Billy closed his eyes. His body felt heavy, weighed down with toxicity and darkness. Like a hand cradling the back of his head, forcing Billy to nod and shake his head. A mix of sweat and tears glued Billy’s hair to his face. Every breath reminded him of the burning ache that trickled down his back, mixing with the heat that burned every inch of Billy’s body.
There was warmth.
Then there was cold.
There was everything.
Then there was nothing.
“She was pretty,” The girl’s voice was weak and distant, like a murmur of wind from the end of a black tunnel. Her voice drove a nail of anger and hate into Billy’s heart. More than anything, he wanted her dead. He wanted her to pay for what she did to them. For what she did to him.
What did she do to him?
For the life of him, Billy could not understand the uncontrollable rage that blacked out his vision. Why did it focus on this girl? Why did she have to die?
The unbearable tightness in his chest faltered for a second, returning with a sudden vengeance. As though his heart was in someone’s fist.
No. The creature rumbled out.
You are mine. Its voice was louder than the fireworks exploding a mere ten feet away from him. We are one.
Billy seized up, a pulse of cold bursting through him. When he opened his eyes, he was not in Starcourt, but in the basement of Brimborn again. The empty steel mill’s shattered ceiling revealed an inky black sky with not stars. The darkness edged close, threatening to swallow him whole. The creature moved in the shadows.
You need us.
“No!” He choked out, watching the hideous creature of bone and guts move at a sickening pace. “Let me go!”
Shadowy figures appeared in front of Billy. He recognized Mr. and Mrs. Holloway, standing amid a crowd of Hawkins citizens. All dead. Heather stepped forward, head tilted to the side, eyes the devoid of life.
You’ve been useful. Her lips were pale. Don’t forget your place.
She reached out, offering her hand. Come. Join us.
“They’re going to die,” Billy could not stop the tremor in his voice. “Everyone will die if do this.”
Do not forget what we have done for you. Everyone in the steel mill spoke as one being. We’ve given you power. A new life. A new family.
Billy drew himself up, hands tightening into fists. “This isn’t a family. You’ve killed every single person here; invaded their minds and taken over. You’re a disease.”
Despite the sick feeling that pulsed through him, he pushed on. “For something that’s threatening the world, you’re pathetic. You needed me to survive. You need all of us!” Billy let himself scream. “If you hadn’t dragged me here that night, you’d have never survived!”
Heather’s face twisted into an ugly sneer. The pressure in the room shifted, and Billy felt colder than ever. I will take everything from you. I will end them all.
“You won’t hurt them,” Billy spat. He moved to the rusted staircase. “I won’t let you.”
He turned and ran, out the door and into the blackness. Limbs weak, heart slamming in his chest, Billy ran for his life.
A distant echo reached him. The soft voice of a girl.
“She was really pretty.” The voice whispered somewhere below him. A small, gentle hand rested itself on Billy’s face. It was hot against his frigid skin.
Sound and chaos flooded his ears. Screams, both human and monstrous mingled with the sound of distant sirens and crackling fire.
Billy opened his eyes. He was leaning over El, staring into her distraught face. He could feel himself shaking, weak and free.
Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes, trickling into her hair. “And you were happy.”
He gasped, the air filling his lungs as though he hadn’t breathed for days. Every breath came as a heaving sob. Billy fell back, hands around his knees. The burning hate in his chest dissipated as he saw Eleven sit up.
“Billy?” She asked, voice quiet and yet impossibly clear to him. “Are you okay?”
He wanted so say something, but the words were stuck in his tight throat, alongside the gratitude he wanted to express. He nodded and Eleven smiled, eyes still teary and nose still red.
“Hey!” A voice above called out. “Over here, asshat! We’re not dead yet!”
Billy’s head shot up. Just past the creature, he spotted a figure on the second story balcony.
It was none other than Steven Harrington. Steve was waving his arms like a madman, trying to distract the beast.
If Billy was going to act, he needed to act now.
Steve watched it all unfold. He knew they need help, but they were all out of ideas. On a limb, he threw the walkie talkie at the Mind Flayer. It landed on one of the creature’s many legs, congealing with the rest of it. The beast quelled for a second, less injured, more frustrated.
“Hey!” he screamed. “Over here, asshat! We’re not dead yet!”
Dustin appeared at his side, gripping his arm. “What the fuck, Steve?”
