The concept of being attracted to men isn’t entirely new to Steve. Sure, he doesn’t go around shouting from the rooftops that he’s queer, or anything, but the concept isn’t new. Hell — he had a heart to heart with Robin not more than a few hours ago in regards to either of their sexualities. He’s okay with the idea, and he doesn’t flip his shit every time he finds himself checking a guy out.
Right now, though, his problem mostly lies in the fact that as he has Billy Hargrove in his arms, unconscious and hopefully not dying, he realizes that, oh. Oh. There’s something there, something in the back of his head that feels the same way he felt about Nancy, and, oh. It’s that need to protect, to care for, and, god fucking damn it — this is the worst time to be realizing he has a crush.
This is the same Billy that broke three of his ribs, the same Billy that’s responsible for the fact that his nose whistles whenever he breathes now, the same Billy that, with the exception of the past year or so, has spent a good chunk of his life terrorizing Max. This is also the same Billy that just put his ass on the line for all of us, Steve thinks. The same Billy that looked a terrifying, interdimensional monster in the eye, and basically told it to fuck off moments before its demise.
Steve doesn’t think that right now is the time to try deciding whether or not his crush — or, at the very least, his attraction — is justified or not.
Nancy doesn’t stick around Hawkins for more than a few weeks once the Byers family moves to Chicago. Steve helps her pack, and Jonathan even drives down to help out as well. He’s not as sad as he thought he’d be when she leaves. He’s not happy about it, of course, but she’s Nancy and he gets it. She wants — needs — to be with Jonathan, and he can’t really blame her, not after the shitty few months that they’ve had.
Steve still hangs out in the Wheelers’ basement from time to time. He doesn’t exactly have a ton of friends, and curling up in the corner of the couch with a comic book in his lap while he pretends to be babysitting Mike, Dustin, Lucas and sometimes Max, is a lot more relaxing than going home after his shift at the arcade to listen to his parents hound him about college on the occasion that they're not gone.
Most of the time, the kids are loud, distracting themselves, but sometimes it gets quiet, and Steve can feel the way that the exhaustion and the gravity of everything that’s happened weighs on all of them. It’s heartbreaking to see a group of freshman who have that dead-in-the-eyes look that Steve’s only seen on the faces of war veterans, of people who’ve been alive for too long, who’ve seen too much.
Sometimes Robin hangs out with them. She’s better at keeping everyone entertained, and sometimes possesses the ability to drag everyone out of the basement and out to just do something, even if it’s as little as getting pizza or seeing a movie.
It’s in October, when it’s a little colder and when it starts getting darker even earlier, that the monotony is interrupted. Steve’s nearly let himself get roped into everyone’s current project — learning Russian, just in case something like the July incident happens again — when the door at the top of the staircase flies open, hitting the wall with a loud bang. Steve leans over, to get a look up the stairs, and his eyes land on Max first. She looks a little bewildered and weirded out, and behind her stands Billy, whose face, despite being collected and composed, seems to hide some sort of uneasiness.
Everyone in the basement seems to tense up at the sight of Billy. He usually drops Max off, and speeds off before she even has a chance to get to the Wheelers’ front door, yet there he stands at the top of the staircase, seeming increasingly more and more uncomfortable.
Max all but runs down the stairs, and Billy follows her, albeit without the haste. He stands at the bottom of the stairs, looking between everyone, and it feels like a standoff — a game of waiting to see who speaks or moves first. He does, of course. Out of everyone Steve expects him to single out — mainly Lucas, who has arms wrapped around Max’s shoulders — it’s him. He barks out a, “Harrington,” and just the way he says it, the tone, Steve knows better than to do anything other than follow him back up the stairs.
He questions him, if only briefly, once they’re halfway from the Wheelers’ front door, and his car, which is parked on the curb. “Hey, man — you’re not kidnapping me or something, are you?”
Billy makes some sort of noise, and Steve’s half expecting him to lash out, but he shakes his head tightly and mutters, “Get in,” once they’re approaching the Camaro, which looks damn near new, and not like it had been trashed to all hell not more than three months ago.
He drives too fast around corners and Steve feels kind of like they’re going to crash, but miraculously, they end up in the parking lot of a Kroger, eating hamburgers and splitting an order of fries from Burger King. (There isn’t a conversation about the fries. Billy places the container on the console between themselves, and Steve gets the hint.)
Steve checks his watch about every thirty seconds, and as they’re entering into minute five of silently eating while watching cars pass by on the street in front of them, he decides to ask, “Why’d you kidnap me?”
“I didn’t fucking…” Billy looks at him, and trails off as he realizes it was a joke. “Bad with words.” His voice cracks and Steve doesn’t comment on it. “Listen to me, because I’m not going to repeat myself. Got it?”
Steve gives him a curt nod.
“I’m sorry. I’m — I’m fucked up, I’ve fucked up,” oh, god, Steve’s pretty sure that if Billy were a different person, he (Billy) might’ve started crying, “and how I’ve treated you for the past few years — it’s not right. It wasn’t right. That’s no way to treat someone.”
“In all fairness…” Steve plucks a fry from the container. “Jonathan Byers beat the shit out of me once, too, then basically stole my girlfriend, but we’re pretty tight.” He shrugs and crams the fry into his mouth. “Can’t say that I enjoy having a deviated septum, but… Fuck. Too much shit has gone down since high school for me to still be pissed at you over that. I mean — try getting kidnapped by Russian Soldiers, then drugged, and tortured. Can’t really stay pissed at a little fist fight. Can I ask why you dragged me out here?”
“I buy you Burger King and you’re questioning me?” His tone doesn’t hold any humor, but Steve recognizes the attempt.
He doesn’t say anything, and they don’t talk for a few more minutes before Billy starts speaking again.
“Max’s mom thinks I need therapy,” he states.
“Therapy,” Steve echoes. “Easier said than done.”
It’s weird. This is weird. Steve half wants to get out of the car and leave, even though he knows he’s in no real danger. “Can’t exactly walk into a therapist’s office and say you were the host of an interdimensional monster without them wanting to lock you up, or something.”
