on his plate, managing a few quiet responses to Steve’s questions. He tried to keep the conversation light, not wanting to pry too much. Billy would talk when he was ready. Or not. Steve wasn’t going to try to force it out of him either way.
“Max and El are gonna drop by in a little bit,” Steve said as he cleared the plates. “I hope that okay. I can try to keep them at bay for a while, but-
“It’s fine,” Billy said, getting up from the table. He looked down at his scrubs with a grimace.
“You can borrow something of mine to wear,” Steve offered. “I’ve got your clothes out in the shed in boxes but--
“Why do you have my clothes?” Billy asked, frowning. For a moment he looked just like his old self. It threw Steve for a loop. He sighed, turning off the water and putting the plates in the strainer.
“Max never believed you were dead. But there was a funeral and she...she was worried that your dad might throw all your stuff out and she wanted to keep it in case she actually found you. I-I told her she could put it in my shed,” Steve explained. When Billy didn’t say anything, he kept going. “I can go snag you something out of there if you want, but I mean, it probably smells a little dusty. You could wear something of mine for now and then we can go through it later. Or not. Whatever you want to do.”
Billy kept his expression carefully neutral as he mulled it over.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll just wear something of yours. If that’s okay,” he said, sounding unsure despite Steve being the one to offer.
“Okay. Cool. Um, I don’t think my jeans will fit you. I gotta ask, dude. How are you still so--
Steve cut himself off, embarrassed at the question. Billy huffed something close to a laugh and shook his head.
“What, you think they want a lab rat too frail to run through their tests?” he asked bitterly. “Mandatory work outs. They...they wanted me strong.”
Steve reached out a hand to touch Billy’s shoulder, to comfort him somehow. Billy shook his head, stepping out of Steve’s reach.
“Not now. Please. Don’t...I don’t wanna be touched right now. I’m sorry.”
Steve held brought his hand back to his side.
“Okay. It’s okay. You don’t have to apologize. You never have to apologize for that,” Steve assured him. “Come on. Let’s find you some clothes.”
Steve felt oddly self conscious digging through his dresser for something Billy could wear, when Billy himself was leaning against the doorframe, watching him.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” Billy asked suddenly.
Steve frowned, turning to face him, a pair of sweats in one hand and a t shirt in the other.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, why are you letting me stay here? We weren’t exactly bosom buddies before all this shit happened. So, what, you feel sorry for me or something?”
“Yes,” Steve answered honestly. “I do feel sorry for you. Of course I do. Jesus, Billy, you got worn like a meat puppet by fucking evil personified. Then you died. And then you ended up in some fucking lab for four months. So yes, I feel sorry for you. I’m sorry you had to go through that. No one deserves that. No one,” Steve said seriously, holding out the clothes for the other boy to put on. “I have a house that’s empty most of the time. I work a shitty job. And I spend most of my downtime with a group of fourteen year olds. I know I’m not the ideal companion for you, but I want to help. So I’m going to, whether you like it or not.”
Billy slowly reached out to take the clothes from Steve, looking a little like he just got whiplash from Steve’s little speech. Maybe he had said too much. But it was all true. Plus, nothing brought people together like shared trauma so, at least they were on common ground in that respect.
They both jumped when the doorbell rang.
“You go ahead and get changed. I’ll let them in,” Steve said, side stepping Billy to get to the door.
Steve paused, glancing back over his shoulder at Billy to find the other boy already looking at him.
“Yeah?” he asked.
Billy swallowed hard.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
When Steve was sixteen, his mom walked in on him with a girl. They hadn’t gotten very far, but the girl was on top of him with her shirt off, so it was far enough to his mother to know where it was headed. He’d gotten a lecture from both of his parents and the girl he was with never called him again because she was so embarrassed.
When he was seventeen, he got smacked in the face with a basketball in the middle of the big homecoming game, in front of the entire school. Had to walk around with a swollen nose and a black eye for a week. Needless to say there were endless taunts tossed his way in the locker room and no one would even think about passing him the ball during practice.
Two weeks ago he thought he and Robin were alone in the video store and had done a sparkling rendition of “Can’t Fight this Feeling,” complete with air guitar and some less than stellar dance moves. It wasn’t until the song had finished that Steve realized the whole of the party had come into the store and were staring at him with shit eating grins on their faces. El, who had discovered the joys of polaroid cameras, had snapped several photos. Photos that were shared among the kids, and Robin, proudly on display on cork boards in their rooms.
Steve would happily relive one of those awkward, more than a little embarrassing moments, in favor of sitting any longer in a room full of people who were all shit at talking about their feelings. And yeah, it’s not like Steve was eager to talk about his feelings either, but he needed someone to start talking before his head exploded.
Hopper had brought the girls over, just like he said he would. But there seemed to be no plan after that. Billy was sitting in the middle of the couch, staring at his knees. Max was on one side, nervously playing with the sleeves of her sweatshirt. El was on the other side, staring at Billy like she was trying to figure him out. Steve wondered if she was taking a little walk through his mind to find out where he had been all this time, but that seemed like something she would ask permission before she went ahead and did it.
“Does anyone want anything to drink?” Steve asked, because if he had to stand in around in awkward silence for another minute he was going to lose it.
There were head shakes all around. Great. Steve sighed, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, his fingers tapping against his elbow.
“I’m sorry,” Billy said suddenly, his voice low but still enough to make Steve jump with the suddenness of it. “For...all of it.”
“It wasn’t your fault. The monster--
“No. Not that. I mean, yes that, but also, everything else. Before all the crazy shit,” Billy said, looking at Max out of the corner of his eye. “I know I was a shitty brother and--and I’m sorry for that. I know it’s not an excuse, but it wasn’t about you. It...It was never about you. I’m--
He cut off, biting his bottom lip to try to keep it from trembling. His eyes were squeezed shut, his hands shaking where they rested on his knees. Steve had the overwhelming urge to wrap his arms around the other boy and hold him until that look was gone from his face. Until he felt safe. And it was strange, having that sort of feeling for Billy “look at me wrong and I’ll punch your lights out” Hargrove, but Steve couldn’t help it. Not when Billy looked so broken.
Steve let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding as Max scooted closer to Billy, letting her head rest on his shoulder.
“I missed you,” she said quietly.
It was a simple gesture. Small and affectionate. Steve watched as Billy opened his eyes, glancing over at his sister, something close to wonder on his face. He moved slowly, like he wasn’t sure he was allowed to, and leaned his head against Max’s.
“Missed you too, kid.”
Max sat up abruptly, startling everyone as she shattered the moment.
“I almost forgot,” she said, reaching under the neck of her sweatshirt and pulling out a necklace. Billy’s necklace, Steve realized as Max slipped it off over her head and held it out to her brother. “I wanted to keep it safe. Make sure it didn’t get lost. I know how important it is to you.”
Billy took the necklace, turning it over in his hands, before undoing the hook. His hair had grown longer in his time in the lab and he couldn’t quite manage to get it hooked without his curls getting tangled in it.
“Let me,” Max said, swatting Billy’s hands out of the way and taking over. El lifted Billy’s curls off his neck so that Max could hook the clasp with ease.
“Pretty,” El said decisively. Whether she was talking about the necklace or Billy himself Steve wasn’t sure. Either way he would have agreed.
Billy smiled at the strange girl with the even stranger powers. It was the first real smile Steve had seen on his face maybe ever. It was far from the cocky smirk Steve had grown so accustomed to. It was nice. Seeing him happy.
They didn’t stay too long. Mostly because Billy was still exhausted and clearly trying to stay awake just for the benefit of the others. When he actually nodded off in the middle of El asking him a question Hopper got to his feet, declaring it was time they headed out and let Billy get some rest.
“I’ll come back,” Max promised, she and El sandwiching Billy in a hug that had Steve trying not to smile. He failed of course, smiling like an idiot when Billy awkwardly ruffled both of the girl’s hair.
“Me too,” El said seriously, taking Max by the hand and pulling her across the room to say goodbye to Steve.
“I’ll be here,” Billy told them, his eyes meeting Steve’s for a moment. He jumped when Hopper clapped a hand on his shoulder.
“I didn’t get a chance to say it before, but thank you. For saving her,” he said, nodding toward El.
Steve swallowed hard, remembering the moment Billy had broken free of the Mind Flayer’s control over him, using his bare hands to stop one of its tentacles (or was it it’s tongue?) before it could strike El. He did it like it was nothing. Like he stood up to monster’s on a daily basis. And for the life of him, Steve didn’t understand why Billy would sacrifice himself for a girl he didn’t even know.
“You’re welcome,” Billy managed, voice coming out a little strained.
Hopper smiled, giving Billy’s shoulder a squeeze before ushering the girls out the door.
The house was quiet again. Steve hated when it was quiet. The silence made him antsy. Growing up in an empty house, he should be used to it. He shook his head. There were more important things to worry about than how much he hated his big stupid noiseless house.
Steve jumped at the sound of Billy’s voice.
“Yeah?” he asked.
“I said I’m gonna go take a nap.”
“Right, uh, you must still be pretty tired,” Steve said, feeling stupid for not hearing Billy the first time.
“You okay?” the other boy asked, brow furrowed in concern.
And wasn’t that ironic. Billy was the one who was held in a lab and put through tests for four months, but here he was, asking if Steve was okay.
Steve wasn’t okay.
Everything that had happened over the last several months had been ten kinds of fucked up. Sure, he and Robin joked about “that time they were interrogated by evil Russians and so hopped up on drugs they ate popcorn out of the trash and watched Back to the Future,” but underneath all wisecracks, it was all pretty messed up. But what else are you supposed to do when you’re literally tied up and tortured? It’s either laugh or cry.
But Billy wasn’t doing either. He wasn’t laughing. He wasn’t crying. He was more reserved yeah, and definitely quieter, but other than that he seemed...fine. How the fuck could he be fine while Steve felt two seconds away from breaking apart at the seams?
“Seriously, Harrington. You good?” Billy asked again, and he looked so tired, struggling to keep his eyes open that there wasn’t anything Steve could say aside from---
“Yeah....yeah, I’m good.”
“Are you ever coming back to work?” Robin whined into the phone.
Steve rolled his eyes. He’d taken the whole week off to get Billy settled and make sure he wasn’t gonna like, die in his sleep or something. And apart from spending ninety percent of his time sleeping, Billy was fine. He wasn’t lying when they said they’d kept him healthy in the lab.
“Three square meals a day. Regular workouts. I told you. They wanted me strong,” Billy said, addressing the whole party since they’d invited themselves over and Steve was, as always, powerless to stop them.
“But why? I mean, what did they want you to do?” Dustin asked.
Billy shook his head.
“I don’t know.”
“I said, I don’t know. So drop it!” Billy snapped, pushing himself up from the couch and storming off to the guest room. He hadn’t come out again until the kids were getting ready to leave.
“Sorry,” he grumbled, eyes trained on the floor, to embarrassed by his outburst to look any of them in the eye.
“It’s okay,” Dustin said. “I shouldn’t have pushed. My bad.”
The topic of the lab and the experiments Billy had been a part of were carefully tiptoed around after that. They all agreed that if Billy didn’t want to talk, then he didn’t have to. He was back from the dead. He was entitled to a little privacy.
“Relax. I’m coming back tomorrow,” Steve said, though admittedly he wasn’t too thrilled about it. Hopper had the day off and promised Steve he would take a turn watching out for Billy. Even though he was probably fine and Steve was being a worry wart.
“So what’s it like? Having him around your house. Is it weird?” Robin asked.
“I don’t know. It’s kind of--
Steve cut off abruptly when Billy padded into the kitchen, wearing a pair of Steve’s sweats and a long sleeved white shirt. That was something new. Before all of this crazy shit, Steve could count on one hand the number of times he’d seen the other boy with a shirt on. Hell, even the shirts he wore were always unbuttoned down to his belly button. But now, Billy opted for long sleeves and cozy sweaters. Steve wasn’t sure if it was a comfort thing, or that he didn’t want the scars Steve assumed he must be covered with, on display.
“I gotta go, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Steve said, not waiting for her to respond before he hung up.
Billy scoffed, shaking his head as he got himself a glass of water.
“Not exactly subtle there, Harrington. Talkin shit about me?” Billy asked, leaning back against the counter and looking like he belonged in Steve’s kitchen with his bare feet and messy curls.
“Not really,” Steve said honestly.
“Was it Wheeler?” Billy asked, taking a long sip off his glass.