“They just need some time! Only a few seconds!” He grabbed the empty basket and lobbed it at the Flayer. From across the mall, Nancy raised the hand gun, firing useless bullets into it’s hide. Will and Jonathan threw mannequins from Claire’s and candles from Wicks ‘n Sticks. The Mind Flayer screamed in annoyance. Long tendrils of meat and bone thrashed around the mall, searching for the sources of irritation.
“Dustin!” Lucas was screaming from across the second floor. “Dustin! Satan’s Baby! Use Satan’s baby!”
“What?” He shouted back. What the hell was Satan’s Baby? “Lucas what are you talking about?”
“It’s in my back pack!” Lucas was sprinting towards the little Chinese fast food place, away from the grotesque tentacles.
Dustin ripped open the back pack, eye landing on the largest firework he had every seen. A single ‘Satan’s Baby’ was duct taped to six another six of the same calibre.
“Steve!” Dustin hefted the projectile. “I need a lighter! Now!”
Steve’s eyes widened when he saw the firework. He lit the fuse, and Dustin shut one eye, lobbing it right at the Mind Flayer’s head. It arced high above the dust and wreckage of the mall.
“Yeah!” Steve cheered, fist pumping into the air.
just before a wild tendril shot out of the dark, knocking Satan’s Baby into the fountain at the centre of the mall. It landed in the water with a weak plop.
“Are you kidding me, Henderson?” Steve fumed.
“I-” Dustin was cut off by a massive explosion, unlike any of the other fire works he had seen in his life. Fountain water splashed high enough to spray the edge of the balcony, hitting Dustin’s shoes. Brilliant shades of red and yellow burned the front leg of the Mind Flayer. But Satan’s Baby had landed far too close to the overturned red Chevy that Eleven had tossed. Blooming mushrooms of orange flames and black smoke enveloped the Flayer. It screamed, shaking Starcourt to its foundations.
Steve choked. “Ho-Holy shit!”
Fire crawled along the ground floor as the Mind Flayer turned its massive body, scanning for them.
Robin yanked at the back of Dustin’s shirt. “If it catches us, we’re dead. We have to get out of here!” Dustin back peddled as tendrils shot out of the Flayer, directly for them.
Billy took the flames and fireworks as a chance.
He grabbed El around the waist. She was so small, he lifted her up with ease despite her injured leg. The creature reared its massive head and screamed when Billy lifted her over his shoulder. He turned to Max and Mike. “Time to go!’ Billy snapped. “Now!”
Max was shaken from her terror-induced stupor, her eyes taking in Billy and Eleven just as fast. She grabbed Mike by the arm, hauling him through the employee exit. “This way!” Max shouted. The moment Billy and Eleven were in the hall, Max slammed the door shut. Mike wedged a broom stick into the metal door handle. The door rattled madly as the monster’s arms slammed into it over and over again.
“That should hold it!” Mike breathed, hands on his knees.
Max backed away. “Not for long. We need to get out of here now, Hop and Joyce should have the keys now. We only have a few minutes.”
Billy nodded. “Lead the way, Max.”
Max looked at him – really looked at him – and something akin to affection washed over her face. It was quickly replaced with her usual hard expression. “This way.” She disappeared down the hall to their left.
He gently eased Eleven off his shoulder. “Can you walk?”
“I think so,” Eleven whispered. In a flash, Mike was wrapping an arm under her shoulders, taking the weight off her leg.
They raced through the dimly lit hallway, Max, Mike and Eleven, then Billy, following the snaking path and grey walls. No sooner than a minute later, they heard the crack of a broom handle as the employee hallway door opened.
Max halted, turning around with eyes wide as saucers.
“Don’t stop!” Billy shouted. “Keep going!”
They made one last turn and burst out into the night air. They were immediately surrounded by sirens and men in uniforms.
Paramedics fussed over the children, leading them to the multiple ambulances that were parked outside of Starcourt. A bombardment of questions came from every direction, officer’s hounding Max and Mike while two paramedics lifted Eleven onto a gurney. She was quickly moved to an ambulance.
Everyone around Billy was moving twice as fast as he was. He was numb to a female paramedic guiding him to the back of an ambulance, draping a warm, fleecy blanket around Billy’s shoulders, and cleaning the superficial wounds on his face and arms.
She was quiet, and gentle, not making conversation besides basic questions about his injuries. Pity pinched her face, making her lips stretch into a pursed line, eyes crinkling at the corners. Billy hated it. After she checked for a concussion (which he did not have), Billy was left alone, watching the busy parking lot.