“No. You can’t. You really can’t.” He turns the stereo in his car on, turning the volume low, just to have some background noise. Bob Segar's The Famous Final Scene serenades them, which surprises him, since he knows — knows — that Billy listens to metal, not rock ballads. Steve starts mentally counting the number of black cars that pass by them. “Again… Not good with words, but this — that — it’s all such an impossible situation.”
“You’re right,” Steve tells him. “You’re absolutely right. Before Nance moved in with Jonathan, I’d talk to her about… everything, when I needed to. Not that we could help each other, but having someone to talk to who knows helps. I assume that’s why you kidnapped me, yeah?”
Billy sniffs, and Steve looks over at him to see that he’s staring at the half eaten burger in his hands. He’s pretty sure that this — the person next to him — is the real Billy, the Billy that doesn’t overcompensate, the Billy that’s lost the macho attitude, the Billy that’s just a fucking human being. “Honestly, if Nancy hadn’t moved, I probably would have tried talking to her, or hitting on her. Maybe both.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “You can talk to me about it, if you ever need to. I’m not a therapist, or anything, but I’m pretty sure talking and acknowledging it, or whatever, helps.”
“We should get back, before they send the National Guard after us,” Billy says after another swath of silence.
Steve’s about ten minutes into a run when he realizes someone’s following him in their car. He doesn’t need to look behind himself to know — the engine has remained consistent and he hasn’t been passed, which he finds remarkably suspicious since he isn’t the fastest runner in the world. He turns around when he’s on the corner of the street the Byers family used to live on, and the main road, only to see that it’s Billy that’s been tailing him.
He stops, and waits for him to pull up. The window rolls down, and before Billy has a chance to say anything, Steve asks, “Are you fucking with me? Why are you following me?”
“Yeah, I’m fucking with you.” He has a cocky little grin on his face. He has the facade about half up, but Steve can tell that he’s not trying to convince him, whether it’s because he knows Steve can see through his bullshit or if it’s because he’s already caught a glimpse of what he’s like without the facade, thus not feeling the need to put as much effort into it as he usually does. “The hell are you doing? It’s freezing.”
“Running,” he explains, breathily, since he’s trying to catch his breath still. “Running helps me clear my head. What are you doing in this part of town?”
“Driving helps me clear my head.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “Right, right. I’m guessing that tailing me and creeping me out for half a mile helps you clear your head, too?”
“Totally. Makes me feel real powerful, scaring someone like that. Was waiting for you to notice.” Billy taps his fingers on his steering wheel, looking like he’s thinking of what to say. “Wanna go grab a bite?”
Steve thinks about it, and, if he’s being honest — he’s actually pretty hungry, plus, his mind decides to remind him of his little realization from July, from that incident. He doesn’t know when he’s going to get another chance to see him, or to interact with him, so he says, “As long as you don’t mind me sweating and smelling like armpit… I could go for a meal.”
It’s the middle of December in Indiana, and Steve’s pretty much freezing his ass off in the Camaro as they share a meal from Burger King again. They’re parked off the side of the road about fifteen minutes out of Hawkins, far enough to be alone, and for it to be a little scary, but close enough to get back into town without too much trouble.
Billy seems like he’s having an easier time talking. “What do you tell your parents? Do they ever notice that something isn’t — isn’t right?”
Steve picks a piece of shredded lettuce off of his burger, and crunches it between his molars before responding. “My parents aren’t home much. They travel for work a lot, and now that I’m out of school and working, they’re gone more often. I’ve never been too close with them. Pretty sure that’s a common experience among us waspy types.”
Billy snorts at that last part.
"They know, though, that something isn't… right. Honestly, if I had to guess… They probably think I'm queer, or something. I don't know which I'd rather them believe, either. Me being queer, or me fighting monsters from an alternate dimension."
Billy picks at his own hamburgers. "I'd get the shit kicked out of me if they thought I was a queer. Probably get the shit kicked out of me if I told them the truth, too, though."
Steve hums a little bit. "Are you?"
Billy scoffs and gives him a look. "Are you?"
Steve shrugs. "I don't know if I'd count myself as… that. It's less about being queer and more about the fact that my heart, and my dick, aren't picky."
He looks up to see Billy wiping the back of his hand over his mouth, looking like he's trying not to laugh.
"I don't give a shit if you are. There's too much shit on everyone's plate to actually give a shit about stuff like that."
"I don't want to talk about that. Not now."
Steve nods and doesn't press it. He goes back to answering the question. "I usually blow them off, when they ask. I don't have the words or the right analogy to explain it to them.”
They finish eating, and talking, although their conversation takes a detour at some point through their music preferences, before Billy offers to drive him back home. Steve’s not expecting it when it happens, but as Billy pulls into his driveway, he apologizes. He doesn’t add the bit about not wanting Steve to ask him to repeat himself, either. “I didn’t mean to scare you, earlier, when I followed you.”
Steve shakes his head, and doesn’t get out of the Camaro right away. It’s warm and he’s reluctant to leave, even if it's going to take him a few minutes to enter his home and get into the hot shower. “We’ve both experienced worse. Billy Hargrove following me in his car is child’s play.”
Billy grunts in a way that sounds almost like a laugh, and when Steve gets out of the car, he doesn’t speed off right away. (Steve’s pretty sure he lingers just to make sure he gets into his house alright, even if it’s in the middle of the day.)
Steve’s sitting on the ground behind the arcade, taking his lunch break a little earlier than usual, going between smoking a cigarette, and sitting with his face in his palms. Things are a little too much — a lot too much — and Steve remembers Joyce explaining something about panic attacks at some point, leaving him to wonder if that’s what’s happening to him.
He’s in the middle of wiping under his eyes when the door back into the breakroom opens behind him, and under the assumption that it’s his stupid, slimy, sneaky boss, he says, “My break isn’t over yet. Still got ten minutes.”
“Jeez, Harrington.” It’s that voice. Silky and smooth and Billy.
Steve cusses under his breath, and looks up at him. He’s pretty sure he looks like shit, if the way Billy’s face fucking softens has anything to say about it. He looks a little different, too. Steve’s known him for a few years, long enough to know that, almost no matter the weather, Billy wouldn’t be caught dead in anything other than a half buttoned button up and a leather jacket, but today he’s wearing at least three layers. Denim jacket over a flannel over a sweatshirt. (The tight jeans are a given, too.)