“No. Robin. We used to work at Scoops together but then the mall blew up so now we work at the video store,” Steve explained. It was weird. Talking about normal things. But that’s how it was when Billy was awake. When he felt like talking, he’d ask Steve endless questions, trying to fill in the four months he’d lost. Steve felt sort of bad that things had been so quiet in Hawkins. But Billy always listened with rapt attention, wanting to know even the smallest details.
“Are you guys fucking?”
Steve choked on air, sending himself into a coughing fit.
“W-what?” he spluttered.
Billy arched a brow calmly.
“Wasn’t trying to offend your delicate sensibilities, pretty boy,” he said, and fuck did that hit home for Steve. No one had called him pretty boy in a long time. Probably because the only one who ever did was Billy. It was something normal and familiar that Steve could grasp onto. Use it to keep him grounded when he needed it.
“She’s a friend,” Steve said, clearing his throat, hand over his chest as he finally stopped coughing. “ Just a friend.”
Billy shrugged, refilling his glass and taking a seat at the table.
“You hungry?” Steve asked, already opening the cupboards and looking for something easy he could cook.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
Steve Harrington had been called a lot of things. Rich kid. Babysitter. Dingus. And the one he got by far the most often; worry wart.
“Seriously, Steve. You’ve gotta stop pacing,” Robin said exasperatedly. She was sitting cross legged on top of the counter absentmindedly flipping through the newest issue of Wonder Woman, courtesy of Max.
“Something’s not right,” Steve said, sighing and running his hands through his hair. “I mean, how can he be so...normal?”
Two weeks. Billy had been in his house for two weeks. He slept, he ate, he watched tv, and he read. He read a lot. Every book he could get his hands one. He still gave Steve shit, pushed his buttons, if less meanly than he used to. He seemed to care less about his appearance, opting to wear his curls in a messy braid or a haphazard ponytail instead of spending an hour styling them. It was weird.
“I’m sure he’s hurting on the inside,” Robin said seriously. “Come on, it’s not like he was the type to sing Kumbaya and share his feelings before.”
“I thought you didn’t know him,” Steve mused.
Robin huffed a laugh, closing the comic and setting it aside.
“He was kind of hard to miss. What with the loud car and the proclivity for walking around shirtless,” Robin pointed out, swinging her legs over the side of the counter, waiting until Steve was in reach before she grabbed hold of his elbow. “Seriously. You really have to stop pacing.”
“Sorry. I pace when I’m nervous.”
“You don’t say,” Robin drawled.
Steve sighed, leaning against the counter, arms crossed.
“It’s just...it’s like he’s himself but at the same time he’s not. It’s freaking me out.”
“Would you prefer he was a crying mess? Or if he walked around your house like a zombie?” Robin asked.
Steve thought about it for a minute. No. He wouldn’t prefer either of those things. But he knew Billy had to be hurting. You didn’t go through something like that and come out on the other side without some emotional, and in Billy’s case physical, scarring. They all had it. Shared trauma.
“I want him to be okay,” Steve said quietly.
Robin hummed, taking Steve’s hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze.
“I know. It’s gonna take time. He’s probably not ready to talk about it. Hell, I wouldn’t be. I have a hard time talking about what we went through and all we did was throw fireworks at the damn monster. Can’t imagine what it was like being it’s host,” she said, shaking her head even thinking about it. “Not to be indelicate or insensitive, but I’ve gotta ask. Why do you care so much? You guys weren’t friends before. I know he beat your face to a pulp and...oh my god.”
“What?” Steve asked, worry in his voice.
“It was Billy wasn’t it?”
And okay, that question didn’t clear up anything.
“What was Billy?” Steve asked.
“At Tommy’s graduation party,” Robin said, eyes wide.
Steve froze. Oh shit. He forgot he’d told Robin about that night. It wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t meant to tell her. But she came over for a movie night and they got talking about real shit like they always did. Robin had a way of making Steve be honest with himself. She’d been so open about Tammy that Steve had let slip his deepest darkest secret. The party. He hadn’t named names, but Robin was smart. Of course she’d figure it out.
“I...Yeah,” Steve mumbled. There was no point denying it now.
Robin was quiet for a long minute, mulling over the new information while Steve tried to calm himself down. It was fine. It’s not like Robin was gonna tell anyone about it. But having someone who knew, really knew , kind of freaked him out a little.
“Huh. I guess everything makes a lot more sense now. I don’t suppose you guys have talked about that night at all since it happened?” Robin asked.
Steve shook his head, a broken little smile on his face.
“No. I don’t think he even remembers. Which is crazy because I remember it vividly ,” Steve said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“You guys didn’t actually...ya know...”
Robin trailed off, but Steve knew where that sentence was headed.
“No. We didn’t. Not, uh, not all the way anyway. Not even halfway. We just--
“Nope, nope, I don’t want the actual details,” Robin said, covering her ears and shaking her head. Steve laughed. Yeah, that was fair. She didn’t want to know about his sex life any more than he wanted to know about hers. “Are you planning to bring it up, ever?” she asked.
“Probably not. He’s got more important shit to work through. ,” Steve said, jumping when the bell above the door dinged, signaling a customer.
Steve was thankful for the distraction from thinking about Billy.
Even if it was short lived.
Hopper was just leaving when Steve got home from his shift. They’d worked out a schedule. Someone checked up on Billy once every couple of hours, to make sure he was still holding up okay. So far there hadn’t been any issues. Steve was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. No one walked away from Upside Down shit unscathed. Billy was no exception. Something had to give.
“He’s fine. Think he’s finally starting to get sick of being fussed over though,” Hopper said, pulling on his jacket. It was late October so Hawkins was getting pretty chilly. In the last week or so Steve had to bust out his sweaters, which Billy kept stealing since they had yet to unearth the boxes of his clothes from Steve’s shed.
“Is he sleeping?” Steve asked, looking over Hopper’s shoulder into the empty living room.
“Nah, just went to take a shower,” Hopper told him. “You know, eventually, he’s gonna want to leave the house. Not sure how we’re gonna swing that one.”
Yeah, Steve had been thinking about that to. Billy’s disappearance was a big topic of interest around town. There were a number of rumors about what had happened, most of the town landing that he had ended up dead in a ditch somewhere. Steve knew, as far as Billy’s father was concerned, that Billy was as good as dead. If he suddenly started walking around Hawkins again it would raise a lot of questions. Questions they didn’t have the answers to.
“I know,” Steve sighed. “We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. Thanks for checking up on him, Hop.”
Steve waved at Hopper as he pulled out of the driveway, waiting until he was out of sight before he closed the door.
He headed up the stairs, eager to change. He was thankful the video store didn’t require a full uniform like Scoops did, but he still had to wear an ugly uniform shirt with the logo for the store across the front. The shirt he was given was one size too small and for some reason it always smelled like Cheetos. Steve blamed Keith.
It wasn’t until Steve was dressed in a pair of old comfy jeans and a grey t-shirt with a hole or two in it that he heard it. The bathroom was right next door to his room and the walls were pretty thin. He could hear the water running, almost loud enough to drown out any other sound. But underneath that he heard the unmistakable sound of a sob. It was muffled, but there was no doubt in Steve’s mind that Billy was on the other side of that wall, crying in the shower.
Ordinarily, if Steve had caught someone crying in the shower, he would ignore it. Let them have their moment. But this wasn’t just someone. This was Billy. And Steve, ever the worry wart, had to make sure that everything was okay. He stood awkwardly outside the bathroom door for a second before he knocked.
“Billy? Is everything okay?” Steve asked.
No reply and yeah, that was a little worrying. Last time Steve had knocked while Billy was in the shower he’d heard an annoyed huff followed by a “jeez, Harrington. Give me a minute, will ya?” But this time. Nothing. If there was one thing that made Steve nervous, it was when it was too quiet. It's part of why he hated his big, stupid, empty house.
He hesitated with his hand on the doorknob for a split second before he pushed the door open. His heart dropped.
Through the glass door of the shower he could see Billy sitting in the tub, curled up in a ball and rocking slightly back and forth. There was no steam which meant the water had to be pretty cold. Whatever was happening, Steve knew it wasn’t good.
Steve tried to move slowly, not wanting to freak Billy out. He pulled the door of the shower open, sticking his hand under the water to confirm his suspicions that it was cold.
“Shit, it’s freezing,” he hissed when the water touched his skin, reaching out on instinct to turn the hot water on.
Billy’s hand shot out, fingers curling around Steve’s wrist, gripping so hard it hurt. His eyes were wide. There was an intensity that Steve hadn’t seen since Billy got back. But there was something else too. Something Steve recognized. Fear.
“Billy, I’m just-
“He likes it cold,” Billy said, tightening his grip on Steve’s wrist.
Steve blanched. He likes it cold . Well that certainly brought up some unpleasant memories. Steve hadn’t been there for most of the stuff that was going on with Will, but he’d heard the kids talk about it enough. Had enough late night walkie chats with the lot of them to know they all lost sleep over it. Not to mention Nancy was the one who pressed a red hot fire poker to Will’s skin to get the Mind Flayer out of him.
“He’s not here, Billy. It’s just you and me,” Steve said, keeping his voice calm and steady despite his own inner panic and the fact he was starting to lose feeling in his wrist.
“He likes it cold,” Billy said again, frowning and gritting his teeth as he resumed rocking back and forth. “He likes it cold, he likes it cold, he likes it-.”
Steve placed a gentle hand over Billy’s fingers where they were still curled around his wrist.
“It doesn’t matter what he likes. He’s not here. You beat him. Remember? You, Billy fucking Hargrove, kicked his ass,” Steve told him, giving his hand a squeeze. “He’s gone. Okay? I promise.”
Billy blinked at him slowly, the intensity in his eyes fading, the dazed look disappearing as recognition overtook his features. It was just like the night they rescued him from the trunk.
“ Steve ,” Billy’s voice broke, his bottom lip trembling. He finally released Steve’s wrist, turning away from the other boy and hiding his face in his knees.
Now that Billy seemed to be, well, Billy again, Steve turned the hot water on. He let it heat up slowly so he didn’t shock the other boy, watching as the goosebumps faded from his skin. But his shoulders were still shaking, his body wracked with sobs that he was trying to muffle.
Without much thought, Steve climbed into the tub. He settled himself behind Billy, a leg on either side of him, curling his body around Billy’s trembling form. Whether it was to warm him up faster or offer comfort Steve wasn’t sure. Maybe both? Definitely both.
It should have been awkward, especially since Billy was naked and Steve was fully clothed, but it wasn’t. Steve held Billy tight, letting his forehead rest against the other boy’s shoulder.
“It’s okay. I’ve got you,” he promised, a soft smile on his face when he felt Billy relax a little against him. He didn’t hesitate to lace their fingers together when Billy placed a tentative hand over one of Steve’s.
“It wasn’t my fault,” Billy whispered, voice so quiet Steve almost didn’t hear him.
“I know,” he said.
“I didn’t mean-
Steve hushed him, pulling Billy closer, murmuring soft words of comfort. They didn’t need to talk about it. Not now. There was plenty of time to talk about the Mind Flayer when they weren’t sitting curled up together in the shower. Not the best place for a therapy session.
They stayed like that for a long time. Until Billy’s shoulders had stopped shaking and his breathing had gone back to normal.
Steve turned off the water and got out first, grabbing a towel for himself and snagging one for Billy as well. Billy was still sitting in the tub, arching a brow at the towel Steve was offering and duh, he was naked and waiting for Steve to look away.
“Oh, uh, sorry,” Steve said, setting the towel where Billy could reach it. “I’ll just...grab you some clothes.”
He excused himself quickly, taking a few deep breaths as he walked into the guest room to snag something for Billy to wear. He opted for a pair of sweats and a soft hoodie. Not that he minded Billy borrowing his clothes, but he wondered if the other boy was ever going to want to dig his own clothes out of Steve’s shed. Though he seemed to really like Steve’s ridiculously soft sweaters and hoodies. Did Billy even own anything like that? Or was it all tight jeans and shirts that could be unbuttoned to the point of public indecency?
“Forget you were supposed to be bringing me those?”
Steve jumped at Billy’s voice, turning to see him standing in the doorway, towel wrapped around his waist.
“Damn,” Steve breathed, unable to stop himself, his eyes trained on Billy’s torso.
He’d caught glimpses of Billy’s scars, but this was the first time he’d seen them this close. Not like he was paying attention in the shower, more focused on making sure Billy felt safe than his bare skin. But now it was on display and Steve couldn’t help but stare.
There were raised pink scars covering his arms and chest. They looked sort of like bite marks. Like the one that had been on El’s leg. But there were more. Creeping up his arms like vines. Steve remembered watching the monster’s tentacle like arms biting into Billy. Seven of them total.