It was such a startling contrast; policemen yelling about a gas leak in Starcourt into their walkie talkies. Paramedics passed by, looking at the cuts on Billy’s face and the weariness that weighed his eyes, believing that he was an innocent citizen in the equation. Firefighters arriving on scene, about to enter the mall, believing that the fire was a mere accident. All the while Billy, knew what exactly was inside of the mall at that very second.
He took a deep breath, looking up at the clear, night sky. The stars could be made out, shining dimly against the smoke that bellowed from Starcourt’s obliterated ceiling.
There was no voice in his head, no dark monster pumping through his veins. He was finally free.
It was almost enough to make Billy cry in relief. Almost.
Exhaustion crept into his body as adrenaline drained from Billy’s system. Gritting his teeth, he ran a hand through his dirty hair, taking in the feeling of his fingers catching every knot and curl. What seemed like a rebellious style choice now felt like a burden and a reminder. Billy’s mind was desperate to rationalize every fucked up thing that he had done in the past few days, but nothing made sense.
Thought after thought ran in circles until they stopped at Heather and her parents. Guilt grew thick and fast in Billy’s stomach, threatening to choke him alive. Tears pricked his eyes, but did not fall.
Billy needed to get out of there. His legs itched to run and his body begged forget everything that happened. Get into the Camaro and drive out of Hawkins, out of Indiana, and never come back.
Instead, he watched Max and Mike sit by Eleven as a paramedic wrapped a thick gauze around the wound on her leg. Max looked up, catching Billy’s eye. She smiled, lips thin, eyes searching his face for something. Billy nodded in return.
The front doors of the mall slammed open, and out sprinted the rest of Max’s friends; her little boyfriend, the kid with no teeth, and the kid with the bowl cut. Behind them, Jonathan Byers’ lanky frame came into view, alongside Nancy Wheeler with her handgun raised.
Lastly, Steve Harrington came out, side by side with a girl Billy did not recognize. They wore the same dumb-looking uniforms without the stupid hats. Steve looked at her and grinned, face beaten and bloody.
They were ushered to the line of ambulances and swarmed by a group of paramedics and police officers.
Mike jumped up and raced over to Lucas. “Is it done? Did they kill it?”
Before he could respond, he was tackled by Max, throwing her arms around his neck.
“It’s dead,” the small Byers kid said, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Is it gone, Will?” Mike asked. “Forever?”
Will’s face was gaunt and white with terror. “I-I think so.”
Mike’s shoulders sagged in relief. He sat down next to Eleven, who rested her head against his shoulder.
It was strange to have a peek into the strange kid’s lives. Lucas and Max stayed glued together for almost a whole minute before separating, hands still clasped. Harrington ruffled the head of the Henderson kid who stayed close to his side. Nancy and Jonathan sat next to each other in the ambulance, speaking in hushed tones until the little Byers slid up next to him. Their mouths were clamped shut the moment Will slotted himself into his brother’s side.
Billy did not notice Steve Harrington make his way to him, de-tangling himself from Henderson.
Steve was exhausted, face stern and weary as he sat down next to Billy. He still looked dumb in his work uniform, covered in what looked like blood and vomit. The sailor costume did not suit the somber look on his face.
“You okay?” he asked, shoulders high, back straight.
Billy held back a smirk. It was as though the guy expected him to start swinging fists. “Yeah, I’m good Harrington.”
“Really?” Steve’s brows furrowed. “Because you look like shit, man.”
“I could say the same for you,” Billy observed the black eye and bloody nose Steve was sporting. Just past Steve’s head, he could see Max shooting them nervous glances. “What happened?”
Steve shook his head, a small smile playing on his lips. “Don’t deflect. Besides, I don’t think you would believe me.”
Billy smiled bitterly. “Try me.”
“Okay,” He said. “There are Russians experimenting in the basement of Starcourt. They found an interdimensional gateway that opened and gave power to the Mind Flayer.”
“Mind Flayer?” Billy frowned, unable to process everything in that sentence.
“That creature that was possessing you, we call it the Mind Flayer. The Russian scientists wanted to open up something like a portal to another dimension, and in the process, they let the Mind Flayer in.”
Billy wanted to stop him, but he shut his mouth. Questions and doubt began to blur together in his head. Did everyone know about the creature?
Steve continued, annoyingly nonchalant. “Anyway, we just closed the gate, or, Jonathan’s mom and Hopper just did. They blew up the huge generator that was keeping it open, and in doing that, the Mind Flayer, lost its power.”
He spoke as though any of the words he just said made sense, but Billy was reeling. Jonathan’s mom? Generator?
“We were suppose to get El out of the mall and as far away as possible, but you tampered with the car, and we couldn’t do shit,” Steve said. “Sorry about crashing into the Camaro. I had to stop you.”