Steve wants to ask him why he’s here. Wants to ask him what he’s doing. All that comes out is a single word — why.
Billy uses his foot to nudge snow around, creating a clear spot just big enough for him to sit down next to Steve. He sits a little closer than Steve was expecting. He doesn’t complain. He does make a sort of displeasured noise when Billy grabs the cigarette from his hand, so he can take a drag off of it himself. He hands it back, though, and explains why he’s there. “I’ve got about… forty minutes to kill until I need to get to work. Figured we could bullshit, or something.”
There’s about a thousand and one things Steve could say to him, that Steve could even think to say to him, but he settles on, “Is Max going to need a ride home?”
“I already drive the rest of them around. It’s not a big deal,” he mumbles back. He sniffles a little loudly, and turns his face away from Billy so he can wipe his cheeks off, again. with the back of his hand. “Sorry,” he says. “About the…” He gestures with his index finger towards his face. “Working at an arcade is a rough job.”
“Right.” Billy pulls a pack of cigarettes — Marlboro reds — from the pocket on his denim jacket, and pulls two out. One rests between his lips, and the other gets placed between Steve’s fingers at about the same instance as Billy takes the mostly finished cigarette that had already been there.
Steve goes from being slightly hunched over to sitting up straight, so he can light the cigarette. He lights Billy’s too when it gets held out to him.
“Do you… need to talk about it?” Billy’s caught off guard, unsure on how to act, how to speak. This sort of consideration from him seems a little out of place, but Steve’s trying to learn not to question him.
“I don’t know what there is to talk about, and I’m not trying to be a dick. One minute, I’m breaking a five down into quarters for some kid, and then everything just… I don’t know. I really don’t know. Things feel like they’re too much.” His voice is quiet and fast and he’s mostly mumbling in the way that someone does when they’re upset and trying to explain why they’re upset. “This — the freaking out — keeps happening.”
Billy’s quiet for a long time. Long enough that Steve’s boss comes out to tell him to hurry the fuck up. (Billy looks up at him to give him a dirty look, and tells him to get the fuck back inside. Keith knows better than to fuck with Billy Hargrove.) When Billy does respond, it’s a few minutes after Keith’s gone back inside, and his tone — his words — hold some sort of vulnerability to them. Unexpected but not unwelcome.
“It’s been happening to me too,” he admits. He flicks ashes into the snow and Steve watches as the ashes melt away a little dent. “A lot of fucked up shit’s happened to me, but that incident takes the fucking cake. The other fucked up shit — all of that’s always been fast, and temporary, but… What did you guys call it? Having that thing in me?”
“You were its host,” Steve explains, sounding like he’s reading off of a study guide. “I’m sorry. I wish… I don’t know what the fuck I wish for. I wish none of this had happened. I wish we lived in a world where monsters from other dimensions didn’t fucking exist. You’ve been an asshole to all of us, but you didn’t deserve that. ”
“Maybe it was a good thing,” he mutters. “I don’t know. Almost dying has a way of… Shit. It has a way of making you see things properly.”
“I hear you,” he says. “We’re not all that different, I don’t think.”
Billy scoffs. “Please. Have you seen the kind of car you drive? We’re from two different worlds.”
Steve finds himself smiling, just a bit. “Yeah. Maybe I’m wrong.”
In high school, Steve thinks, he would have thrown a New Years party. His parents aren’t home — they never are on New Years — and he could picture fifty some odd people milling around his house, listening to whatever music he has and getting drunk, waiting for the countdown to start, but this year, he finds himself sitting in his parents’ living room with a fifth of whiskey and a pack of Camels.
He has half a mind to stash the fifth of whiskey between his mattress and the box spring, and to drive over to Dustin’s, or something, but he’s on his fourth cigarette and has a few shots of whiskey down his throat, feeling fuzzy and numb but not too numb as he watches the news. (He’s something of a lightweight, which he’s more than fine with, since it means less money spent on booze.)
He’d classify himself as tipsy bordering on drunk when there’s three hard knocks on his front door around eleven. He doesn’t know who he’s expecting to be there — his parents, one of the kids, Nancy or Jonathan, if one of them drove down for the night — but Billy isn’t it. (And, truthfully, he figures he needs to start expecting Billy, because he always turns up when he least expects it.)
Billy looks like shit. His hair is sticking up weird — wrong — his lip is busted, and he can see the beginnings of a black eye and a few bruises on his cheek and jaw. Steve doesn’t have to ask him why he’s there, mostly because he can make a pretty good guess, partially because Billy keeps his explanation short and sweet before he even gets a chance to ask. “You said I could come to you if I needed to talk. I’m here.”
Steve’s too drunk and not drunk enough, he thinks, to deal with this. He steps back, though, and grabs Billy by the bicep to tug him inside.
Billy isn’t polite, not when they’re alone. (He’s not an asshole, not always anyways, but he doesn’t kiss Steve’s ass.) He strides through the house, like he’s been there a thousand times before, like this isn’t the first time he’s been there, and Steve doesn’t get onto him as he starts rifling through the freezer in the kitchen. He sees Steve’s fifth of whiskey, and grabs that first, setting it on the counter, and then goes for a bag of peas.
By the time Billy’s forgone a shot glass, in favor of drinking from the bottle — drinking the same amount in one go that Steve’s had all evening — and has the peas pressed against the side of his face, Steve has a cigarette held towards him. Billy stares at his hand, where the cigarette is, before taking it between two of his fingers. “Your parents let you smoke?” His voice sounds wrecked, Steve notices, in the way that someone’s voice sounds when they’ve been yelling for awhile.
“I’ll burn some incense before they get back.”
They stand there, and it’s too quiet. Billy has his eyes closed, and he’s leaning against the counter, balancing himself, and Steve feels something bubbling behind his ribs. It’s that feeling from before, from July. For a moment, he feels like he’s back there, feels like he has Billy in his arms again while he tries getting him to stay awake as they wait for help. He feels that need to protect, to care for, and he blames it on the whiskey as he steps up to Billy, to take the bag of peas in his own hand.