The last one, the one he’d taken straight to the chest, was the worst of them. It was angry and redder than the others. Steve felt a lump rising in his throat which was ridiculous. He wasn’t the one who was supposed to be crying.
“It’s pretty bad, huh?” Billy asked, reaching forward to take the clothes Steve still held in his hand. He discarded the towel, a bit of his old Hawkins bad boy confidence showing. He’d been far from modest in the high school locker room. But he dressed quickly now. Like he was eager to cover the scars.
“Yeah,” Steve said, voice cracking. “Pretty bad.”
Billy stared at Steve for a long moment, opening his mouth to say who knows what, but cutting himself off with a yawn.
“I guess I’m gonna sleep for a while,” he said, already climbing into bed.
“Right. I’ll leave you to it,” Steve said hurriedly, brushing away the one tear that had managed to escape.
Steve sniffled once, trying to cover it with a cough.
Billy pulled the blankets back on the empty side of the bed.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
They don’t talk about it.
Which is pretty par for the course for the two of them as far as Steve is concerned. He should get a list going. Maybe get Robin to replace her “You Rule/You Suck” board with a list of shit he and Billy should avoid talking about so that he doesn’t accidentally forget and bring up one of the forbidden topics.
Just for shits and giggles, Steve jotted down a list.
Things Not to Discuss with Billy Hargrove:
- The Mind Flayer
- Where he’s been for four months
- Tommy’s graduation party (a moot point since Billy doesn’t remember)
- That night at the Byers
And of course the most recent addition to the list; The Naps.
Steve sniffled once, trying to cover it with a cough.
Billy pulled the blankets back on the empty side of the bed.
It was innocent.
Billy asked him to stay. So Steve stayed, safely on his side of the bed, pointedly not touching Billy. And yeah, maybe it was a little weird to be wary of touching the other boy after he’d held him while he was naked in the shower, but sharing a bed with someone was a different kind of intimacy. A different kind of trust. The last thing Steve wanted to do was make Billy uncomfortable in any way.
The boy in question flinched in surprise. Billy was the “asleep by the time his head hit the pillow” type, so he’d assumed the other boy was already out like a light.
“What’s up?” Steve asked.
Billy didn’t say anything, but Steve could hear him take a deep breath, like he was gearing himself up for something.
“Would you...um, I mean...could you...
He trailed off with a sigh, tugging the blanket tighter around him. His shoulders were tight, his body position defensive. Steve reached out a tentative hand and let it rest in the middle of Billy’s back, just to offer some type of reassurance.
“It’s okay. Whatever it is, it’s okay. Whatever you want,” Steve said, rubbing his back slowly, feeling emboldened when he felt some of the tension ease under his fingers.
Billy took another breath, his voice barely above a whisper when he finally spoke.
Steve nodded, then realized that Billy’s back was facing him so he couldn’t see him.
“Okay,” he said softly, turning onto his side and sliding up behind Billy. He tucked his knees into the crook of Billy’s, sliding his arm around the younger boy’s waist. Billy took hold of Steve’s hand, lacing their fingers together and sliding their joined hands up so they rested against his own chest.
They were pressed flush together, Steve chest against Billy’s back.
“Better?” Steve asked, voice a little muffled, since the extra couple inches of height he had on the other boy meant that Billy’s curls were sort of in his face. Not that he really minded.
Billy hummed, a soft, contented sound that made Steve’s heart skip in a way he knew it shouldn’t. A few minutes later, Billy’s soft snores filled the room, and Steve suddenly realized how tired he was himself. For the first time in a long time, sleep came easily.
Steve assumed it was a one time thing. Billy didn’t feel safe and he needed comfort. That was all. Totally a one off.
Until the next time Billy took a nap, getting up from the couch with a yawn and a stretch and heading for the stairs. Steve had been watching TV and trying to get his stupid walkie talkie to work, content to chill on his own while the other boy took a nap. But then Billy had called “you comin or what, Harrington” over his shoulder and Steve, after he’d gotten over his shock, set his broken walkie aside and followed Billy up the stairs for a nap.
Now it was a thing they did. No questions asked. If Billy took a nap, then Steve napped with him and vice versa. And okay, after a couple of days Billy started sleeping in Steve’s room at night too. It didn’t bother him. He’d always slept better with another person in his bed. Seemed like Billy was the same way.
Steve usually waited for Billy to ask before he held him because he didn’t want to assume anything. It didn’t happen often, but Billy would tell him if he didn’t want to be touched. Still, Steve felt like it was important to let Billy lead.
It didn’t stop him from nearly jumping out of his skin the first time Billy initiated the--well there’s really no other word for it--cuddling, himself.
For all that Steve touched Billy; a casual hand on Billy’s back when he slid past him to grab coffee in the morning, a pat on the shoulder when he got up from the couch to grab another beer, Billy didn’t touch him back. Unless they were getting ready for bed. He liked it best when Steve spooned him, his arm around his chest and their fingers laced together. But he was always slow in his movements, even though Steve was always ready for him to take his hand. It was like he was re-learning how to touch someone. Like he wasn’t always sure he was allowed, or that it wouldn’t be welcomed. Or he was doing it wrong.
The first time Billy touched him, they were sitting on the couch, watching Family Ties. Steve wasn’t really paying attention, too focused on trying to remember the plot of the movie that he and Robin had watched while they were hopped up on whatever drug the Russian injected them with. All he knew was that Alex P. Keaton kissed him mom...and that was weird. Who the fuck decided that was a good plotline for a movie? Like-
Sometime during Steve’s inner monologue, Billy had scooted closer to him. And since Steve hadn’t been paying attention and assumed the other boy was still on his side of the couch, he jumped about a foot in the air when Billy rested his head on his shoulder.
The reaction was immediate, Billy scrambling away from Steve and staring at him with wide eyes.
“Sorry. I’m sorry. I-I didn’t mean-
Steve held up a finger to shush the boy, his hand over his chest as he took a couple deep breaths, feeling like a total idiot.
“It’s fine. God, it’s fine. I just...you surprised me,” Steve said, getting up to switch off the TV before settling back into his spot on the couch.
Billy stayed frozen where he was and Steve could fucking kick himself. The other boy was finally comfortable enough with Steve to be the one to initiate any sort of contact between the two of them and now because Steve was a jumpy moron, Billy thought he’d done something wrong.
“It’s okay. Really, I promise. You can...you can touch me,” Steve said, face heating up at the implication of his words. He meant it in a totally harmless way, but it was kind of hard to tell someone they could touch you without it sounding a little dirty.
Billy didn’t move, and yeah, Steve was a little disappointed. But then Billy was shifting to lay down, back pressed against the couch cushions. He arched a brow at Steve, patting the couch, an obvious invitation.
With a small smile, Steve slipped into the space in front of Billy.
Billy’s movements were careful, like he was trying not to spook Steve again as he tucked his knees into the crook of Steve’s. It was a weird, for Billy to be the one holding him for a change, but not unpleasant. Just the opposite actually. When Billy’s slipped an arm around Steve’s waist, Steve didn’t hesitate to lace their fingers together, though his kept their joined hands carefully away from his chest. He didn’t want Billy to feel how fast his heart was beating.
“Is this okay?” Billy asked, his voice wary and god, Steve wanted to hunt down every person in Billy’s life who had never shown him the affection he deserved. He sounded so worried. Like he really thought he was holding Steve the wrong way. And it occurred to Steve that maybe he’d never actually held anyone before. It’s not like Billy was one to let people close to him easily, even before he was the Mind Flayer’s meat puppet.
Steve settled into Billy’s embrace, thumb running soothingly over the other boy’s knuckles. He resisted the ridiculous urge to press a kiss to the back of Billy’s hand.
“Yeah. It’s okay,” Steve told him, smiling when he felt Billy relax.
They laid together in comfortable silence and Steve was pretty sure that Billy was asleep, his breathing slow and even against the back of Steve’s head.
“It’s soft,” Billy said suddenly and Steve congratulated himself on not flinching.
“What is?” he asked.
“Your hair. Thought it would be, ya know, crispy. Since you use so much product,” Billy said, a hint of teasing in his voice that reminded Steve too much of the old Billy. Back when he was loud and brash and cocky instead of soft and subdued, lacking the sharp edges he used to have.
“I washed it today,” Steve said, not even bothering to deny his use of hair products.
“I like it,” Billy murmured, nuzzling closer, burying his face in the crook of Steve’s neck.
Yeah, okay, that wasn’t fair. Billy couldn’t just say shit like that. Like it was nothing. Like it didn’t make Steve’s stomach flip and his heart skip an embarrassing number of beats. While they were on the subject of hair though, there was something he’d been meaning to ask Billy about.
“You know I was thinking, Nancy could give you a haircut. I mean, if you wanted. It’s getting pretty long and she’s pretty good at it so if you wanted-
“No,” Billy said, cutting Steve off.
“Oh, uh, okay. No problem. I just wanted to offer, but yeah, no big deal,” Steve said hurriedly, eager to move on because he’d clearly just stuck his foot in his mouth.
“It’s not...I haven’t cut my hair in years. I mean, I’ve had a trim or two, but I-I like it long,” Billy said, fingers flexing where they were still laced with Steve’s.
“It’s okay. You don’t have to explain anything if you don’t want to.”
Billy was quiet for a long moment. Steve could feel his chest rising and falling, his warm breath fanning over Steve’s neck each time he let it out.
“My Dad,” Billy started and Steve went still. Yeah, he’d heard about Billy’s dad from Max. From what he understood, Neil Hargrove was a real bastard.
“Billy, you really don’t have to-
“He didn’t like me growing it long. Said I looked like a girl. I think it was that I looked too much like her .”
His mother , Steve though, filling in that blank for himself. He’d always figured Billy must look like his mom because he didn’t look a thing like Neil.
“When I was ten he came into my room in the middle of the night with a pair of scissors. Made me sit in front of the mirror and cut them off, one at a time. For years, whenever it got too long for his liking, he’d sit me down and make me do it again. Then he married Susan and he had to be more careful. Didn’t want to explain why my hair was a lopsided mess. So...yeah, I try not to get it cut if I don’t have to.”
Steve was practically shaking with fury by the time Billy finished his story. His heart ached for the other boy, worse than it ever had, because no one deserved to be put through something so cruel. If Neil Hargrove was capable of that, who knows what else he must have put Billy through over the years.
“I’m sorry,” Steve said, knowing the words probably sound hollow to Billy. Words he must have heard time and time again.
“Not your fault, Harrington. Old man’s an asshole. That’s all.”
But that wasn’t all. Billy was trying to make light of it, but they were pressed so close Steve could feel the way Billy was trembling. He pulled their joined hands up to his lips and pressed a kiss to Billy’s knuckles because really, what else could he do?
“Do we wake them up?”
“Not without a picture.”
“Oh, shit, yeah, get the camera.”
“You realize they’re gonna kill us right?”
“Only if they wake up. Oh shit, he’s waking up, he’s waking up! Abort! Abort!”
Steve cracked an eye open, trying to figure out what had woken him up. Even through bleary, half asleep eyes, he recognized Dustin’s curls.
“Henderson? What’re you doing here?” he asked and as he wiped the sleep from his eyes he realized it wasn’t just Dustin, but the whole party who had stopped by unannounced.
“We just dropped by to make sure everything was okay. You weren’t answering on your walkie. We didn’t mean to interrupt,” Dustin explained.
“Walkie’s busted. Thought I told you that. What do you mean interrupt?” Steve asked, and then he realized that he was still on the couch...with Billy spooning him. “Uh, this isn’t what it looks like,” Steve said, trying to keep his voice down as not to wake the other boy.
“Really? So, you’re not cuddling on the couch with my brother?” Max asked, smirking at him. “Because it sure looks like-
“Shut up, Max.”
Steve jumped at the sound of Billy’s voice, trying to stay cool as Billy pushed himself up to glare at his sister.
“Have a nice nap?” Max asked.
Billy flipped her the bird, detaching himself from Steve and getting up from the couch. He headed into the kitchen, ignoring the pointed looks he was getting from the kids. Looks that were turned on Steve the second Billy was out of sight.
“What the hell dude?” Dustin hissed. “Since when do you spoon Billy fucking Hargrove?”
“Yeah, I know he came back from the dead or whatever, but last time I checked he’s still the one who beat your face to a pulp,” Lucas said.
There were nods from the rest of the group and yeah, they kind of had a point. But they hadn’t seen much of Billy, except for Max and El, since he’d been back. They didn’t know that he was different. And they definitely didn’t know about Tommy’s graduation party.
“Guys, it’s not a big deal. Don’t you think if you were held in some Russian lab for four months after you were already a slave for the Mind Flayer that you’d need at least a hug or two?” Steve asked.
