Billy knows, okay? He knows that it’s not Max’s fault that his dad hates him and he knows that it’s not her fault that he hadn’t actually been paying attention to where she was going. He knows that this is on him, not her. But he also knows that if he comes home without her, Neil will kill him. And even though Billy knows better, he can’t help but feel, just a little bit, that if Max had used one fraction of her brain, she would have known that he would be the one to get screwed over if she went missing. So, yeah, he knows it’s all his problem. Respect and responsibility and all that shit that he still can’t get through his thick skull. It doesn’t mean he’s not a little worked up by the time he finally finds her. (And, Jesus, the things he has to do to find this girl. He’s out here flirting with moms and driving through creepy woods to the middle of nowhere. Would it kill Max, just once, to be in a normal place?)
And when he finally finds her? In a house that belongs to a certified creep with some nerds that he had told her weren’t worth her time and Steve Harrington, disgraced King and average basketball player? Well, then it goes up from a little worked up to downright pissed. It’s not safe, for Christ sakes. That Byers guy took pictures of people who were having sex- who knew what the hell goes down in that house? And Lucas? Her crush? If Neil ever finds out she’d been close to him, they’ll all be dead. No, no, this was the set up for a lot of bad stuff, all of it stuff that if Neil ever found out about, Billy’d pay the price. And of course she didn’t think about that, because she’s too busy trying to prove to these nerds that she’s tough. Of course she’s tough, she lives with Billy.
And then Steve Harrington walks out like Billy’s just some kid he has to chase off the lawn, and Billy’s had enough. One minute it’s a normal fight, and then it’s something much much more. And, yeah, a voice in his head is begging him to stop, and the voice in his head sounds a lot like his mom’s and a lot like his, but there’s another voice that’s screaming that he’s a faggot and a pussy and if he lets them get away with this, there’s nothing they won’t try to get away with this. (That voice is decidedly not his mom’s. He can’t tell if it’s his or not, though.)
So, yeah, it goes way, way too far, and he honestly forgets most of it because he’s too busy listening to the all the screaming in his head. And then all of the sudden his ears are ringing and there’s a bat between his legs and Max is demanding something, and his last lucid thought is that hey, she may not be blood, but Max definitely has some sort of Hargrove in her.
When he wakes up (after he lays on the floor for however long it takes Max’s fucking drugs to get out of his system) and he’s in his right mind he looks around and realizes that Max was in deeper shit than he thought because whatever this is, it’s fucked up. There’s drawings everywhere, the house is trashed, and when he goes to look in the fridge for any sort of drink there’s a......something in there. Max, he very well realizes, could be dead. And when he gets outside and realizes his car is gone, he decides that if she isn’t dead, he’s gonna kill her himself.
He goes home and waits for her. There’s the usual screaming match with his dad- a couple of hits, a few kicks, a head slammed into a cabinet door- and then he goes and sits on his bed and waits. If she doesn’t come back, he reasons, it’s because she’s dead. And if she’s dead, he’s dead too. (He realizes, with a small shock, that he doesn’t really want her dead. He doesn’t necessarily want to see her alive, not after that whole bat incident, but it’d been nice to see that she had some fire to her.)
Max returns at three in the morning, and when Neil walks in his room, he’s still sitting upright on the edge of the bed.
“Do you want to tell me,” Neil says in that voice, “why a cop just brought your sister and your car home?” And Billy can’t even lie because he doesn’t know.
Max has to hear it that night- they share a wall, for God’s sakes. He keeps wanting to say that to Neil- “hey, she can hear, and she’s not someone you want to mess with” - but it’s too hard to talk with a mouthful of blood. Besides, he thinks, before he blacks out the second time that night, it isn’t like she’d want to save him.
Max is different after that night. She’s not scared of Billy, that’s for sure. And Billy doesn’t know if that’s because of the bat or because of the thing he found in the fridge, but, either way, he can’t blame her. It’s hard to be scared of someone like him when you’ve seen monsters and own a bat full of nails.
Billy’s different, too. He had used to think it was his job to protect Max- keep her away from the dangers of the world, keep her out of Neil’s line of sight. Keep her safe, even if it meant terrorizing her a little. But now he knows that Max doesn’t need him. She made it out of whatever hellhole that night contained alive- all while he was passed out on the floor. She’s fine.
So Billy just stays away. Doesn’t talk to her, doesn’t scream at her, doesn’t touch her. He gives her rides in silence and says “yes sir” when Neil tells him to babysit. He’d screwed it all up with Max, he realizes- he’d underestimated her. She wasn’t some little girl. She had that fire- she could have been in this with him this whole time. They could have been equals. But he’d been too busy remembering himself at that age and being an asshole, and now they aren’t equals at all. She has the upper hand. So Billy just leaves her alone. Tries not to get in her way. Tries not to think about that night where he realizes he was just like his dad.
And then, on Christmas morning, after he’s watched her open all of her presents from Neil and he’s once again been forced to say thank you to Susan a million times for the jacket she bought him, something changes again. Just a little bit. But still.
He’s in his room, waiting. Christmas is bad for him and Neil- his mom had left around this time. A Christmas hasn’t gone by in eight years where Neil didn’t find some way to blame it all on Billy, and they’re on Christmas break, so no one even has to worry about hiding bruises from teachers. His face is just a free for all. He used to try to avoid the Christmas fights, to run from them, but he knows now that they’re inevitable. So he sits and he waits. The knock on the door surprises him-that’s not like Neil. What surprises him even more, though, is the little red-haired face that peers in through the cracked door.
“Hey, Billy.” Max says, and he tries to play it cool, like this isn’t the first time they’ve interacted in months where neither Susan nor Neil were around. “My friends are all having a Christmas party today, and I need a ride. Susan told me she’d give me one, but...” -she screws up her face here, like she’s reconsidering all of her life choices, and Billy’s heart is actually palpitating- “well, I told Neil that I want you to give me a ride. So that no one else has to bother. But it’s kind of far away- remember the Byers house?” And the question is literally the closest they’ve ever come to acknowledging that night. He realizes she actually wants an answer, so he nods. She nods back. “So I need a ride there, but there won’t be enough time for you to go home and come back again, so I told Neil you’ll probably just need to wait for me. We’ll be gone all day.” She tilts her chin defiantly. “Don’t be a little bitch about it, either.”
Billy’s heart is literally in his throat. This is the olive branch to end all olive branches. This is.... this is actually the nicest thing Max has ever done for him. It might actually be the nicest thing anyone has done for him since California. He clears his throat. “Listen, I’ll drive you, but when I say it’s time to go, you had better have your ass in the car, you hear me?” She flips him off.
Billy spends his Christmas sitting in his car alone at a house where his step sister almost castrated him and it is, honestly, the best Christmas he’s had in years.