Billy doesn’t protest. He opens his eyes a little bit, glancing up just slightly to look Steve in the eyes. “Aren’t you going to ask what happened? Poke your nose in my business?”
“I know better than to do that.” Steve pulls the bag of peas back for a few moments to look at the bruises before putting it back on his face. “If you need to talk, go for it, but I’m not going to force you.”
He sighs and it’s both a little weird and sort of cool to see the way he deflates. Steve isn’t expecting it when Billy puts his cigarette out on the granite countertop, and nudges his hand — the one with the peas — back, before shuffling forward and resting his head on Steve’s shoulder, leaning into him. It’s when they don’t have to look at each other that Billy admits he isn’t there to talk, and that he’d appreciate somewhere safe to sleep for the night.
Steve’s careful about wrapping his arm around Billy, hugging him, and telling him that it’s cool, that he’s allowed to spend the night if he needs it.
It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
Billy’s a little tipsy, but he’s not nearly as inebriated as Steve seems to be. Still, though, when Steve drapes the afghan from the back of the couch over his shoulders, and pats his thigh, meaning for Billy to lie down, so he can (at the least) have an easier time holding the bag of peas to his face, he obliges with only a few moments of hesitation.
He hasn’t ever had the best experience with drunk people. He’s waiting for it to happen — for Steve to snap, to yell, to throw hands, but he doesn’t. He slouches down on the couch, and Billy’s head eventually ends up on his hip instead of his thigh. Most of all, the entire time, instead of falling into some sort of blind, drunken rage, Steve remains soft and gentle in all the right places.
His fingers find their way to his hair at some point, and normally, Billy would have smacked his hand away, would have told him to get the fuck off him, but he doesn’t have it in him right now. He doesn’t want him to stop. Steve doesn’t pull his hair as he mindlessly runs his fingers through it, either. Billy figures he’s had practice when it comes to touching hair, with as many girlfriends as he’s rumored to have gone through. He leans into it.
Steve gets up at some point, and the peas disappear. When he comes back, Billy’s expecting him to sit further way, to give him his space, but Steve sits back down right next to his head, and scoots closer. Billy lifts his head up, using his thigh as a pillow again, and the fingers return to his hair soon after. He pulls the afghan tighter around his body, allowing himself to get more comfortable, even closing his eyes at some point.
His senses are dampened by the whiskey and things feel a little too distant, a little too far away, but he feels safe, in a way he hasn’t since he was little. Steve’s fingers stop moving eventually, and once he hears him snoring, he lets himself drift off.
He’s only woken up once during the night, when Steve gets up to grab a few pillows. He thinks Steve’s going to drop the pillows off and leave, to sleep in his own room, but then there’s someone pressing against his backside. It’s a tight fit, but Steve is warm and safe. Steve is safe and Steve tucks his head between Billy’s neck and shoulder after throwing an arm over his waist, their legs tangling together, and he sleeps. He sleeps good.
Billy goes home the next morning, at a time that he knows his dad should be at work, long enough to grab three days worth of clothes, and to scrounge up any spare cigarettes he has lying around, in an effort to prolong the process of buying another pack. He needs to not be around for a few days.
And, truthfully, he doesn’t mean to keep running into Harrington. He’s on the ground in front of a convenience store a few days later, smoking a cigarette and staring at what looks like a cum stain on the concrete in front of him the next time he sees him. He feels his face trying to go red when he looks up at makes eye contact with Steve, but once he actually fully takes in his appearance, he laughs.
Steve has a cigarette of his own hanging from his lips, and in his arms is a bottle of water, a bag of beef jerky, a bottle of lube, whipped cream (the canned kind), and what he’s pretty sure is a KitKat. His hair is sticking up a little funny, and his outfit is nothing short of god awful — one of his basketball sweatshirts from high school under a corduroy jacket, a pair of shorts, and sandals over a pair of knee socks.
Billy sits back, and he knows it’s not funny, but he echoes a statement from times past. “Am I dreaming,” he drawls out, a lazy grin spreading across his face, “or is that you, Harrington?”
“You’re dreaming,” he deadpans, before something about his demeanor softens. “Two in the morning is an intimate time to catch me at a convenience store. This is like… This is an invasion of privacy, man. You can’t judge me for anything in my arms, right now.””
Billy teases him. “What is there to judge? Looks like you’re gonna have a good night.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “Don’t be weird, man.” He shifts back and forth on his feet, and Billy isn’t surprised when he asks, “You need a place to sleep?”
“You gonna spoon me all damn night?”
“I was drunk.”
“Never said I hated it.” He knows he has a shit eating look on his face as he hauls himself off the ground, putting his cigarette out on the brick wall of the convenience store. “Your couch beats the backseat of the Camaro.”
Spending the night at Steve’s, the first time, was supposed to be a one time thing.
So was the spooning.
When Steve crawls into his bed behind Billy, scoots up close, with an arm over his waist, legs tangled between his, and his other bicep under Billy’s head, he asks, “Is this okay?” and it sounds like he’s asking out of genuine concern, rather than as a courtesy.
His first instinct is to say no, to shove him out of the bed, but he feels himself relax into his embrace despite himself. “It’s good,” he tells him.
He tries not to smile a few minutes later, which is when he’s pretty sure Steve presses a quick, gentle kiss to his shoulder.
He’s surprised that it takes him six months to snap. Billy isn’t stupid — he knows, has known, that deep down, if he wanted to, he probably could’ve beat the shit out of Neil at any point in the past year and a half. He’s built like a brick shithouse and he knows it. Neil says something that Billy doesn’t quite catch, but he hears the word faggot leave his lips, and the next thing he knows, he’s reeling back and his fist makes contact with his jaw. He decks him again when Neil recovers enough to give him an enraged look. It’s the second punch that makes him lose his footing.
Neil says something else, some snide little jab, as he’s trying to get himself off of the floor, but Billy aims a kick to his ribs, and screams, “I’d rather be a fucking faggot than be stuck in a loveless, sham of a fucking marriage!” gesturing towards Susan as he does so.
Neil ends up giving him half an hour to pack his shit.