“I wasn’t in Russia.”
Steve’s gaze moved to Billy who was leaning against the doorframe casually, a glass of water in his hand.
“What?” Steve asked.
“You said a Russian lab. I wasn’t in Russia. I never left the U.S. It wasn’t the Russians who had me. It was a bunch of doctors. American doctors,” Billy mumbled, scuffing his feet against the carpet.
El stepped forward, a gentle hand on Billy’s arm.
“What did they want?” she asked.
Billy squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head.
“It’s okay. You can tell us. You’re safe,” El said, and Steve was reminded of how much she’d been through. Too much for a kid, that’s for sure.
“Okay. But I’m only gonna say it once, so if there’s anyone else who needs to hear it, you better get them over here,” Billy said. He didn’t sound like he really wanted to talk about it, but it was probably time.
You could only hide the truth for so long.
Sooner or later, it always came out.
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
It was weird having this many people in his living room. Growing up in a perpetually empty house, Steve wasn’t used to seeing his living room...full. Unless his parents were home and hosting their annual, obligatory, Christmas party. And even then they used the second living room, the one that looked like it belonged in a museum or some shit, given the complete and utter absence of life. Six kids, two adults, and five teenagers were far from the norm.
The kids had all managed to squish themselves onto the couch, four of them on the cushions and one perched on each arm. Jonathan and Nancy occupied the loveseat, while Hopper and Joyce leaned against the wall, sort of watching over everything like they always did. Steve was sitting on the floor next to the armchair which was occupied by Billy, Robin sitting at his side with her legs across his lap.
Billy hadn’t spoken yet.
Aside from exchanging greetings and the usual pleasantries, no one had. Thankfully, right when Steve was about to crawl out of his skin because no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get over his anxiety when it was too quiet, Max spoke up.
“So,” she started, looking a little nervous. “If you weren’t in Russia...where were you?”
Billy was quiet for a long moment, fiddling with the hem of his shirt, biting his bottom lip like he was trying to figure out how much he should say.
“New York,” he said, finally. “I think.”
“You think?” Hopper asked.
“I...I mean, it’s not like they let me outside of the lab. But, but I almost got out once. Just once. And they were pulling me away, back down the hall, but I could hear...I could hear street noises. Someone, hailing a cab. Something about Macy’s. Thirty-fourth street. So I figured, New York,” Billy explained.
Steve’s stomach twisted. Thinking Billy was dead hurt. Thinking he was in Russia, practically impossible to get to, almost hurt more. But thinking about Billy in a lab in New York, which was a long drive but far from impossible to make, hurt more. If they had known, if he had known, he could have gotten to him sooner.
“The doctors were American. All of them. Doctor, uh, Doctor Owens. He was the one in charge,” Billy said, wringing his hands, knee bouncing. He looked like the epitome of anxiety, nervous energy pouring out of him.
“That son of a--
Joyce cut Hopper off, placing a hand on his arm. She looked just as pissed as the chief, but there was a time and a place, and right now there were more important things to talk about than how much of an ass whooping Doctor Owens was in for.
“What did they want with you?” El asked and Steve kind of wanted to tell her to wait. To let Billy get there on his own. But he understood the sense of urgency that El felt, having lived the majority of her life inside of a lab. Steve never really got all the details, and he wasn’t about to pry. They were just kids, even with all they had been through. But he knew she’d been forced into some pretty horrible experiments.
“I...I wasn’t sure at first,” Billy admitted, frowning down at his hands. “They patched me up. Made sure I got nice and healthy again. Pretty sure they used drugs or some shit to speed up the healing process. And after that, after that, they kept me strong. Mandatory workouts, muscle strengthening. Mentally to. Brain teasers, puzzles, all sorts of shit. They’d lock me in a room and make me solve problems and find keys to get out,” Billy said, and now Steve was confused, because what the actual fuck?
Keeping him strong made sense, sure. Doing experiments on someone weak and frail, meant a higher chance of them not being able to withstand tests. But brain teasers? Puzzles? Not exactly what Steve expected from scary scientists studying the Upside Down.
“I don’t understand,” Max piped up. “I mean, they must have taken you to study you right? Because you were...the host. And you had all that, that black goo from the Upside Down and they wanted to take samples of it. What else could they have wanted you for?” she asked.
“When I was the host, for that thing-
“The Mind Flayer,” Dustin said.
Billy frowned at him.
“The what?” he asked.
“The, uh, the Mind Flayer. That’s what we call it,” Dustin explained, looking a little sheepish. Steve rolled his eyes. It was the demodog thing all over again.
“Yeah. That’s a good name for it,” Billy said, huffing a laugh and shaking his head. “I was strong. When it was using me as it’s puppet. I survived shit that no one should be able to survive; being thrown through a brick wall, getting into a nasty car wreck,” he threw a look down at Steve which was fair, but it’s not like Steve was planning to just ram into the side of Billy’s Camaro. He’d acted on pure instinct.
“I should be dead,” Billy said quietly. “I mean, I shouldn’t have made it through that, especially not when it came after me for getting in its way. But I did and I used the strength it gave me to take it down once I regained control. They knew that and they wanted to, I don’t know, use that strength to their advantage I guess. They wanted me to host him again. But this time, they wanted me to be in control,” Billy explained and suddenly the puzzles and brain teasers made a hell of a lot more sense. A strong mind was more likely to be able to fend off an attack.
“They were stupid if they thought puzzles would make your mind strong enough to be in control of the Mind Flayer,” Mike said. “And besides, how would they even get him out again? You can’t get to the Upside Down without a gate.”
El stared at Billy with wide eyes, terror on her face.
“Do they have another gate?” she asked.
Billy shook his head.
“No. They were trying to open a new one, but the machine they were using malfunctioned. The thing exploded, destroyed half the lab. That’s why they were moving me. They had to start over somewhere new,” he explained, shaking so hard not that Steve was starting to worry. “They’re gonna come for me. Eventually. They’ll want me back and I--
“We won’t let them get you,” Steve said firmly, putting a soft hand on Billy’s knee. “Hey, look at me.”
Billy’s eyes slowly met Steve’s, wet with unshed tears, his cheeks a little pink. He looked scared and hopeful at the same time.
“You’re gonna be fine, okay? We’re gonna keep you safe. Promise,” he said, heart jumping when Billy laced their fingers together and nodded.
Ignoring the looks he was getting from everyone in the room, especially the shit eating grin Robin was trying to hide, Steve turned to Hopper.
“So, how do we make sure those assholes don’t find him?” he asked.
Hopper sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“I’ve got a number for the Doc, but if he’s not in Hawkins anymore then it’s not gonna help. But the good news is, Billy’s in the wind. They’ve got no idea who took him or where he is, so we’ve got that going for us. Buys us some time if nothing else,” Hopper said, and yeah, that was sort of reassuring but they all knew when is came to stuff involving the Upside Down, there was never an easy way out.
Billy was still shaking and his hand was sweaty as all hell where it gripped Steve’s. He would never get used to seeing big bad Billy Hargrove like this. So scared and subdued. But as afraid as he was, he was still strong. One of the strongest people that Steve knew, because he went through hell and he fucking survived it.
Will, by far the quietest of the party and the kid that Steve knew the least about, pushed himself off the couch and moved silently over to Billy. He scooched down in front of him, putting his hand on top of Billy’s shyly.
“I know what it’s like. Having him inside your head. I-I was his host the last time,” Will said, voice quiet, like he was sharing a secret even though everyone in the room already knew. “Sometimes I still feel him. O-or I did. When he took a new host, I knew. I would get goosebumps on the back of my neck.”
Billy nodded, like he understood and Steve found himself tightening his grip on Billy’s hand. Like as long as their fingers stayed laced together, then nothing back could happen to this boy.
“I’m sure you’ve already been told this, but it wasn’t your fault. None of it. He made me do bad things too. Really bad. And I didn’t think it was possible to feel safe again,” Will admitted, glancing over his shoulder and smiling at his mom and the rest of the party. “But everyone had my back. Everyone helped me through it,” he said, looking back at Billy. “And we’re all here for you too, okay?”
It might have been the most Steve had heard Will speak. At least about something that didn’t have anything to do with Dungeons and Dragons or the Upside Down. Damn. There was a reason they called him Will the Wise.
“Thank you,” Billy said, voice cracking. “I’m still sorry. For everything. All the stuff I did while he was using me a-and all the stuff before that. God, I’m so--
He cut off with a sniffle, tucking his chin and trying to hide the tears that were sliding down his cheeks. That was all it took for the rest of the kids to leap off of the couch, clamoring around Billy’s chair and throwing their arms around him, holding on for dear life. It was a little awkward, Dustin had tripped over Steve’s legs and was half laying on top of him and half hugging Billy, but it seemed to be exactly what Billy needed.
Steve let Billy’s hand drop so that the other boy could wrap his arm around his sister and excused himself to the kitchen for a glass of water. Robin followed him immediately, leaning against the sink with her arms crossed.
“There something you wanna tell me?” she asked, stealing Steve’s glass and taking a sip.
“You sure? Nothing about you and Billy?” she prompted.
Steve blushed, clearing his throat and stealing his water back from her.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Robin rolled her eyes.
“Dude, you had a death grip on his hand and I saw his knuckles. He was holding on just as tight. Last time I checked, you didn’t hold hands with Billy Hargrove,” she said, arching a brow.
Steve sighed, setting his glass down.
“Look, it’s not a big deal. He hasn’t been touched in a long time. And I don’t mean like, dirty touching, I mean like...kind touching? I don’t know, Ro. I think he just needs comfort and I’m here so I can give it,” Steve explained, hoping that didn’t sound too weird. It wasn’t weird. Was it?
“That’s...kind of sweet actually,” Robin mused.
“I just want him to feel better,” Steve mumbled.
Robin sighed, pulling Steve in for a hug and giving his cheek a kiss.
“You’re a good man, Steve Harrington,” she said seriously, hopping off the counter and heading back into the living room.
Steve took a second to himself, taking his time to wash his glass even though he really didn’t need to. He was starting to get used to this new, quieter, Billy. So far from the austentatious teen who effortlessly shook up the small town of Hawkins. But it was still strange. And having him around all the time meant that Steve was powerless to stop himself from thinking about that night. Tommy’s graduation party when things had gotten more than a little...interesting.
What the hell am I doing here?
A question Steve had asked himself the second after he rolled up in front of Tommy’s house for his, self proclaimed, graduation beer bash extreme!
It’s not that Steve hated parties now or anything, but they were a hell of a lot more fun when you had people to go with. Or when the host of said party wasn’t your old bestie turned tormentor. Still, he’d gotten the invite and he knew at least a few of his friends from the basketball team would be there, so it couldn’t be all bad.
Oh how wrong he was. Steve had shown up a little late and as a result most of the guests were already three sheets to the fuckin wind.
After one too many drunk girls, and hell a couple of drunk guys, had tried to shove their tongues down his throat, Steve was done. He’d barely been there an hour and he was already heading back to his car to get the hell out.
“Leaving so soon, Harrington?”
Steve paused as he was about to unlock his car, keys in hand, and turned to see Hargrove making his way toward him. He was wearing the tightest pair of jeans Steve had ever seen, cuffed at the bottom, and a pair of converse. His light blue button up was undone all the way to his belly button. Steve’s mouth went a little dry. Objectively speaking, Billy was hot. There was no denying that.
“Sleep it off, Hargrove. I’m not in the mood,” Steve said with a sigh, turning back to unlock his door.
Hargrove laughed, leaning against the door so Steve couldn’t open it and giving his shoulder a playful shove. Like they were friends. Which, last time Steve checked, they weren’t.
“Not drunk, man. Gotta drive Max to the dentist in the morning. Can’t be hung over,” Billy explained.
Since it appeared Billy was perfectly comfortable leaning back against the door of Steve’s car, Steve put his keys back in his jacket and leaned next to him.
“Why’d you bother coming if you can’t even drink?” Steve asked.
Billy grinned wolfishly.
“King of Hawkins High, remember? I gotta make an appearance at all the parties. Pretty sure it’s in the rule book.”
Steve laughed, shaking his head. Billy was funny. He hadn’t been expecting that. Granted all he really knew about the guy was that he was allergic to shirts that buttoned all the way and had a fiery temper. Not a lot to go on.
“Hey, uh, listen...about that night at the Byers,” Billy started, wiping his palms on his jeans. “Sorry. I took it too far. Know it probably doesn’t mean much and feel free to tell me to fuck, but for whatever it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
Steve gaped at the other boy, making Billy roll his eyes.