Billy found his voice. “Whatever, it’s a piece of shit anyway.”
The corners of Steve’s mouth twitched. “Joyce and Hopper should be here soon, they’ll be able to tell us what happened in the bunker.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Frustration seeped into Billy’s voice. His head ached and he just wanted to crawl into a warm bed and fall asleep. Was he really going to believe the bullshit Harrington was feeding him?
Steve shrugged. “I think we owe you an explanation, since you were possessed and shit.”
Possessed and shit. Billy thought of the Mind Flayer’s mission to destroy the world, and the rage that drove it forward. He felt the echo of it’s hold over him. “I didn’t want to hurt all those people. I tried to stop it. I swear, I really did.”
“We know,” he responded quietly.
“It was just so strong,” Billy clenched his jaw, stopping himself from shaking. “I couldn’t say no. When I did, it would lock me in the trunk. I couldn’t get out.”
Steve pursed his lips, looking at his hands.
“I get that I’m known for being and asshole. That I pick fights and don’t give a shit about who gets hurt. But I wouldn’t kidnap anyone. Or kill-” the words were stuck in his throat. “Anyone. I’m not crazy.”
For a second, Steve looked like wanted to contradict him, but decided to stay quiet.
Billy caught the expression. “I’m not crazy, Harrington.”
Steve threw his hands up in defence. “I didn’t say anything. It’s just, I wouldn’t blame you if you’re a little loopy after the Flayer went and scrambled your eggs a little.”
“Gee, you really know how to charm a guy,” Billy scrubbed his face with his hand, shoulders slumped.
“Sorry,” he said, seeming genuinely apologetic.
Billy shook his head. “Whatever, it’s fine. It’s just been a long night.”
Steve hummed in agreement.
They sat there for a bit, watching the first responders rush back and forth from place to place. The silence was surprising, both comfortable and reassuring.
“I saw what you did from the balcony,” Steve said, breaking the silence. “Thank you for getting them out.”
“Yeah, well,” Billy scoffed, unsure how to accept thanks from him. “I’m pretty certain my ass would get beat if Max dies, more over if I’m the one who kills her.”
Steve’s mouth twisted into a sort-of smile. “Hargrove-”
He was cut off by yelling, a man’s voice shouting for Eleven.
They turned to see chief of police, Jim Hopper and the woman Billy assumed to be Mrs. Byers sprinted to where the children were, wearing strange military uniforms. Will jumped up and ran to his mom, practically launching himself into her arms. Billy could see his face crumple before burying it into Mrs. Byers’ shoulder. He forced himself to look away and ignore the hollow feeling in his chest.
Eleven stood up, supported Mike. Hopper enveloped her in a massive hug, swinging her around in a circle before putting her down. Despite her pain and tired expression, she smiled, tears running down her cheeks.
Steve stood up. “I’ve got to go speak with Hopper. Let the EMTs take you to the hospital, Billy.”
“They cleared me, I’m fine,” He responded, sounding like a child that wanted to stay up late with his parents.
“Then go home,” Steve was a touch exasperated. “Go and sleep, and try to forget that any of this ever happened.”
Billy did not want Steve to go. Something about being alone scared the shit out of Billy. “After that, then what?”
“Beats me. Pack your shit into your busted car and get out of Hawkins. Drive and don’t look back,” Steve shook his head. There was not heat in his voice, just exhaustion, like he was tired of fighting. “Find somewhere good to start over. That’s what I plan on doing.”
He began to walk away, and Billy found himself standing up.
“I’m sorry,” the words came out choked and surprised. “Harrington, I’m sorry for what happened last Fall.”
Steve turned; eyebrows raised. “Do you really mean that?”
Billy couldn’t help but scoff before nodding. His face burned as he swallowed his pride.
“I appreciate the sentiment, Hargrove, I really do, but I’m not the most important person you need to apologise to.” Steve crossed his arms. He glanced at Max and Lucas before speaking. “You want to start making shit right? Start with Max.”
Billy rested his elbows on his knees, head dropped to his chest. “Alright. I hear you.”
Steve nodded, eyes looking determined to hold Billy to his promise, then he was gone, lost amid the crowd of first responders.
Sitting back down, Billy closed his eyes, listening to the wail of sirens, and the chattering voices.
The moon had already disappeared, the edge of the sun brushing the horizon. Murky orange rays of light penetrated the inky sky. Dawn broke across Hawkins, and Billy could not have imagined a more beautiful thing.