Max isn’t home and Billy’s kind of glad that she didn’t have to witness that.
It’s fucking Dustin that figures out he’s living in his car.
He's passed out in the backseat, in a sweatshirt he stole from Steve the last time he was over, and under the blanket he's been using for the past three years, the only one he packed when he left. He flinches awake at the sound of knuckles against the window. Maybe sleeping in the parking lot of the Kroger was a mistake.
Billy looks up into his eyes, and cusses, because where there's Dustin, there's Steve. (Or Mrs. Henderson, but Billy knows better than to assume that Steve isn’t within the general vicinity.) Sure enough, Steve’s head appears less than a minute later.
He and Steve maintain eye contact for about twenty seconds, before Steve’s breaking it. He watches as Steve digs through his wallet, producing what looks like a five dollar bill, saying something to Dustin that’s muffled by the glass. Dustin doesn’t look like he wants to go, looks like he wants to poke his nose into Billy’s business, but Steve gives him a pointed look and an angry index finger pointed towards the front of the store.
Steve looks back into his eyes when Dustin trots off towards the front of the store, rapping his own knuckles against the glass. Billy reaches up, somewhere above his head, to tug on the door handle, nudging it open once the latch clicks. “Mornin’ Harrington.”
“Why are you sleeping in your car?”
Billy hums a little bit, pushing himself into a sitting position. Steve leans against the Camaro, staring at him, waiting for an answer. “I’m trying out this new thing,” he starts, yawning. “Living a… nomadic lifestyle. Not that it’s any of your business.”
“It’s not, but I feel like we know each other well enough to excuse any nosiness on my part,” Steve mutters. “If you needed somewhere to sleep, you could’ve called, or something.”
“It’s not that I need somewhere to sleep, Harrington. I need somewhere to live.”
Steve’s a little slow on the uptake, but eventually, his mouth falls into an ‘o’ shape as he winces. “Well… Still. Do you…? You need help? I can help. Find you somewhere to stay, or something. I don’t work today, either, since Keith’s been cutting my hours, so I can make time. Just gotta drop Dustin off at school, first.”
“Speaking of… Why are you here, anyways?”
Steve responds once he steps back, giving Billy room to come tumbling out of the Camaro, lacking his usual balance. “His mom forgot to make his lunch, so we stopped.”
The two of them stand in front of each other for a few moments, chest to chest.
Steve’s face softens and Billy can hear his pulse in his ears. “Dustin’s probably going to be a minute, if you want to talk about it. If not, then that’s cool too.” He half wants to reach out, to touch Steve, to find even the smallest bit of comfort, but he holds himself back.
It takes him a minute or two of working himself up to it before he starts talking. He’s vague, never going into too much detail, just as he usually is. “My dad. He, uh… We got into it, and he gave me half an hour to pack my shit. Figured I’d just save my paychecks for awhile, or something, then get an apartment.”
Steve frowns and reaches over to grab his hand for a few moments. (They’re standing in a way to where it’d be pretty hard to tell that they’re holding hands, unless you were really looking.) “Are you alright?” Tender , Billy thinks. Tender is the word he wants to use to describe Steve’s — Steve’s everything. He’s tender.
“I’m okay,” he says. “Maybe… I don’t know. It sounds dumb as shit, but maybe this is a good thing, man. My dad fuckin’ sucks, and I was hardly home in the first place anyways.”
Steve nods. “How about I take Dustin to school, and we meet at my house. I’ll make you breakfast, or something.”
Billy tugs his hand from Steve’s when he feels pressure building behind his eyes, so he can preemptively wipe at his cheeks. “Your parents aren’t home, right?”
“Nah, not until this weekend.”
Steve makes blueberry waffles and Billy’s pretty sure he’s never tasted anything more holy than these waffles. He’s halfway through his second waffle when he notices that Steve isn’t eating — just sitting there, tapping his cigarettes on his palm every thirty seconds or so as the two of them make small talk about some random topic.
Billy asks him why he isn’t eating, because he knows him well enough to know that he hasn’t eaten yet, knows that he doesn’t eat a whole lot in the first place.
Steve’s expression falters a little bit, before he shrugs. He runs his hand through his hair, and Billy really looks at him, now. He looks exhausted, like the kind of exhausted that someone only gets after years of not sleeping right. He’s skinny, too. When they met, he remembers him being a little built, but now that he really looks at him, he sees it more.
“Haven’t had much of an appetite. I mean, trust me, I love food, but…”
Steve sighs and Billy watches as he pulls a cigarette out of the pack, tugging his empty coffee mug closer, to use as a makeshift ashtray as he lights it. “It’s like I have tunnel vision.” He hands his cigarette across the table, to Billy, who takes a drag off of it. “I try not to think about certain things, y’know, keeping myself busy babysitting the kids, or working, or whatever else, to the point that I forget… I don’t know. Eating is one of those things that gets put on the back burner.”
Billy nods along, and thinks about what Steve has said. He gets it. He takes a few slow, thoughtful bites of his waffles, before saying anything. “I get that. For me… I don’t know, man. It’s like I have a mental checklist of shit that I know I need to take care of — eating, showering, whatever — and then I’m allowed to do my own thing.”
“Both of us are too young for this bullshit,” he states.
Billy wants to reach over, to hold his hand again, so much that his fingers twitch a little bit as he considers it, but he keeps his hand to himself.
Steve is nice. He’s too nice, nicer than Billy thinks he deserves. Dustin’s mom is nice, too, and Billy’s pretty sure that the idea of taking up the Henderson’s guest room is a mixture of both Steve and Dustin’s idea. He’d rather die than be stuck in some cat lady’s guest room, but it’s February in Indiana, and he doesn’t quite have enough money saved up to make a down payment on an apartment. (Nor does he want to spend another night in the backseat of the Camaro.)
It's awkward for the first few weeks. Mrs. Henderson insists that he eats breakfast and dinner whenever he's around, and Dustin keeps staring at him, eyes rarely leaving him, until he hisses, "Stop fucking mad-dogging me, you little shit," at him when Mrs. Henderson leaves the room during dinner to grab something or other.