“Don’t look so surprised. I know it was fucked up, but hey, look at it from my side. Some random dude kidnaps my sister--
“I didn’t kidnap her,” Steve interjected.
“Well how was I supposed to know that?” Billy asked.
“Um, you could have asked?”
Billy sighed, running a hand through his curls.
“I’m not saying it was right. Or justified or whatever. I’m just saying...I’m sorry.”
Steve mulled it over for a minute, mostly because he was enjoying watching Billy fidget nervously. He’d never seen the other boy nervous. It was kind of a rush, having the upper hand for once.
“I forgive you,” Steve said, watching some of the tension ease from Billy’s shoulders.
“Cool,” Billy said, reaching into his pocket for what Steve assumed were his cigarettes.
“Can I bum one?” Steve asked.
Billy smirked, pulling out a small plastic baggie and pulling out a joint instead.
“Don’t have my smokes on me. Would weed do it for you, pretty boy?” Billy offered, lighting it and taking a long drag while he waited for Steve to answer.
Steve had smoked weed before, obviously, but it had been a while. A long while. His dad caught him smoking once junior year and had done weed checks in his room ever since. Sure he’d gotten blazed at a part or two over the last few years, but since he couldn’t keep it in the house it had definitely cut down on the amount that he smoked.
“Sure. I’m a little out of practice though,” Steve admitted, reaching for the joint only to have Billy hold it out of his reach.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. This is some good shit, Harrington. Can’t have you huffing and puffing and wasting it,” Billy teased.
Steve rolled his eyes, crossing his arms and pouting.
“Fine, I’ll just--
“I’ve got an idea,” Billy said suddenly, mischief in his eye.
Steve looked at him warily.
Billy grinned, stepping into Steve’s space and bringing a hand up to squeeze his jaw. Steve’s heart was pounding in his chest and for the life of him he couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t pushed Billy away. Why he was letting him stand so close.
“Open up,” Billy murmured.
Steve did as he asked without hesitation, watching in awe when Billy took another drag before he pressed closer, his lips almost brushing Steve’s as he breathed the smoke straight into his mouth. He was so distracted by Billy’s smell and his warmth that he almost forgot to close his mouth and hold in the smoke, before he blew it back out.
Billy’s hand was still on his jaw, his thumb rubbing against Steve’s stubble.
“Okay?” Billy asked, looking a little dazed.
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s okay. Can...can we do it again?” he asked. As soon as the words were out of his mouth he wanted to kick himself. Jesus, could he sound anymore desperate? And what was he thinking? Before tonight he hated Billy Hargrove and now he was shotgunning weed with him?
But Billy just smiled, letting his hand drop from Steve’s jaw to his neck, brushing his thumb along the curve of Steve’s throat.
“Yeah. We can do it again.”
They finished the joint that way and by the end of it they both had a solid high going. Billy was right. It was some good shit.
“That was the last hit,” Billy said, sounding a little forlorn.
By now Steve was more than half hard in his jeans, because Billy was sexy and strong and beautiful and in that moment, Steve wanted him. Badly.
“Fuck it,” Steve cursed, curling his fingers around the collar of Billy’s shirt and pulling him in for a kiss.
He felt Billy freeze against him and through the fog in his brain he remembered that this was Billy Hargrove who was quick to react with his fists and that maybe kissing him out of the blue was a bad idea. But then Billy was crowding him back against the Beemer, kissing him harder, licking into Steve’s mouth to deepen the kiss.
Steve broke away from the kiss to nip at Billy’s neck, grabbing Billy’s ass with both hands and dragging him closer.
“Shit, Harrington,” Billy moaned, slipping a thigh between Steve’s legs.
Steve whined, rocking against Billy’s thigh as Billy dove back in for another kiss.
This was up there with the hottest things Steve had ever done. Billy was whimpering against his mouth, one hand snaking down to rub Steve through his jeans and fuck he was gonna come way too soon.
“Mmm, Billy, g-gonna--
“Gonna come?” Billy asked, pressing his lips to Steve’s ear. “Hmm? You gonna come for me pretty boy?”
“Y-yes,” Steve groaned, rocking against Billy’s hand.
But then Billy’s hand was gone and he was sliding to his knees, practically ripping Steve’s jeans open as he went.
“Wanna taste you, can I?” Billy asked, like he hadn’t already dragged Steve’s jeans and briefs down just enough to get at his dick.
“Yeah. Yeah, Billy, fuck. Anything you want, b-but I’m not gonna last long,” Steve warned.
Billy didn’t bother with a response, licking a long stripe up the length of Steve’s dick before he was sucking the head into his mouth.
Steve was coming before Billy even started, his fingers tangled in Billy’s curls as he practically doubled over, crying out way louder than he should have.
Billy pulled off with a wet pop, wiping his bottom lip with his thumb, catching the little bit of come he hadn’t managed to swallow and licking it off.
The second he was on his feet again, Steve was flipping them around and shoving him back against the car, shoving his hand down Billy’s jeans (which admittedly took a little effort given that his jeans were so fucking tight). The angle was awkward, but Billy didn’t seem to mind, tucking his face into Steve’s neck and coming with a soft whimper after just a couple of strokes.
They leaned against each other while they caught their breath, Billy taking a little longer than Steve to come back to himself. Steve yanked his jeans back up, realizing that anyone could come out of the house and see him with his dick out, pressed against Billy Hargrove. That would be a tough one to explain.
As the silence stretched between them it got more and more awkward, until Billy was slapping Steve on the shoulder and heading back toward the party.
“Later, Harrington,” he called over his shoulder.
Steve watched him go, trying to work out exactly what had just happened.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
Steve had walked in on a lot of weird shit happening in his living room since he’d adopted the gaggle of misfit nerds and taken in the used to be “bad boy” of Hawkins. That time he came home to find Billy sitting on the floor, braiding El’s hair while Max braided his. Before he’d even gotten a word out Billy had said “not a word, Steve. I’m trying to concentrate,” as he tried his best to work El’s hair into two french braids. It wasn’t quite long enough, but he was still gonna give it a go. Max was pulling Billy’s into a simple braid, but she was working a ribbon into it. Steve wondered if Billy knew the ribbon was being put in or not.
After the braid incident, Steve didn’t think it could get much weirder.
Until he got home from work and found Billy along with the entire party, sitting in a circle...knitting.
“What the hell?” Steve asked.
Billy didn’t even look up, but his shoulders hunched a little, like he was embarrassed. He was getting better. Talking more. And in general it seemed like he was more comfortable in his skin. But there were still moments where he was closed off or shy and Steve never really knew how to handle them.
Luckily, Max spoke up.
“We had this neighbor back in California who used to babysit when my Mom and Neil were out. She was really nice and she used to knit and crochet so she taught Bil-uh-both of us. She taught, both of us,” Max said quickly, though the slightly tangled mess in her lap said otherwise.
“Me. She taught me. Someone was too busy skateboarding,” Billy said pointedly, sending Max a look.
“Okay...Where did you guys even get all the yarn?” Steve asked.
“Well, I thought it might help Billy pass the time since he’s kind of stuck here,” Max said. “And, um, we figured maybe he wanted some company so...we started a knitting circle.”
“It was a good idea, kid,” Billy said, reaching over to ruffle his sister’s hair. “Except you all suck at it.”
There were shouts of indignation all around. El reached over and held up Will’s knitting needles.
“Will’s good at it,” she said decidedly, making the other boy blush.
“Okay, fine. Byers doesn’t suck,” Billy agreed, throwing a smile Will’s way. The quiet kid smiled back shyly. “But the rest of you need some practice.”
Steve had to excuse himself to the kitchen because his heart was about to beat out of his chest. Knitting. Billy Hargrove was sitting in his living room, knitting. And not just knitting, but teaching the kids how to knit. It was more than Steve’s heart could take.
God, how did he end up so far gone on this boy?
“You really don’t have to--
“Would you just let me--
“No, seriously, I don’t mind--
“Harrington, give me the fucking laundry basket,” Billy said, hands on his hips, an annoyed expression on his face.
This was a new development. Now that Billy had been at Steve’s for a little over a month, he had decided he didn’t want to be a freeloader anymore. Despite the fact that Steve had reassured him that he wasn’t mooching off of him and that he was more than welcome to stay as long as he wanted to, Billy still started doing most of the household chores.
“But they’re my clothes,” Steve protested, keeping a firm grip on the laundry basket when Billy tried to yank it out of his arms.
“I wear your shit just as much as you do,” Billy argued.
That was true.
Billy had finally gone into the shed to go through the stuff that Max and Steve had saved for him and while most of his clothes had made it inside and into the guest bedroom closet, he still preferred to wear Steve’s stuff most of the time. Mostly out of necessity considering it was creeping up on December, which meant colder weather. None of Billy’s clothes were meant to be worn when it was cold. Even if he wore the shirts buttoned all the way up, the material was too thin. He didn’t even have a proper winter jacket. Not that he went outside much.
Well, until recently.
Steve noticed that Billy was getting progressively ansty. Too alive to be confined to Steve’s big empty house. He’d taken to drinking his coffee out on Steve’s deck on the mornings that weren’t too cold. Steve tried not to think it was cute the Billy always came back in with rosy cheeks and a red nose.
It seemed like he was trying to combat the stir craziness by keeping busy around the house.
Steve reluctantly handed over the laundry basket.
“That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Billy asked, resting the basket against his hip and turning to head down to the basement before Steve could change his mind.
Steve shook his head. No. It wasn’t hard. Not really. It was nice, actually. Seeing Billy doing something so normal. Steve was pretty sure there was nothing in the world strong enough to ever erase the image of Billy laying on the floor with black goo oozing out his mouth, eyes open but not seeing. But Billy with a laundry basket on his hip was a start. It was just so domestic.
Since Billy was busy with the laundry, Steve padded into the kitchen to do the dishes. He wasn’t about to let Billy do everything on his own.
Steve liked doing the dishes. It was relaxing and, since it was chilly in the kitchen, the warm water felt nice. When he was a kid, Steve liked to fill the sink up with bubbles, content to splash them around until his father told him to sit down and be still . His mother would drop a kiss on the top of his head and tell him to keep playing and ignore his father. “He’s in a mood,” she’d say. Yeah. A mood that never fucking went away.
“Your folks coming home for Christmas?”
Steve hadn’t heard Billy come back upstairs, and he commended himself at not jumping at the other boy’s voice.
“No. Dad’s got a huge business deal he’s trying to land right now and Mom’s social calendar is booked solid. The week after maybe,” Steve told him, though he wasn’t holding his breath.
His parents had only been home once since Billy had come to live with Steve and it was almost laughable how easy it was to keep Billy hidden. He stayed in Steve’s room all day, reading or napping and then when Mr. and Mrs. Harrington turned in for the night, he and Steve hung out in the kitchen, eating fancy leftovers. Honestly, they probably didn’t even need to keep him hidden. Steve’s parents were never in Hawkins long enough to keep up with the local news. They’d heard about the fire at the mall of course, but they wrote it off as faulty wiring and moved on. He was pretty sure neither of them even read the articles in the Hawkins Post about it.
Billy crowded in behind Steve, looping his arms around his waist and hooking his chin over his shoulder.
“I’m sorry your parents suck,” he said quietly.
Steve shrugged, scrubbing harder at the plate in his hands.
“S’okay. I know it’s not as bad as...I mean...other people have it worse,” Steve said.
“I have it worse, you mean,” Billy said knowingly.
Shit. Steve swallowed hard. Somehow he always managed to shove his foot directly in his mouth with it came to Billy.
“Not anymore,” Billy said.
“I...I don’t have it worse anymore. Now that I’m here. With you.”
Steve picked up another dish, running it under the water. He needed to do something with his hands. Needed to distract himself before he said something stupid and ruined the moment.
Billy buried his face in Steve’s neck, breathing him in. One of his hands dropped to Steve’s him, squeezing just enough to keep the other boy grounded. Or maybe to keep himself grounded, Steve wasn’t really sure. His other hand slid under the hem of Steve’s shirt, fingers trailing across his abdomen, leaving goosebumps across Steve’s skin.
Warm, calloused fingers made their way up Steve’s chest and it was getting harder and harder to focus on the dishes. Billy’s thumb brushed over one of Steve’s nipples, making his shudder. He bit into his lip hard, trying to stifle whatever sounds were threatening to spill from his lips. Billy hummed against Steve’s neck, his breath hot when it fanned out over his skin.
“B-Billy,” Steve sighed, his head falling back against Billy’s shoulder.
“I remember,” Billy said, nuzzling into Steve’s hair.
“Remember what?” Steve asked. He was trying to stay calm, but it was hard when Billy was touching him like this. With reverence. Like Steve was something special.