Mrs. Henderson also refuses to let him pay rent, but she begrudgingly says yes to his offer of helping out with household chores, of which he isn't unfamiliar with doing. He usually does dishes after dinner every night, and it’s a night where he has to scrub a little too hard on a pan with a bit of steel wool that Dustin decides to basically corner him.
Billy doesn’t like Dustin. Some of it’s because he’s weird, most of it’s because he’s a little bit of an asshole, and he’s spent the better part of two years training himself to hate everyone that Max hangs out with regularly. (And that, hating anyone Max hangs out with, is a whole other can of worms.) So when Dustin approaches him, hands clasped in front of his chest, he lets out a long suffering sigh and tries to ignore him.
“I don’t want to be here anymore than you want me to be here,” he thinks as Dustin keeps staring at him. He keeps his mouth shut, though, knowing it’s in his best interests that he does.
“What’s your deal?” He asks. “A year and a half ago, you would’ve kicked my teeth in over the staring thing. Now, you’re… Doing dishes.”
He sighs again, and sets the pan and the steel wool down. “Listen, Henderson. I can’t exactly live here if I’m constantly being an asshole to you. Shit would get weird.”
“No, it’s not just that. You’ve been nicer. Max says it, and I know you’re friends with Steve, and you damn near killed the dude, so what is it? Did the Mind Flayer get to you? Are you turning over a new leaf?”
He tries to think of a way to brush him off, to get him to scram, before thinking that maybe a little honesty would get him a long way. (Or that a little honesty would get him to at least leave faster.) “Have you ever almost died? And I don’t mean in the way that everyone talks about. I mean in the real way, y’know? Like, losing half the damn blood in your body, or pretty much getting your guts rearranged by a fucking monster from an alternate dimension.” He lifts his shirt up as he speaks, too, to make a point — to show off the nasty scar he has on his abdomen. “Have you ever spent a week being possessed by some unfathomable entity? Shit like that can really make you think about how you interact with the world. I ain’t in the business of acting like I haven’t had a fucking laundry list,” he does a gesture with his hands, “of fuck ups, but — fuck — it’s not worth it. I don’t want to end up like my shitty, deadbeat fucking dad. So. Yeah. I’ve been nicer.”
Dustin obviously doesn’t know what to say. He gets out, “Oh,” and lingers for a few moments, before walking briskly — not running — out of the kitchen.
The Henderson household is quiet, and calm, in a way that he hasn’t known. No one fights, or screams at each other, and absolutely no one would even think to throw hands. There’s an undertone of fucking love in the air, and most of all, nothing ever happens. The most exciting thing that happens, he thinks, is when he wakes up around two in the morning, on a night he’s not somewhere else, to Dustin in the next room whisper shouting, “What the hell, Steve?!”
He hears shushing, and a not very subtle, “I’m not here for you, so cool it. Which room is he in?”
Dustin says something, quiet enough that Billy can’t make it out, and less than a minute later the door to the guest room is opening up and closing again. Billy’s too tired to come up with anything smarter or more original than, “Am I dreamin’, or is that you, Harrington?” as he rolls over to catch a glimpse of his face in the moonlight coming from the window.
He sees him make a face, before slipping his coat and his boots off. He fully turns over in the bed when Steve grabs his shirt by the hem of it, and pulls it off. Billy doesn’t try to pretend that he’s not checking him out. He can see his ribs, and when he turns around to tug his sweatpants off, leaving him in his boxers, he can plainly see his spine, looking knobby through his back. (He can see his ass, too. Underweight or not, Billy isn’t above admitting that Steve Harrington has a nice ass, at least to himself.)
He lets out a sort of noncommittal grunt as Steve is pulling back the blankets on the bed, and lies down, facing away from him. Billy tries to keep his voice soft, something he’s not used to, as he asks, “Aren’t you gonna spoon me?”
“Do you want me to?”
“If you’re crawling into my bed at two in the morning, then yeah, I kinda do, Harrington.” He rolls over and feels something smug tugging at his insides when Steve turns over too, and scoots on up to him.
Steve’s fingers are cold and splaying over his abdomen, over where he knows a nasty scar is. “Sounds stupid, but I had a dream where you didn’t make it. Freaked me out.”
Billy doesn’t say that it’s not stupid, even though it’s not. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Steve makes a low sort of humming noise, quiet enough that he almost doesn’t hear it.
Billy feels a damp spot on the back of his t-shirt as Steve wipes his face off against it.
“Talk to me,” he says.
He’s sleepy enough to do it, and to not hold back. He keeps his voice down, to where he’s not going to be heard in another room. “I ever tell you why I got kicked out?” Steve shakes his head. “That thing that happened — in July — gave me a pair of steel balls, y’know? Made me realize there’s more to life than… I dunno. More than what I was experiencing. I told my dad that I’d… I told him that I’d rather be a faggot, than be stuck in a loveless marriage. Kicked him in the ribs, too. Him lording that over my head — and me letting him — was kinda fucking stupid.”
Steve shakes. He makes a noise, and Billy realizes he’s trying not to laugh. “Sounds like something you’d do. So… You’re…?”
“Don’t go spreadin’ it all over town,” he mutters, “but yeah. Got bigger things to worry about than wanting to kiss boys.”
Billy starts becoming a regular fixture in Steve’s life. If his parents aren’t home, he stays over. They listen to music a little too loud, sometimes Billy cooks for him, and they fall asleep in each other’s arms. (They don’t talk about it.)
If he’s in the Wheeler’s basement, avoiding being home, avoiding his parents, avoiding being alone, Billy’s usually there. Steve’s usually tied up with D&D when he’s there, Billy likes to pretend to sleep on the couch, and after awhile, the kids quit questioning it. (They do get four pairs of raised eyebrows the first time they catch Billy sleeping with his head in Steve’s lap, but no one says anything.)
Sometimes, if sleeping alone isn’t going well, and he can’t quite get to sleep, or he wakes up from a really bad nightmare, he’ll drive to Dustin’s and climb in through the guest room window, making himself comfortable in bed next to Billy, who usually grunts before either turning over, meaning for Steve to scoot up close behind him, or he’ll pull him close, and drift back to sleep with his head on Steve’s chest. (They don’t talk about this, either.)