“Tommy’s graduation party.”
Steve’s eyes went wide. He fumbled to turn the water off, spinning around in Billy’s arm, startling the other boy enough to make him let go.
“You...what?” Steve asked.
Billy tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans, looking sheepish.
“You thought I didn’t remember and I let you. It’s not like I knew how to bring it up. What was I supposed to say? Hey Harrington, remember that time I sucked you off in Tommy’s driveway? Think we could have a repeat performance?” Billy said, huffing a laugh and shaking his head.
Steve gaped at him.
“You wanted a repeat performance?” he asked.
Billy’s cheeks went bright red. He bit his bottom lip, shrugging.
“I mean...yeah,” Billy said softly, looking up at Steve with those too blue eyes and unfairly dark eyelashes.
“I didn’t know you wanted it to happen again. I thought it was a one off. And then I thought you didn’t remember it, but god, Billy if I had known I would have...” Steve trailed off. He wasn’t really sure what he would have done, but it definitely would have involved having his tongue in Billy’s mouth and his hand down his pants again.
“There’s no way I could forget,” Billy said, backing Steve against the counter, keeping him in place with a hand on either side of his hips. He brushed his nose along the column of Steve’s throat. “The way you smell. The way you taste,” he murmured, kissing behind Steve’s ear.
Steve moaned softly. He couldn’t help it and fuck, he could feel Billy smirking against his skin. Smug bastard.
“That way you sound ,” Billy whispered, cupping Steve’s face in his hands.
There was a sparkle of confidence in Billy’s eyes that Steve hadn’t seen since before the Mind Flayer fucked everything up. But there was hesitance too. Billy was trembling against him as he looked at Steve like he was waiting to be turned down. Like he was waiting for Steve to break him.
Steve tilted his head up, catching Billy’s lips in a gentle kiss, eager to put the other boy at ease.
Billy’s lips tasted sweet like the M&M’s he and Steve had shared earlier, and a little like cigarettes even though he claimed he didn’t smoke anymore. Steve knew Billy still liked to sneak one every now and again, always taking care to smoke on the patio and not in the house. His lips were just as soft as Steve remembered, and the feel of Billy’s stubble rubbing against Steve’s chin had him shaking. If Billy wasn’t fully pressed up against him, Steve was pretty sure his knees would give out.
It was Steve who licked into Billy’s mouth first, unable to stop himself from chasing the taste of the other boy on his tongue. Billy groaned into the kiss, his hands dropping to rest on Steve’s hips, thumbs teasing under the hem of his shirt.
Steve broke the kiss, keeping his hands tangled in Billy’s curls and holding him close.
“We--we should slow down,” he said, trying to catch his breath.
Billy nodded, giving Steve a lingering peck on the lips and resting his forehead against the older boy’s.
“Okay. That’s okay. We can take it as slow as you want,” Billy murmured.
“I just, I wanna do it right this time,” Steve said, blushing bright red.
Billy smiled, kissing Steve’s forehead, both cheeks, his jaw, before he pulled away to brush Steve’s hair off his face.
“You a closet romantic, Harrington?” he asked. He was teasing, but his smile was genuine. His eyes kind.
“Don’t tell anyone,” Steve said with a laugh.
Billy shook his head, brushing his thumb along Steve’s bottom lip.
“Our little secret, baby .”
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
Despite the fact that Steve and Billy had all but admitted their feelings for each other, nothing much changed between them. It’s not like Steve was expecting a huge shift or anything, but aside from the kissing, things were pretty much the same.
“Of course things are the same. You guys have been a couple since he got back,” Robin said, tossing a skittle into the air and trying to catch it. It hit her in the eye.
“We have not,” Steve protested, stealing a skittle and popping it straight into his mouth.
“Oh, Farrah. You guys have been sharing a bed for weeks, you cuddle during movie night, and honestly the way you two look at each other is sickening,” Robin said, shoving a whole handful of the brightly colored candies into her mouth, clearly having tired of trying to catch them.
It’s not like she was wrong. He and Billy had been close since he got back. It was like, now that they’d been given the chance to actually get to know each other and get along, neither of them wanted to fuck it up. Steve didn’t want to fuck it up. He knew his track record when it came to relationships was less than stellar, but he was determined to make things work with Billy. Still, it was hard to drown out Nancy’s voice, nagging at the back of his mind.
It’s bullshit .
You’re bullshit .
“Does he know? How things ended with Nancy?” Robin asked. She was good at reading people, but she was especially good at reading Steve.
Steve shook his head.
“No. We haven’t talked about it,” Steve said, taking the bag of skittles from Robin and dumping them out onto the counter. He started organizing them by color. It made him feel better. Having control over something, since his emotions, not to mention his hormones, were currently all over the place.
“Billy’s not Nancy,” Robin reminded him.
“I know,” Steve said, not looking at her.
“Do you?” she asked.
Steve frowned at the pile of green skittles he’d just made. He didn’t like the green ones. He always picked them out or tried to pawn them off on someone else.
“I don’t wanna screw up, Ro,” Steve admitted quietly. “I thought he was dead. I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance, that we’d ever get the chance, to be...anything to each other. And now he’s in my house and he’s so close and--and he wants me too. I just don’t want him to wake up one day and decide I’m not worth it. That I’m...bullshit.”
“You are many things, Harrington, but bullshit isn’t one of them,” Robin said seriously, scooping up the green skittles and popping them into her mouth. “You know, I’m not the person you should be having this conversation with.”
“Yeah, I know. But it’s all so new. Is it too early to have the, here are all my hang ups from my previous relationship that left me with trust issues, conversation? We’re taking it slow--
Robin snorted, shaking her head.
“Please. I’m surprised you two haven’t exploded from all the pent up sexual frustration,” she said.
Steve opened his mouth to argue, but quickly snapped it shut because she was totally right. It was his idea to take it slow, since their first encounter had been quick and dirty and ended with the two of them ignoring each other. But having Billy so close all the time, warm and beautiful and alive, made it very hard to resist.
Steve was exhausted when he got home from work. It’s not even that the store was super busy, although it was Saturday so customers had been fairly steady, but talking about his emotions always left Steve drained. Which was probably why he avoided it like the plague.
Billy was on him the second he walked in, caging Steve in and pressing him against the door as he kissed him long and deep. Steve tangled his fingers in Billy’s hair, pulling back for a second to just breathe against the other boy, before kissing him again. He kept it slow, sliding his lips languidly against Billy’s.
“That was one hell of a hello,” Steve said, smiling when Billy kissed his cheek.
“Missed you,” Billy said simply, taking Steve’s hand and brushing his lips across his knuckles, as if Steve’s heart could take that.
“Hmm, I think you might be the romantic one,” Steve teased, allowing Billy to tug him into the kitchen. The table was already set, a dish with some kind of casserole in it sitting in the middle.
“Dustin dropped by. Apparently his mom’s worried because you haven’t been by for dinner in a while and she wants to make sure you’re eating enough,” Billy told him. Ah. That explained the casserole then.
“She’s a good cook. Makes a mean tuna noodle casserole, which I’m guessing is what this is,” Steve said, scooping a helping onto both of their plates.
Billy took a bite, making a show of deciding if he liked it or not. He swallowed with a shrug.
“My mom’s is better.”
Steve paused, fork halfway to his mouth. He’d never heard Billy mention his mom. He assumed she was dead. But Billy said “is” not “was.” Is .
Billy looked as surprised as Steve was that he’d mentioned his mother. His eyes met Steve’s, just for a second, before he cleared his throat and shoved another forkful of casserole into his mouth.
It wasn’t until later, when they were sitting on the couch, Billy’s legs across Steve’s lap and his head on Steve’s chest, that they even spoke another word to each other.
“She’s not dead,” Billy said simply.
Steve’s fingers stilled where they were carding through Billy’s curls. Billy huffed, giving Steve’s wrist a tug to get him to keep going. Under different circumstances, Steve would have teased Billy. Might have called him a brat, even as complied with Billy’s “demand” to keep stroking his hair. But not now. Now, Steve did as Billy wanted and kept quiet as he waited for the other boy to continue.
“My old man’s always been a hard ass. And my mom...she used to get the brunt of it when he was in a bad mood. He yelled, grabbed my arms and squeezed real tight, but he didn’t hit me. I was in school. If I showed up with bruises, there would be questions. On the occasion he did try to go after me, my Mom got between us,” Billy said, his fingers tracing idle patterns on Steve’s chest.
“But I guess she hit her breaking point cause when I was eleven, I came home and she was sitting at the kitchen table with a suitcase. Her best friend, Jean, was loading stuff into the back of the car. Dad wasn’t home.”
“She didn’t take me with her. She kissed me on the cheek and she hugged me so hard I couldn’t breathe. See you soon, Billy, she said. I’ll see you soon. But she didn’t come back,” Billy said softly.
His voice was steady.
He wasn’t even shaking.
Steve on the other hand, felt like he was breaking apart. His chin was wobbling when Billy reached up to cup his jaw.
“It’s okay, baby,” Billy murmured, his thumb brushing Steve’s trembling bottom lip. “I’m okay now.”
“But--but how could she just...she left you with him. S-she knew what he was like and she just--
Billy hushed him, shaking his head as he climbed fully into Steve’s lap, a leg on either side of the older boy’s hips.
“I blamed her for a long time,” he said, holding Steve’s face in his hands. “And sometimes I still wonder why she didn’t take me with her. But she had to get out. He was killing her, Steve. I watched her get so broken, under his thumb, by his hand. So I understand why she left.”
Steve shook his head, wrapping his arms around Billy’s back.
“No. No, she shouldn’t have left you. It wasn’t fair. I-It’s not fair,” Steve said. He was crying now, shaking apart in Billy’s arms because life was so fucking unfair. “You’re too good. You’re too good be left behind like that. You didn’t deserve it. None of it. God, Billy, I--
Billy cut him off, kissing Steve soundly, locking his arms around Steve’s shoulders as he dragged himself closer. Steve tried to kiss back, but when he broke away to breathe, he choked on a sob. He tucked his face into Billy’s neck, clawing at his back and holding on for dear life. And maybe. Maybe it wasn’t all about Billy. Maybe Steve was thinking about his own parents a little bit too, because they were never there. They never cared enough to be there when he needed them. And it wasn’t fair. None of it was fair.
“Shhh, you’ve gotta breathe. Come on, baby, you’ve gotta breathe for me,” Billy crooned, gently tipping Steve’s head back and peppering kisses all over his face.
Steve took a few shuddering breaths, blinking bleary up at Billy. His heart clenched when he saw that there were tears dripping down Billy’s own cheeks now, the younger boy sniffling even as he smiled at Steve.
“There you are,” Billy said, carding his fingers through Steve’s hair.
Steve huffed a laugh, scrubbing at his cheeks.
“Sorry. M’sorry. I’m just...I guess I just needed to cry. I don’t know,’ he said, feeling a little embarrassed now. Billy had gone through hell and he was holding up okay, but he still had bad days. Days were he couldn’t speak. Days were he walked around the house like a zombie. The last thing he needed was to have Steve fall apart on him while he was trying to rebuild his own life.
“Don’t apologize,” Billy said seriously. “You don’t have to be sorry, okay?”
“I’m a mess,” Steve grumbled.
Billy hummed, pecking Steve once on the lips.
“Yeah. But you’re my mess.”
Steve heart did an embarrassing flutter as he stared up at Billy, eyes wide and cheeks undoubtedly bright pink.
“Besides, I think between the two of us, I’m the bigger mess. You definitely ended up with the worse end of this deal” Billy said with a shrug.
“As if. I’m so far gone on you it’s stupid,” he said, his face getting even hotter when he realized what he just said.
Billy smiled. He looked at Steve shyly, fiddling with the sleeves of Steve’s shirt.
“Really?” he asked.
Steve nodded, tucking his face into Billy’s chest.
Steve woke with a start.
It was still dark in his room, no light peeking through the shades. He didn’t have to wonder what had woken him for long.
Billy had the sheets twisted in his fist, tossing and turning against his pillow. A nightmare. A bad one from the looks of it. Steve rubbed the sleep from his eyes, trying to get his bearings. Billy hadn’t had a nightmare in a solid week. Everything had been so normal. He almost forgot that Billy was still hurting. Almost .
“Please. Not, not her. Not them. Not him . Please,” Billy whimpered, his brow furrowed and his eyes squeezed shut. He was making these noises, like he was trying to fight whatever was plaguing his mind.
Steve put his hand on Billy’s shoulder, shaking him gently.
“Billy? It’s a dream. It’s just a dream. Come on, you’ve gotta wake up,” he said.