Sometimes if he has the time before work, Billy stops at the arcade to bullshit with him, and when he leaves, Robin gives him a knowing look, maybe even questioning him if she feels like it. “He’s such an asshole, yet he’s all smiles and sunshine for you. How’d you swing that, Harrington?”
“You’d be surprised at what being nice to someone can do,” is usually about all he says.
Dustin is over at Mike's and Mrs. Henderson is out on a date, leaving both Billy and Steve to their own devices the first time he sees Billy cry. They've both had their fair share of whiskey, enough for either of them to have loosened up a little bit, to speak more openly, when Billy admits that he doesn't like hurting people. "It made me do some fucked up shit. I wanted it to stop so bad." His chin wobbles a little bit, too, and Steve can see the way his eyes are a little red and swollen.
Billy cries ugly. Steve’s seen him get sniffly a few times, but this is different. This is new. He cries ugly, with spit and snot running down his face, choking on his own sobs, and maybe Steve starts crying too, because he hasn’t ever seen someone so full of fucking despair before. That part of himself that wants to protect this boy, wants to take care of him, wants him to just be okay, aches.
He holds him close to his chest, running fingers through his hair, kissing the top of his head because he’s not sober enough to care and Billy’s too upset for either of them to quite give a shit about boundaries. Billy balls his fists up in Steve’s sweatshirt, leaning into him, accepting his comfort, and later, when they’re in the back of the Beemer, sobered up and eating fast food in the Kroger parking lot, watching cars pass them by on the main road, he says, “‘m sorry about earlier. Haven’t cried like that in front of someone before.”
Steve knocks Billy’s knee with his own, and hands him a french fry. “It happens to the best of us,” he mumbles. “I’m gonna be the last person that gets onto you for that shit. God knows I’ve had my share of meltdowns.”
Billy makes a noise in his throat. A few minutes later, he has the last half of his hamburger wrapped back up in the wrapper, and tossed back into the bag. Steve doesn’t pull away when he feels Billy leaning over, looping an arm around his, and staying there, with his head on Steve’s shoulder. He’s warm and heavy, and Steve feels something in his chest tug a little funny when he looks into the rearview mirror.
They both look like shit. Steve looks pale — paler than usual for winter in Indiana — and his eyes are a little sunken in. His hair is greasy — hasn’t been washed in a few days — and he’s pretty sure he hasn’t touched it with hairspray in at least three months.
Billy doesn’t look much better. He’s the kind of guy that’s always going to have a tan, but the skin under his eyes is noticeably darker, and he looks like he’s been crying, with red eyes and splotchy cheeks. His hair looks like a bird’s nest — untamed curls, spreading over Steve’s shoulder, falling into his face. He hasn’t shaved in a few days, either, and really, Steve knows he looks like shit, but the voice in the back of his head tells him that this is the most beautiful person he’s ever seen.
He has a feeling that Billy isn’t going to get pissed at him for it, so he crumples up the rest of his hamburger in the wrapper, tosses that back into the bag as well, before reaching up with his other hand to touch his cheek. Steve turns a little bit, Billy leans in a little closer, and the next thing he knows they’re hugging. Billy has a mean fucking grip on him, and Steve can’t quite breathe right from how tight he’s being held, but he squeezes him back with the same amount of effort.
“We should move in together,” Billy states sometime near the end of March.
Steve isn’t expecting that. They’re sitting on the hood of the Beemer, in front of the Henderson household, smoking and staring at the stars in the sky. “Okay. What makes you say that?”
Billy shrugs, and flicks ashes onto the ground. “I just figure… You can’t keep living in your parent’s house forever, and staying here was only supposed to be for a few weeks, but it’s been a few months.”
“We’re around each other a lot, too. It’d cut out a lot of the middleman, or whatever,” Steve mumbles. “Easier to walk across the hall than to drive across the town.” Steve’s heart is in his throat.
“Yeah, exactly. And… It’s stupid. It’s really stupid, but even with as shitty as living with — with them was… I dunno. I don’t like being alone in a home. Figured you’d be a good roommate. You’re clean, you can cook, and we don’t fight anymore.”
“I don’t like being alone either. Shit, I can hardly stand it when my parents are out of the house for longer than a few days, anymore. ‘s why I’m around you so much.”
“I might be shit company, but it’s better than being alone, right?” Billy has some sort of playful smile on his face and, fuck, he looks gorgeous.
Steve rolls his eyes, though, and knocks his knee into Billy’s. “I enjoy being around you, y’know. If I didn’t, I’d be over here for Dustin, not you. I’m down, by the way, if you wanna be roommates.”
Steve quits his job and empties out the savings account his parents set up for him — the one that they still have access to — and gets a new one at a different bank as a precaution. (He also withdraws everything from his checking account, and opens a new one with the new bank.) He’s pretty sure they wouldn’t screw with him like that, if anything between himself and Billy came to fruition, but he doesn’t want to take any chances, and would rather have a safety net to fall back on rather than jack shit.
All of April and most of May are spent looking at apartments; two in Hawkins, one in Indianapolis, and three in Chicago.
The first one they look at in Hawkins — they barely drive up to the place before Billy flips a super illegal u-turn, and says, “Fuck that. If I would’ve known ‘apartment’ meant ‘shitty double wide’ to these fuckers, I never would’ve drove all the damn way out here. Not wasting my time to end up living with a bunch of fucking tweakers.”
The second one they look at is the one in Indianapolis. It’s a nice place, and Steve wouldn’t have hated to live there, but it’s a little out of their price range and Steve thinks that, if he’s going to stay in Indiana, he’d rather just stay in Hawkins.
Apartment number three is in Hawkins. It’s a basement apartment, and they’re both almost sold on it, until they see that the shower has mold growing in one corner of it. Steve gags and Billy looks the landlady in the eye and says, “That’s fucking disgusting,” before either of them get the hell out of there.
They drive up to Chicago during the last week of May. Most of Steve’s things are packed and ready to go, and almost all of Billy’s belongings fit within a few suitcases, meaning that if they can manage to sign a lease while they’re in Chicago, then all they need to do, really, is to load either of their cars and to leave .