There was no response. Shit. It must be a bad one.
Steve sat up, both hands on Billy now, shaking him harder. He knew what those kinds of nightmares were like. The sooner he woke him up, the better.
“Billy! It’s just a dream! It’s just a dream and you’re okay, but you’ve gotta wake up now! Open your eyes!” Steve cried, desperate now as Billy’s mouth opened in a scream before his eyes flew open, wide and terrified when they landed on Steve.
“ Steve ,” he breathed, voice broken.
“Yeah. It’s me. You’re safe, okay? We’re in my room. In my bed,” Steve said, slowly laying back down next to the other boy. He kept his hands to himself now. Sometimes, after nightmares like these, Billy didn’t want to be touched. He still wanted Steve close, curled up next to him, but that was it. If Billy wanted to be touched, he would ask.
So Steve waited.
Billy was shaking so hard the bed was starting to quake with him. The nightmare, whatever it was about, must have been a bad one.
“Do you wanna talk about it?” Steve asked slowly, rubbing the sleep from his own eyes as he waited for Billy’s response.
The other boy shook his head.
“No. No I just...can you just fucking touch me? Please?” Billy asked, his bottom lip trembling.
Steve nodded as he slid closer, slipping his hand up the back of Billy’s shirt. He pressed his hand between Billy's shoulder blades to keep the other boy grounded.
“ Touch me ,” Billy begged. He clutched at Steve, one hand curled into the front of his shirt while the other grabbed a handful of his ass and dragged him closer.
Steve paused when he realized what Billy was asking for.
They hadn’t done anything, uh, below the waist yet. Still taking it slow and all that. Billy seemed to realize what he’d done, letting go of his grip on Steve’s ass and shifting away a little bit.
“I’m sorry. I-I don’t know what I...I’m fine still taking it slow. I’m--
Steve hushed him, placing his hand on the back of Billy’s neck, thumb brushing behind his ear.
“Shhhh, It's okay. I’ve got you, sweetheart,” Steve murmured, slipping a thigh between both of Billy’s. “I’ve got you.”
“You don’t have to,” Billy said, even though he was already breathless and rocking his hips forward against Steve’s thigh.
Steve smiled, kissing Billy’s forehead.
“I know. I want to. Whatever you need, okay?”
Billy nodded, kissing Steve soundly. His hand found it’s way back to Steve’s ass, squeezing harder when Steve groaned into his mouth. Billy’s lips were warm and a little chapped sliding against Steve’s, turning into something desperate as Billy’s hips moved faster.
This was a different kind of kiss than the ones they’d previously shared. It was raw and almost needy. The way Billy licked into Steve’s mouth, helpless little noises sliding past his lips, and Steve was reminded that it had been a long time since Billy had been touched, let alone kissed. Billy broke the kiss, panting against Steve’s mouth.
“ Touch me ,” he whined and grabbed Steve’s hand, guiding it to the front of his sweats.
Even with his brain dangerously close to short circuiting, Steve managed to push through the haze and slip his hand down the front of Billy’s pants. It was too dry, he knew, as he curled his fingers around Billy’s dick. But the lube was in his bedside table, all the way over on Billy’s side of the bed, and he didn’t think he had the wherewithal to stop touching Billy long enough to get it. If the noises that Billy was making were anything to go by, he didn’t mind.
“Does it feel good?” Steve asked, watching Billy’s mouth drop open as he moaned. His face was flushed, eyelashes fluttering as he worried his bottom lip between his teeth.
Billy nodded, pushing his hips up and Steve really wished he’d snagged the lube so it would be easier for Billy to fuck into his hand. But it was too late now. Billy was too far gone, whimpering with every stroke, the hand he still had on Steve’s ass squeezing so hard it was almost painful.
“S-Steve I can’t--it’s been so long, I-I’m gonna--
Steve caught Billy’s lips in a kiss, swallowing the cry he let out as he spilled into Steve’s hand. Billy’s hips stuttered forward with the aftershocks of his orgasm before he went boneless. He broke the kiss, slumping against Steve and breathing hard into his neck.
“Better?” Steve asked, rubbing Billy’s back.
Billy hummed, looking at at Steve with a blissed out smile.
“Much,” he said, his eyes landing on the front of Steve’s tended pajamas. “You want help with that?”
Steve blushed, despite the fact he’d just had Billy’s dick in his hand.
“Oh, uh, you don’t have to,” he said quickly.
Billy trailed lazy, open mouthed kisses up Steve’s throat, his fingers skirting along the hem of Steve’s pajama pants.
“Wanna make you feel good. Will you let me?” Billy asked, nipping at Steve’s jaw.
Steve was so hard he was aching, Billy’s teasing fingers doing absolutely nothing to help the situation.
“O-okay, but, um, this is going to be over embarrassingly quickly,” Steve admitted.
Billy laughed, though not unkindly, and slid his hand down the front of Steve’s pants.
“S’okay, baby. Wanna watch you come,” Billy murmured.
...Steve came the second Billy touched him.
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
Steve dropped his keys on the little table by the door. He sighed, scrubbing a hand down his face. It had been a long day at work. A lot of people came in wanting to rent Back to the Future since they’d just gotten it in the store and were less than thrilled when Steve had to tell them they didn’t have any copies available. It was a popular movie, it wasn’t his fault they couldn’t keep it on the shelf.
“Billy?” Steve called, peering into the living room. He frowned. Usually Billy was on the couch reading or watching TV and knitting, which Steve still found ridiculously endearing.
Steve plunked down on the couch. He figured Billy must be in the bathroom or something. The lights from the Christmas tree glowed warmly. Steve smiled.
“You’re doing it wrong! It’s four pieces of popcorn, then a cranberry,” Dustin said, yanking the bowl of popcorn away from Steve.
“Says who?” Steve asked.
“Says my Mom. That’s how we’ve always done it,” Dustin said, picking up where Steve had left off, stringing on a few more pieces of popcorn.
Billy snickered, hanging a bright red Christmas ball on the tree. Steve’s stomach did that annoying flip as he watched Billy set down his box of ornaments to help Will untangle some of the gold tinsel that had been crushed in the bottom of a cardboard box since last Christmas.
El was holding the star for the top, turning it over in her hands, a small smile on her face.
“You need a hand reaching up there, kid?” Billy asked.
To everyone’s surprise, El nodded. She could have used her powers, but maybe she wanted to do it herself.
Billy looped his arms around El and scooped her up so she could place the star on top of the tree. When Billy set her back down, he glanced over his shoulder at Steve, a small smile on his face.
Steve’s stomach flipped again.
Steve’s eyes landed on the mantel, smiling at the stockings lined up. Mrs. Byers had brought those over, considering the kids spent most of their free time at Steve’s now. His smile quickly fell to a frown when he noticed a mug sitting on the edge of the mantle. He moved across the room and picked up the mug. Hot cocoa, Billy’s guilty pleasure. It was almost full. Weird.
When Billy still didn’t make an appearance, Steve headed up stairs to check his room. Their room, more like. Despite his recovery progress, Billy still napped a lot. According to Max, he’d napped a lot before the Mind Flayer too.
His bed was empty.
Trying to fight the panic that was starting to set in, Steve made his way through his whole house, calling Billy’s name. Nothing. He checked the backyard. Nothing.
With his bat in one hand and a flashlight in the other, Steve ventured into the woods. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t set foot past the tree line. But desperate times called for desperate, if more than a little stupid, measures.
He didn’t go very far. There was no blood. No footprints. No weird Upside Down goo. No sign that anyone had been out there.
Steve ran back to his house, fighting back the bile rising in his throat as his mind coming to one heart wrenching conclusion.
It was Christmas Eve and Billy Hargrove was missing.
“Steve, you’re not making any sense,” Robin’s voice crackled over the walkie.
“He’s gone! I-I came home from work and he was just--
The door flew open a minute to reveal Robin, breathing hard, walkie in hand. Steve grabbed her hand and dragged her into the house.
“Whoa, Steve, calm--
“I can’t calm down, Robin! He’s gone. I-I looked everywhere. He’s not in the house. He’s not outside. H-he wouldn’t just go somewhere without telling me!” Steve cried. He was past hysterical at this point, his mind buzzing with possibilities of where Billy could be. What if the scientists had finally found him? No, there was no sign of a struggle and Steve knew Billy well enough to know that he would have fuckin struggled. The second possibility was worse. The Mind Flayer. What if it was back? What if it wanted it’s host back? What if--
“Have you called the kids? Asked if they’ve seen him?” Robin asked, her hand a comforting weight on Steve’s shoulder.
He shook his head.
“No, I called you first. I-I don’t...I’m scared,” Steve said quietly, his voice cracking.
Robin hushed him. She wrapped her arms around his back and held on tight, running her fingers through Steve’s hair.
“He’s gonna be fine. We found him once. We can find him again. It’s gonna be okay, Steve,” Robin said, pulling back to snag her walkie again. Steve had never been more grateful to have a best friend like Robin.
“Max? Max, are you there?” Robin asked into the walkie.
She waited a few moments before asking again. Steve waited with bated breath, his leg shaking. He needed to do something. Anything. He needed to--
“I’m here. What’s up?” Max asked, voice a little crackly. Steve guessed she was either out at the Byers place or with El. Everyone else lived in town so that signal was usually pretty solid.
“Okay, I don’t want you to panic, but Billy wasn’t here when Steve got home from work. Have you seen him at all today?” Robin asked.
“What?! No, no I haven’t seen him! Shit, shit, I--
“Max! Max, I need you to try to stay calm. Is El with you?” she asked.
“No! Hopper took her to the movies. She’s not--
“Okay, okay. Are you at the Byers?”
“Yeah. Yeah, we’re all here,” Max said, and yeah now Steve could hear Dustin in the background, no doubt trying to steal the walkie from Max to figure out what was going on.
“Awesome. You guys take your bikes and look around town, okay? I know it’s not likely he’s just gonna be walking down the street, but just in case. Steve and I will head to the theatre to get El, okay?” Robin said. Steve was nodding, even though it hadn’t been directed at him. That was a good plan. Robin always had good plans.
“Okay,” Max said. “Stay in touch. Let me know if you find him. The second you find him, okay?”
“Of course. You too.”
Robin hooked the walkie to the waistband of her jeans.
“Alright, Farrah. Let’s go,” she ordered, half dragging Steve up off the couch and to the door.
Steve almost fell on his ass in his haste to get his shoes on. He grabbed his keys and practically ran to his car, Robin sliding into the passenger seat. She buckled her seatbelt and instantly made a grab for the “oh shit” handle above the window, like she already knew Steve was gonna drive like a maniac.
Normally, especially because he usually had at least two of the kids in his car, Steve drove exactly the speed limit. Now he was speeding down the road, barely pausing at stop signs, and in general doing everything his driver’s ed instructor had told him not to do. He thanked his lucky stars that the snow was late this year. Normally at this point, Hawkins had gotten slammed with at least one blizzard, but so far they hadn’t gotten much more than a dusting. Just an inch or two.
Steve’s mind was racing. He remembered what it was like losing Billy the first time. He’d watched helplessly as the monster impaled Billy over and over again. Getting him back was a fucking miracle. He couldn’t lose him again. He wouldn’t .
“God, Robin, what if he’s--
“He’s not,” Robin cut him off.
“But what if--
“Steve. You need to stay positive. Jumping to the worst case scenario isn’t going to help--WATCH OUT!”
Steve turned his eyes back on the road, slamming on the breaks and narrowing avoid crashing into something. Or rather, someone. Someone who was standing in the middle of the road, staring at Steve’s car with wide eyes.
“Holy shit,” Steve breathed, putting the car in park and clamoring out the door. “Billy, are you...”
He trailed off as he got closer. Billy’s nose was bleeding. His lip was split and his eye was beat red, already starting to turn purple in the middle. He was gonna have one hell of a shiner.
“What are you doing out here?” Steve asked. He heard Robin getting out of the car, already on the walkie to the kids, telling him that it was a false alarm. They’d found Billy, two and a half, maybe three miles from Steve’s house.
Billy’s eyes were a little glazed when they met Steve’s, and red rimmed like he’d been crying.
“I-I thought I’d be back before you got out of work. Didn’t mean to make you worry,” Billy mumbled. He offered no further explanation for why he was out in the first place. Or where the injuries had come from.
Steve moved slowly so he didn’t startle him, wrapping his arms around Billy. He pressed a soft kiss to Billy’s temple, something loosening in his chest when Billy relaxed against him, his arms around Steve’s waist.
“Are you okay?” Steve asked.
“Yeah I’m...I wanna go home. Take me home?”
“Okay. I can do that,” Steve said. He guided Billy around to the backseat and opened the door for him to slide in. Billy sat with his knees against his chest, leaning against the window when Steve closed the door.
“The kids are gonna want to come by,” Robin said. “I can probably keep them at bay for a little while, but you know how they are.”
“It’s alright,” Billy said, surprising both of them. “I-I don’t mind.”
Despite Billy’s willingness to have the kids come over, Steve still asked Robin to stall them until tomorrow. They were gonna be coming over for Christmas celebrations anyway. Besides, he figured Billy would want to get cleaned up a little and maybe, hopefully, tell Steve where he’d been.
Since Billy had come back, Steve made a point of not pushing him to talk about anything that he didn’t want to. He knew what it was like, being grilled about a touchy subject. Not ten minutes after Steve got back to his house after the Demogorgon was taken care of the first time, there were “government officials” swarming his house. Good thing his parents weren’t home. They asked him question after question and, at the time, all he knew was that some scary monster thing had shown up and apparently it had to do with Barb’s disappearance. Needless to say, it was an ordeal he wasn’t eager to repeat.
Billy’s voice was soft, but it was enough to make Steve pause at the door of the bathroom. He watched the way Billy’s hands shook where they were resting on his knees, blood still dripping from his nose and lip.
“Okay,” Steve’s voice sounded a little wrong even to his own ears. Too loud. Or maybe the room was just quiet. He snagged a washcloth from the linen cupboard and ran it under the warm water.
With a steady hand resting on Billy’s jaw, Steve dabbed at the trail of blood under his nose, aware that Billy’s eyes were fixed on him. He stayed quiet while Steve cleaned him up. One of his hands found its way to Steve’s wrist, holding the hand that Steve still had on his jaw in place. As if Steve had any intention of letting go.
“Should get you some ice for your eye. Gonna have a nice lookin shiner, slugger,” Steve set the cloth on the sink. He wasn’t expecting a response, but Billy gave on anyway.
“I went to see my dad.”
Steve tensed. All the possible scenarios he had run through in his head of Billy being taken by scientists or Russians or the Mind Flayer and at no point did he imagine that one.
“Can I...um, can I ask why?”
Billy shrugged. He rubbed his thumb in circles on Steve’s wrist, something he did often because he knew it helped Steve relax.
“It seemed weird, ya know? Being back in Hawkins. Being alive , and him not knowing,” Billy explained.
Steve took a slow breath in and out as he tried to keep the anger boiling under the surface from spilling over.
“And his first reaction was to pop you one?” he asked.
Billy huffed a sort of laugh.
“Yeah, well, it’s the only way he knows how to express himself.”
Steve crouched on the bathroom floor between Billy’s legs. He rested a hand on the other boy’s thigh and pressed a kiss to his cheek.
“I’m glad you’re okay.”
“I wanted him to know that I wasn't broken. In spite of everything he did. And after the Mind Flayer, standing up to him seemed like a cake walk.”
Steve smiled sadly.
“I would have gone with you.”
“I know. I wanted to do it myself though. Besides, he only landed a few hits before I clocked him one. Knocked him out cold,” Billy said.
“What now?” Steve asked, unable to help himself. “Think you’ll ever see him again?”
Billy shook his head.
“I won’t go back. He knows I’m alive. He knows he didn’t win. That’s good enough for me.”
A sudden wave of affection ran through Steve as he practically threw himself fully into Billy’s arms, catching his lips in a kiss. Well, sort of a kiss. His aim was off so he ended up kissing Billy’s stubbly chin instead of his mouth. Oops. Before he had time to be embarrassed, Billy’s hands were tangled in Steve’s hair, tugging him in for a real kiss.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you,” Billy murmured against Steve’s mouth.
“You’re not helping your case against being a hopeless romantic,” Steve’s taunt was cut off when Billy pressed two fingers to Steve’s lips.
“I mean it. I’m happy. For the first time, maybe ever. And It’s because of you,” he said seriously and okay, now Steve’s throat was tight and his eyes were prickling. He wasn’t gonna cry, but it was a close thing.
Steve melted against him when Billy pulled him in for another kiss. He was expecting sweet, but Billy quickly turned the kiss dirty, licking into Steve’s mouth. Steve curled his tongue around Billy’s giving back as good as he got. But then Billy turned the tables.
He pushed away from where he was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, crawling over Steve and pressing him down into the floor. Steve grunted when he head connected with the tiles, but it quickly turned to a sound of pleasure when Billy started biting at his neck. He laved his tongue over the bite, then sucked hard. That was a thing for Billy. Leaving marks on Steve. And Steve would be lying if he said it didn’t make his jeans a little tighter every time Billy had his mouth on his neck. Hell, anytime Billy had his mouth on him in general.
“Mmf, B-Billy, maybe we should move this somewhere a little more comfortable,” Steve suggested, gasping when Billy rocked his hips forward.
Billy pulled back, grinning down at Steve with his tongue between his teeth. Oh yeah, that look definitely brought back some memories. Billy crowding him on the basketball court, running his tongue across his bottom lip before he’d shove Steve to the floor and make yet another basket.
“You seem pretty comfortable to me,” Billy teased.
Steve’s hands found their way into Billy’s back pockets, using the leverage to drag Billy forward at the same time he pushed his own hips up. Billy’s breath caught, his hands dropping to rest on either side of Steve’s head.
“Looks like I’m not the only one,” Steve said, his smugness lasting point two seconds before Billy started grinding his hips with purpose, letting out these desperate little sounds against Steve’s neck that made him shiver.
It was gonna be quick. They were both pent up from a long day and in need of relief and Steve couldn’t find it in himself to care. One of these days they were gonna have to work on stamina since Steve still went off like a rocket minutes, sometimes seconds , after Billy touched him.
Billy grabbed Steve by the wrists and yanked his hands out of his pockets, pinning them above Steve’s head. The roll of his hips turned to something slow and dirty as Billy took control and Steve was helpless, unable to do much besides feebly rut his hips up and try to match Billy’s rhythm.
“M’gonna come,” Billy whined, panting hot and wet against Steve’s shoulder. On his next breath his hips stuttered, body convulsing as he came with a soft cry.
“Kiss me,” Steve pleaded, more eager to come now that Billy had. “Come on, baby, kiss me.”
Billy did, nipping at Steve’s bottom lip before he was slipping his tongue into Steve’s mouth, kissing as best he could considering he was coming down from an orgasm. Steve’s back arched up off the floor as he came, Billy swallowing the broken moan he let out.
As they came down together, Steve tried to remember the last time he’d come in his pants. It had been a while, that’s for sure. He grimaced at the feel of rapidly cooling come in his underwear. Right. That wasn’t pleasant. Still totally worth it though.
“Bedroom,” Billy said decidedly as he got up, surprisingly steady on his feet.
“Huh?” Steve asked dumbly. He allowed Billy to pull him upright and drag him down the hall.
Billy threw a warm smile over his shoulder that slipped into a naughty smirk.
“I’m not done with you yet, sweetheart.”
“Was...was it okay?” Steve asked later, when he was curled up against Billy’s chest, the other boy’s fingers in his hair.
Billy kissed Steve’s forehead.
“Yeah, pretty boy, it was more okay.”
Steve smiled. It had been awkward as all hell at first, especially because his hands were shaking so hard he kept dropping the lube, but it got better. When Steve had finally slipped inside, Billy’s mouth dropped open, eyes wide. He clawed at Steve’s back, leaving angry red marks, but Steve didn’t care. Because it was Billy. His Billy. It was fucking perfect.
“I’ll be right back,” Steve said, kissing Billy’s chest once, twice, three times, and then heading to the bathroom.
He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and actually jumped. He was a total mess. His hair, dripping with sweat, was sticking up in twelve different directions and there were purple bruises peppered across his neck from Billy practically attacking him with love bites. He was gonna have to wear a turtleneck when everyone came over for Christmas or risk being teased mercilessly.
When Steve got back to his room, Billy was on his feet. He’d dragged on a pair of Steve’s sweats and was leaning against the window, a cigarette between his lips.
“I opened the window,” Billy said, like he was worried Steve would be mad that he was smoking in their room.
Steve shook his head, moving to stand behind Billy. He hooked his chin over his shoulder, one arm around Billy’s waist. His fingers brushed over to scar on Billy’s right side.
“I like these,” Steve murmured, nuzzling Billy’s neck and trailing his fingers further up Billy’s torso, tracing each of the scars in turn.
“They’re ugly,” he grunted.
“No,” Steve said seriously. “They’re not. First of all, they’re badass.”
Billy laughed and Steve grinned as he felt some of the tension melt off the other boy.
“Second...they’re a reminder of what you survived.”
Billy trembled when Steve pressed his hand over the scar right over his heart.
“I’m so glad you’re still here,” Steve’s voice was barely above a whisper, but he knew Billy heard him.
Billy let his head fall back against Steve’s shoulder, his hand coming up to cover Steve’s. He laced their fingers together and brushed his lips across Steve's knuckles.
Chapter 9: Epilogue
It was still dark out when Steve woke up. He grabbed for his watch, that amidst the flurry of Billy yanking his clothes off he had actually manage to put safely on his dresser, and held it up to his face. It was a little past one in the morning, which meant it was officially Christmas.
Steve peeked down at Billy, still sound asleep with his head on Steve’s chest.
“Psst, Billy?” He whispered, giving his shoulder a light shake.
Billy snuffled, his nose scrunching up as he snuggled closer, the arm he had around Steve’s waist getting tighter.
Steve smiled fondly at the sleeping boy. He carded his fingers through Billy’s curls and kissed his forehead, before giving him another shake.
“Billy. Wake up, it’s Christmas,” he said, voice a little louder this time.
“M’pretty sure it’ll still be Christmas when the sun is out,” Billy grumbled, his speech slurred from being woken up.
“Well maybe I wanted to have my own little Christmas morning with you before everyone else gets here,” Steve said.
Billy sat up enough to glare at Steve.
“Stop trying to be romantic. I’m tired,” he grunted, but even in the dark Steve could see that his cheeks were tinged pink.
Billy sighed and pushed himself out of bed.
“Where are you going?” Steve asked, half expecting Billy to say he was going to go sleep in the guest room so he could get a little privacy.
“I’m getting your dumb presents, keep your shirt on. Or actually, keep it off,” Billy said, managing a lascivious grin despite his sleepy state. He came back a moment later, a couple of surprisingly well wrapped, presents in hand. Billy dumped them unceremoniously onto Steve’s lap and switched on the bedside lamp before curling up next to his boyfriend.
Steve opened the first one, tearing into it and grinning at the look on his mother’s face if she saw him being so careless. She liked to save the wrapping paper which Steve never fucking understood.
It was a scarf, striped in two different shades of green, and ridiculously long. Steve could probably wrap it around his whole body, let alone his neck. He wrapped it around his neck anyway, burrowing into its warmth.
The next one was a hat, the same shade as the darker green stripes on his scarf, with a light green pom pom on top. He popped it on his head.
“You’re always cold,” Billy grumbled, looking a little embarrassed. Steve smiled, kissing that look right off of Billy’s face.
“I love them. Thank you,” he said, peppering Billy’s face with kisses until the other boy swatted him away. “Okay, my turn! Come with me,” Steve said excitedly, leaping out of bed and throwing a pair of sweatpants at Billy’s head.
Billy cursed and almost tripped over himself in his haste to drag the pants on and follow Steve.
“Why are we going outside?” Billy asked, confusion on his face when he saw Steve heading for the front door.
“You’ll see, come on!” Steve grabbed Billy’s hand and pulled him outside.
Billy’s mouth dropped open.
Sitting in Steve’s driveway, was his Camaro. It had clearly had some serious work done and the new paint job was a slightly different shade of blue than it had been before, but it was good as new as far as Billy was concerned.
“H-how did you--
“I’ve had it since you disappeared. Hop has a friend that’s been working on it. I didn’t want to tell you in case they couldn’t fix it,” Steve explained, biting his bottom lip nervously.
Billy was speechless, his fingers gripping Steve’s hand so tight it almost hurt.
“W-was this a bad idea? Does it bring up bad memories? Fuck, I didn’t even think about that. I-I just thought you might want it. Because I know you’re getting stir crazy in the house and I know you probably want to get out of Hawkins eventually and I figured having a car would make it easier for us to just to. Anywhere. Anywhere you want. You deserve to have what you want Billy a-and I just--
Billy turned toward Steve, cupping his face in his hands and cutting off his rambling.
Billy smiled, thumbs brushing over Steve’s cheekbones. He let his forehead rest against Steve’s, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath.
“I love you too.”