The drive to Chicago is weird. It’s not weird in an uncomfortable way, but Steve can’t shake the feeling that his life is about to change, drastically.
Maybe it’s because Billy reaches over about fifteen minutes into the drive, and holds his hand, palm up, out to Steve. Maybe it’s because Steve holds his hand for most of the drive, feeling fucking giddy and like he’s falling head over dick for this man.
Maybe it’s because they sing along to a few mix tapes — ones that consist of songs that they can both agree on, since they’re in the car together enough for it to be necessary — while laughing and acting goofy.
Maybe it’s because, for the first time since his Junior year, Steve feels like maybe, just maybe he has a shot at being happy.
They stay with Nancy and Jonathan, occupying the foldout bed on their couch, for the four nights that they have to be there. Nancy and Jonathan both seem wary about inviting Billy Hargrove to spend the week in their apartment, but Steve notices that their attitudes seem to shift after Nancy walks into her living room the first morning to find them pretty much cuddling.
Billy’s on his stomach, pretending to be asleep (Steve can tell, because that’s apparently something he’s able to tell, now) and Steve’s half asleep and not at all drooling on Billy, from where his face is pressed against his back. He has an arm around his waist, and doesn’t bother trying to pretend his morning wood isn’t pressed against his ass.
Nancy can tell that Steve isn’t asleep, at the least, and instead of asking him a bunch of questions, or being weird, she asks him how they take their coffee. (Steve tells her that Billy likes his black, and that he likes his with a spoonful of sugar and some milk.)
The first apartment in Chicago is more of a studio, and Billy says something about reading the advertisement better next time. “If it comes down to it,” he mutters, as he’s shifting the Camaro into reverse, pulling out of their parking space, “then I’ll live in a studio apartment, but…”
“But, we might ruin a nine month dry streak if we don’t have our own rooms.”
“Exactly, Harrington. Wouldn’t want to ruin that pretty face of yours over some dumb bullshit.”
Steve rolls his eyes, and doesn’t hide that he’s flustered as he tells him to shut up.
The second apartment is fucking beautiful, but the floor plan is a little too open and the sliding glass door that leads to a balcony overlooks a pool, and Steve’s pretty sure he couldn’t handle living in another place where his view includes a fucking pool.
The third apartment is perfect.
There are two bedrooms, a working bathroom, washer and dryer included, and there’s no balcony overlooking a pool. Steve doesn’t think about it, knowing that if he does, he’s going to talk himself out of it, as the guy who owns the complex is sliding a two year lease towards either of them, and handing him a pen, or as he’s writing a check for the security deposit, and first and last months’ rent, figuring his savings could take the blow.
Nancy and Jonathan aren’t at their apartment by the time they get back after signing the lease. There’s a note on the table, one written by Jonathan judging by the chicken scratch handwriting, that says they’re at Joyce’s, having dinner with her, Will, and El, who apparently goes by Jane, now.
Their plans for the evening aren’t too elaborate. They’re going to order a pizza, Steve’s going to pop in the mix tape he slipped into Billy’s collection, the one that has the slow songs on it, and they’re going to have a relaxing evening, celebrating properly entering adulthood. (Billy also disappears for about an hour and comes back with a bottle of champagne and a carton of orange juice.)
They go through half of a pizza and about three mimosas each by the time Steve’s peeling himself off of the foldout, and holding hands out to Billy, saying, “We should — we should slow dance.”
Billy lets Steve haul him off of the foldout too, and they both giggle when he stumbles a little bit, nearly knocking Steve on his ass. It takes a few moments to figure it out. Steve leads, with his hands on Billy’s waist, and they more or less sway in place while they chat and make small talk, until Billy says, “I totally would’ve asked you to prom, if I knew you’d ever be interested, Harrington.”
Steve cackles. “I would have laughed in your face.”
“You are laughing in my face.”
“But we’re slow dancing to Elvis, so it doesn’t count,” Steve reasons. “You’re wrong anyways. I woulda been the asker.”
“The fuck you would.” Billy laughs, and Steve really likes it when he laughs. “Monsters or not, you wouldn’t have had the balls.”
“I might have asked to fuck with you, but I so would, dude.”
“I still think you’re full of shit.” Billy shakes his head.
The first time they kiss is in Jonathan Byers and Nancy Wheeler’s living room.
Billy’s hands go from being thrown over Steve’s shoulders to cupping his face almost delicately, as he pulls him in for a kiss. It’s soft and sweet and tender and full of affection and absolutely not what Steve was expecting a kiss from Billy Hargrove to be like. He’s expecting something rough, something quick and sloppy, expecting beard burn and chapped lips, maybe even expecting him to cop a feel, or something, but he doesn’t do that.
Billy holds his face in his hands when he pulls away, too, looking at Steve like he’s the most precious thing in the world. The song changes while they’re having their moment, to Queen’s Somebody To Love, and Steve drags Billy back in for another kiss as the first verse is starting.
They kiss, slow and sweet, for about the first half of the song, before their slow dancing turns into swaying while hugging, and Billy’s mumbling, “I’ve never been someone’s boyfriend before,” into Steve’s shoulder, like it’s the most embarrassing thing he’s ever had to admit.
Steve’s hand slides from his upper back to the back of his head, fingers threading through curly locks. “I’m cool with it, man. Practice makes perfect.”
Billy sighs, and their swaying comes to a stop. (So, now, they’re just hugging and listening to music.) He lifts his head up, but doesn’t pull away from him, rather speaking lowly into Steve’s ear; “I don’t want you to be a practice boyfriend, or an appetizer leading up to the main course, or whatever other fucking artsy metaphor you can come up with. If I’m gonna date King Steve, then I don’t want to fuck around and half ass it, y’know? It’s just — I’ve never been someone’s boyfriend before.”
“If you’d let me…” Steve’s heart is in his throat again. “I can teach you. I’m a pretty lousy boyfriend anyways, and I’m sure Nance will back me up on that, so maybe… I don’t know, man — maybe we could learn together.”
“I’m not gonna be the kind of guy that gets you flowers.”
Steve shrugs as best as he can, and squeezes Billy a little closer. “I have allergies. I can live without flowers.”
“Just makin’ sure.”